Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Wild Talent: A Novel of the Supernatural by Eileen Kernaghan

Review by Mirella Patzer

When she is accosted in a barn by her cousin George who attempts to rape her, Jeannie Guthrie lets loose a whirlwind of telekinetic power which sends a pitchfork into George’s flesh. Unaware of her power before this incident, and believing she has killed him, Jeannie flees her Scottish home and farm. Fearing she will be labeled a witch, and punished for a murder she had not intended to commit, she heads to London. There, she encounters a kind young woman named Alexandra David who helps her get settled and find work with Helen Blavatsky, a woman known for her psychic medium abilities.

Jeannie finds herself immersed in the world of the supernatural where she must navigate its treachery while she learns to understand and control her own powers. Ever-present is her fear of repercussion for her crime, which motivates her actions throughout the story. Frightened by her wild talent, Jeannie Guthrie, speaks to the reader in first person narrative as she writes in her journal.

In this coming of age, young adult novel that takes place during the fascinating Victorian era, Eileen Kernaghan has written an endearing tale of a young woman alone in a harsh world. It is clear right from the start that the author has done a great deal of research into the times, portraying the Victorian's interest in the occult magnificently. The novel touches on the plight of a young woman alone, with no means of support, who is forced to make a living under difficult circumstances. The novel sweeps the reader from the countryside of Scotland, to high society London, and then to the opulence of Paris during the time of the world’s fair. Aspects of the supernatural is well-explored including real occurrences and tricks common during the time.

Although this novel is listed as a young adult novel, it transcends this limitation easily into adult or women’s fiction. It is richly written with a high regard for historical detail, making this novel a true and accurate journey into the richness of the Victorian world.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare by Frank Delaney

Reviewed by Mirella Patzer

Ben McCarthy is a young man haunted by the mysterious disappearance of his beloved wife, Venetia. Although many suspect she is dead, possibly murdered, Ben searches for answers as to what happened and why. His work as a researcher/writer for the Irish government’s folklore department not only keeps him travelling throughout the country in search of myths and legends, but it provides him with the cover to make his own inquiries about Venetia’s disappearance. His travels soon take him to the town of Kenmare to interview a matchmaker named Kate Begley who has recently married Captain Charles Miller, an American, on a secret mission behind enemy lines in war-torn Europe. Known as Killer Miller, before her husband departs on his dangerous mission, he extracts Kate’s promise that she would search for him behind enemy lines should he ever turn up missing or become listed as dead.

Meanwhile, an abiding friendship develops between Ben and Kate. When the military notifies Kate of her husband’s death, her intuition warns her that her husband is still alive and she convinces Ben to accompany her on a quest that not only spans years, but takes them into the heart of German camps in Europe and across the ocean to America.

The Matchmaker of Kenmare is told in the first person narrative of Ben as he relays the story of his past to his daughters. The voice of Ben is presented with clarity and definition, immediately capturing the reader’s interest. The parallel between Ben and Kate’s search for their lost loves is a major theme throughout the novel. Their travels sweep readers into lesser known places in Ireland and later into real and eminent danger in other European countries, which provides plenty of tension and a sense of urgency to the story which keeps one engaged to the very end. Although this novel is a sequel to Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show, it is not necessary to read the first book in order to enjoy this fabulous tale of romance and mystery and its unforgettable characters.

Author Interview: Julie K. Rose

Today, we're pleased to welcome Julie K. Rose, author of The Pilgrim Glass, available now.

Please tell readers about yourself and your background.

I'm interested in the intersection of the spiritual and secular, the supernatural and the everyday, the past and the present. I'm fascinated by people's relationship with religion, the psychological interaction between people in all types of relationships, and by the miraculous and the frightening (often the same thing).

My education focused on English, history, and art history, but my day job for the last 15 years has been in marketing and communications. I'm a Patrick O'Brian and Doctor Who fangirl who is forbidden to sing anywhere but in the privacy of my own car (trust me…). My predominant vice is, sadly, cussing like a sailor.

The Pilgrim Glass is your most recent release. Please tell us about the story.

The Pilgrim Glass is a blend of history and mystery, a psychological and spiritual journey, slipping between modern and 12th century Burgundy.

Jonas Flycatcher, a well-respected but prickly artisan is contracted to repair a stained glass found deep in the ancient altar of the cathedral of Mary Magdalene at Vézelay. Traveling from California to Burgundy for the project, he meets Abbot Dubay, a worldly priest with a painful secret.

Jonas begins the laborious work of restoring the stained glass offering, but when he meets Meredith, an ex-pat photographer who seems to be channeling a 12th century pilgrim, his carefully constructed world – and the ancient glass – are threatened.

What did you have to learn about stained glass technique to aid the authenticity of this story?

I needed to learn the basics in terms of how stained glass is made now, how it was made in the past, and the process of creating hand-blown glass. I tried to include the tools of the trade without getting too heavily into the details, so the focus would be on the story.

Do you have a favorite character in the story?

I love all of them, of course, in different ways for different reasons; they're a bit like children in that way. That said, I have a huge soft spot for Abbot Dubay. He wasn't in the outline, wasn't even on my radar when I started writing the story, and emerged to be such a crucial part of the story. He's so urbane and complex - he's really delightful, if I say so myself. I'd love to meet him in real life.

I love that part of the creative process - having enough flexibility to allow new characters and new directions to emerge that you hadn't planned. That's magic to me, and part of the draw of writing in the first place.

How do you develop your plots and characters?

It really depends on what I'm working on. In terms of plot, The Pilgrim Glass came from my experience visiting the great cathedral at Vézelay; a historical I'm working on now grew out of family stories and lore; a novella was inspired by my fascination with the Black Plague; and one of my short stories was sparked by learning about the discovery of the jet stream. Once I've got the idea, I'll start with a general outline and modify as I go along.

Characters initially develop themselves, are sometimes blended with people I've met and experiences I've had, and then morph into beings I'd not necessarily planned or expected. To flesh them out, I'll use some tried-and-true tools, like stream-of-consciousness writing and character sheets.

Why did you choose to publish independently? What valuable lessons have you learned in the process?

I finished writing The Pilgrim Glass in early 2004 and began the process of looking for an agent. The book generated a lot of interest, but most passed because they simply weren't sure how to market it. After the manuscript was short-listed for finalists in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom competition and a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, I knew it was time to go the independent route, and I published The Pilgrim Glass in December 2010. The process was a bit time-intensive, and required a great deal of attention to detail, but was relatively straightforward.

The most important thing I learned was to trust my instincts – about timing, about design, about the story. It's both scary and exhilarating to go it alone, and totally worth it.

What advice would you give to other debut writers?

I suppose I'd simply say trust yourself and believe in your story; it is an expression of your uniqueness in this world.

What’s next for you?

I'm doing some final polishing on a multi-period historical/timeslip, which I hope to publish in early 2012, finishing a historical set in Norway in 1905, and getting started on a historical set in San Jose in 1906.

Please provide your website, blogs, Twitter, and / or Facebook links, where readers can learn more about you.

My main website is http://www.juliekrose.com/, I blog at http://juliekrose.blogspot.com/, and I'm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/juliekrose.

Any closing thoughts you would like to share.

I hope readers enjoy the characters and story of The Pilgrim Glass as much as I enjoyed writing them! And, I hope the story inspires people to take a trip to Vézelay, or learn more about the 12th century, or perhaps even think about how their lives are like stained glass: uneven, imperfect, colorful, and unbelievably precious.

Thanks for your time, Julie, and best of luck with The Pilgrim Glass.

Thank you!!

There's still time to win a free, signed copy of this wonderful book. Leave a comment on our review of The Pilgrim Glass to enter.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Book Giveaway - The Pilgrim Glass by Julie K. Rose

Author Julie K. Rose immerses booklovers in the colorful word of medieval stained glass repair, with her lauded debut novel, The Pilgrim Glass. Set predominantly in Vézelay, France, the novel begins as Jonas Flycatcher receives a call from UNESCO, inviting him to restore a fragile image of the Magdalene in ancient Romanesque cathedral of Saint-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay. Three days later, Jonas arrives albeit without his luggage and restoration tools in a quaint village, once associated with medieval pilgrimages from ancient Burgundy to Compostela, Spain. It boasts a cathedral famed for its relics of Mary Magdalene. Jonas must restore the stained glass within a few short weeks, in time for the feast of the Magdalene.

Jonas meets the worldly Abbot Michel Dubay. The men initially clash over intrusive questions from Abbott Dubay and alterations of the original contract but Jonas soon begins his work. A comfortable partnership evolves between the two, as Abbott Dubay hints at an enigmatic past, including unclear reasons for choosing the priesthood instead of becoming an academic. Elsewhere, haunting words and images occupy the photographer Meredith’s mind, memories that cannot be her own. She seeks the comfort of friends like Marie-Laure, an expert on the region’s history. But Meredith cannot escape her visions or the pull of the cathedral. When she meets Jonas, they don’t immediately warm to each other, but eventually find common ground in their working interest in the cathedral. Their relationship surprisingly grows and changes, yet Meredith’s continuing hallucinations cause a strain on all the characters.

The central characters are memorable for their characterizations and the mysteries surrounding them. The author keeps you guessing about the sources of their pain and self-loathing throughout the novel. Why does Jonas, a renowned artisan keep everyone at bay and smother his innate brilliance in a haze of cigarette smoke? What should the reader make of Abbott Dubay’s constant reliance on the Confessions of St. Augustine, and the photograph he keeps tucked away between its pages? Why is Meredith tortured by otherworldly visions?

The setting is as realistic as the characters’ interactions, enhanced by Ms. Rose’s visit to the great cathedral at Vézelay. Scenes and descriptions pull the reader into the story, as it unfolds as though on a movie screen, rather than pages. This is an easy, enjoyable read. In particular, I admired the author’s references to pigments, vivid shades of red and blue that colors the world around Jonas.

A semifinalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, The Pilgrim Glass is an entertaining, surprisingly suspenseful read, and I highly recommend it to readers who love historical mysteries enhanced by authentic details. As I told Ms. Rose, she’s gained a fan and I look forward to her future work.

Please leave a comment to win a free, signed copy of The Pilgrim Glass, and thanks for visiting the blog.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona

Reviewed by Vanitha Sankaran

"I took a charred ember from the fire and, going to the hidden side of my weaving I darkened what I had woven about Sparta until it was caked in black. Sometimes from the front of the loom I stare where I know the black is hiding, imagining little holes burning through the cloth. We think we can control the story we present to the world, but the truth always lies in the background, awaiting its chance to illuminate and scar.”

Most of us have read Homer’s The Odyssey at some point in our lives. While Odysseus’ battles and harrowing experiences made for great reading, not many of us likely gave much thought to the people he left behind—his wife and son, and in Laurel Corona’s fertile imagination, his daughter Xanthe.

This is not a simple retelling of a well-read epic. Rather, Ms. Corona has turned the taken prominent characters from the Trojan War and used them to create a completely new tale. The story is told through Xanthe’s point-of-view. Using her loom, she weaves the adventures and trials of her life into a picture book tapestry. These were my favorite moments, when Xanthe literally transformed her feelings into colorful physicality.

The story is told in three parts: Xanthe’s younger days when her world is full of politics that she is free to observe; her maiden days when she hides at Helen of Troy’s court to escape those very politics in the form of suitors; and the final installation when she returns home to her family, and her father.

This book is well researched and beautifully portrayed. If you are a lover of ancient Greece, this tale will suck you right in.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Book Giveaway on www.historyandwomen.com

There's a terrific book giveaway starting on January 18th and continuing until January 19th.

We are giving away two copies of the book - Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

This is a fascinating book that describes the sometimes laughable, sometimes horrific practices for childbirth methods from earliest times to modern day.  I promise you that you'll learn lots and be surprised or even shocked.  It's a fabulous book written by Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein and well worth having on your bookshelf.

One book will be given away to a Canadian resident and one for a U.S. Resident.

Entering is simple: 

Visit History and Women:

1.  Leave a comment on the 18th or 19th of January about the book or the author.
2.  Include your email address.  This is most  the most important step.  Without it, we can't contact you.
3.  Be a follower of this blog.  And we do check... 
4.  Be sure to state whether you're either Canadian or American

Here's a video presention by Dr. Epstein called "A Romp through Childbirth History."  It is a talk given on the upper west side of New York City, December, 2010 and great fun to listen to. 

Enjoy and I do hope you'll stop by and visit History and Women on the 18th and 19th.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Queens and Empresses: From Cleopatra to Queen Victoria by Mark Hichens

Queens and Empresses: From Cleopatra to Queen Victoria
by Mark Hichens

If you love biographies about famous women throughout history, then this is a fabulous book to have on your bookshelf. The author, Mark Hichens, has put together a collection of biographies gathered from many different eras and numerous countries. Presented in chronological order according to era, the book opens with Cleopatra and ends with Queen Victoria.

Each biography is surprisingly thorough with plenty of detail, well-researched, and written in a pleasing voice and good pace. I found the biographies to be historically accurate and with enough detail so as to keep the reader interested without overwhelming them. All of the women presented, have previously had their lives recreated in popular fiction, and although many readers will be familiar with each woman’s story, it’s a pleasant change to read about their lives, from start to finish, in one succinct chapter.

The eleven women are:


Catherine de Medici

Mary Queen of Scots

Elizabeth I

Maria Theresa of Austria

Christina of Sweden

Catherine I of Russia

Catherine II of Russia

Marie Antoinette

Empress Josephine Bonaparte

Queen Victoria

The thread of commonality between each woman is their ability to overcome adversity in worlds where women were of lesser importance. Each woman managed to strengthen their seats of power and leadership based on a combination of shrewd wit, wild luck, or profound sacrifice. Some were most beloved, but others were greatly detested. Several, courageously faced execution. Whether they loved their husbands or were forced into marriages of political convenience, each woman’s story is compelling.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I hope the author produces more such books in the future with lesser known royal women. I, for one, found this book fascinating and I look forward to more.

The Marlowe Conspiracy by M.G. Scarsbrook

The Marlowe Conspiracy

By: M. G. Scarsbrook

Reviewed by: L. G. Graham

What do you get when you make Christopher Marlowe a master spy in the employ of the English government during the reign of Elizabeth I? What happens if you give him a side kick by the name of Will Shakespeare? You get a delightful romp through the whole of English society in 1593. Along the way, Marlowe manages to be accursed of atheism, a crime punishable by hanging, he makes love to one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting in the queen’s bed, spends several nights in dungeons, sparks a prison riot, passes counterfeit money, and pens his poem, ‘Hero and Leander’ while dodging assassins.

This is not a book for the Elizabethan purist. While it is obvious that Scarsbrook spent a great deal of time researching Marlowe and his times, the tale is fanciful. The gossamer webs of the storyteller connect Marlowe to plots among Lords of the Realm to gain influence with the queen and to become spymaster of all of England. That being said, the book does a very good job of cleaving to the few facts known of Marlowe’s life.

Since this novel is not history, it can be fun. Shakespeare can take on the role of Watson to Marlowe’s Sherlock Holmes. Queen Elizabeth can come off as being a bit like the Red Queen in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and Marlowe’s love interest can be a married lady of high standing and noble blood. The archbishop can decide the only way to save people is to kill them, and Marlowe’s patron and spy handler can decide to have him killed because Marlowe is having an affair with his wife. This is a very busy book.

There is a great deal to like about this book. Both Marlowe and Shakespeare are fully realized, very likeable characters. Both are complex men for a complex age. Marlowe is clever, arrogant, and the smartest man in the room most of the time. Shakespeare is subtle, witty, and loyal. Together they take on the whole of England to save Marlowe from the gallows.

Scarsbrook does a masterful job of describing the sights, sounds and smells of an England on the verge of the seventeenth century. His descriptions are organic and often evoke the mood the character. Here Scarsbrook describes what Marlowe sees following a prison break as he rides through the countryside:

“…the moon turned a shade of grayish blue and assumed the tone of frozen skin. Clouds stretched down to the horizon, each one long and thin, like scars made by a whip.”

He does an excellent job of painting a dynamic society on the verge of spinning beyond the control of the ruling class. The archbishop worries about atheists, Puritans, and plays. The nobles worry about the riots and the never ending war with France, and everyone worries about the plague. The action is fast, and only slightly incredible. You will find no deep introspection. This Marlowe is a man of action.

This book does not fit easily into any one genre. The historical purist would break out in a rash while reading this book. It isn’t exactly a spy novel. Scarsbrook’s subtle literary allusions would be roof jokes for the casual reader. In the end, I would have to guess that it is written for the intellectual adventure market if such a thing exists. I suppose it does. Therefore I recommend it to people who know the works and the lives of Shakespeare, and Marlowe, and are willing to look at them as literary characters rather than as authors. I would also recommend it to anyone who loves a good adventure story and is willing to suspend belief for the sake of the story.

There is one final question that has to be answered. What would Marlowe and Shakespeare have thought of the book? I think they would have liked it, Shakespeare would have refused to take a back seat to Marlowe, and I think they would have enjoyed adding a few touches of their own.

Springtime of the Spirit

Historical by Maureen Lang
Reviewed by Ginger Simpson

Following the first book in the Great War Series, Whisper of the Wind, Springtime of the Spirit continues the story of postwar Germany in 1918.  After reading the first book of the series, I was honored when the publisher offered to send me this book for review.  Due out in March 2011, this story is bound to pique the interest of historical buffs if only because it’s written by an award winning author with a demonstrated knack for reeling in her readers.

Major Christophe Brecht returns to his homeland only to find it devastated and bearing no resemblance to the Germany he remembers.  His fight in France seems to have been futile, and the Kaiser isn’t very popular with the troops. Losing a war they were assured they would win has only brought countless deaths and scorn from the rest of the world.

Annaliese Duray, an outspoken, brave young woman flees her home and family to launch her own battle in Munich.  Recovery and escape from the violence dictated by Communistic viewpoints is essential, but she’s in danger from the army sent from Berlin to stop anyone speaking out against the Kaiser.  When Christophe finds her, she’s a far cry from the girl he remembers.  Can two people with different ideas on restoration and peace see a solution when they’ve seen the war from two vastly different perspectives?  Can love still prevail?

Again, Maureen Lang reeled me in to an era I previously avoided.  The romance is secondary to the message conveyed by this powerful novel.  To coin part of a quote from Publisher’s Weekly…”an exciting framework of war, secrets and blissful reunions,”  sums up the story well.  I have no doubt anyone who reads this book won’t be disappointed. Ms. Lang has written another award-winner.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Perfect Bride For Mr Darcy by Mary Simonsen

Convinced that the lovely Elizabeth Bennet is her brother's soul mate, Georgiana Darcy enlists her clever and not at all snobbish cousin Anne de Bourgh in ensuring that pride and prejudice aren't able to keep these two hearts apart. All is going according to plan until Lydia Bennet brings scandal on the family by eloping with George Wickham, and Darcy is called away from Elizabeth's side before he has a chance to propose. It will take all Georgiana and Anne's considerable matchmaking talents to ensure that Elizabeth and Darcy are reunited in time to claim their happily ever after.

Pride and Prejudice is my all time favourite novel, so my first instinct was not to like this story, or see the point. However after a chat with the blog owner, she explained this fitted into a genre called ‘Fan Fiction’, i.e. spin offs of classic works whose characters are taken and sequels to the original are produced. 

This is a new concept to me, but with that explanation on board, I persisted and found ‘A Perfect Bride For Mr Darcy’ is in fact a regurgitation of the original story with virtually the same cast of characters. This version proved quite interesting, in that it shows the introspection and motivations of other characters - which Austen left for her readers to work out for themselves.  I suppose if you have read Pride & Prejudice and didn’t understand why the characters behaved in the way they did this book fills in some of the blanks.

As the novel went on, I found I really liked Ms Simonsens’s style and she does have a clever way with satyr and irony which I feel Ms Austen herself would have admired. The author did, I felt, take liberties with not only the characters, giving them direct quotes from the original and not all in the right places – but changed some of the plot by giving Jane Bennett a suitor other than Mr Bingley, giving more prominent parts to Georgiana Darcy and Anne de Bourgh and we also see events through the eyes of Mr Darcy. However for those, like me, who always felt Mary Bennett was sidelined, the author does provide a happy result for her.

The fact Elizabeth and Darcy were destined to be together and will mange that in any variation of the theme, will not come as a surprise, however the culmination of their misunderstood love is not as exciting nor as satisfying as the original.

I did enjoy Ms Simonsen comments on the political situation at the time, which helped give a view of what is happening outside the drawing rooms of the main characters – an omission Jane Austen is famous for.

My main criticism of this version of Miss Austen’s classic, is the fact the author has introduced a sexual element.  Not only is Lydia still a virgin after three weeks in a boarding house with Wickham, a detail of which I didn’t see the point as she still insists on marrying him, but Darcy, in his pursuit of Elizabeth, has explicit sexual fantasies about her.  I realise I must be old fashioned where my romances are concerned, but Austen was the queen of sexual tension and she kept the bedroom door firmly shut!

I would very much like to read a story Ms Simonsen has composed herself, for she is an accomplished and skillful writer whom I feel could achieve more than the regurgitation of a story that didn’t need any embellishment.  However for ‘Fan Fiction Enthusiasts’, ‘A Perfect Bride For Mr Darcy,’ would be a good addition to their reading list.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Countess by Lynsay Sands

Christiana is a young woman newly married to Dicky Fairgrave, a cruel, heartless man. He keeps her isolated from friends and family. When her sisters arrive for a visit, Christiana learns that their father has been gambling again, and the sisters must make a quick marriage to a rich man in order to save him. While they are discussing their dire situation, Dicky is found murdered in another part of the house.

Determined to attend that evening’s ball despite the sudden demise of Christiana’s husband, the sisters carry Dicky to his bedroom and surround him with ice to preserve his body. As Christiana circulates amongst society that evening in search of future husbands for her sisters, who walks in, much to her horror, but Dicky. But it is not actually the dead Dicky who has walked. Rather, it’s Dicky’s twin brother, Richard, whom unbeknownst to Christiana, Dicky murdered years ago in order to assume his identity, wealth, and status.

Richard Fairgrave has returned to America to avenge himself and confront his brother. When Richard encounters Christiana, his unexpected wife, he is both intrigued, but irritated at the discovery. As the night wears on, Christiana becomes accidentally drunk and he begins to realize she is enchanting. Intrigued, he knows he must win her heart and must find out who murdered his brother, and keep scandal away from her.

If you are looking for a humorous romantic story to disappear into, then this is the book for you. I found myself bursting out in laughter during many of the antics. The book definitely reminded me of an old Lucille Ball episode where the heroine’s life escalates quickly out of control, but somehow, she finds herself coming out unscathed and richer for it. The relationship between Christiana and Richard unfolds slowly, tantalizingly, with much love and laughter. There were plenty of plot twists to keep me engaged to the end. All in all, this is a fun read for those who want to sink into a good romance.

The King of Silk by Joe Douglas Trent

The King of Silk by Joe Douglas Trent

Michael Patriate is a rising star in the business world. His knowledge and shrewdness have taken him into the most powerful offices and boardrooms of New York City. As he occupies himself with merging two powerful corporations and gracing the pages of the world’s most respected finance magazine, his personal life is falling apart. The woman he loves has left him. One dark night, as he walks alone through a deserted street in Manhattan, he is mugged and assaulted and falls into unconsciousness.

When he awakes, he finds himself in a strange world, one that is completely foreign to him. As he encounters people, he comes to the realization that the year is 1492 and he has somehow travelled to Renaissance Italy in the area of Caorle. With nothing of value except for his wristwatch, which is more of a danger to him than an aid, Michael is utterly alone and must fend for himself. Armed with his business acumen, he soon finds himself a job working for a merchant. Soon, he takes over the bookkeeping for the small business and teaches his new boss knowledge from the modern world. Soon he finds himself travelling to Venice, trying to outsmarting a bevy of callous merchants. His knowledge attracts attention at the highest levels. Even his love life improves as he falls in love with the lovely widow, Cecile, who he boards with.

The King of Silk is a fascinating story about a man armed with modern knowledge who is forced to explore the world centuries ago. Michael is a congenial hero thrust into an impossible situation. As the reader progresses through the novel, they are swept into the dangers and realities of a treacherous world. The book is well written and edited. The prose is clear and the story is easy to follow. Numerous colourful characters that Michael meets as he journeys to Venice and later Portugal, keep the reader engrossed in the story, turning pages to find out what happens next. For anyone who loves time travel and Italian historical fiction, this book is definitely a well-researched winner.  But you'll have to wait to read it.  The book is scheduled for release early in 2011.  Watch for it on Amazon or visit the author's website at: http://www.jdtrent.com/

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Flight of the Sorceress by Barry S. Wildorf

--> Reviewed by Vanitha Sankaran

After centuries of grand triumphs and glorious rule, the Roman Empire is coming to an end. Though there are some who would give their lives to see the enlightenment and freedoms gifted by the Empire live on, darker forces are at play. The Catholic Church has focused its attention on rooting out pagans using zealots and men drunk on their own power.

The story centers around Glenys, a Druidic healer forced to live her life on the run, not just because of her views but because of the man she loves. As she struggles to stay ahead of her would-be captors, Glenys is exposed to the harsh realities of the world’s violence. Instead of bowing to the brutality she experiences, Glenys grows stronger, not just for herself but for the baby she is carrying.

At the same time, another memorable woman—Hypatia, the famed scholar and librarian of Alexandria—is fighting a similar battle to keep her freedoms and way of life alive. Caught in the Church’s crusade to stamp out pagan ways and knowledge, Hypatia risks her own life to save what and who she loves in the world.

When the two women finally cross paths, they realize they are kindred spirits and will help each other, no matter what the cost.

The Flight of the Sorceress is meticulously researched and beautifully portrayed. Whether in Hypatia’s luxurious palace, walking along the dusty Jewish pogroms, or trapped within a burning library in a fire that threatens to consume humanity’s knowledge, Wildorf’s prose brings the moment alive. The themes explored in this book, of prejudice and power, are deftly interwoven with the beliefs of the time. The conflict manages to educate and compel at the same time and you can’t help but feel for these women, who are so grossly over-matched but who still do not give up.

This book is a rare look at a time and place not often seen in historical fiction and is a read that will keep you turning the pages!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Cross The Line by Rie McGaha

Reviewed by Ginger Simpson

The story opens with nineteen-year-old Carrie Robertson struggling to bury her father clad in his Confederate Uniform.  She’s already lost all other family members, and the burial scene is quite vivid and realistic. Back-story tells the reader that Carrie is now living in a cabin built by her father, on land he spent  plowing and sowing to dispel his grief. They’ve left their home in Charleston and settled for much less, and sadly, her remaining sister has been claimed by the flu. With her father gone, Carrie is alone in a home that’s miles from the nearest neighbor. She’s determined to keep the place going using the funds her father left behind. 

Noah Moseley, an escaped slave who found safety living among Indians, is thrown from his horse and injured.  Crawling on his belly and dragging his broken leg, he seeks shelter.  His ammunition is gone and he fears “creatures of the night” will smell his blood.   He awakes the next morning, nestled under a mere shrub and continues his search for help.   He never expects to be found by a woman toting a rifle--one who will later become the person who nurses him back to health and falls in love with him despite his being a mixed breed.  The romantic element is definitely steamy in parts. If you enjoy “blow by blow” descriptions, you will be totally satisfied.  No pun intended.

Noah and Carrie find an attraction despite their ethnic differences.  At first, Noah fights his feelings, fearing Carrie will be ostracized for loving a man who is half black, but caution be damned, they begin a very sensuous relationship without benefit of marriage.  His plan to have the village Shaman marry them is delayed by the time Noah spends aiding the Buffalo Soldiers in negotiations with warring tribes.  Despite his sporadic schedule, each visit leaves Carrie pregnant, even with twins at one point. Imagine giving birth the first time while alone and following instructions in a book. Carrie certainly came across as a strong heroine with few fears.  Unfortunately, Noah’s torn between his love for her and his obligation to help the Indians avoid anymore bloodshed.

It is extremely difficult for this reviewer to read without an internal editor whispering in her ear.  There is a great historical story in Cross the Line, but connecting with the characters was hampered by the story being told rather than shown in many places. Too much repetition of facts shared among the characters as well as too many unnecessary tags made the storyline drag. Surely, those who read for pure pleasure will be able to overlook what drew me out of the story.

Clearly the author has done a lot of historical research with regard to Indian tribes--my favorite time in history.  This wasn’t a page turner for me, but I’m sure it’s because of all the editing expectations that weren’t met.  I’m still questioning whether some of the vocabulary was appropriate for the era, but other readers may not even notice the things so blatantly obvious to me. A review is merely one person’s interpretation of a novel so I urge you to read this book and draw your own conclusions.  Cross the Line is a Coffee Time Romance Review Award winner so that proves my point--a book is never everyone’s cup of tea...or coffee in this case.

This book is offered by Solstice Publishing, and you find out more about the author on her website.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Darling Strumpet by Gillian Bagwell

Nelly, as she liked to be known, was born in the mean alleys round Covent Garden of an unknown father and a mother notorious as a ‘brandy-soak’. Nelly’s childhood was a constant round of beatings and hard work, but when her fortunes changed, Nelly brought her mother to live with her and when she was found drowned in a brook, paid for an elaborate funeral.

I have heard of various starts to Nell’s life, but Gillian Bagwell’s Nell was an oyster seller who, fearing a rapid old age and continued poverty, decides on the day that King Charles II returns to his throne that she will follow her sister Rose into whoring.

Her pretty face and neat figure, not to mention her quick tongue, helped her acquire a post as an ‘orange wench," selling fruit in the theatre pit. Fascinated with the theatre, and with the help of her first long term lover, Charles Hart, she starts acting on the stage and comes to the attention of King Charles II. John Dryden described Nell as, ‘"Oval face, clear skin, hazel eyes, thick brown eyebrows ... a full nether lip ... the bottom of your cheeks a little blub, and two dimples when you smile."

Like all the King's women, Nell was paid out of the Secret Service funds. Second only to Louise de Keroualle, the Duchess of Portsmouth, her greatest rival apart from the fading Barbara Palmer, Nell was given a house in Pall Mall and an annual income of £5,000.

On one occasion, Queen Catherine arrived at her husband’s bedchamber. Nell had enough time to hide behind an arras, but her slipper lay in plain sight on the floor.  The Queen withdrew with the comment that she hoped ‘that the lady might not take cold.’ 

Nell was one of the least greedy and most faithful of Charles II’s mistresses, despite that he kept them in houses, jewels, titles and producing numerous children who all had claims on the royal purse.
Nell had two sons by Charles II. Charles Beauclerk who went on to have eight sons of his own and James, nicknamed, Jemmie who died when he was nine.  Nell had many true friends in the Royal court, many of whom she helped through hard times, among them, George Duke of Buckingham, Rochester, Killigrew, Aphra Benn the lady playwright,  the ill-fated Duke of Monmouth, and of course her beloved Charles Hart who was always her first love.

When anti-Catholic riots took place in London in the late 1660’s, Nelly's coach was mobbed by Whigs, who thought it carried the King's Catholic mistress, Louise de Keroualle. [Whom the King called ‘Fubbs’and Nell nicknamed, ‘Squintabella’]  Never at a loss, Nell stuck her head out of the window and bellowed: "Pray, good people, be civil. I am the Protestant whore." 

On his deathbed, Charles besought his brother and heir, "Let not poor Nelly starve." James II kept faith, although her life was less extravagant after her royal lover’s death. Nelly died of a stroke brought on by an occupational disease, at 37.

Gillian Bagwell’s meticulously researched novel takes us from the cobbled, rubbish-strewn alleys of Covent Garden to the Royal Theatre in Drury Lane and into the royal court. She handles the 17th Century London street vernacular with aplomb, and Nell comes across as the epitome of the ‘tart with a heart’, who never apologises for her profession and is generous with both her time and her money.  I got the impression Nell truly loved her ‘Charles the Third’ as she called him, and was distraught when he died. 

Miss Bagwell’s interpretation is a colourful and sympathetic portrayal of a young woman whose beginnings foretold only misery and heartache, and that Nelly herself not only took advantage of her assets to make her life, and that of her family better, but she never took it for granted or became too greedy, like many of her rivals. 

I enjoyed the romp through 17th Century London, and learned a lot about how the actresses owned their ‘parts’, and when they married or, as was more frequent, taken up by a lover, they returned their ‘parts’ to the theatre owners, which was when they could be played by other actresses.
I can thoroughly recommend this book, and look forward to Miss Bagwell's next foray into 17th Century England.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My Love, My Enemy by Jan Cox Speas

Review by Sheila R. Lamb

Originally published in 1961, Jan Cox Speas’ popular romance My Love, My Enemy will be re-released in February, 2011 as part of Casablanca Classics by Sourcebooks.

During the War of 1812, precocious Page Bradley steals away on her family’s sloop for a clandestine shopping trip. She’s determined to buy herself a birthday present, while her father’s servant, MacDougall keeps his eye out for British ships as they make the short sailing trip up the Chesapeake Bay, from the Bradley plantation to Annapolis.

Page, carefree and careless, meets a handsome gentleman – by running into his horse while crossing the street (she didn’t look both ways). Soon after her blunder, she finds the same gentleman surrounded by a mob determine to hang him for being a British spy. Impulsively, she rescues the would-be spy; persuading the mob to let him, and his manservant Farley, go. Jocelyn “Joss” Trevor, Lord Hazard is grateful for the odd rescue and pledges to see Page and MacDougall safely home. Unfortunately, his plan falls short when the sloop runs afoul of a British ship, the Falcon, and the quartet are taken into British custody.

Between ships, sloops, and various countries, the attraction between Page and Hazard grows. True to his time period, Hazard follows a gentleman’s code of conduct and Page would expect nothing less. Dialogue between them is witty and precise.
            “‘This is a dark dreary place and I have had quite enough of it,’ ” states Page to Lord Hazard as she is forced to remain in the warship’s cabin.
            “‘You will do as you are told,’ ” replies Hazard.

The battle of wills begins as Page finds she is torn between loyalty to her country during wartime and her growing love for an Englishman. Tensions mount when she discovers a truth that he would have preferred stayed hidden.
As Page travels to Bermuda, France, Spain, and England, the reader is drawn into the historical events that surround her. Naval warfare between the British and the Americans is exquisitely described, vividly setting the scene of cannon fire and grapeshot on the quarterdeck of a 19th century ship. Page has a civilian’s view of the burning of Washington. Speas also spares no expense illustrating Lord Hazards’ dealing with Bonaparte, Wellington and the Peninsular Wars.

My Love, My Enemy by Jan Cox Speas is destined to invite a new generation of readers to a classic historical romance.