Friday, September 16, 2011

Love Child by Sheila Kohler

The compelling story of a forbidden marriage, a baby lost, and a love triangle gone horribly wrong, Love Child centers on Bill, a South African woman whose life has been defined by the apartheid-era, class-riven society in which she lives. Under pressure to make her will, Bill is forced to think about the momentous events and decisions that have made her an extremely wealthy if somewhat disillusioned woman. To whom should she leave her fortune? As Bill relives her past, we learn that this is a simple question with a complicated answer. In elegant, sensual, and nuanced prose, Kohler skillfully explores the space between our dreams and our reality, between our hopes and our disappointments.
Love Child is a novel about a woman of wealth and class set during the time of apartheid in South Africa. In 1956, Bill is a lonely but fabulously rich widow who is under pressure by her family accountant/attorney to write her will in favour of her two well-educated teenage sons.

Through flashbacks to 1925, Bill examines her past with all its dark secrets and lies. Not even her family knows of her life and her secret shame and story of a lost love she has carried with her for thirty years. When Bill meets Isaac, a man of lower class, at her father’s diamond business, a passionate love blossoms and soon the couple elope. After consummating the marriage, they arrive on the doorstep of Bill’s three spinster aunts who conspire with her father to separate the young lovers. Cloistered in the home of her aunts, Bill is forced to endure their solutions to her unapproved of marriage and its consequences.

Author Sheila Kohler writes a deep and intellectual story of loneliness and loss, atonement and hope. She delves deeply into the social values of a society plagued by racism and class structure. This is a novel where readers must look beyond the written words and seek to understand the story’s deeper meaning. I enjoyed this story about a forbidden marriage, a baby stolen away, and a love triangle torn asunder. It left me feeling a little haunted – a deeply complex book that portrays the fate of many an unwed mother in decades not so long ago.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Artemis Rising, by Cheri Lasota

Myth and legend unite in Cheri Lasota’s hauntingly beautiful debut novel, Artemis Rising. Even with such an intricate plotline, this book is a highly engaging read that will sweep you away with its lyrical passages.

The story begins as Eva’s mother is mentoring her in the rites of the pagan goddess, Artemis. Eva takes the name of the water nymph, Arethusa, and thus consigns her fate to the myth surrounding the nymph, who was pursued by the river god, Alpheus. But Arethusa’s father, a strict Catholic, discovers them and ships them off to the Azores. Soon, Arethusa finds herself the object of attention of the ship owner’s son, the darkly handsome and possessive Diogo.

When a storm wrecks the ship, Arethusa awakens in the arms of her shy rescuer, the soft-spoken Tristao. Now parentless, Arethusa must suffer the derision of her fellow orphans. Diogo soon appears at her bedside and Arethusa begins to believe that he is her Alpheus.

Soon, another legend arises in Arethusa’s life – the tragic romance of Tristan and Isolde. While struggling to unravel these two ancient tales and their often disturbing correlation to the events in her own life, Arethusa searches for the strength within herself to discover her own destiny.

While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the myth and legend that Lasota has so skillfully laid out here, this book is surprising in both its depth and its message. It gets even more intense as it nears the end. The characters are solid and true. Most of all, Arethusa is a unique heroine of uncommon strength who will have you rooting for her all the way. It’s a love story unlike any other, making Artemis Rising even more memorable.

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther by Joan Wolf

A Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther

You've read it as a biblical tale of courage. Experience it anew as a heart-stirring love story. An inspired re-imagining of the tale of Esther, a young Jewish woman thrust from a life of obscurity into a life of power, wealth, intrigue . . . and tender love. Imagine anew the story of Esther, one of our faith's great heroines, destined to play a key role in the history of Christianity. She was a simple girl faced with an impossible choice. He was a magnificent king with a lonely heart. Their love was the divine surprise that changed the course of history. The beloved story of Esther springs to fresh life in this inspired novel that vibrates with mystery, intrigue, and romance. See the story of Esther in an entirely new way-with all the political intrigue and tension you remember, but told as a passionate and tender love story between a young man and woman. Misunderstood by many, King Xerxes was a powerful but lonely man. Esther's beauty caught the eye of the young king, but it was her spirit that captured his heart. 

The story of Esther in the Bible is inspirational. In the year 485 BC, Esther is a young Persian woman with Jewish roots. When the King of Persia repudiates his first wife, Vashti, he begins a search for a new wife. Young women from all corners of the kingdom eagerly attend hoping to be the one the king will choose. Although unwilling at first, Esther’s guardians encourage her to vie for his attention so that she might influence him to keep the Jews from destruction. Esther enters the harem, and much to everyone’s surprise, it is she who fascinates the King and ultimately wins his heart. However, she must keep her Jewish roots a secret from her new husband, at great risk to herself.

In A Reluctant Queen: The Love Story of Esther, author Joan Wolf gives a fascinating recounting of this intriguing Bible story. She writes in an easy to read, unencumbered style that allows you to fall into the story easily. I enjoyed the story very much. The beautiful cover art drew me to the novel, but it was the story and easy prose that kept me turning pages. The love story between Esther and the King was brilliantly depicted, as was all the intrigue and power struggles. Esther is an endearing character who goes against all Jewish practices to live an opulent life, very different from the simple life she is used to. This is great Christian fiction – tale of destiny and courage, and sweet love.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Covenant with the Vampire by Jeanne Kalogridis

Wow! What a novel! Simply unbelievable! This is a novel that left me breathless, turning the pages until long into the night. It is the first book of a trilogy. Without doubt, this trilogy is the most beautifully written vampire novels ever written. Through beautiful and profound prose, and in diary format, Jeanne Kalogridis reveals the story of Arkady Tsepesh and how he and his pregnant wife return to Transyvannia after the death of his father. The firstborn heir is expected to be the main council or aid to patriarch/uncle Vlad Dracula. Strange, evil, horrifying things begin to occur immediately, setting the grim, tense mood that only grows more intense until the end of the book.
Covenenant with the Vampire is intended to be a prelude to Bram Stoker's Dracula. She writes in the same style as the classic author, but her prose far supercedes that of SToker (Sorry Bram - but with Jeanne you've met your match!) If you like a book filled with the odd and unusual that will shock and horrify you with its evil darkness as innocents try to overcome the evil Vlad, then this is a must, must read. A roller coaster ride that sends one chill up your spin just as another begins! Get it - I really mean it. The best vampire stories currently available bar none! 


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Heiress by Susan May Warren

Set in New York during the opulent world of the Gilded Age in the late eighteen hundreds, HEIRESS by Susan May Warren is the story of two sisters who have it all and find out that being an heiress has a very high price tag especially when it comes to love.

Author Susan May Warren has astounded us with another future bestseller in this first book of a new trilogy entitled the Daughters of Fortune. From the very first pages, I was enthralled with the passionate story that unfolded upon its pages.

The story is about the two very different daughters of August Price. First, there is Esme. Proud and headstrong, she wants nothing more than to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a journalist and then heir to his newspaper empire. Jinx is the exact opposite and jealous of her elder sister and avidly desires to grace society’s grandest ballrooms in search of a wealthy husband. Their mother, Phoebe, is determined to ensure both her daughters are married off to men of great means.

What follows is clever plot steeped in rebellion, transgression, betrayal, and passionate love. Filled with plenty of twists and turns, I was fascinated with the story and the trials of the two daughters whom fate separated, but later threw together in a fascinating, suspenseful ending. It is a story of opposites – from great wealth to the dregs of poverty, taking the reader from New York’s ballrooms to the wilds of Montana. Although this is Christian historical fiction, there is little preaching. Rather, the author cleverly weaves subtle, but powerful lessons about love and value and family into the story. Most definitely I will read this books sequels. Highly recommended!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick - Book Giveaway

Book Review and Book Giveaway
Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Back Cover Blurb

Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry's widowed queen and Matilda's stepmother, is now married to William D'Albini, a warrior of the opposition. Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man's word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen? And for Matilda pride comes before a fall ...What price for a crown? What does it cost to be 'Lady of the English'?

Empress Matilda
Lady of the English

Adeliza of Louvain
Queen of England

Matilda was one of two legitimate children of King Henry I of England. When her brother, William, died in the White Ship disaster, she became her father’s sole heir. Her father made his noblemen swear their oath to accept Matilda as queen of England and duchess of Normandy after his death.

King Henry I of England

As a young woman, Matilda was sent to Germany as the bride of Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor. By all accounts, they had a happy but childless marriage.

Henry V
Holy Roman Emperor

When Henry died in 1125, Matilda returned to England where her father forced her, now a dowager empress, to marry Geoffrey of Anjou, a lesser nobleman eleven years her senior. This new marriage brought her little happiness. From the start, it was fraught with abuse. She left him and ran back to England. But political need came into play. Through her father’s intervention, and urged by step-mother Adeliza, Matilda reluctantly returned to Geoffrey. She bore him three sons, Henry (later King Henry II of England, Geoffrey (Count of Nantes) and William.

Geoffrey of Anjou

Matilda's father, King Henry I of England, died in 1135. Forgetting the vow they made to crown Matilda as Queen of England, the nobles reneged and placed Stephen of Blois, her cousin on the throne.

Stephen of Blois

But Stephen did not prove a popular king. Several of his nobles turned on him. The nobles urged Matilda to come to England to be crowned. With the support of her uncle, King David of Scotland, and his army, Matilda attempted a return. Stephen was captured and taken prisoner at a battle at Lincoln.

No woman had ever ruled England or Normandy, especially Matilda who had a reputation for being arrogant, bad-tempered, and moody. Few people liked her. Nevertheless, she travelled to Winchester, and was proclaimed queen. It was then her difficult personality became evident. She refused to converse kindly with the people.

Stephen’s wife visited her to beg for her husband’s freedom in exchange for their exile across the sea and a promise to never interfere in her life again. Matilda refused and ordered the woman away, a decision she would come to regret.

Those loyal to Stephen, continued to fight for him. Their cause gained support as more and more people became disenchanted with their harsh, unkind queen. Even her husband would not come to England to help her. Surrounded by her enemies, she was forced to flee from Winchester, her supporters killed or captured. Disguised in a coffin perforated with holes so she could breath, Matilda made it to Gloucester and Oxford Castle. While one of her supporters crossed the sea to fetch her eldest son Henry who was ten years old, her castle was besieged by Stephen whom Matilda had earlier freed. His men surrounded the castle and prevented food and supplies from entering.

Determined to escape, she and three of her knights dressed themselves in white and in the dead of winter, escaped by climbing down the walls with ropes. Camouflaged against the snow, no one saw them. They crossed the ice-covered river on the ice, walked in the night, and arrived at Abingdon. On horseback, they rode to Wallingford, where Matilda greeted her young son, Henry.

An uneasy truce between Stephen and Matilda came to be. Matilda raised her son at Gloucester until her husband sent for him so he could see his eldest before he left on a crusade. Geoffrey died during this crusade.

Matilda no longer wanted to be queen. Her son, Henry, became king.

Henry II
King of England

Matilda retired to a convent until she died at Rouen in France where she was buried. Her epitaph reads:

"Here lies the daughter, wife, and mother of Henry."

From start to finish, Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick captured my interest. As with all of Elizabeth’s novels, the story is vividly described with a depth of historical detail that is rarely matched by other novelists in the genre. She brings to life the story of a queen who was contrary, vitriolic, and verbally blunt. Despite the known rancorous personality of this fascinating queen, the author allows us to see her in several dimensions – a young bride, an abused wife, a political pawn. And it is this that allows us to admire her courage and strength in the face of an entire country that refused to fully accept her as their queen. A wonderful reprieve from all the Tudor novels that are saturating the market, I urge you to get this book for insight into this fascinating woman’s life.

An Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick

Many thanks to the members of Historical Novel Review for inviting me to give this blog interview.
I’m delighted to be here!

I'm very excited to have one of Britain's finest writers joining us here today. A warm welcome to Elizabeth Chadwick. Thank you for taking the time to allow us to get to know you better. 

1. Can you tell us a little about your novel?

LADY OF THE ENGLISH is the story of Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I. She was so called because she had married the Emperor of Germany at the age of 12 and lived at the German court . When she was about 23, her husband died and her father summoned her back to his side, intending to make her heir to England and Normandy. A woman on the throne was not a popular choice in a male dominated society, and Matilda found herself forced into marrying a youth she hated because her father ordered it so. When her father died, Matilda’s claim to the throne was pushed to one side by his barons, who elected her male cousin Stephen to the throne instead. The scene was set for war as Matilda set out to claim her rightful crown.

LADY OF THE ENGLISH is also the story of Matilda’s stepmother Adeliza of Louvain. She was the same age as Matilda and had been married at a very young age to Matilda's father as his second wife. The women became good friends and allies. Adeliza married a baron of the opposition, and the story follows Adeliza's struggle to help Matilda and yet still be a good wife to her husband. It examines through the characters different aspects what it meant to be a woman in the 12th century.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?

I have always written about the medieval period and both men and women in this timeframe. It’s my home territory and my comfort zone. I have done detailed research into the period and I love bringing it to life for a modern audience. It's as simple as that. I am always inspired by the Middle Ages! Also the more I research, the more I realise how much we don't know about the period today, and how much we assume we know which is often very wrong. For example: At one end you have the view that women were powerless in the society of the time, and at the other end the view that actually they were very powerful and filled with the light of modern feminism. The truth is always tinted in shades of grey. They weren't powerless, but their power was measured in different ways to modern Western society. They had their fields of influence that waxed and waned with their role in society. The most powerful women were mothers of male children and widows who were able either to wield the reins behind-the-scenes, or take them in their own right. Daughters and young wives were perhaps the most powerless and had to bide their time.

3. What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

I've covered this is in a small part in the above question. They didn't have independence as we know it, and had to work out how to get their own way by more subtle means, but it also meant they were more vulnerable. A man was permitted to beat his wife for example, and property laws frequently put women at a disadvantage. Other hardships, are still suffered by many women around the globe today. Famine, war, rudimentary and often ineffective healthcare were just a few of the hardships medieval women might face at some point in their lives. There was the absolute peril of childbirth to face time and again. Contraception was haphazard at least, and the belief system said that one should only lie with one's spouse for the intentions of procreation.

Without vaccination, without access to good paediatric care, only the strong survived and Medieval women often had to deal with the death of one or more of their children. They might be more accepting and fatalistic than us, but it still didn't mean that they grieved less.

I think from Medieval women, we can learn to be grateful for what we have today and not to complain about small things -such as the cliché of the broken fingernail. I also think that while retaining our compassion, we should learn to be tougher.

4. What inspired you about your heroine? Why did you choose her?

LADY OF THE ENGLISH actually has two heroines in the Empress Matilda and Adeliza of Louvain. I have always been interested in the Empress. She is portrayed as a cold, hard, bad-tempered woman. I have even described that way myself in earlier novels from a superficial examination of her character. But I wanted to find out what she was really like? If she was a termagant, then were there reasons for it? What she being misrepresented? Were there any alternative views of her personality? What were the people around her like? What made her tick? Writing novels is always about asking and answering questions.

With Adeliza of Louvain, I realised that no one had ever written a novel about her, and that in fact she was very important to the history of the period, because without her quiet, understated courage, Matilda would have found it far more difficult to make her bid for England's crown, and Henry II might never have come to the throne. I was also interested to find out about Adeliza's relationship with a baron called William D’Albini who she married after her husband King Henry I died. D’Albini supported the opposition during Matilda’s bid for the crown, yet he and Adeliza seemed to live together in harmony. So what was their story?

5. Can you describe a typical writing day?

Depends what day of the week you take as all are different but typical in their own way. If you ask me on a weekday, mostly I write for half of the day and an evening. I will take time out to do the grocery shop, meet a friend, or keep fit at the gym. When I write, I tend to do so in short bursts interspersing with social networking such as Facebook and Twitter and sites such as Goodreads and Historical fiction Online. I know a lot of writers need a concentrated amount of time in which to write, but I find it fairly easy to switch between disciplines. The weekends tend to be my most intensive writing days because I don't take time out to do things away from the PC - other than eat! I am more of a night owl than a lark, and can sometimes be found toiling away in the early hours of the morning, which tend to be late at night in Australia, and mid-evening in the USA, so generally that's when I hook up with overseas readers and friends.

6. Can you tell us briefly about any new novels in the works?

I have been contracted to write 3 novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine by my UK publisher – The Summer Queen, The Winter Crown and The Autumn Throne. I’m researching and writing the first one at the moment. I feel that there is still a place for another Eleanor of Aquitaine novel in the market and my take will be unique! While waiting for the Eleanor books, Sourcebooks in the USA are going to be publishing A Place Beyond Courage, Shadows And Strongholds and Lords of the White Castle, three of my UK titles that have not received a widespread USA audience before.