Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Cure for the Condition by Amy Croall

eBook Giveaway and a sneak peak at an exciting historical novel, A Cure for the Condition by Amy Croall. All you have to do to enter is leave a comment.  

“The true man wants two things: danger and play. For that reason he wants woman, as the most dangerous plaything.”
 Friedrich Nietzsche

Part 1
Chapter 1

A forlorn, soft piano melody enveloped her as the book lay at an awkward angle in her lap. As her eyes remained closed, absorbing the musician’s brilliant performance, she had no idea her step-brother was watching her.

“Ah, Princess Catherine—there you are!” he said, barging into the room as he had many times over the previous two years.

Princess Catherine inhaled before his gravelly voice could release her daydreams. Sitting straight on the stiff sofa in the parlor, she placed the book next to her.

“Yes, good afternoon, Malcolm,” she replied.

Malcolm supplied her with a half-smirk and proceeded to lean against the sofa on which she sat. Princess Catherine couldn’t help but experience an ever-so-slight tingle when she peered into his crystal-blue eyes.

Although her step-brother’s nose was somewhat too large, his lips thin, and his face angular, Malcolm had a strong jaw, well-groomed silver hair, and a smile that could draw women from countries away. At times, his boyish half-smirk made it difficult for Princess Catherine to recall he was seven years her senior.

“I heard about your meeting with the suitor this afternoon, and I must say I am intrigued,” he said.

Catherine donned an immediate scowl. “Malcolm, is this going to be another instance such as when you barged into this room as I was learning that piano and tell me I am causing a ruckus, or will it be reminiscent of when I returned home wearing rouge and you mocked me endlessly?” she demanded.

Malcolm feigned ignorance, putting a hand to his heart. “Why, dear step-sister, I am saddened by your accusations! I merely wished to extend my…condolences that the meeting did not go as hoped.” He suppressed a half-hearted chuckle.

“Of course,” Catherine replied, clearing her throat. “I’ll have you know our feelings were requited. I did not much care for the man.”

“Oh? That’s not what was told to me. I was told he stifled a laugh at first sight of you, and then appeared bored and lazy the remainder of his stay,” Malcolm said, pulling on a lock of Catherine’s brown hair.

She pulled away and supplied him with a sharp stare.

“My, my, you certainly are a harbinger of rejection, aren’t you? Inquiring minds are dying to know, Princess—what’s that like?” he asked.

“I suppose you should ask the multitude of women at your feet, Malcolm; perhaps they would be a more fitting choice. Tell me, how many with whom have you been?” she demanded, attempting to quell the sting of emotion forcing its way through her middle.

Malcolm stopped for a moment and furrowed his brow. “I don’t know; I don’t count,” he replied smugly, turning his attention back to her.

“Of course not.”

“Oh, poor Catherine,” he continued. “No man will ever desire to be the Prince of a woman as plain as you. Why, your ridiculous freckles and mousy brown hair will never draw in a man of merit.”

Catherine inhaled a sharp breath and straightened her back. “How dare you! I am an educated woman, I speak three languages fluently, and I am heir to the Cannary throne!”

“Oh come now, you’re seventeen and still have yet to find a husband. How many suitors does that man make, anyway?”

At his words, Catherine stood and clenched her fists at her sides. “I will not stoop to your level of…affectionate teasing, Malcolm!”

For a moment, her step-brother said nothing, seeming to be surprised by her sudden outburst. However, after regaining his composure, he was hit with a fit of laughter so powerful he was forced to double over and clutch his belly.

“Affectionate! Oh, you are much too entertaining!” he said between chuckles.

Wanting no more of his belligerent behavior, Catherine stormed from the parlor and down the hall to the Queen’s study, the familiar twinge of despondency trying to force tears from the well behind her eyes.

“Princesses do not cry!” she told herself before knocking on her mother’s door.

Once she heard the unmistakable soft voice of her mother granting her entrance, she pushed the door open and barged into the room.

“Oh, Catherine, dear!” her mother said, a warm smile on her face. She pushed aside a pile of papers and supplied her daughter with her full attention. “I apologize about that abysmal meeting between you and Mr. Elgar this afternoon.”

“It is fine, Mother,” Catherine replied, seating herself in a plush chair across from the large maple desk at which the Queen worked. She straightened her back and folded her hands in her lap.

“You must understand that I feel you are at an age where you must find a husband.” The Queen smiled again, gentle wrinkles creasing into the skin around her eyes and mouth.

“It is no bother, Mother. However…”

Queen Victoria leaned forward, awaiting her daughter’s next words. “What is it, dear?”

“Well...there is…” she stumbled with unease.

“Ah ha!” her mother cried, standing from her desk. “I knew it! I would recognize that look anywhere!”

“Mother, please…”

“Nonsense! Why did you not tell me of this man sooner?” Queen Victoria demanded, rounding the corner and embracing her daughter.

“He does not share my feelings,” Catherine replied with a sigh. With purpose, she omitted the fact that this man was also her step-brother.

Her mother pulled away and looked deep into her daughter’s emerald eyes. “Any man who does not find you perfect is utterly mad,” she said with a smile.

Catherine returned her mother’s gesture with a strained smile of her own. “But, I am convinced he is the only man I desire, Mother.”

The Queen took a seat in the other plush chair adjacent to her large desk and sighed.

“Catherine, I’d like to tell you a story,” she began.

The Princess nodded and allowed her mother to continue.

“When I was not much younger than you, I married your father. I believed he was the handsomest man in the world. I doubted I would ever find another love such as he gave me. But…” she paused, a frown creasing into her long face, “when he died...well...I was torn, you know this.”

“Yes, but I would rather not speak of Father,” Catherine replied, her voice tight with decade-old anger.

“Of course, I understand. At any rate, when I met Malcolm’s father two years ago, my belief in love was renewed; Callum is a wonderful man. Catherine, I am sure one day you will find a man who will return all the affection and love you hold in your heart.”

* * * *

After a late supper that night, Catherine was studying her books in a small den across from the castle’s dungeon. Many of the words and phrases in the books were familiar to the Princess, and she found herself submitting to a brief chuckle at the Cannary License Act of 1872, which prohibited civilians to operate bovine while intoxicated.

Soon, as often happened on late nights when studying, she found herself intimidated by a particular clause in one of Cannary’s oldest policies. Placing a piece of parchment between the pages to mark her place, she stood from the plush sofa and made her way down the hall toward the bedroom of the Queen and Prince.

“Mother?” she called, knocking on the door.

Silence followed, so the Princess rapped again.

“Mother?” she said with more force.

When no one answered, she turned the brass door handle and peeked into the room. What she saw was unimaginable.

Blood was spattered on the painting of her great grandfather and the pink striped wall above the four-poster bed. The sheets were soaked with the sticky red substance as it dripped off of the bed skirt into a puddle on the floor. The Queen and Prince of Cannary lay motionless, bathed in the crimson fluid. Catherine stared unmoving at the scene before her in utter terror.

Her lungs froze as she tried to call for help. All her prior schooling and instincts left her as she stared at her mother and step-father’s lifeless bodies before her. She was unable to remember whom she was to call in a situation such as this. At last, when her head began to swim, she pulled in a labored breath and opened her mouth.


Her step-brother was the first person who had come to mind, and she shouted his name with all the strength left in her body.

By chance, his room was just across the hall and he emerged a moment later, raking a hand through his tousled silver hair.

“For what reason are you shouting, Catherine?” he demanded, yawning wide.

“Moth...mother…” she stuttered.

Malcolm let out a sigh and trudged across the hallway to Catherine’s side. She was vaguely aware of his presence, but couldn’t tear her gaze away from her poor mother.

After what seemed like an eternity of silence, Malcolm pushed Catherine away and pointed down the hallway.

“Go, Catherine! Go to your room! Whoever’s done this may still be here!” he shouted at her.

Startled by the force of his voice, Catherine’s composure returned, and she scampered toward the end of the long hall, followed by her step-brother’s shouts for the guards.

I was born in Santa Maria, a small town close to Santa Barbara, California. The town was small, dusty, and my parents did not have a lot of money. I spent my adolescence reading and furthering my education in any way I could. I often spent my vacations buried in books or doing writing of my own. Ultimately, it was my father who got me excited about the power of writing. He and I would write short children's stories about ducks and frogs playing in the swamp. One day, we collaborated an idea about writing a picture book in which animals lived in harmony with humans.

When I was eighteen, I moved out of my parents' house and took creative writing and literature classes. When I met my husband, he encouraged me to write for myself, but I had higher aspirations. With A Cure for the Condition, I had my first professional success with Whiskey Creek Press and was able to spend more time learning the ins and outs of writing. For my second book A Cure for the Past, I researched with a concept designer at NASA. At the moment, I am working on submitting The Death of Me to agents and am planning the subsequent novels in its wake.

About Amy Croall

I was born in Santa Maria, a small town close to Santa Barbara, California. The town was small, dusty, and my parents did not have a lot of money. I spent my adolescence reading and furthering my education in any way I could. I often spent my vacations buried in books or doing writing of my own. Ultimately, it was my father who got me excited about the power of writing. He and I would write short children's stories about ducks and frogs playing in the swamp. One day, we collaborated an idea about writing a picture book in which animals lived in harmony with humans.

When I was eighteen, I moved out of my parents' house and took creative writing and literature classes. When I met my husband, he encouraged me to write for myself, but I had higher aspirations. With A Cure for the Condition, I had my first professional success with Whiskey Creek Press and was able to spend more time learning the ins and outs of writing. For my second book A Cure for the Past, I researched with a concept designer at NASA. At the moment, I am working on submitting The Death of Me to agents and am planning the subsequent novels in its wake.

From History and Women

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary Of A Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale


"I think people marry far too much; it is such a lottery, and for a poor woman--bodily and morally the husband’s slave--a very doubtful happiness." - Queen Victoria to her recently married daughter Vicky. Headstrong, high-spirited, and already widowed, Isabella Walker became Mrs. Henry Robinson at age 31 in 1844. Her first husband had died suddenly, leaving his estate to a son from a previous marriage, so she inherited nothing. A successful civil engineer, Henry moved them, by then with two sons, to Edinburgh’s elegant society in 1850. But Henry traveled often and was cold and remote when home, leaving Isabella to her fantasies. No doubt thousands of Victorian women faced the same circumstances, but Isabella chose to record her innermost thoughts-and especially her infatuation with a married Dr. Edward Lane-in her diary. Over five years the entries mounted-passionate, sensual, suggestive. One fateful day in 1858 Henry chanced on the diary and, broaching its privacy, read Isabella’s intimate entries. Aghast at his wife’s perceived infidelity, Henry petitioned for divorce on the grounds of adultery. Until that year, divorce had been illegal in England, the marital bond being a cornerstone of English life. 

Their trial would be a cause celebre, threatening the foundations of Victorian society with the specter of "a new and disturbing figure: a middle class wife who was restless, unhappy, avid for arousal." Her diary, read in court, was as explosive as Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, just published in France but considered too scandalous to be translated into English until the 1880s. As she accomplished in her award-winning and bestselling The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale brilliantly recreates the Victorian world, chronicling in exquisite and compelling detail the life of Isabella Robinson, wherein the longings of a frustrated wife collided with a society clinging to rigid ideas about sanity, the boundaries of privacy, the institution of marriage, and female sexuality. 


Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace is a non-fictional accounting of Victorian woman’s diary and her secret love. Isabella Robinson was an upper middle class woman married to a successful businessman with whom she had three children. One could say Isabella had it all – a wealthy husband, plenty of servants, plenty of fashionable clothes and accessories, and the perfect family. Despite all this, Isabella was not happy. She was trapped in a loveless marriage with a difficult, cold man who was away from home most of the time. He had two illegitimate children, a sign that his own moral values were corrupt. Her unhappiness led to Isabella falling hopelessly and lustfully in love with Dr Edward Lane, the son-in-law of a family within her closest social circle. In a secret diary, Isabella diligently recorded her innermost feelings, desires, and thoughts as her passion for the married Dr Lane turned into obsession. As her marriage failed and led to divorce, her diary was used against her by her infuriated husband and mocked for its scandal in the media at the time. Her husband had stolen the diary and used it against her in his divorce suit on the grounds of her adultery. The case culminated in a choice for Mrs Robinson to declare herself sexually active and immoral or insane. She chose to be labelled immoral and be disgraced, thus erasing any moral after-effects on Dr Lane and his family. 

This book provides readers with an accurate depiction of how difficult and complex life for Victorian women was and the dilemmas they faced in matters of sexuality and married life. Excerpts of the diary are interspersed in in the factual, historical accounting of this famous case. All in all, it is a fascinating case story and an important historical event worth reading about.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

I know I could never write a timeslip story that could top this one, so I’m not going to try – despite it being something I have wanted since reading, ‘Lady of Hay’ by Barbara Erskine – and it’s all due to Susanna Kearsley’s latest book, The Rose Garden.

When Eva's film star sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Cornwall to scatter Katrina's ashes. Eva also needs to find where she belongs in the world and where better but the place where the sisters spent childhood summers?  Eva discovers her grief takes a strange turn and she begins to hallucinate – or does she?

Without warning and totally out of her control, Eva finds herself stepping into the Trelowarth House of the past, three hundred years into it to be exact. She meets an unusual man, Daniel Butler, who  not only accepts her story with admirable calm, but he helps her adjust, not to mention hide her frequent appearances at unexpected times. Eva begins to question her place in the present, but how can she be in love with a man who has long been dead? Is there a way she can stay with Daniel in his world?

The ‘past’ characters leap out of the page, from the mesmerising Daniel, the sharp Irish wit of Fergal, the flambouyant Jack to the sinister, dangerous Constable Creed. The salty damp seaweed smell of the smuggler’s cave and the author’s description of Daniel’s ship, ‘the ‘Sally’ was so vivid, I expected Jack Sparrow to turn up at any moment.

The history of the first Jacobite Rebellion is weaved into the story seamlessly, so it’s not hard to believe you are with Eva in the early eighteenth century.  One of Eva’s dilemma’s was that she couldn’t take anything modern back into the past with her, but I was willing her to change some of her wealth into diamonds – which could certainly have been useful  in 1715!

I loved this story and feel sure it will remain with me for a while.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mesmerized by Alissa Walser

In a colourful, chaotic private hospital in 18th Century Vienna, whose corridors echo with the screams of hysterical patients, Franz Anton Mesmer is developing a series of controversial cures for body and mind. When he is asked to restore the sight of a blind musical prodigy favoured by the Empress, he senses that fame, and even immortality, is within his grasp. Mesmer knows that he will have to gain her trust if he is to open her eyes. But at what cost to her fragile talent? And will their intimacy result in scandal?

Celebrated scientist and egotist, Franz Anton Mesmer is summoned to the house of the Vienna Court Secretary and set the task of curing 18-year-old Marie Theresa Paradis. Marie hides from the world in silent darkness and a huge wig, and I am not sure what the parents expected of Mesmer – after all, isn’t blindness physical? However, Mesmer installs her in his 'magnetic hospital'. He embarks upon a programme of treatment, and in exchange for her co-operation, Marie is given access to Mesmer’s own piano.

Mesmer holds the opinion that the planet is affected by tides, thus they must also alter the magnetism inside the human physiology which could be harnessed to heal by positioning magnets on the patient's body. His method became known as 'mesmerism', refined over time into hypnotism, which is now recognised as a valid therapy. However this is 18th Century Austria and Mesmer is either a genius or a rogue.

His ability to put his patients into a trance-like state during treatment brings him attention from the medical and scientific world as well as a certain notoriety. I didn’t much like the ‘lunatic’ scenes, which only reinforced all my nightmares of bedlam in the 17th century. But then mental illness was a grey area in the 1700’s. And in some ways it still is.

Mesmer start to show success when he is able to restore Marie’s sense of dark and light. Soon he is inundated with new patients, and he becomes convinced he is destined for glory. However, as Marie’s sight improves, her musical genius diminishes and her ‘doctor’ is branded a charlatan. Worse, he is accused of inappropriate intimacy with Marie.

Mesmer’s fascination with his patients also causes a degree of jealousy in his wife, Anna, especially when she provided the money for his hospital and then he neglects her in favour of his damaged subjects. Anna is a changing character in the novel, as is the melodramatic Mistress Ossine, and a maid who knows all Mesmer’s secrets.

Alissa Walser's writing style is difficult to judge as the version I read was a translation of the German original, with multiple and deep first person PoV’s.  These changing viewpoints, though distracting at times, help the reader see what is going on in the heads of his patients, and critics.  We know about Mesmer's opinion of himself, thus the egotistic label, and the angst he experiences when he is misunderstood.

Mesmer is driven away from the glory he assumed would be his, and here the story jumps in time and ends with a nice little twist I wasn’t expecting. In fact this is an unexpected story altogether and will certainly appeal to those interested in emerging mental health medicine. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

My Fair Concubine

This is my third novel from author Jeannie Lin – fourth story – and I'm happy to say I continue to enjoy myself.

Concubine” is the story of Yan Ling, a tea house serving girl, and Chang Fei Long, the “Professor Higgins” of this take on My Fair Lady.

Here's the back cover blurb of the plot, though I'll give away a bit more:

Yan Ling tries hard to be servile—it's what's expected of a girl of her class. Being intelligent and strong-minded, she finds it a constant battle.

Proud Fei Long is unimpressed by her spirit—until he realizes she's the answer to his problems. He has to deliver the emperor a "princess." In two months can he train a tea girl to pass as a noblewoman?

Yet it's hard to teach good etiquette when all Fei Long wants to do is break it, by taking this tea girl for his own...

The reason Fei Long has to deliver a "princess" is because his family promised to do so in exchange for enough money to negate the family's debt. Only the girl they'd intended to use skips town before the book begins. Throughout the book, the reader is intensely aware that Fei Long cannot act on his love for Yan Ling without putting his entire household, family and servants, into servitude forever. Yan Ling, who loves the household as if they were her own family, feels the same way. The tug of duty versus desire is palpable and exquisite.

I'd have to say I was aware while reading that this was a remake of a much later, non-Asian story. The novel doesn't feel as firmly settled during the Tang era as the Dragon and The Pearl – Lin's previous book – but, that did not distract me. Perhaps in large part because Lin's grasp of unattainable heart-rending desire was more realized in this story than in her other novels.

One part of the story's conclusion was given away earlier than I would have liked. It reduced the tension. But there were enough other questions still at large by the end of the story, that one reveal was pretty minor. The competition at the end of the book was pure enjoyment and delight, as were so many other points.

For instance, the first thing our heroine does upon meeting Fei Long is deliberately throw a pot of tea in his face. How can you not love that beginning? Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait....

No empires or dynasties were threatened during the writing of this novel and that sort of additional tension wasn't necessary to the story. It's simply a joy to read – with or without Julie Andrews opining about “someone's 'ead restin' on my knee, warm an' tender as 'e can be. 'oo takes good care of me, aow, wouldn't it be loverly?”

Yes. Yes, it was.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Humble Companion by Laurie Graham

It is 1788, and twelve-year-old Cornelia [Nellie] Welche’s lives in her comfortable home in Soho, where her father is a high-ranking steward in the household of Prinnie, Prince of Wales. Nellie is mourning the loss of her elder sister, Eliza,manifested in her overeating her father’s cakes. The fact that Nellie she also suffers from a disfiguring birthmark does not help her appearance, attracting both sympathy and derision.

Her world changes forever when her father puts her forward as a possible companion to the Princess Sophia, the nine-year-old daughter of George III and his wife, Queen Charlotte.

Nellie quickly discovers that not all princesses live in the lap of luxury, nor are their whims always catered to. That being Royal is a euphemism for a unique kind of neglect where boredom and lack of the best food or even winter fuel is a common occurrence. Nellie is not impressed – and is not backward in saying so. She also develops a charming affection for the unfortunate King George, who suffers episodes of the illness that would label him 'Mad'.

The friendship of the lonely princess, runs from the first rumblings of revolution in France to the innovation of gas light and steam trains, from poor mad George to safe and steady Victoria, Nellie is the sharp-penned narrator of a changing world and the unchanging, cloistered lives of Princess ‘Sofy’ and her sisters.

Nellie is pragmatic about life and people, possibly because she cannot get by on her looks, and she has a sharp wit and a clever way with words which makes this story an entertaining read.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Book Giveaway - Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov - A Guest Post by Author Colin Falconer

When I wrote Anastasia ten years ago there was still a lingering doubt about whether she had survived the botched execution in which the rest of her family were murdered. What was more certain was that the man who organised this bloody episode, Yakov Yurovsky, was a couple of cadres short of the full committee. He must have been off sick when they did Assassination 101 at Secret Police School.

On his orders, the family were herded into a basement and shot with revolvers through the doorway by him and his men, the gunpowder from their revolvers burning their eyes and creating a fog in the tiny room. They had to fire over each other’s shoulders and Yurovsky claimed he came out deaf in one ear.

Yakov Mikhailovich Yurovsky
This method was not efficient. Also, the women had hidden their jewels inside their corsets and these acted as virtual bullet proof vests so Yurovsky recorded that they then had to be dispatched with bayonets. It was beyond brutal.

These circumstances left open the possibility that someone survived this bloody chaos. There were rumours (later proven false) that for days afterwards the Bolsheviks searched trains in the Urals looking for a young woman fitting Anastasia’s description. 

For years the story of the missing princess captured the public imagination. Anastasia soon had more impersonators than Elvis Presley. The most notable, Anna Anderson, pursued her case in the European courts for over thirty years. After her death it transpired that she was not only NOT Anastasia, she wasn’t even Russian.

Anna Anderson

The remains of the Romanov family were finally discovered near Ekaterinburg in 1991. Intriguingly two skeletons were missing, those of a young woman and the boy, Alexei. 

Even then, it was impossible to imagine how Anastasia could have escaped, even if she survived the gruesome debacle in the basement and was still alive when they threw her on the cart with the rest of her family to be buried in the forest. And Alexei; just impossible. He was a haemophiliac. Any serious wound would have made death inevitable anyway.

But it wasn’t the mystery of Anastasia’s fate that motivated me to write about her. It was a story I read in the newspaper about a man in Liverpool, England who had been found unconscious in the street a year before and was still languishing in a public hospital. He had severe amnesia. Authorities published his photograph hoping that someone might know who he was and come forward and identify him.

I subsequently discovered that severe head trauma, when suffered simultaneously with severe emotional distress, can bring about a rare and long lasting amnesia. (The most famous - and saddening - case is that of ‘Benjamin Kyle’

I imagined that if Anastasia had survived, the shock of seeing her family murdered and afterwards being battered with a rifle butt would have turned her into another Benjamin Kyle.

This made me reflect on the nature of identity.

If we don’t have our memories then who are we? We still live and breathe, yes, but we no longer retain that which makes us ‘who we are’.

If we don’t have any remembrance, what is left of us?

For the story, I imagined a woman appearing in Shanghai in 1920 suffering from traumatic
Anastasia on Kindle
amnesia. People take her to be Anastasia - in order to fulfill their own agenda. Over time she struggles to become the person they want her to be - becoming someone else's idea seems better than being no one at all.

Is this what some of us do anyway - spend our lives becoming what others want of us? If so, how do we then discover who we really are - so we can follow our own course?

The question of memory has become more poignant to me over the last year. My mother is rapidly losing hers - sometimes she struggles to remember the man who was her husband for 52 years. She even takes a while to recognize me or my brother now.  

Who we are if we are not the memories we have accumulated and the name someone gave us is an interesting question. It intrigued me far more than whether Anastasia survived or not. She didn’t, by the way: in 2008, two more skeletons were discovered, 200 yards from the original grave site, and were positively identified as the missing two Romanovs.




From History and Women

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Luminist by David Rocklin

The Luminist is the story of Eligius, a Ceylon native who witnesses his father's murder while his father seeks legal rights for Ceylon natives from their British overlords.

Eligius is hired by the same Colonials who paid his father, only instead of doing the same work, Eligius is there to help Catherine Colebrook, instead of her husband. She is a woman ahead of her time - career driven in that she's obsessed with the unknown science of photography. Eligius has always been fascinated by light and the two develop a relationship complicated by Catherine's dead child and familial interactions, Eligius' father and a struggling country.

The story has drop dead beautiful language and the author delves into the nature of humanity and colonialism with a surgeon's skill. Sadly, the pace of the story suffered and didn't pick up until about halfway through when Eligius discovers why the images within Catherine's photos have disappeared like their dead loved ones. (This was a chemical discovery critical to the birth of modern photography.) It's an electrifying moment, but takes a long time arriving.

However, if you're interested in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and its history, this is a good read and worth the time invested.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Book Giveaway! The Golden Lane by Sam L. Phiester.

Leave a comment in order to win either an epub or Kindle version of this novel!

Good Luck!

Book Summary

The Golden Lane is a true story about the Tampico Oil Boom from 1909-1914. All the characters were real people. Most of the events happened as described. The story follows the early career of Everette DeGolyer, whose oil discoveries propelled Mexico into one of the largest oil producing nations at the time when the world's industries and navies became dependent on foreign crude, foreshadowing World War I and today's reliance on Mideast oil. At the same time, the Mexican Revolution swept the country into a decade-long era of violence. The book portrays the unfolding development of petroleum geology against a backdrop of revolution, foreign intrigue, and geopolitics. It's also a love story.

Meet the Author

Sam L. Phiester

You have written a historical novel that is a true story. Why didn't you simply write a history?

The Golden Lane is history in the sense that all of the characters were real people and nearly all of the events actually happened. But by adding dialogue and inner thoughts, feelings of love, anxiety, happiness, confusion -- how life is actually experienced -- well-written historical fiction can become more accurate than history in depicting 'the true story'.

Why did you choose the Tampico Oil Boom of 1909-1914?

Being in the oil business, I understand the game. It's a difficult game to explain because, well, because you can't see the subsurface. It can be visualized, but you can't see beneath the surface. Yet to understand geology is to understand history on a geologic scale: "beds of rocks are stone diaries...that reveal the hidden poetry of our mutable earth".  As a young man of twenty-three, the key protagonist, Everetter DeGolyer, was hired by one of the world's wealthiest industrialists to salvage a failed exploration effort in the jungles of Mexico near Tampico just as the Mexican Revolution unhinged the country in a decade-long rendezvous with violence. At the same time, the world was rapidly becoming dependent on foreign crude. So there you have the threads of a true tale: a quest for discovery, violence and social upheaval , foreign intrigue, and best of all, a love story.

A love story?

When Everette DeGolyer, the young protagonist, leaves for Mexico he has fallen in love with a blue-eyed blond beauty, Nell Goodrich, his German tutor at the University of Oklahoma. Their actual love letters are included in the book. The book opens with one such letter:    
Sweetheart Woman:
    A very wonderful thing has happened. I am to go to Mexico in three weeks. This plays sad havoc with our plans, but new ones can be made. Girl, girl, woman love, we're going to have to decide some very, very important things just as soon as I can see you.  You are my white rose love and I send you a warm red rose kiss. It will have to suffice until my lips and love can reach you.
Your man, Everette

Nell refuses to marry Everette until he finishes his college degree. But when a few months later he takes French leave from his job, leaves Tampico without permission, catches the train to Norman, Oklahoma and asks for her hand. she accepts and a week later, Nell Goodrich DeGolyer, who has never left home, is in a third-world village a hundred miles south of Tampico, a town with no running water, sewage, or electricity, living in a room above a market that sells vegetables and meat. Everette buys her a pistol to sleep with under her pillow and leaves two days later for work on the rigs. A week later she writes:

My very own Sweetheart, De:
   Now I am in my room in my kimono waiting to sit on your lap and to be put to bed so that I can lie on your dear arm til I go to sleep -- the very sweetest place for my head that I can think of. This is more of a love letter than I have ever written to you before, dearest, but it is all straight from a heart so full that I had to write it even if I had no way on earth to send it. Dearest, when I've been married at least a month I think I can let you go for five days, but now -- for my sake, come Friday. I am very lonely and very much in love with the sweetest man on earth, which is my very own husband. Love to you in a thousand tender caresses from the Woman Who is Yours Alone. Nell

De and Nell were married forty-six years until De's death in 1956. Their love letters, his geologic reports, cablegrams, and poems are included in the book and are authentic and unedited. With such an array of rich characters during such extraordinary times, why make anything up? I hope readers will find the true story to be as riveting as I found the research.   

Sam L. Pfiester

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr by Sandra Byrd

Book Summary:

The author of To Die For returns to the court of Henry VIII as a young woman is caught between love and honor.

Juliana St. John is the daughter of a prosperous knight. Though her family wants her to marry the son of her father's business partner, circumstances set her on a course toward the court of Henry VIII and his last wife, Kateryn Parr.

     Sir Thomas Seymour, uncle of the current heir, Prince Edward, returns to Wiltshire to tie up his concerns with Juliana's father's estate and sees instantly that Juliana would fit into the household of the woman he loves, Kateryn Parr. Her mother agrees to have her placed in Parr's household for "finishing" and Juliana goes, though perhaps reluctantly.
     For she knows a secret. She has been given the gift of prophecy, and in one of her visions she has seen Sir Thomas shredding the dress of the king's daughter, the lady Elizabeth, to perilous consequence. 
As Juliana learns the secrets of King Henry VIII's court, she faces threats and opposition, learning truths about her own life that will undo everything she holds dear.


Queen Kateryn Parr

Sandra Byrd has written another excellent novel. This time, the story is about Kateryn Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife – one of his wives who survived marriage to the notorious, murderous monarch who got rid of wives by way of the executioner’s axe. She died by natural causes.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sandra Byrd’s interpretation of Kate Parr’s life. She is portrayed as a kind-hearted, generous, and loving wife and mother figure with a strong faith, great patience, and high tolerance for others’ shortcomings.

The story is told through the voice of Juliana St. John. Juliana is no ordinary noblewoman. She has the gift of prophecy through her dreams. When Sir Thomas Seymour spots Juliana, he arranges for her to become lady in waiting to Kateryn Parr, the woman he loves, and soon to be wife of Henry VIII. Kate’s trust in Juliana is profound and their close relationship results in Juliana becoming her ‘secret keeper’. But unbeknownst to Juliana, there are secrets about her own past that beg to be exposed to her.

Sandra Byrd’s novels always delight, and I found this one quite refreshing – about a lesser known Tudor wife.

Mistress Juliana St. John is the lovely, forthright daughter of a prosperous knight’s family. Though all expect her to marry the son of her late father’s business partner, time and chance interrupt, sending her to the sumptuous but deceptive court of Henry VIII. There, Kateryn’s support of Anne Askew, a woman unwilling to bend to new religious laws, puts her and her ladies lives in jeopardy.

This tale nicely blends historical fact with fiction. The story is well-paced, well-written, and a gentle read. Sandra Byrd’s extensive research about the Tudors is evident in the rich details and descriptions. The conflicts Julian faces when having to decide between love and duty and sacrifice kept me interested from start to finish. And of course, the biggest secret of all is revealed in a highly satisfying, but rather unusual ending. A thoroughly enjoyable book well worth reading. 

The House of Serenades by Lina Simoni


In 1910 Genoa, an Italian port city of divided classes and ancient power struggles, the Berillis are wealthy, powerful, and respected—until the day their darkest secrets begin to surface. Once the police intervene and the gossip grapevine is set in motion, the Berillis’ demise is unavoidable. But love lives on, and there’s a mandolin player in town who is not giving up on the girl of his dreams. Never underestimate the power of music. The House of Serenades is a brilliant portrait of the Italian upper class at the turn of the 20th century, its habits, its ways of life. At the same time, the story denounces the abuse and repression of women (sisters, daughters, wives) that were so frequent in those years. 


I read Lina Simoni’s previous novel, The Scent of Rosa’s Oil and absolutely loved it. So I was eager to read THE HOUSE OF SERENADES! I was as enchanted with this second novel as I was the first. When you open the pages of THE HOUSE OF SERENADES, you will experience the fascinating culture of Italy’s golden era. From the grand salas in the homes of the wealthy nobility to the humble shops of the working class, this story explores how the social classes were distinct and so greatly divided. 

At the heart of the story is the patriarch of the Berelli family, Giuseppe Berelli, a man who has hidden a deep, dark secret for most of his life. Now in the twilight of his years, the secret that he has so faithfully kept, is about to be revealed. He struggles to keep it secret because it can ruin not only his social status, but his entire life and all that he has worked for. It is shocking how far this man went to protect his name and status. A wonderful, dark antagonist! 

The love story is about a young woman from the highest classes of society who falls in love with a baker’s son and their two families who try to keep them apart. After learning that his daughter has lost her virginity to her lover, her father banishes her to a strict convent. At the same time, his two sons bring more troubles to the family, one through unruly drunkenness, and the other highly aggressive. And to stir the tension further, there is a corrupt doctor desperate to keep his own secrets and a nosy police chief who is anxious to uncover the secrets of a crime. 

With plenty of subplots to keep readers interested and hooked, there is plenty to like. Larger than life, highly believable characters pepper this book’s pages. Hatred, bitterness, unrequited love, corruption, and a profound love story kept me turning the pages, eager to read on. This is an epic family saga, filled with plenty of tension and a story line that not only fascinates, but is highly satisfying. 

The plight of Italian women in the early 20th century was clearly portrayed through Caterina and Matilda. Their stories were not only poignant, but heartfelt as their helplessness and inability to take control of their lives brought to life the many struggles faced by women of their time. As a person with a strong Italian background and able to read and write in both languages, I found the story authentic to the times and culture. 

About the Author 

Lina Simoni is the author of a children’s book, Sofia’s Rainbow, and the award-winning novel, The Scent of Rosa’s Oil. She is at work on her third novel, The Cabinet Spell. Simoni lives in Southern California. She is also a photographer and artist. Her artistic and literary work is on Facebook and