Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir

The year is 1562. Lady Catherine Grey, cousin of Elizabeth I, has just been arrested along with her husband Edward. Their crime is to have secretly married and produced a child who might threaten the Queen's title.
Alone in her chamber at the Tower of London, Catherine hears ghostly voices, echoes, she thinks, of a crime committed in the same room where she is imprisoned.

The story flashes back to 1483 and another Catherine - Kate Plantaganet, bastard daughter of Richard III. She has heard terrible rumours of the death of the young deposed Edward V and his brother (the Princes in the Tower) but loyalty to her father prevents her believing them. After his death at Bosworth, she is viewed with suspicion by Henry VII's court, even more so when she becomes pregnant.

Catherine, too, is pregnant, a friendly warder having sneaked Edward into her room. She finds documents relating to Kate's life and gets swept up both in Kate's story and the mystery of the Princes, which she realises Kate never solved...

A Dangerous Inheritance is the story of two women who lived more than a century apart: Lady Catherine Grey in the 16th century and Lady Catherine Plantaganet in the 15th century; both known as “Kate”. The two women are connected in the story by their fascination with the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, both obsessed with learning the truth about what happened to them.

Beautifully written, I found the story of these two women highly compelling. Each woman’s story had plenty to keep readers enthralled with executions, court intrigues, dark secrets, and true love. They each suffered in their own way. It is evident that author Alison Weir did an incredible amount of research into the history behind the two young princes locked away and who ultimately disappeared from the Tower of London – a mystery that continues to this day. Even though it took a while to understand the link between these to women, all is revealed in a highly satisfying ending. 

The novel is rather long, but this is understandable considering this novel covers the lives of two women. The historical details are also well portrayed in this vividly told story. Part drama, part mystery, part suspense, this story has something for everyone. I enjoyed every page of this excellently written novel and I’m sure you will too.

Madame Serpent by Jean Plaidy

Fourteen-year-old Catherine de’ Medici arrives in Marseilles to marry Henry, Duke of Orleans, second son of the King of France. The brokenhearted Catherine has left her true love in Italy, forced into trading her future happiness for marriage into the French royal family.

Amid the glittering fÊtes and banquets of the most immoral court in sixteenth-century Europe, the reluctant bride becomes a passionate but unwanted wife. Humiliated and unloved, Catherine spies on Henry and his lover, the infamous Diane de Poitiers. Tortured by what she sees, Catherine becomes consumed by a ruthless ambition destined to make her the most despised woman in France: the dream that one day the French crown will be worn by a Medici heir. . . .

Madame Serpent is the first book of a trilogy about Catherine de Medici. This opening novel begins with Catherine's childhood and her subsequent political marriage to Henry, Duke of Orleans, who later became King Henry II of France. Catherine’s story is one about coming of age and of the court machinations that formed her into the devious woman she was forced to become. Ignored by her husband who prefers Diane de Poitiers, his much older, more experienced mistress, over his wife, Catherine forms a strong bond with her father-in-law, King Francis I.

Author Jean Plaidy delves deep into the malice and indignities Catherine suffered throughout her childhood and into adulthood, which ultimately shaped not only her character, but her destiny. Her unrequited love for her husband, Henry, makes the reader sympathetic with her character. She suffers much humiliation and mistreatment not only by her husband, but by her husband’s mistress who usurps her authority at every opportunity. So who is Madame Serpent? Is it Catherine or is it Diane? The answer is up to the reader to decide.

It is this conflict that appears on every page of this novel and that kept me turning pages to read more about this fascinating woman. Author Jean Plaidy knows how to write a book that draws readers immediately and indelibly into the story, making her characters feel as real as life. The prose is flowing and invisible, with plenty of descriptions as to gowns, food, and décor of the time. By far, this is the best novel I have read about Catherine de Medici and am eager to read the second and third books of the trilogy. For fans of this famous queen, this is a must have for your book shelf.

The Queen's Secret by Victoria Lamb


Warwickshire, 1575 - Pomp, fanfare and a wealth of lavish festivities await Elizabeth I at Kenilworth Castle. Organised by the Earl of Leicester, he knows this celebration is his last chance to persuade the Queen to marry him. But, a fickle man, he is unable to resist the seductive wiles of Lettice Knollys. Enraged by the couple’s growing intimacy, Elizabeth employs a young black singer and court entertainer to keep a watch on them. Brought up by a spy, Lucy’s observational skills are sharper than anyone at the castle realises, and she soon uncovers far more than she bargained for: someone at Kenilworth is plotting to kill the queen. Can Lucy's discovery prevent the queen's death? Or has it put Lucy in mortal danger instead?  

In the summer of 1575, Queen Elizabeth at forty is aware that her looks, which were never startling to begin with, are fading. The Earl of Leicester’s attentiveness, however, is as strong as ever – though Elizabeth suspects that he sees the summer progress to his home at Kenilworth Castle as his last chance to persuade her to marry him.

Queen Elizabeth’s complicated character is portrayed extremely well, from her jealousy of anyone younger and prettier than herself, to her love for Leicester, which is genuine but dangerous if she is to maintain her autocratic power. Although she loves Robert, and sometimes logs for marriage and motherhood, his ambition frightens her.

Dudley pulls out all the stops to entertain the Queen, even trying to cool down his affair with Lettuce Knoylls, Countess of Essex, the unhappily married daughter of Mary Boleyn and Henry VIII, although her half sister status is not acknowledged and she is subject to Elizabeth’s whims, bad temper and jealousy.

Elizabeth’s colourful royal entourage blazes a trail through the English countryside, and Ms Lamb’s descriptions of the progress is masterly. From white palfreys and silver cloth canopies to the hay carts without seats to which the entertainers are consigned. There is a scene where Elizabeth and her ladies are resting in a tent after the hunt and she listens to a private conversation. The use of a bee and the sunlight on the fabric of the awning is so beautifully done, I could almost have been there listening with her.

The other hero of this unusual story is Sir Frances Walsingham’s spy, Master Goodluck, who happens to be Lucy’s guardian. I loved the way Ms Lamb’s scenes went from a totally feminine atmosphere of fine clothes, diplomatic conversations that showcased the dynamics of ladies in waiting enduring their mistress’s suspicions and jealousy, to the very masculine arena of Walsingham and Goodluck organising a web of spies to keep an eye on what is going on.

I know Ms Lamb once lived close to Kenilworth castle, and she obviously knows every aspect of the buildings, grounds, the lake and views, describing it in a way that transports the reader there too. Her research on courtly ways are expert, like the lengthy ‘undressing ritual’ the queen went through for every costume change. [Was it really called a ‘bum roll’?]Victoria Lamb is indeed a gifted storyteller, and I am delighted to hear that her second ‘Lucy Morgan’ novel is in the mix!

Victoria Lamb's Website

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour 


Friday, October 26, 2012

The Queen's Confidante by Karen Harper


London, 1501. Henry VII's heir is dead...
Elizabeth, his queen, fears foul play, but who can she trust with her suspicions that their son has been murdered?
In her darkest hour she turns to Varina Wescott, a lowly candle maker and widow. Despite the difference in their stations they share a bond. Both women know the sorrow of losing a child.
Varina is tasked with discovering all she can about the Prince's death. Aided by the handsome and ambitious Nicholas Sutton, Varina's mission will be a difficult one, as both Henry and Elizabeth have enemies determined to bring down the Tudor dynasty...


Released under the title ‘Mistress of Mourning’ in the US, ‘The Queen’s Confidante,’ is written from the alternate perspective of both the widowed Westcott and Henry VII’s Queen Elizabeth, the story tackles two questions which historians have been asking themselves for centuries. Did Prince Arthur really die from natural causes and who killed the little Princes in the Tower?

The widowed Varina has to keep her dead husband’s shop going, to provide for her son, another Arthur, whilst she mourns the death of her youngest child, Edmund.  A skilled candlemaker, Varina  is unable to enter the guild as she is a woman and therefore contemplates marriage to the unpleasant Christopher Gage purely for security and an enhancement of her career.

When Queen Elizabeth, who in this novel is a haunted, guilt ridden figure, asks Varina to carve figures of her dead children and brothers, the latter becomes an unlikely confidante.  Varina also comes into daily contact with Nick Sutton, a man she finds herself attracted to.

Then Prince Arthur is sent to Ludlow Castle with his new wife, the Princess Catherine of Aragon and dies there, at which the heartbroken and suspicions Queen despatches  Varina and Nick to prepare the young man for burial, but also root out what really happened to her son.

Before long, Varina finds she is being watched and her enquires about herbs and poisons leads to the murder of the local wise woman and Varina herself is in danger.

Ms Harper’s writing is accomplished and I became immersed in Varina’s world quite easily, and her characters are engaging. Ms Harper does not attempt to answer the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, and the truth about Arthur is left open, but it serves its purpose as a Tudor murder mystery with royal connections, where fact and fiction is well handled, and  maybe it really did happen in this way.

I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the candlemaker’s craft, how wax is embedded in linen to be used for shrouds and the obscure rules that apply to how candles were made in the year 1501.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Burning Candle by Lisa J. Yarde

Love is for women who have choices. She has none. 

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert's secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie. Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal. 

After Lisa J. Yarde's stunning success with her novels, Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy, comes a powerful story set in 11th century France. Isabel de Vermandois is a very young girl whose cruel, abusive, parents betroth her to the Comte de Meulan, a 50 year old man she has never met. She fights the union and is beaten and starved until she cooperates and the betrothal is formalized. Thereafter, she is sent to Paris to live with her uncle the King until the marriage can take place. It is there she encounters her future husband and another man, William de Warenne, the earl of Surrey. 

When the Comte suffers a serious injury and it is possible he may die, she is rushed to his side where he seeks to marry Isabel right away. Despite her prior reluctance to wed him, he promises her love and security in exchange for bearing him sons and not to bed her until she menstruates. Believing him to be kind, she warms to him and they soon wed in a small ceremony, despite the fact they have not received papal dispensation. 

When Isabel’s parents learn of the marriage, they withhold her dower lands and urge Isabel to remain a virgin until the papal blessing is received. Despite all this, she is drawn to her husband and soon finds herself in his bed. For a while, they are content, but their happiness erodes when she learns of her husband’s numerous illegitimate sons and his unusually close relationship with his clerk, Thorold, who is her nemesis. 

While Robert is often absent from home for long periods, William de Warrenne reappears and she is obliged to nurse him to health. Although the relationship is tense, there is no mistaking the attraction William and Isabel feel for each other. Isabel’s life becomes more entrenched in turmoil - kidnapping, forbidden love, betrayal, long buried secrets, and the harsh realities of everyday life during the medieval period grace the pages of this story about a long-forgotten countess and woman of history. 

Author Lisa Yarde has penned an authentic, compelling story without sugar-coating the realities and hardships women endured in medieval times. What I liked was that despite Isabel’s husband’s secrets and lies, which are revealed bit by bit, and all the hurt and humiliation she faced, she remained a dutiful wife, a woman to be admired and respected by readers. 

It is evident that a great deal of time went into researching the countess’s life and that of those around her. As the characters’ lives intertwine and their problems seem insurmountable, I found myself becoming engrossed in the many plot twists and unpredictability of the story. The prose is beautiful, flowing, easy to enjoy. Lisa J. Yarde knows how to extract time and place, people and situations with great skill. Part historical fiction, part biographical, this novel was a joy to read. The story is compelling and well crafted, written in an effortless, easy to enjoy manner. I was hard-pressed to put it down.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Betrayal In the Tudor Court by Darcey Bonnette

Orphaned at the age of eight, Lady Cecily Burkhart becomes the ward of a rich and prestigious family. Welcomed as one of their own, Cecily is nurtured and loved by Lord Hal and his wife Lady Grace.

As the years pass the family’s devout daughter, Mirabella, becomes increasingly consumed by her religious vocation. But when Henry VIII’s reign of terror begins to spread throughout England, Mirabella’s monastic life is ripped from her. As her life is torn apart, the true reason for her religious fervour becomes clear – her forbidden love for the family’s priest and tutor, Father Alec.

As the family falls apart, Cecily must hold them together. But a dangerous mutual attraction between her and Father Alec begins to grow. Plagued with jealousy, Mirabella unleashes a tumultuous chain of events that threatens to destroy everyone around her, especially Cecily.


This novel  opens with a charming scene of how a small girl deals with her grief for her parents, both dead within a week of the dreaded sweating sickness. Cecily is collected from her home by the tortured priest Father Alec , come to take her to her new guardians, the Pierces.  The daughter of the house, Mirabella, is determined to become a nun and spends her time honing her pious demeanour and flattening any hint of festivity or fun her long suffering mother, Lady Grace tries to bring into their manor house. Unfortunately for Mirabella, Cecily possesses an even more perfect and less contrived character, which over the years proves to be a trial.

Brey, the son of the house is immediately chosen as a future bridegroom for Cecily, a considerable heiress with no surviving siblings who soon grows to love her childhood companion. However, Lady Grace and Lord Hal have their own particular demons to fight, and their marriage deteriorates somewhat publicly. I had to keep reminding myself when the story was set as a dissatisfied woman acting outrageously at a party and nursing a glass of wine all day did seem more a contemporary breakdown than a 16th century one.

I feel I ought to point out that ‘Betrayal in The Tudor Court ‘ does not take place at the Tudor Court. Henry VIII swaps his wives and breaks away from the Pope in the background, although these events do have consequences for the Pierces in that their resident priest risks being accused of heresy, and Mirabella is forced out of the convent and the religious life she believed she was destined for.

This is a story of family, set in a period we find alien today, where duty and religion take precedence over individual desires, but those same tenets are distorted and used to achieve personal ambitions. It’s also a story of love, sacrifice and revenge, and Ms Bonnette has a charming way with language which makes the emotions credible and the characters engaging.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Spy Lover by Kiana Davenport

A gripping tale of the horrors of the Civil War!

Thrust into the savagery of the Civil War, a Chinese immigrant serving in the Union Army, a nurse doubling as a spy for the North, and a one-armed Confederate cavalryman find their lives inextricably entwined.

Fleeing drought and famine in China, Johnny Tom arrives in America with dreams of becoming a citizen. Having survived vigilantes hunting “yellow dogs” and slave auction- blocks, Johnny is kidnapped from his Mississippi village by Confederate soldiers, taken from his wife and daughter, and forced to fight for the South. Eventually defecting to the Union side, he is promised American citizenship in exchange for his loyal services. But first Johnny must survive the butchery of battles and the cruelties inflicted on non-white soldiers.

Desperate to find Johnny, his daughter, Era, is enlisted as a spy. She agrees to work as a nurse at Confederate camps while scouting for the North. Amidst the unspeakable carnage of wounded soldiers, she finds solace in Warren Petticomb, a cavalryman who lost an arm at Shiloh. As devastation mounts in both armies, Era must choose where her loyalties lie—with her beloved father in the North, or with the man who passionately sustains her in the South.

A novel of extraordinary scope that will stand as a defining work on the Chinese immigrant experience, The Spy Lover is a paean to the transcendence of love and the resilience of the human spirit.

This novel has it all – love, perseverance, betrayal, passion, and the realities of war. Never has there been a Civil War novel written with such depth and insight into the horrors and terrors experienced on the front lines of battle! This story is not for the faint of heart. It is full of shocking situations, brutality, great sadness, and suffering. It does not sugar-coat the tragedies of war. Rather, it relays the details with honest and forthright details, and in a way that evokes great emotion from the reader.

This novel is a winner on several counts. Not only does it cover the harsh realities of war, but the historical facts about specific battles, people, and locations are intensely reasearched and written in an easy to understand manner that is actually very entertaining to read. The characters are fascinating, unique, and with deep insight into their thoughts and motivations. This is what historical fiction is meant to be – a seamless blending of fact, fiction, love, and reality! Long after you close the book, the visions will haunt you and the story and characters will linger in your mind. This is a must read! For everyone! Especially you! 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oxford Whispers by Marion Croslydon

A painting with haunting powers, a murderous ghost seeking revenge. Madison LeBon is dead set against the dead. She has vowed to ignore her Voodoo-stamped heritage and the psychic gift passed down through her Louisiana family. The world of the living is where she wants to belong. But her resolution shatters when the ill-fated lovers in a painting - the subject of her first history class at Oxford - begin to haunt her. The lovers warn her against their own nemesis, a Puritan from the English Civil War. In misty present-day Oxford, Madison embarks on a quest to unravel the secrets of the past and understand her personal bond with the painting. To protect herself, she must learn to accept her gift before life imitates art, in all its tragedy. College becomes more complicated when she falls hard for Rupert Vance, a troubled aristocrat and descendant of one of the characters in the painting. With the spirit of a murderer in hot pursuit, Madison comes to realize that her own first love may be doomed.

This story is aimed at a Young Adult audience, and the writing is geared well to that genre. It opens with the description of a painting, 'The Wounded Cavalier' by William Shakespeare Burton, a Victorian Romantic artist.  Madison LeBon, a post graduate from Louisiana studying history at Oxford University is not only entranced by the characters in the painting, an injured Royalist, a compassionate girl Puritan and a judgmental male Puritan who watches from a slight distance, she is obsessed by it.

When she is offered a research job by her tutor, she jumps at is as it gives her a chance to find out if the painting was done from life with real characters. Characters who visit her dreams and waking hours with messages, and longings she does not understand. Throw into the mix a party girl friend, Pippa and an aristocratic would-be boyfriend, Rupert Vance, and the scene is set for ancient mystery and modern romance.

Madison apparently possesses ‘powers’, passed down through the women in her family, and vaguely connected to voodoo. She has little control over how or where these flashbacks into another time take place, and as they grow stronger, and more menacing, her fears grow. She confides in her tutor, who seems to understand these powers and encourages her to learn to control them – which rang alarm bells for me right there.

The story is colourful and kept my interest throughout, though at I got confused about where and when I was supposed to be as the characters jump in and out of their time with little warning. However the story the Puritan, her Cavalier love and the jealous rival is one which endures.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Out of the Darkness by Dolores Durando

From the author of Beyond The Bougainvillea Even in the darkest hours he sought the light of love.

That he survived was a miracle. That he found happiness, a victory.Meet Marty, a young boy born into a brutal family environment where not even a shred of dignity, hope and kindness can take root. Child protective services were a thing of the future in the 1950’s, and so there was little help for Marty or others like him. He endured almost unbelievable cruelty, both from his family and at the California institution where the state placed him.

But every dark side has its opposite. Marty is rescued by the love of Joe, an old man who refuses to give up on him. Marty goes to live with Joe’s wealthy friend, Benito, who owns a vineyard in the heart of the magical Napa Valley. Benito’s large, loving family includes Rosita, a shy girl whose beauty is marred by a cleft palate.Marty is soon absorbed into a wonderful new life; Rosita gives him unconditional love. His transformation is stunning. 

For more than twenty-five years author Dolores Durando worked in the mental health field, primarily as a Licensed Psychiatric Technician. Out of the Darkness is based on events she witnessed during an era when many large mental institutions were no better than prisons run with a brutal lack of enlightenment or compassion. Today, at 91, she is thankful to see the sweeping reforms in mental health and the positive results of publicity, education and modern technology. In addition to her writing, she is an award-winning sculptor and painter. Her previous title for Bell Bridge Books is Beyond the Bougainvillea, a historical based on the author’s experiences working among the diverse men and women who built the great California dams of the early 1900’s. 

Out of the Darkness is a heart-wrenching tale of a young boy named Marty in 1950’s America. This child was born into unfathomable and cruel abuse at the hands of his family. Only one man, a teacher named Joe, showed him any shred of kindness. And Marty came to love Joe with all his heart. Because of his own act of violence against his abuser, Marty is brought to an institution for the feeble minded. There, abuse runs rampant and there is no escaping the cruelty at the hands of those whose job it is to look after him. Only one man there is kind to Marty, and he comes to love this man as much as he loved Joe. As Marty comes of age, and it soon comes time to leave, Joe returns into Marty’s life and arranges for him to live with a Spanish family in the Napa Valley. There, Marty fines love and family as he grows into a man. 

I liked how this novel was set up. It begins with deep depravity and cruelty, and then page by page, things get slowly better, culminating into a satisfying and happy ending, like a roller coaster gaining momentum or a small snowflake rolling down hill until it becomes as large as a boulder. 

The author knows her material well, for she worked in similar institutions for most of her life. I was impressed at how she exposed the harsh realities. Each of the characters was fascinating and unique. Believable! Real! In your face kind of people! The length of the novel is short, so it’s a quick, easy read. The author ensures the reader will experience a realm of emotion. But be prepared for some pretty brutal and nasty scenes. I highly recommend this new novel by Dolores Durando. I had previously read and reviewed her previous novel, Beyond the Bougainvillea, which I similarly enjoyed.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

An insightful novel about Pythias - Aristotle's Daughter

Pythias is her father's daughter, right down to her hard, intelligent slate-grey eyes. Aristotle has never been able to resist a keen mind in another - even in his own girl-child who should be content with the kitchen, the loom and a life dictated by the rhythms of childbearing. His little Pytho is smart, able to best his students in debate and match wits with a roomful of Athenian thinkers. Is she a freak or a harbinger of what women can really be? Hers is a privileged position, a woman who moves in a man's world, protected by the reputation of her philosopher father. But when the great warrior-king Alexander dies a thousand miles from Athens, sentiment turns against anyone associated with him, most especially his famous teacher, Aristotle. Forced to flee, Aristotle and his family head to the garrison town of Chalcis; however, ailing and broken in spirit, the old philosopher soon dies. Without her father, the orphaned sixteen-year-old Pytho quickly discovers that the world is a place of superstition, not logic, and that a girl can be preyed upon by gods and goddesses, as much as by grown men and women. To safely journey to a place in which she can be everything she truly is, Aristotle's daughter will need every ounce of wit she possesses, but she must also learn, quickly, to nurture her capacity to love.

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon is a novel set in Ancient Greece and is about Aristotle’s daughter, Pythias.

Pythias is a young woman born into great privilege because of her father’s fame, the most learned man of his time. Aristotle is portrayed as a kind, sensitive man who cares deeply for his family, servants, and pupils. Most of all, he loves his daughter whom he endows with as much learning as possible including dissection, philosophy, and logic, among others, contrary to societal practices regarding women at the time.

The Sweet Girl will immerse readers deep into a time long forgotten. With beautiful prose and vibrant descriptions of the world around the strong female character, there is much to keep one reading. This is very much a novel of contrasts with a strong feminist tone, depicting the depravity and social injustices of the time along with the fabulous wealth.

There is strength and depth in the writing, examining issues of morality and values. It is not surprising that this novel was longlisted for the 2013 Giller Prize. Beautifully written and researched, I highly recommend this novel – especially to readers who love ancient societies.

From History and Women

Thursday, October 11, 2012

San Miguel by T.C. Boyle

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island. 

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel. Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health. Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her. Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy. As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression? Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers. 

Off the coast of California lies the Channel Islands – a harsh, rainy, hilly piece of land suitable for raising sheep. It is called San Miguel. The author weaves a haunting tale about three women who lived their lives, or at least part of their lives, on the desolate little island. Readers who pick up this book will soon realize that it is a character driven novel, where the author delves deep into the psyche of each woman portrayed. The details and inner thoughts and aspirations of these fascinating characters takes precedence over the plot. It is important to understand this so that readers will know why the plot seems slow. For this novel, it is important to relish the journey and revelations of the strong female characters. 

The novel is broken into three parts. The first tells the story of Marantha whose struggle is her fast failing health with consumption (tubercoulosis) and her dislike for the island upon which her husband has taken her to earn a living as a sheep farmer. To make matters worse, the environment only worsens her health issues. This often brings out the worst in her. That author gives us a masterful insight into this fascinating woman and her thoughts as her life draws to an uncontrollable end. 

The next part of the novel is about Edith, Marantha’s step daughter. Like her stepmother, Edith dislikes life on the island and is desperate to break free and seek her own independence. Her youth fuels her desire for society and friends and all the occasions that come with it. Like Marantha, despite Edith’s many failings, the author manages to evoke great sympathy and understanding. 

The last part of the story focuses on a woman called Elise who finds life on the isolated island enjoyable, unlike the other two women. Her story takes us into the 1940’s and a series of events that enhance the story’s conclusion. 

The author’s strength is most definitely his ability to take us deep into the mindset and emotions of his characters. Although the story is fascinating and set within an interesting setting and era, the pace, at times, can become rather tedious if the reader is not first prepared. Nevertheless, this an interesting read and recommended for those who prefer character driven novels.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Racing With The Wind by Regan Walker


Hugh Redgrave, Marquess of Ormond, was warned. Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no ordinary man could clip her wings. She was a bluestocking hellion, an ill-advised match by every account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay on the continent, where he’d become legend by stealing war secrets from Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady Mary riding her stallion were a thorn in his mind. He was the son of a duke and in the service of the Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he had won her hand.


It was unheard of for a Regency debutante to postpone her first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far more interested in politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or frippery. Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would race beside her.

The Marquess of Ormond isn’t looking for a wife, his aims are too focused on his work in Napoleonic Europe for the Prince Regent. However when he spots a young woman riding a black stallion in a way no respectable lady ought; in men’s clothes and with her blonde hair trailing behind her as if she raced the wind, he develops a strange yearning for her, and especially those long legs gripping the horse which render him subject to more than one uncomfortable fantasy about her.

Lady Mary Campbell is equally unconventional, though Regency society is less forgiving of individuality in a woman than a man.  Bored with her first season, she prefers to help her uncle, a British Diplomat, and despite objections from everyone, she accompanies him to Paris.
Thrown together unwittingly, Mary is left in Hugh’s care, but she then proceeds to infuriate and frustrate him by her own efforts to exercise her investigative skills. He swings between wishing to had never met her, to falling for her charms, while her feelings run along the same lines. The combination of passion and reluctance is irresistible.

Regency England comes alive in this engaging story, with authentic details of the customs, clothing, social structure and historical events of Napoleonic Europe. Both the main characters are enigmatic, strong minded and with an intriguing story of their own to tell and ultimately deserving of each other.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Friday, October 5, 2012

Quarantine by John Smolens

An eloquent and dramatic portrait of a city plagued by mysterious pestilence—as the isolation of the quarantine reveals the darker side of human nature.

The year is 1796, and a trading ship arrives in the vibrant trading town of Newburyport, Massachusetts.  But it's a ghost ship--her entire crew has been decimated by a virulent fever which sweeps through the harbor town, and Newburyport's residents start to fall ill and die with alarming haste.   Something has to be done to stop the virus from spreading further.  When physician Giles Wiggins places the port under quarantine, he earns the ire of his shipbuilder half-brother, the wealthy and powerful Enoch Sumner, and their eccentric mother, Miranda. Defiantly, Giles sets up a pest-house, where the afflicted might be cared for and separated from the rest of the populace in an attempt to contain the epidemic. 

As the seaport descends into panic, religious fervor, and mob rule, bizarre occurrences ensue:  the harbormaster’s family falls victim to the fever, except for his son, Leander Hatch, who is taken in at the Sumner mansion and a young woman, Marie Montpelier, is fished out of the Merrimac River barely clinging to life, causing Giles and Enoch—who is convinced she’s the expatriate daughter of the French king—to vie for her attentions--all while medical supplies are pillaged by a black marketer from Boston.  As the epidemic grows, fear, greed, and unhinged obsession threaten the Sumner family—and the future of Newburyport itself.

In 1796, The Miranda is a ship that lies waiting off the coast of Newburyport, Massachusetts with a deadly disease on board. When the harbormaster and doctor row out to the ship and board it, they discover the captain is dead along with numerous crew members. Those on board, are ordered to remain there, fly the yellow flag warning of quarantine and disease, and are denied permission to come ashore. Despite the orders, in the middle of the night, crew members sneak off the ship and enter the town.

Within days, the deadly disease spreads throughout Newbury and outlying areas. Numerous lives are lost as people succumb to the disease. Medication becomes scarce as unscrupulous men hoard, steal, and try to sell the remedy at horrendous profits. Meanwhile, the disease spreads at an alarming rate. The quarantine extends to the port and all ships are banned from landing. Soon, food and supplies within the town become scarce, adding to the hardships faced because of the deadly virus. The village is soon devastated with fires, illness, and hunger.  

There are numerous colorful and intriguing characters in the story, some with good motives, and some with bad. Regardless, they are all fascinating and multi-dimensional. As the disease spreads, so does the tension in the novel. With each chapter comes more tension and more urgency as families are separated and tents are set up to separate those who are ill from those who are not.

The author has done a great deal of research into the era, its medical practices, and social norms. He has skillfully weaved this into a compelling thriller that definitely held my attention to the very end! Highly recommended. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Noah's Wife by T.K. Thorne

A ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year!

Noah's wife is Na'amah, a brilliant young girl who only wishes to be a shepherdess on her beloved hills in ancient Turkey—a desire shattered by the hatred of her powerful brother, the love of two men, and a looming disaster that threatens her world.

Noah built an ark—but this story has never been told!

“My name, Na’amah, means pleasant or beautiful. I am not always pleasant, but I am beautiful. Perhaps that is why I am trundled atop this beast like a roll of hides for market and surrounded by grim-faced men. If my captors had bothered to ask me, I would have told them that their prize is of questionable value because my mind is damaged. But they did not, and I lie draped, belly down, across the back of an auroch, a large black ox with an eel stripe that runs down his spine and a stench worse than a rutting goat. My mouth is parched and swollen with dried blood, and every step the animal takes sends a jolt of pain into my chest. Snatches of ground appear between the cloven hooves—a succession of earth, grass, and rock obscured by the dark tangle of my hair—all I have to measure the growing distance from the life I have known.”

Noah’s Wife by T. K. Thorne is a fascinating novel about Na’amah, the woman who was married to Noah. From start to finish, this was truly an engaging tale.  Na’amah is an autistic savant, born with a misshapen head during the birth process. Normally, the village would have cast her out and left the infant to die, but her grandmother, Savta, managed to convince the elders that her condition was only temporary. So she lived.

As Na’amah grows into womanhood, Noah, a young man of about 25 years, asks for her hand in marriage. The marriage is approved by her father, but her brother is against the union. Rather, he wants her to marry an old friend. With her brother’s assistance, the young man steals her maidenhood and they have Noah severely beaten. Na’amah flees, and is captured into slavery just as she realizes she is pregnant as a result of the rape. This sets of a journey for her to return to Noah, whom she has come to trust and love.
The novel is set several years before the flood and focuses on Na’amah and Noah’s early life. It is a story of her abuse by villagers and her struggles to overcome not only the stigma of her birth, but to integrate herself into a society that shuns her because of her handicap or special abilities.

The author’s interpretation of civilization in 5000 B.C. is completely absorbing. The beliefs, norms, and culture of the times are interpreted in an manner engaging to the reader. The storyline and easy prose also keeps one’s interest to the end. And what I liked about it, was that it wasn’t presented in an overly religious manner. Rather, the story stands for itself. This is a wonderfully creative, highly detailed tale of a time long, long ago, and of a lesser known woman who forged her way through life despite the tremendous odds against her. A lovely read!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Reluctance by Jen Black

You’d think he’d be grateful when she saves him from drowning, but Jack is living in his own private hell after the death of his wife.

Frances thinks he’s a rude, insufferable idiot. When Holbrook arrives and dazzles the neighborhood with his glorious regimentals, Frances does not care for him, but her mother, dazzled by his looks, claims that he’s admirable husband material even if he is without funds. He thinks Frances is just the heiress for him.

Then the newspaper publishes an ugly letter that, without naming Frances, questions her recent actions and her reputation. Horrified, she believes Jack is the culprit and challenges him…

The story is set in 1803, and the widowed Frances, Lady Rathmere is enjoying her affluent widowhood and had no plans to change her marital status. Not now, not ever, no matter what society says.

James Slade [Jack], Marquess Streatham feels the same way, and his feelings are prejudiced by guilt that he made his wife pregnant in the first place so her death in childbirth is on his hands.  

When Frances and her setter, Gyp, saves Jack from drowning, he’s not best pleased let alone grateful. Their second encounter is even less auspicious, but something about the man strikes a chord with Frances and she pays a lone visit to Jack in his dilapidated home the next day to check on his welfare.

However, it appears that visit, which ends as disastrously as their previous encounters, has come to the notice of a local busybody, who reports the matter in the local paper anonymously.  More letters disparaging Frances’ character appear at intervals, but instead of letting the matter slide into oblivion, newcomer to the area Andrew Holbrook, sails to France’s rescue and challenges the newspaper owner to a duel. Frances is incandescent, as she loathes Holbrook, but her witless Mama insists the only way to save her reputation is to marry Holbrook – if he survives the duel.

Jen Black’s main characters, Frances and Jack, are beautifully drawn and their quick wit and intelligence amongst a company of intellectually challenged family adds life and humour to the plot.

This is a perfect Regency romance with all the essential elements, a heartbroken but honourable hero, an independent heroine who has everyone’s interests at heart, and a villain in Holbrook who makes Mr Wickham in P&P look like an amateur.

The author is expert at grabbing a reader’s attention with her witty dialogue and intelligent repartee between characters that would have made Jane Austen proud. There were some parts of the plot that made me wonder how that had been allowed to happen,  but the compulsion to discover how Frances would handle the situation kept me reading. Without giving anything away, I felt the heroine missed obvious clues on occasion and her reasoning for certain actions escaped me completely.

I had to remind myself that the rules of society in 1803 are very different from today and this was a romance, where the hero and heroine have to be central to the story, and any supporting cast have walk on parts only. The ending was satisfying and beautifully done, and I did sympathise with Frances’ desire to live her own life but still be acceptable to a narrow and unforgiving society.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour