Tuesday, December 31, 2013

History and Women Book Club January Read is Queen's Gambit

If you love novels about the Tudors, then join The History and Women Book Club and join us as we read The Queen's Gambit by Elizabeth Freemantle, our book club choice for January 2014.

For fans of Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Elizabeth Fremantle's first novel, Queen's Gambit, is a riveting account of Katherine Parr, the Tudor queen who married four men and outlived three of them - including Henry VIII.

Widowed for the second time aged thirty-one, Katherine is obliged to return to court but, suspicious of the aging Henry and those who surround him, she does so with reluctance. Nevertheless when she finds herself caught up in a passionate affair with the dashing and seductive Thomas Seymour, she believes she might finally be able to marry for love. But her presence at court has attracted the attentions of another...

Captivated by her honesty and intelligence, Henry Tudor has his own plans for Katherine and no one is in the position to refuse a proposal from the king. With her charismatic lover dispatched to the continent, Katherine becomes Henry's sixth wife.

Passionate about religious reform, and ever aware of the fates of his previous queens, she must draw upon all her instincts and intellect to navigate the treachery of the court. With the Catholic faction once more in the ascendency, reformers burned for heresy and those around the dying king vying for position in the new regime, her survival seems unlikely - and yet she has still not quite given up on love...

Rich in atmosphere and period detail, and told through the eyes of Katherine and her young maid Dot, Queen's Gambit is the story of two very different women during a terrifying and turbulent time. If you loved Wolf Hall, The Other Boleyn Girl or the BBC drama series The Tudors, then Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit is the book for you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Daughter of the God King by Anne Cleeland

The Cursed Tombs of Egypt Hold Many Secrets...

Miss Hattie Blackhouse has never been close to her parents...and no wonder, since the Blackhouses are renowned scholars who spend most of their time excavating ancient tombs in Egypt. But news of their disappearance forces Hattie to leave England and embark on a voyage that will reveal the long-buried secrets of her past. An encrypted senet board and a gold medallion lead Hattie on a perilous quest to track down her missing parents—and discover why people associated with the Blackhouses continue to turn up dead. What she uncovers is a secret that could alter the course of history...

Filled with intrigue, romance, and ancient secrets, Anne Cleeland's thrilling novel takes you on an unforgettable Egyptian adventure.

Book Review

In Cornwall England, Hattie Blackhouse has come of age and now seeks to reunite with her famous archaeologist parents who are archaeological explorers in Egypty. When she discovers her parents are missing, she travels to Egypt to find them. But something sinister is going on and Hattie soon finds herself embroiled in intrigue with her very life in danger. 

This historical novel has much going on - a feisty heroine, complex characters, plenty of mystery and espionage, and even a little romance. Set near the end of the Napoleonic, I enjoyed the exotic setting of this fun romantic adventure and the many twists and turns the story takes. Despite the over-abundance of characters which sometimes made it difficult to recall who was who, and who sometimes slowed the pace, this was a most enjoyable tale!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Flowers of War by Geling Yan

December 1937. The Japanese have taken Nanking. A group of terrified schoolgirls hides in the compound of an American church. Among them is Shujuan, through whose thirteen-year-old eyes we witness the shocking events that follow.

Run by Father Engelmann, an American priest who has been in China for many years, the church is supposedly neutral ground in the war between China and Japan. But it becomes clear the Japanese are not obeying international rules of engagement. As they pour through the streets of Nanking, raping and pillaging the civilian population, the girls are in increasing danger. And their safety is further compromised when prostitutes from the nearby brothel climb over the wall into the compound seeking refuge.

Short, powerful, vivid, this beautiful novel transports the reader to 1930s China. Full of wonderful characters, from the austere priest to the irreverent prostitutes, it is a story about how war upsets all prejudices and how love can flourish amidst death.

The Flowers of War is a novel set in 1937 which depicts the Nanking Massacre. In fear for their lives, a group of prostitutes flee the Japanese atrocities by climbing over the walls of convent and church where young school girls, some from elite families, are being educated. At the forefront is the priest, Father Engelmann who is entrusted with the school girls lives. What ensues is a desperate story of survival from hunger, murder, and oppression. 

The Flowers of War is novel that exposes the full atrocities of that period. It is very much a story of innocence vs. sin, of good vs. bad as the contrast between the personalities of the prostitutes and the school girls clash. Although the writing is simple and easy, the story itself is incredibly poignant with an expolosive ending that will not soon be forgotten. This is a story that will definitely touch readers.

Tuscan Rose by Belinda Alexandra

A magical, richly woven World War II– era saga filled with passion, secrets, beauty, and horror from internationally acclaimed bestselling author Belinda Alexandra. 

FLORENCE, 1914. A mysterious stranger known as The Wolf leaves an infant with the sisters of Santo Spirito. A tiny silver key hidden in her wrappings is the one clue to the child’s identity. . . . FIFTEEN YEARS LATER, young Rosa must leave the nuns, her only family, and become governess to the daughter of an aristocrat and his strange, frightening wife. Their house is elegant but cursed, and Rosa—blessed with gifts beyond her considerable musical talents—is torn between her desire to know the truth and her fear of its repercussions. All the while, the hand of Fascism curls around beautiful Italy, and no citizen is safe. Rosa faces unimaginable hardship: her only weapons her intelligence, intuition, and determination... and her extraordinary capacity for love.

In 1914 Florence, an infant is abandoned at a convent. The only clue to her past is a tiny silver key that was left in her swaddling. The child is named Rosa and when she turns fifteen, she is sent to work at Villa Scarfiotti on the outskirts of Florence. Soon, Rosa discovers that behind the villa's walls, the Scarfiotti family hides dark secrets and mysteries.

Rosa's journey in life is a constant struggle as the fascist movement gains power in Italy with its leaders, Mussolini and Hitler. This lengthy novel gives the reader a brilliant, indepth look at the life of every-day Italians from facism in its infancy, to the years of World War II, and finally into the aftermath of devastation and rebuilding. Through Rosa's eyes, we experience the lives of the privileged, the desperation of the poor, and of the quiet machinations of those who worked to defeat facism.

This was an entertaining, engrossing read which detailed the hardships, the indignities, and the horrible atrocities of war faced by the Italians. With a full cast of fascinating characters, both evil and good, and powerful love stories, it is a novel of growth and inspiration. Intesely researched, authentically Italian, and written in a easy to read prose, this is one book I very highly recommend. Absolutely beautiful!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Hope by Anne Perry

Anne Perry’s “vastly entertaining” (The Star-Ledger) holiday novels are “as delicious as mince pie and plum pudding” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). A Christmas Hope is just as delectable—the gripping story of an unforgettable battle between goodness and evil in Victorian London—and a lonely woman’s search for meaning in her life. 

Although she lacks for nothing, Claudine Burroughs dreads the holiday season for forcing her to face how empty her life has become. She no longer expects closeness with her coldly ambitious husband, and she has nothing in common with their circle of wealthy, status-minded friends. The only time she is remotely happy is when she volunteers at a woman’s clinic—a job her husband strongly disapproves of. Then, at a glittering yuletide gala, she meets the charming poet Dai Tregarron and finds her spirits lifted. But scarcely an hour later, the charismatic Dai is enmeshed in a nightmare—accused of killing a young streetwalker who had been smuggled into the party. 

Even though she suspects that an upper-class clique is quickly closing ranks to protect the real killer, Claudine vows to do her utmost for Dai. But it seems that hypocritical London society would rather send an innocent poet to the gallows than expose the shocking truth about one of their own. 

Nevertheless, it’s the season of miracles and Claudine finally sees a glimmer of hope—not only for Dai but for a young woman she befriends who is teetering on the brink of a lifetime of unhappiness. Anne Perry’s heartwarming new holiday novel is a celebration of courage, faith, and love for all seasons. 

As a first time reader of Anne Perry’s Christmas novels, I thoroughly enjoyed this Victorian cozy mystery. The heroine is compelling in her aloneness and search for meaning in her life, while the whodunit part of the story is a strong part of the story without being overpowering. Underlying themes of forgiveness, compassion, and love makes this Christmas tale stand out from other mysteries. Clear, succinct writing, with poignant scenes and the sympathetic main character kept me turning the pages. This is a wonderful story, not too long and perfect for the holidays. Very much recommended.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Havisham by Ronald Frame

From the Back Cover!

There was a delicate tracery of gold foil on the back of the dress. How strange that such a consummately made garment should be worn for this one day only. But, as every girl growing up understood, her wedding day was the most significant she would know: a woman's crowning glory.

Catherine Havisham was born into privilege. Handsome, imperious, she is the daughter of a wealthy brewer, and lives in luxury in Satis House. But she is never far from the smell of hops and the arresting letters on the brewhouse wall - HAVISHAM. A reminder of all she owes to the family name and the family business.

Sent by her father to stay with the Chadwycks, Catherine discovers literature, music and masquerades - elegant pastimes to remove the taint of new money. But for all her growing sophistication Catherine is anything but worldly, and when a charismatic stranger pays her attention, everything - her heart, her future, the very Havisham name - is vulnerable.

It is a masterly tribute to one of Dickens's most celebrated and iconic characters.

As a big fan of Charles Dickens, and never having read Great Expectations before, I was eager to read this.
It is the heartbreaking story about a wealthy young woman named Catherine Havisham, the daughter of a nouveau rich man earned his riches making beer and ale. Frowned on by the upper classes, her father sends her off to live with a more noble family to ease her into society. Cathrine is deeply in love with the man she is about to marry, but to her utter shock and devastation, he never shows up for the ceremony and she is left at the altar. This sets off a chain of events as Catherine is left to pick up the pieces of her life and run the family business after her father dies. She does so with a ruthless ambition, growing the business even further. But others thwart her, embezzle, seek to usurp her authority. Betrayal, frayed trust, and resilience are underlying themes in this novel.   

At first, I struggled to "get into" the novel, and set it aside several times. On the 4th try, I persevered, and was glad that I did, because after that, I was thoroughly engrossed in the story. I think my difficulties lay with the writing itself, and not the story. At times, scenes were under explained and too brief and I found myself going back to re-read passages to try to understand the meaning. Other times, the prose sparked with brilliant descriptions and emotion. Other than the unusual writing style, it was a great book. Now I'm eager to sit down and finally read Great Expectations. Don't be afraid to give this book a try, especially if you're a Dickens fan!

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck’s remarkable account of the life of Tzu Hsi, the magnetic and fierce-minded woman from humble origins who became China’s last empress

In Imperial Woman, Pearl S. Buck brings to life the amazing story of Tzu Hsi, who rose from concubine status to become the working head of the Qing Dynasty. Born from a humble background, Tzu Hsi falls in love with her cousin Jung Lu, a handsome guard—but while still a teenager she is selected, along with her sister and hundreds of other girls, for relocation to the Forbidden City. Already set apart on account of her beauty, she’s determined to be the emperor’s favorite, and devotes all of her talent and cunning to the task. When the emperor dies, she finds herself in a role of supreme power, one she’ll command for nearly fifty years. Much has been written about Tzu Hsi, but no other novel recreates her life—the extraordinary personality, together with the world of court intrigue and the period of national turmoil with which she dealt—as well as Imperial Woman.
This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.

Feared and hated, Tzu Hsi (Cixi) was the last Empress of China, a decadent woman known for her insatiable desire for power, greed, and murderous shrewdness. Imperial Woman is a detailed, fictionalized accounting of her life. Written with great historical detail and abounding emotion, this epic novel brings to life not only the world of the Qing dynasty, but the hardships and intrigues of the Chinese royal court within the Forbidden City. Beautifully written with a compelling voice, it is a vivid portrayal of this much-maligned woman.

If you’ve never read one of Pearl S Buck’s novels, then you are in for a rare, exotic treat, a journey like you’ve never before taken. It is no wonder that she is one of the world’s most beloved authors, her books classics. This is definitely a must read book, one that will linger in your memory for years to come, and one that will teach you about a period in history well worth learning about. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Inceptio by Alison Morton


New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice - being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother's homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, who rescued her in America, isolates her. Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it...


Although not strictly a historical novel, the premise of this story intrigued me from the beginning. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to post it on this blog, especially when I didn’t know what to expect of an alternative history contemporary novel.

Miss Morton’s version of the world is that ancient Roman society endured when a group of traditionalists set up a nation called Roma Nova where the Latin names and language have survived.

Karen/Carina learns that the EUS [Eastern United States] is not the Land of the Free benevolent democracy she was brought up to believe, but a corrupt xenophobic superpower wielding bully boy tactics over smaller countries. Orphaned young, Karen/Carina discovers from a dashing stranger named Conrad Tellus, that she is in fact an heiress of a large corporation that the American Government want to take away from her, and have no qualms about how they go about it.

As Roma Nova aristocracy, Karen is offered the protection of the military. The bad guy is a shady Government agent, Renschman with his own agenda for disposing of Carina, [I would be interested to see how American readers view this version of the US, where the CIA/FBI and secret service etc. don’t come out at all well.]

At first, when our heroine is subjected to threats and intimidation, she does a lot of ‘How dare you’ and ‘You can’t do this’ but she catches on quick that they can and they are, so changes her tactics. 

Conrad Tellus rushes Karen to their legation in Washington. Karen thinks she is safe for a while, but the big bad Renschman hasn’t given up yet. Her only chance to escape persecution is to give up her US citizenship and de-camp to Roma Nova, and a reunion with her grandmother in a country ruled by women and the twelve leading families who hailed from Imperial Rome. An inheriting bloodline through the female line - far more practical and makes perfect sense.

Karen/Carina starts off terrified and disbelieving, but she soon grows into a courageous woman determined never to be vulnerable again. She was betrayed once by her surviving family [not Grandma] and second by her government. She’s not taking any more nonsense and she grows accustomed to being rich with remarkable ease!

The story is exciting, and the pace excellent. I loved all the Latin names, and the modern Praetorian Guard. Just when I thought Karen/Carina’s situation couldn’t get worse – she is presented with a get out of jail free card. Miss Morton’s what-if scenario never becomes unrealistic or trite. The tense conflict kept me turning pages to find out how Karen/Carina was going to foil the bad guys and keep her inheritance.  I even began believing in Roma Nova and how much I would love to visit.

I had a look at Ms Morton’s Amazon page and see there is a sequel - Perfiditas - Can’t wait to read it and these covers are beautiful!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

History and Women Book Club's December Read is Sultana by Lisa J Yarde

The History and Women's book club choice for December is Sultana by Lisa J. Yarde. It's the first book in a 4 book series and a definite trip into the exotic harems of Moorish Spain, a family saga where murder, betrayal, poisonings, love, and hate definitely about.

Click on the link to join our group at: History and Women Book Club

Here is the back cover blurb:

Book #1 of the Sultana series. In thirteenth-century Moorish Spain, the realm of Granada is in crisis. The union of Fatima, granddaughter of the Sultan of Granada, with the Sultan's nephew Faraj has fractured the nation. A bitter civil war escalates and endangers both Fatima and Faraj's lives. All her life, Fatima has sheltered in lavish palaces where danger has never intruded, until now. A precocious child and the unwitting pawn of her family, she soon learns how her marriage may determine her future and the fate of Granada. Her husband Faraj has his own qualms about their union. At a young age, he witnessed the deaths of his parents and discovered how affluence and power offers little protection against indomitable enemies. Guilt and fears plague him. Determined to carve his own destiny, Faraj struggles to regain his lost inheritance and avenge his murdered family. Throughout the rugged frontiers of southern Spain, the burgeoning Christian kingdoms in the north and the desert states of North Africa, Fatima and Faraj survive ruthless murderers and intrigues. They unite against common enemies bent on destroying the last Moorish dynasty. While Fatima and Faraj establish a powerful bond, the atmosphere of deceit creates opportunities for mistrust and tests their love.

Here are the Amazon links for you to purchase! Get a copy today and join us! 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Shakespeare's Restless World by Neil MacGregor

The New York Times bestselling author of 
A History of the World in 100 Objects 
brings the world of Shakespeare
and the Tudor era of Elizabeth I into focus

We feel we know Shakespeare’s characters. Think of Hamlet, trapped in indecision, or Macbeth’s merciless and ultimately self-destructive ambition, or the Machiavellian rise and short reign of Richard III. They are so vital, so alive and real that we can see aspects of ourselves in them. But their world was at once familiar and nothing like our own.

In this brilliant work of historical reconstruction Neil MacGregor and his team at the British Museum, working together in a landmark collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, bring us twenty objects that capture the essence of Shakespeare’s universe. A perfect complement to A History of the World in 100 Objects, MacGregor’s landmark New York Times bestseller, Shakespeare’s Restless World highlights a turning point in human history.

This magnificent book, illustrated throughout with more than one hundred vibrant color photographs, invites you to travel back in history and to touch, smell, and feel what life was like at that pivotal moment, when humankind leaped into the modern age. This was an exhilarating time when discoveries in science and technology altered the parameters of the known world. Sir Francis Drake’s circumnavigation map allows us to imagine the age of exploration from the point of view of one of its most ambitious navigators. A bishop’s cup captures the most sacred and divisive act in Christendom.

With A History of the World in 100 Objects, MacGregor pioneered a new way of telling history through artifacts. Now he trains his eye closer to home, on a subject that has mesmerized him since childhood, and lets us see Shakespeare and his world in a whole new light.

Shakespeare’s Restless World is a clever book that compares objects from the Tudor era and defines them against the social and political climate of that period. The items chosen are intriguing in themselves – a chalice, a poniard, a medal, a fork, a painting, a martyr’s eye, a bible, and several more odd and unusual artefacts. The author correlates them to Shakespeare, his plays, and the everyday life of the English people.

The book has numerous colorful illustrations and photos; a visual treat to enhance the reading and learning experience. It is written in easy, conversational English with plenty of wit, humor, and unusual, little known facts that will keep the reader entertained from start to finish. Not only is this book a visual and intellectual treat, but it is a work of art with stunning photos, an appealing cover, and an author who knows how to impart historical learning in a way that is most enjoyable. A must have for Tudor and Elizabethean enthusiasts! 

Wynfield's Kingdom by Marina J. Neary

A Tale of the London Slums.
Welcome to 1830's Bermondsey, London’s most notorious slum, a land of gang wars, freak shows, and home to every depravity known to man. 
Dr. Thomas Grant, a disgraced physician, adopts Wynfield, a ten-year old thief savagely battered by a gang leader for insubordination. The boy grows up to be a slender, idealistic opium addict who worships Victor Hugo. By day he steals and resells guns from a weapons factory. By night he amuses filthy crowds with his adolescent girlfriend—a fragile witch with wolfish eyes. Wynfield senses that he has a purpose outside of his rat-infested kingdom; but he never guesses that he had been selected at birth to topple the British aristocracy. “Neary writes with unbelievable power, yet never loses her sense of emotional insight…. Wynfield’s Kingdom is truly an extraordinary first novel…”

WYNFIELD'S KINGDOM is a dark novel about the slums of Victorian England. The plight of abandoned children, orphans, and women, hunger, exploitation, depravity, and the horrendous dire circumstances of the lower classes is explored in this gripping, Dickens-like novel. At the heart of the novel are two main characters, Wynfield and Diana, both who respond in vastly different manners to their past sufferings and current dilemmas.

The author writes with vivid candidness, her characters compelling, her attention to historical detail impeccable. This is a novel that allowed me to slip into the story and remain there even after I finished reading. There were plenty of plot twists and suspenseful scenes that kept me reading long into the night. If you enjoy dark novels that have a powerful storyline and that depict both the glory and degeneracy of human nature, then do not let this book pass you by. Highly recommended.

Monday, November 25, 2013

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay


Review by Victoria Dixon

      Guy Gavriel Kay’s “River of Stars” has the same setting, though a later time period, as the author’s previous book, “Under Heaven”. However, the previous dynasty’s glory has crumbled, leaving the Kitai Empire a shell weakened and ruled by an Emperor who loves his gardens and calligraphy more than the art of ruling.  When the Altai barbarians from the north threaten, Kitai has no defense except the love of one capable man.
     His name is Ren Daiyan. Kay follows  Daiyan from childhood through his role in leading and energizing the Kitai army when no one else could. And at Daiyan’s heart – leading him home when he’s bewitched by an otherworldly fox spirit, is Lin Shan – poet and woman without peer in her day.
The opening third of the book includes various threads woven into a larger, grander tapestry.  Daiyan and Lin Shan’s story, Daiyan’s passion for the rivers and mountains of Kitai, his unrecognized loyalty to the Emperor, poetry, philosophy and a sense of longing  for Kitai’s lost past imbue “River of Stars” and give the novel a sense of timelessness. I fully expect to love this story every bit as much, if not more, on my fifth reading as I did on my first.
     Incidentally, for those of us familiar with Chinese history, this should sound familiar as the author borrowed from the Song Dynasty’s tortured upheaval romanticized in “Outlaws of the Marsh,” one of China’s four best known classics. However, Kay normally draws more from historical documents of the period than the fiction and "River Of Stars" is no exception. If you're familiar with "Outlaws," you'll find all new, if familiar, magic in this book.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

An epic story, set against the backdrop of World War I,
from bestselling author Anita Shreve.

When an American woman, Stella Bain, is found suffering from severe shell shock in an exclusive garden in London, surgeon August Bridge and his wife selflessly agree to take her in. A gesture of goodwill turns into something more as Bridge quickly develops a clinical interest in his house guest. Stella had been working as a nurse's aide near the front, but she can't remember anything prior to four months earlier when she was found wounded on a French battlefield. In a narrative that takes us from London to America and back again, Shreve has created an engrossing and wrenching tale about love and the meaning of memory, set against the haunting backdrop of a war that destroyed an entire generation.

In the novel, Stella Bain, author Anita Shreve takes us back into the turbulence of World War I, the declining Edwardian era, and the gender restrictions imposed on women. This absorbing story is about a young woman who worked as an ambulance driver in France. She is discovered shell-shocked and suffering from amnesia; all she can tell anyone is that her name is Stella Bain. But is it? Day by day, as Stella begins to heal, tiny recollections of memories, of locations, of names, flash into her mind. Determined to answer the questions of her past, she is compelled to unravel the secrets of her past, who she really is, and where she came from. What follows is a compelling, engrossing mystery.

The novel embraces strong topics such as post-traumatic stress syndrome, especially as it affected women at the time, the rights of women and societal expectations and norms, while delivering a poignant love story of pain and loss and healing.  

Anita Shreve excels at drilling down deep into the human spirit, of unleashing great emotion, and all while telling a riveting story. This is very much a character driven novel, but it also has a touching mystery at its roots that definitely keeps the reader turning the pages. I highly recommend this novel for anyone wishing to cozy up to a deep, insightful story of ultimate triumph.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Blog Tour! Sonnets in Waking Moments by Joszann St. John

Today, we are excited to be part of a blog tour for this wonderful new novel by Joszann St. John. It's a story that packs a powerful punch and written by a fabulous author. Here is the cover and the synopsis: 

The onset of the Great Depression beginning in 1929 and the subsequent World War Two was a period fraught by turmoil and uncertainty. On the world stage different political ideologies vied for dominance while the devastated world economy needed a permanent solution. It is against this backdrop of instability and crisis that Sonnets in Waking Moments unfold. Set in Canada and New York City, Sonnets in Waking Moments recounts the challenges of living and loving during the Great Depression. From Toronto’s Junction neighborhood to a convent in New York City, the characters are larger than life. Their individual stories create many memorable and inspiring moments. The novel captures the essence of social relationships and the culture that would eventually shape the years following the preceding decade. Defining moments include the first royal visit in 1938 by a reigning monarch to Canada and the lasting legacy of a rich and vibrant immigrant heritage as seen in the Irish history of New York City. Join Anna Agnelli, Ralph, Viola, Frank, and other personalities as they journey through the turbulent decades of the 1930s and 1940s in Sonnets in Waking Moments.

I hope you enjoy the following excerpt and post by Joszann St. John. I know I enjoyed reading it. 

Thank you Mirella Patzer of HistoricalNovelReview.com for hosting me on this virtual book tour celebration for Sonnets in Waking Moments.

In this post I share an excerpt of the book. This is an adolescent Viola Agnelli’s letter, to her mother Anna Agnelli; updating her about the happenings in her life, since she last visited her mother in Toronto. World War Two is in progress. Anna is at an eatery in Toronto, when she reads the letter she received earlier that day.

Viola’s Letter

Dear mother, please forgive my late response. I have been meaning to write but it has been an emotional couple of months for me. Mother Agnes has me busy all day. Some days, I just barely make it to bed before I’m out like a light. My days are chock full with teaching and serving in the community. I helped a parishioner deliver her baby the other day; she gave me directions the whole time while pain racked her body. She eventually gave birth to a lovely little girl. The child’s name is Aileen. It means the noble one. Another little girl has just arrived at the convent to live with us also. From the moment Angelina wakes up, she follows me around. Quite cute she is. I heard the bells tolling today in the cathedral, and it reminded me of wedding bells. So many thoughts are rolling around in my head. I’ve matured a lot in the last couple of months. I think I would like to get married sometime. Anyways, I know my leaving came as quite a shock, but I’ll make it up to you. I promise mother. I just need to be by myself for a while, to sort things out in my mind. I thought I was ready to be out in the world, but its best I remain in the convent for now. We have been keeping abreast with news of the war. I read the newspapers every day. Mother Agnes says the war should be over soon. I will drop this of tomorrow. I don’t know when I’ll be home again. You can expect another letter soon. How are the Ackerlys’ treating you, mom? Did Mark give you that painting of me? I often wonder how it turned out. xoxoxo
Sincerely, your daughter
Viola Agnelli.

This excerpt is presented as part of a virtual book tour celebrating my book Sonnets in Waking Moments. Enjoy the celebration by following me on the tour to fifteen (15) blogs in honour of Sonnets. Access the virtual book tour schedule and a link to the book on Amazon, below. Thank you and enjoy!

Joszann St. John writes across many genres and has published multiple titles. Her newest novel, Sonnets in Waking Moments is a women’s fiction story about life during The Great Depression.

Visit her blog and check out the full schedule for the virtual book tour celebrating this historical fiction love storyFollow the heroine Anna Agnelli, an Italian immigrant to Canada during the 1900’s and her daughter Viola. Other major characters include Ralph, Frank, Jimmy, Louise and Mark Ackerly.

A new and unique voice, Joszann is dedicated to inspiring and empowering others through her extensive body of work. She credits faith as the major influence in overcoming some of her previous challenges. She is the mother of two beautiful children whom she considers wonderful motivators in her life.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Lionhart by Stewart Binns

Lionheart is the latest historical adventure novel from Stewart Binns, covering the extraordinary life of King Richard the Lionheart.

Richard of Aquitaine, the third son of King Henry II, is developing a fearsome reputation for being a ruthless warrior. Arrogant and conceited he earns the name Richard Lionheart for his bravery and brutality on the battlefield.

After the death his brothers, Richard's impatience to take the throne, and gain the immense power that being King over a vast empire would bring him, leads him to form an alliance with Philip II, King of France.

After invading his father's lands on the Continent, Richard Lionheart goes on to defeat the King's army at the tumultuous Battle of Ballans. Taking his place on the throne he begins his bloody quest to return the Holy Land to Christian rule.

Stewart Binns' Making of England series features Conquest, Crusade, Anarchy and his latest historical page-turner, Lionheart.

Stewart Binns has written an engrossing biographical novel of the life of King Richard I, known as the Lionheart, the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Richard was a fascinating historical character, one of legendary acclaim. At the tender age of 16, Richard successfully led his first army to a victorious win against rebels who thwarted his father. History describes him as a valiant, courageous, competent military leader. Wise, gallant, and shrewd, he was fair, generous, but could also be ruthless and unwavering. 

Stewart Binns has done an exemplary job of bringing to life this fascinating man with all his faults, endearing qualities, and struggles. Of all the books written on Richard the Lionheart, this novel was particularly compelling because the author has a talent for writing historical facts without drowning the reader in an over abundance of mundane political and historical detail. Truly, the story was easy to follow, with each character being adequately introduced and easily remembered. Poignant interactions, intense battle scenes, and rich storytelling all worked together to splendidly keep me enthralled to the end. Brilliant descriptions made me feel as if I could reach out and touch Richard the duke, the knight, the warrior. This is truly one of the best books of Richard the Lionheart I have ever read. A men's adventure tale definitely worth reading.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang


Review by Victoria Dixon

     "Boxers" is the story of Little Bao, a member of the Boxer Rebellion and leader of the Boxer fight against Western influence in China. 
     The basic premise is, after his father is beaten senseless by Westerners, Little Bao is inducted into the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fists (the Boxers). He leads his brother disciples against the foreign invaders and their religion. 
     I won't lie and say this novel softens the story by being a graphic novel/comic book. The author is unsparing in his treatment of atrocities performed on both sides of this conflict. The Christians/Invaders are frequently cruel - even to their Chinese converts - and the Chinese respond in kind, but not without an awareness of their own hypocrisy. 
     There were no victors in this war - just victims and perpetrators. That said, "Boxers" is an extraordinary, perhaps transcendent piece of art - unrelenting in its storytelling, truth and inevitable conclusion. I expect much the same from the parallel novel, "Saints," which tells the story of Vibiana, a Chinese convert who appears within Little Bao's tale. 
     If you enjoy gut-wrenching story telling within a historical context, it doesn't get much better than this.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Blackheath Seance Parlour by Alan Williams

In 1842, two sisters drunkenly debate their future, their family chocolate business has failed and so they decide to open a seance parlour. The locals are shocked but soon their shop is crammed with people wanting to contact the dead. Despite their change in fortune, a rift forms between the sisters, as young sister Judy gets her novel published, finds a man and proves to be more capable of contacting spirits than Maggie. Spurred on by jealousy, Maggie tries harder and soon even the Queen is consulting her. The Church decides they must be stopped by any means possible.

In the year 1840, two women struggle to keep their chocolate shop prosperous in the town of Blackheath in England. Judy is more interested in completing her first novel while Maggie desperately works to keep the business from failing. Hungry, ragged, and without income, the two sisters come to the realization that something must be done. So they embark on changing the shop from chocolate to a place for séances.

And so begins a sometimes humorous, sometimes scary, and thoroughly enjoyable tale. Fortune tellers, mediums, and a touch of mysticism help turn the women’s fortune’s around.  An additional treat is reading Judy’s gothic style novel that is woven into the story. From its beautiful cover to its engrossing content, to say say this novel is delightful and creative would be an understatement. It is unique, compelling, and highly entertaining. I very highly recommend it, especially for those who like reading unique stories.

The Cry of the Peacock by V.R. Christensen

An illustrious marriage, a fortune, a position of wealth and influence. These are the dreams and ambitions of any Victorian woman of sense. Or are they? Perhaps not for Arabella Gray.

The death of Abbie’s father, the overseer of a large country estate, leaves her without means or resources, without, even, a place to live. Her landlords, in an extraordinary display of charity, invite her to live at Holdaway Hall. But the invitation is as puzzling as it is generous. Why are the Crawfords, who have never paid her any notice before, so concerned with her wellbeing now?

It’s a question the younger Crawford brothers would like to have answered as well. Certainly Miss Gray is a mercenary upstart. Certainly their brother is mad for fancying himself in love with her. Such a union would make them a laughing stock. They mean to put a stop to it, but when they learn that her past is closely—even disturbingly—connected with their own, they are brought up short, forced to ask themselves some very hard questions.

As Abbie herself soon learns, there is a great mystery at the heart of her landlords’ extraordinary offer. Everything she has ever dreamt of might be hers for the taking, but is the price worth it? More than her happiness alone rests upon her decision. If she refuses Ruskin Crawford’s offer of marriage, will she be able to live with the consequences? If she does, will she be able to live with herself?

In the end, all must ask themselves some very hard questions. What does it mean to be a man or woman of honor and integrity? What does it mean, after all, to be a gentleman? And what, exactly, is the price of a woman’s heart?

Following her resounding success with Of Moths and Butterflies, V. R. Christensen has created another engrossing family saga set in 19th century Victorian England. The Cry of the Peacock is about a young woman named Abigail whose family lands and inheritance was lost. She and her sister now live with an aunt who runs a home for unwed mothers; a very scandalous profession in society’s eyes, and one they must keep secret at all costs lest it shatter their reputations. When Abigail receives an invitation from her old neighbours, a family with three sons, who are determined to bring her into their home and treat her like their own daughter, she willingly accepts their benevolence. Of the three sons, the eldest, Ruskin Crawford, courts her with much enthusiasm. The other two, also soon grow to admire her greatly. As secrets begin to unravel, Abigail is left to make a choice that will profoundly affect the lives of everyone in their two families.

Graced with a touch of mystery, the scent of scandal, the taste of love, The Cry of the Peacock is wonderfully engrossing historical fiction. Page by page, secrets are revealed, and characters grow and develop, either blooming or shattering as the story progresses. The author is knowledgeable about the Victorian era with all its expectations and restrictions.  This intricate tale is revealed at a tantalizingly steady pace. Its rich, multi-dimensional characters and their individual motivations is a testament to the authors strength as a wonderful storyteller. I highly recommend both of V.R. Christensen’s novels, especially for readers who love family sagas written in the classic style. Truly a joy to read!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Dancing on Air by Nicole Hurley-Moore

Cinderella meets Swan Lake in this Victorian-era set story about a ballet dancer, an aristocrat, and their class-crossing romance...

Lisette yearns for freedom, security and love, but none are offered on the run-down stage of The Imperial Theatre. Instead she has hard work, a tyrannical aunt, and the hope of one day becoming a prima ballerina. Dancing on the stage she catches the attention of two powerful men: Lord Gainsworth and Lord De Vale.

Lord Evander Gainswith never expected to fall in love, let alone with a woman so wholly unacceptable to his family and his peers. The sinister Lord De Vale covets Lisette's youth and strength, and is willing to pay well for it. Lisette may dance roles in fairy tales and fantasies, but the real world is about to intrude, bringing with it the harsh realities of life for a young girl with dreams of rising above the demimonde.

Lisette is a young woman being raised by her elderly, strict aunt. Ballet is her only outlet, a passion shared by both women. While Lisette is happy to simply dance, her aunt aspires to make her niece a truly great dancer of fame. Lisette is a bit of a loner, and lacks her aunt’s ambition, but goes along anyway.

Then she meets Lord Gainsworth. Like Lisette, he too wants a happy future, despite the wishes of those around them. For in Victorian England, society has its expectations and it is not easy to stray away from the constraints imposed on them.

With its striking cover, this book is a lovely, gently historic romance. It makes a nice read for a rainy day. The characters are not fully three dimensional, and I would have liked the aunt to be a bit more evil than portrayed, but the story was enjoyable nonetheless. With great descriptions about the ballet scene and some good conflict, this was an easy, quick read. A lovely little story indeed. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lost Luggage by Jordi Punti

Christof, Christophe, Christopher, and Cristòfol are four brothers—sons of the same father and four very different mothers—yet none of them knows of the others’ existence. They live in four different cities: Frankfurt, Paris, London, and Barcelona. Unbeknownst to them, they have one thing in common: Gabriel Delacruz—a truck driver—abandoned them when they were little and they never heard from him again. 

Then one day, Cristòfol is contacted by the police: his father is officially a missing person. This fact leads him to discover that he has three half-brothers, and the four young men come together for the first time. Two decades have passed since their father last saw any of them. They barely remember what he was like, but they decide to look for him to resolve their doubts. Why did he abandon them? Why do all four have the same name? Did he intend for them to meet?

Divided by geography yet united by blood, the “Christophers” set out on a quest that is at once painful, hilarious, and extraordinary. They discover a man who during thirty years of driving was able to escape the darkness of Franco’s Spain and to explore a luminous Europe, a journey that, with the birth of his sons, both opened and broke his heart.

Lost Luggage by author Jordi Puntí has a fascinating premise. It is the complex story of four half-brothers, all with derivatives of the name Christopher, who never knew each other existed until their father went missing many years before. When one of the brothers learns about the others, he summons them altogether and they meet for the first time. Together, they unite to unravel their father, and their family secrets.

The story sweeps readers into major cities of Europe – Paris, Barcelona, Frankfurt, and London. It is no surprise that this novel won numerous prestigious awards in Spain. It is a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant, sometimes painful family saga. A truly enchanting story, well worth reading! Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Middle Watch by Loretta Proctor

Middle Watch is a time when a man alone on a lighthouse in those wee small hours feels he’s the only person in the world

A man awake and alone in the darkness of the night has time to think, and sometimes those thoughts turn towards revenge and hate.

Bridie O’Neill was taken in as a baby by Dad Joe, whom she adores as if he were her real father. Unfortunately, Joe is away at sea most of the time and Bridie has grown up under the thumb of his mean-spirited wife, Millie, and her two bullying sons. The only joy in her life comes from the beautiful coastline near their home and Joe’s occasional visits.

When things come to a head between Bridie and Millie, Joe realises he needs to take Bridie - and himself - away from his poisonous wife. He starts a job as a lighthouse keeper at Longships Light. Bridie’s life is transformed by this new life close to the wild Cornish seas. There she meets the dark, brooding Ryan, son of the Principal Keeper. The two young people fall deeply in love with one another.

But Joe’s family are not ready to let Bridie go. She is haunted by the idea that Millie will come after her, and Joe’s older son Jim is starting to look at Bridie with a most unbrotherly interest. Wanting to escape the emotional turmoil and prove herself, Bridie sets out on her own to find work in London – but her actions set forth a chain of events that will end in tragedy on a lonely lighthouse amongst the crashing waves of the sea…

When Bridie is orphaned, she is sent to live with her father’s best friend and his wife. Although her foster father is a kind loving man, but is often away from home for work. So Bridie is often left alone with her cruel and abusive foster mother and her two sons. For Bridie, there is no escape and she lives for the day when she can leave. When her foster father learns of Bridie’s abuse, he accepts a job as a lighthouse keeper and moves out of the house, taking Bridie with him. As Bridie happily settles in her new life, she sets out to become her own woman. As she grows to womanhood she is torn by two young men who both love her – Jim, the son of her foster parents, and Ryan, the son of her new foster mother.

In this wonderfully written character driven novel, author Loretta Proctor creates beautifully flawed characters that are easily identifiable with, but that also create a steady tension from start to finish of this wonderful book. Add to that some vivid descriptions of scenery, ever-evolving characters, and a conflict-ridden story line, and you have an excellent historical novel. There is a terrific surprise ending that left me satisfied. This is a fantastic read, one I highly recommend.

Monday, November 4, 2013

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

Book Synopsis

A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. 

Axie’s story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day. 

In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.” 

When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear. 

Inspired by the true history of an infamous female physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” My Notorious Life is a mys­tery, a family saga, a love story, and an exquisitely detailed portrait of nineteenth-century America. Axie Muldoon’s inimitable voice brings the past alive, and her story haunts and enlightens the present.

My Review

This book is a must read for every woman. It is a story that takes us into our past; a tale loosely based on the life of a woman who dedicated her life to address the adversities arising from childbirth issues. This rag to riches, fictionalized accounting based on the story of Madame Restell, a notorious abortionist in New York City gives readers a peak at what it means to be a woman during the late 1800’s.

The story begins with Axie Muldoon who is an extremely poor child struggling to survive on the streets of New York. She is rescued by a reverend of the Children’s Aid Society and soon finds herself taken in by a local doctor and his wife. It is here that Axie learns about female remedies and midwifery skills.The story unfolds vividly, realistically, and takes us into the seedier side of New York and the options women had available to them regarding pregnancies, wanted or unwanted and its prevention.

I highly recommend My Notorious Life as a wonderfully poignant novel about a woman who chose a controversial path in life to come to the aid of needful women. It is a shocking portrayal of the hardships women once faced regading their bodies, their sex lives, and the impact of child-bearing. Excellent biographical historical fiction!