Friday, May 31, 2013

The Memory of Scent: Art and Murder in 19th Century Paris by Lisa Burkitt

Book Description

"Henri is a bit of a night owl. I like him. I think his insecurities make him comfortable to be around and he is instantly recognisable - this little bearded man with the bulbous nose and checked trousers. And he adores Maria, which is probably why he paints her so much. 'Henri de Toulouse Lautrec', his name has the ring of the nobility that he does indeed spring from, but I would say he is more at home among the girls of Montmartre."

Set against the backdrop of Paris in 1883, this is the story of two French women, Fleur and Babette, and of how their lives diverge when the artist they both model for is found dead. For Fleur, her life is lived on the fringes of the Impressionist movement in a world of art and music; for Babette, her life begins to unravel after she is imprisoned for the artist's murder, eventually become a courtesan on the French streets. This novel is told in alternating chapters, from the perspective of both women, as the truth is slowly revealed...


Paris in the 1880’s was a decadent place to be filled with elegance, art, passion, and wonderful food. Author, Lisa Burkitt, writes a novel about the great impressionist artists of the time – Renois, Monet, Degas, and the famous Toulouse Lautrec.

At the heart of the story are two women. Fleur and Babette who are models for Toulouse Latrec. The paths of their lives take drastic turns as one falls into poverty and prostitution and the other flirts in the elegant salons of artists and society.

This is an intriguing story of contrasts, rich and poor, fortunate and unfortunate, love and hate, friendship and enmity. There is a murder mystery as well as madness, decadence, and illicit sexual trauma. Most of all, the novels truly brings to life the rich period with its cafes, artists, social encounters, and descriptions. A rich, multi-layered story indeed!

My Splendid Concubine 3rd Edition by Lloyd Lofthouse

Book Description

Robert Hart (1835 - 1911) was the 'Godfather of China's modernism' and the only foreigner the emperor of China trusted. In fact, Hart played a crucial role in ending the bloodiest rebellion in history--the Taiping Rebellion--and he owes this success largely to Ayaou, his live-in dictionary and encyclopedia, his Chinese concubine.

About a year after arriving in China in 1854, Robert Hart falls in love with Ayaou, but his feelings for her sister go against the teachings of his Wesleyan-Christian upbringing and almost breaks him emotionally. To survive he must learn how to live and think like the Chinese and soon finds himself thrust into China's Opium War, where he makes enemies of men such as the American soldier of fortune known as the Devil Soldier.

First came "My Splendid Concubine" December 2007; then came the sequel, "Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine" in 2010. Both novels have now been combined as one in "My Splendid Concubine's" 3rd edition.


My Splendid Concubine is a biographical novel about the life of Robert Hart, a British official in China. Born in Ireland, while he attended university, he gained a reputation for his rampant sexual escapades, despite his strict religious upbringing. His father intervened, put a stop to his womanizing, and arranged a post for him as a student interpreter in China. There he met, rescued, and fell in love with Ayaou, a young teen who, with her two sisters, were being sold into slavery/prostitution by their father. Struggling with the social norms and morals of the time, unable to marry her, he finally took her as his concubine. She bore him three children over the years. He was able to rescue one of Ayaou’s younger sisters, and the three set up a household.

Robert’s business acumen and strong communication skills brought him great success and he was soon promoted into more affluent positions. Soon, he gained a reputation of trust and respect from the highest levels of Chinese politicians, royalty, and officials. Despite his success, he struggled with his religious values and in the taking of concubines, a widely accepted practice among Caucasian men even though it was unacceptable in polite society.

Lloyd Lofthouse has written a “no-holds-barred” accounting of his tumultuous life. The author does not shy away from Hart’s strong sexual drive and encounters. He delves deeply into the relationships with Ayaou and her sister, bringing to life the heart-wrenching dilemma Hart faced. The author described the contrast between Hart’s sexual values and those of the women with great insight, for in China, being a concubine was far better than slavery or prostitution. Lofthouse’s first-hand experience in the Vietnam war, and the time he spent in the Orient, are evident throughout the novel in the vivid descriptions and detailed scenes.

Readers should understand before purchasing this novel that there are some graphic sex scenes, but I found it necessary in order to understand Hart, his personality, and what drove him. A provocative novel that brings to life lesser known practices and norms of China and its people. Highly recommended.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Moonlit Days and Nights by T.H. Toole


Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award winner for best first novel! A Tour De Force - part Victorian Thriller, part Romantic Adventure, part Picaresque Comedy.

Welcome to Toronto in the Naughty 1890’s with its glorious opera houses, fine restaurants, sumptuous brothels, underworld gangs, and drugs galore. Follow the adventure of Reginald Ravencroft - the rustic dreamer from Balls Falls as he heads off to Toronto to infiltrate high society and marry a woman whose beauty of person and kindness of heart is exceeded only by her enormous wealth. Join him in his desperate attempt to journey into "love's labyrinth" for the first time. Thrill to the danger as he sets out on a mission of revenge involving burglaries, kidnapping, murder, and a good deal of shopping. (The pace quickens with every chapter as Reginald races to his date with destiny.)

See Reginald hide a ransom note under Sir John A. Macdonald's right boot.

Meet Belvedere La Griffin - escaped lunatic, diminutive dandy of note - immaculate from his gleaming gold monocle to his dazzling Chantilly riding boots - armed to the teeth, and desperate for adventure. He leads Reginald on his quest for Revenge.
Marvel at "La Divine" Sarah Bernhardt - the most celebrated actress of all time, seductress of five crowned heads of Europe and the Pope of Rome. She is Reginald's guiding light.

Learn from Doctor Marmaduke Dandy - the eccentric Chief Alienist at the Ontario Provincial Lunatic Asylum. A man with a mission - to treat the legions of insane Upper Canadians crazed by lustfulness.

Witness Reginald's trip to The Cloister where one expects to be greeted by a fully formed woman wearing nothing save a lewd grin and an arrangement of vegetables so highly suggestive as to leave none save a dullard in doubt as to their symbolism.

Be there as he encounters the charming denizens of the brothel: Big Sue - the giantess bouncer, famous for her jar of pickled human ears, and Pansy - a living dream.

Rub shoulders with members of the dreaded Dead Dog Gang: Dan "The Dude" Dougherty - the Beau Brummel of the Toronto underworld, and inventor of the copper eye gouger. Little Dave Goody - a malignant little rodent of a man, The Dude's chief assassin and lout extraordinare. Piggie O'neil - every filthy fiber of his being crying out of the porcine.


Moonlit Days and Nights takes readers on an uproarious, charming frolic through 1890’s Toronto. The story is told through the first person narrative of Reginald Ravencroft, a naively innocent young man raised by two loving uncles in the country. Reginald comes of age, cashes in his inheritance, and is set on travelling to Toronto and living the high life in order to attract a bride. When he arrives, he learns that Toronto turns out to be much more than he expects and soon finds himself embroiled in one hilarious caper after another.

To say this book is brilliantly written, would be an understatement. The prose is witty and quippy, the characters terrifically credible, and the escapades wonderfully outrageous. I found myself laughing aloud and shaking my head while reading furiously to the next scandalous and wicked frolic.

Descriptions of locations, people, and monuments are as vivid as the storytelling, truly bringing to life Toronto as it was during the Victorian era. Highly entertaining, this is a unique novel, unforgettable, and truly a joy. What a wonderful way to escape! Very highly recommended. Get this book. Get it now. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Crimson Bed by Loretta Proctor

Book Summary:

Frederic Ashton Thorpe and his best friend, Henry Winstone, are artists immersed in the Pre-Raphaelite movement, with its yearning for romantic escape from the materialism of Victorian society. Seeing a half-finished portrait of the beautiful Eleanor Farnham at Henry’s studio, Fred is fascinated and returns in order to meet her. He and Ellie fall in love and are married. 

But every heart hides a secret and both Fred and Ellie have put certain events behind them – events that, if exposed, could threaten their blissful new life. After her mother’s death, Ellie inherits the Crimson Bed, a family heirloom passed down through the female line since Elizabethan times. With the bed come ancestral secrets that will eventually affect Ellie as much as the unhappy memories from her own past. Meanwhile, Fred is haunted by shameful memories of his own, that lead him into the darkness of the London slums and a very different world to that of his peaceful home.

As a brilliant and talented artist, Henry is beginning to experience success and fame, but his life is haunted by tragedy and loss. Despite their own problems, Ellie and Fred watch in despair as he sinks slowly into drink, illness and decline. 

Passions escalate as Fred becomes increasingly jealous of Ellie’s closeness to her handsome godfather, Lord Percy Dillinger, and when shocking truths finally come to light, their lives will never be the same again...


The Crimson Bed sweeps readers deep into Victorian England. At the heart of this story is Fred Ashton Thorpe, a Pre-Raphaelite painter, and the woman he falls in love with and marries, Eleanor Farnham. Each has dark secrets they strive to keep hidden, but life has a way of forcing them out. And this is what happens with each turn of the page in this lush novel. Their love story is both highly romantic and devastatingly tragic.

There are several underlying themes running through the novel - the most important of which is the Crimson Bed Ellie inherits from her mother, which Fred does not like. The author does a splendid job of revealing each character’s dilemma, the angst, the betrayal, the pain and chaos it inflicts upon them. The Crimson Bed is a novel that stirs emotions, a beautiful tale with compelling characters that are so real, they leap off the pages. On a deeper level, the novel explores human vulnerability and frailty, love and loss, trust and betrayal. Definitely well written and beautifully written. I loved how she used a Pre-Raphaelite painting for her book cover. Very highly recommended.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ancaster: Guide Me Swiftly Home by Diana Jackson

Book Blurb

The lives of Harriet’s family and friends are interwoven seamlessly through 1910 to 1920, as history comes to life through the eyes of the characters. It is a tale of endurance and hardship through the Great War, contrasted by the excitement of the birth of Supermarine, early flying boat production and The Schneider Trophy. 

Hints of character traits formed in early childhood appear to guide the destiny of the menfolk as they play their part in the less well known facets of World War One, but the roles of the womenfolk, too, change beyond recognition.


The story opens with a descriptive account of the Newton family history and the events leading up to death of Joe, Harriett’s husband, Sarah’s father, and Joe’s brother, Edward, who captains the ferry between Southampton and Caen

I haven’t read Riduna, the first book, so maybe this explains why it took me a while to see where the story was going as the narrative is bogged down with the island geography; the ferries that move between them and where they land, the description of the St Peter Port churches, landmarks, views and which street leads where

The opening chapters deal with Sarah’s visit to the island, which is her late father’s former home, where she attends tea parties with people who knew her parents, all of whom had nice things to say – though nothing actually happens, so the plot gets a little lost.

Sarah finds a silver locket amongst her father’s belongings she has never seen her mother wearing, thus she wonders about this item and brings it out at intervals over the following years to look at, but it's secret remains until the end.

The changing role of women in the years up to and including WWI is handled well, with some interesting historical detail, specifically the emergence of the Supermarine factory that went on to build the Spitfire.

The story moves along slowly, and reads like a journal with a limited amount of dialogue, so I didn't feel I got inside the character's heads as it was all omniscient telling. However, for anyone who likes gentle tales of everyday life of a family living on the South Coast of England in the early 1900’s, this novel is a must.

ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author, her latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England from Claymore Books under the name Anita Seymour

Friday, May 24, 2013

Seducing Charlotte by Diana Quincy


Even if he is the catch of the season, Charlotte Livingston has a low opinion of the wildly handsome Marquess of Camryn. He’s an industrialist who thinks nothing of replacing workers with machines, depriving them of an honest living. Camryn is everything a social reformer like Charlotte detests. Besides, her loyalty belongs to another man.

Yet, as a violent machine-breakers rebellion rages across England, an undeniable attraction flares between the passionate adversaries. Camryn vows to destroy the rebel movement, unaware that the spinster who has captured his heart, harbors a secret - a shocking connection to one of its leaders that could shatter them both.


I was given a copy for review purposes, but opinions expressed in the following review are my own.

The story opens at a party with the jaded Marquess of Camryn receiving a sex act from a woman in a garden, at the completion of which he suffers mild regret. Not, as one might think for the crassness of the act, but the fact that the woman delivering it confesses she has a husband.  However noises in the shrubbery alert him to the fact he has been observed, but this only bothers him briefly before he goes off to punch an acquaintance in the face for daring to force his attentions on a servant.

A young man with mixed values methinks, and once his host persuades him to dance Camry proclaims he will instantly search out a wallflower and ‘give her a turn’.

Thus when the wallflower appears in the shape of Miss Charlotte Livingstone, I hoped she was about to cut him down to size with a few choice remarks.  Charlotte is not your run of the mill Regency miss, she is intellectual and socially aware with a particular penchant for crusading on behalf of the Luddites, those men who wrecked stocking machines in the early 1800’s because they were being deprived of their livings as weavers.  When Charlotte discovers Camryn owns several textile factories, she immediately writes him off as one of the wealthy aristocracy without a moral compass.

I wasn’t disappointed in Charlotte, for despite the social etiquette of her age, she is genuinely not husband-hunting and is immune to Camryn’s charm - until he kisses her and then she is lost.  But then so is he.

Charlotte is not to be easily seduced, however, [actually she is, but not into becoming a wife] as she has a mission in life. Not just the weavers, but she is conscious of the social inequalities between the working class and the wealthy. She champions worker rights and believes that education should be readily available for everyone, no matter their station in life.

Ms Quincy could have made Charlotte a stiff, prissy miss but instead, Charlotte is sensual as well as intelligent. her passion for the plight of others is genuine and the author portrays this very well, as she does her conflict about Camryn, a man she desires as much as he does her.

Camryn believes in progress and initially dismisses Charlotte’s principles, but at the same time is determined to win her and is single-minded in his pursuit.

Predictably, the plot involves several misunderstandings, throwing into the mix is also a scheming social climber who is determined to win Camryn away from Charlotte. This aspect is handled with humour and the dialogue is very clever, a facade of social niceties that hide cutting truths and the scoring points off one another. Charlotte is more forthright than she should be, but that is what makes the novel so interesting to read.

After his introduction, I was ready to dislike Camryn, and he was not averse to compromising Charlotte to force her to marry him. However, his personality develops  well and in the end I wanted him to get together with Charlotte - as long as she didn’t make it too easy for him!  I liked the fact Camryn has a dark side and isn’t the archetypical ‘brooding, misunderstood but perfect man’ made the story more believable.
Oh, and Charlotte has a secret, well two as it turns out, but I won’t reveal them here.

There is a fair amount of sensuality included in this novel as the pair fail to suppress their desire in various unoccupied rooms at their friends’ house. Sensual/Erotic romances aren’t something I usually seek out, but this was nicely done and in no way offensive. The innuendos are fun too, for example:

Irritated at herself for allowing him to fluster her, she forced a stilted laugh.
“You have a very talented tongue, my lord.”
“I do give it my best effort,” he answered in a velvety tone.

Camryn also possesses a large number of skin-tight breeches that put his calves/ buttocks/ manhood on display - poor man must have blushed a lot with women staring at his nether regions all the time.

I had to read this book within a few days to make the promotional deadline, but found it proved no hardship at all. It’s an enjoyable, fast paced and interesting novel with well drawn and deserving characters.

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 Press in early 2013 under the name Anita Seymour


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Running with the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse

Running with the Enemy is a suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War. A rogue CIA agent needs someone to blame for his crimes.

Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen. But Tuyen, who is half French, is a beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter. Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the brutal control of her older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.

When Ethan discovers he is going to be court-marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.

The rogue CIA agent and Giap--working together with the support of an unwitting American general--will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on. The star-crossed lovers flee across Laos to Cambodia's Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma's Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen face a ruthless drug lord and his gang.

In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan discovers that a massive assault has been planned to hit his Marine unit's remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one that believes Ethan is innocent. Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

From start to finish, I thoroughly enjoyed every page of this book. The story gripped me, and for good reason! Books that have fascinating, unusual characters always capture my interest – and this novel’s villain is the villain above all villains! He is an abhorrent CIA agent gone rogue – a ruthless killer who sharpens his teeth to bite and torment and torture his victims. I could not help but hate this man, and this only added to my enjoyment of this book. Of course, the protagonist is equally as captivating – a recon marine named Ethan Card who is as tough as they come. He is strong, a born leader, and will go to the ends of the earth to save his buddies, even if he puts his own life in danger. Wrongfully framed, with the military eager to capture and charge him, he is on the run, desperate to prove his innocence, intent on saving those who support him from danger. And then there are a whole cast of secondary characters, both good and bad, who add color and interest to the tale, creating additional conflict and tension.

The prose is written in a gritty, quippy way, enhanced by vivid, compelling descriptions that seem all too real at times. This is no surprise because the author himself is a Vietnam veteran. It is obvious that much of what he wrote comes from his own personal experiences, and this makes the story stand out as an exceptional military suspense/thriller.  

The fight/combat scenes are stunning, very realistic. The novel’s pace is quick, with tension building as the story progresses. There is some graphic violence, of course, true to the setting, era, and culture, educating the reader as to some of the horrors. Betrayal, revenge, murder, and desperation make this a must read! It is a well written, well edited novel that will keep you interested from start to finish. Very highly recommended. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

The City of Refuge by Diana Wilder

Review by Victoria Dixon

It was once the glory of Akhenaten's reign, called "The Horizon of the Aten'. Now the once magnificent city Amarna lies wrecked, abandoned and accursed, dreaming in the darkness on the edge of the Nile.

Police Commander Khonsu has never believed in curses, but he can't deny his own foreboding when he learns that the city's stone quarries will be reopened at Pharaoh's command by a delegation from the great temple of Ptah at Memphis, headed by Lord Nebamun, its second-ranking priest, a man without a past who is not afraid of ghosts, curses or the dead.

As commander of the provincial police force assigned to guard the expedition, Khonsu accompanies the enigmatic Nebamun to the ruined city, where he finds himself entangled in a drifting web of betrayal, murder and revenge that has its deepest roots in the shadows of the city's heresy-tainted past.

The City of Refuge is a story of hidden treasure, revenge and murder and one man's discovery that the paths of righteousness may lie through peril, but they will always bring you home.

The City of Refuge is, I believe, the first of Diana Wilder's Egyptian murder mysteries in "The Memphis Cycle". Pay attention as there are two characters from City of Refuge who reappear in some way for Pharaoh’s Son, which I reviewed here.

Just as in Pharaoh’s Son, The City of Refuge shows Wilder’s interest in belief and how it can be enacted in our lives. In this story, she used the tale of Horus and Set, the murderer and avenger of Ancient Egypt. I thought the myth well used throughout the book and the end scenes where the cosmic battle is echoed between hero and villain were vivid and gripping.

However, what I found most enjoyable about the book was the fraternity between the two main characters. I loved both of those men dearly. They were real to me and I would love to see them in other stories, which I can only hope Ms. Wilder writes soon.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Pemberley to Waterloo by Anna Elliott

Book Blurb

Can their love withstand the trials of war?

Georgiana Darcy and Edward Fitzwilliam want only to be together. But when the former Emperor Napoleon escapes from his exile on the Isle of Elba, Britain is plunged into renewed war with France ... and Edward is once more called away to fight.

To be with the man she loves, Georgiana makes the perilous journey to Brussels, in time to witness the historic downfall of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. But when Edward is gravely injured in the battle, she will need more courage than she ever knew she had to fight for their future together.

Pemberley to Waterloo is the sequel to Georgiana Darcy's Diary and is Book 2 of the Pride and Prejudice Chronicles.


In the first part of this three book series, Georgiana Darcy endures misunderstandings and the honourable restraint of her beau, finally achieving her goal of becoming betrothed to Edward Fitzwilliam.

Written in diary form, the reader is shown the thoughts that are behind the sweet, unspoilt and loving but shy and retiring girl we all know of in Pride and Prejudice. She also weaves stories for Kitty Bennett - who is almost as much trouble as Lydia, and Caroline Bingley, whose jealousy of everyone's happiness makes her bitter and vengeful - until she finds true love herself.

Georgiana has been in love with Edward Fitzwilliam since she was six years old. Not a young girl's unrealistic infatuation for her guardian, this, but a mature, enduring devotion that will last through all privations - including his near-fatal injury at Waterloo when she goes to Brussells to nurse him.

Ms Elliott's research of the Napoleonic war is wonderful, something Miss Austen never did for her readers, and I became fascinated enough to look up details about the Duchess of Richmond's Ball on the eve of the final battle. Georgiana and Kitty are caught up in the aftermath of Waterloo, and care for wounded and dying soldiers. The reality must have been dreadful, but the author deals with it perfectly, with just enough raw emotion but without sentimentality or being overly explicit.

The emotion of all her characters, from Georgiana herself who commits her feelings to her diary, to Kitty Bennet's regret and Harriett Forster's grief, is beautifully handled. I particularly loved the scene where Elizabeth gives birth to Darcy's son while he is delayed by a snowstorm - their final reunion being worthy of any BBC drama moment.

I'm now a devoted fan of Ms Elliott's novels, an author who deserves much success with her writing.

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