Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Sultana: Two Sisters by Lisa J. Yarde

In fourteenth-century Spain, former friends vie for a man's heart and the future of his kingdom. Both women are captives sold into the harem of Sultan Yusuf I of Moorish Granada.

A young girl with a hidden heritage, Esperanza Peralta, forges a new identity as Butayna and becomes the mother of Yusuf's firstborn son. The Jewess Miriam Alubel takes the name Maryam and also bears Yusuf several children, including two sons.

The clash between former friends is inevitable, as each finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power beside their husband. Both remain aware of the struggle ahead of them, for only one heir may inherit Yusuf's throne and only one woman can claim the revered title of Mother of the Sultan.

Get this book. Get it now! I promise you will not be disappointed. Sultana: Two Sisters by Lisa J. Yarde continues the saga of the 14th Century Nasrid Dynasty begun with Sultana and Sultana’s Legacy. This biographical fictional series is not one to be missed. It is a time of harsh realities, blood baths, and political turmoil. In this, the third novel of this fascinating series, set during the reign of Sultan Abdul Hajjaj Yusuf I of Granada, two women become deadly enemies in the fight for supremacy. Butayna and Maryam vie for the heart of Sultan Yusuf, for whoever captures his love and bears his son, will likely rule the harem.

It is obvious that author Lisa J. Yarde has done extensive research into the era. With vivid detail and expressive prose, she expertly brings the characters to life with all their faults and qualities, emotions and aspirations. The characters always surprise the reader, for their unpredictability and ever changing motivations. As I read and learned more about the two women at the heart of the story, I clearly understood the dangerous times they lived in and what motivated them to do what they did. Through the eyes of these two women, the reader is swept into feelings of lost love, mystery, hardships faced by the characters, betrayal, bitterness, passionate love and forgiveness. The author has a lovely writing style, simple, unencumbered, but beautiful in description and spirit. The characters are complex and with plenty of conflict in their pasts to capture the reader's interest and hold it to the end. To keep the era as authentic as possible, the author does not sugar-coat any of the brutality or realities of the times. 

It is a story about the choices one makes during a moment in time and the impact it will have on one's future. There is plenty to contemplate and identify with along with the two women at the heart of the story. A deeply evocative story with plenty of passion to keep you turning the pages long into the night. The Sultana series of novels overflow with intrigue, murder, betrayal, sabotage, treachery, treason, and plenty more. Although they can be read independently of each other, I recommend you begin at the beginning and not miss any of the excitement.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Orphanmaster: A Novel of Early Manhattan by Jean Zimmerman



A love story wrapped around a murder mystery, set in seventeenth-century Manhattan.

In 1663 in the hardscrabble colony of New Amsterdam — today’s lower Manhattan — orphan children are going missing and residents suspect a serial killer. The list of possible culprits is long and strange. Among those looking into the mystery are a shrewd young Dutch woman, Blandine van Couvering, and a dashing Englishman, Edward Drummond, whose new found romance is threatened by horrible accusations.

In this spellbinding work of historical fiction, Jean Zimmerman relates the harsh realities of life in early Manhattan, re-creating the sights, smells, and textures of the rough settlement surrounded by wilderness and subject to political turmoil. Compulsively readable and filled with New York history, The Orphanmaster will delight fans of Caleb Carr, Hilary Mantel, and Geraldine Brooks. 


In the year 1663, on what is known today as Manhattan, someone is abducting and killing orphans. Blandine is a young orphan woman who has worked hard to carve out a living for herself as a trader. Richard Drummond, an English cavalier meets and becomes intrigued with Blandine. Together, they set out to solve the murder mystery.

The Orphanmaster is a fascinating novel about the Dutch colony in early America. Well researched, the author has truly captured the essence of the times with all its hardships, morals, and daily living. I thoroughly enjoyed the heroine who is strong and stalwart and definitely independent. The giant man who befriends her and follows her around to protect her, was also a fine touch. And of course, I thoroughly enjoyed the hero, Richard Drummond. Although the novel moves slowly at times, and the novel could have had a few more scenes edited, the mystery about the sadistic killer kept me reading on to the end. A very good story that definitely sweeps readers back into 17th century America.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Free ebook The Widow's Daughter

Free on Amazon, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble until Aug 4! In a world filled with danger, one secret will change everything! 

Two lovers bound by love. A dreadful overlord who will shatter lives to possess the woman he desires. And the dark secrets that one woman will risk everything to keep buried. From the dangerous wilderness of New France, to the opulent salons of the aristocracy; the lives, loves, and secrets of a small town thrust a young man and young woman into danger and mayhem on the eve of their wedding.

The Widow's Daughter is an absorbing novel about wicked intentions, murder, obsessive love, undisclosed secrets, unstoppable destinies, and the woman whose secret will either destroy or restore lives. When an unscrupulous overlord attempts to kidnap Emilie and prevent her marriage to Robert, the act sends her fleeing for her life, straight into the path of danger and tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she encounters. A catastrophic chain of events turns her life into a desperate flight from home, thrusting her straight into peril. As dark secrets emerge, Emilie must reconcile her past and her love for each Robert. From taverns to convents, food riots to epidemics, Emilie and Robert must find their paths back to each other while learning the true meaning of love and forgiveness. The Widow's Daughter is a retelling of the classic novel, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) by Alessandro Manzoni. Inspired by this epic Italian classic novel; a new and captivating tale in a new setting, a new century, and with new plot twists while remaining faithful to key story elements.

Friday, July 26, 2013

By Loyalty Bound by Elizabeth Ashworth

Book Blurb

When 17 year old Richard, Duke of Gloucester, defies his elder brother, Edward IV, and rides to Hornby Castle in the north of Lancashire to help James and Robert Harrington defend their birthright against Sir Thomas Stanley, he engenders a chain of events that will have repercussions for years to come. His fight for justice for the Harringtons and his relationship with Anne Harrington, whose wardship has been given to Thomas Stanley, cause a rift between the two men that will never be healed, and which will lead to Richard being betrayed when he most needs Stanley’s support.

By Loyalty Bound tells the story of defiant Anne Harrington, the woman who would later become mistress to the enigmatic Richard as a consequence of his involvement in the trials of her family. With her father and grandfather killed fighting for the Yorkists at Wakefield in 1460, Hornby Castle falls to her as an inheritance at the tender age of five years old. When her ward-ship is handed over to Thomas Stanley by the king himself, Anne’s uncles and the influence they might otherwise have wielded are virtually cut off. The story traces the Harringtons fight to keep possession of their ancestral home, the support given to them by Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Richard’s tumultuous and beguiling relationship with Anne as she is forced into a marriage arranged for her by her guardian, a man who has objectives beyond the determination to secure her future happiness. 


The timing of this novel couldn’t have been bettered, and I admire Ms Ashworth for producing it at just the right time considering her research must have been extensive. By that I mean the televisation of ‘The White Queen’ and the recent discovery of the remains of Richard III in a Leicester car park. She gives her reasons for why she identifies Richard of Gloucester’s mistress as Anne Harrington, and makes a very convincing case for her being an heiress at the mercy of a guardian of the Stanleys.

Ms Ashworth handles a very complicated era of history extremely well. Edwad IV did not have an easy rule and no one was certain of which side to join, and many changed loyalties according to who was in the ascendant and whose army was biggest. By the end I was confused as to who actually was the ‘rightful’ king, so even with hindsight I would have made the wrong decison.

Villains abound in all guises and Anne has to tread a careful path with her in-laws who regard her as having brought disgrace on them by being Richard of Gloucester’s mistress - hypocritical in the extreme as they forced her to marry their son so they could grab her estate!

Despite its difficult beginning in that she was presented to him as a bribe by her family - girls had a rotten time in the 15th century! Anne’s devotion to Richard of Gloucester is touching, - so much so, she refuses to consummate her marriage to Edward Stanley - though fortunately he does not press the issue and takes a mistress of his own. In an age where bearing heirs is vital, I wondered at her father-in-law’s silence on the fact she had produced two healthy children for Richard but none for her own husband, but he remains enigmatically silent.

Margaret Beaufort joins the Stanley family, making the entire crew even more sinister, and Anne has to watch her back for stray daggers, at times relying only on her aloof serenity to keep her safe.

For those who are interested in the late Plantagenet kings and the lead up to Bosworth Field, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Godiva by Nicole Galland


Nicole Galland, author of The Fool’s Tale, turns her clever pen toward re-imagining the famous legend of Lady Godiva in this expertly crafted historical novel set in Anglo-Saxon England.

A 12th-century noblewoman, Lady Godiva is infamous for riding naked through Coventry to relieve her people of her husband’s unfair and oppressive taxation. Leofric, Earl of Mercia, said he would ease the tax burden if she would ride through the streets, wearing only her glorious, long hair. In doing so she risked everything, including her home and well-being.

Told with humor and precise attention to detail, Nicole Galland’s Godiva brings to life the adventures of the legendary lady, her husband and her best friend the Abbess Egdiva in thrilling detail. It’s an entertaining tale of courtly intrigue, deceit, and romance that is sure to captivate fans of literary and historical fiction.

My Review:

Godiva by Nicole Galland. It is a novel meant to entertain. It’s a light, quick, read about the intriguing Lady Godiva who has been legendary in English history. It’s light on historical facts, but with just enough historical detail to bring the times to life.

I loved the simple way the introduction was written. It helped explain a complex history regarding the tax in elegantly simple prose. The book then opens with Godiva using her sexual prowess to put an end to a dispute between her husband and a neighboring lord. It tainted my expectations of Lady Godiva and made her seem more of a strumpet than a wise and strong wife. It also sent a warning bell ringing in my mind because it made me think the book would turn out to be like one of those all too common, inexpensive, bodice ripper romances. Lucikly, as the novel progresses, Lady Godiva is given a little more substance.

The novel was not encumbered with too many characters, so it was easy to read. I liked that very much. It allowed me to relax into the story without having to struggle to keep track of who is who. Much to my delight, the author introduced only those characters integral to the story.

My favorite subplot was that of Godiva’s friend, Abbess Egdiva and the troubles she got into. The brilliance of the book is the chapters that pertain to Lady Godiva’s naked ride. I thought that was writing at its very best, gripping, descriptive, emotional – it had it all.  

There are quite a few flaws in the historical details, but for those readers who are more into the story than the history of the times, this will not be a problem.

All in all, this was an interesting novel, not one of my favorites by this author, but good all the same. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Princess of Dhagabad: The Spirit of the Ancient Sands by Anna Kashina

When, on the day of her age-coming, the princess of Dhagabad opens a mysterious bronze bottle – a gift from her grandmother – she has no idea that she is about to unleash a power older than the world itself. Worse, she is not prepared for the bearer of this power to be a handsome man whose intense gray eyes pierce her very soul. Hasan, her new slave, is immeasurably wiser and stronger than anyone she has ever heard of, and he is now hers to command – if she can handle him, that is.

This story winds its way through the hearts of its heroine, hero and reader in  a slow-building, but  inexorable and completely satisfying love story that features history, philosophy and myth.  What’s more, I felt the author made the idea of an ancient force of nature falling in love with the young and innocent heroine believable, rather than creepy.

Sensuous and intelligent, The Princess of Dhagabad is set within an alternative universe where gods, djinns and sorcerers do magical and philosophical battle. The Spirit of the Ancient Sands is  the first book in a trilogy by a talented new author.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn

Suzannah Dunn’s latest novel, recounts the compelling story of Katherine Howard, the fifth wife of Tudor King Henry VIII. The story unfolds through the first person narrative of her companion and lady-in-waiting, Cat Tilney, and is told in three parts based on the affairs of Katherine Howard.

Katherine Howard

In the first part of the story, Katherine Howard and Cat Tilney live with the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, a woman who took on the children of poor aristocratic relatives for education and training.

Dowager Duchess of Norfolk

Because the Duchess was often away, she left her young charges to their own devices which resulted in too many freedoms and a very licentious household indeed. Katherine, a passionate young girl with a keen interest in men and sex, soon became embroiled in her first affair with her music teacher, Henry Mannox.

A short time thereafter, Katherine abandoned Mannox to take up with Francis Dereham. That affair cooled when a position was arranged for Katherine in King Henry’s court as lady in waiting to the new queen, Anne of Cleves.

King Henry VIII

Anne of Cleves

Henry lacked interest in Anne and instead found himself quite taken with Katherine. So much so that the king annulled his marriage and married Katherine only three weeks later.

Meanwhile, back at the Dowager’s household, an abiding friendship developed between Cat and Francis Dereham that blossomed into love. Before long, Queen Katherine summoned them both to court. It was then that Cat discovered Katherine was conducting an affair with Thomas Culpepper, a favorite courtier and a gentleman of the king's bedchamber.

Katherine’s indiscretions soon became known. Cat tried to warn Katherine to put an end to her affair or it could result in her death, but Katherine continued to manipulate and set out to fix matters by her own hands. To keep her ex-lovers silent, she hired them into her household – Henry Mannox as a musician and Francis Dereham as her secretary.

Mary Hall, an embittered chambermaid at the Dowager Duchess’ household and witness to Katherine’s torrid affairs, revealed the information to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury and a friend of King Henry.

Thomas Cranmer
Archbisoph of Canterbury

Cranmer, fearful that any contract made between Katherine and Francis Dereham would invalidate the marriage to the king, revealed this information to Henry. A secret investigation was launched which resulted in Dereham’s and Culpepper’s imprisonment. Under torture, the two men confessed and ultimately Katherine was charged and executed.

Suzannah Dunn has penned an intriguing tale of a queen’s self-inflicted downfall. Filled with lush descriptions, the prose is easy to read and the story moves along in an interesting way. The novel focuses quite heavily on the adolescence of Katherine and Cat, whereas I longed for more details about Katherine’s troubles during her marriage with the king and her subsequent imprisonment and execution, like the title suggested. I think the story might have been much stronger in Katherine’s viewpoint rather than that of Cat who is too far removed from true conflict.

Even so, I found the novel to be well written and a wonderful depiction into the treacheries of court life during the 16th century. It is an enjoyable read with plenty of historical accuracy and details to keep readers interested.

The Figurehead by Bill Kirton

ABERDEEN, Scotland – 1840

Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good—or as evil—as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated nor the women he molested are surprised. But the mystery intrigues woodcarver John Grant, who determines to seek out the truth of the killing. His work and his investigations bring him into contact with William Anderson, a rich merchant—and his daughter Elizabeth. Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a sordid tale of blackmail and death as, simultaneously, he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love.

The Figurehead is a beautifully written murder mystery set in Aberdeen, Scotland in the mid-1800's. The author’s knowledge of ships and shipping definitely shows throughout the story. What I enjoyed most was that he took an obscure occupation – a person who carves figureheads on ships – and created an entire tale around him. The characterization was splendid, with each character, minor or major, never perfect, always leaving a shred of doubt in my mind as to their true motivations. And you’ll never guess the ending…This is story telling at its finest, written so vividly you can see the details. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reuben the Fisherman: A Tale of Roman Occupied Palestine by Don Snuggs

Reuben the Fisherman:

A biblical inspired novel, that takes a familiar parable and twists it into a riveting narrative. In Roman occupied Jerusalem, a young paralysed man is cured by an enigmatic healer. Suddenly able to walk, he is sent forth to live his life by the preacher. Disorientated by the seeming miracle, he is arrested and accused of being an accomplice of the healer - a known opponent of the ruling regime. Reuben is tortured by the regime, but escapes. Fleeing to Galilee he finds work as a fisherman, spending his days at sea to avoid the temple police. Hard-working Reuben is promoted by his boss - after his two sons have gone off with a preacher. After a number of sea-based adventures, Reuben settles into life as a respectable business man and landowner. However, he starts to hear stories of a great man, a preacher, and the miracles that he performs. Sceptical, but intrigued, Reuben finally meets the preacher - the man who healed him - and so begins Reuben's real adventures.

REUBEN THE FISHERMAN is a small novel that packs a powerful punch. It is the Biblical tale of Reuben, the paralyzed man whom Jesus miraculously healed and cured his paralysis. The story line picks up where the Bible story ends, delving into what happens to poor Reuben after his ability to walk is returned to him.

Life becomes immediately difficult for Reuben. Almost immediately he is arrested and interrogated for his encounter with the radical Jesus. He manages to escape and flees to Galilee where he is befriended by Zebedee the fisherman. Zebedee’s two sons have joined Jesus and abandoned his father and their family fishing business. Zebedee gives Reuben meaningful work fishing and soon earns the trust of his employer. This earns him a promotion and a comfortable life. As time progresses, so does the word and teachings of Jesus and soon, it deeply affects Reuben’s own life.

The charm of this clever little book is in its simplicity. There aren’t a lot of pages and the writing is told in a simple, easy to read modern style. The focus is not on the historical detail, but rather on the strong moral message of the story. It can be enjoyed by readers of all levels and ages. It is an easy, enjoyable read which will appeal to many readers, especially those who enjoy Christian fiction.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lighthouse Bay by Kimberley Freeman


In 1901, a ship sinks off the coast of Lighthouse Bay in Australia. The only survivor is Isabella Winterbourne—escaping her loveless marriage and the devastating loss of her son—who clutches a priceless gift meant for the Australian Parliament. Suddenly, this gift could be her ticket to a new life, free from the bonds of her husband and his overbearing family.

One hundred years later, Libby Slater leaves her life in Paris to return to her hometown of Lighthouse Bay. Living in the cottage that was purchased by her recently passed lover, she hopes to heal her broken heart and reconcile with her sister, Juliet. Libby did something so unforgivable twenty years ago, Juliet is unsure if she can ever trust her sister again.

In this adventurous love story spanning centuries, both Isabella and Libby must learn that letting go of the past is the only way to move into the future.

Right from the start, there’s a cozy, but disconcerting feel to the story that grabs the reader’s attention. The details unfold slowly as you read along, evoking a touch of emotion and mystery.

The story takes place in Australia where a young woman named Libby flees to after the death of her married lover. There she runs head-first into a conflict with her sister Juliet that has kept them at arms-length from each other for decades. A hundred years previous to that, Isabella, a young woman trapped in a loveless married to the heir of famous jewelry dynasty is the sole survivor on a ship that sunk off the coast of Australia that carried a precious gold and jeweled ornament to be gifted to the Australian government by the Queen of England.

Through the eyes of these two women, the reader is swept into feelings of lost love, the mystery of the lost treasure, hardships faced by the characters, betrayal, bitterness, passionate love and forgiveness.  

The author has a lovely writing style, simple, unencumbered, but beautiful in description and spirit. The characters are complex and with plenty of conflict in their pasts to capture the reader’s interest and hold it to the end as the mystery of what happened to the treasure is slowly revealed.

It is a story about the choices one makes during a moment in time and the impact it will have on one’s future. There is plenty to contemplate and identify with along with the three women at the heart of the story. A deeply evocative story with plenty of passion to keep you turning the pages long into the night.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Emeralds of the Alhambra by John D. Cressler

In Emeralds of the Alhambra, a medieval knight becomes embroiled in the court intrigues of Muslim Spain. He fights for his life against deadly assassins and struggles with his forbidden love for Layla, the most beautiful woman in Granada’s Alhambra. Born in Brittany, William Chandon rose from humble beginnings until he achieved the notice of the court of Edward III of England. English and French political interests in 14th-century Spain draw Chandon into the disputed frontier between Muslim Andalusia and the Christianized kingdoms of Castile and Aragon. Chandon defends the Aragonese fortress of Jaen against Moorish invaders. When his adversaries besiege and overrun the castle, Chandon suffers grievous wounds, which almost end his life. The Moors claim him as an important prisoner of war and transport him back to their capital at Granada, site of the beautiful Alhambra Palace. There, Chandon meets various doctors, courtiers, ministers, poets, and guards. The person who intrigues him most is the compassionate Layla al-Khatib, daughter of the chief minister. Layla tutors Chandon in Arabic, while she studies English with his guidance, all at the Sultan of Granada’s command. Leila’s quest for enlightenment leads to her study of Sufi mysticism. Her inherent outspoken nature coupled with startling beauty attracts Chandon’s attention, but Layla’s activities in the male-dominated court also invite danger to herself. A tender relationship blossoms between Chandon and Layla, even though the divide between them seems almost insurmountable at times.     

The novel brings myriad worlds and ideals together. The extensive list of characters and their various interests represent the diversity of Muslim Spain during this period. There is the household doctor, Saluman, a Jew welcomed in most areas of the court, but still marginalized by his religious beliefs. He cares for Chandon and develops a deep relationship with the knight, despite their differences. Layla’s father Lisan al-Din ibn al-Khatib is the grand vizier within the Alhambra, a man who has known his share of personal tragedy, yet manages to keep a tight grip on his position of power. Layla hides behind her veils as Moorish society dictates, but her father’s indulgence permits her to make bold choices not often available to women of her time. Yusuf ibn Zamrak, famed for his poetry serves as a respected member of the court, harbors a dangerous infatuation for Layla. Sultan Muhammad V orchestrates an audacious plan to ensure the stability of his regime, one in which Chandon plays his part. Despite best efforts, Muhammad remains aware of the dangers surrounding him and the swift ease with which palace intrigues can destroy the foundations of all he has built.    

Author John D. Cressler brings a largely ignored period to life in this novel, with sumptuous details and vivid characterizations. Where the novel really shines is in the descriptions and the relationships Chandon develops with Saluman and Leila. Each shares a deepening respect of the other as the story progresses, each open-minded and willing to accept the challenge to change preconceived notions. The novel hearkens back to a time where connections between Jews, Muslims, and Christians were as contentious as they were cooperative. It was a world allowing for the free exchange of ideas, but often permeated with ruthlessness and tragedy. Emeralds of the Alhambra is the first of a series and I look forward to more from the author.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

A dazzling, dangerous novel of 16th century Iran


Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter and protégé, knows more about the inner workings of the state than almost anyone, but the princess’s maneuvers to instill order after her father’s sudden death incite resentment and dissent. Pari and her closest adviser, Javaher, a eunuch able to navigate the harem as well as the world beyond the palace walls, are in possession of an incredible tapestry of secrets and information that reveals a power struggle of epic proportions.

Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, Equal of the Sun is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of the unlikely bond between a princess and a eunuch. Anita Amirrezvani is a master storyteller, and in her lustrous prose this rich and labyrinthine world comes to vivid life with a stunning cast of characters, passionate and brave men and women who defy or embrace their destiny in a Machiavellian game played by those who lust for power and will do anything to attain it.

Legendary women—from Anne Boleyn to Queen Elizabeth I to Mary, Queen of Scots—changed the course of history in the royal courts of sixteenth-century England. They are celebrated in history books and novels, but few people know of the powerful women in the Muslim world, who formed alliances, served as key advisers to rulers, lobbied for power on behalf of their sons, and ruled in their own right. In Equal of the Sun, Anita Amirrezvani’s gorgeously crafted tale of power, loyalty, and love in the royal court of Iran, she brings one such woman to life, Princess Pari Khan Khanoom Safavi.

Review by Mirella Patzer

Author Anita Amirrezvani has written a fascinating tale that takes us into16th century Iran. To be swept back in time to an exotic location and time is why fans of historical fiction enjoy the genre so much. It is evident that the author has done a great deal of research. Like in most stories that feature a harem, there is a eunuch – Javaher. He is extremely well portrayed, highly believable, and very, very real. He faithfully serves the heroine, Princess Pari, the Shah’s daughter. When the country is left without an heir, the political manoeuvrings grow out of control. Pari is more than capable of running the country and tries to take a hold albeit behind a leader of her choice. Javaher is willing to go to extreme lengths and risk his own life to achieve her goals.

There is plenty of intrigue and character machinations throughout the story that will keep your attention throughout this well paced plot. Lovely poetry is included in various chapters. The poems sometimes added to the sinister mood the author was trying to create or brought a touch of humor to various scenes. Pari made a fascinating character. In a world where women mattered little, she remained strong throughout, unafraid to confront powerful noblemen who would not hesitate to kill her. I enjoyed this novel very much and would not hesitate to recommend it to avid readers of historical fiction.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A White Room by Stephanie Carroll

At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be "the angels of the house," even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family. 

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house's grip on her mind. 

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled. 

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one's own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

Emma is a victim of circumstance. When her father dies, as the eldest daughter, she is left to make a hard choice – watch her mother and family be turned out of their home destitute or marry the son of a neighboring family who can keep her and her family from severe poverty. She chooses the latter and makes the proposal to her future groom’s parents. Much to her surprise, her proposal is accepted and she soon finds herself married to John Dorr and swept away to a new location to start her new life.

She is shocked when she arrives at her new home. It is a forbidding home filled with horrible, tacky décor. The only room that is somewhat pleasing is her white bedroom. Nothing is as it seems however as she struggles to find her way out of a loveless marriage, an unfriendly circle of women, and an altogether isolated existence. Emma finds her relief in helping cure others – actions banned by the law and one which her lawyer husband works towards prosecuting.   
The White Room is a historical novel that delves into the difficulties women faced in Victorian and Edwardian times. It was a time when women were banned from working. Their only roles were to be wife or mothers. If unhappy, they often faced accusations of illness or madness. They were completely and utterly subjected to the rule of men backed up by the laws of the land. Through Emma, we see the drudgery of housework, the unrelenting menial demands, and the inability to break routine to pursue dreams and aspirations. Author Stephanie Carroll’s writing allows the reader to hurt along with the protagonist because of the injustice.

Although the message and moral of this story is strong, it comes through a rather intricate, interesting plot. The heroine is likeable, doing what she can to break free of what is causing her distress. Yet there is much for her to be victorious about. And I loved the happy ending…

The valuable content, depth, strong message, accurate historical details, and fascinating storyline make this a wonderful gothic style book. A great summer read and highly recommended.

The Family Mansion by Anthony C. Winkler

Book Description

THE FAMILY MANSION by Anthony C. Winkler tells the story of Hartley Fudges, whose personal destiny unfolds against the backdrop of nineteenth-century British culture, a time when English society was based upon the strictest subordination and stratification of the classes. Hartley's decision to migrate to Jamaica at the age of twenty-three seems sensible at first: in the early 1800s Jamaica was far and away the richest and most opulent of all the crown colonies. But for all its fabulous wealth, Jamaica was a difficult and inhospitable place for an immigrant.
The complex saga of Hartley's life is revealed in vivid scenes that depict the vicissitudes of ninteenth-century English and Jamaican societies. Aside from violent slave revolts, newcomers had to survive the nemesis of the white man in the tropics—namely, yellow fever. With Hartley's point of view as its primary focus, the narrative transports readers to exotic lands, simultaneously exploring the brutality of England's slavery-based colonization.
In 19th century England, the aristocracy were compelled to follow primogeniture laws, where first born sons inherited all the family wealth and second or subsequent born sons were left to find other means to scrape out a living without family financial support. Despite this, these sons were still expected to uphold social morals and values. Many travelled to the colonies to start new lives.  
In the novel, THE FAMILY MANSION, second born son, Hartley Fudges, is faced with the dilemma of how to support himself. The easiest way to gain wealth would be to seduce and then marry a young wealthy widow. When this fails, he attempts to murder his elder brother with disastrous results. His plot is discovered and his father exiles him to Jamaica. There, on a sugar plantation, Hartley must learn to manage not only the daily operations, but slaves and their forced labour. In this land of contrasts, slave vs master, black vs white, poor vs rich, Hartley seeks to adapt, hoping to find contentment and happiness.
As a native of Jamaica, the author is able to weave intricate historical and environmental details which lend authenticity to this satire. The novel is charming, filled with accurate facts, and gives precious insight into a way of life long abandoned. The characters are vividly portrayed, their actions cleverly touching upon the readers’ emotions because of their heart-wrenching predicaments and/or sometimes laugh-out-loud antics. It is written in an easy to read prose. Witty, humorous, and full of interesting predicaments, this is a wonderful human interest story. 

The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme

In the 15th century at the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, three women’s paths cross: an imperial concub ine, a Persian traveler and a mysterious storyteller. Out of their journey, a tale is born, The Ming Storytellers.

Within the Imperial city, concubine Min Li has only ever sought to please, even if that means pleasing Emperor Zhu Di. Then Min Li unearths a terrible secret. Driven to despair, she seeks help from her lover, Admiral Zheng He. This sparks a chain of events and Min Li’s fate is sealed before she knows who her enemy is.

Laura Rahme weaves history, fantasy and literary tradition together in a daring method. The history is self-evident, but Rahme uses elements of The Arabian Nights, as well. Then the tale is frequently told from a third person narrator who speaks in a historically accurate fashion. This lends the book a factual feeling as if it had been taken from the annals o f the time. For example:

While it is true that Min Li had escaped the pain of foot binding, she would later encounter pain of an entirely different sort. Because there exists many a torment in the path of human existence and those of the mind are often of the worse kind. But forgive your humble servant, honored reader. We are glimpsing ahead and we should perhaps begin from the beginning.

The historical research was impeccable and thoroughly grounds the reader in 15th century China. If you want to know what living as a Chinese concubine in the 15th century was like, Ms. Rahme has given you a rare window.