Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Asylum by John Harwood

A brilliant new Gothic thriller from the acclaimed author of The Ghost Writer and The Seance.

Confused and disoriented, Georgina Ferrars awakens in a small room in Tregannon House, a private asylum in a remote corner of England. She has no memory of the past few weeks. The doctor, Maynard Straker, tells her that she admitted herself under the name Lucy Ashton the day before, then suffered a seizure. When she insists he has mistaken her for someone else, Dr. Straker sends a telegram to her uncle, who replies that Georgina Ferrars is at home with him in London: “Your patient must be an imposter.” Suddenly her voluntary confinement becomes involuntary. Who is the woman in her uncle’s house? And what has become of her two most precious possessions, a dragonfly pin left to her by her mother and a writing case containing her journal, the only record of those missing weeks? Georgina’s perilous quest to free herself takes us from a cliffside cottage on the Isle of Wight to the secret passages of Tregannon House and into a web of hidden family ties on which her survival depends. Another delicious read from the author praised by Ruth Rendell as having “a gift for creating suspense, apparently effortlessly, as if it belongs in the nature of fiction.”

If you like gothic stories, then this third novel by John Harwood is sure to please. Set in the Victorian era, it opens with a young woman named Georgina Ferrars who wakes up in an insane asylum. She is confused, for her memory has faded. She has no memory of how she arrived there and the asylum doctor and nurses tell her that gave her name as Lucy Ashton. But she knows this is false – she is truly Georgina, but the more she tries to convince the doctor of her true identity, the less they believe her and the more she finds herself trapped in the asylum. What ensues is a gripping mystery about stolen identities, greed, betrayal, and murder. A real page-turner! I do not wish to reveal any more information to avoid any spoilers. The author takes the reader on a journey through time, revealing mere tidbits of information as the truth is slowly revealed. Although the ending is highly satisfying, I did find the final scenes pertaining to the electronic device a little hard to believe.

I have not read any books by John Harwood before, but I definitely intend to do so. He knows how to weave a good story and create spell-binding characters. He has the talent to create a creepy mood while you’re reading the book, so read with care so that you don’t miss any of the clues he drops into various scenes. Gothic mystery at its best!
...I am utterly and absolutely addicted to my kindle! Get one today!






Monday, October 21, 2013

The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan

From the internationally bestselling author of The Twentieth Wife, a novel based on the tumultuous history of a legendary 186-carat diamond and the men and women who possessed it.


As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light”—the Kohinoor diamond—and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest and betrayal. Its origins are the stuff of myth, but for centuries this spectacular gem changes hands from one ruler to another in India, Persia, and Afghanistan. In 1850, the ancient stone is sent halfway around the world where it will play a pivotal role in the intertwined destinies of a boy-king of India and a young queen of England—a queen who claims the Mountain of Light and India itself for her own burgeoning empire, the most brilliant jewels in her imperial crown.

The Mountain of Light is a magnificent story of loss and recovery, sweeping change and enduring truth, wrapped around the glowing heart of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.

This lush novel by author Indu Sundaresan tracks the history of the history of the famous Kohinoor diamond from 1526 during the Mughal empire to Victorian England where it still resides today. Nicknamed the Mountain of Light, it was once the largest diamond in the world.

The novel begins with the ousted emperor of Afghanistan, Shah Shuja, and his wife, Wafa Begam, who are being held as prisoners by the Punjab Maharajah, Ranjit Singh. If they give him the Kohinoor diamond, the Maharajah will aid the emperor in seizing back his throne.

The story is a complex one, weaving the history of the diamond with the volatile country of India in the 19th century, its people, politics, and how it was so strongly entwined with the East India Company.

The prose is rich and elegant, evoking sights and smells of the land and era while bringing to life many of the famous personages of the times. The author provided a brief history of the diamond at the start and helped clarify what was fact and what was fiction at the end. For those who love stories about the exotic, this tale is sure to please. Very highly recommended. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Two Rivers by Zoe Saadia

Book Summary:

Having survived the failed raid on the enemy lands, Tekeni had no illusions. He was nothing but an enemy cub, adopted into one of the clans, but not accepted, never for real. To fit in was difficult, to run away – impossible. To get into trouble, more often than not, was the only available option. They did not expect anything else from him, anyway.

However, when a meaningless row during a ballgame grew out of proportion, resulting in a fight, Tekeni has found himself in a truly grave trouble. Neither he nor anyone else could have foreseen the chain of events the consequences of this fight would release, when the highly esteemed but controversial Two Rivers decided to help Tekeni out. 

Two Rivers was a strange person with unacceptable notions and ideas. He maintained that to war on and on was a mistake of disastrous consequences. He went as far as suggesting a negotiation of peace with some of the neighboring nations. Even Tekeni, the despised enemy, thought such ideas to be far-fetched and wild. And yet…


With their trouble mounting and the revengefulness of some people around them growing, both Tekeni and Two Rivers find themselves pushed beyond limits.


Review:

In Two Rivers, Zoe Saadia sweeps us once more into a unique historical time period and setting. This time it is early America in the 12th or 13th century. The tale is about two outcasts - Tekeni, an adopted young boy from an enemy tribe, and Two Rivers, a young man with a very different way of thinking than other members of the clan. And of course, there is a beautiful and strong love interest who is in love and loyal to Tekeni, despite all the ostracism and abuse the lad suffers.  

There is plenty to like in this novel. First, the scenes and setting are unique - books about early America are indeed rare. Descriptions and characterizations are well developed, enhancing the story. One truly felt the solitude of the two main characters who lived on the peripheries of the clans, unwelcome, and often hated, and usually treated cruelly. Ultimately, however, this is a story of victory and who these two overcame their troubles to face an unknown future. Although the ending gives closure, there is definitely a sequel to come. Actually there will be two more because this is the first of a trilogy. And I'm definitely looking forward to reading it once it is released.

Excellent historical fiction! 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Stormbird by Conn Iggulden



Historical fiction master Conn Iggulden retells the gripping story of the English civil war in his new Wars of the Roses series.

King Henry V - the great Lion of England - is long dead. In 1437, after years of regency, the pious and gentle Henry VI, the Lamb, comes of age and accedes to the English throne. His poor health and frailty of mind render him a weakling king - Henry depends on his closest men, Spymaster Derry Brewer and William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk, to run his kingdom. Yet there are those, such as the Plantagenet Richard, Duke of York, who believe England must be led by a strong king if she is to survive. With England's territories in France under threat, and rumours of revolt at home, fears grow that Henry and his advisers will see the country slide into ruin. With a secret deal struck for Henry to marry a young French noblewoman, Margaret of Anjou, those fears become all too real. As storm clouds gather over England, King Henry and his supporters find themselves besieged abroad and at home. Who, or what, can save the kingdom before it is too late? The Wars of the Roses series will be a benchmark for historical fiction, showcasing Conn Iggulden at his finest.

I’ve read novels about the War of the Roses before, but never like this one – with so much detail. In this first novel of the series, Conn Iggulden drills down deep into the history of this war, bring forward details  about how it began and why. What makes this book so successful is that the author has time to develop each character, bringing their motivations and issues to the forefront.

It is the story of King Henry VI, a man plagued by frailness and a strange illness that renders him mute. His weakness demands others run the kingdom when he is incapacitated, and it is these men who are at the root of the problems. The English held territories in France are also at risk, with France working to seize back their lands.  To bring peace, he marries Margaret of Anjou, the French king’s daughter. As their marriage progresses, Margaret must take a stronger hand in guiding the kingdom’s affairs.

Impeccable historical detail, coupled with compelling, well draw characters, and a fascinating period in history makes Conn Iggulden’s version a must read. There are plenty of brutal and detailed battle scenes which contrast nicely to the gentler, kinder, or harrowing domestic scenes between the king and queen. This is definitely the book to read if you want a greater understanding of the cause and effects of the War of Roses on England and its people. Great pacing, fascinating people, and vibrant descriptions make this a must read!

The Fall of the Empire by Zoe Saadia

Having just been advanced into the ranks of the first-class traders, Etl thought his life could not get any better. He was a trader of the Tepanec Empire, living in the Great Capital itself. Yes, there had been a war, an outright revolt by the united tributaries and other subdued nations of his beloved city-state, but those would be squashed easily. The Tepanecs were always victorious. The only thing that made him worry was the decision of Tlalli, the girl from the marketplace he liked, to sell herself into the Palace's services. He didn't want her to do that, having intended to take care of her himself, but the stubborn, pretty thing went on and did it all the same. Why? Apparently, Tlalli was not just a simple market girl, but a young woman with a very unusual agenda. She had her own grudge to settle, and with no lesser person than the Emperor himself. But then the enemies struck...

I love historical fiction novels that sweep me into different eras and cultures to re-live and experience life as it was back then. Zoe Saadia’s novel, The Fall of the Empire does that just. It is set in the 12th to 13th century during the Tepanec Empire in what we know as Mexico today. Slaves, warriors, traders, and emperors abound in a tale of love, survival, and revenge. At the heart of the story are Etl, a trader who overhears a band of soldiers planning to overthrow the emperor, and young Tlalli, whose family was murdered by the same emperor and has voluntarily become a slave to kill the man. The two characters separate courses entwine, a partial love story, partial tale of salvation. But this is no formula romance, so don’t expect the usual ending. Rather, the author has provided two endings to the story, which I thought was brilliant, so the author can choose for themselves how they prefer the story to end. Very ingenious indeed. 

Lovely prose, a steady pace, and colorful descriptions of the ancient culture decorate each page. A great tale to cozy up to. Definitely recommended!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

This House is Haunted by John Boyne

When Eliza Caine’s father dies and leaves her indigent, she has no alternative but to seek work. She responds to an advertisement placed by H Bennet and applies for a post as governess at Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk. 

Almost immediately upon her arrival, she finds herself in an odd situation. There seem to be no adults in the home – only two children, Isabella and Eustace, yet they are expecting her and well cared for. Over the following days, she senses the presence of a malicious spirit who is determined to harm or even kill her. Yet, the ghost has met its match with Eliza, for she is determined to stay and protect the children even if it means she might die in the attempt.

I devoured this novel in one day. It was an easy read, full of exciting twists and turns, and told through the narrative of a very intriguing protagonist. Eliza is not your typical heroine. She is unattractive, destitute, and with little hope for a future filled with love and family. What made her compelling was her fortitude, her curiosity to search for reasons and information, her willingness to die in order to do what is right, her love for the children. And as each secret and the ghost’s motive is revealed, the story grows more profound and interesting.


The Victorian setting in an old manner house is very appealing. This story has much to make it a worthy read. It’s a lovely, old-fashioned ghost story and I highly recommend it as a great escape!


Friday, October 4, 2013

Winners of Isabella: Braveheart of France by Colin Falconer

Announcing the winners of the ebook Isabella: Braveheart of France!

A big thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a comment for Colin Falconer's latest novel, ISABELLA: BRAVEHEART OF FRANCE.

We had such a hard time deciding, that we had to pick two winners. Congratulations to:
Marie Z. Johansen
Ann (Soft Fuzzy Sweater)

We will be contacting you via email soon!

The Defiant Lady Pencavel by Diane Scott Lewis

Book Blurb

In 1796, Lady Melwyn Pencavel has been betrothed to Griffin Lambrick since she was a child—and she hasn’t seen him since. Now almost one and twenty, she defies being forced into an arranged marriage. She aspires to be an archeologist and travel to Italy during the upheaval of the Napoleonic Wars. Griffin Lambrick, Viscount of Merther, resents these forced nuptials as well, as he desires no simpering bride and wants no one in his business. For the thrill of it, he smuggles artifacts from Italy to his Cornish estate. Two reckless and stubborn people will meet—with chaos and humor—in this romantic satire, and face their fears.

Review

Lady Melwyn Pencavel, is keenly aware that her independent spirit could not only damage her father, and her distant aunt whom she calls on for help, but that any young miss with a brain must naturally be in danger of losing her virtue as well. This situation is not helped by the fact her mother ran off with the second footman when she was small.

Melwyn takes her maid and flees Cornwall for London, shocks potential suitors with her unguarded tongue and then regrets her impetuosity and dashes back again when her ‘betrothed’ instructs her to. 

Melwyn is very conflicted about Griffin Lambrick, on the one hand she hates the idea that she has been promised to him without her consent, but on the other she is stirred by his dominating kisses. However she doesn’t handle him very well and insults, challenges him, goads his gentlemanly chivalry and uses some very unladylike phrases in an effort to discourage him, although she cannot deny that no other man stirs her blood like he does.

With an unusual passion for archaeology, Melwyn persuades her ‘betrothed’ to finance a trip to Italy, either to prove she is incapable of such a feat or so she will come running to him for help when it goes wrong is not clear.

As the blurb promises, this novel is a romantic farce, chock full of clich├ęs, handsome dominating hero and reluctant hoydenish miss with a sharp tongue. Melwyn gets kidnapped at one point but handles it with such confidence and humour it made me laugh aloud.

Readers should not take this story too seriously as with every line, Ms Scott Lewis pokes fun at late eighteenth century society and men in general. There is also a cheeky Cornish maid with an over the top accent who adds colour and humour. A very fun romp to help blow the cobwebs away.


One thing I would say, is that English Regency ladies do not have 'butt's' they have 'bottoms' although I appreciate this was written for the US market.


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


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

Synopsis:

In a small prairie school in 1929, Connie Flood helps a backward student, Michael Graves, learn how to read. Observing them and darkening their lives is the principal, Parley Burns, whose strange behaviour culminates in an attack so disturbing its repercussions continue to the present day.

Connie’s niece, Anne, tells the story. Impelled by curiosity about her dynamic, adventurous aunt and her more conventional mother, she revisits Connie’s past and her mother’s broken childhood. In the process, she unravels the enigma of Parley Burns and the mysterious (and unrelated) deaths of two young girls. As the novel moves deeper into their lives, the triangle of principal, teacher, student opens out into other emotional triangles – aunt, niece, lover; mother, daughter, granddaughter – until a sudden, capsizing love thrusts Anne herself into a newly independent life.

This spellbinding tale – set in Saskatchewan and the Ottawa Valley  crosses generations and cuts to the bone. It probes the roots of obsessive love and hate, how the hurts and desires of childhood persist and are passed on as if in the blood. It lays bare the urgency of discovering what we were never told about the past. And it celebrates the process of becoming who we are in a world full of startling connections that lie just out of sight.

Review:

Alone in the Classroom is a character driven, literary novel. The story opens in Ontario in 1937. A young girl is picking berries on a hillside and is found dead, similar to another death ten years earlier in the province of Saskatchewan. The tale unravels through the point of view of the niece of Connie Flood, a young reporter, turned teacher in a small school. Her greatest challenge is teaching a young boy with a learning disability to read. The principal, Parley Burns, is a difficult man who takes a keen interest in Connie as well as other young women. The mystery of the two murders are separate and distinct, and eventually they become connected as the story unfolds.

The plot of this novel has many layers and tends to meander a bit, jumping back and forth in time and between characters. I found the switching between points of view and time periods challenging, and sometimes a bit confusing, partly because the characters weren’t always readily introduced at the start of a scene. Despite all this, the story is gripping, the prose superb, the plot luscious, and the characters beautifully rendered. To fully appreciate this book, however, approach it will care. You must read it carefully and at a slower pace and with a greater degree of concentration. 

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen



Back Cover Blurb

A writer and his demons. A woman and her desires. A wife and her revenge 

Inspired by literature’s most haunting love triangle, award-winning author Lynn Cullen delivers a pitch-perfect rendering of Edgar Allan Poe, his mistress’s tantalizing confession, and his wife’s frightening obsession . . . in this “intelligent, sexy, and utterly addictive” (M. J. Rose) new masterpiece of historical fiction.



1845: New York City is a sprawling warren of gaslit streets and crowded avenues, bustling with new immigrants and old money, optimism and opportunity, poverty and crime. Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” is all the rage—the success of which a struggling poet like Frances Osgood can only dream. As a mother trying to support two young children after her husband’s cruel betrayal, Frances jumps at the chance to meet the illustrious Mr. Poe at a small literary gathering, if only to help her fledgling career. Although not a great fan of Poe’s writing, she is nonetheless overwhelmed by his magnetic presence— and the surprising revelation that he admires her work.

What follows is a flirtation, then a seduction, then an illicit affair . . . and with each clandestine encounter, Frances finds herself falling slowly and inexorably under the spell of her mysterious, complicated lover. But when Edgar’s frail wife Virginia insists on befriending Frances as well, the relationship becomes as dark and twisted as one of Poe’s tales. And like those gothic heroines whose fates are forever sealed, Frances begins to fear that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself. . . .

My Review

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen is a beautifully rendered story about the two women, Virginia Clemm (wife) and Frances Osgood (mistress) who each deeply influenced Edgar Allan Poe's life. In this biographical historical fiction novel, the author paints a story of deep passionate love, betrayal, duty, and jealousy. Although the novel is entitled Mrs. Poe, I found the stronger focus on Frances rather than Virginia in the story. Both women were well characterized: Virigina weak and sickly, but staunch in her love for her husband, even to the point of bitter jealousy, and Frances who walked a fine line between her broken marriage, the tensely awkward friendship with Virginia, and her passion for Edgar Allan Poe. I liked the women's vastly different personalities - it really added interest throughout the story. 

What fascinated me was that the author, whether intentional or not, managed to capture the dark side of all the characters, just like Poe himself did in all his writings. Coupled with lyrical prose and a fascinatingly complicated love triangle, the book held my attention from start to finish, giving me an insight into the tumultuous life of not only the characters, but of writers and the struggles they faced. This is an excellent novel, albeit perhaps with the author's strong personal interpretation of the facts. An excellent book for those that love biographical novels about women set in Victorian times. Definitely recommended.