Wednesday, August 1, 2012


At long last the grunt work is finished on my new author website.  All reviews currently located at this site are also available on the new site.

So, come visit me at!

I plan to keep this blogspot url, but will post all new reviews at

Thank you for being such great visitors on blogspot and I hope you continue to follow me on

Mmmmm, did I just post my new url 3 times?  Oh well, I'm a tad excited.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Darlene Williams HF Reviews New Home

I am pleased to announce I'm in the process of completing the finishing touches on Darlene Elizabeth Williams Author website.  I will not be posting any further reviews on blogspot.

I'm very excited about this next step in my writing career.  When I have the new website ready for you, I'll post the link.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Today's blog is a short blurb about indie and self-published authors.  There is a lot of discussion and consternation within the writing community that these authors are hurting authors' credibility.  The honest truth - some of them are.

The most common drawbacks are horrific editing and just plain bad writing.   I've received the excuse that the author can't afford a professional editor more times than I care to recall.  My attitude is, if you spent the time to write the darn thing, then invest in an editor.  Eat KD if you have to.  Yes, yes, I know, the Big 6 publishers have errors in their books too.  Just not every paragraph.

In my view, series such as The Twilight Saga and 50 Shades of Grey have definitely not inspired authors to put out their best work.  Vampires and sex sell.  Apparently, decent writing does not have to accompany ghouls and erotica.  Many wanna-be writers jumped on these bandwagons and rushed to self-publish their "piece of work" as fast as possible in hopes of being the next writer to strike it rich.  Pipe dreams.  It's a tough world out there.

However, there are gems amongst the rocks.  The trick is knowing how to separate the wheat from the chaff.  Virtually every ebook sold on Amazon, Barnes & Nobles and Smashwords, just to name a few of the big self-publishing venues, enables you to read a sample.

I learned the hard way to always read the sample before I agree to review an indie or self-published author.  Unless reviews posted on these sites give the reviewer's full name, I would advise you disregard them.  There are authors who will beg anyone and everyone - their mother, father, siblings, four times removed cousins - to give them a 5 star review.  My jaw has dropped at some of the novels receiving 5 star reviews completely undeserving of even 1 star.

If a review is posted by a legitimate reviewer who uses their own name, the odds are it's a genuine review.  I, for one, am not willing to risk my reputation as a reviewer by dropping 5 star reviews indiscriminately.  When I post a review, I write it under Darlene Williams.   A simple Google search is enough to discover I blog reviews.  The same holds true for other reputable bloggers.

Another little trick which seems to be making the rounds is asking other authors to write a review so those authors can insert a little plug for their own novel in the review.  A "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" scenario.  Originally permitted by Amazon, I believe this might now be forbidden.  If you should chance upon one of these types of reviews, it is likely best to dismiss it.

Now, back to the gems.  They do exist.  The reading community benefits by obtaining good reads for a nominal purchase amount.  I note on my home page that I support indie and new authors.  And, I do.  I might very well be one of them within the next year (right after I've hired a professional editor).

To prove quality writing by indie and self-published authors is available, my next review will focus on one of the gems I found.  I'm about half-way through another 2 self-published authors who have released solid work.

Well, I've come to the end of my not-so-short mean post.  Stay tuned for Prue Batten's "Gisborne:  Book of Pawns".

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The QUEEN'S VOW, A Novel of Isabella of Castile by C.W. Gortner - HISTORICAL FICTION NOVEL REVIEW

Published 2012, Ballantine Books (a division of Random House), ISBN: 978-0-345-52396-9, ebook ISBN: 978-0-345-52398-3, 382 pages

C.W. Gortner's The Queen's Vow - A Novel of Isabella of Castile opens with a quote from Isabella I of Castile:

"I have come to this land and I certainly do not intend to leave it to flee or shirk my work; nor shall I give such glory to my enemies or such pain to my subjects."

It is a most appropriate quote for Gortner's depiction of Isabella.  Isabella's father died when she was 3 years old and she, her younger brother, Alfonso, her mother (Juan II's second wife) and a small entourage were swiftly whisked away within hours to Arevalo in Avila by the Archbishop Carrillo of Toledo to live in penury for a decade.

Their removal was necessary as Juan II had sired a son, Enrique, during his first marriage who would claim the throne of Castile.  Alfonso was Enrique's heir at law until Enrique himself produced a child.  Sanctuary was necessary to protect the children of Juan II's reviled second wife from separation from their mother.

During their exile, the children experienced a certain amount of freedom, but their mother suffered many "spells".  Isabella was especially adroit at calming her mother.  Recalled to Court by Enrique, Isabella and Alfonso depart for Segovia.

Enrique proves to be a weak ruler, as was his father, and is controlled by the nobles.  His queen, Juana, has just borne a girl child, although there is no affection evident between the couple.  In fact, the parentage of the child is questioned, leaving open the option of Alfonso as heir to Castile.

Thus begins Isabella's dance of words and actions to appease Enrique and demonstrate her innocence; a waltz destined to continue until she became Queen of Castile.  During this time she fends off several marriage betrothals and secretly marries Fernando of Aragon.

Isabella was an extremely devote Catholic.  Much of her reign is marred by wars and controversial actions, which were likely influenced by religious beliefs standard in the 16th century.  Gortner portrays a woman who abhors violence but, with the Church's collusion and her own strict convictions, nonetheless acts in what she believes to be the best interests of her people and their eternal souls.

Yet, Isabella was a visionary and worked tirelessly towards goverance reformation, crime reduction, restoration of Church properties, furtherance of education (especially for women), replenishment of a bankrupt treasury and funded Columbus's explorations.

Gortner does not attempt to persuade the reader to either agree or disagree with Isabella's decisions, but presents more of an unbiased portrait, without embellishment of her finer points or effacement of her warts.  The Queen's Vow is simply an effort to illustrate, not interpret, this complex woman who forged the nation of Spain.

Gortner is successful in remaining faithful to the social mores and values of the day without permitting those of today to creep into his accounting.  And, that, is what historical fiction is about: a view into the past.

C.W. Gortner - in my books (pun intended) - has joined the ranks of today's preeminent historical fiction authors.  The Queen's Vow is testimony to the quality and substance of his novels.

My rating:  **** 4 Stars  (Excellent)

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Published 2012, Doubleday (a division of Random House), ISBN 978-0-385-53558-8

Tess Collins is a maidservant desperate to escape the narrow class boundaries of 1912 England in Kate Alcott's historical fiction novel The Dressmaker.  Tess knows there is no future as a maidservant to women who treat her disdainfully, especially with sons with roving hands.

Her plan is to find a job aboard a ship sailing to the United States where she might have an opportunity to fulfill her dream as a seamstress.  Tess has talent, developed during childhood, while she spent endless hours with her mother who taught her excellence.

By fortunate chance, the Titanic is readying to set sail for New York.  By even more fortuitous happenstance, Lady Lucile Duff Gordon and her husband, Cosmo, are passengers on the Titanic travelling to New York, where Lady Duff Gordon will showcase her exclusive designer dresses.  On impulse, Lady Duff Gordon hires Tess as a personal maid for the voyage.

Tess meets a sailor, who she dismisses as a "village boy", and a Chicago business tycoon who show interest in her on board the Titanic.

We all know the Titanic's fate, so this is not a spoiler.  The Titanic sinks and the Duff Gordons, first class passengers, survive by being privileged travellers who are put into a lifeboat.  Tess, manages to jump into the last lifeboat lowered.

In due course, the survivors are picked up by the Carpathia and transported to New York. 
On the Carpathia, Tess once against meets up with the sailor and feels a bond, but fights it.  She wants more than a village boy.  The tycoon, initially presumed dead, is later identified as one of the injured on the Carpathia.

Senator Smith determines an inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic and loss of life will begin as soon as the Carpathia docks.  Mysteries and questions abound regarding the chaos as the Titanic went down.  The Senator is determined to discover what actually happened during those horrific minutes and hours.

Lady Duff Gordon keeps Tess on, but not as a personal maidservant.  She puts Tess to work on her designer dressmaking floor.  Tess is delighted but soon discovers Lady Duff Gordon is a rather mercurial character, one moment mentoring and the next disparaging.

Pinky Wade, daughter of a news reporter, is one of the few women reporters in the business.  She is assigned to the Titanic hearings.  Her instinct and contradictory witness reports drive her to investigate the last moments on the Titanic.  Rumors Lady Duff Gordon left others to die to save herself circulate.

Tess feels bound by loyalty to Lady Duff Gordon, but her sailor friend plants suspicions in her mind about Lady Duff Gordon's actions.   Meanwhile, Duff Gordon throws tantalizing tidbits Tess's way so Tess will remain in her employ.  This is one situation where I had difficulty with this novel.  Why was Duff Gordon intent on retaining Tess?  The answer, when it arrives, is trite.  It seems the author threw in the explanation without much thought to giving this nagging question depth.

Then there is the overused menage a toi.  Both the tycoon and sailor vie for Tess's heart.  Who will she choose?

Overall, I found The Dressmaker a lightweight and predictable novel.  I read it in practically one day which, for me, signals a lack of substance.  If you're looking for a fast beach read, The Dressmaker may satisfy.

For these reasons, I give The Dressmaker:

My rating:  *** 3 Stars (Good)

Thursday, June 28, 2012


Published 2012, Gallery Books (a Division of Simon & Schuster Inc.), ISBN 978-1-4516-3324-5; ISBN 978-1-4516-3325-2 (ebook), 434 pages

Sherry Jones's Four Sisters, All Queens historical fiction novel opens with Beatrice, Countess of Savoy, claiming:  "I, Beatrice of Savoy, am mother to four queens....Yes, I am boasting.  I began scheming for my girls before I even held my eldest...Wanting success for my girls, I taught them as though they were boys, endowing them with true power - the kind that comes from within".

With the enemy pounding at the castle gates, literally, the impoverished Countess sought to save Savoy and bring it once again into glory.  Beatrice's scheming proves successful, but at a cost to her four daughters.

Marguerite:  In 1234, Marguerite marries Louis IX of France at 12 years of age.  She quickly learns her title is just that - a title.  Hamstrung by her mother-in-law, the White Queen, Marguerite is excluded from any issue remotely related to the Kingdom of France, including her husband.  The White Queen exerts absolute power over Louis, even in the marital bed.  It will be many years until Marguerite exerts power as Queen of France and is tested to the extreme by her fanatically religious husband.

Eleanore 1236. Eleanore marries King Henry III, "an old man".  He is 28 to her 13 years.  Eleanore faces a populace who hates her as a "foreigner", the possibility her marriage is invalid, ultimate betrayal by Simon de Montfort, estrangement from her son and a fickle husband not above banishing her.

Sanchia  Her greatest desire is to be a Bride of Christ, but her mother's lofty wish is Sanchia wed Richard of Cornell, Henry III's younger brother.  Beatrice is victorious once more when the couple weds in 1243 in London, when Sanchia is 18 years old.  Sanchia is a naive child in comparison to her sisters and destined to suffer emotional cruelty at the hands of a heartless husband.  Her Queenship is fated to be shortlived.

Beatrice  The baby of the family, Beatrice marries Charles of Anjou, Louis' younger borther in 1245 at 14 years old.  Beatrice finds a kindred soul in her husband - ambition and tendency for ruthlessness. Beatrice soon learns her husband has aspirations for a crown, just not that of France.

Inevitably, the sisters are brought into conflict over wars and the County of Provence.  While two sisters attempt to maintain their loyalty to each other, another has no such compunction - or so it appears.  Sadly, a sister is abandoned to her fate.  Their mother's mantra of "family first" is one that haunts them all.

Four Sisters, All Queens is written in present tense from the viewpoints of all four sisters.  I found the present tense a little disconcerting initially, but settled in quickly.

Sherry Jones illuminates four sisters history has mostly relegated to the mists or infamy.  Her impressive insight into the vagarities of each sister as they face challenges and, occasionally, joy brings the sisters to life in a vital way. I especially enjoyed reading about the Savoy sisters, as this is a new era for me.

The lifetimes of the Savoy sisters was a complicated epoch of war, rebellions, reconciliations, betrayals, conspiracies, bravery, cruelty, misunderstandings and regrets.  Sherry Jones excels at piecing the puzzle together and pulls no punches about revealing less than favorable characteristics, along with admirable strengths.

For these reasons, I am awarding of my quite rare:

 ***** 5 Stars (Exceptional)

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Published 2011, Crown Publishers (a division of Random House), ISBN 978-0-307-71657-6; eISBN 978-0-307-71659-0, 458 pages

Karleen Koen's historical fiction novel Before Versailles A Novel of Louis XIV focuses on a mere 4 months of Louis XIV, King of France.  These four months, however, were formative years in the making of the Sun King; a dynasty unrivalled in Europe before and after his time.

Louis XIV ascended to the throne in 1643 and ruled until his death of 1715, the longest reigning monarch in European history.  Upon the death of his chief minister, Cardinal Mazarin, Louis, at the age of 22 making the shocking (to his Court anyway) announcement he was going reign as an absolute monarch.

Louis was surrounded by young men who had grown up with him.

"They were peacocks, all of them, their virility on display in a proud show of fashion and bravado.  They drank too much wine, were unfaithful whether married or not, gambled as if their pockets had no bottom, and looked for the slightest affront to their pride.....Off their leashes, they were as dangerous as wolves...".

These were the courtiers who wanted a place on his council.  Louis' younger brother, Phillipe, was no exception; he, perhaps, most of all, felt he deserved a seat.  They were all destined for disappointment.  Louis would only ever trust Jean-Baptiste Colbert and Charles d'Artagnan.  The remainder he regarded with suspicion.

Louis must render powerless an ambitious scheming finance minister, without causing war, and learn some shocking truths about himself and his family.

On the romantic front, Louis, married pious Maria Teresa, a Princess of Spain, the previous year.  Louis remained faithful to her....until his heart was captured by Princess Henriette, his brother's wife and sister of King Charles II.  Their growing infatuation became evident quickly. The court was rife with rumors, gossip Phillipe could not ignore. Although prone to other preferences, Phillipe's honor was at stake. Brother opposed brother.

Henriette, as second lady of France, lead a frivolous life and had an avid following in stark contrast to Maria Teresa's austere lifestyle.  Into this mailstorm, Louise de la Baume le Blanc was accepted as a maid of honor to Henriette through the efforts of her cousin.  A naive 16 year-old, Louise entered an atmosphere unlike any she'd known.

Louise must grasp how to negotiate court pitfalls to avoid ruining her reputation.  The example set before her of Louis and Henriette advances her education until she realizes she is losing her heart to Louis...

Karleen Koen's lyrical style flows effortlessly throughout Before Versailles with all its conspiracies, betrayals, nuances and decadence.  I especially like Koen's closing sentences in her prologue:

"...a moment when his heart, like many a man's, yearned for something true.  It happened in his forest palace of Fontainebleau.  Perhaps it went something like this....".

Rating:  **** 4 Stars (Excellent)

Thursday, June 14, 2012


Published 2009, Crown Publishing Group (a division of Random House Inc.), ISBN 978-0-58925-5, 442 pages

In Emma Campion's historical fiction novel, The King's Mistress, Campion paints a more sympathetic portrait of Alice Perrers than the typically vilified version accepted in historical accounts.

In H. Eugene Lehman's "Lives of England's Reigning and Consort Queens", published 2011, pages 153 and 154, under the heading "Alice Perrers: Adventuress and Concubine", he describes Alice as Edward III's "most notorious mistress...Queen's Philippa's chief lady-in-waiting".  Lehman attributes Alice's four children as illegitimate off-spring of Edward.  Other statements Lehman makes regarding Alice include "Alice took on royal airs, and used powers over members of Parliament to enrich her purse....After Queen Philippa's death, Edward gave Alice (or Alice stole) many of Philippa's jewels and wore them openly at Court.... Negative comments against her include the tale that, as the King lay dying from a stroke at Sheen Place, she stripped the jewelled rings from his fingers before slithering away....She died in 1400, but lives on as England's most egregiously calculating ambitious scheming and greedy woman of disrepute."

Considering the date of publication of Lehman's work, yes, indeed, the reputation of Alice Perrers has changed little down the centuries.  There are no extant portraits or sketches of Alice Perrers, although the opposite scene is that of Alice Perrers supposedly stealing Edward's rings as he lays dying.

Emma Campion had her work cut out for her when she decided to write The King's Mistress depicting her as a woman who had little control over her fate and a victim of circumstances in many instances.

The Alice Perrers of The King's Mistress is born to a merchant family, with a father and siblings who love her but a mother who is unexplicitedly cold.  Her father teaches her his mercantile business and, other than her mother's dislike of her, grows up happy.  She is taught obedience and marries Janyn Perrers as instructed by her father.

Her marriage to Janyn becomes a love match and they have a daughter together, but Alice feels her husband is hiding secrets, secrets somehow connected to the Dowager Queen Isabella, mother of Edward III.  As Alice realizes how much influence Isabella has on Janyn and the Perrers family she feels uneasy, especially as she is not permitted to reveal the relationship between Isabella and the Perrers.

Upon Isabella's death, Alice is summoned to Edward III and Queen Philippa's court to act as lady-in-waiting.  Shortly thereafter, Janyn and his mother disappear without a trace.  Alice's father-in-law refuses to divulge their whereabouts and bans Alice from his presence.

Alice returns to court and remains there by royal command and to protect her child.  Emma Campion, as she notes in her Author's Notes, "....shaped a life for Alice.  I think she might be pleased with it." in The King's Mistress.   Campion, though her novel, attempts to shed a different light on Alice to refute assertions such as those made by Lehman.

Campion's version of the life of Alice Perrers is well-written with fully developed characters readers can empathize with or dislike for their actions.  The King's Mistress is a worthwhile read for an alternate version of who and what Alice Perrers may have been.

Rating:  **** 4 stars (Excellent)

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Published 2006, Crown Publishing Group (division of Random House), ISBN-13: 978-0-307-33991-1; ISBN 10: 0-307-33991-2, 530 Pages

Dark Angels is a prequel to Karleen Koen's historical fiction novel Through a Glass Darkly.  It is 1670, ten years after the Restoration in England took place.

A little history revisited:  in 1649, the unthinkable happened -Charles 1 was beheaded.  His heir, Charles, Prince of Wales, drifted around Europe at the mercy of various monarchies for food and shelter.  Impoverished, Charles spent 10 years attempting to raise an army and enough money to mount an invasion of England, ruled as a republic by Oliver Cromwell.

Charles's first attempt at invasion failed. It wasn't until Cromwell died in 1659 and England began to fracture that a return to monarchy was viewed as the only hope of salvation.  Charles was invited to return, which he did in 1660.  The Restoration Settlement, however, gave Charles II notice Parliament would not be ruled by him.  For most of his reign, Charles was tied to Parliament until, in 1681, he prorogued Parliament and reigned as an absolute monarch until his death.

His first years as King of England were not easy; a war with the Dutch was unsuccessful, the plague decimated London's population in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 necessitated the rebuilding of the majority of the City.

Perhaps from his youthful experiences of deprivation of even the basic necessities, Charles II was determined to live life to its fullest.  A quote from Charles II perhaps sums up his motto:  "I always admired virtue - but I could never imitate it".  This attitude bestowed upon him the moniker "The Merry Monarch", which has survived down through the centuries.

Charles II married Catherine of Braganza of Portugal in 1662.  She was unable to carry pregnancies to term, thereby leaving the succession of the crown in doubt.  The only contenders were his bastard son, Duke of Monmouth, son of his mistress Lucy Walter, and his younger brother, James, Duke of York.  Charles adamantly maintained his oldest illegitimate son would never inherit the Throne and divorcing his Queen was out of the question.

Dark Angels opens in May 1670, ten years after Charles II has been restored, and his beloved sister, Henriette, wife of Louis XIV of France's younger brother, Phillipe, arrives in England for a brief reunion with her oldest brother.  Along with Henriette, arrives Alice Verney, a maid of honor.

Alice, having left England 2 years earlier under the shadows of a scandal, is determined to once again become one of Catherine's maids of honor.  Her second goal:  marry the elderly, powerful Duke of Balmoral, ride on his coattails and exert control over Court members.

The daughter of the "wily, ambitious rogue", Sir Thomas Verney, Alice inherits many of his traits.  She is loyal to a select few, schemes to realize her dreams at the cost of others, is devious and unforgiving towards those who defy her will.  In fact, she has few redeeming qualities.

This is the beauty of the character Karleen Koen has drawn.  Alice is far from the perfect heroine and there are many reasons to dislike her, but she is most intriguing.  Koen keeps her characters true to their nature and, should there be internal reflections and transformations, she doesn't portray these evolutions instantaneously.  She draws them out over time, much the same as human nature does.

Dark Angels is over 500 pages of secrets, plots, counterplots, counterplots to the counterplots, betrayals, false loyalty, extravagance, passion, heartache and, yes, even some regrets.  This is a one line summarization of Dark Angels.

I finished this novel a few weeks ago and spend a great deal of time pondering how to write a review; not because I didn't like the novel - I just couldn't figure out how to adequately convey the mastery with which Karleen Koen blends all the above aspects into a novel (and keeps track of of it all!).  The plot never sags or becomes tiresome; there is just too much action for that to happen.

I highly recommend reading  Dark Angels prior to Through a Glass Darkly so the storyline flows chronologically, even though the books were not written in that manner.  Now Face to Face is the sequel to Through a Glass Darkly

I read Through A Glass Darkly and Now Face to Face years ago and, therefore, cannot provide reviews without rereading them.  One day, I promise to do just that and review them both.

RATING:  **** 4 Stars (Excellent)

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Published 2011 by New American Library (a Division of Penguin Group), ISBN 978-0-451-23282-3, 368 pages

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, called Gera, is the daughter of the Earl of Kildare, a wealthy and powerful family in Ireland who have kept the peace in Ireland for the Tudor throne for 90 years.  The Fitzgeralds are proud of their Geraldine heritage from Italy and Normandy.  The Earl is known as the "uncrowned king of Ireland" and Gera is taught she is an Irish Princess.  Karen Harper's historical fiction novel commences in June, 1533 at the family seat of Maynooth.

Gera enjoys a privileged life as a child with her siblings.  However, the entitlement she receives from birthright is about to unravel.  King Henry VIII has summoned her father to the English court to account for decisions made as Earl of Kildare.  The Fitzgeralds put on brave face and are certain Henry will understand and endorse the Earl's actions.

While the Earl is at the English court, his oldest son from his first marriage, Thomas, will be Deputy of Ireland in his stead.  His foster son, Christopher, is constable of his castle, Maynooth.  Months pass and the Earl does not return.

Thomas gathers a growing band of men.  Gera's mother, sisters and youngest brother depart for England to plead with Henry for the Earl's release from the Tower, leaving behind Gera and her older brother, Gerald.  Within a few months, Gera's mother sends a letter that her father has died in the Tower of London and she is endeavoring to have Gera and Gerald smuggled to her in England.

Thomas rebels against the English occupation of Ireland and Maynooth is soon besieged by English soldiers.  Christopher smuggles Gerald out of Maynooth to depart for France or Italy to prevent the English from capturing the now Earl of Kildare.  Gera is left behind with a loyal family retainer.

Gerald's escape successful, Christopher surrenders Maynooth to the English.  His reward is death by hanging and one-quarter of the garrison is beheaded.  The women of the castle have been hiding in the cellars.  That night, Gera and her servant, sneak out of a tunnel and seek refuge with one of her five paternal uncles.  Gera carries the precious Red Book of Kildare to prevent the English from seizing the most valuable item they desire.

Eventually, Gera, along with her five uncles, are invited to a meeting with the new Deputy of Ireland, who is, ironically, her mother's brother.  Her brother, Thomas, is still in hiding.  Her Irish uncles, believing a truce is in the works, meet with the new Deputy.  The treaty is a ruse.  Her uncles and Gera are shipped off to England the next morning; Gera to join her mother and her uncles to sojourn in the Tower of London.  Eventually, Thomas surrenders in the hopes of a pardon but, instead, is soon incarcerated with his uncles.

Gera's uncles and brother are convicted of treason and sentenced to a treasoner's death, a gruesome hanging, disembowelment and dismemberment.  The Fitzgerald family is attainted, losing their home and all rights to the title of Earl of Kildare.  Gera is devastated and vows she will one day kill the king who decimated her family and return to her beloved Ireland.

Thus begins Gera's journey towards fulfilment of her revenge.  She plots and schemes, all the while at the mercy of the King's whims.  She is brought to Court and must learn how to circumvent undesirable affiliations and cultivate advantageous alliances.

The Irish Princess is the the tale of a bold, determined woman who never waivers from her ultimate goal.  She marries to further her objectives, yet loves another.  Her every action is made with intent of ridding Ireland of Henry VIII, restoring her brother, Gerald, as Earl of Kildare and returning to the land of her birth with the Red Book of Kildare.

"I, Gera Fitzgerald, was going to kill the king. He was dying, but I was going to kill him anyway.....Let him die in peace, some would say, but I would never have peace that way....I knelt upon the mattress, dragging my skirts and the shawl. I crawled closer, my fingers gripping the handle so hard that my entire frame shook as I began to lift it."

This is the first novel by Karen Harper that I've read.  Her indepth and descriptive prose brings to life a well-developed character in Gera.  The reader is able to mourn, rejoice and empathize with Gera.  I will definitely be seeking out other titles by Karen Harper.

I truly enjoyed this novel and recommend it.

Rating:   4 Stars **** (Excellent)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012


Published 2008, Other Press LLC, ISBN-13: 978-1-59051-283-8; ISBN-10:  1-59051-283-9, 236 pages

I flipped through the front pages of The Open Door to see if this was Elizabeth Maguire's debut novel only to discover that Elizabeth passed away in 2006 from ovarian cancer at the age of 47.  For the news announcement click here.  Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened by the early death of a woman from such an insidious disease.

The Open Door was completed before her death and published posthumously.

The protagonist of The Open Door is Constance Fenimore Woolson.  Constance (March 5, 1840 - January 24, 1894) was a pioneer in many ways; she gained acclamation for her writing and she lived her life in an somewhat unconventional manner eschewing society's dictates.

Constance was the 6th child of Charles and Hannah Woolson.  Family tragedies struck with regular frequency with deaths of several of Constance's siblings.

The Open Door commences in 1856 when Constance discovers her love of water while canoeing, a passion she retained the remainder of her life.

After her father's death in 1869, Constance was caregiver to her ill mother for the next decade.  During this time, she wrote for Harper's and enjoyed some financial success.  She wrote travel sketches from her extensive journeys through Southeastern United States, which she dearly misses when she takes ship for England after her mother passes away.

Constance's lifelong desire is to meet Henry James, whom she considers foremost amongst authors.  She often denigrates herself as a second-rate author.  Nevertheless, she is prolific.  Constance's dream comes true; she meets Henry James and forms a friendship.  She considers it a marriage of minds and is appalled at the thought of traditional marriage.

Constance travels extensively through Europe and London.  During this time, she has a love affair with Clarence King, whom she only sees occasionally through the years.  Henry James is present in her life on a frequent basis, even living in the ground floor of her home for a year.

Constance does not give James her heart and body, but she unreservedly shares her mind with him.  She trusts James entirely with her thoughts and ambitions until one day she discovers James has kept a secret from her.  A clandestine matter that doesn't change her opinion of James, but James is unable to reconcile himself to Constance's intimate knowledge.  He reacts by betraying all that is dear to Constance about their relationship in a most public manner.

Physically, Constance suffers from a unusual malady and seeks medical assistance both in London and Europe.  She is subjected to all manner of treatments, but continues to faithfully write. 

Maguire's writing flows and sweeps you along.  The Open Door is an easy read (I read it in one day).  I feel Maguire portrayed a full-developed character in Constance.  I was able to empathize with Constance's struggles - physically, mentally and emotionally.

An excerpt from the Prologue demonstrates Maguire's relaxed style:

"It is largely the tale of a friendship:  a friendship made, and lost.  It is not an exercise in finger-pointing or blame - which you know I abhor.  But I take satisfaction, still, in getting at the truth of what happened.  Which is NOT the same as the way it looked...!"

Most of all, Maguire sparked an interest in a woman whom I had never heard of before.  Good writing does that.  My only reservation, and this is probably my own bias, is the novel is quite short which left me feeling somewhat discontent that I couldn't have spent more time in Constance's world.

If you wish to discover more about this fascinating woman, the Constance Fenimore Woolson Society is a font of information.

RATING:  3 Stars ***(Good)

Saturday, May 12, 2012


After reading Kate Quinn's first historical fiction novel release, Mistress of Rome, Empress of the Seven Hills is the kind of follow up novel I expected.

Empress of the Seven Hills continues the story of Vix and Sabina.  Vix is an all or nothing kind of guy:

"If I'd known the trouble that small-breasted off-limits patrician girl would make for me, I might have choked her to death in the middle of that atrium rather than watch her walk away.";

whereas Sabina is more apt to calculatingly plan her life to gratify her own desires:

"It's time I married, and Hadrian will do as well as anyone. Better even.  He wants to travel, Vix. He says he'll take me to Athens after the wedding, and Thebes, and maybe Egypt. Everywhere."

Vix is the son of Arius the Barbarian.  He has grown from a passionate, unmannered young boy in Mistress of Rome into, well, a passionate unmannered 18 year old who returns to Rome, his center of the world, to seek his fortune and titles himself the "Young Barbarian".

At 13 years old, an astrologer foretold Vix he would lead a legion one day.  Vix is horrified upon learning 25 years of servitude is required for legionaries.  So, he tries his hand at thieving and bodyguarding for Sabina's father first until an encounter with Emperor Trajan causes him to reconsider his options.  That, and the fact Sabina is set on marrying Hadrian and ending their affair.

Vix's admiration for Emperor Trajan develops such that he would perish for Trajan before he would die for his wife and children.  He loves the Emperor unreservedly until Trajan's death in 117 AD.

Sabina extensive travels brings into contact with Vix many years down the road where Vix is stationed as a legionary. Once again, Vix learns the hard way Sabina will follow her own path.

The majority of Empress of the Seven Hills is set during Trajan's lifetime.  It commences in 102 AD. 

Trajan was a capable administrator and military campaigner.  He set up programs to assist poor children in Italy, ensuring they had food and an education.  He improved the infrastructure of Rome with many building projects, road systems and the last aqueduct constructed under the Roman Empire.

Dacia was the first of Trajan's military campaigns and, perhaps, the greatest of all.  Vix, as a legionary, is part of this campaign and spends many years involved in the quest to conquer Dacia.

Trajan 56 AD - 117 AD

Two themes featured predominantly throughout Kate Quinn's Rome series are:  homosexuality and infidelity. 

Respecting homosexuality, "To be an ancient Roman male in good standing meant you initiated penetrating acts of sex. Whether you did this with a female or a male, slave or free, wife or prostitute, made little difference -- as long as you were not on the receiving end, so to speak. [See Catullus XVI.] Certain people were off-limits, though, and among them were free youths." (source:

With regard to infidelity, "In a Roman household sex was in plentiful supply. Except, so it seems, between the actual married couples. The existence of slaves in the house naturally mean that, particularly the men, but also the women (although with the risk of pregnancy and disgrace), had access to sex whenever they so required.

To a Roman sex did not create any kind of bond between two people. It created no obligation between one side and the other.

As far as the law was concerned then sex with slaves was not adulterous. Or at least not for men. And sex with a free-born man or woman was only adultery if they were not doing it for money. Thus, sex with a prostitute did not constitute adultery.... However, adultery with a free-born was a crime, stuprum. And for this there was only one punishment; death.  So as long as one steered clear of committing stuprum, anything was allowed. There was no limits on age and also none on gender." (source:

My research on these particular aspects of ancient Rome culture satisfied me Quinn was not gratuitous in focusing on homosexuality or infidelity.

Empress of the Seven Hills is packed with action, schemes, betrayals and unwavering loyalties. Quinn presents well-rounded characters you can love to love or love to hate. Even if you are knowledgeable about the succession of Roman Emperors, it doesn't detract from the plot. The characters are compelling with their attributes and deficiencies.

Rating: 4 Stars **** (Excellent)

Empress of the Seven Hills is available for purchase in paperback or Kindle on Amazon.  Click here.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Opening the first page of Daughters of Rome, I expected to story to begin with Vix, the character Kate Quinn promised would be the focus in the future.  I was somewhat disconcerted, however, to find we had gone back in time, A.D. 58 to be exact, in the first chapter.

Wondering if I had somehow read the series out of order, I checked the publication dates and with Kate Quinn whether I had done so.  No, apparently I had not.

Daughters of Rome was written as a prequel to Mistress of Rome.  My discombobulation continued for a number of chapters until I was able to settle in.  Daughters of Rome featured characters whose destinies were already known from Mistress of Rome.  I'd love to give an example, but it would be a spoiler so I can't.  Just trust me.

The pace of Daughters of Rome was somewhat more sedate, even though it is set during the time known as "The Year of the Four Emperors".

In 69 A.D., after Nero's death, Servius Sulpicius Galba, beat 4 other contenders to Rome and declared himself Emperor.

He made two fatal errors:  he didn't pay his soldiers and chose a heir other than Marcus Salvius Otho, his closest supporter.  He lasted 7 months before he was killed in the streets by Otho's soldiers.

Otho proclaimed himself Emperor and, should you be unlucky enough to be Galba's soldier or supporter, Otho ensured you met a quick death.  This, however, didn't prevent a revolt in Germania by Vitellius.  After a battlefield defeat to Vitelluis's troops, Otho committed suicide.  He was Emperor for 95 days.

Vitellius was a reluctant Emperor for 7 months.  He lived the decadent life until he heard Vespasian and his troops were heading for Rome.  His pleas to the Senate that he be allowed to abdicate were met with horror.  Romans did not plead for mercy, they faced the music.  And that he did, kicking and screaming the whole way.  Vespasian's troops tortured him to death.   As an aside, I was unable to find an image of Vitellius that wasn't obviously a caricature.

Enter Aelius Vespasian.  For almost the next three decades, he and his sons restored stability and peace to the Roman Empire.  This period was known as the Flavian dynasty.

In keeping with the theme of "four", Daughters of Rome focuses on four Cornelii women during this violent and turbulent period:

Cornelia - who has groomed herself and her husband, Piso, for the positions of Empress and Emperor of Rome.  All is well until he perishes with Galba.  Stricken with grief, Cornelia isolates herself from her family and society until one day she comes to a realization....

Marcella - an scheming woman behind a mask who comprehends she can influence history, but wants no part of the consequences.  Marcella never dreams of how her name will be written in the annuals....

Lollia - her grandfather's pawn in the game of marriages.  Lollia has more husbands and divorces than you can count on one hand by the time she is 19 years old.  She endures but, secretly, there is one man she loves.  A man she can never have....

Diana - every man is crazed for Diana, but Diana only has eyes for horses.  There might be one man who could change her focus, but does he...

Daughters of Rome did not grab me the same way Mistress of Rome did.  It was an enjoyable read and there was plenty of conflict and action but, somehow, I felt out of place.  I honestly think it's because of the order in which the novels were written.   So, my recommendation, if you haven't read Mistress of Rome yet, is to read the novels in this sequence:

  • Daughters of Rome
  • Mistress of Rome
  • Empress of the Seven Hills
RATING:  3 Stars *** (Good)
Daughters of Rome is available for purchase in paperback or Kindle on Amazon.  Click here.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A - Z April Blogging Challenge - Z - Zulu Hart (George Hart #1) by Saul David

Zulu Hart (George Hart #1) by Saud David is the story of George Hart, bullied for his dark skin and unkknown father.  Hart learns to defend himself and masters fighting skills.  His expertise will lead him to South Africa at a time when racism is rampant in England.

England and Zulus are headed for war - on whose side will Hart fight?  His ancestral country or the country in which he was raised.

Well, thus ends my April A-Z April Blogging Challenge.  However, there's plenty more to come.  Fourteen library books, 8 Kindle books and 4 personal requests for reviews.  Stay tuned....

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - Y - YEAR OF THE HYDENAS: A Novel of Murder in Ancient Eygpt (Semerket #1) by Brad Geagley

Year of the Hyenas:  A Novel of Murder in Ancient Egypt (Semerket #1) by Brad Geagley is the first in a series set during the reign of Rames III.

The protagonist, Semerket, is a Clerk of Investigations and Secrets, with a drinking problem and a tendency towards irreverent behavior to those in power.  An elderly Theban priestess is murdered and Semerket is hired to solve the case, which is considered a insignificant murder at best.

However, Semerket discovers it is a less than significant murder and is soon embroiled in a conspiracy against the life of Ramses.   Unknownst to him, his ex-wife, whom he still loves passionately, is in the clutches of the conspirators.

Semerket has to choose between the salvation of Egypt or his ex-wife.  What will he do....

Enoch Pratt Free Library

Thought I would share with you a site I stumbled across which lists historical fiction novels according to time periods and genre.  One of my Top 5 authors' novel is featured, a sure grap for my attention. The page is titled:

If I Could Save Time in a Novel: A Guide for Historical Fiction Lovers

Maintained by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, click here to immerse yourself in the possibilities.

Hope you enjoy!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - X


Guess how many historical fiction novels begin with the letter "x".  You got it.  None. Zip. Goose egg. Zilch.  The English language has very few words that begin with x, most of them unpronouncible and most certainly not in everyday usage.

So, therefore, a little dictionary lesson:  xenophillia - defined as a liking for foreigners or strangers or foreign or strange things.

This is where the creative writing comes into play.  How to apply xenophillia to historical fiction.  My take on this is that we historical fiction buffs escape our current-day world into eras foreign to us and those times were populated by strangers.  We're not likely ever to meet them, are we?

I think this is maybe the biggest draw for me regarding historical fiction.  It gives me an opportunity to learn about how our predecessors, both famous and not-so-famous, survived.  A completely foreign way of living.  Survival was a tough gambit in centuries past and human life was not highly valued.  Unfortunately, it's still not valued in many places in our world today, but that's another topic altogether.

Did the human race have it tougher historically than we do?  I'm not sure.  In some ways life was simpler, but I don't think I want to go back to give it a try.

I'll just keeping reading historical fiction novels and get my fix that way.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A-Z April Bloggin Challenge - W - WIVES AND DAUGHTERS by Elizabeth Gaskell

Wives and Daughters, written in serialized form by Elizabeth Gaskell in 1860's, is one of those thick books (which I absolutely love) at 650 pages.  Gaskell is touted as a contemporary of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens for sensitivity imbued in her characters and her wit.

The story takes place in 1830 and the main character is Molly Gibson, whose mother died when she was young, and is being raised by her father.   Her father remarries a rather self-serving woman and Molly suddenly has a half-sister.

Wives and Daughters follows Molly and her new sister, Cynthia, as they journey through the trials, tribulations and joys of metamorphosing into young women.

Wives and Daughters is written in true Victorian style.  Many members on goodreads gave it 5 stars. Reviews can be found here.

Tomorrow's post "X" is going to somewhat different and hopefully creative.  The English language is not exactly conducive to historical fiction novels beginning with the letter "x".  So, stay tuned....

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - V - VIVALDI'S VIRGINS by Barbara Quick

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick is set in Venice in the early 18th century.  Anna Maria Dal Violin, abandoned as an infant, lives in a foundling home with Antonio Vivaldi, a maestro and composer.

Anna Maria, intent on discovering her origins, is immersed in the 18th century Venice music world as she searches for answers to her parentage.

A quote from Publisher's Weekly:  "Anna Maria's strong spirit shines throughout...Quick creates a hauntingly authentic setting rife with cruel punishments and brief moments of grand rewards."

Sounds enticing....

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - U - UNTIL WE REACH HOME by Lynn Austin

Until We Reach Home by Lynn Austin is a Christian romance historical fiction novel that focuses on three sisters, Ellin, Kirsten and Sofia, who leave their native Sweden after their parents' suicide.  Life becomes unbearable in Sweden when an uncle takes over the family farm and they are forced to escape from an unspeakable destiny.

They set sail for Chicago where another uncle resides in hopes of rebuilding their lives.  They quickly learn the hardships of the trip to America and the reality of the harshness of 19th century Chicago.  The sisters realize they must mend their relationships with each other and contend with their own personal struggles to survive and gain the freedom, emotionally and physically, they seek in a new land.

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - T - THE RUBY RING by Diane Haeger

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger was an easy choice for me in choosing a post for the letter "T", as I am already a Diane Haeger fan from reading previous novels.

In The Ruby Ring, Haeger tells the story of famous painter,  Raphael Sanzio, and his lover, Margherita Luti.  In fact, Raphael used Margherita as a model in several paintings.  The Ruby Ring is a reminiscent novel.  Raphael has died and Margherita has one choice - to join a convent.

The Mother Superior will admit Margherita on the condition shes give the ruby ring she wore in Raphael's "engagement portrait" to the Church or take her chances on the street with no protection.  Before she makes her decision about handing over the ring, Margherita remembers the love she shared.......


Published 2010, Penguin Group, ISBN 978-0-425-23247-7, 466 pages.

Through various sources, I'd heard a lot of "chatter" about a historical ficion novel, Mistress of Rome, and Kate Quinn's masterful writing.  With so much hype, I figured I might be let down.  But, I'm not telling you whether I was or not until the end of the review!

Mistress of Rome is set during the reign of Emperor Titus Flavius Domintianus (commonly known as Domintian) from September, A.D. 81 to September, A.D. 96.  As with many Roman emperors who enjoyed supreme authority, Domintian enjoyed flexing his muscles, as well as those of others.  Gladiator games were a ploy used by Domintian to endear the Romans and it was a ruse embraced by the population.

Gladiators fought to the death. Kate Quinn included the Gladiator's Oath in the frontispiece of Mistress of Rome:  "I undertake to be burnt by fire, to be bound in chains, to be beaten by roads, and to die by the sword.".  The only other way out of the arena alive (besides winning) was if mercy was granted by the sponsor of the games to a defeated, wounded gladiator who held up his index finger to beg for clemency.

Domintian is described as a dedicated and competent administrator of Roman assets during his reign, but his successes often came at the expense of others.  He was ruthless and noble and rich families were in no way exempt from accusations of treason, execution and confiscation of the unfortunate's estate.  Enforcement of high taxation brought in funds to Domintian's treasury.

On the opposite side of the coin, Domintian is known for his proclivities, which included sexual torture of his victims.  His self-aggrandizement of "Lord and God" meant citizens and slaves were obliged to grant him divine worship.  His cruelty often knew no bounds and his epitaph might be summed up as "the evil emperor who murdered thousands of Christians".  Christians were executed during the lunch break at gladiators games (I can't imagine how this would stimulate the appetite).  They were judged guilty of sacrilege and treason for not acknowledging Domintian's "Lord and God" stature.

Emperor Titus Flavius Domintianus

Now, onto Mistress of Death.  Thea, a Jewish slave who survived Masada (for the story behind Masada follow this link:  The story of Masada is, in itself, fascinating.), is purchased as a gift to Lady Lepida Pollia by the lady's father.  While there is a considerable cast of characters in Mistress of Death, the story is largely that of Thea.

Lady Lepida is a spoilt, selfish, cruel - I could go on ad nauseam - woman who discovers Thea and a gladiator, Arius, have fallen in love and are having an affair.  This does not sit well with Lepida, who desired Arius for herself, and she sells Thea into prostitution.

Thea is pregnant with Arius's child and, when the pregnancy interferes with"business", her owner sells her to a music lover.  Thea is gifted with a beautiful voice and her new owner grooms her for singing at dinners and other events attended by Roman nobility.

Unfortunately, the infamous Domintian lusts for Thea and she is forced to become his mistress.  It is a brutal life with a sadistic master.   In addition to enduring Domintian's callus "bed games", she must be careful to protect her son from Domintian's knowledge.

Meanwhile, Arius fights for survival every time he enters the arena and the Emperor has particular delight in placing near impossible odds against him.  Arius becomes both famous and infamous for his savage nature.  Yet, it is that very nature which enables him to survive until the next contest.

Lepida, forced to marry a senator (whose son she ensnares in adultery), has dreams of becoming the Emperor's mistress and, once again, is displaced by Thea.  Furious, she sets in motion plots that threaten the lives of Thea, Arius and Vix, their son.

Mistress of Rome is well deserving of the accolades on the cover by Diana Galbaldon and Margaret George.  I was so engrossed in this novel I read it while blow-drying my hair!

There's more than enough twists, conspiracies, betrayals, murder and mayhem to keep the reader captivated until the last page.  So, as I promised at the beginning of this post, I can tell you I was not let down even minutely by the hype surrounding Mistress of Rome.  Kate Quinn is deserving of the praise received for her debut historical fiction novel, Mistress of Rome.

RATING:  **** 4 Stars (excellent)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - SWORN SWORD (The Bloody Aftermath of 106 England's Fate Hangs in the Balance) by JAMES AITCHESON

Sworn Sword:  The Bloody Aftermath of 1066 England's Fate Hangs in Balance  by James Aitcheson seems rather a cumbersome title, until you search "Sworn Sword" and find 4 other novels by the same name, including one by George R.R. Martin - pretty stiff competition.

The year is 1069 and three years have passed since the Battle of Hasting.  Harold Godwineson is dead and Duke William of Normandy is the conqueror of England.  This does not mean there is peace in the realm, however, as the Province of Northrumbia revolts.

Among the 2,000 Normans who march north is a soldier named Tancred.  He is a knight seeking riches.  But, it is not to be.  The English rebels slaughter the Normans at Durham.  Trancred manages to survive, but his lord does not.

Tancred commences his quest for vengeance for his lord's death, while Prince Eadgar, the last Saxon, marches to seize the kingdom he believes belongs to him.  Tancred uncovers a plot that could sabotage William the Conqueror's victory.

From the synopsis, this sounds like a novel packed with action.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - R - REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly is my choice for "R" because I've been so impressed with her previous novels, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose. 

Revolution is the story of two girls, Andi and Alexandrine, who live 200 years apart.  The setting of the novel is Paris, where current-day Andi is on winter break with her father and aspiring actress Alexandrine is caught up in the Revolution.

Andi finds Alexandrine's diary in an old guitar case and discovers that, even though the girls lived two centuries apart, they have something in common.  Donnelly weaves a story where the past and the present become indistinguishable.

Revolution is noted as young adult fiction on goodreads, but so was Twilight and The Hunger Games.  We all know what happened with those young adult novels.  One thing I can guarantee, however, is the writing will be far superior to that of the Twilight series (I haven't read The Hunger Games so no comment there). 

Click on the link below to watch a short interview of Jennifer Donnelly who talks about Revolution and, as a teaser, a fascinating discovery of evidence from the Revolution that touched her deeply.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - P - PLAIN JANE: A NOVEL OF JANE SEYMOUR by Laurien Gardner

Plain Jane: A Novel of Jane Seymour by Laurien Gardner is rather self-explanatory as far as subject matter is concerned.  When I was researching the image of the book cover (which is an actual portrait of Henry, Jane and Eward, c.1545) I discovered no less than five books titled "Plain Jane".

So, if you want to read about the one wife Henry VIII might have actually loved (inasmuch as he was capable of that particular emotion), make sure you pick up the historical fiction novel by Laurien Gardner.  Jane Seymour shares Henry's tomb at Windsor Castle, which might be a testament to the validity of Henry's affection.

The above portrait of Jane Seymour was painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, a painter often commissioned by Henry.

Plain Jane is told in Jane's voice and commences when she is 9 years old.  Doomed to spinsterhood because of her lack of beauty, her destiny changes when she is appointed Anne Boleyn's maid of honor and Henry's ever-wandering eye falls upon her.

As a footnote, Laurien Gardner is the nom de plume of historical/fantasy author, Julianne Ardian Lee,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - Q - the QUEEN'S PAWN by Christy English

the Queen's Pawn by Christy English recounts the life of Princess Alais of France, who was destined to marry Richard, one of Henry II and Eleanore of Aquitaine's offspring.  I have read so historical fiction novels that graze over Alais, other than to mention she was left to languish in England for several years waiting to marry Richard and, eventually, caught the eye of the adulterous Henry.

I hope to learn much more about Alais and her life in the Queen's Pawn.  Welcomed by Eleanor as a daughter, the relationship sours when Henry begins to view Alais with typical undisguised desire.  Now Alais is Eleanor's rival, a battle the strong-willed Eleanor is determined to win.

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - O - OPEN DOOR by Elizabeth Maguire

Open Door by Elizabeth Maguire explores the life of Constance Fenimore Woolson, a 19th century American author.  Constance does not have an easy life, supporting her mother and brother through her writing income.

Eventually, she has an opportunity to travel to Europe and meet Henry James, whom she greatly admires.  The relationship with Henry James deteriorates over time and vendettas ensue.

I look forward to reading this historical fiction novel, especially as I have not heard about Constance Woolson prior to now.

A quote from Open Door:

“The story is the journey, not the destination. Or so the philosopher’s say. But this is my story, and it has a beginning, a middle, and an end….”

Monday, April 16, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - N - NERO by David Wishart

Nero by David Wishart is told from Nero's Advisor on Taste's point-of-view.  I have a fondness for historical fiction novels narrated by side characters, as this can give insights into a historical character that otherwise might not be possible.

Petronius relates his experiences and, ultimately, where his sympathies lie.  Unfortunately, his propensities may not quite be in the right direction.  From the synopsis of this novel, I have a notion  Petronius might be an "unreliable narrator", which often leads to interesting diversions.

Saturday, April 14, 2012


Published 2011, Random House Publishing Group, ISBN 0345523865 (ISBN13: 9780345523860), 453 pages

Becoming Marie Antoinette is Juliet's Grey inaugural historical fiction novel in her series featuring Maria Antonia von Habsburg, later rechristened Marie Antoinette when she married the Dauphin of France.

Much of this novel is taken up with Marie's childhood life and subsequent grooming, mentally and physically, by her domineering mother, Empress of Austria, who desires an alliance with France to protect her own domains.

Marie, according to her mother, was lacking in intelligence, grace, education, elocution and, perhaps, most importantly, a bosom.  Several accomplished instructors to attempt to improve Marie.  They were not successful in many areas, such as reading and writing, but, after enduring braces (you can imagine how painful that was in the 18th century), dancing lessons, poise control and endless education sessions, Marie was considered almost acceptable for a momentous alliance with France.

There are two points Grey makes in this historical novel that jarred me:  1) the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, never wed (correct me if I'm wrong in believing Mary and Joseph did marry) and 2) the infamous "let them eat cake" statement (commonly wrongfully attributed to Marie Antoinette) by Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV (disputed by many modern scholars as a myth).   I could be prejudiced by modern day knowledge as regards point 2 and it was taken as truth during Marie's lifetime, but I still have trouble with point 1.

The one defect the Empress had no control over was Marie's "flowering"; she was a late bloomer.  However, at long last, the happy moment arrived even if her bosom did not increase substantially.  At age 14, after long years of tenterhooks negotiations between her mother and the Dauphin's grandfather, Marie arrived in France.

This is where the novel started to drag for me.  The latter portion of the novel is set during Marie's first 3 years in France.  Unused to the liberal French court in comparison to the Austrian court and with no companions her age, Marie had a huge adjustment to make.  She never was able to reconcile herself to Madame du Barry, the King's mistress, feeling the relationship morally untenable.

Becoming Marie Antoinette hereon in contained far too much repetitive material, such as her daily visits with the King's spinster sisters.  I lost incentive to keep turning pages and my light on at night.  Just as dragging was the Dauphin's inability or lack of desire to consummate the marriage, even though this is accurate and would have caused much consternation in the day.  Marie's days at Versailles indulging in backbiting and gossip to entertain herself could have received less coverage as well.

A disconcerting feature in this section of the novel was correspondence between various nobility and the Empress regarding Marie's behavior.  These letters did not flow with the narrative, which left me confused until I scanned to the bottom to discover the authors.

As an offside, the distance between the Empress and Marie did not relieve Marie of her mother's constant nagging but, at least, the author of those letters was evident.

In summary, the length of this historical fiction novel could be substantively reduced.  As mentioned above, Becoming Marie Antoinette is the first novel in the Juliet Grey's series.  Am I eager to read the next novel?  Honestly, no.

RATING:  2 Stars ** (Okay)

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - M - MISTRESS OF ROME by Kate Quinn

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn is her debut novel told from a Judean slave girl's perspective.  Unfortunately, she is the property of a jealous and vengeful woman, who proceeds to ruin slave Thea's  love for a gladiator.

Thea becomes a singer for aristocrats and the Emperor of Rome is taken with her.  She becomes his mistress, but life with the Emperor is fraught with dangers as eminent and plebeian characters seek to destroy him.  Thea has no choice other than to evolve as his saviour against deadly conspiracies.

I've "heard" a lot of chatter within the writing community and from readers who are enthralled with Kate Quinn's Rome series.  As I mentioned in the first blogging challenge, my theme is "books I'd like to read".

So, I requested all the books I will be listing during April from the library.  Three of the titles were unavailable and, as you will discover, I've had to be creative with "x".  Well, 16 of these books arrived all on the same day!  I have my work cut out for me.

I am about 75% through Becoming Marie Antoinette and my next book up is Mistress of Rome.  I will blog reviews of both books in the coming weeks.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - L - the LAST BOLEYN by Karen Harper

the Last Boelyn by Karen Harper is not - surprise, surprise - about Anne Boleyn.  It is actually the story of Mary Boleyn, the only Boleyn who survived Henry VIII's vengeance.  Used as a pawn by her family at a young age to wile her way into Henry's bed, Mary is pivotal in the rise of the Boleyn family.

Amazingly, she emerges unscathed from the disastrous fall of her family, but to survive she has had to live by her wits.  Refreshing to read about Mary for a change!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - K - the KING'S MISTRESS by Emma Campion

the King's Mistress by Emma Campion tells the tale of Alice Perrers (nee Salisbury), an obedient daughter who marries the man her father chooses and comes to care for her husband, although she loses the love of her mother.  Life is relatively happy until one day her husband disappears and she discovers he has a secret life, a life that endangers both her and her daughter. 

The obedience instilled in her comes into play when Edward III, under whose protection she endures the life of a prisoner, albeit not incarcerated, seeks to make her his mistress.  The loss of her reputation and the contrivances of courtiers who would see her tumble from grace requires all of her wits to save her daughter.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - J - JOCASTA The Mother-Wife of Oedipus by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood

Jocasta: The Mother-Wife of Oedipus by Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood is my choice for today's post for 2 reasons:  First, I want to read it and, second, Victoria Grossack, has been my instructor for writing lessons.  And, a most excellent instructor I must say.

Anyway, onto the story line.  The setting is the Greek Bronze Age and the mythology surrounding Oedipus.  However, the authors have written this novel (the first in a series of 4) from Oedipus' mother's point-of-view.  A woman treated harshly by life and those surrounding her, Jocasta is eventually doomed to marry her son, although she falls in love with him without realizing he is indeed her son.  After his birth, his father sent him away because it was foretold that Oedipus would kill him.

Touted as a different slant on this famous Greek mythological tale, reviews have been excellent.

My order of the series shipped April 6 so I should receive them any day.  And, yes, I will blog my reviews.