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.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - I - the IRISH PRINCESS by Karen Harper

the Irish Princess by Karen Harper relates the tale of Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a royal princess of Ireland, whose father is imprisoned by Henry VIII.  Only Henry is not satisfied with merely incarcerating her father, he destroys her family.

Elizabeth is forced to take refuge in England, of all places, at the Tudor court.  Her greatest desire is to avenge her family but, first, she must learn who she can trust and be wary of those who are untrustworthy.  A dangerous situation for a woman at Henry's mercy.

A Shameless Plug

My love of historical fiction extends beyond blogging reviews of historical fiction novels.  It's been a life long dream to pen a historical fiction novel.

2012 is the year of my first novel!  It is loosely based on the life of a very dear friend who is currently at the venerable age of 102 years.   Just imagine - in the last century my friend has seen more change in the world than any other century since time immemorial.  Add to the mix an unconventional childhood, living and travelling in Western Europe for many years, 4 children, immigrating to 2 different countries and the closing of an era that existed for hundred of years with the advent of technology.

I have created a Facebook Page entitled "Darlene Williams Author Page".  As soon as I figure out how to add a "follow me on Facebook" widget (I am so not techy!), I hope you will join me on my journey through research, drafting and even asking for your input.  In the meantime, my Author Page address is  Drop by and "like" me!

Writing can be a lonely business, but having your support will mean the world to me.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - H - HARLOT QUEEN by Hilda Lewis

Harlot Queen by Hilda Lewis recounts the life of Isabella of France, the wife of Edward II of England. An unfortunate moniker to be known by but, desperate for love and comfort, she turns to a lover.  Perhaps quite understandable when your husband forsakes the pleasures of the marital bed for intimate sport with other men.

These events occur at the tender age of 14 and, as she matures, her need to vengence against her husband's lovers grow and became an obsession.  Mayhem is the result.  When the royal family creates a disastrous situation amongst themselves, you can be sure that the common folk suffer the consequences as well.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - G - GODIVA by Nerys Ann Jones

Godiva by Nerys Ann Jones recounts the legend of Godiva, the wife of Earl of Mercia, in 1045  Britian.  Britian is in turmoil.  Succession to the throne is coveted by the Normans, who seek to usurp Edward the Confessor.  We all know the story of Godiva riding her horse naked but, other than that fact, very little is said about Godiva.  I, personally, am interested in learning the entire story of Godiva, whose singular action has survived a thousand years.

A - Z April Blogging Challenge - F - FOUR SISTERS, ALL QUEENS by Sherry Jones

Four Queen, All Sisters by Sherry Jones is the tale of the four daughters of Beatrice in 13th Century Provence.  Beatrice grooms her daughters to become queens, which, in time, they duly ascend the thrones of France, England, Sanchia and Sicily as Queens.  All is well until the sisters' father passes away.  The immense House of Savoy, so carefully constructed by Beatrice, falls apart as each sister pursues her believed claim to Provence.  The story is written in 4 voices, each of the sisters, revealing a sibling rivalry that illustrates how thin the line between love and hate truly is.
Having read Sherry Jones's excellent The Jewel of Medina, I am looking forward to reading Four Queens, All Sisters.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - E - the END OF THE LINE by Nigel Trantor

the End of the Line by Nigel Trantor is the final historical novel in the series about the Gospatrick family.  Reviews on Amazon are not especially favorable for this novel, but the preceding three novels seem to be highly regarded and the End of the Line is recommended for series collectors.  Reviews on are more positive, which is why I chose this book.

I did a little research on Nigel Trantor (deceased in 2000 at 90 years of age) and discovered he was an extremely prolific Scottish author and historian whose novels, over time, became more historically based than fiction.  He was a stickler for accurate historical facts.

So, if you are interested in Scottish history and enjoy learning, Nigel Trantor may be worthwhile checking out.  On a final note, I was horrified to see that a new hardback copy of this novel was selling for $80 Canadian on Amazon!  Kindle has it for the more reasonable price of $7.99.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - D - the DAUGHTER OF SIENA BY Marina Fiorato

the Daughter of  Siena by Marina Fiorato is a historical fiction novel set in 18th Century Siena, Italy.  It revolves around a horse race, Palio di Siena, that pits city districts against each other in a bid to be the winner.

Intrigue, rivalry, influence and treachery reduces supposedly civilized men to brutes who are willing to engage in insidious tactics and schemes to gain the coveted winner's banner for their district.  Unfortunately, for the protagonist, Pia Tolomei, her love happens to be a rider from another ward.

The Palio di Siena has existed since medieval times and is still run twice a year in Siena, Italy. It is acompanied by lavish ceremonies and each race is named in honour of the Madonna or Mary, Mother of Jesus.  As in the 18th century, riders from different wards of the city compete.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - C - the COUNTESS by Rebecca Johns

the Countess by Rebecca Johns recounts the life of Countess Erzebet Bathory, a Hungarian Countess, who craved power and found it in the most gruesome of manners:  torturing her female servants to death.

I have read fleeting accounts of Bathory, but my curiousity has never been satisfied.  This historical fiction novel promises to satisfy my inquisitive about this violent woman, who earned the moniker the "Blood Countess".

It is written in the first person narrative in the form of a diary for her son and reveals a woman hungry for power and the love of her husband.

Definitely on my "to read" list.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - B - Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey is her debut historical fiction novel and the first of a trilogy of the life of Marie Antoinette. This commencement novel received high reviews from several notable historical fiction authors.

A young Marie Antoinette is destined to marry the Dauphin of France but, before the alliance is solidified, she must first transform from a young girl enjoying from an idyllic childhood in Austria into a young woman capable of handling the intricacies of the French court.

Juliet Grey's second novel in the Marie Antoinette series, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: A Novel of Marie Antoinette is due to be released May 15, 2012.


Published 2011, HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., ISBN 978-1-55468-443-4, 309 pages

Helen Humphrey's historical fiction novel, The Reinvention of Love, is the story of an illicit love affair between Adele Hugo, wife of Victor Hugo, and Charles Sainte-Beuve, a writer.

They meet when Sainte-Beuve writes a positive review of Victor Hugo's poetry and is invited to visit the Hugo home, situate on the same street as Sainte-Beuve.  In the beginning, Sainte-Beuve visits in the evenings when Victor is home and spends many a night listening to Victor pontificate about poetry and literature.  Adele is often a silent presence.

Soon Sainte-Beuve and Adele meet for innocent afternoon teas, but an irresistible love springs up and they begin to meet clandestinely.  Unable to control himself, Sainte-Beuve then commits a gaff which will haunt the love affair forever.

The first chapter of The Reinvention of Love displays a wit which I expected to enjoy for the remainder of this historical fiction novel.  Not so.  The Reinvention of Love rapidly declines into a pity-party by Sainte-Beuve, much like picking a scab so it never heals.  This is intensified by Sainte-Beuve's rare medical condition, a situation that contents Adele, but precludes traditional relationships.

The majority of the novel is told from Sainte-Beuve's point-of-view, interspersed with a few chapters devoted to Adele Hugo's point-of-view.  I quite frankly began to find him rather tiresome.

The promising start to The Reinvention of Love unfortunately does not carry through the novel.

Rating:  ** (Okay)

A-Z April Blogging Challenge - A - Artemisia by Alexandra Lapierre

Well, the A-Z April Blogging Challenged has commenced and I'm 9 hours and 30 minutes behind!  I have a most excellent excuse, however.  Yesterday I participated in an awareness and fundraising event for the Transplant Society.  A heart-rending experience in some ways as donor families and recipients told their stories.  Are you an organ donor?  If not, contact your local or national association and register!

Okay, now onto my theme for the A-Z Blogging Challenge - "Books I Would Like to Read".   Each letter of the alphabet will correspond to the title of a historical fiction novel I would like to read with a brief synopsis.  So, with no further ado:

Artesmisia: A Novel by Alexandra Lapierre (Liz Heron - Translator)

Artemisia Gentileschi, a pioneer female painter of the Italian 17th Century Renaissance, was kept virtually hostage by her famous painter father as his model and student.  That is, until she was raped at the age of 17 by one of her father's associates.  She endured torture and a scandalous trial which proved her veraciousness, but the notoriety ruined her prospects and forced her to leave Rome.

She eventually married (courtesy of a generous dowry), but suffered personal tribulations.  Throughout adversities, she continued to paint and gained the admiration of art fashionatas.

Artemisia: A Novel is a blend of biography and literature.  It appears to be a heavy read, but worth the effort according to reviews.  I was unable to find any other novels concerning Artesmisia as highly regarded as Alexandra Lapierre's.