Tag Archive | historical fiction

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Castles in the Air by Sheila Myers

castles-in-the-air

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In Castles in the Air, author Sheila Myers crafts a tale of greed, ambition, and drive for freedom as she continues the fictional account of the Durant family begun in Imaginary Brightness.

When their father dies, William and Ella are finally free of his domineering control to pursue their ambitions. William is now head of the family. Without his father’s ruthlessness and business savvy, he resorts to creative but dubious financial scheming to save what remains of the family fortune and fulfill his visions of grandeur for the Adirondack wilderness as a playground for the rich.

Ella takes off for London to chase her own dream—to return to high society life, become a successful author, and mingle with literary giants. But she struggles to cope as William tightens the purse strings and restricts her freedom, while her feelings for a gallant and enigmatic French aristocrat turn into obsession.

William and Ella head toward an increasingly inevitable collision as they wrangle over their father’s legacy.

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EXCERPT

“Please excuse us, Anny, but I have urgent family news for Ella, and if you don’t mind I need to whisk her away briefly into the guest room.”

“Don’t tarry; dinner will be served shortly,” she said. Her eyes followed them until Poultney shut the drawing room door behind them.

“The impertinence!” Ella snapped as she finally was able to pull her arm away from Poultney’s.

Poultney ignored her and walked over to the small bar to pour a tumbler of whiskey for himself. He downed it in two swigs and poured another. Then he turned to face Ella.

“Do you even know what you’re doing?”

“What are you talking about?” Ella sputtered.

“That man,” Poultney nodded his head in the direction of the ballroom, “the count. Or so he says.”

“Poultney, I am in no mood for your jealous antics.”

“Hah. Ella, my dear, this is not about me being jealous. It’s about you making a fool of yourself with that scoundrel.”

“He’s a gentleman.”

“And how would you know that?”

Ella puffed herself up and went over to the looking glass that was hanging on the wall to adjust her hair and aigrette.

“He’s only here because that idiot Lord Thompson invited him.” Poultney gestured with the drink in his hand toward the door. “They met yesterday at the racetrack. Thompson was besotted with the Count’s ability to beat the odds and in the process lost a small fortune, which the count graciously covered,” he added sarcastically.

“Well, there you have it then. Only a gentleman would cover the debts of an acquaintance,” Ella said as she fussed with her hairpiece.

“Hah,” Poultney laughed at her as if she were an imbecile. “Only a scoundrel looks for easy prey to lure in, and Thompson, poor drunk, is an easy mark. Now he owes the count not only money, but a favor. How else do you think he ended up here at Mrs. Ritchie’s dinner party where he could scope out ladies dripping in jewels looking for a respite from their tiresome marriages?”

Ella reflexively reached for the pearls at her throat. She rounded on Poultney.

“Speaking of marriages. How is yours to what’s-her-name?”

“Edith, you mean? Convenient. For both of us.” He peered into his glass.

Ella turned back to the mirror and straightened her collar. “She’s not here in London with you then?” She tried to sound as if she didn’t care.

“She’s in confinement again. I left her at our home at Malden-on-Hudson,” he said casually.

“Another child for the happily married couple? And your wife in the States while you travel abroad,” she said, her lips curling. “Hmm, I’d say that is convenient. For you, anyway. But having children does not make one an expert on the state of other people’s marriages, does it?”

“Take a look around you, Ella. Your esteemed friend Mrs. Ritchie is trying to hold on to the reins herself. Her ‘boy-husband’ as he’s called behind his back, has another lover.”

Ella stayed quiet for a moment. Poor Anny, she thought. It was a mistake for her to marry someone seventeen years her junior, especially one so sulky as Richmond. She deserved better.

“Who?” She was ashamed to even ask but couldn’t help herself, realizing the tea parlor chatter she had been exposed to over the past couple of months was not as delicious as this.

“Tennyson’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor.”

“Idle gossip, I’m sure,” Ella scoffed. “Anny told me that Richmond is helping Eleanor sort out her affairs.” Eleanor was recently widowed. From what Anny told her, Lionel Tennyson had been unfaithful while he was alive. It appeared to be an epidemic in London society.

Poultney smirked which annoyed Ella.

“Now, you must excuse me. This ruse of bringing me here under the pretense of a pressing family matter has gone on long enough. Since you have nothing to tell me of William, I shall take my leave and return to the party.” She picked up her skirts to leave.

“Did you know that William is finalizing the sale of the Adirondack Railroad Company any day now and will be quite rich from it?”

Ella stopped in her tracks. “How do you know this? Has William been in contact with you?”

“My dear, you forget I’m a reporter. I don’t need to hear it from your brother. Not that he would tell me anyway.”

He left his spot near the bar and walked over to stand in front of her. She turned around again to face the mirror, pretending to ignore him. As he stepped closer, she smelled the familiar scent of his cologne, mixed with whiskey. She stared at his reflection as he stood behind her, breathing on her neck.

Ella bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling. How humiliating to be confronted by the man who had thrown her off, telling her they were just ‘friends’ and then to have him inform her that her brother was withholding information. It took all of her effort to maintain her composure in front of Poultney. She said, “I’m sure William will be sending word to me soon about these developments.”

“I doubt that,” Poultney said bluntly.

Ella swirled around and glared at him. “How dare you! First you tell me that I’m making a fool of myself in front of friends, and then you tell me I’m a fool for trusting my dear brother.”

Poultney let out a hearty laugh. “Why, Ella. You’re angry. There was a time, if you remember, when I could soothe that passion of yours.” He put his palm on her chest, above her left breast. She could feel her heart beating under its warmth.

“Take your hand off me,” she said. Her voice was thick.

“You’re blushing. I always found that attractive. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “I also remember a time when you moaned under my touch.” He started to move his hand lower on her chest toward her breast, but she raised her left arm to slap him. He grabbed her wrist before she could strike. She then raised her right arm and he gripped that wrist as well. He pinned her arms against the mirror behind her head.

“You’ll break the glass, you fool!” she cried.

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ENTER TO WIN AN eCOPY OF CASTLES IN THE AIR. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

sheila-myersSheila Myers is an Associate Professor at Cayuga Community College. Her first novel. Ephemeral Summer (2014). is a contemporary coming-of-age story set in the Finger Lakes and intertwines many ecological themes throughout the story.

Myers began writing a trilogy on the family of the robber baron, Dr. Thomas C. Durant, after spending time at Camp Huntington, one of the Great Camps built by his son William, on Raquette Lake NY and now owned by SUNY Cortland.

Her essays about her work on the trilogy have been published in Adirondack Life Magazine, History News Network, and ADK Local Magazine. She has been a contributor to numerous online blogs including the Adirondack Almanack, Books by Women, and the New York History Blog.

Her research has taken her to numerous museums and libraries along the East Coast of the U.S. and the Isle of Wight in England. She has been documenting her research on her website: http://www.wwdurantstory.com/blog. You can also find her on Twitter.

RETRO REVIEW: Katherine by Anya Seton

Katherine

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Katherine is an epic novel of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant fourteenth century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who rule despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already-married Katherine. Their affair persists through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. Anya Seton’s vivid rendering of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster makes Katherine an unmistakable classic.

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First published in 1954 by Hodder and Stoughton

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: England 1366 – 1403
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Anya Seton’s Katherinehas pride of place on my bookshelf. Its hard-backed cover is tatty and falling apart; I ‘borrowed’ it from a communal bookshelf in my WRNS quarters when I was a seventeen year-old girl and herewith confess my crime – I never returned it. It’s THAT book, that ONE book that one never forgets, the one that started my fascination with the Plantagenet dynasty and John of Gaunt in particular, and it is a fascination that has never faded. It says a lot about a book when it has rarely been out of print in over sixty years and whose heroine has her own followings, FB groups and associations.

Katherine Swynford was a living, breathing person and her love affair with one of the most powerful men of his time is unforgettable. Obviously Anya Seton ‘padded-out’ the story of this insignificant girl and the glorious Duke of Lancaster but there can be little doubt that this golden god of a man, third son of Edward III, actually loved the woman whom he eventually married.

Anya Seton became intrigued by the story of this little known medieval woman after reading mention of her in a biography about the poet and writer Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom Katherine’s sister, Phillippa was married. She is the ancestor of not one but FOUR great Royal houses, and luckily for us, Ms. Seton travelled to England from America to carry out her research and to tell what I believe to be one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.

Katherine de Roet was the daughter of a Flemish herald and although beautiful (so we’re told by Chaucer and other contemporary sources) was as poor as a church mouse and as insignificant as one too, especially in comparison to the courtiers of Edward III’s entourage. At that time she would have been well below the notice of the great John of Gaunt who had married for dynastically advantageous reasons, as was most often the case with the nobility. Blanche of Lancaster was both beautiful and well dowered, in riches and lands. The sixteen-year-old Katherine was married off to Sir Hugh Swynford, a lowly knight in Lancaster’s retinue and was sent off to live at his run-down Manor House in Lincolnshire – the gatehouse of which still stands today. Blanche of Lancaster bore the Duke three children, including the future Henry IV, but she died at an early age of the plague, and it is believed that Katherine Swynford nursed her until her death. Or at least, this is how Anya Seton explains Katherine becoming known to the Duke. At some point after Blanche’s death and later Hugh Swynford’s too, Katherine and John of Gaunt became lovers and she bore him four illegitimate children over a period of approximately ten years, who became known as the Beauforts.

John still had his duty to perform and whilst carrying on his affair with Katherine, he married Constanza of Castille who bore him one child, a girl, Catherine, who was to become the ancestor of the Royal Line of Spain.

These were hard times in England, and Richard II, just a boy when he inherited the throne following the premature demise of his father, the Black Prince, was supported by his rich, powerful though unpopular uncle, The Duke of Lancaster. After this tumultuous period in British history, Katherine and John’s affair appears to have ended and there were no more recorded children. He devoted himself to his Spanish wife and child and although generally unpopular with the people of England, nevertheless continued to be the right hand-man of his nephew, King Richard II. After her high profile as the Duke’s mistress, Katherine disappeared from public view with her children by Hugh Swynford and her brood of illegitimate children. It is believed that Katherine retired to care for her children, her deceased husband’s estate and most importantly, to repent of her/their sins which had had a bad effect on the popularity of both herself and the duke.

To me though, the most compellingly romantic aspect of the story is how John reacted after his second wife died. At the age of fifty five, he was at last relatively duty-free and able to follow his heart; he returned to marry his Katherine, and the king legitimised their four Beaufort children, by then all fully grown. This was quite an unprecedented move, and the family went on to became very powerful and rich. Their descendants fought for power amongst themselves, a result of which was the Wars of the Roses. Eventually from these family traumas, the Royal lines of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor were born. Quite a woman, our Katherine! From nobody to Royal Duchess and the ancestress of so many great and powerful people. My favourite trope in an historical romance is a rags-to-riches story and this one has to be the most spectacular of all, and not a figment of the imagination either as history shows…“Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.”

For anyone out there who has not read Katherine, is a lover of romance and dazzlingly vibrant, well-researched history, I urge you to read this fantastic novel about one of the greatest love stories of all time. And if anyone has the opportunity to see Katherine’s final resting place – it’s in beautiful Lincoln Cathedral, surrounded by Cathedral Close, where she often stayed and where the local people took her to their hearts as I took her to mine. She died in 1403 and is interred with her daughter, Joan Beaufort/Neville, Countess of Raby.

Mistress of the Court by Laura Purcell

mistress of the court
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Orphaned and trapped in an abusive marriage, Henrietta Howard has little left to lose. She stakes everything on a new life in Hanover with its royal family, the heirs to the British throne. Henrietta’s beauty and intelligence soon win her the friendship of clever Princess Caroline and her mercurial husband, Prince George. But, as time passes, it becomes clear that friendship is the lastthing on the hot-blooded young prince’s mind. Dare Henrietta give into his advances and anger her violent husband? Dare she refuse?

Whatever George’s shortcomings, Princess Caroline is determined to make the family a success. Yet the feud between her husband and his obstinate father threatens all she has worked for. As England erupts in Jacobite riots, her family falls apart. She vows to save the country for her children to inherit – even if it costs her pride and her marriage. Set in the turbulent years of the Hanoverian accession, Mistress of the Court tells the story of two remarkable women at the centre of George II’s reign.

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Publisher and Release Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd, September 2015
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Hanover (1712-1714) and England (1714-1735)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

This absorbing novel revolves around the lives of two early 18th-century women – Princess of Wales, later Queen, Caroline and her devoted servant Henrietta Howard. (A note of explanation to our loyal readers. This book is not an historical romance of the type we frequently review here. True, Henrietta Howard was King George II’s mistress, but theirs was hardly a romantic relationship.)

At age 16, Henrietta, orphaned and responsible for her young siblings, sought the help of distant relatives the Earl and Countess of Suffolk. Ultimately she married their younger son, who turned out to be “wrong-headed, ill-tempered, obstinate, drunken, extravagant and brutal.” Henrietta’s small fortune was tied up in trust for her children, and Charles’s drinking and gambling forced them to move into increasingly squalid accommodations. Henrietta came up with a clever plan: they would travel to the German state of Hanover and ingratiate themselves with the Elector, George Ludwig, heir apparent to Great Britain’s Queen Anne. To do so, however, they had to leave their six-year-old son Henry Howard behind with Henrietta’s brother. Charles agreed to go, primarily as a way of escaping his creditors.

Henrietta’s gambit worked, and soon she was one of the Women of the Bedchamber to Caroline of Ansbach, wife of the future George II, while Charles joined George’s staff. Henrietta was pretty, but not beautiful, witty, charming and intelligent, and she and Caroline formed a friendship of sorts.

Although he loved his wife, George believed that a mistress was a necessary accessory for a prince, so eventually, Henrietta became his mistress, with the full approval of Caroline, who wanted a lady of sense and discretion in that role. It might also be said that the prince wanted to demonstrate that he was not fully under his wife’s control, even though everyone at court knew that she was the power behind the throne.

George was not any woman’s idea of an appealing lover. He was short and stocky, with the bulging Hanover eyes, and moreover, he was moody, bombastic, controlling, and prone to sputtering fits of rage. He considered himself something of an accomplished lover, however, and liked to regale his wife with minute descriptions of his conquests. There is nothing in this book to suggest that Henrietta was especially fond of him, but she knew that he offered her some protection from her brutal husband.

After the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the entire court packed up and moved to London, where they lived under the tyranny of King George I, who began the Hanoverian tradition of treating one’s children abominably. Those abominations are far too many to discuss here, but Henrietta stayed loyal to George and Caroline throughout. Unlike other royal mistresses in history, Henrietta did not exert political influence or get rich from her position. She did receive a stipend from George, but she had to give most of that to her blackmailing husband to keep him quiet. George did give her some gifts, making sure that Charles couldn’t touch them.

It is a sobering reminder of the status of women in the 18th century that when Henrietta left Charles for good, she had to persuade him to sign a “deed of separation,” relinquishing dominion over his wife as though she were a piece of property. In retaliation for her revolt, Charles turned their son Henry against her, with the result that Henrietta and her beloved son never were reconciled. Charles was so awful that even his own brother couldn’t stand him, and he left his unentailed estate to his sister-in-law, with Charles getting only the title and not much more.
After more than 15 years as mistress to the man who was now King George II, Henrietta was tired and ailing. She suffered from hearing loss and severe headaches, possibly the result of Charles’s beatings. Her relationship with the Queen was strained as political factions tried to bring Henrietta into their camps. Her status as countess after Charles became Earl of Suffolk entitled her to a promotion to the position of Mistress of the Wardrobe, which actually meant that Henrietta had fewer duties and could spend more time away from court. Finally, she was able to negotiate her departure from court duties, including the role of mistress, although despite her decades of loyal service the King and Queen were not gracious about it.

With the inheritance from her brother-in-law and a generous gift from the King, Henrietta bought land on the Thames near Twickenham and commissioned the construction of Marble Hill House, a little gem of a Palladian villa. Henrietta lived there for several years before falling in love with and marrying the Hon. George Berkeley, son of the 2nd Earl Berkeley in 1735. By all accounts he was kind, loving, and honest, and they had 11 happy, but too short, years together. After his death Henrietta retired to Marble Hill House, where she died at the age of 78.

Henrietta’s remarkable life is vividly portrayed in Laura Purcell’s historical novel, and she takes no great liberties with the historical facts. Had I not previously read Lucy Worsley’s Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court however, I would have hard a difficult time believing how wretched court life could be. Henrietta and other high-born ladies were nothing more than personal servants, performing the hard and sometimes demeaning work of taking the Queen through her daily dressing routine. Court life was stultifyingly formal and largely boring and miserable for everyone involved. Kensington Palace was cramped and drafty and far from splendid, although the periods spent at Hampton Court sound lovely. Granted the ladies and gentlemen of the court were better fed and clothed than the masses, but their lives at court do not sound the least bit glamorous or romantic.

Henrietta Howard, however, was able ultimately to emerge from this life in triumph and distinction. She counted among her friends Alexander Pope (she is generally supposed to be the model for Chloe in Pope’s The Rape of the Lock), Jonathan Swift, and playwright John Gay (best remembered for The Beggar’s Opera). Her Marble Hill House was widely acclaimed and became the model for English Georgian villas and even American plantation houses. It still stands today under the ownership of English Heritage, where visitors can experience some of the finer aspects of Georgian life.

Laura Purcell is a superb storyteller, and this book is an excellent way to learn more about this period in history. I plan to go back and read her well-received first book Queen of Bedlam, the story of George III’s Queen Charlotte, and I look forward to more volumes in her Georgian Queens series.

Marble Hill House (photo courtesy of English Heritage)

Marble Hill House (photo courtesy of English Heritage)

SPOTLIGHT & GIVEAWAY: The Determined Heart (The Tale of Mary Shelley and Her Frankenstein) by Antoinette May

the determined heart

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The Determined Heart reveals the life of Mary Shelley in a story of love and obsession, betrayal and redemption.

The daughter of political philosopher William Godwin and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley had an unconventional childhood populated with the most talented and eccentric personalities of the time. After losing her mother at an early age, she finds herself in constant conflict with a resentful stepmother and a jealous stepsister. When she meets the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, she falls deeply in love, and they elope with disastrous consequences. Soon she finds herself destitute and embroiled in a torturous love triangle as Percy takes Mary’s stepsister as a lover. Over the next several years, Mary struggles to write while she and Percy face ostracism, constant debt, and the heartbreaking deaths of three children. Ultimately, she achieves great acclaim for Frankenstein, but at what cost?

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Publisher and Release Date: Lake Union Publishing, October 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England and Italy, 1801-1826
Genre: Biographic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

The Determined Heart is a fictionalised biography of Mary Shelley, concentrating primarily on her relationship with her mercurial poet husband, and exploring some of the influences which eventually led her to create her most famous literary work, Frankenstein.

The author’s research has clearly been extensive, and she has made good use of letters and poems by Shelley, Mary, Lord Byron and others throughout the book. Her writing style is communicative and easy to read, although there are times it feels rather too simplistic and lacking in depth; and while the story is quite compelling, it is not a comfortable read.

And therein lies my biggest problem in writing this review, because most of the characters – notably Shelley, Byron, Mary’s father, William Godwin, and her step-sister, Claire – are such horrible people that there were times I felt that I didn’t want to read about them anymore. But much of what happens in the story is a matter of historical fact, and there is no denying that Mary’s life was a fascinating one, one in which she experienced consuming passion, debilitating tragedy and the gamut of emotions in between, all before she reached her thirtieth year.

The book opens with a Prologue set in 1816, during the time that Mary and her husband were living in Italy with Byron, and when she first started to put together the “ghost” story that was ultimately to become her most famous work. We then skip back to 1801 when Mary is just four years old and living comfortably with her older sister and her father, the author and philosopher, William Godwin. As the child of his beloved Mary Wollstonecraft, his pretty, bright daughter is the apple of his eye. But her young life is about to change when Godwin announces his intention to marry a neighbouring widow, who also has two young children. Both are spoiled and brattish, and it soon becomes clear that “Mum” – Jane Godwin – is resentful of the attention Mary receives on account of her parentage and because of her cleverness and good nature.

Mary clearly adores her father, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that he is not the indulgent, loving Papa that he has seemed to be. He takes little interest in his daughters’ upbringing, leaving them entirely to their stepmother’s care, and is far more concerned with his work and with arguing about literature, politics and philosophy with the authors and poets who revere him and orbit around him. Unfortunately, however, the income Godwin receives from his writing is not enough to support the family and they are forced to move from their comfortable home into one of the worst areas of London.

Mary meets Percy Bysshe Shelley for the first time when she is just fourteen and then again, when she is sixteen and returns from school. Bysshe is young, handsome and the heir to a viscountcy – and Godwin wastes no time in tapping him for money, which Bysshe is happy to proffer, seeing as he counts Godwin as the major inspiration in his life and work. Shelley is married with one child and another on the way when he and Mary fall in love; but having espoused the idea of free love which was also embraced by Godwin and his late wife, neither he nor Mary can see anything wrong with the idea of their going away together. But in a classic case of “do as I say, not do as I do”, Godwin furiously disowns Mary and refuses to have any more to do with her.

This is just the beginning of Mary’s troubles. Because of the scandal caused by their running off together, Bysshe’s family cuts him off and with no means of paying his debts, he is forced to go into hiding, leaving Mary, by now several months pregnant, alone in their dingy lodgings. Or rather, Mary is not exactly alone; her step-sister, Claire decides that running away to live with them is better than stagnating at home, so Mary now has to put up with the young woman who made her life miserable from the moment she came into her life. Worse, Bysshe is a man who doesn’t believe in fidelity, and his on-off affair with Claire lasts almost as long as his relationship with Mary.

This is what I meant when I said these were often deeply unpleasant characters. Claire is selfish and resentful of Mary for almost all of her life; Godwin is a hypocrite; Shelley is selfish and egotistical, and comes to resent Mary for the success she achieves with Frankenstein and her other books while his work struggles to find an audience. Mary endures a great deal during these years – almost constantly on the move, putting up with Claire and her constant attention-seeking, and turning a blind eye to Shelley’s other affairs. Mary bore Shelley four children, only one of whom survived to adulthood, and much of the time, she had to bear her grief and devastation alone.

I can’t deny that Mary comes across as too good to be true. She is rather like the long-suffering heroines of the gothic novels which were popular at the time – perhaps this was intentional on Ms May’s part – but this made it difficult to believe in her as a woman of ideas and great intellect.

Before I read the book, I knew only the basic facts about Mary Shelley, and reading this has certainly added to my knowledge. Her life was not an easy one, and she must certainly have been an extraordinary woman to have coped with all the tragedy the fates saw fit to throw at her.

Ultimately, The Determined Heart is an engrossing read, even though it is by no means an easy one.

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TO WIN A PRINT COPY OF THE DETERMINED HEART, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS, AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

a mayAntoinette May is the author of Pilate’s Wife and The Sacred Well and co-author of the New York Times Bestseller Adventures of a Psychic. An award-winning travel writer specializing in Mexico, May divides her time between Palo Alto and the Sierra foothills

The Boleyn Deceit (Boleyn Trilogy #2) by Laura Andersen

bd

Henry IX, known as William, is the son of Anne Boleyn and now the leader of England, his regency period finally at an end. His newfound power, however, comes with the looming specter of war with the other major powers of Europe, with strategic alliances that must be forged on both the battlefield and in the bedroom, and with a court, severed by religion, rife with plots to take over the throne. Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. But as the pressure rises alongside the threat to his life, even they William must begin to question-and to fear….

Publisher and Release Date: Ballantine Books, 5 November 2013

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Tudor England
Genre: Historical Fiction with strong romantic elements
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The Boleyn Deceit picks up more or less where The Boleyn King left off and is, I have to say, even better than its predecessor. With William now king in his own right, the stakes are higher and friendships are going to be tested further than ever.

At the end of the previous book, William had prevented all-out war with France and arranged his betrothal to the young daughter of the King of France as a way of appeasing the Catholic faction in England. His friends Dominic and Minuette helped to avert a Catholic rebellion by discovering the whereabouts of a document purporting to prove that William was not his father’s son. The document turned out to be a forgery, but the religious divide in England is as dangerous as ever with powerful families ranged against each other and ready to tip the country into civil war with little more than the slightest provocation.
Close to the end of the book, Dominic and Minuette had at last admitted the depth of their feelings for each other and had been about to seek William’s permission to marry – when William dropped the bombshell that he loved Minuette and wanted to make her his queen. Knowing that William trusts very few of the people around him and that he needed them and their support at this difficult period in the early days of his reign, Dominic and Minuette opted to stay silent, believing that William would soon outgrow his infatuation.

By the time The Boleyn Deceit opens, however, that shows no sign of happening and people are starting to talk about William’s marked preference for his childhood friend. The rumours have even reached the French court, where the king has the suspicion that Will is going to renege on his betrothal to the princess, an action which would also enrage the English Catholics.

Where the first book concentrated on the friendship of Will, Dominic, Elizabeth and Minuette, this one brings the romance to the fore with Minuette and Dominic desperately in love and unable to be together, and Elizabeth and Robert Dudley in a relationship that is just as frustrating, albeit for different reasons.

For Robert Dudley is married. And Elizabeth knows, deep down, that even had he not been, she would never have been allowed to marry him. I liked the picture Ms Andersen paints of Dudley – he’s so often depicted as an evil schemer, out for his own ends – and while there’s no doubt that he certainly did have an eye to the main chance, it’s made clear here that he’s very much in love with Elizabeth (or as much as a man of his ilk can be in love with anyone). Elizabeth is terribly torn – knowing nothing can come of her fondness for Robert she is simultaneously annoyed with herself for falling for him and unable to resist his attentions. She’s very much the Elizabeth we know – intelligent, learned and devoted to her country. Like Will, she has her father’s temper, but unlike him, she is better at dissembling and able to see more clearly where her own desires are concerned.

Although it is clear that William is a very shrewd young man, well able to weigh his own decisions and to hold his own amid all the intrigues of the court, it’s also apparent that he has inherited his father’s talent for self-deception and his inability to see beyond his own desires when it comes to the woman he wants. Ms Andersen draws many parallels between William’s desire for Minuette and his father’s for Anne Boleyn, and the way that his desperation for one woman caused him to completely disregard the best interests of his country. His passion for Minuette is driving William along the same path and he is unwilling to give her up, believing that if he offers his sister’s hand to Spain, the Catholics will be appeased and that everyone will accept Minuette because he wants them to. But his rashness and his inability to hide his feelings very quickly combine to make Minuette the subject of court gossip – and then worse, a target for those who wish to get the message to Will that she is not an acceptable choice for queen.

While William is the titular focus of the book, the real hero of the story is Dominic, now created Duke of Exeter. Courageous, honourable and fiercely loyal to those he loves, he’s by nature reticent and unobtrusive, despite having been raised to one of the highest offices in the land. He’s the one person Will knows will not flatter him and sometimes it falls to Dominic to say the things that nobody else will. But he hates the deception he and Minuette are having to perpetuate, a deception that seems in danger of tearing them apart. For me, their relationship was the heart of the novel, and I felt for Dominic especially, as he struggled to maintain his customary composure.

And the backdrop to all this is the constantly shifting, constantly hazardous world of sixteenth century court politics and intrigue which our characters must navigate. Will’s uncle, the Duke of Rochford is now Lord Chancellor, and although his power has been somewhat lessened, he is still pulling the strings in the shadows. We are introduced to the man who will become known as Queen Elizabeth’s Spymaster, Francis Walsingham, and also to John Dee, the astrologer and astronomer who also served as one of Elizabeth’s personal advisors.

Minuette is still searching for the man who murdered her fellow lady-in-waiting, Alyce de Clare; Dominic is trying to guide and advise the young king, knowing all the while that he and Minuette are living on a knife-edge; the French king contemplates allying himself with the Scots in order to teach Will a lesson and unrest at home is fostered by some of the oldest families in the land.

Ms Andersen’s meticulous research and her skill in weaving together the strands of reality and fiction sent me running to my history books on more than one occasion, because the action and events evolve so naturally and feel so completely plausible that I started to wonder which was which! I was very impressed indeed with the way she managed to preserve the integrity of certain events in her alternate version of history, and with the way in which the historical figures she employs in the story are still recognisable and very much the people we have come to know through the historical records.

Like The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit ends on a nail-biter of a cliffhanger which left me howling and scrambling to the computer to check when the final book in the trilogy will be coming out (sometime in 2014). You don’t have to have read the earlier book in order to enjoy this one, but I would strongly suggest doing so in order to familiarize oneself with all the different courtiers and characters.

Ms Andersen’s writing is intelligent and well-paced, and all the characters – real and imagined – are well and consistently drawn. The Boleyn Deceit is a terrific read and one I have no hesitation in recommending most highly.

Sultana: Two Sisters by Lisa J. Yarde

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In fourteenth-century Spain, former friends vie for a man’s heart and the future of his kingdom. Both women are captives sold into the harem of Sultan Yusuf I of Moorish Granada. A young girl with a hidden heritage, Esperanza Peralta, forges a new identity as Butayna and becomes the mother of Yusuf’s firstborn son. The Jewess Miriam Alubel takes the name Maryam and also bears Yusuf’s children, including two sons. The clash between former friends is inevitable, as each finds diverging paths in a dizzying rise to power beside their husband. Both remain aware of the struggle ahead, for only one heir may inherit Yusuf’s throne and only one woman can claim the revered title, Mother of the Sultan.

Publisher and Release Date: Alhambra Press, 22 Jult 2013

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: 14th Century, Moorish Spain
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 2

Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Ginger Myrick

Sultana: Two Sisters is the beautifully written and heartrending story of Esperanza Peralta and Miriam Alubel, two friends who are taken captive in a Moorish raid on a caravan in southern Spain. They are separated, and each has only herself to rely upon during their subsequent stay with a slave broker and eventual sale into a royal Moorish harem. They are then forced to compete with each other for the affections of Sultan Yusuf I, who is drawn to each of them for their own distinct talents and personalities. Ultimately, he takes them both as wives, elevating them to Sultanas Butayna and Maryam, the mothers of his royal offspring. Their rivalry continues, perhaps even more fiercely than before, in a plotting, scheming fashion to see their respective firstborn chosen as Yusuf’s successor.

This is realistic, gritty historical fiction that satisfies every qualification of the genre. The sheer research that went into the work is mind-boggling and needs to be recognized in and of itself. The love between Butayna and Yusuf was solid and enduring, and their tender moments only served to make the story more tragic. Reading it with Western eyes was difficult, and my heart cried out at Butayna’s fate for my perceived injustice of the Moorish traditions of harem and multiple wives, and being forced to convert to Islam or suffer the stigma and consequences of clinging to her Christian faith. Her plight simultaneously demonstrates the strength and fragility of the human spirit. I both loved and hated every moment of this book.

That said, this poignant portrayal could only have succeeded with Lisa Yarde’s talented and delicately balanced voice. It is a feat she achieved superbly, and Sultana: Two Sisters is a brilliant work that she should be very proud of. This story is not for everybody, especially those looking for a light read with a happy ending, but I’m certain there are others out there who crave a challenging read, can comprehend the cultural differences, and still appreciate the book without agreeing with the philosophy. To these courageous few, I recommend Sultana: Two Sisters with a hearty thumbs up and genuine enthusiasm.

At the time of review, the Kindle edition of Sultana: Two Sisters was $3.99

Audra by Amanda L.V. Shalaby

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Blurb:

Audra Kingsley, a wealthy heiress, may not have seen much of the world, but she knows exactly how she wants her future to play out – and a coming out ball held at her country estate, Kingsley Manor, would suit her just fine. Her father’s wish that she be presented at St. James in London seems silly since she is to marry her neighbor and childhood sweetheart, Lord Crispin Brighton, but she obliges him.

Audra travels to London with her patroness, the eccentric Lady Sutherland, intending to return home as soon as she has curtseyed to the Queen. Unknown to her, Lady Sutherland is in no rush to leave London before the Season is over and intends to show Audra she has more options in the suitor department than Lord Crispin, a second son.

Audra finds herself surrounded by few friends and is forced to attend parties, balls, and operas – all while becoming the object of a secret admirer’s obsession. As Audra struggles to make her way home to her beloved, plans to compromise her into an unwanted marriage are underway.

Publisher and Release Date: Crimson Romance, 29 April 2013
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting:Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by: Sabrina

When I read the above description I was immediately interested in the story and wanted more. It is very well written and due to the engaging dialog and descriptive scenes I was swept away to 19th century England. This was a great read! I couldn’t put the book down and ended up reading it in one sitting.

As is custom, Lady Audra is to be presented at court. She doesn’t want to be in London, but is determined to make the best of her time away from home. Of course this is before she realizes she have to remain in London for the Season. While an endless round of tea parties and balls doesn’t seem too torturous for most, it is almost unbearable for Lady Audra as all she wants to do is go home to her love, Lord Crispin Brighton.

Lady Audra is sweet, innocent and a bit naïve, but is a lady who knows who she wants and what she wants of their life together. She is steadfast in her affections and that made me like her all the more. And it’s easy to see why. Lord Crispin may not have been always front and center, but we are treated to snippets of their time together. The relationship is treated in a romantic and charming manner. It is clear they are in love as the chemistry fairly jumps off the page. Just a touch or a look and I was trembling right along with Audra. How lovely!

Unfortunately for Lady Audra her time spent in London doesn’t run as smoothly. She and Lady Sutherland are barely on speaking terms, letters to home are going unanswered and while she has made a real true friend or two, she is the recipient of unwelcomed advances from someone she believes is unstable.

As the story progressed I was nervous for Lady Audra and her desired Happily Ever After. Where was Lord Crispin? Why doesn’t she hear from him and why can’t she go home? I thoroughly enjoyed this book and its ending. I can’t think of a better way to pass an afternoon than with this book in hand.

**This title is currently available in digital format for $1.99**

Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter by Kathy Fischer-Brown

Publisher’s Blurb:

As a child, Anne Fairfield dreams of the father she never knew, the hero who died fighting the French and their Indian allies in a land across the sea. Her mother’s stories, and fantasies of her own devising, sustain and nurture her through a poor and lonely existence. Until one winter night, a strange man comes to call, and the life she has known comes crashing down like shattered glass.

Forced to confront sordid truths, secrets and lies, the headstrong young woman begins to learn that, like generations of Darvey women ruled by their hearts, she is destined to follow in their footsteps. Set against the backdrop of 18th century England, Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter is the first book in “The Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, which follows Anne from the rural countryside, to London society and into the center of the American Revolution.

REVIEW AND VIRTUAL TOUR

Goddess Fish Promotions is organizing a Virtual Book Tour for The Serpent’s Tooth Trilogy by Kathy Fischer-Brown, three early American historical fiction novels with romantic elements, currently available from Books We Love Publishing.:
Book one: Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter
Book two: Courting the Devil
Book three: The Partisan’s Wife

Note: Kathy will be awarding $20 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour and a $20 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn host. Enter by Rafflcopter:  http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/6vetdlrwo/

RHL CLassifications

American Revolution

Romantic Historical Fiction

Heating Rating – 1

Review Rating – 4.5

Review by Sabrina

In the late 18th century, Anne Fairfield is an only child growing up under her mother’s love and care. She is led to believe that her father was killed in a battle long ago. The stories are told to her by her mother and family friend, Uncle Francis. Anne dreams of her father constantly and creates an image of him as a hero to be worshiped. When Anne is sixteen years old she is crushed to learn that her father is alive and has come to take her home with him. You see, he is Lord Esterleigh – a wealthy land owner who is eager to have Anne take her rightful place as his daughter and heir. Is Lord Esterleigh too late?

This is a dark novel that deals with the resentment and anger of a girl who has been misled and cannot seem to get past her grief. I believe Anne tries, but just when you think she’s coming around a new entanglement appears to thwart her healing. There is plenty of misunderstanding and lack of communication that keeps the bond between father and daughter from ever forming. How Anne initially deals with her new life is understandable, but as the story moves forward there were plenty of times when I just wanted to shake her.

Life is not all bad as Anne meets and finds comfort in Peter Marlowe. He is the son of life-long friend, Uncle Francis, and seems to be the only one who can draw Anne out of her pain and provide her with a reason to smile. I especially enjoyed the scene leading up to and when Peter realizes who it is he’s befriended.

While not a typical romance, this is a fascinating, complex story that I completely enjoyed. It is well written and entertained me with mystery, suspense, scandal, sinister characters and first love. The ending took me by surprise and I’m eager to see how it all plays out in book #2 – Courting the Devil.

The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster by C.M. Spencer

PUBLISHER’s BLURB:

Set in England during the reign of the Prince Regent, The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster is a tender romantic comedy. Harriet Walters, a twenty-six year old spinster, is evicted from her home and sent to live with a persnickety aunt. Resigned to the life of an unpaid companion, fate intervenes and Harriet becomes an heiress. Leaving her small town life for the glittering attractions of London, Harriet chooses an unconventional path to happiness and love.  It is the author’s hope that people who delight in Jane Austen’s novels will find similar pleasure in The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster.

RHLR Classifications:

Time Frame:  Regency England

Heat Level:  1

Review Rating:  3 Stars

Review by Susan:

By the title of C.M. Spencer’s work of historical fiction The Affairs of Harriet Walters, Spinster, one would expect that the term “affairs’ refers to numerous sexual escapades reflective of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  In fact, the sexual content in the novel is G-rated.  Also extrapolated from the title is the term “spinster” which acts as a clue to her occupation similarly to the way “esq” stands for esquire or attorney after one’s name.  In fact, being a spinster is not an occupation for Miss Harriet Walters but her lot in life which changes by the close of the novel.

The story launches with Miss Harriet Walters and her mother Edwina finding themselves dependent on the charity of family members when Harriet’s father dies forcing the two women to leave their home in Willoway.  Edwina moves in with her younger daughter Helen and her husband Sinclair Watts.  Harriet, however, moves in with her mother’s sister Edna who resides in Rexton outside of Bath, England.

As the story rolls along so does Harriet, rolling along with the hand that life deals her, making the best out of living with her overbearing, judgmental, and obnoxiously strict aunt.  Brightening her stay is Mr. Joseph Ash, the history master at the boys’ school.  They forge a genuine rapport being honest with each other whether for better or worse.

Harriet’s course takes an unexpected twist when Mrs. Mabel Evans, a neighbor of Edna whom Harriet befriends, dies and leaves a parcel of her family’ property, the income from it, and her home in Rexton to Harriet.  This good fortune has a profound effect on Harriet who experiences a surge of independence with this newfound financial security.  She goes to London and stays with Mabel’s daughter Diane and her husband Edward Fitzwilliam.

In London, Harriet is exposed to a wider range of people including an heiress hunter Augustus Bell, an elderly widower Colonel York, and an aspiring nurse Abigail Pope.  She also indulges her adventurous nature by going to the opera, theatre, and society balls, in addition to visiting London’s opulent sites like Westminster Abbey, Hyde Park, and the British Museum.  Other than the descriptions used to picture the interior of a local church, the settings are rather bland or scarcely mentioned. 

After a period of exerting her free spirit, Harriet returns to Rexton where her financial standing allows her to make decisions without requiring her aunt or mother’s approval.  All of her life, Harriet had done what her family expected.  With this newfound wealth, she becomes an active participant in her life making her own choices and living as she wishes.

Spencer’s narration is reminiscent of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott where the reader is a spectator and the leading female role alternates between being passive and assertive.  Sometimes the story is hard to follow and the reader must re-read passages to grasp who is who and what is happening.

There is also a resemblance to Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations where similarly to Pip, Harriet rolls along with life until a change enables her to take some control over her life.  By distancing the reader from the characters, the story feels flat even when Spencer inserts modern expressions meant for contemporary audiences to relate to such as characters looking like a “country Madonna”, having “mixed feelings”, concocting a “powerful restorative”, and “bacheloring it in private rooms”.  The characters are plain in texture and two-dimensional, and the lessons are elementary making for an ordinary plot as though the reader has encountered this story before.

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown

Summerset Abbey

BLURB

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society in this stunning series starter that fans of Downton Abbey will love.

Rowena Buxton

Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.

Victoria Buxton

Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever…

Prudence Tate

Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

RHFL Classifications

Young/New Adult Historical Fiction

1910s England

Heat level: 1

Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Reviewed by Evangeline Holland

Reminiscent of the ITV/PBS series Downton Abbey, Brown kicks off her trilogy with the story of three different but intriguing young women living on the cusp of the First World War. The blurb is pretty self-explanatory about the entire plot of this first book–which is just as jam-packed with characters, luscious drama, and the elegant setting everyone enjoys about Downton. Beware, this ends on a massive cliffhanger that will leave you salivating for books two and three to tie everything up!