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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

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In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

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EXCERPT

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It is the summer of 1791. Jane Austen, aged fifteen, is in Kent to celebrate the engagement of her brother Edward Austen to Miss Elizabeth Bridges. Although Jane is not yet “out,” her mother has allowed her to attend a ball at Goodnestone Park, home of the Bridges family, and let her follow the fashion by powdering her hair for the first time. Jane is very attracted to a cousin of the Bridgeses, Edward Taylor, and has been hoping all evening that he would ask her to dance.

The ball-room was grown very hot now, and as we moved down the line I was all in a glow; the air was close as well, from the exertion of so many dancers. Even so, by the next set, I was so enjoying myself, that I believe I could have partnered with anybody and been content; and it was that moment that Edward Taylor materialised at my elbow with a smile, and said:

“May I have the honour of the next dance, Miss Jane?”

With his gleaming natural hair, he stood apart from everyone else in the room, an effect which was startling but not at all displeasing; indeed, I could not deny that he looked very handsome.

“You may, Mr. Taylor,” replied I, adding in my mind: I thought you would never ask.

I happily took Edward Taylor’s arm, we moved into line, the music started up, and the set began. From the very first moment—the graceful manner in which he danced and held his arms, and the commanding way his eyes held contact with mine through every step and rotation—it became clear that he was a far more skilful and experienced partner than anyone else with whom I had engaged that evening.

As the formations permitted, we engaged in the following conversation:

“I have been hoping to dance with you all evening, mademoiselle,” commented he.

“Oh?”

“Every time I looked, you were already engaged.”

“I did not avoid you by design.”

“I am glad to hear it. Do I understand correctly that this is your first ball?”

“Oui.”

“You surprise me. I would have thought you a veteran.”

“I have had a lesson or two, sir. As have you, I would wager?”

“One or two.”

“No doubt your father engaged dancing-masters for you since you were very small?”

“He did.”

“And I suppose you have spent many years dancing in the ball-rooms of Europe?”

“Guilty as charged.—But none were more pleasant than this one—and no partner was ever more skilled or becoming.”

“You are a great flatterer, sir.”

“I speak only the truth.”

“Indeed? You said something earlier which puzzled me.”

“Pray, what was that?”

“You remarked that I look very noble.”

“And indeed you do.”

“I cannot tell if that is a compliment or a criticism.”

“Cannot you?”

“No. Ordinarily, noble implies—”

I was unable to complete my statement, for the dance ended with the usual courtesies, and a second dance immediately followed, its movements involving a group of six people, and so complex as to prevent further conversation. When we had finished the set (which afforded me more pleasure than I could have imagined), the musicians took an interval, and Edward Taylor inquired as to whether I would like a glass of punch. Having acquired same from a table in the central hall, we were lingering in a corner to sip the beverage, when I returned to the question which I had put to him earlier.

“With regard to our previous discussion—I cannot decide if I like being called noble.”

“Why not? I should think it flattering to be compared to an aristocrat or patrician.”

“Had someone else uttered the remark, or had you made it in a different way, perhaps it might have been flattering; but not the way you said it.”

“Oh?” He looked at me directly, but did not reply; he seemed to be attempting to take a measure of my thoughts, before formulating his own response. I continued:

“Pray forgive me, for I do not mean to seem impertinent; I know you are acquainted with, perhaps good friends with, many people from the noble class, as well as from the royal families of Europe—”

He nodded silently, waiting to hear what I had to say.

I rushed on. “Although I have had less exposure to such persons myself, I have been taught all my life to have the greatest respect for them. And yet, certain things I have read and heard have led to me to imagine that class to be filled with many self-important people, who believe themselves to be far above the rest of us, although in truth the only thing which sets them apart is the accident of their birth.”

My comment seemed to take Edward Taylor by surprise; he laughed. “You are a bold young lady, Miss Jane.”

“Am I? Why? Have I shocked you?”

“On the contrary; you have put into words my own thoughts exactly; feelings which certain of my brothers and I have shared for a great many years, but have never been allowed to express openly with anyone else, other than each other.”

“Then you do have an antipathy towards the noble class?”

“Not an antipathy, no; not at all.” Noting that my glass was empty, he inquired as to whether I wished more, and upon receiving a negative reply, he graciously relieved me of it, and returned both empty vessels to the table. “I have found many people of rank and title to be very amiable,” continued he, “but I have met enough of them, and known them well enough, to understand their weaknesses and see through their pretences. I cannot look up to them as a sort of divine presence, as some do. At heart I feel their equal, just as you do.”

It was pleasing to learn that we shared this point of view, yet it still did not answer my primary question. “Did you truly mean to flatter me, then, when you called me noble? Or, as I suspect, was there some other, less than charitable intent behind the word?”

He regarded me with a deep and thoughtful expression, and at length said:

“Perhaps, although I was unconscious of it at the time, there is something in what you say; for although I would never deliberately wish to give offence to you or anyone else, there are certain practices of the noble set which I find less than appealing—and one practice in particular, which is very much in evidence to-night.”

I thought I could guess the practice to which he referred; and the particular direction of his next, brief glance confirmed it. “I take it you mean—hair powdering?”

He nodded.

“Then—you did not powder your hair to-night as some kind of—protest?”

“You could call it that. I prefer to think of it as the expression of a personal conviction.”

“A conviction? Please explain yourself. What is wrong with hair powdering?”

“What is right with it?”

“It is beautiful.”

“Beauty is a matter of taste.”

“But—everyone does it.”

“Not everyone; only those who can afford it. Hair-powder is expensive. It is an affectation of the upper classes.”

“You call it an affectation; others call it fashion.”

“And what is fashion, but mannerisms, styles, and clothing which are generally determined by royalty or the wealthy, and imitated by everyone who has the means? Look at all the heads around us, Miss Jane. Everyone looks exactly the same! God gave us hair in such a range of exquisite, natural shades and textures; why cover up that beauty with a wig, or defile it with powder? Particularly white or gray powder, which makes everyone look so incredibly ancient.”

“I never thought about that before.”

“The whole thing has always seemed rather silly to me.”

“Perhaps it is silly.” I shrugged. “But—silly things do not appear quite so silly, when they are done by a sizeable number of rational-seeming people all at the very same time.”

GIVEAWAY

To celebrate the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

JAFL Grand PrizeTo enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter.

The White Princess (The Cousins’ War #5) by Philippa Gregory

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When Henry Tudor picks up the crown of England from the mud of Bosworth field, he knows he must marry the princess of the enemy house Elizabeth of York to unify a country divided by war for nearly two decades.

But his bride is still in love with his slain enemy, Richard III and her mother and half of England dream of a missing heir, sent into the unknown by the White Queen. While the new monarchy can win power, it cannot win hearts in an England that plots for the triumphant return of the House of York.

Henry’s greatest fear is that somewhere a prince is waiting to invade and reclaim the throne. When a young man who would be king leads his army and invades England, Elizabeth has to choose between the new husband she is coming to love and the boy who claims to be her beloved lost brother: the rose of York come home at last.

Publisher and Release Date: Touchstone, July 2013

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Tudor England
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Rating: 1.5
Review Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Lizzie English

This story starts right after the Battle of Bosworth and while Henry Tudor has won the crown, he has not yet been anointed King. Elizabeth was betrothed to Henry for years even as she was the lover of Richard III, but did not think much would come of it. That is until Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, tells her that she is to be Henry’s Queen consort, but only if she can produce an heir. It takes Elizabeth the entire book to come to terms with the fact she married her enemy. And that she really truly did not know her mother or any of her family, for that matter.

Elizabeth isn’t a very stable character. It takes the littlest thing for her to change her opinions and it really doesn’t seem as though she has any of her own, and nor does she know much of what goes on in the book. Keeping her in the dark is a deliberate tactic of her mother’s in order to make it difficult for Henry and  his Mother to accuse her of any treason. She lives a lot in the past constantly thinking of her dead lover – the former King Richard III – and how it would’ve been if her first born Arthur had been his child. She often comes off as needy and desperate, wanting to be Henry’s confidant but still telling herself that she hates him.

These are two characteristics that her husband Henry VII displays as well. Through Elizabeth’s eyes, Henry is cynical, doesn’t trust anyone (except his mother) and is full of anger. She never really tries to understand him, which is a shame, because she does show that she ends up loving him and he, her. Their love started as hatred as Henry basically rapes Elizabeth before their wedding in order to beget a child. Through all of his actions, Elizabeth keeps saying it’s her “wifely duties” but the scenes do not come off that way. It’s very awkward to read their encounters, as she is basically a board who lays there for him.

Historically, this can get really confusing. The story is told in a linear way, but it’s still hard to keep track of what exactly is going on. Mostly because Gregory just uses some of the real historical facts but continues the story that she wrote about in The White Queen (Cousin’s War 1) so in order to get a lot of what Elizabeth’s mother references, it may be necessary to read the first book. The main conflict of the story, besides Elizabeth verses her mother-in-law, is that of Perkin Warbeck, the young Flemming who is thought by some to have been one of the missing Princes from the Tower. This is where the story takes a bit of deviation of the truth. [Later, in the Authors Notes, Gregory notes this as well.] As this is most of the conflict I won’t say anything to spoil it all. As for Prince Arthur and Prince Henry (who becomes Henry VIII) nothing much is mentioned about either of them, which is such a missed opportunity. But when they do appear there are hints into their future.

It may sound like there are lot of complaints but this story is very pessimistic, it being a time of constant war as the Cousin’s war isn’t really over until Henry VIII starts his reign (which does not happen in this book.) The book is highly enjoyable with all of the deceptions and intrigue between Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret Beaufort. It would’ve been much more enjoyable if this was part two of the stories of Elizabeth and Margaret, because it would’ve been interesting to see their point of view during this time.

Lady of Passion by Freda Lightfoot

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Beautiful and talented actress, poet and fashion icon, Mary Robinson was one of the most famous women of her time – yet she died virtually penniless, her reputation in ruins. For Mary was destined always to be betrayed by the men she loved – her father, her husband and, most seriously, by the Prince of Wales, later George IV, for whom Mary gave up her career, her husband and her independence, only to be cruelly abandoned. This is her enthralling story: a tale of ambition, passion, scandal and heartbreak.

Publisher and Release Date: Severn House Digital, 1 October 2013
RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Georgian England
Genre: Romantic Biographical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lady of Passion is a brief, but fairly comprehensive account of the life of Mary Robinson, one of the mistresses of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV). I know little about her, other than of her relationship with George and that he became enamoured of her when she was playing the role of Perdita in The Winter’s Tale. What I hadn’t known was that in her later years, she became well known as a poet and author – in fact, she had written poetry all her life and the publication of the odd volume here and there in fact helped to keep her financially solvent.

While in many ways she appears to have been dreadfully naïve – mostly about the men in her life – she was witty and intelligent, counting a number of political and literary figures among her friends – people such as David Garrick, Joshua Reynolds, Richard Sheridan, the Duchess of Devonshire and Charles James Fox. Even though Mary is principally known for having been the mistress of a prince and a handful of other men, she appears to have been a woman of independent spirit (given the way her men treated her, I think she had little alternative!), and in fact struck up a friendship with Mary Wollstonecraft, the famous advocate of women’s rights in the 1790s.

Mary’s life wasn’t an easy one. Her father abandoned her and her mother when she was quite young, and while not destitute, they found it difficult to make ends meet. Barely out of girlhood, Mary was already attracting male attention and at the age of fifteen, and with her mother’s encouragement, she gave up her dream of a career on the stage and married Thomas Robinson, a young lawyer with good prospects.

Unfortunately however, Robinson proved to be dissolute and faithless, frequenting the gambling tables, taking a string of mistresses, and ultimately landing them in debtor’s prison.

Despite her husband’s infidelities, Mary never strayed, even though she was never short of men offering to act as her protector. It wasn’t until she attracted the interest of the young Prince of Wales (at seventeen, he was about five years her junior) that Mary finally fell in love and was convinced to break her marriage vows.

Their relationship was not long-lived, partly due to the pressure brought to bear on George by his father, and partly, I would imagine, through George’s own inclination. When their affair ended, Mary, having given up her stage career, was left with little alternative but to find herself another protector.

Mary’s life seems to have been one of high peaks and low troughs. Blissfully happy with her Prince, she was devastated when he abandoned her; having lived well beyond her means, she had to flee to the continent to escape her creditors, and when she returned three years later, she had been all but forgotten. Even though she was regarded as a demimondaine (a woman whose sexual promiscuity means she is not respectable in the eyes of good society), Mary did not take many lovers, and was faithful to those she did. When she finally met the man she described as the love of her life some years later, their fifteen-year relationship was a tempestuous one during which Mary had a traumatic miscarriage which seems to have brought on the rheumatism that afflicted her until her death.

One of the things that struck me as rather ironic was the fact that the press back in the 1780s seems to have acted in a very similar manner to today! As a famous actress, celebrated beauty and former royal mistress, Mary was often the target of unpleasant gossip in the news-sheets, and in the book, she frequently laments her regular inclusion in them, especially considering that the stories about her are untrue. Plus ça change, indeed.

Mary comes across as an odd mixture of the naïve and the knowing. For an intelligent woman, she certainly made some bad decisions when it came to the men in her life, most of whom betrayed her with other women and were content to be financially dependent upon her. What that says about the men of that time, I’m not sure; perhaps Mary was a victim of her own circumstances – her beauty, her lack of fortune and a father-figure seem almost to have given her little choice as to the direction her life would take – or perhaps she suffered because of her own poor choices.

Whatever the case, hers is a compelling story. However, I do have reservations about the book which prevented me from rating it more highly; things which are to do with the execution rather than the content.

This is a matter of personal preference, I know, but I am not fond of historical fiction written in the first person. I find the viewpoint is often too limited, the style too simplistic and that it frequently leads to clunky exposition of the “as you know, Bob” variety, where information is inserted into conversations or thoughts in a very unrealistic manner because there is no other way to convey it to the reader.

But a review is always going to be subjective and as such, I recognise that others may not share my tastes. Were I rating the book for content alone, I would probably have given it 4 stars. Lady of Passion was easy to read and I got through it in two or three sittings. The story moves quickly – sometimes too quickly as I felt that there were times things were glossed over, but it did hold my interest, and I enjoyed reading it.

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm

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That’s my last duchess painted on the wall… Seduced by the hot sun and blinding passions of Renaissance Italy, sixteen-year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici sees a gilded life stretching ahead. Her wealthy new husband handpicked her to be his bride, and his great castle in Ferrara will be her playground. But Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara quickly proves to be just as dangerous and mysterious as he is dark and handsome, and the stone walls of the castle seem to trap Lucrezia like a prison.

Only the duke’s lover Francesca seems able to tame his increasing fury, as his desperate need to produce an heir drives him deep into precarious obsession. With her head full of heartbroken dreams, Lucrezia flees from him down a dangerous path that may cost her everything.

Step into the elegant world of the Robert Browning poem “My Last Duchess,” as imagined by Gabrielle Kimm, where she brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara. It is a chilling story of forbidden love and dark decadence that will haunt you.

RHL CLASSIFICATIONS:

Italian Renaissance

Romantic Biographical Fiction

Heatl level: 2

Reviewer rating: 4 stars

REVIEW BY JILL:

In July 1559, Tuscany sixteen year-old Lucrezia de’ Medici is affianced to Alfonso, Duke of Ferrara. It is on the surface at least, a good match, the young, beautiful and wealthy Lucrezia and the handsome, intelligent and titled Alfonso. Three months later they are married. But it is on their wedding night that any hope of a fulfilled and happy marriage begins to unravel.

The marriage is left unconsummated, with Lucrezia feeling abandoned, unfulfilled and bewildered. Alfonso is mortified, ashamed and questioning his inability to perform with Lucrezia, as his lusty sexual appetite has never failed before. This failure on the wedding night then sets the tone for the rest of their marriage.

As Lucrezia becomes disenchanted with her husband and marriage she takes an interest in the fresco that Fra Pandolf, a celebrated artist and his apprentice Jacomo are preparing to piant in the Castello. She is attracted to the tall, dark-haired and talented Jacomo, finding in him the fulfillment and love that she she craves and hoped for with Alfonso.

With Alfonso still impotent with Lucrezia, he becomes increasingly worried, as without an heir, the Pope intends to reclaim the rights to the Duchy of Ferrara. Alfonso spirals downward into despair and madness, blaming the innocent Lucrezia for his problems and finally decides upon a drastic solution.

Although Alfonso and Lucrezia were real, it is unknown exactly what happened to Lucrezia after three years of marriage. There is speculation she died of natural causes, that she was murdered by Alfonso or that she was committed into a convent. Gabrielle Kimm has woven her very own story about the fate of Lucrezia based on the poem by Robert Browning. This is Gabrielle Kimm’s debut novel. She has written a beautiful story, rich in historical detail and researched thoroughly. Her descriptions of the manufacture of lime (used for the frescoes), the preparation and painting of frescoes, the sport of falconry are impressive and add to the 16th century atmosphere of this historical fiction.

This novel moves briskly with its captivating love story and wonderful history. Though initially (throughout Part I) the narrative did seem slow with constant references to sex. Characters seemed to be thinking, talking or having sex. Or thinking about having sex. Or talking about sex while having sex. However, these constant references are understandable, as we soon discover the whole crux of the novel stems from the sexual dysfunction of the central male character, Alfonso. Highly recommended as a romantic historical fiction and I look forward to Gabrielle Kimm’s next work based on Francesca, a secondary character in His Last Duchess and mistress to Alfonso.

**This title is currently available in digital format for $2.99**
Note: For another wonderful account of Lucrezia de’Medici’s mysterious death, try ‘The Second Duchess’ by Elizabeth Loupas, which is coincidentally a debut historical fiction, also based on the poem by Robert Browning.

Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

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From the author of A Rose for the Crown and Daughter of York comes another engrossing historical novel of the York family in the Wars of the Roses, telling the fascinating story of the rise and fall of the final and favourite mistress of Edward IV.

Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore—but her heart belongs to another. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane Shore from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain and friend, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows his King will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as that of Jane Shore and Will Hastings, hang in the balance.

This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for 500 years, and told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.

RHL Classifications:

Time and Setting: Medieval England
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Despite the fact that few details of the private life of Jane Shore are actually known, she has nonetheless been the subject of a number of plays and historical novels, including The Goldsmith’s Wife by Jean Plaidy, and now this, the latest novel from Anne Easter Smith.

Born Elizabeth Lambert, Jane was born into a reasonably well-to-do merchant’s family, and was married to William Shore, who was – like her father – a mercer by trade (and not a goldsmith as had been believed until fairly recently). She is reputed to have been very beautiful and both her father and her husband were not above exploiting this fact in order to gain custom; she was also intelligent, witty and well-mannered, her daily life in the running of her father’s business having brought her regularly into contact with well-born ladies whose behaviour and deportment she was able to observe.

Royal Mistress tells Jane’s story from just before the time of her marriage until almost the end of her life, taking as its final event, the true story of a chance meeting between Jane – now in her sixties – and Sir Thomas More, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII.

Jane is an attractive character and her story is told in a very straightforward manner. She is vivacious, generous and down-to-earth and does not take the decision to become King Edward IV’s mistress at all lightly. During her time with him, Jane earned herself the name of The Rose of London for her kindness and generosity towards those who asked for her help and the fact that she never forgot her origins or used her status as the King’s mistress to enrich herself or to ride roughshod over the people of her own class.

If there was one thing about this fictionalised version of Jane that didn’t ring true however, it was her nine-year infatuation with Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest son, Tom Grey. The author has him and Jane literally bumping into each other in the street at the beginning of the book; having then arranged a secret assignation in order to seduce Jane, Tom realises she is expecting declarations of love and a proposal – and he confesses that he is already married. They see each other only a very few times over the course of the book and yet Jane – even when she is happily sharing Edward’s bed – is still fixated on Tom. It’s true that Jane did become Tom Grey’s mistress after Edward’s death; and although I imagine the torch Jane carries for Grey is the author’s invention, I did find that Jane’s constant hankering for him became annoying very quickly.

Jane’s relationship with Edward seems to have been one of mutual affection. She appears to have conducted herself modestly and gained the respect of much of the court for her common sense, wit and good manners. But although Jane has always known her position to be a somewhat precarious one, it is only when Edward becomes ill suddenly and dies – aged only forty – that she realises just how precarious it is. For me, this was when the book really started to come to life as Jane’s life is turned upside down and she becomes unwittingly involved in a Woodville plot to wrest the Protectorate from Edward’s brother Richard.

It was at this point – around half-way through the book – that I thought things moved up a gear and I began to feel a greater engagement with the story than I had up until then. The pacing picks up as Jane is swept up in events she does not fully understand, and I thought the scenes in which she and Hastings say farewell for what will turn out to be the last time, were truly heartfelt.

On a personal level, I was pleased to discover that the narrative is written in the third person omniscient rather than the first person as seems to be the favoured viewpoint for so much of the historical fiction being written today. This means that the author is able to include scenes depicting events of which Jane could have no knowledge without having to resort to too much of the “as you know, Bob”, style of dialogue in having someone later recount to her in order to keep the reader informed. That’s not to say that this doesn’t happen in the book – it does. But it’s not as frequent or intrusive at it might otherwise have been.

I imagine that authors of historical fiction have a difficult line to tread when it comes to deciding on the level of detail to include. Is your audience likely to have a reasonable background knowledge of the period about which you are writing, or do you assume it knows next to nothing? I venture to suggest that if you fall into the latter category, you will find Royal Mistress to be engaging and informative; but if, like me, you are in the former group, you might find it to be somewhat simplistic in tone with a little too much repetition as to who everyone is, what is their position at court, to whom they are related and so on.

That said, I think the book does have plenty to recommend it. I found it enjoyable overall; the story is well-told, Jane is an attractive and sympathetic protagonist and some of the secondary characters – such as William Hastings and Thomas Lyneham – are very nicely drawn indeed. The historical detail has been well-researched, and even when I didn’t completely agree with the author’s interpretation of some of the historical figures (Richard of Gloucester was frequently presented as a po-faced killjoy, for example) I could understand why she had made those decisions.

I’m not sure that Royal Mistress is a book I will re-read in the near future, but I would certainly say that it is worth reading if you are interested in the tumultuous events of the latter part of the fifteenth century and in the lives of the last two Plantagenet monarchs.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at Caz’s Reading Room and at my Goodreads page, so please come and say hello!

Gamestresses of the Georgian Age by Emery Lee

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(scene from BARRY LYNDON)

Notorious in history for its high stakes gambling, the Georgian age was an era characterized by a rapacious greed that seemingly could only be satisfied at the gaming tables; a time of growing prosperity in which men who were once wont to be satisfied with safe investments and moderate gains were taken of a sudden by a fever to wager. Nowhere was this more evident than amongst the aristocracy, who lacking the industry and virtue inherent to the middle class, chose instead to cultivate such idleness and vice.

While it is no secret that this frenzy of mindless wagering overtook so many men to the point of losing entire fortunes, far less has been said over the years of the many women who were also taken with this malevolent malady. No longer a strictly male vice, the Georgian age saw the corruption of a great number of women as more and more genteel gaming venues opened their doors to the fairer sex, many of whom eagerly joined their male compatriots at Hazard, Piquet, Basset, Faro, EO, Roulette, and Rouge et Noir.

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One of many aristocratic women caught up in the rage was Miss Pelham, an unwed daughter of the Prime Minister, who was notoriously addicted to gaming. Horace Walpole gives this pitiful account:

“Poor Miss Pelham sitting up all night at the club without another woman, losing hundreds and her temper, beating her head, and exposing herself before the young men and the waiters.”

While another contemporary says of her:

“I have seen her at that villainous faro table putting the guineas she had perhaps borrowed on a card with the tears running down her face…”

Another less pathetic but equally infamous Georgian gamestress was the actress Kitty Clive who was said to have flown into a rage when an elderly white-haired lady beat her at cards:

“Two black aces!” she cried. “Here, take your money, though I wish instead I could give you two back eyes, you old white cat!”

Surprisingly, rather than being frowned upon by the Crown, play for money by either gender was even encouraged as entertainment at the Royal residences. The Gentleman’s Magazine in 1731 chronicles the winnings of their Majesties George II and Queen Caroline, and even the young royal princesses when they played Hazard.

Marie Antoinette

Yet, Joseph Addison’s essay from The Guardian, (29 July 1713) sheds much more light on the growing addiction:

“Could we look into the mind of a female gamester, we should see it full of nothing but Trumps and Mattadores. Her Slumbers are haunted with King, Queens and Knaves. The Day lies heavy upon her till the Play-Season returns, when for half a dozen Hours each day her Faculties are employed in Shuffling, Cutting, Dealing and Sorting out a Pack of Cards, and no Ideas to be discovered in a Soul which calls itself rational, excepting little square Figures of painted and spotted Paper.”

Addison further warns of the great toll gaming takes on a woman’s body as well as her soul:

“ The Beauties of the Face and Mind are generally destroyed…there is nothing that wears out a fine Face like the Vigils of the Card-Table…hollow eyes, haggard look, and pale Complexions are the natural Inclinations of a female Gamester. Her morning sleeps are not able to repair… in short, I never knew a thorough-paced Female Gamester hold her Beauty two Winters together.”

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While the likes of Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire might be able to lose thousands in a night without much worry, woe to the woman who wagered and lost above what she could afford. In 1714, Edward Ward writes in his satirical essay Bad Luck to him that has her; Or The Gaming Lady:

“ her jewels are carried privately into Lumbard Street that Fortune may be tempted the next night with another sum borrowed of my Lady’s Goldsmith or at the extortion of a Pawnbroker; and if that fails, then she sells off her wardrobe…”

Addison finishes with this shocking warning:

“there is still another Case in which the Body is more endangered as all Play-Debts must be paid in specie, or by an Equivalent. While the Man that plays beyond his income may pawn his Estate; the Woman must find something else when her pin-money is gone… When the Female body is once Dipp’d, if the Creditor be very importunate, I leave my reader to Consider the Consequences….”

A similar admonition to female gamblers is poetically repeated in the 1770 play The Oxonian by George Coleman the Elder:

“Lo! Next to my prophetic eye there starts,

A beauteous gamestress in the Queen of Hearts…

So tender there if debts crowd fast upon her,

She’ll pawn her “virtue” to preserve her “honour”

FORTUNE’S SON -AUTHOR’S COMMENTARY

FS AwardPassion, drama and excitement fill the pages my follow-up to THE HIGHEST STAKES. Set deep in the world of 18th century gaming, FORTUNE’S SON immerses the reader in a time and place where nothing is sacred, and virtually anything might be wagered on the turn of a card or roll of the die.

Beginning with their first chance meeting over a Hazard table, and with motives known only to themselves, FORTUNE’S SON chronicles the tumultuous romantic journey between a young but seasoned gamester, and a widowed courtier who refuses to be the next Royal Mistress, regardless of what it might cost.

Experiencing the agonies and ecstasies of the gaming tables, Philip Drake and Lady Susannah Messingham precariously navigate their way in the high-stakes world of  card sharps, courtesans, and the intriguers of Georgian England. As their tale of passion and drama plays out, they are led through hardship, heartbreak and loss, before final culmination in redemption and enduring love.

With romance, a bit of adventure, and the excitement of gaming, coupled with a supporting cast of the wits, gamesters, sporting men, and roués of Georgian England, I promise great fun and a riveting read!

**This title is currently $.99 on Amazon**

EXCERPT FROM FORTUNE’S SON by Emery Lee

Having chanced trente-et-le-va, and unable to turn back, Sukey shut her eyes in an attempt to channel her energy into one thought, as if she could actually will the queen to appear. With hands clenched and breath bated, she awaited the next flip of the cards.

“Four wins, seven loses.”

“King wins, six loses.” “The talliere continued in an almost soothing monotone, but with every call of the cards, Sukey pulse rose and abated like an incoming tide.

“Ace wins, five loses.”

Unable to help herself, she peeked through a slit in her lids to fix upon the long, white, manicured, fingers, methodically turning over cards the cards by twos.

“Eight wins, six loses.”

Her heart slammed against her chest, and her nails clawed at the thick baize, as deck continued to dwindle, with the queen yet to appear.

With only three cards remaining, panic pervaded her.

The talliere curled his lips ever so subtly, calling the final cards without even glancing down. “Four wins…Queen loses.”

“Damme, but what a rousing run!” George exclaimed in the drama of the moment. At Philip’s death glare, he mumbled his excuses and disappeared into the crowd.

Susannah stared blindly, but when the scales dropped from her eyes, the agonizing truth was revealed… the banker had controlled the game all along.

With this comprehension, Sukey’s mind whirled like a top. It was gone. All of it. Gone. The words resounded in her brain like a clanging cymbal. Her stomach roiled, and her world came crashing down.

Her widow’s jointure was insufficient even to maintain her home and servants. Her carriage was sold and jewels pawned. Now, nothing remained. She clutched the table’s edge for fear her legs would no longer sustain her. Oh dear Lord, what have I done?

Although Sukey knew the banker could not sue her over a gaming debt, Parliament having long ago taken steps to purge the bowels of jurisprudence with such civil suits, the reigning social order had its own irrefutable laws. Should she fail to make good on a “debt of honor, social ostracism awaited.

Designing to stall, she appealed Weston with wide plaintive eyes. “I shall require a bit of time, you understand.”

“But of course, madame.” Although his manner was solicitous, the banker’s slate eyes, glittered beneath hooded lids, as if she were a piece of ripened fruit he was hungry to devour. “Perhaps we might repair to a more private venue to negotiate some… acceptable terms.”

She swallowed convulsively, knowing exactly what his terms would be. Overcome with shame, she cursed herself a thousand times over her sack of self-restraint. Although standing in the periphery of her vision, just over her shoulder, Sukey dared not even cast her head in Philip’s direction, for fear of the recrimination she would find reflected in his eyes.

By sheer recklessness, she had played right into Weston’s hand, achieving precisely what she had meant to avoid, her complete and utter ruin…and far worse, by the same man who had ruined her once before.

 Works Cited

Ashton, John. The History of Gambling in England: By John Ashton .. London: Duckworth & 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, W.C., 1898. Print.

MacCunn, Florence A. Sir Walter Scott’s Friends. New York: John Lane, 1910. Print.

Sala, George A., and Edmund H. Yates. “Women at Cards in the 18th Century.” 3. Temple Bar, A London Magazine For Town and Country Readers 117 (1899): 248-56. Print.

Steinmetz, Andrew. The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims. London, 1870. Print.

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Philippa Carr

Open Road Media digital reissue date: February 19, 2013

PUBLISHER’S BLURB:

The first book in Philippa Carr’s celebrated Daughters of England series is at once a love story, a mystery, and an epic historical saga set during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII.

Damask Farland, named after a rose, is captivated by the mysterious orphan Bruno. Discovered upon the abbey altar on Christmas morning, then raised by monks, Bruno becomes the great man whom Damask grows to love—only to be shattered by his cruel betrayal.

This dramatic coming-of-age novel is set in sixteenth-century England, during the chaotic years when Henry VIII stunned the royal court by setting his sights on Anne Boleyn. It’s also the tale of a man whom many believed to be a holy prophet … until a shocking truth is unearthed in the shadows of a centuries-old abbey.

RHFL Classification:

Tudor England-1500s
Heat Rating: 1
Review Rating: 3.5 STARS

Review by Ginger Myrick

The Miracle at St. Bruno’s by Philippa Carr is the first novel in the Daughters of England series. It opens during the time of ‘the king’s secret matter’—King Henry VIII’s attempt to put away his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, to marry Anne Boleyn—and moves through the reigns of his successors, concluding shortly after the coronation of Elizabeth I. It is the coming of age story of Damask Farland, the daughter in a privileged household with mysterious ties to neighboring St. Bruno’s Abbey. The tale revolves around the relationship between Damask, her vibrant cousin Kate, and Bruno, the miracle child from next door. Damask finds herself caught up in the middle of the intrigue as the romantic idealizations of her youth deteriorate into a loveless union with a man desperately attempting to maintain his reputation of divine origin.

Painting a vivid picture rich with historical detail, The Miracle at St. Bruno’s gives an enlightening perspective of life in continual upheaval due to the fluctuation of the religious beliefs of those who sit on the throne. The focus is placed more on the setting and political implications of the day and their bearing on the general populace than on the characters themselves with the protagonist’s story being secondary. For me, the tale was too gloomy to hold any real romantic quality, and in my opinion, this book tends more toward straight historical fiction.

As an avid fan of Eleanor Hibbert, I had expected to love The Miracle at St. Bruno’s as much as her others but was disappointed by the slow moving and somewhat predictable plot, lukewarm characters, and uninspired relationships. There were moments of promise at which I began to anticipate an exciting new twist that never developed into any fulfilling conclusion. The edition I received had a preview of the second novel in the series, The Lion Triumphant, and within the first few pages it promised much more romance than book one. Only then did I realize that the first was written as a foundation for succeeding volumes. I would recommend this book to hardcore Hibbert fans, readers who plan to take on the entire series, and those who find pleasure in historical fiction that does not depend upon a romantic relationship to drive it.

Ginger Myrick was born and raised in Southern California. She is a self-described wife, mother, animal lover, and avid reader. Along with the promotion for THE WELSH HEALER, and EL REY, she is currently crafting her third novel, which takes place during post-Civil War New York. She is a Christian who writes historical fiction with a ‘clean’ love story at the core.

In A Treacherous Court by Michelle Diener

In A Treacherous Court

Publisher’s Blurb:

An unconventional woman. A deadly enemy. A clash of intrigue, deception, and desire. . . . 1525: Artist Susanna Horenbout is sent from Belgium to be Henry VIII’s personal illuminator inside the royal palace. But her new homeland greets her with an attempt on her life, and the King’s most lethal courtier, John Parker, is charged with keeping her safe. As further attacks are made, Susanna and Parker realize that she unknowingly carries the key to a bloody plot against the throne. For while Richard de la Pole amasses troops in France for a Yorkist invasion, a traitor prepares to trample the kingdom from within.Who is the mastermind? Why are men vying to kill the woman Parker protects with his life? With a motley gang of urchins, Susanna’s wits, and Parker’s fierce instincts, honed on the streets and in palace chambers, the two slash through deadly layers of deceit in a race against time. For in the court of Henry VIII, secrets are the last to die. . . .Brilliantly revealing a little-known historical figure who lived among the Tudors, Michelle Diener makes a smashing historical fiction debut.

RHLR Classifications:

Time Frame:  Tudor Court

Heat Level:  2

Review Rating:  4 Stars

Review by Susan

A letter written by Henry VIII when he was a teenager touting his worship of the majestic warrior Cesare Borgia ignites a scandal and a plot to replace the reigning Tudor Court with the Yorkist heir Richard de la Pole as the English Sovereign in Michelle Diener’s historical romance In a Treacherous Court from Gallery Books.  A tale which involves a slew of assassins and spymasters, Diener’s book is fast paced seamlessly connecting the rapidly evolving stages and having the entire story transpire within a few days, a quality which her story shares with Dan Brown’s novels.

The sequences move along a linear course but never fall flat or skimp on details.  Diener’s characters show depth as well as a likeness to people who are indicative of sixteenth century England.  The dialogue has a natural flow and the expressive mannerisms of both the main and peripheral characters exhibit a human essence that readers can envision.  Diener shows an appreciation and a visceral pathos for Henry VIII the man, as the leading characters defend the king and work to unveil the conspiracies whirling around London and endangering the political and economic stability of England.

When a cloth merchant escapes France on board a ship sailing for Dover, England, his injuries are life threatening forcing him to confide his findings of a conspiracy against King Henry to a fellow passenger, Susanna Horenbout, a Flemish artist who by request of the king is traveling to England to be his illuminator.  Henry sends his courtier John Parker, the King’s Keeper of the Palace of Westminster, to escort the cloth merchant to Bridewell Palace, but when the merchant dies during the Channel crossing, Parker becomes Horenbout’s escort to the king instead.   The pair becomes inseparable as several attempts are made on Susanna’s life causing them to investigate the information provided to her by the cloth merchant.

Block by block, Diener builds a credible tale enmeshing staggering fight scenes with clever schemes orchestrated by shrewd strategists who threaten Henry VIII’s court.  Though In a Treacherous Court is deemed a work of fiction, it reads like a documented account taken from a biopic on Henry VIII, clad in the duality of heedless deception and fierce loyalty which the king had been known for inspiring in his subjects.

ROYALIST REBEL by Anita Seymour

 BLURB

Set in a period of great social unrest, this novel explores the various rivalries acted out between Royalist and Parliamentarian factions in 17th Century Britain. The real-life historical figure of Elizabeth Murray serves as the novels central protagonist; Countess Dysart and Duchess of Lauderdale, she inhabited Ham House, a Jacobean mansion built on the River Thames at Petersham. Throughout the reigns of Charles I, Charles II, James II, William and Mary, she became deeply embroiled in the politics of the Civil War. Wielding a great deal of influence due to her elevated position, and partaking in her fair share of adventure, she found herself right at the heart of the action. It is into this, which we are thrust, as Anita Seymour takes us on a breathtaking ride through the landscape of a divided England.

Historical with romantic elements

Heat Level 1.5

Review Rating: 5 Stars

REVIEW BY MAGGI

I don’t read many books based on real-life historical characters, and was pleasantly surprised at how ROYALIST REBEL kept me turning the pages eagerly until the very last sentence. Anita Seymour makes an excellent job of bringing to life Elizabeth Dysart’s dangerous life as the daughter of Royalists. Elizabeth’s extraordinary parents acted as spies to bring about the return of Charles I to the throne during the English Civil Wars. Families who were loyal to the crown had much to fear from Cromwell and his followers.  Times became hard and cruel as Elizabeth Dysart’s life changes from one of luxury and privilege to difficulty and despair when she’s in danger of losing everything. But Elizabeth is up for the challenge, a wily heroine not without flaws, but I admired her and was caught up in her story, finding it at times thrilling and at times heartrending, as she deals with what life throws at her with immense courage and intelligence.

Well done, Anita Seymour, for so skillfully recounting Elizabeth’s long life during one of the most tumultuous periods in Britain’s history, and as Duchess of Lauderdale after her arranged marriage, when she has little power, plots and plans to keep her beloved home, Ham House, a Jacobean mansion built on the River Thames at Petersham.

Seymour has converted me to reading more stories about actual historical figures. I wait with anticipation to her next release.

Maggi Andersen is a writer of historical romance and romantic suspense. Her latest release is the first in Spies of Mayfair Series: A Baron in Her Bed.

The Burning Candle by Lisa Yarde

The Burning Candle by Lisa YardePUBLISHER’S BLURB

In eleventh-century France on the eve of the First Crusade, Isabel de Vermandois becomes the wife of a man old enough to be her father. He is Robert de Beaumont, Comte de Meulan. A hero of the Norman victory at Hastings and loyal counselor to successive English kings, Robert is not all Isabel had expected. Cruel and kind by contrast, he draws her into the decadent court of King Henry I. As Robert’s secrets are unraveled, Isabel finds her heart divided. Her duties as a wife and mother compel her, but an undeniable attraction to the young William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, tempts her. In a kingdom where love holds no sway over marital relations, Isabel must choose where her loyalties and her heart lie. Based on the life of a remarkable medieval woman forgotten by time, The Burning Candle is a story of duty and honor, love and betrayal. 

RHL CLassifications:

Medieval England

Romantic Historical Fiction

Heat Level 2

Reviewer Rating 4 Stars

ANITA’S REVIEW

Lisa Yarde’s heroine, Isabel de Vermandois, is betrothed to the Comte de Meulan by her harsh parents, a man of fifty she has never met. Isabel rejects the arrangement, but finally relents after being beaten and left without food. Sent to Paris to live with her uncle the King until the marriage can take place, Isabel meets her future husband in the company of William de Warenne, the Earl of Surrey.

When the Comte is injured and lays close to death, Isabel visits him and is offered a surprising bargain. He needs sons, though he will wait until Isabel is of age, and wants to formalise their union immediately – despite the fact they have not yet received permission from Rome. Touched by his apparent kind heart and desperation, Isabel agrees and marries de Vermandois in a private ceremony.

When Isabel’s parents discover what has happened, they withhold her dower lands and urge her to remain a virgin until the papal blessing arrives. Isabel, however find herself growing closer to her husband, though the illusion is shattered when Isabel learns her husband’s relationship with his clerk, Thorold, is too close for her not to feel uneasy, and de Vermandois also has several illegitimate sons.

With her husband absent from home for long periods, an injured William de Warrenne reappears and Isabel feels obliged to nurse him to health. Their relationship is prickly, but the pair are attracted to each other, and as a result, Isabel’s formerly quiet life becomes disrupted by kidnapping, forbidden love, betrayal, and the revelation of old secrets.

The Burning Candle is an authentic, compelling story about the realities of life in Medieval England and the restrictions and hardships endured by women, and Isabels’s humiliation and disgrace.

Part historical fiction, part biographical, the plot of this novel contains many plot twists and surprises, with an authentic atmosphere of medieval life which kept me reading.

Anita Davison is a Historical Fiction Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is being released by Claymore Books in January 2013 under the name Anita Seymour