Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blood Between Queens, Barbara Kyle (2013)

Book Source: NetGalley and Kensington Books

I’ve been a lover of historical fiction for years, especially Victorian, but I’ve gotta admit that it was Philippa Gregory who started me on my Tudor binge, at least book-wise, films have always been on the agenda.  Anyway, it all began with The Other Boleyn Girl (didn't it for everyone?), continued with dozens of books about the Tudors, more recently with the Plantagenets, and I have even started to expand towards Spanish and German royalty, as they are all truly related anyway.  
Recently though, I came across this brand new novel, Blood Between Queens about Queen Elizabeth and Mary, Queen of Scots, which automatically drew my attention to the soap opera-like lives of the Tudors. 

The books starts with a whole bunch of characters who come in and out of the scene, apparently some castle, and all are somehow politically related to Queen Elizabeth.  The author quickly shifts from one point of view to another, so at first it was difficult to figure out who the protagonist was, until it finally become obvious in the third chapter or so.  
Justine Thornleigh is an adopted daughter of the Thornleigh family, who had rescued her from certain indigence when her father was named traitor and then passed away in a fire.  However, Justine has always felt comfortable as part of the family, to the point of even falling in love with the Thornleigh's nephew, against their better judgment.  
In the meantime, the drama between Queens Elizabeth and Mary is escalating as Mary has just run to England seeking asylum, her husband was mysteriously killed and most people believe she was responsible, with the help of her lover turned new husband (third one). Thus, Elizabeth is in a position in which she doesn't  know what to do to believe if her cousin is innocent or not, so she decides to send a spy, and in comes Justine. For those unfamiliar with Mary Stuart, although she was Scottish, she was raised in France to be the king's wife, which she was for a short period of time.  Justine, coincidentally, is half French on her father's side, so it was believed that she would be the perfect lady in waiting to gain Mary's trust and to spy on her.  
Justine is deeply loyal to Elizabeth, but when she starts to get to know Mary, she starts to sympathize with her as well, hence her dilemma.

When I started reading this book I didn't know that it was part of a series until some events were referenced, which became a bit annoying, but in general it was a standalone book.  Anyway, down to the review.
One of the weakest aspects in the book is the title itself; one is led to believe that this is solely about the queens, however they are secondary characters, which is fine, but maybe the title should have been a different one.  
Like I already mentioned, all these characters popped up in the beginning and since I didn't read the other books in the series, I didn't understand who they were or their personal connections-not to mention that the point of view kept changing. Once I got it all sorted out though, it got easier to follow.  
The real protagonist, Justine, was a bit hard to warm to.  She was just so idiotic: lying to her fiance, believing in Mary, actually thinking to meddle into highly classified political matters, (SPOILER ALERT!) believing her criminal father and getting her father of the heart killed  by him! Yikes! I understand she was supposed to be portrayed as a highly intelligent woman who wanted to do the right thing, but she just came off as extremely selfish, manipulative, and annoying.  
The fiance, Will, was a complete self-righteous jerk who put his work ahead of his supposed love and never even tried to understand Justine's major mistake.  Towards the end, he redeemed himself, but really, if I were Justine I wouldn't have forgiven him so easily, he should have been made to grovel some more.
As for the queens themselves, Mary was portrayed as also being totally manipulative, which is probably historically accurate, but I actually wanted to know how the author would resolve the allegations against her about killing her husband, but they never were.  As for Elizabeth, she wasn't in the history line as much, although her encounters were Adam certainly made her out as two-faced. However, what I can say is that she certainly seemed to be quite naive, or at least her royal guards, to permit her into a home without fully checking it and the grounds!
There was also another subplot concerning the above mentioned Adam (another Thornleigh), but he was just so focused on lusting after Elizabeth that he kinda ignored his kids, and totally ignored his wife (there was something that happened in their past, in the other books, but no idea what), that he also came off as egotistical.  In fact, none of the characters in the novel was particularly likable, maybe because the times called to be cold-blooded to survive, but I just think the author wanted to make them be well-rounded characters, but she just focused more on their dark sides.
All in all, it was OK. Way too much drama, rescues, intrigues, and blackguards, but historically it was pretty much accurate (except for the liberties the author admitted she took, which were fine).  I don't think I'll read it again, but I'm glad I did.

Final verdict: 3 stars

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Highlander Most Wanted, Maya Banks (2013)

Book Source: NetGalley

This is the first time I've read a Maya Banks book.  I decided to give it a try as I've read and heard so many good things on her novels, so when I saw an available ARC at NetGalley, I eagerly requested it.
What can I say? Was it entertaining? Pretty much, at least the first half, after that it went downhill.

Genevieve McInnis (great name!), the daughter of a powerful laird with connections to the crown, was kidnapped by the evil Ian McHugh a year before when she was on her way to her betrothed,  and forced to become his leman (whore).  She underwent all types of horrible physical and psychological abuse during the year she lived with him, but she manages to survive in one peace, except for the scar on her face.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Last Daughter of Prussia, Marina Gottlieb Sarles (2013)

Source: Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

I've been reading books on the Holocaust and the Jews since I was in 4th grade, it has always been a topic of extreme interest and horror, but always from the Jewish or Gypsy point of view, never from the German.  

Marina Goettlieb Sarles reminds us that although the German government committed atrocities during that point of time, they didn't necessarily have the backup of all their citizens, however they still dearly paid with their lives and that of their loved ones during the Russian invasion.

Synopsis: Manya von Falken is an East Prussian aristocrat, a twenty year old young woman whose family breeds the famous Trakhener horses.  They live in an idyllic setting in the middle of the Prussian forests, even though it is 1944 and the Russians are on the verge of destroying their home.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Recruit, Monica McCarty (2012)

I read The Recruit back in November, in merely two days, it was so gripping!  But, I procrastinated and didn't write a review back then, which I'm determined to correct now since it got nominated for the RITA AWARDS only a couple of days ago! Yay!

Kenneth Sutherland became one of my favorite Highland Guards (after Tor McLeod, from The Chief) and Mary of Mar was a heroine I felt for and whose actions I identified with (at least most of the time).

Kenneth was trying to earn a place with the Guards, but his quick temper and 'hot-headedness' was working against him, so he had to work double to prove himself capable of the post.  Mary of Mar was asked by the English king to spy on Robert the Bruce during the Highland Games. Mary of Mar doesn't really want to go, but her son's future inheritance is on the line, so she feels she has no choice.

Friday, March 29, 2013

RITA AWARDS FINALISTS, 2013... The Recruit, Monica McCarty and A Rogue By Any Other Name, Sarah MacLean

I'm super excited because two authors I follow and read (a lot) and love have been nominated for the Romance Writers of America Awards, aka, RITA Awards!  The winners will be announced July 20 at the Romance Writers of America, Annual Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Historical Romance Finalists
Beauty and the Bounty Hunter by Lori Austin
Penguin Group USA, Signet
Claire Zion, editor
Bride by Mistake by Anne Gracie
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation
Wendy McCurdy, editor
Defiant by Pamela Clare
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation
Cindy Hwang, editor
A Lady Never Surrenders by Sabrina Jeffries
Simon & Schuster, Pocket Books
Micki Nuding, editor
The Recruit by Monica McCarty
Random House Group, Ballantine Books
Kate Collins, editor
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean
HarperCollins Publishers, Avon Books
Carrie Feron, editor
Too Dangerous to Desire by Cara Elliott
Grand Central Publishing, Forever
Lauren Plude, editor 
Wedded in Sin by Jade Lee
Penguin Group USA, Berkley Sensation
Kate Seaver, editor

I will definitely be posting my reviews on these two great novels in the next couple of days!  So, how many from the nominees have YOU read?

Goodreads Giveaway!

Sons of the Wolf, by Paula Lofting

Click on the link above to enter the book giveaway by this excellent author! Giveaway date is April 24, so you still have time!!

On bloody fields he fights for his life, but sometimes the enemy is closer to home... 1054, pious King Edward sits on the throne, spending his days hunting, sleeping and praying, leaving the security of his kingdom to his more capable brother-in-law Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex. Against this backdrop we meet Wulfhere, a Sussex thegn who, as the sun sets over the wild forest of Andredesweald, is returning home victoriously from a great battle in the north. Holding his lands directly from the King, his position demands loyalty to Edward himself, but Wulfhere is duty-bound to also serve Harold, a bond forged within Wulfhere's family heritage and borne of the ancient Teutonic ideology of honour and loyalty. Wulfhere is a man with the strength and courage of a bear, a warrior whose loyalty to his lord and king is unquestionable. He is also a man who holds his family dear and would do anything to protect them. So when Harold demands that he wed his daughter to the son of Helghi, his sworn enemy, Wulfhere has to find a way to save his daughter from a life of certain misery in the household of the cruel and resentful Helghi, without comprising his honour and loyalty to his lord, Harold. On the battlefield, Wulfhere fights for his life but elsewhere the enemy is closer to home, sinister and shadowy and far more dangerous than any war.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The India Fan, Victoria Holt (1988/2013)

Book Source: Net Galley

This was one of the last novels written by Eleanor Hibbert, better known as Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy, and Philippa Carr.  This extraordinarily prolific writer, who according to this excellent page, jeanplaidy, wrote about 211 books in her lifetime under all her pseudonyms and sold more than 100 million books worldwide, including 23 bestsellers.  The India Fan was originally published in 1988, but it is now being reissued by Sourcebooks Casablanca, so kudos to them for bring back these wonderful stories!

So far, I've read only some of her books under the pseudonym Victoria Holt, including The Landower Legacy, which I have already reviewed, and others like: Mistress of MellynOn the Night of the Seventh MoonKirkland Revels, and The Mask of the Enchantress (many years ago), which I have yet to write reviews for.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but there is a similarity between Holt's style of writing and that of Madeleine Brent (Peter O'Donnell).  
  • The heroines are always English girls who travel to foreign, exotic countries where they experience life changing events before returning to their native home.  
  • They often have two or more possible lovers to choose from, including one that has a 'darker' and more dangerous personality, making the heroine doubt her feelings for him, and another who is just so nice that the heroine isn't interested.
  • She also seems detached from many of the happenings that surround her, living in a dream-like state.
  • They are often sensible girls, principally due to their difficult childhood and/or forced independence.  
  • Oftentimes they are orphans.
Anyway, on to the story.

The India Fan was such a terrific and gripping tale that I couldn’t put down until I had finished it!  To be honest, it did start in a somewhat bland tone (as the usual VH), however as the story progressed, it became much more engrossing. 

The whole book revolves around beautiful peacock feathers, the Framling family, and India. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Forbidden Queen, Anne O'Brien (2013)

Source: NetGalley

The Forbidden Queen, a historical novel based on the life of Katherine of Valois, definitely caught my attention as it not only is it about a little known (at least by me) queen, it is about a woman who was the mother of King Henry VI (by King Henry V), grandmother of King Henry VII (father of the Tudor dynasty, by her union with Owen Tudor), thus great-grandmother of the infamous King Henry VIII!  

However, even before all this, she was also the daughter of the French King, Charles VI and the infamous Isabeau of Bavaria (who also needs her own novel, by the way!).  This is all a bit too much to take in, so I've posted part of their family tree, which I obtained from  If anybody's interested in seeing the entire Plantagenet family tree, just click on the link and there you have it!

The author very cleverly states in the cover that Katherine is an "innocent wife," a "captive widow", and a "Tudor mistress," giving us the idea that this woman had three separate lives - and indeed she did.  I'm going to be bold enough to include a "pawned princess" title to the set as before she married Henry V, her parents took advantage of her and her siblings to obtain as much power as possible.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth, Patricia Clapp (1975)

I remember reading this when I was about 12, and it really marked my life. Twenty years later I still recall certain parts, although I had read it only once. In fact, I've just decided to order a copy for myself since I'll definitely want my students to read it, as well as my daughter whenever she's old enough and ready.

Constance is the story of a young English girl whose family sailed to Plymouth colony in 1620 and all the hardships they had to endure the first couple of years in the New World.  The sufferings, deaths, starvation, loneliness and even everyday events are described very accurately and vividly (including the Squanto and Indians episode), however it is still entertaining enough for adolescents to read and get involved in a very important American historical event. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Highlander Unmasked, Monica McCarty (2007)

So, I started reading Monica McCarty's Highland Guard series last year, and so got into it that I decided to explore another one of her series, MacLeods of Skye Trilogy  since I was on a MMc binge. BIG MISTAKE.  Highlander Unmasked is the second book of the trilogy, and even though it's predecessor, Highlander Untamed, was lukewarm at best, this one was inferior in quality, in general.

But first of, I've gotta say that I REALLY DON'T UNDERSTAND why novels featuring Highlanders (OK, most romance novels in general) must have the hero's chest showing. Is that a pre-requisite? Is it in the book contract?
Alright, since I'm through with that, on to the story.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tregaron's Daughter, Madeleine Brent (1971)

Contrary to what usually happens after reading a book after many years, this one certainly didn't disappoint, quite the opposite, actually, it has definitely stood the test of time!

Peter O'Donnell, aka Madeleine Brent

Before launching into the story, I'd like to talk a bit about the author, Madeleine Brent, who's real name was actually Peter O'Donnell.  The first time I discovered this, shortly after finding Tregaron's Daughter after so many years, I had wanted to read a little more about the writer since oftentimes one can understand their books after knowing a bit about their lives, and to my surprise, the 'she' was actually a 'he!' 

According to wikipedia, Peter O'Donnell was actually a lot more known for his Modesty Blaise series and not his gothic romantic novels.  My first question when I found about his identity was:  

Why did he decide to change his name to that of a woman?  

It is usually the opposite, right? The Brontes come to mind, as does George Elliot.  They obviously suffered from publishing issues due to being women in a repressed society, thus choosing to use pseudonyms, which brought on my next questions:

Was it so that he would be taken more seriously within the genre, as it is most definitely female dominated? 

It must have been a bit difficult for him with his colleagues during the 70's, particularly the male ones, when he launched this series at the urging of his publisher.  Let's face it, the romance genre in general isn't very respected as most people consider it chick-lit or some such demeaning categorization, and that's when women write it... I would imagine it was more difficult for men who demonstrated interest in this area, which leads me to the last question of all: 

Why did he allow his true identity to surface only after he finished his last novel, Golden Urchin?  I don't know, but it seems to me that the author's life was every bit as mysterious as that of his heroines, which ALWAYS seemed to have some undisclosed incident in their lives.

Back to the story:

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte (1848)

     After being a fan of  Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for so many years, I never thought another book by another Bronte would have actually enthralled me just as equally, and on another level, perhaps even more so; but this was exactly what happened with The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  

   Anne Bronte's surprising imagination and powerful narrative certainly caught my attention, especially considering the fact that she was a young, single woman in her twenties at the time this was written.  And not only young and single, but living in an isolated society in which her, along with her sisters and brother, created their own literary world, perhaps to escape the tediousness of living in a small town near the moors, perhaps out of simple genius. 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Celtic Storms, Delaney Rhodes (2012)

Source: From BookBub, free for Kindle.
Originally published in

What do you get when you have highlanders, lairds, clans, plaids, and shamans IN IRELAND? Well, you get Celtic Storms, of course! 

I've never read this author, and never will again, but it is obvious that she mixed up Scotland with Ireland, BIG TIME. Advice to the writer: whenever you write a story about some point in history, make sure the historical aspects pertain to a particular culture/country. You wouldn't for example, write about how the Nazis during WWII were based in China right? Come to think of it, perhaps you would! Hmmm... hope I haven't given the author any new book ideas! (shudder)