Those familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will recognize from this story the characters of Banquo, Fleance and the Three Weird Sisters. While they set...moreThose familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth will recognize from this story the characters of Banquo, Fleance and the Three Weird Sisters. While they set the stage, the protagonist throughout most of the narrative is Walter Stewart—beginning with his early life as a Welsh outcast, to his glory days as the King of Scots’ confidante. Malcom III’s defeat over Macbeth, William the Conqueror’s Battle of Hastings and the subsequent uprisings in Northern England are among the action filled pages.
This story is a perfect introduction to 11th century Scotland, England and Wales (and even a bit of Brittany), with minute descriptions of the kingdoms and their people and ways of life. I tend to read and review books with a female protagonist, but had no trouble emphasizing with Walter and his plight. Anyone interested in the events of the 1066 Norman invasion of England will find a detailed account, with particular eloquence regarding battle scenes that even those not inclined to war novels will appreciate. There is a bit of romance, never overly described, and a host of admirable characters. Walter’s transition is the most remarkable facet of the novel, and I would liken him to Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshal from The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. I was also intrigued to meet several characters mentioned in Jean Plaidy’s Norman trilogy.(less)
Inspired by Titian’s famous painting, The Venus of Urbino, this is the story of Roman courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini as told by her dwarf companion, Bu...moreInspired by Titian’s famous painting, The Venus of Urbino, this is the story of Roman courtesan Fiammetta Bianchini as told by her dwarf companion, Bucino Teodoldi. Together they flee the sack of Rome in 1527 and head to Fiametta’s mother’s house in Venice. Upon arrival they find the house empty and their funds exhausted, and so must hastily come up with a scheme to launch Fiametta’s “services” to the wealthy Venetians. A healer is employed to restore the courtesan’s beauty while Bucino makes important connections about the city.
Once Fiametta is established, the story turns from her plight and centers on the hearler, Elena Crusichi, also called La Draga. While there isn’t a particular historical event highlighted, other than the small view of the sack of Rome in the beginning, there are numerous minor characters and mentions of note, including the painter Titian (Tiziano Vecellio) and the writer Pietro Aretino. La Draga’s story becomes haunting near the end, and though the book didn’t end as I’d have guessed, it was beautifully done.
I listened to the abridged audio version, though followed along in my paperback copy, reading the bits and pieces left out. The narrator did a wonderful job in making Bucino sound noble and intelligent, though his Aretino was a bit loud. I wouldn’t say this novel is an introductory type read, but does give a nice description of Venice and the surrounding islands. I enjoyed it for its quirky and endearing characterizations, and the twist near the end that ties up loose strings.(less)
A unique mixture of fact and fiction, this volume contains 14 short chapters on Queen Elizabeth I’s relationships with the various men in her life—fro...moreA unique mixture of fact and fiction, this volume contains 14 short chapters on Queen Elizabeth I’s relationships with the various men in her life—from her cold and distant father to her trusted councilors and, of course, the well-documented round of suitors. While some chapters give a brief history and descriptions of life at court, others are dedicated to a character, including a bio as well as a vignette. These fictionalized short stories display an insightful scene between the Queen and the man in question. Also included is a discussion on what the term “Virgin Queen” meant in Elizabethan times and the significance of the Queen’s astrological sign, Virgo—a link to the author’s full-length novel, Virgin and the Crab. A brief mention of Cecil’s son-in-law, Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, piqued my interest, as I lean toward the Oxfordian side of the Shakespeare authorship debate. This is a great resource for those looking for a short but informative read with an unusual twist.(less)
At the close of the opulent Belle Époque era in Paris, Eva Gouel makes her debut as a seamstress/designer at the glamorous cabaret Moulin Rouge, where...moreAt the close of the opulent Belle Époque era in Paris, Eva Gouel makes her debut as a seamstress/designer at the glamorous cabaret Moulin Rouge, where she first spots Pablo Picasso in the audience. Another meeting at an art exhibit furthers their acquaintance, and they begin a tête-à-tête that blossoms into a deep and inescapable devotion.
It is a struggle for Eva to accept love from a man she so revers, and she constantly questions his sincerity, for she feels less than confidant trying to fill the goddess-like shoes of Picasso’s last love, Fernande Olivier. This insecurity, coupled with the cold reception from many of the Montmartre set of artists and poets, flaws Eva’s happiness, but Picasso’s creativity flourishes under her adoration and care. As the coming war threatens their livelihood, a personal crisis looms that will define Picasso’s analytic cubism era and forever change the artist’s views on love and loss.
The story is so tremendously detailed that readers are transported to early 20th Century Paris, featuring such names as Moulin Rouge’s Mistinguett, Henri Matisse, Sarah Burnhardt, and Gertrude Stein. Picasso’s paintings are described, not only in technique, but with the artist’s feeling in each piece, perfectly setting the tone of the narrative. This is a story that will spark an interest in an era and bring to life Picasso’s intriguingly allusive love, Eva Gouel/Marcelle Humbert, who is not easily found in historical records. Highly recommended for those interested in art history, the Belle Époque era and fictional biographies!(less)
The second in Wilcox’s Doc Holliday trilogy, this installment follows the legendary dentist-turned-outlaw from Galveston, Texas to Tombstone, Arizona...moreThe second in Wilcox’s Doc Holliday trilogy, this installment follows the legendary dentist-turned-outlaw from Galveston, Texas to Tombstone, Arizona in a series of adventures. Dr. John Henry Holliday doesn’t court trouble, but it seems to find him in every town, from Texas to Colorado and Kansas to the New Mexico territory. He continually tries to set up a respectable office, but his hot-headed Southern sensibilities usually get the better of good judgment, landing him in one legal battle after the other. The state of the government during the Reconstruction Era is tenuous, causing many men to turn to gambling or other illegal means to make a living. Doc, while not robbing banks or trains like the James clan, breaks the strict Texas laws on drinking and gambling, with gun fights added into the mix. His fragile health also causes concern, frequently aggravated by the dusty terrain.
Doc’s love life is no less complicated than the former book, Inheritance, as he still holds a candle for his cousin in Georgia, Mattie. Kate, the actress he met in St. Louis, comes back into his life, but underlying animosities serve in constantly pulling them apart.
Fans of the movie Tombstone, with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer, will appreciate the presentation of the foundation of their friendship, and even gain some insight from vague lines in the film. Along with Wyatt Earp, many of the other lawmen and outlaws make an appearance, creating a connection between the parcels of dirty, pioneer towns featured in the book to the setting of the movie in Tombstone, Arizona.
While Inheritance introduces us to a Southern gentleman ready to take on the world to prove himself to his family, Gone West send’s John Henry through the motions that allow him to experience defeat, acceptance and redemption—finally giving him closure as to his flawed boyhood view of life. The final book in the series, The Last Decision, promises to be an exciting and much-anticipated conclusion to this illuminating biographical saga.(less)
French Revolution meets Walking Dead in this alternative history mash-up by a prolific author who has explored Renaissance Iberia, Medieval Wales, 19t...moreFrench Revolution meets Walking Dead in this alternative history mash-up by a prolific author who has explored Renaissance Iberia, Medieval Wales, 19th Century New York and the American Civil War in her previous novels: El Rey, The Welsh Healer, Work of Art, and But for the Grace of God
Following Marie Antoinette from her happy childhood as the Empress of Austria’s youngest daughter, through her difficult transition from archduchess to dauphine and finally to Queen of France, readers are immediately aware of a sinister undercurrent in the historically accurate narrative. France is harboring a terrible secret within its borders–concealed since the time of Catherine de’ Medici. Against her husband’s dying wishes, the Holy Roman Empress forged the alliance with France that sent 14-year-old Antonia to this dangerous and peculiar court, where strange etiquette, outrageous styles and thickly coated make-up are not simply fashion statements. Our protagonist must find her way through Versailles’ long-established rituals, woo a reluctant husband and accomplish her main duty of producing an heir.
Marie Antoinette’s shy and standoffish bridegroom is one of the story’s unsung heroes–a refreshing portrayal–and her famous love affair with Axel von Fersen is played out brilliantly. The mort-vivant aren’t the only adversaries along the way–Madame du Barry and some of the King’s relations enjoy causing trouble as well. Add political intrigue and romance to the mix, and this historical horror novel is indeed an engrossing, cross-genre tale. The only complaint I can imagine is that there is an abridgment of Revolution details near the end, but it simply would not have been possible within the almost 400 pages. For readers not into the horror scene, I can attest that it’s not too gruesome–tastefully done would be an excellent pun (and rhyme!)
Once again Ginger Myrick has proven her talents with yet another style, bringing her tally to 5 within two years, including history, romance, fantasy, mystery and horror!(less)
At the age of fifteen, Jane Austen spends a summer holiday with her elder brother at his fiancé’s home in Kent. Five families come together to celebra...moreAt the age of fifteen, Jane Austen spends a summer holiday with her elder brother at his fiancé’s home in Kent. Five families come together to celebrate the upcoming nuptials and along the way many, including Jane, discover much about love and relationships. There she meets a young man who both exasperates and thrills her, leading her to learn life lessons that greatly encourage and influence her writing.
Edward Taylor is, as the author has considerately detailed in her notes, a real person in Jane Austen’s life, for she mentions him in correspondence to her sister, Cassandra. Facts cleverly meshed with a pleasant series of youthful summer pursuits set the background for this fanciful tale, complete with a rendition of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Austen fans will quickly notice tidbits inspired by her novels—you could say it’s very much the essence of Emma and Pride & Prejudice, but with a host of new characters to enjoy. (less)
Marcia Brownlow, a young artist among a group of American expatriates in late 19th century Europe, began her journey as a governess when her family fe...moreMarcia Brownlow, a young artist among a group of American expatriates in late 19th century Europe, began her journey as a governess when her family fell on hard times and left her bereft. A friend’s aunt makes a proposal that Marcia cannot afford to decline, although it would require a major deception: Marcia must disguise herself as a man. She adopts her deceased brother’s identity, and as “Mark” Brownlow, interviews for a position as a writer’s secretary. Her employer quickly learns that she is a gifted artist and funds her further education, introducing her to society as the next great talent.
Marcia continually struggles with her identity throughout the story–enjoying the freedom and acclaim she receives as a man, but all the while realizing that it cannot end well. She makes many dear friends as she readies her work for the Royal Academy art exhibition in London, but shortly before her masterpiece is unveiled her past comes back to haunt her in the form of a disgruntled acquaintance seeking revenge.
One of the themes of the story is the division between the artists of the time–those holding to the classical style and those looking to industry and change. Many of the personas depicted are fictional, but there are several well-known names mentioned, such as Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Frederic Leighton, and John Singer Sargent, whose painting Morning Walk is featured on the cover.
I truly enjoyed the characters: Arthur Wolcott, the sarcastic writer, and Duncan MacDonald, the art instructor and father figure. The women in the story played necessary roles. Some readers may be put off by Marcia’s inclination to favor women instead of men, but for this story it worked well and was, in fact, critical to the plot and resolution.
Other than the author’s superb writing style (which I previously experienced from reading Confessions of the Creature), I most enjoyed the humor in this book and the philosophical insights presented from the protagonist’s unique perspective. The world of European art at the height of Impressionism is skillfully portrayed, as well as the progress of the Second Industrial Revolution.(less)
This novel, full of anecdotes, does not come across as a transparent retelling, but rather an emotional journey that fits in perfectly with the known...moreThis novel, full of anecdotes, does not come across as a transparent retelling, but rather an emotional journey that fits in perfectly with the known facts of Jane Austen’s life. The inclusion of a completely fictional character, an American at that, ensures a uniqueness and the smart, humorous prose resonates the authors’ own beloved style. Jane’s experiences and thoughts are cleverly laced with phrases fans will recognize from her books, while character traits are obviously drawn from family and acquaintances unfortunate enough to make an impression on the young writer.
This marks the 35th Jane Austen variation I’ve read, and it stands out as one of the more well-written and thought provoking. There are no modern nuances, it does not stray too far from the facts, and the author has managed to capture Austen’s style and wit, along with his own charming quips. This story will delight those Austen fan-fiction enthusiasts who enjoy an imaginative and entertaining escape into their favorite author’s world.(less)