Review: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandfreth

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading GaolReviewed by Cara Lynn

This is a very dark book, detailing Wilde’s time in Reading Gaol for his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglass. During the time of his incarceration, his wife took their young sons and left the country, but continued to give him an allowance, a pittance, really. Upon her death after a spinal operation, instead of 3 pounds a week he got 150 pounds a year.

How different it is just a little over a century later. Why was not Lord Douglass also incarcerated?

I always liked the cleverness of Oscar Wilde.

It is not clear where history leaves off and fiction begins. The book is meticulously researched.

I believe I would have liked the other books in this series better, because I think they aren’t so dark. The details of prison life are achingly difficult, reminding one of the Count of Monte Cristo.

I rate it 4 stars, because of the book’s strong points, but I did not like it. It is more of a man’s book.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol: A Mystery

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Review: The Trouble with Highlanders by Mary Wine

trouble with highlandersReview by Lynn Reynolds

The year is 1488.

Daphne MacLeod is having a really good dream about Norris Sutherland. Norris is having an interesting conversation with his father about Daphne. What I love about Mary’s book is that she has made Daphne an independent woman during the middle ages when women were to take care of a man’s every need.

Mary’s book shows how things are perceived back in the 1400’s as how women are supposed to behave and what is expected of them. She also shows how women can turn against other women when they are perceived as being beneath others. There is also social standing that comes into play.

Norris is a true romantic hero. He doesn’t care about anything other than the woman he wants. He doesn’t care if he is supposed to marry someone else in order to satisfy an obligation. But there is someone that just has other things in mind.

Sandra Fraser is the woman who would give the Wicked Witch of the West a run for her money. She would also be a perfect fit for any of today’s soap operas. I will say that I was keeping my fingers crossed that she would get what was coming to her.

If you have read any of Mary’s other books, you will also want to read this one as well. I hated to have to put the book down. If you have not read any of the other books in this particular series, don’t be afraid to go back and read the others. Mary will not disappoint you.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Trouble with Highlanders

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Review: The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins’ War) by Phillipa Gregory

kingmakers daughterReviewed by Zarabeth Golden

The so called “queen of royal fiction” takes her turn at the story of Anne Neville who became Queen after the War of Roses when her husband Richard III claimed the throne.

I have always loved this author’s ability to fill in blanks from history and create such strong heroine characters. In this case there is so little known about Anne, her sister Isabel, and their Rival Elizabeth that Philippa Gregory had a lot of opportunity to embellish and invent intrigue. I very much enjoyed the drama she created between the female characters when, of course, history focuses on the activities of the men on the battlefield,

However, she spends little to no time on the romance between our heroines and their husbands. I wanted more of the emotional connection between the sexes and perhaps some sex…

In any case, I enjoyed the read and her version of the events but missed the charm. She focuses on the political ambitions of these fascinating women and allowed the relationships to become secondary.

Great job on her research, depiction of the stories, and development of the characters though!

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: The Kingmaker’s Daughter (The Cousins’ War)

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Why was Flemish Lace Forbidden in France?

Guest blog by Iris Anthony, author of The Ruins of Lace

Thank you so much for hosting me on Love Romance Passion! Lace may be linked to both love and romance but it was the passion people in the seventeenth century felt for it that drew me to my story of lace smuggling. People gave entire fortunes in exchange for it and eventually King Louis XIII forbade it altogether.

It seems like such a drastic action to take on behalf of something so innocuous and so…well…pretty. Why would lace be so important that a king would issue a decree against it? Weren’t there more important things to worry about? The answer is an emphatic, ‘Yes!’

Louis XIII had a very turbulent reign. Even though he was a crown prince, he had to steal his throne away from his mother and then, once he was king, he had to figure out how to keep the throne from his brother as well. In the meantime, he was fighting a series of wars with Spain and battling religious heretics inside the kingdom. All those wars took money. As was normal during the period, he looked to his nobles to fund his efforts. Although Louis was a very ascetic King who didn’t look favorably on ostentation, his courtiers did. Power may have been measured by proximity to the throne, but it was displayed through conspicuous consumption (even when…perhaps especially when…there were laws against it).

Lace was an attractive candidate for those intent on displaying their power. It took time to make. You couldn’t just rush out and buy (or even make) lace in the lengths and widths the courtiers draped around their necks and wrists. The fact that it was such tedious work made it expensive and at that time, clothes really did make the man (or woman). All across Europe, those in power went to great lengths to regulate fashion which had the effect of letting everyone know exactly where you stood in the social and political hierarchy. If lace was hard to come by, due to the cost, the supply, and the trade restrictions, the fact that you had some made you one of the elite.

France didn’t have a lace making industry so the demand for lace was fulfilled by Italy and Flanders. At a time when the king desperately needed money from his nobles, they were giving it to neighboring countries in exchange for lace. Of course, human nature being what it is, the moment Louis XIII forbade lace, people began to figure out ways to get it. And the more it was forbidden, the greater the cost became.

When I first stumbled across a reference to lace smuggling, it seemed so oxymoronic. I always pictured smugglers as rough and tumble pirate types. And I always associated smuggling with gold or other ‘important’ goods. Lace seemed so…out of character somehow. But really, nearly anything forbidden is a candidate for smuggling. And fashion has always been serious business as any vendor who imports millions of dollars of fake designer clothing and handbags into the country would attest!

One of the fascinating things about those involved in illicit activities is that they aren’t always completely and utterly depraved. I discovered, in the writing of my novel, that most of the people ensnared in lace smuggling were doing it because they thought they had no other choice. As I wrote, I pondered the question of whose fault it is when smuggling networks grow up around things that are forbidden. Those who make the laws? Those who make the product? Those who buy it or those who sell it?

There is no clear-cut answer and I believe that’s one of the reasons the villain in this book is particularly sympathetic. There were three different incarnations of his character during the various stages of the manuscript, but in each of those roles, though I gave him opportunity after opportunity, he just would not choose transformation.

I think we can all identify with a person who feels they have no other choice but the path they are currently walking. I think we can all root for a character who could so clearly have turned out differently if he could just recognize that there are other options. I believe there’s something deep within all of us that yearns for redemption. No matter what kind of mess we’ve made of our own lives, we hold out hope that someone else can have the strength we didn’t to make the choices we weren’t able to. We cheer, even in spite of ourselves, for the deeply buried or long-forgotten humanity even when it seems to have been eclipsed by monstrosity. I think it’s part of being human. Ultimately, like my characters, we live or die by the choices we make. And if a villain can change, if he can be remade in spite of himself, then perhaps it gives us greater hope that we can too.

Buy: The Ruins of Lace

Get into Bed with Elizabeth Chadwick (Author Interview)

In A Place Beyond CourageIntroducing Elizabeth Chadwick, author of A Place Beyond Courage

Keira: Quick history lesson: Tell us a bit about England’s civil war between King Henry’s daughter Matilda and her cousin Stephen.

Elizabeth Chadwick: King Henry I had two legitimate children (we won’t talk about the more than 20 children he had by women other than his wife!). The first born was a girl, Matilda, and the second a boy, William. When Matilda was eight, Henry betrothed her to the Emperor of Germany and she was sent there to grow to maturity, marry, and was expected to spend her life at the German court as its empress. Henry’s son, meanwhile, was on track to become King of England and Duke of Normandy as his father’s successor.

However, all Henry’s plans were shattered when his son was drowned while returning from Normandy to England. Suddenly Henry’s only legitimate heir was Matilda in Germany. Henry looked round for others who might inherit his crown, and his attention lit on his nephew, Stephen and he began grooming the young man to succeed him.

But then the Emperor of Germany died and Matilda returned to her father. Suddenly Henry had a choice. He could put his nephew on the throne, or his own flesh and blood daughter. Henry seems to have backed two horses at once. He had his barons swear to uphold Matilda as his successor, but at the same time he kept Stephen in the picture. He married Matilda to a neighbouring Lord, Geoffrey of Anjou. It was a stormy marriage, but Matilda bore three sons from it, the first two born in King Henry’s lifetime, and the eldest eventually destined to become King Henry II.

King Henry I died suddenly when Matilda was absent on her husband’s estates, and when her eldest son was only two years old. There were claims that on his deathbed Henry had named Stephen as his heir, but under suspicious circumstances. Matilda set out to fight for her rightful inheritance and a civil war began in the late 1130s, and continued until 1153.

Keira: Why is naming a successor important? Isn’t there a natural order of succession in place?

Elizabeth: Naming a successor in early Medieval England carried a certain amount of weight and would suggest a path for the powerbrokers and councillors to follow. In the mid-12th century, although hereditary succession was becoming the norm, there was still an element of long held custom open to the idea that the nobles and bishops of the kingdom would assemble to elect a new sovereign. In practice this successor was usually the King’s eldest son, but there was still some room for leeway – which is how Stephen came to be elected, and Matilda passed over. Although several years before his death, her father had made his barons swear to uphold her claim, they were not honour bound to do so, especially when they were given the get out clause that Henry may have named someone else on his deathbed.

Keira: What is a Royal Marshal?

Elizabeth: The title covers many roles and responsibilities. The original duty of the Marshal was to look after the royal horses and their equipment, but that duty soon extended to the kennels and the falcon mews. The Marshal became responsible for supplying all the fodder for the animals, and that then moved into the logistics of supplying the court when on the road. The Marshal had to provide the carts and the cart drivers. He had to see that everything ran smoothly – rather like people who Marshal at public events today.

He had responsibility for several military duties, including paying the King’s mercenaries when in the field,

On top of that the Marshal was responsible for keeping order court. His employees were the gatekeepers of the Royal doors, and it was a Marshal’s job to make sure that no one came closer to the kingdom the King wanted. He had an official Rod of office, and would use it on miscreants or people who stepped over the line.

Another duty of his was to keep control of the court prostitutes and make sure they didn’t get out of order and fine those who cause trouble. The Marshal was also responsible for locking up debtors who could not pay their fee at the court Exchequer. So it was a varied and responsible job, although many of the duties were delegated.

Keira: Describe the differences between Aline and Sybilla.

Elizabeth: A Place Beyond Courage, John Marshal has two wives. Aline, his first wife, is innocent, naive, and pious to the point where it damages her ability to make strong relationships with those around her. She is a timid little thing who finds herself in a very difficult marriage to John, who is strong, vibrant and charismatic. Sybilla, John’s second wife, is sparky and outgoing with a warm interest in people. She knows her own worth, and she knows how to get the best out of everyone, including her husband.

I wrote the personalities as I found them. There is not much in the historical record about Aline and Sybilla, but some things can be deduced from the bare facts. Aline bore John two sons in fifteen years of marriage. Sybilla, gave him six children in a similar timespan, including the little boy who was to become the great William Marshal. To get more fully at Aline and Sybilla, I used the Akashic Records – a form of psychic research that if you believe in it, opens up the past so that it can be viewed like a sensory film – and if you don’t, is still a very powerful imaginative tool. There were women like Aline in the 12th century, just as there were women like Sybilla. We are all different in our personalities and attitudes.

Keira: What is your favorite thing about Medieval Fiction?

Elizabeth: I like finding out new things that often buck the trend about what we think we know about the Middle Ages. I love creating stories that use those elements of research and explore them, (such as notions that swords were massive weapons that you needed to be a giant to swing, or that warhorses were enormous beasts, or that Medieval people in the 12th century were small in stature and didn’t wash. I can give you solid refutations on every single one of these so-called ‘facts.’ I also love the detail that well researched Medieval fiction can act as a bridge between the reader and the long ago past.

Keira: What’s next for you?

Elizabeth: In the UK I am under contract to write three major novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine. I have just handed in book one and my editor is reading it at the moment and tells me she LOVES it (her capitals) – so fingers crossed!

Buy: A Place Beyond Courage

Review: Celtic Storms (Celtic Steel, Book 1) by Delaney Rhodes

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

Darina O’Malley is distraught at the knowledge that her cousin, Kyra is to be betrothed to a man she does not know – he might as well be a stranger as far as she is concerned. She knows there are secrets about her clan that could undo them, but she is far more interested in the Laird Kyra is to be married to.

A lot is mentioned about the scenery and surroundings of O’Malley Castle as well as the scenery inside it. It is a convincing story, and setting, and the characters are written to play their parts well enough. Instead of appointing her as clan Laird, even though she was adept in battle, her family instead decide to marry her off to another clan’s Laird, and in doing so want to forge an alliance. Not many girls would be up for marrying an older man-not even nowadays, so it is easy to understand what Kyra would be going through.

There are certain sections of the story that can leave you baffled though, as to why Ruarc would send Kyra, a woman on horseback dressed like a man to send a message. If the men don’t respect her as a warrior, they are risking a lot using her as a messenger-she could get caught and anything could happen. I can see from Rhodes’s point of view that she is trying to prove that Kyra is just as good at espionage as any man, though.

Rather than this novel just being a steamy romance, it is easy to tell that a lot of research has gone into the history of Ireland for the story. Rhodes has shared the past of two main characters that make up a good part of it. The warning at the beginning helps readers to notice what the subject matter will be in the novel, so in a way it prepares the reader for what to expect. In this novel’s case it is the occult, and a great deal of erotic scenes that some, if they like erotic romance novels as much as I do won’t get offended by.

If you like romance novels to be historical and erotic with a nice touch of political Irish court intrigue, then this will be as hot as you want it, and you will be as desiring to get hold of a copy.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: Celtic Storms (Celtic Steel Series, Book 1)

Review: Aries Fire (Sign of the Times, Book 1) by Elaine Edelson

aires fire elaine edelsonReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Though set in the time of the Roman Empire, this novel will have the reader travelling around the world with its vast places and rich characters.

Hypatia of Alexandria has been murdered, and no one knows why, let alone who. Seira, her illegitimate daughter is left alone as a result, and is without a home, having to dodge those who might use and abuse her. She tries to keep out of trouble and lay low amidst the struggles to stay alive, but the fight to keep Rome pure of the Catholic Papacy is growing harder. What is more unusual is that two men vie for the affections of her, Attila the Hun and Alexander, a sea captain. This is part of the story, the other part is her looking for her mother’s murderer and where it takes her.

Aries Fire is the first in a series of novels called Sign of the Times. Elaine is an astrologer and renowned intuitive channel, and has penned a couple of novels based on this. It is written as a serious account of what happened to one woman who had done her best to take revenge on one man who had mercilessly killed her mother. The reason for her murder was simple, and because of that it is horrific to imagine.

The story is about the struggle for freedom from the invasion of the Catholic faith into theirs in Rome, and how ruthless they were at trying to indoctrinate them into their faith. Seira witnesses first hand how cruel they can be, and how one sided when it comes to the love of a god. There was no reprieve for those who had different faiths, they were considered Satanists and in league with the devil, even if they weren’t. Seira’s mother was neither of these, and she knew what was being planned.

Rather than it being a romance story, this is more a historical piece with romance in its pages. It is intriguing, but in a more serious way.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Aries Fire (Sign of the Times)

The Uncrowned Kings of Ireland

Nell Jeanette Baker

Guest Blog by Jeanette Baker, author of Nell

My novel, NELL, is the story of the Geraldines or, more familiarly, the Fitzgeralds of Munster, “a family so wealthy and powerful they were called the uncrowned kings of Ireland. Their lands encompassed Desmond and South Munster and nearly all the counties of Kildare, Meath, Dublin and Carlow. Fitzgerald Castles stretched beyond Strangford Lough on the coast of Down to Adare, and the Fitzgerald fleet patrolled the Irish seas,” …and so the story begins.

NELL is also the tale of a family, all five heirs, taken down in one fell swoop, hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn by order of Henry Tudor, a king desperate to establish a dynasty, a man afraid of the might of his cousins, the Geraldines. What Henry passed over, disregarded, refused to consider, was that a kingdom might be ruled by a woman, Elizabeth, and a family saved by another, Eleanor…Nell.

After the execution of all five family heirs, only Gerald, a boy of 12, is spared. He is hidden away in a remote castle, cared for by his sister, Nell, the betrothed of an Irish chieftain from the West. Through the forests and bogs of Ireland, at the court of the king who killed her family, Nell, aided by a strange vision from the future, struggles to keep the only remaining Fitzgerald heir alive.

We writers who attempt to create characters and a world sympathetic and realistic to our readers frequently are caught up in the lives of the people we create. Imagine my excitement when I came upon the site of the beheading of the last Fitzgerald heir, the Earl of Desmond, the boy, Gerald, from my story, now a man who, in the end, lost his fight against the English. When I learned that his body was interred in the ruins of a small church attached to a tiny cemetery, I was determined to find it, with Tommy, my fiance, an incredibly good sport, in tow.

Our first stop was the tourist office in Tralee. The friendly ladies manning the office knew nothing about the burial spot, but they were game to try. Success came no more than 20 minutes later. The Earl was buried in 1593 near the tiny village of Cordal in a place called Ardnagragh. The ruins of the Desmond chapel were in a burial ground with an unpronounceable name, Kilnananima.

Finding the spot was difficult. There are no markers or signposts on the tiniest of Ireland’s roads and this was one of them. Tommy stopped at a small post office in Cordal to ask directions. In true Irish fashion, a woman posting a letter offered to take us there.  Minutes later, we were climbing over the fence and peering at the graves, all Fitzgerald, in the overgrown grass. It was remote, it was lovely, it was historically fascinating, but the grave I’d come to find wasn’t there.

Then, Tommy noticed the foundations of a ruin and began pulling away decades of lichen, ivy, undergrowth, uncovering an enormous slab. Climbing through the thick flora, he began scraping away the mud. Letters appeared. Excited and hopeful, I climbed in, too, and continued to scrape while he left to find the bucket of rainwater he’d noticed earlier. We scraped and poured until the name and date were evident, Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond, 1583. I could only stare, not speaking, at this evidence of a man to whom I’d given conversation and personality. He’d lived, walked the earth and died a horrible death. And here I am, 500 years later, intrigued enough with his story to resurrect him for my readers.