Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Launch Day for The Prophet by Amanda Stevens

It's release day for the third installment of one of my new favorite paranormal series, The Graveyard Queen, and The Prophet will give readers deeper insights into the enigmatic John Devlin, and the ghosts of Amelia's world are crossing barriers and communicating with her. I've been eating these books up like candy! Atmospheric, creepy, in a lovely southern setting, The Graveyard Queen series is too much fun to miss! 

        Book Synopsis: My name is Amelia Gray. I am the Graveyard Queen, a cemetery restorer who sees ghosts. My father passed down four rules to keep me safe and I've broken every last one. A door has opened and evil wants me back. In order to protect myself, I've vowed to return to those rules. But the ghost of a murdered cop needs my help to find his killer. The clues lead me to the dark side of Charleston—where witchcraft, root doctors and black magic still flourish—and back to John Devlin, a haunted police detective I should only love from afar.Now I'm faced with a terrible choice: follow the rules or follow my heart. (from Goodreads)

 You can read an excerpt from The Prophet by clicking here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

"Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love."
(from Goodreads)

3 Reasons Review:

1.Reason(s) why I wanted to read this book:

To be honest, this book (along with 6 other Penman novels) has been sitting in my TBR pile for years. Sharon Kay Penman's books are considered the gold standard by many who love authentically written historical fiction and this book has received much acclaim. I read The Sunne in Splendour previously and knew I would have to invest time and attention to this rich and complex novel of 13th century Wales.

2.Reason(s) I liked (or disliked) the novel:

I know I'm in the minority here, but I had issues with Here Be Dragons. I found the first 250+ pages to be disjointed and there were many threads to the plot that weren't connecting for me. I understand that this is a very research-intense storyline, but I started it twice to get the momentum going and had a rough time making all the pieces of the plot "fit." At times, there was so much information and historical/political details that it seemed like retelling facts and not showing a great story through action.

On the other hand, I was fascinated with the story of Joan/Joanna, the illegitimate daughter of King John,and it held my interest throughout. Penman created many memorable scenes involving her loyalty to her husband, Llewelyn, and her father, the king, and I felt so badly for her at times as she could never please them both. Although she was used as a pawn by the king and her marriage was arranged, her relationship with Llewelyn became one of deep love over time despite periods of strain. The dramatic scene where she proudly stands by her husband and honors him by giving him a humbling curtsy in front of King John was beautifully written.

favorite quote: (p.352) "What I know, Papa, is that I love you and I love Llewelyn, and the two of you are tearing me apart!"

3.Reason(s) I'm recommending (not recommending) this

Sharon Kay Penman doesn't need me to recommend her books -- she has legions of fans! Although I wanted to love this book (as so many blogging friends highly recommend it and LOVE it), it was easy for me to put it down. I kept asking myself, "What's wrong with me? Why am I not swept up by this story like so many others?" It's superbly researched and I learned much about the relations between England and Wales and many historical figures, I just found it a bit dry. Everyone's reading experience is uniquely their own, and this was my experience. I absolutely plan on reading more of Penman's work as it truly is enlightening and expands my (woefully lacking) knowledge of English and Welsh history. (About the only thing I did love about the book was the title! Brilliant! I won't spoil it for you as you can learn it in the author notes, but it is symbolic of the relationship and misunderstandings between 13th century England and Wales.)

3/5 stars

Title: Here Be Dragons
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
St. Martin Griffith Publishers
genre: historical fiction

**Thank you to Jenny @ Jenny Loves to Read for the brilliant Three Reasons Review.**

A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander

"Claire Laurent's greatest aspiration is to paint something that will bring her acclaim. Yet her father insists she work as a copyist. A forger. When she's forced to flee her home, her path collides with attorney Sutton Monroe, who shows her kindness by not turning her in to authorities. But when he later refuses to come to her aid, Claire fears she's sorely misjudged him. Finding herself among the elite of Nashville society, Claire believes her dream of creating a lasting impression in the world of art is within reach--but only if her past remains hidden.

The Federal Army destroyed Sutton's home, confiscated his land, and now threatens to destroy his family's honor. His determination to reclaim what belongs to him reveals a truth that may cost him more than he ever imagined--as well as the woman he loves.

Set at Nashville's historic Belmont Mansion, a stunning antebellum manor built by Adelicia Acklen, A Lasting Impression is a sweeping love story about a nation mending after war, the redemption of those wounded, and the courage of a man and woman to see themselves - and each other - for who they truly are."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Tamera Alexander's A Lasting Impression was a delightful historical romance set in the beautiful Belmont Mansion in Nashville, Tennessee. Beginning in a New Orleans French Quarter art gallery, Claire Laurent is forced by her father and scheming uncle to use her artistic talent to create forgeries. When a tragedy forces her to flee her home, her uncle sends her to Nashville to meet up with a "business partner" -- and from there, things go awry. With no one to turn to for help, she overhears a conversation that sets her on the path of seeking a position at Belmont as an assistant to the famous society matron, Adelicia Ackland. Claire hopes to put her past behind her and start a new life...

A very charming love story unfolds between Claire and handsome attorney Sutton Monroe, set against the backdrop of the luxurious Belmont Mansion. Lavish entertaining, beautiful sculptures and artwork, and opportunities to use her artistic talents in her position as Mrs. Ackland's assistant, Claire feels she has finally found a place of acceptance.....but her past constantly haunts her, and her greatest fear is that her secret past of illegal art dealing will be revealed and cost her to lose all that she holds dear.

Loved this well-written and inspirational romance! Claire and Sutton made a very cute couple and brought out the best in each other. I especially enjoyed visiting Tamera Alexander's website and viewing the photos of the mansion (then and now) and the art pieces mentioned in the novel. Looking forward to reading the next installment in the Belmont Mansion series.

4/5 stars

Title: A Lasting Impression (Book #1 of The Belmont Mansion series)
Author: Tamera Alexander
Bethany House Publishers
430 pages
genre: Christian historical romance

Sunday, April 22, 2012

New Cover for The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

Looks like The Shadowy Horses will be the next Susanna Kearsley book to be reissued by Sourcebooks this fall!

Here's the book description from Kearsley's website:

"With its dark legends and passionate history, the windswept shores of Scotland are an archaeologist’s dream. Verity Grey is thrilled by the challenge of uncovering an ancient Roman campsite in a small village. But as soon as she arrives, she can sense danger in the air.

Her eccentric boss, Peter Quinnell, has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he’s finally found it – not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local boy has ‘seen’ a Roman soldier walking in the fields, a ghostly sentinel who guards the bodies of his long-dead comrades.

Surprisingly, Verity believes in Peter, and the boy, and even in the Sentinel, who seems determined to become her own protector...but from what?

I hope you add this one to your TBR pile if you haven't read it yet....I have an older copy, but Sourcebooks' editions are so pretty I just might have to start replacing them!

You can read my previously posted review of The Shadowy Horses here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Guest Post by Donna Russo Morin

I am pleased to welcome Donna Russo Morin, author of The King's Agent, to Books, Belles, and Beaux with a guest post. She is currently doing a virtual tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.


The adventurous characters (both real and imagined) in The King’s Agent travel hither and yon across the middle landscape of that strangely shaped country known as Italy; from Rome, to the mountains of Ciociaria, to Camogli onto the sparkling west coast. But their story begins and ends and returns now again—for succor and respite—to Florence. So it is to Florence today we go.

But first I must tell of my own connection, one I didn’t know existed until after I wrote this book. Yes, in that glorious small speck of time between completing one book and starting another, I sent out a query to an organization that researches surnames. It took them a while to complete the appropriate investigation, during which time I developed the basic idea for my next work in progress, a trilogy also set in Florence on the birth of the female Renaissance artist. It would seem as if my fascination for the ancient city was firmly entrenched in my psyche. The information, when it came from the research institute, wonderfully illustrated with my family crest on parchment looking paper, declared that the origin of my family was, most probably… Florence. My ancestors have been calling, and I am answering that call as best I can.

Julius Caesar named the city ‘Florentina’ (meaning ‘flourishing’) when founded in 59 BC as a military retirement haven. How portentous the name would come to be. Yet there is evidence of occupation dating back to prehistoric times. Caesar developed the city, true, with the assistance of the great Roman general and statesman Lucius Cornelius Sulla, from a military state of mind, one that is still in evidence even today. Situated on a major artery leading to Rome, the Via Cassia (still known by that name in the heart of Rome, as the A1 for hundreds of miles leading throughout the country) it was rich with fertile farmland. The combination proved successful and it soon grew from a small Roman settlement to a lively commercial epicenter.

Enclosed in a wall approximately 1800 meters long, the city is rectangular in shape, and developed, as did most cities initially Roman, with straight roads and right angles. The main roads led to four towered gates and the Arno—a major river flowing in from the west coast—at first lay outside its gates. Located at the apex of main roads and a large river, found Florence growing rapidly, commercial activity and trade thrived, as did the city.

Christianity made its way to Florence in the second century and by the next, churches began to spring up like the shoots of spring flowers. Today there are close to forty churches and it is these religious houses that are partially responsible for the birth of the Renaissance.

Like so many other locations in Italy, Florence was prey to the pillaging of the Barbarian invasions of the Dark Ages. And though the city built more interior city walls, they too fell to the Lombards, the dark period of the city’s history.

But from out of the darkness, came the light.

By the 8th century, a feudal system was established in Florence, in truth throughout Tuscany, and the city became a county of the Holy Roman Empire, changes that were both a blessing and curse. More city walls were constructed, more gates for protection and grandiosity, and over the next few centuries Florence continued to prosper and its population to grow exponential; a flurry of activity leading to one of human evolution’s greatest eras, the Renaissance.

Any great accomplishment or movement or change in the direction of human kind, does not come about because of one circumstance or the efforts of one human, but from a conglomeration of magnificent events…the perfect storm. Such was the Renaissance and its birth in a city named Florence.

Its inception can be found, in part, in the politics of the city. A strife-ridden communal system gave way to an oligarchy, a system that would rule the city on and off for hundreds of years. The greatest of all the oligarchies belong to the Medici family (who are not only minor players in The King’s Agent, but who will be taking more center stage in my current works-in-progress). Yes, these were men who had undeniable, dare I say obnoxious, certainty in their superiority, but they were also gifted with open curious minds whose craving for knowledge and truth and beauty brought new and enlightening concepts to within the city walls. Harking back to the teachings of the Greeks and the Romans, they revived the value of the human being and, within this eagerness for knowledge and enlightenment, Humanism was born. Man came to consider himself God’s greatest creation and combined with a craving for rational thought and an affirmation of the natural environment in which he existed. A distinctive characteristic of Humanism was the glory of art, of man’s ability to manipulate media into whatever form they chose.

The rise of Humanism, the profusion of churches—churches which needed pious artwork to compete with the glory of its architecture—combined with the unflattering urge of humans to outdo each other, brought together all the necessary ingredients for an artistic explosion: fertile temperament, a surplus of venues, and the need for the leading citizens to become the leading citizen, producing a plethora of patrons vying for the best artists of all sorts. It was a collision that had never happened before, one that some hope will happen once again (one that I personally believe took place in the 1960s).

But it was not only painters and sculptors that Florence and its rebirth produced, though there were those a plenty, to name a few: Giotto di Bondone, Masaccio, Domenic Ghirlandaio, Perugino, Michelangelo, Raphael, Botticelli, Titian, and, of course, Leonardo da Vinci. And those are just the upper echelon of painters. Architecture reigned supreme as well under the skillful hands of Brunelleschi, Leone Alberti, Palladio, and Bramante. And their glory was all written about with equal talent by the writers of the age: Petrarch, Boccaccio, Luigi Pulci, and Poliziano. In fact, so many of Italy’s greatest writers and poets were connected to Florence, its dialect came to be known as the official Italian language, beginning with the appearance of Dante’s Il Divina Commedia, a powerful component of the multilayered tale that is The King’s Agent. The power of Florence was felt in almost every facet of Renaissance life. The currency of the city, the gold Florin, came to be the most valued, not only in Italian but to all the corners of Europe, from Hungary to Britain to Bruges, and everywhere in between, and helped to develop industry across the continent.

The King’s Agent brings us to what is considered the end of the Renaissance, but it will not be the last you hear of it—and of Florence—from the tip of my pen.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

"Sarah Piper’s lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis – rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts – has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide. Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah’s task to confront her in death.

Soon Sarah is caught up in a desperate struggle. For Maddy’s ghost is real, she’s angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair’s assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance – before she destroys them all?"

3 Reasons Review:

The reason(s) why I wanted to read this book:

There's been quite a bit of buzz about this book lately, and I'm always up for a good gothic ghost story. Some of my favorite authors (Susanna Kearsley and Deanna Raybourn) did previews of The Haunting of Maddy Clare and gave it a thumbs up so I couldn't wait to dive in.

The reason(s) I liked (or disliked) this book:

Once I began The Haunting of Maddy Clare, it was impossible to put down. The character of Sarah Piper was very well drawn and I had an immediate visual image of her in my mind. Described as living alone and lonely in London in 1922, working temporary jobs to make any money that she could to support herself, I sensed her vulnerability and it was easy to see how she could be drawn into the frightening situation she had to face. The paranormal manifestations throughout the story were creepy and suspenseful (without being graphic), and as little Maddy Clare's shocking story unfolded, I truly felt haunted. And on a lighter note, what better situation for a lonely single girl to find herself in than an assignment where she's working closely with two attractive, eligible men? Both men are carrying the scars of war and are vulnerable in their own ways (psychologically and physically). Which one will she choose?

The reason I'm recommending this book:

Atmospheric.....haunting.....romantic......tragic......what's not to love in a gothic ghost story? This is a terrific debut novel and I will most certainly be looking for more from Simone St. James.

4.5/5 stars

Title: The Haunting of Maddy Clare
Author: Simone St. James
New American Library
genre: gothic/mystery/romance

I think the 3 Reasons review is a brilliant way to quickly review books! Thanks to Jenny @ Jenny Loves to Read and Staci @ Life in the Thumb for this terrific review format.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The King's Agent by Donna Russo Morin

Donna Russo Morin, author of To Serve a King and The Secret of the Glass, puts her fresh, original spin on historical fiction with this intriguing novel set in 1500's Italy, as an agent for the king of France searches for an elusive masterpiece and discovers a woman with a dark secret.....

my thoughts:

The King's Agent was quite an unusual reading experience....while I began the novel expecting a fairly straight-forward historical fiction novel featuring Battista della Palla -- an actual "patriotic plunderer" of the 16th century -- I soon found out that I was quite wrong in my assumption.

Set against the backdrop of political turmoil in Italy in the 1500's, Battista, along with his band of cohorts in crime, is commissioned to find a sculpture for Francois, the King of France. This sculpture, hidden for years from the world, is believed to have special powers, and once in possession of it, it would give France the power to overcome its enemies. The quest to find this powerful object begins with the clues from the canticles of Dante's Divine Comedy as well as a search for a Giotto triptych. Battista is nearly captured during one of his escapades, and the beautiful and mysterious Lady Aurelia (held for lifetime in seclusion) helps him escape. Delighting in her new-found freedom, Aurelia travels with Battista helping his group interpret clues and enjoying the rare opportunity for adventure. Their dangerous search for the powerful relic becomes of game of survival through "hell, purgatory and paradise" as they cross Italy following clues and outwitting dangerous traps and challenges. Will they be successful in reaching the artifact, or is its power too dangerous for mortal man?

A blend of mystery, art history, adventure, puzzles, the supernatural/mystical and a touch of romance makes the The King's Agent quite a unique read. The strength of the novel for me was that the author did a wonderful job of capturing the "flavor" of 16th century Italy, and the references to pieces of art and literature inspired me do a search for more information.

On a side note, I'm not familiar with the video game The Legend of Zelda, but the author mentions the inspiration for the adventures and challenges in The King's Agent were inspired by this video game.

3/5 stars

***I received an advance uncorrected proof from the author and publisher (Kensington Books) in exchange for a fair and honest review.***

Donna Russo Morin is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island. In addition to writing, editing, and teaching, Donna dabbles as a model and actor. She lives with her family in Rhode Island.

For more information about Donna Russo Morin and her books, please visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com.

For more information about the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The King's Agent, click here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

Miss Mariah Aubrey, banished after a scandal, hides herself away in a long-abandoned gatehouse on the far edge of a distant relative's estate. There, she supports herself and her loyal servant the only way she knows how--by writing novels in secret.

Captain Matthew Bryant, returning to England successful and wealthy after the Napoleonic wars, leases an impressive estate from a cash-poor nobleman, determined to show the society beauty who once rejected him what a colossal mistake she made. When he discovers an old gatehouse on the property, he is immediately intrigued by its striking young inhabitant and sets out to uncover her identity, and her past. But the more he learns about her, the more he realizes he must distance himself. Falling in love with an outcast would ruin his well-laid plans.

The old gatehouse holds secrets of its own. Can Mariah and Captain Bryant uncover them before the cunning heir to the estate buries them forever?

(from Goodreads)

my thoughts:

A very light and easy Regency romance with obvious nods to Jane Austen's Persuasion and Mansfield Park. The Girl in the Gatehouse is the perfect kind of book when you're in the mood for a charming tale of romance with a bit of mystery.

The story pulled me in right away and I was intrigued to learn the circumstances surrounding Mariah's scandal. Since a simple breach of propriety in those days could cause a person to be shunned by society, I felt compassion for her as she and her companion, Miss Dixon, settled in all alone in a cold, deserted gatehouse on her aunt's estate.

There's plenty of drama and angst in the manor house on the estate between the heir and his stepmother, as well as a lively cast of characters at the poor house across the road. Add in a handsome sea captain staying at the manor and you have a fairly predictable romance but there are many secrets and surprises that add a dash of spice to the story. Overall, an enjoyable inspirational tale of the power of forgiveness.

3/5 stars

Title: The Girl in the Gatehouse
Author: Julie Klassen
Bethany House Publishers
391 pages
genre: Christian historical romance

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Child of the Phoenix by Barbara Erskine

"The child whose hands would hold three crowns is born in fire......

In 1218 an extraordinary princess is born. Her mystical powers and unquenchable spirit will alter the course of history.

Raised by her fiercely Welsh nurse to support the Celtic cause against the predatory English king, Princess Eleyne is taught to worship the old gods, to look into the future and sometimes the past. However, unable to identify time and place in her terrifying visions, she is powerless. But her tempestuous life and loves tie her to the destinies of England, Scotland, and Wales."

my thoughts:

Child of the Phoenix was one of Erskine's best that I've read -- when she gets it right, she's good!!!! Like an alchemist, Erskine can blend history, religion, ancient beliefs and old magic, the supernatural, and the tragedies and triumphs of love and war that is storytelling at its best.

The strength of this book for me was that she set it entirely in the 13th century, (rather than a time-slip story as some of her other novels are) and nobody can transport me to the past like Erskine. While some historical figures have a role in this fictitous plot, the character of Eleyne, the beautiful and strong-willed heroine, is drawn from both the historical record and Erskine's own family history. She is a larger-than-life character from the moment of her dramatic birth during a devastating fire (a child of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth and Joanna), "a child of the fire." Raised by her nurse, Rhonwen, who believed in the old Celtic gods, Eleyne is taught to "scry" by looking into fire...only the visions are terrifying and she is not able to properly interpret them. Through her long and dramatic life of love and loss, triumphs and heart ache, she is a survivor and a powerful and intelligent example of a beautiful woman of her times. Hers is a great love story that defies even death, and I was left feeling (after 900 pages plus!) that I had experienced her life with her and I was really going to miss the fascinating Eleyne of Mar.

Recommended for those enjoy large, sweeping sagas with a blend of history and the supernatural....although I do admit to getting a bit confused and weary at the end of the novel when Eleyne's grandchildren came onto the scene...I just longed for a peaceful end for her and a completion of a her destiny.

5/5 stars

Title: Child of the Phoenix
Author: Barbara Erskine
915 pages
Harper Collins
genre: fiction

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »