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Recommendation: The Flame And The Flower

The Flame and the Flower

by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss

“I have no intention of spending the night in a chair and leaving you the bed.”

Credited as being the first “bodice-ripping romance novel” and a modern historical romance, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower revolutionized a genre and in doing so, became an instant classic. Since it’s publication in 1972, the debut novel from a strong-minded military wife has sold millions of copies, declaring Woodiwiss as a true legend. The book was the first of its kind, featuring actual sex scenes between a helpless heroine in distress and her handsome hero, garnering interest in a time where the feminine movement was gaining speed and strength. Pushing through the censoring stigma of sex in print and bravely crossing boundaries, Woodiwiss presented a plot-driven novel that has sustained the test of time.

After murdering a deviant man intent upon raping her, Heather Simmons flees toward the docks and away from the scene of her crime. In her agitated and disheveled state, Heather is terribly mistaken for a prostitute and dragged onboard a ship where she is subsequently raped by its captain, Brandon Birmingham, who believes her to be a woman-of-the-night. When the act has reached its completion and he discovers her virtue to have previously been intact, Brandon inquires into the mysterious and beautiful lady’s story and learns of her situation. A bit dismayed by his actions, Brandon offers Heather a standing as his mistress in exchange for her silence, but ends up insulted when she refuses. Heather is able to escape from the ship soon afterwards and races back to her home, attempting to put the terrible incidents behind her.

But when Heather realizes that the act of rape has left her pregnant by the handsome but imposing Captain she ran away from, Heather is terrified. After her aunt discovers the secret buried in her womb, a plan is hatched against her will. Her uncle tracks the roguish Birmingham down and Heather’s cruel aunt insists upon a scheme to have the two married, much to Heather’s outrage. She wants nothing to do with the devil who hurt her, but the choice is not hers to make. Heather and Brandon are soon married and begin a sea journey to the colonies, where they are to make their new life together at Brandon’s home in North Carolina.

” The days grew into weeks and after making their turn at Grand Banks the weather began to warm as their sailed further south with the strong northerly breezes behind them hastening their journey. Under the ever warming sun the natural color returned to Heather’s cheeks and all signs of illness faded away. She bloomed more beautiful than any flower, and to look at her one could surmise motherhood definitely agreed with her. Whenever she was about on quarter-deck, close under Brandon’s hand, every man’s eyes were drawn to her at one time or another, and with the wind whipping her cloak about her and teasing a stray lock of hair she was something to behold. But never was there anything said nor done to suggest they thought of her as anything but the finest of ladies, and her delicate condition brought about many helping hands when she climbed to the quarter-deck. “

While the sins of their pasts begin to wreak havoc upon their newborn lives, Heather and Brandon become immersed in a dance of misunderstandings and simmering tension laced with passion and attraction. The women from Brandon’s former life as a single and eligible bachelor are ever present and their snide, simpering ways and remarks are a plague upon Heather’s attempts at carving out a home in a foreign land. As her belly grows with a healthy child, as do the feelings between the married couple, and a true romance between them eventually begins to play out.

” Though most of his time was consumed at the mill what spare moments he had he spent with his wife and son. He rose early in the mornings, yet found Heather up and tending the babe, either bathing him or giving him his morning nourishment. Enjoying both sights it became part of the rote for him to join her there before his day’s work began. A new, stronger yet unspoken bond began to build between them in those quiet morning moments they spent together with their son. “

Unfortunately for the couple,  their newfound amiability and amorous relationship is soon clouded by accusations of murder, revelations of immorality and dedicated character assassination. Heather and Brandon must fight together to protect their bond and their family, and in doing so, further strengthen the ties that bind them. . .a London girl to her brave Captain.

Readers who enjoy a classic and historical romance are sure to enjoy the trailblazer of this genre, and I give The Flame and the Flower a solid four out of five stars. It should not be compared to the steamy novels of today, but instead, appreciated for it’s bravery and honesty as a groundbreaking romance catering to subject matter that is otherwise not flattering. Woodiwiss went on to write 11 more bestselling romance novels, two of which are sequels to The Flame and the Flower and surround other characters (The Elusive Flame and A Season Beyond a Kiss). Readers can also find two novellas (The Kiss and Beyond the Kiss) to round out their Birmingham Saga series.

Kathleen Woodiwiss helped make the romance market what it is today and as such, should be celebrated and revered. In a genre where paperback romances can become nothing more than throwaways, The Flame and the Flower has survived and is still a valid and relevant novel for any romance reader to add to their collection.

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Recommendation: Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

“I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.”

Happy Summer!

We get lots of reading done in the hot and sticky months of June-July-August. Texas has unforgiving temperatures during the summertime and we avoid going outside until the sun goes down. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks plumping up my bookshelves with some great mid-grade and YA reads that vary from old to new, and as my children really loved this movie, I was excited to share the book.

Because you know, the book is always better. And you don’t have to wait long for the sequel, because it’s already in print!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a unique children’s novel in that it is told through a series of photographs paired with narrative, and that it is darker than the average mid-grade book. The author’s original intent was to showcase his collection of vintage and peculiar pictures via a photo album format, but decided to go another way and provide a storyline to accompany them. Inspiration can come from a variety of places for authors and Ransom Riggs‘ blend of creepy and cool is sure to capture the interest of many more children to come. The genre of mid-grade books has expanded in the last decade, providing a larger variety of subject matter and a lot less fluff for this particular age group, and I for one am very pleased. This type of book in particular allows the readers mind to become completely engaged, and the imagination can run free while trying to figure out what the monsters involved in the story look like and how the idea of a “time loop” really works.

Jacob has always had a strong bond with his grandfather. As the years went by spending time together was a priority for them both, and after a strange and grisly accident that results in his grandfather’s unexpected death, Jake finds himself confused and at a loss as to how to process his grief. Growing up, Jake’s grandfather regaled him with tales of the school he grew up in, carving images of the tumultuous era of World War 2, and of how young Abraham took refuge in a children’s group home near Wales. Abraham was surrounded by kids of a variety of ages and manner, but they all had one thing in common — they were peculiar.

One girl could make herself completely invisible. One young lady possessed a freak amount of enormous strength. A young child had not one, but two mouths — the second of which was settled at the back her skull. As one boy used his stomach as a vessel for protecting live bees, another teenager was able to resurrect the dead, all while at the same time appearing to be as heartless as the subjects with which he ran his curious experiments.

” I felt even more cheated when I realized that most of Grandpa Portman’s best stories couldn’t possibly be true. The tallest tales were always about his childhood, like how he was born in Poland but at twelve had been shipped off to a children’s home in Wales. When I would ask why he had to leave his parents, his answer was always the same : because the monsters were after him. Poland was simply rotten with them, he said. 

“What kind of monsters?” I’d ask, wide-eyed. It became a sort of routine. “Awful hunched over ones with rotting skin and black eyes,” he’d say. “And they walked like this!” And he’d shamble after me like an old-time movie monster until ran away laughing. “

Surely none of these stories were true? Jake had always chalked it up to idle bedtime tales and the ramblings of an old and lonely man. Except something is now haunting Jake. . . his grandfather’s last words to him were not that he loved him or that he would miss him, but — “find the bird in the loop on the other side of the old man’s grave on September 1940, and tell them what happened.” With the mystery of Abe’s death completely unsolved, Jake has a hard time finding any sort of closure or resolution. His parents refer him to a psychiatrist who suggests Jake visit and explore the place his grandfather always spoke of so fondly, and to see if he can hunt down some answers about this strange school so he can perhaps put some things to rest in his mind.

Unfortunately for Jake, once he arrives in England, he finds the orphanage of Abe’s childhood left in complete ruins and disrepair, apparently not having survived the brutalities of war. Not being able to garner much information from the townspeople is frustrating and leaves Jake to explore the small town primarily on his own. During one of his treks through the murky countryside he comes across a strange girl, and as it turns out, this meeting is not one of pure chance — it is this lovely, blonde young lady who leads him to the elusive Miss. Peregrine.

” ‘We peculiars are blessed with skills that common people lack, as infinite in combination and variety as others are in the pigmentation of their skin or the appearance of their facial features. That said, some skills are common, like reading thoughts, and others are rare, such as the way I can manipulate time.’

‘Time? I thought you turned into a bird.’

‘To be sure, and therein lies the key to my skill. Only birds can manipulate time. Therefore, all time manipulators must be able to take the form of a bird.’

She says this so seriously, so matter-of-factly, that it took me a moment to process. ‘Birds. . . are time travelers?’ I felt a goofy smile spread across my face. “

Jake feels as if he has entered another world completely and as he grapples with confusion and wonders if he has lost his mind, Jacob urges Miss Peregrine and the children at the home to explain to him what exactly is going on. The house he’d previously visited and found in ruins is now a beautiful and well-kept home, as if it’s part of some weird time warp. The children are dressed in clothes that seem to be from another time altogether. . . and all seem to have the same powers as those Abraham described in his elaborate stories. Miss. Peregrine explains that the house and its inhabitants are hidden in something called a “time loop” and that they all relive the same day over and over. The loops are set up by her particular kind all over the world for the protection of peculiar children and their rare gifts. Miss. Peregrine and other teachers like her are in charge of these special children and keeping them safe from a distorted race of monsters known as hollowgasts. The hollows and wights are the result of experiments gone wrong and use the children to expand upon their devious powers, hunting them down mercilessly and murdering them to absorb their energy.

Unbeknownst to the team of children and their leader, the hollows have been stealthily tracking them and are eager to engulf the children and receive special strength through their demise. Once Miss. Peregrine is kidnapped, it is up to Emma, Jacob, and a handful of other brave children to rescue her and try to restore the balance to the loop and their lives.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is a novel that I give 4 out of 5 stars to, and while it is geared primarily for mid-grade readers, I enjoyed it as an adult. I know that some adults who have read this novel took issue with the (completely innocent) budding romance between Jacob and Emma, especially as Emma previously had a romantic link to Abraham. I think that falls into the category of nitpicking and has very little to do with the story, especially as nothing but a mild attraction comes of it. Emma is a girl stuck in the 1940’s and whether or not she has actually aged internally or not makes no difference, seeing as how she has lived the same day for the majority of her life, with no newcomers brought into it until Jake. The story is whimsical and innovative and should be taken at face value instead of trying to assign labels to it in a modern day setting. I think readers are happiest when they just let fantasy be fantasy, and that is exactly what this book is.

If you or your child enjoyed the film version, I recommend picking up the book. There are two sequels (Hollow City and Library of Souls) and a companion book (Tales of the Peculiar). Readers might also be interested to learn that Riggs is planning a second trilogy set in the Peculiar world, the likes of which will be played out in America.

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Review: Scoundrel In Disguise

Scoundrel In Disguise

by Shaela Kay

Sarah waved her hand impatiently in the air. ‘There is no such thing. None of the men I have discouraged are truly in love with me, and I am not in love with any of them.’

Amused, Rex sat back in his chair, contemplating her. ‘They have all been going about it wrong, have they?’

‘Going about what wrong?’

‘Making you fall in love with them.’ “

There are few things that I love more in a good book than a bad boy, especially when he is hiding a heart of gold.

Scoundrel in Disguise certainly lives up to its name, providing a charmingly witty rogue to fall in love with.

The young and bright Miss. Sarah Mendenhall is anxiously awaiting her first social season in London. The prospect of spending her afternoons strolling through the busy city admiring ribbons and hats through spotlessly clean shop windows  and spending her evenings being twirled around a dance floor and admired by a room full of handsome beaux has Sarah positively giddy. She’s dreamed of this since she was a child, growing up along the banks of India, the smell of sweet jasmine a hazy companion to her sharply detailed reveries. And so finally, with the time finally here, she becomes wrapped up in all that society has to offer. But she has made a solitary solemn vow not only to her companion and keeper, Lady Rockwell,  but most importantly to herself – she will not marry any time soon. She will instead focus on enjoyment and pleasure, soaking up everything London has to offer — no matter what man catches her eye.

Sarah throws herself onto the scene like an excitable puppy, barely able to contain her excitement even under the strict eye of her caretaker. Her endless amounts of energy and her broad smiles instantly capture the heart of London society — from the male persuasion, anyway. The females are of course wary, sensing sizable competition in the cheerful brunette, but Sarah is lucky to make the acquaintance of a shy and kind young lady, Rosemary Reed.  The two quickly become friends and confidantes, and even Rosemary is left in awe of Sarah’s ingenuity and outgoing nature. Of course there are a few rotten apples in every bunch, and Sarah has the poor luck of also becoming familiar with Peter Mills, a spoiled and snobbish young man full of derisive conversation and idle gossip. Peter taints Sarah’s splash into society only a tad, because as is befitting her bubbly and flighty personality, Sarah moves on to the next man on her dance card — doing her best to leave the negativity behind her.

” Across the room, Peter Mills leaned casually against the wall and watched the scene before him with amusement. Another young gentleman came and stood beside him, following his gaze. Turning to Peter, the gentleman smiled.

‘Is not Miss. Mendenhall the most enchanting creature you ever beheld?’ His voice betrayed his admiration, and Peter turned his lazy eyes upon him. 

‘She is certainly causing quite a stir in society,’ he agreed. He looked back towards Sarah, whose musical laughter could be heard across the large room. Her cobalt eyes were bright with excitement; she obviously enjoyed the attentions of her many admirers, despite her flippant regard for any of them. She turned her head and caught Peter’s eye just then, and he winked at her. 

Sarah deliberately turned her head. “

But the impression Sarah has made on Peter is one that will follow her throughout the season, unbeknownst to her. For Peter, the activities of the season are nothing but boring traditions and tedious encounters with the same uninspiring women. Sarah has left him intrigued but not so much in the romantic sense, and when he finds out a secret that his old friend Jameson Rex has been fruitlessly attempting to hide, Peter sees an opportunity to exploit the young woman and provide himself with a bit of cruel entertainment. He seizes the moment and latches onto his Rex’s vulnerability, anxious to exploit and tarnish Sarah’s reputation.

Jameson Rex is a gentleman fallen from grace, and almost completely of his own doing. The whispers behind gloved hands and the assumptions made in mixed company have left him a man marked for exclusion. But if being included and free from scandal meant having had made a different choice, Rex would take the ostracism a hundred times over. High society has never meant anything more to him than shallow relationships and stiflingly polite airs. But with the threat of financial ruin on the horizon, and a household to provide for, Rex finds himself in a most inconvenient and wearisome position. He needs a wife. And a rich one at that. Leaving behind the only thing he loves, Rex has made his way into the city and used the last bit of money he has to procure a respectable place to live, where he prepares to engage himself with every eligible lady in town.

Rex is irritated and dismayed to find that his secret has already made its way into London and is circulating like wildfire. Yes, it’s true that he is the caretaker of a child.  Yes it is true that the child was born out of wedlock. A beautiful child. A perfectly sweet little girl named Caroline, who is the very epitome of everything good and pure that her mother possessed.  And while it was unfortunate for him that his uncle (the holder and distributer of the bulk of Rex’s financial means) found out about the child and cut him off monetarily, Rex has a plan. Find a suitable and financially flush wife. End of story.

” But Rex also knew that Peter Mills had connections that might help him. Among Peter’s varied acquaintance were many wealthy women friends — with as little desire to marry as he himself possessed. Women whose wealth and status in society meant that most people turned a blind eye to their actions. 

The thought that had formed in Rex’s mind as he first observed Peter Mills had filled him with abhorrence, but he knew that Peter could help him in ways that others could not. His stomach turned as he considered what he was about to undertake. Desperate times, he rationalized again. 

All this had passed in a moment, and Peter was still leaning forward, waiting for Rex’s reply. 

‘I plan to marry an heiress, of course,’ Rex said with forced calm. “

Regrettably for Rex, this is proving to be a problem. The women of London want hardly anything to do with him, given the scandal swirling around him like the coming breeze. Mothers are clutching their daughters close as if he is no better than a thief, no better than a. . . scoundrel. Following through with his plan is proving to be a difficult task, so when the rich Peter Mills comes to him with a proposition, Rex has no choice but to listen and accept.

The bet is simple : Rex must make Sarah fall in love with him.

The reward: five thousand pounds; a veritable fortune.

While Rex does find the bet to be rather uncouth and certainly not befitting of a gentleman, he is desperate. His little girl is counting on him and he cannot fail her. And so while he begins to woo the spritely and beautiful Miss. Mendenhall, he is working another plan behind the curtain. An old acquaintance is newly in town and she brings new prospects. But while Isabella is attached to an attractive fortune, she is also attached to spite, revenge, and jealousy — and Rex may have bitten off more than he can chew, especially as he is now balancing the two ladies.

Sarah finds Rex to be a perfectly reasonable friend and good man, regardless of what society is whispering about him. She’s heard the rumors and the insults masked behind good manners. Lucky for Rex, Sarah is a simple girl who always looks and tends to believe the good in people, even if it is to her detriment. She has no idea that there is an uncivilized undertone running through the veins of their budding friendship, especially since she enjoys her time with Rex so much. She finds herself looking forward to their driving lessons and her eyes search for his figure every time she enters a ballroom. But if she had fallen in love, wouldn’t she know it?

” ‘You do not believe I am dangerous?’

‘Not in the sense you mean.’

In two steps he was at her side, wrapping his arm around her waist and crushing her to his chest. She gasped, and he reached his other hand up, twisting his fingers into her hair. tipping her head back, he looked into her eyes. A wicked smile slid across his face, and he bent his head down. She turned her face away. 

‘Do you still think that now?’ he murmured, his breath tickling her ear. She trembled, but did not push him away. 

‘Mr. Rex, please — you are a gentleman!’

Rex laughed humorlessly. ‘That is not what I hear.’ “

When Peter Mills decides to up the ante on the bet and forces Rex into an even less desirable position than than the one he’s already in, Rex finds himself hesitating — the money is seeming less important when it comes up against Sarah’s feelings and reputation. Or rather, Rex is beginning to realize that his own feelings are leading him down a path that he did not intend, as he has regrettably found himself caught up in the spell that is Sarah Mendenhall.

But how could he ever expect her to love a scoundrel?

Scoundrel In Disguise is a proper historical romance written by author Shaela Kay. It comes after her first book, A Heart Made of Indigo, which follows the story and romance of Sarah’s brother and is set in India. While young Sarah is a supporting character in A Heart Made of Indigo, Scoundrel In Disguise is a standalone book, and I liked it better. I recommend reading the other if you enjoy the author’s style and are interested in learning more about Sarah.

 The historical references are well-researched and the romance is light and refreshingly full of morality, while the humor is witty and the characters are richly drawn. I really enjoyed this book and feel quite comfortable comparing it to the likes of Jane Austen; the time period is much the same and the romance is very similar. The story flowed brilliantly with almost no lull, and the character development was strong — especially for Sarah — who transformed from a silly and childish girl into an understanding and mature woman. Rex was dashing and full of wit, but I loved seeing his softer side. I am anxiously awaiting the story of Lady Rockwell; the author has teased a telling of the matriarch’s tale and I believe it would be a fine accompaniment to the world Kay has dreamed up.

I give Scoundrel In Disguise 4 out of 5 stars and recommend it for anyone who loves a sweet romance with a twist of scandal.

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Recommendation: Outlander


by Diana Gabaldon

“ Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,
I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.
I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done. ”

 The Second World War is at an end and British Army nurse Claire Randall can finally pick things up where they left off with her husband, Frank. On a second-honeymoon spent in cozy Inverness, she spends her days gathering interesting herbs and flowers along the rich hills and lush valleys while Frank becomes immersed in the task of researching his family lineage. After hearing of an ancient ritual involving a secret cult of women around a set of standing stones on nearby Craigh na Dun, Claire decides to sneak down and have a look, finding herself mesmerized by the dancing and traditions of years long past. But when she backtracks to the area to recover something, she gets more than she intended, essentially falling through the stones into another era.

Dazed and confused, Claire rushes through the thick trees in a panic, trying to find some semblance of normal. She runs into a man who looks uncannily like her husband, putting her even more off balance. Claire can tell by his uniform that he is from no time period even close to the one she came from, and she begins to suspect that she is stuck in some crevice of history. Captain Jack Randall spends the few moments they are together showing Claire that he and her husband, while they may look the same, have absolutely nothing in common. How her gentle Frank could be related to this brute of a man, she has no idea. Before the Captain can arrest her, he is knocked out by what appears to be some sort of band of Scottish bandits, and while she is initially grateful for the help, she is unwillingly taken as a hostage anyway.

Upon arrival at a secluded shack in the woods, her nursing skills are put to the test. One of the bandits has an arm out of socket and various other injuries. Under the tough and intense scrutiny of the rest of the supposed outlaws, she mends the man as best she can, all while trying to ferret information out of her captors. But as they suspect her of being a British spy, she does not get far in her queries, and is spirited off instead to their Laird’s home, Castle Leoch, despite her pleas to the contrary.

” ‘You’re hurt!’ I exclaimed. ‘Have you broken open your shoulder would, or is it fresh? Sit down and let me see!’ I pushed him toward a pile of boulders, rapidly reviewing procedures for emergency field treatment. No supplies to hand, save what I was wearing. I was reaching for the remains of my slip, intending to use it to stanch the flow, when he laughed. 

Nay, pay it no mind, lass. This lot isna my blood. Not much of it, anyway,’ he added, plucking the soaked fabric gingerly away from his body. 

I swallowed, feeling a bit queasy. ‘Oh,’ I said weakly. 

‘Dougal and the others will be waiting by the road. Let’s go.’ He took me by the arm, less as a gallant gesture than a means of forcing me to accompany him. I decided to take a chance and dug in my heels. 

‘No! I’m not going with you!’

He stopped, surprised at my resistance. ‘Yes, you are.’ He didn’t seem upset by my refusal; in fact, he seemed slightly amused that I had any objection to being kidnapped again. 

‘And what if I won’t? Are you going to cut my throat?’ I demanded, forcing the issue. He considered the alternatives and answered calmly. 

‘Why, no. You don’t look heavy. If ye won’t walk, I shall pick you up and sling ye over my shoulder. Do ye want me to do that?’ He took a step toward me, and I hastily retreated. I hadn’t the slightest doubt he would do it, injury or no. 

‘No! You can’t do that; you’ll damage your shoulder again.’

His features were indistinct, but the moonlight caught the gleam of teeth as he grinned. 

‘Well then, since ye don’t want me to hurt myself, I suppose as you’re comin’ with me?’ “

While under house arrest, Claire can think of nothing but finding a way back to the standing stones that brought her here – back to Frank. She is able to ascertain that she is trapped in the year 1743, in a precipitous and politically-charged Scotland. But although getting back to Frank and the 1940’s is occupying the better part of her mind, Claire is drawn to the russet-haired man she helped back in the shack. His name is Jamie Fraser, and in addition to being a resident horse-breaker at the castle, he is also the Laird’s nephew, a fugitive from the Crown, and a bit of a ladies man.

Because of her skills as a nurse, she is ordered to accompany Dougal MacKenzie and his men to collect rents around the area. Although she thinks this will finally be her opportunity to escape back to the stones, Claire cannot deny there is a hold on her here in the past. The trip to collect rents is an arduous one and full of all sorts of interesting characters. But Claire is not a fool; she can see that on top of the rents collected, Mackenzie is also soliciting funds for a Jacobite rebellion against the Crown. His tactics are, in her opinion, barbaric, and again she is drawn towards the young and roughy handsome Jamie Fraser. Much to her digress, Captain Jack Randall floats back into her life and begins to try and cause trouble, insisting that she is a spy that needs to be dealt with accordingly. While it is again disarming how much his face resembles Frank’s, their demeanor and character could not be more different. Jack Randall is cruel and sadistic, and to escape his evil clutches,  Claire is forced into a position that she does not want – she must marry a man for protection. Namely, she must marry young Jamie Fraser.

” It was a ‘warm’ Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either. Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James. If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent. My mouth fell open and stayed that way. 

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight — any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance. A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breath-taking. 

The thick red-gold hair had been brushed to a smooth gleam that swept the collar of a fine lawn shirt with tucked front, belled sleeves, and lace-trimmed wrist frills that matched the cascade of the starched jabot at the throat, decorated with a ruby stickpin. 

His tartan was a brilliant crimson and black that blazed among the more sedate MacKenzies in their green and white. The flaming wool, fastened by a circular silver brooch, fell from his right shoulder in a graceful drape, caught by a silver-studded sword belt before continuing its sweep past neat calves clothed in woolen hose and stopping just short of the silver-buckled black leather boots. Sword, dirk, and badger-skin sporran completed the ensemble. 

Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion, and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to — and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace, murmuring ‘Your servant, Ma’am,’ eyes glinting with mischief. 

‘Oh,’ I said faintly. “

Back at the castle as a newly married woman, Claire attracts not only new friends but also her share of enemies. While Jamie is keeping her occupied in most arenas, she finds time during her days to journey down into the village and make acquaintance with Geillis Duncan, a peculiar and somewhat eccentric woman, the two bond over their collected knowledge of herbs and natural remedies. There is more to Mrs. Duncan than meets the eye, and when the two women are accused of witchcraft, Claire learns something shocking about her red-haired friend.

After the unfortunate incident, Jamie and Claire flee to his childhood home of Lallybroch, and there stay under the care and judgmental eye of his older sister. Jenny is happy to have her little brother home for the time being, but she cannot help her suspicions about his new wife – Sassenach that she is. Jamie struggles with his desire to be man of the house and the ever-watchful eye of his stubborn older sister. He is eventually taken by British soldiers and in a reversal of roles – Claire must save him. . . from none other than Captain Jack Randall.

What comes next is a story not just of romance, but of deep-rooted love and genuine affection, of undeniable courage and the upmost honor, and of the understanding that using your wits and intellect is imperative. Claire finds herself thrust into an unknown and initially unwanted world, but she soon finds that the past can bring you to your future in more ways than one.

The Outlander Series is a set of novels that reach epic proportions, spanning 8 (and counting) novels and several companion books. They are not easy reads due mainly to their size (the debut novel clocks in at over 625 pages, in the large paperback version, with each novel growing larger and larger) and also to their somewhat elevated vocabulary. It is very obvious that the author, Diana Gabaldon, is an educated and intelligent woman, and the fact that she has spent many hours doing extensive research on each historical fact is extremely clear. Over the year that it took me to read all 8 of the novels and the Lord John Grey accompaniments, I did occasionally find myself groaning at all of the intricate detail. But my grumbling wasn’t enough to ever cause boredom or make me put the books down. It is very easy to fall under the spell of Claire and Jamie, and the rich history that surrounds them. It’s also very easy to stay trapped in that spell.

Outlander has been made into a popular television series by the Starz Network, and is currently filming it’s third season, on location. The first two seasons followed the path of the first two books closely, with few adjustments. The costumes are beautiful and the scenery is impressive, making it difficult for anyone to not want to book a plane ticket straight to Scotland in an attempt to fall through the stones.

The order of the Outlander books can be found on Diana Gabaldon’s website. Lord John Grey’s books are wonderful additions to the world that any fan will come to love, and I highly recommend them as part of the series proper. I also recommend the few novellas featuring other characters from the books, and they can be found separately or in compilation form on Amazon.

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Recommendation: A Discovery of Witches

A Discovery of Witches

by Deborah Harkness

” It begins with absence and desire. 

It begins with blood and fear. 

It begins with a discovery of witches. “

I usually seem to have the luck to stumble upon serial books at the end,  when all of the books in the set have been published and are in readily available circulation. I cannot imagine having started and fallen in love with a book only to realize that it’s part of a series that will take years and years to come into fruition (uh, hello – Game of Thrones?). I don’t like to wait. I’ve always been extremely impatient. So as a general rule, I try not to begin a series unless all of the books are out or unless there are at least 80% of the series already in publication. My memory is very poor when it comes to books and television shows and so I like to devour a story in it’s entirety before moving along to the next. This is why Netflix is probably my favorite thing ever – tons of shows with ENTIRE seasons means I don’t have to wait (and inevitably forget) week by week to see what happens to characters I am invested in.

So again, I was lucky when I came across what is commonly referred to as The All Souls Trilogy, a set of three books written by a newcomer to the mainstream literary scene – the enigmatic and old-worldly poised Deborah Harkness. After spending a year immersing myself the acclaimed Outlander series by well-educated Diana Gabaldon, I had become familiar with her intelligent style of writing and with the academically detailed way in which she writes. When a writer is educated and an intellectual, they can at times approach their writing in a way that can be cumbersome to read.  Because the majority of readers do not have time to really sit with a book and also due to modern-day society’s predilection to  churning things out and turning things over as quickly as possible so they can be on to the next, heavier books are not read as often as their shorter, less verbose counterparts.  It’s not necessarily the story subject but more the detail and sentence structure that can make it decidedly more difficult for the average reader to get through. Gabaldon, in my opinion, writes heavier books that can take a bit of a moment to get used to, and I was thankful to have spent that year with her before transitioning into the All Souls Trilogy because Harkness writes in a very similar style.

Deborah Harkness is most definitely a scholar, her academic resume boasting honored degrees from Mount Holyoke College and Northwestern, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of California where she is a professor of history.  She is highly regarded in the world of histrionic knowledge and literacy, having based her educational career on becoming a historian of both science and medicine, delving into the world of nature and magic. She is a well-versed authority in the world of alchemy, the occult, and their counterparts. Harkness spent time deep in the libraries at Oxford, researching and expanding upon her favored path, and as such, her debut fiction novel A Discovery of Witches, reads like an entertaining textbook of the science surrounding the supernatural world of witches, vampires, daemons, and magic in general.

And so the story begins.

When Diana Bishop calls up a manuscript during her research as an alchemical history professor at Oxford, she unknowingly pulls a book that holds the secrets of life – an elusive book that has been missing for centuries. In doing so, Diana evokes a song in her blood that reaches out to the otherworldly creatures around her, drawing them closer to her than she ever would have preferred. Witches aren’t supposed to mix with daemons, and certainly not with vampires – but the underground supernatural society around her won’t leave her alone until she concedes to call the book again -the mystical, and thought lost, Ashmole 782 – so that they may procure the secrets of their creation and purpose.

One of the creatures drawn to the professor is Matthew Clairmont, an ages old vampire who spends his days working as an distinguished and notable geneticist and his weekends unwinding with serious bouts of yoga and the finest wines to be found around. He is a slow-burning mystery with a serious penchant for Darwinism and is drawn to the secrets of the book from a scientific standpoint. He is as curious about Ashmole 782 as he is Diana, surprising himself as he begins to ignore the taboo that is the  vampire-witch relationship. He allows her to bewitch him, her unassuming feminine wiles taking the place of the emotional barrier that he’d originally intended to have. Matthew’s arrival into the attractive historian’s world begins to complicate things to an extreme degree,  not the least of which is that any relationship between them is strictly forbidden and unfortunately for them, the attraction only intensifies.

” In front of the fireplace, drinks in hand, Hamish could at last press his way into the heart of the mystery. “Tell me about this manuscript of Diana’s, Matthew. It contains what, exactly? The recipe for the philosopher’s stone that turns lead into gold?” Hamish’s voice was lightly mocking. “Instructions on how to concoct the elixir of life so you can transform mortal into immortal flesh?” 

The daemon stopped his teasing the instant Matthew’s eyes rose to meet his. 

“You arent’ serious,” Hamish whispered, his voice shocked. The philosopher’s stone was just a legend, like the Holy Grail or Atlantis. It couldn’t possibly be real. Belatedly, he realized that vampires, daemons, and withes weren’t supposed to be real either. 

“Do I look like I’m joking?” Matthew asked. 

“No.” The daemon shuddered. Matthew had always been convinced that he could use his scientific skills to figure out what made vampires resistant to death and decay. The philosopher’s stone fit neatly into those dreams. 

“It’s the lost book,” Matthew said grimly. “I know it.”

Like most creatures, Hamish had heard the stories. One version suggested the witches had stolen a precious book from the vampires, a book that held the secret of immortality. Another claimed the vampires had snatched an ancient spell book from the witches and then lost it. Some whispered that it was not a spell book at all, but a primer covering the basic traits of all four humanoid species on earth. “

Diana has done her best to deny the witch inside of her, pushing her illustrious lineage to the side and putting science and the foundation of her education in its place instead. But by calling that book, she has inadvertently set herself on a path that is irrevocable. She is the progeny of a powerful witch and an even more powerful warlock, the union of which has been strongly discouraged ever since due to the combination of powers her parents had that resulted in just. . . too much magic.

When Diana finds herself unable to call the book again, she and Clairmont begin a quest for the truth about the book, its origins,  and its properties. The situation  proving to be more dangerous than they originally bet on as more and more supernatural beings find out that she has access to the long-lost book. Some of these beings are willing to kill for the chance to Ashmole 782’s secrets, forcing a protective Matthew to spirit Diana away into modern-day France for her safety,  where she is immersed into the lives of his ancient vampire family. Much to their digress, his vampiric kin can see that Matthew is falling in love with Diana, becoming rapt by her spellbinding intelligence and the witch’s song in her blood.

” “I needed to get away from a witch.” 

Hamish watched his friend for a moment, noting Matthew’s obvious agitation. Somehow Hamish was certain the witch wasn’t male. 

“What makes this witch so special?” he asked quietly.

Matthew looked up from  under his heavy brows. “Everything.” 

“Oh. You are in trouble, aren’t you?” Hamish’s burr deepened in sympathy and amusement. 

Matthew laughed unpleasantly. “You could say that, yes.” 

“Does this witch have a name?” 

“Diana. She’s a historian. And American.”

“The goddess of the hunt,” Hamish said slowly. “Apart from her ancient name, is she an ordinary witch?”

“No,” Matthew said abruptly. “She’s far from ordinary.” 

“Ah. The complications.” Hamish studied his friend’s face for signs that he was calming down but saw that Mathew was spoiling for a fight instead. 

“She’s a Bishop.” Matthew waited. He’d learned it was never a good idea to anticipate that the daemon wouldn’t grasp the significance of a reference, no matter how obscure. 

Hamish sifted and sorted through his mind and found what he was seeking. “As in Salem, Massachusetts?”

Matthew nodded grimly. “She’s the last of the Bishop witches. Her father is a Proctor.” 

The daemon whistled softly. “A witch twice over, with a distinguished magical lineage. You never do things by half, do you? She must be powerful.” “

When the pair returns to Diana’s childhood home and her own family, Aunt Sarah and her partner Em, she discovers more about her parents and the secrets that they fervently held under lock and key until their dying breaths. What Diana grew up believing about her parents comes into question and confusion, forcing her to answer the call to her lineage and supernatural race. When she is given an inheritance of one of her parent’s must treasured secrets, a page from Ashmole 782 itself, she must begins the quest for answers. Diana, along with a faithful Matthew by her side, make plans to strike out to search for Ashmole 782 through the ages of ancient history and culture, hoping to discover and analyze the mysterious book’s birth.

” Matthew bent and picked up the dropped sheet of stationery. ” ‘My darling Diana,” he read aloud. “Today you are seven — a magical age for a witch, when your powers should begin to stir and take shape. But your powers have been stirring since you were born. You have always been different.’ “

My knees shifted under the image’s uncanny weight. 

” ‘That you are reading this means that your father and I succeeded. We were able to convince the Congregation that it was your father — and not you — whose power they sought. You mustn’t blame yourself. It was the only decision we could possibly make. We trust that you are old enough now to understand.’ “

Matthew gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze before continuing. ”  

A Discovery of Witches is full of the scientific mystique of alchemy and the better known properties of magical lore and the supernatural. The pace can at times seem a little slow but in retrospect, it is simply because the author is building you up with character analysis and introducing you to the subject matters that will become important as you reach the second and third books in the trilogy.  A television show based upon the books is currently in the works, with filming set to commence in the summer of 2017. Harkness is in the midst of writing a book called The Serpent’s Mirror that is centered around Matthew during the Tudor era. It’s estimated publication is in 2017. A detailed guide and companion book is also in the works for fans of the series.

Harkness is also involved in a convention called All Soul’s Con, where historians and fans can come together to explore the world of magic and science for a day of adventure and reading. This year’s convention is scheduled for Saturday, September 23 in the charismatic city and vampiric Mecca of New Orleans.

I give A Discovery of Witches 4.5 out of 5 stars and recommend it to readers who have a bit of time to sit down with a novel and the patience to allow a story to bloom slowly. the last quarter of the book moves very fast and the other two books in the trilogy also move in speedy plot changes as the duo hops from one time period to another on their magical quest. Readers who enjoy time travel, subtle romance, and strong female leads will enjoy this book.

Don’t forget to pick the other two up in this series if you enjoy the first. They read as follows:


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Review: Rhett Butler’s People

Rhett Butler’s People

by Donald McCaig

“He was alone; he would always be alone. Rhett could endure being unloved. He could not live without loving.” 

There are few books that I read that pull me in and keep me a willing prisoner. Few books can make me laugh and cry in equal measure,  encouraging me to succumb to emotions I’m not typically comfortable with.

There are even fewer books that I’ve read that have strong male characters that I’d love to get to know in real life. Love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with, to pick their brain and become enamored with in person. Men like Jamie Fraser of Outlander. Gino Santangelo of the Chances series. Matthew Clairmont of the All Souls Trilogy. Monsieur Perdu, curator of books and emotional librarian, of The Little Paris Bookshop

And Mr. Rhett Butler.

Rhett Butler’s People ended up being one of those books, with one of those characters, that I just could hardly bear to put down. I was hoping to learn more about the man who has charmed women with smiles and witty comments, with unexpected chivalry and undeniable criminality,  and I was not disappointed in the slightest.

There are few heroes who can make the transition from literature to the silver screen and back again, procuring and then keeping a captivating hold on an audience of millions for generations to come. Unfortunately many a man has been written to perfection in a book or a short story, but has lost his charm and sparkle once his character hits a television set. The same can be said vice versa.

However, Rhett Butler is not one of those men.

Mr. Butler captured the hearts of a nation in a book that at the time and for decades to come, was and has been considered a scandalous and racially charged masterpiece. Soon after his famous introduction via a heated exchange in a Southern belle’s plantation library, the rakish rogue with devastatingly good looks and insurmountable wit was brought to the theater, portrayed by the handsome Clark Gable. It was a casting of roles that could not have been better. Women around the globe swooned at his devilish charm while men admired his spirit and “don’t give a damn” attitude. Gone With the Wind was an instant classic.

” “Lurid Tales, Tom. Lurid tales are the South’s principal export.

When you describe us to your friends, remark the devilishly handsome, gallant Rhett Butler.” “

But where did Rhett come from? How did he become such a cad in a world full of Charlestonian gentlemen? Where did he go after he abandoned Scarlett on her journey back to Tara, with a gravely ill Melanie Wilkes and baby hunkered down in the back of her wagon and a trail of fire skimming at their feet? What made Rhett think he could behave the way he did – his flashy style and devil-may-care attitude? Why was his best friend a self proclaimed “fallen woman”; one Belle Watling, owner of a whore house? Where was his family?

If you’ve read Gone With the Wind or seen the film version, then you know what the story is about. A Southern Belle in times of war and it’s aftermath. Love and hate, slaves and freed men. It can produce images that are painful and difficult to read and watch, especially as a white woman. No one likes to speak of slavery. In Rhett Butler’s People, a different perspective is readily given. Whilst Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled and beautiful child of an Irish immigrant cotton farmer, expects African Americans to do her bidding and blatantly believes them to be below her, Rhett Butler’s views are different. He grew up on a rice plantation that owned slaves, but the oldest son of the Butler household believed the black man to be his equal, even from a young age. In fact, he preferred the slaves to his own family, finding solace, unconditional love, and in one case a father figure in the men of the different race.

“Ten days later, when Rhett returned to Broughton, Will had been buried in the slave cemetery and Mistletoe had been sold South. Broughton Plantation was miles of drowned, stinking rice plants.

Langston Butler was personally supervising a gang repairing breaks in the main trunk while Watling’s gang restored the interior trunks. Men trundled wheelbarrows of fill; women and children emptied pails and buckets in the breaches. 

Rhett’s father’s boots were filthy and he hadn’t shaved in days. His soft hands were cracked and his fingernails were broken. Langston Butler greeted his son, “We accounted you dead. Your mother is grieving.” 

“My mother has a tender heart, sir.” 

“Where have you been?”

“The free colored Thomas Bonneau saved me from the hurricano. I have been helping his family restore their homestead.”

“Your duty was with your people.”

Rhett said nothing.”

The story is told in the perspective of several different people, all of whom are close to Rhett and could be considered part of his lifeline, his own heart’s blood.

They are his people:

Rosemary Butler is his baby sister, the one family member he has and will always have affection for no matter what mistakes she makes as she grows into a belle herself. We follow Rosemary’s life from childhood to late adulthood, weeping alongside her as she suffers great losses during the war and as she learns lessons the hard way. Readers witness a transformation come about in her that is awe-inspiring and graceful.

Andrew Ravenel is one of Rhett’s childhood friends. The son of a gambling plantation owner who eventually loses everything worth anything, Andrew is constantly trying to find his place in the world and to make a name for himself – whatever the cost.

Scarlett O’Hara is the love of Rhett’s life, but she is in love with another.

Melanie Wilkes, a genteel and steadfastly loyal woman who is as respectable as they come. She considers Mr. Butler her friend and that is an honor taken very seriously by the other women of the Southern order.

Tunis Bonneau, a freed black man who dances the dangerous dance of the blockades.

Will Benteen is the wife of Scarlett’s sister and chief officer at Tara after the war. His guidance is helping to turn the plantation around, but he is met at every corner with a mysterious and nefarious display of sabotage. He is trying to keep everything moving for the people he shares his life with; women and children and a mentally crippled Ashley Wilkes.

Tazewell Watling is the presumed bastard son of Rhett Butler and he has a bone to pick, to say the least. Readers share his chronicled journey from an orphanage in New Orleans to boarding school in England, back to a masked ball in the Crescent City and an eventual trip over the pond to help heal the wounded heart of his caretaker.

And lastly, Ms. Belle Watling, the overseer’s daughter, business owner and partner, mother to Taz  and Rhett’s best friend. This relationship was the most significant to me, as a reader of both Gone With the Wind and this book. She was a woman I did not like, when told from Scarlett’s perspective, but came to admire and respect greatly in this book.

The war is coming and there’s no stopping it. The South has their beliefs, as does newly elected President Abraham Lincoln. Rhett Butler doesn’t know any other way to shield those he loves from this excess of greed, destruction, devastation, and senseless pride than to try and make as much money as he can, as quickly as he can, so he can provide for their futures – if they have end up having one. Luckily for Rhett, that while he was kicked out of West Point, he still has common sense and ingenuity on his side.

“Rhett Butler wasn’t too sentimental to profit from Southern blunders. The South grew two-thirds of the world’s cotton and Rhett knew Lincoln’s navy would blockade the Southern ports. After the ports were closed, cotton prices would skyrocket. Rhett’s cotton would be safe in the Bahamas before Federal blockaders came on station.

The money was nothing; ashes in his mouth. Rhett felt like a grown-up watching children playing games. They yelled, they gestured, they pretended to be Indians or Redcoats or Yankee soldiers. They strutted and played at war. It made Rhett Butler want to weep. He was helpless to prevent it. Utterly helpless.” 

But before he strikes out for California in search of gold, gambles for a living in New Orleans, and has miscellaneous adventures in Cuba and the Caribbean, he is invited to a barbecue on an old plantation called Twelve Oaks, courtesy of a young businessman named Frank Kennedy. It is there that he is to meet the one and only woman who will ever be able to hold him. The woman who will be in control of his heart for the rest of his life, whether he likes it or not. They are fated, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. And it is a fate met in tragedy time and time again.

“Frank hastened to his duty. With a polite nod to his host, Rhett withdrew to a quiet corner of the veranda. He wished he hadn’t come. 

Twelve Oaks buzzed like a honeybee swarm on its mating flight. There’d be marriages made today and doubtless a scandal or two. Swirling through the floral and Parisian perfumes, amid the gaiety, flirting, and jests was romance, as fresh as if no man or maid had experienced romance before. 

Rhett’s eyes fell on a very young woman in a green dancing frock and his heart surged. “Dear God,” he whispered. 

She wasn’t a great beauty; her chin was pointed and her jaw had too much strength. She was fashionably pale — ladies never exposed their skin to the brutal sun — and unusually animated. As Rhett watched, she touched a young buck’s arm both intimately and carelessly. 

When the girl felt Rhett’s gaze she looked up. For one scorching second, her puzzled green eyes met his black eyes before she tossed her head dismissively and resumed her flirtation. 

Forgotten the looming War. Forgotten the devastation he expected. Hope welled up in Rhett Butler like a healing spring. “My God.” Rhett moistened dry lips. “She’s just like me!” “

Much like it’s predecessor, Rhett Butler’s People isn’t all about romance. It’s not even mostly about romance. It’s about the people in Rhett’s life who make him who he is and who he becomes. It is a story of the decisions and hard choices he must make on behalf of those people and the paths that he is subsequently put down because of them. Many, many blanks are filled in for the fans who always asked themselves –“What happened to him? Where was he? Why is he like this?”

Instead of witnessing the evolution of a boy into a man during difficult times, we see that Rhett was always Rhett. He was always true to himself and what he believed. Even if it was the unpopular opinion. Even if it meant being stricken from the family Bible.

I loved this book. I can’t believe I let it sit on my shelf for as long as I did. I picked it up for $2 in the clearance section of my local bookstore more than a year ago and always meant to get around to it, but got involved in several other series and just didn’t have the time. I urge any fan of Gone With the Wind – whether literary or through film – to read this book. It is not an overly descriptive tome when it comes to the war; the author does not get bogged down the way some can when speaking on battles. It flows naturally and fluidly. And actually, so does Gone With the Wind. I know some people shy away from it because it’s a large book, but it’s not as difficult to read as one might think. I don’t recommend reading Rhett Butler’s People unless you’ve either read Gone With the Wind or seen the movie – or else you’ll find yourself asking what the hell he saw in that spoiled brat Southern belle, anyway.

Some of the language is not for the faint of heart. Due to the subject matter – the reasons for war and the spirit of the South – certain words that are not acceptable in today’s society are thrown around loosely and easily. It makes one uncomfortable. But I think that’s important. I think it’s meant to make us uncomfortable.

If you’ve read Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett, you will be confused and/or surprised at the last part of this book. It is written as if the book Scarlett was never in existence. There is zero bridge between these books other than the fact that it has some of the same characters. According to some research I did, the estate of Margaret Mitchell believed Scarlett to be a bit of an embarrassment and Rhett Butler’s People was meant to take the place of it. I didn’t much care for Scarlett and so I was thrilled to have this book replace it in my mind as to the proper ending for two people such as Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler.

I give this book five out of five stars and urge you to drop whatever you’re doing and read it! And if you don’t, well then frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

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Recommendation: The Nightingale

The Nightingale

by Kristin Hannah

“If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are. Today’s young people want to know everything about everyone. They think talking about a problem will solve it. I come from a quieter generation. We understand the value of forgetting, the lure of reinvention. Lately, though, I find myself thinking about the war and my past, about the people I lost. Lost. It makes it sound as if I misplaced my loved ones; perhaps I left them where they don’t belong and then turned away, too confused to retrace my steps.                   

This is the only novel I have read by Kristin Hannah, and I have to say, I am anxious to read more. She has a beautiful writing style. Not all authors can write storylines in tandem and have you feel the same emotions for one character as you do another, especially when both characters are so different. The story is richly woven with a backdrop that is both sorrowful and hopeful.

The Nightingale follows the lives of two sisters during the time period of WWII.

Vianne,  the mature and responsible older sister of the duo is a mother to a young daughter and has carved out her life in the happy family home. She lives in a small, quiet village in France where she teaches young children at the local school. She has a husband that she loves dearly and best friend right around the bend, their daughters are as close as the mothers are. One day her husband gets the order that he must go to war, something Vianne has been equally dreading and pretending could never happen to them. Her world is very tiny and she is in denial that anything untoward could ever happen to her perfect bubble of happy.

Isabelle is a vivacious teenager with an unrelenting desire for rebellion. She lives in the beloved city of Paris where she goes to school and works at her father’s bookstore, and where she finds the prospects of war all very romantic – at first. She is impetuous , tenacious, and has the recklessness of youth pushing her forward, without a care for what lies behind her – only what lies ahead. She gets wrapped up in the underground Resistance Movement; the French fighting the Nazis from the inside out, and as a result is finally able to find a purpose to her life.

“Antoine kisses Vianne with a gentleness that made her want to cry. “I love you,” he said against her lips. “I love you too,” she said, but the words that always seemed so big felt small now. What was love when put up against war? “Me, too, Papa. Me, too!” Sophie cried, flinging herself into his arms. They embraced as a family, one last time, until Antoine pulled back. “Good-bye,” he said. Vianne couldn’t say it in return. She watched him walk away, watched him merge into the crowd of laughing, talking young men, becoming indistinguishable. The big iron gates slammed shut, the clang of metal reverberating in the hot, dusty air, and Vianne and Sophie stood alone in the middle of the street.”

Once war comes to Paris in full force, Isabelle must leave the city and travel to be  with her older sister in the country. She does so quite reluctantly and with a lot of protestations, but her father is insistent. The relationship between Isabelle and her father is strained at best. In fact, Isabelle isn’t really close with anyone in her family. She has always found her father and sister to be weak and for lack of a better word, cold. From my point of view, Isabelle initially comes off as a bit spoiled and angry. I don’t think she realizes the sacrifices that have been made for her so that she could have a semblance of a stable life, nor does she understand that her older sister never meant to be cold – she just felt she had to take on the role of mother and as such, had to leave childhood behind, all while desperately trying to carve out a piece of happiness of her own.

“After what felt like an eternity, silence fell. It was almost worse than the noise. What of Paris was left? By the time the all clear sounded, Isabelle felt numb. “Isabelle?” She wanted her father to reach out for her, to take her hand and comfort her, even if it was just for a moment, but he turned away from her and headed up the dark, twisting basement stairs. In their apartment, Isabelle went immediately to the window, peering past the shade to look for the Eiffel Tower. It was still there, rising above a wall of thick black smoke. “Don’t stand by the windows,” he said. She turned slowly. The only light in the room was from his torch, a sickly yellow thread in the dark.                                                                           “Paris won’t fall,” she said. 

On her way to the country, Isabelle comes across a young man in the woods and after striking up a conversation, they decide to travel the rest of the path together. In her efforts to impress him, Isabelle decides she is going to do something that matters. What that will be, she isn’t sure, but it will be something that will end up garnering a lot of attention – from both sides of the battlefield. She sets her mind to something and goes for it wholeheartedly.

I have read several books set during this time period and what I found unique about this novel was the perspective. It is told from the view of two Frenchwomen who are in their own way, fighting against the Nazi occupation and rebelling against the horrors of Hitler’s regime as well as finding empathy for the young German men who were caught up in something they had little choice about. The French suffer greatly during this war and this novel really humanizes that. Some of the scenes are heartbreaking and even though you know history and what happened, it is hard to read and hard to believe. But both women remain strong and steadfast through it all, finding ways to slowly move forward in an environment that continuously threw them the worst life had to offer.

As the story progresses, Nazis commandeer Vianne’s home and a soldier is made to stay with her. The feelings she has about Nazis and the feelings she has for this particular soldier are conflicting and she and Isabelle’s relationship becomes even more difficult. They have a hard time understanding one another and their points of view are very different; Vianne is a mother who is unwilling to do anything that could compromise the safety of her young daughter and Isabelle is an impetuous woman who only sees things in black and white.

Isabelle eventually goes undercover as an agent of the Resistance as The Nightingale; her job is to ferry Jews across the border to safer lands and she takes her job very seriously. The journey is always perilous and extremely dangerous but none of that will turn Isabelle from her goal. It’s infinitely exciting and so amazing to read, and it’s even more fascinating to know that Isabelle and her actions are based upon a real person. The acts of heroism and selflessness are extraordinary and so very touching.

“How can you be afraid?” she said to her reflection. She had hiked the Pyrenees in the falling snow and swum the rushing cold waters of the Bidassoa River beneath the glare of a Spanish searchlight, she’d once asked a Gestapo agent to carry a suitcase full of false identity papers across a German checkpoint “because he looked so strong and she was so very tired from traveling,” but she had never been as nervous as she was right now. She knew suddenly that a woman could change her whole life and uproot her existence with one choice.”

I fell in love with this book and had a hard time putting it down once I started. The characters are so compelling and so different from one another, and their sense of loyalty to country and kin is something that I greatly admire. I don’t know that I could have had the courage that these women did in those times; I would like to say I would have. I smiled and cried along with their journey and was very pleased with the ending. It gave a wonderful feeling of closure.

I highly recommend The Nightingale and I give it 5 out of 5 stars. It is a beautiful story of family and strength, and the story surrounding the war is original and never gets bogged down. The novel flows naturally and is easy to get wrapped up in, so many sure you have some time before you sit down and become enthralled!

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Review: The Red Queen

The Red Queen

by Philippa Gregory

“My life comes down to this: a court that has forgotten me, a husband who mocks me, a son who has no use for me, and a God who has gone silent. It is no comfort to me that I despise the court, that I never loved my husband, and that my son was born only to fulfill my destiny, and if he cannot do that, I don’t know what use we are to each other. I go on praying. I don’t know what to do but that, I go on praying. “

To say I was a little apprehensive at reading this book would be an understatement. And it wasn’t for any of the obvious reasons. I love this author – I mean really love her. It was because I made the mistake of “seeing the movie” before reading the book. It’s a mistake I really try not to make, but alas…

My husband brought The Other Boleyn Girl, a historical fiction novel, home for me one day after he’d popped in to the bookstore to grab something for himself. I’d never read anything from the author, Philippa Gregory, but I’d seen the movie and wasn’t terribly impressed. At the time he gifted me with the book, I was coming off of a year of reading nothing but hist-fic and was feeling a bit too full of it. The novel sat on my bookshelf for several months as I binged on a few junk-food-for-the-brain books.

But I eventually picked The Other Boleyn Girl back up. And while I initially only began reading it because I wanted to appear thankful to my husband for buying a book for me, I quickly became enthralled in the twisted and turning story of two sisters who were intimately involved with a powerful king. In a world that treated women as nothing more than pieces on a chessboard controlled by men, the Boleyn sisters took their fate into their own hands. I knew next to nothing about the Tudor Dynasty other than the most famous patriarch was notorious for having had multiple wives and that his daughter famously remained unwed during her reign.

After my introduction to Philippa Gregory’s novels, I picked up a few more and read them, enjoying them just as much as The Other Boleyn Girl. I learned that while her books had no official serial order, it did get a little confusing bouncing from one place in time to another and a lot of times seeing the same characters at different points of their lives. So, before I continued on my quest of reading all of her novels, I decided to do some research and found a chronological order so that I could begin at “the beginning.”

The beginning was: The Cousins War, also known as The War of the Roses (the book that begins this is The Lady of the Rivers.) Again, I knew next to nothing about this period in history but I can tell you as someone who has never been historically inclined that the English monarchy truly is fascinating, especially when told from the perspective of this author. So many plots and lies and deceptions, it is truly unreal! Really fun and easy to read and even though you know what is going to happen because you know who ended up king or queen in the end, the path to that station is by no means straight or narrow.  The books offer a visible family tree and I did more research on my own as I read along; I just couldn’t help it. It was literally a war of cousins, each line descended from the Plantagenets and both feeling that their claim to the throne was the right claim. The white rose of York on one side and the red rose of Lancaster on the other, the two cadet branches scheming and warring against each other for the throne of England for much of the 1400’s. In my mind, I had this vision of the English throne being one of luxury and opulence, but in these times, it was quite the opposite. The kings and queens of this era were never truly safe and were constantly riding out to war (against their cousins, no less) to protect their claim. King Edward IV (the ruler during much of The Red Queen) had a few years of peace, but it came at a heavy price.

Philippa Gregory is a proponent of strong women, who are unfortunately much left out of the history books during this time period. She does extensive research and creates a fictional story around fact. The people are real, the main events are real, and the timeline is real. The author simply fills in the gaps. The Red Queen is a story told in tandem with The White Queen (also by Gregory). It is the same story told by two very different perspectives. I read The White Queen before The Red Queen, but you could also reverse it.

The Starz Network offered a television series produced by the BBC called The White Queen, which was based on a combination of several of Philppa Gregory’s novels, including The Red Queen. I watched it before I began reading the “Cousin’s War series” and fell in love with it very quickly, with one exception : Margaret Beaufort, heir to the House of Lancaster, wearer of the red rose, and the star of The Red Queen herself. The way she was portrayed on the television series was so completely annoying that I could barely stand her. She was ridiculously pious, incurably whiny, completely and utterly intolerable. I cringed every time she was focused on and couldn’t wait to get back to the scenes with the fascinating and beautiful White Queen, Elizabeth Woodville.

So, when it came time for me to chronologically read The Red Queen, I was almost dreading it. I was coming off The Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen which were so completely wonderful and interesting that the thought of spending a week with the dowdy and obnoxious Margaret Beaufort really had me feeling a bit down. But I had to power through. Once I commit to a series, I don’t stop until I’ve read them all.  Upon retrospect, I think that Philippa Gregory wrote The White Queen in such a way as to be completely opposite of The Red Queen, to give you both sides of the coin. Elizabeth Woodville is blonde, tall and elegant, beautiful and strong. She was virtually a commoner before she became queen by marriage; her mother had royal blood in her but after her first husband died, Jaquetta de Luxembourg married a common man and had all of her children by him. Margaret Beaufort is brunette, plain, never taken seriously, and always pushed to the background. The one thing she had going for her was that she was royal by blood and as a result, very proud of her ancestral position. The two books weave in and out of each other, and you really shouldn’t read one without reading the other.

“I look at myself in the mirror before I go down to him, and I feel once again my fruitless irritation at the York queen. They say she has wide gray eyes, but I have only brown. They say she wears the tall, conical hats, sweeping with priceless veils that make her appear seven feet tall; and I wear a wimple like a nun. They say she has hair like gold, and mine is brown like a thick mane on a hill pony. I have trained myself in the holy ways, in life of the spirit, and she is filled with vanity. I am tall like her, and I am slim from fasting on holy days. I am strong and brave, and these should be qualities that a man of sense might look for in a woman.”

I began this book with very low expectations and it took me about 20-30 pages in before I was able to let go of them and begin to enjoy the story. It opens with Margaret’s childhood and explains how she is very anxious to be considered special in a world that does not believe any woman is worth anything besides giving birth to an heir. She decides the best way to achieve this is to throw herself into religion, praying to a perceived obscene amount and attributing each and everything in her life to the will of God. Her religious nature was not uncommon for the times, but Margaret was unique in that even when she knowingly did bad things on behalf of whatever reason she came up with, she would say it was “God’s will.” Her ends always justified her means, even when it came to murder.

“I am dizzy from fasting and praying, and I rub my knee where I knocked it. There is a wonderful roughness on the skin, and I put my hand down and pull up my nightgown to see both knees, and they are the same: roughened and red. Saints’ knees, praise God, I have saints’ knees. I have prayed so much, and on such hard floors, that the skin of my knees is becoming hard, like the callous on the finger of an English longbowman. I am not yet ten years old, but I have saints’ knees. This has got to count for something, whatever my old lady governess may say to my mother about excessive and theatrical devotion. I have saint’ knees. I have scuffed the skin of my knees by continual prayer; these are my stigmata: saints’ knees. Pray God I can meet their challenge and have a saint’s end too.”

Margaret is so dramatic that you expect it to be really annoying, but it ends up becoming quite charming and funny. It’s just her way. She so desperately wants to be named as important and she will do anything she can to get attention.  Young Margaret yearns to be noticed and revered as much as a girl named Joan, who as it turns out, becomes Joan of Arc. I found it funny that this is much how The Lady of the Rivers begins (the story of Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta), as Joan has been captured and is subsequently executed after spending time in the de Luxembourg household.

The book really gathers speed quickly. Margaret grows up to be married off to one of the two Tudor brothers (a line that came from quite the juicy scandal, of which I had no idea), and gives birth to the only Tudor (and Lancastrian) heir, Henry Tudor (the father of the famous Henry VIII).  Henry is Margaret’s only child and her sole purpose in life becomes the job of getting her son to the throne of England; a throne that she believes has been stolen from him by the York line and subsequently, Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. The plots Margaret devises and is involved in, along with her multiple husband’s and her brother-in-law, to get her son to the throne are underhanded, elaborate, and sometimes quite crazy, weaving a complicated tapestry of deceit and nefariousness that spans years. She believes she is up against a real live witch in Queen Elizabeth, which is something quite fascinating and may have been more true than Margaret actually believed. Some of the historical facts associated with Elizabeth (and her mother) are incredible in relation to witchcraft and sorcery. Margaret never can get over her jealousy of the White Queen, a jealousy that bleeds into the relationship she has with Elizabeth’s daughter…who, surprisingly enough, will eventually become Margaret’s daughter-in-law.

“I rise from my stool. This damned woman, this witch, has been in my light ever since I was a girl, and now, at this very moment when I am using her, using her own adoring family and loyal supporters to wrench the throne from her, to destroy her sons, she may yet win, she may have done something that will spoil everything for me. How does she always do it? How is it that when she is brought so low that I can even bring myself to pray for her, she manages to turn her fortunes around? It must be witchcraft; it can only be witchcraft. Her happiness and her success have haunted my life. I know her to be in league with the devil, for sure. I wish he would take her to hell.”

Again, Margaret was extremely pious, and while I found it nearly unbearable in the television series, I began to find humor in it in the book again and again, which is how I believe the author intended it to be. She will be plotting the deaths of someone and then justify it as an act of God, and the way it is written you really cannot take this woman seriously at all…but there is such a charm to this book that you want to keep reading. I found it most interesting and brilliant the way Philippa Gregory wove the mystery of “The Princes in The Tower” into Margaret’s story and the how the curse the York queen placed on the boy’s murderer ended up playing out.  The apparent murder of the boys is horrific, and the fact that no one ever knew what happened to the two princes is fascinating.

You don’t want to root for Margaret because she is certainly not a heroine, but she’s also not quite a villain, and so you are left curious to see where her plotting is going to get her. Her perseverance and tenacity surprisingly brings her exactly to the day she’s always waited for – not only to see her son take the seat of the King of England, stealing it away from a witch and usurper, but also to be able to call herself “My Lady, the King’s Mother, Margaret Regina,” a title she’d been wanting to call herself for the majority of her life. She plays the long game, and she wins.

I would highly recommend The Red Queen, giving it 4 out of 5 stars, but I would only suggest reading this after The Lady of the Rivers and The White Queen…..and before you watch the series on Starz or Amazon Prime.

Amanda Hale as Lady Margaret Beaufort in the BBC production of The White Queen