Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: "Prisoner of the Queen" by E. Knight

Synopsis:  I have served three queens in my life. One was my sister, one was my savior, and one my bitterest enemy.

Knowing she was seen as a threat to the Queen she served, Lady Katherine Grey, legitimate heir to the throne, longs only for the comfort of a loving marriage and a quiet life far from the intrigue of the Tudor court. After seeing her sister become the pawn of their parents and others seeking royal power and then lose their lives for it, she is determined to avoid the vicious struggles over power and religion that dominate Queen Elizabeth’s court. Until she finds love—then Kat is willing to risk it all, even life in prison.

My Thoughts:  Prisoner of the Queen is a refreshing look at the life of Katherine Grey.  For the first time, she is portrayed as a strong, intelligent woman instead of as a foolish and naive girl.  I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Knight's unique portrayal of this fascinating historical figure.

Likes:  In addition to Knight's portrayal of Katherine, I also thoroughly enjoyed the cast of characters.  There were plenty of familiar faces but there were some less familiar characters who played big roles in the story.  Both the Duchess of Somerset and the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk were wonderful characters and I liked getting to know them and see their perspectives.  I especially liked the Duchess of Somerset; she was so cold and distant but at the same time she really did care about her children and doing what was right for her family.  I definitely want to read more about her in the future. 

Dislikes:  This was truly Katherine's story so I understand why some of her family didn't play huge roles in the story but I did kind of miss seeing Mary Grey as a character.  That was probably the only thing I found lacking with the story. 

I know the story of Katherine Grey and her demise but despite knowing how it would end, Ms. Knight's depiction of the events of Katherine's life kept me interested from beginning to end.  The combination of her portrayal of Katherine with a well-written narrative made Prisoner of the Queen a very compelling read.  3 1/2 stars.

About the Author:

E. Knight is a member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America and several RWA affiliate writing chapters: Hearts Through History, Celtic Hearts, Maryland Romance Writers and Washington Romance Writers. Growing up playing in castle ruins and traipsing the halls of Versailles when visiting her grandparents during the summer, instilled in a love of history and royals at an early age. Feeding her love of history, she created the popular historical blog, History Undressed ( Under the pseudonym Eliza Knight, she is a bestselling, award-winning, multi-published author of historical and erotic romance.

For more information please visit E. Knight’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: "Hand of Fire" by Judith Starkston

Synopsis:  The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis. 

My Thoughts: I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Hand of Fire. I don't read books about ancient times very often so I had no idea what to expect from this book.  Ms. Starkston did an amazing job of weaving mythology and history into a beautifully written tale of war, love and loss.

Likes:    I haven't read The Iliad ( but now I really want to!) so I'm not really familiar with Achilles and the only thing I know about this time period is the Trojan horse (which is not in this story) so I was a little clueless in the beginning. Despite knowing nothing about the background to the story, there was so much to love about this book.  The story itself was fantastic. It’s a tale of love during a time of war and it is a terribly romantic story.  The description of Briseis’ family home, the citadel of Lyrnessos, the priestess' rites were breathtaking.  I also loved the descriptions of the armor; because Briseis came from a metal-working family, there some very detailed descriptions of her father’s and Achilles’ armor and the images these descriptions evoked were absolutely beautiful.  I loved the incredibly detailed Author’s Note and I’m seriously impressed by the amount of research Ms. Starkston did. 

Characters:  Briseis is an incredible character.  I love that she is a strong female character but at the same time she doesn’t always see how strong she is.  I really enjoyed the parts of the story that detailed her role as a priestess and healer.  I am fascinated by the role of the healer throughout history so I loved that aspect of the story.  I struggled with Achilles as a character.  Achilles is supposed to be the hero of the story but he just seemed so incredibly damaged.  It was almost like the knowledge of his fate was sucking the life out of him and it was hard to watch.  Eurome was by far my most favorite character.  I loved her kind, calming presence and she was pretty sassy too.  

Dislikes:  I thought the story ended rather abruptly.  I was left with a lot of questions at the end and would have loved to know more.  

Overall, Hand of Fire was an excellent read. Ms. Starkston's writing is wonderful and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.  4 stars.

About the Author:

Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities. She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website

Follow Judith Starkston on FB and Twitter   

You can purchase Hand of Fire here:


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I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: "Shadow on the Highway" by Deborah Swift

 Synopsis:  May 1651. England has been in the midst of a civil war for nearly ten years. The country has been torn in two, and the King is getting ready to make his last stand against Cromwell’s New Model Army.
Abigail Chaplin, a young mute girl, has lost her father to the parliamentarian cause. But with her family now in reduced circumstances, she is forced to work as a servant at a royalist household – the estate of Lady Katherine Fanshawe.

Abi is soon caught up in a web of sinister secrets which surround the Fanshawe estate. The most curious of which is the disappearance of Lady Katherine late at night.Why are her husband’s clothes worn and muddy even though he hasn’t been home for weeks? How is she stealing out of the house late at night when her room is being guarded? And what is her involvement with the robberies being committed by the mysterious Shadow on the Highway?

‘Shadow On The Highway’ is based on the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman, sometimes known as ‘The Wicked Lady’. It is the first book in ‘The Highway Trilogy’.

My Thoughts:  Shadow on the Highway is an awesome work of YA historical fiction. I sometimes shy away from YA because it feels really immature but this book did not have that feel at all.  It is definitely my new favorite Deborah Swift book! 

Characters:  I must say that Ms. Swift's characters are amazing.  Abi was a great main character for so many reasons.  She was smart and sassy and the fact that she was deaf made her even more interesting and endearing.  Lady Katherine/Kate is frustrating at times but I secretly loved her. Even though we didn't seem much of Uncle Simon, the author did a great job of making him into a scary villain and Grice was quite the piece of work. 

Likes:  I liked so much about this book.  I loved that it was set during the Civil War (in England).  I don't know much about this era so it made the story even more fascinating to me.  The Diggars sounded like a really unique group and I would very much like to read more about them.  I also liked that the story didn't just take place at the estate; we got to see Abi on both the estate as well as in the town with her family so we got see both the very rich and the very poor.  I think the story was more well-rounded because it didn't just focus on one group of people. 

One thing that the story focuses on is how powerless women were back then.  Lady Katherine had nothing of her own; despite the house having been her mother's, it became her husband's property at the time of her marriage.  Abi had more freedom than Lady Katherine but both were subject to the whims of the men in their lives and Abi, as a servant, was subject to the whims of everyone in the house.  It was hard, at times, to think about how they really were at the mercy of these men and were only protected so long as the men saw fit to do so. 

As I do in many of my reviews, I have to mention the author's note at the was phenomenal.  There was information about the politics of the era, the Diggar movement, her research, etc.  I couldn't have asked for a better author's note.  Normally, I have a 'dislikes' section in my reviews but there wasn't anything that I really disliked about this book.  I didn't realize at first that this book will be part of a trilogy, but now I'm pretty excited to read the next installment!

Whether you typically read YA or not, you should definitely pick up Shadow on the Highway. You will not be sorry! 4 1/2 stars.

About the Author:
Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park. She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.

For more information, please visit Deborah’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mailbox Monday (28)

I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday again.  Check it out here!

Phew!  It's been a busy weekend!  We are going to California on Friday to visit family and I'm in full on packing mode.  I haven't traveled with Julia since she was 6 weeks old and it feels like there is so much stuff to pack.

Regarding books, I had a YA kind of week.  I've heard great things about all of these books and am really looking forward to reading them.

From the Library:

What books did you get this week?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: "Inglorious Royal Marriages" by Leslie Carroll

Synopsis:  Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them! To satisfy your schadenfreude, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES offers a panoply of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history….some of which are mentioned below.

When her monkish husband, England’s Lancastrian Henry VI, became completely catatonic, the unpopular French-born Margaret of Anjou led his army against the troops of their enemy, the Duke of York.
Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands—but at least they weren’t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses.
King Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed Louis XIV’s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did.

Compelled by her mother to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania—a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—emerged as a heroine of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Marie’s younger sister Victoria Melita wed two of her first-cousins: both marriages ultimately scandalized the courts of Europe.
Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start.

My Thoughts:  Inglorious Royal Marriages is an entertaining look at several complicated royal couplings.  It follows a few prominent royals from history, as well as several lesser know figures, and details their tumultuous and dysfunctional marriages.

Likes:  I liked that there was a good mix of well-known couples and not so well-known couples.  The author does a good job of not only detailing the issues that occurred during the marriages but she also gave a lot of background so the reader had a some context.  She described each individual marriage and historical figure as though the reader knew nothing about them so that you could easily see why these marriages were so messy.  I also liked how she wrote in an easy to read, colloquial way; it made the individual case studies more fun to read.  I was most intrigued by the marriages of the Duc and Duchesse d'Orleans and the King and Queen of Naples but they were all rather fascinating.  It was kind of fun to read about all of these incredibly screwed up marriages.

Dislikes:  While I appreciated that the author made sure the reader had some of idea of the historical context, there were times where it seemed like there was too many details not relevant to the actual marital issues causing some of the chapters to drag on.  I also wished that there would have been footnotes and more information about the research she did and where she got her information.  There were times where I thought "where did she get this information from?" but couldn't find it because she only provides a list of sources and doesn't indicate what information came from where.

Overall, this was an entertaining look at some of the more scandalous marriages in history.  3 stars.

About the Author:
Leslie Carroll is the author of several works of historical nonfiction, women’s fiction, and, under the pen names Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot, is a multipublished author of historical fiction. Her nonfiction titles include Royal Romances, Royal Pains, Royal Affairs, and Notorious Royal Marriages. She is also a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit, and is an award-winning audio book narrator.

A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. She also appears as an expert on the love lives of Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon on the television series “The Secret Life of [fill in the name of famous figure]” for Canada’s History Channel. Leslie and her husband, Scott, divide their time between New York City and Washington, D.C.

For more information please visit Leslie’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Wrap Up

August was an amazing reading month for me!  I read 11 books this month!  I hit my goal of 50 books read and reset my goal to 75.  As of the last day in August, I've read 55 books.  I need to read 5 books a month for the rest of the year to hit 75 and I feel like that should be doable.

Work was crazy in August and while it's not as crazy, it's still pretty busy.  We're going to California next week so we're getting ready for that.  I'm taking a Russian class this fall and it's taking a lot more of my time than I thought so things might slow down a bit around here.  I'm also taking a class about Laura Ingalls Wilder (post to come soon) but it doesn't start until September 22. So this fall is going to be nuts!

Here is what I read this month:

1.) Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
2.) Revenge and Retribution by Anna Belfrage
3.) Brotherhood of Fear by Paul Grossman
4.) A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
5.) The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan
6.) Red Winter by Dan Smith
7.) The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory
8.) The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
9.) The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar by Kim Rendfeld
10.) The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
11.) Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

What did you guys read in August?  Do you have big plans for the Fall?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: "The Laird" by Grace Burrowes

I'm excited spotlight The Laird by Grace Burrowes today!  Enter to win a copy of Ms. Burrowes' Captive Hearts trilogy here!


He left his bride to go to war...

After years of soldiering, Michael Brodie returns to his Highland estate to find that the bride he left behind has become a stranger. Brenna is self-sufficient, competent, confident-and furious. Despite her anger at Michael's prolonged absence, Brenna has remained loyal to her husband, though Michael's people, and most especially the uncle who held the estate together for him, make it clear they expect Michael to set Brenna aside.

Though his most important battle will be for her heart.

Michael left Brenna when she needed him most, and then stayed away even after the war ended. Nonetheless, the young man who abandoned her has come home a wiser, more patient and honorable husband. Brenna is hurt, bewildered, and tired of fighting for the respect of those around her, but if she trusts Michael with the truths she'd been guarding, he'll have to choose between his wife and everything he holds dear.


Sometime after she’d fallen exhausted into her bed, Brenna felt the mattress dip and shift. A pleasant whiff of vetiver, whiskey—and meadow grass?—came to her as her husband arranged himself two feet to her left.

The next sound was harder to decipher, but she managed—the soles of two big male feet rubbing together, the bedtime equivalent of shaking the dust of the day from one’s feet, a small safeguard in the direction of keeping the sheets clean if conducted with those feet hanging over the side of the bed.

Michael punched his pillows next, several stout blows that would have knocked wayward notions from grown men.

“Are you trying to wake me up, Husband?”

The punching stopped, and she felt him flop down onto the mattress—and heard the put-upon male sigh with which he tucked himself in.

“You did not lock the door, Brenna. My things are in this room.”

So was his wife.

“Neither one of us wants talk.” The bed was huge, and they weren’t touching, but Brenna could feel her husband thinking.

“I did not want you to conclude I was sneaking up on you.”

“You’re hard to miss when encountered in a bed, Michael. Go to sleep. Morning comes quickly.” And yet, she was pleased the pillows had taken a few warning shots on her behalf.

“You want time.”

“I want a good night’s sleep.” Though she should have anticipated that, like any man, Michael would want to beat a topic to death once broached. He could not ponder a discussion and undertake it in manageable portions; he must have done with it, regardless of the hour.

“I want time, too, Brenna Maureen.”

Brenna rolled to her side, wishing she’d left a candle burning, despite the extravagance. “Time for what?”

“I was a good soldier, once I saw what was expected of me. It’s part of the reason I went to France. I was to look after my men, the same as a laird looks after his people. When I went to France, it was much the same, though I was in a garrison with soldiers of a different nationality. We looked after one another, most of the time, and when a man lapsed in that duty, he suffered consequences.”

What was he saying, and why must he say it to her in pitch darkness?

“If I were planning to run off, Michael Brodie, I would have scarpered long since. Many and many a family has left the Highlands, including entire branches of clan MacLogan. I could easily have gone with them.” Though her own clansmen had hardly recalled where they’d stashed her, once she’d come to live at Castle Brodie.

A considering pause ensued, and then Brenna felt a single, callused finger trace down the side of her jaw.

“You might have left, but you stayed. I’m glad you stayed.”

About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes' bestsellers include The Heir, The Soldier, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish and Lady Eve's Indiscretion. Her Regency romances have received extensive praise, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Grace is branching out into short stories and Scotland-set Victorian romance with Sourcebooks. She is a practicing family law attorney and lives in rural Maryland.

Buy the Book:

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Charlemagne: Hero or Villain?" Guest Post by Kim Rendfeld

 I'm so excited to welcome Kim Rendfeld, author of "The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar" to the blog today.

Charlemagne: Hero or Villain?

Did Charlemagne unite his country when he seized his dead brother’s kingdom from his toddling nephews? Did he save Rome from the invading Lombards? Did he destroy the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxon peoples? Did he have his daughters educated along with sons? Did he cut his eldest son from the succession?

All of the above. Whether those actions make him a hero or a monster depends on whose side you’re on. Or in in the case of a historical novelist, which character’s point of view.

Alda, a Frankish aristocrat and heroine of my debut, The Cross and the Dragon, sees him as a hero. She follows the gossip about tensions between Charles and his younger brother, Carloman, each of whom inherited a kingdom when their father died. After Carloman’s death from an illness, she is relieved a strong leader takes over the entire realm, even though it means the king divorces a Lombard princess and marries a girl from an important family in Carloman’s former kingdom. Alda has little sympathy for Charles’s ex-father-in-law, Lombard King Desiderius, and supports the Franks’ invasion to save Rome from him.

Leova, a pagan, peasant Saxon and the heroine of my latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, has a very different take. In her eyes, Charles is a monster. His 772 invasion of Eresburg and the burning of the Irminsul ruin the good life she had. She has lost everything – her husband, her home, her faith, even her freedom. All she has left are her children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. The only Frank she loathes more than Charles is Pinabel, a count who could have preserved the Saxon family’s freedom but bought them as slaves instead.

Fastrada, the heroine of my work in progress with the tentative title Lady Queen Fastrada, has yet another perspective. As Charles’s fourth wife, she sees him as a husband and father. Pepin, Charles’s son from his first marriage, is angry with his dad because he feels cheated out of his inheritance.

So who was this guy we today call Charlemagne? It depends on whom you ask. 

In this excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Deorlaf, my heroine’s son, beholds Frankish King Charles for the first time at the charred remains of the Irminsul.

Deorlaf eyed the Frankish soldiers milling with the priests. Most of the warriors were only a few years older than he was, clad in leather armor. Some – with thick necks, broad chests, and stout legs – wore armor of small metal plates, and a few armored men carried swords and daggers with jeweled hilts and scabbards.

A few Franks glanced over their shoulders at the Saxons and nudged their friends. The murmur among them grew. Laying his hand on his dagger, Deorlaf thought he could make out sneers and glares.

“Peace,” Father Osbald said in a loud voice from only a few paces away. “These people have come to accept baptism. Anyone who interferes will feel God’s wrath.”

But the soldiers were staring at something behind Osbald. Deorlaf turned and beheld a Frankish nobleman, massive with muscle and towering above everyone. Was he spawned by a giant?

Wearing a headdress of gold and jewels, the tall, broad man strode toward the altar, where an old priest awaited him. All the Franks parted to make way for the nobleman and bowed to him. Adilstan, who had returned from the Weser River, followed and knelt before the Frankish leader. Deorlaf scowled. Coward!

The priest raised his arms toward heaven. “God bless his excellence, King Charles.”

May the gods curse the monster who destroyed our Irminsul, Deorlaf thought.

Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, like her on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

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