Book Review: Wendy Vella’s The Reluctant Countess

The-Reluctant-Countess-by-Wendy-Vella Title: The Reluctant Countess
Author: Wendy Vella
Genre: Historical Romance
Rating: 2 out of 5
My Copy: Borrowed from friend

I’m not sure what to say about Wendy Vella’s The Reluctant Countess. From the synopsis it’s publicized as a Cinderella type plot and it has aspects of it, but Vella just falls short.

Regal, poised, and elegant, Sophie, Countess of Monmouth, is everything that a highborn lady should be. But Sophie is hiding a past that is far from royal. When Patrick, Earl of Coulter, realizes that her story doesn’t add up, he resolves to find out the truth of what Sophie and her sister-in-law are concealing. Although Sophie has every reason to avoid him, the handsome and charismatic Patrick awakens something wicked deep within her soul . . . a powerful need that Sophie must stifle in order to protect her place in society.

Despite Sophie’s humble background, the raven-haired beauty has won Patrick’s heart. But what Sophie needs now is an ally. Viscount Myles Dumbly, the disgruntled former heir of Monmouth, is determined to expose Sophie as a fraud to recapture his lost inheritance. Soon Patrick is drawn into a fight for both their lives. Somehow he must find a way not only to rescue Sophie from poverty once and for all, but to keep her in his arms forever.

As for character development, there are some issues. The main problem for me is the villain. He’s introduced as hating Sophie and wanting to find out the truth behind her marriage to the late earl. Villains, especially those in a Regency romance do tend to be dastardly, but this one just was meek. A lot of things just don’t make sense. If the earl was dying and as the earl’s heir, wouldn’t he be there to protect his claim especially if there was talk of the earl’s apparent marriage? Speaking of marriage…Sophie married the earl on his deathbed and her son becomes the heir, hence displacing the villain. Here’s the thing… her son turns out to be her brother and of course her brother was already born when Sophie married the earl and therefore cannot be the heir! I understand being out in the country and away from London gossips, but here’s the thing- communities were small enough that people would be aware if the new mistress of the house was pregnant. Servants gossip and how in the world did the earl’s sister, Letty, manage to hush everyone up in the household is beyond me, unless they fired the lot and only retained a few in confidence. I can suspend disbelief, but in this situation it just doesn’t work for me. At one point the villain confronts Sophie and she says something to the effect of, “you got a title passed to you.” What title was that and why isn’t it attached with the others? You can’t just pick and chose with titles will pass just like you can’t pick out of a hat who your heir is going to be.

I didn’t find Sophie and Patrick’s romance all that convincing. It seemed to me she married him because she didn’t have a choice. Obviously marrying Patrick offers some protection (ahem from the possibility of the Ton finding out you weren’t married to your first husband), but I never got the impression Sophie loved Patrick. There wasn’t any indication of feelings of dislike and distrust turning into admiration and then love. It’s also never fully explained why Patrick was interested in knowing more about Sophie. It’s not like he had a claim on the title or was in any way a friend of the family. Yes, Vella writes he visited the earl a few days prior to his death, which again brings up the question of Sophie. Wouldn’t the earl have mentioned he’d married? Vella presents Sophie as a beautiful woman who pretty much keeps men at a distance. If Patrick was interested in her favors, I’d expect an author to describe his lust at seeing her for the first time or something to that effect, but we don’t. His sole purpose is to expose her as a charlatan, but then he changes his feelings regarding Sophie 25% in.

I do have to make note of the language because it sounded too modern. I know it is difficult to write a certain way, but for me when an author sets a novel in the past, I expect it to sound like a product of the time period or as close as possible.

I debated heavily with the rating. In the end, I gave it a two because Vella fails to execute the plot and problems regarding inheritance. I’ve read some well- written Cinderella plots in the past. Julie Ann Long’s To Love a Thief comes to mind as well as Pamela Britton’s Scandal.

Book Review: “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

ImageTitle: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Genre: Romance, Historical Fiction, Fantasy
Series: Yes (Book 1 of 7)
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

The first thing you encounter when you pick up a copy of Outlander is probably surprise, and maybe a bit of intimidation; the novel is a veritable tome, weighing in at well over 800 pages. Oftentimes, this is enough to scare away the more casual reader, but for me, it was more the book’s reputation and popularity that gave pause.

Throughout my bookish life, I’ve been told I ought to read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. It is the single, most oft-recommended book that I’ve ever had suggested to me, and so not inclined to follow the crowd, I resisted. News of an impending mini-series wrought by Ron Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame helped entice me to overcome this initial reluctance, as did the full knowledge of the book’s premise: Jacobite Scotland, espionage, intrigue, highland adventures, and time travel. What’s not to love? As I’ve been on a time travel kick lately, what list of epoch-defying novels is complete without Outlander?

Here ye be warned–spoilers abound in this lengthy review for a lengthy novel.

Following World War II, Claire Randall and her husband, Frank, embark upon a second honeymoon to Scotland in an attempt to rekindle their war-dwindled romance. Venturing into the countryside, they come across a circle of standing stones, and as Claire is sucked back in time, we are likewise taken along with her.

The conveyance which transported Claire back two hundred years is simultaneously brilliant and eyebrow-raising. A megalithic circle akin to that of Stonehenge, called Craigh na Dun, is deemed responsible,  and it is also suggested that this is a natural phenomenon that the ancients knew of but did not fully understand. It is implied not that the stones themselves possess the power to thrust a being back in time, but rather more realistically, that the stones were erected ages ago to warn passersby to stay away. Gabaldon’s inclusion of the mythic legends regarding fairies was also clever, and in context, such legends would be a satisfactory explanation for previous occurrences of time travel.

The juxtaposition of Claire’s 20th century mind with the 18th century culture she finds herself thrown into is amusing as well as fascinating. While she’s intelligent enough to avoid more of the situations that would create more comedic scenarios, she’ll still slip and use phrases like “Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars,” confusing those around her and eliciting a chuckle from the reader.

Loch Ness monster? Really, Gabaldon? Someone please convince me how this contributed to the plot. It felt like nothing other than a Scottish cliche inserted to amuse the ignorant masses, who cannot think of Scotland save to conjure images of a smiling Nessie sporting a plaid tam.

I’m going to risk incurring the ire of every Fraser fangirl alive by saying this, but Jaime doesn’t do it for me. At all. I completely fail to see why he’s so appealing and attractive. Repeatedly, we’re reminded of his physical perfection; this smacks of Twilight to me, and beating me over the head with description after description of the hero’s physical glories does not at all convince me of the character’s worth. Jaime is kind enough to Claire, that is true. Initially, he seems to be quite likeable. His use of the term “Sassenach” is downright endearing, even to me (I’ll even admit that I think I’d get chills if someone called me that in a Scottish accent); however, I have to be  brutally honest here, and say that I have had great difficulty getting over the scene where Jaime beats Claire. Yes, it’s period for an 18th century man to be able to thrash his wife in punishment. Yes, he promises to never do it again and adheres to that (at least in the first book). But accurate or not, this is one instance where I am not able to accept period-correct behaviour and dismiss it in context. No woman ever deserves to be beaten, no matter her perceived crime. Is this our literary hero?

This book has an even darker side, one of which I would caution less mature readers. There are several scenes and themes in this book I would consider to be potential “triggers” for anyone with a history of abuse, and even for those merely of faint of heart or weak of stomach. We see scenes of vividly-depicted sexual abuse (heterosexual and otherwise), rape, and sodomy. It’s downright uncomfortable to read, and while I understand Gabaldon’s decision to brave exploration of abuse in the 18th century, I don’t understand why she chooses to revel in the literally gorey details, yet gloss over the ramifications and subsequent trauma. It makes me suspect she did it for shock value, and to villainize Jack Randall as much as humanly possible. To be blunt, it felt somewhat cheap.


Jaime was not my first hero. The men moved too quickly through the field hospital, as a rule, for the nurses to become well acquainted with them, but now and again you would a man who talked too little or joked too much, who held himself more stiffly than pain and loneliness would account for.

And I knew, roughly, what could be done for them. If there was time, and if they were the kind who talked to keep the dark at bay, you sat with them and listened. If they were silent, you touched them often in passing, and watched for the unguarded moment, when you might draw them outside of themselves and hold them while they exorcised their demons. If there was time. And if there wasn’t, then you jabbed them with morphine, and hoped they would manage to find someone else to listen, while you passed on to a man whose wounds were visible.

— Chapter 36

The dusk momentarily heightened all the colors of the countryside, lighting the land with jewels; a glowing emerald in the hollows, a lovely shadowed amethyst among the clumps of heather, and burning rubies on the red-berried rowan trees that crowned the hills.”


We came down from the braes near Loch Madoch, pressing the chilly dawn mist to the edge of a still sheet of grey. Wild ducks began to rise from the reeds in untidy flocks that circled the marshes, quacking and calling to rouse late sleepers below. By contrast, a well-disciplined wedge of geese passed over us, calling of heartbreak and desolation.

The grey fog lifted near midday on the second day, and a weak sun lighted the meadows filled with yellow gorse and broom. A few miles past the loch, we came out onto a narrow road and turned northwest. The way took us up again, rising into low, rolling hills that gave way gradually to granite tors and crags.

— Chapter 25

I have nothing but praise for the way Diana Gabaldon writes. Her prose is lyrical, her descriptions vivid and realistic, and her dialogue is good (though not fantastic or wholly period). She has a strong grasp on the historical and cultural aspects of the 18th century, and I say this as an enthusiast of the era. I only caught one inaccuracy; she refers to a character wearing a cotton gown. While cotton was certainly known and the fabric on its way to becoming a staple (later in the century Eli Whitney’s invention would allow it to become affordable enough to reach the masses), in this context, I felt a garment made of “linsey-woolsey” or plain wool would have been more appropriate.

One area I felt could use a bit more exploration was, exactly what sort of trauma and mental distress time travel would invoke on the traveler. We are given very little of what I would expect to be a horrifying experience for anyone; aside from Claire’s initial confusion and denial, it never seems to occur to her that what she has just experienced is a mind-boggling impossibility. I don’t know about you, but I would be doing some heavy-duty thinking about whether or not my every move would be altering the course of history (read Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder if you haven’t already). This is touched upon more satisfactorily in Dragonfly in Amber (which I’m presently in the midst of), and admittedly a 1940s mind might not be as familiar with the concept of time travel in general as Gabaldon’s modern-day audience. Still, we barely see Claire even ponder her quandary at all.

Another question worth asking is whether or not Claire is a bigamist. Why not just tell everyone she was still married? While technically her husband Frank hadn’t been born yet, this would have alleviated the problems of her being forced to marry again. This is addressed in one of the best portions of the entire novel take place in one of the later chapters, where Claire confides in a kindly priest and consults him on the quandary of her marriage to Jaime. The issue of bigamy is addressed, albeit rather conveniently, but through this, Claire is reawakened to religion. It’s a transformation that’s always tricky to pull off, and Gabaldon does it admirably and respectfully, without the all-too-typical “Hallmark” quality that offends my sense of realism.

I do feel that Gabaldon could use an editor; she can be wordy, often unnecessarily so, but not in her description or exposition. It is in her innumerable adventures, the tales of Claire and Jaime that she wears the reader’s patience. Over and over we read of their exploits across the highlands (and between the bedsheets), again and again we are told of how much they love each other. But that’s just it; we’re told, rather than shown. The age-old adage holds true here. Show, don’t tell. Gabaldon is a master of description, but she fails to give us an emotional connection illustrating exactly why Claire would choose Jaime over Frank. We’re given reasons such as her fear of travelling back through the stones a second time; this makes sense, but don’t you think she would brave that risk for Jaime?

Outlander begins to weave several threads that I can only hope will be grasped more firmly later in the series. Especially the story of Geile Duncan and Frank’s experiences during the war, both of which intrigued me, and neither was fully explored.

Overall, four stars for the sheer magnitude of Gabaldon’s undertaking, her ability to pull it off with considerable aplomb, and her laudable knowledge of the historical elements surrounding 18th century Jacobite Scotland. ♦

Book Review: Vicki Hopkins’ Dark Persuasion

Dark Per SmlTitle: Dark Persuasion
Author: Vicki Hopkins
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: No
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Complimentary copy via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway

I’ve stated before in a previous review how I’m not a big fan of authors who are upfront and state the history of central characters and how they are connected. This approach can be either hit or miss, but in the case of Dark Persuasion, Vicki Hopkins does an amazing job setting up the plot and it defiantly is needed to understand the particular actions of certain characters.

Charlotte Grey was a child when an accident left her blind and she’s surprised her aristocratic neighbors are interested in being her sponsors and hold a ball in her honor. At the ball she meets two brothers, Patrick and Rupert, who are different as night and day. Both will battle for her hand, but which brother will win her heart and can a wrong be rectified?

Hopkins does an excellent job with historical research. She introduces Braille to the point of having Rupert translate a letter he wrote to Charlotte. There’s also the mention of guide dogs and although the time period is 1890 (the first official use of guide dogs from my own personal research indicates they were first used during World War I in Germany), I can let it go because in literature prior to the 19th century, in a few texts, they mention the blind being guided by a dog. I’m not sure of the extent of actual guide dogs as we know it prior to the First World War and I’m not nitpicking on the historical aspects because as I stated Hopkins does a superb job. She also keeps to social etiquette of the time and the language used doesn’t sound too modern.

Characters are well developed and you can easily see how two brothers become rivals. At the heart of the novel is Charlotte’s blindness and although she can’t see the world around her, she believes she can trust her own instinct. She tries to be independent and her family allows her the freedom she wants, but also cautions her. Like most young women she truly believes she can read people and their intentions. Rupert talks to her and she likes that he’s interested in getting to know her, whereas Patrick doesn’t say anything to her, but he has a reason for keeping quiet and keeping her at a distance. She believes someone opening themselves is how to truly communicate with one another. Your heart breaks for her and all she lost. In one poignant scene, she wishes she could see the face of the man she married. And in another scene her husband doesn’t quite realize what it would be like to be married to a blind woman until Charlotte’s sister is sitting next to them at the wedding breakfast and she’s helping Charlotte eat. He looks down at her place setting and he sees pieces of food all over as she attempts to eat.

What I really liked about Dark Persuasion is that Hopkins gives us a villain, who in the end repents for his actions. Sure it’s not the way we would like him to do it, but he realizes his follies and tries to atone for the way he acted towards Charlotte. There’s a twist at the end that I wasn’t expecting, but overall it’s a satisfying read.

Please note: there is some history of abuse and if you are sensitive to particular situations you might not be comfortable reading this book. It’s not detailed, but it is mentioned and explained.

If you’re in a historical romance rut I highly recommend Dark Persuasion.

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I came across another fun reading challenge. I’m a big fan of historicals in general so this is right up my alley.

Here are the basics if you want to join in the fun (for full details and to link up, click on link above or below):
• everyone can participate, even those who don’t have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
• add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)
• any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,…)

There are various levels to determine the number of books you’ve read. I’m going to for the Ancient History title:
20th century reader – 2 books
Victorian reader – 5 books
Renaissance Reader – 10 books
Medieval – 15 books
Ancient History -25+ books

If you have any questions about the way the challenge works, please visit: Historical Tapestry or click on the challenge banner above.

My Book List:
01. January: The Earl Claims His Wife by Cathy Maxwell (reviewed here)
02. January: Dark Persuasion by Vicki Hopkins (reviewed here)
03. January: The Reluctant Countess by Wendy Vella (reviewed here)

Film Friday: BBC’s North & South

I’m a pretty big costume drama fan. There’s something about sitting down and being whisked away to the past. While the past isn’t always peaceful and beautiful as they are portrayed in these productions, it’s nice to step way from reality for a little bit.

For today’s piece I have picked the 2004 BBC version of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South; a love story of Margaret Hale, a middle class southerner who is forced to move to the northern town of Milton. Richard Armitage is John Thornton and Daniela Denby-Ashe is Margaret Hale.

Book Review: Charles Finch’s A Death in the Small Hours

13538931Title: A Death in the Small Hours
Author: Charles Finch
Genre: Mystery / Detective
Series: Yes / Book 6 of 6 (as of review posting)
Rating: 5 out 5
My Copy: Purchased

A Death in the Small Hours is the sixth installment of the Lenox mystery series and his best one to date. If you’ve never read the Lenox series, don’t fret as each of his books can be read as a standalone. Although Finch isn’t one of those writers to drown you in a character’s back story, I do believe a reader new to the series will fail to appreciate the personal history of his characters. As the series progresses, the Lenox characters grow and I’m afraid a reader will miss key elements that would help further understand a character’s way of thinking or reaction to a situation. Therefore, I do recommend you start at the beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death and work your down the list, but it’s not necessary.

Set in 1874, A Death in the Small Hours picks up right where we left off at the end of A Burial at Sea. Our favorite Victorian gentleman, Charles Lenox, finds himself contemplating life. He has everything a man should want for: a loving wife, a daughter, and is a highly respected member of the House of Commons. There’s just one small problem…he misses being a detective. At times Lenox does question if he made the right decision leaving his now defunct career as a detective for that of a life in Parliament. Lenox loves politics, “but for all his pleasure in the long debates and the hushed hallway conversations of his present life, Lenox had never quite felt as viscerally engaged with Parliament as he had with crime.” Meeting with his protégé, Lord John Dallington, of course doesn’t help shake off the feeling that perhaps he made the wrong decision. In key scenes like these your heart aches for Lenox.

When the opportunity comes to deliver the opening speech, Lenox decides to spend a few quiet weeks in Somerset to work on his speech. He seeks refugee at Everley, his Uncle Frederick Ponsonby’s house in Plumbley. Uncle Freddie takes the opportunity to request Lenox’s assistance in a serious matter. Plumbley has been plagued by a series of vandalisms where baffling clues have left behind; that of a sketch of a man and a black dog along with roman numerals painted on a church door. The question: who is behind this and why. Lenox gets the chance to dip his toes in detection and when a murder occurs he knows time is of the essence. The mystery itself is satisfying and Finch isn’t one to make it easy on a reader regarding the suspect list. Be prepared to admit defeat.

For readers not familiar with nineteenth century England, Finch provides detailed descriptions in both political, social, and industrial. While Finch gives us history lessons, he does it in a subtle format. For example, Lenox arrives in London from Somerset and immediately stepping off the train platform his eyes sting from the London fog. He goes on to explain, “It was a worsening problem; on one day earlier that month the mixture of yellow fog and coal smoke—what residents called the London Particular—had been so bad that the police ordered the streetlamps lit during the daylight hours, not much after noon.” Coal was the primary fuel used in the nineteenth century as a source of heat and power. As the coal soot drifted down it mixed with smoke and fog causing a London Particular. The death of cattle mentioned in A Death in the Small Hours due to this London Particular did indeed happen. On December 10, 1873, cattle being exhibited at the Great Show at Islington suffocated; the smoke was so thick it was impossible to see across the street and many reported a choking sensation was felt while breathing. Finch also makes you contemplate little tidbits he weaves within the narrative. For example, “A funny quirk of the language, as the Times had pointed out recently, that in Britain the Royal Mail delivered the post, while in the United States, the Postal Service delivered the mail.” When I mentioned this particular piece to a friend her response was, “(long pause) I think my brain just exploded.” We spent the next several minutes discussing this in great detail.

If I could take a moment to discuss Finch’s writing; I’m the first to admit that I love his writing. A Death in the Small Hours is his best to date; it’s beautifully written and evocative. Finch’s narrative of Lenox with Sophia left me spellbound. Lenox describing his visit in 1854 to Sophia had me smiling with tears in my eyes. In every Lenox and Sophia scene, you could feel the love Lenox has for his daughter. When I think about which scenes stand out, I’d say the cricket scene is at the top of the list along with the advice in speech writing, however; there were three particular scenes that had me in tears. I worry about spoilers and will keep quiet regarding what they are; however, I will say this, as I write this the emotions associated with those three scenes still leave me a bit emotional.

While A Death in the Small Hours does lag on occasion, it is by no means a snore. Some have questioned the need for the cricket scene, but upon reflection it is integral to the plot. Fans of the series may criticize the short appearance of several beloved characters. Dallington plays a vital, but small role; Graham and McConnell’s appearance was short and I longed for more. We are introduced to two new characters and I cannot wait to see their appearance in future books. Finch does a superb job with the narrative and you’ll walk away contemplating life and one’s decisions. The only outcome of course is to move forward and anticipate the future.

Book Review: Jerri Hines’ Ruse of Love

Jerri_Ruse (5)Title: Ruse of Love
Author: Jerri Hines
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2 of 3
Rating: 4 out of 5
My Copy: Review Copy via Author

This is the second book in her Winds of Betrayal series. I have not read the first book and honestly don’t feel it is necessary to read the first book. It is very much a standalone book. Hines does reveal some information later in the book so if you don’t like spoilers then read the first book, Patriot Secrets, before this one.

Hines spins an intriguing tale with the American Revolution as the backdrop. Ruse of Love follows Jonathan Corbett in the South after spending several years in the North. Hines does an excellent job contrasting the sharp differences in the climate of the North and South of the American colonies. Those of us familiar with American history will remember the conditions at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778. One scene that stood out for me was in chapter one, “A burst of bitter wind gusted. Dr. Jonathan Corbett yanked his cloak across his chest to protect against brutal cold…The pines moaned in the darkness, but offered scant protection to the elements in this godforsaken winter camp.”

The historical research and the undertaking of it in her novel is exceptional. It’s been quite some time since I read a historical with so much detail and you can feel the frustration with the war effort. The American Revolution is often romanticized and we often forget how difficult it must have been for the American colonists and the men as well as the families living under such circumstances. Hines portrays these feelings and we can see Jonathan’s disillusionment with the war in chapter one, “Seemed a lifetime ago when he answered the call for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How eager he had answered that call.” Later she touches upon it again when Jonathan remembers the sacrifice his family made, “He, too, had once held the cry to the fervor of freedom.” The reader can’t quite work out if his personal feelings are due to the conditions of war or if there is something more to it. You can taste the bitterness he feels. Hines weaves a tale that makes us understand why Jonathan feels the way he does and leaves you wanting to delve into the history of the American Revolution to learn more.

Not only do we have Jonathan’s tale and what he’s experiencing, but we also have Rebekah Morse’s tale. Now here is where the book diverts into basically two separate books. On the one hand you have Jonathan’s life as a doctor during the war and on the other, you have Rebekah’s tale as a young woman. Unlike today, women didn’t have many choices for a career especially if you relied upon male relatives and their assistance. Rebekah’s tale is heartbreaking and brutal. We never really are told the full story as to why her uncle hates her until the every end and even then the big reveal as to why her uncle wanted to hide his background is a bit weak. I suppose in many ways I was expecting this grand confession of a secret to be life shattering and yet it wasn’t (well…it was for the time period, but I was expecting more). In addition to that Rebekah’s life is intertwined with that of Black Rory, a notorious raider. He saves her one night, but then held her captive for three months. I realize she’s a young girl, eighteen years old, and lived a sheltered life, but her relationship with Black Rory and what ensues afterwards was a bit unreal. Especially at how fast it happens. Despite that we are left with a character, Black Rory, we are suppose to dislike and yet one can’t help feel sorry for him and everything he lost. He made a choice to forgo his second chance for happiness and there lies the heartbreak. In the end we too have to wonder if Black Rory profession of love for Rebekah was indeed a ruse as Jonathan claims.

Ruse of Love is a beautifully written story with rich historical details. It’s also an emotional roller coaster. You’ll feel the frustration of war, makes you relive your first romance as well as the failure of one, but most importantly it makes you feel like you were there. Jonathan’s fear in the battlefield is gritty and your heart pounds as you read his emotions and what could very well be his final thoughts. You feel Rebekah’s anguish at not knowing who to trust and all the while cheering her on to be happy with Jonathan.

I debated over the rating between a four or a five. I gave it a four because at times it felt like I was reading two separate books. I understand the reason for this since it gives us a glimpse into the lives of Rebekah and Jonathan before they meet again and how different their lives were; I worried when we’d see them together and the time spent together wasn’t enough to satisfy my need that a bond of love had formed. A four for the detailed historical elements and because I really can’t wait to see how the series concludes.

Deborah Harkness Q&A

imag0302On August 1, 2012, I had the honor of attending a reading & signing by author Deborah Harkness. I walked on clouds for weeks afterward. She read two sections from Shadow of Night & answered some questions regarding the series. She was very kind and I wish I had more time to talk to her, but there was a line behind me.

Located below are the questions asked by those in attendance. Permission was granted by Harkness to post the q&a (thank you!). Some of the questions are phrased in a way that is meant for her to answer, but instead of “I” you’ll see them answered in third person. The reason for this is partly because of the way my notes were written. I was scribbling like crazy in the background while she spoke.

Please note:
There is a spoiler at the end. I asked this question to her privately. I’ll make sure to remind you as you read that there is a spoiler before you get it to, so if you haven’t read Shadow of Night, you won’t hate me for spoiling it. Other than that the rest of the questions / answers are spoiler free.

How did you come up with the concept of A Discovery of Witches?
It was while she was on vacation, at the airport she saw a series of books on vampires living amongst us. She began to ask questions, such as, if vampires lived how did they keep their identity secret? What profession would they be in? She began to ask family members and friends these questions. She then began to write down ideas and from there began to write A Discovery of Witches.

Do you share any similarities with Diana?
She laughed when asked this question because she says she gets asked this a lot. They are both historians with an interest in Elizabethan England with regards to alchemy. She too like Diana has spent countless hours at the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Diana comes across a long lost manuscript, Ashmole 782, and Harkness herself found an ancient once thought to be lost book of spells, Book of Soyga.

Which character is she more like?

Diana’s aunt Emily.

Why does Matthew know every famous historical figure?
Matthew knows everyone because he’s actually based in part on a real life person. George Chapman wrote a poem called “The Shadow of Night” (which book 2 gets its title from) and dedicated it to a fellow poet by the name of Matthew Roydon. There’s no known information about Roydon and Champan was familiar with group members that made up The School of Night. Harkness came across Roydon’s name while writing her master’s thesis. When she began to write A Discovery of Witches it made sense to use Matthew Roydon as part of Matthew Clairmont‘s past (readers know that he is Roydon) because there’s no information about him. What if Roydon was a vampire? Part of how she thinks and weaves pieces of the past in her books.

Why write about Diana’s life being difficult in the 16th century?
Life for a woman in the 16th century was more like a never ending family vacation. Add the mixture of being a witch, then you know life would be extremely difficult. As historians we think we know history and how to act, but put in that situation, in a time period we’re familiar with and we come realize we don’t know that much. She wanted to showcase that.
Continue reading

Book Review: Brenda Joyce’s Persuasion

13545600Title: Persuasion
Author: Brenda Joyce
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Yes / Book 2 of 3
Rating: 3 out of 5
My Copy: Purchased

This is the second book in her Spymaster series. I have not read the first book and honestly don’t feel it is necessary to read the first in order to read this. It is very much a standalone book. I like Brenda Joyce as an author especially her historical books (The Francesca Cahill series is one of my favorites), but she falls flat with Persuasion.

Joyce has always been a good one to turn to for having your senses teased. Her earlier books are filled with such heart pounding, sexual tension that leave you tingling all over, but lately she just doesn’t measure up to her previous books. It is understandable that as a writer grows their writing style changes and it is pretty easy to pinpoint which book is the one that began the change, however; with Joyce I can’t seem to pinpoint when it happened. I’m not complaining, but it makes me long for classic Joyce.

I had high hopes for Persuasion because the blurb looked interesting and let’s face it I’m a bit of sucker for these types of novels of long lost love returned. Basically in a nutshull Amelia Greystone was sixteen when she fell deeply in love when Simon Grenville. She expected a proposal, but he abruptly ended the courtship. Ten years later he returns to Cornwall and asks Amelia to be his housekeeper. She of course can’t say no because he has children that need her help. There is of course the underlying issue of their past relationship. Simeon brings it up and Amelia likes to pass it off as the past. Amelia notices Simeon is distant with his children and quickly discovers he his a spy, but which country does he owe his allegiance to? England or France?

The idea was interesting, but Joyce failed to execute it in several places. Simon’s relationship with Amelia takes off quickly as he tries to scare her off by seducing her. At no point in time do Amelia and Simon have the talk. You know the talk as to why he left her the way he did. Later we are told that his brother who was the heir dies and it’s assumed that’s why he left Cornwall, because he now becomes the direct heir to his father, the Earl of St. Just. We are also told by Simon that his marriage to the countess wasn’t a happy one and that she and his brother would have been perfect. It is never implied, but assumed: the history of Simon’s brother with his wife. Were they once engaged and therefore Simon felt duty bound to offer for her hand? The reason why Simon becomes a spy is never addressed. That bothered me a little more than anything else. I got the feeling he didn’t care to be the Earl of St Just; it is a huge responsibility, but if he felt honor bound to ask for his wife’s hand then why throw it all away?

Now I know some readers have said that Amelia comes off a shrew because she tells Simon how to raise his children, how to manage his household, etc. I don’t see her as one, but more like a woman who is use to taking charge of a situation. Amelia has a mother who is ill and has been caring for her. This is one of the reasons why Amelia has never married. Joyce doesn’t tell us what her mother has, but I fully expect it be dementia. I did have a slight problem with the whole taking of the mother situation. How can Amelia be the housekeeper, oversee the kitchen staff, take care of his children, be on the lookout for Simon, and still take care for her mother?

The one key element missing to Persuasion? The reason why Simon couldn’t stop being a spy. I anticipate the reason why Joyce doesn’t tell us is because it will be addressed in a later book. The same reason why we aren’t told the full role of Amelia’s brothers and uncle’s as spies. Sadly I won’t be reading the rest of the series to find out the grand answer.

The story had potential, but quickly fell flat. I debated over the rating. I gave it a three for the slight sexual tension and for Simon’s espionage getting more screen time than the couple’s romance.