historical romance

Mistress Firebrand by Donna Thorland

by Casee Marie on March 11, 2015

in Fiction, Reviews

In Mistress Firebrand, author Donna Thorland continues her Renegades of the American Revolution series with a story full of rich history and pulsating romance.

America is deep in the throes of its search for independence from Britain in 1777, and to Jennifer Leighton it seems there are turncoats, spies, and dangers at every corner. An aspiring playwright determined to make her way to London and high success on Drury Lane, Jenny is in pursuit of a patron to support her as did her Aunt Frances, known to all as the iconic star of the stage, The Divine Miss Fanny. Together, Jenny and Frances are plotting to catch the attentions of a British general who could be the makings of Jenny’s career. Instead, Jenny finds herself embroiled in trouble, and the only man who can help her is an American-born British soldier, the charming – and, rumor has it, decidedly lethal – Severin Devere. Scorned by his father for his bastard beginnings, Severin has lived his life in a constant attempt to deny the Indian heritage that looks back at him in the mirror. He has always thrown himself fully into whatever work has been dealt him, which usually requires him to dirty his hands where his superiors will not; but that work, and even his allegiance to the crown, may be tested when his path crosses with that of the beautiful, strong-willed Jennfier Leighton.

Donna Thorland lays the workings for a superbly entertaining romance in Mistress Firebrand while her dedicated research and keen insight deliver a powerful historical atmosphere. Her attention to detail layers itself into the story to create a fascinating representation of a remarkable time in American history. Thorland works with every facet of the history, stitching together a patchwork of details to create a beautiful backdrop; her narrative tells of the specifics of dress and food, the nuances of custom, and the minutiae of life for both women and men on either side of the Revolution. When Jenny’s immersion into the American side of the fight brings her face-to-face with none other than General Washington, Thorland brings the reader so fully into the scene as to affect time-travel by the turn of a page. She folds the richness of her research into her narrative with skill, layering it piecemeal with a story of rebellion, identity, and enduring love that takes the reader across genres and through time.

As the narrative perspective switches throughout the novel to follow both Jenny and Severin, the reader is given vast insight into two characters seemingly plucked from history. Through Jenny’s eyes, the story unfolds of a young woman desperate to practice her creative art in a time when the arts were quite in turmoil, not to mention a time when women were expected – or allowed – to do very little on their own. She’s a stalwart character with abundant grit and compassion, sure only of her own capabilities as she tests the waters of the Rebellion and tries to determine in whom she can lay her trust as well as her life. Severin, meanwhile, is not only a study of a British soldier faltering to find his own identity, but of a Brit whose veins run with Indian blood, one foot planted on two very different lands. His attempts to come to terms with his heritage and determine where his loyalties lie make him a particularly unique and fascinating character. Together, Jenny and Severin share explosive chemistry, quick-witted conversation, and myriad ideas about the war and what it might mean for the future of America. Through this, and many other elements, Mistress Firebrand sets the reader up for a memorable love story and a suspenseful thrill ride through history.

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Thank-you to Donna Thorland for providing a copy of Mistress Firebrand for me to read!

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

by Casee Marie on July 24, 2014

in Fiction, Reviews

With her latest novel, Cavendon Hall, Barbara Taylor Bradford welcomes readers into a new series chronicling the lives and loves within an English country estate. It’s 1913 and Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, finds his family unraveling in the wake of a tragic attack on his innocent teenage daughter, Lady Daphne. As he and his wife attempt to stop the spread of rumors and vigilantly guard Daphne’s broken spirit, the Inghams know that the only family they can surely put their trust in is the Swanns, a service family whose ancestors have sworn an oath to the Inghams for centuries. Life at Cavendon Hall has only begun to spiral out of control as Charles’s cousin Hugo returns, a successful and charismatic businessman who in his youth was banished from Cavendon to America under mysterious circumstances. While the threat of war looms over the lives of both the Inghams upstairs and the Swanns downstairs, secrets will be revealed, lines will be crossed, and love will be both rekindled and found anew.

With Cavendon Hall, Barbara Taylor Bradford does a commendable job of building her own unique story from the history of Edwardian manor houses and the relationships between the nobility and their servants, a time and topic that’s been sensationalized by the Downton Abbey phenomenon. When an author deals with the basic material and, essentially, the very formula of a big mainstream franchise – in this case, the upstairs-downstairs relationships and the impact of World War I on the lifestyles of both nobility and servants – it can become precarious territory, with the story being just a step or two away from feeling like a rendition rather than an independent work. Cavendon Hall holds its own, however, perhaps in part because Bradford conceived the story years before Downton ever made its premiere. The Inghams and the Swanns are all original, interesting characters and their stories keep the reader on edge with curiosity. As Downton enthusiasts will know, along with a highly active English manor come a big family and a full working staff: a complex cast, to say the least. The pages of the novel are chock-full of new faces for the reader to keep track of. I enjoyed making a project out of getting to know the characters, making family trees for the Inghams and the Swanns as I went along. One of the things that really separated Cavendon Hall‘s setting from that of Downton Abbey for me was that the Swann family was presented at a higher level than servants in the house. Given a rich history of involvement with the Inghams and Cavendon, the Swanns are afforded a special place as confidantes and even defendants of the Inghams, and as a result the interactions between the characters allow the reader to witness something more personal than the servant-master relationships that are more typically explored in these sorts of stories.

The story of the first Cavendon novel covers a lot of ground, focusing most largely on Lady Daphne –just one of the earl’s six children – as she overcomes a dark tragedy, and as we follow her life through several years across the whole of the war we also observe some of the relationships between other members of house and staff: whether the friendship between another Ingham daughter, DeLacy, and young Cecily Swann, or the special connection shared between Charles Ingham and the Swann family matriarch, Charlotte. When the Ingham family’s long lost cousin Hugo returns to the country, he brings with him the power to either save or ruin a family already on the brink. The resulting drama unfolds at an easy pace, with plenty of surprises in store. I think the one thing that would have really made Canvendon Hall shine for me was if Bradford had allowed her writing to flow more creatively throughout the narrative. With so much to juggle – character development, historical detail, and a multi-plot story – there gets to be little room for artistry in the writing. Occasionally some scenes in the novel play out with less feeling as a result, and for some readers that can invite a bit of detachment. I would love to see the series continue with more emotion woven into the prose; but where the novel may have lacked some poetic flair for me, it made up for it in the uniqueness of the characters and the intricacy of their relationships. I was constantly intrigued by everyone at Cavendon Hall, curious about what the future would reveal and how the different characters would handle their own struggles. On the whole, Cavendon Hall is an interesting start to a new series and its engaging story lays the groundwork for plenty of post-war social intrigue.

Title: Cavendon Hall
Author: Barbara Taylor Bradford
Genre: historical fiction, romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release date: April 1, 2014
Source: Get Red PR (C/O)
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Review: The Fire by John A. Heldt

by Casee Marie on October 1, 2013 · 1 comment

in Fiction, Reviews

Recently graduated from college, twenty-two year-old Kevin Johnson is visiting the small town of Wallace, Idaho with his family when he stumbles across a hidden diary and a cache of early 20th century gold coins in his late grandfather’s home. Kevin’s plans for a quiet summer change drastically when he discovers that the home’s old wood shed is a portal to the 1900s and the treasure was hidden away by his great-great-grandfather Asa Johnson, ancestral patriarch and apparent time-traveler. As Kevin experiments with this newfound contradiction to his years of scientific teachings, he can’t deny the reality that he’s somehow managed to set foot in Wallace circa 1910. Before he can retreat to the familiar mayhem of the twenty-first century, Kevin crosses paths with local schoolteacher Sarah Thompson and finds that he’s unable to stop thinking about the beautiful woman who lived over a century before him. Determined to find her again, Kevin puts his trust in the time portal’s consistency and travels back and forth between the centuries. But as he integrates himself in Sarah’s life and the lives of Wallace’s 20th century inhabitants, he starts to wonder if time travel is more dangerous than it first appeared. There’s the miserable Preston Pierce, a mean-spirited banker and the most powerful man in town, who’s taken an interest in taking Kevin down. Then there’s beautiful young Sadie Hawkins, a down-on-her-luck orphan who might be willing to challenge Kevin’s attachment to Sarah. Hovering ominously over his complicated escapade into the past is history itself and the knowledge that Wallace in 1910 was the victim of one of the greatest, most destructive wildfires known to man. As Kevin balances his friends and enemies in a remarkable new time he’ll have to decide how much of history he can rewrite, and what the consequences will be if he tries.

The Fire, the fourth book in author John A. Heldt’s Northwest Passage series, boasts all of the imagination and charm of its predecessors. Heldt’s approach to this series has been impressive. Rather than following a more predictable format, his novels have alternated to feature two different families and their time traveling adventures – that of Joel Smith in The Mine and Shelly Preston in The Journey. I’ve enjoyed each of the four novels in this series immensely, but The Journey struck me with its emotional power and daring. Being its sequel, The Fire carried the same emotional pull with yet more warmth and sentiment. Here again Heldt shows his ability to not only tell stories of heartwarming friendships and romances, but of strength during incredible struggle and endurance after tragedy. What has become another hallmark for me in this series is the near guarantee of a strong cast rendered in crystal clarity through Heldt’s engaging storytelling. The Fire achieves that beautifully, with perhaps some of my favorite characters in the series making their debuts. Not only are we met with a smart, effervescent female character in beautiful schoolteacher Sarah, but also in the resourceful orphan Sadie. One is confident and self-assured while the other is plagued by the weight of her own crippling self-doubt, but strength alights in both women that carries them off the page and into the hearts of their readers. Additional characters like Irish newspaperman Andy O’Connell and wealthy widow Maude Duvalier bring an extra dose of warmth and wit, while other more villainous folks carry just the right amount of drama. Meanwhile, the hero of the story and center of its love triangle, time traveler Kevin, is immensely likable and charismatic as he finds his footing over a century in the past.

Much as the Northwest Passage books stand on their own, seeing their stories intertwine as almost the entire cast made appearances in The Fire was very entertaining, and pure fun. Read alone or as part of the series, The Fire is a welcome addition to a dependable and imaginative collection of novels. It’s a story that will delight readers in the magic of the world – in several eras – and bring them to both laughter and tears with its inspiring illustration of man’s timeless qualities: love, courage, and devotion.

Title: The Fire (Northwest Passage #4)
Author: John A. Heldt
Genre: sci-fi, romance
Publisher: John A. Heldt
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: August 31, 2013
Source: John A. heldt (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle
Connect with the author: Website/Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Shelfari

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The Passion of the Purple Plumeria marks the tenth novel in Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, documenting the lives and loves of British spies in Napoleonic Europe under the valiant eye of Eloise Kelly, a modern-day American of whose dissertation such spies are the subject. Living temporarily with her boyfriend Colin in his English country house, Selwick Hall, Eloise’s journey through the archives of history and the world of the Pink Carnation bring her to the story of the elusive spy’s second-in-command, Gwendolyn Meadows. Valiantly rigid and masterfully standoffish, Gwen has maintained for herself a life of adventure and independence within the league of the Pink Carnation, brandishing a parasol with a hidden blade and defying a life of commonplace domesticity – just as she had dreamed of doing over the four decades of her life. When the Pink Carnation’s young sister goes missing from her school with a classmate, Gwen is quick on the girls’ trail. With her is the missing classmate’s father, Colonel William Reid, a former member of the East India Company’s army. Recently returned from India, William is determined to reconnect with the daughter he sent away a decade before, but when the trail of the missing girls begins to lead in different directions, Gwen and William will have to work together to unravel the mystery. Complicating matters is the new alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan, and the rumor of a hoard of jewels gone missing from India. As Gwen battles the feelings blossoming for William beneath her chilled, prickly exterior, she must keep an eye on the enemy and, as always, be on the watch for the welfare of her charge, the young and mysterious Pink Carnation.

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria combines countless subjects and genres into one delightful novel; its love story compliments its mystery, and its historic story melds wonderfully into the contemporary interludes. With so many different elements to take in, the reader might expect to be consumed by one over the others, but Willig handles all of her material with such aplomb that each scene offers its own enjoyable energy. I relished that the book’s love story followed a middle-aged hero and heroine, something altogether a bit uncommon in the genre; the relationship between Gwen and William was temperamental and heartwarming, with a certain poignancy brought on by the weight of the lives they had lived separately, each with their own secrets and scars. Gwen was a feisty character and one who occasionally veered into the territory of being somewhat of a challenge; her icy exterior felt, at times, frozen solid, but she had a special, irrepressible inner fire that kept me rooting for her even in her moments of stubbornness and folly. She felt like a truly unique, perhaps somewhat unlikely heroine, and that itself might be her greatest triumph. She was vastly entertaining, and her haughty airs combined with William’s roguish sarcasm made for witty dialogue and memorable chemistry.

Although it’s done through the device of fiction, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria had the invigorating feeling of a particularly exciting history lesson. Willig’s attention to detail set the stage for a truly absorbing story, and her lively prose was pure fun to read. I loved the narrative’s quick wit and expansive sensibility, both in the present-day and historic scenes. They each took on their own unique appearances under the sureness of a reliably entertaining tone. Smart and utterly charming, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria is the sort of escapism that keeps historical fiction readers coming back for more.

Title: The Passion of the Purple Plumeria (Pink Carnation #10)
Author: Lauren Willig
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery
Publisher: NAL
Release date: August 6, 2013
Source: Penguin Group (C/O)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Facebook | Goodreads

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Review: The Show by John A. Heldt

May 21, 2013

In 1941 Seattle, young Grace Vandenberg’s life was turned upside down when she discovered that her boyfriend Joel had time-traveled his way into her life directly from the year 2000. Convinced that their futures couldn’t be aligned, Joel left her to return to his century, but Grace, refusing to give up on the power of […]

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Review: Defiant Heart by Marty Steere

April 12, 2013

After losing his parents and brother in a tragic accident, young Jon Meyer is left to start over in a small Indiana town. Under the guardianship of a grandmother he’d never before known, Jon’s new life begins at a high school filled with unfamiliar faces. As he struggles with the difficulties of being the new […]

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The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

January 30, 2013

In 1915 Elizabeth Endicott, a spirited young American, arrives with her father in Aleppo, Syria, as part of a Boston-based organization whose mission is to aid the struggling survivors of the harrowing Armenian genocide. Amid the throes of World War I, hundreds of thousands of Armenians are being quietly massacred and, stationed at the American […]

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Review: The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap by Paulette Mahurin

November 19, 2012

In 1895 Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned for engaging in a sexual relationship with another man. News of the artist’s charge and sentence spread like wildfire throughout the world, eliciting gossip and sparking new waves of intolerance. In Red River Pass, a secluded Nevada town, local society’s revolt against Wilde’s indiscretion lands at the doorstep […]

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