A Knight in Shining Armor (A Montgomery/Taggert Family Novel, Book 15)
Jude Deveraux, Pocket Books, 1989, 341p, HC, 0-671-67857-4 

(pb edition: 978-0743439725)
This is one of the first Romances I ever read, and still one of my favorites.
1988
     Modern woman Dougless Montgomery has an old-fashioned heart. Her goal in life is to be a wife and mother, not change the world. When she is unceremoniously dumped in an ancient churchyard in the middle of rural England by her selfish boyfriend and his teeth-grindingly self-centered adolescent daughter, Dougless realizes her dream of an engagement ring and a wedding are dust—again. Then, inside the church, she discovers her ID, money, and passport are missing because the teen has stolen her handbag. Alone and furious at being a failure at relationships, and a patsy to boot, is it any wonder she has dissolved into tears? Is it too much to ask for someone to love her?
     Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, seems to appear out of thin 
air, and is completely out of his element in 1988. How did he get here? And who is the gorgeous creature standing half-naked before him? How does he get home?

     Dougless and Nicholas find themselves drawn together, traveling through time to set right a terrible wrong, and to find the meaning of true love. 

Royal Protocol
Dana Marton
Harlequin Intrigue, 2009, pb, 224p,

978-0373694099

     Dana Marton skillfully weaves a tense tale of intrigue and royal romance in Royal Protocol, part of the Defenders of the Crown series.
     Benedek Kerkay is a prince. No, not just a rich, handsome, brave guy and a talented architect, but a real live Prince. While most women around the world have fantasies about him, his fantasy is to meet opera star, Rayne Williams. And she is visiting his kingdom to open the refurbished Royal Opera house, which he has redesigned.

     American Rayne Williams has never left the US, but she can hardly say no to a Royal invitation to sing in Valtria, no matter how fearful she may be to travel to a foreign country.
     When rebel fighters seeking to bring down the monarchy attack during the performance, Prince Benedek leads Rayne to into the catacombs below the Opera House for safety. But, instead of finding refuge, they are hunted by the rebels in a cat-and-mouse game where their lives are the prize. No one does Romantic Intrigue like Dana Marton.

Grounds to Believe (Elect Trilogy, Book 1)
Shelley Bates
Steeple Hill Books, 2004, pb, 296p,  978-0373785124

     This is author Shelley Bates’ (aka: Adina Senft) debut novel and a RITA winner. Though I have read many of her other novels, this one has a special place in my heart because of its strong portrayal of the evil of extremism in any form.
      Officer Ross Malcolm has a gun, a badge, and a mission: find his missing daughter, who was kidnapped by her mother when she joined a religious cult, the Elect of God. Ross’s heart tells him Kailey just has to be out there somewhere, but he must move fast in order to prevent further harm to his little girl since the Elect has already been accused of several instances of child endangerment.    

      Julia McNeill is a convert to the cult and is reluctant to give Ross information. He follows the clues, but there are complications and danger throughout the investigation, especially when Julia’s actions initiate unforeseen events. Together they find the unexpected and terrible truth behind the rumors of the cult.

​​The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich

Robert K. Wittman and David Kinney

Harper Books, 2016, $28.99 US, unknown Can., HC, 416p,

978-0-06-231901-2
The Devil’s Diary is a densely written, triple-ply non-fiction book that reads like a novel.
The story begins with the primary premise: the hunt for the papers of Alfred Rosenberg, Hitler's principal architect of the Nazi Party philosophy and creed, a man who envisioned the destruction of the Jews in Europe during WWII. Rosenberg kept a personal diary of the history of, and his reactions to, what had happened across the European landscape from the onset of Hitler’s political influence on Germany in 1923. The diary show Rosenberg to be egotistical, a slavish devotee of Hitler and the Nazi Reich, and a dangerously troubled man with too much power and too little humanity, as with all of his fellows in the Party hierarchy.
The second story is of Robert Kempner, a German-Jewish refugee, lawyer and tireless Crusader against the Nazis and their collaborators. Kempner oversaw the last and longest prosecution of high-ranking Nazis during theNuremburg trials. It was he who kept the Rosenberg’s diary, and much more Nazi paperwork, in his home after the War in order to write a book.
The last story is the hunt for the lost Rosenberg diary, which vanished after Kempner’s death, led by Robert K. Wittman, an investigative expert in the field of cultural property. These stories, especially that of Rosenberg and Kempner, are braided together, making a tale that is enlightening, powerful, tragic and full of pathos.   

Marrying Winterborne

Lisa Kleypas

Avon Books, 2016, $7.99 US, $9.99 Can., pb, 416p, 978-0-06-237185-0

 Circa 1870

 Lisa Kleypas’s Marrying Winterborne,set in the Victorian Bustle period, is a continuation of the story of Rhys and Helen which was started in Cold-Hearted Rake.

Welshman Rhys Winterborne is a self-made man who owns Winterborne’s, a Harrods-like department store where customer service is king. Uneducated and born poor, Rhys is proud of his accomplishments, but his pride is stinging from his recent broken betrothal.

Lady Helen Ravenel is sheltered and painfully shy; her life is her family and her orchids. She was unprepared for Rhys and brakes their engagement.

When Helen comes to him to un-break their betrothal, Rhys demands a price: she must spend the night with him, to render her unmarriageable to another man. Helen agrees. Together they discover a passion that surprises them both.

 This had a great plot and good characters, but sometimes Rhys was a throwback to the “good-old-bad-old” days of "aggressive men in Romance" in his behavior toward Helen (forcing her chin up, guiding her with his hand at the back of her neck, etc.). Luckily, Helen had a steel spine, which helped counter his physicality.

Hound
George Green
Bantam Books, 2004, pb, 560p, 978-0553815344
     This is a beautiful retelling of the ancient Irish tale of Cuchullain, the Hound of Ulster, which is told from the point of view of a grizzled soldier, Leary, from the Roman Empire. From the moment Cuchullain appears, you know he is a Hero and a legend of mythic proportions. Even as a youngster he is able to perform super-human deeds, but what he wants is to be recognized as a Hero (a great warrior). He grows into a true leader of men, he faces the ultimate challenge from the forces of Queen Maeve and follow’s his path to a dark Destiny.
     At turns humorous and touching, George Green takes a complex legend and makes it accessible and understandable to the average reader. This is a warrior’s tale, filled with blood, guts and mead. I found the treatment of the legend of Cuchullain to be unexpected and entirely enthralling.

 


Margaret Pole: The Countess in the Tower
Susan Higginbotham
Amberley Publishing, 2016, $20.07 US, L16.99 UK, HC, 214p,

978-1-4456-3594-1

Higginbotham, a prolific author of English-focused Historicals, gives us an excellent non-fictional retelling of the sad life and horrific death of Countess Margaret Pole, the daughter of an attainted traitor, the niece of Richard III, the mother of Cardinal Reginald Pole, and a loyal servant of the Tudors. Higginbotham approaches her subject with excellent research and the use of both primary and secondary sources and reconstructs the life of this accomplished woman, the last of the Plantagenet line, who was a peer in her own right. Appointed the governess to Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s oldest child, Margaret became a close friend to Catherine of Aragon, and her staunch defender when Henry took up with Anne Boleyn. Ultimately, Margaret, at age sixty-seven, was judicially murdered by that same king, who feared her claim to England’s throne during a time of religious unrest. Her execution at the hands of an axman who hacked her head and shoulders to pieces, was one of the most brutal in English history, especially considering her gender. In 1886, Pope Leo XIII beatified Margaret Pole as one of the fifty-four Roman Catholic English martyrs of the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. 
 

The Night Villa
Carol Goodman, Ballantine Books, 2008, $14.00, ($16.50 Can), Pb, 416pp,
978-0-345-47960-0

Literary fiction set in present day with flashbacks to 79AD.
Sophie Chase is a classics professor who is seriously injured while witnessing a double homicide and suicide at the school where she teaches. When she accepts an offer to work on an expedition on the Isle of Capri, Sophie hopes for a physical and mental change in order to help her recover from the ordeal. Instead, she is thrust headlong into international intrigue, and more murder, as a cabal of powerful conspirators seeks to steal the long-hidden secrets written in the ancient texts she is studying.  While Sophie deciphers the damaged papyrus scrolls, her life is threatened once again. As she battles to discover the truth, the secrets buried in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius are exposed and the story of a Roman slave girl’s fight for her freedom is revealed after two millennia. 
I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Goodman’s story. She writes in a lyrical style, but that does not interfere with the story. She keeps the reader intrigued from the opening paragraph. Her attention to historical detail is excellent, but it does not get in the way of the storytelling. The layers of plot are clearly explained and do not confuse the reader—a remarkable feat since there are multiple plots and multiple timelines throughout this complex story. I recommend The Night Villa to anyone who loves the addition of a historical backdrop to a well-plotted tale of suspense and intrigue. 

A Guest at the Shooters’ Banquet: My Grandfather’s SS past, My Jewish Family, a Search for the Truth
Rita Gabis,
Bloomsbury, 2015, $28.00 US, HC, 464p, 978-1-63286-261-7
Rita Gabis, an American poet and writer of half Catholic, half Jewish descent, writes a memoir which is part mystery, part family history, part confession, and totally gut-wrenching. She was unaware of her beloved maternal Grandfather’s work as the chief of security under the Gestapo in Svencionys, Lithuania. Once uncovered, she devoted years of her life to discover the truth about the killing grounds of Lithuania and her family complicity in the horror and tragedy that evolved there. At turns poetic and brutal, she goes into the history and politics of Lithuania, and explains the complications due to religious and ethnic differences. She writes from her soul, trying to comprehend the terror of people under the heel of both the Nazis and the Russians, to understand there was no way out, and no matter what the choice, it was always wrong. This unsettling, unnerving book makes you think of the what-ifs of both the past and the present. This should be on everyone’s To-Be-Read list. It will make you examine your own conscience. 

Forbidden Fashions: Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents
Isabella Campagnol,
Texas Tech University Press, 2014, $24.99,
hb, 227pp, 978-0-89672-827-5
As a costume historian, I jumped at the chance to review this book, especially since the nuns I knew while attending Catholic School were so unlike the women portrayed in this fascinating study.
The custom of Renaissance and Baroque Venice was to make a spectacular marriage for one daughter and lavish a huge dowry on her in order to raise the family’s standing in the eyes of the rich and powerful leaders of the city. All the other daughters in the family were relegated to convents, even if they had no vocation to the religious life. The family felt one daughter with a huge dowry held more status than several small dowries for each of the girls. Young women who had dreamed of being wives and mothers found themselves locked behind tall stone walls and closely held under the control of the Church.
The well-researched study gives us insight into how dress and accessories played a part in brightening the lives of the hundreds of these reluctant cloistered nuns, but also acted as reminders to the people around them that these women were ladies of rank. The grille screens that separated them from not just the populace of that great city, but their families, allowed these women a modicum of independence and the ability to make decisions that they would never have been permitted in the worldly life from which they had been torn. 

This  book, filled with unexpected gems, is a fabulous, fascinating and wonderful read.


The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood
Anchor Books, 1998,
pb, (originally published by W.O. Toad, 1986),
311p, 978-0-385-49081-8

The Handmaid’s Tale is brilliantly realized in a nightmarish story of misogyny, fear, and control in an absolutist, dystopian and anti-feminist society.
Atwood’s near-future tale is set in the Republic of Gilead, a theocracy built on a medical tragedy: most women were barren. Those who can bear children are forced into a contradictory existence, where they are both concubine and 
nun. If chosen by a member of the society’s caste of powerful men, the rare, resulting child is turned over to his "morally pure" wife to raise.Women are not permitted money, books, travel, and are kept within the walls of this society, where rebels and outliers are hung on those same walls as a warning to those within, and where the powerful men make decisions on a whim without consideration for the greater good. Horrifying and gripping.

 





The Red Lily Crown— a Novel of Medici Florence

Elizabeth Loupas,

New American Library, 2014, US $16.00, $18.00 Can. pb, 448pp, 

978-0-451-41887-6


April 1574.

Daughter of an Anti-Medici bookseller and secret alchemist, Chiara Nerini is driven by her family’s hunger and poverty to sell her dead father’s remaining alchemical equipment to Prince Francisco de Medici, the heir to the Florentine ducal throne. Alchemy-obsessed Francisco forces the virginal Chiara into his dark and forbidding world as his suror mystica,, his sister in the mysteries of alchemy. Francisco is in search of the elusive alchemical compound to formulate the Philosopher’s Stone, which can confer on the discoverer the thing most desired, including immortality. 

 English alchemist Ruanno dell’Inghilterra is the third member of the alchemical trinity and Chiara’s mentor and teacher. The attraction they feel, forbidden by the vow of chastity forced upon Chiara by the Prince, is not their only danger. Once Francisco inherits the throne from his dead father, Duke Cosimo I, he rules with an iron fist, destroying strangers, family, and friends heedless of the consequences, uncaring about the blood on his hands.

 Elizabeth Loupas has written with the authority of an expert on Medician Florence and imbued her story with tension, treachery, and terror. The reader cannot resist the urge to turn the next page, to discover if love or hate will be victorious, whether darkness or light will prevail. Though the story stands alone, Loupas provides a list of characters and detailed Author’s Notes for those unfamiliar with Florentine history and the Medici family. I thoroughly enjoyed The Red Lily Crown and recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction. 



Thank you for stopping by at monicaespence.net.

Mistress of Rome
Kate Quinn, Berkley Books, 2010, $15.00, $18.950 Can. pb, 466pp,
978-0- 425-23247-7


In First Century Rome, decadence, cruelty and deceit rule the day.
Thea, a musically talented and beautiful Jewish slave, is in thrall to Lepida, a wealthy, and ambitious heiress. Unwittingly, Thea falls in love with a gladiator, Arius the Barbarian, the same man who has attracted her mistress’s attention. Out of spite, Lepida sells Thea to a brothel. That sets her on a path to riches and glory as the mistress of Emperor Domitian, a paranoid and cruel man who toys with lives for sport, all while trying to maintain her own soul.
This is a real soap opera of a novel that has everything: love, lust, cruelty, murder, and a whole lot of history. A fascinating read by a debut author. 

Suggested Readings (in no particular order, preference, genre or topic):

George Washington’s Secret Spy War: The Making of America’s First Spymaster
John A. Nagy, St. Martin’s Press, 2016, $27.99 US, $38.99 Can., HC, 368p,

978-1-250-09681-4
     The late historian, John A. Nagy, approached this book with a focus on facts, and with them he exploded some of the mythology surrounding his Washington’s relationship with surveillance. The first myth: Washington had no skills in espionage prior to the Revolutionary War. In truth, Washington gained considerable experience as a field commander during the French and Indian War where, as a Lieutenant Colonel (later Colonel) in the 1st Virginia Regiment. He employed spies, observers, and reports from not only his own troops,
but Native Americans in the employ of the British.

     There have been several books written on the subject of Washington’s spy network, with a singular focus on the one in the New York City- Long Island- Connecticut area. What this book revealed that Washington had several other spy rings in the Colonies, which informed him of British doings in New Jersey, Staten Island, and other locations. Nagy used Washington’s own diary as a primary source for the book, and though it does not “read like a novel” it is both informative and entertaining. 



Oil and Marble: A Novel of Leonardo and Michelangelo
Stephanie Storey
Arcade Publishing, 2016, $24.99 US / Can. unknown price,
hc, 352p, 978-1-62872-639-8
1501
Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti return to their Florentine homeland in the opening years of the Sixteenth Century. At 50 years of age, Leonardo is a showman, but also a respected “elder statesman” of all forms of art and scientific investigation. Michelangelo, an angry young man in his twenties, considers himself primarily a sculptor, and has distinguished himself in Rome— but Rome is not Florence. When a commission to carve the Duccio stone, a huge, but damaged piece of marble, is offered by the city fathers, it is refused by Leonardo, but the destitute Michelangelo takes the job hoping to prove his worth in Florence and to his disapproving father. Bad blood develops between the two artists. It is not until Leonardo begins work on a portrait of a silk merchant’s wife that he understands Michelangelo’s fixation on the statue. At the same moment, the two men fight to create their, arguably, most famous and best-loved works: the David, and the Mona Lisa.
As a self-confessed “Florentine-
ophile” I have a deep love for the city and appreciation for its history and art. Before I got to the bottom of the first page, I was completely engrossed in Oil and Marble. I especially liked the way Ms. Storey involved all the great names of the early Sixteenth Century in the art of politics and the politics of art. This was an eminently readable tale, with the two Giants of art interwoven in the tale.

The Stand-in Groom  (Book 1 of the Brides of Bonneterre series) 

Kaye Dacus

Barbour Publishing, 2009, pb, 288p, 978-1602602885


Anne Hawthorne is a wedding planner with a problem. She is falling for the groom of the biggest weddings she has ever planned. Not Good.


Englishman George Laurence is a fish out of water in Louisiana. He's is on a secret mission for his boss, the biggest star in Hollywood. His Orders: Help his boss avoid the paparazzi by organizing the star's wedding-- by pretending to be the groom. Not Good. The problem: George is falling for the wedding planner. Also Not Good.


How can George come clean about the lies he's been telling Anne? Can Anne forgive his deception? 


Author Kaye Dacus has the lightest of touches when it comes to Inspirational Romance. Her characters are real humans, opposed to one-dimensional cardboard cutouts spouting platitudes. She throws loads of interesting roadblocks to love at the protagonists, and they have to figure out a way to overcome them, with the added dimension of asking the help of the Lord. 


I recommend this series, which combines the energy and charm of the deep South, with the deep Faith of the characters. 

What You Must Know About Kidney Disease: A Practical Guide to Using Conventional and Complementary Treatments

Richard Snyder DO

Square One, 2010, pb, 277p, 978-0757003264


If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Kidney Disease, this is a book that you will want to read and keep as a reference. Written by Dr. Richard Snyder, world-renown Nephrologist (kidney specialist) and best-selling author of books about several medical conditions, brings the information to the layperson who may be confused by the medical jargon being tossed around in a doctor's office. Explaining the condition in the clearest terms possible, Dr. Snyder seeks to inform the patient of the different types of treatments available. Armed with this knowledge, the patient can then decide upon the course of treatment that is best for him/her.


This is an invaluable resource written by one of the top practitioners of today.                      

The Dressmaker’s War
Mary Chamberlain,
Random House, 2016, $27.00 US, $35.00 Can., HC, 302p, 978-0-8129-9737-8
1939
At nineteen years old, Ada Vaughan has English working class roots and a stellar talent in dressmaking. Her dreams of owning her own atelier and rubbing elbows with the
wealthypushes her to Paris with Stanislaus, her titled Austrian lover at the brink of World War II. Later, abandoned by Stanislaus, she is trapped by the Nazis as they sweep into Paris. She is taken prisoner, sent to a concentration camp, and forced to work in demeaning jobs until her talent for dressmaking is discovered. Alone and fighting against the threat of cruelty and death at every turn, Ada makes decisions that will haunt her at the end of the war. For once the war is over, the terror is not only in the haunting and nightmarish past, but in how she will be judged by men who never have been tortured, starved, sexually abused, or had to make life-and-death decisions to survive.
Mary Chamberlain’s haunting and poignant debut work of
fictionis one readers will carry with them for years to come. As a teacher of Fashion and a skilled dressmaker, I could identify with teenage Ada’s aspirations and dreams for a better life. But war is a brutal teacher, and dreams are discarded no matter how skilled or talented one is. The decisions Ada had to make were decisions based on survival. The judgments rendered against her were based on pre-War standards and attitudes, not the reality and sadism of the brutal Nazi regime. 

 


Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us
Rachelle Bergstein, HarperCollins, 2012, $24.99,pb, 304pp,  

978-0-06-196961-4


Women (and some men) love shoes; they speak to us. In the last one hundred years, certain shoes have become iconic, symbolizing eras in history. Think of Dorothy’s Ruby slippers and Sarah Jessica Parker’s Manolo Blahnik stilettos, and you get a hint of the power of shoes. In her book Women from the Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How they Define Us, Rachelle Bergstein  identifies, codifies, organizes, and explains in a laypersons terms the sociological and psychological hold shoes have over us. Starting with the great Twentieth Century shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo and to the seemingly recession-proof shoe industry of the early Twenty-first century, Bergstein takes us through the high and low points of each decade, the style tribes and the celebrities who have increased our awareness and our respect for once lowly footwear, and put shoes on the proverbial pedestal. Her humor and her pithy analysis gives the reader an insight into history, society and the movers and shakers behind the styles. A fascinating book, filled with unexpected gems. I recommend slipping on your favorite pair of Jimmy Choos, grabbing a sugar-free mocha latte, and sit back for a fabulous, informative and entertaining read. 


 

Enraptured

Candace Camp

Pocket Books, 2016, $7.99 US, unknown price/ Can., pb, 391p, 978-1-4767-4110-9

 1807

Candace Camp’s Enraptured is the final book of the Secrets of the Loch series and she hooks you with archeology as well as her characters.

Unmarried, stubborn, intelligent, educated, archeologist Lady Violet Thornhill is determined to assume her late uncle’s position at Duncally, a  Highland dig. She only hopes to survive long enough to get there.

When Coll Munro, the estate manager of Duncally, rescues Violet’s carriage from some would-be highwayman the only payment he wants is a kiss. That kiss, and the memory of it, inspires him to watch her property. A series of mysterious clues in an old book has Coll and Violet working together to uncover the whereabouts of a treasure left by his grandmother, endangering them both. 

This historical romance/ mystery ties into the early Nineteenth Century British interest in antiquities and archeology, sparked by John Frere in the late Eighteenth Century. The Sciences, and the budding interest in the ancient world, are unusual themes for a Romance, but Camp gives the story heart and soul.      

The Devlin Diary
Christi Phillips
Pocket Books, 2010,
pb, 464p, 978-1416527404
       Christi Philip’s second novel is The Rosetti Letters, and again bridges the Seventeenth Century and the Twenty-first Century and focuses on Claire Donovan and her romantic interest, Cambridge fellow Andrew Kent.

      London, 1672: A madman stalks the court of England’s King Charles II, killing and then carving mysterious symbols into the flesh of his victims. What meaning can be found in the glyphs, and what is the impetus for the horrific crimes?
     Cambridge, 2008: Historian Claire Donovan is happily ensconced in her teaching duties at Cambridge University's Trinity College, then one of her colleagues is found murdered, clutching the coded diary of Hannah Devlin, a Seventeenth Century female physician working at Charles II’s court. As Claire tracks the modern-day killer, she finds parallels with murders committed during Hannah’s time. What is it that links the two mysteries? And will Claire be the next victim of the modern-day killer?
      I found the parallel stories to be unusually involving and I hope Christi Phillips is hard at work on her next novel!

The Friday Gospels

Jenn Ashworth

Scepter, 2013, HC, 324p, 978-1-444-70772-4

     The Friday Gospels is an absorbing, funny, shocking and unusual novel about an unusual topic: a slice of life of a dysfunctional Leeke family, a Mormon family from Lancashire, England.

     Each of the chapters is headed, not with numbers, but with a family member’s name. This gives each character a distinctive voice with which to tell his or her story: Jeannie, a young teen with a painful secret; Julian, an auto mechanic with a dangerous obsession and real anger issues; Gary, reluctantly headed home from a two-year mission in the wilds of Utah; Pauline, an obese, incontinent, depressed and wheelchair-bound housewife whose life revolves around her Church, her children and the Internet; and Pauline’s husband Martin, a reluctant Mormon and the meek afterthought in the family who wishes to be released from this madhouse and into the care of a younger, prettier, dog-walking woman he met in the local park.

     With her cast of characters, Jenn Ashworth of gives us a complexly interwoven story with which a reader can identify and empathize. (Let’s have a show of hands of those in the room who grew up in a dysfunctional and/or borderline psychotic household!) Each character grows and changes while reaching for a surprising, shocking destiny with the external help of friends, enemies and their Church. The Friday Gospels is un-put-down-able!


The Rosetti Letters

Christi Phillips

Pocket Books, 2008, pb, 438p, 978-1416527381

This excellently researched and engrossing debut novel is primarily set in Venice and bridges two centuries (the Seventeenth Century and the Twenty-first Century).

Ph.D. candidate Claire Donavan travels to Venice as an escort to a teenager in the hope she can work on her dissertation on Seventeenth Century courtesan Alessandra Rosetti, while there. She has discovered letters that reveal a heretofore unknown and important incident in the history of the city. 

Alessandra Rosetti risks her life upon discovering a conspiracy to hand over the Republic of Venice into the grasping hands of the Spanish Empire. Any moment her discovery could be unmasked, resulting in her mask. She decides to put the information in a letter. Will the letter be read in time to save her beloved city?

I could really identify with the modern protagonist in this novel, because I, too, love Venice and all of Italian history, but also because I am working on my Ph.D. on an Early Modern Italian subject, painter Sofonisba Anguissola.



Storm Trilogy Box Set (and companion novels): 

Knight Storm (Book 1 of the Celtic Storm series)

Celtic Tempest (Book 2 of the Celtic Storm series)

Celtic Fury (Book 3 of the Celtic Storm series)

Ria Cantrell

Amazon Digital Services, LLC (Kindle), 2015, 845p, ASIN: B0122NNU18

      When a dear friend and fellow reenactor publishes a novel, I make certain I read it. And in the case of this box set, which includes the first three stories if the Celtic Storm series (Knight Storm, Celtic Tempest, and Celtic Fury), I am glad I did. It is a special joy to discover the writing talent of an author who gives a reader interesting characters and imaginative plots, seemingly with such ease. Anyone who loves Medieval Highland Romances will love these stories. Once you have fallen in love with Ria Cantrell's writing style and storytelling, remember there are three more novels in the Celtic Storm series: Morag’s Tears, Celtic Peril and Celtic Blizzard

      So, over a long snowy weekend, treat yourself. Pour yourself a cup of mead, grab a warm tartan shawl and cuddle up with these terrific novels. You will soon discover you are in the Highlands. 


Longbourne
Jo Baker
Alfred A. Knoff, 2013, HC, 352p, 978-0385351232
Any Jane Austen fan worth her salt knows Longbourne is the ancestral home of the beloved Bennett family of Pride and Prejudice fame. However, unlike the original novel which focuses on that family and their friends, Jo Baker’s warmly clever novel focuses on (gasp!) the servants: those invisible hands and feet that were usually treated like part of the furniture by the landed gentry and the aristocracy. This novel is a fresh take on the much used and often abused characters of P&P. By turning the story upside down, Jo Baker shows us the underclass as they were, with aches and pains, loves and hates, and most of all, the frustration of working for people who demand impossible things be done in an instant. Here the servants are people with sore feet and aching backs, doing all the mundane chore for a family that is often thoughtless and ungrateful. They are people with closely-held secrets, disappointments, and dreams,  people with work-roughened hands paid a pittance to deal with filthy hems, cook and do the dishes from parties that they would never be invited to attend, and worst of all, having to attend a lady of the manor who is as crazy as a bedbug. (Ugh!)
Longbourne is a novel which will stay in my memory and on my To-Be-Reread bookshelf for years to come.

Please Watch This Space for Additional Book Reviews!

Monica E. Spence

Author of Historical Fiction and Historical Romance


Outlander (Book 1 of the Outlander series --and all the books of the series)

Diana Gabaldon

Delacorte Press, 1991, HC, 640p, 978-0385302302


Twenty-six years ago a novice author changed the face of publishing. Diana Gabaldon combined incredible historical research, fantasy, time-travel, romance and a heck-of-a-good story to give us Outlander, the immortal tale of Claire Beauchamp Randall and James (Jamie) Fraser. Thousands of adventure-filled pages later, her novels are read and reread, filmed and repackaged every year. It seems unlikely that anyone in the Western world has not heard of this novel, which started it all.


Just take my advice—read it. You will be hooked.

Just One of the Guys
Kristan Higgins
HQN Books, 2010, pb, 384p, 978-0373775149
     I was given this book by literary super-agent Janet Reid when it first came out, and since then Kristan Higgins has become one of my favorite Romance/ Women’s Fiction authors. Ms. Higgins has an incredible ability to get into the guts of her characters, and thus the facility to provide laughs, sighs and tears in the same novel.
     At 31-years-old, and nearly six-feet tall, journalist Chastity (Chas) O’Neill has moved back home. Unfortunately, nothing has changed. Her family is insane, her firefighter brothers are overly protective, and Treavor Meade, her secret crush treats her as just one of the guys. Chas is in despair that she will be alone forever.

     While Treavor is a bit clueless, he is ultimately a fine hero and the perfect match for Chas—though you don’t see it coming from a mile away. 

Three Weeks with Lady X

Eloisa James,

Avon Books, 2014, $7.99 US/ $9.50 Can.,  pb, 400pp,

978-0-06-222389-0


1799

Lady Xenobia India St. Clair, marquess’s daughter, is in constant demand by members of the Ton  looking for guidance on matters of taste, and assistance on all matters from matchmaking to the latest fashions. Her latest challenge: turn Thorn Dautry, former mudlark, bastard son of a duke and self-made man, into a sophisticated, elegant gentleman worthy of marrying a lady—in three weeks!

Sparks fly between the well-bred India and the diamond-in-the-rough, Thorn, in some of the funniest dialogs in Historical Romance. Neither of them sees passion creeping up until it explodes between them. But the course of love never runs smooth: each has ghosts to eliminate, memories to face, and expectations to evaluate before either is worthy of the other’s heart.


James has written a complex, very funny and touching story of love, loss, and vindication. Her characters have personality and depth, her plotting is complex and keeps the reader turning pages well after she should be on to more mundane tasks like laundry or editing her own next novel. I can’t recall when I have enjoyed a romance as much as Three Weeks with Lady X.