Shop now Shop now Shop now  Up to 50% Off Fashion  Shop all Amazon Fashion Cloud Drive Photos Shop now Learn More Shop now Shop now Shop Fire Shop Kindle Listen in Prime Shop now Shop now
Profile for Darlene Elizabeth Williams > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Darlene Elizab...
Top Reviewer Ranking: 211,215
Helpful Votes: 73

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Darlene Elizabeth Williams "Darlene Elizabeth Williams" (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada)

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Emotional, captivating, excellent novel of German-occupied France during WWII, 9 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Wolfsangel (Kindle Edition)
Liza Perrat has talent for writing novels of strength, courage, grief and endurance during horrific times in history. She does not disappoint with Wolfsangel. Her characters are strong women who face extreme obstacles, rise to challenges, but still experience emotions of ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances. An engaging, compelling page-turner that will stay with me. The hall marker of an excellent novel.

Nobody's Slave
Nobody's Slave
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nobody's Slave, 19 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Nobody's Slave (Kindle Edition)
I'm going to start of my review of Tim Vicary's historical fiction novel Nobody's Slave in an unusual manner with a quote of Tim's final sentence in his author's notes:

"Nobody has a monopoly of virtue."

These six words sum up the theme, based on true historical events, of Nobody's Slave.

Madu is a the son of a Sumba tribe member, captured as a slave by the Mani tribe. His mother was pregnant when she was captured and bore Madu, fathered by a Sumba. Madu has always felt an outcast with the Mani tribe members and never felt he met the high standards of his harsh stepfather, Nwoye, who is embarrassed this child is not of his blood.

Madu and his best friend, Temba, have nearly completed their manhood training. Boys that partner for their manhood training often became loyal friends for life and stand by each other. They capture a leopard, part of the ritual, and are triumphantly carrying it back to the village.

Madu hopes Nwoye will show a sign of approval, but is apprehensive as they trapped their leopard in a rather unorthodox and danger manner. Madu desperately wants to be accepted at the Festival of the New Warriors. His fate, otherwise, is that of a social outcast and lowly farmer.

Madu and Temba arrive at the village with their prize but drums beat insistently in the jungle. They warn of war with the Sumba and each village is to gather in haste at the nearest Mani town, Conga, for safety and to mount a defence against an army that has already captured five Mani villages.

Tom Oakley, is a seaman aboard the ancient Jesus of Lubeck, one of Queen Elizabeth's navy, under command of the ship's Master, Robert Barrett. Tom is a young boy, devoid of fear, in search of excitement and adventures. Dangers exhilarate him. The Jesus of Lubeck weathers an ferocious storm, but not without damage.

Cloth, purchased for trade, is used to plug holes in the hull. Francis Drake, Tom's cousin, is the Master's mate and supervises the improvised repairs. Also aboard is Robert Hawkins, a courtier, admiral and merchant-adventurer, who persuaded the Queen to loan him the Jesus of Lubeck. They survive to continue on to their destination, Guinea, Africa.

The Mani fortify Conga as best they can in the limited time they are afforded before battle commences. It is here Madu first learns the fate of the villages conquered by the Sumba: slaughter, cannibalism, slavery to the Sumba tribe or sold to the red-face, who keep captives in their great canoes and eat them.

The crew of the Jesus of Lubeck hope to fill their hold with African slaves, partially to make up for the loss of cloth but, mostly, to make a handsome profit. Thomas tells his cousin Simon:

"You don't want to worry about they Africans, Si. They're not like us. They're savages - they don't feel like we do. Black ivory, that's all."

Tom doesn't give much thought for the Africans, other than to muse:

"...he would not like to lie there, chained the stuffy darkness, unable to see outside or even stand up without bending; but then he was not a slave, nor likely to be."

He laughs in remembrance of the Africans' fear and how their skin shined "like polish ebony when it was wet..." Tom is not much of a introspective thinker.

The plan is sell a cargo hold full of African people to the Spaniards, who Tom and the crew hold in great disregard because of their Catholic faith, but their coin is welcome. The Mani and crew collaborate, each for their own purpose.

The manhunt is successful, for the most part, but Tom looses his cousin, Simon, to warriors in the first skirmish. The Sumba in Conga are vanquished. Madu is captive, his friend, Temba, and stepfather dead. He will never know the fate of his mother and sisters. His greatest fear is the red-face mean to eat him.

As often happens in life, best-laid plans go astray and dismissive words return to haunt. Such is the story of Nobody's Slave. Fate decrees Madu and Tom's worlds collide, separate and collide again. Both young boys are forced to confront their hatred of each other and their foe's nationality daily. Both will be in the complete power of the other at one point. Both will betray the other.

Nobody's Slave conveys a myriad of human cruelty into 255 pages. It also illustrates the human capacity to forgive, if not forget, past transgressions. Tim's prose is action-packed, yet descriptive of the suffering of unfortunate human beings and the propensities of those who hold ultimate power over the helpless. Beliefs and superstitions of the day are given validity.

Tim has a knack for delving into the minds of his characters and bringing out the worst and best in them. He doesn't shy away from the basest of emotions, but also demonstrates no person is completely evil whatever their deeds.

Nobody's Slave is thought-provoking. The reader is given insight into man's darkest motives and fears. No nation is exempt from exploitation for its own benefit and somehow justifying those actions.


Granite Hearts
Granite Hearts
Price: £3.05

3.0 out of 5 stars Granite Hearts, 17 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Granite Hearts (Kindle Edition)
Elizabeth Egerton Wilder's historical fiction novel Granite Hearts is the rendering of the life of a pioneering family on the outskirts of a small town, Prospect, Maine, beside the Penobscot River. Sean Ryan is the product of a Irishman and Micmac mother. Gertie, his new wife, is the child of Irish parents.

Sean lived in his entire life in the settlement of Smythville, a settlement founded by his Uncle Jacob, the patriarch of the Ryan family. Gertie's parents are Irish immigrants and none too fond of the "half-breed" community. However, money was short so Gertie was permitted to work with Sean's mother at Smythville school.

Many Micmacs were relocated to reservations. Jacob was determined this fate would not befall his extended family. It is here, in Smythville, Sean and Gertie are married according to the laws of Maine. This legality observed, the remainder of the wedding festivities are conducted in Micmac tradition. Gertie's parents do not attend the wedding. Her relationship with her father is poor, but she is saddened by the likelihood she will never see her mother again.

That evening they leave for their new home where they hope to have a fresh start. The bias against the Micmacs is strong in the area surrounding Smythville. Gertie has a job as a schoolteacher awaiting her. Sean plans to obtain work at a new fort being built as a laborer and, eventually, apprentice as a stonecutter.

With Gertie's schoolteacher position comes a tiny rustic cabin. Their elderly neighbor, Nana Hodge, soon becomes a major influence and close friend. The Ryans are able to purchase their home and 3 acres through gifts of money and monthly payments to Nana. Sean succeeds in getting seasonal work on the fort foundations, while Gertie teaches.

An early pregnancy and adoption of a toddler ends Gertie's career and Sean becomes the sole breadwinner.

Granite Hearts reads somewhat like a memoir of a family which struggles financially, a mother who contends with raising 4 boys to adulthood, isolation, discrimination, marital bliss and hardships, a husband often absent days and nights working, alcohol addiction, setbacks, personal growth, establishing a permanent home, extended family relationships and friendships and the impending civil war.

It is a pleasant read, however, much of Granite Hearts is written in passive tense and includes small details which do not add substance to the overall story. The first 3 chapters confused me as I thought the initial characters introduced in Chapter 1 were the protagonists in this novel. This is not apparent until Chapter 4 when Wilder sets the focus on Sean and Gertie Ryan.

While writing this review I discovered Granite Hearts is a sequel to The Spruce Gum Box, which might explain my original thoughts that the majority of Chapters 1 through 3 are unnecessary. The sheer number of characters introduced in these chapters made it difficult to connect the dots throughout Granite Hearts. I understand, in hindsight, Wilder might be refreshing readers' memories but, for new readers, the "information dumping" poses a problem.

I was gifted a copy of Granite Hearts by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

To the Fair Land
To the Fair Land
by Lucienne Boyce
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars To the Fair Land, 13 Feb. 2013
This review is from: To the Fair Land (Paperback)
In Lucienne Boyce's historical fiction novel, To the Fair Land, Ben Dearlove has been given the gift of 2 years in London by his apothecary father to make his mark as an author. The Muse has been largely absent and time is running out. Six months remain of his agreed upon sabbatical.

He has promised he will return home to Bristol and join his father as an apothecary if he does not attain success as an author. The thought of Bristol and his father's business is unsavoury, to say the least.

It's 1789 and Ben is attending the play, The Life and Death of Captain Cook, with a friend. A woman seated to his right is making a spectacle of herself denouncing Cook, which is not well received by the audience. Fellow playgoers begin to threaten her and pelt her with fruit. Ben manages to drag her out of the playhouse and takes the distraught woman home to her foreign servant. Prior to fainting, she mumbles "Miranda" and "I don't know where she is."

Before he takes leave of the woman, he notices drawings of an exotic bird and expensive natural history books. Writing a restorative recipe for the servant to give the woman, he departs.

The following Sunday he receives a dinner invitation from Mr. Dowling, a bookseller of note, who regularly invites literary members to his home. It is an eclectic gathering united in one purpose: to gain a publishing agreement from Mr. Dowling for oneself. Mr. Dowling and company this evening, however, are focussed on his literary sensation. It's a book entitled "An Account of a Voyage to Fair Land", complete with illustrations, and is proclaimed as the "book of the century". Much excitement and speculation ensues about the identity of the anonymous author.

Ben, curious about this sensation, visits Mr. Dowling's bookshop and manages to snatch a copy. The bookshop is in an uproar with customers clamoring for copies. Ben, who is struck by the strange appearances of 2 men who look out of place in a bookshop, restores order and begins to read the opening chapter.

A sentence catches his attention:

"Such were the men who, many years ago but still in living memory, set sail from England in the Miranda."

The name, Miranda, brings the woman from the playhouse back to mind. Ben flips through the pages to examine the illustrations of fantastical creatures and is brought up short when he recognizes an illustration of a wading bird. The woman he rescued had the exact drawing on her table.

Ben excitedly concludes the author and the woman know each other. He calculates that, if he can discover who the author is from the woman, Mr. Dowling will pay a fortune for the next book. Ben foresees an opportunity to reap a monetary reward from Mr. Dowling; an award that will permit him to stay in London and save him from the fate of being an apothecary.

Alas, Ben's dream of instant financial freedom is doused when the woman disappears and he discovers the 2 oddball men from the bookshop ransacking her rooms. He overhears one say:

"Back to the office to see if His Lordship's got any more orders for us."

Obviously he's not the only one seeking the woman. But who is "His Lordship" and why are the henchmen looking for the woman? A little more digging uncovers the men are possibly from the Admiralty. The question still remains why the Admiralty is involved. Ben conjectures the Admiralty and the ship Miranda must be somehow connected.

Thus begins Ben's quest to discover the whereabouts of the woman and the reason for the Admiralty's interest in her. The trail leads him back to Bristol. The road to easy money is riddled with many potholes, some deeper than others. Ben's pursuit of the woman takes a sinister turn. Someone is willing to take any risk and commit atrocious acts to find the mysterious artistic woman.

Ben will question whether the fantastical is actually reality and, if so, does he want to be responsible for the repercussions that will inevitably ensue?

To the Fair Land was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Boyce takes the reader on an adventurous journey with Ben, an extremely likeable character. Mysterious abound, calumnies are committed, lives are forever changed and one young man must make a momentous decision.

The False Light
The False Light
by Diane Scott Lewis
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars The False Light, 12 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The False Light (Paperback)
Countess Lisbette de Jonquiere is smuggled from Revolutionary France aboard a ship bound for England, by her family's faithful retainer, Armand, for her safety. He's also entrusted her with a package of important information to be delivered to a man in Bath. He assures her he will inform her mother where she is in England. Lisbette doubts whether Armand is telling her the truth, but she has no option but to obey. She has no one else to turn to in war-torn France.

Discovered as a stowaway in Dover, she flees to a village inn where she is tossed out into the street in the wee hours. Travelling alone at the tender age of 17 and obviously French, suspicions about her intentions in England are rampant. Distrust that Bettina, her deceased father's pet nickname, has come to sow dissent in England is pervasive amongst the English.

She boards a coach bound for Bath, only to be evicted when a brash young woman, Kerra, boards and is deemed overly friendly with a male passenger. Bettina tries her best to part ways with Kerra, but soon discovers Kerra is rather persistent and insists on accompanying her to Bath.

An unpleasant surprise awaits Bettina in Bath. The man to whom she is to deliver the package no longer resides at the address given and residents give her short shrift. Adrift in a country where she does not know a soul, confused by customs and the language, Bettina is penniless and realizes she must find work to support herself. Her greatest obstacles to locating work are lack of references, her bedraggled appearance and general inability to perform any manual labor. Embroidery and court etiquette are not exactly marketable talents.

She meets up with Kerra again and is convinced to travel to Cornwall where Kerra's sister, Maddie, owns an inn. Kerra is certain Maddie will find some type of work for Bettina at the Inn. The night before they leave, Bettina opens the package to discover blank sheaves of paper. She has been sent on a fool's errand to England.

Bettina's French aristocratic upbringing has not prepared her for interacting with the common people of England or scraping by to put food in her mouth.

"Roust up, Maddie wants you in the kitchen."

Bettina blinked as Kerra shook her. She groaned and crawled from the bed's brief comfort. Patting down the wrinkles in her dress, she stuffed her feet in her slippers and stumbled out the door.

"You can help in here," Maddie said, her tone officious. "Ann's our cook and kitchen helper, she'll show what to do. When you be done, you can sweep the floors, strip the beds upstairs, then boil the laundry that's piled here by the door."

"All of that is needed to be finished today?" Bettina rubbed her face.

"You came to work, didn't you?" A flicker of impatience crossed Maddie's face. "There be a lot more than that. Oh, and a lodger vomited on the rug in number two. You'll need to scrub it with some vinegar....."

Bettina's goal of earning enough money to travel to London, hopefully locate her mother amongst refugees and start a new life together seems a distant dream, but one she is committed to with all her heart. Meanwhile, she must keep her background secret to avoid unwanted trouble.

Gradually Bettina moves up to taking orders in the taproom and must learn to navigate the lower echelon of society. Unfortunately, some clientele overstep the boundaries of decorous behavior, but none so much as one lecher whose determination is limitless. On one occasion, he attempts to assault Bettina, who is rescued by the "nefarious Everett Camborne".

Camborne is reputed to have strangled and buried his wife in the cellar of his Bronnmargh's estate three years previously. His wife's maid swore she heard Camborne threaten his wife. The maid then disappeared a few days after the magistrates investigated and found no conclusive evidence. Yet, rumors linger.

Desperate to earn extra money, Bettina advertises her services as a French language tutor. Camborne, whose motherless nephew has come to reside with him, retains her. Bettina delights in teaching, but is wary of her employer who seems equally distrustful of her.

Working at the inn slowly brings Bettina to the realization the majority of the population lives in poverty or near poverty, working hard to gather enough for clothes on the back and food in their stomachs. She begins to comprehend the origins of French Revolution, if not the horrific beast it has become. She gains a better understanding of her colleagues and begins to form real friendships with people she would never have encountered in her previous life.

The False Light is a historical romance novel that contains elements of riches to rags, covert secrets, mysterious strangers too interested in Bettina's previous life, revelations, misunderstandings and misinterpretations, slow awakening of love, realization of true friendships and pursuit of dreams. Scott Lewis nicely leaves the ending of The False Light sufficiently open to naturally segue into the next installment.

I especially enjoyed Scott Lewis's deliberate, yet authentically written, style of incorporating Bettina's confusion of the English language, both usage and interpretation. It brought a deeper, intrinsic sense of Bettina's experiences in a foreign country.

The False Light is a well-written novel, certain to appeal to historical romance readers who seek their romance fix with substance than fluff.

The Alhambra Decree: 1 (Flower from Castile Trilogy)
The Alhambra Decree: 1 (Flower from Castile Trilogy)
by Lilian Gafni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.05

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Flower from Castile (Book #1: The Alhambra Decree), 11 Feb. 2013
Lilian Gafni's historical fiction novel Flower from Castile Trilogy; Book One: The Alhambra Decree is somewhat akin to holding a gaily wrapped present and not wanting to rip the paper. Although an irate author once informed me cover art is not within my realm as a reviewer, I beg to differ.

The Alhambra Decree is one of the nicest, colorful covers I've seen in some time. The text pops against the background. I would pick up this book based on cover art alone. Inside, the layout is a treat also. There is a flair that draws you to the past.

Now I've drooled over the technical aspects, let's get down to the package inside the wrapping.

Spain's population in 1491 is an uneasy mix of Catholics, New Christians, also known as Conversos or Moriscos (converted to Catholicism from Judaism or Islam within the last few generations), Jews and Muslim Moors in the Emirate of Granda.

Their Most Catholic Majesties, as conferred by Pope Alexander VI, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon are determined all people of Spain be united as one under the Roman Catholic Church for the sake their souls and governance of Espania.

Isabella Obrigon, the only child of Arturo Obrigon and Estrella, is a spoilt, beautiful 16 year old who resides in Seville. Life is perfect for Isabella. No desire is thwarted and her parents and nanny dote on her. She is betrothed to Juan, 17, the handsome son of noble parents and the wedding date is set for one year hence.

A note left in an egg basket delivered weekly by an elderly woman threatens Isabella's blissful existence:

"Do not allow your daughter to marry. A great calamity will befall your house if you do."

Impetuous Isabella pays a visit to Maria, without waiting for her parents, to demand an explanation for the note. An ill-fated decision when she is taken prisoner and transported to a mysterious location. Convinced she has been kidnapped for the purpose of raising a ransom from her wealthy parents, Isabella is dismayed to find herself at the Court of Moorish King Abdallah of Granada, in the City of Alhambra. The Granadians and the Spanish monarchs have been fighting for nearly a decade over possession of Granada.

Her captors leave Isabella with Abdallah as his ward for protection until they return for her. Before departing, one of Isabella's captors discloses the reason for her kidnapping and transportation to King Abdallah. The explanation shatters everything Isabella thought true of her life and her parents.

While Isabella Abrigon is central to The Alhambra Decree, Gafni has interwoven her story amongst the threads of politics, religion, persecution and unwavering commitment to beliefs via viewpoints of other characters.

We discover strands of Spain's greatest moments and worst travesties through:
*a brother's sacred promise to his sister;
*parental devastation;
*a son who fights for his homeland;
*a woman who sacrifices herself to a torturous death to save her Jewish and Converso friends;
*two young fatherless sons who, without complete understanding, undertake a dangerous journey in obedience to their mother;
*an infamous inquisitor who believes his mission is to "extirpate heresy from the land once and for all";
*an ambitious explorer by the name of Christophero Columbus forced to wait upon a queen's pleasure;
*Boabdil, King of the Moors, who became a vassal to save his people and is now engulfed by his subjects' displeasure and foreboding doom;
*a self-serving inspector who seeks to elevate himself through rescue of Isabella Abrigon;
*Spanish and Moorish soldiers who engage in battle for the coveted Granada, each side convinced of their cause;
*a Rabbi and his family who risk loss of everything they own for their God.

Flower from Castile Trilogy (Book #1 - The Alhambra Decree) is a novel of love, loss, suspicions, betrayal, fanaticism, stoicism, passage from adolescence to maturity and, above all, the will to survive to dream of a future. Gafni took an enormous approach with The Alhambra Decree. She does not present a biased view but, rather, a multi-faceted insight into the human psyche.

The Alhambra Decree is a complex novel set during a two year period in Spain. Much occurred in this short space of time; much is still debated centuries later.

Shadow on the Crown
Shadow on the Crown
by Patricia Bracewell
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shadow on The Crown, 11 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Shadow on the Crown (Hardcover)
Patricia Bracewell's debut historical fiction novel, Shadow on the Crown, commences during the harsh winter of 1001 in Normandy.

Emma is 15 years old and happiest when outdoors riding. Such times are rare.

Danish warrior king, Swein Forkbeard, and his companions are wintering with Emma's family, who cannot afford the risk of Forkbeard's ire if he is denied hospitality. Forkbeard and his retinue might be wealthy, but their manners are those of brutal men to whom murder and rape are a way of life.

Emma is Richard, Duke of Normandy's sister. A visit from an English archbishop and ealdorman changes the course of Emma's future.

King AEthelred of England has just lost his wife, mother of his 11 children. Their 3 oldest sons await their father's summons, yet their father remains ensconced with his advisors leaving Athelstan, Ecbert and Edmund to cool their heels and speculate what their father plans. This is especially vital for Athlestan, the oldest son and heir.

The archbishop and ealdorman have traveled to Normandy to arrange a marriage between AEthelred and Richard's sister. The negotiations, held in secrecy, take weeks.

All expect Emma's older sister, Mathilde, is the bride. In exchange, Richard pledges to close his Normandy harbor to the Danes, traditional enemies of the Anglo-Saxons.

This poses a problem for Richard as now Normandy will become the enemy of the Danes. Normandy lacks defences and would fall to the Danes easily.

Richard and his mother break the shocking news to Emma that she is destined to be AEthelred's bride, rather than her sister who suffers ill health.

Emma's future as bride to a king the age of her father amounts to that of a royal hostage to ensure Richard is faithful to his bond. Her sole consolation is she will be Queen, rather than consort, and protected from AEthelred seizing her wealth and lands.

Emma has many challenges ahead of her: a language barrier; English traditions, Queenly duties, estate management and, most important of all, to bear sons.

Emma is grieved to leave her family and fearful of the character of her yet unmet husband. Her bridegroom fails to meet her on arrival and Emma is filled with foreboding. She already suspects something about AEthelred has purposely been withheld from her.

She soon learns of rumors of the manner in which AEthelred ascended the Throne. An older brother who died along under mysterious circumstances at a young age. AEthelred's oldest son, who fully expects to be his father's successor, greatly resembles his dead uncle. The specter of his dead brother haunts AEthelred relentlessly and the sight of his son disturbs him immeasurably.

Emma finds she too is hunted: by Elgiva, daughter of AElfhelm, an ealdorman, who feels cheated of her destiny as AEthelred's Queen.

A member of Emma's household, she is determined to undermine Emma, even to the extent of taking AEthelred as her lover. Additionally, her father forces her to spy on Emma and report news of import. Elgiva sets out on her mission with great ambitions, deliberately causing dissent in the Queen's household.

Discord between AEthelred and his 3 oldest sons burns. If Emma bears a son, as Queen, her son will take precedence over Athelstan as heir. His mother was merely consort to AEthelred, not queen.

Emma's Norman household members are sent away by a her distrusting husband, while she is kept virtually prisoner.

Over the years Danes have settled in England, but now the paranoid King is determined to rid his kingdom of them - by violence that will cost him dear.

Trapped in a loveless marriage to a brutal, demented man, Emma must somehow endear herself to the mistrustful English people, assert herself as Queen despite conspiracies to the contrary and deny herself the luxury of a forbidden love, all in the hopes of bearing the future king of England and ensuring he inherits England.

The first in a trilogy about Emma, Bracewell's debut historical fiction novel, Shadow on The Crown, is written in accordance with the times. It was a harsh world at the turn of the first millennium and women had no recourse but to endure whatever their lives, directed by men with little or no feeling towards women's desires, held.

Brutality, disrespect, fear for their lives, treatment as prisoners and pawns were realities. Emma suffers much, but withstands as best she can within such limitations.

Bracewell does not flinch at the truth of life in the medieval years, writing Shadow on The Crown with the few glories and many tribulations of life. Shadow on The Crown is an exceptional novel, created from Bracewell's imagination as few primary sources remain extant.

Shadow on the Crown is a powerful and stirring illustration of an era shrouded by mystery. I eagerly anticipate the second novel in the Emma trilogy

The Crown
The Crown
by Nancy Bilyeau
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crown, 3 Feb. 2013
This review is from: The Crown (Paperback)
The Crown is Nancy Bilyeau's debut historical fiction novel. The Crown is the story of Dominican Nun, Joanna Stafford, caught in political maneuverings during the reign of Henry VIII in 1537.

Joanna is the niece of the once privileged, but now disgraced and executed Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham. By association, she is tainted traitor.

She loves her religious life, although she has not yet taken vows, and the threat of dissolution of Dartford Prior, the only Dominican order in England, weighs heavily on her mind. Joanna's life in service to her beliefs is jeopardized by Cromwell's advice and the whims of Henry. Where will she go? How will she survive? Questions to which there are no obvious answers.

The Duke of Buckingham's illegitimate daughter, Margaret, was Joanna's sole friend during her childhood. Now she hears news Margaret and her husband, John, are to be executed as rebels. John is to be hanged but her beloved cousin burned at Smithfield. Joanna knows she must defy the rule of enclosure and be with her cousin at the last.

She slips out of the priory and travels to London to offer Margaret the only comforts she possesses: her presence, prayers and love. Joanna is not prepared for the sheer madness that grips London, especially during a public burning. She narrowly escapes an assault aided by a Constable, Geoffrey Scovill, As Margaret is lead to the stake, a sight shocks Joanna to her core. Her father is running towards Margaret with a bag of gunpowder to end her trial by fire.

Joanna and Geoffrey are arrested, along with Joanna's father, and taken to the Tower of London. Her first inquisitor is the Duke of Norfolk, married to her older cousin, Elizabeth. A wretched marital union. He accuses Joanna of having ulterior motives for attending Margaret's execution, exhibiting a pendant given to her by Margaret and Margaret's last letter to her as evidence of Joanna's intent to foment fresh rebellion against the King.

Her previous service to the dying Katharine of Aragon in place of her Spanish mother is questioned. Joanna, remembering that night, determines she will not betray the trust of a dying woman. Her new tormentor, Bishop of Winchester, Stephen Gardiner, takes to her to the torture chamber. At the sight of her father, her defiance disintegrates.

Gardiner is convinced Dartford Prior was founded to conceal a powerful relic: the fabled Athelston Crown. Gardiner wrenches a confession from Joanna that Katherine of Aragon mentioned the Athelston crown in her dying words.

The Athelston Crown is legendary:

"The bishop's face went white. 'Yes. And there is prophecy: A prophecy of great reward but not without great risk. It is both blessing and curse. It has a power, Sister Joanna, that has never been unleashed, for if it were, it would change the lives of every man, woman, and child living in England - and beyond.'"

Against her conscience, Joanna agrees to return to Dartford Priory to search for the Athelston Crown. To ensure her compliance, her father is held in the Tower of London. Accompanied by 2 Dominican Friars, whose motives she does not understand or know, thus begins Joanna's secret quest.

A murder at the Prior brings Geoffrey Scoville back into her life. Joanna's mission is fraught with danger, journeys into the world, decoding and deciphering obscure clues. She does not know who is trustworthy or bent on objectives contrary to hers. And, exactly what does Gardiner intend to do with the crown, should it be found?

Nancy has masterfully written The Crown so the reader knows no more than Joanna at any given point. Where, how or if the Athelston Crown will be located and the consequences of such a discovery are just as much a mystery to the reader as the reader is pulled along with Joanna.

The Crown is written employing all five senses, an attribute many novels lack. This serves to provide added depth to the prose. Nancy plays for high stakes in The Crown, but also knows when to let the reader have a little bit of a breather. Characters do not always enjoy the security of the roles they play. A little dash of romantic inclination adds the question of whether Joanna will remain in the religious life or maybe.....

Nancy leaves the reader satisfied, but open to the concept there may be more to come in Joanna's life.

An outstanding debut historical fiction novel, The Crown is worthy of a glowing:

MY RATING: 5/5 Stars

Sons of the Wolf
Sons of the Wolf
by Paula Lofting
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sons of The Wolf, 1 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Sons of the Wolf (Paperback)
Paula Lofting's historical fiction novel, Sons of the Wolf, commences in 1054. Wulfhere is riding home to an uncertain welcome. He and his wife parted on non-speaking terms. He anticipates his reunion with his 7 children and is not disappointed. Wulfhere has been away a number of months fighting the Scottish McBeth at Dunsinane, a brutal battle which haunts his dreams at night.

Wulfhere is a thegn, his lands and income received from King Edward. His is a comfortable life, but not luxurious. Wulfhere's lineage is that of warriors and he is unquestionably loyal to his king.

To his complete amazement, his noble, efficient and demanding wife greets him warmly. Wulfhere committed a past transgression which caused the former unhappiness between him and his wife. Eadldytha, for her part, discovered how much she missed her husband and decides to put her bitterness behind her and rekindle the marriage they once had.

If Ealdgytha lost Wulfhere in battle, she cannot envision how she could manage their holdings by herself long term. Wulfhere's household is hectic with unruly, if not downright vicious, sons, and, unknown to him, a burgeoning love between his eldest daughter, Freyda, and Edgar Heghlison, the lame son of his neighbor, Helghi.

Edgar's lameness is the center of a feud between the 2 families. The vendetta has deeper roots. It extends back to a time when Wulfhere suffered a great loss and holds Helghi accountable.

Freyda and Edgar's love affair comes to light in such a manner that that an enforced peace treaty between the families trembles under pressure. Freyda is forbidden to see the boy again.

The Earl of Wessex, Harold Godwinson, Wulfhere and Helghi's powerful Lord Protector, has a different view of the matter. He is determined peace shall reign in his lands and brokers an agreement between Wulfhere and Helghi to consent to a betrothal between Freyda and Edgar. He sweetens the pot with promise of lands for Freyda upon her marriage. Harold also warns of severe consequences should peace be broken.

A betrothal party is thrown with Harold in attendance. Helghi overdrinks and tries to commit an unpardonable crime against Wulfhere's servant girl, a catalyst for Freyda's parents to prevent the marriage by any means possible. The difficulty lies in how to accomplish this in contravention of the Earl's desires. No one anticipates the depth of Edgar's love and the lengths he will go to have Freyda.

Life becomes even more complicated when a message arrives for Wulfhere; a missive he cannot find the willpower to ignore. His past transgression is about to become current and taint his family life.

In the background of the turmoil of Wulfhere's life, are political rumblings. King Edward is childless and it is evident he will have no heir. Edward is criticized for his lack of attention to kingly duties and his extreme piety.

The abduction of the Queen's brother and nephew several years prior to Normandy rankles some members of the influential Godwinson family, while others are indifferent, especially the Queen.

The king's exiled nephew is a favorable candidate to many, but political hostilities prevent his nephew's return. Dissension on who will ascend the throne upon Edwards death is rampant, but the populace is unanimous they do not want a Norman to rule England.

An ousted candidate for the Earl of Northrumbia conspires with the Welsh to take back the lands he considers rightfully his, bringing England to war. A battle ensues and a horrendous defection brings the English forces to its knees.

Sons of The Wolf is told from multiple characters' point of view, including that of Wulfhere's children. The reader is treated to a seamless integration of characters' lives. Paula skillfully weaves a captivating story of a man, who strives to be a good husband and father tormented by his uncontrollable desire, into a complex rendering of an era of violence, connivance and collusion.

The portrayal of characters who struggle to fulfill their roles with honor but fall short of the mark is a welcome departure from many historical fiction novels that depict protagonists as near perfect, as is the focus on a non-noble family.

A thoroughly engaging novel, Sons of The Wolf is the first of two novels. The Wolf Banner, in the editing stage at the time of publication of Sons of the Wolf completes the saga.

My Rating: 4.5/5

The Soldier's Seed
The Soldier's Seed
by Sharyn Bradford Lunn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Soldier's Seed, 16 Jan. 2013
This review is from: The Soldier's Seed (Paperback)
The Soldier's Seed is Book 1 of Sharyn Bradford Lunn's historical fiction novel series Southern Skyes.

The Soldier's Seed opens in Sydney Town, New South Wales, 1803, with Nicholas Thomas, an English farmer turned soldier in the New South Wales Corps. The Corps' mission is guard transported convicts and colonize. The Corps and the Royal Marines, who arrived a year earlier, have a bitter rivalry. The Marines, unwilling to supervise convicts, were replaced by the Corps a year later.

During the 14 year stint in Sydney Town, the Corps became a powerful operation, with the acting governor allocating large land grants to his officers, who, in turn, became rum traders bringing wealth and influence. This does not sit well with the Royal Marines, who are more than delighted to inform the Corps they will be moving out to Van Diemen's Land to establish a settlement to ward off rumors of French colonization. The worst of the offenders will be transferred to Van Diemen's Land, including those who previously conspired and failed to seize control of Norfolk Island.

Nicholas hates Sydney Town, New South Wales and the Corps. His dreams of wealth and adventure turned to dust in the inhospitable climate and prominent corruptness. His only goal is finish his term in one piece and return home to Kent to a pastoral life of farming. With the impending result of his indiscretions with the local shopkeepers wife due in mere weeks, Nicholas volunteers to transfer to Van Diemen's Land. It's not his first choice but, given the circumstances and shopkeeper's threats, it seems the lesser of the evils.

The Corps on Van Diemen's Land will be under the command of a young Lieutenant Bowen, a former Royal Marine. Nicholas has not meshed well with his fellow corrupt Corps, who are quite happy to lay a beating on him and verbally berate him given an opportunity. This move to Van Diemen's Land could prove the solution to all of his problems in Sydney Town. Governor King is in a hurry to beat the French to Van Diemen's Land and this suits Nicholas perfectly. Staying in Sydney Town holds no promise of gaining wealth and he's not eager to stick around should the shopkeeper's wife's baby prove to be his child.

The voyage from Sydney Town to Van Diemen's Land is miserable on an overcrowded whaler and plagued by incessant seasickness. Nicholas is so physically and emotionally depleted he is prepared to die on the deck, but a black freed slave turned whaler doesn't permit him the option. Buck and Nicholas become fast friends, although it is obvious it will be of short duration. Before they part, Buck gifts a carved whale tooth to Nicholas, which will have meaning in the far future.

Bowen's orders from Governor King is to establish a new colony and this is what he sets out to do. Shelters and gardens are established and free settlers begin to work their land. Convicts, however, true to their previous history are uncooperative with authorities until the threat of reduced rations and lack of shelter finally inspires them to act in their own interests. Once they have built themselves housing, they return to their recalcitrant state.

As the settlement grows, disharmony between officials and rum conspiracies amongst the soldiers are reminiscent of Sydney Town. Occasionally, aboriginals are spotted, but they seem merely curious and harmless. Little does Nicholas know the part the aboriginals will play in his life.

Nicholas is a slow learner and has a liaison with a free settler's wife until the day he sees a beautiful convict named Maggie working the gardens. She becomes pregnant, but Nicholas' request to marry her is denied. He sees no option other to run away with her. He know the penalty for desertion, but his love for Maggie and her child overpowers the consequences if caught.

The Soldier's Seed is quite literally titled, as it follows Nicholas and his child's destiny. However, it isn't until the second half of the novel that Lunn begins to focus on Nicholas and his life. Much of the novel up to that point is a rendering of the historical inception of Tasmania which, although thoroughly researched, does not move Nicholas' story forward.

Personally, I feel that if The Soldier's Seed had focused primarily on Nicholas' story continually, with the colonization of Tasmania more of a background story, this novel would have more cohesion. I found myself waiting and wanting to read more about Nicholas, which took too long to delve into.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4