Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: To Have and To Hold by Mary Johnston

Virginia Company, Jamestown, 1621. The once struggling colony is now thriving, and the arrival of a ship full of potential brides has all the single men rushing to put on their best and meet the ladies in hopes of finding wives. Captain Ralph Percy, hardened soldier, gentleman farmer, and avowed bachelor, watches from the sidelines, marveling as his comrades make fools of themselves over the women. He has no need of a wife and can’t understand the sense in asking a perfect stranger to marry him . . . until he catches sight of Jocelyn Leigh.

Struck by her uncommon beauty, quiet grace, and regal bearing, he wonders why a woman such as she would need to brave the sea voyage and the wilds of the new world to find a husband. And then he finds himself doing the unthinkable, asking for her hand in marriage before another man can snatch her up! But he was right to suspect that Jocelyn was not as she seemed, and he soon discovers that his new wife fled England in a desperate attempt to escape an arranged marriage. Ralph vows to protect her, not knowing how soon he will be called upon to do so, or how dangerous it will be to him.

Jocelyn’s jilted fiancée is coming to find her, and when Lord Carnal lands at Jamestown, he brings dubious tidings. A handsome lord with the wealth and power of the king at his disposal, he informs Ralph that he has married a ward of the king without the king’s permission, a treasonous offense. But all will be well—all Ralph has to do is hand her over and Lord Carnal will sail away with her as though nothing ever happened. But if Ralph does not comply, he is to be clapped in irons and bound for England and the Tower, and Lord Carnal will take Jocelyn by force. The choice seems clear enough—who is Captain Ralph Percy to go against the King’s orders? But one look at Jocelyn’s fear-stricken face decides his fate. This solemn and stoic woman has woven herself into the fabric of his life, and he’s not going to give her up so easily.

Ralph and Jocelyn defy the King’s command and fight for their right to stay together, but it soon becomes evident that their only course of action is to flee. As they make their way through the dangerous wilderness, battling the King’s men, Indians, and even pirates, what started out as a marriage of convenience becomes a true love match, and Ralph discovers that what is worth having is worth holding, no matter the cost.

My Review

4 Stars

Mary Johnston's To Have and To Hold, the best-selling novel of 1900 and one of the first historical romances to be published by the new digital imprint Legacy Romance, is a delightful novel sure to appeal to readers of both historical fiction and the historical romance sub-genre.  

Set in the Jamestown colony in the early 17th century, only a few years after its establishment, the novel centres around British Army Captain Ralph Percy, a veteran of many battles trying to establish a new life for himself in the colony, a life that doesn't include a wife.   Despite his commitment to bachelorhood, the arrival of an English ship full of eligible young women each looking for a husband results in Ralph breaking his vow to stay single when he takes one of these young women, Jocelyn Leigh, as his wife.  There is more to Jocelyn, however, than meets the eye.  To ensure passage of the ship bound for Jamestown, Jocelyn assumes the identify of one of her maids.  Her true identify is revealed when her former fiance, Lord Carnal, a close confident of King James I, arrives in Jamestown looking for his intended.  It turns out that Jocelyn is a ward of the King.  Upon learning this news Ralph is faced with a choice.  He can either renounce his marriage and let Lord Carnal return to England with Jocelyn, enabling him to continue on with his life, or he can reaffirm his commitment to his marriage.  If he chooses the latter option Ralph would be arrested and sent back to England to await trial for marrying a King's ward without permission.  Despite the consequences, Ralph decides to stay married to Jocelyn, the choice preferred by Jocelyn herself.  In their efforts to thwart Lord Carnal's continued efforts to win Jocelyn, Ralph and Jocelyn embark upon an adventure that takes them through the wilderness around Jamestown and even out onto the high seas.   Will Ralph and Jocelyn outfox Lord Carnal or will the wily nobleman win out in the end?  Will their escapades result in the blossoming of real love or will they end up despising one another? 

The greatest strength of To Have and To Hold rests with the characters.  As a couple, Ralph and Jocelyn are easy to root for.  By choosing to stand by Jocelyn's side in the face or Lord Carnal's demands that she return to England, Ralph easily endears himself to readers.  He certainly endeared himself to me.  As for Jocelyn, she proves time and again that she is more than just a pretty face by refusing to give in to Lord Carnal's demands, and by toughing it out in the unknown wilderness and on board ship without complaint.  The novel's secondary characters are also solid, particularly Ralph's servant Diccon and his friend Jeremy Sparrow, both of whom are the source of  many memorable moments in the story.  As the novel's principal antagonist, Lord Carnal proves himself a worthy adversary and is easy to dislike.  The story itself moves along quickly and smoothly, and there is never a dull moment.  I started each chapter in eager anticipation of what it would hold for the hero and heroine.   Given over 100 years have past since To Have and To Hold was originally published in 1900, Johnston's prose does take some getting used to, especially for those used to reading modern historical fiction.  While I often made use of the novel's glossary and my Kindle's dictionary to discover the meaning of some of the more archaic words and expressions littered throughout the story, overall I felt the dated nature of the prose gives the story an authentic feel.   While the romantic element of this book is very tame by the standards of most of today's historical romance novels, I thought the love story between Ralph and Jocelyn to be sweet and reminiscent of some of the romances featured in my favourite works of classical literature.  

Note: A copy of this novel was provided to me by Legacy Romance in return for an impartial and honest review. 


I'm pleased to offer, courtesy of Legacy Romance, a giveaway for a free digital copy of To Have and To Hold to one lucky follower!   Here are the giveaway details:

- To enter, please leave a comment below with your email address;
- The giveaway is open internationally;
- The giveaway will end at midnight on April 5th.  

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Mount TBR Challenge - Quarterly Check-In

In an effort to make in a dent in my rather large to be read pile, I decided to participate in the Mount TBR Challenge this year.  This challenge encourages readers to tackle the books sitting on their TBR pile as of 31 December 2011.   I decided to aim for the Mt. Kilimanjaro level, which means my goal is to read at least 50 books from my TBR pile this year.  

I'm not off to a particularly strong start, but I anticipate my TBR pile selections will increase in the months ahead.   Here is my progress so far, as well as a link to my review (if applicable):

(1) Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn -  4 Stars
(2) The Running Vixen by Elizabeth Chadwick - 3.5 Stars
(3) Lady Macbeth by Susan Fraser King - 3.5 Stars
(4) The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick - 3.5 Stars
(5) The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane -  4 Stars
(6) Worth Dying For by N. Gemini Sasson -  3 Stars (no review)
(7) Henry Tilney's Diary by Amanda Grange - 3.5 Stars (no review)
(8) Rivals in the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan - 3.5 Stars 
(9) A Girl's Guide to Witchcraft by Mindi Klasky - 3.5 Stars (no review)
(10)  Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb - 4 Stars (no review)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Book Review: Rivals in the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan

As Queen Catherine's maid and daughter of the Duke of Buckingham, the future seems bright for Elizabeth Stafford. But when her father gives her hand to Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, the spirited young woman must sacrifice all for duty. Yet Elizabeth is surprised by her passion for her powerful new husband. And when he takes on a mistress, she is determined to fight for her love and her honor.  .  .

Naïve and vulnerable, Bess Holland is easily charmed by the Duke of Norfolk, doing his bidding in exchange for gifts and adoration. For years, she and Elizabeth compete for his affections. But they are mere spectators to an obsession neither can rival: Norfolk's quest to weave the Howard name into the royal bloodline. The women's loyalties are tested as his schemes unfold--among them the litigious marriage of his niece, Anne Boleyn, to King Henry the VIII. But in an age of ruthless beheadings, no self-serving motive goes unpunished--and Elizabeth and Bess will have to fight a force more sinister than the executioner's axe...

My Review

3.5 Stars

Told from the alternating viewpoints of the three main characters, D.L. Bogdan's Rivals in the Tudor Court follows the lives of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, his second wife Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the powerful Duke of Buckingham, and his mistress Bess Holland.  While Thomas Howard is often featured in Henry VIII-era historical fiction, he is rarely featured quite as prominently as he is in this novel.  His wife and mistress, on the other hand, make only brief appearances (if any) in Tudor-era historical fiction.   As a result, Bogdan delivers a unique perspective on the people and events that helped shape and define the Tudor-era.

The primary strength of this novel rests with the story itself, which kept me engaged for the duration of the book.   Bogdan's characterizations are also particularly well done, especially that of Thomas Howard who, although easy to dislike for his cruelty to his wife, also manages to come across as a sympathetic figure.  Elizabeth Stafford is portrayed as an intelligent young woman who deserved much better from her husband, while Bess Holland's naivety shines through.   I also liked the way Anne Plantagenet, Thomas Howard's first wife, was portrayed as having an other-worldly air about her.   Whether or not this is an accurate portrayal of Anne Plantagenet, it does make her a memorable character.   The main weakness of the book, at least from my perspective, lies in the ending, which I felt too rushed and short of much needed detail.  For example, given his life was a big focus of the novel, the lack of attention to Thomas Howard's fall from grace was somewhat surprising, and I was  a little disappointed this it didn't receive more coverage in the book.   It is my hope that this topic is covered in more depth in Bogdan's earlier novel, Secrets of the Tudor Court, which features Thomas Howard and Elizabeth Stafford's daughter Mary as the central character.    Lastly, I wish the novel had included an author's note.  While I'm familiar with the time period in which this novel is set, I know little beyond the basics of Thomas Howard and next to nothing about Elizabeth Stafford or  Bess Holland.  For this reason I would have appreciated a note explaining where the author deviated from known fact. 

Overall, I feel the strengths of the story and characterizations outweigh any of the novel's weaknesses and is well worth a read, especially for fans of Tudor-era historical fiction.

Note: I won a copy of this novel courtesy of Historical Tapestry and author D.L. Bogdan. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Post by Author M.J. Rose

In conjunction with the Virtual Book Tour for her latest release, The Book of Lost Fragrances, I'm pleased to welcome author M.J. Rose to Confessions of an Avid Reader for a guest post on a lost fragrance.

M.J. Rose:  I've been fascinated with lost fragrances since long before I started writing The Book of Lost Fragrances... since I found a bottle of perfume on my great grandmother's dresser that had belonged to her mother in Russia.  Here is one of those lost fragrances that stirs the senses and the imagination... (reasearched and described with the help of the perfume writer  Dimitrios Dimitriadis)


Upon her tragic passing in 2011, French parfumeur Mona di Orio (who studied under master perfumer Edmond Roudnitska) left us with an incredible legacy… an enchanting portfolio of perfumes, some of which are now next to impossible to find. Nuit Noire is one such treasure - a luxurious scent with vintage nuances that one seldom sees today. Opening with a topnote of orange blossom, it is counterbalanced with a dark, animalic (almost civety) accord of dense cardamom. A complex heart of oliban, sandalwood, cinnamon, clove and narcotising tuberose evoke a feeling of vintage sumptuousness. A creamy/leathery trail of amber, leather, musk and tonka beguiles and bewitches with lip-smacking carnality. Perhaps the most polarising scent of Mona di Orio's work, Nuit Noire takes its place in the perfume hall of fame, alongside other retired creations.

Author Bio

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her next novel THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES (Atria/S&S) will be published in March 2012.  Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio.  Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the '80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors -  The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose's novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.  She is also the co-founder of and

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook.

Link to the tour schedule:

Follow the tour on Twitter with the Hashtag: #LostFragrancesVirtualBookTour

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their home over the previous week.  Mailbox Monday is being hosted in the month of March by Diary of an Eccentric

I keep telling myself I really should stop buying so many new books and focus instead on my massive to be read pile, but this week I just couldn't help myself.  Needless to say my tbr pile grows ever larger....  

All books that arrived in my mailbox this week are my own purchases.

The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

Sarah Piper's lonely, threadbare existence changes when her temporary agency sends her to assist a ghost hunter. Alistair Gellis-rich, handsome, scarred by World War I, and obsessed with ghosts-has been summoned to investigate the spirit of nineteen-year-old maid Maddy Clare, who is haunting the barn where she committed suicide. Since Maddy hated men in life, it is Sarah's task to confront her in death. Soon Sarah is caught up in a desperate struggle. For Maddy's ghost is real, she's angry, and she has powers that defy all reason. Can Sarah and Alistair's assistant, the rough, unsettling Matthew Ryder, discover who Maddy was, where she came from, and what is driving her desire for vengeance-before she destroys them all?

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

A sweeping novel that brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India.

In 1947, American historian and veteran of WWII, Martin Mitchell, wins a Fulbright Fellowship to document the end of British rule in India. His wife, Evie, convinces him to take her and their young son along, hoping a shared adventure will mend their marriage, which has been strained by war.

But other places, other wars. Martin and Evie find themselves stranded in a colonial bungalow in the Himalayas due to violence surrounding the partition of India between Hindus and Muslims. In that house, hidden behind a brick wall, Evie discovers a packet of old letters, which tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young Englishwomen who lived in the same house in 1857.

Drawn to their story, Evie embarks on a mission to piece together her Victorian mystery. Her search leads her through the bazaars and temples of India as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin's dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between Evie and him. As India struggles toward Independence, Evie struggles to save her marriage, pursuing her Victorian ghosts for answers.

Bursting with lavish detail and vivid imagery of Calcutta and beyond, The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.

The Best of Men by Clare Letemendia

It is 1642, and Laurence Beaumont has just returned to England after six long years fighting - and avoiding fighting - in the European Wars. Having fled his home to escape the responsibilities of his noble birthright, he has been a lowly infantryman in Spain, a spy for the Germans, and a cardsharp in a Dutch brothel. He has seen horrors visited upon men, women, and children by enemy and ally alike, and he no longer has faith in God, in causes, or even in humankind itself.

As the clashes between King Charles I and his mutinous Parliament come to a crisis and England is thrown into civil war, a reluctant Beaumont is drawn back into the world of warfare and intrigue when he discovers coded letters outlining a plot to assassinate the king. Soon the conspirators - one of whom is among the most powerful men in the kingdom - are in hot pursuit, and Beaumont must find proof of their identities before they overtake him. Pressed into service by the secretary of state's ruthless spymaster, Beaumont finds himself threatened on all sides, facing imprisonment, torture, and worse if he makes a single wrong step. The ravishing Isabella Savage, a practiced seducer, wants to help, but may only lead him deeper into the conspiracies within the king's camp. And all the while Beaumont is haunted by a prophecy and by the memory of a devastating betrayal.

The Best of Men brings to vibrant, realistic, and bawdy life the battlefields, taverns, and aristocratic bedrooms of the 17th century. Laurence Beaumont is an unforgettable character, and Claire Letemendia is a dazzling storyteller.

The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot

Patient, perfect, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. But Louis IX is a religious zealot who denies himself the love and companionship his wife craves. Can she borrow enough of her sister's boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in a forbidden love?

Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Henry III is a good man, but not a good king. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away?

The Sister Queens is historical fiction at its most compelling, and is an unforgettable first novel.

Secrets of the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan

Bogdan presents a stunning Tudor-set novel of betrayal, ambition, and innocence lost that opens a new window on the court of King Henry VIII as seen through the eyes of his daughter-in-law, Mary Howard.

Mermaid by Carolyn Turgeon

Two sheltered princesses, one wounded warrior; who will live happily ever after?

Princess Margrethe has been hidden away while her kingdom is at war. One gloomy, windswept morning as she stands in a convent garden overlooking the icy sea, she witnesses a miracle: a glittering mermaid emerging from the waves, a nearly drowned man in her arms. By the time Margrethe reaches the shore, the mermaid has disappeared into the sea. As Margrethe nurses the handsome stranger back to health, she learns that not only is he a prince, he is also the son of her father''s greatest rival. Sure that the mermaid brought this man to her for a reason, Margrethe devises a plan to bring peace to her kingdom.

Meanwhile, the mermaid princess Lenia longs to return to the human man she carried to safety. She is willing to trade her home, her voice, and even her health for legs and the chance to win his heart…. 

A surprising take on the classic tale, Mermaid is the story of two women with everything to lose. Beautifully written and compulsively readable, it will make you think twice about the fairytale you heard as a child, keeping you in suspense until the very last page.

That's it for me.  What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book Review: The Book of Lost Fragrances by M.J. Rose


A sweeping and suspenseful tale of secrets, intrigue, and lovers separated by time, all connected through the mystical qualities of a perfume created in the days of Cleopatra--and lost for 2,000 years.

Jac L'Etoile has always been haunted by the past, her memories infused with the exotic scents that she grew up surrounded by as the heir to a storied French perfume company. In order to flee the pain of those remembrances--and of her mother's suicide--she moved to America. Now, fourteen years later she and her brother have inherited the company along with it's financial problems. But when Robbie hints at an earth-shattering discovery in the family archives and then suddenly goes missing--leaving a dead body in his wake--Jac is plunged into a world she thought she'd left behind.

Back in Paris to investigate her brother's disappearance, Jac becomes haunted by the legend the House of L'Etoile has been espousing since 1799. Is there a scent that can unlock the mystery of reincarnation - or is it just another dream infused perfume?

The Book of Lost Fragrances fuses history, passion, and suspense, moving from Cleopatra's Egypt and the terrors of revolutionary France to Tibet's battle with China and the glamour of modern-day Paris. Jac's quest for the ancient perfume someone is willing to kill for becomes the key to understanding her own troubled past.

My Review:

3.5 Stars

Can a perfume created during Cleopatra's reign hold the key to reincarnation?  M.J. Rose's latest thriller, The Book of Lost Fragrances, is centred around this very question.   In 21st century New York, author and TV presenter Jac L'Etoile works to discover the origins of famous myths and educate the public as to their less than fantastical source.  Across the Atlantic in Paris, Jac's younger brother Robbie is attempting to revive their family's struggling perfume company.  When Robbie comes across ancient pottery shards, he thinks he has finally uncovered the origins of a long-held family myth, that an ancestor brought back a book of fragrances from Egypt that contained Cleopatra's own parfume formulas, including one that holds the secret to past lives.  Jac, however, believes strongly that the family myth has no basis in fact and dismisses her brother's claims.   When Robbie goes missing, however, Jac is forced to further investigate her brother's discovery in the hopes it will lead back to him.  Meanwhile, across the globe in Beijing, a young artistic monk hides a secret about his true identity, a secret the Chinese government thought had been suppressed.  When the monk is selected to tour Europe with a group of artists, he hopes his secret can finally be revealed.   

While Jac and Robbie's story lines seem independent from that of the young monk's, M.J. Rose carefully weaves them together in a logical flow and in such a way as to promote the reader trying to figure out how they will ultimately connect.  Although I had no difficulty following the main story lines or characters, my only qualm with the novel, and it isn't a big one, is that I did have some trouble with the story lines of the novel's minor characters, which I feel could have been fleshed out a little more with the inclusion of additional back story.  While the story itself is smart, fast-paced and intriguing and the characters interesting, the greatest strength of this novel rests with Rose's lovely descriptive prose, especially when applied to the various scents described in the novel.  Although I'm not a fan of perfume, Rose's descriptions left me wishing I could experience the scents for myself.     

The Book of Lost Fragrances is the fourth novel in M.J. Rose's popular Reincarnationist series.   Although part of a series, this novel can be read as a stand alone.  

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a host for the novel's Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour.

Link to tour schedule:

Twitter Hashtag: #LostFragrancesVirtualBookTour

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their home over the previous week.  Mailbox Monday is being hosted in the month of March by Diary of an Eccentric

Since I haven't had time to post a Mailbox Monday over the past few weeks, this Mailbox Monday shares some of the books I've received since my last post.

All synopses courtesy of Chapters.Indigo.Ca

Received For Review:

The Flower Reader by Elizabeth Loupas

Rinette Leslie of Granmuir has the ancient gift of divining the future in flowers, but her gift cannot prepare her for the turmoil that comes when the dying queen regent entrusts her with a casket full of Scotland's darkest secrets. On the very day she means to deliver it to newly crowned Mary, Queen of Scots, Rinette's husband is brutally assassinated.

Devastated, Rinette demands justice before she will surrender the casket, but she is surrounded by ruthless men who will do anything to possess it. In the end, the flowers are all she can trust-and only the flowers will lead her safely home to Granmuir.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.

Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them.But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.

From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

Lush and evocative, told in tantalizing detail and enriched with lovable, unforgettable characters, The Shoemaker's Wife is a portrait of the times, the places and the people who defined the immigrant experience, claiming their portion of the American dream with ambition and resolve, cutting it to fit their needs like the finest Italian silk.

This riveting historical epic of love and family, war and loss, risk and destiny is the novel Adriana Trigiani was born to write, one inspired by her own family history and the love of tradition that has propelled her body of bestselling novels to international acclaim. Like Lucia, Lucia, The Shoemaker's Wife defines an era with clarity and splendor, with operatic scope and a vivid cast of characters who will live on in the imaginations of readers for years to come.


Spartacus: The Gladiator by Ben Kane

The first of two epic novels which tell the story of one of the most charismatic heroes history has ever known -- Spartacus, the gladiator slave who took on and nearly defeated the might of Rome, during the years 73-71 BC.

In historical terms we know very little about Spartacus the man -- partly because most contemporary Roman historians were keen to obliterate his memory and prevent him from attaining mythic status. This of course is grist to the novelist's mill. Ben Kane's brilliant novel begins in the Thracian village to which Spartacus has returned, after escaping from life as an auxiliary in the Roman army. But here he quickly falls foul of his overlord, the Thracian king, who has set his heart on Dionysian priestess, Ariadne -- later to become wife of Spartacus. Betrayed again to the Romans by his jealous king, Spartacus -- and with him Ariadne -- are taken in captivity to the school of gladiators at Capua. It is here -- against the unbelievable brutality of gladiatorial life -- that Spartacus and Crixus the Gaul plan the audacious overthrow of their Roman masters, escaping to Vesuvius, where they recruit and train a huge slave army -- an army which will keep the might of Rome at bay for two years and create one of the most extraordinary legends in history. Spartacus: The Gladiator takes the story up to the moment when the slave army has inflicted its first great defeat on Rome.

Inquisition by Alfredo Colitto

A mighty Archbishop. A brilliant scientist. And a killer about to strike . . . A.D. 1311.  Mondino is a university anatomist - a man of science in a land governed by the Catholic Inquisition.  But the corpse brought to Mondino's laboratory one stormy night defies natural law: The victim is a Templar knight, and his heart has been transformed into a block of iron.  Is it alchemy? Or the diabolical work of an ingenious killer? Aided by his headstrong student Gerardo - a young man concealing a deadly secret identity - Mondino must outwit both ruthless Inquisitors and vengeful Templars if he's to stop a murderer who threatens to shake the very foundations of Christendom.  Audacious, gripping, and lushly atmospheric, set against the dramatic backdrop of one of history's most dangerous eras.

The Noble Assassin by Christie Dickason

Court beauty, Lucy Russell, Countess of Bedford, feels frustrated by life with her weak husband. Poverty stricken, they are confined to their country estate and excluded from court life in London after her husband disastrously allies himself against Elizabeth I.

Now, some years later, James I is seated on the English throne. His daughter, Elizabeth Stuart, former confidant of Lucy, has married the King of Bohemia. The precarious political situation in Europe is fraught, setting father against daughter. When Elizabeth and her husband are deposed, exiled and forced on the run, James is in no mood to come to Elizabeth's aid.

Hearing of Elizabeth's predicament, Lucy sees an opportunity to re-establish the Bedford name and offers herself as a peace envoy between the two parties. Setting out on a daring mission across the channel, Lucy discovers she is being manipulated by unscrupulous men, not least the calculating and darkly handsome Duke of Buckingham.

Can Lucy tread this most dangerous path or, by risking everything, will she pay the ultimate price?

Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear

Jacqueline Winspear's marvelous and inspired debut, Maisie Dobbs, won her fans from coast to coast and raised her intuitive, intelligent, and resourceful heroine to the ranks of literature's favorite sleuths. Birds of a Feather finds Maisie Dobbs on another dangerously intriguing adventure in London between the wars. It is the spring of 1930, and Maisie has been hired to find a runaway heiress. But what seems a simple case at the outset soon becomes increasingly complicated when three of the heiress's old friends are found dead. Is there a connection between the woman's mysterious disappearance and the murders? Who would want to kill three seemingly respectable young women? As Maisie investigates, she discovers that the answers lie in the unforgettable agony of the Great War.

After the Victorians by A.N. Wilson

How did Britain decline? A.N. Wilson goes in search of an answer in his masterly follow-up to his bestselling The Victorians.

In The Victorians, the author told the story of Great Britain in her pre-eminence. It ended with Britain as the mightiest, richest nation on earth, possessed of a huge empire. That book, however, is full of forebodings and harbingers of disaster. This follow-up book is the story of the decline of Britain - and with it, the decline of many of the things that Victorian Britain stood for. Furthermore, Wilson will show, the seeds of its undoing had been there from the beginning.

As in The Victorians, this book has a panoramic sweep, building up a portrait of the age - the Communist Revolution, two world wars, the Spanish Civil War, and the unstoppable growth of America as a dominant world power and the beginnings of the Cold War. This is the era in which Britain was sidelined from its importance in world politics. Alongside this is the story of the beginnings of Modernism in art and music, and radical new philosophical systems of thought. A.N. Wilson visits the novelists, the philosophers, the poets and the painters to see what light they threw on the activities of the politicians, the scientists and the generals.

Putting together military, political, social and cultural history, After the Victorians creates a panoramic view of the era, and skillfully identifies the sources and causes of Britain's decline.

That's it for me.  What did you get in your mailbox?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review: The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane

An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold - Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.

My Review

4 Stars

The Forgotten Legion, the first book in Ben Kane's Forgotten Legion trilogy, is a character-driven novel set in Ancient Rome during the 1st century BC.   With the political machinations and rivalries of Ancient Rome serving as background, Kane brings to life the stories of the novel's four principal characters:  Romulus and Fabiola, twins born into slavery but separated at age thirteen when Romulus is sold to a gladiator school and Fabiola to a brothel; Brennus, a Gaul warrior whose entire tribe was killed by the Romans but who escapes death himself to become one of Rome's greatest gladiators; and the Etruscan Haruspex Tarquinius, the last in a long line of Etruscan soothsayers who is determined not to let Rome destroy him or the legacy of his people.  While the stories of the main characters are seemingly unconnected at the outset of the novel, fate first brings Romulus and Brennus together as members of Rome's illustrious Ludus Magnus gladiatorial school, and then joins  them with Tarquinius as members of Crassus' army that unsuccessfully attempts to invade Parthia.  By the novel's end, all three men find themselves farther from Rome than they ever thought possible as members of the 'forgotten legion.'   Meanwhile, back in Rome, Fabiola vows to make the most of her situation and becomes one of Rome's most sought after prostitutes.  She wins the favour of Marcus Brutus and never gives up hope of finding her brother or gaining her freedom.

The Forgotten Legion is a novel sure to appeal to readers interested in historical fiction set in ancient Rome.   While the more violent components of the novel's narrative are, at times, graphic, these scenes serve to give the novel an authentic feel.   Life in ancient Rome was brutal and violent, especially for slaves, members of the lower classes and non-Roman citizens.   The novel effectively conveys this.  Although not central to the overall story, The Forgotten Legion also successfully conveys the rampant corruption and ruthlessness that defined politics of this era, thereby providing much needed background.    While I enjoyed this background, it is the characters themselves that make this story such a great read.   Kane has created a memorable cast of characters and whether they be hero or villain, central to the story or just those on its periphery, I was genuinely interested in all of them.  As a result, I'm very much looking forward to finding out what's next for each of them. 

The story started in The Forgotten Legion continues in The Silver Eagle

Note: This novel comes from my own personnel collection.