Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory

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Three Sisters, Three Queens by Philippa Gregory is my absolute guilty pleasure. I do not like historical romance novels. But I love Philippa Gregory and her novels. The contradiction is in the absolute perfection of the writing that takes you back to this time period and makes the characters so vibrant and alive. In the Three Sisters, Three Queens, which is the eighth book in the Plantagenet and Tudor novels, Gregory tells the story of three women whose bond as sisters and queens is tested by the politics and the greed of their kingdoms.

Margaret Tudor is the eldest daughter of the new Tudor King, with two brothers and a younger sister Mary; Margaret is the vision of an English princess. The King, Henry VII, seeking an alliance with Spain, arranges a marriage between his eldest son Arthur and the princess Catherine of Aragon. When Catherine comes to the English court, the three young girls quickly become sisters, rivals and allies. All three would become Queens and all three would wear their crowns in glory and in turmoil.

Catherine of Aragon would be married to the Prince and Heir to the Throne of England and would then bury her husband, Prince Arthur the following year. Widowed and childless, Catherine would then make a play to marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry Tudor, the new Prince and Heir.

Mary, the youngest Tudor daughter and thought by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world would marry Louis XII of France, and become Queen of France. Mary was 18 and Louis was 52 years old. One of her maids that traveled with Mary to France was a young girl named Anne Boleyn. Less than three months after she married Louis, he was dead.

Margaret, the eldest Tudor Princess would be betroth to James IV, the King of Scotland. This marriage was made to unite the two countries and it was believed that while the marriage existed that the alliance could never be broken between England and Scotland.

For a time, when Henry VIII becomes King of England and takes Catherine of Aragon to be his wife (the widow of his dead brother) all three women become Queens. A bond that should have strengthened all of them, but instead would end up with the three as rivals and set against one another. It would be Catherine who would order the beheading of Margaret’s husband James. His body taken from the battlefield and not allowed to be taken back to Scotland where it would receive a King’s burial.

It would be Mary, who would steal the betrothed of her sister, the widow Margaret as she tries to protect her kingdom and son from the enemies both within Scotland and in England. It would also be Mary who marries Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, a commoner at the time and takes from Henry and Catherine the ability to marry her off a second time for political purposes. Though they would eventually forgive her, Mary and Charles would be heavily fined for their disobedience to the crown and be destitute for their entire lives, having to rely on the mercy and charity of Catherine and Henry for their lives.

Margaret would also marry after the death of James for love and not political power. She would marry Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus and it is this love affair that would bring her the greatest misery in her life. She would be kidnapped, exiled, held hostage, disowned and betrayed by the man she loved. Even to the point of placing her son James, heir to the throne of Scotland and to the Tudor prince while Catherine could not produce an heir, in harm’s way at the hand of Archibald and his clan.

Catherine of Aragon, who believes herself to be ordained by God to be Queen of England, who would pay the heaviest price in the end and set the groundwork for the tale that would be Anne Boleyn.

Three Sisters, Three Queens is truly the story Margaret Tudor, a woman whom history has not painted in a good light. Gregory’s detailed research brings out another side of Margaret, a side that history itself may not be so kind as to tell. At a time when women did not hold power, Margaret held together a country whose very existence is that of warring clans. She also did the unforgivable act of marrying for love and not political gain. Then when that marriage threaten not only her but her children, dared to ask the church to grant her a divorce.

Philippa Gregory brings each of these women to life, not only as queens, but as sisters and wives and lovers and eventually, for Margaret, as a mother. The story of Margaret Tudor is perhaps one of the best stories I have read concerning the Tudors and definitely for that of a woman battling in a time when women did not do so.

A terrific book!

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child

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Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child is book five in the Jeremy Logan series. Child is part of the very popular writing dou of Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston who gave us such horror/sci-fi classics as the Relic and the astute and unflappable FBI Special Agent Pendergast. But once in a while these writers step out on their own and deliver a novel of their own. Full Wolf Moon is Child’s latest.

“…My opinion.’ Albright put the bottle of beer on the floor beside his chair. ‘I guess I can sum that up easily enough, too. Logan, I can understand your skepticism. I’ve heard some pretty outrageous tales myself in the twenty years since I’ve moved back. But I’ll tell you something-something you may already know, given your particular line of work. Many times, legends-no matter how outlandish they sound-have a grounding in reality. And in a place as remote and old as the Adirondacks, it may well be that there are phenomena that cold, twenty-first-century rationality can’t fully explain-or even comprehend…”

Jeremy Logan is an enigmologist, an investigator whose specialty is phenomena that has no obvious explanation. This has often led him into investigating the paranormal. This has brought Logan no shortage of notoriety, but his main work is that of a historian and he has decided to travel deep into the Adirondacks to a remote writer’s retreat to put the world behind him for a time and work on his book. The place is called Cloudwater and calls itself an artist’s colony.

But Logan’s peace is quickly disturbed as an old friend of his, Randall Jessup comes looking for Logan at the Colony. Jessup is now a Ranger with New York’s Division of Forest Protection and he has something he needs Logan to look at. A body, mauled by an animal, but unlike any Jessup has seen before.

“…Now the smell was back, worse than ever, and with it came a sound-a deep, guttural noise, half grunt, half snarl. It sounded angry-angry and hungry.
Without even pausing to think, Palmer began to run. He ran as fast as the heavy pack allowed, grunting with the effort, the flashlight beam stripping crazily ahead of him, panting, gasping, bounding over fallen trees and kettle holes, as the grunting and snuffling grew increasingly loud behind him.
And then his foot snagged on a protruding root; he crashed heavily to the ground; a heavy weight that had nothing to do with his pack pressed suddenly against his back-a horrible, rending pain like nothing he’d experienced in his life clawed across his face and neck as the reek washed over him like a wave, then another explosion of pain, then still another…and then everything faded, first to red, and then to black…”

As Logan begins to investigate, he quickly surmises that this is no ordinary killing. That this was something very different from a bear or any other animal attack. The viciousness and brutality almost made one think of mind of a man behind them. There is also no shortage suspects to be found in the mountains. A society, hidden deep in the woods, suspicious of strangers. Only socializing with themselves. A society rejecting the advances of the modern world, hiding themselves away. A respected female scientist whose brutal death of her father, has her continuing his work. Studying the effects of the full moon on mammals. Her experiments hidden and secretive.

What Logan realizes is that there is far more than what is believed, happening in the dark woods in the night. Under the full moon. A creature, hungry and violent, stalking those who would venture out. A creature of myth and legend. A creature of nightmares.

Lincoln Child has the innate ability to take the fantastic and make it reasonably factual. He does not use science to dispel or ridicule superstition, but to prove its endless possibilities. And in that way he brings our monsters into the world of actually being. Child not only will tell you that there is a monster under your bed, but he will prove to you using the scientific method, how it came to be under your bed. What it is doing under your bed. Why it is under your bed and oh yes, how no matter what you do, it is going to reach up and get you.

Full Wolf Moon does not disappoint. Another really good read!

The Red by Tiffany Reisz

 

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The Red by Tiffany Reisz is a deeply satisfying erotic novel of fantasy and drama that is sure to please her fans of the Original Sinners series and garner her a whole new group of them. With lyrical prose and characters that beg to be real, Reisz has crafted another novel of romance and sex and fantasies that come true.

The Red is an art gallery that is not only painted red but is also deeply in the red financially. It’s current owner, Mona Lisa St. James promised her dying mother that she would do everything she could to save the gallery. But now, in its final hour, Mona Lisa may have run out of options. Late one night after closing, she is contemplating the need to sell the gallery when she spots a mysterious stranger staring at one of the portraits. The stranger makes Mona Lisa an offer she finds she cannot resist. Submit to him for the period of one year, whenever he shows and he will save the gallery. To show her a taste of his wealth he leaves a painting with her. A painting whose worth can keep her the Red afloat for a time. She agrees and embarks on a fantasy of sex and desire and illusion. Her benefactor is handsome and English and seems capable of not only creating sexual fantasies out of thin air but to change reality for the span of a night. From being sold to slavery to wood nymphs to bondage to every whim he could come up with, Mona Lisa submits with a passion. Each night of desire and debauchery correlating to a painting that he gives to her. But now Mona Lisa must wonder what she will do once the year is up. The Red will be saved but is she ruined? Can she go on without the desire and fantasies he has awoken in her?

Reisz writes erotica very, very well. Not as some clandestine dirty book to be hidden but as the art form it is. Desire is physical and mental and emotional and she develops all of these.

Mona Lisa benefactor is far more than a rich bored sex crazed billionaire. The kind that overpopulates this genre. No his character goes far deeper. He is a spirit, a ghost of sorts, a man keeping a promise. His desires feed into hers and together they embark on a year of erotic heat that is our pleasure to read.

For fans of the Original Sinners, and if you are not you need to be, the fantasy aspect of this novel may be a bit of a twist but the writing will be just as enjoyable.

A real good read.

The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz

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The Night Mark by Tiffany Reisz is a romance novel with just a touch of erotica and this will surprise fans of her prior novels, which were erotic novels with just a touch of romance thrown in. But Reisz proves she is adept at either genre and with The Night Mark expands both her horizons and that of her readers.

After the death of her husband Will and then the ill fated marraige to his best friend, Faye Barlow finds her life falling apart. Now divorced and widowed, she accepts a job photographing the South Carolina coast line. She hopes, this is a way to put her painful past behind her. Photography is the only thing that means anything to her anymore. In grief she married a man she didn’t love while she still mourned the only man she did. Will.

In a small beach town, Faye learns of the legend of The Lady of the Light, the lighthouse keeper’s daughter who drowned mysteriously in 1921 on Bride Island. The island is remote and dangerous to reach but Faye finds herself drawn to the island and the to the history of the light house keeper. A man bares an uncanny resemblance to her dead husband. Faye must make it to Bride Island and explore the crumbling lighthouse. But what she finds instead is her own fate on Bride Island and she is pulled back into the sea and when she surfaces, she is on Bride Island. She is on Bride Island. She is the Light Keeper’s daughter. She is the Lady of the Light and it is 1921.

Faye has traveled back in time to a place she does not belong but finds instead that it may well be the only place she belongs anymore. But the world she has entered is not what it seems in photographs and Faye may be in mortal danger.

The Night Mark is a time traveling romance novel fraught with adventure and danger and forbidden love. While not original in its premise and somewhat unbelievable in parts, not the part where Faye goes back in time and falls in love and lust with the light house keeper who looks like her dead husband. But for me it was marrying Will’s best friend who was pretty much an ass, though he did care about her, while her husband was barely in the ground. She remedies this by running away. This all goes to show the amount of loss Faye is in with the death of her husband and why this opportunity to be with a man who looks just like him makes it all worth the risk.

As the relationship grows and no The Lady of the Light was never really the light house keeper’s daughter so this is not one of those tales of incest love affairs. But to say much more of their relationship before Faye travels back in time to inhabit the girl’s body is to reveal too much of this intricate tale that needs to be explored and enjoyed by the reading.

The Night Mark, while not original in its premise, is better than most of its contemporaries by the prose and cadence of Reisz’s writing. She also keeps to the proper sci/fi laws that state everytime you travel in time you change the future. I am not an avid reader of romance novels but I will admit that this is a book I enjoyed and though, not what I expected from this author, still a very good read.

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

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Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is one of those books that will leave you shaken, a little bewildered and maybe even a little pissed off. But overall, it is a book that will remind you what a true twist and turn in a novel can be. It will have you unsettled as it switches not only storylines but genres as well and saying anymore off the bat will spoil this book for you.

Louise is a divorced single mother who works as a secretary in a clinic. Her ex-husband helps support her but in truth, she has hardly moved on from the divorce. She is simply going day to day. On a rare night out of dancing and drinking she meets a man and though they stop at kissing, she is beginning to feel like she is finally connecting with people again. The next morning at work she is scheduled to meet her new boss and his wife. Her new boss, who turns out to be the man from the club. The man Louise was kissing. The man she cannot stop thinking about.

David can’t believe the girl from the bar is to be his new secretary. This move, with his wife Adele was suppose to be a new start for them and from the onset he is screwing it up. David convinces Louise that it was a mistake, that he doesn’t do that sort of thing and they try to move on, forgetting about that night. All seems to be fine until one day Louise bumps into a woman on the street. David’s wife Adele and they quickly strike up a friendship. Louise finds herself drawn to David and unable to turn him away when he shows up at her apartment late at night and drunk. But she also can’t stop herself from being Adele’s friend, listening to all of her lover’s and his wife’s problems. If David and Adele are so perfect than why is David so controlling of Adele and why is he sleeping with Louise. Even more so, how can Louise sleep with David and then spend time with Adele during the day when David is away?

Louise becomes pulled deeper and deeper into David and Adele’s marriage, her loneliness and need to be wanted from both David and Adele drive her obsession. It doesn’t take her long to believe that there is something very wrong with them and that perhaps, David is not who he seems to be. That Adele and even herself could be in danger.

And this is where I stop summarizing, because to do much more is to give away plot points and sub plots that eventually give way to the real story here.

Sarah Pinborough is a gifted storyteller and in the hands of a less adept author, Behind Her Eyes could have become a laughable attempt at what is simply a Hitchcockian twist and turn in modern storytelling. This is like an episode of the Twilight Zone that when revealed, you simply wonder how you missed it all along. It is that good.

If there is a drawback to this story it is Louise. Her selfish and entitled attitude is off putting. She takes the moral high ground when she is sleeping with the husband of the woman she is befriending? When she digs in their past and comes to unfounded conclusions that have so much more with her own drama than theirs, but still it is their fault. The reader knows from the beginning that Louise is being manipulated, but really, can you be that remarkably dumb? Fortunately for the story, she is.

Now for the twist. The big reveal at the end of this book that will leave you astounded or surly. You will be raving or really pissed off. It is the kind that you are likely to want to fling this book across the room into the nearest wall, but then, you will get up and walk over to it and pick it up. It is just that good.

Enjoy.

The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola

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The Unseeing by Anne Mazzola is a historical crime drama that pits a son against his father and a young mother against the world. This book goes under the category of books I have read this year that far exceed my expectations. If you have not heard of this book in the past, don’t feel bad, I didn’t either but now I have to wonder how I missed it. Intricately plotted, Mazzola tells the tale of injustice and struggle amid the turbulent 1800s in London, England.

Sarah Gale is a seamstress and mother, a woman whose life has fallen over the years. Born into wealth and privilege, her life changed drastically when her family was abandoned by her father and Sarah and her sister found themselves abandoned and living on the streets. But her life takes a turn for the worse when she is tried and convicted for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown. Hannah was marrying the man Sarah had been living with for years and now Sarah was to be homeless with her young son once again.

Edmund Fleetwood, the son of a powerful and influential man, is appointed by the Home Secretary to look into Sarah’s petition for mercy. Sarah is sentenced to be hanged and with the brutality of the crime, the city itself wants her dead. Hannah was not only murdered, but her body was cut into pieces and distributed around the city. Sarah is not accused of committing the actual murder but of helping her lover cover it up afterwards. For that, she is sentenced to death. Edmund sees this as a possible opportunity to further his career and remove him from the shadow of his father.

As Edmund digs into the facts of the case, he finds lies and corruption throughout. He is not convinced that Sarah is innocent, but does she deserve to die for her part in covering up the murder. But the going is tough as Sarah refuses to be of any help. What Edmund finds are secrets upon secrets and a life full of pain and hurt. Yet Sarah keeps her secrets to herself and Edmund must battle the system and Sarah to unearth what truly happened to Hannah Brown. But why, Edmund must ask himself, is someone willing to go to the gallows rather than speak what she knows. But those secrets, could very well end up at Edmund’s own door.

I had not heard of Anna Mazzola and The Unseeing prior to picking this one up and though I had read the blurbs, the novel itself did not truly strike a cord with me. But after the first few pages of this book, I was emotionally and intensely involved with the story. Based on an actual murder case, The Unseeing is a powerful tale of the state of justice and the rights of the accused in Victorian England.

Sarah is an intriguing character and her time in prison is both real and depressing. She holds onto what little hope she has, while struggling with the truths that bind her even more than the cell she is locked into. You are never convinced that she is innocent but there is always the thought that she is at the least, innocent of what she is accused of.

But it is Edmund who drives this story. He is relentless of his pursuit of the truth. Even when the truth may cost him his future and his marriage. The world he lives in is as much a prison as where Sarah is kept. The behavior and obligations that are expected of him. The sense that what people think of him is above all else.

Mazzola has written a terrific novel here, infusing it with enough truth and the setting to make the characters come alive. This is a book for lovers of historical fiction. Mazzola has researched her case well. I missed it early on but am so happy to have found it.

This is one not to be missed!

The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston

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The Midnight Witch by Paula Brackston is another in the line of novels by Brackston that centers on the lives of witches and their survival in a world that does not accept them. I first read the The Witch’s Daughter and found that novel well told and intriguing. Unfortunately I cannot say the same for this one.

“…The dead are seldom silent. All that is required for them to be heard is that someone be willing to listen. I have been listening to the dead all my life…”

The Duke of Radnor is dead and while his place in London society is now given to his son, it is his place as Head Witch of the Lazarus Coven where the true power lies. That position goes to his daughter, Lilith. Young, beautiful and engaged to the heir to a powerful witch family, Lilith must step into the role and take under power the secret of the Lazarus Coven. Not only does the Coven speak with the dead, they have the power to resurrect them as well.

But there is a threat to the Coven and they see the death of the Duke and the new young Head Witch as the opportunity to strike. They are called the Sentinels, necromancers who wish to take the secrets and the power of the Lazarus Coven to be their own.

Lilith knows she must be ready to face this threat. But she has her own life to care for as well. She begins to realize that the marriage that has been arranged for her will make her unhappy and even more so when she meets the artist she falls in love with. A very human and very non-witch artist. The Lazarus creed demands secrecy and silence. Lilith will find herself struggling to keep both as her brother and lover are threatened.

Late in the book, Lilith cries out to her lover and says something like, “…we have been tricked, I have been so stupid…” and that pretty much sums up her character. Lilith has one job as Head Witch. Keep the elixir that brings back the dead secret and keep silent about being a witch and the coven. It takes a kiss and a little attention from a guy and she gives up both.

Everything she is told not to do, by the coven and her dead father, she ends up doing but that is okay because she is in love and she is doing it to save her brother and her lover and ….and she is stupid. Almost everything that happens against Lilith in this book, she brings on herself. Her brother’s death is a direct result of his opium addiction. Her reasoning to bring his back to life, against every rule of her coven, puts not only herself and her brother in danger, but the coven itself. She broke her covenant of secrecy and silence.

It doesn’t take long to lose touch with this book. Not from the witchcraft or the supernatural aspect, but with Lilith herself.

The Midnight Witch is a good example of a YA book that relies upon heavily upon past successes and the popularity of witchcraft and the supernatural in romance novels. But if you are going to write and market a novel with a young strong lead female character, then make her a strong lead character.

Not a good read.