Friday, October 2, 2015

A Perilous Alliance: A Tudor Mystery featuring Ursula Blanchard by Fiona Buckley

A Perilous Alliance: A Tudor Mystery featuring Ursula Blanchard.  Fiona Buckley. Severn House Publishers.  October 2015. 240 pp.  ISBN#: 9781780290768.

Ursula Blanchard has been told that her third husband has died and she is quite content as an independent widow traveling between her two homes with her servants and friends in 1576.  Elizabeth is Queen and actually Ursula is her half-sister, not in line for the throne but able to serve the Queen in many helpful ways.  Now she’s very irritated as she has a bevy of Court visitors, who are telling her that the Queen and Lord Cecil agree that she must marry a French Count, Gilbert Renard, in order to unite the kingdom against Spain and other countries surrounding France.  That will guarantee France’s protection should these other countries dare to individually or collectively attack England.  Ursula is extremely reluctant to marry Count Renard or anyone else for that matter!

After visiting the Queen, Ursula surrenders and agrees to marry after a scene where Elizabeth talks to Ursula in the most persuasive, albeit rather condescendingly in part, manner and convinces her that this is an act of pivotal importance to the security of England.  After the Count arrives, Ursula realizes the manner of man she is to wed after learning of the brutal treatment of his horse on a regular basis. 

Then several days follow in which a bunch of servants on both sides are suspected of listening at closed doors, a violation of privacy Ursula considers deplorable.  Shockingly, the Count disappears overnight with a friend of Ursula, and the chase is on after a traitorous message is found.  The remainder of the story will reveal what is really behind the Count’s visit to England and Ursula proves her indefatigable determination to truly save England from harm.

A Perilous Alliance… is a superb Tudor mystery with well-placed conflict and some secondary problems that only add to the precisely placed tension.  Ursula is a fair woman who cannot abide disobedience or treachery.  That, rather than faithfulness to the Queen, is what propels her every difficult step of the way until she completes her mission. Highly recommended read for readers of historical mysteries, as well as lovers of thrillers and adventure fiction.

The Determined heart: The Tale of Mary Shelly and Her Frankenstein by Antoinette May

The Determined Heart: The Tale of Mary Shelly and Her Frankenstein.  Antoinette May. Lake Union Publishing. September 2015. 410 pp.  ISBN#: 9781503945180.

Mary Shelly was the daughter of two renowned parents, William Godwin, political philosopher, and Mary Wollstonecraft, feminist writer.  Mary Shelly’s father remarried after her mother’s death, a money-grabbing, bitter stepmother who denigrates Mary’s intelligence and visions of the best in life and learning.  Mary’s sister, Fanny, is a timid creature who accommodates their step-mother’s demands but Mary prefers to read and write.  The financial condition of the Godwin family is verging on disastrous and it is Mary’s stepmother who comes up with the idea of their opening a bookshop.  Both her father and stepmother urge Mary and other writers to create fiction oriented toward children.  At first it appears that their income will be moderate but sufficient to support their family.  But needs arise and William taps everyone he knows for loans that eventually disappear.  It’s at this time that Mary’s life undergoes an intense transformation.

Mary falls in love with Bysshe Shelly, a married man whose possessive wife, Hannah, does everything possible to besmirch Mary’s name and family after Bysshe declares his undying love for Mary.  Disaster will follow many years later after their rash, dedicated life begins.  Another family member, Claire, will latch onto the couple and create many crises.

Antoinette May interweaves Mary’s growing interest in the power of electricity to invigorate life with the scenery and castles of Geneva and other places.  The weather is frightening frequently and Mary’s interest in Gothic elements grows and grows until she finally creates the famous novel, Frankenstein.  Elements of her own and Bysshe’s personal life becomes the conflict elements of the scientist and the frightening creature he creates.  While many readers have heard about this background information, this novel vividly and imaginatively recreates the probable scenario that led to this stunning novel still read by students and adult readers today.
In one sense, the reader will sympathize with Mary who suffers much in order to remain with her greatest love.  Other characters who offer support and friendship during these years are well-known and not so well-known; they enable Mary to endure Bysshe’s changeable and idealistic nature.  Their beliefs are counter-culture to British and European ideas about nature and philosophy, earning the couple derision and scorn while hypocritically praising their literary creations.  A not-so-praiseworthy depicting of the famed poet, Lord Byron, adds an intriguing, unexpected twist to the plot and its other characters, as well as his influence on both Bysshe and Mary.

All in all, The Determined Heart… is a superb, literary novel about creativity, social and political mores, science, Gothic literature, passionate love that scorns mandated behavior and so much more – all with phenomenally disastrous and delightful consequences!  So very well-crafted, Antoinette May!   A classic work of literature or historical fiction in itself!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Language of the Bear - Tomahawk and Saber - Volume One by Evan Ronan and Nathaniel Green

Language of the Bear – Tomahawk and Saber – Volume One.  Evan Ronan and Nathaniel Green. Calhoun Publishing. July 2015. 260 pp.  ISBN#: 9780996495800.

An English soldier, Lieutenant Hugh Pike, and a Native American Susquehannock warrior, Wolf Tongue (named as Isaac for a Christian name although he is clearly not a Christian), are thrown together on a mission.  They are both disconcerted by the ultimate act they must commit – the assassination of a violent, capable killer who is trying to recruit fighters to defeat the English.  Sounds simple, but it’s anything but easy!
To begin with both men have asked for a prize for the risk and completion of their task, a beloved lady – Damaris and Fox’s Smile respectively – each will wed after completing their job.  But their task is an almost impossible one in which they will encounter and perhaps survive every possible danger in the Pennsylvania mountains and country.  Their goal in this first of what will be a series is to find and deal with a man named Azariah or Storm-of-Villages. 

What is fascinating, as this novel progresses are three aspects.  One is the description of the beautiful land Pike and Wolf Tongue traverse, sometimes easily and sometimes with great challenges like climbing cliffs and fording fiercely moving rivers.  One can almost smell the turning colors of leaves and pine of the forests.  Both men are rugged enough to clear paths and camp comfortably even in the fiercest of cold weather.

The second intriguing portion is that Azariah actually has many supporters who believe in his mission to be rid of the English and restore the land to its native status.  His charisma and cruelty bring his supporters to unbridled obedience and fear and it is believed that he is unconquerable.

Friends are really foes and vice versa in this plot that grows complicated because of our main characters never knowing who can be trusted and the crafty movements of their enemy.

The third engaging aspect is the relationship that develops between Pike and Wolf Tongue which includes what they truly believe.  That difference both divides and eventually unites them.  As they journey back and forth between their home territory and that of Azariah, they develop a friendship that will endure physical wounds, struggle in the territory that is untamed and their wavering, private reflections between courage and doubt.

All in all, Language of the Bear is a terrific read whose fans will be looking forward to the next novel in this story of pre-Revolutionary colonials and Native American residents. Nicely crafted, Ronan and Green!