Monday, August 1, 2016

Review: Relativity

Relativity Relativity by Antonia Hayes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Relativity was a beautiful, but tragic story. It was a story of struggle and survival by a little boy who knew he was different from others in the world around him. We were provided the opportunity to see life through his eyes, to experience a viewpoint that few are allowed to see. At the same time, through flashbacks, we see the heartbreaking story of a young family torn apart by tragic circumstance and grievous consequence to one night turned upside down. The entire storyline is viewed through the eyes of the mother, the young son with s special genius in mathematics and physics, and later the father. Together, the three telling of the same story come together to give us a spell binding story line that would allow me to put the book down. My heartstrings rooted for healing for the child and the family, but life does not always give us what we want. The ending was a gut twisting surprise that left this reviewer with an empty box of kleenex and a longing for a few more chapters.
Antonia Hayes did a marvelous job of character development for her central characters. You felt every sigh and breath and saw every tear slide down the page as you reached to turn for the next ragged breath.
Though not the easiest read of the year, Relativity is one of my top reads,for dynamic stories. It made me think. It made me feel deeply. It made me,want to live my life to its fullest. If give this book a good 4.5 stars f I r the creativity and story telling skills shared with us by Ms Hayes.
Relativity was provided to me as an ARC to read and assess in exchange for a fair and honest review of the material

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Review: The Girl from Summer Hill

The Girl from Summer Hill The Girl from Summer Hill by Jude Deveraux
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

The Girl from Summer Hill was one of the most creative and fun re-telling of Pride and Prejudice's' stories that I have come across. I have always loved the way Jude 'Deveraux writes, looking forward to each of her new releases for years. When she took on the challenge of mashing Jane Austin's classic tale up with her own wonderful modern romantic summer style of romance storytelling, I knew we would all be in for a true treat. I was not wrong.
From the opening page, to the final chapter, Jude kept this reader in stitches while simultaneously steamrolling us forward in a rollicking narrative that left us with no doubt that we had landed in the land of Austen (Jane, that is). In the true style of Deveraux, she threw in a good dose of mystery to keep us and the characters within the pages guessing as to what the next turn would bring.
Short of being a royal stick-in-the-mud, I can't think of a reason that any reader who loves Jane Austen and/or Jude Deveraux, or just a fantastic summer read, for that matter, would want to miss a chance to read THE GIRL FROM SUMMER HILL. This reviewer gives this delightful novel a full FIVE STAR review for the storyline, captivating characters, and plain fun of this wonderful summer read.
Blogging Under the Shade Tree aka Shade Tree Book Reviews was provided an ARC of THE GIRL FROM SUMMER HILL to read and assess in exchange for a fair and honest review of the material.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Review: Stranger on the Shore

Stranger on the Shore Stranger on the Shore by Marilyn Brant
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Mirabelle Harbor, Book 4)
Marilyn Brant

The Mirabelle Harbor Book Series has been a delight for the reading pallet as Marilyn Brant has released each of her continuing stories about the families and interesting characters that have grown-up and live in and around Mirabelle Harbor. With each addition to the series, we have come to know the characters a little more, laughing at their foibles and commiserating with them over their sorrows and mistakes of life.
I first read little hints, snippets and short chapters and tantalizers about this book last year in a group where she was sharing her ideas about Stranger on the Shore. I loved where the story was going then, so was excited to finally have the completed release ARC copy to finally read the whole story.
Unlike the other Mirabelle Harbor stories, this story takes place on the coast and glorious beaches of Florida instead of the Midwest. This time instead of young love finding its way, it is a story of healing and of love coming softly to a woman in her forties who finds herself homeless, childless, and divorced. It wound its way through the hilarity of a gaggle of mismatched women who bonded together through a common love of crafting for a local beach shop, to care for each other and lift each other up through their trials and sorrows. They did this all while having fun and bonding as only women can, along the way.
Love crept softly through the crevices of this story and amongst this gaggle of women as it slowly melted the hard place that had formed in Marianna’s heart. When her elder sister shows up with Marianna’s daughter, it all goes to hell in a handbasket. For it turns out that the healing needs to go deeper than just the loss of a marriage, but also needs to find peace between sisters. In doing so, Marianna finally finds herself free to love again.
The summer on the beach and the stranger on the shore is more than a shallow summer read. Though light with characters who keep you in stitches, as only Marilyn knows how to write about, each one adds her piece of blessing to the recipe for a wonderful story with a magical ending. There is no disappointment in this book that is perfect to carry to the beach (or wherever your vacation takes you) this summer.

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Monday, June 13, 2016

Review: Land of Silence

Land of Silence Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this story of the lady with the issue of blood. What a beautiful telling of what life for a woman could be like in Judea during the time of Christ. To give her a voice and that such a beautiful intellectual mind, was over the top. Tessa skillfully inserted other strong women of the era into the storyline seamlessly. By doing so, she allowed the reader to have glimpses into both the Jewish and Roman women's cultures, as well as broaden the panorama of the backdrop for the telling of this tale.
She took stories from the gospels that many are already well acquainted with and touched on them, weaving them into the fabric of her intricate tale, drawing the reader deeper into the culture and helping us to know and understand the true status of women of that day.
This is a book worth reading again and again. Yes, it is a beautiful love story, but it is also a well-written piece of historical women's fiction that speaks to the soul on many levels. I give Land of Silence and Tessa Afghar a good 4 STARS for the beautiful piece. I look forward to reading more of her works in the future.
Land of Silence was provided to Blogging Under the Shade Tree to assess and in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Review: Tumbledown Manor

Tumbledown Manor Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Helen Brown
I have come to love reading fiction by Australian authors. Tumbledown Manor by Helen Brown is a contemporary romance that takes place in Australia is another delight for the palette. It was a combination of romance, mystery, and just plain fun as I worked my way through the pages and watched an Australian who had transplanted to NYC suddenly find herself divorced and headed back home to Australia.
The many foilable situations that she found herself in while working through just about everything life could throw at her kept her hopping almost as much as the local wildlife in the outback where she decided to buy the old family homeplace (mansion) that was up for sale and falling into ruin.
What can you say, when you are recovering from cancer, your husband leaves breastless you for "big-tits", you move to Australia to be near your homosexual son and his latest beau (but can't figure out who it is), your sister wants to run your life for you (now that you are back home), and your anorexic daughter out in L.A. won't talk to you?
Well, for starters, you buy an old haunted mansion that is on its last legs and hired some local bums to start fixing it up. All this, while you are trying to get your next book finished and off to the publisher before the deadline gets here.
Helen manages to take this seeming pile of impossible and turn it into a rock and rolling story that kept this reviewer laughing, even when things didn't look so good. Her writing style made you want to strive to keep going, even when the wildfire was headed to burn down everything you owned and had worked on. Even when the town didn't talk to you and the local librarian didn't have anything good to say about your national bestseller. You were just too busy to stop and feel sorry for yourself. You wanted to find answers to the questions that kept popping up.
In short, I loved this piece. It was great fun. A great read! It earned its FOUR STARS.
Tumbledown Manor was provided to Blogging Under the Shade Tree in exchange for a fair and honest review of the material by Net Galley.

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Review: Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn

Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn Mayflowers for November: The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn by Malyn Bromfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mayflowers for November by Marilyn Bromfield was a historical novel that rose to the occasion. It provided a glimpse into King Henry VIII's Court from a unique and very interesting perspective. Though the story wove around the court and the intrigue that went on particularly with the Boleyn family, that was just one of the fascinating storylines that wove through the book.
This story did not center around the king and his wives. It centered around one of the servant girls and was told from the viewpoint of her looking back over her life. It took us from the time of her being a young kitchen maid, through her being a nurse maid to Anne Boleyn's Mary all the way up through after the time when she was married and had left the court.
Ms. Bromefield did a beautiful job on her research and also gave a new an interesting voice to the Boleyn story. She also gave some new insights and provided a beautiful love story to what life was like below the stairs and out in the stables. I found myself constantly looking wide-eyed through the innocent eyes of this young girl who was thrust into situations that were way above her station and far out of her league in political intrigue.
Mayflowers for November is a historical novel that is well worth the read and a joy for the intellectual pallet. I give this novel a well deserved FIVE STAR rating for story-telling and intellectual intrigue. This is a tome for the permanent shelves. One worth standing next to other great current historical novels for this era.
Mayflowers for November was provided to Blogging Under the Shade Tree to assess and in exchange for a fair and honest review by Net Galley. Blogging Under the Shade Tree is not associated with the publisher or any seller of this material.

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Saturday, June 11, 2016

Review: Shower of Stars

Shower of Stars Shower of Stars by Nancy Herkness
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shower of Stars by Nancy Herkness is a story of a different vein than the other enchanting novels by her that have come across my desk to read and review. Nancy is known for her enchanting romances that sweep you off your feet. She can leave you short of breath, for many reasons, and still have an underlying story-within-the-story that packs a punch and makes it more than another Saturday afternoon fairytale.
But this, Shower of Stars was different from the start. This was the first of Nancy’s books that I would move from the “Romance” genre to the “Women’s Fiction” genre, for though there was romance folded within the pages and she worked her magic at raising the blood pressure and libido within the context of the story - that was not her focus. The focus of this little gem was about one’s longing for love and family and the journey to find family only to discover love in the process.
With each new book, I am finding that Nancy is learning to give more voice to her characters within her stories. With this she is allowing them to tell their stories and share their souls. In turn this is providing a magic of depth and feeling to her books that only the best authors are able to attain. Suddenly, we are no longer just reading Nancy’s stories, we are living them through her characters; feeling, breathing and sensing life from their point of view. That is true magic. That is what lifts the story off the page and gives it life.
I feel that Shower of Stars is a glimpse of some of the wonder that Nancy will be bringing to her readership in the coming months and years. I am looking forward to falling into the worlds she builds and melting into the stories she creates. This wonderful work receives a FIVE STAR Review from this humble reviewer and blogger.
Shower of Stars was provided to Blogging Under the Shade Tree to read and in exchange for a Fair and honest review of the material. Blogging Under the Shade Tree is not associated with the publisher or seller of this product.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The All-Star Antes Up -- Nancy Herkness A Review

**BOOK 2**
Nancy Herkness
“No strings, no rings.” That’s Luke Archer’s motto. As the champion quarterback for the New York Empire—not to mention a self-made billionaire—Luke has given up on serious relationships. Women only want him for one thing: the thrill of being with a superstar. And he can’t risk love distracting him from his next Super Bowl victory. But when his best friend announces he’s retiring from football to spend time with his wife and kids, Luke feels like he’s missing out on something much bigger than his career.
The assistant concierge in Luke’s luxury high-rise, Miranda Tate fled her family’s dairy farm to come to the bright lights of New York City. She works hard to move up and sends her spare earnings home to her brother. When she and Luke meet, there’s an instant attraction, but they’re in completely different leagues. Could Miranda be just the woman Luke needs to win the most important game of his life?

This, the All Star Antes Up, is the second installment in Nancy Herkness’ Wager of Hearts Series.  Her first work was a delightful surprise at my first read of one of her works.  After reading The CEO Buys In, I decided that it was a must that I follow this series through and see how all three wagers ended.  The second installment has not been a disappointment.  In fact, it has proven to be even meatier and have more depth to it than her first offering, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Unlike so many other romances where boy meets girl and “bang”, hearts and sparks happen, and the story follows an expected course; Nancy’s heroines are independent women who are not easily swayed by glitter and glam.  They are women who have a focus and have a reason to live.  They are outspoken, bright and know what they want for themselves and those they are responsible for.  They are self-sacrificing and will turn from the thought of a life of ease if it even has a shadow of having an ill-effect on their family or responsibilities.
At the same time the heroine has the propensity to love deeply and with great empathy, but not always the ability to allow themselves to be loved.  Be it for fear of potential hurt and abandonment or just fear of allowing themselves to open up to be loved back, it takes a very special hero and man to break through the restraints and barriers to reach the heart of Nancy’s heroines.  Once they do, it is pure euphoria, for the protagonists and the reader. 
The journey that Nancy takes you on through the pages of the novel to get to nirvana is like a wild ride through the mountains of West Virginia.  The emotional highs and lows of the storyline the wind through the pages dragging your heart along. She leaves you laughing, crying, and reaching for chocolate as you turn each page hoping that it will bring resolution to the twist or turn that the last page left the characters in.  Be it an emotional moment or an erotic encounter, Nancy has the ability to tie your emotions and heart-strings in knots.  It is this ability that keeps drawing me back to her books.  She makes me feel the extremes of my senses, all within a page or two, leaving me breathless.
The hero in the All Star Antes Up, was an interesting and complex character.  I enjoyed that Nancy gave depth and complexity to the hero, like the heroine, in that that was not just another rich “All Star Jock”.  We were allowed to see past the surface level and into the psyche of a man who had wars within himself that dated back to childhood.  Nancy allows her heroes to suffer, to have issues and to be human.  She also allows them to love softly, tenderly, and deeply.  What heroine, or reader doesn’t want to feel secure and loved, sincerely loved? 
Do I know Nancy, personally? No.  Did I ever have the opportunity to know other authors of note that made me be able to feel this same way, such as the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen? No.  But each of them have found the magic to lift us above the mundane, to transport us to a land where we can escape the cares of every day for a few hours and find a magical place to dream, much like we did as young girls.  A place where Prince Charmings really do come true, but Nancy’s are living and breathing, and just a little foil-able (wink).  Finding an author whose writing style and story-telling ability has connected with your heart dictates that you become like a kid at the book store.  I am no better.  I can hardly wait to read Nancy’s next installment, or her next series.  All Star Antes Up is a definite FIVE STAR winner in my book. 

Nancy Herkness is the author of the award-winning Whisper Horse series, published by Montlake Romance, as well as several other contemporary romance novels.  She is a two-time nominee for the Romance Writers of America RITA® award. Her new series, Wager of Hearts, follows the romantic adventures of three very wealthy men who make a life-changing bet.

A member of Romance Writers of America, New Jersey Romance Writers, and Novelists, Inc., Nancy has received many honors for her work, including the Golden Leaf Award, the Maggie Award in Contemporary Romance, and the National Excellence in Romance Fiction Award. 

Nancy graduated from Princeton University where she majored in English. In addition to her academic work in literature, she was accepted into Princeton's creative writing program, and her senior thesis was a volume of original poetry.

After graduating, Nancy had a varied career which included retail management and buying, COBOL programming, computer systems sales and marketing, and a brief stint as a receptionist at a dental office. Once her children were in school full-time, she sat down and wrote A Bridge to Love, her first romance novel to be published.

Nancy finds nothing odd about writing in the genre she calls “the “Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world. It gets no respect.”  She explains: “I was trained as a poet, but from the day my grandmother gave me my first Georgette Heyer novel I wanted to write romance. Romance is the genre of optimism, and that's why I like it.”

A native of West Virginia, Nancy now lives in suburban New Jersey with her husband, two mismatched dogs, and an elderly cat. She cheers loudly for the New Jersey Devils hockey team.

For more information, visit Nancy’s website:
Or email Nancy at .

Monday, May 23, 2016

AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER- Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

Stephanie Dray
& Laura Kamoie

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father's reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

license to tie the ends together and to bridge the gaps, but the fluidity with which she melds the many pieces together into one masterful picture where you cannot even visualize the seams of the knitted pieces that have been laced together creates a sweeping vista of grandeur pure poetry.
From the opening lines of the first chapter of America’s First Daughter, Stephanie Dray and Laurie Kamoie pulled their readers into the roiling, blood-pumping fear and excitement of America’s fight for independence during the great war with England in the late 1700’s.  This time, instead of dried prose and cracked parchment filled with the mundane facts of history that tend to put most readers to sleep; this time, instead of being lulled into thinking that all the details of the first fifty or so years of our nation’s history as dry and stilted and confined to a few men in a room or two gathered around desks, we have the privilege of witnessing the life of Thomas Jefferson through the eyes of his devoted eldest daughter.
To write a work of fiction, based on history and historical fact, is one thing.  But Stephanie and Laurie took this much farther.  They breathed life into the written accounts that have been left behind.  She took the many puzzle pieces from the great variety of sources and with the magic of her pen, wove the details together in such a fashion that there leaves little doubt to this reader that the vast amount of the storyline is close to home.  Granted, there has to be a certain amount of literary
The telling of the story was well beyond just a lesson in history.  It was a time warp into the past.  The attention to detail painted the landscape for the mind so vividly, that the scenes rolled past like cinematography instead of the written word with the turning of pages.  The only pauses, were when this reader’s eyes forced her to put the book down for the night, with great regret.
From the first harrowing escape from the Red Coats as Jefferson and his family fled their home in the opening pages, to the opulent halls of Versailles in France, I could see, hear, and oft even smell the cost of independence as a young girl came of age and continued to devote her life through adulthood to the concept of liberty and its many dimensions.   We were also given unique and human glimpses of the giants of our youth and our history books.  Men that have always been larger than life walked through these pages and sat upon her chairs, living and breathing in the daily life of Patsy and her family.  Through the revealing tales that spilled out, I was constantly reminded that they were indeed only men with fallible issues in their daily lives, but who willingly gave of themselves in ways we cannot totally comprehend to cement the founding of this country.
The counterpoint to the great retelling of the story of Thomas Jefferson, was the telling of the story of a young girl coming of age in the Age of Independence.  These ladies did a fabulous job of addressing various women’s issues that were prevalent.  They told of a story of unrequited love that lasted most of a lifetime.  They also told the compelling story of a mother’s unconditional love for her children and her family.  The love of Martha “Patsy” Jefferson for her large family of eleven children, her husband, and her father was beautiful.  The brilliancy of her mind was amongst the best in the nation, male or female.  She could hold her own with most of the contemporaries who came to visit her father.  But because she was not male, she was barred from everything she could have mastered so well.  Instead, she mastered diplomacy from behind the giant of the man we know as Thomas Jefferson.

Finally, addressed and told, was the story of Sally Hemmings.  A parallel storyline was written of the alliance between Sally and Thomas that wove through the entire work.  It was done beautifully and with dignity and showed a familial love between Thomas’ daughters and the Hemmings.  After all, they were family.  It was through this story that Stephanie showed the Jeffersons’ personal struggles with the moralities with of slavery while they were in the forefront fighting for independence and freedom for the United States of America.  It was a tool used well to discuss the entire political turmoil and breakdown of the plantation society in Virginia during this time period that roiled around slavery.  Though there is no written record in Jefferson’s surviving papers of his alliance with Sally, DNA supports the Hemming family’s years of family history and claims. This sad story of this chapter in our history when we failed to stop slavery with the formation of our nation, along with the even sadder story of a decades long relationship that was hidden and denied for political and “moral” reasons broke this reader’s heart.
There were touch moments in the novel that brought this reader to tears.  There were moments that made me want to stand next to Patsy and be there with her to feel the pride and glory.  Then there were the moments that brought me to my knees as my heart felt the agony.  One of my most moving moments was when Patsy and General Lafayette saw each other again after many years, upon remembering their last prior glimpse of each other through a window, from a distance.  The poignancy of the scene and the depth of the emotion brought me to hiccupping sobs.  Memories of the final scenes of Les’ Miserable’ and the moving music drifted through as I read this scene and piles of Kleenex mounded beside my chair.  This is the price of patriotism.  This was the caliber of people who gave their lives to see to the founding of our land.

The word-craft and story-telling mastery that Stephanie and Laurie poured into America’s First Daughter was a combined labor of love.  They took the time to gather together and seek the counsel of those who know Jefferson and his family best.  Her research on the story is without question.  If there were ten stars available, I would award them.  As it is, this book deserves more than the FIVE STAR review that I give.  It has made it to my much coveted To Be Read Oft and Again Shelf.  Thank you for sharing such a story and making history LIVE for us, Stephanie and Laurie. At what cost our freedom?  At what cost our way of life?

STEPHANIE DRAY is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than eight different languages and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. She’s also fascinated by the founding of the American Republic and its roots in ancient Rome. It’s her mission to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today.
LAURA KAMOIE has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Her debut historical novel, America's First Daughter (March 1, 2016), co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.
 Laura is currently working on My Dear Hamilton (William Morrow, early 2018) about Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, with co-author Stephanie Dray.

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Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt a Review

Mary Sharratt

THE DARK LADY’S MASK is the story of Aemilia Bassano Lanier (1569–1645), the first professional woman poet in Renaissance England, and her collaboration—and star-crossed love affair—with William Shakespeare, as his Dark Lady.
Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare
London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.
Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they and begin to secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country—and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later he publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

I love reading the historical novels written by Mary Sharratt.  The depth of research and care she takes to develop her real life characters, to fill in the gaps and blanks that history has not recorded.  The line between hard fact and supposition becomes shades of gray as her stories grow and weave their way across time and through the pages.  Even the most jaded of historical scholars I have met, who have had the opportunity to read a novel or two written by Mary,  glow in praise about the stories she builds and the total believability of her tales. 
With this said, I come to this, Mary’s latest work, The Dark Lady's Mask.   As I was preparing to write the review for this interesting viewpoint on Shakespeare’s Muse, I chanced to have dinner with my parents.  While we were visiting my dad, an amateur genealogist who has spent the last thirty-six years researching our family tree, told me he had discovered the newest link in our family tree.  He had traced us to the court of Henry VIII of England.  He told me that the ancestor was Edward Bessano, an Italian musician who served in the court, along with his brothers and their families.  I took a deep breath and set back, for I had just finished The Dark Lady's Mask.  What a coincidence.  That evening and the following days since, this book has floated through my mind.  Knowing what I know now, I want and need to reread the pages again. 
I know the story is based on supposition.  I know that research has said that there were rumors and possibilities that Amelia Bassano Lanier could have been the dark lady.  But was she?  Taking the facts that I now have laying before me and meshing them with the story that Mary wove about Amelia Bassano Lanier and William Shakespeare, I find the connection totally plausible.  Her telling of Amelia’s story and life is wonderful.   
Once again Mary took a woman of note, who opened a door for generations to come, and allowed us to have a glimpse into her life.  Granted the hard facts on this gentle lady are few are far between, but Mary has a gift to take the pieces of a puzzle and lay them out, then masterfully paint in the missing areas.  Her work is so brilliantly accomplished, that we are left wondering where fact and supposition meet. 
Her interweaving of masterful character developments from a different viewpoint of the accepted norm for public historical figures such as William Shakespeare created cause for some raised eyebrows as the pages turned.  With fingers going to the keyboard looking for new information on the famed master of English literature.  I found even Snopes speaking out on the matter of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.  That was interesting. 
The story itself was a well-told story.  It was one that held the attention and I found myself, once again, losing sleep because I couldn’t find a place to put the book down.  This was not because the plot was heart racing, but because the intrigue was different.  This was a story about women seeking to find a voice in a world dominated by men.  It was a place where they had no voice in where they lived or who they married.  Amelia was brilliant.  She had a brilliant mind.  But she could not follow her heart and write or publish her work that she wrote.  She was accomplished in music, writing, languages, math, and seemed to be able to learn most anything she attempted.  But she was allotted to the world and role of “woman” and the woman’s role. 
The idea that she utilized her creative genius to be able to get her work out there, even if it meant collaborating with a “second rate” playwright, was worth what it took to have her plays on the boards.  It was pure genius on Mary’s part on how she took the facts of what was happening during the time, historically, the facts that were available about Amelia’s life, and the suppositions that have been put out about the Dark Lady and weave them into such a glorious, believable story.  It is so believable, that I wonder how much is possible?  Maybe not the places, necessarily, but what happened, possibly.  It is all definitely meat on the bone to chew on.  It makes me look at Shakespeare with new eyes and wonder.
It makes me proud to have had such a wonderful and accomplished woman in my family tree.  Thank you, Mary, for writing about her and making her such a highlight in my life.  If you hadn’t written about Amelia Bassano Lanier, then when I dad told me about Elizabeth Bassano (Lupo) Chandler, born to Edward Bassano (a musician in King Henry’s court) and Alice Austen  (born 1596 East Greenwich, Kent, England); it would have just been another family tree fact.  No big deal.  You made it different.  You made it real.  Elizabeth Bassano Lupo migrated to Elizabeth City, Virginia Colony to accept a land grant from King Henry around 1619 from King Henry along with her husband Albiano Lupo.  He died and she later married John Chandler (first Jamestown, Virginia Colony) in 1626. 
I give this wonderful novel a full five stars for the indepth creativity of spirit and writing, and the masterful spin Mary Sharratt used to take the given and provide us with a most believable story of two master literary giants from our past.

Who was Aemilia Bassano Lanier? 
Born in 1569, Aemilia Bassano Lanier (also spelled Lanyer) was the highly cultured daughter of an Italian court musician—a man thought to have been a Marrano, a secret Jew living under the guise of a Christian convert.
After her father’s death, the young Aemilia Bassano was educated by high-minded Puritans. Later she became the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. As Carey’s paramour, she enjoyed a few years of glory in the royal court—an idyll that came to an abrupt and inglorious end when she found herself pregnant with Carey’s child. She was then shunted off into an unhappy arranged marriage with Alfonso Lanier, a court musician and scheming adventurer who wasted her money. So began her long decline into obscurity and genteel poverty, yet she triumphed to become a ground-breaking woman of letters. 
Lanier was the first English woman to aspire to a career as a professional poet by actively seeking a circle of eminent female patrons to support her. She praises these women in the dedicatory verses to her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, a vindication of the rights of women couched in religious verse and published in 1611. Her elegiac poem “The Description of Cookham” might be the first country house poem in the English language. Committed to women’s advancement and education, she served as tutor to the young Lady Anne Clifford, and she went on to found her own school for girls in 1617, a very progressive innovation in an era when girls were barred from most formal education.

What inspired you to write about this imagined star-crossed love affair between Lanier and Shakespeare?
My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in her essay A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart? 
In The Dark Lady’s Mask, I explore what happens when a struggling young Shakespeare meets a struggling young woman poet of equal genius and passion. If Lanier and Shakespeare were, in fact, lovers, would this explain how Shakespeare made the leap from his history plays to his Italian comedies and romances—the turning point of his career? Lanier, after all, was an Anglo-Italian trapped in a miserable arranged marriage. The names Aemilia, Emilia, Emelia, and Bassanio all appear in Shakespeare’s plays. His Italian comedies are set in Veneto, Lanier’s ancestral homeland. What if Shakespeare’s early comedies were the fruit of an active collaboration between him and Lanier?
These two poets had such radically different character arcs. We all know about Shakespeare’s rise to the glory that would enshrine him as a cultural icon. But there was no meteoric rise for Lanier. Though she eventually triumphed to become a published poet, she died in obscurity and has only recently been rediscovered by scholars.
I find it fascinating how the strong, outspoken women of Shakespeare’s early Italian comedies, such as the crossdressing Rosalind in As You Like It and the spirited Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, gave way to much weaker heroines and misogynistic portraits of women in Shakespeare’s great tragedies, such as frail, mad Ophelia in Hamlet. This change in tack leads me to wonder if the historical Shakespeare actually did have a bittersweet affair with a mysterious, unknown woman that cast a shadow over his later life and work.
In this novel I wanted to redress the balance by writing Renaissance women poets and playwrights back into history. In addition to Lanier, the novel reveals the work of her contemporary poet-dramatists Mary Sidney and Isabella Andreini.

Enough about Shakespeare. Tell us about the relevance of Lanier’s poetry. Given her possible Jewish ancestry, why did she write Christian religious verse?
As an Englishwoman aspiring to make her career as a poet, Lanier effectively had only one option—to write devotional Protestant verse. Her literary predecessors, Anne Locke and Mary Sidney, wrote poetic meditations on the Psalms.
But Lanier’s religious poetry is a radical tour de force. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail God, King of the Jews) describes the passion of Christ from the viewpoint of the women in the Gospels. Lanier recasts this grand narrative into a vindication of the rights of women—and of Lanier as a woman poet. In comparing the sufferings of women in male-dominated culture to the sufferings of Christ, she upholds virtuous women, such as her great patron Margaret Clifford, as Christ’s true imitators.
Most significantly, Salve Deus is dedicated and addressed exclusively to women, and is prefaced by nine praise poems dedicated to the royal and aristocratic women whose patronage Lanier sought. She also included a dedication in praise of all virtuous women.
Having established her female audience, Lanier attacks the theological roots of male domination, namely the blame attached to Eve—and by extension all women—for humanity’s fall from grace. In “Eve’s Apology in Defence of Women,” Lanier argues that the original sin was actually Adam’s for accepting the forbidden fruit. For he, unlike Eve, was fully aware of the consequences. Out of selfishness and desire for power, Adam let Eve take the fall.
                        If Eve did err, it was for knowledge sake,
                        The fruit being fair persuaded him to fall:
                                    No subtle serpent’s falsehood did betray him,
                                    If he would eat it, who had the power to stay him?
                        Not Eve, whose fault was only too much love.
Lanier contends that male culpability in crucifying Christ far exceeds Eve’s tragic   misunderstanding. Therefore there is no moral or divine cause to justify women’s subjugation. Here Lanier explicitly champions gender equality:
                                    Let us have our Liberty again,
                                    And challenge to yourselves no Sovereignty,
                                    You came not into the world without our pain,
                                    Make that a bar against your cruelty;
                                    Your fault being greater, why should you disdain
                                    Our being your equals, free from tyranny?
                                    If one weak woman simply did offend,
                                    This sin of yours hath no excuse, nor end.    
Lanier’s poetry lays claim to women’s God-given call to rise up against male arrogance, just as the strong women of the Old Testament rose up against their oppressors. While wooing her highborn female patrons, Lanier uses the scriptures to assert a sense of social egalitarianism that foreshadows the Levellers and the Quaker religious movement that emerged a few decades after her poetry’s publication. “God makes both even, the cottage with the throne,” Lanier writes in her dedicatory poem to Lady Anne Clifford, her former pupil.
Lanier’s book ends with “A Description of Cookham,” an elegiac ode to the country house where she lived for a time with Margaret and Anne Clifford, that blessed refuge where Lanier received both her spiritual epiphany and the confirmation of her vocation as a poet.
Farewell (sweet Cookham) where I first obtained
                                    Grace from the Grace where perfect Grace remained,
                                    And where the Muses gave their full consent,
                                    I should have the power the virtuous to content.
Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum is a corpus of poetry celebrating female and divine goodness, penned by a poet who found her own sense of salvation in a community of women who supported her and believed in her talent.

Mary Sharratt’s explorations into the hidden histories of Renaissance women compelled her to write her most recent work, THE DARK LADY’S MASK (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016), based on the dramatic life of the ground-breaking poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanier.
Born in Minnesota, Mary now lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.
Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write her award-winning ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, which explores the dramatic life of the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau.
Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Gold Award, the 2005 WILLA Literary Award, and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the novels SUMMIT AVENUETHE REAL MINERVATHE VANISHING POINT, and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology BITCH LIT, which celebrates female anti-heroes–strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in Twin Cities Noir and elsewhere.
She is currently at work on ECSTASY: A NOVEL OF ALMA MAHLER, exploring the life of one of the most intriguing women of turn-of-the-century Vienna.
Mary’s articles and essays have appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe Huffington PostPublisher’s WeeklyMinnesota Magazine, andHistorical Novels Review. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Winemakers - Jan Moran

The Winemakers
Jan Moran

1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past. The Winemakersis a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.
“Absolutely adored THE WINEMAKERS.  Beautifully layered and utterly compelling.  Intriguing from start to finish.  A story not to be missed.” – Jane Porter, USA Today and NYT Bestselling author of It’s Youand The Good Woman


I have read all of Jan Moran’s novels, to date. Each one of them are centered on strong women of their time. Each set in various time periods dating back to the early 1900s. What is interesting is that even the two major works she has written “Scent of Triumph” and “The Winemakers” have an essence of being tied into “The California Series” which about four young independent young women is making their way in the L.A. area and making their mark on the beauty industry.
In the Winemakers all of the strengths and fallibilities that we as women have, come into play and you find yourself in a world of secrets within secrets, as each of the central characters keeps her world wrapped up within pride to protect those she love around her. But as the leaves of truth start to peel back, the world they have always known starts to crumble around them into a thousand pieces like a dried out bouquet of flowers when crushed under foot. It is only the strong love of family and pride of who they really are that allows them to struggle through, to find the answers at the heart of the lies and secrets that the years have held close.
Jan has a way of drawing the reader into her stories. She takes a paint brush to her words and brushes a panorama across the pages. You find yourself falling into the scenes of the lands and places that she builds for her stories to take place. The smells, sights and sounds accost your senses as you find yourself peering through the eyes of the characters and seeing a world unfold before you.
This is not limited to just her scenery, but also to the very fiber of her story lines. They live and breathe as you find yourself flipping the pages to keep up with the characters, wiping tears of sadness or laughter. Suddenly a page turn will bring a catch of breath that forces you to set down the book till you can breathe again…forcing you to think back, re-access and draw on your own strength to go forward with the young heroine.
Once again Jan has given us a glimpse behind the shutters of the wealthy and high born to show us that all who live have lives that can be fragile. All who breathe can suffer great loss and hold great secrets that seem unbearable. Wealth and breeding do not make people immune to the bad things that can and do happen to families. Evil is evil, no matter the last name. Kindness, generosity, and love come from within and cannot have a price tag attached.
Jan has also shown the struggles that independent strong minded women have endured during the early part of the 1900s. She included the prejudices against women in business within her storyline. I deeply appreciated this. We forget how much our mothers and grandmothers fought to make our lives better for us. How we must continue to strive to make the way better for our daughters and grand-daughters who follow behind.
Jan Moran has written stirring and remarkable works from her first novel, Flawless, but with each offering, she has shown continued growth in her craft. The Winemakers is a novel worthy of note and one that is sure to make many lists and take awards for 2016. I give The Winemakers a FIVE STAR rating for craftsmanship and entertainment. This is a must read for 2016.
Jan Moran is an author of historical novels for St. Martin’s Press (Scent of Triumph,; The Winemakers). She also writes the Love, California contemporary series, which includes FlawlessBeauty Mark,Runway, and other upcoming titles. She wrote Fabulous Fragrances I and II, which earned spots on the Rizzoli Bookstore bestseller list, and Vintage Perfumes. She is represented by Jenny Bent at The Bent Agency. Books are also translated into German, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian, and other languages.
As a fragrance and beauty expert, she has been featured in numerous publications and on television and radio, including CNN, Women’s Wear Daily, Allure, InStyle, and O Magazine. As an editor and writer, she has covered fragrance, beauty, and spa travel for a variety of publications such as CosmopolitanCostco Connection, and Porthole Cruise.


Friday, April 1, 2016

SILENT SENTRY - Theresa Rizzo - A Book Review

Threresa Rizzo

The Scarfilis and Donnatellis love deeply and protect fiercely. "Family takes care of family" is the code they live by.

So when a hacker threatens Gianna Donnatelli's life, Dr. Joe Scarfili is determined to keep her safe, only he has no police or tech experience, and Gianna's penchant for aiding Detroit's underprivileged is the same kind of altruism that got his wife killed. Gianna protects Joe with the same unyielding resolve.

Gianna pushes all his insecurity buttons. Joe tries her patience like no other. But together they'll fight to save each other and their love... Or die trying.
I have read and studied medieval literature and Shakespeare , but why or why did I keep thinking about a twisted Romeo and Juliette when I read this delicious novel?  Except in this novel, Romeo and Juliet were not suicidal, star-crossed teenagers, like the original lovers were.  In fact, they weren’t suicidal at all.  They were well educated, adults who had known each other as children, or should I say as teenage and child?
That aside, once again, Theresa takes up another social issue to address in her newest novel.  But this time, she lands her heroine in the inner city of Chicago where the poorest of the poor cannot fend for themselves against the riff-raff of the gangs and warfare that wage around them.  Enter a young entrepreneur and a young doctor and you have two warring stories flying across the pages.  No make that three, for there are truly three distinct storylines that are tightly interwoven through this book.  Each one is breathtaking unto itself as you try to figure out who will win in the fight between good and evil, the will to overcome.  With a heavy dose of romance thrown in to lighten the overtones and undertones of the social justice that is being addressed between the lines. 
Oh, no, I didn’t forget about those pesky Italians from Shakespeare.  They are there in their 21st century garb and just as nasty and just as willful.  But the world has got much larger than it was in the fifteen and sixteen hundreds.  It seems to have permeated globally.  For some reason, it seems that it is the young, and the innocent who always get caught in the cross-fire of the warfare for money and power.  Nothing ever changes. 
No, don’t get me wrong.  This story is enjoyable.  It is fast-paced. There is laughter, and love, but there is a much deeper message to be had, if you peel back the words and the pages and let it sink in a little.  Great job, again, Theresa.  Your story craft continues to grow.  You brought many a smile to my face as I rifled through the pages of this novel.  There was no leisurely reading allowed.  I give this one a great FVIE STAR review!!!!  Well worth the read!
This book was provided to this reviewer at no cost to read and assess for other readers in exchange for a fair and honest written review of the novel.  Shade Tree Book Reviews aka Blogging Under the Shade Tree is not associated with the Author or publisher of this novel.
I was born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Growing up in an Irish-Italian family was never dull or quiet. I have four siblings, two sisters and two brothers. My mother was a nurse and my father a general surgeon, so my interest in medical issues is hardly surprising.
As a youngster, I struggled with mild dyslexia. I couldn't read until third grade, but after years of remedial work, the wondrous world of books opened up to me and I've been a voracious reader ever since. Though possessing a fertile imagination, my practical side never even considered pursuing a writing career, because I'm too fond of eating. So I became a registered nurse.
After college, I married my high school sweetheart and had four children. Though I adore my kids and am very proud of them, parenting requires a lot of patience-- not exactly my strength, so I began writing. Writing gave me a creative, intelligent outlet that I needed, and it was far less expensive than therapy and a defense attorney. Writing allows me to create wonderful characters who, if they disappoint me, I can make their lives miserable--literally-- or simply kill them off, without going to jail! How great is that?
We lived in the Chicago, then San Diego, before settling in beautiful Colorado. We absolutely love the mountains! When not skiing, hiking, or writing in the mountains, I love to play tennis, take long walks, work in my gardens, decorate our house, read, work with my tile mosaics, and crochet.
It's true that writing is a lonely endeavor. Learning the craft and the publishing industry is a lengthy, complex process made much more fun when I joined the Romance Writers of America, and later, the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writersand the Crested Butte Writers.
I've been fortunate to make friends with many interesting people. Writers are a remarkable, entertaining breed who possess quick wits and huge hearts. They've enriched my life immensely and I'm very grateful to each and every one as you can see is you watch my writing journey video.