2013 Release: The Duchess of Drury Lane by Freda Lightfoot

Publication Date: March 1, 2013 | Severn House Publishing | 256p


Passion, jealousy, scandal and betrayal – a true-life Regency Romance of the rise and fall of an extraordinary woman born into extraordinary times. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, fatherless household, Dorothy Jordan overcame her humble beginnings to become the most famous comic actress of her day. It was while performing on Drury Lane that Dorothy caught the eye of the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV. Her twenty-year relationship with the Duke was one of great happiness and domesticity, producing ten children. But ultimately, Dorothy’s generous nature was her undoing and she was to be cruelly betrayed by the man she loved.

Review: Mistress of Mourning by Karen Harper

by Karen Harper  

Publication Date: July 3, 2012 
NAL Trade

Reviewed By:  Audra Friend

The cover: Nice enough -- two women, full length, with their whole heads?! amazing! -- but doesn’t capture the story, I think. While our heroine is a blond, I don’t think either woman resembles her, and I’d rather have had some candlemaking imagery.  

The heroine: Actually, kind of amazing. While I am a leeeeetle dubious of her name -- Varina (is that historically accurate?) -- I loved her. More on that in the review.  

The villain(s): Deliciously evil, perhaps a bit predictable, but satisfyingly bad.  

The history: Early 1500s, the Tudors-who-made-the-Tudors.  

One sentence sell: Fun, beachy, race-through-this-in-a-weekend readable  

Review: What I thought would be a traditional English royal historical novel, Mistress of Mourning is actually a melancholy, romantic, and unique book that balances history, mystery, and love. 

Set squarely in the world of 16th century merchants, our heroine, Varina Westcott, is a young widow with a thriving candlemaking business. Mourning the loss of her infant son, Varina pours herself into making beautiful, lifelike angel candles, sold illicitly as she isn’t a member of the city’s powerful candlemaking guild. Pursued by a predatory suitor interested in her business -- and her body -- Varina tries to balance survival with independence. When she is engaged for a mysterious commission from the palace, she accepts eagerly, unaware of the reverberating impact this decision will have on her life and loved ones. 

Her client is none other than Queen Elizabeth of York, the wife of Henry VII. Grieving still the loss of her brothers -- the infamous princes in the Tower -- as well as her two infant children, Elizabeth and Varina find in each other kindred spirits. But Varina’s seemingly simple commission -- to design wax effigies -- transforms into a more challenging job when Varina is asked to investigate the sudden and mysterious death of Prince Arthur. 

The novel unfolds in alternating first person account from both Varina and Elizabeth, and it worked. The common bond of loss shared by the two women added a depth to their stories that I enjoyed; the insider/outsider viewpoint of the unfolding story was also enjoyable. 

The story’s change from a historical romance to a mystery thriller was surprising, but the buildup to the transition -- and the transition itself -- is such that the shift felt right, not jarring. By the end of the novel, I told my wife I wouldn’t cry if there was a mystery series featuring our girl Varina. (She fights crime, Tudor-style!

Harper’s achievement with this book is that Varina worked for me as a heroine, even when she came dangerously close to that aggravating wilful-feisty caricature. Even though she wore men’s clothes at times (wasn’t that a huge no-no?), Varina’s responses to the danger, chaos, and close calls in her life felt real and realistic. She waited out tense situations rather than doing something stupid, for example, and I found her admirable and likeable. (Yes, I totally want her to be my bestie.) There’s a very strong romantic thread in the novel -- Varina is partnered with the hot Nicholas Sutton, a gopher of sorts trying to make up for his family’s support of the Yorks -- and while predictable, I also enjoyed it. I wanted Varina to get some happiness in life. The inevitable lovers conflict bored me -- you could see it coming a mile away -- and it felt unnecessary. I suppose the story required some challenge to our lovers (beyond physical endangerment), but mostly, it made me wish people would just use their big kid words. (‘When you say x, it makes me feel y’, etc.) 

As to the historical accuracy of this story, I can’t say. Readers familiar with Henry VII’s reign as well as the mystery of the murdered princes in the Tower might be frustrated by Harper’s conspiracy and suppositions, but as I have no emotional attachment to this era -- nor much expertise -- I greatly enjoyed the balanced mix of history, romance, and intrigue. Harper’s historical details are light but well-placed: some discussion of clothing or appearance, no notice of hygiene, but wonderfully rich hints about candlemaking and chandlers. That angle -- the candlemakers of the era -- was the best part of this novel. What a fascinating hook! 

In the end, this is a lighter kind of historical fiction that doesn't feel insultingly fluffy; the obvious romance is welcome and provides a lovely counterpoint to the darkly tangled conspiracy they're battling. For Tudor fans, this should provide a nice fix; for those over the Tudors, the unique angle through which the story is offered is refreshing enough I'd urge you to give it a try! (Says one who has had it up to her nose with Henry VII and company!).

Meet PTTP's New Guest Reviewer: Audra Friend

Passages to the Past is so excited to announce the addition of a new guest reviewer, Audra from the blog Unabridged Chick!  I have been a fan of Audra and her reviews for a long time and am so honored to have her be a part of PTTP.  Her first review is for Mistress of Mourning by Karen Harper and will be posted later this week, so be sure to check it out!

Here is an introduction from Audra...

I'm Audra, a 30-something married lesbian with a thing for literary fiction and historical novels. I love interesting heroines, gorgeous prose, place as character, and the occasional werewolf. Like my favorite people in the world, 'bookworm' could be my middle name, and I never travel without something to read. (Which is why I so love my e-reader!) I'm an Air Force brat currently living in Boston, and I work full time at a job that, alas, doesn't pay me to read all day. Reading is a relationship experience for me: I love discussing books and exploring what different readers take from the same text. My wife and friends, bless their hearts, indulge me and it is a rare meal that doesn't include at least some book chatter prompted by yours truly. (Come on, food plus books?! I'm in heaven!) I'm always looking to add to my TBR, so I welcome any and all recommendations! Feel free to stop by my blog, Unabridged Chick (www.unabridgedchick.com), to see what I'm reading and say hi!

Thanks so much, Audra and WELCOME to Passages to the Past!

2013 Release: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

 Release Date: Spring 2013 | Sourcebooks Publishing 


Nicola Marter was born with a gift: when she touches an object, she sometimes glimpses those who have owned it before. When the gallery she works in receives a wooden carving she can see the object’s history and knows that it was named after the Firebird, the mythical bird that inspires an old Russian fairytale and was once owned by Russia’s famed Empress Catherine.

Nicola’s investigation into the Firebird’s origin draws her into the 1715 world of Anna Logan and leads her on a quest through Scotland, France and Russia, unearthing a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption.

2013 Release: The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Release Date:  April 9, 2013 |St. Martin's Press |352p


From the NYT bestselling Pink Carnation author comes a new novel that is by turns epic and intimate, transporting and page-turning – spanning from WWI England to present day New York….

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards – but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything…

Growing up at Ashford Park in the heyday of Edwardian society, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl…

2013 Release: The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan

 Publication Date: January 29, 2013 | Kensington Publishing | 384p


From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. Her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But while Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And nothing can guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of loss she falls prey to an ambitious earl and brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal and secret alliances, Margaret has one aim—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost…


2 Copy Giveaway: The Shadow Queen by Rebecca Dean (US Only)

Today I am highlighting the new novel from Rebecca Dean, THE SHADOW QUEEN: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, which was released this past Tuesday and thanks to Random House I also have 2 copies to give away! 

 Publication Date: August 14, 2012 | Broadway | 432p


Set against a background of high society, royal circles, and diplomatic intrigue, THE SHADOW QUEEN: A Novel of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Rebecca Dean, the acclaimed author of previous historical novels Palace Circle and The Golden Prince, features one of the most fascinating and controversial women of the 20th century. Scores of biographies, movies (including the latest from Madonna, W.E.), and plays have been written about Wallis Simpson, the American socialite, for whom Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor abdicated his throne in order to marry her, forever changing the course of British history, and yet she remains an enigma.

In THE SHADOW QUEEN we are introduced to the real Wallis (given name Bessie Wallis Warfield) who was born into a poor, disgraced, southern family and thought of by the relatives as the outsider, the poor relation. In order to be seen as the Southern belle she so desperately wants to be, she relies on the charity of her rich relatives, whose dearest wish is to alienate her from her poverty-stricken, but loving mother. These early childhood experiences forge steel into Wallis, and, a survivor on a grand scale with a charm and sassiness few can resist, she embarks on a life that takes her from being the mistress of men in Washington’s highest diplomatic circles, to risking her life as a U.S. spy in war-torn China.

Wherever she goes and whoever she is with, there is always in her pocketbook a newspaper clipping of Britain’s golden-haired, fairy-tale-handsome Prince of Wales. For millions of girls worldwide, Edward is the impossible, unattainable dream. Wallis, however, has never believed anything to be impossible or unattainable, and sets out to conquer the man who will very soon become the country’s king. A story based on impeccable research, we meet the woman for whom Prince Edward abdicated his throne. It's a tale of loss, heartache, and the ultimate test of how far a Prince will go for love. 


- To enter, please leave a comment below and include your email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered in the giveaway).
- +5 additional entries become a follower of Passages to the Past. If you are already a follower you will automatically receive the bonus entries. 
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- +1 additional entry each, please help spread the word by blogging, posting on sidebar, tweeting or posting this giveaway on Facebook or Google+.  You can use the SHARE buttons below.
- Giveaway ends on August 27th. 


2013 Release: Paris by Edward Rutherfurd

I cannot begin to tell you how stoked I am for this release!

by Edward Rutherfurd

Release Date:  April 16, 2013


From the grand master of the historical novel comes a dazzling epic portrait of Paris that leaps through centuries as it weaves the tales of families whose fates are forever entwined with the City of Lights.  As he did so brilliantly in London: The Novel and New York:
The Novel, Edward Rutherfurd brings to life the most magical city in the world: Paris.
This breathtaking multigenerational saga takes readers on a journey through thousands of years of glorious Parisian history.

2013 Release: Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell

Here is an upcoming release that I am very excited about...

by Patricia Bracewell

Release Date:  February 7, 2013
Viking Adult

A rich tale of power and forbidden love revolving around a young medieval queen
In 1002, fifteen­-year-old Emma of Normandy crosses the Narrow Sea to wed the much older King Athelred of England, whom she meets for the first time at the church door. Thrust into an unfamiliar and treacherous court, with a husband who mistrusts her, stepsons who resent her and a bewitching rival who covets her crown, Emma must defend herself against her enemies and secure her status as queen by bearing a son.

Determined to outmaneuver her adversaries, Emma forges alliances with influential men at court and wins the affection of the English people. But her growing love for a man who is not her husband and the imminent threat of a Viking invasion jeopardize both her crown and her life.

Based on real events recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Shadow on the Crown introduces readers to a fascinating, overlooked period of history and an unforgettable heroine whose quest to find her place in the world will resonate with modern readers.


August 2012 Releases

Hide your wallets, here are the yummy releases for August 2012! 

Review: Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

by Susan Higginbotham

Release Date:  June 1, 2012
Sourcebooks Landmark

Reviewed by:  Colleen Turner

For lovers of Tudor fiction, Her Highness, the Traitor presents two unique voices that describe the struggle for power that occurred after the death of Henry VIII: Jane Dudley, Duchess of Northumberland and Francis Grey, Duchess of Suffolk. As different as these women are they are forced together in the battle for the throne of England and both will learn that much must be sacrificed for the chance at greatness, whether you want it or not. This is their story.

Jane Dudley, the daughter of a knight, was not raised in grandeur but on the periphery of the sparkling court of King Henry VIII. Having been raised with her future husband, John Dudley, since he became the ward of her family when his father was executed as a traitor to the King, their marriage was a love match that never fizzled and which produced 13 children that lived beyond childhood. There house is a happy home, full of love, laughter and loyalty to their King. When the King dies, leaving his nine-year-old son, Edward VI, as heir, her husband John is placed on the council lead by the Lord Protector, the young king’s uncle Edward Seymour,  that is set up to help oversee the kingdom until he reaches his majority.  As John’s influence and favor with Edward VI continues to rise so do the titles, riches and favors for his family. But the higher he rises the more enemies the Dudleys collect, placing them all in a tenuous balance between greatness and destruction.

Francis Grey, the daughter of a queen and the niece of Henry VIII, has always done what she must as a credit to her royal blood. Her arranged marriage to Henry Grey was never about love but advancement and while he is not cruel to her he rarely consults her on matters outside the running of their household. While they have three daughters, their oldest daughter Jane is the light of Henry’s life and the one woman in the house he does discuss important matters with, including their mutual Protestant faith. Jane – extremely intelligent but cold and reserved – looks down on most people, including her mother and sisters, and prefers to occupy her time with her books and studies. Having royal blood, however, can be a weighty asset and Henry wastes no time looking for an advantageous match for Jane, even looking as high as King Edward himself.

After Edward Seymour is executed and John Dudley becomes Edward VI’s chief advisor, his list of enemies continues to grow. Soon Edward VI becomes sick and decides to change his will to bypass his sisters, the Catholic Mary and possibly illegitimate Elizabeth, in the succession to the throne and declare his cousin Jane Grey, who shares his Protestant faith, as his heir apparent. Furthermore Edward asks John to marry Jane to his own son, Guildford Dudley, as a show of his love for John who has become like a father to the inexperienced Edward. The Dudleys cannot possibly see how they can refuse the King this final wish and the Greys see this as the ultimate advancement and a birthright from Francis’s family. But when Edward dies and the council reluctantly agrees to follow the King’s changes to the succession all is not well. Mary is not about to stand aside and let her throne go to her cousin Jane. When she fights against these changes and all those that agreed to support their new Queen Jane turn on the families, both Jane Dudley and Francis Grey find themselves in the horrid position of having their loved ones imprisoned in the Tower at the mercy of Queen Mary. As two women on the edge of the chaos they must decide how hard to fight to saved their loved ones and what power they might have even if they try.

Her Highness, the Traitor does a wonderful job of giving a new perspective to an old story. Seeing the story of England from Henry VIII’s death through the beginning of Mary’s rule from the point of view of two women close to the action yet enough removed that they were not among the unfortunate ones who lost their heads really takes the reader as close to the intrigue and consequences as one can get. What I found the most surprising was how much these women humanized the story. No one is the villain or the martyr you would expect and everyone has a little good and bad in them, most swaying more to one side or the other. The biggest surprises for me was the representation of John Dudley as a loyal, loving man who, while having ambition like any other man at court, would do anything for his sovereign and his family and a Jane Grey that was so cold and rude to just about everyone she came into contact with. I really enjoyed having my view of events twisted around to give me a more personal, well rounded vision of the events.

I personally can never get enough of Tudor drama. That being said, I know many people turn away when they even see the name Tudor connected with a book because they feel inundated with the same story over and over again. This book, while including people and events that have been discussed before, is not the same old story and offers enough new information and personalities that it feels fresh and different. I would suggest anyone interested in the Tudors should give it a try. I doubt they have read this same story before.   
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