Sunday, January 29, 2012

Amazon UK Now Accepting Pre-Orders for A Court Affair by Emily Purdy

Amazon UK is now accepting pre-orders for A Court Affair by Emily Purdy, which will be released on August 2, 2012, this is the UK edition of The Queen's Pleasurre by Brandy Purdy.

Cover art isn't available yet, but here is the back cover copy:

Power, passion and politics…

Uncovering the love triangle between Queen Elizabeth I, Robert Dudley, and his wife Amy, and her mysterious death, A Court Affair is an unforgettable story of ambition, lust and jealousy.

A love triangle, with deadly consequences…

Agoraphobic Amy, the daughter of a country gentleman, is marrying the great Duke of Northumberland’s son, Sir Robert Dudley. While she fears the bustle of court and city life, she faces a far larger challenge as rumours will abound that the newly appointed Queen Elizabeth is having an affair with her husband.

Meanwhile Elizabeth is coping with various threats to her person and her reign but finds herself drawn to the temptation of an adulterous liaison so as to retain her power. Numerous foreign suitors begin paying court to the beautiful young queen, which fuels Dudley’s jealousy and leads him to question his marriage to Amy. Dudley struggles between these two women: caught between that which he desperately wants and what he knows to be right…

A royal affair overlaid with ambition, lust and envy, this is an unforgettable story of the price one must pay for sin.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Black Mahler The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story by Charles Elford

This fascinating book, which deftly toes the line between historical fiction and biography, vividly recounts the true life story of the almost forgotten composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, best remembered for his "Song of Hiawatha" trilogy, which set the famous Longfellow epic poem to music and gave choral societies all over the world a much needed break from religious themed compositions.

Born in 1875 to a white mother and a young black doctor from West Africa, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was adopted by a white Welsh family, the Evans, and grew up in the South London suburb of Croyden. From an early age he showed promise as a musician, his first music teacher fondly recalled discovering the little black boy on the sidewalk outside his house playing marbles with his scruffy little violin case beside him. Victorian England was a much more hospitable climate to African-Americans, though racial prejudices, often rudely expressed, definitely existed there, it was not so bad as America where tolerance didn't equal acceptance or kindness in the decades after the abolution of slavery, and young Samuel was able to receive an excellent education, thanks to encouraging benefactors, and eventually received a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. There he met the woman who would become his wife, the indomitable Jess, and his lifelong best friend William Hurlstone.

While he was still a student, he became entranced by Longfellow's vivid and evocative images of the Native Americans in "the land of the Dakotahs" and decided to set the poem to music for his own pleasure, never realizing it would become a worldwide sensation and the masterpiece he could never surpass. Nor did he realize that selling the piece outright, as he always did with his compositions, would be a catastrophic mistake; while his publishers got rich, all Samuel Coleridge-Taylor earned from his masterpiece was a mere 15 shillings.

For the rest of his life, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor would work himself to death to support his wife and two children, barely managing to keep his head above the water. Despite the mistake with "Hiawatha" he always found it to his best advantage to sell his work outright, but it didn't always pay the bills or stave off debt for very long.

In the more racially tolerant England, he didn't realize how important he was to African-Americans, who hailed him as a hero and inspiration and loved his music, creating a choral society in his name. He visited America three times, always to great acclaim, and even met President Roosevelt.

Ironically, one might consider Samuel Coleridge-Taylor another victim of the Titanic. Though he was not on board the ship, the only copy of his Violin Concerto was. Already worn to a shadow, this stressed and exhausted man worked feverishly around the clock to rewrite this composition and get it to America on time. He met his deadline, but a few months later he collapsed waiting to catch a train and died shortly after. He was only thirty-seven years old.

This is a very readable and engrossing book about a thoroughly likeable man-some might even go so far as to say he was "too nice"-a sensitive, funny, generous, thoughtful, and self-effacing and doubting man who couldn't bear to let anyone down. It is a vivid portrait of a man and artist who should never be forgotten.

For those curious about the title, as I was, it comes from a great compliment paid to the composer during one of his American visits. Gustav Mahler, a conductor from Vienna, was then considered the greatest conductor to have ever visitied America. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was favorably compared to him, deemed by many to be Mahler's only equal, and thus he was dubbed "The Black Mahler."

For more information about the book and its author please visit

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Favored Queen A Novel of Henry VIII's Third Wife by Carolly Erickson

The latest volume in Carolly Erickson’s frothy and improbable line of “historical entertainments” is set in Tudor England and tells the story of Jane Seymour, third of the six wives of Henry VIII, and mother to his only legitimate son, Edward VI.

The novel begins with Jane, a devoted to the serene and gracious Queen Catherine of Aragon, who has tried many times, and failed, to give the King the son he covets, enduring her own sorrows over a man. Her engagement to Will Dormer is jeopardized by her father’s seduction of her fiancĂ©’s fourteen-year-old sister. The couple plan to runaway to the Spice Islands to start a new life together, but, for various reasons, this is not to be, so Jane is on hand to be an eyewitness to the rise of the haughty and ambitious Anne Boleyn and the fall of her beloved Queen Catherine, and to surrender her virginity in a midnight rendezvous with a married French glazier she meets when he is hired to make improvements in Anne’s bedchamber.

When the Nun of Kent’s dire predictions of doom drive Anne Boleyn into a paranoid frenzy and her desperation to give Henry a son costs Jane’s lover his life, Jane becomes a quiet enemy waiting in the wings to destroy Anne and the gentle confidante who captures King Henry’s fickle heart.

I have read all Ms. Erickson’s “historical entertainments” to date (I just haven’t reviewed them all yet) and, while I enjoy some more than others, I always find them fun and a breath of fresh air amongst the more ponderous and serious tomes of historical fiction. If you’re not a historical fiction purist and can take them for what they are, and are open to the idea of Jane Seymour as a woman with all too human feelings and longings, neither sinner nor saint, then you just might enjoy this.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Oblivion The Mystery of West Point Cadet Richard Cox by Harry J. Maihafer

On Saturday, January 14, 1950, shortly after 6:00 p.m., popular, accomplished, and handsome 21 year-old cadet Richard Colvin Cox left West Point Military Academy to dine with an unidentified friend after telling his roommates that he would return early, most likely between 9:00 and 9:30, and was never seen again.

Cadet Cox seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. The newspapers and magazines gave the story of his disappearance extensive coverage, rivers were dredged, all 15,000 acres of West Point were exhaustively searched, leaving no stone unturned, all ponds, lakes, and the reservoir were either dragged or drained, a helicopter was even brought in for an aerial search. J. Edgar Hoover even took a personal interest in the case and assigned some of the FBI's best agents to investigate, but not a trace of Richard Colvin Cox was ever found though sightings of him continued to be reported for several years, some with an intriguing ring of truth about them. Every tip--and there were hundreds--was followed up, no matter how unlikely or ludicrous, by either civilian or military investigators. Details of every aspect of the young man's life were gone over with a fine-toothed comb, searching for a clue, either in his past or present, and thousands of people were interviewed, all to no avail. No one who knew Cox could shed any light on his disappearance, and he never contacted his family, fiancee, or best friend.

Richard Cox gave every appearance of being a devoted son to his widowed mother, strong-willed Christian Scientist Minnie Cox, and his letters showed that he was very much in love with his fiancee, Betty Timmons, whom he planned to marry after graduating from West Point. His grades were excellent, he was one of the top men in his class, and there was every indication that he had a bright future ahead of him; there was nothing to suggest he had any reason to just walk away from his life and disappear. His occasional expressions of discontent with West Point life in letters to his mother and girlfriend were typical cadet complaints and, though taken into account by investigators, were not deemed serious enough for him to pull a vanishing act and cause his family and others who cared about him so much distress.

Many felt the key to unlocking the mystery lay in the identity of his mysterious visitor, who had also visited Cadet Cox the weekend before his disappearance, a man who came to be known only as "George" based on a possible phone call he may have made to Cox prior to his visit. Cox himself, in the week before his disappearance, was reluctant to discuss this man and never divulged his name, referring to him only as "he," or "him," or "my friend," though his roommates felt the last was rather odd as he gave the distinct impression of disliking the man and even being uncomfortable with or even afraid of him. Everything Cox said seemed to indicate that his visit was an unwelcome one, and he reportedly described the mystery man as a braggart and a bad apple who boasted about killing a girl in Germany, where the two had served together in an army intelligence unit. Cox claimed this man was "capable of anything."

Despite intensive searching, "George" was never identified, and rumors swirled about murder, suicide, amnesia, revenge, abduction, homosexuality, cover-ups, the CIA, and Russian spies. One persistent rumor claimed that while serving in Germany Cox had testified at a court-martial against a fellow soldier, possibly the man known only as "George," who, upon release from prison, had come to West Point in pursuit of Cox to exact vengeance, but no records to substantiate this were ever discovered. The mystery was never solved and in 1957 Richard Colvin Cox was declared legally dead and the case was officially closed, though it continued to intrigue armchair detectives and readers of books about unsolved mysteries and mysterious disappearances in which it often shared space alongside chapters about Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and Judge Crater.

Thirty-five years later Marshall Jacobs, a retired history teacher, decided to take on the mystery as a research project to help while-away his retirement. What followed was an eight year odyssey to find the truth and rescue Richard Cox from the oblivion of those lost without a trace. Jacobs obtained all available documents via the Freedom of Information Act and even tracked down and interviewed all the living witnesses he could find. And, despite a rather--to my mind at least--unsatisfying conclusion, where Mr. Jacobs seems content to take the word of one informant without any proof or facts to back up his assertions, "Oblivion" is a riveting tale from start to finish.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Condition by Jennifer Haigh

I discovered this novel right after watching an episode of Law & Order SVU about a young woman afflicted with Turner’s Syndrome, a disease that basically traps an adult woman in a little girl’s body.

I was really intrigued by the plot of this novel, about how a family copes with their daughter’s illness and what happens when she falls in love. But this is one of those times when I think the author tried to do too much. By making it about the whole dysfunctional family and all their problems—scientist father’s obsession with work and his libido; frigid perfectionist mother and her secret attraction to the handyman; secretly gay but successful cardiologist eldest son; ne’er-do-well discontented, pot-smoking youngest son; and Turner’s afflicted only daughter—the book got bogged down and the most interesting part overshadowed and often pushed to the back burner with several chapters often going by while all the rest of this unfurls like a dropped roll of paper towels. For me, this book just plodded along, and I was able to put it down for long stretches of time, which I usually can’t bear to do; that’s why I have trouble reading while I am writing my own books. I am in no way implying that Ms. Haigh’s portrait of the fictional McKotch family is unrealistic, the problems and secrets are often many, complex, and multi-layered, and I thought she did a fine job depicting this particular dysfunctional family. I just think it would have made a much better and stronger book if the spotlight had been kept aimed on Gwen, who at thirty-four falls in love with Rico, a dive manager during her Caribbean vacation, leading her family to wonder and worry if he is sincere. Is this charming man, the kind who makes a living preying on female tourists, does he see dollar signs when he looks at short, flat-chested Gwen, or could it be that he truly does love Gwen? And when the family puts him to the test will he pass or fail it? I won’t spoil it for anyone who is tempted to find out. And, despite my quibbles with this one, I would gladly give another book by Ms. Haigh a chance; in fact, I have her other two in one or more of my "To Read" stacks, one is about life in a coal mining town in the 1940s and 50s and the other about the women a human chameleon loves and leaves behind him, so I’m definitely intrigued.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro

This is another one of those intriguing mementos of the past affects the present stories. In this one Cate Albion, is an artist who hasn’t quite managed to find her niche, she has only succeeded at, much to her shame, becoming the now discarded mistress of a powerful man. She leaves New York behind and travels to London to work at her aunt’s auction house.

While helping inventory the contents of a once grand estate, Endsleigh House, home of the late Lady Avondale, better known by her maiden name Irene Blythe, one of the beautiful Blythe sisters, Cate finds an old shoebox. The contents include a pair of 1930s vintage silver high-heels with rhinestone clasps, a Tiffany emerald, pearl, and diamond bracelet, and the photo of a handsome, young, dark-haired sailor. Fascinated, Cate becomes determined to unravel the story behind these artifacts of days gone by.

She soon discovers that they are all connected with Diana “Baby” Blythe, Lady Avondale’s bright, beautiful sister, as bubbly and effervescent as champagne, and a true wild child, a madcap blonde who seemed to burst right out of a 1930s screwball comedy a la Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey straight into real life. Baby vanished without a trace during World War II.

As Cate’s detective work continues, she finds herself becoming attracted to her aunt’s business partner, Jack Coates, an attraction that may be mutual, but each perpetually puts the wrong foot forward and, haunted by their past failures and disappointments, shies away from intimacy.

The story is interspersed with Baby Blythe’s vivacious, gossipy letters until the mystery is ultimately unraveled in time for the implied happy ending.

This is a fun, breezy little book with some dark shadows hanging over it. I read this book after a relationship ended and Cate’s feelings--“She would never truly matter to anyone. She was disposable and always had been.”--really struck a chord with me. But for anyone who loves the old movies full of glamorous fashions and comfortingly predictable plots where everything always works out all right by the time “The End” appears upon the screen and the lovers always live happily ever after, this may be just the book for you.