Wednesday, August 31, 2011


I just read an unpublished book for a friend, Cassandra Mae Cook, called FATE. She is in the process of getting it read to be published, and she asked if I would read it for her. I will keep vague about the details so as not to give anything away that is important to the plot. If you would like to find out more, you can visit her blog at

In the city of Chyann, there rules a King and Queen that love each other very much. They have 2 beautiful daughters, Claire and Emmaline. Emma is more carefree and happy about life, and befriends a mute gardener named Rupert. He works on the palace grounds with his father and they enjoy spending time together. Soon she is to sequestered so she can earn her degree to learn about ruling a kingdom. Part of the purpose of being shut away, is so that she can concentrate and also be kept safe. She is not able to see Rupert during this time and years pass by.

An unfortunate accident befalls the kingdom, and soon Emmaline and Claire are left with the pieces and the will to the kingdom. The book gets exciting and has a lot of twists and turns that leave you excited to read more. The characters are like able and exciting; it is like a romantic fairytale but with a darker edge to it. I thought it read sort of like a Twilight/Tangled or Cinderella kind of story. The target audience is teenagers, but it sure will appeal to a wider audience. I liked the book because it kept you going, it smoothed flowly, and it had much to reveal as time went on. There are characters you will root for, and others you will wish away. It is exciting, thrilling and scenic. I am honored I got to read the book before it was published, and I wish Cassie much luck with her on it and her upcoming books as well. If I hear more about the status of the book FATE, I will post here in my blog so others can read it as well.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Borgia Betrayal

The Borgia Betrayal is the sequel to Poison. Although in a series the books don't have to be read in order and can be stand alone. I prefer to keep in order so as not to get confused, although I don't always do that. Once again we follow Francesca, Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI's poisoner. He has now been pope almost a year and has already had 3 major attempts on his life. Francesca is busy keeping him alive, and his children and mistress. She inspects all foods or drinks that come into the palace, as well as gifts because poisons can also be made on contact. In the first book, Francesca was after revenge for her father's death. Morozzi has been spotted and is once again somewhere in Rome. She uses the resources of her Jew friends to help find him, as well as some of her Lux friends. Lux is a secret group that meets together to learn and spread learning; which is against the Holy Mother Church's rules. They want their followers to be kept in the dark and not to question things.

As they try to find Morozzi, Francesca comes in contact with a leader in the underground tunnels that has many children as his followers, Alfonso the First. He is the king of smugglers, using children he were thief's or still are to help him. He agrees to try and help her find Morozzi, because he is probably using underground tunnels to make his way through the city unnoticed. During this time, Il Papa, Pope Borgia, is trying to work with their Spanish Majesties as well as trying to work with Naples and the Portuguese. Christopher Columbus had come back saying he had discovered a new world, and the Pope was busy deciding who got what. Many did not believe he had made it so far alive, but he brought back proof as well as a crew full of new diseases. Lucrezia, Francesca's friend and also Borgia's daughter, was betrothed to marry a Sforza. The Pope needed their support, they were a big part of the reason he even became Pope.

Times were busy as usual, and one night while returning to her apartments, Francesca heard her landlady being attacked. Portia was calling out in danger, and without any thought, Francesca went in there and killed the attacker with a knife she kept on her person. Part of her job was to dispatch those that were trying to kill the Pope; she did not like to admit it to anyone, but she liked the kill. Perhaps because she was a poisoner she had to think about death on a daily basis, but she didn't like the dark side that it brought to her. Many in the city who knew her feared her, and called her strega which means witch. For a woman to hold a position such as she, and to be known to kill, many feared her and wanted her dead. Francesca is a deeply complex character, because she wants to do what is right but is required to kill people sometimes. Usually they are bad people, but not always. She also desires a normal life being married with children, but then other times thrives on her wealth and independent and single status.

In the first book she had started an affair with Cesare, the Pope's eldest son. They still meet when possible, and he soon starts living with her when in Rome on duties. After the attempt on Portia's life, Francesca is more careful and believes she needs to find Morozzi soon. Word is soon arrived that Della Rovere, the Pope's rival, is preparing to enter France and start a war against him. Since Morozzi is around again, Francesca tells Rocco her glass maker friend to take his son Nando into hiding where he will be kept safe. An attempt had been made on is boy's life in the first book. While trying to keep him alive, as well as his family and herself, a murder happens in the streets. A girl is burned at a stake; she is one of Alfonso the First's girlfriends. Morozzi probably killed her to send a message to Francesca, that he could do anything anytime he wanted. Since the wedding is little than a month away, her time is running out once again.

The Pope wants her to find a way to kill della Rovere, his rival, while also trying to find Morozzi and killing him, not to mention her other duties. One day she sees Morozzi out in the open just smiling at her, then he disappears. They find out he is using a nearby church to get in and out of the tunnels. She sets up a trap for him, to flush him out and is waiting for him with her knife that also has poison on it. He comes with an ally, and Francesca is able to kill him but Morozzi gets away once again. The Pope is becoming frustrated with her, and demands she use help next time to kill him. She wants to kill him herself because he killed her father. Plus she worries that if he senses others nearby, she won't ever get the chance to kill him. Cesare and Juan, his brother, are fighting and they discover that Juan is possibly hiding Morozzi in his home. It has secret hidden rooms, and they try to find him.

Lux is not able to meet because of an attack on the group; for fear of discovery they keep in hiding because they know what they believe is heretical. Rocco is also part of the group, the glass maker. As the wedding approaches, Francesca visits Lucrezia often to help calm her nerves. She is taking a bath one day, and Francesca notices her box of soaps doesn't have her seal of approval on them. She decides to have a servant try one of them, and she ends up getting bad burns and marks all over her hands. They had been poisoned somehow, probably to mark Lucrezia with scars so people would say it was God who had deemed Borgia and his family cursed. There were people out there wishing to bring him down; they used obscene graffiti and rumors to spread lies that he was a terrible person. Although not entirely a Saint, he was not guilty of the things they said.

The guards are on great patrol around the city, because things in the city seem tense. Francesca devises a plan with her Jew friends, and soon it is under way. She takes a potion that makes her seem dead; cold, no heartbeat or breath. Although unsure it will work, she believes if Morozzi thinks she is dead, he will soon make his move and they can catch him. While the city, not all of it, mourns her death, Morozzi is on the move again. Alfonso and his gang burns down a church, believing the followers of Morozzi are in there. When Francesca comes to, those who believed her to be dead are very angry with her, but happy she is alive. Suddenly the clue comes into place for her as she studies the burnt down church, and she rushes to the church where the betrothal of Sforza and Lucrezia is taking place. She finds gunpowder up in the rafters, and moments away from burning and exploding the building. It would have killed the Borgia family and many nobles and churchmen also. Morozzi's hand was behind it, but once again nowhere to be found.

I like these books because they are compelling, fast moving and exciting. Francesca is a complex character and very interesting to unravel her layers. She believes herself to be dark and evil, but actually does a lot of good and risks her life several times in the process. She has many friends and contacts in her high position, and much wealth. I wonder if she'll eventually leave Borgia's service to settle down. You can tell Cesare loves her, the son of the Pope, but so does the glass maker Rocco. I'm sure there is another coming in the series and I'm excited to read it as well. There are some scenes of violence or torture, brief though, and some sexual scenes that you can just skip over easily enough.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I finished this book while on vacation in California, and I loved it! Sara Poole did such a fantastic job with this book I am so glad I discovered it. Sometimes I find books or authors by reading the reviews on the books I read, or sometimes they will suggest authors at the end of the book to read. But once in a while, I'll just peruse the books at the library and I found this little gem. It is set in the summer of 1492 in Rome, and it follows Francesca Giordano as she works for Rodrigo Borgia, head of the most notorious and dangerous family in Italy. Francesca's father was killed while employed by Rodrigo as his poisoner. The mystery following his death leads Francesca to seek employment to try and avenge her father's death.

While at Court, she uses her wiles and smarts to take her father's place as Rodrigo Borgia's poisoner. People employed them to keep them safe from being assassinated or killed, and their families as well. So Francesca's job was to make sure the households were safe from poisons in all their different forms; she inspected the foods, drinks and such that entered the houses. Her job was busy and also dangerous, because she also tasted the food herself before allowing her employers to eat. She also used her scientific smarts to develop poisons of her own. While working for Rodrigo, she soon is entangled in a plot to kill Pope Innocent. He is about to sign an edict that would have all of the Jews in Rome killed, and Rodrigo among others wants to stop him. In order to do so, they need to kill him before it is too late. It is up to Francesca to do the job, even though her conscience is bugging her not to.

As she battles within herself, she does what she must and is almost killed herself. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain had driven the Jews out of Spain with nothing on their backs, and they came to Italy to find a home. They were packed in such close confines and poor conditions, that many died and many diseases and sicknesses were spread. Francesca often visited that part of the city, to try and discover a disease of the blood that could also kill Pope Innocent, and in so doing, making his death look natural. The main part of being a poisoner, was to make the death look natural so as not to look guilty in the crime. If Pope Innocent were to die of unnatural causes, Rodrigo Borgia would naturally be found guilty, because he was a fierce competitor for the next Pope opening.

The book is exciting and intense as it follows Francesca and her friends, some Jews, as they help her to accomplish her dangerous mission. In her line of work, she is oftentimes ordered to kill even when she doesn't want to. She finds the man responsible for her father's murder, a crazed priest that looks like an angel, named Morozzi. The book follows her through the Vatican, and even into the Jewish ghetto and the palaces and churches of Rome. It almost reads like another Da Vinci Code, but even better. I liked her character because she had morals, and despite the things she had to do for her job, she tried to be the best she could be, and tried to save the thousands of lives of Jews. I find the scenery of Rome and Italy beautiful and interesting. Eventually, Francesca is able to succeed in her desires, and Rodrigo Borgia is made the next pope. I was intrigued by this book for many reasons; a woman holdling such a lucrative job, that of a poisoner, and also by the times. The Borgia's are a highly controversial subject still today, known for their lust, power and even danger. It was interesting to be able to read more about the family through the perspectives of an employee who was also a friend.

Another interesting aspect of the book, was to see how corrupt a lot of priests and church men were. I'm not doubting that there were truly some obedient and faithful men, but there were many that were corrupt, using money and power to get their means. Rodrigo Borgia was one such person; he had many mistresses and illegitimate children, he had people killed to get what he wanted, he used money to buy people and their support, etc. The one thing I liked about him was that he was such a hard worker, that he kept his family private and didn't use them for his means, and he also tried to keep the Jews safe. At the end of the book, Francesca is still not able to kill her father's killer, he is still on the loose. I am excited and anxious to read the next book in the series, Serpent. I highly recommend this book because it is so interesting and a real page turner. Very brief sexual scenes, tasteful and brief, no swearing, but some violence and torture.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Queen's Rival

Diane Haeger wrote The Queen's Rival, it is in the court of King Henry VIII (my favorite court of course) and it follows Bess Blount from a young girl as she enter Court life. Her mother, Catherine Blount, served at Court to the Queen Katherine. The children grew up in Kinlet in the country, and often viewed the court as a romantic place. Their father served there as well, and came home one day very sick. While he was recovering, Bess's mother decided to quit court for a time to stay with her husband. They decided that Bess should go in her mother's place, with the permission of a cousin at court. Bess grew up reading the tales of Lancelot and courtly love, and was still very much naive to the ways of the world.

Bess made two friends immediately at court; Elizabeth Bryan and Gilbert Talbois. Through them, she felt more comfortable and started to enjoy her time at court. The other ladies in waiting treated her with disdain, because she was a simply country girl that came to court with ties to kin there. It was not uncommon to promote one's own family at court, but since she was not of noble birth they treated her such. The Queen Katherine was very devout and prayed many times a day. She was not as beautiful as Bess had thought a queen would be; praying for a male heir or living child had put its strain on the poor Queen. She had yet to produce a living child after many pregnancies. When Bess met the King Henry, she was in love immediately. He was glorious and handsome, exactly as she imagined a King to be. As she watched him, she could tell he was not in love with the Queen as she had supposed.

As she served at Court for a time, she started to hear rumors that the King took mistresses like Jane Poppincourt and her own friend Elizabeth Bryan. She didn't believe it to be true, because the King seemed so chivalrous and wonderful to her. Gilbert Talbois, her friend, was a ward of Cardinal Wolsey, the King's cleric and key adviser. He scared Bess at first because he seemed to look at her closely, but he was the King's chief adviser after all and was probably only interested in those new to court. Bess enjoyed the hunting, dances, pageants and masques. The King noticed her one day at a picnic, and she tried to be witty back but found no quick reply. Gil continued to flirt with her, but Bess never noticed. She was in love with the King, as was almost every woman there.

Her parents came back to Court as her father was well again. Bess was not called on as much to serve the queen, because Katherine had noticed how the King preferred her company now. He asked Bess to sing duets with him and to dance with him. He sent her gifts which she could not refuse. Gil and Elizabeth knew what was coming, but Bess was still innocent enough she knew not. Elizabeth was married to Nicholas Carew, quite hastily, because the King had tired of her. Bess did not find out for some time that Elizabeth, her friend, had been the King's lover. She felt lied to and betrayed, because they hid these things from her. Gil was trying to protect her, and let her find out on her own. The King's favorite sister Mary was sent off to be married to the aging king of France. Bess could see how Charles Brandon, the King's best friend, loved her. Bess still held the romances of Lancelot and Guinevere to heart.

When she found the King alone and sad one day, she found herself wanting to comfort him. So their liaison began, and she was never to be the same again. After that first night, the King left Court for about 8 months because the plague was in town. Bess stayed behind to care for her friend, Gil, who had gotten sick. Bess was sad that the King had not said goodbye to her, but knew he was deathly afraid of any illness. Upon the King's return to court, they continued their affair. Soon they both fell in love, and Bess became known as his mistress. When she discovered she was pregnant, the King had her sent to a manor in the country to await her lying in. When it was announced she had a healthy baby boy, he didn't dare see him. His long awaited hopes and dreams had finally happened, but it was still a bastard. Queen Katherine kept him from seeing the babe, and soon Bess was written off basically. Gil came and proposed to her, because he had loved her the entire time.

They lived a happy life for about a year, when suddenly the King sent for her son, Harry. He wanted to present him at Court and made him the Duke of Richmond. Bess was expecting her second child, so she took comfort in that fact and that her little boy would soon be with her again. After a month, she received word that he was to be raised at court with his own household. She wept and grieved him, but knew she could do nothing. Gil and Bess made a life of their own, and had 2 sons and a daughter. Gil passed away of consumption not long after, and Bess was soon a widow. The King and her son, now 10, came to visit her and offer their condolences. The king had been busy during this time, and had courted a Mary Boleyn, who had 2 children that were never recognized by the King. He now had his sights on her sister, Anne Boleyn, who was trying to overthrow the Queen. The King invited Bess back to court, but she was happy in the country with her children.

Bess heard of affairs of court often, as the King often sent her invitations and presents. She heard of the marriage of Anne Boleyn to the King, and how the queen was sent away in poverty. They had a daughter Mary that the King hardly paid attention to. Anne and the King had a daughter Elizabeth, but not the desired male heir. As time went on, Bess came to court for Christmastide, and the King was now remarried to Jane Seymour who was pregnant with their child. Anne Boleyn had been beheaded for treason and adultery. The King seemed happy again, and so was Bess. She had married Edward, Lord Clinton, her neighbor. He was younger than her and very handsome. They had 2 daughters together. Her eldest son Harry, was married to Mary Howard. Not long after, he suddenly died. It was quite mysterious and somewhat suspicious. Many thought the Seymour's had killed him, so as to pave the way for their sister Jane's child, should it be a son. The King had continually bestowed favors and titles on his bastard son, and they feared he would be made King next.

Bess met with the King one final time, to ask that their son be buried in private at a family burial plot. She wanted him to die as a son of hers again, with no more responsibility of royalty. He had given his life to the throne, and she had sacrificed him so that he could be at court for his duties. Now that was all gone, and she wanted him to herself again. Bess died at the age of 38 of consumption, after having 3 daughters with Lord Clinton. He went on to live another 45 years and served as Lord High Admiral of England. No one can say for certain how Bess's son, the Duke of Richmond died, although many believed it was murder so that he wouldn't be put in the Act of Successsion. I liked this book because it showed me a side to Bess Blount I didn't know. I knew of her because she had the king's son, but I didn't know the rest of her story. It seems the King did love her, but was so bewitched by Anne Boleyn that he overthrew the country's religion and his conscience for her. I always love to learn of new characters in the Tudor period. I am glad Bess married Gil Talbois, because he was so much in love with her.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Madame Tussaud

Michelle Moran brings yet another fabulous and fantastically researched book, Madame Tussaud. I had heard of her before I read the book, but all I knew was that she liked to sculpt or wax faces. It starts in 1788, Paris, when the revolution is about to begin. Marie is the main character, and she lives in a large house with her mother and her uncle Curtius (who is actually like her father because he is living with her mother). He taught her everything she needed to know about sculpting and wax. They owned the Salon de Cire together, which was held in their home. She sculpted most the faces, and Curtius did the bodies. Sometimes they took live measurements with calipers from the people, or Marie would sculpt them just based off a sketch, or her memory. They worked hard to make the Salon popular, and to get it published in the tourism brochure.

They met once a week with many of their friends at night, including Robespierre, Camille and his fiance Lucille, and Marat. Their neighbors were Jacques and Henri, scientists that worked on hot air balloons among other things. Henri was in love with Marie, even though it took her quite some time to notice it. Theirs was a good life, especially when through a contact, they get the King and Queen to visit the Salon. Rose Bertin, the owner of Le Grand Mogul, a high end clothes shop, was the one who helped invite their royal guests. Rose was the Queen's tailor and stylist, and had many connections. Rose and Marie formed a tenuous, if not professional relationship. When the royal family had visited their Salon, soon business spread like crazy for some time. They had to keep their tableau's updated with the times, and they often found new people to sculpt. Madame du Barry, the former king's mistress, had her own room. They had a room also just dedicated to criminals, killers and rapists. Marie often had the unpleasant task of meeting these people just so she could sculpt their likeness. The people liked to see it, even though it scared them. The Salon de Cire provided the people with the latest in fashion, gossip and politics. Marie Tussaud even sculpted Thomas Jefferson, among other important people.

This book was written about over a 5 year span of time, and it didn't take long for the revolution to start. People were starving and going hungry, while the royal family had plenty of bread and wore jewels and silk. When the King and Queen tried to economize and dress less fancy, they were still criticized. The poor made up about 90% or so of the population, and they were highly discontent. Camille and Jean-Paul Marat both wrote papers igniting the people to action and anger. The King calls for an assembly of the Estates-General, where each class has a representative and vote. This hasn't been done in quite some done, and the hope is to spread out the taxes among everyone and not just the poor people. The classes were clergy, nobility and then the general populace; who made up most of the vote. The deputies of the Third Estate feared they would be overruled by the other two, so they formed the National Assembly, a new way of representation not based on social class.

Curtius, Marie's uncle, was soon called to serve in this National Assembly, and he accepted for the good and safety of the family. During this time, they had to take down their royal family tableau, so as not to anger the people. They were constantly changing and updating their Salon as the times changed, trying to be politically correct but also safe. Marie was sent to serve four days a week at Princess Elizabeth's home, the King's sister. She was to teach her to wax and sculpt as well, as was paid well. This was a hard time for their family, because Marie had to keep one foot in the royal family's door, and another in the National Assembly's door. The family tried to appear to be a revolutionist, while also being a royalist. The 3 brothers all served in the Swiss Guard, serving the King. They just hoped that by Curtius serving in the National Assembly, and by being friends with the top supporters, that they would be kept safe.

Lafayette is the leader of the National Assembly, but soon is no longer able to control them. He works with Thomas Jefferson on trying to write a Declaration, sort of like America had. But France had been ruled by a King for so long, that the change could not be made. Hundreds of discontents storm the Bastille, kill the main guard, and let the prisoners loose. Soon more killings are spread, to people that even breath a word of support towards the royal family. It is a time of discontent, uncertainty and fear. There is no bread to be found or bought, food is becoming scarce and expensive, while the royal family lives as usual. Marie comes to know how sweet the Princess Elizabeth is, and also how the royal couple really do try to please the people. It seems no matter what they do, they are blamed for the wrongs of the country. Even when the Dauphin dies, the people don't even care. Marie and Henri fall in love during this time, but agree not to marry until things become simpler, or the Salon can live without her help.

Events are numerous and swift, so I won't be able to relate them all. But eventually the royal family is forced to move and kept under close guard. The churches are burned or destroyed, and many nuns or popes and priests are either forced to marry or die. The poorhouses suffer, because no one is paying tithes to the church anymore. More deaths follow, more papers circulate, the Salon de Cire continues to change their displays, and Marie continues to balance her relationship with both the royalty and show the appearance of having a patriotic spirit. Soon those not wearing a red, white and blue pin are supposed to be against the revolution, and they are killed. The royal family makes an attempt at escape, but due to many errors of judgement, they don't make it. The King has left quite an incriminating letter behind, and he is immediately put to trial. A device known as the Guillotine is made, and he is the first to be killed by it. Soon the mobs bring Marie the heads of those they have killed, and she is forced to wax them so they can parade the heads around.

After the royal family attempts to escape, the government makes more changes. There is a new calendar, with different names for the months and a new way of counting the years. The practice of any religion was abolished; also the Girondists, the Paris Commune, and the Jacobin Club come to life. The family tries to appear loyal and patriotic during this time, while everyone is going around calling each other Citizen and Citizeness Since their friends are some of the biggest revolutionaries, they need to be even more careful. There is a big mob that attacks on the building where the royal family is kept, and almost all the Swiss Guard dies. When Marie hears of this, she takes a cart to find her brothers to bury them. She finds one's body, but Edmund is still missing. Her brother Wolfgang and his wife and child, decide to board a ship for England along with his wife's father. Henri is going as well, and asks Marie to go with. She refuses and says the Salon still needs her, and she can't leave her parents alone, especially her mother. He leaves and her heart starts to break.

As Marie continues to work on the figures in the Salon, the mob still brings her decapitated heads to sculpt. The Queen is soon imprisoned and put on trial, and found guilty. She soon meets her end with the Guillotine. By this point, anywhere from 5 to 14 are being put to death a day, including women and children. If they do or say anything wrong, or keep material in their homes, they are put to death. As neighbors and people they know die, Marie starts to weaken, but it is too late to leave for London, the ports are closed off. When Marie hears that Camille was murdered, and then his wife as well, she starts to fear for their family. They have kept safe this far, but if their own friends can imprison them, they have no hope. Marie eventually refuses to sculpt anymore dead faces, especially those of her beloved friend Lucille and the Princess Elizabeth, Robespierre, her old friend, comes and puts her and her mother in prison. Each day names are read aloud of those that will be killed that day, and the rest celebrate to live one more day.

Madame du Barry is brought to death, for who knows what reason, and she is the first to struggle and fight. After this, they people start grumbling that it's enough, time to stop. Robespierre is murdered, and soon afterward The Terror is ended. In their fanaticism to spread liberty and equality, the revolutionaries created a tyranny, killing many of their own. Napoleon Bonaparte comes to power after this terrible time. Marie meets Francois Tussaud in prison, and they marry when released. They have a stillborn daughter, and two sons. When they are older, she takes the eldest with her and sails for England. Henri is there still waiting for her after all that time, and they start their own Salon together, combining their talents, and become quite successful. Until her death at an old age, Marie's husband hounds her constantly for money. She was a smart woman though, she made a pre nup before they were married.

Her sons Joseph and Francis continued her work after her death, and today her museums have spread to Berlin, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. Rose Bertin, the dead queen's stylist, went to London as well and continued a successful career of dressing the wealthy women. Marie-Therese was the only member of the immediate royal family to survive, and she died in Austria at the age of 72. After the Reign of Terror, the dauphin Louis-Charles died in prison from some illness at age 10. The royal family was now gone. Marie's mother Anna dedicated her life to raising Marie's youngest son, Francis, and watching over the Salon de Cire. When she died, Francis then joined his mother in England. Curtius died not long after Robespierre's fall, being exhausted and ill from his journeys and hard work reporting on the patriotism of various revolutionary generals and such.

This is not a book for the faint hearted; it is gruesome at times, quite detailed and horrific. I read the book because I love Michelle Moran as an author, and because I was interested in Madame Tussaud's life. There is much rich history in here, vivid, detailed and highly researched. I recommend it if you are interested in this time period, and I warn you, it is highly addictive.