Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Friday, October 28, 2011

Guest Author Sarah Richmond Takes Your On a Tour of Placerville

Author Sarah Richmond and her husband take a self-guided tour in a gold mine.
More information can be found at www. goldbugpark.org
I'd like to welcome to History Undressed my good friend and crit partner, Sarah Richmond! Sarah writes sweet historical romance, set in the West. Her book DULCIE CROWDER GETS HER MAN, comes out with Avalon in December of this year. Take it away Sarah!

Okay. You weren’t expecting a blog on setting. For historical writers especially, setting is most definitely one of your characters. How better to undress a setting but with details?

Placerville, CA, one of the communities
 that sprung up because of the gold rush.
While researching for those important details for “Dulcie Crowder”, I found myself in Placerville, CA in El Dorado County, where gold was discovered in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill near Coloma. Placerville used to be called Hangtown because of a white oak tree in the center of town where justice was carried out. (The stump of the hanging tree remains-- taking pride of place in a bar on Main Street).

A replica of a nineteenth century Mercantile can
be found at the County Museum. Notice the
hand bill for Mark Twain. Candy jars.
Their web site is www.co.el-dorado.ca.us
The Historical Society (524 Main Street) is housed in the Fountain & Tallman Soda Works, yes, a soda factory. The Museum is one of the few buildings to survive the fire of 1854. The docents there are knowledgeable and eager to answer any questions. They will teach you how soda water was made.

On display are a number of photographs of local personalities.  I was surprised at how small the people were in the nineteenth century. The woman’s shoes and dresses on display look like they would fit today’s sixth grader.

Placerville reconstructed after the 1856 fire.
Notice the bell tower to call their volunteer
fire department.
The Placerville Historical Museum is another treasure trove of information. The county museum is next to the El Dorado Fairgrounds where I went to visit the gun show. I found an antique dealer who showed me an old Sharps Rifle and how to fire it. The rifle has two triggers: a set trigger and one to fire. My hero had to have one. He sends for a Sharps from back East and has to show off to the heroine how the new rifle works.

A wagon built by John Studebaker.
He also made wheelbarrows.
The museum also houses steam engines.
The Museum has a number of displays depicting scenes from the gold rush era including a General Store. The miners paid for their merchandise with gold dust. Sometimes the dust fell through the cracks in the floorboards making the ground underneath the store a good place to mine for gold. John Studebaker, famous as a manufacturer of automobiles, became wealthy making wagons and wheelbarrows during the gold rush.

The website for the Placerville Historical Museum is
and islocated at 524 Main Street, Placerville.
Gold Bug Park was another stop. There’s a small museum and visitors can explore a gold mine on a tour or self-guided tour. The mine was wet and cold. Imagine being down in the mine with a lantern and pick ax and hearing that bell being rung signaling a dynamite blast. How chilling to wonder if the timbers would hold the tons of earth overhead and to fear the way out might be blocked by a cave in.

I made a quick trip to the nearby Joshua Handy Stamp Mill where the sound of the ore crusher could be heard day and night. Can you imagine the noise? That was later, after 1860 when placer mining became less productive. Maybe the next book?

These are some of the tidbits I learned while in Placerville. I hope you enjoyed the trip. You can read more about Dulcie Crowder at SarahRichmond.com

Sarah Richmond

Avalon Books
December, 2011
Sarah Richmond.com

After her father’s death, Dulcie Crowder leaves their El Dorado claim and travels to Hangtown. Her aim is matrimony and she sets her hat for the handsome deputy, Tom Walker. When Tom balks, she knows why. He wants a woman he can be proud to walk beside, so Dulcie tries hard to transform herself into a lady.
Tom has vowed to bring law and order to the hardscrabble gold rush town and knows Hangtown is no place for a wife and family. As Dulcie tries to turn his head and win his heart, he notices. So do the hoards of other lonely men in their community.
Dulcie finds out her father was hung for murder and Tom is the one who put the noose around his neck. She has to dig deep for forgiveness and wonders if the citizens of Hangtown will ever accept her as one of them. The Vigilance Society is ready to run her and other strangers out of town. There’s an election coming up and the head of the Society is standing for Sheriff.

When Dulcie discovers corruption in the judiciary during the trial of a friend, she naturally turns to Tom. The deputy looks for evidence but Dulcie has other ideas on how to catch a varmint. As they both work for justice, will she jeopardize her chances of getting her man?

Historical Romance Review: My Wild Highlander by Vonda Sinclair

Boy was I excited to get the .pdf of MY WILD HIGHLANDER loaded up after having thorougly enjoyed the first book in Vonda Sincair's series, MY FIERCE HIGHLANDER. I am a series girl, through and through. I love to catch glimpes of characters from stories past, and I love to hear stories of characters introduced in other tales. That being said, author's often have a hard time topping the first in a series. Not so with Ms. Sinclair's second book. I truly enjoyed MY WILD HIGHLANDER, a highly sensual, action packed, tale of love and how people can change for the better.


Lady Angelique Drummagan, a half-Scottish, half-French countess, has suffered much pain and betrayal in her past. She wants nothing to do with the sensual Scottish warrior that the king has ordered her to marry because the rogue could never be a faithful husband, but she has little choice in the matter. Dangerous, greedy enemies threaten her from all sides and she’s in dire need of his protection.

Sir Lachlan MacGrath, known as Seducer of the Highlands, possesses a charming wickedness and canny wit which has earned him much popularity. After the king decrees that he wed the fiery hellion, Lachlan discovers there is one woman who can resist him—Angelique. Can he break through her icy façade and melt her heart, or will the dark secrets lurking in her past not only cost them their future together, but their very lives?

Available now in ebook.


MY WILD HIGHLANDER opens with a great, scintillating, somewhat humorous scene--and the drama doesn't end there. Ms. Sinclair did a fantastic job keeping the reader hooked in the story.

Once again her attention to detail, historical flavor, and character development were on top! I fell in love with the roguish Lachlan--a Highlander after my own heart. He is funny, sensual, good in bed, loyal, but he's also troubled and dealing with a lot of internal conflict which I enjoyed watching him work through, and come out on top.

Angelique is also dealing with some wicked demons from her past who constantly come back to taunt and torment her. Through her relationship with a man she grows to trust and love (albeit it is a painful struggle!) she is able to sort through the hurts of her past, and becomes a better person for it.

There is a lot of action in this story. Battles, secrets, traitors, friendship, dark pasts, villains, and on top of that, highly sensual, playful, unique love scenes. Ms. Sinclair did a top notch job getting into her characters' heads and portraying them on paper for the reader to truly experience their tale.

Kudos to Ms. Sinclair for penning another great book! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview with Janet Mullany

Today on History Undressed we have a special guest, Janet Mullany! Not only is Janet a fabulous author, but  she has a wicked sense of humor. Leave a comment for a chance to be entered in Janet's giveaway--a copy of her new release, JANE AUSTEN: BLOOD PERSUASIAN!

Welcome back to History Undressed Janet!  Can you tell readers more about your upcoming release, BLOOD PERSUASIAN?

Hi Eliza, thanks for having me back! JABP is my second book about Jane Austen as a (temporary) vampire, the first being JANE AND THE DAMNED (HarperCollins 2010). This one is set in 1810 in Chawton, the village where Austen did the majority of her writing, revising P&P, S&S, and Northanger Abbey, and writing Persuasion, Emma, and Mansfield Park. She believes her time as one of the Damned, the sexy vampires of Georgian England, is over, but then new neighbors move in, and they include her Creator William, with whom she shares a troubled, deep bond (but not a romantic one) and her former Bearleader and Consort, Luke, who is still holding a grudge. Their proximity threatens the return of her vampire characteristics, and she finds herself involved in a vampire civil war and family members misbehaving with the Damned, which upsets her writing schedule no end.

Polite society was so...well, uptight!  I bet you had a lot of fun playing on their delicate sensibilities. In what ways do the Damned trample upon etiquette and acceptable manners?

The way I structured the Damned was to have them as a separate group within society—they’re “out,” in other words, although they can conceal their identity. In this book they’ve lost the patronage of the Prince of Wales (who became the Prince Regent) and they’re trying, rather unsuccessfully, to adapt to country life. Their main interest even in reduced circumstances remains unchanged--inviting people to dine, which is their term for feeding. The Damned themselves are pretty uptight in their own way, obsessed with manners and protocol as a mirror image of society, and I had a lot of fun coming up with terms that seemed historically correct—like “dining” for feeding, “en sanglant” for experiencing exposed fangs. Of course for Jane the major conflict is that the Damned are, literally, damned—they’re immortal but not indestructible and are destined for hell. What’s a vicar’s daughter to do?

What is she to do indeed? So tell us, what sort of research did you do for this book?  Does you use of the word "persuasion" in the title have anything to do with Jane Austen's book Persuasion? If so, how?  

I did a lot of research on reading Austen’s letters, visiting Chawton last year, and also Chawton Great House, which was owned by Jane’s brother Edward, the adopted heir of a local landowning family. He was the one who provided Jane, her sister and her mother their home in the village. In the book Chawton Great House is rented by the Damned. I think the title was chosen because it’s about a rekindling of a love affair, but mine has a lot more biting in it.

What is your favorite quote from the book?

Here’s Luke trying to seduce Jane. She resists because every time they have physical contact it brings her closer to turning back into a vampire (metamorphosis):

“Ah, you’re so close,” he murmured. “Your skin is like satin, Jane. I’d clothe you in satin, if I clothed you at all. I’d break strands of pearls to see them roll on your skin and warm. You smell like summer fruit, my love, ripe and sweet, and your heart beats so fast. Let me, Jane. I’ll bite here, just a little.” His breath scorched the skin of her arm. “You remember how it felt? That shock, and you can’t decide whether it’s pain or a wonderful violation, and then the tug and the shiver as you lose yourself.” His lips trailed down her arm, following the slide of the kid glove, pausing again at the wrist. “Or here? Yes, here where your pulse is strongest, and all anyone will see is that I kiss your wrist, but you and I, we both know it’s more. A close observer might wonder at the brightness of your eyes, and the way your lips part …”

Are there plans for you to write more Jane Austen books?

No, this is the second and last one. What I intended to do was work some of the known facts about Austen’s life into the books, so the first one was set in 1797 when the family visited Bath, because I wanted to set the book in that city. This one is set around a specific period in Jane’s life, when her niece Anna visited the household for a few weeks in the spring of 1810. I didn’t want Jane to mysteriously fake her death in 1817 and become some sort of vampire socialite. One of the rules I set up in the first book was that she couldn’t write as a vamp and in this book, because the metamorphosis is different, she can write but it’s a very different sort of book, which explains Mansfield Park (originally all about vamps until her brothers made her change it!).

I have another Austen-related release this month, as a contributor to an anthology, JANE AUSTEN MADE ME DO IT, but it’s nothing to do with my books about Austen. I went out on a limb and wrote a story set in 1964 about the Beatles (Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!).

Do you have a question for readers?

Do you like books that have real historical characters in them? Tell us which books you’ve enjoyed.

Janet Mullany was raised in England by half of an amateur string quartet and now lives near Washington, DC. Persecuted from an early age for reading too long in the bathroom, she still loves books and is an avid and eclectic reader. She has worked as an archaeologist, classical music radio announcer, arts administrator, and for a small press. Visit her at www.janetmullany.com

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Keeping it in the (Ptolemaic) Family: When Incest is Best by Stephanie Dray

Welcome back to History Undressed a fabulous author who I admire--Stephanie Dray. If you haven't already read her previous article, Bad Girls of the Ancient World, you will want to!  Today she's hear to talk with us about a very controversial topic, that also happens to take center stage in her new novel, Song of the Nile, which I reviewed earlier this week.

Without further ado... I give you Ms. Dray!

Keeping it in the (Ptolemaic) Family: When Incest is Best
Stephanie Dray

There are a whole slew of fantastically good reasons why incest is illegal and taboo, including the lasting psychological damage it does, and the dysfunctional family dynamics it creates. That said, there’s a good chance that the Ptolemaic Dynasty would have been filled with fratricidal thugs and harpies even if they hadn’t made it a practice to marry their siblings.

I say this because just about every relationship in the ancient world was founded upon some manner of abusive power. While we romanticize the relationship between Cleopatra VII and Julius Caesar, and especially the relationship between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, both of these love affairs were based on mutual political interest--in Cleopatra’s case, a desire to stay alive. While many accused her of seduction, the fact remains when she rolled herself out at the feet of the Roman general, she was more than thirty years his junior, and utterly at his mercy. 

Today, we would rightly question the ethics of these love affairs, but given the way women were treated in the ancient world--and even until recently--her relationships with these men seems positively enlightened. Especially when you contrast them with the sexual relationships she was supposed to have as the Queen of Egypt. 

To wit, she was not only expected to marry her brother, but to have children by him.

So, how did this come to pass? The Ptolemies considered themselves to be the successors to Alexander the Great--that Macedonian King who conquered the known world. Ptolemy was his general, and some said his half-brother. After Alexander the Great died and his empire was broken up, Egypt fell into the hands of Ptolemy and a dynasty was born. 

His daughter, Arsinoe II, would start the tradition of incest. Married off to an old King of Thrace when she was still a teenager, she was the ultimate survivor. Her life was frequently in danger and she made many narrow escapes, including one from the Seleucid Army marching on her kingdom. At some point, Arsinoe seems to have decided that if she wanted to be safe, she couldn’t trust anyone outside her immediate family. So, she returned to Egypt and married her full brother, Ptolemy II. 

Now, the Greeks didn’t have a tradition of incest in their ruling families...but the pharaohs of Egypt did. By marrying her brother, Arsinoe was able to help create a link between the new Ptolemaic dynasty and the very old traditions of the native Egyptians. It served her extremely well as she became the first female pharaoh of the Ptolemaic dynasty, ruling not just as the wife of the king, but as a king in her own right.

After that, the tradition took hold and not simply because all the cool kids were doing it. The Ptolemies discovered that incest served some important political purposes. For one, it kept out the riff-raff. Incestuous marriages virtually ensured that the Macedonian ruling family would never have to dilute its blood with native Egyptians, for whom they seemed to hold some disdain. Moreover, it put the kibosh on social mobility. No ambitious little Macedonian or Egyptian boys would grow up with the dream that they, too, could be pharaoh as long as they worked hard, sucked up, and poisoned the right people. 

The best an ambitious man could hope for was to make his daughter a concubine to the king, which might, if the queen was infertile, allow him to one day become grandfather and vizier to the next king. Consequently, a tradition of Ptolemaic incest kept the threat of being poisoned by outsiders to a minimum.

Another advantage to keeping it in the family was that foreign powers couldn’t get a foothold in Egypt. The usual way by which empires encroached upon one another was by marriage. If I’m the king of the nearby Seleucid empire, for example, it might be a good idea to marry my daughter off to the King of Egypt. Then, when the pharaoh is old and feeble, I could claim the throne in the name of my grandson with my own army to back me. But if Ptolemaic kings only marry their sisters or daughters or nieces, I don’t have a prayer. 

So, the potential for foreign invasion and manipulation was reduced by incest. But what of internal conflicts? Well, when you marry your own sisters you can maintain control over your nephews--all of whom would have a claim to your throne. It’s an easy solution to turn them into sons!

You might assume that the Ptolemaic gene pool would produce a lot of inbred drooling abominations, but aside from a tendency towards weight-gain and buggy eyes, the Ptolemies don’t appear to have suffered any genetic abnormalities. Unless you count the unflinching resolve to murder your siblings as a matter of nature rather than nurture. 

Apparently, familiarity breeds contempt and the Ptolemies became a fratricidal lot. The family infighting was ruthless and deadly; there was no defense against those family dynamics. 

So was it worth it? 

Well, the evidence tells us that it was. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt for almost three hundred years. And if the Battle of Actium had gone the other way, Egyptian culture would have dominated western civilization. 

Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of 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.
Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.
Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.
But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?
Berkley Trade October 2011 (Trade Paperback)
# ISBN-10: 0425243044
# ISBN-13: 9780425243046
Purchase Info

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seven Steps to Folding Your Own Condom by Linda Lee Graham

Today on History Undressed, I am very excited to introduce to you our guest author, Linda Lee Graham. She's written us a truly entertaining, fascinating historical article!! Take notes! Also don't forget to leave a comment for your chance to win an ebook copy of Linda's book, Voices Beckon. Enjoy!

Seven Steps to Folding Your Own Condom

by Linda Lee Graham

Known as redingotes d’Anglaise (English raincoats) by the French, and baudruches (French letters), armour, sheaths, and machines by the English, condoms were a booming trade in eighteenth-century London. No matter the dire warnings from the Church, condemning the condom as immoral, and no matter the occasional prominent physician who blasted it as useless, an ever-growing demand created the potential for profit. Whenever that’s the case, commerce finds a way to thrive.

Although its value as a contraceptive was known, evidence suggests its primary use was as a preventative. The threat of contracting “the great pox” was a very real concern in the 1700s.  At the time, the term was used interchangeably to denote both gonorrhea (the clap) and syphilis, and the adjective “great,” though not always present, distinguished it from chickenpox and smallpox.

There was no effective cure for the pox, so the promise of prevention was enticing. Payment could be high for that one quick indiscretion while out carousing with one’s mates—and if a lad had a friend, a sailor for Pete’s sake,  who’d vowed he’d been using condoms for years with no sign of the dreaded pox—why wouldn’t he be tempted to consider the condom as well?

London entrepreneurs, not a few of them women, sold their wares in taverns, pubs, barbershops, and apothecaries, as well as hawked them streetside and in open-air markets. Startup and operating costs were negligible. Animal intestines were inexpensive and easily obtained from the local butcher, sulfur and lye from the neighborhood apothecary, and silk ribbon from the local haberdasher. The steps were simple:

  • Soak the intestines in water for several hours.
  • Soften the mess by soaking it in a weak lye solution for a day or two, changing the solution every twelve hours.
  • Scrape the mucous membrane off the intestinal material.
  • Soften the remaining matter over the vapor of ‘burning brimstone’ (steam it over hot sulfur).
  • Wash what’s left with lye soap and water.
  • Cut into oblong-shaped pieces and fold up into a sack (about seven inches should do, maybe eight).
  • Punch tiny holes around the top edges and thread the ribbon (pink was especially popular) through those holes.

 Voila! One size fits all.

Casanova's Party Trick
For the truly ambitious, the moist gut in step six might be molded over an oiled glass cast that has been blown into the appropriate shape.

It’s best not to try any of this at home. The fumes from the sulfur and lye can cause debilitating side effects and the effort might result in a condom riddled with holes. (Hence Casanova’s Party Trick in image at right).

Visit the local drugstore instead.

A linen condom was easy to produce as well, provided one was proficient with a needle. But the trade found the gut variety sold better, as the seam on the linen condom proved uncomfortable to customers.

These little devices were expensive, and it was not uncommon for a man to save and reuse his armour. Buying, washing, and reselling used condoms evolved into a lucrative side occupation for those with ready access to a brothel.

Now, why this surge of capitalism didn’t catch on in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, I’m not sure. It certainly wasn’t for lack of need. Immigrants from all over the world flowed into the city through its harbor, making Philadelphia the most ethnically and socially diverse city in the new United States, as well as the city with the closest ties to Europe. Venereal disease was epidemic during the last two decades of the 1700s, and casual sex, children borne outside of wedlock, adultery, and prostitution were commonplace.

Nevertheless, it was one industry in which it appears our American forefathers lagged behind. It may be that individuals made do with their own resources, or that the supply of black market condoms smuggled in by the carrying trade was sufficient to fill the demand. But for whatever reason, evidence suggests condoms were not sold openly on Philadelphia’s Market Street.

That began to change in the mid 1790s. Moreau de St. Méry, an ex-patriot from France, visited Philadelphia in 1793 and decided to stay. He opened a  bookstore on Front and Walnut in 1794 and stocked it with condoms as well as books, thinking to provide for the French colonials. He soon found the small items to be in great demand by the Americans.

St. Méry credits himself that “the use of this medium on the vast American continent dates from this time.” And though happy to supply a need and make a profit, he did deride the American customers’ surreptitious purchase and use. By the time he closed up shop in the late 1790s, Philadelphians could make their discreet purchases in any number of establishments.

The merit of condoms was subject for discussion in one of the scenes of Voices Beckon, and not, heaven forbid, out of any desire to be “politically correct” on my part. I merely thought protection would have been on the mind of any randy young lad with a mind to his future.

Collier, Aine, The Humble Little Condom, A History, (Amherst, New York 2007)

Lyons, Clare, Sex Among the Rabble, An Intimate History of Gender & Power in the Age of Revolution, Philadelphia, 1730-1830 (University of North Carolina Press, NC  2006)

St. Méry , Moreau de,  Moreau de St. Méry's American Journey (1793-1798), translated and edited by Kenneth Roberts and Anne Roberts, (Garden City, NY 1947)

Image of Market Street:  Mather, Horace, Early Philadelphia: Its People, Life & Progress, (Philadelphia, PA  1917)

About the book:
The year is 1783 and passengers are swarming the bustling Bristol quay, anxiously awaiting the call to board.

David Graham, a Scot indentured for the next six years to a Philadelphia printer, waits among them, as does Elisabeth Hale, a young Englishwoman making the passage with her father, and Liam Brock, an orphaned Scot with a dubious past.

Thrown together despite differences of class and religion, these three teens forge an unwavering bond of friendship, love, and loyalty—until Elisabeth is forced to make a choice that threatens to shatter their world.

Voices Beckon spans seven years in the lives of David, Elisabeth, and Liam. Rich in historical detail, this sweeping romance chronicles their coming of age against the vivid backdrop of the developing United States of America.

Voices Beckon is available on Amazon and BarnesandNoble. I’d love for readers to stop by my website and follow me on Twitter.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Historical Novel Review: Song of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

I recently had the pleasure of reading Stephanie Dray's second novel in her Cleopatra's Daughter series, Song of the Nile.

If you'd like to read my review of the first novel, Lily of the Nile, click here.

BOOK INFO: (borrowed from the author's website)

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…
Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.
Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.
But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?
Berkley Trade October 2011 (Trade Paperback)
# ISBN-10: 0425243044
# ISBN-13: 9780425243046

MY REVIEW: (may contain some spoilers, but not really)

I really really really liked the first book in this series and so I was looking forward to seeing what happened next in Selene's life. She was such a strong young woman with so much going for her. Would she find her brother? What would happen between her and the emperor? Livia? Everyone else? Would she ever regain her mother's kingdom?

This book starts out just as riveting as the last book, pulling me in. The author has done a lot of research into her setting, events during the time period, the people, materials, food, clothing, dye, ships, religion, and so much more. When an author does this extent of research and weaves it into the story so well that I feel I am deep within a the period--as if I time-traveled--then they've done a great job! And Ms. Dray certainly did that.

There is a lot of controversy regarding a topic that takes place in this novel--incest. Please keep reading for a full understanding of this. It was not done in a gross or icky way, and if you read the first story, or have some knowledge on Egyptian culture, then you would realize this was not taboo in the time period. Cleopatra--Selene's own mother--married her brother. Many royals have married within the family to keep the crown, money, lands for themselves. I've read conflicting reviews about the relationship between Selene and her brother. I must say that within the context of this book, it did not bother me for a number of reasons.   One: in the first book it is said they are to be married. They've grown up believing they will be married. Two: Selene herself explains that she does not see him as her brother. He is her soul mate, her healer. There is no historical evidence that his relationship actually occurred, but I applaud the author for taking a leap, and for doing it in a tasteful way.

The relationship between Octavia and Selene really puts me through an emotional wringer! I really don't like him--yet I understand him (except for the rape--that I was really tormented over). I am so mad at how he treats her, uses her, I want to jump within the pages and punch him! His wife, Livia, is even worse. I feel so bad for Selene that she has to deal with these people. Now, I must explain why I said I understand him. During that time period, emperor's had to be ruthless to keep their place. They were assassinated by their peers without warning, so I understand why he's the way he is, and Dray did a great job portraying that.

For me, I saw Selene really struggling with becoming an adult. There was so much she had to deal with--a new husband who she despised and also loved at the same time, being raped, having a child, building a country, trying to establish her place in her new kingdom, dealing with negative council members, tribesmen, people altogether, friendships, her relationship with her brother, seeking her mother's kingdom, and oh-so-much more. I can see her becoming depressed, confused, angry, frustrated. It is a struggle that really affects the reader. Sometimes I wanted to shout at her for her decisions and other times I shouted for joy at her triumphs. In the end, Selene came out on top, and I was proud of her.  I eagerly look forward to reading the third book.

Well done, Ms. Dray!

If you enjoy reading books in this era, than I would recommend reading Song of the Nile, but be warned it does contain controversial material, and will affect you emotionally as you read.


Monday, October 17, 2011

My Favorite Royal by Kathleen Bittner Roth

I'd like to welcome back my dear friend, Kathleen Bittner Roth to History Undressed. Some of you may have previously read her article on A Victorian Lady's Toilette.  Today she is hear to tell us all about her favorite royal...

by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Never in my wildest dreams had it ever occurred to me that I would one day reside in Budapest. Hungary? A former Communist country? Eastern Europe?

Although I don’t know how long I might remain here, and even though the circumstances that brought me here were downright sad, I felt compelled to commit to a year of remaining here alone. That one-year date passed October 5th, and here I am, still waiting for things to sort out in the other country I had lived in for four years—Croatia—another former Communist country.

What a city Budapest has turned out to be. What a country. What history. I have fallen in love! And it just so happens that my favorite historical royal fell in love with this country as well—and with a passion so great, she chose to have her fourth and last child here. She raised this daughter as a Hungarian, learned the language (the second hardest language in the world), and spent as much time as possible in her summer palace twenty miles outside the city.

Who was this woman? Empress Elizabeth of Austria (1837-1898), nicknamed Sissi (Original spelling was Sisi) who became a historical icon. Considered the most beautiful woman in the world during her time, she married Emperor Franz Josef, her cousin, when she was barely sixteen. His domineering mother had arranged a meeting between the young emperor and Sissi’s older sister for the purpose of marriage, but one look at fifteen-year-old Sissi and the twenty-three-year-old emperor told his mother if he couldn’t have Sissi, he wouldn’t marry at all. For him, it was love at first sight.

Sissi, one of ten children born in Munich to an eccentric duke, was raised in the wilds of Bavaria when her father ran off and bought a castle far enough away from court protocol to avoid his duties. He played and ran free, and so did his children. Sissi could out-shoot, out-ride and out-curse any man, much to her father’s delight. Like him, she eschewed court rules, and even though she was shy, she rebelled at every turn. Wherever she traveled, a portable gym went with her. Every palace or castle had a gym installed, and Sissi worked out every day. She ate sparingly in order to keep her sixteen inch waist and some say she may have been anorexic in her later years.

It was her stubborn, controlling mother-in-law who likely was responsible for Sissi’s health issues. The woman took Sissi’s children away from her to be raised at court according to the mother-in-law’s demands, refused to allow Sissi to breast feed, and except for the last child, the daughter, born in Hungary, Sissi never saw much of her children.

Last August, in the heat of the summer, I had the privilege of visiting her summer palace. I can see why she loved her home at Godollo. Even though the temperature was in the 90’s the day of my visit, I forgot about the heat once inside the building. All the windows and the many doors to various balconies had been flung open and a breeze flowed through an already light and airy structure. I’ve visited many palaces and castles while living abroad, but Sissi’s summer palace at Godollo is my favorite (it’s the second largest baroque palace in the world). The vast grounds have been left intact (thank God, the Communists didn’t ruin it), and the palace is in remarkable shape.

Sadly, Sissi was assassinated in 1898 by an Italian anarchist. You can read all about her on sites like Wikipedia, you can watch the films made about her life, and even view her summer castle and her home in Corfu on YouTube, but for me, nothing compares to the impact of walking through the summer palace where her footsteps once tread, or hiking the streets of beautiful, amazing Budapest, and seeing the love people had for her in the form of bridges, statues, cafes and parks named after her.

While I may have landed in Budapest under dire circumstances, I have made the most of my stay, and lately, I actually feel blessed to be here, in a land my favorite royal loved. Below are a few sites that may be of interest to you:

You can visit Kathleen’s website at www.kathleenbittnerroth.com where she writes about the history of Hungary and her life in Budapest on her blog.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Weekly Video: Tony Robinson's Worst Jobs in History

Welcome to this week's history video from YouTube!  Tony Robinson's The Worst Jobs in History series: The Middle Ages Part 1. Enjoy!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Worst Jobs in History

A couple of years ago, I saw a series on The History Channel called, the Worst Jobs in History. It was a fascinating series. Some of the show is posted on YouTube. Click to visit. Anyways, after seeing that show, I become completely enthralled with medieval jobs and all the ways in which society worked. Naturally I had to find more horrible jobs.

For today’s post, I’m just going to go over what I like to call Lowly Jobs of the Middle Ages. And when I’m done, I have a fun little test for you!

* When you go to the store today and buy that cozy wool sweater or blanket, you may go home thinking it was hand made or that it was made by machines. You don’t really know or care maybe how it was made. I don’t know how it was made today, and I’m hoping wool fabrics were are made differently now than they were in the middle ages… The job of a fuller was to make the wool cloth nice and soft and pliable—easy to work with and smooth against the skin. Well break out the nose-pins, gas masks and vomit buckets, because today your work begins! A fuller’s job was to walk up and down huge vats of nasty stale urine in which the wool sat. And they had to do it ALL DAY! I shudder just thinking about it…no thanks!

* I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before, but back in the middle ages, it just wasn’t fashionable for noblewomen to breastfeed their babies. But even back then they believed breast is best. No goat or cows milk for their babies. What a dilemma! *Snaps fingers* Got it! Get a sturdy and robust peasant woman to be your wetnurse. Yup, your job as a wetnurse is to allow the babes of noble blood to suckle from your breasts, and nourish the child for at least the first 1-2 years of its life. But what about your own babies? Well, the “cream” of the crop, so to speak, went first to the nobles babies. If there was anything left it went to the peasant wetnurses babes. But more likely than not the wetnurse’s own children either starved or fed on cow’s and goat’s milk.

* Today’s the day you might die, or get seriously injured. But it’s all worth it, because in too many years to count, and you’ll probably be dead by then, you will be a knight! Who are you? You’re an arming-squire. Sounds heroic doesn’t it? Well it is, if you make it. You’re mission, should you choose to accept it is to run out into battle--unarmed, mind you—to arm your master when his current coverings become damaged or displaced. When he's done fighting, and you’re still alive, you get to clean the blood, sweat, mud and excrement—yes, excrement—from his armor. Sounds glamorous doesn’t it?

* The job of a gravedigger may not have been pleasant but it sure was profitable. Why? Because everyone was dying of disease and plagues. You didn’t live too long back then. The only set back to being a gravedigger was, you might catch a disease from the dead—no matter how much money you make, I’d rather not handle diseases carcasses all day. But if that’s your cup o’ tea, grab a shovel!

* Come on you lowly sapper! I know you don’t have any skills, and that’s why you’ll spend your day digging. Get back to digging that tunnel! You've got a mine to dig next.

* Grab that oar! Row! Row! Row! Today you’re a thole-sitter, also known as a Saxon oarsman, and no you aren’t traveling with other Saxon’s unless they are rowing with you. You make your job on a Viking ship, a terrifying place, so you better keep your wits about you, and hopefully you don’t frighten too easily. You’ll be the motor getting them where they want to be, and should the ship take on water, its your job to scoop it out—and you’ll have to do it with your hands most likely.

* Feel like bleeding to death? Or is it blood letting to death? Or blood sucked to death? Not sure what you want to call it, but if you’re the leech-collector, you’ll be tramping around in the marshes and reed beds, and let those little worm-like creatures attach to your calves and other body parts. But you better rip them off quickly before they suck the life from you! Shove them in a jar, then when you get home—if you make it--ship them off to the nearest medical practitioner.

* Looking for a job that doesn’t require much skill other than carrying water and heating it up for noblemen and women? I’ve got the perfect position for you! Today you’ll be an ewerer. Don’t burn yourself!

* Like to clean? How about cleaning a kitchen—without the benefit of Lysol. Welcome to the life of a scullion. Doesn’t that job title sound hard? I mean when I hear “scullion” I picture someone scrubbing floors, counters, table tops, walls and pots until the skin literally peels away from their fingers.

* Being a cottar must have been very confusing. From day to day, week to week, you weren’t sure what you’d be doing. And as a lowly peasant, it wasn’t like you had money to live off of if the lord decided he didn’t need you to work that day. But what would he have your doing? You may be a swine-herder today and a prison guard tomorrow. Or maybe you’d be helping fix the roof, or dig a moat. You just never know. A cottar was like a temp worker. Whatever need was needed, that’s where you went.

* Hello, Mr. Gong-Farmer. You may be called a farmer, but what your farming is nothing but a bunch of bodily waste...Eww! So gong must be…yeah, yuck. Have you ever been to a castle or read about how the nobles went potty? Well high up on the 2nd and 3rd floors were little rooms called garderobes. Sounds fancy doesn’t it? They were just rock slabs with holes in them that you sat on and did your business. That hole led down to a gong pit, and you got it, the gong farmer’s job was to clean that out…

* Your lord has decided he’d like some men to sing soprano, but he wants a two for oner. He needs guards for the ladies chambers too. Hello, over there! You’re going to be a eunuch. Sorry, but we’ll have to remove a special part of your anatomy. Can’t risk you seducing the ladies.

* You might die today, you might not, depends on how well you fight and entertain the people. Yup, you’re the new gladiator. Fight the lions, fight other gladiators, fight seasoned warriors. But whatever you do, fight hard, because today might be your last. And its all for the sake of entertaining the gawkers in the stands.

* Got a special talent for catching those nasty little vermin called rats? Hear the call from the castle? “The castle is filled with rats! Help us!” Time to get to work—and you’ve surely got your work cut out for you, today you’re a ratcatcher.

Now for your test! I made a crossword puzzle at my website if you’d like to have some fun! Check it out: Lowly Jobs of the Middle Ages. Remember that some of these job titles are two words and may have a dash in the middle, although some of them don’t—courtesy of the computer being selective. Feel free to check out some of the other crosswords I’ve made too, they are posted there.