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


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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Earl's Christmas Colt by Rebecca Thomas -- Reviewed by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Released today! 12/30/13

The Earl’s Christmas Colt
By Rebecca Thomas

Lady Arabella Sutton is stunned to learn her brother has betrothed her to a stranger despite his promises for a season in London. Although she is the first to admit no man would suit, since she’s more interested in horses than marriage, the last thing she wants is to become a brood mare to a stuffy old earl. Facing a future she cannot abide, she takes an impetuous ride to clear her head and ends up tending her injured mare instead.
Oliver Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, can’t believe his luck when he stops at an inn the night before he’s to meet his fiancée. In the stable, while tending the colt he intends to give to his future wife, he happens upon her—rain-drenched but beautiful. She assumes he’s a stable hand, a fine joke he means to end...until Lady Arabella declares all noblemen are egotistical, conceited, and arrogant. How can he reveal his true identity before he’s managed to change her mind and win her heart?

Reviewed by Kathleen Bittner Roth

Have you ever read a Reader’s Digest condensed version of a book and wondered what the original story must be like since nothing seemed to be missing? Curiosity piqued, you purchase the original, read it, and are even more stymied because you cannot figure out what the devil had been cut! Which brings me to entertaining, well-written short stories.

If you’re someone who enjoys short stories and novellas, The Earl’s Christmas Colt is for you. Set in Sussex County, England in December, 1819, Author Rebecca Thomas has managed to pack everything into a wonderful little historical that is sure to please.

I love horses, so that got my attention, and the author does a wonderful job of bringing the beasts alive in her pages. I prefer strong but flawed characters, and Thomas gives us that in spades. Lady Arabella’s brother means well, but he’s not the best when it comes to communication. Arabella has character, wit and strong principles that in turn manage to get her into a bit of a fix. Then there’s Westwyck, the Earl of Marsdale, who, on his way to wed Arabella, manages to dig a deep hole for himself without even trying.

Lovely prose, clear, concise writing without a wasted word. Thomas writes a delightful story. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Traditions in Imperial Russia by Ally Broadfield

Welcome to History Undressed, guest blogger, Ally Broadfield! She's here today to spread some Christmas cheer and talk to us a bit about Christmas traditions in Russia. Enjoy!

Christmas Traditions in Imperial Russia

by Ally Broadfield

Christmas in Imperial Russia was celebrated with a blend of traditions from Russia’s Christian and pre-Christian past. On Christmas Eve it was customary for groups of people masquerading as manger animals to travel from house to house performing and singing carols known as kolyadki. Somekolyadki were pastoral carols to the baby Jesus, while others were homages to the ancient solar goddess Kolyada, who brought the lengthening days of sunlight through the winter. In return for their songs, the singers were offered food and coins before moving on to the next home. There is a passage in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace describing this custom, known as mumming. Everyone participated in the mumming. In the 17th century, the tsar himself, followed by his boyars and courtiers and led by drummers, would travel by sleigh from house to house in Moscow to sing for the owners. Peter the Great was also known to congratulate his friends in this manner, but he kept a list of participants and those who did not join were punished.

Happy Christmas (pre-1917 Russian postcard)
Religious observances surrounding Christmas also flourished in Imperial Russia. Though the foods and customs surrounding the observance of Christmas differed from village to village and family to family, certain aspects remained the same. Christmas Eve was the last day of the six week Christmas fast, and for the devout, ancient custom dictated that no one eat until the first star shone in the sky. Hay was spread on the table and covered with a white cloth in imitation of the manger. Dinner began with a prayer for the New Year and a special porridge called kutya. The head of the household would throw a spoonful outside to encourage Grandfather Frost to spare the crops, then a spoonful was thrown up on the ceiling. The grains that stuck foretold the number of bees there would be in summer to ensure a plentiful honey harvest. Lastly, upon rising from the table, everyone left some kutya in their bowls for their departed relatives.

After the meal it was time to attend the Christmas Mass. On Christmas day, it was customary for everyone to dress in their finest clothes and go visiting. Tables were spread in a traditional manner with a variety of nuts and fruits, as well as several types of special gingerbread cookies. The two-week feast known as Russian Christmastide, or Svyatki, was celebrated after the orthodox Christmas on January 7th through Epiphany on January 19th. Activities during this period were more closely associated with pagan traditions and included singing, dancing, carnivals and fortune telling.

After the 1917 Revolution, Christmas was banned throughout Russia along with other religious celebrations. It wasn’t until 75 years later, in 1992, that the holiday was once again openly observed.

Bibliography: Massie, Suzanne. The Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1980.

Ally Broadfield lives in Texas and is convinced her house is shrinking, possibly because she shares it with three kids, five dogs, two cats, a rabbit, and several reptiles. Oh, and her husband. She likes to curse in Russian and spends most of her spare time letting dogs in and out of the house and shuttling kids around. She writes historical romance and middle grade/young adult fantasy. Her first book, Just a Kiss, is coming from Entangled Publishing in January 2014.
You can find Ally on her website, Facebook, and Twitter (though she makes no claims of using any of them properly).

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

To Dream of Langston by Mairi Norris

Welcome today to History Undressed, guest author, Mairi Norris! She's here to share a little history behind her new release, To Dream of Langston! Enjoy!

Thanks so much, Eliza for hosting me on History Undressed today. This is an exciting time for me because I just published my first book, To Dream of Langston, on September 30. It's great to have an opportunity to chat a little about the book.

To Dream of Langston is the "book of my heart". It's a coming of age novel featuring Katherine Fairbanks, a young doctor's daughter who loses her first love, is betrayed into a false marriage to man who is a member of a white slavery guild, and is then rescued by the man who is her destiny, a man whom she has dreamed of since her childhood.

When I began writing To Dream of Langston, I envisioned the Fairbanks family living in a fictional town (Heathcrest) that straddled a highway that ran north to south from London all the way up into Scotland. At the time, I had no idea that in reality, just such a road existed. As I began to research the area of North Yorkshire, I came across references to the Great North Road. It was exciting to make that discovery, although in order to accommodate the placement of Heathcrest where I wanted it in North Yorkshire, I had to create a non-existent branch of the road to reach it.

The Great North Road is ancient. A great slash of rutted (or muddy, if it rained) dirt, it stretched from London to Edinburgh, with a major nexus in the city of York. The Romans used it in their efforts to conquer the land. Coaching inns sprang up along it to accommodate those who journeyed. Kings and queens moved militaries to war upon it and at various times tolls were issued to raise capital. Royalty and noblemen, tradesmen and peasants and pilgrims traveled it. Highwaymen preyed upon them all.

Sir Walter Scott thought traveling it dull. Cromwell's grandfather owned a coaching inn along it. Such diverse personages as St. Cuthbert and Bonnie Prince Charlie wandered sections of it.

So much history, myth/legend and literature surround this incredible highway that one can only touch upon it in a blog. But while Sir Scott might have thought traveling it dull, I found all these accounts fascinating.

The British A-1 Highway follows the general course of the Great North Road, but one can still travel actual sections of the ancient path by leaving A-1 for the towns (and surviving coaching inns) that graced it. I was fortunate to travel a short distance along the old route while passing through North Yorkshire last year.

Back Cover "Blurb" for To Dream of Langston:

From the wild, beautiful landscape of the moorlands of England's North Yorkshire to the rolling bluegrass pastures of Kentucky, one [young] woman's passion carries her from love's first bloom to a love everlasting.

On the brink of womanhood, young Katherine Fairbanks glories in the sweet love of the boy next door. When her life is brutally ripped apart by tragedy, she believes she will never love again and seeks only peace for her life. But betrayal sweeps her across the sea and lands her in the hands of a man she dares not trust.

Thoroughbred breeder Jayce Langston has little interest in taking a wife. His time is consumed with the struggle to help his family recover from the devastations of America's Civil War. When a beautiful, mysterious woman pursued by thugs drops in a deep swoon at his feet as he leaves a New York club, Jayce is both captivated and intrigued. He returns with her to his Kentucky stud farm in hopes of learning her identity.

 Together, they must work against terrifying odds to secure a future where love triumphs over loss.

An Excerpt from To Dream of Langston:

Katherine promptly wrapped her arms round Jamie's waist. She trembled as if with a chill.
“I love you so much,” she said into his shirtfront.
It took a bit o’ doing, but he got his hand under her chin and lifted, surprised to find tears in her eyes. She pinched her bottom lip tightly between her teeth, but still it quivered.
“I love you, too. Forever and a day.”
A sudden thought caught him, a memory from the tales o’ the old days in the Highlands that his ma told afore the fire on winter eves. He caught his breath. Would she agree?
“Kate, I’ve an idea.” Excitement jogged his words like grasshoppers gone mad.
Sure of her attention, he said, “Would ye handfast wi’ me? Here, now?”
She blinked, and looked a bit dazed, as well she might. ’Twas a daft idea, but the more he thought on it, the more certain he was o’ its rightness.
“You want to handfast? But it’s not a legal ceremony.”
“Aye, sure, I ken. But it would bind us forever and a day. Would ye no’ like that?”
“I thought handfasting was for ‘a year and a day’.”
“Och, it depends on the time and place. But just between us, I’d rather we promise forever. What say ye?”
The glory o’ her smile had his heart thudding.
“I’d like it very much. Shall we do it up here, with the wind in our hair and the entire dale in our sight, or down by the pond, where we can hear the splash of the water.”
“Which do ye want?”
He laughed. “Weel, since it isnae legal and we're doin’ it all helter-skelter like, I reck it willnae matter if we do it twice. It will just make it twice as bindin’. Give me the ribbon from yer hair.”
In no time, her braid was unraveled.
“Now give me yer hand.”
He spoke as he wrapped the ribbon—fiery copper to match the strands in her hair—around their wrists in a loose figure eight. “I, James MacCorkin, will take ye, Katherine Fairbanks, to my wedded wife, forever and a day, and thereby I plight my troth to ye.”
With the last word, he finished the binding. Her hand trembled within the warmth of his. He tightened his grip, thinking he could happily drown in the luminous joy infusing the blue depths o’ her eyes. The breeze freshened, playing with his hair but performing a dance o’ sheer glee with hers.
She spoke her vow and in the saying, he discerned the unswerving devotion o’ her soul.
“I, Katherine Fairbanks, will take thee, James MacCorkin, to my wedded husband, forever and a day, and thereby I plight to thee my troth.”
Jamie’s left hand slipped into his pocket. “It’s tradition for the handfasted couple to exchange gifts at this time. I…I brought this for ye, meanin’ to give it to ye this day. Now seems a verra appropriate time.”
He opened his fist. Upon his palm lay a golden circle, smooth and unadorned. “It’s no’ the ring I wanted for ye, but it was bought wi’ my own coin. I meant it for our betrothal, but now it seals our handfastin’, too. See ye, I had it engraved wi’ our given names on the inside o’ the band.”
He slid the band onto her finger. His gaze returned to her face, where sparkling tears veined cheeks glowing blush with the wind and the strength of her ardor.
“Aw, Kate.”
“It’s just…so b-beautiful, my darling. The day is beautiful, and the ceremony and the ring, and you are beautiful! But I have no gift for you.”
She thinks me ‘beautiful’?
Jamie tried to convince himself the heat washing over his face was naught but too much sun. Still, a man could be called worse, even by the woman he loved.
“Ye’ve gifted me wi’ yerself, Kate, wi’ yer future and sweet love, and I need none greater. Besides, ye couldnae have known we’d be doin’ this. O’ course, I wouldnae fuss if ye gave me somethin’ later.”
She laughed, and he wiped away the traces o’ her tears. “There is one gift ye can give right now, my Kate.”
Standing as she was on the hill a little below him, she had to lift onto her toes to reach him. The kiss was gentle, sweet and as binding as their vows.

Contact Màiri:
Buy Link for To Dream of Langston:

Eliza, thanks again for having me today.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

New Release: Daughter of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

Good morning!

I'm so pleased to share with you all the release of my good friend, Stephanie Dray's latest historical fantasy, Daughters of the Nile, the third book in her Cleopatra Selene series. I thoroughly devoured the first two books in the series and I can't wait to read this one! Perfect timing for my month of December read-a-thon, where I catch up on all the books on my TBR!

From critically acclaimed historical fantasy author, Stephanie Dray comes the long-awaited new tale based on the true story of Cleopatra's daughter.

After years of abuse as the emperor’s captive in Rome, Cleopatra Selene has found a safe harbor. No longer the pitiful orphaned daughter of the despised Egyptian Whore, the twenty year old is now the most powerful queen in the empire, ruling over the kingdom of Mauretania—an exotic land of enchanting possibility where she intends to revive her dynasty. With her husband, King Juba II and the magic of Isis that is her birthright, Selene brings prosperity and peace to a kingdom thirsty for both. But when Augustus Caesar jealously demands that Selene’s children be given over to him to be fostered in Rome, she’s drawn back into the web of imperial plots and intrigues that she vowed to leave behind. Determined and resourceful, Selene must shield her loved ones from the emperor’s wrath, all while vying with ruthless rivals like King Herod. Can she find a way to overcome the threat to her marriage, her kingdom, her family, and her faith? Or will she be the last of her line?

Read the Reviews

"A stirring story of a proud, beautiful, intelligent woman whom a 21st century reader can empathize with. Dray's crisp, lush prose brings Selene and her world to life." ~RT Book Reviews

"The boldest, and most brilliant story arc Dray has penned..." ~Modge Podge Reviews

"If you love historical fiction and magical realism, these books are for you." ~A Bookish Affair

Read an Excerpt

Below me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.
And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"

The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.
If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."

Available now in print and e-book!

Did you miss the first book in the series?

Available now in print and e-book!

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling, multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. 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.