Monday, July 28, 2014

World War One began in Australia...

In London, an artist has created an extraordinary river of blood red, ceramic poppies that flow like a river of blood from one of the windows in the Tower of London. The 888,246 poppies each represent a life lost from the British and Colonial forces who fought in the First World War.  It is a graphic illustration of the huge loss of life in that terrible war.

It was called the “Great War” or “The war to end all wars”. It was neither.

On the 4th August 1914 Britain declared war on Germany.  In the horror of the next four and a half years, the actual cause of the war was probably forgotten and the humble Digger or Tommy on the front line if asked could probably not even tell you what they were fighting for.

There is plenty of learned information to be found on the complex train of events that led to the start of the War but I think in its most simplistic form is best summed up by Private Baldrick, a character in the 1980s television show Blackadder (Blackadder goes Forth).
·         Baldrick says: I heard that it started when a bloke called Archie Duke shot an ostrich 'cause he was hungry.
·         Captain Blackadder explains:    in order to prevent war in Europe, two superblocs developed: us, the French and the Russians on one side, and the Germans and Austro-Hungary on the other.   The idea was to have two vast opposing armies, each acting as the other's deterrent.   That way there could never be a war.
·         Baldrick says:  But this is a sort of a war, isn't it, sir?
·         Blackadder replies. Yes, that's right.   You see, there was a tiny flaw in the plan. It was <rubbish>.
·         Baldrick concludes with his usual pereceptivity:   So the poor old ostrich died for nothing.

In fact Blackadder’s explanation regarding the two power blocs is a succinct explanation of the cause of the war which has its origins in a bitter power struggle between Germany and Russia over the Balkans, thousands of miles from England, Belgium and France.  It all came to a head on 29 June 1914 with the assassination of the heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian national. This act of aggression triggered a diplomatic crisis which in turn invoked the international alliances and within two months Europe was at war. 

Germany’s demands that France maintain neutrality in this war led to Germany declaring war on France on 3 August 1914 and in support of its ally Britain followed with a declaration of war against Germany on 4 August 1914.

As Germany marched troops into Belgium in order to attack France, in the former colony of Australia, news of the outbreak of war travelled more slowly. I live in the old port of Williamstown in Melbourne and I have written before about Williamstown's part in the Crimean War of the 1850s (The Crimean War Part 1). Once again this quiet little town would have a significant part to play in the events that followed...

SS Pfalz
On 5 August 1914, a German ship the SS Pfalz left Victoria Dock and made a run for the heads of Port Phillip Bay with a Williamstown based pilot aboard, Captain Robinson.  As it approached the Port Phillips Heads, word reached the artillery garrison stationed at Point Nepean that any German ship leaving Port Phillip Bay was to be “Sunk or stopped”.  On sighting the Pfalz, the gunners hoisted flags ordering the ship to stop. When these were ignored a shot was fired over the bows of the ship. This was the first shot fired in the war.

The guns at Point Nepean 1890

The pilot convinced the master of the ship that the next shot would sink the ship so the Pfalz surrendered and the crew were detained as prisoners of war. The Pfalz itself was returned to the Williamstown dockyards where it was refitted and saw service as the troop ship Boorara.

2000 young men from Williamstown enlisted during the course of the war. Of those 300 were killed and over 800 wounded. Over half the number of men who left this little town headed for adventure and excitement in a war that had nothing to do with them were killed or injured. The unspeakable horrors they faced and the inept leadership demonstrated during the course of the war is well documented and in April next year we will commemorate the centenary of the ANZAC force landing on the beaches of Gallipoli.

For now it is enough that we take a moment to pause and remember that 4 August marks the start of an event that will have a monumental, if not cataclysmic effect on the population of my home town and this new, young country. 

On the evening 4th August the bell of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Williamstown and those around the country will toll for 15 minutes to mark the declaration of war.


Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, with an obvious obsession for men in uniform, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.  She lives in Williamstown with her own personal hero (and yes, he was wearing a uniform when they met!), two pathetically needy cats and subsists on a diet of gin and tonic. Her own book based on World War One, GATHER THE BONES, has been nominated for multiple awards.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

HH Review - Beauty and the Spymaster by Moriah Densley

Title: Beauty and the Spymaster
Author: Moriah Densley
Publisher: esKape Press
Language: English

As a fanatical Historical Romance reader, I like to know who and what the characters are about, pretty close to the beginning of the story. For me, this was a slow reveal. Much of the past and what was taking place in the story didn't make sense to me at first. I've since learned that perhaps I should have read some previous novels before hand.

The hero Julian Grey is caring warm and everything a hero should be. I love that he is masquerading as a vicar, while hiding so much more.

To me, Helena Duncombe was an enigma at first, none of her past made sense, till further into the book. Once I got to know her, I did find her character a warm, witty delight.

The fight and action scenes are very well written and Ms Densley has a knack for taking us on a wild ride. From carriage accidents, to domestic violence, to exquisite scenes in a Parisian Ballroom, I felt I was really there.

I would have enjoyed a romantic tryst early in the story, between the two main characters but alas it didn't happen.

In my opinion (only), I felt the story was a little disjointed as the main female character was a woman with a grown daughter, and I got the feeling I was supposed to already know about Sophia and her relationship to the story.

Countess Esterhazy

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Hungry Like The Wolf

A grim medieval lithograph
I was interested in this week to read environmentalist George Monbiot arguing for the re-introduction of previously extinct animals back into England.

Here is a list, taken from my book Feral, of a few of the animals which have become extinct recently (in ecological terms) and which probably meet the bill's new definition of non-native: "not ordinarily resident in, or a regular visitor to, Great Britain in a wild state". Some would be widely welcomed; others not at all, but it's clear that a debate about which species we might bring back is one that many people in this country want to have, but that the government wants to terminate. There's a longer list, with fuller explanations and a consideration of their suitability for re-establishment, in the book.
One of those animals that he argues should be introduced is the wolf:

Wolf: the last clear record is 1621 (not 1743 as commonly supposed). It was killed in Sutherland. As far as I can determine, neither Sir Ewen Cameron nor any of the other blood-soaked lairds and congenital twits from whom Lord Cameron of Dillington is descended were involved.
Meow! Oh, sorry, wrong animal.

Wolves were hunted for a number of reasons - their beautiful pelts for one thing, also to protect people and livestock for another.

Hunting was necessary for survival.
The wolf is a fierce predator, so much so that in medieval times, murderers were sometimes offered the option to become wolf hunters and freed on the condition become wolf hunters. To prove their worth, the felon had to come back with a certain number of wolf tongues per year.

What appeared to be clemency was actually a death sentence of another another sort.

The sneaky, cunning and duplicitous nature of wolves was so recognised across so many cultures and over so many generations that audiences back in Jesus Christ's time and the centuries since understood exactly what He meant with the words:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
In my medieval romance Warrior's Surrender, (which I hope will be out early in 2015) the wolf plays a pivotal role both in actuality and as analogy.

I hope you enjoy this snippet!

“Does the Baron of Tyrswick sulk like a child when he’s bested by a woman?” she called out.
She waited for a response.
When it came, Frey’s blood turned cold.
A sustained howl broke the silence and was joined by a chorus of similar cries that seemed to be all around her. Frey turned in a circle but could see only the trees.
Her horse had stopped its grazing and took a step back, ears flicking in one direction, then the other.
With hands cupped to magnify the sound of her voice, she called out.
There was no reply save the call of the wolf pack.
Gooseflesh needled along on her arms.
With greater calmness than she felt, Frey walked back to the horse and soothed it with soft words and a few strokes down its neck. It settled enough for Frey to unbuckle a leather quiver of arrows from the saddle, which she then secured across her back before releasing the bow which she placed over her shoulder.

Monday, July 21, 2014

HH Review - All Quiet on the Western Plains by Isabella Hargreaves

Title: All Quiet on the Western Plains
Author: Isabella Hargreaves
Publisher: Steam eReads
Language: English

This novella is written in the third person, not a style I’ve read for a while. Perhaps I am more used to the immediacy of writing in the second person, but although I found All Quiet on the Western Plains to be a very interesting book, it reads like the narration of a string of events. However, top marks to Ms Hargreaves for writing in a style which is typical of that era. The research of post trauma distress order after World War One is flawless as far as it goes. I’d like to see the author dig deeper.

I don’t wish to sound as if I didn’t enjoy the book. I did. But it is written in a hands-off style so that a reader cannot be invested in the hero and heroine. This novella would shine after editing by a professional.

It is refreshing to read about the Australian aftermath of WWI, since it is not a topic tackled by many in the romance genre.

Countess of Jersey

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

HH Review - Blinded by Grace - Becky Lower

Title: Blinded by Grace
Author: Becky Lower
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Language: English

Halwyn Fitzpatrick is being pressured by his loving parents to find himself a bride. Now having discovered that the world is a very different place when viewed through a pair of glasses he’s taking a serious interest in the New York debutantes of 1858’s season. Truth be told he thinks having someone else choose a bride for him would be a less time consuming task. All that love business is for others, he is a serious banker and marriage is a serious business.

Grace Wagner is an old family friend. Grace is in dire straits. If she doesn’t marry before she comes of age, her obnoxious step father Simon Huffman will inherit all her wealth. He is a wicked man, one who spends his time gambling away the family money and being cruel to both Grace and her mother.

Forced into a desperate measures, Grace approaches Halwyn with a deal. Marry her, protect her inheritance and in a year they will part and no one will be any the wiser. Halwyn needs a wife, someone to help him furnish his new brownstone. He readily agrees.

It’s not long before Halwyn realises that Simon is an evil man and will stop at nothing to get his hands on Grace’s money. He pushes forward with their wedding plans. Unbeknownst to him Grace has been in love with him since she was thirteen. She even keeps the Harvard handkerchief he gave her many years ago.

Simon will not go quietly when it comes to losing the fortune he needs. A horse is nobbled, and Halwyn is seriously injured. I enjoyed this part of the story very much indeed. Halwyn’s mother is a kind hearted woman who sees what both her son and Grace are not prepared to admit to each other. She ensures that Grace has to help nurse Halwyn back to health.

As a result of the fall from the horse Halwyn has temporarily lost his memory. He forgets the ‘arrangement’ with Grace and thinks theirs is a love match. The growth of tender feelings between the two of them is beautifully written. Halwyn begins to lust after his fiancé while Grace grapples with her attraction to him knowing it is only a false memory on his part.

She confesses the situation, only to discover that Halwyn is in love with her. There are really lovely written parts in this part of the story. I enjoyed the Fitzpatrick family and their need to assist in the journey of love for Halwyn and Grace. I’m a big fan of the family historical romance, especially with loving and fun parents and siblings.

Simon’s drastic measures toward the end put both heroine and hero in peril, but I am pleased to say love wins out.

I enjoyed this book. It has a simple elegance about it and I look forward to reading the rest of Becky Lower’s Cotillion Series.

Countess Esterhazy

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Little Fabergé will do it.

No - Not Jewellery, Timepieces or Treasures!
I'm talking EGGS! Yes those beautiful, wonderful, skilfully crafted, small & not so small, Fabergé Eggs.  These artful creations have been delighting the hearts of Tzar's, Emperor's, Kings, Queens and collectors around the world for centuries.
Anniversary Egg - 1911
And seeing I write Historical Romance Fiction, I have my own story. 
My first introduction to these gloriously designed, painted and crafted eggs, was about 30 years ago, when I was  living in Western Australia. Visiting a friend one day I saw one in her glass case. It was larger than a hen's egg so probably duck egg. On the front of it was painted a tiny picture of her deceased dog. When she told me she had bought it from WA, I had to know where and if we could see them. We phoned and made plans to go and visit the lady.
What I found blew me away. 
Now all these years on, I wish I had taken photos. There were decorated eggs of all sizes and for all purposes. Some opened with little hinges, some were cut away to display the inside  & others left whole. The larger Ostrich/ Emu  eggs were absolutely wonderful.
  The download (1)delicate braids, painted artwork and finish is what impressed me most. All eggs sit on a stand or a leg-base. The artist took the time to tell to tell us how she prepared them, showing us some of the eggs already at several steps of the process. Understandably, the technique is long and tiresome, and one would have to have a castle full of patience - although I'm sure, the completed item is forever rewarding for the artisans. And as an artist, I know the costs of the creator's talent can't always be measured dollars - nor is it calculated in the time spent - often it's so much more.
The Eggs to buy were not cheap- according to the standards of the day - but they were worth every penny. To this day I wish I could have found the money to purchase at least a small one, but alas the budget didn't spread that far back then. For us it was comparable to more than a week of groceries.
So naturally, me being me, after seeing the eggs for myself, I had the desire to follow my creative spark and decided I'd make one or two, or half a dozen. I found a book at the library, read up on technique, tools etc, copied down vital points on construction (the artwork and design I had under control)  ... and now 30 years later, I ashamedly say - I never did get around to making even one!  But I am still in awe of the craft and those delicate creations.
I copied these pictures of some of the original Imperial eggs off the internet. I am really taken with the ones that First Imperial Faberge Egg - Hen Egg 1885have designs actually carved into the surface of the egg's shell.  As Recently as 2011, some of the missing Fabergé Imperial Eggs were still being found.   Lost egg found after 112 years.    This is a picture of the 3rd Imperial Egg. The Hen Egg.  There are 5 still missing, presumed lost after the revolution. Perhaps they are in secret private collections, or are they stored away unknowingly in a shed somewhere around the world.
 images (1) The original Jewel Eggs were made by Peter Carl Fabergé and his company from 1885 - 1917. The house of Fabergé made 50 eggs for the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II, to give to their wives & mothers as the most elaborate & expensive Easter gifts.  Known as the Hen Egg, it is crafted from gold, its opaque white enamelled 'shell' opening to reveal it's first surprise, a matt yellow gold yoke. This in turn opens to reveal a multicoloured, superbly chased gold hen that also opens. Originally, this contained a minute diamond replica of the Imperial crown from which a small ruby pendant was suspended. Unfortunately these last two have been lost. A centuries old tradition of bringing hand coloured eggs to church to be blessed and then presented to friends ans family had evolved through the years and , amongst the highest echelons of St Petersburg society, the custom developed of presenting valuably bejewelled Easter gifts. So it was the Tsar Alexander III had the idea of commissioning Faber to create a precious Easter egg as a surprise for the emperors, and thus the first Imperial Easter egg was born.
The Empress's delight at this intriguing gift with it's hidden jewelled surprise was the starting point for the yearly Imperial tradition that continued for 32 years until 1917 and produced the most opulent and captivating Ester gifts the world has ever seen. The eggs were private and personal gifts, and the whole spectacular series charted the romantic and tragic story leading up to the end of the mighty Romanov's.
More images and information on the Fabergé Eggs and the story of Easter, can be found in this book by Suzi Love.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Could the daughters of Downton Abbey cope?

Imagine the daughters of Downton Abbey losing their home, their parents, their wealth, their status, their friends.
This is what happens to the characters in my historical novel, Kitty McKenzie.
Kitty has lost everything, and as the eldest daughter, she has to now provide and care for her younger siblings, a task she has no experience or knowledge of how to do. From a life of privilege she is faced with all kinds of adversities to overcome.
How will she manage to cope with these new challenges when the only decisions she used to make was what dress she needed to wear and what book to read after dinner?
How was she to create a home for them all, and an income?
She never realised that buried deep inside her was an inner strength that would come to the fore and allow her to manage, even prosper, in an alien world of the working class.

Could Mary or Edith from Downton Abbey have coped so well? I'd like to think they would.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

HH Review - Song for Sophia by Moriah Densley

Title: Song for Sophia
Author: Moriah Densley
Publisher: esKape Press
Language: English

Ms Densley’s novel is reminiscent of Anna Campbell’s writing and represents the very best in the genre of historical romance. Her characters are fully drawn with faults and misgivings that draw the reader in. This is easily the most outstanding genre novel I have read in a long time.

Anne-Sophronia has fled from the appalling cruelty of her father, and thanks to the influence of a friend, has managed to obtain a job as housemaid to Lord Devon. Naturally her blue-stocking tendencies break through now and again. Lord Devon is an autistic savant, and the only quarrel I have with the portrait of Wil is his war work. I’m not sure that a man with his social ineptitude would be sent on missions.

All-in-all an excellent book and writing style. I enjoy how Ms Densley assumes the reader has a certain amount of cognisance and does not dot every “i” or cross every “t.” This thoroughly deserves the five stars I have given it.

Countess Esterhazy

Friday, July 4, 2014

HH Review - Time After Time by Wendy Godding

Title: Time After Time
Author: Wendy Godding
Publisher: Escape Publishing
Language: English

A tale of past lives intruding into the present, of lovers reincarnated over and over until they resolve their centuries-old dilemma.

Seventeen year old Abbie Harper lives in the twenty-first century, but she dreams of multiple previous incarnations – all of whom were murdered before they turned eighteen. Currently she is reliving that of Penelope Broadhurst, daughter of a Yorkshire parson in 1806. Abbie desperately hopes that this reincarnation will be different and that the silver-eyed stranger will not kill as he has done so many times before. Things become much worse when people Abbie thought existed only in her past begin to appear in the present, when, as Abbie reports in the opening line, “my nightmare moved into the house next door.”

On the surface, Marcus Knight hardly seems nightmare material. He has melting chocolate eyes, floppy hair, the physique of one who works out daily, and so of course quickly achieves popularity – except with Abbie. Nevertheless, he repeatedly attempts to befriend this prickly, Gothic-attired, social reject of the local high-school. But is he motivated by genuine interest or the compulsions of a previous unresolved life? As Abbie dreams on, living Penelope’s life in nightly instalments, she discovers that Marcus is the reincarnation of Heath Lockwood and that he and Penelope fell deeply in love.

And then the silver-eyed stranger arrived and the nightmare begins.

Wendy Godding weaves a complex and intriguing story, with viewpoints alternating between the early twenty-first century (Abbie) and 1806 (Penelope). I loved the 1806 Yorkshire Moors setting, the parsonage and manor clearly echoing the Bronte sisters’ Haworth and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre too is cleverly woven into the story, as Abbie studies the text in school and empathises closely with the unwanted and orphaned yet artistic Jane. Both Abbie and Penelope find refuge in their respective attics, and Abbey starts to wonder whether she is more Madwoman-in-the-Attic than a sane Jane.

The author has created a wonderful character in Abbie. It initially forms a stark contrast to that of Penelope. Modern Abbie has a biting wit and is not afraid to make sharp (and hilarious) comments. Nineteenth-century Penelope is a sweet and proper parson’s daughter. Abbie wears black lipstick, and heavy eye-makeup. She favours vintage clothing, torn tights, and multiple earrings. But it turns out that this is a mask, Abbie’s defence or even disguise against becoming yet another innocent victim of the silver-eyed man.

I can quite honestly say I loved this novel. It was quite impossible to put down once I’d reached halfway. (I got to sleep past 1 o’clock last night because of you, Wendy!) I loved the density of reference to Bronte novels, the 1809 setting, the intricate plot, and the complexity of Abbie’s character.

While this novel appears to be aimed at a young adult audience, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys romance, the Brontes, an English historical setting, or simply a novel you can’t bear to put down.

Countess of Jersey

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Release Day for HER VENGEFUL SCOT, Highland Warrior Chronicles Book #2 #Giveaways

On Friday 4th July 2014, HER VENGEFUL SCOT, the second book in my Highland Warrior Chronicles, hits the cyber shelves. Of all the books I’ve written, this is one of my favourites. I always love a tortured hero and Cameron MacNeil has a bleak past with only one goal in mind: to avenge the death of his beloved younger sister.

I also love Cam because he has none of the famed Scots charm. He finds it impossible to flirt or bestow pretty compliments, and yet this is one of the very things about him that his heroine, Elise, falls for.

Although this is the second book in my Highland Warrior Chronicles set during the ninth century in Pictland, it is a standalone novel. There are no cliffhanging endings! However, this book does continue with the background politics of Kenneth MacAlpin, king of the Scots, as he pursues his goal to bring all of Pictland under his rule - by any means possible.

To avenge his sister’s honor, he must destroy the woman he wants most in the world…

Ordered to remain in Pictland, Cameron MacNeil fights the lust that consumes him whenever he encounters the aloof princess, Elise. Not only is she a cursed Pict, she belongs to the man he has vowed vengeance upon.

Despite her reputation, Elise has no interest in men until she meets Cameron. Lacking the famed Scots charm, his blunt ways enchant her and he ignites a passion she long thought dead. When she is freed from her difficult marriage, Elise places her trust in the tough Scot warrior who has stolen her heart.

Bound by blood oaths, the only way Cam can protect Elise from political schemes is to make her his bride. When Elise discovers the truth, she fears everything she knew about her husband was a lie. All she can do is trust her goddess was right and Cameron is her one true love.

A Romantica® historical erotic romance from Ellora’s Cave


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