Friday, October 21, 2016

Scandalous Halloween Giveaway: ETERNA AND OMEGA by Leanna Renee Hieber

Hello everyone! I know it has been a long time since I have blogged but I have an exciting giveaway that I couldn't wait to share with you. ETERNA AND OMEGA, the 2nd book in Leanna Renee Hieber's exciting new series from TOR. It seemed only fitting since Halloween is just around the corner.  If you love the novels of the Brontes and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, if Northanger Abbey, Frankenstein, and Dracula are your jam, then you will love Leanna Renee Hieber.

From the back cover:

Leanna Renee Hieber's gaslamp fantasy series continues and the action ramps up in Eterna and Omega.
In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound--supposedly the key to immortality--Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him.
In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria. He stays behind to help Scotland Yard track down a network of body snatchers and occultists, but he'll miss his second-in-command, Rose Everhart, whose gentle exterior masks a steel spine.
Rose's skepticism about the supernatural has been shattered since she joined Spire's Omega Branch. Meeting Clara is like looking into a strange mirror: both women are orphans, each is concealing a paranormal ability, and each has a powerful and attractive guardian who has secrets of his own.
The hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow. Far from being dangerous, Eterna may hold the key to humanity's salvation.

And here is the exciting book trailer!

About Leanna:

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, artist and the award-winning, bestselling author of Gothic Victorian Fantasy novels for adults and teens such as the Strangely Beautiful, Eterna Files and Magic Most Foul sagas. She grew up in rural Ohio inventing ghost stories, graduating with a BFA in Theatre and a focus in the Victorian Era from Miami University. She began her theatrical career with the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and began adapting works of 19th Century literature for the stage. Her novella Dark Nest won the 2009 Prism Award for excellence in the genres of Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. Her debut novel, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker (Strangely Beautiful series) hit Barnes & Noble's bestseller lists, won two 2010 Prism Awards (Best Fantasy, Best First Book), the 2010 Orange County Book Buyer's Best Award (Young Adult category) and other regional genre awards. The Perilous Prophecy of Guard and Goddess won the 2012 Prism Award (Best Fantasy). Books one and two are now available as STRANGELY BEAUTIFUL in a revised, author-preferred editions from Tor/Forge. DARKER STILL: A Novel of Magic Most Foul, hit the Kid's/YA INDIE NEXT LIST as a recommended title by the American Booksellers Association and a Scholastic Book Clubs "highly recommended" title. Leanna's short fiction has been featured in anthologies such as Willful Impropriety: Tales of Society and Scandal, "Too Fond"; a short story on, "Charged" in Queen Victoria's Book of Spells and the Mammoth Book of Gaslight Romance. Her new Gaslamp Fantasy series THE ETERNA FILES, is now available from Tor/Forge. Her books have been translated into many languages and have been selected for multiple book club editions. Leanna is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers. She is proud to be a co-founder of the original Lady Jane's Salon Reading Series in New York. Leanna was named the 2010 RWA NYC Chapter Author of the Year. A member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA, Leanna has been featured in film and television on shows like Boardwalk Empire. She loves nothing more than a good ghost story and a finely tailored corset, wandering graveyards and adventuring around New York City, where she also works as a ghost tour guide. Active on Twitter @leannarenee and, more information as well as free reads, author resources, links to her art and Etsy store and more can be found at

This giveaway is only open to US residents.  Contest ends on October 30th at 12 noon.

Here are the rules:

1) Leave your name and email address in the comments section
2) If you tweet about the giveaway, and let me know, you get an extra entry.
3) If you are not a follower of the blog, and become one, you get an extra entry.
4) If you like the Scandalous Women Facebook page, you also get an extra entry.

The winner will be announced on October 31st!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September Book of the Month: ETERNA AND OMEGA by Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber's gaslamp fantasy series continues and the action ramps up in Eterna and Omega.
In New York City, fearing the dangers of the Eterna Compound--supposedly the key to immortality--Clara Templeton buries information vital to its creation. The ghost of her clandestine lover is desperate to tell her she is wrong, but though she is a clairvoyant, she cannot hear him.
In London, Harold Spire plans to send his team of assassins, magicians, mediums, and other rogue talents to New York City, in an attempt to obtain Eterna for Her Royal Majesty, Queen Victoria. He stays behind to help Scotland Yard track down a network of body snatchers and occultists, but he'll miss his second-in-command, Rose Everhart, whose gentle exterior masks a steel spine.
Rose's skepticism about the supernatural has been shattered since she joined Spire's Omega Branch. Meeting Clara is like looking into a strange mirror: both women are orphans, each is concealing a paranormal ability, and each has a powerful and attractive guardian who has secrets of his own.
The hidden occult power that menaces both England and America continues to grow. Far from being dangerous, Eterna may hold the key to humanity's salvation.

I don't often feature books (fiction or non-fiction) that isn't about a Scandalous Woman from history but I'm making an exception this month because Eterna and Omega (book 2 of The Eterna Files) is such a special book. Full disclosure, the author is a very good friend of mine, and I have the joy of seeing her grow from a newly published author to an award winning multi-published and accomplished novelist.  The Eterna Files series deals with a supernatural arms race between the United States and the United Kingdom. These books have everything, action, adventure, the paranormal and even some smooching. Leanna is an accomplished actress and playwright so her characters are three dimensional, fully formed that just leap off the page. If you love the Victorian era or the Gothic novels of Charlotte Bronte or Edgar Allen Poe, you will love this series. However, I would suggest that you start with the first book The Eterna Files which is now out in paperback. The series does have a cast of thousands but it is to Leanna's credit that it never seems overwhelming or confusing. 

You can also check out her other novels on her website.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

July Book of the Month: Lucie Aubrac

The next few months mark the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of France by Allied troops, which makes it a perfect time to be talking about Lucie Aubrac and other members of the French resistance who fought their Nazi occupiers for years until the Allies arrived. As one of the founders and leaders of Libération-Sud, Aubrac not only helped to distribute the underground newspaper Libération during World War II but also served as a courier, arms carrier, and saboteur. Her time under the Vichy regime was like something from a John Le Carré novel, involving disguises, swapped suitcases, and clues left in crosswords. Aubrac, working under the last name Montet, even managed to fool SS officer Klaus Barbie, infamously known as the “Butcher of Lyon,” to help her husband skirt certain death. British and American propaganda turned her exploits into the stuff of legend, and she was revered in her country for decades, but it all nearly ended in 1983, when she and her husband found themselves accused of secretly aiding their most-hated enemies. Lucie Aubrac helps parse out exactly what the couple’s actions and motivations were during the war while offering a thrilling portrait of a brave, resourceful woman who went to extraordinary lengths for love and country.

Here is a short excerpt from the book:

As a founder and leader of Libération-Sud, an arm of the French Resistance during World War II, Lucie Aubrac ran guns and messages, committed acts of sabotage, and multiple times faked her identity to helped others escape from Nazi POW camps. In the first half of her new book, Lucie Aubrac: The French Resistance Heroine Who Outwitted the Gestapo, Siân Rees details these exploits, including the two different times that Lucie rescued her own husband, Raymond. Below is an excerpt from the book detailing the first rescue operation, when Lucie (operating under the last name Samuel) traveled to Sarrebourg with a plan to get Raymond sick enough to be sent from prison to a hospital—from which she could sneak him away.

Still in Vannes, Lucie Samuel had had no news of her husband for weeks. She passed her first birthday as a married woman as she had done her first Christmas: alone and frightened, not knowing where her husband was, or even if he was still alive. Her parents-in-law knew no more than she did; it seemed nobody had information about their men. Some semblance of ordinary life had to continue, nevertheless, as millions of people waited for news. However bewildered and frightened teachers and pupils were with foreign soldiers in the streets and fathers, brothers, and husbands who had vanished, the girls and boys who had been working toward their baccalauréat had to sit their examination.

Bravely, Lucie contacted the German authorities in Vannes, persuading them to release four French officers from the nearest internment camp to form the examination jury. She was enraged when all four refused to seize the opportunity to escape; had they no courage, no principled determination to resist defeat? Term had ended by the time she finally received a card from the Red Cross at the end of July, with a note that her husband was confined to a barracks in Sarrebourg, converted to a prisoner-of-war camp. He had written the card on her birthday:

Nothing is more monotonous, my love, than life in camp. More than the lack of comforts and the terrible food, it is the false and contradictory reports which weigh on the thousands of poor blokes who are here and who see no hope on the horizon. . . . When I leave here, I will go to Dijon, and I will find you, and we will choose what must be done, won’t we. I hope you are very well, and ready for our future life. And this evening, your birthday, my thoughts will be entirely with you. Raymond.

With most of France lapsing into the stunned inactivity known as attentisme—waiting to see what would happen—Lucie Samuel went into action. She had no more faith than her husband that the Nazis would soon let their French prisoners go home, and she knew that if Raymond were transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany his Jewishness would put him in terrible danger. He had to escape immediately, and Lucie was not a woman who waited for other people to step in and take care of things. She would rescue him herself.

Once again she crossed France, traveling in even more dangerous circumstances than she had done the previous November, for the roads were blocked not only by refugees but also by the German troops fanning out across a traumatized country, ramming home the fact of their victory as they entered town after town in sleek, gray-green, seemingly endless processions. Single-minded in her determination to rescue Raymond, Lucie had come up with a simple plan: she would engineer her husband’s transfer from barracks to hospital, then smuggle in a disguise to facilitate his escape. In Champagne, she stopped off to find Raymond’s brother, Yvon, in the military hospital to which he had been posted. Yvon provided her with a drug guaranteed to provoke fever, and on she went, against the current, traveling east as everyone else traveled west, until she reached Sarrebourg and begged permission to see her husband. There was a brief, charged contact between prisoner and visitor—it was the first time they had seen each other since Paris in May—the drug was passed from one to another, time was called, and a couple of days later a heavily sweating Raymond was transferred to the hospital. Visiting as the anxious wife, Lucie produced the cap and suit of workman’s blue overalls in which he would escape. If it was a simple plan, it was also a terrifying one for Raymond, who was more frightened than he had ever been in his life—hiding next to the garden fence was easy enough, but he was all too aware that if the nearby guards saw him during the moment it would take to haul himself over, their bullets would not miss. After what seemed like hours of gut-cramping hesitation, he pulled himself up, threw himself over the top, and fell into the street below, where Lucie was waiting.

Excerpted from Lucie Aubrac: The French Resistance Heroine Who Outwitted the Gestapo, by Siân Rees, with permission from Chicago Review Press. Copyright (c) 2016, all rights reserved.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Guest Post: Isabella Bird: A Lady’s Life Breaking Boundaries

The nineteenth century was a fantastic decade for scandalous women, as more and more strong-minded, early feminists were stepping out of their male counterpart’s shadows to make their own names on the world’s stage.

In literature, this decade saw Mary Shelly galvanize readers with her controversial thriller, “Frankenstein,” and the Bronte sisters tear at the heartstrings of many—albeit not under their own names. However, one female writer from the 1800s overstepped so many of her
assigned gender roles at the time that publishing under her own name was probably one of the least controversial of her actions.

Isabella Bird was one of the most outspoken and daring adventuresses of her time, and although her first book was published anonymously, her age-old classic “A Ladies Life In the Rocky Mountains” proudly bore her birth name in all its feminine glory.

Early Outcry

Born Isabella Lucy Bird in 1831 to a devout Reverend in a small town in Yorkshire, she was known from an early age as having a smart mouth and quick wit. Reports have surfaced of an eager young Bird, fearlessly questioning an MP during his campaign trail, "Did you tell my father my sister was so pretty because you wanted his vote?”

It was this genuine interest and curiosity in the ways of the world that propelled her forward with eager drive and soon became her defining feature after long-term poor health brought complications to her life that she could have never imagined.

In reality, this illness was a pivotal moment for Bird, as the family doctor recommended fresh air as a cure for her ailments. Leading to the beginning of her traveling life, this instigated several summers spent in Scotland, followed by a trip to America, which was pre-empted by a sizable donation from her father and a weary warning to not come back until it was spent. It seemed her sharp intelligence and opened minded nature was all too much for her humble evangelical home life.

Overcoming Obstacles

Early accounts of Bird’s poor health described her as frail, a chronic insomniac, sufferer of stress headaches and several problems with her spine. Later on, a tumor was removed from around this area but her health problems still continued into later life.

Despite the fact that traveling with these constant discomforts must have taken its toll, the wandering adventuress had been bitten by the travel bug, and from here on, things were only set to become more epic.

Her next solo voyage took her to Australia, before quickly returning stateside to visit the tropical island of Hawaii. Here, she wrote her second book “The Hawaiian Archipelago” and spent her time hiking some of the greatest mountains in the area. It wasn’t until she heard that the air in Colorado, then a newly formed state, was incredibly healing for the sick and infirmed that she packed her bags again and set off on perhaps the most prominent adventures of her life.

The Rocky Mountains Years

One of the most notable images of Bird depicts her in practical, male influenced clothing, straddling a horse, with no shred of consideration for this being improper or unladylike. For most, this is a beautiful metaphor of the strength, character and delightfully controversial nature of this poignant early feminist.

Her time in the Rocky Mountains was documented, and later published, via a series of letters between her and her sister. Her tone in the writing is one of pragmatic wonder, describing her surroundings with enthusiasm and poetic vigor. Her recounts of the problems she faced along the way are tackled with levelheaded sensibilities, and her lovingly open-minded descriptions of the now-famed mountain man, Jim, is a testimony to the true uniqueness of Bird’s character and her wonderfully free perspectives on all that she encountered.

Her Scandalous Later Life

After her adventures in the Rockies, Bird was not done. She traveled to Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam and Singapore, never once letting man nor mind slow down her global gallivants. It wasn’t until the heart-breaking death of her beloved sister, Henrietta, that Bird finally succumbed to one of her many suitors and married Dr. John Bishop.

From this point, her health took a dramatic turn for the worse, and she was indefinitely grounded, until the death of her husband and subsequent heritage fund seemed to be enough to inspire her to pack a suitcase and tie up her traveling boots for once last time.

It’s hard to say whether the conditions of her marriage had been holding her health back, but one thing is undeniably clear: she was never a woman who was meant to be held down. Free, once again and back on the road, Bird visited India, Tibet, Persia, Kurdistan and Turkey before her swan song journey to Morocco. During these excursions, she set up a hospital, named after and
in memory of her late husband. If nothing else, this shows that the man did hold a special place in Bird’s otherwise wild and independent heart.

On the return from Morocco, her health finally got the better of her, and after seeing most of the world, writing a plethora of classic books and setting up missions and other charitable projects globally, Bird’s inspirational life came to an end in the comfort of her own home in England in 1904.
 Get Her Work

Amazingly, Kindle owners can download all of Bird’s works for no charge from the Amazon-based store. However, for users living in the Middle East or some of the world's more conservative countries, the titles may be blocked as some of their content can be viewed as controversial. Kindle Fire users can get around this by installing installing a VPN such as IPVanish on their device, which is a handy bit of software that allows you to gain access to all content, no matter where in the world you are.

If you're don't own a Kindle, then paperback copies are also available from Amazon, or you can download the PDF for free from
this site.

 About the Author: Isa is an entertainment blogger and an avid reader and passionate feminist. She loves the inspiring women of the nineteenth century and the way they paved the way for the modern world!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Was Aemilia Bassano Lanier Shakespeare’s Dark Lady? - Guest Post by Mary Sharratt

Scandalous Women is pleased to welcome author Mary Sharratt to the blog today to talk about Aemilia Bassano Lanier, the heroine of her new novel The Dark Lady's Mask, 

Born in 1569, Aemilia Bassano Lanier (also spelled Lanyer) was the highly cultured daughter of an Italian court musician—a man thought to have been a Marrano, a secret Jew living under the guise of a Christian convert.

After her father’s death, seven-year-old Aemilia was fostered by Susan Bertie, the Dowager Countess of Kent, who gave her young charge the kind of humanist education generally reserved for boys in that era. Later, after Bertie remarried and moved to the Netherlands, Aemilia became the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. As Carey’s paramour, Aemilia Bassano enjoyed a few years of glory in the royal court—an idyll that came to an abrupt and inglorious end when she found herself pregnant with Carey’s child. She was then shunted off into an unhappy arranged marriage with Alfonso Lanier, a court musician and scheming adventurer who wasted her money. So began her long decline into obscurity and genteel poverty, yet she triumphed to become a ground-breaking woman of letters. 

Aemilia Bassano Lanier was the first English woman to aspire to a career as a professional poet by actively seeking a circle of eminent female patrons to support her. She praises these women in the dedicatory verses to her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, a vindication of the rights of women couched in religious verse and published in 1611.

But was Lanier also the mysterious Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets, as the late A. L. Rowse famously proclaimed?  

Is this Aemilia Bassano Lanier? Miniature by Nicholas Hilliard.

Shakespeare’s Dark Lady Sonnet Sequence (sonnets 127-152) describes a woman with an “exotic” dark beauty that sets her apart from the pale English roses. Musically gifted, she plays the virginals like a virtuosa, winning the poet’s heart. She is also of tarnished reputation—a woman of bastard birth and a married woman who lures the likewise married Shakespeare into a shameful, doubly-adulterous affair. Alas, the lady proves capricious and unfaithful, and the bitter end of their affair leaves her poet-lover roiling with disgust. Shakespeare describes her as “my female evil.”

William Shakespeare

Over the centuries Shakespearean scholars have tried to deduce the Dark Lady’s identity. Candidates include Lucy Morgan, a London brothel owner of African ancestry; and Sara Fitton, lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I.

Aemilia Bassano Lanier herself seems to fit the bill. A woman of Italian-Jewish heritage, it’s plausible that she had raven-black hair and an olive complexion. Her parents’ common-law marriage meant that she was officially classed as a bastard. The illegitimate son she had with the Lord Chamberlain did nothing to shore up her reputation. As a court musician’s daughter and later another court musician’s unwilling wife, it’s likely that she was musically accomplished and a deft hand at the virginals. After being jilted by the Lord Chamberlain and thrust into a forced marriage with a man she detested, she may well have been tempted to look for love elsewhere. The Lord Chamberlain, interestingly enough, was also Shakespeare’s patron, the money behind his theatre company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

However, none of this proves that Lanier was the Dark Lady, or even that there was a Dark Lady. Academic scholars will point out that we don’t even know if Shakespeare’s sonnets were autobiographical. Lanier scholars in particular find the Dark Lady question an unwelcome detraction from Lanier’s own considerable literary achievements.

Having established these facts, I must confess that as a novelist I could not resist the allure of the Dark Lady myth. As Kate Chedgzoy points out in her essay “Remembering Aemilia Lanyer” in the Journal of the Northern Renaissance, this myth endures because it draws on “our continuing cultural investment in a fantasy of a female Shakespeare.”

My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart? 

In The Dark Lady’s Mask, I explore what happens when a struggling young Shakespeare meets a struggling young woman poet of equal genius and passion. If Lanier and Shakespeare were lovers, would this explain how Shakespeare made the leap from his history plays to his Italian comedies and romances—the turning point of his career? Lanier, after all, was an Anglo-Italian trapped in a miserable arranged marriage. The names Aemilia, Emilia, Emelia, and Bassanio all appear in Shakespeare’s plays. His Italian comedies are set in Veneto, Lanier’s ancestral homeland. What if Shakespeare’s early comedies were the fruit of an active collaboration between him and Lanier?

I find it fascinating how the strong, outspoken women of Shakespeare’s early Italian comedies, such as the crossdressing Rosalind in As You Like It and the spirited Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, gave way to much weaker heroines and misogynistic portraits of women in Shakespeare’s great tragedies, such as frail, mad Ophelia in Hamlet. This change in tack leads me to wonder if the historical Shakespeare actually did have a bittersweet affair with a mysterious, unknown woman that cast a shadow over his later life and work.

Most intriguingly, Lanier’s own proto-feminist Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in the wake of Shakespeare’s sonnets bitterly mocking his Dark Lady. If she and Shakespeare were estranged lovers, was this her spirited riposte to his defamation of her character? Did the woman Shakespeare maligned as his “female evil” pick up her pen in her own defense and in defense of all women? 

These two poets had such radically different character arcs. We all know about Shakespeare’s rise to the glory that would enshrine him as an enduring cultural icon. But there was no meteoric rise for Lanier. Though she eventually triumphed to become a published poet, she died in obscurity and has only recently been rediscovered by scholars.

In my novel I wanted to redress the balance by writing Aemilia Bassano Lanier back into history. Her life and work stand in direct opposition to Virginia Woolf’s pronouncement in “A Room of One’s Own” that “it would have been . . . completely and entirely impossible, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare.” Although Lanier may not have been a playwright, her achievement as a poet speaks for itself. Whether or not she was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, muse, lover, or collaborator, she has certainly earned her place in history as Shakespeare’s peer.

Mary Sharratt’s novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Visit her website:

Monday, May 16, 2016

May Books of the Month: Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie and Marlene by C.W. Gortner

I know I have been neglecting this blog shamelessly. This summer, I hope to endeavor to do better. In my defense, I have been working on multiple writing projects, several non-fiction proposals that I’m hoping to sell as well as some fiction.  Nothing concrete, meaning nothing has been signed, but it has been occupying a great deal of my time.  I’ve also had a difficult job situation this year, I’ve had to leave a job that I loved, since my new boss decided she needed someone with more experience and fundraising, and my boss at my new temp assignment just quit. So 2016 has been a bitch so far, not to mention losing Prince, David Bowie, Ken Howard and Alan Rickman. I dread picking up the paper to see who else we have lost. In my few hours of down time, I have been reading a great deal of historical fiction lately, and I have two books that I absolutely have to recommend.

Rivals of VersaillesSally Christie
Published by:  Atria Books
Pub Date:  April 5, 2016
How Acquired:  TLC Book Tours

The Rivals of Versailles continues the story of King Louis XV and his lady loves, this time focusing on the fabulous Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, the Marquise de Pompadour, a little girl from the middle classes who rose to become the virtual Queen of France.  Jeanne's voice and story are balanced against a few of her many rivals. Pompadour remained by Louis' side for almost two decades, and as the king continued his descent into pure libertinage, she was along for the ride.​​

I read and reviewed Christie’s first book last year The Sisters of Versailles about the de Mailly sisters, all of whom at one point mistresses of a young Louis XV.  I adored the book and couldn’t wait to read the sequel, Rivals of Versailles.  I was not disappointed in the slightest.  If anything, Christie has topped herself with this novel. I was captivated from the first sentence, meeting the young Jeanne de Poisson. I thought I knew who Madame Pompadour was, having seen her images in paintings over the years, but I realized that I only knew the tip of the iceberg.  What a remarkable woman.  I have to say after reading both novels that I no longer envy the life of a royal mistress, particularly at Versailles.  Charles II’s court seems like a walk in the park compared to the back-stabbing and jockeying for position that went on at Versailles. I supposed that is why reading about Louis XV’s court is so intriguing.  By this time in the UK, the British were stuck with the Georges, I and II, neither of whom had very interesting mistresses.

Pompadour loves the King, but he’s wearing her out with his sexual demands, which don’t seem to diminish with age (Damn those Bourbons!), and the courtiers who are constantly pushing forward their candidates to replace her. I admire the way that Jeanne continued to educate herself to make herself worthy of being a royal mistress.  Knowing that she couldn’t keep up with him sexually, Jeanne made herself indispensable as a confidante and an advisor.  That was the one thing that her rivals didn’t count on, that the King kept her around because he couldn’t do without her advice.

One of the fantastic things about this novel is that we get to meet women who are less well known than Madame de Pompadour, each sort of representing a different phase in the King’s life. Christie does a remarkable job of making each woman so individual that you almost don’t miss Pompadour.  One of my favorites is Marie Louise O'Murphy (Morphise) a young prostitute who also modeled for the painter Boucher.  Marie Louise has been on the game since she was a young girl of about ten.  Concerned about losing the favor of the King, Pompadour has one of his men choosing women and setting them up in a house for the King to visit, like a private brothel for one. Seriously, can you imagine loving someone that much that you are willing to help pimp for him? Mary Louise’s time with the King is short but her section of the book is amongst the most vivid in the novel as is her backstory.  I don’t want to spoil anything but I could easily have read a whole book just about her life. Both Marie-Louise and Pompadour had a great deal in common, both rose from humble origins to great heights.

I also enjoyed the fact that the reader is introduced to two of the King’s daughters, Henriette and Adelaide who is destined to be a main character in the last book of the trilogy, as well as to the Dauphin and Dauphine.  I highly recommend this book, particularly if you enjoy reading about royal shenanigans and are suffering from Tudor fatigue. To me, it is a more fully realized book than the first one.  If you are a fan of Outlander, you should definitely pick up this book because the second season of the series is set in Paris at Louis XV’s court.  

Marlene – C.W. Gortner
Published by:  William Morrow
How Acquired:  Edelweiss
Pub Date:  May 24, 2016

What is about:  From the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the tyrannical movie studios of Los Angeles, this sweeping story of passion, glamour, art, and war is a lush, dramatic novel of one of the most alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age: Marlene Dietrich. Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses and conducts a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention until she finds overnight success in the scandalous movie The Blue Angel. For Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler rises to power, she sets sail for America to become a rival to MGM’s queen, Greta Garbo.
An enthralling account of this extraordinary legend, MARLENE reveals the inner life of a woman of grit and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path.

I’m always looking for interesting historical fiction to read, particularly about women and time periods that I know very little about.  Two reasons, the less I know about a period, the more enjoyable I find the book (the more I know about a time period, the pickier I get with writers), and I love discovering new things.  Now, Marlene Dietrich was not unknown to me, I have seen several of films and frankly I think she’s an underrated as a film actress.  But I only knew the bare bones about her life before she made it to Hollywood.  I’ve raved before about Gortner’s books. He has an uncanny ability to get deep inside his female characters so that the novel reads as if Marlene is confiding in the reader, telling him or her secrets that she has never revealed before.  The novel is told in the first person, in an almost intimate tone. At times it almost felt too personal, as if Marlene were peeling herself like an onion for the reader.

I have to admit that my favorite part of the book is the first section, Marlene’s early years, living in genteel poverty with her mother and sister, trying to keep up appearances, her first stirrings of attraction and love for both men and women, her early forays into show business, living in Berlin during the Weimar Republic where almost anything goes.  There are faint echoes of Isherwood’s Goodbye to Berlin, although that novel is set a bit later. The entire book could have been about Marlene’s early years and ended with her leaving for Hollywood and I would have been a happy girl.  The section of the book dealing with Marlene’s early Hollywood years tends to fall a bit flat, more a catalogue of the films she made and the stars that she slept with.  The book gets a jolt of energy and pizazz dealing with the years that Marlene spent entertaining the troops during World War II, insisting on being at the front, and the aftermath of the war, attempting to find her family and learning how they survived after she left Berlin, the disillusionment.

I also found Marlene’s relationship with her mother, older sister and her daughter to be intriguing although, her relationship with her daughter isn’t fully fleshed out. That maybe because Marlene wasn’t really interested in being a mother, not full-time anyway.  She went through the motions but her heart wasn’t really in it.  In a certain way, she was as indifferent to her daughter as her mother was to her. In the end, I didn’t find Marlene as satisfying a read as I did Gortner’s Mademoiselle Chanel.  But if you are dying to read a novel filled with glitz, glamour, and danger, then pick up a copy of Marlene when it comes out next week. 

Friday, March 11, 2016

Downton Abbey – Why Lady Edith is the true Heroine of the Series

This Sunday marked the final episode of Downton Abbey. I’m not ashamed to admit that I bawled through most of this episode even though I had seen it already (I bought the DVD weeks ago). Oh, I have had my issues with this series over the years, the almost too fast pace, the arrests of both Anna and Mr. Bates, Mary’s romantical problems (I was rooting for Charles Blake), the waste of Tom Branson’s character in the last two series, and Barrow’s evil schemes.  But who would have thought when this series began six years ago that Lady Edith Crawley would emerge as the show’s true heroine, the underdog who finally triumphs?

If you asked most viewers, they would probably say that Lady Mary was the main heroine of the series. She certainly is Julian Fellowes favorite character.  Don’t get me wrong, I can see why so many people love Lady Mary.  All her life she has been considered the most beautiful, the most promising, the achiever, and the strongest one.  Lady Mary is one of those women who go sailing serenely through life like stately ocean liner, they may hit rough waters, but life will always turn out all right for them. Sure, Mary endures tragedy, but Mary is also wealthy, chic, and constantly pursued by scores of handsome suitors. Mary has also proven herself to have been throughout Downton Abbey to be at times an unremittent snob, imperious, cruel, vindictive, and lacking in compassion and cold.  Let’s face it while, we all like to pretend that we are Lady Mary, most of us have felt like Lady Edith at some point in our lives. 

The Lady Edith Crawley viewers were introduced to in series one was petulant, unpleasant and unlikeable.  Sandwiched between Lady Mary, an imperious beauty and Lady Sybil, the youngest, was a rebellious beauty who was more impulsive and socially adept than the others. As the middle sister, Edith was the awkward child, often said to be the "forgotten" one or “poor, old Edith.” She wasn’t as pretty or witty as Mary and she was less daring and passionate than Sybil.  And it was clear that while Lord Grantham favored Mary, Cora favored Sybil, leaving Edith out in the cold. Consider this lovely little exchange early on between Robert and Cora.

Robert: “Poor old Edith. We never seem to talk about her.”
Cora: “I’m afraid Edith will be the one taking care of us in our old age.”
Robert: “Oh, what a ghastly prospect!”

Basically, Lady Edith was Downton Abbey’s Jan Brady. Instead of ‘Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,’ Edith had to listen to ‘Mary, Mary, Mary,’ all the time. It’s a wonder that Edith didn’t smother Mary in her sleep. Edith seemed so pathetic and unappealing that SNL referred to her in their parody as ‘the other one,’ and on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, she was played by a man. For the longest time it seemed as if Julian Fellowes had it out for poor Edith.  You can read the list of every miserable thing that has happened to Edith here on Vulture, but suffice to say, she’s had more than her share of heartbreak but as Cora once told her, whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger and that’s certainly true with Edith. The Edith of the first series would never have dared to confront her sister as she did in the final season.  Every time she’s been knocked down, and there have been plenty, she manages to pick herself up and dust herself off, because like the song says, she’s got “High Hopes.”

From the beginning, her rivalry with Mary has dominated the series.  During the first series, it seemed that everything Mary had, Edith wanted, whether it was Matthew or even poor Sir Anthony Strallen (Mary later ruined things between the two by insinuating that Edith wasn’t serious about him). It’s no wonder that Edith maliciously revealed her sister’s murderous tryst with Kemal Pamuk to the Turkish Embassy. But even that was forgivable to a certain extent since it was Mary’s actions that set Edith off on her quest for revenge, insulting Edith behind her back not knowing that Edith had overheard.

By the second series, Edith slowly began to change, throwing herself into the war effort.  She learned to drive a car and wound up managing non-medical patient care when Downton became a convalescent home for officers.  The viewers slowly began to see that Edith had a genuinely good heart and an amiable personality.  Yes, Edith still had bad luck with men, falling for a married farmer and a con-artist, but at least her heart was still open to the possibility of finding love.  But it was getting jilted at the altar by Sir Anthony that was the best thing that ever happened to Edith. After some tough love by the Dowager Countess (“You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!”), Edith dried her tears, pulled herself up by her dainties and got on with it. A single letter to the Times of London regarding votes for women led to an offer of a column in the Sketch newspaper. Soon Edith began to make a life for herself away from Downton, hobnobbing with the Bohemian set in London. 

And finally she met a man who pursued her instead of the other way around. Michael Gregson was her boss and a married man, but the two fell in love. After suffering so much loss, including the death of her sister, Edith learned to carpe diem. She didn’t wait for Michael to get his divorce before spending the night in his arms. It was a risk that she was willing to take.  And when Edith found herself in the family way she chose not to have an abortion.  And though it could be considered selfish, Edith found herself unable to give up her daughter Marigold to strangers. It was a huge risk not only to bring her to Downton to have the Drewes raise her, but to bring her to live at the Abbey under the guise of being the family ward.  After Gregson’s death, Edith managed to pull herself together, throwing herself into dealing with his media empire. Even Lord Grantham, who had been opposed to Edith’s writing initially, has come to admire her resilience over the course of the series. He was even willing to accept Marigold as his grandchild and to love her along with George and Sybbie.

This final season of Downton feels as if Lord Fellowes has listened to Edith’s fans and scripted a happy ending. Although I loved her not only ending up with a kind and loving man but also outranking her family, for me it was enough that Edith finally confronted her sister over the terrible way she’s been treated over the years.  Mary telling Bertie the truth about Marigold was just the latest in a long series of thinly veiled insults and utter contempt. After Sybil’s death, Edith reached out an olive branch to Mary and was flatly rebuffed.  Watching Edith storm out of the Abbey was extremely satisfying. And when she came back for Mary’s wedding, it was after realizing that in the end, when everyone is gone she and Mary are going to be the only ones who will remember the way things used to be.  It was lovely to see Edith make plans for her future, moving to London, sending Marigold to a proper school. She would have been happy, even if Bertie hadn’t come crawling back thanks to Mary. This is Edith is a far cry from the young woman in series three who practically brow-beat Sir Anthony into marrying her because she didn’t want to be the only Crawley that was single.  And she’s managed to forge strong relationships with both of her brothers-in-law, Tom and Henry (who calls her Edie!).

While Edith has moved beyond Downton, Lady Mary has ended up exactly where she was at the beginning of the series.  Yes, she’s known tragedy and come into her own as she holds the reins of Downton for George, but her marriage to Henry is no different than her marriage to Matthew. You could argue that Downton is actually Mary’s true love, not Matthew or Henry. We saw that in the first series when Mary angrily railed against the entailment that kept her from inheriting. She was willing to marry a man she didn’t love for Downton.  And while she and Matthew were truly in love, the fact that he was the heir didn’t hurt. And didn’t it hurt in series two to know that Lavinia Swire would be the Countess of Grantham while Mary had to settle for Sir Richard and a bought estate! After rejecting suitors such as Tony Gillingham and Charles Blake, men who had estates of their own that would need to be managed, Mary has married a former race-car driver who is quite content to live on his wife’s family estate. I imagine as the years pass, Lady Mary’s focus will be increasingly on preserving Downton for George. Henry will be bored without the rush of racecar driving, and start drinking heavily. When he’ll spend most of his time in London, visiting his mistress, leaving Tom to do the bulk of the work at the car dealership.

In the end, Edith has proven to be the strongest of the three Crawley sisters, the one who has truly changed and evolved over the series, the one most capable of taking care of herself no matter what the situation.  Edith started out the series as the archetype of the waif, the damsel in distress, who bends with the wind.  But instead, she amazed everyone by turningto have a tremendous strength of will. In the end, She's become a thoroughly modern woman of the 20th century.