Friday, January 19, 2018

Tracy Ann Miller’s THE MAIDEN SEER – Saxon Reader of Runes Falls for a Viking Warrior

Set in “the Great Isle” (England) in 877, this is the story of Amber, known in Wessex as “the Maiden Seer”, who can see the future and helps her uncle King Alfred with battle strategy. Hoping to find peace in the convent life away from everyone’s demands, she leaves her village, but before she does, she has a dream of killing a giant oak, who she believes is a man.

Konnar is a Viking tired of raiding. He plans to retire from that life to East Anglia where he is a jarl. But first he must abduct the Maiden Seer and deliver her (in tact) to Dierk the RavenHair who will pay him with treasure. All except Amber believe that her virginity is what enables her to read the runes.
With her visions and her runes, she is able to figure out a few of Konnar’s secrets and plans to use them against him. She is not above lies, treachery and manipulation to get what she wants. And anger for what she perceives is a wrong done her by Konnar.
At nearly 400 pages, the story is a long one as Konnar and Amber travel by his knorr, a Viking ship, and then by land to East Anglia and finally to Wessex. 

Miller has obviously done much research into the Viking culture and England of the time and includes much historic detail and authentic terms. Amber mixes Christianity with the pagan reading of runes to tell the future, which was an interesting twist. Her reading of the runes for Konnar’s men was absorbing.  
There are many good characters, including Konnar’s men and Dierk, the villain, who is is well cast.
As with her first novel, Loveweaver, initially, I found the author’s word choices and writing style a bit difficult, but once I became used to her style, the story became very entertaining. 

The exciting ending brings a satisfying resolution to their long-developing love.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How the Hungry Viking Family Ate by Gina Conkle, my guest author today

My guest today is author Gina Conkle, who grew up in southern California, but despite all that sunshine, loves books over beaches and stone castles over sand castles. Now she lives in Michigan with her favorite alpha male, Brian, and their two sons where she occasionally gardens and cooks. She writes Viking and sensual Georgian romances. Her books offer witty banter and sexual tension that readers love. Today she is sharing with us some of her research for her Vikings stories.  (See my review of To Find a Viking Treasure from her Norse series, posted below this post.)

One lucky commenter will receive a $5 Amazon gift card to purchase a book if she likes! So do leave your email.

And now to Gina’s post on the Viking menu…

How the Hungry Viking Family Ate

Food is a universal language. In it we express love for our families whether we’re celebrating holidays with big feasts or simpler dinners. This common thread runs through the centuries. No matter the culture, we share the common bond of gathering together at day’s end to do one thing—eat.

As a historical romance writer, how a culture approaches food interests me. I bounce between reading cookbooks on lavish Georgian feasts and practical Viking fare. Learning how and what people ate tells me a lot about their era and what they valued. We often come with preconceived notions about long ago cultures. Some ideas are founded in truth. Others not. Say “food” and “Vikings” in the same breath and most picture a bearded warrior with a horn of ale in one hand, a hunk of meat in the other. You wouldn’t be far off from the truth. Vikings didn’t fuss with multiple utensils. They used knives and a rough version of a spoon. Thralls (slaves) served meals from trenchers in medieval fashion.

But, peel back the layers of time, and you might be surprised at these 3 basic things:

Vikings Ate Twice a Day

The first meal was more like an early lunch called dagvard. Common dishes for dagvard were porridges or stews. For the common Viking, animals were tended first and then you ate and got back to your day.

The evening meal, kvallsvard, was the time to enjoy a bigger feast. Families joined together to wind their day. Ale was consumed. Tales were told. No guest at the door was ever turned away. That’s the code of Viking hospitality. For the humble longhouse, cheese, smoked or dried meat, baked turnips, or other dairy products were typically served. Butter was common but not the full spice rack you and I enjoy today. Pepper was worth its weight in gold.

Grand longhouses of jarls, kings, and wealthy Vikings dug into fried breads, dried berries, pork (on special occasions), venison, dried fish, cheese, and more.

What about the hungry laborer in need of a mid-day snack? Soured milk (buttermilk) was popular to tide you over. Even Viking warriors were known to guzzle buttermilk.
Ovens, Fire Pits, and Kitchens

Typical longhouses had a center fire pit dug in the middle of the home. Viking women fried bread rather than baked it. Soapstone vessels were popular because they were more durable than pottery, acted like a “slow cooker,” and retained heat long after removal from a fire. They also looked better than black kettles (yes, Vikings used those too). Soapstone was the way to go. A Viking matron could put her ingredients in one of those pots and go about her day confident dinner would be ready come twilight.

While most Vikings cooked inside their longhouses, there are interesting examples of kitchens as outbuildings. Wealthy and high-ranking Vikings would’ve had an eldhus, literally a “heated room.” Sometimes the kitchen was referred to as bur pat er konor hafa matreido, a mouthful that means “the room in which women prepare food.”

In other words, kitchens were so unusual, the room never got its own name. The other unusual cooking implement? Ovens.

Vikings cooked over open fires with the exception of one place—Uppakra in southern Sweden. This rich settlement boasted a massive temple that drew crowds by the hundreds. Logic follows that massive feasts were held there too. Archaeologists unearthed a large, domed-shaped oven in Uppakra, evidence of baking. Clay analysis ruled out the possibility of it being a kiln (the dome never reached temperatures that high). Large amounts barley, emmer, and rye were found in the oven, leading to one conclusion: the oven baked bread.

Vikings Ate Their Kale

With kale being all the rage these days, it makes me smile to think Vikings ate healthy greens. Vikings also grew leeks and turnips (roasted and buttered turnips were quite common).

Other common foods were hazelnuts, white goosefoot (considered a weed in most places), sorrel (a spinach-y plant), and camelina. Camelina grows well in cold, arid regions. It’s called “False Flax” because the seeds are ground for their oil. Camelina is great for cooking (tastes like almond oil) and has many healthy properties.
The other power food Vikings ate? Lingonberries, a tart cranberry-like fruit. You’ve heard that blueberries and acai berries are chock full of antioxidants. You might be surprised to learn lingonberries (also called cowberries) have almost double the antioxidants! The hardy lingonberry thrives only in frigid climes.
No wonder Vikings grew big and strong.

For more Viking food nerdery, take a look at my blog series How to Eat Like a Viking. I cooked Viking meals as reconstructed from seven Viking archaeology sites and served them to my family. It was so much fun that I’m going to do it again next summer.

Now you tell me: When you hear "Viking" what foods do you think of? Did something surprise you today in what you read? If so, please tell me in the comments below, and you’re in the drawing to win a $5 Amazon e-gift card.

To Find a Viking Treasure...
Rough-souled Brandr’s ready for a new life far from Uppsala, but the Viking has a final task —protect the slave, Sestra. Her life's full of hardship…until she learns the location of a treasure. With war coming, stealing the enemy's riches will save lives, but only one man can defend her —the fierce Viking scout, Brandr.

The two have always traded taunts, now they must share trust. Passions flare as secrets unfold, leading one to make a daring sacrifice on their quest To Find a Viking Treasure.

On Amazon, B&N, Kobo, iBooks. And keep up with Gina on her Website and on Facebook!

Monday, January 15, 2018

Gina Conkle’s TO FIND A VIKING TREASURE - Exciting Viking Tale

Set in 1022 in the kingdom of Svea (Sweden), this is the story of warring Viking leaders and a rough yet noble warrior who serves the man who saved his life. Brandr wants to leave Uppsala to start a new life, but his desire to protect the slave, Sestra, keeps him from leaving.

Sestra is a thrall who has known only abuse from men who lust after her beauty. But when she tells the Viking leader of a treasure hidden by their enemy, Brandr and she are sent to find it. To Sestra, Brandr is a mysterious figure, a man of strength whose only words are ones meant to tease yet he always treats her with respect.

This is a Viking version of lost on a desert isle. Alone and facing the enemy who would be eager to kill them, Brandr and Sestra discover passion between them as they fight to survive. Choices must be made by each as to what is truly important. Brandr is a freeman and Sestra longs to be free. She hopes the treasure will bring her that freedom.

Conkle has obviously done considerable research into the Viking life, which enriches the tale. Some exciting scenes will hold your attention and for those who like a spicy romance, Conkle has delivered a romance with many scintillating love scenes.

The Norse series:

Norse Jewel
To Find a Viking Treasure
To Steal a Viking Bride
To Heal a Viking Heart

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Heather Graham’s LORD OF THE WOLVES – Great Viking Romance!

This is the third in Graham's excellent Viking trilogy. Set in 9th century Ireland (Eire), England and the north coast of France, the trilogy tells the stories of Prince Olaf of Norway, the first Lord of the Wolves, and his bride, Princess Erin, the daughter of the Irish High King, the Ard-Righ of Tara, and their descendants.

I warn you that the Viking men in this series are strong willed, arrogant and domineering and those in the last two books are half Irish. Their loves are independent, stubborn and courageous women who have lost much and still can fight with the best of the men. They have no intention of allowing a Viking male who has taken everything from them to dominate them. But then wolves and the cubs of wolves mate for life or so says the druid who is advisor to the Irish king's family--and these men are wolves. Each of the marriages is arranged over the objection of the females who fight the husbands laying claim to their lands and to them.

This third in the series tells the story of Olaf and Erin's son, Conar, who like his father is known as the Lord of the Wolves for he has been great in battle, and Countess Melisande whose castle lies on the north coast of France. Melisande's father, Count Manon, a virile and handsome man, loves his daughter deeply and takes pride in her beauty, her intelligence and her independence. At nearly 13, he knows her growing beauty and her vulnerability as Countess will require that she must one day wed and he's been surveying worthy candidates for the eventual day. With such a purpose in mind, he invites the Wolf's son, Conar, from Eire (Ireland) who he's been impressed with before, to visit his lands in France and meet Melisande. He will not force her to consider him if she doesn't like him, however.

Conar arrives just as the Count is slain by a neighbor who covets his daughter and his lands. With the Count's men now leaderless, and believing Conar will protect their lands, they decide Melisande must marry Conar (though the marriage cannot be consummated for many years). Melisande, who takes an instant dislike to the arrogant and demanding Viking, is forced into the marriage. Conar is only willing to marry the difficult child to get the lands. Once wed (in a hasty ceremony), he sends her away to Ireland to his sister who is a nun so she can grow up. His family falls in love with her and many years later he decides to come for her. But she has escaped to his brother, Eric, who is in England. She has no intention of being Conar's wife in truth. She wants an annulment. But Conar will "never" let her go.

Conar gave his body to his mistresses and his mind and heart to his family and his rune reader, the lovely blonde Brenna. So it was a bit hard to see how he could love Melisande, However, it does come together in the end. It’s a worthy installment in the series, and as always, Graham delivers a good tale. She can create tension between a couple, that’s for sure.

The Viking Trilogy:
Golden Surrender
The Viking’s Woman
Lord of the Wolves

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Renee Vincent’s SUNSET FIRE - Unique, Well-Told Viking Story!

This is an unusual Viking story. There is no raid, no pillaging, no taking of women, none of that. No, our hero, Daegan Raeliksen, a wealthy merchant chieftain from Norway, is an honorable man who makes his home in Ireland. It is there he first sees Mara, daughter of an Irish king, riding her horse near the Shannon River, and it is there he decides he must have her for his wife. It’s love at first sight for him.

He takes her from her lands to save her from a band of warring Norsemen. And, of course, then he must keep her until he can safely return her to her father. Daegan knows he should have permission to wed and to pay the bride price, but he can’t wait to marry Mara and she’s not complaining.

Sunset Fire (formerly Raeliksen) is a complicated tale of betrayal (Daegan has an evil twin brother), and deception with a few twists and turns you will really like. However, Daegan and Mara's love is never in doubt. The ending will rip your heart out so that you must buy the sequel to get the full story.

Renee Vincent writes with lyrical prose. It's truly beautiful. And she tells a good tale with attention to historic detail that will satisfy lovers of historical romance.

This is first in the Vikings of Honor series:

Sunset Fire
Emerald Glory
Souls Reborn
Tempered Steel

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Sabrina Jarema’s LORD OF THE RUNES – Rune Warrior Meets Shield Maiden

Set in Norway in winter 850 AD, this is the story of Asa Sigrundsdottir, a shield maiden, and Eirik Ivarson, the warrior she discovered frozen on his horse in the snow. Eirik had fled his home when outcasts attacked and killed his father, the jarl. Struggling with one of the attackers, he went over a crest into the sea.

Revived at Asa’s home, Eirik returns the kindness her people have shown him by reading the runes for the people, as he learned from his mother, and helping Asa carve the runes into the dragonhead she is working on for the stem of a longship.

Asa is afraid of a man’s touch from an incident six years’ earlier. The author was very slow to reveal what it was. From the beginning I assumed it was a rape (Eirik assumed it was abuse). Anyway, at the suggestion of her brother, Asa learned a warrior’s skills to be able to protect herself. In doing so, she earned the respect of the warriors, a shield maiden fighting alongside them.

Eirik tells no one he is a jarl or even where he comes from, which seemed odd, but blends in with the other warriors, fighting when the village is attacked by outcasts. He spends much of his days carving a stone tribute to Asa’s dead father, the former jarl of her people. Her brothers wonder just where he goes each day, but no one follows him to the nearby shed where he works.

Eirik had to be the most gentlemanly Viking I’ve ever encountered: polite to all, sensitive to Asa’s every mood, caring of her dark past which he thinks was abuse, and willing to do whatever he can for her with never a cross word. Asa did nothing to encourage his affection. It seemed to be mostly an attraction on his part until the end.

The story reflects the author’s considerable research into the Norsemen’s pagan beliefs and religion. Beautifully written, much of the story is taken up with the description of applying the magical runes to Asa’s dragon head that seems to come alive under Eirik’s touch. One could have wanted more description of the setting, the winter landscape, the wildlife (never heard a wolf; never saw a dog; the men went hunting and brought back elk, but we didn’t see the hunt or the elk), and even the inside of the longhouse where most of the story took place I wanted more description. The characters are well developed, especially Asa’s twin brothers and Estrid, Asa’s jealous cousin who meant her ill.

Recommended for those who love Viking stories steeped in Norse mythology.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Twelfth Night in Regency England by Regan Walker

It was a dull day at White’s the day he agreed to the wager: seduce, bed and walk away from the lovely Lady Leisterfield, all by Twelfth Night. But this holiday season, Christopher St. Ives, Viscount Eustace, planned to give himself a gift.

While doing my research for The Twelfth Night Wager, I enjoyed vicariously living through the Autumn season and Christmastide in Regency England (1811-1820), the period when Prince George reigned as Regent. Since today is Twelfth Night, I thought to share some of the celebrations of that day.

Christmastide began with Christmas Eve (though the evening of Christmas Day was “First Night”) and continued to Twelfth Night, or January 5th, followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th when the wise men who followed the star of the new King, arrived in Bethlehem to behold the Christ child.

Twelfth Night has its origins in ancient Rome and was a mid-winter event observing pagan fertility rites, a festival of feasting and public celebration. At some point, this tradition became incorporated into the Christian celebrations and included feasting, drinking, games, plays, dances and masked balls.

Shakespeare's play, Twelfth Night, which includes characters disguised as people they are not, was intended to be performed on Twelfth Night.

In additional to all the revelry, there was a Twelfth Night cake, an ornate confection into which a bean, a coin or a tiny carved or cast metal version of the baby Jesus was placed (it could also be a bean). During early evening, the cake was cut and its pieces distributed to guests who were advised to chew carefully. The person who found the icon became the king, the “Lord of Misrule,” or the “Bean King.” His Queen Consort or the Queen of Twelfth Night was the woman who found a dried pea in the cake. The king and queen reigned for the evening, no matter their normal status in society.

By the late 18th century, the selection of Twelfth Night's “royalty” could also be accomplished by the distribution of paper slips with each piece of cake. The slips were opened and the person holding the one with a special mark inside was declared the king.

During Jane Austen’s life, the celebration of Twelfth Night was at the height its of popularity. Sets of “characters” were available to purchase from enterprising stationers. They were cut up into small papers and the slips were chosen from a hat. Whatever character the person drew became their identity for the evening. In The Twelfth Night Wager, the heroine hopes to play Susie Salamander.

The Twelfth Night Characters
Fanny Knight, Edward Austen Knight’s daughter and Jane Austen’s niece, wrote about some of her Twelfth Night Celebrations in Kent. Here’s her report on the celebration in 1809:

…after Dessert Aunt Louisa who was the only person to know the characters…took one by one  out of the room and equipped them, put them into separate rooms and lastly dressed herself. We were al conducted into the library and performed our different parts. Papa and the little ones from Lizzy downwards knew nothing of it  and it was so well managed  that none of the characters knew one another ..Aunt Louisa and L.Deeds were Dominos; F.Cage, Frederica Flirt (which she did excellently); M.Deeds, Orange Woman; Mama, Shepherdess; Self Fortune Teller; Edward, beau; G, Irish Postboy; Henry Watchman; William, Harlequin; we had such frightful masks that it was enough to kill one with laughing at putting them on and altogether it went off very well and quite answered our expectations.

Though by Jane Austen’s time the cake may not have been used to assist in the choosing of characters, it was still an important part of the celebration. They were costly and complicated to make and, if they could afford to do so, many people bought them from confectioners’ shops.
In The Twelfth Night Wager, two men at White’s club, one of whom is known as the “red headed rake,” make a scandalous wager involving a virtuous widow. The wager, by its terms, must be won or lost by Twelfth Night.

You can see the wager and all the pictures that go with the story on my Pinterest Storyboard for the book HERE.

The story includes all the fall activities in London and the countryside (pheasant shooting, fox hunting and riding), as well as the Christmastide celebrations leading up to Twelfth Night. Experience the season in Regency London!

The Twelfth Night Wager on Amazon US. And Amazon UK. And see the book on My Website

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Mia Marlowe's MAIDENSONG - Intriguing Viking Romance set in Sweden and Constantinople

This was Mia Marlowe’s debut novel (originally published under the name of Diana Groe). No date is given but it mentions a character named Halfdan who lived in the late 5th-early 6th century but it could have been set in a later century. The location is Sweden and Constantinople.

Rika was rejected by her father, a jarl, at birth because of her mother died in childbed. Rika is set adrift on a slab of ice by the midwife, expected to die. Instead, she was found by the famous skald, Magnus, who raised her like a daughter and taught her his storytelling craft. When she is grown, a Viking raid ends in the death of Magnus and her capture by Bjorn the Black. Bjorn claims her as his bed slave but then falls in love with her and desires to marry her.

Meanwhile Bjorn’s twisted brother has another marriage in mind for Rika.

This was a good story that held my interest with great characters. It did slow a bit when they got to Constantinople where much happens. Also, our strong heroine seemed to change to a sometimes compliant woman. The story has a nice finish.

Songs of the North trilogy:


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Penelope Neri’s SEA JEWEL – Enemies Can be Lovers, A Classic Viking Saga and a Superbly Told Story

January on Historical Romance Review is Vikings month… all those domineering Norsemen and worthy heroines. I’m starting with a classic by author Penelope Neri, a great writer of romance.

Set in the late 9th century in Jutland (Denmark) and England, this is the story of Freya, daughter of Thorfast, Lord of Danehof, a powerful jarl, and Alaric, son of the high chieftain Aeldred, descendant of the kings of Kent in Britain, whose father and brothers were brutally murdered by Thorfast in a Viking raid.

When her father rejects her because she is not the son he wanted, Freya vows to become a warrior who will lead her father’s men a-Viking. Her guardian, Sven, the skald who sees visions tells her that she will be taken in a raid by a great bear. And so she is. Alaric, called the Great Bear, now leads his people. He captures Freya and vows to make her his thrall (slave) and take his vengeance. Oh, yes, he does that. But in the process, Alaric discovers the Danish maiden he has taken has captured his heart. What is he to do when he is betrothed to another, one worthy of a Saxon thane?

Neri writes very well and weaves a complex story that kept me turning pages. This is a classic sage and covers several years in Freya’s life, first a jarl’s daughter and a warrior, then a slave who wins respect, then freed to wed a man she counted as friend and then to find her true home and her greatest love. There are wonderful secondary characters, richly drawn: Robin the skald, entertainer and spy; Sven who became like a father to Freya; and Ilse who Freya rescued, both to love the same man. And so many others.

Rich in historical detail based on much research into the era, Neri brings alive the 9th century and the villages of Denmark, Wessex and Danelaw in Britain. And it is so well done—simply superb storytelling.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year to you!

May the New Year bring you much joy!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Joanne Major and Sarah Murden’s A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life Of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs – A Fascinating Look at one woman’s heroic accomplishments in the Georgian Era

Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs was an amazing woman, particularly for her time and this is her story as told by two authorities in the Georgian Era. In the authors' words:

Charlotte tantalizes with a glimpse of the passionate and brave woman that lay beneath her carefully cultivated, respectable, almost nondescript demeanor before she once again draws down the veil and shields that side of her character from view.

The story begins in the 1770s in Lambeth on the Thames where the Williams family had relocated from Wales. Charlotte was educated in France. Much of what we know about her is taken from a letter she wrote to the man she had once hoped to wed, General Sir David Ochterlony, a Scot born in Boston who made his name in India as a part of the East India Company’s army. Alas, he quite forgot about Charlotte until she struck up a correspondence with him later in life.

As a young woman, still a teenager, the beautiful Charlotte Williams was abducted, repeatedly raped and held prisoner by a despicable man who was obsessed with her. A man who escaped any punishment, at least in this life. It took Charlotte years to be free of him, but she persisted. Charming, inventive and intelligent, she made friends in high places and dared much to bring her ideas to light. She became a playwright and author, a political pamphleteer, even a spy, working for the British government. At one point, deciding the royal family needed a boost, she single-handedly organized George III’s jubilee celebration.

The record suggests she never married but took the name of a friend who was happy to have the cover of a pretend marriage for the sake of his gay lifestyle.

Trapped in France during the Revolution (1792-95), Charlotte published an anonymous account of her adventures. She was content to give her thoughts to others, allowing politicians to use her ideas and analyses. But as her success became evident and her thoughts ever more valued, she never forgot her true love, a man who abandoned her to pursue his own ambitions, spending his adult life in India, taking Muslim wives and “going native”.

Charlotte was an overcomer and a trailblazer who overcame a bad beginning (bad through no fault of her own) to take risks and cleverly ascertain where society was going. A royalist all through the Revolution, she never doubted that in the end the Bourbons would be restored to the French throne, which they were.

We authors try and cast our heroines as noble women who overcome great odds to lead significant lives and win the hero’s love. Though she never found true love, Charlotte was just such a woman. I could not recommend a more delightful heroine to you than Charlotte. The authors have done a thoroughly researched job of bringing her story to light in a fast-paced narrative. I recommend it!