Salvation (Heart of Steel Trilogy Book 3) by Rose Mashal

Let me just get this out of the way first: 


It's genuinely not often that a book surprises me with its twists and ending, but over an entire three book series, Rose B. Mashal kept me guessing. 

I'm going to try to be as vague as possible because I want to preserve the suspense for those who haven't read it. Penny is lonely after her fiancée has an accident and is put into a permanent coma. She creates an android that looks like him, speaks like him, and even smells like him. Through a series of continual upgrades, she's even able to give the android his memories.

But then it seems her creation has become self-aware and develops even greater abilities, and his passion for her becomes all-consuming. But all the while, there are others who seek to control Penny's creation, and Penny herself.

The entire time I was reading, I was questioning Penny. Was she a reliable narrator? Was she seeing things clearly? As she herself wondered, was she, indeed, going insane? Who could she trust when everyone seemed to have a secret motive of their own?

This was not the plotline I expected; this was not the story I expected. It was a wild ride from start to finish. 

Quite frankly, I loved it. It sparked my imagination. Here I am, supposed to be thinking about the book I'm already writing and Rose has my imagination spinning off into a world with androids.

You can find the Heart of Steel series on Amazon.

This is Not Anne Boleyn

 Another person has come forward with research on a portrait claiming that it's Anne Boleyn. 

It's not.

I'm not going to post a pic of the portrait in question because the author of the study has mentioned not having permissions to post the whole image himself.

Instead, I'll post the image it's a copy of. 

This painting is NPG 96, a portrait of an unidentified woman, c. 1570. It has been previously identified as Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, but neither of those identifications hold up.

The portrait the author is claiming is Anne Boleyn is a copy of this one, merely changing the dress color and a few details. The overdress is red and the sleeves are white and gold. The stuffed and slashed shoulder rolls are rendered as flat flaps, likely because the artist misinterpreted what he/she was seeing in the original. The woman wears a gable hood without its lappets, which drops down instead of curving upward, as was the fashion of the day.

The white part is the "lappets." In 1536, when he claims this portrait was made, the lappets came to mouth level and curved outward. The hood in his portrait comes straight down to the chin.

The author claims every other portrait of Anne, including the medal which is the only undisputed life portrait of Anne, are incorrect. He claims Anne was beautiful when literally everyone said she was not.

The woman has gray-blue eyes. The author claims that Anne had unusually large pupils, which is why contemporaries remarked on Anne's "black and beautiful" eyes. I'll just say he's the first to document such a trait and leave it at that.

The back of the portrait has a coat of arms consisting of three hunting horns. The author claims that Anne had these arms invented by the artist for her. But that's not how heraldry worked; you couldn't willy-nilly invent a set of your own arms on a whim. Secondly, women didn't have their own coats of arms. They used those of their husband or father. Anne was granted a coat of arms to use as England's queen, but they certainly weren't her invention, and they marked the noble families she descended from, as did all sets of royal female arms.

These are Anne Boleyn's arms.

The author claims that Anne's deformed finger is depicted in the painting. Even if we decide to believe Anne did have a finger deformity (and that's a BIG if, considering it wasn't mentioned until at least half a century after her death) it would be extremely unusual for such a thing to be depicted in art. The people of the Tudor era believed physical imperfections to be the sign of the devil. It seriously strains the imagination to think that Anne would choose to have it painted in her portrait. 

The author claims that Elizabeth intentionally copied her mother's pose and dress style in a portrait of her own. What a coincidence the clothing reflected the current fashions in Elizabeth's day. As someone online remarked, to believe it's Anne would be expecting she had psychic powers regarding the fashions of her daughter's era, like a woman in the 1920s wearing a tie-dyed shirt and bellbottom jeans.

It's possible this portrait was intended to be a posthumous tribute to Anne Boleyn the way Mary Tudor Brandon's portrait with Charles Brandon was painted after her death, depicting her in current fashion. Late in Elizabeth's reign, people displayed portraits of Anne to try to curry royal favor. 

The NPG portrait and the Hever portrait of Anne were probably made around this time. Though they depicted her in contemporary styles, they used a face pattern of Queen Elizabeth, as the "new Anne Boleyn portrait" may have used NPG96 as a pattern.

However, the author pinpoints the date of this portrait to January, 1536, and unless he's found a receipt that every other historian has somehow overlooked, it's yet another leap we have to make in order to accept it. 

The author points to this engraving as "proof" that the sleeves in the portrait were current in Anne's day, but it's actually a misidentified engraving of Jane Seymour's Whitehall Dynasty Portrait, and the original doesn't have "puffy sleeves."

True, the research hasn't been released yet, but I can't imagine any research which would overturn everything we know about fashion, heraldry, and the appearance of Anne Boleyn.

Redemption (Heart of Steel Trilogy Book 2) by Rose Mashal


The first Heart of Steel book in this series captured my imagination and I still haven't been able to shake it off.

This is a hard review to write because I don't want to give anything away! First things first -- I loved the story and was enthralled all the way to the end where I was hoping to get some answers. Who can Penny trust? 

In the first book, Penny created an android replica of her fiancé, who was critically injured in an accident and still remains in a coma. She even devised a way to feed his memories into Ian to make him a more perfect copy of the man she lost.

In this book, she discovers that perhaps she didn't have the perfect romance she thought she did. She also starts to wonder if giving Ian sentience and autonomy were the right decisions. In the first book, she was amazed as he began to create art and make his own choices; in this book, she finds he's also hiding secrets.

Everyone is. Penny starts feeling like she's losing her mind as she discovers more and more treachery around her.  Friends turn out to have betrayed her. People have hidden motives and obsessions of their own. Penny isn't even sure she can trust her own perceptions of reality.

The whole book was a rollercoaster from start to finish and there were points where I found myself reading more quickly, hoping it would turn out to be a dream sequence or something, and then gasping and going back to read more carefully in case I'd missed something. Because I have a feeling these tiny details are going to turn out to be the key to the whole story.

I'm eagerly awaiting the next installment!

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Redemption (Heart of Steel 2) can be found on Amazon

The Prince's Bride 2 by JJ McAvoy


Let's get the important part out of the way first: I LOVED THIS BOOK. It had everything I love about royalty -- palace intrigue, the crushing burdens of etiquette and tradition, the jewels and splendor, and the weight of history's eyes upon each action. 

Odette was chosen by her prince for a very traditional reason: her money. But as a Black American woman she's not the traditional princess that Ersovia expected. 

When the book opens, Odette hasn't heard from the man she married on impulse for six months. He's been thrust into the role of heir to the kingdom and the king is incapacitated. It's an enormous burden, but I admit, I was like, "Come on, Gale, not even a text?"

Odette travels to Ersovia to get him to sign divorce papers and discovers why he hasn't contacted her. The situation is a mess and he's miserable, but it's instantly obvious these two were meant for one another.  It's not easy for Odette to decide to stay, especially as it becomes obvious that she's going to have to fight an uphill battle to be accepted by her new country, and her widowed sister-in-law hates her simply for existing, for exemplifying the happiness she once had as the wife of the heir.

I couldn't help think of another princess as I was reading this, a woman of color who married into the English royal family. Like Odette, every single breath she takes is criticized and every action is taken out of context in the press and twisted in nefarious ways. 

Odette spends her days learning the language, learning etiquette, studying history, and learning the names and ranks of the important Ersovian officials. At this point in the book, I forgave Gale for not calling because Odette herself is unable to steal a moment to even call her mom and let her know she's getting publicly married in the winter. 

Odette's mom is a gem. It took a while for me to warm to her in the first book because she seemed focused on the wrong things, but in this book, she is a tiger defending her daughter.

But Odette's family isn't all on her side. 

Small spoiler (highlight to read) Her half -sister betrays her cruelly. I was hoping by the end of the book that the sister would come to a place of repentance. Not that Odette had to forgive her, of course, but that her sister would come to realize what she had done and the loving relationship she had thrown away out of spite and jealousy.

The queen was a delight. She, too, is a loving and fierce mother. She not only has her only remaining son to protect, but she feels a duty to the monarchy itself, to protect its traditions and dignity. She's strict with Odette and insistent that she do things correctly, but she's also supportive when Odette tosses aside the script for a moment to show her real self to the people and earn their affections. 

Gale's sister is also wonderful. She was a fan of Odette's music before Odette was involved with her brother and she's thrilled that the two are going to get married.

But there's someone who doesn't want to see Odette succeed. Someone who's willing to stop at nothing to make sure she doesn't become the next queen of Ersovia.

Did I mention I loved this book? I'm only sad we didn't get to see Odette rule as queen, but maybe if we ask JJ very nicely and practice our best curtseys, she'll give us another sequel one day!

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The Prince's Bride part 2 is available on Kindle here.

"The Prince's Bride" by JJ McAvoy

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As soon as I read the description of this book, I knew I had to read it. Royalty, as readers of my blog might have gathered, is one of my fascinations. JJ McAvoy warned me that it might not be what I was expecting because her prince was from an invented country, but her royals live with the same realities of modern European royalty -- an avid press, traditions, duty, and the ever-present knowledge that as a member of the royal family, one's life is never quite one's own.

Prince Gale is the second son, and though still somewhat restricted by protocol, he enjoys his life to the fullest. Until he learns two devastating facts: his father has dementia and the kingdom is broke. He's being asked to secure a rich bride and one has been chosen for him.

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Odette Wyntor is an American, sharing the inheritance of her father's massive tech fortune with her half-sister.  But her father has put restrictions on the money -- each of his daughters must marry in order to inherit. Odette hopes that she can support herself and her mother with her music career, but it soon becomes apparent she can't keep up with the bills. Though she's loath accept it, Odette needs a husband as much as Gale needs a rich wife.

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It's a familiar enough story. In the late Victorian era, impoverished nobles married wealthy American heiresses. I immediately thought back to Consuelo Vanderbilt, who married the Duke of Marlborough in 1895. Neither of them wanted the match, either. But as Gale's mother says early in the book, they cannot look for anyone to save them for they are the people who must do the saving.

This book is a lovely romance, sweet and royally funny. Gale attempts to court the reluctant Odette. He's a smart guy. He knows that strong relationships are built on friendship and that's where he starts. He's sincere, but terribly awkward, because this is the first time it's actually meant something, and this is the first time he finds himself truly caring about a woman. Odette has been hurt too many times not to give in without a struggle. But Gale is so charming a character you can't help but fall in love with him right along with her.

 I couldn't help but think of another "American Princess," Meghan Markle, who's faced an uphill battle for acceptance as Harry's bride. This book is focused on their romance here in the United States, but what sort of welcome will Odette, a woman of color, receive from the people of her new nation? I'm really eager to get my hands on the next volume because Odette and Gale have some pretty significant challenges they have to face, and I want to see how Odette will do in her new role.

Heart of Steel by Rose B. Mashal

This week, I read Heart of Steel by Rose B. Mashal. As ya'll are probably aware by now, I looooooves me some sci-fi romance and when Rose offered me a copy of her book, I jumped at it, even though I've been so busy with the Unnamed Underground Railroad Project. Still, when I could steal a moment away, I'd pull out my Kindle, and I found myself thinking about the story at odd moments of the day. It really captured my imagination.

Penelope "Penny" Ford is a scientist who's lost her fiance, Michael, to a terrible accident. He's been at her side since they were both in grade school, and it seems like her entire world has been ripped away. She's numbed with sorrow and her life feels empty. She actually lives a very rich life with an older couple who act as though they're her adopted parents, and loving friends her own age, but she's fixated on her loss and unable to move on. She hides how badly she's doing from the people who love her.

But she has a plan. She company she works for has had her working on developing an android. Penny plans to use him to recreate her fiance. Without telling anyone, she sculpts his face and body to become an identical copy of the man she lost. She enlists the help of another friend to replicate his voice, and even secretly comes up with a way to install Michael's memories in the android.

Ian, as she calls him, fulfills those longings in her soul. She would be perfectly happy, but she has to hide what she's done from her friends and from the company investors, each of whom seems to have their own hidden agendas for the androids and are fighting a war behind the scenes to determine who will decide the purpose of the first set of androids put into widescale production.

Strange things are happening with Ian, too. Penny's alterations to Ian leads to him making his own decisions instead of simply obeying the programming. Odd files appear within his code. He begins to create art, and while Penny is the focus of his world, he's starting to develop and make decisions of his own ... perhaps in ways Penny didn't intend. It was one of the fun things about this book, noticing those little things that her happiness and delight with her creation blinded her to.

Then one of the investors is murdered and suddenly it appears that there was a lot more going on behind the scenes of this project than Penny realized.

I really enjoyed this story and I'm looking forward to the sequel. Here's a link to it on Amazon.

New Project, New Directions

Hello again, my lovelies! Seems ages since we've talked, doesn't it? Well, ages since I updated my blog, anyway.

So, here's the gist of things: After the death of my best friend, the closure of my publisher, and well, *gestures vaguely in the direction of everything*

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... I was a wee bit out of it. I wrote a few history articles, but fiction just seemed to elude me. Even updating my fic stories was difficult.

Friends encouraged me to continue to write. I even spoke with an agent in New York who was interested in seeing a new manuscript. But without having a publisher, it felt... speculative. It felt like buying curtains for a house I didn't have. And, frankly, the idea of shopping around and facing rejection just seemed wearying.

Other friends said I should go the self-publishing route, but even the small I taste I got with putting my books back on Amazon after the rights reverted to me was enough to let me know that wasn't the route for me. I have huge respect for people who manage it, but it's just too much. Too "businessy" when all I want to do is write stuff.

Well, I may have found a way to do that.

I'm sliding over to write non-fiction for a while, and my first project is going to be about Ohio's role in the Underground Railroad and the sites which remain. It will henceforth be known as the Untitled Underground Railroad Project until such time as I find a title for it, which demonstrates my mad skillz at naming stuff.

I hope to bring you along on this journey, and I hope the articles I've written for The History Geeks and my various blogs demonstrate that I can make history as entertaining as fiction.
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