1. The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham. In fourteenth-century England, young Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of King Edward II, is delighted with her marriage to Hugh le Despenser and her appointment to Queen Isabella’s household as a lady-in-waiting. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Eleanor’s beloved uncle is not the king the nobles of the land—or his queen—expected. Hugh’s unbridled ambition and his intimate relationship with Edward arouse widespread resentment, even as Eleanor remains fiercely loyal to her husband and to her king. But loyalty has its price… Moving from royal palaces to prison cells, from the battlefield to the bedroom, between hope and despair, treachery and fidelity, hatred and abiding love, The Traitor’s Wife is a tale of an extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times.
A noblewoman pays the price for her loyalty to an unpopular king and her unfaithful husband...conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly...ultimately, entertaining historical fiction.
2. Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende. Isabel Allende has established herself as one of the most consummate of all modern storytellers, a reputation that is confirmed in her novel Portrait in Sepia. Allende offers a compelling saga of the turbulent history, lives, and loves of late 19th-century Chile, drawing on characters from her earlier novels, The House of Spirits and Daughter of Fortune.
In typical Allende fashion, Portrait in Sepia is crammed with love, desire, tragedy, and dark family secrets, all played out against the dramatic backdrop of revolutionary Chile. Our heroine Aurora del Valle's mother is a Chilean-Chinese beauty, while her father is a dissolute scion of the wealthy and powerful del Valle family. At the heart of Aurora's slow, painful re-creation of her childhood towers one of Allende's greatest fictional creations, the heroine's grandmother, Paulina del Valle. An "astute, bewigged Amazon with a gluttonous appetite," Paulina holds both the del Valle family and Allende's novel together as she presides over Aurora's adolescence in a haze of pastries, taffeta, and overweening love.One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is Allende's decision to turn her heroine into a photographer: "through photography and the written word I try desperately to conquer the transitory nature of my existence, to trap moments before they evanesce, to untangle the confusion of my past." There is little confusion in Allende's elegantly crafted and hugely enjoyable novel.
3. Indiscretion by Jude Morgan. A clever, Jane Austen–like 19th-century English romance filled with parlor-room wit, Morgan's second novel (after Passion) follows the sharp-tongued and attractive Caroline Fortune as she's sucked into and spit out of a scheme cooked up by her father, Captain Fortune, to make them rich. The plan consists of installing Caroline as the companion (and potential heiress) to Sophia Catling, the wealthy and childless widow of one of the captain's old military chums. After arriving at Sophia's estate, Caroline finds Sophia to be a bitter hag whose nastiness only intensifies when Caroline receives a letter from an estranged aunt informing her that her father has died. Caroline leaves Sophia to live with her aunt's family at Wythorpe Manor, where she makes friends with the luminous Isabella Milner, who is preparing for her wedding to Richard Leabrook. Caroline soon realizes she's crossed paths with Isabella's intended and is torn between sparing Isabella's feelings or telling her about Richard's philandering ways. Caroline also attracts the attention of Isabella's brother, Stephen, a callous young man who enjoys trading barbs with her. Romances bloom and wilt in familiar fashions, but Morgan's colorful cast and sharp wordplay make the read a joy.