Thursday, June 23, 2016

Laura Bullion - Outlaw of the Wild West

Laura Bullion:  Whore, Fraud Artist, and Robber of trains and banks. 
Poor Laura, all she ever knew was a life of crime. She was introduced to crime early in her life. Her father was a notorious bank robber. At the age of 13, she became a prostitute. When she was 15, she became romantically entangled with William Carver and began to run with notorious outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid of the Wild Bunch. Of course, it was only natural for her to help out with a few robberies here and there, and was known for disguising herself as a man. She earned the moniker "Rose of the Wild Bunch." She continued to work as a prostitute in a San Antonio brothel until the age of 17. In between, she was very adept at pawning off stolen good and forging checks. The law caught up to her in 1901 and she was arrested and convicted of train robbery, receiving 5 years imprisonment. She served 3 years and was subsequently released. She must have learned her lesson, however, because she immediately gave up her life of crime and lived her life quietly thereafter. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Dawn at Emberwilde (A Treasures of Surrey Novel Book 2) by Sarah E Ladd

Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.
For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would enable her to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death. The unexpected arrival of a stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. Perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart. At Emberwilde Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.
  • Electronic File Size: 2138 KB
  • Print Length: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (May 10, 2016)
  • Publication Date: May 10, 2016
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Christian Publishing

It is no secret that I am a big fan of a line of books published by Thomas Nelson Publishers and HarperCollins Christian Publishing. They always come with spectacular covers, wonderfully rich storylines, and terrific authors. Although there is always a romantic thread going through each novel, it is only a secondary element. These books have class, enduring plots, and characters that bloom from every page. Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E Ladd is one such book. Although it is the second book in a series, you do not have to read Book One to fully grasp and enjoy this novel.

I loved this novel. It's set in England's Regency period. The story unfolds at a very steady pace, always tantalizing me to read further. Reading was like a discovery of secrets and characters and a very enjoyable experience. There is plenty to laud - a smuggling mystery, a meddling aunto, an enigmatic strong hero, life adversity, and wonderfully evolving secondary characters. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Was Aemilia Bassano Lanier Shakespeare's Dark Lady?

Was Aemilia Bassano Lanier Shakespeare’s Dark Lady? 

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?  

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.”

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:

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything. Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women. The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.


The Dark Lady’s Mask is intriguing, especially because it is based on a true historical person who knew Shakespeare. Aemilia was a writer herself, a poet who could read Greek and Latin. Most fascinating of all is that she often wore male clothing and was well traveled. In Mary Sharratt's novel, the premise is that she was not only Shakespeare's lover, but also his muse. Although no one will ever know the secrets of their relationship. this book was a great imagining of a possible love story between the two writers. Mary Sharratt writes lovely, easy to enjoy, luscious prose which truly brought this period to life as I read along. I truly enjoyed the novel and highly recommend it to anyone who loves historical biographies or who are followers of the great Shakespeare!