Review: The Black Tulip


In the past month I have discovered two beautiful romance stories written by the Dumas family.

Did you know that Alexandre Dumas’ son also became a writer? Neither did I, until I read Camille and it was stated in the introduction.

Alexandre Dumas, pere

It hardly seems fair that one family should produce stories so beautiful as The Black Tulip by Dumas Senior and Camille by his son, but I will talk about Camille later.

I waited a for quite while after finishing The Black Tulip before writing about it; I wanted to let it sit in my heart. Now I think that it’s time this beautiful piece of literature was talked about.

One of his lesser-known works–I had no idea about it until I found it by chance while scrolling the Kindle store–The Black Tulip has the elements of tension that make a good action novel and tragedy to give it a gothic tone.

All of this is softened, I believe, by the love story.

The object of conflict is a black tulip. I had never thought of it before, but having read Tulipomania by Mike Dash a couple of weeks later, I found out that it’s impossible for a completely black tulip to exist. The closest you can get to a black tulip is a very dark brown or purple one.

A ‘black tulip’; source

In this novel the main character, Cornelius, is a tulip-fancier during the tulip boom of Holland–a period of history in with a single bulb bred in a unique way would have been worth thousands to the tulip obsessed.

A contest is announced: there is a great money reward for anyone who can raise a black tulip, jet-black, not dark brown or purple. Cornelius is a genius with his tulips; he manages to raise three bulbs he claims will produce black tulips.

Before he can plant any of them to see if he has succeeded, he is arrested on suspicion of having betrayed the Prince of Orange.

a dark purple ‘black tulip’; source

Cornelius takes his precious tulip bulbs with him to prison as he awaits his fate.

Here he meets the jailor’s daughter, Rosa, and–suspecting that he will be put to death–he gives her the bulbs, telling her to turn them in as her own work and claim the money.

But he is not executed; the Prince takes pity on him and instead sends him away to a prison fortress for life.

Cornelius is in jail for a long time, wondering what became of Rosa and his tulip bulbs. One shudders to think of the boredom and loneliness he felt, locked away in a cell while innocent.

In his desperation for company, he uses some of the moldy bread given to him in order to attract some pigeons that will keep him company. He despairs; we can feel his despair. However, it won’t last forever.

“I’d rather have ten soldiers to guard than a single scholar.”

― Alexandre Dumas, The Black Tulip

Rosa’s father is appointed as jailor in the same prison where Cornelius is trapped. Rosa comes with him, and she has brought with her Cornelius’ treasures–the three tulip bulbs, unharmed and full of potential life.

This, reader, is where I could not put the book down: Cornelius tells Rosa how to grow a tulip, instructs her on the ideal soil to use and how much light the bulb needs, and together they raise one of the flowers from its bulb.

The imagery! I wanted to cry as they fell in love with prison bars between them, yet raised a live flower because of their collaboration. It reminded me that bars cannot stop love. 

I will not tell you how the story ends, only that it is worth reading this book because their love story is so beautiful.

I encourage you to look at the obscure classics, those books that might have been lost in time; you will find gems, and in some of them, such as The Black Tulip, you will find true love.

Review—Mozart’s Starling


Picture this: beloved composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at his piano, writing his next masterpiece.

He has a great amount of fans eager for something new, so he cannot disappoint. Soon, he will have his piano hauled onto a theater stage (he prefers to use his own at all times); he will perform, bow to great applause, and return home (once again hauling his piano.)

Now picture on his shoulder a little feathered helper.

His pet starling, Star, offers brand-new melodies, or perhaps she trills what he’s already composed, making it sound better. It’s not known the degree to which this lucky bird helped Mozart compose, as she is scarcely mentioned in his letters or journals; what we can know without a doubt is that, like any good pet owner, he loved her.

I am always looking for quirky elements in history. I am a gardener and nature lover; I want to know as much about the past as I possibly can. When I read the description of Mozart’s Starling, I couldn’t resist–this is exactly the kind of the story I’m looking for, a legend of classical music sharing time with a common bird!

Mozart’s Starling struck me because it mixed the genius (the composer and his natural talent) with something so normal that we can relate to him: adopting a pet to inspire us.

In short, Mozart bought a pet starling from a pet shop. He was not planning to bring home a pet that day; the strange thing about Star which no one can work out to this day is that she had been in the shop singing a bit from his latest work in progress—a piece that no human had heard yet, so imagine his shock when he heard this starling!

He had met a kindred spirit in a bird. He grew to love her so much that, when her short life ended, he arranged an impressive funeral, complete with original music, to see her off—but he did not go to his father’s funeral. You choose your family, I suppose!

The author of this book, Lyanda Haupt, told as much of the story as she knew. I wish there had been more about Mozart and the bird herself, but if few records exist, the only thing to be done would be making things up. I would rather have a bite of delicious truth than pages of lies.

The truth is, not much is known about Mozart’s starling except that he had one.

I enjoyed learning Lyanda’s story, as well; in order to write this book, she adopted a homeless starling and allowed her to live practically cage-free in her home. Her starling is called Carmen, and Haupt’s tales of how Carmen learned to talk and imitate the sounds of the coffee maker or the vacuum made me smile. What precious memories to make, and I am grateful that she shared them.

Side view of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, isolated on white

I learned that starlings are generally a hated species of bird, called invasive, and some people come up with cruel ways to rid the world of them. I’m not a birdwatcher, so I don’t know how much damage that entails; all I know is that Mozart had a starling, and all of a sudden his story is more interesting to me than it was.

If you know other tales like this, of historical figures being human and relatable, please share the titles; I can’t get enough of these stories. What a joy we have in history!

Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf


For a month I have been devouring The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf. It tells the story of scientist Alexander von Humboldt’s love for science and nature, describing in exciting detail all the countries that he visited and all of his achievements.

I carried it down to South America intending to read it on the plane, but sleep prevented that. Then I brought it back home to the US, where it sat on the bedside table of my aunt’s house in Virginia for three weeks while I hung out with my cousins.

So many distractions emerged that I was not able to get to it until June, and it gripped me at once. Including compelling sketches and visuals of his journeys, it made me somewhat nostalgic for a time when there was more to discover.

Von Humboldt was in love with science, and had a level of concentration for his projects that I envy. After a tour of South America, he spent every free moment writing an account of his journey and discoveries that spanned several books, which I intend to read at some point.

Science has never been one of my fortes, but as I read The Invention of Nature I wondered whether that may have been different if I’d learned hands-on like he did. I found myself itching to dig in the ground with him for an interesting beetle, or to scale mountains that strike awe in me today.

His love for nature might be strong as my love for literature. What I feel is a physical need to always have a book with me; what he felt was a physical need to discover the truth of the world. They’re different subjects, but the passion is similar, and isn’t truth still truth, whether it is in the pages of a book?

Some of the things von Humboldt did make me smile, like when he promised the Empress Alexandra that he would find her diamonds in the Russian mines, and showed up with dozens of them.

He rightly believed slavery to be immoral, and spent his entire life as an abolitionist. While he got along well with American presidents, he constantly lamented that, at the time, it did not seem that slavery would be abolished.

There are three stages of scientific discovery: first people deny it is true; then they deny it is important; finally they credit the wrong person.

Alexander von Humboldt

Von Humboldt wrote tirelessly on the broad subjects of nature and science, until he became too old to travel anymore. At this point, heartbreakingly, he began to forget what he himself had said.

Nonetheless, he became a hero, and the world mourned when he died. He had become the trusted voice on science; he inspired who we consider to be the greats of nature writing, like Darwin and John Muir.

I love books about historical figures, and I am grateful that this one exists. More people should know about Alexander von Humboldt and all the things he did to contribute to our knowledge today.

Until recently, I didn’t have a “favorite” genre when it came to books; this past year, I’ve discovered that, aside from the classics, I most enjoy history and historical fiction. I want to read about figures that changed the world, even finding obscure heroes that should be known. Perhaps it stems from an innate desire to someday, somehow, change the world myself.

My focus has therefore shifted to history as well as fantasy, and I’m eager to explore these two genres. Fantasy makes me dream; history makes me grateful– or, in certain situations, humbles me.

I recommend The Invention of Nature because I think more people should love their work in the way hat von Humboldt did. He was the very first person to see many remarkable things that we take for granted today.

Though it might seem as if everything in the world has been discovered, there is always some marvelous thing that needs to be seen for the first time, if not by the world, than by the person looking.

Do you have a historical hero that you think should come to light? Give me history book recommendations; I beg you, I can’t get enough of it!

A PROVISION FOR LOVE by Heather Chapman


It has been a long while since I read a book that warmed my heart as much as this one did. A Provision for Love by Heather Chapman was too short, in my opinion. This might be a good thing; in many cases, the short books are more potent, finding their places in your heart more easily.

Ivy’s grandmother has written for her a list of qualities to seek in a potential husband; this list includes traits that mean a man isn’t worth Ivy’s time. The list is written in a poetic form, and in some places borders on absurdity, but it was fun watching as Ivy sized up her possible suitors according to the advice that her grandmother had given—and watching Grandmother have fun as she watched the process unfold.

I was satisfied with the ending; I don’t think Ivy’s choice could have been more perfect. The list worked; it led her to a worthy gentleman—or rather, opened her eyes to the gentleman who had been standing in front of her the entire time. I know I will be reading this delightful little book again.

New Book – The Mermaid of Rose Hill – Out Soon!


Here is a photo of me with a case of lazy bed head, holding a proof copy of my new novel, which I plan to release this month.

The Mermaid has been my project for the last two years or more. It began as an urban fantasy, but I decided to challenge myself and write it as a historical fiction. It was a much more complicated but rewarding experience; it will be the first book of what I foresee as a long series with lots of novella spin-offs.

I’ve been sharing teasers on Instagram and Twitter. I am very eager to be an active indie author again.

If you want to know what it’s about, here’s a blurb I wrote a while back; it isn’t perfect, but close enough!

While I haven’t decided on a release date yet, it’ll be before the 20.

Here are a couple of the teasers. I do hope you enjoy this book; it’s my baby!

I might be sending out some ebook copies for review; if you’re interested, let me know!

-Mariella x

Nine Ladies Dancing: Clinging to Youth


It’s frightening to grow up. Taking on responsibilities, leaving old habits behind, speaking of childhood in the past tense—it’s no wonder so many people take their time, whether or not they realize it. The world is a scary place, after all.

I believe this message was the strongest theme for Nine Ladies Dancing, the fourth novella in the Belles of Christmas collection, which I have been enjoying thoroughly.

Add to my above list the future inheritance of a grand estate and title. It’s no wonder the male protagonist, Matthew, has not yet grown up, seeking comfort in the things that make him feel free…such as horses. His parents have noticed, though, that he isn’t getting any younger, and neither are they.

With this in mind, his mother strikes a deal with him: he must get to know nine ladies before Twelfthnight. If he does not fall in love with any of them, she will finally stop telling him what to do with his life. To make the deal sweeter, his father promises him a new horse if he doesn’t fall for any of them.

As a reader, I laughed quite a bit at the horse detail. He prefers a horse to true love! But, back to the review.

It sounds easy to not fall in love, so Matthew accepts the deal with his mother. The catch, which he does not realize until several embarrassing incidents later, is that he was already in love…but with the last person he could have imagined. Meg does love him, though, and puts up an admirable fight.

Too bad he’s so obsessed with the new horse that, eventually, Meg gives up. When Meg gives up fighting for him—well, something doesn’t feel quite right with his head…or is it his heart?…he cannot decide. Suddenly, though, he’s far more interested in her and what she’s doing—and the gentlemen she’s talking to.

Eventually, the horse is no longer so enticing.

My heart ached many times over the course of this book for Meg and for silly Matthew. It’s a well known truth that you do not know what you have until you lose it; however, this book has a happy ending, which soothed that ache. Matthew finally does grow up.

I waited eagerly for this book to release, and finished it in a day. All of the novellas in this collection have me enchanted, and I’ll be sad when there are no more. Also, I think the cover for Nine Ladies Dancing is the most beautiful of the five. However, they all make me dream.

I’m already reading the final novella, A Duke for Lady Eve. Thankfully, there are more sweet Regency novels from these authors, and I won’t have to say good-bye to the magic that is in this collection. I am so glad to have found it; every book was worth the read!

Strength in Song: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir


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Two words describe The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir–heartbreaking and hopeful.

I liked the way it was written, a first person novel following the points of view of several members of an exclusively female choir. While the notion might not seem unusual now, it was previously unheard of in the book, and only formed because all of the men in the choir had gone off to war.

This choir unites the young and old, the foreign and the native, in a delightful example of how diversity can create the best music. This is, after all, what happened during WWII: people who wouldn’t have met otherwise were side-by-side in the struggle to survive, mentally and spiritually.

The ladies in this choir bond through their music. It can be seen in their letters and journal entries that, in the most desperate times, they are stronger when they come together. I think it is true that all of us are stronger when doing something we love with people we love.

Since these ladies are in different phases of life, we see the world through different lenses. We have the innocent perspective of fourteen-year-old Kitty, as well as her sister, Venetia, who is in the bud of womanhood, discovering new things. There is Silvie, a Jewish girl who is staying with them because her country is under attack. I thought it fascinating that, though Silvie’s journal entries were few and short, she was more alert.

This book shows how no woman sees the world in the same way, but friendship wins even in the midst of war. If war can bring about such growth in people so different, imagine what we could do if we would set aside our differences in times of peace!

The war inspired many stories, but The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is one I will remember because of the different colors each woman contributed; I will let it remind me that there is only so much we can do alone.

I will cherish this book, and hope that I can be strong as them, when adversity comes.

Broken Hearts & Happy Endings: The Earl’s Mistletoe Match


The Earl’s Mistletoe Match by Ashtyn Newbold is the third book in the Belles of Christmas collection. However, it seemed to me the most powerful.

It must have been the characters; their attitudes and motives are very real. They are not perfect, and they know it. They make decisions they regret. They struggle.

It starts out with romantic drama. Olivia, a spinster, pretends to be her cousin Esther at a masquerade, when she suspects an earl plans to court her.

Olivia does this out of mistrust for the earl, Andrew. She has been hurt in the past by men of rank; being in charge of her cousin now, she does not want Esther to endure the same.

Olivia does not count on the earl falling for her, instead.

Their conversation at the ball was short and did not end well. However, it was long enough for Andrew to fall in love with the lady behind the mask, the one he believes to be Esther.

When Andrew goes to Esther’s house to apologize for his behavior at the ball, he is no fool. The Esther he meets sounds and acts nothing like she did while hidden behind the mask.

It’s not long before he spots Olivia and realizes there was a switch. What he cannot figure out is why. How come Olivia mistrusts him so?

High expectations from families and a fear of disappointing are the driving forces for these characters. How I love it when, in a story, expectations are tossed out the window and love wins, as it should.

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is a quick read that will lift your spirits. I promise there is a happy ending; we can all certainly use more of those.

Unmasking Lady Caroline & Building the Christmas Spirit


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Hoping to feel the Christmas spirit early this year while easing into my genre, I’ve been looking for Christmas-themed regency books. Imagine my delight when I found a collection exists of Christmas stories which bring to mind the smell of pinecones and the splendor of Downton Abbey! It’s called Belles of Christmas, and I have to say the covers alone are beautiful.

Of the five novels, three have been released, and two remain for pre-order. The three available are Unmasking Lady Caroline, Goodwill for the Gentlemen and The Earl’s Mistletoe Match. To find the books, click here!

Naturally, I began the series with Unmasking Lady Caroline. I could not put it down. Lady Caroline is a spinster; her mother seems convinced there is no hope left for her. I felt sad for Caroline. Though she played a silly game that could have cost her her happiness, I cannot judge.

When, at a masquerade, she spots a friend she’s always had feelings for, she keeps on her mask and does not tell him her name. Instead, she keeps her secret and adopts the alias of Miss Tree. Drawn to her and frustrated, her friend, Peter, is determined to find Miss Tree and win her heart.

He does not realize for a long time that Miss Tree is his friend, Lady Caroline, with whom he played as a child. He hasn’t seen Caroline in ten years, having spent that time traveling to escape a scandal; now that he’s returned and she’s grown into a woman, everything about her has changed, including his feelings for her.

It amused me that he became so taken by the anonymous Miss Tree while obviously harboring feelings for Caroline, but we all know that the heart does strange things. There’s a happy ending in this book: he finds his Miss Tree, but not without a roller coaster of trouble and emotion.

What struck me about this story is the personal growth of Lady Caroline. She’s been told for so long that she’s not needed that she’s grown to believe it. I think that’s why she chose to hide as Miss Tree, why she held on to that alias until circumstance pulled it away.

She never thought someone could fall in love with her; for Christmas, she was proven wrong.

A clean and short read, I finished Unmasking Lady Caroline in a day. It’s a page turner. The minor characters are endearing, and the description is so well done that I could smell snow and feel the trees when they went into the forest.

Lovers of historical fiction must give this charming novel a try. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get to the second book in the collection, Goodwill to the Gentlemen.

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

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