The Sound of Music Story

SOM story

The film The Sound of Music celebrated its fiftieth anniversary on March 2, so this year, fans everywhere have had a variety of opportunities to indulge in their favorite movie in new ways. From a feature spread in Vanity Fair to an ABC television special, lots of people want to get in on the action and celebrate this movie. Tom Santopietro’s new release, The Sound of Music Story, is my latest discovery in my quest to feed my love for all things Sound of Music. Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley, I had a chance to read an advance copy.

This book is a treat for anyone who loves the movie or enjoys Hollywood history. Santopietro begins with a brief background on the real-life von Trapp family and the German film Die Trapp-Familie. He moves through the production of the American stage musical with Rogers and Hammerstein, the search for a studio to produce the film, and then finding the perfect cast and crew. There are details galore about the filming, and then Santopietro moves into the movie’s critical and popular reception. He covers the awards season, the effects of the movie on the future careers of the major players involved, and he includes a chapter on the ways that The Sound of Music has integrated itself into our culture.

I loved reading about the filming. The costuming and choreographing chapters were probably my favorites. Evidently, Julie Andrews told an interviewer that she had never felt more beautiful than the day she wore her iconic Maria von Trapp wedding dress. Kym Karath, who played Gretl, couldn’t swim and nearly drowned filming the scene where Maria and the kids tip over their boat. Attempts to dye Nicholas Hammond’s (Friedrich) hair blond for filming went so badly awry that he wound up with practically white hair and a severely blistered scalp. This behind-the-scenes information was all great fun to me.

There were a few places where this book felt a little dry. As much as I adore the movie, I struggled a bit through a few chapters that detailed the selection of the film’s production crew. Someone who is a Hollywood buff would probably have appreciated all the references to big names and big films of the day, but a lot of it went over my head. Also, the last third of the book all felt like conclusion – it was slightly repetitive.

Some fun new facts I learned from this read:

  • The Sound of Music’s first run in movie theaters lasted five years and nine months. That seems UNREAL, especially living in a day where a films come and go from the theater in a matter of weeks.
  • The statistics show that in Salt Lake City, more than half a million admission tickets were purchased for The Sound of Music – that is more than three times the local population.
  • According to the information Santopietro gathered about Austria’s tourism industry, one in three people who visit Austria “journey there specifically because of The Sound of Music.” It’s hard to even wrap my brain around that. But if you’ve got a moment and want to watch the first minute or so of that ABC special, there are some hilarious clips of tourists trying (and sometimes failing) to reenact their favorite scenes from the movie.

The Sound of Music will always be special to me, but I don’t think I fully understood how many other people feel the same way until I read this book. I definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fellow fan.

Pink VII: Ask the Author

Good morning and happy Monday!

Today, Lauren is returning for another round of Ask the Author.  Do you have questions about Alex and Penelope?  Did this book inspire your curiosity about Jack Reid?  Is there something you have always wanted to know about the Indian setting for this installment of the Pink series?

Now is your chance to ask!  Leave your questions in the comments section below, and Lauren will answer them throughout the day.

One lucky commenter will receive a Blood Lily mug, courtesy of the Pink Fairy.  (If you’d like to see the mugs for each of the books we have read so far, they are all available through Zazzle.)

pink vii mugThanks again to Lauren for hanging out with us today.

Pink VII Week 4 in Review

Somehow, unbelievably, it is already time for Abby’s last Pink VII post.  Before I hand her the reins, I know you will all join me in saying a big “THANK YOU” to Abby for leading us through our reread of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily.  I appreciate all the time and thought she has put into this project!  And now, over to Abby…

blood lily coverAnd here we are with the last recap for The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, which opens with Eloise waiting for Colin to arrive so they can attend a Valentine’s day event at the art gallery where Serena works and wondering what he will say. He arrives with a rose and a kiss and they head off together. Shortly after arriving at the gallery, Eloise notices Serena talking to a man whom Colin identifies as “my mother’s husband” and Eloise swiftly realizes that Colin’s mother’s husband is also Mrs. Selwick-Alderly’s grandson, Jeremy.

Both this book and Night Jasmine have always struck me as the growing pains books for Eloise and Colin’s relationship. Everything was new in Crimson Rose and now they are trying to identify whether or not their disparate lives, and sometimes disparate, personalities can be woven together into a longer term relationship. The most important line in this book for Eloise and Colin is Eloise’s firmly stated “I like you” to Colin, a remark demonstrating that she likes Colin himself, not his archives and not despite his family, both of which are clearly concerns for Colin. Why do you think Colin is so concerned about both these things? And what does anyone think of the character of Jeremy? Did any of you see him coming as Colin and Serena’s stepfather?

Back in 1804, Penelope is faced with being suddenly widowed by snake bite. She feels compelled to take responsibility for Freddy’s death, saying to Alex that “I made him come out here and it bloody killed him. I killed him. I killed Freddy . . . I’ve been a disaster since the day I was born. Just ask my mother; she’ll tell you.” Similar to her response to Freddy’s earlier infidelity, her response is to be ever more self-destructive as she careens through an evening of reminiscing with Leamington Fiske and the rest of Freddy’s friends, which culminates in Alex’s challenging Fiske to a duel over Penelope’s honor. What do you think of Penelope’s sense of responsibility for Freddy’s death, a sense of responsibility highlighted even further if you’ve ever read the Blood Lily outtake on Lauren’s website? And why do you think her response to challenging situations is, so often, to drag herself even further down?

The wagon train finally makes it back to the Residency where Penelope is greeted by Charlotte who is on an extended wedding tour with Robert so he “can show me where he lived . . . and aren’t the elephants wonderful? I hadn’t thought they could be nearly so big.” Both this chapter and future chapters demonstrate that while Charlotte still sees the world through the pages of her books, she has become far more comfortable with the world than the last time we saw her. This book, however, has a few more plot turns to go.

Fiske’s unconscious body is found near the Residency with the handkerchief Kat embroidered for Alex with her hair next to it. Jasper Pinchindale (interestingly, given his past history, the spellchecker on my computer wants to spell his name as panhandler) accuses Alex of bludgeoning Fiske and points out that Alex was scheduled to duel Fiske the next morning.

In the meantime, Alex talks with Tajalli and heads out to Raymond’s tomb to do some more investigating on the doings of the Marigold. Penelope stops him and tells him about Fiske; he tells her that the Marigold is headed for Raymond’s tomb and Penelope insists on accompanying Alex there. Once there, they meet Daniel Cleave and it swiftly becomes apparent that Cleave has an assignation with Guignon, the French pastry chef. Under pressure, Cleave admits that he had attacked Fiske, framed Alex for doing so, arranged for the cobra to be planted in Freddy and Penelope’s chamber, arranged for Freddy to be killed and been selling English state secrets to the highest bidder, all for his own gain in the form of some portion of the lost treasure of Behar. Jack Reid arrives on the scene and the revelations grow ever more complicated. As Jack explains, there is a difference between his actions and Cleave’s actions, namely that “I am not being paid for the same people who are paying you.” Jack is a double agent, appearing to work for the French but really working for the English, which raises the question of just who is taking advantage of his strained loyalties.

Alex resolves the situation, saying that they will say the dead Guignon is the Marigold, Cleave will go home England and keep his mouth shut, Jack will carry on with what he is doing. Alex and Penelope’s futures, by contrast, remain unresolved until the final chapter when Charlotte backs Penelope into acknowledging that she loves Alex in his hearing. In turn, he acknowledges that he has been made a District Commissioner for an outlying group of territories and that he has a “severe case of being-in-love with you” if she is willing to join him in the middle of nowhere. The nature of Alex and Penelope headed off to a future of “isolation, outlawry, and lack of prospects” has meant that we have had no updates on how they are but I speculate about this sometimes. Lauren has said she hopes to write a short story for each Pink Carnation heroine and hero. What do any of you think might happen in Penelope and Alex’s story? What sort of relationship do they now have with each other? And with the people around them?

And thank you to everyone who has taken part and I look forward to getting started with The Orchid Affair next week!

Blood Lily and the Pink Carnation Series

This post was written by Abby.


One of the other reasons why I chose this particular book is because I wanted to be able to have a discussion about reading Blood Lily back in 2010 and reading Blood Lily now in 2015 when we have so many other books and a much clearer sense of the overall arc of the series.

So the first question I want to start with is this one: did any of you who read this book in 2010 or 2011 realize just how many characters and narrative transitions it was introducing? I certainly had no idea! I think it wasn’t until Lauren began talking about the arc of the series around the time of the publication of The Passion of the Purple Plumeria in 2013 that I went back and reread Blood Lily and specifically paid attention to the Reid family as a whole. As I’ve said before, we have Colonel William Reid who married Maria and had the twins, Alex and Kat. After Maria’s death, he had relationships with Indian women which led to Lizzy and George and also to Jack. And with the publication of The Lure of the Moonflower coming up this summer, we now have had many opportunities to get to know the various Reids better. Do any of you have a favorite member of the Reid family? As you know, I’m partial to Alex but I also like Kat and keep hoping that Lauren will eventually have opportunity and time enough to write her book. I also liked the fact that Blood Lily makes it clear that these spy networks have global ramifications and that events halfway around the world from the English ballrooms can have enormous consequences, even when we return to home territory in books like Purple Plumeria and Midnight Manzanilla.

And, finally, what other series of books have you read as they were published? The Harry Potter series is probably the best known for being one that thousands of people around the world waited for. I began reading Winston Graham’s Poldark series in the early 1990s when I was at university in Edinburgh and was delighted when he began publishing later Poldark books which finally culminated with Bella Poldark in 2008. Does the experience of reading a series of books as they are published change the reading experience? How is waiting years between books different from being able to just go from one to the next? And, on that note, I would like to thank Ashley for having the ideas for doing this as she has successfully managed to combine both these reading experiences as we are both rereading and anticipating!

Pink VII Deam Casting

This post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstace.

Lily_1Very rarely am I 100% inflexible on my casting. In fact I usually try out a few actors in my head before I alight on just the right one. It’s kind of fun, having one actor exit a scene and having another actor enter as the same character, much like watching a Regency version of The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. But this is not the case with The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, and it’s all down to Lauren’s writing, with one of the leads more directly so then the other. The direct one has resulted in me having Penelope be my only 100% author approved casting ever. One day on Lauren’s blog she mentioned that she saw Penelope walk across the screen in a recently episode of PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, though much like me Lauren correctly referred to it as just Mystery! Lauren thought it might have been an episode of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries, but wasn’t sure, though she did proclaim: “There she is! That’s Penelope!”  I, being the BBC addict that I am instantly recognized that it was the first episode from season one of Lewis and the actress was Anna Madeley. I had already seen Anna in The Secret Life of Mrs. Beeton, ironically in an unsuitable marriage and had thought she’d make a great Pen, so when Lauren reiterated my interior monologue I was totally on board, she is Pen. All her amazing roles since, from The Old Curiosity Shop to Sense and Sensibility to Mr Selfridge have brought home the fact that she IS Penelope to me again and again.

Lily_2As for Alex Reid? He’s obviously Aidan Turner.  Sometime during 2009 I devoured the entire first season of Being Human and promptly decided that I MUST watch EVERYTHING Aidan Turner had ever been in. The only thing available Stateside was a single episode of The Tudors… Therefore when Desperate Romantics came around, well, he can be my Dante Gabriel Rossetti any day, and actually was when I read Lauren’s That Summer! But more importantly, in the fall of 2009 laying sick in bed with my ARC of The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, well, there was Aidan hanging out with Anna!  The brooding, the appearance, the conflict, all emotions that I had seen Aidan emote so amazingly as the vampire Mitchell, made him Alex. My re-reading the book while luxuriating in his new staring turn in Poldark has only reinforced my opinion, as has that little quirky smile of his and his regimentals. There is and can only be one Alex Reid.

Lily_3As for the final point in this love triangle… or should we just say, the complication that got what he deserved? Lord Frederick Staines. Originally I had thought that he could be played by Rupert Penry-Jones, because I couldn’t think of anyone who has the pretty boy, slightly vacant charm that Rupert has with the ability to be nasty when he needs to be. But I think, besides getting older, well, I like him too much to love to hate him. I think I was too caught up with the “golden boy” look and while re-reading The Betrayal of the Blood Lily I was struck by the scene when Freddy has been discovered with his mistress and he sags with relief when he thinks he’s got Pen mollified. The actor that instantly sprang to mind was Matthew Goode. I seriously adore Matthew and he is someone whom I can love to hate, heck I was rooting for him to win in Watchmen! Plus, he did a good job actually distracting me from Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game, which in and of itself deserves a reward. Plus, if need be he can go Ozymandias blond again… only if need be.

Penelope Deveraux played by Anna Madeley
Captain Alex Reid played by Aidan Turner

Pink VII Week 3 in Review

This post was written by Abby.

red lily3

While these chapters open with Eloise, I want to finish with her chapter since our final recap next week will open with an Eloise chapter. So we’ll head straight to chapter seventeen, which contains my favorite line in this book and I will let you know when we get there.

These chapters introduce several new plot twists to Blood Lily. In our last recap, Penelope realized that Freddy was having an affair with Nur Bai and her response to this discovery opens a series of reflections on the different means by which women, both high born and low, were valued and measured in the early nineteenth century. While both Penelope and Freddy were equally culpable on that balcony home in England all those months ago, only Freddy is seen as having done the honorable thing by marrying Penelope, and Freddy’s friends see Penelope as fair game for further flirtations. Desperate to demonstrate to Freddy that she is indifferent to his behavior, Penelope responds in kind to nearly every man in the room, including Alex. It is only Alex, however, who offers to walk Penelope home as a friend rather than a guardian, a point he is careful to make. Penelope wonders if her behavior will cause him to abandon their morning rides and Alex reassures her, saying that he will “be where I always am,” which, by the way, is my favorite line in this book. And while we’re on this topic, what is any of your favorite line or lines?

Penelope enters her bedroom where she finds a cobra waiting for her. Determined, self-sufficient when it comes to physical survival to the last, she finds Freddy’s pistol and shoots the cobra between the eyes. Alex hears the shot and bolts indoors to find Penelope, a smoking gun and a dead cobra. While her words are calmly nonchalant, it is clear she is anything but and Alex kisses her, a decision he regrets almost immediately afterwards. He notices the mosquito netting on her bed is missing and begins to wonder if the cobra was planted. Penelope refuses to consider the idea and insists on calling the cobra Marmaduke when discussing it (as a side note, I run across American colonists called Marmaduke every once in awhile in my research and I have trouble seeing them as anything other than cobras). During their discussion, Penelope inadvertently lets slip that her marriage to Freddy was not based on mutual love and that she is aware of a spy known as the Marigold. Penelope and Alex speculate about the identity of the Marigold and Alex mentions the missing gold of Berar. They both decide that an expedition to Berar needs to be launched immediately, which Alex feels is a bad idea for Penelope to undertake.

Alex is awake and ready to leave early the next morning, only to discover that Penelope is awake and ready to leave even earlier. Penelope again reflects on her social standing after the balcony with Freddy, telling Alex “I haven’t any reputation to lose . . . why do you think Fiske and that lot dare to treat me as they do?” In Alex’s mind, Penelope is risking too much, In Penelope’s mind, “a great deal of opprobrium- for a very small space of freedom . . . is my trade to make” and off they set. Building on my earlier posts reflecting on Penelope and Alex as friends and their ability to be among some of the few Pink Carnation characters who are “exactly as they seem,” Alex struggles with his desire to have Penelope as companion, comrade and lover and while Penelope does not put it in exactly those terms, it is clear she feels the same. In time, the attraction that has been building since the early chapters boils over and their romantic relationship begins.

Later in these chapters, Penelope returns to her reflections on women’s status in the early nineteenth century. The Reid family was a friends with a girl named Annie, whose father was an unconnected English man and whose mother was Indian. When Annie was fourteen, she was raped by Fiske and his friends who believed it would cure his syphilis and Penelope suddenly sees that “in all her days of chafing at chaperonage and thumbing her nose at convention [she had never realized] just how great were the protections that hedged her about, or how fortunate she was to have them.” The moments like this that take us out of the largely protected world of the Pink Carnation heroines are one of the reasons why I reread this book so often. Painful as this passage is, it’s a reminder of just how much else existed outside the ballrooms and country houses we usually find ourselves reading about. How did any of your respond to this section?

The 1804 chapters conclude with Penelope and Alex continuing to speculate about the identity of the Marigold while Alex confesses to Penelope that the man they had chased was not a French spy named Guignon but rather his Anglo-Indian brother Jack. Then suddenly, thuddingly, they meet up with the wagon train headed to Berar and realize that Freddy, Lord Frederick Staines, is dead.

Returning to 2004, Eloise returns from her night out with Serena and calls Colin to report on the evening. Their conversation focuses largely on Serena’s personal life, with Eloise acknowledging defeat on the topic of trying to set Serena up with Martin and reporting that Serena’s attraction to Nick is probably a lost cause. At this point, Colin advises her to drop it and they have their first real disagreement, which ends with Eloise advising Colin to stop coddling his sister. He suggests that it is time to end the conversation and that he will see her on Valentine’s day and on that note, both conversation and chapter come to a swift end, leaving Eloise wondering about the future of their relationship. What do you think of Eloise’s efforts to find a boyfriend for Serena? And Colin’s response to both Eloise and Serena? Where do you think these exchanges will take us in future chapters and future books?

(Mis)Identity in the Pink Carnation Series

This post was written by Abby.

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The Pink Carnation series is a series about spies. Series about spies feature people with multiple identities. They wouldn’t be series about spies without them. For much of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, we pondered the identity of the Pink Carnation, while the question of just who was the Black Tulip occupied us for multiple books, with multiple theories. There is now a Marigold on the loose and there has been a Purple Gentian and a Scarlet Pimpernel, all experts at appearing other than what they are. Hovering over the entire series are Jane and Miss Gwen who shift identifies more often than some inhabitants of the nineteenth-century changed their stockings (I feel like this is a quotation from somewhere in a Pink Carnation book. If it isn’t, it would fit right in).

Blood Lily introduces us to another variation on this theme, and then doubles right back around. Alex and James Kirkpatrick both struggle with the question of where their identities and personal geographies lie. As Alex observes, he is “more comfortable with curry than claret, more at home at a nautch than a ball” and neither see a future for themselves in England. Even now, we are beginning to have hints that Alex’s brothers George and Jack, with an English father and Indian mothers, have even more tangled identities and loyalties. And yet for all of that, the thing that strikes me most about both Alex and Penelope is that, at heart, they are both “exactly what I seem,” as Penelope will tell Alex in Chapter Nineteen. And, in this shifting and complex world, this may be what truly draws them to each other. What have any of you thought of all the characters who rarely seem what they are in the Pink Carnation series? And is there anyone I am missing here?

Pink VII Week 2 in Review

Happy Friday!  First order of business: congratulations to Bekah, the winner of the signed copy of Pink VII!  Bekah, if you will email your address to, I will get your prize in the mail ASAP.  Over to Abby for our weekly recap!

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The stakes are high as we begin chapter eight. The Nizam is holding a durbar, an event whose social nuances are as complex as the political ones as the various Indian officials are deciding whether they prefer English or French alliances. Alex and James Kirkpatrick are scheduled to present Freddy to the Nizam and can only hope that he behaves himself and neither of them gamble on having Penelope along for the evening.

These chapters introduce us to still more characters including Mir Alam, described as “rotten with old grudges and new leprosy,” the Nizam himself, about whom Alex has doubts, Mah Laqa Bai, who, “like everyone else was a very old friend of Alex’s father” and Nur Bai, with whom Freddy is quite taken. Penelope is delighted to see that the Zuffir Plutan, an all female guard troop, exist, under the determined leadership of Mama Champa, who handles palace protocol as first Freddy and then Penelope are introduced to the Nizam. While Penelope’s introduction to the Nizam could have been a disaster, she acquits herself well enough to survive the evening. And because this is a Pink Carnation book, there are also plots and spies underfoot, including 3200 missing guns, while Penelope accuses Alex of embezzlement from the British empire, a statement she soon regrets.

By chapter eleven, it’s breakfast time for Penelope and Freddy and the mail has been delivered. Freddy hears from Fiske, while Penelope has letters from her mother, the Dowager Duchess and Henrietta. Several of you have pointed out that Penelope sees the Uppingtons as being more like family than her own and this observation is reinforced as Henrietta’s letter is filled with love and news, while her mother is adamant only that Penelope meet Lady Clive. Still, a certain isolation lingers around Penelope in this chapter as she ponders both her own past actions and Charlotte’s and finally decides to go for a ride.

On meeting Alex, Penelope apologizes and the two head outside the Residency gates to a world where the sun seems brighter and the air smells richer. Penelope is fascinated by everything around her until Alex takes off after an unknown man and Penelope follows him. While Alex and Penelope’s exchanges are still guarded in these chapters, their mutual respect for each other is clearly beginning to emerge and as their morning rides continue, Penelope realizes that she has made a friend, a fact commented on by Daniel Cleave, who went to school with Alex and his brothers. However, our time in 1804 closes with Freddy’s lack of respect for Penelope as she realizes that he has begun an affair with Nur Bai.

These chapters also take us forward in time as Eloise and Serena go to see a movie and see Nick, the man to whom Serena is attracted, out with another woman. While trying to navigate this encounter, Eloise finds herself reflecting on the fact that while she often treats Serena “like a backward child,” the reality is that Serena is the one who knows their London world, not Eloise. Eloise’s and Serena’s careful efforts to establish and maintain a friendship independent of Colin introduce another variation on friendship to the ones I looked at earlier this week.

Penelope often stumbles in these chapters and it often seems that this is a fate she has prescribed for herself due to her own behavior. Eloise earlier described her as a free spirit to Mrs. Seldwick-Alderly who responds instead that she finds her “more of a troubled soul, acting out not so much because she wants to, but because others expect it of her.” What do you think of this characterization of Penelope? Do you agree with it? Why or why not? And what do we know at this point in time about Alex? And I am closing this installment with another link to the Two Nerdy History Girls blog, this time on paintings of India done by a German artist:

Friendship in The Betrayal of the Blood Lily

This post was written by Abby.

red lily

Last month, both Betty and Susan wrote about friendships in Night Jasmine and I wanted to focus today on friendships in Blood Lily. One point that both Betty and Susan made was that the friendship between Penelope and Charlotte is often an unexpected one and Blood Lily continues the theme of the unlikely friendship.

Chapter Six introduced us to Alex’s friend, Tajalli Ali Khan, the son of a Hyderabadi nobleman. Alex observes that “yet they were friends, and had been friends since the first month of Alex’s appointment in Hyderabad, when they had found themselves flung together on a cheetah hunt hosted by the Resident. Alex admired his friend’s insouciant ease of manner, even while he knew he could never emulate it.” What do you think allows for the harmony (Alex’s word) between these two characters? Do you think their friendship will survive the growing English, French and Indian tensions of the early nineteenth century? And do you have any friends like this?

But the most important friendship in Blood Lily is, of course, the one that begins to emerge between Penelope and Alex during these early chapters. Jumping ahead a little to Chapter Fourteen (which we will be discussing on Friday), Penelope reflects that “she had never had a male friend before. Lovers, yes. Flirtations. But never a friend. It made an intriguing change.” I hadn’t ever thought about this before rereading Blood Lily for our discussion but if romance between the hero and heroine is a core element in all the Pink Carnation books, so is friendship. Miles and Henrietta are probably the only couple who go from a pre-existing friendship to marriage but the friendships which develop between all the Pink couples play important roles in their books. Turnip appreciates the fact that Arabella responds to his banter while Geoff and Letty come to value each other’s companionship, just to name two examples.

Returning to Penelope and Alex, why do you think Penelope has never seen men as potential sources for friendship before? And why do you think she might find the idea intriguing? By contrast, the conversation between Alex and Mah Laqa Bai in Chapter Ten (again, my apologies for looking ahead to Friday’s discussion) and his relationships with his sisters suggest that Alex is far more acquainted with the concept of having women as friends. Why do you think this is the case? And is there any other friendship in the Pink books which I have missed here?

Rebel Queen

rebel queen

Thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster, I had a chance to read an advance copy of Rebel Queen, Michelle Moran’s latest release.  Perfect timing for the month that our Pink book is set in India, no?

In the small Indian village of Barwa Sagar in 1840, a young girl named Sita’s world collapses around her when her mother dies giving birth to a second daughter. To earn money for her family, and to prevent her grandmother from selling her sister to the temple for life as a prostitute, Sita begins a rigorous course of training to become a member of the Durga Dal – an elite group of women who function as the bodyguards, entertainers, and personal confidants for the Maharani of Jhansi. Sita learns to fight, to play chess, to discuss English poems and plays, and to ride a horse, but nothing could prepare her for her life in the palace of Jhansi. In the royal court, Sita discovers that there are two sets of rules at play: a set of traditions and expectations that she will understand with time and practice, and the unspoken rules of behavior that are only known to those who have spent a lifetime at court. On her first day at the palace, Sita learns that trust is an invaluable commodity, but it’s a lesson she will find herself forced to learn over and over throughout her seven years in the Durga Dal. Between the threat from the encroaching British and an even more insidious threat from within the palace itself, Sita begins to lose sight of her purpose in coming to Jhansi, and when open war breaks out between the British army and the local sepoys, she finds herself questioning where she owes her highest loyalty.

I have had a fascination with books set in India in this time period ever since I read M.M. Kaye’s The Far Pavilions a few years ago. I’ve tried to find other books that would have that perfect blend of rich historical detail, beautifully rendered setting, exciting plot and fascinating characters, but for the longest time, I thought Kaye had managed to catch lightening in a jar. I’ve read a few other books that have come close, but never a story that could match Kaye for making me feel so wrapped up in the story. Rebel Queen has succeeded where the others failed. Moran’s story is immersive and compelling (although Rebel Queen clocks in under 300 pages, compared with over 1,000 for The Far Pavilions).

Some books about Indian history have an annoying habit of trying to place you in the setting by just throwing random Hindi or Sanskrit words at you in italics throughout the story. I find that, rather than making me feel at home in the setting, that tactic jerks me out of the story abruptly, like a big billboard screaming, “LOOK, A FOREIGN WORD! BECAUSE WE’RE IN INDIA, REMEMBER?” Moran’s setting details are so subtle that sometimes you forget she is building another time and place for you. Without bashing you over the head with descriptors, Moran makes you feel the summer heat, smell the rain, and hear the chaotic hum of a busy marketplace around you.

I love stories about palace intrigue, and Rebel Queen has that in abundance. The Durga Dal are, in theory, all fiercely devoted to the Maharani, but within their ranks, some are more interested in self-preservation and advancement than serving their queen. Neighboring kingdoms jockey for additional territory, and spies are constantly infiltrating the court of Jhansi. The all-female Durga Dal are the counterparts to the Maharaja’s male bodyguards, and given the amount of time these groups spend in close quarters, romantic sparks fly. Meanwhile, the British are slowly taking over Indian kingdoms under the guise of stewardship. Sita explains their presence with the parable about the camel’s nose, and how “on a cold winter’s night, the camel begged its master to allow it to place its nose inside the master’s tent… the camel, who promised at first it would be just its nose, then its legs, then its back, until finally it was the camel living inside the tent while the master shivered in the cold outside.” With so many sources of drama and tension, I was never bored – the pacing is great.

Sita was a wonderful narrator. You want her to succeed so badly after all the hardships she’s endured growing up, and you feel fiercely protective of her when people in the Jhansi court try to take advantage of her inexperience. And in the end, when you watch her struggle with conflicting loyalties, you heart will break right along with hers when she realizes that it’s not possible for her to save everyone and everything that she loves.

All in all, I was really impressed. I will definitely look into some of Moran’s previous books – I keep picking up Madame Tussaud and putting in down again in my trips to Barnes and Noble. Have you read any of her books? What would you recommend?