Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Flowers of St. Aloysius by Hayden Thorne

A dying young mother’s desperate hope for her child leads her to a fateful meeting in the clearing of an old wood. A meeting whose otherworldly purpose quietly and gradually takes shape as the child matures. A meeting that has left the wood under a dark spell, unable to rise up in fury to undo what it sees as a violation of natural laws.

Two families from old aristocratic lines agree to end the century-long and bloody feud that has left one side fading and the other flourishing. To achieve such an end, Laurent Veilleux, the youngest of his family, and Brys Lajoie, the last of his bloodline, are forced to marry though still strangers to each other. Marriages of convenience and political marriages are common among the upper-crust, and despite their initial reluctance and disdain, Laurent and Brys slowly allow themselves to open their hearts and minds to each other in hopes that somehow, by some miracle, love would eventually bloom between them.

But their union has awakened something, a fragrant and deadly shadow that leaves a trail of bodies in its wake. Healthy people suddenly fall ill and die after suffering long, excruciating declines marked by symptoms of poison. Plants and flowers wilt, butterflies and birds tumble to the ground dead, and it appears as though this murderous shadow follows the young couple everywhere.

To make matters worse, this threat seems to gather more strength when Laurent and Brys develop the emotional connection they’ve always hoped for. And somewhere in the French countryside, the woodlands finally emerge from the dark spell, unleash their fury, and seek justice for a past wrong, the trees’ reach spanning distances in search of the unsuspecting pair.

Inspired by the poison maiden legend from India, which Nathaniel Hawthorne also adapted in “Rappaccini’s Daughter”, 'The Flowers of St. Aloysius' is a gothic gay fairy tale set in an alternate universe nineteenth century France.

This interesting blend of fantasy and history makes for a very intriguing, terrifying at times, alternate universe.  I always enjoy AU historicals, they give the author such unique leeway with facts, letting them put their own brand of storytelling into the tale.  The Flowers of St. Aloysius is my first Hayden Thorne book, but it most certainly won't be my last.  I will say that if you have a deathly fear or phobia of nature then this is one you should probably approach with caution but otherwise, I highly recommend Flowers especially with October and Halloween just around the corner.  Brys and Laurent's story is what I imagine a book would be if Nathanial Hawthorne and the Grimm Brothers had collaborated, all kinds of gothic romance, magic, and mystery with a good old fashioned helping of creepy.  This is a definite must read and I can't wait to check out the author's other work and if they happen to only be half as good as Flowers I'll be a happy reader but something tells me they'll be way more than half as good.

The Veilleux-Lajoie union was specifically designed to be a quiet yet dignified affair befitting two old families with aristocratic blood in their veins. The church was no grand cathedral meant to inspire awe and perhaps even terror in the hearts of the congregation. No—a small church in a small town north of Florismart had been chosen, but the presiding holy dignitaries elevated the proceedings from a modest wedding to one truly witnessed and approved by the Church of Rome.

No less than three bishops were in attendance, and as he solemnly walked to the altar, his hand resting atop Laurent’s raised palm, Brys’s earlier confidence wavered terribly. He couldn’t keep his gaze ahead, succumbing to the temptation of letting it dart left and right to take in the immensity of the moment. The bishops standing in silent and somber watchfulness intimidated him with their grand ecclesiastical robes, and their elaborate mitres made him shrink inwardly while also wondering how in heaven’s name both families had managed to pull such important, magnificent strings where the church was involved. He could only guess old connections between the families and Rome were responsible for this remarkable display.

In attendance were families—unfortunately almost all coming from the Veilleux side, the Lajoies represented by none else but Brys’s parents. They, along with Mme Veilleux, sat in front, everyone else filling up space behind them.

As he and Laurent finally reached the apse, Brys dared a glance in his parents’ direction and noted the coldness on their features—a vastly different look from Mme Veilleux, who watched him and Laurent with a faint, indulgent smile on her face. But that meant little, really, and shouldn’t be anything to worry about. The Lajoies were a doomed clan. This union meant everything to them as a dying bloodline. Whether or not Brys and Laurent decided to sire offspring down the line, there was still that uncertainty shadowing Brys’s steps, and the tension evident in his parents was testament to the desperation propelling this shocking move to unite the families.

When he met his parents’ gaze, in fact, Brys saw no affection or reassurance in either of them. Just a stony, unreadable light in their eyes, their pale faces fixed in an expression devoid of life. He had to suck in a deep, rattling breath to comfort himself instead.

When he felt his hand lightly squeezed, he turned his attention back to the altar and the priest who stood solemnly before them.

“Are you all right?” Laurent whispered, his words barely heard even in the tomb-like silence of the church.

“I am, thank you. Just nervous.”

“As am I. But we’ll pull through this.”

Laurent gently squeezed his hand again, and Brys’s earlier anxiety eased. At a cue from the priest, the two knelt rather stiffly, and if Brys weren’t still on edge, he’d have laughed at the ridiculousness of the moment, particularly the formal attire he and Laurent were obliged to wear for the occasion. Not having worn the ensemble before, Brys felt his movements hampered by the stiff fabric and the elaborate embroidery and embellishments up and down his person. It certainly didn’t help that the outfits he and Laurent wore were ornamental silk and lace costumes from a century prior—perhaps a symbolic reminder of the beginning of the two families’ deadly enmity. Shirt, cravat, waistcoat, jacket, breeches, stockings, and even buckled shoes—both young men were also, much to Brys’s dismay, forced to top things off with simple bag wigs, but at least the hair color matched their own. It was all too much, really, and Brys didn’t care a jot for it, but this wedding was proving to be a great deal more significant then he’d expected. The only thing that lightened his mood was the look of horror on Laurent’s face as he glanced at himself and then at Brys just before they traversed the nave, their hands together.

He even thought he’d heard his soon-to-be-husband mutter, “I’ll never live this one down” before the doors swung open to welcome them into the church.

The ceremony itself was quite simple despite the superficial pomp, and again, perhaps it was intentional, shedding all the unnecessary layers where it counted the most: the joining of two lives forever. The only extra touches involved the visiting bishops taking turns blessing the union with prayers and exhortations, etc. Before he knew it, Brys was pronounced Laurent’s husband and vice versa then encouraged to stand and turn around to face their families and friends as spouses.

Deferential but cheerful applause followed their presentation, and Brys took advantage of this moment to glance at his parents.

Both appeared to be pleased with the proceedings, but they still had an air of gravity about them. At the very least, they offered Brys brief little smiles before their expressions settled back to icy calm. And Brys wondered if their behavior stemmed from the fact that this move toward a reconciliation—clearly a necessity in their eyes—had also been a severe blow to their pride. Brys could never really gauge their true feelings on the matter as they’d always been guarded about their thoughts and their hearts. Yes, there might be some relief in there somewhere, knowing their one and only child and the last of the bloodline had been easily welcomed by a stronger, more fruitful family who also happened to be their antagonists for a century. There was a hint of defeat somewhere in there as well, the realization that their family couldn’t be sustained anymore, the risk of Brys succumbing to an illness only grounding home the need for a reconciliation and a clear conscience before it was too late.

So many reasons and justifications could have made up the present moment, but Brys had never been—and perhaps never would be—privy to his parents’ closely guarded thoughts and feelings on the matter. He only hoped he’d do them justice in the end, that he’d fulfill his purpose or role in a manner that would make them proud and pleased with the sacrifice of their son in this semi-political game.

“Let’s go,” Laurent whispered, leaning close. “I’m dying to change my clothes. This is madness.”

Brys blinked and turned to him, startled at first, but the grumpy scowl on his husband’s face finally broke the ice, and he laughed softly. “Yes, let’s go. I don’t understand all this, myself. And these ugly shoes are absurdly stiff. I’m sure my feet are black and blue by now.”

Laurent’s scowl melted then, and their gazes met while applause continued around them. “Welcome to my life, Brys Veilleux-Lajoie.”

Brys at first wasn’t sure if Laurent was teasing him, but the somber, earnest light in his husband’s eyes told him otherwise. He didn’t quite know what to say to that other than a stammered, “Welcome to mine, Laurent.”

And then they were walking back down the aisle toward the doors.

A carriage awaited them, and they clambered inside, settling down in the stiff, uncomfortable seats with groans of pain and fatigue.

“God, I can’t wait to walk around in normal shoes again,” Laurent blurted out, now that they were on their way to the wedding banquet. He immediately bent down and struggled with his shoes, eventually pulling them off and sighing loudly when his stockinged feet were finally free of their awful prison. He glanced at Brys, who sat across from him. “Aren’t you going to take your shoes off?”

Brys didn’t answer right away. If anything, he found that he couldn’t. The realization of his being now really, truly married had finally sunk in, and he was at a loss. From a life spent in isolation, deprived of friends his age, to being married to a stranger—and this marriage carrying far greater baggage than any other marriage ever could—Brys suddenly felt not only confused as to what was now expected of him, but also unnerved by his shifting role.

How did betrothed couples go about getting comfortable enough with each other? What were the chances of love—real, deep love—growing from a connection that had been forced on them? Would he and Laurent end up resenting each other instead for the rest of their lives? Brys had heard of mistresses and lovers on the side, apparently considered a necessary evil to those in the same situation he and Laurent now found themselves in. If a loveless marriage was all he had to look forward to from this day forward, would Brys eventually succumb to the temptation of finding a devoted lover on the side as well? Laurent was obviously a great deal more knowledgeable and worldly, having traveled and experienced growing up in a big family and also expensive boarding schools. Would he be more likely to tire of Brys and enjoy a string of bed partners to satisfy his needs and make his marriage more endurable?

“It’s been my experience,” Laurent continued, breaking up Brys’s dour thoughts, “that overthinking things can only make the situation worse.”

Brys sighed and looked up, suddenly feeling exhausted by everything. “We don’t love each other,” he simply replied. “How does something like this work?”

Laurent regarded him in thoughtful silence for a moment. “One day at a time, I suppose.”

Brys didn’t know if he’d struck a nerve because Laurent didn’t speak again for the duration of the trip, and Brys’s spirits wilted at the thought. He fought against a well of emotions and pulled himself together, turning his attention to the gorgeous day and the idyllic countryside. Perhaps he was overthinking things, as Laurent noted. But he couldn’t find it in himself to feel awful about it, seeing as how he felt awful enough like this.

A butterfly suddenly appeared, having flown inside one window, only to find itself trapped inside a moving vehicle. It fluttered past Brys’s face at first before frantically flying around for an escape, and it was really impossible to somehow show where it needed to go when the wind rushing through the open carriage windows kept the poor little creature from getting over its frantic confusion.

Seeing a butterfly so close like this was a first. Back in Cheney, the Lajoie garden didn’t seem to invite birds or even butterflies and all other manner of small wildlife of one species or another. Brys had never even seen earthworms or caterpillars. Such animals were always spotted outside, well beyond the thick stone walls surrounding his home, and whatever knowledge he’d had regarding these creatures came strictly from his books. In fact, the more Brys thought about it, the more he realized the flowers he’d been so used to seeing around him weren’t the usual varieties so plentiful in Laurent’s mother’s garden. Perhaps, he told himself with a mental shrug, the plants his parents grew were strictly only from that region. It certainly made a great deal of sense when regarded as such.

Brys sighed, taking pity on the trapped butterfly, and lifted both hands to try to somehow nudge it in the direction of a window. Wind and movement brought the butterfly close to his face, forcing Brys to blow gently at it before it touched his mouth, and it fluttered around for a bit before attempting another escape. In another moment, however, the creature seemed to have lost coordination, and it clumsily fluttered in a downward spiral to settle on the cushion, just an inch or two from Brys.

There it lay for another moment, its beating wings turning erratic and sluggish, until the butterfly went still, its little body jarred by the carriage’s movements and thrown about by the rushing winds.

Author Bio:
I've lived most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area though I wasn’t born there (or, indeed, the USA). I’m married with no kids and three cats, am a cycling nut (go Garmin!), and my day job involves artwork, crazy (read: incomprehensibly fun) coworkers who specialize in all kinds of media, and the occasional strange customer requests involving papier mache fish with sparkly scales.

I’m a writer of young adult fiction, specializing in contemporary fantasy, historical fantasy, and historical genres. My books range from a superhero fantasy series to reworked folktales to Victorian ghost fiction. My themes are coming-of-age, with very little focus on romance (most of the time) and more on individual growth with some adventure thrown in.



The Truth Seekers by Mavvy Vasquez

Title: The Truth Seekers
Author: Mavvy Vasquez
Genre: Victorian Historical Romance
Release Date: July 5, 2016
He wants to change the world; she wants to embrace it.

Welcome to the world of the Victorian upper class: a vibrant, strictly ordered society that encourages gentle, intellectual pursuits but condemns those who reject its conventions.

In a community created to celebrate the Arts, gothic novelist Geoffrey Hawes finds himself coerced into lecturing to the idle rich. Reluctant to abandon his solitude, he must concede or risk offending his wealthy patrons. Bitter and disenchanted with the privileged and wealthy, Geoffrey hides his scorn as best he can, but he refuses to let the social conventions of the time determine the course of his life.

The last thing he expects to find in this rarefied world is someone who understands his unconventional views. Budding artist Miranda Claridge, the Governor’s intelligent and vivacious daughter, uses her unique perspective to open Geoffrey’s eyes to all that is beautiful and good in the world. Wise beyond her years, she is able to see beyond the trappings of society to the wonder of small, every day details, but unlike Geoffrey, she is unwilling to reject the conventional duties of rank and family. Her calm acceptance of her life’s predetermined path frustrates and bewilders the fiery, passionate Geoffrey, but she does not hesitate to challenge his beliefs with equal determination. In the midst of their many heated debates on the mores of the upper class, this unlikely friendship blossoms into a passionate, impossible love. Although Geoffrey does not deny his longing for Miranda, he cannot convince her to abandon what she believes to be right. In order to win her, he will have to sacrifice his own pride and convictions. To find a solution, they must discover where their true destinies lie. In a battle between principles and passion, can there be a victor?

Frustrated, Geoffrey left the assembly and returned to his lodgings. He gravitated once more to his balcony, gulping in great gusts of air in an attempt to clear his head. Now that he was away from Miranda Claridge’s intoxicating presence, he searched for some rational thought that would rid him of this impossible infatuation. It proved to be a futile effort. When at last he conceded defeat, he saw that each interaction with her had but served to increase the strength of the unbearable yearning, and that the kindest course of action to take for himself would be to remove himself from her presence altogether.

However, the next day he discovered that the temptation to see her once more was too great to resist, and he found himself standing in the Claridges’ well-appointed home before many more hours had passed. A drink had been pressed into his palm, and he gripped it like an anchor while he watched Miranda’s elegant figure float into the room. She wound her way through the throng with practiced ease, smiling and dispensing the appropriate welcoming sentiments to her parents’ guests. He suspected that the words falling from her lips with such aplomb were insincere at times, knowing as he did the personalities to whom they were addressed, but no indication of her personal opinions was revealed by that smooth mask.

She was beautiful and alluring, it was true. But he hated to see her like this. The light in her eyes was dimmed, almost unperceivable, and her gentle smile was too restrained, allowing no hint of unladylike wit to mar the smooth lines of her face. Even as he winced at this façade she had assumed, he found that he could not look away. He watched her progress while she moved in his direction. So absolute was his focus on his inward struggle, so lost was he in the dark byways of his conflicted mind, that when at last she made her way to his side, he was startled to find her there before him. Recalling himself, he met her frank appraisal with a frown.

“It was good of you to come,” she said, her voice ringing with the cultured timbre that had been bred into the members of their class.

“I did not wish to disappoint you,” he replied in a bitter tone.

Miranda laughed, and the sound rang false in his ears. “My goodness, you do appear cross this evening!”

“Don’t,” he growled at her. “Don’t you dare play the gracious hostess with me.”

What Others Are Saying:
There is no doubt in my mind that Ms. Lawrence can pull off a historical romance with flair and grace, and she delivered a wonderful period piece, surpassing my expectations.

The Truth Seekers is a mix of elegant prose, laugh out loud Victorian courtship and larger than life characters. Ms. Lawrence did not hold back on vivid descriptions, thought provoking dialogues and believable conflict. I can keep talking about the many reasons why The Truth Seekers is an excellent novel, but I urge you to read it and make your own judgment. This is not just a recommended read, it’s a must read. --Lorenz Font

I fell in love with period stories when I was younger and that love stayed with me, so when I was given the opportunity to read this novel, I jumped at the chance. I have always been somewhat wary about how well an author could pull off a period story, but that was not the case with this author.

From the first page, I was drawn into the story and at many points in the book, I felt as though I was actually with the characters. That’s a rare thing for me and it goes to show how extremely talented and hardworking this author is. Everything down to the finer details were spot on and not once did I feel as though there were any errors in the timing or language of the book.

The characters, Miranda and Geoffrey, were very easy to relate to and I think they will be the couple that will stay with me for a very long time and I will happily re-read this book over the coming years.
Thanks to this author, my love affair with period romances will continue and I can’t wait until she releases something else that I can read with so much love and passion. --J.C. Clarke

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, I’ve always enjoyed a variety of books. In my lifetime, I’ve read, and enjoyed mind you, many of the greats: Shakespeare, Poe, D. H. Lawrence, Austen, and Hawthorne, to name a few. Dickens was always a little tedious for me, to be honest. Of course, I’ve enjoyed the more modern writers such as King, Stephen Donaldson, Diana Gabaldon, and Anne Rice, as well. The point I’m trying to make is that I have an appreciation for the written word, and when I sat down with Elizabeth Lawrence’s The Truth Seekers, it didn’t take long to realize another great was in my hands.

How often does a reviewer find themselves having to Google information before penning their review? This is the level that Lawrence took me to with her novel. The whole time I was reading about Geoffrey Hawes and Miss Miranda Claridge, there was something that was eluding me. Victorian romances I’d read in the past were always enjoyable, but there was something . . . more . . . about The Truth Seekers. Something that resonated within and told me how unique this modern day offering of a style gone by was. Then it hit me with the power of this passage:

For one long moment, he was paralyzed by his complete astonishment. Then, in a sudden surge of activity, he was on his feet and running. He burst out onto the street, his lungs heaving in great, greedy gusts of air as he dashed past tourists and street vendors, heedless of the cries of irritation that followed his mad, careening flight. His relentless pace was that of a desperate man whose last opportunity for salvation was about to slip through his fingers as he raced up the steps of Miranda’s lodging house and beat upon the door. He was at first unable to make himself understood by the answering servant, and the delay caused by this miscommunication was agony to him. At last he ascertained Miranda’s whereabouts and charged up the stairs to her rooms without any thought for the propriety of his behavior. He flung her door open, not bothering to knock, and it crashed open with a thunderous reverberation. ~The Truth Seekers

While the hero’s point of view is common enough in modern day romances, it was not the norm for that period in history. I googled it; because I started second guessing myself! What a bold and brilliant move by Lawrence.

From the first page the reader is sucked into Geoffrey’s head; we get to experience all the turmoil of his forward thinking beliefs (always the way with eccentric novelists) and how they almost become his downfall. Through his eyes, Miranda Claridge is seen much like a morning glory: so fragile, yet so full of life and glorious as she opens to the possibilities each new day brings, then withering and closing under the extreme heat of the afternoon, i.e. Society.

I could continue to elucidate how wonderful this novel is. Allow me, instead, to suggest that if you have even the slightest fondness for a well-told romance that will leave you guessing until the end if the ‘guy gets the girl,’ then don’t wait. The Truth Seekers is a modern day masterpiece which will win you over faster than a suitor come calling, and one that I will proudly display next to my cherished copies of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Stand.

Bravo, Ms. Lawrence. Bravo. --R.E. Hargrave

Author Bio:
Mavvy Vasquez is an author of contemporary and period fiction. Also published under the pseudonym Elizabeth M. Lawrence, Ms. Vasquez enjoys weaving together different genres to explore and examine human relationships and dynamics. A lifelong writer and artist, Ms. Vasquez divides her free time between her husband, two sons, three cats, her collection of cozy murder mysteries, and her mildly severe caffeine addiction. Her eclectic background includes intellectual property law, ghosts, ball bearings, opera, government proposals, fabrics, and framing. A native of Lawrence, Kansas, and graduate of Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, she now works from her home in Cleveland, Ohio.


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