Review: The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine

Another review for The Beltane Choice!

Ancient history is the least genre that I would be interested to read but when I started reading The Beltane Choice, it has actually caught my attention and has changed my perspective. Nancy has successfully turned the past era to the present time and she made it more livable for the readers. The flow of the story is engaging and riveting; the characters are realistic and have definitely fulfilled its purpose.

Nara of Selgovae has a very interesting character- being heroine and strong-willed, she was able to use her sexual prowess to her advantage, to choose her suitable mate and to save the tribe from Roman subjugation. While Lorcan of the Brigantes, although was in a dilemma and was torn between his tribe and his love for Nara, he was able to succeed in unifying both tribes to defeat a common enemy. The dialogues are exceptional and believable, having written in first person, they make it a lot easier for the readers to feel that they are part of the story.

If I would be given the chance to rewrite some parts of the story, it would be the organization of characters’ names and places. It is in my understanding that the names are all fictional thus I would personally limit the names, places, and god names, so it would be easier for the readers to follow. I reached chapter seven and I was still astonished to find new names of new characters, with no prelude as to why and how the characters came up. I would also like to have, maybe a map of Nara and Lorcan’s journey. I would like to read more detailed descriptions of the physical features of the main characters as well. In addition, instead of just putting an asterisk to mark an end of the chapter, it would be better to just end there and then start a new chapter. Based on personal experience, readers are more likely to continue reading novels with short chapters.

Ultimately, I liked the way the story ended. The story is highly commendable!
Lynn Bardo
Review Team Member

Review: EL Rey by Ginger Myrick

El Rey is a deeply emotional tale that sweeps you into the depths of love one often does not experience. Myrick’s characters will touch you to the core. She gives you an enriched story of endearing love that never ends and captures the essence of the human heart.

This story is set in 16th century Portugal and Spain. It is much more than a love story. It’s also a time of the plague, war and the Spainsh Inquistion.

What I admire most is the characters resilience and resolve to withstand the tragic circumstance life has dealt them. I highly recommend this story!

For more information about this book, please visit here:

Layered Pages

Review and Q&A for The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine

In ancient Britain bitter weather, harsh conditions and tribal inter-fighting conspired with other elements to make life difficult and cumbersome. Beltane, therefore, was a welcome diversion, certainly for many reasons, amongst them the community-wide celebration of oncoming summer and the freedoms it ushered in.  Occurring in May, modern peoples could relate to the anticipation and joy of the season, replete with symbols of new life, light and plenty. Lovers united, the sun waxed its power and people prepared animals and household goods for the time when winter would once more secure its chilly embrace.


It is in expectation of this time in A.D. 71 that Nancy Jardine sets her account of Nara of the Selgovae, whose first words in the book are uttered to a wild boar: “You have my spear and my sword, but you will not have my life.” Nara’s declamation immediately tells of her strength as well as humor, despite being wracked with frustration at her predicament—namely being stuck in a tree, shortly to be felled by a boar she had the misfortune to encounter.


As The Beltane Choice opens Nara playfully foresees reality when a handsome stranger rescues her, resulting in immediate mutual attraction, despite her own inexperience with the opposite sex. Nara, however, is reticent about divulging her own information apart from her general identity, and the would-be lovers discover they come from enemy tribes. Believing he may have a worthy bargaining tool in Nara, Lorcan of Garrigill takes the girl as his prisoner; over the course of several days the two head for the Garrigill stronghold, where he plans to develop his strategy for repelling the approaching Roman army. During this time the pair slowly begin to learn about one another and both are beset by conflicting and confusing sentiments. It is a journey rife with displays of anger and emotional outbursts on the parts of Lorcan as well as Nara.


Here Jardine expertly establishes in her narrative the method of cross perspectives, a potentially tricky technique given the confusion that so often results in the attempt to streamline characters’ perceptions into dialogue and passages. No such difficulty here, partly because of the protagonists’ opposing viewpoints, but also owing to the smooth flow of their dialogue. The author masterfully handles the speech with language that feels genuine without being foreign. Months are measured in moons,age in winters. She also maintains a masterful balance between a reader- and writer-friendly storyline, utilizing such words as bannockand bratt, terms that may be unfamiliar but which populate sentences that draw us into the world they inhabit. Within this journey the reader so often instinctively comprehends, frequently without the registration that this was ever lacking in the first place.


As inhabitants of this world, that is the 21st century, it would be difficult not to be aware of the divide between representations of men and women in an earlier era, and those of our own time. Men who treat women with respect often are believed to have only recently popped into existence; before their arrival, males of the world were cruel or indifferent, without exception imposing their will onto the females of their societies.


Unfortunately, in many or even most instances, this was indeed true. However, history does tell of not a few women who broke from their received roles and the men who valued their subsequent contributions. While these men and women may be statistical anomalies, historically speaking, they are not unusual. Therefore, to happen upon men in The Beltane Choice who show consideration towards women strengthens the story, especially given Jardine’s treatment of them. They are in fact products of their time, but the author is clever enough to recognize that an insightful man intuits value where he sees it. None of the characters pretend to pander to our sensibilities: Lorcan’s father is an irascible old man, short and stinging with his words, but an able leader who is dismayed and disgusted when he learns of another chief’s horrific treatment of his own daughter. Tully is wise enough to know the worth of a gifted woman, even if her own father did not.


But Jardine also keeps it authentic: as in real life, it takes all kinds, and readers come across able and productive men, as well as those who simply take from life without thought to the consequences, for themselves or others. In Garrigill Nara the Selgovae is attacked by two who resent her presence—perhaps also her beauty—and are later punished for the deed. While an important episode that highlights the suspicion of and willingness to harm anything foreign, the episode and its aftermath remain undeveloped, which is unfortunate owing to the import of recognizing such episodes that mar or weaken unity against common enemies. 


Nara’s beauty, recognized by all, exists on multiple levels, and despite her sometimes-poor choices with regard to action or response, she is shown to be keen and level headed, thoughtful and deliberate. Such is her way in how she considers the upcoming Beltane festival and the choice she will have to make regarding a lover. Will she have a choice?  What of the Roman army marching on the settlement where she is held captive? And her native estate? How does all this impact the array of emotions she feels in response to Lorcan, her captor? He is absolutely smitten with her, though he, too, experiences conflict within and without. He is dedicated to his father and the safety of their tribe, but wants to have Nara as well. He realizes his plan has gone awry and he, too, considers the future with apprehension.


Nancy Jardine has woven a tale as complex as the Celtic knot that graces the book’s cover. Winding and illusory, readers may see one circumstance, but events intercede to disabuse us of any notion that this is a simple story. The endless and unified nature of the cover illustration reflects the events occurring in the lives of those in The Beltane Choice, individually and as humans who experience these occasions across time.  And, like the winding knot that appears as sheer simplicity but is much more beneath, the smooth passage from Nara’s entrapment by the boar to her ultimate choice, the author utilizes language in a way both straightforward and elegant.


I would be remiss to omit any sort of detail about the sexual tension that runs through the entire book and moments in which Nara and Lorcan’s indecisive attractions teeter on a precipice. The suggestive nature of the wording is very much like the Celtic knot as discussed above: on one level very evocative and at times openly sensual. But to leave it at that would be less than honest, because it is also lovely and metered, occasionally blatant, as reflected in the pair’s actual experiences. More suitable to the abilities of a mature reader—one who can rise above mere titillation—it is the poetry of two bodies, articulated perhaps as those of the era, with their sexual sensibilities, may have expressed it. It is also crucial to note that Nara and Lorcan both see it as much more than a mere physical act—though they are honest with themselves (and us) and do not deny this aspect—incorporating into their possible union the future at the heart of the Beltane choice—and The Beltane Choice.


The Beltane Choice by Nancy Jardine

2012, Crooked Cat Publishing Ltd.


By Lisl Zlitni

Review Team Member
Q&A with Nancy Jardine
Nancy, what compelled you to write about the time period of AD 71?

As a teacher of 11-12year olds I tended to teach other historical periods (Victorian/WW2) but totally loved it when I could teach about the Roman and Celtic period. I really enjoyed learning about the Celtic Era- especially with regard to British Celts. I loved the practical activities I could do with my classes to show the impact the Roman Empire made on the local populations in Britain. Making small scale models of roundhouses and Roman Bathhouses, learning Celtic music, creating Celtic and Roman artwork and other craftwork was brilliant. My classes especially loved it when we created a Roman feast. They loved it even more when we made cardboard shields and weapons and had a mock battle between local Aberdeenshire (Scotland) Celts and the Romans at the Battle of Mons Graupius! (No deaths of course!) All of that made me desperate to some day write works of fiction set in the Celtic Roman period.

What makes your story unique from other Historical Novels?

The Celtic Roman era is not one that is covered very often by historical authors. There are a lot of novels that are more of the Celtic fantasy sub-genre, but that’s not what I set out to write in The Beltane Choice. I wanted my novel to be based on historical accuracy as much as possible, though still a work of fiction, but without fantasy or modern Wiccan influences. I also wanted to base it in the borders areas of Scotland/England since most of the work I’ve read that is Roman/Celtic Britain based has tended to be set in what we now call the south of England. The southern areas of Britain became romanised, but the north was much more resistant to domination. That idea fascinated me.

What was the research involved?

I’ve always been intrigued about the Roman and Celtic period, and have visited as many visitor centres as possible over the last few decades, so I’ve absorbed a working general knowledge of the era. A lot of the research was done for teaching my classes, therefore initial source materials tended to be from a mixture of books- some for children, and others for the history lover. Some of the research came from the internet, but more from Library texts. For The Beltane Choice I read as much as I could find on Brigante and Selgovae tribes, but there isn’t much available- since the oral tradition was the Celtic norm. It is thought, by some experts, that the Druidic order could write- though did not encourage the practice for the Celtic people. I also read a lot of Celtic tales, and absorbed some ideas from that.

How long did it take you to write, The Beltane Choice?

Quite a while! The first draft of The Beltane Choice was written years ago (around 2004) during a school summer holiday, but laid aside. In those days I tended to only ‘write’ during long holidays, mainly non-fiction historical projects for school purposes. It wasn’t till around 2008 that The Beltane Choice was resurrected and another draft written. It has probably gone through 3 main rewrites, earned two rejections, and has had many revisions to get to the present stage.

Thank you!

Layered Pages Review Team Leader


Review: Companion of Lady Holmshire by Debbie Brown

Debra Brown’s debut novel brings readers a sweet story with charming characters, quaint settings and a unique plot. The Companion of Lady Holmeshire is a historical fiction set in Victorian England. Ms. Brown brings us an unconventional matriarch for the period; a noble woman taking in and attempting to elevate a servant girl into the upper echelons of society. This gives the book the feel of an adult fairytale and keeps the mood of the story uplifted.

The characters of the story are well developed. Emma Carrington is adorable as the servant girl and the reader easily sides with her and the Earl of Holmeshire as the storyline develops. This plot has romance, betrayal, mystery, danger and redemption. The mystery is not completely unpredictable, but the ending is still a surprise while wrapping up all of the loose ends neatly.

Some historical fiction can be heavy and complicated by the depth of research involved. This book was easy to read, enjoyable, and relaxed while maintaining the quality descriptions characteristic of historical fiction. I would recommend this to readers interested in the Victorian period; those who enjoy a good underdog prevails theme; and anyone who appreciates a mystery. 

Brandy Strake

Interview with Best-selling Author Sandra Byrd

I have the pleasure honor to introduce Sandra Byrd.

Sandra, I had the pleasure of reviewing, “To Die For” and “The Secret Keeper” for you. Could you please tell your audience a little about both books?

Sure! All of the books in the Ladies in Waiting series are told from the point of view of one of the queen’s ladies.  In To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn, the story is told from Meg Wyatt’s point of view.  Sister of poet (and Anne-chaser) Thomas Wyatt, Meg Wyatt really did exist, was really one of Anne’s ladies, and did accompany her all through her life till the very bitter end.  I did have to fictionalize much of her life, but stayed true to the facts when I could. 

In The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, the story is told from the point of view of Juliana St. John. Juliana is fictional because I wanted to extend the story beyond the life of Kateryn Parr, and for another of Kateryn’s “ladies” to have her story told as well.  You’ll have to read it to find out who that is! 

I felt like telling the stories from the point of view of a lady – not a servant, too low-born to know secrets or have influence – but a real friend, would allow us to see the queen beyond the gown and crown.


What is the single most powerful challenge when it comes to writing about the past?

Remaining true to both the principles of good story telling and historical facts as they are known.  I am passionate about history, but I try to remember that it is a historical novel, novel being the noun and historical being the modifier.  I don’t take historical liberties lightly, because I want the reader who is steeped in history to take the novel as credible.  But in the end, the story is the boss.


How long did it take you to write both books?

It takes me about 18 months or so for the first book, because I am building my resources in the era, and the about a year for each one afterward, writing and editing inclusive.  But I’ve already read quite a bit in the period, so I’m not really starting at ground zero.

Who designed your book covers?

The wonderful, talented Bruce Gore, Art Director for Howard Books.

What is your favorite/least favorite scene you wrote about in Secret Keeper and why?


My favorite scene is the actually a chapter, the final chapter.  I won’t say more for fear of spoiling things.
As for least favorite, there is a scene in which one character is attacked, and that was painful to write.  But I wasn’t going to shy away from it, because it has cultural relevance then and now.  Even the very high born, like the Lady Elizabeth, were relatively powerless to stop unwanted behavior, so how then could any other woman protect herself?  Especially women without a male protector.  Kateryn Parr had to marry Henry.  That was that.  It was an era in which women had little power, but they were crafty and courageous with what they were given, or took, and I admire that.  To soften some of the scenes, or Anne Askew’s martyrdom, would be to downplay the courage it took those women to face life and death without flinching.


How did you research Tudor England and the lives of your characters? What are some of the resources you used?

I visited England of course, the places where many of the scenes took place, and some of the archives.  I used a large variety of credible secondary sources, many of which can be found listed in the back of the books.  And when I had a question that I needed a “real live” person to help me with, I asked Lauren Mackay, a wonderful research assistant and author in her own right.  I am a lifelong reader and love of historical fiction and nonfiction, especially as regards England, so I had a background to bring to it, too.
Will you be writing anymore stories about the Tudors?
The final Ladies in Waiting book, Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I, launches in April.    I love Elizabeth and hope that readers will enjoy the story, told from the point of view of Helena, Marchioness of Northampton, a young woman from Sweden whose story I had never heard told.

When do your best ideas come to you?

When my mind is at rest, or when I’m doing some menial but physically demanding task, like cleaning the kitchen or jogging.  Or while reading good nonfiction, or watching great movies or TV.  This is why I never read or watch fiction set in the era in which I am currently writing, or about to write in.  If something in my novel duplicates something in another, then I know it was happenstance, or grew from both of us reading the same sources.  It puts my mind at rest.

What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Choose  good material with which to work.  It’s like providing yourself with the finest ingredients before mixing up a recipe.  If you use old eggs and stale butter it’s not going to taste good no matter the skills of the chef.

What is your favorite quote?
I don’t know that I have one favorite, but I read a quote today on author Susan Meissner’s facebook page: “There will be a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” ~Louis L’Amour 
Author Bio:

After earning her first rejection at the age of thirteen, bestselling author Sandra Byrd has now published more than forty books. Her adult fiction debut, Let Them Eat Cake, was a Christy Award finalist, as was her first historical novel, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn. To Die For was also named by Library Journal as a Best Books Pick for 2011. The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, was published in June, 2012 and will be followed by Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I in April, 2013.
A former textbook acquisitions editor, Sandra has also published many nonfiction articles and books. She is also passionate about helping new writers develop their talent and their work toward traditional or self publication. As such, she has mentored and coached hundreds of new writers and continues to coach dozens to success each year.
Please visit
Thank you Sandra for this lovely interview! It was a pleasure!
Layered Pages


Searching For Caption Wentworth by Jane Odiwe

I’ve just finished a really good book that I was asked to review: Searching For Captain Wentworth by Jane Odiwe. I have to say, I felt very lucky to have been given the opportunity to read the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The baseline of the story revolves around a young woman named Sophie Elliot who is adrift in life and in her career and hoping to restart her writing career by staying in Bath, England in the townhome owned by her family. She is fascinated with Jane Austen and when she learns that the townhome is next door do the one that the Austen’s lived in when they were staying in Bath, her decision is finalized.
What follows is an interesting journey backwards and forwards through time as Sophie mysteriously passes back into time in the body of her cousin who is living next door to the Austen’s and has befriended the young Austen ladies. Sophie becomes more and more entwined with the story of her cousin and her friendship with Jane and her sister – and brother, Charles.
In modern times, she befriends her neighbor, Josh Strafford, who happens to be working on an exhibit about Regency Bath, including displays on the Austen’s. As Sophie bounces back and forth between time, she begins to have feelings for both Josh and Charles, which she fears will lead her to heartbreak on both fronts.
The story is cleverly woven between the past and present and quickly draws you into both times. You hope that Sophie finds love with Charles Austen in the past AND with Josh Strafford in the present. You wonder how the events in the past have shaped the current and what changes may occur based on Sophie’s actions in the past. Will she affect the future? What will happen with Charles? What does Josh feel about her? Is she just a friend or more to him?
Odiwe does an excellent job of portraying Regency England and the customs and challenges young women of that era faced. I was enchanted by her portrayal of Jane Austen as a spunky, creative young woman bound by duty and honor – and most women of that age were. I’ve visited Bath before and the descriptions she used in the book were true to my memories and took me back to the visits, wandering the streets and walking through the Pump Room.
She handles the time-travel relatively well, and I think, does a good job of portraying Sophie as someone who tries to sort out whether what is happening is a dream or if it is real – and which reality is really real?
I would most definitely suggest you read the book, even if you are not a Jane Austen fan, you’ll enjoy the story line and be enchanted by the characters.
Lois Houston
Review Team Member

Interview with Author Rachel Wade

I would like to introduce Author Rachel Wade, the winner of the BRAG Medallion for her book, “Amaranth.”

Thank you Rachel for your time, I would like to begin by asking you a few questions about your reading interests. What was the last truly great book you have read?


Thanks for having me, Stephanie. It’s an honor to be here. Oh, talking books is always so hard for me. It’s the same with movies. I can never pick just one. I’d say the most recent book I read that left a huge impression on me was Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it, and I imagine I’ll read it again and again. The writing is witty and sharp, and Duroy’s character is so interesting.


When and where do you like to read?


On the couch next to the window, so I can gaze out in between pages. Preferably during the day, and especially when it’s raining.


What is your favorite literary genre and why?


Romance is definitely my favorite, followed closely by fantasy/science fiction. I love romance first and foremost because I’m a hopeless romantic, but I really just love exploring relationships and how/why we interact with one another the way we do. I love reading and writing about flawed people, or Young Adult romance, where that first love is always so exciting, intimidating, and fresh. I also love fantasy and science fiction because I’m a big geek. It’s so magical, the metaphors are powerful, and everything is so epic and beautiful.


What book is on your night stand now?


Jane Eyre and Cursed by Jennifer L. Armentrout.


What do you plan on reading next?


Tempting the Player (The Gamble Brothers, #2) by J. Lynn and Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet.


Please tell me about your book, “Amaranth.”


Sure. Amaranth is the first book in The Resistance Trilogy, a paranormal romance series. It’s about a young college student, Camille Hart, who struggles with an abusive past. She visits Paris for her birthday and runs into Gavin, a mysterious stranger, who she runs into again a few years later to find he’s not quite human. Before she knows it, she’s thrown into another realm and is in the middle of a war between witches and vampires. There is a resistance movement building on earth and in Amaranth involving vampires-turned-human held captive in exile, and vampires on earth who are out to end their curse. So the first book is basically about Camille’s introduction into that world and the decisions she needs to make if she wants to keep Gavin in her life.


How long did it take you to write your story?


To be honest, I don’t really remember. I know that from the time I developed the concept, put the outline together, wrote the story, revised, and went through the editing process, it was around two years total.


Who designed your book cover?


Robin Ludwig Design. She designs all of my covers and swag. You can find her at


Why did you self-publish?


I liked the idea of having full control over my art, and I believed that if people want to read your work, it will sell, and if it sells and you build a readership, then that is what defines success in the publishing industry—not which agents or publishers “approve” of your work. The readers are what matter. I believed that was the final goal: to build a readership, make a living off your art, and enjoy what you do, so I knew whichever route I took to achieve those things made no difference. Traditional publishing can offer great benefits as well. I published my poetry traditionally before I published my debut novel independently, so I’ve had a taste of both worlds. The indie path offered me the chance to pursue my publishing journey in a really fulfilling way, and that was very appealing to me as a new author.


How did you discover indieBRAG?


They approached me shortly after Amaranth released to inform me it had been selected to receive an honoree medallion. From there I discovered the community they work hard to build and have appreciated their passion and support for readers and indie writers ever since.


What is your next book project?


I’m currently finishing up Love and Relativity, my second contemporary/new adult romance (releasing 12/12/12), and then I’ll be focusing on my new science fiction series, The Keepers Trilogy, which will launch in 2013.


Will you submit it to indieBRAG?




What is your favorite quote?


This question is like the “what is your favorite book” question—impossible to answer! Haha. But I’ll go with, “Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.” ― Lloyd Alexander




We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Rachel Wade who is the author of, Amaranth, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Amaranth  merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

Thank you!