Monday, December 31, 2012

Shadow on the Crown (Patricia Bracewell)

In Shadow on the Crown,  Patricia Bracewell has written an engaging story about Queen Emma and her journey from Normandy to England, embellished with forbidden love, crushing sense of duty, and ultimately hope. 
King Aethelred (the Unready) of England’s uncrowned wife has died in childbirth, and admidst unrest on his council and Viking raiders on England’s shores, he is forced into an alliance with Normandy.  Emma is to be the peaceweaver whose influence spans the Narrow Sea.  To Emma’s disappointment, her husband is a misogynist brute who resents and mistrusts his young Norman bride,  and many do not agree with his choice of a wife, including the Lady Elgiva who wanted the throne for herself.  The only light in Emma’s new life is Aethelred’s brood of young children, and surprisingly his eldest son Athelstan, though any child of her body would be rival for the eldest aetheling’s status as heir. 
Emma is the victim of an uncaring husband, a hostile witan, and even the Vikings themselves, but she never displays a victim mentality, or self-pity.  Emma is the annointed Queen of England, and she does everything she can, even at her own personal cost, to do the best thing for England and it’s people.
This book was very well-written, the plot moved quickly and easily and the author did a great job of keeping all the characters straight.  I would have liked to see a little more development in the early stages of the above-mentioned “forbidden love.”  But once it was established is was a lovely and heartbreaking relationship.
Shadow on the Crown is the first in a series of books and I eagerly await the second installment.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

God Save the King (Laura Purcell)

I stumbled across this book by accident when a friend added it on Goodreads.  Where was the publicity for this book?  It certainly deserved some!

This was a completely engrossing novel.  Told from the points of view of Queen Charlotte, her daughters Princess Charlotte (called Royal in the book) and Princess Sophia, it painted a vivd portrait of this Hanoverian family beset by so much tragedy.  Queen Charlotte is the beloved wife of King George, who is slowly slipping into madness.  Their five daughters, once happy and joyous, now needed at home to help in the struggle to keep their father sane.  As the family ages, the King slips further and further from them, and Queen Charlotte keeps her daughters closer and closer as she slides into her own bitterness.  As the Princesses age, they long for escape from the misery of their father's illness and their mother's resentment, yet every offer of marriage is refused as the Queen's selfishness will not allow them to escape.  Eventually Royal does marry, and finds both happiness and tragedy in her own family.  Meanwhile, the other girls long for their own lives to begin, leading to scandalous rumors, some true and some untrue and even a premature death. I began the story feeling much sympathy for Queen Charlotte, but eventually her bitterness pushed her family ( and this reader) away from her.  The- almost middle-aged when she married -Royal was the most sympathetic figure in my opinion, though they were all interesting characters.  Very well-researched and beautifully written.  This is the story of King George's women and all they sacrificed to heal the man they loved.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

My Top 3 of 2012

I have read a lot of engrossing, fascinating, entertaining, wonderful books this year.  It was pretty difficult to pick only three for my Top 3 reads.  These books are not in any particular order, as they are all so different and incomparable.  These are the three books that I enjoyed the most this year, that I am likely to one day re-read.  I will post an excerpt of my reviews here, but for the full reviews, you'll have to go to the corresponding post.

Her Highness, the Traitor by

Along with historical accuracy, a swift-moving plot and little family details that any mother would remember and treasure, such as Lady Dudley’s talking parrot and Lady Grey’s dismay at her daughter’s surprising lack of common sense, the novel includes characterizations at which this author excels. She takes the infamous villains of history and presents them as relatable human characters. This book at times made me smile and then cry with the tragedy. I very much recommend it.  I reviewed this for the wonderful Historical Novel Society.

The King's Concubine: A Novel

 This novel asks the question, "Was she a gold-digging, unprincipled harlot, or was she simply doing what was best for the King, and England, and taking what she could along the way?" 
You must admit, she never left the King by choice.  Was that because she couldn't get anything if she wasn't there with him?  Or was it because she truly cared for the King?  Not only that, but what forces were pushing her to behave the way she did? 
This book answers those questions with much insight and poingnancy.   I reviewed this for this blog, received the copy from NetGalley.

The Ruins of Lace by Iris

When I first began this book, I thought to be reading a simple, possibly frilly book about the back-alley lace trade in late 1600's France and Flanders. Imagine my surprise when the story is told from the alternating, first-person points of view of seven different players, one of whom is so improbable, I just did not know how it could possibly flow.
But flow it did!  I reviewed this for this blog, received the copy from NetGalley.

Those are my top three!  What are yours?

Monday, November 26, 2012

Destinies (Karleene Morrow)

I will admit, that although I am an avid reader, I was a touch intimidated by the length and  (and mostly) the subject of this book. My feelings proved to be completely unvalidated.
This story sucked me in immediately. We meet Katherine as she is gloating over a corpse, and we meet Christian Kehler as he is listening to his father and his friends discuss their coming immigration to Russia.
The journey is long and dangerous for the German families, as they come to realise that Russia is nothing like Germany. Katherine also has a long journey in her temporal fight to free the serfs of Russia and bring Western enlightenment to her country.
I found myself gasping aloud many times at the shocking actions of the characters in this story. There was not a moment in this book when I was bored, I enjoyed every last word. This is a wonderful look into Katherine the Great's great weaknesses, and the coming of age story of a young German immigrant (and his family) trying to find his way in the world.
Every character has a purpose, as does every storyline.  There are so many events in this book that I would love to discuss, but I want the reader to read it new and fresh, just as I did.  No spoilers!
I very much recommend this book!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fair and Honest.

I must take a moment out from reading to voice an opinion.

I began reviewing books as a hobby about a year and half ago.  It is something that I genuinely enjoy, and have no intention of quitting.

Book reviews are very important to a reader.  No intelligent person judges a book by it's cover.  They go to sites such as Amazon, Goodreads, the Historical Novel Society and read reviews.  There are always good reviews, bad reviews, apathetic reviews-always.  No one likes every book every time.  I so admire a person who has the dream of writing and sits down and gets to work to do so.  I can imagine the time and effort, the blood, sweat and tears and love and passion that go into the creation of a writer's work.  And every other reader imagines it too.  Therefore  no one WANTS to dislike a book.  No one wants to sit down with novel and not engage with it.  Not only are writers passionate, but readers are as well. 

I have found as I further myself in reviewing, that there are countless kind, reachable authors who adore and appreciate their readers, and likewise their readers do the same.
I have also come across authors who resent readers who express disappoinment in their work.  I understand.  Their life's blood has been poured into this work, and this person didn't like it.  It is heartbreaking for the author, I am sure.
However, that does not make it acceptable to be rude or snide (especially in a public forum) to your readers.  You alienate your current and potential audience.

I will always give a fair and honest review.  I will try my best to enjoy a book.  I will read a book through 100 different eyes to gain a different perspective if I feel myself drifting to the "dislike" side of a book.  But the fact remains, if there was something I found to be disappointing in the book, I will say so in a professional manner.  I am not trying to hurt anyone's feelings;  I am not trying to lessen an author's income or do anything else harmful to for or beacuse of the author.  But as a lifelong reader, I appreciate honest reviews, and so does every other reader in this world.

We WANT to read your books.  Don't alienate us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

An Honourable Estate (Elizabeth Ashworth)

This story of England, 1315-1322 (?), was really well written and well-researched. It is the story of Mabel and William Bradshaw, minor nobles during the time of Edward II's reign. With famine and taxes pushing his tenants to the breaking point, some having already died, William joins up with a rebellion against his overlord, the Earl of Lancaster, and fails miserably. He and several of his friends become outlaws, dependant upon the forest for survival. Meanwhile Mabel is left alone on their estate, having no choice but to believe that her husband has died. Years pass and both William and Mabel are forced to make decisions neither would have made under ordinary circumstances.
The imagery and dialogue were both very well-written and realistic. The characters were all relevant to the story, and Edward II was shown in a very unbiased light. The only complaint I had with this book is that the time frame was not very well laid out. By that I mean that the only way I knew a year has passed in the story was by the mention of a change of season. I was a little surprised to find out in the end exactly how much time has passed.
I did enjoy this book and I do recommend to those interested in a quick read about medieval England.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

She Wore Only White (Dorthe Binkert)

She Wore Only White Author: Dorthe Binkert

This book has been translated from it's original German.

It is said the journey is more important than the destination. That is true of She Wore Only White. From the moment the beautiful lady in the white evening gown steps foot on the ocean liner Kroonland, her mysterious appearance causes scandal. Quickly rumor gets around that the lady is a stowaway of unknown origins, friendless, penniless, and with only the white dress to her name. Those passengers kind or brave enough to speak to her in those first days express surprise at her vacant and melancholy demeanor. The sculptor Henri, on his way to the World’s Fair in St. Louis, decides she must be escaping a very sad past, and as it turns out, so is he.
As the days spent cramped inside the ship draw the passengers closer, they find comfort and maybe some clarity in their newfound and unexpected relationships with each other. As they unknowingly turn to one another for support over rough seas, literally and figuratively, revelations and life-changing decisions are made.
The character development in this novel is slow and steady and complete, and the prose elegantly expresses the yearning, oppression, and hope felt at the turn of the 20th century, a time when society was changing rapidly, to the pleasure and dismay of the passengers of the Kroonland. The story is just a priceless snapshot in so many peoples’ lives and will leave you wondering where their lives took them when they left the Kroonland and at last stepped onto solid land again

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

I, Jane (Diane Haeger)

Diane Haeger. I Jane

This book proves that even the most ordinary lives can become extraordinary. Growing up as the plain daughter of an embarrassingly ambitious mother, Jane Seymour learns to fade into the background of life, a defense mechanism learned early at the hands of bullies. But far from being a boring character, Jane has a full and rich range of emotions and ideas that come to fruition, growing and changing as she is forced into court life in order to support the hope of her family, her eldest brother, Edward.

Jane goes to France at a young age as a lady companion to King Henry's sister Mary as she marries the King of France, where she renews a friendship with her neighbor and once champion, William Dormer. Their friendship proves unforgettable to both of them, even throughout the years as Jane waits on the exiled Queen Katherine, comes to know the reviled Anne Boleyn, and is eventually sent back home with no prospects for the future. William and Jane want to marry but are denied the chance by William's parents. Jane has given up hope when King Henry, tiring of Anne, comes by chance to her home after a hunting accident. There he comments on Jane's sweetness, which does not go unnoticed by her ambitious family, and Jane realizes there may be more to life than loneliness and boredom. The rest, as they say, is history.

I really enjoyed this book. I would have liked the story to go a bit further; it ends rather abruptly, as I suppose Jane's life did. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this unassuming but most important historical figure.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Oleanna (Julie K. Rose)

Title: Oleanna

Oleanna is aptly titled, as it is the story of Oleanna.  So many books proclaiming to be about one character wind up being about several secondary characters as well.  Not so with this book.  We are with Oleanna, we see the others through her eyes, and feel them with her emotions, but it is her story.  She is afraid and also coming alive with every page of the story.  The imagery was unbelievable!  I could almost feel the cold Norwegian air, even see my breath as Oleanna and I sat around a fire.  The dialogue was very realistic, with Oleanna sometimes saying more than she needed to, and not always in an eloquent manner, as so often happens in real life.  There were many times when in conversation with someone, Oleanna's questions would be put off with a change of subject, and you could feel her resentment and frustration.  This is a story about Oleanna coming to terms with herself, and it was a pleasure to be with her on her journey.  I would indeed recommend this book.  I haven't read anything at all about Norway at the turn of the century until this book, and the author represented the fear and excitement of change so well.  Very good read.

Monday, October 29, 2012

How to Tame a Willful Wife (Christy English)

How to Tame a Willful Wife

I grew up reading Regency Romances. I forswore them years ago for "serious" reading. But I must tell you, I couldn't resist this book. I like Christy English's style, so I had to give it a go. And I loved it! Truly, it is the best Regency I have read! I won't go too much into the story, but I will say that the characters were wonderful, well-written and likable, even in their worst moments. Christy's imagery was beautiful, and that is so important in an historical story. The story was spicy and sweet and entertaining. I whole-heartedly recommend this book. (By the way, when I say it is a spicy story, I mean habanero spicy!)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Dangerous Inheritance (Alison Weir)

I regret that this book will be for sale on October 2nd.  Why?  The Richard III dig. I do not recommend this book to anyone just beginning with Richard. I am a Ricardian, yes.  I have read a lot of information both pro-and anti- Richard and have made my judgment that he did not kill the princes.  I will not go into everything that I have or haven't read, but I always keep an open mind.

And as such, I read Alison Weir's The Princes in the Tower.  I am amazed that I did not throw the book into the fire when I was finished.  That being said, I also kept an open mind when reading this book.  I enjoyed Innocent Traitor, so I am prepared to enjoy an author's work, even if we don't see eye to eye on certain points. 

Ok, I knew going in that she was anti-Richard, and I was prepared for that.  However, the story is told from two different perspectives in two different time periods in two different points of view.  Katherine Grey, from the bizarre present tense view of past events;  and Katherine Plantagenet, Richard's illegitimate daughter, third person point of view.  Then, about 70% through the book we have an interlude of Elizabeth I's point of just didn't flow to me.  I admire authors who try to do something different with their writing, but this was uninspired and mundane and the interlude just struck me as weird.  Alison said in her author's note that she put the interludes there so that the reader would know Elizabeth's point of view, and not see her as a monster.  Ok, so why not also have Richard's point of view in an interlude as well?  It would have made more sense, and hey, if she still wanted to portray him as an aspiring tyrant, fine.  At least the perspectives would have made a little more sense.

So, was I impressed?  No.  Do I regret reading the book?  Maybe.  Will I ever read another of Weir's novels?  Probably not.

Now, I will go refresh my soul with the Richard book I recommend to everyone, Sharon Kay Penman's The Sunne in Splendour, one of the best books I have ever read. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Happy Amateur Reviewer!

These are some of the reviews that will be posted on my blog in the next few weeks.  I have been lucky to have been granted access to these, and many other great books.
I welcome all comments and suggestions!
Cynthia McArthur

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Freud's Sister (Goce Smilevski)

This book will be published on August 28th.  Translated from Macedonian.

Adolfina Freud was one of many children, and was a sickly child.  Her only comfort as a child were the special times she would spend with her older brother Sigmund.  He helped rid her of the torture of her mother's cruel words of regretting her birth because of her strangeness, her sickliness. As time went on and the family's golden Siggie began to grow apart from them all, and Adolfina finds her own introspective view point constantly at odds with the rest of the world, still she finds that her world somehow revolves around her brother, or his maybe around hers.  Adolfina has friends, a lover, dreams and conversation but is always unfulfilled, empty, longing.  Her mother continues to tell her that she is an oddity, an unhappy spinster.  But Adolfina is full of her observations, thoughts, philosophy.  And when it become too much, she retreats to the Nest, a madhouse.  Years of thoughts, observations, strange contentment, slip by, almost without notice, until she finds that her friends are old, her brother and his works are not immortal afterall, and life is everchanging, yet remaining the same.  The Nazis come when Adolfina and her sisters are elderly, frail and unable to defend themselves.  Golden Siggie has the documents to take himself and his family to London and safety, but he chooses to leave his sisters' names off the list, though he did include his dog.
This was an extremely poetic book. It includes a lot of philosophical conversations between characters, and of course, a lot of psychology.
 Although the entire book was thought-provoking and eloquent, the final chapter, the final pages put this book into the 5 star category. Wonderful read.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adèle

This novel is billed as Adèle Hugo’s personal memoir, written only as Adèle could write it: scattered, sometimes tortured, passionate and very much told from inside her own head. It begins with her early childhood, when her mother is banned by her jealous and overbearing husband – Adèle’s father, Victor – from visiting her best friend because they are in love, and continues through the joy of Adèle’s relationship with her older sister, Didine; the ambivalence she held for her brothers (who get away with anything because they are men); her somewhat extreme promiscuity from an early age; her antipathy for her on-again, off-again and angst-filled fiancé; and her middle-of-the night escape from her controlling father’s chains. Adèle tells us her story via anecdotes written in the third person, but from her personal point of view, as she was so introverted as to almost never see another person’s perspective. As she writes her memoir, Didine reminds her every few chapters that it didn’t happen that way at all. Adèle’s response? She doesn’t want to bore the reader.
In her time, Adèle was considered mad, and as I read this book and became intimately attuned to Adèle’s story, I found myself constantly wavering between considering her sane but repressed and believing her completely out of touch with reality and those around her. The author does an excellent job of presenting Adèle to the world as a woman ahead of her time yet held back by the social conventions of the era. A very enjoyable read.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

The Queen's Pleasure (Brandy Purdy)

The Queen's Pleasure

This is the tale of the classic, often-imagined love triangle between Robert and Amy Dudley and Elizabeth Tudor. The story opens on the much-speculated-upon morning of Amy’s death. The story alternates from Amy’s current point of view and her flashbacks and remembrances of her relationship with Robert and, of course, Elizabeth’s pragmatic point of view on the situation.
Throughout Amy’s story, I really sympathized with her as a cuckolded woman, unable to give up the cherished dreams she and Robert once shared, and possibly going mad. Robert is the ambitious villain blaming Amy for his perceived failures; Elizabeth is the Virgin Queen, finally free and living for the pleasure of the moment until she and Amy meet in the garden, Robert standing by.
This book was extremely well written: the author was meticulous in her descriptions of people, places, things, right up to and including the terror, shame and suffering women in Amy’s time would have gone through with her “malady of the breast.” Pay close attention to her meeting with the notorious Dr. Dee.
I felt right at home in Elizabethan England. This story was a tragic learning experience from which no one could turn back. Highly recommended.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

The King's Damsel (Kate Emerson)

The King's Damsel (Secrets of

The Tudor court during Henry VIII’s reign was a dangerous place to serve, as Thomasina (Tamsin) Lodge discovers when her father and brother die, leaving her a wealthy, underage heiress. She becomes the ward of the odious Sir Lionel, who sends her away from the only home she has ever known to serve the Princess Mary and to advance his own prospects at court. Though Tamsin has never lived amongst nobility, her gifts for storytelling and secret card playing soon make her a favorite with the Princess Mary and her other ladies. Tamsin and the others enjoy a few years of quiet happiness, interrupted only occasionally by the unwelcome Sir Lionel, who has in the meantime forced Tamsin’s gentle stepmother to marry him.
Tamsin’s loyalty to the Princess Mary knows no bounds, so when she hears from the silkwoman’s son that the King is planning to divorce Mary’s mother and marry the Lady Anne Boleyn, she takes the news straight to Mary. Mary and her ladies are thrown into more and more turmoil as Lady Anne advances and Mary falls, until Sir Lionel yanks Tamsin from Princess Mary and thrusts her into service with the Lady Anne, suggesting that he would be a happy master indeed if Tamsin were to get to know the King a little better. But Tamsin has her own ideas about what she will be doing in Lady Anne’s service, and she and the silkwoman’s son set to work immediately.
This was an entertaining book. It was fast-paced and well written, and Tamsin was very likeable, as were most of the characters, save the irascible concubine. I would have liked to see the story tie up a few ends that seemed to be left loose. All in all, an enjoyable read.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews...

fabulous books by famous

No, I have not forgotten that I have a blog, and actually, since my last post I have read and reviewed at least 5 or 6 or 7 great books.

The deal is, I review for the wonderful, can't say enough good things about, Historical Novel Society, and they get dibs on posting the reviews. soon as I get clearance, my hobby-blog will be arrayed with all sorts of sparkling jewels and fine reviews.

Stay posted!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Ruins of Lace (Iris Anthony)

This book will be for sale October 1, 2012.

When I first began this book, I thought to be reading a simple, possibly frilly book about the back-alley lace trade in late 1600's France and Flanders. Imagine my surprise when the story is told from the alternating, first-person points of view of seven different players, one of whom is so improbable, I just did not know how it could possibly flow.
But flow it did! From the almost blind, convent-bound lace-maker who will soon be turned out, to an evil gender-confused Count who believes contraband lace is his salvation, the son of a leper who must smuggle lace to save his family's legacy from said evil Count, and a dumb-as-a-box of rocks soldier honor-bound to find the hidden lace, it was an intricate and intriguing read. (I will not name the improbable player, as I want it to be a surprise to all who read this book.)
This is one of the most satisfying stories I have read in some time. There was nothing frilly about this book, nothing fragile and demure. It was fast-paced, and held no punches.
I highly recommend this book

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Last Empress (Da Chen)

And now for something completely different...

Mentally-disturbed.  Over-sexed.  Selfish and self-loathing.  Meet our hero, Samuel Pickens,son of an up-right and  prosperous turn of the century New England lawyer.  Expected to follow in his father's oppresive and repressed footsteps, he meets the beautiful and fresh young Annabelle after his first tawdry affair with an older woman and his life begins to revolve around her.  Even after her tragic death, her flitting butterfly spirit guides him in his every move, from finishing school, through his first marriage, his parents' deaths and his fateful trip to China, where Annabelle was raised as a Christian missionary.  He becomes the tutor to the effiminate and intelligent puppet Emperor of the Qing dynasty and falls in love with the very young and very jaded Empress Q. Samuel becomes the Emperor's right-hand man to his own detriment, and when he and Empress Q are forced to make a run for their lives, both their fates are sealed and it is just a matter of time before they are discovered. 
The descriptive writing in this book was thorough and poetic, though I felt at times a little convoluted and tedious.    The dialogue is realistic, the characters fully developed.If you enjoy a little Eastern mysticism together with an abundance of individual depravity, this is the book for you.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Second Empress (Michelle Moran)

The Second Empress: A Novel of

The Second Empress (August 2012) is a delicious book.
It covers the last 6 years of Napoleon's reign, beginning with the decision to divorce his beloved Josephine (by his own admission the only person or thing he ever really loved) and choose a new bride who can breed for him an heir.  He chooses Maria Lucia, the beloved Austrian princess who has been raised to believe that she will become the regent of Austria for her eldest brother (he is mentally incapable) when her father passes.  Maria and all of Austria is devastated, but if Napoleon's choice was questioned, her father's kingdom would be forfiet.  So she goes and discovers the peculiar and crass court of the Bonapartes. 
The sisters Pauline and Caroline Bonaparte, the former who takes a different lover every week and is convinced she and her brother should be together, and the latter who thinks of nothing but her own kingdom.
As always with Michelle's books, all the characters were interesting and engaging, and although there were secondary characters, there weren't so many of them that they over ran the story and bored the reader.  The story is told from alternating points of view, Pauline's, Maria-Lucia's, and Paul's, Pauline's perceptive Haitian servant.
For all of strict military campaigning, for all of his masogynistic ways (such as pushing his Empress's face into a dish she was eating because her waistline was expanding), he could not seem to control his family.  Their ambition and their selfishness helped to destroy what he had built.

"“From the sublime to the ridiculous there is but one step”
― Napoleon Bonaparte "

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The King's Concubine (Alice Perrers)

This is the story of Alice Perrers, infamous mistress to King Edward III of England.  The story is told from her point of view, first person, and covers her life from being a foundling raised in a stifling convent, to her escape as wife to the elderly Mr. Perrers, then her unfortunate return to the convent after his death. And of course, her fateful meeting with Queen Philippa and all the timeless drama that followed.
Being told from Alice's point of view, the reader begins to understand her behavior, which at the time was considered scandalous.  This novel asks the question, "Was she a gold-digging, unprincipled harlot, or was she simply doing what was best for the King, and England, and taking what she could along the way?" 
You must admit, she never left the King by choice.  Was that because she couldn't get anything if she wasn't there with him?  Or was it because she truly cared for the King?  Not only that, but what forces were pushing her to behave the way she did? 
This book answers those questions with much insight and poingnancy.  The story never stopped.  I was not bored for a moment, a page, a sentence.  What a life Alice lived!
I adore this book.  I adore this author. 
I definitely recommend this book.  The subject, the imagery, the dialogue, the drama made for an excellent read.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reviews to Look For...

The following books are books that I have read and reviewed, but will not publish the reviews until they have first been published by the Historical Novel Society.

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adèle Hugo       

William & Lucy  Look for these reviews ( and more!)throughout the Summer!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Place Beyond Courage

I believe this book, which was published in 2007 in the U.K. will be published in the U.S. sometime this summer. 
Before this book I had read of John Marshal , in When Christ and His Saints Slept(Sharon Kay Penman), and of course, Wikipedia, so my impression of him was as a ruthless, heartless man who would stop at nothing to advance himself and his cause.  Actually, in my mind I called him "Mr. Hammer and Anvils,"  because of his comment, while his son was being held hostage for his good behavior, that he had the "hammer and anvils to forge more and better sons." 
So one day on Facebook I followed a discussion on Elizabeth Chadwick's page that involved women swooning over John...I was perplexed.  After a lengthy discussion I decided I could not live another day without reading this book, and was disappointed to find out that I would have to order it from the U.K and wait.  It was worth the wait.

The book follows John Marshal, before and during England's Civil War between Stephen former Count of Mortain and usurper of the English throne, and the Empress Matilda, rightful heir to her father's kingdom. In order to survive John has to make agonizing and dangerous decisions, some of which have been condemned through out time as mad, heartless, the actions of a lunatic. From having half of his face melted off while trapped in a burning church, to allowing his 5 year old son to be hung for his own "traitorous" behavior, to the more mundane things like trying out all the court prostitutes to make sure they were fit for service, this was an amazing, breath-holding page-turner. Although I well knew the Marshal's story long before I read this book, Elizabeth Chadwick is that rare sort of story-teller that makes you believe you are reading the story for the first time.

Once again, I can't stress enough that Elizabeth Chadwick is an amazing writer who makes you feel as though you are living the history.  Her use of the Akashic Records is fascinating.  So, here is to John Marshal, one of my new historical heroes.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Homage to my First Favorite Book

This book was published in 1992, the same year that I scooped it up as a freebie at an end-of-school year book give away.  I was late to the give away because I was off playing somewhere,  so all of the popular books (Babysitter's Club, etc.) were taken.  I got stuck with the left-overs, which happened to be this book.  It is a non-fiction encyclopedia-type book full of all kinds of trivia and just down-right interesting facts.  I gobbled the book up and it sent me on many different paths and and directions.
That was 20 years ago, and I have gone through thousands and thousands of books since then, some have stayed on the shelf and traveled here and there with me, others have been traded off for newer or better models, but there has never in my mind been a question of getting rid of this book.  It has a proud place of honor at the top of my shelf, with it's brittle yellow pages and musty smell.  I show it off to anyone and everyone who takes an interest in my book shelves.  So this post is my homage to my very first, very favorite book,
Kid Stuff:  People, Places and Things to Know.

My Enemy's Tears


I reviewed this self-published book for the HNS several months ago in the fall.  I remember sitting at work in my car on my lunch break, rain pouring, reading this book.  The pouring rain suited the book and I thought added to the atmosphere...

Mary Bliss (Parsons) moves with her family from England to the colonies to escape religious persecution and the King’s tyranny.  We watch the intelligent, beautiful and observant Mary grow up in the harsh environment of Puritan New England. Throughout her life, from sleepwalking child to serving girl to wealthy wife, Mary is confronted with her neighbor’s jealousies and superstitions.  She is accused more than once of witchcraft, and we see the story through all the way to her trial in Boston.
This book is an interesting mix of novel and biography, a format that works here extremely well. There are no gaps in the story, characters are consistent and well-developed, and I grew to love Mary and her family—and to resent the petty suspicions of her neighbors. Mary’s story is told with the careful attention to detail of an author who obviously cares deeply for the story, and consequently, the reader also cares deeply. When I reached the last page, I would have been content to read 450 more pages of Mary’s life. The book is very professionally printed, the cover is a beautiful dark matte finish, and I found no misprints. This was an excellent read.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Her Highness, the Traitor

Susan Higginbotham does it again!

This is not the story of the nine-day Queen, Lady Jane Grey, but of her family, her husband Guildford Dudley’s family, and how they were affected by King Edward VI’s device for the succession. It is told from the points of view of Lady Jane Dudley and Lady Frances Grey, the mothers of the would-be ruling couple. Here the infamous Duke of Northumberland, John Dudley, becomes a devoted and attentive husband; he is a firm leader for England and peaceful about meeting his gruesome end. Lady Frances becomes not a mean, ambitious mother, but a woman who loved but could not relate to her intelligent teenage daughter, Jane.
The story begins with Henry VIII’s death and recaps all of the classic anecdotes from this time: Katherine Parr’s shocking remarriage and death, Lady Mary Tudor’s failed attempt to escape England and her imagined religious persecution, and the feud between Northumberland and Somerset, resulting in Somerset’s demise against the English population’s wishes – all leading up to Edward VI’s plans to make his Protestant cousin Jane the queen of England. But it also provides the stories behind the stories, told from the fresh perspectives of the mothers involved.
Along with historical accuracy, a swift-moving plot and little family details that any mother would remember and treasure, such as Lady Dudley’s talking parrot and Lady Grey’s dismay at her daughter’s surprising lack of common sense, the novel includes characterizations at which this author excels. She takes the infamous villains of history and presents them as relatable human characters.
This book at times made me smile and then cry with the tragedy. I very much recommend it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

TBR--To Be Read/Reviewed/Revered/Reviled

Here are a couple of the books that are on my current TBR pile....

Product Details         

Of course, I have yet to be disappointed in any of Elizabeth Chadwick's work.  She is amazing.  Not only is she a brilliant story-teller with a searching imagination, but she also makes use of the Akashic record, which even if you have your doubts, is fascinating.
I have never read Sharon Potts, and I requested this book from NetGalley on a whim, it is out of my usual range, for sure, but sometimes a change is nice.
Happy reading, all!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Rare 5 Star Book

You Are Not Like Other Mothers

You Are Not Like Other Mothers is a simple title for a book that is neither simple fiction nor dry enough to be called non-fiction. Instead it is a narrative vacuum into which the reader is sucked along with the author’s thoughtful (if belated) understanding of her flighty, pleasure-seeking mother, Else, and those who lived in Else’s world.
A middle-class Jewish girl in pre-WWI Berlin, Else, to her parents’ horror, loved Christmas trees; as a new wife and mother, she elopes with the moody, artistic gentile Fritz. In self-absorbed roaring ´20s Berlin, she and Fritz both take numerous lovers and throw countless wild parties, the guest lists including most of Germany’s intellectual elite.
Meanwhile, Else’s decent Jewish parents are kept in the dark about her wild lifestyle until Else becomes pregnant with her third child, who does not belong to her husband. Fritz chooses to leave Else and marry his lover.
The child turns out to be Angelika, the precocious and peculiar author of this epic character study. Through Angelika’s reflections and Else’s copious letters, we live through Germany’s good times, then Hitler’s rise, Else’s last-minute evacuation to Bulgaria with her children, narrowly escaping the beginning of the Holocaust. Then, the misery of war and the terror and joy of the Allied bombs, the miraculous fall of the Third Reich, and the close of the Iron Curtain on Eastern Europe.
Else and her child finally return to Germany, where Else, tired and terminally ill, confronts her memories of her misspent life and reflects upon her newly-found, hard-won wisdom.
Schrobsdorff writes a poetic ode to her mother, whom she hated and adored, revered and pitied, and who couldn’t help but to live life to its fullest and regret the consequences later. This book was fantastic. I more than recommend it.
My review (and thanks for this wonderful book) courtesy of the HNS.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Books I Want to Read!

Product ImageA lot of people have told me that this is the book that started their HistFic obsession.

Product Image   Because C.W. Gortner creates his characters fully and with passion.

There are a few others, but these are the ones on my mind today.  I have just started reading The King's Damsel by Kate Emerson, which I am reviewing for the Historical Novel Society.

The King's Damsel (Secrets of

Happy reading!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

I read this book because I figured it would be a pretty quick read, and it was.  I picked it up on impulse at the book store a couple of weeks ago.

From all that I have read, there is no historical proof that Henry II and the Princess Alais, Henry's son Richard's betrothed, had an affair, although it does seem to have been a contemporary rumor.
This book imagines that Henry and Alais did indeed have an affair, after Alais believes she is betrayed by the two people she loves the most in the world, Queen Eleanor who took her under her wing and taught her strength, and the Prince Richard, who loved her for herself, but who she found to be unfaithful.
This book does a good job of making Henry and Alais' affair real and passionate, even through Alais' guilt and confusion (she WAS only 15, afterall).  Eleanor is worldly and gracious, though always the cunning politician, and Richard is wounded to the quick by Alais' own betrayal of him.
In the end, this book was a good read, the story moved quickly and I was eager to see how the author would have the character's relationships play out.  I was pleased by the end results.
Good book, especially if you are curious about this princess of France who is often lost in all of the other Angevin family drama of the time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Queen's Pleasure

The Queen's Pleasure

I am currently reading a fabulous book for the Historical Novel Society by Brandy Purdy, I cannot wait to share my review!  It will be published in July.

The next book on my list is one I have been dying to read since...well, probably since before it was written!  The King's Concubine by Anne O'Brien.  Oh, the pleasure of a mountainous TBR pile!

The King's Concubine: A Novel

Friday, April 13, 2012

Beyond the Wood

 his book Beyond the Wood,

            Set both during the American Civil War and “not long ago,” Beyond the Wood is the story of Union soldier Hand Gragg and his several times great grandson, Reid.  For generations the men of the Gragg family have made a pilgrimage to Gainesville, Virginia with an old Confederate button in tow.  Reid’s father insisted that Reid make the journey, but it was only after his father’s death that he did so.  Upon his arrival to the old farmhouse beyond the wood he meets a peculiar woman who seems to know all about the Gragg’s story.  Reid sits with the woman and is entranced by the tale she tells.

            Hank Gragg left his home in Virginia to wander and eventually join the Union army after his humiliating rejection by Betsy, the woman he hoped to marry.  During Hank’s lengthy disappearance, his family thinks him dead, Betsy marries a Confederate officer and Hank sees the true horror of war.  During his first battle he risks life and limb to crawl to Confederate lines to retrieve a souvenir of his first battle.  Instead of the generic object he set out for, he finds himself at the side of a dying Confederate soldier who asks only that Hank deliver his last letter to his wife, Ellie.  Hank, of course feels compelled to do so and as he is pulling the letter out of the Confederate’s coat, he accidentally rips a button off as well. In Hank’s journey to get the letter to the widow Ellie, he finds himself falling in love with the idea of her as he is almost killed by bandits, rescues a captive troop of Union soldiers, but he does not get to deliver the letter personally, but instead gives it to the widow’s servant.

            Betsy is shocked when she receives a letter from both her dead husband, and the Union soldier who unbelievably got the letter to her.  She is even more shocked to read that the Union soldier is Hank, the man she hastily rejected but never stopped loving.  The letter is addressed to “Ellie” her late husband’s pet name for her, so Hank does not realize who she is.  They begin corresponding secretly, Hank never realizing the widow is Betsy, and Betsy waging an inward war between her growing love for Hank and her desire for a comfortable life offered by one Mr. Walthrope. Finally the war is over, Hank is determined to meet this widow Ellie, whose letters helped him survive the deaths of brothers and friends, and Mr. Walthrope is uncovered as a dangerous murderer, all in the final climax of the long-age (somewhat predictable) story.

In the end, Reid understands his father’s great desire for his son to make the sacred journey to Virginia, but when he tries to thank the strange woman, she is mysteriously gone.

There were a lot of secondary characters in Hank’s story that seemed charming, but I did not really feel that I got to know them well enough.  Much of the dialogue was very verbose and maybe a little overly dramatic.  Overall, a decent read for someone who enjoys the era of the American Civil War, as there was some pretty good imagery, and the reader also picks up on some of the mixed feelings people really must have had about the war.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fires of Winter

Fires of Winter by Roberta Gellis

A classic blend of romance and history.  There was bodice-ripping in history, you know.

Fires of Winter is a journey through 12th-century England as seen from the perspective of Bruno, the son of the Lord of Jernaeve and a castle whore, who clawed his way up from nothing to become a Knight of the Body to King Stephen; and Melusine, the coddled daughter of a Scottish nobleman loyal to Stephen’s rival, the Empress Matilda.
The chapters alternate between Bruno’s and Melusine’s first-person, past-tense points of view. The first few chapters are mainly character development, and there is sometimes the feeling of backtracking. But soon after, the story rolls in waves of action from their first brief encounter, when Bruno storms Melusine’s keep at Ulle in the name of King Stephen. Stephen’s Queen Maude orders Bruno to wed Melusine in order to watch her as the daughter of a rebel, and Bruno and Melusine form an alliance to regain Melusine’s lost land of Ulle.
We meet King Stephen, the Empress Matilda, and even Eleanor of Aquitaine through the eyes of two people trying to survive in the court of a weak and changeable king, all the while relying more and more upon each other’s strength and consistency in this uncertain landscape.
Fires of Winter is the story of a love-match made despite the dangerous times and doubtful circumstances. The author obviously knows the time period well, and her teasing, alternating chapters kept me interested until the end. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys a good historical romance that happens to lend a view on the historical politics as well.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

By the King's Design

By the King's Design by Christine Trent

I reviewed this several months ago.

Annabelle Stirling (Belle) and her flighty, journal-writing brother Wesley own a draper’s shop in Yorkshire until a Luddite mob, unhappy with Belle’s purchase of a gig mill (an innovation of the Industrial Revolution) which would enable the shop to finish fabric more quickly, attacks the shop and tears the mill to bits. Belle travels to London, crashes a session of Parliament to demand restitution, and is naturally laughed out of the room. Indignant, she and Wesley set up shop in London, and Belle catches the notice of John Nash, the prince regent’s favorite architect. Belle receives a lucrative commission from the regent and becomes so busy with the intriguing cabinetmaker Putnam Boyce, and all of London society’s elite, that she does not notice Wesley’s descent into opium addiction and involvement in a plot to overthrow England’s government and kidnap the regent until it is too late.
This story is very well written. The character development is excellent, as we often get to read Belle’s sardonic thoughts about the people around her and excerpts from Wesley’s journal. The story gives the reader a peek into the changes English society was undergoing during the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This novel is interesting, fast-paced and easy to read. Highly recommended.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

Accidents of Providence Review

Accidents of Providence by Stacia M. Brown

I reviewed this book back in September. 

Set in England during Cromwell’s interregnum, Accidents of Providence centers on Rachel Lockyer, a glove maker’s apprentice accused of murdering her illegitimate child. After moving to London, Rachel and her brother Robert become acquainted with the malcontent society called the Levellers; they are unhappy that the war that should have freed the common people seems to have stopped with Cromwell. When Robert wants to join them, Rachel accompanies him and meets William Walwyn, a married Leveller with whom she begins an affair. When Rachel’s employer, Mary Du Gard, sees her sneak into the night, she follows Rachel and sees her bury a small bundle. Mary returns the next day to dig the bundle up, finding an infant. Was the infant stillborn? Did Rachel kill her baby? Who is the father? So begins the investigation and trial of Rachel Lockyer for the murder of her spurious issue.
The story follows Rachel, the accused; William, her lover; Thomas Bartwain, the tired investigator who can’t look away from the story; John Lilborne, the Leveller leader who looks to turn every death into martyrdom; and John’s wife, Elizabeth, Rachel’s closest friend and Leveller in her own right. All the characters are changed because of Rachel’s plight, and the author eloquently portrays the confusion ordinary people must have felt in the days of the Protectorate. However, I felt as though I was just thrown into the story as narrated by the author and never really got inside the heads of these complex characters; their personalities seemed only skin deep. The author has beautiful phrasing, however, and her sentences are often poetic and thought-provoking. With a little more character development, this would have been a truly engrossing novel. As this was the author’s first novel, it shines with potential, and I look forward to reading her next work.

My review courtesy of the Historical Novel Society.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A sad day for a book-lover...

I have made the executive decision to stop reading Abdication.  As any book-worm knows, it is almost shameful to leave a book unfinished.  I could not engage with the story (or should I say stories), and I could not engage with the characters.  I didn't particularly enjoy the author's writing style or the way the plot seemed to jump from character to character and place to place.  I think if the author had stuck to one story-line and focused just on that, using secondary characters to spice up the story, instead of giving each character his/her own storyline, it would have made the book much more readable.  I have too many books in my TBR pile to continue to read a book that bores me.
So, it is with regret and resignation, that at 60% finished, I am done with Abdication.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Progress on Abdication

This book has turned out to be not quite as I expected it, and though it is written in some what of a confusing current/flashback point of view, I am about halfway finished with it now and it seems to have picked up.  Look for my review in the next couple of days, then I will begin a self-published book called Beyond the Wood, set during the American Civil War.  Look for more to come!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Next Up for Me....

From critically acclaimed historian Juliet Nicolson comes a glorious debut novel set in 1936 London about secrecy, tumultuous love, and a king and his subjects torn between public duty and private desire.

The Second World War looms in a world that dreads another international conflict, and England is full of secrets, not least of which is the affair the newly proclaimed King is having with an American divorcée. But not every confidence involves royalty. The lovely young chauffeur May Thomas and the complex Oxford undergraduate Julian Richardson share an undeclared love, while the identity of May’s real father remains mysterious. Mrs. Cage, the housekeeper, desperately tries to keep her Nazi-sympathies hidden, and Evangeline Nettlefold’s ambivalent relationship with her school friend Wallis Simpson threatens to become explosive.

Secrecy, tensions between parent and child, the private tussles of life, and the dilemma of whether or not duty supersedes love, reverberate throughout Abdication, in matters of social conscience, politics, and romance.

A glorious story that brings to mind the film The King’s Speech, as well as the beloved English novels Brideshead Revisited and The Remains of the Day, Abdication is a breathtaking story inspired by a love affair that shook the world at a time when the world was on the brink of war.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

In Gabrielle Kim's latest novel, The Courtesan's Lover, Francesca, the former lover of the deranged and violent Duke of Ferrara, has fled from him to Napoli where she has set herself up as one of the city's finest and most-sought after courtesans. She has it all-two beautiful homes, several wealthy clients, the best clothing, opulent furnishings, and most importantly, security for her twin daughters. All is well with Francesca, her manservant, Modesto, who has a past of his own, and their life-style until Francesca pretends to be a demure and widowed cousin of one of her regular clients in order to accompany him to a play and dinner. There, Francesca meets Luca, an unremarkable but sweet man by all accounts, and her world and point of view are turned upside-down. Not able to concentrate on a word of the play or a bite of her dinner, Francesca knows she must have this man, but legitimately, not as a whore. What other way can she accomplish this except to give it all up? And so she does, and so angers many of her former clients who swear to seek revenge for their rejection. Meanwhile she has kept up the pretense of widowhood in order to keep seeing Luca. Much to Francesca's dismay, at her first visit to Luca's she discovers that his beloved son is none other than the virgin she deflowered only weeks before, at his sardonic brother's expense.

With Luca's son agreeing to keep Francesca's secret, she continues her relationship with Luca only to feel more and more guilty, knowing for sure that Luca would never consider being with a former whore. After weeks of keeping up the pretense, Francesca and Luca return from an outing to find that someone has kid-napped Francesca's cherished daughters, so all set out in a frantic search of the city for the girls. Francesca returns to the house where she once worked, thinking the girls may have gone there. She arrives to find her devious and angry former client and his precious knife waiting for her to make her pay for declining his attentions. After a vicious attack, and a long search, the girls are found and Francesca is found lying in a pool of her own blood on the floor. Luca looks to Francesca for explanation, and he is given the truth at last. The girls are safe, Francesca will live, but will Luca stay? And will the men who kidnapped the girls and attacked Francesca pay?

Once again, this was a delicious story. The chapters alternate from Francesca's first person point of view, which seems very real and earthy, to the other character's third person points of view. Francesca is an amusing and matter-of-fact character, so it was very interesting to see her stumble her way through the pretense of widow hood, but the reader also cares for Francesca, and wants to see her succeed and be happy. There are a lot of secondary characters in this novel, all of whom are interesting and vital to the plot, though I have not mentioned them in this review. There is a lot of action in this story, a lot of soul-searching on all of the character's parts, but it blends in so well with the action that it never gets boring. This was a very readable and enjoyable book. I look forward to Gabrielle Kim's next book...

Friday, March 9, 2012

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kim

This book is not only the story of the twisted Duke of Ferrera, Alfonso and his wife Lucrezia de Medici, but also of a whole group of people who rely on the two for support, either financially or emotionally. When Lucrezia and the Duke marry, Lucrezia is looking forward to her new life as wife, mother, Duchess. On their wedding night, the sadistic Duke finds that he can't reconcile his perfect still-life image of what his Duchess should be with the real girl in front of him, and thus begins two frustrating years of impotence which he increasingly blames on Lucrezia. When the Vatican tells him that the Duchy will be forfeit if he does not produce an heir, he decides he must be rid of his imperfect Duchess...meanwhile Lucrezia has found happiness in the arms of a simple painter's apprentice who has been working in their castello. Will they be found out? And can the people who truly care for Lucrezia save her in time? The prologue suggests not, and I will say no more.
The book is based on a poem by Robert Browning, and it is pretty amazing that the author wrote an entire novel (and sequel which I look forward to reading!)based on such a short poem. This was well-researched and written and I enjoyed it.

I am currently reading the sequel, The Courtesan's Lover and quite enjoying it!  Look for my review soon!