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.