Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time once again for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their home over the previous week.  Mailbox Monday is a travelling meme and is being hosted in the month of May by Martha over at Martha's Bookshelf.

All books are my own purchases.   First two synopses courtesy of, the third is courtesy of

Four Sisters All Queens by Sherry Jones

Rich in intrigue and scheming, love and lust, Sherry Jones's vibrant historical novel follows four women destined to sway the fate of nations and the hearts of kings. . . .

Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother-and to abide by the countess's motto: "Family comes first."

With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite's illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore-independent and daring-is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.

Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite's duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers-Provence itself.

From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.

I, Iago by Nicole Galland

From earliest childhood, the precocious boy called Iago had inconvenient tendencies toward honesty, a failing that made him an embarrassment to his family and an outcast in the corrupt culture of glittering Renaissance Venice. Embracing military life as an antidote to the frippery of Venetian society, Iago won the love of the beautiful Emilia and the regard of Venice's revered General Othello. After years of abuse and rejection, Iago was poised to achieve everything he had ever fought for and dreamed of . . .

But a cascade of unexpected deceptions propels him on a catastrophic quest for righteous vengeance, contorting his moral compass until he has betrayed his closest friends and family, and sealed his own fate as one of the most notorious villains of all time.

Inspired by William Shakespeare''s classic tragedy Othello, a timeless tale of friendship and treachery, love and jealousy, Galland's I, Iago sheds fascinating new light on a complex soul, and on the conditions and fateful events that helped to create a monster.

Hereward by James Wilde

1062, a time many fear is the End of Days. With the English King Edward heirless and ailing, across the grey seas in Normandy the brutal William the Bastard waits for the moment when he can drown England in a tide of blood. The ravens of war are gathering. But as the king’s closest advisors scheme and squabble amongst themselves, hopes of resisting the naked ambition of the Norman duke come to rest with just one man: Hereward...To some a ruthless warrior and master tactician, to others a devil in human form, Hereward is as adept in the art of slaughter as the foes that gather to claim England’s throne. But in his country’s hour of greatest need, his enemies at Court have made him outlaw. To stay alive – and a freeman – he must carve a bloody swathe from the frozen hills of Northumbria to Flanders’ fields and the fenlands of East Anglia. The tale of a man whose deeds will become the stuff of legend, this is also the story of two mismatched allies: Hereward the man of war, and Alric, a man of peace, a monk. One will risk everything to save the land he loves, the other to save his friend’s soul...James Wilde’s thrilling, action-packed debut rescues a great English hero from the darkest of times and brings him to brutal and bloody life. 

In addition to the books above, I also purchased (as a Mother's Day gift to myself) all seven of the Harry Potter novels for my Kindle. 

That's it for me.  What did you get in your mailbox this past week?

Book Review: The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

London, 1920. In the aftermath of the Great War and a devastating family tragedy, Laurence Bartram has turned his back on the world. But with a well-timed letter, an old flame manages to draw him back in. Mary Emmett's brother John-like Laurence, an officer during the war-has apparently killed himself while in the care of a remote veteran's hospital, and Mary needs to know why.
Aided by his friend Charles-a dauntless gentleman with detective skills cadged from mystery novels-Laurence begins asking difficult questions. What connects a group of war poets, a bitter feud within Emmett's regiment, and a hidden love affair? Was Emmett's death really a suicide, or the missing piece in a puzzling series of murders? As veterans tied to Emmett continue to turn up dead, and Laurence is forced to face the darkest corners of his own war experiences, his own survival may depend upon uncovering the truth.
At once a compelling mystery and an elegant literary debut, The Return of Captain John Emmett blends the psychological depth of Pat Barker's Regeneration trilogy with lively storytelling from the golden age of British crime fiction.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4 Stars

Laurence Bartram survived the Great War, but his experiences as a soldier and the death of his wife and infant son while he was at the front led him to retreat from the world once he returned home.   When Mary Emmett, the sister of his old school friend John Emmett, writes to ask Laurence to help her uncover the reasons behind her brother's suicide, Laurence accepts.  While Emmett's death seems straight forward on the surface it turns out it is anything but.   Laurence's quest to find answers for Mary uncovers a web of wartime secrets linking Emmett to several men in his regiment who, since the end of the war, have been murdered.   As his investigation continues, Laurence begins to question whether John's death really was a suicide or if it was part of something much more sinister.  Along the way, Laurence must also confront his own wartime experiences and find a way to move forward with his own life.  

The Return of Captain John Emmett is a well-written and engaging historical mystery, one that doesn't shy away from incorporating the horrors experienced by the men and women who fought in World War I.   One of the greatest strengths of the novel is Speller's ability to capture the feelings and experiences of those who survived the war, whether they fought directly on the battlefields of Europe or remained at home worried about and waiting for love ones.  Speller's story clearly shows that nobody who lived through the period of the Great War was untouched by it, and that, for many people, the war didn't end when the guns fell silent.  The characters are well-developed and, since they are portrayed with both strengths and flaws, come across as authentic.  The mystery component of this novel is intriguing and keeps the reader turning the pages.  While a few minor elements of the mystery are easily solved before they are revealed, the principal storyline, that of John Emmett's death, remains a mystery until the very end. 

The novel remained me in many respects of the first novel in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, titled Maisie Dobbs (my review is here).   As such, I highly recommend The Return of Captain John Emmett to fans of the Maisie Dobbs series, as well as fans of WWI-era historical fiction.  

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Book Review: Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

The marriage of Marc Antony and Cleopatra is one of the greatest love stories of all time, a tale of unbridled passion with earth-shaking political consequences. Feared and hunted by the powers in Rome, the lovers choose to die by their own hands as the triumphant armies of Antony's revengeful rival, Octavian, sweep into Egypt. Their three orphaned children are taken in chains to Rome; only two- the ten-year-old twins Selene and Alexander-survive the journey. Delivered to the household of Octavian's sister, the siblings cling to each other and to the hope that they will return one day to their rightful place on the throne of Egypt. As they come of age, they are buffeted by the personal ambitions of Octavian's family and court, by the ever-present threat of slave rebellion, and by the longings and desires deep within their own hearts.

The fateful tale of Selene and Alexander is brought brilliantly to life in Cleopatra's Daughter. Recounted in Selene's youthful and engaging voice, it introduces a compelling cast of historical characters: Octavia, the emperor Octavian's kind and compassionate sister, abandoned by Marc Antony for Cleopatra; Livia, Octavian's bitter and jealous wife; Marcellus, Octavian's handsome, flirtatious nephew and heir apparent; Tiberius, Livia's sardonic son and Marcellus's great rival for power; and Juba, Octavian's watchful aide, whose honored position at court has far-reaching effects on the lives of the young Egyptian royals.

Selene's narrative is animated by the concerns of a young girl in any time and place-the possibility of finding love, the pull of friendship and family, and the pursuit of her unique interests and talents. While coping with the loss of both her family and her ancestral kingdom, Selene must find a path around the dangers of a foreign land. Her accounts of life in Rome are filled with historical details that vividly capture both the glories and horrors of the times. She dines with the empire's most illustrious poets and politicians, witnesses the creation of the Pantheon, and navigates the colorful, crowded marketplaces of the city where Roman-style justice is meted out with merciless authority.

Based on meticulous research, Cleopatra's Daughter is a fascinating portrait of imperial Rome and of the people and events of this glorious and most tumultuous period in human history. Emerging from the shadows of the past, Selene, a young woman of irresistible charm and preternatural intelligence, will capture your heart.

Synopsis courtesy of

My Review

4 Stars

While Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is one of history's most famous figures, little is known about her daughter with Marc Anthony, Kleopatra Selene.   Michelle Moran's wonderful novel, Cleopatra's Daughter, brings this little known figure to life.  The reader is first introduced to Selene, and her twin brother Alexander, as Egypt falls to the mighty Roman empire.  After the suicide of their mother and death of their father,  Roman Emperor Octavian forces Selene and Alexander to leave their beloved Egypt for Rome.  Upon their arrival in the imperial city, Selene and Alexander are placed in the home of Octavian's sister, Octavia, and raised with her children -- two of whom are the product of her marriage to Marc Anthony and thus half-siblings to the Egyptian twins.  Growing up in patrician Rome in a household closely connected to Octavian, Selene has the opportunity to meet many of Rome's key political and artistic figures, and is even given the chance to study architecture -- her lifelong passion -- with one of Rome's premier architects.   While she is essentially held captive and thus has little opportunity to chose her ultimate path in life, it nevertheless remains the greatest hope of Selene to one day return to Egypt with Alexander and restore the Ptolemaic dynasty.  Over the course of the novel, however, she quickly comes to understand that the realization of this dream depends solely on Octavian, but it is not within his or Rome's best interests to restore the dynasty.   Will Selene ever see Egypt again?  Or will see come to accept that her life belongs to Rome now?

This is the second of Michelle Moran's novels that I've had the pleasure to read -- the first being Madame Tussaud -- and the second with which I've been impressed.   Through her attention to historical detail, Moran vividly brings to life ancient Rome both in its splendour and in its horridness.   The novel's principal characters are engaging and well-developed, particularly the heroine, Selene, who comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful and sometimes impetuous young woman.   The book's secondary and tertiary characters, which include some of ancient Rome's best known historical figures, help to illuminate the political and social context in which this novel is set.   My one small qualm with the book relates to the Red Eagle storyline (the Red Eagle is an anonymous Roman whose acts of rebellion seek to motivate the patrician class to end slavery).  The Red Eagle and his rebellion are completely fictitious.  I don't have a problem with the fictitious nature of this storyline in and of itself, and do appreciate that it helped move certain key plot points forward, but the it did not feel authentic to me.  That is, the Red Eagle's actions are not something I could envision actually having happened in ancient Rome and, for this reason, I would have preferred less emphasis to have been placed on it.  

Overall, Cleopatra's Daughter is an entertaining novel that is sure to appeal to all fans of historical fiction. 

Note:  This novel comes from my own personal collection.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Winner of The Magnificent Ambersons E-Book

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of a digital copy of Booth Tarkington's delightful novel, The Magnificent Ambersons is....


Congratulations, Rhonda!  I hope you enjoy the novel as much as I did.  I'll be sending an email to Legacy Romance and they will send the e-copy along to you. 

A big thank you to Legacy Romance for the opportunity to host this giveaway.