Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden


Plymouth 1570; Ellyn Cooksley fears for her elderly father's health when he declares his intention to sail with Drake on an expedition he has been backing. Already yearning for escape from the loveless marriage planned for her, Ellyn boards the expedition ship as a stowaway.

Also aboard the Swan is Will Doonan, Ellyn's charming but socially inferior neighbour. Will has courted Ellyn playfully without any real hope of winning her, but when she is discovered aboard ship, dressed in the garb of a cabin boy, he is furious.

To Will's mind, Drake's secret plot to attack the Spanish bullion supply in the New World is a means to the kind of wealth with which he might win a girl like Ellyn, but first and foremost it is an opportunity to avenge his brother Kit, taken hostage and likely tortured to death by the Spanish. For the sake of the mission he supports Drake's plan to abandon Ellyn and her father on an island in the Caribbean until their mission is completed. But will love prove more important than revenge or gold?

Mistress of the Sea is an epic romantic adventure set against the backdrop of Francis Drake's first great enterprise - the attack on the Spanish 'Silver Train' on the isthmus of Panama.

Ebury Press | August 2012

My Review

4 Stars

Jenny Barden's debut novel, Mistress of the Sea, is a tale of high-seas and New World adventure set during the Age of Exploration.  When Ellyn Cooksley's merchant father decides to accompany Francis Drake on a voyage for which he is providing financial backing, she worries he isn't strong enough to handle such an excursion.  Faced with the possibility of marrying one of her father's unappealing business associates, and knowing her sweetheart Will Doonan will also be travelling with Drake, Ellyn's feels her future to be bleak.  On the day Drake's ship is set to sail, Ellyn makes a fateful decision that will change the course of her future - she disguises herself as a boy and stows away on Drake's ship.   What follows is the adventure of a lifetime. 

Mistress of the Sea moves at a steady pace, has sympathetic characters and an engaging plot.  The novel's heroine, Ellyn, is characterized as a smart, resourceful and determined young woman who will do whatever is necessary to protect her father and ensure her own survival.  One of the novel's greatest strengths is that Barden is practical about her fictional characters, particularly Ellyn, who are rarely placed in improbable situations.  As an example, although Ellyn stows away by disguising herself as a boy, once she is discovered both her true gender and identify are almost immediately revealed.  Given Ellyn's disguise is described as lackluster, it would have been unrealistic to expect her to hide her gender for any great length of time, especially given the close confines of a ship.

While Ellyn and Will are fictional characters, much of the foundation for this novel is based on actual historical events involving Francis Drake, a figure who rarely features prominently in historical fiction.   I enjoyed Barden's depiction of Drake, whose strong desire to wrestle New World riches from the Spanish is clearly conveyed.  As a fan of nautical fiction, much of which is set during the Napoleonic Wars, it is refreshing to read a novel set partly on the high-seas before England was a global maritime power.  My only issue with the novel, and it isn't a big one, is that I wish more pages had been devoted to Ellyn's experiences on board ship. 

Overall, Mistress of the Seas is an enjoyable read and should appeal to fans of historical fiction interested in seafaring tales and the Age of Discovery.    I'm looking forward to reading more from Jenny Barden. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.  

Monday, November 26, 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 November by Bermuda Onion.

Received for Review:

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini

New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Chiaverini illuminates the extraordinary friendship between Mary Todd Lincoln and Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a former slave who won her freedom by the skill of her needle, and the friendship of the First Lady by her devotion.

In Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker, novelist Jennifer Chiaverini presents a stunning account of the friendship that blossomed between Mary Todd Lincoln and her seamstress, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Keckley, a former slave who gained her professional reputation in Washington, D.C. by outfitting the city’s elite. Keckley made history by sewing for First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln within the White House, a trusted witness to many private moments between the President and his wife, two of the most compelling figures in American history.

In March 1861, Mrs. Lincoln chose Keckley from among a number of applicants to be her personal “modiste,” responsible not only for creating the First Lady’s gowns, but also for dressing Mrs. Lincoln in the beautiful attire Keckley had fashioned. The relationship between the two women quickly evolved, as Keckley was drawn into the intimate life of the Lincoln family, supporting Mary Todd Lincoln in the loss of first her son, and then her husband to the assassination that stunned the nation and the world.

Keckley saved scraps from the dozens of gowns she made for Mrs. Lincoln, eventually piecing together a tribute known as the Mary Todd Lincoln Quilt. She also saved memories, which she fashioned into a book, Behind the Scenes: Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. Upon its publication, Keckley’s memoir created a scandal that compelled Mary Todd Lincoln to sever all ties with her, but in the decades since, Keckley’s story has languished in the archives. In this impeccably researched, engrossing novel, Chiaverini brings history to life in rich, moving style.

The Antiquarian by Julian Sanchez

In this gripping historical thriller, the search for a mysterious and powerful object hidden in the heart of Barcelona leads to ambition, desire, love—and murder

An intriguing letter from his adoptive father, Artur, turns novelist Enrique Alonso’s world upside down. Artur, a well-known antiquarian in Barcelona, reveals that he has discovered an ancient manuscript, but he feels uneasy, as though he’s in over his head. But before Artur can piece together the final part of the puzzle, he is attacked and murdered. Enrique rushes to Barcelona to investigate his father’s death and retrieve the book. His ex-wife, Bety, a philologist, comes to his aid and the two set about translating and deciphering the encrypted text. Written in Latin and Old Catalan, the manuscript holds the key to the location of a priceless object dating back to the Middle Ages, and a secret closely guarded by the Jewish community living in the city’s Gothic Quarter. When Enrique and Bety realize they are not the only ones following the trail, it becomes a race against time to find the mythical object that has the power to transform lives. 

The Demon Lover by Juliet Dark
I gasped, or tried to. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t draw breath. His lips, pearly wet, parted and he blew into my mouth. My lungs expanded beneath his weight. When I exhaled he sucked my breath in and his weight turned from cold marble into warm living flesh.

Since accepting a teaching position at remote Fairwick College in upstate New York, Callie McFay has experienced the same disturbingly erotic dream every night: A mist enters her bedroom, then takes the shape of a virile, seductive stranger who proceeds to ravish her in the most toe-curling, wholly satisfying ways possible. Perhaps these dreams are the result of her having written the bestselling book The Sex Lives of Demon Lovers. Callie’s lifelong passion is the intersection of lurid fairy tales and Gothic literature—which is why she’s found herself at Fairwick’s renowned folklore department, living in a once-stately Victorian house that, at first sight, seemed to call her name.

But Callie soon realizes that her dreams are alarmingly real. She has a demon lover—an incubus—and he will seduce her, pleasure her, and eventually suck the very life from her. Then Callie makes another startling discovery: Her incubus is not the only mythical creature in Fairwick. As the tenured witches of the college and the resident fairies in the surrounding woods prepare to cast out the demon, Callie must accomplish something infinitely more difficult—banishing this supernatural lover from her heart.

Strands of Bronze and Gold by Jane Nickerson

The Bluebeard fairy tale retold. . . .

When seventeen-year-old Sophia Petheram’s beloved father dies, she receives an unexpected letter. An invitation—on fine ivory paper, in bold black handwriting—from the mysterious Monsieur Bernard de Cressac, her godfather. With no money and fewer options, Sophie accepts, leaving her humble childhood home for the astonishingly lavish Wyndriven Abbey, in the heart of Mississippi.

Sophie has always longed for a comfortable life, and she finds herself both attracted to and shocked by the charm and easy manners of her overgenerous guardian. But as she begins to piece together the mystery of his past, it’s as if, thread by thread, a silken net is tightening around her. And as she gathers stories and catches whispers of his former wives—all with hair as red as her own—in the forgotten corners of the abbey, Sophie knows she’s trapped in the passion and danger of de Cressac’s intoxicating world.

Glowing strands of romance, mystery, and suspense are woven into this breathtaking debut—a thrilling retelling of the “Bluebeard” fairy tale.


The Summer Before the Storm by Gabriele Wills

It’s the Age of Elegance in the summer playground of the affluent and powerful. Amid the pristine, island-dotted lakes and pine-scented forests of the Canadian wilderness, the young and carefree amuse themselves with glittering balls and friendly competitions. The summer of 1914 promises to be different when the ambitious and destitute son of a disowned heir joins his wealthy family at their cottage on Wyndwood Island. Through Jack’s introduction into the privileged life of the aristocratic Wyndhams and their social circle, he seeks opportunities and alliances to better himself, including in his schemes, his beautiful and audacious cousin, Victoria. But their charmed lives begin to unravel with the onset of the Great War, in which many are destined to become part of the “lost generation”. This richly textured tale takes the reader on an unforgettable journey from romantic moonlight cruises to the horrific sinking of the Lusitania, from regattas on the water to combat in the skies over France, from extravagant mansions to deadly trenches - from innocence to nationhood. The Summer Before The Storm, the first of the epic “Muskoka Novels”, evokes a gracious, bygone era that still resonates in this legendary land of lakes.

Note: All book descriptions courtesy of amazon.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Book Review: At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern by Myrtle Reed


For newlyweds Harlan and Dorothy Carr, inheriting a grand country home from a distant relative seems like a dream come true—a chance for respite from the hustle and bustle of New York City, for Harlan to pen his first novel in peaceful quiet, and for Dorothy to try her hand at farming. But Uncle Ebeneezer’s house is nothing like they imagined, and quickly turns out to be more than they bargained for!

For one thing, Dorothy swears the eyes of Uncle Ebeneezer’s portrait are watching her—in fact, she can’t help but feel that Uncle has never really left the house at all. For another, a beautiful woman who seems to have stepped right out of the pages of Harlan’s novel appears at their doorstep, and immediately causes tension between the newlyweds. And a stream of eccentric visitors claiming to be Uncle Ebeneezer’s other relations begin arriving, driving Dorothy and Harlan to distraction by day, and secretly searching for the treasure they’re sure Uncle Ebeneezer left behind by night. Add to that a superstitious housekeeper, a cat who may or may not have come back from the dead, and a devious plan for revenge served from beyond the grave, and you’ve got the ingredients for a hilariously haunting good time! 

Legacy Romance | October 2012 (re-issue)

My Review

4 Stars

Originally published in 1902, Myrtle Reed's At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern is a delightful novel about a young, newly married couple and their adventures in their new home. 

Upon the death of his Uncle Ebeneezer, a man he has never met, Harlan Carr becomes the new owner of Ebeneezer's stately home in the country.  Eager to get away from New York City, Harlan and his new wife Dorothy immediately set out for the property, where Harlan, a writer, plans to compose his first novel.  As they settle into their new home, Dorothy begins to think there is more to the house, and deceased Uncle Ebeneezer, than meets the eye.  Dorothy's feelings are further compounded by the arrival of Ebeneezer's distant relatives, who have used his home as a summer gathering place for years and don't view Ebeneezer's death and the subsequent change in ownership as a reason to stop visiting.  As a result, Harlan and Dorothy find themselves host to variety of guests, putting a strain on their marriage and jeopardizing the completion of Harlan's novel.  Can their marriage, as well as Harlan's writing career, survive? 

At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern is full of quirky characters, some loveable, some despicable.   Harlan and Dorothy Carr are well-drawn and sympathetic, and it is easy to comprehend their mounting frustration as their new home is invaded by a steady stream of uninvited guests.  The interaction of Harlan and Dorothy with their guests, as well as the guests' interaction with each other, is often times comic.   Further hilarity ensues when each guest searches, under the cover of darkness, for the riches they just know Ebeneezer left behind for them.  Even in death, however, it seems it is Uncle Ebeneezer who will have the last laugh. 

As evident by the novel's title, At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern makes for a perfect autumn read.  Nevertheless, given its comic nature and fabulous cast of characters it is a book that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

1st Annual Historical Holiday Blog Hop

Amy over at the fantastic blog Passages to the Past is hosting the 1st Annual Historical Holiday Blog Hop.  The Hop will take place from December 10th to 17th, and will feature a number of different bloggers hosting historical-related book giveaways.  I'll be participating by offering an international giveaway.  Check back here on December 10th for further details.   Also, be sure to check out all the other fabulous blogs taking part in the Historical Holiday Blog Hop!

Slight Review Schedule Change

Happy Saturday!  In my Back to Blogging post from a few weeks back, I indicated my intentions to post my review of Jenny Barden's Mistress of the Sea on November 23.   Unfortunately, things didn't work out as originally planned and I've had to slightly revise my review schedule.   Here is my updated review schedule for the next week:

  • At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern by Myrtle Reed (25 November)
  • Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden (27 November)
  • City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte (1 December)

I hope everyone has a great week!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O'Brien


A nation shattered by its president’s murder. Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy. A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him


From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O’Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?

In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple’s life in jeopardy—and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.

Temple’s quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War–era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends—and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions—Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army’s spy service. Along the way, he’ll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others.

Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents—and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.

Ballantine Books | September 2012

My Review

3.5 Stars

When Washington D.C. detective Temple McFadden arrives at the B&O railroad station to meet an associate, he has no idea that he is about to become embroiled in a conspiracy surrounding the death of President Lincoln.  After witnessing the murder of his associate, Detective McFadden makes a quick search of his body and uncovers a set of diaries related to Abraham Lincoln.  These diaries, which are sought by two rival factions who will do anything to retrieve them, contain information that indicate that there was more to President Lincoln's assassination than meets the eye.  Although holding onto the diaries puts Temple's life, as well as the lives of his wife and friends, in jeopardy, he boldly commits himself to finding out the truth behind the President's death.  

The greatest strength of The Lincoln Conspiracy is its diverse cast of characters, although it is, at times, a bit of a challenge keeping everyone straight.  The novel's principal characters, Temple McFadden and his wife Fiona, are well-drawn and easy to like.  Many of the book's supporting characters, whether they be fictional or straight from the pages of history, prove to be memorable.  I particularly enjoyed the scenes featuring Mary Todd Lincoln.  Although the unraveling of the conspiracy theory underlying this novel's plot isn't as thrilling as it could have been, Timothy L. O'Brien has done a masterful job of bringing post-Civil War era Washington D.C. and its residents to life.  As a result, it has sparked an interest in me to read more about this particular era, which is one that prior to reading this novel held little appeal to me. 

While I don't know if Timothy L. O'Brien intends this book to be the first in a series or if he has written it as a stand alone, I would be interested in reading another novel that features Temple and Fiona McFadden. 

The Lincoln Conspiracy should appeal to fans of historical thrillers, as well as to readers of historical fiction interested in novels about President Lincoln and/or the post-Civil War era. 

Note: An e-copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review as part of the novel's Virtual Book Tour. 

About the Author

Timothy L. O’Brien is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize–winning series about wounded war veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.” Previously, he was an editor and reporter at The New York Times. There, he helped to lead a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis. O’Brien, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds three master's degrees -- in US History, Business and Journalism -- all from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.


Sunday, November 18, 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 November by Bermuda Onion

I've received quite a few books in my mailbox over the past couple of weeks, here is a sample:

Received for Review

City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it's whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloging Beethoven's manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.

Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven's "Immortal Beloved," she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.

City of Dark Magic could be called a rom-com paranormal suspense novel-or it could simply be called one of the most entertaining novels of the year.

Penguin | November 27, 2012

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder

Scotland, 1561, and a ship comes across the North Sea carrying home Mary, the young, charismatic Queen of Scots, returning after 13 years in the French court to wrest back control of her throne.

The Blackadder family has long awaited for the Queen’s return to bring them justice. Alison Blackadder, disguised as a boy from childhood to protect her from the murderous clan that stole their lands, must learn to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen, building a web of dependence and reward.
Just as the Queen can trust nobody, Alison discovers lies, danger and treachery at every turn.

This sweeping, imaginative and original tale of political intrigue, misplaced loyalty, secret passion, and implacable revenge is based on real characters and events from the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

Bywater Books | September 11, 2012

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown

1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society and the distant rumblings of war. . . .

Rowena Buxton - Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle's guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the "underclass" in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic "rebels," Rowena must decide where her true passions-and loyalties-lie.

Victoria Buxton - Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret-Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever. . .

Prudence Tate - Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess's daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society-as lady's maid to her beloved "sisters." But Pru doesn't belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she'll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.

Gallery Books | January 15, 2013

The Water Witch by Juliet Dark

Perfect for fans of Deborah Harkness and Elizabeth Kostova, The Water Watch is a breathtakingly sexy and atmospheric new novel of ancient folklore, passionate love, and thrilling magic.

After casting out a dark spirit, Callie McFay, a professor of gothic literature, has at last restored a semblance of calm to her rambling Victorian house. But in the nearby thicket of the honeysuckle forest, and in the currents of the rushing Undine stream, more trouble is stirring. . . .

The enchanted town of Fairwick's dazzling mix of mythical creatures has come under siege from the Grove: a sinister group of witches determined to banish the fey back to their ancestral land. With factions turning on one another, all are cruelly forced to take sides. Callie's grandmother, a prominent Grove member, demands her granddaughter's compliance, but half-witch/half-fey Callie can hardly betray her friends and colleagues at the college. To stave off disaster, Callie enlists Duncan Laird, an alluring seductive academic who cultivates her vast magical potential, but to what end? Deeply conflicted, Callie struggles to save her beloved Fairwick, dangerously pushing her extraordinary powers to the limit-risking all, even the needs of her own passionate heart.

Random House Publishing Group | February 12, 2013


The Shadow Prince by Terence Morgan

Perkin Warbeck is an ordinary young man in fifteenth-century Tournai. The son of a port official, he loves nothing more than swimming, singing and fishing with his father. But Perkin has a secret. His real name is Richard, and he is the rightful Prince of England. Thought to have been murdered with his brother, Edward, in the Tower of London, he was covertly taken to the continent. But when his enemies seek him out he must flee, and embarks on a new life of derring-do, sailing the high seas with the era's greatest adventurers. But Richard cannot avoid his fate forever. Based on painstaking research, and peopled by some of the most extraordinary characters of an extraordinary period, Perkin's tale is a vivid, authentic, and hugely entertaining historical adventure.

The Year After by Martin Davis

DECEMBER 1919. Tom Allen, uncomfortable in London after five years in uniform, receives an invitation to spend Christmas at Hannesford Court.

It's almost as if nothing has changed. Cards in the library after dinner. The Boxing Day shoot. The New Year ball. Margot.

But Tom hasn't forgotten the professor. A strange meeting in Germany has raised a question in his mind: in all his visits to Hannesford before the War, all those years observing the glittering life of its owners, how much did he ever really see?

The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis

A sweeping, intense historical thriller starring two of the great minds of Renaissance Italy: Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Based on a real historical mystery, and involving serial murder and a gruesome cat and mouse game at the highest levels of the Church -- it was the era of the infamous Borgias -- The Malice of Fortune  is a delicious treat for fans of Umberto Eco, Sarah Dunant, and Elizabeth Kostova.

This brilliant novel is an epic tale exploring the backdrop of the most controversial work of the Italian Renaissance, The Prince. Here, Niccolò Machiavelli, the great "scientist" of human behaviour becomes, in effect, the first criminal profiler, while his contemporary and sometime colleague, the erratic genius Leonardo da Vinci, brings his observational powers to the increasingly desperate hunt for a brilliant, terrifying serial murderer. Their foil and partner is the exquisite Damiata, scholar and courtesan. All three know their quarry is someone who holds enormous power, both to tear Italy apart, and destroy each of their most beloved dreams. And every thrilling step is based on historical fact.

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Book Review: A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir


In this engrossing novel of historical suspense, New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir tells the dramatic intertwined stories of two women—Katherine Grey and Kate Plantagenet—separated by time but linked by twin destinies . . . . involving the mysterious tragic fate of the young Princes in the Tower.

When her older sister, Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days’ Queen, is executed in 1554 for unlawfully accepting the English crown, Lady Katherine Grey’s world falls apart. Barely recovered from this tragic loss she risks all for love, only to incur the wrath of her formidable cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who sees Katherine as a rival for her insecure throne.

Interlaced with Katherine’s story is that of her distant kinswoman Kate Plantagenet, the bastard daughter of Richard III, the last Plantagenet king. In 1483, Kate travels to London for Richard’s coronation, and her world changes forever.

Kate loves her father, but before long she hears terrible rumors about him that threaten all she holds dear. Like Katherine Grey, she falls in love with a man who is forbidden to her. Then Kate embarks on what will become a perilous quest, covertly seeking the truth about what befell her cousins the Princes in the Tower, who may have been victims of Richard III’s lust for power. But time is not on Kate’s side, or on Katherine’s.

Katherine finds herself a prisoner in the Tower of London, the sinister fortress that overshadowed the lives of so many royal figures, including the boy princes. Will Elizabeth demand the full penalty for treason? And what secrets will Katherine find hidden within the Tower walls?

Alison Weir’s new novel is a page-turning story set within a framework of fascinating historical authenticity. In this rich and layered tapestry, Katherine and Kate discover that possessing royal blood can prove to be a dangerous inheritance.

Ballantine Books (Random House Publishing Group) | October 2012

My Review

3.5 Stars 

Alison Weir's latest work of historical fiction, A Dangerous Inheritance, chronicles the lives of two young woman - Katherine 'Kate' Plantagenet, illegitimate daughter of Richard III, and Katherine Grey, younger sister of Lady Jane Grey.  Although they lived in different eras, the lives of both Katherines share several similarities.  Not only must they both survive in royal courts where enemies intent on bringing down either them or their families lurk around every corner, but they are also denied the opportunity to be with the men they love.  

In the case of Kate Plantagenet, once her father comes to England's throne rumours begin to swirl about the evil deeds he undertook or supported in order to attain and keep the crown, including those that claim he had his two nephews - the Princes in the Tower - killed.   Kate has trouble believing that her beloved father, who has always been kind to her, could possibly be responsible for such a  reprehensible act.  When she is forced to marry one of her father's most ardent supporters and move to Wales, Kate decides to investigate the mystery surrounding the young princes, hoping to prove once and for all that her father is innocent of having them killed. 

For Katherine Grey having royal blood proves to be more of a curse than a blessing.   By converting back to the Catholic faith, Katherine is able to successfully navigate through the court of her cousin, Queen Mary, without drawing too much attention to herself.   But when Queen Elizabeth I comes to the throne many of her opponents covertly rally around Katherine, seeking to depose Elizabeth and install Katherine on the throne in her place.  Although Katherine sees herself as the logical successor to Elizabeth, she recognizes that with the monarch keeping close watch over her actions one wrong move could place her very life in jeopardy.   Despite the risk, Katherine secretly weds Edward Seymour without Elizabeth's consent.  When the truth of the marriage comes out, Katherine is separated from her husband and imprisoned in the Tower where she begins to hear voices calling out for help.  Convinced that the voices are those of the two princes imprisoned by their Uncle Richard, Katherine joins forces with her kindly jailer to discover the truth about what happened to them.

Overall, A Dangerous Inheritance is an enjoyable and interesting novel.  While very little is known about the life of Kate Plantagenet, Weir does a good job of plausibly bringing this young woman sympathetically to life.  Weir's characterization of Katherine Grey, whose history is better known, is also well done, although given many of the ordeals faced by Katherine under Elizabeth I were caused by her own poor decisions, readers may understandably find it difficult to feel sorry for her.  Although I do not believe Richard III to be the evil king history has made him out to be, the fact that he comes across negatively in this book didn't diminish my overall enjoyment of the story.  While I enjoyed both Kate and Katherine's story lines in and of themselves, the constant switch in narrative from one Katherine to the other does interrupt the book's flow.  In addition, the common thread linking the two story lines together, the women's investigation of the fate of the princes in the tower, seemed forced.  As a result, I would have preferred their stories to have been told in separate novels.  

Note: An e-copy of this novel was provided to me by the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton


From the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of The Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, and The House at Riverton, a spellbinding new novel filled with mystery, thievery, murder, and enduring love.

During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy-her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy's ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy's past.

Dorothy's story takes the reader from pre-WWII England through the blitz, to the '60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds-Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy-who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told-in Morton's signature style-against a backdrop of events that changed the world. 

Atria Books | October 2012

My Review

4.5 Stars

Kate Morton's latest novel, The Secret Keeper, is a richly imagined tale of love. lies and long-buried secrets.   After bearing witness to a horrific crime involving her mother, Laurel Nicolson's view of her beloved parent was forever changed.   Now, many years later, gathering together with her sisters and brother to celebrate what will likely be their dying mother's final birthday, Laurel decides it's time to delve deeper into Dorothy Nicolson's past in an effort to uncover the truth behind her mother's actions on that day.

Morton's narrative unfolds in a deliberately measured manner, taking the reader on a journey back in time to pre-World War II England, through to the Blitz and the early 1960s, revealing in bits and pieces Dorothy's early life and the decisions and events that shaped the woman she was to become.   Through her always eloquent prose, Morton is able to effectively convey the hopes, fears and overall emotions of each of her characters, successfully drawing the reader completely into their stories.  She is also able to evoke a strong sense of time and at no point is this more evident than when the narrative is set during the Blitz.   Much like she has done in her other novels, Kate Morton has once again created a memorable cast of characters that readers can empathize with and become invested in.  

Although I found the opening of this novel to be somewhat slow, once the narrative starts to focus on Dorothy's life I found The Secret Keeper difficult to put down.  Although this book does not feature the Gothic elements that are a hallmark of Morton's previous releases, I nevertheless found this story to be every bit as captivating.  

The Secret Keeper is a must read for every Kate Morton fan.  

Note: The novel comes from my own personal collection.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Back to Blogging

As you may have noticed from the date of my last post, I've neglected my blog over the past few weeks.   In an effort to get myself back into the blogging swing of things, I've decided to set some mostly self-imposed deadlines to force myself to sit down and write  reviews.   While I enjoy writing reviews, lately I've focused more on reading books rather than writing reviews of them.  My backlog of unwritten reviews suggests that it is time for this focus to change.    As such, over the next few weeks you'll see reviews for the following:

(1) The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton (14 November)

(2) A Dangerous Inheritance by Alison Weir (16 November)

(3) The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O'Brien (19 November)

(4) Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden (23 November)

(5) At the Sign of the Jack O'Lantern by Myrtle Reed (25 November)