Thursday, January 31, 2013

Book Review: The Forgotten Queen by D.L. Bogdan


From her earliest days, Margaret Tudor knows she will not have the luxury of choosing a husband. As daughter of Henry VII, her duty is to gain alliances for England. Barely out of girlhood, Margaret is married by proxy to James IV and travels to Edinburgh to become Queen of Scotland.

Despite her doubts, Margaret falls under the spell of her adopted home. But she has rivals. While Jamie is an affectionate husband, he is not a faithful one. And providing an heir cannot guarantee Margaret’s safety when Jamie leads an invading army against her own brother, Henry VIII. In the wake of tragic loss she falls prey to the attentions of the ambitious Earl of Angus—a move that brings Scotland to the brink of anarchy. Beset by betrayal, secret alliances, and the vagaries of her own heart, Margaret has one overriding ambition—to preserve the crown of Scotland for her son, no matter what the cost.

Exquisitely detailed and poignant, The Forgotten Queen vividly depicts the life and loves of an extraordinary woman who helped shape the fate of two kingdoms—and in time, became the means of uniting them.

Kensington Books | January 29, 2013 | 384 pages

My Review

3 Stars

Historical novelist D.L. Bogdan's latest release, The Forgotten Queen, focuses on the life of a woman rarely featured prominently in historical fiction, Margaret Tudor, sister to England's King Henry VIII and mother of Scotland's King James V.  Told from Margaret's perspective, the story follows her life from her childhood in England until the early years of her son's marriage to Marie de Guise. 

It is somewhat surprising, given the events of her life, that Margaret is not the primary subject of more historical fiction.  After finishing this novel I can't help but wonder if the reason has to do with Margaret not being a particularly likeable figure.  While I did find Margaret agreeable at the outset of the novel, once she married James IV and moved to Scotland my opinion of her quickly soured.  Although described in the novel's synopsis as an exceptional woman, I found the Margaret of The Forgotten Queen to be anything but.  Selfish, unreasonable and politically naive is how she came across to me and, despite feeling some sympathy towards her given the tremendous number of losses she had to endure during her life, I didn't find her behaviour or actions to be particularly regal.  This may be, in part, because many of the steps Margaret took to secure her son's throne after the death of her first husband, her attempts to bring about lasting peace between England and Scotland, as well as the actions she took later in her life to force the release James V from the grip of her second husband, Archibald Douglas, occur primarily off the page.  Margaret's interactions with the Scottish Parliament, with the Privy Council, and with Scotland's most powerful nobles, with a few exceptions, are glossed over or only mentioned in passing.  The inclusion of such exchanges may have given the reader a better sense of why Margaret, who was initially named by Parliament as Regent during her son's minority and, after years of absence from her son's life, was named by Parliament as James V's chief advisor, has been called exceptional.  

While this novel didn't work particularly well for me overall, it was refreshing to read about a less well-known Tudor and it is evident that a lot of research went into the writing of the book.  Although I would have preferred the inclusion of more detail regarding Scotland's political dynamics, I do think it provides enough of an overview to ensure that readers unfamiliar with Scottish history will still get a sense for how complex the politics of this age were.  Given Bogdan employs the same writing style in The Forgotten Queen as she does in her earlier works, readers who enjoyed the author's three previous novels will likely also find this one appealing. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. 


Monday, January 28, 2013

Book Review: Captain Blackwell's Prize by V.E. Ulett


A romantic adventure from the days of wooden ships and iron men, Captain Blackwell’s Prize is a story of honor, duty, social class and the bond of sensual love.

 A small, audacious British frigate does battle against a large but ungainly Spanish ship. 

British Captain James Blackwell intercepts the Spanish La Trinidad, outmaneuvers and outguns the treasure ship and boards her. Fighting alongside the Spanish captain, sword in hand, is a beautiful woman. The battle is quickly over. The Spanish captain is killed in the fray and his ship damaged beyond repair. Its survivors and treasure are taken aboard the British ship, Inconstant.


Captain Blackwell’s Prize features sword fights and sea battles alongside the manners, ideas, and prejudices of men and women from the time of Nelson and Napoleon.

Fireship Press | June 20, 2012 | 274p

My Review

4 Stars

Set on the high seas around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, V.E. Ulett's debut novel, Captain Blackwell's Prize, is quick-paced romantic adventure.  Set against the backdrop of English-Spanish conflict and a rising threat from France, the focus of this novel is on Captain James Blackwell of the Royal Navy, and Mercedes de Aragon, a young women taken aboard Blackwell's vessel, Inconstant, after the Spanish ship she was sailing on was captured by the British.  While Captain Blackwell and Mercedes quickly become lovers, their relationship must overcome a number of obstacles before it can truly flourish.

While I am by no means an expert on nautical fiction, I have read enough within the genre to know the basics of ships and life at sea during the Age of Sail.  This novel clearly illustrates that Ulett has a strong understanding of and appreciation for all things nautical, as well as of the language, culture and societal expectations of the early 19th century.  The nautical foundations of this story help to make it an appealing read, but it is the novel's characters that truly make it come alive.  Mercedes is characterized as a strong, intelligent and highly capable young woman, one who will undertake whatever necessary to ensure her survival.  Although I initially had a hard time accepting Captain Blackwell as a romantic lead, he grew on me as the story progressed and I ultimately found him worthy of Mercedes.  The novel's secondary characters, including Captain Blackwell's brother, Francis, a diplomat travelling on Inconstant, are easy to like and help to enhance the story.   I particularly enjoyed the few scenes involving young Jack Verson, the son of one of Inconstant's lieutenants.   The only issue I had with the novel was the brief appearance of Jane Austen.  Given two of her brother's were Royal Navy officers during the period in which this book is set, Austen's appearance in and of itself isn't out of place.  My issue, however, was with Ulett's portrayal of Jane and the nature of her relationship with Captain Blackwell, which I didn't like and isn't authentic.  As such, I think the story would have been better served with a fictional character being used in Jane's place. 

As I'm not a fan of romance novels, I was a little worried about the romantic aspect of this book prior to starting it.  I needn't have worried.  Even though the book does feature a few sex scenes they don't detract from the story or serve as a central feature.  As a result, I think Captain Blackwell's Prize will appeal both to readers who enjoy nautical historical fiction and those who simply enjoy a good romance or adventure no matter the setting.       

Note: I received a copy of this novel as part of the V.E. Ulett's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

To check out other reviews for this novel and the tour schedule click here
Twitter hashtag: CaptainBlackwellsPrizeVirtualTour

About the Author

A long time resident of California, V.E. Ulett is an avid reader as well as writer of historical fiction.  V.E. is a member of the National Books Critics Circle and an active member and reviewer for the Historical Novel Society.  Eighteenth and nineteenth century journals and letters inspired the writing of CAPTAIN BLACKWELL'S PRIZE. The sequel takes Captain Blackwell and Mercedes to the far side of the world, on a new personal, and cultural adventure.

Mailbox Monday

It's time 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 January by Lori over at Lori's Reading Corner.

I received some great books this week!

 Received For Review:

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society. 

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap. 

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without.

The Bruges Tapestry by P.A. Staes

Following a 500-year-old mystery concerning a Flemish tapestry is routine work for Detective Claire DeMaere, since she's employed by the Newport Beach Art Theft Detail. But, unlike past cases, this one involves arresting Paolo Campezzi, lover to her best friend Nora. Mr. Campezzi is a distant descendant of a Florentine Duke, who commissioned the tapestry in 1520 in Bruges, Belgium. Claire finds that she must explore the true provenance of the tapestry, free Mr. Campezzi in order to re-establish her friendship with Nora and depend on the expertise of a textile expert she doesn't know. All this must occur in 72 hours, before the Vatican takes the tapestry back. But Claire isn't the only one with the Vatican looking over her shoulder. Claire's story intertwines with a 1520 diary by Beatrice van Hecke, the tapestry-weaver's daughter. Only Claire can discover the secret that is woven in time.


Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin

Tyringham Park is the Blackshaws magnificent country house in the south of Ireland. It is a haven of wealth and privilege until its peace is shattered by a devastating event which reveals the chaos of jealousy and deceit beneath its surface.Charlotte Blackshaw is only eight years old when her little sister Victoria goes missing from the estate. Charlotte is left to struggle with her loss without any support from her hostile mother and menacing nanny. It is obvious to Charlotte that both of them wish she had been the one to go missing rather than pretty little Victoria.Charlotte finds comfort in the kindness of servants. With their help she seeks an escape from the burden of being the unattractive one left behind.Despite her mothers opposition, she later reaches out for happiness and believes the past can no longer hurt her.But the mystery of Victorias disappearance continues to cast a long shadow over Tyringham Park a mystery that may still have the power to destroy its world and the world of all those connected to it.

God Save the King by Laura Purcell

London, 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. Her beloved husband, England’s King, has gone mad.

Left alone with thirteen children and a country at war, Charlotte must fight to hold her husband’s throne in a time of revolutionary fever. But it is not just the guillotine that Charlotte fears: it is the King himself.

Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no Prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it – with devastating consequences.

The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

Gifts (from Jennifer over at The Relentless Reader)

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler

The Imposter Bride by Nancy Richler is an unforgettable novel about a mysterious mail-order bride in the wake of WWII, whose sudden decision ripples through time to deeply impact the daughter she never knew

In the wake of World War II, a young, enigmatic woman named Lily arrives in Montreal on her own, expecting to be married to a man she’s never met. But, upon seeing her at the train station, Sol Kramer turns her down. Out of pity, his brother Nathan decides to marry her instead, and pity turns into a deep—and doomed—love. It is immediately clear that Lily is not who she claims to be. Her attempt to live out her life as Lily Azerov shatters when she disappears, leaving a new husband and a baby daughter with only a diary, a large uncut diamond – and a need to find the truth

Who is Lily and what happened to the young woman whose identity she stole? Why has she left and where did she go? It's up to the daughter Lily abandoned to find the answers to these questions, as she searches for the mother she may never find or truly know. 

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta

A haunting, unforgettable mother-daughter story for a new generation—the debut of a blazing new lyrical voice

Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as the Godfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.

With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.

What books arrived in your mailbox this week? 


Sunday, January 27, 2013

Suddenly Sunday

It's time once again for Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Muse in the Fog that provides bloggers with the opportunity to share their blogging events from the past week. 

I had another good blogging week, keeping my with New Year's resolution to blog more often.   In addition to my meme posts, I posted the following two reviews (click on the titles to read my review):

- The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas; and

- Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini. 

Reading-wise, I finished D.L. Bogdan's newest novel, The Forgotten Queen, as well as V.E. Ulett's Captain Blackwell's Prize.   I'll post reviews for both this coming week.   Although almost all of the reading I've done so far this year has been for books I've received for review,  I did start Susanna Kearsley's latest release, The Firebird, last week.   This novel, which I purchased for myself, is one of my most anticipated reads of 2013.   I'm happy to say that so far it is living up to my expectations.  I only wish that I could devote all my reading time to it.    I'm also reading, for review, Mistress to the Crown by Isolde Martyn and A Tainted Dwan: The Great War Book One by B.N. Peacock.  I'm really excited about this last novel as I love Age of Sail tales!  

What are you reading right now?  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas


In the tradition of Arianna Franklin and C. J. Sansom comes Samuel Thomas’s remarkable debut, The Midwife’s Tale.

It is 1644, and Parliament’s armies have risen against the King and laid siege to the city of York. Even as the city suffers at the rebels’ hands, midwife Bridget Hodgson becomes embroiled in a different sort of rebellion. One of Bridget’s friends, Esther Cooper, has been convicted of murdering her husband and sentenced to be burnt alive. Convinced that her friend is innocent, Bridget sets out to find the real killer.

Bridget joins forces with Martha Hawkins, a servant who’s far more skilled with a knife than any respectable woman ought to be. To save Esther from the stake, they must dodge rebel artillery, confront a murderous figure from Martha’s past, and capture a brutal killer who will stop at nothing to cover his tracks. The investigation takes Bridget and Martha from the homes of the city’s most powerful families to the alleyways of its poorest neighborhoods. As they delve into the life of Esther’s murdered husband, they discover that his ostentatious Puritanism hid a deeply sinister secret life, and that far too often tyranny and treason go hand in hand.

Minotaur Books | January 8, 2013 | 320 pgs

My Review

4.5 Stars

Set in the Northern English city of York at the height of its siege by rebel forces during the Civil War, Sam Thomas' debut novel, The Midwife's Tale, is an intriguing mystery that engages the reader right from the outset.  At the centre of this novel is Lady Bridget Hogdson, one of York's most trusted midwives.   Although York is suffering under the siege, Bridget continues to go about her business delivering babies and comforting new mothers.  When one of her friends is convicted of murdering her husband, Bridget, who believes her friend innocent, joins forces with her servant Martha in an effort to find the real killer.  But Bridget's quest for the truth puts her into direct conflict with some of York's most powerful citizens, thus putting her own life in danger.  Refusing to be intimidated, Bridget and Martha continue their investigation of the murder.   Will they solve the mystery before it is too late? 

Full of rich historical detail that vividly recreates life in 1644 York, The Midwife's Tale is a must read for fans of not only historical mysteries, but of historical fiction in general.  Through Bridget the reader learns of the customs and rules associated with 17th century childbirth, which included the rule that midwives could not deliver babies unless the father was named, and the custom that childbirth was a social occasion, with pregnant women surrounding themselves with their 'gossips' during labour.   The novel also showcases the reality of life in a town under siege, as well as highlights the political dynamics of a city where the sympathies of its inhabitants are divided between the rebel and monarchist camps.  The mystery itself is enthralling, taking Bridget and Martha all across York as they pursue a number of different leads, and leaving the reader guessing at the final outcome right until the very end.  Portrayed as intelligent, strong and independent, Bridget is an ideal heroine, as is the ever resourceful Martha.   The supporting characters, whether they be heroes or villains, are also well-developed and intriguing.

Well-written, with fascinating characters, a narrative that creates a strong sense of both time and place, and a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, The Midwife's Tale is a novel not to be missed.  

Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check out the other reviews for this novel by clicking here to see the tour schedule.  

About the Author

Sam Thomas is an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has received research grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Newberry Library, and the British Academy. He has published articles on topics ranging from early modern Britain to colonial Africa. Thomas lives in Alabama with his wife and two children.

You can visit Sam's website at:

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini


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.

My Review

2.5 Stars

Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker follows the life of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a former slave who becomes the dressmaker of choice for many of the wives of Washington's political elite during the Civil War era.   The focus of the novel, however, is on Elizabeth's relationship with her most renowned client, First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln.  Although their relationship starts out as purely professional it quickly grows into one of steadfast friendship, with Elizabeth being made to feel part of the Lincoln family.  As a result, it is to Elizabeth that Mrs. Lincoln most often turns during the most difficult moments of her life.   In addition to its focus on Elizabeth and Mrs. Lincoln's friendship, the novel also showcases the major events of the age in which it is set, including the Civil War and President Lincoln's assassination, as well as provides a view into the lives of those with whom Elizabeth lived and worked.    

Told from Elizabeth's perspective, Mrs Lincoln's Dressmaker demonstrates what a truly remarkable woman she was.  Unfortunately, the story itself fails to captivate given that much of the narrative simply recounts events.  The result is that the novel often reads like a history text rather than a work of fiction.  This is especially evident during the section of the book set during the Civil War, which includes detailed descriptions of the outcomes of battles.  While Elizabeth Keckley's character is well fleshed out in the novel, the use of first person narrative prevents the reader from really getting to know the other characters in the story.   This is particularly evident when it comes to Mrs. Lincoln, who, despite Elizabeth's unwavering belief in the goodness of the former First Lady, does not come across as particularly sympathetic.  Given that Elizabeth's continued dedication to Mrs. Lincoln negatively impacts her later life and business, the reader may question why Elizabeth remained so loyal.

Although the manner in which this novel is written doesn't suit my particular tastes, I like the choice of Elizabeth Keckley as the book's principal character.  Given the novel generally receives favourable reviews, readers interested in Elizabeth Keckley and the Lincolns may wish to give it a try for themselves. 

Note: I was provided a copy of this novel by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.  

Monday, January 21, 2013

Mailbox Monday

It's time 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 January by Lori over at Lori's Reading Corner.

Only a few books to share this week, all of which are my own purchases:

 Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide

A novel about people, a country estate, and living history

“The house contains time. Its walls hold stories. Births and deaths, comings and goings, people and events passing through. . . . For now, however, it lies suspended in a kind of emptiness, as if it has fallen asleep or someone has put it under a spell. This silence won’t last: can’t last. Something will have to be done.”

When brother and sister Charlie and Ros discover that they have inherited their aunt’s grand English country house, they must decide if they should sell it. As they survey the effects of time on the estate’s architectural treasures, a narrative spanning two and a half centuries unfolds. We meet those who built the house, lived in it and loved it, worked in it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends. Each chapter is skillfully woven into the others so that the storylines of the upstairs and downstairs characters and their relatives and descendants intertwine to make a rich tapestry. A beautifully written novel full of humor, heart, and poignancy, Ashenden is an evocative portrait of a house that becomes a character as compelling as the people who inhabit it.

Finding Camlann by Sean Pidgeon

An ancient poem and a mysterious burial inspire an enthralling historical and literary quest.

Despite the wealth of scholarship that pretends to offer proof, archaeologist Donald Gladstone knows there is no solid evidence that a real King Arthur ever existed. Still, the great popular tales spun by medieval historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, and embroidered by Chrétien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, and so many others, must have found their inspiration somewhere. A dramatic archaeological find at Stonehenge and the rediscovery of an old Welsh battle poem, buried among the manuscripts of the Bodleian Library, open up enticing—and misleading—new possibilities.

When the beguiling Julia Llewellyn, a linguist working on the Oxford English Dictionary, joins Donald on the trail of clues, their fervent enthusiasms, unusual gifts, and unfulfilled yearnings prove a combustible mix. Their impassioned search for truths buried deep in the past, amid the secret places and half-forgotten legends of the British countryside, must ultimately transform them—and all our understandings of the origins of Arthur.

An intellectual and emotional journey of myriad pleasures, Finding Camlann is at its heart a love story—not only of romantic love but also the love between parents and grown children; the intense feelings of professors and students; the love of language, place, and home; and the thrill of scholarly research and detective work. Throughout, Sean Pidgeon’s lyrical prose brings together history, myth, and dream, sweeping the reader into the mysteries of the past and the pure delight of storytelling.

Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

Lace is a thing like hope.
It is beauty; it is grace.
It was never meant to destroy so many lives.

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France, pulling soldier and courtier into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don't have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything-or anyone.

For Lisette, lace begins her downfall, and the only way to atone for her sins is to outwit the noble who know demands an impossible length of it. To fail means certain destruction. But for Katharina, lace is her salvation. It is who she is; it is what she does. If she cannot make this stunning tempest of threads, a dreaded fate awaits.

A taut, mesmerizing story, The Ruins of Lace explores the intricate tangle of fleeting beauty, mad obsession, and ephemeral hope. 

What books did you receive last week?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Suddenly Sunday

Happy Sunday everyone! It's time for Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Muse in the Fog that provides bloggers with the opportunity to share their blogging events from the past week.  

This past week was pretty productive blogging-wise.   In addition to my regular memes, I posted three reviews (click on the title to read my review):

Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown;

A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath; and

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat. 

On the reading front I finished Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, as well as the The Midwife's Tale by Sam Thomas.  My reviews for both novels will be posted this coming week.   I've also started D.L. Bogdan's The Forgotten Queen, a novel about Margaret Tudor.    

What are you reading this weekend?  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Book Review: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat


Her mother executed for witchcraft, her father dead at the hand of a noble, Victoire Charpentier vows to rise above her impoverished peasant roots.

Forced to leave her village of Lucie-sur-Vionne for domestic work in the capital, Victoire suffers gruesome abuse under the ancien régime of 18th century Paris.

Imprisoned in France’s most pitiless madhouse – La Salpêtrière asylum – Victoire becomes desperate and helpless, until she meets fellow prisoner Jeanne de Valois, infamous conwoman of the diamond necklace affair. With the help of the ruthless and charismatic countess who helped hasten Queen Marie Antoinette to the guillotine, Victoire carves out a new life for herself.

Enmeshed in the fever of pre-revolutionary Paris, Victoire must find the strength to join the revolutionary force storming the Bastille. Is she brave enough to help overthrow the diabolical aristocracy?

As Spirit of Lost Angels traces Victoire’s journey, it follows too, the journey of an angel talisman through generations of the Charpentier family.  Victoire lives in the hope her angel pendant will one day renew the link with a special person in her life.

Perrat Publishing | June 2012 | 378 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Set in 18th century France prior to the start of the French Revolution, Spirit of Lost Angels follows the life of Victoire Charpentier, a young peasant woman raised in the French countryside.   Although poor, young Victoire is blessed with a family that loves her and the kindness of friends in her village.  But when her father is killed and her mother executed for witchcraft, Victoire is forced to move to Paris and work in service to a noble family.  Treated by her new master in a most brutal fashion, Victoire manages to escape back to her village and find contentment by having a family of her own.  Victoire's happiness, however, is short-lived, and in her grief she is accused of an unthinkable crime and sent to Paris' notorious La Salpêtrière asylum.  While in La Salpêtrière Victoire becomes friends with the infamous Jeanne de Valois, the key player in the scandalous affair of the diamond necklace, and together the women manage to plot their escape from the asylum.  While Jeanne flees to England, Victoire assumes a new identity and remains in Paris, where she is able to create a new life for herself.  This new life brings Victoire into contact with a group of woman of a revolutionary bent, and she finds herself caught up in the revolutionary fervor.   In a city and country under the threat of revolution, Victoire must decide whether she wants to fully embrace it or chose an altogether different path. 

Through her lovely descriptive prose, Liza Perrat brings both Victoire Charpentier and the world she lived in to life.  By following Victoire as a youth in a small village, to her move to Paris to work as a servant in a noble house, to her days as an inmate at La Salpêtrière, and finally to her post-asylum life within revolutionary circles, the reader is given a first hand account not only of Victoire's experiences but also of the changing political landscape of France itself.  While Victoire's life in Paris is interesting, especially as it showcases the role of women in the onset of the French Revolution, it is the narrative set in the small village of Lucie-sur-Vionne and in La Salpêtrière that best showcase Perrat's talent as a writer.  Indeed, the section of the novel concerning Victoire's stay in La Salpêtrière vividly illustrates what a horrible experience it must have been for those who found themselves housed or imprisoned within its walls.  As the novel's protagonist, Victoire is an overall well-drawn and sympathetic character and, as a result, readers will have little difficulty liking her.  Although Victoire is portrayed as intelligent and resourceful woman, her extensive knowledge of French and Parisian politics in the latter half of the book seems unrealistic for someone with her background.  As a result, the last section of the novel would benefit from additional detail regarding Victoire's self-education, which, although acknowledged, mostly takes place off page.  

Overall, The Spirit of Lost Angels is an enjoyable novel that is sure to appeal to fans of the French Revolution era, as well as to those who enjoy novels featuring strong heroines. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath


Florence, 1216:  The noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily.  Tensions simmer just below the surface.  When Corrado the Jester's prank-for-hire goes wrong, a brawl erupts between two rival factions.  Florence reels on the brink of civil war.  One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but that fragile peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman's interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge.

Corrado is pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides.  Sworn to secrecy, he watches in horror as the headstrong knight Buondelmonte violates every code of honor to possess the woman he wants, while another woman, rejected and enraged, schemes to destroy him. 

Corrado already knows too much for his own safety.  Will Buondelmonte's reckless act trigger a full-scale vendetta?  And if it does, will even the Jester's famous wit and ingenuity be enough to keep himself alive and protect those dear to him?

This is Corrado's story, but it is also the story of three fiercely determined women in a society that allows them little initiative:  Selvaggia, the spurned bride; Gualdrada, the noblewoman who both tempts Buondelmonte and goads him; and Ghisola, Corrado's great-hearted friend.  From behind the scenes they will do what they must to achieve their goals—to avenge, to prevail, to survive.

Fireship Press | October 30, 2012 | 336 pages

My Review

3.5 Stars

Hired to entertain guests at a banquet following a knighting ceremony, Corrado the jester is asked to play a simple prank on one of the high-born attendees, the knight Boundelmonte.   But the prank goes horribly wrong and, when Buondelmonte injures a knight from a rival family, a feud that could threaten the stability of Florence is started.  Forced to act as a messenger for both sides, Corrado is unwillingly drawn into Florentine intrigues.  In an effort to end the feud Boundelmonte agrees to marry the niece of his rival, but soon after schemes with another family and secretly arranges a different marriage.   Corrado, who is privy to Boundelmonte's deception and unable to share his knowledge without putting his own life at risk, can only stand by and watch as Boundelmonte's peace-brokered bride, Selvaggia, is publicly jilted by him on what is supposed to be their wedding day.  The result is a reigniting of hostilities and the potential imposition of a vendetta against Boundelmonte by those, including Selvaggia, who want revenge.  Will Corrado, whose prank started this whole mess in the first place, emerge from it unscathed?

A Thing Done provides an intimate look at the feuds and rivalries between noble families that were a hallmark of early 13th century Florentine politics.  It is apparent that a great deal of research went into the writing of this novel, as it showcases some of the customs and conventions associated with various religious practices, life within a noble home, and the everyday activities of those who weren't part of the ruling elite.  Even though it sometimes proved difficult, especially in the opening chapters, to keep track of the novel's various characters and their relationships to one another, the narrative does move relatively quickly.  The reader's interest is maintained throughout given that it is not apparent how the story will end.  While Corrado makes for an interesting protagonist, many of the novel's secondary characters prove to be equally compelling, especially Selvaggia.   Unfortunately, given the story is told from Corrado's perspective, not enough time is devoted to fleshing out these intriguing secondary characters.   

Recommended to readers who enjoy historical fiction set in Italy, as well as to those looking to read something a little out of the ordinary. 

Note: I was provided with a copy of this novel as part of the author's virtual book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Check out the tour schedule by clicking here.

About the Author

Tinney Sue Heath has loved music and history all her life.  Born near Chicago, she started college in Boston at the New England Conservatory with the intention of becoming a professional flutist, but after a rather abrupt change of direction she wound up with a degree in journalism from Antioch College.  She worked as a staff reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education and later provided editorial assistance to University of Wisconsin-based editors of two professional journals.

Her musical and historical interests eventually merged, and she discovered the pleasures of playing late medieval and early Renaissance music on a great variety of instruments.  Her historical focus is currently on Dante's Florence, so she and her husband spend a lot of time in Florence and elsewhere in Tuscany.  They live in Madison, Wisconsin, where they enjoy playing music and surrounding themselves with native wild plants.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Book Review: 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 | 320 pages | January 15, 2013

My Review

3.5 Stars

Set just prior to the start of the First World War, T. J. Brown's Summerset Abbey is a novel about three women, sisters Rowena and Victoria Buxton, and Prudence Tate.  Although born into an aristocratic family, Rowena and Victoria were raised by their father in a most unconventional manner.  Prudence Tate, the daughter of the Buxton sisters' governess, was raised right along side the girls and always made to feel part of the family.  When their father unexpectedly passes away, Rowena and Victoria pass into the guardianship of their uncle and are forced to move to their family's country estate, Summerset Abbey.  While both sisters love the Abbey, Rowena refuses to move unless Prudence is permitted to accompany them.  But, as the daughter of a governess, Prudence is not welcome at the Abbey in any role but that of a servant and, as a result, she forced to serve as Rowena and Victoria's lady's maid.  Life at the Abbey is nothing like life in the home they grew up in, and all three women must come to terms with new expectations and roles. 

The greatest strength of this novel is the strong sense of place that Brown has created.  Through often vivid descriptions of the Abbey, its inhabitants and its guests, the reader is able to gain an appreciation for daily life - both upstairs and down - on an English estate.  Rowena, Victoria and Prudence are well-developed characters and, because the narrative's focus alternates between each of the three women, the reader comes to understand their individual hopes, fears and motivations.  The only shortcoming of this novel is that with little to no mention made of events happening outside the confines of the Abbey, it doesn't evoke a strong sense of time.  As a result, even though the novel's summary indicates it is set in 1913, there is little evidence in the book that the start of World War I was only a year away.  Lastly, while many readers may find the novel's conclusion abrupt, given its unexpected nature it heightens anticipation for the sequel, A Bloom in Winter, which will be released in March.

Overall an enjoyable novel with interesting and engaging characters, Summerset Abbey is recommended to fans of Edwardian-era historical fiction and to fans of the TV show Downton Abbey.

Note: A copy of this novel was provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.     

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mailbox Monday

It's time 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 January by Lori over at Lori's Reading Corner

 Received for Review:

Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals. Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both...

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

Since he married Merrill Darling, daughter of billionaire financier Carter Darling, attorney Paul Ross has grown accustomed to all the luxuries of Park Avenue. But a tragic event is about to catapult the Darling family into the middle of a massive financial investigation and a red-hot scandal. Suddenly, Paul must decide where his loyalties really lie.

Debut novelist Cristina Alger is a former analyst at Goldman Sachs, an attorney, and the daughter of a Wall Street financier. Drawing on her unique insider's perspective, Alger gives us an irresistible glimpse into the highest echelons of New York society—and a fast-paced thriller of epic proportions that powerfully echoes Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children and reads like a fictional Too Big to Fail.


The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Nicola Marter was born with a gift. When she touches an object, she sometimes sees images; glimpses into its past, and of those who have owned it before. Born with this rare ability, Nicola sees it as something to keep hidden. But when a young woman arrives at the London gallery Nicola works at, offering a wooden carving for sale and claiming it belonged to Russia's Empress Catherine, Nicola faces a dilemma. With no proof of its past, Nicola's boss believes the carving - known as 'the Firebird' - is worthless. But Nicola has held it, and she knows that the woman, who is in desperate need of money, is telling the truth. Compelled to help, Nicola turns to a man she once left, and still loves: Rob McMorran, whose own psychic gifts are far greater than her own. With Rob to help delve into the past, Nicola travels from Scotland to Belgium, and on into Russia. There, in St Petersburg, the once-glittering capital, Nicola and Rob unearth a tale of love and sacrifice, of courage and redemption - a story which will change their lives for ever.

The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

The epic story of the queen who founded the Tudor dynasty, told through the eyes of her loyal nursemaid. Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory. Her beauty fuelled a war. Her courage captured a king. Her passion would launch the Tudor dynasty. When her own first child is tragically still-born, the young Mette is pressed into service as a wet-nurse at the court of the mad king, Charles VI of France. Her young charge is the princess, Catherine de Valois, caught up in the turbulence and chaos of life at court. Mette and the child forge a bond, one that transcends Mette's lowly position. But as Catherine approaches womanhood, her unique position seals her fate as a pawn between two powerful dynasties. Her brother, The Dauphin and the dark and sinister, Duke of Burgundy will both use Catherine to further the cause of France. Catherine is powerless to stop them, but with the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, the tables turn and suddenly her currency has never been higher. But can Mette protect Catherine from forces at court who seek to harm her or will her loyalty to Catherine place her in even greater danger?

The Iron King by Maurice Druon

“Accursed! Accursed! You shall be accursed to the thirteenth generation!”

The Iron King – Philip the Fair – is as cold and silent, as handsome and unblinking as a statue. He governs his realm with an iron hand, but he cannot rule his own family: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous; while his red-blooded daughter Isabella is unhappily married to an English king who prefers the company of men.

A web of scandal, murder and intrigue is weaving itself around the Iron King; but his downfall will come from an unexpected quarter. Bent on the persecution of the rich and powerful Knights Templar, Philip sentences Grand Master Jacques Molay to be burned at the stake, thus drawing down upon himself a curse that will destroy his entire dynasty…

Mistress Of My Fate by Hallie Rubenhold

Set during a period of revolution and turmoil, Mistress of My Fate is the first book in a trilogy about Henrietta Lightfoot, a young woman who was abandoned as a baby and raised alongside her cousins, noble children of a lord and lady. At just sixteen years old, circumstance and a passionate love affair tear Henrietta away from everything she knows, leading to a new life fending for herself on the streets of 18th century London as a courtesan, gambler, and spirited intellect of the city.

In addition, I also purchased the following:

  • The Witches Daughter by Paula Brackston
  • Crossing on the Paris by Dana Gynther
  • Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell

What books did you receive in your mailbox last week?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Suddenly Sunday

Happy Sunday!  I hope everyone has found some time to curl up with a good book this weekend. 

It's time for Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Muse in the Fog that provides bloggers with the opportunity to share their blogging events from the past week.  

I had a relatively productive blogging week, posting two reviews - one for The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James and one for The Passing Bells by Phillip Rock - and joining one additional 2013 reading challenge (Pride & Prejudice Bicentenary Reading Challenge).  

Looking ahead to next week, in addition to my regular meme posts look for my reviews of:
  • Summerset Abbey by T.L. Brown; 
  • Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat; and
  • A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath. 
I may also post my review for Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini, but I admit that I'm struggling to finish the book so that review may be delayed by a week. 

Have a great week!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013

As 2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, I have decided to take part in the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge hosted by Laurel at Austenprose in celebration.   

Here are the challenge details (additional details can be found on the Challenge main page linked above):

Time-line: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 runs January 1, through December 31, 2013.

Levels of participation: Neophyte: 1 – 4 selections, Disciple: 5 – 8 selections, Aficionada: 9 – 12 selections.

Enrollment: Sign up’s are open until July 1, 2013. First, select your level of participation.  Second, copy the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 graphic and include it in your blog post detailing the novels or movies that you commit to reading and watching in 2013. Third, leave a comment linking back to your blog post in the comments of this announcement post. If you do not have a blog you can still participate. Just leave your commitment to the challenge in the comments below.

Check Back Monthly: The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013 officially begins on Wednesday, January 9th, 2013 with my review of the Naxos Audiobooks edition of Pride and Prejudice, read by Emilia Fox. Check back on the 2nd Wednesday of each month for my next review in the challenge.

Your Participation: Once the challenge starts, leave a comment including the book, movie, television, or web series that you finished and a link to your blog review. If you do not have a blog, just leave a comment about what you did read or view with a brief reaction or remark. It’s that easy.

My Participation:

I've decided to participate at the Neophyte level, and here are the four activities I plan to undertake to meet this challenge:

(1) Re-read Pride and Prejudice.   I've read this novel a couple of times, but it's been several years since my last re-read.   It's time to read it again!

(2) Read Mr. Darcy's Diary by Amanda Grange.  I've read a few of Grange's Diary books and enjoyed them, but I've never read this one.    This challenge will give me the perfect excuse to do so. 

(3) Watch the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen.   I know a lot of people will be watching the earlier BBC adaptation starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, but I have to admit I actually like the 2005 version better so I'll be watching that one. 

(4) Watch Lost in Austen.   This is a fun take on Pride and Prejudice and I'm glad to have an excuse to watch it again.