Follow Us @burtonreview

Dec 30, 2010

Happy New Year!!

Thursday, December 30, 2010
2010 went by like a whirlwind for us! Didn't it seem to just fly by?! It was a year full of ups and downs.. lots of fantastic things and life changing events and lots of not so great things, too.. but 2011 should settle the score and be a peaceful happy year for us all around. (As peaceful as things can get with a 3 year old, anyway...)

In 2010 I read and reviewed 61 books, which was down from the 64 in 2009. You can see a full list of my reviews here or by clicking on the Reviews graphic in the menu bar above. I have been blogging for a full two years now (thanks to Teena for reminding me!!) and as you know I have toned down the blogging. With the changes in my personal life and scheduling with the two kids, my priorities and hobbies have changed. I actually started this blog as a direct result of losing my father.. I found this blog to be an excellent creative outlet to help direct my focus elsewhere instead of wallowing in the mind numbing grief. It did that job for me and helped me meet some fantastic people in blogland along the way.. and what an experience it has been these two years! I have learned a lot.. made mistakes here and there.. but I am proud of what I have attempted to do. For 2011, I will probably read half of what I read the last two years, and I join my friends Arleigh and Lucy in resolving to read a lot more Jean Plaidy this year!!

I will read and review books here just for the heck of it.. but it certainly will be on my schedule and not anyone else's. The whole reading a book a week on a publisher's schedule really took the fun out of reading for me as I did that pretty much for almost two years straight. So I have stepped back from the advance review copies and will now go out and choose those ARC's only that I would have selected as if I were at a library looking for a great book to read. And that will be more like one a month, if that. I am no longer accepting review requests, guest posts or giveaways. There are plenty of other fantastic bloggers who can devote their free time to that stuff.. so The Burton Review will be just that as it was meant to be all along: a book review blog.

Along with the Jean Plaidy books I plan to read and review, I hope to read some of those past releases that I have been stockpiling after reading other bloggers rave reviews on the books. I have many great historical fiction and non-fiction reads that have been collecting dust (but still looking pretty!).. I hope you stick with me when I do post those occasional reviews, as I have been honored by your feedback and comments, and most of all, the camaraderie from all the wonderful readers out there in bloggerland.

After all that jibberjabber..I mostly want to wish everyone a very happy, healthy, prosperous New Year!! May 2011 be so much better than 2010!!!

Dec 24, 2010

Book Review: Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree by Kate Emerson

Friday, December 24, 2010

Secrets of the Tudor Court: By Royal Decree by Kate Emerson
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Gallery (December 14, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1439177815
Review copy provided by the author, thanks so very much!
The Burton Review Rating: Great Tudor Fiction

Charming. Desirable. Forbidden. Brought to court with other eligible young noblewomen by the decree of King Henry VIII, lovely Elizabeth “Bess” Brooke realizes for the first time that beauty can be hazardous. Although Bess has no desire to wed the aging king, she and her family would have little choice if Henry’s eye were to fall on her. And other dangers exist as well, for Bess has caught the interest of dashing courtier Will Parr. Bess finds Will’s kisses as sweet as honey, but marriage between them may be impossible. Will is a divorced man, and remarriage is still prohibited. Bess and Will must hope that the king can be persuaded to issue a royal decree allowing Will to marry again . . . but to achieve their goal, the lovers will need royal favor. Amid the swirling alliances of royalty and nobles, Bess and Will perform a dangerous dance of palace intrigue and pulse-pounding passions.

Brought to glowing life by the talented Kate Emerson, and seen through the eyes of a beautiful young noblewoman, By Royal Decree illuminates the lives of beautiful young courtiers in and out of the rich and compelling drama of the Tudor court.

I really enjoyed Kate Emerson's previous two novels in her Secrets of the Tudor Court series (reviews here), and Kate has an awesome Who's Who in the Tudor Courts E-book that is really fun to peruse. She included a mini Who's Who in the end of her latest novel By Royal Decree, as well as maps in the beginning of the book. Instead of another novel focused on the specific royal Tudors, Emerson writes about the Tudor courts from a bystander's point of view, or another lesser known member of the peerage. In her last novel, she wrote of Nan Bassett, who made an appearance in Royal Decree as well. Royal Decree follows the life of Elizabeth Brooke, who is called Bess. The elder Elizabeth Brooke was Bess' grandmother who was shunned by her husband Thomas Wyatt. The novel begins as Bess is just getting the opportunity to be a lady in waiting and to be a part of the royal courts in that type of capacity.

She falls in love with Queen Kathryn's brother, Will Parr, but he is not available. The story then evolves around the political moves of the courts as King Henry is dying, and factions are developing. The different factions have different opinions as to how Will Parr's previous marriage should be handled, and Will and Bess are forced to wait out the royal courts as they wish for a positive outcome. Bess and Will become foolish, and take matters into their own hands. but how will the Privy Council react? How will Bess' family react when Bess refuses to listen to reason? The romance of the couple depends on who wins the political race towards the crown, and one never knows who is spying on whom for whom. I found Bess to be impetuous, but likable, but not incredibly rounded as far as characteristics. Will Parr seemed to be the epitome of the knight in shining armor, and they seemed well suited.

What I love about Kate Emerson's writing style is that she imparts special little details such as the food of the times, the dress, the mannerisms, but she doesn't lay it on too thick to be a history lesson. Tudor fanatics will also enjoy the familiar faces that are mentioned, from Norfolk wasting in the tower, to the impressionable young Elizabeth who later becomes the formidable Queen. Tom Seymour the ladies' man is back, and causes a stir with his hatred for his brother Edward Seymour the Lord Protector; and the conniving wife of his Anne is someone you will love to hate. I kept my ears perked for the Dudley brothers as well who came and went from the story as did several other highly placed names. All in all, another intelligent but passionate installment of the Secrets of Tudor Courts series from Kate Emerson that I recommend to those who are interested in the lives of those who both watched the intrigue from the sidelines and created some of their own.

Dec 8, 2010

Book Review: Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Must You Go? My Life with Harold Pinter by Antonia Fraser
Hardcover: 336 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (November 2, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0385532501
Review copy from the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Great story!
A moving testament to one of the literary world's most celebrated marriages: that of the greatest playwright of our age, Harold Pinter, and the beautiful and famous prize-winning biographer Antonia Fraser. — In this exquisite memoir, Antonia Fraser recounts the life she shared with the internationally renowned dramatist. In essence, it is a love story and a marvelously insightful account of their years together, beginning with their initial meeting when Fraser was the wife of a member of Parliament and mother of six, and Pinter was married to a distinguished actress. Over the years, they experienced much joy, a shared devotion to their work, crises and laughter, and, in the end, great courage and love as Pinter battled the illness to which he eventually suc­cumbed on Christmas Eve 2008.

Must You Go? is based on Fraser’s recollections and on the diaries she has kept since October 1968. She shares Pinter’s own revelations about his past, as well as observations by his friends. Fraser’s diaries written by a biographer living with a creative artist and observing the process firsthand also pro­vide a unique insight into his writing.
Harold Pinter and Antonia Fraser lived together from August 1975 until his death thirty-three years later. “O! call back yesterday, bid time return,” cries one of the courtiers to Richard II. This is Antonia Fraser’s uniquely compelling way of doing so.

Some of the British-themed books in my personal library are authored by Antonia Fraser, such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII, and Marie Antoinette for which the popular film was based on. I had little knowledge of the personal life of this British author though, and when I saw that she had written a mini-memoir regarding her marriage with Harold Pinter soon after his death in late 2008, I was intrigued because apparently there was some scandal there. Pinter was an actor, screenwriter and a poet among other things, but Pinter and Fraser were having an affair before they were able to marry.

I learned that Pinter was a respected man with many opinions and a strong opponent to wars, but was most known for his work as a playwright and an actor early on, and is seeming the epitome of "the writer". His first marriage with Vivien Merchant broke up after his wife learned of Pinter's indiscretions with Antonia Fraser, and Merchant displayed her disgust by granting many interviews with the media thus igniting the flames of scandal. The new couple dealt with it quite well, and Pinter was overly nice to the discarded wife, in my opinion. After five years of being together, Pinter and Fraser were finally able to discuss becoming married, with no thanks to Vivien.

Without writing an essay or biography of the two people that this "memoir" involves, I must say that both Lady Antonia Fraser and Harold Pinter sound like they would have been excellent friends to have. The way that the author writes is witty, sweet, reminiscent, but not overly done to be too sentimental. I was touched by the love the couple shared, and jealous. Their life together as Antonia writes it sounds close to perfect. And I say "Antonia" as if she were my own friend (wishful thinking!) but after this glimpse into her diary entries I feel like I know her. I loved the way I was drawn in immediately to this special life of the couple as Pinter wrote his fabulous plays and she worked on her biographies or mystery series, they go to dinner with other fabulous people, they get visited by her fabulous kids.. it all sounds so perfectly.. pretentious, doesn't it?

Yet, somehow, in some way, Lady Antonia Fraser has turned all that wonderfulness of gag-me type nuances of socialites into something that had me from the first page. Instead of turning what could be a long drawn out biography of Pinter, it consists of Frasers' small diary entries and comments about the times and how they reflected on Harold and Antonia. Harold the writer (who fought for justice when he was not writing) would have loved the way his wife told their love story, and Harold the husband would have been honored to be remembered in this way with Antonia's vignettes. Although Fraser did add quite a plethora of names as they figured into her life, I had zero idea who they all were and they came and went to emphasize the definition of the phrase "name-dropping". The group she socialized with were obviously over my head and at least a generation ahead of me, but I was still enamored with the conversations that they had. I loved the quick insights into the blended family, like with the FamHol vs. PinHol which related to which type of holiday they would go on. Fraser's reflections were meticulous, poignant, witty and charming, and I appreciated the peek into her privileged side of the world in England. The only focus is on their lives, their love, her thoughts, therefore I would recommend this to those who are intrigued by the people involved and the life behind the famous playwright.

Evil me: "Read this really fast because I truly want to gobble it all up."  Angelic me: "Bit by bit, slowly and peacefully meander through the eloquent prose and absorb the intelligence of the storyteller." I was touched by their love and respect for each other, I laughed out loud at some of the anecdotes, and I will never forget this book, if just for the simplicity of its very theme: True love never dies.

Dec 5, 2010

2010 in Review: The Burton Review Loved These Books!

Sunday, December 05, 2010
Last year, I made a post about my favorite reads of 2009 where I picked my top ten reads out of the 64 books I had read. And here we are again, another year (that flew by) of fabulous reads, and only a few of not-so-fabulous reads of this year. At the time of composing this draft, I have read 58 books in 2010 (see my entire review list here). I attempted to slow down this year so that I could focus on prioritizing family and summer fun, which has made this a great year just for that fact alone, and I will continue that trend for 2011 as I embark on expanding my horizons with more cooking, more gardening, more genealogy research, more swimming, etc. And something that I have been dying to do, is to read the books I have been accumulating for my personal pleasure, as opposed to reading according to a publisher's request for review. I have managed to sneak in a few reads in 2010 that were not strictly 'for review' books, but for 2011 I hope to dig into my Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt collection as well as some more of Georgette Heyer's regency reads.

After reading last year's best of 2009 post, how do I feel about the choices of books I picked last year? I still feel those were all great picks and those selected do still resonate with me over a year later, as I am sure the following selections will also. The following selections were all books that I read in 2010 and were sent to me for review, either from the publisher or the author, at my request.

(Please click the book covers or the linked titles to go directly to my previously posted review.)

This year, I read both popular and a little more obscure titles. One of those obscure ones from a debut author was Matthew Flaming's The Kingdom of Ohio  (Putnam). It was released on 12/31/2009 so even though it was a 2009 published work there was no way I could have included it in my 2009 list since it was released on the last day of the year. It would have been on the list if it was released just a bit earlier though, because this was an amazing debut, and a fantastic storyline that had me hooked from page one! I cannot wait for this author's second novel, though rumor is it will be an entirely different theme, I am sure his writing will again suck me in. This work itself has some minor issues with it, but the fact that it is a novel that I still think about ten months later proves it is something that is worth a second look. The creativity and the suspense of the book was really something that packed its own punch, as the author really had me believing that there was indeed a lost kingdom of Ohio. And look at that great cover! Classic, elegant and creative, just as the words were on the inside.

I just recently read Désirée: The Story of Napoleon's First Love  (Sourcebooks) by Annemarie Selinko, so it is indeed fresh in my mind. This is a reissue for 2010, but it was a moving story that many others over the years have agreed with me on its worth. Désirée became a Queen of Sweden, but how she got there was an extraordinary story of the young girl who first fell in love with Napoleon Bonaparte. The story of the love, and respect, between these two was heartwarming to witness through this novel. This will always be a book that I will not hesitate to recommend as it features much of France's pivotal events after the Revolution. This book was made into a film starring Marlon Brando in 1954 which I am hoping to find somewhere.

Before the beautiful bookstore of Legacy Books shut its doors, I had the opportunity to meet author Leila Meacham when she was promoting her book, Roses (Grand Central Publishing). That book was such a page turner for me, as the fictitious setting of a cotton industry town was close by and the plot was intriguing, inspiring and felt like it was written just to my tastes. I love novels that reach for saga status, and this was one that came mighty close, as some compared Roses to Gone With The Wind (which the author hadn't even read!). Leila Meacham is also the classiest Southern lady I have ever met, and I am so glad that I have had that chance. The paperback releases 1/3/2011.

The Kitchen House (Touchstone) by Kathleen Grissom was one of those heartbreaking stories, as opposed to heartwarming. But it was an incredible story that shocks and saddens the reader s you wish you could do something to make the world a better place. The story starts with a young orphaned girl, Lavinia, who becomes like a family member to a group of slaves on a sprawling southern estate. We become further involved in the slave's stories and their many struggles, while the white people were mingling in and out of their personal lives in tragic and heroic ways. I gushed over the book in my review, but summed it up with "This is a must read. Absolute must read for those interested in America, how it was born, and who we are and why we should be thankful for the mere fact we are here today, and not back then." Kathleen Grissom is a superb storyteller, who is now working on a story about a Crow Native woman who married a fur trader in 1872.

Next up, another slice of Americana with My Name is Mary Sutter (Viking) by Robin Oliveira's story of a headstrong but compassionate nurse during the horrific times of war. It had always been Mary's calling to be a nurse, and yet back in those days women working in any field other than as a homemaker was frowned upon. Doctors refused to apprentice her, yet she still persevered, long enough to help the wounded and the dying as much as she could. Along the way, there are chances for romance, but Mary is focused and resolute and quite a character to admire. We watch her struggle with her emotions and her duties as a nurse, but we are on the edge of our seat during the ride. It was quite poignant and very well-written, that I knew I was going to include this work as a favorite of 2010 even as I was still reading it. The paperback release is March 29, 2011 so if you have missed this one, be sure to put the paperback on your wish list!

Another book that is yet to be released in paperback (May 2011) and you need to put on your wishlist is an endearing novel regarding one of my favorite classic authors, Louisa May Alcott, titled The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott (Putnam) by Kelly O'Connor McNees. This short and sweet novel is a must for any Alcott fan, though it may leave you wanting more once it is finished. The debut novel was also selected for Oprah's 2010 Summer Reading List.
The author portrayed Louisa just as I had always imagined her: a headstrong, smart and utterly compassionate person. Her desire for independence can be the one thing that stands in her way of eternal happiness, and the single decision that she makes during this summer can be the one decision that she regrets for the rest of her life. I was completely immersed in this story and has me hoping and wishing that the author will again write another story on Louisa May Alcott.

On the tippy top of my favorite topics to read about is the Tudor courts as I just cannot seem to get enough of the many players of the time period. There are always new Tudor novels cropping up, and we were treated to a new one in 2010 by D.L. Bogdan called Secrets of The Tudor Court (Kensington). This is not to be confused with another author's Tudor series of Kate Emerson's who I also enjoy reading. Bogdan's work featured the prominent member of the Tudor court, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Most Tudor fans would recognize this name, as he was the man who helped propel two of his nieces to becoming Queens of England. But what of Norfolk himself, and his own immediate family? Thomas Howard's son, Henry Howard, was another prominent member of the Tudor court and well-known for his poetic abilities, but was a bit full of himself and eventually executed. Bogdan's story is focused, though, on Mary Howard, the daughter of Thomas Howard, and it is through her eyes that we poke through the typical characterizations of Norfolk and we read of an abusive and twisted man. Mary's story is indeed fraught with the intrigues of the Tudor court, and her entire life seemed to be a hardship just to survive within her father's presence. I enjoyed this different look on the man that lived to a ripe old age of 80 in the Tudor courts, which is a rarity (though he came thisclose to getting his own head lopped off), and I was touched by the author's portrayal of Mary Howard. Thomas Howard outlived many of his younger family members, and I cannot wait to read Bogdan's upcoming novel which will contain even more background to his personal story.

One of those books that make you feel more aware and sensitive of other cultures and beliefs is Mitchell James Kaplan's By Fire, By Water (Other Press). This impressive debut novel tackles the Spanish Inquisition while representing several sides and stories to the horrors it created. It opened my eyes about the Jewish people who were abused during the Inquisition, but it surprised me and taught me more about the politics behind the Inquisition as well. The characters (both fictional and real) that Kaplan uses to portray this story were perfectly written as brave voices of the victims of the Inquisition; even the ones whose job was to perpetrate the crimes against the Jews were somehow made intriguing through Kaplan's vision of a story that stays with you long after reading it. The combination of the subject matter, various themes (reform vs. fanaticism) and the characters' individual plights together made this a riveting story for me.

Have you read any of these books I chose as my personal favorites of 2010? Would you agree or disagree with the choices? What are some of your own favorites of 2010?

Please note, this is NOT the post you are hunting for the BEA...

Nov 29, 2010

Book Review: Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (December 1, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1402241284
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating: Great story!

When the smoke has cleared from the battlefields and the civil war has finally ended, fervent Union supporter Beth Bennet reluctantly moves with her family from their home in Meryton, Ohio, to the windswept plains of Rosings, Texas. Handsome, haughty Will Darcy, a Confederate officer back from the war, owns half the land around Rosings, and his even haughtier cousin, Cate Burroughs, owns the other half.

In a town as small as Rosings, Beth and Will inevitably cross paths. But as Will becomes enchanted with the fiery Yankee, Beth won’t allow herself to warm to the man who represents the one thing she hates most: the army that killed her only brother.

But when carpetbagger George Whitehead arrives in Rosings, all that Beth thought to be true is turned on its head, and the only man who can save her home is the one she swore she’d never trust…

Pemberley Ranch is not your ordinary Pride & Prejudice sequel. It mirrors Jane Austen's famous literary characters somewhat, and borrows from some of the themes, and then author Jack Caldwell spins us a yarn of wild west fun. The author has been an avid fan of Jane Austen and his debut novel would probably make Austen proud (and perhaps a bit scandalized, but in a good way!). The Bennet family is relocated from Ohio to Texas just after the American Civil War, and the family learns to adjust to becoming southern while mourning the loss of their brother due to the war. Down the road at Pemberley Ranch, brother and sister Will and Gaby Darcy welcome the Bennets to the neighborhood while trying to break through Beth Bennett's toughened exterior.

We also have a Cate Burroughs who is the overbearing and quite greedy mother to the innocent Anne Burroughs, as well as several new characters in the Texas settlement such as posse and lawmen. Shady deals are underfoot that will affect all of the members of the Texas community of Rosings, but the question is who is involved, and how far will they go to get what they want?

Although not something that is Austen-like, I still enjoyed the western spin on the story. It was completely original and not just another rehashing of how Darcy wins the girl, as this author had no qualms to make the original story disappear in the dust of the wild horses' hooves. The writing was styled succintly and not in the melodramatic female tones, as it dealt more with the shady George Whitehead and the aftermaths of the Civil War. I loved connecting some of these new characters with the old P&P characters, but was surprised at how much I enjoyed the way the author intrigued me with this western story. A great read for those readers who like a bit of gunfighting and romance rolled into one.

Nov 22, 2010

Book Review: Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Monday, November 22, 2010
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 9th, 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN 0805092862
Review copy provided by the publisher
The Burton Review Rating: = "Interesting premise, someone else might like it"

Luminous, passionate, expansive, an emotional tour de force:

Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse.
An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families.
A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world.
William Wyler's 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives.
A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway.
An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage.
These are just some of the elements Auster magically weaves together in this immensely moving novel about contemporary America and its ghosts. Sunset Park is a surprising departure that confirms Paul Auster as one of our greatest living writers.

This is one of those books that I had seen generating some buzz in bookish newsletters, and was surprised to learn that the author has quite a collection of published works. Before I started reading Sunset Park, I saw that there were four and five star ratings for Auster's newest novel, which is always a happy sign of good things to come, although 'happy' certainly would not be the right term for it given the theme of the novel. I normally stay within the confines of historical fiction, but every once in awhile I enjoy a piece of contemporary work to take a break from my regular reads.

Americans today are not the same happy Americans of a few decades ago; there are many of us who have become economically challenged through no real fault of our own. Yes, I am one of them, which is why I was initially drawn to the plot when the galley was being offered. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, and you either have money or don't. Paul Auster's story focuses on some individuals who don't have money, although the first character he introduced comes from a wealthy family but chooses not to divulge that fact to his girlfriend. Miles Heller is the central character that connects the other characters that author creates, and Miles is the one character that I did not despise. His father is pretty cool, even though Miles has exited from his life for the last seven and a half years. The storyline about Miles' and his family issues was what pulled me into the novel and begged me to keep going, no matter how vexed I became.

The synopsis begins with the description as being "luminous". I would replace that with something like sad, broken, damaged, or dark. And as far as "emotional tour de force": it evoked emotions from me once, when a family friend died late in 2008 in the novel and there was a phrase that mentioned there were many deaths that year. My own father was one of them, and so my grief was lit a bit more at that point in the novel. Not incredibly enlightening, not moving, but depressing is the storyline of the group of have-nots who live rent-free at an abandoned house in Sunset Park, New York, just waiting for the authorities to kick them out. The writing itself was the main draw to the novel for me: it wasn't like I really wanted to immerse myself in my fellow poor Americans hardships, but the way Auster created the flow of the story and each character with deceiving clarity made it seem not quite like a novel but more of a bit of a creative thesis on the current events of America. He has a way with words making small statements with them that actually speak volumes, although more masculine nuances emanated, which tend to annoy this female reader when they are overly present.

I was intrigued by the details of the interests of the characters, such as publishing, artistic endeavors and baseball statistics. But halfway through the book the monotonous stream of consciousness style of writing began to gnaw on my nerves, and some of the overly-cerebral descriptions of things began to grate on my nerves as well, which were at first pleasantly entertaining miscellaneous details. One character was studying the film The Best Years of Our Lives, which then became pages and pages of commentary within the novel and.. well, ... snore... (but I think that perhaps there might be a jump in online searches for that very film due to its many mentions in Auster's novel). There were sexual themes throughout the young characters, which is expected, but I am a prude. I like romance and love themes to be included if there is an abundant sex life. I must be asking for too much.

Another peeve was the fact that there were many conversations throughout the novel that were just too good to be punctuated with quotation marks was exasperating. Thumbing through again, and not a quotation mark to be found. And when I finally did reach the end of the story.. what a horrific spot to end the freaking story... boy, was I ticked off! What a waste of my time.

It strikes me that I'll have to read Franzen's Freedom, or perhaps Corrections, and see how they compare as they follow the same premise, but it won't be too soon. Basically, I felt this was one writer's round about psychological analysis of why America sucks today as we know it, and that's just not my cup of tea. I must not be one of those intelligent cerebral types, and this is a rare departure from my comfortable historical reads. Given his track record, there's no doubt that Paul Auster is a talented, intelligent writer, but the storytelling part and his job to enlighten and/or to entertain this particular reader failed. Frankly, I prefer other genres of books that bring me to another place and another time in order to escape my everyday reality of small horrors such as financial hardship and dysfunctional families. Given the fact that there are others out there who adored this book, I must humbly accept the fact I am a nerd. It is at this point that I am proud to say I love historical fiction so much that perhaps I should never stray from it again (unless it's a historical non-fiction work).

Nov 18, 2010

Book Review: A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart

Thursday, November 18, 2010
A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan and Carolyn Eberhart
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (October 1, 2010)
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks, thank you!
ISBN-10: 1402243391
ISBN-13: 978-1402243394
The Burton Review Rating: The Burton Review, 4 stars

This is something different for Darcy fans: a novella collection! Christmas and the spirit of Jane Austen. Bring on the cinnamon and apple cider aromas! Each author's individual story is reviewed separately:

Mr. Darcy's Christmas Carol by by Carolyn Eberhart
This was the first story in the book and is also a debut for the author. Right away she remonstrates that the elder Mr. Darcy was dead as a door nail, several times, which made me wince. Thankfully, she gets past that quickly enough and goes into the lamentations of the younger Mr. Darcy (our favorite Mr. Darcy) of how Lizzy spurned his request for her hand. Georgiana, Darcy's younger sister, is featured as she adds a nice touch to the story by being a sweetheart and treated as such. Warm and fuzzy feelings! Hold on to your reticules, as ghosts are haunting Pemberley!

Starting off as more of a macabre type of story, the typical elements of ghosts and spirits take over as Darcy goes on journeys to see the past, present and future. Predictable for both Darcy and Dickens fans this is not a suspenseful read, but the ending makes up for its weak beginning as everything is tied up into a happy package for a Darcy lover.

Christmas Present by Amanda Grange
This was a short and sweet little story about Lizzy and Darcy as they expect the birth of their first child during the Christmas season. Lizzy's older sister Jane has just had her little boy and the extended family members are spending the holidays with Jane and Charles Bingley at their new house, which was just enough far out of reach so that Mrs. Bennet wouldn't drop by every day on Jane. The story was complete with the characters that we loved from Pride & Prejudice, and the "scandalized" Lady Catherine and the pushy busy-body Caroline and does a good job of bringing holiday cheer, Jane Austen style. Grange's next book, Wickham's Diary, is due in April 2011.

A Darcy Christmas by Sharon Lathan
Off to a weird start was this last novella in the collection. It featured Darcy feeling depressed that Lizzy had spurned his proposal, and yet he couldn't get her out of his mind. The theme of sexual tension was a bit overly played, as the one reason I enjoy classic novels like Austen's and Heyer's is the mere fact that they are always clean and fun. I was a bit put off by Lathan's sensual undertones, but eventually they went away, which was a good thing because I had half a mind to not even attempt to finish it once it started up about some sex books that Darcy kept locked up. I plodded on, and of course I am glad that I did, because it eventually became a pleasant Christmas story that had a little bit of everything involved. I enjoyed the clan of the Darcys that Lathan created and the personalities of the family members who managed to annoy each other in a loving way. And upon further research, I have learned that Lathan's Darcy sequels are marketed as sensual Pride & Prejudice sequels, and the 5th in the series is coming in April 2011.

All in all, the collection of Christmas themed Darcy stories was a hit, and I enjoyed the book as a whole. I can't even pick a favorite out of the bunch, but I think that Darcy and Lizzy fans would be pleased with this Christmas collection which should definitely help the reader get into the holiday spirit!

Nov 12, 2010

Book Review: Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

Friday, November 12, 2010
Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley
Sourcebooks REISSUE, November 1, 2010
Historical Fantasy
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Three Stars

The Guinevere Trilogy by Persia Woolley:
  • Child of the Northern Spring (1987)
  • Queen of the Summer Stars (1991)
  • Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn (1993)

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best—filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.

Arthurian legends have held the aura of mystique for quite a few years, but the recent releases of Anna Elliott's Avalon series have helped me to quench the thirst for more stories of the period. There are several popular authors of the Arthurian genre such as Marion Zimmer Bradley, and Helen Hollick's Kingmaking series, and we also have the Guenevere novels by Rosalind Miles that I have wanted to read for awhile. Instead the opportunity came to review this reissue of another Guinevere/Guenevere trilogy, starting with Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley.

The story starts with Woolley's Guinevere as a young woman about to be wedded to Arthur. On the excrutiatingly long journey to meet with her new husband, Guinevere's thoughts are full of reflection and the author recounts previous experiences in her life which makes the story jump back and forth in the timeline. This was not received well, as all I wanted was for Arthur and Guinevere to get married as promised upon the opening of the novel, and she doesn't become queen during this novel although the event was alluded to many times.

Irritatingly slow and dry was Guinevere's early story, and I found it difficult to want to pick up the book many a times. This is definitely something that you have to be ready to sit down and enjoy the atmosphere along with the young Guinevere as she sees and hears it for the first time, but if you are waiting for the dramatics and mystical realms of the Arthurian legends you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I feel that the author does a fine job of weaving Arthurian nuances throughout the many different characters in the story, but I wanted more of Guinevere's character and not the entire realm as it occurred around her and before her time as Queen. The cast of characters seemed complete though, with Arthur, Merlin, Morgan Le Fey and Mordred as well as several kings, soldiers and family members.

If you are the type of reader that gets put off by jumps in time (like I am) this will be a thorn in your side. To be fair, I have read that the later installments in Woolley's trilogy were much better received than this first piece, and perhaps those installments as a whole achieve what I was looking for here. And the last half of book one was better than its first, but it was slow going getting there. Alaine at Queen of Happy Endings did thoroughly enjoy Child of the Northern Spring, you can read her review here and get a difference in our two opinions. I think you need to be willing to immerse yourself in the setting of Arthurian legend, just as Guinevere herself tries to unwind the tales and customs, in order to enjoy the story. I have heard great things about the other Guenevere trilogy by Rosalind Miles and I have those waiting for the gift of my time and for when I am brave enough to delve back into Arthurian fantasy. It could be that I have worn out the welcome for Arthurian tales and not all that intrigued by he and his family any longer. Coupled with that and the time jumps within this story, this just wasn't the right moment for me to be able to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Visit Heather at The Maiden's Court to read a guest post from the author Persia Woolley where she discusses her vision of Guinevere, and where there is also a giveaway for the book which ends November 20th.

Nov 5, 2010

Book Review: Désirée by Annemarie Selinko

Friday, November 05, 2010
Désirée: The Bestselling Story of Napoleon's First Love by Annemarie Selinko
Sourcebooks Product ISBN: 9781402244025
Price: $16.99, 608 pages
Sourcebooks Publication Date: October 1, 2010
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks Landmark, thank you!

To be young, in France, and in love: fourteen year old Desiree can’t believe her good fortune. Her fiance, a dashing and ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte, is poised for battlefield success, and no longer will she be just a French merchant’s daughter. She could not have known the twisting path her role in history would take, nearly breaking her vibrant heart but sweeping her to a life rich in passion and desire.

A love story, but so much more, Désirée explores the landscape of a young heart torn in two, giving readers a compelling true story of an ordinary girl whose unlikely brush with history leads to a throne no one would have expected.

An epic bestseller that has earned both critical acclaim and mass adoration, Désirée is at once a novel of the rise and fall of empires, the blush and fade of love, and the heart and soul of a woman.

Désirée, a last work written by Austrian novelist Annemarie Selinko and first published in 1951, was a New York Times Bestseller, being translated into 25 different languages as well as being made into an American movie in 1954. Sourcebooks Landmark has reissued the wonderful historical for new generations this October and I really enjoyed the insider's view Napoleon's personal life through the eyes of his first love, a young girl Eugénie Clary, who preferred to be called Désirée.

Désirée, the daughter of a silk merchant, and Napoleon first meet when he is a poor soldier and she is fourteen; they become betrothed soon after but abide her mother's wishes to wait to marry until she is sixteen. Unfortunately, the wait becomes too much as the ambitious Napoleon instead becomes engaged to a richer and more notable lady, whom we know as Empress Josephine. The young Désirée is shocked at the betrayal and we become sympathetic to her plight of lost first love, but we are hopeful for Désirée's future as her life moves on.

Désirée Clary
I enjoyed learning about the family of Napoleon, as his brother is married to Désirée's close sister, Julie. The family mechanics are at the forefront of Désirée's story which become entwined with the Bonaparte's, and thus the politics of France as the controversial Rights of Man were being accepted and enforced. The story is being told during a turning point for France and the political ramifications that Napoleon causes directly effect Désirée's own happiness with her new family. Being told in a diary style, Désirée seems selfish and naïve at times, but the fact that she is quite young gives her character a lovable quality. Although I enjoyed the first-person narrative, there was a little too much of jumping back and forth in the timeline as she tells the story with each new chapter which became slightly irritating.

The life of Désirée Clary Bernadotte is a fantastic one as she was witness to much of history's events as well as being a part of it, as the author tells it. In reality, how much Désirée actually participated in the politics between Sweden and France and with Napoleon can be debated, but the story takes full advantage of Désirée's ties to the Bonapartes and romanticizes the tumultuous events of the times of France and Napoleon's various political maneuvers. The author has superbly shown Désirée's character that this eccentric woman would have been proud of, and I am so glad to have learned some of Désirée's story through this author's talented work, as I was quite intrigued by the fact that this daughter of a silk merchant eventually becomes Queen of Sweden and mother of the successors to the crown of Sweden to this very day.

The story of France after the Revolution and the upheaval that Napoleon caused became much a part of Désirée's story, and was a fantastic backdrop to the heartwarming relationship Désirée had with her husband Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte. The writing style was quick and easy to understand and not dated to its original fifties publication which is surprising. Not a literary masterpiece but just a fantastic story of an otherwise forgotten lady (who is not depicted well on Wikipedia), I am so glad that Sourcebooks Landmark has reissued the tale fifty years after its first printing. Timeless and epic are true adjectives even though I cannot fully explain the draw that the story had for me, it is just one of those novels that will be unforgettable. Annemarie Selinko dramatically relates the life of Désirée, her family, and the Bonapartes though with a blunt matter of factness that tugged at my heartstrings which showed Désirée had sacrificed much for her beliefs of the Rights of Man, but seemingly with no regrets.

Even though Désirée's character was flawed, I found the book to be addictive, accentuated with politics and romance, making this a classic tale for anyone intrigued with France, Europe and Napoleon; I recommend this to any historical fiction fan as one that you should not miss. As a Tudor addict, I now understand the compelling draw that Napoleon and Josephine novels are purported to have, and I cannot wait for the chance to read the trilogy by Sandra Gulland which feature the couple.

Nov 1, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Author! The Sixth Surrender by Hana Samek Norton

Monday, November 01, 2010
In the last years of her eventful life, queen-duchess Aliénor of Aquitaine launches a deadly dynastic chess game to safeguard the crowns of Normandy and England for John Plantagenet, her last surviving son.

To that end, Aliénor coerces into matrimony two pawns—Juliana de Charnais, a plain and pious novice determined to regain her inheritance, and Guérin de Lasalle, a cynical, war-worn mercenary equally resolved to renounce his. The womanizing Lasalle and the proud Juliana are perfectly matched for battle not love—until spies and assassins conspire to reverse their romantic fortunes.

Populated by spirited and intelligent women and executed in flawless period detail, The Sixth Surrender is a compelling love story that heralds the arrival of a major new talent in historical fiction.

Please welcome to The Burton Review, the author of The Sixth Surrender. See below for Giveaway details!!

Five and a Half Rules I Learned about Writing
~By Hana Samek Norton, author of THE SIXTH SURRENDER

During a recent book signing, the book store manager mentioned that quite often her customers would ask her about how to get their book onto the book shelves—a book they haven’t written yet. Sometimes they say they have an idea for a book, but don’t know how to do it.

Frankly, the book store manager’s words surprised me – doesn’t everyone know that you have to WRITE a book first? I think, however, that the question is in fact the “how to,” or more precisely, WHERE to start. Actually, a good question.

For those who have already ventured into writing, there seem to be “rules” in the writing world for just about anything—plot, characters, setting—and getting started on that first or latest project. If any of those “rules” work for you, great! But the most difficult thing still seems to be that “where/how” to start.

Many of my accomplished friends love to write—I don’t, and I hate them (just kidding). It may seem like a heresy to confess it, but I really don’t like “to write.” I like to dawdle over research—occupational hazard of a historian. So here are my five rules and a half rules from getting me to “THE END”.

1. Deadline. I have to have a dead line. It’s the “dead” that inspires me more than anything else. A page in the next l5 minutes is a good deadline for me.
2. The tighter the deadline the better. Thirteen minutes and counting—the characters start shouting at me to sit down and start typing.
3. Ok, ok--start typing while they are doing something interesting.
4. “Bad” characters are always doing something interesting.
5. What next—where are all these guys heading? I reach for Chris Vogel’s The Writer’s Journey . He knows where they all ought to be heading and how to get them there.
5 1/2. Repeat.

Hana Samek Norton
 Hana’s passion for the Middle Ages dates to a childhood exploring the ruins of castles and cloisters in the (now) Czech Republic. She also developed that “lurid taste in fiction,” by reading dog-eared novels full of the drama and melodrama of history. She graduated with an MA from the University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada, and a Ph. D. (both in history, of course), from the University of New Mexico where she currently resides. She is married to an Englishman, teaches part-time, and works as a historical consultant.

Her latest book is The Sixth Surrender. You can visit her website at

Thanks for sharing with us your journey, Hana! For followers of The Burton Review, Pump up Your Book Virtual Book Tour is offering up one giveaway copy for USA residents.. thank you!

To enter, simply comment on this post telling me your favorite Eleanor of Aquitaine story! Good Luck! Giveaway Closed!
The winner is Colleen Turner & she has been notified. Congrats, and thank you to everyone else who entered!

Oct 22, 2010

Audio Book Review: The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory
ABRIDGED Audio CD, 0 pages
Published November 16th 2004 by Simon & Schuster Audio (first published 2004)
ISBN074353980X (ISBN13: 9780743539807)
Borrowed from a friend's personal library, thank you!

The Burton Review Rating: I expect it would have been a 3 star read had I read it two years ago.

Longest synopsis ever:
"In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth's ambitious leap to the throne will pull her husband back to the very center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be. Amy had hoped that the merciless ambitions of the Dudley family had died on Tower Green when Robert's father was beheaded and his sons shamed; but the peal of bells she hears is his summons once more to power, intrigue, and a passionate love affair with the young queen. Can Amy's steadfast faith in him, her constant love, and the home she wants to make for them in the heart of the English countryside compete with the allure of the new queen? Elizabeth's excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country, riven by enmity, where treason is normal and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the irresistible, ambitious Robert Dudley. Robert revels in the opportunities of the new reign. The son of an aristocratic family brought up in palaces as the equal of his royal playmates, Robert knows he can reclaim his destiny at Elizabeth's side. Elizabeth cannot resist his courtship, and as the young couple slowly falls in love, Robert starts to think the impossible: can he set aside his wife and marry the young queen? Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Philippa Gregory uses documents and evidence from the Tudor era and, with almost magical insight into the desires of Robert Dudley and his lovers, paints a picture of a country on the brink of greatness, a young woman grasping at her power, a young man whose ambition is greater than his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them."

My first audio book ever is The Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory. I have had the text version for several years but could not bring myself to pick up another story on Elizabeth that had a potential of being a let-down. Since I know the political upheaval that occurred during the transition of Queen Mary to the reign of Queen Elizabeth, I figured the test of my attention span to the audio version would be best served on this kind of average fiction.

The narrator was superb in this story. He enunciates well and with a British accent that was not too thick but just enough to make listening to his voice pleasurable. But I did find it difficult to concentrate on the audio, with my hands and eyes having nothing to do I had to force myself to concentrate on using my ears only. Which is difficult for this mind wanderer. I did enjoy hearing how some of favorite places were pronounced, as a sheltered American I have been butchering many British names and places in my mind. Oops.

As far as the actual story goes, there is not much to be said that is not expected. Amy Dudley, Robert Dudley, and Elizabeth are at the foremost of the story as their little weird love triangle evolved, with William Cecil looking on. The characterization of the "lovers" makes you shudder (fluttering eyelids, etc.), and the intensity of the love between Dudley and Elizabeth is bordering on absurd. Which is the reason I didn't want to read the book before. But this is coming from someone who has read many, many Tudor themed books before, and perhaps for a newbie to the era who has not come to admire Elizabeth I as much as I do would not be so turned off from Gregory's telling. It was Gregory, after all, who pulled me into the Tudor courts of intrigue and sexual exploits with her rendition of The Other Boleyn Girl in the first place. If I had read The Virgin's Lover after Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance a few years ago, I may have had a much better chance of enjoying this one.

The supporting characters being Amy Robsart Dudley (who died from a questionable fall down the stairs) and William Cecil make the story less bawdy. Portraying Elizabeth as acting a lovesick teenager is not exactly the image I wish to explore of the monarch, but I am glad to finally cross this one off of my tbr list. Of Gregory's novels, I disliked The Other Queen which featured Elizabeth I as well, so perhaps I should stay away from those stories that embellish and try to tarnish the virginal image that I admire of Elizabeth. I did enjoy Gregory's last two novels in The Cousins' war series, and The Queen's Fool was very well done as well, so I am not one of those readers who despises the author.

The positive to this story was seeing how Robert Dudley was viewed, and disliked, in Elizabeth's courts. Here he is portrayed as an upstart, or usurper, with eyes for the crown of England for himself. Whereas in previous reads, Dudley had intrigued me, here he disgusted me. He treats his wife Amy shabbily, and I could not help but pity the woman he ignored. If she left a diary, I would love to read it. After Amy is gone, Robert thinks his path should be clear to Elizabeth's side as a King, but Cecil made sure that would not happen. I would have preferred a bit more insight or something more dramatic for the ending, as it all just seemed a bit unfinished overall and I wasn't expecting the story to end where it did. Yet, viewing this as a simple story of Robert Dudley and his relationship with Elizabeth, it could be seen as a fair assessment of a specific political slice of a much larger picture during Elizabeth's reign. The author also raised my curiosity regarding the mysterious death of Dudley's wife and her theory bears credence. Those who revere Elizabeth should stay away from this weak portrayal of her, though. William Cecil, on the other hand, was the best part of the story. He was shrewd, calculating and a force to be reckoned with.

Oct 18, 2010

Book Review: Dark Road to Darjeeling (Book 4 in Lady Julia Grey series) by Deanna Raybourn

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dark Road to Darjeeling (Book 4 in Lady Julia Grey series) by Deanna Raybourn
Paperback, 400 pages
Published October 1st 2010 by Mira (first published September 17th 2010)
ISBN0778328201 (ISBN13: 9780778328209)
series Lady Julia #4

After eight idyllic months in the Mediterranean, Lady Julia Grey and her detective husband are ready to put their investigative talents to work once more. At the urging of Julia’s eccentric family, they hurry to India to aid an old friend, the newly-widowed Jane Cavendish. Living on the Cavendish tea plantation with the remnants of her husband’s family, Jane is consumed with the impending birth of her child—and with discovering the truth about her husband’s death. Was he murdered for his estate? And if he was, could Jane and her unborn child be next?
Amid the lush foothills of the Himalayas, dark deeds are buried and malicious thoughts flourish. The Brisbanes uncover secrets and scandal, illicit affairs and twisted legacies. In this remote and exotic place, exploration is perilous and discovery, deadly. The danger is palpable and, if they are not careful, Julia and Nicholas will not live to celebrate their first anniversary.

This newest release in the Lady Julia Grey mystery series was released in October 1, 2010 by MIRA and helped to introduce Deanna Raybourn to book reviewers through MIRA's marketing efforts. I am one of those new fans of Deanna Raybourn, and I have reviewed book one and book two in the series here at The Burton Review.

Dark Road to Darjeeling begins with Julia traipsing through India at the behest of two of her siblings, Portia and Plum. Her new husband, Nicholas Brisbane, and she are already at odds with each other. The stories leading up to their relationship are found in the previous novels, and the charm of the duo would be immediately lost on a reader who started the series with this book. The book could be a stand alone novel though, but as with all series, it is best to start with the beginning for continuity's sake. Even though I read book one and two, I had to skip three and keep it on my wishlist and was forced to begin book four because there are dozens of folks ahead of me in the wishlist queue.

Book three, Silent on the Moor, had Brisbane and Julia marrying, which was a surprise to learn when starting book four, and I was sorry I missed it. Besides that, book four seemed to picked up where I had left off, which shows talented storytelling for a series. I was once again immersed in Lady Julia's world and I enjoyed this story very much as she explored the tea making estate where her friend Jane's husband had been killed. Freddie was bitten by a snake, but it should not have been life threatening, and he left behind Jane with his unborn child. If it was a boy, the inhabitants of the estate would be in an uproar. But could these family members have killed Freddie for the inheritance?

The story in book four did not seem as witty and full of mirth as book two (my favorite), but it was still charming, fun and worthwhile. The who-dun-it mystery itself unwrapped slowly and I enjoyed the characterization of the new characters and the eccentricities of those that appeared in the story. Even though Brisbane and Julia were married by this time, I appreciated the way the author showed the relationship as one that was still learning and developing, and the sparks still flew. Raybourn's first person writing for Julia made me feel like I was having a long conversation with a best friend and I thoroughly enjoyed myself in Julia's world. I am completely sold on this author, and I will be happy to spend money on her next books and the book three that I have missed.

Oct 12, 2010

Book Review: Silent in the Sanctuary (Book 2 in the Lady Julia Grey series) by Deanna Raybourn

Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Book two in the Lady Julia Grey Mysteries
Silent in the Sanctuary (Lady Julia Grey Series #2) by Deanna Raybourn
January 2008 MIRA Books
560 pages
ISBN: 978-7783-2492-8
This book was purchased by me
The Burton Review Rating:4.5 stars!

Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends— but dark deeds are afoot at the deconsecrated abbey, and a murderer roams the ancient cloisters. Much to her surprise, the one man she had hoped to forget—the enigmatic and compelling Nicholas Brisbane—is among her father's houseguests… and he is not alone. Not to be outdone, Julia shows him that two can play at flirtation and promptly introduces him to her devoted, younger, titled Italian count.

But the homecoming celebrations quickly take a ghastly turn when one of the guests is found brutally murdered in the chapel, and a member of Lady Julia's own family confesses to the crime. Certain of her cousin's innocence, Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane, setting out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again. When a sudden snowstorm blankets the abbey like a shroud, it falls to Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane to answer the shriek of murder most foul.
Deanna Raybourn is a new favorite author for me. After reading the first book in the Lady Julia Grey mystery series, I immediately started book two, Silent in the Sanctuary. I am a fan of mysteries, and of wit and charm and the good old fashioned type of romances. And Raybourn delivers that for me with her star character of Lady Julia Grey. Written with a clever slant on the sarcasm in first person, I really came to like and admire Julia. And if I enjoyed reading Julia's point of view, I also enjoyed the characteristics of Julia's family just as much. The author gives herself a wide berth with many aunts and siblings; ones who disappear in the night and another brother who flirts ferociously with a lady who is already betrothed.

Along with the eclectic family members, Lady Julia has several house guests at her father's estate, lovingly called the Abbey. The place was almost as much of a character in the novel in this book as the murder and the mysteries all occur at the Abbey during a "house party". I loved how the author blended in the Abbey's history and the monks who once lived there into the story. Clergyman Lucian Snow is found murdered, but could it really have been done by Julia's meek cousin Lucy? Once again, the sexy sleuth Brisbane from book one appears, and widowed Julia partners with him to solve the mystery. Can Julia separate business from pleasure, or will she let jealousy over Brisbane's recent engagement cloud her vision?

For book one to book two comparison, I found book two to be even better than the first. I felt a lot more in tune to Julia this time around, and I really enjoyed the entire story which encompassed several small themes and kept me intrigued throughout. This is a series that I do hope ends up with a long line of titles, because I am reading each one of them!

Since MIRA has issued book four in the series, Dark Road to Darjeeling this October, many readers are picking that up and reading Raybourn for the first time. I do like the new style of the cover for the new book, but I definitely think that the previous book covers from MIRA were more appropriate. I am so glad that MIRA's marketing efforts turned me on to this author, and even more glad that I have given myself the time to read book one (Silent in the Grave, click for my review) and two before jumping into the newest release. Book three is Silent on The Moor and I have that on my wishlist. Raybourn has also penned another mystery this year (The Dead Travel Fast), though it is unrelated to the Lady Julia Grey series. If you like mysteries along with an intriguing character list garnished with a dash of romance, you really need to pick up these Lady Julia Grey books. Stay tuned for the review of book four, Dark Road to Darjeeling!

Oct 11, 2010

Jeannie Lin's Butterfly Swords and Taming of Mei Lin Blog Tour

Monday, October 11, 2010

Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin
Publisher: Harlequin
Pub Date: 10/01/2010
ISBN: 9780373296149

During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior....

Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li’s innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her—which means not seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted....

Please welcome the following guest post from the author of Butterfly Swords, Jeannie Lin:

Muses: Four Women of the Tang Dynasty

The Tang Dynasty has been a very powerful muse for me, inspiring my debut novel, Butterfly Swords, as well as an entire series and various short stories. What drew me most of all to the period was the remarkable women of the period.

In particular, this panel served as a source of inspiration:

Artist Bai Fa Tong Lao

The four characters at the top of the panels represent: writing (wen), beauty (li), outstanding (jie), and heroism (ying). The four women depicted held the highest ranks in the empire, the most powerful being Empress Wu Zetian who ruled as the only female Emperor of China.

These remarkable women captured my imagination and made me want to get inside their heads. What sort of strength and cleverness would it take for a woman to rise to power in a world dominated by men? I felt that this woman might seem very familiar to our modern day sensibilities. She would have the intelligence and drive of today’s doctors, lawyers, CEOs. She would have the grace and sharp wit of Queen Elizabeth. These women were supermodels as well as politicians.

I was inspired to dream up my own Tang Dynasty heroines. In Butterfly Swords, Ai Li is a princess in tumultuous times. Her father is a warlord who has taken the throne in the midst of civil unrest. Raised in a warrior family, she’s been trained to fight with swords, but that’s not the source of her strength. Her true power comes from her belief in family, loyalty, and honor.

As she embarks on a journey through the empire, she meets up with Ryam, a wayward swordsman fleeing from a Dark Age kingdom, and is forced to challenge and redefine the ideals she holds so dear. It’s an exploration through a foreign land, but with universal themes of love, honor, and acceptance that I hope will ring true.
Jeannie Lin writes historical romantic adventures set in Tang Dynasty China. Her short story, The Taming of Mei Lin from Harlequin Historical Undone is available September 1. Her Golden Heart award-winning novel, Butterfly Swords, was released October 1 from Harlequin Historical and received 4-stars from Romantic Times Reviews—“The action never stops, the love story is strong and the historical backdrop is fascinating.”

Join the launch celebration at  for giveaways and special features. Visit Jeannie online at:

Also, please visit Meghan's book review of Butterfly Swords at Medieval Bookworm.

Oct 6, 2010

Book Review: Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn (book 1 of 4 in Lady Julia Grey series)
Mass Market Paperback, 511 pages
Published December 1st 2007 by Mira (first published 2006)
Purchased for my own enjoyment
The Burton Review Rating:Four and a Half Stars of Five

"Let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave."

These ominous words, slashed from the pages of a book of Psalms, are the last threat that the darling of London society, Sir Edward Grey, receives from his killer. Before he can show them to Nicholas Brisbane, the private inquiry agent he has retained for his protection, Sir Edward collapses and dies at his London home, in the presence of his wife, Julia, and a roomful of dinner guests.

Prepared to accept that Edward's death was due to a longstanding physical infirmity, Julia is outraged when Brisbane visits and suggests that Sir Edward has been murdered. It is a reaction she comes to regret when she discovers the damning paper for herself, and realizes the truth.

Determined to bring her husband's murderer to justice, Julia engages the enigmatic Brisbane to help her investigate Edward's demise. Dismissing his warnings that the investigation will be difficult, if not impossible, Julia presses forward, following a trail of clues that lead her to even more unpleasant truths, and ever closer to a killer who waits expectantly for her arrival.

This is an amusing mystery genre story that is set in Victorian England. Lady Julia Grey is a very likable character who winds up with the mystery of her husband's death on her conscience, although the esteemed family doctor ruled Edward's death as a natural one. When Julia finds evidence to the contrary, she partners with Nicholas Brisbane to discover the murderer. The developments of their findings are not the only subject at hand, as Julia comes to grips with her new widowed state and the confused relationship with Brisbane; of which you are just waiting for it to turn romantic.

One of the best parts of the story was the nature of Lady Julia's own family and her servants. She is one of many siblings who are all a wonderfully eclectic group. We've got a lesbian in the family as well as an aunt who is affectionately called "The Ghoul". The Queen's raven was stolen and winds up at Lady Julia's house as winnings at a card game of the younger brother. Among several intriguing themes are the darkness of gypsies and the taint of prostitution which overshadow the case. I enjoyed that there was an unabashed style of wit throughout the story and that there was quite a blend of scandals in the story.

Raybourn's writing style quickly drew me into Lady Julia's world, and the fact that she is a native Texan could have blown me over with a feather. There was no trace of a southern attitude and I would have wagered the author had to have been a born and bred Englishwoman. I must say that the last half of the book moved quicker than the first and may have even been a bit predictable, but it was an enjoyment in entirety for me. I think readers who enjoy Georgette Heyer's Regency mysteries would also enjoy this Victorian mystery as they mirror the same tone and pace, though Raybourn's writing exudes more of a modern stance. Upon finishing this book I immediately set about to read book two in the Lady Julia Grey mystery series, Silent in the Sanctuary. Book three is Silent in the Moor, and book four, Dark Road to Darjeeling, is out October of 2010.

Oct 4, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Post by Laurel Corona: Penelope's Daughter

Monday, October 04, 2010
Please welcome to The Burton Review award-winning author Laurel Corona, who has crafted an exquisite retelling of the story of Homer’s The Odyssey in PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER (Berkley Trade Paperback Original; October 5, 2010; $15.00). This book has such a beautiful cover there was no way that I could resist getting this one, and I am so glad that I did. I recently read and reviewed the book on The Burton Review.

Penelope's Daughter; available October 5, 2010
Populated with characters both real and imaginary, the novel explores the dangerous world of Ithaca during the years of Odysseus’ absence from the point of view of Xanthe, Odysseus and Penelope’s daughter:

The royal court of Ithaca has been in upheaval for years without the leadership of Odysseus as king. Xanthe is barricaded in her own chambers to avoid the suitors, all willing to commit any act—including murder and kidnapping—to make her their bride and gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother’s cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.

When a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future—a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn’t know she exists.

Read the full synopsis here at Laurel's site.
Purchase via Amazon or via IndieBound

Laurel Corona ©Olga Gunn Photography
Laurel Corona is a professor of humanities at San Diego City College and a longtime resident of Southern California. She is the author of The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice, along with numerous works of nonfiction. Visit her online at

See the end of this post for the book giveaway details!

Helen and the Homer Sandwich by Laurel Corona:

Recently I watched a film version of the Odyssey, and I was struck by the assumption by the set designers that Homer’s Ithaca looked like Athens at the peak of its glory. Actually, if Odysseus and his men had set out for Athens instead of Troy, they might have had trouble finding it, for at the time the Iliad and Odyssey are set, Athens was still a small and unimportant backwater town. The wild and untamed Peloponnese, a large peninsula southwest of Athens, was where the action was, and where most of the famous city-states of the time were located--Mycenae, Sparta, Pylos, and the like. There, palaces were small abodes, made of rough stone and logs, with packed dirt floors and minimal niceties.

Even hundred of years later, Homer would not have known much about Athens, for the Iliad and Odyssey were written long before the city’s glory days. The poet was sandwiched between the “Age of Heroes” (as the time ranging from Heracles through Achilles is often called) and the “Golden Age of Athens,” when that city ruled the seas and built the Parthenon.

The bottom piece of bread in this sandwich is the Mycenaean era, long before the time that characters like Odysseus and Helen of Troy would have lived. The first layer of filling in this sandwich is a period called the “Greek Dark Ages.” This is the time that the events of the Iliad and Odyssey would have occurred, but unfortunately no written records exist from that time.

Next, let’s put Homer’s era in our sandwich, for by then oral histories sung by the bards were being written down. The top piece of bread is the far more familiar classical world of gorgeous temples and a Mount Olympus with Zeus firmly in charge. This sandwich took most of a millennium to create, so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that set designers who have Odysseus living in a palace with fluted marble pillars got it wrong.

Okay, let’s drop the analogy. A millennium-old sandwich doesn’t sound like a very tasty treat. But what this chronology reveals about changes in Greek culture is fascinating, if a bit depressing from a feminist perspective.

During the Mycenaean Era (long before the events described by Homer), goddesses were more powerful than gods. Zeus was seen as the husband of Hera, rather than the other way around. Though men might do flashier things, like rule and go to war, women had the most essential power of all--the ability to invoke the gods. As a result, women appear to have been respected and their powers revered in Mycenaean culture.

By the time we get to Classical Greece, things look very different. Zeus has become the chief god of Olympus, and Hera has been reduced to a bitchy and overbearing nag who causes trouble for her charming, if unfaithful husband. Though goddesses like Artemis and Athena are still important, they’re outnumbered and overpowered by the likes of Poseidon and Zeus. The same is true for the mortal women who lived in this era. Aristocratic women in Athens at the time of its greatest glory were essentially housebound, with few rights and opportunities for an independent life.

So how did this happen? How did we go from a culture respectful of, and in many ways centered on women, to the opposite? It happened in the dark (as so many things between men and women do!) but this time the darkness is the “Greek Dark Ages” that I referred to above. Somehow, in the centuries for which no written records exist, goddesses and women lost much of their power. Scholars theorize about this, but suffice it to say here that what came out the other side is the patriarchal society familiar to us today, rather than the female-centered pre-Greek one.

Presumably the stories the bards sang were recast many times to reflect the changing values of the listeners, so the way Helen and Penelope are presented in the Odyssey may have more to do with Homer’s society than the one in which these two women lived (if indeed they ever did). But let’s look at the two of them anyway, to see if this ongoing loss of female power is reflected in Homer’s work.

Homer stresses Penelope’s powerlessness. It is truly annoying how much of the time she spends weeping and wringing her hands in Homer’s version of the tale (not so in mine!) She is Homer’s perfect wife, waiting faithfully for her husband and not taking things into her own hands, except in the most acceptable way, through her weaving—the female task second in importance only to childbearing.

Helen, on the other hand, seems to be formed from Mycenaean clay. Her beauty gives her a matchless power among mortals. Her actions are larger than life. Even when she is back in Sparta after the Trojan War, ruling alongside Menelaus, she is still a dazzler. Homer tells us she has become a kind of sorcerer/magician, using drugs to alter people’s moods. Popular tradition holds that she became the chief priestess of the powerful cult of Artemis/Orthia, though Homer doesn’t mention this.

Helen is a woman Homer would not be comfortable with, so he writes her down to size. She uses her magic potions only at dinners where guests have grown morose—the perfect hostess. She speaks little except to lament what a terrible thing she did running off with Paris, and how helpless she was in Aphrodite’s grip. In the Odyssey, Helen is the emblem of women caught in the process of being reinterpreted and recast as subservient. Looking at it another way, though, Helen’s story is the collective female destiny in reverse. As time passes, she grows in power. Unfortunately what really happened to the women after Helen’s time will be the opposite.
I really enjoyed reading this book, and I am honored to be able to host the book giveaway courtesy of the publisher.

To enter, please comment here telling us if you have read the author's previous novel, or if you have had read anything on Helen of Troy or those in that era. What did you think of them?

+2 for a Facebook or Blog Post, linking here
+1 for a Tweet linking here
+2 For commenting on my review

Good Luck!
Giveaway ends 10/16, open to USA and Canada.