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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!