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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...