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Dec 31, 2011

Favorites of 2011! My Top Ten List of Books Published in 2011

Saturday, December 31, 2011
Happy New Year!

2011 has really flown by, with its many changes ranging from economic hardships to the world collapsing around us and everything else in between.. it is a great solace to be able to escape with a good book. I am hoping that 2012 is a bit less stressful and a bit more hopeful than 2011, and my resolution is to keep off the 24+ pounds that I lost in 2011. (see, it all wasn't a total waste!).. and maybe in 2012 the Texas Rangers will actually win a World Series...

Out with the old, in with the new... but what about all those books read last year? 2011 marked a change in my reading habits, with less time to read I became very particular in selecting what books I would spend my time with. This picky reader thus finds herself with quite a few fabulous reads of 2011, and I am pretty sure that each and every book I read in 2011 was published in 2011 also (in the USA). There were some different genres that I tried as well, though most of my reads leaned toward historical fiction. I have read only 51.5 books in 2011, where in 2010 I was pushing 65. I put in the .5 there because I am still working on a short story anthology that I haven't had the urge to pick back up in awhile.

Most recently, a second job for me takes away much of my reading time, unfortunately. When a book would usually take three or four days to finish, it now takes more than a week to finish, and sometimes even more. If this trend keeps up, 2012 will probably only boast 40-45 titles read. I have reviewed 43 titles of the 51 total books this year, and the rest of the reviews are ready to post in the coming months, as these are for the February issue of Historical Novels Review magazine. Those represent some of the different genres from Christian fiction to a bit of romance, as my tastes evolve and I become interested in other than just Tudor-esque, medieval and purely historical reads.

What were your favorites of 2011? Was there anything that really blew your socks off? As I peruse my list of books read in 2011, a few stood out. And if you missed these, then these are the ones I would recommend you picking up next time you are spending your gift cards from the holidays or making a trip to the library. My picks may be a no-brainer, as some listed are A-List Authors, but there may be a few thrown in here that you have missed. The linked titles will bring you to my review of that book. Here's my Top Ten of 2011 (and published in 2011!).. in no particular order:

One that stands out for me is The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma because it was so genre bending and not quite the norm. I was spellbound by it.. but it may not be your cup of tea because of how unique it is. It is a mix of romance and fantasy and a bit of history-mystery as well, with a plethora of suspense.

Heiress by Susan May Warren stands out as it was one of my first Christian historical reads in many years, as well as being my first review for Historical Novels Review. The author has quite a following and if you are interested in testing out the genre, Heiress would be a great start as it has a pleasant mix of history, romance and mystery that had me hooked on the genre and the author.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman was another contemporary style read that I normally would not have read given the synopsis, but so glad that I did read it. The blurb was something about a ballerina down on her luck, but that was very understated for the whirlwind of emotions and bit of adventure and historical nuances it offered. It was a multi-generational story that had me from page one, I truly enjoyed this one and will probably re-read it.

A surprising favorite for me was Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona. There was something about the story and the characters that really spoke to me and touched my heart. A completely fictional look at what the author imagines for Lili, a would-be daughter of scientist Emilie du Châtelet and Voltaire, which blends fact and fiction and science into a coming of age story for Lili. This was one of those reads that I could not put down for very long at all as it beckoned me from afar.

A not so surprising favorite comes with Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George, which was a fantastic look at the inner person of Elizabeth I during the last ten years of her reign. In earlier novels, we seem to fast forward through these years of the aged Elizabeth, and with this novel there were a few twists and supporting characters such as Lettice Knollys that kept me intrigued throughout. Margaret George is an author with a fabulous knack for creating a historical story that vividly comes to life through her writing. And of course it doesn't hurt that I got to meet Margaret just after reading this novel!

Reign of Madness: A Novel of Juana of Castile by Lynn Cullen is a well written novel of Isabella and Ferdinand's daughter, Juana. Offering a new light onto Juana's plights and struggle with love and obsession Reign of Madness is a fabulous read to coincide with C.W. Gortner's previous The Last Queen (2009), and the upcoming Sister Queens (2012) non-fiction work by Julia Fox.

I would have to add that Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick was another fantastic read, and it will probably be on many bloggers favorites list. Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my very favorite historical authors, and she has not disappointed me yet. Lady of the English focuses on an intriguing Medieval era, where Matilda is the heir to England but has to fight for it against her cousin Stephen who has usurped the throne. A fabulous storyline, with quite a few intriguing characters to make this novel a definite (and obvious!) favorite, without a doubt.

Another historical favorite of 2011 was Before Versailles by Karleen Koen, which focused on a new era for me with France and a particular four months of Louis XIV's reign. The maid of honor Louise de La Baume carves a vivid storyline in herself with romance and suspense to complement the historical side of Louis' politics and his courtiers. This was my first Karleen Koen read, but will certainly not be my last.

C.W. Gortner (and Elizabeth I!) makes my favorites list again with a new genre, with his The Tudor Secret: The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles  which features Brandon, a fictional character during the treacherous times between the reigns of Edward VI, Bloody Mary and finally Elizabeth I. Cecil, the well-known Spymaster, is so rarely looked at as a benevolent character such as he is here, and there are devious tones to other characters which made this fun and entertaining. I just wish we didn't have to wait so long for the rest of the series!

And last but not least, I had started off my delightful 2011 reading year with a fabulous novel, The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham which portrays Margaret of Anjou in a sympathetic light, as opposed to previous reads that have her live up to her 'She-Wolf' moniker. Queen Margaret was in a tumultuous position during the Wars of the Roses in England, as she was never accepted due to her French background. Her husband was a weak king, and Margaret had one goal in mind: set their son on the throne of England. The author tells her story in such an entertaining way that you cannot put it down for long, and we learn a little bit more of Margaret and the era in the process.

In 2010, I was able to spot only 8 favorite reads of 65. This time around it was a bit harder to pick only ten. See any goodies here that you agree with? Any ones that you missed this year but must read in 2012? What were your faves this year? From my review list, is there something that you think I've missed that you would recommend for me to get to based on these favorites? (I have a gift card to burn, so let me know your faves!).. I do have a few from 2011 that are on my mountain range of to-be-read books, such as Catherine the Great by Massie, and Lionheart by Penman, which both may have made it to this favorites list if only I had found the time to get to them.

I really had some fantastic winners with my 2011 reads, and I can only hope 2012 matches up. After three full years of book blogging (I just missed my own blogiversary), I loved watching how my reading tastes developed and how I was able to learn so much, specifically about England's medieval history. I've come a long way, but there is so much more to learn! I still haven't ventured out much past Elizabeth I! Here's to 2012, and more fabulous reads (clinks glasses with you!)!

Dec 28, 2011

At The King's Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The cover that would match the rest of the series, but not the cover that they stayed with :(
At The King's Pleasure (Secrets of the Tudor Court Book 4) by Kate Emerson
Gallery Books, January 3, 2012
Paperback 384 pages
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

Having read all of the author's previous Secrets of the Tudor Court books, I had anticipated this installment since day one. I was disappointed with the publisher's choice to change the publication date from August to January (and disappointed with the cover change), but good things come to those who wait. Emerson writes of the Tudor period with ease and eloquence, including many historical details but without over burdening the novel with facts. Although this Tudor series is focused during the popular reign of Henry VIII or his father, Emerson writes of the lesser known characters, and includes some fictional characters as well. This fourth installment, which can be read as a stand-alone, focuses on Lady Anne Stafford, daughter of Henry Stafford and Katherine Woodville, during the earlier days of Henry VIII's reign. The story was less focused on the courts and the politics and read much more like Anne's personal story which was a refreshing change of pace for a Tudor novel. Making it even more enjoyable was the clarity the author gives to these lesser known figures of the Tudor era, which always sparks off even more of an obsessive interest in the Tudor courts.

We are introduced to Anne as a young widow at her haughty brother Edward's disposal. Her other brother is temporarily in the Tower, so it is Edward who always pulls the strings of the Stafford family. Soon enough Lady Anne marries George Hastings, an amiable and likable young man. He isn't Will Compton, though, and Lady Anne has caught his eye as well as the young King Henry's. When Edward sees Compton with Anne, Edward hastily sends Anne away to a nunnery (telling her husband to bring her there) and Anne vows revenge: "And if she ever had the opportunity to pay him back in kind and soil his reputation as he'd soiled hers, she would seize upon it without hesitation."

Anne has a time of it to attempt to rebuild her reputation, as behind the scenes the Cardinal enjoys taunting her with his power over the king and the court. Above all, she wishes for her husband George to realize the truth of the matter, yet she lets things spiral out of control. She does get a bit of revenge on her meddlesome brother, although she didn't expect it the way it played out. The character development of Lady Anne is well portrayed while Anne copes with the turmoils of her heart. The relationship with her brother Edward Stafford is much at the forefront, and his own realtionships with his mistress and wife play a part as well. Edward starts to believe he is destined to rule England someday, but it is because of a prophecy that he holds on to this dream. Those well-versed in history will know what becomes of Edward Stafford and his dreams..

I have always enjoyed Emerson's style of writing for its quickness of plot while still inserting many historical details into the storyline. The secondary characters of the Tudor court are always made much more intriguing with Emerson's pen, and I would recommend this novel of Anne Stafford to anyone interested in the Duke of Buckingham and his family. I was pleasantly surprised that the King himself wasn't more featured here, as the story really did revolve around Lady Anne and her relationships. As with most Tudor fiction, the author felt obligated to insert facts and names/titles into conversations which seemed out of place at times, but was done in order to better acclimate the reader to the many courtiers involved during the storyline. Aside from a few of these awkward moments, I enjoyed yet another of Emerson's Secrets of The Tudor Court novels. Emerson has also compiled a long list of notables of the Tudor times with her Who's Who of Tudor Women database which can be found online or as a download from

Dec 12, 2011

Sourcebooks E-Book Special!

Monday, December 12, 2011
Just in time for the holidays and all those E-Reader gifters!
Sourcebooks has just announced the 'A Darcy for Everyone E-Book Special!' Here's what they said:

A Darcy for Everyone! Sourcebooks Celebrates Jane Austen’s Birthday!

From Tuesday December 13th – Friday December 30th the following eBooks will be priced at $1.99 at all online e-tailers. Whether you like Darcy as a tortured vampire, a modern day rock star, a Texas rancher or anything and everything in between! There truly is a Darcy for everyone!

A Darcy Christmas – Carolyn Eberhart, Sharon Lathan and Amanda Grange

Darcys & the Bingleys – Marsha Altman

Darcy’s Voyage – Kara Louise

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star – Heather Lynn Rigaud

The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice – Abigail Reynolds

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One – Sharon Lathan

Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard – Belinda Roberts

Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife – Linda Berdoll

Mr. Darcy, Vampyre – Amanda Grange

Pemberley Chronicles – Rebecca Ann Collins

Pemberley Ranch – Jack Caldwell

Searching for Pemberley – Mary Lydon Simonsen

Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy – Sara Angelini

Darcy and Fitzwilliam – Karen V. Wasylowski

You can find all of the titles and information here:

And then hang on to your hats as there is another SPECIAL OFFER around the corner when Sourcebooks announces its most extensive eBook promotion to date! 

It all started when... First in Series eBooks for $1.99!
For a limited time, purchase the first book from a Sourcebooks author for only $1.99.
More than 65 exceptional books ranging from young adult to adult fiction, romance, and non-fiction. Discover a great new author today!
This promo will run from 12/21/2011 – 1/8/2012, mark your calendars.
Browse the e-deals at Sourcebooks: & you can sign up there to be on the Email list as well.

Have a very Merry Christmas!

Nov 23, 2011

Heiress (Daughter of Fortune Book One) by Susan May Warren

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Heiress (Daughter of Fortune Book One) by Susan May Warren
380 pages Paperback, Summerside Press, August 1, 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher via HNR, thank you!
A shortened review was originally created for Historical Novels Review
Burton Book Review Rating: Four glittering stars!

They can buy anything they want—
fame, power, beauty, even loyalty.
But they can’t buy love.
The beautiful and wealthy heiress daughters of August Price can buy everything their hearts desire.
But what if their desire is to be loved, without an enormous price tag attached? When one sister
betrays another for the sake of love, will she find happiness? And what happens when the other sets
out across the still untamed frontier to find it—will she discover she’s left it behind in the glamorous
world of the New York gilded society?
What price will each woman pay for being an heiress?
Set in the opulent world of the Gilded Age, two women discover that being an heiress just might cost
them everything they love.

Set in the famously extravagant Gilded Age of New England, Heiress tells the story of Price sisters Esme and Jinx who could not be more different. Esme wishes that society protocol would allow her to work alongside her father, the publisher of the Chronicle newspaper, and Jinx wishes to be at the forefront of society's opulent stage. Just as Esme is betrothed to Foster Worth, a man she loathes, she realizes it is Oliver who really has her heart. Yet Oliver grew up with Esme as a servant of her household, Esme's parents forbid the lowly match and Esme's world is turned upside down, especially since little sister Jinx believes it is herself who should wed Foster Worth.

The storyline that follows eventually shows the bonds of a family lost and found again as the narrative follows each sister's path in separate sections. Esme is forced out of New York City and begins a new life amidst the rough ways of Montana, while Jinx becomes that pinnacle of society's finest that she so coveted. Yet, trials and tribulations threaten both of the sister's happiness as each realizes that being a daughter of fortune does not buy love, and that perhaps being true to oneself is the most important thing to accomplish.

Esme and Jinx's story are embellished with a wide cast of characters who each have their own story to tell, from Oliver Stewart who manages to haunt Esme forever, to Jinx's brother-in-law Bennett who may not be as bad as the gossip columns report. The dual story of the sisters is set in New York City's finest mansions, and then in the dust and danger of mining country Montana as Esme pursues her dreams of being a newspaper publisher.

Heiress has a little bit of everything, from romance to mystery set in intriguing times of the past with the spiritual undertones as the sisters questioned their faith. I was surprised by some of the twists presented and found the narrative hypnotic, as I was eager to learn the fate of these two families twisting with the deceit of society. Established author Susan May Warren has another hit on her hands with this series, and I cannot wait to continue the saga of the Worth and Price families with her upcoming Daughters of Fortune novels.

Nov 6, 2011

In the Event of Tumbleweeds......

Sunday, November 06, 2011
Ripped from wikipedia: "A tumbleweed is the above-ground part of a plant that, once mature and dry, disengages from the root and tumbles away in the wind".

Mature and dry. Heh. Quite possibly a description of me. But the part I am getting at is the disengagement + tumbling away = Marie's brain of late.

I wanted to account for my apparent absence, in case anyone notices. I don't expect many to, especially with the holiday season approaching and your own busy lives, but I'd feel better knowing that I had this explanation in place for when the wind blows you in this blog's direction and if you begin to question whether I'll ever post again.

The short answer is: YES, I will still be posting reviews. (Sporadically).

It seems that there is a life-cycle of many book blogs. A few years under your belt and you're good to go. Which means many do go.. on permanent hiatus. Hobbies come and go, priorities change, families are born.. etc...I am coming up on the three year mark, which usually is my limit for current phases. (Such as stitchery, scrapbooking, gardening.. all attempted but never fully completed). Even though I won't be posting like a happy little blogger that I used to be three years ago, I will be posting my reviews when I get that elusive "round tuit."

While maintaining this blog, I have always worked full-time and managed to juggle the family plus the job plus the blog without much of an issue. My typical timeframe consisted of being able to have a review post weekly. The reason for this blog was the actual reading and reviewing part (& keeping up with my reads), but I haven't had much time to read and review because I have recently taken on a second job in retail. Before I took this drastic step, I considered many options such as selling all my things, attempting to do product reviews to get free stuff! (Ha ha)..babysitting (but my kids would wonder why I watch other kids and not them) and wound up with the most reliable option and where I am most comfortable: Retail work. (Insert your favorite variations of crazy woman screams or tortured, lamenting weeping). Time is limited, sleep is limited, sanity is limited, therefore reading is limited. (Again, insert horror repertoire here).

All theatrics aside, retail is kind of second nature to me and the job can be a lot of fun if I keep a good attitude about it. Retail was my very first job in 1989, and I didn't stop retail work until 2005.  It was the hectic schedule that made me leave retail in the first place (very difficult with young ones and retail shifts!), and the economy that has now made me add it back in to my schedule. So, now I have the best of both worlds: an office job during the day, and a fast-paced job with fun products during the evening (and weekends, boo!).

The books that I am reading now are primarily going to be for Historical Novels Review magazine, and the reviews I do write cannot be published here till they are published there.. which for some we are talking three months in the future. (I already have three reviews ready to go for February!) So things may be a bit quiet till the blog catches up with the HNR schedule.

I have updated my review policy to state that I am not accepting any review requests. For those queries that are still coming in, I am referring them to the HF-Connection blog that I also co-own. You can find some great guest posts and giveaways that are scheduled throughout November on that site.

I do have some non-HNR reviews to do at some point, but I won't hazard a guess as to when that will happen. I have some goodies such as the new Sharon Kay Penman and the new Alison Weir to read and review, but those will have to wait patiently. In the meantime, I shall be working, and spending time with family when I am not. When the kiddos go to sleep, I try and read a few pages before my slumber, but those few pages don't get me very far. And I can't forget the much-needed cuddle time with the furball! She starts attacking my hair if I don't show her enough attention.

I hope y'all are getting to read great books, I'll catch up with you sometime! And Happy Holidays to you, in advance!

Nov 3, 2011


Thursday, November 03, 2011
Please welcome to the Burton Book Review author of Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress! I read and reviewed it last month and really enjoyed these Austenesque stories. See below for how to enter for your chance to win this book.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine October 11, 2011

Hi Marie, it is such a pleasure to be here at The Burton Book Review during my Grand Tour of the blogosphere in celebration of the release of my new Austen-inspired anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. I know that you are very fond of Austenesque fiction, so I thought I would talk today about how Jane Austen has influenced authors over the centuries and has inspired a whole new book genre.

When Jane Austen was writing her novels in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they were written at contemporary pieces. It is amazing to look back at them two hundred years later. They seem timeless. Her themes of financial struggles, social mobility, and romance are still fresh and relevant today, and her characters are so finely drawn and realistic that it makes us realize that human nature has not much changed either. Who among us can deny meeting some of her most famous archetypical personality in our lives? Perhaps an odious Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice was that blind date from hell, or a self-serving Fanny Dashwood type from Sense and Sensibility has permeated your work place, or, some of life’s first lessons made you feel a bit impressionable like young Catherine Morland from Northanger Abbey? Some of us are even lucky enough to claim to have met a Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and others even luckier to have married one!

Being lost in a Jane Austen’s world is such a pleasure. Unfortunately she only completed six full novels and one novella in her short lifetime. It is just not enough to satisfy her readers. In the 1830’s Jane Austen’s niece, Anna Austen Lefroy, was the first family member to take up the banner and write a completion of Sanditon, Jane’s last and unfinished novel. She could not complete it either. Next was another niece, Catherine-Anne Hubback, who wrote The Younger Sister in the 1850’s. Borrowing heavily from her aunt’s other unfinished fragment, The Watsons, it is the first completion of a Jane Austen novel. Over fifty years later in 1913, the novel Old Friends and New Fancies, by Sybil G. Brinton would be the first Austen sequel in print. A clever amalgamation of characters from each of Austen’s novels worked into Brinton’s own unique plot, one could say that it was the first Austen “mash-up,” published close to a century before Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would make the bestseller lists in 2009.

Now there are hundreds of novels in the Austenesque genre continuing, retelling, and inspired by Jane Austen’s original stories, characters and philosophies on life and love. Twenty-four authors have contributed stories to the genre in my new anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It. The depth of their experience ranges from veteran bestselling literary fiction author to debut new voice. The list contains many recognizable in the Austenesque genre and a few surprises too:

Pamela Aidan • Elizabeth Aston • Brenna Aubrey • Stephanie Barron • Carrie Bebris • Jo Beverley • Diana Birchall • Frank Delaney & Diane Meier • Monica Fairview • Amanda Grange • Syrie James • Janet Mullany • Jane Odiwe • Beth Pattillo • Alexandra Potter • Myretta Robens •   Jane Rubino & Caitlen Rubino Bradway • Maya Slater • Margaret Sullivan • Adriana Trigiani • Laurie Viera Rigler • Lauren Willig

From Regency to contemporary to romantic to fantastical, each of the stories in Jane Austen Made Me Do It draws from the authors unique and personal influence that Austen had on their writing in a new and exciting way. I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I had editing it.

Cheers, Laurel Ann

Editor bio: A life-long acolyte of Jane Austen, Laurel Ann Nattress is the author/editor of a blog devoted to the oeuvre of her favorite author and the many books and movies that she has inspired. She is a life member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a regular contributor to the PBS blog Remotely Connected and the Jane Austen Centre online magazine. An expatriate of southern California, Laurel Ann lives in a country cottage near Snohomish, Washington. Visit Laurel Ann at her blogs and, on Twitter as @Austenprose, and on Facebook as Laurel Ann Nattress.

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart, edited by Laurel Ann Nattress. (Ballantine Books • ISBN: 978-0345524966)
Giveaway of Jane Austen Made Me Do It:
Enter a chance to win one copy of Jane Austen Made Me Do It by leaving a comment by 11/12/11, stating what intrigues you about reading an Austen-inspired short story anthology. Winners to be drawn at random and open to followers with US and Canadian addresses only. Good luck to all!

Oct 17, 2011

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm

Monday, October 17, 2011
His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm
Sourcebooks September 2011
Paperback 416 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d'Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke's entire inheritance–and Lucrezia's future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.

This is the second novel I've read that draws on Robert Browning's poem My Last Duchess, focusing on a couple from centuries gone by that we really know very little about. The blurb of this novel is "passionate love story". The truth of it is bittersweet, monotonous and oppressive. The everlasting cloud of doom hovers over Lucrezia de Medici as she makes one youthful mistake after the other during her tragic marriage to Alfonse II, the Duke of Ferrara. What should be a marriage of wealth and status is simply a stifling prison for Lucrezia, as she cannot deliver a very important thing for the demanding Duke: an heir.

This is not entirely Lucrezia's fault though. The virile Duke is unmanned by Lucrezia's purity and youthfulness, and a year and a half of unsuccessful consummation leaves Lucrezia utterly bored. With devastating consequences, Lucrezia decides to sow her wild oats with a local artist, Jacomo. He is one of the more intriguing secondary characters of the story, as the two main protagonists are predictable and selfish, and therefore not very likable. The crux of the story centers around the inadequacies in the marriage, but the storyline finally picks up during the last quarter once the Duke's diabolical plan to rid himself of his Duchess comes to the forefront.

The supporting cast of characters helped build the story up to a climatic end, with Lucrezia receiving help from unexpected places. The creative ending made up for the repetitive start, and readers would like the intrigue that suddenly spills over. A fitting sequel to this story would be Elizabeth Loupas' The Second Duchess, which covers the story of the Duke's second marriage to Barbara of Austria but also features Lucrezia. The author Gabrielle Kimm is working on her newest novel that features the Duke's mistress, Francesca.

Oct 11, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: An Anthology edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine October 11, 2011
Paperback 464 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

22 Austenesque short stories: Regency or contemporary, romantic or fantastical, each of these marvelous stories reaffirms the incomparable influence of one of history’s most cherished authors.

Whatever it is about Jane Austen and her nuance, it has inspired and entertained for two hundred years. The classiness of her writing and of the era is what hooked me.. a romance can just be a romance (without the nowadays obligatory embarrassing sexual entanglements) and it is pure good natured fun and witty humor. In this anthology edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, the myriad of traits that made Austen into a genre of her own are embodied full force and unabashedly displayed much to our delight as it infuses the old fashioned and the modern together seamlessly.

Favorite Austenesque authors are featured, and then a few that I had not heard of, as well as an aspiring writer's short story all make up this homage to Jane Austen that would make her smile. Who would've thunk that after a mere six novels that she could inspire so much creativity and wit? And despite the recent rise of Austen sequels, this anthology of many quaint stories never got old for this reader, and I was impressed with all the clever approaches in which Austen themes can be recreated, intriguing and entertaining me with new characters and their stories. This collection of stories is a must for all fans of Jane Austen, and it is a great tool for introducing the authors of the Austenesque genre as well.

All of these short stories were very well done, omitting the epistolary one that bothered me Because of the Way that All the Words Were Capitalized and I just Could Not Function for More than Two Pages Reading like That. I did have a few favorites, one by Monica Fairview, an author I had read and enjoyed before, and the other by an author I knew I had to get to soon, Amanda Grange. Jo Beverley evoked a Louisa May Alcott vibe with her mistletoe story, and Captain Wentworth may have eclipsed the legendary Mr Darcy within these stories. I want to make clear that the stories within Jane Austen Made Me Do It are all original stories that you have not read anywhere else, as another anthology in a different genre perturbed me as they were all regurgitated stories.

I must admit to being a bit blasphemous.. as I seem to be on the verge of reading everything sequel-related and thus far I have only physically read Pride and Prejudice. Yet, I've seen the movies, and read some sequels, and read this anthology, I feel quite at home with almost all of Austen's original characters. So if you haven't read all of Jane Austen's novels, never fear: you will be quite at ease with this clever presentation, as there really is a little bit of everything for everyone. Kudos to Laurel Ann Nattress, an Austen Blogger Extraordinaire ( who was able to make her dream come true, and I hope that there is a Jane Austen Made Me Do It Sequel, which would of course be in fashion with the recent Austenesque trends.

I am proud to be a part of Laurel's Grand Tour of which she will stop by Burton Book Review on November 3rd, but until then, you can ride along with Laurel and try to snag your own copy of the book during her tour stops. The list of stops on her Grand Tour can be found here.

Oct 3, 2011

The Gilded Shroud (Lady Fan Mysteries #1) by Elizabeth Bailey

Monday, October 03, 2011
The Gilded Shroud (Lady Fan Mysteries #1) by Elizabeth Bailey
Berkley Trade September 6, 2011
Paperback 368 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars
First in a new series that has the perfect mix of Regency murder and mystery.
When the marchioness is found murdered at Polbrook mansion, the Dowager Lady Polbrook's new companion, Ottilia Draycott, finds herself in a house of strangers and every one of them a suspect. Only she can unmask and outwit a desperate killer and keep a Polbrook family secret buried.
Ottilia Draycott finds herself in a rare situation first day on the job as a companion. She supposed she would be bored to death when taking on the task of amusing the Dowager, but it turns out she is investigating a death the first day on the job. Not one to shy from others, Ottilia immediately forges herself into the family dramas and attempts to become a private detective of sorts. The Dowager's daughter-in-law is murdered in her bed, and her son the Missing Marquis is the prime suspect. The other son is Francis, affectionately call Fan-Fan, who runs the Hanover House, and encourages Ottilia's interference with curiousity. Of course we wonder if theirs' will be a love match in the making since Ottilia keeps flushing at Fan's smiles.

There is a limited cast of characters, despite the many servants, thus the whodunit was plausible to be this one person from the start, but I hadn't totally pinned it on one person till the end. Yet the whole plot of going about uncovering the clues by Ottilia was witty and entertaining, as the author has a fluid writing style that reads quite well. The life of the party was not supposed to be the Dowager, but the old lady was amusing as well as the relationship she had with others. The family was an interesting odd bunch, and the fact this is book one in a new mystery series excites me to know that I can visit these characters again.

This historical mystery would be entertaining for those who like Georgette Heyer's mysteries. The tone is a bit different than that of the more antiquated Heyer, but is still a very enjoyable Pre-Regency-style read. With fluent writing and a fabulous ending, author Elizabeth Bailey is sure to have a hit mystery series on her clever hands.

Sep 26, 2011

The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel (Cousins' War #3) by Philippa Gregory

Monday, September 26, 2011
Simon & Schuster October 18, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN 978-1416563709
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3 stars
Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her house-hold for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou's close friend and a Lancaster supporter - until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Of all the little-known but important women of the period, her dramatic story is the most neglected. With her links to Melusina, and to the founder of the house of Luxembourg, together with her reputation for making magic, she is the most haunting of heroines.

Philippa Gregory's third novel in the Cousins' War series focuses on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who later becomes mother to the Queen of England. Her story is a fascinating one, and it is made quite entertaining Gregory-style. In Gregory's previous novel The White Queen (2009), we are introduced to the legacy of Melusina when Elizabeth Woodville captures the eye of Edward IV and the stigma of witchcraft that the Woodville women are surrounded with. With this installment on Jacquetta, we are immediately brought into this magical element of Jacquetta's upbringing and the legend of Melusina. Those readers who dislike this fantasy theme should not bother reading the book, as it is a large fragment of the story.

The White Queen centered around Elizabeth Woodville, who was Jacquetta's eldest and beautiful daughter. The Lady of the Rivers moves back in time a bit, to Jacquetta and her story of survival, love and loyalty. (Could have been a publisher's decision because two years ago Gregory was going to do the third book on Elizabeth of York: The White Princess). A young Jacquetta is forced to leave France as she is married off to England's Duke of Bedford, who is on a mission to find the mystical answers to all things unknown, along with that pot of gold. Poor Bedford seems like a creepy little man, sadly for him. Meanwhile, Jacquetta finds a friend and protector in Richard Woodville who acted as Bedford's right hand man. Once Bedford dies, Jacquetta throws caution to the wind, and usurps all authority in declaring her love for Richard.

Her story develops around the turmoil of England as they struggle to hold on to the lands in France that the late Henry V worked so hard for, but the young and weak Henry VI is ill advised and caught between the rising factions of the Cousins' War. Jacquetta embraces her new country of England, and serves the Lancastrian King and Queen as she hopes against hope that her new husband Richard Woodville won't be killed in battle. The love that grew between Jacquetta and Richard is lovingly portrayed and one can easily imagine, through Gregory's eyes, how the unlikely pair found a lasting love that brought forth quite a brood of Woodvilles. There were repeated mentions of the blue eyes of Richard, but he was always in the background of the other novels I had read so it was nice to see him form into a handsome blue-eyed person with a knack for quickly making babies. He was quite the star in this novel, with his loyal and gallant characteristics, not to mention sex appeal.

Jacquetta and Richard live out their life in fear of witch hunts as they do the royal bidding. Margaret of Anjou is insufferably unqueenly in this portrayal and her husband Henry is either a pious robot or a recluse. The city of London is a mob of dejected souls and Richard Duke of York is mentioned as the most-wished-for-wanna-be-king.. and other loose characterizations are formed and maintained throughout the story. The phrase 'Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset' is drilled into my head as he is mentioned umpteen times and who is not so subtly hinted as being in love with the Queen. History is a bit of a glazed backdrop as Gregory focuses the crux of the novel on Jacquetta and her experiences as Gregory imagines them as Jacquetta stands by the Queen's side while her Richard goes off to fight for them. Historical buffs for the Wars of the Roses may be a bit bored and put off by the lack of dramatic emphasis in areas where we would expect them as the mystical elements play the stronger part in this telling.

Of course, as with all Philippa Gregory novels, there seems to be a major uproar when the fiction outweighs the history, and this is no different. I could not get a handle on what exact title Richard Woodville had (squire/knight/chamberlain/baron/commander whatever he was at any given time), and then since we truly know very little about Jacquetta herself except for royal occasions where she was present, Gregory fills in the rest with lots of gorgeous babies. I can't remember my phone number sometimes so I wouldn't dare attempt to find any historical accuracies, but I am sure that those readers who pursue inaccuracies within Gregory's fiction as a sort of sport will be able to point them out to you. This reader doesn't care, I love the genre of historical fiction because of the entertaining accounts of historical figures, and Philippa Gregory usually captures that need for me with flair (most of the time).

I have no idea what type of schedule the author keeps, but I think that her recent popularity may have zapped some of the story-telling skills that she once demonstrated in earlier novels. Gregory is one of the more well-known authors of  historical fiction with a following of many critics and has a lot to live up to. I would personally wish for something a bit more in-depth and rounded out characters, while others wish for a bit more accuracy in the details. Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford, mother to a Queen.. Gregory has the potential to turn her life into quite a story with creativity and that midas touch that once made Gregory so popular...

However.. the last half of the book did not quite match the expectations that were solicited in the first half as I wished for a lot more substance and a lot less of the repetitive silliness that she emphasized when utilizing various rumors of the time. I really wanted this to be a fabulous read that entertained and absorbed me, but this time Gregory comes up short. I think that newcomers to the Wars of the Roses era would enjoy this novel, much like once upon a time I was a rookie in regards to the Tudor era and Philippa Gregory wrote some intriguing introductions to the Tudors with The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.  Also recently released which I recommend as a brief summary on the main protagonists of Gregory's Cousins' War series is The Women of the Cousin's War (my review), which is a collaborative effort with authors David Baldwin and Michael Jones.

Sep 20, 2011

Sunrise of Avalon (Trystan & Isolde Trilogy Book #3) by Anna Elliott

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Sunrise of Avalon (Trystan & Isolde Trilogy Book #3) by Anna Elliott
Simon & Schuster Touchstone September 13 2011
Paperback 448 pages
ISBN 978-1416589914
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. When Britain is faced with threats both old and new, the strength of her love may be the kingdom's downfall . . . or salvation.

Their love has overcome endless obstacles. Never ones to shy away from danger, former High Queen Isolde and Trystan, a mercenary with a lonely and troubled past, have already endured a perilous journey to keep the underhanded Lord Marche from the throne of Britain. But now a new traitor lurks amongst the kings on Britain's High Council - and just when they've realized the depth of their love for each other, a new danger calls Trystan from Isolde's side to test the strength of their secret marriage vow. Only Isolde knows that she is carrying Trystan's unborn child.

As Britain's armies prepare for a final battle in which they will either turn back the tide of the invaders or see their kingdom utterly destroyed, Isolde must undertake yet another daring mission - one that will bring her even nearer to a secret that Trystan has kept for seven long years. As the clouds of war gather, Trystan and Isolde must once again fight to protect Britain's throne. Together, they hold the key that can defeat the Saxon king, Octa of Kent, and Lord Marche. But the cost of Britain's sovereignty may be their own forbidden love.

Based on the earliest written version of the Arthurian tales, Anna Elliott's Sunrise of Avalon breathes new life into an age-old legend and brings the story of Trystan and Isolde to an unforgettable end.
Having read Anna Elliott's first two novels in the Trystan and Isolde series, I knew I had to read the final chapter, Sunrise of Avalon. The first two books set up the scene and the nature of the characters of Trystan and Isolde along with their legacies, which brings us to the third book and the final battle for the fate of Britain. Book one, Twilight of Avalon, was actually one of my favorite reads on 2009, as it was my first Arthurian/Dark Ages read which had really enthralled me. Book two, Dark Moon of Avalon, developed the storyline and the struggle of Britain versus the Saxons, along with the relationship between Trystan and Isolde.

The plot of the Avalon books feature Trystan's battles on the field as well as his own personal demons, as Lady Isolde learns to preserve herself and her integrity in the midst of warring men. The love story that begins in book one continues on to book three as we hope that there will be a happy ending once and for all for Trystan and Isolde. However, there are quite a few obstacles that block the path to love, and the Kings of Britain wouldn't mind having Isolde's land for their own.

Lady Isolde has inherited the gifts of the 'seeing' power from her legendary grandmother, Morgan, and she uses the gifts to help give her peace of mind of Trystan's whereabouts. He has all but shut her out, and she hangs on to the hope of his love by the threads of the magic through Trystan's dreams. Isolde hopes she can break through Trystan's hardened exterior as she harbors the secret of her pregnancy, but she is lucky enough to have faithful friends who would risk their lives for her as she travels through harsh lands. Daka, Piye, and Hereric all return in this finale, as well as King Madoc and the evil King Marche as they all are supposed to be saving Britain from the hands of Octa of the Bloody Knife. The characters are the stars of the books, as the author diligently endears them to us, along with the hope that Trystan and Isolde can hold on to their lives and their love while helping to keep Britain out of enemy's hands.

Anna Elliott's voice is pure and unwavering, and her setting and character descriptions are expertly told throughout the storyline. She shifts the writing tones as she navigates from Trystan's to Isolde's point of view, but it is done with ease. The plot seems simple enough: finding true love and keeping it throughout war, but the author knows how to pull the reader in because of the way she writes and endears the characters and the setting of Dark Ages Britain to us. The Twilight of Avalon trilogy is a fantastic mix of romance, hope, danger and magic and I would definitely recommend this entire series as it is the epitome of the phrase masterful storytelling. I cannot wait to see what Anna Elliott will write next!

Read my previous Anna Elliott posts here.

Sep 19, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Monday, September 19, 2011
Welcome to Mailbox Monday, the weekly meme created by Marcia from A girl and her books (formerly The Printed Page) where book lovers share the titles they received for review, purchased, or otherwise obtained over the past week. Mailbox Monday is now  on tour, and this month’s host is Amused by Books. For review, I received the following three:

Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings by Alison Weir
I have been coveting this biography on Henry VIII's famous mistress for quite awhile, and now that it is finally here, I am swamped with books to read. Of course.
From Ballantime Books, October 4, 2011:

 Mary Boleyn (c.1500-1543) was no less fascinating than her ill-fated queen consort sister Anne. In fact, her own claims to fame are numerous: She was not only an influential member of King Henry VIII's court circle; she was one of his mistresses and perhaps the mother of two of his children. In addition, the apparently prolific Mary was rumored to have been also a mistress of the King's rival, Francis I of France. Alison Weir's Mary Boleyn substantially redeems her subject's reputation by disputing her scandalous portrayal in Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl. Our most detailed view yet of a power behind the throne. (P.S. With titles like Elizabeth and The Lady in the Tower, Weir has carved out a niche as one of the foremost biographers of British royalty).

Alison Weir will also soon visit the USA for her book tour, visit her site for an updated list of dates.

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie
I have heard great things about this author, but haven't had the chance to read any of his work thus far. I have read that this new biography reads like a novel, and since I know nothing of Catherine the Great, I am intrigued!
From Random House, November 8, 2011:
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history.

Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into Empress of Russia by sheer determination. Possessing a brilliant mind and an insatiable curiosity as a young woman, she devoured the works of Enlightenment philosophers and, when she reached the throne, attempted to use their principles to guide her rule of the vast and backward Russian empire. She knew or corresponded with the preeminent historical figures of her time: Voltaire, Diderot, Frederick the Great, Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Marie Antoinette, and, surprisingly, the American naval hero, John Paul Jones.

Reaching the throne fired by Enlightenment philosophy and determined to become the embodiment of the “benevolent despot” idealized by Montesquieu, she found herself always contending with the deeply ingrained realities of Russian life, including serfdom. She persevered, and for thirty-four years the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution that swept across Europe. Her reputation depended entirely on the perspective of the speaker. She was praised by Voltaire as the equal of the greatest of classical philosophers; she was condemned by her enemies, mostly foreign, as “the Messalina of the north.”

Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly described. These included her ambitious, perpetually scheming mother; her weak, bullying husband, Peter (who left her lying untouched beside him for nine years after their marriage); her unhappy son and heir, Paul; her beloved grandchildren; and her “favorites”—the parade of young men from whom she sought companionship and the recapture of youth as well as sex. Here, too, is the giant figure of Gregory Potemkin, her most significant lover and possible husband, with whom she shared a passionate correspondence of love and separation, followed by seventeen years of unparalleled mutual achievement.

The story is superbly told. All the special qualities that Robert K. Massie brought to Nicholas and Alexandra and Peter the Great are present here: historical accuracy, depth of understanding, felicity of style, mastery of detail, ability to shatter myth, and a rare genius for finding and expressing the human drama in extraordinary lives.

History offers few stories richer in drama than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, this eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
And now for some fiction, His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm:

The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d'Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke's entire inheritance-and Lucrezia's future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.

Originally published in 2010, Sourcebooks is reissuing for October 2011 publication.  I am intrigued to see how this one differs from Loupas' The Second Duchess, which I really enjoyed.

Which of these titles has caught your eye? I am looking forward to all of these!

Sep 14, 2011

BBAW Community & Finding your Place

Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Today’s topic at BBAW!
The world of book blogging has grown enormously and sometimes it can be hard to find a place. Share your tips for finding and keeping community in book blogging despite the hectic demands made on your time and the overwhelming number of blogs out there. If you’re struggling with finding a community, share your concerns and explain what you’re looking for–this is the week to connect!

The Book Blogosphere has grown by leaps and bounds since I started blogging in late 2008, and it is impossible to keep up with all the blogs I would like to. Since I work full-time and have a 9 year old and a 4 year old, I don't have as much time as I used to. At first when my free time started to dissipate, I did become overwhelmed because I felt like I was not participating as I should. Then I had to realize the purpose of my book blog, and that it was for personal reasons and should not be treated as a job. We do not get paid monetarily for reviewing, and it is a hobby, and I should always step away if I begin to feel stressed.

There are a few number of blogs that I comment on regularly. I try to follow on Google Reader, but mostly that is a once in a month type thing that I browse through. And when I do try and comment on Blogger platform blogs, the comment forms that are embedded do not allow me to post with my gmail/google/blogger account, so all that happens is that I get frustrated with the technology. I would like to comment, but sometimes I just can't, and for the pure fact that it is a rare occurrence for me to have something to actually add to the conversation- I get really annoyed when I attempt to and I cannot. That's when I stop blog hopping.

I have found that the best community feature that has helped me is the Facebook platform. Others use twitter, but since that is a real-time conversation type thing, I find that it is useless to keep up. Facebook has been the best thing for me and easiest to keep up with. Most of my facebook friends are actually bookish friends.. so if you want to be my friend there you are welcome to!

Sep 13, 2011

BBAW Interview Day!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Today at BBAW we are interviewing bloggers who are new to us. Unfortunately.. my partner has been in the hospital due to a car wreck!! Interviews are the last thing on her mind, and I wish her her Godspeed and good health, and a swift recovery!

I still want to join in the fun.. so I am interviewing YOU!

Please tell me.. who you are, where you blog, how long you blog and what is one totally awesome fact about yourself? What are you so super duper double proud of that you want everyone to know?? C'mon, get out your bragging skills and let's hear 'em!

Sep 12, 2011

BBAW 2011: Community

Monday, September 12, 2011
It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week again.. and I just wanted to take the time to participate in my small way to highlight those key bloggers whom I appreciate the very most because they take the time to comment and provide feedback on my blog.

Today the BBAW crew prompts us with: "Today you are encouraged to highlight a couple of bloggers that have made book blogging a unique experience for you."

After a few years of 'blogging', I have found that I actually have stepped a bit away from the various facets of blogging and have been able to focus on the purpose of this blog: Reviewing Books for the Purpose of Reading Fantastic Books.

With that in mind, I have found a few blogs that I have continually enjoyed, but I will always enjoy Arleigh from for her camaraderie, and for her well written reviews. I have not found a single person who can beat those concise reviews that always seem to point out something that I was wanting to evoke in one of my own reviews.

And for reviews and the new release alerts on my favorite genre of historical fiction, I go to Daphne from Tanzaanite's Castle Full of Books. Pretty much a one stop shop there, and I've found I add the most books to my wish list because of her. That toppling TBR pile.. It's all her fault.

So here is a big Thank You to these two ladies for their always informative blog posts that keep me plugged into the Historical Fiction genre. Thank you Arleigh and Daphne!!

Sep 8, 2011


Thursday, September 08, 2011
Something a little fun and different today... Today is CAT THURSDAY over at the True Book Addict's site.. and she says every second Thursday she'll feature Authors and their without further ado..
Future AUTHOR!! ME!!!

Now THAT'S really LOL, right?!
But there I am reading one of my fave authors, Georgette Heyer.
Pictured is Sweetie, our cutie pie we adopted in May. She has quickly attached herself to me. She sees me sitting anywhere and she rockets right to me because she knows she'll get some loving (and safe haven from four year olds!).

If you want to see more cat pictures from today's link-up, visit the True Book Addict!

Sep 6, 2011

The Women of The Cousin's War by Philippa Gregory

Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Women of the Cousins' War

The Women of The Cousin's War by Philippa Gregory, David Baldwin & Michael Jones
Simon & Schuster/Touchstone, September 13, 2011
Hardcover 352 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

The Women of the Cousins' War is an attempt to shed light on three important women of the Wars of the Roses, which Gregory refers to with the old fashioned name of the Cousins' War. The Duchess refers to Jaquetta of Luxembourg, minor French nobility who married into English nobility of the Lancastrian side and who would probably have had a satisfied life if things ended there. Her first husband John, Duke of Bedford was the third son of Henry IV. When he dies, Jacquetta defies convention and marries Richard Woodville, who was merely her first husband's chamberlain. Philippa Gregory writes the first portion of The Women of the Cousins' War as a sort of prelude to her novel, The Lady of the Rivers, her third installment in the Cousins' War fictional series.

David Baldwin writes the second portion of The Women of the Cousins' War on the Queen Elizabeth Woodville, daughter of Jacquetta, mother of the lost princes in the tower, mother-in-law to Henry VII. Elizabeth Woodville underwent much scrutiny when she married the younger Edward IV, who enraged all nobility by bringing the large family of Woodville upstarts into the royal fold. She encounters foes on all sides, from the scheming Warwick to the King's own brothers. Baldwin previously wrote a biography on Elizabeth Woodville, one of the few written.

Finally, Michael Jones brings us the third portion of The Women of the Cousins' War with his writing on Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry VII, who against all odds persevered throughout the tumultuous Cousins' War and eventually was able to see Lancaster restored to the English throne via her own son. All three of these women are main protagonists in Gregory's novels The White Queen, The Red Queen, and The Lady of the Rivers.

In the roughly forty-seven page introduction, Gregory explains that there is very little known about the female significant others of times gone by because women were simply considered irrelevant. Sometimes we have dates of birth and dates of death, and then a little can be filled in between the lines based on certain battles and where their husbands had traveled. And that's exactly what Gregory provides us with when discussing Jacquetta of Luxembourg. As forewarned by Gregory herself, the actual lines that were devoted to Jacquetta in Gregory's section of The Women of the Cousins' War were full of probably's and maybe's with a summary of the Wars of the Roses. The last few pages focus a bit more on Jacquetta and her family, her legacy and the stigma of being a branded a witch (which she miraculously survived a trial intact).

David Baldwin's portion on Elizabeth Woodville read much quicker, and the tone of Baldwin's writing is pitch perfect. He calls into account more of Elizabeth's actions during the events of her marriage to Edward IV, and he didn't overlook some details that I had previously not comprehended. It seems that Edward IV had a peculiar way of ignoring rules and making stuff up as he went along to whatever suited his current needs. King Edward had even declared a countess legally dead in order for her lands to be distributed, even though she was very much alive. It becomes more understandable of the unrest at the time when Edward ignored the Yorkist nobles' alliances with families regarding betrothals, bequeathals and land disputes. Even though most of the disgruntled nobles placed the blame on "the upstart Woodvilles", we cannot but help but wonder where Edward's mind was once he continued to stir the pot more and more. And so the magic/witch/evil spell factor comes back into play, because certainly Edward would not have knowingly been such an idiot when he married the Woodville widow...and he certainly would not normally have misplaced all his trust with the Woodvilles who were (up till then) staunch Lancastrian supporters. I had read Baldwin's non-fiction book on Elizabeth Woodville a few years ago and I recall enjoying it more than other WOTR non-fiction. His writing in The Women of the Cousins' War was just as enjoyable.

Michael Jones then writes of Margaret Beaufort, and we learn about her family and her own father's tragic life. He had committed suicide when Margaret had turned a year old, but as Jones tells it, he was never far from her mind. Jones writes of John Beaufort's tragic exile, his plundering the spoils of battles, enraging the pious Henry VI, his ultimate suicide and ponders what effect did these events have on Margaret? Jones emphasizes Margaret's political acumen and her very act of survival during those politically treacherous times with appraisal. There were a few more details of Margaret's family that I had not realized before, and her family's name going back and forth in and out of royal favor occurred more than I had realized. Margaret's ultimate success of seeing her son on the throne of England, and finally her grandson succeeding the throne without protest, must have been sweet success indeed.

The Women of the Cousins' War is a quick read without bogging down the reader with minutia of details regarding the many angles and intrigues of the Wars of the Roses, and is a worthy resource (family trees, illustrations, notes and sources, and index included) for those who wish to know the real story behind the formidable women featured in Philippa Gregory's novels of the Cousins' War.

Sep 1, 2011

Author Post: Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Thursday, September 01, 2011
In honor of Elizabeth Chadwick's release day today I wanted to present this article written by Elizabeth Chadwick which was previously posted in June.

Lady of the English paperback has been released by Sourcebooks and you can also look for the beautiful hardcover from the June UK release by Sphere at the BookDepository or I really enjoyed this newest medieval novel from Elizabeth Chadwick (my review can be found here).

UK release, Sphere, 6/2011
Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry's widowed queen and Matilda's stepmother, is now married to William D'Albini, a warrior of the opposition. Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man's word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen? And for Matilda pride comes before a fall ...What price for a crown? What does it cost to be 'Lady of the English'?

One of the most favored historical fiction authors of our day, here is Elizabeth Chadwick, as I asked her to set the scene of her new novel for those who might not be familiar with The White Ship disaster and the ensuing struggle between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. I myself had read When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman which begins with the White Ship Disaster. That book got me started on this fabulous journey of the medieval era, and it is with eager anticipation that I get my reading pleasure back to that historic time period.

US release, Sourcebooks 9/1/11

Setting the Scene

On November 25th 1120, King Henry I of England was at Barfleur in Normandy preparing to return to England. He was in settled middle age, but still looking to the future. His eldest son William was in his late teens and being groomed to eventually succeed his father as Duke of Normandy and King of England. Henry's daughter Matilda, also in her late teens was Empress of Germany. Henry's wife, Matilda, had died two years ago, but Henry was now looking to remarry and had already set matters in motion and was contracting to wed Adeliza of Louvain, a young woman of similar age to his daughter. Adeliza was accounted beautiful and pious, and Henry was keen to marry, and hopefully beget more legitimate heirs beyond the two born of his first wife. Henry had something of a reputation for liking the ladies and fathered at least a score of bastards on various women.

But that cold winter's night in Normandy, everything was to change. Henry set sail first in daylight with a lot of older, sober court members, but left the youngsters including his son and several of his illegitimate offspring, to their carousing and pleasure. It was the last Henry ever saw of them. The White Ship foundered when it hit a rock in Barfleur harbour, and sank without survivors save one - a butcher who clung to a spar and was washed ashore.

Henry's whole game plan had to change because now the only legitimate heir to the throne was his daughter Matilda in Germany. He went ahead with his marriage plans, but it became obvious that no child was going to be forthcoming from Adeliza. Young and beautiful though she was, she did not quicken. Henry began to cast around for a successor and his gaze fixed upon his nephew Stephen, son of his sister Adela. Stephen had an older brother Theobald, who would become count of Blois, and a younger brother Henry who was destined for the priesthood. Stephen in the middle seems to have attracted King Henry's interest and approval. He had grown up at the court with tragic young Prince, and had only been saved from drowning himself because he was suffering from a stomach upset and preferred not to embark on the fated White Ship.

Henry married Stephen to Matilda of Boulogne, who was kin on her mother's side to the old Royal Saxon house of England, thus giving Stephen a firm claim to the Crown. There was another claimant to the throne too, a young man called William le Clito. He too was Henry's nephew, but an enemy because he was the son of Henry's older brother, Robert. Henry had defeated Robert in battle way back in 1106, and had had him cast into prison ever since - where he was subsequently to die. When le Clito was old enough, he took up his father's gauntlet and laid claim to England and Normandy. However Henry's grip was strong and sure, and although le Clito fought hard, he was hampered by a lack of resources and his threat to Henry was to end in 1128 when he died from a poisoned battle wound.

In 1125 the Emperor of Germany died untimely, leaving Henry's daughter Matilda a widow. Suddenly there was a new player in the game. Henry summoned Matilda home and had the barons swear to her as their future sovereign. This did not sit well with many of his lords and clergy, but Henry was so strong a King, and ruled with such charisma and iron that no one dared oppose him. However, he did not cast off Stephen entirely. As I have him say in LADY OF THE ENGLISH:

‘A prudent man keeps more than one horse in the stable, but there is always one he prefers to ride.’

And that is exactly how I believe Henry felt. He could play one off against the other. If one displeased him or if policy changed that he could turn to the other. I also think that he was hoping to live forever, or at least until his grandson's were grown up. Externally he might have prepared to meet his own mortality, but internally he had no intention of giving up his fistfuls of power.

When he did eventually die – (did he jump or was he pushed?) The Blois faction were well placed to seize the Crown, and I think their swift action was premeditated. Stephen was at Wissant which was a short sea journey from England, and his brother Henry was at Winchester and in control of the Royal Treasury. You tell me whether there was a conspiracy or not!

Matilda on the other hand was in Anjou with her husband and sons, and newly pregnant again. No one came galloping to offer her the crown. Instead it was all stitched up by the Blois faction and the reluctance of barons to accept a woman on the throne, when they could have a man.

Nevertheless, they had sworn their allegiance to Matilda, and Matilda had not only her own right to fight for, but that of her small son, Henry - and fight she did, to the great cost of the lands involved, the people, and herself.

Adeliza helped her in that fight. Indeed Adeliza was immensely important to Matilda. After Henry died she married William D’Albini, a young baron who was a staunch supporter of Stephen. But despite her loyalty to her husband, Adeliza was determined to do what she felt was right by old obligations and ties. When Matilda came to England to fight her corner, it was Adeliza who gave her a safe landfall.

LADY OF THE ENGLISH begins the story in 1125 when Matilda is setting out from Germany to return home, and Adeliza is despairing that she will never bear Henry an heir. Both women were titled ‘Lady of the English’ in their lives, and and that's why I chose it for the novel. It was always given to the Queen of England in that period, and although Matilda never gained the Crown, she was acknowledged with that tribute.

Also, please visit some of my other Elizabeth Chadwick posts, which includes reviews of previous titles. Additionally, you may visit with Elizabeth Chadwick on her blog and website. Also, very helpfully Elizabeth Chadwick has kindly supplied us with a Suggested Reading Order for her novels which can be found here.