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May 29, 2011

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows
March 29, 2011, Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 0805093834
272 Pages
Review copy provided by the publisher
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

One of the benefits of reading novels is to garner certain viewpoints of the characters, as some make statements about society or offer insight into something we hadn't really thought about for ourselves. Humanity is alive in this novel, Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows, as it traces the paths of three very different women who really aren't all that close on the outside. The bond of motherhood holds them together in a single trembling thread, as it seems communication was null and secrets were deep.

The story of Violet was most compelling, as it seemed she underwent the most hardship. Violet and her mother left the farm and an abusive husband and struck out on their own in 1900. After scavenging around in Brooklyn, she was set on an orphan train at age 11, by her not very responsible mom. Violet matures very quickly and although we pity her, we know she will survive, because a third of the story encompasses her daughter, Iris. Iris is strong, capable, and willful. She was once married to a man she didn't feel passionate about. And now she is dying. Enter stage right, Samantha, who as a new mother is trying to decipher the legacy of these women and how they relate to her and what she should become. A tangled weave unravels slowly throughout the story as we flit back and forth in the narration between the three women. It is almost like a statement on how the roles of women have changed, and their expectations of life, or those forced on those from society. There is a mixture of emotions and themes as well as some cynicism that tried to overshadow the value of hope.

While the reader is enthralled with the history of early America regarding the life of Violet, such as the mercy trains of the Children's Aid Society transporting unwanted children, Samantha is the contemporary woman who struggles within the confines of motherhood as she attempts to balance it with being a wife and an artist. Samantha seems bitter with her husband, Jack, for no particular reason. She also seems to want a lot of her life without actually doing anything to attain it. Yet, the fact that she is a new mother can make the reader empathetic towards her character as we remember what it was like with round the clock feedings of an infant. Otherwise, Samantha doesn't come off as being very likable. And the weird momentary stalking of a prostitute really sets you on edge and makes you wonder if Samantha is a fruitcake.

The story is crafted in such a way that the element of time shifts continually as we go in and out of each memory, each thought, and each separate narration. Since this is a novel purported to explore the characters of these women, these shifts are not jarring in any way. The writing flowed, the story flowed, and I felt like I was putting together a puzzle of each of these women piece by piece. The supporting characters were each unique in their own way, from eccentric neighbors, cheating husbands to boring brothers. It is not epic saga material, but intriguing and insightful reading that kept me interested throughout as it effortlessly blends past, present, and even a bit of future with Samantha's little infant, Ella. I give it four of five stars because I didn't feel a strong conclusion to the family dynamic. There still seemed to be a lot more to be told, and if this was expanded upon, perhaps it would have been saga material.

Since history is always my favored subject, I was very intrigued by the Children's Aid Society and the mercy trains that sent children like Violet across country to work on family farms, become adopted, or be indentured. Violet worked at a hospital and later married. After such meager beginnings, this otherwise boring life was welcomed. Thinking in genealogical terms, it is staggering to think of the 120,000 children who became displaced from their real families in the early 1900's, who had their pasts erased and were even given new birth dates. Another historical tidbit I gleaned from the story was a mention of the Hoboken, N.J. Steamship fire that occurred in 1900. I wrote a little post about it here.

To wrap it up, Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows was an intriguing novel of the generational gaps between women, and a great story for new mothers. Since it also dealt with the death of Samantha's mother Iris, there was a bit of grief involved and the inhumanity of the suffering through cancer till one's last breath. Iris really couldn't wait to take that last breath, unfortunately Samantha realized too late there were things she would have liked to ask her mom. Mothers and Daughters was a sad, yet hopeful journey of these three women, and yet it was still much more of a portrait of relationships as a whole. I recommend this for both its tenderness with the age-old topic of motherhood and for its uniquely powerful storytelling that draws you into its spell.

May 27, 2011

Blog about Blogging! End of Armchair BEA~ Rules? What rules?

Friday, May 27, 2011
It is over. The end of my posting daily.
 (And my Email subscribers rejoice worldwide!!)
The BEA 2011 is over, so we will go back to normal programming of book reviews next week. This post is not completely thought out, I am running on empty and need a triple espresso to wake up.. but here goes.

Armchair BEA 2011
Today, the Armchair BEA Panel asks us to Blog about Blogging! There is a Book Blogger Convention today in NYC (come to Dallas!!) so the theme seems right.
There were lots of writing prompts, like how to social network, how to balance reality from your online life, tips on technique, etc.

One of those prompts was "a rule list":

Create a "rule list" of things you should and shouldn't be doing on a book blog.

That stuck out for me.. because we blog for us. We blog because we want to. We do not get paid to blog. We do not have to cater to one particular genre if we do not want to. We do not have to post if we don't want to. Lots of people have their own niche's and their own set of general do's and will not do's for their own life. You should set your own as you see fit, and never let anyone else set boundaries for you. Barring explicit and offensive/prejudicial content, you should aim high! Or aim just as you see fit. Your blog is your creation and you should let it be a reflection of yourself, if you want it to.

My personal set of rules:
Be happy.
Enjoy the experience.
Only accept review books that I am extremely interested in.
Converse with other bloggers as time permits.
Cultivate relationships with favorite publishers.
Make my reviews informative and interesting, while using spell-check.
*Stay away from reviewing the same books that every one is reviewing. *

That last one is a toughie and I'm trying to move in that direction as the summer comes along. Even though blog tours can be fun for the authors, I have to wonder how many times we really want to see the same book over and over and over again. The plus is most of the time there are giveaways that go along with the tours, so I would think that those who do want to win that book would follow along on the tour to enter for the chances to win. So, I'm still on the fence on this one. As a blogger yourself, what do you think are the pro's and cons of Blog Tours? Are they redundant to you?

Back to my "rules list".. there are a lot of technical tips that I could go into such as twitter and facebook pages to help promote your blog, but all that should be a personal preference. It depends on how far you want to take your blog, and how much time you have to devote to it. Build it, and they will come.. but you can't just let it sit there and expect people to show up. You will have to market yourself. You will have to comment on other blogs. You will have to get out there and insert yourself into that niche that you want to be in. You need to want it, you need to have a passion for it, and you need to not expect greatness if you are not. And no, I am not greatness, but someday I will get to where I want to be, though I am still working out what that is. We shall see. There was a point when I felt like I didn't want to write one more review.. so it just depends on which way real life is blowing at any particular time.

When I started branding my blog, it became important to have a specific graphic, something identifiable as your blog, to represent you. So, @BurtonReview is my twitter handle. I signed up with Gravatar so the same image comes up when I comment on wordpress blogs. Certain little things like that go a long way.
If you are a newbie, I would definitely say to watch for the bloggiesta events that come up, as they suggest things you may have forgotten to work on which helps clean up and focus your blog in the right direction. I did participate once and got a lot of work done on my blog one weekend.

Lastly... the extra special BEA Giveaway has ended.. those 9 books are going to a very special lucky winner. One of my partners in crime for this giveaway was and she will announce the winner on her site as soon as I and Lucy from Enchanted from Josephine tally our semi-finalists. It was grand fun, and I hope you liked the scavenger hunt we set up for you!

Hope everyone has a fabulous long weekend planned.. sun and surf and turf?? Or, sun and mowing and week-whacking.. ugh.. I will definitely get a few hours of reading by the pool. I will have to restrain myself to not pick up Lady of the English from Chadwick, or maybe I won't. We'll see.

May 26, 2011

Armchair BEA~ Relationships

Thursday, May 26, 2011
Today at Armchair BEA, it is all about Relationships. The request is that we write about our experiences with building relationships online with other bloggers, authors, and publicists. I tend to go off on tangents, so bear with me.

I was one of those bloggers that participated in a survey that resulted in the Best Practices of Pitching Book Bloggers. This focused on relationships between Bloggers and Publicists and Authors. Don't you love it when you see "Dear Blogger"? When you get pitched several times from the same person about the same book, doesn't this get annoying?

When publicists contact us for review, and then we get asked for our webpage stats, does that annoy you? Doesn't it peeve you that the person has clearly not read your review policy? These and other pitching pitfalls are covered in this handy pdf, which is free to book bloggers.

It's a strange world out there for those authors who are new to self-promotion. They don't realize the netiquette that has developed along with the bookish blogosphere. If you know one of these newbies, point them to the Best Practices. Help build that relationship of trust between you and author instead of ignoring them. I know of several authors that remember me as one of their first bloggers that helped them through the book blog quagmire. It's a great feeling to be able to help them.

Over the past few years, I have seen the blogosphere quadruple in size. It normally starts as a reader who was looking for a particular genre of books, looking for ideas on what to buy next, and they stumble across a book blog. How neat, they think! A regular person talking about books! And then they discover the blogroll. And then they find more blogs in their preferred genre, as most blogs tend to link to blogs of the same interest. Then the reader realizes you can comment on all these posts too! Which brings reader to realize, how hard can it be to open a blogger account? And a blogger is born.

(That was my experience.) The relationships I developed in those early days of blogging still sit with me. I actually mentioned three of those historical fiction blogs that inspired me in yesterday's post. Two of these ladies I feel a kinship and bond with that I know will last a long time. If I don't get daily texts from one of them then I feel like my day is incomplete. And I know of other bloggers who get to meet up in NYC at conventions and more relationships are forged. It is quite powerful, actually, when I think of how much my life has changed since I became a book blogger. All these potential allies at my fingertips. And how amazing how many genres of book bloggers there are! General lit, feminism, young adult, graphic novel, romance, historical romance, classics, fiction...AMAZING!

It's been almost two and half years of reviewing books for me. It's a commitment. Sometimes it's a struggle as I look at the ARC Bookcase. You know, that ever present TBR pile that you should have conquered last year. So, it's a juggling act; especially for those of us who work full-time, have kids, a husband, animals and a house to take care of. Where does the blogging come in?

Better yet, where does the reading come in?

Somehow, I manage to do a little of everything. Which means I am not the best at anything. I can say I am a well-rounded individual, because I cannot spend too much on any one thing lest the next thing gets abandoned. I balance it out. Little by little. And with a little help from my friends. (Queue the music.) The support from the community of bloggers is there, if you ask for it. It's a big world out there. And book bloggers have really become a force to be reckoned with, even after all those professionally paid literary critics knocked us all down and said we were just a phase.

Go forth.. read.. review.. blog... communicate.. and kick butt. I am proud to be a book blogger. It has opened up my world to people and books I would never have otherwise come across. It's pretty awesome being a book blogger. We even have book blogger conventions! And if we can't go to the conventions, we can sit at our favorite chair for the Armchair BEA and still have a ton of fun! It's a great community, and I am happy to be here. Don't forget the amazing giveaways book bloggers host! (there's one going on right here!!) XXO

May 25, 2011

Armchair BEA-- Favorite Blogs!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011
It's Armchair BEA Time!! As part of the event, there is a fabulous giveaway going on right here for some fantastic historical fiction titles, as well as one you can pick out for yourself from the Book Depository! Check out the giveaway link here to get the scoop on the required scavenger hunt!!

Today, Armchair BEA is all about Working the Network!! Visit Armchair BEA to see all the different interviews of bloggers going on. I won't be one of them, I was in la-la land when the signup was taking place. So, for those of us who are not doing the interviews, we get to participate today by writing a post highlighting some of your favorite book blogs and bloggers - and I think I have done this before, a few times probably.. but since you may be new here (hello and welcome!!).. let me tell you who I like to visit. The following blogs have been around for a few years (and even longer than my blog which is about 2.5 years old), so they have some major staying power. And these are the ones who inspired me on my path as a book blogger as well. - Arleigh's site is a clean, concise book review site that guessed it.. historical fiction. Her reviews are intelligent and not at all flowery and over the top like some tend to be. She is to the point, and always manages to intrigue me with her reflections of her books, even if I read the same book. And of course this is my favorite genre, so this is a great place to be. Giveaways too!

Another favorite blog is..
Enchanted By Josephine: Celebrates Women in History - Lucy writes compelling and passionate reviews and always offers me something a little different than the current books that are being promo'ed around the blogosphere. Lucy also has an artsy blog that is beautiful to explore. Giveaways too!

Tanzanite's Castle Full of Books - Daphne's is a one-stop shop for upcoming releases and reviews of Historical Fiction. I love her Weekly wishlist feature which gives me the heads up on books I might need to make room for. She also does a monthly bookmark giveaway that I had to give up entering because I've been disappointed.. but these bookmarks are handmade and beautiful. She is in the process of moving so her posting may be a bit tilted in the near future, but this is another blog you need to follow if you enjoy historical fiction. Warning: if you do LOVE Historical Fiction, please don't be mad at me for directing you to the place that will cause your wishlists to explode!!

There goes my top three HF blogs!
And just to add something a little different just in case you're not all that into Historical Fiction (gasp!!), I also like to peruse the following blogs which offer intelligent content and interesting posts that aren't always about historical fiction:
Chick With Books
Jenny Loves to Read
Unabridged Chick

 Hope you find some great blogs during your Armchair BEA Blog hopping! Dang, how many times can I type historical fiction in one blog post?? Eight times. Seems like more.

May 24, 2011

Armchair BEA Event!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011
So, as you know, I am forever continually stuck either in my work or home environment. It really isn't that bad.. but it means I don't get to go to the BEA in NYC. This week, there is the Armchair BEA event with meme style posts and giveaways for the poor folks like me. I don't know if I'll ever make it out of Texas again, but I sure wouldn't mind a mini-vacation.

Vegas calls..

AH!! Instead.. let's focus.

Yesterday, we announced the big event with three HF Blogs: Burton Book Review, Enchanted By Josephine, and Be sure to enter by Thursday night!! BEA non-partygoers only!! =) It is a great opportunity to win some of the best titles of the past year thus far.

Speaking of.. Armchair BEA asks today (here comes the meme thing) What books have you read that are your Best of 2011?
So far on my "semi- finalist" list, for different entertainment value reasons, we have:

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George (click for my review)
Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona (click for my review)
The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham (click for my review)
The Tudor Secret: Book 1 Elizabeth I Spymaster by C.W. Gortner (click for my review)

These are listed in order of my most favorite of the year, yet I gave them all the best rating of 5 out of 5 stars. But, the year is not quite half over yet, so I cannot wait to see what will be next on my list! Will it be Karleen Koen? Elizabeth Chadwick? Sharon Kay Penman? Probably.

What do you think? Did you get a chance to read any of these picks? Would you agree?

May 23, 2011

GIVEAWAY!! Hey! We're Not Going to the BEA!!

Monday, May 23, 2011
And here is your chance to win the fabulous prize pack for the Nine Books we mentioned yesterday!
The BEA GIVEAWAY and Scavenger Hunt begins RIGHT NOW!

To see the details of the giveaway, please see yesterday's post.. which lists the eight advance copies of awesome historical fiction books PLUS the fact you will get to pick ANY book from The Book Depository..PLUS win a special gift from Tartx!

The blogs that are sponsoring this BEA Giveaway are:
Burton Book Review
Enchanted By Josephine

Visit & enter at each of these blogs to increase your chances of winning. You can enter once here, or once there, or three times for all blogs.. but there will only be ONE Winner of the Nine Books.

 To enter here at Burton Book Review, go on a little scavenger hunt!

You must find and comment on two of the three blog posts that describe me meeting an author.

Comment on two out of those three posts that you are entering the BEA Giveaway, and also leave your email address.

That's all you've got to do!!

**Hints: Roses.. Elizabeth...**

Be aware there are actual posts about the specific event of meeting the author. There are 3 of the posts, one for each year. 2009, 2010, and 2011. Comment on 2 of these. Try the google search feature.

If you want to increase your chances.. go visit the other participating blogs! Good luck!
Giveaway ends Thursday night, open to the USA!

May 22, 2011

Hey! We're Not Going to the BEA!!

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Book Bloggers everywhere will be hearing about the BEA Event that is held in NYC this week. Just like last year, and next year, and the year after, I will not be going to the BEA. Odds are, you aren't either. Instead of crying in our beer, we are CELEBRATING!!!!

Why is this so awesome you ask? Because if you are not going to the BEA, you have a chance to win some fantastic awesome fabulous prizes courtesy of The Burton Book Review, Enchanted By Josephine, and!!! We three bloggers have come up with a super-duper fantabulous giveaway that you will be so happy that you stayed in your home with your own comfy bed with your happy family... because this is not one book, not two books, not three books, not four books, not five books, not six books, nope, not even just seven books, and not eight books either.. but we three are offering you some pretty fantastic books.. how about NINE BOOKS!!!! And nope, these titles are really nothing to sneeze at. These are ones that I have READ AND LOVED!!! It's just like you got to go to the BEA to snag some ARC's, but you don't have to stand in line.. and you don't have to pay to get to NYC to get them, and you are going to love these books!!

For instance, at The Burton Book Review, I am offering up for grabs four ARC's on Awesome Queens!!

 Mary Tudor: Princess, Bastard, Queen by Anna Whitelock
To Be Queen by Christy English
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
The Captive Queen by Alison Weir
Click on the titles to read my reviews of these treasures. I have gently read two of these Advance Reader Copies, and the other two are extra copies that I read the original release copy instead of the ARC, so those will be new.

And Arleigh at is giving away these 4 ARC's:
King's Fool by Margaret Campbell Barnes
The Princess of Nowhere by Prince Lorenzo Borghese
The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner
Elizabeth, Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin
Click on the titles to read Arleigh's reviews of these ARC's.
And last but not least, Lucy at Enchanted By Josephine is giving away a book of the winner's choice from The Book Depository (up to $15 value!).

This super-duper giveaway of all of the above is going out to one very lucky winner in the USA. Just one!! To enter... you'll have to go on a mini scavenger hunt. You can enter at one blog, or all the blogs to increase your chances...

Stay tuned, because this event starts TOMORROW and you have to enter by Thursday night in order to get your chance at the super-duper grand prize! =)

See you tomorrow!

May 20, 2011

Hoboken's Holocaust: Hoboken, NJ Steamship Fire

Friday, May 20, 2011
One of those fabulous treats about reading a book is the knowledge you gain while reading it. Which is why I have enjoyed reading about the Tudors, the Plantagenets, and the medieval era: I am learning something. Every now and then, I want to take a ride on my wild side and read something different. So now I am reading Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows which is an interesting journey of three generations of women in the same family. As I was reading this, I was perturbed that I couldn't get a sense of time in the story for the grandmother, Violet. I like to know what era we are dealing with so that I could imagine the surroundings of the character.

And, finally, a gem was delivered seventy pages in. Violet meets up with a newsboy who is yelling out the headlines of the day. Newsboy immediately gets beaten up by some thug. Back up folks! Guess what the headline was? "326 people dead from NJ steamship fire!"

So I go immediately to the computer, and kiss my google homepage, and found this "Hoboken, NJ Dock Fire, Jul 1900" which was posted by Stu Beitler in 2007. How interesting the images he posted there and my further googling to learn all about these magnificent piers that replaced those lost in the fire.
The fire on Saturday, June 30, 1900 most likely started with a cotton bale located under Pier 3 at the Hudson River, and in less than 15 minutes it was a quarter of a mile long which destroyed millions of dollars worth of property including four steamship liners, barges, warehouses, railroad cars and four piers. The dry and windy weather helped propel the fire from the docks to the buildings to the ships. Roughly one million people observed it from various viewpoints, especially from within the tall buildings of Manhattan. They witnessed those that drowned that tried to escape the blazing steamships, as many of them simply could not swim. And, horrifically, some of the potential rescue tugboats decided to profit from the tragedy. They were lured by the thoughts of rewards from the sale of whiskey or cotton and chose to steal items instead of saving the people jumping from piers. Among the losses was the Campbell's Store building which was a $1.5 million dollar building.

Campbell's Store ruins
The SS Saale owned by the North German Lloyd Steamship Company had just loaded its passengers heading to Southhampton. Sadly, the coalburners which fueled the steamship were still cold, so they could not swiftly get out of the fire's path. Tugboats tried to pull each of the four ships away from the blazing docks. One ship escaped with minor damage. The Saale was not so lucky. Crew and passengers could not do anything but jump. Those below deck were trapped. In an attempt to put out the fire, the ship was soaked by the water hoses, so that those below deck could not get out. They were limited to tiny portholes. Later, regulations were finally made to make portholes large enough for escape.

According to one of the websites, there were 361 deaths (as opposed to the rumored 326) which included dock workers, crews, and these passengers. On the anniversary of the event, longshoremen are honored year after year, the crew being named in the papers at the time, and yet, the ninety passengers who died within the Saale have seemingly been eternally forgotten. There were about 250 total survivors of the four ships who were saved and taken to hospitals nearby. Captain C. August Johann Mirow remained with his ship, suffering the same fate as his passengers, and died a hero's death.

Captain C. August Johann Mirow, the popular captain of S.Saale 

Docks at Hoboken
 Interestingly, while perusing images and postcards sent during the aftermath, the postcards were being sent to Germany. Roughly twenty percent of the Hoboken residents were German, as was the captain of the Saale. For more accounts, please visit Maggie Blanck's site. There are some heart wrenching photos from the newspapers there as well. Maggie's grandmother was a survivor. There is a list of casualties here, with many unknown mentioned.

A bit of history I otherwise would never have discovered, if not for one line in a novel.

May 19, 2011

The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry

Thursday, May 19, 2011

THE ARROW CHEST by Robert Parry
Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical literary, Victorian Gothic
Createspace, January 2011
ISBN-13: 978-1452801148
342 pages, available in Paperback $11.95 and on Kindle
Author’s Website and Endymion at Night
Review copy provided by the author, Thank You!!
Burton Book Review Rating: Four Big Shiney Stars!

London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne - and she with him - until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history. Romantic, atmospheric and deeply dark.

One of my favorite Tudor figures will always be Anne Boleyn. So when a Tudor fan has had her fill of the myriad of Tudor fiction available, what is the next best thing? The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry. Gothic suspense, macabre darkened hallways, bones in an arrow chest. This is how the novel opens up, as painter Roselli is called upon to sketch what is found in this arrow chest, most probably the remains of Anne Boleyn, beheaded queen of tyrant King Henry VIII.

The struggling painter did not particularly enjoy this task, as his favorite past time is painting his childhood friend Daphne. The story then goes on to focus on Amos and Daphne reconnecting during holidays with distinguished English folks, all the while Amos knows that something is just not right with Daphne's new life as a wife to the churlish Oliver Ramsey. As the story progresses, there are more than a few parallels to Anne Boleyn as we get into more of Daphne's character. It was played out in a subtle manner though, and only Tudor fans would catch these similarities. Until we got to Oliver Ramsey, who was portrayed just as maniacal as fat King Henry. I appreciated how the author recreated these details without pointing out the fact that Daphne was just like Anne Boleyn, especially since the main protagonist Amos was not an admitted Tudor connoisseur.

Parry's story is totally character driven from Daphne and Oliver to Amos' servants. Amos' maid, Beth, is a strong character as she willingly supports her artistic and eccentric employer even as she wonders if her life as a maid is to be her only destiny. And Amos is constantly seeking knowledge, of which the reader is privy to his musings, of inspirational and spiritual endeavors in many forms which rounded out the driving story of what would happen to Daphne. Would Daphne wind up with the same fate as Anne Boleyn? Would evil Oliver have her shut away in a loony bin because she couldn't provide an heir? Could Amos save her and allow himself the benefit of her love?

As a Tudor fanatic, I was impressed with the storyline and the way it was written by Robert Parry as he wove the history of the Tudors into the Victorian story of Amos the artist who loves a married woman, who was lucky enough to have the woman love him back. The Arrow Chest imbibes whimsical and mysterious plot lines with Robert Parry's distinctly descriptive prose. This is a love story channeling the spirit of Anne Boleyn and her tyrannical king, but it is also blended with witty scenes such as revengeful arm wrestling and ghostly tarot card reading scenes. The novel was so pleasurable that I was in no hurry to rush through to the story's end, perhaps because I feared Daphne would indeed suffer tragedy at the hands of her evil husband just as Anne Boleyn did.

As a self-published author, Robert Parry deserves to be picked up by a major publishing house (and acquire the benefit of a team of editors!). His writing and tone flowed flawlessly, aside from the editing issues. Those readers who are used to the punctuation type errors from advance reader copies like I am would not be disturbed by the errors that are in this copy, but the average reader may be distracted by them. I am editing to insert the fact that after I posted this review that I must have received an earlier edition of the book, as these errors were later corrected in newer copies. I cannot wait for the day when I can think of Robert Parry, "I knew him when...". Best of luck to him and I cannot wait to get around to reading his previous work, The Virgin and The Crab, as well as anything else he has in that creative mind of his.

May 17, 2011

Where have I BEEN?!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Where have I been?! So many things have been keeping me busy, chipping away at that golden free time, but I've been enjoying myself too. But, reading has taken the back burner. Expect more of this for the next 4 months as summer comes. I do not like to be on a review schedule during the summer so I will be a bit here and a bit there during the summer. But I do have plans of reading outside as the kids play, as long as I get all the weeding done etc. I do want to read more Plaidy and Heyer, they each have been pushed aside due to new releases, and I am going to move away from the advance reader copies ASAP. I am doing very well on the pile though.

For now, I am diligently working at catching a few pages a day of Robert Parry's The Arrow Chest.. but that's not adding up quickly. I hope to gather my wits and "git 'er done" as we Texans say! It's a good book too, but you know that already after I have seen it making the rounds on the blogosphere.

So what HAVE I been doing besides working and not reading? Meet Sweetie. An adorable little gal who is two and a half years old. She needs some TLC, and I am happy to give it.


I grew up owning cats, but soon enough they were replaced by human beings (my kids) and now it comes to the point where we can hopefully enjoy having a furball that doesn't live in a cage in my daughter's room(referencing her three dwarf hamsters).

So, when we moved to this house a year ago, we were pet-less. Now we have accumulated two fish tanks, the three hamsters, and Sweetie the Spoiled. Not to mention the Cardinal babies outside.

This little nest was discovered in an old flower pot that I was GOING to replace this spring. Mama Cardinal had other designs on it though. Poor thing sits on the hanging basket until we go outside and off she flies, and watches from the trees to make sure her babies are safe. She already lost one of three from flying out too fast. They should hatch soon.. we'll see!

And I drove a tractor this week. We had a wicked storm which downed lots of tree limbs so I was tractor duty while the husband was on chainsaw duty. Fun times. Sorry, no pics of that but I was tempted. =) One word of advice: Don't put an iPhone in the back of your pants and expect it to stay there when you're driving a tractor. I had a little dance going while I was fetching it out of my pant legs.

And we decided to take a break, and take the kiddos fishing out front, and I, of course, loved the happiness of the four year old when he caught fish all by himself!! Daddy was going back and forth between the two kids' poles so he didn't bother baiting his own pole. It was fast and furious.

And of course there was Mother's Day and a day of relaxation of me and the cat.. and now the cat loves to sleep in my bed on my legs. Of course I do my best not to disturb her. Why, I don't know.

I think it's the subliminal messaging she gives me during the day:

You will not budge when I am resting on you.

You will feed me tuna and turkey.
You will think it is cute that I knock all of your stuff down.
You will spend more money on my gourmet food than you spend on yourself.
You will not be annoyed that I have taken over your library.
You will learn to enjoy all this and more...
So silly! I forgot I wanted to mention that there will be a fun Scavenger Hunt Giveaway in honor of those who ARE NOT going to the BEA!!! It's going to be a blast.. and two other fantastic blogs will be joining in for the super duper giveaway.. three blogs contributing to one grand prize.. Stay tuned for the details this Sunday!!!!

May 9, 2011

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Monday, May 09, 2011

Caleb's Crossing: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (May 3, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670021048
Review Copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Review Rating: 4.5 stars

After hearing much ado about Geraldine Brooks and her previous novels such as March, or Year of Wonders, I knew I could not pass this one up. I am not sure what I expected from this novel, but it wasn't exactly what I envisioned. Which is fantastic, because I think I enjoyed it that much more. Although the title and the premise follow along the path of Caleb, it was the fictional Bethia that was the narrator of the story and who sucked me in to this one. As Bethia is learning to grow into a respectable (and quiet) young woman in the late 1600's, she meets an Indian she calls Caleb. Her family is on a small island they called Great Harbor, now known as Martha's Vineyard, as her father taught and attempted to convert the heathenistic Wampanoag Indians to his religion of Calvinism.

We follow the path of these two young people and their families as their lives intersect and clash with their different values all the while Bethia tells us the story of her experiences with Caleb. She tells us of the school they go to in Cambridge, and of the prejudices that were abundant in those days as well as the smallest details that turn a simple story into one that is woven seamlessly into an evocative historical account. The prose of Geraldine Brooks was a bit to get used to at first, but as the character of Bethia warmed up to her story, I began to envision myself leafing through Bethia's written thoughts as if it were yesterday. Bethia was the star in this story, despite whatever intentions the author had to make it out to be Caleb.

Bethia was strong-willed, smart, and persevered through so much tragedy that I had to physically force myself to not cry out for her sorrow. And yet, with the grief painstakingly so well written, I was so eager to learn how Bethia would overcome this. She did overcome, and lost many, and Geraldine Brooks did Caleb's memory a great turn by giving him such a special friend as Bethia was shown to be. There were subtle facets and layers to the characters in Bethia's life, from her parents to her brother and of course, Caleb. The fated meeting of Bethia and Caleb set the two on a course that was dangerous to both of their positions in society, and I was intrigued to see how they would turn out.

Most of this marvelous story is fiction and dramatic license, yet the author drew on the bare minimum available regarding Caleb's real story to give us a piece of early Americana, offering us the struggles of the settlers versus those of the natives. And along the way, we are treated to a magnificently developing storyline of Bethia as we hope she finds true love and is able to display her keen intelligence even though she is a woman who was expected to tend to family matters quietly.

I loved this story both for Bethia's plights and for the historical significance of my country. I am always saddened how the Indians were treated during the colonization, yet Caleb's Crossing shows there were some who believed in their abilities and were willing to co-exist peacefully. This is a great read for those who enjoy reading coming of age type stories, and for those who would like to learn a bit more about America during the late 1600's. You will not forget the story of Bethia and Caleb.

May 3, 2011

The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Even if the six daughters, born between 1904 and 1920, of the charming, eccentric David, Lord Redesdale, and his wife Sydney had been quite ordinary women, the span of their lives - encompassing the most traumatic century in Britain's history - and the status to which they were born, would have have made their story a fascinating one. But Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Decca and Debo, were, and are, far from ordinary.

The Mitfords' unconventional childhood and adolescence, growing up in a rambling country manor, deprived of formal education and at the mercy of their father's titanic rages and obsessions, has long been immortalised in Nancy's masterly comedies of aristocratic manners, The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. The girls' lives were the stuff of headlines. Nancy, the merciless tease turned brilliant, subversive novelist; Diana, the most beautiful woman of her generation, reviled for her abandonment of her gilded marriage and hated and imprisoned for her love of Oswald Mosely; rebellious Decca, who eloped at nineteen to the Spanish Civil War with Churchill's communist nephew and went on to become a ground-breaking civil rights campaigner; sweet Debo who became Duchess of Devonshire and chatelaine of Chatsworth; even feminine, domesticated Pamela, known as 'Woman', was enough of a Mitford to have John Betjman at her feet and her Raeburn stove painted blue to match her eyes. And at their dark heart, beloved but unstable Unity, in love with Hitler and obsessed with Nazism, who shot herself as war was declared.

In The Mitford Girls, Mary Lovell's extensive research traces the development of each of these remarkable women from the nursery to maturity, recording the terrible losses they suffered and the rifts that opened between them; uncovering often uncomfortable details of their politics and personalities and revealing the truth to be more complicated, but no less extraordinary than Nancy's fiction.

This is not a review, as I sadly have not read the book yet but it came via Paperbackswap and I cannot wait to get to it. I read Bess of Hardwick by the same author and I enjoyed it so much that Bess became a sort of heroine of mine. And what a life these Mitford sisters have had! Many of us may have heard of them, as I have, but I never truly knew who they were and what they stood for. And one of those sisters, Diana, was anti-semitic but don't let that horrific fact deter you from the total story. And will we ever have the total story? It seems like I will have a lot to learn about these girls who had style and presence, who had outspoken views on politics.

In my quest for google-like knowledge, I found this charming little spot on NY Times which dictates some letters between Nancy Mitford and a dear friend, Evelyn Waugh. How quaint! Yet, underneath the talk of books and general gossip, there were air raids nightly thanks to World War II. Jessica was a communist, Diana was a gorgeous woman who cheated and was universally disliked, even by her sisters, Debo was a Duchess of Devonshire, Pamela was another anti-semite, Nancy was a popular writer and Unity idolized Hitler.

Interestingly enough, Chatsworth House was the scene of my first blog headers. Chatsworth has origins with Bess of Hardwick, Pride and Prejudice, and Deborah (a Mitford girl) Duchess of Devonshire.

May 2, 2011

Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith

Monday, May 02, 2011
Queen By Right: A Novel by Anne Easter Smith
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (May 10, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1416550471
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Book Review Rating: 3 stars

In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.

Wars of the Roses followers recognize the Nevilles as having a strong family in the midst of the turmoil between the Yorks and the Lancastrians. Queen By Right gives us the story of Cecily Neville, daughter of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort, and shows us an indulging upbringing for her as well as an indulging marriage to Richard Plantagenet of York. A young Henry VI is on the throne, and Richard seems pleased to be this Lancastrian King's man even though he has his own strong claim to the throne that none can dispute.

Richard and Cecily are blessed with children, and history aficionados will know that these children include Edward IV and Richard III among the most notable. But who were their parents, and how did they get to the royal title? Focusing on Cecily, we become entwined with her character as the author dramatizes her young life as one long flashback to the elder Cecily ponders the very question of how this all came to be. The book opens to Cecily mourning the loss of her husband and favorite son Edmund in a battle against the Lancastrian king. But it wasn't always York versus Lancaster, so how did things get so convoluted as to battle for the throne?

The way Cecily's character is written makes her very likable from the beginning, but about halfway through we somehow lose touch with her. The character development of both Richard and Cecily left much to be desired as they seemed to stray from their once noble paths. Once Cecily becomes an adult, and a mother bent on favoritism, the story began to be more (ambiguously) focused on the politics of Lancaster versus York. Richard was away serving the king on various military appointments and never receiving payment for the money spent on the soldiers he lead, which bred discontent for years. And since this is where the focus lay, I was becoming impatient for the story to get on with it. Instead, we learn of Cecily's aversions to certain people such as Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, or fascination with others like Joan of Arc (the author mentions this was her poetic license). There is also quite a bit of sex but at least it didn't encompass the whole book, but the couple seemingly had eyes only for each other. A plus is that the rumored archer affair did not weave its fiction into this story. The author ascertains that the marriage between Richard and Cecily was a love match beginning in their childhood, though in her author's note she theorizes about the late development was in producing heirs.

An intriguing figure of this time is Jacquetta: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford, or Jacquetta Woodville as she also may be known. She is mentioned several times in the story as she is a high ranking noble in her own right. Jacquetta is peeking out windows witnessing Cecily's actions, and she sends Cecily shivers down Cecily's spine many times. Jacquetta also befriends Margaret of Anjou and Cecily wonders how that could be. Was it Melusina at work? Jacquetta's first husband was related to the throne, but he passed away so Jacquetta made a scandalous love match with Richard Woodville. I mention all this because as a reader I paid attention to all the innuendo and the foreshadowing the author related when mentioning Elizabeth and her beautiful daughter, another Elizabeth, who ends up marrying Cecily's oldest son.

The first half of Cecily's life when she was growing up was an intriguing adventure. In the middle of the book we seemed to be merely skimming the surface, watching things happen from afar, and it just couldn't draw me into the story as it had at first. It was enjoyable reading about Cecily's early life, but as a mother and wife to Richard it became more about the antics of the children, and that of Richard himself. We all knew what happens to Richard in the end, because that is discussed within the first sentences of the novel. Getting to that point with that ill-fated battle became a long drawn out process of Richard whining about not getting paid for his services and Cecily praying to the Virgin Mary. The names of uncles and nobles who were in favor at court when Richard wasn't became a quagmire to sift through at first.

Still, I did gather a bit of information of Cecily and her life, and I was eager to learn a bit more about the struggle of why Richard Plantagenet did decide to grasp the throne for himself. He is not portrayed as an evil man as Lancastrian reads like to paint, as Richard states many times that he swears fealty to Henry VI as God's anointed. Keeping Richard out of the court's loop was also an annoying tactic of Henry VI, as he sent Richard off to Ireland and France to keep the peace but not supporting Richard monetarily to do so. Richard didn't like what was happening to the government at the hands of the king's advisers, and Richard had many who backed his own Yorkist claim to the throne after years of mismanagement. England seemed glorious under King Henry V, but his son was nothing like him. The loss of lands in acquiring the Queen for Henry was also an ill omen of things to come.

For those readers who really want to know more about the struggles of Cecily and Richard Plantagenet and those inherited by their children, the author does well to cover them in Queen By Right. Most Wars of the Roses fans don't get the 'before' scene of the Wakefield battle, as most know that it is Richard's son, Edward IV, who becomes successful for the Yorkist cause. It wasn't until the last quarter of the book that we are finally brought to this climax and started becoming intriguing again. Queen by Right delivers the details and the purported minds behind Richard and Cecily during the years before the famous battles. Anne Easter Smith is well known for her Yorkist novels, and for those readers who enjoyed her books like A Rose for The Crown or Daughter of York would enjoy Queen By Right as well for the lesser known story of Cecily's family and the separate factions of the land. I also must disclose that I have always seemed to lean towards the Lancastrian point of view rather than the Yorkist, and the novel is obviously Yorkist focused. Richard's wishy-washy character himself was portrayed in such a way that this reader wanted to slap him, as much as Cecily did when Richard put his family in such extreme danger. Also included with the book were a few helpful genealogy charts, map, bibliography and glossary.