Follow Us @burtonreview

Jun 28, 2011

The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland
Berkley Trade June 7, 2011
Paperback 320 pages
Review copy from publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Of the women in King Richard’s life, she is the least known—and the most powerful.

During the Third Crusade, deaths from fever and starvation are common, but King Richard the Lion-Hearted has a secret ally against these impassable enemies—a mysterious healer by the name of Edythe. She was sent to him by his mother Eleanor, and Richard first assumes that Edythe is a spy. But when her medical knowledge saves his life, she becomes an indispensable member of his camp—even as his loyal soldiers, suspicious of her talent for warding off death, call her a witch.

I read this novel on the Third Crusade in a weekend. It is a perfect summer read, sitting by the pool and losing yourself in a tumultuous era without getting bogged down with the details and facts of the times. The author uses the storyline of Richard of Lionhearted's quest for Jerusalem and brings us the story of the fictional doctor, Edythe, who travels along with Richard's Crusader Army and his sister Johanna as they progress through Acre and Jaffa in efforts to defeat Saladin.

The Third Crusade features notables such as King Conrad of Montferrat and King Philip of France who add to the religious and political strife, but the story focuses on Edythe and her relationships. Edythe serves Johanna, who also has a significant storyline as she is caught up in personal tangles, and Edythe becomes well-known as a doctor of sorts which tags her with the witch insult among the other Crusaders. Edythe helps King Richard during his illnesses and fevers throughout the Crusade, and along the way meets Rouquin who acts as a military commander for Richard. Edythe is attempting to discover the meaning of her own life, as she was rescued by Queen Eleanor many years ago during the persecution of the Jews. That was a different life for Edythe, though, and she had felt like she had acclimated herself to the Christian ways. When she goes along on the Crusade, she begins to doubt herself and her faith, becoming very afraid of the secret she harbors. The secret threatens to harm the only true thing she has come across, which is the love she bears for Rouquin.

Author Cecelia Holland has become quite prolific, as her back list includes over thirty historical novels. I reviewed her last release The Second Eleanor last year and found that I was intrigued by Holland's easy writing style. The King's Witch is no different: the writing was fluent and fast paced and I was entertained by this story set during an important time for King Richard. I was particularly engaged within the story during the battle scenes, and I felt like I raced through those pages. As a fan of historical fiction, I have recently read stories that solely focused on real characters, but this novel reminds me of what is so wonderful about the genre. The setting of the time and place was an educational backdrop to the two fictional characters at the heart of the story, and their story helped me appreciate and understand the turmoil that the Crusaders experienced. This was not just a love story, but The King's Witch incorporated the pressures of the Crusaders versus Saladin with intriguing side stories such as the succession of the crown of Jerusalem. I think it's time I peruse Holland's back list for more of her entertaining reads.

Jun 24, 2011

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen

Friday, June 24, 2011

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Crown (June 28, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0307716576
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: five stars!

Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?
After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.
But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .
Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

Karleen Koen's newest novel represents several firsts for me. Before Versailles is the first novel on Louis XIV that I've read, therefore it offers my first characterization of Louis and his contemporaries. Secondly, this is my first Karleen Koen novel, even though I've ogled her previous books and been told many times that I absolutely must read them. I do own them and have already let my mother read them (who devoured them all in a short amount of time) and now I am certainly looking forward to all those novels after enjoying Before Versailles so much!

Since this is my first novel that deals with Louis XIV, please realize that I really have no way of differentiating from the gossip, rumors, scandals or facts that Koen utilizes in her magnificent storytelling. Before Versailles focuses on a specific four months of the reign of Louis soon after the powerful Cardinal Mazarin passes away in 1661. The Cardinal and the Queen mother, Anne, were known to have a close relationship, but how close was any one's guess. Louis realizes it is now time to take over the reigns of the government after the passing of the Cardinal, and he begins to learn of the treachery amongst his family and courtiers. And while he is focusing on the politics of his court with a lookout for more revolts, he is also eyeing Henriette, his brother's wife whom everyone adores. Henriette is portrayed as a bored woman stuck in a loveless relationship, and happily wreaks romantic havoc throughout Louis' court, as she tells the King to court other girls as well as her to divert some of the rumors surrounding her own conduct with the King.

Louise de La Baume Le Blanc
The story features these women who Louis courts, as well as his own boring wife and his meddling mother. His brother Phillippe is a scandalous creature causing embarrassment everywhere, yet I couldn't help but feel sorry for him as his wife was making him a fool until I later realized Phillippe didn't really deserve my sympathy at all. One of the main characters is maid of honor Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, a young spirited girl who adores animals over people any day. (She is featured in Sandra Gulland's novel Mistress of the Sun). King Louis takes notice of her and a courtship eventually develops, helped along by Henriette's maneuvering. Louise seemed like a hunted deer, as she was caught in the royal traps and manipulations of the court although she was the one of the few true innocents of the court. It was very hard to not feel sympathetic towards her, especially how the author favorably portrays both Louis and Louise.

Besides the relationships of Louis and his dalliances with women, the novel touches upon Viscount Nicolas as we watch Louis and his main man Colbert slowly gather damning evidence against the Viscount who was becoming a threat to Louis due to his own wealth and powerful connections. The Viscount is not aware of the concerns of the King, and blindly hopes for a high position under Louis's wing. It was all very entertaining and suspenseful to read and witness the Viscount's downfall, learning the ways of the early reign of Louis before he was known as the Sun King. Louis was portrayed in a most positive light as a strong and powerful young man with a growing leadership ability, yet with the faults of having a soft heart as well. The women at court were catty and snobby and the men encouraged it as they took advantage of whatever they could get. I really enjoyed how the intricacies (and scandals!) of the storyline played out because there were quite a few of them running concurrently. Behind the scenes of Louis' courtships and political machinations, there was always the running current of Louise's girlish curiosity of a mysterious boy in an iron mask which slams her into reality when she finally tells the King of this strange boy she saw at a monastery.

"L'Homme au Masque de Fer" ("The Man in the Iron Mask") 1789
Fontainebleau was the setting for the story, and I was immediately intrigued by the author's description of it and its immeasurable beauty. It was always there as a symbol for Louis, as a place that was built by ancestors, where Louis seemed to walk along its shadows and those of his predecessors. It slowly began to make sense to this reader why Louis moved court to Versailles and why the author chose the title Before Versailles. The writing of Karleen Koen was a bit different, as she has her own uniquely mesmerizing style which was conversational yet verges occasionally towards stream of consciousness. The myriads of court players in the beginning of the story were a bit much to get my head wrapped around, but I quickly caught up and found myself intrigued and enthralled with Louis and his many courtiers and musketeers, as Karleen Koen offers us a sensational glimpse of Louis as he was just beginning to become the man known later as the Sun King. I absolutely adored the ending, and there were several times in the book I could have cried. This is a must read for French history fans as well as those who enjoy historical romance, because there was plenty of that in this story, with a healthy dose of suspense as well. A wonderful combination of enjoyable factors and I am so glad that this one was my first read on Louis XIV. In fact, this is going on my shortlist for favorites of 2011. Where to go from here? And where does Karleen Koen go from here? A novel on Athenais, and Louis' later reign? I would love to see another trilogy that starts with Before Versailles.

Jun 18, 2011

Saturday Snapshot

Saturday, June 18, 2011
Saturday Snapshot is hosted by At Home With Books.
To participate in the Saturday Snapshot meme this week, post a photo that you (or a friend or family member) have taken and then leave a direct link to your post at Alyce's blog here.

And here are my four snapshots where you can see a little piece of my world. These were all taken 6-4-2011 in a pretty elusive attempt to follow a family of cardinals we have. As you can see, I was only able to snap the daddy cardinal sitting still. Enjoy!

I love this little girl statue as she watches over my lantana flowers.

and here is the one semi-focused snapshot of Monsieur Cardinal. Can you see him?

See the airplane?
Pears, anyone?
I hope you enjoyed these pictures! I also wanted to take a moment to close out the giveaway I had running for Happily Ever After edited by John Klima where I asked for really witty comments. I think I picked the most creative comment EVER.. by choosing::

My dear Lady Marie of the House of Burton,

I wholeheartedly accept entry into this very merry giveaway. Why, some of my most beloved authors' works are in this enchanted book. As one who constantly wanders about in Story looking for enjoyable tales, I can assure you that this magical book would give a good home with me in the shire of Pennsylvania.

I only learned of the Kingdom of Burton Book Reviews this evening, and have signed up to receive your dispatches on my RSS Feed, made a treaty with your kingdom on Facebook, and joined your alliance via GFC.

I thank you for your time, Lady Marie, and hope you find this scroll delivered via messenger most pleasing. Fare thee well!

Sincerely Yours,
Amy of Backseat Writer

Thanks to Amy for such an entertaining comment, you are my winner!!

Jun 17, 2011

Queen Defiant: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Anne O'Brien

Friday, June 17, 2011
Queen Defiant: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Anne O'Brien
(Devil's Consort is the UK title)
448 pages, paperback
Penguin NAL Trade: April 14, 2011
Personal copy won through Maria Grazia's giveaway at her Fly High blog, thank you!!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

Orphaned at a young age, Eleanor, Duchess of Aquitaine, seeks a strong husband to keep her hold on the vast lands that have made her the most powerful heiress in Europe. But her arranged marriage to Louis VII, King of France, is made disastrous by Louis's weakness of will and fanatical devotion to the Church. Eleanor defies her husband by risking her life on an adventurous Crusade, and even challenges the Pope himself. And in young, brilliant, mercurial Henry d'Anjou, she finds her soul mate-the one man who is audacious enough to claim her for his own and make her Queen of England.

Eleanor of Aquitaine has been written about many times, and even more so in the past few years as her popularity grows as a strong and willful woman. Anne O'Brien gives us an intriguing look at the upheaval that Eleanor caused her French husband with a few fictional spins based on the rumors of Eleanor's time. For those that do know the history of Eleanor, she was wed to the prince of France at a young age, and soon after became Queen of France. For years Eleanor chafed against the pious confines of her husband and his advisers, and was given little acknowledgement for her intelligence. Eleanor was bred to rule over Aquitaine, and with this hasty marriage with the French she consequently missed her home tremendously. Fast forward through a disastrous crusade and embarrassing attempts to give France a male heir, Eleanor finds a way out of France but needs young Henry Plantagenet's help.

The French king Louis is still portrayed as the overly pious, devoted to God and less of his country and his wife. Abbot Suger, and Bernard of Clairvaux come into play as they continually thwart Eleanor's schemes for her independence. And the reason Eleanor is so widely popular is apparent with her strong characterization here; she is not weak, whimpering and simpering, she is always aware that to persevere she must plod on. And for years she did. She outlived most of her closest family members and pretty much went through everything under the sun by the time of her death. The arrival of the young and virile Henry Plantagenet on the scene gave the book a welcomed flair, as Eleanor had finally met her match with Henry.

Anne O'Brien sticks to the main plot of Eleanor's life in France, but also blends in her fictional dramatic license to skew certain dates and events, but I was still not put off. There was something to be said about the voice which the author gave Eleanor that made me want to keep reading this story, even though I knew what happened to Eleanor and her hopes in the end. The fact that the author did not unequivocally stick to the facts or time lines made it that much more fun, and since I noticed the "factual errors" I think this is actually what held some of the story's appeal for me as well. Which is quite an odd revelation for me, really. I normally would rail against the extreme dramatic license, but this time I really enjoyed it, and I was entertained (and a touch scandalized!). Exactly what I am sure the author set out to do. And those folks who have not read an Eleanor every other month probably wouldn't notice most of the differences in the events. I was also intrigued by the genealogy charts in the beginning referencing the lines of consanguinity, as well as the map showing the scope of the lands between Eleanor, Louis and Henry. And that cover was fabulous as well, the texture of the book was just right.. and the pages inside kept me rooting for Eleanor to the very end. The very end actually ended with the coronation of Henry II and Eleanor, so I've got to wonder what's next on Anne O'Brien's plate? Another novel focused on Henry's and Eleanor's devilish brood? Where do I sign up?

Queen Defiant is roughly my seventh Eleanor themed read in the past 15 months. I have read others before those as well. Since they were all novels, I think it's time I read the biographical Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Life, by Alison Weir just so I can brush up on the facts and timeline for Eleanor and call myself well-versed. But, for a woman who lived eight hundred years ago as a lady of two kingdoms and mother to three kings, you've got to applaud the everlasting appeal that she maintains with the historically inclined reading audience.

Jun 14, 2011

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Little Women Letters by Gabrielle Donnelly
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (June 7, 2011)
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 3.5 stars

When Josephine March's great-great-granddaughter stumbles across her letters, the Little Women shed a glorious light on a new generation of sisters. The Atwaters are a loving, sprawling mess of a family and Fee's three daughters, Emma, Lulu and Sophie, couldn't be less alike if they tried. Emma is planning her wedding, Sophie is an up-and-coming actress, but Lulu - the cleverest of them all - is more than a little lost. If life is for living, why is she stuck in a series of dead-end jobs? Grandma Jo's letters had been gathering dust in the attic for decades, but when Lulu gets her hands on them, everything seems to change and different worlds begin to open up. And even though dark family secrets emerge, Jo's words offer comfort and guidance across the centuries. Sometimes family is all that matters. And sisters are the closest friends you can find.

Little Women and its sequels were a huge part of my growing years, and I was very interested in revisiting the charming March family with Donnelly's The Little Women Letters. Three sisters in a contemporary setting who evoke the nostalgia of the original Little Women, and these sisters actually descend from those characters. This time around, it's Lulu who is struggling with discovering her purpose in life, as her other sisters seem to know which direction they are heading in. Emma, the eldest, is getting married (and acts just like Meg March), and Sophie, the youngest, is going to be a famous actress (and acts just like Amy March).

Lulu discovers letters written by ancestor Jo, and feels a kinship that she hadn't felt before. As a middle child, Lulu has always felt out of place although she was clearly beloved. She finds herself admiring Jo through the letters she discovers, and we readers are privy to these letters as well. A small bit of the double storyline is apparent as we get Jo's point of view of her life as an apparent spinster before she finally marries, and Lulu relates to this as she is still single and pretty much floundering for direction in her life.

The present-day characters range from friends, family and boyfriends with interesting events and conversations, but I was so much more in tune to the classic storyline with Jo and wished the present day characters evoked more passion. Lulu kept the letters to herself, and I kept waiting for the climatic moment that Lulu would sit around the fire and share with her sisters all the mementos she came across. That moment was muted to say the least. The author did attempt cohesion with the parallels between past and present, such as buying shoes Emma couldn't afford and suffering the consequences (and learning from them), but the conclusion to this plot line didn't quite work either.

The Little Women Letters offers a lot of potential, and a bit of nostalgia, but if it weren't for the actual letters that we got to read, the rest of the book could be a hindrance to those readers who are typically character driven with their novels. The contemporary characters were all a just bit too perfect, or too predictable, and everyone seemingly was just forced into their role and there was little development. I wish there were a way the sisters could have come full circle in a way, but it just wasn't there.

If you a die hard Little Women fan though, this is a perfectly light read for those that wish to be taken back to that whimsical time of long ago that Louisa May Alcott created for her readers. The spirit of Jo was indeed portrayed in the letters that were shared, which were my favorite parts of the novel.

Jun 10, 2011

Surprise Giveaway! Happily Ever After by John Klima

Friday, June 10, 2011
Have you seen the promos for Happily Ever After by John Klima?

This is such a fun premise for a book I had to share it with you all.. aren't you lucky?
I first saw it on Shelf Awareness, and was immediately intrigued and requested an ARC.
Somehow I got two finished copies of these wonderful books.. so I am giving the spare away to one of my USA Followers. I haven't reviewed it yet, but I am certainly going to! I have not read fairy tales since I was a child, and I thought this would be a fun summer read and I might brush up on some stories to share with my own children. I haven't read fantasy or anthologies etc in a dog's age either, so this read will cover my bases.

Check this book out.. and I've bolded what is even so amazingly clever which sold me on this book...

450 pages, May 24 2011 Night Shade Books

Once Upon A Time... the faraway land of Story, a Hugo-winning Editor realized that no one had collected together the fairy tales of the age, and that doorstop-thick anthologies of modern fairy tales were sorely lacking...

And so the Editor ventured forth, wandering the land of Story from shore to shore, climbing massive mountains of books and delving deep into lush, literary forests, gathering together thirty-three of the best re-tellings of fairy tales he could find. Not just any fairy tales, mind you, but tantalizing tales from some of the biggest names in today's fantastic fiction, authors like Gregory Maguire, Susanna Clarke, Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Aletha Kontis, Kelly Link, Neil Gaiman, Patricia Briggs, Paul Di Filippo, Gregory Frost, and Nancy Kress. But these stories alone weren't enough to satisfy the Editor, so the Editor ventured further, into the dangerous cave of the fearsome Bill Willingham, and emerged intact with a magnificent introduction, to tie the collection together.

And the inhabitants of Story, from the Kings and Queens relaxing in their castles to the peasants toiling in the fields; from to the fey folk flitting about the forests to the trolls lurking under bridges and the giants in the hills, read the anthology, and enjoyed it. And they all lived...

...Happily Ever After.

Table of Contents:

1."The Seven Stage a Comeback" by Gregory Maguire
2."And In Their Glad Rags" by Genevieve Valentine
3."The Sawing Boys" by Howard Waldrop
4."Bear It Away" by Michael Cadnum
5."Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower" by Susanna Clarke
6."The Black Fairy's Curse" by Karen Joy Fowler
7."My Life As A Bird" by Charles de Lint
8."The Night Market" by Holly Black
9."The Rose in Twelve Petals" by Theodora Goss
10."The Red Path" by Jim C. Hines
11."Blood and Water" by Alethea Kontis
12."Hansel's Eyes" by Garth Nix
13."He Died That Day, In Thirty Years" by Wil McCarthy
14."Snow In Summer" by Jane Yolen
15."The Rose Garden" by Michelle West
16."The Little Magic Shop" by Bruce Sterling
17."Black Feather" by K. Tempest Bradford
18."Fifi's Tail" by Alan Rodgers
19."The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link
20."Ashputtle" by Peter Straub
21."The Emperor's New (And Improved) Clothes" by Leslie What
22."Pinocchio's Diary" by Robert J. Howe
23."Little Red" by Wendy Wheeler
24."The Troll Bridge" by Neil Gaiman
25."The Price" by Patricia Briggs
26."Ailoura" by Paul Di Filippo
27."The Farmer's Cat" by Jeff VanderMeer
28."The Root of The Matter" by Gregory Frost
29."Like a Red, Red Rose" by Susan Wade
30."Chasing America" by Josh Rountree
31."Stalking Beans" by Nancy Kress
32."Big Hair" by Esther Friesner
33."The Return of the Dark Children" by Robert Coover

Doesn't this sound fantastically intriguing? What do you think? Would you want this for your own fairy tale collection?
If so.. comment here at Burton Book Review to enter the book giveaway for Happily Ever After by John Klima! Remember to leave your email address so I can contact the winner.

Open to my followers of Burton Book Review in the USA for an undetermined amount of time, and I will haphazardly pick from the comments in any way I see fit when I get around to it. Today, tomorrow, or next week. Or the next? Surprise me with your wittiness and clever commenting abilities..

Jun 9, 2011

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick

Thursday, June 09, 2011
Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick
544 pages Hardcover, Little Brown/Sphere UK 6/2/2011
Sourcebooks US Release 9/1/2011
ISBN 13: 9781847442376
Review copy provided by the UK publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: Five Glittery Stars

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'?
As mentioned before as a preface to Elizabeth Chadwick's article she provided us with here, I had first tapped into my historical fiction passion with the novel When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman. Henry I's son and heir to England, William, dies in the White Ship disaster, leaving his daughter Matilda as sole heir to the throne after her father's death. The path to that throne is littered with obstacles for the woman, as the new King Stephen usurps the throne of England from the Empress. Elizabeth Chadwick focuses her newest novel on two women: Matilda, Henry I's daughter, and Adeliza, Henry's beautiful wife, as turmoil ignites throughout the lands of Normandy and England.

The novel opens up to when Matilda's first husband Emperor Heinrich has died and left her as a young widower. Matilda returns to her father's keeping after living in Germany and enjoying her status as Empress. Matilda and Adeliza form a bond out of loyalty to King Henry, which proves useful to Matilda when she most needs it. Although King Henry has many illegitimate children, he cannot get a male heir from Adeliza, much to their chagrin. Thus, Matilda becomes a pawn in her father's realm, as nobles are forced to pay homage to the Empress, although they renege on this fealty once her father dies after eating lampreys. Was he intentionally poisoned? Did the Blois faction have something to do with Henry's convenient death? Despite the three separate times those nobles swore fealty to Matilda as heir to the throne, her cousin Stephen of Blois immediately takes England for his own while Matilda is faraway in Anjou with her children. Her new young husband, Geoffrey of Anjou, fights for their children's right to the throne of England, as loyalty is put to the test between family members and old alliances.

True to her form, Elizabeth Chadwick recreates the era with ease as we watch through the eyes of Matilda and Adeliza the struggle for the right to the throne. Given the coincidental timing that was always in favor for King Stephen, Matilda was always just a stone's throw from the throne's grasp, as she slowly began to groom her son and her own growing faction to prepare for the day her son would rightfully gain the throne. Adeliza's story of being a Queen and then almost a nun was also compelling, as she performed her role as peacemaker admirably and gracefully alongside Matilda's own efforts to safeguard her son's rights. Adeliza's story is not one that I've read before, and I found her part of the book a sweet counterpart to the story of the struggling Matilda. The few characters that Chadwick expands upon are Brian Fitzcount and William D'Albini, while others like Geoffrey of Anjou, King Stephen, and Robert of Gloucester only support the greater stories of Matilda and Adeliza.

Elizabeth Chadwick creates a fervor each time a new book of hers is even rumored to be released. This is due to her years of research, intelligent writing style and descriptive prose, along with her excellent ability to engage her readers within the first page of her novels. Chadwick knows how to spin the weaves of history's cloth, embroidered with captivating details, that seem to mirror the very image of the era. The historical fiction genre has quite a few of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II novels, but Chadwick does her readers a service by giving us the before picture. She weaves us through the reign of Stephen, otherwise known as the Anarchy, using several key characters and mentioning some lesser known ones, as the age old debate of Church vs. State come into play. The era was rife with dissemblers and floundering loyalties, as greedy nobles reached for titles beyond their grasp.

Empress Matilda always held to her son's goal as the King of England first and foremost, and learning the story of how she helped achieve that is a refreshing change of pace for historical fiction fans. Chadwick marvelously pinpointed the character of the young Henry II as an eager and ambitious boy who held fast to his destiny in England. Always a magnificent storyteller, Lady of the English does not disappoint. Up next for the author is indeed a trilogy on Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I am eagerly awaiting how Chadwick tells Eleanor's story.

Related links from Elizabeth Chadwick's website:
The Enigmatic Brian FitzCount
Adeliza of Louvain. Lady of The English. The Forgotten Queen
An extract from the novel can be found here.
See my other Elizabeth Chadwick posts here.
Check out Book to order your copy of Lady of the English, and as of the date of this review you'll find some of Chadwick's previous titles on sale. I am slowly acquiring her back list, and I just ordered The Falcons of Montabard and The Winter Mantle.

Jun 6, 2011

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

Monday, June 06, 2011

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published February 2nd 2011 by Hachette/Reagan Arthur Books
Review copy provided by publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

 American academic Trevor Stratton discovers a box full of artifacts from World War I as he settles into his new office in Paris. The pictures, letters, and objects in the box relate to the life of Louise Brunet, a fiesty, charming Frenchwoman who lived through both World Wars.
As Trevor examines and documents the relics the box offers up, he begins to imagine the story of Louise Brunet's life: her love for a cousin who died in the war, her marriage to a man who works for her father, and her attraction to a neighbor in her building at 13 rue Thérèse. The more time he spends with the objects though, the truer his imaginings of Louise's life become, and the more he notices another alluring Frenchwoman: Josianne, his clerk, who planted the box in his office in the first place, and with whom he finds he is falling in love.

This book is a visual delight. Photos of correspondence, photos of the people discussed, a treasure hunt of a puzzle. The writing is another intriguing factor.. flits in and out of "present" and the past.. which could either be construed as a confusing mess or instead a fun jaunt into adventure unlike any other book you've read. The entire premise is original and rare, and I embrace it.

This is one of those books that to review it without spoiling the delight for the new reader is very difficult, as each little discovery of the plot and the people were slowly unwrapped via the narration as we peruse the contents of a mysterious box. I shall not spoil it. There are many themes here, from family loyalty and trust, marriage and infidelity, war and its dizzying effects, and finally a bit of time travel or reincarnation or spiritualism that just may be the definition of whether you enjoy or hate this book. And the fact that there is infidelity which brings explicit sexual content could go either way: love it or hate it.

For me, I normally dislike abundance of sex. And I certainly do not promote infidelity, nor do I do so now. It was not full of sex scenes, but full of thoughts of them. In a cemetery, in the hallway, etc. And still, this book as a package, was a winner for me, for the sheer unconventionality of it all. I loved the different visuals of  memorabilia: the jewelry, postcards, letters, and photos as they were examined piece by piece in the story. I loved the very different and very creative way the story played itself out. And in the very end, there is a 'twist' that could make you exclaim "how contrived!".. but it could also shiver you with delight with its ingenuity.

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro spoke to the vintage lover in me, the creative side of me, the French language lover in me and to the mystery lover in me. The history of the family behind the artifacts was an intriguing story, as was the story of the narrator himself, Trevor Stratton. Trevor himself was a bit annoying to me. His documentation (with footnotes!) to whom he was writing was not apparent to the very end, and the very end.. was.. you'll have to read it to see... but I dropped a star because of it. And yet, eccentricities are alive, and if your mind is feeling open today, you should open 13, rue Thérèse as well.

There is an intriguing website with some of the images from the book, and I even had fun using the iPhone QR code reader at the back of the book. You'll have to check it out!

Jun 2, 2011

Elizabeth Chadwick Sets the Scene: Lady of the English

Thursday, June 02, 2011
It is with glee that I present this article written by Elizabeth Chadwick in honor of today's UK release of her newest novel, Lady of the English. This is a beautiful hardcover that is available at the BookDepository or I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it, and it is not disappointing me in the least! Lady of the English will be available in the USA in the fall. But I know you can't wait for the paperback USA release, so go grab this gorgeous 544 page book from the UK, you know you want to.

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.

Marie, thanks so much for allowing me to guest blog for the UK hardcover publication of Lady of the English.


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.

Are you excited yet? Have you read any other novels that dealt with Empress Matilda? I would love to know!! Recommendations?
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.