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Jul 22, 2013

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

Monday, July 22, 2013
Another amazing historical from my favorite medieval storyteller
The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere, June 20, 2013
Hardcover 478 pages
Source: Bought from an Amazon seller after I scoured the internet for an hour looking for an available copy when it came out in the UK.. I read and devoured it immediately upon its arrival, but just lacked computer time to compose this review.
Burton Book Review Rating:  (Must you ask?)Fifty Stars, if I could
Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated bv those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.

Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor's legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .
Once upon a time there lived an amazing woman who was destined to be ruler of Aquitaine. Her heart and soul was with Aquitaine and the heritage that she was born with. In a time where women were considered frail or used as chattel, Eleanor of Aquitaine rises up and becomes Queen of France, then dumps her husband and that title only to soon become Queen of England.

After many reads based on Eleanor's life, one would think I've had enough. But then here comes Elizabeth Chadwick writing a novel that she has wanted to write for a very long time. Her previous historicals on William Marshal were based during Eleanor's time, and Eleanor would beckon to the author to write Eleanor's story.

And that she did. With typical Chadwick flair, we have a start to what will prove to be an amazing trilogy on Eleanor, except our main protagonist is now called Alienor. My first inclination was to shy from this twist on the anglicized name of Eleanor, but Chadwick's skillful writing set me at ease with this proper spelling of Eleanor right away. Among other things, I loved how she portrayed Louis; my feelings about him changed as his character changed.. and she made him more interesting than he probably was! What a sack of uselessness he seemed to be.

Alienor's story is familiar to most of us medieval fiction lovers, but as always Chadwick tells it beautifully and with deft writing skill. She does not inundate us with endless facts and names, she simply draws us into Alienor's world from the time she was a child to the time she finally meets Henry, her second husband. It is a poignant tale as we ache for Alienor during her loveless marriage to the weak and overly pious King of France even though we know eventually she will break free. But Chadwick gives us the full story, the full measure of Alienor so that we live and breathe in Alienor's world unlike any other novel on the woman.

We root for Alienor as she faces obstacle after obstacle (and goes on a crusade!) and we still manage to learn a bit more of the story behind the well-known history of the era. Her sister Petronella shows us a new side of a scandalous story, and Alienor herself proves she is not all ice as one would believe. The supporting characters all add to the nuances of the drama, and there were some characters who get to stay around longer than others as the author saw fit. Fans of both Chadwick and the love and hate story between Eleanor and Henry will love this telling, but will be sad when the novel is over because there is still so much left to be told. I am impatiently waiting for the author to write the next installment, The Winter Crown, which we hope will be available by the fall of 2014.

As I stated in my final reading status update on Goodreads, "Chadwick writes so well I am annoyed I've finished the book." There is no need for me to repeat how awesome and vivid of a story that Elizabeth Chadwick writes, she is the ultimate contemporary expert of medieval historical fiction in my humble opinion. Yet I will never get tired of complimenting Elizabeth Chadwick's writing as long as she promises to write more, more, more, more, and more!!! Come on, 2014!

A problem that I'll have to debate during my wait for her next novel is trying to decide which is my favorite Chadwick novel of the eight that I've read. I've read three Chadwick's this year but 2011's Lady of the English still sticks in my mind. Perhaps I'll have to have a Chadwick Re-Read Marathon to see which is the cream that rises to the top. Of those that I've read, Shadows and Strongholds, Lady of the English, and now The Summer Queen will be battling for that position. Which novel was your favorite Chadwick thus far?

Jul 21, 2013


Sunday, July 21, 2013
The Sunday   

Where have I been this whole month of July, you ask? Or did you not even notice that I was absent?
It's been a wind tunnel of changes!!!

As expected with any career move, priorities have shifted as my life has taken a new direction. At my previous full time job, I had spent the last four months not doing a whole lot as the owner was slowly inching towards shutting the 35 year old company down. I was avidly searching for a job - but knowing that my big fortieth birthday was in July and I was ONCE AGAIN undergoing a job search, I wanted one that would LAST. I had thought this last one would last, as I had replaced a lady five years ago who had been there for twenty five years and was retiring. I wanted to be retiring from that job in twenty five years myself. But, for whatever reason, the owner of the company did not have the normal, polite, caring personality of a person who would hand down his business to the son in law who had made his business profitable for the last fifteen years. Instead the owner handed over a last paycheck with uncivil ceremony to the son in law.

The writing was on the wall however, from my point of view, since Christmas time. I had been searching for THE JOB that would feature stability and longevity. And benefits. I worked at my last job for over five years and did not take a single vacation. I took a single day off for some surgery and that was about it. So when I handed in my resignation letter, my boss was relieved, as he was able to go forth with putting a sign out front to put the building for sale, etc. Meanwhile, all he had to do was transfer his business to his son in law and many people would have been happy, but that just wasn't in the cards. Now an extended family is in upheaval and at odds with each other, and I am working at my local school district in a building that is less than a mile away. I started there on June 24, and that's when I stopped writing blog posts. I have tons of learning to do as the sole Purchasing Specialist for the entire district, and with summer here my free time is being spent with the family as opposed to cuddling up with a book. Oh yes, I am reading some - but I just don't have the zeal to blaze through books any longer. I am enjoying the sun before it gives me a heart attack, and then I'm simply hanging with the family. Zoo, movies, dinner, swimming etc. I definitely do not have the zeal to sit at the computer during my time off -- I was able to blog and blog some more at the old office, but since that isn't the case with my new career, things will be slow on the blogfront for the rest of its duration.

And my first vacation with my six year old is coming up! We are going to take an extended weekend trip to San Antonio: going to Sea World, Ripley's museum, doing a River Boat ride etc. I have lived near Dallas, Texas for the last nineteen years and yet I have never been to San Antonio. My eleven year old daughter has seen more of Texas than I have!!

This new job offers vacations built in, so when my kids are off from school, I will be off too! The only difference is the summers, but that's fine with me! Can you imagine this positive change in my life? NEVER have I had the luxury of taking days off when the kids were off from school, and NOW I will be off as well! A full week at Thanksgiving, almost two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break.. plus an additional ten days of personal time for the year. Wow. I have been so blessed and I am so glad that I was patient and held out for that perfect job that would be the best fit for my family. And blessed to be working in the business office with so many fantastic people, what a tremendous boon that is, and I am so thankful...not to mention all the extended relationships I am making with the teachers and personnel from nineteen schools.

So, now that you know I haven't really dropped off to the dark side...

 My last post was a review of Patricia Falvey's The Yellow House which put me at the halfway point of the TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader. I then started reading the newest Philippa Gregory novel, The White Princess, and got bored so I put that aside to read Elizabeth Chadwick's newest novel on Eleanor of Aquitaine The Summer Queen which I have still to write the review, sad to say. But I devoured that one. Obviously. I haven't met a Chadwick novel I didn't like.

But Gregory is another matter.. as a fellow reader once said to me, perhaps we are outgrowing Philippa Gregory. My last status update on GR regarding The White Princess:

"Put aside to read Chadwick's. This novel was not holding interest anyway. Too many smh & WTF moments for my sanity right now. I'll get back to it, though."
That was July 6 at page 114. For some reason Elizabeth of York comes off as being as interesting as a white wall. And blah blah blah with all the dang gossipy stupid tawdry rumors that Gregory uses with relish, I am just not in the mood. Plus the fact I was sent the book to review, but not with any sort of agreement of WHEN I would review it, and once they told me to post on such and such a date, I'm sorry but I do NOT GET PAID TO WRITE REVIEWS AT YOUR REQUEST. So that just made me hate the book even more, and it was time to step away.

Now I am reading my next TBR Challenge book, Katherine, a classic historical by Anya Seton. This is also a read along at Classic Hist Fic on my Goodreads group, and it's been great reading along with others. I am about 70% through it, and the first half was great but then started slowing down. Katherine's character doesn't seem very dimensional and she aggravates me, but the writing and the story itself keeps me going.

My next read will be Jean Plaidy's Lion of Justice, which is book two in the Norman Trilogy. In my Plaidy Goodreads group we had loved The Bastard King, and so it was unanimous to choose the next in the series. We will start reading that July 28 and I have to work on setting up those discussions before I forget, so I will leave you all now!!

I hope your summers are all about being fun and amazing and most of all, relaxing!!

Jul 1, 2013

The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey

Monday, July 01, 2013
A story of Irish proportions! 

The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey
Published February 15th 2010 by Center Street
Hardcover, 352 pages
Source is a personal copy/not for review purposes
Burton Book Review Rating: 4.5 stars

THE YELLOW HOUSE delves into the passion and politics of Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20th Century. Eileen O'Neill's family is torn apart by religious intolerance and secrets from the past. Determined to reclaim her ancestral home and reunite her family, Eileen begins working at the local mill, saving her money and holding fast to her dream. As war is declared on a local and global scale, Eileen cannot separate the politics from the very personal impact the conflict has had on her own life. She is soon torn between two men, each drawing her to one extreme. One is a charismatic and passionate political activist determined to win Irish independence from Great Britain at any cost, who appeals to her warrior's soul. The other is the wealthy and handsome black sheep of the pacifist family who owns the mill where she works, and whose persistent attention becomes impossible for her to ignore.

The Yellow House is a very stirring, emotive novel that re-imagines life in Ireland during the early 1900's featuring a backdrop of civil war and religious strife. It gives us all fictional characters, but they are all so well told you would have trouble believing this all came from a debut author's mind. Full of love, hate and bonds of love, the story weaves all the elements of life in Ireland through the first person narrative told by the strong-willed and admirable character of Eileen O'Neill: full of flaws, yet so full of determination so the reader can't help but root for her even when she is making disastrous decisions.

There are many events that occur through the book, from births to death to marriages and love lost and found but I am certainly not going to spoil all that fun for you. There is a definite family saga feel to this story with a very strong cast of supporting characters, and the added political backdrop of the turmoil between Freedom Fighters and Protestants and Catholics was a bonus for the historical lover in myself.

I found myself tearing up during the last portion of the novel it was just that good, and I have no problems recommending this quick-reading expansive novel to anyone who wants to be immersed in a story full of Irish charm and violence, music men and freedom fighters, romance and revenge. Since this release, the author has published another novel based in Ireland which also mentions our main protagonist so I'm putting that one on my wish-list too.

This novel was one of my picks for the Roof Beam Reader's 2013 TBR Challenge. Click the button to see my progress thus far: