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Feb 24, 2014

Solomon's Song by Roberta Kells Dorr

Monday, February 24, 2014

Biblical retelling of a mysterious love

Solomon's Song by Roberta Kells Dorr
Moody Publishers; January 2014 reissue; orig pub. 1989
$14.99; pb;304pp; 9780802484925
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

The sadness and the tenderness of life are felt so acutely in the presence of beauty, and love is revealed more in our sorrow than in our joy. -Solomon, from Solomon's Song

The wisest of all kings, beloved son of King David and his wife Bathsheba, builder of a prosperous empire, lover to many wives and concubines-King Solomon was once merely a son of David with no guarantee of ever taking the throne. On the cusp of adulthood, with no direction in life, Solomon found himself infatuated . . . in love with a lowly shepherdess, a young maiden chosen for his father to serve David in his later years.

Overhead clouds ceased to discharge life-giving rain, and the anxious people looked to King David for relief from the famine. In their weakness they turned from Yahweh and sacrificed to foreign gods. But David's eldest son, Adonijah had a plan, one that could cost the Benjamites their lives. Revenge.

Solomon was still Bathsheba's eldest son's and with it came certain family expectations. His mother wanted nothing less than the throne for her eldest living son. He must marry a princess first, and then he can marry any common woman he desired.

Solomon struggled against family expectations and his chief rival, his own brother, Adonijah; he fought against the most disappointing aspect of his quest to become ruler, "Love is nothing, when pitted against strength and power."

The Song of Solomon is a book of poetry in the Old Testament and is used as a basis for this biblical novel. The author creates a vivid image of a younger Solomon and brings his character to life as his father King David's life comes to a climatic end. The battle for power among the king's sons is set against a backdrop of civil unrest and famine. The people wish for King David to appease fertility gods by marrying a young and vital woman in hopes of bringing an end to the crippling drought.

Enter Shulamite as this woman proposed for King David, but Solomon saw her first and they fall in love which sets off a chain of events featuring jealousy, betrayal that doesn't break through their pure love.

Readers of the author's previous recent reissue David and Bathsheba will enjoy this next installment in the chronology of the bible, though sometimes the writing comes across as too matter of fact when it's supposed to be a love story. However, the total package soars above due to its unforgettable characters and important topics.

**Really intriguing background to the unknown Shulamite lover can be found here.

Feb 21, 2014

Summer is For Lovers by Jennifer McQuiston

Friday, February 21, 2014

Summer is For Lovers by Jennifer McQuiston
Avon, September 2013 $5.99
349 pages
Historical romance
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

Though she was just a girl when they first met, Caroline Tolbertson’s infatuation with David Cameron remains undimmed. Now fate has brought the handsome Scotsman back to Brighton for what promises to be an unforgettable summer. Soon, Caroline will have to choose a husband, but for now she is free to indulge her curiosity in things of a passionate nature.

That is, if David will agree to teach her.

Past mistakes have convinced David he’ll make a terrible husband, though he’ll gladly help the unconventional Caroline find a suitor. Unfortunately, she has something more scandalous in mind. As the contenders for her hand begin to line up, her future seems assured…provided David can do the honorable thing and let them have her.

When a spirited young woman is determined to break Society's rules, all a gentleman can do is lend a hand…or more.
For readers of historical romance who like a bit more romance, this is the novel to read. It features a sexy Scottish man who is unknowingly crying out for love, and a gangly awkward young lady determined to find a way to provide for her family, which includes being tutored in the arts of love.

Caroline is a swimmer at heart, something very uncouth in the Victorian era, but she endears herself to David Cameron. He doesn't want to fall in love with her, but he does just when the rest of society begrudgingly decides Caroline is someone worth having. Will Caroline pursue her heart or take the easy way out? A fun story that indulges the romance reader with a memorable picturesque setting  in Brighton, England with an enticing cove along the beach. It's a nice bonus for this author's newcomers that there is no need to read the first novel that David starred in, but her readers should enjoy this one as much as they did the first.

Feb 19, 2014

Wake by Anna Hope

Wednesday, February 19, 2014
A war story with lots of potential and let down

Wake by Anna Hope
Random House; February 2014
$26.00; hb; 304pp; 9780812995138
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Burton Book Review Rating: 3 stars

A brilliant debut for readers of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, in which three women must deal with the aftershocks of WWI and its impact on the men in their lives-a son, a brother and a lover. Their tragic connection is slowly revealed as the book unfolds.

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep 2) Ritual for the dead 3) Consequence or aftermath.

Hettie, a dance instructress at the Palais, lives at home with her mother and her brother, mute and lost after his return from the war. One night, at work, she meets a wealthy, educated man and has reason to think he is as smitten with her as she is with him. Still there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach...Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, more and more estranged from her posh parents, she looks for solace in her adored brother who has not been the same since he returned from the front...Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband of 25 years has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out of work veterans. But when he shows signs of being seriously disturbed-she recognizes the symptoms of "shell shock"-and utters the name of her son she is jolted to the core...

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

Wake is a potentially poignant and gripping novel that follows three families whose loved ones served in the Great War. Based in London, the 1920's setting was presented in an eloquent and intoxicating way as it embraced the invisible shroud that the war had left behind.

The writing was fast paced as we get into the heads of the main characters wondering if there is life after war, and getting into the minds of veterans was devastating and haunting. A mother sees her dead son in all those who have returned – alive but broken, a sister wonders who the man is behind the face of her brother, as she ponders if there is life after losing a betrothed.

It was hard to tell the difference between the two younger women Hettie and Evelyn as their characters began to morph into each other but the older mother in the story helps break it up a bit. The manner of the death of her son in the war is a tragic mystery that connects some of the characters which provided an intriguing angle to the story.

Instead of focusing on survival and resilience the story circles around the characters with an ominous sense of continual loss. If you allow yourself to be drawn to the emotional hues to the novel this could be a very enjoyable reading experience.

The kicker was that it was going along at a great pace: full of life, death, love and grief, when the story abruptly ended thus making this novel catapult to the top of my worst endings ever list.

Feb 18, 2014

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck (Blog Tour & Giveaway)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014
See below on how to enter for the giveaway copy of FALLEN BEAUTY (U.S. entries only).

Fallen Beauty by Erika Robuck
Penguin NAL March 4, 2014
384 pages paperback
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for this honest review
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

“Without sin, can we know beauty? Can we fully appreciate the summer without the winter? No, I am glad to suffer so I can feel the fullness of our time in the light.”

Upstate New York, 1928. Laura Kelley and the man she loves sneak away from their judgmental town to attend a performance of the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. But the dark consequences of their night of daring and delight reach far into the future.…

That same evening, Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her indulgent husband hold a wild party in their remote mountain estate, hoping to inspire her muse. Millay declares her wish for a new lover who will take her to unparalleled heights of passion and poetry, but for the first time, the man who responds will not bend completely to her will.…

Two years later, Laura, an unwed seamstress struggling to support her daughter, and Millay, a woman fighting the passage of time, work together secretly to create costumes for Millay’s next grand tour. As their complex, often uneasy friendship develops amid growing local condemnation, each woman is forced to confront what it means to be a fallen woman…and to decide for herself what price she is willing to pay to live a full life.

Every once in a blessed while we come across an author who has such a writing voice that we eagerly anticipate their next work when it is years away. Erika Robuck is such an author for me as I discovered her in 2009/2010. Rising swiftly among the ranks of the most accomplished historical fiction authors, Erika diligently researches her next subject and she takes her readers along on a wonderful adventure as she shares her talented way of storytelling with us.

The story of eccentric Edna St. Millay was a new one to me, and her shocking lifestyle threatened to thwart my wish to enjoy this novel. Thankfully the author created a counterpart to the tormented poetess with her fictional character Laura, who embodied the opposite that the poet was. Laura's life spins out of control however, causing her to become ostracized and the fallen beauty the title suggests. The partnership between Laura and Millay is tenuous, secret and yet something so poisonous it is a wicked thrill to watch how the author imagines the intermingling of mere mortals with someone so evocative and far out of society's realm that the poet Millay was.

While previous works of Erika Robuck had me passionately at hello, Fallen Beauty took a bit to get started. I think it was because of the sexual nuances surrounding Millay which I was afraid was going to explode onto the pages, but that never happened. My initial trepidation was unfounded, as the whole of this poignant story of loss and redemption was a tale of such powerful woe that it is a wonder I didn't become depressed. The redemption part helped round out the story, and as usual for a Robuck novel, the portrayal should make Edna St. Millay extremely proud - if only to be resurrected once again for another era.

Click here for my previous posts featuring Erika Robuck and:
My review of Call Me Zelda
My review of Hemingway's Girl
My review of Receive Me Falling

Please follow along the tour with the next few stops upcoming:

About the Author:
Erika Robuck, credit Catsh Photography LLC

Erika Robuck has appeared on the Southern Independent Bestseller List for Call Me Zelda and is the critically acclaimed author of Hemingway’s Girl. Born and raised in Annapolis, Maryland, Erika was inspired by the cobblestones and old churches. She is a contributor to the popular fiction blog, Writer Unboxed, and maintains her own historical fiction blog called Muse. For more information please visit, and Twitter @ErikaRobuck.

Erika Robuck will embark on a national tour in March! For more information on Erika’s tour events, please visit and participating bookstore websites.


  a Rafflecopter giveaway
Please follow the instructions on the rafflecopter form. The only mandatory entry is the first one. Open to USA Residents only, courtesy of the publisher. Not responsible for lost mail. Good luck!

Feb 14, 2014

I Married the Duke by Katharine Ashe

Friday, February 14, 2014

I Married the Duke (The Prince Catchers #1)  by Katharine Ashe
 Avon, 2013, $5.99, pb, 384pp,  9780062229816
Historical romance
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

Three very different sisters beguile society with their beauty and charm, but only one of them must fulfill a prophecy: marry a prince. Who is the mystery Prince Charming, and which sister will be his bride?

On the way to marry a prince in a castle, a lady should never:

1. Bribe an infuriatingly arrogant and undeniably irresistible ship captain,2. Let him kiss her senseless on a beach, 3. Battle thieves at his side, and 4. Exchange wedding vows with him, even under the direst circumstances.
But daring, determined Arabella Caulfield isn’t just any lady. And Luc Westfall is no typical ship captain. He’s the new Duke of Lycombe, and to defeat a plot that could destroy his family he must have an heir. Now he knows just the woman for the job . . . and he’s not above seduction to turn this would-be princess into a duchess.

A first in a new series by Katharine Ashe, I Married The Duke is an excellent comfort read for those readers wanting a novel of romance, intrigue and non-stop fun. The setting features swords, scars and ruffians set in the path of our glorious copper haired heroine who seeks answers to her heritage. Arabella and her sisters seek to fulfill the prophecy that one of them will marry a prince and it's this cherished dream that leads Arabella straight into Luc Westfall who hides his noble identity as a Duke.

 Given the novel's title, one could imagine what would happen, but there are quite a few twists that will  keep you guessing along the way (imagine bars on windows, thumbless suspects, a murderous uncle, unfit aristocrats, and lustful sexy beach scenes). There were quite an intriguing cast of characters and the nuances of the early 1800's English setting were well portrayed. Exhibiting fine storytelling skills and a dramatic flair, the romance of our hero and heroine was up and down with our stubborn heroine and made for a wonderfully romantic story that will have me looking for the next sister's story, especially since there are still some loose ends left to be tied up.

This is a great price point, and I really enjoyed this read. Definitely conducive to me buying some others from Katharine Ashe!

Feb 6, 2014

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira (A Novel of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt)

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Touching, evocative and brilliant

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira (A Novel of Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt)
Viking Penguin February 2014
Hardcover 352 pages
Received a gorgeous hardcover from the publisher in exchange for this thoroughly honest review
Burton Book Review Rating: 5 big stars!

A novel of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s great romance from the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter
The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

In I Always Loved You, Robin Oliveira brilliantly re-creates the irresistible world of Belle Époque Paris, writing with grace and uncommon insight into the passion and foibles of the human heart.

(Click for my review of Robin Oliveira's first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter)

For readers who enjoy the style of Kelly O'Connor McNees (The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott) or Kathleen Grissom (The Kitchen House), or if you enjoyed Stephanie Cowell's Claude and Camille, this second novel by Robin Oliveira delivers a powerful punch with her beautiful prose. It's not so much the story in itself, it's the magnificent flow of words that ecompasses so much. I absolutely loved Robin Oliveira's first novel, and again here I noticed right away the style of writing- how Oliveira effortlessly portrays images, feelings and undertones of despair that captures what Belle Epoque Paris may have been all about in the artist's world. She's got me a believer of the relationship between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt (I'm not going to spoil anything, you'll simply have to read it) and there is nothing in the entire novel I would have changed.

It is a story that evolves around the painters residing in Paris at the time, and one that is depressive in nature. If you can't embrace either of these two themes I can understand some readers being turned off by the tones of the book. If you have experienced loss, or subject to melancholy moods and can empathize with struggles of the creative person than I don't see any reason why you shouldn't adore this story of the struggles and loves of Mary and Edgar. And yet, it is so much more, as it includes their circle of friends and thus becomes a panoramic view of the ever-changing needs of society. It doesn't bounce between all the characters, but we do have a vivid look into Edouard Manet's and Berthe Morisot's lives along with the secondary characters (including Mary's family) who completely fill out this evocative and emotive novel of the late 1800's in Paris.

Looking at my status updates on Goodreads:
"Oh the prose!!!! 'You uttered them and they evanesced, but if you wrote them, they remained, though whether the written word was any more truthful than the spoken was a mystery to her.'"

and a touching scene (you had to be there!)
"Thank you, Monsieur Degas."
"Oh no. Not anymore. I am Edgar." Best scene ever

I simply loved the whole thing - the story and the writing, and will gladly read anything by Robin Oliveira for the rest of my life. I have a friend who wants to read this too, and my first thought is I need to give this to her, but I just can't let it go. I am going to have to read it again. And only maybe then can I share the joy and the heartbreak of the story. For now, it's just too personal, and it's mine to keep. Thank you to Robin Oliveira for touching my heart and putting together sentences the way that you do. Brava!

Feb 4, 2014

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot

Tuesday, February 04, 2014
Realistic portrait of heroes of the Civil War

The Sentinels of Andersonville by Tracy Groot
Tyndale, February 2014
HC 368 pages
Historical fiction
Review copy provided by the publisher for review in the February 2014 Historical Novel Society magazine
Editors' Choice Review
Burton Book Review Rating: FIVE STARS

Dance Pickett knows better than most the suffering contained within the walls of Andersonville Prison. Posted on sentry duty, he'd like to help the condemned and dying prisoners of war but knows that any mercy he extends will be seen as treason.

Southern belle Violet Stiles could never have imagined the atrocities that lay just ten miles from her home. Surely the good folk of Americus would never knowingly condone such barbarism. When Violet's goodwill campaign stirs up accusations of Union sympathies and endangers her family, she realizes she must tread carefully.Confederate corporal Emery Jones never expected to find camaraderie with the Union prisoner he escorted to Andersonville. But the soldier's wit and poignant longing for his wife and children strike a chord in Emery.

How can this man, so like himself, be an enemy? Emery vows that this unlikely friendship will survive beyond the war--little knowing what that promise will cost him. As these three young Rebels cross paths and share their tales, a plot forms that, if successful, could hang them for treason. Will they have the strength to stand against and fight for their fellow man? Wrestling with God's harsh truth, they must decide for themselves, once and for all, Who is my neighbor?
Andersonville Prison was a death camp masquerading as a prison during the Civil War for the captured Union soldiers, but did the Confederates want it that way? The author relays a story so horrifying yet utterly compelling as we follow three young soldiers whose lives will never be the same simply because they crossed paths. While transporting his prisoner to Andersonville, Emery Jones suddenly faces treasonous thoughts when he realizes the deplorable conditions of the prison in Georgia. He meets Dance Pickett and Violet Stiles who echo his sentiments about the conditions and their efforts to clean up Andersonville lead to sad statements about humanity and the lack of justice during war.

A stirring story that demands to be read in one sitting because you don't want to leave these unforgettable characters, Tracy Groot could not have done any better with this topic. Even while giving us horrifying visions of 'fence-posts' of dead soldiers, we still could not help but reach for that ultimate gift of a happily ever after. The Sentinels of Andersonville is a wonderfully powerful and evocative story that I would recommend to any historical fiction fan.

My one complaint is that I do wish it were longer, I did not want it to end!

Edited so that I can add that I told you so!
The Sentinels of Andersonville was a 2015 Christy Award Winner.