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Dec 30, 2015

Burton Book Review Best Reads of 2015 and What's Ahead for 2016

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Every year I post a favorites list of books that I had read that year.
Best of 2009
Best of 2010
Best of 2011
Best of 2012
Best of 2013
Best of 2014

This is my seventh year of Best Of's! Which means there is a blogiversary coming up this week, yay me!
I was fortunate that this year I was able to read more titles that I wanted to read as opposed to adhering to a review schedule. As life evolves, so has the blog.. and less review books means less blogging and more real life stuff. I had a career change mid 2013 which derailed my reading, and more recently I have become a mommy chauffeur to the brats. Aside from a recent EF-4 tornado impacting about 1,000 homes nearby, before that hit I posted on facebook regarding the year in review: "2015 began with a hospital bill we are still paying for, my son was the pack 896 winner of Pinewood Derby, my hubby bought me a Kindle Voyage, I met Susanna Kearsley, the boys went camping during a tornado, mom & I went to Shakespeare in the Park, we all went to the Perot Museum in Dallas, I aced a stressful test going towards my TASBO certification, I became a Parish Council member" so it was really a pretty good year for me in general. I have been settling into a new position at my office (after a full year in the position, lol) and have been thankful for the blessings bestowed on me and the family.

I was able to read some books that I had sitting in the wings waiting for someday.. and I will continue to read books from my own library as opposed to new acquisitions. This means that 'best of 2015' did not have to be published in 2015 but almost all of them were. Here is the link to all the books I have read and reviewed this year.

These are my fave reads of 2015:
(Click the titles or images to go to my review, opens in a new window).

Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot - The author's previous work made last year's Best Of list as well. A vivid voice shines through her writing that will suck you in and make you sigh with pleasure once you are through. This was a fascinating look at World War II in a very different character-driven perspective.

Watch The Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle - Even though Tudor/Elizabethan novels have overstayed their welcome for the most part, I absolutely loved this portrayal of Penelope Devereux whose mother has always fascinated me. This author has a wit about her writing that gives a new life to the Tudor-era novels.

Somebody I Used To Know by David Bell- There are days which call for unputdownable suspense, and this fits the bill perfectly. I read all 448 pages of this thriller in one day.

The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz- Laura Frantz is well known in the Christian fiction genre, but this was the first one I had gotten around to reading. It was mesmerizing and full of hope and messages of faith, set after the American Revolution.

The entire Gifting trilogy by Katie Ganshert - Written under nom de plume K.E. Ganshert, this series was amazingly eye opening to me, who normally shies away from the alternate world type of Young Adult reads. I absolutely loved all three books and made my daughter read them too. Very well done and I sincerely hope there is more from this nom de plume!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - published in 2011, I had not received the book until the summer. I am definitely going to be continuing the series after I get tired of my current series binge of Philippa Carr. This novel was a pleasant surprise for me, as I had begun this with cold feet, and it was not until after the first fifty pages or so that I could get invested in the story of witches, vampires and demons. I raced through to the end though!

As you can see, my tastes have changed a bit over the previous years. What started out at mostly Tudor and Medieval reads have evolved into young adult, fantasy, and some Christian fiction. A little bit of everything just to keep me happy and engaged with reading.

Looking ahead to 2016, one wonders if I should bother blogging or not. It seems like no one is here sometimes.. but I know that not every review generates a need to actually comment. I am guilty of not clicking all the way through the many motions on other folks' reviews to simply say 'Thanks for the review, Looks Good.'  My simple reviews are not combative or mind boggling things that beg others to examine a question and answer them, hence, no comments.

There was a book I decided not to review last year simply because it was a reading for pleasure book. And writing reviews feels a lot like work, so I gave myself a break on it. Then, when I went back recently to look for my thoughts on that book -- it wasn't there. And that's when I reminded myself that I need to blog/review for me. This site is here for my pleasure - and for my purposes of cataloging and remembering my thoughts. Because let's face it: I'm getting older and my mind is pretty much a black hole! I barely remember what I did yesterday, so I am not going to remember every book I've read. That's why I have this nifty little blog so all I have to do is search my blog and I'll refresh my memory. I do NOT have delusions of becoming a writer someday and I am not using this blog to 'hone my craft' as others may be using theirs. I don't have the skills to professionally write reviews, and I never will. However, I like tinkering with design and graphics, and the blog itself allows me to do that as I update the look of it, and create cool little images like I have for this particular post, when I get the itch to do so.

I hope to read more Elizabeth Chadwick as I have kind of dropped the ball on that one this year, and I hope to read some old favorites from Georgette Heyer, Philippa Carr/Victoria Holt (not necessarily Plaidy), Susanna Kearsley and V.C. Andrews. If I add any more I'll just be over-extending and disappointment will rule.

Speaking of disappointment, for the first time in years I am not entering the self-imposed Goodreads challenge where you post a number of books you would like to read. For some stupid reason they changed the format and you can no longer tell how many pages you have read. I find that totally unhelpful. Comparing the number of books per user is crazy when you can't look at real numbers such as actual pages.

May 2016 be fruitful and full of wonderful reading.. if you're reading this, that is!! I'm reading it, so I will wish for myself a happy, chocolate filled loving life with my hubby and kids, and let's enjoy the cat and dogs, too.

Dec 28, 2015

Saraband for Two Sisters by Philippa Carr, Daughters of England book #4

Monday, December 28, 2015

Saraband for Two Sisters by Philippa Carr
Published 1976
The Miracle at St. Bruno's -read my review
The Lion Triumphant - read my review
The Witch From the Sea- read, but never reviewed here.

Angelet and Bersaba. They were identical twins, but their alikeness stopped at their physical appearance. Angelet was gentle and mild in her innocence. While Bersaba was dark and devious in her overwhelming sensuality. They had never been apart--until Bersaba became ill. Angelet was immediately packed off to London. There she met and married Richard Tolworthy and went to live at the handsome, brooding manor house at Far Flamstead. Bersaba had always thought she would be the first to wed. Recovered, she went to visit the newlyweds with more jealousy than joy in her heart. Nothing could have prepared her for the secrets she discovered there. Secrets of a carefully hidden past that could unleash dangerous passions and forever separate her from the sister she had always loved...

This is the fourth novel I have read of the Daughters of England series created by Philippa Carr who is also known as Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt. The series is a historical gothic romance saga that follows the same family tree from one generation to the next, set against intriguing backdrops of historical importance. While Plaidy's work can be incessantly dry and monotonous as she details historical events with her royal character portrayals, the Carr pen name allowed her to freely carve out fanciful reimaginings with some pretty far-fetched plots which makes it so much fun to read.

The previous novel The Witch from The Sea brought us the story of a woman being washed ashore and the drama that was caused by her arrival. In Saraband for Two Sisters that woman's daughter arrives back at Trystan Priory and creates turmoil within the lives of twins Angelet and Bersaba. This novel is told in alternating first person accounts by these sisters, who are twins only in appearance. Their characters are developed before our eyes as Bersaba is the impetuous passionate one, and Angelet is the sweeter kinder of the two. The reign of King Charles is at question in England and the two key men in the novel are at opposite ends of the political beliefs of the time: Royalist and Puritan. Of course, the twins wind up with one of each.

Wild events occur from smallpox and secrets of a mysterious castle, poisons and falling in love with the wrong men. It was fast paced and seemed better to stomach than the previous novel; with some of the previous Carr novels the males were portrayed as overbearing brutes and this one only seems to have the recurring character of the grumpy maniacal Grandfather Casvellyn as the mean man. The others were pretty darned good to a fault. This time...I know it can't last forever.

These are the type of novels that you can't go too much into the detail without giving away a spoiler, so I will end it here with the remarks that I enjoy the Daughters of England series for the dramatic license it exhibits even while still setting a historical tone, and the characters are so easy to root for. The gothic suspense with romance thrown in is always a treat and whenever I finish a Carr novel I always want to binge read and move on to the next one. These novels would have made a fantastic TV series with awesome instrumentals playing in the background.

Since I own all the titles, just for kicks I looked up the next book: Lament for A Lost Lover and it will bring us more turbulent political drama of Cromwell and will follow the daughter of Bersaba as they are forced away from their home to take exile with the rightful king.

Dec 14, 2015

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - All Souls' book one

Monday, December 14, 2015
Book 1 fascinated me!
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Paperback, 579 pages
Published December 27th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published February 8th 2011)
ISBN 0143119680 (ISBN13: 9780143119685)
Burton Book Review Rating: 5 stars 
A richly inventive novel about a centuries-old vampire, a spellbound witch, and the mysterious manuscript that draws them together.

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism.

I had gotten the All Souls boxed set over the summer and hoped to be able to find the time to read them asap, but I just managed to finish book one, A Discovery of Witches, recently. At almost 600 pages I would have thought it would take me a month to read given the busy time of the year, but the story had me hooked after page 15 or so and I could not wait to get a chance to sneak in a few pages and visit my fave paranormal characters.

I am not one who habitually sets out to read about witches, vampires or creatures, or any other worldly "fantasy" creatures yet there was something so creative and intriguing about the particular ingenious facets about these characters. Diana is a very likable person who was born a witch but doesn't really trust herself as a witch, and a vampire Matthew finds her and falls in love with her in spite of all the no-no's about no mixing of the creatures. And the demons -- spelled daemons -- are a very intellectual group wearing old-fashioned vests who could be diabolical were a nice touch.

The book has been out for a few years, so there's not much more to say on it review wise. It's a #1 Best Seller on Amazon in the Vampire Thriller Kindle category, which seems pretty cool. There is mystery and suspense,  sweet budding romance, violent vampire cravings, and fire tingling fingers on Diana the witch. So many things that I typically would be all like 'dude, that's so unintelligent and made-up fairy tale stuff for kids'. Whatever, I loved it and I can't wait to get to book two, especially as there is going to be some time travel going on to Elizabethan England. See, there's my historical fiction nerd getting its fix.

 I am kind of annoyed that I read a synopsis for book three because there was a big spoiler there (now that I care about the characters, I'm totally invested in the story). So beware there if you have not read these yet.

For readers who like a bit of adventure, I completely recommend the first book, A Discovery of Witches, the debut novel (whaaat???!!) by Deborah Harkness, she who is the spinner of tales full of awesome imagination and a wonderful sly wit during really tense moments.. and I just heard that she is set to release in 2017 another All Souls' piece, The Serpent of Mirrors, so the current release of three books won't be a trilogy for long.

Penguin has released a free, e-book only, richly illustrated real-time reading guide that brings to life the world created by Deborah Harkness in A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, retracing the events of these two bestselling novels with illuminating behind-the-scenes details and real-life events that figure into the books. Get the scoop here.