Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

Synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca

What kind of woman becomes the wife of two kings, and the mother of two more?

Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England's shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.

Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent fifty-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.

My Review

4 Stars

In The Forever Queen, novelist Helen Hollick brings to life a period in history not often explored by  novelists -- pre-Conquest England.   Starting in the early 11th century, this novel spans approximately forty years and covers the reign of four English kings - Ethelred (the Unready), Edmund Ironside, Cnut and Harthacnut - and one queen - Emma, whose reign lasts almost the entirety of the book and gives it its title.

Although I have rated this novel four out of five stars, I did so with some misgivings.   One of the strengths of the novel was Hollick's ability to create a strong sense of time and place.   She accomplished this through use of descriptive prose, prose that leaves the reader feeling as if they are experiencing the story first hand rather than through the pages of a book.  Nevertheless, on several occasions I felt the descriptions were overdone, detracting from the story and bogging the book down. I also thought the flow of the novel, especially in the early chapters, was jarring at times and, as a result, I occasionally needed to revisit sentences or even entire paragraphs to ensure I was following the story accurately.    Lastly, while I'm a fan of big, epic works of historical fiction, at over 600 pages I thought The Forever Queen was too long, as there were many scenes which provided little or no value to the progression of the story.    

You may ask why, when I seem to have several issues with this novel,  did I rate it so highly?  Simple really.   Whatever my issues with the writing style, the history conveyed in this novel was absolutely fascinating and kept me reading.   This was the first historical novel I'd read set in England on the eve of the Conquest and it is evident that Hollick did her historical homework.  This novel taught me a lot about a period in history I previously knew little about and managed to do so in an entertaining manner.     In the case of my overall rating of The Forever Queen, the historical detail of this novel was simply so vivid that it overshadowed my issues with writing style and length. 

The story started in The Forever Queen continues in its sequel, I Am the Chosen King.

Recommended for anyone interesting in learning about English history right before the Norman Conquest. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly travelling meme that is being hosted for the Month of May by Mari at Mari Reads.

I received two books this week, both of which were my own purchases: 

Ghost Light by Susan Fletcher - previously published as Corrag (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

The Massacre of Glencoe happened at 5am on 13th February 1692 when thirty-eight members of the Macdonald clan were killed by government troops who had enjoyed the clan's hospitality for the previous ten days. Many more died from exposure in the mountains.

Fifty miles to the south Corrag is condemned for her involvement in the Massacre. She is imprisoned, accused of witchcraft and murder, and awaits her death. The era of witch-hunts is coming to an end - but Charles Leslie, an Irish propagandist and Jacobite, hears of the Massacre and, keen to publicise it, comes to the tollbooth to question her on the events of that night, and the weeks preceding it. Leslie seeks any information that will condemn the Protestant King William, rumoured to be involved in the massacre, and reinstate the Catholic James.

Corrag agrees to talk to him so that the truth may be known about her involvement, and so that she may be less alone, in her final days. As she tells her story, Leslie questions his own beliefs and purpose - and a friendship develops between them that alters both their lives.

In WITCH LIGHT, Susan Fletcher tells us the story of an epic historic event, of the difference a single heart can make - and how deep and lasting relationships that can come from the most unlikely places.

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

Brandon Sanderson, widely acclaimed for his work completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time saga,  begins a grand cycle of his own, with The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar's niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan's motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

So that is what was in my mailbox this week. 

Suddenly Sunday

Suddenly Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Svea at The Muse in the Fog, and the purpose of this meme is to share all the events that have occurred on your blog throughout the week.

Hard to believe it is Sunday yet again, and that May is just about over!  Where does the time go?  I was a little more active than usual on my blog this week, although I posted no reviews - I'll save those for next week.   In addition to my regular Mailbox Monday post, I also posted about Victoria Day (a Canadian national holiday) and some Queen Victoria/Victorian era-related books I'd like to read.    Finally, I participated, for the first time, in the weekly Book Blog Hop.   Don't know that I'll be a regular participant, but I like the idea of using the meme as a way to introduce myself to book blogs I otherwise wouldn't be aware of. 

I finished a couple of books this past week, The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick and Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar, and will post reviews for both next week.  

I hope everyone has a great week!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Book Blogger Hop 5/27 - 5/30

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly event hosted over at Crazy-For-Books.   This will be my first time participating!

This week's question is: What book to movie adaptation have you most liked?   Which have you most disliked? 

The book to movie adaptation I have most enjoyed would have to be Pride & Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth.   I think this adaptation best captured the spirit of the novel and the characters.   I also really enjoyed Peter Jackson's adaptation of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy.   The movies were simply fabulous. 

The book to movie adaptation I most disliked is probably The Other Boleyn Girl.  While I thought the costuming was incredible,  I thought the movie itself was pretty boring in comparison to the novel.  I also have to add The Bourne Identity to my dislike list.   While I thought the movie was fantastic, just about the only thing it shared in common with the book was the title.   For this reason I think it was a poor adaptation.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Can One Have Too Many Books?

As I've alluded to a few times on this blog, I have a mild book buying addiction.  Okay, it is a serious addiction.   I'm constantly ordering new books online, and I can't walk out of a bookstore without purchasing at least one (and usually more) book.   Buying books makes me happy, almost as happy as reading them, and they do look so good on my shelves *grins*.  I have feed this addiction regularly for the past few years....alright, I've feed it for just about as long as I can remember...but I've run into a small problem -- although I read a lot, my book buying habit has resulted in my to be read pile becoming the size of a small mountain.   Even without buying another,  I own enough unread books to keep me happily reading for years.    Furthermore, in spite of having a home library I'm dangerously close to running out of shelf space.   

While sitting in my library recently, I was struck by the sheer volume of books yet to be read.   I've always lived by the motto that 'one can never have too many books,' however, for the first time in my life, I've begun to reconsider the wisdom of this motto in the face of my daunting unread pile.     Horrible thought, I know.

So what do my fellow book lovers think?  Is it actually possible to have too many books? Or do I just need a bigger home library? 

Monday, May 23, 2011

In Celebration of Victoria Day

Happy Victoria Day! 

For those of you outside of Canada, Victoria Day is an annual national holiday, celebrated on or around the 24th of May, in honour of Queen Victoria's birthday, as well as the birthday of the current reigning monarch (Queen Elizabeth II).   It is also marks the unofficial kick-off of summer here in Canada! 

I recently watched the movie The Young Victoria and loved it!  I've always had a fascination with the Victorian Age but, despite being a big reader of historical fiction, I've not read much historical fiction set during Victoria era other than historical mysteries.   So, in honour of Victoria Day, I thought I'd list some of the books on my to be read pile featuring Queen Victoria or set during Victorian Age:


The Captive of Kensington Palace by Jean Plaidy (synopsis from fantasticfiction.co.uk):

Victoria is virtually a prisoner in Kensington Palace. Her mother and her mother's chamberlain, Sir John Conroy, are her guards. They will not allow her to associate with anyone that has not been thoroughly and critically checked to make sure Victoria is not made harmed by their very presence.Even her governesses are under scrutiny. She is not even allowed to be alone! Someone must always be with her. Her only hope is in contemplating her coming of age, whereupon she may be free and able to take her "Uncle King's" crown without her dreaded captures taking regency. Her best friends are her "dear" sister Feodora, married and living in Germany; her Uncle Leopold, her cousin-in-law and uncle as well as King of the Belgians; Lehzen, her faithful governess; the King and Queen, whom she is rarely allowed to see; and her cousins that she is also rarely allowed to see. She has scheming uncles trying to usurp her right to the throne, and family fighting over her. Every day she comes closer to her dream of adulthood, and her guards' despair at loss of power.

The World from Rough Stones by Malcolm Macdonald (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

The unforgettable first novel in the classic Stevenson Family Saga from epic master Malcolm Macdonald.

John Stevenson is a just a foreman when a near-fatal accident bring young Nora Telling into his life. Her nimbleness of mind and his power of command enable them to take over the working mill and rescue it from catastrophe.  Together with their friends the Thorntons-who are troubled by a marriage mismatched in passion-they are willing to risk any dare, commit themselves to any act of cunning on their climb from rags to riches.

The first novel in the classic Stevenson Family Saga, The World from Rough Stones is the epic story of two ambitious but poor young people who, at the very start of the Victorian Era, combine their considerable talents to found a dynasty and go on to fame and fortune.


The Victorians by A.N. Wilson (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

People, not abstract ideas, make history, and nowhere is this more revealed than in this superb portrait of the Victorians in which hundreds of different lives have been pieced together to tell a story. In an entertaining and often dramatic narrative, A.N. Wilson shows us remarkable people in the very act of creating the Victorian age.

The industrial-capitalist world came into being because of actual businessmen, journalists and politicians. We meet them in the pages of this fascinating book. Their ideas were challenged by the ideas of other people, such as Karl Marx, William Morris and George Bernard Shaw. Here are the lofty and the famous -- Prince Albert, Lord Palmerston, Charles Dickens, Gladstone and Disraeli -- and here too are the poor and the obscure -- doctors ministering to cholera victims in the big cities, young women working as models for the famous painters, the man who got the British hooked on cigarettes, the butchers and victims of conflict in Ireland, India and Africa. In this authoritative, accessible and insightful book, A.N. Wilson tells a great story -- one that is still unfinished in our own day.

We Two: Victoria and Albert - Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

It was the most influential marriage of the nineteenth century-and one of history's most enduring love stories. Traditional biographies tell us that Queen Victoria inherited the throne as a naïve teenager, when the British Empire was at the height of its power, and seemed doomed to find failure as a monarch and misery as a woman until she married her German cousin Albert and accepted him as her lord and master. Now renowned chronicler Gillian Gill turns this familiar story on its head, revealing a strong, feisty queen and a brilliant, fragile prince working together to build a family based on support, trust, and fidelity, qualities neither had seen much of as children. The love affair that emerges is far more captivating, complex, and relevant than that depicted in any previous account.


Has anyone read any of these?  If so, what did you think?  Do you have any other recommendations for historical fiction set in the Victorian Age?

Mailbox Monday

It's Mailbox Monday time again.    This weekly meme is being hosted for the month of May by Mari over at Mari Reads

I'm excited to share my mailbox this week, as I received some wonderful books. 
Won courtesy of Jenny Q at Let Them Read Books (Thank you!):

The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas (synopsis courtesy of Chapters.indigo.ca):

A rich, compelling historical novel-and a mystery of royal intrigue.
In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate.
Purchased using the gift cards I received for Mother's Day :-)

Outlaw by Angus Donald (synopsis courtesy of Chapters.indigo.ca):

In the tradition of Bernard Cornwell and Ben Kane, Outlaw is a rousing historical novel that mixes legend with fact to bring to life the time, the lives and the struggles of late 12th century England.  As the Henry II struggles with his rebellious children and the conflict between the Saxon nobility and the Norman conquerors continues on as bloody as ever, there is a figure that has remained firmly fixed in the imagination of generations - Robin Hood, an outlaw and a renegade nobility determined to bring down the men who took his land, his family, and his position.

When he's caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. But Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could also just as easily become his murderer...From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.

Evangeline by Ben Farmer  (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

As the British drove the French out of mid-eighteenth century Acadia (present day Nova Scotia), the beautiful seventeen-year-old Evangeline Bellefontaine is torn by British soldiers from her fiance, Gabriel Lajeunesse, on the eve of their wedding. Heartbroken but determined, Evangeline-along with illegal trapper Bernard Arseneau and priest Felician Abadie-sets out on a ten-year journey to the French-Spanish colony of Louisiana to seek her long-lost love. Evangeline's epic quest to find Gabriel brings her and her companions across North America's colonial wilderness, through the French and Indian War, and into New Orleans' rebellion against Spanish rule. The influence of Evangeline can still be found at every stop of her epic journey.

The Tudors by G.J. Meyer (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca): 
Acclaimed historian G. J. Meyer provides a fresh look at the fabled Tudor dynasty-and some of the most enigmatic figures ever to rule a country. In 1485, Henry Tudor, whose claim to the English throne was so weak as to be almost laughable, nevertheless sailed from France with a ragtag army to take the crown from the family that had ruled England for almost four centuries. Fifty years later, his son, Henry VIII, aimed to seize even greater powers-ultimately leaving behind a brutal legacy that would blight the lives of his children and the destiny of his country. Edward VI, a fervent believer in reforming the English church, died before realizing his dream. Mary I, the disgraced daughter of Catherine of Aragon, tried and failed to reestablish the Catholic Church and produce an heir, while Elizabeth I sacrificed all chance of personal happiness in order to survive.

The Tudors presents the sinners and saints, the tragedies and triumphs, the high dreams and dark crimes, of this enthralling era.

Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery and Folly From Royal Britain by Michael Farquhar (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

 Beleaguered by scandal, betrayed by faithless spouses, bedeviled by ambitious children, the kings and queens of Great Britain have been many things, but they have never been dull. Some sacrificed everything for love, while others met a cruel fate at the edge of an axeman's blade. From the truth behind the supposed madness of King George to Queen Victoria's surprisingly daring taste in sculpture, Behind the Palace Doors ventures beyond the rumors to tell the unvarnished history of Britain's monarchs, highlighting the unique mix of tragedy, comedy, romance, heroism, and incompetence that has made the British throne a seat of such unparalleled fascination.

My regular purchases: 

Changeless by Gail Carriger (Book Two of the Parasol Protectorate) - synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca:

Alexia Tarabotti, the Lady Woolsey, awakens in the wee hours of the mid-afternoon to find her husband, who should be decently asleep like any normal werewolf, yelling at the top of his lungs. Then he disappears - leaving her to deal with a regiment of supernatural soldiers encamped on her doorstep, a plethora of exorcised ghosts, and an angry Queen Victoria.

But Alexia is armed with her trusty parasol, the latest fashions, and an arsenal of biting civility. Even when her investigations take her to Scotland, the backwater of ugly waistcoats, she is prepared: upending werewolf pack dynamics as only the soulless can.

 She might even find time to track down her wayward husband, if she feels like it. 

Blameless by Gail Carriger (Book Three of the Parasol Protectorate) - synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca:

Quitting her husband's house and moving back in with her horrible family, Lady Maccon becomes the scandal of the London season.

Queen Victoria dismisses her from the Shadow Council, and the only person who can explain anything, Lord Akeldama, unexpectedly leaves town. To top it all off, Alexia is attacked by homicidal mechanical ladybugs, indicating, as only ladybugs can, the fact that all of London's vampires are now very much interested in seeing Alexia quite thoroughly dead.

While Lord Maccon elects to get progressively more inebriated and Professor Lyall desperately tries to hold the Woolsey werewolf pack together, Alexia flees England for Italy in search of the mysterious Templars. Only they know enough about the preternatural to explain her increasingly inconvenient condition, but they may be worse than the vampires -- and they're armed with pesto.

So that is what arrived in my mailbox.  What did you get in yours? 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Suddenly Sunday

Sunday Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Confessions & Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog.  The purpose of this meme is to share all the events that have occurred on your blog throughout the week.

Hard to believe it is Sunday once again.  I'm happy to report that spring has finally arrived here.  After what seemed to be endless days of rain and cooler temperatures, the sun made an appearance yesterday!   To celebrate I sat outside on my front porch to read for the first time this year.   Unfortunately, we are expecting rain again today.

Another quiet week for me on the blog front, as I only posted my mailbox Monday and one review:

I'm currently reading Helen Hollick's The Forever Queen, which is about Queen Emma of England and is set in the years right before the Norman Conquest.   I don't know if I'll finish in time to have a review posted prior to the end of the coming week, especially since I'm alternating between it and my continued re-reading of George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones

I hope everyone has a great reading week!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Book Review: Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Synopsis from Chapters.Indigo.ca:

One of today's premier historical novelists, Margaret George dazzles here as she tackles her most difficult subject yet: the legendary Elizabeth Tudor, queen of enigma-the Virgin Queen who had many suitors, the victor of the Armada who hated war; the gorgeously attired, jewel- bedecked woman who pinched pennies. England's greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was she really like? 

In this novel, her flame-haired, lookalike cousin, Lettice Knollys, thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth's rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth's throne, Lettice had been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood. This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family and each vying to convince the reader of her own private vision of the truth about Elizabeth's character. Their gripping drama is acted out at the height of the flowering of the Elizabethan age. Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake-all of them swirl through these pages as they swirled through the court and on the high seas. 

My Review

4.5 Stars

Elizabeth I, the latest release from historical novelist Margaret George, is an example of historical fiction at its finest.   Weighty and packed with historical detail, Elizabeth I is a novel to savour.  

While many novels featuring Elizabeth I focus on the early and middle years of her life and reign, with particular emphasis on Elizabeth's love life, Margaret George chose a different track.   Her focus instead is on the later years of Elizabeth's reign, starting in 1588, at the time of the Spanish Armada.  I found this choice refreshing, as the novel's focus is on the people and events that defined the later years of Elizabeth's reign, events such as the Spanish Armada, the Essex Rebellion and the defeats and victories in Ireland, rather than concentrating on Elizabeth's love life.  

The novel alternates between the voices of Elizabeth herself, and her cousin Lettice Knollys, who was banished from court for marrying Robert Dudley.   The chapters featuring Lettice serve to provide the reader with a different perspective on the actions and motivations of the monarch.    In addition to the two principal characters, Elizabeth and Lettice, the novel is filled with characters right from the pages of history, including the Earl of Essex, William and Robert Cecil, Francis Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh, and William Shakespeare.

Although many authors of historical fiction have attempted to bring England's Virgin Queen to life, few have managed to clearly convey why Elizabeth is considered to be England's greatest monarch.   George, however, has accomplished this and more.   Not only has she successfully conveyed the keen intellect and political astuteness of Elizabeth, but she has also captured the Queen's compassion and love for her subjects. 

My qualm, albeit a small one, is that the alternating narrations between Elizabeth and Lettice is, at times, unnecessarily repetitive.   While this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel, its frequency made it noticeable. 

I highly recommend this novel to all fans of historical fiction.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a travelling weekly meme that is being hosted in the month of May by Mari at Mari Reads. 

I didn't get as many new books in my mailbox this past week as I have in the past few, but that's okay since I'm more than a little overwhelmed by my mountain sized to be read pile at the moment...

Purchased in paper copy:

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (Synopsis from Chapters.Indigo.Ca):

When WWI breaks out, Maisie Dobbs is shipped to the front as a nurse. After the War, she sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force her to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.
 Purchased for my Kindle:

A Song of Ice and Fire - Books One to Four by George R.R. Martin (Synopsis from Amazon.com): 

 George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has become, in many ways, the gold standard for modern epic fantasy. Martin—dubbed the "American Tolkien" by Time magazine—has created a world that is as rich and vital as any piece of historical fiction, set in an age of knights and chivalry and filled with a plethora of fascinating, multidimensional characters that you love, hate to love, or love to hate as they struggle for control of a divided kingdom. It is this very vitality that has led it to be adapted as the HBO miniseries “Game of Thrones.”

This bundle includes the following novels:

I've already read each of the four books included in this bundle, and own them all in paper copy, but I'm going to re-read each of them in advance of the release of book 5, A Dance With Dragons, and since they are all rather large books I figured it was easier to cart them around in e-book format.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Suddenly Sunday

Sunday Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Svea at Confessions & Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog.  The purpose of this meme is to share all the events that have occurred on your blog throughout the week.

I can't believe Sunday is upon us once again!  I hope it is bright and sunny where you are, as it's pouring rain and a little chilly here today...although this makes it a perfect day for curling up with a big cup of tea and a good book :-)

I posted a couple of reviews here on my blog this past week:
  • The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (I lost a couple of comments, however, due to the Blogger outage); and
I also finished Gail Carriger's fantasy(steampunk) novel Soulless.  I won't be posting a review, but I did find the book to be delightfully funny.  I'm not normally a fan of anything involving werewolves and vampires, but Carriger's book worked for me and I'll definitely be reading the rest of the series, which I've already ordered.

This coming week I expect to finish Margaret George's latest release, Elizabeth I, which I am enjoying very much.   I hope to have my review ready by the end of the week.  I'll also continue working my way through the first book in George R.R. Martin's excellent A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series, A Game of Thrones.   I've just started my re-read of the series in preparation for the release of book five, A Dance With Dragons, this coming July. 

I hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: Virgin Widow by Anne O'Brien

Synopsis from Chapters.Indigo.ca:

A dazzling historical novel set during England's War of the Roses- the story of the courageous Anne Neville, future wife of Richard III, who comes of age in a time of chaos...

Anne Neville, daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick, grows up during the War of the Roses, a time when kings and queens are made and destroyed in an on-going battle for the ultimate prize: the throne of England. As a child Anne falls in love with the ambitious, proud Richard of Gloucester, third son of the House of York. But when her father is branded a traitor, her family must flee to exile in France. As Anne matures into a beautiful, poised woman, skillfully navigating the treacherous royal court of Margaret of Anjou, she secretly longs for Richard, who has become a great man under his brother's rule. But as their families scheme for power, Anne must protect her heart from betrayals on both sides-and from the man she has always loved, and cannot bring herself to trust.

My Review:

3.5 Stars
Anne O'Brien's Virgin Widow tells the story of Anne Neville from her early years as the daughter of the powerful Earl of Warwick until the birth of her son with Richard, Duke of Gloucester. 

Although little is known about Anne Neville's life, using the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses as a backdrop, O'Brien is able to bring this little known figure to life.  She is portrayed as a strong and likeable young woman, one who has to endure an unhappy marriage to the Prince of Wales, son of Margaret of Anjou and Henry VI, as well as the disintegration and division of her family in the struggle between the Yorks and the Lancasters for the throne of England, before eventually finding happiness and contentment with Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
As a love story this novel is entirely satisfying.  Anne Neville and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, are well drawn and engaging.   In addition, their love story is developed in such a way as to be entirely plausible.   Unfortunately, I was not expecting a love story to be the principal focus of this novel when I picked it up.   The synopsis I read (different from the one included above) led me to believe this book would focus more on the political aspects of the era in which Anne Neville lived rather than the romantic (I believe the synopsis I've included as part of this review is a more accurate reflection of the novel).  The political is definitely discussed - it would be difficult to write a novel about the Neville's of this era without it - but it rarely takes centre stage and, as a result, this aspect of the novel didn't fulfil my expectations.   The author states in her author's note that the book is meant as a romance, but the note was placed at the end of the book so I didn't read it until I'd already finished the novel.   I wish I'd known this going into reading the novel, as I would have adjusted my expectations accordingly.
Despite the novel not being entirely what I expected it would be, I still enjoyed it overall.  I thought the story flowed well and moved quickly and, while I felt certain secondary characters were poorly fleshed out or too black and white, the main characters were quite well-developed.   With respect to events and peoples of the Wars of the Roses period, O'Brien stuck closely to known historical fact.  My only criticism of the novel relates to certain speculation taken by the author with respect to the nature of the relationship between Margaret of Anjou and her son, Prince Edward.   I felt the nature of the relationship postulated by the author was far too sensational - it has no basis in historical fact and detracted from the storyline rather than enhancing it.  In fact, this one bit of sensationalism is the reason this novel became a 3.5-star read for me rather than a 4-star one. 

I recommend this novel to readers interested in getting a general overview of the Wars of the Roses period or to those looking for a nice historical love story. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection. 

If Virgin Widow or the Wars of the Roses is of interest to you, you might also like:

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca): 

A glorious novel of the controversial Richard III---a monarch betrayed in life by his allies and betrayed in death by history.

In this beautifully rendered modern classic, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III---vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower---from his maligned place in history with a dazzling combination of research and storytelling.

Born into the treacherous courts of fifteenth-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.

This magnificent retelling of his life is fllled with all of the sights and sounds of battle, the customs and lore of the fifteenth century, the rigors of court politics, and the passions and prejudices of royalty.

The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

A man other than my husband sits on England's throne today.  What would happen if this king suddenly went mad?  What would his queen do?  Would she make the same mistakes I did, or would she learn from mine?  

Margaret of Anjou, queen of England, cannot give up on her husband - even when he slips into insanity.  And as mother to the House of Lancaster's last hope, she cannot give up on her son - even when England turns against them. This gripping tale of a queen forced to stand strong in the face of overwhelming odds is at its heart a tender tale of love. Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham will once again ask readers to question everything they know about right and wrong, compassion and hope, duty to one's country and the desire of one's own heart.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Book Review: The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Synopsis (from Chapters.Indigo.ca):

When Eva's film star sister Catrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Trelowarth, Cornwall, where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Catrina's ashes and thus return her to the place where she belongs.  But in doing so Eva must confront ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Hallets, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. Eva finds herself able to see and talk to these people, and she falls for Daniel Butler, a man who lived and died long before she herself was born.  Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.

My Review

3.5 Stars

As a big fan of Susanna Kearsley - her novels Mariana and The Shadowy Horses are two of my all-time favourites - I eagerly anticipated the release of her latest book, The Rose Garden, and expected to love it every bit as much as I loved her other novels.  Unfortunately, the novel failed to live up to my expectations.   While Kearsley employed the same sort of plot devices in The Rose Garden that I thought worked so well in her other books, the story itself and the principal characters felt somewhat flat in comparison to the plot and characters of her previous novels and, as a result, the story never truly came to life for me.   On the positive side, I felt Kearsley did a great job of creating a strong sense of time - the present day and early eighteenth century - and place, which in this case was an old manor home and its surrounding area in Cornwall, England.    In addition, I also thought the transitions between the present day and the past to be smooth, which, in my experience, isn't always the case in time-slip novels.   

I don't want to leave the impression that this wasn't an enjoyable novel, as I did like it overall, but my rating has been influenced by the fact that with this novel I never experienced the same sort of magical pull into the story that left me unable to put her other novels down.   It was a good read, but, for me at least, not a great one.

Note: This novel comes from my own personal book collection.

If The Rose Garden is of interest, you might also like:

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

The first time Julia Beckett saw Greywethers she was only five, but she knew that it was her house. And now that she's at last become its owner, she suspects that she was drawn there for a reason. As if Greywethers were a portal between worlds, she finds herself transported into seventeenth-century England, becoming Mariana, a young woman struggling against danger and treachery, and battling a forbidden love.  Each time Julia travels back, she becomes more enthralled with the past…until she realizes Mariana's life is threatening to eclipse her own, and she must find a way to lay the past to rest or lose the chance for happiness in her own time.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

History has all but forgotten the spring of 1708, when an invasion fleet of French and Scottish soldiers nearly succeeded in landing the exiled James Stewart in Scotland to reclaim his crown.  But when bestselling author Carrie McClelland is drawn to the coastal town of Slains and decides to base her new historical novel there, it's an opportunity for the past to come to life.  She focuses her story on the inhabitants of Slains Castle and decides to place one of her own ancestors - Sophia Paterson - into this Jacobite stronghold, through whom she can relate events. Her subsequent discovery that Sophia did indeed live at Slains Castle during the rebellion leads Carrie to realise that this story is not entirely her own and that inspiration is coming to her direct from the past.  As Sophia memories draw Carrie more deeply into the intrigue of 1708, she comes to realise that a hitherto unrealised bond with her ancestor is providing her with a direct window into the true events of the time. Mesmerizing and meticulously researched, The Winter Sea, is a haunting tale of two women's experiences of love, political intrigue and personal betrayal in two very different times.
Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

Jo Clifford, successful journalist, is all set to debunk the idea of past-life regression in her next magazine series. But when she herself submits to a simple hypnotic session, she suddenly finds herself reliving the experiences of Matilda, Lady of Hay, the wife of a baron at the time of King John.  As she learns of Matilda's unhappy marriage, her love for the handsome Richard de Clare and the brutal threats of death at the hands of King John, it becomes clear that Jo's past and present are hopelessly entwined and that, eight hundred years on, a story of secret passion and unspeakable treachery is about to begin again...

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a travelling weekly meme that is being hosted in the month of May by Mari at Mari Reads. 

I once again received some great reads in my mailbox this past week!  As usual for me, books have been arriving at my door much faster than I can read them, so I have no idea when I'll actually get around to reading any of the novels that arrived in my mailbox this past week :-) 

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar (synopsis from Amazon.com):

While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater’s proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart—and he hers—but even the most powerful love isn’t enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen’s diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

Secrets of A Lady by Tracy Grant (synopsis from Amazon.com):

In the glittering world of Regency London, where gossip is exchanged—and reputations ruined—with the tilt of a fan, Mélanie Fraser is the perfect wife. Devoted to her husband, Charles, the grandson of a duke, she is acknowledged as society's most charming hostess. But just as the elegant façade of Regency London hides a dark side, Mélanie is not what she seems. She has a secret: one that could destroy her perfect jewel-box life forever . . . and the cost to keep it is an exquisite heirloom ring surrounded by legend and power. The search for it will pull Mélanie and Charles into a gritty underworld of gin-soaked brothels, elegant gaming hells, and debtors' prisons. In this maze of intrigue, deception is second nature and betrayal can come far too easily . . . 

The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry (Synopsis from Amazon.com):

Arriving in Constantinople in 1273, Anna Zarides vows to prove the innocence of her twin brother, Justinian, who has been exiled to the desert for conspiring to kill a nobleman. Disguising herself as a eunuch named Anastasius, Anna moves freely about in society, maneuvering close to the key players involved in her brother’s fate, including Zoe Chrysaphes, a devious noblewoman with her own hidden agenda, and Giuliano Dandolo, a ship’s captain conflicted by his growing feelings for Anastasius. As leaders in Rome and Venice plot to invade Constantinople in another Crusade to capture the Holy Land, Anna’s discoveries draw her inextricably closer to the dangers of the emperor’s treacherous court—where it seems that no one is exactly who he or she appears to be.

Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona (synopsis from Amazon.com):

Woman is born free, and everywhere she is in corsets. . . .

Lili du Châtelet yearns to know more about her mother, the brilliant French mathematician Emilie. But the shrouded details of Emilie’s unconventional life—and her sudden death—are elusive. Caught between the confines of a convent upbringing and the intrigues of the Versailles court, Lili blossoms under the care of a Parisian salonnière as she absorbs the excitement of the Enlightenment, even as the scandalous shadow of her mother’s past haunts her and puts her on her own path of self-discovery. 

Laurel Corona’s breathtaking new novel, set on the eve of the French Revolution, vividly illuminates the tensions of the times, and the dangerous dance between the need to conform and the desire to chart one’s own destiny and journey of the heart. 

So that is what was in my mailbox this week.  What was in yours?