Newest novel by Lynn Austin

Book two in the Restoration Chronicles, and a favorite of 2014!

Welcome to Burton Book Review!

Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

Favorite reads of 2013

These were the best of the best for 2013 - use this short list to help you with your next library trip!

Best of 2014

BBR's Top Five 2014 Releases!

Jul 19, 2015

Sunday Salon: Summer Reading Plans

I haven't done a Sunday Salon in forever, plus there is a gap between reviews so here goes!

Now that the summer break is half over, it is time to take stock of what is left on my pile that I wanted to get to.

Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt/Philippa Carr Goodreads Group! Our ninth read along!
Each summer I host a Goodreads Read Along which has mostly been between myself and MaryKate, and I'm fine with that. However, if you would like to participate, you are more than welcome to crash the party over on the discussion threads that are posted. We expect to start reading in August.

The summer read will be featuring The Passionate Enemies :

This is the third and final book in The Norman Trilogy and tells the story of the last days of the reign of Henry I. His son and wife are dead, and Henry hastily remarries a woman more than thirty years his junior in the hope of producing a male heir and securing the succession. If he fails, the throne will pass to Matilda, and Henry fears that his nobles will not willingly serve a woman. But after his death this feckless daughter becomes the focus of a line of would-be kings and soon the country is plunged into a bitter civil war that only a child can undo. 

More information can be found on Goodreads here regarding the read along.

I have a few review reads for the summer as well, these two reviews will be postponed till the fall due to a later publication date.

I just finished The Mistress of Tall Acre by Laura Frantz, and it was my first novel of hers that I'd read, though I've collected a few of her recent works. Very good inspirational historical fiction that the fans of the genre will just lap up, it's great stuff...especially since it deals with the American Revolution which seems to be poorly represented out there.

The American Revolution is finally over, and Sophie Menzies is starved for good news. When her nearest neighbor, General Seamus Ogilvy, finally comes home to Tall Acre, she hopes it is a sign of better days to come. But the general is now a widower with a small daughter in desperate need of a mother. Nearly destitute, Sophie agrees to marry Seamus and become the mistress of Tall Acre in what seems a safe, sensible arrangement. But when a woman from the general's past returns without warning, the ties that bind this fledgling family together will be strained to the utmost. When all is said and done, who will be the rightful mistress of Tall Acre?
Triumph and tragedy, loyalty and betrayal--readers find it all in the rich pages of this newest historical novel from the talented pen of Laura Frantz. Her careful historical details immerse the reader in the story world, and her emotional writing and finely tuned characters never cease to enchant fans both old and new.

I am halfway through The Memory Weaver by Jane Kirkpatrick, which is a book based on a true story of a pioneering missionary family who undergo tragedy and turmoil at the hands of Indians and the general hardship of their crude way of life. I loved Kirkpatrick's Where Lilacs Still Bloom so much that it was a favorite of 2012.

Eliza Spalding Warren was just a child when she was taken hostage by the Cayuse Indians during a massacre in 1847. Now the young mother of two children, Eliza faces a different kind of dislocation; her impulsive husband wants them to make a new start in another territory, which will mean leaving her beloved home and her departed mother's grave--and returning to the land of her captivity. Eliza longs to know how her mother, an early missionary to the Nez Perce Indians, dealt with the challenges of life with a sometimes difficult husband and with her daughter's captivity.
When Eliza is finally given her mother's diary, she is stunned to find that her own memories are not necessarily the whole story of what happened. Can she lay the dark past to rest and move on? Or will her childhood memories always hold her hostage?

Based on true events, The Memory Weaver is New York Times bestselling author Jane Kirkpatrick's latest literary journey into the past, where threads of western landscapes, family, and faith weave a tapestry of hope inside every pioneering woman's heart. Readers will find themselves swept up in this emotional story of the memories that entangle us and the healing that awaits us when we bravely unravel the threads of the past.

And at some point after that I want to read Elizabeth Fremantle's Sisters of Treason which just released in paperback (my celebratory interview can be found here)

Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal execution of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, Lady Jane Grey, and the succession is by no means stable. Elizabeth Fremantle brings these young women to life in a spellbinding Tudor tale of love and politics.

Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous life at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness -- and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante. But when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

This summer's NetGalley book is Susanna Kearsley's reissue coming from Sourcebooks, Named of The Dragon. I really enjoy Kearsley's writing, which is saying a lot since half of the plots run along a contemporary story line. I am trying to limit the NetGalley eversions as I am just tired of the poor formatting which distracts from my reading pleasure. Hopefully this one is not horrendous, though I do recall the publisher having some wonky formatting issues before. Fingers crossed this isn't horrendous formatting.

The invitation to spend Christmas in Angle, on the Pembrokeshire coast, is one that Lyn Ravenshaw is only too happy to accept. To escape London and the pressures of her literary agency is temptation enough, but the prospect of meeting Booker Prize nominee James Swift - conveniently in search of an agent - is the deciding factor. On holiday she encounters the disturbing Elen Vaughan, recently widowed and with an eight-month-old son whose paternity is a subject for local gossip. Elen's baby arouses painful memories of Lyn's own dead child/ and strange, haunting dreams, in which a young woman in blue repeatedly tries to hand over her child to Lyn for safekeeping.
Who is the father of Elen's baby? What is the eerie, monstrous creature of Elen's dreams that tries to ensnare her son, and what makes her so sure that Lyn has been sent to protect him? As she begins to untangle the truth behind the stories, the secret she discovers leads Lyn to an encounter with the past that will change her life forever.
You can find my other Susanna Kearsley's posts here.

And last but not least, on the review pile will be another "auto buy" if not offered for review, Kimberley Freeman's upcoming release of Evergreen Falls. Yet another dual time period author that I love.

A long-forgotten secret, a scandalous attraction and a place where two women's lives are changed forever - Evergreen Falls is the captivating new novel from Kimberley Freeman.
1926: Violet Armstrong is one of the few remaining members of staff working at the grand Evergreen Spa Hotel as it closes down over winter. Only a handful of guests are left, including the heir to a rich grazing family, his sister and her suave suitor. When a snowstorm moves in, the hotel is cut off and they are all trapped. No one could have predicted what would unfold. When the storm clears they must all keep the devastating secrets hidden.
2014: After years of putting her sick brother's needs before her own, Lauren Beck leaves her home and takes a job at a Blue Mountains cafe, the first stage of the Evergreen Spa Hotel's renovations. There she meets Tomas, the Danish architect who is overseeing the project, and an attraction begins to grow. In a wing of the old hotel, Lauren finds a series of passionate love letters dated back to 1926, alluding to an affair - and a shocking secret.
If she can unravel this long-ago mystery, will it make Lauren brave enough to take a risk and change everything in her own life?

You can find my other reviews of Kimberley's books here.

I had wanted to get to Conn Iggulden's newest since I have had that since Christmas, and I also wanted to try Deborah Harkness's trilogy, but I fear I won't have enough time to get to those. School starts for the kiddos in late August, which means shopping and shopping and more drama with a thirteen year old and an eight year old. And then of course the Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts events start up again, and then the Church School where I love teaching the 2nd and 3rd graders..but the free time thing will be a distant memory.

Let's hope that I get to most of the books I pictured here before the madness begins again!
Look how big they've gotten!!

Jul 7, 2015

Review & Giveaway of David Bell's Somebody I Used To Know

Giveaway Celebrating the Release Day of
An awesome page-turner

Somebody I Used To Know by David Bell
New American Library Trade Paperback Original; July 7, 2015; $15.00
448 pages kindle Edition
eGalley provided by the publisher
Burton Book Review Rating:

About the book:
You never forget your first love. And in David Bell’s SOMEBODY I USED TO KNOW, Nick Hansen has never really gotten over the death of his college girlfriend, Marissa Minor, some twenty years earlier. He managed to move on, but Marissa’s death in a house fire right before college graduation still haunts him.

One day at the grocery store, Nick receives the shock of his life: he comes face-to-face with a young woman who is the spitting image of Marissa. But when Nick tries to speak to the woman, she drops her basket of groceries and runs out of the store. Unfortunately, the next morning, the police come knocking on Nick’s door. The young woman from the grocery store was found murdered in a hotel and the only clue they have is a slip of paper with Nick’s name and address, which Nick knows nothing about.

Convinced that there's a connection between this young woman's murder and Marissa's death years ago, Nick enlists the help of his college friend, Laurel Davidson, to investigate the events leading up to the night of Marissa's death. Nick needs to clear his name and uncover what really happened to the love of his life. Two decades of deceit, heartbreak, and longing will be swept away, and the truth will be more shocking than he ever could have imagined.
When I was offered this one for review, I took a peek at some of the early reviews -- and I was sold on this one! Many readers said they couldn't go to sleep before finishing this one, it was such a pager-turner. I figured it was a perfect read for a get-away from my normal reads and try something a little different.

I am so glad I did! I did read this in one day-- 448 pages all day on a Sunday, despite the spacing issues the eGalley version showed.  Somebody I Used To Know was definitely a thrilling suspense story that kept me guessing. It centers around Nick and the girlfriend he lost twenty years ago due to a house fire. I won't go into the summary of the story as the synopsis does it nicely enough - plus with suspense and mysteries I don't want to give too much away! There were a lot of characters where that started to get a little much but once everything was set in place there was no turning back.

There were a few themes at work in the novel, from small romantic tones to vengeful evil lurking in every corner where you least expect it. I didn't stop too long to think about solving the mystery on my own due to the many moving parts; I just kept turning the pages and let the story play itself out. Nick was a great character, seemingly a a goody-two shoes with all sorts of bad things that just keep happening to him especially with deceitful characters who kept intersecting his path. There were a few female lead characters to spice things up and throw suspicion about, and of course the crime stopping police detective mucking things up when Nick was just getting some answers.

The writing style was perfectly fluid, never giving me a good chance for a stopping point which is why I never did. Very well done, and I will read more from David Bell when I need a swift thrill to get me out of a reading funk. I definitely would love to see this as a movie.

The publisher is kindly offering one of my blog followers their very own copy of David Bell's Somebody I Used To Know

Just leave a comment on this post with an email address so that I many contact you if you win.

Email Subscribers, please forward the email of the post to reviewer(at) and you will receive 2 extra entries.

Open to USA addressees only.

Last day to enter is July 11th 2015

Winner has 48 hours to respond to my email or a new winner will be chosen

Jul 2, 2015

Giveaway celebrating the paperback release of SISTERS OF TREASON by Elizabeth Fremantle

Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon & Schuster paperback release (USA) June 30, 2015

From the author People called “a must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a “terrifically entertaining” (The Sunday Times, London) novel about two sisters who must survive life in the Tudor court after the execution of their sister Lady Jane Grey who was queen for just nine days.
Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal death of their elder seventeen-year-old sister, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle brings these young women and their perilous times to vivid life.
Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous career at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness—and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth Tudor, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.

Knowing that I have become a fan of Elizabeth Fremantle, the publisher has kindly offered my blog readers a chance to win a copy of Sisters of Treason which has just released in paperback via Simon & Schuster. I wanted to share with you also these quick questions that I asked Elizabeth regarding the second book of her Tudor trilogy.

While researching 'Sisters of Treason', was there anything truly intriguing that was not public or popular knowledge of the era?
For me the most fascinating thing is the story of the girls themselves, so close to the throne and yet few people except true Tudor enthusiasts have heard of them. Indeed even the facts of Lady Jane Grey’s short life remain widely unexplored and most don’t fully understand why she had a claim on the throne, let alone her forgotten younger sisters. It was for this reason I wanted to explore their lives in Sisters of Treason.
Catherine Grey’s deliberate self- starvation is a little known detail and deeply shocking and Mary Grey’s disability has often been glossed over but I discovered, through a conversation with a historian who specializes in the period, that it is possible that her scoliosis was inherited from her ancestor Richard III, who we now know definitely had the condition. It is possible too that her cousin Edward VI was also a sufferer.

Considering the sisters' potential claim to the throne, how do you feel Katherine and Mary felt about their relation to the throne?
Given they had seen their sister go to the block aged only seventeen because of her royal blood it is likely that they felt a great deal of apprehension about their proximity to the throne. This is how I have depicted it in the novel. They are both so young when they find themselves at court (nine and fourteen) it is hard to imagine them as anything other than fearful. Certainly when you know how their lives panned out, their royal blood was more a curse than a blessing.

Why did you choose to tell the story from three different point of views, and what benefit did you find by using a lesser-known figure to help tell the story?
I wanted the two girls to tell their own stories and show how they developed as individuals growing up in such difficult circumstances. Each has a different perspective on the same events and I wanted to demonstrate that through their distinct voices. I felt it was important to have a reliable older voice to hold the narrative together and so I brought in Levina Teerlinc. As a female court painter she intrigued me and I felt her links to the Grey sisters made her the perfect person to tell their story. Her role of painter suggested to me that she would observe the world in a particular way, noticing things others don’t and I used this to help the reader see with her eyes.

In your portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, how close to the truth do you feel the portrayal is of her character?
For me it’s the truth, but of course Elizabeth in my novels is an entirely fictional character. I armed myself with as much knowledge as I could and from that extrapolated the person she was to become in my trilogy, which follows her from girlhood to her death. Everyone’s idea of a figure as well known as Elizabeth is subjective and it is impossible to arrive at a definitive truth about people, even those we feel we know well, from so long ago. So I suppose all we can hope for is a version of the truth.

Tell us more about your current works in progress and who of the Stuart era you plan to focus on.
Watch the Lady has just been published, so the trilogy is complete and I am now working on a novel about Arbella Stuart, another girl with Tudor blood that compromises her entire life. She was raised to be Elizabeth’s heir only to see the throne go to her male cousin. She is a fascinating figure and was a prolific letter writer so I have been able to really get beneath her skin for my narrative. The story has many links to that of the Grey sisters which make the two books work together as a piece. Following that I will move forward in time, keeping my focus on interesting women whilst telling the history of a period of great turmoil, from the Gunpowder Plot through the Civil War and the execution of Charles I, to the great fire and plague and the bawdiness of the Restoration.

Other links at Burton Book Review:
Interview with Fremantle for Watch The Lady release
Review of Watch The Lady, book 3 of the Tudor Trilogy
Review of Queen's Gambit, book 1 of the Tudor Trilogy

One lucky follower will win a copy of the new paperback release of Sisters of Treason!

Please leave a comment on this blog post regarding what intrigues you about the story of Sisters of Treason.
Have you read other books with the Grey sisters? Have you read any other works of Elizabeth Fremantle's?

Please leave an email address so that I can contact the winner; you will have 48 hours to respond to my request for your mailing address.

If you are an Email Subscriber, please forward that email post to reviewer{@} and you will receive an extra two entries, please also comment here to tell me that you emailed me.

Good luck! Giveaway open to USA and ends July 6th, 2015.

Jun 28, 2015

The Lady Penelope: The Lost Tale of Love and Politics in the Court of Elizabeth I by Sally Varlow

Giving voice to an influential lady of Elizabeth's court

The Lady Penelope: The Lost Tale of Love and Politics in the Court of Elizabeth I by Sally Varlow
Published April 28th 2008 by Andre Deutsch
Historical Biography
Hardcover, 296 pages
Personal copy
Burton Book Review Rating:

Penelope Devereux was the brightest star who ever shone in the court of Queen Elizabeth I in 16th-century England, and this biography challenges the usual historians' view that she was merely a footnote to famous men's lives. 
The questions explored include: What political significance did she hold with her brother, Essex, and the Queen? 
Why did Essex name her as a major player in the coup that cost him his head, and how did she walk free? What was she doing having secret meetings with the most hunted Jesuit priest in England?
 Most important of all, if Mary Boleyn was her great-grandmother, was King Henry VIII her great-grandfather?
Her life touched on every great event of the age—the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the arrival of King James, and the Gunpowder Plot. She also knew many of the celebrated artistic figures of the day, including William Shakespeare. 
She was the most beautiful woman of her generation and muse to countless poets and musicians, yet she died in disgrace—a widow, outcast from court, and stripped of all her titles. 
Set against the character of Queen Elizabeth I and the staged pageantry of her Court, this dramatic and ultimately tragic story will have immediate appeal to all lovers of historical biographies.

While reading the new release of Elizabeth Fremantle's Watch the Lady (review here) I was reminded of this book that I have owned for at least five years. The Lady Penelope serves very well as the non-fiction counterpart to Fremantle's novel, as it seems to closely run along the same thought process. Fremantle acknowledges Sally Varlow's biography of Penelope in her author's note along with a few other sources.

The Lady Penelope: The Lost Tale of Love and Politics in the Court of Elizabeth I by Sally Varlow reads very well and gives an excellent view of Penelope's life as it may have been. Having just read the novel featuring Penelope Devereux Rich, I could see the strong correlation of both of the works but also could see how the novel was given its own flair. This biography shifted a lot towards the general politics of the Elizabethan era and there were a few times where I wondered when the last time Penelope was mentioned as we learned more about her eccentric family members, mainly Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. It didn't go too much into Lettice Knollys, Penelope and Robert's mother, which I was a little disappointed in. I had first heard of Lettice Knollys in Jean Plaidy/Victoria Holt's novel My Enemy The Queen which set off a bit of a fascination of the members of the immediate family of the Knollys/Devereux.

As mentioned, the biography goes into a lot of detail as a whole to give a taste of the unrest that was occurring later on in Elizabeth's rule. The different factions of important families were described, and all the major players that Penelope had come across such as the Bacon brothers, the Walsinghams and the Cecils. The most intriguing part for me personally was where the biography went beyond what Fremantle's novel had covered, which was Lady Penelope's later life. Her dealings with Cecil and King James were crucial for her survival amongst the court, and I found the story very well told how Penelope's star rose and fell over the period of her life.

It must be said that Penelope Devereux was not just another courtier of the era, but a very influential woman who inspired poetry and songs, and had a hand in many of the important political events of the era. Even after being named as a co-conspirator in Essex's rebellion, she was able to escape the wrath of the Queen, who normally would not be so kind to traitors among her ladies. And when King James came to the throne, she was allowed to get a divorce - unheard of in the day - and still retain her dignity. The one thing that caused her downfall was the fact she wanted to marry her one true love, Charles Blount, who was eventually given the title of Earl of Devonshire. He was the father of five of her children and she simply wanted to legitimize them by marrying her lover. And that was her mistake. Once a favorite among both Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anna, she was now banished as an adulterer and shunned by peers due to the disgrace.

The biographer goes on to show how Penelope inspired work from Philip Sidney, William Shakespeare, John Ford, and artist Nicholas Hilliard for her wit, charm and beauty. She explains reasons behind some of Penelope's actions and paints her in a much more favorable light than what Robert Cecil had intended. It is believed that Cecil and the Protestant regime fully intended to delete Penelope's influence and erase her from history, but she is given the attention she deserves in Sally Varlow's well researched biography. Penelope was well ahead of her time, and she must have been a true pleasure to converse with and know.

There are genealogy tables and sources at the end of the book, along with notes, quotes and sources. I enjoyed the book very much and recommend it to anyone interested in the family, but be aware you'll get a lot on Essex and more on the wars of Elizabeth's time and her moods, but given that the work is not a tome it is an intriguing 296 pages reflecting on Penelope's life and those that she touched.

Other books of the era that I can recommend:
After Elizabeth: The Rise of James of Scotland and the Struggle for the Throne of England by Leanda De Lisle
Elizabeth and Essex by Lytton Strachey
Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George (About Elizabeth chiefly, but acquaints Penelope's mother, Lettice)
The Murder in the Tower by Jean Plaidy (this involves Frances Howard who was associated with Penelope's nephew, a deliciously wicked read)
My Enemy, The Queen by Victoria Holt (involved Penelope's mother, Lettice, and her desire to best Elizabeth)

Jun 20, 2015

Watch The Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle

The sister's view of the rise and fall of Essex

Watch The Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle
Simon and Schuster, June 2015
Elizabethan Court Hist-Fic, 560 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Five Stars for Fun Tudor Fiction

The daughter of the Queen’s nemesis, Penelope Devereux, arrives at court blithely unaware of its pitfalls and finds herself in love with one man, yet married off to another. Bestowed with beauty and charm she and her brother, The Earl of Essex, are drawn quickly into the aging Queen’s favour. But Penelope is saddled with a husband who loathes her and chooses to strike out, risking her reputation to seek satisfaction elsewhere. But life at the heart of the court is not only characterised by the highs and lows of romance, there are formidable factions at work who would like to see the Devereux family brought down. It seems The Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen but as his influence grows so his enemies gather and it is Penelope who must draw on all her political savvy to prevent the unthinkable from happening.

Told from the perspective of Penelope and her brother’s greatest enemy the politician Cecil, this story, wrought with love, hatred and envy, unfolds over two decades in which we see the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.
I had read Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit a few years back and was impressed with the writing skill that the author had which made yet another Katherine Parr novel turn into something inventive and intriguing. When I was offered the chance to review another of her works regarding a royal favorite, I was eager to see what the author would do with the story of Penelope Devereux. Several years ago I had read many books regarding the Elizabethan court and her favorites among the peerage along with the ladies of honor who Elizabeth vowed to keep a tight leash on. Of the women of the era, Lettice Knollys was one who captured my interest very much.

Lettice Knollys was rumored to be close kin to Elizabeth, even bearing a resemblance to the Queen herself. The Queen enjoyed keeping Lettice far from court due to Lettice's far reaching grasp on one of Elizabeth's closest male companions, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. They had married against the Queen's wishes, and while Lettice was banished her children were among the courtiers of the palaces with their fine looks and vivacious personalities. In Watch The Lady, Robert Devereux and his elder sister Penelope are portrayed as fun loving young players among the court despite their weak hold on their wealth and respective legacies. The Queen could be generous or not so generous on a mere whim, and Penelope is portrayed as having a keen mind and knowing how to placate the Queen.

The novel opens up to a scene of intrigue involving Penelope and treasonous letters and much of the novel revolves around these letters going back and forth to the Scottish king. Elizabethan era fans will know the general story of the rise and fall of Essex, Penelope's brother, but we rarely get to hear Penelope's version. Fremantle has obliged our curiosities about the fascinating woman, filling in the gaps with a fast-paced historical romance that will satisfy any lovers of the era.

Robert Cecil is a major counterpart to Penelope's narrative, and the title embodies his own admiration of the slyly scheming Penelope. Thrust into an unwanted marriage, Penelope learns to take care of her own needs and to look after herself and her brother Essex since her husband is seemingly useless and their esteemed step-father Leicester has passed. Penelope's tale of love lost and found is a major theme of the novel, and sets a realistic tone to the spymaster intrigue that Cecil's story offers. While Cecil is always an easy person to despise with his hunched frame and web of spies, Fremantle manages to make him into a more sympathetic character with his flaws and inadequacies.

The novel spans two decades of Penelope's life, inspiring me to finally pick up my copy of the biography written by Sally Varlow. The friends of Penelope are an interesting group and I would love to know more of the facts of Penelope Devereux, the subject of amorous poetry, the woman who managed to keep her head when her brother didn't - even after he betrayed her himself. Elizabeth Fremantle gives new life to the era with her storytelling skills and Watch The Lady is now among my favorite reads of 2015.

The end of the book offered an author's note, reader's guide questions and excerpts from the author's previous two novels noted as being a part of a trilogy. The books are all stand alone and are of different time periods and I will need to go back to read Sisters of Treason as I had no idea that was even printed. The next work to expect from Elizabeth Fremantle will be books regarding the Stuart era, and I will keep my eyes for those as well, as another favorite figure of mine is Arbella Stuart (which I have read a few books on as well). Fremantle's writing should appeal to those who enjoy Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory, Victoria Holt and Margaret George as she expertly gives a voice to women whose history has tried to forget.

Stop by my interview post with Elizabeth Fremantle regarding Watch the Lady here.
Read my review of Queen's Gambit here.

Jun 15, 2015

The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

Alienor's story continues..

The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy Book #2) by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere, 483 pages, September 2014
Purchased from Amazon
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 Stars

It is the winter of 1154 and Eleanor, Queen of England, is biding her time. While her husband King Henry II battles for land across the channel, Eleanor fulfills her duty as acting ruler and bearer of royal children. But she wants to be more than this - if only Henry would let her. Instead, Henry belittles and excludes her, falling for a young mistress and leaving Eleanor side-lined and angry. And as her sons become young men, frustrated at Henry's hoarding of power, Eleanor is forced into a rebellion of devastating consequences. She knows how much Henry needs her, but does Henry know himself? Overflowing with scandal, politics, sex, triumphs and tragedies, The Winter Crown is the much-awaited new novel in this trilogy and a rich, compelling story in its own right.

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of the best historical novelists of our time bringing the medieval era to life with her storytelling. She delivers with a realistic voice and is not overly dramatic with her topics, taking her time to tell the most believable version of history featuring notable protagonists such as Queen Eleanor and King Henry II of England.

Eleanor's life story is one of my favorites, and I have probably read at least ten books with her as a feature character. Her legend is a remarkable one as a Duchess becoming a Queen of France, a Crusader, and then a Queen of England, while raising kings and daughters to kings.

I was completely enthralled with the first installment of the Eleanor trilogy, The Summer QueenThe Winter Crown took on a bit of its name and seemed a bit more cold and less passionate, but given the subject matter I could hardly complain. Here Eleanor is already married to Henry II and the novel opens to his coronation in 1154 ending with her incarceration at Sarum in 1174.

These are the years of childbearing, all seemingly done as part of duty rather than love. Eleanor does her best to raise the children as Henry pulls the strings along the way, leaving little room left for Eleanor's wishes. She is portrayed as a regal Queen, and not as a sex-driven wanton as other writers have made her out to be, and Eleanor seems much more subdued in this story. It is very easy to dislike Henry and his overbearing ways and to sympathize with Eleanor and her lack of power. The Thomas Becket affair is addressed, along with the romantic affairs of Henry and how these events affected Eleanor.

Where previous books had shown Eleanor to be less of a mother and more of a Queen, Chadwick does put forth a more caring visage in this representation, which helps to endear us to Eleanor. Another welcome addition was the inclusion of a friendship between Eleanor and Isabel de Warrenne, and the gallant character of William Marshal was also appreciated. Chadwick's novel is foremost a story of Eleanor; the focus is on her, flaws and all, and not simply a rehash of absolutely everything that happened to Henry and his kingdom.

The last installment of the trilogy (The Autumn Throne) coming in 2016 will hopefully represent a thawing of the chains around Eleanor as she guides her sons closer to the coveted throne. Henry II has to die at some point -and as bad as it may sound- I look forward to that occurring in the last book, just as I look forward to seeing the fruits of Eleanor's labor come to light. Elizabeth Chadwick shows off her research and hones in on Eleanor and her character, and I am hoping for a very intriguing climax during the finale of the trilogy. If you haven't read many books on Eleanor before, this will be a treat for you.

Jun 3, 2015

'Watch The Lady' Giveaway! Interview with Elizabeth Fremantle

Available from Simon & Schuster June 9, 2015
From “a brilliant new player in the court of royal fiction” (People), comes the mesmerizing story of Lady Penelope Devereux—the daring young beauty in the Tudor court, who inspired Sir Philip Sidney’s famous sonnets even while she plotted against Queen Elizabeth.

Penelope Devereux arrives at Queen Elizabeth’s court where she and her brother, the Earl of Essex, are drawn into the aging Queen’s favor. Young and na├»ve, Penelope, though promised elsewhere, falls in love with Philip Sidney who pours his heartbreak into the now classic sonnet series Astrophil and Stella. But Penelope is soon married off to a man who loathes her. Never fainthearted, she chooses her moment and strikes a deal with her husband: after she gives birth to two sons, she will be free to live as she chooses, with whom she chooses. But she is to discover that the course of true love is never smooth.

Meanwhile Robert Cecil, ever loyal to Elizabeth, has his eye on Penelope and her brother. Although it seems the Earl of Essex can do no wrong in the eyes of the Queen, as his influence grows, so his enemies gather. Penelope must draw on all her political savvy to save her brother from his own ballooning ambition and Cecil’s trap, while daring to plan for an event it is treason even to think about.

Unfolding over the course of two decades and told from the perspectives of Penelope and her greatest enemy, the devious politician Cecil, Watch the Lady chronicles the last gasps of Elizabeth’s reign, and the deadly scramble for power in a dying dynasty.

Having very much enjoyed Elizabeth Fremantle's Queen's Gambit (my review here), I was excited to be able to offer my followers this chance to win Elizabeth Fremantle's newest work shown above, Watch The Lady.

I asked the author some questions to kick start the giveaway with:

Q: What drawbacks have you encountered now that you have fulfilled your childhood dream of becoming an author?

That’s an interesting question. I suppose that I now feel I have to improve with every book I publish. I want to challenge myself to write a better, more complex novel each time, building on the previous work and learning from my mistakes. I don’t want to be that author who wrote one good book and then wrote fundamentally the same book over and over again after it. I have high expectations of myself, which makes me anxious I won’t live up to them, so inevitably halfway through a first draft I have a crisis of confidence and feel that I’ll never make it work. I have learned through experience how to push through no matter what.

Q: As a younger self, what types of stories did you see yourself writing?

Funnily enough not historical ones. When I was very little I wanted to write about animals – the echoes of that live on in my novels which are full of dogs, horses, birds, even a pair of monkeys in Queen’s Gambit. I was always, and still am, interested in factual based narrative and never wanted to write about fantasy.

Q: What would you say sets yourself apart from other writers of the Tudor era, and what would you say to those readers who say they have no desire to read another Tudor novel!

I don’t read much other Tudor era fiction primarily because I want to keep my distinctive voice and not worry about whether other people are doing it better than I am. But I’d say my novels aim to be expansive and multi-focused. I also tend to focus on less-known figures from the period, so it’s unlikely I’d write a novel about Anne Boleyn as so many others have tackled her story. I’m more interested in the forgotten or misrepresented women, like Penelope Devereux or the younger Grey sisters. Q: What is one of the things that you remember as surprising you about Lady Penelope?

Penelope Devereux really was an extraordinary woman. I knew very little about her when I began my research, only that she’d been Sir Philip Sidney’s muse and that she was involved in some way in her brother’s insurrection. I was astonished to discover the extent to which she was making secret treasonous allegiances with a foreign power and also that she was much more deeply involved in the Essex plot than I’d previously thought.

Q: In your writing of WATCH THE LADY did you come across any characters that you felt you needed to give a more positive tone? Any character that you had trouble writing?

I thought Robert Cecil might be a challenge, as he seemed such a dry figure, but as it turned out he came to life on the page and became one of the main narrators of the story. Sometimes characters simply write themselves and he was one. Perhaps it was Lord Rich, Penelope’s husband, who I found difficult. there’s very little about him in the record and what there is makes him seem cowardly and unpleasant but I wanted to create him as a fully rounded character. He is an antagonist in Penelope’s story but I felt I needed it to be a complex relationship and not simply black and white.

Q: Which novel was the most fun to write, WATCH THE LADY or THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT?

Probably WATCH THE LADY; it was not an easy process but I had more confidence than I did when writing QUEEN’S GAMBIT and so it was a less tortuous process. QUEEN’S GAMBIT had to be rewritten from scratch at a late stage because the pacing simply didn’t work, which was excruciating. There are really pleasurable elements in the process of writing each novel; the moment a character takes shape, is one. For example when writing Katherine Grey in SISTERS OF TREASON her voice was so distinct to me that the writing flowed with ease and that is the most wonderful feeling as a writer.

What a pleasure to host Elizabeth Fremantle today on Burton Book Review! Courtesy of Simon and Schuster, we have one copy to give away to my USA readers.

Contest is over and winner has been mailed his book, edit to add the review for the title can be found here at

May 31, 2015

Secret Brother (The Diaries #3) A Concept by V.C. Andrews

another twist to the iconic story

Secret Brother (The Diaries #3) A Concept by V.C. Andrews
Simon and Schuster Pocket Books May 26, 2015
400 pages Paperback $7.99
Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:

The most unexpected Dollanganger story of them all, new from the author of Flowers in the Attic and Petals on the Wind; both now major Lifetime movie events.

A young boy suffers amnesia from a trauma he suffered in what feels like must have been another life. He’s adopted into a wealthy family—but what will happen when he learns the truth about his past?

Dollanganger Series:
Flowers in The Attic (1979)
Petals on the Wind (1980)
If There Be Thorns (1981)
Seeds of Yesterday (1984)
Garden of Shadows (prequel) (1986) Finished by the ghostwriter

Christopher's Diary: Secrets of Foxworth (October 2014; ghostwritten)
Christopher's Diary: Echoes of Dollanganger (January 2015; ghostwritten)
Secret Brother (May 2015; ghostwritten)
Bittersweet Dreams (October 2015; ghostwritten)

Most readers my age remember reading the family saga that began with Flowers in the Attic which dealt with four young siblings undergoing unimaginable turmoil as they were locked up by their own mother in her rich parent's vast attic. If you haven't read it, you are missing out on something creepy. Something about the wildness and forbidden love kept young readers such as myself going back for more. The books outlined above are all favorite stories of mine. Once we get to the ghostwritten book releases of this decade there is certainly a different feel and taste to the stories. The gothic feel is gone, and more contemporary vibes are evident as the new characters are introduced into the original saga.

Unlike the previous two Diaries releases, Secret Brother does actually attempt to recreate the past by bringing back an original family member from Flowers in The Attic. And since the review is going to be very hard to write without spoiling it for everyone, I will stick to just how I felt about the book as opposed to a summary of the story.

Firstly, I will say that I am glad I read the book. Secondly, it is not for the impatient. I really wanted something more to be going on, something a little more spine tingling, something that would keep me up at night in the way that Flowers in the Attic had done. Instead, the main character Clara Sue (a name that didn't seem suited to the character) is really bratty and selfish - being told in first person narrative doesn't help with this negativity. The plot consists of how Clara Sue engages with her peers as she deals with the loss of her brother, and then how her relationship with the hottest guy on campus develops. In this respect, I would think that perhaps a true young adult reader would appreciate the novel. The other plot point is the tie-in to the original novel, which turned out to be dramatically anti-climatic. There is an excerpt of the next novel, Bittersweet Dreams, where once again we are whisked off to a whole new set of characters which means there doesn't seem to be a conclusion to Secret Brother. Or is there?

For the die-hard V.C. Andrews fan, this is not a form of gold. I have not read book two (Echoes of Dollanganger) as I was not sent it for review, and review books always have to take priority. I was sent book one, however, so I reviewed that here. I did buy book two, and Secret Brother is being called book three. Secret Brother can be read alone (provided you've read Flowers in the Attic) but I get the sense that the first two Diaries novels should be read together as the second installment continues book one.

At $7.99 a pop, you get what you pay for. An intriguing story, a flashback to your youthful past with the original V.C. Andrews novels, and something to look forward to with the other stories. Nothing will ever be written quite like the originals, but there is a reason why the estate continues to allow the ghostwritten stories: they sell. And the Lifetime movies were pretty good, also.

May 22, 2015

Giveaway! Autographed Goodies including Anne Mateer's A HOME FOR MY HEART

I survived the Romantic Times Booklovers Giant Book Fair.

beautific selfie with autographed goodness!
As I posted on Twitter and on Facebook, I went to the Romantic Time Booklovers Convention during their Giant Book Fair which was open to the public on Saturday May 16 2015.

If you are my FB Friend, you would have seen a few pictures of me dorking out with my favorite inspirational authors, such as Elizabeth Ludwig and Regina Jennings. I got to meet several other authors too like Heather Manning, Melanie Dickerson, Susanna Kearsley, Cindy Nord and Francine Rivers. It was really a booklover's dream.

Cindy Nord - a very sweet lady! 
Of course it was complete and utter mayhem and towards the beginning of the event I had wondered what in the world was I thinking as hundreds of us were herded like cattle all around the hotel.. but in the end I must say they did pretty good except for the part where we were all huddled into an empty room (with no cellphone coverage) in which I am sure we far exceeded the occupancy level. I was trying to ignore the claustrophobic feelings when after fifteen minutes of second guessing my wisdom of attending such an event as my dear mother wondered aloud, "This is a Nazi experiment and they are going to gas us."

Luckily, we survived.

One of my local authors also survived the event, Anne Mateer. And I had been meaning to give away one of the books I bought from her from a signing from (oopsy) 2013 that I had attended. And I never got around to it, just as I had never gotten around to reading the copy that I had purchased for myself. Time ran away and all that.

So at this point, in honor of surviving local author events I figured I better get some of these goodies out of my library before I die...

The intriguing backdrop of an early-1900s orphanage makes this a unique, engaging read.
Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children and dreams of the day she'll marry her beau, Blaine. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the job. For a young woman who was once an orphan herself, a shot at such an esteemed position is a wish come true. But the matron of the Home cannot be married. Is Sadie willing to give up her dreams of a life with Blaine and a family of her own? Is she prepared to forgo daily involvement with the children as she instead manages the financial, legal, and logistical aspects of the orphanage? And when it's revealed that the Home is spending a lot more money than it's taking in, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?

This giveaway is for the awesome fan shown above which many inspirational authors autographed, plus a new copy of Anne Mateer's 2013 release A Home For My Heart (also autographed!) and then some extra little goodies like bookmarks/marketing materials which I picked up at the Book Fair on May 16 2015.

Since I am mailing this out myself I have to request that entries are limited to USA addresses only. Apologies to Canadians, please don't skewer me.

Thanks for being a follower of Burton Book Review... you are much appreciated.

To enter I would like for you to be amazing and share this post, and comment below with a way I can contact you. If I am your Facebook friend, no need to leave your email addy.

For extra fun, try telling me who you recognize in the autographed fan I am holding or who I am smiling with in the photos below:

If you are receiving this post via email and would like to enter, please forward this email to reviewer(at)Burtonbookreview(dot)com and you will receive five extra entries. You still need to comment here though.

Giveaway ends May 28th at midnight CST and winner must respond to my request for mailing information by May 30th 8:00 AM.

May 19, 2015

Giveaway Celebrating Deborah Harkness's paperback release of THE BOOK OF LIFE

THE BOOK OF LIFE is the long-awaited final chapter in the smart, sexy All Souls Trilogy, about historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont (Penguin Books; on sale May 26, 2015; $17.00).

In this finale, Diana and Matthew continue their hunt for the magical alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, and reunite with beloved characters from the first two All Souls books to save their world from the powerful enemies who want to destroy it.

THE BOOK OF LIFE synopsis: 
After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

With more than one million copies sold in the United States and appearing in thirty-eight foreign editions, A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night have landed on all of the major bestseller lists and garnered rave reviews from countless publications. Eagerly awaited by Harkness’s legion of fans, The Book of Life brings this superbly written series to a deeply satisfying close.

It is my pleasure to host this giveaway at Burton Book Review, courtesy of the publisher:

A paperback copy of THE BOOK OF LIFE for giveaway, set of buttons and a small BOOK OF LIFE mirror with the ouroboros design for giveaway!
On sale May 26, 2015

A Q&A with the author was offered as part of a giveaway post for the celebration of book three of the trilogy, and I wanted to share just a few of those questions here.

Q: From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

A. Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family: unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

Q: While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

A. Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.

Q: A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Also available for the paperback release party are clips from the trilogy audiobooks, read by Jennifer Ikeda which you can listen to by clicking these links:

I haven't read any of these books, but I plan on making them all part of my Summer Reading Fun! Have you read these? How did you like them? 

If you would like to enter the giveaway for the paperback, set of six buttons and mirror, please leave me a comment below with your email address so that I may contact the winner. 

I wanted to make it as easy as possible to enter the giveaway, but it would be very nice of you if you would share this giveaway post as well!

Giveaway open to USA residents and ends May 24th, there will be one grand prize winner. Good luck!

May 6, 2015

(Giveaway!) A review of The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck

Captivating storytelling of a passionate love between the Hawthornes

The House of Hawthorne by Erika Robuck
NAL Hardcover May 5 2015
eGalley provided via NetGalley in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:

Beset by crippling headaches from a young age and endowed with a talent for drawing, Sophia is discouraged by her well-known New England family from pursuing a woman's traditional roles. But from their first meeting, Nathaniel and Sophia begin an intense romantic relationship that despite many setbacks leads to their marriage. Together, they will cross continents, raise children, and experience all the beauty and tragedy of an exceptional partnership. Sophia's vivid journals and her masterful paintings kindle a fire in Nathaniel, inspiring his writing. But their children's needs and the death of loved ones steal Sophia's energy and time for her art, fueling in her a perennial tug-of-war between fulfilling her domestic duties and pursuing her own desires.

Spanning the years from the 1830s to the Civil War, and moving from Massachusetts to England, Portugal, and Italy, The House of Hawthorne explores the tension within a famous marriage of two soulful, strong-willed people, each devoted to the other but also driven by a powerful need to explore the far reaches of their creative impulses. It is the story of a forgotten woman in history, who inspired one of the greatest writers of American literature...

A vivid re-imagining of nineteenth century transcendentalists and feminism, The House of Hawthorne introduces us to famous figures of the era while boldly portraying Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne as none have attempted before.

Growing up in Massachusetts when emancipation issues begin to affect society, young Sophia and her sister Mary travel to Cuba in hopes of a healthier existence. While there, they are exposed to slavery and its cruelty firsthand, tormenting her fragile sensibilities further. Her soul is a creative one and it finds an outlet through painting, but this also leads to excruciating headaches. She eventually paints for a rising literary star Nathaniel Hawthorne and after a long courtship they are finally married - each in their thirties.

Author Erika Robuck slowly builds up this romance story, weaving us under the Hawthorne spell. We feel the artistic tension while the couple tries to cope with the daily toil of chores (as opposed to simply doing "what we were born to do") which are too mundane and oppressive for the likes of them. Despite the charities of fellow literary greats such as the Browning and Emerson families, financial struggles plague the couple forcing Nathaniel to take a real job in government through his previous classmate Franklin Pierce.

The novel portrays a palpable passion between Nathaniel and Sophia throughout their marriage, where Sophia is his "dove" and she is willing to give up seemingly everything for his happiness. Their family grows as the years go on, with grief and sorrow permeating the pages even as we feel the intense connection between the two.

Robuck's newest novel brings to life the courage and values of the Hawthornes, displaying both the gloomy and intense sides of creativity as well as the blissful euphoric moments. This exquisite blend of history and emotion is gift wrapped with the prose of Robuck's hypnotic writing style making The House of Hawthorne an easily recommended historical novel.

I will say that that eGalley formatting of this novel was very distracting. Major distractions were the missing quotations where appropriate and the page breaks (where I would assume there was one) were very non-existent. I wrote the review with the hopes that the finished copy corrects these issues.

Erika Robuck is a favorite novelist of mine, and you can find all my reviews of her published work here at the Burton Book Review.

The publisher is offering one of my followers a chance to win a copy of The House of Hawthorne!
To enter, please enter a comment below and I will randomly select a winner from the comments. I wanted to make the contest entry as easy as possible, but I would appreciate it if you would share this giveaway post! 

Please leave an email address so that I may contact the winner unless I am a friend on Facebook and I can contact you that way.

(Not responsible for lost mail, giveaway open to US Residents only, ends May 9th.)

Apr 20, 2015

Into The Storm by Lisa Bingham

Character driven WWII romance

Into The Storm by Lisa Bingham
Diversion Books, March 31, 2015
Historical Romance/WWII
Review copy provided in exchange for review in Library Journal Xpress
Burton Book Review Rating:

RueAnn Boggs meets Charles Tolliver, a handsome Brit with a secret job, and in the course of twenty-four hours, RueAnn is swept off her feet—seduced, wed, and then left by dashing Charlie, who hastily departs for an assignment in England. When weeks go by and she hears nothing from her new husband, RueAnn becomes determined to find out if she’s a wife in name only, and she travels to London for answers. But what she finds there is not at all what she expects…

Susan Blunt has spent her life staying put, retreating into her books while her vivacious twin sister, Sara, lives life to the fullest. The start of the war hasn’t stopped vibrant Sara from collecting a throng of beaus in uniform, including Paul Overdone, an RAF pilot heading for the front. When Sara pressures Susan into switching places and going to a dance with Paul, Susan reluctantly agrees. Little does Susan know that a single night is more than enough time to fall deeply in love with Paul—who returns her ardor, even though he thinks she is someone else…

When the Blitz begins and bombs start raining down on London, both RueAnn and Susan must find the strength and courage they never knew they had in order to survive. They form a friendship out of the city’s ashes, one that helps them weather the storm as they wait for news from the front—from the men they love, have lost, and hope desperately to find once more.

Set against the backdrop of a remarkable era, INTO THE STORM brilliantly explores relationships in wartime, when the passion shared in just one day could sustain love for a lifetime and the love borne of one night’s deception could become the truth that saves a life.

Into The Storm stays true to its title as there is never a dull moment for the characters of this World War II-set novel. Although very character-driven, the plot focuses on the Blunt family and their neighbors, thrust together during London air raids. American RueAnn Tolliver chases after her new husband and finds her reluctantly welcomed by her mother-in-law and the Blunt family. Twins Susan and Sara Blunt struggle to keep their family together during very harsh times of rations and the harsh realities of their country suffering through bombing raids. With a bit of espionage interlaced with Charles Tolliver's storyline, the romance and the historical details make for an intriguing and very promising story.

Into The Storm reads swiftly and easily, with smooth writing that draws the reader in. There were quite a few characters whose stories eventually intermingled but one could sense the rushing of the story to get to the end, where it would have better suited to add a few more pages to the novel to flesh it out. While the story reveals grief and sorrow as the characters develop, the romance brought a happy-ever-after feel with perhaps a touch of incredulity. Still, Into The Storm is a very enjoyable World War II novel with a stronger character development theme than the romance factor, as the heat rating was very low key.

Apr 14, 2015

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

An intriguing blend of history, mystery and romance 

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley 
Sourcebooks Landmark, April 7 2015
Review copy provided in exchange for this review
Burton Book Review Rating:

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal's cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal's reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn't hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.
As Mary's tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take... to find the road that will lead her safely home.

Susanna Kearsley is one of those writers that will always intrigue me, if not fascinate me. She writes her books with the same tone which could tend to drag, but if you  immerse yourself in the slower pace you are rewarded with a good story with some special characters. I was a little sad that the last review I wrote for Kearsley's Season of Storms couldn't be all gushy, so reading A Desperate Fortune I went in with a little trepidation. In doing so, I think I prepared myself for her slow, smooth, suck you in style because I was able to read this without feeling like I was going down a rabbit hole (to use a phrase from the book).

The novel features two storylines that went back and forth between the modern day and the year 1732. The year 1732 is when our young diarist Mary Dundas has an adventure with a Scottish rogue and takes part in the Jacobites' mission to protect their own in honor of the exiled king. Mary leaves behind her diary of the intriguing adventures she has while aiding a fugitive, but it is in cipher. This is where our modern day character Sara comes in, who is a genius at codes and has asperger syndrome, making her vulnerable in social situations but makes her more in tune to numbers, meticulousness, and routine.

As Sara travels to Paris to work on decoding the diary, she meets several people who show her kindness and compassion, including a certain Luc Sabran who captured her heart with his "symmetrical smile" and his "perfect blue eyes" -and his adorable son sweetened the package. Luc lives up to the hero status and their romance is a tenderhearted and sweet one, much like the counterpart of Mary and her handsome Scottish protector, though theirs is more of a respectful admiration of each other.

The two narratives of Sara and Mary pleasantly played well off the other, and the ending -particularly for Mary's - was very endearing and just perfect for Mary. I really enjoyed the plotlines and the historical context of the mystery that surrounded the Jacobite Mr. Thomson that Mary was escorting throughout France and eventually leads to Rome where Mary hopes to find her father, and there is an author's note that describes much more in detail about the era.

This was a winner for Kearsley, much to my delight! While it may not be in the  haunting, gothic/suspense feel that I got from some of the author's earlier works, this was enjoyable historical romance and I will remember Hugh Macpherson. And if you've read some of the author's other titles, see if you can find some cameo appearances from those in A Desperate Fortune!

I think my favorite novel is The Shadowy Horses, but I have yet to read The Winter Sea or Mariana. Do you have a favorite?

Read my other reviews of Susanna Kearsley's novels here at Burton Book Review.