Mini Reviews of Summer 2016

Mystery, drama, oh my!

Newest novel by Lynn Austin

Book three in the Restoration Chronicles!

Welcome to Burton Book Review!

Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

My epiphany of 2015

Please don't contact me for a review request, I am not accepting any review books.

Best of 2015

BBR's Top 2015 Reads!

May 31, 2010

Mailbox Monday~ HAPPY MEMORIAL DAY!!

Please don't steal my images!Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme that is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.

I know that many of you.. and me.. are out there at the pool getting a sunburn so you may not be seeing this post on Monday.. so I'll put up some books to welcome those who do take the time to visit this week and save the rest for a rainy day. That's my excuse and I am sticking to it.

Zero review books this way, these were all purchases by me:
Victoria's Daughters by Jerrold M Packard (1999)
Five women who shared one of the most extraordinary and privileged sisterhoods of all time...

Vicky, Alice, Helena, Louise, and Beatrice were historically unique sisters, born to a sovereign who ruled over a quarter of the earth's people and who gave her name to an era: Queen Victoria. Two of these princesses would themselves produce children of immense consequence. All five would face the social restrictions and familial machinations borne by ninetheenth-century women of far less exalted class.
Researched at the houses and palaces of its five subjects— in London, Scotland, Berlin, Darmstadt, and Ottawa— Victoria's Daughters examines a generation of royal women who were dominated by their mother, married off as much for political advantage as for love, and passed over entirely when their brother Bertie ascended to the throne. Packard, an experienced biographer whose last book chronicled Victoria's final days, provides valuable insights into their complex, oft-tragic lives as scions of Europe's most influential dynasty, and daughters of their own very troubled times.

The Princes in The Tower by Elizabeth Jenkins (1992)
A landmark look at one the most heartrending, tragic acts in British history: the murder of two defenseless young princes in the Tower of London by their uncle, King Richard III. Written by the bestselling author of Elizabeth the Great, it uses contemporary scientific research to examine what really happened. Was Richard a cold-blooded, villainous killer? How did political events of the time affect the king's behavior? Truly compelling.

The Innocent by Posie Graeme-Evans (2005)
The year is 1450, a dangerous time in medieval Britain. Civil unrest is at its peak and the legitimacy of the royal family is suspect. Meanwhile, deep in the forests of western England, a baby is born. Powerful forces plot to kill both mother and child, but somehow the newborn girl survives. Her name is Anne.
Fifteen years later, England emerges into a fragile but hopeful new age, with the charismatic young King Edward IV on the throne. Anne, now a young peasant girl, joins the household of a wealthy London merchant. Her unusual beauty provokes jealousy, lust, and intrigue, but Anne has a special quality that saves her: a vast knowledge of healing herbs. News of her extraordinary gift spreads, and she is called upon to save the ailing queen. Soon after, Anne is moved into the palace, where she finds her destiny with the man who will become the greatest love of her life — the king himself.
Elizabeth: Captive Princess by Margaret Irwin My copy is a 1945 hardcover, but Sourcebooks is reissuing this second novel in a series in October 2010. This is a follow up to Young Bess, which I enjoyed.
In this, the second of Margaret Irwin's great trilogy about the life of 'Good Queen Bess', Elizabeth I, the imperious, high spirited heroine of Young Bess finds herself the prey of her sister Mary's jealous...

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick (2005) I had purchased Lords of the White Castle previously, but then I read that Shadow and strongholds was a prequel to White Castle, to I had to get this one. Naturally. =) Laws of Physics at work within the Burton home.
A medieval tale of pride and strife, of coming-of-age in a world where chivalry is a luxury seldom afforded, especially by men of power.
England, 1148---ten-year-old Brunin FitzWarin is an awkward misfit in his own family. A quiet child, he is tormented by his brothers and loathed by his powerful and autocratic grandmother. In an attempt to encourage Brunin’s development, his father sends him to be fostered in the household of Joscelin de Dinan, Lord of Ludlow. Here Brunin will learn knightly arts, but before he can succeed, he must overcome the deep-seated doubts that hold him back.

Hawise, the youngest daughter of Lord Joscelin, soon forms a strong friendship with Brunin. Family loyalties mean that her father, with the young Brunin as his squire, must aid Prince Henry of Anjou in his battle with King Stephen for the English crown. Meanwhile, Ludlow itself comes under threat from Joscelin’s rival, Gilbert de Lacy. As the war for the crown rages, and de Lacy becomes more assertive in his claims for Ludlow, Brunin and Hawise are drawn into each other’s arms.
Now Brunin must defeat the shadows of his childhood and put to use all that he has learned. As the pressure on Ludlow intensifies and a new Welsh threat emerges against his own family’s lands, Brunin must confront the future head on, or fail on all counts....

May 29, 2010


Happy Memorial Day!!
I love to celebrate this day because it was May 31, 1994, sixteen years ago, that I flew in from NY, landed in Texas and called it my home. Despite missing my best friend, it is still the best decision I have ever made and I am so glad that I have zero regrets about it. I have a fantastic family and a wonderful future to look foward to as I watch the kiddos grow before my very eyes in our lovely Texas home. Peace and happiness throughout. Tranquil thoughts.

Wistful thoughts. Thoughtful thoughts. Sad thoughts. Memorial Day is a say day for many, as it is day to remember those that died while serving our country. May they rest in peace, and know that they are loved and never forgotten. We thank you. May American get out of Afghanistan so that we do not have more than already 1,000 soldiers who have lost their lives in Afghanistan alone.

Rest in peace to Dennis Hopper, one of my favorite actors ever who had not a very easy life, and to Gary Coleman, who was actually a big part of my TV viewing in my young days and who did not seem to prosper from his childhood career. Also, Art Linkletter passed this week, who was a bit before my time, but very ,uch a well respected member of the TV world. Prayers and my thoughts to their families.
And since this is a weekend when many Americans realize they need a break, like me, many won't be reading blogs, but they will be celebrating life and love and family and enjoyment. Go for it.

One of the many butterflies I'll be sharing nature with this weekend.
And as a side note... the By Fire By Water giveaway goes to Tea and CritterCrazyJen! Emails have been sent, and congrats.

Enjoy your fantastic hot-dog lovin' weekend.

May 23, 2010

Mailbox Monday on Sunday

Please don't steal my images!Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme that is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.

As I said last week, I was gifted with gift cards to Half Price Books for Mother's Day, and I still have more to go on the cards.

My purchases included:

Fanny Burney by Claire Harman (non-fiction)

Claire Harman's full-scale biography of Fanny Burney, the first literary woman novelist and a true child of eighteenth-century England and the Enlightenment,is rich with insights and pleasures as it brings us into the extraordinary life (1752-1840) of the woman Virginia Woolf called the mother of English fiction. We are present at Mrs. Thrale's dinner party when the twenty-six-year-old Fanny has the incomparable thrill of hearing Dr. Johnson himself admiringly acknowledge her authorship of Evelina, her first novel, anonymously published for fear of upsetting her adored father, and now the talk of the town. We see her growing up, daughter of the charming and gifted musician and teacher Dr. Charles Burney, who was the very embodiment of a new class: talented, energized, self-educated, self-made, self-conscious, socially ambitious and easily endearing himself to aristocratic patrons.
We see Fanny partly enjoying, partly rejecting the celebrity engendered by Evelina, and four years later by Cecilia ("If you will be an author and a wit," says Mrs. Thrale, "you must take the consequences"). And we see her mingling with the most famous men and women of the time, not only Dr. Johnson but Joshua Reynolds, Sheridan, David Garrick, Mrs. Siddons, Horace Walpole and, later, Chateaubriand and Madame de StaÎl.
For five years, during the time of George III's madness, Fanny Burney held a position in the Royal Household as Second Keeper of the Robes to Queen Charlotte. For her father, Fanny's going to court was like going to heaven, but for Fanny it was more an incarceration. Her journals, published posthumously in 1842, gave her some solace. She saw herself as an eavesdropper. Dr. Johnson wryly called her "a spy." Her marriage at forty-one to a penniless Catholic exile, Alexandre d'Arblay, resulted in trans-Channel crossings that left her stranded for almost a decade in Napoleon's France, and then, after a dramatic flight from Paris, trapped in Brussels on the eve of Waterloo.
Claire Harman's biography of Fanny Burney is as lively as it is meticulously researched and authoritative. It gives us the woman, her world and the early-blooming artist whose acute grasp of social nuance, gift for satire, drama and skillful play among large casts of characters won her comparison with the best of Smollett, Richardson and Fielding, the admiration of Jane Austen and Lord Byron and a secure place in the pantheon of the English novel.

Who's Who in Early Medieval England, so I have four of this series now, and looking for several more such as the Who's Who in Early/Late Hanoverian England; This is part of an eight-volume series providing short biographies of men and women from Roman to Victorian times. Each entry places the subject in the context of their age and evokes what was distinctive and interesting about their personality and achievement. The biographies are arranged in a broadly chronological rather than alphabetical sequence so that the reader may easily browse from one contemporary to the next. The index, with its many cross-references, reveals further linkages between contemporaries. Each volume is a portrait of an age, presenting history in a biographical form which complements the conventional approach. This volume begins with William the Conqueror, illegitimate son of Robert "the Devil" and first of the Norman Kings of England; and continues through Hereward the Wake, the celebrated outlaw and symbol of anti-French sentiment; the martyr Thomas Becket; and Aaron of York, "the Croesus of thirteenth-century England," brought down by an establishment hostile to Jews.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.. I couldn't resist this book anymore, especially feeling the way I do about how no one can hold a candle to Penman's Henry II era titles. Perhaps she can turn me officially Richardian? If anyone can, it would only be her.
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 filled 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.

Purchased at Amazon or other online sources:

I had read her most recent, Delilah, and totally fell in love with her writing. I kept hoping that this older title would show up in my queue at Paperbackswap, and I lost patience and bought it.
Following Queenmaker, "her majestic debut" (People magazine), India Edghill's Wisdom's Daughter is a vivid and assiduously researched rendition of the Biblical tale of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. As the queen's search for a true heir to her throne takes her to the court of the wisest man in the world, both she and the king learn how to value truth, love, and duty . . . and the king’s daughter learns to be a forceful woman in a man's world.

A few more titles that I just couldn't stand not having:
Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford by Alison Weir (2009). I really enjoy reading Weir's non-fiction reads, unlike some nay sayers, and I appreciate her insights and her passion for her work.
Historian Alison Weir brings to life the tale of Katherine Swynford, a royal mistress who became a crucial figure in the British royal dynasties. Born in the mid-14th century, Katherine experienced the Hundred Years' War, the Black Death, and the Peasants' Revolt, and crossed paths with many eminent figures, among them her brother-in-law, Geoffrey Chaucer. At age ten, she was appointed to the household of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and fourth son of King Edward III; at twelve, she married Hugh Swynford, an impoverished knight. Widowed at 21, Katherine, gifted with beauty and charms, later became John of Gaunt's mistress. Throughout their illicit union, John and Katherine were devoted to each other. In middle age, after many twists of fortune, they wed, and her children by John, the Beauforts, would become direct forebears of the Royal Houses of York, Tudor, and Stuart, and of every British sovereign since 1461 (as well as four U.S. presidents).

In the Shadow of the Throne: The Lady Arbella Stuart by Ruth Norrington (Paperback, 2002)
I had really loved a few of the Arbella non-fiction books that I had read a few years ago and I have wanted this one also ever since.
Lady Arbella Stuart, once a favoured heir to the throne of Elizabeth I, has become a forgotten Princess. This book reveals startling evidence to explain her fall into obscurity and seeks to re-establish her once again as one of the brightest stars of the House of Stuart. Directly descended from Henry VII through his eldest daughter Margaret Tudor, she was first cousin to James I, niece to Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley and daughter of Darnley's younger brother Charles Stuart and Elizabeth Cavendish, daughter of Bess of Hardwick. In the Shadow of the Throne will change our understanding of Arbella Stuart by utilizing new medical research into the hereditary disease of porphryia. This new evidence not only confirms the presence of the illness in George III and his descendants, but also makes clear that symptoms were present in his ancestors back to the Tudors. James I, his eldest son Prince Henry, Mary Queen of Scots, Charles I's youngest daughter Minette and Arbella herself are now believed to have been afflicted; a close study of their health from available records reveal significant physical suffering as well as bouts of mental derangement, even madness. James I, the dominating influence on the adult life of Arbella, treated her alternately with great kindness and severe cruelty which is now known to have coincided with his attacks of the illness. With the obvious exception of Mary, it can now be argued that all these members died from porphryia.

I won this new title:

Cleopatra: A Biography by Duane W. Roller
Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra (69-30 BC), queen of Egypt. The subject of a vast repertory of post-antique popular culture and also a significant figure in literature, art, and music, Cleopatra herself is surprisingly little known and generally misunderstood. Even in the years immediately after her death her memory was condemned by those who defeated her. The image of Cleopatra as an unfit ruler and wanton seductress who destroyed the careers of two of Rome's greatest generals-an image first created by Octavian's propaganda campaign-informs the later portrayals of her on stage and screen. Cleopatra was an accomplished diplomat, administrator, linguist (she was probably the first Ptolemy ruler to learn Egyptian), and author, who, until her very last years, skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing strength and hostility from Rome. The fact that the wealthy and pivotally placed kingdom of Egypt held out so long against Roman conquest is due primarily to the formidable skills of its last Ptolemaic Queen. Although she is the subject of a vast bibliography, she can be unfairly represented as a person whose physical needs determined her political decisions. Some of the most unbiased data from her own era, the repertory of art and coinage produced while she was alive, are too frequently ignored. In Cleopatra, Duane Roller has written the definitive biography of the queen, not as a figure in popular culture or even in the arts and literature of the last five hundred years, but as the last Greek queen of Egypt. In addition to providing an engaging narrative of the queen's life, the author carefully contextualizes Cleopatra in the revolutionary events of the first century BCE. He highlights the important heritage of the Ptolemies, rulers in Egypt since the death of Alexander the Great three hundred years earlier, and the growing involvement of Rome in North Africa and the Middle East, culminating in Octavian's annexation of Egypt in 30 BCE. Roller also considers Cleopatra's various predecessor queens, who are often ignored but were fascinating personalities in their own right, and her descendants: although Cleopatra was seen as "the last of the Ptolemies" her daughter and grandson ruled in Africa for another 70 years and created a Ptolemaic government-in-exile at Mauretanian Caesarea. The result is the most complete and authoritative portrait of the life and times of this perennially fascinating figure.

May 21, 2010

Caught My Eye

As I was browsing looking for something to catch my eye, this one did:
Elizabeth Street
by Laurie Fabiano

 First published in July 25th 2006 it has received a make over.

Elizabeth Street
by Laurie Fabiano
Based on true events, ELIZABETH STREET is a multigenerational saga that opens in an Italian village in the 1900's, and crosses the ocean to New York's Lower East Side. At the heart of the novel is Giovanna, whose family is targeted by the notorious Black Hand -the precursor to the Mafia. Elizabeth Street brings to light a period in history when Italian immigrant neighborhoods lived in fear of Black Hand extortion and violence-a reality that defies the romanticized depiction of the Mafia. Here, the author reveals the merciless terror of the Black Hand-and the impact their crimes had on her family. Giovanna is based on Fabiano's great-grandmother, and the book's heroes and villains - such as Lieutenant Petrosino, the crusading cop and "Lupo the Wolf," a cold-blooded criminal - are drawn from real life in this thrilling tale. While set in a dynamic historical context, Elizabeth Street is, above all, the dramatic story of the heroine, Giovanna, and how she triumphed over tragedy.
ISBN13: 9781935597025

This one caught my eye via a new program.. copied and pasted from Amazon: AmazonEncore is a new program whereby Amazon will use information such as customer reviews on to identify exceptional, overlooked books and authors with more potential than their sales may indicate. Amazon will then partner with the authors to re-introduce their books to readers through marketing support and distribution into multiple channels and formats, such as the Books Store, Amazon Kindle Store,, and national and independent bookstores via third-party wholesalers. Browse our books below, and check out AmazonEncore titles available on Kindle.

Goodreads shows a 4.0 average rating for the original issue

May 19, 2010

Decorative Book Boxes courtesy of CSN Stores

Lucky for me, CSN Stores have made the rounds again and highlighting items for review on the blogs. I was selected again to pick something that I would like to review, after last season I reviewed one of their great bookcases.

I selected this set of Book Boxes that are available in a few different pattern, and I chose the Equestrian pattern. The quality of these boxes are superb; they are thick, smell like leather (45 % leather) and are very sturdy. There is also a leather strap to tie them shut.

It was great fun finding all sorts of different things to store in these Book Boxes!

Remotes in the Medium box!

Stationery and momentos in the medium box!

Putting toys in the boxes!

Magazines and BOOKS, obviously, fit in the book boxes!

The product specifications on this set state:
•Set includes one small, medium and large book box
•Constructed of 50 % MDF, 45 % leather and 5 % fabric
•Leather bound book boxes with embossed leaf pattern

•Small book box dimensions: 7.5" H x 5" W x 2" D
•Medium book box dimensions: 10" H x 7" W x 2.25" D
•Large book box dimensions: 12.25" H x 10.25" W x 3.25" D

I will enjoy having a spot to stow spare paperwork!

And see my last post regarding another CSN product that I had received as a gift for my daughter. Thanks to CSN Stores for providing the Book boxes for me to review.

Blogging Pitfalls... oh and what about that Policy?

I noticed this week that I have posted 29 reviews on The Burton Review this year. That jives with a previous calculation of mine that the average amount of time it has taken me to read and review a book is just a bit less than 5 days. I love it when I find myself one helluva awesome book that keeps me reading throughout the night and pushes me ahead of my reading schedule. Those are fantastic happy joy joy books for me (The Kitchen House, 31 Bond Street, Girl In Translation) that I won't hesitate to recommend to any reader.

When I begin a book, I get disappointed if I am not invested in the happenings of the story by at least page thirty (The Brothers of Gwynedd- part one). Sometimes, I can read a book and be interested enough to know I will complete the book, but I know it will not be stellar (The Founding). Other times, I will begin a book and not really know where it is going to take me, and then eventually it suddenly swoops me into another time and totally inspires me. (By Fire, By Water).

Sometimes, life is just too insane to be able to focus on a book. I know the normal saying goes for readers, When Life Gets Tough, Get a Book. But it really has to be the right type of book for me, even if I do normally enjoy in-depth historicals, it just may be time to take a break and read a general fiction novel to help lighten my spirit. It is hard for any book blogger in good faith to just put a book away and say.. eh.. not good enough.. I'll check it out another day. The catch of being a book blogger is that you normally have a schedule of when a publisher/publicist/author wants you to post a review. But when I have the proverbial gavel hanging over my head that I must review this and that right now regardless of what your life is handing to you, well that just takes all the fun out of it.

Doesn't it?

And then.. the millions of review requests I receive daily in my virtual mailbox. Okay, maybe just several emails a day. From authors, publicists etc. I do realize that 90% of those that email me have never peeked at my blog before and therefore would not know me and my tastes. I am one of those that are on the mass email marketing lists but the quantity of the emails have expanded like a balloon. And it's ready to get popped. Because if it is someone who is pitching to me with a preface of  "I LOVE YOUR BLOG!" and then proceeds to tell me that they have a vampire story or a children's novel for me to review.. well, I get a little ticked off. They clearly have not read my blog that they LOVE SO MUCH. So what to do about that?

Once upon a time, I read a book review etiquette type internet article that scoffed at a book blogger who asked when would you like me to post this review? This article ran about the same time that every one was realizing that book blogging was becoming a large habit with new book blogs being created by the minute. This much better person who would never have called themselves something as silly as a blogger but would have called themselves a fancier title such as "literary critic" stated that no one ever is supposed to ask that one question of when to review a book. You review the book on your schedule, they said. You do this for free. I was actually glad to read that.

cough cough.

Well, that is not reality, as I have come to notice a year after this book blogging. If an author wants you to review a book, and you accept it, they would expect a review within a fair amount of time, within six months seems good enough for me, unless prior arrangements are specifically made where they actually permit you to take your time. But then you have most publicists who conduct the virtual blog tours. And of course you are then required to post a review on your assigned date. And then you snowball it into a hundred books landing on your doorstep a week and oooopppps you forgot that you don't read that fast. Don't fall into that pitfall! Remember to pace yourself. Now that I've done this for awhile, I can look at my 'stats'; as mentioned, it can be a five day turn around. So if you have 20 more books on your stack that you must review, that's another 100 days. I would think at this point you need to exercise restraint on the book requesting/accepting.

I do have a review policy. I think there was a flurry of activity some time last year which was similar to a viral blogger wave where everyone decided it was prudent to post a review policy. I was among them. "Oh, yes!" I said when I jumped on the band wagon. We book bloggers are indeed important enough to post limits, warnings, and restrictions and to put them on our Review Policy. Loud and Clear for All to See.

Flash forward a year later. Who reads the policy? Anyone? Echo...echo.. echo....

And, yes. I do have the policy linked on three different spots on my site. Just in case they miss the button up top that says POLICY. But, the flip side is, many may HAVE read my policy, and said ewww my book is not for her, and therefore never emailed me in the first place. So maybe the system does work for some. So why am I ranting? No reason. Just wondering if anyone out there feels the same.

But the moral of my own dilemma is this: JUST SAY NO. Or better yet, ignore. Just like they ignored my review policy. I find I do much better when it is I who is doing the requesting of the book rather than the accepting of a book. And don't accept a book that you can't foresee getting to very soon. The books add up, and you will get overwhelmed.

There have been issues between book bloggers and authors before as far as miscommunication on dates etc..but for the most part authors are easy to work with. Every now and then we come across issues that hopefully can be resolved, but sometimes it is hard to remember that there are people behind the monitor on both sides.

And you know what? Yes, we do this for free. We promote books for free. For the love of the book .Yes, we just might get an Advance copy of your book, and we thank you for that. And some authors are truly the awesome of the awesome and send you autographed hardcovers even after you received an ARC. So sometimes we DO enjoy the perks of the book blogger. And we feel happy joy joy again.

What I want is a tee shirt that says "BOOK BLOGGERS ARE PEOPLE, TOO".

There may be something crazy going on in our personal lives that we should not feel compelled to display all over the internet or even email the authors about if they do not get to a review on time. Cut us some slack. This is a hobby, not a job.

Oh.. and we just might have made a mistake in accepting your book to review. Now what? Do you want it back? I'll mail it back to you if would like it back. Or you can wait as patiently as you can.

What about you? What are your peeves about the book blogging "business"? Have you had a bad experience with an author that made you want to throw their book against the wall? Have you felt like you needed a blogging break at any point? How did you get yourself out of a blogging rut?

Some good advice is to find that happy medium. The point where your personal life does not interfere with the blog and the blog does not interfere with your personal life. Remember why you began your blog, and what inspired you about it. Rekindle the passion, and now that you have a bit of experience under your belt, realize what works for you and go with it.

May 18, 2010

GIVEAWAY! Mitchell Kaplan's 'By Fire, By Water' Author Post

Available today for purchase!
Other Press (May 18, 2010)
The Burton Review is pleased to announce the virtual presence of Mitchell Kaplan, the author of the new novel By Fire, By Water. May 18th is it's official release date and I wanted to help promote this spectacular piece of work with a giveaway and a guest post! I recently reviewed this book (linked here) and I recommend this novel to anyone interested in the dynamics that the Spanish Inquisition had on the common folk of the times. Read further for the details on how you can win a copy of this inspiring novel.

The Pope and the Spanish Inquisition
by Mitchell James Kaplan

In the late 1470s, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand approached Pope Sixtus IV with a request to establish an inquisition in Castille. The purpose of this tribunal would be to root out the “judaizing heresy” among so-called New Christians. Many of these New Christians descended from Jews forced to convert to Christianity two generations earlier.

The pope refused to authorize the establishment of this special inquisition. Isabella and Ferdinand answered by threatening to withdraw their military support for the pope’s crusade against the Ottomans.

This crusade was Sixtus’s most important project. The Islamic Ottoman empire had been slowly expanding since the 13th century. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 was felt as an earthquake throughout Christendom. During the following decades, the Ottomans took the Balkans, Greece, much of North Africa, and even parts of present-day Italy. From where the pope sat, it looked like Rome was next. His primary responsibility was to protect Christendom.

Although wealthy New Christians effectively made their case to the pope, all their eloquence and gifts were worth little compared to the possibility of Spain’s withdrawal from the pope’s crusade. Yielding to Isabella and Ferdinand’s pressure, Sixtus IV finally allowed them to establish an inquisition in Castille. In a break with tradition, he even allowed them to appoint the inquisitors themselves.

To understand what Isabella and Ferdinand did with this historically unique opportunity, and why, you have to understand who they were.

In my view, Isabella of Castille was a usurper. She invented the myth that her half-brother Henry IV was “impotent” and/or a “sodomizer” and that Henry’s daughter Joanna, to whom he willed the throne, was illegitimate. She waged war on Henry and Joanna and ultimately prevailed, but only by marrying Ferdinand and adding the power of Aragon’s military to her own.

Isabella and Ferdinand were conquerors. Once they consolidated power in their own lands, they were not inclined to stop. In attempting to retake Granada from the Moors, they appealed to their soldiers’ religious zeal and patriotic fervor. But where had that zeal been when Isabella and Ferdinand had threatened to withdraw from the pope’s crusade? Surely the Ottomans represented a far greater threat to Christendom than the tiny Nasrid emirate in Granada.
The Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I, of Castile and León
In order to carry out their plan and achieve the greatness for which they believed they were destined, the monarchs needed capital. The fastest way to acquire this capital was to steal it from New Christians, who as a class had acquired sudden wealth since leaving their ghettos. By weakening the New Christians, Isabella and Ferdinand were able to appease their aristocratic supporters, many of whom felt threatened by the rapid rise of an “upper middle class” of New Christian traders, physicians, legal advisors, and cartographers.

In By Fire, By Water, I hinted at the struggle between the New Christians, the pope, and the monarchs of Spain. In one of the early drafts, I developed this thread further. But I came to feel it distracted from the thrust of my story, which needed to be focused on Luis de Santangel and Judith Migdal even while suggesting the complexity of their world. By Fire, By Water is not a book about the Inquisition per se. It is the story of a man whom the Spanish Inquisition scorched but did not burn.

Thank you so much to Mitchell for providing us with more insights into his novel.

The publisher is generously offering two copies for a giveaway (US/Canada only). To enter for this random drawing, you must comment with your email address, discussing anything related to the topics above, such as Isabella of Castille or Ferdinand of Aragon, Christopher Columbus/Colon (a character in the novel), or the Spanish Inquisition.

Edited to change the Giveaway date to May 28th. Good Luck!

May 17, 2010

Book Review: The Brothers Of Gwynedd BOOK ONE

The Brothers Of Gwynedd by Edith Pargeter
May 1st 2010 by Sourcebooks Landmark (first published October 1990)
Paperback, 720 pages

Set in 13th Century Wales at the time of the Plantagenets, The Brothers of Gwynedd is an ambitious and absorbing saga about Llewelyn, the grandson of Llewelyn the Great, enveloping readers in the guts and glory of medieval Wales. Llewelyn dreams of one Wales, united against the threat of the English. But first he must tackle enemies nearer home. His brothers vie with him for power among themselves and with the English king, Henry III, and their willful infighting threatens the very soil of their fathers. Despite the support of his beloved wife, Eleanor, Llewelyn finds himself starting down his own downfall, a tragic death he might not be able to prevent, and a country slipping out of his grasp.
Originally published as four volumes, this quartet includes Sunrise in the West, The Dragon at Noonday, The Hounds of Sunset, and Afterglow and Nightfall.

There are four titles within the new Sourcebooks release on Edith Pargeter's The Brothers of Gwynedd, and Sourcebooks is promoting it with a Summer Reading Group between bloggers and any virtual visitors that would like to join in. I would love to hear what others thought of the series. The first book, The Sunrise in the West, is what this review will focus on, and the Blog Chat Night for this first part of the quartet is scheduled for May 24th at 7:00pm EST hosted by Amy of Passages of the Past. Please join us there!

The story opens as Samson introduces himself to us, as he is the narrator of the story. He gives us details about his life and his relationships to the brothers of Gwynedd and who they are in relation to Wales. Although what seems to be a very dramatic story, the part about the brothers is slow going. The family chart is helpful because the elders were not fitting into the story properly through Samson's explanations of the heirarchy of Wales. Eventually the elder Gwynedd "fathers" pass away and we left with the four sons of whom the book is focused on. Owen is the eldest, but he is raised in England under King Henry's grace, and is therefore not seen as a true Welshman to the lords there. Llewellyn is the second son who fled England to stay in Wales. These two elder brothers come to arms against each other in regards to the partitioning of land and Owen seems just plain jealous that Llewellyn is more Welsh than he is.

Brothers against brothers, and England against Wales is what the story is about. I would have preferred more theatrics and less factual information, as this is full of so many details that I felt bogged down with each page and it was not a pleasure for me. The writing felt stiff and dry, but it is highly possible that I am in the minority here since I have heard only good things about this series. I did enjoy it when it became more personal, and the relationships that the narrator, Samson, had with those around him were what saved the story for me. Otherwise, I would have given up at page 20. Instead I gave up about page 88 of 186 pages of the ARC of the new release. Those readers who have true desire to learn more about Wales and their struggles in the thirteenth century may find this tome to be a delight. The next book is rumored to flow better with improved characterizations, and the series as a whole seems to be a popular read for those who have particular interest in Wales.

See you at the Chat Night #1 at Passages to The Past on May 24 at 7:00 pm EST

A few other May 17 Reviews:


History Undressed

A Hoyden's Look at Literature

A few May 18 Reviews:

The Broken Teepee

Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell

Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff

Passages to the Past

The Book Faery

May 16, 2010

Mailbox Monday aka HalfPrice Bookstore Heaven

Please don't steal my images!Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme that is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.

We share what books that we found in our mailboxes last week. And I am adding what I purchased, swapped, etc.

I was gifted with gift cards to Half Price Books for Mother's Day, and I bought some at clearance for $2.00 which I am swapping on Paperbackswap, and then I bought these others that looked interesting. I also bought some to be given away here. It is pretty bad when you start to know the inventory of the store so I think I should give it a little break and let some new books come in to the store before I trek back there. They do have a better selection of non-fiction as opposed to the historical fiction that I like so much; I own many of the fictional ones that had caught my eye there.

Perdita: The Literary, Theatrical, Scandalous Life of Mary Robinson by Paula Byrne
"This thoroughly engaging and richly researched book presents a compelling portrait of Mary Robinson–darling of the London stage, mistress to the most powerful men in England, feminist thinker, and bestselling author, described by Samuel Taylor Coleridge as “a woman of undoubted genius.”

One of the most flamboyant free spirits of the late eighteenth century, Mary Robinson led a life that was marked by reversals of fortune. After being abandoned by her merchant father, who left England to establish a fishery among the Canadian Eskimos, Mary was married, at age fifteen, to Thomas Robinson. His dissipation landed the couple and their baby in debtors’ prison, where Mary wrote her first book of poetry, gaining her the patronage of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.
On her release, Mary rose to become one of the London theater’s most alluring actresses, famously playing Perdita in The Winter’s Tale for a rapt audience that included the Prince of Wales, who fell madly in love with her. Never one to pass up an opportunity, she later used his ardent and numerous love letters as blackmail. After being struck down by paralysis, apparently following a miscarriage, she remade herself yet again, this time as a popular writer who was also admired by the leading intellectuals of the day.
Filled with triumph and despair, and then triumph again, the amazing, multifaceted life of “Perdita” is marvelously captured in this stunning biography."

Lady Trevelyan and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood by John Batchelor
"Based on the diaries of Pauline Trevelyan, this is a fascinating new take on Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites, as seen through the life of this patron of the arts who used her own brains and her husband’s money to promote the careers of the finest painters and writers of High-Victorian cultural life."

The Rose Labyrinth by Titania Hardie
"Before his death in 1609, Queen Elizabeth's spiritual consultant, astrologer, and scientific advisor John Dee hid many of his most astonishing written works, believing that the world was not yet prepared to face the shocking truths that they revealed. For seventeen generations, his female descendants have carefully guarded the secret of his hiding place, waiting for the right moment to bring Dee's ideas to light. That time is now.
In The Rose Labyrinth, Titania Hardie masterfully blends historical fact and fiction as she introduces readers to Lucy King, a beautiful, young documentary producer based in London. With the help of a brilliant group of friends, Lucy races through London, France, and New York to decipher the clues that will eventually lead her to the hidden treasure of the Rose Labyrinth. Along the way she finds true love with Alex Stafford, the doctor who saw her through a life-threatening heart condition and transplant.
A sweeping adventure for readers who loved The Da Vinci Code and The Expected One, The Rose Labyrinth is a decadent, romantic novel with a historical twist. It features a wonderful mix of literary references, from Shakespeare, to the Romantic poets, to Gabriel Garcia Marquez; the folklore and history of Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and Paganism; and of course, astrology and numerology, of which Hardie is an expert. As the Rose Labyrinth tells us, the world we think we know is not all that it appears to be."

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss
"David Liss’s bestselling historical thrillers, including A Conspiracy of Paper and The Coffee Trader, have been called remarkable and rousing: the perfect combination of scrupulous research and breathless excitement. Now Liss delivers his best novel yet in an entirely new setting–America in the years after the Revolution, an unstable nation where desperate schemers vie for wealth, power, and a chance to shape a country’s destiny.

Ethan Saunders, once among General Washington’s most valued spies, now lives in disgrace, haunting the taverns of Philadelphia. An accusation of treason has long since cost him his reputation and his beloved fiancée, Cynthia Pearson, but at his most desperate moment he is recruited for an unlikely task–finding Cynthia’s missing husband. To help her, Saunders must serve his old enemy, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who is engaged in a bitter power struggle with political rival Thomas Jefferson over the fragile young nation’s first real financial institution: the Bank of the United States.
Meanwhile, Joan Maycott is a young woman married to another Revolutionary War veteran. With the new states unable to support their ex-soldiers, the Maycotts make a desperate gamble: trade the chance of future payment for the hope of a better life on the western Pennsylvania frontier. There, amid hardship and deprivation, they find unlikely friendship and a chance for prosperity with a new method of distilling whiskey. But on an isolated frontier, whiskey is more than a drink; it is currency and power, and the Maycotts’ success attracts the brutal attention of men in Hamilton’s orbit, men who threaten to destroy all Joan holds dear.
As their causes intertwine, Joan and Saunders–both patriots in their own way–find themselves on opposing sides of a daring scheme that will forever change their lives and their new country. The Whiskey Rebels is a superb rendering of a perilous age and a nation nearly torn apart–and David Liss’s most powerful novel yet."

Misfortune by Wesley Stace
"One of the most auspicious debuts of recent years, Wesley Stace's Misfortune follows the rise, fall, and triumphant return of Rose Old, a foundling rescued from a London garbage heap in 1820 by the richest man in Britain. Lord Geoffroy Loveall, whose character has been shaped by perpetual mourning for a sister who died in childhood, seizes on the infant as a replacement for his beloved sister. With the help of trusted servants, he arranges for the child to be lovingly brought up at his ancestral mansion, Loveall Hall--to all appearances, his biological daughter and unhoped-for heir. No matter that the baby is not a girl."

And finally.. a review book made its way through the cracks.. (bad, bad me..but this looks great!)

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (Publisher Viking, May 2010)
"In this stunning historical novel, Mary Sutter is a brilliant, headstrong midwife from Albany, New York, who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Determined to overcome the prejudices against women in medicine—and eager to run away from her recent heartbreak—Mary leaves home and travels to Washington, D.C. to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of William Stipp and James Blevens—two surgeons who fall unwittingly in love with Mary’s courage, will, and stubbornness in the face of suffering—and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career in the desperately overwhelmed hospitals of the capital.

Like Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Robert Hicks’s The Widow of the South, My Name Is Mary Sutter powerfully evokes the atmosphere of the period. Rich with historical detail (including marvelous depictions of Lincoln, Dorothea Dix, General McClelland, and John Hay among others), and full of the tragedies and challenges of wartime, My Name Is Mary Sutter is an exceptional novel. And, in Mary herself, Robin Oliveira has created a truly unforgettable heroine whose unwavering determination and vulnerability will resonate with readers everywhere."

And also recieved from Paperbackswap:
The Whiskey Rebellion:George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America's Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland
"A gripping and provocative tale of violence, alcohol, and taxes, The Whiskey Rebellion pits President George Washington and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton against angry, armed settlers across the Appalachians. Unearthing a pungent segment of early American history long ignored by historians, William Hogeland brings to startling life the rebellion that decisively contributed to the establishment of federal authority.Daring, finely crafted, by turns funny and darkly poignant, The Whiskey Rebellion promises a surprising trip for readers unfamiliar with this primal national drama --- whose climax is not the issue of mere taxation but the very meaning and purpose of the American Revolution."

What book here has caught your eye? I am going to read the Mary Sutter soon I hope! The Perdita bio looks great as well and would go great before Amanda Elyot's "All For Love: The Scandalous Life And Times Of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson" which I keep hoping will wind up at half price books.

The Sunday Salon~ a two book giveaway twice

The Sunday

Happy Sunday! Sip along with your lukewarm coffee from this morning, click the pics to visit other virtual reading rooms.. tell us..what are you reading this week??

Let's tell you what I've been reading and where I am online today.. Yes, I've been interviewed! The fabulous blogger Maria Grazia interviews bloggers most weeks, and she has selected me to be her Blogger Buddy this week. Visit the interview at her blog and enter to win the Double Book International Giveaway I am offering.

This week I have finished reading Jane Feather's newest historical romance titled "All The Queen's Players". The review also qualifies for the Tudor Mania Reading Challenge, which is my review #2 for the challenge and therefore I am winning so far =)

I am now reading Catherine Delors For The King which is to be released early July 2010 and is another Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table Event. And I am really enjoying this read which is very much written in a mystery format which I do enjoy. The last one I read I had devoured in a day, which was 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan. That was set in New York in 1857, and For The King is set in France after the revolution in 1800. I have seen comments where some readers were not enthralled with Delors previous novel, which was written in a first-person narrative in a memoir style, but this style is entirely different so don't let the opinion of her first book sway you from reading this one. Of course there were some that loved her Mistress of The Revolution and I have no doubt that many will enjoy For The King as well. It is fast paced and includes the details of the period without reading like a textbook. It is all put together very well.

This week I will host an author guest post from new author Mitchell James Kaplan on May 18 in honor of the release day for By Fire, By Water. This was an inspiring read that dealt with the political and emotional turmoils of the Spanish Inquisition as seen through two very strong characters. Read my review here, and then come back soon to enter for the two book giveaway with the author post.

The giveaway of the autographed copy of the new release for D.L. Bogdan's Secrets of The Tudor Court goes to the very lucky winner of Jennifer of Rundpinne! Congrats to her.

I hope everyone has a fantastic Sunday and gets prepared mentally for another Monday to come. I am not ready.

May 14, 2010

Book Review: All The Queen's Players by Jane Feather

All The Queen's Players by Jane Feather
Simon and Schuster
ISBN: 978-1-4165-2554-7
March 2010
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you
The Burton Review Rating:3 Stars

"At Queen Elizabeth’s palace, intrigue abounds. And when a naive girl with a gift for keen observation enters the court, she can hardly imagine the role she will play in bringing England—indeed, the whole of Europe—to the brink of war. Nor can she foresee her own journey to the brink of ecstasy and beyond. . . .

When she becomes a junior lady of Queen Elizabeth’s bedchamber, Rosamund is instructed by her cousin, the brilliant and devious secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham, to record everything she observes. Her promised reward: a chance at a good marriage. But through her brother Thomas, Rosamund finds herself drawn to the forbidden, rough-and-tumble world of theatre, and to Thomas’s friend, the dramatic, impetuous playwright Christopher Marlowe. And then Rosamund meets Will Creighton—a persuasive courtier, poet, and would-be playwright who is the embodiment of an unsuitable match.

The unsanctioned relationship between Rosamund and Will draws the wrath of Elizabeth, who prides herself on being the Virgin Queen. Rosamund is sent in disgrace to a remote castle that holds Elizabeth’s cousin Mary Stuart, the imprisoned Queen of Scots. Here, Walsingham expects Rosamund to uncover proof of a plot against Elizabeth. But surely, nothing good can come of putting an artless girl in such close proximity to so many seductive players and deceptive games. Unless, of course, Rosamund can discover an affinity for passion and intrigue herself.. "
I have never read anything by Jane Feather before. I had an inkling that her style was more "romance" over the historical genre. Although pure romance novels are not my favorite, if they are paired with a good historical fiction writing style, I can find it enjoyable when I am in the right frame of mind. This is a mix that met that even requirement of romance in an intriguing historical fiction setting, namely within the Elizabethan courts, but some of the lines were tediously annoying that I feel it had to be mentioned. If you have the patience for a romance with some history, this is perfect. If you are having a week that is something close to hectic, this is a good comfort read that does not require 110% concentration. The heroine is Rosamund Walsingham, who is entirely fictional, but she is written in as the cousin to the true historical figure Sir Francis Walsingham, the Master Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, who is also well known as the spymaster.

Rosamund was brought up in a sheltered home with little distractions until her esteemed cousin brings her to court. She soon gets caught up in flirtations which lead to romances which eventually lead to scandal. (Predictable.) This take up more than half of the novel. Rosamund is then used as a pawn amidst the plots against Mary Queen of Scots. Familiar names are being mentioned such as Savage, Babington and Lord Burghley. Familiar unease of the Protestants versus the Catholics. Nothing is heavy into these historical aspects as the primary feel of this novel is focused on Rosamund's character and her survival as a young woman without a dowry. Being told in third person, the actual empathy for Rosamund is thwarted a bit, as she can easily be blown off as a nincumpoop. Her dalliances within the court were warned against and yet it seemed within days she threw caution to the wind. A swift kick in the butt she needed but instead her penance was to bring her into the folds of treachery and spying against Queen Mary. It was there within the walls that imprisoned the Scots queen where Rosamund began to mature a bit and understand the force that her cousin Walsingham carried when she witnessed the torturous hangings of the conspirators against Queen Elizabeth I in the name of Queen Mary.

I really enjoyed the portrayal of Sir Francis Walsingham, and his wife Ursula. Ursula stepped in as a much-needed mother figure to Rosamund, and was supportive and helpful to her even when Rosamund could have easily been shunned as a result of her naive actions. Also very interesting was the character of Christopher "Kit" Marlowe who was a popular poet of the Elizabethan era. He is used as a lover to Rosamund's brother in the novel, as well as one of Walsingham's many spies in the Protestant networks, working to dispose of the threat of Mary Queen of Scots and her Catholic supporters. Marlowe is the subject of much debate, ranging from his sexual orientation to his spying, as well as whether or not he faked his death to assume the identity of William Shakespeare.

Jane Feather does write an interesting story, not entirely unpredictable, but it is not a complete waste of time. The title refers to the plays that occur at the Elizabethan court, which is a topic through out the novel as well as Rosamund's talent for artistic endeavors. It also refers to the networks of political supporters to Queen Elizabeth as they strive to rid the realm of the threat within Mary of Scots. The sexual content is prevalent immediately, and it never does go away, so if you are not looking for some typical romantic themes I would advise against it. I would recommend this as a perfect read to wile away a gloomy day. Even though I normally stay away from romances, I managed to enjoy this enough to keep going, when the last read I was plodding through needed to be put down. Those interested in the machinations against Mary Queen of Scots would appreciate the plot lines that Jane Feather has produced in All the Queen's Players.

Also provided at the end of the novel are a reading group guide, author's note, bibliography and a Q&A with the author.

Incidentally, those readers who are more interested in Sir Francis Walsingham, the man behind the politics of Queen Elizabeth I, there is a book titled Francis Walsingham, Spymaster by Derek Wilson that was recently published, which I have on my wishlist. Also, an earlier book is out titled Elizabeth's Spymaster:Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England, by Robert Hutchinson.

John de Critz the Elder, Sir Francis Walsingham, c. 1587
This read is also perfect for the Tudor Mania Challenge! Have you recently reviewed a Tudor themed book? See my post here on how to enter the challenge and compete for your chance to win a book of your choice.

May 13, 2010


One last call for the AUTOGRAPHED BOOK Giveaway! ENTER HERE! A fabulous read by debut novelist, D.L. Bogdan. She has signed the book for one of my blog followers, and all you need to do is comment on the author interview post here. Ends May 14th!

Secrets of The Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan
Released 4/27

PERFECT for the Tudor Mania Reading Challenge

Read my Review here


May 12, 2010

Every little girl needs one of these..

Bathroom vanities, bedroom vanities.. have you seen the selection they have to offer at this site?
They offer an amazing catalog of vanities, including a fabulous set for your bedroom which my daughter has. This beautiful vanity is a focal point in her room, and it is so perfect for her! The Powell Heirloom 36" Cherry Jewelry Armoire Vanity Set comes complete with many drawers, including a ring drawer, and a fantastic side opening cupboard for her hanging jewelry. It comes with the matching bench and my little girl loves to sit at this vanity and imagine her as a princess dressing for the ball. The size of the other drawers are just perfect, and we have them separated out for headbands, bracelets etc. The main drawer is used for her little makeup sets. The mirror is adjustable too, so you can slant it down for the little ones.

This is something that she can have forever and pass down to her own little girl when the time comes. This was a thoughtful gift from a cherished friend, and likewise, this vanity will be cherished for many years.

As part of CSN Stores promotion, I will also review another product from them as soon as I get it! Stay tuned!

May 8, 2010

The Sunday Salon~ Stuff & More Round Table Events coming your way..

The Sunday

Happy Sunday! Sip along with your sweet tea or flavored fake coffee, click the pics to visit other virtual reading rooms.. tell us..what are you reading this week??

This week I tried and tried and tried to get into the reissue of The Brothers of Gwynedd by Edith Pargeter. I am not giving up. I am putting it aside, which is book one of this quartet. I cannot stand it. But okay whatever we'll see what happens when book two has to be read. This is the pitfall when you agree to review a book for a publisher. You cannot just throw it against the wall and use it for kindling. You must compose a cohesive thought, go over pros and cons of the writing and the plot, and get into the nitty gritty of the subject matter.

Normally that's not a big deal. Millions of book bloggers do it every day. I am not sure if I can do it though, ever again. I will try, because I have invested a year in this book blog to make it something I am proud of. But what would make me ecstatic is to say I am going on hiatus, because my brain cannot handle one more written word.

But I made a promise when I accepted the backlog of twenty books that are impatiently waiting on my shelf for me to read and review. So I have to try. The Blogger Burn Out that I have mentioned before is still clouding my psyche. Obviously. I just have much much much more pressing things going on in my real life that have accumulated into one big tornado that is hanging over my head instead of going away. And it doesn't just include the fact that I have a full time job, I am part of a family of four, and summer is coming.

Why am I torturing myself with piles of books that scream silently?  Because I honor my word, and I love my book blogging buddies. I do like to read books, but I am getting tired of the whole process where everything is scheduled according everyone else's schedule. What about my schedule? When did the book review process become a review robot process? Wasn't this supposed to be fun?

So I set aside The Brothers of Gwynedd and started Jane Feather's newest release, All the Queen's Players. This will fit in with the Tudor Mania Challenge that is underway right now. (got a Tudor read this summer? Add your link!!) The book is so-so, sort of fluffy, and contains really insipid lines that grate on one's nerves but at least it doesn't take me three hours to get through two pages like The Brothers of Gwynedd.

For the Tudor Mania Challenge, there has been confusion. Please enter the LINK TO YOUR REVIEW in the Linky tool. Enter the name of the book then the name of your blog in parentheses. Such as: Secrets of the Tudor Court (The Burton Review)

This linky tool is how I am determining the winner of the challenge. I will have to delete all entries that are not linked to a review. The linky tool is for the competition, the comments are for comments such as if you would like to join us. A comment is not required to enter the competition, a link to the challenge is not required, all that is required is a link to your Tudor Themed Book Review that has been posted between May, June and July. The reviewer with the most Tudor Themed Reviews linked up via Linky tool will win a book of their choice from the Book Depository of a $15 value. More details are on the post page. So far, Arleigh and I are tied for first place with one book review each! =)

This week I posted a review of Mitchell James Kaplan's debut novel, By Fire, By Water. A wonderfully insightful read that really portrays a vivid characterization of The Spanish Inquisition via its main protagonists. I will welcome the author to The Burton Review with an author supplied guest post when it comes closer to its release date of May 18.
And this is after the main May event of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table featuring a blogger favorite, C.W. Gortner. Gortner's previous release The Last Queen was touted by all and was a virtual wild fire of praise. His newest novel, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is going to garner even more praise as history lovers embrace the story of an evil queen made likable.

The event begins NOW and runs for the upcoming week. My review will post tomorrow. Scheduled posts for the event include the normal guest posts, interview and creative posts authored by the very talented bloggers who are members of the round table. You guessed it, I will just have the review as part of the event, as my brain simply cannot handle one more thing at this time. But you need to stay tuned to the main site for the Round Table and see what fabulous giveaways we have in store for you courtesy of the generosity of C.W. Gortner!! You will not be disappointed.

And last but not least, I sent Lizzy at Historically Obsessed my ARC of Jean Kwok's book, Girl in Translation, for a book signing event at Powell's on Friday night. This was a great book and I cannot wait to hear what fun times Lizzy had! I ran a giveaway for the book and using, the winner is....ICEDREAM!! Email has been sent. The book was fantastic and you all need to read it. This was one that I read in a single day, I could NOT put it down. It was a fabulous break from all the historicals that I have been focused on lately. (review) Goodreads shows it already has 79 ratings and a 4.25 average rating.

Happy Mother's Day to all! May you be blessed with hugs and kisses and perhaps.. fine jewelry.

May 5, 2010

Book Review: By Fire, By Water, by Mitchell James Kaplan

By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Other Press (May 18, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1590513521
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four stars!

Luis de Santángel, chancellor to the court and longtime friend of the lusty King Ferdinand, has had enough of the Spanish Inquisition. As the power of Inquisitor General Tomás de Torquemada grows, so does the brutality of the Spanish church and the suspicion and paranoia it inspires. When a dear friend’s demise brings the violence close to home, Santángel is enraged and takes retribution into his own hands. But he is from a family of conversos, and his Jewish heritage makes him an easy target. As Santángel witnesses the horrific persecution of his loved ones, he begins slowly to reconnect with the Jewish faith his family left behind. Feeding his curiosity about his past is his growing love for Judith Migdal, a clever and beautiful Jewish woman navigating the mounting tensions in Granada. While he struggles to decide what his reputation is worth and what he can sacrifice, one man offers him a chance he thought he’d lost…the chance to hope for a better world. Christopher Columbus has plans to discover a route to paradise, and only Luis de Santángel can help him.

Within the dramatic story lies a subtle, insightful examination of the crisis of faith at the heart of the Spanish Inquisition. Irresolvable conflict rages within the conversos in By Fire, By Water, torn between the religion they left behind and the conversion meant to ensure their safety. In this story of love, God, faith, and torture, fifteenth-century Spain comes to dazzling, engrossing life.
Mitchell James Kaplan has certainly tackled a complicated subject with his first novel in By Fire, By Water. It deals primarily with the Spanish Inquisition that was being sponsored by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella as it spread throughout Spain as they attempted to unify the kingdom of Spain. The story is being told through King Ferdinand's chancellor's eyes, Luis de Santangel, who was a converso himself. A converso was someone who was not trusted completely because of the fact they had once been a Jew, or had the 'misfortunate heritage' of descending from one. Another part of the story is being told from a Jewish woman's point of view, Judith, and these two stories ultimately intercept in the novel although they do not meet until later in the novel.

At the beginning of the story we are introduced to Colon, the man who is known today as Christopher Columbus. Although he doesn't play as large of a part in the novel that I expected, it is the theme of conquest, greed and discovery that Colon represents in the story which attempts to come full circle by the end of the novel. A fact that is true is that Luis did help finance Colon's voyage with the three famous ships, but Colon is also portrayed as one who was willing to help some of the more unfortunate people at a time of need. The author did a fantastic job of presenting an accurate portrayal of the setting of Spain and the turmoil that the people faced as the inquisition spread deeper into Spain; raping, murdering and pillaging all those that stood in its way; all in the name of the Almighty God.

Luis de Santangel is portrayed as a simple man who silently wants peace, but does not voice his opinions too loudly. He is careful for his family's sake, as he has a son and a close cousin to care for. Yet Luis is struggling to make peace with his inner self, as he questions the faith of the Christianity that he has been brought up in, yet still has a fervor for the Jewish traditions within the secrets of his heredity. Luis and some of his peers began to hold secret meetings regarding these questions which eventually backfire on them all and send them into the very pits of hell within the Spanish Inquisition. Even being a Chancellor to the king does not save the tragic fate of Luis' friends and family members.

Judith's story is more simple and not as politically entrenched as Luis', as she is merely a pious woman struggling to take care of a nephew and an old man. Her character is constructed in such a way that makes the reader empathize with her: the embodiment of the plight of the Jewish people as they are ultimately expelled from Spain. When her brother dies, she is forced to learn the trade of silver-working and survives adequately enough with this as a Jewish woman in Granada. When Luis meets her, he is enchanted with her but can do nothing about it, since she is Jewish he can not afford to have any contact with her.

Eventually, life as Luis knows it twists into a horrible existence as the very crown that he works for has allowed his family to be taken from him and subjected to the tortures at the hands of the inquisitors. What comes forth is a heartfelt journey and struggle that ultimately leads Luis to Judith, but only temporarily, as he is also detained by the inquisitors. Who will survive and what will remain after the inquisition is what the reader is left to speculate on and what propels the story forward.

By Fire, By Water was a heart wrenching tale told with skill and details that makes me wonder at the tenacity of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. Why were they so driven to unify Spain when it meant to force their subjects to their own religion or face torture and death? How could they see the righteousness in that? And the pope even sanctioned the inquisition. The romantic visage that I had been fed via Tudor fiction regarding Catherine of Aragon's faithful yet warrior mother has been obliterated by the horrors that Queen Isabella sanctioned all in the name of her religion. How I once admired the strength or fortitude that was exaggerated in my learning of Isabella is a shame to me now. This was just one part of the story, although a big one, as it became a sordid tale of survival of the fittest during a time of religious insanity. Conversos were given little choice as they battled with their beliefs versus survival. I am saddened that many millions of schoolchildren like myself are fed such grandiose ideas about King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella when they are taught about Christopher Columbus sailing the ocean blue as opposed to exploitation. There are many sides to the story, and on this one in particular the author does not expand upon, but leaves his reader grappling with the ideas of both the inquisition and the promise of a new world. A new world for whom? And who has rights to who, and why?

Mitchell James Kaplan has effectively written a powerful story that I will always remember. Although steeped with religious views and questions, it did not preach any, as it merely explored the depths of one's soul using the characters of Luis de Santangel and Judith Migdal. As a Catholic, I was deeply saddened to learn the truth of the persecution of the Jewish and Muslim faiths. The questions that were put forth were very thought provoking and I was intrigued once I understood the characters and their unique stories. The image of the King and Queen of Spain will never be the same again for me and I wonder if in the religious zeal of Isabella if she was perhaps touched by some of that madness that her own daughter Juana was said to have. For anyone interesting in the Spanish Inquisition, this is a take that is wonderfully told, for despite the harrowing subject matter, I felt better for reading it.