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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

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Jul 31, 2010

Sunday Salon: Tudor Mania Results!

The Sunday Salon.com


It's been a very long time since I've composed a Sunday Salon post, but it's for good reason. I've been busy with work, reading, the outdoors, the family, the house, swimming.. etc.

But I wanted to take this chance to announce the end of The Tudor Mania Challenge that was posted here at The Burton Review.

Thanks goes out to those who participated in the challenge and posted their review links to the challenge post on the McLinky tool. The McLinky tool will close at midnight Saturday pm, so if you have a recent Tudor Review that you would like to submit, do it soon!

 Hopefully it will generate your site some additional traffic as well. Since I have no internet at home right now, I am composing this post (from work, sssh!!) a day ahead of the scheduled end of the challenge. So if anyone enters another Tudor Review on Friday afternoon or Saturday, I will adjust the following tallies as needed.

The preliminary results are:
The Burton Review: 6 books
Historical-fiction.com: 4 books
Living and Loving in California: 4 books
Lady Gwyn's Kingdom: 3 books
Bippity Boppity Books: 3 books
Book Addiction: 3 books
Enchanted By Josephine: 1 book
Stiletto Storytime: 1 book
Historically Obsessed: 1 book

As of Friday, the winner is ME! LOL! YAY. Well, okay, the next winners are Arleigh (Historical-fiction.com) and Cortney (Living and Loving in California)! Read Arleigh's Wrap up post here.

The purpose of the challenge was to get ME to read more Tudor books from my huge to-be-read pile. My main love of books stems from this Tudor obsession of mine, yet I have let myself get distracted by all sorts of other awesome books (and the huge ARC pile!). I am glad that I was able to read more Tudor themed reads this summer but still not as many as I wish I had.

My favorite out of the six Tudor books I had read for this challenge is Secrets of The Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan. I really enjoyed the point of view of the Tudor intrigue told from Mary Howard, daughter of the seemingly vicious Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. I look forward to more books from this author.

If there are no further entries of submitted reviews this Friday the 30th and Saturday the 31st, the results posted above will be made final and I will contact Arleigh and Cortney to discuss the results and the prize!

Recently, I've reviewed His Last Letter by Jeane Westin, here, as my last entry for the challenge and there is also the Book giveaway going on until August 14th where there is an intriguing interview. That review brought my own review tally of the year 2010 to a big number of 42 reviews published! You can see a complete list of all my reviews here.


Coming up for August, I have great book giveaways in store for you, such as the new release by Philippa Gregory, The Red Queen, and also for The Secret Eleanor by Cecelia Holland for which I have interviewed the author. Stay tuned!

August will also be a month-long event at Austenprose.com honoring Georgette Heyer. It will feature giveaways, reviews and interviews!!

Other than that, I still have a large to-review pile, but I do hope to get past those so that I can participate in other reading challenges and read some of my favorite authors again such as Jean Plaidy aka Victoria Holt, and Georgette Heyer. And I want to focus a bit more on my real life, and less blogging. I will always do reviews, but I will not be online as much. I do follow many blogs via the Google reader, so I will be reading your posts there. My oldest is starting a new school at the end of August and I am so nervous for her!! It's a great school, much better than her previous one, and I hope that she continues to get A's and that she makes some great friends. And I hope that my son will be more receptive to the failed potty training adventures. What a boy he is. {The "Oliver, let's go potty" phrase returns one of two answers: "I already went." "I don't waaaannnnnnt to!" each accompanied by the irritating melodramatic-the-sky-is-falling-whine.}

Happy reading to my bookish friends, and I hope that everyone has a great finish to their summers!!

Jul 29, 2010

Book Review: His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester by Jeane Westin


His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and The Earl of Leicester, A Novel by Jeane Westin
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: NAL Trade (August 3, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0451230126
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating::Three Stars

One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.

They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.


His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

Jeane Westin's previous release of The Virgin's Daughters: In The Court of Elizabeth I received much attention when it released last year. I have not gotten a chance to read that novel, though I did not want to miss this new release as it goes into the much discussed relationship of Elizabeth I and a favored courtier, Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. An undisputed fact is that Robert Dudley and Elizabeth had spent time together in their early years, and they maintained this friendship till his death. What is at the crux of the debate is whether anything sexual occurred during the relationship. There have been many speculations as to the nature of their relationship, and even rumors that Dudley had fathered a secret child with her. I was very curious to see where Westin would take us in this fictional telling of this fascinating courtship of a supposed Virgin Queen and a supposed lover. (I am one of those of the belief that Elizabeth was indeed a virgin, who flirted, perhaps outrageously, to garner attention and admiration).

The beginning of the novel features a small author's note that advises to follow along the timeline using the chapter guide. I quickly learned why this was pointed out when I discovered that the story goes back and forth between Elizabeth's younger years, her middle years, but had started when Dudley had died. Elizabeth clutches the last letter she received from Dudley and the story takes off. The entirety of the novel is not a typical Elizabethan read, as this does not focus on the events that occurred around Elizabeth during her long reign. The author focuses primarily on Elizabeth and Dudley, tapping into their minds and thoughts as she attempts to recreate the relationship between the two.

Westin takes liberties with her story, and those die-hard Elizabeth I fans may take offense to that. The other downside to the novel is the hopscotch across the timeline, as I could never fully grasp where they were and what was going on unless I specifically worked out the chronology in my head using the date that is provided at the beginning of each chapter. And some chapters would end with either Elizabeth or Dudley reminiscing back to a specific event in order to lead into next chapter, which would of course be another time and place.

Westin keeps her novel focused on the objective of spotlighting the romance between Elizabaeth and Dudley, yet she also takes time to cultivate the story behind the effects of the threat of the Spanish Armada and a little on the Mary Queen of Scots ordeal. Since the rest of the actual historic events took place as a behind the scenes nuance during the novel, newbies to the Elizabethan era may not appreciate or grasp the flow of the novel as much. And since Westin does not go in to the details of these smaller events, it is sometimes forced into inane conversations like the lady's maid Anne telling Elizabeth what to call Lord Burghley since he used to be Cecil but was now made Lord. That whole conversation, and others, were among those that really would have been better off not happening at all as it simply took away from the novel and seemed ridiculous in the narrative. I think those middle-ground Elizabethan fans who have not yet felt that they have had their fill of Elizabeth I novels would enjoy the story for the entirely different point of view that it offers.

Both Dudley and Elizabeth are portrayed as completely and totally head over heels in love with each other, forsaking all others, yet unable to tie the knot due to politics. Although Dudley was married at least twice and had multiple affairs, Elizabeth still adored him, albeit in a jealous manner as she banished Dudley's second wife from court. Those Elizabethan fans who have read every other Elizabethan novel might want to skip this one though, due to the confusing nature of the alternating timeline and the singular focus on the love match between the two which may seem to scream of jealous tirades from Elizabeth and Dudley as a spineless jilted lover.

Jeane Westin has a love for all things Tudor, and she graced The Burton Review recently with this interview (giveaway as well). She states that her love for historical fiction stems from the fact that known history is full of gaps and questions. She loves being able to pen a novel in her favorite genres to help to re-imagine a different perspective and to perhaps fill in some of those gaps. Westin has done that here with the love story of Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley by presenting these two in a way that is daring and provocative that demonstrates Westin's love for the Elizabethan period.

The Tudor Mania Challenge which is here at The Burton Review ends this Saturday night. This will be my last entry into the linkfest of the reviews.I can't wait to see who the winner is of the Challenge, who gets a book of their choice from The Book Depository!

Jul 28, 2010

Another fantastic opportunity to review..

CSN Stores has been making the rounds on the blogs for awhile now, as we lucky bloggers get a chance to review a product for our readers. I have had several experiences with them so far, and I would definitely recommend them to anyone looking for their next purchase online. They have so many items available at their 200+ online sites, that you are sure to find what you are looking for.

I have been eyeing the Batman couch set for my son, and an upgrade to our coffeemaker. It seems we need a coffee maker every year, and it turns into an emergency. Yes, it is certainly an emergency when there is no coffeemaker in the house! My eyes do not open in the morning unless I hear it automatically percolating.
Even though I am the only coffee drinker in the house lately, I still need the 12 cup styles. CSN Stores lets you search their site by narrowing the category to how many cups you want. No dinky 1-4 cups for me! 12 all the way!! We've been using the standard Mr. Coffee Programmable 12-cup machine (shown, available from CSN Stores), but I'm taking a peek and seeing what else is out there. CSN Stores is sure to offer something in my budget and I love looking at all of their products!!

What have you gotten from their stores recently? I am going to take a look around and see what catches my fancy.. I've got a big house to fill up now!

Jul 27, 2010

Book Review: Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo


Pray for Silence by Linda Castillo
June 22nd 2010 by Minotaur Books
Hardcover, 320 pages
isbn13: 9780312374983
Book won via Bookreporter.com
The Burton Review Rating:3 and 1/2 stars
Speak no evil . . .


In the quiet town of Painters Mill an Amish family is found slaughtered on their farm. Kate Burkholder and her small police force have few clues, no motive and no suspect. Formerly Amish herself, Kate is no stranger to secrets, but she can’t get her mind around the senseless brutality of the crime.


State agent John Tomasseti arrives on the scene to assist. He and Kate worked together on a previous case, and they’re still setting the limits of a complex, difficult relationship. They soon realize that the disturbing details of this case will push those boundaries to the breaking point.

When Kate discovers a diary, she realizes a haunting personal connection to the case. One of the teenage daughters kept some very dark secrets and may have been leading a lurid double life. Driven by her own scarred past, Kate vows to find the killer and bring him to justice—even if it means putting herself in the line of fire.
Read an excerpt

Linda Castillo pens her second thriller bringing back a cast of characters which include a female chief of police with her small town police force, and the love interest who was featured in the previous novel. The chief of police, Kate, is the main protagonist going through the motions of a CSI episode written in present tense and offers the same amount of ick factor at the gore. An Amish family is slaughtered in Ohio, and Chief Kate is hot on the pursuit of the suspects, except she cannot find them. Kate seems pretty young to be the chief of police at age 32. She is pretty tough though and manages to keep her head on straight 95% of the way through the case. She has scant evidence, and zero leads for quite awhile, and so the reader was privy to Kate asking many questions of many people. The story leads us through each small discovery as it happens, and we get a glimpse of the supposedly handsome Tommasetti.

There are a few suspects, from a boyfriend that a young daughter of the Amish family wasn't supposed to have, and mere acquaintances from a store, to the riff raff criminal element of the town. Scummy people are everywhere as Kate looks for clues, and as any good cop should, she feels responsible for finding the killer. Slowly the author eludes to a hidden meaning as to why Kate feels so empathetic towards the young daughter and was only one of the few surprising things in the novel. There was a lot of insight into the lifestyle of the Amish people in Ohio, which I found interesting. Once the case started moving along and the suspect list grew, we had an idea of who the killer was. The story then takes on the task of discovering how and why. Since this is a 'thriller' type of read, it is not for the faint of heart. The murders were gruesome and particular carnage was spelled out. Once it got past that, it was all detective style with a slightly annoying romantic relationship in the background. All in all, it was as expected, a page turner that was slightly addicting, although in hindsight I can't explain why the need was so demanding to force me to stay awake to finish it, though I grew tired of the multiple references to the Slaughterhouse case from the previous novel. Given the fact there are high ratings on Amazon, this is probably a great read for those who like the thriller genre.

Since I won this from bookreporter, they asked me to consider the following questions:
1. What did you think of PRAY FOR SILENCE?
It probably achieved what the author was intending with this thriller, it was entertaining.. and see review above.

2. How would you describe this book to a friend?
Thriller/Detective novel with a strong female lead

3. How does this title rate compared to other thrillers you’ve recently read?
I do not read more than 2 thrillers a year, but I do enjoy mysteries. I am glad that this thriller was not as lewd or gory as others I have read.

4. Would you read another novel by Linda Castillo?
Probably so.
5. Do you have any questions for Linda Castillo?
Not at this time, thank you.

P.S. There is a previous novel in the series, as mentioned, and rumor has it that Linda Castillo is working on book #3 for the series as well. If that is the case, I hope the author does something specific with the love interest between Kate and John, because that theme brought the rest of the novel down.

Jul 26, 2010

'HIS LAST LETTER' BOOK GIVEAWAY!! Q&A WITH AUTHOR JEANE WESTIN

His Last Letter, available August 3, 2010

One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.


They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.

His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

Please welcome author Jeane Westin to The Burton Review! Her previous Tudor novel The Virgin's Daughters came out last year and now I am reading His Last Letter where it portrays an entirely different point of view than I am used to reading regarding Elizabeth I. See below for the giveaway of the above pictured book, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.


Your bio states that you have been intrigued by historical fiction since you were a child. What do you think is the key to the continuing fascination that you have for the Tudor period?

Although my mother told me family history stories throughout my childhood, my fascination with historical fiction started when I was six years old and she took me to the library for the first time. Out of all the choices and shelves, I pulled The Little Cave Boy and Girl. The whole idea of it...another time and other people that I would never know must have called to me. I don't remember now, but I continued to read YA historical fiction until I was old enough to take out books from the adult shelves where I discovered Daphne du Maurier, Jean Plaidy and so many others.

I've continued to read and write in the Restoration and Tudor periods because there is so much we know and yet don't know...gaps that can only be filled by a novelist.

In your research, what are some of the things that you have come across that surprised you about Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley?

For one thing, their staying power. They knew each other for almost five decades and their mutual fascination really never waned, while fighting and loving and suffering the ups and downs of most long relationships. What that must have been like for both Elizabeth and her Robin is the basis for my novel His Last Letter.

What is your personal opinion on the death of Robert Dudley's first wife, Amy: accidental, suicide, or murder?

It's very hard for me to have a personal opinion. Although two inquiries exonerated him, many thought and still think Dudley guilty of having engineered Amy's accident. Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth 's councilor certainly did, just as he thought Elizabeth and Dudley were lovers even into 1572. Remembering that Dudley was Elizabeth 's favorite and therefore unpopular with others, their suspicions were not surprising.

It is likely that Amy had a breast tumor and modern medicine tells us that a metastasis could weaken bones so that a minor fall might well have broken her neck. She could have commited suicide, which is what I believe Dudley thought, though he protected her to insure her Christian burial.
The possibilities are many and it was so long ago there is no way of putting an end to the speculation.
Surely, Dudley was smart enough to know that if he were suspected, he could never marry Elizabeth , which was what he wanted more than anything.

So like most people, I go back and forth not able to make up my mind. If he were guilty, he paid a great price. He knew she was dying and so did Elizabeth . They were brilliant people. I have to believe they would not have taken such a risk.

But I'll never know.

One of my favorite Tudor historical figures is Lettice Knollys, and I loved how she was portrayed in Victoria Holt's My Enemy The Queen. What is your opinion of Lettice? Did you gather any fun details about her while researching for your novels?


In His Last Letter Lettice Knollys is a villainess. I apologize if I have wronged her, but Elizabeth did hate her. She was a Boleyn cousin and prettier than Elizabeth, a rival for Dudley and given to wearing gowns to court much finer than the queen thought suitable. Although Lettice was one of the queen's early ladies-in-waiting, I think it was an example of keeping your enemies closer than your friends. After Dudley, by then Earl of Leicester, married her, Elizabeth refused ever after to see Lettice or have her back to court. The queen got even (as only queens can) by nearly bankrupting Lettice after the Earl died, by calling in all his debts.
Lettice lived on into her 90's an almost unheard of age at the time and I suppose that was some revenge.

Why do you think that Elizabeth and Dudley never married?

Elizabeth would never share her rule, nor place herself under the power of a husband which at that time was supreme. She also needed to remain single to use herself as a bargaining chip in the wars for dominance between the continental powers. She brilliantly prolonged marriage negotiations with first one and then another until she had wrung all the benefit she could out of them. Even when suitors withdrew, they were never sure that they couldn't go back and try again, or that she wouldn't change her mind.

What has been your biggest challenge with your writing of historical fiction?

With Tudor fiction, Elizabeth herself has presented the biggest challenge. She was powerful, yet needed admiration...strong and active, yet sickly...refusing to marry, yet needing men to adore her. I've read an historical psychoanalysis of her behavior. Disturbed, domineering, fearful, brave and needy are only some of her personality traits.

In His Last Letter I've tried to show all of these through the prism of Elizabeth 's love for Dudley.

Over the past few years do you think that the market has been saturated with Tudor novels? What are the pros and cons to the continued popularity of the Tudor period?

Although popularity runs in cycles, Elizabeth and Henry VIII continue to fascinate and will for some time, Edward and Mary less so. (The English still vote her their favorite ruler.) Movies, theater dramas and books, both fiction and non-fiction appear regularly to feed this fascination without ever seeming to satisfy it completely. In the last three or four years, the internet has become a feeding ground for Tudor information and reviews. Recently I watched a program on the History Channel about Henry's medical problems, which made me wonder how he could have lived as long as he did, and partially explained why he became such a monster. Now who would think that such a program would interest without proof positive. We continue to speculate about this father and daughter because there are so many gaps in our knowledge and they are so real to us that we want to know more. As a novelist, I'm thankful for that.

What is next for you on the writing front?

I've already contracted for my next book, which is tentatively titled The Queen's Lady Spy. It is a thrilling story of Lady Frances Sidney, the ignored wife of England 's favorite love poet and the daughter of Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Brought to court when her husband is sent overseas, Lady Frances is eager to put her brilliant mind to good use. She becomes a secret intelligence and aids in foiling deadly plots against the Queen while working closely with her father's man Robert Pauley. A forbidden love blossoms between the married noble woman and the commoner all while Lady Frances is being pursued by the queen's handsome new favorite and notorious pleasure seeker, the Earl of Essex. The earl does not know Lady Frances is a secret intelligencer, but is determined to have her in his bed. But her own servant, Robert Pauley, secretly in love with her is determined that he will not.
Frances is a distant ancestress of mine and her interest in cryptography mirrors my own. I'm very much looking forward to writing this book Thanks for asking me to answer these interesting questions.

Thanks so much to Jeane for visiting The Burton Review and answering my questions. And now for my lucky readers, I have a question for you, and I will choose among one of your answers a winner for the new novel, His Last Letter, by Jeane Westin.

Who is your favorite Elizabethan figure, and why?
 
To enter for the giveaway:
Please comment here with your answer to that question, leaving your email address. This is a mandatory entry.
For extra entries:
+2 for a graphic link to this post on your blog (sidebar or post)
+2 to those who Facebook this post
+1 for a Twitter Post
+1 for another Twitter Post on another day.
 
Please leave links to any of the extra entries posts that you are entering for.
 
Good Luck!!
 
Contest available to USA residents only courtesy of the publisher. Ends August 14, 2010.

Mailbox Monday!

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..
I'll have to take a picture of our new Jumbo mailbox someday =)
But here are a few goodies that I received this week.

From a cool author and blogger, and yes I promise to read her books one day.. Susan of the West of Mars and WinABook sites swapped with me so I received this new release:
Daughters of The Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt



Daughters of the Witching Hill brings history to life in a vivid and wrenching account of a family sustained by love as they try to survive the hysteria of a witch-hunt.


Bess Southerns, an impoverished widow living in Pendle Forest, is haunted by visions and gains a reputation as a cunning woman. Drawing on the Catholic folk magic of her youth, Bess heals the sick and foretells the future. As she ages, she instructs her granddaughter, Alizon, in her craft, as well as her best friend, who ultimately turns to dark magic.

When a peddler suffers a stroke after exchanging harsh words with Alizon, a local magistrate, eager to make his name as a witch finder, plays neighbors and family members against one another until suspicion and paranoia reach frenzied heights.

Sharratt interweaves well-researched historical details of the 1612 Pendle witch-hunt with a beautifully imagined story of strong women, family, and betrayal. Daughters of the Witching Hill is a powerful novel of intrigue and revelation.


I also swapped for these next two via Paperbackswap:
All For Love: The Scandalous Life and Times of Royal Mistress Mary Robinson by Amanda Elyot
A bold and bawdy historical novel-from the acclaimed author of Too Great a Lady.
Mary Robinson's talent, beauty, and drive led her from debtors' prison to the glamour and scandal of the London stage, where a star was born-and sold as society's darling, envied by women, and desired by men. From her shocking affair with the Prince of Wales to heartbreaking betrayals and a restless pursuit of true romance, this breathtaking novel paints a vivid portrait of a woman who changed history by doing as she pleased-for money, for fame, for pleasure, and above all, for love.

This is a Reissue of Morgan's The Taste of Sorrow:
From an obscure country parsonage came three extraordinary sisters, who defied the outward bleakness of their lives to create the most brilliant literary work of their time. Now, in an astonishingly daring novel by the acclaimed Jude Morgan, the genius of the haunted Bront√ęs is revealed and the sisters are brought to full, resplendent life: Emily, who turned from the world to the greater temptations of the imagination; gentle Anne, who suffered the harshest perception of the stifling life forced upon her; and the brilliant, uncompromising, and tormented Charlotte, who longed for both love and independence, and learned their ultimate price.
 
For Review, I received another goodie that I had just done the giveaway for (see the guest post here):
Captivity by Deborah Noyes
This masterful historical novel by Deborah Noyes, the lauded author of Angel & Apostle, The Ghosts of Kerfol, and Encyclopedia of the End (starred PW) is two stories: The first centers upon the strange, true tale of the Fox Sisters, the enigmatic family of young women who, in upstate New York in 1848, proclaimed that they could converse with the dead. Doing so, they unwittingly (but artfully) gave birth to a religious movement that touched two continents: the American Spiritualists. Their followers included the famous and the rich, and their effect on American spirituality lasted a full generation. Still, there are echoes. The Fox Sisters is a story of ambition and playfulness, of illusion and fear, of indulgence, guilt and finally self-destruction. The second story in Captivity is about loss and grief. It is the evocative tale of the bright promise that the Fox Sisters offer up to the skeptical Clara Gill, a reclusive woman of a certain age who long ago isolated herself with her paintings, following the scandalous loss of her beautiful young lover in London. Lyrical and authentic and more than a bit shadowy Captivity is, finally, a tale about physical desire and the hope that even the thinnest faith can offer up to a darkening heart.

Jul 20, 2010

Book Review: Betsy Ross and The Making of America by Marla R. Miller

Betsy Ross and the Making of America by Marla R. Miller
April 27, 2010
Henry Holt, 467 pp., $30
Review copy from publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
Betsy Ross and the Making of America is the first comprehensively researched and elegantly written biography of one of America's most captivating figures of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new sources and bringing a fresh, keen eye to the fabled creation of "the first flag," Marla R. Miller thoroughly reconstructs the life behind the legend. This authoritative work provides a close look at the famous seamstress while shedding new light on the lives of the artisan families who peopled the young nation and crafted its tools, ships, and homes.


Betsy Ross occupies a sacred place in the American consciousness, and Miller's winning narrative finally does her justice. This history of the ordinary craftspeople of the Revolutionary War and their most famous representative will be the definitive volume for years to come.
This is one tough book to crack. Instead of being focused on Betsy Ross, it is a portrait of Philadelphia and how the colonies reacted to British authority before and during the American Revolution of 1770's. For the first twenty years of Betsy's life, the book comprises of about 100 pages of the aforementioned history of America with accounts of the extended ancestry of Betsy Ross. It is very wordy, but once a chapter winds down, we get a small morsel of what could have been with an entertaining foreshadowing tidbit of how something horrid is going to happen that will change Betsy's life forever. That happened several times, I turned the page excitedly, and we were back to the history lesson that was an automatic sleeping pill.

Betsy Ross whose given name was Elizabeth Griscom at her birth in 1752, is known as the legendary patriotic woman who met with George Washington in her parlour and sewed America's first official flag. As it is the stuff of legend and most probably not very true, the author Marla Miller sets out to establish the facts surrounding Betsy, her work, and other flag maker's work. In this all encompassing account of Colonial America, the author explains the political views of Betsy's immediate family and those that she came across or married into, which was a mixture of radicals, loyalists, patriots and conservatives. We do read about how Betsy gets her start in the seamstress business as she works as a young lady in an upholstery shop. The vision of Betsy simply sewing flags is shattered as we learn that Betsy was much more skilled than that as she was a part of the decorator business with chair coverings and the rare window coverings and many other household items.

Betsy's heritage and her great grandfather the talented builder Andrew Griscom are a strong focus in the book. The Boston Tea Party and the events that lead up to the Americans rebelling against the British rule who kept on taxing the Americans comprises the first half of the book. This brings us to the sad event of Betsy's first husband, John Ross, when he died mysteriously. No one really knows for sure what happened to him; he could have been injured while working with military weapons, or he could have been afflicted with a mental sickness that had also plagued his mother.

Interestingly enough, the author recounts how many citizens of America wanted to simply not be be subject to the taxes of the British, but were not expecting to actually go to war. It was the radicals who were loud enough to be heard that seemingly forced the rest of the citizens to go along with whatever was going to happen. Independence was not something that was on the colonies' minds as they opposed the Stamp Act or took part of the Boston Tea Party. The author also explains how Philadelphia was very much a capital of the the colonies, while others looked to Philadelphia for guidance. Bostonians thought they were doing Philadelphia a favor as they destroyed the tea, but Philadelphia was actually a bit chagrined.

The author writes the book with the promise that this is a story of stories, as she mentions several times that it was the grandchildren and heirs to the legend of Ross that have perpetuated certain stories that could be myths; and as such, there is indeed little proof of anything. So in order to bulk up the book, the author turned this would-be biography of Ross into something that could have sufficed as a semester of American History as well as upholstery.

This is a well-researched history of families in colonial America, but I was disappointed that it did not jump right into Betsy Ross' own life. It meanders around it and mentions Betsy or her many family members at certain intervals, but not enough to keep me entertained or ..awake through its entirety. I was once a little girl who cherished a toy bank that portrayed Betsy Ross on her yellow rocking chair as she stitched the American Flag, and even though I learned more about the times of Betsy Ross, this book did not satisfy the desire to know more about that whimsically magical person in the rocking chair. This was a book that would be better served with the title "Evolution of Colonial American Upholstery and Government, featuring Betsy Ross's Family".

Jul 16, 2010

Guest Author Deborah Noyes:Book Giveaway for CAPTIVITY

Please welcome to The Burton Review author Deborah Noyes, who has written several books such as Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk Out of China, Hana in the Time of Tulips and her most recent novel, Captivity (see below for the book giveaway!):
 

CAPTIVITY, RELEASED JUNE 1, 2010
Synopsis:

This masterful historical novel by Deborah Noyes, the lauded author of Angel & Apostle, The Ghosts of Kerfol, and Encyclopedia of the End (starred PW) is two stories: The first centers upon the strange, true tale of the Fox Sisters, the enigmatic family of young women who, in upstate New York in 1848, proclaimed that they could converse with the dead. Doing so, they unwittingly (but artfully) gave birth to a religious movement that touched two continents: the American Spiritualists. Their followers included the famous and the rich, and their effect on American spirituality lasted a full generation. Still, there are echoes. The Fox Sisters is a story of ambition and playfulness, of illusion and fear, of indulgence, guilt and finally self-destruction. The second story in Captivity is about loss and grief. It is the evocative tale of the bright promise that the Fox Sisters offer up to the skeptical Clara Gill, a reclusive woman of a certain age who long ago isolated herself with her paintings, following the scandalous loss of her beautiful young lover in London. Lyrical and authentic and more than a bit shadowy Captivity is, finally, a tale about physical desire and the hope that even the thinnest faith can offer up to a darkening heart.
From the author:
Unpuzzling Maggie Fox: Spirit Photographs, Canal Packets, and a Town that Talks to the Dead

As soon as I read about them, I was drawn to the real-life rags-to-riches story of the Fox sisters. Two ordinary farm girls from Western New York, Maggie and Kate Fox gripped their community by claiming to be able to communicate with the dead. They became celebrities in the bargain, sowing the seeds of an international religious movement that would eventually claim a million followers.

I'm not sure why Maggie stood out for me. There were three Fox sisters, after all (older sister Leah assumed the role of manager), each with her own vivid traits. Any one of them would have made a great protagonist. But there was something about Maggie's expression in the handful of famous archival images that populate her biographies: a dreamy, withholding quality. Unlike forceful Leah or otherworldly Kate, Maggie seemed at once guileless and childlike, secretive and knowing, intent and sad. She was, she looked, a contradiction, and I found I had to unpuzzle her.

I'm a photographer, too, so images often point me to or nourish a story. I've always been intrigued by the historical phenomenon of spirit photography, and the year I started mulling Maggie, I happened across a very cool exhibit at the Met called "The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult," which kept her and her family in my thoughts.

But it was a few months later, when I visited Lily Dale for a nonfiction book I was also researching, that Captivity really began to take shape.    

Founded more than 120 years ago, Lily Dale is a quaint Victorian hamlet on a lake in Western New York. One of the first area communities to score electricity, it was nicknamed "The City of Light," but it's best known today as "the town that talks to the dead." Every year, thousands of guests crowd through its gates to sit with resident mediums. In the busy summer season, there are dozens on hand, and each has passed a rigorous test before hanging out her or his shingle.

In the lobby of the Maplewood hotel, tourists testify over morning coffee, trade tales of spirits and furniture on the move, of knocks and noises in the night. They collect out by "the stump" at the Forest Temple, where mediums spot eager visitors from the Beyond and "serve spirit" by delivering messages to loved ones in the audience.

Lily Dale boasts a long, colorful history. Movie star Mae West was a regular, and Houdini came in disguise to expose deception. Suffragette Susan B. Anthony stopped in now and then — though she wasn't a spiritualist herself — and when a medium relayed a message from her aunt, fired back (in legend anyway) with, "I didn't like her when she was alive, and I don't want to hear from her now."

Early spiritualists were advocates of progressive political causes, but today Lily Dale leans more toward sweat lodge ceremonies, New Age workshops such as "Dreams and Astral Travel," and other recreational fare.

This fascinating slice of Americana can be traced, at least peripherally, back to Maggie and her family. My visit to Lily Dale helped me understand her playful side, her sense of showmanship — though other aspects of Maggie's character wouldn't reveal themselves until I enlisted the book's second protagonist, the skeptical Clara Gill, as foil.

While drafting the book, I did a couple of stints at the Gell Center of the Finger Lakes, an intimate writer's retreat in a remote mountain valley. I live in a city now, and sadly, silence is far from my daily experience; so the utter quiet and isolation at the retreat really fed whatever haunted fantasies I came in with! The first night or so, I was scared out of my wits, almost too spooked to write. But you have no business being complacent when you're writing about the dead as much as the living, so I'm sure my unease served the story. Long walks by day among tangled wild grapes — glimpses of deer and foxes — gave me insight into the wild world Maggie would have taken for granted and that Clara, a naturalist, immigrant, and artist, so much valued.
Marker in memory of the Fox sisters, Hydesville, NY
Another dedicated research trip involved detective work and an afternoon driving around Arcadia County in search the Fox family homestead. The farmhouse itself was gone (the cottage had been relocated to Lily Dale, I later learned, where it burned down) with only a simple cornerstone memorial marking the site where, in 1848, Maggie and Kate Fox first demonstrated their spectral "rappings."  But the landscape of that part of rural New York still looks as it must have in the sisters' day, and it was easy to imagine Maggie and Kate riding back and forth on the canal packet or traipsing through brother David's peppermint fields, bent on wearing big bell sleeves and crashing progressive tea parties in Rochester.

Deb's website: http://www.deborahnoyes.com/


Thanks to Deborah for this guest post, and for the opportunity for my readers in USA and Canada to win a copy of her novel, CAPTIVITY..
Please comment here with your email address to enter for this book giveaway.
+2 entries if you Facebook or Tweet this post; you must leave me the link to that.

Ends July 25th.

Jul 15, 2010

Book Review: Dracula In Love by Karen Essex

Dracula In Love by Karen Essex
Published August 10, 2010
384 pages, Doubleday
Review copy received from publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:
 
In this wonderfully transporting novel, award-winning author Karen Essex turns a timeless classic inside out, spinning a haunting, erotic, and suspenseful story of eternal love and possession.



From the shadowy banks of the river Thames to the wild and windswept Yorkshire coast, Dracula’s eternal muse, Mina Murray, vividly recounts the intimate details of what really transpired between her and the Count—the joys and terrors of a passionate affair that has linked them through the centuries, and her rebellion against her own frightening preternatural powers.

Mina’s version of this gothic vampire tale is a visceral journey into Victorian England’s dimly lit bedrooms, mist-filled cemeteries, and asylum chambers, revealing the dark secrets and mysteries locked within. Time falls away as she is swept into a mythical journey far beyond mortal comprehension, where she must finally make the decision she has been avoiding for almost a millennium.
Bram Stoker’s classic novel offered one side of the story, in which Mina had no past and bore no responsibility for the unfolding events. Now, for the first time, the truth of Mina’s personal voyage, and of vampirism itself, is revealed. What this flesh and blood woman has to say is more sensual, more devious, and more enthralling than the Victorians could have expressed or perhaps even have imagined.

Karen Essex is a popular writer with recent titles of Leonardo's Swans and Stealing Athena. This time around she tackles the vampire trend by adding the tale of Dracula's muse to the mix by re-imagining the story of Mina Murray Harker in her newest release, Dracula In Love. I must preface with the fact that I am not a vampire girl. I know who Lestat is, but never saw the movie that he was in. I do not know much about Count Dracula except for some sort of kid's cereal, and I barely recognize the name Bram Stoker. I am also a bit yucked out by blood. Therefore, I never expect to actually see any of the Twilight films. Which is sad, because I used to love the cool horror flicks at sleepovers. My queasiness factor has been turned up a lot with my old age. So, at first, I figured I would not read the story of Dracula in Love. But then I saw that some of my favorite authors like C.W. Gortner and Michelle Moran were touting this story as the ONE Vampire book to read if you ever read a vampire book. So I did. I just may become a vampire girl after all.

My first impression upon opening was the fact that I have zero clue about Dracula and vampires and how they 'work'. And the main protagonist, Mina, apparently doesn't either, so there is where we have something in common but it ends there (thankfully). The author's writing is mesmerizing as it tippy-toes with Mina into the supernatural world step by step, without it warranting an abundance of incredulity. Mina has strange dreams which cause her to sleepwalk, but strange dreams is really a gross understatement. Sexually charged but not vampire-motivated yet, I was intrigued by Mina who seemed to have some deep dark secret that even she did not know of. Slowly, Essex pulls us into a world of blood-thirsty lovers, but is it real or supernatural? Is it all just a dream? Mina is not the only one affected, as she has to learn the reasons behind the fate of her best friend who suddenly dies, and then Mina's own beloved is also affected by a freaky mix of nymphomania and paranoia, but the drama of the very presence of the existence of WHAT IS GOING ON? is the underlying theme here. Having an unsuspecting yet strong main character definitely helps the reader to empathize with her, and that is exactly what I did. Mina was portrayed so perfectly that I felt like I knew her, and most of her decisions that she made were ones I would have made myself.

Mina tries to unravel the mysteries by seeking answers at an insane asylum, amongst questionable doctors like the mad scientist Von Helsinger who is experimenting with dangerous blood transfusions. He too is enthralled by the possibilities of vampires. What does it all mean? How can Mina and her beloved Jonathan rise above the sexual sin and torment.. without Dracula invading their dreams? I particularly enjoyed the lectures that Mina received from the doctors as it helped to explain a lot behind the legends and myths as well as touching upon religious themes surrounding Jesus' own blood and resurrection. There were so many things going on in the background to the present story that it is impossible to explain but was so enveloping and demonstrates to the reader how much research the author must have done. The questions of eternal life, the properties and effects of blood, King Richard the Lionheart and Raven Witches are just a few things that I remember enjoying while reading it. It is fascinating how the author finally ties it all together without rushing through anything, though I must say that I found the last quarter of the book much more superb than the first half (when the Count finally appeared), as I was at first resisting the pull of the book. I am glad that I lazily read the book so that I would not rush myself through it and miss the magic of a fantastic read which made it a part of me for a week.

Essex weaves an enchanting tale, and is told in the first person account which typically leaves some of the potential for the story behind, yet in this setting it helped to increase the mysterious and creepiness factor. The settings were done quite well as Essex portrayed her visions of darkened Victorian England with ease. For the very queasy or those sensitive to the religious context as it was used here, I would not recommend the novel, but for the light vampire twist that you cannot resist, I concur with C.W. Gortner and repeat that this is one that you should not miss. The entire story is very sexually charged though not graphically, as it is stated in a matter-of-fact way and not intended to be smuttified; yet it still emanates with gothic-romantic tones that captured my interest and surprised me at the end. This novel achieves the nuance of the gorgeous cover and presents a very titillating narrative from Mina Murray through the enviable prose of Karen Essex.

Jul 14, 2010

Fun Times

Luckily over the past month I had gotten a lot of reading done, and that is why I have had reviews scheduled weeks out. So even though you have thought you've seen me 'here', the last few posts have been scheduled and so are the posts for the next few weeks. Which is great, because I have had zero chance to do much of anything on the blog-front expecially since I have no internet at home. And then my work computer was stolen, and I am so behind trying to get the data all up to date. When I have a chance to sit down at lunch time or at nite-nite time I have been slowly reading Karen Essex's Dracula In Love which is due out August 10, 2010. It is definitely entertaining for me, but unfortunately I've been exhaustingly busy... picking apples..
(all from the backyard!)
and pears, too!
(shower door comes later)
adding shelf liner to the bathrooms and kitchen... a thankless job that gave me bruises and headaches..

decorating my massive closet for my own giddy pleasure..

and really embracing the little girl in me. I love having a closet that is bigger than some bedrooms. Still working on the library, so those pics will come later!!

But... the end is really not in sight. And I am exhausted.


Jul 13, 2010

Released Today: The Captive Queen by Alison Weir

Available now is the newest novel by Alison Weir. I reviewed this novel recently, and like all of the Weir books I've read, I really enjoyed this story but there were others who completely disliked the entirety of the novel. I felt that Weir gave an interesting interpretation of Eleanor of Aquitaine that I don't think is too far off base as for Eleanor's potential character, but of course no one really knows for sure what Eleanor was truly like. Which is why historical fiction is so alluring as it gives us a taste of what might have been.

Despite the first half of the new book being slightly off kilter, I would still recommend this novel to those readers who want to delve into more of Eleanor's character. It will be easy to shoot the novel down though for the lack of usual writing prowess that was indicative of Weir, so be aware that you might not want to spend your top dollar on this one. Perhaps you can find it at your library.

Read my review here. Of course, in hindsight, perhaps it should not have been a four star rating from me, but it was good enough for me as I wrote the review. I try to write my reviews the moment I read the book, so that everything is fresh in my mind. I like to be entertained, and if I felt I was entertained and not disappointed that merits a good rating from me. I am not one that is overly critical of writing styles, I don't like to nit-pick certain things or minor historical details as I am not a historian. I prefer a novel to help to place me in another time and place as it entertains me with the events of a historical time period. Weir did that with this one and this is why I gave it a four star rating. And who doesn't love Eleanor of Aquitaine?!
Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine by Alison Weir
 The Burton Review Rating:Four stars!

Having proven herself a gifted and engaging novelist with her portrayals of Queen Elizabeth I in The Lady Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey in Innocent Traitor, New York Times bestselling author Alison Weir now harks back to the twelfth century with a sensuous and tempestuous tale that brings vividly to life England’s most passionate—and destructive—royal couple: Eleanor of Aquitaine and King Henry II.

Nearing her thirtieth birthday, Eleanor has spent the past dozen frustrating years as consort to the pious King Louis VII of France. For all its political advantages, the marriage has brought Eleanor only increasing unhappiness—and daughters instead of the hoped-for male heir. But when the young and dynamic Henry of Anjou arrives at the French court, Eleanor sees a way out of her discontent. For even as their eyes meet for the first time, the seductive Eleanor and the virile Henry know that theirs is a passion that could ignite the world.
Returning to her duchy of Aquitaine after the annulment of her marriage to Louis, Eleanor immediately sends for Henry, the future King of England, to come and marry her. The union of this royal couple will create a vast empire that stretches from the Scottish border to the Pyrenees, and marks the beginning of the celebrated Plantagenet dynasty.
But Henry and Eleanor’s marriage, charged with physical heat, begins a fiery downward spiral marred by power struggles, betrayals, bitter rivalries, and a devil’s brood of young Plantagenets—including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. Early on, Eleanor must endure Henry’s formidable mother, the Empress Matilda, as well as his infidelities, while in later years, Henry’s friendship with Thomas Becket will lead to a deadly rivalry. Eventually, as the couple’s rebellious sons grow impatient for power, the scene is set for a vicious and tragic conflict that will engulf both Eleanor and Henry.
Vivid in detail, epic in scope, Captive Queen is an astounding and brilliantly wrought historical novel that encompasses the building of an empire and the monumental story of a royal marriage.

Jul 12, 2010

Book Review: Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love by Elizabeth Norton

Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love by Elizabeth Norton
Amberley Publishing, 2009
198 pages (not 240)
ISBN-13: 978-1848681026
Review copy provided by the publisher, Thanks!
The Burton Review Rating:
The first ever biography of JaneSeymour, Henry VIII's third wife, who died in childbirth giving the king what hecraved most - a son and heir.
First biography to show the real Jane Seymour, she may have been submissive and obedient in front of Henry, but her true personality was far more cutthroat.

Huge interest in the wives of Henry VIII, most of his wives are the subject of at least two books, Jane has none.


Jane Seymour is often portrayed as meek and mild and as the most successful, but one of the least significant, of Henry VIII's wives. The real Jane was a very different character, demure and submissive yet with a ruthless streak - as Anne Boleyn was being tried for treason, Jane was choosing her wedding dress.

From the lowliest origins of any of Henry's wives her rise shows an ambition every bit as great as Anne's. Elizabeth Norton tells the thrilling life of a country girl from rural Wiltshire who rose to the throne of England and became the ideal Tudor woman.
Jane Seymour, the mother of Henry's heir to the throne, is one of the lucky wives of the tyrant Henry VIII that he did not kill or repudiate. Jane Seymour was practically an unknown figure at the Tudor Courts, as she was merely a lady in waiting to both of Henry's first two queens. Once Queen Anne Boleyn became too cumbersome for Henry to deal with, he allowed his advisors to condemn her to death. Henry had his eyes on Jane Seymour already, and he wanted Anne out of the way, and not in the same way that the tiresome Catherine of Aragon had hung on to him. Anne was executed May 19, 1536 and Henry was betrothed to Jane Seymour the very next day. Tudor films like to portray Jane as a shrew as poor Anne Boleyn looks out from her tower and watches Henry and Jane walking arm in arm. What is the story behind this Plain Jane? The novel by the same name by Laurien Gardner turned her into a naive young lady with very little going for her. I am intrigued by Jane Seymour, the one lady who provided Henry with everything he ever wanted: Edward VI.

Though this is touted as the first ever biography on Jane, I would hesitate to characterize Norton's book as such. Inevitably in any book that deals with Henry VIII, we must be given the backstory of the wives that came before the one in question. So Norton goes through the motions of again explaining the debacles of the marriages of Catherine and Henry and then Anne and Henry before we get to the marriage of Jane and Henry. No extraordinary information was given, my eyes had glazed over a few monotonous passages. But what I did glean was the information on Jane's own family which my previous reads had never terribly touched upon, except for the two brothers, Edward and Thomas, who were prominent figures of the Tudor courts.

Norton describes subtly a potential scandal between Jane's father and Jane's sister-in-law Catherine Filliol, but sadly she does not elaborate. This would have been eagerly pounced upon if she had. I have also read elsewhere that the elder brother's (Edward) second wife, Anne Stanhope, was quite a haughty person and very demanding, but this wasn't expanded upon either. One very interesting sentence at the beginning of the book when Norton was going through the family tree was that "of Henry's wives and three named mistresses", four were great grand-daughters of Elizabeth Cheney (would have been nice if she elaborated on more of Elizabeth Cheney). She also said Elizabeth Tilney, daughter of said Cheney, was the grandmother of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard.  I would have enjoyed a pictorial look at the family tree, as the Seymours and the Howards were cousins. These two Elizabeths' histories sound like it would make a great book.

What is it about Jane that attracted Henry? Simply put, she was the opposite of Anne Boleyn, the former wife. Jane's motto became 'Bound to Obey and Serve' which is also something Anne would not do if she did not agree with Henry. One thing that Jane did not agree with Henry on was the dissolution of the monasteries. This is one subject that the author does take a great deal of time with, and was a refreshing change outside of the typical historical view of this time. Jane was opposed to the desecration, and was not of the protestant leaning that her son Edward had later embraced. The author does state that Jane would probably have been quite distressed to learn how her favored brother Edward had manipulated her son Edward into turning the country into such Protestant zeal.

One nagging thought on the writing of Norton is that she calls Catherine and Anne by their title as Queen several times, and I barely remember she actually calling Jane a Queen, and it perturbed me. It was always simply Jane. Just as Jane was probably always a Plain Jane, as history likes to continually portray her. The inner need I have to categorize Jane as a she-wolf was not achieved in this book, as Jane was just still Jane. She did not seem very interesting, and the author even stated that she was excellent at staying in the background. Was this done on purpose by Jane? Did she know that Henry wanted the epitome of the subservient wife and she purposefully managed to keep her head by portraying no countering thoughts? She couldn't have become too outraged at the dissolution of the monasteries or we would have heard of it, although according to Norton she did not like it.

The one other thing that we know that she disagreed with Henry on was the attitude towards his first daughter, Mary, aka Bloody Mary. Jane was eight years her senior, and showed great affection towards Mary, since Jane was first a maid to Mary's mother the first Queen and Jane felt a distinct loyalty towards Catherine and her daughter Mary. Mary also approved of Jane, which was a rarity for Bloody Mary to not turn her back on someone trying to show her a kindness. Anne Boleyn had attempted to show kindness to Mary, but was rejected time and time again with Mary calling Anne the whore. Jane comes along, and Mary and her were fast friends, well before Mary accepted her father Henry as the head of the Church of England. Where Jane showed extreme kindness towards Mary, she seemingly despised young Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn. Was it because of that family tie that Jane didn't like her, or was it merely the fact that Elizabeth was a preciocious toddler?

Information on Jane is scarce. The book is scarce on information on Jane. The book is very short, and is not the 240 pages that is advertised. The text is 158 pages and then the notes, index and bibliography make it 191 pages. There are also the interesting illustrations, some of which are the same ones used in other Amberley publications. It would have been more helpful if the notes were simply footnotes to the actual writing as it would have been better served being displayed as such and not as the afterthought. There were moments when I felt something was interesting and the author made some good points, albeit speculatively. Since the book is short, it was worth the time I did spend on it (a part of a day) but would not recommend spending the list price for it. This would be a good library find, and is perfect for my Tudor Mania Challenge.

Jul 11, 2010

Mailbox Monday

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 thankfully I've only received two in the box, but they are to review. I have piles of books in boxes and no idea where anything is. We shall be seeing these two around the blogosphere for awhile yet with Q&A's and reviews, and that will occur right here also! Stay tuned for giveaways of these:

His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester (2010) A novel by Jeane Westin
One of the greatest loves of all time-between Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley-comes to life in this vivid novel.
They were playmates as children, impetuous lovers as adults-and for thirty years were the center of each others' lives. Astute to the dangers of choosing any one man, the Virgin Queen could never give her "Sweet Robin" what he wanted most-marriage- yet she insisted he stay close by her side. Possessive and jealous, their love survived quarrels, his two disastrous marriages to other women, her constant flirtations, and political machinations with foreign princes.

His Last Letter tells the story of this great love... and especially of the last three years Elizabeth and Dudley spent together, the most dangerous of her rule, when their passion was tempered by a bittersweet recognition of all that they shared-and all that would remain unfulfilled.

THE SECRET ELEANOR by Cecelia Holland (August 3rd 2010)
Eleanor of Aquitaine seized hold of life in the 12th century in a way any modern woman would envy!

1151: As Duchess of Aquitaine, Eleanor grew up knowing what it was to be regarded for herself and not for her husband's title. Now, as wife to Louis VII and Queen of France, she has found herself unsatisfied with reflected glory-and feeling constantly under threat, even though she outranks every woman in Paris.
Then, standing beside her much older husband in the course of a court ceremony, Eleanor locks eyes with a man-hardly more than a boy, really- across the throne room, and knows that her world has changed irrevocably...
He is Henry D'Anjou, eldest son of the Duke of Anjou, and he is in line, somewhat tenuously, for the British throne. She meets him in secret. She has a gift for secrecy, for she is watched like a prisoner by spies even among her own women. She is determined that Louis must set her free. Employing deception and disguise, seduction and manipulation, Eleanor is determined to find her way to power-and make her mark on history.

I can't forget to say that my dear husband bought these for my birthday, even though they didn't come in the mail:
In exquisite condition a 1898 book called When Knighthood Was in Flower by Edwin Caskoden:
It is the reign of England's Henry VIII. He is still married to his first of six wives, Catherine of Aragon . Yet, he has a problem with a certain young woman - his 16-year-old sister, Mary Tudor - whom he is determined to marry off. The lucky suitor (and the one who has the most to offer Henry) is the aging and feeble King Louis XII of France.



Beautiful, but temperamental, and definitely a woman who knows her own mind, the petulant teenager wishes to marry another, a common captain of the guard, Charles Brandon. While Henry and Mary may be brother and sister, he is still her King first and foremost! A battle of wills ensues in the House of Tudor, fueled by the Duke of Buckingham's jealousy of Brandon. Henry finally puts his regal foot down and issues this command to her: "You will marry France and I will give you a wedding present - Charles Brandon's head!" Not exactly the kind of wedding gift she had in mind. Desperate, but helpless to directly save Brandon's head from the block, the King's Jester vows to intervene somehow and stall the inevitable. Time is running out and Brandon's neck lies exposed to the ax of the executioner...

And also an old edition of:
I Am Mary Tudor by Hilda Lewis
A first-person narrative novel about Henry VIII's daughter, first in a trilogy.

Jul 10, 2010

50th Anniversary of To Kill A Mockingbird

Have you read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee? If your education was much like mine, at some point around age 14 or 15 you read this fantastic novel. If you were like me, you read the novel fourteen times over in the span of time that your slowpoke class discussed each chapter one by one by one.. I do remember devouring the book more than several times within a few weeks. And then I set it aside. Fast foward a lifetime later... and here I am thinking it is time I ought to read To Kill a Mockingbird again.

Guess what? July 11 marks the 50th anniversary of the perennial classic To Kill a Mockingbird.
To celebrate, more than 50 events will be running throughout the summer across the country. http://www.tokillamockingbird50year.com/  has all the info.

Buy the book here. There is a snazzy new 50th Anniversary Edition also:

Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird."
A lawyer's advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee's classic novel—a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with rich humor and unswerving honesty the irrationality of adult attitudes toward race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man's struggle for justice—but the weight of history will only tolerate so much.
One of the best-loved classics of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has earned many distinctions since its original publication in 1960. It has won the Pulitzer Prize, been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, and been made into an enormously popular movie. It was also named the best novel of the twentieth century by librarians across the country (Library Journal). HarperCollins is proud to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the book's publication with this special hardcover edition.

What are your memories of this book in your youthful days? Did you enjoy the book when you first read it as required reading?

Jul 9, 2010

Tudor Mania Challenge Update

Here are the tallies to date of the Tudor Books that have been read and reviewed (12:45 pm CST 7/9/10) for the Tudor Mania Challenge which ends 7/31/2010.
You can still join in at any time, and follow the directions on the original post. Thanks to the following bloggers who have participated thus far:

Book Addiction - 4
Living and Loving in California- 3
Bippity Boppity Book - 3
HistoricalFiction.com - 3
The Burton Review- 3
Lady Gwyn's Kingdom - 2
Enchanted By Josephine - 1
Historically Obsessed - 1
Stiletto Storytime - 1

I have one more Tudor review to post, but I haven't read any others than that last one. Anyone else going to try and get some Tudor reads in this July? I will try to get one more read.. it will be a Challenge ;)

Jul 6, 2010

Book Review: This Must Be The Place by Kate Racculia

This Must Be the Place: A Novel by Kate Racculia
Henry Holt and Co., 7/6/2010
ISBN: 978-0-8050-9230-1
Hardcover, 368 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!!
The Burton Review Rating:Totally Awesome!
A sudden death, a never-mailed postcard, and a long buried secret set the stage for a luminous and heartbreakingly real novel about lost souls finding one another..
The Darby-Jones boardinghouse in Ruby Falls, New York, is home to Mona Jones and her daughter, Oneida, two loners and self-declared outcasts who have formed a perfectly insular family unit: the two of them and the four eclectic boarders living in their house. But their small, quiet life is upended when Arthur Rook shows up in the middle of a nervous breakdown, devastated by the death of his wife, carrying a pink shoe box containing all his wife's mementos and keepsakes, and holding a postcard from sixteen years ago, addressed to Mona but never sent. Slowly the contents of the box begin to fit together to tell a story—one of a powerful friendship, a lost love, and a secret that, if revealed, could change everything that Mona, Oneida, and Arthur know to be true. Or maybe the stories the box tells and the truths it brings to life will teach everyone about love—how deeply it runs, how strong it makes us, and how even when all seems lost, how tightly it brings us together. With emotional accuracy and great energy, This Must Be the Place introduces memorable, charming characters that refuse to be forgotten.

Every now and then I enjoy reading a little something different than my normal strictly historical books. That occurs when I come across a novel that piques my interest enough to not feel like it is just another novel to add to the library. Here we have This Must Be The Place, which a Goodreads Site commenter writes that the title was ripped from a Talking Heads song. I have no idea about Talking Heads songs, I have heard of the group, but the fact that the titles are the same does not bother me. In fact, the novel has a lot of musical references to them, as I was escorted to the world of Mona and her teen daughter, Oneida, (yes, like the spoon). One of my own goodreads status updates at page 183: "Flipping fabulous page turner".


The third person narration was magnificently done here, as we were able to get inside the heads of many of the supporting characters of the story, such as Mona's long ago best friend, Amy, who was a selfish teenager who looked out only for number one. And although Amy is a figment of the past, she reverberates throughout the story as the poor decisions that Amy made as a teenager puts Amy's husband in an unknown world of grief and soul searching. Amy and Mona had lost touch sixteen years earlier, in fact, Amy had written a never-mailed postcard to Mona at that point, and that post card is what sends Amy's adorable husband Arthur to Mona's boarding house door. He becomes a tenant there, and he tries to unravel the mystery behind that never mailed postcard and find a little piece of his wife with Mona.

It is extremely hard to write this review without giving away zillions of spoilers and plot twists. Let me say I loved the novel. I enjoyed the relationships between the boarders and Mona and the interactions that the novel illustrated throughout. The fact that there was only one person in the novel that you had to grow to hate (Amy and a stupid kid Andrew) helped to endear me to the characters' individual stories and their plights. And there was a lot going on here as those in the present were trying to decipher the past and see how that effected their future. There were parts where I knew what was going to happen, the main idea of the suspense part, but getting to that ultimate portrayal of the big secret was a fascinating journey between the many characters from Arthur, Mona, Oneida and the supporting characters. Oneida was the ultimate teen who still loved her mom and has to come face to face with the fact that indeed Mom is also a person, and someone who may have made mistakes in the past. How she comes to grips with the relationship with her mother is the underlying current as we watch as Oneida makes friends as school and falls in love (the rock music enters here).

And Arthur unexpectedly shows up into both of their lives at the behest of the postcard, which leads Mona and Oneida into a tailspin of emotions and regrets and unknown truths. Amy writes the postcard with cryptic messages like "You knew me better than anyone—I think you knew me better than me" and "I left you the best part of me." (Which sounds simple enough but the conclusion to this actually surprised me at the end). The story was so real and tangible as it tugged at my heart, and yet the hidden truths gave the novel a cloudy, unknown kind of feeling. Each page sucked me in on the vortex of turbulent misconceptions and incredulous moments between the characters, with its shocking reality that is almost funny; in a vulgar sort of way. Fabulously woven plot lines are present and make this story a myriad of feelings and emotions.

Beginning with the threads of grief and the span of time and the knowledge that the healing process needs more than just the time that it takes to not feel numb anymore, the author displays the realization there is always a life to be lived but with the dangerous consequences of either having been loved or grossly ignored. I was impressed at how the author shifted from the adult narratives to the teenager angst that is not shallow but threateningly close to adulthood. These are characters who are real and dimensional and become a part of you; becoming immersed in their story that begins with a single person who is suddenly dead and left behind a box of mysterious stuff. This Must Be The Place is an intriguingly haunting novel that is truly impressive as a debut novel from Kate Racculia, one that I could not put down at all until the very end, and even then I wanted to start it over.