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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

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Sep 28, 2010

Book Review: Penelope's Daughter by Laurel Corona

Penelope's Daughter; available October 5, 2010
 PENELOPE’S DAUGHTER by Laurel Corona
Berkley Trade Paperback Original October 5, 2010 $15.00
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:

The award-winning author of "The Four Seasons" retells "The Odyssey" from the point of view of Odysseus and Penelope's daughter.



With her father Odysseus gone for twenty years, Xanthe barricades herself in her royal chambers to escape the rapacious suitors who would abduct her to gain the throne. Xanthe turns to her loom to weave the adventures of her life, from her upbringing among servants and slaves, to the years spent in hiding with her mother's cousin, Helen of Troy, to the passion of her sexual awakening in the arms of the man she loves.


And when a stranger dressed as a beggar appears at the palace, Xanthe wonders who will be the one to decide her future-a suitor she loathes, a brother she cannot respect, or a father who doesn't know she exists...
Years ago in high school I was forced to read the Iliad and/or the Odyssey .. I retained nothing from the story though. Luckily for Homer, here comes Laurel Corona breathing new life into the age old tale, with her story of Penelope's Daughter. Xanthe is the daughter of Odysseus and Penelope, and with wonderful magnetism I was drawn to this tale of a young woman struggling to achieve her mother's affection. Once that occurred, she was forced to leave Ithaca in secrecy as protection against the men who were eager to take Odysseus' wife or daughter and kingdom for their own.

Xanthe goes to her mother's cousin and childhood friend, Helen of Troy, in Sparta. Here she becomes a young woman under Helen's careful watch, and Xanthe loves her almost immediately. The customs of the times and of Helen's servants are described in detail and I was enthralled with the experiences of Xanthe as the author retells them in first person from Xanthe's sometimes jaded and naive point of view. Laurel Corona illuminates Xanthe's world of Ithaca and Sparta as she exhibits some of the trials of becoming a teenager.

Laurel Corona re-imagines Homer's story and brings the women to the forefront of it, relaying the sexual awakenings of Xanthe and the worshipping of goddesses into a hypnotic story of Xanthe's journey towards her fate. Xanthe was a character that I could be sympathetic to, as she was born to a man that had already left her mother and disappeared for twenty years leaving his family behind in a tumultuous situation. Xanthe's life could never be her own since she was a princess, and for that fact alone she would not be safe until her father would return to reclaim his family.

Building Xanthe's story, Laurel Corona inserts many new theories into the traditional story of the adventurer Odysseus, but I was intrigued most by the female characters that drove Corona's story, such as Penelope and Helen of Troy. The servants who were Xanthe's best friends and protectors were strong characters in the novel, and the disdain for Xanthe's brother Telemachus was a prominent undercurrent of its own. There was a lot of foreshadowing as Xanthe was weaving her story on her loom, which I found added another intriguing layer to the story in itself.

There were not many strong or likable male characters in the novel, although the wishful thinking for Odysseus' return was seen as the one thing that could salvage all of their lives in Ithaca. Xanthe meets a man in Sparta whom she connects to, but her future is held in limbo as Ithaca awaits the return of Odysseus. Would Xanthe get what she wants upon that return? Would her mother, Penelope, be able to reconcile with the man that left her behind and caused such upheaval by his very absence?  This well-researched story though is told with an aura of mythical times that blended fluidly with humanity's pain, triumph and upheaval. I found the ending to be a bit less passionate than I had expected, but the entirety of the novel was very well put together and helped bring a better understanding to an epic time period. I hope that the author honors us with more novels like this one, as I truly enjoyed the writing style and the vision of Laurel Corona and will definitely read more stories from her.

Stay tuned to The Burton Review on 10/4 there will be a guest post from Laurel and a book giveaway!

Sep 27, 2010

Elizabeth's Women by Tracy Borman

Awhile ago I had read and reviewed the non-fiction book by Tracy Borman, Elizabeth's Women.
It is now available in the USA for purchase so I wanted to repost the link to my review for those that were interested in this new look at Elizabeth I.

This is not just another biography on Elizabeth, but a look at how the women in Elizabeth's life helped shape her thought process. I was very intrigued by the mini-bio's of the women that the author chose to represent, and I feel that this would be a welcome addition to any Elizabeth I library.
Elizabeth's Women: Friends, Rivals, and Foes Who Shaped the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman
USA List Price: $28.00
Current Amazon Price: $18.48  USA
Release Date: September 28, 2010 USA

Product Description:
A source of endless fascination and speculation, the subject of countless biographies, novels, and films, Elizabeth I is now considered from a thrilling new angle by the brilliant young historian Tracy Borman. So often viewed in her relationships with men, the Virgin Queen is portrayed here as the product of women—the mother she lost so tragically, the female subjects who worshipped her, and the peers and intimates who loved, raised, challenged, and sometimes opposed her.
In vivid detail, Borman presents Elizabeth’s bewitching mother, Anne Boleyn, eager to nurture her new child, only to see her taken away and her own life destroyed by damning allegations—which taught Elizabeth never to mix politics and love. Kat Astley, the governess who attended and taught Elizabeth for almost thirty years, invited disaster by encouraging her charge into a dangerous liaison after Henry VIII’s death. Mary Tudor—“Bloody Mary”—envied her younger sister’s popularity and threatened to destroy her altogether. And animosity drove Elizabeth and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots into an intense thirty-year rivalry that could end only in death.


Elizabeth’s Women contains more than an indelible cast of characters. It is an unprecedented account of how the public posture of femininity figured into the English court, the meaning of costume and display, the power of fecundity and flirtation, and how Elizabeth herself—long viewed as the embodiment of feminism—shared popular views of female inferiority and scorned and schemed against her underlings’ marriages and pregnancies.
Brilliantly researched and elegantly written, Elizabeth’s Women is a unique take on history’s most captivating queen and the dazzling court that surrounded her.


My review of the UK Hardcover can be found here. The post also contains thoughts from Heather of The Maiden's Court who was my buddy reader of the book.

Sep 24, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Post: Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

Author Anna Elliott has just released her second novel in her Isolde and Trystan trilogy, this one called Dark Moon of Avalon. I recently read this book and reviewed it here, and I have found that she breathes magical creativity into an ancient Arthurian-inspired tale. Book one was Twilight of Avalon, and I reviewed that here last year and enjoyed it so much that I named it one of my favorites of 2009. Anna also visited The Burton Review last year with a guest post, which you can read here.


She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. She has fought to preserve Britain's throne. Now she faces her greatest challenge in turning bitter enemies into allies, saving the life of the man she loves..  and mending her own wounded heart.



It is with honor that I welcome Anna Elliott to The Burton Review with the following guest post. Read further for your chance to win your own copy of Dark Moon of Avalon.


Healing Hearts
Anna Elliott

Dark Moon of Avalon takes place in the shadow of King Arthur's Britain, during the mid 6th century, when invading Saxon armies were increasingly defeating Britain's forces and taking over Britain's lands. My Isolde is the daughter of Modred, great villain of the Arthurian cycle of tales. And she has lost everything, her old life, her family, her home, have all been destroyed by the constant battles and political intrigue.

My Isolde is also a healer, working with Britain's wounded soldiers. She doesn't yet know how she herself can find the healing she offers others every day. But she desperately needs to believe that recovery from trauma is possible, and so she throws herself passionately into her mission as a healer.

As you might expect, Isolde's passion for the healing craft sent me scurrying for the research books. I read medieval herbals and compilations of the folk remedies common to the British isles; I pored over Roman surgical texts. And I was absolutely fascinated to discover just how sophisticated a Dark Age healer like Isolde could have been.

Certainly our modern knowledge of germs and bacteria revolutionized the medical profession, as has anesthesia and modern surgical theaters. But for all that, medical practice in the Dark Ages was not as crude or as brutal as one might imagine. One ancient surgical technique--that Isolde herself uses to conduct an amputation in Dark Moon of Avalon--was a device called a 'soporific sponge.' Texts on the soporific sponge survive from as early as the 9th century, and direct the healer to soak a pad or sponge with black nightshade, hyoscyamus (henbane), the juice of hemlock, the juice of leaves of mandragora, and several other mild narcotics. The sponge was then held beneath the patient's nose during surgery, so that breathing its fumes would keep the patient unconscious.

In Dark Moon of Avalon, Isolde and Trystan are dispatched on a diplomatic mission through unstable and warring lands to persuade rulers of the smaller kingdoms surrounding Britain to join forces to protect the throne. Isolde's skills as a healer are more than once all that stands between success and failure of their mission. Isolde's greatest test as a healer, though, comes when she is faced with the fear that she may not be able to save the wounded man who matters to her most of all. And the most rewarding part of writing Dark Moon of Avalon for me was watching her find the courage to face that fear, and through it find the courage to also heal her own wounded heart.

Brought together under dire circumstances, Trystan and Isolde must confront their growing love for each other and face a battle that will test the strength of their will, their hearts, and the lives of all those in Britain.

To celebrate the release of Dark Moon of Avalon, I'm offering a free prequel short story, Dawn of Avalon, available for free download on my website here: http://www.annaelliottbooks.com/dawn.php

He would become the most powerful wizard in the history of Britain—Merlin. She would become Britain's most storied sorceress—Morgan le Fay. But before they were legends, they were young. And they were lovers. Together, in the sunlight of one day long ago, they saved a kingdom.
Dawn of Avalon.

A stand-alone story from the universe of Anna Elliott's Twilight of Avalon.

Please visit Anna's website here.

To enter for your own copy of Dark Moon of Avalon, please comment here telling me what Arthurian-styled stories you have heard, seen or read. Do you have a favorite telling? Please leave me your email address.
USA Only.
Giveaway ends 10/2/2010

Sep 22, 2010

Giveaway & Guest Author: Come Again No More by Jack Todd

Jack Todd released his debut epic novel Sun Going Down in 2008 and is promoting his fourth novel and newest work Come Again No More, available from Amazon by clicking on their titles.

They were three miles west of town when the sun broke through. The wind tore the clouds into rags, the sun lit the rags on fire and in fiery trails they streamed across a sky that opened like a bruised and tender heart ...

– Come Again No More


Writing the Paint Trilogy: Turning family history and American history into fiction
Jack Todd

It started with a box. A fairly large, unwieldy box, heavily taped and tied with grocer’s string. Sent, with love, from my mother in western Nebraska to me in New York City in 1981.

This time, it wasn’t a box of brownies. My mother, born Maxine Marguerite Morgan in a Nebraska sod house in 1910, had shipped our family history, or as much of it as a single box could contain. Letters, family portraits, fragments of diaries, and one fairly substantial memoir, thirty-five pages single-spaced on someone’s old typewriter, left by my great-uncle Eb Jones, pioneer and frontier character in South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Perhaps, my mother suggested in the accompanying letter written in her elegant hand, I could do something with all this. I don’t know what she had in mind: a family history to be circulated to the relations, perhaps? One of those Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill and the bear at the family picnic things, preserving all the family yarns for posterity?

I did read Uncle Eb’s memoir, pieced together from memory after the diaries he kept for forty years were lost in a house fire in the 1930s. It was lively stuff: frontier murders, a gold rush or two, the Civil War, a drive to bring a thousand head of buffalo from Arizona to Wyoming. The massacre at Wounded Knee, where he was a scout for the cavalry.

I put the box aside and forgot about it. Somewhere along the line, in one of my numerous moves, most of it was lost. Twenty years later, a conversation with my sister aroused my curiosity about those old letters and memoirs, because two things struck me: first, there was a doozy of a story in there, which I had been too obtuse to see the first time around. Second, there was a remarkable confluence, over a period of nearly 150 years, between the history of my family (or more specifically, my mother’s family) and the history of the United States.

The first members of the Jones family had arrived in the Boston area before the American revolution. They drifted south as far as Mississippi, where John Milton Jones was born in 1830. John Milton left the south to walk to California with seven or eight friends after gold was found on the West Coast in 1849. As far as we know, he was the only one to survive. He returned to the Mississippi River with enough capital to buy what he called a “store boat,” which he operated on the river in partnership with a freed slave until they came under Confederate fire during the Civil War.

John Milton sold the boat and moved north to South Dakota, arriving as one of the first pioneers in the Sioux Falls-Yankton area in 1863. He married a woman who was part Sioux and fathered several children, two of whom, Eb and his brother Squier, became the protagonists of my first novel, Sun Going Down.

Both boys were fluent in Lakota, but Eb was perpetually restless. He scouted for the cavalry, worked as a sheriff in Spearfish and elsewhere, tried ranching in a dozen locations at a dozen times. Squier settled down in Brown County, Nebraska and built a ranching empire, beginning with a 160-acre homestead.

It was on that ranch that the essential conflict of this trilogy was borne, when Squier’s daughter Velma, my grandmother, became pregnant by one of his bronc riders. Squier kicked the pair of them off his ranch and set them up in a miserable homestead with a tumbledown soddy. After my mother was born, the bronc rider broke her arm in a quarrel and Squier went a little farther: he drove the young husband out of the state, leaving Velma to try to figure out how to survive, along with her two small children on a desolate homestead.

She might have pulled it off, but Velma learned she had tuberculosis in 1915 and spent most of the rest of her short life in and out of the sanitarium in Denver while her children were shuffled back and forth among orphanages and various family members willing to take them in.

In historical terms, it was all there, a primer of American history in the story of a single family: the great Mississippi River and the steamboats, the California gold rush (and a later gold rush in the Black Hills) the Civil War, the westward expansion, the Indian wars, World War I, the Roaring 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II. Somewhere along the line, members of the extended Jones family were always part of it.

I set out to tell the story. Six years after I began reassembling the stories in the original box, with the help of sisters, cousins and aunts all over the western U.S., Sun Going Down was published by Touchstone Books.

The first novel began in 1849 and ended at the beginning of the Great Depression, in 1933. The second, Come Again No More, is set entirely during the Depression years and researching it was less difficult, because I heard much of it directly from my parents. They lost their farm in Nebraska during the 1930s and joined the great migration to the West Coast, moving to a small Oregon mill town where my father, a former boxer, had a job in the mill. After six months, he decided he couldn’t stand the rain and dragged the family back to Nebraska.

Like Sun Going Down, Come Again No More is an attempt to get at the general truth of our common history through the particular history of a single family. It is one thing to read the history of the 1930s or to review the painful statistics of a time when a third of the American work-force was unemployed. Those statistics come home, however, only when you find a way to bring alive the impact of hard times on ordinary folk.

There is an odd process a writer goes through when turning family history into fiction. The real characters fade and are replaced by the fictional characters who become as real, in the imagination, as living friends and relatives. Thus Squier Jones for me will always be Eli Paint, his fictional counterpart, and Eb Jones is Ezra Paint, Eli’s brother.

The character Emaline in both books is, of course, my mother. With her hot-tempered, quick-fisted husband Jake McCloskey (my father, the first Jack Todd) she is alive to me as both fiction and memory. In Come Again No More, I attempted to tell their story, the awkward marriage of the rather prim young woman who loved Chekhov and Balzac to a character so rough, he would drive a steel bolt with his bare fist.

As Come Again No More ventures into the world, I’m completing the third novel in the series, The Rain Came Down, set almost entirely during World War II and based, in part, on the letters of my mother’s younger brother Jimmy Wilson, a gunner on the battleship Tennessee from Pearl Harbor to Japan. The contents of another box, in other words.

A lesson for writers everywhere: beware the boxes you open. You may find yourself, years later, still entranced by the old stories, the characters who stare out at you from the black-and-white photographs, the hasty letters dated 1887 or 1910 or 1944. More novels, waiting to be born.

Visit the author's blog
~~~
Thanks so much to Jack Todd for visiting The Burton Review and sharing such an intriguing family story with us. I look forward to reading the stories he is sharing with his novels, and I think my followers would enjoy them as well. If you would like to enter for your own copy of Come Again No More, just enter here by commenting with your email address. Please tell me what intrigues you about your own family history. Have you realized anything similar to the metaphorical box that Jack Todd refers to here? Do you think you are going to leave your own box for your own descendents?

Giveaway open to USA only and ends 10/02/2010.

Sep 21, 2010

UPDATES!

Most of my blogging friends know that I have been busy with real life and why.. but I don't want to publish personal stuff on the net where I have no control of who is seeing what. But I did want to let my followers know that I have made a personal decision to not focus so much on the general blog business like I used to. After a year and a half of posting to The Burton Review, I am going to take it in a different direction.

I will not be participating in read-a-thons or events such as the recent Book Blogger Awards, and I have resigned from the HF Round Table. I will however, always be reading when time permits, and I will still publish my thoughts on the book here at The Burton Review, so I am not going to disappear off your radar altogether. I have current obligations for guest posts, reviews and giveaways through October, but after that I will host no more of those until further notice.

Since I am no longer going to accept guest posts and the such in the near future I will forward those requests to the new HF Connection site. This little blog takes a lot of time and thought to keep going, more than I am willing to give at this point. My kiddos need their mama, my hubby deserves more attention, my house needs to be cared for, and I work full-time (not that I want to!). And I would like to sit and watch TV this season as well. I am looking forward to Survivor (addicted!), Lone Star, and Hawaii Five-O. Let's see if I watch past episode one. I have also recently acquired some fish and two hamsters.

As advance review copies wind down, my reading goal is focusing on my own personal stash of books which range from contemporary fiction to historical fiction, and even some mysteries. I am going to dive into some Jean Plaidy novels, and Georgette Heyer. And work on the 400 other books I have accumulated that have been waiting impatiently for me to get to. These are titles that have come highly recommended by fellow bloggers like you and I cannot wait to get to them! And in case you were interested, my reviews that I have posted are listed here and will continue to be. (Of the year 2009 published here to date: Qty. #64; of the year 2010, published to date: Qty. #49)

SO.. for one last big hurrah.. there will be a bunch of guest posts and giveaways from now through October.
Be sure to check back in and see what new giveaways I have added. Because once they are gone, I will then only be doing the newsletter only giveaways for the email subscribers to the newsletter for personal copies that I am willing to give away to followers in the USA. (See the Subscriber link under the Google Followers gadget on the left sidebar).
Subscribe to the newsletter soon, because I am adding The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet by Pargeter very very soon. And The First Assassin by John J. Miller.

Basically, what the big update is that you will soon see only Book Reviews. I will not be doing Mailbox Mondays any longer either unless I am utterly bored one day.

I ran a recent poll (see the right sidebar) and the results also helped me to make this decision:
Why do you most visit The Burton Review?
Book Reviews 23 (82%)
Book Giveaways 15 (53%)
Author Interviews 9 (32%)
New Book Alerts 12 (42%)

I think that there are plenty of other worthy Historical Fiction sites out there that can fill your "book news" needs (see my blogroll on the right!).. therefore, I feel no guilt in just focusing on book reviews, and although many of my reads will be historical fiction, I am going to occasionally pick up something like Jonathan Franzen or Janet Evanovich, and I will be happy to share my thoughts on those types of reads also.

Current Giveaways are for:
The Mistaken Wife
Bluebells of Scotland
Coming tomorrow:
Giveaway & Guest Author: Come Again No More by Jack Todd
Upcoming:
Giveaway and Guest post by Anna Elliott and another by Laurel Corona which will have a book giveaway as well.

I may occasionally sneak in 'personal' posts as well so that I can enjoy virtually connecting with you. And for those who are on Facebook, I troll around there almost daily, so feel free to friend me & then you can see what I am really up to!! You can also find me on goodreads where you can follow what I am reading in real time.

See you on the web!

Sep 20, 2010

Giveaway & Guest Post: Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy by Laura Vosika

Courtesy of PUMP UP YOUR BOOK VIRTUAL BOOK TOURS, we have a book giveaway of the newest book by Laura Vosika, Blue Bells of Scotland, which is an intriguing blend of historical fiction and time travel. Please see below for the giveaway details.

Synopsis:

Shawn has a skyrocketing musical career, fans, fame, money, his beautiful girlfriend Amy, and all the women he wants. Everything changes Amy has enough and leaves him stranded in a Scottish castle tower overnight. He wakes up in medieval Scotland. Mistaken for the castle's future laird, he is forced to make a dangerous cross-country trek with a beautiful woman wielding a knife, pursued by English soldiers and a Scottish traitor, to raise men for the critical battle at Bannockburn.



Niall Campbell, Shawn's opposite in everything except looks, is no more happy to find himself caught in Shawn's life, pursued by women, the target of an angry girlfriend, expected to play a sell-out concert, and hearing the account of his own death and Scotland's annihilation at Bannockburn. He vows to figure out what went wrong at the battle, and find a way back to change it.

Blue Bells of Scotland is both an action-packed adventure and a tale of redemption that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned. Available at Amazon.

On the Banks of the Bannock Burn


In May of 2008, I left my car at the side of a Scottish road and walked down to the Bannock Burn. I found a small creek meandering through a shady bower of trees meeting overhead. Children can wade in it. But this small, unprepossessing stream gave name to Scotland’s greatest moment, the Battle of Bannockburn, on the 23rd and 24th of June, 1314.

There is rarely a single cause to battles, especially one as significant as Bannockburn. Military considerations, political desires, and twists of fate all forge into unstoppable forces. In addition to these, behind the drive toward Bannockburn can be seen the personalities of Robert and Edward Bruce of Scotland, and England’s two Edwards, father and son.

In simplest terms, Edward I of England wanted Scotland and so, with an army at his back, announced that it was his. Although England had briefly been the feudal superior of Scotland, the Quitclaim of Canterbury in 1189 ended that nearly a century before Edward I’s reign. His decision that he was Lord Paramount is best understood in his character. Ronald McNair Scott says: He was a man of commanding presence. On the field of battle he was fearless....He was sober in his mode of living, dressed simply and was constant in his religious devotions. But the overriding element in his character was his unquestioning belief that whatever he desired was right....

A contemporary of Edward I said, He is valiant as a lion, quick to attack ....a panther in fickleness and inconstancy, changing his word and promise, cloaking himself by pleasant speech….the path by which he attains his ends, however crooked, he calls straight and whatever he likes he says is lawful.

So, believing he ought to be overlord of Scotland, Edward I set out with powerful armies, ex-communicating Popes, broken promises, and brutality to make it so. Such was the force of Edward I’s personality that his belief in his right to rule Scotland outlived him. On July 7, 1307, he died at Burgh-on-Sands; his last sight was of the still-unconquered Scotland, across the Solway Firth. His last demand was that his son boil his flesh from his bones, and carry those bones at the head of his army, until Scotland was subdued.

The personalities of Edward II, and the Bruce brothers, Robert and Edward, now came into play. Edward II’s first acts as king were to drop off his father’s body, flesh and bones intact, at Waltham Abbey, call his friend, Piers Gaveston home from exile, and make a half-hearted entrance into Scotland, leaving again without a fight. He put the Earl of Pembroke in charge, and did not return for three years. Robert Bruce used the time well to rise from little more than a hunted fugitive-king to a great power, steadily re-claiming his country. Still, Edward II had been raised on war against Scotland, no doubt imbibing his father’s beliefs with his bread and ale. Despite diversions of civil war, and steady losses to Bruce, he pursued the claim of overlordship. In this determination, at least, he was his father’s son.

At last, with only Berwick, Bothwell, and Stirling in English hands, the hot-headed Edward Bruce made a deal with the commander of Stirling. If Edward II did not send reinforcements by Midsummer’s day, Stirling would be relinquished to Scotland. Brash and confident, Edward Bruce even allowed a request for relief to be sent to England. It can be asked, What if? What if Edward Bruce had had more of Robert’s calm and steady disposition? Would Bannockburn have happened? But he didn’t have his brother’s temperament. He made a direct challenge to a large and powerful nation, which Edward II could not refuse. Nor could Robert Bruce. They gathered their troops, England’s army outnumbering Scotland’s about three to one, and marched toward pitched battle in the marshy land surrounded by the River Forth, the Pelstream, and the Bannockburn.

Edward II, however, had neither the generalship nor the commanding personality of his father and Robert Bruce, and on June 24th, 1314, Edward’s soldiers, routed and in disarray, fled back across the Bannock Burn, so many drowning in the process that others could cross the stream on their bodies.

It is an experience to stand on the banks of this tiny stream and contemplate the great events, and powerful clashes of personalities and men, to which its name harkens. In this peaceful, shady bower, I felt a strong reminder of the need to live wisely, for our personalities and choices may echo for generations, beyond what we think our day to day actions warrant.

Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast. She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass. Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.Visit her blog here.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.
You can visit her website at http://www.bluebellstrilogy.com/ .

Thanks to Laura for providing us with her guest post!
And for the blog readers of The Burton Review, we have one copy to giveaway of Blue Bells of Scotland for US/Canada residents.
To enter, please leave me a comment to say hello to Laura, and tell us what your experiences have been regarding Scotland, while reading of it or visiting it... also leave me your Email address in your comment.
+1 entry for a Twitter post linking to this post
+1 entry for a Facebook or blog post
Please leave links for these extra entries.
Good Luck! Ends 10/02/2010

Sep 17, 2010

Giveaway! Guest author Rose Melikan

Please welcome to The Burton Review the author Rose Melikan, here to promote her newest novel as she discusses the research process for her writing.

Rose Melikan
 Rose Melikan was born in Detroit, Michigan. Since 1993, she has been a Fellow of St. Catharine's College, Cambridge. Her academic research centers on 18th and early 19th British political and constitutional history. She now lives in Cambridge, England with her husband.

Rose has written two novels centered around the adventurer protagonist Mary Finch. The Blackstone Key (2008) and The Counterfeit Guest (2009) are both available via Amazon by clicking their titles.

The Mistaken Wife was just released September 14, 2010 and you can enter to win your own copy by commenting below. Or you can purchase the book via Amazon.
Book Summary:

Autumn, 1797. With Napoleon's forces sweeping through Europe, a young Englishwoman travels to Paris, risking her life on a secret assignment that may buy Britain vital time. Mary Finch is no stranger to adventure, but even she hesitates before accepting this new task. She must rely wholly upon a stranger, while deceiving her 'dearest friend', Captain Robert Holland. Once In France, Mary's safety rests on a knife-edge, and her colleague has secrets of his own.


And now, from the author of the Mary Finch novels, Rose Melikan discusses researching and writing; fact versus fiction:

I’m an academic in my “day job”, and writing scholarly non-fiction has influenced my Mary Finch novels a great deal. Structurally, I approach fiction in the same way as academic writing. I follow plans and outlines, and I work out calendars so that I can plot out the action on a day-by-day basis. As a story develops I often feel more like I am discovering and recording what actually happened rather than creating it, so I come to an understanding of the story in the same way that I come to an understanding of an actual historical development. Now, I’m sure that one reason I feel this way is that, so far, my fiction has been set in the same period as my academic work. I’m fictionalizing material that I’m already quite familiar with in the non-fiction context.

I also do the same kind of research for fiction and non-fiction, although I use that research in a different way. Non-fiction and fiction have the same basic objective – to convince the reader of an argument. The non-fiction argument is the thesis, and the fiction argument is the theme. The difference is that the non-fiction thesis is obvious whereas hopefully the theme in a work of fiction is not – you work it out as you go along. That’s the pleasure of reading a story – you wonder what is going to happen and why, but if you were wondering what an academic article was about as you were reading it, you’d probably give up. So, academic research is more focused and more obvious. The academic tries to make his argument irrefutable by setting out his sources in charts, tables, footnotes. Research for fiction is more wide-ranging and subtle. The author tries to captivate the reader and carry him along – encouraging rather than lecturing, so that the reader is won over without realizing it.

I think that the best kind of research in fiction, therefore, often goes unnoticed. It is embedded in throwaway comments, or background descriptions, or summaries that “effortlessly” set the scene. I find that I do a lot of research in order to feel comfortable not saying something, or to say something very simple – even something that, in retrospect, I could have said without doing the research, simply by making an educated guess. It can feel like a waste of time, but I like to think that some of my confidence is transferred to the reader. As a reader, I think I can sense when an author’s knowledge of the world he’s created is so extensive that he isn’t telling me everything he knows. He’s describing one room in a house, but if I asked him, he could tell me about all the other rooms. If I feel that an author is writing right up to the edge of his knowledge, I become suspicious, and once that happens, the illusion of the story is lost. Among modern novelists of historical fiction, I think that Patrick O’Brian is a master in this respect.

Another reason for doing more research than I think is strictly necessary, of course, is that sometimes my educated guess would have been wrong! There is nothing more irritating than finding a mistake after it has been incorporated in the story, particularly (as always seems the case) when it turns out to be something fairly straightforward that I really ought to have checked… It may seem odd to be worried about accuracy in the context of a work of fiction, but it’s essential that where the world of the novel intersects with real people or actual events, it doesn’t ignore what is known about those people and events. Of course, historical fiction can “get away” with inaccuracies or vagaries that authors of contemporary fiction cannot. The average reader today would find it difficult to estimate the time of a journey from London to Cambridge in 1800, or whether someone in Boston, Massachusetts would have had an accent significantly different from his relatives in Boston, Lincolnshire – but such details wouldn’t pose such a problem in a novel actually written in 1800. In one sense, the more ancient the setting, the less likely readers are to spot errors. On the other hand, the writers of contemporary fiction are much less likely to make these kinds of errors in the first place. More importantly, because they can presume a general familiarity on the part of their readers, contemporary novelists have fewer decisions to make about the level of accuracy necessary to establish and maintain their fictional worlds.

As you will have guessed by now, I’m rather a pedant where historical accuracy is concerned – it must be the academic in me. My editor once told me not to let the truth get in the way of a good story, but I’m afraid that I can’t knowingly falsify the historical record. I would much rather amend the plot (and hopefully come up with something better and more accurate). I also try to weave my story as closely as possible into real events, or events that might have happened, given the state of our knowledge. Most of the time these events are essential to the narrative, such as the timing of the Woolwich mutiny in The Counterfeit Guest, but sometimes I’m afraid that they simply reflect a fascination with detail, such as the departure time for the Ipswich to London mail coach in The Blackstone Key. Nothing really turned on it, but I wanted to get it right. Of course, sometimes I have to give in. I couldn’t discover the Parisian theatre schedules for the autumn of 1797, so my characters in The Mistaken Wife actually attend a play that was performed in the autumn of 1796. The London play in the same story, however, is accurate for the day and theatre mentioned. And I certainly can’t claim to be perfect. Fortunately, I have a wonderful copyeditor, who questions everything, and definitely keeps me on my toes.
~~
Thank you to Rose Melikan for sharing her writing and though process! Historical accuracy in our novels is something that many readers like to discuss.. what are your thoughts on incorporating fiction within a historical timeline? Are you a reader who requires the author to get all their facts right? Comment here with your thoughts and also leave your email address, and you will be entered to win a copy of Rose Melikan's newest novel, The Mistaken Wife. Giveaway open to USA only and ends 10/02/2010.

Sep 14, 2010

Book Review: Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott

 Happy Release Day to Anna!

Dark Moon of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde by Anna Elliott
(Book #2 in the Twilight of Avalon Trilogy series, Twilight of Avalon: Book One released May 5, 2009)
Touchstone Simon and Schuster, September 14, 2010
Review copy generously provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Big 4 stars!
She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. She has fought to preserve Britain's throne. Now she faces her greatest challenge in turning bitter enemies into allies, saving the life of the man she loves . . . and mending her own wounded heart.

The young former High Queen, Isolde, and her friend and protector, Trystan, are reunited in a new and dangerous quest to keep the usurper, Lord Marche, and his Saxon allies from the throne of Britain. Using Isolde's cunning wit and talent for healing and Trystan's strength and bravery, they must act as diplomats, persuading the rulers of the smaller kingdoms, from Ireland to Cornwall, that their allegiance to the High King is needed to keep Britain from a despot's hands.

Their admissions of love hang in the air, but neither wants to put the other at risk by openly declaring a deeper alliance. When their situation is at its most desperate, Trystan and Isolde must finally confront their true feelings toward each other, in time for a battle that will test the strength of their will and their love.

Steeped in the magic and lore of Arthurian legend, Elliott paints a moving portrait of a timeless romance, fraught with danger, yet with the power to inspire heroism and transcend even the darkest age.




In May of 2009, I read Anna Elliott's debut novel (which was a favorite of the year for me) Twilight of Avalon and I found myself immersed in Arthurian legend that was told with intoxicating ease that drew me into Dark Ages Britain. I was eager to read book two, Dark Moon of Avalon, but once I finally received it I had to put it aside in the priorities list. Which was unfortunate because upon opening Dark Moon I was struggling to see where we were in the time line, as over a year had passed since I read the first book in the trilogy (review is here). Soon enough I was beguiled by the storytelling and I was once again falling in love with Anna Elliott's story of the two star-crossed lovers. Anna's writing is deeply and thickly rooted within its story that you have to pace yourself with her writing so that you do not miss anything. This is not the love story you would think it would be at first glance, it is the author's reimagined history of a very early Britain as it struggles to become the kingdom that its leaders know it can be.


 

Dark Moon of Avalon begins as Isolde is asked by King Madoc to go to the council meeting to visit with the Irish King Goram, with hopes of uniting certain leaders with those that would be beneficial for the salvation of Britain. What follows is a long journey to meet with these leaders which is fraught with peril along the path. Lord Marche is the enemy that Isolde was once married to from Book one who now haunts her dreams with visions of Marche and Trystan locked in a fierce sword fight.  Isolde is lucky to have trustworthy allies at her side as she makes her journey, and she finally meets up with Trystan who agrees to guide her towards a meeting King Cerdic, someone who is of doubtful character, but can help turn the tide of war in a positive turn for Britain if he agrees to her courageous plan.

Not a story that is told to be an action-packed adventure, this is a character-driven heroic tale of good vs. evil, with strong tones of true love and honor. Enchanting, intriguing and powerful writing makes this a story to be savored as we get into Isolde's head and heart along her journey, making us thoroughly respect and admire Isolde's strength of character and bravery. We witness Isolde struggling with romantic feelings for her childhood friend as she keeps the distance between them just enough to be laced with tension. The reader is treated to the author's reimagined Dark Ages setting that evokes the magical Arthurian theme but also offers a whole new twist to the traditional Tristan and Iseult tale. Anna Elliott's love story of Trystan and Isolde is virtuous and sweet,with the wonderful ending in book two which leaves us on tenterhooks awaiting the final installment in the trilogy.

For those of you who read Book one and remember Dera from the story, Anna has shared with her readers a free short story titled The Witch Queen's Secret which can be found here. And coming soon is Morgan & Merlin—The Beginning, another short story offered as a free download from the author; and this is a prequel to book one that looks incredibly amazing!

Sep 7, 2010

Giveaway: Industrial Pioneers by Patrick Brown - Reliving the Past through Marcellus Shale

Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902
Hardcover: 142 pages
Publisher: Tribute Books (June 16, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0982256558


During the nineteenth century, Scranton served as the face of a rising America and a hub of technology and innovation-between 1840 and 1902, the city of Scranton changed from a lazy backwoods community to a modern industrial society with 100,000 residents. During this time, Scranton's citizens desperately tried to adapt their thinking to keep up with the rapid changes around them, and in the process forged the world views that would define the twentieth century.

Please welcome the author of Industrial Pioneers with the following guest post, courtesy of PUMP UP YOUR BOOK VIRTUAL BOOK TOURS:

Reliving the Past through Marcellus Shale


American history has an eerie way of repeating itself.

In 1840, America needed coal to fuel its economy. Investors from throughout the country began offering farmers in Northeast Pennsylvania huge amounts of money for their land to gain access to coal hundreds of feet below ground.

In 2010, America needs clean energy to fuel its economy. Investors from around the world have begun offering landowners in Northeast Pennsylvania huge amounts of money for the right to recover the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation, almost a mile below ground.

Sound familiar?

Scranton, Pennsylvania, was the Silicon Valley of the nineteenth century. Driven by overwhelming demand for the coal, iron, steel, and steam technology that the city produced, Scranton grew from 100 to 100,000 people between 1840 and 1900. It was the “Electric City” at a time when electricity was the most exciting innovation in the world, and it was the face of industrialization and immigration in the United States.

By the mid-twentieth century, however, Scranton symbolized a decaying America. Its steel mills and factories were moving to other states. Lax regulations led to catastrophic environmental damage throughout the region and the unintentional flooding of area mines. The large corporations that supported the area’s economy moved away, and Scranton became, as a recent book title puts it, “the face of decline.”

What happened? What changed? What led Scranton to go from boom to bust?

Scranton’s early business leaders cared deeply about Scranton, and had a real stake in seeing the city grow. They made a point of attracting entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, and new technology to Scranton. They chartered the city’s gas and water companies, supported local businesses, and personally got involved in local politics. Perhaps most importantly, early business leaders actually lived in the city. Within this environment, the city flourished.

By the turn of the twentieth century, however, something had changed. When Walter Scranton decided to move his family’s steel business to Buffalo, New York, he simply remarked, “It’s tough on Scranton.” Professional managers appeared in the workplace, and strove to increase efficiency as much as possible. As corporations prioritized profits during this period, the communities in which they operated were often left behind. Scranton was no exception.

The natural gas in the Marcellus Shale represents a second chance for Scranton. Certainly, some residents of the area will sell their mineral rights and become very wealthy while natural gas is quietly pumped elsewhere. The larger question, however, is whether the region can leverage its natural resources to create the type of enduring prosperity that that drives a region’s economy for generations. Will Scranton attract entrepreneurs, inventors, and scholars? Will it create smart industry regulations? Will it become a hub for energy research and new technologies?

Residents of Scranton who know the history of the city have a roadmap for success. Will they use it?

Patrick Brown was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He graduated Magna cum Laude from Georgetown University, where he won the Morris Medal for best senior history honors thesis. He currently teaches high school social studies in the Mississippi Delta through Teach for America.


His latest book is Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902, a detailed history account of the town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Purchase the hardcover from Amazon or Smashwords in E-Book format.


You can visit his website at http://www.industrialpioneers.com .

For USA followers of The Burton Review, Pump Up Yor Book Virtual Tours is offering a book giveaway of Industrial Pioneers: Scranton, Pennsylvania and the Transformation of America, 1840-1902. Giveaway ends on Sept 18th, I will email the winner.

Please leave us a comment here with your email address to be entered for one entry.
+2 entries: Blog post linking to this post
+1 entry: Facebook or Tweet this post

Good Luck!

Sep 6, 2010

Mailbox Monday!

Please don't steal my images!Mailbox Monday is a weekly meme that is hosted by Marcia at The Printed Page.
Mailbox Monday is on a blog tour! The popular meme started over at The Printed Page blog is on tour! September's host is Bermudaonion Weblog.

Another week, another book.

With the mini-hoopla regarding Jonathan Franzen's newest book, Freedom, I decided to go back and get a previous one from Paperbackswap to see what all the fuss was about. I chose one from his backlist that seemed to have the most positive reviews. Have you read it?

So, in my mailbox this week:

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
ISBN-13: 9780374100124 - ISBN-10: 0374100128

Publication Date: 9/1/2001
Pages: 568

THE CORRECTIONS is a grandly entertaining novel for the new century-a comic, tragic masterpiece about a family breaking down in an age of easy fixes.


After almost fifty years as a wife and mother, Enid Lambert is ready to have some fun. Unfortunately, her husband, Alfred, is losing his sanity to Parkinson's disease, and their children have long since flown the family nest to the catastrophes of their own lives. The oldest, Gary, a once-stable portfolio manager and family man, is trying to convince his wife and himself, despite clear signs to the contrary, that he is not clinically depressed. The middle child, Chip, has lost his seemingly secure academic job and is failing spectacularly at his new line of work. And Denise, the youngest, has escaped a disastrous marriage only to pour her youth and beauty down the drain of an affair with a married man-or so her mother fears. Desperate for some pleasure to look forward to, Enid has set her heart on an elusive goal: bringing her family together for one last Christmas at home.


Stretching from the Midwest at midcentury to the Wall Street and Eastern Europe of today, THE CORRECTIONS brings an old-fashioned world of civic virtue and sexual inhibitions into violent collision with the era of home surveillance, hands-off parenting, do-it-yourself mental healthcare, and globalized greed. Richly realistic, darkly hilarious, deeply humane, it confirms Jonathan Franzen as one of our most brilliant interpreters of American society and the American soul.

Sep 2, 2010

Giveaway! Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel now in Paperback!

The Man Booker Prize winnner of 2009 that took readers by storm was Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall... and it is now out in Paperback!
Picador is sponsoring the book giveaway to one of my lucky blog followers in the USA...

Check out the Readers Guide here!

Fellow facebook user? You can officially "LIKE" Wolf Hall on their facebook page here which is the official Facebook fan page of Hilary Mantel, run by Picador.

In case you've been under a rock and need a refresher, the synopsis of Wolf Hall courtesy of Picador:

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell: a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people, and implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is "a darkly brilliant reimagining of life under Henry VIII. . . . Magnificent." (The Boston Globe).

You want a copy for yourself? Comment here with your email address letting me know your interests in Tudor history!
 
+1 for each facebook or twitter or blog shout out linking to this post.
 
Giveaway ends September 11!