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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

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Jul 29, 2011

Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott



The End of Everything by Megan Abbott
Reagan Arthur Books, Little, Brown
July 7, 2011
ISBN-13: 978-0316097796
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5


The End of Everything is one of those quick reads that you just can't put down. Even though the subject matter is creepy-crawly with themes of bad deeds of evil doers.. it certainly held my attention. This is the story of two tween girls who have been best friends and neighbors for as long as they can remember, and were always like two peas in a pod. Lizzie and Evie shared their clothes, their lives, their thoughts with each other until that one untangible thing came along that Lizzie knew that Evie was hiding from her.

And then the unthinkable happens: Evie disappears pretty much into thin air and Lizzie is the last person to see her alive. Lizzie is bombarded with all the emotions at once, and still she knows that somehow Evie is out there, alive. Told in first person, we go through all of Lizzie's thoughts and suspicions as we follow Lizzie's life during those horrific weeks that Evie is gone. She spends time with Evie's grief stricken father, and even while Evie is gone she feels something a bit more for this Mr. Verver, which is creepy in itself. And then Evie's older sister Dusty is there, watching on the outside, making Lizzie and us readers feel that Dusty knows something, and we can't quite put our finger on it.

Lizzie at first helps the police, but then fabricates stories to the police as an effort to steer people in the direction of insurance agent Mr. Shaw, based on her hunch. Mr. Shaw's family is then turned inside out, as the police take any leads they can get. But as a reader we begin to question, is it really Mr. Shaw? Is all this for nothing? Did Evie jump in the lake? Did someone else take her? All these questions along with that gut-wrenching fear grip you as you read this book, and given its horrific subject matter of a young girl gone missing and what could happen to her as she is abducted, this is a story that is well-told. It was full of suspense and with its own weird twists that kept me guessing - making me think I should look up the author Megan Abbott's previous works.

Jul 25, 2011

Review: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles


Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Viking Adult, July 26 2011
ISBN13: 978-0670022694
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Four Na Yorkah stars

A sophisticated and entertaining debut novel about an irresistible young woman with an uncommon sense of purpose.



Set in New York City in 1938, Rules of Civility tells the story of a watershed year in the life of an uncompromising twenty-five-year- old named Katey Kontent. Armed with little more than a formidable intellect, a bracing wit, and her own brand of cool nerve, Katey embarks on a journey from a Wall Street secretarial pool through the upper echelons of New York society in search of a brighter future.


The story opens on New Year's Eve in a Greenwich Village jazz bar, where Katey and her boardinghouse roommate Eve happen to meet Tinker Grey, a handsome banker with royal blue eyes and a ready smile. This chance encounter and its startling consequences cast Katey off her current course, but end up providing her unexpected access to the rarified offices of Conde Nast and a glittering new social circle. Befriended in turn by a shy, principled multimillionaire, an Upper East Side ne'er-do-well, and a single-minded widow who is ahead of her times, Katey has the chance to experience first hand the poise secured by wealth and station, but also the aspirations, envy, disloyalty, and desires that reside just below the surface. Even as she waits for circumstances to bring Tinker back into her orbit, she will learn how individual choices become the means by which life crystallizes loss.

Elegant and captivating, Rules of Civility turns a Jamesian eye on how spur of the moment decisions define life for decades to come. A love letter to a great American city at the end of the Depression, readers will quickly fall under its spell of crisp writing, sparkling atmosphere and breathtaking revelations, as Towles evokes the ghosts of Fitzgerald, Capote, and McCarthy.
Every now and then you read a book that grabs you from page one and you can't set it down. For this one, the first few pages were a bit iffy with me attempting to get settled into the upcoming story because the dialogue was just weird and couldn't pinpoint who was what or who and why I was there. An evil fleeting thought even passed through urging me to set it down and move on. That cover was just mesmerizing enough to pull me in.

And like a little Energizer bunny I kept going and going and going and going and going... I felt like I had become a New Yorker all over again within these pages.. I neglected to cook dinner for the kids and opted to read instead.. I managed to take a shower.. and then I kept going and going. I finished the book at midnight fully knowing that I had to wake up for work in six hours. At 352 easy pages, I was completely immersed in the characters, and the story. Why was it so tantalizing? I can't really put my finger on it. It was atmospheric with characters that were over the top, being lovable and hate-able all at once.

These characters were a mixture of stereotypical New Yorkers, but it was set back in the quaint year of 1938. It was a humdinger of a year for the main character, Katey, as she and her best friend Evie meet up with the dashing Theodore "Tinker" Grey and toast the town. A grand time was had by the trio until the unthinkable happens one rainy night. Everything changes for the new friends and it wasn't all good.

The storyline focuses on Katey, Evie, and Tinker but includes a host of circles of friends who flit in and out of Katey's life. Most of all, there was New York. I couldn't help but to imagine my great-grandfather and the extended family living out the lives that the book exhibited in that long ago era. The narrative was descriptive in a methodically engrossing sort of way and I simply couldn't tear myself away from it. There were several levels of the social classes at work in the story, but predominantly it was a bit more of a slice of life of the well-to-do at high society clubs like 21, Bentley autos and fancy shmancy hotel rooms. And there was Katey, watching it all, invited in, but not exactly a part of that world as she is a straight-laced hard working girl who keeps perfect time. She is in love with Tinker although we don't really know for sure if she knows it, and she dates others and we wonder if she'll ever see the light. But then we wonder who really is this Tinker fellow anyway.

I would be remiss if I did not mention a major pet peeve, though. The form of the novel is a bit odd, with the prologue and epilogue thing in a novel and zero quotation marks. Zero. Major complete total annoyance about the lack of the tried and true proper written format. Which is why this is not a 5 star for me. Please use proper punctuation in a book. I get it that you're totally cool and innovative in your non-conformist ways as a debut author, but get over it. So, with the title of the book mentioning "rules" (*I used quotation marks purposely), I wonder if there is a hidden meaning here. Whatever it was I missed it. Otherwise, Tinker used George Washington's little handbook of Rules of Civility to help fit in with high society, yet with all these polite mannerisms he lacked the sincerity of it all as it didn't run core deep.

Despite the lack of quotation marks, Rules of Civility is purely fantastic stuff. Loved this story and if you are/were a New Yorker, or even maybe want to be, this novel really shines just for that 1930's New Yorker feel it embraces. Think F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edith Wharton, etc. And it was kind of a shame I didn't make this one drag out a smidgen longer so that I could tote that quaint cover around a bit longer.

Jul 18, 2011

Review: Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders by Gyles Brandreth


Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders by Gyles Brandreth
Touchstone, May 2011
Trade Paperback, 400 pages
ISBN-13: 9781439153680
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Great fun! Four stars!

Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders opens in 1890, at a glamorous party hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Albemarle. All of London's high society -- including the Prince of Wales -- are in attendance at what promises to be the event of the season. Yet Oscar Wilde is more interested in another party guest, Rex LaSalle, a young actor who claims to be a vampire.

But the entertaining evening ends in tragedy when the duchess is found murdered -- with two tiny puncture marks on her throat. Desperate to avoid scandal and panic, the Prince asks Oscar and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to investigate the crime. What they discover threatens to destroy the very heart of the royal family. Told through diary entries, newspaper clippings, telegrams, and letters, Oscar Wilde and the Vampire Murders is a richly atmospheric mystery that is sure to captivate and entertain.


I love me some history with mystery and vice versa. Vampires, no, not so much. But last year I read Dracula in Love by Karen Essex and really loved it. The theme of medical experimentation is in both of these books, horrific as the thought is. I knew this Oscar Wilde series by Gyles Brandreth already had accumulated a following due to the prior mysteries, so I wanted to give this fourth one a try. Oscar Wilde was truly an amazing man, and I enjoyed how his character was so efficiently infused in this mystery. The absolute main draw of this mystery was the wittiness of Oscar and his never ending amount of one liners.

Apparently different from the previous forms of the series, this installment utilizes many different narrators as told via notes, letters and diaries. The main characters are all distinguished gentlemen who behaved in similar fashions, so I had to sometimes go back and look at the heading of the particular note or letter to see who was speaking presently. The narrations were short and swiftly changing, hence the minor confusion at times. This would be the only negative about this book, as the story was full of these British guys partying like 1890's rock stars and doing their little investigations of the murders along the way. There was indeed one of those guys who swore he was a vampire, and the murdered victims were adorned with vampire-like wounds, but that was pretty much the extent of the vampiristic tendencies except of course for the men discussing the habits of vampires. The first victim was a beautiful duchess named Helen, whom Oscar liked to quip "She is Helen, late of Troy, now of Grosvenor Square." The sleuths had to decipher whether there was a big cover-up going on because "the prince detests scandal" or was the prince never really involved at all.

Along with Oscar Wilde, other famous notables we have would be his close friend, Bram Stoker, aspiring vampire author, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the slowly becoming famous author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Among the suspect pool we have doctors, Princes, and of course, the vampire friend Rex LaSalle whom Oscar was infatuated with. And then of course there was the magnificent character of Victorian England herself, where the author did a magnificent job of setting the scene and reimagining the cobbled streets of the era. I especially enjoyed the High Tea scenes, where it boasted a feast that excluded only tea. One of the suspects, the Prince of Wales, is the same prince who became Edward VII in 1901, and it was his order that none of this vampire murder business be published while he was alive, which is why we have this splendid story at our disposal now (wink, wink).

And as far as the mystery goes, I had a feeling regarding the whodunit part, but the why part was intriguing as well. The novel was definitely the "rattling good yarn" the author wanted to give us, and I will definitely keep an eye out for his other Oscar Wilde history mysteries since I enjoyed this one so much.

Some witty Oscar Wilde lines in the novel:
"The man who thinks about his past has no future."
"It is, of course, the the second editions of my books that are the true rarities."
"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it."

Jul 11, 2011

Review: Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach

(To enter the giveaway for this novel which ends 7/16/11 visit Burton Book Review here.)
Madame Bovary's Daughter by Linda Urbach
Bantam Paperback, 512 pages
ISBN 13: 978-0385343879
Review copy provided by the author, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:4.5 stars!

 
Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question Whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.


Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert caused quite a stir over a hundred years ago in Paris, as it gave us the uninhibited housewife's struggle to always want more than what she was given. Madame Bovary caused a scandal with her adultery, and died a young woman. Shortly after, her doting husband followed her to the grand mausoleum. This left their daughter, Berthe, a penniless orphan. And this is where author Linda Urbach picks up the story as she brings us the tale of Berthe's life in Madame Bovary's Daughter.
With great attention to period detail, the author recreated Berthe's world in France as she struggled to find her place in the world. Berthe is young, but intelligent, and yet the author had the young girl making decisions as a young girl would, even though I wished Berthe would wise up at times. Those times were very hard for her, and she just wanted a normal, decent life for herself. That was not in the cards, though, as her grandmother reduced her to a slave and later Berthe toiled in a textile mill.
Berthe's only female friend was a thief, but Berthe managed to maintain a friendly relationship with a painter. He introduced to the world of art, and this opened up her creativity. She later found herself suggesting fabrics and designs to friends of her employer, and managed to work her way up slowly in society. How she got there was a struggle that was at times difficult to bear, as she underwent much hardship since her story began. But throughout her story, we witness Berthe becoming a young woman, never quite losing her girlish impetuousness, but finally managing to make wise decisions.

Madame Bovary's Daughter is not a quick light-hearted read, as it can be depressing and disheartening And even though my psyche railed against the poor decisions of Berthe, I always wanted to keep reading and see how she would get out of her current predicament. As a pretty young girl, Berthe attracted the attentions of many (female and male), thus there were several sexual situations and they could get graphic. These scenes add to the authenticity of the plight of Berthe as she attempts to make her life better than her own mother's was. At 500 pages, this novel took me 3 days to read, which means I found it very hard to put down. A very intriguing story, and Gustave Flaubert would be proud to have Berthe's voice finally on paper, as well as an additional understanding of Gustave's original characters.

Jul 6, 2011

{Giveaway!} Guest Post: Linda Urbach, author of Madame Bovary's Daughter

Have you heard of the scandalous Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert? His first published novel in 1850, and it was a pioneering one at that. And the scandal! The criticism of social classes, the affairs..Flaubert himself was hit with an immorality charge when Madame Bovary was serialized in a literary magazine.

I am looking forward to learning more of this intriguing story, and I will review Madame Bovary's Daughter here on Burton Book Review this summer. I asked the author to elaborate on a few key topics for her potential readers. Please welcome author Linda Urbach to Burton Book Review with her introduction to her newest novel, and she is offering up a giveaway, too!

Why I wrote Madame Bovary’s Daughter.
When I encountered the novel Madame Bovary for the first time in my early twenties I thought: how sad, how tragic. Poor, poor Emma Bovary. Her husband was a bore, she was desperately in love with another man (make that two men), and she craved another life; one that she could never afford (I perhaps saw a parallel to my own life here). Finally, tragically, she committed suicide. It took her almost a week of agony to die from the arsenic she’d ingested.

But twenty- five years later and as the mother of a very cherished daughter, I reread Madame Bovary. And now I had a different take altogether: What was this woman thinking? What kind of wife would repeatedly cheat on her hardworking husband and spend all her family’s money on a lavish wardrobe for herself and gifts for her man of the moment; most important of all, what kind of mother was she?

It was almost as if she (Berthe Bovary) came to me in the middle of the night and said, “please tell my story.” Having adopted my beautiful daughter at age 2/12 days I had a big soft spot in my heart for the orphan Berthe Bovary. I totally sympathized with her lack of mother love. Also, I remembered how much I loved Paris when I lived there. I had a strong desire to return-- which I was able to do in my head as I wrote the novel.

The research and writing process of Madame Bovary’s Daughter.

This is the first historical fiction I’ve ever written, so research played a big part. My first two novels were all about me but my life had gotten very boring which is why I turned to historical fiction. I used the Internet almost extensively. I found sites where I could walk through Parisian mansions of the times. Sites that not only showed what women wore but also gave instructions on how to create the gowns that were popular. I bought this great book, Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management which gives you details of absolutely everything you need to know about the running of a house in the 1850’s. You want to serve a 12-course dinner, she’ll tell you how. She’ll also tell you how many servants you need and how many pounds of paté you need to order.

The thing about research is you have to be careful not to let research get in the way of the writing. I tended to get so interested and involved in reading about the Victorian times and France in the 1850’s I would find the whole day had gone by and I hadn’t written a word. So the important thing for me is making sure I’ve got the story going forward. That’s the work part. The fun part is then filling in the historic details. It’s like I have to finish my dinner before I’ve earned my dessert. The other thing about research is that I learned to keep room open for a character I hadn’t thought about before. For example, I suddenly came across the famous couturier Charles Frederick Worth, an Englishman who went to Paris and revolutionized the fashion business. He jumped off the page at me and insisted on being part of my novel. So my advice to writers is always keep a place at the table of your book for an unexpected guest.


Release date: July 26, 2011
Summary of Madame Bovary’s Daughter

What you may remember about Madame Bovary is that she was disappointed in her marriage, shopped a great deal, drove her family into bankruptcy, was abandoned by two lovers, and finally took her own life. With all that drama, who even remembers she had a daughter?

And what ever happened to the only, lonely daughter of the scandalous Madame Bovary? Poor Berthe Bovary. She was neglected, unloved, orphaned and sold into servitude before the age of 13. It seems even Flaubert didn’t have much time for her. She was the most insignificant and ignored character in that great classic novel.

But in Madame Bovary’s Daughter we see how Berthe used the lessons she learned from her faithless, feckless, materialistic mother to overcome extreme adversity and yes, triumph in the end. As a young girl, Berthe becomes a model for famed artist Jean Francois Millet, later a friend to a young German named Levi Strauss and finally a business associate of Charles Frederick Worth, the world’s first courtier.

This is a Sex and the Cité tale of a beautiful woman who goes from rags to riches, from sackcloth to satin, from bed to business. Busy as she is, she still has time to wreak revenge on the one man who broke her mother’s heart. And, of course to have her own heart broken as well.

From her grandmother’s farm, to the cotton mills to the rich society of Paris, it is a constant struggle to not repeat her mother’s mistakes. She is determined not to end up “like mother, like daughter”. And yet she is in a lifelong search for the “mother love” she never had.

Berthe Bovary is a Victorian forerunner of the modern self-made woman.

~~Thanks so much to Linda Urbach for introducing us to her new novel! If this novel intrigues you as much as it does me, then sign up for the giveaway! The author is offering one lucky follower their own copy of Madame Bovary's Daughter, open to the USA. Please leave me your email address in the comments as well. Giveaway ends 7/16/11.

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EDIT to add that I have finished the novel (LOVED it) and you can read my review here at Burton Book Review.

Jul 5, 2011

For The King now out in Paperback!


For the King is available in Paperback!



For the King by Catherine Delors comes out today, a great day indeed (it's my birthday)!! I really enjoyed this novel and highly recommend for anyone interested in the French Revolution. You can read my review here. This was an adventure that had romantic and mystery elements set within a tumultuous historical atmosphere, which was all tied together very well in this novel. Find it at B&N or Indiebound. And yesterday was the author's birthday, so buy yourself her book in honor of her birthday!