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Oct 17, 2011

Review: His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm
Sourcebooks September 2011
Paperback 416 pages
ISBN:9781402261510
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:


The chilling story of Lucrezia de Medici, duchess to Alfonso d'Este, His Last Duchess paints a portrait of a lonely young girl and her marriage to an inscrutable duke. Lucrezia longs for love, Alfonso desperately needs an heir, and in a true story of lust and dark decadence, the dramatic fireworks the marriage kindles threaten to destroy the duke's entire inheritance–and Lucrezia's future. His Last Duchess gorgeously brings to life the passions and people of sixteenth-century Tuscany and Ferrara.



This is the second novel I've read that draws on Robert Browning's poem My Last Duchess, focusing on a couple from centuries gone by that we really know very little about. The blurb of this novel is "passionate love story". The truth of it is bittersweet, monotonous and oppressive. The everlasting cloud of doom hovers over Lucrezia de Medici as she makes one youthful mistake after the other during her tragic marriage to Alfonse II, the Duke of Ferrara. What should be a marriage of wealth and status is simply a stifling prison for Lucrezia, as she cannot deliver a very important thing for the demanding Duke: an heir.

This is not entirely Lucrezia's fault though. The virile Duke is unmanned by Lucrezia's purity and youthfulness, and a year and a half of unsuccessful consummation leaves Lucrezia utterly bored. With devastating consequences, Lucrezia decides to sow her wild oats with a local artist, Jacomo. He is one of the more intriguing secondary characters of the story, as the two main protagonists are predictable and selfish, and therefore not very likable. The crux of the story centers around the inadequacies in the marriage, but the storyline finally picks up during the last quarter once the Duke's diabolical plan to rid himself of his Duchess comes to the forefront.

The supporting cast of characters helped build the story up to a climatic end, with Lucrezia receiving help from unexpected places. The creative ending made up for the repetitive start, and readers would like the intrigue that suddenly spills over. A fitting sequel to this story would be Elizabeth Loupas' The Second Duchess, which covers the story of the Duke's second marriage to Barbara of Austria but also features Lucrezia. The author Gabrielle Kimm is working on her newest novel that features the Duke's mistress, Francesca.

Oct 11, 2011

Review: Jane Austen Made Me Do It: An Anthology edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart edited by Laurel Ann Nattress
Ballantine October 11, 2011
Paperback 464 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

22 Austenesque short stories: Regency or contemporary, romantic or fantastical, each of these marvelous stories reaffirms the incomparable influence of one of history’s most cherished authors.

Whatever it is about Jane Austen and her nuance, it has inspired and entertained for two hundred years. The classiness of her writing and of the era is what hooked me.. a romance can just be a romance (without the nowadays obligatory embarrassing sexual entanglements) and it is pure good natured fun and witty humor. In this anthology edited by Laurel Ann Nattress, the myriad of traits that made Austen into a genre of her own are embodied full force and unabashedly displayed much to our delight as it infuses the old fashioned and the modern together seamlessly.

Favorite Austenesque authors are featured, and then a few that I had not heard of, as well as an aspiring writer's short story all make up this homage to Jane Austen that would make her smile. Who would've thunk that after a mere six novels that she could inspire so much creativity and wit? And despite the recent rise of Austen sequels, this anthology of many quaint stories never got old for this reader, and I was impressed with all the clever approaches in which Austen themes can be recreated, intriguing and entertaining me with new characters and their stories. This collection of stories is a must for all fans of Jane Austen, and it is a great tool for introducing the authors of the Austenesque genre as well.

All of these short stories were very well done, omitting the epistolary one that bothered me Because of the Way that All the Words Were Capitalized and I just Could Not Function for More than Two Pages Reading like That. I did have a few favorites, one by Monica Fairview, an author I had read and enjoyed before, and the other by an author I knew I had to get to soon, Amanda Grange. Jo Beverley evoked a Louisa May Alcott vibe with her mistletoe story, and Captain Wentworth may have eclipsed the legendary Mr Darcy within these stories. I want to make clear that the stories within Jane Austen Made Me Do It are all original stories that you have not read anywhere else, as another anthology in a different genre perturbed me as they were all regurgitated stories.

I must admit to being a bit blasphemous.. as I seem to be on the verge of reading everything sequel-related and thus far I have only physically read Pride and Prejudice. Yet, I've seen the movies, and read some sequels, and read this anthology, I feel quite at home with almost all of Austen's original characters. So if you haven't read all of Jane Austen's novels, never fear: you will be quite at ease with this clever presentation, as there really is a little bit of everything for everyone. Kudos to Laurel Ann Nattress, an Austen Blogger Extraordinaire (http://austenprose.com/) who was able to make her dream come true, and I hope that there is a Jane Austen Made Me Do It Sequel, which would of course be in fashion with the recent Austenesque trends.

I am proud to be a part of Laurel's Grand Tour of which she will stop by Burton Book Review on November 3rd, but until then, you can ride along with Laurel and try to snag your own copy of the book during her tour stops. The list of stops on her Grand Tour can be found here.

Oct 3, 2011

Review: The Gilded Shroud (Lady Fan Mysteries #1) by Elizabeth Bailey

The Gilded Shroud (Lady Fan Mysteries #1) by Elizabeth Bailey
Berkley Trade September 6, 2011
Paperback 368 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:


First in a new series that has the perfect mix of Regency murder and mystery.
When the marchioness is found murdered at Polbrook mansion, the Dowager Lady Polbrook's new companion, Ottilia Draycott, finds herself in a house of strangers and every one of them a suspect. Only she can unmask and outwit a desperate killer and keep a Polbrook family secret buried.
Ottilia Draycott finds herself in a rare situation first day on the job as a companion. She supposed she would be bored to death when taking on the task of amusing the Dowager, but it turns out she is investigating a death the first day on the job. Not one to shy from others, Ottilia immediately forges herself into the family dramas and attempts to become a private detective of sorts. The Dowager's daughter-in-law is murdered in her bed, and her son the Missing Marquis is the prime suspect. The other son is Francis, affectionately call Fan-Fan, who runs the Hanover House, and encourages Ottilia's interference with curiousity. Of course we wonder if theirs' will be a love match in the making since Ottilia keeps flushing at Fan's smiles.

There is a limited cast of characters, despite the many servants, thus the whodunit was plausible to be this one person from the start, but I hadn't totally pinned it on one person till the end. Yet the whole plot of going about uncovering the clues by Ottilia was witty and entertaining, as the author has a fluid writing style that reads quite well. The life of the party was not supposed to be the Dowager, but the old lady was amusing as well as the relationship she had with others. The family was an interesting odd bunch, and the fact this is book one in a new mystery series excites me to know that I can visit these characters again.

This historical mystery would be entertaining for those who like Georgette Heyer's mysteries. The tone is a bit different than that of the more antiquated Heyer, but is still a very enjoyable Pre-Regency-style read. With fluent writing and a fabulous ending, author Elizabeth Bailey is sure to have a hit mystery series on her clever hands.

Sep 26, 2011

Review: The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel (Cousins' War #3) by Philippa Gregory

Simon & Schuster October 18, 2011
Hardcover, 464 pages
ISBN 978-1416563709
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:
Jacquetta, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her house-hold for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou's close friend and a Lancaster supporter - until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Of all the little-known but important women of the period, her dramatic story is the most neglected. With her links to Melusina, and to the founder of the house of Luxembourg, together with her reputation for making magic, she is the most haunting of heroines.

Philippa Gregory's third novel in the Cousins' War series focuses on Jacquetta of Luxembourg, who later becomes mother to the Queen of England. Her story is a fascinating one, and it is made quite entertaining Gregory-style. In Gregory's previous novel The White Queen (2009), we are introduced to the legacy of Melusina when Elizabeth Woodville captures the eye of Edward IV and the stigma of witchcraft that the Woodville women are surrounded with. With this installment on Jacquetta, we are immediately brought into this magical element of Jacquetta's upbringing and the legend of Melusina. Those readers who dislike this fantasy theme should not bother reading the book, as it is a large fragment of the story.

The White Queen centered around Elizabeth Woodville, who was Jacquetta's eldest and beautiful daughter. The Lady of the Rivers moves back in time a bit, to Jacquetta and her story of survival, love and loyalty. (Could have been a publisher's decision because two years ago Gregory was going to do the third book on Elizabeth of York: The White Princess). A young Jacquetta is forced to leave France as she is married off to England's Duke of Bedford, who is on a mission to find the mystical answers to all things unknown, along with that pot of gold. Poor Bedford seems like a creepy little man, sadly for him. Meanwhile, Jacquetta finds a friend and protector in Richard Woodville who acted as Bedford's right hand man. Once Bedford dies, Jacquetta throws caution to the wind, and usurps all authority in declaring her love for Richard.

Her story develops around the turmoil of England as they struggle to hold on to the lands in France that the late Henry V worked so hard for, but the young and weak Henry VI is ill advised and caught between the rising factions of the Cousins' War. Jacquetta embraces her new country of England, and serves the Lancastrian King and Queen as she hopes against hope that her new husband Richard Woodville won't be killed in battle. The love that grew between Jacquetta and Richard is lovingly portrayed and one can easily imagine, through Gregory's eyes, how the unlikely pair found a lasting love that brought forth quite a brood of Woodvilles. There were repeated mentions of the blue eyes of Richard, but he was always in the background of the other novels I had read so it was nice to see him form into a handsome blue-eyed person with a knack for quickly making babies. He was quite the star in this novel, with his loyal and gallant characteristics, not to mention sex appeal.

Jacquetta and Richard live out their life in fear of witch hunts as they do the royal bidding. Margaret of Anjou is insufferably unqueenly in this portrayal and her husband Henry is either a pious robot or a recluse. The city of London is a mob of dejected souls and Richard Duke of York is mentioned as the most-wished-for-wanna-be-king.. and other loose characterizations are formed and maintained throughout the story. The phrase 'Edmund Beaufort Duke of Somerset' is drilled into my head as he is mentioned umpteen times and who is not so subtly hinted as being in love with the Queen. History is a bit of a glazed backdrop as Gregory focuses the crux of the novel on Jacquetta and her experiences as Gregory imagines them as Jacquetta stands by the Queen's side while her Richard goes off to fight for them. Historical buffs for the Wars of the Roses may be a bit bored and put off by the lack of dramatic emphasis in areas where we would expect them as the mystical elements play the stronger part in this telling.

Of course, as with all Philippa Gregory novels, there seems to be a major uproar when the fiction outweighs the history, and this is no different. I could not get a handle on what exact title Richard Woodville had (squire/knight/chamberlain/baron/commander whatever he was at any given time), and then since we truly know very little about Jacquetta herself except for royal occasions where she was present, Gregory fills in the rest with lots of gorgeous babies. I can't remember my phone number sometimes so I wouldn't dare attempt to find any historical accuracies, but I am sure that those readers who pursue inaccuracies within Gregory's fiction as a sort of sport will be able to point them out to you. This reader doesn't care, I love the genre of historical fiction because of the entertaining accounts of historical figures, and Philippa Gregory usually captures that need for me with flair (most of the time).

I have no idea what type of schedule the author keeps, but I think that her recent popularity may have zapped some of the story-telling skills that she once demonstrated in earlier novels. Gregory is one of the more well-known authors of  historical fiction with a following of many critics and has a lot to live up to. I would personally wish for something a bit more in-depth and rounded out characters, while others wish for a bit more accuracy in the details. Jacquetta Woodville, Duchess of Bedford, mother to a Queen.. Gregory has the potential to turn her life into quite a story with creativity and that midas touch that once made Gregory so popular...

However.. the last half of the book did not quite match the expectations that were solicited in the first half as I wished for a lot more substance and a lot less of the repetitive silliness that she emphasized when utilizing various rumors of the time. I really wanted this to be a fabulous read that entertained and absorbed me, but this time Gregory comes up short. I think that newcomers to the Wars of the Roses era would enjoy this novel, much like once upon a time I was a rookie in regards to the Tudor era and Philippa Gregory wrote some intriguing introductions to the Tudors with The Other Boleyn Girl and The Boleyn Inheritance.  Also recently released which I recommend as a brief summary on the main protagonists of Gregory's Cousins' War series is The Women of the Cousin's War (my review), which is a collaborative effort with authors David Baldwin and Michael Jones.

Sep 20, 2011

{{Giveaway!}} Review: Sunrise of Avalon (Trystan & Isolde Trilogy Book #3) by Anna Elliott


Sunrise of Avalon (Trystan & Isolde Trilogy Book #3) by Anna Elliott
Simon & Schuster Touchstone September 13 2011
Paperback 448 pages
ISBN 978-1416589914
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:Great big Four stars!

She is a healer, a storyteller, and a warrior. When Britain is faced with threats both old and new, the strength of her love may be the kingdom's downfall . . . or salvation.


Their love has overcome endless obstacles. Never ones to shy away from danger, former High Queen Isolde and Trystan, a mercenary with a lonely and troubled past, have already endured a perilous journey to keep the underhanded Lord Marche from the throne of Britain. But now a new traitor lurks amongst the kings on Britain's High Council - and just when they've realized the depth of their love for each other, a new danger calls Trystan from Isolde's side to test the strength of their secret marriage vow. Only Isolde knows that she is carrying Trystan's unborn child.

As Britain's armies prepare for a final battle in which they will either turn back the tide of the invaders or see their kingdom utterly destroyed, Isolde must undertake yet another daring mission - one that will bring her even nearer to a secret that Trystan has kept for seven long years. As the clouds of war gather, Trystan and Isolde must once again fight to protect Britain's throne. Together, they hold the key that can defeat the Saxon king, Octa of Kent, and Lord Marche. But the cost of Britain's sovereignty may be their own forbidden love.

Based on the earliest written version of the Arthurian tales, Anna Elliott's Sunrise of Avalon breathes new life into an age-old legend and brings the story of Trystan and Isolde to an unforgettable end.
Having read Anna Elliott's first two novels in the Trystan and Isolde series, I knew I had to read the final chapter, Sunrise of Avalon. The first two books set up the scene and the nature of the characters of Trystan and Isolde along with their legacies, which brings us to the third book and the final battle for the fate of Britain. Book one, Twilight of Avalon, was actually one of my favorite reads on 2009, as it was my first Arthurian/Dark Ages read which had really enthralled me. Book two, Dark Moon of Avalon, developed the storyline and the struggle of Britain versus the Saxons, along with the relationship between Trystan and Isolde.

The plot of the Avalon books feature Trystan's battles on the field as well as his own personal demons, as Lady Isolde learns to preserve herself and her integrity in the midst of warring men. The love story that begins in book one continues on to book three as we hope that there will be a happy ending once and for all for Trystan and Isolde. However, there are quite a few obstacles that block the path to love, and the Kings of Britain wouldn't mind having Isolde's land for their own.

Lady Isolde has inherited the gifts of the 'seeing' power from her legendary grandmother, Morgan, and she uses the gifts to help give her peace of mind of Trystan's whereabouts. He has all but shut her out, and she hangs on to the hope of his love by the threads of the magic through Trystan's dreams. Isolde hopes she can break through Trystan's hardened exterior as she harbors the secret of her pregnancy, but she is lucky enough to have faithful friends who would risk their lives for her as she travels through harsh lands. Daka, Piye, and Hereric all return in this finale, as well as King Madoc and the evil King Marche as they all are supposed to be saving Britain from the hands of Octa of the Bloody Knife. The characters are the stars of the books, as the author diligently endears them to us, along with the hope that Trystan and Isolde can hold on to their lives and their love while helping to keep Britain out of enemy's hands.

Anna Elliott's voice is pure and unwavering, and her setting and character descriptions are expertly told throughout the storyline. She shifts the writing tones as she navigates from Trystan's to Isolde's point of view, but it is done with ease. The plot seems simple enough: finding true love and keeping it throughout war, but the author knows how to pull the reader in because of the way she writes and endears the characters and the setting of Dark Ages Britain to us. The Twilight of Avalon trilogy is a fantastic mix of romance, hope, danger and magic and I would definitely recommend this entire series as it is the epitome of the phrase masterful storytelling. I cannot wait to see what Anna Elliott will write next!


Read my previous Anna Elliott posts here.
On towards the Book Giveaway!! The publisher is offering two lucky followers a chance to win this book!
To enter, just comment with your email address and let me know if you have read any Arthurian or Dark Ages books before.

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Open to USA only, and ends September 30, 2011. Good Luck!