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Historical fiction and Biblical fiction, reviewing since 2008

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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.