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Monday, June 15, 2015

My review of Hugh and Bess: A Love Story by Susan Higgbotham

About the book:

Forced to marry Hugh le Despenser, the son and grandson of disgraced traitors, Bess de Montacute, just 13 years old, is appalled at his less-than-desirable past. Meanwhile, Hugh must give up the woman he really loves in order to marry the reluctant Bess. Far apart in age and haunted by the past, can Hugh and Bess somehow make their marriage work?
Just as walls break down and love begins to grow, the merciless plague endangers all whom the couple holds dear, threatening the life and love they have built.

Award-winning author Susan Higginbotham's impeccable research will delight avid historical fiction readers, and her enchanting characters will surely capture every reader's heart. Fans of her first novel, The Traitor's Wife, will be thrilled to find that this story follows the next generation of the Despenser family.

My review:

I am not sure when or where I got this book, but I decided to pick it out of my collection and read it this month. I really enjoyed the way this novel was written. The author's voice is very unique and as a result I couldn't help but continue reading until I got to the end. There was never a dull moment or any parts that dragged or felt melodramatic. I fully "escaped" into Bess and Hughs' world in my mind and it was a delight! It was a combination of history and love story mixed together. The closest thing I can compare it with is a story by Alexa Schnee called Shakespeare's Lady. You can find my review of Alexa's book on Goodreads HERE.

I loved the historical aspects of the novels and the way the author described the trials they faced during that time. If your family was wealthy, a spouse was chosen for you. Typically it was to increase the other family's estate. Bess was so young and so against the marriage at first, but she did as she was told. Like many mail-order-bride stories, she had a period of time to get to know him before their relationship became physical, mainly due to her young age. I enjoyed experiencing the budding love between them and how they grew to respect each other. The time period was during the era when the Black Death (or Pestilence) was ripping through Europe, though that part didn't really hit them until the last quarter of the story. All in all a very intriguing and compulsively readable book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anything that can pull me in to where I enter a different time in my mind is a great book.

Hugh and Bess was published by Sourcebooks Landmark and released in 2009.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

My review of The Dreamer and the Cowboy by Debra Ullrick

About the book:

Born and raised on a ranch, Teagan Baxter has never felt like she belonged. She has no interest in ranching or cowboys. All she wants is to pursue her dream of dancing on stage. The one person who believed in her dreams was her mother. On her death bed, she makes Teagan promise to not let anyone or anything stop her from pursuing her dream, not even her father. Teagan is determined to keep that promise. However, she didn’t count on the handsome rancher from Amarillo riding into her life.

When Kage Jenkins hires on with the Circle B Cross ranch, it is with one purpose… to learn every phase of Colorado mountain ranching so he can buy a place of his own in Grand County. He feels an immediate connection to Teagan Baxter, but he refuses to pursue her because she was born to dance, not ranch. And he is determined not to do anything to interfere with her dreams.

My review

This story was compulsively readable and very well-written. The pacing felt just right and held my interest so I read it from start to finish in one day. There was believable tension between characters. Everything felt natural including their attraction to each other and their emotional responses to different things that came up.. Several times I was moved to tears and it may be that the heroine's emotional expression reminded me of other situations that I've experienced in my own life. Regardless of how it happened, this author had me in tears several times, but they were the kind that were rejoicing in the heroine's healing on her journey. They were not tears of grief or sorrow. The scenes that moved my heart were beautiful and healing. I dare say this book really brings out the author's passion for story-telling and is one of her best books. As soon as I got it I read it straight through. Highly recommended and worth every penny (and then some!)

This awesome novella just came out yesterday so get it today on Amazon HERE 

Monday, May 25, 2015

My review of The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

About the book:

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him: to save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide who she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story set in Tudor England melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

My review:

This book is more like 4 1/2 stars. It reads like a "Medieval Mystery" (if there is such a genre) with the nun as the main sleuth. The tone of the book follows the other two in the series. I had the disadvantage of reading the first book last, which may have been why it took me longer than expected to finish. The writing is excellent and the author does a great job getting you into the character's head for the length of the novel. 

I had a firm sense of place and the setting enhanced the mystery aspect of the book. I liked how the author interspersed occasional memories into the novel to give you a better feel for some of Joanna's history. I love how it ended. If I hadn't already read the second book (I read it first) I would probably booking it to a store right now to get the second installment. All this to say, it was worth my time to read it and I enjoyed the authentic feel of the novel. The author includes resources she used to piece the historical facts together. She did a great job with it.

The Crown was published by Touchstone Books and released in 2012. You can buy it on Amazon, but do yourself a favor and start by reading it before the others.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My review of The Chosen by Carol Lynch Williams

About the book:

Thirteen-year-old Kyra has grown up in an isolated community without questioning the fact that her father has three wives and she has twenty brothers and sisters. That is, without questioning it much—if you don’t count her visits to the Ironton County Mobile Library on Wheels to read forbidden books, or her secret meetings with Joshua, the boy she hopes to choose for herself instead of having a man chosen for her. But when the Prophet decrees that Kyra must marry her sixty-year-old uncle—who already has six wives—she must make a desperate choice in the face of violence and her own fears of losing her family forever.

My review:

I thought this book looked interesting when I picked it up at the store a few years ago. I put it on the shelf with my hundreds of other "to-be-read" books and decided to finally read it the other day. I flew through the pages because it was so intense and interesting. The crazy thing is there is an actual polygamist cult in Arizona that is way up northern border. A former coworker of mine (when I worked for CPS) said it's very dangerous to work up there due to the cults having guns and being very protective of their community. They are threatening to outsiders. In short, it sounded very much like the book. So that intrigued me even more.

I loved the author's "voice" and how she tells the story in the first person point of view. I also appreciated how well the other showed the women's fear and how trapped the families were inside the cult. To try to leave pretty much guaranteed you'd get hurt or go missing (and possibly killed.) Some of the young women had been raised in the cult and it was all they knew. People outside the cult, according to their leader, were Satan and must be avoided to prevent them from being negatively influenced. In truth, it was to keep them from finding out their way of life was abusive and morally wrong. But most of the women had been part of the cult for several generations. So they tolerated abuse to protect the ones they loved. The most offensive practice was the marrying off of young girls (ages 13 and 14) to older men (like in their 60s.) Those young girls were still growing up themselves but they had no choice but to obey, or be beaten and lose contact with their loved ones. Very sad stuff.

There is one last thing I have to share that I thought was pretty cool. The author showed how because Kyra was still strong and had not been broken in spirit, she had strength enough to recognize something wasn't right about "The Chosen" cult. Her greatest sin was reading books (that wasn't allowed) by borrowing them from a bookmobile. She also fell in love with another boy close to her age. Because she read books, she knew that there was another reality besides the cult that she lived in. She also knew that loving a boy close to her age seemed right, and marrying an old man who was also her uncle, was very wrong. In short, her strength came from the little things she did to rebel and keep her own identity. Those are the things that kept her spirit strong enough to fight and not just blindly submit to the leaders. Great story!

The Chosen was published by St Martin's Griffin and released in 2010.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

My review of The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

 About the book:

 The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, na├»ve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.
My review:

This ended up being as fantastic and compulsively  readable as the prior book in the series, "The Chalice." If I had more spare time I probably would have read it straight through. Now I have to go back and read the first book. I enjoy reading this author as much as I enjoy reading Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory. Historical fiction is my favorite genre and this era tops the list as my preferred century. Nancy Bilyeau has given me my fix and I want more.

The interesting thing about this author is her ability to make me care about the welfare of the characters. Even though there is less romance in this book than I typically find in historical fiction, I couldn't stop reading it. Joanna Stafford is a complex, likeable character. You understand her fear, her dilemmas, and her difficult choices. There are enough bad guys in this book to make you want to nibble on your nails as you read.

Her description of King Henry VIII during his latter years was well done. I could picture him in my mind as an overweight, indulgent and diabetic man living in an age where there was no treatment. So his mood swings made total sense. No one could predict what he would do next. They just hoped he targeted someone else. I could smell the rotting flesh on his leg, not that it was pleasant, but it was realistic. It made me truly feel for Catherine Howard's plight. There were enough interesting characters in this book to make it compelling, but not overwhelming.

I don't want to give away any plot points, but I can tell you that it read like a mystery but with a little suspense tossed in. The executions were descriptive and a bit gross, but the author did not make them disgusting. There were a number of very tense moments that had me on the edge. The ending left room for another book in the series but at the same time the author wrapped things up nicely.

So if you enjoy well-researched novels and want an insider's look at Joanna Stafford's somewhat fictionalized life, you'll enjoy this one. No one related to King Henry VIII was secure or safe. The tables could turn at any moment. That's all I'm saying.

The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford #3) was published by Touchstone Books and released March 24th, 2015.

Monday, March 30, 2015

My review of Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

 About the book (description from Goodreads:) 

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men. In the tradition of her bestselling novel Nefertiti, which Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, called “a heroic story with a very human heart,” Michelle Moran once again brings a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction to rich, vibrant life.

My review:

Rebel Queen was a fascinating and gripping tale about a different culture and a time in history that -- like many Americans -- I know little about. I haven't read many stories that included Queen Victoria, so that interested me. I have read a few books regarding the East Indian culture and their relationship with England during the early 1900s, all told from the Indian perspective. The contrast between the British culture and Indian culture during that time period is fascinating. I loved how the Indian men were appalled by the exposure of women's breasts, shoulders and necks from English fashion and the English couldn't understand the exposure of the waistline that was part of Indian fashion. Then again, you can't very easily use a corset on a bare waistline. How fortunate for the women of India.

The British Empire's insatiable thirst for more land showed in the narrative, but was skillfully woven and subtle in the approach. The point of view was flawless. All Sita knew about England came from reading English novels and authors like Shakespeare. The author was fair with the details and showed the horrors of what both people groups did to each other. The Indian rebels caused a lot of problems for the kingdom because of their aggression, but they were simply trying to oust the imperialistic people who decided India should be theirs, much like the Native Americans tried to defend their land using similar horrific means. Annexing another country to their empire often require nothing more than their presence. Intimidation by their occupancy and weaponry was effective indeed. I felt kind of bad for the people who didn't want to be there but were forced to occupy the land because they were enlisted and it was their assignment.

I found it sad how the Rani (Queen) and Sita both trusted England to respond positively to their appeal hoping that because they were women and also had a female regent, it would matter. They didn't fully understand the limitations caused by Parliament and the empire's greed. The treachery within the ranks of the Durgavasi was appalling as well. But you have to read the story to figure out what I mean by that. Anyway, I read this book fairly fast considering I don't have much reading time these days. The story was filled with culture and history and the author swept me out of this present day and into the past through her use of scenery, foods, clothing and decor. I love it when I can go to another place in my mind and feel grounded in that fantasy world. This isn't always the case with fiction, so the author did an exceptional job there.

I loved how the author told the story from Sita's perspective. That made the novel even more powerful because you got to see the Hindu influence as well as the Muslim influence of the culture during that time period. Women were not valued and seen as a liability due to the enormous dowry that was required for a marriage. The fact that young ladies were married off around ten was pretty disturbing too. At least the husbands traditionally waited for the young girl to turn into a young woman before consummating the marriage. Anyway, I found this book to be compelling and well told. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that effectively takes you to another time and place in your mind.

Here is a link if you want to order it... Rebel Queen
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