Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sins Of The Fathers by C B Hanley

1217: England is in the iron grip of Louis of France and his collaborators, and civil war rages as William Marshall, the official guardian of the boy king Henry III tries to fight off the French. Edwin Weaver, son of the bailiff at Conisbrough Castle in Yorkshire, is ordered by his lord the earl to solve a murder which might have repercussions not just for him but for the future of the realm. Edwin is terrified but he must obey; he takes on the challenge and learns more until he uncovers a horrific secret which has been buried for fifteen years, a secret which might kill them all.

The story opens with a killing of a captive youth, though at this stage the reader has no idea who the youth is or the identity of his murderers. That killing sets in motion another death, which presumably is intended to dispose of a witness to the first, but this time a child survives.

We switch then to Conisbrough Castle some years later, and Edwin Weaver, who is called upon to prove himself a worthy successor of his father in order to provide for his mother.  The dying man, however has skills to pass on to his son, skills Edwin will need if he is to fulfil his master’s task – find the killer of a visiting lord before the blame falls on Edwin's Lord Earl.

Edwin is clueless at first as to how to go about finding the killer, an opinion shared by others. However, with his dying father’s help, they devise a strategy to seek out clues and ask the right questions and before long, Edwin proves he is up to the task.

This novel brings life in a medieval castle from the viewpoint of the lower orders, all of whom have their own ambitions, come to gritty, colourful life. Ms Hanley deals with the things like getting enough to eat and grabbing sleep while fulfilling your master’s various demands, all conducted with a complete disregard for the ‘invisible’ servant. Also, the brutal violence without consequences which prevails amongst the pages and body servants is shockingly realistic, as is the compassion of others.

The research is meticulous and the knowledge of  13th Century England, its politics and all the factions vying for supremacy is impressive.

My only criticism is that we are presented with four similar characters, Edwin, Martin, David and Robert, each of whom occupy similar roles and into whose heads the author frequently jumps in the initial chapters. These multiple PoV’s, sometimes within paragraphs, took me almost half the book before I could separate them into individuals.

Other than that, this is an engaging mystery and I found myself mentally prompting Edwin in his search for a killer who was always one step ahead. The story is well-paced with lots to interest and blind alleys. Those who love the England of Medieval castles, and the harsh rules the inhabitants lived by will enjoy this novel.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory



Spies, poison, and curses surround her…. Is there anyone she can trust?

In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, #1 New York Times bestselling author Philippa Gregory presents a novel of conspiracy and a fight to the death for love and power at the court of Edward IV of England.

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the gripping story of the daughters of the man known as the “Kingmaker,” Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick: the most powerful magnate in fifteenth-century England. Without a son and heir, he uses his daughters Anne and Isabel as pawns in his political games, and they grow up to be influential players in their own right. In this novel, her first sister story since The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory explores the lives of two fascinating young women.

At the court of Edward IV and his beautiful queen, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne grows from a delightful child to become ever more fearful and desperate when her father makes war on his former friends. Married at age fourteen, she is soon left widowed and fatherless, her mother in sanctuary and her sister married to the enemy. Anne manages her own escape by marrying Richard, Duke of Gloucester, but her choice will set her on a collision course with the overwhelming power of the royal family and will cost the lives of those she loves most in the world, including her precious only son, Prince Edward. Ultimately, the kingmaker’s daughter will achieve her father’s greatest ambition.
Review:

Anne Neville

Anne Neville was a lesser known noblewoman and queen of England. In The Kingmaker’s Daughter, Philippa Gregory brings Anne to vibrant life by writing about her difficult life and subsequent rise to glory as Queen of England. What is most heart-wrenching about Anne’s story is that she and her sister, Isabel, were pawns to the men in their lives whose quest for power was relentless.
 
Although Anne is not the spirited, feisty heroine of other historical biographical novels, she is truly fascinating. It is important that these women’s lives are written about, not only to show the extent of their suffering at the hands of the men surrounding them, but to clearly reflect the true status of women and their lack of rights in all eras of history. What is important is that Philippa Gregory has written a true and accurate accounting of this woman’s life, and that is what I applaud highly. Her conflict with Elizabeth Woodville is deep and all encompassing throughout the novel and makes for a fascinating story-line.  
 
Although Anne is not the fiery heroine, the conflict surrounding her is all consuming and makes for fast page-turning. The novel captures the reader’s interest from the very first to the very last page. It is eloquently written with believable characters, an incredible amount of brilliant descriptions, and wonderful emotion. 

The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the fourth book in a series about the women in Cousin’s War Series - Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret Beaufort, and Jacquetta Woodville. It is not necessary to read this in any particular order. It is fascinating to see how the author moves between these characters, fairly depicting them and their personalities, despite their faults. Fans of Philippa Gregory will definitely enjoy this novel set in a disorderly and dangerous period in England’s rich history. I highly recommend this! What a wonderful story!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy


The sisters Mary and Elizabeth, heirs of Henry VIII’s English empire, endure a tragic battle of wit and will in Brandy Purdy’s The Tudor Throne. As the daughter of the Spanish Catholic queen Catherine of Aragon, Mary has inherited her mother’s dour and devout nature. Elizabeth, only child of Anne Boleyn, is spirited like her mother, a source of painful memories for Mary. Both women knew happiness in earlier times as the darlings of their father and have witnessed Henry’s subsequent abandonment of their mothers in pursuit of other women. Despite their commonalities and a series of shared tragedies, distinct differences in personality will not allow Mary and Elizabeth to trust each other for long.

The novel opens with the death of their father, leaving them to an uncertain future. The only assurance each has is that their younger brother, Edward, will inherit the throne as the son of Henry’s third wife. His courtiers, including the rapacious Edward and Thomas Seymour, want to ensure their ascendancy and keep England out of the sphere of Catholic influence. As a Protestant, Elizabeth holds similar beliefs. Mary fears for the future of her country and thinks any path but Catholicism will lead to England’s ruin. The sisters each discover how dangerous the Seymour men can be, as Thomas tries to entangle both in his schemes. Elizabeth pays the harshest price with her reputation constantly questioned by everyone, including Mary.

The sudden death of King Edward throws the kingdom into chaos. Factions at court put a bewildered Jane Grey on the throne for a short time, ignoring Mary’s claim as elder sister. When Mary finally ascends, she faces hard choices that imperil the lives of those whom she once claimed to care for, including Elizabeth. Although Elizabeth appears to submit, her defiant nature will allow her to give up the dream of claiming the throne for herself one day.

The relationship between Mary and Elizabeth is fraught with tension, deception and missed opportunities. Mary’s portrayal as a woman with natural affection for her family, including her siblings of half-blood, gives way to her religious fanaticism. Still, she is sympathetic as a woman shunned by her father, his court and even her husband in later years. Her slow descent into paranoid fear and judgment is heartbreaking. Elizabeth shines as a vivacious young woman and while her later experiences are painful life lessons, she appears less sympathetic for her willful disregard of how much trouble her actions can cause. There are a few instances where she deliberately provokes Mary that suggests too much youthful recklessness. Still, at her heart, she is devoted to her people and country, willing to put their interests first.

I would recommend The Tudor Throne for lovers of historical fiction in the Tudor period. Those who have ready Ms. Purdy’s previous titles in the same era will enjoy a chance for new perspective on old characters, and learn about new ones.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran


Book Description:

National bestselling author Michelle Moran returns to Paris, this time under the rule of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte as he casts aside his beautiful wife to marry a Hapsburg princess he hopes will bear him a royal heir

After the bloody French Revolution, Emperor Napoleon’s power is absolute. When Marie-Louise, the eighteen year old daughter of the King of Austria, is told that the Emperor has demanded her hand in marriage, her father presents her with a terrible choice: marry the cruel, capricious Napoleon, leaving the man she loves and her home forever, or say no, and plunge her country into war.

Marie-Louise knows what she must do, and she travels to France, determined to be a good wife despite Napoleon’s reputation. But lavish parties greet her in Paris, and at the extravagant French court, she finds many rivals for her husband’s affection, including Napoleon’s first wife, Joséphine, and his sister Pauline, the only woman as ambitious as the emperor himself. Beloved by some and infamous to many, Pauline is fiercely loyal to her brother. She is also convinced that Napoleon is destined to become the modern Pharaoh of Egypt. Indeed, her greatest hope is to rule alongside him as his queen—a brother-sister marriage just as the ancient Egyptian royals practiced. Determined to see this dream come to pass, Pauline embarks on a campaign to undermine the new empress and convince Napoleon to divorce Marie-Louise. 
  
As Pauline’s insightful Haitian servant, Paul, watches these two women clash, he is torn between his love for Pauline and his sympathy for Marie-Louise. But there are greater concerns than Pauline’s jealousy plaguing the court of France. While Napoleon becomes increasingly desperate for an heir, the empire’s peace looks increasingly unstable. When war once again sweeps the continent and bloodshed threatens Marie-Louise’s family in Austria, the second Empress is forced to make choices that will determine her place in history—and change the course of her life. 

Based on primary resources from the time, The Second Empress takes readers back to Napoleon’s empire, where royals and servants alike live at the whim of one man, and two women vie to change their destinies.

Book Review:

Napoleon Bonaparte gained fame for rising from the dregs of poverty to conquer most of Europe in the late 18th to early 19th century. 


Napoleon Bonaparte

To do so, in addition to fighting many successful campaigns, he married family members to prominent members of his family to European nobility. Napoleon loved and married Josephine, but after several years of not being able to have children with her, he dissolves his marriage to her, allowing her to keep the title of Empress. 


Josephine

This made him free to marry Marie-Louise of Austria. This novel focuses on this second marriage and the final days of his empires as his power diminishes and he loses his grip on the empire he controlled. 


Marie Louise

The novel is written in the points of view of Marie-Louise, Pauline Bonaparte Borghese, and Paul - Pauline's Haitian servant.


Pauline Bonaparte Borghese

At the heart of the story is the animosity between Marie-Louise and her husband's sister, Pauline, adding interest and conflict. Paul is a charismatic character who loves and is loyal to his mistress. Throughout, he provides readers with a "sensible" view as the conflicts abounds. 

To write a novel in this era is a definite challenge. There are numerous characters, political machinations, and nobles from various countries. After having read the novel about Pauline's life by her descendent, Prince Lorenzo Borghese, I'm not certain Pauline was depicted accurately in Michelle Moran's novel. I didn't find it believable that she would desire to marry her own brother, Napoleon, in order to rule the world. There are a few other small details of historical inaccuracy those familiar with the era may identify. However, this is historical fiction and for those more interested in reading a good story rather dwelling in historical fact, the book is an entertaining and compelling read. Michelle Moran's interpretation of the characters provides a different slant and the conflicts between them makes for an interesting read.  


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman


The debut of a stunning new voice in fiction
A novel both heartbreaking and transcendent


After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

Janus Rock is a small, isolated island off the coast of Australia. When World War II veteran, Thomas Sherbourne is hired as the island’s lighthouse keeper, he is happy for the solitude. Memories of the war haunt him, but he is grateful that he is one of the few men who returned unscathed. 

The job of a lighthouse keeper requires unimpeachable honesty and impeccable record keeping. It is fundamental to the strict lighthouse keeper’s code, and Tom takes these regulations seriously. At regular intervals, Tom is allowed to return to the mainland for a rest period, and on one such visit, he meets and falls in love with Isabelle. Not only does she agree to marry him, she enjoys living in such isolated conditions on Janus. They are happy together. Misfortune follows and Isabelle suffers miscarriages and gives birth to a stillborn son. Isabelle becomes more and more desperate for a baby of her own. While Isabelle is grieving, a small boat washes ashore. Within lays a dead man and an tiny infant who is alive and well. Isabelle is able to nurse the baby and bonds with the little girl. She convinces Tom to bury the dead man and keep the infant as their own. This forces Tom to lie, to compromise the code of honor he is obligated to enforce. 

Their decision sets of an incredible chain of events filled with secrets, guilt, and incredible pain. They discover the child’s mother and her haunted search for the infant. The knowledge grates at Tom’s conscience as the years go by. One small act on his part to ease his conscience has disastrous consequences for him and his family. Slowly, he watches helplessly as his family disintegrates.

The Light Between Oceans is a deep and thoughtful novel. It explores questions of right and wrong, motherhood, and life and death, delving into human nature and complex moral issues. Each character is presented to the reader in an unbiased, non-judgmental way, leaving the reader to contemplate his or her own values and what they would do in similar circumstances.

This novel has much to be praised for – superb storytelling, engaging prose, and a heart-wrenching storyline. The fact that this tale transcends gender, gives it a wide appeal. Not only will this novel move you, but it will linger and haunt you for days to come. Very highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Rain Falls like Mercy by Jack Todd

A gripping and graphic story of murder!

Description

Set against the sweeping backdrop of World War II, Rain Falls Like Mercy is a gripping depiction of a family and a country touched by the grand violence of war, the senseless violence of crime, and the intimate violence of the heart.

IN THE TRADITION OF TRUE CRIME narratives such as In Cold Blood, acclaimed author Jack Todd’s new novel grips the reader from the first page; and as it spans continents and generations of one family, its taut and shocking undercurrent of violence builds to a stunning crescendo. Todd’s first novel, Sun Going Down, which introduced the Paint family, won praise from reviewers and major authors such as Michael Korda and Michael Blake. His second novel, Come Again No More, recounted the Paints’ saga of triumph and tragedy through the Great Depression, inspiring the Ottawa Citizen to label Todd “a first-rate novelist with a tender heart.”

Rain Falls Like Mercy opens with the murder investigation of a young girl in Wyoming in mid- 1941. Tom Call, the young sheriff running the investigation, falls in love with Juanita, the wife of Eli Paint, whose son Leo and grandson Bobby Watson are on duty with the U.S. Navy. Almost overnight, the case is derailed by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, disrupting the lives of all involved. Bobby mans an antiaircraft gun during the attack. Tom joins the U.S. Air Force and is deployed to England to fly bombers, still trying to pursue his murder investigation. His suspicion falls on Pardo Bury, the psychotic son of a wealthy rancher in Wyoming.

As Pardo and Tom make their ways to their inevitable and shattering confrontation, Rain Falls Like Mercy displays Todd’s uncanny ability to zero in on his characters’ emotional lives while simultaneously painting a sweeping picture of the historical events that shape their destinies.

Review

Rain Falls Like Mercy is the third edition in Jack Todd’s trilogy about the Paint family. You do not necessarily need to read the first two in order to enjoy this third book, but I suspect you will wish to do so after you read this one.

This story takes place in 1941 during World War II in a small Wyoming town where the murder investigation of a slain teen girl is underway.

The town sheriff, Tom Call, must forego his investigation when Pearl Harbour is bombed and he soon finds himself in the U.S. Air Force flying dangerous missions in England. Yet he still tries to unravel the circumstances of the murder investigation that awaits him at home and his sole suspect, Pardo Bury, the son of a very affluent and powerful businessman.  

While Tom Call is embroiled in the war in England, Pardo Bury waits out his time a Texas jail for slicing a prostitute. The moment he is released, sets out on a new spree of violence, victimizing both men and women.

Part Western, part World War II, the story unfolds with intensity as Jack Todd holds nothing back in his graphic descriptions, strong language, and twisting plot. The reader embarks on a journey from the U.S. to England, Japan to Germany, and then back to the U.S., keeping us enthralled throughout. 

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields

The scandalous life of author Edith Wharton!

Book Description:

They say behind every great man is a woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary, and her mothering, nurturing friend.

When at the age of forty-five, Edith falls passionately in love with a dashing younger journalist, Morton Fullerton, and is at last opened to the world of the sensual, it threatens everything certain in her life but especially her abiding friendship with Anna. As Edith’s marriage crumbles and Anna’s disapproval threatens to shatter their lifelong bond, the women must face the fragility at the heart of all friendships.

Told through the points of view of both women, The Age of Desire takes us on a vivid journey through Wharton’s early Gilded Age world: Paris with its glamorous literary salons and dark secret cafés, the Whartons’ elegant house in Lenox, Massachusetts, and Henry James’s manse in Rye, England.

Edith’s real letters and intimate diary entries are woven throughout the book. The Age of Desire brings to life one of literature’s most beloved writers, whose own story was as complex and nuanced as that of any of the heroines she created.




Edith Wharton


My Review:

The Age of Desire is a biographical fiction novel about Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edith Wharton. The novel delves in the tumultuous and co-dependent relationship between Edith and her life-long best friend and secretary, Anna Bahlmann.


Anna Bahlmann is the fair haired lady seated in a chair on the left


At the start of the novel, Edith is married to Edward (Teddy) Robbins Wharton, a man 12 years her senior, and who suffered from acute depression that steadily became more debilitating as their marriage progressed. Their travels ceased and Edith become more and more disenchanted.


Edith Wharton at her desk

When she meets and falls hopelessly in love with Morton Fullerton, a notoriously promiscuous journalist who had affairs with both men and women, an affair of the heart begins.


Morton Fullerton

Numerous letters are written between them throughout their affair. While Edith is consumed with Morton, almost to the point of abandoning her ailing husband, Anna disapproves and helps care for poor Teddy who loves his wife. Through time, Morton and Edith’s relationship deteriorates. The ever-private Edith asks him to burn the letters between them, but he secretly refuses and publishes them instead.


Edith Wharton's Letters

The Age of Desire opens when Edith is 45 years of age and portrays the famous author with all her faults. It reveals her secrets, her scandalous love affair with Morton, and the tumult of her life despite her success. The illusive relationship with Morton was intriguing, tempestuous, and hopeless, lending a touch of sadness throughout the novel because of his aloof attitude towards her. Anna acts as Edith’s conscience. She disapproves of the love affair with Morton and the neglect of Edith’s husband Teddy. Despite the animosity between the two women, they need each other, their life-long friendship linking them.


Edith Wharton at her home

I enjoy books with an edge, and this book certainly did not disappoint. Realistic, believable, and cut with minor tragedies and unwise decisions, it is a poignant portrayal of Edith’s life, loves, and enduring relationships. Fascinating!  


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Wild Princess by Mary Hart Perry

An intriguing look at the feisty daughter of Queen Victoria!
 
Book Description: 
Four of the five daughters of England's Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were regal, genteel, and everything a princess should be. But one was rebellious, scandalous, and untamed.

This is her story. . . .

To the court and subjects of Queen Victoria, young Princess Louise—later the Duchess of Argyll—was the "Wild One." Proud and impetuous, she fought the constraints placed on her and her brothers and sisters, dreamed of becoming an artist, and broke with a three-hundred-year-old tradition by marrying outside of the privileged circle of European royals. Some said she wed for love. Others whispered of a scandal covered up by the Crown. It will take a handsome American, recruited by the queen's elite Secret Service, to discover the truth. But even as Stephen Byrne—code name the Raven—vows to risk his life to protect the royal family from violent Irish radicals, he tempts Louise with a forbidden love that could prove just as dangerous.

In the vein of Philippa Gregory, Mary Hart Perry tells the riveting story of an extraordinary woman—a princess who refused to give up on her dreams, including her right to true love.

Book Review:


Princess Louise


Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

Princess Louise was the daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She was their 6th child and 4th daughter. Because Louise was born at a time when numerous revolutions were taking place in Europe, Queen Victoria believed Louise would be "peculiar".


Princess Louise is the infant on the right next to the eldest child

And this proved very true. Of all Victoria's children, Louise was the most unconventional, dubbed the wild child. She wanted to be normal and did not flaunt her noble status. This made relations between her and her mother often strained. The more Queen Victoria tried to control her, the more she fought back. 

As always, when reading historical fiction, fiction is weaved with fact. In the case of this novel, the author followed Louise's life closely, except for the romance with Stephen. Stephen is a stetson wearing, American body guard who works for Queen Victoria and her family, and a complete fictional character. However, readers will find that most of the story line is remarkably accurate and true to the times.

Louise is depicted as wilful, imaginative, feisty, and self-confident. And definitely a true beauty! It was refreshing to see how Louise viewed her life as restricted and smothering. She envied others for being able to walk freely about in public or go to whatever schools is preferred. The imagery and descriptions of surroundings was very well writen, as was the characterization. The author writes with plenty of emotion and does an excellent job of bringing Princess Louise to life.
 
The Wild Princess is one of a series of novels the author is writing about the daughters of Queen Victoria. Unique and compelling, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and eagerly await the next novel to be released.


Friday, August 3, 2012

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

The Second Empress is set in the final years of Napoleon's reign, when at 40, he divorces the allegedly unfaithful Josephine and takes the 19 year-old Maria-Lucia of Austria as his wife to provide him with a male heir. Napoleon’s sister, Pauline, is a driven, outrageous character who, having just rid herself of Josephine, now has to contend with an Austrian princess with an ancient title rather than an invented one. Pauline is obsessed with her brother and believes they should rule the empire jointly like the ancient Egyptians.

The reader is left in no doubt that Maria-Lucia is to be sacrificed to save her country and Napoleon’s ambition for a legitimate heir – no pressure there then for the poor girl!

Marie-Louise accepts her fate with the dignity of a Hapsburg Princess raised to a life of duty, while Napoleon, a military genius but completely inept when it comes to relationships, seems to think this pretty teenager will be overawed and honoured to be shackled to a podgy, balding middle-age-man [that is-by early 19th century standards].

Marie Louise is in love with Adam Neipperg, an Austrian Count who is her lover, and is heartbroken to leave him behind, but he and her father promise to come for her. When is not specified, but the implication is that once she has given Napoleon a son, this may be achieved. Pauline is certainly determined that is the way things will go.

Marie Louise has little to say to her new husband, or at least nothing she hasn’t been coached to say to maintain the man’s fragile ego – she strikes up a friendship with Hortense, Josephine's daughter, who is now free to leave her husband, Napoleon's brother. However she has also been made Mistress of The Robes to the new empress, a cruel decree of her stepfather’s, which makes Marie Louise’s life slightly more bearable, but she still has to contend with the jealous Pauline.

After Napoleon's defeat in Russia, when he is banished to the island of Elba, Marie-Louise is free of him, but when he escapes, she is not sure what this will mean for her own future.

I really enjoyed reading this story, it’s one of those novels where I couldn't wait for a quiet hour so I could read what happens next. What will the vicious Pauline do to embarrass Marie-Louise and will Queen Caroline show herself up as a Corsican peasant beneath all her furs? The story doesn’t get bogged down with military manoeuvrings, territorial claims or battles either, all of which tend to happen in the background, but concentrates on the dynamics of Napoleon’s court and the women who vie for his attention.

Sumptuous gowns, jewels and pretty women proliferate, [Napoleon doesn't like them plump or tall] which tallies with the early nineteenth century belief that females were considered weak minded, and only capable of functioning as ornamental consorts for their husbands. When Marie-Louise is told she is to marry Napoleon, the greasy Prince Metternich says she'll have more furs and jewellery than any ruler in Europe – as if bling made up for a lack of breeding.

The novel is written throughout in first person, through the alternating points of view of Maria-Lucia, Pauline, and Pauline's Haitian chamberlain, Paul. I found this distracting at first, as once or twice it is not explained whose PoV we were in, so could be confusing, but give a different perspective of the characters. Although the immoral, and outrageous Pauline is not a pleasant character, I couldn’t help admiring her ruthless determination to have her way, the depths she was willing to plunge to obtain it despite her own declining health.

I’m English, so Napoleon painted as a callous megalomaniac whom absolute power has corrupted absolutely – who strives to be more royal than the royals by giving all his siblings crowns, and spends more money on pageants and pomp than the Emperors of Rome ever did; was what I was taught in school and I’m not willing to change my opinion now! 

This is a fascinating, well-crafted and enjoyable novel which gives a different perspective on Napoleon’s later years. One chilling passage which was taken from his letters, many to Josephine after their divorce, was his report from Russia that half a million Frenchmen had been killed, but writes in the third person that: 'The Emperor's health could not be better!' A monster indeed.


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Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Winter's Day: A Restoration Tragedy by Bunny Paine-Clemes

It is 1666 and young heiress Elizabeth Mallet is in London, stifled by the restrictions imposed by her family and unimpressed by the suitors her mother is trailing in front of her. Yet Elizabeth is convinced that it is her destiny to find, in this thrilling capital city, a man of passion and excitement, the man who will be her soulmate. When she meets the dashing but penniless John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester, her heart is instantly lost to him and she must make him hers. This spellbinding romance takes place at the heart of bawdy Restoration London, against a backdrop of momentous events in English history: the Plague, the Great Fire and war against the Dutch. Will the determined Elizabeth get what she so desires wedded bliss in an era of loose social mores and strategic marital liaisons? Or will the promiscuous Rochester's seeming dread of marriage end up leaving her frustrated and broken-hearted? This intimate and intricate historical tragic-comedy will transport you back to the Devil's year and the romance of the century.

In the novel, A WINTER’S DAY: A RESTORATION TRAGEDY, author Bunny Paine-Clemes acquaints readers with two fascinating characters who lived during England’s restoration period – John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester and Elizabeth Mallet, a wealthy heiress from a noble family.


John Wilmot
Second Earl of Rochester


Elizabeth Mallet
Countess of Rochester

Elizabeth’s mother and grandfather are avidly searching for a suitable husband her to wed. In a chance meeting, Elizabeth encounters John Wilmot, a charismatic and charming impoverished earl with a reputation for riotous behavior, rampant drunkenness, spirited dialogue, and outrageous frolics; a notorious lady’s man known for his numerous love affairs and sexual encounters. Elizabeth falls hopelessly in love, but Elizabeth’s guardians strongly disapprove and endeavour to keep her separated and far away from wicked earl.
 
As the couple become more earnest in finding ways to come together, their passion increases, culminating in the earl abducting her. Of course, he is soon caught and imprisoned in infamous Tower of London. A favourite of the king, John is not treated too harshly and is soon released and forgiven. To redeem himself, he sets off for war where his bold courage results in extremely heroic acts, adding to his colorful reputation.

Along with Elizabeth and John, the author adds a host of historical figures from the time – especially John’s friends and the king, who support and guide him along the way.

What I loved most about this novel was the author’s portrayal of the extremely sexy, magnetic, and alluring John Wilmot. From his incredibly quippy and sharp dialogue, to his lovably bold and confident romantic antics, I was completely absorbed by this enigmatic man. I could not wait to turn the pages to find out what he would do or say next. I cannot say enough about how exceptional the author’s depiction of him his. By far one of the best characterizations of a romantic hero I have ever read.

Equally fabulous was the development of the heroine, Elizabeth Mallet. Her growing love for the earl was written in a credible, realistic fashion. A woman trapped by social convention, she was feisty enough to follow her heart and do everything she could to be with the man she loved despite the entire world discouraging her from him.

This was a brilliant retelling of the lives of two lesser-known historical figures and well worth reading. My only caveat is to be prepared for antique language, which took some getting used to – words like hither and thither, hence and whence, and many other old English words no longer in use today. Although they lend spice and authenticity, they were a bit distracting and made for a challenging read. Nevertheless, this is a brilliantly written novel, authentic and true to the times, and extremely well researched. I very highly recommend it! Fabulous, truly fabulous!>

An Honourable Estate by Elizabeth Ashworth


I was only two chapters into this novel when I felt compelled to look up the Mab’s Cross connection on which story is loosely based.

William Bradshaw, [or Bradshaigh] went off to fight the ‘holy wars’ and was gone for ten years. In his absence, and not knowing whether he was alive or dead, Lady Mabel married a Welsh knight. William, however returned, hunted down the newcomer, and killed him at Newton Park, where supposedly, a red stone still marks the spot of the murder.

 William forgave his wife, but her confessor insisted that as a penance for her unintentional bigamy, she should go bare-footed and bare-legged to a cross near Wigan from her home, the Haigh, once every week, as long as she lived, to weep and pray for pardon.

Elizabeth Ashworth’s novel follows William Bradshaw’s involvement in the Banastre Rebellion and begins during the disastrously wet summer of 1315, while the country is still suffering the after effects of Bannockburn the year before.With crops rotting in the fields and many animals struck down with disease, the country was in the grip of widespread famine, where the price of food was crippling, but the corrupt tax collectors persisted in fleecing the landowners.

Adam Banastre, a minor Lancastrian lord, organises a rebellion against his overlord, Robert Holland, who was secretary to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster. Armed with written approval from their king, Adam and William join this rebellion, which takes the form of a raiding party across Lancashire where they seized food and livestock. Edmund de Neville, the Deputy Sheriff of Lancashire, and Sir Robert de Holland defeated the rebels at Deepdale in Preston. William flees into the hills where he has no choice but to live as an outlaw.

Lady Mabel, waits for news at home in Haigh Hall with her two daughters, but when William’s beloved and injured horse finds its way home, Mabel doubts her husband is still alive. No word comes in the days that follow and with her daughters growing weaker every day, she is close to despair.  Then King Edward II seizes the lands passed down to her from her father’s family for a year and a day. Faced with destitution as well as starvation, Mabel has to make a decision which will either save her and her daughters, or mean possible death for them all.


As her life deteriorates, does Mabel remain romantically loyal to a man she loves but may be dead? Or take the path to preserve her remaining family? Inevitably, whatever choice she makes, Mabel will have to pay the price in the end.

The narrative is well-paced, Lady Mabel’s conflict is heartwrenching and the odious Sir Peter Lymsey is a worthy antagonist.This is not a romantic tale of chivalrous knights and ladies in wimples sewing by a roaring fire. Lady Mabel is vulnerable, powerless, and has to find a way to placate her enemies, keep her tenants from being harassed by a new overlord and her daughters safe and fed. This is about a country in the grip of famine, greed and the ambitions of others in a stark landscape that kept me turning the pages of this well-crafted story.

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