Category Archives: Best of 2013

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick

Another amazing historical from my favorite medieval storyteller

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick
Sphere, June 20, 2013
Hardcover 478 pages
Source: Bought from an Amazon seller after I scoured the internet for an hour looking for an available copy when it came out in the UK.. I read and devoured it immediately upon its arrival, but just lacked computer time to compose this review.
Burton Book Review Rating:  (Must you ask?) Fifty Stars, if I could

Eleanor of Aquitaine is a 12th century icon who has fascinated readers for 800 years. But the real Eleanor remains elusive.

This stunning novel introduces an Eleanor that all other writers have missed. Based on the most up-to-date research, it is the first novel to show Eleanor beginning her married life at 13. Barely out of childhood, this gives an entirely new slant to how Eleanor is treated bv those around her. She was often the victim and her first marriage was horribly abusive.

Overflowing with scandal, passion, triumph and tragedy, Eleanor’s legendary story begins when her beloved father dies in the summer of 1137, and she is made to marry the young prince Louis of France. A week after the marriage she becomes a queen and her life will change beyond recognition . . .

Once upon a time there lived an amazing woman who was destined to be ruler of Aquitaine. Her heart and soul was with Aquitaine and the heritage that she was born with. In a time where women were considered frail or used as chattel, Eleanor of Aquitaine rises up and becomes Queen of France, then dumps her husband and that title only to soon become Queen of England.

After many reads based on Eleanor’s life, one would think I’ve had enough. But then here comes Elizabeth Chadwick writing a novel that she has wanted to write for a very long time. Her previous historicals on William Marshal were based during Eleanor’s time, and Eleanor would beckon to the author to write Eleanor’s story.

And that she did. With typical Chadwick flair, we have a start to what will prove to be an amazing trilogy on Eleanor, except our main protagonist is now called Alienor. My first inclination was to shy from this twist on the anglicized name of Eleanor, but Chadwick’s skillful writing set me at ease with this proper spelling of Eleanor right away. Among other things, I loved how she portrayed Louis; my feelings about him changed as his character changed.. and she made him more interesting than he probably was! What a sack of uselessness he seemed to be.

Alienor’s story is familiar to most of us medieval fiction lovers, but as always Chadwick tells it beautifully and with deft writing skill. She does not inundate us with endless facts and names, she simply draws us into Alienor’s world from the time she was a child to the time she finally meets Henry, her second husband. It is a poignant tale as we ache for Alienor during her loveless marriage to the weak and overly pious King of France even though we know eventually she will break free. But Chadwick gives us the full story, the full measure of Alienor so that we live and breathe in Alienor’s world unlike any other novel on the woman.

We root for Alienor as she faces obstacle after obstacle (and goes on a crusade!) and we still manage to learn a bit more of the story behind the well-known history of the era. Her sister Petronella shows us a new side of a scandalous story, and Alienor herself proves she is not all ice as one would believe. The supporting characters all add to the nuances of the drama, and there were some characters who get to stay around longer than others as the author saw fit. Fans of both Chadwick and the love and hate story between Eleanor and Henry will love this telling, but will be sad when the novel is over because there is still so much left to be told. I am impatiently waiting for the author to write the next installment, The Winter Crown, which we hope will be available by the fall of 2014.

As I stated in my final reading status update on Goodreads, “Chadwick writes so well I am annoyed I’ve finished the book.” There is no need for me to repeat how awesome and vivid of a story that Elizabeth Chadwick writes, she is the ultimate contemporary expert of medieval historical fiction in my humble opinion. Yet I will never get tired of complimenting Elizabeth Chadwick’s writing as long as she promises to write more, more, more, more, and more!!! Come on, 2014!

A problem that I’ll have to debate during my wait for her next novel is trying to decide which is my favorite Chadwick novel of the eight that I’ve read. I’ve read three Chadwick’s this year but 2011’s Lady of the English still sticks in my mind. Perhaps I’ll have to have a Chadwick Re-Read Marathon to see which is the cream that rises to the top. Of those that I’ve read, Shadows and Strongholds, Lady of the English, and now The Summer Queen will be battling for that position. Which novel was your favorite Chadwick thus far?

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Filed under 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Best of 2013, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth Chadwick

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer

Ready for a gush fest? LOVED LOVED LOVED!

Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House; June 1, 2013
Christian Historical Fiction
Review copy provided for free from Litfuse in exchange for this honest review
Burton Book Review Rating:Totally Awesome!

Purchase a copy here

On his way to interview for a position at a church in the Piney Woods of Texas, Crockett Archer can scarcely believe it when he’s forced off the train by a retired outlaw and presented to the man’s daughter as the minister she requested for her birthday. Worried this unfortunate detour will ruin his chances of finally serving a congregation of his own, Crockett is determined to escape. But when he finally gets away, he’s haunted by the memory of the young woman he left behind–a woman whose dreams now hinge on him.

For months, Joanna Robbins prayed for a preacher. A man to breathe life back into the abandoned church at the heart of her community. A man to assist her in fulfilling a promise to her dying mother. A man to help her discover answers to the questions that have been on her heart for so long. But just when it seems God has answered her prayers, it turns out the person is there against his will and has dreams of his own calling him elsewhere. Is there any way she can convince Crockett to stay in her little backwoods community? And does the attraction between them have any chance of blossoming when Joanna’s outlaw father is dead set against his daughter courting a preacher?

Stealing the Preacher is book two in Karen Witemeyer’s Archer brothers series, the previous novel being Short-Straw Bride (review) which I loved and gave 4.5 stars. This one gets 5 stars! I absolutely LOVE Bethany House Publishers allowing the faith theme to be so majorly prevalent in their Christian historicals, and it was so strong in this novel that I spiritually latched on to Brother Archer very quickly, but I knew I would since I loved him in Short-Straw Bride. And he sure wasn’t that hard to read about either, the way Joanna gets all pink in the face around him -whew- throw that girl a towel!!

Crockett Archer had no idea he was about to meet Joanna, the love of his life, when her father abducted him from a train. Crockett had other places to be and other people to meet, but God had other things in mind and that was Joanna and her goal for restoring faith for her father.

From rebuilding a church and nursing an injured man, Crockett Archer has all the right moves, and he has moved right into Joanna’s path who cannot get enough of the man. Turns out the socialite Holly wants Crockett too, so there’s a little not so nice competition going on. Luckily, Crockett sees through Holly’s ways but can he reform her before someone gets hurt? A dash of intrigue, a great bit of romance and full on unabashed faith keeps this story going in page turning fashion from start to finish. I absolutely loved this story -perhaps I was in the need of a preacher man – but those who don’t revel in God’s glory probably would feel too consumed by the verses being recited throughout. I cannot wait to see what is next from Karen Witemeyer and I am definitely going to get to reading her previous novels sooner rather than later. Stealing the Preacher was just what this reader wanted: a sexy Christian cowboy and a fantastic romance that offers unforgettable characters rewarded with redemption, it’s going on my Best of 2013 list without a doubt.

/end gush fest.

Even though this could be a stand-alone, I highly recommend you read Short-Straw Bride first in order to understand the dynamic behind Crockett’s character.

Karen Witemeyer is “kindling” the excitement for Stealing the Preacher (Bethany House) with a Kindle Fire Giveaway and connecting with readers at her June 18th Facebook Author Chat Party!

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  One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • Stealing the Preacher by Karen Witemeyer 

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends at 4pm on June 18th. Winner will be announced at the Stealing the Preacher” Facebook Author Chat Party on June 18th. Connect with Karen for an evening of book chat, trivia, laughter, and more! Karen will also share an exclusive look at her next book and give away books and other fun prizes throughout the evening.


So grab your copy of Stealing the Preacher and join Karen on the evening of June 18th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 18th!

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Filed under #histnov, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Best of 2013, Bethany House, Christian Fiction, Karen Witemeyer

American Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence by Jane Hampton Cook

American Phoenix: John Quincy and Louisa Adams, the War of 1812, and the Exile that Saved American Independence by Jane Hampton Cook
Non-fiction
Thomas Nelson; May 2013
Hardcover 512 pages
Review copy provided by BookSneeze in exchange for this review, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:5 stars

American Phoenix tells the gripping story of John Quincy Adams’s “honorable exile” during the War of 1812 and the harrowing journey of his wife, Louisa, to be reunited with her family.

American diplomat John Quincy Adams and his wife, Louisa, had two things in common with the audacious Napoleon Bonaparte—speaking perfect French and living in exile. American Phoenix reveals the untold true story of Quincy’s unexpected nomination as the top US envoy to Russia in 1809, and Louisa’s agony at being forced to leave their six- and eight-year old boys behind in Boston. Believing that ambition can never repay such sacrifice, she clings to the hope of reuniting with her sons in a year. Pretention, royal dissipation, extreme weather, covert political maneuvers, French interference, private tragedy, and two great wars trap them in St. Petersburg longer than their worst fears. Their personal story is soon swept into the public drama of Napoleon’s war with Russia and America’s war with Great Britain, which ultimately force John Quincy and Louisa to live apart. When Napoleon escapes his exile, his march to reclaim Paris threatens to forever separate John Quincy and Louisa from each other and their children back home.

American Phoenix uncovers the challenges, fears, sorrows, joys, triumphs, and faith that come when life—no matter the era—takes an unexpected journey.

American Phoenix is the story of the political exile that John Quincy and Louisa Adams endured in Russia in 1809-1815. These historical figures wrote many letters and diaries which are now used to help characterize these two iconic figures of American history. But this book is more than just a look at this famous couple, there are other diplomats also in the Imperial courts of the Czar Alexander which is the setting for most of this impressive piece of literature.

Aside from just the important political atmosphere of the times, issues with social customs, trade embargoes, Napoleon and family matters all come together in this non-fiction account of this period that is left out of most children’s history books. The nuances of the era are evident as Louisa laments of her lack of funds to suitably dress herself for the dances held at court because when she humbly declines she is facing the ire of the Imperial Mother. Louisa’s sister Kitty is with the Adams on this diplomatic trip abroad, and she attracts the attention of the Czar and irks Louisa’s sensibilities, illustrating one example of Louisa’s own family life.

The author writes, “The long-term repercussions would influence not only John’s future as a diplomat but ultimately the success of US trade in Europe and thus practical acceptance of America’s sovereignty.” This was John Q Adams main purpose in Russia: opening up favorable trade routes despite the enmity between France and England. But who was the USA, anyway? In 1810 America was certainly not an influential country it has since become; the book indicates it was still seen as a part of England no matter how many times the USA sought independence from the British.

The strongest theme in the first half of the book is this commerce and trade issue, which is why Adams was sent to Russia as a diplomat. “There was a pretty strong sentiment against the colonial trade in Paris, because they considered it as all English,” a peeved Caulaincourt replied. Napoleon was a major player in this as the Emperor of France and as diplomats began to talk amongst themselves the seeds of discontent regarding Napoleon are planted. We watch Napoleon come and go, and come again, and go again as Adams attempts to avoid costly wars despite the European conflicts, and he hears months later of news from America and the Redcoats invasion.

Alongside John’s peacemaking political endeavor, we never forget Louisa, who was forced to leave two of her boys behind in America while she was surrounded by blankets of ice with little hope of communication from her family in America. Since she was fluent in French she was able to converse easily with others in a royal court, and was a respectable and pretty lady. On the inside, she was aching to go home, and the author imparts this sort of depression through the very words of Louisa herself. And this little foray to St. Petersburg wasn’t supposed to take quite as long as it did, so as the years iced over during that “honorable” exile she suffered “doubt, guilt, denial depression and nightmares” as she coped with childbearing and loss.

And of course there is John Quincy, with intriguing facts about the man who was subject to venomous attacks from political foes in America. Yet, while in Russia, later Paris, and later England, he was achieving respectability, even though it was a long and tedious process. But relations with Britain and America were never going to get better unless the British made amends for either kidnapping or killing sailors and injuring others during supposed peace time off the Virginia coast. The book relates all the maneuvers through John’s eyes that lead to the wars, with British’s invasion of Washington in October 1814 as well as Napoleon’s earlier invasion of Russia. The eventual rise of America from the ashes is coincidental (or is it?) with the rise of Adams’ respectability, and imparts the symbolism of the title American Phoenix.

As evidenced by this lengthy review (typical of all non-fiction reviews I write) the material was vast and the book shows how well the author researched her topics. I cannot imagine a full biography on the couple; if it came from this author I would expect it to be a few thousand pages! The Adams left us many of their letters and notes that their son helped edit and compile which were used as sources for this work by Jane Hampton Cook but her writing offers much more insight and details surrounding the atmosphere in which the letters were written. By focusing on these important political years, the author was able to exhibit the characteristics of John Quincy and Louisa Adams in such an informative way that we don’t miss the “full biography” format and we get an expansive look at the political connections of John Quincy Adams as a representative of America. The author ended the book with the brief summary of their lives after these significant years of the exile, so you will not be left wanting to learn any more that what this book provides for this topic. This book is a fabulous tool to help humanize John Quincy and Louisa Adams as they endured much hardship on behalf of securing America’s independence.

I also wanted to add that there were extensive notes and references as opposed to footnotes, thankfully they were at the end of the book as opposed to interfering with the flow of the book. After the notes were the bibliography and index for easy reference material, making this book a keeper for your American history library.

I review for BookSneeze®
Thanks to BookSneeze for a free copy of American Phoenix, in exchange for this honest and long-winded review. I felt I owed it to my country. *wink*

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Filed under 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Best of 2013, John Quincy Adams, War of 1812

The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

Another fantastic read from a favorite author!

The Tutor’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
Available for purchase http://ow.ly/gI7qC
Bethany House January 1, 2013
Christian Historical Romance/Regency
Paperback 416 pages
Received for free in exchange for this review from publisher via LitFuse Publicity
Burton Book Review Rating:FIVE START FAVORITE

Award-Winning Regency Romance from Bestselling Author Julie Klassen
Emma Smallwood, determined to help her widowed father regain his spirits when his academy fails, agrees to travel with him to the distant Cornwall coast, to the cliff-top manor of a baronet and his four sons. But after they arrive and begin teaching the younger boys, mysterious things begin to happen and danger mounts. Who does Emma hear playing the pianoforte, only to find the music room empty? Who sneaks into her room at night? Who rips a page from her journal, only to return it with a chilling illustration?
The baronet’s older sons, Phillip and Henry, wrestle with problems–and secrets–of their own. They both remember Emma Smallwood from their days at her father’s academy. She had been an awkward, studious girl. But now one of them finds himself unexpectedly drawn to her.
When the suspicious acts escalate, can the clever tutor’s daughter figure out which brother to blame…and which brother to trust with her heart?

View other reviews and follow the tour with LitFuse!

Julie Klassen has a fantastic writing style that incorporates many of her favorite things: clever story lines, the hope of a thrilling romance, threads of faith and values – all while channeling Jane Austen and Jane Eyre. I loved her previous novel, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, and I loved The Tutor’s Daughter just as much.

It begins as Emma Smallwood is contemplating her future, as her widowed father is buried is despair and without hope, but our Emma takes matters into her own hands and secures a position for them as tutors at a prominent family estate. There is a prior history with the Westons and the boys of that family, but now Emma has to deal with the entire family all at once with all of their eccentricities, and as it turns out, family secrets. The Weston boys were quite a troop, with the evil step-mother to round them out, and I loved watching them interact with the shy but strong-willed Emma.

The ‘secret’ was pretty easy to figure out, and the sinister characters were also easy to spot but couldn’t quite figure out why (Julian!), while the relationships of the characters and the execution of the plot was perfectly done. Adam was a character you wanted to break down walls to get to know, and I loved Emma and her father, and Henry Weston would certainly be Mr. Darcy material. The cover of the book is absolutely perfect for the novel set in nineteenth century Cornwall, and I found myself gazing at it while absorbing the story.

Knowing I was going to adore this story, I admonished myself to please read it slowly so that I could savor every word, but I couldn’t help myself. I devoured this newest Klassen novel, and my only consolation is that I have yet to read her earlier works. Julie Klassen is sure to be one of my favorite novelists, especially for her non-preachy way to add God and His praise into her stories. Do not be afraid to pick up a novel by Julie Klassen if you fear being preached at, even though I do appreciate most Christian messages regardless. This one is worth your time and I would never hesitate to recommend Julie Klassen to lovers of Regency romances and the sweeter side of historical romances. I wouldn’t doubt this one becoming Julie Klassen’s fourth Christy Award Winner.

Julie is celebrating by giving away one of the new Paperwhite Kindles, Downton Abbey (season 3) and hosting a fun Author Chat Party on Facebook. (January 31st)

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One fortunate winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Paperwhite
  • Downton Abbey, Season 3
  • A Julie Klassen library (The Tutor’s Daughter, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Girl in the Gatehouse, and The Silent Governess)

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on January 30th. Winner will be announced at “The Tutor’s Daughter Author Chat Party on January 31st. Connect with Julie, get a sneak peek of her next book, try your hand at the trivia contest, and chat with readers just like you. There will also be great giveaways – gift certificates, books and season 3 of Downton Abbey!


So grab your copy of The Tutor’s Daughter and join Julie on the evening of the January 31st for a chance to connect with Julie and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book – don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun, RSVP today

Tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. 

Hope to see you on the 31st!

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Filed under #histnov, 2013 Releases, 2013 Review, Best of 2013, Christian Fiction, Julie Klassen