Category Archives: Book Reviews

>Book Review: Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George

>Previously posted on The Burton Review:

Elizabeth I: A Novel by Margaret George
Hardcover: 688 pages
Publisher: Viking Adult (April 5, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0670022533
Review copy provided by the publisher, with many thanks!!
The Burton Review Rating:Five Gorgeous Stars!

Margaret George is one of those iconic historical fiction authors that even if you have not read her books, you have heard of her. I have been collecting her books but have not been able to read them as they look so daunting in size. This year, fans are treated to another tome by Margaret George as she brings us a novel on Elizabeth I. This is not your ordinary Elizabeth I novel for two reasons: 1. It is written by Margaret George. 2. It begins in 1588, when Elizabeth is fifty-five and about to face the Spanish Armada.

I was ecstatic when I realized this was not another rehash of Elizabeth’s life from Thomas Seymour’s pats on her butt to her struggles during her sister’s Mary’s reign, though it does cover the rise and fall of the Earl of Essex in detail. I was then overly ecstatic when I realized that this novel also features Lettice Knollys, whom Elizabeth liked to call the she-wolf. My Enemy The Queen by Victoria Holt was one of my favorite Tudor reads and I loved Lettice as she tried to out-maneuver Elizabeth every chance she got. The rivalry was heightened when Lettice married Elizabeth’s favorite, Robert Dudley the Earl of Leicester.

Elizabeth I: A Novel read very much like the Dickens’ favorite A Christmas Carol. We see through the aged Elizabeth’s eyes the ghosts of the past from her parents to her favorites who flit in and out of her consciousness; the present with the younger courtiers who no longer have anything of value to Elizabeth except their looks; the future of England because of course this Virgin Queen left no heir for England. The decisions of the past and the present and how they affect the future of England are also an underlying theme for Elizabeth as she struggles to maintain her hold on the country that she married for richer or for poorer. The Spanish Armada was always a threat, and even though she was able to defeat it in 1589, by the time Spain had rebuilt its forces to strike again, Elizabeth’s most trusted advisors and the strongest fighters and nobles had withered away.

Elizabeth hated most of all Lettice Knollys, who had secretly married Elizabeth’s perhaps one true love Robert Dudley. Lettice was like Elizabeth in many ways as far as stubbornness and force of will, but promiscuous Lettice lacked the self-control of the Virgin Queen. Lettice was also the mother of Elizabeth’s next favorite after Robert Dudley, the Earl of Essex Robert Devereux. In and out of this story of Elizabeth we are treated to chapters devoted to Lettice, as she struggles in vain to regain all that she has lost since Robert Dudley’s death. Her one shining hope remains with her son the Earl of Essex, as he hopes for favors from Elizabeth I to help sustain his family. Robert Devereux is headstrong and unruly, and both Lettice and Elizabeth had difficulty with restraining Robert’s self-destruction, and this spiral of love and hate between the Queen and Essex became interwoven into the novel as a major theme.

There were many names and titles, and a few Roberts as Robert Cecil is also featured here. There were even surprising occurrences behind closed doors, including the famous Will Shakespeare. The cousins descended from the Boleyn family are a strong part as the old loyal favorites of Elizabeth who always stayed loyal. And yet there were always some who were tired of Elizabeth’s Protestant ways as more religious strife occurred with both Catholics and Puritans. The crisis in Ireland and the years of crop failure are another focus as Elizabethans struggled to maintain the Golden Age. The wax and wane of Elizabeth’s reign is well known to Tudor fans, but I have not read any novels that actually spotlight their entire work on the wane of Elizabeth’s life such as Margaret George’s does here. Names of courtiers are weaved in and out of the story like our own old friends, so that those readers familiar with the Tudor era will feel right at home without getting another monologue of the backstory of each person. It is only for that reason that newbies to the Elizabethan era may find themselves lost in the vague comings and goings of the important people of Elizabeth’s time, but as a lover of Tudor fiction I appreciated it as the minute details are lightly touched upon as a refresher.

The first person point of view of Elizabeth (and intermittently Lettice) seemed spot on.. the face on the outside to her subjects being different than the thoughts swirling in her head; slightly sarcastic and witty in her aging years even though she seemed a bit shocked that she was as old as she was. The magnificence of this tome is the way that George encompasses the era, without leaving out the other minor and major players of the court. This novel is by far the most human look at Elizabeth that I’ve ever read as the author brings Elizabeth to grips with her legacy that includes her executed mother and her tyrant father. I especially loved the secret garden scene at Hever Castle.

 This is a very detailed book and even though it is fiction I felt like I was being educated during the read. I loved this look at the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign, and admired the amount of facts and the imagery that were blended throughout the story. This is the epitome of a well-researched book, and since it was enjoyed on so many levels it would be remiss if you did not include this latest Elizabeth I novel on your Tudor bookshelf. Elizabeth I: A Novel is an absolute must read for Elizabeth I fans, as this novel is a fitting tribute to the woman and Virgin Queen that seemed to outwit many of her enemies and always made sure she was above reproach. This one is certainly going on my Favorites of 2011 post.

Other pieces that I recommend that deal with the fall of Essex and his relationship with Elizabeth are Elizabeth & Essex: A Tragic History by Lytton Strachey and  The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, a 1939 movie featuring Bette Davis. Also, I have yet to read The Walsingham Woman, by Jan Westcott, about Frances Walsingham married to Phillip Sidney first then the Earl of Essex. Frances is mentioned a lot in George’s novel which is why I include Westcott’s here. And as mentioned before, there is Victoria Holt’s My Enemy the Queen which I loved. 

I am also beyond excited to be able to see Margaret George speak for the Arts & Letters Lectures held at the Dallas Museum as part of her book tour for Elizabeth I. You can buy tickets via the museum if you want to hear her speak and get your book signed. I hope to see you there, or you can visit this link to see if she will be coming to a town near you!



Filed under 2011 Releases, Book Reviews, Queen Elizabeth I, Tudor

>Guest Post–Robert Parry, Author of Virgin and the Crab (and review)

>This is a cross post from The True Book Addict blog


With history there is something always to be kept in mind: that an absence of evidence does not necessarily always indicate evidence of absence. There is, for example, no evidence that in the middle of the 16th century a secret group of influential men and women, mostly Cambridge university scholars, would have helped the then princess Elizabeth withstand numerous attempts upon her life and to steer her safely through the most dangerous of her formative years to ultimately become Queen of England. But that does not mean that it could not have happened. And this is where the writer of fiction can step up and fill in the details. The writer of fiction, in other words can, provide some of that ‘absence of evidence’ in the form of a good yarn or two and get us all thinking of what might have been going on in-between all those dry facts and figures, all those dates and names of battles and so on that we learn in our history books. That is why we love it, of course.

My novel, ‘Virgin and the Crab,’ which Michelle has very kindly reviewed here, is just that kind of thing, an exercise in speculation. It’s not one of those ‘what-if’ stories, but rather one that fills in the gaps between real events. That’s how I like my historical fiction. And this is where we meet the hero of the story, a gentleman by the name of John Dee.

Recently, in 2009 there was a conference at Cambridge in England in which a number of eminent scholars and historians met over a period of two days to try to restore the somewhat tarnished reputation of one of England’s greatest minds, the 16th century astronomer, mathematician, geographer and antiquarian John Dee. Dee was born in 1527. He was at a very early age regarded as one of the leading intellectuals in Europe and even in his 20’s when lecturing at the Sorbonne, for example, it was said that people would clamber upon window sills outside the crowded lecture halls, to press their ears against the windows to hear what he had to say. He helped introduce Euclidean geometry to Europe; his library at his home in Mortlake became the most extensive in Europe, far greater than that of Oxford university, becoming a hub of excellence in all matters of learning, visited by everyone of note in England at the time; and he may even have had a hand in the invention of the telescope long before it first appeared in Holland and Italy and was subsequently adopted for use by Galileo in 1607. Dee advised on all of the great voyages of exploration undertaken by the Elizabethan seamen such as Drake, Raleigh, Gilbert and Frobisher. He advised on super novae, on comets, and he was an early advocate of the sun-centred view of the solar system as outlined by Copernicus.

More excitingly, however, Dee was also a secret agent – the original 007, in fact (he actually signed some of his more personal documents with a 007 symbol). During the turbulent decade following the death of Henry VIII – one of the most cruel and unsettling periods of English history when the nation managed to get through no less than five different monarchs (Henry VIII, Edward VI, Jane Grey, Mary I and finally Elizabeth), he was employed at Court and became tutor to the young King and also to Elizabeth’s life-long friend Robert Dudley. Dee was a close friend not only of Robert Dudley, but also a colleague of William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief minister and closest of confidants. Those, at least, are the facts.

Now what about ‘Virgin and the Crab?’ Well, there is no hard evidence that John Dee knew Elizabeth during her childhood, or that he was her tutor. There is no evidence that he guided and protected her and kept her from harm’s way during her younger years – as my story suggests. There is no evidence that he was not devoted to the cause of the Reformation or to the English Renaissance with all the passion, romanticism and selfless dedication of a medieval knight – or that he put his own life on the line again and again to make it all happen. There is not a shred of evidence, in fact, that he ever believed for one minute that the brilliant young Elizabeth was destined in some magical sense to succeed to the throne or that she would ultimately take England forward into its most golden of all ages. But none of this is evidence of absence. It’s just where this article leaves off, and the story begins …

Thank you, Robert, for this excellent guest post!

About Robert:

Author of the novel ‘VIRGIN AND THE CRAB’ Robert Parry is a UK-based writer with special interests in Tudor and Elizabethan history, Victorian Gothic and Pre-Raphaelite art. Also keen on astrology, cooking, good wine and gardening (though not always undertaken in that order).

He is the author of several successful works of non-fiction – some of which have been translated into foreign language editions. ‘VIRGIN AND THE CRAB’ is his debut novel.

Connect with Robert:

novel site:
on Goodreads
on Facebook

Robert is hosting a “guess the title of his next novel” competition. Go to his blog (listed above) for details.


Virgin and the Crab: Sketches, Fables & Mysteries from the early life of John Dee and Elizabeth Tudor–Robert Parry

My thoughts:

When I finished reading ‘Virgin’, I told Robert that it should be recognized by a major publisher. He responded by saying that most publishers will not touch a debut novel of over 100,000 words. ‘Virgin’ is close to 200,000. It’s a shame because this book is one of the best historical novels I have ever read. There’s no fluff in the pages of this book. Just straight historical fiction that read almost like non-fiction, but nowhere near as boring. Not that I generally think that non-fiction is boring, but some can be real yawners, if you know what I mean. What I enjoyed most about the book was that I was able to follow what was transpiring with Elizabeth directly parallel to what occurred from before Mary’s (Elizabeth’s sister) reign and then from the beginning until the end of Mary’s reign. I enjoyed the intrigue that was involved in this plot to protect Elizabeth and to ensure that she would someday take the throne. There was a lot of breath holding on my part, even though I already knew the outcome. I liked the way Lady Jane Grey was portrayed here…more as a pawn then a willing participant in seizing the crown. Which made her end all the more tragic. Mary was not portrayed in a favorable light. She comes across as pias, petty and prudish and so full of hatred and the need for revenge for what happened to her mother that she takes religious fanaticism to a new extreme and many people die as a consequence. I’m on the fence about Mary. The character of John Dee was very interesting. I do not know much about him outside of this book, but after reading ‘Virgin’, I’m compelled to find out more. Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it portrays my favorite historical figure in the best possible light. Elizabeth was an enigma…a skillful and powerful ruler who chose to be married to her country instead of a man. How much of what we know is true? And what do we not know? Here in this favorite quote of mine from the book, Elizabeth speaks about the mystique that surrounds her (and John Dee):

Men say he has his darker side. And many, I know, go in fear of him. Like Us, a mystique has surrounded our friend, John Dee. It is good that this has occurred, and We shall keep it so. But really, in truth, he is a darling of a man – and no more a Crab than I might be a Virgin – though we’ll say no more of that!

I highly recommend ‘Virgin and the Crab’ to all historical fiction lovers and especially to all who adore Elizabeth Tudor. It’s an exciting twist on Elizabeth’s path to the throne. Historically compelling and deliciously suspenseful! I’m looking forward to Robert’s next novel.

Book description from Goodreads:

The brilliant young mathematician and astronomer John Dee has one overwhelming obsession: liberty. Abandoned and humiliated, Elizabeth Tudor has one simple aim: survival. This is their story. Against the background of the English Reformation, and threatened by a vengeful and unforgiving Queen, the mysterious brotherhood of the Rose Lodge attempts to guide the nation towards enlightenment and stability. Here, the special alchemy of the Virgin and the Crab works its magic: growing from childhood friendship, through adolescent flirtation, to mutual respect and admiration as together they prepare to sacrifice everything for the world they wish to inherit.


Filed under Book Reviews, Guest Post, Robert Parry

>GIVEAWAY! Review: The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

>The Burton Review has reviewed Philippa Gregory’s new release which has been duplicated here. There are two separate giveaways going on here and at The Burton Review. See the end of this post for more details.

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster Ltd (August 3, 2010 in USA; August 19 in UK)
ISBN-13: 978-1416563723 & 978-1847374578
Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her. Her ambitions are disappointed when her sainted cousin Henry VI fails to recognize her as a kindred spirit, and she is even more dismayed when he sinks into madness. Her mother mocks her plans, revealing that Margaret will always be burdened with the reputation of her father, one of the most famously incompetent English commanders in France. But worst of all for Margaret is when she discovers that her mother is sending her to a loveless marriage in remote Wales.

Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots. She feigns loyalty to the usurper Richard III and even carries his wife’s train at her coronation.

Widowed a second time, Margaret marries the ruthless, deceitful Thomas, Lord Stanley, and her fate stands on the knife edge of his will. Gambling her life that he will support her, she then masterminds one of the greatest rebellions of the time—all the while knowing that her son has grown to manhood, recruited an army, and now waits for his opportunity to win the greatest prize.

In a novel of conspiracy, passion, and coldhearted ambition, number one bestselling author Philippa Gregory has brought to life the story of a proud and determined woman who believes that she alone is destined, by her piety and lineage, to shape the course of history.
The Red Queen The Red Queen is the story of Margaret Beaufort who is the mother to Henry Tudor, who later becomes Henry VII, who begins the popular Tudor rule. The novel opens to a very pious and somewhat haughty nine year old Margaret who learns that even though she feels destined to be an abbess she is instead to be used as the Lancastrian pawn. She was cousin to the Lancastrian King Henry VI who offered her his half-brother Edmund Tudor to wed. It was at this point that I thought that I disliked Margaret. And unfortunately, when I dislike a main character, I tend to dislike the book, such as part of my issue with The Other Queen. Warning bells went off. Thankfully, I read further.

What I wanted from this book is entertainment value. Although I have read a few Wars of the Roses books, both fiction and non-fiction, I have not read anything focused on Margaret and I wanted to learn more about her. What made her promise her only son, the precious Lancastrian heir, to the enemy Yorkist Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest daughter? What propelled Margaret to continually strive to get her son on the throne? In my Tudor novels, she is often portrayed as the elderly mother to Henry VII, and as being overbearing and obnoxious to Elizabeth of York. So, who really was Margaret of Beaufort? Gregory gives her a voice with this novel, and I was not disappointed.

Gregory portrays her as an annoying child who feels superior to everyone and wants to be noticed as such. Since this is stressed over much with the Joan of Arc theme, it gets a little tiresome. But, after awhile, Margaret grew up into her twenties and thirties and she in turn grew on me. Even though she continued to feel destined for greatness and never doubted herself or Joan of Arc, the story evolved in such a way that Margaret’s destiny was something that I could not wait to see how she fulfilled it. If anything, Gregory makes the reader admire Margaret’s tenacity. I hated her, liked her, hated her..Perhaps the most intriguing thing for me was that she was devious, yet still pious. Odd combo, eh? Twenty-eight years of waiting for her son to take their family’s rightful crown, and the story followed Margaret as she helped to make it happen. And as I have been a Yorkist-in-training with my previous reads, I had always had the lingering impression that the Tudors were a grasping bunch, and that the Beaufort boy was pretty darn lucky to have wound up on the throne like he did all because of a single battle. What a different view this paints! I almost believe that the Yorkists never had a right to be up there at all! (ducks head swiftly..)

And oh, the dear prodigal son Henry.. I have always had him pictured as miserly and almost frail in comparison to his boisterous son, Henry VIII. Gregory shows his character as being a darling brown-headed child that Margaret misses very much during his childhood that he spent with Jasper. The fact that he understood his calling, and that the Lancastrians were so patient before they finally pounced on the Yorks… I was awed. Of course, in order for Lancaster to have a leg to stand on, they needed French backing, and Henry was always looking around for his protector Jasper during the fight.. but still.. very intriguing. I have read books that focused on the York view, from Richard of Gloucester to Elizabeth Woodville, that this Lancastrian view from Margaret Beaufort was really intriguing for me. And Lord Stanley, Margaret’s third husband, I do believe he is the epitome of the term “turncoat”. Another one of those characters you love to hate. Always an enticing topic, the mystery of the ill-fated princes in the tower was also well played in this telling. Even though it still saddens me when I think of it. How would history be different in they had lived?

I really enjoyed how Gregory wrote this story, and the fact that I am being pleasantly entertained is all that I need when I am settling in to read a novel such as this. Being a casual Wars of the Roses reader, historical inaccuracy was not something that leaped out at me with this read, although again there will be many things that are debatable for all time. I love this era, I love this point of view, and I am so glad that I had a chance to read this novel and get another facet to an important historical event. (ducks again..)

As mentioned in other reviews, the letters that were exchanged between Margaret and her husband or Jasper were so far fetched that their appearances brought the plausibility of the novel to a lower level. Another annoying nagging thought I had while reading this was regarding the title. Who exactly was the Red Queen? Margaret was not it, although perhaps she wanted to be, and supposedly the publishers wanted her to be. The book ends in 1485 with Henry’s success and with Margaret once again saying she should be treated as royalty as the king’s mother. I can only applaud Margaret’s success as well (leaving the horrifying fact aside that she may have had something to do with the murder of innocent children…but we’ll never know..). She was only a ruler during her brief regency after her son died in 1509 and a young Henry VIII came to the throne. I wish the publishers had attempted to market this series with titles that would intellectually work for each book. Just because The White Queen title was accurate with the last one doesn’t mean the same is true for The Red Queen. The ending sequence with the shift away from Margaret and then a quick obligatory zoom in on her to finish it off was too much of a difference from the rest of the novel, making a good book end in a somewhat corny way which unfortunately takes away from the overall feel of the novel.

With that being said, I believe that anyone with the casual interest in the Wars of the Roses and how they had affected the chain of events that ultimately lead to a successful Tudor rule will find the newest Gregory novel to be an insightful read. And most of the current Philippa Gregory fans know ahead of time what they are getting with her novels, so I doubt they would be too disappointed with this one.

This review has been cross-posted at The Burton Review, where there is a giveaway for both of the current books in The Cousins’ War series The Red Queen and the newly released paperback of The White Queen.

Other reviews of The Red Queen:
Medieval Woman
My Fluttering Heart
Historically Obsessed

Followers of HF Connection are welcome to enter for the two-book-giveaway at The Burton Review, as well as the giveaway for a brand new Hardcover of Philippa Gregory’s The Red Queen offered here at HF Connection.

To enter:
Become a follower of HF Connection. Please comment on this post with your email address.

+3 entries Post the Giveaway on your sidebar, linking to this post.
+2 entries: Facebook, tweet; leave me a link to the post.
You must include your email address so that we can contact you if you win.

USA only! Contest ends August 20, 2010.


Filed under 2010 Releases, Book Reviews, Philippa Gregory, Wars of the Roses

>Book Review: Madame de Stael the First Modern Woman by Francine du Plessix Gray, from Jennygirl

>Please welcome another review from Jennygirl of Jenny Loves to Read. She writes that this book was a biography of Madame de Stael who was an important figure in society during the French Revolution.

Madame de Stael: The First Modern Woman
Author: Francine du Plessix Gray
Publisher: Atlas & Co. (October 9, 2008)
Genre: Biography
Jennygirl’s Rating: 4/5

“A writer of scintillating style and resonant substance,” (Publishers Weekly), bestselling author Francine du Plessix Gray chronicles the incandescent life of the most celebrated woman of letters of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era.

The daughter of the second most important man in France, Louis XVI’s Minister of Finances, Jacques Necker, Madame de Staël was born into a world of political and intellectual prominence. Later, she married Sweden’s ambassador to the French court, and for a span of twenty years, she held the limelight as a political figure and prolific writer. Despite a plain appearance, she was notoriously seductive and enjoyed whirlwind affairs with some of the most influential men of her time. She always attracted controversy, and was demonized by Napoleon for her forthrightness, the sheer power of her intellect, and the progressiveness of her salon, which was a hotbed for the expression of liberal ideals. The emperor exiled her, on and off, for the last fifteen years of her life.

Madame de Staël—force of nature, exuberant idealist, and ultimate
enthusiast—waged a lifelong struggle against all that was tyrannical, cynical,or passionless in her time, and left a legacy of enlightened liberalism that radiated throughout Europe during the nineteenth century.

Truth be told I picked this book up based on it’s cover. Yes, I do judge books by their covers…sometimes. It is a biography, and I have never had any luck with these. This one however, was well written and to the point.

The author doesn’t relate the entire early childhood. Just the parts necessary to the story, and her development as one of the greatest conversationalists of France. Madame de Stael had the most prominent salon in France. She entertained many prominent and important persons involved with the future of France, such as Tallyrand. de Stael was friends with those persons one needed to be friends with in the days of the revolution and the Terror. She also counted many royals and aristocrats among her friends. I guess you can say she straddled the political fence. de Stael was very involved in the politics of France, throughout her entire life actually, which includes the French Revolution to Napoleon’s empire.

Madame de Stael’s musings regarding the reasons behind the Terror, why and how it became so out of control, are very insightful. In my opinion, her arguments are logical and on point. Later, she goes toe to toe with Napoleon in her writings, and it’s quite comical to read what he has to say about her.

I guess I was really taken with this book, because I had never heard of Madame de Stael, and apparently her writings were very influential during her tumultuous times. Is it because history is written by men, thus this great woman was left out? I haven’t extensively studied the French Revolution or French history for that matter, however from what I read in this book, I can not believe I have never heard of de Stael before. Regardless of whether you agree with her tactics or views, it seems to me that de Stael truly loved her adopted France, and just wanted the best for her country and its people.

It should be noted, that her personal life was a quite a mess. The time and effort she put into French politics, could have been better spent on her family. However, due to her upbringing and other factors, this probably never occurred to her.

Overall, this book was a quick and easy read; it didn’t read like a biography to me. I found the book and it’s subject matter very fascinating. I would highly recommend this book. Madame de Stael was a fascinating women before her time, and she deserves her place in history.

I think I see some historical research in my future, with respect to women in history and the French Revolution.

Reprinted with permission from Jennygirl of Jenny Loves to Read. If you would like to submit a review, please click this link for further information.


Filed under Book Reviews, French Revolution

>Book Review: Captivity by Deborah Noyes

>Welcome Lisa from Lit and Life

“Captivity” by Deborah Noyes
352 pages
Published June 2010 by Unbridled Books
Source: the publisher–thanks, Caitlin!

Kim, of Sophisticated Dorkiness, recently coined the term “non-fiction fiction” in a guest post on The 3 R’s Blog. “Captivity” fits squarely into that term. In the mid-19th century, the Fox sisters of rural New York created a sensation when they claimed to be able to communicate with the dead. Noyes has taken those facts and written them into a work of fiction.

The book opens in 1848 when teenaged Maggie Fox and her younger sister, Kate, claim that rapping sounds in their house are the communications of a peddler who was murdered and buried in the house. Word quickly spreads and soon men are madly digging for the body in the basement and the family has had to remove themselves to a brother’s farm. There they were soon surrounded by people camped all over the property. The girls’ sister, Leah, certain that all of the uproar is merely a hoax, convinces their mother that the girls should be brought to Rochester. The thing is, the rappings continue no matter where they girls are living–it seems there are spirits living every where and Leah quickly decides that there is much to be gained by promoting the girls’ “ability” to communicate with the dead. All of which leads to the founding of the American Spiritualist movement and makes the girls both famous and infamous. Maggie quickly begins to have mixed feelings about what’s happening, no longer sure of what’s real or if she wants to be a part of it all.

“And what’s the difference, after all, between real and unreal when people react precisely the same way to either? Doesn’t the Bible say somewhere, Ask and you’ll receive? Well, Maggie’s asking, and since this spirit game started, no one’s told her no. Her whole life before the peddler was one agonizing no.”

Clara Gill and her father have come to the United States following a scandal in England. Clara has become a recluse, a situation her father has been more than happy to encourage.

“She’s spent her lifetime reining herself in, not for society’s sake but for her own: she has a knack and a preference for revealing next to nothing about herself.”

“Sometimes she feels she is nothing now but consciousness, unmoving in her chair, tracking the ever-changing light, the astonishing clouds flying past, the fat fly that circled and circled inside the shade of her reading lamp, knocking like a drunken fool at her thoughts She forgets she has a body, and when she remembers, grief rests like lead on her chest, in which her heart still beats in its old frame, stubborn as rain.”

But when a woman trying to woo Mr. Gill convinces him to hire a couple of girls to help around the house, Maggie Fox comes into Clara’s life. Maggie is desperate for someone to connect with and is willing to do whatever it takes to break through Clara’s substantial shell. And Clara, who is fully aware of Maggie’s notoriety, has her own reasons for allowing Maggie in to her life. As the book progresses, Clara is drawn more and more into her past, a time when she was young, an artist and in love. Together, the two women explore skepticism in all things.

Noyes deftly blends the fiction and the non-fiction, the story of Maggie and the story of Clara, the present time of the novel and Clara’s past. It is a work that explores love, grief and faith with a shadow overhanging all things.

“Lyrical” is a word that appears in many of the reviews for this book. For good reason; Noyes writing is often poetic in its descriptions.

“Real death is not a parlor game but a flat heaviness that weights the limbs, that makes every step a struggle, every breath reproach and volition. It is mold on the morning firewood and a chill that won’t go even when the hearth is banked to roaring, even when the familiar quilt is wound full round weighted legs and feet on a stool like a winding sheet. It is the bitterness of herbs in an undertaker’s parlor and damp shoes by a hole in the ground and the absence of sunlight and emptiness beyond reckoning.”

Noyes drew me in immediately and made me care about the characters, particularly Clara. I was compelled to read on to find out what had happened to her in England and what might become of her once Maggie came into her life. I promised Caitlin, at Unbridled Books, I’d review this book a while ago. And I wanted to–I mean that cover alone screamed “read me now.” But I also knew that I wanted to make sure I had time with this book and I’m so glad I held off on reading it. It is every bit as beautiful and mysterious as that cover.

Thanks to Lisa for allowing us to republish this review here. Visit Lisa and read more of her book reviews at her website Lit and Life


Filed under Book Reviews, Deborah Noyes

>What? They didn’t like it?" How to Handle Tough Critics by D.L Bogdan, author


What? They didn’t like it?” How to Handle Tough Critics.
D.L. Bogdan, author of Secrets of The Tudor Courts

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. ~Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith.

I can’t think of a more appropriate quote to describe the ups and downs of this profession than that! As a newcomer I can’t very well give the advice a seasoned veteran can but as I embark on this journey, I can say I’m learning more how to navigate through waters that (to me) feel uncharted. Taking criticism is something every person has to learn how to handle in every walk of life, but as a writer, you open yourself to the world in a way that sets all of your vulnerabilities on display. Opening a vein indeed.

Receiving critiques from reviewers who do it for a living are tough enough–but most professional reviewers, even when not giving you the glowing recommendation you hope for, have the grace to be fair. Customer reviews can give you a different vibe altogether, attacks and no-holds-barred insults that will give your confidence a serious run for its money if you’re in the wrong mood. If, like me, you haven’t been in the business long, this can give you quite the shock. When I received some harsh critiques from customers I cried, I carried on, all while some loyal family members and friends took charge by gallantly jumping to my defense. But then I realized that even the harshest reviewer has something to teach and any negative buzz out there are all things that can be applied to the next project. Answering these charges with negativity or defending your stance only breeds an endless cycle of negativity. Let the work speak for itself. Flaws may not be able to be fixed at that point in the game, but they can be learned from. And everyone is entitled to their opinion. When your soul is laid bare in such a public forum, you naturally wish their opinion would be favorable but when it’s not, it has to be accepted with grace and dignity. Before I ever sought to get published I wrote for myself and, while no work is perfect and can always be improved, I like what I do and am proud of myself. Meantime, I rely on the support of my family, friends, fellow writers and positive literary bloggers and fans who have never failed to give me the encouragement and pep talks I need to get through! There’s a time in life when no matter what anyone thinks, you have to look at yourself in the mirror and say, “I’m okay.” And I am!

Thanks so much to D.L. for providing us with this post. You can follow D.L. Bogdan at her new blog, History vs. Herstory


Filed under Book Reviews, D.L. Bogdan

>Review: A Poisoned Season by Jennygirl

>Another review from Jennygirl, the resident book reviewer here..


A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander
Pub. date: 2007
Genre: Mystery/suspense/historical fiction
From Harper Collins:

London’s social season is in full swing, and Victorian aristocracy is atwitter over a certain gentleman who claims to be the direct descendant of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Adding to their fascination with all things French, an audacious cat burglar is systematically stealing valuable items that once belonged to the ill–fated queen.

But things take a dark turn. The owner of one of the pilfered treasures is found murdered after the theft is reported in the newspapers, and the mysterious thief develops a twisted obsession with Lady Emily Ashton. It takes all of Lady Emily’s wit and perseverance to unmask her stalker and ferret out the murderer, while faced with a brewing scandal that threatens both her reputation and her romance with the dashing Colin Hargreaves.

JennyGirl’s Thoughts:

This book was a fun and fabulous read. Emily is fortunately an “independent” woman who is ahead of her time. She furthers her intellectual pursuits, such as learning Greek, while trying to maintain balance with her position in society and its conventions. Victorian women were not supposed to be strong, intelligent women, who were interested in the goings on in the world. Gossip and fashion were a woman’s domain. Emily is an independent thinker, and unfortunately this got her into trouble with society’s matrons. Luckily for her, Emily was able to manage her troubles.

Tasha Alexander captures the conventions and formalities of Victorian society very well. Women were usually trapped with no real voice or opinion with respect to their futures, yet Emily is lucky enough to be able to try and control her fate by staving off another marriage, to a man she is in love with no less. The conversations between her and Colin Hargreaves are sweet, romantic and passionate. The conversations reminded me of a duel.

Keep in mind, Emily did all this while trying to solve a few mysteries along the way. The mysterious circumstances in the book were quite suspenseful. They seemed like multiple plot lines and yet connected. One mystery from many different angles.

Emily is a delightful a heroine who is quite capable of not only taking care of herself, but others who may find themselves in need of assistance as well. This book was truly a novel of suspense and kept me guessing until the very end, including the romantic aspects as well. I felt as though I was transported to Victorian times, and I look forward to reading the next in the series as well.

I would like to note, that this is the second book in the series. Events from the first book are described, but I liked this book so much that I will go back and read the first one too. Regardless of knowing the plot.

This was a very satisfying, enjoyable, fun, and easy read. I highly recommend it!

Thanks to Jennygirl for allowing us to republish this review here. Visit Jennygirl and read more of her book reviews at her website Jenny Loves To Read.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Mystery

>Book Review: A Cottage by The Sea by Ciji Ware: Jenny of Jenny Loves to Read


Publisher: Sourcebooks, Landmark

Genre: Fiction, Romance
Trade paperback, 544 pages
Book Source: ARC Sourcebooks
JennyGirl’s Rating: 95/100

“All the romance of the beautiful Cornish coast and a wealth of local color add richness to a story that crosses the centuries…. When a Hollywood scandal leaves her life and her marriage in ruins, Blythe Stowe escapes to the wild coast of Cornwall and a cottage by the sea. There she finds herself both physically drawn to her handsome neighbor, Lucas Teague, and literally drawn into a haunting 200-year old love story as an elaborate family tree on his study wall sends her rushing back into the past. As Blythe struggles to make sense of what is happening and discovers family secrets that have been long concealed, she realizes Lucas holds the key to both her past and her future… “

Jennygirl’s Thoughts:

Blythe decides to spend her summer, alone in Cornwall, in order to sift through her thoughts and emotions regarding her recent public divorce and humiliation at the hands of her now ex-husband (the cheeky bastard). Blythe picks Cornwall because her Grandmom always said she had roots there. Turns out to be true and apparently things did not go well with Blythe’s ancestors either. They also had some trouble in the love department, to put it mildly. Without giving the story away, Blythe realizes you can learn from the past to correct present difficulties. It’s all about forgiveness and acceptance.

Blythe embarks on a passionate relationship with Lucas Teague, and although he seems like a rebound guy, he is exactly what she needs and vice versa. Lucas has experienced tragedy in his past and needs to forgive and accept himself and past events. It’s not worth it to stay angry at the past. No use crying over spilled milk, right? Lucas is a doll and a hot one to boot, so Blythe has it made. Ah romance!

With respect to the secondary characters they are fun and well placed. Ware’s descriptions and dialogue enhanced their roles in the story, and I was able to picture them with ease, the ex-husband, Blythe’s sister, and especially the godmother.

The time travel element is executed well in the story. I like the explanation that Ware employs when Blythe tries to seek some answers regarding her “experiences”. I thought it was plausible considering the circumstances, and it’s quite creative. As to the setting, Ware represents Cornwall in all it’s splendor with descriptions of the coast, the surrounding foliage, and village life. Yes, Cornwall is now on my list of places I must visit some day.

This book was a good read, and I think it is unique as opposed to other time travel romances I have read. It’s different. For those of you, who have read Island of the Swans, at the end of the story you will recognize some of the names and places that are mentioned. I thought that was a great touch, and pretty creative. Don’t worry if you haven’t read Swans, you’ll still know what’s going on. Ware just gave a nod to her other book, which I would highly recommend.

To read more about this book and the rest of Ware’s work, please stop by her website:

Thanks to Jennygirl for allowing us to republish this review here. Visit Jennygirl and read more of her book reviews at her website Jenny Loves To Read.

Compare prices of the book here.

Other book reviews of this title:
The Burton Review
Broken Teepee
Blog of the Irish
Pudgy Penguin Perusals

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Filed under 2010 Releases, Book Reviews, Ciji Ware