Category Archives: France

Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony

Iris Anthony
An intriguing look at how lace represents evil

  Ruins of Lace by Iris Anthony
October 1st 2012 by Sourcebooks Landmark
Paperback 336 pages
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:3.5 stars

Lace is a thing like hope.
It is beauty; it is grace.
It was never meant to destroy so many lives.

The mad passion for forbidden lace has infiltrated France,
pulling soldier and courtier alike into its web. For those who want the best, Flemish lace is the only choice, an exquisite perfection of thread and air. For those who want something they don’t have, Flemish lace can buy almost anything––or anyone.

For Lisette, lace begins her downfall, and the only way to atone for her sins is to outwit the noble who now demands the impossible. To fail means certain destruction. But for Katharina, lace is her salvation. It is who she is; it is what she does. If she cannot make this stunning tempest of threads, a dreaded fate awaits.

The most lucrative contraband in Europe, with its intricate patterns and ephemeral hope, threatens to cost them everything. Lace may be the deliverance for which they all pray…or it may bring the ruin and imprisonment they all fear.

The synopsis gave me high hopes for this novel and I wanted to learn more about the history of lace. I was so intrigued and saddened that in Flanders the lace makers were pretty much slaves to the trade, even while being sheltered in houses of God. The women toiled day and night making lace, becoming blinded and hunched before old age would have naturally occurred. And once that happened, they were kicked out of that house of God and put on the streets. The lace was forbidden in France for these reasons in the seventeenth century, and so people had used lace as a token of bribery and then a web of deceit followed lace from France to Flanders and back again.

One of the “main” characters (using the term loosely as there were several) was a lace maker going blind and desperately needing rescue by her sister. Her sister needs to do some dastardly deeds to raise money to purchase her sister back from the nuns. Another character is a young girl Lissette who damages some lace that belonged to a count, which set into motion years of debt to the count, effectively destroying her family. Her saving grace would be procuring more lace for the count; the count wants it in order to bribe a cardinal, because his stepmother is pregnant and his inheritance is at stake.. as you see, there are several things going on and it was this interweaving storyline that made the read worthwhile.

This is a quick read that was very intriguing once it got going. My initial response was, OH my, what have I gotten myself into? There were seven different points of view going on, from the lace maker in Flanders to down on their luck nobles and then a dog. Yes, a dog. That dog narrative was extremely annoying and I really wish that part was not included; we could have done without it. It took about the first hundred pages for me to start feeling invested in the story, and then the many different points of view started becoming connected to each other and began to finally feel like a story rather than a start and stop kind of thing. Each chapter was narrated by a different person, and it took a while to get used to the flow. But once it started flowing, I could not stop reading, and it was a strong climatic finish. I could easily say that the finish was overdone, too convenient, and too contrived, but I was entertained and it still seemed to fit well with how the author was writing it. Speaking of the author, Iris Anthony is a pseudonym and she asked me to not disclose her other writing name, even though I had enjoyed one of her other works. That said, I would recommend Ruins of Lace to those looking for an entertaining and quick read, but would be hesitant to say you would enjoy it as it had quirks that you would need to be tolerant of.



Filed under #histnov, 2012 Releases, 2012 Review, France, Siri Mitchell

Review: Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen

Before Versailles: A Novel of Louis XIV by Karleen Koen
Hardcover: 480 pages
Publisher: Crown (June 28, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0307716576
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating:

Karleen Koen’s newest novel represents several firsts for me. Before Versailles is the first novel on Louis XIV that I’ve read, therefore it offers my first characterization of Louis and his contemporaries. Secondly, this is my first Karleen Koen novel, even though I’ve ogled her previous books and been told many times that I absolutely must read them. I do own them and have already let my mother read them (who devoured them all in a short amount of time) and now I am certainly looking forward to all those novels after enjoying Before Versailles so much!

Since this is my first novel that deals with Louis XIV, please realize that I really have no way of differentiating from the gossip, rumors, scandals or facts that Koen utilizes in her magnificent storytelling. Before Versailles focuses on a specific four months of the reign of Louis soon after the powerful Cardinal Mazarin passes away in 1661. The Cardinal and the Queen mother, Anne, were known to have a close relationship, but how close was any one’s guess. Louis realizes it is now time to take over the reigns of the government after the passing of the Cardinal, and he begins to learn of the treachery amongst his family and courtiers. And while he is focusing on the politics of his court with a lookout for more revolts, he is also eyeing Henriette, his brother’s wife whom everyone adores. Henriette is portrayed as a bored woman stuck in a loveless relationship, and happily wreaks romantic havoc throughout Louis’ court, as she tells the King to court other girls as well as her to divert some of the rumors surrounding her own conduct with the King.

Louise de La Baume Le Blanc

The story features these women who Louis courts, as well as his own boring wife and his meddling mother. His brother Phillippe is a scandalous creature causing embarrassment everywhere, yet I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him as his wife was making him a fool until I later realized Phillippe didn’t really deserve my sympathy at all. One of the main characters is maid of honor Louise de La Baume Le Blanc, a young spirited girl who adores animals over people any day. (She is featured in Sandra Gulland’s novel Mistress of the Sun). King Louis takes notice of her and a courtship eventually develops, helped along by Henriette’s maneuvering. Louise seemed like a hunted deer, as she was caught in the royal traps and manipulations of the court although she was the one of the few true innocents of the court. It was very hard to not feel sympathetic towards her, especially how the author favorably portrays both Louis and Louise.

Besides the relationships of Louis and his dalliances with women, the novel touches upon Viscount Nicolas as we watch Louis and his main man Colbert slowly gather damning evidence against the Viscount who was becoming a threat to Louis due to his own wealth and powerful connections. The Viscount is not aware of the concerns of the King, and blindly hopes for a high position under Louis’s wing. It was all very entertaining and suspenseful to read and witness the Viscount’s downfall, learning the ways of the early reign of Louis before he was known as the Sun King. Louis was portrayed in a most positive light as a strong and powerful young man with a growing leadership ability, yet with the faults of having a soft heart as well. The women at court were catty and snobby and the men encouraged it as they took advantage of whatever they could get. I really enjoyed how the intricacies (and scandals!) of the storyline played out because there were quite a few of them running concurrently. Behind the scenes of Louis’ courtships and political machinations, there was always the running current of Louise’s girlish curiosity of a mysterious boy in an iron mask which slams her into reality when she finally tells the King of this strange boy she saw at a monastery.

“L’Homme au Masque de Fer” (“The Man in the Iron Mask”) 1789

Fontainebleau was the setting for the story, and I was immediately intrigued by the author’s description of it and its immeasurable beauty. It was always there as a symbol for Louis, as a place that was built by ancestors, where Louis seemed to walk along its shadows and those of his predecessors. It slowly began to make sense to this reader why Louis moved court to Versailles and why the author chose the title Before Versailles. The writing of Karleen Koen was a bit different, as she has her own uniquely mesmerizing style which was conversational yet verges occasionally towards stream of consciousness. The myriads of court players in the beginning of the story were a bit much to get my head wrapped around, but I quickly caught up and found myself intrigued and enthralled with Louis and his many courtiers and musketeers, as Karleen Koen offers us a sensational glimpse of Louis as he was just beginning to become the man known later as the Sun King. I absolutely adored the ending, and there were several times in the book I could have cried. This is a must read for French history fans as well as those who enjoy historical romance, because there was plenty of that in this story, with a healthy dose of suspense as well. A wonderful combination of enjoyable factors and I am so glad that this one was my first read on Louis XIV. In fact, this is going on my shortlist for favorites of 2011. Where to go from here? And where does Karleen Koen go from here? A novel on Athenais, and Louis’ later reign? I would love to see another trilogy that starts with Before Versailles.


Filed under 17th Century, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, France, French Revolution, Karleen Koen, Louis XIV

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro
Hardcover, 278 pages
Published February 2nd 2011 by Hachette/Reagan Arthur Books
Review copy provided by publisher, thank you!
Burton Book Review Rating: 4 stars

 American academic Trevor Stratton discovers a box full of artifacts from World War I as he settles into his new office in Paris. The pictures, letters, and objects in the box relate to the life of Louise Brunet, a fiesty, charming Frenchwoman who lived through both World Wars.
As Trevor examines and documents the relics the box offers up, he begins to imagine the story of Louise Brunet’s life: her love for a cousin who died in the war, her marriage to a man who works for her father, and her attraction to a neighbor in her building at 13 rue Thérèse. The more time he spends with the objects though, the truer his imaginings of Louise’s life become, and the more he notices another alluring Frenchwoman: Josianne, his clerk, who planted the box in his office in the first place, and with whom he finds he is falling in love.

This book is a visual delight. Photos of correspondence, photos of the people discussed, a treasure hunt of a puzzle. The writing is another intriguing factor.. flits in and out of “present” and the past.. which could either be construed as a confusing mess or instead a fun jaunt into adventure unlike any other book you’ve read. The entire premise is original and rare, and I embrace it.

This is one of those books that to review it without spoiling the delight for the new reader is very difficult, as each little discovery of the plot and the people were slowly unwrapped via the narration as we peruse the contents of a mysterious box. I shall not spoil it. There are many themes here, from family loyalty and trust, marriage and infidelity, war and its dizzying effects, and finally a bit of time travel or reincarnation or spiritualism that just may be the definition of whether you enjoy or hate this book. And the fact that there is infidelity which brings explicit sexual content could go either way: love it or hate it.

For me, I normally dislike abundance of sex. And I certainly do not promote infidelity, nor do I do so now. It was not full of sex scenes, but full of thoughts of them. In a cemetery, in the hallway, etc. And still, this book as a package, was a winner for me, for the sheer unconventionality of it all. I loved the different visuals of  memorabilia: the jewelry, postcards, letters, and photos as they were examined piece by piece in the story. I loved the very different and very creative way the story played itself out. And in the very end, there is a ‘twist’ that could make you exclaim “how contrived!”.. but it could also shiver you with delight with its ingenuity.

13, rue Thérèse by Elena Mauli Shapiro spoke to the vintage lover in me, the creative side of me, the French language lover in me and to the mystery lover in me. The history of the family behind the artifacts was an intriguing story, as was the story of the narrator himself, Trevor Stratton. Trevor himself was a bit annoying to me. His documentation (with footnotes!) to whom he was writing was not apparent to the very end, and the very end.. was.. you’ll have to read it to see… but I dropped a star because of it. And yet, eccentricities are alive, and if your mind is feeling open today, you should open 13, rue Thérèse as well.

There is an intriguing website with some of the images from the book, and I even had fun using the iPhone QR code reader at the back of the book. You’ll have to check it out!


Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, France, Inspirational, World War I, WWII

Book Review: Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith

Queen By Right: A Novel by Anne Easter Smith
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (May 10, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-1416550471
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Book Review Rating:

In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.

Wars of the Roses followers recognize the Nevilles as having a strong family in the midst of the turmoil between the Yorks and the Lancastrians. Queen By Right gives us the story of Cecily Neville, daughter of Ralph Neville and Joan Beaufort, and shows us an indulging upbringing for her as well as an indulging marriage to Richard Plantagenet of York. A young Henry VI is on the throne, and Richard seems pleased to be this Lancastrian King’s man even though he has his own strong claim to the throne that none can dispute.

Richard and Cecily are blessed with children, and history aficionados will know that these children include Edward IV and Richard III among the most notable. But who were their parents, and how did they get to the royal title? Focusing on Cecily, we become entwined with her character as the author dramatizes her young life as one long flashback to the elder Cecily ponders the very question of how this all came to be. The book opens to Cecily mourning the loss of her husband and favorite son Edmund in a battle against the Lancastrian king. But it wasn’t always York versus Lancaster, so how did things get so convoluted as to battle for the throne?

The way Cecily’s character is written makes her very likable from the beginning, but about halfway through we somehow lose touch with her. The character development of both Richard and Cecily left much to be desired as they seemed to stray from their once noble paths. Once Cecily becomes an adult, and a mother bent on favoritism, the story began to be more (ambiguously) focused on the politics of Lancaster versus York. Richard was away serving the king on various military appointments and never receiving payment for the money spent on the soldiers he lead, which bred discontent for years. And since this is where the focus lay, I was becoming impatient for the story to get on with it. Instead, we learn of Cecily’s aversions to certain people such as Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford, or fascination with others like Joan of Arc (the author mentions this was her poetic license). There is also quite a bit of sex but at least it didn’t encompass the whole book, but the couple seemingly had eyes only for each other. A plus is that the rumored archer affair did not weave its fiction into this story. The author ascertains that the marriage between Richard and Cecily was a love match beginning in their childhood, though in her author’s note she theorizes about the late development was in producing heirs.

An intriguing figure of this time is Jacquetta: Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Duchess of Bedford, or Jacquetta Woodville as she also may be known. She is mentioned several times in the story as she is a high ranking noble in her own right. Jacquetta is peeking out windows witnessing Cecily’s actions, and she sends Cecily shivers down Cecily’s spine many times. Jacquetta also befriends Margaret of Anjou and Cecily wonders how that could be. Was it Melusina at work? Jacquetta’s first husband was related to the throne, but he passed away so Jacquetta made a scandalous love match with Richard Woodville. I mention all this because as a reader I paid attention to all the innuendo and the foreshadowing the author related when mentioning Elizabeth and her beautiful daughter, another Elizabeth, who ends up marrying Cecily’s oldest son.

The first half of Cecily’s life when she was growing up was an intriguing adventure. In the middle of the book we seemed to be merely skimming the surface, watching things happen from afar, and it just couldn’t draw me into the story as it had at first. It was enjoyable reading about Cecily’s early life, but as a mother and wife to Richard it became more about the antics of the children, and that of Richard himself. We all knew what happens to Richard in the end, because that is discussed within the first sentences of the novel. Getting to that point with that ill-fated battle became a long drawn out process of Richard whining about not getting paid for his services and Cecily praying to the Virgin Mary. The names of uncles and nobles who were in favor at court when Richard wasn’t became a quagmire to sift through at first.

Still, I did gather a bit of information of Cecily and her life, and I was eager to learn a bit more about the struggle of why Richard Plantagenet did decide to grasp the throne for himself. He is not portrayed as an evil man as Lancastrian reads like to paint, as Richard states many times that he swears fealty to Henry VI as God’s anointed. Keeping Richard out of the court’s loop was also an annoying tactic of Henry VI, as he sent Richard off to Ireland and France to keep the peace but not supporting Richard monetarily to do so. Richard didn’t like what was happening to the government at the hands of the king’s advisers, and Richard had many who backed his own Yorkist claim to the throne after years of mismanagement. England seemed glorious under King Henry V, but his son was nothing like him. The loss of lands in acquiring the Queen for Henry was also an ill omen of things to come.

For those readers who really want to know more about the struggles of Cecily and Richard Plantagenet and those inherited by their children, the author does well to cover them in Queen By Right. Most Wars of the Roses fans don’t get the ‘before’ scene of the Wakefield battle, as most know that it is Richard’s son, Edward IV, who becomes successful for the Yorkist cause. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the book that we are finally brought to this climax and started becoming intriguing again. Queen by Right delivers the details and the purported minds behind Richard and Cecily during the years before the famous battles. Anne Easter Smith is well known for her Yorkist novels, and for those readers who enjoyed her books like A Rose for The Crown or Daughter of York would enjoy Queen By Right as well for the lesser known story of Cecily’s family and the separate factions of the land. I also must disclose that I have always seemed to lean towards the Lancastrian point of view rather than the Yorkist, and the novel is obviously Yorkist focused. Richard’s wishy-washy character himself was portrayed in such a way that this reader wanted to slap him, as much as Cecily did when Richard put his family in such extreme danger. Also included with the book were a few helpful genealogy charts, map, bibliography and glossary.


Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Anne Easter Smith, France, The Rose of York: Love and War, Wars of the Roses

Book Review: Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona


Paperback, Simon & Schuster, April 12, 2011
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Book Review Rating: 5 stars!
Woman is born free, and everywhere she is in corsets. . . .

Lili du Chatelet yearns to know more about her mother, the brilliant French mathematician Emilie. But the shrouded details of Emilie’s unconventional life—and her sudden death—are elusive. Caught between the confines of a convent upbringing and the intrigues of the Versailles court, Lili blossoms under the care of a Parisian salonniere as she absorbs the excitement of the Enlightenment, even as the scandalous shadow of her mother’s past haunts her and puts her on her own path of self-discovery.

Laurel Corona’s breathtaking new novel, set on the eve of the French Revolution, vividly illuminates the tensions of the times, and the dangerous dance between the need to conform and the desire to chart one’s own destiny and journey of the heart.

Finding Emilie is about a young lady, Lili, looking to replace the void that was created within her as her mother, Emilie, passes away soon after Lili’s birth and her father wants nothing to do with her. It starts off with a group of letters which sets the scene for how Lili came to be and for a bit of characterization of the supporting figures that are in her life.

Lili grows up with Delphine and is treated as part of the family under Madame de Bercy’s roof, and where she is allowed to cultivate the spirit and inquisitive nature that she inherited from her scientific mother. The setting is the Enlightenment age of France, even though Voltaire’s wild views were ridiculed by the French government. Lili and Delphine prosper under Delphine’s mother’s watchful but tolerant care, and eventually the two realize they must part and make good marriages. What comes next is the proverbial race to the finish line, hoping against hope the two girls will be able to make marriages that are both advantageous and amenable at the same time.
Much like the stories that I grew up with, there is a lot of wishful thinking and fairy-tale whimsies so typical in young girls, but I loved the way it was told. I was totally immersed in the character of Lili, even though it was told in third person I felt very close to her throughout Lili’s story of self-discovery. Even though there were a lot of scientific references as Lili explored flowers under microscopes and thought about philosophies, I was not put off with the amount of it. I must have felt I was close to discovering the meaning of the universe right along with Lili.
A strong feature of the novel were the very characters, from the boys to the men and the servants in the many grand houses that were frequented. There were balls and the queen, and Voltaire, too. I loved feeling like I was whisked away to another time, as author Laurel Corona captured the essence of her characters with exquisite detail, making me feel like I had lost a friend when I concluded the novel. I was not disillusioned at all with the fact that the novel focused more on the character of Lili rather than solely on the historical details of the pre-revolutionary France, as I did not pick up the book with any expectations of the latter. By doing so, I was taken by surprise with how Laurel Corona’s writing immediately drew me into her reimagined world of the daughter of Emilie du Châtelet and the story of her coming of age. Finding Emilie goes easily on my favorites of 2011 list.


Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Best of 2011, France, French Revolution, Laurel Corona

{{Giveaway!}} Book Review: To Be Queen by Christy English

Please see the end of this book review for details on how to enter for the international giveaway, courtesy of the generous author of To Be Queen.

To Be Queen by Christy English
Paperback, 400 pages
April 5th 2011; NAL Trade
ISBN13 978-045123230
Review Copy provided by the author, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:4.5 Shiny New Stars!

Christy English’s second novel brings us her favorite protagonist of Eleanor of Aquitaine. English’s previous work of last year, The Queen’s Pawn, focused on the relationship between Eleanor and her ward, Alais, who was purpoted to be a mistress of Eleanor’s second husband. For this novel, the author steps even further back in time to bring us a prequel to the tumultuous marriage of Eleanor and Henry and brings us the early years of Eleanor as she sows the seeds of ultimate strength and power as only she could.

Eleanor was a woman brought up to believe in herself and Aquitaine as her legacy, above all things. As she recognizes that her dream of becoming a Queen of France was not as fruitful as she would have imagined, she begins to realize that being Queen alongside the pious King Louis was only holding her back. We are always hurried through this marriage to France with our previous Eleanor reads, but now the author takes the time to reimagine this time of Eleanor’s life and attempts to prove just how worthy of a woman Eleanor truly was.

Louis wasn’t that man to make Eleanor be all that she knew she could be.. and the vassals and priests of Louis’ court weren’t about to make her feel welcome. Eleanor is unfulfilled in many ways, and the lack of a son and heir for France finally gives Eleanor a way out of the marriage. As that is the simply put timeline of Eleanor’s marriage to Louis, the author weaves for us an incredible journey of passion, power, manipulation, lust and greed into a compelling story of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Before the infamous devil’s brood, before Henry II locked the scheming Eleanor away, the author gives us the glimpse into the woman that always knew she was destined for the greatest things.

The author’s prose drew me in in the beginning, and I was very impressed with how the story had moved along with its atmospheric tones. Towards the end, though, I admit to being tired of the romps in the gardens of Persian roses.. the author takes several liberties with the fiction part but you need to take it as a whole package and simply embrace it. Although the first half seemed stronger than the last, I still enjoyed the entire book immensely and can appreciate the strength and will power of Eleanor that Christy English successfully portrays through To Be Queen. I can also appreciate the rare look at the early life of Eleanor, which is often rushed through. Eleanor’s sister Petra is featured somewhat, as well as Louis VII in all his pious inadequacies, but we also have Amaria who is seemingly the most loyal servant and helpful person to Eleanor throughout. The court of love that Eleanor is famous for is also a theme in this story which helps flesh out the character of Eleanor as she strives to maintain her sense of loyalty to her family name and her homeland. Of all the amazing things that Eleanor has done in her life, the fact that she was a queen twice is pretty significant, as well as the fact that barons of Aquitaine swore allegiance to her as a young woman. That Eleanor of Aquitaine is a legend in her own right is a wonderful excuse for women to feel more empowered after reading of all that she accomplished and endured.

If you are looking to either aquaint yourself with Eleanor or if you consider yourself well-versed on her life, I would recommend Christy English’s passionate novel on Eleanor which offers a look into the beginnings of the Queen like no other novel before her. You can start with both of English’s novels on Eleanor, and I then suggest you move on Sharon Kay Penman and read the trilogy that begins with When Christ and His Saints Slept which will bring you deeper into the history of England following the steps that start with the usurper King Stephen and end many years later with Eleanor’s youngest son King John (of Elizabeth Chadwick fame).

What do you think? Does this novel on Eleanor’s earlier years spark your interest? Just how badly do you want to read this? This is a rare giveaway opportunity for The Burton Review, only made possible by the author herself.
Open to everyone.. everywhere… we will have TWO winners of To Be Queen.

Mandatory entry (please leave all the following in one comment as the first 3 steps count as one entry):
1: Follow this blog via the Google Friend Connect Gadget on the left sidebar. (Under the Amazon Ad for 2010 Best Books).
2: Leave a comment on this review post and whatever your thoughts are on Eleanor of Aquitaine. You may also leave comments for Christy.
3: You absolutely MUST leave your email address so that I can contact you if you win.

EXTRA entries:
Do all the above PLUS:
+1 entry if you LIKE my Facebook Page “The Burton Review
+1 entry if you LIKE Christy English’s Facebook Page “To Be Queen”

You must comment telling me what your name is on Facebook so that I can verify your “Likes” to these pages.

This Giveaway will end 4/16/2011; I will email the winners who will then have 48 hours to respond with their mailing address.
For even more Eleanor of Aquitaine love, please follow the ladies at the Historical Fiction Round Table as they host a week long event with articles, reviews and giveaways…going on right now!! Good Luck!!


Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, Christy English, Eleanor of Aquitaine, France, Medieval Era

>Book Review: Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran


Madame Tussaud: A Novel of the French Revolution by Michelle Moran
Hardcover, 464 pages
February 15th 2011
Crown Publishing Group
ISBN-13 9780307588654
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:Four and a Half Huge Stars

In this deft historical novel, Madame Tussaud (1761-1850) escapes the pages of trivia quizzes to become a real person far more arresting than even her waxwork sculptures. Who among us knew, for instance, that she moved freely through the royal court of Louis XVI, only to become a prisoner of the Reign of Terror? Her head was shaven for guillotining, but she escaped execution, though she was forced to make death masks for prominent victims. Novelist Michelle Moran covers this breathtaking period without losing the thread of its subject’s singular story

Readers have many ways to hear of the atrocities of the French Revolution, but Michelle Moran’s is one that should not be overlooked as among the best. Through the eyes of Marie Grosholz, the famous sculptress known later as Madame Tussaud, we become witnesses to the crimes of the anarchists who stylized themselves as Revolutionaries. With what first begins as a documentary view of the fall of the monarchy under Louis XVI, Madame Tussaud evolves into a passionate first-hand look into the horrors and the fears that the French people faced during the Revolution.

The novel begins as a sedate look at the salon of wax figures that Marie is running with her Uncle Curtius, which is a pleasant trade that allows her mother and she to thrive. Her greatest ambition is to be noticed by Queen Marie Antoinette, and is not until much later that she realizes that this one ambition for greatness could mean the guillotine for her family. Marie is extremely talented in portraying the wax sculptures with lifelike accuracy, and the salon does become recognized throughout France especially after the Royal family visit. With a devastating turn of events, the revolutionaries also visit the salon and her uncle, who becomes one of Robespierre’s National Guard. The politics of the Third Estate and the plight of the poorest people are well developed in the story, and it is with a crescendo of suspense and fear that we read on as King Louis’s head is brought to the salon’s doorstep.. with several other horrors beforehand that pulls you into this story of a remarkable time and a woman who showed great fortitude and resilience during those times of extreme crisis.

There are many notables in the novel, from the royal family to the revolutionaries, and then there are those members of Marie’s small circle that help bring a stunning clarity to the tenuous position Marie found herself in every day during the Revolution. Not knowing what was the right thing to say at any given moment (for the king or for the people?) as Marie was forced to put aside her morals and sense of right and wrong, in fear of those leaders who were making names for themselves as writers of political papers that brought chaos to the kingdom and the monarchy. No one was safe, innocent women and children were slaughtered just as the King and Queen were.

Although the start of the novel felt a bit rushed to document the events of France that brought the monarchy to its knees, the climatic story redeemed itself as this reader became completely engrossed in the travails of Madame Tussaud and her friends. I had little knowledge of the devastation the Revolutionaries caused for the entire country, and was stunned at the sanction of murder that was committed in the name of freedom. The seemingly simple title of French Revolution brings to me now a new found respect for those that lived, died or endured during the Revolution, such as young Marie Grosholz, and it is only through the magnificent storytelling via Michelle Moran from which I have achieved this. Brava to Michelle Moran for another job well done for a spectacular (heartwrenching and nerve wracking!) piece of work. P.S. The last book I read took over a week, this took two days.

1 Comment

Filed under 2011 Releases, 2011 Reviews, France, French Revolution, Marie Antoinette, Michelle Moran

>Lessons in French


Potential Lead Character?

And now we have Lessons in French…Just kidding. Not really. Actually, that would be pretty awesome. I envision the setting.. me and Rupert Penry-Jones being tutored in French.  No, scratch that. Rupert tutoring me in French. (Long pause.. meditation..)
Ah, I digress. After reading the new novel of Catherine Delors FOR THE KING, I wonder who would play the detective, the main protagonist, Roch Miguel, in the movie. Because of course there should at least be a BBC Masterpiece Classic movie of this. Would Rupert suffice? I should say so!! I wonder what Catherine feels about that?

Have you read any French Revolution inspired books lately? I have not read as many Frenchified reads as I have read Tudor reads. I got the awful word Frenchified from those Tudor reads actually, because it was the Englishmen who hated the way Anne Boleyn was so Frenchified. In my forced learning days, I chose French as a subject when I was twelve so that I could further relate to my beloved father. I studied five years of French; my father and I tossed around French phrases amongst each other, he wrote me sweet little French endearments for years afterwards, and I dreamt of Paris. The End.

Fast forward eons later, I retain not much knowledge of those five years of learning, other than basic vocabulary words and those sweet endearments (which of course are priceless). Even in my mind, instead of thinking in English, what time is it, I think “quelle heure est-il?” and instead of saying to my daughter ‘Why?’ I ask “Pourquoi?”. Silly idiosyncrasies like that is what five years of French has done for me. Of course, the most fantastic thing has been the fact that I got to share that special something with my father, who is now my guardian angel in heaven.

So what actual France themed reads are out there? Let’s see.. of course there are the two novels by the beautiful Catherine Delors:
Mistress of the Revolution (2009) which has an astonishingly short synopsis considering the manuscript was longer than War and Peace: “An impoverished noblewoman, Gabrielle de Montserrat is only fifteen when she meets her first love, a commoner named Pierre-André Coffinhal. But her brother forbids their union, forcing her instead to marry an aging, wealthy cousin.
Widowed and a mother before the age of twenty, Gabrielle arrives at the court of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette in time to be swept up in the emerging turbulence—and to encounter the man she never expected to see again. Determined and independent, she strives to find her own freedom— as the Revolution takes an ever more violent turn.”

For The King (2010) “The Reign of Terror has ended, and Napoléon Bonaparte has seized power, but shifting political loyalties still tear apart families and lovers. On Christmas Eve 1800, a bomb explodes along Bonaparte’s route, narrowly missing him but striking dozens of bystanders. Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, a young policeman with a bright future and a beautiful mistress, must arrest the assassins before they attack again. Complicating Miquel’s investigation are the maneuverings of his superior, the redoubtable Fouché, the indiscretions of his own father, a former Jacobin, and two intriguing women.

Based on real events and characters and rich with historical detail, For the King takes readers through the dark alleys and glittering salons of post-revolutionary Paris and is a timeless epic of love, betrayal, and redemption.” (Read my review here; enter for the giveaway).

And onwards to some more France reads of which most are on my shelf, sitting prettily, as they must, since they mostly include the fashionable Marie Antoinette..

The Queen’s Dollmaker by Christine Trent  (read my review)
Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Sena Jeter Naslund
The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson
Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Frasier
Marie Antoinette: The Last Queen of France by Evelyne Lever
Annette Vallon: A Novel of The French Revolution by James Tipton.. Comes highly recommended from blogger buddy Arleigh at (her review)
Napoleon: The Path to Power by Philip G. Dwyer
Fatal Purity: Robespierre & The French Revolution by Ruth Scurr
The Glass-Blowers by Daphne DuMaurier
The Diamond: A Novel by Julie Baumgold (another favorite of Arleigh’s, her review)
Flaunting, Extravagant Queen by Jean Plaidy
The Road to Compiegne by Jean Plaidy
Louis the Well Beloved by Jean Plaidy
The Queen’s Confession by Jean Plaidy
The Queen of Diamonds by Jean Plaidy.. Also a favorite of Arleigh, read her review at the Plaidy website she and Lucy contribute to, Royal Intrigue. Arleigh says you can’t go wrong with a Plaidy!

And another one of our favorite bloggers Lucy at Enchanted by Josephine (see Lucy’s Gulland posts here) totally swears by Sandra Gulland’s books, the trilogy of novels based on the life of Josephine Bonaparte: The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B.; Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe; The Last Great Dance on Earth. Arleigh says that ‘the trilogy is REALLY good’ and Lucy says ‘Gulland is by far the best on Jo.’

What of these books have you read? I hope to get to read these soon, and I really need to read another Jean Plaidy novel so I would probably start with one of hers.

For those of you interested in the rest of the posts at The Round Table, you can see the full calendar here.
Here at The Burton Review we have the review with the giveaway, and the guest post from the author herself. But there are giveaways at all of the blogs, so go hunting for the treasure!


Filed under Catherine Delors, France, French Revolution, HF Bloggers Round Table, Napoleon

>Author Guest Post by Catherine Delors.. HFBRT Event!


As part of the Round Table event this week, Catherine has obliged us and fashioned many many guest posts for us at The Round Table. What a sweetheart she is to take her time and compose all of these original essays, we all very much appreciate the dedication she has to her work. Let it not go to waste, please leave a comment letting her know you were here. Without further ado, here is Catherine and her newest guest post:

FOR THE KING: Meet the Assassins

Let us begin with Joseph de Limoëlan, the head of the conspiracy to assassinate Napoléon Bonaparte in Paris. He was 34 years of age at the time of the attack, a tall, handsome man with blue eyes and dark hair, gold-rimmed spectacles and an aristocratic air. After years spent as a Chouan, a royalist insurgent, he is the one who planned to detonate the bomb, placed on a horse-drawn cart, in the midst of a busy street. All the busier that evening because people wanted to see Napoléon Bonaparte’s carriage on its way to the Opera. It was also Christmas Eve, the shops and cafés were still open, and many were headed for the houses of friends to celebrate the holiday.

That did not give pause to Limoëlan, though he had to know that the collateral damage would be atrocious. There were dozens of casualties, and so many houses were blown up that the street itself was later condemned and destroyed in its entirety. Limoëlan himself had found a little street vendor, a girl by the name of Marianne Peusol, to hold the bridle of the horse that drew the carriage. He had to know that the child, closest to the bomb, was sure to die.

The man was the coldest of cold-blooded killers. Yet he was engaged to a young lady, a friend of his sisters, and every clue I found pointed to an attachment that was mutual, and very deep. I also found out that his father and several of his relatives, prominent members of the nobility of Brittany, had been guillotined in Paris a few years earlier as royalist conspirators. That is no excuse, of course, but it puts Limoëlan’s hate for the city and its inhabitants in perspective.

Pierre de Saint-Régent, who was Limoëlan’s second in command, was no less interesting. He was also a nobleman from Brittany, though from a minor and impoverished family. His pointed nose gave his face the look of a ferret, and he did not have the elegant manners of his comrade. Hardened by years of combat, first in the Royal Navy before the Revolution, and later in the royalist insurgency, he was the one who actually lit the fuse that detonated the bomb.

Nevertheless, in the days that led to the attack, Saint-Régent took great pains, and great risks, to purchase a pug, and order a sterling silver dog collar to present to his “lady.” Who was she? The real investigation never uncovered her identity, but trust a historical novelist to fill in the blanks… Of course the lady in question is one of the fictional characters of FOR THE KING.

The third assassin, François Carbon, nicknamed Le Petit François, Short Francis, is quite a different sort of character. I discovered someone totally repulsive, physically and morally. Squat, fat, abusive, vulgar, garish in his dress, and yet fancying himself a great favorite with the ladies… Also a Chouan, Carbon accompanied Limoëlan to Paris as his valet and jack-of-all-trades, and he helped the two other men drive the cart on which sat the bomb to Rue Nicaise. Comical as he may seem at times, he too was a killer. I could not find any portrait of him, though he is easy to picture from the descriptions of witnesses.

“How to” manuals purporting to teach the craft of writing warn the would-be novelist to stay clear of characters devoid of any nuance. But in this case I couldn’t help it: the real François Carbon was as I describe him in FOR THE KING. And actually some readers tell me they found him totally compelling, repellent as he is.

Thanks so much to Catherine for writing such a fun historical novel that was steeped in mystery with even a bit of romance! Read my review of the book here, and enter for your chance to win your very own hardcover of FOR THE KING, which is available for purchase July 6, 2010.

For the rest of the Events of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table group, please visit the Calendar of Events page where you will find all the links to other posts. There are many opportunities to win the gorgeous book as well.


Filed under 2010 Releases, Author Interviews, Author Post, Catherine Delors, France, French Revolution, HF Bloggers Round Table

>Giveaway & Book Review: For The King by Catherine Delors


For the King by Catherine Delors
Amazon USA
July 8th 2010 by Dutton Books
Hardcover, 352 pages
Isbn 9780525951742
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:FourStars!

The Reign of Terror has ended six years earlier, and Napoléon Bonaparte has seized power, but shifting political loyalties still tear apart families and lovers.

On Christmas Eve 1800, a bomb explores along Bonaparte’s route, narrowly missing him but striking dozens of bystanders. Chief Inspector Roch Miquel, a young policeman with a bright future and a beautiful mistress, must arrest the assassins before they attack again. Complicating Miquel’s investigation are the maneuverings of his superior, the redoubtable Fouché, the indiscretions of his own father, a former Jacobin, and two intriguing women.

For The King takes readers through the dark alleys and glittering salons of post-revolutionary Paris. It is a romantic thriller, a tale of love, betrayal and redemption.

I am not as historically in tune to French politics as I am with Tudor politics. With Catherine Delors’ newest novel that is focused on French politics, there is no preamble to the upheaval that France is facing after the pacification set in place by Bonaparte. The French Revolution had just ended and the novel begins in 1800 with a police officer called Roch Miguel who is investigating a bombing on the streets of  Paris that was a failed assassination attempt on Napoleon Bonaparte. There were several police agencies or ministries that were at odds with each other who were slightly hard to follow; along with who was Royalist, Jacobin or Chouan. If I had previously read a novel that dealt with the Republic and the aftermath of the French revolution I would probably have felt a bit less lost, but the writing of Catherine Delors pulled me through the story itself very quickly.

Written to be a historical mystery, the focus of the story is the investigation of the bombing in the Rue Nicaise. Roch, the investigator, is the main protagonist and is portrayed as a strong man with morals, and gets put in a bad situation when his father, affectionately known as Old Miguel, is suddenly arrested. Was he arrested to spur Roch’s investigation in another direction? Between the several different factions of the police government it is hard to tell if Roch should trust anyone in the fearsome political times. And he has to move fast otherwise his father will meet a torturous fate meant for traitors.

Napoleon crossing the Alps (1800)~Jaques Louis David

One of the mentions in the novel is of a painter known as Jaques Louis David, who painted the famous portrait of Napoleon on the magnificent white horse. I loved how Delors included these small details of history into her novel which helped me experience France and their culture more than I ever have. And I took five years of French! Catherine Delors helped to reawaken in me the spirit of France for which I had fallen in love with long ago as a child. She surrounds the novel in historic details that really help shape the atmosphere and the turmoil of France at that time.

Catherine Delors’ previous novel, Mistress of the Revolution (2008), was written in memoir fashion telling of a Frenchwoman exiled in England. For The King departs from that point of view as it is told in third person allowing for multiple views to be presented. Using this narrative allows the reader to get an entire circumspective view from all parties involved which is very helpful in this thriller/mystery setting. It also helps to lend a greater understanding of a complicated period of time that could easily befuddle the unaware reader, like I was at first.

I found the story to be fast paced and I felt empathy for the character of the investigator Roch Miguel, and Delors was subtle with the added romantic undercurrents that we are treated to. Some of the other characters shifted over time, becoming more ominous as the story wore on and the mystery of who was behind the attack unfolded. Although the reader knows the names of the three who are responsible for the attack from the very beginning, the unfolding of the multiple aspects that lead to the attack and their hopeful apprehension was expertly presented. Lovers of France and those eager to immerse themselves in its historic setting following the revolution will definitely love this book. I love the fact that Delors is focusing her next novel on another mystery setting and I will definitely be reading that one as well.

One new GORGEOUS Hardcover Copy of FOR THE KING by Catherine Delors
Open to USA and Canada Residents ONLY
Ends on July 2nd

Must be or become a Follower of this Blog
+1 Facebook or Tweet this post
+2 Link to this post and Announce this Giveaway on your blog, either via a Separate Post or on Sidebar

Please stay tuned this week as rest of the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table Event unfolds! There are more book giveaways that you can enter as well as Guest Posts and Creative Posts presented to you by the wonderful Round Table Bloggers! Yesterday’s book review and giveaway was Enchanted by Josephine and an author guest post “The Perfect Villain” can be found at The Maiden’s Court.

If you haven’t yet had the chance to read Delors’ previous novel, check out Allie’s review of Mistress of the Revolution at Hist-Fic Chick which she read especially for the Round Table event.


Filed under 2010 Releases, 2010 Review, Bonaparte, Catherine Delors, France, HF Bloggers Round Table, Josephine, Napoleon, Revolution