Thursday, November 4, 2010

U is for Uprising

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

A great book for Young Adults.  Here's what I wrote about it for a review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Set in New York City in 1910-1911, Uprising tells the story of three young women from different walks of life whose lives become connected through the shirtwaist workers’ strike. Yetta is a Russian immigrant who moved to America and works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in order to earn money to send back to her homeland. Bella is a recently arrived Italian immigrant who is overwhelmed in America and feels like a stranger. She is eager to learn and works at the factory as well. Jane is an unhappy rich society girl who longs for something different in her life but is uncertain about what she can do to change and break free from the cage in which she feels she is trapped.

The hundreds of workers at the factory put up with low wages and unsafe working conditions until one day, a strike is organized. Yetta feels passionate about their cause and quickly becomes one of the strike’s leaders, attending meetings and marching in the picket lines. Soon both Bella and Jane join her, and the girls quickly become friends. Haddix does a superb job of portraying the different aspects of the girls’ lives, from their involvement in the strike, the conditions of working in the factory, and their daily survival.
Chapters alternate between each of the girls, allowing readers to experience three different perspectives of the events that unfold. Not only is Uprising the story of the strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that changed American labor forever, it is also a story of friendship, family, choices, and the social classes and rules of society that existed in America in the early 1900s. This book is an excellent read and makes history come alive through all of the well-crafted characters.

T is for A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini , author of the bestselling novel The Kite Runner, again delivers a stunningly beautiful novel spanning a 30 year period in Afghanistan’s history.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, each from different social backgrounds whose lives unexpectedly intersect.  Hosseini provides a look at what life was like for everyday people in Afghanistan over the course of the country’s turbulent recent history from the Soviet invasion through the post-Taliban era.  The novel delves deep into family relationships, the beauty of friendship, feelings of loss and longing, and is a powerful testament to the spirit and strength of women.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is a must read.   

S is for The Serpent Garden

The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley

Another review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Riley’s exquisite tale The Serpent Garden begins in England in 1514 and follows the life of Susanna Dallet, daughter of a Flemish artist. Susanna is widowed when her unsavory husband is murdered by his lover’s spouse. Before his death, Mr. Dallet was part of a group who recovered a long lost manuscript that threatens to rip apart the French monarchy. Because of her husband’s role, Susanna is unknowingly thrust into peril, caught in the middle of conspirators who will stop at nothing to possess the complete manuscript.

As a widow, Susanna is left to make her own way in the world, no easy feat in the16th century. She begins by painting less than innocent Biblical scenes and portraits in miniature. Soon she is introduced to Cardinal Wolsey who employs her and sends her to France with Princess Mary Tudor’s wedding party to paint the festivities of the union of Mary and the aging Louis XII.

Susanna possesses an extraordinary gift for painting in miniature and is welcomed into the French court, a place full of schemes at every turn. Riley adds a good dose of the supernatural to the story with a demon named Belphagor who was released when the manuscript was unearthed. Belphagor’s goal is to cause chaos, and Susanna becomes a target for the demon’s wrath because of her association with the manuscript.

Riley packs quite a bit into the novel and achieves a nice blend of romance, intrigue, politics, and fantasy. The narration alternates between Susanna Dallet and third person viewpoints which may take a bit to get used to, but soon readers will find themselves engrossed in the tale. Susanna’s sense of humor and the depictions of the French court are only two of the aspects that make this a novel not to be missed.

R is for The Rebel Princess

The Rebel Princess by Judith Koll Healey

Here's a review I wrote for Historical Novels Review:

Healey (The Canterbury Papers) brings readers the second installment of the story of Princess Alaïs Capet, sister to King Philippe Auguste of France. Set in 1207, the tale begins as the court of King Philippe is awash in conspiracies. Alaïs’s aunt, the dowager countess Constance of Toulouse, is acting secretive, the king does not know which of his ministers he can trust, and two monks dispatched by the pope in hopes of persuading the king to support stamping out the Cathars, a Christian sect in the south of France, arrive at court. King Philippe turns to his beloved sister Alaïs for advice. Alaïs vows to help her brother and uncover the mischief at court. What she really longs to do though is finally reunite with and settle down with her lover, William of Caen, and reveal to Williams’ ward, Francis, that she is his mother. The plot deepens when the St. John’s Cup, a relic sacred to the Cathars, is stolen. Following the cup’s disappearance, Constance is absent from court, and Francis is kidnapped. Alaïs takes matters into her own hands and devises a way to search for her son, risking her life and rebelling against William’s explicit instructions to stay at court.

The Rebel Princess is a fast-paced historical mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue. With every turn of the page there was the threat of bloodshed due to the rising conflict between the bishops and the Cathars. Healey does a fantastic job rendering the touching story of the intense bond between Alaïs and her son. Equally compelling is the exploration of Alaïs’s regret over the harsh parting words between her and William. I am looking forward to more in this series and hope that the love story between William and Alaïs unfolds even more. A very enjoyable read.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Q is for The Queen's Devotion

Jean Plaidy has always been one of my favorite historical fiction writers.  The following is a review that appeared in Historical Novels Review

The Queen’s Devotion, a novel in Plaidy’s Queens of England series, is a reprint of the previously published William’s Wife, and depicts the story of Queen Mary II. When the novel opens, Mary and her younger sister, Anne, are carefree princesses with loving and devoted parents. The girls’ father, the Duke of York, is in line for the throne if their uncle, King Charles II and his wife fail to produce a male heir. Because of the tumultuous political and religious climate in England, the girls are raised as Protestants. Mary and her sister are blissfully unaware of the trouble that is looming in the future. Once Mary turns fifteen, her life changes when her father informs her that she will be marrying her cousin, William, Prince of Orange, and will be moving to his homeland of Holland.

Mary is very young and naïve when she is married and feels that her world has been turned upside down- she is unhappy with the ladies accompanying her to her new home, she must leave behind her beloved father and sister, and she does not like her husband, who treats her very coolly.

When Mary’s uncle, the king, dies without an heir, her father becomes King James II. Unpopular with the people because he is a Catholic, numerous plots begin to brew. As time goes on, rumors drift their way across the Channel, and Mary realizes that soon she will have to choose between her loyalty to her father or her husband.

Plaidy’s detailed writing style evokes sympathy for Queen Mary. She effectively writes of the prominent scandals that were sprinkled throughout the queen’s life and superbly shows the tension and guilt that Mary faces, as she and William eventually become the co-regents of England.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

P is for Portrait of an Unknown Woman

I absolutely loved this book by Vanora Bennett.  I ended up listening to it on audiobook, which I highly recommend because the narrator, Josephine Bailey, has such a pleasing voice.  Thomas More really came alive for me in this book.  You definitley get to see another side to him.  Here's the description from the book:

In the year 1527, the great portraitist Hans Holbein, fleeing the Protestant Reformation, comes to England under commission to Sir Thomas More. Over the course of the next six years, Holbein paints two nearly identical portraits of the More family, his dear and loyal friends. But closer examination of the second painting reveals several mysteries. . . .

Set against the turmoil and tragedy of Henry VIII's court, Portrait of an Unknown Woman vividly evokes sixteenth-century England on the verge of enormous change—as viewed through the eyes of Meg Giggs, More's intelligent, tenderhearted, headstrong adopted daughter, who stands at the center of this sweeping, extraordinary epic. It is a tale of sin and religion, desire and deception—the story of a young woman on the brink of sensual awakening and a country on the edge of mayhem.

I started her latest book, The Queen's Lover, a few months ago, but I couldn't get into it.  I will try again later.  I have her second novel, Figures in Silk, waiting on my bookshelf.  So many books, too little time!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

O is for O, Juliet

Robin Maxwell is one of my favorite authors.  I especially love the cover of this one.  I had the pleasure of reviewing this novel for Historical Novels Review back in February.  Here is my review:

Maxwell delivers a mesmerizing retelling of the famous star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, in her latest novel, set in Italy at the beginning of the Renaissance. Juliet Capelletti is a headstrong, intelligent young lady who is facing an arranged marriage to Jacopo Strozzi, her father’s new business partner. She does not look forward to her match but knows that it will make her parents happy. Juliet’s entire future is forever changed one night at the engagement party of her best friend, Lucrezia, when she meets the handsome Romeo Monticecco. Romeo is at the party to seek reconciliation between his family and the Capelettis, who have been feuding and retaliating against each other for years. Juliet and Romeo find a chance to talk together alone under the stars and their destiny unfolds. Both are surprised by the other’s passion for poetry and shared interest in Dante Alighieri’s Vita Nuova. After their first meeting, Juliet is determined to find a way out of her upcoming marriage to Jacopo, even though this means defying her family’s wishes for her and possibly destroying the business between her father and her betrothed.

What unfolds is a beautiful love story between the soul mates Romeo and Juliet. Maxwell realistically portrays the torment that Juliet is faced with as she wonders what her future holds. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the novel was how Maxwell drew parallels between Dante and his love, Beatrice, and Romeo and Juliet and her use of poetry and quotes from Dante throughout the novel. Readers will savor this exquisite and magical love story.

N is for ???

Well, I am embarrassed to say that after flipping through my lists of books that I've read over the last several years and scouring my bookshleves at home, I have never read any historical fiction who's title begins with the letter N nor have I read anything by an author with a last name that begins with N.  I'm going to have to remedy that and come back to this one!  Meanwhile, you can check out what others who are doing the Challenge have read at Historical Tapestry's alphabet challenge.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

M is for Mademoiselle Boleyn

By far one of the best historical fiction novels I've ever read is Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell.  I am always on an Anne Boleyn kick, both fiction and nonfiction, so I try and read everything written about her.  Robin Maxwell masterfully conveys the story of young Anne Boleyn’s life in the care of the scandalous court of France while her sister, Mary, becomes a mistress to the king of France. After seeing first hand the disgrace and unhappiness of her sister, Anne decides that she will not suffer the same fate. The novel focuses on Anne’s early life, ending before she becomes involved with Henry and sets the stage for Anne’s later ideas and beliefs.

One of the best things about this book is the fact that it focuses on Anne's life before she met Henry, so it's like the reader is able to see a different side of her.  Maxwell makes Anne so accessible that by the end of the book, you feel like you know her.  I loaned this book to my sister-in-law, and she asked me to get her more like this one! 

Friday, May 21, 2010

Summer Reading Begins Again!

It's time for the Summer Reading Program at my library which means two months of promoting reading to kids.  Who could ask for a more fun job?  This means that I will be staffing the SRP desk an hour a day, so I'm back to my challenge of reading all the Caldecott books.  So far just this week, I have read about 10, (there are 72 in all) so I think I will be able to complete my challenge by the end of July.  Yeah! 

Other than that, I have a busy couple of weeks of reading ahead of me.  I have three books to read and review for Historical Novels Society by June 15th.  Next week is our staff book discussion on Literary Fiction.  I am going to try and read The Stranger by Albert Camus and Beloved by Toni Morrison for the discussion.  Hopefully I will have time.  I had 14 holds come in for me all at the same time, so I have quite a pile to wade through! 

L is for Loving Frank

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Loving Frank is the debut novel from former journalist Nancy Horan

This beautifully written piece of historical fiction chronicles the little known love story of architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Wright and Cheney met when she and her husband hired Wright to design their Oak Park, Illinois residence. Their first meeting rapidly turned into an affair that filled the headlines. Mamah, an intellectual and highly educated woman, struggles with her emotions as she is torn between her relationship with Wright, whom she considers the love of her life, and the children she leaves behind with her husband. The book is full of detail of early twentieth century America and portrays a woman who is ahead of her time, often constrained by early modern American society’s views of women. Readers are sure to remember the climactic ending long after the book is closed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

K is for Knight of Desire

Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory

I really enjoyed this first novel in a planned series.  I'll read the others when they become available.  Here is a review I wrote of this novel that appeared in Historical Novels Review:
Knight of Desire, the first novel of a planned series entitled All the King’s Men, is set in England and Wales in 1405. Lady Catherine is left widowed after her traitorous husband, Rayburn, joined the rebel forces against their king, Henry IV. Rayburn’s lands were granted to William FitzAlan, a knight who fought bravely and loyally on the side of the king. When William rides to Ross Castle to claim his reward, which includes Lady Catherine, he is surprised and impressed by her headstrong attitude. Catherine is given the choice to either marry William or go to the Tower. The pair marry within the hour. The rocky beginning to their relationship is caused by the great deal of mistrust that exists between them. William is wary of Catherine because she spied for the king and betrayed her own husband. Catherine cannot fully give her heart to William because of the horrible abuse she met at the hand of Rayburn. Slowly the two learn to trust each other, though each time they move forward in their relationship, an incident happens to set them back again. Knight of Desire is a satisfying love story full of emotion with a bit of danger and plenty of passionate love scenes. An entertaining and satisfying read.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

J is for James

The Book is Night Women by Marlon James is one of the best books I've read in a long time.  I read it for review for Historical Novels Review awhile back.  Below is the review:

The Book of Night Women is a beautifully written, sweeping tale of Jamaican slavery set in the early 19th century. The story centers on Lilith, a slave born on the Montpelier Estate, a large sugar plantation, where life is ruled by danger and fear. Lilith comes of age and kills a black slave driver who attempts to rape her. This event marks Lilith from the other slaves who begin to both fear and revere her at the same time for they sense that she possess a dark power hidden within her. A group of closely knit women, who call themselves the Night Women, keep their eye on Lilith and bring her into their secret circle. At their meetings, Lilith learns the group is plotting a slave revolt of massive proportion that involves several plantations. She hesitates to participate, but the Night Women see her as a force that could really help their cause, and Lilith is torn between her feelings.

James portrays his dynamic and flawed characters in a complex, stratified society where many boundaries, some known and some unspoken, exist among slaves and their masters as well as among the slaves themselves. The authentic voice of the narrator, who remains a mystery until the end of the novel, moves the story along at a brisk pace. Strong language abounds, and the entire novel is written in a slave dialect which adds to the story, making it a realistic, engaging read. James portrays the violence as it really was, absolutely horrific, and does not hold back. One of the most satisfying parts of the novel is James’s exploration of the power of love to transform a person and change their thinking. This tale of freedom, hope, survival, and unlikely love is unique and will continue to make readers think. Marlon James is an extremely gifted writer whose next book I eagerly anticipate.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I is for I, Elizabeth

I didn't have a book that I've already read for the letter "I," so I am instead posting about a book that I want to read.  I, Elizabeth by Rosalind Miles has been sitting on my bookshelf for a good two years I'd say.  I've read other books by Miles and have loved them.  For some reason, I just haven't gotten around to reading this one.  I know once I start it, I'll love it.
Here's a summary from Booklist:
Historian Miles' novel is in the form of a memoir that Elizabeth I is writing near the end of her long and amazing life. Through Elizabeth's eyes, the reader sees the life-and-death court intrigues, the religious conflicts, and the prerogatives as well as the high price of power. In addition to being faithful to historical fact, Miles presents a wealth of colorful detail. The personalitiesElizabeth's father, Henry VIII, her sister, Bloody Mary, her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and the restare vividly portrayed, as are the sights, sounds, and smells of the Tudor era. Miles also interprets the inner woman, from the frightened girl called away from the security of her exile at Hatfield to present herself at court, to the mature queen: scholarly, vain, shrewd, deeply attuned to such things as the language of dress, capable of great passion, but learning never to let her passions rule. Miles weaves Elizabeth's passions throughout, as various courtiers attempt to marry her off, and the men she loves betray her, prove inadequate, or must be sacrificed for the political good. Miles answers in her own way the question of whether the Virgin Queen was really a virgin. Despite its length, this convincing novel never falters. Mary Ellen Quinn

Friday, March 26, 2010

H is for Harper

Karen Harper is quickly becoming one of my new favorite historical novelists.  I had the great priviledge of meeting Karen Harper at the 2009 Historical Novel Society Conference in Illinois last June.  I was able to chat with her a few minutes, and she signed my copy of her novel The Last Boleyn.  In December, I listened to the audiobook version of Mistress Shakespeare, which was incredible.  In fact, reading Mistress Shakespeare inspired me to finally take a class on Shakespeare which I am currently in the middle of.  Our midterm is due tomorrow!  I am anxiously awaiting to begin Harper's latest historical novel, The Queen's Governess.  I just finished reading a James Patterson book for our staff book discussion, so I think I deserve to curl up with a great historical novel!   Below are product descirptions from the publisher of two of her books I have read:

Mistress Shakespeare
In Mistress Shakespeare, Elizabethan beauty Anne Whateley reveals intimate details of her dangerous, daring life and her great love, William Shakespeare. As historical records show, Anne Whateley of Temple Grafton is betrothed to Will just days before he is forced to wed the pregnant Anne Hathaway of Shottery. The clandestine Whateley/Shakespeare match is a meeting of hearts and heads that no one—not even Queen Elizabeth or her spymasters—can destroy. From rural Stratford-upon- Avon to teeming London, the passionate pair struggles to stay solvent and remain safe from Elizabeth I’s campaign to hunt down secret Catholics, of whom Shakespeare is rumored to be a part. Often at odds, always in love, the couple sells Will’s first plays and, as he climbs to theatrical power in Elizabeth’s England, they fend off fierce competition from rival London dramatists, ones as treacherous as they are talented. Persecution and plague, insurrection and inferno, friends and foes, even executions of those they hold dear, bring Anne’s heartrending story to life. Spanning half a century of Elizabethan and Jacobean history and sweeping from the lowest reaches of society to the royal court, this richly textured novel tells the real story of Shakespeare in love.

The Last Boleyn
She Survived Her Own Innocence, and the Treachery of Europe's Royal Courts.

Greed, lust for power, sex, lies, secret marriages, religious posturing, adultery, beheadings, international intrigue, jealousy, treachery, love, loyalty, and betrayal. The Last Boleyn tells the story of the rise and fall of the Boleyns, one of England s most powerful families, through the eyes of the eldest daughter, Mary.

Although her sister, Anne, the queen; her brother, George, executed alongside Anne; and her father, Thomas, are most remembered by history, Mary was the Boleyn who set into motion the chain of events that brought about the family s meteoric rise to power, as well as the one who managed to escape their equally remarkable fall. Sent away to France at an extraordinarily young age, Mary is quickly plunged into the dangerous world of court politics, where everything is beautiful but deceptive, and everyone she meets is watching and quietly manipulating the events and people around them. As she grows into a woman, Mary must navigate both the dangerous waters ruled by two kings and the powerful will of her own family in order to find a place for herself and the love she so deeply desires.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

G is for Gregory

By far my favorite historical fiction novelist is Philippa Gregory. I have read all of the books in her Tudor series. A few months ago I finished her latest book, The White Queen, the first book in her new War of the Roses series.  I'm excited about the potential for this new series.  For my birthday about two years ago, my husband bought me all of Gregory's other books.  I have yet to read any of them yet.  They are all lined up neatly on my "to read" shelf on our bookcase.  

Review of The Boleyn Inheritance 
The stories of Lady Jane Rochford, Anne of Cleves, and Katherine Howard are told in Philippa Gregory’s latest tale of the Tudor court, The Boleyn Inheritance.  

Anne of Cleves is Henry’s Bavarian born fourth wife, Catherine Howard, an English teenager that catches Henry’s eye, is his fifth wife, and Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford) is a lady of Henry’s court whose testimony sent her husband and her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, to the scaffold just a few years before.

These three women’s lives are bound together as they all try to survive in a court that is ruled by a man who changes his mind almost by the hour. The novel is full of court intrigue and politics told from each of the three women’s point of view. The change in narrators will keep readers interested in the plight of each woman, even though most will already know the story of who was divorced, beheaded, or survived. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

F is for Felber

Queen of Shadows: A Novel of Isabella, Wife of Edward II by Edith Felber

I absolutely loved this novel. Felber publishes romance novels and historical romances under the name Edith Layton, though I have never read any others of hers.

The following is the product descirption that I copied from Amazon. I know I wrote a review of this book for my library's staff reccomendations shelf, but it seems to have been misplaced.

In fourteenth-century England, beautiful Queen Isabella-humiliated by her weak, unfaithful husband-is emerging from the shadows to take her revenge. But her newly arrived, twenty-oneyear-old Welsh handmaiden, Gwenith de Percy, also seeks vengeance-against the English invaders who crushed her beloved Wales. Isabella's once-golden marriage is now her penance. Due to his rumored relations with men, Parliament forced Edward to share his throne-a demeaning arrangement that torments Isabella.
With the help of her secret, noble lover, Roger Mortimer-an enemy of her husband, imprisoned in the Tower of London-the queen plots to take control. Thrilled by this turn of events, Gwenith realizes that a king cannot afford to be weak-especially when his formidable, discontented queen seeks his power as her due.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

E is for Eleanor the Queen

Another review for Historical Novels Review for Eleanor the Queen by Norah Lofts.

Eleanor the Queen is a vivid account of the life of one of the world’s most famous queens, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Beautiful, freethinking, and strong-willed, Eleanor was not the typical woman of the 12th century. The novel is divided into four parts, each one focusing on a different period of Eleanor’s long life, beginning with the time when it was dangerous to be the unmarried heiress to the richest and largest provinces of France, Aquitaine and Poitou. Following her arranged marriage to King Louis VII of France, Eleanor embarks on crusade with Louis, and readers are immersed in the long, arduous journey of the Second Crusade. She exhibited bravery and strength, risking her life on the religious journey.

When her marriage to Louis VII ends in annulment, Henry Plantagenet asks for her hand in marriage. Their union produces two future kings of England, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. International bestselling author Norah Lofts does an excellent job of portraying the rivalries that exist between the sons and Henry II. Set in France, England, and the Holy Land, readers are transported to a world of intrigue, double dealings, and complex relationships. What is most revealing is the time that Eleanor spends in captivity in England. Lofts recreates the struggle that Eleanor goes through during her years of imprisonment and the feelings of being separated from her children, with little to do but think about the past and hope for the best for the future.

Eleanor the Queen was originally published in 1955, now reissued, and is a story filled with love, pain, betrayal, and politics of the 12th century. Lofts paints a rich portrait of the times, giving readers a compelling novel that should not be missed.

D is for Shannon Drake

Here is a review I wrote for Historical Novels Review for the novel Emerald Embrace by Shannon Drake.

Originally published in 1991, Drake’s tale set in Scotland in 1865, delivers a gothic feel and an element of suspense. When Lady Martise St. James learns that her friend, Mary, has suddenly died, she travels from America to Scotland to investigate her friend’s death. As soon as Martise arrives at Castle Creeghan in the Scottish Highlands, she is met with a sense of foreboding. The Lord of the castle and the late Mary’s husband, Bruce Creeghan, is a mysterious and attractive man, but there is something about him that Martise does not trust though she immediately feels the passion developing between them despite her better judgment. Martise’s goal is to uncover the mystery behind her friend’s death, retrieve a missing emerald that she knows must be hidden somewhere in the castle, and escape the clutches of the castle alive.
Though the pacing of the novel is fast and is packed with steamy love scenes, readers may get a sense of déjà vu because the dialogue between the two main characters is very repetitive. Drake does keep the reader guessing as to who is behind the mystery and deception at the castle, but the best quality of the book is the atmospheric descriptions of the castle and its surroundings.