Tuesday, November 18, 2014

(Review) The Spoils of Avalon, A John Singer Sargent/Violet Paget Mystery by Mary F. Burns

Publisher: Sand Hill Review Press, July 31, 2014.
Genre: Fiction, mystery, Victorian England, medieval England.
Format: Advanced reader copy paperback.
Pages: 304.
Rating: 3 Stars.
Source: Free copy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and Sand Hill Review Press in exchange for a review.

Link for book tour: The Spoils of Avalon. 



Summary:
The death of a humble clergyman in 1877 leads amateur sleuths Violet Paget and John Singer Sargent into a medieval world of saints and kings—including the legendary Arthur—as they follow a trail of relics and antiquities lost since the destruction of Glastonbury Abbey in 1539. Written in alternating chapters between the two time periods, The Spoils of Avalon creates a sparkling, magical mystery that bridges the gap between two worlds that could hardly be more different—the industrialized, Darwinian, materialistic Victorian Age and the agricultural, faith-infused life of a medieval abbey on the brink of violent change at the hands of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell.
First in a new series of historical mysteries, The Spoils of Avalon introduces two unlikely detectives and life-long friends—beginning as young people on the verge of making their names famous for the next several decades throughout Europe and America: the brilliant and brittle Violet Paget, known as the writer Vernon Lee, and the talented, genial portrait painter John Singer Sargent.
Friends from the age of ten, Paget and Sargent frequently met in the popular European watering places and capitals, frequenting the same salons and drawing rooms in London, Rome, Paris, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Madrid. Both were possessed of keen minds and bohemian tendencies, unorthodox educations and outsized egos (especially Paget). Their instant, natural bonding led them to address each other as “Twin”, and they corresponded frequently when they were apart.
Henry James once described Violet Paget as having “the most formidable mind” of their times, and he was an active fan and patron of John Sargent, introducing him to London society and his own inner circles of literary and artistic genius. (summary courtesy of HFVBT). 

My Thoughts:
There were a few things I really loved about The Spoils of Avalon. 

  • Quotes from Idylls of the King at the beginning of each chapter. 
  • A beautiful front cover. It reminded me of a medieval illuminated manuscript. 
  • Two time frames. One time setting is in 1877 Victorian England. The other time setting is 1539 England. 
  • A mystery surrounding ancient relics.
  • The Arthurian legend.
  • An English monastery setting during the 1500s. 
  • Henry VIII's rule. In particular, the event surrounding his "destruction" of the monasteries. 
  • A murder mystery.
  • Victorian England. 
What I did not like in regards to The Spoils of Avalon.
  • The story is too busy. It is a whirl of varying elements. I believe it is because the story is too busy, I failed to find a place to connect. Further, I was not able to become apart of the story. 

About the Author

Mary F. Burns is the author of PORTRAITS OF AN ARTIST (Sand Hill Review Press, February 2013), a member of and book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society and a former member of the HNS Conference board of directors. A novella-length book, ISAAC AND ISHMAEL, is also being published by Sand Hill Review Press in 2014. Ms. Burns’ debut historical novel J-THE WOMAN WHO WROTE THE BIBLE was published in July 2010 by O-Books (John Hunt Publishers, UK). She has also written two cozy-village mysteries in a series titled The West Portal Mysteries (The Lucky Dog Lottery and The Tarot Card Murders).
Ms. Burns was born in Chicago, Illinois and attended Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where she earned both Bachelors and Masters degrees in English, along with a high school teaching certificate. She relocated to San Francisco in 1976 where she now lives with her husband Stuart in the West Portal neighborhood. Ms. Burns has a law degree from Golden Gate University, has been president of her neighborhood association and is active in citywide issues. During most of her working career she was employed as a director of employee communications, public relations and issues management at various San Francisco Bay Area corporations, was an editor and manager of the Books on Tape department for Ignatius Press, and has managed her own communications/PR consulting business, producing written communications, websites and video productions for numerous corporate and non-profit clients.
Ms. Burns may be contacted by email at maryfburns@att.net. For more information please visit Mary Burns’s website. You can also connect with Mary on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads, or read her blog posts at:

The Spoils of Avalon Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, November 3
Review at Buried Under Books
Tuesday, November 4
Review at Book Dilettante
Wednesday, November 5
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Friday, November 7
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Monday, November 10
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, November 11
Review at Layered Pages
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, November 12
Guest Post at Passages to the Past
Thursday, November 13
Review at Curling Up By The Fire
Friday, November 14
Interview at The Maiden’s Court
Monday, November 17
Review & Interview at Jorie Loves a Story
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, November 18
Review at Impressions in Ink
Wednesday, November 19
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Thursday, November 20
Review & Giveaway at Beth’s Book Reviews
Friday, November 21
Review at Bibliotica

Friday, November 14, 2014

(Review) Edward II: The Unconventional King by Kathryn Warner

Publisher: Amberley Books, October 19, 2014.
Genre: Non-fiction, British History Reading Challenge 2014, Edward II, kings and queens of England.
Format: pdf.
Pages: 336, with 30 illustrations.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.
Source: Free pdf from Amberley in exchange for a review.

Link for book @ Amazon. 
Waterstones. 

Links for following Kathryn Warner:
Twitter
Blog
Facebook

Additional Resources:
King Edward II, from Royal Family History
From, English Monarchs, Edward II
From, The British Monarchy
From, Britannia
From, BBC-History

Edward Caernarfon was born on April 25, 1284, at Caernarfon Castle in Wales.
He died September 20 or 21, 1327, at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, England.

Summary:
Edward II is hedged between two other kings named Edward who had legacies of power and popularity. Edward II's legacy was his tawdry relationships with male favorites. Edward II was tall and handsome, but he did not have the ambition to be a king. He became a king because he was his father's only surviving son and heir. Edward was a man and king of discordance. He had a personality that displayed fits of rage. He was a man who held grudges and did not forgive. However, he had moments of tenderness and empathy. He showed love and affection for his wife. Nevertheless, he had male favorites who were probably his homosexual lovers. His life and reign is an anomaly. He is a curiosity. In the introduction written by Ian Mortimer, he explains, "But I still maintain that in a true biography-as opposed to a history book about a reign-it is important to present not only what a man thought of himself but his awareness of what others thought of him."

My Thoughts:
Before reading Edward II, my knowledge of him was limited. I love historical based films, yet they stray from fact most of the time in order to entertain. I appreciate historians who write books with the goal of facts backed-up from solid documented sources.
I have mixed emotions in regards to Edward II. I have empathy for Edward, I'm sad for the circumstances that caused hardship in his life. But I also feel he lacked a judicious and tactful nature. I wonder if he suffered from what we know as bi-polar? His fits of rage and bursts of spending are symptoms of the disorder.
Edward II began with a strong and detailed introduction written by Ian Mortimer. I appreciate his stage setting of the books goals. Mortimer warned of the, "Danger of emotion seeping into the narrative, and obscure the contradictions of the character." I believe this is a warning for both the writer and the reader.
I enjoyed reading Kathryn Warner's balanced view of Edward II. She carefully weighed other historian's views. I was able to see Edward as the person he was and not just an obscure king. There are still mysteries surrounding Edward's life, but I feel Kathryn Warner's Edward II has represented his character and life in vivid detail.

Several points in the book are studied.

  • Edward's relationship with Piers Gaveston.
  • Edward's relationship with Hugh Despenser,
  • Edward's marriage and children. 
  • The wars with Scotland.
  • The court life of Edward II, pertaining to servants, food, and clothing.
  • Isabella's great betrayal. 
  • Roger Mortimer.
Additional points that I enjoyed reading. 
  • Edward's confinement at Berkeley Castle.
  • The plots to help Edward escape.
  • Edward's (morbid) death in 1327. The pros and cons of believing the "death event." Is it a myth or true? 
  • Did Edward escape death in 1327 to live a longer life? 

Book Blogger Hop: November 14-20th

Book Blogger Hop link
The question for the week is submitted by Elizabeth!
"As you grow in your blogging experience, have you become more particular in terms of what you will post on your blog or what books you will read for review on your blog?"

Yes. The defining word in the question is more. Since the beginning, I have been particular in regards to books I choose to read and review. I believe I've become more astute at choosing those books that will be a high rating review. In early 2014, I read a couple of books that shocked me because of the content. I'd made a major error in choosing those books to read and review. When I'm asked to review a book, I research the book a little. I look at the books information on Amazon. I read reviews from bloggers. Then I make the decision to accept or decline. I have at times in the past chosen books to review that were out of the norm for my taste. I chose them in order to broaden my reading. I've learned this backfires, so I've stopped. At this point in my life I know what I like and don't like. I have also learned life is too short to read a book I dislike. 


Thursday, November 13, 2014

(Review) Chaucer's Tale: 1386 and The Road To Canterbury by Paul Strohm

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Group, November 13, 2014.
Genre: Non-fiction, biography, Geoffrey Chaucer, medieval England.
Format: hardcover.
Pages: 304, with 12 illustrations.
Rating: 4 stars for very good.
Source: Free copy from Viking in exchange for a review.

Chaucer's Tale is available November 13.
Link @ Amazon. 

Resource links:
Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
Wikipedia
Luminarium
The Literature Network
Poets


Summary:
Paul Strohm has written a concise biography of Geoffrey Chaucer.
Strohm states the aim of the book.
My aim is to write an evidence-based account that respects the past as past, but that simultaneously seeks out linkages between that past and our present. At various points in the pages to follow I will attribute motives to Chaucer that, with modest adjustment, are close cousins to our own: motives of love (and accommodation to its absence), ambition (and its curious lack), loyalty (and its limits), financial security (and an apparent indifference to wealth), a wish for fame (and a disdain for its requirements). Page 13-14.
The subjects covered are:

  • Geoffrey Chaucer's early life, marriage, and family.
  • His business and political career.
  • Life in London and living above Aldgate.
  • Literary career.
My Thoughts:
Geoffrey Chaucer's, The Canterbury Tales, was introduced to me in college. My teacher was Mrs. Caesar. The coarse was British Literature. I loved both the teacher and class.
I had heard about The Canterbury Tales, but had not read the tales until the class. I fell in love with the wit and rich word usage.
My favorite tales are The Nun's Priest's Tale and The Wife of Bath's Tale.
I was anxious to read a biography of Geoffrey Chaucer. I wanted to know about his life and personality.
While reading Chaucer's Tale, I felt better acquainted with him, but I did not believe Chaucer's Tale had fleshed-out the man himself. Please understand, I was not looking for a romantic, nor witty book on Chaucer. The book felt a bit conservative. But...after reading Chaucer's Tale, I came to understand Geoffrey Chaucer was a conservative man. He was not ambitious. He was not interested in being in the forefront of social circles. I had prejudged the book by expecting something that would not have been an accurate portrayal. I have come to the decision that Paul Strohm's book fully represents the person and life of Geoffrey Chaucer.
An excellent point in the book: Paul Strohm said,
Racy narratives within Chaucer's own literary oeuvre-such as the "Miller's Tale" and the "Reeve's Tale" within his Canterbury Tales-have literary sources in the Old French comic tales called fabliaux and elsewhere, and I do not mean to suggest that he drew them from surrounding life. If anything, Chaucer-working within literary rather than judicial traditions-tones his stories down a bit, tempering and redirecting their energies away from raw incident and toward more modulated points about mutual betrayal (the "Shipman's Tale") and displaced requital and revenge (the "Reeve's Tale). But no none reading of Margaret's travails or Elizabeth's enterprising greed could fail to notice that Chaucer had the advantage of a London public that knew how to recognize and appreciate a well-told yarn. Chaucer's assumptions about tales and tale telling were formed within a society in which narrative exchange and the recital of racy incidents was part of the fodder of daily life. Page 78-79.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

(Review) The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women's Stories by Amy Licence

Publisher: Amberley Publishing, hardcover available in the US, November 19, 2014. The Kindle edition is available now.
Genre: Non-fiction, British History Reading Challenge 2014, Kings and Queens of England, Tudor History.
Format: pdf.
Pages: 416, with 75 illustrations.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.
Source: Free pdf copy from Amberley Publishing in exchange for a review.

The book is available at:
Amazon,
Waterstones.


Summary:
In my opinion, it is unfair how Henry VIII and his relationships have been depicted on the movie screen and in books. Because most of the time it is an inaccurate rendering. Accuracy is swept away and replaced with theatrics that titillate. What people do not realize is Henry's marriages and love affairs had more than enough drama, adding to the reality of what happened is unnecessary. I'm thankful Amy Licence has not sought to write another biography on Henry VIII. Instead, she has written a study on Henry's relationships with his wives and mistresses. Henry was married six times. He had several affairs. All of the relationships began and ended on his terms. I've never thought of Henry as man who was not in control. But death had the last dramatic session in his life. A legacy of Henry VIII is his lengthy list of wives, especially concerning the circumstances of each relationship. I have been curious to know what Henry's enticement had been for these women? What was Henry like as a lover? Was "it" all a game and Henry the master chess player?
Amy Licence defines, "three key phases of Henry's intimate relationships."

  1. 1509-1525. A young Henry.
  2. 1526-1537. The era dominated by a preoccupation for an heir. 
  3. 1537-1547. Henry's effort to "recreate the stability and happiness of a loving marriage."  

My Thoughts:
The best writers know and write for their targeted audience. The most clever writers have a particular skill they have mastered. In Amy Licence's case, her particular skill is the culture and society of Tudor women.
When I began reading The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, I did not expect a Henry VIII biography. I expected and received a detailed study of Henry's love relationships.
I'm compelled to feel strong empathy for Henry's first two wives. Long suffering Catherine of Aragon. She had been Henry's wife at his best. She had been Henry's wife at his worst. Catherine of Aragon had been Henry's wife longer than his other wives, but when Henry was finished with her, she was regarded as dead to his life. Likewise, is Henry's second wife Anne Boleyn. She is a favorite historical figure among readers and lovers of Tudor history. I love reading historical books on Anne. To read either a fact or fictional work on Anne, brings her passionate and vivid personality to life.
Henry had wooed and coddled Anne for years, before marrying her after his divorce from Catherine, in which Henry had transpired and enacted.
Before reading The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII, I had read books on Henry's mistresses, Elizabeth Blount and Mary Boleyn. Licence reveals several more mistresses in Henry's list.
While reading the book, I wondered how Henry had time for a busy sex life? He was a powerful charismatic man. I also believe he "knew" women. I believe he made it a hobby to study women, at least for the benefit of his interests; and I believe this endeavor appealed to his large ego.
Pregnancy, miscarriage, and birthing during Tudor times is explained. I was most interested to read about superstitions in regard to diagnosing pregnancy.
A favorite quote from the book:
"The greater the love he felt for them, the greater the suffering he needed to inflict upon them"

Additional resources:
The Love Letters of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. The Kindle price is free. 
In Bed With The Tudors by Amy Licence.
Royal Babies: A History 1066-2013 by Amy Licence. 
From the Luminarium, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.  
From the The Anne Boleyn Files, Henry VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn. 
From the Express, What Really Went on in Henry VIII's Bedroom?