Saturday, January 14, 2017

{Review} The Greatest Knight: The Remarkable Life of William Marshal, the Power Behind Five English Thrones by Thomas Asbridge

Publication Date: 2015
Publisher: ECCO, an imprint of HarperCollins
Genre: Nonfiction
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 464
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: 4 stars for very good

The preface tells the story of a man named Paul Meyer, who in 1861, first discovered at Sotheby's in London, a medieval book labeled "Norman French Chronicle on English Affairs." After a period of twenty years, he found the book again and was able to study the manuscript. He discovered it was about the life of William Marshal. Meyer later published a printed edition of the History of William Marshal.
The year is 1152, and five year old William Marshal has been sentenced to be executed on order from King Stephen. Young Marshal has not committed a crime but he is being used as a political pawn.
The rest of Marshals life, because he survived this frightening early childhood experience, lived a long, adventurous, and successful life.
The Greatest Knight is a biography of William Marshal. The biography includes his education and learning to war; serving five English kings; time spent as a professional warrior in a tournament circuit; friendship with Templars and Hospitallers; fighting in a crusade; and service under difficult King John.

My Thoughts:
This is the first book I've read about William Marshal. I've heard bloggers of British history remark about Marshal and I had to read a book about him.
I felt The Greatest Knight gave me a solid view of William Marshal and this era in history.
Several reasons led me to give The Greatest Knight 4 stars for very good.
  • The history and career of medieval knights.
  • Life in a tournament circuit.
  • The Crusade in the Holy Land. However, the medieval biography written on William Marshal about his two years in service in the Holy Land is minimal. Instead, Asbridge pieces together from other sources the history of the time Marshal was in the Holy Land (1183-1186).
  • History of "Medieval Wales and Ireland."
  • Marshal's wise ability to survive under King John.
The Greatest Knight is a work of nonfiction. I did not feel the book brought to life William Marshal; however, the book is not meant to be a historical fiction read. I'm not saying the book is a dry text book, but it is a historical account of William Marshal.   
The Greatest Knight is fascinating, because I love British medieval history.  
William Marshal served under five English kings! I find this amazing. For me, his bio is a walking encyclopedia of 12th and early 13th century English history.
I loved the story of how the medieval book about William Marshal was found by Paul Meyer; and how Meyer continued to piece together and study the remarkable person of William Marshal.
Attribution link

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year."
Charles Dickens

"It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so as Tiny Tim observed, 'God bless us, every one! '"
Charles Dickens

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

(Review) Poldark: Ross Poldark, Book One by Winston Graham

Publication Date: 2015, 1945
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: 4 stars for very good

I discovered Poldark on PBS Masterpiece on Sunday evenings.
There are twelve books in the series. The following link shows the books: Goodreads.

Ross Poldark returns home to England after fighting in the Revolution in America. Life at home has changed dramatically: his father died, and his beloved Elizabeth is engaged to someone else. Poldark renews life in England under circumstances different than he'd imagined. The family estate requires hard work to clean up. Poldark's mind and body are busy in the process of bringing the family home back into business.

My Thoughts:
Poldark's character is amiable; and because of the disappointments at his homecoming, I felt an immediate sympathy for him. This is the first point that drew me into the story.
Poldark is a character that does not always make decisions I feel is right. Meaning, I don't always agree with his judgment or lack of judgment. I make this statement more for the Masterpiece shows that are into further books in this series. He is an imperfect man, and this is shown in the continuing story.
I don't care for the character Elizabeth. She is a fickle girl. She is the female lead for Poldark's interest until Demelza blossoms and catches his attention. However, Elizabeth is not ignored in the story, and I'm left wondering what will become of the attraction she and Poldark still have for each other. This dilemma is another element used to lure the reader.
Demelza quickly became my favorite character, more favored than Poldark. She is a jewel obscured by her family background and circumstances. She just needs a little polishing and then she shines.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

(Review) A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Publication Date: September 6, 2016
Publisher: Viking
Genre: Fiction, Russia from 1920s-1950s
Pages: 462
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent


Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov returned to Russia after the collapse of the monarchy and at the beginning of communism. The year is 1922. He was placed under house arrest at the Metropol, a hotel near the Kremlin. His observations, activities, and relationships are in the hotel. A young girl becomes his ward. As a long-time bachelor, Rostov, makes changes to accommodate this young child.

My Thoughts:
I loved this story!
The main reason is it has been a long time since I've become consumed-swept away by a fictional story!
The story is not a mystery, nor suspense, nor a romance, nor a study on history; however, it is a strong character story.
The Count is a likable man. He is amiable to the people he has forged relationships. He does not look down on people who are of a different social status. He seems to always be in control. He is a gentleman even when other people are not kind. He makes the best of his situation even though life can be boring.
I enjoyed the revealing of the story. The Count and young girl are close. I wondered what their future held.
The Count's fate might have been worse. Living in a hotel was better that Siberia. But for a young man who had intelligence and vigor, this situation was a challenge.
I'd stated above this is a character story. The secondary characters are those people the Count came in contact with; for example, a spoiled actress. the hotel manager, and the lobby cat.
The Count is aware of the history unfolding outside the hotel. References are made to history, but A Gentleman in Moscow is not a strong history lesson.

My favorite quote:
He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity-a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along. Page 441-442.
A highly recommended novel!  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

(Review) Treason by James Jackson

Publication Date: October 6, 2016
Publisher: Zaffre
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 320
Source: Free copy from Zaffre , Bonnier Pubishing.
Rating: 3 stars for good

According to Amazon the hard copy is only available through a third-party seller. The kindle ebook is available for $9.49.

From The Irish Times, a book synopsis.

James Jackson website

I've found few reviews on this book. Amazon has none. Goodreads has two.

During the early part of the reign of James I of England, a plot was made against James and his family. Guido Fawkes, an English Catholic, planned a Gunpowder plot. He and several men planned to blow-up the king, his family, and the Protestant rulers. English government spy, Christian Hardy, works to uncover the plot and people involved. A man named Realm, a Spanish agent, is another strong threat.

My Thoughts:
The year is 1604, London.
The name Guido Fawkes is literally pressed from the lips of a prisoner. Fawkes being the name of the plotter against the king. This name is a pseudo name for the plotter.
The spy, Christian Hardy, must find the man behind the Fawkes name, and his accomplices before they achieve their plot.
I love history. I enjoyed reading about this period in English history.
I have never read a book specifically on James I, but aim to in the new year.
The storyline is a plus.
The character Christian Hardy is a plus.
However, I felt the story missed an opportunity to draw me in with suspense. For another reader, they may enjoy this book. For me, it just did not hold my attention as I'd liked.
Christian Hardy is a strong character. He is a character who uses whatever means he can contrive to extract information. I wonder if the book had centered on him, and if his character had been fleshed-out more, and extended with his "interesting"  principles, how the book would fair?
Sir Robert Cecil was chief minister during the early part of the reign of James I. His character is seen more often; whereas, James I seems to be in the background.
I was shown the technique of spying and torture during this period. This element reminded me of a Vincent Price film, macabre.

Book Blast for Marlene: A Novel of Marlene Dietrich by C.W. Gortner


Marlene: A Novel of Marlene Dietrich by C.W. Gortner

Paperback Release Date: December 13, 2016
William Morrow, Harper Collins
ISBN: 9780062406071; 432 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary Women/Biographical
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Marlene Dietrich’s femme fatale persona defined her, but behind the glitz of 1930s Hollywood was a remarkably modern woman, determined to live by her own terms. A rebellious girl, Marlene’s genteel family expectations curtail her until Germany's defeat in the Great War gives rise to the decadence of Weimar Berlin. Here, Marlene finds her niche as a cabaret actress. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, and androgynous tuxedo, she performs to packed houses and has a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention until she finds overnight success in the scandalous movie The Blue Angel. As Hitler seizes power, Marlene sets sail for America to become one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, starring opposite Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. When Hitler tries to entice her back to Germany, Marlene defiantly declares her stance, risking her life to perform for Allied troops. And upon the war's savage end, she finally returns to Germany to discover a heartbreaking secret amidst the war’s devastation. MARLENE is out in paperback on December 13 and features exclusive extra content. A perfect gift for lovers of old Hollywood and strong dames! To find out more, please visit:


From the gender-bending cabarets of Weimar Berlin to the tyrannical movie studios of Los Angeles, this sweeping story of passion, glamour, art, and war is a lush, dramatic novel of one of the most alluring legends of Hollywood’s golden age: Marlene Dietrich.
Raised in genteel poverty after the First World War, Maria Magdalena Dietrich dreams of a life on the stage. When her budding career as a violinist is cut short, she vows to become an actress, trading her family’s proper, middle-class society for the free-spirited, louche world of Berlin’s cabarets and drag balls. With her sultry beauty, smoky voice, and androgynous tailored suits, Marlene performs to packed houses and conducts a series of stormy love affairs that push the boundaries of social convention until she finds overnight success in the scandalous movie The Blue Angel. For Marlene, neither fame nor marriage and motherhood can cure her wanderlust. As Hitler rises to power, she sets sail for America to become a rival to MGM’s queen, Greta Garbo. As one of Hollywood’s top leading ladies, she stars with such legends as Gary Cooper, John Wayne, and Cary Grant. Desperate for her return, Hitler tries to lure her with dazzling promises. Defiant in her stance against the Nazis, Marlene chooses instead to become an American citizen, and after her new nation is forced into World War II, she tours with the USO, performing for Allied troops in Europe and Africa. But one day, she must return to Germany, where she will discover a heartbreaking secret amidst the war’s devastation that transformed her homeland and the family she loved. An enthralling account of this extraordinary legend, MARLENE reveals the inner life of a woman of grit and ambition who defied convention, seduced the world, and forged her own path.
“Skillfully evokes the cross-dressing, sexually fluid atmosphere of the seedy nightclubs that helped Marlene define her unique appeal. Well-detailed and truly moving; an ambitious account of the German-American star. ” —Kirkus Reviews
“Full of the sizzle and decadence of Weimar Berlin, and the scandal and soirees of Hollywood’s golden era, this is a gloriously entertaining read. CW Gortner’s Marlene is utterly beguiling, the kind of woman who only comes along once in a century. Reader, you can’t take your eyes off her!” —Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author
"From the ribald cabarets of Weimer-era Berlin to the glamour of golden-era Hollywood, beguilingly androgynous and fiercely passionate Marlene Dietrich . . . fairly leaps off every page." —Booklist, starred review

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | HarperCollins | iBooks | IndieBound

03_cw-gortnerAbout the Author

C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco. After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding. Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats. For more information visit C.W. Gortner’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook, Twittter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and YouTube. Sign up for C.W. Gortner’s Newsletter for updates.

Book Blast Schedule

Tuesday, December 13
Kinx's Book Nook
A Bookaholic Swede
To Read, Or Not to Read
So Many Books, So Little Time
Wednesday, December 14
The Lit Bitch
Unabridged Chick
The Never-Ending Book
Caryn, the Book Whisperer
Thursday, December 15
Impressions In Ink
CelticLady's Reviews
Please Pass The Books
What Is That Book About
Friday, December 16
Broken Teepee Books,
Dreams, Life
Saturday, December 17
SJ2B House of Books
Ageless Pages Reviews
Beth's Book Nook Blog
First Impression Reviews
Sunday, December 18
T's Stuff
100 Pages a Day
Passages to the Past
Monday, December 19
Book Nerd
A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, December 20
I Heart Reading
Creating Herstory
Just One More Chapter


To win a paperback copy of Marlene: A Novel of Marlene Dietrich by C.W. Gortner, please enter via the Gleam form below. Two copies are up for grabs! Rules – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on December 20th. You must be 18 or older to enter. – Giveaway is open to US residents only. – Only one entry per household. – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion. – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. Marlene Paperback 04_marlene_blog-tour-banner_final

Saturday, October 29, 2016

(Review) Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance by Amy Licence

Publication Date: March 30, 2016
Publisher: Amberley
Genre: Nonfiction, Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville, British History, British Monarchy
Pages: 304
Source: I received this book free of charge from the author or publisher
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Link for more information at the publisher: Amberley.


Website for Amy Licence.

Links for further information:
Edward IV, Luminarium 
Elizabeth Woodville, Luminarium 
Edward IV, English Monarchs
Edward V, Britannica 
Edward V, BBC History
Edward V, Medieval Life and Times

Edward of York became king in 1461. He chose a bride who had been married before and had two sons. Her name was Elizabeth Woodville. Edward's marriage to Elizabeth was done in secret. The Earl of Warwick had hoped Edward would marry for political reasons. Edward made a defiant decision independent from Warwick.
The focus on Edward and Elizabeth's courtship and marriage has been portrayed in books and films. The White Queen by Phillipa Gregory is well-known.
Amy Licence's focus and intent is to filter away the myths of Edward and Elizabeth, and deliver to the reader the facts. In the process, a solid and intimate study of the couple is portrayed.

The book includes 37 illustrations, 24 are in color.

My Thoughts:
Several reasons led me to give Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville: A True Romance 5 stars for excellent.

  • Several stories of historical figures are added to the book. I consider these stories to be gems I'd not anticipated. For example: Joan of Arc; Elizabeth Cobham, the second wife of the Duke of Gloucester. 
  • Edward IV and Elizabeth's reasons for marriage are analyzed. 
  • Edward's leadership and battle prowess is shown. 
  • The treatment of women to destroy their reputation is examined. Licence is especially knowledgeable about women's lives during the medieval period. 
  • The letters written by Edward as a youth is fascinating. 
  • Chapter twelve begins after Edward's death. Edward's two sons, Edward V, and Richard, are kept in the Tower and then they disappear entirely. The circumstances of their death is a mystery. The series of events taken by Richard, duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, is given. Licence points out the Croyland Chronicler, a letter Richard wrote, and letters of other witnesses during this period. I enjoyed reading the historical accounts in the documents. 

Saturday, October 22, 2016

(Review) The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

Publication Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Women's fiction, family secrets, mystery
Pages: 400
Source: Self-purchase
Rating: 4 stars for very good


"Hetty" Harriet Deveraux inherits an ancestral home, Muirlan House, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. She had already quit her magazine job. She left a controlling boyfriend behind in London. She needed to get away, to think and plan afresh. The Muirlan House is in ruins. Hetty had planned to renovate the home. She does not have experience in renovation work. Meanwhile, bones have been found near the home. They have not been identified.
The story moves back and forth from 1910, a brief 1945, and 2010. The characters in the 1910 period, are the painter, Theo Blake, and his new wife, Beatrice. The modern period is Hetty.

My Thoughts:
What attracted me to the story is the background of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. This is a remote area, cell coverage and Internet are unavailable. It is an area of the world that seems wild and untamed, and also mysterious.
The human remains gave the story a mystery, but further mysteries are discovered.
The House Between Tides is remarkable in its setting. Muirlan House holds memories and secrets. It has its own unique personality.
Theo Blake is a painter. It is apparent from the first page, he is a person who is hiding something. He is a person with polar personalities. He is a strong character.
Beatrice Blake lives during the Victorian era when women were not independent. However, she is a strong character.
Hetty is not a strong character. She is a mediocre character. She is not assertive. She is not a person who stands her ground, but instead takes flight. If she were a coffee, she would be decaf. I found it interesting to portray Hetty, as a modest and mild person. I wondered if it was meant to be a counter-balance for the characters? I tend to pick apart the psyche of characters. She had close family members who'd died, and she has a controlling boyfriend. Her non-assertive nature maybe in response to the feeling she has no control over her life. I'm pleased her character had a transformation in the story.
The House Between Tides held my interest until the final page.
The strong points in the story are the family secrets, mystery of the remains, characters, and the environment of the home and landscape.