Book Review: Alice’s Tulips by Sandra Dallas

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Alice Bullock is a young newlywed whose husband, Charlie, has just joined the Union Army, leaving her on his Iowa farm with only his formidable mother for company. Alice writes lively letters to her sister filled with accounts of local quilting bees, the rigors of farm life, and the customs of small-town America. But no town is too small for intrigue and treachery, and when Alice finds herself accused of murder, she discovers her own hidden strengths. Rich in details of quilting, Civil War-era America, and the realities of a woman’s life in the nineteenth century, Alice’s Tulips is Sandra Dallas at her best.

It took me a while to get into the writing style – it is where one sister (Alice) writes letters to her sister Lizzie. Some of it is a little forced (reminding her sister as to how many brothers they’ve got for instance) in order to get the back story in, but it’s minor and soon got over.

The letters are one sided (you never get to read the replies) and tells of two years on a farm with Alice, her mother in law and various waifs and strays, all whilst Charlie is off fighting in the Civil war.

Alice tries to bear the unwanted attention of a local womaniser, but never contemplated that she would be accused when he turned up dead on their land. There are also diversion in some of the other women in the town (you hear little of the men).

Once I got past the slightly unusual format, I enjoyed reading this book! Although reading through this review again, I can remember little of the story itself now, and it has blended with several other civil war quilting books that I’ve read in the last few years, so dont know if that reflects well on this book or not

 

Book Review: The Agincourt Bride by Joanna Hickson

agincourtbrideThe epic story of the queen who founded the Tudor dynasty, told through the eyes of her loyal nursemaid. Perfect for fans of Philipa Gregory.

When her own first child is tragically still-born, the young Mette is pressed into service as a wet-nurse at the court of the mad king, Charles VI of France. Her young charge is the princess, Catherine de Valois, caught up in the turbulence and chaos of life at court.

Mette and the child forge a bond, one that transcends Mette’s lowly position.
But as Catherine approaches womanhood, her unique position seals her fate as a pawn between two powerful dynasties. Her brother, The Dauphin and the dark and sinister, Duke of Burgundy will both use Catherine to further the cause of France.

Catherine is powerless to stop them, but with the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt, the tables turn and suddenly her currency has never been higher. But can Mette protect Catherine from forces at court who seek to harm her or will her loyalty to Catherine place her in even greater danger?

This book has several advantages over other historical fiction novels covering the same period: it is told from that of the wet nurse of Princess Catherine of France, and that much of the “action” is held “off screen” where the future of Mette – and Catherine – is in the hands of others.

Mette, 14 years old and already the new mother of a stillborn baby, is requisitioned to be the wet nurse to the newborn Princess Catherine, daughter of the mad King Charles of France, who fears that since he is made of glass he will shatter at any moment.  Her involvement with the royal family comes and goes, dependant on the moods of Catherine, the Queen, and the Queen’s lover the Duke of Burgundy. The royal children suffer the vagaries of political machinations, where they are seen purely as pawns to aid power, and are rarely the recipients of parental or familial love.

Over the following 18 years, Mette becomes more useful to Catherine, and ends up being the Mistress of the Wardrobe. From her standpoint Mette sees the effect Burgundy has on Catherine, and what the political manoeuvring with regards to offering her hand in marriage to King Henry V of England. Henry’s reputation preceeds him significantly within the book, and it is second or even third hand that rumour and gossip comes through to Catherine’s group.

This book is clearly the start of a series and deals with the machinations leading up to a political marriage – Henry V appears as a specific character late in the narrative, Owen Tudor is a passing (though named) character in the last few chapters who, if you didn’t know your history, would make you wonder why the author was labouring so much over a Welsh bowman.

Some characters are, by necessity perhaps, a little two dimensional. This is a story of Mette and her relationship with the future Queen of England. So the character development of Mette’s son Luc (hound master to the exiled Prince Charles), daughter Alys (seamstress to Princess Catherine) and Son In Law (Alys’s lover who gets her pregnant before they get married) are rather unfulfilled.

This is a nice take on a frequently raised story, decently executed and set up decently for the following books in the series

Sunday Salon: Themed reading

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I dont normally read to a theme, but  over the Christmas period last year, I read a number of Christmas themed romances. I had already met my 100 books challenge for the year and knew that I wasnt in a position to read any books where I needed to concentrate for more than a day.

This year, I had no specific plans to read anything themed, but ended up reading several more romances in the run up to Valentines Day – what can I say? I was stuck in a rut with my reading and needed to get my mojo back on track, and I find these unchallenging books are great as fillers.

I’ve subsequently reorganised my bookshelves, and have put them into some logical order – books by the same author, books on a theme (e.g. Far East) together. I may well do some themed reading in the future, now that I have a better idea what is on my bookshelves.  I have also been reading some other Christmas themed stories – not all romances – and these will be scheduled around the holidays. I have also read a few ghost stories, which are also scheduled in October

Do you like to read books with a theme such as Halloween, Christmas, etc? 

 

Book Review: Blood Royal by Vanora Bennett

bloodroyalBlood Royal by Vanora Bennett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of a great queen, a woman of enormous courage who made her own rules, and a true survivor. This is the first in a series of early medieval novels by Vanora Bennett, the author of Portrait of an Unknown Woman. Catherine de Valois, daughter of the French king, is born in troubled times. Brought up in a the stormy and unstable environment of the court, her only friend is the remarkable poet and writer Christine de Pizan. Catherine is married off to Henry V as part of a treaty honouring his victory over France, and is destined to be a trophy wife. Terrified at the idea of being married to a man who is at once a foreigner, an enemy and a rough soldier, Catherine nevertheless does her duty. Within two years she is widowed, and mother of the future King of England and France – even though her brother has already claimed the French crown for himself. Caught between warring factions, Catherine finds support from Owain Tudor, controller of her household – a dangerous support as rumours of their relationship would jeopardise her right to keep her child. To save her son, and herself, she must turn away from her love and all that is familiar and safe to find another way forward

Read under the title “Blood Royal”, rather than the alternative title of “The Queen’s Lover” this is the fictionalised story of French Catherine, her marriage to English King Henry V and her long term friendship with Owain Tudor. It’s is the offspring of the latter marriage that ultimately become the Tudor family, producing Henry VIII.

Other reviewers complain about the apparent falsehoods in this story – I have no idea whether the plot lines are true or not. But it can be certain that in a male dominated world, where women (even Queens) have little power and only that be granted to them by even inferior status men, then some of the plot devices here are likely to have some grain of truth. Then again, this is classed as fiction, not fact!

There are some things that dont quite ring true – was Owain and Catherine’s friendship allowed to flourish that easily, and once found out, allowed to continue? But then again, they did marry in real life, so if not this way, then how?

On the whole an enjoyable book

Book Review: Fires of Man by Dan Levinson

firesofmanIn a world where a gifted few can manipulate reality with their minds, two great nations—Calchis and Orion—employ these psionic powers in a covert war for global superiority. In the heart of Calchis, a powerful young psion named Aaron Waverly is kidnapped, and forcibly conscripted. To the north, in the capital, a plan is hatched to decimate Orion, to be carried out by the ruthless operative known only as “Agent.”

In Orion, fresh recruit Stockton Finn comes to terms with his incredible new powers, and learns firsthand how dangerous they can be. Meanwhile, officers Nyne Allen and Kay Barrett navigate the aftermath of their shattered love affair, oblivious to the fact that Calchis draws ever closer to destroying the tenuous peace.

Finally, in the arctic land of Zenith, Calchan archaeologist Faith Santia unearths a millennia-old ruin. This lost temple might just hold the hidden history of psionic powers, as well as hints of a deeper mystery . . . that could shake the foundations of all mankind

Sent to me by the author in return for a review. I have done an interview with Dan previously and it is here

Set in an alternative 2012, in an Earth equivalent, there is a secret war being waged, and both sides are training up their psionics in secret to launch a new attack. Aaron and Finn, recruited to their own sides – forcibly in Aaron’s case – have to come to terms with dealing with their new powers whilst knowing that they will be used as weapons some time in the future. Both men have a feeling of isolation, Aaron because he has been physically isolated as part of his training, Finn because he is initially bullied in the training camp, and has to be extracted out to another facility for everyone’s safety.

There are other strands to the story – Kay Barrett and Nyne Allen are both soldiers that are coming to terms (badly) with the fallout from their affair. It doesnt help that Kay’s brother Tiberian has resurfaced after 7 years and seems to have defected to the other side. Nyne gets himself transferred an outpost (essentially Japan) to investigate whether they have any psionics themselves, and this makes him question what he was taught by his own government.  Kay, in the mean time, has a rebound affair with Cole, who has been recruited by the mysterious Agent to help execute a plan to destroy the Orion training camp.

Meanwhile, Faith, an archaeologist hand picked by Tiberian, is investigating a pyramid packed in ice, but whose dig is interrupted just as she finds out something she still cant comprehend.  Apart from the link to Tiberian, she has no other link to the psionics or what happens next, so it’ll be interesting to see where her story goes next.

The last part of the book is the attack on the Orion training base, that is executed well, and demonstrates the heat of battle, where you have both psionics and non psionics fighting together. Damage is done, people are lost, and grieving begins. We also begin to get an indication of the significance of the Figure In Red.

Anyway: I thought this was a great first in a series, with all the main characters being well rounded individuals, with some being placed in difficult situations. Training didnt get bogged down in too much detail, and some people might be disappointed with that, but I thought it was pitched at about the right level. It would have been too easy to make everyone like Agent (the cold, calculating, agent of death), but this brought that even experienced soldiers are still human.

Would easily consider reading the next book in this series (at least!).

 

Published by JollyFishPress

Additional information about Dan and his books can be found at the interview done previously

 

 

 

 

Book Review: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

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Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.

Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove

Audiobook from Audible

Written in the first person by a middle aged  Tony Webster who we find out is a rather unreliable narrator. The first part of the book is about his friendship in senior-school with the much more intelligent Adrian, and Tony’s relationship with Veronika who ultimately dumps him and hitches up with Adrian. A few years later, with Tony estranged from both Adrian and Veronika and Tony hears that Adrian has committed suicide.

Cut through to middle age, and Tony has married (and divorced) and is on reasonable terms with both his daughter and ex-wife. The other friends from school are not heard of again. A solicitor gets in contact to advise that Tony has been bequeathed £500 and Adrian’s diary by Veronika’s mother – a women he only met once on a rather disastrous weekend.

This brings Tony back in contact with Veronika who has Adrian’s diary – apparently. A series of all the more irritating encounters with Veronika in an attempt to get the diary (which she admits to having burnt part way through the narrative) leaves Tony – and the reader – wondering what’s going on. Finally a number of events, and Tony’s hanging round certain shops, pubs  and people (despite his assertion that he’s “not wasting my time”) allows him to make a conclusion which Veronika yet again has to point out “you just dont get it”.

Tony is rather an unreliable narrator – he has convinced himself (and tries to convince us) that he was a nice upper-middle-class boy, who handled his apparent betrayal by Adrian and Veronika with graceful aplomb. Veronika proves him otherwise however, and he is apparently stunned at the venom he displayed at the time.

Whilst he sees himself as dealing with Veronika the same way as you deal with banks and utility companies, you begin to realise that perhaps he’s a little more annoying and underhand that his banality implies.

The narrator of the audiobook reminded me much of Matthew Parris from Radio 4, and was a soothing voice to listen to, even when swear words were required. I listened to this over several weeks and suspect that I may have to listen to again based on the ending I heard the first time round – it’s implied, rather than stated outright, and I need to check that I understood it corretly.

Mini #Bloggiesta July 2014 round up

bloggiestaIt was only a brief foray in Bloggiesta, and a very short “to do list” but this is what I achieved:

  • I decided that none of my google alerts were useful in the way they are, so deleted the lot! They were hitting my email inbox and were being deleted without being read – what’s the point of that? Dont know if I’ll do any more, it seems I’m not the only one who cant get them to work for them.
  • I went through the pictures (“media”) in my wordpress storage area, deleted duplicates, deleted a duplicate post, and renamed some of the badly named ones. There are still some that are unattached to posts but am expecting to write the posts at some point
  • Deleted a load of draft post stubs, as they were littering up my space and it was getting unmanageable to find the posts I needed to write
  • I finished off one post that was nearly ready and made it ready for schedule later
  • I went through some of my Google+ communities and decided to leave a few. I’ve never posted to them, and in looking at some of the posts from other contributors….let’s just say they’re not the type of people I need to hang around. Let’s face it – I’m a blogging snob, I would just spend all my time getting angry rather than feel supported.
  • In the UK, several publishers are doing a twitter conversation called #bookadayuk. I occasionally take part on twitter but the following month’s daily topics are posted up around now. I’ve taken those prompts and have stored them away – they just *might* prompt me to write some of post in some shape or form.

I didnt take part in any of the mini challenges for this time, but there are plenty of suggestions over at the site, so I have to remember to check them out!

Sunday Salon: Influenced by Book Covers

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Do covers pull you in?

I would be lying if I said I was not influenced by the cover art, as it’s a nice shorthand to lead me to what the book might be about.  At least I need the Author and Book Title in an easy to find place – either on the front or on the spine.  If it’s a historical novel, I want an image that implies the time frame it’s written in (see Philippa Gregory cover titles for instance)

However, it’s not the only thing that will make me but a book – I have written previously on What it takes for me to choose a book and the book cover is way down the list.

I will be put off certain books by their cover art – I’ve heard that Patricia Scanlon, Celia Ahern et al have written some fabulous books over the years, unfortunately, their cover art – often pink with cupcakes and knitting on the front – has dissuaded me from even picking them up to read the blurb on the back. I have a preconceived idea – probably wrong – that these are saccharine layered books, targeted to those Ladies who Lunch who dont need to read something too taxing

I put the same question to you, dear reader – Do covers pull you in or put you off?

Mini Bloggiesta July 2014 – to do list

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As usual I’ve come late to a party, and am horribly unorganised!

However, all is not lost – this weekend is the summer mini Bloggiesta covering July 19th and 20th .

First thing apparently Is to do a To Do List of what you want to achieve over the weekend! Because this is not the main Bloggiesta, and is only over 2 days, this list can be short.

Therefore here is my list:

  • clear up draft posts – get rid of any redundant/unnecessary posts
  • clear up media items – remove duplicates, ensure titles are correct etc.
  • write any remaining reviews/general posts
  • search for more prompts for possible future posts including reviewing what Google Alerts I have there.
  • Review my Google+ set up and see if I can make it work better for me

Book Review: The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers by Anne O’Brien

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The King’s Concubine: A Novel of Alice Perrers By Anne O’Brien

A child born in the plague year of 1348, abandoned and raised within the oppressive walls of a convent, Alice Perrers refused to take the veil, convinced that a greater destiny awaited her. Ambitious and quick witted, she rose above her obscure beginnings to become the infamous mistress of Edward III. But always, essentially, she was alone… 

Early in Alice’s life, a chance meeting with royalty changes everything: Kindly Queen Philippa, deeply in love with her husband but gravely ill, chooses Alice as a lady-in-waiting. Under the queen’s watchful eye, Alice dares to speak her mind. She demands to be taken seriously. She even flirts with the dynamic, much older king. But she is torn when her vibrant spirit captures his interest…and leads her to a betrayal she never intended.

 In Edward’s private chambers, Alice discovers the pleasures and paradoxes of her position. She is the queen’s confidante and the king’s lover, yet she can rely only on herself. It is a divided role she was destined to play, and she vows to play it until the bitter end. Even as she is swept up in Edward’s lavish and magnificent court, amassing wealth and influence for herself, becoming an enemy of his power-hungry son John of Gaunt, and a sparring partner to resourceful diplomat William de Windsor, she anticipates the day when the political winds will turn against her. For when her detractors voice their hatred,and accusations of treason swirl around her,threatening to destroy everything she has achieved, who will stand by Alice then?

As O’Brien admits – little is known about Perriers, and after a period of time the court of Edward III (as his mistress), she disappears from history with little known about where she came from or where she went. What is known about her is rarely good (as the saying goes – history is written by the winners)

O’Brien uses this slight frame to allow her to use her historical imagination to build a story around this woman, who was born into nothing, but came to the top of the land, and became wealthy and landed, only to lose much of it.

Whilst Alice is a strong willed and (at times) clever woman, she can also be short sighted, and her stubbornness can lead to her own trouble. On occasion she struggles to see that some of her troubles are her own fault, and can be very un-self-aware – blaming others for the situations she finds herself in. She regularly finds herself in situations where people (especially men) dont like being confronted by people challenging the status quo, especially women who come into money and property, and she chaffs at being unable to being denied recompense for her work simply for being a woman. She ends up being accused of witchcraft, fraud and treason, is banished (twice) and only keeps hold of her estates when her cunning husband (whom she married in secret) quite legally claims her property as his own.

Alice has a number of children with the King, but are rarely mentioned in the story – Alice seems to have no regrets with leaving the babies with nurses as she returns to Court, and the most amount of time spent with them is after the King’s death.

I had no issue with the way it was written – some other reviewers have decried the length and believe O’Brien could have done with an editor. So whilst the book was a reasonable story, Alice is not a totally sympathetic character.

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