Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: "Shadow on the Highway" by Deborah Swift


 Synopsis:  May 1651. England has been in the midst of a civil war for nearly ten years. The country has been torn in two, and the King is getting ready to make his last stand against Cromwell’s New Model Army.
Abigail Chaplin, a young mute girl, has lost her father to the parliamentarian cause. But with her family now in reduced circumstances, she is forced to work as a servant at a royalist household – the estate of Lady Katherine Fanshawe.

Abi is soon caught up in a web of sinister secrets which surround the Fanshawe estate. The most curious of which is the disappearance of Lady Katherine late at night.Why are her husband’s clothes worn and muddy even though he hasn’t been home for weeks? How is she stealing out of the house late at night when her room is being guarded? And what is her involvement with the robberies being committed by the mysterious Shadow on the Highway?

‘Shadow On The Highway’ is based on the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman, sometimes known as ‘The Wicked Lady’. It is the first book in ‘The Highway Trilogy’.


My Thoughts:  Shadow on the Highway is an awesome work of YA historical fiction. I sometimes shy away from YA because it feels really immature but this book did not have that feel at all.  It is definitely my new favorite Deborah Swift book! 

Characters:  I must say that Ms. Swift's characters are amazing.  Abi was a great main character for so many reasons.  She was smart and sassy and the fact that she was deaf made her even more interesting and endearing.  Lady Katherine/Kate is frustrating at times but I secretly loved her. Even though we didn't seem much of Uncle Simon, the author did a great job of making him into a scary villain and Grice was quite the piece of work. 

Likes:  I liked so much about this book.  I loved that it was set during the Civil War (in England).  I don't know much about this era so it made the story even more fascinating to me.  The Diggars sounded like a really unique group and I would very much like to read more about them.  I also liked that the story didn't just take place at the estate; we got to see Abi on both the estate as well as in the town with her family so we got see both the very rich and the very poor.  I think the story was more well-rounded because it didn't just focus on one group of people. 

One thing that the story focuses on is how powerless women were back then.  Lady Katherine had nothing of her own; despite the house having been her mother's, it became her husband's property at the time of her marriage.  Abi had more freedom than Lady Katherine but both were subject to the whims of the men in their lives and Abi, as a servant, was subject to the whims of everyone in the house.  It was hard, at times, to think about how they really were at the mercy of these men and were only protected so long as the men saw fit to do so. 

As I do in many of my reviews, I have to mention the author's note at the end...it was phenomenal.  There was information about the politics of the era, the Diggar movement, her research, etc.  I couldn't have asked for a better author's note.  Normally, I have a 'dislikes' section in my reviews but there wasn't anything that I really disliked about this book.  I didn't realize at first that this book will be part of a trilogy, but now I'm pretty excited to read the next installment!

Whether you typically read YA or not, you should definitely pick up Shadow on the Highway. You will not be sorry! 4 1/2 stars.

About the Author:
 
Deborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007. She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park. She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.

For more information, please visit Deborah’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

 Check out other stops on the tour here!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mailbox Monday (28)

I'm linking up with Mailbox Monday again.  Check it out here!

Phew!  It's been a busy weekend!  We are going to California on Friday to visit family and I'm in full on packing mode.  I haven't traveled with Julia since she was 6 weeks old and it feels like there is so much stuff to pack.

Regarding books, I had a YA kind of week.  I've heard great things about all of these books and am really looking forward to reading them.

From the Library:



What books did you get this week?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Review: "Inglorious Royal Marriages" by Leslie Carroll


Synopsis:  Why does it seem that the marriages of so many monarchs are often made in hell? And yet we can’t stop reading about them! To satisfy your schadenfreude, INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES offers a panoply of the most spectacular mismatches in five hundred years of royal history….some of which are mentioned below.

When her monkish husband, England’s Lancastrian Henry VI, became completely catatonic, the unpopular French-born Margaret of Anjou led his army against the troops of their enemy, the Duke of York.
Margaret Tudor, her niece Mary I, and Catherine of Braganza were desperately in love with chronically unfaithful husbands—but at least they weren’t murdered by them, as were two of the Medici princesses.
King Charles II’s beautiful, high-spirited sister “Minette” wed Louis XIV’s younger brother, who wore more makeup and perfume than she did.

Compelled by her mother to wed her boring, jug-eared cousin Ferdinand, Marie of Roumania—a granddaughter of Queen Victoria—emerged as a heroine of World War I by using her prodigious personal charm to regain massive amounts of land during the peace talks at Versailles. Marie’s younger sister Victoria Melita wed two of her first-cousins: both marriages ultimately scandalized the courts of Europe.
Brimming with outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, this is an entertaining, unforgettable book of dubious matches doomed from the start.

My Thoughts:  Inglorious Royal Marriages is an entertaining look at several complicated royal couplings.  It follows a few prominent royals from history, as well as several lesser know figures, and details their tumultuous and dysfunctional marriages.

Likes:  I liked that there was a good mix of well-known couples and not so well-known couples.  The author does a good job of not only detailing the issues that occurred during the marriages but she also gave a lot of background so the reader had a some context.  She described each individual marriage and historical figure as though the reader knew nothing about them so that you could easily see why these marriages were so messy.  I also liked how she wrote in an easy to read, colloquial way; it made the individual case studies more fun to read.  I was most intrigued by the marriages of the Duc and Duchesse d'Orleans and the King and Queen of Naples but they were all rather fascinating.  It was kind of fun to read about all of these incredibly screwed up marriages.

Dislikes:  While I appreciated that the author made sure the reader had some of idea of the historical context, there were times where it seemed like there was too many details not relevant to the actual marital issues causing some of the chapters to drag on.  I also wished that there would have been footnotes and more information about the research she did and where she got her information.  There were times where I thought "where did she get this information from?" but couldn't find it because she only provides a list of sources and doesn't indicate what information came from where.

Overall, this was an entertaining look at some of the more scandalous marriages in history.  3 stars.

About the Author:
 
 
Leslie Carroll is the author of several works of historical nonfiction, women’s fiction, and, under the pen names Juliet Grey and Amanda Elyot, is a multipublished author of historical fiction. Her nonfiction titles include Royal Romances, Royal Pains, Royal Affairs, and Notorious Royal Marriages. She is also a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit, and is an award-winning audio book narrator.

A frequent commentator on royal romances and relationships, Leslie has been interviewed by numerous publications, including MSNBC.com, USA Today, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and NPR, and she was a featured royalty historian on CBS nightly news in London during the royal wedding coverage of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. She also appears as an expert on the love lives of Queen Victoria, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great, and Napoleon on the television series “The Secret Life of [fill in the name of famous figure]” for Canada’s History Channel. Leslie and her husband, Scott, divide their time between New York City and Washington, D.C.

For more information please visit Leslie’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

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I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

August Wrap Up

August was an amazing reading month for me!  I read 11 books this month!  I hit my goal of 50 books read and reset my goal to 75.  As of the last day in August, I've read 55 books.  I need to read 5 books a month for the rest of the year to hit 75 and I feel like that should be doable.

Work was crazy in August and while it's not as crazy, it's still pretty busy.  We're going to California next week so we're getting ready for that.  I'm taking a Russian class this fall and it's taking a lot more of my time than I thought so things might slow down a bit around here.  I'm also taking a class about Laura Ingalls Wilder (post to come soon) but it doesn't start until September 22. So this fall is going to be nuts!

Here is what I read this month:

1.) Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon
2.) Revenge and Retribution by Anna Belfrage
3.) Brotherhood of Fear by Paul Grossman
4.) A Little House Sampler by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane
5.) The End of Innocence by Allegra Jordan
6.) Red Winter by Dan Smith
7.) The Kingmaker's Daughter by Philippa Gregory
8.) The English Assassin by Daniel Silva
9.) The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar by Kim Rendfeld
10.) The Farm by Tom Rob Smith
11.) Inglorious Royal Marriages by Leslie Carroll

What did you guys read in August?  Do you have big plans for the Fall?

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Book Spotlight and Giveaway: "The Laird" by Grace Burrowes

I'm excited spotlight The Laird by Grace Burrowes today!  Enter to win a copy of Ms. Burrowes' Captive Hearts trilogy here!



Summary:

He left his bride to go to war...

After years of soldiering, Michael Brodie returns to his Highland estate to find that the bride he left behind has become a stranger. Brenna is self-sufficient, competent, confident-and furious. Despite her anger at Michael's prolonged absence, Brenna has remained loyal to her husband, though Michael's people, and most especially the uncle who held the estate together for him, make it clear they expect Michael to set Brenna aside.

Though his most important battle will be for her heart.

Michael left Brenna when she needed him most, and then stayed away even after the war ended. Nonetheless, the young man who abandoned her has come home a wiser, more patient and honorable husband. Brenna is hurt, bewildered, and tired of fighting for the respect of those around her, but if she trusts Michael with the truths she'd been guarding, he'll have to choose between his wife and everything he holds dear.

Excerpt

Sometime after she’d fallen exhausted into her bed, Brenna felt the mattress dip and shift. A pleasant whiff of vetiver, whiskey—and meadow grass?—came to her as her husband arranged himself two feet to her left.

The next sound was harder to decipher, but she managed—the soles of two big male feet rubbing together, the bedtime equivalent of shaking the dust of the day from one’s feet, a small safeguard in the direction of keeping the sheets clean if conducted with those feet hanging over the side of the bed.

Michael punched his pillows next, several stout blows that would have knocked wayward notions from grown men.

“Are you trying to wake me up, Husband?”

The punching stopped, and she felt him flop down onto the mattress—and heard the put-upon male sigh with which he tucked himself in.

“You did not lock the door, Brenna. My things are in this room.”

So was his wife.

“Neither one of us wants talk.” The bed was huge, and they weren’t touching, but Brenna could feel her husband thinking.

“I did not want you to conclude I was sneaking up on you.”

“You’re hard to miss when encountered in a bed, Michael. Go to sleep. Morning comes quickly.” And yet, she was pleased the pillows had taken a few warning shots on her behalf.

“You want time.”

“I want a good night’s sleep.” Though she should have anticipated that, like any man, Michael would want to beat a topic to death once broached. He could not ponder a discussion and undertake it in manageable portions; he must have done with it, regardless of the hour.

“I want time, too, Brenna Maureen.”

Brenna rolled to her side, wishing she’d left a candle burning, despite the extravagance. “Time for what?”

“I was a good soldier, once I saw what was expected of me. It’s part of the reason I went to France. I was to look after my men, the same as a laird looks after his people. When I went to France, it was much the same, though I was in a garrison with soldiers of a different nationality. We looked after one another, most of the time, and when a man lapsed in that duty, he suffered consequences.”

What was he saying, and why must he say it to her in pitch darkness?

“If I were planning to run off, Michael Brodie, I would have scarpered long since. Many and many a family has left the Highlands, including entire branches of clan MacLogan. I could easily have gone with them.” Though her own clansmen had hardly recalled where they’d stashed her, once she’d come to live at Castle Brodie.

A considering pause ensued, and then Brenna felt a single, callused finger trace down the side of her jaw.

“You might have left, but you stayed. I’m glad you stayed.”

About the Author:



New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Grace Burrowes' bestsellers include The Heir, The Soldier, Lady Maggie's Secret Scandal, Lady Sophie's Christmas Wish and Lady Eve's Indiscretion. Her Regency romances have received extensive praise, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Grace is branching out into short stories and Scotland-set Victorian romance with Sourcebooks. She is a practicing family law attorney and lives in rural Maryland.

  
Buy the Book:

Monday, September 1, 2014

"Charlemagne: Hero or Villain?" Guest Post by Kim Rendfeld



 I'm so excited to welcome Kim Rendfeld, author of "The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar" to the blog today.

Charlemagne: Hero or Villain?

Did Charlemagne unite his country when he seized his dead brother’s kingdom from his toddling nephews? Did he save Rome from the invading Lombards? Did he destroy the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxon peoples? Did he have his daughters educated along with sons? Did he cut his eldest son from the succession?

All of the above. Whether those actions make him a hero or a monster depends on whose side you’re on. Or in in the case of a historical novelist, which character’s point of view.

Alda, a Frankish aristocrat and heroine of my debut, The Cross and the Dragon, sees him as a hero. She follows the gossip about tensions between Charles and his younger brother, Carloman, each of whom inherited a kingdom when their father died. After Carloman’s death from an illness, she is relieved a strong leader takes over the entire realm, even though it means the king divorces a Lombard princess and marries a girl from an important family in Carloman’s former kingdom. Alda has little sympathy for Charles’s ex-father-in-law, Lombard King Desiderius, and supports the Franks’ invasion to save Rome from him.

Leova, a pagan, peasant Saxon and the heroine of my latest release, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, has a very different take. In her eyes, Charles is a monster. His 772 invasion of Eresburg and the burning of the Irminsul ruin the good life she had. She has lost everything – her husband, her home, her faith, even her freedom. All she has left are her children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. The only Frank she loathes more than Charles is Pinabel, a count who could have preserved the Saxon family’s freedom but bought them as slaves instead.

Fastrada, the heroine of my work in progress with the tentative title Lady Queen Fastrada, has yet another perspective. As Charles’s fourth wife, she sees him as a husband and father. Pepin, Charles’s son from his first marriage, is angry with his dad because he feels cheated out of his inheritance.

So who was this guy we today call Charlemagne? It depends on whom you ask. 

In this excerpt from The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, Deorlaf, my heroine’s son, beholds Frankish King Charles for the first time at the charred remains of the Irminsul.

Deorlaf eyed the Frankish soldiers milling with the priests. Most of the warriors were only a few years older than he was, clad in leather armor. Some – with thick necks, broad chests, and stout legs – wore armor of small metal plates, and a few armored men carried swords and daggers with jeweled hilts and scabbards.

A few Franks glanced over their shoulders at the Saxons and nudged their friends. The murmur among them grew. Laying his hand on his dagger, Deorlaf thought he could make out sneers and glares.

“Peace,” Father Osbald said in a loud voice from only a few paces away. “These people have come to accept baptism. Anyone who interferes will feel God’s wrath.”

But the soldiers were staring at something behind Osbald. Deorlaf turned and beheld a Frankish nobleman, massive with muscle and towering above everyone. Was he spawned by a giant?

Wearing a headdress of gold and jewels, the tall, broad man strode toward the altar, where an old priest awaited him. All the Franks parted to make way for the nobleman and bowed to him. Adilstan, who had returned from the Weser River, followed and knelt before the Frankish leader. Deorlaf scowled. Coward!

The priest raised his arms toward heaven. “God bless his excellence, King Charles.”

May the gods curse the monster who destroyed our Irminsul, Deorlaf thought.



Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: "The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar" by Kim Rendfeld



Synopsis:  Can love triumph over war?
772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family sell them into slavery instead.  In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master, and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion — but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband. Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul,

The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar explores faith, friendship, and justice. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

My Thoughts:  The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar is unlike any book I have ever read.  I have read the companion novel but while The Cross and the Dragon focuses on the nobility, this book focuses on the regular people, servants and slaves living under the reign of Charlemagne.

Likes:  I loved the story.  Ms. Rendfeld has done a lot of research and created  a wonderful story surrounding a Saxon family as they deal with slavery, heartache and betrayal.  I enjoyed reading about everyday life and the issues that people had to deal with.    I know almost nothing about this era so I found the setting and descriptions of Saxony and the different French cities to be fascinating.    I was really interested in the Saxon side of things; it was really sad to see how everything was destroyed by the French and then the Saxons were forced to give up their religion in order to just be allowed to live.  I would very much like to learn more about these events. 

Characters:  There were so many great characters in this story that it's hard to pick a favorite.  Leova's strength and intelligence were remarkable; she always seemed to be able to assess every situation and pick the path that would help her family the most.  Pinabel was pure evil and I spent most of the book hoping he would get what's coming to him.  One of the things I really liked about this book is that not only were there great main characters but the cast of supporting characters were pretty awesome too.  I loved Hugh from the first appearance he made and Ives completely snuck up on me.  I didn't think too much of him at first but he slowly developed into a character that I couldn't help but like.

Dislikes:  The only thing I disliked (not really disliked but questioned) was that the story ended really fast and things seemed a little too wrapped up.  I like that there were no loose ends left but at the same time it made the story seem less realistic.  

Overall, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar is a really good book.  I am definitely looking forward to what Ms. Rendfeld has in store for readers in the future.  4 stars.

About the Author:




Kim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.

She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren't for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.

Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the
 Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats. They have a daughter and three granddaughters.

You can read the first chapter of The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar and The Cross and the Dragon at www.kimrendfeld.com.  Follow her on twitter at @kimrendfeld.

 
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