Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Review: "A Divided Inheritance" by Deborah Swift

Synopsis: London 1609...

Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business. But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane – who has his own designs on Leviston’s Lace.

Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relative but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary - determined to claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers.

Under the searing Spanish sun, Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills. But these are dangerous times and they are soon embroiled in the roar and sweep of something far more threatening, sending them both on an unexpected journey of discovery which finally unlocks the true meaning of family . . .

A Divided Inheritance is a breathtaking adventure set in London just after the Gunpowder Plot and in the bustling courtyards of Golden Age Seville.

My Thoughts:  This book was nothing like I expected it to be.  To be honest, it started off kind of slow and took me a little time to get into.  That being said, after a while, the story and characters changed dramatically and I really got into it.  It was almost as if the change of scenery, from England to Spain, changed the whole tone of the story.

I had a really hard time liking Zachary and Elspet at first.  They both had some unappealing character flaws and they just seemed hard to relate to.  Elspet was kind of stuck up and Zachary was just pure trouble.  They didn't really open up so that the reader could get to know them until they arrived in Spain.  Elspet became tough and self-reliant and Zachary became a much more sympathetic character.  It was almost as though the act of the characters finding themselves made them more likable; once I got to know the 'real' Elspet and Zachary, I couldn't help but love them.

I find this period in Spanish history to be extremely interesting.  It never ceases to amaze me that the Spanish government decided to deport all those of Moorish descent from the country and I think the author did an amazing job of portraying these events.  I loved that Ms. Swift included a Morisco family in her cast of characters; reading about Luisa and her family made these events seem even more deplorable and it was heartbreaking to read about families being ripped apart and torn from their homes. 

As are all Ms. Swift's books, A Divided Inheritance is well-written and researched.  Her descriptions of life in both England and Spain are breath-taking and I can only imagine how much research she had to do to write so vividly about the art of swordsmanship.  Overall, a great read!  3 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.

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: "Illuminations" by Mary Sharratt

 Synopsis: Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.

My Thoughts:  I have had a few of Mary Sharratt's books on my TBR list for a long time so when I was offered the opportunity to read and review Illuminations, I jumped at the chance.  This is one of most unique stories I have read; I can't think of any that can compare with it.

Hildegard is such a captivating character and is a historical figure I had not heard of prior to reading this book.  I loved that the book followed her life from childhood through old age as she experienced heavenly visions.  I was amazed that she was able to maintain her inner strength and sense of self considering the deprivations she was forced to deal with as Jutta's companion.  I  also found it fascinating that Hildegard was responsible for several religious books.  That seems like such a huge accomplishment for a woman in an age where women were typically powerless.

In addition to Hildegard, there were quite a few great characters in this novel.  I had such a love/hate relationship with Jutta.  I felt so bad for her but at the same time she was extremely abusive to Hildegard and was definitely not in her right mind.  Her desire to be pious and holy made her incredibly crazy.  It kind of bothered me that the monks revered her so much considering her behavior.  I really liked Volmar: how he took Hildegard under his wing when she was a child and how he was one of her best friends and advocates throughout her life.

I must say that this is such a well-written story.  I feel like the author did a great job of describing the setting; I felt like I could truly envision the monastery and cell where Jutta and Hildegard lived.  I also thought the descriptions of Hildegard's visions were absolutely beautiful.  My only complaint about this book is that I felt like the ending was rushed.  There were certain periods of Hildegard's life that were well-developed and then other parts that were just skipped or rushed through.  Besides that, I thoroughly enjoyed Illuminations and cannot wait to read more of Sharratt's books. 4 stars.
About the Author:

The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year.
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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mailbox Monday (5)

 Mailbox Monday is a traveling meme where bloggers can showcase all the fun bookish goodies they received each week!  This month Mailbox Monday is hosted by Crystal at I Totally Paused.

I forgot to post last week so these are all the books I received over the past two weeks.

From the Library:


Purchased for Kindle:

(it was only $1.40, how could I resist?!)

For Review from HFVBT:

(I love this series!!)

What books did you get this week?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Quick Review: "The Boleyn Deceit" by Laura Andersen

From Goodreads:  Henry IX, known as William, is the son of Anne Boleyn and now the leader of England, his regency period finally at an end. His newfound power, however, comes with the looming specter of war with the other major powers of Europe, with strategic alliances that must be forged on both the battlefield and in the bedroom, and with a court, severed by religion, rife with plots to take over the throne. Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. But as the pressure rises alongside the threat to his life, even they William must begin to question-and to fear....

My Thoughts: I really love this trilogy so far!  I haven't read many 'alternate history' books but I think Ms. Andersen has really out done herself. The whole Anne Boleyn/Henry VIII story has been done to death but with this alternate version of history, Andersen breathes new life into it.  It seems that she must have done an extensive amount of research because she does an amazing job of incorporating real historical figures into the story and making them part of her version of history.

All of the main characters are really fascinating.  I love Minuette and Dominic and I think Andersen did a great job of portraying Elizabeth.  I do wish that as a reader, I could get to know William more.  It seems like there is a lot more focus on Minuette, Dominic and Elizabeth than on William and he is seen more through the eyes of other characters. 

There is a pretty big cliffhanger at the end of this book that makes it impossible for me not to read the next one.  I can't wait to see how everything, and everyone one, turns out and am eager to see what else Andersen has up her sleeve in the future.  4 stars.
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