Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"The Winter Sea" by Susanna Kearsley

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  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc. (December 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 978-1402241376
  • Genre: Historical Fiction/ Romance
  • Source: Sourcebooks
I knew that this was going to be a special book in the first pages. Most often it takes me 20-50 pages to convince me that I am going to want to blaze through a book - but this one was different. "The Winter Sea" is, indeed, both a historical novel as well as a romance. The book comes with a "side order "of  very well done paranormal, genetic memory, interest thrown in for good measure.

Basic Plot:
A well know historical fiction  writer, Carrie McClelland, travels to Scotland to research  the material for her book in progress and to get a feel for the area where the main action will take place. Her main character is Sophia Patterson, named for an ancestor who, coincidentally, had lived in Scotland in the early 18th century and had been an relative of the Duchess of Slains castle. The Duchess was an instrumental figure in the times of the Jacobite rebellion and, Sophia resided with at Slains Castle at this time.

The book is really two stories in one:  the 'old 'story playing out during 1708 and the Jacobite rebellion, the 'new' in present day Scotland.

Carries rents a small cottage from a local man , Jimmy Keith (who retains the decided burr of the local dialect) who has two sons, Stuart and Graham. Both sons begin to fall in love with Carrie - although only one of the sons 'feels right'. As Carrie's research intensifies, and her need for for more information increases, she calls on her father to fill in details about their ancestor's story.  Gradually as her research and writing, as well as her love interests, progress, Carries finds herself swept up in more than just words on on paper. She finds herself caught in a time warp of sorts. Her flashes of insight feel more like memory than writing and her love for one of the brothers feels more compelling than just a present day love interest. As Carrie writes her book she finds that she is, in fact, recounting her own story - a story that began during the Jacobite rebellion and a love that has lasted through time. Her flashes of deja vu are more than just images - they are images that are filled with remembrance and as real to her as her present day life as a writer

Susanna Kearsley is an amazing writer. She weaves the two plots flawlessly and fluidly. Well researched history about the Jacobite rebellion and it's main characters blend effortlessly with present day information about Scotland. What a gifted writer Ms. Kearsley is! This is one book that I wish had gone on - it took me away and put me in with the characters. I couldn't put it down - what more can a book do for a reader?

If you have never read anything by Susanna Kearsley this is THE place to start. What a treat you will have before you! Her previous work 'Mariana' is another well crafted, slightly other worldly novel that had much the same effect on me as I read it. Oh! I want more from this author!

I can compare my enthusiasm about this book to my love for other authors such as Sarah Dunnett, Sharon Kay Penman, Susan Higginbotham and Vanora Bennett to name just a few.


Note: this book was provided to me by the publisher for the sole purpose of honest review. No other remuneration was received

Monday, December 13, 2010

"The Queen Of Last Hopes (The Story of Margaret of Anjou)" by Susan Higginbotham

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First of all I have to confess that Susan Higginbotham's books are among my favorites in historical fiction. I am not associated with either the author or the publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark. I am  just a happy reader!

This book follows the story of Margaret of Anjou - also known as the "mother" of the house of Lancaster- and her marriage to King Henry VI who, after 8 years of marriage descended into the oblivion of madness and religious obsession- leaving the rule of his country to Margaret .  Margaret in turn protected the interests of her son, Edward of Lancaster and refused to accede to the claims of the Yorkist faction. Margaret's fight to win the rights of her son and the Lancaster line led to her becoming a vilified woman during her life and history has not been any kinder. 

Susan Higginbotham's novel brings the life of this rare, female ruler, into focus and sheds a kinder light on the history of this strong woman. Although the outcome of her life still brings to mind a domineering, and inflexible woman, this book  provides us with a sense of the back story to Margaret's fierce determination - even in the face of defeat. King Henry is portrayed as religious devotee and his mental frailty paints a portrait of a sensitive man not strong enough to be King. Edward is a pliable youth whose life is cut terribly short through his mother's staunch fight to preserve the House of Lancaster at all costs. 

As with all of her books, Susan Higginbotham's research is impeccable. Her grasp of the the characters  and their place in history is remarkable. British historical figures, with their many titles and names, can read like a quagmire at times. I have never been able to sort them all out but Ms. Higginbotham grasps all of the nuance, names and titles and makes them easy to follow though the narrative.

In this book, rather than the dominatrix of Britain, Margaret of Anjou is portrayed as good - almost too nice. Most likely the reality of her character probably lies somewhere  between vilification and saint hood.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book - as I have all of Susan Higginbotham's work. I couldn't put it down. It should have wide appeal to anyone who loves historical fiction - especially British historical fiction!


note: this book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of an honest review. No other remuneration was received.

Monday, December 6, 2010

"Child of The Northern Spring" by Persia Woolley

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I seem to be hitting a streak of 5 star reads. Then again I generally chose to read books that I hope will reach that mark - so that might be the reason I have so many winners! This book is, most assuredly, a winner. 

"Child of the Northern Spring" is book one of the Guinevere Trilogy where the Legend begins. Written by Persia Woollsey this is a thoroughly new view of the Arthurian Legend as seen from the perspective of Guinevere. It is, in my opinion, the best variation on this theme that I have read - dare I say that I enjoyed this book better than the classic by T.H. White's 'The Once and Future King" (to whom Ms. Woolley pays homage in her well writeen 'author's notes')?Yes! I have to confess that I found T.H. White's book a tad difficult to get into. This books sweeps you away from the very first page.

You will find a remarkable vision of Guinevere - passionate, strong and independent. Not quite forced into the marriage with Arthur as choosing it as the least of several less appealing choices we watch their romance and mutual respect develop as the pages turn. You will find Merlin - somewhat less prominent than in other versions and perhaps a bit less menacing although no less mysterious. Of course you also discover another variation of the Lady of The Lake, Morgan Le Fey, as well as Sir Gawain and the rest of the cast of strong Arthurian figures.

I have to admit to never having been enthralled as I wanted to be with the Tales of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table - I think it was just a period of history that never set my wheels turning. The Dark Ages come to light in this book. Ms. Woolsey  brings light to the to this time period and  she paints vivid images of what life was like at the time of the 'Celtic Renaissance' when the many Celtic tribes revolted against marauding Anglo-Saxons.  The author describes these the men of these tribes as a " rugged, wild, stormy lot with a long tradition of queens who were co-rulers with their husbands" (also from the Author's Notes). 

This book just took me back in time - a time machine in my hands. Yes, this may sound a bit over the top but I truly loved this book and am eagerly awaiting the release of the next two books in this trilogy; "Queen Of the Summer Starts and " Guinevere, Legend in Autumn". All published by Source Books/ Landmark. This has become one of my favorite historical books. If you love historical fiction, the Arthurian Legends, early British History or just a completely enjoyable journey back in time - this is a book that you should be wanting to read!

Note: This book was provided to me by the publisher for the purpose of an honest review. No other remuneration was received

Saturday, December 4, 2010

"Katherine The Queen" by Linda Porter

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 First - apologies for the odd formatting of this post - too many broken spaces! I edited it from a word doc and this is the odd result!

Katherine Parr is really an interesting figure - a woman who was ahead of her Tudor time. She was highly intelligent, well educated and well read - and she survived her oft married husband - Henry VIII.

There has not been that much written about her life however - until now. This book is a really well written, thoroughly researched and utterly captivating glimpse into the life of this remarkable Queen. Linda Porter has a remarkable way with biographies. They come to life under her pen. I have been a life long fan of historical fiction - based on British history. Some time ago I decided that I wanted to fill in the fictitious gaps with non-fiction. This book reads as easily as fiction. It's a pleasure - not pedantic, not dry - but completely easy and pleasurable to read. It took me only a few days to read this book and it is a book that will remain in my collection.

The book covers :

The early life of Katherine Parr,

Her two previous marriages (I had not heard much about the first before reading this book)

How she made her way into Court life and how Henry decided to make her his sixth life

Her relationship with Henry's three children and her own step-daughter from her second marriage (another fact that had not registered in my head before)

How she narrowly missed being another statistic for murdered Queens of England.

Her life after Henry's death.

Life with Thomas Seymour and the kerfuffle with Princess Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour.

Her death giving birth to her longed for child.

This book covers it all and does so in a most enjoyable way. If you are an Anglophile as I am this book is, simply, a must read. It's a should read for anyone who enjoys biographies, British Royalty and British history.