Saturday, February 28, 2015

Marie Antoinette: The Journey by Antonia Fraser: A Book Review

Marie Antoinette: The Journey
Author: Antonia Fraser
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Anchor
Release Date: 2006
Pages: 512
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: France's iconic queen, Marie Antoinette, wrongly accused of uttering the infamous "Let them eat cake," was alternately revered and reviled during her lifetime. For centuries since, she has been the object of debate, speculation, and the fascination so often accorded illustrious figures in history. Married in mere girlhood, this essentially lighthearted child was thrust onto the royal stage and commanded by circumstance to play a significant role in European history. Antonia Fraser's lavish and engaging portrait excites compassion and regard for all aspects of the queen, immersing the reader not only in the coming-of-age of a graceful woman, but in the culture of an unparalleled time and place.

     My review: Marie Antoinette is one of history's most hated women. Her reputation has been negative both in popular culture and historians alike. Giving us a different take of Marie Antoinette is no easy feat. However, Antonia Fraser takes us on a journey through Marie Antoinette's life and challenges the popular myths of the Queen and gives us an intimate portrait of France's infamous villianess.

     Antonia Fraser's biography is very sympathetic to Marie Antoinette. She was never meant to be queen. Her education was mostly neglected, which suggests that her mother did not know what to do with her and did not give her much attention. So Marie Antoinette focused on her passion of acting and singing. Her childhood was happy, and it seemed that her future might also be happy. However, she became queen by accident and was forced to be in a position she was not ready for.

     This book focuses on Marie Antoinette's personality. She had a good heart and was very naive. One of the good acts that Antonia focused on was that she saved a peasant boy. It also focused on how she wanted to be a mother for years and because she couldn't have children she took her sadness out on gambling, dresses, and dancing. When she did finally have children, she was a devoted mother.

     I also liked how she discussed the court of Versailles. It was a very complicated structure, but Antonia made it comprehensible for the general reader. Marie Antoinette was often criticized by the court because she was a foreigner. She was pressured by them because she didn't give France a son. I found myself pitying her.

     Overall, this biography takes us to Marie Antoinette's idyllic childhood, through the glittering lavish court of Versailles to the terrifying guillotine. The writing is very engaging and reads like a soap opera for it is full of drama, betrayal, and scandal. Antonia Fraser answers questions that we had about Marie Antoinette, for example her relationship to Axel Ferson. She also gives us details about Marie Antoinette that we never realized until she mentioned it. For instance, Marie Antoinette never saw the sea. What I also liked about this book that I wished more biographers would do is how her subject affects us in popular culture. Marie Antoinette's reputation still has a myriad of work to cover. However, Antonia Fraser's biography is a beginning that we will start to see her in a different light. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in the French Revolution and who are willing to see Marie Antoinette in a sympathetic light.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Here is the official movie trailer of Marie Antoinette that is based off of Antonia Fraser's biography, Marie Antoinette: The Journey:

Friday, February 27, 2015

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile by Julia Fox: A Book Review

Sister Queens: The Noble, Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana, Queen of Castile
Author: Julia Fox
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: 2012
Pages: 370
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: The history books have cast Katherine of Aragon, the first queen of King Henry VIII of England, as the ultimate symbol of the Betrayed Woman, cruelly tossed aside in favor of her husband’s seductive mistress, Anne Boleyn. Katherine’s sister, Juana of Castile, wife of Philip of Burgundy and mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, is portrayed as “Juana the Mad,” whose erratic behavior included keeping her beloved late husband’s coffin beside her for years. But historian Julia Fox, whose previous work painted an unprecedented portrait of Jane Boleyn, Anne’s sister, offers deeper insight in this first dual biography of Katherine and Juana, the daughters of Spain’s Ferdinand and Isabella, whose family ties remained strong despite their separation. Looking through the lens of their Spanish origins, Fox reveals these queens as flesh-and-blood women—equipped with character, intelligence, and conviction—who are worthy historical figures in their own right. 

     When they were young, Juana’s and Katherine’s futures appeared promising. They had secured politically advantageous marriages, but their dreams of love and power quickly dissolved, and the unions for which they’d spent their whole lives preparing were fraught with duplicity and betrayal. Juana, the elder sister, unexpectedly became Spain’s sovereign, but her authority was continually usurped, first by her husband and later by her son. Katherine, a young widow after the death of Prince Arthur of Wales, soon remarried his doting brother Henry and later became a key figure in a drama that altered England’s religious landscape. 


     Ousted from the positions of power and influence they had been groomed for and separated from their children, Katherine and Juana each turned to their rich and abiding faith and deep personal belief in their family’s dynastic legacy to cope with their enduring hardships. Sister Queens is a gripping tale of love, duty, and sacrifice—a remarkable reflection on the conflict between ambition and loyalty during an age when the greatest sin, it seems, was to have been born a woman.


     My review: Sister Queens is a dual biography of Queen Isabella of Castile’s daughters, Katherine of Aragon, the famous first wife of Henry VIII whom he divorced, and Juana of Castile, who is known as Spain’s Mad Queen. The author chronicles their lives in Spain and to their tragic fate. These sisters thought that they would have a happy future, only to realize that they would face hardships that they would have never dreamed of. However, these sisters prove to be intelligent, strong, and good at politics. The only thing they had against them that shaped their fate was their gender.


     While it is a dual biography, the author mostly focuses on Katherine of Aragon. This is because there is more historical information available on Katherine than on Juana. However,  the lesser mentioned story of Juana was fascinating. The author portrays her as a tragic figure. Unlike the popular myth of Juana la Loca, Juana was not mad. Instead, she had a strong political acumen. It was because of her gender that no one took her seriously. Her father, husband, and son betrayed her so they could have the throne for themselves. I could not help but pity poor Juana, and I wished the author had written more information on her.

     The author reminds us that Katherine of Aragon was not the poor, heart-broken, weak discarded wife of Henry VIII that the popular myth had lead us to believe. When she was the widowed wife of Arthur, Henry VIII’s brother, she struggled with poverty but worked hard to overcome it. As a queen she was intelligent with an impressive range of politics. This was proven when Henry went to war in France, and he appointed Katherine as regent. Katherine was Henry’s equal, and she helped advise him in state affairs. Because she could not produce a male heir to the throne, Katherine was a failure and disappointment in Henry's eyes. When Henry was trying to divorce her, Katherine’s fight for her position made it extremely hard for Henry. Yet, no matter how long she fought, she lost simply because she was not the king.

     Overall, this refreshing biography takes away the popular misconceptions to what we have previously thought of these sisters and gives them a different perspective. The novel is full of danger, suspense, court intrigue, and tragedy, but it also shows the women’s strength, determination, and their unwavering faith in God as they fight for their crown. The writing is very engaging and comprehensible. Fans of Alison Weir and anyone interested in the Tudor era will eat this biography up!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blog Tour: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley: A Book Review

Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran
Author: Marion Grace Woolley
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Ghostwoods Books
Release Date: February 14, 2015
Pages: 288
Source: This book was given to me by TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: A young woman confronts her own dark desires, and finds her match in a masked conjurer turned assassin. Inspired by Gaston LeRoux's The Phantom of the Opera, Marion Grace Woolley takes us on forbidden adventures through a time that has been written out of history books.

     "Those days are buried beneath the mists of time. I was the first, you see. The very first daughter. There would be many like me to come. Svelte little figures, each with saffron skin and wide, dark eyes. Every one possessing a voice like honey, able to twist the santur strings of our father's heart."

     It begins with a rumour, an exciting whisper. Anything to break the tedium of the harem for the Shah's eldest daughter. People speak of a man with a face so vile it would make a hangman faint, but a voice as sweet as an angel's kiss. A master of illusion and stealth. A masked performer, known only as Vachon. For once, the truth will outshine the tales.

     On her birthday, the Shah gifts his eldest daughter Afsar a circus. With the circus comes a man who will change everything.

      My review: This story is a prequel to Phantom of the Opera. It depicts the early life of Erik, the phantom ghost, during his time in Persia. Afsar, the Sultan’s daughter, is living a lonely life. She keeps to her bedchamber and has a servant looking after her. However, on her eleventh birthday, her father celebrates her reaching marriageable age by gifting her a circus. The star of the circus is a man known as Vachon, who is said to be as ugly as a monster but known to have a voice as sweet as an angel. As soon as the Vachon crosses Afsar’s path, her life begins to change and soon they both fall in love.

     First, I have to say, you will not like the characters. Both Vachon, and Afsar, the narrator, are very dark. At first, it seems that Afsar seems like she is living a privileged life, with servants who can’t refuse her orders based on her status. However, in the first few pages, we see that she is cruel, manipulative, and jealous. She uses her servant as a plaything and forces her to do mean things that she will be ashamed of. Over the course of the novel, she is very sadistic and ruthless, and soon I realized that I was looking into the eyes and mind of a serial killer and a psycho. But what is worse is that she has no remorse for her actions.

     However, despite the fact that the characters weren’t likeable, I found myself drawn to the novel and its story. Reading this book felt like a dark spell that refuses to let you go until you have finished the last page. The descriptions of the circus and the palace are beautiful, and I felt that I was there. Even though I did not like the Vachon, I felt he was a very interesting character. I love the forbidden romance between him and Afsar, for it was dark and twisted.

     Overall, buckle your seat belts as the novel takes you through a dark and thrilling ride of Afsar’s world. This book is strange like one of The Phantom’s illusions. I like the setting of the Sultan’s court. The author really did her research, for the details for very rich and vivid. I recommend this novel to fans of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, and anyone interested in dark fiction.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Heretic Queen by Michelle Moran: A Book Review

The Heretic Queen 
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Release Date: 2008
Pages: 383
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: In ancient Egypt, a forgotten princess must overcome her family’s past and remake history.

     The winds of change are blowing through Thebes. A devastating palace fire has killed the Eighteenth Dynasty’s royal family—all with the exception of Nefertari, the niece of the reviled former queen, Nefertiti. The girl’s deceased family has been branded as heretical, and no one in Egypt will speak their names. A relic of a previous reign, Nefertari is pushed aside, an unimportant princess left to run wild in the palace. But this changes when she is taken under the wing of the Pharaoh’s aunt, then brought to the Temple of Hathor, where she is educated in a manner befitting a future queen.

     Soon Nefertari catches the eye of the Crown Prince, and despite her family’s history, they fall in love and wish to marry. Yet all of Egypt opposes this union between the rising star of a new dynasty and the fading star of an old, heretical one. While political adversity sets the country on edge, Nefertari becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great. Destined to be the most powerful Pharaoh in Egypt, he is also the man who must confront the most famous exodus in history.

     Sweeping in scope and meticulous in detail, The Heretic Queen is a novel of passion and power, heartbreak and redemption. 

     My review: Nefertari is the only surviving royal of the Eighteenth Dynasty. She is the daughter of Mutnodjmet and niece to Nefertiti. Nefertari lives with the stigma of her family’s heresy and faces the hatred of the Egyptian people. However, she is taken under the wing of the High Priestess of Hathor and is given an education fit for a queen. She soon catches the eye of Ramesses and against the opposition of the Egyptian people, they marry. Nefertari then competes not only for the position of queen and Ramesses's heart, but also the hearts of her people.

     I was captivated by the novel from the start. I felt sorry for Nefertari, not only that she has lost everyone in her family, but that everything she has heard about her family isn’t good. Nefertari works hard throughout the novel to find the truth about her family and to restore her family’s reputation. Nefertari is a strong heroine. She is not only wise, but she can also be manipulative. Her greatest feature is her smile, and she uses it to her advantage.

     I felt the plot was fast-paced, entertaining, and light-hearted. Nefertari competes with Iset for the crown and Ramesses's heart. With court drama and political intrigue, each of them tries to best the other. Yet, it is clear that Ramesses loves Nefertari, and there is a touching and sweet love story between them. There are very little references to the biblical story, and it is mostly in the background. However, these references shows Nefertari’s political acumen, and unlike Nefertiti, I saw how powerful she will be as a queen.

     Overall, this novel is about friendship and family. The Heretic Queen is a fast-paced read that is filled with court intrigue, danger, suspense, and romance. It is about one girl’s journey to self-discovery. While there are a few plot holes, my only complaint is that I wish this novel was longer. Even though the novel was 400 pages, I was reluctant to leave her world and wanted her to write more. The story is very well written with realistic characters. I found that this novel eclipsed Nefertiti and is its superior. While I recommend this novel to everyone, I feel that this novel caters to young adults. I read this novel when I was a teen, and I felt that it resonated with me more than it did as an adult. I still really enjoy this book and would always read it again. The Heretic Queen will appeal to fans of Philippa Gregory, C.W. Gortner, Margaret George and historical lovers alike. After reading this book, you will become fascinated with Ancient Egypt and want to learn more about it.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Nefertiti by Michelle Moran: A Book Review

Nefertiti
Author: Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Release Date: 2007
Pages: 463
Source: Personal Collection
Synopsis: Nefertiti and her younger sister, Mutnodjmet, have been raised in a powerful family that has provided wives to the rulers of Egypt for centuries. Ambitious, charismatic, and beautiful, Nefertiti is destined to marry Amunhotep, an unstable young pharaoh. It is hoped by all that her strong personality will temper the young Amunhotep’s heretical desire to forsake Egypt’s ancient gods, overthrow the priests of Amun, and introduce a new sun god for all to worship. 

     From the moment of her arrival in Thebes, Nefertiti is beloved by the people. Her charisma is matched only by her husband’s perceived generosity: Amunhotep showers his subjects with lofty promises. The love of the commoners will not be enough, however, if the royal couple is not able to conceive an heir, and as Nefertiti turns her attention to producing a son, she fails to see that the powerful priests, along with the military, are plotting against her husband’s rule. The only person wise enough to recognize the shift in political winds—and brave enough to tell the queen—is her younger sister, Mutnodjmet.

     Observant and contemplative, Mutnodjmet has never shared her sister’s desire for power. She yearns for a quiet existence away from family duty and the intrigues of court. Her greatest hope is to share her life with the general who has won her heart. But as Nefertiti learns of the precariousness of her reign, she declares that her sister must remain at court and marry for political gain, not love. To achieve her independence, Mutnodjmet must defy her sister, the most powerful woman in Egypt—while also remaining loyal to the needs of her family. 

     Love, betrayal, political unrest, plague, and religious conflict—Nefertiti--brings ancient Egypt to life in vivid detail. Fast-paced and historically accurate, it is the dramatic story of two unforgettable women living through a remarkable period in history.

     My review:  The story is told from Nefertiti’s younger sister Mutnodjmet as she chronicles Nefertiti's life as queen to Akhenaten. Nefertiti struggles as she tries to produce an heir to the throne, but things gets complicated when her husband decides to give up Egypt’s gods for his one true god, Aten. Nefertiti firmly stands beside her husband while the Egyptians are criticizing the Pharaoh calling him a heretic. Mutnodjmet is the observer of the royal family. She is against them defying Egypt’s gods, and is still faithful to the old religion. She wants no power but to live a simple happy life. Yet, Nefertiti sees Mutnodjmet as a political pawn to the royal family, and wants to use her for her own ambitions. Mutnodjmet must walk a fine line by keeping loyal to her family, but also maintaining a firm independence if she wants to marry the man she loves and achieve her happiness.

     Mutnodjmet is a strong character. She has no wish for politics, and wants to lead a simple life. She is also virtuous and wise. Her sister Nefertiti is a completely different character. I really didn’t like her character. She came across as a spoiled brat. Whenever something bad happened to her, she ran crying to Mutnodjmet about her problems. She is very selfish and keeps her sister by her for her own pleasure. I also did not like Akhenaten. I found him to be a tyrant. He cared only about power and wealth and not about his people. Because of this, I could not understand Nefertiti and her husband. Nefertiti is the title character, yet she came across as immature and a whiner. If she was supposed to be strong, manipulative, powerful, with political acumen, I did not see it.

     However, I loved Michelle’s writing. I loved her descriptions of Egypt for it made Egypt come alive. I love how her book depicts how the people of Egypt felt about having to leave their religion that they had always known to follow a new unknown one under the command of the pharaoh. The people didn’t like it, and later they called them heretics. Even though it was so long ago, it still felt reminiscent today.

     Overall, this book is about love, family, and independence. The message of the book is that you have to make tough decisions (and risk your sister’s disapproval) in order to be yourself. While the characters are one-dimensional and the plot is slow, the setting and the writing will make up for it. This book will stay with you even after you read the last page, and you will be dying to get your hands on the sequel, The Heretic Queen. I recommend this story to anyone interested in Egypt, royalty, and stories about sisters.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Guest Post by Jeffrey Statyon: Sherman's March (and the Women Who Won't Let Him Forget It)

     Today's guest author is Jeffrey Stayton. He is a professor of Southern and African American literature. He published his first book, This Side of the River two days ago, which I have just recently reviewed. It is about a group of angry Confederate widows that band together, take up arms, and march north to destroy General Sherman's house. In this guest post, he talks about Sherman's march and the women who were affected by it. I hope this guest post will give you some insight into his work. Thank you, Mr. Stayton.



Sherman’s March (and the Women Who Won’t Let Him Forget It)

     Years ago I gave a scholarly paper in Rome, Georgia, about the plantation mistresses who kept diaries and journals during Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea. It wasn’t a bad paper, though I knew I wouldn’t turn it into an article. It was well-received, especially since it dealt with some of the source material that Margaret Mitchell used for her Civil War epic, Gone With the Wind. I did not know that this paper would become a passport into what would eventually be my own Civil War odyssey, This Side of the River.

     Whenever I teach Southern literature, I do my best to have a cross-section of perspectives so that it is not a single dominant view of “the South.” And while there are plenty of amazing Civil War materials written by men, I found that teaching one of these journals, such as Eliza Andrews’s War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, was very instructive. I suppose what has always struck me is how the myth of the Southern Rebel girl is so much a part of our Civil War literature, Scarlett O’Hara merely being the most famous. Oftentimes, when my students read such journals, they are amazed at the willful blindness these women (many of whom were quite intelligent and capable) would exhibit. They might recognize that Union prisoners at Andersonville were treated in ways that would foreshadow the Holocaust in the next century, yet they would still cling to the “Lost Cause” and deflect blame on the Union itself.

     This seems to be at the heart of the matter to me with my novel. I have always been fascinated and horrified whenever many of my friends, who have been brilliant, capable and successful women, nevertheless attached themselves all too often with weak and even awful (or brutal) men as their lovers, husbands and fathers of their sad children. Moreover, Southern women are unfortunately actively acting against their own political interests—all in the name of the patriarchy that will promise protection but usually deliver second-class status. So it is my hope that these fictional war widows in my novel are all too human because of this. I’ve grown tired in both fiction and film reading and viewing super heroines who might be able to highkick villains in heels, but then are little better than another Charlie’s “angel” when all is said and done. The clarion call is always for more “strong female characters,” but we continue to define strength in terms that favor men. Which is why I was more interested following the journey of these specific women, warts and all, rather than create two-dimensional warrior women that resemble video game characters instead of flesh and bone humans. I did not seek out to write “herstory” anymore than history; I was more interested in story. That is where the life of your characters resides.  

Also be sure to check out my review of Jeffrey Statyon's novel:  

This Side of The River.

Friday, February 13, 2015

This Side of The River: A Novel by Jeffrey Stayton: A Book Review

This Side of The River: A Novel
Author: Jeffrey Stayton
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Nautilus
Release Date: February 15, 2015
Pages: 256
Source: This book was given to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: At the end of the Civil War, a group of young, angry Confederate widows band together, take up arms, and march north to Ohio intent to burn down the home of General William Tecumseh Sherman.

      My review: A group of Confederate widows are filled with hatred  against General Sherman for what his army had done to them. In order to satisfy their lust for revenge, they get together, grab their guns, and march north to Ohio to burn down General Sherman’s home. Their chosen ringleader is Captain Cat Harvey, a Texas Ranger with a dark side. When the widows start to see Cat Harvey’s sinister side, they soon begin to wonder what price they have to pay for their common cause.

     The story is told from many points of view from both genders male and female. But the main characters are the widows and their leader with Cat Harvey. At first, the widows are full of fire, hope,and happiness that they are marching north. They also admire their ringleader, Cat Harvey, for they fall in love with him and compete for his affections. Yet, the story takes a dark turn when they are abused by Cat Harvey. They feel ashamed of themselves and come to despise him. However, it is through Cat Harvey’s abuse that these women become stronger and are more of a sisterhood. They take care of each other and make their own decisions. I admire these women because they are tough-as-nails and men are proven to be fools for underestimating them.

     Cat Harvey is an interesting character. At first, he seems to be the hero in the story, but in actuality he is the villain. He is haunted by a dark past and doesn’t believe he can be redeemed. I really disliked his character, but I found him funny when he cross-dresses as a widow and wears clown make-up and rides an elephant. This is because he considers himself a widow of the cause because he has lost his wife and daughter.

     Overall, this book is filled with betrayal and revenge, but also friendship, hope, redemption and choices. This book questions the meaning of justice. The characters and setting are well-developed. The writing is lyrical and heart-breaking. There are some adults scenes in this book for there are graphic details about Captain Cat Harvey abuse of the widows. Yet I recommend this for fans of historical fiction and Civil Wars fans alike.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

City of Liars and Thieves: A Novel by Eve Karlin: A Book Review

City of Liars and Thieves: A Novel
Author: Eve Karlin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Alibi
Release Date: January 13, 2015
Pages: 266
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A crime that rocked a city. A case that stunned a nation. Based on the United States’ first recorded murder trial, Eve Karlin’s spellbinding debut novel re-creates early nineteenth-century New York City, where a love affair ends in a brutal murder and a conspiracy involving Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr erupts in shattering violence.

“It is high time to tell the truth. Time for justice. . . . How she was murdered and why she haunts me. It is not only Elma’s story, it’s mine.”

 On the bustling docks of the Hudson River, Catherine Ring waits with her husband and children for the ship carrying her cousin, Elma Sands. Their Greenwich Street boardinghouse becomes a haven for Elma, who has at last escaped the stifling confines of her small hometown and the shameful circumstances of her birth. But in the summer of 1799, Manhattan remains a teeming cesspool of stagnant swamps and polluted rivers. The city is desperate for clean water as fires wreak devastation and the death toll from yellow fever surges.

 Political tensions are rising, too. It’s an election year, and Alexander Hamilton is hungry for power. So is his rival, Aaron Burr, who has announced the formation of the Manhattan Water Company. But their private struggle becomes very public when the body of Elma Sands is found at the bottom of a city well built by Burr’s company.
 Resolved to see justice done, Catherine becomes both witness and avenger. She soon finds, however, that the shocking truth behind this trial has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. 

     My review: The duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton seems that Catherine Ring’s curse has come true. Catherine Ring’s cousin, Elma Sands, has been found dead in well in the middle of nowhere. The most suspicious person who did this shocking and inhumane crime is her lover, Levi Weeks. His trial is the first recorded murder trial in American history. His defense lawyers were Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, who uses their eloquent speeches to help him get away with murder. Catherine Ring seeks the truth surrounding Elma’s death, but justice and Elma are soon forgotten amidst politics, corruption, money, and power.

     Catherine Ring is a strong heroine. She is flawed. She runs a boardinghouse, and at the same time is a wife and mother. She asks for Elma to help her with the chores and take care of the children. She and Elma have a sisterly bond, but because she focuses on her problems, she doesn’t pay much attention to Elma and her well-being until it is too late. Yet, Catherine is observant and persistent. She doesn’t stop hunting for the truth until she has it. She also regrets not paying much attention of Elma for if she did, she thinks Elma may have still been alive.

     I like how the author set up Elma’s character before her death. Elma is illegitimate and that is a stigma that sticks with her even after her grave. Because of this she has a hard life and it seems impossible for her to have a good future. Yet, she is romantic. For when she first meets the young, handsome, and wealthy Levi Weeks, she thinks that she is going to marry him and become a respected lady in society. She also is very smart and has a good heart, for when she learns about the Weeks secret, she vows to expose it to the public.

     I found the book to be very well written. Even though the Levi Weeks trial has been an elusive fact in history, the past eerily reflects the present. For Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton did not care about Elma Sands, rather they used the trial for their own fame and political gain. And they were willing to use ruthless tactics to tarnish Elma’s reputation and let the murderer go scot-free so they can achieve their goal. They did not care about justice or the victim but rather themselves. Even when they were together, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr competed to best the other to who was the most eloquent lawyer and used Elma as a means to demean the other. For example Burr comment on Elma’s illegitimacy because Alexander is illegitimate himself. Because of this, I saw new light on Alexander Hamilton, and I really did not like him. In fact I was happy when Catherine Ring cursed him.

     Overall, this story is about a woman’s quest for justice. The message of the book is to appreciate what you have because you never know when it may be snatched away from you. The characters and the setting are well-developed, and the novel is very well-written. The book is slow to develop but after Elma’s death, it is a fast-paced read that will keep you on the edge of your seat until you find out the truth. I recommend this book to historical fiction and mystery lovers alike.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Miramont's Ghost by Elizabeth Hall: A Book Review

Miramont’s Ghost
Author: Elizabeth Hall
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: February 1, 2015
Pages: 336
Source: This book was given to me by TLC book tours in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Miramont Castle, built in 1897 and mysteriously abandoned three years later, is home to many secrets. Only one person knows the truth: Adrienne Beauvier, granddaughter of the Comte de Challembelles and cousin to the man who built the castle.

     Clairvoyant from the time she could talk, Adrienne’s visions show her the secrets of those around her. When her visions begin to reveal dark mysteries of her own aristocratic French family, Adrienne is confronted by her formidable Aunt Marie, who is determined to keep the young woman silent at any cost. Marie wrenches Adrienne from her home in France and takes her to America, to Miramont Castle, where she keeps the girl isolated and imprisoned. Surrounded by eerie premonitions, Adrienne is locked in a life-or-death struggle to learn the truth and escape her torment.


     Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, this hauntingly atmospheric tale is inspired by historical research into the real-life Miramont Castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado.


     My review: Miramont Castle, an American castle in Colorado that is not only known for its elegance and luxury, but also for its ghosts. Miramont’s Ghost by Elizabeth Hall tells of Adrienne, a clairvoyant from an aristocratic French family. Because of her visions, she learns dark secrets about her family. In order to keep her silent, her aunt sends her to America to live in Miramont Castle with her cousin and priest to keep her isolated and imprisoned. When she has premonitions about her own tragic fate, Adrienne tries to fight for her life.

     This novel is NOT for the faint of heart. This is a dark story, and it is filled with no hope. There are a lot of disturbing scenes in this book along with adult content. The protagonist is abused and violated. I have to admit. I did not enjoy this book. I felt like I was in a horrible nightmare desperately wanting to escape. I kept wanting to read something lighter and more enjoyable, but I stuck with it wanting to know the ending.

     I really did not like the protagonist. She is a sad figure. I felt creeped out knowing that she knew about her dark fate, yet she didn’t do anything to try to overcome it. She mostly let things be. She was a weak figure, and because of that, she was easily manipulated and trapped.

     The author is a good writer. She paints a gorgeous depiction of France and the castle. It is so seductive that you feel trapped by the dark gothic atmosphere. The book is broken into two parts, when Adrienne is in France and then in America. Even though I didn’t like the book, it is obvious that the author has talent.

     Overall, this is a dark, depressing tale. It is filled with visions, secrets, and ghosts. The characters are not likable, but they are very developed, and it has a good setting. The story is very well-written. It is just that I didn’t like the plot. I felt like this was more like a Stephen King’s novel than Rebecca. So if you are interested in a dark fiction about an American castle and ghosts, then this novel is for you.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Towers of Tuscany by Carol M. Cram: A Book Review

The Towers of Tuscany
Author: Carol M. Cram
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: New Arcadia Publishing
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 388
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Set amid the twisting streets and sunlit piazzas of medieval Italy, The Towers of Tuscany tells the story of a woman who dares to follow her own path in the all-male domain of the painter’s workshop.

     Trained in secret by her father to create the beautifully-crafted panels and altarpieces acclaimed today as masterpieces of late medieval art, Sofia’s desire for freedom from her father’s workshop leads her to betray her passion and sink into a life of loveless drudgery with a husband who comes to despise her when she does not produce a son.

     In an attack motivated by vendetta, Sofia’s father is crushed by his own fresco, compelling Sofia to act or risk the death of her soul. The choice she makes takes her on a journey from misery to the heights of passion—both as a painter and as a woman. Sofia escapes to Siena where, disguised as a boy, she paints again. When her work attracts the notice of a nobleman who discovers the woman under the dirty smock, Sofia is faced with a choice that nearly destroys her.

     The Towers of Tuscany unites a strong heroine with meticulously researched settings and compelling characters drawn from the rich tapestry of medieval Italy during one of Europe's most turbulent centuries. The stylishly written plot is packed with enough twists and turns to keep readers up long past their bedtimes.

     My review: Towers of Tuscany tells the story of Sofia, an aspiring artist, who is trapped in society and marriage to her dimwitted husband. After her husband becomes involved in an assassination plot of a wealthy nobleman at a wedding feast that killed many people including her father, Sofia decides to leave her husband and Tuscany. She disguises herself as a boy and travels to Siena in hopes to pursue her art. Her work attracts a nobleman, whom she falls in love with, and she ponders whether she should give up her masquerade.

     To be honest, I had a hard time reading this story. I liked the beginning when she bravely decides to leave her husband and disguises herself as a boy, but when she reaches Siena, Sofia makes poor choices that puts her to where she was in the beginning and worse. I honestly felt like I wasted my time reading this book because you hope that the plot gets better but it does not. And I really didn’t like the ending. I felt that the pointless epilogue which jumps to present day should have been left out.

     I didn’t really like Sofia. The only thing I liked about her was that she left her husband in Tuscany and disguised herself as a boy in Siena.  While the book was trying to show how hard it was for a woman to be herself in a patriarchal society, I didn’t really get that in the book. To me, the book was filled with a lot of what-ifs mostly based on Sofia’s decisions. I wondered if she married her husband's younger brother, who is smarter and adored and respected his wife instead or the man who loved and respected her later in the novel, would she have been happier? Instead, Sofia was shallow. She chose the handsome, selfish men that believed that a woman’s place in society is to produce sons and nothing more.

    Overall, this book is filled with romance, betrayal, and choices. It is about a woman looking to be herself. While I didn’t like the characters, I found the setting to be beautifully described. The book is very well-written. It is just that this book wasn’t for me. I recommend this book to anyone interested in art and medieval Italy.

Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 stars