Generally speaking I'm not a fan of book trailers (most of them seem to try too hard?), but this one for Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project is pretty much perfect.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Monday, October 28, 2013
The Best of Daughters
By: Dilly Court
Publisher: Arrow Books
As the eldest daughter and with a mama intent on improving her family's social position, Daisy knew what was expected of her, no matter how it chafed -- to behave as a lady ought, and to marry soon and above all, marry well. But in 1912 Daisy's world stands on the brink of profound change, and she cannot resist the siren call of the women's suffragette movement and its heady message of empowerment. Daisy believes that campaigning to see women granted the vote is a worthy passion, one that will allow her to make an indelible mark on the world, and fulfill her closely held dreams of independence. For while ambition outside of marriage may be unconventional in a woman, it is the future Daisy craves, far preferable to marrying her childhood best friend -- the wealthy and highly respectable Rupert -- just because their mothers have willed that it will be so.
But Daisy's dreams of activism and her mother's of an advantageous marriage crumble when the their fortune vanishes and the family is left swindled, their reputation in tatters. Forced into "exile" into a modest country home, far from the never-ending whirl of London's social scene, Daisy's eyes are opened to a world she never dreamed existed, filled with social and professional possibilities she would have never known had her family remained ensconced in their privileged London lifestyle. Even as Daisy puts her dreams on hold to care for her family, her mother continues to push for a marriage to Rupert, made all the more critical as it promises to restore her family to solvency. As Daisy weighs her heart's desires the world catapults toward an all-encompassing conflict that threatens to to not only rob her of her dreams but destory any hope she has of a future. When the specter of the Great War arrives at Daisy's door, she's left with the greatest choice of all -- to embrace the brave new world being forged in the crucible of conflict, to allow herself to forge a new path of her own making, or to remain forever a pawn in the plans of others, powerless to direct the destiny of her heart and life.
When the opportunity to review The Best of Daughters was presented I jumped at the chance. Court is apparently a best-selling novelist in Britain, and a quick perusal of her novels on Amazon promised soapy, engrossing, historical reads -- essentially a Masterpiece costume drama in novel form. Daisy's story dovetails nicely with the first two seasons of Downton Abbey and is tailor-made to appeal to fans of the soapy, Fellowes-penned drama and those of a similar ilk. But what The Best of Daughters lacks that its filmic counterpart has in spades is sharp, compelling characterization. For all one may take issue with Downton's plotlines, Fellowes has a proven knack for crafting buzz-worthy television with characters that, love them or hate them, viewers respond to passionately.
While I liked Daisy and applauded her desire to forge her own path in a world that proscribed strict social roles for women, Court glosses over Daisy's character arc, failing to provide any real depth to Daisy's struggle to balance her dreams with her familial obligations until the novel's final act. The cross-class "romance" with Bowman, an appealing rake and auto mechanic, is little more than a blatant retread of the Downton Sybil/Branson romance, only lacking any of the pairing's character or relational development, not to mention chemistry. For an allegedly critical turning point in her life, Daisy's "scandalous" relationship with Bowman falls flat, leaving one to wonder for most of the novel if Rupert wouldn't be better off without Daisy after all.
Although Daisy's characterization is uneven at best, Court's secondary characters shine in comparison. Beatrice, Daisy's spoiled younger sister, develops a surprising romance with a farmer (horrors!), and Daisy's unorthodox friendship with her fellow suffragette-turned-maid Ruby is a bright spot of occasional humor, but more than that it serves as an effective vehicle for examining each woman's otherwise wildly disparate lifestyle. While The Best of Daughters falls into the narrative trap of telling/info-dumping vs. showing/nuanced characterization, what Court does best here is suggest -- at a high-level -- what a turbulent period of change her characters endured, and the inherent possibilities in the same for women like Daisy who dared to dream of something more. I also appreciated how she brought to light aspects of history that receive little attention in either the general historical record or in fiction of this type, such as the work of the FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) during the Great War.
While The Best of Daughters lacked the nuance and emotional depth I crave in historical fiction, I am nonetheless thrilled to have discovered a new-to-me author whose work covers often ignored time periods and possesses a laudable scope and ambition, though it may falter in the realization of the latter. Through the lens of readjusted expectations, having how experienced one of Court's novels, I'd characterize her work as historical fiction lite -- a soapy, glossy look at a tumultuous time, with an ambition seen more in films than popular fiction in my experience. Though the narrative is occasionally cumbersome -- too little showing the development of characters and relevant plot points -- Court touches on a variety of issues that readers with an interest in women's history will find fascinating -- from the FANYs to the eroding social barriers that allowed a friendship to develop between Daisy and Ruby. While not quite captivated I am intrigued, and will definitely explore Court's fiction further!
About the book:
Despite her privileged upbringing, Daisy Lennox has always longed to make something of her life.
She is drawn to the suffragette movement, but when her father faces ruin they are forced to move to the country and Daisy's first duty is to her family.
Here she becomes engaged to her childhood friend -- a union both families have dreamed of.
But, on the eve of their wedding, war is declared, and Daisy knows her life will never be the same again.
*My thanks to TLC Book Tours for the review opportunity, and my deepest apologies for being so late with my scheduled post! I'm still digging out from falling behind on review commitments over the summer.
Thursday, October 24, 2013
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
By: Elizabeth Fremantle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Born into the powerful and religious-reform minded Parr family, the Queen's Gambit opens with Katherine facing the death of her second husband, John Neville. As a supporter of the Catholic Church, and bitterly opposed to Henry's first divorce and subsequent sacking of the wealth and power that had long attended the Catholic faith in England, Baron Latymer's efforts to later reconcile with the king cost both him and his family dearly. The unspeakable horrors Katherine and her stepdaughter, Meg, endured at the hands of Catholic rebels who held them hostage in an attempt to regain Latymer's support birthed within Katherine a passion for the Protestant faith and its tenets, such as the accessibility of the scriptures to all the faithful. Years later, his health failing, Latymer begs Katherine to end his suffering and using her extensive knowledge of herbal medicine, she complies -- and the burden of her secret sin and subsequent widowhood sets her life on a trajectory she never imagined, one where guilt and compassion, faith and fear war within her for prominence. Against all desire and expectation, Katherine gains the attention of the now-single king and is faced with a choice -- hold fast to thwarted dreams or acquiesce to the king's desires, and use her new-found power to change her land and in so doing perhaps atone for her secret sins.
I've always been rather fascinated by Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII -- because of all the women joined to that volatile, larger-than-life figure in marriage, she alone survived. For her debut novel Elizabeth Fremantle examines the life of this extraordinaryand oft-times controversial woman whose intelligence and passion not only enabled her survival in Henry's court, but arguably left an indelible mark on the rulers to come, particularly her step-daughter, the Princess Elizabeth.
As perhaps one of Henry's lesser-known wives, Katherine has managed to avoid the scandalous notoriety that attached to many of her predecessors arguably by simple virtue of playing the game well enough to survive. Fremantle's Katherine is a sympathetic, multi-faceted heroine whose cool, seemingly unflappable regal demeanor masks passions, dreams, and a fierce intellect. Alternately told from the point-of-view of Katherine, her long-time maid and companion Dot Fownten, and friend and doctor Robert Huicke, Queen's Gambit is a fascinating portrayal Katherine the Queen, balancing the documented, public persona with an intimate view of the cost and heartache attendant on subsuming her personal desires to the greater call, the potential influence marriage to Henry placed within her grasp. It is therefore somewhat unfortunate that Fremantle opts to tell her story using third-person present tense, one of my least favorite narrative forms and I believe one of the hardest to successfully achieve. Fremantle comes close, but the awkward phrasing required of this form of narrative constantly serves as a "block," reminding the reader that they are an observer and thus prevented from becoming fully immersed in Katherine's otherwise fascinating life and world.
I loved Fremantle's decision to in part tell Katherine's story from the perspective of her maid Dot Fownten and doctor and confidante Huicke. Where in most fiction one would need -- or choose -- to invent a servant, Fremantle incorporates documented figures like Dot, adding an extra layer of authenticity to the narrative. As a woman who served Katherine from her days in Baron Latymer's household, Dot would be intimately acquainted with the queen -- and yet much remains unknown about Dot's own life, allowing Fremantle the dramatic license to explore the life of a member of the Tudor serving class. The result is a thoroughly engaging blend of fact and fiction, as Dot is a wonderfully realized character and sharp observer of her masters and their manners (or lack thereof). And I adored the manner in which Fremantle re-imagines Dot's real-life cross-class courtship and eventual marriage to court musician William Savage. And Huicke -- his insight, sensitivity, and loyalty to Katherine absolutely broke my heart.
Covering roughly five years, Fremantle keeps the action moving at a brisk pace despite the tendency of third-person present tense to slow the pace of the narrative. The novel's greatest strength lies in its exploration of the delicate, tense dance Katherine is forced to perform for the duration of her marriage. Recognized as a queen capable of swaying the king's views -- particularly as they related to religious reform -- Katherine battled pro-Catholic factions in the council and Henry's volatile, jealous temperament to win the king's favor, serving as regent during Henry's final French campaign and facilitating his reconciliation with daughters Mary and Elizabeth, seeing them restored to the succession.
Katherine's influence on Elizabeth is particularly interesting to consider here, in light of Fremantle's portrayal of the advances her fourth husband, Thomas Seymour, made toward the princess while she resided in their care at the beginning of Edward VI's reign. While the full extent of this "relationship" may never be known -- particularly whether or not Elizabeth reciprocated Seymour's overtures -- Fremantle crafts this moment as a pivotal turning point in Elizabeth's youth, a critical moment wherein Katherine's betrayal serves as a potential seed for Elizabeth's later famously unmarried state. The tragedy of Katherine's one great passion being revealed as a selfish, womanizing fraud is wrenching to experience, but reveals once again Katherine's greatest strength -- her ability, even on her deathbed, to preserve the most intimate part of herself -- her desperate faith and hope of redemption.
Queen's Gambit is an engrossing, thought-provoking portrait of an extraordinary queen and the times in which she lived. Fremantle's affinity for the time period shines, particularly in her characterization of the "rougher" side of the time period via the character of Dot. She makes some bold assumptions regarding Katherine's life (i.e., the manner of Latymer's death), but no matter where one stands on such artistic license, Fremantle constructs a heady, thought-provoking mix of fact and fiction that will leave one hungry for more. Fremantle's entertaining and readable (despite the point-of-view choice! *wink*) portrait of Katherine's life marks her as an author to watch, and I cannot to wait for her follow-up, Sisters of Treason -- the story of Lady Jane Grey's younger sisters -- slated to release Spring 2014.
About the book:
Widowed for the second time at age thirty-one Katherine Parr falls deeply for the dashing courtier Thomas Seymour and hopes at last to marry for love. However, obliged to return to court, she attracts the attentions of the ailing, egotistical, and dangerously powerful Henry VIII, who dispatches his love rival, Seymour, to the Continent. No one is in a position to refuse a royal proposal so, haunted by the fates of his previous wives—two executions, two annulments, one death in childbirth—Katherine must wed Henry and become his sixth queen.
Katherine has to employ all her instincts to navigate the treachery of the court, drawing a tight circle of women around her, including her stepdaughter, Meg, traumatized by events from their past that are shrouded in secrecy, and their loyal servant Dot, who knows and sees more than she understands. With the Catholic faction on the rise once more, reformers being burned for heresy, and those close to the king vying for position, Katherine’s survival seems unlikely. Yet as she treads the razor’s edge of court intrigue, she never quite gives up on love.
*My thanks to Historical Fiction Virtual Tours for the review opportunity, and my apologies for being late with my review! I'm slowly but surely catching up. :)
Monday, October 14, 2013
In case you missed it, last week the creators of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries premiered their latest web series -- Emma Approved! While only three episodes have been released thus far, I am LOVING this modern, fresh take on Austen's Emma and I can't wait to see where they take these characters next.
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
This week, the
B&H Books (October 15, 2013)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters! Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing, Harvest House Publishers, and B&H Publishing. She holds a Master of Arts in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, is a former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, and currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is a full-time academic advisor and part-time college composition instructor for Bethel University.
Kaye Dacus (KAY DAY-cuss) is an author and educator who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. A former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kaye enjoys being an active ACFW member and the fellowship and community of hundreds of other writers from across the country and around the world that she finds there. She currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, which she co-founded in 2003 with three other writers. Each month, she teaches a two-hour workshop on an aspect of the craft of writing at the MTCW monthly meeting. Kaye lives in Nashville, Tennessee, where she is an academic advisor and English Composition instructor for Bethel University.
ABOUT THE BOOK
Set during the Industrial Revolution and the Great Exhibition of 1851, An Honest Heart is a “sitting-room romance” with the feel of a Regency-era novel but the fashions and technological advances of the mid-Victorian age.
Featuring dual romance stories, the main plot involves seamstress Caddy Bainbridge and the choice she must make between two men: one from the aristocracy, the other from the working class. Award-nominated author Kaye Dacus pinpoints the theme of honesty—both men in this love triangle have deep secrets to hide, and Caddy’s choice will be based on which of them can be honest with her.
Courtship . . . cunning . . . candor. Who possesses an honest heart?
If you would like to read the first chapter of Honest Heart, go HERE.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
StarBridge (StarBridge #1)
By: A.C. Crispin
Publisher: Author's Edition
A.C. Crispin holds the distinction of being one of the voices that first made me fall in love with science fiction, thanks to her superlative Han Solo trilogy (The Paradise Snare, The Hutt Gambit, and Rebel Dawn). Star Wars fan or not, those are cracking good reads. However, I'd never explored her other work, and when I discovered that she'd recently re-released her StarBridge series as e-books, I knew I had to try her "unbranded" fiction. The result is an engaging coming-of-age tale, that, though lacking some of the polish of her later work, brings a fresh spin to the classic sci-fi trope of a "first contact" with a new alien species.
On the cusp of her seventeenth birthday, Mahree Burroughs sets out from Jolie, Earth's colony planet, to return to Earth with plans to continue her education at university and somehow, someway, make her mark on the world. Traveling aboard her uncle's starship, the Désirée, Mahree chafes at the restrictions placed on her by virtue of being the captain's young relative, particularly when handsome Dr. Robert Gable is awoken from hibernation early. Though twenty four, Rob has as much to prove to the world as Mahree, and the two form a fast friendship based on a shared desire for respect and adventure. When the ship's communications systems pick up radio transmissions of an unknown origin, Mahree and Rob find themselves at the forefront of a shocking discovery -- Earth's first contact with the Simiu, an alien with an imposing, lion-like appearance. Everything goes well until a cultural misunderstanding threatens the fragile human-Simiu first contact with irreparable violence. Determined to protect both her people and her new alien friends, Mahree goes rogue, embarking on a dangerous quest that brings her before peoples and worlds beyond her wildest dreams -- an experience with the potential to change the trajectory of her life, if she survives.
While I am a relatively new fan of classic Star Trek, this novel strikes me as very much in the classic Trek vein of the thrill and danger of first encounters with previously unknown alien races. Though the technology feels a little dated by twenty-first century standards (StarBridge was first published in 1989), Crispin's ability to articulate the excitement and thrill of a First Contact discovery remains timeless. While the "nuts and bolts" of first contact protocols between human and Simiu skitters on the edge of pedantry, slowing the forward momentum of the narrative, Crispin's attention to the detail makes StarBridge something of a science fiction lover's manual for first contact in bookish form -- a testimony to her boundless imagination and passion for the genre.
Mahree is, for the most part, a compelling heroine. Crispin sketches her teenage, growing-up angst with equal measures of compassionate warmth and humor. My favorite portion of the novel involves Mahree, Rob, and their Simiu ally Dhurrkk's journey to the interplanetary League in a last-ditch attempt to broker peace between the crew of the Désirée and the Simiu. Mahree really comes into her own here as a potential leader. I do, however, desperately wish that Crispin had opted to forego pursuing a romance between Mahree and Rob. The fact that she's still a teenager when they consummate their relationship -- never mind the future's view of one's full maturity level at sixteen -- plays out awkwardly on the page. Thankfully Crispin hints at a possible reset or delay in their relationship by the novel's end, but without further development their earlier "romance" falls flat -- a shame in a novel scrupulously dedicated to inter-species relational development.
Although StarBridge lacks the polish and finesse of Crispin's later, tie-in work, it is an enjoyable slice of original, old-fashioned sci-fi escapism. With its strong premise and attendant endless possibilities and a solid execution, StarBridge marks an intriguing beginning to Crispin's original work and fantastic imagination. Further installments are now definitely on my radar.
About the book:
WE ARE NOT ALONE, AND WE’RE ABOUT TO MEET OUR NEIGHBORS.
After more than a hundred years of space travel, a stray radio signal indicates the possibility that alien life might exist. The crew of the Désirée has no training in interstellar diplomacy and a minor dispute turns to disaster that could escalate into a full scale war.
Can the bond formed between two very different friends be strong enough to bridge their differences and save their people? Come along in this first book in the StarBridge Series in an exciting journey across the stars in a desperate gamble to save both their worlds.