On a whim I decided to read Philippa Gregory's main series in chronological reading order. I figured that this would be a good way to a) catch up on her series as I've only read a book here and there and b) read about some of my husband's direct ancestors (yay genealogy research!).
I thought that this first novel (not Gregory's first but, rather, first in the timeline) was...just ok. I'd probably rate it about a 2.5 if I were being honest. At the end of the day there just isn't that much historically available about Jacquetta of Luxembourg. In fact, most of the novel seemed to just be a vehicle for glossing over the first part of the War of the Roses. And "glossing" is the best word for it. Gregory slams a WHOLE bunch of factoids into one paragraph...too much, really. There are sections of the book that just seem like info dumps (one of my pet peeves). Gregory stuck Jacquetta in the back of a room somewhere and...BAM...we've dropped a whole bunch of history-ish facts down that she's "observed" or "overheard".
The parts concerning Henry's illness were interesting...as were the interactions between Margaret d'Anjou and Jacquetta. I'm just not sure if the random interesting bits make up for the info dumps and the feeling that this was all just an extended introduction to her "real" books on this era in history -- The White Queen and The Red Queen and following. And, since The Lady of the Rivers was really just an introduction, I think Gregory stops the book prematurely (with Elizabeth going out to meet King Edward on the road...which is where, I believe, The White Queen picks up) as Jacquetta still has a few more documented things to experience. I am sure Gregory addresses these other things in the later book, however, I don't believe the later books are from Jacquetta's viewpoint as this one was.
This is a jumbled review...the TLDR of it is this: an "OK" book heavy on the info dumps that appears to exist only because her other books on the series sold well. It's missing that "spark" that are in some of her other works.
Everyone has those authors that are "auto-buy" authors. For me, Michelle Moran is one of those authors. She always manages to seamlessly blend history and fiction. When I saw her latest endeavor at the bookstore -- Mata Hari's Last Dance -- I had to pick it up. No questions asked.
In Mata Hari's Last Dance we follow the famous exotic dancer/courtesan/spy through the start of her career up through her tragic end. The story is told by Mata Hari herself and is peppered with flashbacks to her childhood and formative years. We travel Europe with the dancer as she conquers news headlines and hearts and causes not a few scandals everywhere she goes.
Compared to her other novels, I feel as though Mata Hari was a smaller book. I was able to read it in about a day. I don't mind smaller novels, however, I left Mata Hari's book wanting more. She was such a colorful character (to put it mildly) that I couldn't help but want to dive in deeper. I'll confess - I don't know much more about Mata Hari historically other than that she was an exotic dancer/courtesan and accused of/executed for spying during WWI. Moran paints a picture of a woman with a troubled past who's formative years may have shaped her later life and ultimately led to her final fate.
The pacing of this book was...odd? The bulk of the book is spent showing Mata Hari doing what she (I guess?) did best - dancing and seducing. It almost became a bit repetitive until Moran branched off into more frequent glimpses of Mata Hari's past life. Just about the point where I finally felt like we were actually getting a glimpse of the TRUE woman behind the Mata Hari mask, Moran takes the story down yet a different vein - espionage. At this point I was almost 2/3 of the way through the book and the text just seemed to sprint through the final, tragic events in Mata Hari's life.
In the end, I really did enjoy this book. Moran is a master of historical fiction and this book, in my opinion, is no different. Was it my favorite book from Moran? I'd have to say probably not. While enjoyable, I feel like other books contain more developed characters and I always kept wanting Mata Hari to be better fleshed out. Will Moran keep being one of my "auto buy" authors? Absolutely - without a doubt. I can't wait to read whatever she releases next!
The right wife by Beverly Barton
Expected Publication Date: June 5, 2014
Just received approval for this arc - so excited! I love the cover...I do love a pretty dress.
Anyway, here's the Back Cover Blurb:
In a sweeping and vibrant novel set in the post-war South, New York Times bestselling author Beverly Barton follows one young woman's journey to love and independence. . .
1885. All of Margaret Campbell's hopes for the future lie in Tuscumbia, Alabama. Since the death of her sharecropper father, eighteen-year-old Maggie has no resources and few allies, aside from the relatives who've agreed to take her in. With luck, she might yet make an upright gentleman of her brother, and a real lady of her rebellious little sister. And perhaps, once her siblings are settled, she'll find a decent, hardworking man to marry. But those plans are jeopardized the moment she meets Aaron Stone.
Effortlessly charming, Aaron is building an empire in the South. Maggie knows he wants the right kind of wife to overcome the shadows surrounding his birth--someone like the well-connected widow he's been courting. Someone a million miles from a penniless, outspoken sharecropper's daughter. But neither jealousy, family secrets, nor long-held prejudices will keep Maggie from following her heart. . .
Most of the historical romances I read tend to be Regency Romances. I am looking forward to an American historical romance! Can't wait to get started on this one!
Life. Sometimes it just gets in the way...you know? I hate that I didn't manage to get a TBT review up this week. From an awful week at work to some big life changes starting to evolve...it's been an eventful week. Every time I crack open a book (or turn my e-reader on), my eyes would just drift closed and...whelp...that's all she wrote. Hope to get back to the routine this week - including the Weekly Newbie and TBT. In the meantime, started working on an ARC copy of Mary Balogh's latest Regency-era romance.
So how about I do a "bonus" Weekly Newbie post since I didn't manage a TBT post? Yes? No? Maybe? Well, I'm going to do it anyway.
The Weekly Newbie - The Escape by Mary Balogh
Expected Release Date: July 1, 2014
Back Cover Blurb:
In this poignant novel of longing and salvation, a hopeful widow and a resilient war hero discover the promise of love’s magic and new beginnings.
After surviving the Napoleonic Wars, Sir Benedict Harper is struggling to move on, his body and spirit in need of a healing touch. Never does Ben imagine that hope will come in the form of a beautiful woman who has seen her own share of suffering. After the lingering death of her husband, Samantha McKay is at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws—until she plots an escape to distant Wales to claim a house she has inherited. Being a gentleman, Ben insists that he escort her on the fateful journey.
Ben wants Samantha as much as she wants him, but he is cautious. What can a wounded soul offer any woman? Samantha is ready to go where fate takes her, to leave behind polite society and even propriety in her desire for this handsome, honorable soldier. But dare she offer her bruised heart as well as her body? The answers to both their questions may be found in an unlikely place: in each other’s arms.
I'm about 20% through the ARC copy of this latest installment of Balogh's Regency romance landscape. I think it's considered number three in "The Survivor's Club" and I was slightly worried I would be lost since I have not read one or two. So far, however, it reads as a standalone that you know fits into a larger picture but reads perfectly fine by itself. I'm not sure if it will have anything that will make it stand out from a lot of her other novels...but I'm only 20% through which means anything can really happen. Oh, and I receive the arc from the publisher/Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Hope to post said honest review within the next few days so keep an eye out.
Glamorous Illusions by Lisa Tawn Bergren
I have been trying to find another set of books by Bergren that I enjoy as much as I enjoyed the Northern Lights Trilogy: Three Historical Romance Novels from Lisa T. Bergren: The Captain's Bride, Deep Harbor, Midnight Sun and the Full Circle series. Both those series are fond reading memories from my middle and high school years. They are not YA, but I would consider them staples of the Christian fiction genre.
The Grand Tour series seems to be off to a somewhat promising start. I don't think it will live up to the Northern Lights Trilogy, but I do rank that one pretty high up there.
The premise of Glamorous Illusions centers around Cora Diehl who finds out that she is the illegitimate daughter of copper baron Mr. Kensington. Kensington takes Cora away from her birth mother and adopted father and places her among her half-siblings as they take the Grand Tour across Europe. Cora is then faced with social and cultural situations she had never dreamed she would deal with as she struggles to get to know her new family, her new social standing, and herself better.
Structuring the book around the Grand Tour (which was, historically, a rite of passage for youth of privilege) is a pretty fun idea. You get the glamour of Europe and the dazzle of the upper class. I did find the way Mr. Kensington swooped in and plucked Cora out of her home and her entire way of living to be extremely jarring. It kind of seemed like Bergren needed a way to bring a gauche and somewhat naive girl into a group of social, aristocratic veterans. There was a little bit of anger on the part of Cora towards Mr. Kensington for pretty much ruining her life.
But then she got over it.
The (adoptive) father she's known her whole life is laying sick and possibly dying in a hospital bed and she "misses [her] Papa" and that's it? Kensington has an illegitimate child with a maid (Cora's mother) and then disposes of the evidence so as not to destroy his own marriage because of his mistake? Oh, but he sent Cora a piece of jewelry or two throughout the years so he's not a complete absentee father.
Yeah, not really buying that.
I felt as though there should have been more anger...more resentment...more angst...before Cora settled into her new life.
Maybe I'm over-analyzing things...
Anyway, I do plan on picking up book number two. It's noNorthern Lights Trilogy, but it's not too bad. It has the potential to pick up steam as they chug across Europe...so let's see where this Grand Tour Train goes.