29 Mar 2019

First Line Fridays: Lady of Conquest by Tamara Leigh

I have not posted in nearly 3 weeks. I was going to feature the first line from Carolyn Miller's latest novel A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh but I figured that a lot of other people are probably going to be including that particular book.

So I am featuring instead the first line from an novel I am currently reading from my Kindle Backlist: well actually I am listening to the audiobook, since I got the novel free a while back. 

Lady of Conquest is one of several clean read rewrites of a series of general market titles she wrote back in the 90s, and is actually one of the earliest of her novels- at least in terms of the setting. Its set in 1068, just a couple of years after the Battle of Hastings.
Or rather it was the earliest until the Publication of Merciless, the first title in Mrs Leigh's new series set just after the Norman Conquest late last year. The second book is due out in late April. 

Being from Sussex, the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest is an event I've always known about, and sort of always consider the Saxons as my people.
I like the cover a lot, and the blonde Lady looks very Saxon: apart from her impossibly small waist and the stone castle in the background. Castles at this time were made strictly of wood.
Anyway, without further ado, here is today's first line 

" A thousand times I curse you!” the fallen knight shouted at the one who cradled his head in her lap, whose blue skirts were stained purple with his blood"

Don't forget to click the Meme and comment with your own First Line.



15 Mar 2019

The Warrior Maiden by Melanie Dickerson Review

Hagenheim #9 
February 5th 2019, 320 Pages, Thomas Nelson 
Print, Ebook and Audio 

Genre: Historical Fiction 
Setting: Poland and Germany, Early 1400s 
She knew a woman was expected to marry, cook, and have children, not go to war. Can she manage to stay alive, save her mother, and keep the handsome son of a duke from discovering her secret?

When Mulan decides to take her father’s place in battle against the besieging Teutonic Knights, she realizes she has been preparing for this moment her whole life—and that her life, and her mother’s, depends on her success. As the adopted daughter of poor parents, she has little power in the world. If she can’t prove herself on the battlefield, she could face death—or, perhaps worse, marriage to the village butcher.

In her disguise as a young man, Mulan meets Wolfgang, the German duke’s son who is determined to save his people even if it means fighting against his own brother. Wolfgang is exasperated by the young soldier who seems to be one step away from disaster at all times—or showing Wolfgang up in embarrassing ways.

From rivals to reluctant friends, Mulan and Wolfgang begin to share secrets with one another. But war is an uncertain time and dreams can die as quickly as they are born. When Mulan receives word of danger back home, she must make the ultimate choice. Could she be the son her bitter father never had? Or would she become the strong young woman she has been created to be?

 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

I was not sure whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars. So I will ultimately settle for 3.6. Readers beware this review is going to be on the long side.

First off, I don't share the outrage of some over the 'cultural appropriation' of a Mulan story set in Germany and Poland. I believe stories have always traveled and passed along cultural and geographical boundaries. Besides of which, I'm a Brit and I can well attest how many of my country's great stories have been retold and adapted across the world. We don't have a copyright on Robin Hood, King Arthur or Shakespeare.

Anyway, without further ado. The story itself was quite good. The Romance was charming, and there was plenty of adventure and excitement.
As far as the characters went, at times I liked Mulan, at other times I wanted to slap her. She could be very inconsistent. I think by the end the author did a good job reconciling the warrior with a woman who could still be vulnerable, but at times she was just so changeable and getting annoyed over silly things. 
I kind of preferred Wolfgang, and the situation with his brother Steffan. At times he could be a bit of a jerk, yeah, but we was trying to do what he was raised and trained to. At least that's how I saw it.
I also rather liked Andrei, Mulan's companion/Squire/Friend. He could do have his own story.

The battle scenes were well written- but- I found some of them very unrealistic at the same time.
The Grand Master of the Teutonic knights going into battle without any armour on. Just no. In fact, the elite military order of the Teutonic knights came over as pretty useless and incompetent for most of this story. At one point a division of them just gallop straight towards a line of archers.

Finally, whilst most of the details of the story were authentic, there were some inevitable modern Americanisms ('uh-huh' and 'yeah' and one character says 'girlfriend'). I note with some disappointment that this is the third Medieval Fairytale retelling by this author in which there's been a reference to potatoes.
Potato dumplings may be a traditional dish in Lithuania today, but they weren't in the 15th century because-we-did-not-have-potatoes-in-Medieval-Europe. None. Nada. They come from the Americas, specifically South America and could not have been known in Europe before they were introduced in the 16th century at least.

Also, I found some of the situations at the end rather questionable. For one thing, they really reminded me of the closing part of Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. Ivanhoe was good, but historically accurate it was anything but.
I've read that a person could only be tried for heresy by a church court: and the Teutonic knights were not a church court, and also the whole thing about a woman being accused of heresy taking part in combat did not wash with me.
Now, I know people are going to be thinking 'Joan of Arc' but there are plenty of examples from before her of women who took part in fighting and warfare and did not get into trouble for it.  It was not beyond the pale even then.
Its entirely possible that the author meant this to be a distortion of Christian and social ideals, as represented by the villain. At least I hope so.

Overall I did like The Warrior Maiden as an interesting spin on the Warrior Woman/Girl trope and the Mulan story. Some suspension of disbelief is required, as with most novels.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers for allowing me to request this title. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own

10 Mar 2019

The Butterfly Bride by Vanessa Riley Review

Advertisements for Love #3 
401 Pages, October 22nd 2018, Entangled Publishing 

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: London and English Countryside, early 1800s,

Frederica Burghley wants to be married by Yuletide. Or else her father will set her up with one of his friends. The bonbon-loving illegitimate daughter of the duke wants to choose her own husband. Advertising in the newspaper seems like the way to go. But a sinister response, with threats against her life, leads her to enlist the help of her very handsome, dear friend Jasper Fitzwilliam, Lord Hartwell.

A father and widower, Jasper is not only tasked with keeping Frederica safe but also with helping his vibrant friend choose a suitable husband. The more he tries to keep the ever-surprising woman alive and find her a good match, the more Jasper realizes he cares for her. The two friends risk their lives for each other, so they should be able to risk their feelings for a chance at a deep and true love together. But he's not looking for marriage and she's not looking for convenience.

 My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Vanessa Riley is another new author for me, and I rather liked the unusual storyline of an interracial romance which features in a lot of her stories. The resemblance between the couple on the cover and Harry and Meghan has not gone unnoticed.

So whilst I liked this story for the most part, the lower rating results from two things. First three were a lot of Americanisms, more even than usual in books like this and it felt a bit jarring. Secondly i did not care for some of the romantic content. Pages of touching and kissing. I can take some romantic heart, but I just didn't care for way the scenes were written or the length. They felt a little overdone, even perhaps contrived.

I would be interested in reading more but this author. I just wasn't hugely keen on this one.

Thanks to Entangled Publishing and Netgalley for granting my request to read this book. I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.

A Bound Heart by Laura Frantz Review

 400 Pages, January 5th 2019, Revell
Print, Ebook and Audio

Genre: Historical Fiction
Setting: Mid 1700s, Northwestern Scotland and Colonial America
Though Magnus MacLeish and Lark MacDougall grew up on the same castle grounds, Magnus is now laird of the great house and the Isle of Kerrera. Lark is but the keeper of his bees and the woman he is hoping will provide a tincture that might help his ailing wife conceive and bear him an heir.

But when his wife dies suddenly, Magnus and Lark find themselves caught up in a whirlwind of accusations, expelled from their beloved island, and sold as indentured servants across the Atlantic. Yet even when all hope seems dashed against the rocky coastline of the Virginia colony, it may be that in this New World the two of them could make a new beginning—together.

My Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

Reading a book by an author entirely new to me is always an interesting experience.
This novel was well-written, and I can understand why many people like this author's books. The settings are vivid and the characters well-drawn, especially Lark. She's a herbalist and beekeeper, and often misunderstood profession. So there are a lot of details about different medicinal herbs and their purposes: fans of Cadfael like myself really go in for things like that. Nerdy I know.

The main reason for my lower rating was that I felt, sadly, there were a few too many mistakes. I had reservations about a book set in Scotland by an American author, and sadly those were realized. I mean obviously Mrs Frantz has researched the language and landscape of the Isle of Kerrara (which I realize I might actually have seen at one point when staying in nearly Oban). 

There was the usual issue of Americanisms from the Scottish characters, which could be rather jarring. Eating with only a fork for example, and some geographical errors. The Isle of Man is located in the Irish Sea not the English Channel. 
In another place there was a reference to a woman singing a child a lullaby about picking blueberries. Blueberries were not introduced to Britain until the 1850s: so that clearly isn't a British song.

I think at times there was a tendency to fall back on some stereotypes. Like the characters were a bit too exaggeratedly Scottish.
Not everyone in Scotland uses peat on their fires for example. Its not compulsory: its used where peat bogs are common: in England, Scotland and Ireland. Elsewhere people used regular wood fires, or coal.

My main objection though was the mischaracterization of the Jacobite rebellion. Here, as with many other novels set in this period its cast has having been a simplistic conflict between the Scottish and the English. Except it wasn't. It was more Catholic vs. Protestant, although there were some English and French soldiers on the Jacobite side: and more importantly many Scots were against the Jacobites.

More significantly, Lark and Magnus are supposed to be Presbyterians. Presbyterians by and large, were hostile to Catholics, and were highly unlikely to have fought on the side of the Catholic claimant Bonnie Prince Charlie. So I found the whole backstory about Magnus and his father  very improbable.

I did appreciate the spiritual themes in the story and that it was lighter on the Romance side. I'd also certainly consider more by this author, but I do wonder at the proliferation of books involving Scottish characters sent to America in the mid 1700s this year.
They're inspired I think by the Outlander series; and the trouble with novels inspired by TV series is that they can be a hit and miss, especially if the authors are not very familiar with the country or culture where the characters originate from.

Thanks to Revell and Netgalley for allowing me to read an E-Galley of this book. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.

1 Mar 2019

First Line Fridays: The Complete Father Brown Stories

I have not posted in nearly a month. Life has just happened, and I've been too busy or just forgotten. I have actually read a few books since February 8th, and I have a couple of reviews I could post here. In fact, the book I featured last time is currently on sale for 99c or 99pence in real money.

I'm posting today on a book I've had on my shelf since last year, and I have been gradually making my way through it. Or rather the audio editions. In Britain, we have something called Wordsworth Classics, which are cheap but good quality paperback editions of almost every work of classic literature ever written.

You might know about the BBC Series The Father Brown Mysteries. Its supposed to be based on a series of short stories by G.K. Chesterton, a journalist and author who died in 1933. I say 'supposed to be' because the modern version bears almost no resemblance on the original stories, which were originally published in magazines and newspapers in the early 20th century.  

I genuinely love the original stories, which explore philosophy, theology and history in a lot more detail than the new versions. They say the book is always better, and in the case of Father Brown that's certainly true. 

Father Brown, one of the most quirkily genial and lovable characters to emerge from English detective fiction, first made his appearance in The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. That first collection of stories established G.K. Chesterton's kindly cleric in the front rank of eccentric sleuths.
This complete collection contains all the favourite Father Brown stories, showing a quiet wit and compassion that has endeared him to many, whilst solving his mysteries by a mixture of imagination and a sympathetic worldliness in a totally believable manner.

The Stories are divided into Five 'Books' (and some later additions), and my First Line today comes from the 3rd book in the collection The Incredulity of Father Brown.

"There was a brief period during which Father Brown enjoyed, or rather did not enjoy something like fame. He was a nine days wonder in the newspapers"

Sound exciting? Don't forget to click the meme and comment with your own First Line. 

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