Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Oooh, new historical fiction! This one about Queen Victoria! You already know I’m pretty much going to eat this up. Especially when I previously enjoyed other books by this author.

Victoria front cover (St. Martin's Press)

Victoria front cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: The story covers a relatively short period in Victoria’s life: from right before her ascension to the throne up to her engagement to Prince Albert. Most of the plot centers around Victoria’s fascination with her much older Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne; but there are also the twists and turns of people trying to manipulate the sheltered teenage queen.

There’s her mother’s companion, John Conroy, who was sorry that Victoria didn’t become queen before her 18th birthday and therefore require a regency. (Which, of course would have been run by her mother and him…so, mostly him.) Her paternal uncle, the Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover, is annoyed that England didn’t have laws preventing a female from inheriting the throne, which would have made him King of England. Her maternal uncle, the King of Belgium, is adamant that Victoria should marry his nephew Albert so she is “guided” by the Coburgs.

Everyone agrees that she must marry quickly so there’s a steadying male influence on the giddy young girl. The one thing they all agree on is that the husband cannot be Lord Melbourne, no matter how much Victoria might wish it.

MY TWO CENTS: I didn’t realize that Daisy Goodwin had written the Masterpiece drama coming to PBS, starring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell. This book is kind of the novelization of that. I was already looking forward to it, so reading this just helped build more excitement.

This book is a pretty quick read. It’s broken into four parts, and the chapters within each part are fairly short. It’s easy to pick up and put down, although I mostly just wanted to keep reading once I was in it.

I felt very connected to the character of Victoria. She seemed very authentic to me, both as an 18-year-old girl, and a very sheltered individual who is suddenly queen. Her mother and Conroy certainly didn’t do her any favors by keeping her so isolated. How could she learn to relate to people when she wasn’t allowed? How could she learn to be a good queen in a vacuum? And some of her early major missteps reflect that.

I really enjoyed this book…right up until Albert’s entrance, which was about 75% of the way through. The rest of the book focused on the not-quite-a-romance between Victoria and her Lord M. People keep trying to push Albert at her (in his absence), and she wants nothing to do with that path. She didn’t like Albert the last time she saw him, and the more people push, the less she’s interested.

Then, right after Lord M breaks it to her that he could never be her husband, Albert arrives. Victoria goes from “I want nothing to do with him” to “maybe I want to impress him” to “Okay, I’ll marry him” in way too short a time. Unfortunately, the rush to engagement does make her seem fickle or giddy. I guess I would have preferred for Albert to show up sooner in the narrative so they could work out all their awkwardness more slowly. Or maybe the end of the book just needed to be longer. I felt that the coverage of the Victoria/Lord M story was appropriate and built nicely throughout the book, while the Albert-focused chapters were rushed. Victoria and Albert’s story was supposedly a great love story, but you don’t get that feeling here. You feel that she settled, and so did he. (Maybe it won’t seem that way in the miniseries? I hope not.)

COVER NOTES: The cover is reminiscent of Goodwin’s book The American Heiress. Simple but elegant. I wonder if that is Jenna Coleman as Victoria, and the rooms are from sets used in the production.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable, quick, easy read. A little too rushed at the end for my taste. Looking forward to checking out the Masterpiece Presentation on PBS!

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 22, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

The Ration Card by Eric K. Augspurger

Every so often, I’m privileged to review a book written by someone I know. Sometimes it’s someone I’ve just become friends with recently; sometimes it’s someone I’ve known a long time. On this occasion, I get to present a WWII novel written by someone I’ve known over 20 years (wow, now I feel old. Thanks, Eric).

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Books)

The Ration Card Front Cover (Tin Whiskers Publisher)

THE PLOT: Josephine Troyer is like many other young war brides. She and her husband, Al, quickly married between high school graduation and his enlistment in the marines. Jo grew up in an orphanage and has been living with Al’s parents while he’s fighting in the Pacific, but she starts to feel the need to contribute something to the war effort. One day, Jo shocks her in-laws by announcing her intention to apply for a job at the local factory as so many other women are doing.

Even though the work is strenuous and dirty, Jo finds satisfaction in being useful. She makes new friends at the plant, including Roz, a woman of Japanese descent, and Pete, a man who isn’t fighting because of a prior injury. As Jo becomes more independent, she begins to wonder if she’ll be the same person Al married when he comes home.

MY TWO CENTS: If you read this blog, you know that historical fiction is my favorite genre, although WWII isn’t my usual pick. But this is a perfect example of why historical fiction appeals to me so much: you can learn details about the time period while connecting with characters that make you care about their story.

This story is very much about Jo’s journey from a teenage girl to a young woman reaching her potential. She begins by feeling helpless while her husband is fighting the war and wanting to do anything to contribute to his safety. After she begins the job, though, and becomes good at it, she starts to become proud of her work. She’s excited to earn her own money and even buy a car, which adds to her independence.

The plot’s tension comes from her evolving relationships with others, especially Pete. While Jo gets along well with her in-laws, they don’t entirely approve of her new-found independence, and her mother-in-law especially begins to become suspicious of her friendship with Pete. In the meantime, Jo naturally matures through events such as supervising her crew, dressing up (including fake stockings) and going out with the girls, enjoying baseball games with Roz and Pete, and dealing with rationing. Jo also faces her share of heartache. The novel brings up something often glossed over in American history: the treatment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.

While there is definitely romance in this book, it is not primarily a romance. All the romance is very clean. While the romance plays a part in Jo’s growth, Pete’s character also grows and changes through his relationship with Jo. Even Jo’s mother-in-law, Pearl, changes over time. Although this is primarily Jo’s story, the growth of other characters add to the richness of the realism already experienced through the setting details.

BOTTOM LINE: A lovely coming-of-age story with fabulous period details of the WWII home front. I enjoyed it a great deal and am very much looking forward to the book about Roz, But for the Blood I Bear.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The Ration Card is available now in hardcover and eformats. (Please note that the hardcover version includes samples of the Blooming Grove newspaper, which give even more details about events of the time. These do not appear in the eformats.) Eformats can only be purchased through; hardcovers can be purchased there or through Amazon.

FIRST CHAPTER SAMPLE: You can read the first chapter and view a sample of the Blooming Grove Review in PDF format here.

Note: Review is based on a copy gifted to the reviewer by the author.

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe by Kathy Lynn Emerson

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe is the beginning of a new series from Kathy Lynn Emerson, but also a bridge from a previous series. I had never read any of her Lady Appleton/”Face Down” mysteries, but I had read her “Secrets of the Tudor Court” series, written as Kate Emerson. (Book 6 in that series, Royal Inheritance, was reviewed here.)

Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

Murder in the Queen’s Wardrobe Front Cover (Severn House Publishers)

THE PLOT: Elizabeth I has been on the throne for 25 years when Rosamond Jaffrey is tapped to become a spy for Walsingham. She’s especially motivated when she finds out that her estranged husband, Rob, is in trouble in Russia, where he went as part of the Muscovy Company. As her cover, Rosamond is accepted as a waiting woman into the household of Lady Mary Hastings, who expects to become the bride of Ivan the Terrible.

The household is invited to the Queen’s Wardrobe of Robes in Whitehall so Lady Mary can have one of the Queen’s castoff gowns. Rosamond is planning to meet the contact assigned to her, but finds that the man has been poisoned. No one seems to believe that the man was murdered and didn’t just choke to death, but Rosamund has some knowledge of herbs and poisons. From that point, she realizes that Lady Mary may be in great danger—and Rosamond herself may be as well. But who is trying to sabotage the Russian marriage, and why?

MY TWO CENTS: I really liked the Russian connection in this story. That’s something I really don’t read about a lot in novels of the Tudor era, and I found it interesting and unusual. The point of view switches occasionally from Rosmand in England to Rob in Russia. The mystery was okay; I started to figure out who was behind it all from the clues, although the motivation wasn’t necessarily clear.

I do believe I would have enjoyed the book much more if I had read the preceding stories that include these characters. I know this is starting off a new series with this character as the lead, but I did feel that readers are somewhat dropped into something they should already be familiar with. I also felt that the end was clearly a setup for the next book in the series. Although there is a resolution to the mystery, I feel like Rosamond’s personal life is far less certain.

BOTTOM LINE: Works okay as a standalone novel, but the reading experience would probably be much enriched by reading the Lady Appleton novels first. Otherwise, an engaging enough mystery set in Elizabethan England. I’m interested enough to check out those earlier books as well as any sequel.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in hardcover on March 1, 2015. (At this time, I cannot find any information about eformats, but most books do have them nowadays. There is an ISBN listed for an e-book in my ARC.)

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

This is the first book I’ve read by author Daisy Goodwin. I actually own The American Heiress, but haven’t gotten to it yet.

The Fortune Hunter Front Cover (St. Martin's Press)

The Fortune Hunter Front Cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: Charlotte Baird is an heiress in late 19th-century England. Her half-brother and his soon-to-be wife are her guardians, and they’re jealous of her fortune (which belonged to her mother not the father she shared with her brother). Charlotte is a fairly independent woman of the times, a budding photographer who doesn’t want to marry just anyone after her fortune. She meets Bay Middleton, one of her brother’s friends and an officer, and falls in love with him. Unfortunately, Bay is not a great guy. The story starts off with his married mistress retiring to the country to bear their child, then tries to soften him a bit with his honest attraction to Charlotte. Despite her family’s warnings, Charlotte becomes unofficially engaged to Bay. But then he ends up being hunting pilot for Empress Elisabeth (“Sisi”) of Austria, and falls into instant, all-consuming lust with her. Their affair plays out against a backdrop of fox hunts, pouting nobility, and an important horse race.

MY TWO CENTS: The characters are wonderfully written. You can very easily see Charlotte’s relatives, Sissy’s entourage, and “Chicken” Hartopp. The reader is very easily drawn into the story, but I’m not sure it delivers in the end. Will Charlotte forgive Bay? Will she find someone better? Is Bay really any better than a fortune Hunter? Will he choose to remain the empress’s lapdog? Will he win the big race? I just wasn’t 100% on board with Charlotte’s choices and thought she deserved better than her eventual fate.

BOTTOM LINE: An easy, engaging read that keeps you thinking for a while after you finish it. Many of the characters were based on real people, but it reads like 100% fiction, which is fine.

TEACUP RATING: Between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups. I’m not completely fulfilled by it, but I like Daisy Goodwin’s writing style, and I AM eager to go on to The American Heiress now.

ON SALE DATE: The Fortune Hunter will be released in hardcover and ebook formats on July 29, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Boleyn Reckoning (Boleyn Trilogy #3) by Laura Andersen

This is the third and final book in Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy. While I again enjoyed the world Andersen created, I found the second half of the book an emotionally difficult read as misery overtakes all the characters.

The Boleyn Reckoning Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House)

The Boleyn Reckoning Front Cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

SPOILER WARNING: There will be spoilers from the first two books in the series, The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit.

THE PLOT: This book again follows an alternate universe in which Anne Boleyn gave birth to a healthy son after giving birth to Elizabeth. Events leading up to the break between England and Rome still occurred, Mary was still proclaimed illegitimate, but everything following changed. Anne Boleyn and her brother George were never executed, Henry VIII never married four more times, the Seymours never came to power, etc. (I feel the need to explain this because at least one review I’ve read trashed the book on its faulty history. Uh, no, the word you want is reimagined.)

Anyway, this book focuses mainly on the idiocy of Minuette and Dominic from the end of the last book, where they secretly got married even though Henry IX, known to his friends as William, was making it clear that HE expected to make Minuette his queen. Will breaks his betrothal to the French princess and announces his intentions toward Minuette in a very public yet nonverbal way. For half the book, Minuette and Dominic sneak around, pretending to Will that they are still all the best of friends…and then finally, unexpectedly, he finds out the truth. Not surprisingly, Will loses all trust in his two friends. A little more surprising is his newfound distrust of his sister Elizabeth and just about everyone else as well. Then, he just devolves into the same sort of monster his father really was in history, but wasn’t in this alternate universe. Oh, and he has to deal with a Catholic rebellion, too, which offers up a whole lot of traitors to execute but doesn’t help his mood any.

MY TWO CENTS: The first two books, and some of this book, were almost light and fluffy in their handling of the subject matter. The second half of this book is somewhat hard to take as Will becomes brutal. I realize that he is stunned, hurt, and betrayed. He leaves the couple alone at first, and you’d think this would allow him time to start getting over it. But no, this time of rebellion just underlines how he doesn’t have his friends at his back (in fact, they stabbed him in the back) so he just loses his anchors to humanity. He finds ways to torture his friends (and his sister), physically, mentally, emotionally…did I already say “monster?” Yes? Well, once isn’t enough.

What I do find enjoyable, as I have throughout all three books, is Elizabeth. Her character is so similar to the real Elizabeth’s–her intelligence and leadership is apparent. What’s different is her aversion to marriage, as her parents’ legacy in this universe is one of loving partnership and not betrayal and murder. It will be interesting to see this Elizabeth come front-and-center in the author’s next books.

I like how characters and situations ultimately end up with similar ends as their historical counterparts (Jane Boleyn) or slightly different variations (Calais). I also love what the author does with figures that DON’T have the same end as their historical counterparts, such as Jane Grey and Mary Tudor. The author does a good job of saying, “Where would these people have wound up in a different timeline? How would they have acted?”

BOTTOM LINE: I didn’t love this book as much as I did the other two, but I still enjoy this world Andersen has created and look forward to her continuing it in The Sovereign Trilogy.

TEACUP RATING: I give this book 4 to 4½ out of 5 teacups. I just feel Will’s actions made for such an unpleasant read that I docked a few points. I wish the author could have found some way to salvage Will, but I fully understand why she couldn’t and didn’t.

ON SALE DATE: This book will be released in paperback and e-book formats on July 15, 2014.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Confessions of Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette Trilogy #3) by Juliet Grey

Confessions of Marie Antoinette Front Cover (Random House Publishing Group)

Confessions of Marie Antoinette Front Cover (Random House Publishing Group)

Anyone who has been following Juliet Grey’s trilogy knows where this last book is going, so no one should be expecting a happy, pleasant read. It’s a GOOD read about the progress of the revolution, mostly from Marie Antoinette’s point of view, but if you feel even the slightest sympathy for Marie Antoinette (which you probably do if you’ve read the whole series), it’s a tough read.

THE PLOT: The book starts with the women’s march on Versailles of October, 1789, and ends with the guillotine in October 1793. Although the story is primarily told in first person from Marie Antoinette’s point of view, you also get brief interludes in the third person from the POV of Louison, an apparently real-life member of the lower classes who took part in the March on Versailles and fainted at Louis’s feet. She brings some perspective from the other side of the revolution, although she herself is not a radical. Her boyfriend, however, perfectly exemplifies those who wanted nothing less than blood, and lots of it. By the time the Terror is full-blown, and the revolution is turning on its own instigators, the reader gets a good feel for how out-of-control this whole situation got…mistakes of the royalty aside.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s very much to the author’s credit that she manages to build suspense in each layer of the story, even though you KNOW how it ends. You KNOW the royal family doesn’t manage to escape, yet you still find yourself wishing their journey to Varennes would end happily…even while cursing the stupidity that helps get them discovered. It’s like they have no clue how desperate their situation is, or increasingly becomes.

One word to the publishers: I wish they had kept the original title of “The Last October Sky,” which would have been a nice frame given the timeline of this novel. I hate “Confessions of Marie Antoinette.” It makes it sound like MA is giving a list of all the nasty deeds she did while laughing coyly in her sleeve…which is absolutely not how this book reads. Maybe that’s the irony of the title, but it just doesn’t work for me. I also wish the cover was a little more related to the first two books’ covers, but I guess an image of a sick, worn MA in ratty clothes wouldn’t attract readers.

BOTTOM LINE: A really good read, but emotionally draining. I do plan to reread the whole trilogy again at some point. I don’t know that I will reread this book over and over, though. It’s too heartrending.

TEACUP RATING: I give it a solid four teacups. I would give it more if the author had given it a happy ending. (I’m joking, but seriously, prepare yourself before reading this.)

ON SALE DATE: Confessions of Marie Antoinette will be on sale September 24th.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Royal Inheritance (Secrets of the Tudor Court #5) by Kate Emerson

Royal Inheritance Front Cover (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

Royal Inheritance Front Cover (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster)

This can’t really be the first time I’m reviewing historical fiction on this blog, can it? Historical fiction is my favorite genre, especially English historical fiction. I always say that I was an amateur Tudor scholar before it was cool to be one. The Secrets of the Tudor Court series has been one of my favorites, partially because it explores lesser-known courtiers. Sorry to say, though, that this entry was not my favorite in the series.
THE PLOT: Ethelreda Malte, known as Audrey, lives a comfortable life as the illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII’s tailor, John Malte. In her first visits to court, Audrey is too naive to realize that courtiers are noting her striking resemblance to Princess Elizabeth and the king. But as the king bestows more and more favors on her family, Audrey is driven to discover the truth.

The story is framed by an older Audrey telling her daughter, Hester, the truth about her ancestry. This technique seemed very forced and inauthentic to me until about halfway through the book. Why on earth would Audrey tell this story to an eight-year-old child? Well, then it’s explained that Audrey, who has been ill, doesn’t think she has much time left, and she doesn’t want Hester to wonder forever about rumors and half-truths. The relationship with Audrey’s eventual husband, Jack Harrington, also seems uneven. Through three-quarters of the book, you’re led to believe that young Jack really cares for Audrey and would marry her if he had money. (However, the framed portions, located throughout the retelling of the past, reveal that older Jack is cheating on Audrey). Then, they finally marry to save Audrey from the machinations of a mustache-twirling villain, and suddenly it seems that Jack never really wanted her; he only married her for her inheritance. The end is so rushed that it feels like someone hit a fast-forward button.
BOTTOM LINE: While I recommend checking out Kate Emerson’s other titles, I found this novel just lukewarm. I don’t know if a first-time reader who started with this book would be intrigued enough to pick up others in the series. It was a fairly quick and effortless read, though.

TEACUP RATING: I’m giving the book three teacups. I just wasn’t hooked like I wanted to be, but I still look forward to Kate Emerson’s next novel.

ON SALE DATE: Royal Inheritance will be on sale September 24th.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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