Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: February 3, 2013

Only a woman with an iron backbone could succeed as an undertaker in Victorian London, but Violet Morgan takes great pride in her trade. While her husband, Graham, is preoccupied with elevating their station in society, Violet is cultivating a sterling reputation for Morgan Undertaking. She is empathetic, well-versed in funeral fashions, and comfortable with death’s role in life—until its chilling rattle comes knocking on her own front door. Violet’s peculiar but happy life soon begins to unravel as Graham becomes obsessed with his own demons and all but abandons her as he plans a vengeful scheme. And the solace she’s always found in her work evaporates like a departing soul when she suspects that some of the deceased she’s dressed have been murdered. When Graham’s plotting leads to his disappearance, Violet takes full control of the business and is commissioned for an  undertaking of royal proportions. But he’s certain there’s a killer lurking in the London fog, and the next funeral may be her own. 

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Victorian Woman in Mourning
Christine Trent's Lady of Ashes took me by surprise. Being something of a history junkie the blurb caught my attention straight away. A female undertaker in Victorian England? Sign me up.   

The true beauty of this piece is in how Trent recreated not only the undertaker's profession, but also the Victorian traditions and customs surrounding mourning. She delicately introduces her readers to both the professional and personal sides of death through Violet, examining the science of how the deceased were tended, as well as the various ways in which their loved ones expressed grief. The fiction woven around it is fun, but I must admit this glimpse into the 1860s is what kept me turning the pages. 

Another fun aspect of the story is Graham's deep-seated hatred of the United States. American fiction tends to vilify the English, I suppose it has something to do with the Revolution, but that is beside the point. Though he was far from my favorite character, I enjoyed the perspective he brought to the table. 

On that note I also found Violet quite intriguing. She is a female in a male dominated profession, a wife who struggles to accomplish basic household management, but also a woman who is coming into her own. She really is something of a mouse at the beginning of the book, but her personal journey from beginning to end was a pleasure to read. 

Lady of Ashes is a lighter historic mystery, but a delightful and fascinating one that is well-worth undertaking.

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Violet Morgan often wondered why she was so skilled at dressing a corpse, yet was embarrassingly incompetent in the simplest household task, such as selecting draperies or hiring housemaids.
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Check out all the stops on the historical fiction virtual book tour of christine Trent's lady of Ashes

Monday, February 25
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Tuesday, February 26

Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary

Wednesday, February 27

Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.

Thursday, February 28

Review at The Broke and the Bookish

Friday, March 1

Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, March 4

Review at The Novel Life
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, March 5
Review at Library of Clean Reads

Wednesday, March 6
Review at Let Them Read Books

Thursday, March 7
Review & Giveaway at Book of Secrets
Interview & Giveaway at Library of Clean Reads 

Friday, March 8
Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Monday, March 11
Review at Impressions in Ink

Tuesday, March 12
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book

Wednesday, March 13
Review at From the TBR Pile

Thursday, March 14
Review at La Canape and Historical Tapestry

Friday, March 15
Guest Post at Historical Tapestry
Monday, March 18
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Tuesday, March 19
Review & Giveaway at The Eclectic Reader
Wednesday, March 20
Review & Giveaway at Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, March 21
Review at Enchanted by Josephine
Friday, March 22
Interview & Giveaway at Enchanted by Josephine

Monday, February 25, 2013

Guest Post: Looking for Richard By Anne Easter Smith

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Author Anne Easter Smith
Many thanks for hosting me today!

So now we know! It was Richard III under the car park in Leicester, and the exciting announcement on February 4th made me cry. Now all of us who are Richard fans will have somewhere to go and pay our respects. It appears Leicester has won out in the re-interment battle between there and York Minster. A ceremony is being planned for early 2014, I understand.

The discovery of a skeleton beneath a municipal parking lot in Leicester last September sent a shiver of excitement through the history world and especially several thousand fans of England’s much maligned king, Richard III.

When I heard that an archeological dig was being considered to find the last remains of my favorite king, I quickly opened my wallet and donated to the attempt. How could I refuse? After all, Richard is the only crowned king of England whose grave has remained shrouded in as much mystery as his life has. And he is featured in all of my books!

Portrait of Richard III

The venture was to be undertaken by the archeology department at Leicester University, but the force behind the dig was a fellow Ricardian and president of the Scottish branch of the Richard III Society, Philippa Langley. She was convinced her exhaustive research would uncover the remains of the Greyfriars Church, where Richard’s battered body was lain out for “all men to wonder upon” before being given burial, with little ceremony, somewhere inside the church. We only have a couple of references to where it might have been, but I’ll get to that later.

I happened to be in England when they first began to dig on August 25th, so I was privy to more media coverage than perhaps was first given in the US. The Society had approached the BBC about including the dig in its popular “Time Team” program that documents archeological digs all over Britain. They refused at first, but a barrage of emails from Ricardians and enthusiasts all over the world got their attention, and when artifacts from a well-endowed building were uncovered in two trenches, they changed their minds. You can be sure they were doubly glad when, on September 12th, a skeleton was unearthed in a third trench that had uncovered the nave and its shallow burial crypt beneath.

Statue of Richard III in Leicester
Lo and behold! A solitary skeleton of a male was discovered, its skull caved in by some sharp instrument, an arrowhead still lodged in its spine, and, most curious of all, a curvature of the spine that would have made the man’s right shoulder higher than the left. The news raced around the world that finally, King Richard III’s grave may have been uncovered.

But why only now? It seems history forgot Richard after the Tudors sowed their damning seeds about the last Plantagenet king to shore up their own feeble claim to the throne. Henry Tudor, earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII, chose to date his reign from the day BEFORE the battle of Bosworth, thus making it possible to proclaim Richard’s supporters traitors, and Richard’s body to be treated with despicable irreverence.

After the battle, with a halter around its neck, Richard’s naked, battered body was thrown ignominiously over the back of a horse and taken back into the city of Leicester and given over to the monks of Greyfriars to lay out for public viewing. After two days, the monks were given permission by the king to bury him somewhere within the monastery walls.

Stained glass window installed in St James Church,
Sutton Cheney by 
John Taylor (CC-BY-2.0),
via Wikimedia Commons

At some point in the next ten years, however, the notoriously stingy Henry must have felt guilty for his ill treatment of an anointed king’s remains, and he managed to untie his purse strings to pay one James Keyley to fashion a small alabaster monument to be placed over Richard’s grave. Unfortunately, the Greyfriars monastery and church went the same way the rest of England’s Catholic bastions of religion went during Henry’s son’s reign forty years later. Monks and priests were strung up, churches stripped of all their treasures, monasteries ransacked and burned and tombs overturned and desecrated. In fact, some history books will state that Richard’s bones were found and thrown into the nearby River Soar and his stone sarcophagus (of which there is no mention in the contemporary chronicles) used as a water trough for horses.

In 1611, John Speed (of map fame) wrote a history of Great Britain based on his travels around the country. He writes that a mayor of Leicester owned the now secular Greyfriars monastery as a pleasant residence, and the alabaster monument was still in what was now the garden, albeit covered in nettles and weeds. A traveler in the 18th century also wrote in his journal that he had seen the same monument, but since then the old house has disappeared and the land was subsumed by the city of Leicester. At the time of the dig last year, it had been a parking lot for many years; the city allowed the excavation to take place before the lot is built on yet again.

Is the skeleton Richard’s? Scientists are using DNA from a descendant of Richard’s sister, Anne, to try and ascertain that. Other tests like carbon dating should also help, and a reconstruction of Richard’s face can be done with the latest technology, which will be exciting. By the time you read this, we should know, and I for one wish I could be on hand to witness a more fitting re-burial for this unfortunate, misunderstood king.

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About the Author: Anne Easter Smith is an award-winning historical novelist whose research and writing concentrates on England in the 15th century. Meticulous historical research, rich period detail, and compelling female protagonists combine to provide the reader with a sweeping portrait of England in the time of the Wars of the Roses. Her critically acclaimed first book, A Rose for the Crown, debuted in 2006, and her third, The King’s Grace, was the recipient of a Romantic Times Review Best Biography award in 2009. A Queen by Right has been nominated by Romantic Times Review for the Best Historical Fiction award, 2011. 

About the Book: From the author of A Rose for the Crown and Daughter of York comes another engrossing historical novel of the York family in the Wars of the Roses, telling the fascinating story of the rise and fall of the final and favorite mistress of Edward IV. Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore—but her heart belongs to another. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane Shore from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain and friend, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows his King will find her irresistible. Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as that of Jane Shore and Will Hastings, hang in the balance. This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for 500 years, and told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well.

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Check out all the stops on Anne easter smith's Royal Mistress Virtual Book Tour

Thursday, February 7
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books
Friday, February 8
Interview at The Maiden’s Court
Guest Post at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Monday, February 11
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, February 12
Interview at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, February 13
Guest Post at Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, February 14
Guest Post at Books, Belles and Beaux
Friday, February 15
Interview at Unabridged Chick
Monday, February 18
Guest Post at So Many Books, So Little Time
Tuesday, February 19
Guest Post at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, February 20
Guest Post at A Bookish Libraria
Thursday, February 21
Interview at Enchanted by Josephine
Friday, February 22
Guest Post at Tanzanite’s Castle Full of Books
Monday, February 25
Guest Post at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, February 26
Guest Post at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, February 27
Interview at Muse in the Fog Book Reviews

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Reconstructing Jackson by Holly Bush

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Read: February 15, 2013

1867 . . . Southern lawyer and Civil War veteran, Reed Jackson, returns to his family’s plantation in a wheelchair. His father deems him unfit, and deeds the Jackson holdings, including his intended bride, to a younger brother. Angry and bitter, Reed moves west to Fenton, Missouri, home to a cousin with a successful business, intending to start over. Belle Richards, a dirt poor farm girl aching to learn how to read, cleans, cooks and holds together her family’s meager property. A violent brother and a drunken father plot to marry her off, and gain a new horse in the bargain. But Belle’s got other plans, and risks her life to reach them. Reed is captivated by Belle from their first meeting, but wheelchair bound, is unable to protect her from violence. Bleak times will challenge Reed and Belle's courage and dreams as they forge a new beginning from the ashes of war and ignorance.

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Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Carving in Atlanta
Where to start in reviewing Holly Bush's Reconstructing Jackson presents me something of a challenge. It is a fabulous book, solidly constructed and well-written, but it is the material itself that made an impression on me.

This is the kind of book that will ruffle feathers, first and foremost because Bush wasn't afraid to use historically appropriate language. I realize some readers find certain terminology offensive, but in context I always appreciate those who can recreate a time and culture without imposing modern ideology on their characters. The ability to do this as convincingly as Bush does is a hallmark of great historic fiction writers.  

Reconstructing Jackson also touches on some intense subject matter: lynchings, murder, slavery, racism, child abduction... Again I was struck by how open Bush was to tackling such controversial material. These difficult and ugly concepts are central to her story, but she explores each, sometimes from surprising angles, forcing her readers to see and understand the prejudice and turbulence that characterized America after the Civil War. 

Then of course we come to Reed. My favorite aspect of the book, he is a man who stands upon his principles. Through him, Bush recreates the same sense of honor that led Robert E. Lee to refuse President Lincoln and take up arms for Davis. This isn't Atticus Finch, the reader isn't predisposed to like or appreciate what Reed does or how he thinks. No. Bush asks her audience, challenges them, dares them to look deeper to understand her character's foundations and the convictions that led him to wear gray in one of our nations darkest hours.

I admit I am hesitant to read civil war fiction. Please excuse the pun, but I find most of it written in black and white when I know the truth is convoluted and penned in shades of gray. The courage Bush exhibits in creating a book that approaches these subjects without bias, offers such compelling characters as Reed, Belle and Beulah, combined with her obvious love and gift for storytelling make Reconstructing Jackson a remarkable and highly recommended piece of literature.

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His honor required him to defend and protect the Constitution of the United States. Reed had taken an oath to do just that with his hand on a Bible in the law office of the man who’d he’d apprenticed under and he meant every word... but his first real opportunity to fulfill that oath came in the form of defending the worst kind of lazy, violent, purposefully stupid, ignorant cracker that this country could produce. There was enough irony to make a man laugh. But Reed was not laughing. 
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Check out all the stops on the historical fiction virtual book tour of Holly Bush's Romancing Olive & Reconstructing Jackson. 

Monday, February 18
Review at nomadreader (Romancing Olive)
Giveaway at History Undressed
Tuesday, February 19
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee (Romancing Olive)
Wednesday, February 20
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair (Romancing Olive)
Thursday, February 21
Review at Flashlight Commentary (Reconstructing Jackson)
Friday, February 22
Review at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader (Reconstructing Jackson)
Giveaway at A Writer’s Life: Working with the Muse
Monday, February 25
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time (Romancing Olive)
Review & Giveaway at The Life and Times of a Book Addict (Romancing Olive)
Tuesday, February 26
Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, February 27
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie (Reconstructing Jackson)
Thursday, February 28
Review at Book Drunkard (Reconstructing Jackson)
Friday, March 1
Interview at Tribute Books
Monday, March 4
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books (Romancing Olive)
Tuesday, March 5
Review at Raging Bibliomania (Reconstructing Jackson)
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks (Romancing Olive)
Wednesday, March 6
Giveaway at Layered Pages
Thursday, March 7
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books (Reconstructing Jackson)
Friday, March 8
Review at Raging Bibliomania (Romancing Olive)
Review at The Novel Life (Romancing Olive)
Monday, March 11
Review at Griperang’s Bookmarks (Reconstructing Jackson)
Review at Books in the Burbs (Romancing Olive)
Interview & Giveaway at The Novel Life (Romancing Olive)
Tuesday, March 12
Review at Books in the Burbs (Reconstructing Jackson)