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The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick‘s The Kingmaking is the first of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, which will be published in March 2009 by Sourcebooks. Thanks to Paul Samuelson for sending the book along for my review.

This first part in the trilogy begins in 450 AD in the midst of the Middle Ages while Britain remained in a tumultous period politically. Arthur is merely a bastard son at the beginning of this novel, and his foster father is kin to Uthr Pendragon. In the first chapters of the novel, Arthur grows into a man while visiting Gwynedd with Uthr and his abusive and cantankerous mistress Morgause. He meets Gwenhwyfar, daughter to Uthr’s faithful friend Cunedda, and begins to have deeper feelings than friendship for her. The relationship between Arthur and Gwenhwyfar is rocky in the beginning, but blossoms through understanding and mutual respect. However, there are circumstances surrounding the death of Uthr and a failed attempt to regain control of Britain that hinder the ability of their relationship to grow.

“The oars lifted then dipped to kiss the white foam. The sail dropped and the ship, tossing her prow like a mare held over-long curbed and kicking high her heels, leapt for the harbour sheltering beneath the imposing fortress that was Caer Arfon.” (Page 20)

The description in this book helps to set the scene of Britain in the Middle Ages, with its dark and ominous feel, but also its wild beauty. There is more to Britain during this time than readers may remember from their school days. My favorite passage in the book uses description to show Arthur coming into his manhood, along with the other adolescents of Gwynedd.

“The boys, stripped to the waist, were turning new scythed hay, making idle, breathless conversation as they tossed the sweet smelling, drying grass. Arthur’s bruising was a faint memory of shaded yellow against suntanned bronze skin; gone was that weary look of watchfulness and unease, replaced by relaxed laughter and happy contentment. His hair was longer, the close-cropped Roman style beginning to grow, with a slight curl, down his neck and flop across his forehead.” (Page 89)

Although there is great potential in the descriptive writing, some of the scenes fall flat as the narrative lists actions of the characters rather than showing the characters in action. Unlike the Arthurian legends of old which have mysticism and Merlin at the center of Arthur’s rise to power, Hollick’s retelling focuses on the realities and abilities of the “real” Arthur and his determination to regain control of Britain after the death of his true father.

Readers looking for mysticism and magic will be disappointed with this retelling. However, if readers are easily engaged by books with intrigue, battles, and strategy, this novel will not disappoint.

At nearly 600 pages, you can believe Hollick extensively researched her subject and it shows, from her use of place names connected to the regions at the time to the spellings of her main characters. Although portions of the book were a little dry and long, creating nicknames for some of the characters–Gwenhwyfar as Gwen or her brother Osmail as Ozzy–made it easier to become absorbed in the story.

Unfortunately, after 200 pages I stopped reading as certain scenes made me wonder what their purpose was, like when Gwen is aloft in a tree in the prime location to overhear Uthr and Morgause in intimate conversation. Considering the conversation that follows is not integral to the storyline, it makes the reader wonder why Gwen is in the tree in the first place to overhear the conversation.

***Giveaway Details*** (Part of the BookRoom Reviews Book Giveaway Carnival)

Sourcebooks has kindly decided to giveaway 3 copies of this novel to three lucky U.S. and Canadian readers.

I will pass along my ARC of the book to one lucky international reader; so please designate whether you are international when you enter the contest.

To Enter:

1. Leave a comment here; something other than “enter me” or “pick me”
2. Make sure you leave an email or blog address that works
3. Let me know if you are an international entrant, so I can place you on the list for my gently used ARC.

Deadline: March 8, 2009 at 5PM EST.

This Contest is NOW CLOSED!

Other blogs on the tour:

http://harrietdevine.typepad.com/harriet_devines_blog/2009/02/the-kingmaking.html 2/20
http://lazyhabits.wordpress.com/2009/02/20/the-kingmaking/ 2/21 and interview 2/27
http://carpelibrisreviews.com/the-kingmaking-by-helen-hollick-book-tour-giveaway/ 2/23
http://www.historicalnovels.info/Kingmaking.html 2/23
http://www.bibliophilemusings.com/2009/02/review-interview-kingmaking-by-helen.html 2/23
http://lilly-readingextravaganza.blogspot.com/2009/02/kingmaking-by-helen-hollick.html 2/23 and guest blog 2/25
http://chikune.com/blog/?p=488 2/24
http://booksaremyonlyfriends.blogspot.com/ 2/25
http://peekingbetweenthepages.blogspot.com/ 2/26 and guest blog 2/27
http://webereading.blogspot.com/ 2/26
http://www.caramellunacy.blogspot.com 2/26
http://bookthoughtsbylisa.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://jennifersrandommusings.wordpress.com/ 3/1
http://rhireading.blogspot.com/ 3/1
http://passagestothepast.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://thetometraveller.blogspot.com/ 3/2
http://steventill.com/ 3/2
http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com / 3/2 and interview 3/3
http://www.carlanayland.blogspot.com/
http://readersrespite.blogspot.com/ 3/3 and interview on 3/5
http://libraryqueue.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/ 3/4
http://www.myfriendamysblog.com/ 3/5
http://samsbookblog.blogspot.com 3/5
http://goodbooksbrightside.blogspot.com/ 3/5

***My Current giveaway of Dan Simmons’ Drood. Check it out, here.***

Also reviewed by:
Historical Tapestry

Mr. & Mrs. Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan

I would like to thank Danielle at Sourcebooks for sending me Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan, which is now available in select Target stores and will be released everywhere else in March.

Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a scintillating novel that will have readers blushing right alongside Elizabeth Darcy as she and her husband embark upon the rest of their lives as a married couple. Mrs. Darcy gets acclimated to life as Mistress of Pemberley, while her husband relishes his wife’s attentions and delights in helping her fit into his world without losing the passionate and independent woman he loves.

“Darcy attacked the superb provisions with relish and Elizabeth was not too far behind. They had fun with the process: feeding each other morsels, licking and sucking each other’s fingers, kissing honey-smeared lips. Eventually even Darcy’s appetite was quenched, and with a satisfied sigh, he reclined on an enormous pillow. Elizabeth leaned against his bent knee and gazed dreamily into the fire. Neither spoke.” (Page 37)

This novel provides an look at the intimacy this classic couple shares behind closed doors and away from society’s prying eyes. Readers will begin to feel like voyeurs as they become drawn into Pemberley’s world and the coupling of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy. In the background hovers the ominous presence of Lady Catherine and the rumors she spread about Elizabeth Darcy and her future, detrimental affect on Pemberley and the Darcy name. The word play between these two characters continues and is a delight. It’s fantastic to see Col. Fitzwilliam return as well and inject his wit as well.

“Darcy greeted his cousin heartily. ‘Darcy, old man, you are positively beaming! Married life surely agrees with you,’ Col. Fitzwilliam decreed.

‘More than I could possibly verbalize, cousin. Someday you must give up your reckless bachelor ways and discover the joys of matrimony.’

Richard shuddered. ‘Not too hasty, Darcy, not too hasty. Mrs. Darcy, if I may be so bold, you are radiant. Shocked I am, to tell the truth,’ he said, with a sly glance at Darcy. ‘Personally, I thought you would be weary of this old codger by now!'” (Page 147)

Readers will find this romance novel stays true to the original Austen characters and develops their relationship more fully within the bounds of matrimony and society’s conventions. It is good to see Mr. Darcy soften with the help of his wife, learning to laugh and interact with others with less rigidity, and it is equally as fascinating to see Mrs. Darcy garner maturity in his presence, while continuing to blossom as a woman and wife. One drawback for me in this novel was the absence of conflict until the very end of the novel and some readers may find the sexual tensions and actions of these beloved characters too intimate at times. Overall, this is a good romance and a great way to spend an afternoon or two in wedded bliss with Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

About the Author:

Sharon is a married, RN, specializing in neonatal intensive care. She is a native Californian who married her very own Mr. Darcy. Two Shall Become One evolved after Lathan watched Pride & Prejudice on the big screen, starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen.

***Look Forward to Sharon Lathan’s guest post and giveaway on March 10***


Also Reviewed By:

Diary of an Eccentric
Becky’s Book Reviews
The Book Nest
Book Zombie

Conscience Point by Erica Abeel

Erica Abeel’s Conscience Point, published by Unbridled Books, started off rough for me, with shifts in tone and language for one of the main characters, Nick Ashcroft. After about 60 pages or so, I became absorbed in the dark secrets and the Gothic mystery surrounding the once lavish estate of Conscience Point. Madeleine Shaye is a concert pianist, an arts journalist, a mother, and a lover who allows passion to derail her career and lead her down a path that is wrought with disappointment and heartache. Nick Ashcroft and his sister Violet lead Shaye onto this path and become the center of her world, despite Maddie’s obliviousness. The deep secret that tears her relationship with Nick apart is predictable at best, but Abeel weaves a setting that captivates the reader and lulls them into the fantasy.

Shaye is a young pianist befriended by an eccentric artist from a wealthy New York family, Violet Ashcroft. She’s easily dazzled by Conscience Point’s ambiance, and the stormy eyes of Violet’s brother Nick. She is equally captivated by Violet as an outcast and tormented girl. Despite the separation between Nick, Violet, and Maddie that lasts several years and through one marriage each, they connect as most artists will with exploding passion in a paradise far from their “real” worlds. Maddie and Nick revive their lust, which sweeps up Maddie and leaves her blind to the reality of her self-constructed family. “Love cannot dwell with suspicion” is an apt theme running through the first portion of this novel, which stems from an ancient Roman myth featuring Cupid and Psyche. However, amidst the turmoil that her life becomes, Maddie is once again swept up by her true passion–music.

Through the initial pages of the novel, Nick uses terms like “thistle-y” and “joint,” which seem incongruous, and the narrator interrupts herself to stop digressions. These sections can be disruptive to the reader, but as they become less frequent and the pace of the drama picks up, the reader is absorbed.

“She’d never imagined you could love this hard yet keep yourself for your work. They swung through the hours, grooved as trapeze artists. Nick understood the musician’s life, its ardor and implacable demands. . . . She in turn marveled at how he teased out the shapely book hiding in some winding manuscript;” (page 46)

While the plot of this novel is cliche in many ways, the real gem is the poetic language and intricate weave of music and art throughout the novel. Maddie’s magic fingers hit the keys and the reader is drawn into the world of an artist. Conversations with her friend Anton about music and its composers easily draws readers into their highly dramatic world. Maddie has a great many regrets in this novel, but she has no one to blame but herself for her own misfortunes. This is a novel about finding yourself, learning to live with what you discover about yourself and your family, and staying true to your dreams and promises.

I would like to thank the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program for sending me this book back in October/November 2008.

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Also Reviewed by:
Booking Mama

The first person to comment on this post about why they’d like to read this novel will receive my “gently used” advanced readers copy of Conscience Point.

Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe

Lydia Bennet’s Story by Jane Odiwe is a different type of sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice; it does not retell the lives of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, their children, or modernize their story as a 20th century romance. Lydia Bennet’s Story transports the reader back to 19th Century England to tell Lydia’s woeful and headstrong tail of romance and intrigue, rather than the tales woven by Jane Austen for Lizzy and Jane Bennet.

We join Lydia on her journey from the balls at the Assembly in Hertfordshire, England, through Brighton, and Newcastle. Headstrong and willy-nilly Lydia is just as vivid in these pages as she is in Jane Austen’s novel. Although her character plays a minor role in Austen’s novel, she takes center stage in Odiwe’s, but with journal entries sprinkled amidst the storyline, the reader begins to see what motivates Lydia to act as she does in public and with the soldiers. As the youngest daughter in the Bennet family, she seeks acceptance and love in all the wrong places.

Once in Brighton, Lydia is shameless in her pursuit of a husband and begins lavishing her affections on George Wickham. Despite his declarations that he can love no one, Lydia will have none of it, shunning Captain Trayton-Camfield, who seems to truly care for her. Lydia and Wickham run off to London together, and she expects them to get married, though it only materializes when Wickham is pressured by none-other-than Mr. Darcy. This is where Austen’s Pride & Prejudice leaves Lydia.

Lydia Bennet’s Story does not miss a beat, Odiwe has a strong command of Austen’s language, style, and characters, but she puts her own flare on the wild maven that is Lydia. Despite winning her prize–Mr. Wickham–Lydia soon realizes married life to her charming soldier is not all she expected it to be as his gambling and womanizing continue. In a way, Odiwe’s Lydia continues to fool herself that Wickham’s character is merely misunderstood, but soon his character is undeniable, and she is forced to not only deal with her loveless marriage, but their poor station in life.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Lydia is on page 290:

“Even in my reckless alliance, I believed I was in love and yes, a state of confusion it might be, but I submitted to it and felt my regard most wholeheartedly. And though I now believe my love was not truly returned, that I was mislead, I still believe in the power of true love.

Here Lydia expresses the evolution of her character and highlights how she has matured on this journey of love, hardship, and growth. She is no longer the silly, younger sister of Lizzy and Jane, but her own mature woman, though more bold than conventions are prepared to handle.

Readers of Jane Austen and Austen enthusiasts will enjoy this novel, but even those readers looking for a fast-paced “romance” will enjoy Lydia Bennet’s Story.

About the Author:

Jane Odiwe is an artist and author. She is an avid fan of all things Austen and is the author and illustrator of Effusions of Fancy, consisting of annotated sketches from the life of Jane Austen. She lives with her husband and three children in North London.

Check out Jane Odiwe’s blog here.

Thank you to Danielle Jackson at Sourcebooks for sending Odiwe’s Lydia Bennet’s Story along for me to review, and stay tuned for a guest post from Jane Odiwe on Oct. 31. See what she and Lydia have to say about Halloween!

Want to win a copy of Jane Odiwe’s Lydia Bennet’s Story, check out the guest post tomorrow to learn how.

Also Reviewed By:
Diary of an Eccentric
A Book Blogger’s Diary
Austenprose
Becky’s Book Reviews
The Book Zombie
Library Queue

***Contest Reminders for Readers:

A copy of Black Flies by Shannon Burke is up for grabs until Nov. 5

A copy of Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby is up for grabs until Nov. 5

Any Given Doomsday

LibraryThing Early Reviewers

I received Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland from Library Thing and St. Martin’s Press. The book is slated for publication in early November.

Quite a number of today’s urban fantasy books toy with the vampire myths and werewolf stories to modernize them and make them more relevant. When I started reading this novel, I knew I had to suspend disbelief. Elizabeth Phoenix is the heroine who grew up in foster care and grew into a tough young woman and cop. According to the short story, “In the Beginning,” Elizabeth is well known in her department as partially psychic; she has the ability to touch items and see what happened to the owners of those items. It is her power that ultimately leads to the death of her partner. This is all back story, which I presume the author wrote for herself so she could understand her character better. It’s not necessary to read it before you read Any Given Doomsday.

Elizabeth’s only friends have been her police partner, her childhood friend Jimmy Sanducci, and Ruthie, her foster mother. They all understood her and her gift. It’s this gift that they want her to develop to save the world. She learns a lot about herself and her powers as the book progresses, but her character does not evolve much for a heroine. She’s as hard-headed, sarcastic, and closed off as she is at the beginning of the book.

The characters in the book, particularly near the middle to the end, are obsessed with sex. Sex as a weapon, sex as a way to humiliate another human being, sex as a way to break free from the confines of themselves, and sex as therapy.

Elizabeth’s attitude throughout the book makes it difficult to like her, let alone empathize with her plight. Her intimate relationships with the men in her life are mind-boggling because they treat her like a paper plate–using her and tossing her to the side. The reader is expected to see her as the key to winning the battle, but it’s hard to view her that way when she constantly doubts herself and the men in her life, who are there to support her and help her grow, constantly toss her aside, become evasive in her presence, and disappear.

While I enjoyed the fast-paced nature of this book, I would only recommend it to readers of urban fantasy.

Anyone interested in reading this book for themselves, please feel free to email me. I will mail the book to the first person who contacts me, along with the short story.

Also Reviewed By:
Bookworm
The Sleepy Reader
Diary of an Eccentric
Amber Stults
Bitten by Books

***Don’t forget to enter my contest for A Grave in the Air