Karen K. (kkowert) - , - Reviews

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The American Heiress (aka My Last Duchess)
The American Heiress (aka My Last Duchess)
Author: Daisy Goodwin
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
 25
Review Date: 5/8/2011
Helpful Score: 2


The Cash family has made their money the American way with hard work and some good luck. Mrs. Cash has more money than she can ever spend but she only wants one thing to be part of society. She throws the most lavish balls in Newport and lives the Gilded Age lifestyle to the hilt; however she wants to be completely accepted by the most significant people in Newport. Mrs. Astor doesnt deem her parties important enough to attend. Mrs. Cash thinks she can buy her way into polite society by marrying her beautiful young daughter, Cora Cash, to an Englishman with a title.

This story is fun, frivolous reading with good period detail of the excesses of the Newport, Rhode Island lifestyle in 1890s. When the Cash family heads to England and Cora falls off her horse and just happens to be rescured by an eligible bachelor with a title of duke, the story becomes a little too predictable. The characters are a little too stereotypical the English are cool, uncaring and snobby while the Americans are unsophisticated dont know how to act around royalty. There was too much repetition about how rich Cora Cash was and how dilapidated the British estates were.


Becoming Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette Trilogy, Bk 1)
Becoming Marie Antoinette (Marie Antoinette Trilogy, Bk 1)
Author: Juliet Grey
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 8/15/2011


Archduchess Maria Antonia Joseph Johanna of Austria, the youngest girl of sixteen children was just another political pawn in her mothers (Empress Maria Theresa of Austria) arsenal. At the tender age of ten, she was promised in marriage to Louise Auguste, dauphin of France in order to secure a political and military alliance with France. We may know the rest of the story of this notorious royal couple; however the story of the young Maries life was entertaining and painted a much more sympathetic picture than we usually get of Marie Antoinette.

The young Maria Antonia is portrayed as a frivolous, fun seeking youngster who loves the outdoors and who excels at getting out of her lessons. As the future queen of France, all that changes with her the mothers schemes and the Empress Maria undertakes a serious project to transform her unruly child into a queen. The transformation was both of the physical and mental kind. Maria was forced to wear braces to straighten her teeth (can you imagine the pain with 18th century dental procedures?). The Empress Maria Theresa of Austria spared no expense in employing a host of tutors to teach Maria to dance, perform the Versailles glide, play the harp and be a charming hostess.

And dont think for a moment that she would hesitate to relieve you of your duties if you do not transform me from an Austrian caterpillar into a French butterfly.

This is a coming of age story for the Austrian caterpillar that is forced into the politics and intrigue of the French court. Teaching Maria proper French, geography and politics turns out to be a much more daunting task. One of Marias tasks was to learn French history and she learned about a queen that proclaimed Let Them Eat Cake. I wonder if the author put that in because she believes Marie Antoinette has unfairly been yoked with this infamous saying.

Well, its a silly thing to say, then. Let them eat cake. She should have gone out among the people and fed them. Its what I would have done.

The book kept me engaged and I would consider this historical fiction light with good descriptions of court life, fashions, etc. This book covers the years 1766 1774 and there are 2 more upcoming books in the trilogy of Marie Antoinettes life. Although I have a few minor complaints about the writing, I will be reading the next book in the trilogy. It may seem very picky of me to choose 3 words in an entire book; however I would not recommend using any of the following words in a sentence: pulchritudinous, encomiums or transmogrifying. I dont mind if an author uses words I have to look up, but if the young woman is portrayed consistently as uneducated, why would she use a sophisticated word in a letter to her mother?


The Boleyn Inheritance (Boleyn, Bk 2)
The Boleyn Inheritance (Boleyn, Bk 2)
Author: Philippa Gregory
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 290
Review Date: 3/30/2011
Helpful Score: 1


The year is 1539 and King Henry VIII is ready to marry again. What?!? ! His first wife was disgraced and exiled so he could marry his second wife who was beheaded so he could marry his third wife who died in child birth. What could possibly go wrong for Anne of Cleves if she marries Henry? Well, you know the rest of the story.
The story is told first person from three different points of views: Jane Boleyn (Lady Rochford), Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Each chapter, the point of view changes based on the character as we see the unfolding saga of Henry VIIIs marriage to Anne of Cleves and his subsequent marriage. Jane Bolyen is a cynical regular of Henrys court that has witnessed the death of her husband and sister in law when Henry wanted to end that marriage. Anne of Cleves, an innocent young German princess is pledged to Henry to forge a political alliance between Germany and England. She knows little English and little of the customs of her new country. Katherine Howard is a young, vain girl who dreams of going to court so she can have beautiful gowns and dance with young men from good families and have a good time.

The short chapters with constantly changing point of views became very distracting and I was spending too much time figuring out who was speaking in each chapter. I didnt like the way the book was written in this way. The author was able to create suspense and interest in telling a story where we already know the ending, but I didnt enjoy this book as near as much as The Other Boleyn Girl.


The Constant Princess
The Constant Princess
Author: Philippa Gregory
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.9/5 Stars.
 211
Review Date: 5/4/2010


I thoroughly enjoyed this book about the Spanish Queen of England. The character development of Catalina (Katherine) expertly took you from her childhood in Moorish palaces to the Queen who controlled and manipulated a young King Henry in order to rule England her own way. I now think of Katherine of Aragon as more than just Henry VIIIs first wife and victim.

Catalina, was born the last daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Her childhood had many contrasts constant war with the Moors and other neighbors in an effort by her parents to unify Spain into one country; but also a childhood of luxury and beauty in the Moorish palaces conquered by her famous parents. Catalina was betrothed to Prince Arthur in England at her birth and her parents raised her to know she was destined to be Princess of Wales and Queen of England. This marriage was planned to form a political alliance between Spain and England so the 2 countries could become an invincible war machine against their enemies.

As a young girl of 16, she was sent to England to marry Prince Arthur who dies months after their marriage. After his death, Catalina is left alone and destitute by her Spanish family and the English Tudor family, but she maintains her dignity and assertion that she was born to be Queen of England she is the Constant Princess. She grows into a strong and determined woman and endures loneliness, rejection and poverty in a foreign land away from her family and friends to get what she wants. I highly recommend this fictional account of Katherines life.


The Covenant (Abram's Daughters, Bk 1)
The Covenant (Abram's Daughters, Bk 1)
Author: Beverly Lewis
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 427
Review Date: 8/18/2010


This is a coming of age story of 4 young Amish girls living in Lancaster County, PA. In the Amish community when a young person turns 16 they are officially allowed to date and they are encouraged to have fun and the rules are a little relaxed before they make their covenant with the church and the way of life of the plain people.
S
adie is the oldest girl of the family and wants to test the boundaries of her freedom and falls in love with a boy outside of the Amish society. Will she choose this young man and forsake her family and all she knows? Her younger sister, Leah is urging Sadie to forget the English boy because she doesnt want any shame to fall on her family because her courting days are close.

I found myself identifying with these young women from such a different culture and enjoyed the book very much. It was an interesting look at the Amish people and their way of life. The end of the book left me with questions on what happened to the girls, so I am looking forward to reading the other books in the series.


The Daughter of Siena
The Daughter of Siena
Author: Marina Fiorato
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 18
Review Date: 4/12/2011


In Siena, Italy in the 18th century, the Palio, which is a horse race is an important part of the culture. The race is not just a competition among the different Contrade (city wards) in the town, but a significant rivalry. Winning the race is a matter of pride and determines whose star is rising and falling in the community. What happens in this race alters the fate of Pia, who is engaged to be married to a competitor in the race. Her father has pledged her in marriage against her wishes to another Contrade family to gain a political alliance. How will Pia fare with her cruel and unwanted husband? This story has romance and political intrigue as the different factions fight for control of the city.

Pia is a likable heroine and there was enough character development of her and other major characters to be pulled into the story and care what happened to them. I have a few minor complaints about the narrative such as a few difficult situations were taken care of a little too neatly and implausible at the end of the book in order to wrap up the tale.

Although this is more historical romance than historical fiction, I spent time looking up information on the Palio and the Contrade in Siena, Italy which is a good sign that I enjoyed the history and want to know more about it. I liked this glimpse of life in Siena Italy in 1729 and how the Palio exerts its influence on the way of life of its citizens.


Death on the Cliff Walk (Gilded Age, Bk 1)
Death on the Cliff Walk (Gilded Age, Bk 1)
Author: Mary Kruger
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
 21
Review Date: 7/27/2010
Helpful Score: 2


This is a clever murder mystery set in Newport Rhode Island at the end of the 19th century where the wealthy and snobby invade Newport every summer. A Cliff Walk Killer has killed maids who have taken a stroll at night on the cliff walk. Since only maids (working class people) have been killed, the cottagers (wealthy elite) dont feel threatened and dont want to cooperate with the police.

Brooke is a niece of wealthy cottager and tries to get involved with the murder investigation because she is scared and feels she can contribute to the investigation since the cottagers will talk to her. She is in the unique position of being trusted by the servants and society since she was raised by working class parents. When her parents died, her wealthy aunt took Brooke in and wants her to become a respected member of her society.
There are plenty of twists and turns and the murderer is not easy to guess. I enjoyed the great historical background on Newport in its heyday.


Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World
Author: Vicki Myron
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4/5 Stars.
 540
Review Date: 12/1/2010
Helpful Score: 1


In the interest of full disclosure, I am a cat lover, which is why I picked up this book. Yes, it is a story about a little kitten discovered in a library drop box on a freezing winter morning in Iowa; but it is also a story of small town life and a personal story of the librarian who found Dewey.

This is a heartwarming story of how one homeless alley cat gave people something to smile about in a small town in Iowa that was going through economic tough times. The book is a nice, cute story when you are ready for some light reading.


Divine
Divine
Author: Karen Kingsbury
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 71
Review Date: 7/29/2010
Helpful Score: 2


This is a very powerful, tragic, sad and uplifting story of a woman named Mary who grew up on the streets and was abused horrifically and lived a life of servitude to men who treated her terribly. She was able to turn her life around with the help of one man who pointed her to Jesus. Mary becomes a strong, influential voice for abused women in politics in Washington D.C. and volunteers her time at abused women shelters.

This is a Christian book with the theme of Christian redemption and faith, but anyone can read this book and be touched by the tragedy endured by this woman who then devoted her life to making sure other women did not have to endure her despair and hopelessness.

This is a good story and a quick read.


The Dress Lodger
The Dress Lodger
Author: Sheri Holman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.7/5 Stars.
 30
Review Date: 4/15/2011
Helpful Score: 1


A Dress Lodger is a new term for the worlds oldest occupation invented by an enterprising and cruel landlord. Gustine, a poor young girl living in Sunderland, England in 1831 strikes a deal with her landlord. He gives her an exquisite blue dress to attract a better class of clientele as she walks the streets at night for her second job. In return, she shares her income and is provided a miserable, windowless roof over her head for herself and her baby. The descriptions of the living conditions of 19th century Englands underprivileged are so clear you can see and hear the poverty, hopelessness and fear of the working people in Sunderland who are barely able to eke out a living and are now facing a cholera epidemic. The narrative is told in second person and the narrator talks directly to you the reader occasionally. Sometimes I enjoyed this approach; other times I couldnt readily determine who was talking.

Gustine works hard to care for her baby who was born with some medical issues and she believes she finds the answers to her prayers when she meets a doctor and surgeon at her local pub. She gets involved in helping the doctor procure dead bodies so he can dissect them and learn how to treat cholera and other diseases. Her involvement with the doctor brings her into conflict with the superstitious fears of the uneducated and frightened poor who do not appreciate becoming science experiments upon their demise. This account of poverty and cholera is not a happy tale; however there is enough suspense to keep you engaged in the story.


Earthly Joys (Earthly Joys, Bk 1)
Earthly Joys (Earthly Joys, Bk 1)
Author: Philippa Gregory
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 212
Review Date: 7/5/2010


This is Philippa Gregorys usual well written story of English royalty and the politics, intrigue, deception and corruption of 17th century England. King James is newly crowned the King of England and he has surrounded himself with loyal trusted advisors such as Cecil Roberts and the Duke of Buckingham. The story is told from the point of view of John Tradescant, the gardener for these men. Johns skill as a gardener catches the attention of the powerful men of England who want to create a showcase garden in their palaces to show off their wealth to the royal court.

Although this book has a lot of details of plants, I enjoyed all the descriptions and especially of the travels to procure plants rare to England. This is not simply a book about the gardens of England, but the character development of John and his son John show how the attitudes of the English common people are changing towards their royalty and their quest for freedom and the ability to possess their own private land. What is happening in America at this time is having an impact on the English populace and they are starting to get dissatisfied with the extravagance of the English royalty while the country is suffering from bad harvests and the plague. Although I enjoyed this book, this is not my favorite book by this author. There were some places where she went into too much of the same detail and the book dragged in a few places.


Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes, Bk 2)
Falls the Shadow (Welsh Princes, Bk 2)
Author: Sharon Kay Penman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
 81
Review Date: 3/28/2011
Helpful Score: 2


If Sharon Kay Penman were a history teacher, there would be no grumbling about boring history lessons. She beautifully and vividly brings the people and times to life and creates suspense and interest in the politics of the thirteenth century.

This is a story of two different historical characters from the 13th century: Llywelyn ap Gryffydd , Prince of Wales and Simon de Montfort. Both of these men craved power and political connections; however they were very different people.

When Llywelyn the Great died, the legacy of a united Wales could be in jeopardy while Llywelyns family members squabble among themselves. Can the Welsh put aside their family strife and pull together to keep the English from gaining their lands? Can a militarily inept King Henry III of England squash the Welsh rebellions and tame the French at the same time? Can a penniless youngest son of a French nobleman, Simon de Montfort, claim his English inheritance and become a political force in King Henrys court?

The characters and dialogue seem so real, you feel like you are sitting down and having a conversation with these people from the 13th century. Although this book spent more time in England than Here Be Dragons, the story of Simon de Montfort is worth the effort. The powerful portrayal of the characters and the time and place make this another 5 star read from Sharon Kay Penman!


The Far Pavilions
The Far Pavilions
Author: M. M. Kaye
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 10
Review Date: 11/29/2010


A baby boy (Ashton) was born to 2 English parents living in India in the 19th century. The mother dies from lack of medical care after childbirth and then he loses his father to Cholera. His nurse maid escapes with him and goes to Delhi to return him to his family because of his father's dying wish, but when they arrive in Delhi, the Indian Rebellion is in full force and she finds his relatives all murdered. Then she travels to a small village away from the political upheaval and passes the boy off as an Indian to protect his life. This is fantastic writing which has pulled me in to the story and I feel like I am there traipsing through the Indian country side.

Ashtons life takes him to extremely different societies such as living in an Indian palace and upper class England where he is educated in proper Victorian English schools. Ashton returns to the land he loves (India) after his British schooling is over and travels all over India as a British officer and falls in love with an Indian girl (Anjuli). Family connections, traditions and society are all conspired to keep the 2 young lovers apart.

I was rarely bored reading this 1,000 page doorstopper; however I enjoyed the first 700 pages more that were focused on the lives and intrigues surrounding Ash and Anjuli. This is truly a fascinating book that gives a good feel for life in 19th century India for both the people of India and the British officers sent to rule the land and impose their laws and way of life on a completely difference culture.


Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie, Bk 2)
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie, Bk 2)
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 84
Review Date: 3/16/2010


Cozy mystery, fun read

I thoroughly enjoyed this second book in the Isabel Dalhousie series and am glad to see the characters from the Sunday Philosophy Club are still just as entertaining. The main character Isabel, a part time philosopher and self appointed amateur detective is an intellectual who doesnt take herself too seriously, with a good sense of humor and a genuine interest in her fellow human beings. I find her interesting and definitely want to hear what her next witty comment will be.

While Isabels niece (Cat) is away on vacation, Isabel is running the deli and meets a man with a heart transplant. She discusses philosophy and psychology with him, and is drawn into solving a mystery for him. This is not a mystery with extreme suspense or violence, just a fun, entertaining look at life in Edinburgh Scotland with a little philosophy thrown in. This book is a lighthearted, pleasant read.


The Golden Hour
The Golden Hour
Author: Margaret Wurtele
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.
 9
Review Date: 1/22/2012


Giovanna, a young, naïve and sheltered wealthy Catholic girl is coming of age in 1943 in northern Italy. She lives very comfortably in a villa with her parents but instead of enjoying parties and meeting young men now that she is 17, German officers commandeer her villa and push her family into the servants quarters. Having Nazi officers occupying her family home and the convent where she assists the nuns in their teaching makes the war personal and changes Giovannas life.

The heroine starts the book as a young, foolish girl who makes many mistakes and does not understand the significance of the events unfolding around her. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this young woman mature as she tries to figure out who she is.

She struggles with many conflicting emotions both as a young girl growing up and as a human being caught in an ugly war. Will she endanger her own life to do the right thing and help a complete stranger? How can one young girl help the Resistance movement her brother joined? Can she break free of her parents prejudices about religion and people and live life by her own convictions? This was a quick, thoroughly enjoyable read about a young girl growing up with World War II literally at her doorstep.

I received this book from the Amazon Vine program.


Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas
Grania: She-King of the Irish Seas
Author: Morgan Llywelyn
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.2/5 Stars.
 5
Review Date: 9/13/2010
Helpful Score: 1


Grania or Grace OMalley as the English call her is an unusual woman in the 16 century Ireland. She prefers sailing on the open seas over staying on land and doing womans work. Grania grew up idolizing her father, Dubhdara who was a powerful chieftain that controlled much of Ireland. He spent much of his life sailing merchant ships on the ocean and Grania wanted to be just like him. To please her father she marries Donal OFlaherty which was a political match. Being a wife and mother did not keep Grania from spending time on the high seas in international trade and piracy and she commanded a loyal following of sailors who were always ready to sail with her.

During Dubhdaras (Granias father) lifetime, the Irish princes were autonomous and ruled Ireland without any outside interference. Over the course of Granias lifetime, the English Tudors would exert their authority over the Irish and earn Granias antagonism. Grania considers herself an equal or superior to the English She-King and spends most of her life fighting and scheming with the English representatives in Ireland who were sent there to conquer and subjugate the clans of Ireland.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Author: Mary Ann Shaffer, Annie Barrows
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 1388
Review Date: 3/18/2010


How could a novel that contains only correspondence via letters be so engaging, heartrending and inspiring? I recommend you read this book to find out.

Through the fictional letters of the inhabitants of the island of Guernsey we learn of their struggles to survive the Nazi occupation of their island in World War II. There is a colorful cast of characters on the island and you are drawn into their stories and want to keep reading the letters to find out more about them. The letters contain tragic, heartbreaking accounts of the cruelty of war, as well as humorous and uplifting tales. I was moved by the everyday heroes in this book that came together in order to survive and thrive under the oppression of the German army.

The odd name of the book made we think twice about reading it, but the story behind the name is really clever and the entire book is an enjoyable, quick read.


Harriet and Isabella
Harriet and Isabella
Author: Patricia O'Brien
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 3.4/5 Stars.
 11
Review Date: 7/21/2010


Harriet and Isabella are estranged sisters that belong to the famous Beecher family. Harriet is the Harriet Beecher Stowe that wrote Uncle Toms Cabin and Isabella is an ardent suffragist activist. These 2 strong women look back over their lives as their father Harry Beecher lies in his bed near death. This historical fiction shows how the country was struggling with the issues of slavery and womens rights.

I thought the writing style to be a little confusing at times because the story lapsed back in time to different episodes in the past of Harriet and Isabella and sometimes I wasnt sure of the point of view or the time period of the narrative. I was interested in the characters and how the family strife was going to be resolved, but the story was too fractured and hard to read.


Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy
Author: Margaret George
Book Type: Hardcover
  • Currently 4.1/5 Stars.
 38
Review Date: 1/6/2011


What an entertaining version of the story of the Trojan War! This book is written in first person and Helen is narrating the story of her life. She is a very caring, sympathetic and innocent character in this book because we are hearing the story from her side. The writing is so fantastic you are immediately pulled in and cant wait to read more to see what happens (even though you know the end of the story).

Helen is raised as a very sheltered young girl and is forbidden to use a mirror lest she see how beautiful she is. She longed for freedom and the ability to travel because her parents kept a very tight leash on her and she was seldom allowed to leave the castle. After she was married and had a daughter, she still longed to see the world beyond her kingdom.

Once in Troy and the war began, the book dragged a little or maybe I was just tired of the war. The part Greek mythology played in the story was a little weak. Basically, when someone behaved badly, their excuse was the gods made me do it. I cant tell you how close this book was to Homers and others version of the legend but it was definitely an enjoyable version of the tale.


Here Be Dragons
Here Be Dragons
Author: Sharon K. Penman
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
 8
Review Date: 8/16/2010


This is a great story that really pulls you into the 12th and 13th century Wales. There are a lot of characters in the beginning of this book, but keep reading and they will all cross paths. There is a lot of political upheaval, intrigue, deception and fighting in and among royal families of modern day Wales, England and France. The country lines were not that defined in those days and there were constant battles to keep possession of castles and the lands they controlled.

The four male sons of Henry, King of England are constantly fighting for their right to the crown. Richard, the Lion Hearted, is constantly at war with surrounding lands and his own brothers. Meanwhile, Llewelyn, a Prince of Wales is fighting his uncle for possession of Welsh lands. The Welsh and English distrust each other; however they make alliances with each other and the King of France in order to raise armies and survive.
Upon Richards death, John is crowned King of England. It is customary for royalty to promise their children in marriage to competing royalty in order to forge bonds and gain power. Joanna, an illegitimate daughter of King John is offered in marriage to Llewelyn, Prince of Wales in hopes of curtailing the Welsh fighting the English.

Joanna is a young, protected 14 year old girl and is afraid of marrying a Welshman and moving far from her home in a strange land with people who do not speak her language. She eventually falls in love with her husband and then is torn between her two loves, her father John, King of England and her husband, Llewelyn, Prince of Wales. John and Llewelyn are constantly at battle with one another over lands and power.

This is a fantastic book which fills in the limited history of 12th and 13th century England, Wales and France in a very believable and engaging way. I did not want to put the book down and I am looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy. This is a genuine 5 star read.


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