The First Blast of the Trumpet by Marie Macpherson

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I attended Knox Presbyterian Church in Detroit, MI when I was young; indeed it was the church in which I was married, so, reading about the life of John Knox seemed like an interesting thing to do.  What I found, in The First Blast of the Trumpet, was far more than just a historical fiction biography.  Scotland in the mid-16th century was filled with religious and political turmoil.  It was an era of burgeoning church reform; building on the Lutheran reformation in Germany.  It was also a time when Henry VIII of England wanted Scotland for his own.  In this turbulent atmosphere the author has produced a wonderfully crafted tale; one that propels the reader into a world where the Church is beginning to lose it’s grip on the populace; a world where Scotland is struggling to maintain its independence; a world where the reader experiences life in a Cicstercian Abbey.  While this is the story of John Knox, the main character in the first book of this trilogy, is Elizabeth Hepburn, Prioress of St. Mary’s Abbey.  I fell in love with Lisbeth right from the start, a jaggy thistle with romantic dreams but whose future was not hers to control.  As the story progresses and the jaggy thistle grows up, Elizabeth becomes what was a rarity in a male dominated society; a strong woman able to defy and even defeat her male counterparts and overlords.  Yet, she is also a woman troubled by that romantic streak she maintains in memory and even in hope.  The story is also full of the dramatic tension between the corrupt officials of the Church and the reformers.  John Knox was destined for a life in the Church but doubts about the teachings of the Church and the influence of others leads him to turn his back on the Church and by extension his Godmother, Elizabeth.  Naturally, the Church responds viscerally as heretics are now burning for their sins.  This emotion packed look into the early life of Knox; this tale filled with unexpected turns; this work replete with characters who draw you into their world, comes with Hoover Book Reviews highest recommendation.  4.8 stars

P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention? forewarn? my peeps and fellow travelers of the enchanting use of archaic Scottish throughout the book.  I jalouse you may want to keep Google nearby if you want to ken the meanings.  🙂

 

 

Rosa by Jeanette Taylor Ford

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Every once in a while I am drawn out of my cocoon, the comfort zone of my favorite reading genres.  In this case I was asked by the author to give Rosa a try despite it being a modern day mystery/romance tale…far from the ancient times, places and subject matter I usually frequent.  Rosa certainly got my attention right away as the story sort of begins at the end giving the reader a kind of heads up that there may be opportunities to try and guess what’s going to happen next.  However, the author doesn’t make it easy to guess correctly as she provides many clues, twists and turns to keep the reader turning the pages.  The characters are well thought out as are the descriptive portions of the narrative as the reader follows Rosa around the estate and surrounding countryside.  I won’t go into spoiler mode about the eventual solving of the mysterious goings on at the manor…suffice to say that it caught me by surprise having formed a different outcome in my own mind as I read the tale.  I guess it is okay to step outside one’s normal habits and try something different on occasion.  4 stars

The Fire and the Light by Glen Craney

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I found myself in unfamiliar territory regarding location, time and subject while reading The Fire and the Light, not that that is a bad thing.  The 13th Century is not my normal reading period, French history is not my usual subject and the Albigensian Crusade is just a distant history lesson long since forgotten.  What I found in picking up this book is a marvelous story by Mr. Craney.  He has taken the bits and pieces of this historical event and has crafted a tale worthy enough to be thought of as actual history, rather than fiction.  The characters are superbly written, from the spiritual leader of the Cathars, Esclarmonde, to the dastardly members of the Church seeking to destroy her and her band of heretics.  The emotions and the conflicts engendered by the Cathar beliefs are true high points in the narrative; the giving up of everything, including those you love, the willingness to die for those beliefs, the extreme suffering endured…all of this and more kept me enthralled and entertained throughout the tale.  Once again, I found myself immersed in a setting so brutally real that I would put the book down for a bit, catch my breath before returning to it.  4.7 stars and a Hoover Book Review “Highly Recommended Award”

 

 

The Lion and the Rose by Kate Quinn

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The sequel to The Serpent and the Pearl continues the trials and tribulations of the three main characters, Giulia Farnese, Carmelina and Leonello, all of whom play prominent roles in the lives of the Borgia clan.  Kate Quinn has delivered a masterful look at the historical timeline of Pope Alexander, the sixth of that name, and has filled in the gaps with stunning results. Edge of the seat drama coupled with exquisite glimpses of the pomp of the Vatican Court and the powerlessness of those who serve.  Hardhearted cruelty, tenacious loyalty and love being found in all the wrong places are some of the highlights that await you, dear reader.

In all of the Kate Quinn books that I have read prior to this I have felt a twinge of envy for her very talented Muse and The Lion and the Rose was no different.  Kudos for another well written series.  4.8 stars

 

 

Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn

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There are times when this humble scribe finds it difficult to articulate or to even come close to the right words to use.  This is one of those times.  Kate Quinn has delivered a masterpiece of a series that culminates in Lady of the Eternal City.  There aren’t many books that reduce me to tears or has me screaming in disbelief but  Kate has done those things to me repeatedly throughout.  On top of the emotions, she also has me believing that this is the way things might have actually happened.  That’s what comes out of a fiction so well written; so well researched.  I cannot recommend the Empress of Rome series highly enough but you must begin with book one; otherwise you will miss out on the muse inspired character developments, the emotion touching prose, the elegance of language that permeates all four books.  I, for one, will have this series on my To Read Again List.  5 Stars

The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn

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What I know of this time and place has been gleaned mainly from the two made for television series’ on The Borgias (while I enjoyed both series, I liked the Jeremy Irons version more).  So, I was more than curious as to how Kate Quinn would approach the subject matter while trying not to impose any of my preconceived notions on the main characters.  Well, as it turns out, I was unduly concerned as the author tells this story from the viewpoints of personages on the periphery of the Borgia clan.  Well maybe not periphery for one of the characters, after all, Giulia Farnese occupied Pope Alexander’s (the sixth of that name) bed as his mistress.  Once again the author had me immersed in the sights and smells of the era, from the kitchens of Carmelina to the flashing knives of the dwarf bodyguard Leonello.  A superbly crafted cast of characters, an attention grabbing storyline with plots and subplots enough to keep the reader guessing.  The main story follows the fortune of La Bella, Giulia, from the beginning of Rodrigo Borgia’s ascent to Pope to her dealings with the invading French.  The placing of Carmelina and Leonello into the narrative provides a refreshing look at this fascinating time of political and religious upheaval.  Another pleasant and page turning work from a very talented scribe.  5 stars

Empress of the Seven Hills by Kate Quinn

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First off let me start by begging Kate Quinn for the use of her magical Muse.  The combination of the author’s fertile imagination and the delicate yet lush landscapes inspired by that Muse has produced a multi-layered tale of intrigue and adventure.  The backdrop to the intrigue is the reign of Trajan and who will succeed him.  The obvious, and only choice, in the mind of the Empress Plotina, is their ward Hadrian but Trajan is not of the same mind as his wife’s.  The relationship between Trajan and Hadrian as portrayed in this tale reminds me of the frosty relationship between Augustus and Tiberius in the BBC drama I, Claudius.  Hadrian to Trajan is just as Tiberius was to Augustus, very useful but not in the succession plan.  The adventure comes in the form of Trajan’s war in Dacia and reintroduces us to Vix, the child gladiator now returned to Rome in pursuit of his dream of glory in the legions.  Enter Sabina, my favorite character in the book I think, enigmatic, adventurous, and niece to Trajan and probably closer to him than anyone else in the imperial  household.  A tempestuous affair between Vix and Sabina is interlaced through the dramatic events of the narrative.  And Titus, poor background seeking Titus, his unlooked for rise in Rome is one example of the author’s skill at character development.  Another gem in the category of a well drawn character is the Empress Plotina.  Forgive me another I, Claudius analogy but Plotina is much like Livia, both masterful manipulators of events, both with boundless ambition, a most delightful lady.

The end of this tale, well it’s not really an end, is it?  Ms. Quinn leads us right into the next episode, which I for one will be getting to asap.  5 stars

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