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Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen

death of a dishonorable gentleman

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman by Tessa Arlen
Book 1 in the Lady Montfort Mystery series
ARC, e-book, 321 pages
Minotaur Books
January 6, 2015

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Genre: Historical Mystery

Source: Received from the publisher for review as part of HFVBT tour

“Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it's more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect.

Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight.

In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.”

This novel is pitched as being appealing to those who love the TV show, Downton Abbey – I am sure I am the only person at this point who has never seen an episode of the show, so I can’t say anything to that factor. I can say, however, that it does speak to the fan of novels which feature the upstairs/downstairs motif – as it uses that technique extensively here.

I have been a long-time fan of contemporary mystery novels – James Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series is one of my favorites – but for some reason, historical mysteries don’t tend to sit well with me. This is typically because the often leave the historical factor as mere background or setting and not fully integrate it into the novel. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman does quite well in the historical aspect – the pages just ooze the Edwardian time period – in terms of characterizations, events that are unfolding in the background, and the atmosphere of the time. Arlen also has the mystery element well in hand, as I never saw the murderer coming, although after the reveal you can see some hints along the way.

This was certainly a very different sort of upstairs/downstairs novel – as usually you don’t have a lot of lengthy interactions between the mistress of the house and her servants. In this novel, Lady Montfort teams up with her housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to solve the murder mystery that takes place on her property. I really enjoyed this character dynamic. It made it interesting to see how they dealt with these breeches of etiquette and you have two different perspectives on the events transpiring.

I had an issue with two areas of this novel: pacing and caring about the deceased. I found the pace of the novel to be a little slow to unravel. It felt like a lot of waiting around in the household while a “real” investigator did his questioning of the household. We don’t see much of Teddy before he meets his maker and we learn most about him from discussions with various others. We are supposed to find him reviling – and I only halfway got there. I found that I didn’t really care that he had been killed, and because of that, I didn’t really care who had murdered him – this takes away from the mystery element to some extent.

I think that it could be an interesting series to have the interplay of Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson, but I think it might be difficult (or somewhat unbelievable) to think that they will encounter all that many mysteries that occur within their limited domestic sphere.

If you love to read about the Edwardian time period or an upstairs/downstairs novel, you will likely enjoy this one – all of those elements are well fleshed out. If you are a mystery fan, it might be hit or miss.

Isn't the cover absolutely stunning!?!

This is author Tessa Arlen’s debut novel. You can visit Arlen’s website or blog for additional information about the book.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

03_DOADG_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL (1)

You can follow along with the rest of the tour by visiting the HFVBT site or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #DishonorableGentlemanBlogTour.


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Literary Conversations: Abridging Books

Literary Conversations

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be an engaging series of conversations throughout this year about all things books! I want to pick topics that are important to us as readers, bloggers, and otherwise reading aficionados (so if you have any creative ideas, let me know!).

The first topic is something that I was recently reminded about that frustrates me – and I would love to see where you stand on this topic: abridging books.

By definition, an abridgement is “a shortened or condensed form of book, speech, etc, that still retains the basic contents” (Dictionary.com).

To me, there is really no good reason to abridge a book. I know that it is frequently a technique used to make a lengthy book accessible to a reading population that will not read a long book. But to me, if the author intended it to be 500, 700, 1000+ pages, then that is what I want to read. I don’t just want to read what someone thought would be representative enough of the book. Then you start to get into someone else’s opinions etc. and not the true form of the book. I can handle a long book!

Now I know that frequently you can pick up a different edition of a book and get the whole unabridged story, however, this isn’t always the case with audiobooks. Many times the only edition available on Audible is the abridged version – and I absolutely refuse to read this shortened version, so I will usually have to put it further down my reading list for when I eventually get the chance to read it in paper.

According to the above graphic, at least with regard to audio book sales, abridged versions make up 30% of the sales.
Source: SlideShare

A perfect example that happened to me this week – Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara. The traditional version currently available on Amazon is 512 pages. The abridged version of the audio book available on Audible is 3 hours and 46 minutes in length. For comparison purposes, The Great Bridge by David McCullough, which is 562 pages in physical length (fairly similar length), is 27 hours and 29 minutes in unabridged audio book. My guess, a lot of Gods and Generals has been excised for the audiobook production – which makes me sad.  Even though non-fiction tends to be read at a little slower pace than fiction, there really shouldn't be that much of a difference in length.

According to Goodreads, some of the most popularly shelved abridged books include: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1276 pages); Don Quixote by Cervantes (1072 pages); Moby Dick by Herman Melville (720 pages); War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1423 pages); and Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1488 pages).

What do you think of abridged books? Do you read them? Have you read any of these above named lengthy books in either their complete or abridged formats? Or both? What did you think? Anyone have a different explanation for abridgement than what I addressed above?

Love to hear what you think!


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Book Review: The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley

the nutcracker bride

The Nutcracker Bride by Margaret Brownley
Book 2 in the 12 Brides of Christmas series
Kindle e-book, 51 pages
Shiloh Run Studios
October 13, 2014

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Genre: Christmas, Historical Romance, Christian Fiction, Western, Short Story/Novella

Source: Purchased from Amazon for Kindle

“While gathering walnuts, someone throws a bag of money into Lucy Langdon’s wagon. Now Chad Prescott, a Texas Ranger, is determined to recover the bag, but not before he is shot as a prowler. Waking up in a house full of German nutcrackers is rather disconcerting for this lawman, but not as troublesome as feeling his heart fall for the lovely Lucy.”

The Nutcracker Bride is the second book in the 12 Brides of Christmas series, but they are not connected to each other except in theme, so you can read them in any order you choose (me being me, I have to read them in order). This series of short story/novellas features the stories of love/courtship/marriage for one woman during the Christmas season. From what I have read so far (4 books) they appear to all be sent in the American western frontier in the late 1800s – a relatively new setting for me, and an entirely welcome change. As the description implies, they are historical romances and Christian fiction as well – however they all feature a different depth to the religion.

Lucy is a home baker who is known for the German delicacies that she makes and delivers to local friends, family, and customers. She is also taking care of her elderly grandfather in the home and all that entails. Oh, and she is also caring for the man who suddenly showed up on her property and whom she also shot out of fear. Seeing the interactions between Lucy and Chad develop from fear to care felt natural – considering it is a forced relationship and when you are with someone all the time a relationship can develop faster.

Chad Prescott was a very fun romantic hero. He certainly grew into the relationship faster than Lucy. He was also one that was a little hard to pin down – is he a good guy or bad guy? What is his mission? Will Lucy ever see him again? Lucy was a little more straightforward. She is caring for her grandfather and that is her sole mission at this point.

At the real heart of this story is the nutcrackers, as the title implies. I loved learning the old German tradition of the nutcrackers and how it was woven into the story plot, not just as a brief note in passing. It was also nice to see the interplay of old family traditions with Lucy’s Christian beliefs. It felt very, very natural.

Overall, I loved the characters and could certainly see myself enjoying them in a longer story arc.

Author Margaret Brownley also has written several other novels, including the following series: The Brides of Last Chance Ranch and The Rocky Creek Romance series, and stand-alone books: Courting Trouble, Then Came Spring, Head Over Heels, and High Button Shoes. You can visit Margaret’s website for additional information about her books. If you would like to know more about The Nutcracker Bride  or the 12 Brides of Christmas series, follow the links.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

12 brides

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon and B&N.


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review: My Days With Princess Grace of Monaco by Joan Dale

my days with princess grace

My Days with Princess Grace of Monaco by Joan and Grace Dale
ARC, e-book, 352 pages
September 4, 2014

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Genre: Memoir

Source: Received for review from publisher via Netgalley

“Get to know the real Princess Grace, from the first years of her marriage to the last days of her life. "My Days with Princess Grace of Monaco: Our 25-Year Friendship, Beyond Grace Kelly" chronicles what it was like to be best friends with an iconic princess, with 70 never-before-seen personal photos, letters and diaries that give a behind-the-scenes look at Grace Kelly's life after she became Princess Grace. Gain rare insight into her final days through a detailed account of her last family vacation the month before her tragic death. This is also the true story of the historic events depicted in "Grace of Monaco," in which Grace Kelly was to return to Hollywood at a time when Prince Rainier almost lost his crown and country.”

This memoir is of Joan Dale’s life, but focusing on her time spent with and intimately knowing Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. Joan did not know Grace during her Hollywood glamour days, so if you are looking for that perspective, you will be disappointed. But if you are looking to know Grace the princess you will become deeply acquainted with her in this memoir. Joan often references how she was referenced as “unknown woman” in all of the photos that she appeared in with Princess Grace – she was always there, but entirely unknown. Joan’s husband was Prince Rainier’s closest advisor and accordingly they were frequently present with the Prince and Princess.

We get all of the details of the balls, dinners, and other fabulous events that they attended – including extensive explanations of what EVERYONE was wearing (it almost felt like an awards style episode at times). At the same time, we are treated to the intimate moments when the families were just alone by themselves.

Much of this book is comprised of and composed from letter from Joan Dale’s collection – there are letters to and from Grace, Joan’s parents, her husband, Prince Rainier, and others. It is a great writing strategy to include these intimate peeks into Joan’s life. Additionally, there was an extensive collection of personal photos from Joan Dale providing a visual peek into the Dale and Grimaldi lives.

While I found this book an enjoyable, lighter read, it wasn’t without its issues – which I feel like comes with the territory when the memoir is written by someone who isn’t actually a practicing author. There is A LOT of repetition. Mostly this is involved with the letters. Within the text Joan’s letters are transcribed, but then immediately following each letter the author explains the events that are introduced in the letter. However, the narrative tends to tell exactly the same thing as the letters just with a little more detail – it felt very repetitive. Additionally, while the memoir does focus on Joan’s life with Grace, there is a lot just about Joan’s life as well. While this makes sense, as it is Joan who is writing the book, those portions of the book are much less interesting to the reader – especially if someone is picking up the book to learn about Grace Kelly. Additionally, I frequently felt that Joan was defensively explaining her relationship with Grace – as in, she feels the need to make it clear that she was actually one of Grace’s closest friends. She goes to great lengths to make this point and it made it feel a little pushy.

I did learn a lot about the private side of Princess Grace and it was an enjoyable, light read, but it wasn’t exactly what I was hoping the book would be.

This book is the combined works of Joan Dale (friend of Grace Kelly’s) and her daughter, Grace Dale. Joan Dale passed away prior to the publication of the book. You can visit the book’s website for additional information about the book. There are some great videos and documents available on the site that round out the reading experience. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two Sides to Every Story: Benedict Arnold

two sides to every story

With this segment of Two Sides I’m taking the concept a little differently than in the past. Usually I present two opposing sides to an issue/question, but this time I want to present the two different sides of a single person.

Benedict Arnold is known primarily to most people as a traitor to the American cause during the American Revolutionary War. Many do not know more about him than that. Arnold is one of the most fascinating characters to me during this time period, because he is so much more complex than just a traitor and I think it is worth knowing about.

American Revolutionary War Hero

benedict arnold

Benedict Arnold was a General on the side of the colonists during the American Revolution. He had many great moments during his wartime service and many of his successes were major contributors to the continuation of the War during its early years. Arnold acted valiantly during the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, an attack on Quebec, and the Battle of Valcour Island. Even when he lost the fight, he still succeeded in delaying British forward action. He had his leg broken during the Quebec initiative. Arnold’s best known battle accomplishment was at Saratoga. Going against orders, Arnold led an attack at Saratoga – which ultimately led to General Burgoyne surrendering and Arnold being shot in the same leg that was injured at Quebec. This effectively ended his military career, despite being named military commander of Philadelphia.


Traitor to the American Cause


Following Arnold’s injury, and rehabilitation, he was repeatedly passed over for promotions that he thought he should have been entitled to. Being upset with his leadership chain of command and his frequently being passed over for promotion, Arnold in 1778 agreed to work with British intelligencer John Andre, with the aid of his wife Peggy, to turn over West Point to the British. He succeeded in passing critical documents related to the defense of West Point to Andre, but fortunately or unfortunately (depending on your side) Andre was captured behind American lines with that damning information and Arnold’s gig was up. He fled to the British lines and joined their cause, but he was never really accepted there and did not find success.

Benedict Arnold’s life is divided into two distinct time periods, his heroic phase and his traitor phase. I think that it is important to view his actions in these two separate spheres. Without his successes at Saratoga, the French very likely would not have entered the war, as this battle was critical in their decision to support the Americans. And there would have been a greater chance of the American’s not winning the war. There is even an unnamed monument to Arnold at the Saratoga battlefield in the shape of his injured leg to commemorate his important successes there. But his disillusionment with his inability to have the successes he believed he deserved, and the careful promptings of his wife, led him to put his country behind his ambitions and turn his coat.

How much do you know about Benedict Arnold?  Do you think it is important to judge a person based on their last actions or based on their whole character?  Can Arnold have some redeeming qualities despite being traitor?  How do you feel about the issue of the unnamed monument to the man at the Saratoga Battlefield?


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Book Review: The Traitor's Wife by Allison Pataki

The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor’s Wife by Allison Pataki
ARC, e-book, 497 pages
Howard Books
February 11, 2014

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received for review via Netgalley

“Everyone knows Benedict Arnold—the infamous Revolutionary War General who betrayed America and fled to the British as history’s most notorious turncoat. Many know Arnold’s co-conspirator, Major John André, who was apprehended with Arnold’s documents in his boots and hanged at the orders of General George Washington. But few know of the integral third character in the plot; a charming and cunning young woman, who not only contributed to the betrayal but orchestrated it.

Socialite Peggy Shippen is half Benedict Arnold’s age when she seduces the war hero during his stint as Military Commander of Philadelphia. Blinded by his young bride’s beauty and wit, Arnold does not realize that she harbors a secret: loyalty to the British. Nor does he know that she hides a past romance with the handsome British spy John André. Peggy watches as her husband, crippled from battle wounds and in debt from years of service to the colonies, grows ever more disillusioned with his hero, Washington, and the American cause. Together with her former lover and her disaffected husband, Peggy hatches the plot to deliver West Point to the British and, in exchange, win fame and fortune for herself and Arnold.

Told from the perspective of Peggy’s maid, whose faith in the new nation inspires her to intervene in her mistress’s affairs even when it could cost her everything,The Traitor’s Wife brings these infamous figures to life, illuminating the sordid details and the love triangle that nearly destroyed the American fight for freedom.”

When reading historical fiction that is set during a war, my choice will always be the American Revolution. There is just something about the formation of a new country and that ensuing drama just pulls me in. Within that setting, one of the people that fascinates me most is Benedict Arnold. Although he is a traitor to the country, I find him quite to complex man who is intriguing to try to understand. With these things in mind, this novel screams at me to read it!

I very much appreciated seeing Peggy’s perspective regarding the betrayal in this novel – I actually dislike her very much, but that is a discussion for later and not at all related to how the character was written. The author did a great job at portraying Peggy Shippen Arnold as a frivolous, but calculating woman who is willing to do pretty much anything to get her own way. Benedict Arnold was not as fleshed out as I would have liked him to have been. He was present, but sort of whitewashed. The character that we learn the most about is Peggy’s maid, Clara, and she was refreshing and I enjoyed the portions of her novel about how she survived living with the Arnolds.

I struggled to love the style of the novel all the way through. There are portions of the novel that take place in the “present” time – which is the time immediately surrounding the betrayal – and then periods that sort of flash-back to the two years preceding when Peggy meets Arnold. Both sections worked on their own, but I found the transitions to be a little bit clunky and unnecessary as a storytelling device here.

Overall, this was a relatively strong debut novel, even if there are a few things that I would have liked tightened up a little bit. Peggy was a fascinating character and it was invigorating seeing this story told more from her perspective.

And can we discuss the cover for just a second? One of my favorites of releases in 2014! That alone would make me pick it up off of the shelf, even if it is still a headless woman. Gorgeous!

This is author Allison Pataki’s debut novel, with a sophomore release coming out in February. You can visit Allison’s website or blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book (about halfway down the page)?

You can also watch the book trailer below.

Additionally, the author discusses The Traitor’s Wife in this video clip:

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:


Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Books for School...or My New Obsession with WWI

You are likely to see a run on books about WWI appearing on this blog within the next several months - my mailbox has been very overwhelming in that department.  Many of these books will make it into a review, but if not, I might do a feature on them just as a way to integrate my reading for school with the blog.  It is relevant reading and it is A LOT of reading - so I might as well kill two birds with one stone!  I have also settled on my research topic, in which I will be able to utilize a book I received for review last year as one of my sources/inspiration (if you are interested, that would be Wilson by A. Scott Berg).  Pretty cool I think!

I'm about a month into the class so far and it has been quite fascinating so far.  In my high school and undergraduate education I wasn't exposed to a lot of WWI history.  To say I am learning a lot is an understatement. 

Here are the books I have picked up for my class and research:

  • WWI by H.P. Willmott (which has pictures and battlefield guides)
  • Quest for Decisive Victory: From Stalemate to Blitzkrieg in Europe 1899-1940 by Rober M. Citino
  • The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek
  • Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy by David Stevenson
  • The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara W. Tuchman
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War by Hew Strachan
  • Decisions for War: 1914-1917 by Richard F. Hamilton
  • The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War by David G. Herrmann
  • Churchill's Crusade: The British Invasion of Russia, 1918-1920 by Clifford Kinvig
  • Woodrow Wilson and the World War by Charles Seymour
  • Why We Are at War: Messages to Congress by Woodrow Wilson
  • Wilson by A. Scott Berg
  • Trench: A History of Trench Warfare on the Western Front by Stephen Bull
  • The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 by Holger H. Herwig
  • The First Air War: 1914-1918 by Lee Kennett
  • A World Undone by G.J. Meyer
  • The First World War by Hew Strachan
  • The Battle of the Frontiers: Ardennes 1914 by Terence Zuber

Whew! That's a lot!  So far I have read The Arming of Europe and the Making of the First World War by David G. Herrmann, and working on Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy by David Stevenson and Decisions for War: 1914-1917 by Richard F. Hamilton.

So, are you well versed in WWI?  Have you read any of these books?  Any recommendations for further reading on Woodrow Wilson and the entry of the USA into WWI?


Copyright © 2015 by The Maiden’s Court