The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell

Reviewed by Brittany Morgan

Uhtred is back with vengeance. Out of favor the Saxon monarchy, Uhtred sees no other option but to recapture his birthright territory, Bebbanburg, with a limited crew of fellow outcasts. After King Alfred’s death, his son Edward takes the throne as king of Wessex. Years of peace soon come to an end as the Danes, under Cnut Longsword’s leadership; plan to invade the Saxon territories. Uhterd learns of Cnut’s plans yet the Saxons are uneasy to trust him. Men live and die, loyalties are challenged but one thing remains constant in the Saxon Stories Series: fate is inexorable.

The Pagan Lord is the seventh installment in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories Series and is easily one of the best. The detail that readers have grown accustomed to of 10th century England is top notch and expertly researched. There is the perfect combination of war, love and treachery to keep the reader’s interest. A cornerstone of Conrwell’s writing in the series is the funny insults meaning to scorn the opposition. Some of my favorite include the words: fart, stench and one or two expletives.

I really enjoyed following Uhtred throughout his life to experience the various joys and heartbreaks – and unfortunately – defeats alongside him. Even in his hold old age Uhtred is as fierce as ever and still has a few tricks up his sleeve to help persuade the Saxons to believe his tale.

Some of the favorite parts of the novel were the battle scenes, especially towards the end. I find it interesting to see how militarily the world has evolved from shied walls and swords to tanks and automatic guns. The detail that Cornwell uses to describe these scenes is unparalleled. I truly feel as if I am standing with my shield next to Uhtred preparing for battle.

With a conclusion that leaves nothing to be desired, fans are eagerly awaiting the eight novel in the series set to be released in the United States in early 2015.

RATING: 4 Stars

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A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon

Reviewed by: Brittany Morgan

The seeds of war have already been sowed by 1772 and the Fraser’s and Mackenzie’s find themselves right in the middle of the beginning of American history. Honor and duty calls upon Jamie as he is asked to represent the Crown and help unite the residents of the Ridge and Native Americans. Claire continues to push the medical envelope to help patients survive the hardships in 18th century North Carolina. Rodger and Brianna struggle to assimilate in a world that they never imagined they would be apart of. Tensions rise and loyalties are tested in the sixth installment of the New York Times best selling series Outlander in A Breath of Snow and Ashes. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the Outlander series. I have experienced highs and lows in the novels for the characters, in frustration of their choices, plot line missteps and much more. Since the fist installment in the series, this is hands down my favorite book. There was more action in this story, more decisions and more interesting secrets that come to light. Seeing the characters struggle and forced to make hard choices about their lives and the lives of those they love was an aspect that the other books were missing. 

My favorite part of the story was Gabaldon’s infusion of history into the text. This is something she has done in other books to great success as well. It’s always interesting – at least for me – to get history from a human voice, rather than in a textbook. The biggest logistical concern I have for the books in general is the character’s interpretation of time travel. After failed attempts for their “theories” on the subjects I do not understand why they do not see the errors in their logic and adopt a new theory or come to a different conclusion.

Overall this book is one of the better ones in the Outlander series. I gave up on the novels for over a year and jumped back into them to prepare for the new Starz series. I would have liked Gabaldon to add some subtle reminders of some plot details that could have gotten lost from book to book, especially if the themes carried over. 

Outlander is a Starz original television series that will appear on August 9, 2014. 

RATING: 4 Stars

Wideacre by Philippa Gregory

*** THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS***

Reviewed by: Brittany Morgan

Beatrice Lacey, the daughter of the Squire of Wideacre struggles with gender barriers in 18th century England. Her unable brother, Henry, is set to inherit the family estate upon their fathers death. However Beatrice believes that she is would make a better leader than Henry. Beatrice must decided how far she is willing to go to achieve her dream of being a Squire of Wideacre and if the ends justify the means.

I have read “Wideacre” by Philippa Gregory twice and still love it! It is one of my favorite books (hence it’s 6-star status!). Beatrice does a great job of narrating the book and it gives the reader a different perspective. Most books that are told from first person point of view are often told from a persons perspective who the reader likes and this is not the case. As a narrator, Beatrice explains all of her actions and the thought process behind them, which helps the reader stomach it is certain situations. For those who read the book and believe that the incest is an example of how sick Beatrice is I disagree with you. It shows how far she is willing to go to be Squire. I view it as a commentary on the time period and how society restricted women to household roles that they were forced to act like this. Beatrice stated on several occasions said that she did not like doing this but viewed it as ‘her rent’ for still living on Wideacre. 

Overall I loved this book, and the other ones in the series for that matter, and loved the depth of character that Gregory included.

RATING: 5 Stars

The Favored Child by Philippa Gregory

Reviewed by: Brittany Morgan

Wideacre is ruined. The land is dead, poverty marks the tenants and the Lacey’s have no money or power to change it all. This is the second generation of Lacey’s – Richard and Julia – turn to rule over the estate and try to make it prosper once more. After John MacAndrew returns from India with a large fortune, the family believes that their luck – and more importantly Acre’s – has finally improved. Unfortunately they were all dead wrong.

I am a big fan of Gregory’s first novel in the trilogy, “Wideacre” (see review for details) and the second one does not disappoint. I have read “The Favored Child” three times to date and loved entering Gregory’s version of 1700’s England. I was able to notice things that I did not before about Julia and Richard in an attempt to understand their complex relationship. The author’s utilization of dramatic irony fuels the texts and has the reader screaming for Julia not to make the same mistakes Beatrice did.

Even though the first book proved to be too much for some readers, I still would recommend “The Favored Child”. The second installment in the trilogy is not plagued by an incestuous relationship that filled the pages of the first book. The continuation of themes is evident in “The Favored Child” and will come to fruition in the final book: “Meridon”.

The Wideacre Trilogy still proves why it is one of my favorite book series.

RATING: 5 stars

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

Reviewed By: Brittany Morgan

Alma Whittaker, the daughter of the famous botanist tycoon Henry Whittaker, is a revolutionary in the field of mosses. She spends her life studying this slow growing species and publishing her work via her friend George Hawkings. As an older Alma continues her research on mosses, and human nature, a young man named Ambrose Pike. This unlikely pairing of a scientists and a utopian artist is joined by a mutual desire to understand of human nature and the universe.

I love the storytelling aspect of this novel. Gilbert did an amazing job of providing a history of Alma and her family throughout. This allowed the reader to follow Alma from before her birth until she reached 90 years old. I was able to see her grow, mature and develop as the years went on, which added an emotional connection fro the reader as well. A negative aspect of the novel is at some points it can be a bit draggy.

Overall I enjoyed the book and appreciated Gilbert’s tacking of powerful themes ranging from the meaning of life to self discovery.

RATING: 4 stars

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Reviewed By: Brittany Morgan

This book lives up to the hype! Since I was in elementary school, people have been raving about Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of A Geisha and I could not have been less interested in picking up the novel. A few weeks ago something in me changed when I selected the text to be my next audio book venture. Memoirs of A Geisha has been of the the surprise reads of 2013 and also one of the best that I have read this year.

Golden adds different layers to the story of feeling, passion and literary features. The symbolism, similes, foreshadowing and irony is top notch and elevates the story from good to great. I loved the historical aspect of it and I was able to learn new things about Japan and the life a geisha through the text. This book has something for everyone in it: romance, rivalries, extreme happiness and sadness and more.

RATING: 5 stars