Book Review – The Splendour Falls

Chinon, France – with Château de Chinon on the hill

 

Emily Braden has been convinced to go on vacation with Harry, her charming but unreliable cousin.  Harry is going to the town of Chinon in France to look for the lost treasure of Isabelle, one of the Plantagenet queens, and he arranges to meet Emily in Chinon.  Unsurprisingly to Emily, Harry fails to show up on the agreed upon date.   So begins another of Suzanna Kearsley’s wonderful romantic historical mysteries.  

At first Emily thinks nothing of Harry’s absence, but as the days go by without hearing anything from him, Emily grows concerned that perhaps Harry’s failure to appear is more than just his usual forgetfulness.  As she gets to know the other guests in the hotel in which she is staying, she becomes entangled in not only the mystery of Queen Isabelle’s lost treasure, but also the more recent mystery of another Isabelle, who supposedly hid a treasure before taking her own life in World War II.

The cast of characters include a charming Frenchman and his delightful child, two Canadian brothers, an American couple, and an old retainer with secrets of his own, all of whom draw Emily further into the mysteries of Chinon.  Ms. Kearsley’s delightful descriptions of Chinon gave me the sense of being there, and I admit to spending an evening looking at photographs of the French town and reading more about this historical little gem of a city in the Loire Valley in France.  

I was alternatively entranced and dismayed by the unfolding events and kept reading “just one more chapter” until the wee hours of the morning.  The ending was eminently satisfying–the mystery of both of the Isabelles is resolved as is Harry’s disappearance.  My only disappointment is that I would have liked a bit more detail about the two Isabelles and their times.  However, all in all, it was a satisfying read for anyone who likes historical thrillers set in an exotic locale with a bit of romance thrown in, too.

 

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A new Mary Stewart?

 

Reading Clipart Image: Girl or Young Woman Reading a Book While Laying on the Floor

Girl Reading

When I was a girl, I loved reading gothic-type romances by authors such as Victoria Holt, Phyllis Whitney, and Madeleine Brent.  Historical novels were also favorites so when I first read a book by Mary Stewart, I was overjoyed that there was history as well as romance and suspense.  I read all of her books, which our small town library contained, and then reluctantly moved on to other authors.

Last year I happened upon a wonderful website:  https://openlibrary.org/ On that site are digital copies of many older books that were published too recently to be in the public domain but are old enough that they aren’t in the library anymore.  Much to my delight, they had most of Mary Stewart’s books.  Over the next several weeks I was able to borrow and reread my old favorites:  Nine Coaches Waiting, My Brother Michael, This Rough Magic, and others.

As I read, I kept thinking of how much fun the suspense and romance are and how many historical facts, geographical descriptions, and literary allusions there are in her books.  I don’t often come across an author who not only writes well but also includes all of these details which give the novel depth as well as educates the reader in history and geography.  Plus, they are just plain fun to read.

One such writer today is Susanna Kearsley.  I read a couple of her books last year and enjoyed them, but when I picked up The Splendour Falls last fall and started reading, I realized almost immediately that here was a writer who could just about fill Mary Stewart’s writing shoes.  History, romance, adventure, suspense–it had it all.  I could hardly put it down and, for the first time in years, read past midnight to find out what would happen next.  I went on to read Season of Storms and was reminded of the gothic thrillers I enjoyed so much.  Her book, The Winter Sea, took me back to Scotland in the 1700’s during the Jacobite uprisings while Every Secret Thing was a thriller set in modern day Canada as well as Lisbon, Portugal in the 1940’s.

In each of her books there are elements of suspense and romance, but the amount of historical research that has obviously been done gives her books a depth which is often lacking in other romantic thrillers.  Like Mary Stewart, she includes a plucky heroine, an exotic locale, and a mystery to be solved.  There are usually charming and/or quirky secondary characters and a man with whom the heroine will develop a friendship, even if he doesn’t seem her type at first glance.  While Ms. Stewart sometimes included a smattering of history and atmosphere in her novels, Ms. Kearsley takes it further and often gives a more in depth historical background to either her place and/or her heroine’s story.

I am so glad to have discovered Suzanna Kearsley’s books and I look forward to many more happy years of reading to come.

A New School Year Has Begun

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 Our new school year started last week.  We started a couple of weeks before Labor Day so that we could ease into our schedule and still have some time for sleeping in occasionally (my son) and finishing up some summer projects (me).

Last year was the first year of homeschooling just one child, and I really enjoyed it.  We read Virgil’s Aeneid and Dante’s Divine Comedy together, we listened to Rufus Fears tell wonderful stories about Famous Romans and audio books of classics and fun books, we read history books, science books, and books just for fun, we wrestled with math and delved into astronomy and biology, we sweated over Latin, and I taught my son and some of his friends about Material Logic and Composition.

It was a great year so I’ve been looking forward to this year being more of the same.  I will be teaching my son and his friends Rhetoric this year, which is still a challenge for me and for my students.  For me, because I am essentially self-taught.  That leads to a tendency to second guess myself too much and, at times, wonder if I am truly giving my students what they need to succeed in their writing.  It is a stretch, but every time I teach Rhetoric (this is my third time), I learn so much more about writing, communication, understanding my audience, figures of speech, etc. that I cannot be sorry that I am, once again, stepping outside of my comfort zone to challenge my students with Aristotle.

My son and I will be studying early modern history and literature.  This term we are reading Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, which is an old favorite, and Paradise Lost by John Milton, which I have never read before and am eagerly anticipating.  I have borrowed Leland Ryken’s guide and C.S. Lewis’s Preface to Paradise Lost in an attempt to understand this great English epic.  It only seemed appropriate to read Paradise Lost after reading Homer’s, Virgil’s, and Dante’s epics over the last two years.   For fun, we are reading The Lord of the Rings aloud, which fits right in with all of the other epics we have read and are reading.

There is something special about reading these great epics with my children.  Over the years, they have allowed our family to create a shared vocabulary and history together.  We often refer to children’s books, story books, and great books in our conversations with each other.  Homeschooling has given our family a special bonding of common experience.  As hard as it has been at times and as much time, energy, sweat, tears, and frustrations it requires, I will never be sorry for going on this journey with my children.  These last two years with my youngest will fly by so fast, and I fully intend to cherish each day before I launch my last “chick” into the world.