Tag Archives: good reads

The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau is a Top-Notch Thriller of Page Turning Suspense

Are you drawn to historical novels surrounding the steamy and intrigue-laden court of Henry VIII? You’re not alone. Many readers delight in books from this time period where drama unfolds at every dark corner and crevice!

The ChaliceSo how does an author make a book stand out from a sea of Tudor-mania? I’m sure this was a challenge for Tudor-era fanatic and author Nancy Bilyeau in endeavoring to write her novels.  In The Chalice (a known sequel to her popular The Crown, but really stands-alone quite well), she writes of the same era in history, but from the perspective of Joanna Stafford, a woman of noble birth and connections who was also pious and dedicated to the Catholic church being a former nun (novice). In her writing, Bilyeau delves into how the transition from England being ruled from Catholic perspective to Protestant, and the bloody fighting and paranoia it caused, confused the entire country, especially the nobles who were strong in faith but also wanted to regard their King (he was divine after all and God-ordained) without falter or question. How did the outskirts, beyond the castle walls, really handle the transformation? How did those of faith deal with priories and convents being dissolved?

Don’t let Joanna being a pious individual dissuade you from thinking this book is lacking pulse-pounding drama because it most certainly is full of hold-your-breath moments!  It was never a dull moment and I disliked when I needed to put it down due to other life demands! I couldn’t wait to pick it up again, just in time to reveal another plot twist or another piece to unraveling the riddle.  (review continued after synopsis)

Here’s the synopsis for The Chalice~

In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era.

In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.

Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…

(review continued)

Sounds full of intrigue and page turning drama, right??

Though the novel didn’t take place at court, it showcased how court drama and governance carries around the countryside as families jockey for favor or position and conspire at a moment’s notice to fight for their lives. Anyone that knows of Henry Tudor (Henry the VIII) knows that he was impulsive and could make rash and unjustified decisions out of his own fears.  He would judge entire families on an extended family member’s wrong-doing and, as his father before him, tended to kill off entire family branches to fortify his own royal legacy.

Even though Joanna and her extended family were in constant fear for their lives, she had a bond with Mary Tudor that would help to serve her through some sticky situations. But with that bond, as well as her own to the Catholic church, she is most easily aghast over Henry VIII’s desecration and desire to wipe out all monasteries, sacred relics, and bones of Saints.  Then, when a prophecy is foretold that involves her, she struggles to rebel against it.  Being a good Catholic, she strongly believes that prophecy and seers are wrong in the eyes of God.  She does not want to believe that she could be a part of such dealings, but struggles to know if the greater good outweighs the risk.

I loved the book’s emotional tender moments when Joanna was overcome with human emotions for others in the book, for instance, when she mulled over her feelings for various male characters, all whom in some regard seemed to be smitten by her and feel a need to protect her. Yet there were boundaries to all relationships in regards to love and Bilyeau walked a fine line of pulling the reader into the moment of impulsive exploratory action and then whisking them away from it, just enough for us to feel the character’s internal anguish. In all, she teaches us her characters fortitude and strength (and self-control), most often through protagonist Joanna. She’s an amazingly strong woman who was too modest to see her own attributes.

My favorite supporting character in the book was Henry Courtenay, Marchess of Exeter, who had less “print time” than most, but I loved his demeanor. There were times in the book I felt on pins and needles, times I was holding my breath and then exhaling in relief, and other times (especially a particular time) that I cried for the horror.

I love the prophetic mystery within the novel and the clues filled with symbolism that heightened as I turned each chapter. The novel was most certainly full of intrigue, but quite in a different format than what I’ve read from most other Tudor-era writers. It’s drama-filled, but stemming from a protagonist so laden with religious adherence that the drama seems almost stumbled upon because she wants so badly to not be a part of the drama. But her heart tells her different and she finds her destiny.  It read like a Dan Brown novel with a strong female lead and who doesn’t love a nun on a mission? Any reader will want to take on the prophecy of Joanna, whether to see if it’s a true outcome or to prove it wrong. Bilyeau always leaves that question  up to the reader, as Joanna struggles with that same dilemma herself.

Being a journalist and editor, Bilyeau’s writing style is succinct and not heavily flowered with extra, unwarranted details. Her research skills and plot points are highly polished and shine through in this work making it a thriller for any must-read list.

I highly recommend Nancy Bilyeau’s The Chalice (and her former The Crown) for its unique presentation of a widely written about Tudor time period, her strong and memorable Joanna and well-developed supporting cast, her suspenseful riddles and exciting prophetic plot, and most of all, her page-turning literary skills.

Please stop back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the fantastic author Nancy Bilyeau!

The ChaliceThe Chalice Information~

Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Touchstone Publishing/A Divison of Simon and Schuster
Hardcover; 512p
ISBN-10: 1476708657

GIVEAWAY!!!!~GIVEAWAY!!!!~GIVEAWAY!!!~

We have one (1) print copy of the The Chalice to give to a lucky reader this week! Please leave a comment, with email (for notification purposes ONLY) , here or on my Facebook post, to enter! You may also email me to hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Please enter by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 26, 2013.  Open to the United States only and no P.O. boxes.

For an extra entry, please follow my blog and let me know!

Praise for The Chalice

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Tudor Secret

“The Chalice offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t let you go even after the last exciting page.” – Karen Harper, author of Mistress of Mourning

“An exciting and satisfying novel of historical suspense that cements Nancy Bilyeau as one of the genre’s rising stars. The indominable Joanna Stafford is back with a cast of powerful and fascinating characters and a memorable story that is gripping while you are reading and haunting after you are done. Bravo! The Chalice is a fabulous read.” – M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist

Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau, author of critically acclaimed The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children. For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s webiste at www.nancybilyeau.com

 

 
For more on The Chalice, including more reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways click on link or banner! 
Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thechalicevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #TheChaliceVirtualTour
 
The Chalice Tour Banner FINAL

9 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone, a Children’s Book Review and Information on Chicago’s Minature Rooms

Marianne Malone, author of the children’s book The Sixty-Eight Rooms (new Random House from 2010), describes herself as not growing up being a reader or wanting to be a writer. In fact, from what I gather from her website (www.mariannemalone.com) she spent a good portion of her life as a middle school art teacher and she is an artist who loves to paint. However, growing up and living in Illinois, she enjoyed going to the Art Institute of Chicago and this is where she fell in love with the Thorne Rooms.  These rooms started her mind percolating over the course of many years an adventure surrounding them.

If you don’t know what the Thorne Rooms are, they are a collection of 68 minature rooms (like dollhouse rooms) given to the Institute by a Mrs. James (Narcissa) Ward Thorne in the early part of probably the 1940s.  Mrs. Thorne traveled the world and was a collector of minatures. She collected so many of the minatures that she had craftsman assist her in turning them into the various rooms from different time periods in England, America, France…and she used her minatures to create interior design themes, from the 13 th century to about the 1930s, that could be used to educate others about interior design of various eras. Of course, many children visitors over the years become entranced by the rooms and their imaginations run wild with ideas. The author Marianne Malone, of course, was one of those children. To view some photography of The Thorne Rooms, go here to the Art Institute of Chicago’s website page of the Thorne Rooms: http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/thorne.  Last Spring, the Huffington Post had an article about the minature rooms and Malone’s book. If interested, go here to view the article:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/04/07/the-art-institute-of-chic_n_528739.html

Malone’s book, The Sixty-Eight Rooms, is a children’s novel  full of imagination and magic surrounding themes of life based on two main characters, Ruthie and Jack. These best friends go on a class field trip and fall in love with the possibilities of the Thorne Rooms.  Getting a back corridor glance, and finding a gorgeous vintage key, leads them to an adventure into history as well the power that sometimes lies behind the simple act of just believing.  These sixth graders fall in love with the Rooms and Ruthie wishes so badly to have a look inside that when she holds the key, it warms in her hand and she is instantly made minature herself!  Eventually Jack is also, if he holds on to Ruthie, and they go exploring the Rooms. As they are in the rooms, they walk out the front doors and are catapulted directly into different time periods such as France right before the French Revolution and Massachusetts during the Salem Witch Trials. Actually getting to talk to other kids in that time period, and possibly change the outcome of their lives, is touched on. I really wish I could have read even more on the rooms and the time periods they enter. Eventually a piece of each of these children they meet is acutally found in the rooms and they uncover that other children, even possibly Mrs. Thorne who createdthe Rooms, have visited in the same way and they feel a bond to these others. The mystery is uncovered through the book about how the Rooms came to be magical in the first place, through an important historical figure. I won’t give the mystery away here, but I do believe I would have developed that more and let it grow to the end. The suspense would have been intriguing, though Ruthie throughout the book certainly does not have any patience. This may be a mirror of the author’s personality as a child. I’d love to ask her!

The character development of all side characters, several of the parents as well as the little old lady antique dealer who plays a very important part in the end of the book, are very well done. However, some of the other details such as fighting the mega-cockroach and some of the parts about getting from room to room and up and down into the Rooms could have been left out. As an adult, they bored me. Being a child at heart, a history buff, and sucker for imaginative and magical stories involving doors and keys, I wanted to hear more about the magic and I wanted them to explore various parts of history longer and more in depth.

I did LOVE the art element in it, beyond the Institute, as Jack’s mom is a struggling artist and the museum caretaker of the Rooms, a faded photographer. I probably love this because I love art and also am a photographer. My love for art museums and history both caught my attention to this book. I could imagine all the little art pieces decorating the minature rooms. I would love to see The Thorne Rooms one day and experience the magic myself.

I sense that this is not the end of adventures for Malone. The end of the book certainly did entertain the fact that a vintage purse she is given from the antique shop owner might be another magical object with another story. I certainly hope so. (In fact, in a recent e-mail from Malone, she does tell me that they will be another book).  I do love Malone’s passion for “old” things and what magic they might possess.  Though I do wish that the character’s adventures in The Thorne Rooms not be quite done yet. It for around age 10, fourth grade level, depending where your child’s reading level is. I know I would have loved this book when I was 10. As adults we may look too much into plot structure and want more detail, when for a child it could be more than can be handled. Therefore for me, it is hard to give an accurate review for a child. I’ll have my children read it next and see what they say.

This book had intrigued me back in 2010, as did walking through the Wardrobe in Narnia, Alice shrinking in Wonderland, and the minatures coming alive in Indian in the Cupboard when I was a child, but I didn’t realize until I read it how all these books lend to the idea I have for my own children’s book which I’ve detailed before in this blog.  The idea of a vintage key, and historical doors, leading to somewhere else is certainly a story told before and certainly a global plot. But I think it never gets old. We all wish sometimes to walk into another place and time totally different from ours. Even as an adult, I still share these childhood fantasies and imaginative thoughts. I can’t wait to see where my key and door take me in my book also.

Thanks Marianne Malone for bring The Thorne Rooms to life and for opening up my eyes to this amazing feature of the museum. I certainly will want to visit if I do ever get to Chicago!

3 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews