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A Burnable Book (John Gower #1)

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3.52  ·  Rating Details ·  3,213 Ratings  ·  613 Reviews
In Chaucer’s London, betrayal, murder and intrigue swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England’s kings. A Burnable Book is an irresistible thriller, reminiscent of classics like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose and The Crimson Petal and the White.

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers—including his powerful
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Hardcover, 464 pages
Published February 18th 2014 by William Morrow
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A Holm I just finished the book. At the end he explains how much of the book is from historic sources which makes all the more interesting. The story is…moreI just finished the book. At the end he explains how much of the book is from historic sources which makes all the more interesting. The story is entertaining and I want to read some Chaucer now.(less)

Community Reviews

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Jeffrey Keeten
Mar 10, 2014 Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it
“There is no deception on the part of the woman, where a man bewilders himself: if he deludes his own wits, I can certainly acquit the women. Whatever man allows his mind to dwell upon the imprint his imagination has foolishly taken of women, is fanning the flames within himself -- and, since the woman knows nothing about it, she is not to blame. For if a man incites himself to drown, and will not restrain himself, it is not the water's fault.”
― John Gower, Confessio Amantis


 photo JohnGower_zpsd2f661d4.jpg
John “Dour” Gower.
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Terri
Mar 13, 2014 Terri rated it really liked it
Don't burn it! It is pretty decent.
Once I got over my giggle fest at any mention of the road in London called Gropecunt Lane (immature I know, but I can't be a grown up about everything all of the time) I went on to delight in this charming and well written read. I can hardly even believe that it is a debut for that scholastic fellow, Bruce Holsinger, but it is. So believe it I must.

The absolute strength of this book is its characters. Sure, the writing is adept majority of the time and the mann
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Ron Charles
Jan 30, 2014 Ron Charles rated it liked it
Forget Tom Cruise scaling the Burj Khalifa tower; the hot new super-agent is 14th-century writer Geoffrey Chaucer. Thrill to his daring Middle English rimes! Gasp at his mighty scansion! Here in the pages of Bruce Holsinger’s medieval adventure, that randy old poet finally gets the “Mission Impossible” cameo he deserves.

“The Burnable Book” joins a heavy shelf of novels about intrepid literary folk. The popularity of this subgenre — “An Instance of the Fingerpost,” “The Shadow of the Wind,” “Ex L
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Dawn
Over the last few years I've really jumped into the historical fiction genre and have managed to read a whole lot them. From classics to living masters to those with mass appeal and those without and quite a few first attempts at fiction. The last applying to this book. And if I hadn't already known that fact, I would never have found out from the quality of the writing or the story. This is a well written book by a man who really loves his subject.
I absolutely appreciate that there are no info
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Sharon
Oct 15, 2013 Sharon rated it it was amazing
Two pieces of disclosure to get out at the very beginning: Prof. Holsinger was my instructor for an excellent class entitled "Plagues, Witches and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction." I also received an advance reader's copy of the book through his publisher.

So, with all of that said: wow, what a ride!

The story starts with the murder of a young woman and the theft of a ancient book that contains accurate prophecies of the deaths of England's kings -- and one about the current monarch, Richard
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Linda Robinson
Feb 27, 2014 Linda Robinson rated it it was amazing
The front of this amazing book has a list of characters, a map of London and surrounds, and begob!, a lineage flowchart. I was dismayed that I wouldn't be able to keep up with who's who and where's what. Before I was a third of the way into the book, I was flipping back to the first pages, eager to follow the trail Holsinger was blazing. I've claimed often not to like historical fiction, although Colleen McCullough's Rome series remains a favorite. A Burnable Book is the same sort of delightful ...more
Jana
Jan 31, 2014 Jana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audible, book-club
Simon Vance, will you read me a story?

UPDATE: And what a story!
This worked for me on so many levels: I remember first reading Chaucer in high school and being so surprised at how bawdy and interesting he was. Much like the surprise of finding out that Shakespeare is this way as well. To spend time immersed in Chaucer's medieval England is about as fun as it gets. In real life last October, and in a book last week. I'm sure I missed many of the references, but I knew that I was in very good hand
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Margaret
I did not warm to the main character of John Gower at all. This could have been extremely detrimental to the book.

However, the book was redeemed from the depths of medieval mediocrity by the transvestite and the whores. Wonderful, well rounded, extremely human characters who made the book a delight to read.

The Prioress was also an excellent character whom I would like to have seen more of.

The plot was a trifle dull and was the much over used device of a missing book that could be greatly damagin
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Aly Abell
Apr 16, 2014 Aly Abell rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 1_reviewed
I just got back from a trip to the fourteenth century, courtesy of A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger. Set primarily in London at the time of Chaucer (before he wrote Canterbury Tales), the book is a historical thriller that will keep you turning the pages.

The main plot centers around a search for the “burnable book” of the title. Said to be written during the reign of William the Conqueror, the seditious book foretells the death of the English monarchs. Only the thirteenth prophecy has not yet
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Samantha
This is a finely written novel that will pull you in and keep you guessing until the very end. I listened to this on audiobook, so there were a few times that I thought I must be getting close to the end only to be surprised by another plot twist. I am not a great reader of mysteries, so I will not say more than that I was shocked several times.

The cast of characters in this book is large with intricately woven backgrounds. Each time a little connection was made, I was impressed by the author's
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Alicja
rating: 4/5

What a fun and thrilling mystery! When I think I know what's going on, the plot twists and conspiracies and motivations were all turned upside down. Over and over again. I still have a few questions which I hope the next one (yup, there is a sequel in the making) will tackle.

Its as exciting as 14th century can get outside a battlefield. We have Chaucer (yup, that writer we all studied in high school) mixed up in something, the murder of a French girl, curious maudlyns (prostitutes), l
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Jane
May 03, 2014 Jane rated it it was ok
Actually 2.5. This started out as a 3 or 3.5, but as it progressed I became impatient with it. The premise of a treasonous [or 'burnable'] book, analogous to the prophecies of a Nostradamus, was interesting; gnomic verses are open to multiple interpretations. Each of thirteen prophecies tells of the death of one of England's kings, from William the Conqueror until the present Richard II. Richard II's regicide is predicted in the thirteenth prophecy. The others have already occurred.

The novel is
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Kimber
May 30, 2014 Kimber rated it really liked it
Recommended to Kimber by: A&M Historical Fiction Group
This is one of those books. The ones that when you flip the last page and contemplate what you just read make you wonder, "How in the name of all that is creative did he come up with that?"
I wasn't sure of my feelings during the first few chapters of A Burnable Book. I was confused. There were so many characters and places and I was still trying to get my mind wrapped around Medieval vernacular and practices. However, I soon found myself unable to put the book down.
I was fascinated by the chan
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Elizabeth A
Feb 01, 2016 Elizabeth A rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, 2016
I'd been saving this one, sure that I would love it. And you know what? If it were not for the fact that I listened to the audiobook, superbly narrated by Simon Vance, this would have ended up in my DNF pile.

This is a historical mystery of sorts, set in London, circa 1385. I really liked the gritty atmosphere the author captures, but I was bored with the overall story. I'm not sure I've read Chaucer, or if I did in school, it's lost to the mists of time. Maybe if I was a Chaucer aficionado this
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Amber
Mar 31, 2014 Amber rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
I picked this book up because I loved the story of Chaucer when I learned about him in my English class. I was intrigued by this new spin on his story and was sadly let down. I did not finish this book. I'm usually the kind of reader that sticks with a book until the bitter end, but in reading this book I felt like the little dog chasing it's tail. The author kept adding characters and vaguely tying them into the plot; going back and forth between characters to describe one event from all of the ...more
Lawrence
Sep 22, 2013 Lawrence rated it it was amazing
Two sliding-doors moments in my life colour my response to this wonderful book. First, it's 2007, and having spent the past few years writing a scholarly book on the great fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, I decided I needed to plot my escape from its wiles. I had found a small text whose appearances I was trying to trace, and typed 'commonplace book' into the library search catalogue. The top hit was the Winchester Anthology, a compilation of poems, sermons, and music produced in the 15th- ...more
Nita Kohli
Mar 03, 2016 Nita Kohli rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What a journey to the fourteenth century England! This book took me to an era and showed me two sides of a city - one that is bright with its Kings, poets, chancellors and the other is dark with its maudylns and butchers filled with filth and dirt. But, even where all looks bright, the city is full with people with deception as their second nature. Every one has a secret and all of them hold their secrets hidden close to their heart.
From the very first page of the book till its end - the book do
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Ellen Gail
Jan 06, 2014 Ellen Gail rated it really liked it
4.5 history-mystery-britishy stars!

A cloth, a book, a snatch of verse. Which is worth dying for?

Bruce Holsinger's debut novel is a total winner! Set in 1385 England, the plot centers about a treasonous book of poems that prophesies the deaths of English kings, including one that hasn't happened yet. Using a mix of real historical figures and a dose of imagination, the plot is fantastic. It's mysterious without being unnecessarily withholding. It effectively builds suspense and the twists and rev
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Cphe
The power of the written word, to bring down a King, to solve a mystery.

This story contains a wealth of historical information and detail of London during the time of Richard 11. It also contains a very fine mystery and plenty of political intrigue, it's also a little bit bawdy.

When rumours of a treasonous book begin circulating in 1385 London, and an unknown woman is murdered while being in possession of the book, Geoffrey Chaucer calls in a favour of John Gower. Gower is a man who trades in in
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Faith Justice
Feb 15, 2014 Faith Justice rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc-early-reader
This one takes a while to get into, but is worth the effort. Setting his story in 1385 during the reign of Richard II of England (son of "The Black Prince" Edward), Holsinger provides us with a huge cast of characters (44 are listed in the front matter) spanning all classes from royals and aristocrats to poets and bureaucrats to prostitutes and apprentices. In this sprawling mystery, a dangerous book prophesying the death of the king is circulating in London. People high and low are looking for ...more
Gretchen
I really wish Goodreads would invest in a half star system. I think this book was better than three stars but not quite four stars. I found certain parts to be brilliant (view spoiler) ...more
Lisa
Feb 05, 2014 Lisa rated it liked it
I'm a big fan of historical fiction but this debut novel did not wow me. The storyline and plot were interesting enough but I found the alternating POVs less than compelling and there were a lot of characters randomly explaining what they've done (think "I'm the dastardly villain who must now narrate my diabolical plot in order to give the hero time to save the day" kind of stuff) that irked me. Average, at best.
John
May 07, 2014 John rated it really liked it
“Yet there may come a time when your knowledge will betray you. A time when you will find even the brightest certainties – of friendship, of family, even of faith – dimming into shadows of bewilderment.”

In A Burnable Book, unknown-before-to-me author Bruce Holsinger catapulted himself into a very limited pantheon of historical fiction authors to whom I think deserve a 5-star review. Any reader who enjoys Robyn Young (Insurrection), Richard Blake (Conspiracies of Rome), Iain Pears (An Instance o
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Patricia Bracewell
I feel lukewarm about this book, perhaps because I read it on a kindle and didn't flip backwards for some desperately needed clarifications as I would have with an actual book (I am still not Kindle-savvy)so I was never really comfortable inside the non-pages of the book.

That observation out of the way, let me consider what I liked about this mystery involving the poets John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer. The 14th century setting, for one thing. Holsinger did a terrific job there, with a wealth of
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Michele
Feb 26, 2014 Michele rated it it was amazing
A literary thriller that forces the reader to pay close attention and hang on for the ride, A Burnable Book takes us to Chaucer's London - 1385 - where a heretical book has gone missing and everyone from the highest nobility to the lowest prostitute wants to find it, albeit for different reasons. Narrated by John Gower, a close friend of Chaucer and notable English poet himself, the importance of the missing book is gradually revealed throughout the novel. From the treason-tainted halls of John ...more
Sanne
This book is highly enjoyable, the writer clearly has talent. I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next. However, the book feels like a debut novel. I had some difficulty with the writing in the beginning of the book. It didn't flow very well and was a bit of an obstacle for me getting into the story. As the story progresses, the writing improves, and by the end, during the climax, the writing was great. It flowed and had just the right pace.

The greatest asset of the story are the cha
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Susan
Nov 18, 2013 Susan rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
I will be the first to admit, this is not my time period. I tend to skip the Middle Ages time period. No knights, no ladies, no trusty steeds.As a point of full disclosure, I became acquanited with this book and Bruce Holsinger, when I took his most excellent Coursera.org course: Plagues, Witches and Wars-- Historical Fiction thru the Ages. (Maybe you can find the videos on AppleU. All I can say is A Burnable Book was an amazing read! Totally worth the time. Intriguing to the end and a challengi ...more
Vanessa
Dec 10, 2013 Vanessa rated it it was amazing
4.5 (rounding up)

Absolutely loved the twists and turns of this delicious medieval thriller set in Chaucer's England. I was so impressed with the way Holsinger delicately crafted this plot. There were many moments where I stepped back from the book and just thought "wow!" That's how impressive the plot weaving was. A good comparison is a stealthily played game of chess where every move is calculated and deliberate, but you, as the opponent (and as the reader) don't see Holsinger's genius until he
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Kirsten *Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again!"
Political intrigue! Machinations! Powers struggling for the British Crown! All set in the reign of Richard II. I read this book as part of the Goodreads Choice Awards challenge. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it was a mystery/thriller set in one of my favorite periods.

A few years back, I had read a wonderful historical novel about Katherine Swynford: Katherine by Anya Seton and this book had Katherine in it as well as other players: Geoffrey Chaucer, de Vere, Duke of Lancaster, Oxf
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Priscilla Dicarlo
Mar 28, 2014 Priscilla Dicarlo rated it really liked it
Recommended to Priscilla by: Jana
I read A Burnable Book because Bruce Holsinger was coming to Booktopia VT. The book started with a murder and grabbed me immediately. My only difficulty was trying to keep track of all the different characters. If I hadn't been speed reading it on the plane to Vermont I probably would have made a cheat sheet to help my rather confused brain keep track of all the characters. But, I still enjoyed and liked the book.
It didn't hurt my review/opinion that I met Bruce Holsinger in Vermont. Great guy t
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Bruce Holsinger is a fiction writer and scholar of medieval literature who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. His debut novel, A BURNABLE BOOK, is set in the alleys and halls of medieval London, where the poets Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower spent much of their lives.

He is also the author or editor of six nonfiction books on medieval literature
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More about Bruce Holsinger...

Other Books in the Series

John Gower (2 books)
  • The Invention of Fire (John Gower, #2)

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“You must convince your readers that your characters are flesh and blood rather than words on dead skin, that their loves and hatreds and passions are as deep and present as the readers' own. Your task is to delight, to pleasure, to lift your reader to another sphere of being and then strand him there, floating above the earth and panting for more lines.” 3 likes
“Go, little book, to our unfathomed friend, Above his silvered head to build a shrine, Retreat of Wisdom, Ignorance to mend. Full oft there shall you comfort and entwine His long limbs in bookish fetters benign. Thou shalt preserve those aquamarine gems, Or Gower’s friend shall cast you in the Thames.” 0 likes
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