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Showing posts from September, 2008

Cover deja-vu #3

The first image is the cover of James Patterson's Cross; the second, the Harper Perennial version of Thomas Mann's Death in Venice. Essentially, the same picture but tinted differently. Does anybody know which building is in the background? Thanks to Andi--Tripping Towards Lucidity (Estella's Revenge)--for alerting me to this!

Another giveaway

This time, the publicist at WW Norton sent me two copies of The Glass of Time, by Michael Cox--so I'm giving away the second copy. Cox is the author of The Meaning of Night, and this book is the follow-up to that. Leave a comment here to enter to win it! The deadline is next Sunday, 10/5/08.

Weekly Geeks 19: The Best of 2008

Here are the rules:

1. Compile your list of favorites. Please be sure that books you choose actually were published in 2008, or at the very earliest in the winter holiday season of 2007. Sometimes books that come out then are left out.
2. Come back and sign Mr Linky with the url to your top books of 2008 post.
3. If you happen to see any non-WG bloggers making similar lists, please grab the url and come put it in Mr Linky for them. Let them know you’re doing that, please, in case they have some sort of objection; if they do, they can ask me to remove their link. I’ve already seen a couple favorites of 2008 posts, which is another reason I wanted to get started early.
4. Feel free to make changes to your list if you read something new in the next few weeks. After about October 25, I can’t guarantee your changes will be reflected in the master list. We’ll probably start compiling lists around then.
5. Please consider whether you’d like to help me compile lists.

So here's my list (in rever…

Friday Finds... and a birthday

I've been trying to limit my TBR pile, so my list this week is going to be short.

The Rose of Sebastopol, by Katharine McMahon. Set during the Crimean War.

The Dracula Dossier, by James Reese. ARC. Historical mystery about Bram Stoker, Jack the Ripper, and other late-19th century people.

The Blackstone Key, by Rose Melikan. Historical fiction/ mystery, set in late-18th century England. Not an ARC, but I've been sent a copy for review.

Bones of the Dead, by Ellie Newmark. Mystery set in 15th century Venice.

Completely tangental to Friday Finds is... today's my birthday!

People Reading

I'm back again with another plug for a website/ blog that's caught my attention lately. It's a blog called People Reading, and essentially this woman goes around San Francisco taking pictures of people reading. She also talks to them a bit about their reading habits. Then, she asks her readers questions about their own habits. I've considered starting a sister blog for New York, but I'm not quite outgoing enough to do so.

Booking Through Thursday

What was the most unusual (for you) book you ever read? Either because the book itself was completely from out in left field somewhere, or was a genre you never read, or was the only book available on a long flight… whatever? What (not counting school textbooks, though literature read for classes counts) was furthest outside your usual comfort zone/familiar territory?
And, did you like it? Did it stretch your boundaries? Did you shut it with a shudder the instant you were done? Did it make you think? Have nightmares? Kick off a new obsession?

I'd have to say that one of the most unusual books I ever read, and not in a good way, was Lucky Billy, by John Vernon. It features the life (and death) of the famous outlaw. I do read historical fiction, but not books set in the American west, so I thought this would be a new and welcome change.

Wrong.

Vernon's fictional treatment of the story was so disjointed and confusing that I stopped reading about 100 pages in. He kept switching back a…

Review: Girl in a Blue Dress, by Gaynor Arnold; and a giveaway

The thinly-disguised story of Catherine Dickens, wife of the famous author, is at the heart of this unpretentious, unassuming novel.

The celebrated author Alfred Gibson has died, leaving England in mourning. His estranged wife, Dorothy (or “Dodo”) sits at home as the funeral and reading of the will take place. As she sits, she looks back on her twenty-year-plus marriage to “the One and Only,” and “The Great Original.” An invitation to visit Queen Victoria, as well to her sister Sissy and the actress Wilhelmina Rickets, leads to another series of reflections on her marriage.

It’s a quiet novel, simple yet complicated in many ways. There’s not much action, certainly not in the present day, but there’s a certain gentleness of language that makes this book compellingly readable. Dodo, despite her shy, retiring ways, is a likeable heroine, strong in the ways a “typical” Victorian woman wasn’t supposed to be. In addition, I enjoyed the way the characters interacted with one another: Dodo’s da…

Review: The Interpretation of Murder, by Jed Rubenfeld

In 1909, Sigmund Freud paid his one and only visit to the US, when he went to accept an honorary award from Clark University. On his way to Massachusetts, he stopped briefly in New York. But not much is known about the visit, or why Freud vowed never to return. In this novel, Jed Rubenfeld tries to fill in the gaps.

Accompanying Freud is Dr. Karl Jung; waiting at the pier in New York to greet them is Dr. Strathan Younger, a young doctor loosely connected with the wealthy elite of New York City.

On the day after Freud’s arrival, a young woman is found murdered in a penthouse uptown. Later, another young woman, Nora Acton, is attacked, but she can remember nothing of the attack or her attacker. Freud uses his psychoanalytic powers to help solve the crime, with Dr. Younger at his side. Similar in scope to Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, The Interpretation of Murder focuses on the upper stratum of New York society, whereas The Alienist focuses on the poor and the seediest underbelly of New York …

Cover deja-vu #2

The first cover is that of Push Not the River, by James Conroyd Martin. The second is the Bantam Classics cover of Wuthering Heights. Both are repreductions of Lady Hamilton As Circe, c. 1792, by George Romney.

Friday Finds

The Spiritualist, by Mean Chance. Impulse buy one day during lunch when I wa looking for Elizabeth Chadwick; this book is (yet again) historical fiction, set in New York in the 1850s and features murder and the occult.

Master Georgie, by Beryl Bainbridge. Historical fiction.

The Dress Lodger, by Sheri Holman. Set in 1830s England during a cholera epidemic.

The novels of Elizabeth Chadwick--she's written a trilogy about William Marshal, and I recently bought the first book, because someone told me that if I like the novels of Sharon Kay Penman, then I absolutely must read EC.

Not really a find this week, but I've really excited about the Monday release of The Other Queen, Philippa Gregory's newest novel.

...and I've still got an ARC of Devil's Brood to get through.

Review: The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell

I’ve sort of been on a Victorian historical fiction jag lately. First Kept, then The Sealed Letter… and now The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell.

Set in London in 1893, the story centers around the Bentleys and their servants. Robert Bentley is involved in the study of anthropometry, the study of identifying criminals by their measurements. His wife, Mina, struggles to escape from her past. They are joined by the supposed widow of Robert’s brother, Henry, drowned at sea. In addition, there are the servants: Cartwright, the butler; Mrs. Johnson, the cook; Elsie, the scullery maid; Sarah, the shifty first housemaid; and Jane, the second housemaid. The novel opens when Jane arrives in London, trying to escape the secrets that she, too, harbors. A few days after her arrival, a burglar breaks into the Bentley home and rifles around in the study, triggering a series of events that are shrouded in mystery.

I have mixed feelings about this book. Although the premise is intriguing, I thought th…

Booking Through Thursday

Well, its been a long time since I last participated, but here goes:

Autumn is starting (here in the US, anyway), and kids are heading back to school–does the changing season change your reading habits? Less time? More? Are you just in the mood for different kinds of books than you were over the summer?

I'm definitely a seasonal reader. There are certain kinds of books that I can only tackle when its cold out, and others, like chick lit, that are better suited for the summer. Right now, I've got a lot of historical fiction on my plate: Sharon Kay Penman's new book, plus some historical Victorian England and medieval England. Fanny Burney's Evelina and Rebecca' West's The Birds Fall Down have been on my TBR bookshelf for months and months, so I need to get to them at some point, too.

As for the change in reading habits: well, things are going to change a little bit around here. Beginning this weekend, I'm going to be working as a docent at the New-York Historic…

A website that fans of historical fiction might be interested in

The site is called Historical Novels.info, and it has information on pretty much every single historical novel that's ever been written, from pre-historic times to the 20th century. There's also information on each writer, and a number of reviews. It's been an invaluable resource to me when selecting new books to read (as if I'm ever actively looking!).

Careful: your TBR pile might increase as a result of viewing the website. :).

Cover deja-vu

The picture on the left is the cover of the Penguin Classics version of Roxana: Or, the Fortunate Mistress, by Daniel Defoe. The second cover is that of Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor (one of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction). Essentially the same portrait, but a close-up. Stock images, much?

Review: American Eve, by Paula Uruburu

On June 25, 1906, wealthy millionaire Harry K. Thaw killed his wife’s Evelyn Nesbit’s, former lover, the famous architect Stanford White, at Madison Square Garden. Evelyn, age 20, had spent the past five or six years of her life in the public eye as a model in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and New York, but nothing could have prepared her for the publicity that occurred in the aftermath of the killing.

American Eve is primarily about Evelyn’s life, and not quite so much about the murder and subsequent trial. Evelyn was born outside of Pittsburgh in 1885. After her father’s death, her mother tried to make ends meet by hiring Evelyn out as an artists’ model (as long as the artists were female or elderly men). Because of her timeless beauty, Evelyn soon found herself modeling in Philadelphia and New York, where she met much-older Stanford White, who set himself up as her father-figure and protector. Soon, however, he became much more.

Evelyn met her future husband Harry K. Thaw “of Pittsburgh”…

Review: Murder on the Eiffel Tower, by Claude Izner

Its 1889, and people from all over the world have come to Paris for the Exposition commemorating the centenary of the fall of the Bastille. One day, on top of the newly constructed Eiffel Tower, a woman dies, apparently of a bee sting. Later, an American naturalist dies, apparently of the same cause. There’s no evidence to prove that these deaths are murder, but Victor Legris, a bookseller, sets out to solve the crime.

“Claude Izner” is the pen name of two sisters who are booksellers in Paris, so the atmosphere they evoke in this mystery is pretty authentic and detailed. I have a weakness for historical mysteries, so this book was right up my alley in that respect.

However, I couldn’t get past the characters themselves. They all seem so stereotypical: the loser-ish detective, the mysterious coworker, the red-haired femme fatale. There’s not much here that’s original. Victor was also really dense at times when it came to obvious clues. In order for me to want to continue reading a series…

Friday Finds

Many of these are from Library Thing's Early Reviewer Program that sounded interesting.

The Treasure of Montsegur: A Novel of the Cathars, by Sophy Burnham. Historical fiction featuring the Cathar heretics of the 13th century.

Casanova: Actor, Lover, Priest, Spy, by Ian Kelly. Biography of the famous libertine.

The King and Mrs. Simpson, by Erin Matthew Schulz. Royal scandal? Yes please!

Those Who Dream By Day, by Linda and Gary Cargill. Historical fiction set during WWI. If I don't get this through LTER, I'll probably request an ARC through the publisher.

The Victoria Vanishes, by Christopher Fowler. Mystery. Ditto.

The World Before Her, by Deborah Weisgall. Historical fiction about George Eliot.

Review: The Sealed Letter, by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter is another one of those books I just couldn't put down--and then felt bereft when I finally finished it. Set in London in 1864, the novel is loosely based on a scandalous divorce case, and features facts stranger than fiction: a stained dress (sound familiar?), fabricated evidence, and scandal more scandalous than the sensationalist novels of the period. It's a novel in which supposed friends turn against one another, in which servants even turn against those they serve.

Helen Codrington is a wife and mother, born and bred abroad, who craves some excitement in her life. Never thinking of what might happen, she embarks on an affair with Captain David Anderson. Late in the summer of 1864, Helen runs into her old friend Emily "Fido" Faithfull, a crusader for women's rights, who's surprisingly... conventional, all things considered. When Harry Codrington finds out about Helen's affair, however, the lives of these three characters change drast…

Review: The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill

The back cover of this short novel says: “What real reader does not yearn, somewhere in the recess of his or her heart, for a really literate, first-class thriller—one that chills the body, but warms the soul with plot, perception, and language at once astute and vivid? In other words, a ghost story written by Jane Austen?” How can you resist a hook like that?

I first read The Woman in Black in 2002 after seeing the play of the same name in London’s West End. The story features a young solicitor named Arthur Kipps who’s dispatched to the north of England to settle the affairs of the recently-deceased Mrs. Drablow, an elderly woman who lived at the remote Eel Marsh House.

The Woman in Black is a ghost story with all the requisite elements: a strange woman dressed in black, a locked room with a rocking chair that won’t stop moving; and the eerie sound of a pony and trap in the fog. It’s one of the creepiest books I’ve read in a long time—Company of Liars may be the exception. There’s no b…

The three-book meme

Stolen from Matt:

3 Must Read Books
1. The Go-Between
2. The Sunne in Splendour
3. The Pursuit of Love/ Love in a Cold Climate

3 Keep Your Eyes on These
1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
2. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher
3.The Meaning of Night

3 Look For These Soon
1. Company of Liars (to be published on 9/30)
2. The Sealed Letter (to be published on 9/22)
3. The Forgotten Garden (coming out next spring)
3 Tags to keep this meme goingConsider yourself tagged!

Review: East of the Sun, by Julia Gregson

I have to admit, I picked up East of the Sun from Amazon UK on a sort of blind buy. It was recommended to me because I purchased The Forgotten Garden. Well, one thing turned into another late one night... and all of a sudden I found myself clicking “proceed to checkout.” You know how it is.

I actually rather glad I made this impulse purchase. Set in 1928 and 1929, East of the Sun is the story of three women who go to India: Rose, a young woman going to get married; her best friend Tor, going to be her bridesmaid and hopeful that she’ll find a husband herself; and Viva, a young woman accompanying them on their voyage in order to reclaim a trunk that once belonged to her parents. Also in her care is Guy Glover, an unstable sixteen-year-old, who’s just been kicked out of boarding school and who quickly becomes a risk to Viva and her charges.

Once the women get to India, nothing is what they expected it to be. Rose’s marriage is hardly a bed of roses; and, although the number of English men…

Review: Company of Liars, by Karen Maitland

Company of Liars is set during the Black Death of 1348. The book follows the journey of nine travelers who escape from the plague: our narrator, a Camelot who sells relics; a magician; two minstrels; a young married couple; a storyteller with a swan’s wing; and a child rune-teller and her nurse. The bubonic plague takes backseat as these nine individuals fight for their lives against something unseen in this spectacular book.

The book is advertised as a retelling of The Canterbury Tales, which I think is an unfair comparison. Aside from superficial similarities, I didn't really see parallels between the two books--in fact, I thought this novel was more like Boccaccio's Decameron. Taking those two works out of consideration, however, Company of Liars is an excellent novel all by itself.

The novel, while disturbing in some ways, is a brilliant evocation of the mid-14th century, an era in which fear, insecurity, and doubt were prominent. Maitland is brilliant at making her characte…

Friday Finds

The King's Favorite: A Novel of Nell Gwynn and Charles II, by Susan Holloway Scott. Historical fiction about the just-named historical figures; and since I love anything that has to do with Charles II (see my review of Forever Amber), I thought this would be right up my alley.

Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Hissy Fits, by Celia Rivenbark. Humor essays; reviewed here yesterday.

The Dark Lantern, by Gerri Brightwell. Historical fiction set in Victorian England, told through the eyes of a servant whose mother was a murderer.

The Book of Unholy Mischief, by Elle Newmark. I added this to my TBR pile on LibraryThing at the beginning of the week, but when I sat down to write this post I couldn't, for the life of me, remember what it was about. And there's no description of the book on Amazon, because it won't be out until December. Maybe I requested an ARC of this book? I must have Altzeimers. At age 25.

Cover the Mirrors, by Faye Booth. More Victorian England, abou…

Review: Belle Weather: Mostly Sunny With a Chance of Scattered Hissy Fits, by Celia Rivenbark

The sum of my experience with Southerners is four years on college campus in Virginia, but I could definitely relate to the humorous essays in Celia Rivenbark’s latest collection. Covering everything from home repair to pop culture, Rivenbark is strongest when she’s talking about the habits of Southerners (she’s from North Carolina), but each of the short essays is equally filled with insight. I absolutely couldn’t stop laughing with this book, and I finished it within a few hours yesterday afternoon. In a lot of ways, Rivenbark reminds me a lot of Laurie Notaro or Jen Lancaster, but less self-absorbed.

My only problem with this book is the editing—the punctuation is off, and there are even whole words missing that made me have to go back and re-read various sentences. But don’t let this one minor flaw deter you from reading this perfectly enjoyable brain fluff.

Review: The Whiskey Rebels, by David Liss

David Liss is the author of the Conspiracy of Paper novels featuring Benjamin Weaver, and I was looking forward to reading his latest novel, The Whiskey Rebels. I was a little disappointed.

Set in New York, Philadelphia and western Pennsylvania just after the American Revolution, the story is narrated by Ethan Saunders, a likeable loser once accused of treason, and Joan Maycott, a wife on the Western frontier, whose husband is a whiskey distiller. The novel opens when the husband of an old flame of Ethan’s disappears. Ethan soon finds himself involved in much more than the case of a missing man: a plot to take down Alexander Hamilton’s Bank of the United States.

While the premise is intriguing, and the first fifty pages had me hooked, it was hard for me to keep my attention on the plot of this novel for very long, and I think that this convoluted story could have been delivered in fewer pages. Joan’s narrative was unconvincing because her voice wasn’t really that of a woman. Ethan’s sto…

Review: Kept, by DJ Taylor

Kept is a Victorian murder mystery. Set in the 1860s, the book opens when an East Anglia squire falls from his horse and dies. His wife later goes mad and goes to live at Easton Hall, the home of Jonas Dixey, an eccentric, amateur taxidermist. Seemingly unconnected is a train robbery orchestrated by a couple of crooked lawyers and their henchmen.

Channeling Dickens, Thackeray, Tennyson, and the sensationalist novelists of the 1860s, Taylor gives us a wonderfully descriptive picture of Victorian England. It’s clear that the author has done his research. While it takes a little while for the book to get to the point, the mystery is a little anticlimactic, and the book doesn’t really seem to have a proper ending, the characters in the novel are intriguing, lively, and unique. By far my favorite character was Esther, the lively kitchenmaid at Easton Hall. You never know where the story is going to take you next, and that’s what I liked about Kept. It’s similar to The Meaning of Night in th…