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Review: The Innocent, by Posie Graeme-Evans

Digging out a review I posted on Amazon.com in early 2005...

A bodice-ripper with a young, innocent girl as its heroine, The Innocent follows the story of Anne, a peasant girl. The prologue of the book narrates the bizarre circumstances of her birth; the reader isn't told who wants her young mother killed, or why straight off. Anne lives in the forest with her foster mother Deborah, learning the art of herbal medicine. There's a bit of religion involved- not only traditional Christianity, but pagan rituals as well.

At the age of 15 she goes to the manor house of Sir Matthew Cuttifer to become a body servant to his wife. A series of unfortunate circumstances leads to the death of a servant girl who works with Anne. Hearing of the wonders she performs, the Queen has Anne come to court, where she catches the eye of King Edward IV. The book is all about lust, and how Anne tries to suppress her lust for the king. And, like a harlequin romance novel, the female characters in this book…

Review: Doctor Olaf Van Schuler's Brain, by Kirsten Menger-Anderson

In the editorial reviews of this book at Amazon.com, the Washington Post says, "this little book isn't for everyone." I believe that maybe I'm one of those people this book wasn't meant for. But because I enjoy New York City history, I thought I'd give it a try.

I enjoyed the idea for the book: Doctor Olaf Van Schuler arrives in New Amsterdam in the late 17th century, hounded from the old country after his less-than-salubrious activities become public knowledge. The rest of the book follows the Van Schuler/Steenwyck family through the generations in New York City, some of them doctors (and of these, many are quacks with some crazy ideas). Everything from hypnotism to lobotomy is practiced by the doctors in this short story collection, and I enjoyed watching the family's adventures as the generations progressed.

However, I thought that it was really hard for me to get involved with any of the characters, especially since this book is essentially a series of …

Post-Thanksgiving Friday Finds

The Observations, by Jane Harris. Another one of thos "Vic Lit" novels I've been reading recently, about a girl who goes to be a maid at a wealthy house in Scotland and uncovers secrets about the girl who held the post before her.

A Matter of Justice, by Charles Todd. Historical mystery set in 1920s England. ARC that's coming in the mail to me from somewhere.

Mistress Shakespeare, by Karen Harper. Historical fiction about the woman who was supposed to wed Shakespeare, before Anne Hathaway. To be published in February.

Review: An Inconvenient Wife, by Megan Chance

Lucy Carelton belongs to one of the oldest and most prominent families in 1880s New York City, and her husband is a stockbroker, of “new” money, who clearly married her for the connections she brings him. Lucy’s a fairly typical example of a woman of her upbringing, except for the fact that she suffers from her nerves, and no doctor so far has been able to help her. Enter Dr. Victor Seth, who practices the up-and-coming trend of hypnosis to treat patients. The result is an exploration of the subconscious and Lucy’s sexual awakening that is quite startling in the questions it raises.

A short while ago I read and reviewed another one of Megan Chance’s novels, The Spiritualist. There are some superficial similarities between the two books, but I enjoyed An Inconvenient Wife more. There’s a lot more depth to Lucy’s character, and Chance is adept at getting into her mindset, which I think might be hard for any author to do. Yes, there is a feminist overtone to this novel, but the author doe…

2nds Challenge 2009

Another challenge to join! It's being hosted by J. Kaye's Book Blog, and the rules are:
1. Anyone can join. You don't need to have a blog to participate.
2. Read 12 books by authors that you have only read once. It doesn't have to be a series.
3. You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009. Don't start reading until January.
4. You may list your chosen books any time during the year. Change the list if needed.
Here's my list:
1. The Heretic Queen, by Michelle Moran 2. The Principessa, by Christie Dickason 3. The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton 4. The Scarlet Lion, by Elizabeth Chadwick 5. The Devil's Queen, by Jeanne Kalogridis 6. The Owl Killers, by Karen Maitland 7. Stone's Fall, by Iain Pears 8. A Dangerous Affair, by Caro Peacock 9. The Book of Love, by Sarah Bower 10. The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James 11. The Lady Chapel, by Candace Robb 12. The Angels Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon 13. Madonna of the Almonds, by Marina Fiorato 14…

Review: The Eight, by Katherine Neville

The Eight started out promisingly enough: it's been compared to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, but in actuality The Eight comes nowhere near that fabulous book. As I read, I hoped that Katherine Neville was writing a parody of an action-thriller, but I guess not.

Where to begin? Overly contrived plot with more holes than Swiss cheese; really, really bad writing style with an over-use of adjectives and past participles; too much historical inaccuracy; too much historical name-dropping, so much so that this novel read like an issue of US magazine (Catherine the Great, Napoleon, Robespierre, Voltaire, and many, many other historical figures are thrown in, sometimes gratuitously); too much foreshadowing, is in, “little did I know…”. The characters were extremely one-dimensional, and I absolutely loathed the heroine, Cat Velis. The book started off well enough, but I found myself rolling my eyes the further I read. I’m all for reading historical thrillers, if the plot is enough to …

Cover Deja-Vu #5

Here's another example of recycled cover art: the first image is an old cover of Posie Graeme-Evans's The Innocent, and the second is of Karen Harper's upcoming (in February) Mistress Shakespeare.

Friday Finds

A pile of books have been added to my TBR pile, which as of late is turning into TBR Mountain:

Doctor Olaf Van Schuler’s Brain, by Kirsten Menger-Anderson. Historical fiction; short stories set in early New Amsterdam (New York). Although this has been published a while ago, I received a review copy of it on Monday.

A Question of Guilt: A Novel of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Death of Henry Darnley, by Julianne Lee. *Another* Mary, Queen of Scots novel, but as this one focuses on a more interesting period of Mary’s life than The Other Queen did, I’m optimistic that this will be better.

The Firemaster’s Mistress, by Christie Dickason. More historical fiction; set in early 17th century England with the Gunpowder Plot.

Death of a Pilgrim, by David Dickinson. Mystery set in 1905 in France, centering around the deaths of pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela. ARC; to be published in February.

The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato. To be published next May in the US; about an English…

Booking Through Thursday

I receive a lot of review books, but I have never once told lies about the book just because I got a free copy of it. However, some authors seem to feel that if they send you a copy of their book for free, you should give it a positive review.
Do you think reviewers are obligated to put up a good review of a book, even if they don’t like it? Have we come to a point where reviewers *need* to put up disclaimers to (hopefully) save themselves from being harassed by unhappy authors who get negative reviews?

I’m always honest about whether or not I like a book; the fact that it comes from the publisher or author really makes no difference to me. I don’t think that reviewer’s are obligated to post a good review of the book; and if an author expects a good review from someone, they’re entirely mistaken about the whole POINT of a review. And the point of a review is, to me, to help a reader make an educated decision about whether or not they’ll buy/ read a book. It may be perverse, but I always…

Review: The Man in the Picture, by Susan Hill

The Man in the Picture is a small book. As in, it’s only 142 pages, and its trim size, according to Amazon.com, is 6.9 x. 4.5’’. It’s more of a short story than a novella. Therefore, it only took me about an hour to finish.

The story revolves around an 18th century painting, of a scene at Carnevale in Venice, and the deep, dark secrets hidden within. The Man in the Picture has four narrators. One is Oliver, a medieval scholar. The second is his old professor at Cambridge, Dr. Parmitter. The third is the Countess, and the fourth is Oliver’s fiancĂ©, Anne. This is a tale of revenge and obsession, and it works to a certain extent. However, the story is so short that there’s very little room for character development. The story and the method of telling the story aren’t very original—Hill has used it several times in her ghost stories (The Woman in Black comes to mind). And you could see the ending coming from a mile away. Still, I enjoyed the premise of this little ghost story, and I defin…

Review: The Minutes of the Lazarus Club, by Tony Pollard

The Minutes of the Lazarus Club is an import that I bought on a blind buy from Amazon UK.

In London in the 1850s, a secret society called the Lazarus Club emerges, comprised of the most brilliant scientific minds of the age. Their goal is to discuss various problems and mysteries that arise out of their scientific explorations. In 1857, Dr. George Phillips is invited to join the club, by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who has just completed work on a massive ship, the Great Eastern. Pretty soon, however, dead prostitutes are washed onto the shores of the Thames, their insides removed, and Phillips is immediately suspected of the crime. The attempt to clear his name leads to a chase of a killer and a crime that could have international implications.

For the most part, I enjoyed this novel. Aside from a brief spell in the middle, which seemed to drag a bit, the plot moved at a rapid pace, and Pollard does a great job of bringing mid-19th century London to life. I talk a lot about novels where t…

Tuesday Thingers

Popular this month on LT: Do you look at this list? Do you get ideas on what to read from it? Have you read any of the books on the list right now? Feel free to link to any reviews you’ve done as well.

Here’s the list:
1. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
2. Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron
3. Nation by Terry Pratchett
4. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
5. Anathem by Neal Stephenson
6. American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld
7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
8. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle: A Novel by David Wroblewski
9. Eclipse (The Twilight Saga, Book 3) by Stephenie Meyer
10. Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

I’ve only read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I enjoyed—it’s among my top 15 books read this year. I only read it because an ARC of it literally fell into my lap. I tend to be one of those people who doesn’t read just because everyone else is reading the book too …

Book Worm Award Meme

Sheri at Bookopolis has tagged me for a meme! I've done this meme before, but I like it so much that I'll go it again. Here are the rules:
Open the closest book to you—not your favourite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment. Turn to page 56 and write out the fifth sentence as well as the next two to five sentences.Pass this on to five blogging friends.
The book at hand is An Inconvenient Wife, by Megan Chance (it was sitting in my handbag that's sitting next to the couch I'm sitting on).
The fifth sentence on p. 56 of this particular book is dialogue and might be confusing taken out of context. So I'll skip down a bit:
"It wasn't until the next morning that I realized how much I wanted to believe my own words.
I went downstairs to find my father breakfasting in the dining room. It was so odd to see him there that I stopped in surprise.
'Papa! What brings you here this morning?'"
OK, not the most scintillating passag…

Review: Cover the Mirrors, by Faye L. Booth

After her aunt dies and leaves her the family business, Molly Pinner becomes the only spiritualist in the town of Preston. Molly begins an affair with a local businessman named William Hamilton, eventually marrying him after she becomes pregnant. Her best friend, Jenny, also pregnant, moves in with the Hamiltons, but a rift comes between the two girls when Molly tries to get rid of the baby. Then a secret from Molly's past comes back to haunt her, and she find that lives are at stake, especially her own.

I liked the idea of this novel, but there were a lot of aspects about it that didn't live up to its promise. My biggest problem with the novel is its main character; Molly's not particularly compelling or someone that you find yourself rooting for. In fact, I found myself caring less and less for her as the story went on. Her relationship with William seemed to be based primarily on sex, and it seemed completely unrealistic to me that a mid-nineteenth century, semi-respecta…

Sunday Salon

I’ve done a number of things this week:

I wrote reviews of:
The Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt
Queen Isabella, by Alison Weir
All This, and Heaven Too, by Rachel Field

This week I changed a few things around on my blog; most noticeably, of course, the design. I simply got bored of the old one. I also moved my inventory of books to the side and removed the archive. Not sure if I like the sidebar stuff over on the left-hand side in this format, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Let me know what you think of the new layout!


I’m currently reading The Eight, by Katherine Neville. I received an ARC of the sequel a while ago, but I wanted to read The Eight first. It’s set in split-time, in both the 1970s and 1790s France, and the plot revolves around a hidden chess set once given by Charlemagne to the owner of Montglane Abbey. When the Revolution starts, and the abbey is in jeopardy, the pieces of the chess et are scattered. In 1972, a young woman named Cat Velis is given the task of collect…

In which I covet a book like no other...

OK, so I covet many books :-). Such is the life of a reader. But this time, the book is The Book of Unholy Mischief, by Elle Newmark. It's historical fiction, set in Venice during the Renaissance. I've been coveting it for months, and I don't know if I can wait until the book's publication date on December 30th in order to read it! I've looked on the publisher's website for information on how to get an ARC, but can't seem to find any contact information available; and I've stalked this book on Amazon.com plus other users on LibraryThing who have possession of a copy to see where they got theirs! Any other ideas on where I could score a copy? Or should I just suck it up and wait until the book is published?

Friday Finds

A couple of books have gotten my attention this past week, especially with a new round of ER books being posted on LibraryThing.

The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee. Historical fiction set in 1940s and ‘50s Hong Kong , about a woman who finds work giving piano lessons (click here for a glimpse of the gorgeous cover art).

Drood, by Dan Simmons. Novel about Charles Dickens, “narrated” by Wilkie Collins, about Dickens’s last days and his last, unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Execution Dock, by Anne Perry. The latest in the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series, to be published in March.

Lydia Bennet’s Story, by Jane Odiwe. Essentially, a continuation of Pride and Prejudice, told from the point of view of the youngest, most wayward sister. Won this in a contest.

Booking Through Thursday

I’ve asked, in the past, about whether you more often buy your books, or get them from libraries. What I want to know today, is, WHY BUY?
Even if you are a die-hard fan of the public library system, I’m betting you have at least ONE permanent resident of your bookshelves in your house. I’m betting that no real book-lover can go through life without owning at least one book. So … why that one? What made you buy the books that you actually own, even though your usual preference is to borrow and return them?
If you usually buy your books, tell me why. Why buy instead of borrow? Why shell out your hard-earned dollars for something you could get for free?


This is actually a complicated question. I get a lot of reading material from the library and I get quite a few ARCs. But I do buy books, and there are a number of reasons why I’ll do so. Sometimes I’ll start reading a book and fall in love with it so much that I know that I just have to own my own copy. For example, I checked out Deanna Ray…

Review: All This, and Heaven Too, by Rachel Field

All This, and Heaven Too is the story of the infamous “Mademoiselle D,” Henriette Deluzy-Desportes. After eight years as governess to an English girl, Henriette returns to France to tutor the younger Praslin children. She becomes very fond of them, but can’t help noticing that something is amiss in the marriage between the Duc and Duchesse. Eventually, rumors fly that Henriette and the Duc are having an affair, and she leaves the Praslins’ employ. Later, a scandalous murder occurs, and after the trial, Henriette flees to the United States to start her life anew.

The first 350 pages of this book are interesting and intriguing. However, after the murder and its trial, the latter part of the novel seemed very anticlimactic to me; the book simply came to a grinding halt once Henriette got to Massachusetts. I haven’t seen the movie version of this book, but I suspect the director and screenwriters did right by not including the second half of the novel in the movie.

Also, I thought the autho…

Authors misbehavin'

Trish, at “Hey, Lady! Whatcha Reading!” recently posted a link to a blog entry where the author talked about an author who asked that she remove a quote and the cover art because she didn't have permission to use them. While I’m no legal expert, I’m pretty sure it’s alright for a reviewer to briefly quote an author’s work. Sadly, this doesn’t shock me at all, as I’ve seen a veritable epidemic of authors acting out in the past year or so. And yes, I rubberneck at these egregious examples of how NOT to take criticism.

Ted Bell, a NYT bestselling suspense author, recently attacked a few reviewers on Amazon.com who didn’t just LOVE his latest novel, using the username of his stepson (then the author outed himself by posting under his own name, saying, "as I was just saying earlier?"). He apologized, people thought sincerely, but pretty soon he went back at it. For a long time, it was suspected that Andrew Davidson, author of The Gargoyle, did something similar.

Last spring, I …

Review: Queen Isabella, by Alison Weir

Queen Isabella: Treachery, Adultery, and Murder in Medieval England is a biography of the wife of Edward II. It’s actually a composite of things: a biography of Isabella’s most intimate household moments, drawn from her extensive household account books (want to know what was used as toilet paper in the English royal household? It’s in there), as well as an account of her relationship with her husband, his favorites, and her lover, Roger Mortimer.

My major problem with this book is Weir’s extreme bias in favor of Isabella. Weir even goes so far as to blame Edward entirely for the breakdown of the royal marriage and for Isabella’s changed demeanor during it. It’s almost as though the author went into the research and writing of this book thinking, “I’m going to vindicate Isabella.” This is a work of popular history, and as such, I feel that Weir could have been more impartial in her assessment of Isabella’s story. All that’s really known about Isabella’s day-to-day life comes from her b…

Review: The Mistress of Mellyn, by Victoria Holt

I first began reading Eleanor Hibbert’s novels when her historical fiction published under the name Jean Plaidy were being re-published. Now, her novels Gothic suspense novels published under the name Victoria Holt are being re-released. I must say that I like Victoria Holt much better than I do Jean Plaidy!

In The Mistress of Mellyn, twenty-four-year-old Martha Leigh goes to Cornwall to be the governess to Alvean TreMellyn, daughter of Connan TreMellyn. My best guess is that the novel takes place in the Victorian era, and Martha here is past her shelf life for marriage, but too poor to live in idleness, which is why she acquires her position with the TreMellyns. Almost as soon as Martha arrives at Mount Mellyn, she notices that people are still in awe over its former mistress, Alice, and still talking about the mysterious train wreck she died in the year previously.

The house almost becomes a character in and of itself. Mount Mellyn is full of secret hiding places, passages, and peepho…

Sunday Salon

The book I’m reading right now is All This, and Heaven, Too, by Rachel Field. Field is better known for her Newberry-award-winning book, Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, inspired by an antique doll that Field owned.

All This, and Heaven, Too is historical fiction, and it’s about Field’s great-aunt Henriette Duluzy-Desportes. In 1843, Henriette went to be the governess for the Praslin family in France, after having spent eight years working for a family in England. The Duc and Duchesse de Praslin had a stormy marriage, characterized by her jealousy, paranoia, and (what seems to be) mental instability). Then, a scandal broke out based on false rumors that the Duc and Henriette were having an affair, and Henriette left the Praslins’ employ. That’s as far as I’ve gotten (about 250 pages in), and I’ve been promised that a brutal murder, trial, and flight to the United States are in store for me. So far, I like Field’s writing style, but I feel as though the story drags a bit in places.

Other …

Weekly Geeks #24

The rules are:
1. Choose a writer you like.
2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
4. Come sign the Mr Linky below with the url to your fun facts post.
5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in.

I recently finished reading Victoria Holt’s Mistress of Mellyn, so I thought I might talk about her for this week’s Weekly Geeks. The following information comes from Wikipedia.

Holt was born Eleanor Alice Burford in London in 1906, and married George Percival Hibbert, a leather merchant, when she was in her twenties. Hibbert wrote most of her 200-plus novels under about seven or eight pen names, the most common of which was Jean Plaidy, for her historical no…

Review: The Greatest Knight, by Elizabeth Chadwick

I talked a little bit about the back story of The Greatest Knight in this Sunday Salon post. The novel covers the life of William Marshal from when he was a newly-minted knight, up until King Richard returns from crusade and capture in 1194. The title of the novel comes from Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton (1150-1228), who described William Marshal as being "the greatest knight that ever lived." Even if you don't believe Langton's statement, Marshal definitely had a reputation for being courtly, acquired while in the service of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her sons, Henry the Younger, Richard, and John. He also acquired a reputation for his political prowess.

What can I say? I loved this book! Elizabeth Chadwick bit off a lot in telling William Marshal’s story, because she could have gotten mired in the details of the complicated politics of the period. Instead, she focused on Marshal’s story as it related to those events, which I thought was fantastic. Chadwick’…

Friday Finds

I’ve been steadily working on reducing my TBR pile and haven’t added many more books to it recently. However, I’ve received a few things in the mail over the past few weeks.

The Darcys and the Bingleys, by Marsha Altman. Description: “Three days before their double wedding, Charles Bingley is desperate to have a word with his dear friend Fitzwilliam Darcy, seeking advice of a most delicate nature. Bingley is shocked when Darcy gives him a copy of The Kama Sutra - but it does tell him everything he needs to know. Eventually, of course, Jane finds this remarkable volume and in utmost secrecy shows it to her dear sister Elizabeth, who goes searching for a copy in the Pemberley library... By turns hilarious and sweet, The Darcys & the Bingleys follows the two couples and the cast of characters surrounding them. Miss Caroline Bingley, it turns out, has such good reasons for being the way she is that the reader can't help but hold her in charity. Delightfully, she makes a most eligib…

Giveaway

Brenda Janowitz (author of Scot on the Rocks and Jack With a Twist) is giving away signed copies of her books, plus copies of Magic and the Modern Girl, by Mindy Klasky; Wife Goes On, by Leslie Lehr; City Dog, by Allison Pace; and The Memoirist, by MJ Rose. To find out more, click here.

Review: Nefertiti, by Michelle Moran

Nefertiti is a fictionalization of the life of Nefertiti, the famous queen of Egypt and wife of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten. The story is told from the perspective of Nefertiti’s sister, Mutnodjmet, who is privy to everything that goes on in the royal palaces at Thebes and Amarna. Mutnodjmet and Nefertiti are as different as night and day, and soon Mutnodjmet finds herself wishing for a simpler life, away from the scheming machinations of her sister and bother-in-law.

Nefertiti was the kind of book I read in only about three days, it was that hard for me to stop reading! Seriously, I haven't read a novel set in ancient Egypt this good since reading Judith Tarr's Pillar of Fire many years ago. Michelle Moran pulls you into Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet’s story and just won’t let you go. The sisters are interesting contrasts to one another, and I enjoyed the way in which they interacted, sometimes adversely. I also loved the way in which Moran goes into detail about court life at Am…

Review: The Four Seasons, by Laurel Corona

The Four Seasons is set against the backdrop of early-18th century Venice. In it, two sisters are sent to the Ospedale della Pieta, a world-famous orphanage and musical academy. Chiaretta and Maddalena are nothing alike: one marries into one of the wealthiest families in Venice, while the other becomes a musical prodigy and muse for Antonio Vivaldi, the “Red Monk.”

It’s a good idea, but we’ve definitely seen all of this before: Barbara Quick’s novel, Vivaldi’s Virgins, is set in the exact same place with nearly the exact same people, and Rosalind Laker’s The Venetian Mask is set in the same place seventy-five years later, but with the same romantic themes as The Four Seasons. And Corona’s writing style isn’t as captivating as Laker’s is. Corona's descriptions are bautiful, if a little vague, and the city of Venice in the novel is a little static as opposed to the vibrant city that it is.

That said, however, I enjoyed the story. It’s derivative, yes, but highly addictive; despite all…

Tuesday Thingers: Repeats

Today’s question: Work multiples. Do you own multiple copies of any books? Which ones? Can you share your list?

I have a number, but not all are listed in LT. I’ve got two copies of Confessions of a Shopaholic, one mass market paperback and the other trade. I own two copies of Grace Matelious's Peyton Place: a recent reprent and an 1950s hardcover that I bought at the Strand bookstore for $7.50. I own two copies of Jane Eyre; one’s a Bantam Classics edition, and the other is a Wordsworth Classics. I’ve also got two copies of Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason. One is a British edition that I bought in an English-language bookstore in Spain before the book came out in the US. The other is the trade US version. I own two copies of Barbara Tuchman’s The Distant Mirror; one edition was published in the ‘70s, the other more recently. I also own two copies of the same book with a different title: Alison Weir’s new biography of Katherine Swynford is called Katherine Swynford in the UK, and Mis…

Sunday Salon: Elizabeth Chadwick

Currently I’m reading The Greatest Knight, by Elizabeth Chadwick. It’s the first time I’ve ever read anything by her, and it was suggested to me because I love Sharon Kay Penman’s novels. The Greatest Knight certainly won’t be the last Elizabeth Chadwick book I read; I’m three-quarters of the way through and enjoying the novel immensely.

The novel is a fictionalization of the early part of William Marshal’s career, beginning at age 20 and continuing up until the time he marries at age 43, highlighting the major events of his life. In preparation for this week’s Sunday Salon, I thought I’d share with you a little bit about what I know of the Marshal's life. Born in 1146 or thereabouts, he was a younger son of John Marshal. John switched sides in the civil war between the Empress Maude and King Stephen, who asked John to surrender or watch as his young son was hanged. To which, John Marshal replied, “I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons…

Review: The Widow Clicquot, by Tilar Mazzeo

The Widow Clicquot is the story of the woman behind one of the world’s most famous and iconic champagnes. Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot was born in 1777 in Reims, and married an idealistic dreamer at a young age. When he died, Barbe-Nicole entered his family’s business, and proved herself to be a shrewd businesswoman. Barbe-Nicole survived the French Revolution, the Napoleonic wars (during which Napoleon apparently said that the vineyards of the Champagne would make perfect battlegrounds), and the civil wars of the mid-nineteenth century. She was a diminutive, nondescript woman, but she proved herself a force to be reckoned with in the champagne industry, turning a local curiosity into an international brand.

The book is a combination of things: its part biography, part story of the Veuve Clicquot empire, and part history of champagne-making in general (surprise! It wasn’t the French who discovered the art of creating the now-famous bubbles). Although Barbe-Nicole was one of the most…