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Showing posts from February, 2009

Booking Through Thursday

Hardcover? Or paperback?
Illustrations? Or just text?
First editions? Or you don’t care?
Signed by the author? Or not?

Lately, of the books I’ve bought, I’ve bought them in paperback—unless I really, really love the author, in which case I’ll buy in hardcover.

Illustrations are OK as long as they add meaning to the text.

First editions are nice, but I don’t own any of those.

I also like signed books, but again, I don’t own many.

Review: The Heretic Queen, by Michelle Moran

The Heretic Queen is Michelle Moran’s follow-up novel to Nefertiti. Fifteen years after Nefertiti leaves off, Nefertari, daughter to Mutnodjmet, has a hard legacy to live down: she’s the neice of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and her reputation is tarnished by association. Thirteen-year-old Nerfertari nevertheless becomes the wife of Ramesses the Great, sometimes at odd with his other wife, Iset.

I thought the story was good; very good, in fact. But I felt that something was missing; the tension in this novel is sadly not as great as that which is in Nefertiti. There’s no real conflict here. Also, I had a bit of a problem with timeline issues: Nefertiti was actually set eighty years before The Heretic Queen, not fifteen or twenty.

Still, I was fascinated by Nefertari’s story—she and Ramesses had a very long, happy life together (and Ramesses lived into his nineties, almost unheard-of back then). I’d love to see sequel novel featuring the two of them. The Heretic Queen is a quick, easy read, …

Review: Lady's Maid, by Margaret Forster

In 1844, Lily Wilson becomes lady’s maid to Elizabeth Barrett, invalid daughter of a wealthy, overbearing London merchant. Elizabeth became a recluse, corresponding and eventually meeting the poet Robert Browning. Because her father disapproved of his children marrying, Elizabeth eloped with Robert to Italy.

The story is half about Elizabeth Barrett Browning and half about Lily. I found the details of EBB’s life to be much more interesting than that of Wilson’s, and I wish there was more about her in this novel. I got the feeling that Wilson never really had a life of her own—everything she did was connected in some way with her mistress. However, I’d like to think that this was characteristic of the period—good servants didn’t really have lives of their own. Nonetheless, Wilson seemed to get herself into a lot of romantic entanglements that made me wonder what the point of it was. The writing style of the book is very dense, and it took me a long time to get through—much longer than i…

Teaser Tuesday

This is my first Teaser Tuesday!

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:
--Grab your current read.
--Let the book fall open to a random page.
--Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
--You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
--Please avoid spoilers!

“A cold, rain-laden wind gusted fiercely across the Downs. John stood on the wall walk of the keep, protected from the elements by his fur-lined cloak.”
--From A place Beyond Courage, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Tuesday Thingers

Today’s question: Do you have a specialized blog where you only review a certain genre or type of book? If so, what is your favorite thing about that type of book? If not, what is/are your favorite genres? What makes that genre(s) favorites?

I don’t cater to a specific type of book, but since what I mostly read is historical fiction, most of my reviews are likewise. I’ve always been enamored with history, especially the way that people lived, though, and felt, and historical fiction feeds that. So I guess that’s my answer for #3 and 4.

Review: Silent on the Moor, by Deanna Raybourn

I’ve been anticipating Silent on the Moor ever since I tore through Silent in the Sanctuary, and Silent in the Grave before that. I can't remember when last I've enjoyed a series as much as the Lady Julia Grey books. This time, Lady Julia Grey travels to Yorkshire with her sister Portia, where Brisbane has recently purchased a decrepit mansion on the moor. Living there too are Lady Allenby and her two daughters, the descendents of Saxon kings but living in reduced circumstances after the death of Lady Allenby’s son, Redwall.

I greatly enjoyed this story of poison, romance and revenge, compounded by a number of sinister and rather twisted family secrets. We learn more about Brisbane’s past, and we get to see more of his and Julia’s relationship—never smooth, but they have wonderful chemistry together. Julia’s maid Morag is back, too, still as feisty as ever. What I love about Deanna Raybourn’s books is that she’s so good at character and plot development, and Silent on the Moor

Friday Finds

Books added to my TBR list recently:

Mary Reilly, by Valerie Martin. It’s the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as told by Jekyl’’s maid, Mary (the book was made into a movie with Julia Roberts over a decade ago).

The Italian Boy: A Tale of Murder and Body Snatching in 1830s London, by Sarah Wise. Can’t remember where I heard of it, but I’ve just ordered it through Amazon. First sentence? “George Beaman, surgeon to the parish of St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, turned back the scalp of the corpse lying before him.” How can you resist a line like that? ...And not a recent find, but I have an ARC of Vanora Bennett's Figures in Silk coming to me in the mail.

Booking Through Thursday

“How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?”

I arrange my books thusly: I divide them into fiction and nonfiction, and the alphabetize them by author. With series, I arrange them in series order, not alphabetically. The only books that don’t fall under this system of categorization are my books on medieval history; within nonfiction, I keep them separate. I also keep my TBR books separate from the rest, so I know exactly what’s there.

Review: The Dark Rose, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#2: Covers c. 1501-1549; the reign of Henry VIII

The Dark Rose, the second in the Morland Dynasty series, roughly covers the reign of Henry VIII, from 1501 to about 1549. Paul Morland is the head of the family now, and his niece Nannette goes to the court of Anne Boleyn and then Katherine Parr as lady-in-waiting. Meanwhile, at Morland Place, Paul faces a series of challenges, including a struggle between his son Amyas and his illegitimate son Adrian.

As usual, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles places a strong female character in the lead; this time, of course, it’s Nannette. But the author never makes her characters seem too modern, which is what I like in historical fiction. Since Nannette is at court, she is present to witness history being made, and as such we see all six of Henry VIII’s wives (though only two get speaking parts). Too, I was fascinated here with how the introduction of Protestantism affected the Morland family; it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over time.

Also reviewed…

Tuesday Thingers

Today’s question:

How do you get your books for reviewing? (Feel free to participate in the poll below, you can check more than one answer). Do you track them somehow (excel, database, etc), or just put them in a tbr (To Be Read, for anyone that doesn’t know) pile?

I get my books a variety of ways: through cold requests to publishers (most of the time I’m successful; some through Shelf Awareness; through Amazon Vine; and through the Library Thing Early Reviewers program (I’ve actually been quite successful with it). About half the books I read are ARCs, though I won’t request very much from the offers I get randomly through e-mail. It has to be a book I think I'll really like in order for me to request it. The other half of my reading material I get from buying (Amazon or Borders, mostly), though occasionally I go to the library. I track all my ARC requests through Google calendar, and I keep a TBR list on Library Thing.

Cover Deja-Vu #12

Here are more of them! One's the Barnes and Noble veriod of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which the other is the cover for And Only to Deceive, by Tasha Alexander.

Review: A Dangerous Affair, by Caro Peacock

Book description from Amazon:

Caro Peacock, the acclaimed author of A Foreign Affair, once again ingeniously blends history, suspense, and adventure and returns an endearing and exceptional heroine to the fictional fold.

In Victoria's England, there are perilous intrigues a proper young lady would do well to avoid . . .

Liberty Lane, still in her early twenties, is doing her best to make a new life for herself in London after being bruised by loss and treachery. But there's no chance for her to settle down as a conventional young lady. First, a disturbingly attractive young politician, Benjamin Disraeli, wants her to use her contacts in the theatre world to find out more about a prima ballerina with a notorious love life called Columbine. He hints that some important interests may be at stake. Then Columbine is murdered in her dressing room, after an on-stage brawl with a younger and less successful dancer, who becomes prime suspect. Liberty is at the center of the investigation …

Ask me anything about...

I'm in a review-writing funk right now, and I need some help writing a few reviews. So what I'm asking you all to do is to ask me questions about the following three books, in the hope that you'll give me a kick in the pants to write reviews...


A Dangerous Affair is the second Liberty Lane novel; in it Liberty tracks down a killer in 1830s London.


(ARC) The Birthday Present is Barbara Vine's latest novel, set against the political backdrop of ealry 1990s Britain.


The Dark Rose is the second in the Morland Dynasty series, and covers the whole reign of Henry VIII, though the eyes of Nanette Morland, who ends up serving two of his wives (Anne Boleyn and Katherine Parr).

Booking Through Thursday

Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

I read several author blogs, and for several reasons. I read Elizabeth Chadwick’s blog, Living the History, because she always shares her research with her readers (Roger Bigod’s hats, for example, was one such topic). I just wish she updated it a bit more often! (but maybe that's a good thing?)

I also read Deanna Raybourn’s blog, Blog a Go-Go. Fun name, isn’t it? I read her blog because she talks about a variety of things, not just writing. And it turns out that she and I have a few interests in common, so I find that I’m always commenting on her blog. I find that I read author blogs not just to find out what’s going on with their next book, but more often because I have an affinity with the author.

Cover Deja-Vu #11

Here are two more similar covers--one is that of All This, and Heaven Too, by Rachel Field; and the other is that of All Other Nights, by Dara Horn, coming out in April.

Review: Drood, by Dan Simmons

At nearly 800 pages, Drood is literally a doorstopper of a book. Set in 1865 through 1870, the story centers around Charles Dickens, beginning with his train accident at Staplehurst on the ninth of June. On that very day, as Dickens rushes to assist the dead and dying, he meets a mysterious, and quite creepy, man named Drood. Dickens’s story is narrated by Wilkie Collins, both friend and competitor, as Drood plays a kind of cat-and-mouse game with the two authors, in the dangerous underbelly of London.

I had a really, really hard time putting this book down. It’s just my kind of novel: lots of adventure, lots of tension. The narrator has a tendency to wander a bit, going off on tangents when he should be following the story, but I didn’t see the extra information (and there’s a lot of it thrown in) as detracting from it. Rather, I liked all the biographical notes on both Dickens and Collins, and I liked the interactions they had with one another, and the creative give-and-take of infor…

Friday Finds

Here are some books that have come across my radar recently:

The Catherine LeVendeur mystery series, by Sharon Newman. The first is Death Comes as Epiphany; in it, a young scholar comes to the Convent of the Paraclete, and a precious book goes missing. Catherine sets out to save the manuscript as well as the reputation of the convent’s prioress, the infamous Heloise.

More medieval historical fiction: Within the Fetterlock, by Brian Wainwright. A novel about Constance of York, granddaughter of Edward III.

And a few well-known chick lit authors have books coming out in the summer/fall of 2009: Jane Green (Dune Road; June 16); Sophie Kinsella (Twenties Girl; August 25th; and Jennifer Weiner (Best Friends Forever; September 8th).

Things I Love: The Letter B

I heard about the meme from Megan at Medieval Bookworm, and the letter she’s chosen for me is B. Since books, authors and books with names or titles that begin with B, and blogging are too easy, I’ll leave them out for this.

Bagels. With cream cheese and lox? Heavenly.

Bavaria. Went here in 1999 and fell in love with the food (not something I thought I’d ever say about German cuisine!). If you’re ever in Munich, do visit the Hofbrauhaus, where Hitler held his failed “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923. They also have good wurst.

The BBC. Love, love, love the BBC, especially their adaptations of classic novels (Pride and Prejudice, anyone?). Last April, when I subscribed to Netflix, I began watching Upstairs, Downstairs, which is seriously good! I also love the BBC’s comedies; I own the complete series of Keeping Up Appearances on DVD. Yeah, I’m obsessed.

The Bachelor. I have a confession to make: in addition to books, I love watching TV, especially reality TV. The Bachelor is just one of those sho…

Review: Mistress Shakespeare, by Karen Harper

Mistress Shakespeare is a what if? story. William Shakespeare’s life was riddled with mysteries, one of which was that a license was issued for him to marry an Anne Whateley—the day before he married Anne Hathaway. So who was the other Anne? Karen Harper explores the mystery in this expertly-written novel, delving into the relationship between Shakespeare and his “first mistress.”

Harper is a Shakespeare scholar, and she’s in her element in this novel. You could tell she had a lot of fun researching and writing this book. Late 16th century London and its playhouses are described in exquisite detail, and the love story between Anne and Shakespeare is very real and not overly sappy or sugary. Harper plays to her strength—her knowledge of Shakespeare’s works inside and out—and she explores his inspiration for his plays and sonnets in some depth in this novel (though it might bore people who aren’t aficionados of Shakespeare and Renaissance drama). She also has a great knowledge of the way…

Cover Deja-Vu #10

The other day, as I looked at my copy of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s The Founding, I realized that the cover image in the top band was strangely familiar. The painting is The Thomas More Family, by Rowland Lockey, after a now-lost Hans Holbein the Younger (original painted in the 1520s; copy painted in 1593 and 1594). Holbein's sketch for the painting still exists, though (see it here). The painting was used as inspiration for Vanora Bennett’s Portrait of an Unknown Woman. Which means that the painting is kind of anachronistic for the Cynthia Harrod-Eagles book, which is set during the War of the Roses.

Review: Corner Shop, by Roopa Farooki

I really enjoyed Roopa Farooki’s first novel, Bitter Sweets. Her prose was lively, her characters unique, and the overall story was intriguing. Reading Corner Shop, however, made me wonder, “what happened?”

The story centers around the Khalil family: Zaki, who runs a corner shop in a run-down part of London; his son, Jinan, who’s a lawyer; Jinan’s wife, Delphine, a French transplant; and their son, Lucky, destined to have a great career as a soccer player. The story follows the characters over a long period of time, from the moment that Zaki and Delphine meet until the present.

The first part of this book started off strongly and promisingly enough. But then, it deteriorated for me towards the middle (I’ll be spoiling the story if I say any more). The Asian influence, which was such a big part of the story in Bitter Sweets, is only incidental here; in fact, these characters could have been British Caucasians. There’s very little warmth and vitality here, either in the story or the chara…

Review: The Seance, by John Harwood

In 1888, Constance Langton inherits Wraxford Hall from a distant relative, and she is told by her solicitor, John Montague, to burn the Hall sight unseen. He, and the journal of Eleanor Wraxford, tell a story that features mysterious ghosts, a sinister suit of armor, several owners of Wraxford Hall, who go missing under bizarre circumstances, and murder. Constance then goes to the Hall to take a look about—and to take part in a séance in order to find out what really happened in the old house many years ago.

I enjoyed this novel, much more than I did The Ghost Writer. The creepiness factor of this novel was enough to set me at the edge of my seat, reading on in anticipation of what would happen next. Highly atmospheric and disturbing, this book features all the best of Victorian ghost stories—an ancient, abandoned house, overwhelming fog, lightening, and that creeping sensation the reader gets when evil lurks.

My only problem with this otherwise excellent novel is that the ending is a l…

Review: The Lady Chapel, by Candace Robb

The Lady Chapel is the second in Cadace Robb’s series featuring Owen Archer—Welsh bowman and apprentice apothecary—and his wife, Lucie Wilton. Here, it is 1365, and a wool merchant is murdered near York Minster, his throat slit and the only witness an eight-year-old boy. The solution to the problem which doesn’t come easily for our unusual hero, involves the international wool trade, as well as King Edward III himself and his mistress, the wily Alive Perrers.

The writing style of this novel is a little dense, especially when talking about the politics of the time period. I also got the feeling that the speech patterns of the characters were a little anachronistic. The strength of the Owen Archer books lies in their plots, usually centering around something much larger than would appear at first, and The Lady Chapel is no exception. Robb does a great job intertwining the historical places and figures with the fictional. The best part of this series is, however, the characters; Owen and …

The Sunday Salon

“Neither of us knew the rate for bribing a gaoler at the Old Bailey.”

That’s the first line of the book I’m reading right now, A Dangerous Affair, by Caro Peacock, and so far (50 pages in), the book is living up to its promise. In it, a dancer is murdered after having a catfight with another, and Liberty steps in to take the case. A Dangerous Affair is the second in the Liberty Lane series (the first is A Foreign Affair), and I’m enjoying myself in 1837 London immensely. Thanks to Gwen at Literary License for the trade.

This week I’ve posted reviews of:
Mistress of the Monarchy, by Alison Weir
The Founding, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato

And I’ve also read, but not reviewed:
Darling Jim, by Christian Moerk
The Lady Chapel, by Candace Robb

So it’s been a busy reading week.

If you’re in the US, happy Super Bowl Sunday! I’m not watching, because football just isn’t my thing, but the rest of my family are nuts about the Steelers.