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Showing posts from March, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book 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!

“In this case matters went along differently. The enquiring journalist was not told of Ravenscliff’s death, either that day, or the day after. Why not?”

--From Stone’s Fall, by Iain Pears

Review: Darling Jim, by Christian Moerk

Darling Jim opens with a triple murder—a woman is found beaten in the head downstairs in her house in Dublin, while two younger women are found upstairs, starved to death. There are signs that a third person has been present. Later, a young postal employee finds one of the younger women’s diary in the dead-letter bin; reading it, he begins to piece together the shocking circumstances of the three women’s deaths, starting with an itinerant, seductive storyteller named Jim.

The opening of this novel is written kind of like a newspaper article. It gets interesting when Niall finds the notebook, and even more so when Fiona, Aoife, and Riosin’s stories take over. I couldn’t ever figure out why Niall was so determined to discover what happened to the Walsh sisters, other than the discovery of the diary. It was a bit hard for me to really understand why Jim was such a beguiling character; he just wasn’t as well portrayed as the Walshes were, or even Niall. And the sisters were too disparate, …

Review: The Book of Love, by Sarah Bower

The Book of Love is set in the early 16th century, in the world of the Borgias. Esther, a Jew who is nicknamed Violante, becomes a conversa so that she might become a lady-in-waiting to Lucrezia Borgia. Very soon, Violante finds herself thrust into a world of danger, romance, and intrigue, as she falls in love with Lucrezia’s brother Cesare.

Bower recreates the world of the early 16th century unfailingly; the historical details of this novel are exquisite. She uses the theme of the “innocent abroad” to tell the story of the Borgias through an impartial viewpoint. One of the strengths of the novel are the characters: Cesare Borgia is easily the most compelling, though I didn’t like how Bower portrayed Lucrezia—I thought her character could have been more diabolical. The plot drags in the middle, and the sex scenes are a bit crude, but it’s what you might expect from a story about one of history’s most infamous families. But otherwise, this is an enjoyable novel.

Booking Through Thursday

The opposite of last week’s question: “What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?”

I really enjoyed Karen Maitland’s first novel, Company of Liars. I don’t normally read fantasy/supernatural-ish types novels like that, but I was just entranced by the setting and the plot. Yet there were a lot of people who didn’t like it. In any case, I’ve gone ahead and ordered Maitland’s second novel from Amazon UK.

Another book I enjoyed that others didn’t was The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton… again, great setting and characters, but a lot of reviewers didn’t like it.

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book 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!

“After Christine’s departure, thinking she would be more amenable by herself, or so Penelope construed it, the sheep renewed their efforts to get her into the fold. They treated her like a stray lamb and baa’d urgently to join them at their bazaars, on their platforms, at their guilds and to accompany them on their visits to the poor.”

--From The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple

Review: Figures in Silk, by Vanora Bennett

Figures in Silk is set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses. The story revolves around Isabel Claver, who is married at age fourteen into a London house of silkweavers. Her sister, Jane, is married to Will Shore and becomes the mistress of Edward IV. When Isabel’s husband dies, she becomes an apprentice to his mother, eventually becoming a silk entrepreneur.

I wasn’t a fan of Vanora Bennett’s first novel, Portrait of an Unknown Woman, but I thought her second might be better. I was disappointed. The novel was soporific, to say the least. I would read a bit, and then realize that I had no idea what just happened! Then I’d go back and re-read, and find out that I hadn’t missed much. The book is filled with coincidences, some of them so fantastical that you have to suspense your sense of disbelief. With regards to the characters and their thoughts and feelings, there’s a lot of telling, not showing. I also would have liked to seen more of the affair between Jane Shore and the king…

The Sunday Salon

It’s yet another quiet weekend here. In the past week, I’ve read:

The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart
The Princeling, by Cynthia Harrod Eagles
The Last Days of the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport

I enjoyed all three of these books, so It’s been a good week, reading-wise. I've also been trying to write a review of Sarah Bower's The Book of Love, but I've gotten stuck with it (it dragged in the middle). I’m just about to start The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple, a Persephone classic that took about two weeks to get to me from Amazon.com.

I’ve been wondering about something recently: ARCs. I know a lot of you get them and review them; so do I. My question for you is about your reviews: do you post them as soon as you read the book and write the review? Or do you wait until the day of publication to post? I’ve been seeing a lot of reviews of to-be-published books, ages before the book comes out, so that’s what prompted the question. Thoughts?

Review: The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart

Mary Grey finds herself in the north of England, working as a waitress, when one day she decides to go for a walk along Hadrian’s Wall. While there, Mary is accosted by Con Winslow, who mistakenly thinks she is Annabel, his cousin who disappeared to America eight years ago. He and his sister Lisa convince Mary to engage in a act of deception: to impersonate Annabel Winslow so that Con might inherit her grandfather’s estate, Whitescar.

It’s a short novel, and like Nine Coaches Waiting, The Ivy Tree is very plot-driven. Stewart’s novels are tinged with a bit of magic, and in most of them, she chooses to give her characters rather romantic names (Annabel, Connor, Crystal). On the surface, it’s a deliciously wonderful story of deception, but not all is as it appears.

The Ivy Tree is an emotionally-charged novel; and though Stewart doesn’t do very much in terms of character development, this book contains the right amount of romance, danger, suspense, and fantasy, with a little bit of Roman …

Review: The Princeling, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#3: Covers 1558-1597; Elizabethan England

The Princeling is the third book in the Morland Dynasty. In this book, the story moves away from Morland Place for a while, as John Morland moves north to marry Mary Percy, and his sister Lettice marries a Scottish lord, Robert Hamilton. The sins of the previous generation come back to haunt the younger, as Jan Chapham learns secrets about his past.

Sence the novel covers fifty years of history, all of them eventful, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles has a lot of ground to cover. At times it seems as though it’s too much; the story jumps from event to event, sometimes skimming over the family’s story in favor of touching on the major historical events of the period. But the story of the Morland family is still addictive, as ever, and it was interesting to me to see how the family interacted

Review: The Last Days of the Romanovs, by Helen Rappaport

The Last Days of the Romanovs is the story of the last fourteen-ish days of the lives of the Romanov family during their stay at Ipatiev House (aka “The House of Special Purposes”) in Yekaterinburg (oddly, Rappaport spells it as “Ekaterinburg” here), up until their murder two weeks later, on July 17th 1918. It may be a nonfiction account, but parts of this book read as though they’re fiction.

Each chapter ostensible covers each day leading up to the murders, but the author gives her reader a lot of background information on the Revolution, the Romanov family, and the people involved in their demise. It’s a pretty readable book in the sense that the prose is fairly straightforward, and there are no footnotes to bog the reader down. Rappaport portrays the Romanov family sympathetically, as a group of people victimized by circumstance and out of control of their own destinies. This book is a good introduction to the subject, and a good work of popular history overall.

There was a lot of in…

Teaser Tuesday: The Book of Love

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book 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!

“One morning shortly after Christmas, as I was helping Donna Lucrezia to dress for a ride out to Tivoli, a messenger came to the door with a note for me. Santa Maria in Portico is a huge place, its miles of passages leading to rooms so convoluted I doubt even Donna Adriana, who had lived there most of her life, could have known them all.”

--From The Book of Love, by Sarah Bower

The Sunday Salon

Today has been a Sunday of not much reading, surprisingly. I’m about halfway through Sarah Bower’s second novel, The Book of Love, and for some reason I just don’t feel like reading right now. So instead I’m online, and watching a marathon of America’s Next Top Model on Oxygen.

In book acquisitions: This morning I went to Barnes and Noble to use up part of a gift card I’d gotten at Christmas, and walked away with two books, both by Mary Stewart: The Ivy Tree and Thornyhold, both of them very short. On Friday, I received my Persephone copy of The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple, which I’ve been waiting for for three weeks. It's fitting, because Persephone's tenth birthday was recently.

Review: The Italian Boy, by Sarah Wise

The Italian Boy is the story of a little-known 19th century murder. The story begins in 1832 with the delivery of the body of an “Italian boy” to one of London’s many private medical schools. In the 19th century, medical schools acquired subjects to practice on from London’s many pauper’s graves; the body of the body was fresher than one might expect, and lacked burial marks.

What followed was an investigation into the murder of an Italian boy, never fully identified by contemporaries. The search for the boy’s murderers led to the infamous trial of his suppliers—John Bishop, James May, and Thomas Williams. The murders echoed those of Burke and Hare, two famous resurrectionists after whom the term “burking” was coined.

I liked this book, sort of. Although the author goes off on tangents (she talks in general about poverty in the early 19th century, Italian politics, and the Smithfield meat market, which seemed to me to be “filler” for the book, almost like a newspaper article extended to…

Friday Finds

Here are a few more books that I’ve added to my TBR list recently:

Madonna of the Almonds, by Marina Fiorato. It’s coming out in May in the UK; it’s her second novel after The Glassblower of Murano, and it’s set in Tuscany in the 16th century. I’m told that Leonardo Da Vinci makes an appearance.

The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart. I read Nine Coaches Waiting last year and loved it, so I’m looking forward to reading more by her.

Pretty much everything by Susanna Kearsley; I read Sophia’s Secret recently and loved it, so again, another author I’m looking forward to reading more of.

Teaser Tuesday: The Princeling

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

--Grab your current read
--Let the book 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!

“The sound of a baby crying brought his mind back to the present, and with a start he saw that it was luminous grey outside, light enough to read by. The birds were singing wildly, with that firce desire for life that made it seem that their efforts alone dragged the sun up above the horizon; only the blackbird, nearby, sang effortlessly, his golden liquid notes bubbling upwards in the cool, scented dawn like the fount of life.”

-from The Princeling, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Review: The Birthday Present, by Barbara Vine

It’s the early 1990s, and Ivor Tesham, Tory MP, is in the middle of an affair with Hebe Furnal, a glamorous housewife who shares his taste for S&M. When the car Ivor’s arranged to kidnap Hebe crashes and she dies, Ivor decides to hide his involvement in the affair from the police. Over the ten years or so, as Ivor’s fortunes rise and fall, he is terrified that things will come to light and his political career will be over.

The story is told from two points of view: Ivor’s brother-in-law Robyn; and Hebe’s best friend Jane, a sad, pathetic, obsessive, and mostly deluded librarian (she’s a classic Vine character) who provides Hebe with an alibi while she’s out at her trysts with Ivor. Jane is easily the best character of the bunch; at once, you feel sorry for her and revulsion at the things she thinks and says. The real strength of the novel, however, lies in the psychological suspense, which kept me interested the whole way through.

There are a couple of things that seemed anachronis…

Review: Sophia's Secret, by Susanna Kearsley

Sophia's Secret (also known as The Winter Sea) is historical fiction, set in the present day and 1708 Scotland. In the present, Carrie McClelland is a bestselling author of historical fiction who’s having a bit of writer’s block, so she goes to Scotland to follow up with some of her research on the Scots uprising in favor of James Stewart. Carrie chooses as her main character one of her ancestors, Sophia Paterson, a young woman who was deeply involved in the events of 1708. Carrie then finds that she begins channeling her ancestor’s memories, thus fuelling the writing of the novel, excerpts of which make up roughly half the book.

I have to say that I’ve found a new favorite author! It’s a shame that the author’s books haven’t yet sold rights here in the States, because she’s an awesome writer (Kearsley says on her website that Mary Stewart is one of her favorite authors, not surprising considering that the two authors’ styles are so alike). This was literally one of those books tha…

Review: A Place Beyond Courage, by Elizabeth Chadwick

A Place Beyond Courage is the third Elizabeth Chadwick novel I’ve read, after The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. In those books, Chadwick tackled the life of William Marshal; in this one, she fictionalizes the life of his father, John Fitzgilbert. Like a lot of readers, I’d really only known about John Fitzgilbert through his “hammer and anvil” speech, so I was curious to find out what Chadwick would do with her subject.

I wasn’t disappointed; Chadwick makes John almost as likeable a character as his son. John’s life was fascinating because he was involved with so many of the major political events of the 12th century: he served as Henry I’s marshal and then became embroiled in the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. He married a local heiress, Aline, but the pair were completely unsuited to one another, and John divorced her and married Sybilla, sister of his rival. Chadwick does a fantastic job in this novel, as with all her books, of bringing characters that have been dead…

Friday Finds

Here are some books that have caught my eye recently:

The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guilleau. I heard about this through Elizabeth Chadwick; it’s the first in a series about the Crusades.

Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley. I’m currently reading Sophia’s Secret, also by her. I’m really enjoying it (it’s set in the present day and 1708), so I look forward to reading her next book. It’s a shame Kearsley’s novels haven’t sold rights in the US, because they remind me so much of Kate Morton’s books.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel. Recommended by Amazon UK; it’s a novel about Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.

Booking Through Thursday

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet.

What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

I’ve heard a lot of good things about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter Sweet, by Jamie Ford, but I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I’ve got an ARC of it sitting upstairs somewhere. I’ve just had other things to read that seemed more interesting. I've also got copies of other books that look really god, but again, I haven't gotten to them: The Traitor's Wife, by Susan Higginbotham; The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, by Tiffany Baker; and The Women, by TC Boyle.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Italian Boy

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!

“On the same day that the boy’s corpse was disinterred—a full two weeks after the arrest of Bichop, Williams, May, and Shields—men from division F undertook a thorough examination of 2 Nova Scotia Gardens, ‘it having been intimated to Mr. Minshull that it would be advisable that the premises should be strictly searched,’ as the Times put it. Today, such a delay would be unthinkable; in 1831, a detailed search of the home of a murder suspect, except to recover stolen goods, was not an obvious move.”

--From The Italian Boy, by Sarah Wise

Review: Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor

In 1934, Lydia Langstone leaves her husband and moves in with her father at 7 Bleeding Heart Square. Four years earlier, the woman who owned the house, Philippa Penhow, disappeared, and now someone is sending Lydia’s creepy landlord Mr. Serridge animal hearts in the post. At about the same time that Lydia moves in, a young man named Rory Wentworth moves in as well. He’s looking for work as a journalist, yes, but he has an ulterior motive for moving into the house. Compounded on all of this is the fact that the Fascists are coming into power, a party to which Lydia’s husband belongs.

Punctuated by snippets from Miss Penhow’s diary, Bleeding Heart Square is primarily a story of revenge and deep, dark secrets. The story is darkly bizarre and a bit gory, to be sure, but it’s well-put-together and left me wanting more. Taylor does a wonderful job with description, too: you really feel as though you’re witnessing a Fascist rally or smelling the hearts in the front hall. Rather stomach-turnin…

The Sunday Salon

It’s March 1st, so of course it’s time for the ubiquitous “monthly wrap-up” Sunday Salon post. Every February, I end up reading less, for some reason. This time last year, I finished four books; this February, I finished six, six fewer than I read in January. I’ve posted reviews for four of those books; a review for Elizabeth Chadwick’s A Place Beyond Courage will be up as soon as I’ve finished writing it, and a review of Barbara Vine’s The Birthday Present has been written, which I’ve scheduled to post on its release date here in the US, March 10. At 4 stars, A Place Beyond Courage was probably one of the better books I’ve read this month.

What’s ahead for March? I’m currently reading an ARC of Vanora Bennett’s newest book, Figures in Silk, which I think is pretty so-so; and I’ve got a stack of about twenty books to choose from when I’m done with it (don't worry, the TBR list is much, much longer). I’d like to read more in March, too; my goal is ten books. I'm also hoping that…