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Showing posts from May, 2009

The Sunday Salon

It’s the last day of May, so of course I should probably talk about my reading for this month. I got a lot read—I finished thirteen books and I’m working on a fourteenth (The Chevalier, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles).

This past week, in addition, I read an ARC of Emily’s Ghost, by Denise Giardina, a novel about the Bronte sisters—strangely fitting, since the 160th anniversary of Anne’s death was this past week. Actually, the book is more about Emily Bronte and her relationship with her father’s curate—I’m assuming fictional, or I would have read something about him in the research I did later. The author takes a lot of liberty with the Brontes’ biographies, but it’s an interesting story nonetheless. Also read this past week was Laurie Notaro’s Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death (humorous memoir/ short essays).

Next up—who knows? I’ve got a few novels by Susanna Kearsley that arrived in the mail from Amazon recently, so I’m eager to get to them. I ordered a number of Elizabeth Chadwi…

Review: Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye

I admit that I thought I was going to hate this book. But I was actually quite surprised—and in a good way.

Narrated by Dr. John Watson, the story follows the adventures of Sherlock Holmes as he tries to solve the Jack the Ripper murders in 1888. It’s basically a what-if mystery, and provides a solution, albeit fictional, to a mystery that people have been trying to solve for 125 years.

I liked this mystery. I’d originally thought that this kind of pastiche would be hokey, but it’s not. I’m not completely familiar with the Ripper case, so I was excited to read a fictional account of it. The author provides an interesting solution to the murders, and Holmes and Watson are believable and conform with those created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even the characters (such as Mary Ann Monk) that Faye’s created herself are very fleshed out. It’s clear that the author knows quite a lot about Sherlock Holmes (though there was one place in the novel where I questioned that Holmes wouldn’t know the l…

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!

“Weightman opened the umbrella and, turning, offered Emily the crook of his arm. She took it with her left hand and cltched Robbie’s rope with her right.”

--From Emily’s Ghost: a Novel of the Brone Sisters, by Denise Giardina

Review: And Only to Deceive, by Tasha Alexander

And Only to Deceive is the first Lady Emily Ashton novel; there are three out right now and a fourth, I believe, coming out in the fall. Emily, also known as “Kallista,” has been widowed for over a year, when she decides to study what her late husband was passionate about: Greek antiquities. She inadvertently stumbles into an investigation into what may have been murder.

I admit I’ve been spoiled by Deanna Raybourn’s novels. Raybourn really knows how to create a great historical setting, intriguing characters, and a believable mystery. And Only to Deceive, I think, is a lighter version of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries. I noticed, though, that in several places, especially the proposal scenes, the author lifts lines directly from Jane Austen! I enjoyed the story—it’s fast-paced and fun—but I think the author sometimes sacrificed historical accuracy for the mystery. Would a single woman, even a widow, have addressed a member of the opposite by his first name (even if he really was courti…

The Sunday Salon

Well, it’s Sunday again. A beautiful weekend, although for us in the US it’s not quite over yet, or course. I have tomorrow off from work, so I’m going to enjoy it reading and relaxing.

I’m currently reading the tail end of Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Winter Mantle, and it’s fabulous—I don’t want it to end! Also read this week was Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Faye. It’s a mystery, featuring Sherlock Holmes as he solves the Jack the Ripper case. I also read And Only to Deceive, the first Lady Emily Ashton mystery. This week the following reviews were posted: Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley; A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick; Thornyhold, by Mary Stewart; and Madonna of the Almonds, by Marina Fiorato.

Review: Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley

In Mariana, Julia Beckett moves from London to Greywethers, a house in the country that has seemingly called out to her for years. She begins having “flashbacks” of sorts, to when she was Mariana Farr, a young woman living during the Restoration. Not only does Julia live the life of her predecessor, she actually is Mariana, feeling her feelings and thinking her thoughts.

This is the second Susanna Kearsley novel I’ve read (after Sophia’s Secret, which is fantastic, too), and let me just say that she’s won herself another fan. The world of the late 17th century is portrayed in painstaking detail, and Kearsley’s modern-day world is just as meticulously described. I’ve said this about other split-time novels, but it so often happens that books like this one sacrifice the modern-day narrative for that which takes place in the past; not so with this book. Mariana sweeps you off your feet from the very first page.

What I also like about Susanna Kearsley’s books is that her endings are never s…

Friday Finds

Mount TBR:

--Past Imperfect, by Julian Fellowes. Novel that came out in April, but a copy of this is coming to me in the mail courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program.

--Murder of a Medici Princess, by Caroline Murphy. Although this has been out for a while, a copy of this is coming to me in time for the paperback edition. Nonfiction, about the Medici family.

--Nanny Returns, by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Krauss. Sequel to The Nanny Diaries, coming out in December.

--The Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death, by Laurie Notaro. Humorous memoir. I’ve enjoyed Notaro’s otherbooks in the past, so when I was offered a copy of her latest, I jumped at it.

Review: A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

A Reliable Wife is set in Wisconsin in 1907. Ralph Truitt is a local, wealthy businessman who advertised in a Chicago newspaper for “a reliable wife.” Catherine Land answered the advertisement, and sets in motion a plot to poison her husband.

The novel is marred by heavy-handed prose that aims to be literary, but isn’t. A really depressing theme and plot does not make a novel great. Actually, I got really, really bored by the obsessive way in which Goolrick describes things. An entire chapter on waiting for a train? Really? A hallmark of a great novel is one in which the theme is subtle, but powerful, and makes you think about it long after you’ve read the book; in this one, Goolrick hits his reader on the head—over and—over—with his theme.

Ralph Truitt’s obsession with sex becomes tiresome by page 30, and the plot is filled with some major gaps. Why would Ralph hire someone to find his son, but not have them check into his wife’s past, for example? Was it just me, or did the author pla…

Review: Thornyhold, by Mary Stewart

Thornyhold is the third novel of Mary Stewart’s that I’ve read; although I generally enjoy Stewart’s novels, I’d definitely say this wasn’t as good as Nine Coaches Waiting or The Ivy Tree.

Geillis has just inherited Thornyhold, an 18th century house that had once apparently belonged to a Victorian-era witch, from her cousin, also named Geillis. Upon moving to the house, Geillis becomes caught up in its atmosphere, even taking on her cousin’s reputation as a witch.

Stewart definitely has a flair for the dramatic, and for infusing her stories and settings with magic. There’s a sort of dreamlike quality about Thornyhold. But here, I felt that something was missing—the novel (really a novella) was too short for character development, too short for the development of the romance. Stewart’s other novels had villains that were creepy; the “villain” in this novel is sort of caricaturish. In addition, the novel is quite sad in some places as Geillis describes to the reader what her childhood was…

Cover Deja-Vu #13

The image on the left is the cover of Karen Harper's The First Princess of Wales; on the right is what looks like a German edition of Elizabeth Chadwick's The Falcons of Montabard. I feel badly for Karen Harper, that she gets all these stock images, over and over again.



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!

“I made my way into Holmes’s bedroom, where I was peered at malevolently from every angle by the images of infamous criminals carelessly tacked to the walls. My friend, though deathly pale, was breathing regularly and at last, blessedly, unconscious.”

--From Dust and Shadow, by Lyndsay Fay

Review: Madonna of the Almonds, by Marina Fiorato

I loved The Glassblower of Murano, so I had high hopes for Madonna of the Almonds. However, I was really, really disappointed by Marina Fiorato’s second novel.

Simonetta di Saronna is a widow, her husband killed in the Italian wars of the early 16th century. Bernadino is a painter who once apprenticed under Leonardo Da Vinci, and a ladies’ man to boot. When Bernardino is commissioned to paint the chapel of Saronna’s chapel, he meets Simonetta. Later, Siomoetta invents a drink that will become famous the world over.

I liked the premise of the novel, but unfortunately, most of the story relies on circumstance. Also, the plot was predictable; I could see the ending coming from a mile away, and I’m not even all that good at predicting what will happen in novels. This book promised passion, but I really got no sense of that while reading this novel. Neither was there any kind of romantic tension between the two main characters. All the characters were wooden and unrealistic; I found it hard …

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a crazy week around here—the only thing I posted last week was a review, and that scheduled in advance. I’ve been very busy with work, though oddly enough I still made time to read five books this week:

The Principessa, by Christie Dickason
Madonna of the Almonds, by Marina Fiorato
Thornyhold, by Mary Stewart
Mariana, by Susanna Kearsley
A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick

My favorite book of the week was Mariana; least favorite was A Reliable Wife. Currently I’m reading Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive, the first Lady Emily Ashton mystery. Aside from the anachronisms, the premise of the novel is pretty interesting.

Review: The Principessa, by Christie Dickason

The Firemaster’s Mistress was an enjoyable read, so I looked forward to reading its sequel, The Principessa. This time Dickason takes us beyond England, to a fictional Italian city-state called La Spada, apparently to the northeast of Venice. It’s two years after the events of the Gunpowder Plot, and Francis Quonyt is cooling his heels, bored, at the court of James I. A personal debt of William Cecil’s leads Francis to the royal court of La Spada, where the prince there is dying and wants Francis to do something special for him. While there, Francis meets the prince’s widowed daughter, Sofia.

For the most part, I enjoyed the plot of this novel. I didn’t really like the ending of The Firemaster’s Mistress, but I was interested in seeing what would happen next with Francis. I thought the relationship between Francis and Sofia was a little weird, though—too much misunderstanding, and not enough romantic suspense.

I always enjoy Dickason’s settings, though. Although La Spada is fictional, D…

Review: The Devlin Diary, by Christi Phillips

I seem to be on a 17th-century streak. First it was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, then it was The Long Shadow… and now it’s The Devlin Diary, by Christi Phillips.

The story operates in a split time narrative. One strand of the story follows that of Hannah Devlin, a young, widowed, female physician in 1672 London. Threatened with imprisonment for practicing without license, Hannah becomes physician to Louise de Keroualle, mistress to King Charles II and afflicted with the clap. Pretty soon, dead men turn up on London, strange figures carved on their chests.

The other story follows that of Claire Donovan, who first appeared in The Rossetti Letter. Here, Claire has accepted a position as lecturer at Trinity College, Cambridge, through the influence of Andrew Kent. Claire has a run-in with another fellow, who one day turns up dead. Soon, it becomes clear that the murder in the present day is connected with those of the past, and Claire finds herself, like Hannah, investigating murde…

Friday Finds

Let’s see, what else have I added to my TBR list?

--The Rossetti Letter, by Christi Phillips. Set in 17th century Venice; I read The Devlin Diary this past week, which is a sequel of sorts, so I’d like to read The Rossetti Letter as well.

--The Lady Tree, by Christie Dickason. Set in 17th century England; by the author of The Firemaster’s Mistress and The Principessa (which I’m reading and enjoying right now).

Review: Stone's Fall, by Iain Pears

I finished Stone’s Fall a few weeks ago, but I held off on writing the review until now. Here’s the description from Amazon:

A return to the form that launched Iain Pears onto bestseller lists around the world: a vast historical mystery, marvelous in its ambition and ingenious in its complexity.

In his most dazzling novel since the groundbreaking New York Times bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears tells the story of John Stone, financier and arms dealer, a man so wealthy that in the years before World War One he was able to manipulate markets, industries, and indeed entire countries and continents.

A panoramic novel with a riveting mystery at its heart, Stone’s Fall is a quest to discover how and why John Stone dies, falling out of a window at his London home.

Chronologically, it moves backwards–from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890, and finally to Venice in 1867– and in the process the quest to uncover the truth plays out against the backdrop of the evolution of high-stake…

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!

“Wandering about aimlessly, my feet led me uphill until I reached the building site of the Sagrada Familia. When I was small, my father had sometimes taken me there to gaze up at the Babel of sculptures and porticoes that never seemed to take flight, as if the building were cursed.”

--From The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Sunday Salon

May is here! Isn’t that incredible? Every now and then I look back a year and see what I was reading then. Books I read (or posted reviews on) in the first week of May, 2008 were:

Whose Body?,by Dorothy Sayers
The Painted Veil, by Somerset Maugham
Turning Tables, by Rose and Heather McDowell
Hons and Rebels, by Jessica Mitford
The Painter From Shanghai, by Jennifer Cody Epstein

I enjoyed reading all of these books; I gave each a four-star rating or higher, except for Whose Body? which got three . I also watched the film adaptation of The Painted Veil (amazing, a must-watch), and participated in Weekly Geeks, which I believe was just in its second week then.

Currently, I’m reading an advance copy of Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict, by Laurie Viera Rigler, the sequel to True Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict.

Review: The Last Queen, by CW Gortner

The Last Queen is the story of Juana of Castile, told from her point of view. One of the daughters of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she was married to Philip of Flanders. A love match at first, Juana’s love quickly turned to hate as her husband plotted and schemed to take her inheritance—the throne of Spain—away from her, and to have her declared insane. The Last Queen, however, is the story of a strong, brave woman who fights against all odds to maintain her independence and dignity.

Before reading this novel, I really hadn’t known much about Juana, other than that she was the sister of Catherine of Aragon. I’d kind of had her pegged as the mad woman who was so in love with Philip of Flanders that she carried his coffin—and his dead body—everywhere with her. But The Last Queen changed my opinion of Juana.

I really enjoyed Gortner’s writing style. Even though the narrator is a woman, I never got the impression that the book was written by a man. In addition, Gortner really excels at …

Review: The Long Shadow, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#6: Covers the reign of King James II; 1670-1689

The Long Shadow is the sixth book in the Morland Dynasty series. I’ve kind of been reading this series out of order; the first book in the series that I read was #5, The Black Pearl. Book #6 focuses on Annunciata and Ralph Morland—Annuciata continues her rise at court in London, becoming a Countess, while Ralph keeps himself at Morland Place. Their lives are overshadowed by the end of the Restoration, and the dangerous reign of James II, where the battle between Catholics and Protestants becomes more complicated than ever.

This is the third book I’ve read that has Annunciate Morland in it, and I can safely say that this novel solidified my dislike of her. At best, she’s selfish and spoiled, an indifferent and sometimes uncaring mother and wife. I liked Ralph Morland at the end of The Black Pearl, but here he seems a bit standoffish. Even Annuciata’a children are somewhat unlikable, especially Hugo. But other than the characters, I thought…

Friday Finds

I only have one find for this week, and it’s a book I’m going to be receiving via the LTER program. Considering there were nearly 1500 people who requested the book, I feel pretty lucky to be receiving this. And it looks like it will be an excellent read.