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Showing posts from July, 2009

Friday Finds

Some more TBR:


In a Dark Wood Wandering, by Hella Haasse. Historical fiction about the French royal family (during the reign of Charles VI) in the late 14th/early 15th centuries. This is what I’m currently reading.


The Fraud, by Barbara Ewing. Heard about this on someone’s blog; forgive me for not remembering whose! Another HF, set in the 18th century, about London, Florence, and art.

Review: The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte is Charlotte Bronte’s story—as told from her point of view. Written more as a memoir than a diary with dated entries, the novel chronicles Charlotte’s story from her time at the Clergy Daughters’ School through her marriage to Arthur Bell Nicholls, who had been in love with Charlotte for eight long years before their marriage in 1854. At first, her feelings for him weren’t very strong, but they grew over time. I’d originally thought that the book was going to be more about Charlotte and Arthur’s relationship; but it’s also about Charlotte herself, and her relationship with her sisters, brother, and father.

The “flashbacks” aren’t in chronological form, though of course memory doesn’t always work in a linear way. The voice that Syrie James uses for Charlotte Bronte is different than those used in Bronte’s novels, though that might be intentional; Charlotte’s own voice was much different than those she employed for the narrators in her novels. I enj…

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!

“Linnet looked up from the row of pallets occupied by the men of Jocelin’s troop too sorely wounded to return to their duties, and saw their commander standing in the doorway. It was late.”

--From Shields of Pride, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Review: Emily's Ghost, by Denise Giardina

Set in the bleak landscape of the Yorkshire moors in the 1840s, Emily’s Ghost is the story of the Bronte sisters, but especially Emily. The girls’ father hires a curate named William Weightman, a young man with radical beliefs who becomes very popular with the ladies of Haworth village. Although it is Charlotte who becomes infatuated with the curate, Weightman forms a strong attachment to the unconventional Emily.

Often, with historical fiction, a strong “unconventional” woman equals “modern.” Not so with Emily Bronte in this novel. She’d rather be out roaming the moors, or writing her stories, than flirt or talk about men like other young women her age. Emily’s not conventional at all, but she proves herself to be strong and brave, even during an unthinkable tragedy.

The reader should be forewarned that the author takes a number of liberties with the Brontes’ biographies. Sometimes it helps with the story; at other times, it hinders. And Charlotte Bronte fans may be disappointed with t…

The Sunday Salon

It’s a quiet Sunday here; yesterday I went and got my hair trimmed, fixing the horrible, almost yellowish highlights I’d gotten a million years ago. My hair is back to its original brown color, and it looks much better! Today we went into Center City and had brunch at the Four Seasons, which was excellent.

Read this week:
The Nun’s Tale, by Candace Robb
Death Comes as Epiphany, by Sharan Newman
Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella

Currently reading:
The Last Duel, by Erci Jager, nonfiction about a 14th century trial by combat in France. It’s a short book, but given my interest in medieval legal history, enjoyable.

What have you read this week?

Friday Finds

Only one book has been added to my list/stack:


Tears of Pearl, by Tasha Alexander. The fourth book in the Lady Emily Ashton series; thus time, she goes to Constantinople. I received an ARC of this in the mail this week.

Review: Twilight of a Queen, by Susan Carroll

Twilight of a Queen is the fifth book in the Dark Queen series. Catherine de Medici is dying, and she enlists a pirate named Louis Xavier to go to Faire Isle to capture Megaera, also known as the Silver Rose. After a (slight) detour to La Florida, Xavier is shipwrecked (conveniently) near Faire Isle—where he is nursed back to health by Lady Jane Danvers, an English exile.

Although I haven’t read the other four books in the series, I found it easy to get into the story. However, it takes a while to really get off the ground. I also didn’t find the historical setting very believable; Twilight of a Queen is supposed to be set in 1587 and -88, but except for the bits about the Spanish Armada, this book could take place anywhere at any time. In fact, the whole story seems like a kind of fairy tale—perhaps the author’s intention, but I didn’t really buy it. Too, time seemed suspended in a kind of vacuum.

There’s not much character development, either. As I said, this is the first book in the …

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!

“They had been standing in the passage outside the upper kitchen. Servants carrying the dinner trays had been forced to edge around them.”

--From Death Comes as Epiphany, by Sharan Newman

Review: The Devil's Queen, by Jeanne Kalogridis

The Devil’s Queen: A Novel of Catherine de Medici, is the story of Catherine de Medici—as told from her point of view. The novel opens in 1527 on the eve of major rebellion in Florence, when Catherine is eight years old, and continues through the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre and beyond. From an early age, Catherine becomes deeply involved in magic, becoming friends with the astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri, even as she struggles to protect her husband and children and keep the Valois family on the throne of France. In addition, Catherine is haunted by strange, blood-filled dreams.

I really enjoyed the story of this novel. Character development is strong, though the narration the author uses for Catherine at the age of eight sounds strangely adult-like. I enjoyed watching the interplay between Catherine and Ruggieri. Catherine’s reputation was tarnished by a lot of factors, but she actually comes across quite well in this book, as a strong woman who would do anything for her family—even tho…

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a good week for me in books. I finished two books: The Nun’s Tale, by Candace Robb (medieval mystery, set in 1366 York) and The Shadowy Horses, by Sesanna Kearsley (paranormal novel set in modern-day Scotland but featuring an ancient Roman ghost). Both were enjoyable, and I’ll have reviews of them posted as soon as I can get myself to write them.

We celebrated my mom’s birthday on Wednesday, and the big birthday gift for her form my dad was… a Kindle! I gave her a gift card to go along with it, and she’s already bought The White Tiger to read for her book group. Although I prefer holding an actual book, I have to say that I’m a bit jealous!

I made a trip to the library yesterday, and pick up three books: The Devil’s Queen, by Jeanne Kalogridis (not coming out until Tuesday, but for some reason, the library had their copy ready to go early). I also got The Crusader, by Michael Eisner (a novel about the crusades), and Death Comes as Epiphany, a mystery set in 12th century France…

Weekly Geeks: Film Adaptations

Here’s my answer to this week’s Weekly Geeks Question, which can be found here.


I have a couple of favorite movie/TV (I’m expanding this theme a bit) adaptations. First is the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. I originally bought this in 2002, and I’ve gone through two more copies of the DVD since then (including the 10th anniversary one with that gorgeous green box. There’s just something really comforting about watching that adaptation of Pride and Prejudice; it’s done so well, and it really stays true to the book (granted, some things are changed, but the spirit of the book is still there).


Another favorite film adaptation of a book is 84, Charing Cross Road, with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins. Really good acting combined with a great story; it, too, stays close to the intent of the original book.


I do also love Bridget Jones's Diary, which is cute and charming and very funny (sense a Colin Firth theme going here?).

Review: The Jewel Box, by Anna Davis

The Jewel Box is set in London in the spring and early summer of 1927. Grace Rutherford is a copywriter for an ad agency by day, but by night she’s Diamond Sharp, a girl-about-town and newspaper columnist. She starts an affair with Dexter O’Connell, a famous American writer, while simultaneously attracted to John Cramer, another American writer abroad, who befriends Grace’s sister Nancy, a widowed mother of two The “present” is interspersed with scenes from the “past” (the War).

The Jewel Box is an exceedingly charming book. Anna Davis takes the reader to a world where people drank gin fizzes and smoked cigarettes in long holders at places with names like the Tour Eiffel or the Kit Kat Club, when people danced the Charleston and women wore their hair in Louise Brooks-style bobs. Grace/Diamond IS the flapper of the 1920s, but, like everyone else of her generation, she’s haunted by the past. How does one, as Grace reflects, “draw a line under recent events and move on?”

Characterization i…

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!

“The half-shut eyes widened in surprise. Joanna sank down on a bench beneath the window.”

--From The Nun’s Tale, by Candace Robb

Review: Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant

“The words came from my mouth, not from my heart.” These are the words of the angry young novice Serafina upon her induction into the convent of Santa Caterina in Ferrara. She is befriended by Suora Zuana, the convent’s infirmary mistress, and becomes the older woman’s assistant. Zuana feels an odd bond with the volatile young woman, but little does she know that Serafina hides a deep secret, one that will affect more than just herself. The blurb on the back of the novel talks about the counter-Reformation, but the book is less about that than the lives of the nuns inside the walls of the convent, constrained as they are by the rigid schedule of religious life.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. It’s a powerful book, well-written, subtle yet explosive at the same time. It’s a difficult novel to explain, exactly—you just have to read it yourself to find out. The relationship between Zuana and Serafina is complicated and hard to explain, too; I really enjoyed how the author plays these…

The Sunday Salon

Is it really Sunday already? It’s been a beautiful day here today. Today my parents, grandmother and I went out to brunch—my mom’s birthday is coming up this week. I’d really like to tell you all what my dad is getting her, but since she’s probably reading this, I’ll wait until later. Suffice it to say that it’s good!

As far as reading goes, currently I’m reading The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley. In it, a young archeologist goes to Scotland to work on an ancient Roman archeological dig. Ghosts and the supernatural are promised in the near future. I’m only about forty pages in so far, but enjoying it immensely, as I usually do with Kearsley’s novels. It’s the perfect read for summer.

Also read this week: The Jewel Box, by Anna Davis, and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James. Both were highly enjoyable, and reviews of both will be forthcoming sometime this week or next, whenever I get around to writing them. I’ll also post a review of Sarah Dunant’s new book, Sacr…

Weekly Geeks

This week's Weekly Geeks asks you to tell us about your globe trotting via books. Are you a global reader? How many countries have you "visited" in your reading? What are your favorite places or cultures to read about? Can you recommend particularly good books about certain regions, countries or continents? How do you find out about books from other countries? What countries would you like to read that you haven't yet?Use your own criteria about what you consider to be "visiting" -- whether a book is written about the country or by a native or resident of the country.For fun, create one of these maps at this website ticking off the countries you've read books from - you might be surprised how many (or how few!) countries you've read. Include the map in your blog post if you're so inclined.

I haven’t participated in Weekly Geeks in a long time, but when I saw theme theme this week, I just had to jump in. Here are some countries I’ve traveled to in…

Review: The Maiden, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#8: 1720 to 1761: The South Sea Bubble crisis; Jacobite rebellion

The Maiden covers a period of forty years, from the South Sea Bubble crisis, up through the Jacobite rebellion and beyond. Jemmy Morland is the master of Morland Place, married off to the Lady Mary, even though his heart is elsewhere. Later, his daughter Jemima marries, while Marie-Louise, the Countess of Strathord and the daughter of royalty, entertains delusions of grandeur.

It’s always amazing to me how the Morland family can be on the losing side of history, and yet always emerge victorious—I’ve always found the family’s ability to survive anything to be really appealing. This time, the focus is more on the family’s story, though history intervenes when certain members of the family becomes embroiled with the Jacobite cause. However, things can become a bit confusing, especially with the difference between the “Morland Place” Morlands, and the “Shawes” Morlands (as with the other books in the series, there’s a family …

Booking Through Thursday on Friday

“So here today I present to you an Unread Books Challenge. Give me the list or take a picture of all the books you have stacked on your bedside table, hidden under the bed or standing in your shelf – the books you have not read, but keep meaning to. The books that begin to weigh on your mind. The books that make you cover your ears in conversation and say, ‘No! Don’t give me another book to read! I can’t finish the ones I have!’ “


The current "list" has 144 books on it, though not all of them are actually in my possession or on my shelf of books to read. But here are a few of the books I've been meaning to read:

1. Nine Lives, by Dan Baum. Nonfiction about New Orleans; this one has been sitting around since January.
2. The Women, by TC Boyle. Fiction about Frank Lloyd Wright; sitting around since February.
3. Evelina, by Frances Burney. Sitting around since Dec. of 2007
4. The Falcons of Montabard, by Elizabeth Chadwick
5. Shields of Price, by EC
6. The Champion, by EC
7. The Ol…

Review: The Canterbury Papers, by Judith Koll Healey

From Booklist:
Debut novelist Healey brings medieval history to life in magnificent fashion as she adds a new twist to an old legend. An elderly Eleanor of Aquitaine requests that her former ward, Alais Capet, the sister of the king of France, travel to Canterbury and retrieve a cache of letters Eleanor had hidden in the cathedral there years earlier. Alais is reluctant, but Eleanor dangles an irresistible carrot in front of her: a promise of information about the whereabouts of Alais' illegitimate child. The French princess undertakes the dangerous task, only to be kidnapped by a desperate King John. Alais must unravel an intricately tangled web of family intrigue and deception that could lead either to a reunion with her lost son or to her own destruction. Plagued by infidelity and mistrust, petty jealousy and political rivalry, the infamously dysfunctional Plantagenets plot and scheme against one another in this electrifying journey into the past.

I’ve read this book twice now. T…

Review: The Devil's Company, by David Liss

The Devil’s Company is the fourth Benjamin Weaver novel; this time, it’s 1722, and Weaver must take on one of the world’s largest corporations: the East India Company. Hired (though that’s too mile a term) by a dangerous man named Jerome Cobb, he must infiltrate the Company to steal secret documents. What happens, however, is a complicated series of treachery and deceptions—some of them at Benjamin Weaver’s expense.

This is the fifth novel I’ve read by David Liss, and I’d definitely say that his Benjamin Weaver books are much stronger than his stand-alone book, The Whiskey Rebels. Weaver, while not sympathetic or sometimes even likable, is a compelling character. One thing you always know will happen in a book in which he’s featured is that he’ll get double-crossed at some point, and The Devil’s Company is no exception. Liss excels at description, too, and I enjoyed his depiction of 1722 London.

The mystery itself however, is a bit predictable, and the disguises don’t always hide people…

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!

“He was seated at the best corner table—the table where he’d sat on the night she first met him. She spotted him a few seconds before he looked up and saw her.”

--From The Jewel Box, by Anna Davis

The Sunday Salon: 4th of July Weekend

It’s been a very long, very relaxing weekend. Having had work off on Friday, I went to Barnes and Noble and bought a few books using a gift card I’d received for Christmas: The Jewel Box, by Anna Davis; The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte, by Syrie James; and Shield of Three Lions, by Pamela Kaufman. The first two had been on my TBR list for a while; the third was a complete impulse buy. I’m saving the rest of the gift card to buy Sophie Kinsella’s newest book, coming out later this month.

As for what I’ve actually been reading this weekend: Twilight of a Queen, by Susan Carroll, the fifth book in the Dark Queen series, which is coming out on the 21st. The series features Catherine de Medici, the “Dark Queen,” a reputed witch who is pitted up against Ariane Cheney, a “daughter of the earth” who has healing powers. I haven’t read the first four books in the series, but I’m not confused at all by this one. It’s a very quick read; in the space of two days, I’ve read 250 pages. I’m enjo…

Friday Finds

More added to the TBR list this week:


Shield of Three Lions, by Pamela Kaufman. In late 12th century England, a border baron’s family is killed, and his daughter approaches King Richard to get her family’s land back… all the while dressed as a boy.


Another one of Mary Stewart’s novels is going to be republished this fall: My Brother Michael. Another suspense novel, this time set in Greece.


John Irving has a new book out this fall: Last Night in Twisted River. From the product description on Amazon, it looks as though it’s going to be another one of his quirky, but enjoyable, books.

Review: The Time of Singing, by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Time of Singing is the story of Roger Bigod. The story opens in the 1170s, when Roger is a young knight. At the court of Henry II, he meets Ida de Tosney, one of Henry’s mistresses, who he later marries. Over the years, as Roger takes on more responsibility as justiciar during Richard’s reign, Roger and Ida’s marriage is tested to the limit. Also added in to the mix is a bitter inheritance dispute between Roger and his half brothers. The novel covers a period of roughly 20 years, up until the death of Richard I in 1199.

Once again, Elizabeth Chadwick hits it out of the park, with a real, vivid story set against the political background of the 12th century, fraught as it is with intrigue and danger. As EC mentions on her Living the History blog, Roger’s life closely paralleled that of William Marshal (if you read and enjoyed Chadwick two books about him, you’ll be as pleased as I was to see that William plays a medium-sized role in The Time of Singing).

Unlike William, however, not m…

Sharon Kay Penman US Tour

Apparently, I missed this news the first time it was announced, but I recently found out that SKP is going to be doing a book tour in the US this summer! According to her e-mail newsletter, the paperback edition of Devil's Brood is coming out at the end of July (August for UK), as well as reissues of the other books in the "Eleanor of Aquitaine" series.

What's most exciting about this is that SKP will be in MY neighborhood for a signing/talk! (actually, 30 minutes away, but come hell or high water, I'll be there). It's a short tour, so I'm all the more excited for it. Here's the list of where she'll be...

OK, now I need to go and crawl out of the cave I've been living in...