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Review: 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan

Pages: 343
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Harper)
Why I decided to read: Heard about it online somewhere
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine, February 2010

31 Bond Street is the fictional story of a real murder. Dr. Harvey Burdell is a respected dental surgeon in New York, who meets Emma Cunningham, a widow, in Saratoga, in the summer of 1856. After beginning a relationship with her, he invited her and her daughters to live with him at his home on Bond Street. When things soured between them, and Dr. Burdell was brutally murdered in his office, Emma was the first suspect. Henry Clinton, one of the foremost lawyers in the United States, was hired to defend her, in one of the most sensational murder trials of the mid-19th century.

The book is told in two different ways: first there’s the “present day” stand, which covers the events after the body of Dr. Burdell was discovered by his servants; and the second, which takes the reader from Dr. Burdell and Emma’s fir…

The Sunday Salon

I’m on vacation in Arizona, and what a week it’s been! I got out to Arizona on Wednesday evening, and I’ll be going back to tomorrow… My parents and I have had a busy week; on Friday I got a new computer! A Mac, which I absolutely love. My old Dell Computer, which I’ve owned for four years, had had one virus too many, and we’d spent way too many hours on the phone with Dell support in India… which tested even my patience! I’m typing on my new computer as we speak. Surprisingly, I’ve not done more than the average amount of reading this week. I wanted to bring books on vacation that I knew I’d enjoy, and so I bought Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Marsh King’s Daughter and Mary Stewart’s My Brother Michael. On the plane I read A Corpse at St. Andrew’s Chapel, which was the book I received as my February LTER book (received my December book this past week, and I’ve basically given up on my November book); and Angela Thirkell’s High Rising, the first in a series of books based upon Trollope’s B…

Review: Of the Ring of Earls, by Juliet Dymoke

Pages:318
Original date of publication: 1970
My edition: 1973 (Arrow)
Why I decided to read: mention on HFO
How I acquired my copy: through Amazon.com, February 2010

If you’ve read Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Winter Mantle, you’ll know what this novel is about: Waltheof of Huntingdon, the English Earl who nonetheless managed to keep his lands after the invasion of the Normans in 1066. He led a rebellion against the King, who nevertheless managed to forgive him; and later, Waltheof married Judith, William’s niece.

It’s a very, very good, story, one that I suspect not many people know about. Comparisons with Elizabeth Chadwick’s very good novel are inevitable. They obviously tell the same story, but in completely different ways. Waltheof here is a bit more romanticized, and Judith doesn’t have quite the amount of presence that she does in Chadwick’s book. Dymoke just doesn’t give her reader enough time to understand Judith’s motives for betraying her husband in the major way she does. So Judith …

Review: The Love Knot, by Vanessa Alexander

Pages: 182
Original date of publication: 1999
My edition: 1999 (Headline)
Why I decided to read: It’s been on my TBR list for a while now
How I acquired my copy: Online through Amazon UK, September 2009

Written in epistolary form, The Love Knot is the story of the love affair between Joanna, Duchess of Gloucester and daughter of King Edward (Joan of Acre); and Ralph Monthermer, Welsh knight. Witness to their love affair is the cold, shred clerk named Henry Trokelowe, who is charged by the King to discover what happened in the matter of the death of Gilbert de Clare, Joanna’s husband. His behavior is starkly in contrast to that of the lovers, whose passionate affair drives the action of much of this novel.

The letters are written by several of the characters: from Joanna to Ralph and vice versa; and from Trokelowe to the King (and there are a couple of letters at the end from the King to various people, to tie up the loose ends of the story). Each of the characters writes in a very distinct,…

Review: Fitzempress' Law, by Diana Norman

Pages: 284
Original date of publication: 1980
My edition: 1980 (St. Martin’s Press
Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFO
How I acquired my copy: From the library, Febryary 2010

What would happen if you were suddenly thrust back into the 12th century? What would you do? Where would you live? What would you wear? What would you eat? How would you travel? What would your attitude to life be? And how would you seek justice, if you’d been wronged?

Fitzempress’ Law is a novel that succeeds in answering these questions. It’s the story of three teenagers from the present who are thrown back in time when their motorcycle crashes. Pete becomes a knight; Len becomes a villein; and Sal becomes a novice, set in a convent when her betrothal goes awry. Soon, all three must use the law—that of the King, Henry II, also called Fitzempress—in order to right wrongs that were visited upon them.

It’s a brilliant evocation of the late twelfth century—the sights, the smells, the people, all come alive, …

Review: The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry

Pages: 514
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Ballantine)
Why I decided to read: An interest in the period led me to pick this one up
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine, January 2010

In The Sheen in the Silk, Anne Perry enters different territory than with her Victorian-era mysteries. Set in Constantinople in the 1270s and ‘80s, it features the adventures of Anna Zarides, a young woman who goes to the city to investigate a murder supposedly committed by her brother. Anna dresses as a eunuch and poses as a physician, so that she may better conduct her inquiries. All of this is set against a larger struggle between the Eastern Orthodox church and western Christianity.

Oh, dear. I really wanted to like this book. A beautiful setting, an intriguing plot—I thought, how could you go wrong with that? Well, a lot of things. It’s not that Anne Perry is a bad writer; it’s just that this particular novel wasn’t interesting or intriguing enough to make me want to read on. Fr…

Review: The Creation of Eve, by Lynn Cullen

Pages: 390
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Putnam)
Why I decided to read: heard about it through LTER
How I acquired my copy: review copy via Amazon Vine, February 2010

Sofonisba Anguissola was one of the foremost female artists of the Renaissance. Born in a small town in Italy, she studied in Rome under Michelangelo, and became a lady in waiting and art teacher to Elizabeth of Valois who became Queen of Spain when she married King Filipe. While there, Sofonisba witnesses the budding relationship between Elizabeth and the King’s young half brother, Don Juan.

If you’re looking for a story that’s solely about Sofonisba you might be a bit disappointed. She’s more of a witness to what’s going on around her, rather an active participant in the story. Although Sofinisba led an interesting life herself, it’s Elizabeth, Felipe, and the Spanish court that take the stage here, and it’s an excellent story, well told. Like another reader here, I was very surprised by, and intereste…

The Sunday Salon

Sorry I've been MIA recently. My computer at home was hit by a serious virus, so it's been out of commission for the past few days. Right now I'm working on a computer at a Fed Ex/Kinkos near home. I'm still reading, and writing reviews, but posting on here will be a bit less frequent as I try to sort my mess out. I'll still have reviews scheduled intermittently, though.

In terms of reading, this has been a great week, as usual. I'm also in the middle of preparing for my vacation out to Arizona on Wednesday--can't wait for the warmer weather, although of course it's been incredibly warm here in Pennsylvania as well.

How's your week been?

Review: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, by Fannie Flagg

Pages: 416
Original date of publication: 1987
My edition: 2000 (Ballantine)
Why I decided to read: Haven’t re-read this is a while, but I’m digging up one of my old Amazon reviews (August 2004)
How I acquired my copy: Borders, about ten years ago

This is a review I posted on Amazon in August 2004, back when I was just staring to write reviews of the books I read. I was prompted to post this after re-watching the film version a few weeks ago. My how my writing style has changed!

One of my favorite novels of small-town America in the South, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe is the story of the friendship between Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Bennett. Covering a period of time of about sixty years, the story is told through the eyes of Evelyn Threadgoode to a middle-aged housewife in the 1980s.

Whistle Stop, Alabama, 1920s: suffering from the loss of her older brother, Buddy, tomboy Idgie goes into reclusive hiding. When Ruth Bennett comes into town to stay with her family, the unlikel…

Review: Mister Slaughter, by Robert McCammon

Pages: 440
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Subterranean Press)
Why I decided to read: read the first two books in the series back in 2007
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, February 2010

Mister Slaughter is the first book in a series that began with Speaks the Nightbirdand continued with The Queen of Bedlam. Mister Slaughter is sort of a continuation of The Queen of Bedlam (I certainly recommend reading that book first, since this book references some of the events and people of the first. Speaks the Nightbird is more of a stand-alone novel). Here, Matthew Corbett (a “problem solver” for the Herrald Agency in New York) and his associate, Hudson Greathouse, are charged with the task of transporting a murderer named Tyranthus Slaughter from an insane asylum to New York, where he will be sent back to England to await trial—and, inevitably, the hangman’s noose. But this being a Matthew Corbett novel, things don’t go quite as planned, and Matthew and Gr…

Review: Wild Romance, by Chloe Schama

Pages (with notes and index): 249
Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (Walker & Company)
Why I decided to read: Heard about it through LTER
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, February 2010

Wild Romance is the true story of the life of Theresa Longworth, a woman who, in 1852, met William Yelverton aboard a steamship. Their romance was a mostly one-sided affair, which concluded with two secret marriages. When Yelverton later abandoned Theresa for marriage to another woman, Theresa instigated the first of several court cases to determine that her marriage to him was valid.

On the whole, this story of this book is stretched a bit thin. Only half of this 250-page book is devoted to the “romance” and trial; the rest to Theresa’s travels throughout America and Asia. I was expecting something meatier, something that would explain why Yelverton led Theresa on to the extent that he did. It’s quite possible that all he was after was sex; but in that case, why w…

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 searched his face. Though he did not smile, his eyes crinkled with mirth.”

--From The Queen’s Pawn, by Christy English

Cover Deja-Vu #21

Here are two more where the covers are similar (found these at Barnes and Noble recently, and since they were literally side by side on the bookshelf, I couldn't help but notice them): Elissa Elliott's Eve, and Anna Elliott's Twilight of Avalon. They've changed the color of the shawl,and centered it differently, but it's essentially the same image.

The Sunday Salon

Wow, I got a lot of reading done here this week: After The Creation of Eve, I read another review copy: 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan. After that I read Hester, by Paula Reed, a book I won through LTER but never received, so I borrowed my copy from the library. Now I’m reading Margaret Oliphant’s Miss Marjoribanks. All of these books, with the exception of Hester, I enjoyed very much.

I suspect that I’m not the only one who’s been affected by the rainstorms we’ve been having here—the power went out for six hours yesterday, and since there was really nothing else to do, I sat and read for most of that time. Therefore, I got a good chunk of Miss Marjoribanks read in the afternoon, by flashlight. Today it’s still be wet out, but not to the extent that it was yesterday. Still, since we live in a valley, there’s a huge pool of water on our corner!

Up this week I have a few more review copies I have to read for this month and next, and then I’m going on vacation, so I need a few books to rea…

Review: The Lute Player, by Norah Lofts

Pages: 572
Original date of publication: 1951
My edition: 2009 (Touchstone)
Why I decided to read: Found it while browsing at B&N
How I acquired my copy: Bought at B&N with a giftcard, January 2010

The Lute Player is the story of Richard the Lionhearted, as told from the point of view of Blondel, the eponymous lute player; Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine; and Anna Apieta, crippled half sister to Richard’s wife, Berengaria. The novel focuses on Richard’s reign of England (a country he spent very little time in), especially the time he spent while on crusade. It’s hard to write about someone in English history who is so well-known and well-loved; what better way than to write his story from the point of view of the people who knew him best?

The book takes a while to get going—most of the beginning is devoted to Berengaria, hopelessly in love with a man who was more in love with the idea of reclaiming the Holy Land. In fact, the real action of the book begins with the crusade, w…

Review: Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw

Pages: 319
Original date of publication: 1998
My edition: 1998 (Forge)
Why I decided to read: I’m a little deficient in ancient Roman historical fiction
How I acquired my copy: Ex library, January 2010

Island of Ghosts is the story of the clash of two cultures in 3rd century Britain. Ariantes is a prince of the Sarmatian nation, who made a deal with the Emperor to supply the Empire with troops.

As I’ve said before, I’m a little deficient in historical fiction set in ancient Rome or its colonies, and I was anxious to make up for that. It’s a fascinating time period, but I feel as though in this novel, the author takes an interesting subject matter and manages to make it uninteresting! I felt that the dialogue and the characters’ actions too modern to be believable. The novel is written in a very simplistic way; maybe this book was meant as YA? Maybe I’m just not in the demographic that this book was meant for.

Bradshaw is unlike any other author I’ve ever read, and I don’t mean that in a comp…

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 performance went brilliantly and ended when the Warden banged on the bars and the prison officers herded the reporters away. The Following morning, the New York Times mentioned her bombazine silk dress and the encounter with her daughters.”

--From 31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan

Review: The Regency, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 586
Original date of publication: 1990
My edition: 2006 (Sphere)
Why I decided to read: continuation of the Morland Dynasty series
How I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, September 2009

#13: 1807-1815; covers the Regency; Napoleonic period; Luddite rebellions

The Regency is the continuation of Heloise Morland’s story. In the previous book in the series, The Victory, we saw Heloise marry her heart’s desire, James Morland. Here, we witness Heloise’s re-adjustment to life at Morland Place, and deal with the challenge of taming James’s unruly daughter, Fanny, for whom she is a sort of regent before Fanny comes of age. Aged eleven when the novel begins, Fanny matures into a young woman who is anxious to gain not only her inheritance of Morland Place, but her grandfather Hobsbawn’s cotton mill empire. But a wrench is thrown into her plans when she falls in love with the up-to-no-good Lieutenant Hawker. Meanwhile, Lucy is trying to deal with the death of Weston, remaining friends with Beau Brum…

The Sunday Salon

A very busy week here! Yesterday I went to New York for my sister’s graduation, and then broke away to visit some of my old haunts. I went down to the Strand, where I bought a copy of Marguerite Yourcenar’s The Abyss; and to Barnes and Noble, where I bought The Floating Book, by Michelle Lovric. Not quite as much book shopping as you might expect, but honestly I don’t really need much more! I also did a bit of shopping elsewhere, so I returned back uptown laden with shopping bags! An exhausting but fun day.

In terms of the reading I did this week, I’ve finished Fitzempress’ Law (Diana Norman, a time travel novel set in the late 12th century), The Love Knot (Vanessa Alexander, about the love affair between Joan of Acre and Ralph of Monthermer)), and Of the Ring of Earls (Juliet Dymoke, a novel about Waltheof of Huntington). I’ve been in a medieval mood this week, haven’t I? All three books are excellent; it’s too bad that they’re out of print! If you can I recommend getting any of the t…

Review: A Hollow Crown, by Helen Hollick

Pages: 864
Original date of publication: 2004
My edition: 2004 (Arrow Books)
Why I decided to read: It was a snowy weekend, and I needed a good chunkster to read!
How I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, November 2009

Emma of Normandy was born around the year 985, and was married to two different kings of England: Aethelred, called the Unready; and Cnut, the Dane who conquered England after Aethelred proved himself to be completely incompetent as a king. Emma greatly despised her first husband, but she was much more compatible with her second. Emma was also the mother of two kings: Harthnacnut and Edward, called the Confessor; and she was the great-aunt of William the Conqueror. Emma was Queen of England by dint of her marriages, but she emerges as an interesting figure in her own right, especially since she managed to remain Queen even while in exile. A Hollow Crown covers the period of her life from 1002-1042, from her wedding to Aethelred up through the death of Harthnacnut.

In addition t…

Review: The Brontes Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson

Pages: 188
Original date of publication: 1931
My edition: 2010 (Bloomsbury Group)
Why I decided to read: Heard about it through LTER
How I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, February 2010

As Miss Martin says about the Carne girls, this book is “v. weird.” And yet, I loved it. Right from the very first paragraph, you know you’re going to be in for quite a ride: “How I loathe that kind of novel which is about a lot of sister. It is usually called They Were Sisters, of Three-Not Out, and one spends one’s entire time trying to sort them all, and muttering ‘Was it Isobel who drank, or Gertie? And which was it who ran away with the gigolo, Any or Pauline? And which of their separated husbands was Lionel, Isobel’s or Amy’s?’”. How can you not continue reading, with an opening like that one? I’m glad to say that the rest of the book is just as witty and funny as that one bit is.

The Brontes Went to Woolworths is told from the point of view of Deirdre, one of the Carne sisters. She’s …

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!

“Pete himself had a revulsion of feeling against them. He couldn’t face Reuben or any of his household that night.”

--From Fitzempress’ Law, by Diana Norman (also known as Ariana Franklin

Review: Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

Pages: 368
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Random House)
Why I decided to read: Arc sent to me through LibraryThing Early Reviewers
How I acquired my copy: ditto, November 2009
In this novel, we meet Major Ernest Pettigrew, a sexagenarian living in the small Sussex village in which he has lived all his life. The death of his brother, Bertie, leads to a chance encounter with Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who owns a shop in the village. Their relationship is one of those gentle romances where, despite their differences and living in a circumscribed village where pretty much everybody judges you, the reader finds themselves rooting for these characters.

It’s a book that’s full of sarcasm, some of it genuinely funny; but most of it is at the expense of some of the other characters and ends up being malicious rather than entertaining. The author makes the mistake that a lot of first-time authors make: she both shows and tells. Take for example Major Pettigrew’s son, Roger. Not …

The Four Month Challenge, Part III

I mentioned recently that I’ve decided to join the four-month challenge, part 3, which runs starting from March 1st. Here are the categories and what I’ve decided to read or am thinking about reading for each:

5 Point Challenges

Read a book by an author you’ve never read before
The Creation of Eve, by Lynn Cullen READ

Read a book with a one word title
Avalon, by Anya Seton

Read a book with an animal name in the title
The Royal Griffin, by Juliet Dymoke

Read a book with a proper name in the title:
Gildenford, by Valerie Anand

Read a fantasy The White Mare, by Jules Watson


10 Point Challenges

Read an ‘Austenesque’ book


Read a book with a two word title
Fitzempress’ Law, by Diana Norman READ

Read a book that is part of a series
The Campaigners, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Read a book about a real person
Within the Fetterlock, by Brian Wainwright (novel about Constance of York)

Read a mystery
The Devil’s Door, by Sharan Newman


15 Point Challenges

Read a book written in the 60’s (any century)
Miss Marjoribanks, by …