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Review: Gildenford, by Valerie Anand

Pages: 392Original date of publication: 1977My edition: 1977 (Charles Scribners Sons)Why I decided to read: recommendation on Amazon.comHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.comIn 1036, a brutal massacre took place at Gildford, of Alfred the Atheling and his followers by Harold Harefoot, soon after to become King of England. That event, and the events of the thirty years following it, would lead up to one of the seminal moments of English history: the invasion of England by William of Normandy and his followers, in 1066. Gildenford is the story of both sides of the conflict over possession of the crown, with Brand Woodcutter, a retainer of Earl Godwin of Wessex, caught in the crossfire. This novel is a very strong, real depiction of England in the years leading up to the conquest. Brand is a character to whom I became strongly attached: honorable yet conflicted over the decision he must make. As the novel mentions towards the end, Brand is the kind of person who wants to live his life with a…

Review: The Peacock and the Pearl, by Jennifer Lang

Pages: 438Original date of publication: 1992My edition: 1992 (St. Martin’s Press)Why I decided to read: browsing in the libraryHow I acquired my copy: unacquired, from the library, April 2010Set between the years of 1371 and 1383, The Peacock and the Pearl is set amongst the guild system of medieval London and against the wider historical backdrop of the period—culminating, in fact, with the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381. Joanne Burgeys, the plain-featured daughter of an ambitious mercer, encounters Sir Tristam de Maudesbury, a retainer knight of John of Gaunt, one day during an apprentice riot. In true romantic tradition, Tristam literally is her knight in shining armor, saving her life. Later, Joanna repays the favor, and by a strange twist of fate, the two marry—although the relationship is pretty much one-sided.The historical detail of the book is excellent, and the author, who wrote a number of books on the medieval guild system. Everything, especially what people wear, is meticulousl…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday 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 recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“The king’s fingers stiffened, losing their grip. His vision tricked him, showed him only a random swirl of water and moonlight, the furling of a horse’s mane, an arm suddenly thrust up into the air.”--From Jerusalem, by Cecelia Holland

Cover Deja-Vu #23

Two more for you: the one cover is that of Miss Bunting, by Agnes Thirkell, one of the books in her long-running Barsetshire series; and the other is that of the Penguin edition of Madame Bovary.

Persephone Reading Week: May 3rd-May 9th

I’m a bit slow jumping on this bandwagon, but I’ve recently learned that Verity at The B Files and Claire at Paperback Reader will be hosting a Persephone Reading Week from May 3rd through May 9th.There aren’t any rules; all you need to do is read at least one Persephone. So far I’ve read twelve Persephones, and I have five more unread on my shelves: The Young Pretenders, A London Child of the 1870s, William: An Englishman, High Wages, and They Were Sisters. At some point in the next week or two I should be receiving my May book (title TBD). Plus I’ve also ordered the two new ones, Still Missing, by Beth Gutcheon, and Dimanche and Other Stories, by Irene Nemirovsky. These last three might not make it here in time for PRW, though... I obviously won’t get to reading all of my choices during that week, but I’ll definitely have a number of options to keep me occupied!

The Sunday Salon

OK, remember how I said that I was going to cut down on my book buying? Well, that went straight out the window yesterday when I went to my library’s paperback book sale and brought home the following:The Last Templar, by Michael Jecks (first in the Knights Templar series)Death in Zanzibar, by MM Kaye. One of Kaye’s mysteries. A Prologue to Love, by Taylor Caldwell (not sure it it’s historical fiction or what, but the description on the back of the book looked good)Lion of Ireland, by Morgan Llewellyn (the cover of my edition of this is unbelievably, wonderfully tacky). A novel about Brian Boru, the 10th century Irish king. The King’s Bishop, by Candace Robb (since I’ve read the first three books in this series, finding the fourth at the sale was perfect)This brings my collection of owned by unread books up to 83. Basically, I’ve got enough to read from my own collection until the end of the year.! It seems as though I acquire books faster than I actually read them. So as for what I a…

Review: The Expendable Man, by Dorothy Hughes

Pages: 339Original date of publication (1963)My edition: 2006 (Persephone books)Why I decided to read: browsing on Persephone’s websiteHow I acquired my copy: Persephone bookshop, Lambs Conduit Street London, September 2009In The Expendable Man, Hugh Densmore is a young intern doctor who travels from his hospital in LA to Phoenix to attend a relative’s wedding. On his way there, he picks up a young, teenage hitchhiker, who later ends up dead in Scottsdale. As you might expect, the subject of the novel, and its tone, is extremely dark and gritty—almost bleakly so. Coupled with descriptions of the heat of the desert, Arizona is therefore a perfect place to set this novel, which also addresses larger social and racial themes—think a Patricia Highsmith plot paired with a Harper Lee message, although less skillfully done. The “wrong man accused” plot is common in fiction, but Dorothy Hughes breathes new light into it with a stunning twist about a third of the way through. It’s an especiall…

Friday Finds

I haven’t done this in a while! As opposed to talking about books I’ve heard of, I thought I’d focus on the books I’ve bought and ARCs that have come into the house so far this month. I’m really trying to keep my book buying to a minimum, but it’s tough! I seem to be acquiring them faster than I read them.Claude and Camille, by Stephanie Cowell. One of my April books from Amazon Vine.Shadow Princess, by Indu Sundaresan. A novel set in 17th century India; another Vine book.The Outcast, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Bought online yesterday; the 21st book in the Morland Dynasty series. Airs Above the Ground and Thunder on the Right, by Mary Stewart. I got in the mood to read more of her novels, and these are the only two I didn’t own before.Clouds of Witness and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, by Dorothy Sayers. Another author I’ve been itching to read more of recently. Green Dragon, White Tiger, by Annette Motley. A novel set in 7th century China. Jorvik, by Sheelagh Kelly. A novel …

Review: Paths of Exile, by Carla Nayland

Pages: 221Original date of publication: 2009My edition: 2009 (Quaestor)Why I decided to read: it’s April’s book of the month on HFO (follow the discussion here)How I acquired my copy: Amazon.comThere’s a dearth of novels based on the early middle ages—probably because it’s such a hard period to research and then recreate. Very little is known about England prior to the Viking invasions, but Carla Nayland’s wonderful novel about early 7th century Eboracum (York) and Deira (Yorkshire) successfully fills the gap nicely.This is the story of Eadwine, a prince of Deira whose lands are invaded and conquered by Aetheferth, king of a neighboring tribe. After a devastating battle, Eadwine goes into exile with some of his followers. They stop at a farmhouse occupied by three women, one of whom is Severa, a healing woman of sorts and their leader. Most of the story follows Eadwine, biding his time as he waits for the opportunity to reclaim his lands and betrothed (who has a surprise waiting for h…

Review: My Brother Michael, by Mary Stewart

Pages: 386Original date of publication: 1959My edition: 2001 (HarperTorch)Why I decided to read: I enjoy reading Mary Stewart’s novelsHow I acquired my copy: came across it browsing in a local bookstore, June 2009This is the seventh of Mary Stewart’s novels that I’ve read, and I’ve noticed that they tend to be a bit formulaic. There’s always a young Englishwoman who’s experienced disappointment in love, who goes to an exotic location to recuperate. While there, she usually finds herself in the midst of a mystery, usually risking her own life. And, of course, there’s the handsome stranger, with whom there’s a romantic subplot.My Brother Michael follows this ploline to a T. Camilla Haven travels to Athens, Greece. In the middle of writing a letter to a friend, in which she complains that nothing ever happens to her, Camilla is offered the use of a car. She takes the car to Delphi, in lieu of the girl—“Simon’s Girl—it’s meant for—and finds herself involved in a fourteen-year-old mystery.…

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday 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 recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“Doubtless King Henry was also spared a considerable expense once they were gone from his court, and that was some relief to him, for he had difficulties of his own with his council and magnates over his expenditure, and to be able to point to one economy was was at least a step in conciliating them. So in all it suited everyone, although I am sure the lady Senena felt pain by then in any upheaval in her life, and suffered doubts and depressions of which no one else knew, unless it might be Bishop Richard of Bangor, who accompanied the royal party on their journey, making one of his rare visits to his see.”--From The Brothers of Gwynedd, b…

Review: The Marsh King's Daughter, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Pages: 406
Original date of publication: 1999
My edition: 2006 (Sphere)
Why I decided to read: it’s Elizabeth Chadwick; what else can I say?
How I acquired my copy: Waterstone’s bookshop, Piccadilly, London, September 2009

Miriel is an unruly, headstrong girl, whose stepfather places her in the convent of St. Catherine. While there, she comes into contact with Nicholas de Caen, a rebel against King John. While still a prisoner, Nicholas rescues John’s infamous treasure from the swamp, and attempts to run away—accidentally (or not) taking Miriel with him. Their adventures, together and apart, take place over the course of about five years, as hate eventually turns to love.

It’s true that Elizabeth Chadwick’s books, especially those about fictional characters, tend to follow a certain pattern: two would-be lovers are torn asunder by circumstances beyond their control, and they must battle against the odds to eventually return to one another. The main female character usually is very headstron…

The Sunday Salon

I’ve spent most of my Sunday on the couch (what else is new?) watching Ugly Betty. Since the Very Last Episode Ever was recently aired on TV, I’ve been watching past seasons of the show on DVD—I’ve reached the beginning of the second season. (why did I never noticed the subliminal similarities between it and Sex and the City before?). I also managed to get in a bit of reading this weekend—I finished Valerie Anand’s Gildenford, a novel about the events leading up to the Conquest. I finished, nearly in one sitting, a review copy of Jen Lancaster’s My Fair Lazy, which will be coming out at the beginning of May. This one’s about her addiction to reality TV, and how she essentially got up off her ass to experience real culture for a change. Very funny, as you might expect from Lancaster’s books—and much better, in my opinion, than her last.As part of her “cultural Jenaissance,” she attempted to read or re-read the classics, including Aldous Huxley. There’s a great story in there about her …

Review: High Rising, by Angela Thirkell

Pages: 233Original date of publication: 1933My edition: 2009 (Moyer and Bell)Why I decided to read: heard about this book through the Persephone discussion board on LibraryThingHow I acquired my copy: Amazon.com, February 2010High Rising is the first in a very long (31 books) series about the fictional place of Barsetshire, modeled on Trollope’s books. High Rising is the story of Laura Morland, a widow and mother who is also the author of ‘good bad books.” It follows Laura’s story over the course of roughly a year, as she manages her career and boisterous youngest son, Tony, and witnesses the foibles of the town of High Rising and its environs. The story itself is was good enough for me to read to the end, but I do feel as though Angela Thirkell doesn’t quite have the comedic touch of DE Stevenson, or a knack for subtlety that Barbara Pym does. However, Thirkell is good at making her characters seem real, and immersing her readers in the world of Barsetshire. Laura Morland is a charmi…

Review: A Corpse at St. Andrews Chapel, by Melvin Starr

Pages: 34Original date of publication: 2009My edition: 2010 (Monarch Books)Why I decided to read: I read the first book in the series in JanuaryHow I acquired my copy: LTER, February 2010A Corpse at St. Andrew’s Chapel is the second tale (or chronicle) of Hugh de Singleton, a surgeon and bailiff who also solves mysteries in the town of Bampton. This time, a beadle has been found dead near St. Andrew’s Chapel, his throat brutally slashed. Everyone assumes that a wolf has killed him; but on the other hand, maybe it was murder? Since I’ve read the first two installments in this series, I’ll start with the obvious comparisons. Hugh is an engaging hero, likeable despite his self-confessed vanity regarding his talents. In the second book, the author manages to keep Hugh in character, while still having him develop as a person. The mystery itself is a bit pedestrian, but everything wraps up well in the end. As in the first novel in the series, Starr makes Wycliff a character, but he doesn’t …

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesday 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 recommendations if hey like the teaser you’re given!“To Dr. Pare’s astonishment, Nostradamus cured Henri’s leg wound with a simple plaster of mint and mold. He then drew our children’s horoscopes.”--From The Confessions of Catherine de Medici, by CW Gortner

Review: Spooky Little Girl, by Laurie Notaro

Pages: 304Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010(Villard)Why I decided to read: I’ve enjoyed Laurie Notaro’s books of essays beforeHow I acquired my copy: Review copy from Amazon VineI’ve noticed a thing about Laurie Notaro’s books. Her collections of essays tend to be better than her fiction is. Spooky Little Girl is a novel about a woman named Lucy, who goes on vacation and returns to find out that her fiancée has mysteriously dumped her and thrown her stuff out on the lawn, and that she’s lost her job. Lucy drives up to Flagstaff to visit her sister, and gets hit by a bus. She later finds herself as a ghost, in “ghost school,” and later haunting the last place she ever wanted to be in. Why has her fiancée dumped her? And why did nobody attend her funeral?The idea isn’t so original—it borrows a bit from the movie Ghost (in fact the ghosts even watch the movie while in school). Notaro even borrows from herself—I’m pretty sure that Ruby Spicer is a name she’d recycled from…

The Sunday Salon

Review: The Lady Tree, by Christie Dickason

Pages: 535Original date of publication: 1993My edition: 1999 (Harper Collins)Why I decided to read: I read two of Christie Dickason’s other novels last year and was intrigued by the subject matter of this one.How I acquired my copy: Foyles Bookshop, London, September 2009 It’s 1636, and Amsterdam is in a speculating frenzy—over tulips. John Nightingale is an English naturalist with a Past who is hired to speculate in the tulip trade by the very person he’s trying to run away from. It’s a game that’s not simply a game to many, and John often finds himself fearing for his own life. Added on top of that is the fact that he finds himself attracted to both the sister of an investor and his own cousin’s wife, and John indeed is in a bind.This is the third book by Christie Dickason that I’ve read, and I’ve noticed that she has an unusual writing style—which can sometimes help her, sometimes harm. I’m not quite sure why the book is titled The Lady Tree, considering the tree in question has so…

Review: The Far Cry, by Emma Smith

Pages: 324Original date of publication: 1949My edition: 2007 (Persephone)Why I decided to read: It’s been on my TBR pile since I purchased it six months agoHow I acquired my copy: from the Persephone shop, September 2009The Far Cry was inspired by the author’s experiences in India. In 1945, at the age of 21, Emma Smith (who describes herself as “a green young woman” in her preface to this edition) traveled to India with a film production crew as a junior script writer/gopher. While she was there, Smith kept a journal of her experiences and thoughts to detail her “magical Cinderella-like transformation” into a worldlier person. In the preface of the novel, Emma Smith writes brilliantly about what kind of impact her travels to India had upon her, a first-time visitor. What she wrote in her journal went largely into the writing of this novel; and the stronger it is for it, I think, because this is an absolutely stunning book.When Mr. Digby’s ex wife returns from America, he’s absolutely …

Teaser Tuesdays

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!“Joanne entered the chamber at the top of the west turret prepared to stand no nonsense. William’s fear had been palpable and Joanna did not relish the thought of being left alone on the manor with a bedridden woman and the surly serfs to face whatever danger was brewing.”--From The Peacock and the Pearl, by Jennifer Lang

Review: The Queen's Pawn, by Christy English

Pages: 378Original date of publication: 2010My edition: 2010 (NAL)Why I decided to read: heard about it through HFOHow I acquired my copy: review copy from the publisher, March 2010The Queen’s Pawn is a novel about Alais, Princess of France, who was betrothed to Richard Plantagenet. She went to England at a young age, and was raised in the court of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Later she (supposedly) had an affair with Henry II. In this novel, the author also posits that it was Alais who seduced Henry so that she could become Queen herself.It seems to me that it must be a challenge to write a novel about Alais. She grew up in one of the most well-known royal courts in the world, yet there’s not much that’s known about her. Several authors have tried to write her story (including Judith Koll Healey, who write a couple of mysteries featuring Alais), and, unfortunately, I’m still looking for a really good novel about her. Thus one just didn’t do it for me completely, I’m afraid—Christy English c…

Review: Mistress of Rome, by Kate Quinn

Pages:
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Berkley)
Why I decided to read: the publisher offered me a review copy:
How I acquired m copy: ditto, March 2010

Mistress of Rome is a story that’s focused on three characters: Thea, a Jewish slave; her mistress, Lepida Polllia; and Arius, a Briton gladiator. These characters live and interact with one another in late first-century Rome, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. Quinn describes in vivid detail (sometimes too vivid!) the brutality of Rome, as well as, maybe, its softer side.

The book is pretty well researched, and the author has a good feel for description. However, there were a lot of things I didn’t like about this book: namely, the switch between first and third person narration, as other reviewers have mentioned. It wouldn’t bother me so much except for the fact that the switch between the tenses would sometimes occur in the middle of chapters, with only a break between paragraphs to make the transition. It didn’t r…

Cover Deja-Vu #22

I came across these while i was cataloguing my mom's library on LT (she's really into art-themed books, having been an art history major in college). The image is, of course, John Singer Sargent's famous painting, Portrait ofMadame X. The image of the left is the cover of I Am Madame X (might be good if you're participating in the A to Z challange and need an X title), by Gioia Diliberto (a fictional memoir of the woman behind the painting); and the cover on the right is that of Strapless, by Deborah Davis (a nonfiction version of the same).

The Sunday Salon

Happy Easter, folks!

I spent this past week catching up on work after going on vacation—who knew that I would have so much to do? I enjoyed my vacation, but I also felt weirdly glad to be back at work. I did yoga for the first time in my life (the type where you hold poses for ungodly amounts of time), and then last Sunday I went horse back riding, and worked out immediately afterwards. As a result, the muscles in my back hurt for a couple of days! But now everything is back to normal.

I guess, since this is the first Sunday in April, I should do a reading wrap-up. I read an astonishing 15 books this month, so nearly one for every two days of the month! The books:

The Love Knot, by Vanessa Alexander
The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Elizabeth Chadwick
The Creation of Eve, by Lynn Cullen
Of the Ring of Earls, by Juliet Dymoke
The Lady Tree, by Christie Dickason
The Queen’s Pawn, by Christy English
31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan
Paths of Exile, by Carla Nayland
Fitzempress’ Law, by Diana Norman
Miss Ma…

Review: Miss Marjoribanks, by Margaret Oliphant

Pages: 547 (with index and notes)
Original date of publication: 1866
My edition: 1998 (Penguin Classics edition)
Why I decided to read: It’s been on my TBR list for ages
How I acquired my copy: through Amazon with a gift card, September 2009

Miss Marjoribanks is the story of Lucilla Marjoribanks, a young woman who endeavors to improve the social life of the town of Carlingford and “be a comfort to [her] dear papa.” Lucilla admits freely that she has no sense of humor; but at the same time she has an infallible desire to organize things to her own satisfaction. Whether she’s choosing draperies (to match her own complexion, of course), arranging her neighbors’ marriages, or electioneering, Lucilla is an spirited woman who inevitably learns that she “had to undergo the mortification of finding out that many of her most able efforts turned to other people’s profit and went directly against herself.” This book is not only a story of Lucilla, but the middle-class town she lives in, filled with p…

Review: Hester, by Paula Reed

Pages: 320
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (St. Martin's Press)
Why I decided to read: I won this through LTER
How I acquired my copy: mine from LTER never arrived, so I borrowed from the library instead, March 2010

Hester is the continued story of Hester Prynne, flawed heroine of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic novel. In this novel, which takes place roughly between the years of 1649 and 1660, Hester moves back to England, where she comes to the attention of Oliver Cromwell, who appreciates her for a certain talent she has: the ability to instantly see a person’s sins just by looking at them, a talent (or curse, depending on how you look at it) she acquired as a result of committing her own sins.

The novel has a lot of ground to cover, seeing as it takes the reader through the Protectorate of Cromwell and just beyond. What I didn’t particularly care for is that things happen rather quickly here. Hester strikes me as being a very strong woman, but also as someone who f…

Review: Within the Hollow Crown, by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Pages:333
Original date of publication: 1941
My edition: 2010 (Sourcebooks)
How I acquired my copy: ARC via the publisher, January 2010

Within the Hollow Crown is the story of Richard II, beginning at age 15 when he managed to put down the Peasants’ Rebellion in 1381. The son of Edward the Black Prince and Joan of Kent, Richard became King at age 10, after the death of his grandfather, Edward III. Richard II has a bit of a Bad Reputation, due to the way he handled certain events during his reign, but Margaret Campbell Barnes attempts to restore his reputation in this novel. Although she achieved her goal in this way, I still found that there was a lot lacking about this book.

This is the first novel I’ve read about Richard II (in fact, it’s the only novel about him that I’ve heard of). Richard’s story is extremely interesting, and the comparisons between he and his great-grandfather Edward the II are inevitable. The time period in which Edward lived is extraordinary too; the Peasants’ Revo…