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Showing posts from January, 2009

Review: The Glassblower of Murano, by Marina Fiorato

Usually, novels set in split-time are dominated by either one of its settings or the other, leaving the second to muddle along behind. Not so with The Glassblower of Murano . Although the story takes place alternately in 1681 and present-day Venice, both story lines are exceptionally strong. I love novels set in Venice, as you know that a story about treachery and intrigue will follow, and The Glassblower of Murano is no exception. Nora Manin leaves London and an ex-husband to work as a glassblower in one of the furnace on the island of Murano. More than three hundred years previously, her ancestor, Corradino Manin, was also a glassblower, one of the best in Venice, who sold Venetian glassmaking secrets to the French. Very soon, inevitably, the Council of the Ten (Venice’s secret police force) catches wind of Corradino’s activities, and he is murdered one evening, stabbed in the back with a dagger made of Murano glass. This is the scene that the novel opens up with, and it’s definitel

Bits and pieces

Sometime recently, I made it to the top 500 reviewers on ! Not a big deal, I guess, but I've been reviewing there intermittently since 2004. As my mom said just now, "what did you do to get up there? Did somebody die?" Yesterday and today we had snow and rain here in Pennsylvania, and when I went to get to work today, my parents' driveway was completely covered in black ice. The very end of the driveway slopes downwards, and the mailbox is about 20 feet up away from the road. This afternoon, after I went to the grocery store, I came home and found that the driveway was still icy. So I parked the car on the road a little ways aways and walked up to the house (I was carrying two large things of toilet paper, so I must have looked a little bit funny). Stuffed into the mailbox (which is average-sized) was a medium-sized Amazon package--a little worse for the wear, but the contents were fine. So it seems as though the UPS guy was afraid to come up the drive to d

Review: The Founding, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#1: Covers 1434-1483; the War of the Roses The Founding is the first book in the Morland Dynasty series, covering the War of the Roses from 1434 to 1483. Robert Morland, heir to the Morland estate, marries Eleanor Courteney, thereby uniting money with a family name. Eleanor quickly becomes the family matriarch, staunchly supporting the Yorkists in the struggle for the English throne. The story of The Founding covers fifty years and five generations of the Morland family. The series is truly addictive. It’s not great literature, by any means, but Cynthia Harrod-Eagles knows how to tell an entertaining story, and none of it is contrived. The Morland family in The Founding is closely aligned with the Plantagenets, following them right up through the Battle of Bosworth Field. Also reviewed by: Medieval Bookworm

Review: Mistress of the Monarchy, by Alison Weir

Like Alison Weir, I was first introduced to the story of Katherine Swynford through Anya Seton’s romanticized 1954 novel, Katherine . Weir’s biography is a pretty comprehensive look at this enigmatic, lesser-known medieval woman. I have a love-hate relationship with Weir’s books: I loved The Six Wives of Henry VIII ; liked Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley , and Eleanor of Aquitaine ; but detested Queen Isabella and Innocent Traitor (Weir doesn’t do fiction all that well). I put Mistress of the Monarchy in the “like for the most part” category. Katherine Swynford was born Katherine de Roet in 1350, one of the daughters of Sir Paon de Roet. She then married Hugh Swynford, and spent time in the Lancastrian household as the governess to John of Gaunt’s children. Katherine’s affair with him probably began around the year 1372, and, after producing a number of illegitimate children, married John in 1396. Katherine is the ancestor of most of the royal houses of Europe, p

Weekly Geeks

In the third Weekly Geeks of 2009, let's have fun with the classics. For our purposes, I'm defining a classic as anything written over 100 years ago and still in print. (If your memory needs jogging, see: Classic Literature Library for examples.) For your assignment this week, choose two or more of the following questions: 1) How do you feel about classic literature? Are you intimidated by it? Love it? Not sure because you never actually tried it? Don't get why anyone reads anything else? Which classics, if any, have you truly loved? Which would you recommend for someone who has very little experience reading older books? Go all out, sell us on it! I feel as though “classic literature” is a very broad category, encompassing pretty much everything: romance, history, mystery, etc. Personally, I think highly of classic literature, though there are of course the books I don’t like and the books I don’t “get” (Joyce's Dubliners and pretty much anything by Steinbeck, for exam

Friday Finds

My TBR list has grown even more this week (actually, the past two weeks), with: Pictures from an Exhibition , by Sara Houghteling. Novel set in WWII Paris, about Nazi art theft. ARC that’s coming in the mail. Nine Lives, by Dan Baum. Nonfiction about Hurricane Katrina; ARC that I got through Shelf Awareness. This should be a change from all the historical fiction I've been glutting myself on lately Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet , by Jamie Ford. ARC that arrived in the mail last week.

Review: The Miracles of Prato, by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz

The Miracles of Prato is the story of a lesser-known love affair, between the Renaissance painter Filippo Lippi, and Lucrezia Butti, a novice in the Convent of Santa Margherita in Prato. According to the authors' note in the back of the book, Lucrezia was either a novice or a young lady placed in the care of the Convent. They had two children together, one of which, Filippino, became a famous painter himself, studying under Boticelli. The story is probably a romanticized version of what really happened; doing a bit more reading, I found out that Lucrezia may have been kidnapped by Lippi, and held hostage in his home. The "miracle" of the title is the Sacra Cintola, or Sacred Belt, that is the lynchpin of part of the story. I found this book to be slow going. The writing style is excellent, but excellent writing does not a great novel make. The authors are clearly passionate about art; it's too bad that the rest of the novel can't keep up. The love story is muted,

Review: The Needle in the Blood, by Sarah Bower

The Needle in the Blood is the story of Bishop Odo of Bayeux and his mysterious mistress, Aethelgytha. One of the mysteries of the Bayeux Tapestry is a certain panel in which there is a cleric striking (or touching) a woman’s face, with the caption “here is a cleric and Aelfgifu.” The speculation is that the scene refers to a well-known scandal of the day; maybe that of Odo and his mistress? This is where Bower fills in the gaps, and she does an admirable job with it. In the novel, Gytha is a Saxon woman, brought low after the Norman conquest, when she is brought in to assist in the creation of the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned by Odo and designed by his sister. Although Gytha hates Odo at first, she is nonetheless attracted to the Bishop, holy orders notwithstanding. The novel covers a ten-year period, from the Battle of Hastings to 1077. Although William the Conquror doesn't make an appearance in the novel until the end, he’s always at the center of attention, controlling Odo

Cover Deja-Vu # 9

The first cover is that of The Outcast , by Sadie Jones. The cover on the left is that of Orchard , by Larry Watson. Different color dress, and the image has been cropped and tinted differently for Orchard , but definitely the same image. It's amazing how so many images are the same or similar, but there's no real way for a publisher to keep track of who used what when, for which book. Plus, it's expensive for a publisher to maintain exclusive rights to an image. Still, it's fun to look and compare!

The Sunday Salon

It’s a quiet Sunday in New York, and I’ve spent most of my weekend reading The Needle in the Blood , by Sarah Bower. I’m currently about halfway through, and, except for the rather crude sex scenes, enjoying it. It’s a novel about the Bayeux tapestry and the man who commissioned it, Bishop Odo of Bayeux, as well as his mistress, Gytha. The book opens right in the middle of the Battle of Hastings, and continues up until 1077. Odo was at some point accused of defrauding the crown and his diocese, so it’ll be interesting to see how the author treats that subject. Since my last Sunday Salon posting, I’ve posted three reviews, for Harriet and Isabella , The Black Pearl (not really a review—just thoughts about the book), and Dark Angels . I’ve also read The Miracles of Prato , by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz, about Fra Filippo Lippi. The writing is very good, but the book is a little too heavy on the art metaphors. I’ve got a stack of books waiting to be read, and I’m having a hard ti

Review: Dark Angels, by Karleen Koen

I was disappointed in this book. I had high expectations for it because I loved Through a Glass Darkly . I didn’t like Now Face to Face quite as much, but I had high hopes for Dark Angels nonetheless. Dark Angels is the prequel to both those books. It's the story of Barbara's grandmother, Alice, as a young girl in the court of Charles II, "the Merry Monarch." The novel opens upon the day Charles's sister Minette arrives home from the French court for a visit after ten years away. Afterwards, Alice secures for herself a position in the court of Queen Catherine and is a first-hand witness to the events that take place therein. While the author does a remarkable job describing the events of the time, she captures none of the debauchery and licentiousness that characterized the court of Charles II; all of the characters seem lifeless and flat. There's a mystery included, I guess to add some excitement, but it was anticlimactic. It’s almost as though the author

What Kind of Reader Are You?

I've seen this floating around lately, so I thought I'd do this for fun! I think it's mostly true. I especially loved the question about lost luggage. What Kind of Reader Are You? Your Result: Dedicated Reader You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more. Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm Literate Good Citizen Book Snob Fad Reader Non-Reader What Kind of Reader Are You? Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Review: Harriet and Isabella, by Patricia O'Brien

Harriet and Isabella is a novel about the relationship between Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister, Isabella Beecher Hooker. Set in 1870s and ‘80s Brooklyn, the story alternates between Henry Ward Beecher’s deathbed and the time when he was involved in a scandalous adultery case, in which he was accused of grossly immoral conduct and practicing free love. Harriet, the abolitionist, supported her brother, while Isabella, the suffragist, took the side of his accuser, Victoria Woodhull. As Beecher lies dying, Isabella comes back to Brooklyn to see if she can mend old wounds. In the back of the book, the author says that she went to Brooklyn and interviewed present-day members of Plymouth Church, to see what they thought of the Beecher scandal. While some members of the congregation thought that Beecher never had an affair, I’m with O’Brien in terms of wondering what really happened. And the author does a fine job in this novel of presenting both sides of the scandal. Isabella’s point of

Booking Through Thursday

Other things have words, too, right? Like … songs! If you’re anything like me, there are songs that you love because of their lyrics; writers you admire because their songs have depth, meaning, or just a sheer playfulness that has nothing to do with the tunes. So, today’s question? What songs … either specific songs, or songs in general by a specific group or writer … have words that you love? Why? And … do the tunes that go with the fantastic lyrics live up to them? You don’t have to restrict yourself to modern songsters, either … anyone who wants to pick Gilbert & Sullivan, for example, is just fine with me. Lerner & Loewe? Steven Sondheim? Barenaked Ladies? Fountains of Wayne? The Beatles? Anyone at all… The songs I listen to are chosen mostly based on tune, not lyrics. So the lyrics of the songs I listen to usually don’t have much meaning or depth—strange, considering I’m one of the most word-obsessed people I know. My taste runs mostly to rock, though it’s not exclusive. S

Cover Deja-Vu # 8

The first cover is the UK edition of Away , by Jane Urquhart; the second is the US edition of John Harwood's The Seance , to be published next month. I'm not sure what the image is, but it's intriguing, isn't it?

More books to read!

I’ve been away from home for four weeks, and when I returned, I found the following waiting for me: The Miracles of Prato , by Laurie Albanese (ARC) The Little Giant of Aberdeen County , by Tiffany Baker (ARC, but finished copy) The Needle in the Blood , by Sarah Bower The Women , by TC Boyle (nice ARC surprise from Penguin; it' about Frank Lloyd Wright, told through the eyes of the four women who loved him) A Place Beyond Courage , by Elizabeth Chadwick The Dud Avocado , by Elaine Dundy The Glassblower of Murano , by Marina Fiorato Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet , by Jamie Ford (ARC) The Founding , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Darling Jim , by Christian Moerk (ARC) The Birthday Present , by Barbara Vine (ARC)

Review: The Black Pearl, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

# 5: The Black Pearl : 1660 to 1666. On the eve of the Restoration, the Morland family, led by Ralph, finds itself in reduced circumstances, and eager to regain lost property once King Charles returns to take his throne. Annunciata, age 15, has higher aspirations than marriage to her cousin Kit; and she goes to London, to take part in court life there. This was my introduction to the Morland Dynasty, and I have to say that it didn't disappoint! Harrod-Eagles makes English history accessible while at the same time creating an engaging, entertaining plot and characters. Although there are characters in The Black Pearl that appeared in The Oak Apple, I found that it wasn't completely necessary to read them first--although I will, since the series is such a treat. Also reviewed by: A Work in Progress , Shelf Love

Review: The Observations, by Jane Harris

The Observations is only the fourth book I’ve completed this year, but I can already tell that it’s going to be one of my favorites for 2009. Set in the 1860s in “Scratchland,” (aka Scotland), the story follows young Bessy Buckley as she obtains employment (honest, this time) with “the missus,” Arabella Reid, at Castle Haivers, which isn’t really a castle at all. Arabella is a strange mistress, who has her maid-of-all-work keep a diary of her day-to-day activities. Later, Bessy discovers a book that Arabella is writing, called The Observations, and begins to wonder what really happened to the maid before her. Without Bessy, this novel might be your typical Victorian ghost story. But she’s one of the most engaging heroines I’ve come across in a long time. Her personality fairly leaps off the page, and her witty, irreverent, brutally honest (and sometimes coarse) observations are entertaining, to say the least. The toilet humor of this novel might scare some readers off, though, but I t

Review: Now Face to Face, by Karleen Koen

Now Face to Face was a novel that frustrated me in a lot of ways. For one thing, there were huge gaps in the story line. Something dramatic would happen, and then there would be a gap afterwards and we would never learn what the conclusion of the incident was. For example, Hyacinthe goes missing, and we learn hardly anything of what happens of him between the time he is captured and the time he returns home. I felt that the characters in this book were not as well drawn as they were in Through a Glass Darkly . Although a woman in the sequel, Barbara's character is flat. Sure, she has this adventure in Virginia, only to return home in the middle of a mini-civil war, but she seems completely unaffected by what's happening around her. I found her story to be very unbelievable. There's no romance; the adventures in love that Barbara had as a younger woman are written off by the author as youthful indiscretions and completely out of character for Barbara. I wanted to hear more

Sunday Salon

I’ve been busy working lately, so my reading has fallen off a bit. However, I did manage to finish The Observations , by Jane Harris, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a Victorian-style ghost story, but so much more at the same time. Review to be posted soon. Book buying has continued, with the purchase of The Lady Chapel and The Nun’s Tale , the second and third books in the Owen Archer mystery series. I read The Apothecary Rose in 2005, and never got around to the rest of the series because they’re so hard to find in bookstores or libraries. But I finally found inexpensive copies of The Lady Chapel and The Nun’s Tale through Powell’s Books. Then, yesterday, I picked up two books in the Morland series: The Black Pearl (#5, about the reign of Charles II) and The Question (# 25; takes place during the Boer War). I also picked up a novel called Harriet and Isabella , by Patricia O’Brien. It’s about the relationship between Harriet Beecher Stowe and her sister Isabella Beecher Hooker,

Friday Finds

Here’s what’s been added to my TBR list: The Dud Avocado , by Elaine Dundy. Novel about a young American woman in 1950s Paris. And apparently David Liss will have a new Benjamin Weaver novel out sometime this year, called The Devil's Company .

Booking Through Thursday

It’s a week or two later than you’d expect, and it may be almost a trite question, but … what were your favorite books from 2008? Here's my list (I'm going to go with favorite reads, not just books oublished in 2008): The Meaning of Night The Sunne in Splendour The House at Riverton Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day The Talented Mr. Ripley The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society The Go-Between The Forgotten Garden The Sealed Letter Company of Liars The Glass of Time Devil’s Brood The Greatest Knight Nefertiti

Review: The Piano Teacher, by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher is a complicated novel. On the surface, it’s about a love affair between two British ex-patriots in Hong Kong in 1952-3. Claire Pendleton comes to Hong Kong with her husband Martin at a time when the world is still recovering from WWII; Claire takes up work as a piano teacher for the daughter of a wealthy Chinese family, where she meets Will Truesdale, the Chens’ enigmatic chauffeur. The book jumps back in time between the 1950s and the beginning of WWII, when Will is interned in Stanley, a Hong Kong camp for enemies of Japan. On “the outside” is Tudy Liang, Will’s beautiful Eurasian lover. There’s no doubt that Lee’s writing is beautiful. But there’s something lacking in this short, terse novel that I can’t quite put my finger on. First, I think it’s the tenses she uses when taking about each story: that which is set in the 1950s is in the past tense, while the war scenes are talked about in the present tense (confusing, no?) The interpersonal relationships of the m

The A to Z Challenge

This is the fourth challenge I'm joining for 2009, and I think this will be the last one (famous last words, right?). I've chosen Option A: reading authors A to Z. Here's a list of books I've read or am thinking about reading for it. A: Albanese, Laurie: The Miracles of Prato B: Bower, Sarah: The Needle in the Blood C: Chadwick, Elizabeth: The Scarlet Lion D: Dunday, Elaine: The Dud Avocado E: Erskine, Barbara: The Warrior's Princess F: Fiorato, Marina: The Glassblower of Murano G: Gortner, CW: The Last Queen H: Harris, Jane: The Observations I: Irving, John: Last Night in Twisted River J: James, Syrie: The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte K: Kearsley, Susanna: Sophia's Secret L: Lancaster, Jen: Pretty in Plaid M: Moran, Michelle: The Heretic Queen N: Notaro, Laurie: Idiot Girl and the Flaming Tantrum of Death O: O'Brien, Patricia: Harriet and Isabella P: Peacock, Caro: A Dangerous Affair Q: R: Robb, Candace: The Lady Chapel S: Stewart, Mary: The Ivy Tree

Tuesday Thingers

Did you know that there are 1497 authors participating in LT Authors? If you haven't checked it out, head over for a moment and see if you can find out something new about an author! If you don't have time to go snooping, have you ever looked at the LT Author page before? Did you know that it is for authors and readers alike? Have you ever looked up a favorite or new author on LT to see what they read and if they have left any comments or reviews themselves? Have you ever told an author about LT Authors and encouraged them to check the site out? I knew that I had books by LT authors in my library (CW Gortner, Debra Hamel, Susan Higginbotham, David Liss, Kirsten Menger-Anderson, Richard Price, Deanna Raybourn, and Tatiana De Rosnay), but I had no idea that there were that many authors who participated in LT authors! The only time I’ve ever come into cotact with one of them was when David Liss left me a nice note on my profile page about his newest book (which makes me feel a lit

Review: The Scarlet Lion, by Elizabeth Chadwick

At the end of The Greatest Knight , we saw William Marshal become one of the most powerful men in England, and married to Isabelle de Clare. The Scarlet Lion is a continuation of that novel, and in it we witness the evolution and growth of the Marshal family under the reign of King John and his son Henry. In this novel, Isabelle takes over part of the story. The books are standalone novels, but they’re best appreciated when read together or as near together as possible. I enjoyed The Scarlet Lion , but not as much as I enjoyed The Greatest Knight . It was partially because I felt that William’s story melted into the background in favor of Isabelle’s and his children’s. And I felt as though the author basically shrugged off the Magna Carta, turning it into a one-paragraph non sequitur. Nnetheless, I greatly enjoyed this book, for many of the reasons why I ejoyed its predecessor. Isabelle is by far the most likeable character, strong in the face of adversity. Elizabeth Chadwick writes a

The Sunday Salon

Well, today’s the first Sunday in 2009, and I must say that the year has started out auspiciously. I’ve been in Arizona for the past week, in the warm weather, and I head back east tonight (wah!). Over this week, I’ve made inroads into my ARC pile; I finished Drood and Bleeding Heart Square . Now I’m on to a non-ARC, The Scarlet Lion , and it’s been a quick read so far. Very, very enjoyable, too, as I’m finding Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels to be. I’ll probably finish it tonight on the plane, and then I think I'll be on to an ARC of Silent on the Moor . My reading habits are sort of organic; I choose what to read next based on what I feel like. My book buying has actually increased—I know I’ll have a few packages waiting at home for me from Amazon. Over this week, I bought Needle in the Blood , by Sarah Bower, The Glassblower of Murano , by Marina Fiorato, A Place Beyond Courage , by Elizabeth Chadwick, and The Founding , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. Before the new year, I figured that

Friday Finds

Here are a few books that have caught (or re-caught) my attention recently: Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict , by Laurie Viera Rigler. Sequel to True Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict ; coming out next May. In the first book, a 21st century woman named Courtney Stone went back in time to live the life of a 19th century woman named Jane Mansfield; in the second, Jane goes forward in time to inhabit the life of Courtney. I don’t generally read much Jane Austen fanfiction, but I enjoyed True Confessions, so I’m looking forward to this one. The Book of Love , by Sarah Bower. By the author of Needle in the Blood ; it’s already out in the UK, but not in the States until April. Set in the 15th century; about the court of the Borgias. Blood Royal , by Vanora Bennett. This is a book that’s coming out in the UK next year; but no US release date yet. About Catherine de Valois; Christine de Pizan makes an appearance. Stone’s Fall , by Iain Pears. Another historical novel, coming out in Ma

The TBR Pile

The following is a list of the books on my TBR pile, in my possession at the moment. Of course, the list of “books to read someday” is much longer, and can be found here . The Love Knot, by Vanessa Alexander The Uncommon Reader, by Alan Bennett The Book of Fires, by Jane Borodale Evelina, by Frances Burney Shadows and Strongholds, by Elizabeth Chadwick The Marsh King’s Daughter, by EC The Love Knot, by EC Lords of the White Castle, by EC The Falcons of Montabard, by EC The Lady Tree, by Christie Dickason Henry of the High Rock, by Juliet Dymoke The Botticelli Secret, by Marina Fiorato The Young Pretenders, by Edith Henrietta Fowler The Water Horse, by Julia Gregson The Queen’s Governess, by Karen Harper The Victory, by Cynthia-Harrod-Eagles The Regency, by CH-E The Campaigners, by CH-E The Reckoning, by CH-E The Question, by CH-E A Hollow Crown, by Helen Hollick The Carlyles at Home, by Thea Holmes Lord of the Far Island, by Victoria Holt Bride of Pendorric, by Victoria Holt A London C

Booking Through Thursday

So … any Reading Resolutions? Say, specific books you plan to read? A plan to read more ____? Anything at all? Name me at least ONE thing you’re looking forward to reading this year! I don’t have any specific resolutions, though I’d like to get my TBR list down to a more manageable size. There are a number of books I’m looking forward to reading this year; the publishing industry may be on the fritz, but a lot of great books are coming out. For the present, I’d like to finish an ARC of Bleeding Heart Square that I’ve been reading for the past four days (it’s not difficult, it’s just that I’ve been working lately and haven’t had time); and I also have ARCs of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County , The Miracles of Prato , Darling Jim , and Silent on the Moor to get to as well (and there may be more, considering I’ve been at my parents house since December 12, so who knows what’s waiting at home). As for non-ARCs, I’ve got The Scarlet Lion , Needle in the Blood , and The Slaves of Solitu

2009 Reads

January: 1. Bleeding Heart Square , by Andrew Taylor 2. The Scarlet Lion , by Elizabeth Chadwick 3. Silent on the Moor , by Deanna Raybourn 4. The Observations , by Jane Harris 5. The Black Pearl , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 6. Harriet and Isabella , by Patricia O’Brien 7. The Miracles of Prato , by Laurie Albanese and Laura Morowitz 8. The Needle in the Blood , by Sarah Bower 9. The Founding , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 10. The Glassblower of Murano , by Marina Fiorato 11. Darling Jim , by Christian Moerk 12. The Lady Chapel , by Candace Robb February: 1. A Dangerous Affair , by Caro Peacock 2. The Birthday Present , by Barbara Vine 3. The Dark Rose , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 4. Lady’s Maid , by Margaret Forster 5. The Heretic Queen , by Michelle Moran 6. A Place Beyond Courage , by Elizabeth Chadwick March: 1. Figures in Silk , by Vanora Bennett 2. The Italian Boy , by Sarah Wise 3. Sophia’s Secret , by Susanna Kearsley 4. The Princeling , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles 5. The Book of Love , b