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Showing posts from April, 2009

Review: Pretty in Plaid, by Jen Lancaster

In Bitter is the New Black , Jen Lancaster gave us the brief details of her bio before she was famously fired from her high-powered job. In Pretty in Plaid , Lancaster illustrates some of those moments, from growing up in Cow Town, Indiana, to her life as a sorority girl during her eleven years of college, to her first job post-college. Like her previous books, Pretty in Plaid is written as a series of essays, all of which are connected by the theme of clothing. From her Girl Scout uniform—covered in (il)legally earned patches—to her first job interview suit, Jen illustrates how clothes shaped the way she views the world. I was extremely entertained by this book. It’s a fast read—I read it in less than two days—and it’s just as funny, if not funnier, than some of her other books. Jen Lancaster definitely has a unique voice that’s very witty, and her thoughts, as usual, are uncensored—good for the reader, since it meant that I was belly laughing all the way through. In fact, in places,

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! “A shiver ran down his spine and he turned in terror to see a grey figure coming silently towards him out of the misty rain. All at once, the rational man in him fled, and he was as superstitious as any peasant.” --From The Long Shadow , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Sunday Salon

The weather here is absolutely beautiful; 80-ish and sunny. Whenever it gets to about this point in the year, I realize just how pale my skin is—I’m surprised it doesn’t glow in the dark! I sat outside today reading the bulk of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane (for anyone else who has an ARC of this books: is it just me, or is the back flap of the book annoying? No place to put it while you're reading). I love it when it gets awarm enough out when you can go outside and do that. And today’s my dad’s birthday, so we’re going out to dinner later on. Other than that, not much is going on. I’m nearly finished with Deliverance Dane, so I’m trying to figure out what I’ll read next. How was your Sunday?

Review: The Journal of Dora Damage, by Belinda Starling

Dora Damage is the wife of a lesser-known bookbinder in Ivy-street in London. Her husband suffers from rheumatism, and her daughter has epilepsy, also known as the Falling Sickness. When Peter Damage becomes to sick to continue with his work, Dora finds herself taking over the business, and she takes on a client who wants her to bind copies of salacious literature. Dora becomes acquainted with the client’s wife, who enlists Dora’s help in finding a job at the bindery for an American slave named Din. I was on the fence about this book. On one hand, I love the atmospheric setting; London in the 1850s and ‘60s is a great place to escape to when reading historical fiction. And although the characters are well-defined, that’s not necessarily a good thing; some of the characters descend into being stereotypes (the silly, empty-headed noblewoman, the cardboard cutout villain, or the fallen woman-turned maid-of-all-work). The dialogue of the African-Americans didn’t ring true, either. The plot

Friday Finds

Friday Finds for this week include: -- Dust and Shadows , by Lyndsey Fay. An ARC; it’s a mystery featuring Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes, plus the Ripper Killings. Not the most inventive idea, but we’ll see. -- The Devlin Diary , by Christi Phillips. Another ARC, of a book that’s coming out in May. Set in Restoration London. -- The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane . This title has been floating around the internet recently, and I received an ARC today in the mail. History/ mystery featuring the Salem witch trials. --The novels of Barbara Michaels. It’s the pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, also known as Elizabeth Peters. These particular books are Gothic in tone, and since I seem to enjoy the genre, I think I might enjoy her Barbara Michaels books ( Wait For What Will Come was recommended to me by Amazon). Plus, anything set in Cornwall with a scary, old house in it is something that catches my attention.

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! “Over the following weeks, we bound scores of books with the insignia of Les Sauvages Noble , plus one or other of the inscriptions. I started to notice a pattern emerging :twelve English names cropped up amongst the letters, the treatises and the accounts more often than others, and I could soon connect them to their particular Latinate expressions.” --From The Journal of Dora Damage , by Brenda Starling

The Sunday Salon

Again, it’s a quiet Sunday—and weekend—here. Yesterday, I absolutely meant to write reviews of Stone’s Fall and The Last Queen , but it was such a beautiful day (75 degrees) that I went outside and read Jen Lancaster’s lsugh-out-loud new book on the hammock instead. I guess the reviews will have to wait for another day! This week has been an exciting one in terms of ARCs received—in addition to the Jen Lancaster (actually it’s a finished copy), I received Angel’s Game from Random House. I think my dog was almost as excited as I was upon its arrival (in the “please, may I attack and destroy this?” kind of way. Me: um, how about no?). So that leads to me question: what’s the most exciting, most-anticipated ARC you’ve ever received? Oh, and congratulations to everyone who completed the read-a-thon yesterday—I’m not sure if I have that kind of stamina, so kudos!

Friday Finds

Some more Friday Finds: --I’ve heard a bit about this in the online forums I frequent: The White Queen , by Philippa Gregory. Coming out in September. Not sure if it’ll be any good; Gregory’s been churning them out recently, and in my mind a good writer of historical fiction should take their time researching their subject. Still, I might read it. --Another I’ve heard a bit about: The Lady in the Tower , by Alison Weir. Due for publication in the UK around this time next year; it’s a biography of Anne Boleyn. --Elizabeth Kostova also has a new one coming out in October. It’s called The Swan Thieves . --Book 32 in the Morland Dynasty series is coming out in the UK in November: it’s called The Fallen Kings , and it continues the story through (I think) the end of WWI. -- The Unquiet Bones , by Melvin Starr. The first in a medieval mystery series. In the wake of the plague, a murdered corpse shows up in a castle cesspit.

Review: The Oak Apple, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#4: Covers 1630-1649; the Civil War The Ok Apple , the fourth book in the Morland Dynasty series, takes its reader to 17th century York, just before and during the Civil War. The Morland family is a house divided as Kit Morland joins the Royalist forces under Prince Rupert, his brother Ralph marries a Puritan, and Edmund Morland, the family patriarch, tries to be impartial. Hero Hamilton marries Kit, while her twin, Hamil, bitter over her marriage, joins the same side of the war as his enemy. And Ambrose and Nell Morland move to the New World, where they build a settlement in Maryland. I’m a little hazy about the details of the Civil War, so The Oak Apple was a great re-introduction to the period. I’m usually bored by descriptions of battles, but Harrod-Eagles makes the battles of Marston Moor and Naseby some alive on the page. But the best part of this novel are the people and the way they interact with one another; Harrod-Eagles may not be the world’s greatest writer, but she knows

Teaser Tuesday: The Oak Apple

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 trouble that had been brewing in the south had not been felt at all in the north. There life went on peacefully as it had for the last fifty years or more, and it was all the more shocking therefore when the trouble finally erupted.” --From The Oak Apple , by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Review: The Traitor's Wife, by Susan Higginbotham

Description from Amazon: In fourteenth-century England, young Eleanor de Clare, favorite niece of King Edward II, is delighted with her marriage to Hugh le Despenser and her appointment to Queen Isabella’s household as a lady-in-waiting. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Eleanor’s beloved uncle is not the king the nobles of the land—or his queen—expected. Hugh’s unbridled ambition and his intimate relationship with Edward arouse widespread resentment, even as Eleanor remains fiercely loyal to her husband and to her king. But loyalty has its price… Moving from royal palaces to prison cells, from the battlefield to the bedroom, between hope and despair, treachery and fidelity, hatred and abiding love, The Traitor’s Wife is a tale of an extraordinary woman living in extraordinary times. A noblewoman pays the price for her loyalty to an unpopular king and her unfaithful husband...conveys emotions and relationships quite poignantly...ultimately, entertaining historical fiction. I real

Review: The Crimes of Paris, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler

The Crimes of Paris is a book about just that: the crimes that took place in and around Paris from about 1880 to the beginning of World War I. The book’s “hook” is the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, but the bulk of the book deals with famous murders, murderers, detectives, and gangs of fin de sicle France. The 19th century was an era in which France, beset by numerous revolutions, changed drastically, and the urban landscape with it. The way that people interacted with each other changed, too, hence the number, and variety, of crimes that were carried out. Changes in technology and scientific thinking enabled detectives and the police to solve crimes that had previous remained unexplained. If you come to this book expecting it to be solely about the theft of the Mona Lisa, you’ll be disappointed (watch out: the story of the theft itself is sort of a doozy). One of the crime’s suspects, briefly, was Picasso. You wonder why he was considered a suspect in the first plac

Review: The Owl Killers, by Karen Maitland

Set in the English village of Ulewic (fictional, but placed somewhere near Norwich) in 1321-22, The Owl Killers is the story of a village fighting against forces both known and unknown. At the story’s center is the town’s beguinage, a community of women originally from Bruges who came to England to lead lives independent of marriage or the convent. When the town suffers from flood and plague, and the women are unaffected, the people in the town start to suspect them of harboring a holy relic. Meanwhile, the village is controlled by a group of men called the Owl Masters and haunted by the specter of the Owlman, who delivers nothing but death and destructionto the places and people he visits. The story is narrated by a number of characters, including the beguinage’s leader, Servant Martha; the angry and bitter beguine named Beatrice; the town’s self-righteous priest, Father Ulfrid; Osmanna, daughter of the lord of the manor who is sheltered by the beguines; and one of the village childre

Booking Through Thursday

Some people read one book at a time. Some people have a number of them on the go at any given time, perhaps a reading in bed book, a breakfast table book, a bathroom book, and so on, which leads me to… Are you currently reading more than one book? If so, how many books are you currently reading? Is this normal for you? Where do you keep your current reads? I’m currently reading two books, with a bookmark in a third where I’ve gotten stuck. The first two books are: The Crimes of Paris , by Thomas and Dorothy Hoobler; and What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew , by Daniel Pool. The book where I’m stuck is Iain Pears’s Stone’s Fall . Reading several books at once is normal for me, abut haf the time—usually, I try to stick with one book. My current reads are in several places; Stone’s Fall and the Daniel Pool are on my bedside table, The Crimes of Paris is sitting next to me on the couch, though usually, like most “currently reading” books, it’s in my handbag (I never like to go a

Review: Frenchman's Creek, by Daphne Du Maurier

Frenchman’s Creek is an adventure story. Set in the 17th century, the story revolves around Dona St. Columb, a aristocratic woman who rebels against society’s constraints. She escapes to the family’s long-abandoned estate in Cornwall, where a band of pirates have beset her neighbors. Soon Dona falls in with the pirates’ leader, the elusive Frenchman of the title. Their romance is facilitated by one of Dona’s servants, William. Frenchman’s Creek is perhaps the fifth or sixth Daphne Du Maurier novel I’ve read. It’s not her best, but it’s pretty good nonetheless. This novel works well as an adventure story and historical fiction, but some parts of the plot were hard for me to believe. For example, I found it hard to believe that Dona’s husband, Harry, could have been as clueless about his wife’s activities, even when they were going on right under his nose. I also found it hard to understand why the neighbors didn’t notice anything amiss, either! I also felt that it was hard to get a rea

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! Technically I’m still reading this, even though I’ve only got about 20 pages to go: “Pega had a wicked grim and a mischievous tongue to match, but you couldn’t help liking her. I don’t think she ever repented her past life, no matter what the Martha’s believed.” --From The Owl Killers , by Karen Maitland

Review revisited: The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton

I originally published this review here , but I thought I'd post it again in time for this book's US publication date, which is today. The Forgotten Garden , the follow-up to The House at Riverton , is a muti-layered novel with complicated characters and a highly intriguing storyline. The story jumps back and forth in time, but rarely is the reader confused as to what's going on. The book opens in1913, when a young girl with no name is found on a quayside in Australia. She doesn't remember anything about herself, and all she carries with her is a white suitcase containing, among other personal items, a book of fairytales penned by a woman the girl calls the Authoress. In 1975, the girl, now a woman called Nell, goes back to England, where she attempts to find answers to questions about her identity. Her travels lead her to Blackhurst Manor, delving deep into the Mountrachet family's secrets and purchasing a cottage on the Blackhurst property. But before she can solv

Review: The Dud Avocado, by Elaine Dundy

The Dud Avocado is the story of Sally Jay Gorse, a young American woman living the high life in 1950s Paris. From cafes to nightclubs to art shows and the theatre, Sally Jay takes her reader on an intimate tour of her life. I wasn’t keen on this book. It’s written in a chatty, breathless tone, which was entertaining at first. But about a hundred pages in, the chattiness became almost senseless, irritating babbling. It would have been a better book had the narrator interspersed her story with some witty insights; but sadly, she’s not bright enough for that. Sally Jay has a few genuinely funny moments in this novel (the disastrous dinner with Teddy, Larry, the Comtessa, and cousin John comes to mind), but they come at the expense of the other, lesser characters, who become caricatures as portrayed by the narrator. In addition, the book is very, very dated; I imagine some of the things Sally Jay did were shocking fifty years ago, but they’re a little passé now.

Friday Finds

I feel it’s been a while since I last did Friday Finds. Here’s what I’ve added to my TBR list: -- The Children’s Book , by AS Byatt. Coming in May 2009 for the UK; October for the US (according to the publisher’s website). Historical fiction, set in the Edwardian era. -- Someone at a Distance , by Dorothy Whipple. Since I enjoyed The Priory , I added this one to my TBR list as well. --Sarah Dunant has a new book coming out in August: Sacred Hearts . Set in 16th century Venice.

Review: The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple

The Priory is the story of the Marwood family: the Major, willing to spend profligately on his cricket fortnights, but reluctant to spend money on electric lighting; Christine and Penelope, his two grown daughters, thrust from the nursery once their father marries a much younger woman; and Anthea, the Major’s second wife, who immerses herself in her own world once her children are born. The other part of the novel’s story concerns the servants: the indomitable Nurse Pye; Thompson, cricketer and womanizer; Betty; and Bertha. All live in Saunby Priory, a former priory turned country mansion. Not a lot “happens” in this novel; most of the action centers around emotion. It’s all about subtlety here. The novel’s description on Amazon compares Whipple with Jane Austen; but really, I think she’s more like Barbara Pym in the way that she treats her characters, exposing people’s strength and weaknesses unashamedly. According to the note at the back of the book, The Priory was based on real pe