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Showing posts from September, 2009

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! “Her own pain-wracked little daughter. She may smile, but she doesn’t yield an inch.” --From Wolf Hall , by Hilary Mantel

Review: Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger

Julia and Valentina Poole have inherited a flat, and money, from a dead aunt they’ve never met. One of the stipulations of Elspeth’s will is that the twins move to London for a year before selling the flat. Once the girls get there, they meet the other residents of Elspeth’s building: her lover Robert, a guide at nearby Highgate cemetery; Martin, a man with OCD (though it sounds more like Asperger’s syndrome to me); and we’re introduced to Martin’s wife, Marijke, who leaves him after 23 years of marriage. It’s a complicated novel to explain. Niffenegger’s novels seem to be populated with characters with biological irregularities. This time, it’s Valentina Poole, whose insides are the reverse of everyone else’s. She’s the “weaker” of the twins, with a heart defect and a very strong reliance on her sister. The story is a modern love story about identity; I think it’s no coincidence that the girls are in their early twenties, at that “quarterlife crisis” age when people are trying to figu

The Sunday Salon

Yesterday was my birthday, and my cousin’s birthday is coming up in a few days, so my family and I went down to Maryland to go to Medieval Times (banquet and jousting). It was sort of a surprise for me, and not as tacky as I thought it was going to be at first. Not much in the way of historical verisimilitude, but an entertaining show nonetheless. My week in reading has been thus: The Tiger in the Smoke , by Margery Allingham The Old Man and Me , by Elaine Dundy (finally got around to reading this LTER selection. Hated it so much that I don’t think my review of it will appear here). The Making of a Marchioness , by Frances Hodgson Burnett Now I’m reading Wolf Hall , by Hilary Mantel, a novel about Thomas Cromwell. The novel focuses, so far (150 pages in) on Henry VIII’s divorce proceedings; but for a novel that’s so much about the king, he doesn’t actually have a speaking role. The prose also isn’t what I expected, but I’m enjoying the novel. It’s a story that history lovers know well,

Review: The Street Philosopher, by Matthew Plampin

Thomas Kitson is a journalist, sent out the Crimea in 1854 to be the junior correspondent for the London Courier. The Courier team includes the senior correspondent, Richard Cracknell, a loose cannon who has an affair with the commanding officer’s wife and pens scurrilous pieces for the newspaper; and Robert Styles, a young illustrator who quickly becomes disillusioned by the war. The war, culminating with the battle of Sebastopol, is interchanged with a second story line, in Manchester two years later, when Kitson is a social commentator for a local paper (a “street philosopher”), and trying desperately to run from the past. What, exactly, happened out in the Crimea? This is one of those “unputdownable” books. I read it nearly in one sitting, on an airplane ride back to the States after vacation. I needed a distraction from the 300-pound gorilla groping his girlfriend in the seat next to me, and this book was perfect towards that end. I was glued to this book from start to finish, rea

Friday Finds

I feel like I haven’t done Friday Finds in a while. Here are some that have come to my attention: Wolf Hall , by Hilary Mantel. Actually, I heard about this a while ago, but I was offered an ARC of this book this week (historical fiction set in Tudor times that promises to be not just another bodice-ripper). The Love Knot , by Vanessa Alexander. Again, historical fiction. I saw a review of this somewhere, and now I can’t remember where! The Last Concubine , by Leslie Downer. Historical fiction set in 19th century Japan. The Russian Concubine , by Kate Furnivall. Set in China in the early 20th century. Another browse on the Persephone website yielded: Every Eye , by Isobel English Consequences , by EM Delafield Little Boy Lost , by Marghanita Laski Fidelity , by Susan Glaspell

Giveaway: The Children's Book, by AS Byatt

Yup, I have a hardcover edition of this book to give away! Rules are the same: US entrants only, and you have a week to enter (until midnight on the 30th). Below is a description of the book from the inside cover (which is beautiful, by the way. The book will be released in the US on October 6th. Good luck! Olive Wellwood is a famous writer, interviewed with her children gathered at her knee. For each of them she writes a separate private book, bound in different colours and placed on a shelf. In their rambling house near Romney Marsh they play in a story-book world - but their lives, and those of their rich cousins, children of a city stockbroker, and their friends, the son and daughter of a curator at the new Victoria and Albert Museum, are already inscribed with mystery. Each family carries their own secrets. Into their world comes a young stranger, a working-class boy from the potteries, drawn by the beauty of the Museum's treasures. And in midsummer a German puppeteer arrives,

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to: --Grab your current read --Let the book open to a random page. Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12. --You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from… that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given! “He felt deathly sick. The adhesive plaster was suffocating him, and in the warm air the knitted helmet irritated unbearably.” 00From The Tiger in the Smoke , by Margery Allingham.

Review: Grace Hammer, by Sara Stockbridge

It is 1888, and Grace Hammer is a thief, living in London’s Whitechapel. The area is a hotbed for squalor and criminal activity, and is populated with all kinds of unseemly characters (including a serial murder called Jack the Ripper). Grace lives here with her four children, making a decent (but not honest) living picking pockets. In the countryside, a man named Horatio Blunt sits, waiting for the perfect moment to enact his revenge on the woman who stole something valuable from him many years previously. I loved the premise of the novel, and I enjoyed the setting. Victorian England is one of the time periods I enjoy reading about, in fiction and nonfiction, and I was looking forward to settling down with a good, creepy read. Grace is a plucky heroine, smart and resourceful, and the plot is, indeed, creepy indeed at times. But the plot also has some major holes in it. For example, if Grace knew she was wanted for theft, then why didn’t she take an assumed name when she moved to London

Sunday Salon and some giveaway winners

Is it really Sunday again? Hard to believe that another week has flown by. It’s a quiet day today, but my dad has football going full-force, and my parents are celebrating their 34th anniversary today! In reading, this week I’ve completed: The King’s Mistress , by Emma Campion The Lady Queen , by Nancy Goldstone Currently I’m struggling through AS Byatt’s new book, coming out at the beginning of next month: The Children's Book . It’s very hard to connect with any of the characters, plus the author describes every. Single. Little. Thing. I really want to like AS Byatt’s books (I’m the only person I’ve ever met who was lukewarm about Possession), but I find it very hard to like them. Do you have an author like that, where you keep reading their work, hoping to like them—but just not? Also, I forgot to choose winners for my two-week-old context for Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter … so they are: Irene Yeates Scapettajunkie Melissa at Shhh I’m Reading Please e-mail me with your ma

Review: Confinement, by Katharine McMahon

Confinement is the second of Katharine McMahon’s books that I’ve read. The Rose of Sebastopol wasn’t a particular favorite, but I decided to give the author another try with this book. I was disappointed again. This novel is one of McMahon’s earlier novels, reprinted just this past year. It centers around a girls’ school called Priors Heath, and splits time between the 1840s and ‘50s, and the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘90s. In 1849, Bess Hardemon arrives at Priors Heath, a rather Brontean institution, to be a teacher, eventually struggling up through the ranks to become its headmistress; in 1967, Sarah Beckett is a student at Priors Heath, later returning to be a teacher herself. Confinement constantly jumps forwards and backwards in time. Just as the author gets you comfortably settled with one story, she immediately jumps to the other. There are a lot more subtle ways to deal with time shifts such as these, and McMahon doesn’t really know in this novel how to do them. And the characters ar

Meme: Friday Firsts

I heard about this meme from Amy at Passages to the Past, and thought I might jump in. Here’s my answer (the question is here : “Two boys stood in the Prince Consort Gallery, and looked down on a third.” --The first line from AS Byatt’s The Children’s Book It’s not the best first line I’ve ever read, but I was intrigued enough to want to read on. That, and the book’s description. But I definitely think that the first line of a novel can draw you in, make you want to read more (one of my favorites comes from Deanna Raybourn’s Silent in the Grave .

Review: The Conquest, by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Conquest is set during and after the Norman conquest of 1066. Ailith is a Saxon housewife, her husband the armorer to King Harold. After her husband’s death, she has an affair with Rolf de Brize, a Norman; and years laterm their daughter Julitta takes up with Benedict. The Conquest is a story about love, loss, and hope during the most trying of times. I enjoyed this book, though not as much as Elizabeth Chadwick’s other novels. As usual, the book is well-written and researched (I learned more about medieval horses than I ever thought I would), but there was something missing about this book that I can’t quite put my finger on. Rolf and Ailith aren’t the most sympathetic characters in this novel, and I found myself not particularly caring for their relationship (actually, I think that Ailith was much better off without him, brothel or not!). Julitta and Benedict, however, are much more likeable. On the other hand, EC does a great job with description: the Battle of Hastings is par

Cover Deja-vu #14

The cover on the left is that of Crossed, by Nicole Galland; on the right is the cover of Sherry Jones's The Sword of Medina, coming out next month. The covers are basically the same image, reversed.

Review: The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott

Paris: 1815. Napoleon is in exile, and hundreds of medical students have flocked to the city to study at the Jardin des Plantes under Cuvier, the world-famous naturalist. Daniel Connor is one of these students, hired to be one of Cuvier’s legion of assistants. On his arrival, he falls asleep in the coach, and finds that his suitcase-filled with specimens, a manuscripts, and letters of recommendation—has been stolen. It’s a well-researched novel, and beautifully written. But at times I felt as though the narrator was very much emotionally detached from the story he was telling. He didn’t seem to be very passionate about the subject he was studying, or even about Lucienne, with whom he was supposedly in love. I was more interested in the character of Jagot, the thief-turned-police detective—based on, or course, Eugene Francois Vidoq. And that’s another thing that kind of bothered me: why did Stott make up a totally new character to act as Daniel’s foil? Why couldn’t she simple have used

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! “Some people dream of being at court, imagining a privileged life replete with luxury. I had never wished to be at court, and once I had wed and felt the insidious influence of the royal family, had prayed only to break away from them.” --From The King’s Mistress , by Emma Campion

Review: Cleopatra's Daughter, by Michelle Moran

Selene is one of the children of Cleopatra and Antony. After her parents’ deaths, Selene and her brothers are sent to Rome, where they become a part of the court of Octavian (later Augustus). It’s a brutal and unmerciful world in which Selene finds herself, and our narrator finds herself adapting to Roman culture in order to survive. In this novel, Michelle Moran does for ancient Rome what she did for ancient Egypt; she brings the time period and place alive for her readers. I always know with Moran’s novels that I can get a lot of historical accuracy; and while I don’t know much about ancient Rome, I could definitely tell that the author has researched the heck out of her subject matter. In comparison with Moran’s other two novels, I enjoyed Cleopatra’s Daughter more than The Heretic Queen , but not quite as much as Nefertiti . Moran’s writing really sucks her reader into her characters’ story, and Cleopatra’s Daughter is a fine example of this. What I didn’t particularly care for w

The Sunday Salon

I said earlier this week that I would have pictures posted today from my trip… but I’m still trying to figure out my camera, so it might take some more time. It’s been a busy reading week, however. In the past week I’ve finished: The Conquest , by Elizabeth Chadwick Confinement , by Katharine McMahon The Street Philosopher, by Matthew Plampin (excellent book; read it nearly in one sitting on the plane back from London. Too bad it hasn't gained rights to be published in the States yet). Mariana , by Monica Dickens Currently I’m reading The King’s Mistress , by Emma Campion—she’s the one who write the Owen Archer mysteries under the name Candace Robb. This time she returns to the fourteenth century, focusing on the life of Alice Perrers, mistress to Edward III. It’s a huge book, both in terms of physical appearance and scope; and fewer than 100 pages in, I’m hooked. In terms of reviews, this week you should see reviews posted of Michelle Moran's new book, as well as The Coral Th

Friday Finds

Last week I went to London… and my TBR list swelled. Here’s what I picked up: The Street Philosopher, by Matthew Plampin. Very good historical fiction about the Crimean War. Finished it in nearly one sitting on the plane ride back. Review up soon. Vainglory, by Geraldine McCaughrean. More historical fiction; 15th century this time. Mentioned by Elizabeth Chadwick on her blog some time ago, and quite literally the first book I laid eyes on when I was at the South Bank book market on Monday. Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott. Historical fiction about Boudica. Consolation, by James Wilson. My Persephone books: The Carlyles at Home, by Thea Holmes The Far Cry, by Emma Smith The Young Pretenders, by Edith Fowler They Were Sisters, by Dorothy Whipple A London Child of the 1870s, by Molly Hughes The Making of a Marchioness, by France Hodgeson Burnett Miss Buncle’s Book, by DE Stevenson Saplings, by Noel Streatfeild On Sunday I’ll post pictures from my trip—plus a picture of the damage done m

Review: Named of the Dragon, by Susanna Kearsley

Lyn Ravenshaw is a London literary agent whose star client is Bridget, a volatile children’s book author. She’s invited Lyn with her to Wales for the Christmas holiday. While there, Lyn encounters the Swift brothers, as well as Gareth Glyn Morgan, a famous playwright. She also meets Elen, a young widow whose eight-month-old son stirs up feelings in Lyn that bring back memories of the loss of her own child, five years before. Another strong offering from Susanna Kearsley, although not my favorite novel of hers. I love the bleak, desolate setting, and the historical backdrop to the story provides some wonderful atmosphere. I also liked the interplay of historical eras: the ancient Welsh kings and the old Arthurian legends; the more recent Normans; and the even more recent Tudors, one of whom features in Lyn’s dreams. The psychological suspense is also top-notch, though I thought that Lyn’s “turnaround” with Stevie was a little too abrupt. But in all, this was an entertaining read; Kearsl

Review: Murder of a Medici Princess, by Caroline Murphy

Isabella de Medici, a daughter of the most powerful family in 16th century Italy, was the sixteenth-century version of a socialite. Married to Paolo Giordano Orsini, she chose to live apart from him, holding parties at her home in Florence and taking on her husband’s cousin Troilo as her lover while her Paolo stayed in Rome. Isabella was also the favored daughter of Cosimo de Medici, one of the early modern period’s great social climbers. Later, in 1576, Paolo and Isabella’s older brother would conspire to have her murdered. The book’s title is a bit misleading. The vast majority of the book is dedicated to Isabella’s life, as well as the fraught political situation in northern Italy at the time. Even so, there’s not much focus on what Isabella was like; yes, she loved parties and all of that, but we never see what Isabella was like as a person, really. However, she was known for having a sarcastic sense of humor. However, the author does a great job at describing 16th century life: wh

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 next evening after tea, though his grandchildren dragged at his coattails and begged him to join in the parlour game, the rector withdrew to his study. As he passed Bess he said, ''I see you've lost your old habit of quiet study in the evening, Elizabeth.''' --From Confinement , by Katharine McMahon

Review: Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Charity Selborne is on vacation in the south of France with a friend, when by chance she meets David Shelley, an English boy traveling with his stepmother. It turns out that the boy’s father, Richard Byron, is a murderer—and he’s followed David to France. Charity immediately becomes embroiled in the lives of David and Richard, not knowing who she can trust. Another really great suspense novel from Mary Stewart. One thing she’s really good at is description—you can almost hear the cicadas chirping (well, it was quite literal in my case—I had my window open and the cicadas were working overtime!). Mary Stewart is also known for her exotic locations, and this one definitely didn’t disappoint. The car chase scene is especially well done; the tension is palpable, even as we find out what really happened all those years ago. Mary Stewart’s books aren’t by any stretch of the imagination, literature as such (even the cover looks a little bit romance-y), but they’re definitely entertaining, and

The Sunday Salon

I've been in London for four days now (hard to believe it's more than half over) and I'm having a great time! And it's not all been about book shopping. Since my post on Friday, I've been to see The Mousetrap (fabulous); then yesterday I went to the British Museum, where I attended a gallery talk on the collecting of arts from the middle ages, in the 18th century. I also went to the Museum of London, which has an excellent exhibition about Roman Britain. Today I went to the Tower of London ( a tourist trap, but still, I always like going there when I come to England); and then I spent the afternoon at Hampton Court Palace, which is only 1/2 hour away from Waterloo Station by train. I don't know why, but we've got excellent weather here (they must have known I was coming, ha!), and it was really great to walk along by the river. So that's been my weekend. In reading, I'm still on Elizabeth Chadwick's The Conquest --though coming close to the end.

Giveaway: Cleopatra's Daughter, by Michelle Moran

Somehow, I ended up with multiple copies of Cleopatra's Daughter (basically, I put my fingers in every part of the pie to see if I could score a copy!). So I'm having a giveaway for three copies of this excellent book (in case you didn't enter or didn't win one in one of the other contests floating around the book blogosphere). Two are finished copies and the last is an ARC. You have a week to enter (so basically midnight on the 12th); US only. Good luck! (If you've been living under a rock recently, here's the book's description): Moran's latest foray into the world of classical history (after The Heretic Queen ) centers upon the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra . After the death of their parents, twins Alexander and Selene and younger brother Ptolemy are in a dangerous position, left to the mercy of their father's greatest rival, Octavian Caesar. However, Caesar does not kill them as expected, but takes the trio to Rome to be paraded as part

Review: A Plague on Both Your Houses, by Susanna Gregory

Matthew Bartholomew is a physician and instructor at Michaelhouse, one of the Colleges at the young Cambridge University. His views of medicine are rather unorthodox for the 14th century, and he is viewed with suspicion by other doctors. On the eve of the Black Death, in the summer of 1348, the Master of Michaelhouse, Sir John, turns up dead. Everyone assumes it must be suicide, but Bartholomew has his doubts—especially since more bodies turn up. Bartholomew’s investigation leads him to something much better—a potential plot by Oxford scholars to undermine the credibility of Cambridge, perhaps? Bartholomew is one of the more interesting and complicated detectives I’ve come across in a long while. He’s not limited by the medical practices of the period (as we’re told early on, his training was unorthodox, too), so he does seem a bit too modern at times (for example, in addition to being a physician, he also practices surgery, which at that time was practiced by barbers). I liked the plo

Friday Finds, plus some vacation buys

Yesterday I arrived in London, and I'm having a lot of fun! Lots of book buying, too. Here's what I've bought so far (mind you, this is only day two of a seven-day vacation, so things could get a lot, lot worse: Shadows and Strongholds, by Elizabeth Chadwick The Marsh King's Daughter, by same Lords of the White Castle, by same The Children's Book, by AS Byatt (signed by author) Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott (a new find for me) The Lady Tree, by Christie Dickason The Water Horse, by Julia Gregson Consolation, by James Wilson (another new find) The Fraud, by Barbara Ewing No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi (I like the UK cover of this one a lot more than the American) From Persephone Bookshop (the place is heaven, and the salespeople are lovely): Mariana, by Monica Dickens Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple The Victorian Chaise-Lounge, by Marghanita Lasky The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgeson Burnett Saplings, by Noel Streatfeild A London Chil

Review: Tears of Pearl, by Tasha Alexander

Lady Emily Ashton and her husband, Colin Hargreaves, are on their honeymoon to Constantinople, when a girl in the harem, the daughter of an Englishman dies. Lady Emily, at the behest of the English Crown, enters the harem to discover who murdered the girl. I enjoy reading about the Victorian time period, I really do. I read Tasha Alexander’s first book, And Only to Deceive , and liked it, in a way. The details of Victorian England were well-researched. But here, with the Ottoman Empire, I feel that the author skimped on historical accuracy in order to focus on the exoticness of the location. There was a lot that I found to be in-credible, mainly that Emily as a westerner would be able to come and go in the harem so easily—and that the women there would be so willing to talk to her. Or that a woman of the harem would be able to do what Roxelana tries to do, without any consequences! Also, Emily had free and easy access to the sultan, which wasn’t believable to me, either. I don’t know m

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 group of soldiers dispersed, though I noticed that the centurion cast a suspicious look over his shoulder before leaving. The four of us watched Marcellus, and I suspected that behind us even the guards were passing questioning glances among themselves.” --From Cleopatra’s Daughter , by Michelle Moran, which I'm really loving so far. Michelle Moran does for ancient Rome what she did for ancient Egypt in Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen . I have a few copies of these floating around, so I’ll have a giveaway for three copies starting when I get back into the country.

Review: Past Imperfect, by Julian Fellowes

From Amazon: “Damian Baxter was a friend of mine at Cambridge. We met around the time when I was doing the Season at the end of the Sixties. I introduced him to some of the girls. They took him up, and we ran about together in London for a while….” Nearly forty years later, the narrator hates Damian Baxter and would gladly forget their disastrous last encounter. But if it is pleasant to hear from an old friend, it is more interesting to hear from an old enemy, and so he accepts an invitation from the rich and dying Damian, who begs him to track down the past girlfriend whose anonymous letter claimed he had fathered a child during that ruinous debutante season. The search takes the narrator back to the extraordinary world of swinging London, where aristocratic parents schemed to find suitable matches for their daughters while someone was putting hash in the brownies at a ball at Madame Tussaud’s. It was a time when everything seemed to be changing—and it was, but not always quite as exp