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Showing posts from October, 2009

Review: The Garden of Persephone, by Cesar Rotondi

Julien is a young English scholar who goes to Sicily to be the envoy and secretary to Roger II, the twelfth century king who was able to unite the south of Italy, becoming involved with the papal politics of the age. On behalf of his employer, Julien, an admirer of Peter Abelard, is sent on a number of diplomatic missions to various parts of Europe. Along the way he meets Claire, and manages to marry her, against the odds. Italy in the twelfth century isn’t a place or time I know much about, despite my interest in medieval Europe, so I was interested in picking up this novel. The book is at its best when sorting out the convoluted politics of the 1120s and ‘30s, but falters a bit when it comes to the fiction bits. It was very hard for me to really believe Julien and Claire’s relationship; one moment they dislike each other and the next they’re declaring their undying love for one another. There’s also very little passion involved; most of the time, Julien seems to just go through the m

Review: The Lady Queen, by Nancy Goldstone

Joanna I, queen of Sicily, Naples, and Jerusalem, is the subject of this highly interesting biography. She ruled one of the most powerful kingdoms in the late 14th century, surviving the numerous calamities that plagued (pun intended) Europe at that time. She was also implicated in the death of her first husband, Andrew of Hungary, and eventually married four times. Joanna emerges in this highly informative book as one of the most fascinating women of medieval Europe that I’ve ever read about. Goldstone admits that she doesn’t have much information to go on, but she puts Joanna’s story together very well. She’s one of those people who were much maligned in life; but in reality, Joanna did a number of wonderful things for her kingdom—even as her enemies tried to bring her down. Goldstone goes into a lot of detail about the papal politics of the time; Joanna had a close relationship with Clement and was very deeply involved in the great schism. From the schism to the plague, to 14th cent

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! “In the fringe of forest surrounding the plaza we found some temples crumbling quietly into themselves, sleeping under green blankets of vine. Like the ruin in the forest on Isla Pixol, beside the hole in the water, at the end of the lacuna.” --From The Lacuna , by Barbara Kingsolver

Review: The Nebuly Coat, by John Meade Falkner

Originally published in 1903, The Nubuly Coat is a rare book—yet it influenced the novels of so many other writers of Gothic fiction. The story opens when a young architect named Westray comes to the village of Cullerne to oversee the restoration of the old Norman church. The town itself is populated by an interesting array of characters: Mr. Sharnall the organist, who believes that a hidden specter with a hammer is out to kill him; the Rector and his wife, who seem as though they stepped out of an episode of Keeping Up Appearances . There are also Miss Joliffe, the landlady; and her teenage niece, Anastasia, who seems surprisingly mature for her age. We’re also introduced to, although not at firsthand, Martin Joliffe, who for many years before his death believed that he was the rightful heir of the Blandamer family fortune. There’s also Lord Blandamer, the mysteries local squire, who keeps his distance from the rest of the town, though his family insignia, the “nebuly coat” of the ti

The Sunday Salon

Happy Sunday! How is everyone holding up after the Read-a-Thon? I didn’t participate, but I was watching from the sidelines. I did, however, manage to do about four hours of reading yesterday. I finished an ARC of The Overnight Socialite , by Bridie Clark (author of Because She Can ), coming out in mid-December. I’m now about 150 pages into an ARC of Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, The Lacuna , which is set in Mexico in the 1930s and ‘40s. Although it took a bit to get into at first, I’m absolutely entranced by it. Also read this week was Miss Buncle’s Book , by DE Stevenson, another Persephone, this one about a woman in a country village who writes a satire about her neighbors. It was delightful reading. I’ve also had some blogging issues—not with this one, but with my review index; the formatting went a bit weird and now I’ve had to completely redo it. It’s time-consuming, seeing as I’ve got about 320 reviews up here on this site. But it’s not terrible. How’s your Sunday going?

Friday Finds

My TBR list is growing exponentially! -- Flapper: a Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern , by Joshua Zeitz. Nonfiction; recommended to me through LibraryThing. -- Fire From Heaven , by Mary Renault. Bought this this past weekend. -- Little Bird of Heaven , by Joyce Carol Oates. This is her latest book, and it looks pretty good. I went through a JCO “phase” in high school, so I look forward to this one. -- Harold the King , by Helen Hollick. Historical fiction about the Conquest; although it looks good, it’s just way too expensive for me at the moment, considering all the book buying I’ve been doing lately (just bought Brian Wainwright’s Within the Fetterlock on Monday). -- Tulip Fever , by Deborah Moggach. A novel set in mid-17th century Amsterdam, about art and the tulip craze. -- Bride of Pendorric , by Victoria Holt. One of my weekend buys. -- Island of Ghosts , by Gillian Bradshaw. Novel about the Roman conquest of Britain. -- Treason , by M

Review: Consolation, by James Wilson

One evening, celebrated children’s author Corley Roper meets a woman named Mary Wilson in a graveyard. Both have suffered the recent loss of a child, and both are more or less adrift in the world—Roper is estranged from his mad wife and finds that he cannot write anymore. Later, he embarks on a search to find out the secret of Mary’s birth. Set nearly a hundred years ago, this novel is sort of sepia-toned, in a way. The tone of the novel is dark in parts, and it promised to be a kind of a Gothic mystery. The story as it moves you along is compelling enough, but the ending left me wanting more—and not in a good way, because it was extremely anticlimactic (I don’t want to spoil anything, but it made me think, “that’s it? Why the heck did Roper even bother?”). From the blurb on the back of the book, Wilson wrote this novel about his grandmother, but I’m afraid that he made quite a mountain out of a molehill with this one—Mary’s secret isn’t particularly new or interesting. And it’s not mu

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! “Foreigners were suddenly less welcome. Often now there were riots against them in London: NO FRENCH ACROBATS one poster read, and the Sardinian chapel that Filipo di Vecellio and his sister Francesca had once visited was pelted with rocks.” --From The Fraud, by Barbara Ewing

The Sunday Salon

Sunday, Sunday, Yesterday after running a few errands, I went to Barnes and Noble to use up some gift cards from last Christmas and my birthday. I came away with: Bride of Pendorric , by Victoria Holt. I read Mistress of Mellyn last year and loved it, so I’m looking forward to reading more by her. The Russian Concubine , by Kate Furnivall. Historical fiction set in Russia and China in the early 20th century. Fire From Heaven , by Mary Renault. A novel about Alexander the Great. I’m really trying to branch out in the historical fiction I read, and read more eras, and this book is sort of a part of that. I spent most of this past week reading Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle , which is a 700-page novel, the first in a series, about the great Icini warrior queen (the author, Manda Scott, spells it Eceni, though I'm not sure why). It's excellent. My current read is The Fraud , by Barbara Ewing, which I bought in London last month on vacation. It’s a novel about a painter in mid-18th c

Review: The Tangled Thread, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#10: Covers 1789 to 1795: the French Revolution; wars with France; beginning of the industrial revolution When we left the Morland Family in The Flood Tide , the French revolution was just starting. In The Tangled Thread , the Revolution is in full swing, with Henri taking sides with the revolutionaries and his daughter Heloise marrying a well-known revolutionary. In England, at Morland Place, Jemima’s children have grown, but none has married. Later, war with the French looms, as Henry looses his head during the bloodbath in Paris, and Heloise comes to England. There are two distinct story lines going on here, and that which takes place in Paris during the Revolution is infinitely more interesting than the domestic affairs of the Morlands in York. Heloise is a charming young heroine, brave; and despite the adversity she faces, never let anything get her down. Jemima is a less-vibrant then many of the other characters, but maybe because the other characters’ stories are in the forefron

Booking Through Thursday

When’s the last time you weeded out your library? Do you regularly keep it pared down to your reading essentials? Or does it blossom into something out of control the minute you turn your back, like a garden after a Spring rain? Or do you simply not get rid of books? At all? (This would have described me for most of my life, by the way.) And–when you DO weed out books from your collection (assuming that you do) …what do you do with them? Throw them away (gasp)? Donate them to a charity or used bookstore? SELL them to a used bookstore? Trade them on Paperback Book Swap or some other exchange program? It’s been AGES since I last weeded out my library—in fact, I hardly ever give away books or sell them, even when I moved last year. I did sell back some books in college, but they were math textbooks that I didn’t much want to keep (yet all my books on medieval history and literature are displayed prominently!). I once tried to do one of those swap sites, but I just couldn’t bear to part wi

Cover Deja-Vu #15

The image on the left is that of the cover of Linda Berdoll's Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife ; on the right is the British edition of a Galen Foley nove.

Review: Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel

When I first received my copy of this book, I was a little daunted by it. I’d hear it was “literary”—whatever that means—plus, it’s written in the present tense, which I usually detest in a novel. But the more I read this book, the more I liked it. It’s really hard to do this kind of expansive novel justice, so I’m going to try my best to describe why I liked it so much. Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell, lawyer and diplomat, who spent many years in the service of Henry VIII, eventually helping the king secure his divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Everyone with even a passing knowledge of English history knows the story of Henry and his six wives, and the dissolution of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon; and countless novels have been written about him. For a long time I was all “Tudored” out, because all fiction about the period seemed to be derivative. Wolf Hall breaks the mold by not being another bodice-ripper/romance, and telling Henry’s story from a different perspecti

Review: The Making of a Marchioness, by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Emily Fox-Seton is poor—not desperately so, but genteel. She’s a simple soul really, content in the simple pleasures of life, hating the life she was born into but not knowing that she deserves much better. For work, she takes on odd jobs for wealthy women. When Lady Maria invites her to a country house-party, Emily meets the marquis, Lord Walderhurst, who, to her surprise, asks her to marry him. What follows is “the making of a marchioness,” as Emily adjusts to her new life. There, she meets two of Lord Walderhurst’s relatives—his disgruntled heir presumptive, Captain Osborn, and wife Hester, just back from India. Frances Hodgson Burnett is better known for some of her other books (including The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy ), but The Making of a Marchioness is a fine novel as well. Emily is a bit too perfect, sometimes, but she’s a sweet woman, blissfully ignorant of the bad feelings and thoughts of those around her. You just can’t help but to like her. According to the

The Sunday Salon

When are Sundays ever anything but quiet? I always use them to regroup before the work week begins on Monday, and it’s not to do it in peace and quiet. My weekends usually consist of a lot of reading and watching TV. So, nothing truly interesting. It’s getting chilly here, and right now I’m curled up in bed (!) with my computer, writing this post. Amazing to think that it’s October already, you know? As far as reading goes, though, this week I finished three books: The Nebuly Coat , by John Meade Falner (which I started reading last Sunday), Consolation , by James Wilson (underwhelming novel I bought in the UK on vacation last month about a man in 1910 England who sets out to disciver the secret of one woman’s background), and The Garden of Persephone , by Cesar Rotondi (out of print novel about 12th century Sicily), which I finished reading this morning over coffee. I’ve written reviews for all but the Rotondi, which I’ve scheduled to post for this week and next—pretty much all of my

Weekly Geeks

I don’t participate in Weekly Geeks a whole lot, but I knew I had to answer this question when it came up. I often go to LibraryThing for recommendations, but sometimes I get some from other book bloggers. I’m afraid I don’t get much out of my comfort zone, which is historical fiction, but I do enjoy other genres periodically. As for new-to-me authors, I often read them quite frequently. And I take many chances with my reading, especially if the setting or plot interests me. The other part of the assignment is to ask my readers for recommendations. It’s not as though I need a lot of book recommendations (I’ve got 169 books tagged as “TBR” on LibraryThing), but I’m always looking for new stuff to read. As I’ve mentioned before, historical fiction is truly my thing. I read heavily in the late medieval and Victorian periods; but I don’t have much ancient Roman, Greek, or early medieval history (pre-11th century) represented. I’ve read Michelle Moran’s books, Donna Woolfolk Cross’s Pope J

Review: The Tiger in the Smoke, by Margery Allingham

A young woman receives a series of photographs—snapshots of a man who looks exactly like her first husband. An investigation turns up something much darker and more sinister than anyone could have expected, and secrets from the past come to light. Most dangerous of all is a mad serial killer on the loose with everything to lose, called Jack Havoc. The Tiger in the Smoke is the first Albert Campion book I’ve read, having first heard about it in a list of great 20th century mysteries. Maybe it wasn’t the best book to start with, as Campion isn’t a central figure in this book and there’s not much character development of the regulars. But nonetheless I enjoyed this taut, slightly grim story of the chase of a homicidal maniac, loose on the streets on postwar Europe. It’s a highly suspenseful novel; I especially enjoyed the scene in the empty house. There’s also a wonderfully intriguing cast of characters, including an albino and a dwarf. But the “character,” if you could call it that, is

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 critic was right: if I wasn’t careful, I could find I had drifted irrevocably towards the edge of the known world. There was nothing for it: I needed an infusion of the realm before it was too late.” --From Consolation , by James Wilson

Review: The Children's Book, by AS Byatt

From the inside flap, since this is so complicated: 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, bringing dark dramas. The world seems full of promise but the calm is already rocked by political differences, by Fabian arguments about class and free love , by the idealism of anarchists from Russia and Germany. The sons rebel against their parents'

Review: The King's Mistress, by Emma Campion

The King’s Mistress is an enormous book, in terms of both physical size and scope. Covering the period from 1355 to the 1380s, this novel is the story of Alice Perrers, mistress to King Edward III. Upon her marriage to Janyn Perrers, Alice finds that her husband has connections to the Dowager Queen Isabella, a woman who once incited rebellion against her husband. After her husband’s disappearance, Alice enters the royal court, valued by Queen Philippa for her knowledge of textiles, capturing the attention of King Edward in the process. It’s pretty amazing, too, how closely Alice’s life parallels that of Troilus and Criseyde—in fact, she even suggests that Alice was in some part the inspiration for Chaucer’s poem. Alice sort of has a Bad Reputation, fabricated by her enemies at court and fostered over the years. Certainly in Emma Campion’s Owen Archer mysteries (written as Candace Robb), Alice really doesn’t come off very well, so it was interesting to me to witness how the author hand

The Sunday Salon

Another quiet Sunday here, and I’ve spent most of the morning on the couch with a cup of coffee, engrossed in John Meade Falkner’s The Nebuly Coat . Originally published in 1903, it’s a murder mystery of sorts, set in a small English town. My copy is from a company called Valde Books, which publishes rare and out of print titles. I was a little bit apprehensive at first, because the book’s format is a little weird—the margins are unevenly spaced and there are double spaces between paragraphs. But really, in the end that doesn’t matter, because the story is good. Does text font/format matter when you read a book? Or do you not notice? As for other books I’ve been reading this week, it’s not much; Wolf Hall took up much of the week for me. My review of this Booker-shortlisted novel will be up around the time it’s published in the States, on the 13th. This week I also read The Tangled Thread , the tenth book in the Morland Dynasty series. I do enjoy following the family through English

Friday Finds

More books to be read: Henry of the High Rock , by Juliet Dymoke. Historical fiction; this was an impulse purchase a few days ago. It's actually been on my mental TBR list for a while, because Elizabeth Chadwick mentioned it on her blog. The Lacuna , by Barbara Kingsolver. Coming out on November 3rd; it’s historical fiction, of a sort, about Mexico in the 1930s (Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo and all of that). I really, really loved The Poisonwood Bible a number of years ago, so this should be an excellent fall read. What did you discover this week?

Review: Mariana, by Monica Dickens

Mariana is the story of one young girl’s growth towards adulthood during the 1920s and ‘30s. The book begins when Mary Shannon is eight, and traveling with her somewhat flighty mother to Charbury, her grandparents’ house; and continues up through the time that Mary is twenty-four and waiting to hear news of her husband from the war. Monica Dickens (a great-granddaughter of Charles) depicts Mary’s maturation to adulthood with perfection. The reader sympathizes with Mary as she experiences the ups and downs of relationships and careers—experimenting with both seems to be pretty characteristic of Mary, as she grapples a bit with identity and independence. And yet, there isn’t the usual amount of teenage angst that one usually finds in a novel about growing up, which I found to be very refreshing. Mary is a sweet and sometimes na├»ve girl, but at the same time, she’s also wonderfully sarcastic towards her peers. She’s hard to like at times, but in an odd way, I found myself sympathizing wi