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The Sunday Salon

I’ve been very busy this week, so my blog posts have kind of tapered off recently. But I have been very busy reading (always a good thing, I suppose…); here’s what I’ve read:

A Plague on Both Your Houses, by Susanna Gregory
Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart
Murder of a Medici Princess, by Caroline Murphy (nonfiction about the life of Isabella de Medici and the manner of her death in 1576)
Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger, which I finished last night. It’s excellent; a combination of modern love story and Victorian-style ghost story. I’m working on my review of the book, and I’ll post it closer to the book’s publication date at the end of next month.
Currently I’m reading Named of the Dragon, by Susanna Kearsley; I’m saving my ARC of Cleopatra’s Daughter for the plane ride over to London.

I’ve also been busy finalizing vacation plans—can it really be just this week that I’ll be going? Seems like yesterday that I was applying for time off and buying my plane tickets (really, it…

Review: The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman

Set in the Sultan’s harem in Constantinople in 1599, The Aviary Gate is the story of Celia Lamprey, and Englishwoman sold into slavery after a shipwreck. For two years, her fiancée, Paul Pindar (a secretary to the ambassador) has believed Celia to be dead—until a chance encounter gives him proof that she’s still alive. Celia and Paul’s story is intertwined with that of Elizabeth Staveley, an Oxford DPhil candidate, who investigates Celia’s story in modern-day Istanbul.

Celia’s story is the strongest part of the novel; Elizabeth’s isn’t quite as fleshed out. Maybe it’s because Elizabeth has an almost cold, detached view of her research subject. I also thought that Elizabeth’s romance story line wasn’t well-thought-out, and the emotionally unavailable ex boyfriend gratuitously thrown in there. Maybe he’s a foil for Celia’s fiancée, Paul, in the past? The ending of the novel was a bit strange, too: we’re told what happens, rather than shown. But maybe it’s best to leave that kind of thing…

Review: No Dark Place, by Joan Wolf

It’s 1138, and at the Battle of the Standard during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, Hugh Corbaille’s foster father, Ralf, has died. A knight in passing notices Hugh’s striking resemblance to a feudal overlord who was murdered fourteen years earlier, his son mysterious kidnapped. Hugh soon realizes that the Earl of Wiltshire was his father—and that he is the heir to one of the more strategic holdings in the war between Stephen and Matilda. Hugh soon finds himself embroiled in an investigation of the murder, although he has no recollection of his past.

The story seemed very promising. But there were a lot of things that were wrong with this book. I have mixed feelings about the loss and regaining of Hugh’s memory. On one hand, I liked the theme; but on the other hand, I felt it was a bit too modern for the 12th century. The characters don’t have much depth, and it’s hard to feel much sympathy for our hero, who never seems to show much emotion (except when it comes to Cristen).…

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!

“As I straightened up, something hit me. It caught me full on the chest, and I staggered back against the gates, pinned there by my assailant’s weight, and with his breath on my cheek.”

--From Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

The Sunday Salon

To my surprise, I’ve been nominated for several BBAW awards!

Best Blog Name
Best History/Historical Fiction Blog
Best Gneral Review Blog

Considering that my postings have become a little… anemic lately, I’m thrilled, so thanks for the nominations!

As far as my reading has gone, here’s what I read this past week:
The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman
The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott
Grace Hammer, by Sarah Stockbridge
A Plague on Both Your Houses, by Susanna Gregory.

Right now I’m between books; I’ve got a whole stack of Mary Stewarts, Emma Campion’s The King’s Mistress, and some Elizabeth Chadwicks to choose from. Also, I have advance copies of Audrey Niffenegger’s and Michelle Moran’s new books coming to me in the mail! I love it when I have too much to choose from, you know?

Review: The Gabriel Hounds, by Mary Stewart

Christy Mansell is on a pleasure trip to Damascus when she meets her cousin Charles. Their great-aunt Harriet lives in the High Lebanon, where she plays a sort of Lady Hester Stanhope role, living in a decrepit old palace secluded from everything. There’s an unspoken rule that nobody is allowed to visit her, but Christy decides to pay her great-aunt an unexpected visit. Met with resistance at first by Harriet’s doctor, Christy gains entry into the palace, but she and her cousin soon discover that not all is as it seems.

Christy Mansell is typical of Mary Stewart’s heroines; she’s young and spunky, and used to doing whatever she pleases. Under any other writer, this sort of thing might get annoying, but somehow Stewart manages to make each of her heroines unique. Also expected is the romance aspect of the book, which I wasn’t quite as satisfied with as I was with the rest of the book, but enjoyed nonetheless. The romance story lines of Mary Stewart’s books are always gentle and understa…

Review: The Flood-Tide, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

#9: 1772-1789; covers the American Revolution; Enclosure

It is the eve of the American Revolution—a time where there is “a tide in the thoughts of men, and the tide is making.” Jemima is the family matriarch, married to Allen Macallen and the mother of seven. Thomas Morland a captain in the Navy, while Jemima’s son William joins as a midshipman. Meanwhile, their cousin Charles, a botanist and entomologist, cuts himself off from the family in order to marry a Creole woman in Maryland; and Henri Stuart, illegitimate son of Aliena’s daughter, is a libertine in Paris.

Another strong addition to the series; the gaps between books are shorter, and the time covered is also getting shorter, which is definitely a good thing. CHE focuses a lot more on character development so that the reader finds themselves rooting for the protagonists—even Henri, though his deception with regards to his wife truly is despicable. With regards to the married couples in this novel, the only marriage that truly 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!

“We stepped into a dark room lined with shelves and all the paraphernalia of a locksmith’s art—metal saws, metal presses and molds, boxes of screws and levers. The air was thick with the smell of metal and dust.”

--From The Coral Thief, by Rebecca Stott

Review: The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

The White Queen opens in 1464, on the day that Elizabeth Woodville meets Edward IV, the man who has just recently been crowned King of England. In the attempt to gain back the lands she lost when her husband died, Elizabeth catches the eye of the young king, and becomes Queen of England herself—and eventually, the mother of kings and queens of England.

I have mixed feelings about this book.

Here’s what I didn’t like so much:
--The fact that the book is written in the present tense. Gregory started writing this way sometime around The Boleyn Inheritance, and it gets on my nerves sometimes because I feel that using the present tense for historical fiction is so limiting.
--The water imagery got to be a bit much-too-much at times. It was beautiful at first, but the fact that Elizabeth kept talking about her ancestress, the water goddess/nymph Melusina, began to get tired after a while.
--Although Gregory is great in general at describing the events of the time periods of which she writes, she…

Review: The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton

The Slaves of Solitude has been sitting on my TBR shelf since April 2008. The other day, when nothing else really appealed at the moment, I picked this one up. I enjoyed it immensely.

Written in 1947, The Slaves of Solitude is set at the height of WWII, in a suburb of London. Miss Roach is an imaginative, nearly-forty-year-old spinster, living in the Rosamund Tea Rooms (though they’re no longer “tea rooms”). The book is told from her point of consciousness, but the novel is also about the other residents of the boarding house. There’s Mrs. Payne, the landlady; tyrannical Mr. Thwaites; and Miss Steele and Mrs. Barratt. Later, a German woman moves in to the room next to Miss Roach’s, and monopolizes the attentions of a young American lieutenant.

It’s a short novel; only about 240 pages, and a quick read. But it’s not an inconsequential one. Hamilton’s writing style is sparse; he tended not to waste words on needless description. He depicts the deprivations of the War perfectly. It’s ironi…

The Sunday Salon

My week in reading:

The Flood-Tide, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
The Gabriel Hounds, by Mary Stewart
No Dark Place, by Joan Wolf
The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

I’m currently in the process of reading The Aviary Gate, a novel set in the Sultan’s harem in the Ottoman Empire in 1599. It’s pretty good.

This summer the flow of ARCs coming into the house slowed down—and yet this past week I’ve received more ARCs than I have the whole summer so far! I guess it’s to be expected—the publishing industry generally slows to a standstill over the summer months, then picks up again for the fall. I’ve received some good review copies, too: The White Queen and The Aviary Gate are review copies, and I also received copies of Rebecca Stott’s new one, The Coral Thief, as well as a novel called Grace Hammer, by Sarah Stockbridge. Both of these two are coming out next month, so I’ll have to get them read before or during my vacation—hard to believe that in three weeks’ time, I’ll be in London!

Review: In a Dark Wood Wandering, by Hella Haasse

In a Dark Wood Wandering is the story of the Valois family, from the late 14th century through the mid-15th. Charles, Duke of Orleans, is the focal point of the story, however, and the novel follows his life from birth, though childhood, early adulthood, the battle at Agincourt, his imprisonment in England, and finally his retirement and death.

It’s a rather long, complicated novel, complicated further still by the complicated political situation. The author goes into some depth about politics, but still I found this novel deeply engrossing. Charles himself is an unusual character; he’s mostly an observer as opposed to an active participant in what happens. As Charles himself says, “it is my misfortune that I am neither a great man nor an able leader,” but the intrigue of Charles’s character is his courage, especially during the battle of Agincourt. Haasse takes a lot on by writing about Charles’s entire life, but she does so quite capably here. The other characters, however, aren’t so…

Contest winners!

I have some winners for my blog giveaway for The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory! They are...



Serena at Savvy Verse and Wit and

Gwendolyn B. at A Sea of Books.



Please send me your mailing address so that the publisher can get the books out to you! Please contact me sometime this weekend. so that I can e-mail the publicist tomorrow night. Enjoy.

Review: Shields of Pride, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Set in 1173 during the rebellion of Henry II’s sons and wife, Shields of Pride is about Joscelin de Gael, illegitimate son of William de Rocher and a mercenary soldier. Quick to anger, he feuds with de Rocher’s jealous sons. He meets Linnet de Montsorrel, widow, and they marry, although it is not until later that they fall in love.

Shields of Pride is one of Elizabeth Chadwick’s earlier novels, and at about 360 pages, it’s also one of her shortest. Unlike many of her novels, this one doesn’t cover a large time span; the action in this book is tightly-packed. I’ve now read seven of Chadwick’s books, and I have to say that I’m still hooked on them. The author really has a talent for sucking her reader into the story and not letting go until the last page has been turned. Shields of Pride is a little more romance-oriented, but excellent nonetheless. I don’t know if Joscelin and Linnet were real people (they probably were), but I found myself really rooting for them, even as family conflic…

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!

“I looked where he pointed. Here the valley was wide, with the river, magnificent and flowing swiftly, cutting a way down for itself between the dense bank of trees.”

--From The Gabriel Hounds, by Mary Stewart

Review: The Last Duel, by Eric Jager

The Last Duel is the true story of a duel—the last duel, in December 1386, sanctioned by the Parlement of Paris, conducted between two former friends, the knight Jacques le Gris and the squire Jean de Carrouges, over the alleged rape of Carrouges’s wife by le Gris. The trial and duel took over a year to complete, and it attracted the attention of people all over Europe. The eighteen-year old King Charles VI even postponed the duel so that he could attend.

Set against the historic backdrop of the Hundred Years’ War, The Last Duel is primarily a legal history. The late fourteenth century was a litigious time in France, and it seems as though Le Gris and Carrouges were extremely contentious men—and both made some extremely foolish, un-tactful decisions, in an era when tact was valued at court.

Everything about the trial, and trial by combat, was uncertain: did Le Gris ever really rape Marguerite? Or was it a case of mistaken identities? Either way, the outcome of the case was tragic for ev…

The Sunday Salon

My week in reading:

I finally finished In A Dark Wood Wandering, a slow read but definitely worthwhile. My review will be up sometime this week or next.

I also read The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton; my copy has been sitting around since April… of last year. Good reading there as well.

I’m currently finishing up book 9 in the Morland Dynasty series, The Flood-Tide, set between 1772 and 1789. Revolution, revolution, everywhere….

Yesterday I took a trip out to West Chester to Chester County Books and Music, where I bought a copy of No Dark Place, by Joan Wolf (mystery set in mid-12th century England); and I basically cleaned out their inventory of Mary Stewart books that I haven’t read, which includes:

The Moonspinners
The Gabriel Hounds
My Brother Michael
Madam, Will You Talk
Wildfire at Midnight


Also bought from Amazon and Amazon UK this week were copies of A Plague on Both Your Houses, by Susanna Gregory (medieval mystery; I seem to have a hankering for these lately), and The King’s …

Review: Twenties Girl, by Sophie Kinsella

Description from Amazon:
Lara Lington has always had an overactive imagination, but suddenly that imagination seems to be in overdrive. Normal professional twenty-something young women don’t get visited by ghosts. Or do they?When the spirit of Lara’s great-aunt Sadie–a feisty, demanding girl with firm ideas about fashion, love, and the right way to dance–mysteriously appears, she has one last request: Lara must find a missing necklace that had been in Sadie’s possession for more than seventy-five years, and Sadie cannot rest without it. Lara, on the other hand, has a number of ongoing distractions. Her best friend and business partner has run off to Goa, her start-up company is floundering, and she’s just been dumped by the “perfect” man.Sadie, however, could care less.Lara and Sadie make a hilarious sparring duo, and at first it seems as though they have nothing in common. But as the mission to find Sadie’s necklace leads to intrigue and a new romance for Lara, these very different “t…

Giveaway: The White Queen, by Philippa Gregory

I've been given the fantastic opportunity of giving away two copies of this book! Here's the description from Amazon:


Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspecti…

Friday Finds

Books I’ve heard about this week:


Grace Hammer: A Novel of the Vicorian Underwold, by Sara Stockbridge. Heard about this through the LTER program; and with my love of all things Victorian, thought I might enjoy this one, set in 1888 in London’s East Eng.


The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, by Peter Ackroyd. This one has been out for a while, but the US version is coming out this fall (the US cover is quite macabre).


The Aviary Gate, by Katie Hickman. Won this this month through LTER.

Threshold of Life, by Hella Haasse. I just finished In a Dark Wood Wandering, and enjoyed it a lot, so I thought I might enjoy this one, set in 5th century Rome.

Review: Death Comes as Epiphany, by Sharan Newman

It’s late 1139, and Catherine LeVendeur is a novice in the convent of the Paraclete, whose abbess, Heloise, is the former lover of Abelard. A psalter has disappeared from the convent, one that could severely damage the already-damaged Abelard, and Heloise sends Catherine away from the convent, ostensibly in disgrace for misbehavior, to get the book back. But at the Abbey of Saint Denis, a stone mason literally falls dead, and it’s up to the intrepid Catherine to figure out, using her wits, what happened.

The historical detail is quite good. I understand that the author has a PhD in medieval history, and she definitely shows it off a bit. Those who aren’t well versed in medieval history might find themselves wishing that the book provided a glossary of terms; the author continually uses words and phrases like bliaut (a women's loose-fitting overgarment), aversier, bricon (rascal), chainse (a linen chemise), gaufre (waffles), braies (an undergarment tied at the waist) awaeris thu, an…

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!

“King Henry received him in one of the council halls at Westminster. The King sat in a chair under a canopy of carved wood; counselors and courtiers drew away as the king greeted the Duke of Orleans.”

--From In a Dark Wood Wandering, by Hella Haasse

Review: The Counterfeit Guest, by Rose Melikan

The hyperbole on the back of this book says that it’s “in the grand tradition of Charlotte Bronte and Daphne Du Maurier." Well, I certainly wouldn’t put Rose Melikan in the same category as those writers, but The Counterfeit Guest is nonetheless an entertaining read.

The Counterfeit Guest is the sequel to The Blackstone Key. It’s 1796, and Mary Finch, formerly a penniless governess, now finds herself in possession of a large fortune and a house called White Ladies, recently bequeathed to her. One could easily paraphrase Jane Austen here: “A single woman in possession of a large fortune must be in want of a husband,” as Mary’s friend Susannah marries the mysterious Colonel Crosby-Nash and Mary herself is pressured to marry. At the same time, Mary finds her “friendship” with Captain Robert Holland strangely cut off….

Having read The Blackstone Key, it’s easy for me to make comparisons with that novel. Both books are written in a lively, upbeat tone, and both are easy, quick reads, wi…

Review: The Nun's Tale, by Candace Robb

The Nun’s Tale is the third Owen Archer mystery. It’s 1366, and a nun, gone missing a year before, appears, claiming that she’s been buried alive. Pretty soon, other people who have been involved in her disappearance turn up, dead. In come Owen Archer and his wife, the apothecary Lucie Wilton, to solve the mystery. Is Joanna Calverley really what she says she is? Or is she simply mad? In any case, she’s a frustrating study in contrasts: virgin or Mary Magdalene? Victim in the case or perpetrator?

The story itself is slightly more grim than those in her other books; not just murder is at stake here, but something more sinister. There’s very little suspense to the mystery, but Candace Robb excels at portraying the relationships between her characters, developing them more and more with each book in the series. I liked how the author developed the tenuous relationship between Lucie and her father, Sir Robert, too. Jasper Melton, who features in the previous entry of the series, The Lady C…

The Sunday Salon

It’s been a busy week here. On Thursday night I went to see Sharon Kay Penman read from and discuss Devil’s Brood, which has recently come out in paperback. She read a couple of passages from the book, and then talked a little bit about how she lost the manuscript for The Sunne in Splendour. She’d spent four years writing it, and it’s amazing to think that she couldn’t even write again fro five years after the loss of the MS. Then, apparently, she just sat down one day and started to write again. I’m certainly glad she did! And other famous authors who have lost manuscripts or documents over the years include CW Gortner, Ernest Hemingway, Pearl Buck (in a fire; she never wrote again), and TE Lawrence.

Then she talked about historical fiction in general, and the importance of being historically accurate when writing about historical events, especially historical people. Those of us who read historical fiction have probably often come across instances where the characters are way too mod…

Review: The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

Verity Grey is a young archeologist and museum curator, when she’s called to participate in an archeological dig in Scotland. Peter Quinnell, a formerly renowned archeologist, is convinced that the ancient Roman marching campground of the Ninth Legion is located near the fishing village of Eyemouth. In addition, an eight-year-old boy has the second sight, able to see the ghost of an ancient Roman sentinel. Throw in an ex boyfriend and a handsome local Scottish love interest, and you have all the ingredients for a superb gothic romance.

Susanna Kearsley’s books are redolent of those of Mary Stewart; they’re very atmospheric. I loved the ghost aspect of the story as well as the archeological and historical bits of the book, which seemed to be well-researched (granted, I don’t know that much about ancient Roman Britain, but still…). The characters are eclectic and well-defined. However, the ending of the novel feels a bit rushed, and we never really learn all that much about the Ninth Leg…