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The Sunday Salon

Time for the ubiquitous month-end reading wrap-up, I guess. Wow, what a reading month! I finished 12 books, with only 30 pages left to go in a 13th (which I’ll definitely be finishing sometime today). Considering some of these books were chunksters, I’m rather impressed with what I’m accomplished! Here’s what I read this month:

Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw
The Brontes Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson
The Regency, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
A Hollow Crown, by Helen Hollick
The Lute Player, by Norah Lofts
The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, by Charlotte Mosley
The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry
The Dead Travel Fast, by Deanna Raybourn
Wild Romance, by Chloe Schama
The Unquiet Bones, by Melvin Starr
Brigid of Kildare, by Heather Terrell
Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

And the unfinished book is Robert McCammon’s Mister Slaughter, a mystery set in 1702 New York and New Jersey. Of all these books, by far I enjoyed the Dorothy Whipple the most, followed by A Hollow Crown.…

Review: The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters, ed. by Charlotte Mosley

Pages: 834 (with index)
Original date of publication: 2007
My edition: 2008 (HarperCollins)
Why I decided to read: it’s been on my TBR list for ages, and I’ve always been
fascinated by the Mitford sisters
How I acquired my copy: bought secondhand, January 2010

I’ve long been fascinated with the Mitford family, six sisters and a brother whose lives spanned the 20th century. This collection of letters strictly focuses on the sisters: Nancy, Pamela, Diana, Unity, Jessica, and Deborah. In a nutshell, this is who they were:

Nancy (1904-1973): The writer/ reader. Author of The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, and several other novels and biographies. Married Peter Rudd; worked for the London bookseller Heywood Hill and lived for a time in Paris in the 1950s.

Pamela (1907-1994): Married for a time to the physicist Derek Jackson (she was the second of his six wives).

Diana (1910-2003): married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the BUF (British Union of Fascists) in the 1930s. Spent some time in pri…

Review: The Unquiet Bones, by Melvin Starr

Pages: 256
Original publication date: 2008
My edition: 2008 (Monarch Books)
Why I decided to read: Amazon recommendation
How I acquired my copy: Bookdepository, December 2009

The Unquiet Bones is the first in a medieval mystery series featuring the adventures of Hugh of Single, surgeon. He’s recently completed his training as a surgeon, and moved to the town of Bampton to practice his trade. When the remains of a young woman turn up in a cesspit, Hugh is called in for his medical expertise; and later, to solve the mystery. He does a fairly substatioal amount of legwork on his journey, trading services rendered for information along the way.

It’s an interesting plot, and there’s a fairly good and unexpected twist about two-thirds of the way through. Starr is technically not the most skilled of writers, but he gives his readers a very detailed picture of a town and its people during the 1360s. Hugh is a bit bland as a main character, and I’d like to see him develop a bit more as the series pr…

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!

I’m reading two books today:

“His thoughts were disturbed by the sharper slap of water on the steps, and as he moved forward he saw the outline of a small, swiftly moving Barge. There were armed men standing on the sides, and it slid smoothly to the mooring post and stopped.”

-From The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry

AND:

"I called Blanco out of his kennel and allowed him to carry me across to the King’s apartment, that bleak austere apartment which nevertheless I regarded as a privilege to enter, so highly did Father rate the privacy it afforded. Only state matters with some element of secrecy to them or family affairs were di…

Review: The Dead Travel Fast, by Deanna Raybourn

Pages:309
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Mira)
Why I decided to read: I’m a fan of the author’s Lady Julia Grey series
How I acquired my copy: ARC from the publicist


Theodora Lestrange is a budding author who receives an invitation from her friend, Cosmina, to stay in her fiancee’s castle in Transylvania. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to gain inspiration for the novel she’s always wanted to write, Theodora goes to Transylvania—and finds herself immediately attracted to the castle’s owner, count Andrei Dragulescu.

I’m not quite as fond of this novel as I am of Raybourn’s Lady Julia Grey series, and I’ll tell you why. Theodora Lestrange is a pale copy of Lady Julia, I’m afraid, unrestrainedly modern and not quite as interesting. There’s not quite the same amount of wittiness that Lady Julia gave us time after time. There are also a lot of discrepancies in her character, especially when it came to her friendship with Cosmina.

I can’t help but compare this romance …

Review: Heresy, by SJ Parris

Pages: 355
Original date of publication: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Doubleday)
Why I decided to read: interest in the time period
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine, January 2010


Giordano di Bruno, an Italian exile who is wanted for heresy, goes to Oxford in search for a book he believes is there. In addition, he’s also been commissioned by Sir Francis Walsingham to help uncover a Catholic plot to overthrow the Queen (Elizabeth I; this book takes place in 1583). However, his search for the book is waylaid when a College Fellow is savaged to death by a dog. Bruno;s task becomes manifold as he also tries to discover who the murderer is.

OK, so the premise has been done to death. But I liked it nonetheless. The murder aspect is done in a way so that the reader is kept guessing the whole way through. The book is well-researched, too, and gives a lot of feel for the period without it being too overwhelming. However, there are some plot holes. I thought it was a weak moment when Bruno total…

The Sunday Salon

Another quiet weekend here, though I have news—I cut my hair short! Whereas it used to be almost all the way down my back, it’s now chin-length and layered. I think all told it was about 12 inches that I had taken off. Why did I do this? Well, I was simply getting tired of the old hair—long hair is just a lot to manage sometimes.

Yesterday I went to Barnes and Noble and bought copies of The Secret Garden and Cranford, with a leftover giftcard.

I’ve decided to join another challenge—the Four Month Challenge, hosted by She Read a Book. Basically, over the course of four months, you read books from several categories. Not sure I need another challenge, but this one looks like it’ll be fun nonetheless!

Read this week:

Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw
The Dead Travel Fast, by Deanna Raybourn
The Brontes Went to Woolworths, by Rachel Ferguson
Wild Romance, by Chloe Schama (daughter of Simon)

This morning I started an ARC of The Sheen on the Silk, by Anne Perry, a novel/mystery set in 1282 Cons…

Friday Finds

Oh, goodness. More to read, at some point!

Mistress of Rome, by Kate Quinn. I was offered a copy of this by the publicist, and I decided to give it a try. It's about a slave girl from Judaea, during the Roman Empire.

Mini-Shopaholic, by Sophie Kinsella. No description up on Amazon yet, but it looks as though this is a continuation of the Shopaholic series.

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment, by DE Stevenson. I read Miss Buncle’s Book late last year, and I was excited to find that the Bloomsbury Group are reprinting another one of her titles.

Wild Romance, by Chloe Schama. Heard about this through LTER, and requested it through the publisher. It’s fiction based upon a famous love affair and scandal from the 1850s; to be published in March.

31 Bond Street, by Ellen Horan. Mystery set in Victorian New York, to be published next month. I'm still trying to figure out how to snag a review copy of this!

The Alchemy of Murder, by Carol McCleary. Mystery with Nellie Bly as the heroine; to be published…

Cover Deja-Vu #20

Two more of them: the covers of Benjamin Merkle's recently-pulished The White Horse King, and what looks like a Spanish edition of book two of the Crudades Trilogy by Jan Guillou (The Templar Knight).

Review: Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Pages: 413
Original publication date: 1953
My edition: 1999 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Intriguing plot; and I’ve read and enjoyed another one of Dorothy Whipple’s books
How I acquired my copy: Persephone bookshop, September 2009

Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance is a very complicated novel to write about. It’s the story of the Norths, a suburban couple with two teenage children. Avery North’s aging mother engages a young Frenchwoman as her companion, and he develops an attachment to her that develops into an affair and later leads to divorce from his wife Ellen. This novel is a stunning book about the wide-ranging effects an affair can have on several families.

Dorothy Whipple’s language is very simple. Her prose is uncomplicated, yet there’s a lot of meaning behind it. Her upper-middle-class English characters are all absorbed in their own mundane lives, until the arrival of Louise literally shakes them all up. Louise is obviously not meant to be a sympathetic character (unl…

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!

I’m readingtwo books today:

“Grouped by the immense fireplace was a slection of heavy oaken chairs, think with examples of the carver’s art. One—a porter’s chair, I imagined, given its great wooden hood to protect the sitter from draughts—was occupied by a woman.”

--From The Dead Travel Fast, by Deanna Raybourn

AND

“The men slept six to a wagon, but because I was commander, I had a wagon to myself. These were light wagons for campaigning, horse-drawn, not the heavy ox wagons we would have lived in at home.”

--From Island of Ghosts, by Gillian Bradshaw

The Sunday Salon

I’m basically Scrooge when it comes to Valentine’s Day. I’ve never really celebrated it, partly because I don’t have anybody to celebrate it with; but even if I did, I think it’s pretty much an over-the-top holiday, anyways.

A snowy week here on the East Coast of course; I had the day off on Wednesday. I helped shovel snow for a bit, and I got quite a lot of reading done during the day—I managed to finish the 864-page A Hollow Crown. Then around 6:00 we lost power, which didn’t come back on until around 1:00 am. On Thursday morning we were still snowed in, and I worked from home for about two hours before the snow plow guys came to dig us out. It wasn’t until around 8:45 (two hours late) that I was able to get to work—and even then, the roads were slippery! Amazing that yesterday after work I came home to find several packages on my doorstep.

Then yesterday I was still dealing with snow—shoveling snow back from the road so we have a clearer view when pulling out, and salting the ice tha…

Book News: The Pindar Diamond, by Katie Hickman

I don’t normally write about books to be published here, but I got super-excited when I found out about this one. I read the author’s other book, The Aviary Gate, last summer, and enjoyed it. The Pindar Diamond will be coming out on August 17, 2010 (BTW, the publisher's catalogue has a different cover, which I think is better, but I can't find a way to copy and paste it into here).

A tale of lust, greed, and danger set in seventeenth-century Venice, The Pindar Diamond is a gripping and superbly told historical novel.

In a small town on the Italian coast, a mysterious woman washes ashore. She is crippled, mute, and clutches a bundle to her chest—a baby the townspeople insist is a real-life mermaid. It can only bring bad luck; they pay a troupe of acrobats to carry mother and child away.

In the bustling trade center of Venice, merchant Paul Pindar is the subject of his colleagues’ concern. Since his return from Constantinople, they have found him changed; raging over the loss of hi…

Review: The Victory, by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Pages: 447
Originally published: 1989
My edition: 2006 )Time Warner)
Why I decided to read: I’ve been enjoying the Morland Dynasty series for about a year now
How I acquired my copy: bought online

#12: 1803-06. Covers the Battle of Trafalgar

In Manchester, James’s wife Mary Anne becomes embroiled in the plight of the working poor. Lucy, Lady Aylesbury, is most of the focus of the 12th book in the Morland Dynasty series. Her lover Weston is a captain in the Navy; her husband Chetwyn develops a friendship with a young man, and their relationship causes much scandal. Haworth, Mary’s husband, is also a captain in the Navy, and witnesses firsthand the Battle of Trafalgar. Lucy’s relationship with Weston sails along (pardon the pun), until…

This is a pretty decent addition to the series, although I felt that Lucy was a bit foolish at times and Chetwyn very hypocritical. Chetwyn is definitely not one of my favorite characters in this series, though I hope he improves with time. Nobody seems particu…

Review: The Love Knot, by Elizabeth Chadwick

Pages: 474
Original date of publication: 1998
My edition: 2006 (Time Warner)
Why I decided to read: It’s Elizabeth Chadwick, what else can I say?
How I acquired my copy: Purchased through bookdepository.
The Love Knot is the story of two young lovers, set during the civil war between Stephen and Matilda. Oliver de Pascal is knight just returned from pilgrimage, who rescues the widow Catrin from a village destroyed by raiders. A romance develops between them, but “forces beyond their control” cleave them apart, helped in part by a difficult decision that Catrin must make. Years later, after war has devastated England, they are drawn back together. The ending is a bit predictable, but it’s the getting there that’s the fun part.

Elizabeth Chadwick’s novels, at least her earlier ones, are a little formulaic. Of course there’s the romance aspect, and there’s a bad guy who’s usually a mercenary soldier. Throw in lots of historical detail and famous persons from the period, and that’s usually what…

Snow Day!

I got off from work, so I'm stranded indoors for the meanwhile. What does a bookish person do when they have off from work due to snow? They read! So I'm going off to do so...

Review: Brigid of Kildare, by Heather Terrell

Pages: 235
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (Ballantine)
Why I decided to read: Interest in the subject matter
How I acquired my copy: ARC through the Vine

Brigid of Kildare is a split-time novel. The story goes back and forth between Bridgid, a 5th-century woman chosen by Saint Patrick himself to convert the Irish into Christianity; and a modern-day appraiser of medieval objects named Alex, who is invited to Kildare to appraise a book that the nuns there own. The story is told as both a straight narrative and a series of letters written by a Roman spy named Decius, sent to Ireland to uncover possibly heresy.

The idea of the story is appealing, but the execution of the book is rather lackluster, I’m afraid. It’s rare that I complain that a book I don’t like is too short; but I thought that the story could have been fleshed out a lot more, especially the characters of Alexandra, who never comes across as more than a cold appraiser. Where’s her personality? Even Brigid herself…

Review: The Splendour Falls, by Susanna Kearsley

Pages: 380
Original date of publication: 1995
My edition: 1995
Why I decided to read: I’ve read and enjoyed Susanna Kearsley’s other novels
How I acquired my copy: The author generously gave it to me!
When Emily Branon’s cousin Harry suggests a holiday to Chinon, France, she jumps at the opportunity. Harry, a scholar, is “potty for Plantagenets,” and wants to visit the town to do a bit of research. But when Emily arrives in Chinon, she finds that her cousin has disappeared, and she makes the acquaintance of a few foreigners in the town, including a set of brothers from Canada, a German artist, and a violinist. Emily finds herself drawn in by the story of two women named Isabelle—one the wife of King John of England, the other a girl living during WWII, both of whom hid treasures beyond price.

This book is another strong one from Susanna Kearsley, who manages to draw her reader into her story. Having been in contact with the author herself, she’s been influenced by the novels of Mary Stewart…

The Sunday Salon

I spent our snow day at home with my mom; we were basically trapped all weekend, until out snow-blow guy came and got us out this morning. Not a terrible lot of stuff got read, though I did finish The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters last night, and I read about 300 pages in A Hollow Crown over the weekend. On the flip side, though, I did get a number of reviews written, and I participated in Weekly Geeks, where I talked about Helen Hollick. This week I also read Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple; The Unquiet Bones, by Melvin Starr; and Brigid of Kildare, by Heather Terrell (coming out on Tuesday; reviews of all to follow).

Did you hear about the Amtrak train which got stuck in rural Pennsylvania over the weekend? At least the people onboard had things to read!

My mom and I have been watching on DVD the BBC miniseries Cranford, based on the Elizabeth Gaskell book. Both of us loved it so much I went and bought a copy of the novel. Cranford is the story of a small, provincial…

Review: The Carlyles at Home, Thea Holme

Pages: 200
Original publication date: 1964
My edition: 2002 (Persephone)
Why I decided to read: Browsing in the Persephone bookshop
How I acquired my copy: bought from the Persephone shop in Lambs Conduit Street, London when I was there in September
The Carlyles At Home is an account of the years that Thomas and Jane Carlyle lived at 5 (now 24) Cheyne Row, London, moving there in 1834 and covering the years up until Jane’s death in 1866. Thomas Carlyle was, of course, a famous writer and essayist, and the couple hobnobbed with many famous people (as a side note, it was interesting to learn that John Stuart Mill's maid accidentally burned the manuscript of Carlyle's The French Revolution, thinking it was waste paper!). Carlyle's relationship with his wife was stormy, to say the least; but this book is less about all of that than it is about the couple's domestic arrangements.

The book is short (about 200 pages), but it covers a lot of ground, from the animals the couple kept …

Weekly Geeks: Fun Facts about Helen Hollick

For Weekly Geeks this week, I would like to revisit one of my favorites from the past. This particular geeky assignment was posted by Dewey back in November of 2008, just weeks before she died. Here's what she posted then:

This week’s theme is: fun facts about authors.

How to:

1. Choose a writer you like.
2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.
3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.
4. Come sign the Mr Linky below with the url to your fun facts post.
5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in.

As you can see, the task is simple this week! Of course, if you did this one before, pick a different author to write about. If you are
like me, and can't choose just one, go ahead and write ab…

Review: The Road to Jerusalem, by Jan Guillou

Pages: 380
Original publication date: 1998 (in Swedish)
My edition: 2009 (Harper)
Why I decided to read: Elizabeth Chadwick recommended on her website.
How I acquired my copy: bought from bookdepository UK
Arn of Gotha is born in 1150, the younger son of a wealthy landowner. After a miracle occurs, Arn is sent to a monastery, where he is trained in both spiritual and physical matters—in the latter, by a former Knight Templar. The novel covers Arn’s early years, up until the time he is sent off to fight as a Knight Templar himself. The outcome of the novel is inevitable, but it’s the way that Arn gets there that is particularly interesting.

It’s not an easy read, by any stretch; I don’t know if it’s Jan Guillou’s writing style or the way the translator translated the book, but there were certain passages that were a bit slow going for me. There’s also a lot in here about faith and sin, although I didn’t find the religious bits off putting. Rather, it led an air of veracity to the whole novel…

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!

“Since Marianne departure from the house in Kensington, a flood of books and manuscripts had crept unhindered from room to room, from floor to floor, until now you could hardly open the front door for books. In some of the great lofty rooms, John had scooped out places for himself, where he read, ate, smoked and slept.”

--From Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple

Review: O, Juliet, by Robin Maxwell

Pages: 352
Original publication date: 2010
My edition: 2010 (NAL Trade)
Why I decided to read: I enjoyed Maxwell's novel on Elizabeth I a few years ago; the idea of a novel on Romeo and Juliet intrigued me.
How I acquired my copy: ARC through Amazon Vine
O, Juliet is the story of Juliet Capelletti, daughter of a merchant in Florence, who, betrothed to her father’s partner Jacopo Strozzi, falls in love with Romeo Monticecco, whose family own a rival company. The story is told primarily from the point of view of Juliet, and attempts to follow Shakespeare’s play.

I was so prepared to love this novel, but I simply didn’t. O Juliet is faithful neither to Shakespeare’s play, nor is it faithful to the historical story of Romeo and Juliet (and there really were a Romeo and Juliet, who lived in Verona in the early 14th century). Maxwell, for some inexplicable reason, chooses to set her story in 15th century Verona, which really had me scratching my head—especially when Cosimo de Medici entered t…