Sunday, December 29, 2013

World Enough and Time On Creativity and Slowing Down by Christian McEwen

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  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bauhan; first edition (May 11, 2011)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0872331464

My dear friend, Janet, gifted me with this book for the holiday. She could not have chosen a more perfect gift! I began to read it as soon as I opened it and, having the luxury of time alone this Christmas, I spent the best part of the day reading it. It's been an inspiration for me, and I think that many of you might also benefit from reading it. 

Most of the creative people that I know experience times when the muse flees the mental coop, leaving us  brooding  about "what now"?  We wonder if this will be a short hiatus from our internal creative dialog or if, a paralyzing thought, the muse has left on a more permanent basis? Who are we if not one with our muse? I have personally found that more I give in to these thoughts, the more ludicrous and self-perpetuating they become. I have learned to accept, as benevolently as possible, these fallow times as a gift. A pause, if you will, in my internal need for accomplishment. 

This is an important book! Important for all human beings - not just those of us who aspire to create.

This is a book in which author, poet, teacher, Christian McEwen applauds the pauses, the fallow times, the quiet, and the stillness. The book hails the mindfulness of those who take note of the world around them, who can open their eyes and absorb the sounds that exist even in 'silence'. It gives a nod to slowness and reflection, it provides a relief filled bow to an appreciation for the stillness that can lead us to lead a more healthy, fulfilled life. Indeed, it is these slow times that can leave us more inspired rather than less so. For expressives it goes a long way to clarify why these untilled periods that we all experience in our creative lives, when the muse seems to have taken flight, are actually opportunities to dwell within and reflect, to recharge and to slow down and appreciate what 'is'. 

I had been feeling that I was not producing enough art work and that I should be working faster and more efficiently. In short, I felt that I was floundering just a bit. In the back of my mind I also acknowledged that I seem to be uniquely suited to retirement. I treasure my first morning hours now when I sit and read, taking the time to 'really' read, to makes notes, to study the history books that I enjoy so much. Also, I have a lot of interests and my days are almost never dull. I just kept feeling that I needed to go faster, even though I really did not want to! 

In retrospect I think that those weeks of slight worry were symptomatic of my "monkey mind" at work and also, possibly, a part of the whole internal process of retiring. I do believe that there are stages that one goes through when you leave your work of many years and bid adieu to your 'work family'. It's a loss in a way, and because of that perhaps a bit of mourning comes into play. I was giddy for the first couple of months, giggling to myself over the wee bit of luscious lazy that I continue to luxuriate in each morning as I read away an hour or two. Occasionally, truth be told, I do experience a sporadic bit of fear over the future of my finances, and for me, the occasional, yet insistent thought that I must put forth some additional effort into being more social. Yes, I have to admit that human contact is a necessary thing. Hitherto, my 'work family' filled that social need for me, but now I will have search for that connection a bit further afield. As a true introvert this is not really much an issue for me most of the time.

"World Enough & Time" has become a powerful ally for me. It gives credence to my inner beliefs that 'slow' = 'good', not slothfulness. I am savoring my slowness to it's fullest at this point in time. I am at peace with my life as it is and my 'word' for 2014 is going to be 'savor', or if I were to choose a New Year's phrase it might be "savor life in the slow lane".

" World Enough and Time" is available on Amazon, as a book or e-book and, as always, your Indie bookstore would, I am sure, be most happy to provide you with a copy!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

"Bellman & Black" by Diane Setterfield

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  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (November 5, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476711959

This is one of the few times that you will see a 3 star rating from me. Generally I don't review anything that I don't feel is worth 4-5 stars, but since I made it to page 130 of this book I thought that I would my impressions. I am a fan of Diane Setterfield's work, but I don't think that his is the best of it. Of course YMMV and you might be someone who loves this book!

I consider it to be a tale of one deed committed early in life repeating, like ripples on a still pond, into your future..

I admit to having looked forward to reading this book because I had thoroughly enjoyed "The Thirteenth Tale", and also because I am a push over for a good 'ghost tale".

I borrowed this book from our library, and was one of the first to get it in my hands. I kept reading this book thinking that I just needed to give it a chance to pick up. I made it to page 130, and decided that my reading time was better spent on something that would be more enjoyable.

I kept thinking of Poe's quote "quoth the Raven nevermore" as I read this book for some reason.... the book features rooks. While this book does present some fascinating historical information about the running a cloth mill of yesteryear, the plot itself felt rather weak to me. Deaths. A Lot of deaths, in some way linked to the sling shot killing of a rook in the protagonist's childhood. Had I read further I might have learned more about how the death of that rook figures into the story, but I took it to be more of an allegorical meaning and decided to part way with the pages and move on.

This is not a bad book, and perhaps I really did not give it enough of a chance. I had just finished reading  book that I found riveting - perhaps I just wasn't ready for this book at that time? I did not feel that this book represents the best that the author can do, and I look forward to her next book.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hild by Nicola Griffith

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  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 12, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374280871

I don't know where to start. I read a lot, generally at least two books a week. I love large, thick books that can take awhile to read. When I love a book, the longer it lasts the better it is! I read with enjoyment. I don't spend my reading time with anything that I don't enjoy, which is why I seldom give books less than 3 stars here or on any other site on which I post my reviews. Actually, most of my reviews are 4-5 stars. This one should have at last 7 stars by that reckoning. Some books, very few actually, are finished but stay with me, like the after taste of a particularly fine something .. wine, chocolate, a favorite dessert or meal. This book is staying with me, and I am wishing that the sequel was already available so that I could continue to savor the reading.

Ms. Griffith is a master at prose. This book, in places, reads more like poetry, each word so finely tuned that they sing like a finely tuned violin or as the voices in a perfectly pitched acapella.

I have to admit to having a few issues with the uniqueness of names and places in this  seventh century world that we enter when we open this book, but it did not take long for me to fall into the book and become one with the pages and the story. 

We step into the story of St. Hilda, but this story gives so very much more. We walk in the life of the seventh century. We go to the dairy house and help make butter, we smell the torches, hearth lights and the blood of war. We feel the tensions of King and thegns, the stress as the old, polytheistic, religions give way to the new, Christ, religion. As a female I weigh the place of women in this ancient society;  the withering work of simply 'being' in this cold, calculating, somewhat viscious time, the offering of wine and mead - and sometimes of something more.

This book is lyrically written, each moment poignant. Hild, the daughter of a would-have-been king is a person who is patient, who sees and hears things and uses knowledge to uphold her position as the King's trusted seer. Her mother, a women, the widow of the 'would-have-been-king' has not standing, no property. She who is a healer and she uses nothing more than her wits to preserve the life of her children.

This is a book that takes hold of you and transports you. I simply could not put this book down! Well done Nicola Griffth! Let there be more ! I can't wait!

This book should appeal to everyone because of how well it is written, but it will hold special interest for those of us who have an affinity for historical fiction and, more than that, anyone who appreciates perfectly wrought fiction.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"The Spanish Queen" by Carolly Erickson

  • * * * * *
  • Also available as an e-book
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1 edition (October 22, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250000125

I have been so negligent in posting reviews lately! I just keep reading it seems and forgetting to review! Bad on me! I considered dropping my book blog, but will continue and see how it goes. I love the books that I read and enjoy sharing my reactions with those of you who read these few reviews. I also add craft book review to my 'other' blog sometimes.

I digress again. SO onto this excellent book ....

  • I thoroughly enjoyed this captivating story of Catherine. Told in the first person it brings a much more personal feel to the life of this much abused Princess and Queen. I couldn't put it down and ended up reading it in two late evenings!

    As always with Ms. Erickson's work, I found the details to be quite exacting (if you compare the events in the book with recorded history that is) and the human spirits of the people involved is well reflected in the pages.

    My hallmark of a great read is if it pulls you in enough to feel as though you are "in" the story yourself, and this book did that for me. I was sorry when I reached the end! I felt as though I had just read about a much more approachable, less rigid, person, who circumstances set the tone for her life - and her death. Their is a lot 'human-ess" in these pages, and I was quite riveted. Well done! Anyone who loves historical fiction, British history, Tudor history or just an interesting fictional read will , no doubt, enjoy this book

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Wolfsangel" by Liza Perrat

* * * * *
World War II and the French Resistance is not an area which I generally choose to read about, but when I heard that one of my favorite authors had published a new book that concerned just those areas I had to read it!

I read, and reviewed Liza Perrat's first book "The Spirit of Lost Angels" last year and it was at that time that I became hooked on Ms. Perrat's writing. In my opinion her work should be far more well known than it is. While I do not know Ms. Perrat,  I am a fan of her work!

"Wolfsangel' is a sequel of sorts, but not really. It is a perfect stand alone book. The story line revolves around a small French town during the German occupation of France during World War II. Celeste (Celestine) Roussel is the main character. Her mother runs the centuries old family farm. Aside from running the farm, her work involves assisting women who find themselves inconveniently pregnant, often due to being raped by members of the occupying German forces.  Celeste's father had volunteered to go and work in Germany, where the purported pay was good. They had received no word from him though in many months and they had no way of knowing if he was even still alive. 

Celeste's sister is nun based in a convent that takes in families at risk from the Germans, and her brothers are part of the Resistance movement, but do not allow Celeste to join them because they fear that she may not be able to withstand the rigors of questioning were she to be found out. The town itself is acknowledged to be a 'hotspot' for Resistance activity. The Germans 'requisition' the best food stuffs from the town has, they take what they want and blackmail those who they suspect may be Jews hiding under the pretext of false papers and new, more French sounding, names. Women are raped, people go hungry, and the German's loot at will.

After one Resistance expedition, Celeste's brothers and friends are arrested and imprisoned. The prison is a place from which most never return. The firing squads make short work of the inmates after they are questioned and severely tortured. We follow Celeste as she matures, becoming involved with the Resistance in her own way as she formulates a plan with other Resistance workers to free her brothers from prison. The brothers are provided with just enough of an infectious serum to make them ill enough to be transferred to a hospital where Celeste has been placed. In a gripping series of chapters their escape is effected and Celeste and her long time friends become well known as good Resistance operatives.

Meanwhile, Celeste becomes involved in a romantic diversion with an unlikely man. A German officer named Martin Diehl. Martin does not relish being in the Army and provides Celeste with a few small luxuries and the security of his protection. They fall in love and talk of a future after the war. This dalliance causes a lot of conflict for our heroine since any sort of relationships with the hated "Boche" is decried by all town members, other than the few who are profiting by the largesse that the Germans can provide.

In a moving chapter, after Celeste is raped by two German officers while Martin is away and cannot provide any protection,  her mother shares her own dark secret that had never been spoken of. She too was raped in her youth, perhaps explaining her seemingly cold and aloof manner. Celeste forms a plan as she quietly plans her revenge.

The last part of this book reveals Celeste's plan for revenge, but does her successful plan manage to backfire on the entire town? I just cannot say more without revealing too much of this intricate plot that would spoil it for your reading!

This book is simply wonderful, and I could not stop reading it. I finished it in a day because I could not put it down! The plotline is well constructed, they story is taut and gripping, and the characters are more than well fleshed out. I felt as though I too was a member of the Resistance. The only problem is that the book had an end, and I wanted to read more!

The book is factually based on a real village, true resistance heroes, and a massacre that remains a reminder of the brutality that war can bring. Ms. Perrat provides an excellent epilogue that was also spine chilling reading for me in which she presents the facts from which her story is based.

I learned a lot from this book, one thing is that perhaps I should read more about this brutal period of history. It's really quite amazing to me what the human spirit can survive.  

"Wolfsangel" is currently available as an e-book, but the paperback edition is soon to follow. 

This book will appeal, I think, to all readers of excellent general fiction as well as those who enjoy historical fiction, and fiction that revolves around World War II. I cannot imagine that reading this book will not move you, and perhaps, as it did for me, teach you a thing or two about what people can, and do, endure in the name of freedom. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The WInter Mantle by Elizabeth Chadwick

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  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Time Warner Paperbacks (October 3, 2002)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751529586

I'm not sure what it is about Elizabeth Chadwick's work, but it never fails to mesmerize me, and transport me back in time. When I purchased this book I was not aware that it was one that I had obviously had missed somewhere along the path of reading Ms. Chadwick's work. It was originally published in 2002. I can't imagine that I would have forgotten reading it when it was new!

This book follows the path of William of Normandy and begins with the year 1067 following the great Battle of Hastings. William the Conqueror is establishing his rule over Britain, and in doing so retains custody of many captured nobles, Earl Waltheof Siwardsson of Huntingdon being one of them. Although he did not fight in the war, Earl Waltheof retains his title but fights to regain his pride of place and his lands from William. Waltheof falls in love with one of  Willaim's daughters, Judith. 

Reluctantly, after the threat of an uprising against him, William restores Waltheof's lands and grants him marriage to his daughter,Judith. In the years that follow, Judith  feels that Waltheof is engaged in some activities that are contrary to his fealty to William, and, through familial treachery, Waltheof is executed. His eldest daughter falls in love with the man who is sent by William to take control of Waltheof's earldom, one by the name of Simon de Senlis, who had been a long time friend, and former squire to, Waltheof. He is also a person for Judith, Matilda's mother, holds no love.  

Simon follows the Crusade, leaving Matilda behind to question his fate.  Simon;s first love had followed her husband on the Crusdae trail until he is drowns.A dire injury almost takes his life, and Simon is tended  to  by his first love, who he had taken under his wing. During his convalescence they have a one time resolution to the desire that was founded in their younger years.

After his return from the Crusade, his first love becomes a nun, and Simon returns to his lands and his family. Simon and Matilda long for peace, a commodity that is difficult to come by during this turbulent time. Tension builds in their marriage, but the truth of Simon's "one-night-stand" comes out due to the birth of his bastard child; a child that Matilda must accept and raise in their home after she meets with, and grudgingly accepts, the confession of Simon's early love. 

The epilogues for Ms. Chadwick's books are always one of my favorite parts. There she provides the history behind her stories. Much of what she writes is structured on solid historical facts, and I find it utterly fascinating the she "fills in the blanks" so convincingly. Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my favorite historical fiction writers and this book is a credit to her!

Anyone who loves historical fiction, British historical fiction, the history of William the Conqueror, or just a great read, will undoubtedly enjoy this excellent book!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

"The Angel Stone" by Juliet Dark (aka Carol Goodman)

  • * * * *

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 3, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345533395

I have been a life long fairy tale fan, and I have been a big fan of this fantasy series by Juliet Dark (aka Carol Goodman) since the Fairwick Trilogy began with "The Demon Lover".  Each of these books works well as a stand alone book though so you don't have to read the entire three book series, but I think that once you read " The Angel Stone" you will want to read the other two books!

Over the course of the last two volumes I have become enthralled with the quirky world of Fairwick College, and the delightful mix of it's inhabitants. The witches, demons, fey,nephilium, and humans are all rife with possibility. The plots all contain what could be considered an allegorical basis in the truth of all humanity and they contain the best elements of what makes up all good, timeless fairytales. 

I would have loved to have gone to a college like Fairwick! What I could have learned from it's very quirky professors! The mixed of 'real world' and 'fantasy world' is well balanced, and the books moves readily, without any 'dead zones' to slow you down!

With 'The Angel Stone', this trilogy sadly comes an end. I will miss waiting for the next book in the series,but I will console myself by reading more of Carol Goodman's other novels.

'The Angel Stone' was a delightful read that held my interest. I almost read it all the way in a day! I love the creativity that comes through in this tale of love lost and found again- of just causes fought for well and won. Although this is a tale of fantasy there are bits of real world wisdom to be found as well 

Although YMMV ( your mileage may vary) I suspect that any fantasy/ paranormal or escapist reader will thoroughly enjoy this creatively written , totally delightful read.

PS: 'The Water Witch', the second book of this trilogy was my personal favorite!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Most Recent Historial Reading List

These four books represent my most recent reading list. I just finished "England After Elizabeth" by Leandra D'Lisle this morning. I have learned a lot from these books, especially about politics after the death of Gloriana, Elizabeth I. I have not read much about Jacobean England, for some reason King James and his reign have left me quite cool. I was interested, however, in how the rise of King James affected the politics and the people of his day, and how the citizens of England felt upon his arrival.

I had not understood, as I began this reading series, how thoroughly Bess of Hardwick would figure throughout all of these books. What an amazing woman she was - in so many ways. Bess really was a woman who was centuries ahead of her time. I can see her in the present day as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company!
My first read of the series was "Arbella: England's Lost Queen" by Sarah Gristwood, followed by the new work of historical fiction by Gillian Bagwell, "Venus In Winter" which is a most excellent, riveting book that I highly recommend.

I was pleased and amazed, when I read "Bess of Hardwick" by Mary Lovell, how closely "Venus In Winter" (reviewed here on August 17, 2013) follows the true facts of the life of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. I highly recommend reading both of these extraordinary books. You will derive a lot of pleasure and a lot of learning. The non-fiction "Bess of Hardwick" makes for pleasurable reading - this is not dull history at all and the biography reads as readily as fiction.
I had "After Elizabeth" by Leandra D'Lisle on my shelf for some time and decided, after finishing "Bess of Hardwick" that it was time to learn a bit about the court of King James and what really did happen after Gloriana's death in March of 1603. Although this book was a bit drier (though not that much so) than "Bess of Hardwick" I found that I learned a lot from the book and looked forward to reading more of it every day. What I had not anticipated was that Bess and the Shrewsbury family also figured prominently in the time of James accession to the throne. This book brought together a lot of loose historical threads for me, and provided me with a much more complete idea of just how important this family, and it's matriarch, were enmeshed in the political landscapes of their time. Remarkable!

This was a wonderful series of books, each one of them is highly readable and very informative. History really is amazing. What is the saying that the more things change the more they stay the same? Read these books and see why I think this is so true! You will also find a much enjoyment and much learning. I highly recommend any, or all, of these fascinating reads if you are a history fan - especially if you, like me, like nothing more than learning more about British history!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Venus In Winter" by Gillian Bagwell

  • * * * * *
  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425258026

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! This is a novel about the formidable Bess of Hardwick, a woman who forged her way through some of them the most perilous times in British history. She and her husbands built an enviable life and Bess came close to losing it all several times in her life, but somehow always managed to hang on to her property and her dignity. Bess was born of lower, though by no means low, means, and through advantageous marriages she built a personal worth that was enviable. This is a riveting read that closely follows the historical facts.

I worked a bit backwards. I had just finished reading "Arbella: England's Lost Queen" by Sarah Gristwood and, after reading about Bess by reading "Venus In Winter" I am currently reading "Bess Of Hardwick" by Mary Lovell.

Ms. Bagwell weaves a delightful, highly believable, tale around the historical facts.  Bess of Hardwick was a truly amazing woman who was quite ahead of her time. Intelligent and canny - she made a good life for herself and he family despite the tenuous times in which she lived. She came close to losing everything that she and her husbands had worked so hard for, but came back from the brink and prospered.

This is one of those books that I found difficult to put down. It made me interested enough to read her biography by Mary Lovell. If you love  historical fiction, Tudor fiction, British historical fiction or just great fiction in general I think that this book will appeal!

I always look forward to Ms. Bagwell's books - they have never failed to please. I hope that there another in the works !

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Making Wire and Bead Jewelry" by Janice Berkebile and Tracey Stanley

  • * * * * *
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Lark Crafts; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1454702870

This review that is long overdue. I was graciously provided with a copy of this book for review purposed, and it languished on my bookshelf until I decided that I really wanted  to learn to make wire and bead jewelry. I pulled this book off the shelf, and then discovered what a really wonderful, well done book it really is!

If you want to learn the basics of beautiful wire work with beads this is THE book for you. The projects are all interesting and well worth making.The instructions are clearly written,beautifully illustrated, and easy to follow. 

What initially drew me to this book was a desire to make the earrings that are featured on the cover. I was a real beginner at wire work at the time, but thanks to this book and it's clear instructions I was able to make several pairs of these earrings in an afternoon!

Since I took this book down from my shelf and began to use it I have read and used other books on wire work, but this book still remains a favorite. It's really a keeper! 

The book begins with a particularly well done overview and description of all of the tools and materials of the trade. What pliers to use and why you use them for specific projects. Valuable, necessary information about various wires, stones, beads and baubles. The next chapter is so perfect - a particularly well done section on the basics of wire work. It will tell how to make eye loops. wrapped eye loops, spirals,caps, clasps - all you need to know to get going on your wire work journey.

A section on finishing follows and then the project chapters begin. The projects follow in other in teaching skill sets as you go.

Yes! I really am this thrilled about this book and I am so sorry that it took me so long to realize what a gem I had ben given. This book is a real winner and I will look for any further titles by these wonderful authors!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"The Confessions of Marie Antoinette" by Juliet Grey

* * * * * 
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345523907

I was thrilled to have been provided with an Advance Reader copy of this book to read and review!

Not too many books are powerful enough to bring a tear to my eye, but this book certainly did do just that!

I have always been dumbstruck at the savage brutality of the French Revolution. In my eyes it seems to have been bloodier, more disorganized and more devastating than America's own Revolution. I've read many non-fiction histories about the French Revolution and biographies of Marie Antoinette. I believe that it can be difficult to portray a historically tragic figure well, without overdoing either empathy or villainy, but Juliet Grey breathes life into this book. The characters grab you into their lives and keep you riveted to the pages. I began by reading this book in the morning as I had coffee and quickly began to just sit and read, and read through to the end in a day and a half (I had to do some regular life things inbetween the pages!).

The characters are brilliantly portrayed. The French Revolution and the devastation that it brought, not only to the nobility, but to the revolutionaries themselves, are portrayed so well that you feel as though you are a part of it all. It is as if you are a part of the destruction of so many priceless artifacts, you are standing by the scaffold as men and women are swiftly dispatched by the new nation's "razor" (the infamous guillotine) . The perils and fear that the royal family endured is palpable in the pages of this book, it no wonder that Marie Antoinette's hair turned white almost overnight. It is impossible to comprehend the terror that existed during these riotous times.

Juliet Grey paints her word images artfully, and I was pleased to find so much historically correct information. I suppose that it was the historical veracity that caused this book bring a tear to my eye now and then, knowing that the reality of those dire times was so close to the story the book presents. I have no doubt that Marie Antoinette arrived in France as a royal ingenue. I have no doubt that she did spend far too many gold Louis' on her wardrobe and her homes. That was, however, the life to which she had been born, the fetes and baubles were de rigueur for the time period, and she was so very young. I doubt that any one could have imagined the maelstrom that was about to descend upon France and the Royal Family. Marie's perceived extravagance became an easy scapegoat for the masses who were starving and had no right to expect anything better for their lives. Ms. Grey's portrait of Marie Antoinette is wonderfully complex. The Queen; both defiant and powerful and the mother and wife whose purpose was to protect and stand by her family. In this book she is portrayed as coming to love her royal husband late in their relationship, as the struggles of the French Revolution played out on the international stage. Loius comes across with passivity, and bewilderment but also as a King who finally understood the issues of his troubled Kingdom. He is noble and true to his honor and his word.

This book made me consider the two Revolutions - France's and America's - governments were overthrown for similar reasons, but one just seemed so much more blood thirsty, and so much more erratic. Liberté, égalité, and fraternité were altruistic and ambitious aims, but in France it seems that even the revolutionaries experienced a revolution within their own ranks as the power changed hands so often. With each change in the power struggle the fates of Marie Antoinette and her family hung in the balance. Mercy and exile seemed like an option for some time, until, in the end, all was lost.

At the end of the book there is an excellent section that provides short biographies of the characters as well as some facts about the times. An excellent bibliography is included as are 'questions for discussion' perhaps for a book club setting. i think that these were excellent additions.

In my opinion, this is a worthy rendering of the French Revolution and the family that was at the center of rebellion and hate. This book should have a wide appeal. Obviously, for those of us who love historical fiction, but it will also appeal to readers of very well written general fiction and also for those who are history buffs as well. There are also parts of this book that are history lessons, rendered in excellent, compelling prose.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

"The Sisterhood" by Helen Bryan

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  • File Size: 681 KB
  • Print Length: 420 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1611099285
  • Publisher: Amazon Publishing (April 30, 2013)

This book is one of those thoroughly unexpected treats that should not be ignored! It was suggested, and provided to me, by the publicist who thought it might be a book that I would enjoy. I have to admit to being skeptical. How could someone that I don't know at all possibly know what I might like or not? What a shock! She nailed me and my interests perfectly, and I am so happy that she did!

This is a book that deserves a lot more attention that it has, perhaps, received. The author, Helen Bryan, is a barrister, and she is the author of another best selling book, "The War Brides". Perhaps it is her background in the law that facilitates her ability to blend time and space flawlessly and logically. The prose is so well done, and the flow of the book is perfectly paced. It's engrossing! 

It's a book that will stay with you. Once I finally opened it I could scarcely put it down. I looked forward to getting up in the morning to read a bit more, and then more at night. Yes, it really is that good.

I suppose one of the things that I really like about this book is that the story straddles two different times in history; the modern day and 16th century Spain during the throes of the Inquisition. Sometimes when authors write books like this, that span different time periods, there seems to be a slight catch or hitch as the book flows from from time period to time period. There is none of that little hesitance in this book, however. The chapters, and time periods, flow seamlessly from one to another and back again, and it all makes perfect sense as you read it too.

The story begins with the modern day and South American orphan girl who is adopted from a South American Convent. The only memories of her birth family are a curious medal and an ancient chronical (written in both Latin and vernacular Spanish). These artifacts are given to  the American Southern Baptist adoptive parent with the understanding that, upon her sixteenth birthday, the girl, Menina, would be presented with these mementos of her beginnings in life.

From the present you are sped to Spain in the 16th century. To a convent and to the lives of five orphans who were secreted to the sanctuary of a convent where all women and orphans were accepted regardless of past sins or religious upbringing. The names of these hapless orphan girls are Esperanza, who is 16 years old and whose parents are Muslims. Luz, a dwarf, who is also an heiress, but is not able to speak. Marisol, 14, incorrectly believed to be the misbegotten daughter of a Courtesan and the mad royal prince. Pia, a child of Scandinavian descent whose hair glows like the moon and whose beauty is difficult to ignore, but her mother is a courtesan. Last there is Sanchia, the daughter of Jews who barely escapes the burning that claimed the lives of her parents.

Eventually, as the Inquisition spreads, these children are sent on a journey to the new world in South America. They are sent away in order to protect them because the Inquisitor's are expected at the convent gates at any time, and the sisters do not want their various histories to be discovered lest the be taken by the Inquisitor's and tortured. They are sent with both the chronicle and the medal in the hopes that they will found a new convent dedicated to the healing arts and acceptance of all women no matter their religious beliefs or color. It is also hoped that they may find men to marry and will be able to carry on the mission of the convent.

Swallows, which are so plentiful in Spain, are the symbol that is used to mark both the old convent and the new; they also mark the cover of the chronicle and the medal. The journey takes so many unexpected turns. No one at the main convent knows what became of the orphans nor do the orphans know what happened when the Inquisition came knocking.

Back in the present time, after braking off her engagement to a local political maven's son, Menina ,  decides to travels to Spain; both to heal her broken heart as well as to do research for a thesis on the artist Tristan Mendoza. Menina now suspects that her ex-finacee wanted to marry her only for the Hispanic voters that she might bring to the political relationship. She wants to escape also from the forced, premarital rape that left her bereft of her future and split her exceedingly 'safe' life apart at the seams. 

After an unexpected, severe, storm leaves Menina stranded in a mountainous village just after her arrival in Spain, does her life begin to find renewed meaning, albeit not willingly at first. Due to the storm's effects the phones in the village are not functioning and preclude her trying to contact her parents or the tour director who she was supposed to meet up with in Madrid. The local police officer at first thinks that Menina is a prostitute that has come to the town to join in a yearly celebration. Menina is taken to the mountainous convent where she will find safety and a place to stay until needed repairs are made to the telephone system and allow Menina to leave the village.

At this point the story, along with Menina, blossom with kismet, and the telling of the tale is beautifully done! The separation between past and present becomes a thin veil as Menina uncovers some long lost paintings by the artist, Tristan Mendoza, who she is studying and whose only known works were thought to be found in the Prado Museum in Madrid.

This is how these two diverse stories begin, but the telling is what is entrancing and is what will hold your attention from the first page to the last. I was sorry to have this book end, and I don't too often feel that way no matter how good a book may be.

Some of the publication that was sent to me with the book was particularly interesting and contained some comments by the author about her work.

One of the questions concerned what lasting impression she hoped that the book would leave readers with. Part of her reply included ".. the book is set in two periods of tension, hostility and mistrust between Jews, Christians and Muslims, four hundred years apart but with many parallels..." This is a really relevant comment, but you will simply have to read this gem of a book for yourself to understand what the parallels are! 

Read this book! I cannot help but think that you will not regret it. The book should have wide appeal for historical history fans as well as for readers of wonderfully written general fiction.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Seduction" by M.J. Rose

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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books (May 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451621501

Historical fiction is “my thing”, and I have  been a huge fan of M.J. Rose since I first read her book “The Reincarnationist”. I am also a fan of books that deal with the paranormal, time travel, memory travel, ESP etc. No one does this particular genre better than M.J. Rose.

I was thrilled to read her latest book, Seduction”. It did not fail to delight me, and as usual when I read her books, I could not put it down. Last year when I read “ The Book of Lost Fragrances” I did not think that M.J. Rose’s writing could get any better, but she has proven that she has with this, her latest book.

Jac L’Etoile is the main character in this book. She is a mythologist, and she is skeptic who tries to stay grounded in the world of science and reality. Her character will utterly captivate you! Jac has ‘gifts’; she has visions that are often precipitated by scent, visions that speak of memories, and ESP . As a skeptic, Jac has struggled to live with her gifts and she tries to deny her talents, and does not want to acknowledge them. Her family was well know perfumers in times past and scent is the main sensory tool for Jac (more on that in “Fragrances”).  You might consider reading “The Book Of Lost Fragrances”. Reading ‘Fragrances’ might help you to ‘flesh out’ Jac’s character which in turn might make reading “Seduction” even more enjoyable for you. That being said these are truly stand-alone books as well and you will enjoy reading them in what ever sequence you choose.

The plot of “Seduction” moves between the present (on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands) and the 1840’s during the life of Victor Hugo. Hugo has moved from Paris to Jersey after the death of his beloved daughter, Leopoldine. She had drowned in the Seine River when she was 19. Unable to recover or find any consolation Hugo is introduced to the world of mediums and séances. He spends many years trying to contact Leopoldine through the use of séances, mediums and trances; with Hugo carefully transcribing his ‘conversations’ with the in a series of long lost journals. One of Hugo’s communicants is, perhaps, the most troubling, as well as the darkest. An evil entity who calls himself the “Shadow of The Sepulcher”. He fears he may have gone too far and eschews the mystic world for a time.

Jac, who in the present, is struggling to deal with some of her own personal demons is invited to Jersey by her one time love Theo Gaspard who asks for her assistance as he investigates Jersey’s long lost secrets of an ancient Celtic culture. Additionally, Theo’s grandfather believed that Hugo had been entangled with the dark spirit of  the Shadow of the Sepulcher (aka the devil?). Theo knows of some neolithic monuments and some hidden water side caves that he  believes are important to his research about the Celtic societies and his grandfather’s belief in the dark evil of the ‘the shadow” that, he feels, may have somehow cast a long tinge of shadow over the spirit of  islands.

I think that it is difficult to blend two, nearly separate, stories, as well as expertly blend fact and fiction, and yet Ms. Rose manages it with great aplomb. There were just a few moments in the book when I felt that the stories were a bit too separate, but in mere sentences I felt the continuity once again. Rose has such a talent for superlative story telling! I love how historical facts are expertly interwoven with her fiction. You have to go and review the real history behind her work to understand how factual some of her work really is !

I look forward to each of her books with great anticipation, and her writing seems to just keep on getting better! Her characters are well developed and captivating, her plots are well constructed and beautifully connected. Yes, I really AM a fan and I do believe that this book will appeal to readers who love great fiction in general, historical fiction, paranormal fiction, time travel, and romance.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Cast On, Bind Off: 54 Step-by-Step Methods; By Leslie Ann Besto

  • * * * * *
  • Spiral-bound: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Storey Publishing, LLC; Spi edition (June 19, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603427241
  • Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 7 inches

I'm sure that there other, possible larger, books out there that contain cast on and 
bind off techniques, but I really like this one.

I find it to be well organized, well thought out and well illustrated. I have already 
learned a lot about cast-on and bind-off methods - I've even learned some 
new things about my "go to" methods that I had not known before.

Methods are organized into categories . For cast-ons: basic, stretchy, decorative, 
circular, double sided, multi-color, provisional and tubular and mobius;
 for bind-offs: basic, stretchy, decorative and sewn.

I like the size because it's easy to keep in my knitting basket and, as always,
 I really like the fact that it has a spiral binding so it lies nice and flat or folds 
over easily.

For me, this is a very useful book and contains information and instructions 
that I used to have to go searching the web for. It's a definite keeper for me !

Do you knit? Then you really might want to check this book out!
 I bet you too will want to keep it handy!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

"Royal Mistress" by Anne Easter Smith

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (May 7, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451648621

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

Tales of Jane Shore abound; Mistress to King Edward ,and Lord Hastings, scorned harlot who, under Richard III was forced to walk through London in her chemise holding a candle in repentance of her harlotry, but aside from Vanora Bennet's 2009 "Figures In Silk", the life of Jane Shore has not been the subject of much attention by writers. Perhaps that's because of the dearth of extant records about this fascinating woman, but in "Royal Mistress" Anne Easter Smith manages to provide an excellent idea of how Ms. Shore life may have lived.

This book flows well, and I was loathe to put it aside when staying up any later would make my performance at work the next day suffer! The author bases her portrayal on historical records, and she weaves a very realistic tale of what the life of this silk merchant's daughter might have been like. Historical figures breath with life ! In addition, the book provides a realistic 'feel' for what sort lives the merchant class of this time might have lived.

This book should please anyone historical history fan - as well as readers of very well written general fiction.

It's a keeper!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

"Queen's Gambit" by Elizabeth Fremantle

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  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 6, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476703060

At last ! An novel about one of the least well known, but most fascinating of Henry VIII's Queens; Katherine Parr. 

Elizabeth Fremantle has finally done justice to this most enigmatic, free thinking, spirited Queen. Reading this book was a thoroughly satisfying, extremely entertaining read, that I was loathe to put down and sorry when it ended!

The book goes far beyond the usual fare that tell the story Katherine Parr's life. Generally we know her only as the last wife of the saint/monster King, Henry VIII. Sometimes we hear about Katherine's prior marriage to Lord Latymer (Latimer), but seldom do we hear more of the story of this most illustrious Queen.

Katherine Parr was an extremely learned woman, in a time when the education of women was not very much encouraged.  Katherine was married and widowed not once, as most tales tell, but twice, and both times at a young age. She was the young wife of aged men who needed a nurse maid more than a wife. Katherin Parr's mother had been associated with Henry's first Queen, Katherine of Aragon and, Katherine Parr was a member of Princess Mary's household at time of her husband, Lord Latimer's death. It was during this time that Katherine Parr caught the eye of King Henry VIII who, at that time, was aged himself and suffering from complications of his ulcerative leg wounds. He too needed a nurse, and one that was amiable and light hearted. Henry appreciated Katherine Parrs intelligence, but she came to great peril, to the extent that Henry issued a warrant for her arrest over her reformist views. It was by chance that the warrant was intercepted before it could be served - gaining Katherine the opportunity to restore herself to the King's affections before any harm could come to her.

Following Henry's death the book go on to chronicle Katherine's passionate love affair with the elegant and worldly Lord Thomas Seymour, for whom she had long held a torch. After marrying in secret they form a household dedicated to the instruction of young, titled wards. Princess Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey were two of those who benefitted by being under the care of Katherine Parr and her husband, Thomas Seymour.

Katherine becomes pregnant, a blessing that she had never anticipated being possible for her. Thomas with some complicit agreement with Katherine, makes merry with the young and attractive, and somewhat vulnerable Princess Elizabeth. After some time, and repeated protestations from Elizabeth's nurse, Kat Ashley, that Thomas' involvement with Elizabeth was becoming unseemly, the dowager Queen Katherine has Elizabeth moved to another residence, while Jane Grey remains behind. Jane Grey ultimately, becomes Katherine's chief mourner when she  dies not long after giving birth to her daughter. Not much remains in the history book of what become Katherine's much longed for daughter, Mary (named for Princess Mary).

This book is well researched, very well written and is gem to read. It will hold much appeal for a wide variety of readers; historical fiction fans (especially those who are Tudorphiles or British history buffs), general fiction readers, possibly romance readers and anyone who enjoys a really good book that you are sorry to see end. I really don't think that you will be disappointed in any way with this riveting read!

I eagerly await Ms. Fremantle's next offering!