Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Final Countdown

It's been a great year of reading for me, and as I look back over a sampling of my completed books for 2009 (I began blogging in May so I have not included any books I read before then), I'm happy to say that most were enjoyable reads. (see sidebar labels: Read in 2009)

Thank you to all my visitors for your comments and book recommendations, and I'd like to also welcome a few new followers who have joined in the last few weeks. I know everyone's time is valuable and there are so many great blogs to visit and books to read, so I keep things pretty quick and simple here at Slice of Life.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2010

Royal Reviews is hosting the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge for 2010, so I'm thrilled to take part in this event. I love historical fiction and am always eager to see what everyone is reading. I have the following titles on my list, but the challenge allows you to add or remove as needed:

l. Here Be Dragons - Sharon Kay Penman
2. The Sunne in Splendor - Sharon Kay Penman (completed 4/6/10)
3. The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant (completed 1/5/10)
4. The Founding by Cynthia Harrod Eagles (completed 3/8/10)
5. The Loves of Charles II - Jean Plaidy
6. The Queen's Dollmaker - Christine Trent (completed)
7. Murder Most Royal - Jean Plaidy (Completed 3/19/10)
8. Mistress Shakespeare - Karen Harper (completed 3/2/10)
9. The Secret Diaries of Anne Boleyn - Robin Maxwell
10.-15. The Secret History of the Pink Carnation Series (6 books) (completed 11/11/10)
16.-18. The Heaven Tree Trilogy (The Heaven Tree, The Green Branch, & The Scarlet Seed)- Edith Pargeter completed 2/26/10)
19. & 20. TBA

I'm leaving room for any new titles that may strike my fancy throughout the year, and if I get through 12 titles, I will have reached the "addicted" level.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mademoiselle Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

From the publisher:

"When young Anne Boleyn is sent to the French court with her father and sister, Mary, she thinks she's in for an innocent adventure. But when the ambitious ambassador Thomas Boleyn leads them into the highly sophisticated and sexually permissive court of Francois I, Anne quickly learns that she and her sister are merely pawns for their father's own political purpose. Mary becomes mistress to the outrageous French king and is ultimately seduced into his dangerous world by the luxuries of the court. But Anne will have a different fate...

Anne is younger, more clever, and stronger-willed than her sister, and with the guidance of powerful allies and such unlikely friends as Leonardo da Vinci, she learns how to navigate the challenges, passions, and betrayals of the court. And as she grows into a beautiful woman, Anne undergoes her own awakening, each daring exploit taking her one step closer to the life that is her destiny."

My thoughts:

Robin Maxwell creates an interesting portrait of the much maligned Anne Boleyn. My background knowledge of Anne is limited to what most people know about the infamous second wife of King Henry VIII, but this account (embellished with literary liberties) introduces us to the future queen as a young and impressionable girl. Anne's early experiences at court began as an attendant to the pious French Queen Claude, and it was here that Anne encountered a host of individuals (ranging from laundry maids, artists, and the Kings of France and England) that would influence her religious and philosophical beliefs, views on women's independence, as well as her views of relationships and marriage. Anne found the decadence of the French court shocking and disturbing, and she suffered deeply as her sister, Mary, was forced into degrading situations with the people of the court of Francois I.

Described as darkly beautiful and intelligent, this fictional story paints a much more sympathetic picture of Anne Boleyn. She was clever, popular, hopeful for a future of happiness with a young love, and completely unaware of her true destiny in history. A very poignant tale when one knows there can be no happy ending for her.

Title: Mademoiselle Boleyn
Author: Robin Maxwell
New American Library
355 pages
genre: historical fiction

Do you judge a book by its cover?

I walk into a bookstore.....thousands of books are on display, each one vying for my attention. Pick me! Pick me! My eyes move over the covers, scanning the titles but searching for that "something special" that speaks to me. Some covers are predominantly typography, so I walk past them....then, there it is! That exquisite cover that makes me walk over, pick up that book and run my hand over the cover, and turn it over to read the blurb.

Now I know enough from experience that an appealing cover does not guarantee a good read (and likewise, a plain cover can have a terrific story tucked inside), but it sure does get the book in my hands! Looking through the books that I added to my personal library this year, there are several books that I thought had fabulous cover art, and it appears that many 2010 releases will be even more stunning!

(Note: These books may not all have been released in 2009; they were added to my library in 2009). Here they are, in no particular order:

These new editions of Daphne du Maurier's classics are just gorgeous! I want to sail away with a pirate on that ship!

This is my favorite cover, but unfortunately, the artwork was better than the plot.

Simply stunning! More people remarked about this cover when I reviewed the book.

Say yes to the dress!

Vampire debutante meets Victoria's Secret...really cool cover!

Who wouldn't want to curl up with this book by a roaring fire with a cup of tea?

Could be a Vogue cover it's so lovely!

I love, love, love all the new editions of Georgette Heyers classics!

Can't wait to see what's in store for 2010!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

From the publisher:
"In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, or "old same," in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she has written a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on the fan and compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. They both endure the agony of footbinding and together reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart."

My thoughts:
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan absolutely took my breath away. Words such as enlightening, powerful, haunting, and heartbreaking come to mind as I search for ways to describe Lisa See's novel of life's journey for two young girls in 19th century China.

With our modern views of equality, self-worth, motherhood and parenting, and relationships with men, it was very difficult to read about the treatment of females in a Confucian society and their inevitable destinies.(There was a saying, "Marrying a daughter is like throwing out water.") As Lily, the narrator, states,

"Whether you are rich or poor, emporer or slave, the domestic sphere is
for women and the outside sphere is for men. Women should not pass beyond
the inner chambers in their thoughts or in their actions...When a girl,
obey your father; when a wife, obey your husband; when a widow, obey your
son." (p. 24)

In order to have any hope of a marriage, young girls at the tender age of six or seven years of age, began the agonizing and tortuous process of footbinding. While I had a vague knowledge of footbinding and the associated pain, I was completely unprepared for the true process and the concept of "mother love."

"A true lady lets no ugliness into her life....Only through pain will you
have beauty. Only through suffering will you find peace. I wrap, I bind,
you will have the reward." (p. 50)

It was enlightening to me to learn that girls with unbound feet, or "big footed" as they were called, were viewed with contempt and destined for pitiful futures. Small, delicate feet (only a few centimeters long!) that had been bound were called beautiful "golden lilies" and were proof of a young girl's personal discipline and the ability to bear pain during future childbirth (with the hopes of producing the highly prized sons); it was also proof of her obedience to her family, and, most importantly to men, considered to be very sensual.

In order to rise above the long, excruciating days of footbinding and obedience, the females, who remained secluded in chambers, spent their days singing, chanting, telling stories, and embroidering beautiful images and nu shu. I found the concept of the secret language of nu shu to be fascinating. Girls would embroider fabrics or use ink on fans with nu shu, a written language known only to women as a way to secretly communicate with each other. It is through one of these fans that the reader is introduced to Snow Flower, a lovely young girl from another village. Traditionally, girls are paired with a laotong, as a partner for friendship and guidance. As I learned through the journey of Snow Flower and Lily, a laotong's relationship was deeply emotional and spiritual and as committed as any marriage between a husband and wife.

Beautifully written with prose that is as lovely as a delicate silk fan, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a memorable tale that I highly recommend. Book clubs will find a wealth of topics to discuss and debate here, as well. I am looking forward to reading more of Lisa See's beautiful prose in Peony in Love.

Title: Snow flower and the Secret Fan
Author: Lisa See
Publisher: Random House
269 pages
genre: fiction

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Musee' Conti Historical Wax Museum

This past weekend found us strolling through the Musee' Conti Historical Wax Museum in the French Quarter for, of all things, a wedding reception. I've attended weddings on steamboats, River Road plantations, the French Quarter, and a variety of other interesting venues, but this was the most unique and unusual experience.

Waiters greeted guests in period costumes with trays of champagne and invited us to visit the exhibits which tell the story of the history of New Orleans. Moving among the wax displays of French and Spanish explorers, vodoo queens, lords and ladies, pirates and scoundrels, I couldn't help but experience the odd feeling of being displaced in time. (Guess I have time travel on my mind a bit too much!) It really appealed to my love of history and all things in the past.

After that, it was back to the 21st century as we moved upstairs for dinner and dancing. A seriously fun evening!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Preview of The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

Deanna Raybourn is one of my favorite new author discoveries this year, and I'm very glad to learn that her latest novel (alas, unrelated to the Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane sagas) will be available in March 2010. With its setting in the forests of Transylvania, it sounds like another gothic winner from Raybourn.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

from the publisher:

"Henry VIII is perhaps England's most infamous monarch, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. He was married to six distinctly different women, and in this richly detailed and meticulously researched history, these remarkable, often misunderstood queens come to life once again: Katherine of Aragon, stubborn and devoutly Catholic; Anne Boleyn, proud and fiercely ambitious; Jane Seymour, deceptively strong-willed; Anne of Cleves, unappealing and uncomplaining; Katherine Howard, young and foolish; and finally, Katherine Parr, brave, practical, and intelligent. Their full histories and personalities emerge at last, giving voices to the six extraordinary women who left their distinctive marks on the English throne and thereby changed the course of British history."

my thoughts:

I selected this collective biography of the wives of Henry VIII in order to brush up on my knowledge of Tudor history. One of my reading goals for 2010 is to explore the historical fiction series of the Tudor wives by Jean Plaidy, so I wanted a scholarly source to use as a reference book. I never intended to read it cover to cover, but once I settled in with the saga of Katherine of Aragon, it began to read like a novel and I couldn't put it down.

Weir's fascinating and meticulous research is based on biographies, letters, diaries, archives of diplomatic papers, church documents, as well as a host of other sources and presents a balanced view of each of the women who captured the King's attention. As Weir states in her introduction,

"What were they really like, those six wives? Because of the nature of the source
material for the reign, nearly all of which has a political or religious bias,
a writer could come up with very different assessments of each of them,
all of which might be equally valid. But this would be abdicating some of the
responsibilities of an historian, whose function is to piece together the
surviving evidence and arrive at a workable conclusion. What follows are the
conclusions I have reached after many years of research into the subject,
conclusions that, on the weight of the evidence, must be as realistic as
anything can be after a lapse of 450 years."
(p. 2)

Weir weaves an interesting tapestry of the life and times for royal women during this period, giving vivid descriptions of fashions, customs, education, entertainment, arranged marriages, dowries, and royal customs; the glittering pagentry and privilege of being a royal wife is contrasted with the harsh reality: the absolute necessity of producing a male heir to continue the dynasty. The political and religious ramifications of this fact makes Henry VIII's reign so unique in history.

Perhaps as important as producing a male heir, in the midst of plagues, wars, political intrigues, church politics, and the hardships of childbearing and affairs of the king, the royal wife was expected to set a high moral standard for court and become "a model of wifely dignity and virtue."

The Six Wives of Henry VIII is a fascinating exploration of one of English history's most intriguing monarchs and the women who captured his heart.

Title: The Six Wives of Henry VIII
Author: Alison Weir
Publisher: Grove Press
genre: biography; nonfiction
643 pages

Friday, December 18, 2009

From my home to yours....

Just taking a little time to make sure that in the hustle and bustle of the next few days, I don't want to forget to thank all of you who visit my blog. Thank you for your kind comments, your interest in my little slice of life, and for the great book recommendations I come away with after visiting your blogs.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and joy, peace, and all good things in the new year!

The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason

Book #1 in The Gardella Vampire Chronicles

from the publisher:

"Beneath the glitter of dazzling nineteenth-century London Society lurks a bloodthirsty evil....

Vampires have always lived among them, quietly attacking unsuspecting debutantes and dandified lords as well as hackney drivers and Bond Street milliners. If not for the Vampire slayers of the Gardella family, these immortal creatures would have long ago taken over the world.

In every generation, a Gardella is called to accept the family legacy, and this time, Victoria Gardella Grantworth is chosen, on the eve of her debut, to carry the stake. But as she moves between the crush of ballrooms and dangerous moonlit streets, Victoria's heart is torn between London's most eligible bachelor, the Marquess of Rockley, and her duty. And when she comes face to face with the most powerful vampire in history, Victoria must ultimately make a choice between obligation and love...."

My thoughts:

I'm always on the lookout for an interesting twist on the Regency/Victorian-era novel, and The Rest Falls Away by Colleen Gleason has a unique combination of vampires, Regency-era romance, and magic.

The heroine, Victoria, is not your typical debutant; naturally, she's beautiful and refined by day and the perfect match for the handsome Marquess of Rockley; by night, she's ruthless and trained in martial arts -- the vampire huntress (or Venator, as she is called). She willingly accepts her destiny as the next generation of Venators...until she realizes that living a double life has become too difficult and dangerous for the one man she truly comes to love. Lilith, the Queen of the Vampires, desires an ancient magic book that is in Victoria's possession, and she will stop at nothing to gain the book and the powerful spells contained therein. A surprising and unexpected ending left me speechless.

A quick, fun read with promise, I hope, to develop further in the series the mysterious character of Maximilian, master vampire executioner, and Sebastian, the proprietor of the Silver Chalice, and their relationship/partnership with Victoria.

Title: The Rest Falls Away: The Gardella Vampire Chronicles
Author: Collee Gleason
Publisher:Penguin Group
347 pages
genre: paranormal romance

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Preview of Angel Time by Anne Rice

The first book I have selected for the Time Travel 2010 Challenge will be Angel Time by Anne Rice. Angel Time: Songs of the Seraphim is described as a metaphysical thriller that begins in the present day with a contract killer, Toby O'Dare, on assignment to claim another life; in his nightmarish world of killing, he meets a mysterious stranger, a seraph, who offers him an opportunity to save rather than destroy a life. O'Dare is carried back through time to 13th century England on a journey of danger, suspense, and an opportunity for redemption.


Interestingly, I have noticed that whenever I post about an Anne Rice book, those posts have generated the most comments, interest, and blog visits. This has prompted me to think about hosting a few Anne Rice reading events in 2010. We all have so many new books on our TBR shelf that I know we do not have the time to reread entire favorite novels; however, it might be fun to do a few mini-reads of a chapter or two from an old Anne Rice classic, reread some famous passages, and discuss her writing.

So, dust off those old, tattered paperbacks and "come into my parlor"....let's revisit The Myth and Magic of Anne Rice in 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time Travel Reading Challenge 2010

I'm very excited to join in the Time Travel Reading Challenge in 2010 hosted by Alyce of At Home With Books. I have always been immediately drawn to any book which manipulates the concept of time and already have several titles that come to mind that I have read in the past and enjoyed.

Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Timeline by Michael Chrichton
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
Green Darkness by Anya Seton
The House on the Strand by Daphne Du Maurier
Somewhere in Time by Richard Matheson
Beyond the Highland mist (entire series) by Karen Marie Moning

The rules of the challenge are simple enough: decide for yourself how many time-travel themed books you want to read, and read them in 2010. Definitely doable! I'll decide at a later date the titles I will select for this challenge. Are you in?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking Back/Looking Forward

I never thought much about blogging until this past May when, on a whim, I decided to try my hand at setting up a blog. It was strictly experimental while I was creating a LibraryThing page, and I have to say the experience has been so worthwhile. It absolutely amazes me that other people have found their way to Slice of Life and are kind enough to visit often and leave a comment (love that!) I've learned so much from other bloggers and have enjoyed getting a peek at other book lovers' bookshelves. My TBR pile just keeps on growing, but that's all good! I've got some great titles to help ring in the new year.

As I look back over the past few months, a few books, authors, and websites stand out as my favorites for 2009:

FAVORITE NEW AUTHORS : Three "new to me" authors that I have enjoyed discovering are Syrie James (The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte), Deanna Raybourn (Silent in the Grave, Silent in the Sanctuary, Silent on the Moor), and Tasha Alexander (And Only to Deceive, A Poisoned Season, A Fatal Waltz, Tears of Pearls). Alexander and Raybourn both focus on the Victorian era with mystery and light romance elements to spice things up. I'm super excited about the release of Dracula, My Love by Syrie James in 2010; the story will be a reinterpretation of Bram Stoker's Dracula and will be told from the viewpoint of Mina Harker, the heroine of Dracula. Sounds intriguing! Deanna Raybourn is also scheduled to release a new novel in 2010 that is not a Lady Julia/Nicholas Brisbane storyline titled, The Dead Travel Fast.

FAVORITE NOVELS READ THIS YEAR: First place favorite goes to Karleen Koen's Through A Glass Darkly (a sophisticated melodrama of passion, greed, and power); The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James comes in at second place (writing with vintage charm and elegance). Third runner-up goes to The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer (a literary treasure).

MOST ANTICIPATED NOVEL FOR 2009: My year-in-review would not be complete without mentioning the latest addition to the Outlander series. It's always thrilling to have a new Diana Gabaldon book in my hands, so Echo in the Bone wins as the most highly prized and anticipated novel for me this year. I admit that it was not all I hoped it would be, and Gabaldon seems to be much more enthralled with the character of Lord John than I am. Lord John's place of prominence in this story frustrated me (I want more Jamie and Claire, the heart of the story), but when all is said and done, an Outlander book is a rare treat so I'm happy to have it, knowing it will be at least two or more long years before the concluding book will be published.

READING CHALLENGES: Since I'm new to this whole blogging/challenge thing, I took it easy and participated in the Everything Austin Challenge which was a terrific idea. For 2010, I'm anticipating the All About the Brontes Challenge and devoting more time to exploring Jean Plaidy's classic historical fiction novels. (Was I the only one in the world who didn't know that Jean Plaidy was Victoria Holt? How did I not know this?! I devoured all of VH novels years ago and loved her!)

How about you? What books and authors were your favorite discoveries this year?

Monday, December 7, 2009

The House of the Mayfair Witches

This past weekend, my husband and I attended a Christmas concert in the Garden District. Since we were a few minutes early, I suggested we drive around and enjoy all the beautiful holiday lights and decorations that are beginning to be displayed on some of the antebellum mansions in the area.

While we were driving around, I decided to look for the "The Mayfair Mansion" from The Witching Hour on the corner of First Street and Chestnut. (I just recently completed a reread of the book so it is fresh in my mind.) 1239 First Street is actually one of the former homes of Anne Rice and is the inspiration for the house in The Witching Hour. Here it is! It is an exquisite home and a private residence, very unlike the decaying fictional version of the Mayfair witches. Landscaping sheilded the side area of the home near the courtyard/pool area, so I couldn't get too close to take pictures of the side porch where a comatose Deirdre spent her days, nor can you see the dormer windows on the side where Antha fell to her death or the pool where Michael was found. But this is the house where the powerful witches Mary Beth, Julien, and Carlotta lived, and where Jazz Baby Stella threw wild parties and danced the Charleston before she, too, came to a tragic end. The new owners have also changed the color of the house, as it was a violet-gray color when Anne Rice lived there, and the book describes the house as violet.

from The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (p. 5)

"The doctor had never been inside an antebellum mansion until that spring in New Orleans. And the old house really did have white fluted columns on the front...Greek Revival style they call it -- a long violet-gray town house on a dark shady corner in the Garden District, it's front gate guarded it seemed by two enormous oaks. The iron lace railings were made in a rose pattern and much festooned with vines; purple wisteria, the yellow Virginia creeper and bougainvillea of a dark, incandescent pink....

Always he paused at the largest tree that had lifted the iron fence with its bulbous roots. He could not have gotten his arms around the trunk of it. It reached all the way from the pavement to the house itself, twisted limbs clawing at the shuttered windows beyond the banisters, leaves enmeshed with the flowering vines."
Really cool -- I told my husband I would freak out, though, if I saw "the Man" standing on the steps! (Lucky for me, Lasher was no where to be seen!)

Friday, December 4, 2009

All About the Brontes 2010 Challenge

I was very excited to learn about this new reading challenge for 2010 at Laura's Reviews! Having previously mentioned on my blog about my love of the novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (even going so far as selecting the name Jane for my daughter's middle name and Rochester for my dog!), it should come as no surprise that I jumped on this challenge as soon as I learned of it. Like the Everything Austen challenge, it brings renewed interest to the original writings of all the Brontes, including Bronte-inspired books and movies. Click here to find all the details of the All About the Brontes 2010 reading challenge at Laura's Reviews.

For this challenge, I am using two books already in my TBR bookshelf, and I will add to my list as I find new titles to include. (Unfortunately, I already completed The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James this year, so it won't count, but it was very good and recommended for this challenge.)

Jane Eyre's Daughter by Elizabeth Newark
Book description: In this sequel to Jane Eyre, young Janet Rochester is consigned to Highcrest Manor and the guardianship of the strict Colonel Dent while her parents journey to the West Indies. As Janet struggles to make a life for herself, guided by the ideals of her parents, she finds herself caught up in the mysteries of Highcrest.

Why is the east wing forbidden to her? What lies behind locked gates? And what is the source of the voices she hears in the night? Can she trust the enigmatic Roderick Landless, or should she transfer her allegiance to the suave and charming Sir Hugo Calendar?

Whether riding her mare on the Yorkshire moors, holding her own with Colonel Dent, or waltzing at her first ball, Janet is strong, sympathetic, and courageous....after all, she is her mother's daughter...


Charlotte Bronte: A Writer's Life by Rebecca Fraser (a biography written by a former President of the Bronte Society)


Two movies in my collection that I will view again are both Masterpiece Theatre productions of Jane Eyre (2006) and Wuthering Heights (2008). Both are excellent productions that are highly recommended; gloomy, gothic settings at their best!

FYI - If you visit the Bronte Blog and scroll down the right side bar, there are lists of e-texts on all the Bronte novels and many books about the Brontes. This would be a good place to explore if you're interested in this challenge.

Here's to great reading in 2010!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Everything Austen Challenge --Completed

Finished up the Everything Austen Challenge for 2009 by viewing, once again, the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle A&E/BBC faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Several months ago, after signing up for the challenge, I found this 10th anniversary collector's edition in a great sale display so I scooped it up. Not only is it my favorite P&P adaptation with a very spirited and lovely Elizabeth and a handsome and aloof Colin Firth as Darcy, this dvd set includes an interesting companion book and dvd with details of the production from concept to broadcast: from Regency-era fashion, history, furnishings, manor homes, dancing and music, food, actor selections, etc. --I love behind-the-scenes peeks into the making of a great movie.

In summary, I completed the following six selections for the Everything Austen Challenge:

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James (my absolute favorite of all the Austen-inspired writings I completed).

Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus

Jane Austen: The World of Her Novels by Deirdre Le Faye

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Rigler (cannot recommend at all).

I viewed the A&E/BBC production of Pride and Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle

My thanks go to Stephanie at Stephanie's Written Word for hosting this terrific and worthwhile challenge!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Project Life

I've been a long-time scrapbooker, for lack of a better term, and have spent countless hours creating albums and "scrapbooks" for my family. Baby books, school years, holiday celebrations,vacations, everyday living....I just love taking photos of the people and memories that make up my life. I take so many pictures, though, that it can be quite a challenge to stay organized and current with all my albums.

Last year, I decided to change from traditional scrapbooking (which requires a good bit of time, effort, and creativity) to a faster, simplified way of organizing my memories. I purchased 12"X12" 3-ring scrapbook albums and filled them with divided sheet protectors that hold either vertical or horizontal 4"X6" pictures. There is place to slip in a journaling card which makes the process quick and easy.

Now, Becky Higgins, a fabulous scrapbooker from Creating Keepsakes magazine, has created a beautiful kit called Project Life. Everything, and I mean everything, is done for you. All you do is add your pictures and jot down your details. It is most definitely on my gift-giving list this Christmas for all my friends and family members who have lamented that they just don't have the time or desire to get involved with traditional scrapbooking but love organized family photos and memories. (Naturally, I'm getting one for myself, as well.) You can visit Becky Higgins at her blog by clicking here.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Feeling Thankful

So much to be thankful for as November comes to an end....

l. I'm thankful the turkey and all the side dishes were delicious and shared with a house full of hungry family members; while I'll never be Martha Stewart, I do enjoy holiday cooking and large scale entertaining with my brothers and sister and their families and my extended family.

2. Celebrated another wedding anniversary this month and revisited the cathedral as we do each year on our anniversary.

3. I'm really thankful for the "undelete this blog" button! After believing it was necessary to remove my blog, I've reconsidered and will continue as usual. I missed my blog friends too much, so I'm hoping they'll come back and visit.

Here's hoping that your November was filled with many good things and that your December will be filled with the joys of the season!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Good News/Bad News

First, the good news: the Saints are 8-0. 'Nuf said.

Now, the bad: Hurricane Ida is on its way. No immediate danger, but for those who are still not completely back on their feet from 2005, it's chilling. Got calls last evening from the emergency systems in the kids' schools that they are closed for today for safety reasons, as is most of the Gulf Coast. Please send some good thoughts our way for everyone to stay safe in the next two days. Much appreciated. ;)

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool

What is your Victorian literature IQ? Ready to take a little quiz just for fun? Here we go!

l. What do Ombre, Loo, Pope Joan, and Piquet have in common?

2. Where would you likely find an epergne in a Victorian home?
a. in the bedroom
b. in the dining room
c. in the study

3. Where would you live if you had the most fashionable address in Victorian London?
a. St. Giles
b. Covent Garden
c. Mayfair

4. If someone called you a tosspot, it meant
a. you are tart-tongued and sassy
b. you drank too much
c. you are the lowest housemaid

5. Most ladies' mourning clothes were made from what fabric?
a. silk
b. velvet
c. bombazine

6. True or False:
In going up a flight of stairs, the gentleman always precedes the lady.

7. True or False:
It is inappropriate for a lady to wear pearls or diamonds in the morning.

8. True or False:
A lady is always introduced to a gentleman -- never the other way around.

9. Can you name famous homes in literature that contains the following
words? grange, hall, house, park

l0. What is the proper way to address....
the king or queen?
the monarch's spouse, children, siblings?
nephews, nieces, and cousins of the sovereign?


So, how well did you do? Here are the answers:

1. They are all card games.
2. An epergne was a gaudy table decoration to hold food or flowers on a dining table.
3. Park Lane, the most coveted address, was in fashionable and wealthy Mayfair.
4. b - you drink too much
5. c - bombazine because it did not shine
6. True
7. True
8. False -- A genleman is always introduced to the lady; it is considered an honor to be introduced to the lady.
9. Thrushcross Grange in Wuthering Heights; Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre; Netherfield House in Pride and Prejudice; Mansfield Park
10. Your Majesty; Your Royal Highness; Your Highness

This is a fun, entertaining social history for anyone who enjoys reading the works of Dickens, the Brontes, Austen, and other nineteenth-century novelists, or for anyone who is interested in nineteenth-century English life.

I purchased this reference book as part of the Everything Austen challenge, and it really does enrich the reading experience of Victorian-era novels. It is very readable and filled with fun and interesting aspects of everyday matters such as dinner parties, country house visiting, sex and marriage, social etiquette, society and the "season," medicine and disease, death and mourning, transportation, the taxonomy of maids, currency, holidays, and of host of other curious topics. It contains a helpful glossary of terms and a useful bibliography for further exploration. Lots of fun!

Title: What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox-Hunting to Whist--the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England
Author: Daniel Pool
genre: nonfiction
416 pages
Simon and Schuster, Inc.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander

from the publisher:

"Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she's embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan's palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire -- because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murder."

my thoughts:

Tears of Pearl is the fourth installment of Tasha Alexander's Victorian mystery/romance series, and we find the ever-elegant couple, Emily and Colin Hargreaves, embarking on their honeymoon in exotic Turkey. The Orient Express has barely left the station when the mischief and mayhem begins.

For those who may not have read Alexander's previous novels, Tears could easily be a stand-alone read as the author neatly recaps characters and details and quickly brings the reader up-to-date. Despite the lavish setting and aura of mystery and intrigue of a sultan's harem, however, this newest mystery offering fell a little flat and had me losing my way with some forgettable characters. The writing just didn't have the same clarity as her previous novels. I was no where near as enchanted with Lady Emily and her escapades as I was with the first three novels. On a positive note, I did enjoy that the couple was at long last experiencing marital bliss, and the further development of Emily's character as she contemplates indepedence versus providing a future heir added another dimension to the story.
A light, quick mystery with an exotic setting -- easy afternoon read.

What I really loved (and highly recommend) are Tasha Alexander's photos from the research she pursued in writing Tears of Pearl. She has posted a glorious display of photos of the palaces of Constantinople, inside views of the rooms which housed the concubines, and the beautiful scenery around the palaces. I viewed this photo gallery prior to reading Tears, and it really helped bring to life the sultan's world. Click here to visit this fascinating photo gallery.

Title: Tears of Pearl
Author: Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books
306 pp.
genre: historical mystery/romance

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

From the publisher:

"On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking. And The Witching Hour begins......"

My thoughts:

Like J.K. Rowling and Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice has that magic touch that just draws me into another world, another era, where, like a wizard, she mixes up an intoxicating brew of witchcraft lore, wicked tragedy, and gothic romance. We are introduced to the great dynasty of the Mayfair witches beginning in the seventeenth century Scottish Highlands, and follow four generations through Europe, the lavish Maye Faire plantation in Port-au-Prince, Saint-Domingue, to a decaying antebellum mansion in New Orleans and present-day San Francisco. Each generation is haunted and tormented by the powerful and seductive being, Lasher. Beginning with the beautiful Suzanne, the Queen of the May Fair in Scotland, and ending in the present-day with Dr. Rowan Mayfair, renowned nuerosurgeon and healer, will they be able to break the evil spell that binds them tragically to Lasher?

I first read The Witching Hour in 1990 when it was first published and absolutely loved it for its rich, historically accurate depiction of life in New Orleans. I often wonder if readers who were not born and raised here would notice the wealth of details Anne Rice includes in her writings, from architectural depictions, accents, street names, pronunciations, neighborhoods, schools and churches, cultural celebrations and traditions, social commentaries...things that are unique to our city but completely ordinary in our way of life. She is a master of seamlessly weaving historical detail and plot.

On this second reading, I noticed interesting details that are also part of the Outlander series that I so enjoy reading. The second part of the novel is devoted to the history of the Mayfair witches as documented in files by the secret Talamasca organization....their motto is, "We watch.....and we are always here." For example, in describing the origin of the Mayfair witches and their connection to Lasher, we learn that it all began in a circle of standing stones while celebrating an ancient pagan feast:

p. 293
"To which they explained that the people of Highland villages were most attached still to the old customs, and that on the eve of May 1 they built great bonfires in the open grass, these being lighted only from the needfire, and they danced all night about the bonfires, making merry."
p. 311
"Out into the field we went, feeling for the stones before us, and finding the very middle of the circle and standing stock-still in it to feel the wind...I heard the humming as she held my hand; then in a circle we danced together, making small circles round and round as we did. Louder she hummed and then the Latin words she spoke to call the demon, and then flinging out her arms she cried to him to come."

Her writing is enthralling, guaranteed to make you go deep into yourself and examine your own values and truths....highly recommended!

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Anne Rice
genre: fiction
pages: 1038
publisher: Random House

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Books to Thrill and Chill

Ahhh....fall! This is the time of year when I usually find myself dusting off my books and revisiting some old favorites, especially those stories that thrill and chill my soul. There's something very cozy about curling up with an old favorite book on a chilly evening and settling in for a good scare! Do you do the same? Do you have some great titles that you've read more than once and they just seem to get better and better?

Here is a sampling of some great books that I will be revisiting this fall, even if it is just to read a few pages to get my "fix" of horror and thrills and chills -- I highly recommend them all. Read them....if you dare!

Dracula by Bram Stoker -- The Vampire story that started it all.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice - Hands down, my favorite of all of her writings; a masterpiece! A sensuous, poetic, and frightening journey of the education of the vampire, Lestat, once an aristocrat from pre-revolutionary France.

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice - Book #2 in the Vampire Chronicles; Lestat returns as a present-day rock star and searches through the centuries for others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his eternal, terrifying demonic existence.

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice - Book #3 in the Vampire Chronicles; Akasha, the Queen of the Damned, has risen from a six-thousand year sleep to let loose the powers of the night and desires to destroy Lestat. Sensual and erotic world of the undead.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice - The mesmerizing tale of the centuries-old dynasty of witches, the Mayfairs -- haunted through time by a seductive and terrifying being. Truly spine-tingling and frightening.

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux -- The thrilling tale of the beautiful sporano, Christine Daae', the handsome Vicomte de Chagny, and the Opera Ghost, the spectre called the Angel of Music.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova -- A very suspenseful and beautifully written story of a young woman who uncovers horrifying secrets of her family's past connection to the fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler. Part thriller, part history, part romance -- a terrific fireside read!

The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe - Love them all!
"The Cask of Amontillado," "The Premature Burial," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "Annabel Lee," and "The Raven" are particularly good on a dark, stormy night!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield - A mystery-thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end....a story of haunting family secrets, illicit obsession, a devastating fire, feral twins....well, just read it and you'll see!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - The classic gothic novella ....filled with supernatural it a true ghost tale or the mad ramblings of an unstable governess?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - The dark, windswept moors, tortured-soul Heathcliff, and his obsessive love of Catherine...gothic reading at its best!

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn - A Victorian era murder mystery with a handsome but brooding private inspector and the Lady Julia Grey. One of my new favorite series.

Please share your favorite mystery, gothic novel, or thriller with me and leave a comment! I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Taking a little time for reflection

These past few weeks have been difficult, and I feel the need to step back and take a little break at this time. A beloved family member entered his last stages of cancer recently and this past week went to his heavenly home. I need to take a deep breath and find my peaceful center again.

I'll be back soon, visiting your friendly and uplifting book the meantime, hug those you love and celebrate the gift of today!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Teaser Tuesday: The Lady in the Tower by Jean Plaidy

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB of Should be Reading. If you'd like to play along, please do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
Be careful not to include spoilers.
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser.

from The Lady in the Tower: The Wives of Henry VIII by Jean Plaidy:

"They came for me yesterday, and we glided along the river to the great gray Tower. Many times had I seen it before but never with such fearful clarity. Once I came here in great pomp and glory--and never for one moment then would it have seemed possible that one day I should be brought here--a prisoner."

Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

What are you reading on Mondays? is a weekly meme hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's book blog. Join the fun and click here to see what others are reading and reviewing this week.

This week I am continuing to savor Diana Gabaldon's Echo in the Bone; I'm taking my time with this one, enjoying not only the plot twists and turns, but anticipating finding some answers to questions that fans have been waiting years to find out!

Also planned for this week is the first book I have selected for the Jean Plaidy challenge, The Lady in the Tower: The Wives of Henry VIII (Anne Boleyn). I'm getting a late start on this challenge, but no pressure here as you simply choose any titles you want in this prolific author's royal historical fiction collection. (I've read most of the gothic romances this author has written under the name Victoria Holt, so I'm looking forward to reading the famous Plaidy royal novels.)

I have also posted my thoughts about the novel, Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus for the Everything Austen challenge.

Have a great week and enjoy your books!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus

from the publisher:

"When young Julia Witherington doesn't receive the proposal for marriage she expects from William Ransome, she determines to never forgive him. They go their separate ways--she returns to her family's Caribbean plantation, and he returns to the Royal Navy.

Now, twelve years later, Julia is about to receive a substantial inheritance, including her beloved plantation. When unscrupulous relatives try to gain the inheritance by forcing her into a marriage, she turns to the only eligible man to whom her father, Admiral Sir Edward Witherington, will not object--his most trusted captain and the man who broke her heart, William Ransome. Julia offers William her thirty-thousand pound dowry to feign marriage for one year, but then something she could never have imagined happens. She starts to fall in love with him again.

Can two people overcome their hurt, reconcile their conflicting desires and find a way to be happy together? Duty and honor, faith and love are intertwined in this intriguing tale from the Regency era."

my thoughts:

This was a simple, sweet Regency-era romance that was perfect for a quick, relaxing read. Having first learned of Kaye Dacus on the book blog, Jane Austen's World, I decided to add Ransome's Honor as part of my Jane Austen challenge since the plot is in the tradition of Austen's book, Persuasion. I enjoyed the character of Julia Whiterington, a strong, intelligent, umarried young woman of her times, determined to find her place in society which views women over twenty-five as spinsters. I was hoping the plot would take the reader to her plantation in the Caribbean for a little "spice" in the plot, but it appears you must wait for the planned sequels, Ransome's Crossing and Ransome's Quest to be written.

For those who enjoy Christian fiction and romances and stories of duty, honor, and faith, Ransome's Honor is sure to please.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

What are you reading on Mondays? is a weekly meme hosted by J. Kaye at J. Kaye's book blog. You can click here to join in the fun to see what everyone is reading and reviewing this week.

On tap for this week is the Regency era historical romance, Ransome's Honor by Kaye Dacus. In the tradition of Jane Austen's Persuasion, it is a story of young sweethearts who reunite after a twelve year separation. Here's a sneak peek at Ransome's Honor:

Also planned for this week, after a two year wait.......(drumroll, please)......Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon!

I have also added my review of The Aviary Gate by Katie Hickman below.

Have a great week!

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »