Thursday, January 28, 2010

Slice of Life in January

The universe has been acting in very strange and wonderful ways lately....2010 started out frigid with freezing temps that made me want to do nothing but burrow under blankets and read, and it's drawing to a close with the warmer temperatures of Miami (as in Superbowl!) calling my name!

As January draws to a close, I'd like to take a look at what I've completed for my 2010 challenges, and see what's ahead for February.

In January, I've read and reviewed the following books:

Jane Eyre's Daughter by Elizabeth Newark for the All About the Brontes Challenge (4/5 stars)

Angel Time by Anne Rice for The Time Travel Challenge (3/5 stars)

Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine for the Time Travel Challenge (4/5 stars)

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant for the Historical Fiction Challenge (3.5/5 stars)

The Secret by Julie Garwood for the Romance Challenge (4/5 stars)

Murder on the Cliffs: A Daphne du Maurier Mystery by Joanna Challis (3/5 stars)

These is My Words by Nancy Turner (4.5/5 stars)

I also viewed the Masterpiece Theatre's production of Jane Eyre for the All About the Brontes Challenge.

So many good things coming up in the next few weeks.....Mardi Gras is right around the corner, and we've been busy getting our costumes ready and purchasing all the goodies we need to throw on Mardi Gras day. For the past few years, we have decided to ride and be the ones throwing all the beads and trinkets instead of being spectators. Loads of fun and something I always wanted to do as a kid.

Talk about a great ending to our football season! Last Sunday's NFC championship game between the Saints and the Vikings has been to talk of the town, and we're still flying high over the Saints going to the Superbowl! I'm so glad I was at the Dome to experience "history" as it happened.

We'll be leaving for Miami soon...yes, my husband said it's a once in a lifetime chance, so we're going for it! My husband played football all his life and in college, and he lives for football. He's not about to pass up on a Superbowl experience, and I'm not one to pass up an opportunity to go to beautiful Miami in the middle of winter!

Hope everyone has had a terrific start to your new year!

Sorry about this Saints widget -- my brother sent it to me and I couldn't resist! ;)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Masterpiece Theatre's Jane Eyre (2006)

"After a wretched childhood, orphaned Jane Eyre yearns for new experiences. She accepts a governess position at Thornfield Hall, where she tutors a lively French girl named Adele. She soon finds herself falling in love with the brooding master of the house--the passionate Mr. Rochester. Jane gradually wins his heart, but they must overcome the dark secrets of the past before they can find happiness."


This 2006 BBC Masterpiece Theatre's version of Charlotte Bronte's gothic novel, Jane Eyre, stars Ruth Wilson as the adult Jane and Toby Stephens as Edward Rochester. Beautifully filmed scenes and relatively true to the original novel, I think this 2-disc production captures just the right balance of gloomy atmospheric effects and period details, as well as great portrayals of the dark and troubled Rochester and the quiet but fiercely principled Jane.

I loved watching the interaction between Jane and Rochester as their relationship develops--always conscious of her position as a paid governess and her lowly station in life, Jane maintains a guarded distance from the master. He is intrigued by Jane from their first meeting, and Rochester takes great pleasure in teasing her and attempting to draw out the thoughts and feelings from the prim and proper Jane. Their tete-e-tetes are charming and, at times, humorous and snappy. There was just the right amount of chemistry and restrained passion, and I adored the way a young, fresh-faced Jane positivey glowed when in love.

There were terrific performances from supporting characters -- little French Adele was charmingly pretty and spoiled; Mrs. Fairfax was business-like and loyal to the master of the house; and my favorite, the creepy and sinister Grace Poole.

Here is a quick overview of scenes covered in the movie:

Disc 1
The Red Room
Taken Away
Invitation to Thornfield
Meeting Rochester
Adele's Picnic
Bedroom Fire
Rochester's Return
Ghosts and Games
A Cry in the Night
Leave of Absence

Disc 2
Visiting Mrs. Reed
Return to Thornfield
An Earnest Proposal
Going to Town
Wedding Day
A New Life
Last Night at Thornfield
One Year Later
Coming Back
A New Arrangement

There was one area that I noticed a serious departure from the original text. The most obvious change in character appearance was in Bertha Mason's . The author describes Bertha in the after-wedding scene as animal-like, with a bloated, purple face, and shaggy black hair. Monstrous. However, in this production, we see a sensuously beautiful woman, albeit deranged and dangerous. While the reader of the novel knows that Bertha was a Creole beauty from the West Indies when she and Rochester were first married, her mental state and sickness causes her to deteriorate to a hideously monstrous state. At any rate, that obvious change stood out as a glaring departure from the original storyline.


Overall, a really great production of Bronte's classic gothic novel and highly recommended for Jane Eyre fans. From her terrifying childhood of abuse at the hands of her aunt and cousins, the horrors of Lowood School, and her journey of self-discovery and relationships with Rochester and St. John, this production touched on all the major elements which make Jane Eyre a beloved favorite for me. I could watch it again and again!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tournament of Reading Challenge 2010

I'm adding one more reading challenge for 2010, the Tournament of Reading Challenge that is hosted by Medieval Bookworm.

This challenge is designed to get us all reading a little more medieval literature in 2010. The challenge will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2010, and will be hosted at Medieval Bookworm. Challenge genres include history, medieval literature, and historical fiction. Medieval, for simplicity of definition, will be from 500-1500, and literature from all over the world is welcome, not just western Europe. There are 3 levels:

Peasant – Read 3 medieval books of any kind.
Lord – Read 6 medieval books, at least one of each kind.
King – Read 9 medieval books, at least two of each kind.

I have at least three books planned for this challenge, but I may increase my numbers as the year progresses. (There are several suggested readings for this challenge on the sign-up post.)

l. The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
2. Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
3,4,5. The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pergeter (counts as three books)
6. to be selected

Bring on the chainmail!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Literature + Trend = High Fashion

How awesome are these high fashion necklaces designed by Spanish artist, Victoria Contreras??!

Ok, admittedly they are over-the top, but here it's the season of Mardi Gras Balls, and gowns, opulent jewelry, and high fashion are de rigueur. I am way too conservative to pull off this look, but they sure are a way to get noticed!

According to the artist's website, she only has a handful of quotes that she uses in her designs....I think a gorgeous Shakespearean quote would be lovely or something gothic from Poe would be fabulous! Literature and bling!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Murder on the Cliffs by Joanna Challis

Murder on the Cliffs: A Mystery featuring Daphne du Maurier by Joanna Challis

From the publisher:

"Young Daphne du Maurier is headstrong, adventurous, and standing on the cusp of greatness.

Walking on the cliffs in Cornwall on a dark and stormy day just after the Great War
has finally come to an end, Daphne stumbles upon the drowned body of a beautiful woman, dressed only in a nightgown, her hair strewn along the rocks, her eyes gazing
up to the heavens. Daphne soon learns that the mysterious woman was engaged to marry Lord Hartley of Padthaway, an Elizabethan mansion full of intriguing secrets.

As the daughter of the famous Sir Gerald du Maurier, Daphne is welcomed into the Hartley home, but when the drowning of Miss Victoria Bastion turns out to be murder, Daphne determines to get to the bottom of the mysteries of Padthaway -- in part to find fresh inspiration for her writing, and in part because she is irresistibly drawn to the romance of grand houses and long-buried secrets.

Murder on the Cliffs is an enthralling mystery that gives fictional life to the inspiration behind Daphne du Maurier's classic Rebecca."

my thoughts:

Inspired by her love of Daphne du Maurier's gothic mystery, Rebecca, Joanna Challis' mystery novel, Murder on the Cliffs, is a tribute to the famous author and her beloved novel. This is the first installment in a new mystery series featuring a young du Maurier at the center of the action as she embarks on her writing career.

I was immediately drawn to this book when I saw the intriguing cover of the forbidding mansion along the rocky sea reminded me of the setting of so many of the Victoria Holt romantic suspense novels I used to enjoy that were often set in Cornwall. When I learned that the author's inspiration for the series was based on Rebecca, I was thrilled as this novel is an all-time favorite of mine.

Plenty of gothic elements abound in Murder on the Cliffs, from an icy, haughty widowed matron of the manor, a handsome and troubled young lord, an austere housekeeper who harbors secrets, a beautiful estate and a nearby ancient abbey, and a dead body near the stormy sea...just my kind of story. Such potential.......

As the story begins, we learn that the dead woman was the fiancee' of the young lord, and the million dollar question is, "Was her death an accident, murder, or suicide?" When the plot begins to unfold, Daphne, who is staying in the village as a guest, becomes involved with a cast of characters who all begin to shed light on the victim and her past; it appears that more than one person has a reason for wanting her dead. Honestly, the mystery was interesting but not page-turning thrilling. I found myself bored halfway through and forced myself to finish when it became a typical who-dunnit.

One of the book's strengths was the accuracy in depicting du Maurier as privileged but no-nonsense. I was impressed that Challis kept true to what is known about du Maurier's personality and background, and her portrayal of Daphne as independent, intelligent, and modern-thinking in a post Great War age rang true.

I give the book high marks for the creativity of using du Maurier as slueth and staying true to her spirit, but low marks for the execution of the story. It had a fantastic premise, but just didn't quite pack a punch. Darn it!

3/5 stars

Title: Murder on the Cliffs
Author: Joanna Challis
St. Martin's Press
292 pages
genre: mystery

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Secret by Julie Garwood

from the publisher:

"New York Times bestselling author Julie Garwood captures the Highland
splendor of medieval Scotland in this breathtaking love story. The
inspiration for her powerful novel, Ransom, this classic tale is a
passionate masterpiece from one of the best-loved storytellers of all time...

Judith Hampton was as beautiful as she was proud and loyal. Her dear
Scottish friend from childhood was about to give birth, and Judith had
promised to be at her side. But there was another private reason for the
journey from her bleak English home to the Highlands: to meet the father
she had never known, the Laird Maclean. Nothing prepared her, however,
for the sight of the Scottish barbarian who was to escort her into his
land...Iain Maitland, Laird of the Clan."

my thoughts:

After spending many years engrossed in the love story of Jamie and Claire of the Outlander series, I've decided to put them to rest for a while and search out other interesting Scottish Highland couples! I know they're out there, even if I have to go back a few years to read some oldies but goodies. Lady Judith and Iain Maitland make quite a stunning couple!

The Secret is refreshingly entertaining from start to finish and kept me turning the pages. There are really several interesting plotlines at work: the life-long friendship of the two little girls from different backgrounds who were too young and innocent to realize that their elders were bitter enemies; the forbidden and passionate relationship between the beautiful and spirited English Lady Judith and the Scottish warrior, Iain; and the secret Judith keeps hidden which could change the course of her life.

To keep things interesting, Lady Judith and Iain often have a clash of wills as age-old customs and traditions of the Scottish clans and the church are challenged, and Judith attempts to find a level of acceptance in a land where the people consider her an outsider and a threat. She manages to make as many friends as enemies as she questions male authority and places Iain and his clan warriors in one problematic situation after another. The plot thickens when the great laird of the clan, Iain Maclean, falls in love with her and declares his intentions to marry her. Judith's secret, unfortunately, is only one of many family secrets and betrayals, and it seems that her chance at happiness with Iain and his clan are slipping away when the secret is revealed...

Easy, fun, pure entertainment...I will definitely be reading Ransom, which continues the story of some of the players introduced in The Secret.

For many great Scottish romance recommendations, visit Julie at Outlandish Dreaming --- lots of interesting possibilities!

4/5 stars

Title: The Secret
Author: Julie Garwood
Publisher: Pocket Books
379 pages
genre: historical romance/Scottish romance

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Angel Time by Anne Rice

From the publisher:

"Anne Rice returns to the mesmerizing storytelling that has captivated readers
for more than three decades in a tale of unceasing suspense set in a time
past -- a metaphysical thriller about angels and assassins.

The novel opens in the present. At its center: Toby O'Dare -- a contract
killer of underground fame on assignment to kill once again. A soulless
soul, a dead man walking, he lives under a series of aliases -- just now:
Lucky the Fox -- and takes his orders from "The Right Man."

Into O'Dare's nightmarish world of lone and lethal missions, comes a
mysterious stranger, a seraph, who offers him a chance to save rather
than destroy lives. O'Dare, who long ago dreamt of being a priest but
instead came to embody danger and violence, seizes his chance. Now he
is carried back through the ages to thirteenth-century England, to dark
realms where accusations of ritual murder have been made against Jews,
where children suddenly die or disappear...In this primitive setting,
O'Dare begins his perilous quest for salvation, a journey of danger and
flight, loyalty and betrayal, selflessness and love."

My thoughts:

This one is going to be a tough one to write about, so please bear with me as I flounder here a bit to try to express my mixed feelings about Angel Time. I want to be completely honest in all my reviews, and this book has both strong and weak points.

I am a huge fan of some of the novels written by Anne Rice, and when she nails it, her writing can be spectacular. I haven't read everything she's written, but I've read enough of her novels to know that not everything is created equally. Some are hit or miss. Angel Time, for me, isn't quite a hit.

I read Angel Time out of curiosity; most know the story by now that Anne Rice has publicly stated that her faith is taking her writing in a new direction. While she stands by her original works (read a fascinating essay she has written regarding this issue here), she has stated that she wishes for her writing to be inspirational and illuminating.

I wholeheartedly support positive and uplifting messages in books, and it is certainly a refreshing change to see her characters have a chance at redemption. But when you approach her novels, you have certain expectations about the reading experience, and there was definitely something missing in Angel Time. I felt like the writing was too sanitized, lacking depth and breadth and scope. Toby and Malchiah, his angel companion, were not "fleshed-out" characters, if you will,and this is very unusual for her writing; she has the ability to create vibrant and realistic characters. I was also disappointed that her breathtaking ability to describe another time, another era (the 13th century England) wasn't explored.

On a positive note, the tale of contract killer Toby O'Dare (he takes his victims by inserting a poisonous syringe) moves along quickly and reads more like mainstream crime fiction than a "metaphysical thriller," so it may appeal to fans of Dan Brown or Ken Follett's Eye of the Needle. There was very little in Angel Time that would cause offense to a reader (nothing graphic or explicit at all), and the persecution tale of thirteenth century Fluria and Meir, a Jewish couple accused of murdering their daughter for her Christian beliefs, was very moving and well-written. Their story carries a very relevant and important message of the need for religious tolerance and understanding, and ends with a message of hope and possibilities for Toby O'Dare.

A message of hope is always good.

3/5 stars

Title: Angel Time
Author: Anne Rice
Publisher: Knopf
274 pages
genre: fiction/suspense/time travel

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Deanna Raybourn on Writerspace

Deanna Raybourn, one of my favorite new-to-me authors, will be chatting live tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 13) on Writerspace at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time. She will be discussing her first book in the Victorian gothic mystery series featuring Lady Julia Grey and Nicholas Brisbane, Silent in the Grave. Great series and I highly recommend her books!


UPDATED Thursday Jan. 14 -- I was able to get home in time to catch the tail end of her chat.....I learned that her fourth Lady Julia/Brisbane novel is titled Dark Road to Darjeeling and is moving along in production. When asked who she envisions as Lady Julia and Brisbane, Deanna Raybourn replied, "Eva Green and Robert Downey, Jr."

Great looking couple -- very close to my vision of the sluething duo. Looking forward to her future installments!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

These Is My Words by Nancy E. Turner

These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, Arizona Territories by Nancy E. Turner

from the publisher:

"A moving, exciting, and heartfelt American saga inspired by the author's own family memoirs, these words belong to Sarah Prine, a woman of spirit and fire who forges a full and remarkable existence in a harsh, unfamiliar frontier. Scrupulously recording her steps down the path Providence has set her upon -- from child to determined young adult to loving mother -- she shares the turbulent events, both joyous and tragic, that molded her, and recalls the enduring love with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot that gave her strength and purpose.

Rich in authentic everyday details and alive with truly unforgettable characters, These is My Words brilliantly brings a vanished world to breathtaking life again."

These is My Thoughts: (Sorry, I couldn't resist!)! What a precious story of one of the most fiesty, indomitable, endearingly funny heroines of the pioneering West! She has more heart and grit than book learnin', but that doesn't stop her from outsmarting and outwitting those that oppose her. Mix Annie Get Your Gun with Lonesome Dove, and you have the spirit and essence of These is My Words.

I loved it!

I laughed....I cried...I wanted to shout, "No! No! No! How much can one person take?" But Sarah was a survivor, and she always managed to dig deep within her inner resources and forge ahead with unmatched determination (and wry humor).

One of my favorite lines (among many) came after a relationship with a man went wrong, and a gun-toting Sarah states matter of factly, "I am plum fed up with all the work I have to do and it is all because of a worthless man, and any other man ever comes around me better be carrying a pistol with one more bullet than I've got or I'll have the last word!"

An unforgettable love story with cavalry officer Captain Jack Elliot, who is the one man plucky enough to take on Sarah. Have a box of tissues handy!

4.5/5 stars

Title: These is My Words
Author: Nancy E. Turner
Harper Collins Publishers
384 pages
genre: historical fiction

Monday, January 11, 2010

In Which I am Expanding My Vocabulary: Steampunk

Am I the only one who has just recently learned the meaning of this word? Admittedly, I am never the leader of the pack on anything! I'm always a day late, a dollar short, and the last one at the party. Soooo, it's quite possible I'm the last to know here. I'm seeing it on several blogs....but I still don't know what it is!

My son's class is reading the H. G. Wells classic, The Time Machine, and did you know, by definition, this book is considered "steampunk?" I did a little exploring and found that there is a whole sub-culture of steampunk, from fashion, jewelry, literature, music, home decor, art.....who knew?

What exactly is steampunk as it relates to books? Simply put, it is actually "Victorian science fiction." Works such as Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and The Time Machine are classic science fiction, and now can be considered steampunk. Major components of the genre include 19th century technology (steam power) with futuristic elements.

Modern steampunk includes elements of 19th century technology (machinery, transportation, communications, etc..) and combines it with an edgy Victorian street culture. Here is an example of a popular steampunk novel:

Goodreads has an entire section of recommended books in this genre and I recognized a few books that I've been seeing on some book blogs. Click here for the Goodreads steampunk page.

And here's a quick visual of steampunk:

So, now I know.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine

from the publisher:

"Joanna Clifford is a confirmed skeptic. A hard-hitting journalist, she is all set to debunk hypnosis and the nonsense of past-life regression in her next magazine series...until she submits to a simple hypnotic session and finds herself inextricably bound to another time, another life as Matilda de Braose....until she learns that Matilda's loveless marriage, her secret passion for the handsome Earl of Clare, the brutal threats of death at the hands of King John, are very real...until she realizes that the pageantry, the passion, and the cruel facts of her past are still alive, changing and threatening her relationship to the man she thinks she knows and loves, the man who holds her in his arms--today."

my thoughts:

I absolutely adore time travel stories, and I selected Lady of Hay by
Barbara Erskine as the first book to read for the Time Travel Challenge. It's one of those big, fat juicy novels that you just have to suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to be swept away to the cold, dark castles of the twelth century with fair maidens, chivalrous knights, secret lovers, and treacherous kings.

The present-day storyline of Joanna Clifford begins in the 1970's when she is 19 years old and submits to a psychological test to determine if she has the ability to be hypnotised and "regress" to a past time or life. Skeptical of the whole idea and ready to prove that hypnotism is nonsense, Joanna has a most unusual and near-fatal experience. The professors performing the regression have never seen such astounding results....Joanna begins to regress to a horrifying scene in the past, begging for her life, complete with bleeding wounds on her hands from scratching and clawing jagged stones. I was hooked on this book right from the start!

Alternating between the present day and the past in Wales, the fine line between the characters of the present (Joanna; her on-again/off again boyfriend, Nick; his brother and rival, Dr. Sam Franklyn; and a quiet admirer of Joanna, photographer Tim Heacham) begins to blur and blend with the players of Joanna's past life when she was Matilda de Braose, (her husband, William; her lover, Richard de Clare; her jealous enemy, King John). Matilda de Braose was known in history as Lady of Hay.

Her life becomes increasingly more complicated and dangerous when she cannot stop herself from continuing to regress to the past where the loves of her life (both in the past and present) become questionable: who truly loves her and wants to protect her, and who is really her enemy and determined to harm her?

Will the past replay itself in the present and doom Joanna to another dreadful end, or will life and love be given a second chance 800 years later?

Lady of Hay is sure to entertain those who love stories of another time, rich with historical detail, and full of suspenseful twists and page-turning, non-stop action. Definitely a reflection of the times when it was written (the 80's when Dallas and Dynasty were popular tv dramas) this story is an oldie but goodie!

4/5 stars

Title: Lady of Hay
Author: Barbara Erskine
genre: historical fiction/time-travel

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Outlandish Companion, Vol. I and II

As I visit some of my favorite new book blogs, I see that many readers have added Diana Gabaldon's Outlander on their TBR pile or are reading it right now. I'm fairly certain that people will find it an exciting read and that it is in a category all its own!

Once you really get into the series, you might find yourself getting a little bogged down with all the history, characters, timelines, storylines, Gaelic terms etc... Not to worry! Diana Gabaldon has a terrific reference book called the Outlandish Companion. It contains a synopsis of the first four books in the series, alphabetical listings of hundreds of characters with descriptions, lots of interesting tidbits about the research she does, her methods of writing and creating, discussions about her time-travel theories, FAQs, controversies, and errata. A Must Read for Outlander fans and a really entertaining read! It's like getting a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of her novels.

While visiting Diana's blog today, Voyages of the Artemis, I learned that she will begin working on the Outlandish Companion Volume II in 2010 and has made a preliminary list of what will be included!!

(And yes, she says she is already beginning preliminary work on Book #8 -- and IF it's the Final Book, then she has always maintained that All Will Be Revealed; we just have to wait and see.) She is asking for input into what her readers would like to see in this second companion volume. Gabaldon fans have learned to be patient because it takes several years in between novels, but it's great to know that she's moving ahead as planned in 2010 and keeping her fans informed and open to input!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

from the publisher:

"Alessanra Cecchi is not quite fifteen when her father, a prosperous cloth merchant, brings a young painter back from northern Europe to decorate the chapel
walls in the family's Florence palazzo. A child of the Renaissance with a precocious mind and a talent for drawing, Alessandra is intoxicated by the artist's abilities.

But Alessandra's parents have made plans for their daughter, and she is soon married off to a wealthy, much older man. Meanwhile, the reign of the Medicis, with their love of luxury, learning, and dazzling art, is being threatened by the hellfire preaching and increasing brutality of the fundamenalist monk Savonarola and his reactionary followers. As the city shudders with violence and change, Alessandra must find her own way -- and finally explore the passions she's kept so long at bay."

My thoughts:

I selected The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant in an effort to mix things up a bit in my reading. I tend to gravitate towards Victorian and Regency era novels, so finding a story of love, scandal and intrigue in 15th century Florence sounded fascinating to me. It was an interesting read, but.....

Alessandra's tale is her journey as an intellectual and artistic young lady in the male world of art, frescoes, and the classics, and her search for love without losing her own identity. Set against the backdrop of the birth of magnificent art for the glory of God, and the turbulent times of invasion and fire-and-brimstone preaching from a mad monk, her tale is part romance, part family secrets and deception, and part murder thriller.

So far, so good.....

The novel begins with what can only be described as a most provocative and shocking prologue; in a convent, while preparing a deceased nun's body for burial, a most hideous and startling discovery is made. It hooked me right away!

Unfortunately, it quickly shifted gears into approximately 160+ pages of very slow narrative. I kept hanging in there, thinking surely something must happen soon to tie into that fabulous prologue! My patience was rewarded, at long last, and the remaining two-thirds of the book was a page-turner, with lots of twists and turns and a stunning conclusion. For the life of me, I cannot understand why the first part of the book was left so bland...I was almost ready to give up on it. Glad I didn't.

Did anyone read Sacred Hearts or In the Company of the Courtesan? Any better?

Assuming that the title is meant to be symbolic of Alessandra's journey of self-discovery or "birth" of her own identity and talents, here is Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" in all its magnificence. Isn't it glorious?

3.5/5 stars

Title: The Birth of Venus
Author: Sarah Dunant
Publisher: Random House
403 pages
genre: historical fiction

Monday, January 4, 2010

Oooh, la, la!

Isn't this the cutest award ever?

Kim from Chapter Chit Chat, who is just one of the nicest book bloggers, passed this Ooh, la! la! award to Slice of Life. What a nice way to begin the new year. Thank you, Kim!

Now, as part of my obligations in receiving this award, I need to answer a few questions:

Where is your favorite place to read a book?
In cold weather, I love to curl up with a book and blanket in a big, comfy chair in the den. In nice weather, I love to read on a chaise lounge on my patio or by the pool.

What is the best book you've read recently?
I've been lucky in that all of the books I've read recently have been very good, but I'll tell you about a book I can't wait to read this year: Lady of Hay by Barbara Erskine. It was highly recommended by Alaine at Queen of Happy Endings, and I'll be reading it for Alyce's Time Travel Challenge.

Do you snack while reading?
Is this a trick question? Yes! Chocolate would be my first choice, but I also snack on pretzels. And as the plot thickens, my chomping picks up speed!

Are you a book borrower or book collector?
Oh, a book collector for sure. I have book envy.....when I see a book on someone's blog that is beautiful and scrumptious-looking, I have to get it! I like to surround myself with books, so you'll find them in most rooms.

Now, here's a little new year cheer for some fabulous blogs that I think are just Ooh, la! la!

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming

Laura at Laura's Reviews

Christy at Christy's Books

Muse at Muse in the Fog

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Jane Eyre's Daughter by Elizabeth Newark

From the publisher:

"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......"

My thoughts:

Before I sum up my impressions of Jane Eyre's Daughter, I think I first need to say that I am wary of fan fiction and classic spin-offs -- particularly when they are from novels that are very close to my heart. I read a few Austen-inspired books for the Everything Austen Challenge and quickly learned that not all spin-offs are created equal. Some are fantastic and spark renewed interest in classic novels; others are mediocre. Only a few are truly worthy of association with the original. Charlotte Bronte's gothic masterpiece, Jane Eyre, is sacrosanct in my opinion, so I approached this "sequel" with a very critical eye, ready to dismiss anything that did not ring true to the Bronte original.

Reader, I was very impressed!

This is a thoroughly engaging tale narrated by the daughter born to Jane Eyre and her beloved Mr. Rochester. (Although a daughter is not mentioned, to my knowledge, in the original, Jane refers to their son as their "first-born," so it is plausible that they had other children.) Filled with many familiar elements that made Bronte's original gothic tale so intriguing, you'll revisit the bleak and wind-wept Yorkshire moors and a restored Thornfield, meet a Byronic figure whose striking resemblance to Mr. Rochester stirs up vicious gossip, and watch in fascination as a spirited Janet comes to blows with Isabella, the beautiful and haughty niece of Blanche Ingram. There's even Pilot, bred from generations of Rochester's original dog, ever-present, resting by the fire, always loyal and devoted.

I found the journey of Janet Eyre from girlhood to womanhood to be poignant and believable, with one exception. She is very honest with her feelings in the beginning of the tale, feeling much loved and doted on by her larger than life father, but feels slighted by her more reserved mother. (I do take issue with the way Jane Eyre is portrayed in the beginning of this book, being a bit cold to her daughter, but attentive to her husband and son. Not in true character, in my opinion, but it is resolved satisfactorily.) Frightened by the news that she must attend a girls' school in London when her parents and brother must leave to attend to matters related to Bertha Mason's family in Jamaica, she feels lost without the comfort and support of her father. It is at this school where Janet begins to learn indepedence and self-confidence.

Upon completion of the girls' school, Janet must, according to her father's guardianship plan, live with Colonel Dent at Highcrest Manor. Like Thornfield, Highcrest Manor has its own secrets and tragic past that comes back to haunt the inhabitants. Two enigmatic gentlemen enter Janet's life, and as the plot unfolds, we learn which one is friend or foe.

The writing is excellent and moves along quickly, with lots of suspenseful twists, wonderful period details, and an ending that left me with happy tears. Keep in mind that it's not perfect, it does have a few spots that readers won't like or agree with, but generally an enjoyable read.

Recommended if you're a Bronte devotee. I'm off to a good beginning for the All About the Brontes Challenge!

4/5 stars

Title: Jane Eyre's Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Newark
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
303 pages
genre: historical fiction/romance

Favorite Period Dramas

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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 »