Sunday, February 28, 2010

Suddenly Sunday

Today I'm going to jump in and join Muse at Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog in her Suddenly Sunday meme. The weeks are flying by, so it's nice to sit quietly and contemplate what I have accomplished in reading and what new books and authors I'm eager to explore soon.

I recently posted my review of the lovely book, The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent, and was delighted when the author stopped in and left a comment thanking me for writing such a nice review of her book. I think it's a thrill to know that authors are reading our blogs! She said to look for her new release next year, The Wax Apprentice, featuring Madame Tussaud. You can visit Christine Trent's website here.

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn was a much-anticipated read for me, and it was worth the wait! I love a tall, dark, mysterious, naughty man, and Count Andrei was definitely enticing! (sshhh! don't tell my husband! ;)

The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter was a library find that took me an entire year to work through, but it was a wonderful, enriching historical read. Fans of Sharon Kay Penman would enjoy this trilogy.

What's coming up soon?

I've started exploring the delightful Morland Dynasty chronicles by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. The publisher describes this sweeping historical family saga as:

"war and famine, peace and plenty, love and loyalty, greed and envy,
courts of kings and salons on the Regency, the battlefields of Culloden,
the slums surrounding cotton mills....the Morland family feuds and reconciles
themselves through the centuries...they bloom in times of fortune and shoulder
the privations of poverty with stoicism, and their story brings the vivid
history of their times to life with extraordinary brilliance."

There are over thirty novels in the series, so there's a lifetime of geat reading ahead!


And as the 2010 Olympics draw to a close, here's a nod to two of my favorite things: ice skating and Lady Gaga! Enjoy!

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter

I have actually been waiting a long time to write this post; as a matter of fact, I first found this tome by Edith Pargeter at the library last year, and I have been working my way through it inch by inch like a bookworm. Truth is, it is a fantastic collection, but like the writings of Dorothy Dunnett or Sharon Kay Penman, I had to move slowly to give it thoughtful, careful attention to fully enjoy its richness.

I'm certainly not going to try to critique her writing or even give it a review --let's just say that it is a work that anyone who enjoys rich, vivid, sweeping melodramatic historicals would enjoy, so I'm sharing this treasure that is a true gem.

The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Edith Pargeter collection of works: The Heaven Tree, The Green Branch, and The Scarlet Seed.

"Set on the volatile, hotly disputed Welsh border, this full-bodied, swift-moving story of deadly politics, clashing armies, and private passions sweeps the reader into its characters' grand quest for justice and vengeance. The trilogy focuses on Harry Talvace, who bears stamped on his face the lineage of Shrewsbury's Norman conquerors. Born to aristocratic parents and nursed by a stone mason's wife, he grows up fiercely loyal to his breast-brother, the sunny, irresistibly charming Adam. Harry also discovers that he has a gift--the ability to carve stone with the sure hand of genius.

In his fifteenth year, Harry's devotion to Adam and his obsession to sculpt set into motion the thrilling tale of The Heaven Tree. Rebelling against his father and fleeing England to save Adam, Harry finds his destiny entangled in the affairs of commoners and kings, divided by two women -- the courageous dark-haired Gilleis and the beautiful courtesan Benedetta--and pledged to the brooding, mysterious Lord of Parfois, Ralf Isambard, who sponsors Harry's monumental creation of a cathedral.
And while Wales and France challenge England's crown, these men and women follow their desires toward jealously, pitiless revenge, and passion so madly glorious neither time nor a merciless execution can end it.

In Volume Two, The Green Branch, Harry's son, young Harry Talvace, is drawn into the fabulous intrigues of the court of Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, and bound by blood oath to find and kill his father's old enemy, Esambard. Yet the threads that bind his life to the ruthless Isambard are not so easily severed, as Harry falls under the spell of the aging warrior Lord.

The Scarlet Seed, Volume Three, brings full circle this tale of implacable enmity and unshakeable loyalty. As a kingdom shudders under the flames of civil war and captor becomes captive, the final siege of Parfois creates a climax to this tale so majestic, noble, and heartbreaking, no reader will ever forget it."

(from the publisher)

4.5/5 stars

There are other works by this author that I'm hoping to read sometime before I depart from this earth.....if only there will be enough time.....!

The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (Sunrise in the West, The Dragons at Noonday, The Hounds of Sunset, Afterglow and Nightfall) Set in Wales at the time of the
Plantagenets, this is a saga of the descendants of Llewelyn the Great

Writing under the name Ellis Peters, there is also The Brother Cadfael medieval mystery series

Title: The Heaven Tree Trilogy
Author: Edith Pargeter
Warner Books
899 pages
genre: historical fiction

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Dead Travel Fast by Deanna Raybourn

"With a modest inheritance and the three gowns that comprise her entire wardrobe, Theodora leaves Edinburgh--and a disappointed suitor--far behind. She is bound for Rumania, where tales of vampires are still whispered, to visit an old friend and write the book that will bring her true independence.

She arrives at a magnificent, decaying castle in the Carpathians, replete with eccentric inhabitants; the ailing dowager; the troubled steward; her own fearful friend, Cosmina. But all are outstripped in dark glamour by the castle's master, Count Andrei Dragulescu.

Bewildering and bewitching in equal measure, the brooding nobleman ingites Theodora's imagination and awakens passions in her that she can neither deny nor conceal. His allure is superlative, his dominion over the superstitious town, absolute--Theodora may simply be one more person under his sway.

Before her sojourn is ended--or her novel completed--Theodora will have encountered things as strange and terrible as they are seductive. For obsession can prove fatal...and she is in danger of falling prey to more than desire."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

When it comes to The Dead Travel Fast, people may be asking, "What? Not another vampire story! Hasn't that topic been covered already ad nauseam?" While I've read my share of vampire tales (and plan to read many more!), I promise you Deanna Raybourn's newest gothic romance was a thrill to read and a refreshing take on the vampire lore.

With a crumbling Transylvanian castle in the Carpathian mountains and howling wolves as the background music of the night, this is Theodora's story, an aspiring novelist, who sets out to make her own way in the world after her grandfather's death. Opportunity arrives for Theodora as her childhood friend, Cosmina, requests her help as she prepares to marry in her home in Transylvania. Theodora is delighted to support her friend and soak in the myth and lore of her exotic surroundings, using her new experiences in the strange land as inspiration for her writing.

Upon her arrival, she is immediately captivated by a very unusual and sensual experience with the dark and striking Count Andrei, the very person to whom Cosmina is preparing to marry.

Make no mistake about it.....for those who have read The Lady Julia Gray/Brisbane series, Theodora and Andrei are unlike the elegantly restrained Lady Julia and Brisbane. The Count and Theodora are both very much aware of their strong, sensual attraction for each other, and as the story unfolds, she discovers that inhabitants of the castle have dark and sinister pasts....some may even have inherited the legacy of Count Bogdan, Andrei's father, known as the devil himself. Has Theodora become involved with a just a reckless rake, or is he even more dangerous and threatening...perhaps even a strigoi (vampire)? How will fear and superstition influence the way events are perceived?

In the midst of death, evil legends, and mistrust, Theodora must find a way to stay in control of her feelings and protect herself, while making some of the most heart-rending decisions of her life about those she has come to love, and about those she thought loved her.

Hands down, a gothic romance winner and highly recommended!!

5/5 stars

Title: The Dead Travel Fast
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Publisher: Mira Books
309 pages
genre: gothic mystery/gothic romance

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent

"On the brink of revolution, with a tide of hate turned against the decadent royal court, France is in turmoil -- as is the life of one young woman forced to leave her beloved Paris. After a fire destroys her home and family, Claudette Laurent is struggling to survive in London. But one precious gift remains: her talent for creating exquisite dolls that Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France herself, cherishes. When the Queen requests a meeting, Claudette seizes the opportunity to promote her business, and to return home...

Amid the violence and unrest, Claudette befriends the Queen, who bears no resemblence to the figurehead rapidly becoming the scapegoat of the Revolution. But when Claudette herself is lured into a web of deadly political intrigue, it becomes clear that friendship with France's most despised woman has grim consequences. Now, overshadowed by the specter of Madame Guillotine, the Queen's dollmaker will face the ultimate test...."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

The Queen's Dollmaker by Christine Trent is a delightful novel that combines interesting historical events during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette with the fictional tale of Claudette Laurent, a dollmaking artisan, and her struggle to overcome adversity. Blending history, romance, suspense, and the fascinating details of crafting eighteenth century dolls, Ms. Trent has created a story of love and loss, friendships, survival, political intrigue, and betrayals. Through it all, the heroine, Claudette, remains true to her legacy as the daughter of a master dollmaker, and uses her inner resources and her talents to establish an independent life for herself and her loved ones.

While there are two love interests in Claudette's life (one is Jean-Philippe, a young man with whom she was betrothed before tragedy forced her to leave France, and the elegant William Greycliffe of England who has his own difficult personal circumstances), Claudette never wavers from her goal of gaining her own personal independence by establishing her business and catering to a prestige clientele. The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the process of creating her business and the details of the dollmaking; from the selection of woods for carving body parts, to paints, fabrics, trims, and wax molds -- I found it all very entertaining reading. The course of Claudette's life is altered when her beautifully crafted fashion dolls become a favorite with Marie Antionette. While it appears to be a blessing to have the French queen's favor, it ultimately puts her life in danger when revolutionaries begin their terrorizing activities against the French aristocracy and their associates.

I'm fascinated with the historical period of this book, and the author includes a short bibliography of books used in the writing of The Queen's Dollmaker. It would have been nice to also include some references for the history of dolls and the craft of dollmaking for the reader to explore; overall, it was an enjoyable read and I recommend it for those who enjoy historical fiction with light romance.

4/5 stars

Title: The Queen's Dollmaker
Author: Christine Trent
genre: historical fiction
342 pages
Publisher: Kensington Books

Monday, February 22, 2010

Calling All Deanna Raybourn fans....

Deanna Raybourn's latest book, The Dead Travel Fast, is now available (released a bit earlier than advertised). It is a stand alone book, not related to the Lady Julia/Brisbane storyline. I received my copy today, and I'm ready to take another gothic journey with Raybourn to Transylvania!

Have a great reading week!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

"Nothing goes right for Eloise. The one day she wears her new suede boots, it rains cats and dogs. When the subway stops short, she's always the one thrown into some stranger's lap. Plus, she's had more than her share of misfortune in the way of love. In fact, after she realizes romantic heroes are a thing of the past, she decides it's time for a fresh start.

Setting off for England, Eloise is determined to finish her dissertaion on the dashing pair of spies, the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian. But what she discovers is something the finest historians have missed: the secret history of the Pink Carnation -- the most elusive spy of all time. As she works to unmask this obscure spy, Eloise stumbles across answers to all kinds of questions. How did the Pink Carnation save England from Napoleon? What became of the Scarlet Pimpernel and the Purple Gentian? And will Eloise Kelly escape her bad luck and find a living, breathing hero all her own?"
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

I absolutely loved every word of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation! It was clever, fast-paced, witty, charming, and full of surprises....I just can't say enough good things about this Scarlet Pimpernel-inspired novel! And did I mention that I loved it?!

What's not to love about a story that includes fiesty maidens, handsome spies, political intrigue, sexual tension, and a truly fun mystery-identity?

I happen to enjoy stories that alternate between the present and the past, but generally I find myself more interested in the plotline in the past. No so with this one; I was equally as intrigued with grad student Eloise's present-day encounters with Colin Selwick as I was with the escapades of Colin's ancestors. And what a treasure trove awaits Eloise as she gains access to diaries and letters that are the academic scoop of the century! I can't wait to continue this clever mystery/romance/adventure series in The Masque of the Black Tulip.

Highly recommended!

Just for fun, if you have already read The Pink Carnation book, click here to test your knowledge of The Pink Carnation at Lauren Willig's website.

5/5 Stars

Title: the Secret History of the Pink Carnation
Author: Lauren Willig
Publisher: Penguin
449 pages
genre: historical fiction/historical romance

The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

"From Brittany's misty shores to the decadent splendor of Paris's royal court, one woman must fulfill her destiny--while facing the treacherous designs of Catherine de Medici, The Dark Queen.

She is Ariane, the Lady of Faire Isle, and one of the Cheney sisters, renowned for their mystical skills and for keeping the isle secure and prosperous. But this is a time when women of ability are deemed sorceresses, when Renaissance France is torn by ruthless political intrigues, and all are held in thrall to the sinister ambitions of Queen Catherine de Medici.

Then a wounded stranger arrives on Faire Isle, bearing a secret the Dark Queen will do everything in her power to possess. The only person Ariane can turn to is the comte de Renard, a nobleman with fiery determination and a past as mysterious as his own unusual gifts.

Riveting, vibrant, and breathtaking, The Dark Queen follows Ariane and Renard as they risk everything to prevent the fulfillment of a dreadful prophecy--even if they must tempt fate and their own passions."
(from the publisher)

My thoughts:

I always enjoy finding a good book that continues in a series, and Susan Carroll's The Dark Queen is a promising beginning to the legend of the Daughters of the Earth series.

Mixing a little of history with romance, myth, and magic, this is the story of Ariane Cheney, a skilled healer and guardian of her two younger sisters, and her unlikely suitor, the comte de Renard, whose mysterious past and powers forces Ariane to cast doubts on his true intentions. Set against the backdrop of the political schemes and dark magic practices of Catherine de Medici and the tragedy of St. Bartholomew's Eve, this unusual tale of love, magic, intrigue, and witch hunts kept me turning the pages. Ran a bit long in parts, but I liked Renard's story and was compelled to keep reading to find out about his humble and mysterious past. Reads a bit like an adult fairy tale rather than historical fiction, but it was still a worthwhile read.

I'm looking forward to continuing the story of the Cheney sisters of the Faire Isle in The Courtesan and The Silver Rose.

4/5 stars

Title: The Dark Queen
Author: Susan Carroll
genre: historical romance
Publisher: Ballantine Books
519 pages

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Slice of Life in February

Truly, despite the inactivity on my blog, I have been reading books in February -- it's just that I can't seem to string words together to form coherent thoughts in the way of a review. I'll post the reviews at a later date when my brain is functioning a little better.

My favorite read so far in February was Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and I definitely want to do it justice by giving it the great review it deserves! A 5-star winner! I've also viewed the swashbuckling adventure of The Scarlet Pimpernel (with Jane Seymour, Anthony Andrews, and Ian McKellen ) as a fun tie-in to the Pink Carnation book. I'm also working on reading Karen Harper's Mistress Shakespeare and Susan Carrroll's The Dark Queen, so those reviews will be forthcoming (either after Mardi Gras or before I collapse, whichever comes first).

In other Slice of Life news, Miami was an incredibly fun Super Bowl experience and I know my kids and husband will never forget it as long as they live. And The Who half-time concert.... OMG fabulous!!! (I enjoyed that almost as much as the game!) My son was thrilled to meet and take a pic with Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor at a pre-game party....and who do you think was sitting in the box suite right behind us at the game? Jerry Rice, one of the greatest players evah on the planet!

It will be at least two more weeks before life will be back to "normal" as the wave of post-Super Bowl celebrations are piggy-backing with Mardi Gras, so it will be nonstop parades and parties until February 16.

When all is said, and done, though, here is my favorite image of the whole Super Bowl experience......

Have a wonderful week, and come on down to N.O. if you can next week! Trust me, it will be a Mardi Gras like never before!

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 »