Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Women Running from Houses

I guess I can blame it on the weather.....it's been raining for the past few days with roof-rattling claps of thunder and dark, gloomy mornings. (I'm not complaining, mind you, as it is blessed relief from the heat.) While it's perfect weather for curling up with a book to read, I have a wide assortment of newly released books that are just not tempting me. I've picked up a book here and there and quickly lost interest.

What's a body to do when you've fallen into a slump?

Turn to comfort reads! My choice for comfort reads on a rainy day? Anything that is gloomy gothic goodness -- you know, those old battered paperbacks with the woman on the cover that is running away from the house (or castle) in terror. What is it that she fears? The human inhabitants or the supernatural ones? I eat these books up!

I literally sat on the floor with my pile of old paperbacks and the rain beating against the windows and had the best time revisiting old ghosts and tormentors. Over the years, I've pretty much read everything by Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney, Daphne du Maurier, and Mary Stewart. I recently acquired an entire collection of old Barbara Michaels (aka Elizabeth Peters) supernatural mysteries, so I'm just beginning to dip into her wonderful backlist.

Here's a sampling of some of the quick rereads I enjoyed in my trip down memory lane. Didn't need to read the whole thing -- just bits and pieces to refresh my memory, and I have to say they are still as good as ever!

Kirkland Revels
The Legend of the Seventh Virgin
The Quicksilver Pool
Thunder Heights
Nine Coaches Waiting
Mistress of Mellyn
Window on the Square

I even enjoyed watching Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier in Rebecca while I was in the gothic mood.

How about you? Do you have any old favorites in the gothic romance/romantic suspense genre? I'd love to hear your suggestions!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Daphne du Maurier Companion, Helen Taylor (Editor)

"Daphne du Maurier is one of Britain's best-loved authors, her writing captivating the imagination in a way that few have been able to equal. Rebecca, her most famous novel, was a huge success on publication in 1938 and brought du Maurier international fame. This enduring classic remains one of the nation's favourite books.

In this celebration of Daphne du Maurier's achievements, today's leading writers, critics and academics discuss the novel, short stories and biographies that made her one of the most spellbinding and genre-defying authors of her generation. The film versions of her books are also explored, including Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and The Birds, and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now.

Featuring interviews with her family, essays by contemporary authors, and a long-lost short story by the author herself, this is the essential companion to Daphne du Maurier's life and work.
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

The Daphne du Maurier Companion is a fascinating look at the personal and professional life of Daphne du Maurier (1907 - 1989), one of Britain's most popular authors. She was an extraordinarily talented author who created such memorable gothic tales such as Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, and the short story, The Birds, and many of her novels and stories have been made into equally popular adaptations for film, theatre, and television. I'm very intrigued by the "story behind the story," and often an examination of an author and his/her creations is as fascinating as any thrilling work of fiction. I first discovered du Maurier in high school when I read The House on the Strand, and I believe this was my first experience with an historical time travel plot -- I loved it and moved on to Rebecca, another great favorite of mine, and have been a fan of her writings ever since.

A deeply complex person, Daphne was raised in privilege as a daughter of a famous actor, Gerald du Maurier. Surrounded by artists and intellectuals, she was encouraged to explore and live life adventurously "like a man" (her father had daughters but wanted a son), and it is no secret that Daphne had psychological complexities in her personality that identified with a male voice and point-of-view -- this manifested itself in both her personal and professional life, and when the reader begins to examine her writings, some of the dark psychological torments of her characters could easily be a reflection of her own inner feelings. She strongly resisted the label of "romantic writer" -- she felt her writings were much more complex and addressed deeper issues. While her adult children have spoken openly about their mother's life and sexuality, they insist that there are no secrets about Daphne that are not already known; the author put a fifty year embargo on her personal diaries, so it will still be quite some time before the public can have access to Daphne's private thoughts.

The book is divided into five parts and is written in an easy and engaging style.

Part 1 - Daphne du Maurier by the People Who Knew Her
Inerviews with her adult children and her editor.
Part 2 - The Lasting Reputation and Cultural Legacy of Rebecca
In-depth analysis and discussions of her most popular novel.
Part 3 - Daphne du Maurier's Writings
A summary of each of du Maurier's novels and stories (with no spoilers).
Part 4 - Daphne du Maurier in Adaptation
A discussion of film adaptations of her work, with particular emphasis on Hitchcock's creations.
Part 5 - A rediscovered short story.

A wonderful handbook for all Daphne du Maurier fans -- her passion for the landscape and nature is evident in many of her novels, and her ability to describe a sense of time and place is sheer poetry. Here is a lovely passage from Frenchman's Creek, and hearing it read in her own voice is wonderful. Enjoy!

4/5 stars
Title: The Daphne du Maurier Companion
Edited by Helen Taylor
424 pages
genre: nonfiction

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Road to Pemberley, Edited by Marsha Altman

A Romantic, Engaging and Witty Collection of New Short Stories that Feature Jane Austen's Most Beloved Characters

Including over a dozen stories from both emerging and established Regency romance authors, this new anthology celebrates Jane Austen with a series of brilliant adaptations. Austen’s masterpiece has spawned an entire genre of literature, and The Road to Pemberley brings together the best of the best from published and new writers alike to create a cornucopia of Darcy-and-Elizabeth intrigues. England during the Regency Era, with its country estates, horse-drawn carriages, and formal balls, continues to captivate modern readers and The Road to Pemberley brings this fabled world to life in all its glory. Each author casts Darcy and Elizabeth in their first full year together at Pemberley, where the storied husband and wife find themselves in the throes of the newlywed experience, navigating a host of new social quandaries, old personal dilemmas, and exciting adventures
(from Goodreads)

It's one of those days...it's been raining buckets for days -- various parts of the city are without electricity....streets are flooding.....yet my trusty UPS man had a special delivery for me today and it's just what I've been waiting for. This is not going to be a review, but rather a spotlight on a new anthology of Pride and Prejudice short stories.

The Road to Pemberley, edited by Marsha Altman, is a new collection of Austenesque stories which all focus mostly on Darcy and Elizabeth's first year of marriage ( of course, with different interpretations and dilemmas). Perfect for curling up with a cup of tea on this dreary day or keeping on my nightstand for a quick Austen-fix before going to sleep at night.

Gotta go.....I'm off to read their first adventure, "The Pemberley Ball."

Title: The Road to Pemberley: An Anthology of New Pride and Prejudice Stories
Edited by: Marsha Altman (stories by Regina Jeffers, Sarah A Hoyt, Ellen Gelerman, Valeria T. Jackson, Jessica Keller, Tess Quinn, J. H. Thompson, Bill Friesma, Nacie Mackey, Marilou Martineau, Lewis Whelchel, and Marsha Altman)
Ulysses Press
485 pages

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Devil in Music by Kate Ross

"At a mist-shrouded villa on Lake Como, an Italian nobleman is grooming a young English tenor for a career on the glittering operatic stage. Before their sojourn is over, one will die by violence and the other will disappear.

Enter Julian Kestrel, Regency dandy and amateur sleuth. Traveling on the Continent with his ex-pickpocket valet, Dipper, Kestrel is irresistibly drawn into this baffling murder case. Among the suspects are a runaway wife and her male soprano lover; a liberal nobleman at odds with Italy's Austrian overlords; a mocking Frenchman with perfect pitch; and a beautiful, clever woman who begins to haunt Kestrel's dreams.

Soon Kestrel is caught between the shadowy Carbonari - secret rebels against the Austrians - and the equally ruthless Austrian-sponsored police. But at the heart of the mystery is the captivating tenor known only as "Orfeo." Was he a political agent? A callous adventurer? A jealous lover? These questions take on a new urgency when the killer strikes again. And as Kestrel uncovers the truth, he risks becoming the next victim."

(from Goodreads)

my thoughts:

The Devil in Music, the fourth and sadly the last installment of the Julian Kestrel Mysteries, is by far the most sophisticated and complex plot of the series. This a tale that incorporates a host of characters and their passions...passion for music, the opera, and passions of the heart which lead to revenge and murder. The story takes on multiple layers of mystery and intrigue as the characters become entangled in a web of secrets, spies, and hidden identities against the backdrop of a dangerous political climate in the northern Italian states in the 1820's. A bit tough at first to get everyone and their backstory straight, but once all the Italian characters were firmly in place and the politics of the time became clear, my patience was rewarded with a truly spectacular turn of events!

Kate Ross is a master of weaving the most intelligent and intriguing threads of mystery that I have ever experienced.....I've enjoyed each one of the books, but A Broken Vessel remains my top favorite. They are so rich in secrets and clues that I cannot wait to read them again even though I know how it will all work out in the end. It will be fascinating to watch how all the puzzle pieces "click" in to place and just marvel at the talent of this author (who sadly has passed away.) We learned so much more about Julian Kestrel, the popular English dandy, and we can only wonder what might have been planned for his future adventures. A highly recommended series for those who enjoy tough-to-solve mystery puzzles.

4/5 stars

Title: The Devil in Music
Author: Kate Ross
447 pages
genre: historical mystery

Monday, July 11, 2011

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron

New Stephanie Barron book to be released August 28, 2011 in the Jane Austen Mystery series.....Jane and the Canterbury Tale.

Book synopsis:

"Three years ago, after a night of reckless gaming, Curzon Fiske fled England for an uncertain future in India, leaving scandal and prodigious debts behind him. When news of his death from fever in Ceylon reached his raven-haired wife, Adelaide, she mourned him for a time—then quietly restored her damaged reputation.

Now Adelaide is at the altar again, her groom a soldier on the Marquis of Wellington's staff. The prospects seem bright for one of the most notorious women in Kent—until Jane Austen discovers a corpse on the ancient Pilgrim's Way that runs through her brother Edward's estate. Why is the dead stranger dressed as a pilgrim, and who wrote the summons he carries in his pocket? Who is the aristocrat masquerading as a sailor? And why will none of Adelaide's friends reveal Curzon Fiske's final wager, the night he abandoned his wife? As Chief Magistrate for Canterbury, Edward is forced to investigate, with Jane as his unwilling assistant. From the shooting parties and balls of her wellborn neighbors, to the grim and airless cells of Canterbury gaol, Jane leaves no stone unturned. When a second corpse appears beside the ancient Pilgrim's Way, Jane has no choice but to confront a murderer...lest the next corpse be her own."

Click here to read the first chapter at Stephanie Barron's website.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

"The Spirits Speak of Secrets.......

Partners now in marriage and in trade, Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane have finally returned from abroad to set up housekeeping in London. But merging their respective collections of gadgets, pets and servants leaves little room for the harried newlyweds themselves, let along Brisbane's private enquiry business.

Among the more unlikely clients: Julia's very proper brother, Lord Bellmont, who swears Brisbane to secrecy about his case. Not about to be let out of anything concerning her beloved -- if eccentric - family, spirtied Julia soon picks up the trail of the investigation.

It leads to the exclusive Spirit Club, where the alluring Madame Seraphine holds evening seances....and not a few powerul gentlemen in thrall. From this eerie enclave unfolds a lurid tangle of dark deeds, whose tendrils crush reputations and throttle trust."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

A new installment in The Lady Julia Grey series is always a cause for celebration, and I got my hands on the eagerly anticipated The Dark Equiry that was hot off the presses at RWA. Once again, Raybourn expertly blends the history and lifestyle of Victorian England with mystery, romantic suspense, and a bit of the supernatural in her distinctive and witty voice.

Book #5 reveals a bit more about the enigmatic Brisbane's past, and at the same time drops some tantalizing teasers that there is still much more to be revealed about the half-gypsy, half-Scottish hero -- secrets he fears may cause Julia to turn away from him. The relationship of Brisbane and Julia is one of mutual devotion and love, but there are still conflicts in the relationship to work out. Contrary to the times, Julia is not content unless she has some interesting projects of her own, and this independent streak and interest in crime-solving puts her at odds with her husband who would like nothing more than to keep her safely out of his dangerous investigations. When one of her brothers finds himself in a situation that would bring scandal to his family and career, he turns to Brisbane for help....thus putting Julia and Brisbane investigating in the world of spiritualism and seances....and murder.

I savored each new layer of mystery, intrigue, and smoldering chemistry between Brisbane and Lady Julia. I was paticularly pleased that we experience more of the quirky and eccentric March family as well as more adventures among Brisbane's people in a gypsy camp. A truly surprise ending (did NOT see the culprit)and a clever teaser ending left me assured that while this installment brought them closer-than-ever with a taste of tragedy and heartache, the devoted husband-wife investigative team will be back soon and hot on the trail of another exotic adventure!

4.5/5 stars

Title: The Dark Enquiry (#5 in the Lady Julia Grey series)
Author: Deanna Raybourn
387 pages
genre: historical fiction/Victorian mystery

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Highlights from New York & RWA!

I've been absent from my blog for quite a while, but there's a very good reason... I've just returned from a looong vacation in fabulous New York that was jam packed with broadway shows, exhibits, tours, and best of all -- meeting authors at the Romance Writers of America conference!

We stayed at the hotel which was hosting the RWA conference and Literacy Signing, so throughout the week I had many close encounters in elevators and in the restaurants with both aspiring and published authors, and I even managed to meet a few new-to-me authors while sitting at the bar sipping an iced tea and hoping to see some famous authors. (I'm not ashamed to admit I'm a woman on a mission... I'll hunt down a big name author! ha!) I spotted Deanna Raybourn and Robyn Carr chatting at a nearby table and got up my courage to stop at her table to tell her that I loved her books. Deanna was delightful and very sweet, just as you would expect....and beautiful to boot.

The highlight of the RWA experience was when I met up with partner in crime and book blogging buddy Julie from Outlandish Dreaming for the Literacy Signing, and that was quite an experience!! Oh, my.....literally hundreds of authors lined up alphabetically in a huge ballroom with their latest books for sale for literacy charities. Julie and I were like kids in a candy store -- a feast of books and authors!! We each had our "must see" authors, but we began with visiting a mutual favorite, Lauren Willig. I had a little gift for her (I made a Pink Carnation bracelet for her with portraits of a few of her books, including Mistletoe, for good luck -- she was nominated for a RITA award for her Mischief of the Mistletoe.) She loved it and told me she would wear it all week for good luck....and was sweet enough to mention it on her blog and facebook page! And I'm happy to announce that she WON the RITA for Best Regency Historical Romance Novel!! Hurray!!
Lauren has a new Pink book coming out in 2012, The Garden Intrigue, and has a short story in an upcoming anthology titled Jane Austen Made Me Do It (Laurel Ann Nattress, editor).

The next big thrill for me was stopping to chat with Deanna Raybourn again. I couldn't wait to get her newest installment of the Lady Julia series, The Dark Enquiry, and I'm looking forward to more Brisbane goodness.

One of my newest favorite authors is Susanna Kearsley, and she was at the top of my "must meet" list. I discovered her books last year and I think I've read all but one of her terrific novels. The Winter Sea and Mariana remain my top favorites, but really all of her books are a wonderful mix of history, suspense, subtle romance, time slip, and adventure. I highly recommend all of her books, and I am very much looking forward to her fall release in the US of The Rose Garden. What a delight meeting her!

There were many other great authors I met such as Colleen Gleason, Tessa Dare, Robin Kaye, Christine Trent, Julie James and so many others! After an hour and half of wandering around a very HOT and stifling ballroom that was deafening with roaring, excited crowds, I was beginning to fade and had to make an exit. I checked out with my book goodies (see sidebar at right for my picks -- I had to exercise restraint as only so much will fit in my packed suitcase.) Julie and author Robin Kaye are longtime friends, so we all met up after the signing to relax at the lounge at the top of the hotel, and then headed out for a late night dinner. Thanks to Julie and Robin Kaye for a great night of fun and book talk!

Julie from Outlandish Dreaming and bestselling author Robin Kaye

New York is such an exciting place to visit, and the sights and sounds that are in my memory from my trip are amazing. We especially loved The Harry Potter Exhibit and all the broadway shows:

Here's a little taste of the Wicked experience....so fun!

The haunting opening scene and overture from my favorite, The Phantom of the Opera!

Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed in Business

Spider-Man Turn off the Dark -- Really cool Bono music! We were in the balcony and Spider Man practically landed in our lap!

Whew! It's good to be back home, but one thing is for sure.....New York, we will be back!

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 »