Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

About the Book:

A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love.

Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books,The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

Why I chose this book:

 I was intrigued by the premise of an antiquarian bookseller discovering a hauntingly similar portrait of his dead wife in an antique book shop! I am also drawn to "books about books," so this looked like a must read for me.

What I enjoyed about the book:

The Bookman's Tale was a delight for the bibliophile in me......Peter is someone who was easy for me to relate to -- he was more comfortable in the company of books than with people, and was passionate in both his love for books and his beautiful Amanda. This mystery novel with a hauntingly touching love story had multiple plots that took the reader to Shakespeare's world, the Victorian era, and the present day. While a little confusing at times with so many characters, I kept chugging along and was rewarded with a most enjoyable reading experience.

Do I recommend?

Yes, for those who enjoy mysteries and consider themselves bibliophiles. Does your heart leap at the thought of visiting a rare books collection or an antique bookstore in Hay-on-Wye? Then this will be a satisfying reading experience for you.

4/5 stars

***I purchased this book and it is part of my personal library.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Julian Kestrel series by Kate Ross

Book #4

Woo hoo! The fourth and (unfortunately) the last of the excellent Julian Kestrel mystery series, The Devil in Music, will be released in August by Felony and Mayhem Publishers!

 The four books that comprise the series feature Regency dandy and detective, Julian Kestrel, and his sidekick, Dipper, as they become involved in solving crimes from country house murders to the underworld of London.  The writing is sharp and intelligent,the attention to period detail is impeccable,  and the plots have many twists and turns that keep me flying through the pages! I love, love, love this Regency mystery series and am so glad the books are getting a fresh new look and a reprint. (My used copies purchased at various online sites are battered and falling apart.)

About the book:

Traveling on the Continent with his ex-pickpocket valet, Kestrel finds himself caught up in the mysterious and murderous world of the opera. Four years ago, the Italian marquis Ludovico Malvezzi was murdered, and Orfeo, the young English tenor he had been training for a career on the glittering operatic stage, disappeared. As Kestral is irresistibly drawn into the baffling case, he encounters suspects at every turn: a runaway wife and her male soprano lover; a liberal nobleman at odds with Italy's Austrian overlords; a mocking Frenchman with perfect pitch; a beautiful, clever widow who haunts Kestrel's dreams; and the missing Orfeo, the penniless protege who just might be a political agent. And when the killer strikes again, Kestrel's quest for answers spirals into a crescendo of passion, danger, and music as he risks becoming a ruthless murderer's next victim

Do you have a favorite  historical mystery series?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Summer Reading

Good morning! It's been a long time since I've dropped in to chat, and I hope everyone has been well and reading some good books!

Life has been incredibly hectic lately, all in a good way.  My lovely daughter graduated from high school recently, so to celebrate her accomplishments we took along a few of her friends and spent a week in Disney World. Prior to that, I spent a few days with some dear friends at the beach for a girls' getaway, and that time was filled with laughter and gossip and quite a bit of snacking! We are also in the process of building a vacation home (a log cabin) in the country which is an exciting venture but  an extremely slow process since it is in the middle of nowhere -- clearing trees and laying down roads to get to the site, getting the power company to set up lines for electricity,  digging a well for water--these all took forever to accomplish and now the fun is beginning. Each week when we visit the site, we can begin to see things taking shape and the house is actually going up now.

I mention all of these activities so you can see that my reading time has been limited. I have a few books that I am very much looking forward to reading this summer, and the beautiful covers just put me in the mood for a glass of iced tea and some sunshine:

In Depression-era Key West, Mariella Bennet, the daughter of an American fisherman and a Cuban woman, knows hunger. Her struggle to support her family following her father’s death leads her to a bar and bordello, where she bets on a risky boxing match...and attracts the interest of two men: world-famous writer, Ernest Hemingway, and Gavin Murray, one of the WWI veterans who are laboring to build the Overseas Highway.

When Mariella is hired as a maid by Hemingway’s second wife, Pauline, she enters a rarified world of lavish, celebrity-filled dinner parties and elaborate off-island excursions. As she becomes caught up in the tensions and excesses of the Hemingway household, the attentions of the larger-than-life writer become a dangerous temptation...even as the reliable Gavin Murray draws her back to what matters most. Will she cross an invisible line with the volatile Hemingway, or find a way to claim her own dreams? As a massive hurricane bears down on Key West, Mariella faces some harsh truths...and the possibility of losing everything she loves. (from Goodreads)

A sweeping World War II saga of thwarted love, murder, and a long-lost painting. 

In the summer of 1942, twenty-one-year-old Anne Calloway, newly engaged, sets off to serve in the Army Nurse Corps on the Pacific island of Bora-Bora. More exhilarated by the adventure of a lifetime than she ever was by her predictable fiancé, she is drawn to a mysterious soldier named Westry, and their friendship soon blossoms into hues as deep as the hibiscus flowers native to the island. Under the thatched roof of an abandoned beach bungalow, the two share a private world-until they witness a gruesome crime, Westry is suddenly redeployed, and the idyll vanishes into the winds of war.

A timeless story of enduring passion from the author of Blackberry Winter and The Violets of MarchThe Bungalow chronicles Anne's determination to discover the truth about the twin losses-of life, and of love-that have haunted her for seventy years. (from Goodreads)


And now for a quick summary of some books that were on my " highly anticipated for 2013" list. Perhaps life may be too busy for me lately to fully enjoy all of these novels -- I jumped on them as soon as they became available as the list is comprised of some of my favorite authors. They were all, of course, enjoyable and satisfying, but none of them wowed me.

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her after heartbreak. 

That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.

Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancĂ©, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily's friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction...and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations. 

Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever. (from Goodreads)

If you're looking for light summer reading, A Hundred Summers will fit the bill. The plot is fairly transparent and it's not too difficult to figure out the puzzle pieces well before they snap into place.  I much preferred Beatriz Williams' previous book, Overseas.  (2.5/5 stars)

 Paris, 1923 

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savannah manor house until gossip subsides. 

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.  

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.  

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without. (from Goodreads)

Deanna Raybourn is always wickedly fun and exciting to read, and there were times when  A Spear of Summer Grass  just sparkled. Raybourn is at her best when she's capturing the style, glamour, and atmosphere of the roaring twenties and the wilds of Kenya, and Delilah Drummond was a delightfully decadent character with a colorful southern belle upbringing.  However, I just didn't connect with the romance between Delilah and Ryder. I wanted the same explosive chemistry that I've come to expect from the Lady Julia series between Brisbane and Lady Julia, and I was left very underwhelmed with Delilah and Ryder's relationship. (3/5 stars)

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

What follows is a potent story that spans generations and continents, bringing an Out of Africa feel to a Downton Abbey cast of unforgettable characters. From the inner circles of WWI-era British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl. (from Goodreads)

Both Deanna Raybourn and Lauren Willig were inspired to create  their Kenya-based novels after reading The Bolter, the fascinating account of the notorious Jazz Age socialite, Idina Sackville. I enjoyed Willig's dual-time story, and found myself deeply immersed in the novel to uncover the secrets of Clemmie's grandmother's past. Willig creates suspense and interest by alternating the past and present stories as the secrets unfold. If you enjoy books such as Kate Morton's layered mysteries, you will enjoy the family saga of The Ashford Affair. (4/5 stars)

Thanks for stopping by........stay cool, and let me know if you have any "hot reads" that I must add to my summer reading list!

***All of the books noted above were purchased by me and are part of my personal library.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Guest Post: Susanna Kearsley Discusses the Paranormal

I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to be a part of Susanna Kearsley's celebration of the Sourcebook's US release of her latest, The Firebird.

  I had the opportunity to ask Susanna about any topic of my choice, so I immediately wanted to know if she would write about a part of her novels that I find so intriguing: that touch of the paranormal that seamlessly blends her stories from the past to the present. Each of her novels has a unique paranormal element, so I hope you enjoy the following guest post written by Susanna Kearsley for Books, Belles, and Beaux!

By Susanna Kearsley:

People who have read my books before will know I often like to link the past and present with a touch of something paranormal. In Mariana, for example, my heroine was the reincarnation of a woman who’d lived a few centuries earlier; The Shadowy Horses featured the ghost of a Roman legionary soldier; Named of the Dragon relied upon dreams, and The Winter Sea’s two storylines were tied together by genetic memory (which is properly more science than pure paranormal, I suppose).

The Firebird, true to form, has as its modern-day hero and heroine two people who both have psychic abilities.

Why do I do this? I’m not really sure, but I think my own interest in things paranormal goes back to the two books of fairytales that I loved best in my childhood (and which are both still on my shelves). One was shorter but larger with rich illustrations that drew me right in to the stories. The other was thicker with no illustrations at all, but with so many fairytales I’d never heard before, all of them having one thing to connect them—they took place in worlds where the strange and the magical lived side by side with the everyday.

In fairytales, the hero might be walking in an ordinary woods and meet an ordinary-looking man or woman who turned out to be not what they seemed to be at all. The laws of time and distance could be bent and altered. Nearly anything could happen.

As a child, I loved that world. And as I’ve grown, I’ve found myself intrigued by concepts like the Celtic view of time as something that’s not linear, but sideways—past and present moving side by side, with fleeting points of intersection. I like knowing there are some things that our current state of science can’t explain.

And I am fascinated by the scientific research going on today involving some of those same things: the research being done at the University of Wisconsin’s School of Medicine into whether genetic memory might explain the talents of autistic savants, for example, or the research into reincarnation and near-death experiences being conducted by the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine, whose Division of Perceptual Sciences holds as its guiding words a quote by Thomas Jefferson from 1812: "I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led."

Usually, when I am making my heroine come face to face with fantastical things in a novel, I like to make her the most sceptical character. Because, let’s face it—if I started to have visions of a past life, or to time travel, my first reaction would probably not be, “Oh, goody!” I’d probably think just the opposite, be convinced something was medically wrong, and rush off to my doctor.
In most of my books, then, the heroine doesn’t believe, to begin with. I have to convince her by stages, with evidence, and in so doing I hope that the reader is also convinced in the end.

But with The Firebird, I couldn’t use this method, because Nicola—the heroine—is psychic to begin with, so she doesn’t need convincing. Which is new for me, and nervewracking, because it means that readers have to trust her from the first page, the first sentence, and believe such things are possible—that certain people truly can communicate from mind to mind, and do the things that scientific research seems to show they can, but that our science cannot yet explain or fully understand.
It’s a lot to ask of readers, and I realize that not all of them will want to make that leap, including those who for religious reasons don’t believe in psychics (though I hope they’ll still read and enjoy the historical storyline).

But for those prepared to follow Rob and Nicola from that first line: “He sent his mind in search of me that morning”, I hope you find The Firebird—a book that takes its title from a fairytale—a journey through that world that I so loved in my own childhood, when the unexplained was interwoven with the everyday, and nearly anything could happen.


I would like to thank Beth Pehlke of Sourcebooks for including me in The Firebird promotion, and the author, Susanna Kearsley, for taking the time to write a personal guest post for Books, Belles, and Beaux. 

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 »