Saturday, January 26, 2013

New Edition of Dorothy Sayers Novels

I'm in love with the new Bourbon Street Books (a division of Harper Collins) edition of Dorothy Sayers' mystery series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane! I love the art deco style of the covers and the black and white photography makes for stunning covers.

I've been meaning to explore this author's books as so many writers that I admire (Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Willig, Deanna Raybourn, etc...) highly recommend the books. So when I found the newly released books at Barnes and Noble this week, I scooped them up. Can't wait to dive in and meet this dynamic duo.

The classic mystery that first featured Harriet Vane, companion sleuth to the dashing, perennially popular private investigator Lord Peter Wimsey, from the writer widely considered the greatest mystery novelist of the Golden Age—Dorothy L. Sayers.
Mystery novelist Harriet Vane knew all about poisons, and when her fiancĂ© died in the manner prescribed in one of her books, a jury of her peers had a hangman's noose in mind. But Lord Peter Wimsey was determined to prove her innocent—as determined as he was to make her his wife. 

Mystery novelist Harriet Vane, recovering from an unhappy love affair and its most unpleasant aftermath, seeks solace on a barren beach deserted but for one notable exception: the body of a bearded young man with his throat cut. From the moment she photographs the corpse, which soon disappears with the tide, she is puzzled by a mystery that might easily have been a suicide, a murder, or a political plot. With the appearance of her dear friend Lord Peter Wimsey, however, Harriet finds yet another reason to pursue the mystery, as only the two of them can pursue it.

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obsentities, burnt effigies and poison-pen letters — including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup." Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey.

Murder is hardly the best way for Lord Peter and his bride, the famous mystery writer Harriet Vane, to start their honeymoon. It all begins when the former owner of their newly acquired estate is found quite nastily dead in the cellar. All too quickly, what Lord Peter had hoped would be a very private and romantic stay in the country has turned into a most baffling case, with a misspelled "notise" to the milkman at its center and a dead man who's been discovered in a most intriguing condition: with not a spot of blood on his smashed skull and not a penny less than six hundred pounds in his pocket.

Have you read any of the books by Dorothy Sayers?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

British Costume Dramas - Part 1

I hardly ever watch television....that is, besides my Sunday night addiction to the Downton Abbey series.

But alas, the series only lasts for a few weeks, and then the thrill is gone.

That is when I turn to my trusty DVD collection to fill my need for more British accents, breathtaking costumes and English manors. Now my collection is not extensive, but here are a few that I enjoy that fall into the category of If You Like Downton Abbey, You Might Also Like......

Upstairs Downstairs......a fresh look at 165 Eaton Place:


1936: The house at 165 Eaton Place has stood empty since the Bellamy family sold it six years earlier. Now the doors are finally flung open by new owners: diplomat Sir Hallam, his wife Lady Agnes, and - back from the Raj - his mother Maud, Lady Holland. With the arrival of Agnes's debutante sister Lady Persie, the sumptuous home is ready to come to life.

And who better than Rose, the house's former parlor maid, to recruit the new staff? The new downstairs family is a full of characters as its previous incarnation with the highly strung butler Mr. Pritchard, cook Mrs. Thackeray, chauffeur Harry Spargo, and a vivacious and spirited young team.

Soon both the elegant upstairs world and the downstairs staff have built their own labyrinth of secrets, lies and scandal, and as they feel the tremors of royal and political upheaval and the ominous threat of war, the house reverberates to the familiar sounds of rumor, excitement, and dread.....

Watch the trailer:

Brideshead Revisted: (Evelyn Waugh)

Watch the trailer:

The Buccaneers (Edith Wharton)


Edith Wharton's final novel, the story of four beautiful young aristocrats who journey from America to England in search of love and adventure.

Deemed nouveau riche and shunned by elitist New York society, sisters Nan and Virginia St. George, along with their friend Lizzy Emlsworth and their English governess try their luck in London. With the help of their glamorous newly married friend, Conchita Closson, the girls quickly become the talk of the town. With their vivacious ways and large dowries, the girls have no lack of suitors, but they soon learn that love and marriage do not necessarily mix. 

Watch the trailer:

Howard's End (E. M. Forster)


Howards End is E.M. Forster's beautifully subtle story of the crisscrossing paths of the privileged and those they disdain--and of a remarkable pair of women who can see beyond class distinctions. 

Watch the trailer:

And for those who just can't seem to get enough of Maggie Smith, there's....

Gosford Park:


Gosford Park is a whodunit -- as a hunting party gathers at the country estate, no one is aware that before the weekend is over, someone will be murdered. The police are baffled but the all-seeing, all-hearing servants know that almost everyone had a motive. 

Watch the trailer:


Hope you enjoyed taking a look at some of my favorite British dramas. Have you seen any of these? Do you have other costume dramas that Downton Abbey fans would enjoy? Be sure to watch for my next installment of costume dramas that will take you to the world of Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series! :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by The Countess of Carnarvon

About the Book:

Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey tells the story behind Highclere Castle, the real-life inspiration for the hit PBS show Downton Abbey, and the life of one of its most famous inhabitants, Lady Almina, the 5th Countess of Carnarvon and the basis of the fictional character Lady Cora Crawley.  Drawing on a rich store of materials from the archives of Highclere Castle, including diaries, letters, and photographs, the current Lady Carnarvon has written a transporting story of this fabled home on the brink of war.

Much like her Masterpiece Classic counterpart, Lady Almina was the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, Alfred de Rothschild, who married his daughter off at a young age, her dowry serving as the crucial link in the effort to preserve the Earl of Carnarvon's ancestral home.  Throwing open the doors of Highclere Castle to tend to the wounded of World War I, Lady Almina distinguished herself as a brave and remarkable woman.

This rich tale contrasts the splendor of Edwardian life in a great house against the backdrop of the First World War and offers an inspiring and revealing picture of the woman at the center of the history of Highclere Castle. (from back cover)

My Thoughts:

It's no secret that I am a fan of the Downton Abbey series and have already featured a few Downton-esque books that help feed my addiction to the period and the upstairs/downstairs scenario. When I learned that the character of Lady Cora was inspired by women similar to the 5th Countess of Carnarvon, the Lady Almina, I knew I wanted to explore her story.

 And who better to give us a behind-the-scenes look at living in the beautiful and historic Highclere Castle than the present Countess of Carnarvon, Lady Fiona Carnarvon?

I devoured this book, and it was everything that I hoped it would be. Almina was a fabulously wealthy heiress who was contracted in marriage to the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. I was happy to learn that although theirs was an arranged marriage (her wealth was needed to pay for a heavily-in-debt estate), their relationship had a solid foundation in friendship and mutual admiration. She was a vivacious and energetic woman who took her role seriously as the Lady of the castle and supporter of Lord Carnarvon. She organized brilliant house parties and society balls, entertained royalty and the rich and famous, participated generously in charitable causes, and supported her husband's varied interests. The Lord Carnarvon was also quite an interesting person who had a passion for the technological advances of his time (he was quite the avid car collector and was fascinated with flying) and he loved to travel, especially to his beloved Egypt.( His long friendship with Howard Carter and the financial backing of the Carnarvons led to one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the twentieth century!) Their relationship was a happy one, and they enjoyed all the privileges of their rank and wealth.

When war entered their lives, we learn that Almina's true passion in life was born.  Almina looked for ways to aid those in need, and money from her staggeringly wealthy family was never denied. She spearheaded the project of opening Highclere Castle as a place of recuperation for wounded officers, and it is here that we learn of her amazingly progressive ideas and her passion for caring for the sick. She approached healing holistically, insisting that the patients of Highclere receive not only the best medical care for their  physical injuries, but their emotional and mental health was also a priority. Highclere provided a place of peace and restoration, and the Countess worked tirelessly for several years in the capacity as nurse and administrator.

Filled with photos, details of daily domestic duties of the downstairs inhabitants, fashion, society news, background on the war, and the fascinating story of the family's involvement in the discovery of the tomb of King Tut, this book is a portrait of Edwardian high society and a remarkable couple. Fans of Downton Abbey will detect many story lines of the show have their origins in the real history of Highclere Castle and the Carnarvon family.

4.5/5 stars

Title: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle
Author: Lady Fiona Carnarvon (8th Countess of Carnarvon)
Publisher: Broadway
310 pages
genre: biography/nonfiction

*This book is from my personal library.

The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell

About the Book:

In this "energetic" (Kirkus Reviews) re-creation of Anne Boleyn's tragic life -- and death -- Robin Maxwell offers a pitch-perfect version of a bawdy and exuberant time filled with lust, betrayal, love, and murder.
When the young Queen Elizabeth I is entrusted with Anne Boleyn's secret diary, she discovers a great deal about the much-maligned mother she never knew. And on learning the truth about her lascivious and despotic father, Henry VIII, she vows never to relinquish control to any man. But this avowal doesn't prevent Elizabeth from pursuing a torrid love affair with her horsemaster, Robin Dudley -- described with near-shocking candor -- as too are Anne's graphic trysts with a very persistent and lustful Henry. Blending a historian's attention to accuracy with a novelist's artful rendering, Maxwell weaves compelling descriptions of court life and devastating portraits of actual people into her naughty, page-turning tale. The result is a masterpiece of historical fiction -- so prophetic of our time that one would think it were ripped from today's headlines. (from back cover)
My Thoughts:
I'm hitting my TBR pile very hard this year, so it's quite possible to see many books that were all the rage quite some time ago just making an appearance on my blog. I'm determined to get to books that have been languishing on my shelf for three or more years, and this was one of them! I happen to love the Tudor period and never seem to tire of the tale of "the great matter" or the lustful life of Henry VIII and his parade of wives.
I was first intrigued with The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn a few years ago because I thought it would be a unique experience to read passages in a diary written by the doomed queen.....but in the last few years, we've seen an over abundance of "secret diaries," "missing manuscripts," "hidden letters," and "lost memoirs" on the literary scene,  haven't we? It might be time to put that plot device aside for a while.

The story alternates between the time of the beginning of Elizabeth's reign  and the diary entries written by Anne (beginning in January of 1522 and ending with the days before her death). The diary is Anne's legacy for her daughter and a way of expressing her thoughts and opinions in a time when no woman dared to exert her  independence in a man's world.  Through the words of the diary, the reader comes to know the many facets of Anne's life, as a daughter, an object of desire by the King of England, a wife, a mother, and a much-maligned figure. We all know the chain of events that will lead to her demise, but what comes across as particularly poignant in the words of Anne Boleyn are her feelings for her daughter and her desire to protect and teach her the hard lessons in life. Anne knows she will not live to see her daughter grow up, so in a last desperate act to reach out to her daughter to let her know of her mother's love, she writes in the last entry in her diary,

    "My darling Elizabeth,
          When last I laid my eyes upon your sweet self you were not yet three years old. More
     beautiful than a painted doll you were....Perhaps you have no memory of those early years
     but I can truly say, Elizabeth that tho our times together were sadly few, you knew me and 
    you loved me. ..I so cherished those rare, enchanted hours and hope you have some memory of them, because I must die knowing I leave you a motherless child in a cruel and dangerous

        Let no man be your master....."

I had a few quibbles with the historical facts (for example, too many references to Anne's sixth finger and witch's mark on her neck) and a great deal of artistic license with Elizabeth's private life which made me rate this book 3 stars. Fun for Tudor enthusiasts, but definitely as  much fiction as fact.

A new edition of the book is being published with this cover:

3/5 Stars

Title: The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn
Author: Robin Maxwell
Simon & Schuster
281 pages
genre: historical fiction

*This book is from my personal library.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

About the Book:

Roxanna Rowan may be a genteel Virginia woman, but she is determine to brave the wilds of the untamed frontier to reach a remote Kentucky fort. Eager to reunite with her father, who serves under Colonel Cassius McLinn, Roxanna is devastated to find that her father has been killed on a campaign.

Penniless and out of options, Roxanna is forced to remain at the fort. As she spends more and more time with the fiery Colonel McLinn, the fort is abuzz with intrigue and innuendo. Can Roxanna truly know who the colonel is --and what he's done?

Immerse yourself in this powerful story of love, faith, and forgiveness set in the tumultuous world of the frontier in 1779.

My Thoughts:

Simply lovely! I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of the beautiful Roxanna and the dashing Irish colonel, Cassius McLinn, in the wilderness of Kentucky.

Frantz recreates the dangerous and harsh world of frontier living, from the daily routines of life in Fort Endeavor, to the constant fear of attacks from the Shawnee and the British. There is danger both within and without the fort, as it is soon discovered that a spy is among the inhabitants....

The Colonel's Lady combines a colorful cast of characters, an amazing portrayal of a handsome and courageous colonel who has his share of secrets, and a charming love story. History, intrigue, hopes and dreams, faith and forgiveness....a perfect blend for those who enjoy  historical adventure and a timeless love story.

4/5 stars

I am also very interested in continuing with this author and have added her newest release to my shelf, Love's Reckoning:

Title: The Colonel's Lady
Author: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
406 pages
genre: Christian historical romance

*This book is from my personal library.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Jane and the Wandering Eye by Stephanie Barron

About the Book:

As Christmas of 1804 approaches, Jane Austen finds herself "insupportably bored with Bath, and the littleness of a town." It is with relief that she accepts a peculiar commission from her Gentleman Rogue, Lord Harold Trowbridge—to shadow his niece, Lady Desdemona, who has fled to Bath to avoid the attentions of the unsavoury Earl of Swithin.

But Jane's idle diversion turns deadly when a man is discovered stabbed to death in the Theatre Royal. Adding to the mystery is an unusual object found on the victim's body—a pendant that contains a portrait of an eye! As Jane's fascination with scandal leads her deeper into the investigation, it becomes clear that she will not uncover the truth without some dangerous playacting of her own....

My thoughts:

I'm bound and determined to work my way through Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mystery series.....but so far it's been a bumpy ride. Barron does such a wonderful job of portraying the beloved author as a slueth that you are almost convinced that she really was a detective in her time.....I just wish the plot had been more compelling. While Jane was finding herself "insupportably bored with Bath," I was "insupportably bored after a few chapters." And that's a shame. With Harold Trowbridge, Jane's roguish sidekick, back on the scene and the fascinating world of the theatre,  it should have been a fun ride. 

 I found this installment to be the most challenging to get through -- a very promising beginning soon dragged and lost my interest early on -- but there's always some little nugget of research or historical tidbit in her books that makes the whole effort worthwhile. Barron's attention to the details of the period are fascinating, and although the mysteries are fictitious, the timeline the stories follow align with what is known about Jane Austen's actual life and the history of the period. 

 In this case, I was fascinated by the clue that was left at the murder scene which takes place right at the beginning of the eye portrait. I must admit, I was not aware of the historical significance of this tiny piece of art  until reading this book, and the story behind these portraits is very interesting. 

Barron describes the tiny portraits as a "love token" for illicit lovers. The origin of the portrait is attributed to the Prince of Wales when he commissioned a miniature eye portrait of his mistress, Maria Fritzhebert. Since the entire face is not seen, it is difficult to identify the person in the portrait! Secret lovers could wear the tiny pin close to the heart without too much concern about the person being identified.

Although this is the third mystery in the series, I've actually read 5 of the books to date. Next up,  Jane and the Genius of the Place.

3/5 stars

Title: Jane and the Wandering Eye
Author: Stephanie Barron
genre: historical mystery; Austenesque

*This book is from my personal library.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart

About the Book:

An opulent epic of passion, loyalty, and betrayal set amidst the splendor of 17th-century Scotland.

Sweeping from the wild Scottish Highlands to tapestried castle halls, from court revelries to battlefields, from the unstoppable desire for power to the unquenchable hungers of the heart--they struggled passionately toward a triumphant destiny.

Robert Randall - The cruel and powerful Earl of Glenkennon, sworn to bring English rule to the untamed  Scottish countryside...

Sir Francis MacLean - The rough-hewn cheiftain of a Highland clan, pledged to protect his people...

Anne Randall - A ravishing young woman trapped between the ties of blood and the the ties of love, her heart sworn to the man her father has vowed to kill...

My thoughts:

This turned out to be a really well-written Scottish historical romance! For me, there's something about an older paperback that appeals to me...I'm drawn more and more to historicals and romances written many years ago, and I stumbled upon this little gem in a used paperback pile.

 Upon the death of her mother,  young Anne Randall is being escorted to live with her estranged father, the treacherous Earl of Glenkennon. Glenkennon has imprisoned members of the MacLean clan, and the daring laird, Francis MacLean, abducts the earl's daughter during her journey with the intent to use her as a pawn. While Anne is kept as a hostage at Camereigh, the clan castle, the two develop a growing relationship that both know can only end in heartache......she is English and the daughter of MacLean's sworn enemy; he is a Scottish rogue and an outlaw who will be hunted to the death by Glenkennon. How can the star-crossed lovers find peace and fulfillment with each other when all odds are against them?

Very interesting historical details and engaging writing style -- I just ordered a few more of Elizabeth Stuart's novels I enjoyed Heartstorm so much. (Without Honor, Where Love Dwells, and Bride of the Lion.)

4/5 stars

Title: Heartstorm
Author: Elizabeth Stuart
St. Martin's
genre: historical romance

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James

About the Book:

"The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers.

 There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship… 

Samantha McDonough cannot believe her eyes--or her luck. Tucked in an uncut page of a two-hundred-year old poetry book is a letter she believes was written by Jane Austen, mentioning with regret a manuscript that "went missing at Greenbriar in Devonshire."

 Could there really be an undiscovered Jane Austen novel waiting to be found? Could anyone resist the temptation to go looking for it?"

My thoughts:

I started reading this book on January 1st, and I have to say it was a charming way to start off my new year.

 I actually spent New Year's in Vail, Colorado, so while the snow swirled outside and the temperature dropped to -10 degrees (!), I curled up in the condo with a roaring fire, a cup of hot chocolate, and my kindle version of The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James. It was delightful to get lost in the make-believe world of "what if".....wouldn't it be wonderful if someone discovered a secret letter and hidden manuscript written by Jane Austen?

The story takes off quickly right from the start, and soon we are treated to a "novel within a novel." When librarian and Austen expert Samantha McDonough finds an incredible artifact hidden inside an old book, she begins a quest that will take her to a grand old home in Devonshire that just might have as it's claim to fame as a place where the one and only Jane Austen visited in her younger years.

 The present owner and heir of Greenbriar, Anthony Whitaker, is intrigued but skeptical when Samantha approaches him with the possibility of an amazing historical and literary connection to his home. A Jane  Austen connection to his ancestral home would certainly have financial possibilities, so Anthony agrees to help Samantha begin her search of the home for clues. When a hidden manuscript is found, the pair begin to read the story that the world has yet to see...... 

Here we are treated to Syrie James' fleshing out authentic notes from Jane Austen (Plan of a Novel) into her version of a seventh Austen novel. True to Austen's style and wit,  Syrie created The Stanhopes, an authentic-sounding story that could very well have been written by a young Austen. it authentic? Who has the right to actually own this manuscript? Should the world have access to it as a published novel......or should it go to the highest private bidder at auction? Hmmmmm, many dilemmas and possibilities present themselves -- both personally and professionally -- that makes this a very interesting read.  Austen fans will be buzzing about this one -- a real treat for Janeites!

4/5 stars

*This book is from my personal library.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Happy New Year, everyone!

I hope your holidays were lovely and memorable!

I'm very excited to get started with planning my reading selections in 2013, and I'm looking forward to joining a few challenges that will help guide my selections.

One of my favorite Austen-inspired websites is Austenprose, created by Laurel Ann Nattress. This year she is hosting the Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge

Laurel Ann explains, 

"If you have not read Jane Austen’s masterpiece (or would like to revisit it in honor of its special anniversary), seen all of the movies, or read all of the sequels and spinoffs, this is the year to join the challenge along with other Janeites, historical fiction, Regency romance, and period drama movie lovers."

This challenge sounds like a perfect opportunity for me to select a few Austenesque selections that having been on my TBR pile for a while, as well as revisit the classic itself, Pride and Prejudice.

I am signing up for the first level, Neophyte, and we'll see how it goes as the year progresses.

Here's my plan:

1. Pride and Prejudice, annotated edition (This was a Christmas present two years ago, and I'm dying to delve into all the Regency tidbits and historical notes.)

2. Austenland by Shannon Hale

3. Falling for Mr. Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory

4. BBC production of Pride and Prejudice (I've watched this version a million times already, but I never ever tire of watching it!)

Hope you will join me in 2013 to celebrate Jane Austen! Please be sure to visit Austenprose for all the challenge details and to sign up if you are interested.

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 »