Friday, October 30, 2009

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander

from the publisher:

"Even before Emily steps off the Orient Express in beautiful and decadent Constantinople, she's embroiled in intrigue and treachery. The brutal death of a concubine in the sultan's palace allows her first foray into investigating a crime as an official agent of the British Empire -- because only a woman can be given access to the forbidden world of the harem. There, she quickly discovers that its mysterious, sheltered walls offer no protection from a ruthless murder."

my thoughts:

Tears of Pearl is the fourth installment of Tasha Alexander's Victorian mystery/romance series, and we find the ever-elegant couple, Emily and Colin Hargreaves, embarking on their honeymoon in exotic Turkey. The Orient Express has barely left the station when the mischief and mayhem begins.

For those who may not have read Alexander's previous novels, Tears could easily be a stand-alone read as the author neatly recaps characters and details and quickly brings the reader up-to-date. Despite the lavish setting and aura of mystery and intrigue of a sultan's harem, however, this newest mystery offering fell a little flat and had me losing my way with some forgettable characters. The writing just didn't have the same clarity as her previous novels. I was no where near as enchanted with Lady Emily and her escapades as I was with the first three novels. On a positive note, I did enjoy that the couple was at long last experiencing marital bliss, and the further development of Emily's character as she contemplates indepedence versus providing a future heir added another dimension to the story.
A light, quick mystery with an exotic setting -- easy afternoon read.

What I really loved (and highly recommend) are Tasha Alexander's photos from the research she pursued in writing Tears of Pearl. She has posted a glorious display of photos of the palaces of Constantinople, inside views of the rooms which housed the concubines, and the beautiful scenery around the palaces. I viewed this photo gallery prior to reading Tears, and it really helped bring to life the sultan's world. Click here to visit this fascinating photo gallery.

Title: Tears of Pearl
Author: Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books
306 pp.
genre: historical mystery/romance

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

From the publisher:

"On the veranda of a great New Orleans house, now faded, a mute and fragile woman sits rocking. And The Witching Hour begins......"

My thoughts:

Like J.K. Rowling and Diana Gabaldon, Anne Rice has that magic touch that just draws me into another world, another era, where, like a wizard, she mixes up an intoxicating brew of witchcraft lore, wicked tragedy, and gothic romance. We are introduced to the great dynasty of the Mayfair witches beginning in the seventeenth century Scottish Highlands, and follow four generations through Europe, the lavish Maye Faire plantation in Port-au-Prince, Saint-Domingue, to a decaying antebellum mansion in New Orleans and present-day San Francisco. Each generation is haunted and tormented by the powerful and seductive being, Lasher. Beginning with the beautiful Suzanne, the Queen of the May Fair in Scotland, and ending in the present-day with Dr. Rowan Mayfair, renowned nuerosurgeon and healer, will they be able to break the evil spell that binds them tragically to Lasher?

I first read The Witching Hour in 1990 when it was first published and absolutely loved it for its rich, historically accurate depiction of life in New Orleans. I often wonder if readers who were not born and raised here would notice the wealth of details Anne Rice includes in her writings, from architectural depictions, accents, street names, pronunciations, neighborhoods, schools and churches, cultural celebrations and traditions, social commentaries...things that are unique to our city but completely ordinary in our way of life. She is a master of seamlessly weaving historical detail and plot.

On this second reading, I noticed interesting details that are also part of the Outlander series that I so enjoy reading. The second part of the novel is devoted to the history of the Mayfair witches as documented in files by the secret Talamasca organization....their motto is, "We watch.....and we are always here." For example, in describing the origin of the Mayfair witches and their connection to Lasher, we learn that it all began in a circle of standing stones while celebrating an ancient pagan feast:

p. 293
"To which they explained that the people of Highland villages were most attached still to the old customs, and that on the eve of May 1 they built great bonfires in the open grass, these being lighted only from the needfire, and they danced all night about the bonfires, making merry."
p. 311
"Out into the field we went, feeling for the stones before us, and finding the very middle of the circle and standing stock-still in it to feel the wind...I heard the humming as she held my hand; then in a circle we danced together, making small circles round and round as we did. Louder she hummed and then the Latin words she spoke to call the demon, and then flinging out her arms she cried to him to come."

Her writing is enthralling, guaranteed to make you go deep into yourself and examine your own values and truths....highly recommended!

Title: The Witching Hour
Author: Anne Rice
genre: fiction
pages: 1038
publisher: Random House

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Books to Thrill and Chill

Ahhh....fall! This is the time of year when I usually find myself dusting off my books and revisiting some old favorites, especially those stories that thrill and chill my soul. There's something very cozy about curling up with an old favorite book on a chilly evening and settling in for a good scare! Do you do the same? Do you have some great titles that you've read more than once and they just seem to get better and better?

Here is a sampling of some great books that I will be revisiting this fall, even if it is just to read a few pages to get my "fix" of horror and thrills and chills -- I highly recommend them all. Read them....if you dare!

Dracula by Bram Stoker -- The Vampire story that started it all.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice - Hands down, my favorite of all of her writings; a masterpiece! A sensuous, poetic, and frightening journey of the education of the vampire, Lestat, once an aristocrat from pre-revolutionary France.

The Vampire Lestat by Anne Rice - Book #2 in the Vampire Chronicles; Lestat returns as a present-day rock star and searches through the centuries for others like him, seeking answers to the mystery of his eternal, terrifying demonic existence.

The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice - Book #3 in the Vampire Chronicles; Akasha, the Queen of the Damned, has risen from a six-thousand year sleep to let loose the powers of the night and desires to destroy Lestat. Sensual and erotic world of the undead.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice - The mesmerizing tale of the centuries-old dynasty of witches, the Mayfairs -- haunted through time by a seductive and terrifying being. Truly spine-tingling and frightening.

The Phantom of the Opera
by Gaston Leroux -- The thrilling tale of the beautiful sporano, Christine Daae', the handsome Vicomte de Chagny, and the Opera Ghost, the spectre called the Angel of Music.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova -- A very suspenseful and beautifully written story of a young woman who uncovers horrifying secrets of her family's past connection to the fifteenth-century reign of Vlad the Impaler. Part thriller, part history, part romance -- a terrific fireside read!

The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe - Love them all!
"The Cask of Amontillado," "The Premature Burial," "The Tell-Tale Heart," "Annabel Lee," and "The Raven" are particularly good on a dark, stormy night!

The Thirteenth Tale by Diana Setterfield - A mystery-thriller that will keep you guessing until the very end....a story of haunting family secrets, illicit obsession, a devastating fire, feral twins....well, just read it and you'll see!

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James - The classic gothic novella ....filled with supernatural it a true ghost tale or the mad ramblings of an unstable governess?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - The dark, windswept moors, tortured-soul Heathcliff, and his obsessive love of Catherine...gothic reading at its best!

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn - A Victorian era murder mystery with a handsome but brooding private inspector and the Lady Julia Grey. One of my new favorite series.

Please share your favorite mystery, gothic novel, or thriller with me and leave a comment! I'd love to hear about them!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Taking a little time for reflection

These past few weeks have been difficult, and I feel the need to step back and take a little break at this time. A beloved family member entered his last stages of cancer recently and this past week went to his heavenly home. I need to take a deep breath and find my peaceful center again.

I'll be back soon, visiting your friendly and uplifting book the meantime, hug those you love and celebrate the gift of today!

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 »