Saturday, December 17, 2011

2011 Highlights: Books & Authors

It's time to close another year of book blogging and look back at all the wonderful reads I had in 2011 to see which ones stand out as my favorites. There's no scientific method for selecting my best reads nor does it necessarily mean that they were a five-star read. My picks are simply books that made an impression on me -- either the writing or the characters struck me as unique....and they definitely land on my keeper shelf.

Here are my top choices for 2011 by category with a link to the review - hope some of them are your favorites, too. (Note: Not all of them are 2011 releases.)


These two beautiful and poignant novels left me feeling that I wasn't quite ready to say goodbye to the characters when their story was over and are at the top of my "favorites" list.

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio

And now on to some other awards:


The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware


The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn


Only Mr. Darcy Will Do by Kara Louise


Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Laurel Ann Nattress, editor


The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley


Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald


House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine


Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (This one was a hoot!)


Untamed by Pamela Clare (You might not want to read this one at work --ahem--.)


A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness


Sea Witch by Helen Hollick


The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston.


She Walks in Beauty by Siri Mitchell


The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon


BEST AUTHOR EVENT: Romance Writers' of America Book Signing in New York - Wonderful event in NY this summer and had the opportunity to meet Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourn, and the always-fabulous Lauren Willig! (Also had a chance to meet up with book blogging buddy Julie @ Outlandish Dreaming! (waves at Julie)

QUOTED IN REVIEWS: I was thrilled to notice in the paperback edition of Nocturne by Syrie James, a blurb from my review was used. Thank you, Syrie!(My blog was formerly called Slice of Life.)

Hope your year was filled with good books and all good things! See you in 2012!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Royal Mistress Challenge 2011 - Wrap Up!

A big thanks to Miss Moppet of The Misadventures of Moppet for creating and providing reading recommendations for the Royal Mistress Challenge. I enjoyed this challenge very much and found several books by Susan Holloway Scott to be perfect for exploring the world of court intrigue and forbidden romance. I have a few more of her books which I'll get to in 2012.

Royal Affairs by Leslie Carroll (4 stars)

The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott (4 stars)

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar (3.5 stars)

Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott (4 stars)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Time Travel Reading Challenge 2011 - Wrap Up!

It's that time of year when I begin to look back at my reading challenges and make a summary post of my results. I like to keep things simple and select only those challenges that fit easily into my normal reading habits, and since I love time travel or time slip novels, this one is an easy category to complete. A big thanks to Alyce of At Home With Books for hosting this challenge and creating a suggested reading list for the past few years. I understand she will not be hosting again in 2012, but I certainly will continue to explore books in this fascinating category.

I can't wait to start visiting around the blogosphere as my favorite book bloggers start wrapping up their "year end" and "challenge" posts. Let the fun begin!

Here's my list with a link to the reviews for the TIME CHALLENGE/TIME SLIP NOVELS:

Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine (3 stars)

House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine (4 stars)

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon (short story - 4.5 stars)

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley (4.5 stars)

Midnight on Julia Street by Ciji Ware (3 stars)

Legacy by Jeanette Baker (3.5 stars)

Passage by Connie Willis (3.5 stars)

All in all, a fairly good group of time travel books read this year with the lovely historical romance, The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley being my personal favorite in this category. No surprise there as just about everything by Kearsley lands on my keeper shelf. A strong second place read was Barbara Erskine's House of Echoes , a delightfully haunting story with time travel and the supernatural.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Surrender by Pamela Clare

A hand-picked cadre of warriors, they had the fierce courage of their Scots forefathers, combined with the stealth and cunning of the Indians who lived beside them in the wilderness. Battling the French in no-holds-barred combat, they forged a new brand of honor, became a new breed of men…

MacKinnon’s Rangers

Iain MacKinnon had been forced to serve the British crown, but compassion urged him to save the lovely lass facing certain death at the hands of the Abenaki. He’d defied his orders, endangered his brothers, his men and his mission, all for a woman. But when he held Annie’s sweet body in his arms, he could feel no regret. Though he sensed she was hiding something from him, it was too late to hold back his heart. In love and war, there are times when the only course of action is… Surrender.

Book news! Pamela Clare's MacKinnon Ranger series has a new publisher and the books are getting a fresh cover look and new material added as they are re-released.(And it's available on kindle.) If you love a great adventure, an historical setting during the French and Indian War, and a passionate love story, then Surrender is for you!

As Pamela explained on her website, her previous publisher had strict guidelines for the length of books they printed. She was forced to cut some material from Surrender to meet those guidelines. Now, the story has been tweaked to include scenes that Pamela feels will make the story even more enjoyable, and I'm glad she was given the opportunity to write Iain and Annie's story the way she originally intended. I'm sure she made an already terrific book even better.

I won a signed copy of this newly released edition, so I'm looking forward to reading it again. (My glowing review of the original version is here.)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Royal Harlot by Susan Holloway Scott

"London, 1660.

Ready to throw off a generation of Puritan rule, all England rejoices when Charles Stuart returns to reclaim the throne. Among those welcoming him is young Barbara Villiers Palmer, a breathtaking Royalist beauty whose sensuality and clever wit instantly captivate the handsome, jaded king.

Though each is promised to another, Barbara soon becomes Charles’s mistress and closest friend, and the uncrowned queen of his bawdy Restoration court. Rewarded with titles, land, and jewels, she is the most envied and desired woman in England––and the most powerful.

But the role of royal mistress is a precarious one, and Barbara’s enemies and rivals are everywhere in the palace. Even kings can lose their heads to treason, and swirling political intrigue brings new threats and danger—until not even Charles himself is safe.

In this world where love is no more than a game, and power the ultimate aphrodisiac, only one woman holds the key to it all: Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine, Duchess of Cleveland, and the royal harlot."

my thoughts:

A delightful and very sensual portrait of the beautiful Barbara Villiers Palmer, mistress of the merry monarch, King Charles II. The world of 17th century England comes alive as Susan Holloway Scott recreates this fascinating period of history when the exiled Charles Stuart returns to the throne.

As a young woman, Barbara learned early on that her beauty and self-assurance were powerful assets, and she was not afraid to be adventurous. Her first encounter with His Majesty occurred when she happily agreed to act as a courier to secretly bring gold to Charles in Flanders; her husband, Roger Palmer, was also eager for her to gain favor with the king by informing him of the Palmer's loyalty and sacrifices made on behalf of the crown. Enchanted by Barbara's beauty and charm, this was the beginning of a long and passionate relationship that lasted many years and produced several (illegitimate) children. Knowing she had a powerful sexual hold on the king, she flaunted her position as royal mistress and accumulated jewelry, titles, and land. Her presence at the palace was a source of pain to the barren Queen, Catherine of Braganza, and there were enemies who plotted to see her removed from royal favor.

Through the great plague, the fire of London, and the decadent world of romance and intrigue at the court, Royal Harlot was a fascinating look at a woman who many vilified as an evil, immoral woman who had too much power with the king; however, Scott's portrayal left me feeling that despite her choices, Barbara, the Countess of Castlemaine, was a strong woman that was not ashamed of the way she lived her life, and was not one to live with regrets. I think she would approve of the way Susan Holloway Scott recreated her.

4/5 stars

Title: Royal Harlot
Author: Susan Holloway Scott
New American Library
380 pages

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Every Secret Thing by Susanna Kearsley

'No one lives for ever. But the truth survives us all'.

"Kate Murray is deeply troubled. In front of her lies a dead man, a stranger who only minutes before had approached her wanting to tell her about a mystery, a long-forgotten murder. The crime was old, he'd told her, but still deserving of justice. Soon Kate is caught up in a dangerous whirlwind of events that takes her back into her grandmother's mysterious war-time past and across the Atlantic as she tries to retrace the dead man's footsteps. Finding out the truth is not so simple, however, as only a few people are still alive who know the story - and Kate soon realises that her questions are putting their lives in danger. Stalked by an unknown and sinister enemy, she must use her tough journalistic instinct to find the answers from the past - before she has to say goodbye to her future."
(from goodreads)

my thoughts:

Originally published under the pen name Emma Cole, the new Every Secret Thing e-book is Susanna Kearsley's contemporary thriller. I am a fan of her historical/romantic suspense titles (particularly those with a time slip element), so I was curious to sample her contemporary mystery. It was a well-crafted dual storyline thriller that had me guessing until the end how all the threads tied together.

Kate Murray is a Canadian journalist working on assignment in London when she is approached by an elderly gentleman who tells her....

"I have a story I could tell you, if you're interested...there's a murder in it.
An old murder, but one still deserving of justice."

Being far too busy working on her assignment, Kate doesn't give the elderly man much of her attention. He gives her his card and invites her to call him when she has more time, and leaves with a very mysterious comment.

"Oh, and do say hello to your grandmother for me. I hope that she's well....
You have her eyes, you know."

But Kate never has opportunity to learn more of the cryptic message about an old murder as Andrew Deacon is dead within minutes.

This shocking event leads Kate to begin using her journalistic skills and instincts to begin investigating the secret that Andrew Deacon had wanted her to know. Her investigations bring to light her grandmother's secret past during WWII that she kept hidden throughout her lifetime. But more people will die, and every step that Kate takes to uncover more information causes more danger. No one can be trusted and people are not all who they seem to be, and someone will stop at nothing to keep the story from being uncovered. Going under cover with a different name and look, Kate's clues lead her to Lisbon where wartime spies and secret business deals left someone getting away with murder many years ago. Clue by clue, she desperately tries to fit the pieces of the puzzle together before the murderer strikes again.

While this mystery was fast paced and suspenseful, the strength of the plot for me was the lovely back-story that unfolded of two ordinary people making an extraordinary sacrifice as part of their duty during the war. Fate brought them together briefly, but their short time together left a lasting bond. Their sacrifice was not unrealistic as Kearsley based her story on the true British Security Coordination in NY, a spy agency established under the cover of the British Embassy and Passport Office, where the United States, Britain, and Canada shared intercepted intelligence during WWII. It was a very interesting piece of history that was new to me.

A bit of a departure for me as I don't usually read many contemporaries, but a treat if you are looking for something unique from Susanna Kearsley.

4/5 stars
Kindle edition

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

"Already known as a knight of uncommon skill and honor, William Marshal has earned the friendship of King Richard and the love of a wealthy heiress. But when the Lionheart dies leaving his treacherous brother John on the throne, William and Isabelle need all of their strength and courage to face a shattered world. Their sons held hostage, their integrity at stake, the two must choose between obeying their king or honoring their hearts. Breathing life into history, Elizabeth Chadwick provides a riveting novel of an uncommon marriage between a man of valor and the only woman who could match him."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Actually, this will be two-reviews-in-one as I read The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion back to back. Although each is marketed as a stand alone novel based on the life of William Marshal, I highly recommend reading The Greatest Knight first. In this novel, the foundation of William's chivalrous character is set, from his harrowing childhood experience of his father's betrayal to his journey of becoming legendary for his skills as a soldier and champion of the tournament circuit. He grows to earn the confidence of kings and queens due to his loyalty and keen intellect (although he remained illiterate), and these characteristics contributed to his role as a diplomat and magnate. Chadwick fleshes out the legendary knight as a young man of honor and simple pleasures, respectful of women and committed to duty and his oath of fealty. Quite a man and hero, according the Chadwick.

The Scarlet Lion continues the story of William Marshal, now married to the beautiful heiress, Isabelle de Clare. Isabelle and William are a devoted couple enjoying their large family and balancing responsibilities to the king. Chadwick portrays William as a devoted husband and respectful of his wife's opinions which was very unusual for the times. He publicly acknowledged his pride in Isabelle's powerful position in her own right and often referred to his wife as his "safe harbor." Throughout the years, though, their relationship is tested as William's loyalty to his oath to King John (despite the king's treachery) brings troubled waters into their relationship with each other and their two eldest sons. William also created trouble for himself (and his sons!) by pledging an oath of support to the French King Philip in order to retain lands in France. King John is not one to take an offense lightly. Despite the trials that William's decisions and responsibilities bring to their married life, they weather the storms together. A wonderful love story and a glimpse of the intrigue of King John's court makes The Scarlet Lion a very enjoyable portrait of this historical figure. A bit dry at times (sometimes reads more like a retelling of historical facts), but still impeccable research and an authentic depiction of medieval life.

I plan on continuing with the story of their daughter, Mahelt Marshal, in To Defy a King.

4/5 stars for both The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Let's Talk Turkey....

...or stuffing, or sweet potatoes, or pumpkin pie, or any other delicious dish that must be on your Thanksgiving table in order to have that complete feeling of satisfaction.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a wonderful day for all my readers who celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday -- filled with family and friends, a delicious meal, and -- if it's your thing -- football!

I thought it would be fun to ask you a Thanksgiving question:

What item is absolutely necessary for you to have on Thanksgiving?

We all have that "must have" food that Thanksgiving just would not be complete without.

For me, I live for the dressing (or stuffing, depending on where you live). I'm not much of a cook, but I make a delicious autumn dressing that I developed by combining the best of several recipes. It's a mix of sweet/savory flavors and is so easy to make:

Joanne's Autumn Dressing:

olive oil & butter
1 onion (chopped)
2 celery stalks (chopped)
1 red apple and 1 granny smith apple (chopped)
1 package pork sausage (Italian sausage is good, too!) (remove casing)
1 small package cubed ham
1/2 cup dried cranberries/raisins (Sun-Maid makes a combo pack)
chopped pecans
fresh sage -- chopped finely
1 package dried cornbread and herb stuffing mixture
1 large container chicken stock
salt, pepper to taste


Sautee chopped ingredients (onion, celery, and apples) in olive oil and butter. Add dried cranberries and raisins (I like lots), chopped pecans, and a bit of fresh sage for light browning. Remove and place in large mixing bowl. Brown sausage (remove casing) until fully cooked and add ham to lightly brown. Add to bowl, and mix in dried cornbread stuffing mix, salt & pepper according to your taste, and add chicken stock to desired consistency. Place in greased baking dish and top with a few extra pats of butter and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown and warmed through, about 25-30 minutes.

This is so easy and delicious! The above recipe is good for a fairly large family; double it for a big crowd. It's all good. I developed this recipe as my mom always stuffed her turkey with her elegant oyster dressing...and I don't eat oysters! I won't even go there.

So here's to wishing you and yours abundant blessings (and good eating) on Thanksgiving Day!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine

"Whispers in the Sand is set in richly mysterious Egypt where the past and present collide. Recently divorced, Anna Fox decides to cheer herself up by retracing a journey her great-grandmother made in the nineteenth century: a Nile cruise from Luxor to the Valley of the Kings. Anna carries with her on the voyage two mementoes of her great-grandmother Louisa: an ancient Egyptian scent bottle and the diary of that original Nile cruise which has lain unread for a hundred years. As she follows in Louisa's footsteps, Anna discovers in the diary the chilling secret of the scent bottle and is pursued by the same terrifying spectres as her great grandmother."

my thoughts:

I'm very happy that Sourcebooks has been reissuing some of Barbara Erskine's titles in the US as I've had to shop for some of her older books in used bookstores and/or online from the UK (with high shipping prices!) So thanks, Sourcebooks - keep them coming!

Barbara Erskine is known for her fascinating historical fiction storylines in her books with supernatural forces and time-slip. However, I feel her contemporary characters and storylines are sometimes weak and often detract from the enjoyment of the novel. If she could work on getting the contemporary aspects of her novels tweaked, her books would be greatly improved! (The men in the present day can be condescending and chauvinistic, women are often near hysteria, and at least one character is certifiably the Most Annoying Person on the Planet!)

Having said all that, I enjoyed aspects of Whispers in the Sand, and the star of the show was the charming Victorian love story as told through a one-hundred-year-old diary. Erskine's descriptions of a young woman's experiences in ancient Egypt and the Victorian-era cruise along the Nile was intriguing and very poignant. I almost feel that the historical story could have been a stand alone book (without the present day story) and it would have been just fine.

Not Erskine's best and certainly not as atmospheric and suspenseful as some of her other books (i.e. House of Echoes), but still a pleasant read.

3/5 stars

Title: Whispers in the Sand
Author: Barbara Erskine
481 pages
genre: historical fiction/time slip

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

"A foundling, an old book of dark fairy tales, a secret garden, an aristocratic family, a love denied, and a mystery. The Forgotten Garden is a captivating, atmospheric and compulsively readable story of the past, secrets, family and memory from the international best-selling author Kate Morton.

Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra's life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairytales written by Eliza Makepeace - the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century - Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself."
(from Goodreads)

my thoughts:

This novel has been on my TBR list for so long I almost forgot all about it! I'm so glad I finally managed to make time for it as I loved it.

I admit it -- I love gloomy, gothic, melancholy storylines. (I'm not sure just what that says about me, as I think I am a very nice, upbeat person in real life!) But I never get tired of plots with dark family secrets and an old English estate. Add in a cottage by the sea, a smugglers' cave, a secret garden, and a cameo appearance by Frances Hodgson Burnett (of The Secret Garden), and you have a winner for me.

Kate Morton knows how to draw out the suspense -- she layers her mysteries and secrets, weaves the story of several generations together, and keeps the suspense high until the shocking conclusion. I admit that I have to be in the right frame of mind to read her novels as they are very haunting and there is a pervasive sadness throughout her books, a great sense of loss.....and even though there is closure, it's bittersweet. Still many questions linger in my mind -- this would be a great book club read as I would love to have a long discussion about some threads of the story.

I have now enjoyed all three of her novels and look forward to her next writing project. You can also read my reviews of The Distant Hours and The House at Riverton.

Kate Morton discusses The Forgotten Garden:

5/5 stars

Title: The Forgotten Garden
Author: Kate Morton
Simon & Schuster
552 pages
genre: mystery/suspense

Friday, November 11, 2011

Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

"While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution, to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the luminaries of Restoration England.
Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart -- and he hers --but even the most powerful love isn't enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Darn it, I really wanted to love this book!

It has all the ingredients of a great big juicy read about everyone's favorite orange-girl-turned-actress-turned-favorite-mistress-of-Charles II, but for me, it didn't quite all come together. It's quite a lovely novel to behold, from the gorgeous cover to the interior which consists of diary excerpts, playbills, letters, gossip columns, recipes, and other snippets of seventeenth century life. However, I found myself skimming and scanning, trying to find the real "meat" and was a little disappointed that the pieces, while interesting, didn't make for a satisfying whole. A strong beginning, a large cast of players and characters, but would have liked a bit more depth.

A pleasant read, perhaps good for someone just beginning to explore Restoration England or the mistresses of Charles II. (I'm always glad to give a balanced review, and Exit the Actress has received many 5 star ratings, so this is just my view.)


Title: Exit the Actress
Author: Priya Parmar
Simon & Schuster
446 pages

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt by Caroline Preston

"The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt is a visually stunning, totally unique, full-color novel in the form of a scrapbook, set in the burgeoning bohemian culture of the 1920s and featuring an endearing, unforgettable heroine. Caroline Preston, author of the New York Times Notable Book Jackie by Josie, uses a kaleidoscopic array of vintage memorabilia—postcards, letters, magazine ads, ticket stubs, catalog pages, fabric swatches, candy wrappers, fashion spreads, menus and more—to tell the tale of spirited and ambitious Frankie’s remarkable odyssey from Vassar to Greenwich Village to Paris, in a manner that will delight crafters, historical fiction fans, and anyone who loves a good coming-of-age story ingeniously told."
(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

As a longtime memory keeper, scrapbooker, journal writer, and family historian, I've always loved old letters, heritage photographs, and vintage ephemera. However, you don't have to be crafty or into scrapbooking to enjoy this thoroughly original and visually delightful book, The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt. Imagine discovering your grandmother's old photos and cherished mementos in a box in the attic -- a time capsule of memories! That is what it is like to experience Frankie's scrapbook.

Frankie's story of the ups and downs of her adult life beginning with her experiences as a Vassar student is told with wit and honesty, and can easily be read in one sitting. It appears Frankie painstakingly typed out her journey from student to world traveler and aspiring writer on a Corona typewriter, adding authenticity to a tale told in days of old. I'm keeping this little gem on my nightstand to browse through it to savor each page which captures the world of the roaring '20's --the fashion, music, popculture, literature, and history created with authentic vintage ephemera. A delightful way to spend a lazy evening and dream about what is was like to live in the world of the jazz age.

4.5/5 stars

I hope you can take a few minutes to watch the booktrailer and author interview as you will get a glimpse inside this utterly charming book:

Title: The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt
Author: Caroline Preston
Harper Collins

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman


Emma, a prima ballerina in London, is at a crossroads after an injured knee ruins her career. Forced to rest and take stock of her life, she finds that she’s mistaken fame and achievement for love and fulfillment. Returning home to Australia, she learns of her grandmother Beattie’s death and a strange inheritance: a sheep station in isolated rural Australia. Certain she has been saddled with an irritating burden, Emma prepares to leave for Wildflower Hill to sell the estate.

Beattie also found herself at a crossroads as a young woman, but she was pregnant and unwed. She eventually found success—-but only after following an unconventional path that was often dangerous and heartbreaking. Beattie knew the lessons she learned in life would be important to Emma one day, and she wanted to make sure Emma’s heart remained open to love, no matter what life brought. She knew the magic of the Australian wilderness would show Emma the way.

Wildflower Hill is a compelling, atmospheric, and romantic novel about taking risks, starting again, and believing in yourself. It’s about finding out what you really want and discovering that the answer might be not at all what you’d expect.

my thoughts:

I just loved this book to pieces!

From the very first page, the story of the indomitable Beattie just captured my heart and wouldn't let go. Her journey from an unwed mother to a successful businesswoman is such a bittersweet and courageous struggle and I experienced such a range of emotions! Her life is filled with challenges and overwhelming obstacles from bigotry and sanctimonious hypocrites, but no matter how hard life knocked her down, she brushed herself off and forged ahead. The love for her child spurred her on to make a life for themselves (difficult as this was for a woman in the 1920's) and I cheered for her every difficult step of the way.

Intertwined in Beattie's story is the life of her granddaughter, Emma. Once a famous ballerina, an injury forces her to give up her career and reevaluate her life. With time on her hands and an inheritance of Wildflower Hill from Beattie, she travels to Australia to prepare the estate for sale. But once there, Emma begins sorting through Beattie's personal belongings and it seems that Beattie kept painful secrets from her family. As Emma examines the heart and life of her grandmother, she learns about her own confused and unsettled life. Sometimes pain can cause you to take risks and find the courage to do what brings you peace.

5/5 stars Beautiful, just beautiful!

Title: Wildflower Hill
Author: Kimberley Freeman
Touchstone Book
526 pages
genre: literary fiction

Thursday, November 3, 2011

House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine

"Joss Grant is eager to begin a new life when she inherits Belheddon Hall. She brings her busband, Luke, and their small son, Tom, to the dilapidated house, and sets about discovering her family roots which lie in the village.

But not long after they move in, Tom wakes screaming at night. Joss hears echoing voices and senses an invisible presence, watching her from the shadows. Are they spirits from the past? Or is she imagining them? As she learns with mounting horror of Belheddon's tragic and dramatic history, her fear grows very real, for she realizes that both her family and her own sanity are at the mercy of a violent and powerful energy which seems beyond anyone's control."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Whenever autumn rolls around and the weather turns cooler, I immediately get in the mood for some good old-fashioned mysteries and ghost stories. Throw in a little history or time slip into the mix, and I'm a happy camper. I enjoyed Erskine's Lady of Hay very much, so I set out to get as many books from her backlist as possible. House of Echoes sounded like an appropriately scary Halloween read, so I settled in and prepared myself to be spooked. I was not disappointed!

When Joss and her financially-strapped husband discover that she has inherited an ancient ancestral home from her birth mother, Belheddon Hall, it appears that it is the answer to their prayers. Joss is anxious to settle in and delve into the history of her new home to discover as much as she can about her birth family. It doesn't take long for her to locate cryptic journals and letters which hint at a malevolent spirit that has haunted and harmed the males in the family for generations. And the villagers, wary of the house, warn them of the family's tragic history in the house.

Dark, stormy nights......whispers from the shadows......white roses left on the bed pillow......laughter in the attic......a baby crib that moves from the wall to the window......a bone-chilling coldness that takes over a room.....hello! One night in that house and this would have been me:

That's me, hightailing it outta there!!! But if they left the house, there wouldn't be a story, would there? So the family settles in with the help of her sister/nanny, and Joss, now pregnant, continues to be plagued with terrifying dreams and visions. Luke, ever the macho-realist, scoffs at the idea of ghosts and attributes the events on Joss's over-active imagination or the stress of her pregnancy. In his mind, everything has a logical explanation and Joss is over-reacting. Joss and her good friend, David, begin to research the history of the home and discover that it has a royal connection and a witch's curse which has cast a chilling terror in the inhabitants of Belheddon Hall since the fifteenth century. How can they deliver the house of this evil before it claims another victim?

Definitely an A+ for the creep factor, and if you can overlook a few minor annoying points (too many "There, there, dear, you're just overwrought" type comments and a sister that brings obtuse to a new level), it's a darn good spooky read. Had me looking over my shoulder a few times and turning on a few extra lights!

4/5 stars

Title: House of Echoes
Author: Barbara Erskine
Harper Collins Books
genre: mystery/paranormal

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Crimson Warning by Tasha Alexander

"Newly returned to her home in Mayfair, Lady Emily Hargreaves is looking forward to enjoying the delights of the season. The delights, that is, as defined by her own eccentricities—reading The Aeneid, waltzing with her dashing husband, and joining the Women’s Liberal Federation in the early stages of its campaign to win the vote for women.

But an audacious vandal disturbs the peace in the capital city, splashing red paint on the neat edifices of the homes of London’s elite. This mark, impossible to hide, presages the revelation of scandalous secrets, driving the hapless victims into disgrace, despair and even death.

Soon, all of London high society is living in fear of learning who will be the next target, and Lady Emily and her husband, Colin, favorite agent of the crown, must uncover the identity and reveal the motives of the twisted mind behind it all before another innocent life is lost."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Sadly, I think this series has run its course for me. I am a big fan of the first three books, And Only to Deceive, A Poisoned Season, and A Fatal Waltz, and I was very much looking forward to the evolution of this elegant and sophisticated Victorian sleuthing couple. However, I've been underwhelmed with the last few books and I'm finding that the now-married Lady Emily and Colin Hargreaves have lost their luster. Of course, they are a devoted and charming couple, but the relationship (which was such a highlight in the beginning) has faded to the background. The mystery of the splashed crimson paint upon unsuspecting victims' doorstep was intriguing -- the red paint indicated that there was a scandal soon to be revealed to society -- but the race to find clues led Emily on a search through the British museum (ho hum) and the conclusion was rather anticlimatic.

I'm sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I think it's time for Tasha Alexander to try her hand at something different -- perhaps a stand alone with new characters and a completely different setting. I truly enjoy her very elegant writing style, and her recreation of Victorian society is charming, but I'd like to see her try a new direction.


Title: A Crimson Warning
Author: Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon

"A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows" is a short story by Diana Gabaldon and is part of the anthology, Songs of Love and Death, George R. R. Martin, Editor.
Here she gives us the bittersweet tale of a man torn out of his proper time and place who will go to almost any length, and endure any hardship, to make it home again.

*****SPOILERS AHEAD! Do not read this post if you do not want to know any spoilers from An Echo in the Bone or A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows!*****

A very happy All Hallows Eve to you! I've been waiting for this very special day to discuss Diana Gabaldon's short story, A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows. A word of warning, though -- I've outlined the story and I'm including spoilers and exact quotes which I thought were key, so please be aware of that. I welcome everyone to help me speculate on what this new information may mean in the on-going puzzle of Outlander. Ready? Alrighty, here we go!

As the story begins, it is actually two weeks until Halloween, but "the gremlins were already at work." Jerry MacKenzie, preparing the Dolly II on the runway for a test flight, is having engine trouble. When the mechanic notes a punctured fuel line and a few other glitches, the flight plans are cancelled until the problems are fixed.

Once inside the building, Jerry is called over to be introduced to someone...."a tallish chap in army uniform with dark hair and a pleasant, if sharp, look about him, eyes like a good sheepdog." When Jerry is introduced to Captain Randall, he "feels a qualm in the pit of his stomach" as he senses Randall has an "air of confidence peculiar to men who kept secrets." Captain Randall is a member of the British Intelligence (M16) and is searching for a top-notch pilot to fly a special solo reconnaissance. The plan is to take a Spitfire II and install cameras in place of a second pair of wing guns. He must first train for the secret mission in Northumberland and will receive further details later. Realizing this was a dangerous venture, Jerry requests to see his wife one more time before he goes. Randall agrees to this, "touching his own gold wedding ring in reflex."

Delighted to be reunited with her husband, Marjorie (Dolly) and their little baby (Roger) spend some quality family time together. (We learn from details that Jerry is twenty-two years old and Roger is young enough to still be wearing nappies and sleeping in a basket.)

Following his training, Jerry learns the details of his dangerous mission: the Nazis have labor camps in Poland, and Jerry is to fly as close as possible to take photos to document evidence of this activity.

Interestingly, while Jerry is preparing to begin his flight, he completes a little pre-flight ritual. He tells Dolly that he loves her, and he carries a sapphire (his lucky stone) in his pocket that his wife found in a rocky hill while on their honeymoon.

Several pages follow of his in-air flight training, and it is noted that he flies above a stone rectangle attached to Hadrian's Wall (made by old Roman legions). The flight abruptly ends due to major engine failure and his fighter plane becomes a glider. "The ground appeared in a sudden burst of yellow and brown. He jerked the nose up, saw the rocks of a crag dead ahead, swerved, stalled, nose-dived, pulled back, pulled back, not enough, oh, God---"

Unconscious but alive and not gravely injured, Jerry regains his equilibrium and looks around -- there is no plane anywhere! Only ancient standing stones! His head was splitting and buzzing, he suffers from vertigo, and is struck with terror as he realizes there are no marks where his plane should have gouged the earth when it crash landed!

Some time later, he begins to believe he is still in Northumbria, "the northern part, where England's billowing fields crash onto the inhospitable rocks of Scotland." But something was very wrong.....the landscape is too different, too rough. He was losing touch with reality and confused about time. His first encounter with people was strange -- they were dirty, ragged, and uncivilized. They beat him, stole his jacket, took his dog tags, and locked him up.
Two Years Later:

Captain Randall visits Dolly MacKenzie; when she sees him at the door, she is flooded with emotions....she's hoping there's been a mistake...maybe Jerry hadn't been killed and they found him alive! But that is not to be. Randall feels a personal obligation to bring a medal of honor, awarded posthumously, to Lieutenant MacKenzie's widow and spends some time visiting and playing with her little boy. The visit is very hard for Dolly, and she breaks down sobbing, "You said you'd come back, said you'd come back!"

Meanwhile, back in a strange time and place, Jerry notices that the stone that was in his pocket has burned to a fine powder. He questions what could possibly have the power to burn a rock -- and leave the man who carried it alive???

Hearing voices outside his prison, Jerry shouts for help. He is rescued from the shack by "biggish buggers, both of them, taller and broader than he was. One fair, one black-haired as Lucifer."

"What's your name, mate?" the dark chap asked with a Scots accent.

"MacKenzie, J.W. Lieutenant, Royal Air Force. Service number...."

Astounded by this information, the dark one with vivid green eyes is floored as understanding dawns. Jerry is desperate to know about these strangers -- where did they come from? They tell him they are from Inverness, but tell him they are from a time a long way away and are lost. (The other stranger is described as fair-haired with a deeply weathered and lined face.) They have no idea what time period they are presently in, but they tell Jerry he must return to the stones "where you came through." Jerry is ecstatic that they understand how to get him back and eagerly goes with them. They explain to him that he must have a gemstone when he goes back (they give him a gemstone) and tell him urgently to think about his wife, Marjorie when he goes back. "Don't think about your son! Just your wife," they tell him.

Jerry is shocked that they knew his wife's name and that he has a son! He demands an explanation, but there is no time....they are being pursued as a light is coming closer! "It's near Samhain... ye need to go, man, and NOW!"

Just as Jerry is desperately thinking of his wife while nearing the stones, the dark haired man stops and tells him, "I love you."

The fair haired stranger asks why he said such a stupid thing like that, and he replies that it is the only chance he will ever get. He says he isn't going to make it back.

But Jerry does make it back!!! When he returns to his own time, the plane is not there but there is a deep gouge where it had been. Making his way to London (and getting strange looks) and desperate to get to Dolly, he is shocked by the terrible damage to the city from bombs. When he reaches his home, it is nothing but a pile of rubble. He is fearful his family is dead when someone tells him that the family is safe and staying at the home of Dolly's mother. While desperately trying to get to that house, the sirens begin to wail and crowds pour out onto the street to get to shelter. Panic ensues as the hysterical crowds try to storm the Tube station....Jerry hears the bombs above the tunnel, the shouts, the sirens.....the tunnel is damaged from the bomb. He is down on the tracks and looks up and sees Dolly with their son. She SEES Jerry and is ecstatic but she can't get to him because of the crush of the crowds and the panic. She pushes people out of the way and can only get as far as a railing. She lowers Roger over the railing to Jerry and the little boy strikes his father in the head -- he grabs him and falls onto the tracks holding onto the boy with his life. As Jerry falls, his head cracks on the tracks and he is gravely injured. Rescuers take the child who is unharmed away from the dying man. They see he is RAF but not wearing any identification. As the tunnel begins to crack and collapse, the rescuers run out with little Roger.

"He felt her hand stroke his hair. He smiled and turned his head to see her smiling back, the radiant joy spreading round her like rings in shining water..."

And the tunnel collapses.

Let's take a deep breath to take this all in.....!!!

As usual, when Diana answers one question, she raises twenty, so while I've learned new information, I now have just as many questions. But here are some of my major observations and/or questions:

l. Now we know that Jerry MacKenzie time traveled, met Roger (as an adult) during the experience, AND made it back home in time to see his wife and son before his death (and his wife's death). (In Outlander we are told by the Reverend that Roger's father was shot down over the channel and his mother was killed in the Blitz.)

2. The fact that Frank brought Dolly the medal and spent time talking to little Roger and playing with him intrigues me. Even though Roger was only two, Frank felt it was his personal responsibility to check on Dolly and her son. (Later, in Outlander when he and Claire are at the Reverend's home and young Roger is in the chair in the study, did Frank recognize him or know who he was?? Wouldn't it make sense that Frank would ask about Roger's father if he was told the father was a member of RAF and shot down over the channel???? Or did he already know this information and just didn't say anything? Hmmmm, interesting.....verrrrry interesting!

3. I was on the fence after reading An Echo in the Bone as to whether or not Roger and Buck actually did go back in time (at least for me it was very vague). Does this mean that the two strangers (Roger and the fair-haired man) did go through the stones and meet Jerry MacKenzie while going to try to find Jem? Since Jem is not actually back in time but stuck in a tunnel, then Roger's time travel got whacked and he met up with his dad instead?! If so, then this piece of plot has to be (or should be) worked into the next book.

4. The ending of the story was just.....heartbreaking. Beautiful and heartbreaking that they went together.

4/5 stars

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cashelmara by Susan Howatch

"There were two subjects which lonely widower Edward de Salis never discussed: his dead wife and his family home in Ireland, 'matchless Cashelmara'. So when he meets Marguerite, a bright young American with whom he can talk freely about both, he is able to love again and takes her back to Ireland as his wife. But Marguerite soon discovers that married life is not what she expected, and that she has married into a troubled family bitterly divided by love and hatred. Cashelmara becomes the curse of three generations as they play out their fates in a spellbinding drama, which moves inexorably towards murder and retribution."
(from Amazon)

my thoughts:

What an absolutely fabulous, impossible-to-put-down family saga!

Spanning several generations of a titled English family beginning with Edward de Salis in 1859, this sweeping story of duty, passion, ambition, and revenge has it all! From the family home, Cashelmara, in Ireland, to glittering London society, and the nouveau riche of New York, the author reveals each character's story from their point-of-view, painting fascinating contrasting portraits of the dramatic events 0f 1859 through 1891.....and indeed, Cashelmara has it's share of high drama! Marriages of duty rather than love; an irresponsible heir leads to near financial ruin....secret, twisted passions turns life for one bride into a nightmarish hell.... smoldering tensions of Cashelmara's Irish tenants living in poverty threaten the security of the inhabitants of the home...I could go on and on raving about this rich and mighty saga! The story just sucked me in from the very first page and kept me hanging on until the very last shocking and thrilling conclusion. I felt I knew the characters so well and became very emotionally involved in the story --- I so admired Marguerite, whose strength and dignity carries the family through so many heartaches and tragedies, and I just wanted to strangle Patrick, the spineless, spoiled heir who's immaturity and selfishness just left me speechless! I experienced a roller coaster of emotions while reading Cashelmara, and I love that in a book!

Long ago, I read Howatch's The Rich are Different and I remember enjoying it very much. I think it's time to dust off some of her other titles and experience more family dramas. (I recently picked up Penmarric at my parish library sale, so I'm eager to get started on it.)

5/5 stars Fantastic read!

Title: Cashelmara
Author: Susan Howatch
Ballantine Books
672 pages
genre: historical fiction

Friday, October 28, 2011

Jane and the Canterbury Tale by Stephanie Barron

"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...."

(synopsis from Stephanie Barron's website)

my thoughts:

Since the synopsis above so succinctly summarizes Jane and the Canterbury Tale, I'm just going to cut to the chase.

I could easily picture dear Jane each evening, after retiring to her room at her brother's home, drawing close to the warmth of a fire to reflect on the days' events and journal her thoughts in her little sewn notebooks. In this autumn of 1813 (only a few years before her actual death), she has come to spend some time at Godmersham Park with brother Edward and his family. Relishing the change of pace from quiet country living, she is enjoying the pleasure of parties and social events in the Canterbury area making mental notes about the people and places to help enrich her novel writing. As the story opens, she is attending the glittering wedding of the beautiful Adelaide Fiske and Captain Andrew MacCallister at Chilham Castle and keeping a close eye on her popular niece Fanny and her beaux. While the guests are enjoying dancing and toasting the happy bride and groom, a mysterious package from a stranger is delivered to the bride....and thus begins a series of mysterious and tragic events, including two dead bodies, that will require all of Jane's keen powers of observation and crime-solving skills as she assists Edward with his magesterial duties.

Lovely storytelling in Austen's voice and a tie-in to Chaucer's Canterbury Tale, Barron's cast of characters each has a story to tell on the road to solving the multiple mysteries -- why was Adelaide's first husband (who was supposed to be dead) still alive at the time of the wedding? Who sent a mysterious package to the bride on her wedding night, and what does it mean? Who has a motive for murder...and who will be the next victim?

I have been enjoying this series as part of the Austenprose Jane Austen Mystery Challenge as I always come away from the books marvelling at Barron's expertise and obvious devotion to the Austen style. Barron weaves actual events in Austen's life as a backdrop for her mysteries, and her depiction of Regency life and customs makes her books entertaining as well as informative.

4/5 stars

Title: Jane and the Canterbury Tale
Author: Stephanie Barron
Bantam Books
307 pages
genre: Historical fiction/Regency mystery

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Marsh King's Daughter by Elizabeth Chadwick

England - 1216: Dissatisfaction with King John has bred a civil war which threatens the social order...

Unwanted and unloved, rebellious Miriel Weaver is forced to a convent by her violent stepfather. Her plan to escape from the harsh life of a novice nun crystallizes with the arrival of recuperating soldier of fortune Nicholas de Caen. Miriel sees in his pride and self-sufficiency a kindred spirit and, once he is well enough, a way out.

The two part in Nottingham on bad terms which are to blight both their lives. When they meet again by chance, they agree to call a truce -- but the truce becomes first friendship and then a dangerous passion. Almost too late, Nicholas and Miriel realise that the chain of events triggered by their first meeting could now ensure they never know the pleasure of living...

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

One of the great things about discovering a wonderful historical fiction writer like Elizabeth Chadwick is that she's still producing stellar novels, and she has a long backlist for me to work my way through. For the King's Favor was one of my favorites from last year, and The Marsh King's Daughter was another fascinating historical read.

The Marsh King's Daughter centers on Miriel, the granddaughter of a master weaver who has passed on his skills to his beloved granddaughter. After his death, Miriel's violent stepfather and mother try unsuccessfully to curb her willful personality. Sent to the nuns at St. Catherine's Abbey, Miriel's strong spirit will not bend to the strict regimen and often cruel attempts to make her conform.

Miriel's life changes drastically the day Nicholas de Caen is found by the nuns near death in the vicinity of the abbey. Nicholas had been captured by King John's soldiers as he was involved in an attempted seige. Tied up and thrown in a cart to be interrogated later, he was part of the king's baggage train that traveled across the treacherous marshlands. As the mists rolled in and the waters began to rise, the helpless baggage train began to descend in murky waters and quicksand, drowning men, horses, and burying the royal treasure. Nicholas escapes in the confusion and steals what he can of the king's gold and treasures, although the effort nearly costs him his life.

As Nicholas slowly begins to recover at the abbey under Miriel's medical care, she befriends him and sees him as a way of escape. When his strength returns, the two make a daring escape. Miriel knows she is in grave danger as a young woman out in the world is liable to come under suspicion. She steals a part of the royal treasure from Nicholas and takes off on her own to make her way in the world pretending to be a young widow.

The journey Miriel takes from a runaway novice to a successful businesswoman in the wool industry was interesting and believable. Her intelligence and sense of independence carries her through the difficult times....and many challenges are ahead, particularly as Nicholas and Miriel cross paths again and realize that their lives are meant to be spent together. But evil villains, secret plots, a hidden treasure, and jealous spouses will stand in the way of their happiness.

Loved it! Chadwick's authentic portrait of daily life in the twelfth century is fascinating. From the mind set of medieval men and women, the dress, customs, manners, and mores of the times, Chadwick truly does make the past come alive.

But I do have one curious observation.....does anyone know why this book is called The Marsh King's Daughter??? There is obviously some symbolic meaning that I am missing, or some historical reference that I am not familiar with. I did a quick search and all I could find was a story by Hans Christian Andersen entitled "The Marsh King's Daughter" which contains a refrain:

“Gold and possessions will flee away,
Friends and foes must die one day;
Every man on earth must die,
But a famous name will never die.”

This does have some connection, but I'm just guessing. I'm curious about this and there's nothing that I can find on her website that addresses this. Any info from those in the know would be appreciated!

5/5 stars Highly recommmended for historical fiction fans.

Title: The Marsh King's Daughter
Author: Elizabeth Chadwick
Warner Books

Friday, October 21, 2011

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

A Passionate, Flamboyant Duchess and a Cruel Twist of Fate.....

Jane Maxwell, the fourth Duchess of Gordon, was one of the most influential women of her time--a patroness of poet Robert Burns, advisor to King George and friend to Queen Charlotte, the mastermind behind her husband's political success, and a rival of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

Rich in historical detail, passion, and intrigue, Ciji Ware's Island of the Swans paints a fascinating portrait of one of the most celebrated and controversial beauties of eighteenth-century England.

my thoughts:

I spent quite a bit of time savoring this fascinating portrait of the historical figure, Jane Maxwell, (who became the fourth Duchess of Gordon) and I loved every page! Ciji Ware did a wonderful job of capturing the historical and social details of the time period spanning 1760 - 1797 while weaving in the heartbreaking fictional account of her great first love, Thomas Fraser. From beautiful Scottish landscapes to plantations in Maryland, this rich and dramatic tale of lost love and secret longing kept me glued to the pages!

As young people, Jane and her true love, Thomas Fraser, planned to marry....but Jane's ambitious mother and Thomas' godfather, Simon Fraser, have other plans. The Frasers lost their lands and titles after the defeat at Culloden, and the Master of Lovat devises a scheme to train his godson in military skills to receive a commission in the Black Watch -- a regiment sent to fight in the Colonies. Through this maneuver, the Frasers would have influence with the king to get back what was rightly theirs. Declaring their love for each other and dreaming of their future marriage, Thomas leaves for his duty....but fate is cruel. Their marriage can never be and Jane painfully tries to put the hurtful past aside and forge ahead with life. She is indeed a strong and beautiful woman, intelligent and charismatic, and if she had not been deeply affected by her first love, perhaps her marriage would have been a happy and successful one. On the surface, the Duke and Duchess of Gordon seemed to have everything - children, beautiful homes, a prestigious place in society, a comfortable attraction to each other - yet complete peace and happiness eludes them as they are both haunted by ghosts from the past.

The only place that Jane finds a bit of peace and solace is at Kinrara, one of her smaller homes near Loch-an-Eilean:

"....a body of water in the shape of a perfect oval sapphire. A small
green island on which stood a miniature, vine-covered fortress, studded
its center like a precious emerald jewel. Sun poured down on the center
of the loch, leaving the gravel beaches at its edge shrouded in billowing
mist. ....Two large white swans, their necks arching proudly, swam in a
stately procession from a thicket of reeds, encircling the castle walls."

If you'd like to know why this is an enchanting place for Jane, you must read Island of the Swans for is not to be missed! It's going right next to A Cottage by the Sea as my favorites from Ciji Ware.

5/5 stars Highly recommended

Title: Island of the Swans
Author: Ciji Ware
Sourcebooks 2010
579 pages
genre: historical fiction

Monday, October 17, 2011

Lord John and the Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon

Lord John and the Plague of Zombies is a novella by Diana Gabaldon; it is included in the anthology, Down These Strange Streets, a collection of urban fantasy/paranormal stories (editor George R. R. Martin).

my thoughts:

I have to be honest.....I've been a long-time Outlander fan and eagerly anticipated all of the books in the series since first discovering them over ten years ago. However, when the Lord John books began appearing as an adjunct to the series, I didn't run out to get them for several reasons. One, I just wasn't that enthralled with Lord John as a character. While he certainly plays an important role in the overall storyline (his attraction and friendship with Jamie and his eventual role as father to Willie is key), I just wasn't interested in Lord John's life when he wasn't "on stage" in the Outlander books. I thought I would just keep these books somewhere in the background, and if and when the Outlander series eventually came to an end, I'd still have some Gabaldon books left to read. After all, they were supposed to be "stand alone" novels and stories, so I wouldn't be missing out on any important events. Or so I thought....

Fast forward to today.....more and more stories and novellas have been written by Diana about characters from the Outlander series that DO in fact shed more light on the puzzle pieces that fans have been trying to fit together for years. I'm beginning to feel completely out of the loop, and I hate being in the dark about anything related to the Outlander series! After reading An Echo in the Bone and then reading "A Leaf On the Wind of All Hallows," (a short story featuring Roger's father that I'll discuss in a future post), there is a definite connection and we learn an astounding piece of information regarding what we "thought" was Roger's parents' fate. I'm now convinced that I have to start reading the Lord John series and all the short stories just to make sure I'm completely up-to-date. I'm not thrilled to have to purchase an entire anthology just for the Gabaldon selection, but at some time in the future I intend to read some of the other selections -- there are some interesting authors in the anthologies. Gabaldon discusses that the reading order does not have to be strictly chronological, but those interested in starting at the beginning of her Lord John books can click here to see her suggested chronological order.

In the spirit of the month of October and Halloween when I enjoy reading things that have spooky overtones, I started with "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies." Lord John has been called to assist the Royal Governor of Jamaica as the threat of a slave rebellion has the island inhabitants fearing the worst. Arriving with a battalion of soldiers for protection, Lord John's first encounter with the Governor at his home indicates that there are quite a bit of strange and eerie forces at work on the addition to the threat of a slave rebellion, there is the fear of zombies and supernatural magic here in this remote post. This installment reinforces Lord John's character as one of intelligence, integrity, and a deep sense of duty. It also reveals his inner thoughts about his longing for someone with "reddish whiskers" as well as his attraction to a well-formed male house servant. Nothing terribly new or different, just reinforcing what is already known about his character. However, it was exciting to learn that he has an encounter at Rose Hall that adds to the overall sense of danger to Lord John while he is on the island. Literal and figurative snakes play an important role in "Lord John and the Plague of Zombies," and I believe that anyone who enjoyed the latter part of Voyager will certainly enjoy Lord John's adventure with zombies, snakes, a green-eyed witch, and things that go bump (and reek of decay) in the night.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Winner: Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

Thank you to everyone who entered to win a copy of Wildflower Hill! The winner chosen randomly is.......

Anne from The Book Garden

Congratulations, Anne! You will be receiving an e-mail from me. I hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sea Witch by Helen Hollick


The Time: The golden age of piracy -- 1716
The Place: The pirate round - from Africa to the Caribbean

"At 15 Jesamiah Acorne escapes the bullying of his elder half-brother to become a pirate with only two loves -- the sea and his freedom. But his life is to change after an attack on a merchant ship off the coast of South Africa when he meets the mysterious Tiola Oldstagh, an insignificant girl -- or so he assumes -- until he discovers her true identity, that of a white witch. Tiola and Jesamiah become lovers, but the wealthy Stefan van Overstratten also wants Tiola as his wife. Meanwhile, Jesamiah's half-brother, Phillipe Mereno, is determined to seek revenge for resentments of the past.

When the call of the sea and an opportunity to commandeer a beautiful ship, the Sea Witch, is put in Jesamiah's path, he must choose between his life as a pirate or his love for Tiola. He wants both -- but Mereno and van Overstratten want him dead.

Tiola must use her gift of Craft to rescue her lover, but first she must brave the darkness of the ocean depths and cnfront the supernatural presence of Tethys, the goddess of the sea, who will stop at nothing to claim the soul of Jesamiah Acorne
(from back cover)

my thoughts:

What a glorious adventure with an irresistible rogue!

Sea Witch is the first book in the series chronicling the adventures of Captain Jesamiah Acorne, a pirate who loves the thrill of living-on-the-edge with dangerous encounters at sea...and sharing the plundered treasures with his loyal crew. On the surface, he's a handsome soundrel who loves his rum and women, but deep inside he suffers from shameful secrets and unspeakable abuse in his childhood from his jealous half-brother.

During a skirmish at sea with another ship, Jesamiah encounters the beautiful Tiola, a healer with the gift of Craft, a white witch. She is to haunt his mind and soul....and take over his heart with his love for her. But there is to be no peace for them as lovers as others reach out in pursuit....his brother Phillipe is not finished with his revenge, and Stefan van Overstratten wants Tiola for his wife. Most powerful of all, Tethys -- the soul of the sea in the dark abyss -- wants to claim Jesamiah as her own.

From a plantation in Charleston to Capetown and Nassau, the thrilling adventures and heartwrenching struggles of the two lovers was non-stop action and kept me glued to the pages. I adored this lovable rogue and his devoted Tiola and enjoyed the blending of history, nautical adventures, romance, and fantasy. There were moments of real anguish and heart-pounding danger, and a couple of times I laughed out loud at Jesamiah's naughty antics! Tiola was a strong and admirable heroine, devoted to upholding the truth and integrity of her craft and sensitive to the uses of her power.

I've already purchased the next two installments in the series, Pirate Code and Bring it Close, as I absolutely have to follow Jesamiah and Tiola on another adventure! Their journey is by no means complete in this first installment as there are still many conflicts to work through. I'm delighted to learn that Helen Hollick is busy working on the fourth novel, Ripples in the Sand. I'm hooked and will follow Jesamiah wherever the sea takes him!

4.5/5 stars

***Thank you to Helen Hollick and Laura's Reviews for a copy of Sea Witch.****

Title: Sea Witch: The First Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne
Author: Helen Hollick
Silverwood Books
314 pages
genre: historical adventure

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

"Eva Ward returns to the only place she truly belongs, the old house on the Cornish coast, seeking happiness in memories of childhood summers. There she finds mysterious voices and hidden pathways that sweep her not only into the past, but also into the arms of a man who is not of her time.

But Eva must confront her own ghosts, as well as those of long ago. As she begins to question her place in the present, she comes to realize that she too must decide where she really belongs.

The Rose Garden is a haunting exploration of love, family, the true meaning of home, and the ties that bind us together."

(from the publisher)

My thoughts:

If you are a fan of Susanna Kearsley's novels, then you already know what to expect in The Rose Garden... lyrical writing... vivid images of nature and the landscape...historical settings... characters that you come to know and really care about...time travel that changes seamlessly from one frame to the next...and a breathtaking and poignant ending. The Rose Garden is no exception.

Susanna Kearsley has a very distinctive voice and her "comforting" stories of history and romantic suspense transport me to another time and place. I actually feel a bit out of sorts when I finish Kearsley's novels as I get so wrapped up in another world that I find it jarring to finish the book and realize the journey with the characters is over! That speaks volumes for the magic of her writing.

The Rose Garden introduces us to Eva Ward, a young woman who finds herself alone in the world after the death of her sister. She travels to Cornwall to Trelowarth, an old house where she and her family spent many happy summers as children. Eva believes that this would be the perfect resting place for her sister's ashes as they had such fond memories in Cornwall. She is welcomed by the Halletts, her long-time friends and the family which lives in Trelowarth, and they encourage her to stay for a while to help her get through this difficult time. Feeling stressed and grieved, Eva accepts their invitation and settles into life at Trelowarth. It is not long, however, before strange things begin to happen to Eva that have her questioning her sanity. Who are the voices she is hearing as she is sleeping in her room? Why is the landscape changing as she is walking in the woods?

Eva is experiencing time travel, and soon finds herself back in the 1700's at Trelowarth where two brothers, Mark and Daniel Butler, are involved in mysterious activites. Both smugglers and Jacobite supporters, Eva becomes more and more involved in their intrigue (and falls in love) as she travels back and forth in time. The time travel elements and the challenges Eva faces coming back and forth in time are handled well, but I do wish that the relationship between Eva and her love interest had a bit more spice. I like relationships that have depth and chemistry, and this didn't quite get off the ground until the very end. It was well worth hanging in there for things to develop, though.

Eva has many questions and must confront several issues: how is this happening to her? Can she change the course of history (or the course of someone's life) with her knowledge of the past? Will the present or the past be the place that will bring her a sense of belonging? I thoroughly enjoyed Eva's journey all the way to the stunning conclusion.

"Whatever time we have," he said, "it will be time enough."

***Thank you to Susanna Kearsley and Sourcebooks for sending me a copy for review.****

4.5/5 stars

Title: The Rose Garden
Author: Susanna Kearsley
441 pages
genre: historical romantic suspense

Friday, September 30, 2011

Giveaway Time! Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman

I am fortunate to have an extra copy of the lovely new release, Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman and I would love to share it with the wonderful followers of my blog!

To enter, you must be a follower of this blog (or become a follower) -- please leave a comment with contact information, and one lucky winner will receive a copy of Wildflower Hill. Open to U.S. residents only.

Here is the book synopsis:

Spanning three generations and half the world, Wildflower Hill is a sweeping, romantic, and compelling story of two women who share a legacy of secrets, heartbreak, courage, and love.

Emma, a prima ballerina in London, is at a crossroads after an injured knee ruins her career. Forced to rest and take stock of her life, she finds that she's mistaken fame and achievement for love and fulfillment. Returning home to Australia, she learns of her grandmother Beatrice's death and a strange inheritance: a sheep station in isolated rural Australia. Certain she has been saddled with an irritating burden, Enma prepares to leave for Wildflower Hill to sell the estate.

Beattie also found herself at a crossroads as a young woman, but she was pregnant and unwed. She eventually found success -- but only after folloiwng an unconventional path that was often dangerous and heartbreaking. Beattie knew the lessons she learned in life would be important to Emma one day, and she wanted to make sure Emma's heart remained open to love, no matter what life brought. She knew the magic of the Australian wilderness would show Emma the way.

Wildflower Hill is a compelling, atmospheric, and romantic novel about taking risks, starting again, and believing in yourself. It's about finding out what you really want and discovering that the answer might be not at all what you'd expect.

***Winner will be randomly chosen and announced October 15, 2011. Good luck!***


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do It, Edited by Laurel Ann Nattress

Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature's Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart

About the Anthology:

"My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."

If you just heaved a contented sigh at Mr. Darcy's heartfelt words, then you, dear reader, are in good company. Here is a delightful collection of never-before-published stories inspired by Jane Austen -- her novels, her life, her wit, her world. Regency or contemporary, romantic or fantastical, each of these marvelous stories reaffirms the incomparable influence of one of history's most cherished authors.(from the publisher)

My thoughts:

Can Austen fans ever get enough of quality Austen-inspired sequels, prequels, retellings, and story continuations? I don't think so! Actually, you don't have to be a Janeite to enjoy this creative collection of short stories as there is enough variety here to entertain a wide reading audience.

Laurel Ann Nattress, editor of Jane Austen Made Me Do It and the creator of the popular Austenprose blog, assembled her dream team of authors to create stories based on Austen's novels and her world. Challenging the authors to remain true to Austen's novels, spirit and philosophies of life and love, twenty-two stories with unique interpretations were created for the anthology and include contributions from top-notch authors such as Lauren Willig, Stephanie Barron, Syrie James, Adriana Trigiani, Monica Fairview, Amanda Grange, and Laurie Viera Rigler, just to name a few, and a contest-winning story from aspiring author Brenna Aubrey.

Here's a sampling of what readers can expect from this creative anthology:

In "Jane Austen's Nightmare" by Syrie James, Jane is plagued by a nightmare in which she encounters her characters while taking a walk, and they are not very happy about the way she has created them (with a few exceptions being the blissfully happily married couples from P&P.)

If you've ever watched an episode of Ghost Hunters on the SyFy channel, you'll get a kick out of Lauren Willig's spoof in "A Night at Northanger."

Fans of Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen mystery series will enjoy another mini- installment of Austen-as-sleuth in "Jane and the Gentleman Rogue."

Adriana Trigiani's lovely creation, "Love and Best Wishes, Aunt Jane," is a beautiful story celebrating the art of letter writing with a modern-day Austen giving her soon-to-be-wed niece advice from the heart. Have a hankie will tug at your heart!

Laurie Viera Rigler imagines Mr. Darcy bringing charges against authors of Pride and Prejudice spin-offs in "Intolerable Stupidity," a courtroom drama with none other than the honorable judge, Lady Catherine de Bourgh presiding!

My advice.......set aside a quiet evening, curl up with a cup of tea or glass of wine, and settle in for a celebration of all things Austen in Jane Austen Made Me Do It.

Available October 2011

**Thank you to Laurel Ann Nattress and Random House for sending me an advance copy for review. You can visit Austenprose and the blog Jane Austen Made Me Do It for more information about events and news.**

4.5/5 stars

Title: Jane Austen Made Me Do It
Editor: Laurel Ann Nattress
Random House
445 pages
genre: Anthology of Austen-inspired stories

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 »