Monday, February 28, 2011

The Countess and the King by Susan Holloway Scott

"In the decadent court of King Charles II, Katherine Sedley was a lady who lived by her own rules and loved where she pleased....
Katherine Sedley is born to wealth and privilege in seventeenth-century London, and her unconventional upbringing includes a mad mother who believes that she's the queen and a father who is one of the most notorious libertines in Restoration England. Katherine quickly becomes a favorite at the palace for her sly wit and daring, and she soon attracts the attention of the married Duke of York, His Majesty's brother. She snubs respectable marriage to become the duke's mistress, but when her lover becomes King James II, she is suddenly cast into a tangle of political intrigue in which a wrong step can mean treason, exile, or death on the executioner's block. As the risks rise, Katherine is forced to make the most perilous of choices: to remain loyal to the king or England."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

I have to admit, I was not at all familiar with the story of James II and Katherine Sedley before reading this book. I've read different accounts of the more well known royal mistresses such as Nell Gwyn, the Countess of Castlemaine, and the Duchess of Portmouth, just to name a few, but Katherine Sedley was unknown to me. After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Countess and the King, I felt Susan Holloway Scott did a wonderful job of bringing this unique and delightful character to life.

Katherine had a very unorthodox upbringing. Her mother suffered from delusions and was sent away, leaving her father in charge of her upbringing. He was favored at the court of King Charles II and enjoyed many royal connections, as well as being a playwright. Thus, Katherine spent her very young days attending plays and mingling with the bawdy group of actors and actresses (Nell Gwyn among them) at the theatre and in taverns. As a precocious child, Katherine was just as at ease in the company of royalty as she was with the theatre group. But what set Katherine apart was her frank manner of speaking and her appearance. Definitely not considered attractive in her time, she had plain, bold features that caused her to be cruelly ridiculed for her lack of beauty. She was very witty and had no qualms about speaking her mind -- I applauded when she frankly put people in their place when they insulted her appearance! I just loved her spirit -- she had such a strong sense of independence and a no-nonsense approach to life; her doting father supported her desire to marry only if she found true love. While she was not very lucky in love during her earlier relationships, she found a deep and lasting relationship as the mistress of the Duke of York (who later became King James II and bestowed the title of Countess of Dorchester upon his beloved Katherine). Theirs was an unusual relationship -- he, the King of England and devoutly Catholic, and she, an outspoken, Protestant mistress that was not beautiful -- but they evidently found deep satisfaction and contentment in each other throughout the years, until their inevitable parting.

Katherine Sedley was a very engaging heroine, and I enjoyed the world of Restoration England in The Countess and the King. I'm very much looking forward to reading more of Susan Holloway Scott's royal mistress novels.

A portrait of Katherine Sedley

4/5 stars

Title: The Countess and the King
Author: Susan Holloway Scott
New American Library
384 pages
historical fiction

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Suddenly Sunday - Goodbye, Winter -- Hello, Spring!

Good morning, everyone! It's been quite a while since I've posted a Suddenly Sunday (hosted by blogging friend, Svea, at her lovely blog, Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog), so I thought I'd stop in on this beautiful weekend. Hope everyone is well, and for those that have been snowed in for many weeks, I hope you are beginning to get some relief from the cold. The weather here has been absolutely springlike, with warm breezes and blue skies....perfect weather to kick off the Mardi Gras season. That means I haven't accomplished much reading, but I have been getting in the spirit of the city to get out and relax and have some fun.

Spent a lovely day yesterday Uptown to watch my son march in a parade, and since I always have my camera with me, I took a few pics while waiting for the parade to begin. I so love the charm and history of my city, and everywhere you turn there is something beautiful to see....

Lazy streetcars rumbling down the tracks on St. Charles Avenue....

Intricate architectural details on Creole mansions.....

Glowing gaslights and ancient oaks.....

Lovely antique wrought iron gates of Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Convent)....

It wouldn't be a parade without the U.S. Marines.

And the most colorful part of Mardi Gras, the floats with riders throwing those all important beads and cups!

In books news, I received an ARC of Margaret George's Elizabeth I (I love her book, The Autobiography of Henry VIII), and I'll be participating in her virtual book tour in May.

Have you heard the buzz about The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry? It seems to be getting strong reviews and looks like a fascinating mix of Victorian mystery and Tudor history, so I immediately added it to my Must Read NOW list!

Book Synopsis: (from the publisher)
London, 1876. The painter Amos Roselli is in love with his life-long friend and model, the beautiful Daphne - and she with him - until one day she is discovered by another man, a powerful and wealthy industrialist. What will happen when Daphne realises she has sacrificed her happiness to a loveless marriage? What will happen when the artist realises he has lost his most cherished source of inspiration? And how will they negotiate the ever-increasing frequency of strange and bizarre events that seem to be driving them inexorably towards self-destruction. Here, amid the extravagant Neo-Gothic culture of Victorian England, the iconic poem ‘The Lady of Shalott’ blends with mysterious and ghostly glimpses of Tudor history. Romantic, atmospheric and deeply dark.

Can't wait to read this one!

Have a wonderful week!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Spotlight & Giveaway: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

It is an exciting day here at Slice of Life ! I have the great pleasure of spotlighting one of my all-time favorite authors...Diana Gabaldon, author of Outlander. Anyone who knows me will tell you that Diana captured my attention several years ago when I first discovered the Outlander series, and it's been an amazing journey as I eagerly anticipate each new installment. (Fans are on pins and needles right now waiting for Book 8 to be written and published!!) If you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon's series, please let me know by leaving a comment below and telling me why you love Outlander. It's fun hearing from other readers who enjoy the series as much as I do. If you haven't read Outlander yet, now is a great time to begin the adventure! This year actually marks the twentieth year anniversary since Outlander was published, so join in the excitement of this milestone celebration. Here's a little background on Outlander to tempt you to get started:

Book Synopsis:
Claire Randall is leading a double life. She has a husband in one century, and a lover in another...

In 1945, Claire Randall, a former combat nurse, is back from the war and reunited with her husband on a second honeymoon--when she innocently touches a boulder in one of the ancient stone circles that dot the British Isles. Suddenly she is a Sassenach—an "outlander"—in a Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans in the year of our Lord...1743.

Hurled back in time by forces she cannot understand, Claire's destiny in soon inextricably intertwined with Clan MacKenzie and the forbidden Castle Leoch. She is catapulted without warning into the intrigues of lairds and spies that may threaten her life ...and shatter her heart. For here, James Fraser, a gallant young Scots warrior, shows her a passion so fierce and a love so absolute that Claire becomes a woman torn between fidelity and desire...and between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives.

About the Author:
Diana Gabaldon is the author of the award-winning, #1 NYT-bestselling OUTLANDER novels.
The adventure began in 1991 with the classic OUTLANDER (“historical fiction with a Moebius twist”), has continued through six more New York Times-bestselling novels–DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, VOYAGER, DRUMS OF AUTUMN, THE FIERY CROSS, A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES, and AN ECHO IN THE BONE, with nineteen million copies in print worldwide
The series is published in 26 countries and 23 languages, and includes a nonfiction companion volume, THE OUTLANDISH COMPANION, which provides details on the settings, background, characters, research, and writing of the novels. Gabaldon has also written several books in a sub-series featuring Lord John Grey: LORD JOHN AND THE PRIVATE MATTER, LORD JOHN AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE, and LORD JOHN AND THE HAND OF DEVILS. Another Lord John book, LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER, will probably be published in 2011).
She has also written a graphic novel titled THE EXILE (set within the OUTLANDER universe and featuring the main characters from OUTLANDER), but told from the viewpoint of Jamie Fraser and his godfather, Murtagh. The graphic novel is illustrated by Hoang Nguyen, published by Del-Rey.
Gabaldon is presently working on the third Lord John novel (LORD JOHN AND THE SCOTTISH PRISONER), and the eighth book in the OUTLANDER series.
She and her husband, Douglas Watkins, have three adult children and live mostly in Scottsdale, Arizona.

You can visit Diana online at

You can purchase Diana's books here.

*****Giveaway Details*****
If you would like an opportunity to win a copy of this book, simply leave a comment on this post indicating that you would like to be entered in the drawing (please include an e-mail address for contact), and Random House will provide one lucky winner with a copy of Diana Gabaldon's fabulous Outlander. Giveaway is open to U.S. and Canada residents only. Winner will be randomly selected and announced on March 10, 2011

***THIS CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED - thank you****

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

U.S. Cover for The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

It's always good news when I find out information about forthcoming books from author Susanna Kearsley. She has revealed the Sourcebooks cover for the U.S. edition of The Rose Garden, expected to be released in the U.S. in the fall this year.

Book Synopsis:
When Eva’s filmstar sister Katrina dies, she leaves California and returns to Trelowarth, Cornwall , where they spent their childhood summers, to scatter Katrina’s ashes and in doing so return her to the place where she belongs.

But Eva must also confront the ghosts from her own past, as well as those from a time long before her own. For the house where she so often stayed as a child is home not only to her old friends the Halletts, but also to the people who had lived there in the eighteenth century. When Eva finally accepts that she is able to slip between centuries and see and talk to the inhabitants from hundreds of years ago, she soon finds herself falling for Daniel Butler, a man who lived – and died – long before she herself was born.

Eva begins to question her place in the present, and in laying her sister to rest, comes to realise that she too must decide where she really belongs, choosing between the life she knows and the past she feels so drawn towards.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Passage by Connie Willis

"Dr. Joanna Lander is a psychologist specializing in near-death experiences. She is about to get help from a new doctor with the power to give her the chance to get as close to death as anyone can. A brilliant young neurologist, Dr. Richard Wright has come up with a way to manufacture the near-death experience using a psychoactive drug. Joanna's first NDE is as fascinating as she imagined--so astounding that she knows she must go back, if only to find out why that place is so hauntingly familiar.

But each time Joanna goes under, her sense of dread begins to grow, because part of her already knows why the experience is so familiar, and why she has every reason to be afraid. Yet just when Joanna thinks she understands, she's in for the biggest surprise of all--a shattering scenario that will keep you feverishly reading until the final climatic page."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Having previously read and enjoyed Doomsday Book by Connie Willis, I added Passage to my list for the 2011 Time Travel Reading Challenge.

Passage was truly one of the most unusual and thought-provoking books I've read in a long time, but it left me with ambiguous feelings. At times, I absolutely loved this thriller and couldn't put it down; other times, I was frustrated and felt like I was an experimental mouse being led through a never-ending maze and constantly crashing into dead ends. It was over-long and intense, and I got tired of wading through pages and pages to find one little tiny piece of a never ending puzzle and repetitive passages. How can you like and dislike a book so much at the same time? Strangely, when all seven-hundred-and-eighty pages were over, I believe it was a fascinating (science fiction) view of life and death, but would have been much improved by judicious editing (like about two-hundred pages or so!).


There's really no way to talk about this book without giving away some aspects of the plot. In a nutshell, two doctors at Mercy General Hospital, Dr. Joanna Lander and Dr. Richard Wright, team up to study the near-death experience. The purpose of their research is to collect objective data to determine if there are similarities in NDE's and to attempt to determine the cause of NDE's. Is the NDE the body's survival mechanism? Is it a result of chemicals released in the brain as the body undergoes trauma?

Dr. Richard Wright's startling research into NDE's attempts to simulate a near-death experience in his volunteers. By injecting drugs into the volunteer patients and monitoring their brain activity and vitals, the individuals undergo a controlled near-death experience. All the physical data is recorded for comparison among volunteers, and then they are interviewed about their experience...what or who did they see? feel? hear? smell? What were their surroundings? Was it a comforting experience or a frightening one? One by one, the volunteers abruptly drop out of the experiment after their first experience, and it's impossible to get more volunteers to take their place. In order to keep the project from closing down, Dr. Joanna Lander volunteers to go under herself, and the frightening and startling consequences kept me on the edge of my seat! Each time Joanna is injected with the drug, she experiences being in a dark passage with a light at the end.....people are dressed in white in the far is extremely cold.....each time she returns, more clues reveal where she is during her NDE....there is water all around.....flares are being sent up.....people around her are confused and frightened....looking for lifeboats.......water is filling the bottom.....SOS....SOS...Get where this is going?

There is so much more to this complex plot, and so many brilliant literary comparisons and insights into the meaning of life, the experience of death, and individuals' perception of the experience of death. One of the richest characterizations in the story was that of little Maisie, a precocious patient who is waiting for a heart transplant and facing the possibility of death on a daily basis. Her obsession with great disasters of the centuries (Pompeii, the Hindenburg, etc..) is a chilling reflection of her own efforts to make sense of her feelings and the prospect of facing death. There is lots of comic relief with this sassy little darling who can talk her way out of (and into) all kinds of trouble.

I haven't even scratched the surface of this story -- there was much to contemplate, and one of the most chilling parts of Passage were the chapter quotes -- the purported last words of people in history....very haunting and eerie. The ending left me scratching my head as I didn't expect it to end on a note of hope, but it strangely has (in my interpretation) religious symbolism, but that could just be my orientation. Who knows? Only people who have really died know the truth, and so far, they're not telling.

3.5/5 stars

**This book is more science fiction thriller than time travel, but I'm using it for the Time Travel Challenge since there is some element of going back in time.

Title: Passage
Author: Connie Willis
Bantam Books
780 pages
genre: science fiction/thriller

Monday, February 7, 2011

Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

"In her fight to stay alive, MacKayla must find the Sinsar Dubh --a million-year-old book of the blackest magic imaginable, which holds the key to power over the worlds of both the Fae and Man. Pursued by assassins, surrounded by mysterious figures she knows she can't trust, Mac finds herself torn between two deadly and powerful men: V'lane, the immortal Fae Prince, and Jericho Barrons, a man as irresistible as he is dangerous.

For centuries the shadowy realm of the Fae has coexisted with that of humans. Now the walls between the two are coming down, and Mac is the only thing that stands between them."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Bloodfever, Book 2 in the dark and sexy Fever series, continues Mac's quest to discover more about the world of Fae and the objects of power and leads her into more terrifying danger as she seeks revenge for her sister's murder.

The Unseelie, or dark forces, are being released by the Lord Master through a portal into the human world causing an increase in the amount of murders, rapes, and crime in the city of Dublin. Mac is in constant danger from the dark forces, but is protected by both Jericho Barrons (who is he? what is he?) and the relative security of his cozy bookstore. (I love this aspect of the story -- Mac is now spending her days working at the bookstore, snug by a warm fire in the evenings, reading and writing in her journal, safe from the Dark outside.) JB is such an enigma...disappearing for long stretches of time, evading Mac's questions, and offering little information about himself. It is evident, though, the Barrons needs Mac's ability to sense the objects of power and will do anything to protect her. But why does HE want these objects of power? What will he do with them when he possesses them? Barrons constantly surprises Mac by seeming to have inside knowledge and taking her to places where the Fae world's magical objects are hidden...but an unbelievable climatic event at the end almost ends Mac's life. It's a gruesome scene, quite shocking and not for the faint hearted, but this Unseelie world that Mac is fighting against is the vilest, most base of all creatures.

Mac is a much more mature character in Bloodfever, gaining knowledge and confidence in her ability to survive in this hideous world of dark creatures and the Fae. She's still not quite sure which of her companions to trust (V'lane gives her a glimpse of bittersweet memories with her sister) and Barrons has revealed his sexual desire for Mac (yay!), but no one is above suspicion and everyone's motives are questionable.

On to Faefever!

And just for fun, I found that the characters in the Fever series have official Facebook pages! The photos are spot-on for the way I imagine the characters of MacKayla, Barrons, and V'lane. Click here for Mac's page, here for Barron's page, and here for V'lane's page.


Title: Bloodfever
Author: Karen Marie Moning
350 pages
genre: urban fantasy/paranormal romance

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

Season of Storms evokes the majesty and mystery of the Italian Lake District....

"In the early 1900's, in an elegant, isolated villa called Il Piacere, the playwright Galeazzo D'Ascanio lived for Celia Sands. She was his muse and his mistress, his most enduring obsession. She was the inspiration for his most stunning, original play. But the night before she was to take the stage in the leading role, she disappeared.

Now, in a theatre on the grounds of Il Piacere, Alessandro D'Ascanio is preparing to stage the first performance of his granfather's masterpiece. A promising young actress--who shares Celia Sands's name--but not her blood--has agreed to star. She is instantly drawn to the mysteries surrounding the play--and to her compelling, compassionate employer. And even though she knows she should let the past go, in the dark--in her dreams--it comes back...."

(from the publisher)

my thoughts:

Once again, in Season of Storms, Susanna Kearsley has expertly woven a tale where the threads of a tragic love story from the past are woven into the present day storyline, and the result is a beautiful blend of mystery and suspense. In classic Kearsley style, the romance is subtle and the prose is lovely, evoking the charm and elegance of the Italian countryside and the glamorous villa of Il Piacere.

At the turn of the century, a beautiful actress, Celia Sands, was the lover of married playwright Galeazzo D'Asconio. She was his inspiration for poetry and for whom he wrote his greatest play, Il Prezzo ("The Price"). No one was able to see his beloved Celia perform in the play as she mysteriously disappeared before her first performance. The reader gradually learns more of this mystery and gains more insight into Galeazzo's love for Celia in vignettes throughout the book. I actually thought this was the most compelling part of the plot and wished more time had been spent on this aspect of the story.

The present-day Celia Sands, a young inexperienced actress, is delighted to learn that she has been chosen to perform the lead in the production of Il Prezzo in Italy. She has been invited, along with other famous actors, to perform at the newly renovated villa where the grandson of Galeazzo D'Asconio, Alex, now resides. As soon as she arrives, strange events begin to occur.....there is an undercurrent of secrecy and deception by many players, and Celia begins to wonder if she has unwittingly walked into danger.

While Season of Storms has a very satisfying and poignant conclusion, it took a long time for all the threads to come together -- a bit less description would have moved the plot along, but I've come to learn to be patient with Kearsley's style and enjoy the journey. Not her best, but still very enjoyable.

You might also like to see my reviews of Kearsley's other novels, all which I highly recommend.

The Winter Sea


The Shadowy Horses

Named of the Dragon
3.5/5 stars

Title: Season of Storms
Author: Susanna Kearsley
McArthur & Company
435 pages
genre: mystery/suspense

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 »