Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Think Would Make Great Book Club Picks

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   This meme features a different top 10 list every week.

This week's list is:

Top Ten Books I Think Would Make Good Book Club Picks

(1) The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubos III.   I experienced very strong emotions reading this book - it's definitely the type of novel you'll want to discuss with others.  

(2) My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier.   My favourite of Du Maurier's novels, this one is guaranteed to generate lots of discussion.   It will surprise you how differently readers will interpret certain events of this book.  

(3) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.   Narrated by Death, this work of YA historical fiction appeals to fans of all ages.  

(4) Atonement by Ian McEwan.   This stunning novel set during the 1930s and during WWII provides many topics for discussion. 

(5) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.   Love it or hate it (I'm firmly in the love camp) there will be no shortage of discussion if you select Wolf Hall as a book club selection. 

(6) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.   Parts of this book are difficult to read, but this story of friendship will stay with each reader. 

(7) The Lost Prince by David Baldwin.   This would be a great selection for a book club whose members love history or historical fiction.   This work of non-fiction puts forward the notion that Richard, Duke of York, one of the two princes in the Tower allegedly put to death by Richard III, survived. 

(8) Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.  This novel, which centres around a group of friends who are part of a book club, is a definite must read for book clubs. 

(9) Outlaw by Angus Donald.   The first in Donald's trilogy about Robin Hood, this book would make a great book club selection since it puts an interesting spin on the Robin Hood legend.  Whether or not readers like Donald's characterization of Robin himself would be a great focus for discussion. 
(10) Persuasion by Jane Austen.  Every book club must include at least one Jane Austen title in it's selections.  Since this is my favourite of Austen's works this is the one I'd go with. 

What books would you recommend to book clubs?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly travelling meme that is being hosted during the month of January by At Home With Books.

Without further ado, here are the books that made their way into my home over the past week -- all are my own purchases (all synopses courtesy of Chapters.indigo.ca):

God Is an Englishman by R.F. Delderfield

Adam Swann, scion of an Army family and veteran of campaigns in the Crimea and India, determines to make his fortune and found his own dynasty. His struggle to succeed and his conquest of Henrietta, the spirited daughter of a rich manufacturer, form the central theme of a novel that takes the reader from the dusty plains of India to the teeming slums of nineteenth-century London, from the chaos of the great industrial cities of the age to the peaceful certainties of the English countryside. 

Filled with epic scenes and memorable characters, God Is an Englishman is a rich novel of remarkable strength, honesty, love, and warmth.

Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorland (Book One) by John Flanagan

Full of adventure, storytelling, magic, and deep characterization, this debut fantasy introduces the magic-practicing Rangers, protectors of the kingdom, and Will, a 15-year-old villager who has been chosen as a Ranger's apprentice.

Plus, after enjoying this one immensely, I went out and bought books 2 - 4 of the series:

- Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge
- Ranger's Apprentice: The Icebound Land
- Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia

Across the Universe by Beth Revis

Amy is a cryogenically frozen passenger aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed. She expects to awaken on a new planet, 300 years in the future. But fifty years before Godspeed's scheduled landing, Amy''s cryo chamber is unplugged, and she is nearly killed.

Now, Amy is caught inside an enclosed world where nothing makes sense. Godspeed's passengers have forfeited all control to Eldest, a tyrannical and frightening leader, and Elder, his rebellious and brilliant teenage heir.

Amy desperately wants to trust Elder. But should she? All she knows is that she must race to unlock Godspeed's hidden secrets before whoever woke her tries to kill again.

At the Mercy of the Queen by Anne Clifford Barnhill

A sweeping tale of sexual seduction and intrigue at the court of Henry VIII, At the Mercy of the Queen is a rich and dramatic debut historical about Madge Shelton, cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne's ambition.

Desperate to hold onto the king's waning affection, Anne schemes to have him take her guileless young cousin as mistress, ensuring her husband's new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. But Margaret has fallen deeply in love with a handsome young courtier. She is faced with a terrible dilemma: give herself to the king and betray the love of her life or refuse to become his mistress and jeopardize the life of the her cousin, Queen Anne. 

That's what arrived in my mailbox.   What did you get in yours? 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review & Giveaway: The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau

An aristocratic young nun must find a legendary crown in order to save her father-and preserve the Catholic faith from Cromwell's ruthless terror. The year is 1537. . .
Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the sacred rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin's side. Arrested for interfering with the king's justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

The ruthless Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, takes terrifying steps to force Joanna to agree to spy for him: to save her father's life she must find an ancient relic-a crown so powerful, it may hold the ability to end the Reformation. Accompanied by two monks, Joanna returns home to Dartford Priory and searches in secret for this long-lost piece of history worn by the Saxon King Athelstan in 937 during the historic battle that first united Britain.

But Dartford Priory has become a dangerous place, and when more than one dead body is uncovered, Joanna departs with a sensitive young monk, Brother Edmund, to search elsewhere for the legendary crown. From royal castles with tapestry-filled rooms to Stonehenge to Malmesbury Abbey, the final resting place of King Athelstan, Joanna and Brother Edmund must hurry to find the crown if they want to keep Joanna's father alive. At Malmesbury, secrets of the crown are revealed that bring to light the fates of the Black Prince, Richard the Lionhearted, and Katherine of Aragon's first husband, Arthur. The crown's intensity and strength are beyond the earthly realm and it must not fall into the wrong hands.

With Cromwell's troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must now decide who she can trust with the secret of the crown so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England's past.

My Review

4 Stars

The Crown, author Nancy Bilyeau's debut novel, is an engaging, action-packed historical thriller that is sure to delight fans of Tudor-era fiction.  Set during the English Reformation, the novel centres around a young novice, Joanna Stafford, who, after breaking the rule of enclosure to go to London to show her support for a cousin condemned to death as a traitor, finds herself in the Tower of London for interfering in the King's Justice.  While in the Tower, Joanna is approached by Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a close advisor to King Henry VIII, and asked to covertly locate an ancient relic -- the Athelstan Crown -- believed to be hidden at Dartford Priory.  With her father's life at stake if she refuses, Joanna has no choice but to accept the Bishop's request.  Cleared of all charges against her, Joanna, accompanied by two Dominican monks, returns to Dartford Priory and sets out to achieve her objective of finding the crown.  Locating the relic, which has been hidden for hundreds of years, is harder than Joanna bargained for, and is hampered by a number of unforeseen events at the Priory, including a murder and the arrival of Thomas Cromwell's commissioners, who were involved in the dissolution of the monasteries.   While Dartford Priory has always been a place of quiet refuge for Joanna, her quest for Athelstan's crown and events within the Priory itself reveals a hidden world of secrets and intrigues and it soon becomes apparent to Joanna that not everyone is as they seem. 

Full of rich historical detail, The Crown focuses on life in a priory in the midst of the suppression of England's religious houses.  In my reading experience, this is a subject not prominently featured in Tudor-era historical fiction.   One of the greatest strengths of this novel is the plausibility of the plot, which does not suffer from an excess of unbelievable events or feature a heroine who is repeatedly able to get herself out of impossible situations.   Instead, Bilyeau has crafted a smart historical thriller that features events and actions entirely within the realm of the possible and set firmly within a proper historical context.  The novel's protagonist, Joanna, is well-drawn and sympathetic.  The supporting characters, whether hero or villain, are engaging.   While the quest for the crown is the main focus of this novel, it also contains various subplots, including the murder of a nobleman staying at Dartford Priory, that provide an additional element of mystery.   These sub-plots serve to compliment the primary story line rather than bog it down, and I was just as interested in them as I was in the main plot.    Although I had some inklings about how some of various story lines would be resolved, for the most part the narrative leaves the reader guessing right up until the end.   I look forward to hearing more from Nancy Bilyeau, and hope that we haven't heard the last of Joanna Stafford! 

This novel is highly recommended to fans of historical thrillers and Tudor-era historical fiction. 

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Crown as a host for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. 

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.blogspot.com/2011/12/nancy-bilyeau-on-tour-for-crown-january.html
Follow the tour on Twitter at the following hashtag: #TheCrownVirtualBookTour
Nancy Bilyeau's website: www.nancybilyeau.com
Nancy Bilyeau on Twitter: @TudorScribe


As part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour for The Crown, I'm delighted to host a giveaway for one copy of this fabulous book.

Contest details:

- Open to residents of the United States only

- To enter, please leave a comment with your name and email address (only comments with email addresses will be entered)

- The contest will be open until midnight on February 3rd

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   This meme features a different top 10 list every week.

This week's list is a freebie, meaning I can make up a list of my own or select a list from the past.  I've selected a past top ten list - one I've not participated in previously.

Top Ten Favourite Book Covers

(1) The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.  I wasn't a big fan of this novel, but the cover is beautiful. 

(2) The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. 

(3) The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton

(4) The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

(5) The Map of Time by Felix Palma

(6) The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

(7) Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley.  I love the colours used for this  cover.

(8) Atonement by Ian McEwan.  I think this cover suits the novel perfectly. 

(9) The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay.  I love covers featuring old books. 

(10) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling.   My favourite of the Harry Potter covers because it features Harry, Ron and Hermione.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review: The Running Vixen by Elizabeth Chadwick

1126. Heulwen, daughter of Welsh Marcher baron Guyon FitzMiles, has grown up with her father's ward, Adam de Lacey. There has always been a spark between them, but when Heulwen marries elsewhere, to Ralf le Chevalier, a devastated Adam absents himself on various diplomatic missions for King Henry I. When Ralf is killed in a skirmish, Heulwen's father considers a new marriage for her with his neighbour's son, Warrin de Mortimer. Adam, recently returned to England, has good reason to loathe Warrin and is determined not to lose Heulwen a second time. But Heulwen is torn between her duty to her father and the pull of her heart. Adam is no longer the awkward boy she remembers, but a man who stirs every fibre of her being - which places them both in great danger, because Warrin de Mortimer is not a man to be crossed and the future of a country is at stake ... 

Synopsis courtesy of amazon.co.uk

My Review

3.5 Stars

The Running Vixen, the second novel in Elizabeth Chadwick's Ravenstow Trilogy, follows the lives and loves of Adam de Lacey and Heulwen, daughter of a Welsh Marcher lord.   Raised together, Adam has always loved Heulwen.   But Heulwen, who has never thought of Adam as anything more than her foster-brother, marries another man.  In an attempt to forget about Heulwen, Adam leaves Ravenstow and enters into the service of King Henry I.   The novel opens with Adam's return to the Welsh Marches, where he finds Heulwen recently widowed and vows to win her over.   While Adam's return raises feelings in Heulwen she didn't know she had, she is determined not to let her heart rule her decision on whom to marry.    Will Adam win her hand, or will Heulwen make a marriage match purely for political purposes? 

Set against the backdrop of an England on the verge of political upheaval with the naming of Empress Matilda as Henry I's heir, The Running Vixen is, at its heart, a love story.   But this is not a straight forward love story - Adam and Heulwen's relationship is complex, and their path to love and happiness is not an easy one.   As is usual with her novels, Chadwick has once again crafted a strong storyline that is rich in historical detail and features a strong cast of characters.   While I would have preferred a more emphasis on the politics that characterized the period in English history in which this novel is set, it didn't significantly detract from my overall enjoyment of the book.   

Although this novel stands well on its own, I do recommend reading The Wild Hunt, the first book in the Ravenstow trilogy, prior to this one given it provides background on many of the key characters  in this novel. 

Recommended for readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the medieval period. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday

It's time for Waiting on Wednesday, a weekly meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine that spotlights books we are eagerly anticipating the release of.

My pick this week is:

 Her Highness, the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Release Date: June 4th, 2012

Synopsis (from Chapters.indigo.ca):

When Henry VIII dies, leaving behind his nine-year-old son as his heir, a deadly series of power struggles begins, transforming the lives of two women. Joan Dudley''s husband, the Duke of Northumberland, becomes the most powerful man in England, while Frances Grey perchs with her daughter Jane dangerously close to the throne. But when Mary Tudor asserts her own right to the crown, Frances and Joan find that the lives of their husbands and children are in mortal danger. The story of the women behind the crowning of Jane Grey, this novel is an illuminating tale of ambition gone awry.

What book are you waiting on this week?


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Would Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read Historical Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   This meme features a different top 10 list every week.

This week's list: Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read XX (for example, if you are a YA blogger you might pick 10 YA books for people who don't read YA or if you read classics maybe 10 classics that those who don't typically read classics might read! Or you could get more specific).

Top Ten Books I'd Recommend to Someone Who Doesn't Read Historical Fiction

(1) The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.   Penman is a master of the historical fiction genre and this is, in my opinion, her finest work. 

(2) The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett.   This is one of the books that got me interested in the historical fiction genre. 

(3) The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick.  Chadwick's novels are full of vivid historical detail.  This one brings to life William Marshall, a man considered to be the greatest knight of the medieval era. 

(4) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  A charming novel set in Guernsey in the years immediately following WWII. 

(5) Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden.  This power novel brings to life the horrors of WWI and its aftermath for those who survived the trenches. 

(6) Katherine by Anya Seton.  One of my all-time favourites, this novel tells of the real-life 14th century love story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. 

(7) Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn.  The first in Raybourn's Lady Julia mystery series, this novel is not to be missed. 

(8) Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See.  Beautifully written novel of two young girls selected to be sworn sisters in 19th century China.

(9) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.   Narrated by Death, this novel follows the life of a young girl in Nazi Germany. 

(10) Atonement by Ian McEwan.  This beautifully written novel is set in England during 1930s and 1940s.  

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly travelling meme that is being hosted during the month of January by At Home With Books

I received lots of great books last week!  I might have to cool it on the book purchasing in the weeks to come and focus instead on those books I already have :-)

Received for Review:

The Turning of Anne Merrick by Christine Blevins

She spies for General Washington, betrays the Redcoats and battles for America's independence...

It's 1777, and a fledgling country wages an almost hopeless struggle against the might of the British Empire. Brought together by a fateful kiss, Anne Merrick and Jack Hampton are devoted to each other and to their Patriot cause. As part of Washington's daring network of spies, they are ready and willing to pay even the ultimate price for freedom.

From battlefields raging along the Hudson, to the desperate winter encampment at Valley Forge and through the dangerous intrigue of British-occupied Philadelphia, Anne and Jack brave the trials of separation, the ravages of war and an unyielding enemy growing ever more ruthless.

For love and for country, all is put at risk-and together the pair must call upon their every ounce of courage and cunning in order to survive.

Received from Author:

Midwife of the Blue Ridge by Christine Blevins

They call her Dark Maggie for her thick black hair, but the name also has a more sinister connotation. As the lone survivor of an attack on her village, she was thought to be cursed, and unfit for marriage. Maggie is also gifted with quick wits and skilled in medicine, trained as a midwife. Venturing to the colonies as an indentured servant, she hopes to escape the superstitions of the old country, and find a home of her own. But what she discovers is a New World fraught with new dangers.

Won (courtesy of Bippity Boppity Book):

The Lion Wakes by Robert Low

It is 1296 and Scotland is in turmoil. The old king, Alexander III, has died after falling off his horse one dark and stormy night. Scotland's future is in peril. Edward I of England, desperate to keep control of his northern borders, arranges for John Baliol, a weak man who Edward knows he can manipulate, to take leadership of Scotland. But unrest is rife and many are determined to throw off the shackles of England. Among those men is Robert the Bruce, darkly handsome, young, angry and obsessed by his desire to win Scotland's throne. He will fight for the freedom of the Scots until the end. But there are many rival factions and the English are a strong and fearsome opponent. The Lion Wakes culminates in the Battle of Falkirk which proves to be the beginning of a rivalry that will last for decades...

My Own Purchases:

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.

The Unseen by Katherine Webb

England, 1911. When a free-spirited young woman arrives in a sleepy Berkshire village to work as a maid in the household of The Reverend and Mrs Canning, she sets in motion a chain of events which changes all their lives. For Cat has a past - a past her new mistress is willing to overlook, but will never understand . . .

This is not all Hester Canning has to cope with. When her husband invites a young man into their home, he brings with him a dangerous obsession...

During the long, oppressive summer, the rectory becomes charged with ambition, love and jealousy - with the most devastating consequences.

The First Wife by Emily Barr

His first wife was everything you're not. But was she everything she seemed?

Lily, a young woman left alone in the world on the death of her grandparents, finds purpose when she befriends Harry Summers, a grieving widower, whose wife Sarah recently took her own life in Barcelona. The pair fall in love and Lily finally finds the security she has never had. But Lily's life takes a darker turn when she realises there may be more to Sarah's death than meets the eye. Anxious to find the truth before she marries her beloved Harry, Lily sets off to Barcelona in search of answers. What she discovers is more shocking than she could ever have imagined.

I also purchased:

- Theodora by Stella Duffy
- My Love, My Enemy by Jan Cox Speas
- The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro
- The Nosferato Scroll by James Becker

That's it for me.  What was in your mailbox this past week?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Book Review: Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

After eight idyllic months in the Mediterranean, Lady Julia Grey and her detective husband are ready to put their investigative talents to work once more. At the urging of Julia's eccentric family, they hurry to India to aid an old friend, the newly widowed Jane Cavendish. Living on the Cavendish tea plantation with the remnants of her husband's family, Jane is consumed with the impending birth of her child and with discovering the truth about her husband's death. Was he murdered for his estate? And if he was, could Jane and her unborn child be next?

Amid the lush foothills of the Himalayas, dark deeds are buried and malicious thoughts flourish. The Brisbanes uncover secrets and scandal, illicit affairs and twisted legacies. In this remote and exotic place, exploration is perilous and discovery, deadly. The danger is palpable and, if they are not careful, Julia and Nicholas will not live to celebrate their first anniversary.

Synopsis courtesy of Chapters.indigo.ca

My Review

4 Stars
Dark Road to Darjeeling, the fourth book in Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mystery series, moves away from the confines of Victorian England, the setting for the first three novels in the series, to colonial India.   As their honeymoon draws to a close, Lady Julia and new husband, private detective Nicholas Brisbane, are requested by Julia's sister, Portia, and brother, Plum, to accompany them to India to come to the aid of family friend Jane Cavendish.  Jane, a recent widow awaiting the birth of her first child, is convinced the circumstances surrounding her husband's death were not as straightforward as they appeared to be.  Eager to help, Julia and Nicholas set forth for India and put their investigative skills to work; uncovering far more than they ever anticipated and putting their own lives at risk in the process.

Somewhat disappointed with the third installment of the series, Silent on the Moor, I left Dark Road to Darjeeling languishing unread on my shelves for over a year before finally picking it up.  My main concern was whether the series would still hold the same appeal now that the "will they or won't they" dynamic of Julia and Nicholas' relationship was put to rest with their marriage.  I needn't have worried.   This book is every bit as fun and mysterious as the first two novels of the series.   The change in setting was refreshing, and I especially enjoyed the view of life in a small colonial village presented in the novel.   Raybourn once again delivers a novel full of interesting and well thought out characters; successfully incorporating the story lines of new characters, to whom there is more than meets the eye, with those of the series regulars.   One of the greatest strengths of this book is that the mystery surrounding Jane's husband's death was actually mysterious.   I hate mystery novels that feature a villain who is too easily identifiable, but this isn't a problem in Dark Road to Darjeeling.  I had little idea how things would turn out until almost the end, which is exactly how I think mysteries should be.   I look forward to reading the next installment, The Dark Enquiry

Recommended to fans of the earlier Lady Julia books and historical mysteries in general, especially those set in the Victorian era.   

Note: This book comes from my personal collection.