Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Kick-Ass Heroines

It's time for Top Ten Tuesdays, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish that features a different book/reading theme each week.   This week's topic is:

Top Ten Kick-Ass Heroines

(1) Hermione Granger from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.   I think this one is pretty self-explanatory since Hermione is one kick-ass witch.  

(2) Karigan G'ladheon from Kristen Britain's Green Rider series.  Karigan is smart, feisty, loyal and committed to doing whatever it takes to rid Sacoridia of evil, even if the cost is her own happiness. 

(3) Yelena from Maria V. Snyder's Study trilogy.  

(4) Vin from Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy.  At the outset of this trilogy Vin is a shy, self-conscious young woman who knows nothing about the Mistborn power that resides within her.   As the trilogy progresses Vin becomes not only more self-assured, but she also masters allomancy, a set of supernatural powers that allows her to take on the Lord Ruler. 

(5) Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins Hunger Games trilogy.   She's great with a bow and arrow, and won the Hunger Games not once, but twice.  Katniss rocks!

(6) Alexia Tarabotti from Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series.   Alexia lacks a soul and, as such, is able to defeat supernatural powers. 

(7) Thursday Next from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series.  Thursday is a spunky literary detective who gets to hide in books! 

(8) Scarlett O'Hara from Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. 

(9) Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice.   Although not a traditional kick-ass heroine in that her exploits aren't of the action-adventure nature, Lizzie Bennet makes my list for being her own person and not letting society dictate her behaviour. 

(10) Bess Crawford from Charles Todd's Bess Crawford historical mystery series.   A battlefield nurse who continually finds herself embroiled in murder mysteries, Bess is an intelligent and resourceful young woman who uses these traits to get herself out of sticky situations. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book Review: Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey


A captivating novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans fifteen years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France’s most legendary and notorious queen.

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

Publication Date: May 15, 2012 | Ballantine Books | 448p

My Review

4 Stars

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is the second novel in Juliet Grey's Marie Antoinette trilogy.   While the first novel in the trilogy, Becoming Marie Antoinette, follows Marie's early life from her late childhood in Austria to her days as Dauphine of France, this latest novel focuses on Marie's reign as Louis XVI's Queen.

Much like the first novel in the trilogy, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is full of rich historical detail.   This detail brings the French court and all of its magnificence vividly to life.   It also showcases just how much of Marie Antoinette's daily life was governed by strict and often stifling protocol.  Although the historical detail was, at times, somewhat overdone in the trilogy's first installment, this isn't the case with the second novel.  It is apparent that Grey undertook a great deal of research while writing this book, but rather than overpowering the narrative, the information gleaned from this research is used to complement it.  As a result, the story flows smoothly and moves quickly.    

Told from Marie Antoinette's perspective, one of this novel's greatest strengths is the characterization of Marie herself.   History has not been kind to Marie Antoinette, and it is not difficult to understand why considering much of the French court and citizenry were against her.  Highlighting Marie's strengths and her weaknesses, Grey paints a sympathetic portrait of France's last queen, successfully  showcasing how she matured as both a person and a monarch.  Grey's characterization of Louis XVI is also well-drawn, showing an uncertain monarch who very much wanted to do what was right for his people but who lacked the respect and support needed to bring about change. 

Although this novel is the second in a trilogy, it can be read as a stand-alone.  Recommended to fans of historical fiction interested in French history. 

Marie Antoinette's story continues in The Last October Sky, which will be released in 2013.  

Note: The novel comes from my own collection as I had purchased the book prior to agreeing to take part in the tour.

About the Author

Juliet Grey is the author of Becoming Marie Antoinette. She has extensively researched European royalty and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette, as well as a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit. She and her husband divide their time between New York City and southern Vermont.  

Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is currently on tour.   You can check out all the tour stops here: http://www.hfvirtualbooktours.com/2012/09/juliet-grey-on-tour-for-days-of.html

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: A Place Beyond Courage by Elizabeth Chadwick

Sometimes keeping your honour means breaking your word . . .

The early twelfth century is a time for ambitious men to prosper - and royal servant John FitzGilbert is one of them. But when the old king dies and his successor is appointed, John's position at court is weakened and his wife, the pious, pliant Aline, is hopelessly unequipped to deal with a life lived on the edge.

John knows the only way to protect his lands and his children is to divorce Aline. He meets his match in new wife Sybilla, daughter of his enemy Patrick of Salisbury, as she possesses a strength and courage that equals his own.  But when Sybilla's son, William, is seized by the king, John is forced to make a terrible sacrifice . . .

Synopsis courtesy of amazon.co.uk

My Review

4.5 Stars

A Place Beyond Courage tells the story of John FitzGilbert, marshal to England's King Henry II and father to William Marshall, who is himself the subject of an Elizabeth Chadwick novel titled The Greatest Knight.  In his years of dedicated service to his king, John's loyalty has never been questioned, but when Henry II dies and his nephew Stephen claims the throne, John finds his position at court no longer secure and is forced to make a decision about where to place his loyalties.   But committing himself to Empress Matilda's cause puts John's life and lands under constant threat from the King and his supporters.  After several years of conflict, John forms an alliance with one of his enemies in an effort to keep his lands safe.  This alliance, however, means John must divorce his wife, Aline, a woman better suited for life in a convent, and marry Sybilla, the daughter of his enemy.  Although initially wed for purely strategic purposes, John and Sybilla's marriage turns into a love match, and together they meet head on the challenges that face both them and their country. 

One of the things I like best about Chadwick's novels is the rich historical detail woven into each story.  This detail vividly brings to life the eras in which Chadwick's novels are set.  I also appreciate how Chadwick is able to strike the right balance between the character-driven aspects of her plot and those aspects that, along with rich historical detail, create a strong sense of time and place.  As a result, readers become intimately familiar not only with Chadwick's characters, but also with the personalities and events that shaped the world they lived in.  A Place Beyond Courage is no exception, painting vibrant portraits of both John FitzGilbert and Sybilla of Salisbury, while also chronicling King Stephen and Empress Matilda's war for the English crown that permeated virtually every aspect of their lives.   

Highly recommended to all readers of historical fiction, especially those with an interest in the medieval era and English history. 

Note:  This novel comes from my own personal collection. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Giveaway Winner

I'm pleased to announce that the winner of my 100 Follower Giveaway, selected using random.org's list randomizer, is:


Congratulations, Susan!  I'll be contacting you shortly via email. 

Thanks to everyone who entered. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Favourite Fantasy Authors

It's time for Top Ten Tuesday, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish that features a different book/reading theme each week.   This week's topic is:

Top Ten Favourite Authors in the Fantasy Genre 
(Genre selected for this post is the Blogger's choice)

Even though most of the books I read fall within the historical fiction genre (and most of my blog posts fall in this genre as well), I've decided to mix things up with this post and list my favourite fantasy authors instead.   Although I've been fortunate to have read a number of great fantasy novels over the last several years,  I haven't actually blogged all that much about them.  This post will give me the opportunity to showcase the authors I think every fan of fantasy should read.    

(1) George R.R. Martin.   I doubt there are many fans of the fantasy genre who wouldn't include Martin on their list of favourite fantasy authors.   A Song of Ice and Fire is a fabulous series that I recommend to everyone (fantasy fan or not). 

(2) Michael J. Sullivan.  I recently read and loved Sullivan's three-volume Riyria Revelations trilogy.  I can't wait to read more from Sullivan.

(3) Kristen Britain.   Britain is the author of one of my all-time favourite series, Green Rider.   Like many of the other authors on this list, Britain's books have the ability to evoke strong emotions from readers, which I consider the mark of great writer.

(4) Brandon Sanderson.   The Mistborn trilogy is a fine example of just how great Sanderson is at creating unique fantasy worlds, and I've included him on my favourites list for this reason. 

(5) Robert Jordan.   I haven't yet reached the half-way point of Jordan's long, complex Wheel of Time series, but so far I've thoroughly enjoyed every book I've read.  

(6) Maria V. Snyder.   I've included Snyder on my list of favourite fantasy authors because I loved her Study trilogy and really enjoyed her Glass trilogy.  

(7) Robin Hobb.  I think Hobb is one of the masters within the fantasy genre.  Her Farseer and Liveship Traders trilogies are absolutely fantastic and I consider them to be must reads for fantasy fans.  I would expect to find Hobb's name on any list of fantasy greats. 

(8) Guy Gavriel Kay.   Although the fantasy aspects of Kay's novels are quite subdued, I've enjoyed the few novels of his I've read, especially A Song for Arbonne, and look forward to reading more.

(9) John Flanagan.  Flanagan is the author of The Ranger's Apprentice series.  Even though this series is geared to young adults, I think it would appeal to adult readers as well.  I certainly am enjoying it. 

And last, but certainly not least, 

(10) J.K. Rowling.   I read the Harry Potter series as an adult and the novels were my stepping stone into fantasy fiction.  I've read the entire series many times and love every single page.   Rowling's magical world is simply, well, magical. 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mailbox Monday

It's time once again for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme created for bloggers to share the books that arrived in their home over the previous week.  Mailbox Monday is a travelling meme and is being hosted in the month of October by its originator, Marcia at Mailbox Monday.   I haven't participated in this meme in a couple of months, even though I've received lots of books in my mailbox during this period, but I received some great books this week and wanted to share.

All books were my own purchases -- unless otherwise indicated, all synopses courtesy of chapters.indigo.ca

Mistress of the Sea by Jenny Barden  (synopsis courtesy of amazon.co.uk)

Plymouth 1570; Ellyn Cooksley fears for her elderly father's health when he declares his intention to sail with Drake on an expedition he has been backing. Already yearning for escape from the loveless marriage planned for her, Ellyn boards the expedition ship as a stowaway.

Also aboard the Swan is Will Doonan, Ellyn's charming but socially inferior neighbour. Will has courted Ellyn playfully without any real hope of winning her, but when she is discovered aboard ship, dressed in the garb of a cabin boy, he is furious.

To Will's mind, Drake's secret plot to attack the Spanish bullion supply in the New World is a means to the kind of wealth with which he might win a girl like Ellyn, but first and foremost it is an opportunity to avenge his brother Kit, taken hostage and likely tortured to death by the Spanish. For the sake of the mission he supports Drake's plan to abandon Ellyn and her father on an island in the Caribbean until their mission is completed. But will love prove more important than revenge or gold?

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon out of his life as a San Francisco web-design drone, and serendipity, sheer curiosity and the ability to climb a ladder like a monkey have landed him a new gig working the night shift at Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. But after just a few days on the job, Clay begins to realize that this store is even more curious than the name suggests. There are only a few customers, but they come in repeatedly and never seem to actually buy anything, instead checking out impossibly obscure volumes from strange corners of the store, all according to some elaborate, long-standing arrangement with gnomic Mr. Penumbra. The store must be a front for something larger, Clay concludes, and soon he has embarked on a complex analysis of the customers behaviour and roped his friends into helping him figure out just what's going on. But once they bring their findings to Mr. Penumbra, they discover the secrets extend far beyond the walls of the bookstore.

With irresistible brio and dazzling intelligence, Robin Sloan has crafted a literary adventure story for the 21st century. Evoking both the fairy tale charm of Haruki Murakami and the enthusiastic novel-of-ideas wizardry of Neal Stephenson or a young Umberto Eco, but with a unique and feisty sensibility that's rare to the world of literary fiction, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore is exactly what it sounds like: an establishment you have to enter and will never want to leave, a modern-day cabinet of wonders ready to give a jolt of energy to every curious reader, no matter what the time of day. 

The Renegade by Jack Whyte

The Renegade is a blazing, brilliant, new historical adventure in Jack Whyte's Guardians series. Packed with action, heroism, and vibrant historical detail, The Renegade recounts the life of Scotland's greatest medieval king, Robert the Bruce. Bruce was one of the most famous warriors of his generation, eventually leading Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence against the Kingdom of England, most famously at the bloody Battle of Bannockburn. Today in Scotland, Bruce is revered as a national hero, but during his lifetime, the rebellious leader and guerrilla tactician was a thorn in Edward Plantagenet's side, earning himself the nickname the Renegade.

Set in the 14th century, The Guardians series features three extraordinary guardians of medieval Scotland, the greatest heroes the country ever produced. The exploits and escapades, high ideals, and fierce patriotism of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Sir James Douglas are the stuff of legends, and the soul and substance of these epic novels.

Cavalier Queen by Fiona Mountain

It was Charles I's love for his Queen Henrietta Maria which plummeted England into the darkness of the Civil Wars, but it was the love and loyalty of another man that sustained her through days of betrayal, destitution and death.

Tall and brave, Harry Jermyn is captivated by the witty French princess, just fourteen years old when she sails with him to Dover, queen of a land she has never seen, of a people whose language she cannot speak, who despise her for her faith -- and wife of a king she has never met.

Charles grows to love her but rebellion and the threat of execution force her into exile and into the arms of Harry, who risks his life for her sake. Together they work for the royalist cause, pawning the crown jewels, securing men and arms and returning to England to lead an army south.

As England is torn apart, Henrietta's heart is torn between the two men she loves, between duty and illicit passion. The subject of dangerous gossip and public scandal, she is powerless to calm the storm which will lead to tragedy.

What did you get in your mailbox this week?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

100 Follower Giveaway!

In honour of my reaching the 100 follower milestone here at Confessions of an Avid Reader, I'm hosting a giveaway as a thank you.  The winner will receive their choice of one book from The Book Depository (valued at no more than $20 Canadian).   

Contest Details:

(1) You must follow this blog via Google Friend Connect (new followers are welcome);
(2) You must live in a country to where The Book Depository ships.
(3) To enter simply leave a comment with your email address.
(4) The contest will remain open until 11:59pm (EST) on October 17th, 2012.  
(5) The winner will be selected using random.org -- I will contact the winner via email to obtain required details (book selection, mailing address).

Good luck! 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Review: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother's political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.

Synopsis courtesy of chapters.indigo.ca

My Review

3 Stars

Becoming Marie Antoinette, the first novel in a planned trilogy about the infamous French Queen, follows the life of the title character from her late childhood in her native Austria to the day of her accession to the French throne as the consort Louis XVI.  

It is evident right from outset that a significant amount of research went into the writing of this novel, and that the author took great care to ensure historical accuracy.  This research, in combination with Juliet Grey's often eloquent prose, results in the Austrian and French courts coming vividly to life for the reader.  It also serves to highlight the incredible differences between life in an Austrian palace and that of life at Versailles.  Indeed, the presentation of life at Versailles in particular is one of the novel's greatest strengths.  Another strength is Grey's sympathetic  characterization of Marie Antoinette, who is portrayed as a charming young woman who, in spite of years of preparation for her role as dauphine, is quite unprepared for life within the Bourbon court.   I also enjoyed the brief glimpses into the mind of Empress Maria Therese of Austria, which were showcased through the letters she wrote to her daughter. 

While acknowledging that many of the reviews I have read for this novel have found little if anything to criticize, I had a number of issues with it.  While I generally prefer detailed works of historical fiction to more cursory novels, I don't overly enjoy books that contain exhaustive amounts of detail that add little to a story.  Unfortunately, Becoming Marie Antoinette is an example of a novel containing too much detail.   In fact, there were several instances were it seemed Grey was simply trying to fit in every last piece of her research (the scene in which Marie Antoinette is having her braces affixed immediately comes to mind).   As a result, even though I liked Grey's writing style, this book failed to captivate me.   I think the book would have been better if Grey had spent more time detailing the goings on of the day and less on extensive accounts of what the characters were wearing or how they arranged their hair.   It is my hope that the second novel in the trilogy (Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow -- check back here on October 24th to read my review) will better suit my tastes. 

Recommended to fans of historical fiction interested in the early life of Marie Antoinette and those who enjoy considerable historical detail. 

Note: This novel comes from my own personal collection.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Top Ten Tuesday: Older Books I Don't Want People To Forget About

It's time for Top Ten Tuesdays, a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish that features a different book/reading theme each week.   This week's topic is:


For purposes of this post I've defined 'older' books as those first published at least 15 years ago. 

(1) The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman.   First published in 1982, this novel, which is about the Wars of the Roses and the reigns of Edward IV and Richard III, is one of the best works of historical fiction I've had the pleasure of reading.   I consider this one a must read for fans of the historical fiction genre. 

(2) The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough.   This popular novel was originally published in 1977.  I read this one as a teenager and it remains a favourite of mine to this day.  

(3) John Jakes' North and South Trilogy (North & South, Love & War, Heaven & Hell).  This three volume series follows the lives and loves of two families (one from the North and one from the South) in the years before, during and after the U.S. Civil War.   This trilogy was first published between 1981 and 1987.  

(4) Patriot Games by Tom Clancy.   I'm a big fan of espionage thrillers and Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books are among my favourites in this genre.   Patriot Games, published in 1987, is the best of the bunch. 

(5) Child of the Phoenix by Barbara Erskine.   Although Barbara Erskine is perhaps best known for her time great slip novels such as Lady of Hay, I think this one, which features a 13th century Welsh princess as the heroine, is her best.  First published in 1992. 

(6) My Lady of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes.   First published in 1946, this is the only work of historical fiction I've read that features Henry VIII's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, as the central focus of the book.   Anyone interested in Tudor historical fiction should definitely give this one a try. 

(7) Katherine by Anya Seton.   This novel is another fine example of historical fiction at its best.   Full of rich historical detail, this novel tells the story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.  

(8) Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert C. O'Brien.   Originally published in 1971, this is one of my favourite books from childhood.   

(9) Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.   This is another childhood favourite of mine, and one of the first books I remember having an strong emotional reaction to.   I hope this book remains a favourite for kids for years to come.  First published in 1977.

(10) Judy Blume's Fudge books (Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, SuperFudge, Fudge-A-Mania and Double Fudge).  I'm happy to see Blume's Fudge books still grace the shelves of my local bookstore years after they were first published (the first novel was published in 1972).  

What older books do you hope people don't forget about?