Saturday, January 28, 2006

No Man's Mistress by Mary Balogh

Having read More Than a Mistress earlier this month, I was looking forward to reading the story of Lord Ferdinand Dudley, younger brother of Jocelyn Dudley, Earl of Tresham.

Ferdinand arrives in the village of Trellick in time for the village fair, and finds himself entranced by both the village, and one particular village girl in particular. After dancing with her and quite rashly kissing her, they part ways. The next morning, Ferdinand thinks that maybe that was a mistake, for she may be one of his new neighbours, perhaps even the vicar's daughter. He has recently gained ownership of Pinewood Manor and has come to see what kind of money pit he has acquired, as the person he won it off of whilst gambling had never seen the property either.

There is, however, a rather large problem to deal with when he arrives at Pinewood Manor. He finds that it is already occupied by the same village girl, who is Miss Viola Thornhill. Ferdinand has the deeds to the property in London, that say that he owns the property, whereas Miss Thornhill insists that she is the rightful owner, having been given the property two years previously. There is a stand off from which neither party is prepared to backdown, and they both end up staying in the house until such time as the appropriate documentation can be obtained and this misunderstanding cleared up once and for all. Of course, this is far from a satisfactory situation, especially in relation to the damage that will be done to Miss Thornhill's reputation.

Initially all Miss Thornhill's friends do their best to drive Ferdinand away, but he gradually wins them over with his friendliness and charm. However, Miss Thornhill has a secret from her past that she is trying to keep hidden, and is not as innocent as she appears to be. Then again, Ferdinand is not quite as worldly as he appears either.

I have to say that this book was a disappointment. For once, I think that there were some crucial differences between this book and the other Mary Balogh's books that I have read in terms of plot, so I really wanted to like it, but I just couldn't. The fact that Ferdinand was VERY inexperienced sexually and that Miss Thornhill..well, just wasn't, was something quite unusual, and yet it just didn't work. The reasoning behind why Ferdinand has "saved" himself was explained, and yet just didn't really cut it, and similarly the reasons for why Viola had done the things she had done were explained, but I guess weren't compelling enough for me.

I wasn't drawn into the world of this book, with many of the secondary characters either very one dimensional or just plain annoying. For example, with Viola's mother, there was very little in the way of explanation of why she had done the things she had done. In fact, the most interesting characters to me were the ones that we had previously met in More Than A Mistress.

Overall, the first REALLY disappointing Mary Balogh that I have read.

Rating 2.5/5

A Chance Encounter by Mary Balogh

In following Standing in the Shadows with this book, I feel as though I have gone from one extreme of the romance genre to the other. The former is contemporary romantic suspense, this one Traditional Regency. Where the former has numerous sex scenes, full of detail, A Chance Encounter is very subtle, with the suggestion of undoing buttons and bodies pressed together. Nothing explicit at all.

Elizabeth Rossiter has been employed as first a governess and then a lady's companion for the last 6 years, and she is quite happy with that arrangement. At least until she crosses paths with Robert Denning, Marquess of Hetherington, a man she would rather not have to ever see again. For six years ago, Elizabeth left London with her reputation in ruins and her heart broken.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book, particularly the first half of the book as Robert and Elizabeth meet again, and then the details of their previous relationship are revealed. There is a big surprise regarding their previous relationship that is very well done, and changed the complexion of everything that had been read before and then after for me. The other thing that was done very well was having little snapshots of events from six years ago interwoven with the current events, so we only got to see little by little exactly what had gone on six years previously. Having said that, by the end of the book I was actually just wishing that the two of them would sit down and have a conversation, sort out the big misunderstanding and get on with the happily ever after!

This was a very early Mary Balogh title (originally written in 1985), and you can tell, but it was still enjoyable and I am glad to have read it.

Rating 3.5/5

Friday, January 27, 2006

Standing in the Shadows by Shannon McKenna

I was drawn to reading this story after reading Rosario's review, especially seeing as this was the only McKenna book that my library had.

I have to, is it hot in here or is it just me! Phew! The sex scenes in this book are just hot, hot, hot! I have to admit to not having read much romantic suspense so for me these scenes were probably the hottest scenes I have read in a very long time, if not ever. And yet there was still plenty of story in there.

Connor McCloud is a man who has been on the edge for a very long time. An ex cop, Connor's partner was brutally murdered, and Connor very badly injured. Since then he has really been letting himself go, doing PI work for his older brother, existing.. not living. Then he hears that his former enemy, Novak, has escaped from prison, and he just knows that he will be coming for him, and his former associate's daughter Erin Riggs. Connor has been obsessing over Erin Riggs for over 10 years, and will do anything to protect her.

Erin's father is cooling his heels in jail, and she is busy trying to keep her mother and sister from falling apart completely, but there are lots of things that aren't going well for her either. She's lost her job as an art expert, she's barely scraping by, especially seeing as she keeps on having to bail her mum out of financial trouble. There is however a light at the end of the tunnel. A reclusive millionaire has been asking her to evaluate some pieces, giving her enough cash to help her out.

As soon as Connor hears that Novak is free he assigns himself as bodyguard to Erin, regardless of whether she wants him to or not. In the course of protecting her, Erin and Connor stay in an out of the way hotel, and here the seduction starts. The police are soon telling Connor that Novak has been killed, but why does he still feel as though someone else is pulling all the strings. Maybe he is going mad, but maybe he isn't.

First the down sides of this book. Connor is a bit of a jerk at times, and very controlling most of the time. Also, in terms of the bad guys, it was almost as though we were given little vignettes of what was happening with the bad guys - a murder here, another person who is no longer required killed there before finally we reached the conclusion where all the protagonists were in place. I am also not sure how much of the backstory was told in the previous book, Behind Closed Doors, which may have enhanced the reading of this book further.

About those sex scenes - I think that in a large block of the book we just moved from one sex scene to the next, with not much plot development. Fortunately the rest of the book made up for it, but I was wondering for a little while!

However on the good side, we did see tenderness for Erin by Connor, and I do think his attitudes were pretty well explained by the author. Erin managed to hold her own against his pushiness sometimes, and played a crucial role in the climactic final sequences of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed this foray into romantic suspense, and I will definitely be looking forward to reading more of McKenna's books.

Rating 3.5/5

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Night by Elie Wiesel

I have thought quite a bit about what to write as a review of this book. It is the new Oprah Book Club pick, which means that we should expect to see it at the top of the bestseller lists for a little while to come. For a very short book, coming in at about 120 pages, there is certainly much to learn from it.

It is the story of a young Jewish man's life during WWII - first and foremost about the events of the Holocaust but also about a young man's loss of faith, and his coming of age during a very turbulent time in history.

Night starts off in a little town called Sighet in Transylania, where many Jews lived, almost untouched by the horrors of war. Life was going on as normal until one day all the foreign Jews were expelled from the city. One of them, Moche the Beadle, escapes and comes back to warn the Jews of Sighet of what he has seen, and what is to come, but they will not listen to him. Life continues and nothing happens for a couple of years but during 1944 the war is coming closer and closer. Elie's father still has a chance to obtain exit visas to enable his family and himself to emigrate to Palestine, but he says he is too old to start again, so the Wiesel family stays. Eventually, the German's come and in due course forced transportation of the Jews of Sighet begins with Elie and his family ending up at the reception centre for Auschwitz at Buchenwald. His mother and sister are separated from them and never seen again, whilst Elie and his father must fight to stay together, to stay one step in front of the selection process, for selection means death in the camps of Dr Mengele.

I am not going to write more of the horrors of the concentration camps that are described within the book. The images are those that we are familiar with, and yet should never become immune to or complacent about, but I leave them to be discovered by other readers. Suffice to say, they are horrors and horrifying to think that human beings can do that kind of thing to one another for any reason.

I do however want to write a little about the loss of faith, and the coming of age aspects. When we first meet Elie he is an extremely conscientious student of the Jewish faith, and yet, when all around him people are counselling each other to keep faith, Elie's reaction is the opposite:

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my Faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.

It was interesting to me as someone who grew up in a fairly religious household to read of the struggles of another to come to terms with a god that would allow these events to happen. It was also challenging to read about people having to do whatever they could to survive..sometimes at the expense of friends and loved ones.

This book also reminded me of a trip that I made to the former concentration camp at Dachau, just outside of Munich. This was a day that made such an impression on me. The atmosphere felt palpable as we walked through the gates of Dachau - oppression, death and fear in the air even after 50 years of non use.

This little book was very confronting, challenging and ultimately a rewarding read. I look forward to getting hold of the remaining two books in the trilogy called Dawn and The Accident. I should add that the version that I read was not the newly published Oprah book that is apparently an updated translation, with an all new introduction by Elie himself. When, and if, this version makes it to Australia I will probably buy it as this is definitely a book that could be read over and over, with new lessons to be learned each time.

Rating 4.5/5

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Subliminal Intervention

A Pawn for a Queen by Fiona Buckley

If Queen of Ambition was all about Ursula fighting her attraction to her manservant Brockley, then A Pawn for a Queen should have been subtitled We Need to Get Ursula Married Off Again and Quickly. Whilst there is still some references to the closeness between Brockley and Ursula, fortunately it was not as common as it was in the last book.

With Ursula a recent widow, the prologue is about her getting ready to get married to an unnamed man. When the book begins properly, it is to find Ursula being asked to go off to Scotland to follow after her cousin Edward Faldene who it seems has been involved in gathering supporter's names and promises of support for Queen Mary Stuart should she ever gain the throne in England. This is of course treasonous to Queen Elizabeth I, and Ursula needs to find Edward and stop him before he gets caught and faces traitor's punishment. Only problem is that Ursula does not have the Queen's approval to undertake this journey or the investigation.

So begins a cross country chase, taking Ursula from her home through to the wild Scottish lands, and into Edinburgh. Unfortunately, Ursula catches up with her cousin, only to find him dead in his bed, having been murdered. Ursula being Ursula, she must investigate, and soon finds herself involved in life at the court of Mary Stuart.

At various points in the adventure, several of the main characters tell Ursula that she should be getting married, as do several of the minor characters. Luckily for her, she manages to attract willing men whereever she goes. Unluckily, one of them is Sir Brian Dormbois, who is a very engaging villain in more ways than one. Buckley gave the book a very interesting twist, with Ursula behaving in a very unusual way for a 16th century lady, but it all works out in the end.

There is also a big twist in the end of this book regarding Ursula's parentage. Whilst I understand why the author chose this twist, it seems to me to have been a rather obvious thing to have done. Once again though the ground work has definitely been laid very nicely for future books in the series.

Overall, this was a very entertaining read in a series that I enjoy.

Rating 4/5

Monday, January 23, 2006

Full Bloom by Janet Evanovich & Charlotte Hughes

Finally...the Full series by Janet Evanovich and Charlotte Hughes seems to be hitting it's straps! I am not sure if that is because they have moved away from Max Holt and Jamie Swift who featured in the last three books of the series, or for some other reason, but I really enjoyed this book.

Annie Fortenberry has converted her family home, which used to be a bordello, into a bed and breakfast, with special events also being held. One of the events coming up is the wedding of Max and Jamie. Annie has been one of Jamie's close friends for many years so it seems natural that when Max and Jamie want a simple, quiet ceremony for close family and friends that Annie's home should be the option chosen.

However, for Annie, life is about to get about as far away from simple and quiet as you can get. Not only is her home haunted by a very unhappy spirit, the gardener she inherited from her grandmother along with the house is on a permanent bender, and sexy bad boy Wes Bridges has just entered her life, and from their first unlikely meeting things only get hotter. Wes is not what he appears to be though. He has been hired by Annie's mother in law to find out what happened to Annie's husband three years ago, when he just disappeared. Before too long, Charles's body has been found and all evidence points to Annie. She has to prepare for the wedding of the year and defend herself against murder charges.

I guess I have come to expect complete silliness from these books, but most of the time in this book it was kept enough in check to be entertaining, not just annoying, which can't be said for some of the books in this series!

The next book in the series, Full Scoop, comes out in April. Whilst I still won't be rushing out to buy it, I will definitely be putting my name on the waiting list at the library. In the meantime, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that it is like this one, and not some of the other books in the series.

Rating 4/5

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Family Baggage by Monica McInerney

Harriet Turner knows all about journeys. After all, she’s arranged hundreds of them for the travel agency her family runs in the Australian coastal town of Merryn Bay. But when her work colleague and foster sister Lara disappears on the eve of a big overseas trip, Harriet finds herself in uncharted territory.

Left alone in England with a coachload of eccentric tourists on a themed tour of locations from the Willoughby TV detective series, Harriet has her hands full. But as the bus trundles through the picturesque Cornwall countryside, the tour becomes another kind of journey for her. She finds herself facing big questions about her family and her childhood; about her feelings for the guest of honour on the tour, star of Willoughby, Patrick Shawcross – and the biggest puzzle of all: what has happened to Lara?

Monica McInerney is probably Australia's version of Maeve Binchy. The fact that she is an Irish-Australian author makes that a very easy comparison to make, however, she writes stories that are full of charm and wit, without being too sickly sentimental, although occasionally it is a very fine line! This book was nominated as an A Great Read by one of the women's magazines here, and it was easy to see why. Whilst the book was over 500 pages long, it didn't actually feel that long once you got past the first 100 or so pages.

For those first 100 pages or so though, I actually didn't think that I was going to like this book. There were so many loose threads that were going to need to be tied together. This tour of England that Harriet had been called in to do at the last minute is her first tour since the last disastrous tour where Harriet had had a nervous breakdown, bought on by the deaths of both of her parents, separately, not too long before. Her foster sister Lara was supposed to meet her at the airport but hadn't shown up, the guest of honour thought he was doing an interview not a four day tour with a group of elderly but very enthusiastic fans. Meanwhile back in Australia, her brother James was in hospital, his wife Melissa was busy upsetting everyone, her 16 year old niece Molly was contemplating having sex with her much older swimming coach, and friend of the family Gloria had kept a huge secret for 24 years and had had just about enough.

There were points where I wondered how there would be any kind of congruency within the various threads to tie them tegether neatly, but the author managed it quite nicely in the end. I will say that there were not really many surprises - most of the events in the book were signposted from pages away, but overall it was a satisfying and emotionally involving read.

I read The Alphabet Sisters by the same author last year and probably enjoyed that more, but this was certainly an entertaining enough read. Family Baggage will be released in the US in July of this year.

Rating 4/5

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Two Little Lies by Liz Carlyle

Having been slightly disappointed with the first book in this trilogy, One Little Sin, I have to admit that I was a bit worried before I started hearing reviews for Two Little Lies. Thankfully when the reviews did start rolling in, they were pretty well all positive, and I have to agree! Two Little Lies hit the spot! I shouldn't really have been worried I guess. Having only discovered Liz Carlyle in November last year, I have read quite a few of her books in a short time span and haven't been disappointed in any of them before One Little Sin.

In One Little Sin, our hero Quin and his two friends Sir Alisdair and Merrick McLachlan are visiting a country fair, when they are forced to find shelter in the tent of a fortune teller. When she reads their palms, she tells them that they are about to have to face up to what they have done in their pasts (very rough paraphrasing of course).

Quinten Hewitt, has recently inherited his title (Lord Wynwood) and property and also now has his mother pressuring him to do the right thing and marry a suitable young lady, have children and ensure the continuation of the Hewitt line! Quin becomes engaged to Lady Esmee Hamilton, but at the betrothal celebration an unexpected guest is Viviana Alessandri, Contessa Bergonzi di Vicenza, a very famous opera singer, and more importantly Quin's former mistress, the only woman that he ever really loved. When they were together about 9 years earlier, they were both young, and neither were quite honest about their feelings and their dreams, and both had looked back wondering if they had let a good thing pass them by. Theirs was however a very complicated love. Quin believed that Vivi did not want to marry him, Vivi that he would not marry her as she was unsuitable to be the wife of a future Lord. Indeed Quin did think this, but if he had known the whole truth it may have been that he would have fought for their love, and it wouldn't really matter. Vivi didn't give him that chance.

The night of the party Quin and Vivi agree to meet the next morning in secret. Unfortunately, after being caught in a compromising situation with Vivi, Quin's engagement is called off, although Esmee insists she was going to call it off anyway, and Quin and Viviana must work out what it is that they want from each other, and how they tell each other the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

I was so caught up in the story that I read this book in one sitting, and really, really enjoyed it. There was only one thing that bothered me, and that was the fact that the first 100-150 pages of this book were occuring concurrently with the events from One Little Sin, for Quin's fiance Esme was the heroine from the previous book. If I had only just read One Little Sin it would not have been anywhere near as distracting, but it has been a couple of months and so whilst I knew what was coming I was trying to rack my brains to think how they got to that point! However, whilst this was a minor distraction, it also made me to want to pick up One Little Sin and reread it! I do actually have a bit of a problem with my Liz Carlyle collection at the moment. I borrowed nearly all of them from the library and so rereads are not that easy to do! I feel a Liz Carlyle shopping spree coming on, even though I have already read most of them!

I really liked the secondary characters in this read as well. Quin's sister Alice and Lucy, the maid who was assigned to look after Vivi when she was in England the first time, and with whom Vivi was reunited, were both well written and definitely added value to the storyline.

Overall, this was an outstanding read, and if you are a Liz Carlyle fan then I would definitely be saying get this and read it as soon as you possibly can! I cannot wait for Three Little Secrets to come out in April.

Rating 4.5/5

Friday, January 20, 2006

More than a Mistress by Mary Balogh

Jane Ingleby is on her way to her third day of work at a milliners shop, walking across Hyde Park, when she sees two men who are about to take part in a duel. She screams and tries to stop the duel, causing one of the men to lose concentration, and he is shot in the leg. As she is late for work on only her third day, she loses her job. Her boss says that if she can get a letter confirming that she was delayed by the unlikely events that she used as her excuse (I mean, everyone knows that no one duels in Hyde Park anymore!) she will not be able to get her job back...and Jane really needs to earn some money!

Never one to hold back, Jane makes her way to the home of Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, the man injured in the duel. Tresham is none too happy. How dare an impudent working class girl interrupt his duel, causing him to be injured. When Jane asks him for a letter so that she can get her job back, he refuses, instead giving her employment for three weeks as his nurse, including a place to live. Jane needs to be earning money and therefore agrees.

Tresham is a cold, domineering man, who very few people will stand up to, but Jane has no fear. Indeed Jane isn't quite what she seems. For that matter neither is Tresham. As they get to know one another we find out that Tresham is in fact a very artistic man, whose abilities were quashed by the former duke, his father.

I enjoyed this book quite a lot, right up until the ending. The scenes where the delightfully impudent Jane stood up to the moody and imperious Duke were very entertaining, the changes in the relationship between Jane and Jocelyn were very tender, and very well written, as you would expect from Mary Balogh. There was enough backstory to keep things interesting, without using one of the standard storylines that you see in Regency romances, for example spies.

And yet, at the end of the book I was left feeling that this book just didn't quite hit the mark. A really major event happens off page just before the end, and I can't help but feel that as a reader, I wanted to be there for it, not told about it later. There was probably more to it than that as well, but I guess that was enough of a flaw in the book for me for it to affect the rating.

Having read and enjoyed numerous Mary Balogh books, I can say that she normally writes at a consistently high standard. There is a sequel to this book called No Man's Mistress which features Ferdinand Dudley, the brother of our hero in this book. I will be looking out for it to see whether I can be more satisfied with the next book.

As I enjoyed most of the book, the rating is still relatively high, but with a better ending it could have been higher.

Rating 4/5

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll

The Dark Queen by Susan Carroll was quite an unusual read for me! Just deciding what to classify this book as has taken me a while. I have seen it classified as historical romance on one website, and yes, there is definitely a strong element of that here, including a relatively standard plot progression, but there seemed to be more of a basis in actual history in the book than you normally see in most historical romances (which tend to feature a historical setting, but not a whole lot of historical content!).

So, how about historical fiction. Certainly, it is strong enough to stand up in that category (and I saw it shelved in fiction when I went to the bookstore yesterday) with many of the key events based on real events, including the horrifying climax. There are however a lot of witches, spells, potions and enchantments that feature throughout the book so maybe we need to have a category called Historic/Romance/Fantasy for this book.

This mix of styles is part of the reason why I enjoyed this book so much!

Ariane Cheney has inherited the title of Lady of Fair Isle following the death of her mother. With her mother gone, and her father off exploring the world (who knows if and when he will return), it is Ariane's responsibility to look after her sisters - the emotionally damaged Gabrielle and the sensitive Miribelle, whilst also looking after the people of Fair Isle, and guarding the secrets that have been passed from generation to generation. For a lot of the ladies of Fair Isle are white witches, in a time where witchery is a crime, and witch hunters have been known to roam the land. Ariane's great skill is healing, Gabrielle's is using painting and art to create magical environs, and Miri's is that she can talk to the animals, and that she has dreams foretelling the future. Due to events that happen before the start of this book we know that Gabrielle has not painted for a while, due to losing her magic because of an encounter with a man. Gabrielle is becoming a much harder person, laying the foundations for the next book, and causing problems during this book for Ariane and her beau, who Gabrielle calls The Ogre.

Enter Justice, Compte de Renard, who has decided that Ariane is to be his bride. Poor Ariane has so much already going on, that another persistent suitor is the last thing she needs. The book opens with the Compte waiting patiently at the church for his bride to turn up, after he has ordered her that she will marry him after only their second meeting. He will take care of all the arrangements. When a straw mannequin dressed in the wedding dress he provided is taken from the carriage, Justice realises that it is not going to be as easy as he thought to bend Ariane to his will. He goes to visit Ariane at her home, and gives her an enchanted ring. He will leave her alone with the proviso that if she needs him, she places the ring on her finger, and holds it near her heart. If she calls him with the ring 3 times, then they must be married. Ariane accepts the ring, along with the guarantee that he will not continue to bother her, with no intention to use the ring once, let alone 3 times! More interestingly though, and more troubling for Ariane, where did he obtain such enchanted rings, and how can he read her eyes and thoughts so easily if he has no knowledge of witchcraft, whilst being able to guard his own thoughts from her at the same time.

However, there are dark clouds on the horizon. The Dark Queen, Catherine de Medici is planning foul deeds, and she is also a witch, a dark witch at that. Before too long Ariane is called to assist a wounded soldier (Nicholas Remy) who was trying to make his way too Fair Isle. He is carrying a pair of gloves that he believes Catherine used to murder his Queen, Catherine's rival. He needs Ariane's assistance to prove it so that he can stop the wedding between Henry of Navarre and Catherine's daughter. Catherine is however determined to get the gloves back, even if that means sending the witch hunters to Fair Isle to flush out the wanted man..even if it means that all the women on Fair Isle have to die.

This was a very compelling read. The romance between Ariane and Justice was well written and satisfying. Seeing Ariane relax and become a normal young lady at times with Justice instead of the Lady of Fair Isle with all her responsibilities was refreshing for the character. There was plenty of intrigue, and the stage has definitely been set for the next two books in the trilogy featuring the two other Cheney sisters, but also with setting up their nemesis in at least one of the two books.

If there was one criticism to be made of this book, it would be that it was a touch too long, but that is minor when compared to the strengths of the rest of the book.

I had never read any Susan Carroll before this book. I will however be on the lookout for more from her, especially the sequel The Courtesan which is not available here in Australia yet. The third book, The Silver Rose is due out in March of this year.

Rating 4 out of 5

Sunday, January 15, 2006

The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson

The inside flap reads:

Imagine that on the night before she is to die under the blade of the guillotine, Marie Antoinette leaves behind in her prison cell a diary telling the story of her life - from her privileged childhood as Austrian Archduchess to her years as glamorous mistress of Versailles to the heartbreak of imprisonment and humiliation during the French Revolution.

Carolly Erickson takes the reader deep into the psyche of France's doomed queen: her love affair with handsome Swedish diplomat Count Axel Fersen, who risked his life to save her, her fears on the terrifying night the Parisian mob broke into her palace bedroom intent on murdering her and her family, her harrowing attempted escape from France in disguise, her recapture and the grim months of harsh captivity, her agony when her beloved husband was guillotined and her young son was torn from her arms never to be seen again.

I guess that this would be considered a warts and all kind of telling story of one of the more famous figures in history. Whilst Erickson is obviously a fan and a student of Marie Antoinette (she has also written a non fiction book called To the Scaffold that is also about Marie Antoinette) it is not a one-sided account. She does not neglect to tell of the excesses that Marie Antoinette had around her, even when she thought that she was economising, right down to the fact that it was decided that the Queen should have her satin slippers resoled so that she could wear them at least two to three times. The delusions that Marie Antoinette held were never more evident than when she was trying to plot her escape from France disguised as servants and she ordered a grand new carriage, "a spacious new travelling carriage with a stove and dining table so that we can eat on our way. It is a large and handsome vehicle painted dark green and yellow with upholstery of white velvet." And yet, these episodes were not portrayed as meanness as the famous "Let them eat cake" that is attributed to her would suggest, just in the way that this is all she has ever known. On her journey through life, she changes from a pampered princess to a beautiful queen and then to one of the most reviled people of her time.

I learnt quite a few things whilst reading this book, and enjoyed it for that. It also bought back memories of my trips to Versaille and Vienna. It did not however really grab me in a "I can't put this down" kind of way. There are several of Erickson's non fiction books that I will be trying to track down as she has a very easy to read writing style, which I think was hampered a little with the diary style of writing, particularly when it came to writing background type information.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, but not a great one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Spell of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning

For me Spell of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning was a welcome return to form. I have read all of her books and love Kiss of the Highlander and then The Dark Highlander. When I read The Immortal Highlander a little while ago I wasn't quite so impressed and was thinking that maybe I had read enough Monings. However I borrowed Spell from the library and was really glad that I did so! It hasn't replaced Kiss as my favourite, but it was a darn site better than The Immortal Highlander in my opinion.

Cian MacKeltar was one of the most powerful Druids of his time..only problem is his time was in the 9th Century. As a result of his enormous ego in relation to his powers he ends up being tricked into a situation which results in him being trapped inside of one of the great Unseelie relics, The Dark Glass for the last 1100 years. The Dark Glass offers immortality to the holder, as long as the tithe of pure gold is paid every 100 years at Samhain.

Jessica St James is an archeology student who is struggling to make ends meet. One of the ways she does this is to assist her professor. One night her professor asks her to make sure that a crate is received safely. What she doesn't know is that the crate has The Dark Glass in it. It is something of a surprise when she sees Cian, preserved 9th century alpha male, looking back at her through the glass.

There are however quite a few people who want to get hold of the treasure, not least of all Lucan Trevayne, the man who captured, and kept Cian in his cell for hundreds of years. Lucan has managed to track the glass down, and now Jessi is in mortal danger. Cian needs to get them somewhere safe and soon. After Cian gives Jessi the words to enable her to release him, at least temporarily, from his cell they are forced to go into hiding, until Cian can work out a way to protect them both for the next 20 days, as that is when the next tithe is due to be paid. If Lucan is not able to pay the tithe, then Cian's imprisonment will be over. One of Cian's most useful powers is The Voice, which enables him to ensure that people will do exactly as he says which enables them to get hotel rooms, flights and provisions.

The only problem for Cian and Jessi is that whilst Cian can be released at least every day they do not know how long he will be free before he simply disappears back into the mirror. This leads to several comical scenes such as when he disappears as they are grocery shopping.

Cian is alpha male through and through, but still very likeable, and willing to do anything to protect Jessi. Jessi is probably one of the more likeable heroines that the author has written. Whilst she is a struggling student working two jobs to get by, she is not an orphan, and she does maintain family ties, something that was missing with a couple of the more recent heroines.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable read, and there was enough room left over at the end of the book to show loyal readers that there will be more books in this series.

Rating 4 out of 5

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bubbles Ablaze by Sarah Strohmeyer

The third book in the Bubbles Yablonsky series, Bubbles full time hairdresser, part time journalist) and her Mel Gibson lookalike boyfriend Steve Stilletto (press photographer) are finally going to consumate their relationship. Bubbles is in the very comfortable hotel room at the Passion Peak romantic getaway when she gets a fax from her editor Mr Salvo saying that a prominent businessman has been murdered at a nearby mine and she should get over there to get the story.

When Bubbles arrives at the mine not only does she find the businessman with a bullet hole in his chest, she also finds Stilletto knocked unconscious in the bottom of a coal car. Before too long they are both caught up in a mine explosion. It appears that someone wants them out of the way. The hunt is on for the person who set them up, but also for the story. This time, however, instead of working together, they are working for competing news bureaus, so not only are they dealing with whoever wants them dead, but also trying to race against each other.

Bubbles is still pretty entertaining, however the books are certainly not as fresh as the first one, Bubbles Unbound was. Whilst there were plenty of twists and turns in this story about coal mining magnates, casinos, and small time American towns that are stuck in a 1950's timewarp, at the end of the book I was left thinking, but what about Steve's reporter, and what about their competition. Maybe these will be recurring themes so I just have to read the next book, but there were just a few too many loose threads for my liking!!

You can read previous entries for Bubble's adventures here.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Books by the Bed - January 2006

Following on from my previous Book by the Bed post, it seems that there are some books that never actually move, although there are several new ones there this month as well!! Maybe I should just clean up and start again. Next month maybe!

The book currently by the bed are:

Destiny of the Light by Louise Cusack - Still no idea where this one came from, what it's about, if I should read it!

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger - Can't wait to get to this.

Dragonwyck by Anya Seton - Loved Katherine, hope to enjoy this one just as much when I get to it.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - Started this one although haven't been really grabbed yet. In the early stages it feels a bit like hard work.

Lady of the Knight by Jackie Ivie - one day I will read this!!

Spell of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning - over half way through, and really enjoyable!

Mr Darcy Takes a Wife by Linda Berdoll - I'm sorry Sue!! I really am reading it, I promise!

Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon - I was listening to this in the car but one of the conversion parts for my CD player is broken, so I am still not all that far into this book. I have so loved the rest of the series, but can't seem to get into this one at all.

Books by the bed list for December is here

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Magician's Nephew by CS Lewis

This is the sixth book in the Chronicles of Narnia that I have read. Only one more to go, The Last Battle.

Whilst I did enjoy this book, I think that my poor non creative brain would have handled this better if I had of read the series chronologically instead of in the published order. Oh well... next time I read it I will read it chronologically!!

This book is basically the story of the creation of Narnia. Digby and Polly are two friends that live next door to each other in London. Digby's horrible Uncle Andrew used magic to send Polly to another world, and so Digby had to go to find her. They find themselves in a place that is like a door between many worlds. As they want to explore they choose to enter another world, and find themselves in the world of Charn, a place where the inhabitants have gone into a permanent sleep. The only way for them to be awoken is for a magic bell to be rung. Polly doesn't want to ring it, but Digby rings it anyway and they find themselves face to face with Jadis, who we know is the White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Jadis escapes with the children back to London, causing chaos, so Digby and Polly have to lead her away from their own world and back to another.

When they end up in the world that we know as Narnia we find out how the lamppost came to be where it is, and how it is that the animals could speak, and we meet the inaugural King and Queen of Narnia, King Frank and Queen Helen.

This was another enjoyable read. I am looking forward to reading the last book in the series.

Here is the link to the other posts about the Chronicles of Narnia.

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Manhunt by Janet Evanovich

Alexandra Cross, successful New York business woman has done the unthinkable. She has swapped her condo with jacuzzi for a hardware store and a log cabin in Alaska. Now, she has to live with this decision. Never mind that she knows nothing about hardware, hunting, fishing or living in Alaska. Luckily her neighbour is sexy Michael Casey who runs one half of a company that runs transport between California and Alaska. He is also a dab hand with an axe, gun, knife and just about everything else that Alex will need while she gets used to life in Alaska and everyone knows the man to woman ratio is favourable for manhunting up there. One reason why Alex has chosen Alaska is because she figures that she needs a husband. At 30 her biological clock is ticking. She knows what she wants (brown hair, stable, not too rich) and Michael didn't really fit it.

This isn't the first of the pre Stephanie Plum novels by Evanovich that are being rereleased that I have read, so I must be more used to what to expect, because I quite enjoyed this one whereas a couple irritated me no end. It still feels like the bare bones of a story with many things raised and not resolved at all, or quickly resolved. Alex and Michael meet and practically instantly are kissing.. well maybe not that quickly, but you get the idea. Lucky she finds perfect husband material in the first man that she meets, although it takes her a bit longer to figure that out. She finds a black teddy under his bed, we never know where from, although I guess that we are supposed to assume that it came from his ex wife who has moved to Florida with his son, a development that came up very quickly!! You want've got them in bundles.

If you want fluff to occupy a couple of hours then this will do.

Rating 3 out of 5

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Summer Garden by Paullina Simons

The Summer Garden is the third book in the trilogy that began with The Bronze Horseman and continued in The Bridge to the Holy Cross (published as Tatiana and Alexander in some places). At this stage it is only published in Australia and New Zealand but hopefully will be published elsewhere soon.

Just a brief overview of the first two books. In the first book, we meet Tatiana on the day that war is declared in Russia in WWII. She is sent out to the shops to get as much food as she can, and along the way she meets Alexander, a young soldier. We then live through the siege of Leningrad with Tatiana and Alexander as they try to survive and their love grows. Along the way, Alexander is injured, family members die, and they become closer and closer to each other. Eventually we find out that Alexander is really an American whose parents moved voluntarily to Russia in the 1930's. Tatiana and Alexander eventually marry and plans are made to escape the USSR.

In the second book, Tatiana is in the US, but Alexander was left behind. She is trying to get on with her life, but she believes that he is still alive and searches for him. We also hear some of what was covered in the first book but from Alexander's point of view which is really good!!

Those are REALLY brief synopsis, but I don't want to spoil for anybody!! Onto this book then.

Tatiana and Alexander have suffered the worst the twentieth century had to offer. After years of separation, they are miraculously reunited in America, the land of their dreams. They have a beautiful son, Anthony. They have proved to each other that their love is greater than the vast evil of the world... but they are strangers. In the climate of fear and mistrust of the Cold War, dark forces are at work in the US that threaten their life and their family. Can they make a new life for themselves in this new land? Can they be happy? Or will the ghosts of yesterday reach out to blight even the destiny of their firstborn son?

Before I start in earnest I will say that whilst there are several things that I didn't think were perfect about this book. However, there is something about the way that Paullina Simons writes that draws me so completely into the world of her characters that despite the faults I come away from reading her books feeling so excited and immersed, and this book was no different. I also can NOT pace myself with her books..I have to devour them and ended up staying up until 2am three or four nights until I finished it! What a ride!!!

Firstly, I felt that there were many situations within the book that were a bit rushed. A couple of the 'bad guy' characters were introduced, did their thing, and then were gone again very quickly. Secondly, the relationship between Tatiana and Alexander at times seems to me to be very oppressive and possessive, at times over the edge, but then once the conflict at that time is resolved then they come back to simply being devoted and so completely in love - an impossible love to achieve in real life? Maybe. And dare I say it, there were possibly a few too many references to love scenes - gasp! A lot of the love scenes weren't detailed at all, just references. I understood that physically was the one way that they could reconnect before they did so emotionally, but every now and again I wanted to move on past the touching!

Despite those things, this book overwhelmingly is a triumph, and more than a fitting conclusion to the amazing story of Tatiana and Alexander. Initially, the little family travels across the US, living in Maine, Florida, California and Arizona amongst places as they try to find where they belong. We also get to hear about Anthony's life, and see all of the Barrington's as they go forward with their lives, always mindful of the past, but with an eye to the future.

I love this whole trilogy, and will definitely be rereading the whole series at some point so that I can, perhaps, slow down and enjoy the series without being so compelled to have to know what happens next!! I highly recommend that people rush out to the shops and get the first book and start reading!! Funnily enough, it was really difficult to write this review because there are so many things that I wanted to talk about but I don't want to spoil for anyone and so have held myself back a little!!

I was so close to rating this a 5 out of 5 even though I did have a couple of issues, but I think that these have to be taken into consideration. I am therefore going with a very strong 4.5 out of 5.

Rating 4.5 out of 5

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Recipe Index

Recipe Index

Sides and Light Meals

Baked French Potatoes (Jamie Oliver)
Cheese Twists
Couscous Salad
Roasted Vegetable and Ricotta Salad
Spanish Eggs with Chorizo, Potato and Tomatoes
Spinach, Tomato and Bocconcini Salad
Thai Chicken Balls
Vietnamese Lamb Rump


Potato, Leek and Ham Soup
Pumpkin Soup with a Twist
Tomato and Rice Soup (Meliz Berg)
Vegetable, Bacon and Risoni Soup
White Bean and Chorizo Soup (Bill Granger)

Main Meals

Baked Prawn Nasi Goreng
Baked Zucchini, Tomato and Tomato Risotto (Bill Granger)
Beef and Broccoli Noodles (Pippa Middlehurst)
Beef and Shiitake Stir Fry (Kim McCosker)
Beef and Vegetable Red Curry (Annette Sym)
Beef Stroganoff (Tom Kerridge)
Butter Chicken (Annette Sym)
Chicken Cacciatore
Chicken with Chilli and Basil (John McLeay)
Chicken Kiev Tray Bake
Chicken Parmagiana (Annette Sym)
Chicken Pasta - 6 Veg Herby Ragu (Jamie Oliver)
Chilli for a Crowd
Mediterranean Vegetable tart (Tom Kerridge)
Open Canneloni with Pork Meatballs (Michael Moore)
Pasta Carbonara (Lucy Knisley)
Pork and Pineapple Curry
Pork Nachos
Poulet Cocotte Grandmere (Grandma's Chicken Casserole) (Gabrielle Gate)
Lemon Cheesecake (Jamie Oliver)
Lemon Meringue Tart (Mary Berry)
Lemon Tart (Donna Hay) 
Milk Tart  
Pavlova Board
Poached pears
Raspberry Jam Slice (Merle Parrish)
Rhubarb and Apple Pie
Salted Caramel and Vanilla Baked Cheesecake (Donna Hay) 
Salted Caramel Sauce 
Spicy Ginger and Apple Self Saucing Pudding
 Tarte Tatin
Torrijas (Baked Milk Pudding Dusted with Cinnamon and Honey)(Frank Camorra)
Triple Berry Jellies
White Chocolate Cheesecake

Cakes, Biscuits, Slices etc
Anzac Biscuits
Baklava Slice
Florentines (Mary Berry)
Ginger, Walnut and Carrot Cake (Nigella Lawson)

Queen of Ambition (An Ursula Blanchard Mystery at Queen Elizabeth I's Court) by Fiona Buckley

It is the summer of 1564 and Queen Elizabeth I and her court are on progress through the land. In a couple of weeks time they will be staying at Cambridge and there is much excitement. There is also a suspicion of danger as a group of young students have requested permission to perform a playlet for the Queen which would involve the kidnapping of a woman and Robert Dudley being his chivalrous self and rescuing the woman by performing a mock sword fight with one of the students. Sir William Cecil is concerned that there will be drawn swords in such close proximity to the Queen and so sends Ursula Blanchard to inveszigate to ensure that the Queen is not in danger.

Jester's pie shop seems to be the meeting place and central focus of the students involved and so Ursula is sent to work in the shop for the bullyish owner Roland Jester. Jester's daughter Ambrosia also works there with a couple of other employees. Ursula manages to make arrangements to meet with one of the young men, Thomas Shawe, who has some concerns about the playlet, but before he can meet her, Thomas dies in what looks like an unfortunate accident. However it turns out that Thomas and Ambrosia were involved and her father would not allow them to marry. The fact that Thomas had agreed to meet her, but is now dead was a bit too much of a coincidence for Ursula and she sets about investigating his death.

Whilst I do enjoy reading this series, it is in no way a perfect experience. The books are written in first person and sometimes the way she chooses to reveal information to the reader is a bit irritating. Ursula tells us that she has found something out, but it is not revealed for a few more pages.

A couple of other things in this book that I didn't really like were the insistence of the author to labour home the fact that Ursula feels some kind of attraction to her manservant Roger Brockley despite the fact that she is his boss and that they are both married - Roger to Ursula's maidservant Fran Dale, and Ursula to Matthew de la Roche. Ursula is waiting for the all clear from Matthew so that she can rejoin him in France as there has been an outbreak of the plague where he lives, and she does not wish to expose her daughter or herself to the plague. The way that Matthew is dealt with at the end of this book seems like a very good way to deal with the problem of how to have a respectable married woman travel all over the countryside to spy for the Queen without arising suspicion, but seems a little drastic for my liking. The disintegrating relationship with Rob Henderson also left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Rob has been Ursula's ally several times during the series, and Ursula's daughter Meg lived with Rob and his wife while Ursula was at court, so for their friendship to change in the way it did seemed a little heartless to me.

The plot in this one is pretty complicated, including a very laborious code breaking exercise, but the twist in the plot is very well done, and added immeasurably to the reading experience for me. The books are full of historical detail, and are pretty well written as well, so it is off to the library for me some time this week to get the next book in the series, A Pawn for a Queen.

Rating 4 out of 5

2006 Reading Resolutions

My reading resolutions for this year are to read 200 books. In 2005 I read 168 so this should be a challenge.

Of those 200 book, at least 25 of them need to be books that I already own that I have not read yet! I have loads of books on my bookshelf that I have been meaning to get to soon, but haven't quite got to.

I also want to maintain this blog, and continue to read a variety of genres and styles.

I'll be a happy reader if I can do that!


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