Monday, February 27, 2006

Born in Sin by Kinley Macgregor

The second of the MacAllister brothers books by Kinley Macgregor, Born in Sin is the story of Sin MacAllister. Sin is dark and brooding, both inside and out, having lived a life filled with rejection and pain. The illegitimate eldest MacAllister brother, Sin was shuffled between his parents, with neither of them actually wanting him. When the MacAllisters were required to provide the English king with hostages, Sin was the one who was sent, and when he was to be released his father told them not to bother. Eventually through a series of events, he ended up being enslaved to Saracens, and trained as a highly effective assassin. He ended up being sent to kill King Henry but instead he asked Henry to save him, and eventually he became one of the kings closest advisors.

The book opens with King Henry trying to convince a very reluctant Sin that he must marry Callie, daughter of a powerful Scottish family, and bring an end to the land raids that have been ongoing. Callie has been captured along with her brother and has tried unsuccessfully to escape on numerous escapes. After Sin has had to rescue her a couple of times she realises that she is not immune to his charms. Sin agrees to the marriage only if the King can find a priest willing to do so, thinking that as he has been excommunicated several times there is no way that this can happen. The king however outsmarts him and Callie and Sin are married.

Callie realises early on that her husbands aloofness results from the painful childhood and the fact that he is still treated as a pariah nearly everywhere he goes, but it doesn't take her too long to break through the tough exterior to find the gentle and loving man underneath. Sin too comes to realise that his pretty young wife is one of the few people who he can relax around.

As a character, Sin is a painfully tortured and tormented man. The process of drawing him away from that darkness within is very touching and very well written. Another point of difference for this man, was that not only was Callie a virgin, but he was also, meaning that there exploration of each other was something new to both of them.

I loved Sin as a character - tall, dark, handsome and brooding, but with a good man lurking beneath, a man who needed someone to show him the love and affection that he needed to reveal his true self. Sigh!!!

I am on a bit of a glom now with Kinley MacGregor's books and have already finished the next book in the series. I am definitely looking forward to reading more!

Rating 4.5/5

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Claiming the Highlander by Kinley MacGregor

I'll start this by saying that I have never quite got around to reading any Sherrilyn Kenyon or Kinley MacGregor books so this was a new author to me, and I am really glad that I have read some now!

Maggie has decided to take a stand. The women of the village will provide their men with any services until such time as the feud between the MacAllister's and the MacDouglases is ended. They are sick of their men folk being killed and injured in a silly feud that initially started because of a woman. Fortunately the MacDouglas women have taken a similar stand, driving the men of both clans to distraction, with no edible food and certainly no comfort.

The head of the MacAllister's, Lochlan, is desperate for anything to break the stranglehold when his younger brother Braden returns home from adventures in England. If any man were to melt the women's hearts and make them stop this foolishness then it is Braden, for he is a man that no woman can resist. Maggie is however going to make a determined effort at it. Unfortunately for her though, she has been half in love with Braden for many years, waiting for him to take notice of her. After deciding to go to the MacDouglases to make an offer for peace, Braden, Maggie and his brother Sin set off to go the enemies stronghold, and Braden does finally notice Maggie!

I really enjoyed this book, although I will admit to being more than a bit partial to a Scotsman, especially a brawny lad like Braden. Having said that, the details of how irresistible he was to any woman were a bit much, but overall he was likeable, and once he noticed Maggie, there was no doubting that his wandering days were over! Maggie was headstrong and capable and no doubt able to keep hold of Braden.

This is the first in the MacAllister brothers series, and I really wanted to read more about them, especially the dark and brooding Sin MacAllister.

Rating 4/5

The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives by Sarah Strohmeyer

I've made a bit of a mistake with this review before I even started it. Normally I at least start it as soon as I finished the book so that I can give my initial thoughts. I didn't do that, and now I have returned the book to the library and I can't really think of what I was going to say! And that probably tells you a lot right there!

NEWS BULLETIN: Gone is HBO's Sex and the City. Sex has moved to the suburbs. Here is where you'll find ABC's #1 TV show Desperate Housewives. Here too is The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, a hilarious but poignant and spot-on novel about love and betrayal inside the world of the gated community.

Pampered Hunting Hills, Ohio, socialite Marti Denton never realized she was madly in love with John Harding until he impulsively married Claire Stark, a beautiful but socially awkward newspaper reporter to whom a "coming-out" party is a controversy, not a tradition. It's not until the Hunting Hills wives are plunged into a series of explosive scandals that the two women reach a new understanding of each other and what it means to be a fortunate wife in the twenty-first century. In The Secret Lives of Fortunate Wives, Sarah Strohmeyer has written a Stepford Wives for our time — funny, wise, and eye-opening.

Forget that the above blurb tells you very little about the storyline of the book, this really does tell you what the author was aiming for. We are introduced to a series of glimpses into the lives of the perfect women of Hunting Hills, a perfect gated community, unfortunately set just outside of imperfect Cleveland, Ohio. Into this perfect world comes Claire, who has spent time working in refugee camps in the Balkans and who finds it difficult to connect with women who think a tragedy is not being able to get their hair coloured when they need it done. Claire has just married John, who Marti believes she is in love with, whilst worrying that her own husband might be having an affair. Of course, he is, with her best friend Lisa, but he is also stealing money from all of their friends.

Whilst there are amusing incidents throughout this book, I didn't think that there was much of a plot, the characterisations were cliched and the ending trite!

Rating: 3.5/5

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The One That Got Away - Anthology

I originally picked this anthology up for two reasons. The first was that it was part of a three pack that was being sold at a great price and the second was that it included a story by Liz Carlyle. I have really enjoyed just about everything I have read by Carlyle and so I am trying now to get hold of whatever I can of hers. The fact that the anthology included a story by Eloisa James, who I really want to read one of these days, also helped. Other authors included in the anthology are Victoria Alexander and Cathy Maxwell.

The first entry was The Trouble with Charlotte by Victoria Alexander. The story opens with an epilogue in which we have Marcus, Earl of Pennington telling his mate Reggie a story about how he almost had his heart broken. The story that he tells is that involving Charlotte Robb, widow of Captain Hugh Robb. Charlotte and Hugh were married very young, and were very passionate and volatile together. After each accusing the other of cheating, Hugh storms off having purchased himself a commission in the Army. A year later he is dead. During her widowhood Charlotte let it be known that she was indeed a very merry widow, with numerous men friends, when in fact, whilst she had been very chaste (of course!). After 7 years of widowhood she is just getting to the point where she is thinking that maybe being married to Marcus wouldn't be terrible when her dead husband turns up on her doorstep. Having been terribly injured during a battle, he had suffered amnesia (of course!) and had been living a completely different life, where it is assumed that he had not been as chaste (of course!). Now that he is back, he wants to make amends to the ton and recommence his life with his wife who he now values more than life itself (of course!). Marcus finds himself in the middle of the two of them, helping them find out that they still loved each other desperately, and always had done (of course!). Whilst this story was rather uninspired I would like to find and read Marcus' story as I liked him as a character. Rating 3/5.

The first story that I read was Much Ado About Twelfth Night by Liz Carlyle, Edward, the new Marquess of Rythorn is trying to keep the walls from literally falling down around him after inheriting property but not much money from his dead brother. Long before becoming a Marquess he had proposed to the lovely Sophie, but she had turned him down flat, assuming that he had only asked her to marry him out of duty, not out of love and devotion. Sophie has come to ... with a plan of her own, and that is to convince him to sell her Twelfth Night, a champion racehorse. Throw into the mix, Edward's flirty cousin Oliver, and another racing family who are all trying to do the same, overheard conversations about bloodlines and breeding possibilities and misunderstandings abound. I actually quite enjoyed this story. Rating 4/5

Next up was Eloisa James' A Fool Again. Lady Genevieve Mulcaster had rather impetuously run off with Tobias Darby to Gretna Green only 3 hours of meeting him. Fortunately her father had caught up with him before they made it as far as the border, but not before she had been deflowered by Tobias (well, twice actually!). She was promptly married off to Lord Mulcaster, a much older skinflint who was less than generous with his generous young bride. This habit continues after his death, when the terms of his will revealed that his widow must marry one of his two business partners within two years of his death or forfeit her inheritance. One of the two is a doddery old man, the other is Mr Felton, handsome but aloof. Of course, there is no other choice than Mr Felton, until that is Tobias Darby reenters Genevieve's life! Can Tobias convince her that his place is with her, and can he convince Mr Felton to drop his claim to the lovely Genevieve. This was another good read with a nice use of a fair which enabled us to have a change of scenery from the usual ballrooms and grand houses usually associated with romances of this period.

The final story was Nightingale by Cathy Maxwell. We meet Dane Pendleton as he is updating his Last Will and Testament, for the next morning he is to fight to the death with Cris Carson, Lord Whiting, who happen to be the brother of the only woman he had ever loved, Jemma. The Carson family is down on it's luck and is fast losing hold of all it's possession. When Jemma comes to beg for Dane to swear off the duel, the inducement that she gives him is herself - not the first time she has been forced into this kind of situation to save her family from trouble! Dane's heart was broken when she agreed to marry another, and when Jemma confirms that it was her choice, but that she had done it for the good of her family, you know that he will forgive her eventually. I didn't mind Dane as a character but Jemma was amazingly slow in realising that her family constantly just used her to get whatever they wanted. She had even manipulated into this situation, but luckily all's well that ends well! Rating 3/5

Overall, I enjoyed the Carlyle and the James, didn't mind the Alexander, but didn't really like the Maxwell story. I don't recall having read many anthologies, and I must say that this hasn't inspired me to rush out and get more. I think I like the full story to have the drama develop and watch the romance gather pace!

Total rating 3.5/5

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Last Battle by CS Lewis

I've been contemplating what to write about finishing The Last Battle, the last of The Chronicles of Narnia for a couple of days, because to be honest, it kind of left a distasteful after taste. After reading all of the other six books in the series I could not believe that the final scenes in the book are of a vengeful Aslan, liberally handing out judgements.

In the last book, we meet an ape called Shift and a donkey called Puzzle. After finding a lion's skin, Shift convinces Puzzle to put the lion skin on and pretend to be Aslan, so that they could get whatever they want. In due course they have a whole group of followers who believe that Aslan really has returned to Narnia, and who are following blindly despite the fact that the requests that "Aslan" is making are not very God like, and that no one is allowed to actually stand close enough to see him. The ape has also fallen into league with the Calormene.

King Rilian and his faithful unicorn Jewel are among the very few disbelievers and he tries to convince his fellow Narnians that they are being duped. soon many including the treacherous dwarves are professing to follow neither Aslan nor Rilian. They are going to live for themselves from now on.

Into this come Jill and Eustace and they soon are fighting to convince the people that the real Aslan would not ask such things as these. After rescuing Puzzle, things take a more vengeful turn.

In due course we are reintroduced to all of the major characters from the previous books - Peter, Edmund and Lucy, Digby and Polly, but not Susan, for she is now no longer a friend of Narnia. The explanation of why they are all now come to the new Narnia is lightly passed over, however for me was a very harsh way of bringing things all together.

Funnily enough, the books I liked least in this series were the stories of the beginning (The Magician's Nephew) and the end of Narnia, and they were for me the most biblical. Maybe that is why...not sure on that though!

I loved most of the other books in the series, but for me this ended on a sour note. I wanted a happily ever after I guess, just not the type of happy ever after I got!

Rating: 3.5/5

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

I picked this book up from the library firstly because I thought it was a novel and not a collection of short stories, and secondly because I really did not like the only book by this author that I have previously tried to read and so wanted to see if it was the author or the story that I didn't like! To be honest, I'm still a little undecided on this one!

Before I give a brief synopsis of each of the short stories, I thought I would say something about the one common thread through this book, and to my mind that is unlikeable characters. I am not sure why so much literature sets out with unlikeable characters in order to create interesting stories! I guess that may be a little harsh because there were two likeable main characters but the majority were not all that pleasant.

In The Darkness of Wallis Simpson, Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor is being kept a virtual prisoner in her sumptuous Paris home during the last days of her life. Her sadistic carer is trying to get her to remember something...but what?? She remembers quite clearly her first and second marriages, but for whatever reason she can't remember whoever it is that she is supposed to remember.

In How It Stacks Up, John McCreedy is about to turn 46 years of age, and he is feeling extremely fed up with life, especially within his family group.

The Beauty of the Dawn Shift is about Hector S, a man who was an East German Border Guard. When the Berlin Wall comes down he decides that his place is not in the West, but rather further East so he undertakes a journey to the Soviet Union. In doing so he leaves behind his not only his profession, but also his lover, who also happens to be his sister Ute. Along his journey though he comes to realise how ill prepared he really was.

Inspired by the painting "Holyday" by Tissot, Death of an Advocate is told from the perspective of a lawyer called Albert who starts the story bored with life at a picnic with his wife Berthe. As he lies with his head upon Berthe, he watches a wasp land on the cake (he is very allergic to wasps!), contemplates the ugly tea caddy...and life in general. You can view an image of the painting and read a small part of this story here.

Nativity Story is a spin on the traditional Christmas story. A young couple arrives at a hotel where there is no room, so they have to spend the night in the basement with a man who has lost everything, but soon the woman is in labour and all the hotel guests are bringing gifts. What does Mordy have to offer them?

The Override is set in Paris. Stefan grew up in an expensive building in the 8th Arrondisement, and spent his time hiding on the stairs listening to the beautiful music that came out of one of the apartments. After growing up and marrying, he tragically loses his wife and child in an accident and so returns to the building, but the music is no longer beautiful.

In The Ebony Hand, Mercedes works in a fabric shop where every day she meticulously polishes the ebony hand that is used to showcase gloves. At home, her niece is living with her, after her mother has died, and her father sent to the local asylum home. Everything is changing around her, but Mercedes knows that whatever happens she must have the ebony hand.

In Loves Me, Loves Me Not, Frank Baines was a GI who spent time in London during the war, and now he has returned to see if he can solve one of the mysteries of his life. Why did his love not come to the US with him as they had agreed?

Moth - a flying baby who is attracted to the light? Strange!

The Cherry Orchard, with Rugs features Darren, Daz to his mates who work with him in the carpet showroom. Daz has multiple personalities. In addition to Daz there is Diego and also Daniela. It is Daniela who is on the train from London to Paris and meets up with Ross who is going to Paris to see a production of The Cherry Orchard by Chechov that uses only rugs for scenery.

In The Dead Are Only Sleeping Nell finds out that her father has just died, which forces her to remember the time when her mother died sometime before.

Peerless features Badger Newbold, a man with lots of free time and is looking for something to do. When he receives a letter asking him to send money to help some penguins he does just that, and finds a new purpose in life.

I think that Peerless was my favourite if only because it was charmingly amusing and remarkably positive considering some of the other stories. I actually really liked Loves Me, Loves Me Not until it got to the ending.

Overall, I did find the stories readable, which is something that I struggled with when I tried to read Music and Silence, so perhaps in due course I will give Rose Tremain another go!

Rating 3.5/5

The Siren Queen by Fiona Buckley

The Siren Queen is the eighth book in the Ursula Blanchard series of mysteries and I have to say that these books just get better and better. I have been reading this series for a while and now I am all caught up with the books that have been released at this time.

Ursula's daughter from her first marriage is about to turn 14 and, as they did at that time, thoughts turn to betrothals and marriage. It has been suggested that there is a young man who works for the Duke of Norfolk called Edmund Dean who would be a good match for young Meg, and so the whole Stannard family goes to London to meet Mr Dean. Ursula takes an instant dislike to Edmund but Meg is smitten, and he is very persistent in his devotion to her which concerns Ursula and her husband greatly.

However, whilst staying at the Duke of Norfolk's home, two young men are killed and Ursula becomes involved in the investigation, placing both herself and her family and entourage in a potentially dangerous situation. Are their deaths connected to plots to remove Elizabeth from the throne? They are certainly connected to Mary, Queen of Scots on several levels, even involving some of Elizabeth's favourites, including Robert, Earl of Leicester.

There are moments of good humour in this book. For example, the old woman that Ursula rescued from charges of witchcraft in Wales a few books ago attracts a beau - an elderly gentleman who creates very risque topiary shapes, when he isn't looking in at the serving girls that is. Unfortunately, Gladys' propensity for cursing people sees her get into more trouble in this book, particularly after she rejects her suitors offer of marriage.

If there was anything that bothers me at all about this book, it is the authors insistence at dropping just one or two sentences into the narrative to say that this first person account is actually being told looking back over many years. It really doesn't need to be there. There was also a couple of brief mentions about the nearness that Ursula had come to an inappropriate relationship with her servant Brockley that I didn't feel actually needed to be here. These are however maybe three or four sentences throughout the whole book, and therefore don't really impede my enjoyment of them.

With royal plots, accusations of witchcraft, and a huge twist in this book regarding Ursula's past this was a very entertaining read, and the foundations have been laid for some very interesting developments in the life of Ursula Stannard (formerly known as Ursula Blanchard, and Ursula de la Roche). I guess I will just have to wait for the next book to come out though.

The series in order is:

1. The Robsart Mystery (also published as To Shield the Queen)
2. The Doublet Affair
3. Queen's Ransom
4. To Ruin A Queen
5. Queen of Ambition
6. A Pawn for a Queen
7. The Fugitive Queen
8. The Siren Queen

Rating 4.5/5

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Little Known Trivia facts!

Ten Top Trivia Tips about Margaret!

  1. Margaretology is the study of Margaret.
  2. Michelangelo finished his great statue of Margaret in 1504, after eighteen months work.
  3. Bananas don't grow on trees - they grow on Margaret.
  4. The air around Margaret is superheated to about five times the temperature of the sun!
  5. It takes 8 minutes for light to travel from the Sun's surface to Margaret!
  6. Margaret once lost a Dolly Parton lookalike contest.
  7. Margareticide is the killing of Margaret.
  8. If you cut Margaret in half and count the number of seeds inside, you will know how many children you are going to have.
  9. It's bad luck to put Margaret on a bed.
  10. The Australian billygoat plum contains a hundred times more Vitamin C than Margaret.
I am interested in - do tell me about

With thanks to Heather.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Bedroom Business by Jennifer Crusie

This book actually includes two of Jennifer Crusie's earlier books - Getting Rid of Bradley and Charlie All Night, although it is not easy to see that from the front cover!

In Getting Rid of Bradley, Lucy Savage has just experienced the final insult from her now ex husband when he fails to even turn up at the divorce court. After going to the diner where they were supposed to be having lunch together so that Lucy could at least get some kind of information about what went wrong, Lucy finds herself being shot at, and then she thinks mugged. However her "mugger" is actually Zack Warren, who is investigating her ex-husband for embezzlement.

Zack is a good cop, who has excellent instincts, and he believes that Lucy is in real danger, so decides that she needs 24 hour protection, especially after her car is blown up. It is really only after he moves in that things get uncomfortable for Lucy, mainly because she can't stop thinking about how she wants to be with Zack!

I really liked Zack, although the pretense under which he moved in and stayed seemed a bit thin. His decisiveness around the fact that he was meant to be with Lucy was sweet. Lucy was kind of just there for me - she didn't really sparkle in her own right.

One thing I did like was that the author didn't take all the obvious steps on her way to the conclusion. For example, there was a little bit of flirting involving Lucy's sister Tina and Zack's partner Tony, but it never turned into a happy every after for all of them.

I rated Getting Rid of Bradley 4/5.

In Charlie All Night, hot shot radio producer Allie McGuffrey has recently broken up with her boyfriend, who also happens to be the star DJ that she helped create, and now she has been moved from the morning slot to the 10pm to 2am shift with a completely new DJ. After being told this she goes to the local bar, only to see her ex there. Whilst trying to keep her pride in tact, she picks up one of the men sitting at the bar and pretends that she is with him. He turns out to be Charlie Tenniel, the new DJ. As he has just arrived in town, he is invited to stay with Allie and her flatmate Joe. Allie decides that she needs a one night stand, but it quickly turns into more for them both.

Charlie soon becomes the next big thing on radio, but one night during an argument that is accidentally broadcast on air, Charlie and Allie challenge each other to live without sex for a month. Shortly after, Charlie has to move out, but their relationship changes from one that is sexually based to one where they just spend time hanging out. I really liked this side of the story, although whether it is realistic is a different matter!

But Charlie didn't really come to town just to do the radio show. He was asked to come and investigate some thing at the radio station - an anonymous informer has told the station owner that drugs are being distributed from the station. So whilst all he wants to do is spend time with Allie, there is an investigation to undertake as well. I never really got why Charlie was the one who was asked to investigate. He wasn't a police man or anything like that.

Once again, I really liked Charlie. The way that Crusie writes her heroes makes me really want to meet someone like that. Smart, funny, sexy, intelligent and handsome all rolled into one...mmm...yes please!

The interesting twist to this story was the very serious subject matter of the end of the story. I suspect that this kind of depth is something that still would be unusual in category romance even now, 10 years after this book was originally published.

This was my favourite of the two stories. Both are very short as they were both originally released as series romance, and therefore there wasn't the room for plot development as there might be if she wrote the same book now.

I rated Charlie All Night 4.5/5.

A fun couple of books to read. Overall rating 4/5

Thursday, February 16, 2006

You went to sleep where?

I don't normally post about other things except for what I am reading, but this made me laugh a lot so I am going to share it here!

On Wednesday night of this week, I went to see Rob Thomas in concert! Given that this is the first concert I have been to in probably 13 years I was pretty happy that I got to go, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Lots of the other people at the concert were pretty happy to be there as well, including one of the women who was sitting in the row behind us. She arrived literally two minutes before he came on stage, and she started screaming and wolf whistling (there were lots of "Oh, he is SOOOO sexy" kind of comments going on!) I hope you are getting the idea - she was EXCITED with a capital E!

And then....nothing. Everything went quiet, no more sexy comments, no more wolf whistles. Turned out that she had gone to sleep! She woke up half an hour later, and was obviously refreshed by her powernap, because we got really EXCITED again!!

I was astounded. How could anyone go to sleep in the middle of a concert! Bizarre! I mean I used to pretend to be asleep in some strange places, but don't think I really was asleep!

Oh, and the concert was great fun! I might even try not to wait that long until I go to the next one!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Painted by the Sun by Elizabeth Grayson

Shea Waterston is somewhat unusual for her time. She is a widow who travels around the West working as a photographer in the 1870’s with her companion, Mr Owen Brandt. When she is not taking portraits and photos of the Wild West to satisfy the folks back east, she is spending her time trying to track down her son who she gave up several years ago. He was sent West on an orphan train, where young children were sent from the crowded Eastern cities out to the west where families could adopt them.

When we first meet Shea she is in Denver, attempting to take a photograph of a hanging that is just about to occur. With this photo, she should have enough money to continue to the search for her son. Unfortunately Judge Cameron Gallimore is not happy about this and refuses to allow Shea to do this. When she insists, he confiscates her camera and throws her in jail until the hanging is over. Whilst when he is performing his duties as a judge, Cameron is called upon to pass the death sentence for some of the crimes that are committed, he does not like this part of his job at all.

Shea leaves Denver, and thinks that is all there is to it, until on her way back from photographing a mining camp, she comes across a group of men her about to lynch the judge and she saves him, but gets shot in the process. Of course, Cameron feels compelled to look after her and so takes her to his home that he shares with his sister Lily, who was badly burned during the war and doesn’t leave the house because she is sensitive to how people might react to her scars, and his son Randall.

Eventually Shea decides to winter in Denver and before too long, Shea and Cameron and becoming more and more enamored with each other. Shea also becomes attached to a young boy, Ty, whose father is drifting to the wrong side of the law.

Elizabeth Grayson is the author of month in my Historical Romance Chat group, and is a new to me author. Also pretty new to me is the Western Historical sub genre. The best thing about this book is that I learnt something new! I had never heard of the orphan trains.

As far as the romance goes, the gradual build up to the realization of love and also of a physical relationship was very nicely done. Cameron was a man with demons left over from the Civil War and the period of the book which dealt with how his sister, in particular, found out what he really got up to at the end of the war was very well written. The subplot with Lily’s growing confidence was also very well done. On the downside...there were so many coincidences in this book! Coincidentally, it was one or two too many for my liking!

Overall this was a book that I enjoyed, although it didn’t really grab me! One day I will read more from this author… day!

Rating 3.5/5

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Books by the Bed - February 2006

Following on from January's Books by the Bed post, I did do as I suggested and actually cleaned up, so in theory we started with a clean slate for February! And yet.....

A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving - still there. I got about two chapters into it (and those are really l-o-n-g chapters), but the story didn't grab me at all. I have however heard such good things about it, that I still really want to read it!

Painted by the Sun by Elizabeth Grayson - A new addition, Elizabeth Grayson is author of the month in the Historical Romance Chat group that I a member of.

The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons - This book actually did go back on the shelves for a little while, but not for long. I am supposed to be doing a group reread on this, one chapter a week, with some of the other members at Paullina Simons forum, so expect this one to be hanging around for while. Not that I's a great book.

The Last Battle by CS Lewis - the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia. I was supposed to have finished this by the end of January. Oh well..I'll get to it eventually!

You'll notice that A Breath of Snow and Ashes is no longer there, and no, I haven't finished it. In the comments to the January post, Carolyn wrote:

I noticed your comment about Breath of Snow and Ashes- I'm curious to hear what you think when you're finished! I read the book because I've been devoted to the rest of the series, but this one just didn't capture me the way that the others have.

Carolyn, I think it is fair to say that I haven't been captured either!! I read all of the others in two or three days at the most, and couldn't put them down, but with this one I am just not all that inspired to pick it up! I will eventually, but I don't know when!

The Fugitive Queen by Fiona Buckley

It is 1568 and Ursula Stannard (nee Blanchard) has been away from the court of Queen Elizabeth I for nearly 3 years, living a quiet country life with her third husband Hugh. She has also gained a ward, Penelope Mason, whose family we met in earlier books. Ursula's quiet country life is interrupted when she is summoned to court to reprimand Penelope as it appears that she has developed an unfortunate attachment to an unsuitable man (not for the first time).

In order to both remove Penelope from a potentially embarrassing situation, and to provide her with a better dowry in order to help her make a good match, a parcel of land in Yorkshire is given to Penelope, and it is suggested to Ursula that it would be a good idea for her take the new property owner to her property to inspect it. It is of course not coincidental that Bolton Castle is within a day's ride, and that Elizabeth has a private message that she wishes to have delivered to Mary, Queen of Scots who is "a guest" there under the watchful eye of Sir Francis Knollys. William Cecil also wishes for Ursula to see whether she can find out anything more about the death of Henry Darnley, Mary's husband who died in rather suspicious circumstances.

So, Ursula heads for the wild north of England, with a party that includes several of William Cecil's men, for protection, her loyal servants Brockley and Dale, her daughter Meg, and the far from happy Pen. Before too long, there has been a kidnap attempt on Meg, one of the soldiers is dead, and then when they finally arrive at Tyesdale to find the property has not been well maintained and there is some suspicion that the steward has been stealing.

As usual, wherever Ursula goes there are plots to be discovered and investigated, and this book is no different. It appears that there is a plot to help Mary escape from her captivity, and Ursula is drawn into it further than she would like.

This is the seventh book in the Ursula Blanchard mysteries, and I would have to say that it was one of the most enjoyable. With Pen, we meet a young girl who falls in love very easily which causes numerous problems throughout the book, and yet this is nicely balanced against the mysteries of who could have been responsible for kidnapping Meg, and killing the soldier, as well as who is implicated in the plot to aid Mary's escape.

There is only one more book in this series to go before I have caught up with the author, and will have to start waiting for new books to come out. I hope there is a new one soon! You can read previous posts about this series here.

Rating 4/5

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Sea by John Banville

The winner of the Man Booker Prize 2005, The Sea was nominated as the February read for a group I am in, and given that I am supposed to be co leading the discussion, there was an assumption that I would actually read it!! However, a few of the other people read it before I got to it, and to say that the response was not overwhelming is a fair comment. I therefore kept on putting it off until I could do so no longer, thinking that I wasn't going to like it either, but it actually wasn't too bad.

If you want a crisp outline of the plot, I probably can't do that. In effect this is the story of a man who, in dealing with an extremely pivotal point in his life, is looking back to another pivotal point years earlier.

If you want likeable characters... I don't think I can give you that either. The main character Max is an art historian, and there are lots of references to artists and classic literature to show this to us. The other main characters are Anna his wife, who's role in the book is as a catalyst, and the Grace family, Mr and Mrs Grace and their two children Myles and Chloe.

Do you want lots of actions, lots of events? Hmmm....nope, not much action either. Lots of introspection and memories. Over half way through I was still struggling to figure out what the book was about.

Having said that, whilst The Sea is a meandering trip through two events in a man's life, the writing is beautiful, with many descriptions and evocative word pictures. By the end of the book I was engaged, and was even reading it while waiting for the lights to change on my drive to work. I had however figured out the two big secrets early on, leaving just one that I didn't realise before time.

One of the main reasons that this book was nominated was because last year we read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and I thought it would be fun to compare a book that was nominated with the eventual winner. It will be interesting to see what others thought! I also read the 2004 Man Booker winner, Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst, and wonder if maybe I am not cut out for fine literature as this book didn't blow me away either.

Overall, not bad, but I would like a Pulitzer or Booker or other major prize winner to really draw me in, and hold me there, and blow me away. Maybe the next one will.

Rating 4/5

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters

Amelia and Emerson are back in Egypt, and this time their son Ramses along with their servant John accompany them.. However the season has not started well for them. The new Director of Antiquities has gleefully assigned them a site that is less than glamorous (no pyramids!) for our experienced archaeologists, and they are not happy! To make matters worse, Amelia is convinced that one of their old acquaintances has been murdered, and she is convinced that there is a Master Criminal behind the murder. Soon there are disappearing and appearing mummy cases, besotted servants, and numerous other events all keeping both Amelia and Emerson on their toes, both in the investigation and archaeologically!

The third installment in the Amelia Peabody series, The Mummy Case sees the real introduction of Ramses as a character in his own right. Whilst he appeared briefly in the last book, he is a major character here. He is a very precocious little boy of about 6 years of age...always getting dirty, finding his way into and out of trouble and able to talk himself out of any situation. At first I wondered if this was going to get in the way of me enjoying the story, but in the end I got used to it. To be honest, if Ramses was not like this, then he would have no place in the story between the two forceful personalities of his parents!

I have to admit to getting slightly lost in the some parts of the resolution of the mystery but overall this was another satisfying read from Elizabeth Peters. Her books are not only unique, but they are highly entertaining as well!

You can read my previous entry about the second Amelia Peabody mystery here.

Rating 4/5

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I haven't read an Anita Shreve book in years before picking this book up to listen to at the library a few days ago. I had such fond memories of reading Fortune's Rocks and The Pilot's Wife that I guess I had expected much more than what I got from this book.

Twelve year old Nicky Dillan and her father Robert Dillan have been living in an isolated house outside the town of Shepherd in New Hampshire for about two years, having moved from New York after her mother and sister were killed in a car accident. A short time before Christmas, Nicky and her father were snowshoeing through the woods near their house when the hear a sound. They go off to investigate and find a baby who has been abandoned there, and so they rescue the baby.

Becoming minor celebrities in town, it isn't too long before the mother of the abandoned baby comes to thank them for rescuing her baby, but before she can leave again, a snow storm sets in and she ends up staying with them for a couple of days. The days from when the baby was found up to the end of the storm are a real catalyst for Nicky and her dad, bringing changes for both of them.

This novel was, I think, meant to be a study of grief, but also about facing the consequences of your actions. On those levels, I guess it worked, although at times it felt a bit superficial.

Once again, I had issues around the perspective of the novel. For reasons we are not told, the story is told by Nicky when she is around 30 years old, but all the events are told in present tense, so there seems to be some confusion about this perspective at some point in the novel. Maybe there was some differentation between timeframes in a written book, but I certainly couldn't tell in the audio book.

Another thing that I really noticed in this book was a lot of the dialogue was followed by "he said", "Robert said", or "she said". For example if Nicky were to say "But Dad..I don't want to go to my room", it would almost always be followed by I said. Of course it was Nicky who said that...who else would call him Dad!. Occasionally there were other descriptors, but it was overwhelmingly noticeable that these were all throughout the story, to the point that it distracted me. To an extent it felt as though the dialogue wasn't sufficiently strong enough to stand alone without the reader being specifically told who was doing the talking..their characters voices were not individual enough within the text let alone before we add a narrator's interpretation.

Snow plays a crucial role in this story, and I have to admit that all the scenes where Shreve was describing the snow, and the conditions through the snow storm felt really real, although having never experienced anything like those conditions I wouldn't know for sure.

Overall, this was an okay read, that had the potential to be really interesting, but just didn't quite make it! Oh well....I could always reread Fortune's Rock if I really wanted!

Rating 3/5

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