Saturday, April 28, 2007

Black Diamonds by Kim Kelly

It's 1914 and Lithgow is booming. Daniel is a young German-Australian, a coalminer and a socialist; Francine is the bourgeois, Irish-Catholic, too-good-for-this-place daughter of one of the mine's owners. When their paths collide, they fall in love despite themselves and it very quickly becomes apparent that their only option is to wed. But before the signatures on their marriage certificate are dry, World War I erupts, throwing in their path a new and much more terrifying obstacle. Against his principles but driven by a sense of solidarity, Daniel enlists; Francine, horrified, has no choice but to support him. As they hurtle towards a daunting world of war, separation and grief, they each learn things about themselves and one another that they would never have expected in more certain times - about heroism, sacrifice, the thin line between courage and stupidity, and, most of all, about the magical power of love.

A moving story of a tumultuous period in our history, Black Diamonds is a wonderful celebration of resilience, told with verve and an generous dash of humour

I got this book as an uncorrected proof from the HarperCollins First Look program, the first time that I have ever been chosen, and I quite enjoyed it. I also thought it was quite timely because I finished reading it a few days before Anzac Day, and given that the book is set around World War I very relevant.

In a broad sense this book was a look at some of the issues that affected a young country, still trying to find it's place in the world, and as a unified country. Part of the reason why Anzac Day is so special to Australians and New Zealanders is that it is the first time that we fought as independent countries. We were still very closely linked to the British Empire, but instead of being absorbed into the British army we had distinct identities, and as time proved, distinct characteristics in terms of the way that we banded together and fought for each other. There are parts of this book where these ideas are explored especially as Daniel is sent first to Egypt to wait for his orders and then to the bloodbath that was the Western Front.

Kim Kelly also took the time to focus on what was happening at home, and for me, that was the most enlightening part of the book. Whilst our country was at war, the trade union movement was growing in strength and trying to at least protect some of the rights of workers who were left behind, some business owners were trying to take advantage of the war time needs and make more money, the people with dissenting voices against participation in the war were ostracised, and for those who returned from the war, there was still a degree of censorship about what they could say publicly, or even, for example, the kind of art they could produce with war themes.

This central story in the book is that of the love story between Daniel Ackerman and Francine Connolly. Daniel is a miner, and Francine is the mine owner's daughter, and we get to know them through alternate chapters from each of their points of view. They first meet when Daniel helps her pick up apples that she has dropped into the road, but she doesn't know how to interact with him, and so he thinks that she is stuck up. When they meet up again not too long after that it is under very different circumstances - Daniel has just been injured in a mine accident, the same accident that claimed the life of his father, and he is now laid up recovering from his injuries. Francine begins to visit him on a regular basis and before long they have fallen in love, and due to circumstance outside of their control, they are almost railroaded into marrying, which changes everything for both of them.

It isn't too long before war breaks out, and despite his principles, or maybe because of his conflicted principles, Daniel enlists and is sent off to Europe to fight in the war, leaving Francine at home to look after their home and affairs. When Daniel returns he is a much different man - a man struggling with the injuries that he received and the pain he is in, both physically and emotionally, and what follows is a long period of rehabilitation, at a time when there is already great upheaval everywhere throughout both the town and the country.

Overall this was a good read, although I did have some issues with the dialogue. Daniel was portrayed as a quiet man, a thinker, someone who internalises a lot, whereas Francine was for the most part portrayed as a happy go lucky young woman, especially at the start of the book, and as a result the dialogue in particular was uneven and a bit jarring at times, but I think the author made up for that with other elements in the book. For example, the author didn't take the easy way out and give our couple a picture perfect life, and there were several weighty issues that were dealt with even once Daniel returned from the war.

Whilst I don't think that this book has the emotional depth of, for example, The Bronze Horseman, for the Aussies reading this, I would say that this author is comparable to Belinda Alexander (or at least the one book that I have read by her!). If you are interested in reading a book that gives some of the information that you would expect to read about WWI, but also some things that you wouldn't necessarily expect as well, then this book may be for you. It is being released here in Australia on 1 May.

Rating: 4/5

And another new blog!

Nicole, who was another of the girls at Sanctuary's Finest, has also started a new blog called Escape with Me.

Friday, April 27, 2007

It's raining

Not enough for the drought to be officially over, but it's a start! Of course, we'll see how happy we are about it when I have to take my son to sport in the rain tomorrow morning!

Speaking of rain, I saw a really cool picture of raindrops here.

Another new blog

This time featuring four self published historical fiction authors. I am looking forward to seeing what they come up with! I have previously heard of 3 of the 4 authors involved, so I look forward to hearing what they are up to.

Have a look at Yesterday Revisited.

Thursday, April 26, 2007


I saw the trailer for the next Harry Potter movie today, and it looked really, really good! Only problem is....I haven't read that book or the next books yet, and I have NO idea when I am going to fit either of them into the reading schedule!

What to do, what to do!

Taking it personally

Do you take things too personally? Things like when you drop off of someone's blog roll or when number of visitors drop significantly for some unknown reason? I do.

Can't seem to help myself. Does that mean that I am being so boring that people don't want to come visit anymore, or did they just forget? Or do I need to get over myself?

Don't mind me! Had a rough few weeks and it is beginning to tell on me I think.

Book Binge

There are two definitions for book binge in this post.

Book Binge: The name of a new blog featuring Holly, Isabel and Rowena who used to post at Sanctuary's Finest, but have decided that it is time for a fresh start!

Help spread the word about their new blog and you can win some books! You can find more details here.

Book Binge: What I seem to be in the middle of at the moment!! I was having a look at one of the spreadsheets that I use to keep track of what books I own, what books I want to read and what books I have out from the library and when they are due back, and I was shocked to realise that I seem to have been in a bit of a book buying frenzy over the last few months!

In the middle of last year I was a bit worried that my book spending had gotten a bit out of control, so I decided to limit the number of books that I bought, and I did really well for a while! Here's a list of the number of books I bought each month:

July 7
August 0
September 4
October 2
November 4
December 19
January 7
February 4
March 11
April 14

Of course realising this today didn't stop me from placing orders for four books today, and I have 3 sitting in my basket on The Book Depository as well!

The really shocking statistic out of all of that is that of the 72 books that I have acquired (because some of them have been freebies) since July last year, I have actually only read 22 of them!

And while I am talking about my TBR pile, might as well do a list of what I have out from the library at the moment!

1. Abundance : a novel of Marie Antoinette by Naslund, Sena Jeter
2. Baby proof by Giffin, Emily
3. Beyblade : official handbook by MacKinnon, J. (No, not mine!)
4. The book thief by Zusak, Markus (I've borrowed this about three times now but it keeps on getting requested - hopefully this time I will actually get to read it!)
5. Borrower of the night by Peters, Elizabeth
6. The bride finder by Carroll, Susan
7. Burning bright by Chevalier, Tracy
8. Chill factor by Caine, Rachel
9. The Christmas quilt by Chiaverini, Jennifer
10. City of glory : a novel of war and desire in Old Manhattan by Swerling, Beverly
11. David Golder by Nemirovsky, Irene
12. Death at Victoria Dock by Greenwood, Kerry
13. The deception of the emerald ring by Willig, Lauren (reading this at the moment)
14. Dime store magic by Armstrong, Kelley
15. Dreaming the bull by Scott, Manda
16. Excalibur (a collection of short stories)
17. Forever in blue by Brashares, Ann
18. Grave sight by Harris, Charlaine
19. Half of a yellow sun by Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi (for my Orange shortlist reading)
20. The hippopotamus pool by Peters, Elizabeth
21. Hot stuff by Evanovich, Janet
22. The hummingbird's daughter by Urre, Luis Alberto
23. It's in his kiss by Quinn, Julia
24. The last man standing by Child, Maureen (This also has a book by Nalini Singh in it so that is why I am getting it.)
25. Loyalty in death by Robb, J.D.
26. The many lives & secret sorrows of Josephine B. by Gullard, Sandra (finished this just haven't returned it yet)
27. A match made in Scotland by Thomas, Melody (actual book title is A Match Made in Scandal, but Scotland is close enough!)
28. My best friend's girl by Koomson, Dorothy
29. My pleasure by Brockway, Connie
30. One night with a prince by Jeffries, Sabrina
31. The pillars of the world by Bishop, Anne
32. The pirate queen by Norman, Diana
33. Pope Joan by Cross, Donna Woolfolk
34. Postcards from the bed by Keyes, Marian
35. Regency scandals by Gaston, Diane
36. The road by McCarthy, Cormac (reading this at the moment)
37. The scarlet lion by Chadwick, Elizabeth
38. Shadows in bronze by Davis, Lindsey
39. Stranger in my arms by Kleypas, Lisa
40. The temple dancer : a novel of India by Speed, John
41. The tilecutter's penny by Mor, Caiseal
42. Valley of silence by Roberts, Nora (finished this as well)

Ready to pick up I have:

1. The Duke by Gaelen Foley

And on request I have:

1. All together dead by Harris, Charlaine
2. The boar stone by Watson, Jules
3. First among sequels by Fforde, Jasper
4. Lean mean thirteen by Evanovich, Janet
5. Miss Wonderful by Chase, Loretta
6. Mistress of the art of death by Franklin, Ariana (In transit, so I should be able to pick it up over the weekend)
7. New moon by Meyer, Stephenie
8. Night play by Kenyon, Sherrilyn (In mending, so goodness knows how long until I get it)
9. Portrait of an unknown woman by Bennett, Vanora
10. Sugar daddy by Kleypas, Lisa
11. Tales of passion, tales of woe by Gullard, Sandra
12. Unfortunate Miss Fortunes by Crusie, Jennifer

Phew....when you look at lists like that it's easier to get a little overwhelmed!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Anzac Day

Now when I was a young man I carried me pack
And I lived the free life of the rover.
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback,
Well, I waltzed my Matilda all over.
Then in 1915, my country said, "Son,
It's time you stop ramblin', there's work to be done."
So they gave me a tin hat, and they gave me a gun,
And they marched me away to the war.

And the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As the ship pulled away from the quay,
And amidst all the cheers, the flag waving, and tears,
We sailed off for Gallipoli.

And how well I remember that terrible day,
How our blood stained the sand and the water;
And of how in that hell that they call Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter.
Johnny Turk, he was waitin', he primed himself well;
He showered us with bullets, and he rained us with shell --
And in five minutes flat, he'd blown us all to hell,
Nearly blew us right back to Australia.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
When we stopped to bury our slain,
Well, we buried ours, and the Turks buried theirs,
Then we started all over again.

And those that were left, well, we tried to survive
In that mad world of blood, death and fire.
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
Though around me the corpses piled higher.
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over head,
And when I woke up in me hospital bed
And saw what it had done, well, I wished I was dead --
Never knew there was worse things than dying.

For I'll go no more "Waltzing Matilda,"
All around the green bush far and free --
To hump tents and pegs, a man needs both legs,
No more "Waltzing Matilda" for me.

So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed,
And they shipped us back home to Australia.
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane,
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
And as our ship sailed into Circular Quay,
I looked at the place where me legs used to be,
And thanked Christ there was nobody waiting for me,
To grieve, to mourn and to pity.

But the band played "Waltzing Matilda,"
As they carried us down the gangway,
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared,
Then they turned all their faces away.

And so now every April, I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me.
And I see my old comrades, how proudly they march,
Reviving old dreams of past glory,
And the old men march slowly, all bones stiff and sore,
They're tired old heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask "What are they marching for?"
And I ask meself the same question.

But the band plays "Waltzing Matilda,"
And the old men still answer the call,
But as year follows year, more old men disappear
Someday, no one will march there at all. Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda.
Who'll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
And their ghosts may be heard as they march by the billabong,
Who'll come a-Waltzing Matilda with me?

Eric Bogle

Lest We Forget

Monday, April 23, 2007

Kiss of the Night by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Dear Reader,

What do you get when you have one immortal Viking warrior no one can remember five minutes after he leaves their presence, a princess on the run for her life, and one seriously annoyed demigod? Basically, you get my life.

It started out simple enough. One night I went to save a woman in trouble. The next thing I knew, the doorway to hell had opened and out stepped Daimons-vampires the likes of which I'd never seen before. Led by the son of Apollo, they are out to end the curse that has banished them all to darkness. The only problem with that is they have to kill Cassandra Peters to do it and if she dies, so dies the sun, the earth and all who dwell here. Life's just a bowl full of cherries, ain't it?

Brought together by fate, it's now my job to protect a daughter of the very race I have been hunting for centuries. Neither of us dares to trust the other. But she is the only one who remembers me... More than that, with her courage and strength, she is the only one who has ever touched a heart that I thought had died centuries ago.

The only way for a Dark-Hunter to regain his soul is through the love of a woman. But what happens when that woman isn't exactly human?

Wulf Tryggvasen

After really liking the last Dark Hunter book Dance with the Devil, I was very much looking forward to reading this book, However, right from page 1 I wasn't as invested in this one as I was for Zarek's book.

And that doesn't mean to say that it was a terrible book because it wasn't. There were many moments were I was moved, and even a couple where I cried, but overall Wulf's story was good but not great.

Wulf was cursed hundreds of years ago so that only a member of his family can actually remember him. Everyone else forgets him the moment they walk away, so it is very unusual when he meets a woman who actually does remember him from one day to the next. Of course, it isn't easy to forget a man who you have amazing sex with, even if it is only in your dreams....or is it!

Cassandra is no ordinary woman though. She is an Appolite, destined to either die on her 27th birthday, which is only months away, or to make the choice to become a Daimon, and she holds the future of the world in her hands. If she is to die without having children, then according to legend the world will end as well - and there are quite a few out there who are willing to test the legend to see if it is actually true or not!

Cassandra and Wulf meet when she and her bodyguard are being attacked by several Daimons, and events are quickly orchestrated so that he has to protect her, especially seeing as though she is now pregnant with his child. Wulf struggles a lot with the thought of the future - how can he love a woman who is destined to become one of the Daimons that he must hunt in his role as Dark Hunter, or she must die.

Some of the more emotional scenes for me were around the thought of the baby not knowing Cassandra as it grew up. I loved the memory box where she was placing little bits and pieces so that the baby would know something about her, as well as her family. There were a couple of interesting twists in this one, including the actions of Urian, who I am sure we will get to meet again in future books.

Whilst this one was nowhere near as good as Zarek's book I am still looking forward to the next one!

My only question is - do other people out there find all the mentions of, and yet another character reading a Kinley MacGregor novel, distracting? I have to admit that at times I do!

Strangely enough, even though I felt more invested in Zarek's book, I ended up rating them both the same. How does that happen?

A solid 4/5 for this book for me!

Tatiana's Table by Paullina Simons

In her internationally bestselling trilogy, Paullina Simons introduced Tatiana Metanova, one of the most remarkable heroines in contemporary fiction. The unforgettable story of her lifelong love affair with American soldier, Alexander Barrington has warmed and broken hearts across the globe.

Now comes the final, delicious chapter: a collection of Tatiana's favourite recipes, the first truly epic cookbook, which spans the second half of the twentieth century and two continents, through times of war, times of famine, times of peace, and times of plenty.

Here are delectable peaks into the life and love of Tatiana and Alexander as well as their children and grandchildren. From traditional Russian cuisine to American staples, to exotic dishes with international flair, Tatiana's Table is full of twists and turns to delight readers and food lovers everywhere.

I am a huge Paullina Simons fan (including a mod on her reader forums) but as I read this book, I couldn't help but wonder about what the intention was when writing it. As far as I can tell, it is a response to requests for more Tatiana and Alexander, because it doesn't seem to add all that much to the trilogy.

Now that paragraph probably makes it sound as though I didn't enjoy this book, but I did! I really did, but this is definitely a book for existing fans of the trilogy that started with The Bronze Horseman, The Bridge to the Holy Cross (also published under the title Tatiana and Alexander in some places) and The Summer Garden. What I don't think that this book will do is to draw new fans to the series, because if you picked up this book having not read any of the others then you certainly wouldn't understand what was going on, and I doubt that it would really inspire you to pick up the other books.

So what is this book? It really is mostly a cookbook, which is interesting seeing as it was labeled as fiction at the bookstore. The book is broken into several sections that reflected various phases and locations throughout Tatiana and Alexanders life, starting from their childhoods, through the blockade of Leningrad, to Tatiana's time in New York and then a couple of other locations through to their life in Arizona.

Amongst the anecdotes, there are definitely things that build upon things that we already knew from reading the trilogy. For example, throughout The Bronze Horsemen we are told that Tatiana and her sister Dasha were very close, but this book actually shows that closeness - the way that when they were both starving during the blockade Tatiana and Dasha would cuddle under the blankets to try and keep warm and Dasha telling Tatiana how to cook many of their family favourites. There are also lots of other little interesting glimpses like Tatiana and Vicki in Vietnam, and small anecdotes about the other children who didn't really have a lot of focus on them in the earlier books.

My favourite anecdote was definitely Tatiana and Alexander's 50th anniversary celebrations, and the what if question that was asked. What if Tatiana had never found Alexander - would they have been apart forever or would they eventually find each other again.

Oh, and I should mention that some of these recipes sound really, really good! There are definitely a few that I am going to try one day!

The strange thing about Paullina's books is how little availability there is in other markets, particularly the US, especially seeing as she is an American author. The second and third books are only available through bookclubs such as Book of the Month Club and Double Day. I have no idea whether this book is going to be made available in the US or not, but if anyone is desperate to get hold of this one let me know and I can get you some links, or come to some arrangements to assist.

In summary, if you are already a fan of The Bronze Horseman trilogy then you will really enjoy this book. Paullina Simons has also confirmed that this is the last glimpse into Tatiana and Alexander's life - it is time to move on, and her next book, called The Bartered Bride is to due to come out in Australia and New Zealand in November! I am looking forward to it!

Rating 4/5

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith

In the life of Precious Ramotswe - a woman duly proud of her fine traditional build - there is rarely a dull moment, and the latest instalment in the universally beloved No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series there is much happening on Zebra Drvie and Tlokweng Road. Mma Ramotswe is experiencing staffing difficulties. First, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni asks to be put in charge of a case involving an errant husband. But can a man investigate such matters as successfully as the number one lady detective can? Then Mma Ramotswe has a minor falling out with her assistant Mma Makutsi, who decides to leave the agency, taking her near-perfect secretarial skills with her.

Along the way, Mma Ramotswe is asked to investigate a couple of tricky cases. Will she be able to explain an unexpected series of deaths at the hospital in Mochudi? And what about the missing office supplies at the local printing company? These are the types of question that Mma Ramotswe is uniquely well suited to answer.

In the end, whatever happens, she knows she can count on Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, who stands for all that is solid and true in a shifting world, and there is always her love of Botswana, a country of which she is justifiably proud.

I always enjoy reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, and this book, which is the eighth in the series following on from Blue Shoes and Happiness, was no exception. There was a lot going on in the agency and the Tlokweng Road Motors, and there are lots of staff developments in this book as well.

Mma Makutsi is now an engaged woman, but she is still as opinionated and headstrong as ever, but now it is beginning to upset some people. to the extent that both Mma Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe are beginning to feel it in their own relationship. Staff upsets are the last thing that is needed given how busy they are at the moment, but maybe this was just a matter of time. The question is can Mma Makutsi find a glamourous new job, and how will the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency cope without her superior secretarial skills.

In addition, Mr J L B Matekoni has decided that he wants the chance to investigate a case, and so when a client drops by when no one else is around he decides that he will investigate the case of the unfaithful husband, and Precious very graciously allows him to do so, despite her own misgivings, and he does do quite well. Mr Matekoni has his own staffing issues when one of his apprentices wants to leave in order to start his own taxi firm.

In the meantime, there is also the case of the missing stationery items at the local printing firm, and also the case of the mysterious deaths of three people, in the same bed, at around the same time within weeks of each other at Mochudi hospital.

The biggest positive for me in this book was that there seemed to be a bit more character development in the secondary characters in this book than we have perhaps seen in previous books.

The biggest disappointment, although that may not be quite the right word, was with the main mystery in this book, and that is the one about the deaths in the hospital. The only reason I say that is because as soon as Precious started talking about the case, I knew exactly what the outcome was, because I have heard the story before. It is, I think, maybe something of an urban myth. It was still enjoyable to read, but there was certainly no surprise at the outcome for me.

All in all, another fun read. Now I just have to wait for the next one! Good thing Alexander McCall Smith is so prolific!

Rating 4/5

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Decision time

When I made my Reading Resolutions for 2007, one of them was:

Shortlists - it is my intention to read the shortlists for the Booker and either the Orange Prize or the Pulitzer Prize.

Well, the shortlist for the Orange Prize was announced today and three of the books on the list are books that I already had on my list to read anyway, so now I have to decide which shortlist I am going to read. Given that I already do have some of them that I know that I want to read maybe I will do the Orange. The nominated books are:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Arlingtom Park by Rachel Cusk

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

The Observations by Jane Harris

Digging to America by Anne Tyler

Maybe I will make a final decision in the morning when I am not quite so sleepy!

Book news!

I was very excited yesterday when I got home from work. I had a card saying that there was a Fedex package for me. I've never received a Fedex package before, and I had no idea what was in it. They delivered it today and it turns out it was a review book. Now I need to fit it in the reading schedule.

Another thing to fit in the schedule as well - I won a book at Twisted Kingdom! Now I just need to confirm which book it is that I want and wait for it to arrive! Gotta love a free book. Two in a day is even better.

What else? Not much really. At the moment I am reading an ARC that I received through the Harper Collins First Look program and I will have more information about it soon. Let's just say that given that it is coming up to Anzac Day here next week, the subject matter is extremely timely.

I'll probably do a library list again soon, just to show how out of control my reading schedule really is! Especially when you check and realise that not only are there 40 books out from the library, plus 9 on request, but I have recently (as in since 1 March) bought or received 15 books! Oh my goodness!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Lilah by Marek Halter

In 397 BC in Susa, the opulent capital of the Persian empire where the Jews are living in exile, a young woman seems destined for a happy life.

Her name is Lilah

Lilah is due to marry Antinoes, a great Persian warrior well known at the king's court. But her beloved brother Ezra, whom she has been close to since childhood, is opposed to this marriage with a foreigner. If Lilah insists, she will have to renounce Ezra, and that is something that she cannot do. Fore she senses that he has been chosen by God to lead the exiled Jews to Jerusalem and, after centuries of displacement, revive the laws of Moses: laws which promote justice and give human life a meaning.

Abandoning the prospect of a golden future, Lilah urges her brother to leave for Jerusalem and gives him new hope that a return to the Promised Land is possible. But Ezra, blinded by faith, orders the rejection of all foreign wives. At the risk of losing the one person who still has left in her life, Lilah opposes her brother's fanaticism, thereby ensuring the survival of the women and children condemned to leave the city. But her opposition comes at great personal cost...

This is the third book in the Canaan trilogy after Zipporah, and unfortunately this is the weakest of the trilogy.

This story focuses on the little known story of Ezra, who led the people of Israel back to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Growing up Ezra had been incredibly close to his sister, Lilah and the Persian boy Antinoes. Antinoes has grown up to become a famous warrior who is still in love with Lilah, but the relationship between Antinoes and Ezra has completely disintegrated. Lilah is determined that she is going to marry Antinoes, but there is not only her brother's opposition to get past, there is also opposition from the very scary queen, who has been known to throw people who have betrayed her, or who she just doesn't like, to her pet lions!

So the first half of the book focuses on Antinoes and Lilah as they try to find a way to be together, and then accept that they are to be parted, as Ezra is granted approval from the King to be allowed to lead the Jewish people to Jerusalem, and Lilah must go with him.

The second half of the book not only changes focus to the journey to Jerusalem, and then what happens once the people get there, but it also completely changes format. The first half is broken into chapters, whereas the second half changes to being a letter written by Lilah to Antinoes, a letter that she knows he will never actually receive or read. This change of format doesn't really work at all in my opinion, and only seems to make the book feel disjointed and uneven.

The other thing that really through me was at one point the Queen was getting massaged with oils, and the author listed several different oils, and then said Eucalyptus. Now, as far as I am aware Eucalyptus is native to Australia, with a couple of species being found in New Guinea, Indonesia and Philippines, but there is no way known that Eucalyptus trees were available in Persia in 357 BC. It was just one of those facts that when I read it, I was completely thrown out of the story.

After quite enjoying the first book in this trilogy, and mostly liking the second, this was a disappointingly uninspiring conclusion to the trilogy.

Rating 2.5/5

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Age 30 - A Year of Books

Guess What, guess what, guess what!!!!!

After months and months of being behind on my reviews - sometimes up to nearly 20 behind, I am finally, finally up to date!!

Now I need to go and have a lay down!

Simply Magic by Mary Balogh

On a splendid August afternoon Susanna Osbourne is introduced to the most handsome man she has ever seen . . . and instantly feels the icy chill of recognition. Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf, is utterly charming - and seemingly unaware that they have met before. With his knowing smile and seductive gaze, Peter acts the rake; but he stirs something in Susanna she has never felt before, a yearning that both frightens and dazzles her. Instantly she knows: this brash nobleman poses a threat to her heart . . . and to the secrets she guards so desperately.

From the moment they meet, Peter is drawn to Susanna's independence, dazzled by her sharp wit-he simply must have her. But the more he pursues, the more Susanna withdraws . . . until a sensual game of thrust-and-parry culminates in a glorious afternoon of passion. Now more determined than ever to keep her by his side, Peter begins to suspect that a tragic history still haunts Susanna. And as he moves closer to the truth, Peter is certain of one thing: he will defy the mysteries of her past for a future with this exquisite creature-all Susanna must do is trust him with the most precious secret of all. . . .

This is the third book in the Simply series after Simply Love , which itself was a spin off of the Slightly series which featured the Bedwyn family, as well as a couple of characters from earlier books! And once again the author chooses to feature all of these characters in her latest book. Mercifully they are shorter appearances by the whole gang than there have been in the earlier Simply books, but they are still there. I was thankful to read on Mary Balogh's website that she is starting a new series, one not connected at all to her previous books - thank goodness. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

The other thing that there was too much of in this book is the over use of the words magic, magical and magically - we get it already. There was also a strange use of italics used for emphasis throughout the book. Even though I have been known to use capitals in posts and comments, I don't think I have seen anything similar in a book before!

And what about the story itself...well, it was nice! And I mean that in the nicest possible way. There was no cold distant duke, wounded hero, or even redeemable rake. What we have with Peter is a funny, charming, honourable man who is trying to find his sense of identity in his current role as a Viscount. When he meets Susannah he instantly knows that she is the one, although he is not 100 percent sure what that means. However, as soon as Susannah meets him she knows exactly who is his, and is determined not to like him. As she gets to know him though, she can't help but like spending time with him, and without being attracted to him, despite the fact that he is close neighbours with important figures from her past that she would rather avoid.

In terms of timing, the first half of this book overlaps with the events in the last book, and Peter and Susannah meet each other again at the wedding reception that was held for the hero and heroine, Syd and Anne. The other thing that happens is that those same figures from Susannah's past also come back to haunt her.

In many ways the love story between Susannah and Peter is pretty straightforward. The only impediment is really the events from her past, and once they the events of years before are cleared up satisfactorily then there is only their feelings towards each other that matter. Whilst this wasn't the most electrifying book that I have ever read, it wasn't a bad book either. In fact, if I was to choose just one word to use to describe this book it would be ...... nice!

Rating 4/5

Street of the Five Moons by Elizabeth Peters

When a man is found murdered with an enchanting copy of the Charlemagne talisman in his pocket, amateur sleuth Vicky Bliss follows the trail of the gifted genius who created the fake to the narrow streets of the antiquity markets in Rome.

At number 37 on the Street of the Five Moons, Vicky meets a dangerously exciting young Englishman who catches her completely off-guard - a man whose scruples are as questionable as his intelligence is keen.

It is quite unusual for me to start a series a book number 2 deliberately, but just before we went away for the weekend, I was at the library trying to choose some audiobooks to take with us for our long drive, and there really weren't a lot of other books that really caught my attention, so I gave in and decided to break my own reading rules!

After I picked this book and bought it home from the library I had a big panic attack and had to check with some known Vicky Bliss fans that I wasn't going to regret this decision, and I was assured that no, it wasn't going to have any great impact....phew!!

Having read several of the Amelia Peabody series of books by this same author, I had some idea of what kind of story to expect, and I have to confess, pretty high expectations. Fortunately, the expectations were definitely met. This was such a fun read (errr...listen). The same narrator by the name of Barbara Rosenblat is also used in both series of books, and she is excellent. Certainly in the case of the Amelia Peabody series she brings an added element of enjoyment. I can't say for sure the same thing about this series because I haven't actually read any of the other books!

Anyway, about this book! Vicky is a art historian who is working in a museum in Munich. When a man is found not very far away and amongst his possessions is an extremely valuable piece of medieval jewellery. The museum is bought in because initially they think that it may have been stolen but it turns out to be an extremely well made copy. The sole clue that there is is a small piece of paper that has some crescent moons on it, and this clue soon leads Vicky to the Street of the Five Moons in Rome. Let the adventures begin!!

There is a foiled kidnap attempt by unknown assailants, Italian aristocrats, tempestuous mistresses, beautiful villas with gruesome grottoes in the garden, inept artists, a fearsome guard dog that Vicky manages to charm, and in the end a life and death chase.

The strongest aspect of this story is the repartee and relationship between Vicky and John, the "dangerously exciting young Englishman" mentioned in the blurb. The two of them clash verbally several times, but there is always a strong attraction between them, right from the first incident when they meet. John is also something of a mysterious characters because you never can quite tell where exactly he stands. Is he a good guy, is he the bad guy? For a while I half expected that he was going to end up being an undercover agent of some description!

The mystery itself is quite interesting as well. In the Amelia Peabody series, the author is sharing her knowledge of Egyptian archeology. In this series it is art history, and once again she manages to make a subject that wouldn't necessarily be all that interesting very interesting, to the point that there were times I wished that I was reading at home so I could go and Google and find pictures of the pieces that were talking about. Given that we didn't have electricity, or mobile phone coverage where we were staying, that wasn't possible but it is something that I will bear in mind for future books in this series. However, before I read future books, I am going back to read the first book in the series, Borrower of the Night. Oh, and from Rosario's review of this book, I've learn that John actually has a cameo appearance in a standalone book called The Camelot Caper, so I might give that a go in due course as well.

Oh, and it appears from the author's website that she is writing another Vicky Bliss mystery. Good news indeed for all of her fans!

Rating: 4/5

Friday, April 13, 2007

Man Booker International Prize 2007

The list of contenders for the Man Booker Internation Prize 2007 has been announced, and the list is quite impressive (although there are a couple that I must confess I have never heard of, let alone read).

The list is:

Chinua Achebe
Margaret Atwood
John Banville
Peter Carey
Don DeLillo
Carlos Fuentes
Doris Lessing
Ian McEwan
Harry Mulisch
Alice Munro
Michael Ondaatje
Amos Oz
Philip Roth
Salman Rushdie
Michel Tournier

For more details, including a biography of each of the authors, you can find the details here

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Prince of Dreams by Lisa Kleypas

The most dangerous and desirable man in all of England, Nikolas burns to possess Emma Stokehurst, but the proud, headstrong beauty is promised to another. Still, there are no limits to how far the wealthy, bitter exile will go to win her exquisite hand - though owning Emma's body, but not her love, will do nothing to fill the empty spaces in his heart.

But Nikolas's destiny awaits him elsewhere, as passion's magic transports him to a different place - a land of splendor and romantic dreams. For only there can he experience the true ecstasy in one remarkable woman's tender touch - achingly familiar yet gloriously new - and learn, at last, to love.

So often we see a lamentation around romance land that we want to read something different, something unusual, something not the same virgin widow, or rake who needs to be redeemed or ...well...whatever! And yet, when you get something different, like this book, sometimes it really doesn't deliver! And to be honest, this is one of those times.

This is the follow up book to Midnight Angel, and features as the hero Prince Nikolas Angelovsky and Emma Stokehurst, daughter of the hero in Midnight Angel.

Nikolas decided many years ago that he was going to have Emma Stokehurst for himself, no matter what it took, so when she turns up at his doorstep having been dumped by the love of her life, he takes complete advantage. Despite the fact that she knows that her parents will strongly disapprove, she becomes engaged to Nikolas.

Once they are married, there is a surprise from his past, and he also seemed really distant from Emma, never really connecting with her, to the point that she believes that she has made a terrible mistake in marrying him.

And then something strange happens - he is cast back in time a couple of hundred years to Imperial Russia, and he finds that he is one of his own ancestors, friend to Peter the Great. As his past self he needs to marry, and so out of a line up he chooses Emelia, who looks exactly like Emma. He therefore gets to marry her all over again, and without giving too much away when he returns to the current time he is suddenly madly in love with Emma, and with a little hesitation she accepts that. Throw in a suspense subplot and we have a hodge podge of things that really just didn't have any form of cohesion - a bit like this review really!

If that sounds a bit odd, then you are not far off. Nikolas was moody and broody, and there was even unfaithfulness on his part suggested, and I am afraid that we got nowhere near believably redeeming him in this book. Emma wasn't too bad as a heroine, but she wasn't enough to carry the book by herself.

So in summary, in my opinion, this is as close to a stinker as you can get from the usually very consistent and very talented Lisa Kleypas.

Rating 2/5

Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married by Marian Keyes

Lucy Sullivan is getting married...or is she?

Lucy doesn't even have a boyfriend (to be honest, Lucy isn't that lucky in love). But Mrs Nolan has read her tarot cards and predicted that Lucy will be walking up the aisle within the year.

Lucy's flatmates are appalled at the news. If Lucy leaves it could disrupt their lovely lifestyle of eating takeaways, drinking too much wine, bringing men home and never hoovering. But Lucy reassures them that she's far too busy arguing with her mother and taking care of her irresponsible father to even think about getting married.

And there's the small matter of no boyfriend. But then Lucy meets Gus, gorgeous, unreliable Gus, and she starts to wonder - could he be the future Mr Lucy Sullivan? Or could it be Chuck, the handsome American? Or Daniel, the world's biggest flirt? Or even cute Jed, the new boy at work?

Will Lucy find her soulmate? Read this book if you want to laugh, cry and do no work for a week.

Have you ever read a book where you sat there reading, and thinking, oh my goodness, this is the story of my life, or I know someone who is EXACTLY like that? In some ways, this was one of those books for me!

Lucy and her friends decide that it would be a bit of a lark to go and get their fortunes read and for her to say that Lucy will be married within 18 months just made everyone laugh, because after all, Lucy can't keep any man for very long! However, as the things that the fortune teller said start to come true for the other girls, Lucy begins to believe that maybe, just maybe, it might be true for her as well. The only bloke that Lucy has managed to keep hold of for any length of time is Daniel, and they are just friends. All her friends think he is gorgeous but Lucy just can't see it for herself.

And then Lucy meets Gus - queue the soft-focus, long-lensed camera shot of a couple running in a field full of flowers. Gus, is...well, Gus is just perfect. He's good looking, funny, sexy, her friends love him (well, except maybe for Daniel)and Lucy very quickly finds herself involved in a relationship with him. Only problem is Gus is also unemployed, always broke, always drunk, always unreliable and probably unfaithful. Oh well - nobody's perfect right?

This book is one of Marian Keyes' earliest books, and you can definitely see her trademark style of dealing with complex and difficult topics whilst still being laugh out loud funny. In this case the issues range from being the child of an alcoholic, about always choosing men that are bad for you and about settling for something less than you deserve.

I guess in a way I could relate to Lucy- I am a child of an alcoholic and have a difficult at best relationship with my mother, but to be honest the character that rang so many bells for me was Gus. So Gus is a talkative, funny, short Irishman, whereas my ex was a tall, Afro-Caribbean bloke, but the brokeness, the unreliability, the lies, the cheating......they were ALL there! I found myself willing Lucy to dump him long before she actually realised herself what a jerk he was! Difference being that Lucy got her HEA whereas I have basically given up on anything like that for me!

Once again Keyes delivers up a book that tugs at the heart strings but is also laugh out loud funny. If there were any weaknesses with this book, it was that some of the characters were very caricature like - there was an Aussie who was living and working in London who was completely cliched. The other thing was that the ending felt very rushed and a bit contrived. At over 700 pages long, the fact that the ending was so rushed is probably a problem. Oh, and the other one was that there are people mentioned in the epilogue who literally were in the book for just a couple of pages. Apart from those two or three little niggles, this was once again a very entertaining read from Marian Keyes!

Rating 4/5

Colleen Gleason guest blogging

Colleen Gleason, author of The Rest Falls Away, is guest blogging over on Twisted Kingdom today, and has asked lots of questions about what readers want in terms of promotion.

Go have a look, and have your say, and who knows, you could even win a signed copy of her book!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Sugar Camp Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini

A week after Uncle Jacob's death, Abel Wright came to pay his respects. Dorothea Granger took him to the grave and stood some distance away while he bowed his head in silent prayer. The he look up and said, "I have something to tell you and your folks."

History is thick with secrets in The Sugar Camp Quilt, seventh in the beloved Elm Creek Quilts series from best selling author Jennifer Chiaverini. Set in Creek's Crossing, Pennsylvania, in the years leading up to the Civil War, the story begins with friends and neighbours taking sides in the abolitionist debate, and as events unfold, an extraordinary young heroine passes from innocence to wisdom against the harrowing backdrop of the American struggle over slavery.

A dutiful daughter and niece, Dorothea Granger finds her dreams of furthering her education thwarted by the needs of home. A gifted quilter, she tragically loses her hope chest in a flood. A superior student, she is promoted from pupil to teacher - only to lose her position to the privileged son of a town benefactor. But the ultimate test of her courage and convictions comes with the death of her stern uncle Jacob, who inexplicably had asked Dorothea to stitch him a quilt with four unusual patterns of his own design. After he meets with a violent end, Dorothea discovers that the quilt contains hidden clues to guide runaway slaves along the Underground Railroad. Emboldened by the revelations about her uncle's bravery, Dorothea resolves to continue his dangerous work. Armed with the Sugar Camp Quilt and its mysterious symbols, she must evade slave catchers and outwit unscrupulous neighbours, embarking upon a heroic journey that allows her to discover her own courage and resourcefulness - unsuspected qualities that may win her the heart of the best man she has ever known.

Told with Jennifer Chiaverini's trademark historical suspense, The Sugar Camp Quilt blends danger, moral courage, romance, and hope into a novel of antebellum America whose lessons resonate with timeless honesty.

In previous posts about this series I have talked about how the author switches between modern and historical settings and this time it is a return to the past. Previous books set in the past including focus on the late 1800's and early 1900s, this time the book is set further back, in the days before the American Civil War. In fact, we originally met the main character Dorothea and her brother in The Runaway Quilt.

Dorothea Granger has been the young school teacher in the town of Cross Creek, but the town has recently appointed a new teacher, the son of a town patron, not because they were unhappy with her, but because of who his father was! With no teaching to be done, that means that she is restricted to working on the farm of her stern Uncle Jacob. Jacob has always been distant towards them, but the Granger family are determined to live and work on the farm in the hope that one day their son Jonathan will be the sole heir to the farm, after their own farm was lost in a flood some years earlier.

When Jacob asks Dorothea to make a quilt for him, Dorothea feels obliged to do so, but she doesn't understand why her uncle wants the specific patterns that he does, to the extend of making her unpick the stitching when she makes some "improvements". It is only once her uncle dies in violent circumstances that some of the truth comes out about him, and his involvement in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape through to the relative safety of Canada.

It is dangerous being involved in this activity, as there are many in the town of Cross Creek who are actively against freeing the slaves, and who are willing to assist the slave catchers in their work. It is therefore essential that Dorothea and her family know who they can and they can't trust - something that is not always easy in the best of times, let alone during such turbulent times.

The one thing that I would say is that in some ways, it felt as though the author was determined that Dorothea would end up with a happily ever after, regardless of how that really fitted into the story or not. Whilst initially there was intense dislike between Dorothea and her man, and there was some focus on them slowly becoming friends, it didn't feel to me as though there was a connection strong enough between them for the sudden declaration of love when it came. Maybe that was just my romance loving self being a bit too critical. I don't know how someone else who didn't normally read in that genre would find the build up to the relationship.

Despite what I have said about the author switching settings and times, in some ways this book is an anomaly within the series in my opinion. There is no reference to Elm Creek mansion, or to the modern days characters (or their forefathers ) at all. Where the other books were set in the past, we were connected to the current time because the events of the past were being revealed through letters or diaries. This book starts in the past and stays there. In fact the only link really that this book has to the rest of the series is the fact that the setting is the time of Cross Creek, and there is talk of quilting in it! Oh, and the fact that Dorothea's brother was a fairly main character in The Runaway Quilt.

The other books in this series, in order, are:

1. The Quilter's Apprentice
2. Round Robin
3. The Cross Country Quilters
4. The Runaway Quilt
5. The Quilter's Legacy
6. The Master Quilter

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

My Seduction by Connie Brockway

Connie Brockway sweeps readers back to the rough beauty of Regency-era Scotland and into the scintillating, passionate, and surprising love story of a mysterious Highlander and the woman he is pledged to protect.

Desperate to keep her two sisters and herself from the poorhouse, Kate Nash Blackburn embarks upon a journey to northern Scotland, where she hopes to gain the gratitude and patronage of a wealthy marquis. When fate maroons her at a tavern full of ruffians, a brawny Highland soldier comes to her rescue. It's Kit MacNeill, the man whose pledge to her family has haunted her for years. When he offers to escort Kate through the treacherous Highlands to Castle Parnell, she accepts even though her instincts warn her against trusting this rough and dangerous man. But soon Kate is startled by the Highlander's cultured speech and courtly manners. Who is this man of contradictions, shaped by a shadowy past, who fiercely wards off an attempt on her life, whose broad shoulders beckon her touch, and in whose arms she comes fully alive?

So what does it mean when you read a book, you enjoy it, you mark it quite high (in this case 4/5) and then when you come to post about it less than two weeks later and it has kind of blurred into all the other Scottish historicals that you have ever read before? Should be bad shouldn't it?

Yet I did enjoy this. I liked Kit, although I do have to say that it felt as though the author was trying too hard to make him have the tortured and tormented past that so often accompanies the Scottish historical hero. Now you know that I love a tortured hero - they are among my favourite heroes ever - but this time it didn't quite feel as organic as they usually do!

As for Kate, well, she was there. She was the widowed heroine who comes feels a strong attraction for our hero, and acts on it. She is also destined to be the martyred heroine, the one who must marry someone in order to save her sisters and inevitably that someone is not the hero, but during the time that he is escorting her to Scotland they feel a growing attraction to each other.

There is an underlying mystery about who killed Kate's cousin, and where the smuggler's gold is hidden, and also about who it was that betrayed Kit and his friends in Paris years before, in an incident that ended up costing Kate's father his life.

Connie Brockway is a new to me author, but she is one that I have been intending to read for a while, mainly because it felt to me as though she was one of the current authors that I had to read. Part of my reason for reading it now is that she was chosen as Author of the Month for January in one of my groups - yep...late again!

If it sounds as though I didn't like this book, it isn't that at all. I fully intend to continue to read this series. It is just that whereas I generally can remember the details of a book for a while this one faded really, really quickly! I have the next book in the series here and will get to it....eventually!

Rating 4/5

And we're back!

Back from camping! Had beautiful weather even if the nights were a little cold. I think I even managed to get a little sunburnt! Didn't get much reading done, but I did listen to an audio book on the drive there and back again.

Came back to the news that I have been nominated for a Thinking Blogger Award by Kailana. Thanks Kail! Once I have had a couple of days to contemplate I will make my own nominations, and talk a bit more about our mini break!

Rasputin's Daughter by Robert Alexander

With the same riveting historical narrative that made The Kitchen Boy a national bestseller, Robert Alexander returns to Russia for the harrowing tale of Rasputin's final days as told by his young and spirited daughter, Maria.

After the fury of the Russian Revolution has swept Nicholas and Alexandra from the throne of Imperial Russia, a special commission is set up to investigate the "dark forces" that caused the downfall of the House of Romanov. The focus, of course, turns to Grigori Rasputin, the notorious holy man and healer who was never far from the throne.

To discover the truth, the commission interrogates Maria Rasputin, the oldest of the Rasputin children, in the ransacked Winter Palace. There, she vividly recounts a politically tumultuous Russia where Rasputin's powerful influences over the Romanovs is unsettling to all levels of society, and the threats to his life are no secret. While vast conspiracies mount against her father, Maria must struggle with the discovery of her father's true nature - his unbridled carnal appetites, mysterious relationship with the Empress, rumours of involvement in secret religious cults - to save her father from his murderers. With clarity and courage, Maria shatters the myths of Rasputin's murder, revealing how she tried to save her father, who nearly killed Rasputin and, most importantly, the devious secrets his murderers still guard.

Using long lost files, Robert Alexander once again delivers an imaginative and compelling story: Rasputin's Daughter vividly brings to life one of history's most fascinating and legendary periods.

I've been sitting here for ages trying to think what to say about this book, which really surprises me for two reasons. Firstly, I don't normally have that trouble, and secondly, I really enjoyed this book so it shouldn't be so hard.

The story starts with Maria Rasputin being picked up and taken to face the commission that has been set up to investigate what caused the fall of the House of Romanov. The irony of the fact that one of her father's favourite authors is the man charged with recording the evidence of what happened to Rasputin is not lost on Maria, but once she has agreed to cooperate she starts her story a week before his death.

For Maria, the events of the last week before her father's death were very revealing. She began to understand his true nature - including the nature of his relationship with the royal family, some of the people that he associated with, and many of his own personal demons. In many ways, however, this book was more about Maria coming to see her family through adult eyes - understanding that her father was not perfect in many ways, and also understanding that the events that were taking place around her were out of her control. It was also about her coming to know herself and facing the consequences of her own decisions as she finds herself falling for the mysterious young man who has appeared and then disappeared from her life a couple of times.

As with The Kitchen Boy, Robert Alexander manages to effectively convey the confusion and fears of characters living in a turbulent time in Russian history. In some ways, this book felt a little more cohesive than The Kitchen Boy, maybe because it was at it's very core a simpler story. I certainly felt as though I was going on the roller coaster ride of emotions as faced by Maria - from the fear for her father's life, to the excitement of falling in live, to the confusion as she comes to realise some of the facts about her father, to her courage as she faced the reality of what had happened to her father, and to her, and a very uncertain future.

A very entertaining read about a very interesting period in time!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Road Trip and audiobooks!

We are going camping this weekend so no posts for a few days! It is a shame because I am so close to being caught up on my reviews! Of course my son is a little bit culture shocked - no electricity (or more precisely no TV)...for four whole days!! How will we cope!

Last night I went to the library because I had some requests to pick up (why do they all come in at the same time?), and so I thought I would pick up an audiobook to listen to on the drive which is about 3 hours each way. Now you all know that I love my library. I get new books all the time, I visit at least twice a week, and I always have a gazillion items booked out, but I do have to say that the range of audiobooks at my local library leaves something to be desired. I used to listen to audiobooks all the time when I was driving to and from work, but since I started catching the train I haven't been listening to them at all. I had forgotten that in order to get a decent audiobook I had to drive three quarters of an hour to another library that I am a member of. Took me ages but I eventually found a couple of books to borrow. They are both old tapes so we will see whether they are okay or not.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe Easter.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Sylvia by Bryce Courtenay

Sylvia is the story of the Children's Crusade, which occurred in the year 1212. It is perhaps the strangest true event to have taken place in European history. I enjoyed the digging that uncovered it - buried in a dark corner of times long out of mind. It is also a story of how, throughout some of the darkest medieval times, the redeeming power and strength of a young woman's love and intelligence prevail over poverty, brutality and bigotry. I trust you will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed taking the few scattered bones of medieval Latin and Arabic texts and recreating from them this story of Sylvia: a remarkable, talented and eccentric young woman.

Bryce Courtenay

Bryce Courtenay is one of the most popular Australian authors, and has had some international success as well. He is actually a South African but he came to live here in Australia in the 1950's so we claim him as our own, as we do others like Russell Crowe (although why I will never understand!).

In the past I have read and enjoyed The Power of One (which was made into a Hollywood movie) and Tandia, but I have struggled to get into other books by him, especially his Australian Trilogy (The Potato Factory, Tommo and Hawk and Solomon's Song), despite the fact that the subject matter (Australian colonisation) is one that I generally love to read about.

This book is being advertised here as the story of the ill fated Children's Crusade, and whilst the crusade definitely is one of the focuses of the book, the crusade itself didn't actually get started until two thirds of the way through the book. For me, the story was really about Sylvia, and chronicled her path to involvement in the crusade.

The main focus of the book to my mind is also a study of religion and superstition within the early 1200's and also has incorporated in some fables, most especially that of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

Sylvia herself is a mass of contradictions. She is born a peasant, at a time when there really is no way to change your station in life. Born to a drunkard who thinks he can do anything he likes because he has been forgiven his sins by going on crusade, and an industrious woman, Sylvia is left to look after herself after her mother dies whilst she is still young. She has the voice of an angel, is a talented mimic of both people and birds. She suffers terrible abuse at the hands of her depraved father, and is then banished by the people of her town, and so she starts the journey of her life.

Along the journey, she meets up with Reinhardt, a rat catcher with a talent for charming everyone he meets, and a talented flautist. As they head for Cologne, they start a double act - Sylvia sings, Reinhart plays the flute and together they put on a show that brings them enough money and food to be able to survive on the journey.

After arriving in Cologne Sylvia causes quite the scene when she is involved in several "miracles", all of which Sylvia can explain, but in a time of great religious restrictions, once the Church says that a miracle has occurred then it is very difficult to change that perception. Coincidence and "miracles" continue and Sylvia becomes known as the Petticoat Angel.

As a character, Sylvia becomes all things to all people. To the people of Cologne she is the girl who feeds the homeless children in the morning, but in the evening she is friends with the girls in the whorehouse, learning from them all the theory of the pleasures that she can ready for the day that she has the chance to "know" a man. And yet, despite this knowledge and this background she ends up as a nun (but not before she gets to use her knowledge just once!), and then as one of the leaders of the ill-fated Children's Crusade, as well as being able to play chess like a master and how to speak at least 4 languages.

Her friends come from all walks - the young widow who teaches her the way to pleasure herself, but also gets her ready for what her forthcoming transition to womanhood will be like, numerous priests, the Jewish couple who manage her career and who give her a sense of family despite the fact that at that stage in history the Jewish were considered to be the lowest of the low.

Earlier, I wrote that Sylvia becomes all things to all people, and to be honest in a way that is one of the weaknesses of the book in some ways. There are a number of times where she is nearly condemned as a demon but she is saved by the fact that she has a birthmark on her back in the shape of a fish and therefore as soon as people see that it is confirmed as another sign of her special blessing from God. The books itself is quite graphic in terms of some of the sexuality and also some of the torture scenes.

Having said that, for the most part the story is an engrossing one, and moves along at breakneck pace. The tragic events of the crusades themselves are perhaps a little rushed towards the end, but do form the crucial part of the climax of the novel.

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I did enjoy this read. Given my previous experiences with Courtenay I wasn't really expecting it. Who knows, I might even give some of his other books a go!

Rating 4/5

Murder on the Ballarat Train by Kerry Greenwood

When the 1920's most glamorous lady detective, the Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher, arranges to go to Ballarat for the week, she eschews the excitement of her red Hispano-Suiza racing car for the sedate safety of the train. The last thing she expects is to have to use her trusty Beretta .32 to save lives. As the passengers sleep, they are poisoned with chloroform.

Phryne is left to piece together the clues after this restful country sojourn turns into the stuff of nightmares: a young girl who can't remember anything, rumors of white slavery and black magic, and the body of an old woman missing her emerald rings. Then there is the rowing team and the choristers, all deliciously engaging young men. At first they seem like a pleasant diversion....

Another fun read from the Phryne Fisher series, following on from Flying Too High. There's lot happening including an interlude with the delicious young university student Lindsay, the mysterious death of an older woman where there are not even any footprints found near the body to start tracking the killer, a young woman with amnesia and a very dodgy boarding house. Are they connected?

I have to admit that reading this book did make me think really hard about train travel in the 1920's - something that I can assure you that I don't generally think about! The reason being these days it takes about 90 minutes to get to Ballarat from Melbourne on the train and yet in the book it appears as though it was an overnight trip in those days, and the other reason being that once the murder is discovered they end up in a little town called Ballan, and I live right near to Ballan Road...never been there, but there is something cool about reading a book that is set where you live!

The cast of supporting characters is getting bigger and bigger, something that I would imagine will have to stop at some point in the series, given that there are currently 16 books in the series.

Phryne is once again living her very decadent lifestyle to the fullest, and the sense of time and place is excellent! Looking forward to the next book! I only wish that the versions of the books that I am getting from the library had the same gorgeous covers on them like the ones above! Maybe as I get closer to the end of the series I will get the nicer covers.

Rating: 4/5

The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

Widowed Anna Wren is having a wretched day. After an arrogant male on horseback nearly squashes her, she arrives home to learn that she is in dire financial straits. What is a gently bred lady to do?

The Earl of Swartingham is in a quandary. Having frightened off two secretaries, Edward de Raaf needs someone who can withstand his bad temper and boorish behavior. Dammit! How hard can it be to find a decent secretary?

When Anna becomes the earl’s secretary, both their problems are solved. Then she discovers he plans to visit the most notorious brothel in London for his “manly” needs. Well! Anna sees red—and decides to assuage her “womanly” desires . . . with the earl as her unknowing lover.

This is a book that has been getting a lot of positives vibes around it out in romance land, and having read it now, I can certainly see why! With the second book in the series, The Leopard Prince already out in stores, I am sure that we will certainly see more about this author over the coming weeks. I know I have already ordered the sequel. From that, you can probably tell that I enjoyed this book!

It was great to have a hero that wasn't dropped dead gorgeous. He was insecure about himself because of the physical scars that he received as a result of surviving smallpox. There are also the internal scars that are there as he was the only member of his family who actually survived. Normally we see that the heroine is more self conscious of the hero, even if they are scarred for whatever reason. Edward is a good man, but he also has a terrible temper, and managed to scare off two secretaries before he employed Anna. Anna is portrayed as being quite plain, although I have to admit that that is not something that I necessarily bought into completely.

I really enjoyed the dialogue between Edward and Anna. She was not prepared to back down just because Edward was having a temper tantrum. I did wonder about how realistic it would be that a lady would get herself into a brothel in order to seduce someone, but the scenes set there were very well written, believable and hot, as were the reactions of the characters once Edward in particular realised the deception against him. I did also wonder whether Anna's refusal to marry Edward the first several times he asked her was too much. I understand that Edward was almost obsessive about needing an heir, and that Anna thought that she was barren, but I loved how the whole issue was resolved. I did feel as though the author backed away from this issue a little in the epilogue though.

The villain of the story, Felicity Clearwater, was completely over the top, as was her cohort Chilly, but in a fun, and I gather, intentional way. I do wonder about the necessity of it, particularly since the whole blackmail plot seemed to be somewhat based on half truths, coincidences and wrong assumptions.

I was also kind of surprised we didn't find out the reasons why Edward's staff members Dreary and Davis were employed by although I did wonder if there wasn't supposed to be some correlation designed to show how alike Edward and Anna were in some ways seeing as they both had a tendency to pick up and help people who society would normally shun.

I really enjoyed the secondary story involving Mr Hopple, with the terrible fashion sense, and Fanny the former prostitute, but I did think that it did get dropped too far from the end and so their future was kind of implied, or maybe more precisely assumed by me to be a happily ever after!

The setting was 1760 - not the Regency, but I didn't really feel as though there was a reason for specifying that. I didn't feel that there was a real sense of period in the story.

I did enjoy the addition of the myth of the Raven Prince. At the beginning of each chapter we got to see a small part more of the myth, which roughly paralleled the series of events in the actual story. I wonder if she will continue with a similar theme in the upcoming books in the series.

Overall, this was a really good debut novel from an author that I am looking forward to reading more from! We did get to meet the heroes for the next two books in this one, and whilst I am looking forward to reading Harry's story in The Leopard Prince, I am more looking forward to reading Iddesleigh's story in The Serpent Prince.

Rating 4/5

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