Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Last Concubine by Lesley Downer

How do you fall in love when your society has no word for it?

An epic novel closely based on historical events, The Last Concubine is the story of a shogun, a princess and the three thousand women of the women’s palace - all of whom really existed - and of the civil war that brought their way of life to an end ...

It is 1861.. Growing up deep in the mountains fo rural Japan, Sachi has always felt different, her pale skin and fine features setting her apart from her friends and family.

Then, when she is just eleven, an imperial princess passes through her village and sweeps her off to the women's palace in the great city of Edo. Bristling with intrigue and erotic rivalries, the palace is home to three thousand women and only one man - the young shogun. Sachi is chosen as his concubine.

But Japan is changing. Black Ships have come from the West, bringing foreigners eager to add Japan to their colonial empires. As civil war erupts, Sachi flees for her life.

Rescued by a rebel warrior, she finds unknown feelings stirring within her. But before she dare dream of a life with him, Sachi must unravel the mystery of her own origins – a mystery that encompasses a wrong so terrible that it threatens to destroy her ....

Set in one of the most tumultuous eras in Japanese history, Sachi's story is a potent mix of adventure and high romance. From the timeless beauty of the women's palace in Edo to bloody battles fought outside its walls, The Last Concubine is an epic evocation of a country in revolution, and of a young woman's quest to find out who she really is.

From the timeless beauty of the Women’s Palace in Edo to bloody battles fought outside its walls, The Last Concubine is an epic evocation of a country in revolution, and of a young woman’s quest to find out who she really is.

Japan in the mid 1800's was still very much a feudal society, still functioning in the ways of the emperor and the shogun, that is until the country was split into north and south factions and fought a very bloody civil war. Where the Western world was hurtling headlong into the Industrial age, Japan was a land of ancient rituals.

Sachi is a young girl who is plucked from a rural village and sent to be a maid in the shogun's palace in Edo (which we now know of as Tokyo). It is a very disciplined life in the women's court. There are 3000 women, and only one man, so it is therefore quite an honour if you catch the attention of the young shogun as Sachi does. It is also a life with very strict rules about behaviour, lots of warrior training, and lavish clothes and beauty regimes. Once a young girl entered the life of the court, it was highly likely that they would not be able to leave the environs of the castle, and certainly if they are not chosen to be the shogun's concubine they will have nothing to do with men from that point on.

As war comes to Edo, Sachi is chosen to be a decoy to try and protect the life of the Imperial princess, and so begins the great adventure which takes her back to the village she grew up in where she finds out more about who her real parents were. Along the way she is assisted by a trio of warriors, one of whom, Shinzaemon, makes her heart beats faster even though she knows that it against the strict rules to fraternise with any man, let alone one who finds himself on the losing side of the conflict that is tearing apart Japan.

Also on her adventures she meets a European man - very strange looking, with no idea of how to treat a proper Japanese lady. The Europeans are looking to expand into Japan and to bring the Industrial age to a country where very little had changed in hundreds of years. They come in their black ships, and bring their strange contraptions (carriages) and there is even talk of their iron monsters (trains)

Lesley Downer has had several non-fiction books published and there is no doubt that she knows her subject. What didn't happen very well is the translation to a fiction story. There were plot elements that were introduced hurriedly towards the end of the book that really seemed quite disconnected from the first half of the book, especially the two mysteries that were uncovered and then needed to be resolved in the second half of the book. Really only one of them was resolved, and whilst in the author's note she explains what the historical context of the second mystery was and how it really is still an unresolved matter, in some ways it seems kind of superfluous to the plot.

By trying to cover the events of not one, but two sets of doomed lovers (both Sachi and Shin and her parents), there were times when the narrative of the relationships lost some of their potency. I did enjoy the build up of the relationship between Sachi and Shin, and the subtlety of their romance reflected the delicacy of the rituals that Sachi was used to participating in, whilst still breaking all the rules. The tragedy that could have befallen Sachi if her love was exposed was always hovering just below the surface and tainted the interactions between the two with beautiful subtlety.

Reading about Sachi's life and the various traditions and disciplines that shaped her life was very interesting so it is a shame that the narrative didn't quite work for me. I will keep an eye out to see if this author writes another novel and would hope to see some growth in her writing style, because the setting that she has chosen to specialise in is fascinating, and not at all over done in historical fiction.

This book was one of the books that I nominated for the I Heard it Through the Grapevine Challenge. I first heard of this book over at Reading the Past and I was interested in reading it as soon as I heard about it precisely because of its unusual setting.

Crossposted at Historical Tapestry.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction longlist

The long list for the Man Booker prize has been announced, and once again I haven't read any of them. I've added them to be TBR list though!

Aravind Adiga The White Tiger
Gaynor Arnold Girl in a Blue Dress
Sebastian Barry The Secret Scripture
John Berger From A to X
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Amitav Ghosh Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Mohammed Hanif A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Philip Hensher The Northern Clemency
Joseph O'Neill Netherland
Salman Rushdie The Enchantress of Florence
Tom Rob Smith Child 44
Steve Toltz A Fraction of the Whole

The shortlist is announced on 9 September with the winner announced on 14 October.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Books Alive 2008

Every year there is a promotion run in Australia called Books Alive.

There is a Books Alive Great Reads Guide that lists 50 books in all different genres, and including some local authors. There are some pretty good reads listed in the brochure too although it has to be said that I have read most of the books that really caught my attention already. The selection of authors ranges from Tim Winton to Marian Keyes, Stephenie Meyer to Garth Nix and includes fiction, non fiction, YA and children's books.

One of the bonuses is that if you buy one of the 50 listed books, you receive a free book by an Australian author. This year, it is a thriller written by Michael Robotham. Whilst I am not all that fussed about whether or not I get the free book this year, I do like the promotion as a whole. Anything that encourages more book, is good in my opinion!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Susannah's Garden by Debbie Macomber

It was the year that changed everything.

When Susannah Nelson turned eighteen, her parents sent her to school abroad. She said goodbye to her boyfriend, Jake - and never saw him again. She never saw her brother again, either; Doug died in a car accident while she was away.

Now, at fifty, she finds herself regretting the paths not taken. Especially the chance to be with Jake . . . Long married, a mother and a teacher, she should be happy. But she feels there's something missing, although she doesn't know exactly what. Not only that, she's balancing the demands of an aging mother and a temperamental twenty-year-old daughter.

Because her mother, Vivian, a recent widow, is having difficulty coping and living alone, Susannah prepares to make some hard decisions. In returning to her hometown of Colville, Washington, to her parents' house, her girlhood friends and the garden she's always loved, she also returns to the past - and the choices she made back then.

What she discovers is that things are not always as they once seemed. Some paths are dead ends. But some gardens remain beautiful . . .

I think I need a Debbie Macomber intervention or perhaps it's not about Debbie Macomber's books but rather about the fact that even if don't really love the series, I still feel the need to keep on reading. What I do know is that I am not going to be taking the risk of reading any other series from this author just in case I can't stop myself!

In this book we meet Susannah, a teacher who has been married to her husband for over 25 years, who has two children, but who has been feeling generally dissatisfied with her life. She has also just realised that it is time for her widowed mother to be moved into an assisted living facility back in her home town, and part of that means packing up a lifetime's worth of belongings, bringing back memories and causing Susannah to reevaluate past relationships.

First things first, I don't know why they bothered to give Susannah a second child who is a boy, because really, this book was about female relationships and her son was barely mentioned. We were given access to Susannah's somewhat fractious relationship with her daughter, Chrissie, as well as with her mother Vivien who stubbornly resists the idea of moving out of her home, and with her best friend from high school, Carolyn, who Susannah is reunited with after many years.

There were probably two things that bothered me about this book, and in order to discuss them there will be SPOILERS....sorry.

The first is the storyline about Susannah's dead brother. Doug had died while Susannah was in school in France. Part of Susannah's issues were with her father, and the way he treated her after Doug died. When her father had died, he and Susannah were basically not talking at all and hadn't been for many years. Her father was a well respected judge, and yet it turned out that he had hidden the truth about the accident that claimed the life of a young man, knowingly breaking the law, and it seems as though there are going to be no real repercussions of that even many years down the track. I don't get why the characters in the book didn't realise who the man who returns to town was if Susannah's mother could clearly see who he was.

The second part of the storyline relates to where this story sits in relation to the Blossom Street books. When I reviewed Back on Blossom Street, I was surprised by a character in the book who had just appeared and there was no back story on. Someone mentioned that this book told that story and that is why I ended up picking it up to read. So as I was reading through this story I kept on waiting for the part of the book that explained how Susannah ended up being part of the community on Blossom Street. It was there, but only in the last couple of pages, and even then it was kind of out of left field. In all of the parts of the book where it talked about her dissatisfaction with her life there was very little about her occupation, and yet in the last two pages suddenly her husband had looked at properties for her to open a shop on Blossom Street. Even in terms of the type of shop she opened, then yes she enjoyed sitting in the garden and looking at flowers but the passion to completely change directions career-wise just wasn't there for me.

Macomber does write in a very accessible way, and what you can be assured of is an uplifting reading experience. I don't want to make it sound as though these books are bad, because they are not, I think it is more a case of not for me, or perhaps more precisely I need to be in a specific mind frame to really enjoy them. I really enjoying literary fiction and I really enjoy reading romances, and other genre fiction, but these books are really neither. I guess they are quintessential women's fiction....whatever that means.

Blog Awards

I am so pleased to have been nominated for several blog awards over the last couple of weeks. I have been meaning to post about them to say thanks for a while now, but realised today that I hadn't yet done it!

First off, thanks for Literate Housewife who awarded me the E for Excellence blog award.

I was also very fortunate to be nominated for a Brillante Blog award by Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise, Teddy Rose from So Many Precious Books, So Little Time, Lezlie from Books 'N Border Collies and Daphne from Tanzanite's Shelf and Stuff. Thanks to Kerrie, Teddy, Lezlie and Daphne.

The Rules for this award are as follows:

1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Nominate at least seven other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on your blog.
5. Leave a message for your nominees on their blog.

I would love to award this back to those who nominated me as I really enjoy all of their blogs, but instead I will onto some other people, and I am trying to nominate some people who I don't normally tag so here goes:

Nymeth from Things Mean A Lot - Whilst she does read a lot of different books to me, when we do have books in common I think that we react to them pretty similarly.

Danielle from A Work in Progress - I really enjoy reading all her lists and reading plans!

Stephanie from Stephanie's Confessions of a Bookaholic - We have known each other through various groups for a very long time now. I love reading her posts because they are usually so full of energy and enthusiasm.

J. Kaye's Book Blog
- Lots of reviews, giveaways, and challenge that are either being participated in or hosted. What more could you ask for!

Alex from Daemonwolf Books - I guess I have been reading Alex's blog for about six months now, and find it very interesting.

Clare from Blue Archipelago - Currently hosting the Book Blowout challenge (which I am doing terribly at, but more about that later I am sure!) and always has good stuff on her blog.

Zeek from The Way I See It - a good mix of books, movies and whatever else she thinks of!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Rated S for too sexy?

At the moment I am listening to Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Crusie. I have read this before, but it was a long time ago and I had forgotten how steamy this book was, as well as how strong some of the language is. In fact, quite often I used to see people nominate the scene on the dock as one of the sexiest in romance and I used to be somewhat surprised and think I don't remember any really, really hot scenes in any of Jennifer Crusie's books. Let's just say my memory has been refreshed!

Not too long ago I convinced one of my workmates that listening to audio books whilst walking was a good idea. At first she was extremely sceptical, but it only took a few days for her to get to like it. We have been sharing some audio books, and so when I got Welcome to Temptation I asked her if she wanted to borrow it and she was like sure!

The only problem now is that I have been listening to it over the weekend and have realised exactly how sexy that dock scene is, along with some of the other scenes in the book (discovery fantasies anyone?) and all of a sudden I am thinking that she really isn't going to be comfortable with this book at all. So my dilemma is, do I go back into work tomorrow and hope she hasn't started listening to it yet and give her a ratings warning or do I wait for her to give it back and listen to her totally shocked reaction? Another workmate is trying this one out as her first audio book, but I think she will be fine with it but I am not sure about the other one!

The Wild Hunt by Elizabeth Chadwick

In the wild, windswept Welsh marches a noble young lord rides homewards, embittered, angry and in danger. He is Guyon, lord of Ledworth, heir to threatened lands, husband-to-be of Judith of Ravenstow. Their union will save his lands - but they have yet to meet...

For this is Wales at the turn of the twelfth century. Dynasties forge and fight, and behind the precarious throne of William Rufus political intrigue is raging. Caught amidst the violence are Judith and Guyon, bound together yet poles apart. But when a dark secret from the past is revealed and the full horror of war crashes over Guyon and Judith they are forced to face insurmountable odds. Together...

I have this crazy tendency to want to read authors works in order, especially if I try a new release and like it. Having read and really enjoyed the last three new books by Elizabeth Chadwick, it was time to go back to the beginning and start glomming the back list, and you can't get any more back than this book - the first book published by Elizabeth Chadwick. In fact, this book has been out of print for a long time and for a while there I very much lamented the fact that I couldn't find a reasonably priced copy anywhere, until I finally lucked out on Ebay and bought a copy from the UK. Fast forward just under two years and I finally managed to read it, and quite frankly I don't know what I was thinking of waiting so long to do so!

The book opens with Guyon somewhat reluctantly having to marry a young girl, at the persuasive encouragement (or perhaps less encouragement than given no choice) of King William Rufus. By doing so, he is able to protect his own inheritance but also gets to stop his enemy Robert de Belleme from gaining further. The young girl is Judith of Ravenstow, and de Belleme is her paternal uncle who has his eye on her land. The young couple therefore marry hastily without having ever met each other previously. Guyon is handsome and sophisticated, with an established reputation at court as something of a romancer. For all Guyon's experience, Judith is an innocent, perhaps unusually so. She is well trained at the arts of healing and in the other skills required in order to run a household, but when it comes to interaction with the males of the species, she only has the abusive example of how her father treated her mother and she is skittish to say the least.

Guyon is prepared to be patient with Judith, until she is ready to deal with him as her husband, but as the relationship deepens between them, so the conflicts in the Marches and the Royal Court also deepen with Guyon getting caught up in the plotting and battling that is endemic in the court at the end of the 11th century and beginning of the 12th century.

It is hard not to compare this first book of Chadwick's with the later books because in many ways they are very different. There is less balance between the relationship between the characters and the battles and politics of medieval England. I think the sexual tension and the build up to the consummation of the marriage is less subtle than we see in her later books. The language of the novel is much less concise and at times there is too much description.

Having said all of that, the story itself was excellent, and I certainly was enchanted by Guyon. What Chadwick hasn't done with this character is made him whiter than snow. He is known at Court for his liaisons with the ladies, and very early on in the novel we know that he is prepared to take care of his responsibilities in this regard. We also know that he is a man of honour, and of faithfulness once he is married. He is in fact an all round good guy. If not for his past indiscretions there would be a chance that he would be too good to be true, but I can live with that. In fact, I wonder if I was to venture out to the Welsh Marches today whether I would be able to find my own Guyon - good looking, honourable, courageous. Yes please!

The same can not be said for the bad guys who are all very bad, but again this is something that I was willing to forgive because the actual story itself is so good!

Elizabeth Chadwick has confirmed that this book and the two others that form part of the Ravenstow trilogy are being rereleased after having been edited. In the case of this book, there have been approx 15000 words cut out of it, so it will be interesting at some stage to read the new version and see how it holds up to the revisions. The new version of the book is being released in the UK in December, and the cover is to the right, and fits in beautifully with the cover treatment that her newer books are receiving.

This is another winner from Elizabeth Chadwick, and I am very much looking forward to reading the other two books in this trilogy.

This book was one that I read as part of the Romance Reading Challenge and having read this one that means that I just have one more book to read before this challenge is complete!

If you have reviewed this book, leave me a link in the comments and I will link to it in my review, which is also being cross posted at Historical Tapestry.

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

The Eclectic Reader

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another video

Whereas yesterday's video was one to make me tear up, today's just makes me laugh!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Amazing Reunion

The story is that years ago these two men adopted a lion cub, but had to release it into the wild. This is the reunion.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Not really that addictive!

At least it shouldn't be that addictive, but I do seem to find myself doing quite a few of these lately!

Create your own puzzles at!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Cupid Effect by Dorothy Koomson

There's something magical about Ceri D'Altroy...

After departing London to follow her hearts desire to become a psychology lecturer, Ceri D'Altroy vows to leave her matchmaking ways behind her for good. Unfortunately, all she seems to do is inspire the new people she meets to change their lives.

There's Ed, who's decided to declare his love to a woman who is way out of his league; Mel and Claudine, two long-term friends who are now tempted to start an illicit affair; and Gwen, the chain-smoking head of department who has a deep, dark secret she only wants to share with her new employee.

No one who comes into contact with Ceri is ever the same again. Could this unsuspecting young woman be a modern-day Cupid?

When Ceri decides to follow her dream, that means leasing out the London apartment that she has worked so hard to obtain, and moving into a share house in Leeds and starting to lecture of psychology whilst doing some research. It's also a chance to leave the past behind, and for Ceri that means a chance to be able to stop being that person who everyone comes to to try and sort out their problems. To aid in that, Ceri writes herself a list of commandments:

1. Thou shalt sort out thy cardiovascular system

2. Thou shalt NOT get involved in other people's lives

3. Even if they're really, really nice thou shalt remember Commandment 2

4. Thou shalt think before thy speaks

5. Thou shalt think again before thy speaks

6. Thou shalt watch less Angel

7. Thou shalt remember that Angel is a 250-year-old vampire who dated Buffy The Vampire Slayer, not the man you're going to be with forever and ever.

As a character Ceri herself was a lot of fun. She is a trekkie who has a rather unhealthy obsession with Angel from Buffy and who people like to talk to. She also does seem to have an affect on people where she makes them feel like they need to be in love and when they do have love problems, she is always available with good advice. In Leeds that means walking a fine line between Mel and Claudine, two best friends who can't decide if they want to be together or not. There is also Ed, her housemate who is in love with a girl who seems to be completely out of his league, her boss, several of her students and a couple of random strangers! Of course, there is also that strange man who just stares at her all the time as well.

I did enjoy hearing about Ceri's previous disastrous love affairs, including the one with Whathisname Tosspot! Made me laugh every time I saw that because, quite frankly, it pretty much could be my ex's pet name!

This was Koomson's first book and honestly you can tell. It is not as good as My Best Friends Girl but certainly has charm and you can tell that as an author Dorothy Koomson has got talent and potential. If anything this book suffered a little in trying to come up with a theory as to why Ceri has the effect that she has on people - it just seemed a little try hard.

Despite the reservations I have about this, her first book, I am looking forward to reading more from her. When I read My Best Friend's Girl, that was the only book of Dorothy Koomson's that was in my library system. Fortunately for me, they have now got this one and another two beside, and hopefully will be getting the newest book Goodnight Beautiful which is out in the UK in August.

Musical Weekend!

First it was Mamma Mia, and now I am watching Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog which I have to say is very entertaining, and whilst I don't know the songs as well as I know the Abba songs, or at all, they are very, very catchy.

You can only watch this Joss Whedon goodness which stars Neil Patrick Harris for free up until midnight on Sunday 20 July, but it is worth sparing a half an hour for! After that you will be able to download it for a small fee, or buy the DVD at a later date.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Girl's Night Out

I went out for dinner and to the movies with a group of girls tonight. We saw Mamma Mia which was a lot of fun (although it should be said that as good as Pierce Brosnan is to look at he really shouldn't sing!).

I am looking forward to getting this movie on DVD and then dancing around the lounge room and singing along!

Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

'You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.'

After the trouble starts and the soldiers arrive on Matilda's tropical island, only one white person stays behind. Mr Watts wears a red nose and pulls his wife around on a trolley. The kids call him Pop Eye. But there is no one else to teach them their lessons. Mr Watts begins to read aloud to the class from his battered copy of Great Expectations, a book by his friend Mr Dickens.

Soon Dickens' hero Pip starts to come alive for Matilda. She writes his name in the sand and decorates it with shells. Pip becomes as real to her as her own mother, and the greatest friendship of her life has begun.

But Matilda is not the only one who believes in Pip. And, on an island at war, the power of the imagination can be a dangerously provocative thing.

Matilda is a young girl who lives on a tropical island with her mother. Her father has gone to Australia for work. Whilst the intention was that he would be sending for them in due course, they have not heard from him for a long time, and any hope of leaving is quickly doused when life on the island is interrupted by a guerrilla war between the native islanders and the 'redskins'. The year is 1991, and the island is Bougainville in Papua New Guinea, and I can remember when war broke out on that island. Unfortunately, what I remember is very much tainted by the news as we heard it here in Australia, so it is more about the evacuation of the many Australian workers who were employed in the lucrative mines and not so much about the effect of the warfare on the native population. This lack of coverage or assistance for the native population is covered in the novel as the characters talk about waiting for the outside world to assist them, not realising that there was an embargo placed on the island. When I was writing this post, I looked up some information on Bougainville and was surprised to find that the conflict is still ongoing into the early parts of this decade, although on a much reduced scale. There was still enough instability that the mines on the island were still closed, thus depriving many of the islanders of their main source of income.

With the outbreak of war, many of the things that are taken for granted like electricity and refrigeration are lost, and the islanders have to revert to a more simpler way of life, one much more like the way their ancestors would have lived. Another thing that changes for the village children is that their teacher leaves the island on the last boat (a phrase that for Matilda shows how helpless the islanders really are now).

Into the gap left by the departed teacher steps Mr Watts. He is a white man who has remained on the island despite the war. He is called Pop Eye by the children on the island, and before becoming the children's teacher was treated with derision because he often used to wear a clown's red nose and pull his wife around on a trolley. But when he comes to the classroom he opens up a whole new world to many of the children, most especially to Matilda.

Because he is not a qualified teacher, he doesn't know what to teach the children so he starts by introducing them to his friend Mr Dickens, by reading them the book Great Expectations, and so a group of children on a tropical island find themselves transported to Victorian England. He also invites the villagers to come in and share important facts with the children often with very humourous results.

This book is incredibly layered. It is about the power of reading, the destruction that is wrought on individuals and groups of people during war, the sacrifices that people make to save those that they love. It also shows how the discovery of a single story can change the direction of an individuals life, and how passion for a particular subject can lead you places you could never have imagined as a young child.

This book was shortlisted for the 2007 Booker Prize, and won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize in the same year. At 220 pages, this book isn't long, but it is a moving and powerful novel.

Coincidentally this is the second book that I have read in a month that features Dicken's Great Expectations. The first was Jack Maggs by Peter Carey, which I never realised was a retelling of the Dicken's classic because I have never actually read the original story. Maybe the fact that I have read two books in such a short period that reference it is a message to tell me to read the original story!

Other blogger's thoughts:

An Adventure in Reading
Subliminal Intervention

If you have reviewed this book, leave a comment and I will link to your review.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas

Love has designs of its own.…

To all of London society, Lord and Lady Tremaine had the ideal arrangement: a marriage based on civility, courteousness, and freedom—by all accounts, a perfect marriage. The reason? For the last ten years, husband and wife have resided on separate continents.

But once upon a time, things were quite different for the Tremaines….When Gigi Rowland first laid eyes on Camden Saybrook, the attraction was immediate and overwhelming. But what began in a spark of passion ended in betrayal the morning after their wedding—and now Gigi wants to be free to marry again. When Camden returns from America with an outrageous demand in exchange for her freedom, Gigi’s decision will have consequences she never imagined, as secrets are exposed, desire is rekindled—and one of London’s most admired couples must either fall in love all over again…or let each other go forever.
When this book first came out there was a load of buzz around in blogland! As usual, I am late to the party, but I certainly do appreciate why there was such excitement around this book, especially given that it was a debut novel.

Gigi Rowland and Camden Saybrook have the perfect society marriage. No dramas, no fireworks, no scenes. Of course that state of civility is easy to achieve when the morning after the wedding one party moves out, and eventually is living on a whole other continent. Unfortunately for Gigi, she has decided that she wishes to marry another man, and so she asks Camden for a divorce. Instead of the easy agreement she was expecting, Camden returns to England. He will agree to a divorce, but there are conditions. He wants an heir first, which is understandably quite shocking to Gigi, even if in society it would be seen as a reasonable request.

I really enjoyed the way that the story was told. In one chapter, we find out about what is going on now as the couple negotiate their feelings for each other, whilst in the next chapter we learn exactly what happened so that two young people seemingly desperately in love would separate so suddenly following their wedding.

There was also a delightful secondary romance featuring Gigi's mother. She had raised her daughter with the hope that Gigi would one day be a duchess, and she is determined to make that happen, especially if Gigi continues with her plan to divorce her husband, who is a duke in waiting. When she realises that there is a duke living very close to her, she sets her plans in motion, but it doesn't take too long for her to reevaluate those plans.

One of the good features of this book is that the characters are by no means perfect. Yes Gigi is beautiful in the eyes of the men who love her and Camden handsome, and both have managed to take the resources they had and turn them into veritable fortunes, and therefore both are very rich. But Gigi is also manipulative, impatient and petulant at times. Camden is little better in that he reacts very badly when he finds out the truth the day before their wedding, and makes a decision that has the capacity to ruin both of their lives forever.

If there is one small thing to fault it is that at times the language and behaviour of the main characters, seemed a little too modern. For example, I have no idea if the word shag was one that would have been used in the late 1800's but to me it feels modern. Apart from those few instances, the prose in this book was amazing. The tension between Gigi and Camden leaped on the pages, and the heartbreak that both sides felt shortly after their marriage, and for Camden when he just misses Gigi when he finds that they are coincidentally both in Copenhagen was so beautifully written.

One thing that did happen to me in this book is that I read two sentences that totally threw me out of the book. Whilst I know that there are plenty of other readers around who will read a section in a book and think that is historically inaccurate and be thrown out of the book (for example if they read that potatoes were served for dinner in the 1000's and that was before they were introduced to England). I am not normally one of those readers, but it happened to me, not once but twice. The first time, it was when one of the characters said something about going all the way to Jakarta. Now when I read that I was assuming that they meant the city we know by that name in modern day Indonesia, but if that was what was meant then in the late 1800's that city was known by the name Batavia. I have no idea why it threw me so much...but it did.

The other sentence was one where my reaction was they can't possibly have that fact wrong, and so I ended up getting out of bed, checking the fact, and then going back to the book, and then rereading the sentence. I tell you I was very relieved when I read the sentence again and realised that I read it wrong!

Overall this was a fun read and a really impressive debut, and I am definitely going to be trying to get hold of Sherry Thomas' next book, Delicious, which is out later this month.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Book Blowout - Mini Challenge

The Where’s your book set? meme

Here’s how it works - just answer some or all of the following questions about the book you are currently reading (or just finished if you are between books). You can either post your answers on your blog and link us up using Mr Linky below - or post your answers here in the comments.

Here’s the questions:

1. Title and author of the book

2. What year is the book set in?

3. What happened on this day in that year? Go to google and type in the date ie 13 July 1952 and see if you can find a news item for that day

4. Where is your book set?

5. Have you visited that place before? If yes tell us something about your trip. If no, look the location up on google and tell us an interesting fact about the city/country.

At the moment I am reading The Cupid Effect by Dorothy Koomson. It is chick lit so is contemporary so for something that happened I am going to go with the year that the book was published which was 2003. On this day in 2003, Hurricane Claudette struck the coast of Texas. You can view some pictures here.

The book is set within the university/student world in Leeds in the UK. I have been to Leeds quite a few times as I used to live in Sheffield which is about 30 miles away. The main reason we used to go to Leeds was because it was the closest Ikea, but other good things about Leeds are some of the buildings like The Corn Exchange, and the National Armoury which was a fascinating place to visit as it houses many of the items from the Royal Armoury including shields, armor, and I remember visiting it one day and watching a really cool falconry display! Another good thing about visiting Leeds when I lived in the UK, was that it was home to the first Harvey Nichols outside London so my friends and I could go all Ab Fab sweety darling which was always a good laugh!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.

Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man they both love.

Featuring what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies, THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel that will bring a vast new readership to one of the most compelling writers of our time.

Late last year when I was reading the Twilight saga, I noticed that Stephenie Meyer had added a new book to her website which she was saying was Sci Fi for those people who don't read Sci Fi. I must confess to being very intrigued by the cover, but more than a little sceptical because I am one of those people who doesn't really read much science fiction, although I did read another book in this genre earlier this year when I participated in the Sci-Fi Experience that Carl hosted.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book really was excellent. Not that I didn't already know that Stephenie Meyer knows how to write a story, but simply because normally the whole alien body snatcher aspects really wouldn't do very much for me.

Our story opens when our alien (soul), who is known as Wanderer, is being transplanted in Melanie Stryder, her new host. Her species are almost symbiotic in that they come to a new planet and then slowly take over by being transplanted into the home species and then improve life. For Earth those improvements have meant the end of wars, to illness, to violence. Not all their changes have been improvements. For example, because the aliens don't appreciate or even understand competitiveness in sport due to their passive nature, a game of basketball has become a game of apologies and of the opposing team trying to politely give the other team the ball when it goes out of court.

Wanderer is somewhat unusual amongst her race, because she has lived on many different planets. Where most of the souls find a home for themselves within one or two planets, Wanderer has lived on 8 planets, and in as many different body types but is yet to find the world where she truly feels at home.

What should happen when a soul is implanted in a new host, is that the host's personality disappears and the soul takes over every aspect of their life including their memories. When Wanderer is implanted within Melanie things don't quite go to plan because Melanie just won't go away. Part of the reason why Wanderer was chosen to host Melanie was that the Seekers wanted to use Melanie's memories to track down a group of human rebels but Melanie is strong enough to block her memories thus protecting her younger brother, her lover Jared, and the other humans who are hiding out in the desert.

Slowly but surely, Wanderer and Melanie get to know each other, and begin to like each other, enough for Wanderer to begin to give some thought as to what it must be like for Mel. Eventually she agrees to help Mel try to find out what happened to her loved ones, leading Wanderer away from everything that she knows, and into a strange and hostile environment.

For me, the real strength of this novel is in the relationships, and the fact that Meyer successfully manages to negotiate what could have been very difficult is testament to her skill. Not only is there the relationship between Mel and Wanderer, but also Mel's individual relationships with Jamie and Jared (her brother and lover), and Wanderer's relationship with them, and her growing friendship with Ian (my favourite I think!), who is one of the other human rebels. There is also interesting dissection of the nature of acceptance when Wanderer does meet up with the rebels. In the beginning the reception is very hostile and threatening, but gradually the barriers begin to break down as Wanderer (who becomes known as Wanda) interacts with the people within the compound, and gradually strives to become an integral part of the group, but not without plenty of opposition.

Another strength of this book is the world building. Whilst the novel's setting is Earth, and as such doesn't require a lot of world building, Meyer hasn't taken the easy way out and left it at that. The rules of the soul's society are complex, and she allows us to see glimpses of the other very strange and different worlds that the souls have taken over both in her thoughts, and through the talks that Wanda shares with the group.

As I was getting closer to the end of the book, I admit that I was a bit concerned about how the author was going to manage to bring all the loose ends together in a satisfactory way, but she completed managed to do so.

Whilst I knew I would like this book, I was surprised that I enjoyed it so much. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I graded it 4.75/5, but given that I don't do the quarter grades, I rounded it up to 5 out of 5 - my first for the year (but not my last!)

Other Blogger's Thoughts

Book Binge
Stephanie's Confessions of a Book-a-holic
Kailana's Written World
The Bluestocking Society
Rachel Reads
Maw Books
So Many Books, So Little Time
Savvy Verse and Wit
Books and Musings from Downunder
Katrina Reads
Melissa's Bookshelf
Hey Lady! Watcha Readin'?

If you have reviewed this book, leave a comment and I will link to your review.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Strange connections!

It is really interesting how books that appear to have no link whatsoever really are connected.

Yesterday I finished reading Master of Verona (which I loved). The story is inspired partially by Dante (the main character is his son Pietro) and partially by Romeo and Juliet so there are lots and lots of references to different parts of Dante's most famous poem, including a lot about the doomed lovers Francesca and Paolo. Now, it is fair to say I had heard of the poet before but couldn't have told you much about it (still can't)!

Last night I started reading The Drowning Tree - and the main character in this book has two dog named Francesca and Paolo....after the characters in Dante's poems!

Bearing in mind that Master of Verona is set in 14th century Italy, and The Drowning Tree is a contemporary novel set in upstate New York, I actually would not have expected to find any connection at all between these two books and yet there is!

Monday, July 07, 2008

RWA 2008 Romantic Book of the Year

I saw this over at Matilda who got it from Boomerang Blog

The "Boomerang Books" blog has announced that the shortlists for the Romance Writers of Australia's 2008 Romantic Book of the Year awards have been released. The nominees are:

Long work
Claiming the Courtesan, Anna Campbell (Harper Collins Australia)
Duet, Kimberley Freeman (Hachette Livre Australia)
Tomorrows Promises, Anna Jacobs (Hodder)
Ashblane's Lady, Sophia James (Harlequin Quill)
Serendipity, Melanie La' Brooy (Penguin)
Lands Beyond the Sea, Tamara McKinley (Hodder & Staughton)

Short work
The Prince's Forbidden Virgin, Robyn Donald (Harlequin Mills & Boon)
Their Lost-and-Found Family, Marion Lennox (Harlequin Medical)
The Single Dad's Marriage Wish, Carol Marinelli (Harlequin Medical)
Island Heat, Sarah Mayberry (Harlequin Blaze)
One Night before Marriage, Anne Oliver (Harlequin Sexy Sensation)
Outback Man Seeks Wife, Margaret Way (Harlequin Sweet)

The winners will be announced in Melbourne on August 23rd, at the Romance Writers' annual conference.

How terrible is it that I haven't read any of them? I do have Untouched out from the library at the moment though.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

100+ Challenge complete

In the early hours of the morning I completed the 100+ Reading Challenge when I finished reading Devil Takes a Bride by Gaelen Foley. This was the 101st book that I completed so far this year!

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Book Blowout - Mini Challenge

For the start of the July Book Blowout, Mrs S has posted a Getting to Know You Mini Challlenge.

1. Describe yourself in one sentence

2. What book will you start the challenge with?

3. Where is your favourite place to read?

4. What is your favourite book of all time?

5. Remind us all of your challenge target

Here's my answers:

I am a single mum who works full tie, and is an extremely avid reader.

I started the challenge with Jack Maggs by Peter Carey. The next book I will be reading is Master of Verona by David Blixt

I mostly read either in bed or on the train!

Favourite book of all time? Tough question - Probably either The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons or Voyager by Diana Gabaldon.

My challenge target is 18 books.

In other news I have spent all day today washing my net curtains. I have no idea why I thought that that would be a good idea. I am exhausted and I have still got 2 net curtains to hang, 5 normal curtains plus two beds to make!


Julia tagged me for this last week, but I have had such a busy week at work, that I haven't had a chance to do it before now.


Determine your birthday month and get a word that rhymes with it or you can affix to it. Caps lock your birth month (ex: MAYday! JUNE dune, APRILicious, JULYvely, AUGUST pocus, parched MARCH…). Be unique.

Your birth month plus the word affixed or rhymed shall become the tag’s title in your case.

Get your birthday and add the digits involved. Example, if your birthday falls on the 25th of July, add 2 and 5 you get 7.

Whatever is the sum, write a list of the MATERIAL gifts you wish to receive, the number of which shall correspond to the sum of your birthday. For example, applying the case above (in rule number 3), you will write seven (7) things you wish to receive.

After your wish list, put your name and birthday in the Bloggers’ Birthday Directory, with a link to your blog/s. Note: when you add your birthday, please place it in a way that the dates appear chronological (January, February… 1, 2, 3)
Pass this tag meme by tagging as many people as you want.

Name: Marg (JUNE Bloom)
Birthday: June 7
Calculation: 7

My Wish List:

1. Bookshelves
2. Books
3. A new frying pan
4. New clothes
5. New computer
6. Cleaning lady to come in once every couple of weeks
7. New job

Bloggers’ Birthday Directory:

February 20 - Caryl February 23 - Jammy March 7 - Mari March 29 - Rachel May 3 - Vannie May 8 - joanjoyce May 27 - Zang CaesarJune 7 - Marg September 25 - Alice Teh September 30 - Mckhoii October 4 - Julia October 22 - MommyBa December 18 - JoshuaOngYS December 19 - Alpha December 20 - Suzanne YOUR BIRTHDAY HERE

Who to tag for this one. I will go with Jane, Clare and whoever else wants to do it!

Jack Maggs by Peter Carey

'Look at me', said Tobias Oates insistently. 'Look into my eyes - I can take away this pain.' Maggs peered at Oates as if through a heavy veil. The little gent began to wave his hands. He passed them down, up , down. 'Watch me' said Tobias Oates, and Jack Maggs, for once, did exactly as he was told.

Peter Carey's new novel, set in London in 1837, is a thrilling story of mesmerism and possession, of dangerous bargains and illicit love. Jack Maggs, raised and deported as a criminal, has returned from Australia, in secret and at great risk. What does he want after all these years, and why is he so interested in the comings and goings at a plush townhouse in Great Queen Street? And why is Jack himself an object of such interest to Tobias Oates, celebrated author, amateur hypnotist and fellow burglar - in this case of people's minds, of their histories and inner phantoms?

In this hugely engaging novel one of the finest contemporary writers pays homage to his Victorian forebears. As Peter Carey's characters become embroiled in each other's furtive desires and increasing fall under one another's spell, their thirst for love exacts a terrible, unexpected cost.
If I had of been looking at this book on the shelf either at the library or at the bookstore, there is a pretty fair chance that I would never have picked this up. In fact, I had a lot of trouble finding this image and ended up scanning it in. Even at Peter Carey's website where there are over 20 different cover images for this novel, this one isn't up there.

Luckily for me, this book is up for discussion this month at my online book group, and so I felt obliged to look beyond the horrible cover, and actually go with what was inside the book.

At first, I wasn't sure that the contents were much better than the cover art. Most of the characters are for the most part unlikeable, especially in the first parts of the novel. There is Jack Maggs, a convict who has returned from Australia in secret, knowing full well that if he gets caught back in England he will likely swing. He has come to Great Queen Street desperately searching for someone or something, and is willing to make almost any deal in order to find what he is looking for. In a case of mistaken identity, Jack finds himself being employed as a footman in the household of Mr Buckle, a former grocer and fried fish seller who unexpectedly found himself the recipient of a large inheritance so now is doing his best to be a gentleman. Also in the Great Queen Street house is Mercy Larkin - a young woman who Mr Buckle saved from a life of prostitution...kind of. She is a maid, but she is also Mr Buckle's Good Companion, sometimes to her cost. Another of the strange characters is Edward Constable, the other half of the matching set of footman, but he has secrets of his own, and is in grieving for his former footman partner who had recently killed himself.

Into the house comes celebrated author Tobias Oates for a dinner party, along with several other notable names, mainly from the theatrical set. Whilst at the dinner party, Jack Maggs catches Tobias Oates eye, and it isn't long before Tobias has had agreement from Mr Buckley to allow Jack to be the subject of Scientific Experiment using Magnets to in effect hypnotise and then to draw out Jack's secrets. Tobias is however a man with his own secrets, secrets that haunt him and have huge impacts in his home, and tragic consequences for his family.

From here, the tale of Jack Maggs and this cast of somewhat strange characters, are slowly entwined in each others story and what follows is an almost gothic, very dark tale of love, and danger, theft and murder, distrust and deception, with Jack searching for what he thinks it is that he wants, not realising that he has more than that to lose back in Australia.

Ultimately this was a rewarding read, and it is a book that I think would benefit from a reread, as having now read the book once I could appreciate how well Carey drew the connections between the cast of characters, particularly in relation to Jack's adopted family. For example, the very opening scene of the book felt a little disconnected from the major part of the story, until about half way through when it all suddenly made perfect sense.

I have always felt like a bit of a bad Australian at times. I can't stand Vegemite. I am not that fussed about lamingtons or pavlova. I don't watch Neighbours or Home and Away, and I hadn't read very many of our biggest names in literature, including Peter Carey. Whilst I don't see any of the other things I have listed their changing in the near future, I do definitely plan to read more of Peter Carey's works.

Peter Carey is one of the most successful Australian authors around in terms of winning awards, and with this book he won both the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1998, and the Miles Franklin Award as well (which is Australia's most prestigious literary award).

I ended up giving this book a rating of 4/5. Until the very end I thought that the grade would be a bit lower than that, but ultimately it was an enjoyable reading experience.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

When will this week end?

Work is kicking my butt for the second week straight. I am hopeful that tomorrow will be the day it will calm down, but after the disasters that we have had the last few days there is no guarantee of that!

Hope to be back with some reviews over the weekend, including a review of my favourite book of the year so far!