Saturday, November 29, 2008

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

In a garden surrounded by a tall fence, tucked away behind a small, quiet house in an even smaller town, is an apple tree that is rumored to bear a very special sort of fruit. In this luminous debut novel, Sarah Addison Allen tells the story of that enchanted tree, and the extraordinary people who tend it.…

The Waverleys have always been a curious family, endowed with peculiar gifts that make them outsiders even in their hometown of Bascom, North Carolina. Even their garden has a reputation, famous for its feisty apple tree that bears prophetic fruit, and its edible flowers, imbued with special powers. Generations of Waverleys tended this garden. Their history was in the soil. But so were their futures.

A successful caterer, Claire Waverley prepares dishes made with her mystical plants—from the nasturtiums that aid in keeping secrets and the pansies that make children thoughtful, to the snapdragons intended to discourage the attentions of her amorous neighbor. Meanwhile, her elderly cousin, Evanelle, is known for distributing unexpected gifts whose uses become uncannily clear. They are the last of the Waverleys—except for Claire’s rebellious sister, Sydney, who fled Bascom the moment she could, abandoning Claire, as their own mother had years before.

When Sydney suddenly returns home with a young daughter of her own, Claire’s quiet life is turned upside down—along with the protective boundary she has so carefully constructed around her heart. Together again in the house they grew up in, Sydney takes stock of all she left behind, as Claire struggles to heal the wounds of the past. And soon the sisters realize they must deal with their common legacy—if they are ever to feel at home in Bascom—or with each other.

Enchanting and heartfelt, this captivating novel is sure to cast a spell with a style all its own….
When I started reading this book at about 10 o'clock at night a while ago, I didn't realise I had made a mistake, but I had. My mistake was not realising that I was going to struggle to put this book down, especially as I had to go to work the next day!

If I was to look for one word to describe this book it would have to be MAGICAL. I have seen this classified as magical realism and I would have to agree, but this isn't the magical realism that you see in books like Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, where the prose makes the novel inaccessible for some readers, but rather, a very easy to read novel, very accessible and enjoyable to readers. Now I loved One Hundred Years, but if I had to pick a book to give as a gift to someone and these were my two choices, it would definitely be this one.

There are no doubt flaws in this novel. The romantic side of the novel was telegraphed very early on - it was very obvious who was going to end up with whom from very early on in the story, but in a fairy tale like book like this one it is not really a problem. It also helps that the rest of the novel was so enjoyable that the obviousness wasn't as much as it would have been if the novel itself was hard work to read. That isn't to say that this was an all fluff kind of novel. It's not. The author touches on some quite heavy themes like domestic violence, abandonment, belonging.

One of the highlights of the novel for me was the description of the food that Claire cooked. She chose specific ingredients for their affects - do you want to know the truth about something, then add this herb. I also loved the character of Evanelle, whose gift was to give someone something before they knew that they needed it. What a great gift to have!

To summarise I would say good characters (including the apple tree that is very much a character in the book), beautiful imagery, fantastic food descriptions - a fun read. I can't wait to read The Sugar Queen!
Have you reviewed this book? If so, leave a comment and I will link to your review!
Other Blogger's Thoughts

Reading Matters

Lesley's Book Nook

A High and Hidden Place

Bookfoolery and Babble

A Garden Carried in the Pocket

Dreaming on the Job

Saving My Sanity

An Adventure in Reading

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Which Historical Queen Are You?

Your result for The Which Historical Queen Are You Test...

Catherine de Medici

You scored 58% on ruling power!

You are: Catherine de Medici, Queen of France, 1519-1589.
Catherine de Medici was a born into the influential Medici family of Florence, Italy. In 1533 she was given in a political marriage to Henri, Duke of Orleans, who became the French King in 1547. As queen she was very influential in bringing aspects of Italian culture to France, such as their theater and food. After her husband's death, she gained political power as regent for her sons (she had ten children). An ambitious woman, she actively involved herself in the political intrigues of the court, always trying to increase royal power. At first Catherine tried to reconcile France's opposing Catholic and Protestant factions as their violent disputes threatened national unity. But with the massacre in 1570 of Protestants (the massacre of St Bartholomew), this peace was shattered, and Catherine was blamed for allowing it to happen.

Take The Which Historical Queen Are You Test
at HelloQuizzy

Not long to go now

The 2008 Advent Blog Tour starts in just a few days, and I am really excited at the prospect of visiting all the bloggers who are contributing this year.

In case you were thinking it is too late to join in for this year, it really isn't! Whilst we do have a great list of blogs, some familiar stops on my daily blog hopping, but others brand new to me, it would be great to have more. So don't be shy, sign up by commenting on this post.

Just in case you haven't signed up yet because you aren't 100 percent sure of what kind of things you could possible post about as part of the tour, I have randomly picked a post from last year to use an example. Click on the link to see what Suey from It's All About Books posted last year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Teaser Tuesday on Wednesday and a couple of other things!

I am very late with Teaser Tuesday this week! It's been a very busy week. My son has been on camp, so Monday I worked late, then on Tuesday I went out for dinner at a great Vietnamese restaurant, and then I was at work early today, and now everything can go back to normal!

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should be Reading:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

To make up for being late, I thought I might share two teasers from the books that I am reading at the moment. Coincidentally, they are both from Aussie authors which is cool!

The first comes from page 254 of Michelle De Kretser's award winning The Lost Dog:

Tom was thinking of the delight coloured pictures had once brought, before the proliferation of images. He remembered a parcel of foodstuffs that had arrived from England when he was five or six. A spoonful of glowing red jam from a tin wrapped in bright scenery: a gift from another world.

The other book I am reading is Lady Friday by Garth Nix - book number 5 in the Keys to the Kingdom series. This teaser is from page 181:

She says, "Usually we would either kill you or take you to Dusk for judgement. But Dusk has gone, and Lady Friday too. Dawn, who claims to speak for them, is not our master.

Given that it is the fourth Tuesday of the month, it is time for What's On Your Nightstand! Once again not a lot has moved. The books that are still there:

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham
Archangel by Sharon Shinn
Mistletoe Kisses anthology
The Smoke Thief by Shana Abe
Dagger-Star by Elizabeth Vaughan
Visions of Heat by Nalini Singh
Just One of the Guys by Kristin Higgins
Mr Cavendish, I Presume by Julia Quinn

New to the nightstand:

The Huntress by Susan Carroll
Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Visit 5 Minutes for Reading to see what others have on their nightstands this month.

I do have a number of tags for memes, and I will get to them over the weekend! Really, I will!

Monday, November 24, 2008

East of the Sun by Julia Gregson

Summer 1928. The Kaiser-i-Hind is en route to Bombay. In Cabin D38, Viva Holloway, an inexperienced chaperone, is worried she's made a terrible mistake. Her advert in The Lady has resulted in three unsettling charges to be escorted to India.

Rose, a beautiful, dangerously naive English girl, is about to be married to the cavalry officer she has met only a handful of times. Victoria, her bridesmaid, is determined to lose her virginity on the journey, before finding a husband of her own in India. And overshadowing all three of them, the malevolent presence of Guy Glover, a strange and disturbed schoolboy.

Three potential Memsahibs with a myriad of reasons for leaving England, but the cargo of hopes and secrets they carry has done little to prepare them for what lies ahead.

From the parties of the wealthy Bombay socialites to the poverty of the orphans on Tamarind Street, East of the Sun is everything a historical novel should be: alive with glorious detail, fascinating characters and masterful storytelling.
Normally when I see a book mentioned somewhere and it prompts me to add it to my TBR list, I try to write it down on my list, so that I can thank the person who recommended the read. For some reason, when I added this book to my list I didn't do it, and it's a real shame, because I would love to say a hearty THANK YOU to whoever it was.

The book opens with Viva Holloway. She is a young woman with great spirit, great secrets, but unfortunately not great means. She spent many of her formative years in India before she was sent back to school in the UK, and now she longs to return to India - ostensibly to take ownership of a trunk of her dead parents possessions that is being held in trust for her by an old family friend. It does also give her a chance to run away from a disastrous love affair.

The only way she can get to India though is to act as a chaperone to three young people. Rose is on her way to India to get married to a dashing soldier by the name of Jack. She has only met him a few times, but she is excitedly planning a life with him, having no real idea about life in India or about what to expect from marriage, especially as a soldiers wife. Accompanying her is her friend Victoria, known to everyone as Tor, who is going to be her bridesmaid, and hopefully to find herself a husband whilst she is at it. The third person that Viva has to chaperone is a young man of 16 years age called Guy Glover, who has been dismissed from his English school and is returning back to India to be with his parents.

From the start it is clear that there are going to be issues, and so it proves to be. Whilst it is not all plain sailing (sorry, bad pun!), we are also given a glimpse into the life of board for young ladies of the day as they attend parties, make new friends, stop off in Port Said and do a quick trip to Cairo, as the weather warms up and they all sleep on deck - men on one side and women on the other thank you very much.

The journeys that our characters take are very much individual. Along the way we meet up with the rich and bored memsahibs who are only interested in their own lives, the early days of marriage to a stranger for Rose, the search for a husband for the less than confident Tor, and for Viva, a life where she is struggling to make ends meet and therefore has to take up work in a local orphanage and therefore gets to see first hand the poverty, the joy and the conflicts amongst the locals. For those days in India are leading up to the end of British Colonial rule and therefore it is not all swigging G and T's at the club for those people who have chosen to make their lives in a far off land.

There is a great joy in the reading of this book. It's not great literature, but there are times when what you want is an absorbing read that you can get lost in, as opposed to something that you have to think really hard about all the time! There are a few times when the narrative loses a little bit of smoothness, but I was fully invested in the characters, in the setting and in the story and so it didn't really bother me at all.

Reading this book also made me think about my grandmother's life. She made the journey from the UK in the 1930s, not to India, but to Australia. I am pretty sure that she travelled with her family and not as a single woman, but we have talked a bit before about getting off the boat in Egypt. One time when I was at her house, she even got out some things that she had kept from the boat trip over - including a few menus and things. It's fair to say that the food that we eat today has changed a lot from what was served up in those days. If it wasn't for the fact that I live so far away from her, I would have been around to her house to look through all that information again!

This book is apparently one of Richard and Judy's Summer Reads (a big deal in the UK - somewhat similar to getting chosen to be a Oprah book club book) and doesn't seem to have been released in places like the US yet, but I am really glad that my library had it. I have now requested this author's first book, called The Water Horse, and I am very much looking forward to reading it. Another book that I remember reading which featured a similar story about travelling by ship to a different life that I enjoyed was Jojo Moyes' Ship of Brides.

A very interesting read, set in a very interesting location in very interesting times, and a joy to read.

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

A Girl Walks Into a Bookstore

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Australian Idol 2008

Australia has a new Idol - Wes Carr!

This year they did individual singles instead of the same single for all possible winners and this is his! I really like it!

Of course, last year's Idol winner didn't exactly set the world on fire, so much so that I couldn't actually remember who won, but I do hope that Wes is going to do better! I will probably buy his album. Check out his Michael Jackson song on Youtube, and the others there - he really is the total package!

What Does A Scoundrel Want?

Ann Aguirre is hosting this contest on her site for her friend Carrie Lofty! Here are all the details:

The Contest:

To celebrate the upcoming debut of Carrie Lofty’s fabulous WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS I’m hosting a total blowout of a contest. For starters, I’m offering TWENTY (20) free copies of this book. If you win, you must promise to review it somewhere within a month of its release (that’s December 2). Amazon is fine if you don’t have a blog. Two lines on Shelfari is not. Now to make this even more interesting, I’m offering a bonus prize of a $50 gift certificate (to a bookstore, naturally!) if we hit a hundred (100) entries.

How can you sign up for the fun and games? I’m glad you asked!

The Rules:

Rules for entry for people with a blog:

Copy the code for that sexy contest widget from here. Post it somewhere on your blog. Note: it’s probably too big for most sidebars, so it’ll need to be a post. Then let us know in comments on this blog that you want a copy of the book, and that you’ve spread the word via viral kung fu. Make sure you leave a link back so we can check out your handiwork. For a bonus entry in a separate comment, tell us why you’re interested in reading Will Scarlet’s story. (I could give you a gazillion reasons, myself! But then, I’ve read it. This book is fierce. If you’re tired of the same old time periods, the same old heroes and heroines, you’ll want to be first in line to get a taste of this hot-sexy-fresh historical. It’s lightning for your brain!)

For those who don’t have blogs, here’s what you do to enter:

Tell at least one other person about the contest. That means spreading the word on your loops, groups, emails, or IM or whatever communique works best for you. Mind you, I’m not asking you to spam all of the above. Please don’t do that. One venue per person will be just fine. And then come back and let us know where you mentioned the contest. It would be great if you could also include a link to the sexy contest widget when you mention the contest. That’d be this link here. Just like the bloggers, for an extra entry, you can tell us why you lust for Will Scarlet. (Yes, it can be because Christian Slater said, “Fuck me, he cleared it,” all those years ago.)

In either case (blog or no blog), for a third and extra-special-sauce entry, why don’t y’all give me your best guesses at WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS?

So to clarify, if we get 100 entries (that’s entries, not people), I’ll sweeten the pot with 50 large for some lucky soul to spend on books. Additionally, whenever I get crazy with the Cheez Whiz like this, there are always random surprise giveaways, so you never know who might be the lucky poster. This will run until December 1. Are you guys ready to light it up?

Then why don’t you c’mon and tell me WHAT A SCOUNDREL WANTS!

Enter at Ann Aguirre's site!

I have to say that this is one debut that I am interested in reading. I know the Robin Hood setting is derivative, but I definitely think that it would provide a fun background to a romance!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who am I?

Author Jenny Crusie recently posted a link to a site called Typealyzer which analyzes what type of person someone is based on what they post on their blog! I did it for fun, but I have to say that it is pretty spot on really! They also have an analysis of brain activity but I can't figure out how to copy that over here!

ISTP - The Mechanics

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Which Top Gear Presenter are you?

I love watching Top Gear - a British TV show about cars. I am not interested in the profiles of the new cars, but I do love the antics they get up to. I often find myself crying laughing whilst watching the show! When I saw this on Tez Miller's blog, I had to find out for myself who I am!

You Scored as The Stig

Some say you were born on Mars, and that you smell of burnt sugar. All we know is, you're called The Stig!

The Stig




Top Gear Dog


November Monthly Challenge

The monthly challenge for my card making workshop for November was, naturally enough considering the time of year, to make a Christmas card, but there was a restriction. We could only use blue and silver. Basically as soon as I heard this was the theme I knew what I wanted to do. I guess in a way it was cheating a little bit because it is a design I used last year, but never mind that. In the end it isn't quite as I imagined it because I expected to use blue card, and therefore the front would look a little different (mainly because the bauble would stand out a little more) but in the end I am pretty happy with how it worked out.

I wouldn't have necessarily thought it was so hard to get blue and silver but there was really very little around in terms of papers, and even after looking at this paper lots of times over the last few weeks, I am not convinced that the paper I am using is not purple and silver. I asked in three different paper shops, and they all told me that that this was the only paper they had and it was definitely blue with a red tinge. Again, I would have thought that that made it purple, but what do I know!

The other nice thing this month, was that I was finished making them all on Sunday of last week. I am afraid I can't take credit for this though really. I dobbed a friend of mine in to participate in the challenge. She has only started card making recently so she was freaking out a little, so she came around a while ago and spent the day trying to come up with a design. Last weekend she was freaking that she wasn't finished and so I went over there on Sunday morning and got them all made! She is definitely the organiser amongst my friends!

Once again, my photo doesn't really do it justice I don't think! I really need to either learn to take better photos, or get a professional in!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Le Bal by Irene Nemirovsky

Two classic tales from the author of Suite Francaise brought together for the first time in one volume.

Le Bal is a sharp, brittle story of a girl who sets out to ruin the mother she hates. The Kampfs have risen swiftly up the ranks of 1930s Parisian society. Painfully aware of her working class roots, and desperate to win acceptance, Madame Kampf decides to throw a huge ball to announce her arrival to society. Her daughter Antoinette, who has just turned fourteen dreams of attending, but Madame Kampf is resolved not to present her daughter to potential admirers. In a fury of adolescent rage and despair Antoinette exacts a swift and horrible revenge...
These two novella's are both short, at around 60 pages each. The synopsis is quite good for this novella, so I won't worry too much about recapping. What I would say is that there are times when reading Nemirovsky's work that you have to wonder if everyone she knew was unlikeable. It is not the first of her books that have had me wondering this - the characters in David Golder were the same.

The family dynamics were difficult to say the least, with a distant father, a mean spirited, social climbing mother, and the daughter was definitely in need of some discipline!

As a commentary on the difficulty for an outsider to break into the all important society it was effective.

Given that the story is so short, it must have been an effective exercise given how much I felt about each of the unfortunate characters in this very unhappy little world!
Snow in Autumn pays homage to Nemirovsky's beloved Chekhov and chronicles the life of a devoted servant following her masters as they flee Revolutionary Moscow and emigrate to a life of hardship in Paris. As the crisis pushes the family to the brink of dissolution, Tatiana struggles to adapt to life in Paris and waits in vain for her cherished first snows of autumn.

After the self absorbedness (not even a word I am sure!) of the characters in the first novella, it was a breath of fresh air to find more heart within this one! Whilst I am not all that familiar with Chekhov and therefore did not catch the homage to him, it was easier to like the Carine family as they flee from the Bolshevik revolution, accompanied by their faithful servant Tatiana and the ghosts of the past.

The portrayal of the difficulty of coping with such massive changes was movingly portrayed, particularly through the eyes of the elderly Tatiana as she waits for the first signs of snow and winter in a strange new city.

Nemirovsky touched not only on the physical change of location for the family, but also on the moral changes that occurred as a family used to the best of everything have to get used to living on not very much at all.

It was this novella which redeemed this little book for me. If I had only had Le Bal to base my thoughts on I would have been a little disappointed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should be Reading:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week's teaser comes from page 257 of Angelique and the King by Sergeanne Golon:

"I am sure, Sire, that if you had been able to meet him yourself, instead of your ambassadors, these difficulties would not have arisen. you have a gift for detecting a person's true character at a glance."

The Sire in question is Louis XIV of France, also known as The Sun King. I have no idea who is causing the difficulties!

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

Daniel Rooke,soldier and astronomer, was always an outsider. As a young lieutenant of marines he arrives in New South Wales on the First Fleet in 1788 and sees his chance. he sets up his observatory away from the main camp, and begins the scientific work that he hopes will make him famous.

Aboriginal people soon start to visit his isolated promontory, and a child named Tagaran begins to teach him her language. With meticulous care he records their conversations.

An extraordinary friendship forms, and Rooke has almost forgotten he is a soldier when a man is fatally wounded in the infant colony. The lieutenant faces a decision that will define not only who he is but the course of his entire life.

In this profoundly moving novel Kate Grenville returns to the landscape of her much-loved bestseller The Secret River. Inspired by the notebooks of William Dawes, The Lieutenant is a compelling story about friendship and self-discovery by a writer at the peak of her power.
There's no doubt that if I try to work out where my gaps are in terms of the Historical Fiction that I read, then Australian history is one of those gaps. It's not because it doesn't interest me, because it does, but I think because it is either difficult to find out about good books that use Australian history as the base, or because there aren't that many good books out there.

Not long before I started blogging back in 2005, I read The Secret River by Kate Grenville. Set at the time of the First Fleet it looked at the relationship between white settlers and the native Australian Aborigines who were already here. Grenville returns to this same setting in The Lieutenant.

The main character in the story is Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. He is a young man who has been chosen to receive a top notch education based on his impressive mathematical abilities, and finds himself recruited to serve in the First Fleet that it coming to Australia. Whilst he is a soldier, his main role once he gets to the new land will be as astronomer, observing the night skies and in particular looking for signs of a comet. With his skills as astronomer, linguist and orienter are very valued on such an expedition, he is also very much aware that he is something of an outcast.

When the fleet arrives in Botany Bay, Rooke sets up his observatory at a distance away from the rest of the soldiers and convicts. This places him in an ideal position to be able to interact with the local tribespeople, and he quickly begins to study the language and make friends with the people, most especially a young girl. It doesn't take long however for relations between the settlers and the natives to degenerate and Rooke finds himself having to choose between duty and friendship.

Whilst the setting is similar, there are significant differences between the two stories. In this novel, Grenville has pared the narrative right back to the basics of the story. We are very much focussed on Rooke's life, and his interactions. For me, this made The Lieutenant a much stronger, more interesting book.

I was interested in a couple of the choices that Grenville made with this book. There is no secret that this book is very much based on the life of one Lt William Dawes who was a skilled astronomer and who did document the language. On her website, Grenville explains the choices that she made. The interesting thing to me was that she chose to use different names for all the characters - not only for Rooke/Dawes but also for first Governor and for the known names of some of the other important figures from the First Fleet. I am not sure that it was necessary to make these changes, but I do understand her intent. As she says on her website:

I've taken events that took place in the real world and used them as the basis for a work of imagination.

This is a novel, then, not history.

It is a deceptively short book. The hardcover version I had had a total of 307 pages, but the text size and white spaces were definitely on the generous side.

I enjoyed this trip into Australian history, and hope to read more with this setting. This book will be published in the US and UK on February 5 2009.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Advent Tour Update

I can't begin to express how pleased we are at how great the turn out has been for this year's advent tour .... so far! We have more people participating this year, than we have in the last two years combined! That doesn't mean that there isn't still room for more people to join in!

You too can join in by signing in at the above post. Your post doesn't have to be long - just something that you want to share with others.

I was planning to blog about some other stuff tonight but I got home to discover that one of the kids in our neighbourhood decided that it would be a good idea to come into our back yard and squirt an entire bottle of sunscreen that I kept by the back door all over the wood deck, and then to turn the electricity off at the switch. Not happy Jan! Not happy at all.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Quilter's Homecoming by Jennifer Chiaverini

A Roaring Twenties adventure unfolds in Jennifer Chiaverini's latest bestselling Elm Creek Quilts novel, another in "a series that neatly stitches together social drama and the art of quilting" (Library Journal).

Newly wed in a festive yet poignant ceremony at Elm Creek Manor, bride Elizabeth Nelson takes leave of her ancestral Pennsylvania home. Setting off with her husband, Henry, on the adventure of a lifetime, Elizabeth packs the couple's trunk with more than the wedding quilts she envisions them dreaming beneath every night of their married lives. They are landowners who hold the deed to Triumph Ranch, 120 acres of prime California soil located in the Arboles Valley, north of Los Angeles.

"Triumph Ranch," says Mae, a traveling companion whom Elizabeth has let in on the promise of the Nelsons' bright future. "That sounds like a sure thing." But in a cruel reversal of fortune, the Nelsons arrive to the news that they've been had, and they are left suddenly, irrevocably penniless.

They are hired as hands at the farm they thought they owned, and Henry struggles mightily with his pride. Yet clever, feisty Elizabeth -- drawing on her share of the Bergstrom women's inherent economy and resilience -- vows to defy fate through sheer force of will. As her life intertwines with Rosa Diaz Barclay, native to the Arboles Valley and a fellow quilter, their blossoming friendship sheds light on many secrets that have kept each of them and their families from their rightful homes.

In the cabin where Henry and Elizabeth are living on Triumph Ranch, Elizabeth discovers quilts belonging to Rosa's mother, and in their exquisite patterns recognizes a misplaced legacy of love, land,and family. But her newfound understanding of the burden of loss that Rosa shares with the mysterious Lars Jorgensen places her in mortal danger. Only by stitching the rift between the past and the future can the inhabitants of Triumph Ranch hope to live in peace alongside history.
I read the last book in this series, Circle of Quilters, months ago. Whilst I normally don't read books in a series immediately one after the other, usually I do get to them within maybe 8 or 9 weeks. With this book I think I have borrowed it from the library at least three times, and just never quite managed to read it!

Even when I did finally start it, it took me a very long time to start to feel as though I was really invested in the story. I did wonder if that is perhaps because the story felt kind of disconnected from the rest of the books in the series with its different characters, different location. The disconnect was more magnified in my mind, because the one character that holds this whole series together is Sylvia. Even in the earlier historical novels, we spent a little time with her, and then flashed back in time, or the characters were directly connected to her. In this novel, she was mentioned a few times but when the book started she was a four year old cousin to the main character! Now I am not sure that it wasn't just my mood that made me feel this way, because by the end of the book I ended up enjoying it.

The main character is Elizabeth, Sylvia's cousin, who is moving to California to start her new life with her new husband Henry. He has invested all of his savings to purchase a ranch in California's Arboles Valley. Henry views it as a chance to be his own man, but things don't quite work out as they expect when they arrive. We spend time with Elizabeth and Henry as they must learn how to deal with the disappointment that they have experienced, as they readjust their expectations of their new life, as they become involved in the community around them, and as life becomes harder for everyone as the economic climate changes towards the end of the 1920s.

There were a couple of events that were alluded to within the novel, that I didn't think were probably fleshed out, whilst some of the other plot turns were telegraphed a mile away, but for the most part this was an enjoyable read. I was a little concerned by the pollyanna ending, but then again this whole series does have a feel-good vibe to it, so I didn't really expect much differently!

Friday, November 14, 2008

My Inner Dewey

Marg's Dewey Decimal Section:

325 International migration & colonization

Marg = 3187 = 318+7 = 325

300 Social Sciences

Books on politics, economics, education and the law.

What it says about you:
You are good at understanding people and finding the systems that work for them. You like having established reasoning behind your decisions. You consider it very important for your friends to always have your back.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Just because ...

We were talking about this song at work today, and I have had it stuck in my head all afternoon. Of course, now I feel the need to share!

Way back when I went to one of the Pet Shop Boys concerts with an old friend. I wonder what he is up to now!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sung to the tune of Sgt. Peppers...

It was 3 years ago today
I started to blog and play

It doesn't really fit does it??

Oh well...I am sure you get the sentiment. On this day three years ago I started this blog. Little did I know that blogging would become such a big part of my life, so much so that it is my main hobby as well as the source of my connection with people all around the world.

Now that I look back at those early posts and reviews I cringe, but at the end of the day they are what they are, and so I leave them up for posterity!

So let's review the last year or so shall we? Personally I think that the focus of this blog has moved a little bit from just a predominantly book review blog, to all a more general reading blog, and these days a little card making as well as with a bit of life in general. The only problem with that last part is that I live such a boring life that it is hard to find anything interesting to post about there! LOL!!

Another change this year has been the whole hearted jump into Reading Challenges! It's hard to believe that last year I didn't participate in any challenges that I remember.

A big highlight of the last few months was being Blogger of Note for a day. My number of visitors skyrocketed to more than 30000 visitors a week! Wow! The numbers of visitors has dropped down again a fair bit, but some of the people who found me through Blogger of Note have stuck around! Thanks to all of you who did!

Last December's Blog Advent Tour was very successful, and this years is already sure to be bigger and better! If you haven't already signed up, please do so. There are lots of first timers who have already signed up, many of whom are new blogs to me!

Another highlight has been watching the continuing growth of Historical Tapestry, a group blog that focuses on the historical fiction genre! I am very excited about the things that have been happening over there recently, and I look forward to more great HF news and reviews from the group.

What hasn't changed? I still read a lot. As always I am behind on my reviews, I still haven't found another job, I still use the library a lot, the list of blogs that I read in my Bloglines account continues to grow ever longer, and I still love blogging!

Seeing as I started with a Beatles reference, it seem only fair to provide a snippet of a couple of their songs! Enjoy.

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose by Lauren Willig

"Pride and Prejudice lives on," (USA Today) "a fun and zany time warp," (New York Daily News) "history textbook meets Bridget Jones" (Marie Claire): Readers and reviewers alike praise Lauren Willig's bestselling Pink Carnation series for its passion, adventure, and tantalizing stories of flower-named spies during the Napoleonic wars.

Lauren Willig continues the exciting Pink Carnation series with her fourth novel, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, featuring Lord Vaughn, the delightfully devilish spy from The Masque of the Black Tulip, and Mary Alsworthy, the raven-haired beauty whose sister accidentally stole her suitor in The Deception of the Emerald Ring. Determined to secure another London season without assistance from her new brother-in-law, Mary accepts a secret assignment from Lord Vaughn on behalf of the Pink Carnation: to infiltrate the ranks of the dreaded French spy, the Black Tulip, before he and his master can stage their planned invasion of England. Every spy has a weakness, and for the Black Tulip that weakness is black-haired women—his "petals" of the Tulip. A natural at the art of seduction, Mary easily catches the attention of the French spy, but Lord Vaughn never anticipates that his own heart will be caught as well. Fighting their growing attraction, impediments from their past, and, of course, the French, Mary and Vaughn find themselves lost in the shadows of a treacherous garden of lies.

As our modern-day heroine, Eloise Kelly, digs deeper into England's Napoleonic-era espionage, she becomes even more entwined with Colin Selwick, the descendant of her spy subjects.
I have been reading this series now for a couple of years, and for the first two books, after I closed the book I was very much interested in knowing when the next book came out. After I read the last book, I was still interested, but I was aware that the third book in the series hadn't quite lived up to the first two. Unfortunately, neither did this book, the fourth in the series.

I still love the idea that Willig started off with. Two time lines, one where a grad student (Eloise) is trying to pick her way through the historical record to find out exactly who the leader of the Pink Carnation spy ring was, and what happened to the group. As Eloise finds more letters and information, then we travel back in time to see the events as they unfold.

In this book, the heroine is Miss Mary Alsworthy, who in one of the previous books was jilted quite by accident in favour of her sister. Mary is seen as something of an ice princess by the ton, and she keeps any unsuitable men away from her using her iciness as a weapon. It is unthinkable that Mary may well have to rely on the kindness of her sister and her husband to look after her, because Mary is very much in danger of being left on the shelf. When Mary is approached by Lord Vaughan, she does not realise that it is because her looks are very much the type preferred by the infamous Black Tulip, and her task will be to infiltrate the gang.

What follows is kind of a hotch-potch. The plot takes twists and turns that seem unlikely, despite the fact that Willig acknowledges exactly that in the Author's Note, and then elaborates that it wasn't far from actual events.

By far the biggest problem for me in this book was the build up of tension between our heroine and her hero, Mary and Lord Vaughan. Now, I love reading about the aristocratic lord who is somewhat aloof, cold and haughty who thaws dramatically when he meets the love of his life. He may still be aloof to everyone, except to that inner circle of people. The problem in this case is that Vaughan is cold (and yes we do find out the reasons why) and Mary is an ice princess - there's no thawing going on here. There also wasn't enough build up of attraction between them.

In terms of the contemporary strand of the story, I understand that Eloise only gets 5 or 6 chapters per book, but it just seems to me that it is moving forward to slowly. I want to see Eloise get it on, although it seems as though the momentum is building.

I am hoping that it is just me, and that this series is not losing steam, because I really want to see it through to the end, finding out exactly what happened to the Pink Carnation and whether Eloise finally gets her man.

In the end I rated this book a 3.5/5. That in itself is a respectable grade. I guess I just wanted more, and I do definitely want more from the next book, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, which is due out on 22 January 2009. The main thing that concerns me about the next book though is that I can't remember meeting the heroine before. If I have time I might try to reread at least the first couple of books to give myself a refresher course in all the minor characters.

This is one of the books that I chose to read for the Pub08 Reading Challenge and also one of the books that I nominated to read for the Bang Bang Book Challenge.

Cross posted at Historical Tapestry

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Advent Tour Update and Teaser Tuesday

Wow! What a response to the announcement of this year's tour. In one day, we have enough people to fill the calendar. However, please don't think that means that there is no space for you! What could be more fun than visiting one blog for the Advent Tour...visiting two or three or four or more blogs!

Please keep on signing up for the tour. The more people who join in the merrier!

And now for this week's Teaser Tuesday.

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should be Reading:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week my teaser comes from page 112 of The Suspicions of Mr Whicher or The Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale:

Almost as horrible - and apparently equally believable - was the idea that the nursemaid had helped him to kill the boy she was hired to tend. The alternative was that this crime harked back to the original biblical murder, Cain's killing of Abel.

It was kind of hard to not post a spoiler, but I think that it this above quote shows that just about everyone was under suspicion. The him referred to above is the boy's father!

I'll add a book cover image when I get home from work!

Lest we forget

Over the last couple of years on Anzac and Remembrance Day, I have posted videos and poems and songs, but this year, on the 90th anniversary of the end of World War One, I wanted to do something different.

This is a brief look at three brothers, all of whom lost their lives at Passchendaele. Article written by Craig Tibbitts and originally published on the Australian War Memorial blog on 13 November 2007.

(L-R - Theo, William and George)

As haunting as any image of the ghosts of Passchendaele is this studio portrait photo of the Seabrook brothers, the sons of William and Fanny Seabrook of Five Dock in Sydney NSW.

Theo (age 25) and George (age 24) were both privates, while their younger brother William (age 20), with his previous military experience, soon made it to Second Lieutenant. William had in fact joined the AIF back in August 1915, but this had somehow fallen through as he was discharged two months later. At any rate, he joined up again with his two elder brothers in August 1916 and they left Sydney together as part of the 17th Reinforcements for the 17th Infantry Battalion.

By the time they got over to Belgium to actually join their unit it was already June 1917 and preparations were well underway for the great offensive at Ypres. The Battle of Menin Road that began on 20 September 1917 was the first engagement of Australian infantry in this offensive and proved a stunning success.

But despite this success, for the Seabrook boys it was their first, last and only battle. All three were mortally wounded in action, and died in the days immediately afterwards. For some the war was very short, but the sacrifice was nevertheless the full measure.

One can scarcely begin to imagine what went through the minds of William and Fanny Seabrook, and how they might come to terms with this perhaps baffling and seemingly pointless loss of their three cherished sons.

William is buried at the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, just west of Ypres. George and Theo’s remains were either never identified or never found, so they are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial.

Monday, November 10, 2008

2009 Reading Challenges

The 2009 reading challenges are popping up on blogs all over the place! Whilst I am trying not to go crazy with challenges, there are two that I feel that I can safely join in on, and J Kaye is responsible for both of them.

The first is the 2009 100+ Reading Challenge. So far this year I have finished 162 books. There is no way I am going to make 200, but 100 is doable! The rules:

(1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

4) If you don’t have a blog, please join our Yahoo Groups.

5) When you sign up under Mr. Linky, list the direct link to your post where your 100+ books will be listed. If you list just your blog’s URL, it will be removed.

6) All books count: children’s, YA, adults, fiction, non-fiction, how-tos, etc.

7) Feel free to post in the comment section or on Yahoo Groups your monthly progress as well as your favorite books that month.

The second challenge that I am committing to today is the 2009 Support Your Local Library Challenge. I LOVE my library. It is very rare that they don't have the books I want to read, and they save me a fortune in money. I couldn't support my reading habit if it wasn't for the library! The details and the sign up post can be found here:

You all know what a supporter of the library my family and I are. What better way to pay homage than by having a reading challenge in 2009? Since we are all different, there will be three sizes of challenges.

** The first is to read 12 books from your local library in 2009.
** The second is to read 25 books from your local library in 2009.
** The third is to read 50 books from your local library in 2009.

You decide which one of the three challenges is best for you.

Here are the guidelines:

1) You can join anytime as long as you don’t start reading your books prior to 2009.

2) This challenge is for 2009 only. The last day to have all your books read is December 31, 2009.

3) You can join anytime between now and December 31, 2009.

4) When you sign up under Mr. Linky, list the direct link to your post where your library books will be listed. If you list just your blog’s URL, it will be removed. If you don’t have a blog, leave the URL blank.

6) Our goal is to read 12, 25, or 50 books checkout from our local library in 2009. Please decide which when you sign up and don’t change it.

7) These can be audios, downloads, children’s, YA. As long as it’s a book, format and target age group does not matter.

8) Feel free to post a link to your reviews in the comment section below. That way, we can visit your blog and read your review.

9) If you have any questions, feel free to ask below or email me at Comments usually get a quicker response.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Weekly Geeks #24 - Fun facts about authors

1. Choose a writer you like.

2. Using resources such as Wikipedia, the author’s website, whatever you can find, make a list of interesting facts about the author.

3. Post your fun facts list in your blog, maybe with a photo of the writer, a collage of his or her books, whatever you want.

4. Come sign the Mr Linky here with the url to your fun facts post.

5. As you run into (or deliberately seek out) other Weekly Geeks’ lists, add links to your post for authors you like or authors you think your readers are interested in.

Haven't done a Weekly Geeks for a while, but this one looks like a lot of fun. I've decided to focus on British author, Elizabeth Chadwick.

1. Elizabeth Chadwick won a Betty Trask award (an award for young novelists under the age of thirty five for a first novel of a romantic or traditional nature) for her first ever published novel, The Wild Hunt. (Click link for my review of this book)

2. The award was presented to her by HRH Prince Charles

3. In 1994, Elizabeth Chadwick was hired by Columbia Pictures to write the book of the movie First Knight, which starred Richard Gere and Sean Connery. (Coincidentally, for a very short time I used to know a girl who was an extra in that film!)

4. On her Musical Soundtracks blog, Elizabeth Chadwick shares the songs that she used for inspiration in her writing. Whilst her novels are very firmly placed within medieval times, her musical tastes range from Billy Joel to Metallica, Kate Bush to Feargal Sharkey.

5. Part of her research is done through her passion for reenactment with Regia Anglorum. She can regularly be found dressed up in medieval clothing, cooking and eating medieval food! An added bonus is that she uses some of her own photographs from RA events in her book trailers. I think that gives them an incredibly personal touch!

6. Another of her research tools is to use Akashic record. To find out more about this interesting subject, click here.

7. On her main blog, Living the History, Elizabeth often shares incredibly detailed posts about her research trips etc. If you are at all interested in medieval times, then this should be a stop on your blog rounds!

8. EC's latest books are difficult to get hold of in the US, but a couple of them are being released by Sourcebooks in the US next year. All I can say is make sure you get hold of them, because they are excellent reads, and it would be fantastic if more of her books were available there as well. If you are really interested in getting hold of her books, then I recommend The Book Depository, who have free postage to certain countries around the world. I think that you can also get them from

My reviews of the books are in the links below:

The Greatest Knight
The Scarlet Lion
A Place Beyond Courage
The Time of Singing

9. Most of this information was gleaned from Elizabeth Chadwick's recently revamped website.

And that's it for this week's Weekly Geeks post!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Ithaka by C P Cavafy

At the moment I am reading a book called East of the Sun by Julia Gregson. It is about some young ladies who are travelling from England to India during the late 1920s. As they are arriving at Bombay, a toast is proposed and the following poem is read out, with the suggestion that instead of Ithaka, they use the word India.

I don't normally read poetry but I read this one through a couple of times and think that it is probably a metaphor for any journey, or maybe just the journey that it is life itself.

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon-don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon-you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind-
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean

Translated by

Edmund Keeley & Philip Sherrard


Friday, November 07, 2008

Publisher's Weekly Best books of the year

It's a bit scary really to think that we are nearly at the end of the year and it is time to start thinking about what have been the best reads of the year.

Publisher's Weekly have put their thoughts together. The list is LONG, so
here is a link for you to click over to read for yourself. I am just hoping to comment on a few of the categories!


These ones are on the list to be read:

When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson - just picked this up from the library tonight

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh - intend to read this for the Booker Challenge
The Boat by Nam Le - I have heard a lot of great things about this book, and it is a bonus that it is by an Aussie author.
Serena by Ron Rash - heard good things about this book.
Breath by Tim Winton - I really should have read more Winton. What a bad Aussie I am!
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski


There's a couple of familiar author names but I haven't read any of the books.


None of these either!

Mass Market

I have read Private Arrangement by Sherry Thomas. To get on this list with your debut book is such a great achievement.

Religious Fiction

The Shape of Mercy by Susan Meissner - Heard a few good things about this one but haven't read it yet!

Children's Ficton

Nation by Terry Pratchett - Given that it is Pratchett I will get to it eventually.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

An extraordinary debut novel of love that survives the fires of hell and transcends the boundaries of time The narrator of The Gargoyle is a very contemporary cynic, physically beautiful and sexually adept, who dwells in the moral vacuum that is modern life. As the book opens, he is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and suffers horrible burns over much of his body. As he recovers in a burn ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned, he awaits the day when he can leave the hospital and commit carefully planned suicide—for he is now a monster in appearance as well as in soul. A beautiful and compelling, but clearly unhinged, sculptress of gargoyles by the name of Marianne Engel appears at the foot of his bed and insists that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly injured mercenary and she was a nun and scribe in the famed monastery of Engelthal who nursed him back to health. As she spins their tale in Scheherazade fashion and relates equally mesmerizing stories of deathless love in Japan, Iceland, Italy, and England, he finds himself drawn back to life—and, finally, in love. He is released into Marianne's care and takes up residence in her huge stone house. But all is not well. For one thing, the pull of his past sins becomes ever more powerful as the morphine he is prescribed becomes ever more addictive. For another, Marianne receives word from God that she has only twenty-seven sculptures left to complete—and her time on earth will be finished. Already an international literary sensation, the Gargoyle is anInferno for our time. It will have you believing in the impossible.

I don't actually tend to take much notice of holidays, and that is even more true when it is a holiday that we don't actually celebrate here. It was therefore a bit of a surprise to find myself reading not one but two books that are perfect Halloween reads. The first is a short story collection called Many Bloody Returns featuring vampires and birthdays stories from lots of different writers, and the other was this book.

From the very early pages, it is clear that our main character is one that most people would not want to befriend. Ironically enough, prior to his accident he was, physically at least, someone that would be considered very attractive - young, wealthy, attractive. After a terrible childhood, he drifts into a world filled with pornography and drugs, until he is driven as opposed to drifting in this world. After his accident, his is no longer physically attractive because of his terrible scarring, an irony that is not lost on him or anyone else.

This isn't a book for the faint of heart. The first few pages are nothing but graphic, as our main character, who remains nameless throughout the whole novel, has a terrible car crash.
We meet him a few seconds before as he drives along a cliff top road, influenced by drugs and alcohol. We ride in the car as it rolls down the hillside, as the flames engulfs, as he is rescued and taken to hospital and as he realises the full extent of his terrible injuries. I started reading this book on the train, and I was actually wincing at some of the parts, particularly where he talked about what happened to one of his feet.

And yet despite the gruesomeness of the descriptions, the writing is multi layered with moments of macabre comedy, beautiful tenderness, and incredible depth. The writing is not perfect - there are moments when tenses slip - but it is definitely compelling.

When our burns victim meets Marianne Engel, he is caught up in the whirlwind of energy that she brings with her, almost manic at times. He does not know her, but she is insistent that they have known each other for hundreds of years and she proceeds throughout the rest of the book to tell him their story. She also tells other stories, of ultimate love stories set in Iceland, Japan and England through the years. The story she tells is completely fantastical, and whilst there is some evidence to suggest that people are right to question Marianne's mental stability, our main character finds himself becoming less suicidal, less emotionally restricted and more open to new friendships around him due to her influence.

This book has so many layers - it is definitely a love story, there are fantasy elements, particularly in the latter stages of the book, it is a historical essay on the production of books in medieval abbeys, and a tribute to Dante's Inferno with side trips into mysticism and other historical detail. In lesser hands this could have become tangled and we could have been left with an unsatisfactory mess. Luckily for the reader, Davidson is skilled, and instead we end up with an infinitely readable, complicated and beautiful novel. A strong love story bound in fascinating detail.

Love is an action you must repeat ceaselessly.

This is a very assured debut novel. I can't wait to see what Andrew Davidson comes up with next.

This is one of the novels that I have nominated to read as part of the Medieval Challenge.

Cross posted at Historical Tapestry

Other Blogger's Thoughts:

Raging Bibliomania
So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Bermudaonions Weblog
The Sleepy Reader
Back to Books
Devourer of Books
Fantasy Book Reviews
Tip of the Iceberg
That's the Book

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Medieval Challenge

I am not exactly sure I missed the fact that there is a Medieval Challenge. You can either read or watch a movie. The challenge has been going for a while, but I am pretty sure that I can still read enough to meet the rules.

I am going to be a bit naughty and list the medieval texts that I have read between the date the challenge started and now:

The Serpent's Tale by Ariana Franklin

Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett

The Running Vixen by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Time of Singing by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

A Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland

Veil of Lies by Jeri Westerson

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by Should be Reading:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!

This week's teaser comes from paged 85 of The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville. I am very much looking forward to reading this one.

"Those buggers have forgotten us, " Timpson said sotto voce to Rooke, running a finger around his plate and sucking at it. "Spat us out and said good riddance. "