Saturday, October 31, 2009

Is there anything quite like the feeling you get...

...when you see a book that you have been waiting for in the bookstores for the first time?

In my case, I had been to the shops today, and I was just wandering past the bookstore when I looked and saw the new Paullina Simons book out on display! I actually didn't think it was supposed to be released yet, but still...yay! I went in and picked it up, lovingly gazing at it, marvelling at how it looks like another mammoth book (to be fair, I am not sure Paullina knows how to write anything but mammoth books), and then I put it down again, and walked out of the store.

Wait, that's not what you expected to read is it?

The thing is, I kind of did something a little silly today. For the last four or five years I have been living with a dodgy computer monitor. As soon as it got a little warm it would switch itself to black, whether it be warm because it was hot outside or warm because the heating was on. Sometimes it didn't feel that warm to me at all, and it was still switching itself off. I had turned the brightness right down, but still the problem persisted.

Going back a few months, I got a $200 gift voucher to a store when I bought my mobile phone from there. Today I spent that $200 on a brand new 23" computer monitor. I only had to spent just over $100 of my own money, but because I am in the middle of changing banks, that's about all I had in the account, so we are now having a very low key weekend! All will be well with the world on Monday when I go to the new bank and get my ATM card, but for now, I am pretty broke.

You know what though! It's worth it to not be having to watch the screen flicker and then go black every few minutes. Worth every penny!

I will be getting the new Paullina Simons book any day now though, I can assure you!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Library Loot

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and me that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

This week Eva has the Mr Linky so head over to her blog to share your link to your loot posts so that we can come and check out what you borrowed this week!

As for me, well, I have some new loot, some reloot, and a CD. I don't know why but I have never borrowed CDs from my library even though it is free to do so.

Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex - I have borrowed this because of a 1:1 readers challenge that I have coming up a bit later in the years. I have been challenged to read this book, and I have returned the favour with one of my favourites!

Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander - Reloot. Next book in the series.

Disco Boy by Dominic Knight - Another reloot. I started this during readathon, and I am enjoying it a lot!

Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning - I think this a reloot - can't remember. Next book in the Fever series.

Emma Vol 2 by Kaoru Mori - I read the first book in the series during readathon, so then requested this one.

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater - It is fair to say it isn't very often that a book trailer influences me to buy a book, but seeing Maggie Stiefvater's trailer for her latest book (not this one) certainly made me hunt down her books. This one was available at the library so I requested it.

Gale Force by Rachel Caine - reloot. Next book in the Weather Warden series for me.

One of the Boys by Katy Perry (CD) I knew that I liked the singles from this album so I thought I would borrow it to hear the rest of it as well.

I thought it would be fun to include the book trailer from Maggie Stiefvater. It is long, but it is good.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read

  • Open to a random page

  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • In last week's Teaser Tuesday post, I shared a teaser from The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick, the first book in the Pendragon's Banner trilogy. This week my teaser comes from page 332 of Pendragon's Banner, the second book in the trilogy:

    She doubted the healing woman who lived there now, the Lady, would know of any different medicines, but accepted her husband had to try for something. And mayhap the Goddess would listen, and smile her blessing on their son.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Final hour of Read-a-thon

    1. Which hour was most daunting for you?

    Because of the time zones I didn't find too much daunting. Basically I started and then went straight to bed, and it is just coming up to my normal bed time! Having said that, my back is a bit sore, and I am struggling to type accurately.

    2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?

    How many people were reading Suzanne Collins this year. Hunger Games and Catching Fire seem to be good suggestions, although I haven't read Catching Fire myself yet.

    3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

    It worked really well this year. Only thing is to maybe try not to schedule it on the weekend that the clocks change over.

    4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?

    The teams of cheerleaders worked very well. The idea of having to comment on nearly 400 blogs whilst cheerleading is incredibly daunting.

    5. How many books did you read?

    Only finished two, but got quite a bit of another one read, and started two more.

    6. What were the names of the books you read?

    Finished reading Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon and Emma by Kaoru Mori. Read quite a bit of The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick and started Heart of the Sea by Nora Roberts and Disco Boy by Dominic Knight.

    7. Which book did you enjoy most?

    I am glad to have finally finished Emma as I have started it a couple of times.

    8. Which did you enjoy least?

    Devil May Cry. These later books in the series are a bit hit and miss, and trying to read the various gods and pantheons warring got a bit confusing after a while.

    9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?

    Cheerleading is so much fun. If you haven't tried it, then give it a go! Twitter makes it incredibly easy as well, although it obviously doesn't work for those blogs who aren't on there.

    10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

    I would participate again. I think I just missed the first one. I will both read and cheer again, although I would really like to get more read.

    Final update re the dishes - they are mostly done! Looks like I will nagging about them again tomorrow! Once we get to the end of readathon, I might go to bed and read!

    Read-a-thon music

    Readathon hours elapsed: 23 hours
    Books completed: 2
    Pages read: 440
    No. of hours slept: 7
    Time spent cheerleading: 260 mins
    Mini-challenges completed: 6
    Books finished since start of readathon: Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon (paranormal romance) and Emma by Kaoru Mori (graphic novel)
    No. of times reminded son to put the dishes away - 10 ... so far! Still not put away!

    Needed some get up and dance around the room music, and this hit the spot!

    Read-a-thon mini challenge

    Readathon hours elapsed: 19 hours
    Books completed: 2
    Pages read: 410
    No. of hours slept: 7
    Time spent cheerleading: 130 mins
    Mini-challenges completed: 6
    Books finished since start of readathon: Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon (paranormal romance) and Emma by Kaoru Mori (graphic novel)
    No. of times reminded son to put the dishes away - 7 ... so far! Still not put away!

    Last hour there was a mini challenge over at The Hungry Readers where you had to "turn to page 23 of the book you're currently reading (or the nearest page with text on it) and find the most entertaining phrase to complete the following sentence:"

    "I would rather read than _____________ any night!"

    This was mine from the book that I am currently reading:

    I would rather read than be 'married off to some unlanded, unblooded upstart who wishes to use me for his own ambition.'

    Read-a-thon update

    Readathon hours elapsed: 16 hours
    Books completed: 2
    Pages read: 260
    No. of hours slept: 7
    Time spent cheerleading: 70 mins
    Mini-challenges completed: 3
    Books finished since start of readathon: Devil May Cry by Sherrilyn Kenyon (paranormal romance) and Emma by Kaoru Mori (graphic novel)
    No. of times reminded son to put the dishes away - 4 ... so far!

    I have mentioned a couple of times, mainly on Twitter than I was on babysitting duty this morning for my nephew. I got a bit of reading done, but by far the biggest portion of my time was spent on going for a walk. I thought I would take some pictures on my phone camera while I was out and about!

    A bit of Australian nature - these gumnuts very much remind me of the Gumnut babies from May Gibbs's classic Australian children's book, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Hopefully you can see why from the following illustration

    We seem to have more than our fair share of spiky plants, and this one is no exception

    All the newer estates have different themes and entrances etc. This is the one to my sister's estate. They also all have individual light posts.

    We ended up in the local shopping centre where there was a family fun day. From what I can gather it was being run in support of a local bikie club who were doing fundraising for Breast cancer awareness, hence all the pink. Loved these muppet style helmets! There were a good couple of hundred bikes and riders all up so it was an impressive display.

    Went past the local bookstore and this is part of their "If you liked Twilight" display of books. From what I can see the books in the second picture are Vampire Kisses, Blue Bloods and Masquerade. There was also another shelf that I thought I had included but apparently not!

    Who's keeping me company?

    One of the questions being asked as a Readathon mini-challenge is Who is Keeping You Company?

    I have to say that the conversation isn't that great, but this is my son as of about 15 minutes ago!

    Update #1

    Readathon hours elapsed: 8 hours
    Pages read: 100
    No. of hours slept: 7
    Time spent cheerleading: 10 mins
    Mini-challenges completed: 1

    Bethfishreads has a mini challenge where she wants to know what you have been snacking on to help you through readathon. The short answer for me is that I haven't had anything! I am just debating whether to have a smoothie for breakfast or whether I will just have toast. Decisions, decisions!

    Go me!

    Readathon Fail?

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    And we're off!

    It's time for readathon to start! After the false start, and the excitement of the build up on Twitter, I am....going to bed! Feels a bit like an anti climax, but never mind!

    But just have time to post the hour 1 meme.

    Where are you reading from today? I am reading from Melbourne, Australia. It is now 11pm on Saturday night so no chance of me making it all the way through all 24 hours.

    3 facts about me … I've been blogging for more than 4 years, I love historical fiction and I am currently watching English Premier League soccer as I type this up! I love watching EPL as a result of having spent 5 years living in the UK.

    How many books do you have in your TBR pile for the next 24 hours? At this stage five (see previous post)

    Do you have any goals for the read-a-thon (i.e. number of books, number of pages, number of hours, or number of comments on blogs)? My main goal is to have fun, and to try and get a good mix of reading, cheerleading and blogging in. I want to focus my cheerleading from approximately hour 18 as that is when it will be Sunday evening for me so I will be far more awake than a lot of people from other parts of the world

    If you’re a veteran read-a-thoner, Any advice for people doing this for the first time? Getting the starting time right always helps!

    Read-a-thon: The books

    As I am so far behind on my blog reading, I haven't seen everyone's piles of books for readathons, but I have seen a few, and I have to say there are some absolutely HUGE piles of books out there (yes, Eva, I am looking at you!)

    Now that I have a little time I can post about my planned reads. I am thinking that my pile is going to be a little more modest, and because I am lazy I haven't got a photo of it, but below are the books that I am going to try to read for the read-a-thon this weekend. The first two are books that I was already reading and so I would like to finish them:

    Last time I read one of the books in this series, I started it at about 10pm and read straight through until I finished it. I started this book last night, and read about 50 pages, so we will see how we go.

    I am also hope to read a graphic novel:

    And maybe this book, because I have heard that it is funny, so it would seem to be a good choice for the readathon

    I don't expect to get through all of those, especially given that I will be sleeping for the first 8 or so hours, babysitting my nephew in the morning and then planning to cheer later in the event, but we will see how it goes.

    Embarrassed? Moi?

    You would think that I would be used to the time differences around the world wouldn't you? That it would cross my mind that 10pm on Friday here is actually just Friday starting for most of the world, and NOT Saturday morning?

    So, I peaked a bit early in terms of the read-a-thon, and was all set up to start reading last night, even though read-a-thon doesn't start until 10pm on Saturday night my time. Doesn't really matter seeing as I was so tired that I ended up only reading 50 pages of my chosen read anyway!

    Starting at 10pm tonight actually means that my read-a-thon time is a bit clearer as well, although there is no way that I will be reading through the night.

    Is it just me, or does the word embarrassed always look as though it is spelt incorrectly?

    You would also think that I would have remembered that I did the same thing last year as well!

    Photo Credit: Tim Davis

    Friday, October 23, 2009


    It is less than 2 hours before readathon commences which means lots of blog posts to read, some reading and some cheering, or at least it would if my weekend hadn't suddenly got really, really busy!

    At this stage, I will be able to read for a while tonight, and then tommorrow morning for a few hours, but then I am going to a friends house tomorrow afternoon, and then to another friend's house for dinner, and would imagine that I will be getting back home around finishing time tomorrow night. So, I think I will get maybe 5 hours reading and cheering time and that's it.

    At this point, my plan will be to finish the two books that I am currently reading, and then we will see how we go. Maybe a graphic novel, and potentially a romance.

    In bad news, I think I have car trouble again. I have spent a fortune on my car this year, and I am thinking that I am going to have to spend more before the year is out.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown


    Washington DC: Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon is summoned at the last minute to deliver an evening lecture in the Capitol Building. Within moments of his arrival, however, a disturbing object – gruesomely encoded with five symbols – is discovered at the epicentre of the Rotunda. It is, he recognises, an ancient invitation, meant to beckon its recipient towards a long-lost world of hidden esoteric wisdom.

    When Langdon’s revered mentor, Peter Solomon – philanthropist and prominent mason – is brutally kidnapped, Langdon realizes that his only hope of saving his friend’s life is to accept this mysterious summons and follow wherever it leads him.

    Langdon finds himself quickly swept behind the facade of America’s most historic city into the unseen chambers, temples and tunnels which exist there. All that was familiar is transformed into a shadowy, clandestine world of an artfully concealed past in which Masonic secrets and never-before-seen revelations seem to be leading him to a single impossible and inconceivable truth.

    A brilliantly composed tapestry of veiled histories, arcane icons and enigmatic codes, The Lost Symbol is an intelligent, lightning-paced thriller that offers surprises at every turn. For, as Robert Langdon will discover, there is nothing more extraordinary or shocking than the secret which hides in plain sight…

    More than 5 years after the release of The Da Vinci Code, after all the controversy, after the court cases, the movies, documentaries and all the hype, the follow up book from Dan Brown was finally released a few weeks ago. I read both DVC and Angels and Demons prior to starting blogging so I don't have any reviews to look back on, but I do remember loving DVC when I read it, and having many interesting conversations with some work colleagues about it. Then I read Angels and Demons and thought that it was actually a better book. So where does this book sit compared the previous two Robert Langdon novels?

    Before I answer that question, I would like to make a few observations.

    Robert Langdon is kind of like a college professor version of James Bond. In each book, there are the chases, the hi tech gadgetry references scattered through the story, and the willing, attractive female companion. All he is missing really is the martini and the tuxedo, but I am sure that if Dan Brown could manufacture the right situation that could happen, albeit reluctantly.

    Dan Brown (or whoever) obviously does a lot of research about lots of very interesting topics. I have no idea if he left any of the research out, but it certainly felt a lot like if he found out something then into the book it went. Some of the information was interesting (for example the origins of the word sincerely which I shared in the Teaser Tuesday post), but other times it was too much info dump. Given how much happens in the space of just a few hours at times it was easy to get lost with all the information and events going on.

    One thing that Brown does do well is to write short, sharp chapters, generally with some kind of hook at the end that makes you want to keep reading. Some of the plot devices he uses are completely over the top (for example, there is a Star Wars moment (you know, "Luke, I am your father" reveal) and times when you think you know what is happening to a character but you really are about to be blinded by science or improbability), but you do want to keep reading to see what happens next.

    After the success of his earlier books, you could do tours of the various locations so that you could walk in the shoes of Robert Langdon and see the various monuments, art and buildings that he saw. Dan Brown certainly is good at inspiring you to want to see those places for yourself, and I have to say that this book is no different. I would love to go to Washington and see the various locations in the book. I would have loved to before reading this book, but certainly the desire to spend time at places like The Smithsonian Institute and Library of Congress has grown as a result of doing so.

    Once again Brown starts off with a blanket statement "All organisations in this novel exist, including the Freemasons, the Invisible College, the Office of Security, the SMSC, and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. All rituals, science, artwork and monuments in this novel are real." Further on in the book he mentions that the Freemasons would never talk about their organisation or their rituals. I guess that the one thing that guarantees is that at the very least, there isn't going to be the kind of backlash that there was from the Church to the previous books. I do have to wonder what secret organisation will be the subject of his next book.

    The hard thing for me to gauge now as a reader is this. If I had of read this book five years ago, would I have enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. The short answer is I don't know. Or maybe another question should be if I was to reread either of the previous books would I feel the same amount of enjoyment as I did the first time around. Again, I don't know the answer to that question either. When I don't have hundreds of books lying around waiting to read for the first time maybe I will get around to rereading these two books to find out.

    What I can tell you is that I didn't close this book with the same sense of satisfaction as I did with the two previous Robert Langdon books, and it felt a lot like hard work slogging my way through the codes, symbols, science and mythology that makes up so much of the story in this book.

    Reading back over this, I have just realised that I haven't mentioned anything about the plot really which makes this more of a reaction than a review, but never mind. If you have read either of the previous two Robert Langdon novels, then you have a fair idea of what to expect.

    Rating 3.5/5

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    Library Loot

    Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and me that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

    Before I share my loot, I would like to give a big shout out to a couple of people who not only shared their Library Loot for the first time a couple of weeks ago, but who are also new to book blogging! Welcome to Library Loot to Kayleigh from The Inkwell and Debilyn from Debilyn Reads.

    For the second time in the last couple of months I had no loot to share last week, but luckily I did make it to the library to pick up a few books this week. At the moment, my list of library books out looks relatively healthy - I am down to less than 50 which is pretty good for me!

    The books I picked up this week were:

    Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - Have to say the cover on this one looks much better in real life that it does on the net.

    Virgin River by Robyn Carr - I have been thinking about reading this contemporary romance series for ages, but for the longest time my library didn't have any of the books. Now that has changed, and I think that most of them are available now.

    Churchill's Hour by Michael Dobbs - This is the third out of a series of four books about Winston Churchill during WWII, and the last book in the series that I need to read.

    A Distant Shore by Peter Yeldham - Reloot. I loved Peter Yeldham's book, Barbed Wire and Roses, and so it is my intention to read through the other books from this Australian author.

    When the Duke Returns by Eloisa James - Next book in the Desperate Duchesses series

    First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh - Reloot. I have pretty much lost track of how many times I have borrowed this book. One of these days I will actually read it!

    So, how about you? What loot have you picked up in the last week? Add your link to Mr Linky below so that we can come and have a sticky beak to see what you have out from the library at the moment.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Teaser Tuesday and word origins

    Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read

  • Open to a random page

  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • Last week for my Teaser Tuesday I mentioned that I might have to do a teaser from the same book twice - oh the mortification. This week I am doing a teaser from the same book as last week because I still haven't finished reading The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown. It isn't truly a teaser though in some ways because I have specifically chosen a section to share (which I don't normally do) and it is more than 2 sentences, but I did think it was a fun little piece of information so that is why I am choosing to share it this week. This quote comes from page 356-356:

    Since the days of Michelangelo, sculptors had been hiding the flaws in their work by smearing hot wax into the cracks and then dabbing the wax with stone dust. The method was considered cheating, and therefore, any sculpture "without wax" - literally sin cera - was considered a "sincere" piece of art. The phrase stuck. To this day we still sign our letters "sincerely" as a promise that we have written "without wax" and that our words are true.

    I also will do a true Teaser Tuesday teaser from one of the other books I started this week, The Kingmaking by Helen Hollick. I have to read Pendragon's Banner before the end of the month for a blog tour, but I didn't want to read that book without haveing read this one first, even though I am assured that it wouldn't make a big difference to my reading experience! This teaser comes from page 375:

    It tooks five days for Fidelia to discover more. Five days of walking with her man on the hills, of pretendng to enjoy helping with those stinking sheep. Steering the conversation, probing and questioning, she found answers as hard to come by as wild strawberries in midwinter.

    The Tudor Rose by Margaret Campbell Barnes

    One woman holds the key to England's most glorious empire

    Elizabeth of York, the only living descendant of Edward IV, possesses the most precious thing in all of England - a legitimate claim to the crown. Two princes meet to determine a country's destiny: whoever wins will take Britain's most rightful heir as his bride and her kingdom for his own. On one side is her uncle Richard, the last Plantagenet King, whom she fears to be the murderer of her two brother's the would-be kings. On the other hand is Henry Tudor, the exiled king. Can he save her from a horrifying marriage to a cuthroat soldier.
    Her mother was the beautiful woman who secretly captured a king's heart. Her father was a charismatic and handsome king whose brother was a loyal general, but who took the throne for his own. Her younger brothers disappeared in one of the enduring mysteries of the ages.

    There are times when a book has a main character who just can't carry a story on their own, and for me, this book is one of those. Whilst Elizabeth of York was very important in her time, particularly as a marriageable young princess, she must have been a bit difficult to write about because in some ways it seem as though the interesting things happened around her instead of her being an active participant. Her story is interesting given the events that happened to people around her and her early life, but certainly her marriage appeared very much to be one of duty and is portrayed as being very lonely, despite the attempts from Henry's mother to welcome her into the family. Henry's mother is portrayed as a loving mother-in-law when everything else I have read about her suggests that she was controlling and overbearing. Elizabeth's own mother, Elizabeth Woodville doesn't come out of this portrayal too badly given the reputation that has carried through the ages.

    Much of the content of the book revolves around what happened to the Princes in the Tower, as well as the two pretenders. One of the positives of this book for me is the way that the story of Perkin Warbeck is told. My interest has certainly been piqued, and I am definitely looking for more to read about him, and his life.

    The other dominating character in the novel is that of Richard III - a love him or hate him kind of guy if ever there was such a thing! Many people are either strongly pro or strongly anti Richard, and there are many novels where you can clearly see the author's personal bias in the characterisation that they choose. In this novel it is almost as though Barnes tried to be even handed when it came to Richard III but instead comes off as inconsistent.

    As we follow Elizabeth through her life we get brief glimpses of her children, the ill fated heir, Arthur and the dashingly sporty and handsome Henry but for me the book ends at a very strange point, very abruptly, and I think that this has flavoured my final rating of the book.

    I received an ARC of this book from Sourcebooks. I have no idea if the blurb above ended up being the blurb on the final book but I really hope not! I am pretty sure that Elizabeth's sisters were living descendants of Edward IV, and I don't think Henry Tudor was an 'exiled king' when she married him.

    Over the last couple of years I have been lucky enough to read a couple of Margaret Campbell Barnes' books that have been being republished by Sourcebooks. This was an okay read, but not as good as either Brief Gaudy Hour (about Anne Boleyn) or My Lady of Cleves (about Anne of Cleves). I am on the lookout for The King's Fool though, and if I can find them, will definitely read more from this author. I believe that another of the author's books is due to be rereleased next year.

    I was interested to see on Fantastic Fiction that they have grouped Brief Gaudy Hour and My Lady of Cleves together with this book as part of a trilogy called Shadows of the Crown. Whilst the Tudor connection was obvious, I hadn't actually seen this title for the group of books before.

    I'm glad that I have read this, but if I was asked to recommend a book by this author, I would start with one of the others.

    Rating 3.5/5

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Spotlight on Fiona Buckley

    I'm late! I'm late! Before I had even written the post for the letter A as part of the Crime Fiction Alphabet being hosted by Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise, I knew what I was going to write about for the letter B. You would think that that would make it more likely that I would actually get around to posting it on time wouldn't you? Unfortunately not, but I thought I would still write the post for my own entertainment anyway. It will probably end up being cross posted at Historical Tapestry at some point as well!

    Now I have to try to think about what I can possible post about for the letter C!

    For a long time now, a look at the historical fiction shelves will reveal that one of the most popular eras in historical fiction is the Tudor period, particularly the life and times of Henry VIII and his daughter Elizabeth I. This fascination is understandable - scandalous love lives, religious upheaval and dramatic events in world history all are factors in the fascination that readers have with these times.

    Those factors are part of what makes the Ursula Blanchard series of novels by Fiona Buckley an entertaining read.

    Full name Ursula Faldene Blanchard de la Roche Stannard, our introduction to Ursula is when she is a young widow who has recently arrived in the court of Elizabeth I. She needs to provide for her young daughter, Meg, as well as her servants. It isn't long before William Cecil has Ursula working for him in a variety of roles, placing her both in danger, but also in situations where she can show her resourcefulness and resolve.

    There is definitely some similarity in tone and broad themes to Karen Harper's Elizabeth I mysteries series, but one of the key differences is that Ursula is not restricted to the court as Elizabeth I, as sleuth, needs to be for the most part. Being able to travel around means that Ursula is able to investigate events such as the death of Robert Dudley's wife (The Robsart Mystery) and various Catholic (The Doublet Affair) and aristocratic plots (To Ruin a Queen). Along the way, Ursula interacts with Catherine, Queen of France (The Queen's Ransom), Mary, Queen of Scots (A Pawn for a Queen and The Fugitive Queen) and also finds time to live her own life as well including dealing with deaths, marriages and raising a young girl to womanhood.

    Like many other historical mysteries series, there are times when Ursula is too modern, and there are some things that happen that I didn't really like, but the positives outweigh those criticisms.

    At this point in time, there doesn't appear to be any new Ursula Blanchard books due to be published, which is disappointing. Fiona Buckley is however the pen name for Valerie Anand who writes historical fiction/fantasy, and she has at least one long running series that I will try at some point.

    I did find that this series started slowly, but the books did improve and the last few were very entertaining. I started reading this series before I started blogging so I don't have reviews for all of them, but I have provided the links where possible. The series in order is:

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

    Thursday, October 15, 2009


    I really love this song from, I guess it's the early 90s, maybe late 80s.

    I was watching something on one of the music channels last night, and Sam Brown was performing, and I just had to come and search out this song! Love it!

    The only problem with this song is that whenever I hear it I always really want to sing a long, at the top of my voice, but it isn't exactly the easiest song to sing along with in tune! Oh well.

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Winston's War by Michael Dobbs

    Winston's War is a masterful blending of imagination and compelling fact that places the reader at the right hand of the most momentous events in our history.

    Saturday 1 October 1938. Two men meet. One is elderly, the other in his twenties. One will become the most revered man of his time, and the other known as the greatest of traitors.

    Winston Churchill met Guy Burgess at a moment when the world was about to explode. Now in his astonishing new novel, Michael Dobbs throws brilliant fresh light upon Churchill's relationship with the Soviet spy and the twenty months of conspiracy, chance and outright treachery that were to propel Churchill from outcast to messiah and change the course of history.
    Winston's War opens in October 1938. Winston Churchill is a man on the outer with his political companions, Hitler has just annexed part of Czechoslovakia and Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has just returned home from talks with the Fuhrer declaring that he has obtained 'peace with honour, peace for our times'.

    We are given several different view points throughout the novel, starting with Churchill and Chamberlain and their political allies as well as the barber who goes about the business of cutting and shaving whilst the very important men go about their business almost oblivious to the barber.

    Another is from Guy Burgess, a man who worked as a journalist for the BBC, and whose paths crossed with those of Churchill on several occasions. I don't want to give too much away about Burgess, but he lived a very notorious life, and as a reader you are never quite sure where his loyalties lie, other than to himself. He is a degenerate character but completely key to this fictionalisation of the events in the twenty month period covered by the novel.

    One of the other perspectives is from a post mistress in Bournemouth. I must confess that as I read the novel I wasn't sure about this final storyline as I couldn't see how it connected to the main plot, but in the end the author I didn't need to be worried due to a couple of different events. Whilst many of the interconnections between the various characters are obvious others are more subtle, but in the end the connections are there.

    As much as this is a novel about the momentum towards and the beginning of WWII, including leaving the people of Poland and Czechoslovakia to defend themselves despite promised assistance, it is also a novel about the political machinations of the British parliament. There are shady deals, immoral behaviour, spies, betrayal, blackmail and misdirection to the British people through the newspapers of the day. The constant battle to maintain power and to keep political enemies out of positions of power dominates, even when those enemies might be parliamentary colleagues from your own party! One of the more interesting examples is around a Scottish MP, Duchess of Atholl, Katharine Stewart-Murray, who vehemently opposed Chamberlain's policy of appeasement and who found herself forced out of Parliament.

    One of the most striking things about this novel for me was the reminder of how much there is that is not necessarily commonly known even when we are only a couple of generations away from the events, particularly for those of us who do not profess to be scholars of a particular period. For example, some of the most enduring images of WWII are the bombed out homes in London from the Blitz, or say the evacuation from Dunkirk, the damage done in France, Belgium and Holland. It is easy to forget that from the time that war was declared against Germany, there were many months where there was very little actual fighting, although there was plenty of political infighting going on.

    I should say that this book was not an easy read. At times it was dense with the political machinations and plotting, more political thriller than my more standard historical fiction maybe, but it was definitely worth taking the time to read.

    As anyone who has read my blog for any length of time will probably be aware, I really, really do not like to read a series out of order. It may be something of a surprise then to find that this is the third book in the Winston Churchill series by Michael Dobbs that I have read, despite the fact that it is the first book in the series. I have now read books 1, 2 and 4. The reason this happened is that I was originally given review copies of both Never Surrender and Churchill's Triumph from Sourcebooks a couple of years ago. I always intended to go back and read the other books in the series, but every time I borrowed this book from the library I had to take it back unread. I was determined that this time, I was going to read it, and now I have. I should confess though it is overdue by more than a week at the library so that I could finally read it! The third book is on request and I hope to read it soon.

    I read this book as part of the War Through the Generations challenge hosted by Anna and Serena.

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    Teaser Tuesday

    Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

  • Grab your current read

  • Open to a random page

  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
    BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

  • I am in such a reading slump at the moment, I was very nearly going to have to find a teaser from the same book as last week. Luckily, I read the last few pages at lunchtime. I don't normally read at lunch time because I am always a bit worried about losing track of time!

    My teaser this week comes from the book I started on the train trip home, Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol (page 348):

    On Sato's command, the pilot performed a "touch hover" on the roof of the tallest building around - the renowned One Franklin Square - a towering and prestigious office building with two gold spires on top. The maneuver was illegal, of course, but the chopper was there only a few seconds, and its skids barely touched the gravel rooftop.

    Now if only I knew who Sato was!

    I have only finished two books so far this month - unheard of for me. Normally I read 13 or 14 books, if not more, every month, but I think it is fair to say that it is not going to be anywhere near that many this month.