Sunday, February 28, 2010

TSS: February reading round up

This week's unofficial Sunday Salon post is my February reading round up, although I am still wondering how on earth can it possibly be the end of February already. I know it is a short month, but it really should still only be near the middle of the month, maybe the 21st, not the end of the month.

The biggest casualty of the fact that the end of the month is upon us is my LOTR Readalong book, The Fellowship of the Ring. My intention was to read 100 pages a week, but I am still stuck on page 160 having not read anything for a couple of weeks at least! And, I haven't even requested the next book from the library so it isn't like I would be ready for the next month's readalong anyway!

So, if I haven't been reading the Tolkien book, what have I been reading? This month I read 12 books, which is not bad, especially considering that two of those books were chunksters.

The books I read were:

If His Kiss Is Wicked by Jo Goodman (4.5/5)
Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex (4/5)
First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh (4/5)
A Distant Shore by Peter Yeldham (4.5/5)
Tears of Pearl by Tasha Alexander (3/5)
Graceling by Kristin Cashore (4.5/5)
Emma Vol 2 by Kaoru Mori (4/5)
Remember When by Nora Roberts/J D Robb
Roses by Leila Meacham (4.5/5)
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (5/5)
Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig (4/5)
Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland (4/5)

And how did I go with my challenges?

I had several books which covered multiple challenges this month. I love it when that happens! The book that I read for the Year of the Historical challenge was Jo Goodman's If His Kiss Is Wicked (excellent dialogue) also qualified for the Romance  Reading Challenge as did First Comes Marriage.

The books that I read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this month were Leonardo's Swans, Roses, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily and Mistress of the Sun. I am making good progress through the Historical Fiction Reading challenge having read 6 of the 20 books required to get to the Obsessed level of achievement. Karen Essex's Leonardo's Swans also qualified for the Tournament of Reads (just), and Mistress of the Sun for the French Historical Challenge.

I am happy to report that I am still doing okay on the Aussie Authors reading challenge. This month I read A Distant Shore by Peter Yeldham, and I am currently over half way through Lord Sunday by Garth Nix, the final book in the Keys to the Kingdom YA series.

So far I have read 27 books for the 100+ Reading challenge and 22 books for the Support Your Local Reading Challenge. I did notice that there is new reading challenge called 100 Books in a Year that is being hosted by Reading with Sea which runs from March 2010 to February 2011. I am still deciding whether to sign up or not for that challenge. It does seem to be a duplication 100+ challenge that I am already participating in, but covers a different period, so I might still sign up.

I made a start on the Chunkster Challenge this month by reading Roses by Leila Meacham and The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (excellent, excellent book). Roses also qualified for the Pub 2010 challenge.

I also read a book for the In Death Reading Challenge. Remember When is a bit of a strange book really. The first half of the book is written in the style of Nora Roberts, and the second half is J D Robb featuring Eve Dallas from the In Death books. Nora Roberts and J D Robb are the same person writing under different names but it was still a bit strange to read.

The challenges that I didn't make any progress on this month include the Harry Potter Reading Challenge, the Vampire Series Challenge (which I kind of surprising - a whole month without reading a vampire novel. I can't remember the last time that happened), the Tudor Book Challenge, the L J Smith reading challenge and also my own Terry Pratchett Reading Challenge. I am planning to put a post up for the Terry Pratchett Challenge this week. Actually, I have been planning that for a while now, but this week I will actually do it!

No progress on these challenges doesn't stop me from joining new challenges. This time I am joining Carrie at Books and Movies in her Ireland Reading Challenge. It runs from February to November and I am planning to meet the Luck O' the Irish level of achievement by reading 4 novels that are either set in Ireland, written by Irish authors or involving Irish history or Irish characters

Sign of the times?

I was driving around various places in the car today, when this song, Send Me an Angel by Real Life came on. As I tend to do, I start singing along. About halfway through the song my son asked me what the words are.

Send me an angel
Send me an angel
Right now
Right now

Ohhh, says the boy. I thought it was saying send me an email right now.

I have no idea if I knew this back in 1983, but I certainly didn't realise now that this was an Aussie band so I have no idea how many people would even know this song. Given that I have been singing it all night, it is only fair to share!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: F is for French

Not F for French as in someone from France, but F for French, as in Jackie French, who is a very prolific Australian YA author! She writes all sorts of novels, including some adult novels, YA historical fiction, straight YA novels, non fiction and picture books. And that adds up to good news for me as I work my way slowly through at least some of her backlist!

I am going to post about my impressions of The Night They Stormed Eureka by Jackie French.

Here is the book blurb:

It's 1854 and, on the Ballarat goldfields, men are willing to risk their lives to find freedom and make their fortunes in the mine.

Sam, a homeless teenager, is called back to the past to join the Puddlehams, who run 'the best little cook shop on the diggings'. The Puddlehams dream of buying a hotel with velvet seats, while others dream of freedom from the government with its corrupt officials and brutal soldiers.

As the summer days get hotter, and the miners' protests are ignored with catastrophic results, Sam experiences first-hand the power of a united stand, which will change her life forever.

Jackie French's fresh look at an event entrenched in our nation heritage will touch and surprise every reader.

First an introduction. I had heard of Jackie French, but must confess that I often would get her confused with an Australian actress called Jackie Weaver. Last year, I participated in Book Smugglers YA Appreciation month, and asked for recommendations for YA historical fiction, and for YA by Australian authors. It must have been while I was visiting other participants that I discovered that Jackie French who met both criteria, and so I had to request a book from the library catalogue by her!

What I didn't realise when I first requested the book, is that this was actually a time travel novel. When we first meet Sam, she is a very unhappy, lonely teenage runaway. She is hiding in the cemetery and finds herself curled up on a gravestone of a couple called the Puddlehams. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a very different time and place - the Victorian Goldfields during the 1850s.

The goldfields are no place for a young girl, and Sam soon finds herself pretending to be a boy, and being taken under the wing of Mr and Mrs Puddleham. Mr Puddleham used to be a butler for Queen Victoria before he followed Mrs Puddleham to Australia. They quickly realised that they wouldn't make their fortune by panning for gold, but rather that they could make enough money to follow their dreams by running a cookshop on the diggings, or rather, the best cookshop on the diggings.

Sam is soon drafted in to help in the cookshop, and soon begins to make friends - not only with the Puddlehams, but also with the eccentric former professor, and a local half-caste boy. She finds it difficult to equate some of the things that happen to her friends with her 21st century experience.

The goldfields were a very volatile place with corruption and violence rife, and with tensions rising, it was only a matter of time before there would be trouble. Sam knows what tragedy is coming, and she hopes to keep those that she loves from being caught up. With the principles of freedom and justice at stake though, it is difficult and Sam finds herself at the encampment as the time approaches for the confrontation between the miners and the authorities.

The Eureka Stockade is one of the iconic events of Australian history. Whilst the actual stockade wasn't a success, the events that occurred there were the catalyst for change that helped build the foundations of Australian society particularly in terms of the right for non land owners to vote (just the men at this point). It was also where the Eureka flag was used for the first time as a banner to rally around. Even today, the Eureka flag is used by some of the trade unions as a symbol.

Whilst Sam brings us a bird's eye view of the events that lead up to the Eureka Stockade, she is also learning valuable life lessons like being able to ask for help when you need it, and about learning to love, and to accept love from others, but not without having to deal with sorrow along the way.

I definitely intend to read more from Jackie French. I am starting with a series about animals being present at major events in history. The first book in that series, The Goat Who Travelled the World is on my TBR pile to get to soon, and is about a goat that travels with the First Fleet to Australia (or New South Wales as it was known then).

Not only does this book qualify as my read for this letter in the Alphabet in Historical Fiction, it also qualifies as one of my reads for the Aussie Author Challenge, the Year of the Historical Challenge, and the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Library Loot - February 25 to March 3

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!
It is awesome to see how many people are sharing their loot with us on a regular basis! If you would like to share your loot this week, leave your link in Mr Linky below:

My library catalogue is down, so I can't check to be 100% sure that I haven't forgotten anything I borrowed, but I am pretty sure I only picked up items once this week, and those items were:

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake - I love reading books that are set against a background of war, so when I first heard about this book, it was added to my TBR list immediately. It has taken my library a while to get it in, but it finally arrived!

Fire by Kristin Cashmore - I read Graceling by this author a few weeks ago. I have heard that this book is even better so I am excited at the prospect of reading it!

Golden Rule by Powderfinger- I was little late coming to Powderfinger, but I do enjoy listening to them now. Their early albums were released when I was overseas. I have no idea whether they have made it big outside of Australia or not. This is their latest album.

Just for fun, here is the video for All of the Dreamers, the first single off of Golden Rule.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

I am glad to be FINALLY reading this book! I borrowed it originally about 18 months ago, and then never actually managed to read it. Since then I have borrowed it again, and again, and again, but each time I couldn't quite get around to reading it. This week I had to return some books and as I was looking at my list I thought there was no way I could return and reborrow this book again, so this one stayed and the others went back!

This week's teaser comes from page 235 of Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland:

The eight young men - all from fine families - would be tried and condemned. They had found the means to flee (such was their privilege), but upon sentence of death they would never be able to set foot in the country again.

Teaser Tuesday is host by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

TSS: Reading Chunksters

This week I found myself reading two chunksters at the same time.

Maybe I should explain the word found. In order to keep track of my library books, I keep a spreadsheet which tells me how many renewals I have left for each book, along with what date the books are due back (yes, I know I am a nerd. I have several other spreadsheets that I could tell you about too, but I won't!)  It just so happened that the two books I was reading were due back within two days of each other and so I ended up reading them both at the same time.

I love reading chunksters. There's just something about a really big book that I just love, and this started when I was really very young. I remember being very proud of myself when I was 6 or 7 and I had read The Wind in the Willows all by myself. In my memory the book was very thick, but I realise now that it probably had very big writing, or a lot of pictures because when I looked at a copy a while ago it really wasn't all that long but to my child's eye it was a massive tome!

Fast forward to my late teens, once I started working I would go to the bookshop at least once a week (usually more often)  and I would often choose books to buy based on how big they were. Authors such as Nelson DeMille, James Michener, John Jakes and Noel Barber (all of whom I am intending to read again some day were on my list to buy). Move forward another 15 years and more chunkster authors like Diana Gabaldon and Paullina Simons have joined the list.

Looking at my pile of books to be read and there are quite a few big thick books that are waiting to be picked up, although I don't think that I pick up books that often any more just because they are huge. I am more likely to pick a book because I have heard good things about it, and it just happens to be a chunkster, or because they are authors who I have read previously. Even without going out of my way to find chunksters, enough still find me to be able to having completed the Chunkster Challenge for the last few years, and these two books give me a good start for this year's challenge.

I know that not everyone loves big books, but I do! How about you? Do you like chunksters or do you avoid them? Does a chunkster strike fear in your heart or excitement?

If you would like to see which books I was reading this week then check out my Teaser Tuesday post.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

He's always been trouble...

Trevelyan and Callie are childhood sweethearts with a taste for adventure, until the fateful day her father discovers them embracing in the carriage house and, in a furious frenzy, drives Trevelyan away in disgrace...

Exactly the kind of trouble she's never been able to resist...

Nine long, lonely years later, Trevelyan returns. Callie discovers that he can still make her blood race and fill her life with excitement, but he can't give her the one thing she wants more than anything—himself.

For Trevelyan, Callie is a spark of light in a world of darkness and deceit. Before he can bear to say his last goodbyes, he's determined to sweep her into one last, fateful adventure, just for the two of them.

There was great excitement when it was announced that Laura Kinsale had a new book coming out this year. I was pleased because she is a big name in historical romance circles in particular, but personally I wasn't truly excited mainly because I have only read one of her books previously, albeit one of the classics - Flowers from the Storm. I am thinking that I am going to be more excited when we get news of the next book from Laura Kinsale, and now it is my intention to read through as much of her backlist as possible.

Lady Callie Tallefaire is the daughter of a duke, but at the age of 27, and having been jilted by fiances three times, she is resigned to the fact that she is never going to be married. Her cousin is now the duke, and his insufferable wife duchess, and Callie is waiting for the day when her younger sister marries so that she can move out with them. Callie is somewhat unique amongst her class. She is a lady, but she is also intensely passionate about her animals, in particular her prize bull, Hubert.

As youngsters, Callie was often caught up in escapades and adventures with her neighbour, Trevelyn d'Augustin. Trevelyn is a French emigre whose family escaped from The Terror with little more than the clothes on their back. However, when Callie and Trevelyn are caught in a somewhat intimate situation by her father, Trev is banished, returning to France ostensibly to try to regain his family's lands.

After ten years, Trev has returned, and he is completely surprised to find that Callie is not yet married with children, and finds that the feelings that he once had for her are not as dead as he thought. Trev has returned to visit his sick mother, but in so many ways he is not anything like he initially seemed. I am very much a hero-centric romance reader, and in this book I was not disappointed. Gradually we get to know the man that Trev has become as a result of the life he has experienced, and it is fair to say that he hasn't been living an elegant, or gentlemanly, life while he has been away.

Being the unmarried cousin to the current duke means that Callie is subject to the whims of her cousin and his wife. She is devastated when she finds out that he has sold her prize bull to one of her former suitors, Major Sturgeon, just before she is about to exhibit Hubert at the local show. It is to Trev that she turns in her despair, and there begins a series of misadventures featuring the two of them.

There is a definite sexual chemistry between Trev and Callie, but there is an underlying feeling of yearning, particular on Trev's part. He is a man used to thinking on his feet. His plans quite often don't necessarily work out as he intended, but he improvises as necessary, with often funny results, particularly as he leads Callie into some unlikely situations.

He is ,however, not what he seems, and neither Callie or his mother have any idea of exactly what is going on in his life until the very end of the novel. If there is a weakness with this novel, it is the ending. Suddenly we find out exactly how dangerous it is for Trev to have returned to England to see his ailing mother, and for him to remain there because of his attachment to Callie, and also some explanation of why Callie has been so unlucky in love for all these years. All's well that ends well I guess.

I loved how unusual some of Trev's past experiences have been and how they have influenced him, and I loved how certain he was in his feelings for Callie. Yes, he may have been tempted to walk away from Callie, but not because he didn't love her, but because he did love her and he knew what her life may have been had she stuck with him.

Callie wasn't quite as well defined for me. Whilst so many romance heroines are described as spirited (particularly the red haired ones who are so prevalent in historical romances) often they can be a bit too modern, or a bit too clever. There's no doubt that Callie was intelligent, and she did have unusual interests for a woman of her time, but she did still seem to fit her time in terms of setting.

This novel is a welcome return from Laura Kinsale, and one that I enjoyed very much. Whilst the story was funny (with a touch of slapstick at times) and somewhat light, there were also well developed characters with interesting back stories, and plenty of depth lying just under the surface waiting to be discovered.

This is my first read for the 2010 Pub Challenge, and also counts for my Romance Reading challenge.

Thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a copy of this book for review.

Rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Library Loot - February 18 to 25

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's Library Loot could be subtitled "The Romance Edition" as I seem to have got most of the romances that I had requested all come in on hold at once!

Eva is back from hiatus and will have the Mr Linky this week.

Here's my loot for this week:

A Notorious Love by Sabrina Jeffries - I am now at the point with Sabrina Jeffries where I have read all of the complete series that the library has, and now I am just working my way through the bits and pieces. After that I will have to try and find the books that are missing!

The Truth About Lord Stoneville by Sabrina Jeffries - Luckily while I am working through the backlist that my library has, they are still ordering the new books that she comes out with. This is the first book in the newest series.

Emma Vol 3 by Kaoru Mori
- This is the next book in the Emma manga series.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher - Book number 5 in the Harry Dresden series.

A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James - Next book in the Desperate Duchess series.

Lonely Planet: Rarotonga & The Cook Islands - I am planning to take a trip next year. It will be the first time I have been out of Australia for 11 and a half years by then, and I will so be ready for an overseas holiday. I am thinking about a South Pacific island somewhere, and one of my friends has good things to say about Cook Islands so I am starting to have a look and see if that might be somewhere for my friends and I to go.

I also ended up buying a couple of books for 10 cents each tonight. There was no way I could walk past the table of books for sale and leave an Elizabeth Chadwick book there, even though I have already read it, or a Dorothy Dunnett book, which I may never read! So now I need to find room for Children of Destiny and To Lie with Lions on my bookshelf!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - Two Teaser from chunksters

It's been a while since I read a true chunkster, but suddenly I am not reading one only, but two at the same time.

The first teaser comes from page 21 of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Ness Rothfuss.

As he shouldered his travelsack and satchel, Chronicler found himself feeling remarkably lighthearted. The worst had happened, and it hadn't been that bad.

The other chunkster that I am reading is a saga spanning generations of three families - one of my favourite types of read. The teaser comes from page 1 of Roses by Leila Meacham, and certainly caught my attention straight away!

He searched her expression for indications that age had finally affected her faculties, but she stared back with all the clear eyed acuity for which she was renowned. Working saliva into his mouth, he asked,"Is this codicil for real, Mary? You've sold the farms and changed your will?"

Teaser Tuesday is host by Miz B at Should Be Reading. Head on over to find out all about it, and how to join in!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TSS: Three books out on the town

I don't know about you all, but I tend to be a bit of an unofficial librarian to my friends. When we meet up, they return books that I have lent to them, and I bring them new books to read. For the most part this is an arrangement that everyone is happy with and given that they are pretty reliable at returning the books to me eventually I don't mind lending them out. Most of the time, my biggest issue is trying to remember who has already read which books!

Last night my friends and I went for cocktails at the local casino which is on the river front in Melbourne. One of those friends returned five books to me. Another friend borrowed two of the returned books meaning I was left with a carry bag with three books in it.

The casino was one of the places where there were big celebrations as part of the Chinese New Year. While we were having cocktails, there were dragons dancing through the casino, food stalls on the riverbank and lots of Chinese lanterns everywhere, with people in costume and drummers and lots of people around, so much so that it took us a several attempts to find a restaurant where we could eat before 11 o'clock at night. Fortunately we got into the seafood restaurant where we have eaten before and all enjoy, and once again the food was awesome! Some time spent in the casino playing roulette was followed by some time in the sports bar listening to live music and spending time out on the balcony with my smoking friends. And all the while I am still carrying around the bag with my three books in!

Thinking about it, the characters of two of the books might have felt right at home on a girl's night out (Jill Mansell's An Offer You Can't Refuse and Miranda's Big Mistake) but I am not sure what Bess de Montacute, the main female character from Susan Higginbotham's Hugh and Bess would have thought of it all! Life in 21st century Melbourne might be a little different than 14th century England.

Do you find yourself carting books around no matter where you are and what you are doing? Maybe the question should be where don't you take a book? And for another question, should I buy a whole bottle of Peach Schnapps just so I can make Bellinis occasionally?

On another note, Bookwordlover from Booklover Book Reviews has very graciously awarded me the One Lovely Blog Award! Thanks so much!

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex

At the end of last year I was chatting with Allie from Hist-fic Chick and we agreed to set each other a book to read. This book was the book that she chose for me. In many ways I was quite lucky because Allie chose a book for me that was set in an era that I already know I enjoy! It is also a perfect choice for the letter E in Historical Tapestry's Alphabet in Historical Fiction

Here's what Allie has to say about why she chose this book for me.

Back in September during Book Blogger Appreciation Week, I was interviewed by Marie of The Burton Review. During the interview, I was asked all sorts of questions about my preferences in historical fiction, one of which asked "What are some of the periods/eras that you have yet to read about but are very interested in?" Part of my response indicated that, while I am fascinated by The Wars of the Roses, I have yet to actually read any historical fiction that takes place during that action-packed period. So Marg issued a friendly "challenge" to me: to read the epic 944 page volume The Sunne in Splendour: A Novel of Richard III by Sharon Kay Penman. In return, I was to choose a book for her to read. But this proved to be a daunting task, as Marg has been blogging about historical fiction and books in general for much longer than I have, and has thus already read many of the recommendations I came up with! My go-to recommendation is usually the Josephine Bonaparte trilogy by Sandra Gulland, and sure enough, she'd read it! So I thought back further through history a little bit and recalled another one of my favorite subjects, Leonardo da Vinci.

Readers who aren't as familiar with Renaissance Italy are usually surprised to learn that Leonardo was the quintessential Renaissance man; not only an incredibly talented painter, but also a philosopher, engineer, scientist, inventor, and mathematician, patronized by the greatest rulers of his day not just for his artwork, but for his genius war machines that were centuries ahead of their time. Back in the 15th century, he was even mapping out sketches of "flying machines" (helicopters) and submarines! Needless to say, Leonardo da Vinci has always been a fascination of mine. And I knew that Marg had enjoyed Robin Maxwell's Signora da Vinci, which told a fictionalized account of da Vinci's mother Caterina. So I had to recommend that she read Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex, a book that takes place later on in his life and tells of Leonardo's time at the court of the Duke of Milan, delving a bit further into Leonardo's obsessive nature as an artist and thinker who sought perfection and beauty in everything he applied himself to. I really learned a lot about history and about da Vinci's character by reading this book, and it encouraged me to research and find out more about him. I hope reading this book has inspired Marg in a similar way!

You can read Allie's review of this book here. Thanks Allie for challenging me to read this book.

Worldly and ambitious, Isabella d'Este is a legendary beauty and when she weds the Marquis of Mantua all her dreams seem to come true. Superior in looks and intellect to her sister, Beatrice, Isabella believes she is destined to rule the courts of Italy. But when Isabella meets her sister's betrothed - Ludovico, the Duke of Milan - she finds herself unaccountably drawn to this charismatic, dangerous man. The two sisters fight for Ludovico's affections and to be immortalised by his court painter, Leonardo da Vinci. But in a treacherous political climate, immortality through art becomes a luxury, and the two sisters must choose between loyalty and survival.

Over the last few years, I have read a few novels that are set in the Renaissance and feature some of the more interesting names from history - Leonardo da Vinci, the Borgias, the de Medicis, the priest Savaronola to name a few. It is interesting to read each novel which are usually featuring different main characters and have them comment on the same events.

In this book, the main characters are Isabella d'Este, her sister Beatrice and her husband Ludovico Sforza (known as Il Moro), as well as many appearances by Leonardo. Isabella is the oldest daughter of the Duke of Ferraro, one of the key families of Renaissance Italy. She is widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful and intelligent young women of the day. Her younger sister Beatrice is a spirited and impulsive tomboy, nowhere near as charming or attractive, especially in Isabella's eyes. Both girls are engaged to be married. Isabella is thrilled to be engaged to Francesco Gonzaga, Marquess of Mantua, whilst Beatrice is not quite so eager to be married to the much older Ludovico Sforza (known as Il Moro), destined (kind of) to be Duke of Milan. Isabella has fallen in love with her husband and she is determined to propel Mantua to the forefront of the political and cultural landscape. It is only when she actually meets Ludovico that she realises that her sister has made the better match in terms of power and influence, even though Beatrice is unhappy, unable to draw her reluctant husband away from his mistresses.

Whilst Isabella covets her sister's husband, and there is a definite mutual attraction that is acted upon, Isabella desires one thing above all else, one thing that her sister's husband has the power to give her - she wants her portrait painted by Leonardo da Vinci.The two sister's vie for the attention of Ludovico, and Isabella constantly tries to influence the Duke to allow Leonardo to paint her. Beatrice however is reluctant to agree as she knows that this is an honour that her husband has bestowed on his mistresses and she doesn't want her husbands feelings for her sister to be so openly acknowledged for all the world to see.

Over time though, Beatrice comes into her own, forcing her husband to treat her as his duchess and not just as a young girl for whom he only needs as mother of his heirs, but at the same time Isabella becomes increasingly disenchanted with her own lot in life. With the French King threatening to invade, Italy's political landscape also undergoes rapid changes with friends becoming enemies, loyal soldiers betraying their lords, and betrayal between allies, not to mention a terrible tragedy for the two sisters.

It is hard for me to imagine having such enmity between sisters. When we were younger, it is fair to say that my sister and I didn't really get along, but the older we got, the closer we become. Then again, given how little I like to have my photo taken, it's hard to imagine being so desperate to have my portrait painted! To be fair, it did seem as though the relationship between Isabella and Beatrice did evolve over time, and after some very rocky periods.

The portrayal of Leonardo daVinci was one of the more interesting parts of this book. He seemed to be a distracted genius - constantly juggling various commissions, and spending months studying just one aspect of an object so that when he did come to paint or sculpt, he would have a perfect understanding. I think it is easy for us to not realise that da Vinci was involved in so many different projects. He was responsible for the entertainment at major events hosted by his sponsors, painted and sculpted, and had many ideas about military defenses, and still had time for his own private studies. He did sketch Isabella (see image above), but never did paint her portrait.

Given the rivalry between the two sisters, it seems only fair to allow Beatrice some images as well.  Click here to see images of Beatrice's tomb.

I did find some of the use of tense and memories to be a bit off, and at times a bit distracting, and there were times, particularly in the second half of the book where the book floundered a little bit in terms of pace. The strange thing is that that is when the historical action heated up! Despite this statement, I would definitely say to other Renaissance fans to give this one a go.

I also counted this book towards my participation in the Art History Reading Challenge, the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and the Tournament of Reading (although it did only just fit into the time period given!). Have to love these multi challenge books!

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Library Loot - February 11 to 17

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!
Some times the week just flies by doesn't it? It hardly seems like it has been a week since the last Library Loot post, but it has been!

Here's my loot for this week (and reloot!):

Beyond a Wicked Kiss by Jo Goodman - I recently read and really enjoyed If His Kiss is Wicked and so I want to read. I have to say my library doesn't have that many Goodman books, but I will read my way through the ones they do have.


Tempted by P Cast and Kristin Cast - The next book in the House of Night series.


Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh - It took a few attempts but I finally read the first book in the Huxtable series. This is the second book in the series.


The Road to Jerusalem by Jan Guillou - This book has been recommended by some of my favourite authors including Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman, so I am happy to give it a go and see what I think.

Share you loot by leaving your link in Mr Linky below:

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Teaser Tuesday - Graceling

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!

Why is it so hard to find a teaser some times. I had to flick through quite a few pages of Graceling by Kristin Cashore before I found something that was suitable. Even then, I am going to actually use four sentences instead of two. This teaser comes from page 102:

She had trusted him. She had trusted him, and she should not have. He had misrepresented himself, misrepesented his Grace. And that was the same as if he'd lied.

Monday, February 08, 2010

28 Days of Heart

Have you all heard about 28 Days of Heart? This exciting initiative is being hosted by and the purpose is three-fold. The first is to raise awareness and raise money for  heart disease (one of the largest killers of women), the second is to introduce you all to some new romance authors at great prices, and the third is to spotlight some of the fantastic romance bloggers that can be found in blogland.

Each day during February, and will release one new novella at a fantastic price. The types of novella that are available cover just about every possible reading preference, so you should be able to find something that you might like to read, or perhaps it is a chance to try something that you wouldn't normally read! All proceeds from these sales go to The American Heart Disease Association. I know - I am not American, but it still seems to be a worthy cause to support!

Also during February, will be profiling one of the fantastic romance bloggers each day, including me! I am in illustrious company indeed! You can check out the first week of profiles at Romblog. To be honest, I might be a little intimidated because whilst I love my romance, and make no secret of that fact, romance is only part of what I read!

Be sure to check out all the details about this event by clicking on this link.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

TSS: Do you like your fiction political?

I started a new book this week. Actually I started a few, but there's one that I specifically wanted to talk about in my (unofficial) Sunday Salon post for this week.

A couple of years ago, I read and really enjoyed a book called Barbed Wire and Roses by Australian author Peter Yeldham. Since then, I have been meaning to read more of his books, but despite the fact that I had borrowed one a couple of times, I never actually managed to read it. This book, A Distant Shore, is his latest book, and once again I find myself wondering why I haven't read more. It is a problem I intend to address.

Here's the blurb:

The moving story of a young girl's journey from Greece to Australia, and the life she builds – and love she finds – in a sometimes unwelcoming land

Katerina arrives in Sydney by ship as a six-year-old in the 1950s, a bewildered newcomer met by her father, whom she barely remembers, and abandoned by her impulsive and flighty mother.  She faces a strange and often hostile new country as she and her father struggle to be accepted.

Growing into a beautiful and intelligent young woman, Katerina renames herself Kate and makes the Northern Beaches of Sydney home.  At the age of seventeen, while the Vietnam War rages and protest marches fill Australian streets, she is swept into a passionate love affair.

Life for Kate brings joy and tragedy.  Inspired by her own experience as a child, she becomes a legal advocate for displaced persons and is forced to confront questions of life and death, freedom and captivity – choices that will change her life forever . . .

A Distant Shore is a poignant and stirring story of our times about courage, justice and enduring love.

Yeldham has chosen to look at the Australian immigrant experience from the 1950's through to the early 2000s, also touching base on some of the other major issues that faced Australia during this period like the public protests against our involvement in Vietnam.  Our main character, Kate, is a young girl when she comes to Australia from Cyprus in the 1950s. Abandoned by her mother, she comes to live with her dour father in one of what was then one of the less glamourous parts of Sydney. She faces ostracism during her school days, subject to racist taunts and vilification throughout her childhood years and into her teens.

Through a series of events, Kate finds herself involved as an advocate for immigrants, many of whom have come to Australia through illegal ports of entry and therefore find themselves in detention centres for many years, and specifically involved with advocacy for the women and children who find themselves in that situation.

From this blurb, there is little to indicate that one of the main subjects in this book is about the political and society reaction to the illegal boat people who attempt to gain access to Australia, and to be honest, that doesn't surprise me. The subject of illegal immigration is a very emotive one still, but it was especially so in the early years of the 2000s. Australian's pride themselves on being a multi cultural society and very welcoming, and yet, you don't have to dig too far to find people who are vehemently opposed to many of the refugees who try to find their way here, no matter how desperate the situation they are fleeing from, or how dangerous the journey is for them and their families. Even in my small office environment, there are very different views in relation to this issue and we work in an organisation with a strong focus on social welfare.

When I was reading the very early parts of this novel, I did wonder how many readers would realise the subject and the author's views on the issue and not be able to read more. Which lead me to wonder about my question for today. If you start to read a book where the topic is quite political in nature, does it put you off, especially if you disagree with the author's views? Can you keep reading if the writing is good enough, and would this kind of issue affect how you grade a book?

Thank you, thank you!

I have been lucky enough to receive a new blogging award this week, which I am very grateful for! Thanks to Cat at Tell Me a Story who awarded me the Prolific Blogger award.

Receiving this award means:
A Prolific Blogger is one who is intellectually productive… keeping up an active blog that is filled with enjoyable content.
1. Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!
2. Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.
3. Every Prolific Blogger must link back to this post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.
4. Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky, so that we all can get to know the other winners. (Click here for the Mr. Linky page.)

I am going to pass this award on to the following bloggers:

Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise
Amy from Passages to the Past
Casee, Holly and Rowena from Book Binge
Ana from Aneca's World
Lizzy from Historically Obsessed 
Arleigh from
Leya from Wandeca Reads

Saturday, February 06, 2010

How to make a good concert a GREAT concert!

Three and a half years ago, some friends of mine were going to see Rob Thomas live in concert, but one of them wasn't able to go and gave me their ticket. That concert was the first time I have been to a concert in about 13 years. Since then I have been to a few concerts and I intend to go to more. It does seem that one concert that we go to is whenever Rob Thomas comes to Australia, whether as a solo artist or as part of Matchbox Twenty and his current solo tour is no exception. Last night was the night! Dinner and drinks with friends and Rob Thomas in concert, supported by Australian singer Vanessa Amorosi who has an amazing voice.

Last time I went to his solo concert, we had a girl fall asleep behind us (in the middle of a rock concert!) but everyone managed to stay awake this time. The Rob Thomas concert experience is very much about the music, and his voice in concert is very true to his voice on recordings which is always a good thing.

He sang a lot of songs off of his newest album, including the hits off of it, Her Diamonds and Meltdown and a lovely acoustic version of Smooth, and it was a very enjoyable night, but what happened next moved this concert from a good concert to something really memorable.  I had heard a rumour that INXS was going to come on stage and play, but all my friends were disbelieving, but the crowd went absolutely wild when they did come on stage. Rob sang Never Tear Us Apart and Don't Change a Thing. Awesome, awesome, awesome!

So here are some videos of Vanessa Amorosi, Rob Thomas and INXS

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford’s stunning debut novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While “scholarshipping” at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship–and innocent love–that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel’s dark dusty basement he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family’s belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice–words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

I am not sure why it is, but I really love to read books that are set against a background of war. Some of the most memorable books I have read have been set against either WWI or WWII, and so when I see a new book getting good reviews that have either of these settings, I am very likely to add it to my TBR list. So it was with Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, firstly because of its setting and secondly the title and the cover which are both pretty eye catching.

I do also enjoy books where there is dual storyline. In this case, the central character is Henry Lee. When we first meet Henry, he is a widower whose wife died from cancer six months before. He had retired early from his job to care for her, and now finds himself a little lost in his life. One day he is out walking when he sees a crowd around a hotel that has been closed down for many years and is currently being redeveloped. He learns that there has been a discovery in the basement. It was packed with the belongings of many Japanese-American families who were interred in camps during WWII. When he sees a painted parasol, his own memories of those days are reawakened. He has strived hard to not remember those events, avoiding the part of the city which used to be the Japanese quarter, so this reawakening is in some ways painful.

When he was 12 years old, Henry was a boy who attended a prestigious white school on scholarship. Because his fiercely patriotic Chinese father was concerned about Henry being mistaken as a Japanese boy, he is forced to wear a badge saying 'I am Chinese'. The only other Asian at the school is Keiko, a Japanese-American girl. As one of the terms of their scholarship the two children are forced to work together in the school kitchen, and gradually forge a strong friendship, initially because they can face the school bullies together, but also because of a common interest in Jazz music. Henry's father would be horrified to know that his son has a Japanese friend because of the Japanese invasion of China that preceded their attack on Pearl Harbour.

As the internment of Japanese families commences, Henry is horrified to learn that his friend Keiko is one of the people who is to be put into the internment camp, despite the fact that she was born in America and can not speak Japanese, and he will do anything he can possibly do to maintain his connection to her.

This was an enjoyable book. I really enjoyed the development of the friendship between the two main young characters, and thought that there were some very well developed secondary characters, especially Sheldon, the African-American jazz musicians who Henry gives his lunch to every day in exchange for a few cents, and also Mrs Beatty who facilitates the maintained contact between the two of them even after Keiko's family is moved away from Seattle.

I also really enjoyed how Seattle was portrayed in this novel. I have never been there, but after reading about the various parts of the city, I wanted to go. It is also obvious that Jamie Ford loves jazz music, and I liked the way that the rare record that Henry starts to search for was the catalyst for change within several different relationships in his life.

One of the things that I did really like in this novel was the study of the relationship between Henry and his son, not only as a standalone relationship but also as a reflection of Henry's own relationship with his father, and as magnified through the stress of watching someone that they both loved suffer through the pain of cancer. For so long, Henry's wife Ethel had been the conduit through which Henry and Marty communicated so they had to learn a whole new way of dealing with each other once she had passed on. So often you see that despite the best of intentions children make the same mistakes their own parents made without even realising it. I liked that there was some growth in the relationship between Henry and his son, particularly after Henry surprises Marty and his white fiancee by revealing the secrets of his past.

If there was one thing that didn't really work for me, it is the idea that the Henry and Keiko could be in love at the age of 12 or 13. The relationship wasn't physical, but whether the depth of that connection could occur is a different matter. Maybe that is because my son is very nearly that age and I can't imagine him being anywhere near old enough to form such a strong relationship, or maybe it is because I am thinking about the 12 or 13 year old boys who I knew - I'd rather not actually.

America is not the only country where the incarceration of groups of people happened just because they had Japanese or German ancestry. It's hard to believe that if the same thing was to happen in this day and age that there wouldn't be a huge outcry, but it is surprising that more people aren't aware that these events were taking place just 60 years ago. It isn't that long ago really.

Whilst I did have a couple of issues with the book, I am glad that I read it and I will definitely be looking out for the author's next book, and I guess that that really is recommendation in itself. I gave this book a rating of 4/5.

I borrowed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet from the library in preparation for participation in the TLC Book Tours blog tour for this book over at Historical Tapestry.This review was originally posted at Historical Tapestry on 1 February.

By the way, we are giving away a copy of this book over at Historical Tapestry. Click on the link to enter!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Library Loot - February 3 to 10

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!

Eva is taking a blogging break, so I'll be hosting Mr Linky again this week.

I don't know about you, but some times when I visit the library it's just a quick in and out visit, not a lot of talking, but other times I get to have a bit of a chat. There's one girl in particular who I have bonded with a little over certain books, and another lady who is always very friendly. There's a couple who just aren't but that's okay too. Anyway, I do have a point to my rambling. When I went into the library on Tuesday to pick up my holds, the librarian was one of the chatters. When she was checking out my books the notice came up which said that I had reached my limit of checked out items, and then she asked me if I had any idea how many items I had borrowed since I had joined the library. I have to say it is not something I have ever thought about. After telling me that the highest number of checkouts from an individual borrower was around 17000, she then told me that I had borrowed 1091 items in the four and a bit years I have been using the library. If I allocated an average cost of $20 an item which is conservative given that most of the books are hard covers, that means that I have saved just over $20000 by using the library. Is there any wonder that I love my library.

The latest five items that I borrowed were:

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix - The last book in the Keys to the Kingdom series by Aussie author Garth Nix. This will be one of the books I will read for the Aussie Authors reading challenge.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See - I have borrowed this one a couple of times before. I was so excited at the prospect of a new Lisa See historical fiction novel and yet I just can't seem to find the time to read it before I have to return it to the library each time.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett - This book has been getting rave reviews everywhere. I resisted for as long as I could, but couldn't resist any longer.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett - Next book for my Terry Pratchett challenge.

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater - Another reloot. I am really hopeful of getting to read it this time!

So there we have it. What loot did you pick up from your library this week? Leave your link in Mr Linky so we can all be a bit nosy and see what you got!