Friday, April 30, 2010

So close to being May....

Our countdown to the May 6 release in the UK of To Defy a King continues, and this week we (as in Daphne, Misfit and myself) thought we would focus on the people and places that we will get to see through Mahelt Marshal’s eyes in To Defy a King.

Daphne was very lucky and got to visit the UK last year and visited two of the locations, Chepstow and Tintern Abbey. Misfit has posted about Framlingham. (Last week I was jealous because I didn’t have the book yet. This week it is from looking at the pictures on Daphne’s blog and that I still don’t have the book!).

For my post, I thought I would spend a little time talking about one of the characters in the novel – William Longespee, 3rd Earl of Salisbury.

Those of us who have read The Time of Singing might recognise that name. For many years there was no question about who William’s father was, as he was an acknowledged, albeit bastard, son of Henry II, but there wasn’t a lot of information about who his mother may have been. That all changed when a charter was found that said “Comitissa Ida, mater mea" which in English is Countess Ida, my mother.

That Ida was determined to be Ida de Rosnay who along with her husband Hugh Bigod were the main characters in Elizabeth’s Chadwick’s previous release, The Time of Singing. We also get to meet William in the course of that book, and in a way to see him growing up a little. Given that he spends most of his childhood in the court of Henry II along with his Plantagenet half brothers, it is no surprise to find that he is portrayed as being ultra confident, flamboyant and competitive! I expect to see at least some of those traits coming through in To Defy a King.

That wasn’t however my first introduction to William. When I first read about William, it was in Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman. William had been given several honours by his father, and then his older half-brother, Richard de Couer (the Lionheart) including marriage to a wealthy heiress, Ela, Countess of Salisbury . In Here Be Dragons, it was his role as the loyal brother to King John that caught my eye. William is portrayed as being loyal to John until very nearly the end of his reign, when it was obvious that to stay on John’s side any longer would have been foolish. Let’s face it, King John doesn’t exactly have a great reputation that has been passed down through the years. William held several important positions for John, including leading the fleet against France, and he assisted John’s young son, Henry III when he came to the throne after his father’s death.

William Longespee died when he was approximately 50 years old in 1226 (his birth date is not officially known). There is some suggestion that he was poisoned. According to Wikipedia, when his tomb was opened in 1791 there was a well preserved corpse of a rat found inside his skull. Even more bizarrely that rat is now on display in a museum in Salisbury. I would much rather visit the Cathedral in Salisbury again where the tomb of William Longespee is in the Cathedral than look at the rat!

As to the role William he plays in this book, I am really not sure. I can’t wait to find out what it is!

Is. It. May. Yet?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Alphabet in Historical:Fiction: J is for Joan, John of Gaunt and Junior kings

This week in the Alphabet in Historical Fiction challenge I am focusing on Margaret Campbell Barnes recently rereleased novel Within the Hollow Crown about Richard II. So where does the Js come from? Yes, you've caught me. It is a somewhat tenuous link, but I need to talk about the book and so when I realised that Richard II's mother was Joan of Kent, his uncle is John of Gaunt, and Richard himself was a very young king, well, there's my post for J! I will try to do better next time I promise.

Whilst there are the superstar kings and queens of English history (think Henry VII, Elizabeth I, Charles II, Henry and Eleanor etc) then there are the kings and queens that you know a little about, or those that you don't really know anything at all about!

Young Richard II is a reluctant king. He is not a warrior king like some of his predecessors especially his father who was known as the Black Prince, but a more urbane and cultured young man. Next to his more rambunctious Plantagenet cousins, Richard seems to be much less suited to the role of medieval king. Initially however he is controlled or guided if you like, by his uncles including John of Gaunt (who I first met in Anya Seton's wonderful novel Katherine).

The novel is broken into three parts. The first part focuses on one event that I had previously heard of - the Peasant's Rebellion as led by Wat Tyler. As I was reading through the story, I kept on trying to think of where exactly it was that I had previously heard. After quite a bit of thinking, I *think* it was mentioned in Katherine by Anya Seton. During this early episode Richard demonstrates his ability to relate to the common person, and realises that it is possible for him to obtain what he really wants - the love of his people. When he is betrayed to his people by the very people who are supposed to be guiding him, it is a blow to his pride, and to his reign.

The second part is primarily concerned with his marriage to Anne of Bohemia. A quick check of Wikipedia tells me that Anne was sister to Wencelas (presumable good king Wencelas as made famous in the Christmas Carol). Whilst initially not a love match, the marriage between Richard and Anne is portrayed by Campbell Barnes as one where understanding leads to love which leads to passion. The court that they head is cultured, and educated, with great style and fashion, and yet having a country at peace isn't enough for many of the courtiers and family members. Initially an unpopular marriage, Anne soons grows into her role as queen, and Richard begins to understand that it is possible for him to rule, and to reign outside of his strong-willed and ambitious uncles influence, thus setting in motion the events in the final third of the book.

Towards the end of his reign, and accordingly of the book, Richard seems to lose that common touch that characterised many of his early years, and to become a somewhat selfish leader. The people are dissatisfied, the court is dissatisfied, and for a medieval king that can mean only one thing - removal from the throne, one way or the other. As one rival for the throne falls, another steps in his place until eventually with more a whimper than a bang, Richard is usurped by the man who we now know as Henry IV.

The strange thing about this book is that I really, really struggled to read it. It took me nearly two weeks to read a 333 page book that I would normally expect to read in no more than three days. I am really not sure why because I have previously read other books by Margaret Campbell Barnes and enjoyed them. Maybe it was because I tried to read this as my reading-in-bed book as opposed to my reading-on-the-train book, or maybe it really just wasn't the time for me to read this book. When I was reading it at night I found it difficult to stay awake, but when I changed it into my train book it was interesting enough, but at the end of the day when I put the book down I really had to force myself to pick it up again. Who knows, maybe it just isn't ever going to be the book for me, but I hope not because I will be disappointed if that is the case.

Here is the blurb for the book:

A Reluctant King, a Desperate nation, and the most misunderstood reign in history.

Unlike his fatherthe Black Prince, or his namesake King Richard the Lionheart, Richard II never really wanted to be king. But the mantle of royalty is thrust upon his shoulder at age eleven, in a time when England is racked by unrest and class warfare. A leader unexpected as he is inexperienced. Richard must find a way to triumph over a fierce conflict more destructive than any foreign enemy. Blessed with the ability to take the pulse of the common people, Richard proves himself a true Plantagenet in standing down a peasant revolt.

In the midst of a tender, exquisite love with Anne of Bohemia, Richard finds the strength to outwit the schemes of his uncles and cousin Henry Bolingbroke and stay on the throne, holiding the country in the palm of his hand. But as Richard slowly begins to lose the common touch by which he had ruled so brilliantly, he needs to find the courage to consider England.

Widely acclaimed historical fiction master Margaret Campbell Barnes showcases the true spirit of a much-maligned king whose imaginative and intelligent spirit broke hard against the war-mongering world, and who wanted nothing more than the love of England.

As well as counting for the Alphabet in Historical Fiction, this book also counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, 2010 Pub Challenge and ROOB.

Rating 3.5/5

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Library Loot: April 28 to May 4

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and myself 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!

I am not particularly library patron right at the moment. There is a book that I swear that I returned at least a week ago that hasn't been checked in yet, and they can't find it. Of course, the last time this happened it turned out that I still had the book, but I am almost sure that I really truly did return it! Luckily, they still let me borrow some books!

Here's what I got:

Hero at Large by Janet Evanovich - This is the last of the rereleased category romances from Evanovich. If nothing else, this should be a very easy read.

The Vampire Diaries: The Fury - next book in The Vampire Diaries series

The Love Knot by Elizabeth Chadwick - This is the next book in the Chadwick back list. I was going to wait to request this one until after I got To Defy a King but it still hasn't showed up, so I couldn't help but request this one.

The Reincarnationist by M J Rose - I have been meaning to try this author for a long time, so after seeing a post on someones blog, I thought that now was the time to borrow it.

I am having trouble with adding pictures at the moment. I will come back and add them later when that issue is resolved.

What did you pick up from the library this week? Add your link to Mr Linky so that we can all come and see your loot!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Into the Wilderness by Sara Donati

Last week I posted a teaser from The Endless Forest, which is the sixth and final book in the Into the Wilderness series by Sara Donati. It was the perfect ending to the series, and all the way through the book I found myself thinking that I need to go back and reread the whole series, and so over the weekend I did start the first book in the series, Into the Wilderness. I don't tend to reread books often, but I am thoroughly enjoying my reread of this book.

I  have a couple of teasers from the book, both featuring (and about) the main female character Elizabeth Middleton. The first is from page 49:

"You will not sell your property, but you will sell your daughter, have I understood you correctly?"

"You are impertinent!" he sputtered. " I would have expected that my sister might have done a better job with you - "

And from page 123 where she is speaking to Nathaniel Bonner:

Flustered, Elizabeth tried to draw her thoughts together. "I don't know what you want of me."

"You do know," he said calmly. "You know very well what I want of you. What you don't know if what you want of me."

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, April 25, 2010

TSS: Anzac Day 2010

Today is Anzac Day, a very important day in the psyche of Australians and New Zealanders. On this day in 1915, our soldiers were sent onto the beaches of Gallipoli and were slaughtered. For both countries it was the first time we had fought under our own flags, and it is a day where the nation's identity was cemented into the national psyche, and many of the things that Aussies proud themselves on came from these days and the days that followed. Things like mateship, being a bit of a larrikin, bravery and strength in adverse conditions.

Over the last fews years when I have posted about Anzac Day, I have talked about a few different topics, but today I wanted to talk mainly about reading fiction set against a background of war, but initially about my grandparent's experiences whilst they are still fresh in my mind.

If you recall, earlier this month I had to do a mercy dash across to Perth because my grandmother was very ill. It gave my sister and I a chance to talk to my grandfather a little. Whilst he now does have a tendency to tell the same story over and over and over again, we were able to inject a new story into the mix about how it was that he didn't have to go to war.

He talked of all the young men in the district being taken to a hall, and basically separated into groups. Those who would go and those who would stay. Because he was a shearer, they said to him that he was man-powered, which meant that he had to stay.He was given an area that he had to shear the sheep in, and there was something like 20,000 sheep in that area. Even the best shearers (using the equipment they had then) could only do 200 a day so the task was impossible, but even so he was glad to have to do that rather than go off to war. When war broke out against Japan he was in the middle of building a house and basically all building had to cease. Instead he had to do a lot of manual labour at the local airbase.  (Over the course of his life he did an incredible amount of physical jobs. I was actually in awe as he talked about some of them this time.) They were constantly fearful that there would be a Japanese attack on the air base which was very close to where they lived. He had brothers and friends who went, and cousins who were lost at Gallipoli so in his generation he knew plenty of people who were lost to war.

My grandmother was in hospital at the Royal Perth Hospital, and she talked about being required to spend a night up on top of the newly built hospital (which was not in use yet) on the look-out for what she called yack-yack fires - spotting for a Japanese attack on Perth that thankfully never eventuated.

Anyway, once again I am writing a post and digressing from my main topic. Not the first time, and certainly not the last.

My love of reading fiction set against a background of war started for real in my late teens. My aunt came to visit us and lent me a couple of books by an author by the name of Noel Barber. The first of his books that I read was called Tanamera - a novel set in Singapore, opening  in 1935 in the heady colonial days and including the fall of the island to the Japanese, and then the subsequent guerilla battles as they fought for freedom of the colonial rule they were shackled under. As their world turns to constant danger, the two main characters fall in love, and then are torn apart by the circumstances and war and have to find their way back to each other.  In the late 80s this book was turned into a mini-series and you can view the trailer on Youtube. (I would embed it, but the promo trailer was actually a little bit racy which surprised me).

I then went on to devour everything I could read from Barber. His other books were:

  • A Farewell to France (1983) (1930s France through WWII)
  • A Woman of Cairo (1984) (Egypt during their battles for independence through to WWII)
  • The Other Side of Paradise (1986) (Pacific before and during WWII)
  • The Weeping and the Laughter (1988) (Russian emigres in Paris through 1920s to WWII)
  • The Daughters of the Prince (1990) (Italy just before and during WWII)
These books are the kind of epic, sweeping, romantic novels that we just don't see very often any more! Forbidden love, passion, spies, war. I just went and got all his books off of my bookshelf and I am seriously tempted to just sit down and start reading one of these books. They are chunksters and I have distinct fond memories of each of them.

One of the reasons I like reading these kinds of books so much is finding out things that I just didn't know about. For example, a few years ago I read Black Diamonds by Kim Kelly, where she talked about the role that some of our miners played during WWI. These mens were taken from the mines, and sent to the Western Front, where they then tunneled under the ground until they were close to enemy positions and then set up explosives in order to destroy those enemy positions. It was dirty, and incredibly dangerous, and the men who performed these tasks were incredibly brave.

Since reading this book, I have seen the work of the miners mentioned in news reports, and in documentaries. This year, there is a new movie out which looks back at the jobs that these men did.

There are so many other books that I could focus on that I have read over the years, and I know that there are so many more to come. Click here to see just some of the books I have reviewed over the years that were set in WWII (in particular).

Reading books set against the background of war is just one more way that we can remember them.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them

Lest we forget.

Is. It. May. Yet?

If you could see my face right now, you would see it is a distinct shade of green. You see, whilst that troublesome Icelandic volcano doesn't seem to have slowed down distribution of the ARCs for Elizabeth Chadwick's May release to the US, mine still isn't here yet!!

Do I sound childish and peevish? Yes! Will I later regret doing so? Not really!

You see, fellow Chadwick fans, Misfit and Daphne, along with other people, have been waiting with great anticipation for the UK release date. To be fair, I should say that even if I wasn't getting an ARC of this book, I would have been purchasing it from at the earliest possible opportunity!

A little while ago, Misfit and Daphne and I thought it might be a bit of fun to have a bit of a countdown to the release date. For the first post, we are all posting about 3 of Chadwick's books that we have particularly enjoyed. The hardest part was working out which ones to choose because when I look at my list of books that I have read from this author, there is only one book out of all of them that I haven't rated as either 4 or 4.5 out of 5.

What is it exactly that makes Chadwick so readable? For me, it is her ability to impart a sense of time of place without losing the story along the way. Her books are captivating and entertaining, and historically accurate, and she has an amazing ability to be able to remind us that whilst people may have lived 700 years ago, and their environment was very different to the way we live now, fundamentally not much has changed when it comes to people's emotions, particularly their emotional needs.

For example, I was reading The Conquest just before Christmas last year. On the first couple of pages, there was this passage:

A sudden commotion at the door heralded the return of her two serving women from the markets at the heart of the city. Braying in protest at the weight in his laden panniers, the pack ass was led round the side of the house by the younger maid, Sigrid. Wulfhild, puffing and plump, staggered into the long hall, her arms weighted down by two net bags of provisions.

'God save us, Mistress Ailith, I've never seen such crowds!' She dumped the bags on the new thick floor rushes and pressed her hands into the small of her back. 'An' all the stall holders charging what they like. We got the best bargains we could, but if it weren't Yuletide, you'd say the prices was shameless robbery!'

Whilst my pack ass is a car, my floor is tiled and we use plastic bags or environmental bags, I totally related to the situation that these characters were in. This is just a small glimpse of a small moment in a day and yet I related completely!

Anyway, what I am supposed to be highlighting is three books that I enjoyed!

The first book I wanted to highlight was A Place Beyond Courage. The first two books I read by EC were The Greatest Lion and The Scarlet Lion, both about William Marshal. These two books have recently been released in the US by Sourcebooks and so there have been a lot of hard core historical fiction fans being introduced and then falling under the spell of William Marshal. To all of those people, I really encourage you to go out of your way to get hold of this book, because here we get the story of William's father, John Marshal, and whilst I loved reading about William, I was really blown away reading about John. You see, from reading William's story, there was no way known that I thought that the author could redeem a man who seemingly uncaringly sent his son to the king as hostage basically saying that he was willing to sacrifice the young boy because "I still have the hammer and the anvil with which to forge still more and better sons!" And yet, Elizabeth Chadwick manages to not only redeem this man, but also to make him into someone who you come to admire for his strength, his valour and his sheer tenaciousness. If you haven't read The Greatest Lion or The Scarlet Lion, you really should, but make sure you also have this book on hand ready to learn more about his father as well. Daphne has posted about the William Marshal books in her post, so it is not just me who thinks you should get to know the Marshals!

The second book I am going to highlight is The Champion and it also has a Marshal connection, and was also the novel I read most recently. As I work my way through Chadwick's backlist, I can really see how there was a pretty significant change in the style of novel that she writes. Her earlier novels were really meaty romances that had a strong emphasis on the historical settings and details, whereas the later ones are really meaty historical fiction with romantic tendencies. And yet, even as historical romances these books are different from a lot of the other romances out there, and as such they are good reads even if you don't like romances. In this novel, we are taken on a journey that starts on the tough tourney fields of France, where the men are soldiers for hire, and a lot of the women do what they have to do to earn a living, to the royal Courts of England. Our hero and heroine need to find ways to survive in a very harsh life, including times when they may have to sacrifice their honour in order to find a way to live.  I mentioned that there is a Marshal connection. This was the first time that we met William Marshal in any of EC's works. Having read the books about him previously, as soon as his name was mentioned, it jumped off of the page.

Now this is where it became difficult to choose. Which book for the third book? In the end, I settled on The Wild Hunt, simply because this was the first book that Chadwick had published. Even in the early days, you could see the potential that she had for telling fantastic stories, with fantastic historical details, and you can definitely see the growth, but this was still a very good tale.  This was actually the first book in the Ravenstow trilogy, and I can say quite honestly that I enjoyed them all. You can read my review (yes, back in the days when I managed to write reviews quite regularly!) here and see my thoughts at the time. I do want to mention that the version that I read was the original version, but over the last couple of years, EC has been going back and re-editing many of those earlier book, making the stories much leaner and stronger. Eventually I am intending to actually go back and read these edited novels, so I can see how they compared to the reads that I enjoyed so much, oh and so I have a set of matching covers!

So there you have it....three Elizabeth Chadwick novels that I have read and very much enjoyed! Don't forget to visit Daphne and Misfit and see which three novels they recommended and you can expect to see another post soon asking the same question as I asked in this post.

Is. It. May. Yet?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Library Loot: April 21 to 27

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 has Mr Linky this week, so be sure to head on over and share what you picked up from the library this week.

Once again I have had a very small week in terms of the number of items picked up from the library. I have been very, very controlled about requesting books whilst I am doing the Reading Our Own Bookshelves challenge, but given that we are getting close to the end of the month, I think I can start requesting some more now. I have managed to get my library list right down though, so I am going to try not to go too crazy and get back up to 60 items out too quickly. Did you notice that? Not that I won't get back up there at all, but rather that it won't happen too quickly. I know my own bad habits!

Here are the two items I did get:

The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson - I have been a big fan of Dorothy Koomson since I first read My Best Friends's Girl (my first and still my favourite) so as soon as I saw that there was a new book coming out, and that my library had ordered it, I had my name on the list. Since then I have read a review which talks about some of the subject matter, and I am not as sure that I will like it, but we will see how it goes.

Young Victoria (DVD) - It is very rare for me to get to the movies to see something that isn't for kids. I meant to go and see this one, but it didn't happen.

Just for fun, here is the trailer for Young Victoria. Hopefully I will get to watch it over the weekend.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Endless Forest by Sara Donati

My teaser this week comes from The Endless Forest by Sara Donati, the sixth and final book of the Into the Wilderness series set in the late 18th and early 19th century in colonial America. I have previously posted about the books in this series here. I am reading this with somewhat conflicting emotions. I was looking forward to reading the book to find out what happens to some characters that I have enjoyed reading about over the last few years, but I am also sad that I am going to have say goodbye at the end of the book.

The teaser comes from page 254, although I must confess that I have actually cheated and given more than the normal two sentences!

Inside he pressed her against the closed door and kissed her there in the dim empty room. With one hand holding her face he kissed her until something came awake in her, a need she hadn't known about. But he had underestimated her, or overestimated his powers of persuasion, because she pushed him away with a hand against his good shoulder.

"Wait," she said breathlessly. "Wait. I have to say something. I have to ask you a question."

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, April 18, 2010

TSS: Reading Series

I have a confession to make – I am a series junkie. The only thing better than reading a good book is finding out that there is another book set in the same world, featuring either the same characters or at the very least characters you have met before.

So far this year I have read 52 books. Of those, only 21 have been stand alone. I have started 10 new series, finished 4 series, and I have 5 series where I have read the last book in the series that is available and I am waiting for the next book to be published.

There are some advantages and disadvantages to reading series though and I thought for today's post that I would list some of those using series that I am reading or have read as examples.

So here are the advantages of reading a series

Characters and world that you are familiar with -Once you begin to get to know characters and connect with them and their world, the idea of coming back and seeing what they are up to now is so comforting. For example, Diana Gabaldon writes such door stoppers, and the last couple haven't been as good as they had been previously, but I will always come back to read more about Jamie and Claire from the Outlander series. I can't imagine stopping now. I've invested too much time and emotion to not find out what happens in the end.

Knowing what to expect - Some days you just want a certain type of read. You want to be fairly sure that you will pick up the book and really enjoy the contents. Knowing the characters, the world and the author's style of writing helps with this assurance, especially if there is a long history of consistent quality. For example, with the J D Robb series, the quality of the writing has been very consistent from book one. Yes, some books are better than others, but even the worst J D Robb book is better than many other books I have read.

Character development – although it doesn’t always seem to happen – Stephanie Plum is a perfect example of books that continue to be written without much character development happen. Watching a character move through from one point to the next and seeing their growth can be very satisfying.

Funnily enough it is easier to think of disadvantages than advantages

Waiting for the next book – Some times that wait for the next book seems to take forever, especially when the author has ended the previous book with a cliffhanger as so many of them do. As an example, I can’t remember how many I can’t wait for Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and I know I am not alone there.

Series not being finished due to contract reasons or worse – The Millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson is a classic example of this. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I am sure that I read somewhere that the original plan was that there would be more books in the series than the 3 we ended up with due to his untimely death.
Whilst the book felt finished in terms of an individual story, I guess I was reading with the expectation that the book wasn’t the end, and it certainly felt like there was plenty more to come, but unfortunately it is not to be.

There are also plenty of examples of series where the publishers do not want to continue publishing the series. One of the more notable examples of this recently has been Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Morland Dynasty series. The last book that will be released will be book 34, but the original plan was to continue through for another couple of books. As a reader I would be mightily annoyed if I had invested years reading a series that long and then found out that I wasn’t actually going to read the ending that the author wanted to write.

Authors finishing a series: There are a couple of series that I seriously wonder about whether the author will actually ever finish the series – Yes, Janet Evanovich and Diana Gabaldon I am looking at you! The Outlander series was originally slated to be something like 5 books. Now, every time a book comes out in that series, we also get the accompanying statement which says ‘no, this isn’t the last book’. For Evanovich there doesn’t really seem to be a way for her to finish the Plum series without seriously upsetting a large number of fans. As a cupcake, I am definitely hoping that when the Stephanie Plum series does eventually end, Stephanie Plum will end up with Joe Morelli, but there are plenty of passionate babes out there who would like to see her with Ranger at the end of the series. I guess the other option would be to either have her end up with someone other then either of those two characters, or to have her end up with no-one, but then the danger is that you actually alienate all your fans instead of just some of them.

The whole love triangle thing in a series is problematic in itself. For example, in Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swenson series, Hannah is torn between dentist Norman, and policeman Mike. I haven’t read past the 8th book, mainly because I got bored of Hannah alternating between the two of them. Both of the men apparently felt so strongly about her that they both proposed, but Hannah didn't feel strongly enough about either of them to be able to accept either one, and so the threesome continues. To be fair, I am a long way behind in this series now, so perhaps things have changed. At least I hope so.

Another series that I wonder how it is going to end is J D Robb’s IN Death series but for different reasons. Eve and Roarke are one of my favourite literary couples, but how on earth the author is going to finish the series is something I wonder about, simply because it isn’t likely that murders in New York will suddenly stop in the year 2058. You would also think that there will be a point at some stage where Eve and Roarke may want to become parents and that isn’t really something that I would want to read about, simply because of the type of stories that have been written featuring these characters previously

Reading out of order – I really, really don't like reading a series out of order, and I will do as much as I can to avoid that happening. Sometimes though, it is not necessarily clear in the blurbs on books that it is part of a series, and it is only later that you find out that you haven’t started at the beginning. Some times it really doesn’t matter. Other times it is hard to see how someone who comes to a series part way through can really enjoy the book. Using the Larsson trilogy as an example, coming to the third book, if you hadn’t read the first two books in the series you would be left wondering exactly how it was that Lisbeth Salander started the book in hospital, why was Mikael Blomkvist fighting so hard for her and more.

Reading the last book: Thinking about this is actually one of the things that inspired this post. Sitting on my pile of books not too far away from me is The Endless Forest by Sara Donati. This is a book that I have anticipated for a long time, and yet for some reason there is a sense of apprehension at picking up that last book and knowing that this will be the last time I get to read something new about their lives And so I continue to look at the book, and thinking about reading it, but not quite ready to take that step and actually starting to read it. I think it is harder because Sara Donati is no longer writing and so there is no chance that in the near future there will be a new book from her at all.

This list is by no means extensive. I am sure there are many other pros and cons to reading series. Which ones have I not listed that you think are important? Do you like to read series, or do you prefer standalone novels?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Library Loot: April 14 to 20

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!

I hadn't had time to go to the library this week until I thought I had better go and pick something up so I have SOME loot to talk about this week! It's not much. The fact that I am focussing on reading my own books this month continues to mean that I am not borrowing many books, and so my number of library books out continues to drop, which I think is still a good thing.

Feel free to add your link to Mr Linky so we can all see what loot you picked up from the library!

Here's the loot I got:

A Murderous Procession by Ariana Franklin - I have very much enjoyed reading the first few books in this series, and so I have been waiting for this one to come out! I am lucky enough to be the first person to borrow this book as well! I love it when that happens!

The Boy with Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne - I have actually read this before, but my son wants to read it now. Apparently they are going to be reading it for school but the school doesn't have enough copies to go around. Sounds a bit strange but if he actually reads it I will be happy!

Essential as Anything - This is a best of album for Australian band Mental as Anything. They are a fun band with some very silly songs but bring back memories from the 80s for me, and I am really looking forward to reacquainting myself with more of their songs!

Most times when I borrow a CD I tend to share a video, and this time is no exception, so here is Mental as Anything with Live It Up

And just because I had completely forgotten about this song, this is the lead singer of Mental as Anything, with his solo song Concrete and Clay. Nice 80s hair!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson

First off, I wanted to thank everyone for their kind comments on my last post. Thankfully my grandmother is okay. She had surgery on Friday to get a pacemaker, and returned home today. We flew home last night landing just before midnight, so by the time we got home it was close to 1am. It was a struggle at work today!

Anyway, this week my teaser comes from page 267 of the third, and final, book in the Millenium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

He could not see anything remarkable, but he did observe that there was a barely visible darker area immediately adjacent to the bullet hole. He wrote a carefully worded and noncommittal comment on her chart:

Radiological examination gives a basis for definitive conclusions but the condition of the patient has deteriorated steadily during the day. It cannot be ruled out that this a minor bleed that is not visible to the images. The patient should be confined to bedrest and kept under strict observation until further notice.

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, April 11, 2010

Quick Update

I had every intention of cheering and reading for readathon, but unfortunately I got a phone call on Thursday night saying that my grandmother had had a heart attack.

We therefore ended up having to hop on a plane and travel to the other side of Australia. At this time, she has had surgery and is recovering well, but I am staying with my 100 year old grandfather and caring for him, so needless to say I don't have any internet access.

I hope everyone who is participating in the readathon is having a fabulous time, and I should be back online soon

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Dymocks Top 101 of 2010

One of our book store chains here did a survey recently to determine what Australia's favourite books are and these were the results. (The books I have read are italicised and the ones I own but haven't read yet are bolded)

1 The Twilight Saga by Stephenie Meyer
2 The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling (5 out of 7)
3 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4 The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5 The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien
6 The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
7 To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
8 The Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (2 out of 3)
9 My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
10 The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
11 The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
12 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
13 Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
14 The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
15 Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
16 Magician by Raymond E. Feist
17 Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
18 The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
19 Cloudstreet by Tim Winton
20 The Host by Stephenie Meyer
21 Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin
22 Atonement by Ian McEwan
23 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
24 Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
25 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
26 Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
27 Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
28 The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
29 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
30 Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
31 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
32 Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden
33 Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody
34 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
35 The Inheritance Series by Christopher Paolini
36 The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
37 Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
38 The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
39 The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
40 Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
41 Ice Station by Matthew Reilly
42 The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
43 Persuasion by Jane Austen
44 Tully by Paullina Simons
45 Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly
46 Breath by Tim Winton
47 The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare
48 Life of Pi by Yann Martel
49 A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
50 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
51 Emma by Jane Austen
52 The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory
53 The Bible
54 Six Sacred Stones by Matthew Reilly
55 A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey
56 We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
57 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
58 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
59 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
60 The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
61 People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
62 The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
63 The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
64 Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
65 Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
66 The Sookie Stackhouse Series by Charlaine Harris
67 Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
68 Five Greatest Warriors by Matthew Reilly
69 On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
70 The Princess Bride by William Goldman
71 The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
72 Wicked by Gregory Maguire
73 Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
74 Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
75 Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
76 Dewey by Vicki Myron
77 Dirt Music by Tim Winton
78 Marley and Me by John Grogan
79 Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
80 Dune by Frank Herbert
81 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
82 The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards
83 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
84 War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
85 The Road by Cormac McCarthy
86 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
87 The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
88 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
89 Possession by AS Byatt
90 Finnikin of The Rock by Melina Marchetta
91 No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
92 Graceling by Kristin Cashore
93 The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
94 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
95 Silent Country by Di Morrissey
96 Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
97 Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
98 The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
99 Still Alice by Lisa Genova
100 The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
101 Gallipoli by Les Carlyon

I am always pleased to see The Bronze Horseman poll so well. I am not sure why but Aussies seem to love Paullina's writing. I wish that she was more widely available in other markets, specifically in the US. I am also happy to see The Host, The Hunger Games and The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society on the list.

There were a few other books that I am glad to see on the list, but I was a little surprised by - Graceling by Kristin Cashore, the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare were books that I really enjoyed, but I can't say I have seen a lot of evidence around that the other books were that popular here.

I have posted a couple of these lists before, so it is interested to see which books are still on the list and which ones have disappeared!

A & R Top 100 2008
Dymocks Top 101 2008

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Library Loot: April 7 to 13

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!

My limited borrowing from the library continues this week. Only a couple of books and one CD.

Wild Ride by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer- I love reading Jennifer Crusie's standalone books. I am not always as keen on her co-authored books. Of the one's that she has written with Bob Mayer I liked Agnes and the Hitman but wasn't that keen on Don't Look Down. We'll see how I get on with this book.

The Shadow Queen by Anne Bishop - Until a few days ago it had been a couple of years since I read one of the Black Jewels books by Anne Bishop. I recently read Tangled Webs, and I am quite determined to not wait anywhere near as long to read the next one.

Dark Horse by Nickelback - My son has decided that he really likes Nickelback so I am borrowing their CDs from the library before I commit to buying them.

Eva will have the Mr Linky this week, so please head on over and share your links to the loot that you picked up this week!

And just because I put usually put video's up whenever I talk about CDs in my library loot, here is Nickelback singing If Today Was Your Last Day

How I spent my Easter

Apart from doing the more traditional Easter activities (family lunch and an easter egg hunt), I spent most of my weekend watch music TV, specifically the Max Top 1000 Awesome 80s. I seem to have ended up custodian of my son's camera so here are a few Easter shots. The little boy is my nephew, but I can't show you his face on the internet (**wink**)

Before sharing the number one song from the countdown, there were a few things to observe. There was some really, really big hair during the 80s and there was some very average music that was played as part of this countdown, especially in the range between 600 and 1000. There were a number of times when I scratched my head at a song I could swear I had never ever heard before!

A couple of interesting things to come out of watching so many music videos... I really have to give props to Family Guy for introducing my son to some songs that I would never ever have thought he would know. He would start singing along (for example Take On Me by A-Ha) and I would wonder how he know that song, and the answer was ... Family Guy.

We did have one moment of dissention when You Spin Me Round by Dead or Alive came on. I had recently downloaded Flo Rida's song Right Round for him and so I was talking to the boy about how it is basically the same song, so I was a bit surprised about when he proclaimed that the Dead or Alive version was boring. When I mentioned this on Twitter, someone pointed me in the direction of the Marilyn Manson version of the same song. I don't normally like Marilyn Manson, but that was a pretty good version!

So here was the top 10:

10. What You Need by INXS
9. Tainted Love by Soft Cell
8. Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran
7. Thriller by Michael Jackson
6. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper
5. I Still Haven't Found What I am Looking For by U2
4. Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams
3. Like a Virgin by Madonna
2. Take on Me by A-Ha

and the number 1 was

Livin on a Prayer by Bon Jovi!

Whilst I am pretty happy with the result I should probably clarify that I have no idea what the criteria was for this countdown, or who actually put it together! I did manage to play lots of Facebook games, and do some blogging, but other that it was 80s music all the way, all four days of the long weekend!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

It's Readathon weekend! Are you reading?

This weekend is readathon weekend! I've signed up to read, but also will be helping out with the organisation of the cheerleading as well. I figure seeing as the last 6 hours of the readathon falls between 5 and 11pm on Sunday night, I can be up and relatively functional compared to those of you who are looking at 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning!

Have you signed up to read or cheer? You can sign up for both at the readathon blog, and you will be able to get lots of information about cheerleading at Cheerleading HQ.

One thing I am determined to do this time is not accidentally start the readathon a day earlier than I should, so I have been constantly reminding myself 11pm SATURDAY, yes, SATURDAY, not Friday. I have managed to actually start a day early the last two times the readathon has been on, which is a bit embarrasing really.

I am actually out for dinner on Saturday night, and the people I am out with are some of my drinking buddies, so I am not sure exactly how this is going to work - reading whilst hungover isn't something I normally do particularly well!

I haven't really chosen the books that I am going to be reading, although I do have a pile of books out for the Reading Our Own Books challenge, so they will be the ones I focus on I think. At the moment that list includes:

Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost
Blood Bound by Patricia Briggs
Galway Bay by Mary Pat Kelly
See Witch by Helen Hollick
What Angels Fear by C S Harris
The Who Kicked the Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson
The Devil's Conspiracy by David Liss

No, I am not planning to read all of these! I'd be happy to finish just one!

I am looking forward to reading, but also to cheering because it is just so much fun, especially if you are on Twitter as well! Hopefully you are all excited too!

And to get into the cheering mood, you could imagine me dancing around my living room just like this....or not, as the case may be!

Teaser Tuesday: The King's Favourite by Susan Holloway Scott

After my vacation edition of Teaser Tuesday last week, things are back to normal this week! My teaser comes from The King's Favourite by Susan Holloway Scott, which is a novel about Charles II and one of his more famous mistresses, Nell Gwynne. I have read the other two novels that this author has written about Charles II (you can read my review of The French Mistress here) and I am glad to finally be getting to this one, which I wouldn't have done for a while without the Reading Our Own Books challenge!

My teaser comes from page 116:

My poor, sad, suffering London! I would not return for more than a year, not until the playhouses were once again permitted to open. By that time, a fifth of London's people would be dead of the plague, and a third of her buildings would have been destroyed by the Great Fire, while I - I would be ready to claim what rose from the ashes as my own.

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!

Monday, April 05, 2010

Alphabet in Historical Fiction: I is for ....

It is time for the next entry in the Alphabet in Historical Fiction challenge that is being run over at Historical Tapestry. This time I am focusing on Sarah Blake's The Postmistress. Luckily for me, this novel also counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge and the Pub 2010 Reading Challenge.

Hold on a minute, how does this book fit the letter I? Well, one of the three main female characters is Iris James, the postmistress of the small Massachusetts town of Franklin during WWII.

Here is the blurb:

Those who carry the truth sometimes bear a terrible weight...

It is 1940. France has fallen. Bombs are dropping on London. And President Roosevelt is promising he won't send our boys to fight in "foreign wars."

But American radio gal Frankie Bard, the first woman to report from the Blitz in London, wants nothing more than to bring the war home. Frankie's radio dispatches crackle across the Atlantic ocean, imploring listeners to pay attention--as the Nazis bomb London nightly, and Jewish refugees stream across Europe. Frankie is convinced that if she can just get the right story, it will wake Americans to action and they will join the fight.

Meanwhile, in Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, Iris James hears Frankie's broadcasts and knows that it is only a matter of time before the war arrives on Franklin's shores. In charge of the town's mail, Iris believes that her job is to deliver and keep people's secrets, passing along the news that letters carry. And one secret she keeps are her feelings for Harry Vale, the town mechanic, who inspects the ocean daily, searching in vain for German U-boats he is certain will come. Two single people in midlife, Iris and Harry long ago gave up hope of ever being in love, yet they find themselves unexpectedly drawn toward each other.

Listening to Frankie as well are Will and Emma Fitch, the town's doctor and his new wife, both trying to escape a fragile childhood and forge a brighter future. When Will follows Frankie's siren call into the war, Emma's worst fears are realized. Promising to return in six months, Will goes to London to offer his help, and the lives of the three women entwine.

Alternating between an America still cocooned in its inability to grasp the danger at hand and a Europe being torn apart by war, The Postmistress gives us two women who find themselves unable to deliver the news, and a third woman desperately waiting for news yet afraid to hear it.

Sarah Blake's The Postmistress shows how we bear the fact that war goes on around us while ordinary lives continue. Filled with stunning parallels to today, it is a remarkable novel.
In 1940, Europe was at war. London was being bombarded by the Germans, the Jews were being rounded up, but the US was sitting on the sidelines, choosing to stay out of the war with President Roosevelt promising that he would not be sending the young men of America to war. History tells us that that changed in due course, but at that time, the horror of war had not yet fully impacted on the US.

The three main characters in this novel are Frankie Bard, Emma Fitch and Iris James - three women whose lives intersect in ways that they would never have thought of. Emma is a young woman who was has spent much of her life alone. We meet her as she is travelling on the bus into Franklin for the first time, an anxious young newlywed who is moving to the town to start her life with her new husband, Will, who is the town doctor. When a baby delivery goes wrong, Emma's husband Will decides to head to London to volunteer to help in the hospitals of the bombarded city, leaving her behind in a town full of people that she barely knows.

Iris is also on the bus, having travelled into the city for reasons of her own. To be fair, Iris is something of an odd woman. She is approaching middle age, never been married, and is the postmistress of the town. For her, there are very few shades of grey. Everything is done in accordance with the post office regulations, down to the letter, and there are no exceptions. She is also a keen observer of the people in her town. She knows many of their secrets, and she is often the first person to know when something happens due to her being the one who receives the letters and telegrams that make their way through the post office. This may make her sound a little rigid, but whilst her working life has been dictated by the rules of the post office, she is also a woman on the brink of a major change in her life. Whilst she knows their secrets, not many people know her secrets, including her feelings for the local mechanic, Harry Vale. Harry is himself something of an outsider in the town, increasingly convinced that the Germans may well choose to invade American by landing on their coast, and therefore he too is an observer, watching every day for signs of imminent invasion.

Of the three women, the story that I found most interesting is that of Frankie Bard. She is a young journalist working in London with the legendary reporter Edward R Murrow. Daily she tells the stories of what she sees around her, the young boy who survives a bombing only to find out that his family all died, the experiences of going into the underground bomb shelters, with those experiences being broadcast back to America into the homes of many people, including those in Franklin. At first I wasn't sure that I would connect with Frankie. In the opening part of the book she has something of a 'lets live for today' attitude, but as the book progresses and as tragedy begins to touch her personally, Frankie becomes more and more convinced that there are more stories that need to be told, that there really is something going on in Europe in relation to the Jews, that America really needs to hear these truths, and that she should be the one who tells them.

Frankie eventually convinces her bosses to give her that chance and so she finds herself riding the trains of Europe, heading initially to Germany, but then catching trains where ever she can so that she can record the voices and the stories of the lucky few people who not only manage to get the necessary paperwork to flee their homes, but also then manage to get on the few trains within the timeframes specified on their visas. As much as I enjoy reading about WWII (if enjoy is the right word), I think this is the first time I have seen this kind of perspective - an outsider trying to convince the hearts and minds of a country many miles away of what exactly was going on.

As events unfold, Iris has to reevaluate her role, and decide if some times it is better for the truth not to be revealed, whilst for Frankie the delivery of the truth takes it's toll on her emotionally and physically, and for Emma, she waits, not knowing what is happening so far away and hoping that no news some times really is good news. If there is a weakness in the novel it is in the length of time that the central issue for Iris takes to be explored, but this is a minor issue in my opinion.

Normally, I tend to read a book and then that is it. If I got it from the library I can comfortably return the book, knowing that I enjoyed it, but not thinking too much more about it. I can see this book as being an exception, and that I am going to have to buy it and have it sitting on my bookshelf. I suspect it is the kind of book where you will be able to see something new within the narrative each time that you read it!

Whilst an emotive telling of those bleak days in London at the beginning of the war, and in the even bleaker days in Europe, this is also an interesting study of the nature of truth - how much should be revealed and when, both on a large and a personal scale.

My truth is this - this is a book that is highly recommended for anyone with a specific interest in WWII, or who wants to read about the human side of war.

Rating 4.5/5

Sunday, April 04, 2010

TSS: The Reading Our Own Books challenge edition

You may have noticed that I read a lot of books from the library. I also get a few review books to read, and so I keep spreadsheets to help me keep track of when my library books are due back, and when reviews are due. The one thing that you may notice is missing is that I have not mentioned the books that I actually buy myself. When do I read them? Well, the short answer is I don't, or at least I don't often read them. In fact, if I look at the list of books that I have read this year, I had only read 2 books that I acquired myself.

I was lucky enough to be on Twitter (usually I miss all the good stuff) when a whole group of people were talking about exactly do you get around to reading the authors and books you wanted so much that you were prepared to buy them? And so, the Reading Our Own Books challenge was born! The idea is that in the month of April the participants will be trying to read their own books. Each type of book you read will be assigned a value and the person with the lowest score wins.

The points values are:
  • −5 points for reading a book from your TBR stack (owned before 15 March)
  • −3 points for reading a review copy (review promised in April)
  • −2 points for reading a library copy
  • +6 points for reading a new book (owned or borrowed after 15 March)
If you can read only from your own books then you have every chance of winning, but most of us have at least a couple of review books, or library books that we really want to read so I am sure it won't be that straight forward for any of us!

Only books started before 1 April and finished before 30 April count for the challenge.

So, if for example, I read 4 books from my TBR stack, 2 review copies, 3 library books, and 1 new book, here's how I'd figure my score:

(4 × −5) + (2 × −3) + (3 × −2) + (1 × 6) = −20 + −6 + −6 + 6 = −26

In order to even out the variables like the fact that some of us read faster than others, or have more reading time, or like to read chunksters, in order to equalise the playing field, the score is going to be divided by the number of books read, so my final score would be -2.6. (Thanks to bethfish for the example!)

Who knows if that would be enough to win! And what is the prize if you do win? Well, aside from bragging rights, each of the other players gets to send the winner a book from their TBR shelves!

The other players in this edition of the game are:
Honorary member: Jen from Devourer of Books
Part of the reason that this is a closed group challenge is because of the prize aspect. However, if you want to play along please feel free to keep score. Maybe you will beat all of us. There is already some talk of doing the challenge again later in the year as well! And if you are interested you can follow our progress on Twitter by using the #roob tag.

When I started looking at the books that I might read for this challenge, I got so excited. I have already finished finished Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, and started Tangled Webs by Anne Bishop, and other books that I might read include Jasper Fforde, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Puallina Simons, Stieg Larssson, C S Harris, Patricia Briggs, Lisa Kleypas and many, many others!

The interesting thing is that this challenge has already had a beneficial effect on my library list as well, which I really wasn't expecting. The main reason for this is the heavy penalty associated with books acquired (even from the library) after 15 March so instead of automatically requesting books, I have been adding them to my list to request later! I will still be reading at least one library book, but for the most part I will be returning more than I borrow for a few weeks! Who knows I might even get my library list down below 40 again to a much more manageable level.

How do you juggle reading books from the library versus review books versus your own books? Do you just read whatever you feel like or do you have some method of juggling priorities?

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen - a joint review by Kelly and I

In her latest enchanting novel, New York Times bestelling author Sarah Addison Allen invites you to a quirky little Southern town with more magic than a full Carolina moon. Here two very different women discover how to find their place in the matter how out of place they feel.

Emily Benedict came to Mullaby, North Carolina, hoping to solve at least some of the riddles surrounding her mother's life. For instance, why did Dulcie Shelby leave her hometown so suddenly? Why did she vow never to return? But the moment Emily enters the house where her mother grew up and meets the grandfather she never knew—a reclusive, real-life gentle giant—she realizes that mysteries aren't solved in Mullaby, they're a way of life.

Here are rooms where the wallpaper changes to suit your mood. Unexplained lights skip across the yard at midnight. And a neighbor bakes hope in the form of cakes.

Everyone in Mullaby adores Julia Winterson's cakes - which is a good thing, because Julia can't seem to stop baking them. She offers them to satisfy the town's sweet tooth but also in the hope of rekindling the love she fears might be lost forever. Flour, eggs, milk and sugar... Baking is the only language the proud but vulnerable Julia has to communicate what is truly in her heart. But is it enough to call back to her those she's hurt in the past?

Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily's backyard? The answers are never what you expect. But in this town of lovable misfits, the unexpected fits right in.
Kelly's thoughts are in blue and mine are in black


It seems right to start a joint review of a fantasy book with the words once upon a time, so here we go...

Once upon a time, Kelly and Marg used to chat a lot about the books that they were reading and even wrote buddy reviews quite regularly. Whilst the former still happens, it seems something of a surprise that we haven't written a joint review for nearly 3 years. How did that happen Kelly?

Uh, probably because we both are really bad at reviewing? Or maybe it is because we were reviewing a series that I haven't read a book in for 3 years, while you are still carrying on? lol The important thing is that we are reviewing a book together now! So, we both have read all three books by Sarah Addison Allen. Which of the three do you consider your favourite?

Picking favourites is a hard thing for me because I really, really like them all. If I had to choose I would probably say Garden Spells simply because I was so pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed both the story and the style of Sarah Addison Allen's writing. These days I have a fair idea of what to expect, so the question is more whether or not the latest book lives up to those expectations. In the end, I have rated them all as 4.5/5, so she is consistently good for me! How about you? Which is your favourite of her novels.

I didn't think I was going to look any of her books. I had seen Garden Spells reviewed in several places, but it seemed like a romance and I am not big on romances. I am not even sure what happened, but somewhere I read a review and it made me curious about her first book. The library actually had it in, so I grabbed it one day on a whim to see what the fuss was about. I wound up loving the book and surprising myself. So, I think because it was my first book and because it caught me so off guard by liking it that it will remain my favourite. Although, in The Sugar Queen I really liked the character who had the books appear to her. I think she is my favourite character. Speaking of characters, what did you think of the characters in this book?

As always I found the characters eminently likable. From Emily who has just come to the town to live with the grandfather she never knew she had, to Julia who bakes cakes from her heart, but who was in her younger days the high school outcast, to the dapper young man Emily meets whose family secrets are somehow connected to the departure of her mother from the town and the fact that she never, ever mentioned her family or her past, to Julia's past flame who has a very sweet tooth. Whilst at superficial glance, each of these characters are nothing more than likable, each of them has their secrets waiting to be discovered by the reader. What did you make of Emily's mother who in a way was a character without actually appearing in the book?

I was actually rather impressed with Emily's mom. It must have been hard to grow up with a mother who appeared so perfect to everyone. I think moving to her mother's town and getting to know a different side of her was actually a really good thing for Emily. It's hard to deal with perfection, even if the person isn't actually perfect. It just seems like they are and that is who you are competing with. Even if she is not actual in the book, Allen still managed to make her come alive so that the readers got to know her better. I was even surprised by her once in a while. I guess I got a picture in my head of who she was and she wasn't entirely who I thought. I can just imagine what it would be like being her daughter and having that happen. What did you think of the people in the towns strange abilities? Was it too much, or did they work within the story?

For the most part I think that the strangeness of the people in the town, and their abilities fit the type of books that Sarah Addison Allen's Allen writes. I love the whimsical natures of her characters. You mentioned before about Chloe from The Sugar Queen who has books appear near her all the time that help her in her life. Julia was very much like that with all the different cakes that she cooked, knowing which flavour cake each person that she was making for needed! If there was one thing I didn't quite appreciate as part of the book it was the changing wallpaper in the grandfather's house. It is a very whimsical and fun idea but itdidn 't really make a difference to the story. Thinking about the wallpaper brings me to Emily's grandfather, who was over 8 feet tall. I really enjoyed him as a character. He wasn't whimsical or magical, just very large, but I loved that we see him progress from someone who was very rigid and set in his ways, and very distant, and we got to see him as he slowly allowed himself to get to know Emily and to want to protect her from the kind of things that affected his daughter during her formative years.

Did all the magical elements work for you? If you could have some kind of magical or whimsical talent, do you have any ideas what you would like it to be?

Head on over to Kelly's blog, The Written World to read her answer to my question, and more!

This book counts for the 2010 Pub Challenge and the Once Upon a Time IV challenge.

Rating 4.5/5

Friday, April 02, 2010

March Reading Reflections

It's been a busy month here at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. It is still a surprise to me to get emails saying that I have received a comment from that blog name, after having been Reading Adventures for so long, but I like it! Not only was there the makeover here and at Historical Tapestry but we also managed to get a few days away. Hopefully by the end of the weekend I will get a few photos up. Maybe.

Reading wise, I continue to surprise myself by managing to read more than the eleven or twelve books that I figured I would be able to read each month when I was looking at my goals for the year in January. This month I managed a respectable total of 15 books:

Lord Sunday by Garth Nix (4/5)
Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (4/5)
Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer (5/5)
Dance of Seduction by Elle Kennedy (3.5/5)
The Struggle by L J Smith (4/5)
Then Comes Seduction by Mary Balogh (4/5)
Tempted by PC Cast and Kristin Cast (4/5)
Dance Upon the Earth by Nora Roberts (4/5)
The Champion by Elizabeth Chadwick (4.5/5)
A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James (4.5/5)
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (4.5/5)
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (4.5/5)
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen (4/5)
Fireworks Over Toccoa by Jeffrey Stepakoff (4/5)
The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham (4/5)

I actually managed to read quite a few books for challenges this month, so let's see what progress I made, or didn't make as the case may be.

Yet again, I made no progress with the Period Drama Challenge or with the Harry Potter Reading Challenge. The Pacific is about to be shown here though so I am going to make a special effort to watch that, which will count for the first of those two challenges! The other challenges I made no progress with were the French Historical Reading Challenge (although quite a bit of The Champion was set on the tourney fields of France so I did think about counting that book for the challenge), the Art History Reading Challenge, the Tudor Challenge, In Death Reading Challenge, the Ireland Reading Challenge, but I should be able to do something with those in the not too distant future...hopefully. The Champion does however qualify as a chunkster so I am now half way through the Chunkster Challenge.

Another challenge that The Champion qualifies for, along with Susan Higginbotham's The Stolen Crown, is the Tournament of Reading. In theory I have now met the challenge requirements for this challenge, but I the first book I read for it only just qualified (should have a medieval setting where medieval is quantified as occuring between 500-1500 AD) I might read another book just to be sure!

The Struggle is the second book in the original Vampire Diaries series, which means that I am halfway through The LJ Smith reading challenge. This book and Tempted also counted for the Vampire Series Challenge, so I am third of the way through that challenge now.

Lord Sunday is by Australian author Garth Nix, so that book counted towards the Aussie Authors Challenge, which I am have now read 5 out of the 8 books required to finish this challenge.

The book that I have used as my Year of the Historical read for March was Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer, which is also the book that I reviewed when the Classics Circuit came to visit earlier this month. This book also qualified as a read for the Romance Reading Challenge, along with Dance of Seduction, Then Comes Seduction, Dance Upon the Air, and A Duke of Her Own. I only have two more books to read before I have completed the Romance Reading Challenge.

Another challenge that I only need to read another couple of books before I can say I have completed it is the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. This month The Champion, The Book of Unholy Mischief, The Postmistress, The Stolen Crown and Fireworks Over Toccoa all counted towards this challenge. Those last three book were all published this year and so also count towards the Pub 2010 Reading Challenge as well.

The new challenge I joined this month was Once Upon a Time IV, and The Girl who Chased the Moon qualifies for that challenge, so I am on the way for that one too!

Phew! That's a lot of books for challenges, or challenges for books, whichever way around you want to see it! All that is left is to update my progress on the 100+ Reading Challenge (I have read 42 out of the 100+ I am aiming for), and the Support Your Local Library Challenge where I have read 35 out of the 100 books I was aiming for.

On Sunday I will be posting about Reading Our Own Bookshelves, which is going to put a bit of a dent in my library reading, but I am very excited about participating in!


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