Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

My teaser this week comes from In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming, the first book in the Rev. Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series. I have heard lots of good things about the later books in the series, but I can't start a series part of the way through so here I am at the beginning of the series, and so far, it seems like a very good read.

My teaser comes from page 88:

"I thought...I thought she'd finally be safe once she was in Albany. Once she was away.. Why did she come back?" Fresh tears rose in her eyes. "Why did she come back?"

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

Monday, May 30, 2011

Mailbox Monday: May edition

Uh-oh! It's another big acquisition month for me. I originally decided to do this post monthly as I do enough weekly memes and I wanted to leave Monday's free for other things. I am thinking however that maybe I should do it weekly because then I could be more in denial of how many books it is that are coming into my house!

Mailbox Monday is on tour and for April it is being hosted at Mari Reads. Head over there to share your links, or to see what everyone else has posted about this week.

Here's what I got this month:


The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making by Catherynne Valente - This book was available for a free download for a weekend. I have heard however that the illustrations and cover etc make this a book that you want to own the physical copy of! I loved the last book I read by Valente and have heard really good things about this one!

Sealed with a Kiss by Mary Margret Daughtridge - I remember not being interested in this one when it came out because I didn't read contemporary romance but that is changing so this is a chance for me to try this one.

Baby, I'm Yours by Stephanie Bond - Free download for the same reason as I downloaded Mary Margret Daughtridge.

For review

Whispers in the Sand by Barbara Erskine and Midnight on Julia Street by Ciji Ware - For review from the publisher. I didn't like the only Barbara Erskine book I have previously read all that much, but I think she is one that I should like, so I will give her another chance. I have quite liked the other Ciji Ware books I have liked.

The Rose Garden  by Susanna Kearsley - This is one of my most anticipated releases for this year, and I have to say I wasn't disappointed with it at all! Such a fun read. Thanks again Susanna

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick - Another of my most anticipated releases for this year!

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen - for a blog tour later in the year.


Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts and Nightsiders by Sue Isle - Both of these books are part of the Twelve Planets series being published by Twelfth Planet Press, which is a small independent publisher based in Perth.  I have read both of these and enjoyed them, especially Love and Romanpunk which was a lot of fun. I have already preordered the next release!

The Dead Girls Dance, Midnight Alley and Feast of Fools by Rachel Caine - I bought all of these for the author signing event that I went to earlier this month.

Exposed: Misbehaving with the Magnate and Wife for a Week by Kelly Hunter - Kelly Hunter is an Australian romance author who has been nominated for a RITA award this year. I thought it was time I gave her a try.

Sanctuary of Roses, A Whisper of Rosemary, Lavender Vows, Victoria Gardella - Vampire Slayer and The Shop of Shades and Secrets by Colleen Gleason - These are all available from Smashwords. The Gardella book is a short story introduction to the Gardella vampire series which I read I few years ago. Have to say, the covers on the first thee are gorgeous for self published books! I have no idea what the quality of these will be as I suspect they were early writing that is now being published.

City of Fallen Angels  and Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare - I have already read Clockwork Angel but I bought both of these books to get them signed at the author event I went to this week. I ended up deciding that I couldn't queue up for more than an hour to get the books signed!

Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore - I have read both of these before but couldn't pass up the chance to get signed copies when Kristin was in town this week.

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith

From the award-winning author of A Rose for the Crown, Daughter of York, and The King’s Grace comes another masterful historical novel—the story of Cecily of York, mother of two kings and the heroine of one of history’s greatest love stories.

Anne Easter Smith’s novels are beloved by readers for their ability “to grab you, sweep you along with the story, and make you fall in love with the characters.”

In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet. History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father’s household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith’s greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.

Back in my pre blogging days I read and loved Sharon Kay Penman's Sunne in Splendour which was predominantly about Richard III. Reading that book sent me on a journey through lots of Ricardian fiction and one of my favourite reads at that time was Anne Easter Smith's debut novel A Rose for the Crown. In the nearly five years since I read that book, I had intended to read more from this author. With this new book, Queen by Right, I finally got around to actually doing so.

There can be no doubting whether Anne Easter Smith is for York or Lancaster when it comes to deciding which side she would have backed had she had to pick side in the war of the Roses, or at least there isn't much doubt based on the two books I have read so far. That should be sufficient warning to expect that York is good and Lancastrian is pretty much not!

Having now read most of this book, I must say I am a little amazed that we haven't heard more about Cicely's life before now. She has always been mentioned in books about Edward and Richard, her two sons who both ruled England, but Anne Easter Smith manages to give Cicely's story depth and interest all of it's own.

The novel opens with the woman who has been known as the Rose of Raby due to her beauty and also as Proud Cis for her bearing, grace and dignity. Now though, she is deep in mourning. Her beloved husband is dead, as are several of her other family members, and now she must find a way to carry on and support her remaining children.

Looking back retrospectively we see her meet and fall in love with her husband Richard and follow their lives together through their time in France and Ireland, parenting their many children and then to the conflict that pitted the Yorks against the formidable and nasty Margaret of Anjou, known through history as a she-wolf. Whilst battling for the rewards due to a man of his stature, Richard walks a fine line between loyalty and treachery against King Henry.

Of Cicely personally we meet a devout woman who believes passionately in the Virgin Mary. Her spiritual development is affected pretty early on as a result of the interactions that the book suggests she had with Jeanne de Arc. I am not sure that there is much historical basis, but with the timing all fitting, this part of the narrative has made it possible for the reader to view some of the most famous events of the time through the eyes of Cicely. Coincidentally, today is the anniversary of the death of the saint known to most of us as Joan of Arc.

As much as I have enjoyed reading this book, there are a couple of small things that I feel that I should mention. The first relates to Cicely and Richard's sex life. Whilst the scenes are not overly graphic in nature, I am not sure that we needed to be present for the conception of practically every child she had (and there were a lot!).  The second thing was that there appeared to be times where the author lost track of some of the characters, particularly the children, and keeping all of the key players straight in the conflicts later in the book was some times a little difficult. These are minor complaints though.

For the most part, we are given a fascinating glimpse into the life of a woman who is ancestor to nearly every king or queen of England since her death, was mother to two kings, and who seems to have left more of an imprint in the pages of historical fiction than a lot of other women of her time.

Luckily for me, I have two more of Anne Easter Smith's books sitting on my shelf that I can go back and read!

This book counts towards the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Thanks to Amy from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for organising the blog tour that this post is part of and for arranging for me to receive an e ARC. Head over to Historical Tapestry for your chance to win a copy of this book!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Salon: That was the week that was!

In last week's Sunday Salon I talked about the week I had coming up. I said it was going to be busy and I was right!

I was out every night this week as well as trying to do Armchair BEA. I had so much fun participating in Armchair BEA again this week, but I did run out of steam by the end of the week. I had pre written 3 posts, plus a couple of reviews, but with not being home I didn't get time to write the final two posts. I do want in particular to address the question about community, but I will save that for a future Sunday Salon post I think.

I was lucky enough to be interviewed not once, but twice, and I won a book that I have really wanted to read ever since it started to be blogged about so that was great too! Firstly, I was interviewed over at the Armchair BEA site as part of a group of four international bloggers. I talked a LOT, but then again that probably won't be a surprise to any of my regular readers. Also, I was interviewed by Rebecca from Kindle Fever, and finally I was lucky enough to be given a shout out by The Book Gatherer as well!

Last week I mentioned that I was doing a couple of book related things. First of all, I went to see Cassandra Clare in person. The event was held at Westgarth Theatre, which is a gorgeous venue. The theatre has an art deco vibe and the interior is very much an old fashioned theatre - big comfy, plush seats, loads of leg room,  and little trays in between each seat where you can put your drink.

The evening started off with a drama presentation of one of the earliest scenes in City of Bones, where Clary has just come to the Institute with Jace and there is opposition. It must have been a lot of fun for Cassandra Clare to see that, although with the movie casting news coming thick and fast, I am sure that it is something that she will be getting used to!

Local author Leanne Hall dressed up as Magnus and interviewed Cassandra Clare, who did really well to get up on the stage in the first place. The stairs were a little precarious, and she was wearing high heels despite the fact that she currently has a broken toe. What a trooper! Then again, I gave up wearing high heels except when I absolutely have to years ago!

Among some of the things that were discussed was the movie process, and about how involved or otherwise the author is in the casting process. She also talked about her future plans in terms of the books she would like to write. There will be more books set in the same world as her current series, and there are some plans for a YA adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, and maybe some kids books as well.

A lot of the discussion centred around the themes of the latest trilogy set in the Shadowhunter world, and amongst those there will be an exploration of the theme of falling from grace. There will also be some page space given to the fact that Jace really needs to discover who he is after the revelations of the last book in the previous trilogy.

There were lots of people in the audience who went all out in dressing up for the appearance, something I would never, ever do, but I do admire those who have the bravado to do that kind of thing!

I did buy the two latest books with the intention of getting them signed, but the place in the queue where I stood looked like it was going to be more than an hours wait, so I had to decide between standing in the queue for more than an hour in my not so comfortable boots, or actually get home at a reasonable time. It is a sign of my advancing maturity that I chose to go home!

As usual, my photos from this event are very average!

On Thursday night, we attempted to have a Melbourne book blogger meet up. Bree and I had a great time chatting, but that's about all I will say about that.

Friday night after work I went to go and see Kristin Cashore. There was a short time where she was signing books at the State Library so I went and got both Graceling and Fire. Of course, once I was standing in front of her, I couldn't think of a single thing to say to her. She was very gracious in taking the time to talk to everyone in the queue and I managed to get a photo too. Of course, if I look like I might have just rushed from one end of the city to the other, it would be because I had! Never mind!

This weekend, I managed to hurt my back getting washing out of the washing machine today and have house guests arriving soon. A quiet weekend was what I needed after a very busy week, but I could do with being able to move at least a little bit!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Classic Baked Cheesecake and Cooking Tips

Last weekend I was making pumpkin soup and lamented on Twitter and Facebook that the hardest thing about making pumpkin soup (click on the link for the recipe) is peeling the pumpkin. It didn't take too long before I had several people who offered me a variety of tips.

One was to not peel it at all if I was using Butternut pumpkin, because by the time it is cooked in the slow cooker the skin will be soft and therefore when you blitz it you won't be able to tell it was there. Other options were to wrap the pumpkin in cling film and put it in the microwave for a while which will soften the skin and make it easier to peel (be careful though because the pumpkin will be hot), or to roast the pumpkin and then scoop the flesh out and use that in the soup.

When making hamburgers one of my favourite cooking tips is to shape the burger using a quarter cup measuring cup. It means that you get consistent size and shape and makes it easier to get even, well cooked burgers.

Then on Masterchef the other day, Australian celebrity cook and food stylist Donna Hay shared her tips on creating the perfect Baked Cheesecake. Now, I love cheesecake, but when I make cheesecake I always make the chilled version of cheesecake. In fact, I will be making my absolute favourite cheesecakes at least once next weekend, but I am thinking that this one looks pretty achievable too.

Watch the video to see a couple of very handy tips, especially one about using springform cake tins.

Donna Hay's Classic Baked Cheesecake

1/3 cup ground almonds (almond meal)
¾ cup plain flour
¼ cup caster sugar
90g chilled butter, chopped

330g cream cheese, softened
500g fresh ricotta
4 eggs
1 1/3 cups caster sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ tablespoons cornflour
1½ tablespoons water

Strawberries and raspberries, to decorate

1. Preheat oven to 150°C.

2. To make the base, place the ground almonds, flour, sugar and butter into a bowl. Rub mixture with your fingertips until it forms coarse crumbs.

3. Line the base of a 20cm spring form tin with non-stick baking paper. Place the base mixture in the tin and press gently with fingers until even and then smooth out with the back of a spoon. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden, set aside.

4. To make the filling, place the cream cheese, ricotta, eggs, sugar, lemon rind, juice and vanilla in a food processor. Combine the cornflour and water until smooth and add to the cheese mixture. Process the mixture until smooth.

5. Grease the sides of the cake tin with a little butter and then pour the filling over the base. Tap lightly to remove any air bubbles. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and stand the cake in the oven for 1 hour, leaving the door closed. Refrigerate until cold and serve with fresh berries.

I had never, ever even considered turning the base of the springform pan over, but it makes perfect sense!

So my question for all my Weekend Cooking peeps is...

What's the best cooking tip you have ever been given?

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. 

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Vampire Narcise by Colleen Gleason

Skilled in the seduction of men, both mortal and immortal, Narcise Moldavi is the greatest weapon in her twisted brother's war among the Dracule. Until she falls for Giordan Cale.

Her first searing encounter with Giordan seals their fierce connection for their eternal lives. But Giordan's vow to help Narcise escape her brother's rule is followed by a betrayal more agonizing than sunlight.

Wounded but determined, Narcise ensnares vampire hunter Chas Woodmore in her quest for revenge and to reclaim her life. He wants her, worships her, will kill for her.

And the Dracule never forget a wrong— nor do they forgive.

I was a bit worried when I knew that I was about to start this book. The first two books were okay, but the second bothered me a bit due to the repetition of the story from the first book. If this book had started at the same point and retold it again, I am not sure that I would have continued reading.

Instead the novel starts ten years earlier. Narcise Moldavi is the prisoner of her brother, Cezar, compelled to regularly fight against opponents organised by him. If they win, they get her to do with as they please. If she wins, she is left alone.Given her extensive training over many, many years, she generally wins.

Enter Giordan Cale, another vampire and visitor to Cezar to enter into a business deal. He sees Narcise and wants her instantly, and for a while it seems as though he will be the first man in many years to get underneath her cold, distant but beautiful facade. Cezar is a game player from way back, and he manipulates the situation in such a way as to ensure that Narcise is left believing that Giordan has deceived her in a way that she can never forgive.

I loved this part of the story. Setting up the how it was that Narcise was under the control of her horrid brother, the lengths he would go to ensure that Narcise remained his possession, the strong connection between Giordan and Narcise and the depth of Cezar's conflicted emotions in relation to her, and how far he would go to get what he would want made for compelling and interesting reading.

The story moves on ten years, and my instant thought on reading that was uh-oh, here comes the repetition, but thankfully Colleen Gleason avoided that trap. Most of the action is alluded to, skirted around the edges if you like. Narcise is still under the control of her brother until she is rescued by Chas Woodmore, brother to the heroines of Vampire Voss and Vampire Dimitri. Chas is a vampire hunter who hates the fact that he is attracted to vampires, but he is very attracted to Narcise. She however, has not allowed herself to feel anything for any man since Giordan. She does allow herself one emotion when she thinks of the man who betrayed her - hatred, strong and pure. She is however willing to attach herself to Chas because he can save her from the life she has been living for so long.

There were times that I found myself wondering why this hadn't been the first book in the series with the set up, the rescuing of Narcise (which you knew about in the first two books but didn't see), but I suspect if you read this third book without having read at least the first book it would be a little difficult to follow the narrative. It needed the foundation that had been set in those earlier books, despite the fact that a lot of the action in this book took place before the events of the first two books, and then after those two books.

Unlike in the first two books, which to me were basically standard romance novels draped in paranormalcy and dressed in Regency attire, this book took some risks. Whilst the back cover blurb makes it clear who the hero of this book is going to be, the relationship between Chas and Narcise was also strong and well developed, putting her in the position of having to choose between two men who loved her.

I was glad to find out more about the talents of the younger Woodmore sister, and I can't help but wonder if we might hear more about her in future. I did find myself wondering again why Maia missed out in terms of special talents (other than bossiness), but maybe it was just to make it a little less predictable. I have no idea what Gleason's plans are in terms of what she is working on next.

One of the key features of all three novels was how do the vampires escape the fate that they have chosen, and I found the transformation that Giordan had undergone, and the impact of that transformation to be quite interesting, and certainly wasn't a twist that I have seen in a vampire novel before. Did I find the outcome for Narcise to be believable? Well not really, but it would be a bit irrelevant to say that you need to suspend disbelief, because these are paranormal romance novels and so you have to suspend disbelief from the beginning.

For me, this trilogy started out slowly, was repetitive, but ended on a high with this book.

Thanks to Netgalley for the e-ARC.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Library Loot: May 25 to 31

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader 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!

Claire is hosting Mr Linky this week, so be sure to head over and add your link so that we can have a look at the loot that you got.

Here's my loot for this week:

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan - I have been meaning to try this series for the longest time!

My Husband's Sweethearts by Bridget Asher - I first heard of Bridget Asher as a result of her latest books The Provence Cure for the BrokenHearted. My library doesn't however have that book yet, so I decided to read the books that were there.

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon - I read the follow up book to this the other day inadvertently. I don't like reading out of order, but now that I have I need to go back and read the first book.

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson - I first heard about this book from a publicist. I turned it down because I have too much here to read already, but then it was on the library catalogue, so I ended up requesting it anyway.


Armchair BEA: Work the Network

Today it is time for the Armchair BEA interview swap! Here are the details from the Armchair BEA website:

This is the day for the ever-popular blogger Interviews! Participants did have to sign up for the interviews in advance, so if you missed the cutoff, our “alternate” topic is an invitation to write a post highlighting some of your favorite book blogs and bloggers - share the love!

Before I introduce you to my interviewee, I also want to mention that I have been interviewed by Chris over at the main ArmchairBEA site alongside three other international bloggers, and by Rebecca at Kindle Fever.
Lucky we were organised otherwise this could have been a very hectic day! As soon as I have the links I will add them to this post.

Without further ado, meet Julie from Manga Maniac Cafe

Tell us a little about yourself

I’m a bean counter by day, and an unrepentant reader by night. If I’m not at work, chances are you will find me with a book in my hand. Besides reading, my other love is chilling with my horses at the barn down the street.

What started you on your road to Manga loving?

College started my love for manga. Once I started taking advanced accounting classes, I didn’t have the attention span to read my preferred fantasy novels, but I found that comic books worked well as a substitute. Because they are published in installments, it’s easier to consume them in short chunks of time, which was perfect for when I needed a break from studying.

I have read a few graphic novels over the years - Kaoru Mori comes to mind - but really not that many. Is there a particular series or novelist that you would say is must read for people who aren't familiar with the genre.

Oh, EMMA was a good series to start with! It has great characters and a wonderful, forbidden romance. Sand Chronicles by Hinako Ashihara is another moving series, and I think I was so emotionally invested in it that I cried every volume. Kekkaishi by Yellow Tanabe is a fun action series, and again, it focuses on the relationships between the characters. There are so many good manga series out that it would take an entire blog post just to touch on some of the best!

There is a big trend at the moment for successful mainstream novels to be turned into graphic novels/manga. Diana Gabaldon, the Twilight books, Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris and the list goes on and on. What do you think of this trend?

I like it, and I hope that more women start reading graphic novels because of it. My only concern is that I don’t feel that publishers are marketing them correctly to their intended target market. They are on the pricey side because most of them have been hardcovers. And I’m afraid that they will over saturate a niche that isn’t for everyone. Over saturation is one of the things that killed the manga industry in the US (arguably, piracy is the other major factor); I hope that doesn’t happen with these.

We actually starting blogging at around about the same time - nearly 6 years ago for both of us. What keeps you blogging? What has changed, and what has stayed the same?

I think I keep blogging because I don’t really have anyone to talk to about books. I like talking about books, and since I don’t have anyone to listen to me, I talk with my fingers instead. What’s stayed the same? Blogging is hard work, especially if you try to keep any kind of schedule with your posts. I think that social networking has made it easier to get your blog out there, and I would be lost without Twitter. There are also so many free tools now to make blogging easier.

I saw a few posts about ebooks on your blog. How is the growth of ebooks good, or otherwise, for manga/graphic novels?

I think that most of the comic book/graphic novel publishers are late to adopt a digital format for their titles. There are too many delivery methods for digital content; there’s Comixology, and most publishers have their own dedicated application for reading their books on electronic gadgets like iThings. I think that digital comics are still too expensive, and the reading experience is still too clunky. I believe that if the comic publishers don’t get this figured out quickly, they will continue to lose readers to pirate sites, and we all feel the pain when the market erodes because readers just give up on legitimate sources of obtain their comics.

You don't only read manga. What else do you like to read?

I like to read pretty much everything. I love fantasy novels, and have been waiting years for the next book in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. I enjoy YA and MG, and dystopian and post-apocalyptic are favorite genres. I like books about zombies, which is totally surprising, because I can’t stand watching horror movies. I am not so fond of non-fiction, and I usually avoid classics, but I am open to almost anything else!

Tell us about the last book you finished, the book you are currently reading, the book you are planning to read next, and a favourite recent read.

The last book that I read was OyMG by Amy Fellner Dominy, and it was a great read about a young girl who is exposed to discrimination for the first time.

I am currently reading Flawless by Lara Chapman. I really like it so far. It’s about accepting yourself, has lots high school angst, but is told with a great deal of humor.

I am going to read Are You Going to Kiss Me Now? by Sloane Tanen after that, or maybe a zombie book. I haven’t read a good zombie book in a while, so I am really tempted to go hunt one down. A zombie book, not an actual zombie.

My favorite books this year have been Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin and Dogtag Summer by Elizabeth Partridge. They are both MG books, and I couldn’t put them down. I found them both touching and heartwarming reads.

Let's talk about something other than books. You are a passionate horse rider. How long have you been riding? Tell us about your horses, Blondie and Elle?

I have been riding for about six years. It’s something that I always wanted to do, and I have dreamed about owning a horse since I was a little girl, but my parents didn’t have the money for me to take lessons. After my boyfriend kept telling me I wasn’t getting any younger (thanks, dude!), and that if I was serious about riding, I needed to start soon, I finally started taking lessons. Now I own two mares, Blondie (Saddlebred) and Elle (Morgan), and I show competitively. It’s a lot of fun and it helps me blow off some steam. I am so grateful that the BF gave me the push I needed to make my dream a reality.

Thanks so much for asking me such wonderful questions!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn

This week my teaser comes from The Dark Enquiry by Deanna Raybourn, the fifth book in the fabulous Lady Julia Grey mystery series. A dashing heroes, interesting mysteries,a feisty heroine, Victorian England - so much to love about these books.

My teaser comes from page 73:

"Trust me?" he challenged. There was a grim purpose there, but something more, some animal vitality that the evening's adventure had roused in him. He was a man thoroughly within his element.

"I trust you," I vowed.

And then he dropped me.

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

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by CW Gortner

The truth is, none of us are innocent. We all have sins to confess.

So reveals Catherine de Medici in this brilliantly imagined novel about one of history’s most powerful and controversial women. To some she was the ruthless queen who led France into an era of savage violence. To others she was the passionate savior of the French monarchy. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner brings Catherine to life in her own voice, allowing us to enter into the intimate world of a woman whose determination to protect her family’s throne and realm plunged her into a lethal struggle for power.

 The last legitimate descendant of the illustrious Medici line, Catherine suffers the expulsion of her family from her native Florence and narrowly escapes death at the hands of an enraged mob. While still a teenager, she is betrothed to Henri, son of François I of France, and sent from Italy to an unfamiliar realm where she is overshadowed and humiliated by her husband’s lifelong mistress. Ever resilient, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children as regent of a kingdom torn apart by religious discord and the ambitions of a treacherous nobility.

Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons. She allies herself with the enigmatic Protestant leader Coligny, with whom she shares an intimate secret, and implacably carves a path toward peace, unaware that her own dark fate looms beforeher—a fate that, if she is to save France, will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, her reputation, and the passion of her embattled heart.

From the fairy-tale châteaux of the Loire Valley to the battlefields of the wars of religion to the mob-filled streets of Paris, The Confessions of Catherine de Medici is the extraordinary untold journey of one of the most maligned and misunderstood women ever to be queen.

There are certain figures from history whose lasting legacy seems to be a bad reputation in some way, usually deservedly so. If a novelist chooses to write about them it can be difficult for them to walk the fine line between writing the history or trying to rehabilitate their reputation or to be apologist.

CW Gortner has chosen to write about Catherine de Medici, a woman known through history as a someone who would do whatever she could to maintain her grip on power, including meddling in the dark arts, poisoning her enemies, inciting religious disharmony and so much more. In doing so, he tries to bring a balance to the stories we think we know about Catherine and presents her as a wife and mother trying to do everything she can to maintain her family's grip on power, a stranger in a foreign land, a woman whose husband loves another. For the most part, Gortner manages to tell this woman's story without straying too far into sentimentality or being too apologetic.

Catherine is a member of the de Medici family, but they are no longer the all powerful family they once were. Spirited away from a dangerous situation at home, Catherine is married off to a French Prince - Henri. He is however destined to become King Henri II.  This Catherine is innocent, full of hope that she may find love and fulfilment within her marriage, but she is also determined and after all a Medici. Packed in her trousseau - a vial of poison. Her husband has, however, already given his love to another - the beautiful and powerful Diane de Poitiers, and the French Court does not like the young Catherine. Not only is she lonely in her marriage, but she is dealing with new customs she must learn to fit in in the French Court, but even if she does she will always be seen as an outsider.

Diane is not content with taking Catherine's husband's affections, she also wants to usurp her role at court, to find a place in Catherine's children affection, and her house! I remember reading years ago that Diane de Poitiers was a forebear of Princess Diana. If ever there was another case of 'there were three people in this marriage' then this would be it!
As Catherine's hopes of happiness fade, she eventually finds power the one way that she can - through her children, but even then there are obstacles. Widowed at 40, she becomes regent for her sons, and finds herself part of a struggle for power between the de Guise family and the ruling family, and so she must make the hard decisions to protect her children's legacy. At the same time, there is religious upheaval and rebellion.

The narrator is Catherine herself, looking back over her life from the relative distance of old age. She shares with us her hopes and dreams, her loves,  her disappointments, the meetings with influential people of the age including Nostradamus, and yes, her regrets.

Whilst this wasn't quite a warts and all look at the life of Catherine de Medici, the author certainly didn't gloss over the terrible consequences of the decisions that were made, whether they were the intended consequences or not.

As much as I liked CW Gortners previous book The Last Queen, this was a step up. Now I am eager to read his next book on Isabel of Castile. I am expecting a very readable and enjoyable look at another fascinating female character from history.

This review is part of the blog tour for The Confessions of Catherine de Medici being run by Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours. You can follow the blog tour by visiting the tour schedule here. Also, if you head over to Historical Tapestry, I have cross-posted this review, but there is also a chance to win a copy of the paperback release of the book.

Armchair BEA - Best of 2011.... so far

Here is Tuesday's writing prompt for BEA

Tuesday is Armchair BEA’s big Giveaway Day! We’ll be doing giveaways all week here, but if you’re hosting a giveaway for Armchair BEA-goers on your own site, this is the day to post about it there and link it up here! And if you’re not hosting a giveaway, today’s suggested posting topic is “Best of 2011”: share some of your favorite books so far this year, and/or the the books being promoted at BEA that you hope will end up among your favorites for the year!
I am not giving anything away today, so here are my favourite reads of 2011 so far, plus a few honourable mentions!

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins - This is YA at it's best. I am planning to review this book as part of the Paris in July event that is being run by Karen from Bookbath and Tamara from Thyme for Tea again this year. For now, I will say that this book had me wishing that I could visit Paris any time of the year, not just in July.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness - If there was a book that ticked all my boxes in terms of something I would really enjoy reading, then this book was it. It has vampires, witches, time travel, romance, drama and adventure, and a fabulous house, and much, much more! Can not wait for the second book in the trilogy.

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes -This book won the UK Romantic Novelists' Association award for Romantic Novel of the Year, and I have to say that it was well deserved. I couldn't imagine that I would love a book about two people involved in an adulterous relationship would touch me the way this one did. It also had humour and poignancy in the form of break up letters from various sources. Just thinking about the book makes me want to reread this book.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley - I think I am genetically predisposed to love the writing of Susanna Kearsley, and this book was no exception. I was going to say that this was her best book since The Winter Sea, but given that The Winter Sea was her last book, that really doesn't say all that much does it! I am currently working on a buddy review for this one, so the review should be up shortly! I will say that this book has a twist in it that literally had me gasping out loud when I read it!

This year I seem to be reading  a lot of short stories, with a particular focus on short stories by Australian authors. This is quite a change for me, because before this year I used to mainly search out short stories only when they were part of an ongoing series that I was already invested in. It also has had the added bonus of introducing me to some Australian authors that I hadn't read before.

So my honorary mentions go to

Margo Lanagan - I am thoroughly enjoying my trip through Margo Lanagan's short stories. You can read my review of Yellowcake here. I can't wait to read her next collection, and do also intend to read Tender Morsels soon too.

Marianne de Pierres -  I bought her Glitter Rose collection when I went to Sydney earlier this year. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it was oh so good. Now I need to read Burning Bright!

Tansy Rayner Roberts - I first read this author in the Sprawl anthology. Her short story Relentless Adaptations was funny and imaginative, and I really enjoyed her voice. Then I read Love and Romanpunk, which is a collection of four short stories, and really, really enjoyed that too! I have subsequently bought her novel Power and Majesty (the first book in the Creature Court trilogy) and I have high expectations for it.

One of the interesting things about this list is that the Sprawl anthology, Glitter Rose and Love and Romanpunk were all published by the same publisher - Twelfth Planet Press. I am not a reader who normally takes notice of particular publishers but I am now taking notice of this one. Yet another way my reading has changed a little this year.

So there you have it. My favourites of 2011 so far, and some honourable mentions. What are you favourite reads of this year so far?