Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys

If I recall correctly, I added this book to my TBR list a couple of years ago. It was therefore something of a surprise when I started reading the book and realised that I either had never noticed or had forgotten what the structure of this book was.

Rather than a through narrative following a set of characters, The Frozen Thames is a series of vignettes with each being set at a different year when the winter was so cold that the river Thames froze over. Each of the forty different stories is perhaps three or four pages long, certainly not many were much longer, and so just give a glimpse of life at a particular moment in time. When you have forty or so short stories some will be stronger than others and that is definitely the case here, but what you do get is some fascinating glimpses of these particular moments in time.

The first story is set in 1195 and is about Empress Matilda, would be queen of England. She is in a castle on the banks of the Thames, besieged by the forces of her cousin, King Stephen when she manages to escape during a blizzard by dressing all in white and crossing the frozen Thames. Now, if you didn't know that this was a true story and I hadn't read of it in books by authors such as Elizabeth Chadwick and Sharon Kay Penman, it is possible that you would think that it was a fanciful piece of writing! Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.

At other times the frozen river became home to frost fairs, something which turned out to be a great social leveller as both the higher levels of society and the lower classes all took advantage of the unusual conditions to linger on the ice. I recently read about one of these frost fairs in The Gilded Lily by Deborah Swift and so it was fun to see more about these. Of course, for all the fun of the frost fairs there are also the ferrymen, porters and others who rely on the river for their livelihood who are affected as well and their story is not forgotten either.

I liked the fact that there was a mix of social classes through the stories as well. We saw young boys waiting for the King's carriage to drive past them on the ice and the pub owner's who have an iced-in boat tied to their pub. There were even two stories that were linked which I loved. A young woman takes a risk crossing the river as it started to melt and then her grown child has to face his fears in a later story.

Along the way, the author skates (pun intended) through history, touching on things like the hearth taxes and window taxes, the plagues that caused such death, and more.

As an object, this is a beautiful book. It is a small volume, with thick paper and the text is interspersed with some pictures from the relevant eras which made it a joy to look at.

In some ways, it is a shame that it is highly unlikely that the Thames will freeze again, thanks mainly to the fact that the bridges across the river have such wide spans now, along with the other man made interventions such as the embankments, and global warming. Then again, when I read this it was a more than 40 degrees celsius day so I was reading to help myself feel cooler. Now, as I finish off this review, I am watching the news about more flooding in Queensland and New South Wales where homes and lives are being destroyed and lives lost so it is best that we don't wish for those kinds of extreme weather conditions. It is hard enough to deal with when they come without wishing for more.

Rating 4/5

In its long history, the river Thames has frozen solid forty times. These are the stories of that frozen river.

So begins this breathtaking and original work, which contains forty vignettes based on events that actually took place each time the historic Thames froze solid. Spanning more than seven centuries—from 1142 to 1895—and illustrated with stunning full-color period art,The Frozen Thames is an achingly beautiful feat of the imagination…a work of fiction that transports us back through history to cast us as intimate observers of unforgettable moments in time.

Whether we’re viewing the magnificent spectacle of King Henry VIII riding across the ice highway (while plotting to rid himself of his second wife) or participating in a joyous Frost Fair on the ice, joining lovers meeting on the frozen river during the plague years or coming upon the sight of a massive ship frozen into the Thames…these unforgettable stories are a triumph of the imagination as well as a moving meditation on love, loss, and the transformative powers of nature.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Library Loot: January 30 to Feb 5

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!

I only have one book to talk about in my Library Loot post this week.

If it wasn't for blogging I would never have even heard of this book. When everyone around the blogosphere was talking about their favourite reads for 2012, Sherri from Semicolon took their lists and gave them recommendations of other books they may like. This was one of her recommendations for me, along with Black Out and All Clear by Connie Willis, which I will get to eventually. I hadn't actually heard much about this book at all, so I was glad to see that it was available via inter library loan.

Share your loot by adding your link to Mr Linky which is hosted at Claire's blog this week.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Winner of the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop

Thank you to every one who entered the Australia Day Book Blog Giveaway Hop! There was a huge number of entries.

I used to help me to choose a winner who gets to choose a book of their choice from any Australian author.

Congratulations to the winner:

I will be in contact to find out which book you would like to read!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

Today I am very pleased to be posting a discussion about Susanna Kearsley's new book which is released in the UK tomorrow and then in the US in April/May! I can't tell you how excited I was when I got an early copy of this book! (There may have been squeeing and happy dancing!) When I knew that Rosario also got an early copy, the idea of doing this discussion post was born. A conversation about one of my favourite authors with one of my favourite bloggers! What could be better?

Rosario has the first part of the discussion, which ended with the question "Were you surprised by the journey that both the present and past characters took?" Her thoughts are in red and mine in black.

On with the discussion...

Rosario: I was, actually. First, although I’d read the blurb, and knew the story would have something to do with Russia, I really didn’t expect for it to be mostly set there. I absolutely loved that it was. I’ve come to expect Kearsley’s books to include settings that are so vivid that they almost become characters in their own right, and I wasn’t disappointed here. You can picture every single place clearly, to the point you can almost smell and taste! It’s not just that she includes a lot of detail, it’s that she includes just the right things and in just the right way. It really isn’t easy to do. I read a mystery recently where the author went into just as much detail (even some of the things that Kearsley does, such as which streets they took to get to X, that sort of thing) and it was incredibly tedious. I just wanted her to get to the flipping point, whereas with Kearsley, I wallow. That’s the only word for it. 

I was also surprised by the plot, especially that of the historical story. One of the things I most appreciate about Kearsley’s books is how she often uses events from history that I really don’t know anything about. It means she can write plots which are very influenced by big-picture historical events and based on real people, and still not dilute the tension, because most readers (me, for instance) will have no idea of how things will turn out. This was just perfect. I had no idea of the history involved, and it was fascinating.

I suppose the romances themselves weren’t as surprising, as they are very much vintage Kearsley, but they were both beautifully done and very satisfying. You mention you had a bit of a preference for the historical story. What was it about it that you preferred? Me, I kept switching sides. My favourite was always whichever one I was reading!

Marg: It wasn’t so much the romance aspect where I preferred one over the other story, although I will say that while Rob feels like a quintessential Kearsley hero, the man in the past didn’t as much! It was more in the historical details like the fact that there were Jacobites that were trying to drum up support for their leader in courts as far away as Russia. I knew that they were in France and Italy, but Russia really surprised me. I also do have a fondness for books that are set in Russia, so the chance to read more about Russian Tsars and spies and St Petersburg back in the day (St Petersburg is high up on the list of places I need to get to one day).

I liked the modern story a lot, but in a lot of ways the relationship between Rob and Nicola felt like it was both their journey (both emotionally and physically) but more importantly it was the gateway to the past story.

While Rob was a character from The Shadowy Horses, this book for me sits more comfortably as a sequel to The Winter Sea. It would work fine as a stand-alone book but better as a sequel. Should we talk about how these two books are connected and a bit about the historical plot?

Rosario: I agree that Rob is THE quintessential Kearsley hero, but “the man in the past” (guess who we’re talking about could be seen as a spoiler!) does have the sense of honour and caring as well, it’s just that he has reasons to present a slightly different faƧade to the world.

Anyway, yes, the historical plot. Ah, this is going to be delicate, because I don’t want to spoil The Winter Sea for those who haven’t read it, and the very basics of Anna’s story are closely related to the end of that book. I’ll try to keep the particulars of that relationship quite vague.

As you mentioned earlier, Marg, when holding the object belonging to the old lady, Nicola sees an image from the past. One of the two women in that image is Empress Catherine, but the other is a young woman, presumably the ancestor who got given the object. Nicola and Rob realise that their best bet is to find out more about this young woman, and travel to the village by Slains Castle, where the old lady had said she was from (and readers of The Winter Sea are going ding-ding-ding!).

It turns out that using Rob’s powers, they are able to find the young woman, Anna, as a young girl, and by listening in on different episodes in her life, they’re able to follow her. Even though she’s a young girl, the circumstances of Anna’s life mean that she doesn’t stay put in Scotland, but ends up embarking on quite an adventure, first in Belgium, and then travelling to St Petersburg, where she grows up amongst Jacobite families who are still very involved in the fight to put their leader on the throne.

I have to agree with you, Marg, although there are connections to both The Shadowy Horses and The Winter Sea, the fact that Rob is Robbie is just a lovely easter egg (i.e. it’s a nice surprise for those who’ve read TSH, but those who haven’t read it won’t feel like they’re missing anything). The connection to TWS, on the other hand, makes it more of a sequel, as you rightly say. It’s a “what happened next” in the life of several characters, and we even get info that’s quite key to the HEA of TWS’s protagonists. Did you like this about it?

Marg: I did! It’s funny because when I read The Winter Sea, I was completely satisfied with how it ended, and I wasn’t longing to find out what happened next to the main characters. I may have thought about it briefly, but that was about it,. When we found out what happened during The Firebird though, I was really pleased that we did get that glimpse.

One of the key things that I have come to expect from Susanna Kearsley is that there will be a twist in the tale. She is so good at telling a story and then suddenly including something that makes you look back at what you have read and see it a little differently and it all makes perfect sense in the context. For example, when I read the twist in The Rose Garden I literally gasped out loud! Whilst my reaction wasn’t as visceral in this book, it was very much an a-ha moment! I am trying very hard not to give anything away, but did you see the big reveal about one character’s identity coming or were you surprised by it?

Rosario: I did not see it coming in the least, but once I knew, I flipped back frantically and saw the clues I’d missed. And I’d read The Winter Sea, and everything, so you’d have thought I’d have been less oblivious! It was a good way to close that particular element of the story, left me feeling very satisfied.

In fact, satisfied is how the whole book left me. I enjoyed it thoroughly as I was reading: romances, plot, setting, everything! And then I closed it with a smile. It was an A- for me. How about you Marg?

Marg: I knew I was going to like the book it was just a question of how much. It is a Kearsley novel after all and I have said before that I am genetically predisposed to loving her books! It was a 9/10 read for me, so we are about the same in our grading!

Thanks for discussing the book with me Rosario! I enjoyed our discussion!

Rosario: So did I, Marg, thank you!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop

We get to celebrate Australia Day this weekend! Normally it is a day for relaxing but this weekend I have barbecues (there may even be prawns on the barbie!) and booze, maybe going to the fireworks nearby, watching the tennis, oh, and getting ready for back to school but I don't want to think too hard about that!

I am pleased though to be sharing some Australia Day celebrations with you! Today, I am participating in my first ever blog hop giveaway, the Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop being hosted by Book'd Out and Confessions from Romaholics! I am pleased to be giving away one book to the value of $30 (excluding postage). Because this is an Australia Day celebration, I am going to insist that the author be an Aussie!

As the giveaway is open internationally, it may give some of my international readers a chance to try some of the fantastic books we have that are only easily available here.

Need some ideas for books to choose from. Here are a few suggestions

Rural Lit - very popular here and kind of uniquely Australian. I certainly haven't read much like them set in other countries. All three of these books include outback settings, in very male dominated environments and all of them are great reads.

Historical Fiction - settings from WWII in Perth to ancient Etruscan civilisation to 19th century England

Contemporary Fiction  -Set in Melbourne or Sydney both of these books made laugh, and one of them nearly made me cry!

Speculative Fiction - I am a big fan of the entire Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press

That's probably enough in terms of suggestions, despite the fact I haven't even gotten to some of my favourite authors or the authors I know I should have read but haven't yet or to romance as a genre or literary fiction! So many fab choices!

How to Enter

The Australia Day Book Giveaway Blog Hop is open for entries until Midnight January 28. Open internationally! Winners will be announced before the following Friday.

Complete the form below

Be sure to visit Book'd Out to see all the other great Aussie blogs that are hosting giveaways this weekend too!

In the comments

I am sure that there are lots of favourite Aussie authors that I haven't mentioned. Share your favourite Aussie authors, or the books that you wish you could read by an Aussie author!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Winner of Vanity Fare giveaway

Mmmm..... donuts!

Before I announce the winner of the giveaway I was running for Vanity Fare by Megan Caldwell, I thought I would share the entries I got to my competition question. In case you don't recall, I asked entrants to come up with a marketing blurb for donuts. Not everyone did this, but it didn't matter because it wasn't a condition of entry. I did mention that I would be sharing the results here, so here they are:

Free Girl Eating Yummy Pink Donut Creative Commons

Meg from A Bookish Affair started us off with a Donut Haiku

Sprinkled frosted love:
The food gods loving offer
You must eat one now!!!"

My Sweet Valentine free creative commons

Twisty J from Twisting the Lens ode to the Long John (which I think we call eclairs here although we have both the ones made with donut mix and choux pastry)

Jam-filled, cream-filled or twisted, the long john donut can find happiness in the belly of anyone!  

No Donuts
Samstillreading isn't a fan

 "Fat, sugar, cream...short cut your way to a heart attack! 

 (You might guess that I don't like donuts!)"

Michelle from Peaceful Reader

 "Donuts are just squishy bagels with sprinkles, can we get some, please?" said my son to me.

Mmm... donuts

And finally Stephanie from Read in a Single Sitting

Sweet, curvy and with a heart of jam: what more could you ask for?

I can tell you I gave myself a donut craving looking for all these images!

Anyway, enough of that!

I used to pick the winner from the entrants, and the winner is

Twisty J from Twisting the Lens

I will be emailing the winner for their postal details. Thanks to everyone for participating, especially those who joined in on the donut fun!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Library Loot: January 23 to 29

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!
After quite a few weeks where I was returning more books (read even!) than I was borrowing, this is my biggest borrowing week for quite some time! Here's the loot I got this week:

Kiss the Bride anthology - I really got this for the Laura Florand story which is the first in the series that continue with The Chocolate Thief and The Chocolate Kiss which I reviewed recently.

Frantic by Katherine Howell - I got an unexpected book package the other day which included the sixth book in this series. I really don't like reading a series out of order so this is the first book in the Ella Marconi series.

Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman  - I feel as though I am really late to the party with this book but I still want to read it!

The Perfect Hope by Nora Roberts - The third book in the Inn Boonsboro trilogy. Not my favourite Nora Roberts trilogy but still readable.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa - Not too long ago I read Hotel and so now it is time to explore one of the other books by this Japanese author.

Fables: Wolves by Bill Willingham - The next Fables graphic novel

Shadows and Strongholds by Elizabeth Chadwick - This is the last of Elizabeth Chadwick's book that I haven't yet read! What will I do once I read it? Actually, there is one other but it is a novelisation of a movie so I am not sure I will bother reading it. We will see anyway.

What loot did you get this week? Share your link below:

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Salon: On reading Les Miserables

If you have been taking note of the books that I have listed as Currently Reading at the bottom of every Sunday Salon post, you may have noticed that I have had the same book listed there for a couple of months. My intention was to finish Victor Hugo's Les Miserables before I went to see the movie. In the end, I went to see the movie a couple of weeks ago, so today I am going to post about my experience of reading the book because I finished it this week (yay!) as well as about how seeing the movie when I did affected my reading experience. Bree from All the Books I Can Read started the book around the same time as I did but finished it much earlier. It seemed like a good chance to have a discussion about the book.

This is the first part of the discussion post. You can read the second part of the discussion at Bree's blog.

Marg: In a way I am often a little bit concerned about trying to review a classic like this book. While I felt a profound sense of achievement when I closed the book for the last time a few days ago, the reality is that I am not the first one to do so! Having said that, I often find when I do read such well known stories that I assume that everyone knows what the book is about, and often it isn't the case. I haven't seen the musical of Les Miserables, but I knew that the main characters were Jean Valjean and Fantine, and and so I expected the novel to focus on them I was therefore somewhat surprised when Fantine played a pivotal but short role. Other than that, I didn’t really know a lot about the story. Did you know much about the story before you started it?

Bree: To be honest - absolutely nothing! Some classics I have a vague idea of the plot and the characters but Les Miserables is one of the ones where I really didn’t know anything at all about it before beginning. I picked it up on a whim really - after you’d mentioned a read-a-long you were going to participate in, my original reaction was 1200p over 4 weeks? No way! But the more I thought about it, the more it interested me. I’ve made it a resolution to read more classics (don’t ask me how I’m going with that) and this one is iconic. So I decided to tackle it. Like you, I felt a huge sense of achievement when I finished the novel. It’s a long book, it’s quite involved and quite honestly, after the first 60-odd pages, I wasn’t even sure I was going to continue. Victor Hugo never met a tangent he didn’t love to embrace and at times I struggled with some of these. But there’s a great core story weaving through the book, isn’t there?

Marg: Definitely, the story itself is great, but oh, those tangents. The book begins on a tangent, with many pages talking about the bishop in a small town, about his habits, his background. Now, he was important in terms of his impact on the former galley slave Jean Valjean and he certainly shaped the man that Jean was to become, but that was a lot of background! Those kinds of tangents continued with pages and pages about Waterloo, and even towards the end lots of pages about the Paris sewer system.

I couldn’t help but wonder what this book would have looked like had it been published today. It would probably have been at least halved in size! There would not have been the slow build up at the beginning and a lot of the other extra information, like an extended discussion about the difference between a riot and a revolution, would most likely have not been included!

In terms of the core story, Jean Valjean is a man who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Originally imprisoned for 4 years, his sentence was extended several times because he kept on trying to escape before finally being released after 19 years. The rules for released prisoners are very strict, so when Valjean breaks the rules, he is in effect once again a fugitive.

Bree: I totally agree about what would’ve happened to the novel, should it have been published today. Chunksters of the 1200p variety aren’t too common these days and it seems like most stories get a pretty ruthless edit and anything not immediately useful to the story gets the chop. For me, the novel started when Jean Valjean appeared, that’s when I became interested and every time it deviated from that, I lost a little bit of interest until he reappeared again. He reinvents himself so many times during this novel, he’s such a fascinating character. He loses 25 years in a prison, so he’s already middle aged when he’s released the first time and really ‘begins’ his life on the outside. Then he chooses to devote himself to raising Cosette and he’s more than just a guardian to her. He’s a father, a grandfather, a friend - for a long time he’s all she ever really had. Their relationship is a real triumph in the novel, I think. Hugo says a lot about them with the glimpses he gives the reader into some of their time together at various stages of Cosette’s life. I think the two of them might have been my favourite part.

Marg: That is definitely the strongest relationship in the book by far, especially seeing as the thread that connects them was rather obscure in the beginning, although I did enjoy Marius’ story a lot as well.

One of the things I found myself pondering when I finished the book was the links between the characters, the way that they were all connected and were drawn back together even after years apart. Jean Valjean, Fantine and her daughter Cosette, Marius and his father, the Thenardiers, and even Inspector Javert seemed to be locked into a connection that just would not let them go.

Bree: There are a lot of.... coincidences in this novel! I’m not entirely sure how large a city Paris was at this time, but I’m assuming it was big enough for all of these to be extraordinarily unlikely, but they do make the book quite fun, puzzling out all of the different ways in which characters are related to one another, or how they have crossed paths in their past.

Marg: When I saw the movie, I did lean over to my friend and wonder if Javert was the only policeman in France at the time!

I know that you haven’t seen the movie (you really should!), but I did find it helped me get through the last half of the book, because I had a fair idea what was coming. Given that we talked before about all the tangents, I actually missed some of the details that were in the book. For example, when we first meet Fantine in the movie, she is working in the workshop and her baby is already being looked after by the Thenardiers, with Fantine sending money to them regularly. What we didn’t see is anything about the relationship, about how she came to leave Cosette at the inn. We also didn’t get the background on Marius and his family and their complicated relationships.

Getting back to the plot, Valjean reinvents himself once he gets out of prison and becomes a gentleman of independent means. When he decides that he is going to rescue Cosette from her living hell with the Thenardiers, they come to Paris. Having narrowly escaped from being arrested by Javert again, the two of them settle into a quiet, contented life. One day, at a park in Paris, a young man named Marius notices the beautiful Cosette and so begins a period of unrequited passion between the two.

How did you find this section?

You will need to go and read the second part of the post to find out the answer to this question, plus a discussion about translations, footnotes and more!

Rating 4/5


Sensational, dramatic, packed with rich excitement and the sweep and violence of human passions, Les Miserables is one of the greatest adventure stories ever told. It is a novel peopled by colourful characters from the nineteenth-century Parisian underworld; the street children, the prostitutes and the criminals. In telling the story of escaped convict Jean Valjean, and his efforts to reform his ways and care for the little girl he rescues from a life a cruelty, Victor Hugo drew attention to the plight of the poor and oppressed. Les Miserables is a masterful detective thriller, a comic and tragic story of romance and revolution, and ultimately, a tale of redemption and hope.
This counts for the 'Book with an emotion in the title' category of the What's in a Name 6 challenge, and I read this for the Historical Tapestry readalong

Currently Reading

The Captive Sun by Irena Karafilly

Up Next

The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Saturday Snapshot: To Adelaide and back again....and back again

For the first time since I moved to Melbourne 11 years ago, I didn't have to work in the few days between Christmas and New Year and so I was able to spend Christmas in Adelaide. All up we spent nearly 10 days there. I was able to catch up with friends plus be a bit of a tourist too. What I didn't realise at the time was that I would be back here less than three weeks later! One of the ways I have been entertaining myself, both on the drive over and home and then the second trip over, is to take photos of various things. Today, I am sharing some of those photos.

The very scary Giant Koala at Dadswell Bridge

Lots of wide open spaces
Photo fun!
At the beach! It was HOT this night but the cool change was just coming in
A visit to Clare to meet up with Sean the Bookonaut and Mrs Bookonaut included some dirt road driving
Clare Library
Quick stop at a winery on the way home

 A Day in the City

Adelaide Railway Station is much grander than I recall

I recently learnt that these pools are designed to look like dinosaur bones

The Mall's Balls

The pigs in the Mall!

Mmmm... chocolate

At the beach at Glenelg

Last week, Louise from A Strong Belief in Wicker talked about taking panoramic photos which prompted me to see whether I have that setting on my phone camera, and I do! I have had lots of fun playing with that setting over the last couple of days.

It's a bit hazy, but this is Adelaide from Mt Lofty

Victor Harbor from The Bluff

Victor Harbor looking towards The Bluff

The horse drawn tram that goes to Granite Island

Whale tail fountain

Saturday Snapshot is hosted by Alyce from At Home with Books


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