29 June 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in London, investigating a murder at a publishing house. There’s also a prankster on the loose, and someone tampered with the body ... but am I looking for three people, or two, or just one?

Original Sin by P. D. James.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Frances said: "But isn't the new North Sea gas harmless? I thought you couldn't poison yourself any more by putting your head in a gas oven."

From Original Sin by P. D. James, p. 204.

24 June 2010

Versatile Blogger Award

The lovely Tampa BookWorm has given me

Versatile Blogger Award

For which the rules are:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you this award
2. Share 7 things about yourself
3. Pass the award along to 10 bloggers who you have recently discovered and who you think are fantastic for whatever reason! (In no particular order...)
4. Contact the bloggers you've picked and let them know about the award.

Seven things about me I don’t think I’ve listed anywhere else:

1. Perhaps partly as a result of spending so much time staring at books (and now knitting needles and computer screens) I’m short-sighted and have been a part-time wearer of glasses since I was 11. I refuse even to consider contacts because they’re just the sort of small, easily-overlooked thing I’d forget on my way out the door, and anyway I like my glasses.

2. My favourite part of any newspaper is the cryptic crossword. I usually don’t succeed in finishing them, but I do enjoy trying. My dream is one day to solve one of the Times cryptic clues that pop up in Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels.

3. I sometimes think I have peculiar taste in non-fiction. Among the books I checked out today, for instance, are a history of prostitution in London, and a book about how the Grande Armée was ravaged by typhus. I’ve also read books about graverobbers, the Black Death, Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe, cholera, the history of gossip, and a biography of an eighteenth-century rhinoceros.*

4. When I was in Years 11 and 12, classes ended at 3.30 instead of 4 and I would walk the three kilometres home rather than wait 45 min for a bus. And it took me one and a half years to figure out why passing motorists kept honking at me. Whatever my flaws, vanity obviously isn’t one of them.

5. But procrastination is. I’m terrible. Usually because I decide to leave things for later in the day, and then find I’m too tired to bother. Which is the downside to being a night owl in a morning person’s world.

6. I actually miss my hometown’s pea-soup fogs, the ones where you could look out the window and be unable to see the back fence. There was something magical about walking to the bus stop in a private cocoon of mist, watching the trees materialise out of the white and the dew-drops sparkling on the spider-webs, and feeling like I was alone in a quiet world.

Made it damn hard to read the number on the bus, though.

7. Not having had anyone both able and willing to teach me, I have never learnt how to ride a bicycle. And since that fact made me a laughingstock in primary school, this is the first time I’ve admitted it to anyone in nearly fifteen years.

I’ve been far too remiss in my blog reading over the last few months (procrastinating again...) to have discovered any new blogs, so Rules 3 and 4 will just have to be skipped.

* Respectively: Digging up the Dead by Druin Burch, The Great Mortality by John Kelly, Queen of Fashion by Caroline Weber, The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, Scandal by Roger Wilkes, and Clara’s Grand Tour by Glynis Ridley.

Library Loot

Library Loot











Wicked
Alex & Me
The Illustrious Dead
The Professor
Remarkable Creatures
Waverley
London: The Wicked City - Fergus Linnane
Alex & Me - Irene M. Pepperberg
The Illustrious Dead - Stephen Talty
The Professor - Charlotte Bronte
Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier
Waverley - Sir Walter Scott

I had an unpleasant surprise at the library today: made a beeline for the history section and found myself gazing blankly at the travel books. Seems someone had the bright idea of shifting the biographies from the end of the non-fiction shelves to the beginning, and now I have to relearn where everything is. I cheered up, though, at the unintentional comedy of Don Quixote shelved under Q ... and at the number of books I found that I can count toward various challenges. The best discovery was Alex & Me - the Non-Fiction 5 Challenge specifies that one book must be different from the other four, and for a while I was at a loss as to where I would find a non-fiction book with nothing to do with history.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

23 June 2010

Book Review: The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd

The Lambs of London In a small bookshop in Holborn, Charles Lamb makes a wondrous discovery: a book once owned by William Shakespeare. His mother isn’t much impressed, and his father is too mad to know or care, but his sister Mary shares in his delight. The siblings quickly become friends with William Ireland, the bookseller’s teenage son, who wants to step out from under his domineering father and publish his own papers on his windfall. Ireland senior, on the other hand, is dismissive of William’s scholarly ambitions and eager to gain as much money as possible from the Shakespearean documents that keep arriving at the store. Each new discovery fuels Samuel Ireland’s determination to get to his son’s mysterious benefactor, and each raises more questions in the minds of sceptics across London. When a long-lost Shakespearean drama is staged at Drury Lane, it’s only a matter of time before something happens.

There is a historical basis beneath all this, but by the author’s own admission it’s been altered as necessary to make a good story. Since it makes no attempt to pass itself off as history (unlike some novels....) I didn’t much mind. The fact that I have only a passing familiarity with the lives of Charles and Mary doubtless helped; a bit like tv adaptations of Agatha Christie, alterations bother me less when I can’t see the full scale of the damage. This is history as it wasn’t quite, but might have been, and very entertaining it is too.

For a novel without high drama, it’s a real page-turner. William Ireland wants the papers studied, Samuel Ireland wants them sold to the highest bidder, and that’s about the sum of the conflict. But the resulting tension is increased chapter after chapter, and the growing public attention raises the stakes that each stands to gain if he gets his way. It also increases the potential for calamity if the papers are proved to be fakes; and if they are, then the more they’re scrutinised, the likelier that fact is to be revealed.

And then there’s Mary Lamb, who attaches herself to William out of a common desire to escape from oppressive circumstances. For him, of course, it’s his father; for her it’s a stifling home life made bearable only by her conversations and studies with her brother. She’s also somewhat ... intense. A little unpredictable. And passionately convinced that the papers and the new play are genuine Shakespeare. Quite what she’ll do if they turn out to be forgeries is anyone’s guess. Psychologically balanced or not, she shows how constricted life could be for women of that time.

The use of the setting shows the author’s close acquaintance with London geography, from the streets around Holborn to the layout of Shakespeare’s Southwark and the late eighteenth-century one. Not that there is anything to specify precisely which century it is; I had to go to the encyclopaedia after finishing to date it. Which did annoy me; I think writers of historical fiction should start things off with a nice date in italics, so their readers know exactly when they are.

Does the absence of a date annoy you, too? Or am I the only one whose brain, if no date is provided, keeps distracting itself from the story by looking for chronological evidence?

Rating: B

Book Review: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

Historical Fiction Challenge

The Other Boleyn Girl Mary is the greatest Boleyn girl at the court of Henry VIII. Young, beautiful, and safely married, she has caught the eye of the king himself. Her ambitious Boleyn and Howard relatives are determined that she should keep it, no matter what it takes. With Queen Katherine slowly aging and only one small girl as heir, Henry needs a son, and there is much to be gained by the family of the girl who can provide it. Soon Mary is a royal mistress, torn between her love of the king and her duty as a lady in waiting to his wife.

Mary’s sister Anne changes everything. Pushed forward by her father and uncle to hold the king in the Howard interest during Mary’s second pregnancy, she sets out to secure Henry for herself. Having been thwarted in her scheme to become Duchess of Northumberland, Anne now has her sights firmly on the throne. All she has to do is lead Henry on until he can be rid of his inconvenient wife. Now Mary is the other Boleyn girl, forced to watch as the arrogance and rapacity of her family drives them all toward disaster.

As a novel, I liked it, or at least I did once a few years had passed and I no longer had to deal with the creepiness of Henry chasing after a 14-year-old girl. It would be hard not to feel for Mary, a (comparatively) innocent girl with modest dreams and the misfortune to have been born into one of the most power-hungry families in the land. The strongest and most self-willed of people would have had a challenging time escaping the machinations of her parents and uncle; Mary had no chance. I was cheering for her all the way as she found the courage to build a life of her own choosing with the adorable William Stafford. (I’ve often wondered why all the good men are fictional, and here’s one who’s fictional and centuries dead.)

And really you have to like Mary, because there are precious few other characters to feel any sympathy for. Her brother George has charm, Anne has brains and intense dedication to her goal, but no other admirable qualities. Their parents, their uncle, and George’s poisonous wife Jane seemingly have none. The first-person viewpoint really helps here; all their nastiness is filtered through the eyes of an agreeable character. Mary’s love of her siblings, despite their flaws, makes their calculation and manipulations tolerable to read about; and I even felt a few glimmerings of pity for Anne as she was ground down by the strain of maintaining the role she had chosen for herself, urged on by her ruthless relatives.

Being based on real events, there was no question over how it would end. Yet I couldn’t stop turning the pages to see what happened next, to find out how Mary would save her children and herself from the downfall of the rest of the Boleyns. Given than most of the characters were people I didn’t like, that’s quite an accomplishment.

As history, it sucked. Sure, some historians think Mary was born in 1508, as she was here; but the majority opinion is that she was nine years older. And the truth is that she returned from the French court in 1519 with a scarlet reputation and a number of affairs behind her, all of which got neatly omitted in the novel. It certainly made a better story, having her naive rather than notorious; a heroine who was formerly the most infamous harlot of the French court would have been harder to like. It’s the contrast between the sisters which makes Anne into the villain, the effective foil to Mary’s good heart; if they were morally as bad as each other this would have been lost.

I didn’t buy the depictions of the other Boleyns and Howards any more than I did that of Mary. Surely it isn’t possible that they could have been so uniformly obnoxious and heartless? I pitied the real Anne far more than the fictional one, for the tarnishing of her reputation to make her sister shine the brighter. Since I generally dislike historical inaccuracies I feel a bit guilty for enjoying the book as much as I did.

Rating: B

22 June 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in the midst of civil war in seventeenth-century England, struggling to make ends meet and wondering where my Royalist husband is and if he’ll ever come home.

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“Leave this terrible, blood-soaked country. It is what she would want.”

From Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis, p. 298.

20 June 2010

Weekly Geeks: Hoarding Behaviour

Weekly Geeks

So this week, I am curious about those gigantic TBR piles which readers tend to accumulate. Please share with us your habits, tendencies or obsessions when it comes to hoarding behavior.
  • Post a photo (or two or three) of your books to-be-read
  • Share your buying or book accumulating habits - how bad of a problem do YOU have?!?!?
  • Do you keep all the books you’ve read, or do you give them away or sell them?
  • Can you walk past a bookstore and not go in? If you go in, do you impulsively purchase?
Don’t let these questions restrict you ... tell us all about your hoarding issues, if only to make the rest of us feel better!
Now that’s good timing. Last weekend, I stocked up at the Bookfest. This weekend, WG is asking about TBR piles! My newly-replenished store looks like this:

Mt TBR

Which proves both that I’m happy to act like a pack mule in the service of my addiction, and that webcams weren’t designed for still photography. Note also that that pile does not include the books I’ve already read but plan to re-read soon. If I’d added those, and managed to get them all into a single stack, Mount TBR would be nearly as tall as me. (Not that that’s difficult to achieve....)

Okay, so that’s nowhere near as mammoth an accumulation as a lot of people have. Books are expensive here ($24.95 for a skinny little Georgette Heyer? Are you kidding me?) and I have a parsimonious streak strong enough to outweigh my love of books. Hence it’s second-hand and borrowed for me. And I can’t really see the point in being massively overburdened with more books than I could read in the near future (strange, I know). Besides which, I have nowhere to keep a TBR Everest.

Because, yes, I keep the books that I buy after I’ve read them, unless they’re truly horrendous. If it gets a grade above a D+, it stays. One day soon, though, I will have to do a cull; there are more books in the house now than can be accommodated by the shelves, and precious little room for yet another set of shelves. I’m sure I could find room if I put my mind to it, but there are books in my collection I know I’ll never read again and many of them are in good enough condition to trade in at a second-hand bookstore I know. (If I can bring myself to do it....)

Given the expense of books, I am definitely capable of resisting bookshops and their siren calls. Not so capable, however, of resisting the lure of the sales tables out the front of QBD....

17 June 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Now or Then?

Do you prefer reading current books? Or older ones? Or outright old ones? (As in, yes, there’s a difference between a book from 10 years ago and, say, Charles Dickens or Plato.)

How current is current?

I get virtually all my books second-hand or from the library, so it’s rare for me to get hold of a book in the year it was published. In fact I tend to categorise anything published in the last decade as fairly recent!

Probably most of what I read is from the last thirty years. I make regular visits to the middle of last century, mostly for mysteries by the likes of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers. And I have an entire shelf dedicated to outright old books: Jane Austen, the Brontes, Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, Shakespeare.... I’ve even read some truly ancient stuff - Sophocles, Euripides, Ovid. At last count I’ve read works from nine different centuries. But I don’t really have a preference for one era over another (or one millennium over another!). I’ll read anything as long as it’s good.

15 June 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in Calcutta in 1838, on board the Ibis. The onset of the Opium Wars has prevented her being refitted to transport drugs, so she’s reverted to her old use - as a slaver.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

Her thoughts were now all for the future and how they would manage without her husband’s monthly pay. In thinking of this, the light dimmed in her eyes; even though nightfall was still a couple of hours away, she felt as if she were already enveloped in darkness.

From Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, p. 91.

14 June 2010

Bookfest 2010

Yesterday I discovered a new way to tell you’re surrounded by kindred bookish spirits: When you make a public spectacle of yourself by audibly cheering and grinning like an idiot on spotting the book you most wanted to find, and none of your fellow browsers give you a second glance. I guess people who spend their weekends pushing shopping trolleys round book sales and crossing acquisitions off neatly computer-printed lists are people to whom such book-induced elation makes perfect sense.

Yes, after seventeen months of ekeing out last year’s supply, it’s Bookfest time again. (For those unfortunate souls living elsewhere in the world: The Bookfest is a twice-yearly fundraiser for a telephone counselling charity. For nine days in January and four it June, it takes over two halls of the Convention and Exhibition Centre and fills hundreds of metres of tables with tens of thousands of books from a stockpile of two million. It’s the biggest second-hand book sale in the world, and it’s better than Christmas. I’ve even heard that there are people as far away as New Zealand who schedule their holidays around the January edition and go home with their year’s supply.)

Since I had - just - enough to keep me reading until June (if I borrowed enough from the library) I decided to wait until winter and enjoy some mild weather in which to lug home 9kg of books. Or a rather cool twilight, actually, by the time I finally arrived home :-) Which wasn’t entirely my fault; a missing train made me late to start with. But things really looked up from there.

The is something wonderfully relaxing about an enormous room filled with books. Even better when prices start from $0.50 and you have all day to browse. It wasn’t long before I was dragging my loaded bags along the ground. (I have got to get one of those tall bags on wheels that little old ladies use. The Bookfest really would be heaven on earth if I didn’t wind up with aching shoulders at the end of it.) But who’s going to complain when there’s books they’ve been wanting to read for years (Nancy Mitford, Ira Levin, Laura Esquivel) going for a song?

So I spent a happy day browsing the tables, accumulating novels, wondering whether anyone would ever buy those guides to Windows 3.1, and feeling thankful that the last time I went shoe shopping I bought a comfortable pair of sandals with a mere two-inch heel.

And then, at two-thirty in the afternoon, I saw it. Venus in Copper. The third book of the Falco series. The one book of the Falco series of which the Brisbane City Council library has zero copies. Hence the aforementioned overexcitement. (Not that my jubilation slowed me down; I pounced on that book like mongoose on a snake.) It would have to be the best bit of sheer dumb luck I’ve ever encountered at a Bookfest.

Now my TBR box is so full it only just fits onto the bottom shelf of the bookcase. I’ve got another 45 books to read for a mere $57.50, and all for a good cause. And I really wish I’d selected the “Mor-book-ly Obese” option in the Chunkster Challenge, because a quarter of my new books are big enough to qualify. Which I guess explains the overcrowding!

The book that will fill the final place in the Chunkster Challenge? When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman ... all 909 pages of it.

13 June 2010

Bloggiesta Finish Line

Bloggiesta

I had the best of intentions. Really, I did. I had my day all planned out: rise early, head out for an efficient bit of book shopping at the Bookfest, do a bit of review writing when I got home, put in a couple of hours tonight, and voila! A commendable Bloggiesta effort.

I started to get a sinking feeling when the train I wanted to catch failed to show, making me half an hour late. And then ... well. Bookfest browsing has a kind of magical elasticity: it will always expand to fill whatever time is available. Hence I arrived home after dark and am now nearly about to fall asleep as I type.

My progress:

  • Add a favicon
  • Tinker with different fonts for my blog posts
  • Expand my blogroll and subdivide it into categories
  • Re-upload the award images missing from the right sidebar ever since the image host I used folded
  • Check for dead links
  • Write a new profile
  • Clear out my backlog of reviews
  • Add reviews written to the indexes
  • Create a stock of images for Fractal Fridays
  • Back up my blog
Since tomorrow is the Queen’s Birthday public holiday, I plan to continue on in the Bloggiesta spirit. Once I’ve had a nice long sleep, I’ll curl up with my laptop and spend all afternoon writing reviews. That should get me past the twelve hours I intended to put into the challenge (and of which I’ve only so far manage nine). Everything else on the list will get done eventually.

Despite doing much less that I planned, I’m still happy with my accomplishments as it’s more than I would have gotten done without Bloggiesta to spur me on. Many thanks to Natasha at Maw Books for hosting the event; I’ll be a Bloggiesta regular from now on!

Bloggiesta Update #2

Bloggiesta

I DID IT!! I finally found a Blogger favicon tutorial that worked. (At least, it works in Firefox. If you’re viewing this post in a different browser, please leave a comment and let me know if it’s working for you too.) I’m over a third of the way through my twelve hours, and the offline work is going well. The online stuff (link-checking, for instance) ... not so much. My excuse is that I don’t have broadband and hate hogging phone lines. And my atonement is to put those things at the top of my to-do list, to be worked on progressively through the coming weeks. My list now:

  • Add a favicon
  • Tinker with different fonts for my blog posts
  • Expand my blogroll and subdivide it into categories
  • Re-upload the award images missing from the right sidebar ever since the image host I used folded
  • Check for dead links
  • Write a new profile
  • Clear out my backlog of reviews
  • Add reviews written to the indexes
  • Create a stock of images for Fractal Fridays
I have absolutely no idea how I’m going to find time to make any substantial progress tomorrow, and spend all day browsing the tables at the Bookfest.

But I’ll do it just the same.

12 June 2010

Bloggiesta Update #1

Bloggiesta

After nearly three hours in front of the computer, my list looks like this:

  • Add a favicon
  • Tinker with different fonts for my blog posts
  • Expand my blogroll and subdivide it into categories
  • Re-upload the award images missing from the right sidebar ever since the image host I used folded
  • Check for dead links
  • Write a new profile
  • Clear out my backlog of reviews
  • Add reviews written to the indexes
  • Create a stock of images for Fractal Fridays
I’m still a bit undecided about the new font. It miraculously sorted my line spacing issues but I don’t know that the italics are all that readable. And I’m yet to find a working set of instructions for a favicon. Nothing I’ve tried so far has worked.

And I’ve reduced the review backlog by ... one.

Book Review: The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

The Janissary Tree Ten years ago, the powerful and corrupt Janissary Corps was defeated by the Western-style New Guard. Now four of the latter’s brightest cadets have disappeared ... and one has turned up in a giant cauldron just like the ones the Janissaries used as war drums. With only ten days until a review of the New Guard and a major proclamation by the sultan, the palace sends for Yashim Togalu. He’s solved problems for the sultan before, so he ought to be able to solve this one, too. Better still, he can also find whoever strangled a girl from the harem, for Yashim is one of the few men who can set foot in the women’s quarters - he’s a eunuch.

With a deadline approaching and more bodies turning up, Yashim quickly finds himself floundering in a sea of questions. Judging from where and how the dead men are dumped, there must be some connection to the disgraced - and supposedly eradicated - Janissaries. Or does it have more to do with the heresies in which the Janissaries indulged, or their crooked practices in the fire brigade? Can Yashim determine where the next victim will be deposited in time to save the man’s life? Who killed the harem girl? And who made off with the validé sultan’s collection of Napoleonic jewels?

I love novels that can double as tour guides to a given time and place. The Janissary Tree does this so well that its plot could not have happened in any other city, in any other era. The Istanbul of 1836 lives and breathes - and rattles and reeks - on the page. The food, the city customs, the history, diplomatic relations, life in the imperial palace, markets, entertainment ... it’s almost better than non-fiction, since the information comes packaged with a mystery to solve. And with characters who are very much of their place and time: deeming trousers and chairs to be strange innovations, marveling at the odder ideas of the westerners, and thoroughly enjoying tripe soup.

My favourite character was the sultan’s formidable mother, who turned a kidnapping by pirates into an opportunity to become the most powerful woman in one of the greatest empires in the world. (And who threatened Yashim with the dire fate of never being able to borrow another of her French novels ever again if he didn’t get her jewels back.) I also liked Stanislaw, who would have been the Polish ambassador had Poland actually existed at the time, and who took great delight in helping his friend by infuriating the Russian ambassador during a state dinner. They, and Yashim, are characters I’d like to meet again.

The mystery kept me guessing right to the end, when it left me quite chagrined with myself for not even coming close to spotting the giveaway clues. Yashim was a great choice of detective, his unusual status as a eunuch enabling him to go anywhere and get overlooked much of the time. It’s also allowed him to acquire friends in all sorts of odd places. (You never know when a cross-dressing dancer might be able to help you out.) Plus he cooks and reads; what’s not to like?

The latter half of the book left me puzzling over why the numerous point-of-view switches were irritating me here when I’ll happily accept them in other books, and at last I had an epiphany. Frequent detours into the heads of secondary, or quite minor, characters can work in thrillers; but when reading a whodunnit I expect to spend the bulk of my time following the detective as he tracks down the bad guy/s. I don’t expect that in around a third of the chapters, he won’t show up at all. It gave the novel a fragmented feeling. I also didn’t like the way the narrative occasionally did a little timeslip, backtracking to cover the immediate past from someone else’s perspective, so that a pair of consecutive chapters could end with the same cliffhanger. Readers are smart people; they’re capable of inferring action they haven’t actually seen.

And sometimes the sheer volume of historical research threatened to overwhelm the plot, so consider yourself warned if you don’t like history lessons with your crime fiction. But I do, so I’ll be back for more.

Rating: B-

11 June 2010

Fractal Friday: Wheatfield

Wheatfield


It’s Bloggiesta Time!

Bloggiesta

As part of the 2010 Blog Improvement Project, I’ve signed up for Bloggiesta. (Which I really wish was on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, because Monday’s a public holiday.) I’m only aiming for twelve hours, because this weekend is also Bookfest time [insert squeals of delight here]. My blogging to-do list:

  • Add a favicon
  • Tinker with different fonts for my blog posts
  • Expand my blogroll and subdivide it into categories
  • Re-upload the award images missing from the right sidebar ever since the image host I used folded
  • Check for dead links
  • Write a new profile
  • Clear out my backlog of reviews (well, part of it, at least...)
  • Create a stock of images for Fractal Fridays
  • Back up my blog
A bit more than twelve hours’ work there, I think!

09 June 2010

Book Review: The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt

2010 TBR Lite Challenge

The Secret Woman When Anna Brett’s best friend, Chantel Spring, offers to help secure her a position as governess at Castle Crediton, Anna leaps at the chance. What else can she do? Her last living relative, Aunt Charlotte, is dead; and despite Chantel’s evidence at the inquest the shadow of suspicion still hangs over her. The antique business she inherited has turned out to be mired in debt, and her house must be let to pay the bills. The only real inconvenience is that Anna is in love with a married man, and it’s his son she’ll be teaching.

An odd family resides within the castle’s walls. Lady Crediton shares her roof with her late husband’s mistress, and the wife and child of his illegitimate son. Monique Stretton, consumptive and prone to hysterics, alternately fusses over and ignores her son while waiting for her husband to return from sea. When he does, Anna finds herself accompanying her pupil, her friend, and her rival to the Pacific island of Coralle. Years before, Coralle was the place where Redvers Stretton did what no captain should and lost his ship, under mysterious circumstances. Now, it’s the place where Anna will be stranded for the next two months.

You know a book is a candidate for a TBR challenge when you can’t remember how long you’ve had it....

Though it was more a case of TBF - To Be Finished. I started reading it a few years ago, but only made it halfway. This time, though, I reminded myself that it was for a challenge and kept going. It was just as slow as I remembered, but it was also a great alternate spin on the classic gothic novel format.

There is, of course, a heroine who’s pretty much alone in the world, and not one but two spooky houses. The Queen’s House, with its clutter of old furniture and forbidding owner, is just the sort of place where you’d expect things to go bump in the night. And the faux-Norman Castle Crediton abounds in twisting passageways and family secrets. But then heroine, secrets, mystery and all move on board ship. And then they arrive on a tropical island!

A less gothic setting than the Pacific is hard to imagine, but it works splendidly. The house, with its heavy shadows and austere economy, seems just waiting for something to happen to shake it out of its torpor. Monique’s old nurse, Suka, is every bit the sinister servant, making no secret of her animosity toward Anna and hinting darkly at curses. Most everything seems potentially threatening due to its utter unfamiliarity. And they’re stuck there until the Serene Lady returns. The setting was my favourite aspect of the book.

The mystery was not. The circumstances under which the Secret Woman was sunk kept me guessing, but the truth of Aunt Charlotte’s demise was obvious from very early on. In fact, I wondered why none of the characters figured it out. But that part of the plot did at least redeem itself somewhat at the end with a neat twist to resolve it. The romance, on the other hand, never struck me as particularly romantic, and the characters never really engaged me.

Rating: C

08 June 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m at the court of Henry VIII, being used by my family as a pawn to further their own ambitions.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

I drew closer to my father’s horse and put my hand on his gaunlet where it rested on the reins. “If the king asks for me would you tell him that I am very sorry if I offended him?”

From The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, p. 45.

06 June 2010

Weekly Geeks: The Wishlist

Weekly Geeks

Is your wishlist as big as your TBR pile? What books are topping your list? Are there any new releases that you are counting down the days for? Share a handful of titles and be sure to share why you want to get your hands on these books! And if another blogger is responsible for that book being on your wishlist, consider sharing a link to their review!
Is my wish list as big as my TBR pile?

Is Mt Everest as big as a molehill?

My TBR pile isn’t much at the moment (I really need to stock up.... Next weekend!) But it is never smaller than my wishlist. And my wishlist is miles out of date.

I do keep pen and paper handy to jot down interesting titles I see reviewed in the Courier-Mail, and I really must add the latest crop to my computerised list. But that list hasn’t seen any increase for ages. I kind of gave up adding all the books whose blog reviews catch my eye, because it was getting overwhelming. Even without all of the series I’m partway through, there were far more books than I could ever remember to look for at the library. Now I just take mental notes and hope that if I see something I’ve wanted to read, I’ll recognise it.

All this talk of wishlists has got me thinking that there must be a better way to manage. Be more selective, for a start; there are titles on that list that make my mind go blank. If I can’t remember what it was about, I probably don’t need to read it!

Random books from the wishlist:

The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
Because I’ve heard so about it that I can’t not read it.

Lustrum - Robert Harris
Because I loved Imperium and want to know what happened next.

And Only to Deceive - Tasha Alexander
Out of curiosity to see whether the heroine annoys me as much as she did Aarti.

Venus in Copper - Lindsey Davis
Because there isn’t a single copy in the Brisbane library system, and my inability to continue with the series is driving me nuts.

A Left-Handed History of the World - Ed Wright
For defensive ammunition in the running family joke where my mother teases me by pretending to believe all left-handers are psycho serial killers.

The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England - Amanda Vickery (thanks to Aarti)
Because I love all things eighteenth century.

01 June 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in Istanbul in 1836, where one of the sultan’s soldiers has been found dead under most unusual circumstances, and three others are still missing.

The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

"Ten days. To find out what is happening to my men."

From The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin, p. 15.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776