Friday, 5 December 2008

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

After watching the recent BBC adaptation, I knew I just had to read the book! There is a strong thread of integrity in the book. Mr Hale must stand by his convictions and leave the church, Mr Thornton is his own kind of Master, self made, but not willing to comprimise family or the livelyhood of his workers, Mrs Thornton is the strong matriach who will stand by her son through good times and bad, and Margaret believes that her integrity is blemished by a misunderstanding with Mr Thornton. There is also a knock against unlearned assumptions. When first arriving in Milton, Margaret has certain views about the North, which are changed as she gets to know some of the people, but these assumptions remain concreted in her Aunt Shaw and cousin Edith who destain the place and the people. Mr Bell's humerous dialogue is a treat!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave.

This book is released in US/Canada under the title "Little Bee".

The blurb gives nothing away about this book.
"We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterwards that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds."

Well, now that is intriguing! So what can I say about this book, without giving the game away?
Here is what I said in my librarything review:

"Imagine the culture shock of coming from a small village in Nigeria, swept up in conflict, to find yourself detained in a UK Immigration Detention centre. You desperately want to belong to this country, learning the culture and language, but its a struggle. "The System" and "The Conflict" as seen through the eyes of one girl, show the harsness of being just one Little Bee in a big big world. "

But it is a bit more than that. There are humerous moments (I wouldn't call it "extremely funny" at all!), and moments of terror, horror, and grief. Little Bee's story though fiction, could be all so terribly true.

Thanks to the people at Booktagger, and Hachette Livre for the opportunity to read and review such an eyeopening, soulful book.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Deception by Michael Meehan

Deception means a number of things in this book. It is a physical place in the Australian outback, and it also refers to the threads of deception, which are unwound in an endeavor to uncover the truth. These threads are tethered with events of violence and uprising in the city of Paris - The Paris of the Commune in 1871, and the present time student riots in 1968. Nick is fascinated with the little that he knows of his grandmother's childhood. A family home deserted, a split in the family, and a mysterious, eccentric French writer. It is a story that shines with outcasts from society - those that have been outcast, and those that have shut themselves away. Nick travels to Paris, with a stash of rambling writings left by the Frenchman, and kept by his grandmother, hoping to shed light on some of the gaps in his family's history.
It is a well structured book, which encourages you to look at things with a different light, and keep an open mind about things until the truth is told. If you approach things with preconceived ideas, you will only deceive yourself.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin, for the chance to review this book.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Ancient Egypt is calling me.....

The lovely ladies at Historical Tapestry are hosting a Michelle Moran Week!

Her second novel The Heretic Queen is due for release shortly, and her first work Nefertiti has come highly recommended from many people whose reviews I respect. As yet I have not read Nefertiti, but I am pretty keen to delve into Michelle's Ancient Egypt. The only other time I have read historical fiction about Ancient Egypt was reading the first of the Ramses novels by Christian Jacq. I found that a bit tedious, as it was translated from French and not very well either, some of the grammer was terrible! As Michelle's books have been read and reviewed by many of the people of excellent taste in books on the forum, I feel as though I should give Ancient Egypt another shot with this guaranteed good read!

Here is the link to the announcement of Michelle Moran Week and another book giveaway:

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

And another....this time it Nefertiti and The Heretic Queen

Books 'N Border Collies are having a book giveaway at the moment. The first prize is a signed copy of The Heretic Queen and Nefertiti (well Nefertiti is a signed bookplate but that is splitting hairs really). Here is the link:

Linking to another book giveaway!

Carp(e) libris ahave a book giveaway running at the moment that sounds really interesting:

Family history, strong women, Chinese culture: sounds like a great book!

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Book Giveaway

Annie at Reading, Writing and Ranting, is having a book giveaway, with the prize being a signed copy of Sweetsmoke, by David Fuller. It is the authors debut novel, and is set at the time of the American Civil War, with a slave named Cassius wishing to avenge the death of a women with the enchanting name of Emoline Justice.

Here is a link to the details of the competition:

And the author's website (which contains a teaser extract from the book):

Friday, 22 August 2008

Picky eaters!

Ok....I've heard that Mrs Seinfeld has written a book about trying to get children that are very picky with their food, to eat veggies and fruit by hidding it in foods that are tempting to them. My 3 year old is very picky and I found this contest to win a copy of the book, so I am linking to the contest here.

Wish me luck...both with getting a copy of the book, and with winning over my son to eat!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Lace Reader

The art of lace making is so much more than a craft in the Salem area. There are women that can "read" lace, and see a story in the pattern of lace that a person chooses. Long associated with witchcraft, Salem is the setting for this new contemporary book (I know, it is a departure from my usual reading, in that it is not historical fiction, but it does have a small historical connection), from the debut author Brunonia Barry. Towner Whitney is the central figure of the story, and she returns to Salem when her elderly great-aunt goes missing. She hasn't been to her hometown for many years, including a stint in a mental institution in the intervening years. A young girl goes missing. She has been mixed up in a local religious cult, but how is it related to Towner and her life? The cult brings in themes of persecution, like the witches of historical Salem, and we also see the bond of sisters, between Towner and her sister Lyndley, and between their mother and aunt, and the effect of mental illness. We also see how things are not quite as they seem.....and the truth is delivered with a twist, which while it may not be suprising, is surely captivating.

Thanks to HarperCollins, and their FirstLook Program for the ARC of this book.

Queen's Play

It looks like I need to do a bit of catching up with my book reviews! And it seems as though is down at the moment! OH NO! I'm not quite sure what to do with myself without checking it every few minutes just to make sure!

The name "Dorothy Dunnett" is synonymous with literary historical fiction. And while this was only my second dip into her work, I already greatly appreciate her craft. Queen's Play is the second in the Lymond Chronicles, and takes the legendary Francis Crawford to France to the court of Henri II, were there is reason to believe that the life of the little Queen, Mary Queen of Scots, is in danger. Lymond is a complex character, and is so much like a James Bond of the 16thC, that I have to wonder if he could play some of the well known James Bond theme song on his lute! He is a master of intrigue, with all the tools to inch his way out of the diciest situations, with his great gifts of disguise, the art of reading people, and a bit of an action man to boot.
Dunnett brings in another worthy figure, the O'LiamRoe, Prince of Barrow, Lord of the Slieve Bloom (I hope I have that right), who is a great addition to the story, with his links to Ireland, and his visit to the court of France, causes a bit of a giggle.
I am looking forward to continuing with the Lymond Chronicles, and getting onto the House of Niccolo too!

Friday, 4 July 2008

The Dark Moutain

"The Dark Mountain" by Catherine Jinks, is a departure from my recent reading. It is historical fiction set in Australia, in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney, in the mid 1800s. Charlotte Atkinson and her family show some of the difficulties of the expectations of society on colonial life. The central characters, and the main features of the story are based on fact. Charlotte's widowed mother remarries, and the new stepfather is a man who is an alcoholic, probably leading on to mental instabilities, who was previously the overseer of the estate. His actions lead to the ruin of the family estate, and lead Charlotte's mother taking the children to Sydney in a bid to be rid of him. But he continues to cast a dark cloud over their lives for many years to come.

The central themes of this book, are the division of the classes, based on background (breeding), wealth, and religion, that actions and words have consequences, and the mother and daughter relationship. It gives a glimes of the culture of colonial Australia, especially the portion of the book set in Sydney, where the family attend events such as cricket matches, fine works displays, regattas, lectures and day trips to Bondi Beach (not the easy trip it is today!). The story begins to be told by Charlotte in her later life, as she looks back to the past, to tell her family about the story of her childhood. Interlude chapters are interspersed where she comes back to the present to give an explanation of something as she sees it from currently, rather than as it happened, and we get to know some of how Charlottes life came to be so different from the path it started out on.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin, for the chance to read this new release.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

The Good Earth

I took a break from Western Civilization, to read "The Good Earth" by Pearl S. Buck. I knew that it was considered to be a classic, but I didn't realise that it was written in the early 1930's. I thought more the 50s and 60s. Reading it though, the language is beautiful, and not dated the way some books are. In fact, she really did try to make the dialogue sound believable. There are many contrasts to be remarked upon in the coarse of the novel; there is the lot of man and woman, rich and poor, famine and feast, drought and flood, and how each is interconnected. It shows a family dynamic that is quite different to today's family structure, with extra wives, a deep respect for the older generation, with not just the main character, Wang Lung's, father residing with him and being cared for in his old age, but the father's uncle's family as well. O-Lan is the wife of Wang Lung, and a more suffering, loyal woman you could not meet. She births her children amid the ploughing, sowing and harvesting of farm life, she struggles to feed the family through famine, and is uncomplaining when her loyalty is repaid with the addition of a second wife. Lotus is a stark contrast to O-Lan, and is not a likable character at all! Wang Lung establishes himself as a respected member of his village, then moves into town, where his sons are embarking on a life much different to his.
This is the first in a trilogy, and I will be looking to add "Sons" and "A House Divided" to round of the story.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Farewell, My Queen

And so I moved on to another "Last Queen", in this case the last queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Though more to the point, this book Farewell, My Queen by Chantal Thomas, doesn't really rotate around Marie Antoinette as a central figure. The real Queen of this piece is Versailles. The palace, the courtiers, the rituals. The story is told diary style over a three day period from the fall of the Bastille. The narrator is the deputy reader to Marie Antoinette, who left Versailles and resided in Vienna. The author Chantal Thomas, is also the author of a non-fiction work on Marie Antoinette, "The Wicked Queen", which comes highly recommended from readers more "in the know" than me, and I think that this shows itself in the details in "Farewell, My Queen". She clearly has done a lot of research into the way of life in the palace of Versailles and I was intrigued by what I learnt. Sure it was (is) a sumptuous palace, but it was certainly had its problems! Rats and other vermin, swampy stinky smells on hot summers days, and a courtly ritual that meant that the King and Queen ate their meals cold, are just some of the gems in this book. But aside from that, it also tells of the panic that enveloped the nobles and courtiers in the palace, with the swirling rumours afoot of mobs of Revolutionary peasants ready to attack their way of life and their very bodies as well. There was so much uncertainty on how to behave. The King and Queen even disagreeing on whether to escape the palace, they stayed and the world knows the outcome of that one. Some nobles even refrained from fleeing, as they could not get together the accouterments to journey forth in the style that they deemed fitting for their rank! Oh how the hierarchy got a shake up with the Revolution!

Thursday, 15 May 2008

The Last Queen

The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner opens with and aged and imprisoned Juana of Castile, recounting her life. I have been interested in the story of Juana for some time after first reading about her in passing as a sister of Katherine of Aragon. It always seemed like an interesting story, or a supposedly insane queen carting around the remains of her dead husband and being imprisoned for man, many years. And that this should happen to the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, the sister of a queen of England and the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, still seems astounding.
As much as her mother might of tried to prevent it, Juana ended up as a pawn in the political games of men. Her husband, her father and ultimately her son, betrayed her due to unrifled ambition, with the lure being the kingdom of Castile. From the small snipets I had previously read of Juana, I had accepted the story of the insane queen. But having read more about this period of time, it seems as though it was really an age of propaganda, and now having read Gortner's book, I will certainly question more about the historical character's I read about.
Juana has for so long in the English language, been a figure of passing mention. It is eye opening to read about her as a central figure. Here she is a red blooded passionate Spaniard sent of to Flanders to marry the heir to the Hapsburg empire, Philip the Handsome. She sets off with trepidation, her only solace being that she is serving the interests of Spain. But she falls crashingly in love with her husband from the first moments. They are happy for a time.....untill Juana becomes heir to the throne of Castile, and Philip's ambitions, and lust for the crown surpass his love and respect for his wife. He turns from the glowing centre of her world, to a scheming, dark, manipulating man desperate to clutch the crown at all costs. And he has a veritable bevy of syncophants around him to help him reach his lofty goals as well. And the father that she so adored as a child, turns into much the same.
Gortner tells Juana's story with a great deal of compassion. And we are left wondering how a woman could be so badly treated by her husband, and father, and then left to dwell in prisoned in a castle by her son.
The Last Queen is being re-issued soon, and for those people that have an interest in the Tudor time period, it is a fantastic read, showing Spain and the European stage at the time, and developing more interest in characters that are afforded just short mentions in the stories of the Tudor court. It is interesting to put her timeline in perspective with the goings on in England, which I am much more aware of. She was born in 1479, so during the reign of Edward IV, and died after 46 years in prison in 1555, during the reign of her niece Mary I.
I will definately be seeking out more about the sad story of Juana, and have another Gortner book, The Secret Lion, waiting to be read. He also has a book in the works about Catherine de Medici, another of my favourites!

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Kommandant's Girl

The Kommandant's Girl by Pam Jenoff, follows the story of a Jewish girl Emma, who is recently married and living in Krakow. With the German occupation of Poland, her husband Jacob goes into hiding in the forest with the Resistance. Emma follows her parent to the ghetto, and then is given a new identity by the Resistance. She assumes the name of Anna from Gdansk, and Polish Catholic relative of Jacob's aunt by marriage, Krysia. Krysia is Catholic, and puts her life on the line, by allowing Emma/Anna and a small boy from the ghetto stay with her. Anna draws the attention of the Kommandant, who asks her to be his assistant. He falls in love with Anna, which puts her in an interesting, precarious and morally difficult position. The Resistance could use her position close to the Kommandant to get access to information vital in their efforts, and the closer Anna is to the Kommandant, the more likely she is to be able to come across information to help them, and her husband.

It is a story of survival. Emma/Anna will put everything on the line to ensure the survival of those she loves, and befriends. She becomes someone that she never thought that she would be, and finds a strength and independence she didn't know she had. Krysia is one of the Polish people that could not just sit by and watch the Jewish people go under. But it is at a personal cost as well. The Kommandant himself is also an intriguing character. There is more to his story, and it makes him a character that you do feel sympathy for. And you can't really say that much about Nazi's!

Jenoff's followup book, The Diplomat's Wife, is about Marta, one of the character's in The Kommandant's Girl, who is a member of the Resistence. I will be interested to read this one too, and see what life held for her after the war.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

The Romanov Bride

Robert Alexander's third book revolving around the Russian Revolution, continues to show is knowledge and depth of understanding about the Revolution, Russian society and the personalities of the time. The focus of The Romanov Bride is Grand Duchess Elizabeth, affectionately known as Ella, who is the sister of the Tsarina, and married to Sergei, the uncle of the Tsar. As such, she is a show piece for the royal family. She is showered with jewels, opulent dresses, and feted in the highest circles of society. She is ranked as one of the most beautiful women of her time in Europe. Her life is much like on the the Faberge eggs and nick naks, that she owns many off. And is just as fragile as it turns out. Her very existance is shattered by the assassination of her husband by a bomb. Now the essense of the Revolution, the hardships of the people are really opened up to her as she strives to an understanding through a religious life, and helping the needy, the wounded and the orphaned. She, almost alone of the Romanovs in Moscow, comes to be loved and admired by the people she helps. But this will not stop the Revolutionaries in their relentless aim to rid the people of the yoke of a ruling class and a ruling family. The Romanovs must be eliminated.
The other narrator of the book is Pavel, a peasant who turns to the revolution in revenge for the tragic death of his wife. He has lived the hard life, only to find that the only thing that he cares for can still be taken from him. He becomes heavily involved in the Revolution, stirring up dissent and assassinating "worthy" targets. But it is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, that leads him to question his involvement. He sees her good works, and how she, a member of the hated Romanov family, cares for the destitute people. But ultimately knows he will be unable to save her from the fate of her family.
Robert Alexander has a great website (, with really nice book trailers, and photos of the people in his books, and is a great reference for those wishing to gain greater knowledge from reading his books. He has been doing webcasts of late, and these have been a really good way to pose questions to the author, and are like a worldwide bookclub discussion. I hope that more authors start doing webcasts like this as it really opens up opportunities for those in other countries, like me here in Australia, to have contact with the author. And is a great opportunity for the author as well, to see how their book is received all round the world.

So three cheers for Robert on a great book, accompanying website, and such wonderful webcasts!

The First Elizabeth

The First Elizabeth, a biography of Elizabeth I of England, starts out a bit wobbly. It starts with the story of her mother Anne Boleyn, and her downfall. One negative point stuck in my mind. During the coronation parade, Erickson refers to Anne Boleyn as bearing the marks of scrofula on her neck. I have not read this anywhere else before! And scrofula is tuberculosis in the lymph nodes of the neck. We know that Henry VIII was quite paranoid and abhorrent in regards to infectious disease, and I think it unlikely that Anne would have suffered from this condition. The comment is also not referenced. This appears on the second page of the book! Not a great start...

However, I am not one to discard a book lightly and I am so glad that I did not throw this one at the wall! The book is full of lovely details about the way of life during the Elizabethan age, telling the story of Elizabeth, but also extending it to include a great overview of some of the notable personages of the time. The last part of the book did seem a light bit rushed, with the period of Robert Devereaux Earl of Essex, being quite brief, and the time period skipping from the death of Robert Dudley directly to Essex, a period that spans some 9 years if I recall.

But having read a number of biographies of Elizabeth, it was really the details of life that shone in this book. The politics and religion of the time are nicely handled for a lay reader such as me, and the inclusion of details such as manner of dress, food, the distribution of gossip through the taverns and from the printing press, make this a recommended read in the end.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Babywearing Competition

There is currently a babywearing competition at Along for the Ride. The prize is an Ergo, with is a baby carrier that I would just love to have! But really I have a couple of wraps and mei tais, so I think I had best not buy one. And enter any competition I can find were an Ergo is a prize!

So this is the link to the competition:

Win a Free Ergo Baby Carrier from Along for the Ride

Good luck to anyone that enters. I have heard nothing but great things about the Ergo from mums and dads alike. And some dads are fairly particular about baby carriers. The Ergo is not girly at all!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

The First Casualty

The First Casualty by Ben Elton

I just finished reading this book recently. It is one of my husbands books, and one of the only ones of his I have even thought of reading! We have very different tastes in books - he likes The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Star Wars. And Ben Elton. So I had it in the back of my mind for a while to read it, and it fit all the "breastfeeding reading" criteria I mentioned in a previous post.

We know Ben Elton quite well from his work on TV, writing for various series such as Blackadder, so he is known for his comedic abilities. I was interested to see how he would handle a book centered on World War I. Apart from Blackadder, there isn't much comedy in that! The story involves a senior police detective who is gaoled as a conscientious objector to the war. Through the trial is his vilified, and brings shame onto his family. Meanwhile in France, a well known British officer is shot while in a military hospital for treating victims of shellshock. It is put out that he is killed in action, but those in the know refute that and claim it is murder, and blame is placed in the hands of a fellow patient. So, our gaoled police detective is sent to France to investigate - via a false death in prison. So this man, who was dead set against the war, finds himself at the Front, and in the process of his investigations, taking part in raids and trench battles. As he ironically observes, he was against the unnecessary killing of war, and in the process of his investigation, to save the life of the man facing court martial for a murder he proves he did not commit, he murders a number of Germans.

Some of the dialogue spoke through with almost a sound of Ben Elton, particularly the toffee-nosed officer type. I could just hear the voices of Hugh Laurie et al in Blackadder - what what!! I also came away interested in shellshock. WWI was the first time such an entity was diagnosed, and it was still controverisal in military circles. Victims could be struck dumb, have violent shaking episodes, and be in such as stupor as to be unable to care for themselves. BUt the military view was to treat any phyiscal wounds and get the men back to the fighting as soon as possible. Not to mention those that might have ran from fear at the thought of battle, only to face being shot by a superior officer for insubordination. Not the British military at its best.

A number of interesting characters are included; there is a suffragette nurse, a couple of homosexual military men, and a real scoundrel of an officer with an abysmal attitude about women.

The Traitor's Wife

The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham.

This book was on my "to be read" (TBR) pile for a long time. I bought it a while ago after seeing so many good reviews about it from reviewers that I have similar tastes too. I hadn't read anything about the Edward II period before, and I think this is why I waited for so long to read it. I have now discovered a whole new period to be interested in! I have such admiration for Susan in choosing to write about such a complex time in English history. Family connections and politics were so interwoven and complex. But Susan breathes life into the time through the eyes of Eleanor Despenser, the wife of Hugh Despenser, a favourite (an intimate favourite at that) of Edward II. Eleanor would be a character that would flit about the edges of most books about the period, but stepping forward into the limelight in this book gives an interesting perspective. She made me feel more intimately involved in the story. She is also someone that is easy to relate to in our times. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, not to mention the niece of the King. All these facets of her life make it easy to step into her shoes, and see things through her eyes.

The period is clearly well understood by the author, and I admire the way she has presented a story that was so obviously well researched. There are a lot of insightful details in the narrative, about the way that the noble people lived in the time, and the values they had in regards to their families, their religion and their political views. It shows great depth of knowledge, and it makes me think what a shocking time authors must have in planning and editing their books! In no way am I saying that this book was too long, or too detailed or anything like that. But it made me think that it must be very hard to decided where in time to start and finish, and out of all the details that have been gleaned from research, which to include and which must relucantly be left out. I guess I am thinking about it from the point of view of someone who dreams of maybe oneday writing a historical fiction novel myself, and thinking of how to approach choosing a period, and characters and the like. Reading this book really made me think about the craft of writing, because it was so well handled.

I really like the approach of having the central character as someone almost a step removed from the action so to speak. Like I said earlier, Eleanor may have made a brief mention in other works of the time. But making her story is interesting on its own. She was the treasured niece of the King, the sister in law of his first favorite, and her husband went on to become the second favorite. With the fall of the Despenser family, Eleanor's life takes a dramatic change, and we get to see the strength of character that Eleanor must of had. To endure such a change in life, to go from noblewoman, to a prisoner in the Tower of London, with children to care and provide for, a son imprisoned elsewhere, and then her subsequent marital woes, was really a story that was begging to be told. I hope that many more authors will find characters and story such as these lurking in the shadows of time, pick them up, dust them off, and buff them up to shine such as Eleanor does at the hands of Susan.

Time to start afresh!

I can't believe it has been over a year since I started this blog! Things kind of fell by the wayside, and I spent more time reading, than even thinking about writing reviews or beading! Anyway I would like to make a fresh start on things.

In the last year, we have had a new addition to the family. Joel was born in December. And after a worrying start, things are going very well. He is a very good baby, and his big brother Luke loves him to bits! 

I haven't touched beads for a while now, but with Mother's Day coming up, I think I might get them out this week and make some goodies for presents. I had some ideas for my mum and mother in law ages ago, but no doubt I will make something totally different when the time comes. But that is the fun of it!

So, I was going to restart my reviews with the next book that I finished, but I thought I could not miss writing a review for the book that I finished recently (see the next post). I am currently reading two books at once, which is something I have made a rule of not doing for many years. But I have one book that I read in bed, or wherever, and one is in Joel's room for breastfeeding time. I've got to make the most of those quiet moments! Anyway, the breastfeeding book has some selection criteria attached.
It must be:

1. Easy to hold. So not too thick, or most hardcovers would be out unless they are slim.

2. Print must not be too small. Given that I am reading in the middle of the night by the bedside light, and with the book on the other the side of the baby, it has to be easy to read.

3. Something that is easy to pick up and put down reading wise. So something with short chapters or breaks in the chapters.

So currently, I am reading "The Time Traveller's Wife", which fits these criteria admirably.

So cheers to the "relaunch" in a way, of my blogging! We will see if I can be more regular with posting this time!