Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas One and All

I'll be taking a few days off from blogging to enjoy time with family and friends, overdo it on pecan pie and have some much-needed time to read. I hope you and your loved ones have a very merry Christmas and always remember, in the words of my favorite Christmas movie, than "no man is a failure who has friends."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Review: The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig

I just found a review I had written a few months ago of Lauren Willig's sixth installment in the Pink Carnation series, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, which was released last January. If you haven't read the previous books you need to start with the first (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation), as Willig builds on the characters' relationships and the relationship between the modern day heroine Eloise and Colin Selwick. While I always love Willig's writing and have devoured the previous books, I must admit this is tied for my least favorite with The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.

Like Mary Alsworthy, Penelope Staines (nee' Devereaux) is a difficult heroine, and though you come to admire her strength and wit as love softens her, she is not easy to love. Also, (BIG SPOILER ALERT) I was really bothered by the adultery that took place between the still-married Penelope and Captain Alex Reid. In her previous books Willig has pretty much confined the sex scenes to when the characters were (however reluctantly) married, so I came into Blood Lily expecting the same. I know it contributed to the image of Penelope as more of a rebel, but it cheapened their relationship to me. On the positive side, Willig's writing is as witty and fun as ever, and it was nice to see a feisty woman match wits with a handsome, kind and honorable hero. Willig's descriptions of India are very evocative and obviously very well-researched.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Wanted to love it, just couldn't really identify with Penelope as I had with previous heroines Henrietta, Letty and Charlotte. However, I did enjoy it and loved The Mischief of the Mistletoe (see review here), so I'm looking forward to reading Willig's next book, The Orchid Affair..

source: personal copy

Monday, December 20, 2010

Victorian Literature Challenge- Sign-Up Post

I've decided to join one more challenge for 2011- the Victorian Literature Challenge at Words, Words, Words. I tend to really enjoy Victorian literature, and have most of these books either in my possession or available for free through Amazon. I'm only committing to two challenges for the year (this one and Sheila at Book Journey's Where Are You Reading? Challenge) because I tend to overcommit myself!

I'm joining at the "Great Expectations" level, which requires reading 6-9 books written in the Victorian era (considered the reign of Britain's Queen Victoria, from 1837-1901) between January 1 and December 31.

Books I will be reading for the challenge:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Somehow I never read Jane Eyre during high school or college. With a new movie adaption coming out in March this is the perfect excuse to finally read it! Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
I've read another mystery by Collins, The Moonstone, and this psychological mystery sounds really intriguing.

The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green I've been wanting to read this mystery for a while (it's considered a predecessor to the Sherlock Holmes series) so this is a great opportunity. and South by Elizabeth Gasskell
The BBC version of this was absolutely fantastic (hello Richard Armitage!) so I'm looking forward to reading Gasskell's novel about Margaret Hale, a young woman who moves from the pastoral south of England to the more industrial North.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope've never read Trollope, but the description of this satire on greed and dishonesty sounds really relevant to our current financial climate. Expectations by Charles Dickens
Like Jane Eyre, this is another classic I haven't read yet. The fact that it's one of Oprah's newest book club choices is purely coincidental :)

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson sounds like an interesting coming-of-age novel set in 18th century Scotland. Also, it's free for Kindle.
                                  Sonnets From the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I've always found Elizabeth Barrett Browning's life story really interesting, and I fell in love with the 1934 Norma Shearer movie based on her life, The Barretts of Wimpole Street. I'm looking forward to reading this collection of her poems dedicated to Robert Browning.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's Monday- What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished and Reviewed:
This week I was able to finish and review Deanna Raybourn's Silent in the Sanctuary, which I loved! I immediately bought the next book in the series, Silent on the Moor (oh the joys/danger of being able to buy a book instantly on Kindle).

Currently Reading:
Silent on the Moor and Miss Dimple Disappears, a mystery set in WWII era Georgia that I've heard good things about.


Did Not Finish:
I couldn't really get into Hank Steuver's Tinsel, a look at the spectacle of modern-day American Christmas as celebrated by the people in Frisco, Texas. His condescending, "I'm from the big city" attitude towards the people of Frisco was really wearing, and I felt like the people he profiled were more caricatures than actual people.

Steuver ended the introduction with a warning of sorts, saying
"In this search (escapade? immersion?) I came upon one word over and over, emblazoned on various plaques, ornaments, and other bric-a-brac. It was at every holiday crafts bazaar I went to, or somewhere in the holiday decor of every house I visited--soldered in pewter, or sewn to Christmas stockings, or decoupaged onto wood. The word was believe. Snowmen held signs with it. A team of reindeer pulled it, B-E-L-I-E-V-E, across a front lawn... Believe, people kept telling me.
I told them I wasn't that kind of believer.
I told them this is probably not that kind of Christmas book.
I want you to know that. Caveat emptor, and so forth."

 I guess I wasn't really in the mood for that type of book this year!

Up Next:
I'm hoping to spend my Christmas break reading some of the classics I somehow missed during my high school and college education, like Jane Eyre and To Kill A Mockingbird (I know, the horror!). I may be the only person who doesn't know the plot of Jane Eyre so I want to read it before the movie is released in March. However, I've found I've been very fickle with my book choices lately so we'll see what I actually read next.


What are your reading plans for the week before Christmas?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

Fresh from a six-month sojourn in Italy, Lady Julia returns home to Sussex to find her father's estate crowded with family and friends— but dark deeds are afoot at the deconsecrated abbey, and a murderer roams the ancient cloisters. Certain of her cousin's innocence, Lady Julia resumes her unlikely and deliciously intriguing partnership with Nicholas Brisbane, setting out to unravel a tangle of deceit before the killer can strike again. When a sudden snowstorm blankets the abbey like a shroud, it falls to Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane to answer the shriek of murder most foul (summary from goodreads).

 The second installment in Deanna Raybourn's Lady Julia Grey mystery series was even better than the first, Silent in the Grave. I was eager to see more of Julia and Nicholas Brisbane's passionate but unsettled romance and enjoyed Julia's witty narrative voice and the coloful cast of secondary characters. Similar to the first book, the murderer was unmasked and the mystery solved by the last pages, but not fully. Like real life, there is never a perfect ending or justice entirely served, and the loose ends and unanswered questions made the story more realistic. I felt like the characters were fully formed and multi-dimensional, with their own quirks and unique qualities that made them seem like flesh-and-blood people.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This book held my attention with the descriptive writing and mix of Victorian mystery, humor, and romance. I've already started the third book in the series, Silent on the Moor.

Source: personal copy

Monday, December 13, 2010

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? is a fun weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. This is where we share what we've read the previous week and what we're planning to read this week. It's a great way to see what others are reading (and add more books to the TBR pile!)

Finished and Reviewed:
I finished and reviewed one book this week, Dan Walsh's The Unfinished Gift. This was one of my selections for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge. This wasn't my favorite book (I thought the writing was very choppy and occasionally awkward) but it was a sweet story about the power of God and Christmas.

Currently Reading:
I'm about halfway through Silent in the Sanctuary, the second book in the Lady Julia Grey series by Deanna Raybourn, and am loving it! I'm hoping to finish that book this week along with Tinsel by Hank Steuver, another challenge selection. A busy holiday season has meant I'm a little behind on my reading for that- I have 2 books finished and 3 more to read by December 31!

Up Next:
Santa Clawed, a holiday mystery set in Virginia by Rita Mae Brown, and either Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn or Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup (author of Slumdog Millionaire).

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Review: The Unfinished Gift by Dan Walsh

Ian Collins is an old man without his son. Patrick Collins is a young boy without his father. On his Christmas list are only three items. He wants the army to find his father. He wants to leave his grandfather's house. And he wants the dusty wooden soldier in Grandfather's attic--the one he is forbidden to touch.
Set in December of 1943, The Unfinished Gift is the engaging story of a family in need of forgiveness. With simple grace, it reminds us of the small things that affect powerful change in our hearts--a young boy's prayers, a shoe box of love letters, and even a half-carved soldier, long forgotten (summary from cover).

The writing and dialogue is a little choppy, and sometimes I felt like the story was developing at the speed of molasses. But once I become invested in the characters, especially the adorable 8-year-old Patrick, I found I really enjoyed The Unfinished Gift. My heart broke for Patrick as he was confronted with the death of his mother, his grandfather Ian's coldness and his father's absence at Christmastime. Like Katharine Townsend, the young social worker assigned to Patrick's case, I wanted to shake his grandfather and make him see what a special kid Patrick was. But as a stack of letters and an old wooden soldier slowly bring a change to Ian's heart, we see the loneliness and pain behind his cranky facade begin to lessen.

Each character in the book is marked by the loss of a family member, be it mother, wife, or son, but God is still able to bring about healing and reconciliation. This was a message that really resonated with me and made the story more moving. I wish the ending had been a little less simplistic, and some of the characters more fully formed, but I enjoyed reading this and am looking forward to starting the sequel, The Homecoming. I can't say I was moved to tears like the book jacket promised, but it did get me into the Christmas spirit.

Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars. If you're in the mood to curl up with a simply written and uplifting Christmas novel, this is the book for you. It's not flashy or action-packed but it is a sweet story about second chances.

This book was one of my selections for All About {n}'s Holiday Reading Challenge.
Source: personal copy

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Masterpiece Classic Schedule!

PBS just released highlights from its Masterpiece Classic schedule for 2011, and all three series look fabulous! I'm especially looking forward to Upstairs Downstairs, and I love Matthew MacFadyen so I'm interested to see Any Human Heart as well.

January 9, 16, 23 & 30, 2011 at 9pm
Downton Abbey
A stately country house, a noble family and a succession crisis are the backdrop for this epic drama by Oscar-winning writer Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) about the lives of aristocrats and servants in the years before World War I. Downton Abbey stars Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern and others.

February 13, 20 & 27, 2011 at 9pm
Any Human Heart
William Boyd adapts his acclaimed 2002 novel about a man — at various times a writer, lover, prisoner of war, and spy — making his often precarious way through the 20th century. Matthew MacFadyen, Gillian Anderson, Hayley Atwell, Kim Cattrall and Jim Broadbent star.

Matthew MacFadyen and Hayley Atwell

Tom Hollander and Gillian Anderson as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor

April 10, 17 & 24, 2011 at 9pm
Upstairs Downstairs
Upstairs Downstairs is an updated version of one of the most-loved and most-honored series in television history. The series has a new cast of characters and Jean Marsh reprising her Emmy-winning role as Rose. The cast also includes the original series co-creator Eileen Atkins (Cranford), Keeley Hawes (MI-5), Ed Stoppard, and Art Malik (The Jewel in the Crown) with a script by Emmy-nominee Heidi Thomas (Cranford).

Keeley Hawkes and Ed Stoppard as Lady Agnes and Sir Hallam Holland

Claire Foy as Lady Persephone

Some of the staff

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

2011 Where Are You Reading? Challenge

I'm signing up for a rather ambitious challenge for 2011-- Sheila at Book Journey's Where Are You Reading? Challenge. You can click here for the full details on how to participate, but the basic goal is to read a book set in each of the fifty states by next December, with bonus points awarded for reading areas beyond those fifty. I'm looking forward to the challenge of finding books set in the less popular states (anyone have a suggestion for a book featuring North Dakota?) and seeing "where" everyone is reading!

When the challenge starts you'll be able to see my map with completed books here or on the sidebar under the challenge button. Each participant in the challenge will have a map so we can see where everyone has been. I hope you'll consider joining what seems like a really fun challenge (and for incentive, one person out of those who've completed it will be randomly chosen to win a $50 gift card to Amazon or Barnes & Noble!)