September 29, 2008

The Queen's Lady by Barbara Kyle

I found Barbara Kyle’s The Queen’s Lady to be a bit hit & miss. On the positive side there were a lot of twist and turns to the story, which keeps you guessing what is going to happen next. The Tudor history is captivating in itself and this story just shows another viewpoint of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and the political and religious players of the time. On the negative side there was a loss of coherency to the story, as it seemed the author wanted to present all the differing religious views of the time, making the story unnecessarily complex. Some of the plot, particularly about the M√ľnsterites and Anabaptists, was quite strange. There is so much going on the story its confusing and I think the chapter divisions would have benefited from an accompanying timeline and not just a specific title. 

If you would like to read a similar story (historical fiction, strong female protagonist and a minor study in religious views of the time) I would try Phillipa Gregory's The Queen's Fool. All this said I think I will read the sequel about Isabella Thornleigh. Note that this book was first published in 1994 as A Dangerous Temptation. The sequel featuring Isabella Thornleigh was previously published as A Dangerous Devotion and will be published in February 24, 2009 as The King’s Daughter. I think the timing of the books are suspect, riding on the wave of popularity of The Other Boleyn Girl current pop culture interest in The Tudors. 

My Rating: 3.5

Chapters

September 24, 2008

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

A poignant story of a young 'figlie di coro', or daughter of the choir, who is a student of Maestro Vivaldi in 1700s Venice. Anna Maria was abandoned as an infant and given to a foundling home, as a young girl her musical talent is revealed and becomes a student of Antonio Vivaldi. Prohibited from engaging in life outside the foundling home she struggles between her talent for the violin and a desire for freedom, and as she grows she is faced with difficult choices and tests of faith in herself, as she tries to discover her destiny and who her family is. An eloquent picture into what life would have been like as one of Vivaldi's virgins.

My Rating: 3.0

September 22, 2008

Empress Orchid by Anchee Min

A fascinating, detailed story of Empress Orchid and what her life may have been like as a concubine of Emperor Hsien Feng, and ultimately the last Empress of China. Orchid is a character with strong will, an inquiring, questioning mind and someone who desires to be loved and to give love but her destiny is to delicately and surreptitiously rule China after the death of the Emperor.

Some novels filled with considerable historical detail can become boring and slow but Anchee Min sets a brisk pace through the events of Orchid’s life, painting vivid descriptions and keeping you engaged without losing any meaning. I really liked this book but did not love it as much as Memoirs of a Geisha, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love. I would read more from this Author.

My Rating: 4.0

September 18, 2008

And Only to Deceive: A Novel of Suspense by Tasha Alexander

A delightful first novel of a series about Lady Emily Ashton set in Victorian England (Tasha Alexander).

Emily was only married to her husband for a short time before he died. After more than a year in mourning, Emily is learning surprising new details about the husband she never had the chance to know, and finds herself gripped by the same interest in antiquities he had. But some of the classical art pieces she examines are forgeries and someone doesn’t want her to discover more about her husband’s death...

Emily is a complex, daring and curious character. ‘And Only to Deceive’ is a great combination of historical fiction, suspense and lecture on classical art. A lot of the time suspense novels are predictable, as you know all the characters in the plot and can predict the antagonist but Tasha Alexander only gives you little snippets of detail for each character, carrying the suspense until the very last page. Great start to the series. Cannot wait to read ‘A Poisoned Season’ and then ‘A Fatal Waltz’.

My Rating: 4.0

Chapters

September 16, 2008

The Queen of Subtleties by Suzannah Dunn

Suzannah Dunn provides another viewpoint of the life of Anne Boleyn. The author does write dialogue well but in the case of this historical novel I just couldn't see that this would be the speech of the time, with seemingly modern day catch-phrases interspersed. This novel does have emotional impact and is imaginative but I just did not see the point of the two story-lines differing in time and point of view and only the one connecting thread. This is the author's first historical novel and I would be interested to see how she improves in her next, the story of Katherine Parr - The Sixth Wife.

My Rating: 3.0

Chapters

September 12, 2008

The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis

The story of The Borgia Bride by Jeanne Kalogridis is packed with historical facts but does not become bogged down in the breadth of details, the story flowing naturally from season to season through the life of Sancha of Aragon.

The young Sancha has a rebellious nature and is in a battle of wills with her father Alfonso II of Naples, although she completely loyal to her brother Alfonso. Retaliating against Sancha for her behaviour, her father contracts a marriage for her to the Borgia family of Rome, and in Sancha’s mind, the worst possible thing that could happen - being separated from her kind and loving brother. She becomes embroiled in the Borgia family’s struggle to gain more power and suppress their enemies through corruption, betrayal, poison and war. Sancha struggle’s against the evil in the Borgia family and is eventually faced with the ultimate choice… whether to murder.

There are some crude parts, rape, incest, in the story but I thought the author treated them as well as these subjects could have been, as they were based on historical facts. If you are a fan of Phillipa Gregory you are sure to be a fan of Jeanne Kalogridis.

My Rating: 4.0

Chapters

September 11, 2008

Peony in Love by Lisa See

Peony in Love was just as enjoyable and maybe even more so, than Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. I thought Lisa See was more focused on telling the story of Peony in the context of that time in Chinese history, rather than intricately detailing historical facts of the time, as in Snow Flower.



Peony, a much loved daughter, is obsessed with an opera called The Peony Pavilion and longs to be in love and in charge of her destiny, although she is to be wed to someone she has never met. Though forbidden she meets a young man and the choices she makes afterwards determines her destiny. 

Read this book if you want a love story with a twist and a sprinkling of the supernatural. Both a heartbreaking and lovely read. You will not be disappointed!!
My Rating: 4.5

Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Girl with a Pearl Earring captured me with its seeming simplicity yet taught emotion. At 16, Griet must leave the home of her Protestant parents to become a maid of the Catholic painter Vermeer and live in the household with his wife, their five children and a couple other characters. As the story unfolds Griet becomes more and more involved with helping Vermeer in his studio, which Griet is to keep a secret from most of the rest of the household. 

Although not much seemed to happen quickly in this story, I was gripped by the anxiety that Griet always carried with her, which kept me engrossed with the book. She always sensed that there would be life-altering consequences if all was revealed and that she would need to make choices where before she was not allowed to make any choices of her own. The conclusion of the story was not typical and very satisfying. This is a fine work into the insight of how the painting by Vermeer may have come to be.  

My Rating: 4.0  

Chapters

September 10, 2008

You Know You Are Obsessed When...

You spend thousands of dollars on the perfect bookshelf... You use Bookpedia to catalogue all the books you own... You have a weekly book budget... You spend hours online at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Chapters reading book reviews... Your books are more precious to you than clothes or food... Y ou compulsively need to go to the bookstore in your free time and can’t leave without a purchase... You collect all the books of your favourite authors... You build a website dedicated to the books you love... You travel to Sidney, B.C. aka Book Town and photograph every bookstore... You travel to Munro's in Victoria, B.C. and gasp at the beautiful coffered ceiling and bookshelves (and take lots of pictures there too)... You smell every brand new book you purchase... You blog about your book obsession...