Monday, February 22, 2010

The Scarlet Lion by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion are two of the best historical fiction novels that I have ever read. Elizabeth Chadwick vividly brings William Marshal and his wife Isabelle de Claire to life with beautiful and detailed prose. So vividly, that I have been having jousting and related dreams for the past few weeks!

The Scarlet Lion is a stand-alone second novel detailing the later half of William Marshal’s life. William Marshal used his great skills as a knight as well as his honesty and integrity to gain power and the hand of Isabelle de Claire, a very wealthy heiress. At the beginning of The Scarlet Lion, William and Isabelle are happily married and busy multiplying their family. William has not settled down as a country squire, he is always at the beck and call of King Richard helping out and leading the way as needed.

Tragedy strikes when King Richard suddenly dies, and his brother, King John takes over. Honor compels William to serve England’s King, even though King John does not rule with integrity or honor himself. The Marshal family faces many perils, including King John taking the two eldest sons, William and Richard, as hostages. These perils cause friction between William and Isabelle as they try to keep their power and their family intact.

Unlike The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion focuses a lot on Isabelle and the Marshall children. I liked the new approach as William is now a family man. Isabelle is a very strong heroine in a time when women did not have a lot of power. I loved reading about her and how she was able to rule without William at home.

The battle sequences in The Scarlet Lion were thrilling from the assault on the castle at Milli at the start of the book to the Battle of Lincoln at the end of the book. I was riveted and loved the detail. The historical detail throughout the book was intriguing. It was interesting to me to see how much power the Catholic Church influenced over nations at that point in time.

I also loved the romance. William and Isabelle’s love faces trials, but they are able to weather the storm and find their love growing stronger. I also love the realization of the passage of time. One of my favorite quotes is Isabelle thinking, “The years had flown with the swiftness of summer swallows on the wing.”

Overall, The Scarlet Lion is a fantastic novel. This is great historical fiction; wonderful characters, fascinating history, and detailed beautiful writing. I feel like I know William and Isabelle quite well now and only wish I could read more about them or their family!

If you would like to learn more about The Scarlet Lion and/or Elizabeth Chadwick, please stop by my blog on March 2nd when I will be interviewing Elizabeth Chadwick!

Book Source: Advanced Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thanks!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winners of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley Audiobook!

The three lucky winners of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley audiobook are Renee G, justpeachy of Debbie's Book Bag, and Rebekah of Books, Books, and More Books. Congrats to the winners! Winners were chosen by and have been notified by email. They have until Friday February 26th to send me their mailing addresses, otherwise new winners will be chosen!

Thank-you to Anna of Hachette Book Group for allowing me to host this giveaway and thank-you to all who entered.

I may not have any new giveaways posted right now, but I have many new and exciting giveaways coming up for the next month so stay tuned! Right now it's time for me to have a small rest from giveaways!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Laura’s Top Ten Books of 2009

I’m a little late getting to my annual list of favorite books of the year. My top ten books include books I read in the year 2009, but that weren’t necessarily published in 2009. I didn’t count books that I read again for at least a second time as I obviously love them, such as Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility, Outlander, My Sister’s Keeper, Twilight, etc.

I read many good books in the year 2009 and was excited to join challenges for the first time, such as The Victorian Challenge , The Everything Austen Challenge, and The Classics Challenge. The books I picked for this list are books that I read, thought about, pondered, and have stayed with me through the year. (Also see my top picks for 2007 and 2008).

In no particular order, my top ten books of 2009:

1. Watchmen by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons: This was my first graphic novel, and it was definitely a great first impression. Moore and Gibbon’s tale of an alternate world populated by super heroes was fascinating and thought provoking. The story, within a story “The Black Freighter” was also riveting and provided a great parallel to the story.

2. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee: The Piano Teacher was an unforgettable love story set in Hong Kong at the start of WWII. It was a painful story of what one sometimes has to do to survive.

3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: The Help is a multi-faceted story, on one hand it is a great story about racism in the 1960’s south, but on the other hand, it is the story of a group of very strong women and their friendship. Overall, it is unforgettable.

4. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith: I read many great Jane Austen spin-offs this year as part of the Everything Austen Challenge. PP&Z was my favorite though as it was a totally original concept that made me laugh out loud . . . a lot! Seth Grahame-Smith kept much of Austen’s original text, but changed just enough to create a great Zombie story. I like how Grahame-Smith was able to make a lot of inside jokes that Pride and Prejudice lovers would love as you read through the book. Now there are a lot of similar type spin-offs, but I’m not sure about them. For more serious spin-offs, I loved The Other Mr. Darcy by Monica Fairview and I think it is the best Pride and Prejudice sequel I have ever read.

5. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon: I LOVE Diana Gabaldon. The only thing I don’t love is the long wait in between the books of her Outlander series. The long wait for An Echo in the Bone did not disappoint. It was a great novel and the only negative was that it had to end. The Outlander series is a fantastic historical fiction saga with great love, great characters, and great description. If you haven’t read the Outlander series, what are you waiting for?

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: I finally read this classic for the first time and loved it. In beautiful prose, Bradbury wrote a great adventure story that includes the evils of banning books as well as the evils of being caught up too much in an electronic world.

7. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder: What is the meaning of random “Acts of God?” Are some people’s lives worth more than others? This beautiful and short book explores very deep themes. I loved it!

8. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout: Olive is not a woman that I liked, but her story is unforgettable. My entire book club loved this book and all for different reasons. A series of short stories that all involve the character of Olive Kitteridge, this book was a very interesting study on perception.

9. True Compass by Edward M. Kennedy: Whatever your politics, Ted Kennedy lived a fascinating life. His candid biography was riveting and really brought history to life.

10. Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan: I listened to the audiobook of Say You’re One of Them, and it was painful at times. It is hard to believe that such evil can still exist in the world. The stories did make you think about what it means to be human and what life is like outside of the United States.

And for a Bonus, a good light book for a good laugh, Bet Me by Jennifer Cruise.

What are your thoughts on these books? What favorite books did you have in 2009?

UP (2009)

My husband, two boys, and I watched Up together last night. We all enjoyed the movie, and it made me rather emotional. I had to fight back tears at several points, especially as my husband was watching to see if I was going to cry. Truthfully, I felt much more emotion in the first twenty minutes of this movie then I did during the entire film Avatar. The two go head to head for the best picture Oscar and at this point, I think Up should be the winner . . . but I also have eight more films to watch!

Up started off with young Carl Fredrickson watching a newsreel in the 1930’s about his hero Charles Muntz. Muntz was an explorer that flew around in a dirigible with his dogs. He discovered a place in South America called Paradise Falls, but was accused of fabricating the skeleton of a large bird that he found. In order to clear his name, Fredrickson set off again, and never returned.

Carl meets a young tomboy named Ellie and together they have a dream of one day going to Paradise Falls. There was a beautiful montage at the beginning of the movie showing them growing up, getting married, and their life together. One bad point was when it showed them excited about having a baby and I was like, “Kile – they are going to have a baby!” Then they showed them sad after obviously losing the baby. Kile – “Why are they sad? Where is the baby?” Me and Ben . . . not quite sure how to answer (especially as I wanted to cry instead of answer!) Another awkward moment came when Carl and Ellie grew old and Ellie passes away. Kile, “What happened?” Ben tried to avoid the question and I told him that Ellie died and went to live at Jesus’ house. Kile was concerned. Bottom line, the beginning montage was a beautiful story of the trials of life and not always getting to fulfill your dreams, but having a wonderful life anyway. It just may be hard for small children (Kile is four) to understand.

The rest of the movie is Carl’s new adventure. After an incident with a construction worker where Carl is ordered to move to an old folk’s home, he uses LOTS of balloons to make his house into his own dirigible of sorts. What he doesn’t know is that neighborhood kid, Russell is on the front porch along for the ride. As he floated into the sky, Kile thought he was on his way to heaven to find Ellie . . . which is a different way to think of it! Carl and Russell make their way to South America, but fall short of Paradise Falls. Carl attaches ropes to himself and Russell and decides to walk the rest of the way there. They encounter many adventures along the way, including a dog named Dug. I’ll stop my summary at this point!!

Overall, Ben, Daniel (almost 2), and I really enjoyed this movie. I liked the adventure, but I really loved the lesson that life isn’t over even when it’s near the end, you should life it to the fullest and care for other people. I also love that although life didn’t turn out for Ellie and Carl as they had planned, Ellie enjoyed it all. Kile (4) liked the movie, but was a bit confused at the adult themes at the beginning and was scared during various action sequences.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lost – “The Substitute”

After the lackluster Kate episode, Lost was once again great this week with the Locke centric episode – “The Substitute.” Locke is on of my favorite characters and this episode gave me much to think about.

I’ve seen the term “FLocke” for fake Locke all over the web. I’m just going to call Smokey, Smokey or MIB. I dislike the term FLocke.

On the Island, Locke is dead, but “Smokey” is appearing in human form as Locke. I loved the Smokey cam at the beginning of the episode when Smokey wandered around the island looking at things. Smokey assumes his human form and hooks up with a very drunken Sawyer. This scene was very funny. Smokey and Sawyer go on a strange island adventure where they cross a young boy that Smokey gives chase too. Sawyer can also see the boy, which surprises Smokey. Who is this boy? When I first watched it, I thought he was perhaps a vision of a young Jacob taunting Smokey, but I am definitely open to other opinions. Who did you think this boy was?

A very scared Richard Alpert runs into Sawyer at this point and tells him not to trust Smokey. Interesting. Sawyer contemplates putting a bullet through the back of Smokey’s head, but decides not too. Smokey leads him through perilous adventure to a cave in the side of a cliff. Once there Smokey encounters a scale with a black and white stone on it. He pitches the white stone into the scene and calls it a “private joke.” What is that all about . . . the balance of good and evil? He shows Sawyer that Jacob had kept a list of people to be the chosen one to take over the island. The list included: Jack=23, Hurley=8, Sayid=16, Jin or Sun or Both=42, Locke=4, and Sawyer=15. Strangely Kate does not have a number. The mysterious numbers are now partly explained as we know they are assigned to our heroes, but Smokey tells Sawyer that Jacob “just had a thing for numbers” which seems unlikely. Only time will reveal the real explanation.

Smokey asks Sawyer to join him in trying to escape from the island, to which Sawyer exclaims, “Hell yes!” I am confused on what Sawyer is trying to do at this point in being in league with Smokey, who he obviously doesn’t trust. Ben (my husband) and I both agree that we think Sawyer is in for the long con. Although he is angry at Jack for the death of Juliet, I think the leader/hero in him is trying to get all of the information he can out of Smokey so he can rescue his friends and get them off of the island. What do you think?

My other favorite on island experience was Locke’s funeral on Boone Hill. Ben talks about how great Locke was and that he was sorry that he murdered him. Frank then says, “Weirdest damn funeral I've ever been to." I laughed out loud. Speaking of Boone Hill . . . I’ve often thought Jacob was a Christ-like figure. Ben sent me a theory today that perhaps Jacob will rise again in three days like Christ. My question is, will the rest of the residents of Boone Hill also arise at some point as part of a “second coming” of the Christ-like figure of Jacob. Something to think about . . .

Off island in the parallel world, John Locke has a much happier life than we saw previously. Helen and Locke are engaged to be married and Papa Locke is invited. I think it’s safe to say that Locke’s paralysis was not caused by Papa. Parallel Locke has a greater sense of humor and over the course of the episode he comes to terms with his disability. He is more the man of science than the man of faith.

I also liked how this episode really showed how everyone’s lives are interlaced in this parallel world. Hurley finds out Locke was fired and hooks him up to a temp agency that he also owns. At the temp agency Locke runs into Rose who helps him understand him and live with his limitations. Next with the wedding planning underway, I expect Locke to run into Boone and Shannon.

My last thoughts . . . what is good and what is evil? We have been led to believe that Jacob is good and Smokey is evil. How do we know one is all good and the other bad? Without Jacob’s meddling in the Losties lives, would they have led better lives by themselves as Locke obviously has? What do you think? I’m very interested to learn more about Jacob and MIB.

Also – WALT! Is anyone else annoyed that they cast a kid who probably is looking more like a man at this point. I know he is too old for the part, but at the beginning of the show, Walt had great importance. I think they either recast him and just say that is what had to happen or somehow make do with the fact he is older (things are different in the parallel world). I would like Walt and his powers to be explained!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

Corcoran (Cork) O’Conner has been having a bad few years. He was once Sheriff of Aurora, Minnesota, but after an unfortunate incident, he was recalled. Since the incident, relations with his wife Jo have been strained to the point that he has moved out and has a new girlfriend, Molly. When Eagle Scout Paul LeBeau doesn’t return home after his paper route one day, his panicked mother calls Cork for help. Cork discovers that the last place Paul stopped was Judge Robert Parrant’s house, and the Judge has committed suicide. Cork thinks the suicide is suspicious and starts to investigate. The investigation turns deadly with Cork’s place getting ransacked and himself getting beaten up, more unfortunate murders in town, all of the dirty town secrets coming out to play, and there is also a thrilling snowmobile chase.

Iron Lake is the first novel in the Cork O’Conner mystery series. I have read later books in the series, but I decided to go back and read book one to see how it all started. I recommended it to my Kewaunee Library Book Club and it was our selection this month. It got the book club stamp of approval as all of our members thoroughly enjoyed it. One member has even read several more books in the series already.

I really enjoyed this novel. It was a fast read, but complex and enjoyable mystery. The characters are fantastic and are well developed. It is interesting to note that Krueger is (or has been) a marriage counselor and he was able to write an intriguing and true to life story of a multifaceted and troubled marriage. I also love the northern Minnesota setting and the language used to describe it. It was brought to life vividly. It seemed very realistic for a small rural northern town.

Overall, Iron Lake was a great mystery that will keep you up long in the night to discover how it ends!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library


My husband Ben and I went to see "Avatar" on Valentine’s Day. I think it was our first outing to a movie together since we went and saw "I am Legend" in December of 2007. Now that we have two young boys, our adventures out to the movie theatre are scarcer! My in-laws were in town for a visit and graciously watched the boys so we could have a date. Ben and I are both great fans of science fiction and have heard the 3-D experience of "Avatar" is not to be missed.

Overall, I was underwhelmed by "Avatar". I thought the special effects were spectacular and watching it in 3-D was awesome. The story was lackluster. I found myself thinking during the scene where the chief’s daughter took Jake Sully to camp to meet her hostile parents and people . . . isn’t this "Pocahontas"? I was waiting for the main female character to throw herself over Jake to protect him from a death sentence, but sadly that didn’t happen. At other moments I thought, didn’t I see this movie before, and it was "Dances with Wolves"? I never felt like I really knew the characters or cared enough about them to mourn their deaths. I may have even fallen asleep in the middle for a few minutes and woke up to think . . . wait a minute, is this alien sex?

I thought "Avatar" was an okay or good movie. It was an enjoyable movie going experience that fulfilled my sense of amazement at wonderful effects, but did not fulfill my mind with deep thoughts to become a great movie. (Especially as the scientist in me couldn’t get over the floating mountains.) I think "Avatar" should definitely win all of the special effects awards at the Oscars, but I don’t think it was best picture worthy.

What do you think about Avatar?

Winners of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds

The two lucky winners of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World by Abigail Reynolds are Caitlin of My Links and Adna of Classy Girl. The two winners were notified via email and have until this Friday the 19th to send me their mailing addresses. Winners were chosen using

Thank-you to Danielle of Sourcebooks for sponsoring this giveaway and thank-you to all who entered it. I still have on ongoing giveaway as you can see in my left sidebar. I have a few exciting upcoming ones . . . so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Classics Circuit: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

I am participating in the Harlem Renaissance Tour that is being hosted by The Classics Circuit to celebrate Black History Month. I have had Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston sitting on my shelf for nine years (when my friend Lauren passed it on to me) and I decided this was the push I needed to finally read it.

I can’t believe I waited so long to read such an excellent novel! Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford. Janie is a beautiful young girl that was raised by her grandmother. She is the product of violence. Her grandmother was impregnated during the civil war by her white slave owner and her mother was raped by her school teacher. Janie’s mother took to drink after her birth and disappeared. Janie’s grandmother is afraid that Janie will end up with a no good man so she marries her off to Logan Killicks, a well-of older farmer.

Janie has many ideas of marriage from a wonderful scene where bees are getting the nectar from a pear tree. “She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of tree from root to the tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was marriage!” Logan Killicks does not meet her definition of marriage, especially after he wants her to do hard labor on the farm.

At this point in time Janie meets Jody Sparks, a man with big plans and ideas. They elope and move to an all black community in Florida. Joe becomes Mayor of the town and starts a general store. Jealous of any attention paid to Janie, Joe berates her and makes her keep her hair tied up in a kerchief. Janie longs to participate in the wonderful storytelling on the porch, but Joe won’t allow it.

After 20 years of marriage, Joe passes away a bitter old man. Janie is a wealthy 40-year old widow and is in no hurry to meet anyone new. One day Janie meets Tea Cake, a younger idealist man. Tea Cake takes Janie fishing, listens to her, and allows her to experience life as no ever has. The two leave town to start life anew, but things do not always go as planned.

I had a hard time at first with the Southern African American dialect of the characters, but once I got used to it, it was easier to read the novel. I love how this novel is an important African American novel, but also an important feminist novel. I love Janie’s journey to find herself and her happiness. She finally found her “voice” with Tea Cake.

The introduction and afterward talked about Zora Neale Hurston and her said neglect in the cannon of the Harlem Renaissance. As this novel was a very feminist novel, the mail authors of the Harlem Renaissance, looked down on it. It went out of print and Hurston died at the St. Lucie County Welfare Home in 1960. She came back into prominence after Alice Walker searched for and marked her grave and then wrote a piece about it for Ms. Indeed, it was very easy to see reading the groundbreaking Their Eyes Were Watching God how much this work inspired works by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison.
I was also surprised at how sensual a novel Their Eyes Were Watching God was for 1937. While there are no explicit details, there is enough beautiful prose to realize that Jane is looking for and finds pleasure with Tea Cake.

Some of my favorite quotes:

Janie wondering about marriage when she is leaving Logan Killicks: “Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?” I love the wording, so lyrical and beautiful.

Janie talking about her grandmother: “She was borned in slavery time when folks, dat is black folks, didn’t sit down anytime dey felt lak it. So sittin’ on porches lak de white madam looked lak uh might fine thing tu her. Dat’s whut she wanted for me – don’t keer whut cost.” Poor Janie was forced to fulfill her grandmother’s dreams by marrying Logan Killicks, even though they were not her own dreams.

“Jane, Ah done watched it time and time again; each and every white man think he know all de GOOD darkies already . . . So far as he’s concerned, all dem he don’t know oughta be tried and sentenced tuh six months behind de United States privy house at hard smellin’.” Some things have not changed. Members of my family in the previous generation who shall remain nameless are sure that the few African Americans that they know are different than all others who fit the racist characterizations. Very sad.

Overall, this book was a beautifully written, compelling, and original work. I am very glad that I read it as part of Harlem Renaissance Tour.

Book Source: My friend Lauren passed it on to me 9 years ago!!! I need to now pass it on myself . . .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Lost – “What Kate Does”

I was disappointed by last night’s episode of Lost, “What Kate Does.” After a spectacular season opener, I thought yesterday’s episode was rather lackluster. My feelings may spring from the fact that I stopped caring about Kate or anything she does many years ago. I don’t really like her character.

That aside, there were some giant plot holes in yesterday’s episode. My favorite was that Kate hijacks that taxi with Claire inside. She drops Claire off, goes to a mechanic to get her handcuffs off, and then feels guilty about stealing Claire’s luggage when she sees the baby stuff inside (so she didn’t notice she was gigantically pregnant before this point?). She goes back and pick’s Claire up, which was my first annoyance. So Claire just stood there on the side of the street after getting hijacked? She didn’t go for help or move at all? My second annoyance, when Claire then gets into the taxi with Kate. I’m sure if I got hijacked; I would then enter a taxi with said crazy lady hijacker and become her new BFF. This all seemed highly implausible to me. The 2004 universe continued on in this way with Kate going with Claire to the adoption couple’s house and also to the hospital, all in the stolen taxi. On one hand, I like how Kate and Claire’s paths seemed to be fated to be drawn together as they were in the other parallel timeline. I also liked the appearance of Dr. Ethan Goodspeed helping Claire out. This also seemed to be fate. I did not like the very forced Kate and Claire plot. Kate seemed like she was a very in effective runner. Now what Kate does is chase instead of run in both LA and the island.

Back in the parallel world of 2007, the story focused on Kate and Jin tracking a runaway Sawyer and the “Others” torturing Sayid. I liked Sawyer’s painful confession of how he was going to propose to Juliet and blaming himself for Juliet’s death. I didn’t like Kate chasing him. When she cried after his confession, was it because she was sad that Sawyer had never felt that way for her or because of Sawyer’s pain? I was left feeling confused on the emotions of that scene.

The most interesting part of the episode for me was discovering from Temple Master Dogan that Sayid now was possessed by the darkness and would slowly turn. Interesting. And even more so when he told Jack that his sister also had it. Flash to crazy Claire at the end looking like a dead ringer for the crazy French woman. It’s nice to see what happened to Claire and I’m very interested to find out what this dark disease is during future episodes. I was sad to see that Sayid is not the reincarnated Jacob, but that the dark water must have been tainted with the MIB and “darkness” somehow.

I was sad that we did not get to see evil Locke on this episode. I can’t wait until next week!

What were your thoughts on this episode?

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick

The Greatest Knight is quite simply, one of the best historical fiction novels that I have read in quite awhile. This novel is the story of William Marshal, perhaps the greatest knight of the middle ages. The story is set mostly during the reign of King Henry II and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine during the 12th century. I have always found this to be a fascinating period of history, and it was wonderful to learn about a compelling new (to me) character during this part of history.

William Marshal is a young knight with the drive and passion to hone his skills to perfection. He is also a man with deep loyalties, once he commits to a ruler or a cause, he will never go back on his word. With honor, integrity, and superior fighting skills as a knight, William soon rises up the ranks to become a royal knight to King Henry and Queen Eleanor and the trainer of their young sons. As the sons grow and family tensions rise, William’s loyalty is put to the test. William experiences very tumultuous times – epic battles, enemies that will do anything to see him fall, and the love of a wonderful, beautiful heiress, Isabelle de Claire.

Overall, I loved this novel. I had a hard time putting it down. It was fascinating and kept me reading far into the night. Elizabeth Chadwick has written a book that contains my favorite elements of good historical fiction: a riveting true story written with great historical accuracy, a wonderful hero, and a great love story with a strong female protagonist. I love reading about knights in shining armor, and this book was so much more than a simple love story. William Marshal ranks as one of my favorite new literary heroes.

I will be hosting a guest interview with Elizabeth Chadwick on March 2nd about her new novel The Scarlet Lion. The Scarlet Lion is a stand alone novel about William Marshal and Isabelle de Claire during the reign of King John. I can’t wait to read it (on my pile for next week!).

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer

The Masqueraders is a fun tale of adventurers that is filled with romance, disguises, swash buckling duels, and highwaymen. I love Georgette Heyer and I usually say that her novels are the next best thing to Jane Austen, but The Masqueraders is not one of her regency novels. This novel is set just after the Jacobite rebellion in 1740’s England.

Prudence and Robin Tremaine had a unique upbringing by their adventurer father, where disguise and good fashion sense were key. After participating in the failed Jacobite rebellion, the brother and sister journey to England, only with Prudence disguised as Peter Merriot and Robin disguised as Miss Kate Merriot. The two start off their adventures by rescuing a damsel in distress and then become the toast of London society. Complications ensue when both find themselves falling in love. How will they be able to express their love when they are disguised? Their adventurer father also comes to town with a new plot in hand.

While I was a bit confused at the beginning of this novel, I soon found myself swallowed up by the fun. I was unable to put the book down as I really wanted to see how it would all come together at the end. The action sequences of the novel were great with rescues, duels, etc. I could see this book as a great movie. The swashbuckling adventures reminded me strongly of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

Overall, The Masqueraders is an adventure not to be missed! It is a fun filled adventure with unique characters. I also love Georgette Heyer’s style of writing, and like seeing a slightly different setting for this work.

I also love a good cover, and Sourcebooks has a beautiful one on The Masqueraders. I like looking at the inside cover of all of the beautiful Heyer covers Sourcebooks has put out. If you also are a lover of Heyer, check out The Classic Circuit in March, which will be featuring a month long look in Heyer’s novels. I will be reviewing The Foundling on March 23rd!

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Winners of The Bronte Sisters: Three Novels

Two lucky people each won a copy of The Bronte Sisters: Three Novels (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition). Without further ado, the two lucky winners are Bethie of Improve Your Child's Reading Ability and Justpeachy36 of Debbie's Book Bag. Winners were chosen using and were notified via email. Bethie and Debbie have until this Friday February 12th to send me their mailing addresses so I can drop their books in the mail.

Thank-you to Courtney of Penguin Books for allowing me to host this giveaway. Thank-you to all of the people who entered the giveaway - this was a very popular giveaway! I love Penguin Classics myself for my classics collection.

There are still two giveaways ongoing as seen on my left sidebar. Please check them out!

Winners of Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler!

The two lucky winners of Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler are In the Hammock Blog and Emilee Hope of Another Binkley Sister Blog. Thank-you both for blogging about the giveaway and also to Emilee Hope for being a part of the All About the Brontes Challenge. Winners were chosen using and were notified via email. They have until Friday February 12th to send me their mailing addresses. One will receive a book from me and the other will receive a book from Penguin Books.

A giant thank-you to Courtney from Penguin Books for allowing me to host this giveaway. Also thank-you to all who participated in this giveaway! Becoming Jane Eyre by Sheila Kohler is an excellent novel. If you didn't win it, I hope you are able to purchase it or find it at your library to check it out.

There are still two on-going giveaways posted on my left sidebar. Please check them out!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Giveaway and Review: The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley (audiobook)

James Bradley is a great writer of historical non-fiction. I have previously read and loved Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys. My husband Ben read those two previous books with me also and we had great discussions about various historical facts we had learned. James Bradley is also a native of Wisconsin. He was born and grew up in Appleton and later graduated from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Although he no longer lives in Wisconsin, I think I can count him as a “literary local.” Bradley’s father, John, helped raise the flag on Iwo Jima as seen in the iconic photograph. His book, Flags of Our Fathers, was the basis for the Clint Eastwood movie by the same name. It was a great movie!

The Imperial Cruise continues Bradley’s look into history. In this book, Bradley investigates the roots of the diplomacy that led to World War II. Bradley believes that it all stems from the “Imperial Cruise” made by “Big” Bill Taft and “Princess” Alice Roosevelt amongst others to many nations in the Pacific.

While the Imperial Cruise is the title and main subject of the book, much time was spent on background information about the United States involvement in the Philippines, Western conflicts with China, Japan, and Korea, Teddy Roosevelt, and Alice Roosevelt. It was all very interesting information.

I particularly liked the new perspective I got of Teddy Roosevelt from this book. I knew of Teddy and his charge of San Juan Hill, Rough Rider, and tough ways. What I didn’t know was that Teddy was a master of publicity and knew how to create a tough image of him to win the public’s heart, which was actually far from accurate. I also loved learning more about Alice Roosevelt. I knew of her somewhat, but this book dealt on her troubled relationship with her father, as well as her life as the publicity star of her day.

I was very interested in the discussion of racist policies that the United States used towards Pacific Rim countries such as the Philippines, China, Japan, and Korea. There were many atrocities committed. I think that Bradley may have simplified matters though by blaming all bad foreign policy on racism. While racism certainly occurred, there were many other dynamics going on that should be have explored more in the novel. Also, I think that the actual imperial cruise could have used some more discussion. There was a lot of lead up to it, and it ended up being more exciting than the cruise itself.

Overall, The Imperial Cruise was a thought provoking book. I will definitely be reading James Bradley’s next book about Franklin Roosevelt and China.

This audiobook version of The Imperial Cruise was 8 CDs and unabridged. The introduction and closing was read by James Bradley, but the rest of the book was read by Richard Poe. They both did an excellent job. The last CD contained an interview with James Bradley, which was very interesting.

Audiobook Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details
Anna of Hachette Book Group has been kind enough to offer three copies of the audiobook of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley for this giveaway.

If you would like to enter this contest do any of the following:

1. Leave a comment on this post. You must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner. (1 entry)

2. Blog about this giveaway or post about it on your sidebar. (1 entry)

3. Become a follower or leave a comment that you already are a follower of this blog. (1 entry)

There are three ways to enter, but you can put all three entries as one comment.

I will be using to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday February 19th.

Good luck!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lost – Season Six Opener (LA X)

Wow! LA X was a fantastic episode of Lost and has me very excited about the last season. I’m not going to recap it here . . . but I am going to talk about my favorite bits. If you haven’t watched it yet, please do not read ahead!

I love the two timelines after the blast, so much so that I am not sure which one I would love to be “reality.” Are both concurrent realties or parallel universes? I can’t wait to keep watching and find out.

I love that the people who are on the island are continuing the timeline in 2007 that we have watched these past almost six years. I was excited when they found Juliet only to be devastated when she died in Sawyer’s arms. My only hope that her last words and talk of a coffee with Sawyer means that her and Sawyer do get a coffee together in the other timeline. I also like how Hurley has silently taken charge of the situation in his own Hurley way. Several of his comments made me laugh out loud . . . especially when he told Jacob something like “Dude, that sucks” when Jacob admitted that he had died an hour before. I liked how we finally got to see the temple and what happened to Cindy and the kids, but I’m confused by the strangely dressed other others.

I was excited to finally learn that the Man-in-Black (evil Locke) is also Smokey the monster. My favorite line of the night (or maybe of the series!) was MIB saying to Ben,
"I'm sorry you had to see me like that." Their whole exchange was great. I like how Ben finally realizes that he was used the entire time. I’m intrigued to finally find out more about the mysterious Richard Alpert. What did MIB mean by his comment about it being nice to see Richard not in chains? It made me think that Richard may have come to the island as a slave on the Black Rock.

Overall, I like the island 2007 storyline as it continues with the characters as we know them. They have had their mistakes, but have redeemed themselves in different ways and have grown in personalities.

On the other hand, the alternative 2004 flight to LAX without the crash is also an interesting scenario. It was interesting to watch it and note the differences. Why was Desmond on the flight, but Shannon was missing. Many other characters (Michael, Walt, Anna-Lucia, Mr. Eko, Libby, etc.) were not shown on the flight. Where are they? Jack was no longer so self assured on this flight and needed Rose’s assurance that all would be well. Does Jack retain some sort of memory of what had happened before?

It was great to see favorite characters resurrected such as Locke, Boone, and Charlie. It wasn’t good to see some of them (such as Charlie) without having made their growth from drug addict to hero. I’m very interested to see how this time line works out. Will the characters’ paths cross and connect even without the island? Will they be able to redeem themselves? And most importantly, how will these two timelines resolve and become one?

What are your thoughts on LA X? And more importantly, did the picture above make you laugh as I did? Is it just me or is Kate's hand positioned a little bit funny . . .

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Your Favorite Bronte Original Work

Jane Eyre was the overwhelming favorite Bronte Original work on the poll held on this blog this past month. The favorites in order are as follows:

1. Jane Eyre, 60.7%
2. Wuthering Heights, 25%
3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, 8.9%
4. The Professor, 3.6%
5. Agnes Grey, 1.8%

Villette, Shirley, Poems, and Juvenilia did not receive any votes. I must say that I agree. Jane Eyre is my favorite Bronte original work. What about Jane Eyre makes it such a great book? Please sound off below in the comments. I know that to me, I love how Charlotte Bronte incorporated so much of her life story into the novel. The terrible trials of Lowood School and being a governess come through loud and clear. The love story of Jane and Rochester is passionate without the sex scenes of modern day works. Rochester sees through the “dowdy” exterior of Jane Eyre to the fiery soul within. The gothic elements and mystery make this book hard to put down. Overall though, it is Jane herself that keeps me rereading this novel. Jane grows into a woman with a mind of her own and her love story with Rochester is a story where she does not bend her morals or beliefs. Indeed, she comes to Rochester on her own terms at the end.

A new poll of this month is again about the Brontes, but to honor Valentine’s Day, let’s select our favorite Bronte romantic couples. Although there are great couples in all of the Bronte’s works, two are iconic – Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester versus Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James

My first response upon finishing The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte was “Wow!” I thought this was a wonderful novel that fleshes out the life story of Charlotte Bronte in a realistic and fascinating way.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte is written from the first person narrative of Charlotte Bronte as she relates the events of her life to her diary. The diary starts with a proposal of marriage to Charlotte which has thrown her household into an uproar. As Charlotte states, “Who is this man who has dared to ask for my hand? Why is my father so dead set against him? Why are half of the residents of Haworth determinded to lnch him – or shoot him.” The diary then goes back to start in 1845 and details Charlotte Bronte’s earlier life and first meeting of Arthur Bell Nichols.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte lovingly describes the life story of Charlotte Bronte while remaining true to the facts of her life. Charlotte’s stay in Brussels and love of her professor, her best friend Ellen, her time as a governess, her relationship with her siblings, and the writing of her novels are all included. Overall though, this is the love story of Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nichols.

I enjoyed the love story and the development of the relationship between Charlotte and Arthur. Ironically, it often reminded me of Pride and Prejudice as their understanding of each other develops over time.

The end of the novel also has author insights, extras, and more which includes an interview with Syrie James, selected letters of Charlotte Bronte, selected poetry of the Brontes, complete works of the Brontes, and book club questions for The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte. I really enjoyed these extras, especially the author interview and Charlotte Bronte’s letters.

Overall, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte was an engaging, wonderfully written fictional account of Charlotte Bronte’s life. I loved, loved, loved how Syrie James has written the love story of Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nichols. Most often Nichols is the second choice and Monsieur Heger is written as the love of her life. I’ve read Bronte biographies and letters in the past, and it does seem that she truly loved Arthur Bell Nichols. It’s about time that their love story was given proper treatment.

The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte is my third item for the All About the Brontes Challenge.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Monday, February 1, 2010

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Firefly Lane is the story of two girls that become best friends at the age of fourteen and continue their friendship through life changes including college, careers, marriage, and children. Kate Mularkey is a lonely, unpopular 14-year old when Tully Hart moves to town. Tully is beautiful and popular, but hides the fact that her mother is a drug addicted flower child. Tully is ultimately lonely too and becomes best friends with Kate.

Kate and Tully attend college together to become television broadcasters. While beautiful Tully has great ambition and loves to be the center on air, Kate is content to be working hard offstage. Kate longs to be a wife and mother while Tully wants to have the top career that she can. After Kate marries and has the family she always wanted, she struggles with the constant demands of being a stay-at-home mother. Tully works hard and has a very successful career, but it comes at the cost of being unable to settle down and have a family. Both women are jealous of aspects of the other’s life.

Ultimately, this novel of friendship is really about the struggles that women face in having a career and a family. Kate and Tully are born in 1960 to put a timeline on it. They are closer in age to my mother who was born in 1955 then me, but their struggle is something that still faces women of today.

Kate is a smart woman who gives up her career to raise her family. Besides the hardships she faces raising a headstrong daughter and two young twin boys, she sometimes yearns for a career and success of her own. I love this quote from a party she attends with her husband, “Sipping her champagne, she followed her husband around the room, smiling when she was supposed to, laughing when it seemed appropriate, saying, ‘I’m an at-home mom,’ when asked, and watching how those few words – a sentence that made her so proud – could kill a conversation.” I can sympathize. As I work part-time and stay at home part time, I notice the difference in how people treat me if they think I am a stay-at-home mother versus an engineer. What those people without kids don’t understand is how hard a job it is being a mother.

By the end, Kate comes to terms with being an at-home mother saying “. . . you see that love and family are all there is. Nothing else matters.”

Tully often fantasizes about her lost love Chad or her BFF Kate’s family wishing she had one of her own. But she is very proud of her hard work and her success. Truthfully, I wasn’t sure about this depiction. I think if a woman has a fulfilling career and is happy with it, she should have to feel guilty about not having a family. Having a family is not for everyone. I did like the conflict and discussion though. The grass is always greener on the other side and it was interesting for each woman to think about if she had taken the other road in life.

Overall this was a good read, especially the ending, but I won’t give any spoilers here. They only thing I didn’t like is that the book often reminded me of other tales of best friends including Beaches. I would find myself thinking, didn't I read/watch this before?

Firefly Lane is the February pick for the FLICKS Book and Movie Club.

Book Source: Kewaunee Public Library