Monday, November 29, 2010

Guest Blog - Leon H. Gildin author of The Polski Affair

I am very excited today to have Leon Gilden, the author of The Polski Affair, as a guest on my blog. His novel sounds very intriguing and I can't wait to read it. Stay tuned for a review and giveaway of this novel in the near term future when I receive the book.

Inner conflict
by Leon H. Gildin,

Let me tell you something about myself and how I came to write an award-winning novel dealing with a woman's innermost thoughts.

Some thirty years ago I practiced law in New York and had a client who was a film and stage producer, intellectual and a professor of religious studies at a major seminary. One day he brought a friend into my office by the name of Abraham Shulman who was introduced as a newspaper man and author who wrote in both Yiddish and English.
Shulman and I got along well; he was a very bright guy, but a bit of a "noodnik" (a nuisance). He'd come into the office without an appointment, would sit and talk regardless of what I had to do and when it came time to pay a fee, he vanished. Nevertheless, I liked him and I would always read what he wrote and, if the truth be known, enjoyed his stories and his conversation.

One day Shulman came in with his latest "magus opus," a book entitled "The Case of the Hotel Polski," published by Holocaust Press and distributed by Schocken Books. Those names alone made me realize that it was something of value. I don't recall whether he ever told me what got him interested in the subject matter. "The Case of the Hotel Polski" was a bizarre and unbelievable story about a Nazi plot to trade Jews who survived the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943 for Germans interned in foreign countries. A strange and hitherto unknown piece of the Holocaust.

The book consisted of a lengthy introduction dealing with Shulman's research and then recounted interviews with "guests" of the hotel, telling how they got there, what went on there and how they survived. It was fascinating and as Shulman said at the end of his introduction, words to the effect, the more that was learned, the more confused the conclusion.

I put the book away for, I don't know how long, but the stories of the survivors never left me. Years later, I reread it and decided that the material would make an absorbing stage play. I was familiar with playwriting but after two scenes it became obvious that there were so many characters that a play would not work. So back in the drawer it went, but I kept my notes in a separate folder.

I retired, came to live in Arizona and now I had time to write. I found the old folder with my notes and my scenes, I found the book but this time when I read it I underlined and copied those facts and those interviews that I felt would be relevant in telling the story.

It was my decision that an attractive woman who had survived the horror of the destruction of the ghetto and told her story would be the most intriguing. But one story was not enough. I had to introduce more characters, more action, more situations, all culled from the interviews. It was also important to show how absurd the Nazi plan was, assuming they truly believed what they sought to accomplish could, in fact, be accomplished.

Rosa opens the story in her own words. She survived for reasons over which she has no control and, subsequently, meets and becomes both friends and family with another couple who survived for reasons totally beyond their control. When Rosa, now known as Anna (you must read the book to understand why the name change), learns that there is to be a reunion of survivors at the hotel she is driven, not by reason and against the wishes of her friends and family, but by her own demons, to attend. Her feelings, her emotions, her lies, her guilt, are what drive her throughout the story, despite her relatively good life in Israel.

I have spoken on many occasion about the book and am always asked why I wrote the book from a woman's point of view. The answer is that the essence of the story is, to a degree, derived from Shulman's interviews. Writing from a woman's point of view came about naturally, and the more I wrote the easier it became. Easy because what happened to the characters in "The Polksi Affair" was not planned. Their survival was fortuitous, and the story simply told itself.

The book won an award for historical fiction. Every place mentioned in the book is real: the hotel, the prison, the ghetto, the cemetery. The characters, what happens to them and how they survive, mostly all fiction.

So the most I can ask of the reader is to see if they understand my reason, my motivation for writing the book. And it is only fair that the reader know that the book caused many people to ask me what happened to the families after the book ended. That was a puzzling question. People who read the book wanted more. So I recently completed a sequel with the working title, "The Family Affair." A new agent/publisher is being sought, and I promise that anyone who buys and reads "The Polski Affair" as a result of this blog on Laura's Reviews and gets back to me at with their thoughts, will be entitled to a free copy of the sequel.

So let's be in touch.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

I love historical fiction and I always enjoy Philippa Gregory’s novels. Gregory has a gift to make historical fiction novels a very interesting and page-turning read. I loved The Other Boleyn Girl and read all of the subsequent Tudor dynasty novels. Last year Gregory moved her target to the War of Roses by writing about the York Queen, Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen. In The Red Queen, Gregory focuses on the mother of Lancastrian Henry Tudor, Margaret Beaufort.

The Red Queen starts with Margaret as a young child. Enraptured by the tales she hears of Joan of Arc, Margaret determines that she is destined by God for greatness. This belief follows Margaret through her life from her marriage at age 12 to Edmund Tudor, the birth of Henry, her second marriage to Henry Stafford, and her third marriage to Thomas, Lord Stanley. The sole focus of Margaret’s life becomes to achieve greatness by having her son placed on the throne of England, no matter what the cost.

I enjoyed The Red Queen. I loved how Margaret was twisted by her mistaken religious beliefs. She attempted to appear to be a very religious and pious woman, but her thoughts and actions were anything but pious. It was also very amusing at how much she hated Elizabeth Woodville and how she tended to blame all bad things that happened in her life on the sins of others and never on her own actions. Although this book ended at the winning of her son Henry’s battle for the throne, it is not too much of a stretch to see how she became the mother in law from hell to Elizabeth of York.

Overall The Red Queen was a very readable and enjoyable historical fiction novel. I had never read any novels about Margaret Beaufort and I found the story very interesting. As a woman, I was very disturbed at how Margaret was wedded and bedded at the age of 12. Her horrific childbirth of Henry and then the subsequent separation of mother and child were heartbreaking. Poor Margaret led a cold and loveless life. I wish she could have run off with Jasper and raised her son . . . but then he probably never would have become Henry VII.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Darcy Christmas by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart

A Darcy Christmas is a Christmas collection of stories by Amanda Grange, Sharon Lathan, and Carolyn Eberhart involving our favorite Austen hero, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth. I will review and summarize each story separately for a deeper look into the book.

The first story is “Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol” by Carolyn Eberhart. After helping out Lydia Bennet, Mr. Darcy never proposed to Elizabeth in this take on the tale. Christmas has come and the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future visit Mr. Darcy to show him the error of his proud ways and what life will be like without Elizabeth. I thought this was a great and inventive combination of Pride and Prejudice with the holiday classic A Christmas Carol. I especially liked how Scrooge gets a special guest appearance at the end of the story. Carolyn Eberhart is a debut author and I look forward to reading future works by her!

The second story is “Christmas Present” by Amanda Grange. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are happily married and are expecting their first child. Jane and Mr. Bingley have moved nearby and have just had their first child, a son. Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth visit the Bingleys to celebrate Christmas with them and the Bennet family. Much hilarity also ensues when Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins make a guest appearance. Christmas Present was a great story and Amanda Grange did an excellent job of bringing all of my favorite P&P characters back to life in a way true to the original novel.

The final story is “A Darcy Christmas” by Sharon Lathan. “A Darcy Christmas” is a great concept. Each chapter in the story is a different stage in Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship from before their marriage, to newlyweds, to the birth and growth of their children. I liked the concept, but didn’t really like the actual stories. They moved very slowly. Some were great and others were lackluster. While I had read the first two stories in this book quite fast, I seemed to get stuck on this story.

Overall A Darcy Christmas was a very enjoyable holiday book that will get you in the spirit with your favorite Pride and Prejudice characters.

A Darcy Christmas is my twelfth item in the Everything Austen Challenge II.

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

Fireproof Novelization by Eric Wilson Based on the Screenplay by Alex Kendrick & Stephen Kendrick

I watched and enjoyed the movie Fireproof at some point in the last year or two. My sister-in-law loaned me the novelization of the movie. Sometimes novelizations of movies are more miss than hit, but this novelization was definitely a winner.

Caleb Holt is a fireman and is captain of his team. While he is a fantastic firefighter and leader, his life at home is falling apart. Caleb and his wife Catherine do nothing but fight or avoid each other. It has gotten to the brink of divorce. Caleb’s father challenges him to try a 40-day Love Dare project. Caleb’s parents had used this project to repair their marriage. Caleb is skeptical at first, but finds himself changing and truly understanding the meaning of love.

I actually enjoyed Fireproof the novel even more then the movie. The novel had added scenes and background that really added to the overall story. The book was a very quick read and was highly enjoyable. It is a great book about relationships and what it takes to keep them going.

Book Source: I borrowed Fireproof from my sister-in-law.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Interview (and Giveaway) with Persia Woolley, author of Child of the Northern Spring

I am very excited to have Persia Woolley on my blog today. Ms. Woolley is the author of one of my favorite books, Child of the Northern Spring, which is being republished by Sourcebooks this month.
Ms. Woolley answered my burning questions for quite an intriguing interview. I am inspired by her research and also excited about her latest research and books in the works. The baby and computer woes have delayed my post today - but I'm finally getting it up! And without further ado . . . the interview!
LAG: I first read your Guinevere Trilogy as a teenager in the 1990’s. I recently reread Child of the Northern Spring and I find it just as engaging as I did as a teenager. What inspired you to write about the Arthurian legends from Guinevere’s point of view?
PW: I'd been re-reading Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy one evening on the terrace when all of a sudden Gwen and Lancelot appeared like a hologram in front of me, having a really fierce argument. Fascinated, I watched as he announced that everyone knew she consorted with old witches in the woods, and could easily have concocted the poison which she was being accused of trying to use to kill Arthur. Outraged, Gwen drew herself up and shot back 'Indeed, I've spent time with them, and learned their brewing crafts, AND drunk the stuff down, no matter how noxious. I've done all that and would do more, if it will make me able to give Arthur a child! Now can you, my fine fellow, say you would do as much for the king?" Neither imperious or whining, she was so proud and fierce and direct that I found myself saying "How did a nice girl like you get into a situation like that?" That's when I knew what my first novel would be, and who better to tell it than Gwen herself?

LAG: I love the historical setting after the Romans have left Britain. What made you decide to set the story during this time period instead of during the often used Middle Ages setting?
PW: I've always admired Mary Renault's Theseus books, The King Must Die and The Bull from the Sea, where she took the legend back to the time it would have originated and treated it as history, with reasonable explanations for things that were later overlaid with mythic meaning and power. People who do this are called 'euhemerists,' and I knew I wanted to approach my Guinevere that way. When I began to study the subject, it became clear the earliest references went back the 150 years between the fall of the Roman Empire and the conquering of Britain by the Saxons in 550 A.D. If my research had shown the story to have begun in the Middle Ages, that's when I would have set it.

LAG: How did you research the time period and Arthurian legends? Did you make any trips to the U.K.?
PW: Even in the 1980's there were many scholarly books on the subject. For the entire trilogy I put in 11 years of research and writing, and made four specific trips to Britain where I did nothing but travel the roads she would have, hiked up to every hill-fort and crawled around every Roman ruin mentioned in my work. I carried everything in my backpack, stayed in hostels, traveled mostly by bus and hauled home tons of books, maps and pamphlets. All told, it was one of the most exciting and rewarding projects of my whole life, and I did it between the age of 45 and 55.

LAG: Do you have a favorite character in Child of the Northern Spring? Guinevere is of course my favorite, but I loved Bedivere. His concern for Arthur, and all around gentlemanly behavior is fantastic.
PW: Bedivere is one of the earliest of Arthur's companions, and it is often suggested that the Breton Lancelot is simply a French attempt to co-opt the character of Bedivere. When you live with these archetypical personalities for such a long time, you develop a fondness for and understanding of most everyone. Even Morgan, for all her traditional hatred of Arthur, tugs at the heart when you think of her as the daughter cast aside to make way for her mother's new husband and baby. I'm partial to Nimue who is, to me, one of the most spiritual of them all. Brigit is equally devout but in a Christian vein, whereas Nimue is a total innocent who reflects all manner of Goddess wisdom with a complete trust. When she went off with Pelinore like that, I was awestruck at her courage and faith, and the sincerity of her feelings for Merlin were deeply touching to me.

LAG: Faith is often mentioned in Child of the Northern Spring as the old faith involving Druids starts to compete with the new faith of Christianity. What made you decide to have faith as an issue in Arthur’s court?
PW: I didn't make a deliberate choice on that. I don't write fantasy but the people of that time had a great deal of superstition, faith, credulity and belief in the presence of supernatural powers. I studied a lot of archaeological digs, reports and collections, and it's very evident that belief in and appeals to the gods was a common factor in the daily life of the Romano-Britain, Celt and Saxon so naturally my characters reflect that. It was hard times and life was scary.

LAG: I like how you often used practical to the times explanations for some of the legend, including the round table. Did you find the round table theory in historical sources or was it a product of your imagination?
PW: I studied architecture in college, and have always had a hand in the design of my surroundings, including furniture, so it was fairly logical to design my own Round Table. I like the idea of individual segments as it allows for servants to move around and would be easier to pack up and move to wherever the Court was to meet next--a solid table such as that shown at Winchester is horrifically heavy and probably impossible to move easily. Both the challenge and the fun of finding real explanations for mythic things is what makes me happy to be an euhemerist. For instance, in Child when Morgan lifts the great sword Excalibur out of the waters of the Black Lake, she chants a rather pedantic verse about it's creation, basically saying it was forged on a dark and windy night. A bit of simple fancy? No way! I went looking for a metallurgist who could explain how a Dark Age smith could create a steel blade (which is probably what Excalibur was). He said it would have been made outdoors (as most smithies were by a stream's edge), on a night when there was no moon or starlight because the smith gauges the exact moment when to start hammering on the blade by the specific shade of the glowing metal, and any extra light would affect his vision of it. And there would have been a very heavy wind forcing more oxygen into the fire where he was working to make the temperature higher. So what can be taken by the reader as a bit of atmospheric invention is actually a report on what would have been required to make a special blade in reality.

LAG: Do you have any plans for any additional novels?
PW: I have a finished manuscript of "Ophelia's Tale" which needs just a bit more polishing and an agent--as with the other 'legends,' I don't present anything counter to the source, which is what Shakespeare gives us on stage. But you'll never look at Hamlet the same way again. And I've already put in several years of research on a novel of the Trojan War. Other than that, who knows.

LAG: I always have to ask . . . who are your favorite authors and/or what are a few of your favorite books?
PW: Among the Arthurians, it's Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy by far. But I also admire various works of Daphne Du Maurier, Saint-Exupery, Lawrence Durrell, Margaret George, Tracy Chevalier, Sharon Kay Penman and C.W. Gortner...for starters.

“The standout opening volume of Woolley's Guinevere trilogy, first published in 1987, describes the Celtic princess's childhood in loving, sensuous detail with an uncannily accurate historical eye for day-to-day details... Woolley does a marvelous job of portraying the political upheaval of the time... an engrossing and satisfying addition to the canon.”
Publishers Weekly STARRED REVIEW of Sourcebooks Landmark Edition

Among the first to look at the story of Camelot through Guinevere’s eyes, Woolley sets the traditional tale in the time of its origin, after Britain has shattered into warring fiefdoms. Hampered by neither fantasy nor medieval romance, this young Guinevere is a feisty Celtic tomboy who sees no reason why she must learn to speak Latin, wear dresses, and go south to marry that king. But legends being what they are, the story of Arthur’s rise to power soon intrigues her, and when they finally meet, Guinevere and Arthur form a partnership that has lasted for 1500 years.

This is Arthurian epic at its best—filled with romance, adventure, authentic Dark Ages detail, and wonderfully human people.

Persia Woolley is the author of the Guinevere Trilogy: Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, and Guinevere: Legend in Autumn. She lives in Northern California. You can find Persia and more information on Facebook.
Giveaway Details
Danielle of Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of the Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley for this giveaway.
If you would like to win a copy of Child of the Northern Spring, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.
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 December 3rd.
Good luck!

Winners of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

The three lucky winners of a trade paperback copy of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley are as follows: Aik of The Bookaholics, sunshine9, and Patty of The Maaaaa of Pricilla. Congratulations to all of the lucky winners! Winners were chosen using and were notified via email. They have until Friday to respond with their mailing addresses. If I don't hear from them - new winners will be drawn!

Thank-you to Hachette Book Group for allowing me to host this great giveaway. Thank-you to all who entered this giveaway. The Imperial Cruise is a great book and is now out in a trade paperback format for anyone interested.

Sad that you didn't win? Stay tuned and a new great giveaway will be posted shortly.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (audiobook)

As part of the Everything Austen Challenge last year, I listened to Emma, Mansfield Park, and Sense and Sensibility on audiobook. I really enjoyed listening to these classic Austen novels and feel that her books work particularly well as part of the audiobook medium. This year as part of the Everything Austen Challenge II, I have listened to Austen’s remaining works; Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, and now Pride and Prejudice.

For those you that are missing out on one of my all-time favorite books, Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet. One of five unmarried sisters during the Regency era in England, Elizabeth is a young woman with great wit and a vivacious personality. Although she will be left in reduced circumstances at the death of her father, Elizabeth would like to marry for love rather than to better her circumstances as her mother would wish. Elizabeth meets the haughty and exasperating Mr. Darcy at a local assembly. After hearing Mr. Darcy make a rather disparaging remark about her, Elizabeth decides to have nothing to do with Mr. Darcy. As fate keeps throwing them together, Elizabeth learns that sometimes pride can mask the true character of a man.

I listened to the Cover to Cover version of Pride and Prejudice as read by Irene Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe did a fair job at reading Pride and Prejudice, but truthfully, it was not the best version I’ve heard of an Austen novel. Sutcliffe’s voice was a little too monotone and she didn’t have a distinct voice for each character as other audiobook readers have done.

I loved listening to the story of Pride and Prejudice again, especially in a format that I can imagine Austen and her family reading the novel aloud to one another at night. Having read the novel numerous times, it is always a pleasure to hear favorite passages and lines.

My favorite aspect of Pride and Prejudice (as with any Austen novel) is Austen’s great characters. As I listened to Pride and Prejudice, I realized that most of Elizabeth and Darcy’s problems stem from annoying family members. This is a problem I’m sure that most people can relate with. Elizabeth has a father that loves to laugh at his neighbors, and a mother that embarrasses her in public by talking too much. Darcy has an overbearing busy buddy aunt who likes to boss people around. The foibles of the characters are fantastic and Austen is the wittiest writer I have ever read.

I could wax on about Pride and Prejudice all day, but the moral of this blog entry is that listening to Pride and Prejudice as an audiobook was a very enjoyable experience and a great new way to enjoy the novel.

This is my eleventh item in the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Dating Mr. December by Phillipa Ashley

If you are looking for a hot romance to warm up your winter evenings, Dating Mr. December is the book for you. Previously published in the U.K., Dating Mr. December just came out in the U.S. this month.

Emma Tremayne has moved to the Lake District (northern England) to become a PR director for the local tourist board after discovering her boyfriend is having an affair with her boss. To help the local Bannerdale Mountain Rescue Team raise money to build a new station, Emma formulates a plan for the rescue team to pose naked for a calendar. Her biggest opponent on this idea is Will Tennant. Will is a handsome, rugged man that Emma finds herself drawn to, although he has a bad reputation and is a thorn in her side about the calendar project. In order to help the team out, Will reluctantly decides to pose as Mr. December. Will Emma be able to find happiness leaving the big city behind and living the simpler life? And more important, will she find new love with Mr. December?

Dating Mr. December was a light quick read, with great steamy love scenes. I enjoyed the romance, but I did find Emma and Will’s lack of communication a bit trying at times. In some ways, Dating Mr. December reminded me of a light version of Pride and Prejudice. Emma misunderstands Will and is willing to believe the worst about him. She has to overcome her prejudice to really understand him.

Dating Mr. December was made into a Lifetime movie last year, 12 Men of Christmas starring Kristin Chenowith. I haven’t seen this movie, but I see it is playing again this year so I will definitely have to check it out!

Phillipa Ashley will have an author interview on this blog on Friday December 3rd. I can’t wait to find out more about her and this novel!

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

Monday, November 15, 2010

Charlotte Collins by Jennifer Becton

Charlotte (Lucas) Collins is one of my favorite characters from the novel Pride and Prejudice. Charlotte is a plain woman that is considered an “old maid” at age 27. Realizing that she has few options in life, she decides to put reason over love and marries the odious Mr. Collins for financial security.

In the novel Charlotte Collins, Mr. Collins has met with an unfortunate accident and Charlotte finds herself a widow at age 35. She settles down in a small cottage that she rents at a reduced rate from Lady Catherine and enjoys her simple life. Her sister Maria comes to live with her and Charlotte agrees to be her chaperone and to help her find a suitable spouse. Along the way, Charlotte examines her own philosophy about love and marriage and may have a second chance of her own.

I really enjoyed this novel. I have always loved Charlotte and I was glad to see that she finally got to be the star and have a chance to shine in a novel of her own. I obviously love Austen related novels, but the vast majority only deal with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth from Pride and Prejudice. I love that Charlotte Collins looks at a different character than Mr. Darcy. In fact, Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth are mentioned, but only make a slight appearance in this novel.

I love Becton’s style of writing in Charlotte Collins. It suits the period and the story, and often showed the type of lively wit that originally drew me towards Jane Austen’s novels.

Some of my favorite quotes (I must admit, I laughed out loud at both of these quotes.):

“’My independence was hard won.’ Charlotte said, recalling the tediousness of her daily interactions with her husband that had resulted in her current situation. How many ponderous sermons had she been subjected to? How many simpering compliments had she endured? And worse, how many fireplace mantels had she heard him describe in painful detail.”

“Charlotte considered reprimanding her for not showing respect for those higher in society, but she refrained. Lady Catherine was an old bat.”

Overall Charlotte Collins was a unique Austenesque story with great characters and romance.

This is my tenth item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Jennifer Becton will be on my blog soon for an author interview and I will give away my gently used copy of this novel. Stay tuned for more details!

Book Source: Review copy from author Jennifer Becton. Thank-you!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sense and Sensibility (1981)

Sense and Sensibility was made into a seven-part TV serial by the BBC in 1981. Each part is roughly twenty-five minutes long. As part of the Everything Austen Challenge II, I decided to watch this version of Sense and Sensibility as it is the only version I haven’t seen. As a disclaimer, the 1995 movie is not only one of my favorite Austen adaptations, but also one of my favorite movies of all time.

First of all, I didn’t like the short segments the serial was broken up into. The way the segments worked out, the writers tweaked the storyline to have one segment be about Willoughby, one about Edward, etc. These segments did not give the appropriate build-up to understand why Elinor had feelings for Edward or why Marianne was attracted to Willoughby. Everything seemed abbreviated to fit it into a short segment.

Although this version is longer than the 1995 movie (but shorter than the 2008 mini-series), poor Margaret, the third Dashwood sister, is completely deleted. Most other characters appear. I particularly liked Diana Fairfax who played Mrs. Dashwood, I thought she did an excellent job and it was my favorite portrayal Mrs. Dashwood.

I know this sounds mean, but Irene Richard who played Elinor had some truly terrible teeth. It reminded me of Austen Powers and the joke about bad British teeth. Irene looked like she was continually trying to hide her teeth throughout the series and whenever she did smile, it made me almost fall out of my chair. Tracey Childs did a fair job as Marianne.

Bosco Hogan as Edward Ferrars was unattractive and there was no chemistry with Richard’s Elinor. Robert Swann was a pretty good Colonel Brandon, but Peter Woodward as John Willoughby could not hold a candle to Greg Wise as Willoughby in the 1995 version. Julia Chambers was actually a pretty good Lucy Steele. Instead of always realizing something was amiss with her as in the 1995 version, she actually seemed like a nice girl. If I didn’t know the storyline, her betrayal of Edward would have been a complete surprise. It brought a different aspect to the story.

I think overall this adaptation was poorly written, especially in comparison to Emma Thompson’s excellent adaptation in the shorter 1995 movie. The beginning of the movie in the carriage has very awkward dialogue and camera angles. Other scenes were also very awkward, the one that comes to mind is Fanny’s screaming at Anne’s telling her about Lucy and Edward’s engagement. It was such bad acting that it was actually quite funny. Another awkward scene is when Edward comes to the cottage at the end, Elinor runs off while Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood just laugh at Edward. The scene pales in comparison to the quiet power of the same scene in the 1995 version. The ending was very odd with Colonel Brandon giving Marianne some books and calling her “my child.” It did not seem romantic at all and was rather abrupt.

Overall, I think the 1981 mini-series was a poor adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. It was interesting to watch, but both the 2008 mini-series and 1995 movie were much better. The 1995 movie is still my favorite adaptation.

This was my ninth item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Devil’s Desire by Laurie McBain

Devil’s Desire was a wildly popular romance novel that was first published in 1975. It was author Laurie McBain’s first novel, and she continued on to have a very successful career as a romance novelist in the 1970’s and 80’s. Sadly Devil’s Desire had gone out of print, but Sourcebooks has published a new edition of this novel this month.

Elysia Demarice is the beautiful daughter of aristocratic parents that has fallen on hard times since her parents’ untimely death in Regency England. When Elysia’s evil Step-Aunt tries to force her to marry an odious man, she runs away to London. On her way, she crosses the path of Lord Alex Trevegne. Known as “the Devil,” Alex has a temper and is a known seducer of women. Elysia is not impressed by Alex, and he finds himself attracted by the only woman who dares to talk back to him. When scandal forces them together, will Elysia and Alex be able to find true love and happiness?

I liked the Cinderella aspect of this story and loved heroine Elysia. She has grit and beauty. Elysia starts the book with nothing but the rags on her back, but is able to rise above it all to find love.

My only problem with this novel is the hero, Alex. Alex is a vintage 1970’s hero that takes what he wants and is not a very nice guy. He is handsome, but he spends his time misunderstanding Elysia and being cruel to her all in the name of love. I just wanted to yell at Alex, “Just talk to her you idiot!”

Devil’s Desire had romance, adventure, a great heroine, and a fantastic secondary romance story (Louisa and Ian). The only drawback for me was that I didn’t really like Alex and I also thought the ending was a bit abrupt.

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook by Matt Dunn

As a nursing mother of an (almost) four week old, I need to read books that will keep me entertained and riveted even if it is 2 in the morning. The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook did just that. I had a hard time putting it down and finished it in record time.

Edward Middleton has been dating his girlfriend Jane for ten years until one fateful day when he returns to his flat to find it half empty with a “Dear John” note left behind. Jane’s “Dear John” note has the rather cruel line, “It’s not me – it’s you” and proceeds to tell Edward how he has let himself go and that Jane has had enough. Jane hasn’t just moved across town, but is gone to Tibet for two months.

Together with his best friend Dan, the “star” of a mid-morning antiques show, Edward formulates a plan to get himself back into shape in two months in order to win back Jane’s love. Besides losing weight, exercising, and quitting smoking, the plan also includes a flat makeover, a new car, and more experience in the world of dating by using speed dating. Through it all, Edward learns more about himself and gains self confidence.

I loved this book. The premise had me from the start. I love that this novel was written by a man and the storyline is the typical “chick lit” story with a man as the protagonist instead. The novel digs into the inner workings of a man to show that he is a well rounded being with feelings too, not just the loser or prize of most “chick lit” or romance novels.

The book is set in Brighton (United Kingdom) and I loved the unique setting (i.e., not London or New York). The best part of the novel though was the characters. I loved Edward and Dan. Their witty dialogue fairly sparked off the page. I would love to read more novels with them as the protagonists. The humor was fantastic and kept me very entertained.

I also must say that I loved the cover of this book. It made me laugh whenever I looked at it with the headless man gripping his broken heart. Once again, I love the different take on a tale of the broken hearted, with the broken hearted being a man rather than a woman.

Overall, I loved The Ex-Boyfriend’s Handbook and highly recommend it for anyone that is looking for an entertaining, witty, quick read. I need to check out more of Matt Dunn’s novels.

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

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Giveaway and Review: The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley

In order to celebrate the trade paperback release of The Imperial Cruise by James Bradley, Hachette Book Group is kindly allowing me to repost my original review of the book (I reviewed the audiobook) and to host a giveaway of three copies of the trade paperback version of this fascinating book. Details of the giveaway are at the end of this post after the review.

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.

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

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

If you would like to win a copy of The Imperial Cruise, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about The Imperial Cruise.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

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 November 19th.

Good luck!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Child of the Northern Spring by Persia Woolley

I first read Persia Woolley’s wonderful Guinevere Trilogy back in my high school days. I LOVED the trilogy and for me it has been the definitive Arthurian series of books on which I compare everything else. While I enjoyed Mary Stewart’s Merlin Series and Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, I couldn’t help but compare them to Persia Woolley’s series and find them lacking. It has been quite awhile since I’ve read the Guinevere Trilogy (I was 14 when I first read this trilogy. Now that I think about it, it has been 18 years since I read them. This suddenly makes me feel very, very old), and reading Child of the Northern Spring again after such a long time had me worried that it couldn’t compare to the great memory I had of it.

I had no reason to worry. Child of the Northern Spring is a riveting read and just as wonderful, if not better than I remembered it. It has been long enough that I didn’t remember the entire storyline and it felt like a fresh read. Now that I’m older, I think I got more out of it than the first time I read it.

Child of the Northern Spring focuses on the character of Guinevere. Instead of being a one-dimensional character that brings down Arthur’s reign, Guinevere is a fleshed out, intriguing, three-dimensional being. Child of the Northern Spring tells the tale of when Guinevere starts her journey south to be married to King Arthur. During her journey she flashes back to key moments in her youth that have helped to shape her into a strong woman.

Guinevere is a strong, independent young woman who loves to ride horses. She is a princess of Rheged and the sole heir to the throne. She is not a pampered princess and helps to serve meals, and take care of the people in her kingdom. After reaching marriageable age, Guinevere is beset by suitors. She accepts Author’s proposal and on her way south, wonders what kind of man she is going to marry and what her future will include.

The story is set roughly about one hundred years after the Romans have left Britain. The varying kingdoms each have their own king and overall are under the rule of the “Great King,” King Arthur. King Uther had recently died and Arthur became the out of the King. There are factions against him and Arthur is trying to solidify the British kingdoms against their common enemy invaders, the Saxons and the Irish.

Also problematic is that Britain has a variety of religions at this point including the “old religion" that includes Druids, Merlin, and the Lady of the Lake, and the growing new religion, Christianity. The religions clash and a strong leader is needed to ensure religious freedom for all Britons.

Child of the Northern Spring may be a tale of legendary figures, but it includes much historical detail of Britain during the time after the Romans. It is Arthurian legend told through Guinevere’s point of view.

Overall, Child of the Northern Spring is an enthralling read with fascinating three-dimensional portrayals of Arthurian legendary characters set in a historical accurate Britain. The romance is also apparent between Arthur and Guinevere, and if I remember correctly, the romance only gets better as the series continues on. I can’t wait to read the next two novels in the series again!

Child of the Northern Spring has been released a couple of times in the past, but for some reason, was sadly out of print in recent years. Sourcebooks has reprinted Child of the Northern Spring and plans to release the next two books in the series next year. The reprinted version looks beautiful and is a trade paperback edition (versus the mass market edition from another publisher that I read in the 1990’s.)

I am very excited that Persia Woolley will be doing an author interview on my blog on Monday, November 22nd. Please return on the 22nd to learn more about Ms. Woolley, Child of the Northern Spring, and the Guinevere Trilogy.

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

Friday, November 5, 2010

Persuasion (1971)

I’m continuing my look at BBC versions of Austen’s novels in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Persuasion is tied with Pride and Prejudice as my favorite Austen novel. I had never seen the 1971 version of this beloved novel and decided now was the time!

The 1971 version is close to four hours long and therefore is able to provide a lot more detail than either the 1995 or 2007 versions. It followed pretty closely to the novel, but did change some scenes around and add some extra items. The production was low budget, but does change locations and have great inside décor. The outside scenes could use some improvement and appeared blurry at times.

Anne Firbank starred as Anne Elliot and Bryan Marshall was Captain Wentworth. I thought
Anne Firbank did an excellent job as Anne Elliot and I also loved her hair. I would rate her above Sally Hawkins from the 2007 version, but below Amanda Root in the 1995 version. Bryan Marshall however I thought was only an okay Captain Wentworth and rates below both Ciaran Hinds from the 1995 version and Rupert Perry-Jones from the 2007 version.

I never really felt the chemistry between the two leads in this version of Persuasion. I also think the length was just too long. There were several rather pointless scenes that were boring and didn’t add to the plot. I previously thought the 2007 version was too long and really hated the sprint at the end. I think the length needs to be somewhere between the 1971 and 2007 versions, perhaps more like the 1995 version.

Overall, this was an okay production of Persuasion and I’m glad I watched it. I still consider the 1995 version the definitive version as to me it had the right amount of time for the story, great chemistry between the leads, and two fantastic actors in those leads.

The 1971 version of Persuasion is my eighth item for the Everything Austen Challenge II.

I obtained this movie from the Kewaunee Public Library system.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Exile by Diana Gabaldon

The Exile is roughly the first 1/3 of Outlander as a graphic novel. Getting to see what Jamie, Claire, and others look like – sign me up!!

I really enjoyed The Exile. It tells the Outlander story from Jamie and Murtagh’s perspective with a new side story added in. Therefore it is not just a straight retelling of Outlander and brings something new to the tale. It also tells a bit of the back story of Jamie’s time in France and his mysterious first love.

The Exile starts the tale with Jamie’s return from France. Murtagh meets him, but they are soon met by Dougal Mackenzie, much to their dismay. Claire Beauchamp soon makes a memorable appearance in his life. Jamie and the Mackenzie crew rescue Claire from the redcoats and Claire nurses Jamie’s wounds. Claire is taken back with them to the Mackenzie’s stronghold. Jamie finds himself attracted to Claire and you know (or maybe you don’t) the rest of the story. The Exile ends shortly after the trial for witchcraft.

I loved Hoang Nguyen’s illustrations. It was wonderful to see the world of Outlander brought to life. My only dismay was at the buxomness of all of the ladies, but that seems to be a hallmark of graphic novels. Claire was more voluptuous then I had imagined (but my imagination may have been more riveted by Jamie), but my favorite thing was the voluptuousness of Mrs. Fitzgibbons. I thought of her always as a large, matronly, button-upped type. Little did I know that she was walking around with her bosoms ready to fall out of her dress. It made me laugh whenever she was shown. My favorite though was a backside rendition of Jamie in his natural state. I think I need to frame it and hang it up in my office. Just kidding!

Overall, The Exile is a must read for Outlander fans. It has a new side story and is an interesting perspective from Jamie’s side. The illustrations and getting to see the Outlander world visually is priceless.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library, but I’m adding this to my Christmas list as I would love a copy of my own!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pride and Prejudice (1980)

I have suffered for years knowing that a version of Pride and Prejudice exists that I had never seen. Luckily the Kewaunee Public library system had a copy of the 1980 Pride and Prejudice BBC production and I finally found the time (while nursing an infant in the middle of the night) to watch it.

The 1980 BBC version is a mini-series and as such, tells a lot more of the story than either movie version. The 1980 P&P largely sticks to the novel, although there are a few slight changes in dialogue, places of action, etc. The most noticeable change for me is that Elizabeth spends much of her time at the beginning of the mini-series talking with Charlotte and doesn’t seem to spend any time at all with Jane. Also the ending left out a lot and seemed actually rather abrupt. Otherwise, I loved how the mini-series had the time to tell the entire story.

While the 1980 P&P obviously lacked the budget of the 1995 P&P, it still did a great job at telling the story. It does not have the “made for TV on one sad set look” that many BBC productions of the 1970s and 1980s are prone too, although it does lack the lushness of the 1995 version.

I was pleasantly surprised by the two leads of the 1980 version. I thought David Rintoul was an excellent Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Garvie was also an excellent Elizabeth Bennet. I still prefer Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, but I think Garvie is definitely among the best for Elizabeth Bennet. I give her a tie as my favorite Elizabeth with Jennifer Ehle.

Overall I thought the 1980 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice was quite good and I highly recommend it to anyone who has not seen it. I rank it behind the 1995 mini-series as one of my favorite productions of the book. I enjoyed the 2005 movie, but I think both mini-series are much more enjoyable as they are able to tell so much more of the story.

The 1980 Pride and Prejudice was my seventh item in the Everything Austen Challenge II.