Here Be Dragons

November 30, 2009 at 4:19 am (Historical fiction) (, , , , , )

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
originally published 1985
Ballantine, 16th printing, 1993
704 pages
Genre: Historical fiction, romance

Synopsis & Review: Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales—and Llewelyn—Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.

The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.

A word to the wise: If the cover of a historical novel features the word “tempestuous,” then there will be romance. That’s just how it works. Read the rest of this entry »


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Challenge Wrap-Up: 100+ Reading Challenge

November 28, 2009 at 3:52 am (Challenge Wrap-Up) ()

One of the first book challenges I joined was the 100+ Reading Challenge, hosted by J. Kaye over at J. Kaye’s Book Blog. As the name would suggest, the goal was simply to read over a hundred books in 2009. I joined a little late (I didn’t even start this blog till mid-April), but I had a good feeling that this was one challenge that would present few difficulties for me. I had always wanted to keep track of my reading, but I always lost lists, or just stopped adding to them. The 100+ Challenge kept me organized, both with my read list and posting reviews both here and with links on the challenge pages.

This Challenge also helped alter my reading habits, getting me out of my re-reading rut (I do love re-reading books!), and provoking me into looking for new and interesting books at the library, something I hadn’t done for some time. I didn’t like that my re-reads were so far outpacing my new books in my tracker, so I made a lot of effort to change that–and read some damn fine books in the process. I also liked going through reviews by other participants, just to see how they were doing, and what sorts of books they were reading.

I’m sure I’ll participate again next year, but I think I’ll try to hit the 200+ Club in 2010. Wish me luck.

100+ Reading Challenge: 20 April – 6 November

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Morland Dynasty: The Long Shadow

November 28, 2009 at 3:38 am (Historical fiction, Romance) (, , , , , )

The Long Shadow by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Long Shadow by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1983
Sphere, 2007
367 pages
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: The continuation of Annunciata’s saga in the Morland Dynasty, The Long Shadow finds her hosting a christening party in honor of her latest child. Not only the first party of the Season, but the first since the court went into mourning for the King’s sister Henrietta, the Dowager Countess of Chelmsford’s party is a glittering affair with the King as an honored guest, and Prince Rupert as godfather to the new infant. But at this party, cracks in the Morland façade begin to show and grow.

Annunciata , already slightly distant from her husband Ralph Morland, soon becomes entirely estranged, living her own life at Court, and only returning to Yorkshire and Morland Place on occasion. Her eldest son Hugo, Viscount Ballincrea, is eaten alive by his jealousy of her second son, George, Earl of Chelmsford. Hugo’s twin sister Arabella, grows up selfish and envious of her own mother, of whom she suspects the worst. And Auuniciata herself, unable to rest from her efforts to improve the family’s fortune, finds herself entangled in affairs of the heart with men with whom she has no hope of marriage.

When Charles II dies and James II assumes the throne, England is once again troubled, this time with fears arising from anti-Catholic sentiments, and Annunciata and her family are once again threatened. Unable to protect her children from jealousy, betrayal, and violent death, Annunciata takes refuge in a secret, hopeless love as the foundations of her family crumble beneath her.

The first Morland Dynasty character to have not one, but two books dedicated to them, Annunciata grows in depth in The Long Shadow. She makes many mistakes, but does manage to learn from them, and she provides a useful background to the short-lived Stuart Restoration. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morland Dynasty: The Oak Apple & The Black Pearl

November 28, 2009 at 3:07 am (Historical fiction) (, , , , , , , )

The Oak Apple by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Black Pearl by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Morland Dynasty: The Oak Apple by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1982
Warner, 2000
403 pages
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction

The Morland Dynasty: The Black Pearl by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
originally published 1982
Warner, 2000
402 pages
Genre: Family saga, historical fiction

Synopsis & Review: Thomas, the little-glimpsed son of John Morland and Mary Percy, and heir of his grandfather Paul Morland (third of his name) has passed Morland Place on to his own son Edmund, who we meet in his maturity at the beginning of The Oak Apple. It’s been a good thirty or forty years since the close of the last book, and England is well into the reign of Charles Stuart, Charles I. Edmund’s eldest son Richard is troublesome, and has a particular hatred for his father’s young wife, Mary Esther (a descendant of the decidedly loathsome Mary Seymour and Jan Chapham).

Despite the (disappointing) lapse of a few decades, The Oak Apple’s protagonists are easy to get behind. Readers soon find themselves sympathizing with Mary Esther as she tries to reconcile her stepson Richard to her, though he is determined to hate her no matter what she does, blaming any disliked decision of Edmund’s on Mary Esther. As the country grows more troubled, Mary Esther and Edmund soon face their own problems, trying to square family loyalties to God, country, and king. With MaryEsther far on one side of the debate, and Edmund on the other, Morland Place itself straddles the line between rebel and loyalist. Their sons Kit and Francis, and nephew Hamil, all join up to fight for the King, under the command of Prince Rupert, while Edmund’s eldest, the difficult Richard brings home a Puritan bride, further dividing the house.

Nehemiah’s orphaned offspring, Malachi, Ruth, and Nell, are taken in at Morland Place by Mary Esther, until such a time as they can run their home The Shawes for themselves. Ruth is an odd one out: plain, uncompromising, and observant, and also painfully in love with her cousin Kit. When she cannot have him, Ruth returns to The Shawes, determined to live her life as she please, even when it means raising a bastard child conceived on the night of Marston Moor.

The Black Pearl opens as Cromwell’s Protectorate draws to a close. The Lord Protector is dead, and men (people, in theory, but in practice mostly men) wonder what will be best for England now. When Charles II is restored to England as her king, the loyal Morlands celebrate, hoping that the return of the Stuarts may also mean the return of their lands after the deprivations of the Protectorate. Like everyone else in England, they hasten to London to welcome Charles II and assure him of their constant and unwavering loyalty. Full of plans, Ruth sends her illegitimate daughter Annunciata to London as well to seek her own fortune and find herself a husband. At Charles II’s glittering courts, Annunciata will not only find love, but also discover the truth of her parentage and help usher her family to further greatness.

I put these two together for review because they are really a matched pair, in content and thematically. (The next book, The Long Shadow, might have been covered, too, but it doesn’t fit nearly as well). The Oak Apple is the Gone with the Wind of the Morland Dynasty, covering a family and country torn apart by a civil war. Read the rest of this entry »

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Worth a Thousand Words: Kitty Girl loves books

November 25, 2009 at 9:40 pm (Uncategorized)

My cat Kitty Girl has a strange love for books (and my dirty clothes). She insists on rubbing her face on any book I’m reading–the older the book the better–glanding all over it. Sometimes when left to her own devices, she will rub herself all over the books frantically, as though making love to them. She’s very odd. I keep a little stool behind my desk chair so that she can hang out with me when I’m working at my desk (she prefers my lap, but it can get hard to type), and have lately taken to storing books I’m working on there. She indulged in a little make-out session with them.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-Free Alternatives for Independent Brides

November 22, 2009 at 3:41 am (Non-fiction) (, )

Offbeat Bride by Ariel Meadow Stallings

Offbeat Bride: Taffeta-Free Alternatives for Independent Brides by Ariel Meadow Stallings
Seal Press, 1st printing, 2007
218 pages
Genre: non-fiction, wedding planning

Synopsis & Review: Unenthused by a white wedding gown and bored by the hoopla of the Hollywood-style reception, Ariel Meadow Stallings found herself absolutely exhausted with the nuances of traditional nuptials. So, she chose to take a walk off the beaten aisle and embrace the non-traditional bride within. Through trial and error, Ariel and her fiancé managed to crank out a budget wedding with all-night dancing, guests toasting champagne in mismatched mugs, gorgeous gardens, no monogrammed napkins, no garter, no bridesmaids, and lots of lesbians. Shortly after her 2004 matrimony, Ariel began searching for other brides whose ceremonies defied age-old tradition and reflected who they are. From there, she developed the idea for a guide for the offbeat couple.

Offbeat Bride serves as an inspiration for those who are interested in a vegan buffet, avoiding bouquet tossing, doing away with the elitist guest list and being a control freak without becoming a Bridezilla. Filled with sidebars, tips, tricks and planner encouragement (all taffeta-free) to help you figure out your special day, this book sees couples through the wedding process from ideas on how to announce their engagement to answering the question, “So, how’s married life?” and everything in between.

Once I got over the initial OMG EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE part of getting engaged last fall, I suddenly realized that we had a wedding to plan. Fortunately, two of my sisters, the younger and an elder, had gotten married in the summer of 2006, and so I’d recently seen the American wedding machine in action. Since it was handy, the first source I consulted was Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin. (This invaluable tome has been a favorite of mine since elementary school.) Then Maiya steered me toward The Knot. I bought one issue of Martha Stewart Weddings (the one with the butterfly cake cover; it’s so preeeetty!). And though Maiya swore up and down that she would be my mentor, my sensei, my defacto planner, I nearly collapsed beneath the awesome power of the Wedding Industrial Complex (WIC). There was much to do! So I refused to do it, and let our wedding languish. Read the rest of this entry »

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