Saturday, April 30, 2011

Reading Challenge Update

Well, I haven't been the greatest about reading books from my own bookshelf.  I did accomplish this twice so far this year.  The first book was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis.  I have been trudging my way through this series, and I have to say that the second book was the best, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I will eventually finish the series though.

I also read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  A friend of mine gave a copy to me as a birthday present last September, and I have had it sitting on my bookshelf since then.  I finally picked it up, and I was quite surprised at how good it was!  Science Fiction has never been something I've enjoyed.  I liked the book so much that I requested the next two in the series and read them all in a row.  I have never read a series straight through from start to finish, so I guess that attests to how good it was.

I am currently reading a historical romance for review which I am enjoying.  I will post the review here once I am finished.  I have been reading quite a few Caldecotts with my son at night for bedtime which I love.  I have only a few left to read and then I can say I've read them all.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

W is for Wolf Hall

This will be my last post for the 2010 Historical Tapestry Challenge.  I have scoured my bookshelves, my memory, and my reading lists, but I have never read a historical novel or author with the letters X, Y, or Z.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is definitely one of the best books I have ever read.  I can't stop recommending it to friends, family, and library patrons.  I passed my copy along to several people and bought copies as Christmas presents last year.  I've very glad that it has won several awards.  It's one of those books that I know I will reread over and over again.  The writing style is amazing.  I loved how Mantel made it feel like you really knew Cromwell and you were in his head with his thoughts.  Before I read Wolf Hall, I had always sort of disliked Cromwell (not hard, I know), but after reading this book, I found that I had quite a bit of sympathy for him and actually kind of liked him.  That's powerful writing!

Here's a review of the book from Amazon:

No character in the canon has been writ larger than Henry VIII, but that didn't stop Hilary Mantel. She strides through centuries, past acres of novels, histories, biographies, and plays--even past Henry himself--confident in the knowledge that to recast history's most mercurial sovereign, it's not the King she needs to see, but one of the King's most mysterious agents. Enter Thomas Cromwell, a self-made man and remarkable polymath who ascends to the King's right hand. Rigorously pragmatic and forward-thinking, Cromwell has little interest in what motivates his Majesty, and although he makes way for Henry's marriage to the infamous Anne Boleyn, it's the future of a free England that he honors above all else and hopes to secure. Mantel plots with a sleight of hand, making full use of her masterful grasp on the facts without weighing down her prose. The opening cast of characters and family trees may give initial pause to some readers, but persevere: the witty, whip-smart lines volleying the action forward may convince you a short stay in the Tower of London might not be so bad... provided you could bring a copy of Wolf Hall along.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Reading Challenges for 2011

This year I will be participating in Historical Tapestry's Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.  I read historical fiction all the time, so it won't be a total challenge for me, but it will definitely be a challenge that I'm going to enjoy!   There are different levels of participation which are:

Severe Bookaholism: 20 books
Undoubtedly Obsessed: 15 books
Struggling the Addiction: 10 books
Daring &Curious: 5 books
Out of My Comfort Zone: 2 books

I think I will go for Severe Bookaholism.  In 2010 I read 30 books, so I think for 2011 I should be able to handle reading 20 historical fiction books.  I have pretty much completed my quest of reading books from all the different genres.  This took me much longer than I anticipated, but it was fun, and I learned quite a bit about genre fiction.  

A second challenge that I am taking on for 2011 is to read from my bookshelf.  I have rows of unread books on my shelf that are begging to be read, so I am taking the advice of Susan Hill, author of Howard's End is on the Landing, who took a journey through the books in her house.  A small article appeared in the November/December 2010 issue of Library Journal about her challenge.  I thought it was a great idea, so I will be reading my way through my own bookshelf this year.    

I am also going to continue my challenge of reading all the Caldecott books.  I don't have too much further to go to complete this challenge.   

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

V is for Virgins

There are two books that I read within the last year or so with very similar titles... The Virgin's Daughters by Jeane Westin and The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase.  Both novels were excellent.  I look forward to reading more by each of these authors.  Both of them were new to me.  

The Virgin's Daughters by Jeane Westin:
In a court filled with repressed sexual longing, scandal, and intrigue, Lady Katherine Grey is Elizabeth's most faithful servant. When the young queen is smitten by the dashing Robert Dudley, Katherine must choose between duty and desire-as her secret passion for a handsome earl threatens to turn Elizabeth against her. Once the queen becomes a bitter and capricious monarch, another lady-in-waiting, Mistress Mary Rogers, offers the queen comfort. But even Mary cannot remain impervious to the court's sexual tension-and as Elizabeth gives her doomed heart to the mercurial Earl of Essex, Mary is drawn to the queen's rakish godson..

I see on Amazon that Westin has another book out now called His Last Letter: Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester which I will have to add to my growing to-read list.

Here's a review from Publisher's Weekly of The Virgin Queen's Daughter by Ella March Chase:
Tudor intrigue inspires yet another historical romance in this story of a willful girl who discovers she is the Virgin Queen's illegitimate daughter. Five-year-old Elinor (Nell) de Lacey is the apple of her scholarly father's eye, and while the two are visiting the Tower of London, Nell makes a childish attempt to rescue Princess Elizabeth. By the time Nell turns 16, Elizabeth is queen, Nell's father is dead and Nell, over her mother's objections, heads to court. In short order, she's exposed to the court's conspiring and cajoling, seducing and betraying, plotting and protecting. A symbol of that world, Lady Jane Grey, haunts Nell as she uncovers the truth about her birth while trying to resist the charms of Sir Gabriel Wyatt. When Nell arouses Elizabeth's suspicions and possibly her wrath, Baroness de Lacey, once a lady-in-waiting herself, returns to court to prove the power of a mother's love. While Chase is no Philippa Gregory, her novel should still be manna for fans of Tudor romance infused with interludes of torture and head-rolling between the dance lessons and marriage rumors.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

U is for Uprising

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix

A great book for Young Adults.  Here's what I wrote about it for a review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Set in New York City in 1910-1911, Uprising tells the story of three young women from different walks of life whose lives become connected through the shirtwaist workers’ strike. Yetta is a Russian immigrant who moved to America and works at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in order to earn money to send back to her homeland. Bella is a recently arrived Italian immigrant who is overwhelmed in America and feels like a stranger. She is eager to learn and works at the factory as well. Jane is an unhappy rich society girl who longs for something different in her life but is uncertain about what she can do to change and break free from the cage in which she feels she is trapped.

The hundreds of workers at the factory put up with low wages and unsafe working conditions until one day, a strike is organized. Yetta feels passionate about their cause and quickly becomes one of the strike’s leaders, attending meetings and marching in the picket lines. Soon both Bella and Jane join her, and the girls quickly become friends. Haddix does a superb job of portraying the different aspects of the girls’ lives, from their involvement in the strike, the conditions of working in the factory, and their daily survival.
Chapters alternate between each of the girls, allowing readers to experience three different perspectives of the events that unfold. Not only is Uprising the story of the strike and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that changed American labor forever, it is also a story of friendship, family, choices, and the social classes and rules of society that existed in America in the early 1900s. This book is an excellent read and makes history come alive through all of the well-crafted characters.

T is for A Thousand Splendid Suns

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini , author of the bestselling novel The Kite Runner, again delivers a stunningly beautiful novel spanning a 30 year period in Afghanistan’s history.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is the story of two Afghan women, Mariam and Laila, each from different social backgrounds whose lives unexpectedly intersect.  Hosseini provides a look at what life was like for everyday people in Afghanistan over the course of the country’s turbulent recent history from the Soviet invasion through the post-Taliban era.  The novel delves deep into family relationships, the beauty of friendship, feelings of loss and longing, and is a powerful testament to the spirit and strength of women.  A Thousand Splendid Suns is a must read.   

S is for The Serpent Garden

The Serpent Garden by Judith Merkle Riley

Another review I did for Historical Novels Review:

Riley’s exquisite tale The Serpent Garden begins in England in 1514 and follows the life of Susanna Dallet, daughter of a Flemish artist. Susanna is widowed when her unsavory husband is murdered by his lover’s spouse. Before his death, Mr. Dallet was part of a group who recovered a long lost manuscript that threatens to rip apart the French monarchy. Because of her husband’s role, Susanna is unknowingly thrust into peril, caught in the middle of conspirators who will stop at nothing to possess the complete manuscript.

As a widow, Susanna is left to make her own way in the world, no easy feat in the16th century. She begins by painting less than innocent Biblical scenes and portraits in miniature. Soon she is introduced to Cardinal Wolsey who employs her and sends her to France with Princess Mary Tudor’s wedding party to paint the festivities of the union of Mary and the aging Louis XII.

Susanna possesses an extraordinary gift for painting in miniature and is welcomed into the French court, a place full of schemes at every turn. Riley adds a good dose of the supernatural to the story with a demon named Belphagor who was released when the manuscript was unearthed. Belphagor’s goal is to cause chaos, and Susanna becomes a target for the demon’s wrath because of her association with the manuscript.

Riley packs quite a bit into the novel and achieves a nice blend of romance, intrigue, politics, and fantasy. The narration alternates between Susanna Dallet and third person viewpoints which may take a bit to get used to, but soon readers will find themselves engrossed in the tale. Susanna’s sense of humor and the depictions of the French court are only two of the aspects that make this a novel not to be missed.