Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Travel Tuesdays: Arundel Castle

This week's edition of Travel Tuesdays features Arundel Castle in West Sussex, England, which I had the opportunity to visit last year.   Construction of Arundel Castle began in the 11th century during the reign of William the Conqueror.  The Castle is now the home of the Dukes of Norfolk.      

For any of you who have seen the movie The Young Victoria starring Emily Blunt, Arundel Castle was used as a stand in for scenes that took place in St. James Palace and Windsor Castle.

You can visit the official Arundel Castle site at the following link: http://www.arundelcastle.org

Here are some of my photos of the Castle:

Various views of Arundel Castle, including (at left) the Castle motte and keep, which is the oldest part of the Castle. 


Literary Link:

One of the reasons I selected Arundel Castle for this week's edition of Travel Tuesdays is that it is featured in the book I am currently reading, Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick.   Adeliza, widow of Henry I and one of the key figures in Chadwick's novel, makes Arundel Castle her home when she marries William D'Albini.   While at Arundel she plays hostess to Empress Matilda, who at the time was battling her cousin Stephen of Blois for the throne of England - Empress Matilda is the other key figure in Lady of the English.

Arundel Castle is also featured in one of my all-time favourite novels, When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman, which is set during the same time period as Chadwick's novel and features many of the same characters. 

Arundel Castle is definitely worth a visit!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme designed for bloggers to share the wonderful books they received in their mailbox over the past week.    Mailbox Monday is a travelling meme that is being hosted for the month of June by The Bluestocking Guide

Four new books made their way into my home last week, but since  we here in Canada have been living through a postal strike for the past couple of weeks, they arrived via a trip to the bookstore rather than through my mailbox.

All four books fall within the historical fiction genre and I have high hopes for each one of them:

Queen by Right by Anne Easter Smith (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

In Cecily Neville, duchess of York and ancestor of every English monarch to the present day, she has found her most engrossing character yet.  History remembers Cecily of York standing on the steps of the Market Cross at Ludlow, facing an attacking army while holding the hands of her two young sons. Queen by Right reveals how she came to step into her destiny, beginning with her marriage to Richard, duke of York, whom she meets when she is nine and he is thirteen. Raised together in her father's household, they become a true love match and together face personal tragedies, pivotal events of history, and deadly political intrigue. All of England knows that Richard has a clear claim to the throne, and when King Henry VI becomes unfit to rule, Cecily must put aside her hopes and fears and help her husband decide what is right for their family and their country. Queen by Right marks Anne Easter Smith's greatest achievement, a book that every fan of sweeping, exquisitely detailed historical fiction will devour.

Plague Child by Peter Ransley (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

September 1625: Plague cart driver, Matthew Kneave, is sent to pick up the corpse of a baby. Yet, on the way to the plague pit, he hears a cry - the baby is alive. A plague child himself, and now immune from the disease, Matthew decides to raise it as his own.

Fifteen years on, Matthew's son Tom is apprenticed to a printer in the City. Somebody is interested in him and is keen to turn him into a gentleman. He is even given an education. But Tom is unaware that he has a benefactor and soon he discovers that someone else is determined to kill him.

The civil war divides families, yet Tom is divided in himself. Devil or saint? Royalist or radicalist? He is at the bottom of the social ladder, yet soon finds himself within reach of a great estate - one which he must give up to be with the girl he loves.

Set against the fervent political climate of the period, Plague Child is a remarkable story of discovery, identity and an England of the past.

The People's Queen by Vanora Bennett (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

The country is in turmoil, the king is in debt to the City, and the old order had broken down - a time of opportunity indeed, for those who can seize the moment.

The king's mistress, Alice Perrers, becomes the virtual ruler of the country from his sickbed.  Disliked and despised by the Black Prince and his cronies, her strong connections to the merchants make her a natural ally for the king's ambitious second son, John of Gaunt.  Together they create a powerful position in the city for one of his henchmen, Geoffrey Chaucer.   In this moment of opportunity, Alice throws herself into her new role and the riches that lay before her, but Chaucer, even though her lover and friend, is uneasy over what he can foresee of the conspiracies around them.

At the centre of these troubled times and political unrest stands the remarkable figure of a woman who, having escaped the plague which killed her whole family, is certain she is untouchable, and a man who learns that cleverness and ambition may for him sit too uneasily with decency and honesty.

The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca):

An epic Roman novel which follows three men and one woman bound in servitude to the Republic.

Romulus and Fabiola are twins, born into slavery after their mother is raped by a drunken nobleman. At thirteen-years-old, they are sold - Romulus to gladiator school, Fabiola into prostitution where she will catch the eye of one of the most powerful men in Rome.

Tarquinius is an Etruscan warrior and soothsayer, and an enemy of Rome, but doomed to fight for the Republic in the Forgotten Legion. Brennus is a Gaul; the Romans killed his entire family. He rises to become one of the most famous and feared gladiators of his day - and mentor to the boy slave, Romulus, who dreams night and day of escape and revenge.

The lives of the four are bound together into a marvellous story which begins in a Rome riven by corruption, violence and politics, and ends far away at the very border of the known world.

Suddenly Sunday

Welcome to another addition of Suddenly Sunday, a weekly meme hosted by Svea at The Muse in the Fog where we share the exciting things that happened on our blog this past week.

This past week was another quiet one for me.   My only post was a new feature I've decided to start called Travel Tuesdays.  This feature will give me an opportunity to share some of the many photos I've taken on my recent travels and, when I'm able, I'll link the locations to books I've read.

Coming up next week I hope to post my review of Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear.   I quite enjoyed the novel, but admit to having a hard time drafting a review for it that says more than "this book was good." 

I'm now reading Elizabeth Chadwick's Lady of the English - look for my review of it close to the end of next week or early the week after.    I'm also re-reading George R.R. Martin's A Clash of Kings, book two in his A Song of Ice and Fire series.  Only a few weeks to go before the release of book five, A Dance with Dragons!!

I hope everyone has a fantastic week. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Travel Tuesdays

Welcome to Travel Tuesdays, a new weekly feature here on Confessions of an Avid Reader where I'll share photographs from my recent travels.   This feature has been inspired by the weekly photo posts I enjoy viewing on some of the blogs I follow.   Although this feature won't always be book-related, I intend to tie novels in to my travel themes when applicable.   

To kick off Travel Tuesdays I have some photos of the Grand Canyon to share.   I spent this past weekend in Las Vegas and while there took the opportunity to take a day trip out to the Grand Canyon, this trip included a helicopter ride to the base and back, as well as a short boat trip on the Colorado river.   I've visited Vegas a few times previously, but this was the first chance I had to visit the Grand Canyon.   It was spectacular!    

Here are a couple of photos taken from the helicopter:

Here are a couple of photos taken from the Colorado River:

And, lastly, here are a couple of shots from Eagle Point, West Rim:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mailbox Monday

Mailbox Monday is a weekly travelling meme that is being hosted for the Month of June by Bluestocking.

I have some great books to share with you this week!

Won courtesy of Historical Tapestry and author D.L. Bogdan (Thank you!)

Rivals of the Tudor Court by D.L. Bogdan (synopsis from Amazon.com):

The death toll in Henry VIII's England can be counted in the thousands. No one was more aware of this than Thomas Howard, third duke of Norfolk. Relying on his indomitable force of will, cleverness, and sheer good fortune, Thomas Howard manages to be one of the king's only intimates to survive an unforgettable reign of terror. This impeccably researched companion piece to "Secrets of the Tudor Court" chronicles the ambitious duke's life, loves, and remarkable capacity to endure. Before he was the king's uncle, before he was his nieces' ultimate betrayer, Thomas Howard was a hostage at the court of Henry VII while his father was imprisoned in the dreaded Tower of London. There he would marry the queen's sister, his forever princess Anne Plantagenet. While he founded a dynasty, his career as soldier and sailor brought him acclaim and the trust of the Tudors. But when unspeakable tragedy robs him of family and fortune, Thomas must begin again. Abandoning notions of love, Thomas seeks out an advantageous match with the fiery Elizabeth Stafford, daughter of the duke of Buckingham. Clever, willful, and uncompromising in principle, the young duchess falls victim to a love she cannot deny. When Thomas takes on a mistress, the vulnerable Bess Holland, Duchess Elizabeth prepares to fight for all she holds dear. Only then does she learn she faces a force darker than anything she could ever have imagined, an obsessive love that neither she nor Bess can rival.

My own purchases

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick (synopsis from Amazon.co.uk)

Two very different women are linked by destiny and the struggle for the English crown. Matilda, daughter of Henry I, is determined to win back her crown from Stephen, the usurper king. Adeliza, Henry's widowed queen and Matilda's stepmother, is now married to William D'Albini, a warrior of the opposition. Both women are strong and prepared to stand firm for what they know is right. But in a world where a man's word is law, how can Adeliza obey her husband while supporting Matilda, the rightful queen? And for Matilda pride comes before a fall ...What price for a crown? What does it cost to be 'Lady of the English'? 

The Secret Confessions of Anne Shakespeare by Arliss Ryan (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca)

An inventive and vibrant historical novel about the woman who dared to be the equal of the Bard of Avon. 

Dramatizing a marriage born of passion and strained by ambition, Arliss Ryan's fascinating historical novel chronicles a love affair for the ages, and the story of a woman who dares to fulfill her own surprising destiny. 

Anne Hathaway is weighing her prospects for marriage when a dalliance with young Will Shakespeare, the poetry-writing son of a rural glove- maker, leaves her pregnant and wed. When Will joins a traveling acting troupe and moves to London, Anne leaves their children in his parents' care and boldly follows him.  Taking up a new identity at Will's side, Anne supports his career as a struggling actor by sewing costumes and transcribing manuscripts in the rough-and-tumble world of London's theatres. As Will finds his true calling in writing, Anne's own literary skills begin to flower, leading to a secret collaboration that makes Will the foremost playwright in Elizabethan England.

Daughter of Siena by Marina Fiorato (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca)

Amid the intrigue and danger of 18th-century Italy, a young woman becomes embroiled in romance and treachery with a rider in the Palio, the breathtaking horse race set in Siena....

It's 1729, and the Palio, a white-knuckle horse race, is soon to be held in the heart of the peerless Tuscan city of Siena. But the beauty and pageantry masks the deadly rivalry that exists among the city's districts. Each ward, represented by an animal symbol, puts forth a rider to claim the winner's banner, but the contest turns citizens into tribes and men into beasts-and beautiful, headstrong, young Pia Tolomei is in love with a rider of an opposing ward, an outsider who threatens the shaky balance of intrigue and influence that rules the land.
The Rules of Gentility by Janet Mullany (synoposis from Chapters.indigo.ca)

Regency heiress Philomena Wellesley-Clegg has rather strong opinions about men and clothing. As to the former, so far two lords, a viscount, and a mad poet have fallen far short of her expectations. But she is about to meet Inigo Linsley, an unshaven, wickedly handsome man with a scandalous secret. He's nothing she ever dreamed she'd want-why then can she not stop thinking about how he looks in his breeches?

A delightful marriage of Pride and Prejudice with Bridget Jones's Diary, Janet Mullany's The Rules of Gentility transports us to the days before designer shoes, apple martinis, and speed dating-when great bonnets, punch at Almack's, and the marriage mart were in fashion-and captivates us with a winsome heroine who learns that some rules in society are made to be broken.

Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses by Alison Weir (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca)

A riveting account of the Wars of the Roses, focusing on the human side of the story.

The war between the houses of Lancaster and York for the throne of England was characterized by treachery, deceit and, at St. Albans, Blore Hill and Towton, some of the bloodiest and most dramatic battles on England's soil. Between 1455 and 1487, the royal coffers were bankrupted and the conflict resulted in the downfall of the House of Lancaster and the House of York, and the emergence of the illustrious Tudor dynasty.

Alison Weir's lucid and gripping account focuses on the human side of history, on the people and personalities involved in the conflict. At the centre of the book stands Henry VI, the pious king whose mental instability led to political chaos; Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York and Henry's rival; and most important of all, Margaret of Anjou, Henry's wife who took up arms in her husband's cause and battled for many years in a violent man's world.

The Passage by Justin Cronin (synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca)

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, turned to hell. All that remains is the long fight ahead for the stunned survivors faced with a future ruled by fear--of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization crumbles, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he''s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old oprhan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project, and Brad is determined to protect her. But, for young Amy, escaping is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey--spanning miles and decades--toward the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun in the first place.


Those are the books that showed up in my mailbox this past week.  Can't wait to see what arrived at your door.

Suddenly Sunday

Suddenly Sunday is a weekly meme hosted by Svea over at The Muse in the Fog and the purpose is to share the exciting activities that happened on your blog over the past week.

I had a quiet blogging week once again with the only activity on my blog being posting of my review of Angus Donald's Outlaw.   Next week will be quieter still since I'm not currently reading anything that I'll be posting a review about.   I will, however,  have some goodies to share in my Mailbox Monday post :-)  

I'm actually in a bit of a reading funk at the moment. and it feels as if I've been reading Brandon Sanderson's The Well of Ascension forever!   I'm only halfway through the novel, which I'm enjoying, but I started it over a week ago.   It rarely takes me longer than a week to read anything regardless of book length, but I'm just not drawn to reading at the moment.   I'm sure I'll snap out of my reading funk soon though, and it will be back to business as usual.

I hope everyone has a great week!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Book Review: Outlaw by Angus Donald

Synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca

When he's caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. But Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could also just as easily become his murderer...From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.

My Review 

4 Stars 

Angus Donald's Outlaw, the first novel in a series about Robin Hood, is quite unlike any novel I've read featuring one of histories most enduring legends.  Dark, gritty and violent are not words that usually come to mind when one thinks of the Robin Hood legend but, in the Sherwood Forest of Outlaw, each of these words provides an apt description of Robin Hood himself, as well as of the world in which he lived and thrived.   While many of the characters familiar to fans of the legend are featured in this novel - it is narrated by Alan Dale - they are definitely not the band of merry men usually associated with the legend.   Robin Hood himself is characterized as a ruthless man, one who cares very little about justice or giving back to the poor.   Instead, this Robin is more intent on exacting revenge - often in a violent fashion - on those he perceives to have done him and his band of fellow outlaws harm.  While I found the Robin Hood of Outlaw difficult to like and even harder to respect, the traits given to him by Donald make it easy to understand why he was leader of the Sherwood outlaws. 

Overall, I  enjoyed this novel.  While I found certain scenes a little too violent for my tastes, they did serve to give the book a more authentic feel.  The late 12th century was not an easy time for idealists,  life was tough for those less fortunate and the penalties for breaking the King's law were harsh, especially when applied by ruthless, self-serving men such as the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire.  I would expect any man who wished to survive life as an outlaw would need to be a cutthroat to do so, caring little for gallantry or chivalry when his, and perhaps his family's, life was on the line.   As Outlaw clearly conveys, life could be extremely violent in the 12th century for those living outside of the law.   My main criticism of the novel concerns the relationship between Robin and Marie-Anne of Locksley, which I thought was poorly developed and hard to accept given Robin's personality.   It was difficult for me to believe that a noblewoman of Marie-Anne's stature would fall in love with a man as ruthless as Robin.   It is my hope that Donald introduces the reader to a more human side of Robin in the next installment of the series.   

I recommend this book to historical fiction fans, although I do so with a word of caution.   This novel is at times violent.   Readers who are bothered by violence might be better off staying away from this book.  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Book Review: Exit the Actress by Priya Parmar

Synopsis from Chapters.indigo.ca

While selling oranges in the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, sweet and sprightly Ellen "Nell" Gwyn impresses the theater's proprietors with a wit and sparkle that belie her youth and poverty. She quickly earns a place in the company, narrowly avoiding the life of prostitution to which her sister has already succumbed. As her roles evolve from supporting to starring, the scope of her life broadens as well. Soon Ellen is dressed in the finest fashions, charming the theatrical, literary, and royal luminaries of Restoration England. Ellen grows up on the stage, experiencing first love and heartbreak and eventually becoming the mistress of Charles II. Despite his reputation as a libertine, Ellen wholly captures his heart-and he hers-but even the most powerful love isn't enough to stave off the gossip and bitter court politics that accompany a royal romance. Telling the story through a collection of vibrant seventeenth-century voices ranging from Ellen's diary to playbills, letters, gossip columns, and home remedies, Priya Parmar brings to life the story of an endearing and delightful heroine.

My Review

4 Stars

Exit the Actress, Priya Parmar's debut novel, is a delightful story of Nell Gywn,  an orange girl turned actress turned royal mistress.   Told through the lens of Nell's diary entries, gossip broadsheets, Privy Council memos and private letters between members of England's royal family - particularly those between King Charles II and his sister, Henriette-Anne 'Minette' - Parmar has painted a vibrant portrait of life in Restoration England.     

The greatest strength of this novel is the wonderful cast of characters the author has brought to life, whether they be figures central to the story or supporting ones.   Parmar's Nell Gwyn is a woman with whom readers would wish to be friends,  making it easy to see how Nell came to be loved by both her audiences and her monarch.   While Charles II is perhaps best remembered by history for his many mistresses and illegitimate children, Parmar has characterized him as a monarch who also cared deeply about his country and subjects.   In addition to Nell and Charles, the novel is supported by a strong cast of secondary characters from the theatre and the royal court, characters who add both humour and drama to the story.   

Although I love English history, the Restoration has never been a period of particular interest to me.   Parmar's novel has changed this.   This novel was smart, funny and above all entertaining.   I look forward to hearing more from Priya Parmar.   

Exit the Actress is definitely worth a read.