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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review: Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

Genre: Fiction, thriller, mystery
Paperback, 369 pages
Book source: Purchased from used book store

Synopsis from Book Browse:

Summer, 1954.

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them.

But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems.

And neither is Teddy Daniels.

Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe’s radical approach to psychiatry? An approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing. . . .

Or is there another, more personal reason why he has come there?

As the investigation deepens, the questions only mount:

How has a barefoot woman escaped the island from a locked room?
Who is leaving clues in the form of cryptic codes?
Why is there no record of a patient committed there just one year before?
What really goes on in Ward C?
Why is an empty lighthouse surrounded by an electrified fence and armed guards?

The closer Teddy and Chuck get to the truth, the more elusive it becomes, and the more they begin to believe that they may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive them insane. . . .

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this one. The writing is easy and just flows. The plot is not very complex. I was able to figure out the book half way through, although there is an aspect at the end that I was not prepared for. Now I can't say whether it was creepy on it's own, because I think the movie previews I have seen for the past few months bled into my subconsciousness. I will say the previews were accurate with what I eventually read. I have done research into the history of psych treatment and institutions for work, so I can definitely tell you that psych care was pretty barbaric in the past. Some may even say heinous. That alone gives me chills.

Teddy is a complex character who has seen things in his life that no other human should have to see. He was one of the soldiers who liberated the Dachau concentration camp. Teddy was also a code breaker, and worked for special ops in WWII. Teddy is familiar with the most evil aspects of human nature, but through it all keeps trying to do the right thing. Bring justice to those who need it, like the missing Rachel Solando.

Teddy's partner Chuck makes an excellent foil for Teddy, providing slight comic relief and easy likability. Dr. Cawley is another interesting character. He wants to get down to the bottom of this mystery as quickly as possible, but yet does not offer as much help to Teddy as he could. Or does he? That's part of the mystery. Dr. Cawley also wants to help his patients to the best of his ability; treat them as humanely as possible without resorting to harsh treatments or surgery. But he is fighting a losing battle, therefore it is imperative the mystery be solved.

I read and saw the movie of Lehane's other book, Mystic River. I think Shutter Island is almost as good as that. It is thisclose to Mystic River.

Click to visit the author's website.

My Rating: 90/100 I enjoyed this story a lot and had a tough time putting it down. It was a page turner for me.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Read Own Books (RYOB)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review: The Black Moth by Georgette Heyer

Genre: Fiction, romance
Trade paperback 368 pages
Book source: Sourcebooks (They have reprinted, I think, most of her books.)


Jack Carstares—an Earl turned highwayman—and his enemy—the enigmatic Duke of Andover—who engage in an intense rivalry over society beauty Diana Beauleigh…

Seven years before our story opens, Carstares protected his brother by allowing himself to be disgraced for cheating at cards. His brother, suffering intense guilt, isn't aware that they played right into the hands of the Duke of Andover.

The disgraced Earl now roams the countryside until a confrontation with his rival thwarts the attempt to kidnap the lovely Diana. But now the Duke is more determined than ever to have Diana for his own, and the two men will meet at sword point before the Earl's name can be cleared and he can claim his fair lady.

My Thoughts:

What a great introduction into the world of Georgette Heyer! How appropriate is it that my first time reading Heyer starts with her first book ever? I read somewhere that Heyer wrote The Black Moth as a means of entertainment for her brother while he was recuperating from an illness in 1921. She was 19 years old at the time and I think she did a fantastic job her first time out.

This story has a little bit of everything:
*A disgraced Earl
*An evil villain
*A damsel in distress
*Rescuing and sword fights
*And of course a happily ever after

Reading this book reminded me of old swashbuckler movies I have seen, like Ivanhoe, or something with Errol Flynn in it. Heyer's work starts by introducing the players in the story one by one with some depiction of their character. Her physical descriptions are quite good as well, because I was able to visualize the Duke of Andover and his sardonic smile. The hero of the story is then introduced, the disgraced Earl of Wyncham, who is disgraced for the sake of his family. Little by little the scenes are played out and the story progresses. The sword fights were also quite entertaining and did have me anxiously reading especially towards the end.

The story is a bit simplistic and there is not an abundance of character development, but The Black Moth certainly provided me with some much needed entertainment. Although the plot is predictable, Heyer builds suspense into the story that kept me reading. This book was pure fun for me and has certainly made me a fan of Heyer. Why did I wait so long to read one of her books?

Researching on the Internet, I discovered that apparently these characters, or shades of them, come up again in three other Heyer works: These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army. Guess which Heyer books I will be reading next?

My Rating: 97/100 I told you I loved this book!

Here's an interesting website that has tons of info about Heyer, and excerpts from her books.

This is her Wikipedia site.

A a heart felt thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for my review copy. She has made me a Heyer admirer :)

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Historical Fiction, Reading Romance

Monday, February 15, 2010

Progress Check: 2010 Reading Resolutions Challenge

Hello challenge participants! How are you? Time flies by when you are having fun, doesn't it? So how are you doing in your goals? I'm sure you are all doing your best, and even if it's baby steps, (ahem, like me) it's still progress. Every little bit works.

Here is my progress so far:

* I purchased two of the books I want to read, Bleak House and The North and the South

* For The Handmaid's Tale there is an online reading group in May or sometime in the summer, so my plan is to read along with them.

* I am being more selective in what I accept for review. If I get an offer for 5 books, I seriously consider what I would like to read; not get dazzled by the free books. The books I have accepted are all stories I'm interested in, and they help me meet some of my challenges.

* Challenges...I joined quite a few, but they all fit together. I have stopped myself from joining new ones, again trying not to get dazzled by pretty pictures. I'm doing well so far.

* Reviews...I think I'm getting better, and at least I am a little more timely. I still have a few hanging out from 2009, but they will get done eventually.

I guess my main goal, which was unrecognized at the time, is keep my book blogging fun. Try not to get bogged down with things and allow it to become a chore. Anything that becomes a chore is not how I want to spend my time. You don't like doing household chores all day, do you? That's my point. Keep it fun and simple.

So, how are you progressing with your goals? Have you refined your goals or added anything since you began? The next check in will be April 16th.

Feel free to leave it in the comments or if you like, write a check in post and link to you it in Mr. Linky. Whatever is easiest for you.

Thanks for stopping by and happy reading :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Reflections (Feb. 14)

Well hello! How are you all doing? Hope this finds all of you well and enjoying the day. My husband and I finally dug our car out this morning. Thank goodness because we need some groceries in the house. Plus we are getting a little stir crazy from being stuck in the house. Not that I don't love him, but you know, in all good relationships the parties involved require some alone time :)

In any case, I finished two excellent books and have reviews to write for those. They are The Black Moth by Heyer and Shutter Island by Lehane. Both books were quite different but spectacular. I enjoyed them both and to borrow a word from Sheree at The Eclectic Reader, unputdownable! I should have those reviews up later this week. Today I am starting The Scarlet Lion by Chadwick. I didn't have a chance to read the prequel, The Greatest Knight, but my understanding is they are stand alone novels. I like Chadwick so I can't wait to dig in.

What are you reading this week? Anything exciting?

Tomorrow is a check in day with those participating in my Reading Resolutions Challenge. As for my progress...ha-ha-ha. Seriously, I have gotten better with some things and focused my reading a bit, so that is progress for me.

I would also like to give mad props to my Fly Boys who won all 4 games this week. Why is this so noteworthy? Well, they were home at home series with the NJ Devils and the Montreal Canadiens. Both very tough teams to play, and they came back to win twice against the Devils. Freaking awesome people! They really needed the points before the Olympic break. I love my Flyers, and would love to see them carry Lord Stanley. No matter what happens, and they have certainly disappointed over the years, I will always be a Flyers fan. You never forget your first :)

And last but certainly not least, Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Hope you get some time with the ones you love, a significant other, a furry friend, or even just yourself. You are your own best friend. Have a wonderful week :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Giveaway and Guest Post with Marsha Altman, author of Mr. Darcy's Great Escape

Please welcome Marsha Altman author of the interesting, funny, and witty series Pride and Predjudice Continues. There are three books in the series, The Darcys & the Bingleys, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers and Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape. The Series starts shortly after the end of Austen's original and takes off from there.

I asked Marsha for her thoughts on Elizabeth Bennet. What is it about Lizzy Bennett (Darcy) that draws readers in? Her conversational wit and dislike of society's conventions? Her self-confidence and ability to weather any storm? Why do you think everyone loves Lizzy so much? It's not all just about Darcy :)

Here are Marsha's thoughts. Enjoy!

What is it about Elizabeth Bennet?

I’m sure a good deal of ink has been spent on what Jane Austen saw, or wanted to see, of herself in Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth is someone any woman either feels that she is, or wants to be. She’s smart (everyone likes to feel that they’re smart), but not too pretty (everyone has body issues) and overshadowed by wealthier or more beautiful people (everyone has self-esteem issues). Despite her handicaps of being a witty, unappreciated woman in a difficult time for women’s rights, she manages to land the guy who both respects her and can provide for her so she doesn’t have to compromise on much of anything in her life. Her main transformation in the book is not to a different person but to a person who sees Darcy for who he is, the result of bad first impressions (no pun intended) early in the book.

Elizabeth comes off to some readers as nothing short than the ideal woman, or the ideal woman that women reading about her would like to be, though most women would just settle for “married to Colin Firth/Matthew McFayden.” I know this is viewing it through the lens of Darcy again, but that’s the point of the book. She gets the awesome guy. That may seem a crass interpretation, but I doubt Pride and Prejudice would have had the commercial success and gone on to become regarded as a literary masterpiece if she died an old maid, as she predicts in the beginning of the book.

For many readers this is wish fulfillment, but it’s wish fulfillment in its highest art form, which is of itself an impressive writing feat on Austen’s part. It’s also made Pride and Prejudice the most popular of her novels. It’s certainly among the best in literary quality, but whether it is the best is another thing for literary critics to squabble about. It’s the most popular and the most adapted by far, and it’s her only book that was required reading in my high school. Literary masterpiece that it may be, its appeal is broader than the relatively small crowd of people in the world who read literary masterpieces outside of high school and college, and at least part of the reason for that is the raw appeal of imagining ourselves as Elizabeth Bennet.


Hilarious and action-packed, this installment brings the Darcy and Bingley families to the year 1812 and the intrigues of the Napoleonic Wars. Darcy and Dr. Maddox go in search of Darcy's missing half-brother and land in a medieval prison cell.

Much to his dismay, Charles Bingley is left to hold the fort at Pemberley while his sister Caroline, Elizabeth, and Col. Fitzwilliam traverse Europe on a daring rescue. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine de Bourgh kicks up a truly shocking scandal.

One never knows what might happen next between the estates of Rosings and Pemberley.


Marsha Altman is a historian specializing in Rabbinic literature in late antiquity, and an author. She is also an expert on Jane Austen sequels, having read nearly every single one that's been written, whether published or unpublished. She has worked in the publishing industry with a literary agency and is writing a series continuing the story of the Darcys and the Bingleys. She lives in New York.


What a thought provoking post. Thanks Marsha. I always enjoy reading other people's thoughts on one of my favorite characters.

So here is the scoop on how you could win 1 set of all three books in the series, The Darcys & the Bingleys, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers and Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape.

Here are the rules:
*Open to U.S. and Canada only. No P.O. Boxes please.
*To enter leave a comment with your email address.
*For an extra entry, post about this on your sidebar and leave me a link.
*Deadline for entries is midnight Sunday, February 28th.

Good luck everyone!

Thanks again to Danielle from Sourcebooks for my review and the giveaway copies.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interview and Giveaway with Ciji Ware, author of Island of the Swans

Please give a warm welcome Ciji Ware, author of Island of the Swans. You can find my review here.

Hi Ciji,

How are you? Hope this finds you well. I know you are a busy woman so let’s get down to business.

1. You have chosen a phenomenal historical character, Jane Maxwell, to write about. What drew you to her life story? Was it her romantic life or her personality in general?

Ciji: I was originally drawn to the real life character of Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon (seen with her son in the picture in a painting hanging in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery) , because my great- grandmother, Elfie McCullough (who lived to be 96) claimed that our McCulloughs from the Lowlands of Scotland were related to the Maxwells of Monreith through marriage a few generations before Jane Maxwell was born. Later I came across an article about her life as the “Match-making Duchess” and was very intrigued that I might be related to such a fascinating historical figure. (Sadly, after five years of research, I was never able to prove I was her direct descendant, but the odd thing is, we look rather alike: dark hair, hazel eyes, and a similar bone structure!)

2. Would you say the Duchess was the last great Lady of her day, or one of the last great Scottish Ladies, considering the times she lived in?

Ciji: I believe the extraordinary life of the Duchess of Gordon puts her right up there with the great ladies of Scotland. To my knowledge, no one has to date written a serious, full-length biography about Jane Maxwell, and as I began to delve into the facts of her life, I discovered she was much more than merely an ambitious mama for her seven children—six by the Duke of Gordon, certainly, but perhaps one child, a daughter, who was fathered by someone else. Yes, she married her offspring to three dukes, a marquis and a baronet, but she was also an astute politician and a confidante of the Prime Minister and King George III and Queen Charlotte, as well as a rival of the famous Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire.

Not only that, Jane was the patroness of the poet Robert Burns and championed the publication of his first book of poems, and a heroine in the eyes of the crofters who rented lands from her husband and for whom she developed the weaving trade and other occupations that fed and clothed the poorest of the poor. Perhaps most compellingly for my story was the fact that she was virtually in love with two men over a span of three decades! At her funeral, nearly the entire population of the Spey River Valley turned out to pay her homage, which is a great testament to what an important figure she had become.

3. Where or how did your passion for Scottish history and culture start?

Ciji: Both my husband and I are of Scottish-American heritage (as you can see from this picture at our son’s recent engagement party) with the family names of McCullough, McGann, McAlister, Bell, Harris and Hunter in our family tree.
And then there was that great-grandmother I mentioned earlier and a whole raft of McCullough cousins that never let any family member forget the land from whence they came!

In 1977, working for ABC Radio and TV in Los Angeles, I got the assignment to cover the International Gathering of the Clans which brought the Scottish Diaspora from all over the world to Edinburgh. I remember marching into a vast stadium packed with Scottish hyphenates from around the globe and with a hundred pipers skirling. I was at a dead run, trying to catch up with former Mayor Lindsay of New York—decked out in his family tartan—to get an interview, and suddenly a shiver went down my spine. “My family came to America from here!” I thought. And from that moment on I entered what my husband refers to as my on-going “Scot-O-Maniac Period!”

4. You have written other romantic historical fiction novels, set in the American South and England's Cornish coastline. Do you have a favorite setting or do you like to research and explore your options? What piques your creative juices?

Ciji: I think my two favorite settings are Scotland and Cornwall (Here I am in the 1990’s with writer Cynthia Wright—both of us researching different novels near Foy, Cornwall) , though, honestly, I’ve loved all the settings for my books or I wouldn’t have been able to slough through the hard parts of writing an historical novel!

I think there are two main themes to the historical writing I do: one is that I am interested in exploring the European-American linkages, especially in settings where large numbers of European expatriates settled. The Cornish in England came to Wyoming; the Scots, French and Italians to New Orleans, Louisiana and Natchez, Mississippi. The Italians, Scots and English to San Francisco. My settings outside of America are chosen because they served as launching pads for my characters that eventually ended up in specific areas this country.

Secondly, I’ve always been interested in stories about women of previous centuries who managed to carve out a professional life during a time that was unfriendly to women working outside the home. I loved discovering eighteenth century women painters, musicians, actresses, and rabble-rousers operating in “the public sphere” of politics and social causes.

This, I supposed, is because I come from a long line of Uppity Women! That feisty great- grandmother of mine, Granny McCullough, graduated from Stephens College in the 1880’s – the first of five generations of college-educated women in our family.

5. Now for something a bit different. What book are you currently reading and do have any favorite authors or books?

Ciji: Now that I received an electronic “Reader” for Christmas, I’m getting very good at reading two books at once. Currently, I’m reading Tasha Alexander’s Tears of Pearl, and my old favorite, Georgette Heyer in the new Sourcebook/Landmark edition of An Infamous Army. My husband gave me another of my favs, Jacqueline Winspear’s latest: Among the Mad, that is the latest in the Maisie Dobbs series, which I just love!

6. Do have any hobbies that may distract you from your reading and writing? Any other areas of interest, like visiting museums, etc.

Ciji: My husband of thirty-three years and I have joined the local theatrical “Players” and are having a grand time singing and dancing in a series of musicals. (I’m the Flapper, second from the left!). I danced professionally (years ago), and still love it. This year I wrote, directed and choreographed “The Fooleries” for my college class reunion!

My husband and I are also quite dotty about our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Ensign Aubrey and I walk him up to three miles, three times a week up and down local hills with my walking group.

Our other passion is travel: our newly married son lives three thousand miles away, so we find we are traveling quite a bit to visit or to rendezvous in places of mutual interest. Last summer we were invited on their honeymoon in the Alps to watch Lance Armstrong go whizzing by during the Tour de France!

7. You live across the bay from one of my absolute favorite cities, San Francisco. What do you enjoy most about that area? Any favorite things to do in San Francisco?

Ciji: I grew up in nearby Carmel, California, and had wanted to live in San Francisco all my life. Eleven years ago, due to a series of amazing circumstances and coincidences, we pulled up stakes after 23 years in Los Angeles and moved smack dab in the middle of the City to Nob Hill in an apartment next door to the Cable Car Barn where the trolleys go “nighty night.” We adore San Francisco’s fabulous restaurants and each gained fifteen pounds frequenting the Fog City Diner, Boulevard, The Slanted Door, and numerous other amazing eateries.

Now we live in the first town you hit after you cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and love our “village life” and smaller, close-knit community, yet we feel we have the best of both worlds, thanks to being only seven minutes away from a world class city with great theater, films, museums, food, scenery, bike paths, ferries and subways. Not only that, we’re forty minutes from SFO where you can fly anywhere in the world.

8. If you had a free day to yourself, what would you do? I guess your typical relaxation day.

Cij: My favorite thing to do on a free day is to get the walking group together to take the ferry to San Francisco’s Embarcadero, shop the amazing outdoor Farmer’s Market there; drink Peet’s Coffee, and come home to cook a fabulous meal.

9. What could your readers expect to see from you in the future?

Ciji: My first new historical novel in a decade, A Race to Splendor, is about the first licensed California woman architect in a race against time--and a dashing young man who hopes to thwart her ambitious undertaking--to rebuild the famed Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill in the wake of the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.

The novel debuts from Sourcebooks/Landmark in April, 2011 and I think my readers are going to be caught up in this amazing story of a city and its people struggling back from the brink of extinction. (If you recall New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, you can easily imagine what it was like for 250,000 San Franciscans to be homeless for two years.

Meanwhile my wonderful publisher, Sourcebooks Landmark, is bringing out all my previous titles as trade paperbacks with glorious new covers: In addition to Island of the Swans, soon we’ll have

· A Cottage by the Sea, set in Cornwall and Wyoming about a landscape architect who must reinvent her entire life (June 2010)

· Wicked Company, set in Scotland, London, and colonial Maryland about Drury Lane Theatre and a group of eighteenth century women playwrights (October 2010)

· Midnight on Julia Street, set in my beloved New Orleans about a woman reporter who keeps getting fired for telling the truth; (Spring 2011)

· And its sequel, A Light on the Veranda, about a professional harpist, set in the amazing city of Natchez, Mississippi. (Fall 2011)

I’m beginning to work on a new novel set in the eighteenth century world of porcelain and pottery makers where women were employed in a most amazing variety of professions…

In a parallel nonfiction writing career, in 2007, my work Rightsizing Your Life: Simplifying Your Surroundings While Keeping What Matters Most, was chosen by the Wall Street Journal “One of the Top 5 Books on Retirement”—so I also do a lot of public speaking on the subject of “downsizing with a difference”—which to me is living with only the possessions you use and love.

For a writer with as many books and papers in her life, that’s no mean trick! Basically I call myself a “rightsizing-work-in-progress…”

Thanks for your kind invitation to visit with you, Jenny. It’s been fun!

Thank you very much Ciji for answering some questions for my readers. May 2010 bring you good things. Have a great day!

ISLAND OF THE SWANS BY CIJI WARE—in stores February 2010

Re-issued in its original full length, this acclaimed and bestselling romantic historical novel by award-winning author Ciji Ware tells the true story of passionate and flamboyant Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon (1749-1812). In love since childhood with Thomas Fraser, when she hears that he's been killed in America, she marries the Duke of Gordon with disastrous results. But Fraser, very much alive, returns to England to claim her love.

In addition to telling a heart-wrenching love story, Island of the Swans also paints a fascinating portrait of a powerful and controversial woman and the tumultuous era in which she lived. Patroness of poet Robert Burns, advisor to King George, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jane Maxwell was a towering figure in her own time and is an unforgettable heroine.

About the Author

Ciji Ware has been an Emmy-award winning television producer, reporter, writer, and radio host. A Harvard graduate, she has written numerous historical and romance novels as well as non-fiction. When she's not writing, Ciji is a Scottish history and dancing aficionado. She lives with her husband in California.


Would you like to have your very own copy of Island of the Swans? Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks, I have 2 copies to giveaway.

Here are the rules:
*Open to U.S. and Canada only. No P.O. Boxes please.
*To enter leave a comment with your email address.
*For an extra entry, post about this on your sidebar and leave me a link.
*Deadline for entries is midnight Sunday, February 28th.

Good luck everyone!

And thanks again to Danielle from Sourcebooks for my review copy and the giveaway copies.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review: Mr. Darcy's Great Escape by Marsha Altman

Genre: Fiction, romance, Austen historical
Trade paperback 496 pages
Book source: Sourcebooks

From Sourcebooks:

Hilarious and action-packed, this installment brings the Darcy and Bingley families to the year 1812 and the intrigues of the Napoleonic Wars. Darcy and Dr. Maddox go in search of Darcy's missing half-brother and land in a medieval prison cell.

Much to his dismay, Charles Bingley is left to hold the fort at Pemberley while his sister Caroline, Elizabeth, and Col. Fitzwilliam traverse Europe on a daring rescue. Meanwhile, Lady Catherine de Bourgh kicks up a truly shocking scandal.

One never knows what might happen next between the estates of Rosings and Pemberley.

My Thoughts:

I'm slightly on the fence with this one. There were many events in this story that I enjoyed:

*Lady Catherine's shocking ideas regarding Rosings and the bits of family history regarding the situation
*Caroline and Elizabeth's trek through Europe searching for their husbands
*Brother Gregoire's story of adventure
*Even some of Dr. Maddox and Darcy's imprisonment was bearable.

The one aspect I couldn't buy into was how Darcy dealt with his time in an Austrian prison. It just didn't make sense to me. It doesn't mesh with what I think about Darcy. Maybe it's Austen burn out, I don't know, but those parts of the story I did kind of skim through. Everything else was delightful.

One aspect I really enjoyed was the love story of Brian Maddox and his wife, an Austrian Princess. I don't want to give away any spoilers, but I think Altman's adventurous story for this couple was fun and inventive. This is what made this book a good read for me. That and the relationship between Caroline Bingley and her husband Dr. Maddox. I just love what Altman has done with these two and their children.

My Rating: 90/100 Overall it was a fun read, however I did not enjoy Darcy and Elizabeth as much this time around. Oh well. It can't always be perfect.

For more information about this series, please check out Marsha's website.

If you would like to own a set of all three of the books in this series, The Darcys & the Bingleys, The Plight of the Darcy Brothers and Mr. Darcy’s Great Escape, be sure to stop by here on Wednesday, February 10th, for a guest post by Marsha and a chance to win 1 set of all three books in the series.

Thanks to Danielle from Sourcebooks for my review copy.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Reading Romance (I'm counting the love story between Brian and his Princess)

[Edit 2/8 after original posting: This is the third book in the series. Here is my review of The Darcys and the Bingleys
Here is my review of The Plight of the Darcy Brothers ]

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Review: Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Genre: Historical fiction, Romance
Trade paperback, 592 pages
Book Source: Soucebooks Publishing

From Sourcebooks:
Re-issued in its original full length, this acclaimed and bestselling romantic historical novel by award-winning author Ciji Ware tells the true story of passionate and flamboyant Jane Maxwell, the 4th Duchess of Gordon (1749-1812). In love since childhood with Thomas Fraser, when she hears that he's been killed in America, she marries the Duke of Gordon with disastrous results. But Fraser, very much alive, returns to England to claim her love.

In addition to telling a heart-wrenching love story, Island of the Swans also paints a fascinating portrait of a powerful land controversial woman and the tumultuous era in which she lived. Patroness of poet Robert Burns, advisor to King George, painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Jane Maxwell was a towering figure in her own time and is an unforgettable heroine.

My Thoughts:

This is the story of a tragic love triangle (or bizarre love triangle for you New Order fans). The characters in this story are:

*Thomas Fraser, of the Fraser Highlanders who participated in the '45 with the Young Pretender, and thus lost everything. Thomas has struggled all of his life and must join the army to make a living. He and Jane have loved each other since childhood. (And yes, theses are the same Frasers as those featured in the Outlander Series)

*Alex Gordon, the Duke of Gordon. His family supported the King in the '45 and thus kept all of their land and titles. There are rumors of the Gordon Madness afflicting the bloodline. Although Alex's mother tried to spend his entire fortune, he was able to hold on to some and rebuild. Alex was acquainted with Thomas and Jane during childhood, but he was a Duke, and therefore did not hang out with them.

*Jane Maxwell, a beautiful woman from a lower ranking, somewhat poor, aristocratic family than the Gordans. She longs for family, love and independence, and freely expresses her thoughts and ideas on many subjects. Jane champions the cause of the underdog and struggles to keep Scottish traditions alive. She has been in love with Thomas since childhood, and promised to be wife someday.

Through fate and meddling family, tragedy visits this trio many times throughout their lives, bringing heartache and despair. Jane and Alex come together first as friends and then as lovers. They share the bond of having loved and lost someone close to them. But when Thomas comes back from the dead, happy times are over, and Alex and Jane's life is a constant cycle of happiness, sadness and mistrust. Every time the reader thinks everything will work out, fate brings Thomas back into their lives and reopens old wounds.

Alex is possessive and mistrustful of Jane due to his experiences growing up. Instead of just accepting that Jane will always love Thomas, Alex becomes furious and makes bad decisions, which usually hurt Jane. For her part, Jane always manages to pick herself up again and carry on. However, I do have one problem with Jane. I don't think she ever tries to see the situation form Alex's point of view. She is so consumed by her love for Thomas and how they can't be together, that she doesn't realize the pain she causes Alex. This may be my modern view of the situation, because for Alex's part, he never truly opens himself up to Jane. Men in those days didn't speak about their feelings. Alex already had trust issues, so why would he expose himself to being hurt further? And then there's Thomas, who can't be with the woman he loves, and never finds love again. Nothing compares to his Jenny.

See...very tragic situation all the way around.

The love story of these characters was deftly weaved within the life and times of Scotland in the 1760's and forward. I was completely immersed in this story and left the real world behind. I even uttered "Aye Lassie" to my co worker's questions a few times, which caused us to burst out into some much needed laughter.

There is one scene in the book, when Jane and Alex are out in the Highlands raising an army to fight off the rebellion in the colonies. Alex and Jane are performing ancient Scottish dancing; the description of the dance, and the the undercurrents of the situation and their feelings are written so descriptively and accurately, it was as if I was there. I could see their faces doing that dance.

Jane was also quite a force in her day as well. She was friends with many influential people and had an ongoing rivalry with the Duchess of Devonshire. Jane was also friends with PM Pitt and the poet Robert Burns. Jane's activities throughout the story also bring a richness and realness to this tale.

If you can't tell by now, I thoroughly loved and enjoyed this book. I loved each and every character, despite their faults, and became quite fond of all of them. Although I knew a happy ending could not be had by all, I was riveted to this book and was sorry to see it end.

My Rating: 100/100 I really loved this story. I loved Ciji's writing and look forward to reading the rest of her novels. I am so happy to have discovered this author! It's a shame I never heard of her before.

If you would like your very own copy, please stop by on Tuesday, February 9th for my interview with Ciji and your chance to win 1 of 2 copies of Island of the Swans.

Thank you again to Danielle at Sourcebooks for my review copy.

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Historical Fiction, Reading Romance

Friday, February 5, 2010

Winner of The Second Date Giveaway and me weekend plans

The winner of one copy of The Second Date by Mary Lydon Simonsen is .....


Woo-hoo! Congratulations and I'm sorry I don't have copies to send to all of you.

Enjoy your weekend folks and happy reading. For those of you in the Northeast U.S. like me, this is for you:

Be careful this weekend and Go Colts! (Yes I live in Philly, but I am a huge Colts fan and have been for over 10 years.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

LOST Thoughts: "Final Chapter" and "LAX"

I am so glad this show is back! Except for the goodness ABC! I know you have to pay the bills but come on. Oh don't you worry, I'll be Tivoing this in the future.

So here are my random thoughts and observations from last night:

The ultimate story line is good versus evil, with Jacob being good. Whether he and the smoke monster (Evil) are fallen angels, God and the Devil, or just plain old good versus evil thing, Evil needed the body of someone who died off the island, in order to leave the island, a la John Locke. Convoluted, I know, but that's the only way it works out for me. That makes Sayid the new Jacob. (The Last Supper photo is starting to make sense now)

Ben is pooping his pants and freaking out. He has just realized he has been had by Evil, and I think will try to atone for his actions.

I think if you are able to leave the island, you should, because that's it. There is no return to civilization and then come back to rescue your friends. Our Losties are all stuck there now. The island travels through different dimensions or realities. I attribute these thoughts to my good friend Dr. Who. His theory of time not being linear, but happening all at once, and the theory of other dimensions or realities makes these scenarios plausible.

Yes, it worked, according to poor Juliet. (Who I did not need to see die again. Poor Sawyer!) Their original selves, because remember when they were time traveling they almost ran into them, never crashed on the island and were able to land in LAX. That's why they showed the island submerged under water, like Atlantis. No, I can't even begin to think on that theory. In another reality the plane never crashed.

So, what's up with the island? It's meant to be a sort of prison for Evil, with Jacob guarding him and having occasional assistants, like the survivors of the crash or the Temple people. (What? More mysterious people?) People who stumbled upon the island, either learn how to manipulate it, like Dharma, or get stuck there, like our returning Losties.

Now I could be completely off base, but that's how I make it make sense to me. I'm sure next week it will be something completely different, but it sure is a hell of ride, isn't it? One more thing, what's up with the Egyptian angle? I am dying to know what that is all about.

So what did you think? Stop by the LOST Challenge blog to see what other people thought.

2010 Challenges Met: LOST

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Young Victoria

About a month ago, my mom and I went to see The Young Victoria. We LOVED it! I know the term loved is so extremely over used, but it's true. We didn't want this movie to end, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The movie starts with a brief glimpse of Victoria's life growing up. Poor girl. The focus quickly shifts to her young adulthood, and the rest is history.

Albert was originally sent to England to woo Victoria, but instead really falls for her for, and she for him. He is honest with her and speaks his mind. Victoria needs and appreciates this. Family members treat Victoria and Albert like pawns, but forget they are very astute people. After marriage and some growing pains, Victoria and Albert come into their own. They are in love and the masters of their own destiny, and what a legacy they leave behind. The movie ends shortly after the birth of their first child...I think. Sorry my memory is fuzzy, regardless it is very early in Queen Victoria's reign.

Emily Blunt and Rupert Friend were excellent in their roles. You could feel their agonies and ecstasies, and their fears about the future. The real world melted away as we watched this movie. Sometimes with historical fiction movies, one tends to notice the gowns and scenery much more than the acting, not so in this case. The acting took center stage and the beautiful clothing and houses were a distant second. (Sorry costume designer.) It should be noted that, all of the parts were well casted.

Can't you just feel the love folks?

So if you are looking to escape the real world for a short time, go see this movie. You will not be disappointed, except to see it end. A sequel would be nice, Duchess Fergie. Just saying.