Saturday, August 31, 2013

"The Angel Stone" by Juliet Dark (aka Carol Goodman)

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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 3, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345533395

I have been a life long fairy tale fan, and I have been a big fan of this fantasy series by Juliet Dark (aka Carol Goodman) since the Fairwick Trilogy began with "The Demon Lover".  Each of these books works well as a stand alone book though so you don't have to read the entire three book series, but I think that once you read " The Angel Stone" you will want to read the other two books!

Over the course of the last two volumes I have become enthralled with the quirky world of Fairwick College, and the delightful mix of it's inhabitants. The witches, demons, fey,nephilium, and humans are all rife with possibility. The plots all contain what could be considered an allegorical basis in the truth of all humanity and they contain the best elements of what makes up all good, timeless fairytales. 

I would have loved to have gone to a college like Fairwick! What I could have learned from it's very quirky professors! The mixed of 'real world' and 'fantasy world' is well balanced, and the books moves readily, without any 'dead zones' to slow you down!

With 'The Angel Stone', this trilogy sadly comes an end. I will miss waiting for the next book in the series,but I will console myself by reading more of Carol Goodman's other novels.

'The Angel Stone' was a delightful read that held my interest. I almost read it all the way in a day! I love the creativity that comes through in this tale of love lost and found again- of just causes fought for well and won. Although this is a tale of fantasy there are bits of real world wisdom to be found as well 

Although YMMV ( your mileage may vary) I suspect that any fantasy/ paranormal or escapist reader will thoroughly enjoy this creatively written , totally delightful read.

PS: 'The Water Witch', the second book of this trilogy was my personal favorite!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

My Most Recent Historial Reading List

These four books represent my most recent reading list. I just finished "England After Elizabeth" by Leandra D'Lisle this morning. I have learned a lot from these books, especially about politics after the death of Gloriana, Elizabeth I. I have not read much about Jacobean England, for some reason King James and his reign have left me quite cool. I was interested, however, in how the rise of King James affected the politics and the people of his day, and how the citizens of England felt upon his arrival.

I had not understood, as I began this reading series, how thoroughly Bess of Hardwick would figure throughout all of these books. What an amazing woman she was - in so many ways. Bess really was a woman who was centuries ahead of her time. I can see her in the present day as the CEO of a Fortune 500 company!
My first read of the series was "Arbella: England's Lost Queen" by Sarah Gristwood, followed by the new work of historical fiction by Gillian Bagwell, "Venus In Winter" which is a most excellent, riveting book that I highly recommend.

I was pleased and amazed, when I read "Bess of Hardwick" by Mary Lovell, how closely "Venus In Winter" (reviewed here on August 17, 2013) follows the true facts of the life of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick. I highly recommend reading both of these extraordinary books. You will derive a lot of pleasure and a lot of learning. The non-fiction "Bess of Hardwick" makes for pleasurable reading - this is not dull history at all and the biography reads as readily as fiction.
I had "After Elizabeth" by Leandra D'Lisle on my shelf for some time and decided, after finishing "Bess of Hardwick" that it was time to learn a bit about the court of King James and what really did happen after Gloriana's death in March of 1603. Although this book was a bit drier (though not that much so) than "Bess of Hardwick" I found that I learned a lot from the book and looked forward to reading more of it every day. What I had not anticipated was that Bess and the Shrewsbury family also figured prominently in the time of James accession to the throne. This book brought together a lot of loose historical threads for me, and provided me with a much more complete idea of just how important this family, and it's matriarch, were enmeshed in the political landscapes of their time. Remarkable!

This was a wonderful series of books, each one of them is highly readable and very informative. History really is amazing. What is the saying that the more things change the more they stay the same? Read these books and see why I think this is so true! You will also find a much enjoyment and much learning. I highly recommend any, or all, of these fascinating reads if you are a history fan - especially if you, like me, like nothing more than learning more about British history!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

"Venus In Winter" by Gillian Bagwell

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  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Trade (July 2, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425258026

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! This is a novel about the formidable Bess of Hardwick, a woman who forged her way through some of them the most perilous times in British history. She and her husbands built an enviable life and Bess came close to losing it all several times in her life, but somehow always managed to hang on to her property and her dignity. Bess was born of lower, though by no means low, means, and through advantageous marriages she built a personal worth that was enviable. This is a riveting read that closely follows the historical facts.

I worked a bit backwards. I had just finished reading "Arbella: England's Lost Queen" by Sarah Gristwood and, after reading about Bess by reading "Venus In Winter" I am currently reading "Bess Of Hardwick" by Mary Lovell.

Ms. Bagwell weaves a delightful, highly believable, tale around the historical facts.  Bess of Hardwick was a truly amazing woman who was quite ahead of her time. Intelligent and canny - she made a good life for herself and he family despite the tenuous times in which she lived. She came close to losing everything that she and her husbands had worked so hard for, but came back from the brink and prospered.

This is one of those books that I found difficult to put down. It made me interested enough to read her biography by Mary Lovell. If you love  historical fiction, Tudor fiction, British historical fiction or just great fiction in general I think that this book will appeal!

I always look forward to Ms. Bagwell's books - they have never failed to please. I hope that there another in the works !

Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Making Wire and Bead Jewelry" by Janice Berkebile and Tracey Stanley

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  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Lark Crafts; 1 edition (May 1, 2012)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1454702870

This review that is long overdue. I was graciously provided with a copy of this book for review purposed, and it languished on my bookshelf until I decided that I really wanted  to learn to make wire and bead jewelry. I pulled this book off the shelf, and then discovered what a really wonderful, well done book it really is!

If you want to learn the basics of beautiful wire work with beads this is THE book for you. The projects are all interesting and well worth making.The instructions are clearly written,beautifully illustrated, and easy to follow. 

What initially drew me to this book was a desire to make the earrings that are featured on the cover. I was a real beginner at wire work at the time, but thanks to this book and it's clear instructions I was able to make several pairs of these earrings in an afternoon!

Since I took this book down from my shelf and began to use it I have read and used other books on wire work, but this book still remains a favorite. It's really a keeper! 

The book begins with a particularly well done overview and description of all of the tools and materials of the trade. What pliers to use and why you use them for specific projects. Valuable, necessary information about various wires, stones, beads and baubles. The next chapter is so perfect - a particularly well done section on the basics of wire work. It will tell how to make eye loops. wrapped eye loops, spirals,caps, clasps - all you need to know to get going on your wire work journey.

A section on finishing follows and then the project chapters begin. The projects follow in other in teaching skill sets as you go.

Yes! I really am this thrilled about this book and I am so sorry that it took me so long to realize what a gem I had ben given. This book is a real winner and I will look for any further titles by these wonderful authors!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"The Confessions of Marie Antoinette" by Juliet Grey

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  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (September 24, 2013)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345523907

I was thrilled to have been provided with an Advance Reader copy of this book to read and review!

Not too many books are powerful enough to bring a tear to my eye, but this book certainly did do just that!

I have always been dumbstruck at the savage brutality of the French Revolution. In my eyes it seems to have been bloodier, more disorganized and more devastating than America's own Revolution. I've read many non-fiction histories about the French Revolution and biographies of Marie Antoinette. I believe that it can be difficult to portray a historically tragic figure well, without overdoing either empathy or villainy, but Juliet Grey breathes life into this book. The characters grab you into their lives and keep you riveted to the pages. I began by reading this book in the morning as I had coffee and quickly began to just sit and read, and read through to the end in a day and a half (I had to do some regular life things inbetween the pages!).

The characters are brilliantly portrayed. The French Revolution and the devastation that it brought, not only to the nobility, but to the revolutionaries themselves, are portrayed so well that you feel as though you are a part of it all. It is as if you are a part of the destruction of so many priceless artifacts, you are standing by the scaffold as men and women are swiftly dispatched by the new nation's "razor" (the infamous guillotine) . The perils and fear that the royal family endured is palpable in the pages of this book, it no wonder that Marie Antoinette's hair turned white almost overnight. It is impossible to comprehend the terror that existed during these riotous times.

Juliet Grey paints her word images artfully, and I was pleased to find so much historically correct information. I suppose that it was the historical veracity that caused this book bring a tear to my eye now and then, knowing that the reality of those dire times was so close to the story the book presents. I have no doubt that Marie Antoinette arrived in France as a royal ingenue. I have no doubt that she did spend far too many gold Louis' on her wardrobe and her homes. That was, however, the life to which she had been born, the fetes and baubles were de rigueur for the time period, and she was so very young. I doubt that any one could have imagined the maelstrom that was about to descend upon France and the Royal Family. Marie's perceived extravagance became an easy scapegoat for the masses who were starving and had no right to expect anything better for their lives. Ms. Grey's portrait of Marie Antoinette is wonderfully complex. The Queen; both defiant and powerful and the mother and wife whose purpose was to protect and stand by her family. In this book she is portrayed as coming to love her royal husband late in their relationship, as the struggles of the French Revolution played out on the international stage. Loius comes across with passivity, and bewilderment but also as a King who finally understood the issues of his troubled Kingdom. He is noble and true to his honor and his word.

This book made me consider the two Revolutions - France's and America's - governments were overthrown for similar reasons, but one just seemed so much more blood thirsty, and so much more erratic. Liberté, égalité, and fraternité were altruistic and ambitious aims, but in France it seems that even the revolutionaries experienced a revolution within their own ranks as the power changed hands so often. With each change in the power struggle the fates of Marie Antoinette and her family hung in the balance. Mercy and exile seemed like an option for some time, until, in the end, all was lost.

At the end of the book there is an excellent section that provides short biographies of the characters as well as some facts about the times. An excellent bibliography is included as are 'questions for discussion' perhaps for a book club setting. i think that these were excellent additions.

In my opinion, this is a worthy rendering of the French Revolution and the family that was at the center of rebellion and hate. This book should have a wide appeal. Obviously, for those of us who love historical fiction, but it will also appeal to readers of very well written general fiction and also for those who are history buffs as well. There are also parts of this book that are history lessons, rendered in excellent, compelling prose.