Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My Most Anticipated 2011 New Releases

I think 2011 is going to be a great year for new releases.   Here are those that I'm most eagerly anticipating (unless otherwise noted, the release dates are for North America):


The Queen of Last Hopes by Susan Higginbotham.   I loved Higginbotham's The Traitor's Wife, and am going to aim to read the rest of Higginbotham's works in 2011.   The Queen of Last Hopes is about Margaret of Anjou and the English Wars of the Roses. 

Release Date: 1 January 2011... I already have my copy pre-ordered :-)

I, Elizabeth by Margaret George.   While I don't generally greatly enjoy novels featuring Elizabeth I as a primary character, I do love Margaret George so I'm looking forward to reading her latest.

Release Date: 5 April 2011

The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland.    I loved Maitland's The Company of Liars, and The Owl Killers is on my 2011 to read list.   I'm definitely looking forward to her next book, which is set during the early 13th century during the reign of King John.

Release Date: 3 March 2011 (UK only.  There doesn't appear to be a North American release date yet)

Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn.   I was very impressed with Quinn's debut novel,  Mistress of Rome.    Daughters of Rome takes place in AD 69 - the Year of Four Emperors - and is centred around two sisters whose fortunes and fates are influenced by the political upheavals of Rome. 

Release Date: 5 April 2011

Lady of the English by Elizabeth Chadwick.   I have yet to read an Elizabeth Chadwick novel I haven't liked.   This particular novel is about Empress Matilda, daughter and heir of Henry I who fought Stephen of Blois for England's Crown in the 12th century, and Adeliza, widow of England's King Henry I. 

Release date: 2 June 2011 (UK),  9 August 2011 (Canada), US date unknown.


Blackveil by Kristen Britain.    The fourth novel in Britain's Green Rider Series.   I'm very much looking forward to finding out what happens next. 

Release Date: 1 February 2011

Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss.  This is the follow-up to Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind, a novel which I have put off reading until the announcement of the release of book 2.   Now that Wise Man's Fear is only a few short months away from being released, I can start book 1!

Release Date: 1 March 2011

Those are my most anticipated releases for 2011, what are yours?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Favourite Reads of 2010

With the New Year quickly approaching, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect upon my favourite reads of 2010.   I read some great books this year, across a wide range of genres, but here are my particular favourites:

(1) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.   This was, hands down, my favourite read of 2010.  In fact, it's become one of my all-time favourites.   Mantel brings Thomas Cromwell to life in this novel, and I can't wait for the promised sequel!

(2) When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman.   For me, Penman can do no wrong.  This novel focused on the 12th century struggle between Stephen of Blois and the Empress Matilda for the throne of England, a struggle that lead to years of bitter civil war.    Well drawn characters, great history and a strong sense of time and place made this one a winner for me.

(3) The Traitor's Wife by Susan Higginbotham.   This novel focused on the life of Eleanor de Clare, a niece of Edward II and wife of Hugh le Despenser.   Like Penman, Higginbotham has wonderfully developed characters and gives the reader a real feel for noble life during Edward II's reign.  This was the first novel I've read of Higginbotham's, but it definitely won't be the last.

(4) The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer.  This fantastic work of non-fiction gives a wonderful account of everyday life in medieval England.   I can't recommend this book enough, and think fans of historical fiction would find this non-fiction book well worth a read. 

(5) The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley.   I love Susanna Kearsley's novels, and am surprised her works aren't better known.   This novel, which is set in Scotland at the site of archeological dig of an ancient Roman campsite, is part love-story, part ghost-story.   I couldn't put it down!

(6) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.    Rebecca is du Maurier at her best.   A must read for fans of Gothic literature.

(7) The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner.   Surprise, surprise, another work of historical fiction has made my best reads list :-)  Gortner's novel focuses on Queen Juana of Castile - daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, sister of Catherine of Aragon - and leaves the reader questioning whether Juana really was 'mad' as history has painted her.   Great book!

(8) The Distant Hours by Kate Morton.   Like Penman, Kate Morton can do no wrong in my eyes.   The Distant Hours is vintage Morton - atmospheric and beautifully written, with wonderful characters.

(9) I Am Number Four by Pitticus Lore.   Great YA sci-fi, which I don't normally read, that was hard to put down.  

(10) The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie Macdonald.   Set in Southern Ontario at the height of the Cold War, The Way the Crow Flies is another masterpiece by Macdonald.   I hope she writes another book soon!

So those are my favourite reads from 2010.   What were yours?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Book Review: Legacy by Susan Kay

Book Synopsis (from Amazon.com):

Kay's prodigious research buttresses this robust historical romance, winner of Britain's Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize and the Betty Trask Prize for a first novel. England's greatest Queen is presented from an intriguing psychological viewpoint.  Elizabeth I's need for men and the bondage endured by those she chose. Freely mixing the verifiable with the imagined, Kay traces Elizabeth's rise from lonely childhood to lonely eminence. In the person of Robert Dudley, later Leicester, she creates a romantic fulcrum for Elizabeth's womanliness, delineating the childhood affection for Dudley that flowered in clandestine liaison and may be the closest Elizabeth came to a loving relationship. All of the Court's intriguing personnel from the ubiquitous, conniving Cecils to the presumptive upstart, Essex are drawn with care; the turbulence of the period, filled with violent deaths, challenges from abroad, pragmatic liaisons, is conveyed with verisimilitude; the rich tapestry of the Tudor ascendancy is woven with colorful threads. It is, however, the depiction of a woman of whom "half the wives of England were jealous" that lingers. 

Avid Reader's Review

3 Stars

Susan Kay's Legacy provides a fictional account of the life of England's Queen Elizabeth I, with a  focus primarily on her relationships with Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester), William Cecil and the young Earl of Essex.    This novel started out strongly for me, and it was evident that Kay did her historical homework.   Ultimately, however, I felt this book didn't focus enough on events outside of Elizabeth's relationships with Dudley, Cecil and Essex to satisfy me.    I recognize that that the book is first and foremost about these relationships (this is evident in the novel's subtitle - The Acclaimed Novel of Elizabeth, England's Most Passionate Queen -- and the Three Men Who Loved Her) but Kay didn't delve deeply enough into the politics and political events of Elizabeth's remarkable reign for me to consider this novel a truly great work of historical fiction.   It is mentioned that Elizabeth's reign brought about a period of relative peace, stability and prosperity, but it is never really mentioned what contribution Elizabeth made to make this so.    Further, and what is perhaps my biggest critique of the novel, Elizabeth herself is characterized as manipulative, self-absorbed and cruel.   With the exception of her sharp intelligence Kay gave the monarch no other redeeming qualities.   At times I even felt Elizabeth came across as not being completely sane.  The charms attributed to her that caused men to fall under her spell were nowhere in evidence in this novel.  

Despite my criticisms, I did enjoy the novel overall and am glad I read it.   I appreciated the historical research that went into the book, and I liked Kay's writing style.   I do feel, by and large, that most fans of Tudor historical fiction would find this novel a worthwhile read.   I was just looking for a little more from the novel than I got.   It would be nice to read a work of historical fiction that focuses primarily on Elizabeth's reign rather than her love life.      

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book Review: I, Claudius by Robert Graves

Synopsis (from fantasticfiction.co.uk):

Despised for his weakness and regarded by his family as little more than a stammering fool, the nobleman Claudius quietly survives the intrigues, bloody purges and mounting cruelty of the imperial Roman dynasties. In I, Claudius he watches from the sidelines to record the reigns of its emperors: from the wise Augustus and his villainous wife Livia to the sadistic Tiberius and the insane excesses of Caligula. Written in the form of Claudius' autobiography, this is the first part of Robert Graves's brilliant account of the madness and debauchery of ancient Rome, and stands as one of the most celebrated, gripping historical novels ever written.

Avid Reader's Review:

4 Stars

Considered a masterpiece of historical fiction, Robert Graves' I, Claudius brings the splendour and might and the cruelty and depravity of Ancient Rome vividly to life.  Written in the form of an autobiography by Emperor Claudius, who served as Roman Emperor from 41 to 54 AD, the novel brings the reader right inside the world of Ancient Roman politics.   Although the novel begins with a history of Claudius' immediate family, the principal focus is on the events of Claudius' life, as well as of those of the key members of his family, up until he becomes Roman Emperor. 

While Claudius is the focus of novel it is the 'villains' that truly shine.   These villains, who come right from the pages of history, include Livia Drusilla, grandmother to Claudius and wife of the Emperor Augustus, who will stop at nothing to get what she wants; Tiberius, uncle to Claudius and one of Rome's cruelest rulers; and Caligula, nephew to Claudius and Roman Emperor before him, who is best described as mad.  Indeed, readers will be hard pressed to identify any other characters from literature as selfish, malicious and depraved as the villains found here.

My only criticism of the novels stems from the lack of inclusion of Claudius' family tree or a cast of characters.  This would have been extremely beneficial at the start of the novel when Claudius' discusses his family, which was complex and included some very convoluted relationships.  I found it hard to keep track of all the various marriages and adoptions referenced in the novel, especially between those characters who had the same or similar names.    It was for this reason I gave the novel 4 stars rather than 5.    Despite this one critique, I, Claudius deserves the praise it has received throughout the years, as it is both wonderfully entertaining and educational.   I'm very much looking forward to reading the sequel, Claudius the God, in 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wish List Wednesday!

Since I don't have any new reviews to post about at the moment, I thought I'd try my hand at starting a weekly discussion topic.   I've decided to go with Wish List Wednesday, which I haven't seen on any other of the other book/reading blogs I frequent (I apologize if it already is a weekly meme hosted elsewhere).   The purpose of this weekly Wednesday post will be to share some of the books added to my wish list over the preceding week.    Here it goes...

The Blessing by Nancy Mitford

Having just completed Nancy Mitford's Love In A Cold Climate, which I thoroughly enjoyed,  I'm now very eager to read more of her work.   As such, I've placed her novel The Blessing on my wish list.

Here is the synopsis from Penguin.co.uk:

'We've had nothing to eat since you saw us, nothing whatsoever. Course upon course of nasty greasy stuff smelling of garlic - a month's ration of meat, yes, but quite raw you know - shame, really - I wasn't going to touch it, let alone give it to Sigi, poor little mite.'

'Nanny says the cheese was matured in manure,' Sigi chipped in, eyes like saucers.

It isn't just Nanny who finds it difficult in France when Grace and her young son Sigi are finally able to join her dashing aristocratic husband Charles-Edouard after the war. For Grace is out of her depth among the fashionably dressed and immaculately coiffured French women, and shocked by their relentless gossiping and bedhopping. When she discovers her husband's tendency to lust after every pretty girl he sees, it looks like trouble. And things get even more complicated when little Sigi steps in . . .
The Blessing is a hilarious tale of love, fidelity, and the English abroad, tailored as brilliantly as a New Look Dior suit.

Henry VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn

I will soon be starting to read Susan Kay's novel Legacy, a work of historical fiction centred around England's Queen Elizabeth I.   It has been suggested to me that Henry VIII's Love Letters to Anne Boleyn, which I can download to my Kindle, provides a good companion document to the novel.  As such, I've added it to my wish list.

That's a sample of what was added to my wish list.   What did you add to yours?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Tis the Season...

As the Christmas holidays are fast approaching, I've been wondering if I should include a Christmas themed novel on my list of December reads.   I'm not usually one to select my reads based on holidays, seasons or events, but I was in my favourite local bookstore the other day and I couldn't help but notice all of the Christmas novels for sale.    I have Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, The Chimes and A Cricket on the Hearth sitting on my shelves, but should this be the year I read one of them?  I guess it will all depend on how quickly I can get through my other December reads.   

Does anyone here make it a point to read a Christmas novel during the month of December?  If so, do you re-read a favourite or do you try something new?   If you have a favourite, what is it?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

Book Synopsis (From the Publisher):

A long lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but moldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WW II. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sister, Juniper, who hasn't been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother's past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst, and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in 'the distant hours' of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

Morton once again enthralls readers with an atmospheric story featuring unforgettable characters beset by love and circumstance and haunted by memory, that reminds us of the rich power of storytelling

Avid Reader's Review:


With The Distant Hours, Morton once again delivers a wonderfully enthralling tale centred around family secrets and the ties that bind.  Beautifully written, this novel brings to life a memorable cast of characters and an unforgettable setting in Milderhurst Castle.   With a plot that moves forward quickly and rarely drags, Morton slips seamlessly back and forth between wartime rural England and the early 1990s.   As she did with her previous novels, The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, Morton once again creates a wonderful sense of time and place in The Distant Hours, and left this reader with the feeling of experiencing the events and emotions of the main characters as if I was part of the story with them.    As a result, this is a story I will not soon forget, and will recommend to all my reading friends.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Reading moods...

It's been a few weeks since I last posted, so I figured it was time for me to share some more of my reading thoughts.   I've been having trouble getting into and enjoying my most recent novel selections lately, even those I figured I would enjoy.   For instance, I just finished reading Winston Graham's Ross Poldark, the first novel in Graham's well-known, and well-reviewed, Poldark series.   This book just didn't do anything for me.  I detested the main character and just couldn't get into the story.   Given the overwhelmingly positive reviews this book has received, and that it falls within the historical fiction genre - my particular favourite - I was quite surprised that I was never able to 'connect' with the book. 

I also starting reading Matthew Lewis' The Monk, which I thought would be a perfect book to read at this time of year.   Unfortunately, it turns out I'm not at all in the mood for it so I've had to set it aside for another day. 

I think part of the problem is that I have too many reading commitments and, as a result, can't fit enough novels into my reading schedule of my complete own choosing.  I'm in one local book club and several online book groups, all of which have reading selections every month.   I'm a very moody reader, and don't like to be 'forced' to read something I'm not in the mood for, which is what may have happened with the Poldark book, and definitely has happened with The Monk.   I think the only solution is for me to take a break from book club reads for the time being, and focus only on those books I truly want to read.    With this in mind I've now turned my attention to Margaret Campbell Barnes' The Passionate Brood: A Novel of Richard the Lionheart and the Man Who Became Robin Hood.   I love novels about the Plantagenets, and am a lover of the Robin Hood legend, so I have high hopes for this one. 

Who else is a moody reader?  Do you think your enjoyment of a novel is dependent upon your reading mood at the time you start a novel?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Spooky Reads....

It's now October, and as we approach Hallowe'en I thought I'd get into the spirit of the season by reading a few spooky tales!  Right now I'm reading Hilary Mantel's Beyond Black, which is described as a great ghost story.   So far, so good.    I'll follow this up with Matthew Lewis' The Monk, a work of Gothic fiction originally published in 1796.   I've been looking forward to reading The Monk ever since finishing Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, where it is briefly mentioned - one of these days I'll tackle Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho for the same reason.   Maybe I'll save that one for next October. 

What about you?  Are there any spooky reads on your to be read pile for October?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reading Funks

I've been going through a bit of a reading funk lately, and I hope it ends very soon!   I don't get in reading funks all that often, and they are generally characterized by me having zero interest in genres that I normally love such as historical fiction, fantasy and classic literature.   Sometimes my funks are even so bad that I have to take a break from reading altogether for a few days.    I'm not in such a drastic funk at the moment, as books still beckon, it's just that all I feel like reading are light, easy and short reads that require no effort on my part to get through.    My current read, Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen, is a fine example of the type of book I typically turn to when in a reading funk.  The book, which is the third novel in Bowen's Royal Spyness series, continues the adventures of Lady Georgina Rannoch, a young cousin of England's King George V, who is constantly getting herself wrapped up in intrigues and mysteries.   This series is delightfully fun, and definitely qualifies as light and easy.   Hopefully by the time I finish the novel my funk will have passed and I'll be ready to tackle some of my upcoming book club reads, none of which I'm even remotely in the mood for at the moment. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments Series

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
4 Stars ****

I've just finished reading City of Bones, the first novel in Cassandra Clare's YA Mortal Instruments series.   I admit that I'm not a big fan of urban fantasy novels, especially those that feature vampires, werewolves and/or demons, but I picked this book up on the recommendation of a friend and am very glad I did so.  Set in present day New York City, City of Bones introduces us to Clary Fray, a seemingly normal teenage girl whose life gets turned upside down when she witnesses a murder in NYC club.   Clary is soon thrown into the world of the Shadowhunters, a group whose purpose is to destroy demons and whose existence is unknown to mundanes (aka everyday people).    Clare has introduced both a memorable set of characters and an entertaining storyline, one that has left me wanting more.   So, what did I do when I was close to finishing this novel?   I went ahead and immediately ordered the next two books in the series, of course!  

Not only has the novel left me wanting to read the rest of the series, it also has me wondering what I had against urban fantasy in the first place.   Does anyone else enjoy urban fantasy?  If so, what do you recommend?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My First Post

Well, here it is, my first ever blog post! 

After checking in with a few other blogs devoted to books and reading, I gave some serious thought to starting a blog of my own.   I knew it would be time consuming, and I had my doubts that anyone but my immediate family and friends would read it, but I decided to go ahead with it anyway.   The result?  Confessions of an Avid Reader was born.   I plan to use this blog to give my thoughts on various books I'm reading or have read, and as a forum to discuss general book-related topics.