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?