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Friday, July 24, 2009

And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander

«For Emily, accepting the proposal of Philip, the Viscount Ashton, was an easy way to escape her overbearing mother, who was set on a grand society match. So when Emily’s dashing husband died on safari soon after their wedding, she felt little grief. After all, she barely knew him. Now, nearly two years later, she discovers that Philip was a far different man from the one she had married so cavalierly. His journals reveal him to have been a gentleman scholar and antiquities collector who, to her surprise, was deeply in love with his wife. Emily becomes fascinated with this new image of her dead husband and she immerses herself in all things ancient and begins to study Greek.
Emily’s intellectual pursuits and her desire to learn more about Philip take her to the quiet corridors of the British Museum, one of her husband’s favorite places. There, amid priceless ancient statues, she uncovers a dark, dangerous secret involving stolen artifacts from the Greco-Roman galleries. And to complicate matters, she’s juggling two very prominent and wealthy suitors, one of whose intentions may go beyond the marrying kind. As she sets out to solve the crime, her search leads to more surprises about Philip and causes her to question the role in Victorian society to which she, as a woman, is relegated.»

England, Victorian Era. Lady Emily Ashton, newly wed, has just lost her husband to a raging fever while he was on an African safari with a couple of friends. Having married him to escape her mother’s rule, she’s not as grief stricken as she should be, Philip was a stranger to her and she almost feels relief at his departure. But oddly, after a while, through his friends and acquaintances, the books he liked to read and the antiquities he collected, Emily perceives a side of her husband she didn’t know existed and as shocking as it is, he seemed to actually be in love with her.

Seduced by this unknown facet of the man she married, Lady Emily starts to take interest in the same things he did and slowly falls in love with him, finally feeling the grief of his loss. But as she digs through the past she uncovers facts that were better left untouched, not everything is as it seems and maybe Philip wasn’t such an honest and trustworthy man after all. Who was the real Philip and what actually happened to him in Africa?

We accompany Lady Emily in the pursuit for the truth and can’t help but fall in love with her, we watch her grow as a person and especially as an independent woman who isn’t afraid to stray from the norm and start studying Greek and drinking Port instead of Sherry like every other respectable lady. She makes new friends, such as Cecile du Lac, a French widow who collects husbands, Lady Margaret, an independent American who prefers books to suitors and Colin Hargreaves, her deceased husband’s best friend who is our dashing hero. I felt that Emily changed and grew throughout the book and in my eyes became real and believable, as opposed to Lady Julia Grey, Deanna Raybourn’s heroine, who always stays the same and doesn’t seem to learn anything in Silent in the Grave.

Although there’s a mystery to be solved here, its resolution is somewhat predictable, but it doesn’t spoil our enjoyment of the story, our focus is always on Emily and her life, the mystery is just an added bonus. I do have one complaint regarding this book though, we don’t get to see as much of Colin Hargreaves as I’d like, the author seems to tease us with his quick scenes and leaves us wanting more. Not fair! :-P

So, if you like cosy historical mysteries with a touch of humour and romance, then this is the right series for you, don’t hesitate to pick up And Only to Deceive, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

Rating: 4/5

Review also published here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My Challenge Wrap-Up

I keep forgetting to post this on here. Sorry for the lateness. Anyway, I went for A Drink at Whitechapel and these were the books I read for the challenge, with links to my reviews.

  1. A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens (06.24.09)
  2. North & South – Elizabeth Gaskell (06.30.09)
  3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (02.01.09)
I'm quite glad I only went for three books. It's not easy reading classics :)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Curse of the Pharaohs by Elizabeth Peters

When Lady Baskerville's husband Sir Henry dies after discovering what may have been an undisturbed royal tomb in Luxor, she appeals to eminent archaeologist Radcliffe Emerson and his wife Amelia to take over the excavation. Amid rumors of a curse haunting all those involved with the dig, the intrepid couple proceeds to Egypt, where they begin to suspect that Sir Henry did not die a natural death, and they are confident that the accidents that plague the dig are caused by a sinister human element, not a pharaoh’s curse.

Since I read A Crocodile in the Sandbank, I became a big fan of Amelia Peabody. She’s unlike any other sleuth heroine I ever read about before. Amelia is one of a kind!

The second book, The Curse of the Pharaohs starts 4 years later after the end of the 1st book. Amelia and Emerson are quietly living in Kent with their son William, nicknamed Ramses. After his birth, his parents felt they couldn’t continue their career as Egyptologists until he had grown and could accompany them to Egypt.

While they are trying not to get bored with their smooth English life, they follow in the newspapers the story of Lord Baskerville and how he possibly died of a curse after digging some pharaoh’s tomb. They are immediately interested and both surprised when Baskerville’s widow pay them a visit and asks Emerson to finish the work of her husband. If he refuses, not wanting to leave his wife and son in England, Peabody, knowing how excited he is for a new adventure, convinces him it’s for the best if he accepts the mission. In no time, they are both ready to leave for Egypt.

When they arrive, they are faced with many problems and treats that make their work even more difficult and feed even more the rumors of an ancient curse. Tired of this situation, the Emersons finally decide to get involved in this investigation and find the responsible behind the mystery.

The second book of this series is as delicious as the first one. Amelia Peabody continues to exude intelligence and sharp humor. Her reflections about her son are hilarious! The child is a little genius and develops very quickly to the amazement of both his parents. Peters does an excellent job describing him and I can perfectly imagine the little boy’s “chilling and calculating look” when he tries to manipulate his parents. I get the feeling this little Ramses is going to have some extraordinary adventures!

The chemistry between Peabody and Emerson is intact. All their dialogues, conversations and disputes produce sparks. It’s like watching an extraordinary final at Roland Garros. They know each other well but they still can surprise each other.

The story is fast-paced and the descriptions of the Egypt of those times are magnificent, making you feel as you were present during the events.

Highly recommended to any reader who enjoys a good mystery and must-read to all Amelia Peabody fans.

Grade: 4.5/5
And this would be my final review of the Victorian Challenge. :)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Laura's Challenge Wrap-Up

I aimed to visit Buckingham Palace by reading six books, but I only took a tour of the British Museum with five books. I forgot just how long it takes me to read a Dickens novel and assumed I would read two books in June instead of just one. Now I know not to leave too much for the last minute … or that I should aim lower and then exceed that goal!

My original list was as follows:

1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
2. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Poole
3. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
4. Framily Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
5. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
6. Victoria Victorious by Jean Plaidy

1. Sylvia's Lovers by Elizabeth Gaskell
2. The Woman in White by Wilie Collins
3. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens
4. Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens

I actually ended up reading:
1. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
2. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Poole
3. The Victorian Home: The Grandeur and Comforts of the Victorian Era in Households Past & Present by Ellen M. Plante
4. The Woman in White by Wilie Collins (audio)
5. The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

I didn’t exactly stick to my original list by my addition of The Victorian Home, but I really enjoyed that book. Overall I really enjoyed this challenge and hope that there will be A Victorian Challenge Part 2 so I can finish up reading the Victorian novels on my stack!

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens was one the most popular (if not the most popular) novelist during the Victorian period. He published The Old Curiosity Shop in his weekly serial publication “Master Humphrey’s Clock” from 1840 to 1841. I have always heard the story that Dickens’ American fans storms the piers of New York City shouting to sailors arriving from England, “Is Little Nell alive” to find out the end of this story. It’s amazing to think about so much excitement for a book. (Actually I guess it sounds like the parties awaiting the arrival of the new Harry Potter novels.) I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.

The Old Curiosity Shop is the story of a beautiful, sweet, and innocent girl named Nell and her grandfather. They live in the titled Old Curiosity Shop, but not for long. Grandfather has a gambling addiction. He wants to make money to ensure that Nell will not have a life of hardship, but instead he gambles away all of his money as well as extensive amounts of money that he has borrowed from the shady “dwarf,” Daniel Quilp. After losing it all, Little Nell and her Grandfather wander through England. The book is the story of their journey as well as of cast of other characters left in London such as Kip, their servant; Sampson and Sally Brass (Quilp’s lawyer and his sister); Richard Swiveller (Little Nell’s brother’s friend), and others.

I loved Dickens’ detailed characters. They were all so interesting – especially to see that the way people have not really changed over time. Gambling addiction is not a new problem. I do have a problem with his female characters, they seem rather one dimensional. Sally Brass is a smart woman that works at law with her brother; therefore she is a subject of ridicule. Little Nell is a bit “too perfect.” I didn’t love her as much as I think Dickens’ meant the reader too.

The treatment of servants in the book was also interesting. The “Marchioness” doesn’t have a name and lives locked in the Brass’ basement. She is hardly given any food and somehow exists like this. I found this more than a little disturbing!!!’’

I read a book-of-the-month club edition. It has the original illustrations, which I really enjoyed looking at while I read. I also loved the description on the right-hand page on top of the current action, such as “Bank-note gone.” One wonders if you can get a quick summary of the book by only reading the headers!

SPOILER ALERT. I did not like the entire ending chapter of Little Nell’s death. It was (dare I say it?) rather sappy actually. It would have been more striking to not go on and on and on about it and her angel spirit floating away and such. Also her death didn’t really seem to serve the story that well. She hadn’t been mentioned for 100 pages or so, while we were with Kit and the others in London.

Overall, I liked the book, its world, characters, and descriptions a lot. But I don’t think I would have been waiting at the pier to find out what happened to Little Nell. This was a good Dickens novel, but not as good as my favorites (David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities).

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Laurie's Challenge Wrap-Up

It's official! I completed the Victorian Challenge! I read four books, two written during the Victorian period, one during the Edwardian period, and one in the 1940s. My final list was:

Charlotte Yonge, The Clever Woman of the Family
Flora Thompson, Lark Rise to Candleford
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Vita Sackville-West, All Passion Spent

It was important to me that at least some of the book I read were actually written in the 19th century. Victorian literature has always daunted me, so tackling some of it at the source was a significant reason why I undertook this challenge. My favorite book of the challenge was Oliver Twist. I didn't find any of these books unpalatable, but my least favorite was likely Lark Rise to Candleford. Looking at my choices, it's perhaps a bit unfair of me to pick favorites. Oliver Twist is by most critics' assessments a work of great literature, and Lark Rise to Candleford makes no pretences to literary greatness. It's a very descriptive book, in modern parlance we might call it 'cozy.' The greatest surprise of the challenge was how easy I found it to engage Dickens. I had always been daunted by his works. This is the first I read seriously as an adult, and I found it a very rewarding experience. I will likely dig deeper into his canon. The least Victorian of these selections was All Passion Spent. I selected it based on the back cover synopsis, which suggested that the book was entirely about the Victorian period. As it turns out, it's about half and half. Overall, this has been a very rewarding challenge experience. If it happens again next year I will surely participate, and my goal will be to select and read only books written during Victoria's reign.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Joy's Challenge Wrap-Up

I actually finished the reading for this challenge several weeks ago, but I didn't want to write a wrap-up until I had all the reviews written. Now that I've finished that task, I can say finis. I chose Level 2: A Walk in Hyde Park, which meant I read four books for the challenge. Started out with quite a list of possibilities, but as it turns out only two of the books I actually read were on that list. So, the best-laid plans and all that . . . .

Here's what I read, with links to reviews:

  1. The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
  2. Angels & Insects, by A.S. Byatt
  3. The Master, by Colm Toibin
  4. The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I'm also noticing that while all my books were set during the Victorian era, none was actually written then – something of a disappointment. Guess I'm just a modern girl at heart.

I enjoyed all the books, although of the four I think The Valley of Fear was one that didn't really live up to my expectations. My favorite was without a doubt The Age of Innocence – it's now on my list of all-time best reads, and it's inspired me to go back and give Wharton's House of Mirth another try, after abandoning it many years ago.

I want to thank Alex for coming up with the idea for the challenge and hosting, and all the other participants for all those great reviews and blog posts. This was a wonderful idea – I only wish I'd had time to read a little Trollope. Well, maybe next time.

[Cross-posted on my blog, Joy's Blog.]

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Brittanie's Wrap-Up Post

I finished the Victorian Reading Challenge in the nick of time. I really enjoyed it. I did not read most of my original list. I have a TBR list of books set during this period now. Some came from reading others reviews. I did not finish Silas Marner because I was bored and it left me feeling cold so I may go back to it one day. I have not done reviews for all the books yet. I will probably do mini reviews this week. I do not have a favorite. I liked but did not love them. I look forward to a Second Victorian Reading Challenge.

Reading Levels:A drink at Whitechapel: 3 books
A walk in Hyde Park: 4 books
A tour of the British Museum: 5 books
A visit to Buckingham Palace: 6 books

I am going all the way with a visit to Buckingham Palace:6 books
1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
2. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens or Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. Silas Marner by George Elliot or Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
5. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
6. Dracula by Bram Stoker

What I actually read:
1. And Only to Deceive by Tasha Alexander
2. Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
3. Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn
4. Silent on the Moor by Deanna Raybourn
5. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott (reread)
6. Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott (reread)
7. Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Book Review: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre cover

Jane Eyre has none of the advantages that an ordinary girl might hope for. Plain, orphaned, poor, and friendless, she is dependent upon the scant goodwill of relatives by marriage who never wanted her. One thing she does have is spirit, and after showing it in spectacular fashion she is dispatched by her Aunt Reed to the bleak school at Lowood. Among the strict rules, freezing weather, and the miserable food, she finds friends and a home for the first time in her life.

Eight years later, having risen to the post of teacher, Jane feels it is time for a change; and common sense dictates that the way to effect one is to advertise. A letter arrives in response from a Mrs Fairfax, seeking a governess to take up residence at Thornfield Hall. The Hall is everything Jane could wish: a fine house with beautiful grounds, run by a kindly housekeeper, and with an affectionate if frivolous charge in Adele Varens. The one discordant note is the unwelcoming servant Grace Poole, and the spine-chilling laughter that comes from her rooms on the third floor. But what is one unfriendly face in a house whose master is Mr Rochester, who likes to hear Jane talk and make her laugh?

Jane knows that she could never be so lucky; that he must marry status and fortune like those possessed by Blanche Ingram. Still she cannot help but hope, until a surprise event forces her to decide what she truly wants.

It’s been way too long since I last read this. Actually, it’s been sitting in my TBR pile ever since I heard there was going to be a new adaptation. (Better late than never . . .) It was just as good the second time as the first. I liked Jane from the start - how can you not love someone who would rather curl up in a window seat with a book than go for a winter walk? And my fondness for her increased as the book continued. She is a heroine of firm principles and sticks to them regardless of what other people might think of her. She will always be one of my favourites, because that quiet strength is something I could realistically aspire to emulate.

All the hallmarks of the gothic are there: isolated heroine, old house in the middle of nowhere, mysterious owner, sinister servant, strange dreams and things which might defy explanation. It has its unnerving moments, such as Jane’s midnight encounter with Richard Mason, but it feels more like a novel with gothic overtones than an actual gothic. Jane has too much sense to let her imagination run away with her, or let Thornfield Hall’s oddities assume greater importance than her relationships with the people it contains. Chief amongst these is, of course, Mr Rochester, whose past might not be much to boast about but who at least has better intentions for the future. (But you know that they say about good intentions . . .) He might be devoid of looks and possessed of the habit of deriving amusement from other people, but I envy Jane her finding of someone to appreciate her for her mind above all else.

Yes, there’s a too-convenient stroke of coincidence in Jane’s meeting the Rivers siblings. And I felt that the religious aspects of Rochester’s acceptance of his fate didn’t ring quite true (though that is perhaps the confirmed atheist talking). But really, I don’t care. It’s a wonderful book, one which more than any other love story holds out the tantalising promise of a Prince Charming out there for even the poorest and plainest. (It also has the ever-interesting St John Rivers, who raises the concept of duty to a whole new level.) And it will not go another who knows how many years without a re-read.

Rating: A

End of the challenge

I'm a day late but I wanted to officially end the Victorian Challenge. Since some people told me they were way behind with their reviews (I still have my last one to post also) but they had already read all the books they planned to, I thought we could extend the posting until the 15 July.
I wanted to thank you all for participating and sharing with all of us your reading experiences. It's was a wonderful journey!

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