Thursday, August 28, 2014

Green Gables, Prince Edward Island

Anne of Green Gables has been one of my favorite books since I was 11, 
and I finally made it to Green Gables in July!
"It would give me such a thrill, Marilla, just to wear a dress with puffed sleeves."
Anne's room was just as I imagined it.
We walked through the garden to the Haunted Wood...

where we met Anne Shirley, strolling by...  
Looking back at Green Gables from the Haunted Wood

I was afraid I might be Rachel Lynde, based on some of my 
answers, but I am Anne, of course!

Visiting Lucy Maud's grave
For my Top Ten Anne Shirley-Gilbert Blythe 
Most Romantic Moments, 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Outlander, Episode 2 - Recap

Claire has arrived at Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of the MacKenzies (not that anyone has bothered to tell her where they were going or explain to her that her primary captor, Dougal, is the brother of the laird, Colum).   As Dougal’s group arrives, the men scatter, leaving Claire gazing around the castle courtyard which she recognizes from her visit with Roger, a few days earlier, although in the 20th century, it is a ruin.  It is beautiful and will doubtless attract American visitors now.

A plump and jolly lady, clearly the housekeeper, greets the returning warriors, insults one of the louts affectionately, and is perplexed by Claire’s unexpected and disreputable appearance.  Jamie introduces Claire to Mistress FitzGibbons who warms to Claire when she realizes Claire is a healer.  “Are you a Beaton?” she asks, referring to a clan known for such skills.   Claire agrees warily and follows Mrs. Fitz and Jamie into the castle and is given what passes for first aid supplies in the 18th century (Mrs. Fitz also promises to find something that is a “bit more” appropriate for Claire to wear, leaving no doubt of her opinion of the skimpy white dress).  Claire and Jamie are left most unsuitably without a chaperone (Claire probably has no reputation left anyway after several nights with Dougal and his merry men) but her mind is on other things – she is having flashbacks to her earlier visit when she and Roger wondered what this dark dungeon-like room was used for (and came up with a diversion not in the book).
When Claire removes Jamie’s tattered shirt to clean his shoulder wound she sees terrible scars on his back and is horrified.  Jamie explains that the Redcoats flogged him twice, and reveals his feud with Captain Randall which began four years ago when the Redcoats raided his family’s farm.  Jamie returned from the fields to find the English soldiers molesting his sister Jenny and when he tried to come to her rescue, Captain “Black Jack” Randall sadistically had Jamie beaten as Jenny watched.  To save Jamie’s life, Jenny was forced to submit to Randall’s sexual assault, while Jamie was arrested and taken to Fort William, where two floggings took place.   Eventually he was rescued but an English soldier was killed during the escape, and Jamie has been charged with obstruction and murder and remains a fugitive from English justice. (Jamie alternates between looking like a dangerous warrior and a choirboy).

Jamie appreciates Claire’s tender touch on his sore shoulder and says her husband is a lucky man.  Claire ignores the flirtatious comment and starts worrying about Frank again, and we see a flash forward to Frank and his genealogy buddy, Reverend Wakefield, finding her abandoned car and searching for her near the stones.   Claire begins to cry and tells Jamie her husband is dead (“Hello, I’m single!”).  He enfolds her in his arms and it is hard to imagine caring about boring Frank (although he had a certain Agatha Christie/Patricia Wentworth mid-20th century hero charm) when Jamie is right there.  The chemistry between Claire andJamie was so strong in Episode One that Starz renewed Outlander for a second season before this episode even aired!   Claire realizes this embrace is getting way too intense and pulls away, much to the disappointment of the audience and probably Jamie, and Jamie gazes at her seriously, uttering the swoonworthy lines we have seen in the trailer but can’t get enough of: “You need not be scairt of me.  Nor of anyone else here, so long as I’m with thee.”   He warns her that being English is a dangerous but Claire is so tired she just falls asleep without absorbing his warning.  Jamie departs with his shirt tucked under an arm (readers know Jamie is sensitive about the scars on his back so would have dressed before leaving but Starz viewers doubtless want to see more of him shirtless).

The next day Mrs. Fitz wakes Claire up and helps her get dressed in 18th century clothes (she is shocked by Claire’s 20th century underwear) and put her hair up elegantly.   Claire looks lovely but very different from her post WWII appearance (in which indulgent smiles at Frank were her most noticeable accessory) when she is brought to meet the laird.  She looks desperately around his study, which is full of books and looks much more civilized than the rest of the castle.  When she sees a letter dated 1743, she is relieved to know the date and tries to remember what was happening in Scotland at that time, asking herself who the king is.   Remembering Frank (who worked in Intelligence during the War) had once told her that the most effective spies stick to the truth as much as possible, she tells Colum she is a widow from Oxfordshire who was attacked first by bandits, and then by Captain Randall.   Colum is skeptical and asks why an English officer would attempt rape for no good reason.  “Is there ever a good reason for rape?” Claire asks coldly (and somewhat anachronistically), and Colum is surprised and apologizes.   He agrees to help her find transport back to Inverness in five days.  Cheered by the thought of finding her way back to the stones, Claire thanks Colum and retreats to a nearby turret where she gazes down at the courtyard and she sees Dougal playing with a red-headed child.

At dinner in the Great Hall of the castle, Claire makes a late entrance and wonders nervously where to sit.  Dougal escorts her to the head table where she is given a seat of honor next to Colum and is introduced to his wife, Letitia.  Colum fills Claire’s cup frequently with wine and quizzes her about the French relatives she pretended she was going to visit, and her answers are unconvincing.   When the red-headed boy, Hamish, approaches the table, Claire introduces herself and says she saw him playing in the courtyard with his father. From the icy silence, she realizes she made a mistake – it turns out Colum is the boy’s father, not Dougal.

Seeking out her only friend, Claire goes to the stables to visit Jamie, ostensibly to change his bandages (Mrs. Fitz isn’t convinced by this excuse but provides a picnic lunch).  Claire finds him breaking a horse (both looking quite attractive) and over lunch he tells her more about his escape from Fort William.  Claire is touched but surprised when Jamie reveals there’s a price on his head, and he tells her he trusts her with this secret.   He also explains that Dougal and Colum are his uncles.  Dour old Alec tells Jamie to get back to work, so Claire departs, joking that Jamie should avoid getting flogged or stabbed for a whole day, if possible.  On her way back to the castle, Claire realizes she is being followed by one of Dougal’s men who laughs at her annoyance.  It is a shame they are so hirsute and unwashed it is hard to tell them apart but I think it is Rupert.  He isn’t trying to harass her is guarding her for Dougal.   When confronted, Dougal tells Claire he suspects she is an English spy so is having her closely watched.

Claire is determined not to arouse any more suspicion before she can leave for Inverness so helps out Mrs. Fitz in the kitchen and explores the castle grounds.   Out picking mushrooms, she is befriended by Geillis Duncan, an attractive young woman from the village who is even more expert on herbs than Claire, whose hobby it is.  Geillis’ idea of lively conversation is to talk about which plants are poisonous and announce she is a witch but she sits next to Claire at the banquet that night and provides lots of useful gossip in an undertone in her role as new BFF. Claire has guessed that Colum suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome, a bone structure disease.

Colum, as laird, is administering justice, and a young woman named Laoghaire is dragged before him by her irate father who wants her punished for loose behavior.  She is about to be beaten in public when Jamie, still wounded but gallant, offers to take her punishment.  Claire is appalled to see Jamie bashed about by his uncles’ henchman for this quixotic gesture, and it takes Dougal a long time to call a halt to the beating.  Geillis holds Claire back from interfering but tells her a discreet way to leave the hall so she can go repair Jamie yet again (and not for the last time, I promise you).  Claire is mystified by Jamie’s having subjected himself to such abuse when he barely knows the girl but he explains it would have humiliated Laoghaire but he will recover in a day or so.   Mrs. Fitz appears with some helpful remedies and explains that the blonde hussy is her granddaughter so she appreciates his gallantry.  Claire tells Jamie she is leaving on Saturday for Inverness and he seems sorry.  They gaze into each other’s eyes and say goodbye, using first names for the first time.   As Claire leaves Jamie, the blonde trollop is waiting for him (she already seems jealous of Claire).  I have always wondered how to pronounce her name – it sounds like L’heere or Leery.

Claire is about to leave for Inverness escorted by a tinker when she is summoned to speak with Colum. Dougal brings her through the dark rooms where she and Frank had sex days ago and Claire keeps seeing glimpses of Frank in the corners.  Colum tells her she is to stay at Castle Leoch as a healer and as his guest until he is satisfied that her secrets cannot harm his clan.  “You mean as your prisoner, don’t you?” Claire says bitterly.   “Only if you try to leave,” he responds, and Claire stares in despair into the darkness, wondering if she will ever return home as Episode 2 ends.

What is important about this episode:  Increasing sexual tension between Claire and Jamie; Jamie’s gallantry is established (plus the fact that he is always going to be recovering from some form of fight); Claire’s 20th century sensibility surprises 18th century men (not for the last time); Jamie’s uncles don’t mind seeing him get beat up; Laoghaire has her eye on Jamie; Claire adds to her herb knowledge with help from Mrs. Fitz and Geillis; the MacKenzie brothers are convinced Claire is a spy; Claire misses Frank and wants to get back to the stones in Inverness.

(photo copyright to Starz)

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Nightingale Girls (Book Review)

TitleThe Nightingale Girls (Book 1)
AuthorDonna Douglas
Publication Information:  Arrow, 2012, available in paperback or digital edition
Genre: Historical Fiction/Nursing 
Plot:  Three very different young women attend nursing school at Florence Nightingale Hospital in London’s East End in 1934 and become friends.   Dora Doyle is an inarticulate young woman from the slums whose enthusiasm and work ethic impresses the new matron sufficiently to gain her a place in the training class.  Dora wants to be a nurse but she also desperately wants to escape her vicious stepfather so is grateful that training includes accommodation at the hospital.  Dora is assigned to room with two young women from more privileged backgrounds.  Millie Benedict is the only daughter of an earl and could lead a life of luxury and fun but after one official Season she refused to stay home and allow her grandmother to find an eligible husband, determined to find something worthwhile to do.   Despite good intentions, Millie had a hard time with her first three months of training and is on probation – she will be dropped from the program for any transgression.  Helen Tremayne is the third roommate, brilliant but shy and lacking in confidence, overshadowed by her carefree brother, a young doctor at the hospital.   Her unpleasant mother, Constance Tremayne, is on the Board of Trustees and insists on controlling every aspect of Helen’s life.  Constance is appalled by the slack standards of young people and is on a one-woman crusade to keep the Nightingale trainees focused on their nursing responsibilities.  However, all three young women have admirers and cannot work 24 hours a day, which adds dimension to the story.

This book is set about five years before the outbreak of WWII – I hope the series continues until then.  You know I love women and war work!

Audience: Fans of historical fiction and of Call the Midwife; women who enjoyed reading about Sue Barton and Cherry Ames in their youth.   Click here for my other recommendations for fans of Call the Midwife.

What I liked: I have always been a fan of books about nurses, as well as of books about young women from different backgrounds who become friends.   While some of the plot was predictable (Dora’s stepfather’s behavior), I enjoyed the description of hospital life, from the lowly porters (don’t overlook how helpful they can be if you are a trainee nurse slipping in after curfew) to the new matron, Kathleen Fox.  Chosen by the Board of Trustees to modernize the hospital, the new Matron faces challenges from the colleague overlooked for the job and from the sanctimonious Mrs. Tremayne (why is the villainess always named Constance?) as she tries to run the busy hospital.  I hope she gets her own book!

Paperback editions are not available in the US but Ms. Douglas sent me this helpful link to Great British Reads which US readers can use to buy her ebooks.

Source: This is the first book I read from NetGalley.  Thank you to Random House UK for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.  This is the first in a series and I am eager to read more.   Several years ago I read two of Donna Douglas’ books written as Donna Hay, which I also liked.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Supreme Justice (Book Review and Giveaway)

Publication Information:  Thomas & Mercer, Trade Paperback, 2014
Genre: Suspense/Political Thriller
Plot: When one conservative Supreme Court justice dies in a seemingly random robbery, it is shocking enough, but when a second conservative justice is murdered, it is clear to former Secret Service agent Joe Reeder that some enemy of the Court has an agenda and could be planning a dramatic reconfiguration of the court.  Reeder once saved the president’s life by taking a bullet but that heroic act indirectly led to his retirement.  Now his friend, Gabriel Sloan, is the FBI’s agent in charge of the case and asks for Joe’s help investigating the crimes that threaten to bring DC to a standstill.

Audience: Fans of suspense, legal thrillers, and readers like me who wish they had clerked for a Supreme Court justice.

What I liked: This is a fast paced thriller with several interesting characters, and although they are not fully developed, it is a fun if predictable summer read which I will share with my father.  Reeder is an interesting protagonist: someone who was dedicated to his job as a Secret Service agent and respected the presidency although not the incumbent whose life he saved.   Unfortunately, he shared his feelings too openly so while he was admired for his dedication to duty he was pushed into retirement.   Now that I have thought about it, I would prefer that those who guard the President avoid political partisanship as I had to do when a federal employee.  However, in fiction, I found the differing political viewpoints of the characters interesting.   I am reminded of something I read earlier today - that we should not be divided into conservatives and liberals but haters and non-haters (of course, I can't recall where I saw it or I would provide a link).  

I particularly enjoyed the quotations from Supreme Court justices which begin each chapter.   This is billed as a standalone by prolific author Collins but I would read another book about Reeder and FBI agent Patti Rogers.   

What I disliked: The author’s research on Supreme Court justices was incomplete: even if Patti is clueless enough to call the Chief Justice “your honor,” Reeder had met him before so would have known to address him as “Chief Justice.”   Moreover, the justices are guarded by a special police force in DC and by federal marshals when they travel so perhaps would not have been quite such sitting ducks as implied (although the book is set slightly in the future so I suppose security cuts could have been made).   And, given that Justice Venter’s invitation to his clerk, Nicholas Blount, (which results in his death) was spontaneous, how did the killer know they would be at the bar in time to set up the attack?   Perhaps Amazon’s new imprint does not include any actual editors who could have provided some suggestions to Collins and Clemens.

Giveaway:  Thanks to the publisher, I have a copy to give away.   If you are interested, please leave a comment telling me something you have enjoyed reading recently and I will pick a name.

Source:  I received Supreme Justice from the TLC Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other reviewers had to say about this book.   

Max Allan Collins’ TLC TOUR STOPS:

Monday, June 16th:  5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, June 18th:  FictionZeal
Thursday, June 19th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Monday, June 23rd:  Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 25th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, June 26th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Friday, June 27th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, June 30th:  Bookchickdi
Tuesday, July 1st:  Bookish Ardour - excerpt
Wednesday, July 2nd:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, July 7th:  Bibliotica
Tuesday, July 8th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, July 9th:  From the TBR Pile
Thursday, July 10th:  Traveling with T
Wednesday, July 16th:  Literally Jen

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Blade of the Samurai (Book Review)

Title: Blade of the Samurai
Author: Susan Spann
Publication Information: Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Mystery
Plot:  June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the Shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the Shogun’s palace.  The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the Shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor.

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the Shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the Shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the Shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the Shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time … or die in his place.

Audience:  Fans of mysteries, historical fiction, those interested in Japan or Jesuits

What I liked: This is a fun and completely different mystery.  It was also very well written.  For someone like me who has been fascinated by the 16th century since childhood, it was intriguing to read a mystery set in an unfamiliar culture, rather than the England, France and Italy so familiar to a Ren/Ref major.  Hiro is the Jesuit’s bodyguard and they form an amusing detective duo.  Hiro is sometimes a little condescending of Father Mateo’s seeming cluelessness about Japanese and samurai culture but he often has insightful observations and is an essential part of the team as they investigate a murder at the shogun’s palace.  There is added pressure not usually found by amateur sleuths – a threat that if they don’t find the killer, their lives may be forfeit so the Shogun has a scapegoat, even if they are innocent.

This is the second in a series, and can be read alone but I instantly went looking for book 1, Claws of the Cat (you know I hate to read out of order).  Minotaur Books can always be relied upon for good mysteries!

Susan Spann is a publishing attorney, which intrigued me when I first heard about this mystery.  Her interest in Japanese history, martial arts, and mystery inspired her to write the Shinobi mystery series featuring Hiro Hattori, a 16th century ninja who tries to bring murders to justice with the help of Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit priest attempting to convert the Japanese.   You can read her blog or follow her on Twitter.

What I disliked: I never forgot the setting but if it hadn’t been spelled out, I am not sure I would have guessed when the book took place.  The characters were not anachronistic exactly (my frequent complaint) but  I would have liked a stronger historical feel, not just a sense of different culture.
Source: I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other readers had to say about this book.   

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

What I'm Reading

Currently Reading

Boston and the Civil War / Barbara Berenson – my talented friend Barbara has followed up her successful Walking Tours of Civil War Boston with a book that reveals to Revolutionary War-obsessed fans that Boston was actually the hub of a second revolution that ended slavery.  My mother has a friend who is a descendant of William Lloyd Garrison so I was always aware of the role of the abolitionists – this provides a close look at those "dedicated to ending slavery and honoring the promise of liberty made in the Declaration of Independence."
Divergent / Veronica Roth – although tired of dystopian novels and unable to get into this in print form, I was curious enough to try it on CD a year later, and am now enjoying it (although why do heroines have to get beat up so frequently in this type of novel?).

Country of Broken Stone / Nancy Bond  - Next week I am heading to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to visit Fort Louisbourg, the setting of Bond’s Another Shore, which shows what a big fan I am of this talented Massachusetts author.  Somehow I had been unaware of this book, set near Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland, about a girl dealing with a new stepmother and stepsiblings.  Bond is gifted at making historical places seem magical.

In preparation for the Starz adaptation, I reread Outlander / Diana Gabaldon, which is just as amazing as when I first snagged an ARC on my last day at Bantam Doubleday Dell in 1991 (and after numerous previous rereads).  Of course, that meant I had to reread Dragonfly in Amber (despite all the library books waiting for me), and I just reclaimed my copy of Voyager (book 3) from my mother.  Here is a link to the forthcoming miniseries - I have put away my usual skepticism because it really appears to be a good and respectful production. The production company has really chosen actors who look the part, even if Jamie's hair isn't as red as I expected.

Just Finished

The Eyre Affair / Jasper Fforde – a belated thank you to Sessalee Hensley who gave me a copy of this book when it was brand new.  Somehow I got distracted; perhaps I found the beginning slow or maybe I was in the middle of law school exams.  However, once it got going I was completely captivated.  I would describe it as the Phantom Tollbooth for grownups, and what higher compliment could there be?

We Were Liars / E. Lockhart – which I liked but did not love.   Intriguing but ultimately too much prolonged melancholy and the ending seemed abrupt.  I didn't like the characters and maybe I just don’t care for unreliable narrators.   I prefer her Ruby books and The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau but admire her for trying something new.


I’ve Got You Under My Skin / Mary Higgins Clark – predictable but this was a good book to listen to on CD during a stressful week because it was extremely repetitive (you would think she was writing a Dickensian serial) and undemanding.  However, the characters were mostly unlikeable and the killer unconvincing.  Not one of her best.

(Outlander image copyright to Starz)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mackenzie's Cross (Book Review)

Publication Information: Topaz Publishing, 2013, ebook and paperback
Genre: Historical Romance
Setting:  Medieval England
Plot: Mackenzie, a modest kitchen maid in the household of the Duke Kensington, is plunged into intrigue when the Duke is murdered.  Her only friend, Adilla, the head cook (think Daisy and Mrs. Patmore), is arrested so Mackenzie is forced to seek answers among the nobility, most of whom regard her with suspicion.  Only visiting knight, Sir Patrick of Chester, trusts Mackenzie enough to join her in seeking answers.

Audience:  The style and prose seems more targeted to a teenage audience than the adult historical romance market, although the plot involves torture, betrayal and violent death.  The heroine’s sweet personality and determined loyalty might be appealing to teens who should appreciate the mixture of romance and suspense.

What I liked: Barthel does a good job depicting the busy life of a castle, although I doubt kitchen maids had as much free time and privacy as Mackenzie.  And everyone enjoys a plucky heroine! My two favorite characters were the young squire, John of Chester (despite his anachronistic comment, “I don’t believe in treating the lower classes like they are  -- well, lower.  They are the foundation we stand upon.”), who befriends Mackenzie in the kitchen and his older brother, Sir Patrick.

What I disliked: I felt there were some holes in the plot and at time the heroine was irritatingly na├»ve.  Mackenzie suspects the Duke was murdered, thus believes a killer is on the loose, but persists in confiding in the wrong people and wandering around alone, outspoken and vulnerable.  Also, why is the Duke of Kensington referred to as Duke Kensington (none of the dukes in this book get an ‘of’)?  Why isn’t his wife the Duchess instead of Lady Evelyn (just an error in title usage?)?  Who was Mackenzie’s father?  Is it likely a group of jealous nobles would accept a bastard daughter as heiress to a deceased duke than his legal wife?  Admittedly, I am sure they would prefer to usurp the land or marry the widow or daughter to acquire it more conventionally.  There is also a confusing subplot involving a character with leprosy, except that it turns out she doesn’t have leprosy.  I was hoping the leper would be revealed as Mackenzie’s mother, which would have made just as much sense as the inadequate explanation of her origins.

Source:  I received this book from the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours and urge you to stop by the tour to learn more about the author and see what other bloggers had to say about this book.   You can also purchase the book:

Amazon CA (Kindle)
Amazon UK
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble 
Book Depository

Virtual Book Tour Schedule:

Monday, May 12
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Tuesday, May 13
Excerpt at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, May 14
Review at SOS Aloha
Friday, May 16
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, May 21
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, May 22
Excerpt at Let Them Read Books
Monday, May 26
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, May 30
Guest Post at Susan Heim on Writing

Giveaway

To win one of two copies of Mackenzie’s Cross, please complete this form: Rafflecopter giveaway.  Giveaway is open internationally but ends at 11:59pm on June 4th so enter quickly. You must be 18 or older to enter.  Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on June 5th and notified via email.  Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.