Thursday, July 26, 2012

Her Highness, The Traitor by Susan Higginbotham

Her Highness, The Traitor is a gripping historical fiction novel that traces the path that Lady Jane Grey took to becoming the Queen of England for 9 days. Told through the perspective of her mother, Frances Grey, and her mother-in-law, Jane Dudley, it is a unique look at the people involved with the plot.

I enjoyed how the familiar tragic story of Lady Jane Grey was told through two new viewpoints. Lady Jane was not always the nicest person and her parents are not shown to be evil people plotting their own rise through the use of the daughter as is often shown in film and book. As I read the book, I realized that no one was safe in Tudor times. The hero of one moment was the villain of the next and sure to find himself on the chopping block literally. It also seemed to be the case of what goes around comes around. If you plotted the downfall of someone, you should always look behind you as you are probably going to be next!

I’ll admit that I didn’t care for the character of Lady Jane herself, but I did really like Frances Grey and Jane Dudley and felt for them when tragedy struck. It was also interesting to read about the early life of Robert Dudley, Queen Elizabeth’s love.

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thank-you!!

How it All Began by Penelope Lively

Between work, my sister's wedding, and the many activities of summer, I have found myself way behind on my blog.  I'm going to focus on brief reviews and hopefully will get myself caught up one of these days!

How it All Began has an interesting premise. Charlotte Rainsford is mugged on the streets of London and this sets off a chain of events that changes the fates of her daughter and various other random people. I have always believed in fate and how one small choice by someone can have a ripple effect across the lives of many others. It was very interesting to see how this played out in the novel, although I did think it tended to be a bit dry at times. I thought Lively did a great job of bringing the tale full circle.

Charlotte’s daughter, Rose, has to leave her job as a personal assistant to Henry, an elderly Historian, to take care of his mother. Henry’s niece Marion has to take Henry to a conference, and cancels her plans with her boyfriend Jeremy. Jeremy’s wife catches the text and their marriage is in turmoil. Charlotte begins teaching her English language learner Anton at home, and soon married Rose and Anton find they have a spark. Henry’s conference does not go well, and he looks for a different avenue for his research.

The characters were all very unique and interesting. I enjoyed reading about them, but mostly about how their lives were all changed by this one event. This was the July FLICKS Book and Movie Club selection. Sadly I missed the meeting, but I was at my sister’s wedding, which was worth it.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy is a riveting book that I had a hard time putting down. Reimagining one of my favorite Victorian novels of all time, Jane Eyre, The Flight of Gemma Hardy is the story of an orphan girl that is determined to make her own way in the world in the 1950’s. After her father’s death in Iceland, Gemma is taken by her Uncle to be raised in Scotland with his family. Unfortunately after her Uncle’s death, Gemma is mistreated by her uncaring Aunt and cousins. Gifted at school, Gemma tries to make her escape by winning a scholarship to Claypoole School. Unfortunately the school does not live up to Gemma’s expectations and she discovers that she is a “working girl” forced to clean and endure harsh conditions with a limited chance at success in her studies.

Befriending another girl, Marian, Gemma works to survive. She grows up at Claypoole and after school she finds work as an au pair to a spirited girl, Nell, on the Orkney Islands in order to save money for college. Nell is the niece of the mysterious Mr. Sinclair that lives in London and does not spend much time on the Islands. Will Gemma pursue her dream of going on to the University? Will she find out about her mysterious past in Iceland? Will she find love?

I loved Gemma’s journey of self-discovery. Poor Gemma didn’t have anyone in the world that cared for her and life was pretty dispiriting at times. But she had “gumption” and the will to work toward her goals to get a great education and to find out more about her parents. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time and I admit, I looked forward to this book, but also was leery that it would not live up to its predecessor. I think Margot Livesey did an outstanding job of staying true to the story and heart of Jane Eyre, while also making it very much her own story. I loved the setting and the characters. Many times in the novel Livesey was able to dig into deeper than Jane Eyre. I now feel like I really know why her aunt and cousins didn’t like her.

I loved Mr. Sinclair, but I must admit that the one let down for this novel for me was his big secret. SPOILER ALERT

For those that love Jane Eyre as I do, you know the big reveal is that Mr. Rochester had a mad wife in the attic which prevented his marriage to Jane. It was a tragic circumstance as he couldn’t divorce Bertha or live with her as a husband. In this book, there is not mad wife in the attic and the big reveal was not nearly as shocking as Bertha and didn’t really make sense to me why Gemma would begin her flight.


That was my only “beef” with this novel, but even that did not lesson my love for it. The prose was quite beautiful and I enjoyed it. Gemma Hardy is a wonderful character that is fully Jane Eyre’s successor.

I also enjoyed the bonuses at the end of the book and reading about Margot Livesey’s journey to writing this novel. I thought it was very interesting that she use her own memories of Jane Eyre (a beloved novel of her youth) that she hid during the writing of this book as well as her own childhood memories to create The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Part of what made Jane Eyre so powerful to me was Charlotte Bronte using her own life experiences. I think that also is what makes The Flight of Gemma Hardy so powerful, the use of Livesey’s life experiences.
I read this book as part of the TLC book tour. Unfortunately I was sick earlier this week and am posting this a day late.

Book Source: Review Copy from Harper Collins. Thank-you!

July Posts for the Victorian Challenge – Oscar Wilde

As I’m sure most of you have noticed I am constantly running behind on the Victorian Challenge 2012. It’s been a busy time with my new job, my sister’s bridal shower a couple of weeks ago, and her wedding this weekend. I thought I would get a quick post about Oscar Wilde up so that July reviews could be posted. I still have posts about George Eliot and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that I need to get posted hopefully next week.

On that note, there seems to be a lot of confusion on where to put your posts. The standard had previously been to put your posts on the current month, no matter the author. I’m going to change that to put it on the current month and/or on the month of the author you read. You are allowed to post twice.

On to a very brief biography of Oscar Wilde . . . Oscar Wilde was a late Victorian novelist and playwright. Born in Dublin Ireland, Wilde attended college first at Trinity and then at Oxford. He had a romance with Florence Balcomb, but she married Bram Stoker rather than Wilde. Wilde later married Constance Lloyd in 1884 and together they had two sons. Wilde started in literature by publishing poems and working as a journalist. He later became the editor of The Woman’s World magazine. He wrote The Picture of Dorian Grey in 1890 and his seminal play, The Importance of Being Earnest in 1894. Wilde was tried and convicted for being a homosexual in 1895 and imprisoned. Released in 1897 he left Britain forever for France, where he died of cerebral meningitis in 1900.

If you are interested in writing a guest blog about Oscar Wilde or his works, please send me an email at laarlt78(at)Hotmail(dot)com.

Post your July/Oscar Wilde reviews below in the following format (Laura’s Reviews (The Importance of Being Earnest).

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carre

Title: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Author: John le Carre
Read by: Michael Jayston
Publisher: Penguin Audiobooks
Length: Approximately 13 hours (10 CDs)
Source: Review Copy from Penguin Audiobooks. Thank-you!

George Smiley is the opposite of James Bond. A “fat old man” as he describes himself, he has been let go from “the Circus,” the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service. His wife Ann has left him for the latest in her string of lovers. Smiley is not feeling so great about himself until one day; he is brought back to investigate a possible mole at the Circus.

Smiley’s boss “Control” has died after being forced out as head of the Circus after a mission to find a mole in the Circus went horribly awry. Ricki Tarr has returned from a mission to Hong Kong with news that a mole does exist. Tarr and others recruit Smiley as he is a brilliant mind now outside the Circus to solve the case that involves betrayal on all levels.

The novel actually starts with the story of the mysterious Jim Prideaux a crippled teacher at an all boys’ boarding school. His students wonder at his secret past, and for once their musings are true, Prideaux was a spy that was double-crossed. His fate sealed that of Control’s and Smiley’s as well. He was helping to bring down Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy . . . the code names that Control gave to officials within the Circus that he suspected of being double-agents.

I thought this book was masterfully written. It was a bit slow at times, but it all worked with Smiley’s methodical personality. He showed that spying is not always the latest gadgets and hottest women as in the world of James Bond, but sometimes it is the work of painstaking records research and hard hitting interviews. One of my favorite scenes was when a member of the team, Peter Guillam, manages to sneak a secret file out of the circus to take back for Smiley to review. It made me nervous as Guillam was stopped by people going to and fro the file room and you just knew he was going to be captured. My second favorite scene was when Smiley waited barefoot with a gun for the spy to make himself known at a meeting with the Russian informant. He has moments of self-doubt, but he does his duty.

I really liked that through it all, there was a love story between Smiley and Ann. Ann was never “seen” in the novel, but Smiley often thought of her and his friends always asked of her. It was generally known that she carried on affairs, but Smiley seems to have always forgiven her. I really want to know if they end back up together. Will Smiley go to her as he envisioned or will he move on with life? How will he get the Circus back into shape? I can’t wait to listen to the next book to find out.

I thought that Michael Jayston was an excellent narrator and really was the voice of Smiley for me. I always love to listen to a British accent!

I haven’t watched the movie that came out around Christmas or the old 1970’s mini-series, but I feel inspired to watch it now.

Overall, Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy is an excellent spy novel set in the 1970’s – at the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. I loved the plot and the characters, and can’t wait to read more about them in the next books!

June Audiobook Giveaway Winners!!

Thank-you to all that entered my June Audiobook giveaway courtesy of Penguin Audio.  The winners are as follows:  lag123 (The Devil's Elixir by Raymond Khoury), Na (Unnatural Acts by Stuart Woods), and Traveler (Shades of Hope by Tennie McCarty.  Core of Conviction by Michele Bachmann and Susan Ericksen will be donated to the Kewaunee Public Library.  The winners were chosen via and were notified by email.  If you didn't receive an email from me (this has been a problem the last few months), leave a comment on this blog and send me an email at laarlt78(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Thank-you to Penguin Audio for allowing me to host this giveway.  I will have another audiobook giveway soon so stay tuned for more great audiobooks!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Just Say Yes by Phillipa Ashley

Lucy Gibson meets her new boyfriend Nick at a Bagel deli. Their romance moves along quickly, with not much time together as Nick is involved in “Hot Shots!” an Apprentice type TV series where he is competing to be able to start his own business. When Nick asks Lucy the ultimate question on live TV, she answers the one way that TV audiences will not appreciate. Now hounded by the press, Lucy travels to Cornwall to get some much needed time away and to reevaluate her life.

I enjoy Phillipa Ashley’s novels. The characters are great, and I love the romance. I enjoyed the setting in Cornwall for this novel, and the mention of one of my favorite foods, “Pasties.” Cornish miners brought them to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when they mined the Copper Mines in the 1800’s. I attended college in the “U.P.” and grew to love them. Luckily the frozen type is available from the north in my local grocery so I am able to enjoy them still. I wanted to vacation in one of the cottages by the coast in Cornwall described in the book and eat a real Cornish pasty. As with Ashley’s other novels, I didn’t want it to end and wish that I could enjoy the characters again in another novel.

Overall, if you are looking for a great beach read this summer, I recommend Just Say Yes!

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Legend by Marie Lu

I’ve fallen behind on my reviews again so I’m going to do a couple of quick reviews in a sad attempt to make some headway on catching myself back up.

Readers of this blog know that I have an addiction to many different types of books, and young adult post-apocalyptic novels are among my favorites. I read a review of Legend by Marie Lu in Entertainment Weekly sometime last year around December or so and I put it on my “must” list of books to read.

The United States has been divided after natural disasters volcanic in nature with the Republic controlling the Western United States and perpetually at war with the Eastern Colonies.

Two different plucky teens have grown up in the this world and dare to challenge it. June is a fifteen year old military protégé with a perfect score at her Trials, and a member of one of the wealthiest districts. When the unthinkable happens to her brother, she sets up to track down the culprit, fifteen year old Day. Day is the Republic’s most wanted criminal and grew up in the poorest part of town. Meeting Day and living life in the poor part of town, June starts to realize that the truth has she has been taught by the Republic, is anything but the truth.

Legend is told in first person in alternating chapters by June and Day. I liked this format, although I didn’t like the gold font used in the book for Day. I could have figured out what character I was reading without the font. I really enjoyed this book, it was action packed and good for those, like me that enjoys a young adult post-apocalyptic adventure. Was it as good as the Hunger Games? No, but it was good enough that I will eagerly read the next book when it is published. I would knock it down a star from The Hunger Games as I was able to guess a lot of the action and actually the world reminded me a lot of the evil future government of The Hunger Games or of Matched.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of Can I Get an Amen? by Sarah Healy

Congrats to Traveler!  She won a copy of the excellent family dramedy Can I Get an Amen by Sarah Healy by posting the first comment on June 16th.  Traveler was chosen by and was notifed via email.  Traveler - if you didn't receive an email from me (a lot of winners have had this problem lately!), please send me an email at laarlt78(at)hotmail(dot)com and leave a comment on this post.

Interested in this book?  Don't miss the great author guestblog by Sarah Healy "On Chick Lit."  I know I really enjoyed this novel.

Thank-you to all that entered, to Sarah Healy for the great guestblog, and to Penguin Books for allowing me to review the book, host Sarah Healy, and have this giveaway.

I still have one giveaway of several audiobooks currently ongoing (but ending tomorrow night at midnight).  See my right sidebar for more details!

Winner of Sea Change by Karen White

The lucky winner of Sea Change by Karen White is Tonya who left a comment on June 20th.  She has been notified via email.  Several past winners have not received their emails, so Tonya, if you haven't heard from me, please send me an email at laarlt78(at)hotmail(dot)com.

Tonya was chosen using  Thank-you to all that entered the giveaway and left great comments.  I loved Sea Change - it was a wonderful book.  I hope that you will be able to experience the book as well.  I know I'm looking forward to reading more Karen White novels.  Thank-you to Penguin Books for allowing me tor review Sea Change and to provide this giveaway.

I still have one giveaway currently ongoing - a June audiobook giveaway that ends at midnight tomorrow night.  Check out the right sidebar for more information.