Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

"Here's to the bright New Year, and a fond farewell to the old; here's to the things that are yet to come, and to the memories that we hold."

"Let us not drink to the past, but to the future."

Wishing you a very Happy New Year!
Best wishes for 2012


The Tudor Throne ~ Brandy Purdy

England’s throne is left in a precarious state after the death of King Henry VIII. His son is weak and not expected to live a long life and his daughters, Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth, once declared bastards are once again legitimate heirs to the throne. Upon Edward’s death Mary must fight for her throne and her rightful place as Queen of England. Once Mary has won back her throne she is determined to bring England back to the true faith and to reunite her with Rome thus starting the reign of terror, the reign of Bloody Mary. Mary’s desire to marry Prince Phillip of Spain alienates her even further from her people. In response, the people of England turn to Elizabeth in hopes that she will ascend to the throne as their saviour. Mary soon becomes paranoid that Elizabeth is trying to take her throne and Mary is soon convinced that her beloved sister is her worst enemy. The sisters love for one another soon turns to ice in this Tudor drama.


“The Tudor Throne” is told from both Mary’s and Elizabeth’s point of view, each girl has her own chapter to voice her concerns, feelings and beliefs. Purdy focuses on both characters, but has their relationship take center stage many times throughout the novel. It was interesting to see how their struggles, triumphs and beliefs affected their relationship as sisters and their friendship. To see these points of view was a breath of fresh air from solely focusing on their individual reigns as Queens of England. Normally I am not a fan of novels that flip flop back and forth between characters but Purdy managed to do just this effortlessly without disrupting the flow of the story. The story was thoroughly researched and written in great detail. I did have one small issue with this novel and that was Mary—she just annoyed me! Overall however, it was decent read. 

The Wise Woman ~ Philippa Gregory

Set in Tudor England, this is the story of Alys, an orphan who was raised by the local wise woman until she leaves to join a nunnery in order to escape a life of poverty. When Henry VIII’s men burn the abbey down, Alys runs without looking back, leaving her adoptive mother and her sister’s in Christ to burn to their deaths. With nowhere else to go, Alys returns to the old wise woman who raised her. Alys begins to work alongside the old wise woman, horning her own skills as a wise woman herself. The old lord Hugh learns of her skills and requests that she comes to his castle to work as his nurse and later his scribe. With nothing to protect her except for her looks and her innate magic, Alys walks a fine and dangerous line between her faith and her own female powers. Alys soon finds herself falling in love with the old lord’s son Hugo, who happens to be already married to another woman. Alys decides to turn to dark magic to get what she wants—to defeat her rival and to win the man she loves but she soon finds out that magic makes a poor servant and a powerful and dangerous master. Alys soon finds herself in a precarious situation where heresy means the stake and witchcraft the rope.


I love Philippa Gregory’s work however this novel was . . .  well . . . interesting to say the least. It was a dark story with a good plot, twisted characters and extremely explicit sexual imagery. There were creepy boudoir scenes that really did not need the amount of detail they were given – definitely an uncomfortable read at times. I think that the words “love triangle” were a little tame, it was a creepy, twisted love triangle to say the least. As for the characters, they weren’t horrible but they weren’t amazing either. I am all for the bad girl type heroines but Alys takes the cake—she has got to be the most self-serving heroine out there, she would throw anyone, including her own mother, under the bus if it would save her own skin. Alys is portrayed as both the protagonist and the antagonist in the story but unfortunately she is not strong enough in either role. I also found that there were a lot of similarities between this story and the Tudor dramas: fathers with similar names (Hugh and Hugo versus the two Henrys); wives named Catherine/Katharine; mistresses named Anne/Sister Ann (Alys). Overall, it was decent book and if you can get past all of the sex then it is a great read. 

Happy Holidays!

Another Christmas has come and gone and once again my library grew!
Best Christmas gift this year: My new Kobo E-reader :)
New additions include:
- The Shadow of the Pomegranate by Jean Plaidy
- Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory
- Madame Tussaud by Michelle Moran
Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!


Born this day, December 3rd

King Charles VI of France (1368-1422)

Charles was born in Paris December 3rd 1368, son of Charles V and Joan of Bourbon and member of the House of Valois. Charles was crowned at Reims in 1380 at the age of 11 and in 1385 he married Isabeau of Bavaria. Charles was known as both Charles the Beloved (le Bien-Aimé) and later as Charles the Mad (le Fou) as he suffered from many bouts of psychosis in his adult life. Charles’ daughter Catherine married Henry V of England and mother to Henry VI of England who inherited his grandfather’s psychosis. 


Born this day, November 6th

Juana of Castile “Juana the Mad”, Queen of Spain

Born November 6th 1479 in Toledo, Spain, Juana was the third daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile, she was never expected become heiress to either throne of Aragon or Castile, but upon the deaths of her parents, she inherited both. At the age of 16 in 1496, Juana was betrothed to Philip, Duke of Burgundy, son of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor. Juana and Philip were formally married October 20th 1496 and their marriage was a fruitful one producing 6 children: 2 emperors and 4 queens. Their life together was an unhappy one, blamed mostly on his infidelity and her political insecurity. Philip constantly tried to usurp her birthright to the thrones of Aragon and Castile, which led to her mental instability and eventual insanity. Upon the death of her mother in 1504, Juana became Queen of Castile.  Juana died April 12th 1555 in Tordesillas, Spain at the age of 75.

For a great read on Juana, Queen of Castile, pick up C.W Gortner’s The Last Queen.

Born amid her parents' ruthless struggle to unify and strengthen their kingdom, Juana, at the age of sixteen, is sent to wed Philip, heir to the Habsburg Empire. Juana finds unexpected love and passion with her dashing young husband, and at first she is content with her children and her married life. But when tragedy strikes and she becomes heir to the Spanish throne, Juana finds herself plunged into a battle for power against her husband that grows to involve the major monarchs of Europe. Besieged by foes on all sides, Juana vows to secure her crown and save Spain from ruin, even if it costs her everything.


Memoirs of a Geisha ~ Arthur Golden

I absolutely love this book and I am still surprised every time I read it that it was written by a man. I think that I have now read this book 10 times and it is still one of my favourite books that I can read again and again. The novel narrated by Nitta Sayuri, in a flashback format, as she tells of her life as one of the most celebrated geisha in Japan.  In Memoirs of a Geisha we enter a completely different world where appearances are everything; a girl’s virginity is auctioned off to the highest bidder; where women are trained to charm and memorize the most powerful men in Japan using only their wits, musical talents and dance; and where love is only a fantasy. 

Sayuri’s life begins as Chiyo, a girl born in the poor fishing village of Yoroido, where, at nine years old, she is taken from her home and sold into slavery to a well-known geisha house in far away Kyoto. Separated from her family, Sayuri must learn how to survive on her own in the world. Although she is initially sold to become a maid in the okiya, her unusual blue-grey eyes intrigue the mistress of the okiya and Chiyo begins her training of becoming a geisha. The Nitta okiya is home to one of the most popular and most malicious geisha in all of Gion, Hatsumomo who is jealous of Chiyo’s unconventional beauty and who is determined to make Chiyo’s life as miserable as she possibly can. It is through the unusual eyes of Chiyo that we see the geisha district of Gion from the spectacular teahouses and theatres to the narrow back alleys and elaborate temples. We witness her transformation from Chiyo, the small girl who smells of fish from Yoroido to Sayuri, the apprentice geisha who is learning the rigorous arts of the geisha: dance and music; wearing kimono, elaborate hair and makeup; pouring sake to reveal just a glimpse of the sensual inner wrist; competing with jealous and malicious rivals for men’s patronage and the money that goes with it, to the mature geisha that she becomes after the outbreak of World War II.


Again, I still cannot believe that this story came from the brain of an American male. Golden’s ability to seamlessly write as a young Japanese women is amazing and surprising. This is a novel filled with brilliant characters, beautiful backdrops and a hopeless love story. The images that the eloquent writing produces are vivid and mesmerizing; the emotions are real and lifelike. It is almost like you are transported into the streets of Gion in the 1930’s and 1940’s whenever you open the book. It is a brilliant novel with flawless authenticity and beautiful lyricism as the true confessions of one of the most celebrated geisha from Japan. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to laugh, cry and thoroughly enjoy a book. 

The Secret Life of Josephine ~ Carolly Erickson

I almost exclusively read historical fiction novels set in a variety of countries and time periods, however I have never read a story based on the life of Napoleon or his first wife Josephine, until this novel. Honestly, I didn’t know a lot about Josephine before this novel, and I have to say that I honestly wasn’t too interested in reading about Napoleon . . . but this novel has changed my mind completely. I have yet again fallen in love with another character of Erickson’s. I love her portrayal of Josephine as a saucy, promiscuous, pain in the butt character that I couldn’t sympathize with but still, I found myself intrigued with her.

The story begins with 15-year old Josephine (who was then known as Rose or Yeyette) on the island of Martinique where she falls in love for the first time with the handsome naval officer Scipion de Roure and soon after we are introduced to a stranger who captivates Josephine’s heart. Yeyette is then forced to leave her beloved Martinique and go to France where she would be married to her cousin Alexandre Beauharnais, with whom she would have two children, Eugene and Hortense. Unhappy in their union, Alexandre and Yeyette separate and eventually divorce. The French revolution is in full swing and both Alexandre and Yeyette are taken prisoners and wait to be executed. While in prison Yeyette spends her days with many men in hopes of becoming pregnant to avoid being executed, including her ex-husband. Alexandre is eventually be headed by Madame la Guillotine while Yeyette escapes with her life. After her time in prison, Yeyette continues her promiscuous lifestyle, excited to still be alive and living her life the way she wants. During this time she meets a young general, general Bonaparte who falls hopelessly in love with her. Even though her heart belongs to another man, the stranger from Martinique, she reluctantly agrees to marry him, which leads to her being crowned Empress of France. Their marriage is an unhappy one, neither party remain faithful and eventually ends in divorce.


There are a lot of embellishments in this story with a lot of emphasis on the “fiction” in historical fiction; however it had all of the standard elements of a suspenseful, passionate and exciting novel. Arranged marriages, mistresses and lovers, politics, intrigue, war ... all elements of a great historical novel. There were some issues with Josephine however; at times I found her to be extremely annoying and whiny, especially after she found out that Napoleon had taken a mistress when she had had a lover for years. I also don’t understand why she would care so much considering that she never really loved him. I also found her encounter with the “stranger” on Martinique very hard to believe. There were definitely some parts of the novel that I questioned why they were included and what their point really was. I have to say that the historical aspects were very well researched and very well written.

I found this book in the bargain bin at my local bookstore for 2$. I contemplated it for a while and finally decided that it might be an interesting read and for 2$ I really couldn’t go wrong. I am so happy that it turned out to be a worthwhile read that has opened me up to a new time period and a new set of characters. 


Happy Halloween!

Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
Some of my favourite Halloween Books and Authors:
- Boo! by Robert Munsch
- Dem Bones by Bob Barner
- Macbeth by William Shakespeare

- Stephen King
- Anne Rice
I am a HUGE fan of Halloween! It is definitely one of my very favourite holidays! The whole idea of getting to dress up and be whomever or whatever you want to be for the day is amazingly fun, especially when you get free candy too! I love being able to let my inner child out (even more than I usually do), even if its just for one day. I have to say though that I was disappointed in Halloween this year... it seems like less kids are getting dressed-up and going Trick or Treating. I remember when I was younger ... I use to fill up an entire pillowcase, bring it home and grab another pillow case and go around some more while my Mom sorted the candy from the first trip. People use to go all out with their decorations, and now even that doesn't seem to happen as much. I love Halloween and seeing all the kids in their costumes, hopefully Trick-or-Treating will pick up again and there will me more kids out next year, until then, more left over Halloween candy for me! 


Snow Flower and the Secret Fan ~ Lisa See

Yet another amazing novel from Lisa See! Snow Flower and the Secret Fan tells an inspirational and heart warming story of the true bonds of friendship and family. Set in 19th century rural China, two young girls will embark on a life long journey, all of which begins with a few words on a fan. One of these young girls, Lily, comes from a humble farming family who does not expect great things from their second daughter until a matchmaker sees her feet. The matchmaker believes that after her foot binding is complete Lily will have perfect little golden lilies, which will lead to a prosperous marriage and honour for her family. Her laotong Snow Flower comes from a very different life; she is of a family of great wealth and status. The ‘old sames’ form an intimate and a lifelong contract declaring them as friends until death. The girls then go through all of life milestones together, from the painful foot binding years beginning at age 7; through the hair pinning days where they would create their dowries for their upcoming marriages; into the rice and salt days of marriage and childbirth and finally into the sitting quietly years, at least for one of them. Throughout their lives as laotong the girls send a fan between them on which they write messages in nu shu, the secret language of women and tell each other their dreams, their hopes, their accomplishments as well as their sorrows and troubles. The two girls find solace in their friendship, developing a special bond until one day; a misunderstanding threatens to destroy a lifetime of love and their laotong relationship forever.


I absolutely adored this novel by Lisa See! The story was beautifully written, both the narrative as well as the poetry that the girls exchange on their fan and in their letters. 

“Two birds in flight – hearts beating as one.
The sun shines upon their wings, drenching them in healing warmth.
The earth spreads below them, all theirs” (p. 112)

The prose creates vivid images in the readers mind and I could almost picture these two young women sitting in their women’s chambers writing to each other wanting nothing more than to be with their laotong, sharing their lives with each other. I think that See did not only write a beautiful story, but that she wrote stunning poetry as well. The characters in this novel were amazingly lifelike and they elicited true, raw emotion throughout the book. I found it to be amazing how See researched this novel as she travelled to these small, rural villages where she spoke to women and families from this era about their lives. She spoke to women much like Lily and Snow Flower, women who had gone through the process of foot binding and who found their husband through a matchmaker. See was able to take these women’s stories and transform them into a wonderful piece of literary art.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Asian culture as this book is filled with information about the Chinese culture in the 19th century as well as to anyone who simply enjoys a fantastic read.


To Hold the Crown ~ Jean Plaidy

To Hold the Crown tells the story of Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) and his cataclysmal reign as England’s sovereign. Henry, descendent from the House of Lancaster, marries Princess Elizabeth of York (daughter of King Edward IV), therefore uniting the two houses and ending the War of the Roses. Henry rules wisely and justly in an attempt to strengthen England, both financially and politically, following years of civil war. His reign is not without great trials; Henry must deal with the mysterious disappearance of the Princes in the Tower (the younger brothers of his wife Elizabeth), the Yorkists who are displeased with the upstart Tudor King as well as the pretenders to the throne and those whose claim to the throne is greater than his own. On top of his political problems, Henry is concerned with getting as many heirs as possible- only 3 of his 7 children survive into adulthood.


This was not one of my favourite Jean Plaidy novels. I found this one to be somewhat difficult to read and to finish. The story dragged on in some parts and the constant changing of point of views was extremely annoying. This made the story disjointed and it interrupted the flow. Now, I am not totally against telling the story from different points of view, but it must be done in such a way that it does not take away from the story or have the reader wondering who is talking now and when did it change – something that I found myself doing quite a bit while reading this novel. I also found that there was not much of an actual plot, but that it was more so a chronicle of the life of Henry VII. The way that the story was written was more so a biography of Henry VII and not a historical fiction novel as there was no romance, no real drama and not a lot of fiction – it seems as if there was a ton of history to be crammed into a 500 page novel and there wasn’t any room left over for the fiction part. I would have liked there to have been more of a romance story between Elizabeth and Henry, instead it seems like Elizabeth was just used as a breeding machine and that they solely tolerated each other, as long as Elizabeth did what Henry wanted. Finally, there was a lot of repetition in this book which was exasperating, I felt like I was reading the same thing over and over again.

Definitely not one of my favourite Jean Plaidy novels and I have to say that I was rather looking forward to reading this one and I was greatly disappointed.