Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ashford April Giveaway Winners

As Ashford April draws to a close, I know, you all want to still dwell in Kenya, but remember, by opening the pages of a book, you can be back there in mere minutes, there is one final piece of "business." And by business I mean, PRIZES! See, isn't it great when business equals books? I sure think so. So without further ado... the winners of the three prize packages for Ashford April are...

In 3rd place, with the prize of a 1st Edition of The Ashford Affair, as well as a SIGNED Paperback copy of The Temptation of the Night Jasmine, the 5th in Lauren's Pink Carnation Series is Misty! (After the original winner never emailed me, a warning to you all to leave your contact info, or you don't get cool prizes).

In 2nd place, with the prize of a 1st Edition of The Ashford Affair, as well as a SIGNED Paperback copy of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, the 4th in Lauren's Pink Carnation Series is Giada!

In 1st place, with the grand prize of a lovely 1st Edition of The Ashford Affair, as well as a SIGNED ARC of The Ashford Affair AND (yes there's more) a SIGNED Paperback copy of my favorite Lauren Willig Book, The Mischief of the Mistletoe is Ashley!

If I don't have a way to contact you, please email me (click about me on the right and then email) and if I do have your email, expect me to drop you a line shortly to get your shipping details! I hope everyone enjoys! Also, be sure to check out my new giveaway... coming soon!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Paris, 1923

The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savannah manor house until gossip subsides.

Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.

Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.

Amidst the wonders-and dangers-of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for-and what she can no longer live without."

Woo hoo! More Africa from another of the great Historical Romance authors we have right now! Also, I adore completely that lush cover. Want it as a painting on my wall!

12th of Never by James Patterson
Published by: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: April 30th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It's finally time! Detective Lindsay Boxer is in labor--while two killers are on the loose.

Lindsay Boxer's beautiful baby is born! But after only a week at home with her new daughter, Lindsay is forced to return to work to face two of the biggest cases of her career.

A rising star football player for the San Francisco 49ers is the prime suspect in a grisly murder. At the same time, Lindsay is confronted with the strangest story she's ever heard: An eccentric English professor has been having vivid nightmares about a violent murder and he's convinced is real. Lindsay doesn't believe him, but then a shooting is called in-and it fits the professor's description to the last detail.

Lindsay doesn't have much time to stop a terrifying future from unfolding. But all the crimes in the world seem like nothing when Lindsay is suddenly faced with the possibility of the most devastating loss of her life."

For all those Women Murder Club addicts out there... I know there are a lot of you, one of them I'm even related to.

How to Seize a Dragon's Jewel by Cressida Cowell
Published by: Little Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 30th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The Dragon Rebellion has begun, bringing the Vikings' darkest hour upon them. Hiccup has become an outcast, but that won't stop him from going on the most harrowing and important quest of his life. He must find the Dragon's Jewel in order to save his people...but where should he begin?

Don't miss Hiccup's most dangerous adventure yet!"

Oh, I really have to get to these books. I loved the movie and I generally love books more then movies, so yeah, I really have got to read these...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Meet the Author

A few weeks back now, on April 12th, I was lucky enough to see Lauren in person at the Warren-Newport public library down in Gurnee, Illinois. Now this was not my first time meeting Lauren or ever my first time meeting Lauren at this library. The first time I met her was before I was a blogger and had just restarted going to school for Graphic Design and I trekked down to Illinois to gush at Lauren about her first four books with the fifth, The Temptation of the Night Jasmine in ARC form. It's hard to imagine that so much would happen in the intervening years. I never would have thought that I would be where I am now and running this blog which I love, but I could have guessed that Lauren would be a huge success, with nine Pink Carnation books in print, the tenth arriving this summer and the eleventh underway, and her first stand alone, The Ashford Affair out and hitting the charts, with her second stand alone off with her editors, and a baby on the way. She's been one busy lady!

Needless to say, no matter how many times I've seen Lauren, each time is wonderful and different because unlike some authors, she has a wonderful gift for gab and interacts great with an audience. As in an anecdote she said, when interviewing for Yale, the old interviewer didn't see her as a writer because she is so outspoken and did plays and musicals and forensics and debates, and writers are meant to be introverted. Lauren has definitely proved his theory wrong.

The crowd was a wonderful group of Pink fans and I was happy to see a few men in the audience. Though when an ARC of the newest Pink book, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, was passed around, it was a bit like watching people touch a holy relic. Thankfully, while we may occasionally be squealing girls, no one stole the book and made a break for it into the grey stormy day. I was at least more calm then most because I had already put in my request for a copy with Lauren's publisher and thankfully had an electronic ARC by the beginning of the next week... and might I add, it's awesome. So, in retrospect, totally worth stealing...

So what were some of the high points of the talk? Well, Lauren discussed her curtailing of her caffeine, which I have heard many of my pregnant friends lament, but I expect it is doubly so with Lauren because she is a prodigious coffee drinker. As the event was a Coffee Klatch, in honor of the book being set in Kenya, I'm sure it was doubly hard to avoid the temptation... coffee and kringle, it did look mighty tasty, the kringle that is, me not being a coffee person, yes, this manic me is all without caffeine. Speaking of Ashford, she said how much the modern section did mimic her life and how being a lawyer then writer is all just about the storytelling, or at least that's how she spins it. Also, the book originally had about 100 more pages in Kenya that was edited out, to which I say, put them back! More book! As for her second stand alone novel? It will once again have a modern and historical setting. This time a young woman shall inherit a house in England where she finds a painting of a Pre-Raphaelite artist who disappeared. Lauren said there actually wasn't anything sinister in that (or was there!) because they often gave up and wandered off to farm sheep.

Lauren discussed the fact that Jane's book actually won't be the next Pink book, though when it arrives, it will be the last. Sally, Turnip's sister, is to star in the next book, which I really really wish the publishers would realize that Lauren's title of The Dance of the Death Apple is so awesome and perfect. Why is it perfect? Well, firstly, it's Lauren's first autumnal tale, being set around Halloween, even if Halloween as such wasn't around as we know it. Secondly, it has Miss Gwen becoming a really popular author with her Convent of Orsino, which is liberally quoted in The Passion of the Purple Plumeria. Her popularity is a parody of the Twilight phenomenon, with Miss Gwen being besieged by teenage girls who love her vampire book. Yes, that's right, Miss Gwen started the vampire craze way back. Finally, Sally's love interest is a shadowy man... could he be a vampire? Oh, I just can't wait, and if you think about it, cause I've already read the newest book which isn't even out, I have to wait all the longer, sigh. As for Jane's book... well, there will be some need of research because it takes place in the Peninsular War, and all Lauren knows about that she learned from watching Sharpe. Mmm, Sean Bean in uniform. And Jane's prince charming? She knows, but the audience universally vetoed the reveal.

What else does the future hold? Hopefully a Mitford inspired book if Lauren gets her way... which I heartily approve. After all, Mitford fan typing this...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review - Deanna Raybourn's A Spear of Summer Grass

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"Picture it. May of 2011. Two writers having drinks in the lounge of the Yale Club after a tough day signing books at Book Expo America.

Then picture two glasses of prosecco simultaneously sloshing over as Deanna and I discovered that we were both working on books set in 1920s Kenya. Around the same group of people. At the same time. Well, maybe not exactly the same time: Deanna’s was 1923 and mine was 1926. But close. Our characters had come from the same sorts of background and found themselves in the same milieu. Once we got our jaws back in place—and ordered some more prosecco—we were both bouncing in our chairs, chattering a mile a minute, comparing notes and sources, so delighted to have someone working in exactly the same world.

We tried to get Tasha Alexander to start writing 1920s Kenya, too—just so we could all keep going on tour together—but, sadly, she resisted our blandishments." - Lauren Willig

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass."

- Walt Whitman

With her latest scandal, another husband dead, this time via suicide, and a fight for the his inheritance of the Volkonsky jewels arising, Delilah Drummond's family has come together in Paris to discuss her exile. She must remove herself from public scrutiny or face being cut off forever by her Grandfather back in New Orleans. The imperial "they" have decided that she will hide herself away at her ex step father's house Fairlight, in Kenya. Delilah doesn't have much of a say and agrees to the arranged banishment, knowing full well that as soon as the allotted time is over she will be back in Paris, or New York, or whatever city will have her, probably not New York... that pesky Volstead act kind of puts a kink in ones cocktails.

Arriving in Africa with her "devoted" cousin Dodo as her chaperon, Delilah doesn't quite know what to make of her situation. Firstly, Fairlight is in far worse shape then she was led to believe. Secondly, she is now a part of Kenyan society. A society made up of the outcasts of respectable civilization, meaning mainly people Delilah already knows. It's quite a shock to be relocated but still surrounded by those who were a little too outre for everyone else. There is a part of Delilah that feels at home picking back up where she left off before getting married to husband number two with the artist Kit Parrymore, located near at hand on the Fairlight property. Also the dinner parties hosted by Rex and Helen Farrady, as the reigning King and Queen of Kenya, are just the kind of social occasions Delilah is used to with booze flowing and witty conversation larded with innuendo. Though Helen's private parties are another story...

Soon Delilah is fighting not just her new found love for Africa and the new world and experiences she has reluctantly embraced, but she's also fighting her attraction to Ryder White. Ryder, that great white hunter. The man of contradictions, who believes in the preservation of Africa and it's animals, while also leading Safaris for those who are willing to overpay him. For the first time Delilah isn't giving in immediately to her fleeting fancies... but that could be because Ryder rankled her with placing a bet that he would be the first to bed her. Is it wrong that she took delight in sleeping with Kit so fast just to make him lose? Yet, how long can she deny that she has stumbled into everything she's ever needed?

Like the Whitman poem the book takes it's title from, there's a freshness, a freeness to Deanna's Africa with its overt sexuality that makes this book an addictive and delicious read. While I feel that this is the best Raybourn book I have read I have a feeling that the rawness and sexuality might deter other readers, whereas I felt that it perfectly captured the time and the place that was epitomized in Delilah. Raybourn is able to take old tales and stories from the Happy Valley Days and inject a new life to them. Helen's bathtub, and in fact Helen herself, with nods to Idina Sackville, doesn't feel heavy with the baggage of multiple retellings. Deanna was able to incorporate aspects and anecdotes of the time without making it feel like you've heard it all before, which is a true gift after all the books on Africa I have recently read. Deanna made Africa feel new to me, and I don't think there are many authors or books I can say that about. Delilah had so much life that, while we do get a mystery buried deep down, A Spear of Summer Grass is more a character study then a whodunit, and I didn't regret that for a minute.

The most refreshing aspect though was that while Delilah had the Great War baggage and the night terrors and all the typical signs of PTSD, we are not forced to dwell on this. As I have ranted before, so many modern books belabour this point and make more of it then what it is, not a part of the character, but something that is bigger then the character and becomes a separate entity weighing down the whole book. Delilah is damaged, but everyone in Africa is damaged in some way according to Ryder. Blessedly Deanna handles this balance just perfectly and I didn't have to read about guns in the distance causing flashbacks, yet again.

Being a book that is more a character study, it was the originality and the connection between these characters that made this book get devoured by my eyes. While I do really really like Ryder as the hero and his luscious Han Solo Harrison Fordness which was tailor made for the fair Princesses among us, he wasn't the big draw for me. The two characters I connected with most are Ryder's best friend Gideon and his little lame brother Moses, who are native Masai. The way Gideon becomes Delilah's best friend and how they bond over just talking about the simplest of things, like the Masai words for plants, made him far and away my favorite character in the book. He was so real that he walked right out of the pages and into my heart. Likewise his younger brother Moses. To not only have a connection because of his being a sweet boy with a lame leg who doesn't speak, I mean, how could you not love the little Tiny Timness of him? But to then have that couched in the language of what these things really mean within Masai culture, and how his disability means that he is not only different, but that because of this he can't get cattle to raise and if he doesn't get the cattle then there is no way he can afford a dowry and without that he will never marry and have a fulfilled life. The fact that Delilah hires him, that this simple gesture means that Moses could have a real and full life because he is now able to contribute, makes you have the feels all the more. I would even go so far as to say that because of Deanna's integration of characters and culture, that you get to read a deeper book them most of the books on Africa out there.

But if you really want more Ryder, and I can't really blame you, you should check out his little prequel novella, Far in the Wilds. Now I must go listen to some music, because if there is only one flaw in the book, it's that now I can't get Tom Jones's Delilah out of my head...

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Book Review - Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: 1937
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

"Okay, moment of slight cattiness here. Before I’d started researching The Ashford Affair, I knew Dinesen only through her own writings and, of course, the extremely sympathetic portrayal in the movie, Out of Africa. It was fascinating—like being let in on someone’s gossip circle—to read the reactions of others in that Happy Valley crowd, and then go back to Dinesen’s writing, knowing that many of her neighbors found her a bit of a pill. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to look at Out of Africa quite the same way again…." - Lauren Willig

"I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." Karen Blixen, writing under the nom de plume, Isak Dinesen, lived in Africa for many years, till she finally had to give up her coffee plantation and head home to Denmark, were she became a famous writer for her memoirs of her time in Kenya. The non linear vignettes of life on her farm capture a time and place that she knew, even at the time, would soon be gone. From her connection to young Kikuyus and a menagerie of animals, to the luminaries of the Happy Valley passing through her door, she captures this world of long ago.

I will fully admit that my reaction to finally finishing Out of Africa was not the most mature, seeing as it involved me yelling "suck it Dinesen" and then thinking about her getting an STD (which she had by the way) as justice for me having to read this book. If it hadn't been so late at night, I'm sure there might have even been a victory dance... but as it was late and I was giddy, it was best to leave well enough alone. But I shall warn you now, this is going to be a ranty review because this book is designated a "Classic." Capitol "C" and all. WHY!?! I mean, really, WTF people, it took me YEARS to get through this book, and I'm not talking metaphorically or figuratively but in all honesty, literally.

Let us now segue into the past and my history with Out of Africa. My love of Africa, the country, never to be confused with this book, I think has to be somewhat hereditary, because I take after my mom. She loves Africa. Quite a few years back she went on a reading safari and picked up all the great books from the Kenyan Happy Valley Days. Beryl Markham, Isak Dinesen, Elspeth Huxley, they all came into our house and became common names, which was very handy when I was looking for copies of their books for Ashford April. During this time was when I first saw the movie Out of Africa, watching the whole movie with my mother ranting about how Robert Redford was in NO WAY like Denys Finch-Hatton. But she did concede that Isak's husband Bror was perfectly cast as was Isak, or should I call her by her real name, Karen Blixen?

I will warn you now, watching the movie gives you no sense of what the book is like. The movie is a romanticized version of Karen Blixen's life, not a translation of the life she wrote about in her book which is more vignettes then an autobiography. A little after first seeing the movie, Random House came out with a facsimile 1st edition to celebrate their 75th anniversary. I am a sucker for beautiful books, and seeing as my mom loved this book (which she is now taking back because of my harsh questioning) I bought it and tried to read it. Tried is the optimum word, because I didn't even get more then half way through before I abandoned it. Now, several years later with the book languishing I vowed to finish reading it for Ashford April. In fact, I kind of put it on the reading list, not because of any real connection to Lauren Willig's wonderful book, but because I was daring myself to finish it. Well, I finished it... she says dubiously.

So now we all get to the "meat" of the review. Why did I hate this book so much that I envisioned hurling it out a window or engulfing it in flames? Firstly, she can't write. Isak Dinesen can not form a coherent sentence to save her soul. Therefore my earliest fantasies regarding this book involved me traveling in time to beat her to death with a grammar book. She has sentences that make no sense, commas randomly inserted into the oddest of places and a narrative the jumps so much it's like she has ADD. Now she claimed that her Syphilis was fully cured... one must wonder though if it hadn't maybe rotted out her brain, just because rarely have a seen a published book so badly written. Sure I've read my fair share of bad books, but at least those people could write a sentence. It might have been a dull or boring or insipid sentence, but it was a sentence at least.

Yet her inability to write, while a hurdle, is not the main problem I had. I just couldn't stand her as a person. Now I'm sure you have a friend or an acquaintance who is so self absorbed and obsessed that they see everything in the world through themselves. I'm not talking about seeing everything through their eyes, but that they actually see everything in the world in relation to themselves and how it affects them. You might be having a conversation with them and if the topic doesn't effect them in anyway, they randomly interject to change the topic to one that interests them, mainly, themselves. They can never be objective and they live in their own little world, one where I imagine a statue of themselves at the center and then lots of roller coasters, like in the episode of Red Dwarf where Kryten makes the Rimmer Experience using Arnold's own diaries. The world is their own, and that is how Isak sees it. She can't talk about a Ngoba without going on about how it's in her honor. She can't talk about at trip into Nairobi, unless it's about her selflessness helping people at the hospital with rides round the country in her car. I can see why everyone thought her an insufferable twat. It was all "me, me, me" and this book bears it out. Can you imagine actually being her "friend?" I personally would leave Africa to get away from her...

I'm sure that right about now there are several people going, "but this is my favorite book" and "how could you say those things about this Classic of literature." Well, because I'm telling it as I see it. This book is a very polarizing book, you either love it or you hate it. I am firmly in the hate camp. Why did she have to keep comparing everything to the sea in very awkward metaphors? It's not just that the book is racist, which it is, but you have to make allowances for the eras Imperialist mentality, it's that it's badly written by a narcissist. Even in Isak's life she was polarizing, there were those who loved and hated her. Hemingway loved her, but I have a feeling this has more to do with that she killed things then her prose, whereas the artist Owen Gromme, who was a friend of my families, thought she was a self absorbed snob. Personally, this book made me realize that I should raise every other book I've ever read on Africa a full star and that you're better off reading any other book on Africa then this self proselytising memoir. I'd even read The Bolter again... and yes, I'm being serious.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date:  April 23rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Lottie just knows that her boyfriend is going to propose during lunch at one of London’s fanciest restaurants. But when his big question involves a trip abroad, not a trip down the aisle, she’s completely crushed. So when Ben, an old flame, calls her out of the blue and reminds Lottie of their pact to get married if they were both still single at thirty, she jumps at the chance. No formal dates—just a quick march to the altar and a honeymoon on Ikonos, the sun-drenched Greek island where they first met years ago.

Their family and friends are horrified. Fliss, Lottie’s older sister, knows that Lottie can be impulsive—but surely this is her worst decision yet. And Ben’s colleague Lorcan fears that this hasty marriage will ruin his friend’s career. To keep Lottie and Ben from making a terrible mistake, Fliss concocts an elaborate scheme to sabotage their wedding night. As she and Lorcan jet off to Ikonos in pursuit, Lottie and Ben are in for a honeymoon to remember, for better . . . or worse."

I really don't know why I keep reading Sophie Kinsella... she really has a knack for pissing me off.

Spirit's Chosen by Esther Friesner
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 496 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Himiko's world is falling apart. An attack by the Ookami clan has left many from her tribe dead or enslaved. And those who remain in the ransacked Matsu village are certain they've angered the gods. Amid the chaos and fear, Himiko hatches a plan to save her beloved tribe. Traveling through the treacherous wilderness with her best friend Kaya, their only goal is to free her clanfolk from the Ookami. At every turn she encounters other tribes and unforeseen challenges. But just when it seems that she will outwit Ryu, the cruel Ookami leader, she is captured. Held agains her will, Himiko starts to realize that not all of the Ookami are her enemies and every step of her unconventional journey has prepared her for something greater than life as a princess. Though she may not see her path as clearly as the spirits seem to, there's more adventure (and even unexpected love) for this young shamaness and warrior."

Seeing as I think Esther takes glee in breaking young girls hearts... will she do it again?

The Elite by Kiera Cass
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The selection began with 35 girls. Now, with the group narrowed down to the Elite, the competition to win Prince Maxon's love is fiercer than ever. The closer America gets to the crown, the more she struggles to figure out where her heart truly lies. Each moment she spends with Maxon is like a fairy tale, filled with breathless, glittering romance. But whenever she sees her first love, Aspen, standing guard, she's swept up in longing for the life they'd planned to share.

America is desperate for more time. But while she's torn between her two futures, the rest of the Elite know exactly what they want—and America's chance to choose is about to slip away."

The first book in this series was the book last year I was so excited for... and guess what? I still haven't. Oh, bad me. Maybe I should get on that!

The Silver Dream by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
Published by: HarperTeen
Publication Date: April 23rd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"New York Times bestselling authors Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves deliver a thrilling sequel to the science fiction novel InterWorld, full of riveting interdimensional battles and alternate realities.

After mastering the ability to walk between dimensions, Joey Harker and his fellow InterWorld freedom fighters are now on a mission to maintain peace between the rival powers of magic and science who seek to control all worlds.

When a stranger named Acacia somehow follows Joey back to InterWorld's base, things get complicated. No one knows who she is or where she's from—or how she knows so much about InterWorld.

Dangerous times lie ahead for Joey and the mission. There's a traitor hidden among them, and if Joey has any hope of saving InterWorld, the multiverse, and the mission, he's going to have to rely on his wits—and, just possibly, on the mysterious Acacia Jones.

With a story conceived by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves and written by Michael and Mallory Reaves, this mind-bending follow-up to the exciting science fiction novel InterWorld is a compelling fantasy adventure through time and space, in which the future depends on a young man who is more powerful than he realizes."

The question is, will it be as good as the first with Neil not writing it?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Book Review - Suzanne Arruda's Mark of the Lion

Mark of the Lion by Suzanne Arruda
Published by: NAL
Publication Date: December 5th, 2006
Format: Paperback, 346 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"Here’s a closely guarded secret for you: the odds are that, on most topics and time periods, historical fiction authors tend to draw from a roughly similar pool of sources. (I say “most” because there are some periods for which there are oodles of accessible sources available, which stirs up the pool a bit.) When I read Mark of the Lion, after several months immersed in the history of British East Africa, I was deeply amused to recognize people, places, events and anecdotes. There are times when the past can feel like a very small place…." - Lauren Willig

Jade del Cameron is a plucky girl. Growing up in the American West she knows how to handle herself in just about any situation. Yet she is still haunted by her ambulance work in the great war. The insane laughing of the wounded will never leave her, nor will the memory of David. David wanted to marry Jade and have a happily ever after. Jade wasn't sure but didn't really have the chance to decide when David was shot down and died in her arms pleading with her to find his secret half brother and look into his father's suspicious death in Nairobi at the start of the war. Jade takes dying wishes seriously, and with writing work for the magazine The Traveler as cover, she sets out for British East Africa to find out just what is going on.

David's father did indeed die under strange circumstances. How was he mauled to death in a hotel, on the second floor? Africa though is not what Jade expected and it looks like her duty to David might be harder then she thought. Things happen in Africa. Weird things. Everyone just accepts this. Death by animal is common, even if it was in an uncommon location. Here they believe in witches capable of using animals as their familiars to kill. Yet, what if the witches are real? And what if they have taken against Jade?

As Lauren Willig says, "the past can feel like a very small place." This was indeed what I felt upon first cracking open the pages of Mark of the Lion. Having a little African reading extravaganza means that I am reading these books back to back. I try to insert a little something different between the volumes, but to all intents and purposes, I've been living in British East Africa for awhile now, both in fictional and non-fictional works. So therefore hearing anecdotes directly lifted from other books, in particular The Flame Trees of Thika, which I had just finished, seemed a little redundant. I would say this could have been amusing, seeing the same cast of characters through yet another author's eyes, but coming directly after reading the one, it felt a bit like flogging a dead horse. Thankfully Suzanne Arruda soon went off in her own unique direction that was actually inspired by a true tale from Bror von Blixen, the husband of author Isak Dinesen, and the book soon found it's own legs with a dash of danger and more then a little mysticism.

The mysticism is what really drew me into the story. For those who know me there are two obvious categories my reading tastes lean to, firstly is the historical fiction, secondly is the urban fantasy. By bringing in witches and animals controlled by these dark forces, it's like adding a dash of urban fantasy into Kenya's Happy Valley. While of course it's traditional folklore and not fantasy that is feeding the laibon, aka witch, isn't all urban fantasy rooted in folklore? Therefore this book is like the urban fantasy of the day, if the day was 1919. Even in more biographical books like The Flame Trees of Thika, Elspeth Huxley fully admits that whether you believe or not, that sometimes it's better to be open to other things that can not be understood. I love that Suzanne Arruda was willing to embrace the fact that there are just some things that can't be explained away unless you expand your definitions of what is possible and what is impossible. A world where everything can not be neatly compartmentalized and there is room for magic is a world I want to live in.

Now to the nit-picky bit, which little old me can never just skip. Let's talk about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder folks. This is a trap that many modern writers fall prey to. The thing is, while I fully admit that PTSD was around prior to it's official designation in the 1980s; if this were really a book set in 1919, yes Jade would be shell shocked after her work in the war, but there would be the whole "stiff upper lippedness" that had people dealing with it on their own and just carrying on as it were. Sure, you can use the excuse that she's American, so she handles things differently... but I've seen this more and more that any book written by a current writer set after a war the hero or heroine will have textbook PTSD, it's almost rote in mystery books at the moment. It just gets to be a bit much, know what I mean? I like that Arruda used a specific incident in Jade's past to have hyena's trigger her attacks, but still, enough with the PTSD, ok folks?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review - Elspeth Huxley's The Flame Trees of Thika

The Flame Trees of Thika by Elspeth Huxley
Published by:  George Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Publication Date: 1959
Format: Hardcover, 287
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition then one reviewed)

"This book was one of the great, unexpected benefits of researching The Ashford Affair. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether you’re doing background reading for a book set in Kenya or not. It is an utterly charming, fictionalized account of Elspeth Huxley’s childhood in Kenya as her aristocratic parents essayed several largely unsuccessful experiments in farming. As such, it’s a little bit Little House on the Prairie and a little bit Anne of Green Gables with a hearty dollop of retrospective worldly wisdom." - Lauren Willig

In the late twenties, Kenya became known for it's "Happy Valley." A place of paradise and pleasure, where you could start your life over a make a fortune in coffee or dairy. But to those who settled there before the first world war, it was an entirely different world. In 1913 Elspeth Huxley's family moved to Thika to start a coffee plantation. They had heard there where fortunes to be made... only coffee takes at least five years to bring in any crop, and that's if everything goes right. With insects that would make anyone's skin crawl, to fighting amongst their workers who belonged to waring tribes, to curses and black magic, life is far harder than any of them would have expected. Yet the friendships they make with their workers, who are loyal in their own way, and with their fellow settlers, leads to an interesting and diverse community that Elspeth grows up in.

The beauty of Africa, while harsh, still is inspiring. Elspeth sadly reminiscences that the days when the plains would be covered with a plethora of game and where there were some areas in which you were probably the first human ever to set foot was soon to end. The settlers would change the landscape forever, but luckily, there was an inquisitive little five year old who saw Thika for the magical world it was and forever preserved it in these pages. 

A few years back I was driving back with a friend through southern Missouri from another friends wedding in Arkansas when I spied a billboard for the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum in Mansfield. As you can imagine, he was a bit dismayed by the fact that he now had to go on a tour of Laura's Rocky Ridge Farm. Before the house tour, which hand some interesting carpentry thanks to Laura's husband Almonso, there was a nice museum to wander through. In one of the cases with pride of place was Laura's own guns, which she used often to kill small game. That's when it struck me, the reality of Laura's life versus her books. Thankfully I was not the other two tourists who where having issues coming to gripes with the fact that the tv show was pure fiction, while Laura's books where, not fiction, but her interpretation of her life.

The Little House Books had presented a a sort of glorious golden childhood of living in sod houses and tapping maple syrup. Right about now you might be wondering why I'm going on about Laura Ingalls Wilder in a book review for Elspeth Huxley, but the truth is that Huxley's book, The Flame Trees of Thika, is Little House without the softened edges. They are both fictionalized but at the heart is the truth of their upbringing. Unlike Little House, you are not spared details about ticks and ants and dead animals and goat sacrifices. You will get terrified of what could happen to your pets in Africa. You will not be thinking, oh, how lovely to life in a sod house, no, you will be thinking, dear lord, I am so glad someone didn't have to heat up a needle and use it to extract an egg sack from under my toe nails. Because that is what Kenya was for Elspeth.

Now, I'm not saying that Kenya isn't Elspeth's her version of heaven and paradise combined, it's just that she doesn't stint on the whole picture, the good and the bad. This is what makes it such a great read. You are not just contained only in her little world of house and hearth, but all the characters in her life. Because of the farm needing so many workers, you get a glimpse of tribal life and the strong differences between the Kikuyu and the Masai. How the natives should never be underestimated in their cunning, a story about the Masai stealing cattle but shipping it via railway under the "true" owners name is one example. I say "true" owner, because Elspeth digs deep into the mindset of the Africans, and how their definition of property is far more fluid than Europeans.

Elspeth, growing up around these people, has a way of not condemning them for being different, but being able to see both sides. She understands why her parents and other settlers would be annoyed, but she sees that, through the natives eyes, that they aren't to blame, it's how they live. This is so refreshing. She is more an anthropologist, seeing everyone for what they are, versus the typical British Imperialist's view of do as I say, live as I do, that is the only way. In fact, by the time I got to the end of the book all the characters had become my friends so deeply that I didn't want to leave them, even if World War I was starting. Thankfully I see there is a sequel!

Now I must sidetrack everything to do a little review of this edition. This edition was released with a new introduction in the late 80s after the success of the BBC miniseries. Sadly it is long out of print, which baffles me. The book is far more beautiful then the little paperback one you can currently get. There are luscious illustrations by the Kenyan artist Frances Pelizzoli. Not only do they bring Kenya alive, but they so sync with the story. Their placement in the text is perfect and they are so accurate to the story. Nothing annoys me more then when a book is illustrated and the illustrations don't go with the text. The point of illustrations is to illuminate and expand your connection with the text. The most recent grievous perpetrator of this was in Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, where Dave McKean, a frequent collaborator with Neil, has Bod dressed in clothes before Silas gives him clothes. Um, yeah, not meshing together and pulling me out of the book. Whereas Pelizzoli just dragged me further in the world of Elspeth.

Though I have a feeling this edition was more for admiring then reading. The paper stock is glossy, so it's hard to read in some lighting situations because the pages reflect the light. Also, the font is so small and the lines so long per page, it's easy to lose you place and makes it far longer to read. I'm a fast reader and I struggled with the book just for this reason. So, your paperback copy you have sitting on your shelf will serve you better for the daily readings, but if you ever see a copy of this at your local used bookstore, pick it up for your coffee table, it's beautiful and, well, it's about coffee too, so thematic with your table. A win win situation.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

Equilateral by Ken Kalfus
Published by: Bloomsbury
Publication Date: April 16th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 224 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Equilateral is an intellectual comedy set just before the turn of the century in Egypt. A British astronomer, Thayer, high on Darwin and other progressive scientists of the age, has come to believe that beings more highly evolved than us are alive on Mars (he has evidence) and that there will be a perfect moment in which we can signal to them that we are here too. He gets the support and funding for a massive project to build the Equilateral, a triangle with sides hundreds of miles long, in the desert of Egypt in time for that perfect window. But as work progresses, the Egyptian workers, less evolved than the British, are also less than cooperative, and a bout of malaria that seems to activate at the worst moments makes it all much more confusing and complex than Thayer ever imagined. We see Thayer also through the eyes of two women--a triangle of another sort--a romantic one that involves a secretary who looks after Thayer but doesn't suffer fools, and Binta, a houseservant he covets but can't communicate with--and through them we catch sight of the depth of self-delusion and the folly of the enterprise.

Equilateral is written with a subtle, sly humor, but it's also a model of reserve and historical accuracy; it's about many things, including Empire and colonization and exploration; it's about "the other" and who that other might be. We would like to talk to the stars, and yet we can barely talk to each other."

You say Egypt, I say YES!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review - M.M. Kaye's Death in Kenya

Death in Kenya by M.M. Kaye
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: 1958
Format: Paperback, 204 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"This book takes place a generation later than my Ashford Affair, in the 1950s, in the aftermath of the Mau Mau rebellion. I’d read this book before—I don’t think there’s any M.M. Kaye I haven’t read and re-read—but it was particularly interesting to read it after writing Ashford, to trace the way the landscape had changed in those thirty years, and to imagine these characters as the descendants of the people my own characters would have known." - Lauren Willig

It isn't until Victoria gets off the train in Kenya that she realizes that it was a big mistake to even come. Yet she thought the offer from her Aunt Em to help with her estate, Flamingo, was a dream come true. After the death of Victoria's mother, it's not like she had anything left for her in England and she longed to return to the Rift Valley where she had spent her happiest days as a child. Though Em's son Eden is there. They were once engaged, but Eden ran off and married Alice... Alice was the reason the Victoria thought it was safe to take Em up on the offer. With Alice there, Victoria's feelings couldn't resurface, it wouldn't be right. But right and wrong have a way of being blurred when you live in this small knit community recovering for the bloody Mau Mau rebellion.

Victoria's error in judgement is compounded when Em's friend Drew Stratton picks her up at the station and she learns of Alice's murder just hours before. Victoria is now not only thrown into a family in turmoil, but her heart is in danger of falling for the grieving Eden all over again. While she is not a suspect, being en route at the time, she doesn't know who to trust... anyone in this community could be the killer. There is also every chance the killer could strike again.

Despite being told for years to read M.M. Kaye, I have been negligent in my reading, until now. The truth of the matter is, give me something with a bit of a mystery, with a little bit of the unexplained, and I'm a sucker, therefore this book appealed to me more then her doorstop of an epic, The Far Pavilions. While at times this book was a bit too history lesson combined with police procedural, Kaye was able to not only capture the era so well, but the lush rift valley was made alive for me in a way that other authors, Frances Osborne in particular, where unable to do. I felt like I was transported. The descriptions of the lush vegetation and the burnt charcoal cairns, the music drifting across the lawns and the clink of glasses as the inhabitants had just one more drink. I was there with Victoria, yet thankfully not able to become the next victim.

While I could fault the book's constant police presence, I just can't. The suspects being in constant contact with each other could have given this book a feel like Agatha Christie rounding up the suspects for Poirot, but for some reason, the more modern feeling of the setting with the Mau Mau Rebellion, made me think that this felt more like the movie Scream. Now, I know what you're thinking, this comparison couldn't possibly be flattering to the book... yet it is. Scream has a campy fun to it that I very much like and take into account that this movie is also about a close knit community, a group of friends and family who always have the cops on hand and are always in each others presence, usually in just the one house, but the danger and the death is always there. The fact that the killer also uses a disguise... well, I know it's not Ghostface... and other killers do use disguises... but the ending clinches the comparison for me, and if I said it here, well that would be telling. Just, when you read this book, which you will, when you get to the end, just come back and tell me I'm a little bit right with my comparison. And speaking of the ending... I really didn't see that coming, now did you? Yes, I'm assuming that you have now gone and read the book and returned.

Kaye must also be applauded with how she deals with love and lust. Many authors just don't get the romance right. Either it's over the top or unrealistic. While she does underplay the extremely romantic love interest that I feel is at the heart of this book and therefore makes it work more, she is also able to juggle all the star crossed lovers and inappropriate dalliances that happen among a small group. As Fabrice says to Fanny in Love in a Cold Climate, "She lives, as all those sort of women do, in one little tiny group or set, and sooner or later everybody in that set becomes the lover of everybody else, so that when they change their lovers it is more like a cabinet reshuffle than a new government. Always chosen out of the same old lot, you see." Here, cut off from any other society, the cabinet is reshuffled often. Though in the end... it ends on just the right note. I hate when after all the killing and death if the right people don't end up together, don't you?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Ashford Affair

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Clemmie's life has been turned on its head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?

Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you were sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.

While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.

I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more than any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.

Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.

I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.

One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig comes The Ashford Affair, a page-turning novel about two women in different eras, and on different continents, who are connected by one deeply buried secret.

As a lawyer in a large Manhattan firm, just shy of making partner, Clementine Evans has finally achieved almost everything she’s been working towards—but now she’s not sure it’s enough. Her long hours have led to a broken engagement and, suddenly single at thirty-four, she feels her messy life crumbling around her. But when the family gathers for her grandmother Addie’s ninety-ninth birthday, a relative lets slip hints about a long-buried family secret, leading Clemmie on a journey into the past that could change everything. . . .

Growing up at Ashford Park in the early twentieth century, Addie has never quite belonged. When her parents passed away, she was taken into the grand English house by her aristocratic aunt and uncle, and raised side-by-side with her beautiful and outgoing cousin, Bea. Though they are as different as night and day, Addie and Bea are closer than sisters, through relationships and challenges, and a war that changes the face of Europe irrevocably. But what happens when something finally comes along that can’t be shared? When the love of sisterhood is tested by a bond that’s even stronger?

From the inner circles of British society to the skyscrapers of Manhattan and the red-dirt hills of Kenya, the never-told secrets of a woman and a family unfurl.

Um... what this month is all about? Lauren's new stand alone novel, but with a tiny nod for those Pink Carnation fans out there!

The Heiress of Winterwood by Sarah Ladd
Published by: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Amelia Barrett gave her word. Keeping it could cost her everything.

Darbury, England, 1814

Amelia Barrett, heiress to an estate nestled in the English moors, defies family expectations and promises to raise her dying friend’s baby. She'll risk everything to keep her word—even to the point of proposing to the child’s father—a sea captain she’s never met.

When the child vanishes with little more than an ominous ransom note hinting to her whereabouts, Amelia and Graham are driven to test the boundaries of their love for this little one.

Amelia’s detailed plans would normally see her through any trial, but now, desperate and shaken, she’s forced to examine her soul and face her one weakness: pride.

Graham’s strength and self-control have served him well and earned him much respect, but chasing perfection has kept him a prisoner of his own discipline. And away from the family he has sworn to love and protect.

Both must learn to accept God’s sovereignty and relinquish control so they can grasp the future He has for planned for them."

I'm rather intrigued by this book which is the first in a new series, Whispers on the Moors.

Midnight at Marble Arch by Anne Perry
Published by: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In this superbly accomplished new Charlotte and Thomas Pitt adventure, Anne Perry takes us beneath the glittering surface of wealthy Victorian society into a nightmare world of fear and intimidation, where women are too often blamed for the violent attacks against them, and powerful men take what they want, leaving others to pay the price.

The horrifying rape and apparent suicide of Catherine Quixwood, wife of a wealthy merchant banker, falls outside the new jurisdiction of Special Branch head Thomas Pitt, but so pervasively offensive are the rumors about the victim that Pitt quietly takes a hand in the investigation.

Yet even with the help of his ingenious wife, Charlotte, and his former superior, Victor Narraway, Pitt is stumped. Why did high-minded, cultured Catherine choose not to accompany her husband to a grand party on the night of her demise? Why did she dismiss all her servants for the evening and leave the front door unlocked? What had been her relationship with the young man seen frequently by her side at concerts and art exhibits? And what can be done to avenge another terrible crime: the assault on Angeles Castelbranco, beloved teenage daughter of the Portuguese ambassador?

As an ordinary policeman, Pitt had once entered London’s grand houses through the kitchen door. Now, as a guest in those same houses, can he find the steel in his soul to challenge the great men of the world with their crimes? The path to the truth takes him in deeply troubling directions, from the lofty world of international politics and finance to his own happy home, where his own teenage daughter, Jemima, is coming of age in a culture rife with hidden dangers.

In this rich, emotionally charged masterpiece, Anne Perry exposes yet another ugly secret of Victoria’s proud empire. And in a courtroom battle of unparalleled brilliance, we thrill at the chance to witness a massive wrong righted."

I really need to get on the Anne Perry train, if just for the fact I can be guaranteed a new book quite frequently.

Fear in the Sunlight by Nicholas Upson
Published by: Harper
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Paperback, 432 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Nicola Upson blends biography and fiction, excitement and menace, and a touch of Alfred Hitchcock in Fear in the Sunlight, a mystery starring real-life writer Josephine Tey.

Summer, 1936: Josephine Tey joins her friends in the resort village of Portmeirion to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine’s novel, A Shilling for Candles, and Alfred Hitchcock has one or two tricks up his sleeve to keep the holiday party entertained—and expose their deepest fears. But things get out of hand when one of Hollywood’s leading actresses is brutally slashed to death in a cemetery near the village. The following day, fear and suspicion take over in a setting where nothing—and no one—is quite what it seems.

Based in part on the life of Josephine Tey—one of the most popular, best-loved crime writers of the Golden Age, Nicola Upson’s Fear in the Sunlight features legendary film director Alfred Hitchcock as a prominent character—and features the classic suspense and psychological tension that fans of Hitchcock films love."

In the ever growing trend of authors solving mysteries, the newest Josephine Tey crime solving novel is here... and it has Alfred Hitchcock! Can't resist that!

Miss Julia Stirs up Trouble by Ann B. Ross
Published by: Viking Adult
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"With a crisp bite in the air, Miss Julia is enjoying a well-earned respite by her new fireplace. But autumn leaves aren’t the only things falling: James, Hazel Marie’s housekeeper, has had a nasty tumble down some stairs. How can Hazel Marie feed and take care of him—not to mention a husband and two babies—when she barely knows how to boil water?

Miss Julia jumps in to help by convincing the ladies of Abbotsville to put on their aprons and give cooking lessons. With success so close she can taste it, Miss Julia isn’t thrilled when an unexpected visitor shows up. Brother Vern Puckett, Hazel Marie’s no-good uncle, started life on the wrong foot and stayed there. What could he possibly want from his frazzled niece this time?

With a delightful helping of madcap antics, Miss Julia Stirs Up Trouble is a perfect next course in this charming series."

Another one for my mother, one of her favorite series!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Ashford Affair Spotlight: Caroline Martin as Addie

Name: Caroline Martin

Dream Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: Addie

First Impression: He Knew He Was Right. Playing the young Dorothy Stanbury she is heartbreaking when she tells her Aunt Stanbury that she will not marry Brooke Burgess because her Aunt doesn't wish it. When she confesses that she loves him so much and she never thought that she could be loved in return then was she melts that hard Aunt's heart and everyone gets a happy ending I cried and cried.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: She has the look to match Rachel Stirling, so they could be cousins. But more importantly, she has that bookish, independent nature, or at least through her acting I envision she has, that would lend itself to Addie. Also, she has an appearance that you might first overlook, but when she smiles it lights up the room.

Lasting Impression: He Knew He Was Right. She got it in one.

What else you've seen them in: She actually hasn't been in much, but what she has been in she was memorable, ie, He Knew He Was Right. But she did hit the big murder mysteries, with Inspector Lynley, Poirot and Foyle's War. She was also in Byron with Johnny Lee Miller and the much touted film, Happy-Go-Lucky.

Can't believe it's them: She was in Byron... I really need to rewatch that sometime, because I remember very little of it...

Wish they hadn't: Left Foyle's War! Ug, she was perfect for Milner and then they recast her! Now, I don't know if this was her decision or not, but the new Mrs. Milner has no chemistry with him. I mean they had a spark, you rooted for them, and then we get her recast with a milksop!

Bio: She originally was going to be an Astrophysicist, but then she became involved in the Edinburgh Footlights and was cast as Sally Bowles and that, as they say, was that.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ashford Affair Spotlight: Rachael Stirling as Bea

Name: Rachael Stirling

Dream Character Casting for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: Bea

First Impression: Tipping the Velvet... kind of hard to forget the all scene with all the "John's" or the scene with the leather, you know... I'm not going to type it out, but it lead to her being fired by Caroline Bingley... mainly cause Caroline wasn't on the receiving end... overall a lackluster production despite being written by Andrew Davies... and who knew Caroline Bingley was so into women... well the writers of Lost in Austen for one.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Lauren Willig Dream Movie Adaptation: That sultry voice that perfectly captures the way Lauren describes Bea. Not to mention I think she's fully capable of stealing any man's heart and looks fabulous in period clothing.

Lasting Impression: Marple, "Murder at the Vicarage." The first episode of the new Marple and Rachael was perfect. I also want her wardrobe.

What else you've seen them in: From mysteries like Poirot, Miss Marple and The Bletchley Circle, to more gender bending roles in Lewis, Tipping the Velvet and the comedy Boy Meets Girl. As well as more big budget movies, like Snow White and the Huntsman and Salmon Fishing in Yemen, and Julian Fellowes' The Young Victoria. Rachael is always wonderful and always willing to walk the line of male and female, with her feminine features and her husky voice.

Can't believe it's them: She was in the horrid Maybe Baby, which I'm sure everyone involved from Hugh Laurie to Emma Thompson wishes this film would just disappear off their resume.

Wish they hadn't: Back to Maybe Baby, but as a whole, this movie should have never been made feeling.

Bio: Think she looks familiar? Could it be because her mother is none other than Diana Rigg? Why didn't they just get her for The Avengers... Uma Thurman my ass. As for the two of them ever acting together? Just wait for the new season of Doctor Who! And an episode written by Mark Gatiss at that!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Book Review - Frances Osborne's The Bolter

The Bolter: Edwardian Heartbreak and High Society Scandal in Kenya by Frances Osborne
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: 2008
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

"Every now and again you come up against a book that has a real and unexpected impact on your life. The Bolter was one of those books for me. Knowing that I like to vacation in the 1920s, a friend gave me the book to read for fun back in the fall of 2010, at the same time that my grandmother, previously hale and hearty, wound up in the hospital, not once, but repeatedly. Opening “The Bolter”, I was incredibly struck by Frances Osborne’s comment that she hadn’t known that Idina Sackville, aka the Bolter, was her great-grandmother, until a chance television program sparked the revelation. The combination of events got me thinking, hard, about how little we know about our own families, about the secrets our grandparents take with them.

And that was how The Ashford Affair was born…" - Lauren Willig

Idina Sackville was was born in 1893. Raised in affluence amid a family of loose morals, she herself grew up to be not only unconventional, but some might even say scandalous. In a time when divorce was not prevalent, she went on to marry five times, it might have been six if her daughter hadn't begged her to not marry again and return to her maiden name. The first bolt to Africa left behind her very small children with her ex and his new bride. She would grow to love Africa, so much so that despite numerous divorces and reclamation of her property, she would set up three separate homes there over the years. Her parties in the Happy Valley became notorious for the booze, drugs and bed jumping. Her life became the stuff of fiction and parody in her own lifetime, with Nancy Mitford, among the many authors to take on Idina as a subject, immortalizing her as "The Bolter" in her books The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate. Despite making the rift valley in Kenya "happy," her life wasn't that glamorous, and one has to wonder if she brought down the misery on herself in the end.

So, I fully admit that, seeing as this is the book that inspired Lauren Willig to write The Ashford Affair, that logically, "Ashford April" should have started with this book... rarely can it be said that I am logical, and therefore this is the second book reviewed this month. I just felt that Wigs on the Green was a nice transition between a month of Mitfords and a month of Ashford. I really liked the concept of this book more than the actual execution of it. I should have known I was in for trouble just by the fact that this book was recommended by Oprah's magazine, O. Oprah's selections tend to be... how shall I put this... books that I avoid like the plague. There is some sort of dynamic and polar opposites between me and Oprah. I have long ago accepted it, she, well, she doesn't even know I exist. But she was sneaky, instead of that "O" sticker, there was a little red band at the bottom that I didn't even bother to read the reversed out type on. Well played Oprah, well played.

The first hurtle that I couldn't get past was that every single person in this book was unlikable. They weren't just mildly annoying, but full on, me banging my head against the wall declaring that they deserved all the ill will that befell them because of their lack of morals or likability. Supposedly Idina could transfix anyone and endear them to her, so that despite all that she had working against her, the scandals, the affairs, that to those who personally knew her, she was the life of the party and a wonder to behold. Yet this never came across in the stories I read about her. Instead her great-granddaughter, who is obviously lacking in this ability to transfix anyone, has to repeatedly say it over and over as if to assure us, that despite appearances to the contrary, Idina was likable. OK... guess I'm going to have to take her word for it because rarely have I met someone who I wanted to throttle as much as India.

On top of Idina, the book is peopled with too many other characters that you don't care for because of their odiousness. Sometimes it feels like Frances Osborne goes out of her way to highlight the bad traits so that her book comes across as unbiased. Instead I felt like she just really hates her family. Then the odd rants about people other then Idina where wearing... I picked up the book because it was about Idina, not because of her son David, or anyone else. Excise David, sure she was Idina's son, but guess what, he died, so the end. In fact, they all die. And I couldn't give a damn. They all led lives that I found amoral and depraved, and they all deserved what they got. Sure she inspired some great fiction... but that's the thing about fiction, it makes this more palatable. Truth is harder to digest.

Next rant... Kenya. I picked up this book because of the "chief seductress of Kenya's scandalous 'Happy Valley set'." That meant to me, that the book was about Idina and Kenya... well... Kenya doesn't even get a look in until 130 pages after lugubrious family history and the destruction of her first marriage, that really she just gave up on in my opinion. Plus, once Idina gets to Kenya, she has a tendency to leave it quite rapidly again. It's only in her 3rd and 4th into 5th marriages that she actually spends any length of time there. Those sections of the book I found interesting. It was how the members of this little community lived and interacted that fascinated me. How they all got together at house parties and lived for the races in Nairobi. So, at least I did get some of what I expected to get in this book, but it was too little too late. These passages where not able to redeem themselves for the history of Idina's father's affairs, or her mother's political fervor. Some probably view it as backstory. I view it as too much exposition and not enough of what I wanted.

Yet all issues pale to that which angered me and put a fire in my belly that just wouldn't quit. Inaccuracies abounded in this book. If one or more facts is glaringly, obviously, 100% wrong wrong wrong... how can we take anything the author says at face value. The first error, which she later repeated, proving that it wasn't a typo, was about the political affiliations of one Oswald Mosley. For those who don't know, Oswald Mosley was the founder of the Blackshirts... those same Blackshirts that where parodied by Nancy Mitford in Wigs on the Green. The Blackshirts are Fascists. Who does Frances Osborne say Oswald Mosley's affliations lie with? The Communists. Because Communists and Fascists are the same right? NO! They HATE each other. Google Oswald Mosley and you will get quite a few politically incorrect jokes that Mosley said about Communists. In fact, Diana Mitford, sister of Nancy and Jessica, eventually married Oswald, after being his mistress for quite some time, and Diana's Fascisim led to a prolonged silence between her and Jessica, because Jessica was a Communist.

If this error wasn't enough, Osborne goes on to say that in Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love, the one with a character based on Idina, that when the fictional Bolter arrives to visit her daughter Fanny at the end of the book that Fanny is delivering her 1st child... not her 3rd, which is actually the case... but her first. These errors indicate a problem that might run deeper in the book. These are just two errors that I, who is not an afficianado of Africa or the Happy Valley set picked up on. Where there are two glaring errors, there are probably more. So how can I believe ANYTHING this author says? It shouldn't be shelved in biographies, but in fiction... Osborn in fact could conceivably make the book far more readable if she where to do this... historical fiction, not biography. Gaw... at least one good thing came out of this book, and that's The Ashford Affair.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Book Review - Nancy Mitford's Wigs on the Green

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford
Published by: Vintage
Publication Date: August 10th, 2010
Format: Paperback, 192 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

"I discovered Nancy Mitford as a teenager and haven’t looked back since. She even supplanted Evelyn Waugh in my affections—which, considering Brideshead and the glorious inanities of Decline and Fall, took some doing. When I was writing The Ashford Affair, I used Nancy Mitford’s works as an idiomatic style guide; if someone in The Pursuit of Love said it, there were good odds my aristocratic characters might as well. 

Of course, all this Mitford immersion did have some unintended side effects. I spent several months running around referring to everything as “too too utterly!” or “too too shame-making!” (Note: it does wear off after a few weeks or with serious application of Elizabeth Peters novels.)" - Lauren Willig

Noel Foster has come into some money. So, he decides to get his money to work for him. He will set himself up as a rich bachelor in order to entice an heiress his way. Therefore, the money just needs to hold out until his hoped for nuptials. Unfortunately, he has asked for the help of his friend Jasper Aspect, who is quite good at parting Noel from his money and making it disappear at a prodigious rate. So they remove themselves from London to Chalford, where the heiress Eugenia Malmain lives. Of course, she's a bit odd... in that she is a fanatic fascist and will convert anyone to the cause. Noel and Jasper quickly sign up in the hopes that it will bring them closer to the goal of Noel marrying Eugenia, his targeted heiress. Though soon the town has a rather wealthy lady on the run from her wedding day along with her best friend Poppy, who rather thinks Jasper is nicer then her own husband, as well as a few Private Eyes. If only Noel could fall for Eugenia and tie everything up, but sadly, he falls for the local beauty who is under the mistaken assumption that Noel is deposed royalty. In true British fashion, everything goes haywire and then ends with a fete. Yet, what are the fates of those involved?

When perusing Lauren Willig's list of books that inspired The Ashford Affair, I saw this little, long out of print book by Nancy Mitford among the other tomes. I turned around and looked at the little volume sitting on my shelf and it spoke to me. In fact, all the Nancy Mitford books got so chatty that I ended up doing my long thought of "Mitford March" because of their insistence. Also, as Lauren and Nancy have said, if I hadn't I would have probably been "too too shame-making" and my Mitford books would have run away. Oddly enough the book that inspired this idea ended up being the last read on my Mitford binge. Wigs on the Green is an interesting book, not just for the humor and the sly pokes at Nancy's family, but because of the controversy surrounding it. Because it deals with Fascism (in a humorous way) and pokes fun not only at Nancy's sister Unity, but also her sister Diana, and Diana's husband to be, Walter Mosley, the three darlings of Hitler. The book understandably infuriated quite a few members of her family and resulted in some long and awkward silences. Therefore, when her publisher requested the rights to reprint, Nancy denied them. Whether this was for her families sensibilities and a desire to restore the calm, or whether it was because she truly believed that Hitler's atrocities were so serious and horrid, that it was no longer a laughing matter, we will not know.

Thankfully when Nancy's back catalog was being re-released, Wigs on the Green was among those selected. I personally believe that it must have been family pressure that resulted in this books long absence, because I don't think that her excuse of not laughing at Hitler is valid. Yes, he was pure evil, yes, it wasn't a laughing matter... but the way to take away someone's power is to laugh at them, and Nancy loved to tease and everything was a laughing matter to her. Look to Harry Potter, and yes, it's an odd digression I admit. In Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin has the students face a boggart, which is a shape-shifter that takes the form of your worst nightmare. The spell that destroys the boggart, Riddikulus, forces the nightmare to take on a humorous form and is then destroyed by laughter. Proving, in the most simplest of terms, that by laughing at something or someone, you take away their power. This book should have been widely distributed to soldiers everywhere, so, her publisher was right on that count. Everyone needs a laugh, and a laugh at the enemies expense is all the better.

As for the laughing. This book was seriously funny, especially if you know a little British history. The send up of the Blackshirts with the Union Jackshirts with their absurd outfits and laughable fervor. I think that Eugenia is probably the only earnest believer in Fascism, while all the rest are just joining the bandwagon, and the fact that Eugenia has been so sheltered, her fervent belief is to be laughed at like that one friend you had in high school who spent all their time lecturing you on why Pepsi was evil because of various civil rights infringements that they could never explain properly to you, but insisted you join their boycott. And that is where the humor really lies, in the personality types Nancy is teasing. We have all known the oddly fervent and political, likewise, the ones who pretend to be to get in with them, those who would do anything for money, even marrying odd heiresses, those who revel in making merry hell for their friends, those who get the wrong end of the stick, and those who are totally potty... though perhaps not to the extent of living up a tree... Sure she was making fun of her family, but it wasn't just them, it's the personality they typified. We are all amusing, Nancy just had a way of making it apparent.

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