Monday, March 24, 2014

Around the Castle - #3

Reading –  Finally finished The Queen of Four Kingdoms.  Not horrible, but a little simple.  Now reading an OOP fro 1951 - Fire in the Morning by Francis Leary about Richard III - but I haven't had a chance to get too far into it yet.

Watching – Watched the first episode of Atlantis on BBCAmerica - not sure about this one yet.  Might be a little cheesy.  We’ve also been watching the new comedy About a Boy.  It’s cute with some funny moments so we’ll probably keep watching for a while and see where it goes.  Watched the season 2 premiere of Davinci's Demons.  I really like this show even though it's a little strange at times and when it's not too bogged down by the mysticism aspect/storyline.    I’m really looking forward to the new series Turn (about Revolutionary War spies) and Game of Thrones. 

Stitching - Well, the fabric for Lancelot and Guinevere arrived but when I started in on it I was not happy with the coloration of it at all - way too yellow/orangey looking.  So, I decided to pass on it for now and try and get a better pattern.  I decided to work on this instead:

This is a section of a larger piece and I particularly liked this section for the castle, knight, dragon and white horse - very historical atmosphere - and I think it will be a nice addition to the library.

What else – I’m working on re-designing the blog and going to a much simpler, less cluttered look.  I haven’t settled on a final color scheme so it may look different from time to time while I make up my mind (right now it's all black...).

Upcoming –

The Tudor Vendetta by Christopher Gortner.  October 2014.
Upon the death of Mary I (Bloody Mary), Elizabeth I takes the throne and Brendan Prescott is called to aid the young queen amid a realm plunged into chaos and a court rife with conspiracy
London, 1558. Queen Mary is dead, and 25-year old Elizabeth ascends the throne. Summoned to court from exile abroad, Elizabeth’s intimate spy, Brendan Prescott, is reunited with the young queen, as well as his beloved Kate, scheming William Cecil, and arch-rival, Robert Dudley. A poison attempt on Elizabeth soon overshadows her coronation, but before Brendan can investigate, Elizabeth summons him in private to dispatch him on a far more confidential mission: to find her favored lady in waiting, Lady Parry, who has disappeared during a visit to her family manor in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the desolate sea-side manor where Lady Parry was last seen, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery in Vaughn Hall, the more he learns that in his zeal to uncover the truth, he could be precipitating Elizabeth’s destruction.

From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the deadly underworld of London, Brendan must race against time to unravel a vendetta that will strike at the very core of his world—a vendetta that could expose a buried past and betray everything he has fought for, including his loyalty to his queen.

Defending the City of God by Sharan Newman.  Non-fiction.  April 2014.
Jerusalem sits at the crossroads of three continents and has been continuously invaded for millennia. Yet, in the middle of one of the region’s most violent eras, the Crusades, an amazing multicultural world was forming. Templar knights, Muslim peasants, Turkish caliphs, Jewish merchants, and the native Christians, along with the children of the first crusaders, blended cultures while struggling to survive in a land constantly at war. Defending the City of God explores this fascinating and forgotten world, and how a group of sisters, daughters of the King of Jerusalem, whose supporters included Grand Masters of the Templars and Armenian clerics, held together the fragile treaties, understandings, and marriages that allowed for relative peace among the many different factions. As the crusaders fought to maintain their conquests, these relationships quickly unraveled, and the religious and cultural diversity was lost as hardline factions took over. Weaving together the political intrigues and dynastic battles that transformed the Near East with an evocative portrait of medieval Jerusalem, this is an astonishing look at a forgotten side of the first Crusades.

Gutenberg's Apprentice by Alix Christie.  September 2014.       An enthralling literary debut that evokes one of the most momentous events in history, the birth of printing in medieval Germany—a story of invention, intrigue, and betrayal, rich in atmosphere and historical detail, told through the lives of the three men who made it possible.
Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corrupt, feud-plagued Mainz to meet “a most amazing man.”
Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg’s workshop and he orders Peter, his adopted son, to become Gutenberg’s apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the “darkest art.”
As his skill grows, so, too, does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: copies of the Holy Bible. But mechanical difficulties and the crushing power of the Catholic Church threaten their work. As outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures: the generous Fust, who saved him from poverty after his mother died; and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.
Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles—a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them.

The Last Queen of India by Michelle Moran.  July 2014 (UK)

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Around the Castle - #2

Reading – Still working on The Queen of Four Kingdoms (about Yolande of Aragon).  It’s improved somewhat but is probably keeping my attention more because I don’t know that much about her.  Hopefully I'll finish it early next week. 

Wishing – There’s not much historical fiction about the early kings of Britain, so this one caught my attention – Edwin: High King of Britain by Edoarado Albert. 
Debut historical fiction series vividly recreating the rise of the Christian kings of Nothumbria, England.
In 604 AD, Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious fi gure—the missionary Paulinus— who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point.
Th rough battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life.
This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving fi rst to pillage, then to farm and trade—and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.
The dramatic story of Northumbria’s Christian kings helped give birth to England as a nation, English as a language, and the adoption of Christianity as the faith of the English.

The Marriage Game by Alison Weir.  UK release June 2014; US release February 2015
The new novel of Tudor intrigue from the New York Times bestselling historian Alison Weir tells the story of one of history's most scandalous love affairs: the romance between the new, young "Virgin Queen" Elizabeth I and her handsome married courtier, Lord Robert Dudley.

He is her dashing Master of Horse. She is the 25-year-old newly crowned English Queen, a title she holds only because there is no male heir to inherit it. Yet in spite of her tenuous hold on the throne, young Queen Elizabeth begins a flagrant flirtation with the handsome but married Lord Robert, taking long unchaperoned horseback rides with him and constantly having him at her side. Many believe them to be lovers, and over time the rumors grow that Elizabeth is no virgin at all, and that she has secretly borne Lord Robert's child.

When Robert's wife is found dead, lying at the bottom of a staircase with her neck broken, there is universal shock followed by accusations of murder.Picking up where Alison Weir's bestselling novel to date, The Lady Elizabeth, left off (but standing completely alone), The Marriage Game tells the dramatic story of the "Virgin Queen's" reign, framed by Elizabeth's long and tumultuous relationship with Lord Robert. Did they or didn't they? Rivers of ink have been spilled in determining the answer to this burning historical question, and you can be sure Alison Weir has strong opinions about Elizabeth's questionable virginity, based on a lifetime of research! But fiction gives her a free hand to explore this intriguing love affair in its every colorful detail, and the resulting novel is one of her best.

Isabella:  The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey.  US and UK release November 2014.
An engrossing and revolutionary biography of Isabella of Castile, the controversial Queen of Spain who sponsored Christopher Columbus's journey to the New World, established the Spanish Inquisition, and became one of the most influential female rulers in history.

Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and León. Her subsequent feats were legendary. She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing Moorish invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus's trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain's reputation for centuries.

Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, where millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella's influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey's luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she brought under her command.


The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell.  (next in The Saxon series but no description yet).  UK release September 2014.  I’m seriously behind in Uhtred’s story, but my husband has read them all so far and loves it!
Acquired – Another OOP – this one about Catherine Howard.
Cover SlutThe Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick.  UK release September 2014.  I mentioned this a few weeks ago and then the cover showed up on Amazon.  I love the blue color!

It is the winter of 1154 and Eleanor, Queen of England, is biding her time.  While her husband King Henry II battles for land across the channel, Eleanor fulfils her duty as acting ruler and bearer of royal children.  But she wants to be more than this - if only Henry would let her.

Instead, Henry belittles and excludes her, falling for a young mistress and leaving Eleanor side-lined and angry.  And as her sons become young men, frustrated at Henry's hoarding of power, Eleanor is forced into a rebellion of devastating consequences.  She knows how much Henry needs her, but does Henry know himself?

Overflowing with scandal, politics, sex, triumphs, and tragedies, The Winter Crown is the much-awaited new novel in this trilogy and a rich, compelling story in its own right.

Watching – So far, we’re loving the new season of Vikings!  And I’m fessing up – I’ve been watching CW’s Reign.  History it isn’t.  But it’s so ridiculous it’s fun and it has some gorgeous scenery and costumes (even though they aren’t accurate) – sometimes I just need some mindless pretty fluff!

Speaking of probably-not-very-accurate, has anyone watched the UK series Atlantis?  I saw some promos for it a while back and it's currently on BBCAmerica On Demand so I was thinking about giving it a try...

Stitching – I’m still waiting for my Guinevere and Lancelot fabric and starting to get rather inpatient about it.  I started working on some bookmarks so look for a giveaway soon!

Upcoming - The Barefoot Queen by Ildefonso Falcones.  US release November 2014.

A historical epic full of bravery and romance that follows two women as they make a life for themselves in 18th-century Spain.
It's January of 1748. Caridad is a recently freed Cuban slave wondering the streets of Seville. Her master is dead and she has nowhere to go. When her path crosses with Milagros Carmona's-a young, rebellious gypsy-the two women are instantly inseparable. Milagros introduces Caridad to the gypsy community, an exotic fringe society that will soon change her life forever. Over time they each fall in love with men who are fiercely loyal and ready to fight to the death for their rights as a free people. When all gypsies are declared outlaws by royal mandate, life in their community becomes perilous. They soon find themselves in Madrid-a city of passion and dancing, but also a treacherous one full of smugglers and thieves. Caridad and Milagros must help in the gypsy's struggle against society and its laws in order to stay together; it's a dangerous battle that cannot, and will not, be easily won. From the tumultuous bustle of Seville to the theatres of Madrid, The Barefoot Queen is a historical fresco filled with charaters that live, love, suffer, and fight for what they believe.

The Woman Who Would be Queen by Kara Cooney (non-fiction).  US release October 2014.
An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king.  At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.
Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images  were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

Joan of Arc by Kathryn Harrison.  Non-fiction.  US release October 2014.

The profoundly inspiring and fully documented saga of Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl whose "voices" moved her to rally the French nation and a reluctant king against British invaders in 1428, has fascinated artistic figures as diverse as William Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw, Bertolt Brecht, Carl Dreyer, and Robert Bresson. Was she a divinely inspired saint? A schizophrenic? A demonically possessed heretic, as her persecutors and captors tried to prove?
Every era must retell and reimagine the Maid of Orleans's extraordinary story in its own way, and in Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured, the superb novelist and memoirist Kathryn Harrison gives us a Joan for our time-a shining exemplar of unshakable faith, extraordinary courage, and self-confidence during a brutally rigged ecclesiastical inquisition and in the face of her death by burning. Deftly weaving historical fact, myth, folklore, artistic representations, and centuries of scholarly and critical interpretation into a compelling narrative, she restores Joan of Arc to her rightful position as one of the greatest heroines in all of human history.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman

Well, I was worried for nothing.  After being somewhat disappointed with Penman’s last novel, Lionheart, I was afraid the follow-up (which covers Richard I’s life after the crusade) was going to be a rather tedious account of his time as a “guest” of the Duke of Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor.   After almost 700 pages, I concluded that Lionheart must have a been a fluke.  Thank goodness!

With a dizzying array of characters and the meticulous research for which she’s known, Penman presents Richard the man rather the Richard the Lionheart.  The attempt is mostly successful and this is by far the best fictional account of Richard I that I’ve read (interestingly, there really aren’t that many novels that focus on Richard).  The reason for the “mostly successful” is that Penman’s Richard is perhaps just a little too “nice” for his own good.  Given his genetics, his position, his life experiences and his legend, I would expect Richard’s personality to be more complex and interesting.  Rarely do you see fits of temper or nastiness (except where directed towards his captors) or the types of emotions and outbursts people often regret later.  He seems to mostly take what comes his way with grace, charm, and patience, leaving a Richard who never totally emerges from the Lionheart’s shadow.

As in Lionheart, Richard is seriously upstaged by other characters –again his sister Joanna provides much needed social, domestic and cultural references and her relationship with Raimond, Count of Toulouse provides the romance missing from Richard’s own marriage.  But it is the youngest of the family, John, that I enjoyed the most and I thought he displayed the subtlety of character I had hoped for in Richard.  Charmingly manipulative, sly and more intelligent than you might expect, John steals every scene.

Following Richard’s release from captivity, a string of battles/sieges follow that could have been less detailed.  Penman’s strength is writing about relationships, not battles, and they lack the dramatic intensity of say, Bernard Cornwell.  Penman remains one of my favorite writers and few can match her abilities in transporting the reader to another world full of people you would like to get to know better.

Four stars

In case the FTC asks:  Copy from the publisher

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Around the Castle - #1

Well, just when my husband was getting to the point where he didn’t need me to wait on him hand and foot anymore, my daughter fell at work and broke her right leg – three fractures including a spiral fracture (where the break goes up the bone basically splitting it in two).  So now I have two who can’t walk, can’t drive and are on narcotics and I have deadlines for work.   Everyone keeps asking how the two of them are doing and I’m like, “Hello – how about how the hell am I?”  My sister-in-law joked that someone needs to remove all of the sharp objects from our house.  I see alcohol in my future…

Reading – Given the events of the past week, I didn’t get much reading done.  I did finish A King’s Ransom though and managed to get started with The Queen of Four Kingdoms by HRH Princess Michael of Kent.  I haven’t gotten very far with it and so far, well...– present tense and reads a little YAish.  Hopefully as Yolande gets older, she will come across as more mature but since it's about someone I know very little about, I'll probably keep going.

Wishing – There’s a new novel about Margaret Beaufort being published in June – Succession by Livi Michael.  Succession tells the extraordinary tale of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, and how she became one of the most formidable women of her age. 1445. Henry VI is married by proxy to Margaret of Anjou: an unpopular choice that causes national uproar. At the same time, the infant Margaret Beaufort is made a great heiress after her father, the Earl of Somerset's, death. Everyone at court is competing to be her guardian: she brings with her the Beaufort fortune and an advantageous alliance with her uncle. In the years that follow, English rule in France collapses, Henry VI goes insane, civil war erupts, and families are pitted against each other. And though Margaret Beaufort is still little more than a child, by the age of thirteen she has married twice and given birth to her only son - the future King of England. Succession tells the thrilling, bloody story of the fall of the House of Lancaster and the rise of the Tudor dynasty.

And since I'm a huge William Marshall fan...A Knight’s Tale by Thomas Asbridge.   US release December 2014
A renowned scholar brings to life medieval England’s most celebrated knight, William Marshal—providing an unprecedented and intimate view of this age and the legendary warrior class that shaped it.

Caught on the wrong side of an English civil war and condemned by his father to the gallows at age five, William Marshal defied all odds to become one of England’s most celebrated knights. Thomas Asbridge’s rousing narrative chronicles William’s rise, using his life as a prism to view the origins, experiences, and influence of the knight in British history.

In William’s day, the brutish realities of war and politics collided with romanticized myths about an Arthurian “golden age,” giving rise to a new chivalric ideal. Asbridge details the training rituals, weaponry, and battle tactics of knighthood, and explores the codes of chivalry and courtliness that shaped their daily lives. These skills were essential to survive one of the most turbulent periods in English history—an era of striking transformation, as the West emerged from the Dark Ages.

A leading retainer of four English kings, Marshal served the great figures of this age, from Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Richard the Lionheart and his infamous brother John, and was involved in some of the most critical phases of medieval history, from the Magna Carta to the survival of the Angevin/Plantagenet dynasty. Asbridge introduces this storied knight to modern readers and places him firmly in the context of the majesty, passion, and bloody intrigue of the middle ages.

A Knight’s Tale features 16 pages of black-and-white and color illustrations.

Watching – Now that the Olympics are over there’s not a lot to watch during the day but hubby and I re-watched the first season of The History Channel’s Vikings in preparation for this week’s premiere of season 2. Looks like it will be another great season!  The Voice also returned this week – I really like Usher and Shakira and think they add a lot of fun to the show (Christina always seemed rather uptight...).

Acquired – Picked up a couple of OOPs from Alison Farely – King Wolf and The Lion and the Wolf.  She wrote a series of novels about the early Plantagenets in the late 60s/early 70s and they can be hard to find at decent prices but every now and then I get lucky.  And of course I love the covers!

Richard I and John

King John

Stitching – I finished another page on the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry while I've been waiting for the fabric for my Lancelot and Guinevere project which should be here in a few days.  I'm really hoping to finish this one this year.

What else? - I've been thinking a new approach to blogging deserves a new blog look so I'll be making some changes over the next few weeks.  Apologies in advance if things look a little wonky for awhile.
'Til next time!

Friday, February 21, 2014

What's Up?

So, six weeks into 2014 and I haven’t made much improvement in the blogging area and life hasn’t slowed down much.  In early January I came down with a nasty case of pneumonia – knocked me on my butt for two weeks.  I even took an entire week of sick leave which I have never done.  Then my grandfather passed away after a long illness and an unexpected onset of cancer.    Spent a couple of really busy weeks at work and then got ready for one of the biggest trials of my 23 year marriage – my husband had hip replacement surgery.  Today marks one week since the surgery and we’ve both come to the conclusion that he is not a very good patient and I am not a very good nurse.  I told the people at work that if they didn’t hear from me for a while, it was because I killed him. 

I’ve been thinking again about how to best accomplish what I want with blogging and I think I’ve decided to try a variation on some of the weekly/monthly update posts I’ve seen others do.  I’m probably going to try and do weekly or every other week.  The format may vary slightly as I play around with it so we’ll see how it goes and I need to come up with a title and banner of sorts for it.  So, besides the above events, what else has been going on?

Reading – I’m currently reading Sharon Kay Penman’s A King’s Ransom and am almost finished with it.   After my disappointment with Lionheart, I was a little worried about reading this one, but I’m glad to say it is much better.  More thoughts on it later…  I also read an OOP from 1980  - Boudicca by Elizabeth Wolfe.  It’s a little romancey with a great deal of the story taking place in Rome and since I don’t think Boudicca was ever captured and taken to Rome, there’s a lot of fiction to it.  But it was decently written and I enjoyed the parts that took place in Britian. 

Watching – I don’t really watch a lot of TV but generally try not to miss The Big Bang Theory.  With my recent illness and my husband’s surgery, I’m currently working from home and as a huge figure skating fan, I’ve been watching a lot of Olympic coverage this past week.  It’s been great being able to watch all of the skaters live during the day (and not just the few NBC chooses to highlight in prime time), especially since there’s rarely anything on daytime TV worth watching.  Occasionally the History or Smithsonian Channels have interesting historical shows on, but mostly I’ve been watching documentaries and stuff on YouTube/NetFlix with my TV Chromecast (I seriously love that thing!).

Acquired – I managed to find an OOP book that has eluded me for 5 years – Out of Royal Favor by S.R. Bridge.  After reading Elizabeth Chadwick’s Lords of the White Castle (The Outlaw Knight in the US), I wondered if there were any other books written about Fulke FitzWarin and learned about Bridge’s book.  I have never seen it available anywhere until a couple of weeks ago.  I jumped on it immediately!  Fortunately, it came with a dust jacket and it didn’t break my OOP price policy – I was happy, happy, happy.  I picked up a couple of ebooks for review (The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy and The Red Lily Crown by Elizabeth Loupas) and a few Kindle bargains.

Wishlist – For now, I still have very specific types of historical fiction that I like and it seems now that the glut of Tudor novels is over and done with (and the Plantagenets still haven’t really caught on yet), there’s not a whole lot of upcoming releases that I simply have to have.  Other than Chadwick’s next installment in her Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, The Winter Crown, a few others have caught my eye:

Stitching – When work cut into my reading time, it also cut into my stitching time.  The last few weeks I’ve been able to pick it back up and am making real progress on my Lady and the Unicorn tapestry.  I decided to start another big project to keep me from getting bored with working on just one thing all the time.  I’ll be starting Lancelot and Guinevere by Herbert Draper as soon as the fabric arrives. 

And just so no one thinks my acquisitive nature applies only to books, I’ve picked up several new patterns (including some great ideas for bookmarks which I plan to fit in too) and found a hand-dyed fabric company that has sales on Facebook.  It’s like books – I probably have more than I will be able to finish in my lifetime.
What else? -  Tanzy turns 9 years old this month – this is what she thinks of it.  

She’s definitely slowing down a bit and putting on some weight but she still likes to chase the squirrels in the back yard.  I think if she caught one she would be more freaked out than the squirrel!   If all goes well with hubby’s recovery we’re hoping to go on another trip across the pond this fall – maybe to Ireland or France this time.
‘Til next time…

Sunday, December 29, 2013

13 on 2013

1.       I only read 22 books this year – little more than half as many as last year.   My new job and the loss of my 45 minute (each way) daily Metro commute really cut into my reading time.

2.       Only four of those were 4 – 5 stars:  The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick; The Duchess of Milan by Michael Ennis; The Conquest by Elizabeth Chadwick; and The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau (review here).  More thoughts on the rest in a few weeks.

3.       I read a lot of 3 star and rather mediocre books this year.  Although at least half of those were old, out of print books and sometimes it doesn’t seem fair to compare them to more recent releases, the fact that only about half were OOP makes me think otherwise.

4.       I buy too many books - this year I added at least 38 books to my collection.  I say “at least” since I’m terrible at tracking the ones on my kindle.  I’m sure there’s more…

5.       To accommodate the continued addition of physical books (most OOPs), hubby built me a couple of leaning bookshelves to go with the bookcase he built me a few years ago.

6.  Within 24 hours it was full - mostly from the boxes of books that I never unpacked after we moved from Denver.  We lost a shelf somewhere in all the moves and once it was replaced it's also full.  Did I mention I buy too many books??

7.     In looking through upcoming fiction releases there doesn’t seem to be as many based on the lives of real people – what I’ve seen some call “biographical fiction”.  I rather like that term to distinguish novels about historical figures from the broader historical fiction books that are set in the past with mostly made up characters.
8.       The Tudor book trend seems to be coming to an end.  There are still a few but not nearly as many as there were a few years ago.  The Battle of Hastings seems to be a popular time period right now.
9.       I haven't had time to make bookmarks since I started my new job.  I miss it and am thinking about doing them again – just probably not one a month.
10.   I’ve been watching a lot of historical documentaries and movies.  I’m a sucker for anything related to history and there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there.  Hubby bought me a Chromecast for Christmas so I can watch a lot of online stuff on a TV screen.  It seems to work pretty good so far.
11.   I love my Kindle.  I’ll admit to being skeptical when I bought it a little over a year ago, but I’m a believer.  Even got hubby to try it and he liked it so much that he bought me a new one (he took the “old” one).

12. The drama on Goodreads and Facebook over books and history really blows my mind.  It's often over the top and ridiculous, but it's also like a car accident.  I can't help but watch...

13.  Goals for 2014:  Read what I want when I want and try to read more of what I already own.
       And buy fewer books.  Does anyone believe that's ever going to happen?... after all, I'm married to someone who will build me awesome bookcases!

Here's to 2014!

Friday, December 20, 2013

To Blog or Not to Blog...

I’ve had this post half-written for two or three months as I’ve tried to decide what to do and where to go with this blog.  It’s been several months since I’ve posted anything (here or much of anywhere for that matter), even though I’ve been reading (although not as much as I used to).  There are three reasons for this:

1.        I started a new job in July that is a lot more demanding than my old one.

2.        The new job allowed me to move back home with my family (no more living apart from hubby, daughter and Tanzy) who are also a lot more demanding than living by myself which I have done for three of the past five years.

Both of these mean I have less free time and therefore, less time to spend blogging and online in general.  But wait, didn’t I say there were three reasons?  Well yes,  yes I did.  And the third reason is probably the biggest reason of all:

3.        I haven’t felt like it much.

I started blogging seven years ago and have gotten so much more out of it then I ever thought possible .  One of my favorite parts has been “meeting” new people who love some of the same things that I do and being able to talk about them and share information and ideas.  It also gave me something to “do” and focus on during the time I was away from my family and my online “book friend community” became a great way of not feeling alone in new cities where I didn’t know anyone.

Recently I’ve read a few posts by fellow bloggers talking about blogging and review burnout so maybe it’s just the natural progression/cycle of things.  Or maybe it’s because there are so many more outlets for online interaction these days and blogging may not be the most effective method. 

I’ve considered shutting The Castle down; I’ve thought about not posting anymore but leaving up what’s there; then there’s resuming my “normal” posting.  But after a lot of thought, I decided none of those would be an outcome I really wanted.  So, now that I’ve had a little break, I’ve decided to just shift my approach a little.

This will still be a place about books.  Books I’ve read.  Books I wanted to read.  Books I’ve bought (especially those older ones with the great covers I love so much).  Books that sound interesting.   Stuff that’s kind-of-sort-of history related but not necessarily about books.  Maybe some travel.

I’ve decided not to set a schedule for myself.  Hopefully that will take it back more to being something I want to do rather than feeling it’s something I have to do – I already have one job and sadly, reading, reviewing and blogging isn’t going to pay my bills.  For my readers who are still around to read this – thank you for not abandoning me and I'll hope you'll stick around!
So, back to books and stuff…