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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Review: Our Hart by Lloyd Lofthouse

Author: Lloyd Lofthouse
Genre: Historical fiction, romance
Book Source: Author Marketing Experts
Trade paperback 290 pages

Book Description:

Our Hart, Elegy for a Concubine is the sequel to the award-winning historical fiction novel My Splendid Concubine, and this second book shows Robert Hart in action as he becomes the "Godfather of China's Modernism." Hart not only became famous as Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs, but he was behind the building of China's railroads, postal service and schools. Hart arrived in China in 1854 from Ireland and by 1908 had made his indelible mark on Chinese society. The Ch'ing Dynasty called him "Our Hart."


It only takes a few pages before the reader realizes how much Robert Hart loves and is devoted to China and its people. Hart was one of the few people the Chinese Empire trusted, because Hart actually put China and its interests first, at a time when foreign powers were vying for control of this newly discovered land. Hart felt China was being used and abused, which she was, and it was his duty to right the wrongs that had been committed against China, especially the consequences of the Opium Wars.

Hart was successful because he took the time to learn Chinese culture, traditions, and how they communicated with each other. He learned how Chinese society worked. Hart's love for China was due in large part to his love for his concubine Ayaou. Hart's respect and devotion for China grew as his respect and devotion grew for Ayaou. She knew how important her lover's work was, and helped Hart in his endeavors by educating him in Chinese behavior and communication. Ayaou also kept Hart in touch with what the public was saying in the tea houses. Public opinion has and always will be very important.

Unfortunately, Hart's work often kept him from Ayaou and he always regretted and felt sadness at not being able to spend more time with her. Ayaou knew how important Hart was to China, and would always encourage him to keep at his activities, assuring him she would be fine.

This story was enjoyable because of Robert Hart himself. Here is a man who helped a struggling new-born nation find itself in the face of many foreign invaders. It was a very courageous thing to do. The story includes many descriptions of Chinese cities and towns, and I did feel as though I was right there in the story. I feel like I now know a bit more about life in 1850's China. The characters are all quite interesting, and my only complaint, unfortunately has to do with Hart himself. He does have a lot of self doubt, and it's understandable. But after a few successes you would think he would become more confident. He did a little bit, but he would get a little whiny from time to time, and it irked me. Other than that, the book was quite good.

If you would like to know more about China or this book please check out the book's website for more information.

My Rating: 90/100

This review was also posted at Royal Reviews. The author, Lloyd Lofthouse, had the following comment:
Thank you for your review of "Our Hart".

You are correct about, "He does have a lot of self doubt, and it's understandable. But after a few successes you would think he would become more confident. He did a little bit, but he would get a little whiny from time to time, and it irked me."

Dianne Salerni, the author of "We Hear the Dead" (a great story),

read an early version of Our Hart and felt the same way. Dianne was kind enough to spend time suggesting a few changes to the plot to correct this issue.

Because of Dianne's suggestions, during the final revision for "Our Hart", after the ARC (Advanced Review Copies) went out, I wrote a few revisions and added scenes to show Hart spending more time with his family.

Lloyd Lofthouse
author for "Our Hart"

That is great news Lloyd. Good to know and I am glad. I think you captured Hart's essence and I was truly impressed with him and his works. It's a shame I had never heard of him before, but now you have brought him to the masses. Excellent!

Thank you to Paula from Author Marketing Experts, Inc., for my review copy.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Reflections (Jan. 24)

Hey Everybody! How are you? Hope this finds you all well and enjoying whatever books you may be reading at the moment. This week has been crazy! I caught a cold earlier in the week and work is just....INSANE! Like flying monkeys insane. So here's to hoping for a better week this time around.

In reading news, I'm thisclose to finishing Island of the Swans. Great book, and I know several other bloggers are also reading this one and liking it as well. I will have Ciji Ware here for an interview and giveaway in February. So be sure to stop by for that. Next up I have Marsha Altman's third book in her Darcys and Bingleys series, Mr. Darcy's Great Escape. I can never get enough of my favorite Austen characters, and Altman's books are a great after P&P series.

As far as blogging goes, I still have some posts from 2009 that need to be written, but as far as 2010 goes, I'm current. So what's going on with you? Read any good books lately? I sure hope so. Oh and before I forget, speaking of Austen, Masterpiece Classic has part 1 of Emma tonight starting at 9:00 pm. It's a new rendering of this timeless classic.

Happy reading, have a good week, and enjoy Emma.
Take care :)

For your viewing pleasure...(you tube link)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Giveaway: The Second Date Love Italian-American Style

Are you in the mood for a light hearted, fun book to read? Then you have come to the right spot. I have one copy of the book, The Second Date Love Italian-American Style, to giveaway to one lucky reader, courtesy of the author herself, Mary Lydon Simonsen.


Sonia Amundsen looks like a Nordic goddess on the outside, but her heart, soul, and stomach are all Italian. She is also a successful professional who is about to celebrate her 30th birthday. Although friends have been setting her up on blind dates for two years, she never goes out on a second date with any of them because she is still looking for that perfect guy. The problem is that she has very specific criteria as to who Mr. Right is. Sonia is beginning to think that such a man is not out there until....

Set in the late 1980s, Sonia is surrounded by an extended Italian family, a caring, but over-bearing mother, warring aunts who use family funerals to stage full-blow tragedies, and a close friend, whose main goals in life are to get pregnant and to help Sonia find true love. The Second Date explores friendship and love in the heart of the Italian-American community where food is second importance only to love.

You can find my review here.


The rules are as follows:

* This is an international giveaway. Hooray!
* Please leave your email address so I can contact you.
* +1 entry for posting on your blog or sidebar. Leave me a link please.
* Deadline for entries is midnight, EST, January 31, 2010.

Good luck everyone :)

Review: The Second Date - Love Italian American Style

Author: Mary Lydon Simonsen
Genre: Fiction, romance
Book Source: from the author
Trade paperback, 166 pages

From the author's website:

Sonia Amundsen looks like a Nordic goddess on the outside, but her heart, soul, and stomach are all Italian. She is also a successful professional who is about to celebrate her 30th birthday. Although friends have been setting her up on blind dates for two years, she never goes out on a second date with any of them because she is still looking for that perfect guy. The problem is that she has very specific criteria as to who Mr. Right is. Sonia is beginning to think that such a man is not out there until....

Set in the late 1980s, Sonia is surrounded by an extended Italian family, a caring, but over-bearing mother, warring aunts who use family funerals to stage full-blow tragedies, and a close friend, whose main goals in life are to get pregnant and to help Sonia find true love. The Second Date explores friendship and love in the heart of the Italian-American community where food is second importance only to love.

My Thoughts:

This book is much more than Sonia having trouble finding a good guy. This book perfectly describes the Italian-American community of first and second generation immigrants. I should know since I am Italian and grew up in such a neighborhood.
My Grandmom had the plastic furniture covers, parties were held at the Knights of Columbus club, and although other ethnicity's were eventually welcomed, it was hoped Italians married Italians. That's just way it was, and it was the same in the Irish neighborhoods too. As the generations pass, these ways of life have changed, and you won't find too many people with kitchens and living rooms in the basements any more. As matter of fact, the feeling of community that is so prevalent in this book, is starting to disappear as well. Times change.

As she did with Searching for Pemberley, Simonsen seamlessly weaves the characters back stories and other fascinating tidbits into the story. Yes, Italian families still have tons of drama and are emotional, but the core value of family is always there. Your family may not approve of your private life, but they will always love you and do anything for you. Most Italians never forget where they came from either, and maybe that's why we still have our festivals and make big pots of gravy and meatballs every Sunday. (Gravy=sauce in my part of town.)

This was a wonderful little story, and the 1980s setting made me laugh at times. Sonia and the rest of the characters in the story are all sweet in their own way. They may even remind you of people you know yourself. Simonsen is quite good at making the reader feel like a part of the story. You tend to forget where you are, or at least I did. Overall this was a fun and engaging read which brought back a lot of memories for me, including flocked wallpaper and crushed velvet furniture. Oh, don't ask.

My Rating: 95/100

2010 Challenges Met: 100+, Reading Romance

Disclosure: I read this for pleasure and my opinion was not influenced by the book's source.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Review: The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Author: Brunonia Barry
Publisher: Harper Collins, July 2008
Genre: Fiction, mystery
Trade paperback
Book Source: the library

From Harper Collins:

Every gift has a price . . . every piece of lace has a secret.

Towner Whitney, the self-confessed unreliable narrator, hails from a family of Salem women who can read the future in the patterns in lace, and who have guarded a history of secrets going back generations. Now the disappearance of two women is bringing Towner back home to Salem—and is bringing to light the shocking truth about the death of her twin sister.

My Thoughts:

Towner Whitney comes from a well known Salem, Massachusetts family. Not only were her ancestors excellent at smuggling both goods and escaped slaves to Canada, but they are also known for being a little odd. The Whitney women especially, because they could interpret future events by reading lace. Probably not a good thing when you consider they lived in a town famous for burning witches, but Salem embraces their history and makes a nice cottage industry out of it. Whitney and all of Salem consider her mother May to be the oddest of them all, but actually that honor should be reserved for Towner herself. Apparently there was an incident in Towner's past which lends credibility to this suggestion.

Towner comes back to Salem due to the mysterious death of her beloved Aunt Eva, who is a riot. She was my favorite character. Aunt Eva ran a tea parlor and read lace occasionally. She also gave etiquette classes which everyone in town attended. Salem loved Aunt Eva and her loss saddens the town. The entire story takes place in Salem. We meet Towner's family and learn about significant events in Towner's past.

And that would be about all that I can tell you. See, when you come to the end of the story, revelations are made. I can't tell you what the revelations are because it would ruin the story. As a matter of fact, I am still trying to figure it out for myself. Cryptic, I know, but depending on what you think, changes what you just read. If you think A happened, then B didn't happen. Confused yet?

All of the mystery and confusion aside, the characters, setting, and "story line" are what compelled me to finish this book. I would love to visit Salem some day. Most of the chapters are related by Towner, with a few narrated by John Rafferty, the police detective. Each chapter starts with a quote or lesson from The Lace Reader's Guide, written by Aunt Eva. The events of the chapter reflect or exemplify what the quote.

The majority of the story is about Towner, her family and the relationships between them. It seems it was dear old Aunt Eva that held the family together. and influenced the townspeople to be lenient towards May and Towner. Aunt Eva was a gem. There has been a lot of deceit and unspoken words in the Whitney family. However for all their faults, they still love and protect each other.

The setting of Salem I think is what really makes this story. Throughout the book, nuggets of information about the town and its history are told, adding to the overall uneasy feeling of the book. Not creepy, mind you, but unsettled. I think that's what gets me about this book, it doesn't end neatly for me. It leaves me unsettled.

Overall it was an okay read, but I would be hesitant to read something of Barry's again. The ending left me befuddled, and not in a good way, in my opinion. That's all I can say.

My Rating: 80/100

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A trip to Winterthur in December

Every year at holiday time, instead of shopping, my mom and I spend the day doing something fun, like a museum, or movie and lunch, something along those lines. This year we went to Winterthur, a museum near Wilmington, Delaware.

Winterthur was the mansion owned by a member of the duPont family. The duPont's have a long history, and if I remember correctly, emigrated to America some time in the 1800's. The duPont's are also the founders of the DuPont Company, a chemical company which invented, among many other things, cellophane and nylon. This afforded them a leisurely lifestyle, so the duPont's turned their attention to agriculture and gardening as well.

The last owner of Winterthur was Henry Francis du Pont and he was an avid collector of Americana, or American antiques. Once he inherited Winterthur, Henry duPont began to make it his own by placing his collection in the house, in various rooms. The mansion is huge, and the holiday tour we took only goes through two floors of selected rooms. One of my favorite rooms was the parlor.

The family and guests would come here after dinner to play bridge, have drinks, and smoke cigarettes. The wallpaper contains hand painted scenes from daily life in China. It was originally from China, and was found in a warehouse in France. Due to the odd shape of the wallpaper it would not fit a normal room. Therefore duPont adjusted the ceiling to fit the wallpaper so it wouldn't be cut. I can just imagine what it was like to be a guest enjoying a highball in this room.

All of the rooms are just simply gorgeous, so my mom and I will be going back in the spring to see them again and see if the tour changes with the seasons. Plus we will be able to see the gardens in the Spring time. A little too cold in December to walk around and admire the azalea gardens, which we were told are quite extensive.

In addition to the rooms, there are collations of pieces and furniture from early Americana. Sometimes there are collections on loan on display. The one that was there in December was called Faces of a New Nation, on loan from the MET. It was paintings of early American families. It was simply beautiful. We spent the whole day touring the various exhibits and rooms.

I should also mention the food in the cafeteria here was delicious. It is all grown on the property and the sandwiches are made on the premises. Very reasonably priced too. Oh yes, and the staff were super friendly. Great to talk to and very knowledgeable.

Here is a link to some pictures I took from the tour. I apologize because some of them are quite blurry.


So if you ever find yourself in the Delaware Valley, and are looking for something different to see and do, stop by Winterthur.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Awards, awards, awards

Wow! I really got some major blog love the past few weeks. I know I say this all the time but truthfully, I was blown away and totally grateful. I always am. These things make my day.

I do apologize for the gihugic post, but it takes me forever to post these things. Some of the people who are awarded below are new and some are just awesome and deserve some props.

From Simone at the Romantic Query Letter and the Happy Ever AfterI received the Kreative Blogger Award

From Marie at The Burton Review I received the Super Scribbler Award.

Here are the rules :

■ Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

■ Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

■ Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.

■ Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we’ll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor! (*I'm #1285!!)

■ Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

I pass this on to:

Simone from The Romantic Query Letter

Ash from English Major's Junk Food

Stacy from Stacy's Book Blog

Jemima from The Reading Journey

I received the Prolific Blogger Award from Alaine the Queen of Happy Endings

This award is to all those prolific bloggers, who read voraciously, blog tirelessly and have made the blogging community such a vibrant place. This award is in recognition of their achievements and their enthusiasm. They are the people who keep me going!

There are a couple of rules for this award:

Every winner of the Prolific Blogger Award has to pass on this award to at least seven other deserving prolific bloggers. Spread some love!

Each Prolific Blogger must link to the blog from which he/she has received the award.

Every Prolific Blogger must link back to This Post, which explains the origins and motivation for the award.

Every Prolific Blogger must visit this post and add his/her name in the Mr. Linky (here at Advance Booking), so that we all can get to know the other winners.

Staci from Life in the Thumb

Allie from Hist-Fic Chick

J.Kaye from J. Kaye's Book Blog
(I'm sure she has already received this, because she is just AWESOME.)

Meghan from the Medieval Bookworm

From Heather at the Maiden's Court I received the Great Look Award

Jinx of Reading High Jinx

Svea from Confessions and Rambling of a Muse in the Fog

Allison from Well-Read Reviews

From Missy at Missy's Book Nook and Ash from English Major's Junk Food I received the Honest Scrap Award

Here are a few honest things about myself:

*I am not good at these award posts. They take me forever and I always feel like I'm slighting someone.
*I become obsessed about owning certain books. Once I own them it takes me a long time to read them.
*I can be quite opinionated.
*Once I am your friend, I am your friend for life. But cross me in a bad way, you're done. You are off my friend list forever. (This usually takes something major.)
*I try to exercise everday, but it's a struggle somedays, my friend.

From my friend Mary I received the One Lovely Blog Award

I pass this on to

Book Dragon from Book Dragon's Lair

Michelle and Leslie from Michelle and Leslie's Book Picks

From Svea of Confessions and Ramblings of a Muse in the Fog I received the Oh La La award.

Now, as part of my obligations in receiving this award, I need to answer a few questions:

Where is your favorite place to read a book?
Anywhere really, but curled up in bed is best

What is the best book you've read recently?
Searching for Pemberley and And Only to Deceive

Do you snack while reading?
No, never

Are you a book borrower or book collector?
A little bit of both. Love my library but there are certain books I read and keep forever.

I pass this on to

Allie from Hist-Fic Chick
(Fits you like a glove girl)

Marie from The Burton Reviews

I know that was a long post and I appreciate you reading to end. Have a wonderful day and please check out some of these blogs. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Reflections (Jan. 3)

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season. It came and went so quickly, but such is life anymore. Many bloggers are doing year end wrap ups but not for me. I have some posts I need to do to close out 2009, but no totals or tallies. And certainly no challenge wrap up, because I was a slacker doodle! I became side tracked with other things, and lost focus.

I have two book reviews for 2009, Hunger Games and And Only to Deceive. Two movie reviews, The Young Victoria and Miss Austen Regrets. Two old book reviews that were never posted for who knows what reason. And I think that's it for 2009. Oh wait, my museum trip with my mom. I was working on that and then cookiepallooza happened.

I intended to write these posts last week, but as you can see, I became obsessed with giving my blog a face lift. Thank you all for your awesome comments. I really appreciate it, because what may look good to one, may hurt the eyes of another. I really like what I have done, and think this will be it.

I also have many emails and commenters to get back to, as well as finish welcoming those who joined my challenge, 2010 Reading Resolutions. I'm making the rounds and do apologize for my tardiness.

I started reading the Epic of Gilgamesh, and it's quite interesting. I hope to finish the other half tonight. It's not very long.

So that's about it for me. I have some things I need to put back on the blog, like my blogroll, that I forgot to save. And general housekeeping, can't forget that. So I may be quiet this week, but it doesn't mean I'm not reading your blogs or any books.

So until next time, have a good week and happy reading :)

Friday, January 1, 2010

2010 Challenges

Here is an index of the challenges I am participating in, that end in 2010.

3/100 completed.
Click for my page.

0/25 completed.
Click for my page.

0/9 books read.
Activities a little more difficult to track.

Click for my page.

0/1 completed. Click for my page.

0/20 completed. I have lots to read but I'm starting with 20 because that sounds good. Click for my page.

1/12 completed. Click for my page.

0/6 completed. Click for my page.

1/6 completed. Click for my page.

3 romances read. Click for my page