Fiendish Fridays

This feature is currently taking a break but will be back soon!


Have you ever noticed how the villains are often more interesting and more memorable than the heroes? In my new feature, Fiendish Fridays, I will profile a different literary villain every two weeks.

If you’d like to submit a Fiend of your own, you’re very welcome – send me an email at helenlovesbooks81[at]gmail[dot]com. I will be using the format shown below, but you can present the information in any other way you wish. Please try to avoid any major spoilers.

Name:
Appears in:
Who are they?
What are they like?
What makes them a Friday Fiend?
Redeeming features (if any):

Of course, you’re also welcome to comment on any existing Fiendish Friday posts. I hope you enjoy this new feature!

Friday Fiends

A new Fiend will be posted every other Friday.

#1 (22 January 2010) – Count Fosco from The Woman in White
#2 (29 January 2010) – Thenardier from Les Miserables
#3 (5 February 2010) – Biju Ram from The Far Pavilions
#4 (19 February 2010) – Waleran Bigod from The Pillars of the Earth
#5 (5 March 2010) – Black Jack Randall from the Outlander series
#6 (19 March 2010) – Mrs Danvers from Rebecca

Happy 101 Award/Honest Scrap Award

I’ve received two awards recently and I’m ready to pass them on. The first is the Happy 101 Award from Helen’s Book Blog – thanks! Here are the rules:

List 10 things that make you happy and then give this award to 10 book blogs that brighten your day.

1. Reading
2. Blogging
3. My family
4. Summer
5. Music
6. Animals
7. Traveling
8. Chocolate
9. Weekends
10. Writing

I’m giving this award to:

1. English Major’s Junk Food
2. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before
3. The Ladybug Reads
4. Jenny Loves To Read
5. Diary of an Eccentric
6. The Book Resort
7. The True Book Addict
8. Alaine – Queen of Happy Endings
9. Mindful Musings
10. The Bibliophilic Book Blog

The Honest Scrap Award was received from Ash at English Major’s Junk Food and also from Ann at All Write With Coffee… Thanks, Ash and Ann! The rules for this award are:

1. The Honest Scrap Blogger Award must be shared.
2. The recipient has to tell 10 (true) things about themselves that no one else knows.
3. The recipient has to pass on the award to 7 more bloggers.
4. Those 7 bloggers should link back to the blog that awarded them.

Here are my 10 things…not very interesting, but I’ve tried to make most of them book-related.

1. When I was younger I was a big fan of Enid Blyton. She wrote over 600 books for children and I think I must have read most of them! I loved her Malory Towers and St Clare’s school books, as well as The Famous Five series and The Five Find-Outers series, but my all-time favourite was The Valley of Adventure.
2. Although I love discovering new books, I also love re-reads. I like the feeling of revisiting old friends and familiar places, and even though I know what’s going to happen, I still laugh and cry in all the right places!
3. One of my first jobs was a Christmas job in a book shop – I was happy there but left before Christmas when I was offered a permanent job somewhere else.
4. A few years ago I took a proofreading course but it turned out to be more difficult than I thought to actually get to proofread any books – it did help me to get a job though (not my current job, but a previous one).
5. When I was a teenager I had a huge collection of Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club books, but I sold most of them on eBay. Sometimes I regret it, but I just didn’t have room for them all.
6. I have a lot of very nice bookmarks that I’ve never used but I always find myself using the same ancient ones that I’ve been using for years.
7. Despite my love of books, I didn’t really enjoy English at school and I didn’t like most of the books we were made to read. My favourite school subject was History.
8. I’ve only been to the library once in the past year. I used to go almost every week – sometimes more than once a week – but recently I’ve been buying books instead of borrowing them. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to use the library more often this year.
9. On the subject of libraries, I used to volunteer in our school library, helping to shelve and catalogue books.
10. Although I only started this blog in October, I used to keep a record of all the books I read in a notebook. It’s interesting to look at and remind myself of some of the books I read before I began blogging.

I’m passing this award on to:

1. Brianne’s Book Blog
2. [Insert suitably snappy title here…]
3. What Book Is That?
4. Helen’s Book Blog
5. Debbie’s World of Books
6. Laura’s Reviews
7. A Book Blog of One’s Own

If any of you have already received these awards, I’m sorry! I tried to give them to people who haven’t had them before.

Review: Madame Verona Comes Down The Hill by Dimitri Verhulst

I’ve read good reviews of this book and really wanted to like it, but I just couldn’t. Although it’s very short (only 145 pages) it took me almost a week to finish it because I found it difficult to get interested in the story.

The book is set in the tiny and remote village of Oucwegne, a place that is slowly dying due to the lack of girls being born in recent generations. Madame Verona and her musician husband Monsieur Potter live in an isolated house at the top of a steep hill overlooking the village. As they get older, it becomes more and more difficult to walk up and down the hill. When Monsieur Potter hangs himself from a tree after being diagnosed with cancer, he leaves his wife enough firewood to last another twenty years. During those twenty years, Madame Verona lives alone with only an assortment of stray dogs for company, waiting for a luthier (cello-maker) to build her a cello using the wood of the tree from which her husband hanged himself. Eventually she places the last log on the fire and, as the title suggests, comes down the hill, knowing she won’t have the strength to go back up ever again.

The problem I had with the book is that there’s very little action, there’s no suspense as we know what’s going to happen right from the beginning, and there’s almost no dialogue. However, this is more to do with my own personal reading preferences rather than a criticism of the book itself – it’s not supposed to be a thriller after all. Most of the 145 pages are devoted to a string of humorous anecdotes describing life in an isolated village where only six people attend church, the men are obsessed with playing games of table football and a cow was once elected mayor. Most of the characters Verhulst describes are portrayed as eccentric and not particularly likeable. It’s easy to see why Madame Verona was in no hurry to rejoin the community, preferring to stay on the hill with her memories of her husband. The final few chapters, though, were poignant and moving and will be understood by anyone who has lost someone they love.

This book has been translated from the original Dutch, but even in translation Dimitri Verhulst’s writing is poetic and thought-provoking. If you can appreciate the beautiful writing for its own sake and are happy to read a book where nothing really happens, then you would probably enjoy Madame Verona. I would be prepared to try more of Verhulst’s books because he does have a very nice style, but this one just didn’t appeal to me.

Genre: General Fiction/Pages: 145/Publisher: Portobello Books (translated by David Colmer)/Year: 2009/Source: Won a copy in contest

Bloggiesta: Wrap-Up Post

Thanks to Natasha of Maw Books for hosting Bloggiesta and thanks to everyone who has commented on my posts this weekend! Bloggiesta has been very productive for me and I feel I’ve achieved a lot. I didn’t have time to do everything and there are still some more changes and improvements I’d like to make to my blog, but I made good progress and am very happy with what I’ve accomplished.

To see a list of everything I did during Day 1 and Day 2 please see my Friday and Saturday Progress Report. My list for Day 3 follows below.

Day 3
1. Spent some time cleaning up my Google Reader by going through my list of subscriptions and moving things into folders. This was a Mini-Challenge hosted last year at The Book Lady’s Blog.

2. Added meta tags to my blog.

3. Cleaned up my sidebars.
4. Updated my Review Policy.
5. Made a Favicon – I know it looks very basic but it’s better than using the default Blogger icon.
6. Got my Goodreads, LibraryThing and Shelfari profiles up to date with my most recently acquired books/latest reviews etc.

Time spent: 4 hours

Total time spent during the 3 days of Bloggiesta: 14 hours

Bloggiesta: Friday and Saturday Progress Report

Friday 8th January 2010

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to do much on Friday as I was at work most of the day. Here’s what I did have time to do:

1. Signed in to Bloggiesta and posted my Starting Post.
2. Finished writing my review of The White Queen.
3. Looked at all the available Mini-Challenges and decided which ones to do.

Time spent: 1.5 hours

Saturday 9th January 2010

1. Commented on some other Bloggiesta participants’ posts.
2. Linked my review of The White Queen to challenge posts and challenge host blogs. Updated my challenge progress bars.
3. Completed the Labels/Tag Mini-Challenge at Beth Fish Reads. I was using far too many different labels so I removed the ones I decided were unnecessary. I’m still not sure I’m using the right labels, though. What do you think? I’ve also created a new tab (the tabs are near the top of the page under the blog header) so that I have a list of reviews by author.
4. Completed the Bloggiesta Back-up Challenge at Farm Lane Books. I had never thought about backing up my blog and it was a lot easier than I expected! I’ll have to remember to do this regularly.
5. Completed the Footers Mini-Challenge at Bookalicio.us and updated the copyright notice in my blog footer (I hadn’t even noticed the date still said 2009!). I also added a copyright to my RSS feed footer.
6. Completed the Cheat Sheet Mini-Challenge at There’s A Book. I’ve created a cheat sheet in Google Docs with some useful links, HTML code and post templates. I can’t believe I’ve never thought about doing this before – it’s going to save me a lot of time!
7. I ran my blog through Website Grader as suggested by the Grade Your Blog Mini-Challenge which was hosted by Bookish Ruth last year. I got a grade of 74/100 and it told me I needed meta tags, so that’s something I’ll have to work on.
8. Created a signature to use at the bottom of all my posts.

Time spent: 8.5 hours

New Book Arrival – 9th January 2010


The Divine Sacrifice by Tony Hays

I won this ARC in a giveaway and received it today. Thanks to Tony Hays and Amy at Passages to the Past!

Synopsis (from book cover)

The Divine Sacrifice continues the story of King Arthur’s conselor, Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, a soldier who lost his arm in battle but was saved by his king. Malgwyn hated Arthur for this gift, but he has come to grudgingly acknowledge that he yet may have some purpose in life.

Arthur and Malgwyn are called to the abbey of Glastonbury to settle a matter of great political importance – tin being mined for export to the Empire. While there, Malgwyn and Arthur meet St. Patrick, a legend in the Church who is there on a mission of his own, to root out the heresy of Pelagius.

When an aged monk is found cruelly murdered in his cell, Malgwyn is faced with a problem that will test his skills as an investigator. His search for the truth may uncover a conspiracy that could endanger the kingdom.

Gritty and powerful with a true ring of historical perspective and a character who sees more than those around him, The Divine Sacrifice is a historical mystery that will hook mystery readers and historical fans alike.

Review: The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory is best known for her Tudor court novels, but with The White Queen she moves further back in time to the Plantagenets and the Wars of the Roses.

Elizabeth Woodville is twenty seven when she meets and falls in love with King Edward IV. Following a private wedding, Elizabeth becomes Queen of England and finds herself caught up in the ongoing battles between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Amidst all the politics, intrigue and betrayal, Elizabeth’s concern is for the future of her children – in particular her two royal sons who will become the famous ‘Princes in the Tower’, a mystery which remains unsolved to this day.

The book is written in the first person present tense which I found slightly irritating, though not enough to stop me from enjoying the book. The use of present tense does help the reader to feel as if they are experiencing events along with Elizabeth, so it works in that sense, but my personal preference is definitely for past tense. There are a few passages where the viewpoint temporarily changes to the third person in order to describe battles which Elizabeth doesn’t witness but which are an important part of the storyline. I often find battle scenes boring, but these are well written and go into just the right amount of detail.

I found the story itself quite suspenseful and exciting – it probably helped that although I read a lot of historical fiction novels, I haven’t read many about the War of the Roses, so only had a vague idea of what was going to happen. Of course, this meant that I wasn’t sure exactly which parts of the book were based on fact and which parts were the invention of the author. In her note at the end of the book, Gregory mentions that there’s not much information available about the period, therefore there are some areas where she felt free to use her imagination.

If you’re not very familiar with the historical background, you’ll need to concentrate to be able to keep track of all the battles, changes of allegiances and numerous claimants to the throne. The family tree provided at the front of the book is not very helpful – it’s incomplete and really needed to show at least one more generation, as it ends before some of the important characters in the story were even born.

I found it difficult to warm to the character of Elizabeth but could feel sympathy for her, especially towards the end of the book. Richard III was also portrayed quite sympathetically – nothing like the evil hunchback in Shakespeare’s play! I would have liked to have seen his relationship with Elizabeth more thoroughly explored in the book – there was no real explanation for why she distrusts him so much, other than that she’s had dreams and premonitions that something bad will happen to her sons in the Tower. On the subject of the Princes in the Tower, the book explores an interesting theory, which may or may not be true – it would be nice to think that it was.

Interspersed with the main story is the tale of Melusina, the water goddess, from whom Elizabeth and the female members of her family are said to have descended and from whom they claim to have inherited magical powers.
Magic and mythology are recurring themes throughout the book. Elizabeth and her mother Jacquetta’s witchcraft skills are used as an explanation for several key historical events – for example, they whistle up storms to defeat their enemies at sea. This aspect of the story became quite repetitive and just didn’t appeal to me much. Sometimes it felt as if there were references to Melusina, water, rivers, the sea etc on almost every page!

The book ends abruptly, but that’s not surprising since The White Queen is the first in a trilogy called The Cousins’ War and will be followed by The Red Queen and The White Princess which will focus on Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York respectively.

I would recommend The White Queen if, like me, you don’t have much knowledge of the Wars of the Roses and are looking for an enjoyable and relatively easy to understand introduction to the period. For those of you with a lot of background knowledge, I think there should still be enough new ideas to keep you interested.

Recommended

Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 417/Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Year: 2009/Source: My own copy bought new