Friday, September 14, 2007

Empress Orchid, Anchee Min

This is a fantastic insight into the world of China's politics and Rulers in the 1800's.

Orchid enters the Forbidden City at the tender age of 17 as a concubine of Emperor Hsien Feng. She is one of seven concubines, and needs to get him into her bed. She bribes the Chief Eunuch with the wedding gift she was given from the Emperor. Orchid manages to gain favour and she ends up helping the Emperor with his work. The chief of council and the chief eunuch are not pleased as she will not let the Emperor be dictated to, to them she should stay in the bedroom and not give her opinions.

Orchid eventually gives the Emperor a son, but as Orchid is only a concubine the Empress Nuharoo takes over as mother to the royal child. Life is upsetting for Orchid, she tries to raise her son to know proper values, but her word is over ruled by Nuharoo. Upon the early death of the Emperor at the young age of 30, Tung Chih is declared Emperor. However, he is only 5 years old! Orchid and Nuharoo become Regents, guiding him in his decisions.

This is based on the facts of that time, just Google Hsien Feng! Orchid has three names, the others being Tzu-Hsi and Lady Yehonola, these are also found on Google!

Well worth a read, full of facts but written in an easy format that is pleasing to read!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Encarnita's Journey, Joan Lingard

The majority of this is set in Spain, telling the story of Encarnita. Born to Pilar in Yegen in 1920, Encarnita learned to live life with little. She ran barefoot around her village, drank milk from her goat and her mum was given eggs for services rendered. They lived a simple life. Then a visitor came to stay. This was an Englishman by the name of Gerald Brennan, or Don Graraldo as the locals called him.

Pilar looks after Encarnita until her death, when Encarnita is 15 years old. Encarnita has seen her friend become a mother to a daughter, by Don Geraldo. However, Don Geraldo never looked at Encarnita in that way. He taught her some English, and gave her books to read. A friend of his drew her and her goat and gave the picture to her. When Pilar dies, an event happens that encourages Encarnita to start on her journey. She walks with her goat to to the coast, to find her uncle.

This is a tale of love, hardship, and happiness. Encarnita is a strong person, her life full of events, trials and tribulations! She lives her life, in troubled times. Her story tells about the Spanish side of the war, how it affected their lives in remote Spain.

I found Encarnita's Journey a really good read. I would recomend it.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, Elizabeth Peters

This is the first in a series of novels, featuring the adventures of Amelia Peabody.

Amelia Peabody, a 'proper' English lady, decides upon the death of her father to travel. She decides to go to Egypt and visit the Pyramids and tombs. On her way, her original companion falls ill and is sent back to England. In Rome, Amelia finds a new companion in the form of Evelyn. A young woman of good breeding, led astray by a devious lover.

The two women travel up the Nile, and meet the Emersons; two brothers, one at the time of the meeting is very ill. Amelia nurses Radcliffe back to health, and helps the archaeologist with his works. As they uncover finds, the mystery begins!

I found this an enchanting read! It was not soppy and slushy, nor was it gruesome! Normally I would not have picked this genre, but thanks to reading about it here, I have the second book waiting for me at the library! Not only do we read about the lovely Amelia, but we also read about the Egyptian lives, and ways.

A very good read! Light and bright!

The Red Hat Club, Haywood Smith

This is a funny and delightful story of friendships that last.

Set in Atlanta, the girls origonally meet in a high school 'gang' called the Mademoiselles. Georgia and Susu knew eachother from the age of 4, Teeny, Diane and Linda met them on the first day of the Mademoiselles. As they get older they join the Red Hat Society, wearing their red hats and purple clothes at the monthly meet.

At one of these meetings, they discover that Diane has found that her husband is cheating on her. Financially and with a mistress; this woman is housed in a condo brought with their retirement fund! The girls put into action a plan to cut him loose, without harming Dianes way of life!

Written from Georgias perspective the story pops back into the 60's and back to present day with ease. We hear about the other characters in the story, and how they fit into the lives of the club. A funny and emotional read, light but intricate!A good read!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

We have all heard of or seen the classic film with Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara and Clarke Gable as Rhett Butler, but have we read the novel? We should!

Set in Georgia, USA it tells of the American Civil War and its impact on the citizens of Atlanta and surrounding area.

We read how Gerald O'Hara, Scarletts father, obtains his plantation home in a game of poker, how he decides the home needs a mistress and he gets a wife in the form of Ellen. He builds Tara up making it one of the finest and most respected plantations and homes in the area.

Scarlett, the eldest child was like her father; hot headed, knew what she wanted and got it! She loved Ashley Wilkes from Twelve Oaks, the neighboring plantation, but she was loved by all the beaus in the area! He world crumbled, however, when she found the truth that Ashley was to marry Melanie Hamilton, an marrage that had been arranged for years. In a fit of pique, Scarlett agrees to marry Charles Hamilton, Melanies brother. At the same time, the war was announced, and all the young men rushed off to fight the Yankees. Two months into the war Charles dies, not a heroic death in combat, but of measles. Scarlett in plunged into black as a grieving widow, carrying his son.

Upon the birth of Wade, Scarlett is in depression. Ellen sends her to Atlanta with Wade, to Melanie and Aunt Pittypat, Charles and Melanies elderly maiden aunt. Here, Scarlett casues scandal. Her help in the hospital and other duties were deemed good, but her friendship with Rhett Butler was frowned upon. She had first met Rhett at Twelve Oaks, as the war was declared, there she thought him rude and arrogant. She also came out of mourning too early by the accounts of the busy bodies!

Rhett made his living by running the blockades, not fighting. The townsfolk of Atlanta thought he should be a part of the war, not profiteering from it. However, they did not turn away his bolts of cloth he managed to get through, or other fineries!

As the novel developes, we read about Scarletts torment living with Mellie, her anguish when Ashley comes home and returns to the front. We read how Scarlett delivers Mellies baby, Beau, with the laughable aid of Prissy, her maid. The heroic drive from Atlanta as it falls, back to Tara with Mellie in the back of the wagon having just given birth.

Scarlett finds Tara still standing, only just. Her mother had died, her sisters still very ill, and her father loosing his mind. Her faithful servant Mammy, and Geralds manservant Pork managing to only just hold onto things. Scarlett turns the house around from a crumbling decaying wreck, to a place of hope. The war is delared over, and subsequently Ashley makes his way home.

Scarlett married again for money, returning to Atlanta. Here she ran a buisiness, this was also frowned upon! She had vowed never to be poor again, and Scarlett was doing her best not to be. She sent money back to Tara to help the running of the house, but no one seemed to mind this! All through her times in Atlanta, she kept running into Rhett. When she fell pregnant by her husband Frank, she secured Ashley to work in her business, but continued to be seen about untill her obvious pregnancy was too obvious!

Frank Kennedy was killed because of Scarletts independence. She had gone to see one of the mills, and was attacked. To her aid came a former Tara worker, Big Sam. He returned her to Frank, and, although it was not mentioned there in the book, the Klan sought revenge. Rhett found out it was an ambush. The Yankees were lying in wait for them, and managed to save Ashley, but not Frank. Once again Scarlett was in mourning.

Rhett and Scarlett now come together! At last! They are married against wishes, as Scarlett should still be grieving. From this, Scarlett has another child, Bonnie. The apple of her fathers eye, she can do no wrong! Until....

....if you have not seen the film, you will need to read the book!

It is a shame this is the only novel by Margaret Mitchell, as it is fantastic! I am not a lover of the American Civil War, but the story of Scarletts gutsy approach to life and her determination to never be poor again is so well written.

Does Rhett say the famous line: Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn ?You will have to read it to be sure! As Scarlett says: Tomorrow is another day!

For more infomation:

A good read! Please try it if you have not!

The Italian Woman, Jean Plaidy

This was my first Jean Plaidy novel, and it wont be my last!

It tells of the exploits of Catherine de'Medici, through the character of Jeanne of Navarre. At 12 years old, Jeanne was told by her uncle, the King of France, that she would be marrying the Duke of Cleves. Jeanne always believed she would be married to Henri, the Kings son. But Henri was already married to Catherine, and being unfaithful to her. Instead, she was to wed the Duke, who was double her age. Jeanne was not happy! She protested, was beaten, and protested more. However, Jeanne was married, carried to the alter, and subsequently put to bed. Luckily, her uncle saw her distress and instead of the 'proper' bedding, once they lay together, the king asked everyone to leave, and the couple to be escorted back to their own appartments. The couple lived seperatly.

At the age of 15, Jeanne was to go to the christening of Catherine's first child. At the christening, she saw Antoine de Bourbon, and fell in love. Her loving uncle, disolved her marriage. Jeanne and Antoine were married.

The novel goes on describing the events of the religeous wars in France, and the political turmoil. The old King died, King Henri had more children, and died. Jeanne had two children, Antoine strayed from her side thanks to the cunning Catherine.

The Italian Woman is a gripping narrative of troubled France. Being told from Jeannes point is a way of Catherine and Jeannes storys merging in a tale of delight. I will certainly read more from Plaidy.

A good read!