Saturday, 6 October 2012

Book Review: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

"I am a monarch of God’s creation, and you reptiles of the earth dare not oppose me."
-          Napoleon addressing member’s of the Catholic clergy 

The Second Empress is Michelle Moran’s fifth novel and surrounds the little known story of the unlikely marriage between Napoleon Bonaparte to his second wife, Princess Marie Louise of Austria, great-niece to the unfortunate Marie Antoinette of France.

The story presents an insightful tale of the later reign of Napoleon Bonaparte shortly after the discovery of his wife’s infertility and unfaithfulness. With both his desire to produce a male heir and his even greater desire to extend the French Empire, he chooses the unlikely bride, Princess Marie-Louise of Austria, a tactic not only to ensure the submission of the Austrian Empire but personally, to glorify himself marrying the great-niece of Marie Antoinette, a real princess.

Princess Marie-Louise fearful that if she turned down Napoleon’s hand her father would not only lose his crown but would destroy the Treaty of Schonbrunn, she reluctantly accepts. Thrown into a world she is unfamiliar with, she finds some comfort in an unlikely friend, the late Empress of France’s daughter, Hortense.

The story alternates between three central characters; Princess Marie-Louise, Napoleon’s sister Pauline Bonaparte and Paul Moreau, Pauline’s Chamberlain. This helps in developing each character and gives us a further understanding of the egotistical, narcissistic family the Bonaparte’s really were, stopping at nothing to get what they wanted for their own personal gratification regardless of whether they destroyed lives in the process.

Most novels surrounding Napoleon’s reign are about his political and public genius who re-established a nation after the French Revolution left France in a state of political and social unrest. Through sheer charisma, Napoleon influenced a nation marching hundreds of thousands to their deaths; a flaw which ultimately led to his downfall, yet after all this, Napoleon is forged throughout history as a legend.

The Second Empress does nothing to glorify the achievements of Napoleon, only briefly mentioning battles at Leipzig, Russia and Waterloo although this wasn’t the author’s intention in any case. The Second Empress is a novel about the strength and determination of Marie-Louise, Second Empress of France and exposes the real character of Napoleon and his siblings, who were quite extreme in many of their aspirations. Napoleon was barbaric and militant minded, his idiosyncrasies, sexual appetite and little care for the female person, believing that “Women are nothing but machines for producing children” all adding to Moran’s realistic portrayal of Napoleon. Moran’s historical notes point out that in her attempt to recreate Napoleon’s last six years of his reign, many personal court letters were relied upon, small snippets of which, are included in the novel providing a raw truthfulness to the story and the characters.

After having fallen in love with Moran’s last novel Madame Tussaud, I had great expectations reading this novel. And although it wasn’t quite as enthralling as its predecessor, I very much enjoyed reading a novel which surrounded the little known protagonist, Princess Marie-Louise of Austria who, in many ways treaded in her great-aunt’s footsteps. It was an easy novel to read and the story flowed effortlessly, combined with historical snippets from personal letters it made an excellent period read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction, Moran never fails to disappoint.  

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

“It is all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.”

- Cromwell

Wolf Hall is the brilliantly written novel by Hilary Mantel and has sat in my “to read” pile for a long period, waiting. Just the size of the book daunted me, so I continued to pick up shorter novels before finally committing to the long haul read. Funnily enough, the book is so well written I found myself reading through the chapters effortlessly and before I knew it, I had finished.

Wolf Hall is set during the reign of King Henry VIII but is really a story about the rise of Thomas Cromwell, from blacksmith’s son to the Kings right hand man. Mantel introduces us to the many layers that make up “Thomas Cromwell”; the devoted family man who wants nothing more than to give his family everything he didn’t have, as well as having a deep affection for animals, particularly small dogs who he continues to name “Bella” after a small dog he had as a child and going out of his way for those less fortunate in society. Typically, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More tend to be painted as power hungry zealots in most Tudor fictions and you can’t help but dislike them. Even Mantel managed to capture this trait in More and I found it impossible to like the man at all, my skin crawled each time More popped into the scene.  Cromwell on the other hand is far more personable, Mantel including characters from his blood kin and adopted family, turning the once villain into the ingenious lawyer he really was with an honest and surprisingly hard upbringing.

As with most Tudor fictions; this novel also incorporates the usual suspects of the time including the Cardinal Wolsey, Anne Boleyn and her sister Mary, Katherine of Aragon and her daughter the Princess Mary,  Jane Seymour, Thomas Wyatt, the Lords Norfolk and Suffolk and the author was true to their characters, even down to the demure Jane Seymour. Like most Tudor enthusiasts, we’re familiar with the King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn relationship which bought about the downfall of Holy See in England and revolutionised religious belief at the time. It was refreshing that the focus of the story stemmed away from the “familiar” King Henry VIII/Anne Boleyn stories to something “unfamiliar”, the story of Thomas Cromwell who was without a doubt, crucial in shaping England and revolutionizing its laws.

Hands down, Wolf Hall is without a doubt, my favourite Tudor fiction to date and I could almost kick myself for having chosen all those smaller books to read before finally picking it up. The book flowed effortlessly and the description of Tudor England was expertly told as though Mantel had been there, I could easily believe that this was the real story of Thomas Cromwell. For anyone who has a passion for the period, I couldn’t recommend this novel enough, it’s absolutely brilliant!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Book Review: Virgin and the Crab by Robert Parry

‘And what of we two, master Dee?
Our nativities are oddly matched, are they not: the Virgin and the Crab.’
-          Excerpt from Virgin and the Crab

Virgin and the Crab transports the reader back in time beginning with the death of King Henry VIII through to the accession of his daughter, Elizabeth I. Though a familiar tale, this novel revolves around the little known tale, that of the relationship between Elizabeth Tudor and her tutor, John Dee.
Robert has a remarkable way of being able to transport the reader back in time, his story envelopes the reader, the lines between reality and fantasy seemingly blur; allowing the reader to truly envisage the tumultuous times of Tudor England.
Our main character, John Dee is simply an amazing man; mathematician, astrologer, navigator, scientist, alchemist, magician, master of disguise and confidant to Elizabeth I, this is surely a man you would wish to have by your side. A member of the mysterious brotherhood, the Rose Lodge he devotes his life’s essence into guiding England towards enlightenment and realisation that the Lady Elizabeth is vital in order to bring about England’s Golden Age.
A tale full of intrigue and magic, it draws the reader into its powerful web introducing Tudor England and all its accompaniments; of the plotting courtiers out for their own self gain, of the betrayals and also the loyalty, love and friendship sealed by years of shared ups and downs and of the importance of these relationships, even in the darkest of times, Elizabeth’s guiding light.
This novel manages to portray the rise of Elizabeth I without daunting the reader, Robert managing to retell the story in a mere 480 pages. Coupled with the usual suspects including; William Cecil, Robert Dudley, Jane Grey, Thomas Wyatt, Queen Mary, Philip of Spain along with all the subsidiary characters associated with them, this novel is undoubtedly a must read for anyone who loves Tudor historical fiction and whom wishes to experience the masterful Robert at his theatrical best.
This novel brings to life the relationship shared between Elizabeth Tudor and her friend and tutor John Dee. Robert breathes life into an untold story; he manages to blur fact and fiction resulting in a truly believable portrayal of their relationship, leaving the reader with much to ponder long after the last page has been turned.

Monday, 12 March 2012

What a Find! Stuart Crystal Earrings Circa early 18th Century

Portrait of Amalie of Zweibrücken-Birkenfeld

Stuart Crystal dates from the 17th Century and can be attributed to the politics associated with the Stuart Monarchy and the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Royalist supporters of the King, wore upon their person a ring, slide, pendant or brooch which was faceted rock crystal set underneath of which was either a portrait of the King, a lock of his hair with gold initials (often referred to as a cypher). Stuart Crystal pieces continued into the 18th Century, these were often memorial or sentimental in theme, trends associated with the Georgian Period.

Stuart Crystal earrings, pink foiled with gold cypher

English in origin, these beautiful earrings date somewhere between the Late 17th Century to the mid 18th Century & although the pink foiling underneath one of the crystals does show signs of wear, they are a beautiful example of Stuart Crystal jewellery. They have been step cut and bevelled to reflect light, mounted on silver with gold ear wires (original reverse fittings), pink foiling with gold cypher on each - the cyphers are quite elaborate and I am unable to determine what the cypher (initials) are; these earrings are sentimental; most likely a tribute to a marriage. One can only imagine the Lady who wore these beauties, they reflect light beautifully and must have looked amazing in the candle light of a Georgian ball.

These mementos are a testament to the beautiful sentiments of the Georgian (and Pre-Georgian) periods in history and are so fascinating and enigmatic that it's no wonder they are remarkably rare to come across and inspire many an enthusiast. I would direct anyone who has an interest in Stuart Crystal jewellery to Hayden Peter's website the Art of Mourning as he has some very interesting pieces, not to mention further valuable information regarding memorial and sentimental jewellery:

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A Place of Intrigue: The Tower of London

"Here lands as true a subject, being prisoner, as ever landed at these stairs. Before Thee, O God, I speak it, having none other friend but Thee alone."
- Reputedly spoken by Elizabeth I when she arrived at the Tower of London as a prisoner

England. With the Tower in the background.

Castle, palace, prison; these words alone invoke grandeur with an air of expectation, anticipation and wonder. The Tower of London stands at the very heart of the capital and became the epicentre for many of the dramatic and bloody events seen in English history. The Tower was first constructed by William the Conqueror in the early 1080's and each successive monarch added to its fortifications, nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before, it's immortalised presence dominating the skyline for miles. 

My first visit to the Tower was in 2005 and I spent an entire day walking the grounds (much to the boredom of my husband who doesn't share my passion for history) and could have spent many more. It was a crisp Autumn day and there weren't too many tourists about. The Tower seems to possess this other worldliness, as you walk over the bridge & through the gates the atmosphere seems to shift; as though you're stepping over some invisible threshold. It's no wonder with its past history that the Tower retains some of its residual memories...perhaps I was all too lost in the moment, visiting a place I had longed to since a child? To me, it just seemed alive!

The White Tower

With an anticipated move to London on the cards later this year I hope to spend many more days wondering around this wondrous place; I need more than just 1 day to fully absorb its history and it would be nice to be able to visit whenever I fancied, to take my sketchbook and stroll the grounds...

Queens House

I just wanted to share my love for the Tower of London, as grand and tragic as its past may be, I find it as equally alluring and naturally, it has one or two interesting ghost stories!

On another note, I recently I purchased 'Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London' by Nigel Jones which I hope to read shortly (my TBR shelf is notoriously high & as I'm also working on illustrating a book at the moment, I seem to be adding to it more often than reading the books that grace its shelves). Nonetheless, this book piqued my interest and hope it lives up to my expectations...

A Tale of Two Georgian Mourning Portrait Miniatures

'When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure'
- Author Unknown

These two historical portrait miniatures belonged to the Hechler Family of Strasbourg, with the original order label fixed on the backing dated 1810 for Fr Hechler. On one of the miniatures in neat cursive script (by none other than the child portrayed in the miniature) in French & loosely translates into the following; My mother had a whim of character which she displayed sometimes when we visited the cemetery together. I was little more than one year of age, she showed me the tomb and tried to make me understand that was where my father slept. Le Papa.

The wife of the deceased sits, pointing to the tomb of her husband clutching her young child to her, J F Hechler is inscribed on the tombstone with the elegant boughs of the weeping willow framing the scene around them. This particular miniature has been painstakingly created with the macerated hair of the deceased, quite often, these sepia pieces often included the hair of the deceased which (in my opinion) only adds to the sentiment of the miniature.

Le Papa

The second miniature is equally as beautiful, with the mourning widow inscribing a dedication on the trunk of the willow to her husband. Inscribed on the tomb, in German is: God clears the way for those with a clear conscience and loosely the translation of the inscription on the trunk is: Follow God.

The exquisite detail and sepia toning in these two miniatures is superb, the face of the bereaved woman resolute with grief, the poor bemused child clinging to the mother in reassurance. The provenance is quite rare (German) as generally most surviving pieces are English or French and even rarer that these are two pieces survived from the same family, a highly unusual example of hair mourning art, exquisite nonetheless.

During the Georgian Period, death was a constant and the medical knowledge at the time lacking (to say the least); pieces such as these miniatures served as a comfort & treasured keepsake, illustrative of their respect and adoration for their lost loved one, containing something of the essence of the person incorporating a lock of their hair, a precious item that could be kept close as a constant memory (Memento Mori (trans. Remember you must die) a constant symbol throughout Georgian period mourning jewellery & Art).

These two miniatures only emphasise my passion for the Georgian Period, they are beautiful examples of a time where loved ones were immortalised in treasured keepsakes. 

Thursday, 1 March 2012

In which I love Georgian Jewellery 1714 - 1830

Ever since I was a child I have held a fascination with the past, I would spend hours digging up my parents yard; the block sat in front of what use to be an old Orphanage & I would dig up all kinds of things; from old toys to beautiful pieces of china & glass (although mostly broken)...this led to my eventual studies in Early European History, Roman/Greek History & Egyptology.

However, there is one particular period that continues to distract me whenever I find myself browsing through an antique jeweller (or fair for that matter as I find the furniture equally delectable) and that is the Georgian Period which ranges from 1714 – 1830 which can then be classed into three separate categories; Queen Anne (1714-1750), Rococo (1750-1780) and Neoclassical/Romantic (1780-1830).

For me, collecting antique jewellery is the allure of times past; I often wonder about the items history; of who owned it before I? And did the wearer love the piece as much as I? To me, Georgian jewellery is the epitome of jewellery; it’s so absolutely beautiful there is simply nothing even remotely like it in the jewellery of today. It’s a shame that quality Georgian jewellery is scarce (that, & the pieces are generally quite expensive) or they have been broken up (for an example a Georgian Riviere necklace in order to create several pairs of earrings); as a collector, I find this devastating although equally satisfying when I come across a piece which is quite perfect…unfortunately there are also many, many fraudulent pieces out on the market which include (but not limited to) Stuart crystal & eye miniatures, mainly due to the high price these pieces can (& often do) demand. All I can advise is to research, research, research and if it seems to good to be true, then it probably is!

Georgian sepia clasp, strung on a french muff chain commemorating a marriage

This particular piece I purchased some time ago and I wear it almost on a daily basis; it dates somewhere between 1780-1830 as the piece illustrates a women in Neoclassical style; It was originally a clasp and I imagine would have been strung on pearls and worn as a bracelet however, it has been (quite crudely so) turned into a slide/pendant at some later date. Although it’s a shame that a jeweller modernised this piece and did a poor job with the gold work (fill in where the side clasp originally was) I still find this piece most alluring, and little did I realise at the time, that it features in the book: Georgian Jewellery by Ginny Redington Dawes on page 136 and is commemorative of a marriage therefore a love sentiment piece. All the symbolism in this piece points to love and the execution of the miniature is quite exquisite, the detail amongst the best I have come across; the piece finished off with a boarder of seed pearls…

This photo was taken from the dealer I originally purchased this from (with permission); it's a better photo of the exquisite detail of the sepia miniature.

From the sun filled Georgian Drawing room to the sumptuous evening gala balls these gems gleamed & glittered their best in the natural sunlight & candle light twinkling like stars off the foil backed gemstones. This period was a time where emotion played key and was expressed through wearable sentimental pieces of jewellery.

For anyone who is interested in the period, I highly recommend purchasing the book: Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830 by Ginny Redington Dawes with Olivia Collings. It is the only book that I have come across that encompasses Georgian Jewellery as a whole covering the period 1714-1830 in full. Not only is the information valuable but the photos are drool worthy, it's a book I find myself revisiting time and time again.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Drawing Process: Pastels, Pencils & Papers

A picture is a poem without words...
- Horace

I have a great appreciation for the arts, not so much 'Modern Art', but the classics. I simply can't appreciate the majority of modern art, how can one appreciate a plain blue canvas with a red square slightly off centre? For me, the art of Sir John William Waterhouse, Monet, Turner, Michelangelo, Lord Leighton, Millais & Degas come to mind (to name only a few); I can certainly sit in front of their work and think I'm some place me, artwork is like a good book, you should be able to loose yourself, stepping over that invisible line of reality & fantasy; it should move you emotionally...

From an early age, I have loved to draw and more recently illustrated Georgiana: Pemberley to Waterloo for my dear friend Anna Elliott and have sold a pastel work or two for people who fell in love with my wolves.

The drawing process for me is firstly deciding on what to draw and what medium I wish to use then I set about sketching the outline, followed by the detail. If I'm working in graphite, it's a simple process of ensuring the shadows are correct and the expression of the subject matter is just right, if I'm working in pastel, then it's a long process of adding layer upon layer, adding the detail in, again, the eyes in my wolves are particularly important to me; they're my focal point, the part of my artwork you are drawn to and make it seemingly come alive...

Below are some of my completed pastel works all centred around the Timber Wolf, unfortunately they are all framed & hanging in my parents house which explains the glare off the glass:

This is an unframed study of a Wolf cub and below that, a large (100 x 40cm) pastel artwork I am currently working on for my son James to hang in his bedroom:

The following drawings are all in pencil/graphite of varying softness, they include studies of my son James, drawings from Georgiana: From Pemberley to Waterloo and also a few others:

Drawing for me is a means of escape - I simply love being able to pick up a pencil and loose myself for several hours in the drawing in front of me and create something beautiful.

All the above drawings are copyright and were drawn by my hand, please discuss with me should you wish to use any. Thank you

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Book Review: The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Secret follows Brendan Prescott, a foundling raised in the Dudley household who finds himself new at court, squire to none other than Robert Dudley. With word travelling around that King Edward VI is dying and the Lady Elizabeth walking amongst the Londoner’s, Prescott is drawn into the secrets and dangers of the Tudor court. Whilst running an errand for Robert Dudley, Prescott finds himself being dragged into a back alley, thrown in front of Master Cecil, whom he befriended on his first day at court. Thinking the worst, Prescott is shocked to learn that Master Cecil wants to hire Prescott as a spy at court, to try and discover what the Dudley family are plotting and ultimately to see the Lady Elizabeth safe. Fuelled by his own desire to learn the truth of his birth and knowing that Master Cecil has the means at his disposal to assist him to discover so, Prescott agrees.

I was drawn into Gortner’s scandalous Tudor England instantly; it was cut throat; I was so drawn into the story that I could envisage smoggy London, the fear of the people tangible and smell the urine, rotting food and dirt in the cobbled streets with the dreaded Tower of London looming above...

Most Tudor enthusiasts will know the history behind the setting of this book, for those who don't; rumour was running like wild fire around London that the death of the young King Edward VI was eminent, Northumberland plotted and successfully placed his son Guildford and the Lady Jane Grey on the throne, unfortunately Mary overthrew them and was crowned, correctly so, as rightful Queen ; Guildford and the Lady Jane paying the ultimate price for their treason. Death. Gortner manages to turn this period of history into a mystery entwined with a plausible secret, linking Prescott to the throne of England, he captures the rivalry of the Dudley boys, who you love to hate (it was nice to see Robert Dudley portrayed like his family, the need to rise above, to seize the throne. That women, could be bridled as most novels tend to portray him as the handsome romantic who would do anything for the Lady Elizabeth).

The novel is fast paced, I could have easily have read it within the day, but managed to drag it over two just so I could savour the remaining pages. I honestly didn’t want it all to end. It was refreshing to read something that blended two genres; historical fiction and mystery well and set in none other than Tudor England; one of my favoured periods in history.

I haven’t read any other novels by Gortner, but this has certainly piqued my interest and I will be sure to add his others to my increasingly large shelf of books to read! I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction with a scandalous mystery to boot!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Book Review: The Countess by Rebecca Johns

‘For, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends.
Never have these words seemed more true to me than they do now, as I sit isolated from the world’

Ferenc is distant, showing little interest in Erzsébet even after they are married, he believes their marriage was a political match by their parents and nothing deeper; that is, until he observes his wife disciplining a servant cruelly and suddenly their relationship develops depth and passion. Ferenc acknowledges that he has not only married for political reasons, but has married a beautiful women who shows the same intelligence and stomach as any man on the battlefield able to run and look after his land when he away campaigning with the King; clearly a sadist, Ferenc goes on to teach Erzsébet cruel techniques he has been shown on the battlefield for her to administer to her servants who require disciplining. 

After having children together and losing two to plague, Ferenc’s health deteriorates and he passes away, leaving Erzsébet alone without a protector; Ferenc encouraging Erzsébet to remarry as soon as possible as a wealthy widow on her own makes a tasty morsel to any noble wanting to further themselves. And with the Nadasdy’s lands being the most enviable in the land, Erzsébet will be most venerable. nfortunately with Erzsébet ‘s inclination to punish her staff and her loyal servants doing so in the same manner to maintain order in the Nadasdy household, too many  servants going into the service of the Countess seemingly go missing, providing her enemies with the perfect opportunity to set up her downfall.

I was a little disappointed with The Countess because I was expecting it to be largely set around the deeds of Erzsébet Bathory; the darker,  gothic side of Hungary’s history. When you hear someone mention Erzsébet Bathory one thinks The Blood Countess; her madness and her crimes; not her childhood and what led up to these accusations. We have snippets of her madness throughout the novel; Erzsébet revels in cruelty, observing the cruel execution of a gypsy at the hands of her father as a child and later her own increasingly cruel punishments to her servants triggered by seemingly insignificant events. Was this due to her upbringing? That nobles needed to administer such punishments in order to maintain the status quo? Or was their some underlying satisfaction of beating, humiliating and murdering innocents under her will? Rebecca Johns still manages to masterfully pull the reader into Erzsébet’s perspective, her reign of terror almost seeming justified and the disciplining of servants being normal. After all, didn’t Erzsébet Bathory run a well managed and highly productive household which made her one of the most enviable households and land in Hungary? You can’t help but feel pity for Erzsébet  and wonder whether if her upbringing and marriage to Ferenc had of been different if she would have turned out the Blood Countess that she is notoriously remembered for.  Overall, the historical picture Rebecca Johns paints of Hungary and Erzsébet’s early childhood is quite insightful and I still very much enjoyed this book; I would still happily recommend it to my friends but mention that one shouldn’t jump the gun and assume it’s a gothic portrayal of Erzsébet Bathory’s dark deeds.   
Rebecca John’s novel, The Countess, spins a dark web around Hungary’s infamous Countess Erzsébet Báthory, who was walled up for her crimes within the walls of Castle Csejthe meeting her demise in 1614. Rebecca Johns takes us through her early childhood, the daughter of a noble family, she was educated as well as any male, a quick learner, and beautiful, promised to be betrothed to Ferenc Nadasdy, a strategic marriage seeing the houses of Bathory and Nadasdy united as a powerful manoeuvre by the families for Hungary’s preservation.

Book Review: The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

- 'The Lady of Shalott' by Lord Tennyson

The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry is set in London 1876 and centres around two main characters; Amos Roselli and his muse Daphne. The title subtly hints at, haunting parallels between their lives and that of the famous Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn and her assumed consort Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The book opens with Roselli having been commissioned by an Archaeologist to record their recent findings at the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula at Tower Green where they have discovered an arrow chest, with what they believe hold the remains of none other than Anne Boleyn. It is here that Roselli finds himself alone, sketching away in the dark by lantern until he is later joined by a presence of the past…and so the story begins.

The mutual love shared between the two main characters is evident, although, like Daphne’s 16th Century counterpart she is tempted by a life of extravagance when introduced to one of Roselli’s new clients, an industrialist, Oliver Ramsay and within months, wed. Daphne’s new found life of luxury is but short lived, and Daphne realises what a brute her husband really is knowing only too well how easily it is for men to cast their wives aside, having already seen that Ramsay  has cast his eye elsewhere and Daphne having produced no heir.

Roselli having been commissioned by Ramsay to execute a self portrait to hang ostentatiously in his stately manor is reminiscent of Henry VIII’s famous pose, is also asked by Ramsay, to paint a likewise portrait of his wife, Daphne (enticing Roselli with the forbidden fruit). The theme of Daphne’s portrait changes from that of self portrait to that of the Greek Nymph who was pursued by Apollo (who in retrospect shows characteristics in parallel with Ramsay & Henry VIII) is shot by one of Eros’s arrows, a blunt lead arrow which dampens her desire to ever fall in love. Apollo on the other hand is hit with a gold tipped arrow, infusing lust and pursues poor Daphne. It was a stroke of genius having this legend entwined with that of the arrow chest, the books sense of history, mythology and past ghosts seems to entwine, pulling all the parts together but ultimately to the same tragic end.

This is a beautifully written novel set in Victorian England and parallelled alongside Tudor England, glimpses of which are perceived through Roselli’s fleeting encounters with spectres and dreams. It is also filled with the beauty of the Victorian artists; with Roselli’s aspiration to achieve what the Pre-Raphaelites achieved and earn a place at the Royal Academy. The novel is also filled with beautiful poetry, the haunting ‘Lady of Shalott’ read by none other than Lord Tennyson himself and shadowed by ‘My Lute Awake’ written by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The historical authenticity of the novel is engaging with the author having a beautiful sense of place, capturing both Victorian and Tudor England incorporating aspects of the attitude, lifestyle and landmarks of both periods exceptionally well. This novel was an absolute delight to read and I would recommend it to anyone who has a soft spot for Anne Boleyn, Victorian England and an appreciation of the arts.

Now cease, my lute; this is the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
And end that I have now begun;
Now is this song both sung and past:
My lute! Be still, for I have done.

- 'My Lute Awake' by Sir Thomas Wyatt

In which I am doing my bit for the environment: IKOU

IKOU Eco cleaning products; laundry powder, dish washing liquid & multi purpose cleaner

I have been a local in the Blue Mountains for 20 years and although ikou has been around for quite sometime, it was only recently that I faced the tourists and ventured into their flagship store in Leura. There, I spoke to one of the lovely retail assistants who recommended I try their laundry powder as my son has quite sensitive skin and I had been having trouble trying to find a laundry powder that I could use without him coming out in a rash or complaining about being itchy. Not only does the Eucalyptus Laundry Powder small good, but it cleans effectively and my son has had no skin irritations what so ever, it is now one of my staple cleaning products. I also recently tried their dish washing liquid and their multi purpose cleaning, both of which I will continue to use.

Ikou believe in a Greener Australia, none of their products are tested on animals and everything is Eco friendly and their beautifully scented candles are 10% naturally produced.

I have tried several of their products including their heavenly Organic Italian Orange & Jojoba Body Buff which I swear by, it's THE best body scrub which leaves my skin feeling soft and smelling delicious! Their tea light candles with accompanying Himalayan Salt Crystal Candle Lamp are just beautiful, they  give off the loveliest glow when lit. They also have a great organic tea range and being a self confessed English tea addict, I am now a Green tea (Zen) convert and I have found it difficult to drink anything bar the delicious concoction at the moment.

Ikou also run a day spa in Leura and I had the honour of enjoying a de-stress hot stone massage a few weeks ago, compliments of the lovely ikou owners Paul & Naomi having won a $500 voucher. What can I say? Not only is the soft green decor of the spa relaxing, but massage itself combined with the beautiful oils heavenly, the hot stones are my favourite massage therapy and the ikou day spa did not disappoint.

So if you're looking to try some Eco friendly cleaners or spoil yourself with one of ikou's many massage treatments or rituals I couldn't recommend their products enough.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Review: The Dark Enquiry; Lady Julia Grey Book 5

Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment.
- Shakespeare

Although happily married and content with their domestic lives, Lady Julia & Brisbane start getting edgy whilst they await for an investigative opportunity to open. Lady Julia seemingly happy that Brisbane has ensured her that she will play the role of partner as long as she grasps the menial tasks set out for her (including picking locks) and follow his orders to the T, suspects that her husband isn’t being entirely honest when he persists that he has nothing ‘of interest’ on the books. So it comes as no surprise when Lady Julia seeks to prove her own worth, sensing her husband’s dishonesty setting out in pursuit of a ghost investigation, following her husband only to discover that he is secretly meeting with her brother Bellmont who is seemingly linked to the mysterious Spirit Club where the likes of high ranking officials (all men nonetheless) meet to connect to the dead.

Disguised as a gentleman, Lady Julia manages to talk herself into admittance into the club, after nothing out of the ordinary occurs during the séance; Lady Julia begins to wonder what all the fuss is about until she is dragged from behind into a secret passage by none other than her beloved Brisbane. After duelling with his wife for attending the club, Brisbane explains that he needs to search Madame Seraphine’s boudoir to look for some letters; after a failed attempt at locating her brother’s letters, they retrieve back into the secret passage, only to witness Madame Seraphine’s murder first hand.

The book weaves around Lady Julia & Brisbane, unlikely partners in crime unravelling the mysteries of the Spirit Club, the murder of Madame Seraphine and trying to prove Bellmont’s innocence after a brief romantic liaison with the murdered spiritualist. Unbeknownst to Lady Julia at the time, the Spirit Club is a place where spies meet in order to receive coded messages to pass on to their respective parties, all cleverly orchestrated through Madame Seraphine and her messages from the dead, there is seemingly much more at stake involving the British Royal Crown and Germany who are trying to overthrown the British government.

This book delves deeper into the relationship between Lady Julia and Brisbane and reinforces the depth of their love for one another. Although opposites when it comes to tactics and approach (when pursuing lines of enquiry) an equilibrium is reached, or at least some form of mutual understanding, but it isn’t until the very last chapters of the book that Lady Julia understands why Brisbane constantly fears loosing her on a case, that above all else, she is the most important thing to him in the world, which is why he continues to insist that she doesn’t get too involved in his cases.

I have been patiently awaiting this book, since discovering the series through The Burton Book Review (and silently kicking myself for having not discovered it much earlier) and was not at all disappointed. Deanna Raybourn’s The Dark Enquiry lived up to all my expectations. Not only is it a tale filled with espionage and surprise, we revisit old friends from previous books who make up the series some of which include; the Gypsies, Portia and the baby, Plum, Lady Julia’s hot-headed father and his disobedient hermit, with the addition of some new characters whom I’m sure will make an appearance in future novels, in particular, the allusive Mr Morgan. Like all the previous novels, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every page, it was every bit as good as it’s predecessors and I must admit, I am saddened thinking about how long there may be to wait for another Lady Julia Grey novel…(they really are THAT good) and I honestly couldn’t read it quick enough, I also enjoyed the few moments of ‘oh, didn’t see that one coming’ and of coarse, after falling in love with Grim in the earlier novels, very much enjoyed the addition of the sweet little dormouse… to get the full enjoyment out of this novel, you really do need to have read the whole series or else you won’t fully understand the characters, all of which, I highly recommend.

Book Review: Silent on the Moor; Lady Julia Grey Book 3

“To be, or not to be, that is the question’’
- Hamlet

Silent on the Moor is Deanna Raybourn’s third instalment in the Lady Julia Grey Chronicles and by far, my favourite thus far. Deanna pulls us onto the ghostly Yorkshire Moors where none other than Nicholas Brisbane has purchased an old run down Manor once owned by the Allenby’s who recently fell into disrepair after the death of their spoilt & gambling son, leaving the estate to his mother & sisters who are without the resources to keep it standing.

Enter Lady Julia Grey, who has travelled from London with her sister Portia and brother Valerius to discover whether her feelings for Nicholas Brisbane are reciprocated, resigned to the fact that if they’re not, she will simply return to London and forget Nicholas Brisbane forever.

This novel is a little darker than the first two novels although I dare say I imagine it was the scene Deanna intended to create; a rundown Manor swathed in Mist, isolated out on the Moors... Even the mention of the ruins and graveyard on the property add to the eerie atmosphere the novel creates. Unlike the previous novels, there is more of a focus on Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane so I felt some of the background characters could have been developed a little further. Having said that, everything comes together very nicely in the end and I felt completely satisfied.

This novel again is brilliantly Victorian! I just love the little historical tit bits about Victorian London, their ‘very proper' ways of thinking (particularly when it comes to women) and the fashion. And this wouldn’t be a Lady Julia Grey novel without the murder & mystery, throw in a few Egyptian artefact's (including two mummified twin babies), a few Gypsies,  and an inevitable romance, and you have the perfect Sherlock Holmes a la Lady Julia Grey style.
I look forward to loosing myself in the next Lady Julia Grey novel...

Book Review: Silent in the Sanctuary; Lady Julia Grey Book 2

Silent in the Sanctuary is Book Two in the Lady Julia Chronicles and finds Lady Julia enjoying Italy with her brothers, Plum & Lysander as well as their handsome Italian friend Alessandro. Lady Julia’s recuperation is short lived as their father calls them home to Bellmont Abbey, a former monastery for Christmas. Bumping into her beloved sister Portia upon disembarking she discovers that her father has not only invited all the family home for the festive season, but also a few friends, including Nicholas Brisbane whom introduces Julia to his fiancé.

The book includes a mixed party of characters who are all as charming & unique as one another including a jewel thief, an eccentric aunt (who has the time of her life with the Gypsies), her poor cousins, and a few resident ghosts and we mustn’t forget Grim the talking Raven (who I have quite a fondness for), who rather enjoys his sweeties. Full of secret passages, poisoning, stolen family jewels and a rather large, costly Royal diamond, this sequel has it all including a gruesome murder taking place in the inner sanctuary with none other than a candlestick!

I enjoyed the first book in this series immensely so felt quite anxious diving into the sequel as one often wonders whether it can live up to the same greatness as the first, but it did. For me, this series invokes an air of Victorian glamour with a splash of Sherlock Holmes, but in this case, our Sherlock Holmes is the Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane is the side kick Watson (although a darker, rasher version). Albeit reluctant partners in crime, the Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane make an excellent team and I enjoy their constant sparring. This series has it all, an unconventional heroine; a dark handsome hero battling with his own demons, humour, a compelling storyline combined with Victorian creepiness, mystery & madness…I simply can not wait to begin reading Book Three and can not believe that I have left this series sitting in my mountain of to be read for so long.

In which I must rave: Etsy

My wonderful friend Sarah introduced me to the world of Etsy and I can't possibly thank her enough; I have found so many beautiful items; from hand knitted baby blankets and booties to unique one of a kind jewellery pieces. I think it's fantastic having a centralised place for like artisans to advertise and sell their works, it's wonderful being able to purchase and personalise a gift that's a little extra special.

A few of my favourite Etsy shops include:

Peaces of Indigo by the beautiful Dawanna Young who creates stunning one of a kind as well as customised jewellery. She customised a beautiful gold pendant with my two son's names engraved on the back and I have purchased several rings. She uses recycled metal (silver & 22ct gold) and the stones are all Fair Trade, each ring band stamped in her own unique embossing and hidden inscription reminiscent of Medieval poesy rings; I think her work is simply beautiful and each purchase arrives lovingly wrapped, tied with the most divine velvet ribbon!

(Left to Right) Blue Sapphire, Pink Sapphire, Garnet & Yellow Sapphire

Customised necklace (quite small) with Tudor Rose design

Another of my favourite Etsy shops is Tafferty Designs; the lovely Judith created my gorgeous baby blanket which now graces her advertisement on Etsy (thank you Judith). All her work is hand
knit/crocheted and she is only too happy to customise or create something is you do not see it in her shop.

There are honestly too many good Etsy shops to rave about; other favourites include steelgoddess who I continue to purchase stationary from, Tartx who creates various unique pieces including (my personal favourite) a scarf with a screen print of Anne Boleyn, Brookish (for Jane Austen fans) create lovely (and comfortable) tee shirts, sweats and mugs; Lastly Lapaperie who I've only recently discovered as I am very much coveting her large leather bound sketch book to hold all my Georgiana drawings; a luxury perhaps, but for my drawings, a worthwhile one *wink*