Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Etruria–Travel, History and Itineraries in Central Italy by Mary Jane Cryan

Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011

  • Paperback: 155 pages
  • Genre : Travel and History
  • Publisher: Etruria Editions Edizioni Archeoares 2010
  • Source: Purchased directly from the author
  • Review Quote From Backcover: “Mary Jane Cryan’s latest book, confirms her as a leading voice on that fascinating area of Italy known as Etruria. A scrupulous researcher, she combines scholarship with a passionate love of her subject, bringing long ago personages and events vividly to life.” Margaret Stenhouse, Italy Update.

The March post with a list of books that the other people taking part are reading this month has already been posted. March Reviews
I first met the author of this book virtually in early 2004 when we were planning the latter stages of our move to Italy. We had decided on the region of Northern Lazio as being the place we wanted to start our search for a home. While doing online research we came across  Elegant Etruria Mary Jane’s very informative website. We made contact with Mary Jane and it was her that found us the apartment in Tuscania that we would rent while house hunting. When we arrived in March 2004 she was kind enough to help us settle in, which included introducing us to her earlier publications. These we have found to be the perfect guidebooks for helping us learn so much about this beautiful and almost undiscovered region we now call ‘home’
It should be no surprise therefore that as soon as possible we obtained a copy of this her latest book and a perfect candidate for the Italy in Books - Reading Challenge 2011
This latest book is just as compelling as her previous ones, with some enthralling sounding places tempting us yet again to get out there and explore. Thanks Mary Jane for sharing your passion for this region by sharing these intriguing stories. The book is divided into four sections, Itineraries, Influences, Treasures and People. With itineraries that range from The Tombs of Tarquina to Searching for the Stuarts, Influences from America to Ireland, Treasures in gardens and castles and finally so many fascinating people I defy you not to find something amongst these pages that will absorb you.
In conclusion if you decide to come and visit this region in reality or virtually, if you want to discover some of the places that tourists do not normally get to see then make sure you get hold of a copy for yourself. Copies can be purchased direct from Mary Jane by clicking on this link.
Etruria Travel, History and Itineraries in Central Italy
Mary Jane Cryan
Links to other books by the author
Vetralla Connection,
Affreschi Exploring Etruria
Travels To Tuscany and Northern Lazio
I am also including this video I found on YouTube to tempt you a little further with its atmospheric surroundings. What a beautiful place to have given a book presentation.
Courtesy of saltaripe

I also post these ‘Italy in Books’ reviews on my other blog
News From Italy

Monday, March 28, 2011

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore


        LORNA DOONE.

  • Paperback: 172 pages
  • Genre : Victorian Classic Fiction
  • Publisher: Original Edition 1869 – This edition published  by Diamond Books 1993
  • Source: My bookshelves
  • Introduction Quote : Having seen a performance of a classic work of literature on television, children are often disappointed and frustrated when they find they are unable to read and understand the original. With this in mind this has been translated by Doris Dickens, great granddaughter of Charles Dickens. This is not Lorna Doone retold but “a simple tale told simply” as R.D. Blackmore intended.

          The Victorian Literature Challenge



I have read this novel before but as I found this abridged version sitting on our bookshelves decided that it would make a suitable read for The Victorian Literature Challenge

This historical romance and adventure story is set in the late 17th century on the wild moors of Exmoor in Devon. The hero of the tale is John Ridd a young man whose father was murdered by a band of outlaws. The notorious Doones of Bagworthy who because of this evil deed John is obsessed with. His obsession leads him to meet and fall in love with the beautiful Lorna Doone. Lorna has been part of the outlaw band since childhood although it is not really where she belongs. John Ridd's rescue of Lorna and the terrible revenge of Carver Doone makes for a thrilling adventure story.

If you want to read the full plot summary with spoilers it can be found here Lorna Doone - Plot Summary

Personally I found this edition to be an excellent abridgment of what is to this day a tale worth reading.

Richard Doddridge Blackmore or R.D. Blackmore as he was more often  known was born in Longworth, Berkshire now Oxfordshire, on the 7th of June 1825 and died in Teddington, Middlesex on the 20th January 1900.

Most people do not realise that he was actually one of the more famous English novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century with at least twenty published works. He was also a horticulturist which is probably one of the reasons his novels were widely acclaimed  for there descriptions of the countryside. How sad then that the only surviving published work of a man so popular in his lifetime is Lorna Doone. Ironic in fact as this particular novel was not even a favourite of his. It has never been out of print since it’s original publication date.

With thanks to Wikipedia as the source of the biographical information and author photograph.

I also found on YouTube this extract from a 1990 version of Lorna Doone starring Clive Owen and Sean Bean, both looking very young! Do watch if you want to get a feeling for the novel.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

We Can Pull It Off by Suresh Taneja


  • Paperback: 166 pages
  • Genre :  Fiction
  • Publisher: Frog Books, Leadstart Publishing India 2010
  • Source: Sent to me by the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Rampant corruption in India is probably something you have heard about, I certainly had but only in very vague terms. So when I discovered that in writing this novel the author is hoping to make more people aware of the situation in Indian society I was curious. In this his first novel Suresh Taneja feels he has woven the issues into a story that he hopes will encourage readers to think about strategies and solutions to address the problem.

Unfortunately it did not work for me at all but I think it is important to remember that this may just be because it has failed to cross cultures and appeal to a European reader. It was not only the story that I found boring but the language and grammatical usage left a lot to be desired. I have no idea if this novel was originally written in English or is the subject of poor translation and editing. For example early on in the book someone opens a bottle of ‘Champaign’, unless this is not ‘Champagne’ as I assumed but some drink available only in India.

The author is certainly passionate about his subject and in his novel envisages that by the year 2030 India will be the new super power of the world and free of corruption and this will all be thanks to the children of 2009 that the story is built around.

There are many characters but not one was memorable and the conversations in the book tended to be rather repetitive, again I think this would have improved with stronger editing. Overall a clever concept but spoilt by poor characterization and mediocre writing. The latter which I do feel is more than likely to be a language issue. The author may well have felt more comfortable writing in his mother tongue and then maybe the story would have flowed better. Who knows?

Normally I write a précis of the novel, without spoilers but today having not really understood or enjoyed it I have decided to just leave you with the blurb from the back cover, to make of it what you will.


This is a story of courage, determination, ingenuity and love for the country.

It was the most unusual vacation for Vikram, Yuvika, Manisha and Akshay — the G4, as they called themselves. In the first few days of the vacations, they experienced some shocking incidents of declining moral values and corruption. These completely shook them up when they understood the implications. They dreaded the thought of being labelled as citizens of a corrupt country.

G4 found this deplorable and decided to plunge into action. They had two weeks of vacation, which they productively used to start an initiative to address this issue. They used their creativity and a number of unique strategies which left an indelible mark on the public, making their initiative a mass movement. The result? A complete cultural change and attitude shift in the citizens’ minds leading to a complete transformation of the nation, earning it respect and recognition globally.

Read about this movement and its impact…


The author Suresh Tanjea is a Chartered Accountant by profession and works for a large listed company in India as its chief financial officer.


I am offering my copy to the first person who asks me as I am curious to learn what others make of it. Any volunteers to read this next?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Exit The Actress by Priya Parmar


  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Genre : Historical Fiction
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Original edition (February 1, 2011)
  • Source: Sent to me by the author in eBook format in return for an honest and unbiased review.
  • Review Quote : “A real triumph….A vivid imagining of the restoration London of Charles II with Nell Gwynn as a powerful and engaging heroine set in the busy world of the theatre. This debut novel captures the glamorous world of the amoral court and the struggle of the city. Priya Parmar is a writer to watch.” — Philippa Gregory


I think this will be the first of many successful novels that we will see in the years to come from this talented young lady. The fact that Philippa Gregory has commented so enthusiastically also convinced me that Priya Parmar is a name to watch. Until recently Philippa Gregory was the only historical authoress I read with any regularity as I have always been impressed by the way her novels are well researched to combine fact with fiction.

This is exactly what Priya Parmar has done with her debut novel by choosing a real person Nell Gwynn as her protagonist and she has written an excellent fictional story around the facts. Nell Gwynn was in her day the most famous actress in London and the King’s mistress. Written in the form of diary entries, newspaper gossip columns, letters, home remedies, invitations and court announcements the reader is quickly immersed in 17C life revolving around the Gwynn family.  The diaries open when Nell is only 12 and her sister Rose 14.  She lives with her mother Nora and her grandfather Dr Edward Gwynn who used to live in Oxford with his sister Margaret, but has moved to London to keep an eye on his granddaughters as their mother is always drunk and his son Thomas their father is dead. 

Nell gwyn peter lely c 1675.jpgNell Gwynn – Wikipedia

It is after  Ellen "Nell" Gwyn begins working as an orange girl in the Theatre Royal, Convent Garden, that leads to her discovery and eventual career as an actress. Her natural charm and personality also lead to her in time being noticed by the notorious ladies man King Charles II. Her diaries show Nell to be a captivating young lady who struggles to support herself rather than falling into the same traps as her alcoholic mother and sister who work as prostitutes.

I knew the story of Nell Gwynn and the historical setting before reading this book as this was a period I studied at school. I do not recall it being so interesting in our textbooks though! In my opinion Priya Parmar has succeeded in writing a realistic portrayal of characters from English history that make for a very readable novel which I highly recommend, this is the sort of novel that makes history interesting.

I was sorry to reach the last page because I wanted more! 

Additional Info : This novel would make an excellent choice for Book Club Groups as not only is there so much material to discuss but included are excellent notes and an interview with Priya Parmar to guide such discussion.

Please take the minute and half needed to watch this video, it gives nothing away, in fact I think it will tempt you even more to read Exit The Actress.

Courtesy of noahsher1

Priya Parmar

Priya Parmar

Born in Hawaii but currently living in London, researching her next novel which is set in the first World War. She is a former dramaturge, ( a professional position within a theatre company that deals mainly with research and development of plays) and freelance editor with degrees in literature and theatre and is currently studying for a doctorate with the University of Edinburgh.

Exit The Actress - Facebook Page

Priya Parmar Official Website

The Plumbean Project - Priya's Blog

I have included links to all the websites which I used for my research, either with reference to the author or about Nell Gwynn.

Nell Gwynn - Wikipedia