Sunday, February 28, 2010

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware

Island of the Swans by Ciji Ware
Copyright 2010
Orig. published 1989
Sourcebooks Landmark - Historical fiction
569 pages

In case you're wondering about the kitten's droopy eyes, Island of the Swans is far too entertaining to put anyone to sleep, although she did require a bit of help holding up the book.

Island of the Swans is the story of Lady Jane Maxwell of Edinburgh, who became the 4th Duchess of Gordon. Jane was known as a fashion icon, patroness to Robert Burns, close friend and advisor to King George, a politically savvy, passionate and beautiful woman. The story takes place between 1760-1797 and focuses on Jane's fiery spirit, her place in society, her family life and a love triangle. I found a very interesting page in which Jane is featured as the Tart of the Week at a blog site about Jane's rival, the Duchess of Devonshire, which is well worth reading for a little background if you're interested in reading this splendid book about her life.

Island of the Swans opens with a pig race between Jane and her sister, Eglantine, down the steep High Street in Edinburgh. Her best friend, Thomas Fraser serves as the judge and the scene is a delightful introduction to Jane, her family and Thomas. At the time the book opens, Jane, her mother and her sisters live in Edinburgh on the strict allowance doled out by her drunken, land-holding father who, in typical fashion, has chosen to banish his daughters but not his male heirs to a life of genteel poverty.

Thomas Fraser is an orphan whose family lost their land holdings after siding with Bonnie Prince Charlie in the dreadful Battle of Culloden. Although Thomas and Jane's friendship eventually turns to love, Thomas has no money or land and becomes a soldier to earn his keep. After he is presumed dead in an attack by Indians in the American Colonies, Jane marries Alexander, the 4th Duke of Gordon. But, Thomas is not dead. Jane's marriage is described as passionate but fraught with jealousy after the Duke realizes that Thomas will always hold Jane's heart.

Island of the Swans is a little heavy on fairly graphic love scenes and angst about Jane's never-ending affection for Thomas, but the historical setting is rendered in such stunning detail that I was never bored or annoyed by the love triangle. Jane's life was fascinating. While her marriage may have been essentially loveless, she didn't let her husband slow her down. In addition to her political activities and the social whirl, Jane gave birth to six children and was a devoted mother.

The book is not so graphic that it's yucky, but for those who prefer to keep their kids from reading anything overly erotic, I'd say it's at least PG-13, maybe R-rated. And, yet, the richly-described historical setting is so amazing that reading the book is definitely a learning experience.

4.5/5 - Meticulously researched and detailed; an engrossing read, highly recommended for history and historical-fiction afficianados. Apart from the fact that the book is romance-heavy (and I don't care for elaborate sex scenes), I was never, ever bored with this fairly densely word-packed chunkster and enjoyed learning about Jane Maxwell and the time period in which she lived. A family tree at the front of the book came in very handy.

My thanks to Danielle of Sourcebooks for the review copy!

Other reviews:

In other news . . .

About that kitten - We adopted a 6-month-old tabby with white socks and bib on Thursday. Wahoo! It is wonderful having a fur baby in the house, again!! Sookie is her adoptive name, but we plan to rename her Fiona and are currently calling her Sookie Fiona, since she knows and responds to the name Sookie. She is playful and cuddly and we are besotted with her.

Reviews. Big sigh. No swearing allowed. I need to review the following:

Making Rounds with Oscar by David Dosa, M.D.

So Long, Insecurity by Beth Moore
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
We The Children by Andrew Clements
The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer

When will I get to them? Your guess is as good as mine. Obviously, blogging has not held priority in my life, so far this year. I'm fine with that, but I do intend to review everything I read -- if humanly possible. This might be a good time to take up drinking, if I could tolerate alcohol and didn't happen to hold the opinion that all alcohol has the smell and taste of paint remover.

What else is coming up, besides (hopefully) at least 6 reviews?

At least 2 more drawings. I won a pair of reading sunglasses in a drawing at Book-a-Rama Chris's blog and love them so much that I asked if I could hold a drawing, as well. And, I'm going to help promote a new read-along program that I think is all kinds of awesome (a book giveaway comes with the territory). The book hasn't arrived, but I've heard it read aloud and I know I like it.

Happy Sunday!


  1. Your new baby is soo cute! Congrats! We took a kitten in a few months ago, bringing our kitty count to 4. I just love them so much, even though they drive me crazy! I saw a great quote the other day, but am not sure of the author:

    Dogs have owners. Cats have staff.

    Isn't that perfect?

    Anywho - back to books. I can totally relate to having far too many books left to review...every weekend I say I am going to get caught up and I never do! Oh well, they'll get done eventually!

    Great review on Island of the Swans. I really loved this book and it will make it on my Best Reads of 2010 for sure! Ciji is very talented and thank goodness Sourceboosk is re-issuing her past novels.

    Have a good week!

  2. I adore historical fiction so I will most definitely have to pick this one up. Fashion, love triangles, history, oooh-wee, can't wait. Hooray for the newest little edition to your family. Sookie Fiona is adorable!!! :)

  3. Aww, Sookie Fiona is adorable and so smart, too! I'd say she hit the jackpot when she found your house!

  4. Your new cat is so cute and I love the name. I am so agree with you on alcohol.

  5. Amy,

    Thank you! I know exactly what you mean about loving cats so much, even though they drive you crazy. They are such fun and sometimes a bit of a pain but totally worth the . . . well, things crashing to the floor and chewed-up garbage (that's what we've gotten, so far -- we haven't had a kitten in the house in a very long time).

    I've seen that quote, before. Yes, I think it's perfect! :)

    You know, usually I keep up with my reviews very well, but this year I'm just off my game. I'll just keep on hoping that someday I'll catch up. "Expect a miracle," is my new motto, simply because I need one.

    Thank you! This is my first Ciji Ware novel, but I have another one on the stacks. I was totally blown away by her writing. Wahoo for Sourcebooks reprinting wonderful older titles!

  6. Rosemary,

    If you love historical fiction, Island of the Swans is definitely a must-read. It is one heck of a juicy read.

    Thank you! We are just crazy about our new furbaby. She's spunky and lovable and wild. It's been a long time since we've laughed this much!


    Thanks! Sookie Fiona is definitely showing signs of being a smart little animal. And, she's totally cuddly and hilarious. We're lucky to have found her, but yes . . . it's likely that she'll be spoiled mercilessly. We do adore our pets. :)


    Thank you! I think little Sookie Fiona is well on her way to becoming the most photographed kitten in America. She is just so darned cute. LOL

    As to alcohol . . yep . . blecch. Never could stand the stuff. Of course, I used to say that about coffee. But, I think coffee's worth learning how to drink because it has the opposite effect and I want to be alert! :)

  7. I am so happy for you! She looks like such a sweetie but she does remind me of Little Miss Houdini. Let's hope she doesn't start letting herself out, in, or hanging out in the ceiling!


  8. Hey Book, I just came across you here from FB, I'm going to have to take a look around the place ...

  9. I LOVED The Things They Carried...I think it's a very important book...It's not for the faint hearted...

  10. Book sounds interesting and pretty good - cat is *adorable* thanks for sharing - Hannah

  11. CJ,

    Kitty is a hoot. So far, she seems to have little interest in going outside, apart from a bit of curiousity when the door opens. Usually, she runs away rather than to the door, though.

    Hanging out in the ceiling? How is that possible?

    Hey John!

    Good to "see" you in here. Hope you like my book blog. I haven't posted all that many photos, lately, but you can see the snow caught my fancy (and I'm obviously very fond of cats). :)


    No, I don't suppose it is for the faint of heart. I avoid gore, in general, but you're so right. The Things They Carried is an important book and if he hadn't described the reality of Vietnam so vividly, it would have lost its impact.


    The book is wonderful but the cat is beyond awesome. She was just meowing at me ("squeaking" is probably a better word) out of frustration because she wanted to get to the windowsill but couldn't figure out how to get there. So, I gave her instructions -- it's a bit tricky with a desk in the way -- and she did just what I said. She's a smart little gal!

  12. Such an adorable pic! Thanks for sharing!

    Well, and for the review too. :)

  13. Beth,

    Sometimes the cat pic is the most important part, eh? :)

  14. Glad you enjoyed the book. I was wondering what you were going to say about the sex scenes, since I know you're not too keen on them.

    I thought the book was pretty good. I found the story fascinating but it was just LONG. And it started to feel it a little more than halfway through the book. I think Ware could've cut out some of those love scenes. Still, I'm glad I read it.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  15. Anna,

    It's long, all right. I was surprised that it never put me to sleep and I continued to enjoy the book all the way through. I do agree, though. She could have done away with a lot of (if not all) the sex scenes. They're the reason I took off half a point. It would have been a perfect book, IMHO, without all the superfluous sex and it's easy enough to tippy-toe around the graphic bits. Plus, it would have been a book that I'd encourage parents to get their teens to read if she'd kept it a touch cleaner. It really does serve as an excellent history lesson, though.

  16. Oh I really want to read this one. I am reminded now to put it on my wish list.

  17. It's a great one, Pam.


Thank you for visiting my blog! I use comment moderation because apparently my blog is a spam magnet. Don't worry. If you're not a robot, your comment will eventually show up and I will respond, with a few exceptions. If a comment smacks of advertising, contains a dubious link or is offensive, it will be deleted. I love to hear from real people! I'm a really chatty gal and I love your comments!