Saturday, November 30, 2013

Release spotlight: Stephanie Dray's Daughters of the Nile

I've been waylaid on my review for Stephanie Dray's Daughters of the Nile due to the holidays and dealing with my cat emergency (I'll be posting it on Thursday), so I'm sharing instead an excerpt from it. I adored this series but this final book killed me with the awesome, and I can't wait to squeal about it. As you make any wishlists, consider adding Dray's trilogy, especially if you like meaty historicals, kick ass heroines, lurid love affairs, gruesome magic, rich detail and exotic ambiance.  (Seriously -- this trilogy ranks among my all-time favorite, and has to be among the best historical fiction trilogies I've ever read.)  You can find the book blurb and purchasing info for Daughters of the Nile at Dray's website.

Read an Excerpt

Daughters of the Nile coverBelow me, six black Egyptian cobras dance on their tails, swaying. I watch their scaled hoods spread wide like the uraeus on the crown of Egypt. Even from this height, I'm paralyzed by the sight of the asps, their forked tongues flickering out between deadly fangs. I don't notice that I'm gripping the balustrade until my knuckles have gone white, all my effort concentrated upon not swooning and falling to my death.

And I would swoon if I were not so filled with rage. Someone has arranged for this. Someone who knows what haunts me. Someone who wants to send me a message and make this occasion a moment of dread. My husband, the king must know it, for he calls down, "That's enough. We've seen enough of the snake charmer!"

There is commotion below, some upset at having displeased us. Then Chryssa hisses, "Who could think it a good idea to honor the daughter of Cleopatra by coaxing asps from baskets of figs?"

The story the world tells of my mother's suicide is that she cheated the emperor of his conquest by plunging her hand into a basket where a venomous serpent lay in wait. A legend only, some say, for the serpent was never found. But I was there. I brought her that basket. She was the one bitten but the poison lingers in my blood to this day. I can still remember the scent of figs in my nostrils, lush and sweet. The dark god Anubis was embroidered into the woven reeds of the basket, the weight of death heavy in my arms. I can still see my mother reach her hand into that basket, surrendering her life so that her children might go on without her. And I have gone on without her.

I have survived too much to be terrorized by the emperor's agents or whoever else is responsible for this.

If it is a message, a warning from my enemies, I have already allowed them too much of a victory by showing any reaction at all. So I adopt as serene a mask as possible. My daughter blinks her big blue eyes, seeing past my facade. "Are you frightened, Mother? They cannot bite us from there. The snakes are very far away."

I get my legs under me, bitterness on my tongue. "Oh, but they're never far enough away."

Learn more about Stephanie Dray and her books at her website.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Winners and an update about giveaways

My apologies again for another late giveaway post -- I've just returned from my 'room of my own' out in Western Mass and I'm mourning the loss of it already! But I'm equally happy to be back at home with my wife, and I still have two more weeks of sabbatical to help me adjust back to working life. But I've 'won' NaNoWrimo with more than 60K written, and I think I'll make my goal of 90K. It's a terrible mess, but I'm learning so much!

Anyway -- missed you all and grateful to be 'back' to talk books non-stop!  And here are the winners!

The winner of A Divided Inheritance is ... Blodeuedd of Book Girl of Mur-y-Castell!

The winner of Banquet of Lies is ... Renae of Respiring Thoughts!

The winner of The Sixth is ... Natalie M.!

The winners of Cars and Girls are ... Siobhan F., Brooklynn G., and Suzi H.!

Congrats to the winners! Folks have until end of day Tuesday to get back to me. I have more giveaways coming, so keep an eye out!

I'd like to make a note about a change in my giveaways.  It was recently brought to my attention that there's been some cheating or 'gaming' of blog giveaways, namely folks entering more than one email address for themselves.  As was pointed out to me, the name associated with each email changes for each giveaway, which indicates someone has a bunch of email aliases and can't keep them straight.

From now on, I'm going to explicitly request folks enter giveaways only once.  I'm not going to call out the two folks I suspect of 'gaming', but if it continues, I'll be switching to a survey system that notes ISP addresses and will discard all entries belonging to the offending ISP.  At this time, I'm going to be keep an eye on entries and for those that seem suspicious (and arrive within seconds of each other), I'll be discarding them.

This isn't a warning to folks who enter a giveaway twice, either accidentally (couldn't remember if they had already) or intentionally (wasn't sure if entry went through, or incomplete entry) -- in those cases, it's usually obvious.  This change is in response to what I now see is a long trend of one or two people specifically entering four or more email addresses with fake names.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Interview with Evangeline Jennings

Earlier in October, I read and luuuuuuuuuuurved the sexy/violent/awesome short story collection, Cars and Girls.  I'm super excited to share my interview with Evangeline Jennings, who edited the volume and has a story included as well.  She talks about this compilation, the next steps, and shares some about her writing process and current reads.  Be sure to check out the international giveaway!

How did the collection, Cars and Girls, come about?  Did you have a theme first or the stories?

Half a story, I think. We'd been talking about doing a project together without coming up with any firm ideas. Then I started writing 'Crown Victoria', and about halfway through the first draft I had a lightbulb moment, Cars and Girls. So I put the idea out there and Tee and two other writers signed up straightaway. Then later two of them bailed. But Tee and I were well advanced on our stories, so I recruited a couple of friends and pretty much demanded they write something for us.

Cars and Girls is described as a 'femnoir' sampler.  How do you define 'femnoir'?

Last time someone asked me, I said it was a post-everything retro-noir in which the fairer sex gets real fucking dark. And that still sounds pretty good, but honestly, we’re making it all up as we go along. I'm a huge fan of noir, pulp fiction, and kick ass heroines, and the intention was to take those forms, push their boundaries, and subvert them by pensioning off the traditional action hero and writing stories that dealt with issues that mattered to us. While having fun with the genre and messing with the rules. Is that any kind of answer?

After this volume is another, Girls And Boys, which is described as a 'sequel of sorts to Cars and Girls', and following that, a full length volume, The Vegas Thing, featuring characters from two stories in Cars and Girls.  Was this an intentional progression?

Not at all. As I said, we're making it up as we go along. Girls And Boys was originally planned to be a collection of "noirotica" and we had a dozen writers signed up to contribute to that but in the event it didn't work out - too many egos, that's me being polite - so we ended up recycling the name.

What happened was, Maddy and Zoë got the idea of writing a novel together featuring Etta and Emily, the main characters from their Cars and Girls stories, in one big mad adventure - that's The Vegas Thing. When they asked Tee and me if we would edit and publish it for them, I said, Yes, but only if you prove you can write more about your characters before you set out on a full-blown novel. And since we were all working on erotica at the time, they decided to write an "erotic bridge" between the end of their Cars and Girls stories and the start of The Vegas Thing. That's now Girls and Boys. It's only a couple of short stories, maybe fifteen thousand words in total, but it does have a really good cover.

The original master plan, such as it was, had been to follow Cars and Girls with a second volume called More Songs About Cars and Girls. But I got distracted - squirrel! - by another idea,  a collection of YA short stories called Heathers that we'll be publishing before the end of the year. And so More Songs has been delayed until early next year. It's actually pretty much finished - we're waiting for one more story - but we've still got all the final editing and production work to do. On the whole, More Songs is a little less extreme than the first collection. Possibly. Well, there's less guns.

You have one story in this collection, 'Crown Victoria'.  Was there anything that surprised you as you were writing it?

My stories always surprise me. Mainly because I never plan anything. Something gives me half an idea and off I go. I suspect if they didn't surprise me, they wouldn't be any good.

Without wanting to give anything away about the story, there are at least four things in 'Crown Victoria' that particularly surprised me as I was writing it. Three of them are major plot points. The other is my Dixie Chicks joke. I planted the seed for it early on without realizing what I'd done but when I got to the punchline, maybe ten thousand words later, I was so pleased with myself that I probably did a little song and dance.

God, I love that joke.

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

A complete retelling of Enid Blyton's Five On A Treasure Island, when I was seven or eight. If you want something a little more grown up, my first piece of original fiction is my great unpublished novel. It's called Puta and the plot is more or less Kill Bill meets The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Only better and different. It's 124,000 words long and Harper Collins spent six months looking at it before deciding it needed to be two separate books - which surprised me because I had planned for it to be the first volume in a trilogy. So one day soon I have to re-read Puta and decide what I want to do.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

No. Except I can only write when it's quiet. No TV, no music, no kids demanding I take them out for ice cream.

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

Sleep. But more often than not, I have to work for the Man. Or take the kids out for ice cream.

Read any good books recently?

Thankfully, yes. A brand new book called Bad Bishop by Irene Soldatos, that was published at Halloween. Before that it was probably Wodehouse, Trollope, or Somerset Maugham.

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My thanks to Ms. Jennings for her time and answers. You can learn more about Pankhearst and their forthcoming books at their website, and connect via Facebook and Twitter.


Evangeline and Pankhearst have generously offered THREE copies of Cars and Girls to my readers. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 11/22.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Sixth by Avery Hays

Title: The Sixth
Author: Avery Hays

Genre: Fiction (Historical / France / Paris / 1910s / Artists / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Political Intrigue / Secret Organizations)
Publisher/Publication Date: Diadema Press (10/31/2013)
Source: NetGalley / the publisher

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: In 1910, Florbela Sarmentos, a Portuguese expat with a classical training in painting, moves to Paris' infamous sixth arrondissement where she finds love, scandal, political intrigue, murder, friendship, and mayhem.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Immigrant Stories

Do I like the cover?: Adore it -- captures the feel of the story -- if it were a print, I'd want it in my house!

I'm reminded of...: Donna Russo Morin, Kate Mosse

First line: On the fifth of April in the spring of my twenty-first year, all the world was turning nervous eyes toward my native Portugal, gazing aghast as she teetered giddily between the abyss of anarchy on the one hand, and that of totalitarianism on the other.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like novels set in Paris,

Why did I get this book?: Love early 20th century Paris.

Review: Set in 1910 Paris, The Sixth is a romantic adventure historical novel, in the vein of Donna Russo Morin or Kate Mosse (or perhaps Dan Brown or Steve Berry, without the contemporary parts), featuring artwork encoded with ciphers, Freemasons, expats, romantic entanglements, attempted murders, and political intrigue.

Fresh from her classical arts training in England, twenty-one-year old Florbela Sarmentos arrives in Paris with the address of an artists boarding house. Her father, a famed Portuguese writer, is a political prisoner at the hands of Portugal's infamous King Manuel II, and immediately upon her arrival at La Ruche, she is thrown into chaos, drama, and danger. Her new neighbors include artists Diego Rivera, Angelina Beloff, Amadeo Modigliani, and exiled politico Vladimir Lenin; her new roommate is a waifish and odd teenaged sculptor. Waiting for her are two revolutionaries acting as messengers for Florbela's father, with a message from him: an assassin is out for her, and she must seek out a British Freemason to help her, and thus, him.

While there's a sense of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink in terms of plot at the start, the story settles down from breakneck to simply racing, populated with a wild cast of characters familiar to those who enjoy modern art and narrated by a loyal, wide-eyed young woman.

The opening sentence -- On the fifth of April in the spring of my twenty-first year, all the world was turning nervous eyes toward my native Portugal, gazing aghast as she teetered giddily between the abyss of anarchy on the one hand, and that of totalitarianism on the other. -- gives a taste of Hays' writing style which was reminiscent to me of some Victorian-ish literature: a little ornate, a little wordy, very melodramatic. Our narrator Florbela is remarkably innocent, protected by guardians most of her life, and her account of the events are touched with wonder, determination, and optimism.

There were moments when I found the book veered a little into Mary Sue territory, as Florbela is credited with styling Russian painter Moishe Shagalov as Marc Chagall while painter Fernand Léger is among her impassioned, devoted suitors. Still, I was charmed by her, and the narrative style felt 'true' to Florbela's character. She, thankfully, doesn't go from innocent to vamp in a matter of chapters, but remains a composed young woman plunged into a froth of decadence and danger.

On her website, Hays has a letter written by Florbela from the 1960s that acts as a kind of Afterword, which I enjoyed, but the novel doesn't lack anything by its lack of inclusion, and readers are left with a nice, satisfying (if not dramatic) conclusion.

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The publisher has generously given me a hardcover copy of The Sixth to offer to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 11/22.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


My apologies for the delay in contacting winners! Without further ado...

The winner of The Arrangement is ... Libby D.!
The winner of Thread of Gold Beads is ... Susan T.!
The winner of A Wilder Rose is ... Shannon of River City Reading!
The winner of Illuminations is ... Manda D.!

Congrats to the winners! Folks have been emailed and have until next Friday to respond.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekend reads and writing wildly...

I would have sworn it's been more than a week since I last posted here, but a week it is.  It's been a pretty incredible week -- got settled at my retreat center and have had some pretty productive writing time (and one super unproductive procrastination-heavy day!).  It's kind of amazing to have this much time to just write -- and very daunting.  It's amazing how many excuses I can come up with to not write, even when I'm not at home or facing any sort of chores or work.

Are any of you NaNo-ing?  I'm participating and would love to be writing buddies with any of you!

I'm not reading as much as I had hoped -- I'm actually pretty exhausted when I got to bed -- so am still finishing Avery Hays' The Sixth, Jodi Daynard's The Midwife's Revolt, Nicola Griffith's Hild, and Anna Lee Huber's Mortal Arts. I promise I'll post giveaway winners tomorrow!

So, what are you reading this weekend?  And if you're NaNo-ing, what is your book about?