Friday, June 28, 2013

She Rises by Kate Worsley

Title: She Rises
Author: Kate Worsley

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / British / Nautical / British Navy / Lady's Maid / LGBT / Cross-Dressing / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury USA (6/18/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay to liked.
Did I finish?: I did, with great effort.
One-sentence summary: A country milkmaid becomes a ladies maid in 18th century Harwich and a teenage boy is press ganged into the British Navy.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore the cover -- just stunning.

I'm reminded of...: Sarah Waters, Jack Wolf

First line: It's the singing that wakes him.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy, especially if you like Sarah Waters-esque historicals and sinuous, snakey writing.

Why did I get this book?: Queering history is always good in my book! (No pun intended.)

Review: I'm sort of stunned I'm not in swoons over this book because it really seems like the type I would go ga-ga for: the author was mentored by Sarah Waters, writes in very lyrical, literary style, and tackles her characters in an unusual manner. And yet -- I wasn't wild for this book.  (It was good but not a favorite for this year.)

Set in 1740, the novel follows Louise -- a farm girl warned off sailors due to the dangerous allure of the sea, who ends up in Harwich, acting as a lady's maid to the daughter of a sea captain -- and Luke, a teenaged boy press ganged into His Majesty's Navy.  Both face unimaginable hardships (although Luke's experiences are so particularly horrifying, I am once again grateful for child protection laws, reform of military, etc.) in pursuit of happiness and freedom.

The chapters alternate between Louise, first person, past tense, directed at 'you', and Luke, third person, present tense. Worsley's style reminded me very much of Sarah Waters, who was her mentor; the narrative is cool, aloof, a little obfuscated, well wrought, and smart. 

In dual narratives, I almost always find myself drawn more to one character, and in this case, I was more interested in Louise's story. Partially it's one I'm familiar with -- girl falls for girl -- and I like novels about women in service. Unlike some readers, I didn't find Louise's infatuation with her mistress to be improbable, despite the sort one-dimensionality to the women and in many ways, the stilted 'courtship' felt very historically authentic.

The pacing of the novel is very deliberate, slow, although there are moments of high action.  It's obvious that Louise's and Luke's paths will cross and the tension is in learning how; I was surprised when the moment came how things turned out, and it made what happened earlier a little more clear.  (I will admit I struggled the first 100-or-so pages to get into the story.)

There's some stomach-turning violence in this one, especially toward women. (There's a throwaway comment by a character early on about he and fellow sailors essentially raped a woman to death. I had to put the book down, it was so upsetting.) That these attitudes reflect a historical reality makes it all the more distressing, and certainly takes some of the gloss off Georgian romances I'm so fond of. (I love Austen's Captain Wentworth and in my head, he's a different sailor than these men. Please.)  There's nothing openly gory, which makes, perhaps, the violence all the more chilling, but be warned: this isn't a sweet Austen-era romance, queer or otherwise!

Unexpected and surprising, this book might be the winner for one that's made me most uncomfortable in 2013.  (Actually, I think it ties with Jack Wolf's The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones for most disturbing.)  Those who love literary fiction with queer themes will enjoy this as well as those who are sticklers about historical grimness. 

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of She Rises to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 7/12.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets by Ellen Mansoor Collier

Title: Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets
Author: Ellen Mansoor Collier

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1920s / Galveston, TX / Beauty Pageant / Murder Mystery / Reporter / Prostitutes / Cover Up)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self published (2013)
Source: Cozy Mystery Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Flapper and reporter Jazz Cross covers an pageant and tries to solve murders while her personal life gets increasingly messy.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Adore it -- it totally captures the feel of the era and story.

First line: Rehearsals for the Miss Universe contest -- Galveston's annual "International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue" -- were in full swing when Nathan and I arrived at the Grand Opera House.

Why did I get this book?: I really enjoyed Collier's first novel and love the setting.

Review: I was completely charmed by Jazz Cross in Collier's first book, Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play but was totally taken with this book, the second in her series following the spunky, intrepid flapper-reporter Jazz Cross.

Opening in the summer of 1927 in Galveston, Texas -- Sin City of the Southwest! -- the story focuses on Galveston's famed 'International Pageant of Pulchritude and Bathing Girl Revue' (!!) which has turned into the Miss Universe Pageant (to compete with Atlantic City's Miss America Pageant, the city is also hosting the first Miss United States Pageant as well). ('Pulchritude', by the way, means 'beauty', and it might be one of the ugliest words I've ever heard!)

Jazz, our 21-year old heroine, is assigned to cover the bathing beauties and pageant girls, and she quickly stumbles onto some shocking gossip. While trying weigh the truth, she discovers prostitutes are being murdered and the city is unwilling to investigate. Obviously, Jazz wants to take this on as well! There are more gangsters, double crossing shenanigans, Treasury Agents, a little romance, corruption, and a lovely ending.

As with the first book, Collier combines historical trivia with a cozy mystery beautifully, and I'm falling in love with her 1920s Galveston. This book was slightly more grim than Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play , I thought, but fit with the story's plot and the juxtaposition of the bright cheer of the pageant world with the dark underbelly. Despite this being a 'cozy' kind of mystery, Collier doesn't skirt from the real crimes of the day, either, and her treatment of prostitutes and sex workers wasn't salacious nor tasteless. Jazz is wonderfully empathetic in a way that felt authentic, not modern, which I always appreciate, and she's a lovely heroine to follow. (She passes my I-want-her-to-be-my-friend test!)

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter at Collier's website. While reading the first book isn't necessary to enjoy this book, I think starting with Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play is worth it, as Collier continues developing Jazz's friendships and relationships, and it's very satisfying to watch. I ripped through this book in less than two days -- it was the perfect mix of historical detail and zippy plot to keep me happy without taxing my work-frazzled brain -- and I'm eager for the third one! (I'm assuming there will be a third one -- or at least, hoping desperately!)

I think readers who like Boardwalk Empire would enjoy this one, with the mix of city politics, 'wholesome' family entertainment, and seedy criminal elements; anyone mad for Gatsby-era settings might want to consider this one, too, as it captures the dangerous allure of glamor, fame, and easy fortune.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of Bathing Beauties, Booze and Bullets to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 7/12.

Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play by Ellen Mansoor Collier

Title: Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play
Author: Ellen Mansoor Collier

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1927 / Galveston, TX / Prohibition / Gangsters / Reporter / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Self published (2012)
Source: The author.

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Flapper and reporter Jazz Cross decides to help out her half-brother when a man dies at his club, and finds herself becoming embroiled in a larger, more dangerous plot.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- but I love Art Deco!

First line: Everyone always warned me about Market Street after dark.

Why did I get this book?: A Jazz-Age cozy?! I couldn't resist.

Review: Now and then, I like a cozy mystery: no gore, a bit of drama, a big personality in our heroine, and a plot that doesn't require much but is still fun. Collier's new series, set in 1927 Galveston, Texas, hit the spot for me, and is a fluffy, entertaining bit of summertime escapism.

Jazz Cross, 21-years old, a flapper, and society reporter for the Galveston Gazette, has aspirations of being a 'real' reporter. Her male colleagues think she's just a pretty face, good only for making coffee and reporting on the Garden Club.

When she witnesses the death of a local banker at the Oasis, she decides to investigate it, and unsurprisingly, things are hardly straightforward. The Oasis is owned by Jazz's half brother Sammy, an illegitimate son of her father's who is unwelcome in her family but for whom she has some affection and loyalty, and she wants to ensure Sammy doesn't get any blame. A Treasury Department agent takes a keen interest in the Oasis -- and Jazz -- which complicates things.

Galveston in the 1920s is seedy and rough (it was nicknamed Sin City of the Southwest!) and Collier conveys that gritty roughness from the start, balanced out by our brazen, spunky heroine. There are some wonderful historical details peppered throughout the story as well as a heavy dose of 1920s slang, which was refreshing -- I didn't feel like I was reading a modern story simply set back in the Prohibition. There's a brief preface at the start in which Collier details a little about Galveston at this time and shares links to two slang dictionaries to help readers.

Collier's writing is straight-forward, moving the story along briskly, but with a kind of bounce that matches Jazz's terrier-like determination. (You can read an excerpt of the first chapter at Collier's website.)

This was just the light read I needed this last month, with my brain like a sieve and my energy low -- Jazz was a sweet and fierce heroine to tag along with and I'm looking forward to her next adventure.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer an e-book copy of Flappers, Flasks and Foul Play to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers, ends 7/5.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

Title: The Illusion of Separateness
Author: Simon Van Booy

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / Contemporary / Family / Missing in Action / California / New York / Blindness / Vignettes)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (6/11/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved, broken hearted love....
Did I finish?: I did, in one night!
One-sentence summary: Six people, seventy years, and one war that connects them.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction,

Do I like the cover?: Maybe? It reminds me of a Europa Edition which is fine, and it captures a sense of the novel. I think it's good it isn't a WWII-oriented cover...

I'm reminded of...: Lawrence Durrell, Jeanette Winterson

First line: The mere thought of him brought comfort.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like poetic novels, World War II stories,

Why did I get this book?: I adored Simon Van Booy's novel Everything Beautiful Began After and am a devoted fangirl now

Review: In 2011, Van Booy took my heart, crushed it, reassembled it, and gifted it to me in a wrapping of gorgeous prose in the form of Everything Beautiful Began After. Unsurprisingly, Van Booy has done it again with this book.

Van Booy is a short story writer (Everything Beautiful Began After was his first novel), and this book straddles both forms. In a series of breathtaking vignettes, Van Booy fills out a larger story arc that comes clear as we read on. Opening in 2010, the vignettes flash between then and 1939, following six people or so from the battlefields of World War II through to a convalescent home in California, New York and Manchester.

Despite the brief sketches, the characters feel real, from the first page.  There's Mr. Hugo, a German soldier who was shot in the face, living now with the horror of who he was and what he'd done.  Martin, adopted at a young age, learns later the tragic partial history of his childhood.  John, an American soldier, thought to be dead by his wife and family back in the States, scrabbles to survive after being shot down in his plane.  Amelia, his blind granddaughter, is a museum curator who pieces together a story of the war and era in such an inventive, imaginative way I wished it was a real exhibit.

The pacing of the story is gentle, easy, inviting one to linger; but there's tension, too, in understanding how everyone is connected and when -- or if -- the characters will learn the truth of their 'illusion of separateness'. 

I just adore Van Booy's use of language, his turn of phrase, which is simply and poetic. Andre Dubus III blurbed his style as 'F. Scott Fitzgerald and Marguerite Duras' which is spot on -- punchy, sharp, achingly gorgeous.  (Apparently Van Booy writes fully dressed, right down to sock garters, and I swear, you can feel it in the language.)  This is the kind of book that makes me joyful as a reader; I want to dive into the sentences and just swim.

I think this would make a great book club novel for those who might want to dip their toes into more 'literary' fiction; there's some deep emotional choices that would provoke great conversation; and the familiar WWII theme is made fresh with the imaginative narrative style.  Lovers of a stunning good sentence will want this book for sure.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Illusion of Separateness to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and Canadian readers, ends 7/5.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference: Gushing & a Story

Me, Nancy Bilyeau, Amy Bruno, Sophie Perinot
I'm back from both my work conference and the Historical Novel Society's 2013 Conference.

I had an amazing time.

Some off-the-top-of-my-head points:

  • I rode in the same van as Diana Gabaldon on the way to the conference, and me and my fellow shuttle-mates all tried to play it super cool.  Gabaldon was incredibly gracious.
  • Amy of Passages to the Past and Historical Novel Virtual Book Tours and Heather of The Maiden's Court are as fabu as one would expect and I'm grateful that they were my con buddies! (Also, how crazy is it that I had to go to Florida to meet Heather, who lives, like, 40 minutes away from me!?!)
  • got to meet bloggers like Meg of A Bookish Affair and reviewer/author/GoodReads friend Jane Steen
  • every author I met was adorable, gracious, enthusiastic, collegial, sweet, and supportive, not just of each other, but of the aspiring writers, bloggers, readers, and fans
  • had the head spinning experience of people gasping when they met me!
  • the panels were fun and interesting -- loved hearing writers talking about their craft and geek out about their passions
  • my panel went well and I'm grateful to have been a part of it with Julie K. Rose, Andrea Connell, and Heather Domin (Julie has posted our list of highly recommended off-the-beaten path historical fiction if you're curious!).  My three co-panelists were awesome and put up with my jittery chattiness!
  • I came home with only 8 books (I exercised self control!): two purchased, three from the swag bag, and three gifted to me
  • the conference hotel is allegedly haunted, and I'm glad I learned this after leaving!

A handful of us tried to live-tweet the conference, but as the wifi was a bit spotty in the hotel, the tweet stream might not be the easiest way to get a sense of the conference. I storified/created a story of the conference to attempt to share some of the flavor.  I miss the conference so much already!



Monday, June 17, 2013

Mainstream vs non-mainstream historical fiction: my Historical Novel Society Conference workshop

On Saturday, I'm going to be part of a panel at the Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference talking about non-mainstream historical fiction. Our workshop is 'Off the Beaten Path: Reading and Writing Outside of the HF Mainstream'

Here's the panel description:

Trends in historical fiction are beloved for a reason, but readers (and writers) have broader tastes than many realize. There is a wealth of historical fiction available that veers off the expected path, from non-traditional relationships to rarely visited locations to blended genres, with surprising protagonists and fascinating journeys hard to find elsewhere. In this panel, comprised of both readers and writers, we’ll discuss motivations for writing outside the mainstream, the challenges of doing so, and take a look at some of the best historical fiction off the beaten path–both recently published and upcoming. Panel members include authors Heather Domin (The Soldier of Raetia, Allegiance) and Julie K. Rose (The Pilgrim Glass, Oleanna), and book bloggers and reviewers Andrea Connell (former Historical Novels Review Indies editor) and Audra Friend (Unabridged Chick).

and Heather crafted this additional bit about what we mean when we talk about non-mainstream historical fiction:

There’s nothing wrong with popularity! But with so many books out there and only so much time and space for promotion, the most popular themes naturally get the most attention, while others remain out of the spotlight. In this panel we will explore current themes and trends in historical fiction and take a look at some books that veer off these paths. Our goal is to show readers the wide variety of historical fiction available to them, and to show writers that there is an audience for every story. If you’ve ever asked, “Doesn’t anyone write (…)?” this panel is for you.

In this panel, “mainstream” refers to the most well-known settings, eras, characters, and/or styles in current historical fiction.

What our definition of mainstream is NOT:
- A method of publishing
- A list of targeted topics
- Overdone (aka “popular = bad”)

Together, we came up with something like six pages of non-mainstream historical fiction to recommend, and once we do our workshop, I'll share the list here. Like the other panelists, I enjoy Tudor-era and WWII fiction, but I also love novels set in different eras, locales, or featuring different main characters. I'm excited to gush and hear from the other panelists about why they enjoy writing 'off-the-beaten path' and why we all love reading it. (Devastatingly, our panel is at the same time as a workshop featuring Margaret George, Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn and another with Jenny Barden, Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Deborah Swift and Gillian Bagwell. Le sigh!)

What are some of your favorite off-the-beaten path historical novels?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet V. E. Ulett

I'm leaving this week for the Historical Novel Society Conference!  Here's one last Q&A from one of the panelists, historical novelist  V. E. Ulett's.  Last year, I read Ulett's historical novel Captain Blackwell's Prize which was a fun romp. (I'm eager for the sequel!)

You can learn more about Ulett at her website.  Be sure to check out the other Q&As at the #hns2013 tag.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?

Captain Blackwell’s Prize takes place during the time of the Napoleonic conflict, a popular era for historical and nautical fiction authors. There is a great deal of primary source material from this time period, with enough interesting characters and incidents to accommodate any number of fiction writers.

Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?

In all directions, it seems; literary (Hilary Mantel, Ken Follett), time-slip, multi-period, biblical, and alternate. I think there is room and readers for all of these sub-genres, historical fiction is popular and rightly so. People like to learn a little something as well as to be entertained.

What are your favorite reads?

My favorite writer is Patrick O’Brian. I love not only the Aubrey / Maturin series, but I’m a great fan of his non-fiction as well.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Winners!

Two winners this week!

The winner of Jack Absolute is ... Heather of Between the Sheets!

The winner of A Dual Inheritance is ... JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing!

Congrats to the winners!

I've got one more open giveaway and I'll be posting a bunch of great new giveaways when I'm back from my conferences in a week or so!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet Sharman Burson Ramsey

Just one week today until the Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Pete, FL!  I am so desperately excited!  (And stressed: in three days I leave for my work conference, and from there will go to this one!)

I'm thrilled to host another author and panelist, Sharman Burson Ramsey.  (You can check out the previous Q&As at the hns2013 tag.)  Ramsey is a new-to-me author, but after checking out her bio (her ancestor was a friend and neighbor of Andrew Jackson!), I'm eager to read her books.  Check out this Q&A with her to learn more about her writing, her inspirations, and who she is as a reader.  (How much do I love that she asked for, and got, Peyton Place (the book!!) and Lady Chatterley's Lover when she was 12?!) 

What got you first interested in historical fiction?

My mother received books from the Book of the Month Club and developed quite a library. To get me started reading, she also ordered the We Were There juvenile historical fiction series and I read every one. From there I graduated to reading her books and read her entire library of novels (over 100 books!) the summer I was 12 years old. That Christmas I requested (and received) Peyton Place, Spoon River Anthology, and Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I can see the influence of each of these in the historical novels I write. I focused on British history when earning my undergraduate (University of Alabama) and graduate degrees (Troy University) in History, but the discovery of my Native American heritage through my genealogical research led to my writing about the American Southeast in the early 1800s.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?

As I read and research I continually find topics that interest and amaze me. I want to share these discoveries with others. When I discovered the family secret of my fourth great grandmother’s Native American heritage, I researched the area and era in which she lived. The Creek Indian War actually brought my grandparents into the area at the request of Andrew Jackson. During my first visit to Fort Mims, the overgrown and neglected site of the massacre that started the war, it seemed that the voices of those who died there cried out to have that story told. That led to my first novel, Swimming with Serpents, which introduces a multicultural family that begins a family saga written from the Native American perspective. Like Paul Harvey, I wanted to tell the rest of the story which was so much more interesting than what I learned in my fourth grade Alabama history class! After writing Swimming with Serpents, I was left with the question of what happened to the Red Sticks who survived Horseshoe Bend. That led to In Pursuit. Each character has a story and gets involved in the events that I find so intriguing. I guess the influence of those We Were There juvenile novels remains with me.

Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

When I find a topic that interests me, I read everything I can read on the topic. I look at weather patterns of the time. I study politics, dress, and cultural oddities. I gather notes. Then I write character sketches of the characters I anticipate participating in the novel allowing them to tell me who they are. I go online and find pictures of stars I would cast as those characters and then develop a table with those pictures and the characters names so that I can glance at the character sketch “board” and be reminded I try to begin with a moment that draws the reader into their lives and then I just start writing. It will probably be rewritten several times, but at least there is a start. The chronology of historical events and the characters involvement in those events dictates the action of the novel. Love, learning and laughter will always be vital elements of my novels.

Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre?

Historical fiction will always have a large readership. We hunger to know about our past and find it much more palatable when the two dimensional figures of non-fiction acquire flesh and blood through the informed imagination of a writer of historical fiction.

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about?

I write about the South, its culture, history, recipes, genealogy, homes, weddings, and gardens on my website Southern-style.com. Everything I have written about there finds a place in my novels.

How about to read?

I love to read romantic novels set in England and Scotland during any era.

Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

Jean Auel, Wilbur Smith, and Diana Gabaldon are three writers for whom I have great respect and would love to meet.

What book was the most fun for you to write?

Start with Waverly plantation inspired by my grandparents’ home in central Alabama, season with a multicultural cast of friends and family, add a dash of the paranormal with the ingredients of a genetic memory, toss in drug dealers and psychotic serial killers in this and a previous life while spicing it up with gentlemen friends in shades of gray and you have book one of the Partyin’ on the Plantation series: Déjà vu All Over Again, the book I had most fun writing. Alabama author and friend, Michael Morris calls it Murder She Wrote marries The YaYa Sisterhood. This novel is still looking for a publisher, but I have already begun the second in the series entitled The Homecoming.

Can you tell us about your latest publication?

When little more than a child, Joie Kincaid rescues fifteen year old aspiring journalist Godfrey Lewis Winkel from certain death after the Massacre at Fort Mims. As an adult, Godfrey, now an established authority on the pirate Captain Kidd as the result of his discovery of a map locating Kidd’s treasure, agrees to speak at the British Museum so that he might seek out Joie Kincaid in London. There the two are kidnapped by the pirate Gasparilla who is jealous of Kidd’s notoriety and seeks Kidd’s treasure. He takes them to his island lair in Charlotte Harbor and demands that Godfrey write his biography and make him as famous as Captain Kidd. Godfrey must channel Caleb Connory, the hero of a novel he plans to write, to become the bold courageous man needed now to save Joie who suffers amnesia resulting from a blow on the head.

Joie escapes Gasparilla, is befriended by Millea Francis and gets caught up with Red Sticks Peter McQueen, Josiah Francis and Savannah Jack who survived Horseshoe Bend. Godfrey manages his escape when Jackson attacks the Indian village where Godfrey has distracted Gasparilla with the promise of the treasure of William Augustus Bowles. Jackson’s pursuit of the Red Sticks triggers the First Seminole War. A desperate Godfrey enlists Jackson’s assistance in finding Joie Kincaid. Joie’s brother Gabe Kincaid joins up with former British officer George Woodbine to cross the Atlantic to rescue his sister and gets caught up in a plot fomented by former British officers Woodbine and Robert Chrystie Armbrister who are driven by broken promises to the Red Sticks and the memory of the tragedy of the Negro Fort. Joined by the well-intentioned Scottish trader Alexander Arbuthnot, they have visions of a Florida Empire.

Time is Godfrey and Gabe’s enemy. In the midst of battle at Bowlegs Town, renegade Savannah Jack captures Joie and makes her the target for his vengeance. He uses her to lure her brothers to Dog Island where he plans to finally destroy the family of his nemesis Jason Kincaid. This lusty, action packed, adventure filled historical novel titled In Pursuit published by Mercer University Press will be available in September of 2013

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Registry by Shannon Stoker

Title: The Registry
Author: Shannon Stoker

Genre: Fiction (Future / Dystopia / Sexual Slavery / Teen Brides / Runaway)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (6/11/2013)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Disliked/unfinished
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: In a future United States where women are sold into marriage, a young bride realizes the greater world doesn't support this trade and escapes to find freedom and truth.

Do I like the cover?: It's fine.

First line: Pretty.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, I guess -- you can check out a few chapters via this sampler.

Why did I get this book?: I like a dystopia now and then.

Review: Alas, this book wasn't for me, and I quit about one hundred pages in. While a unique premise, I wasn't sucked in for a few reasons.

Set sometime in the future, the US as we know it is gone. Instead, it is a series of regions dominated by, essentially, government-endorsed sex trafficking. At age 18, women are placed into the 'Registry', a federal program that allows men to buy the wife of their dreams. Daughters are favored, rather than sons (in the opening, we learn women are essentially killed if they have sons), and for some families, daughters provide the sole source of income. The government gets a percentage of their sale. The most profitable women are those who are pretty, demure, and stupid.

Stoker's writing is very straight-forward, very tell in style, and she moves briskly and pragmatically from scene to scene. This isn't my preferred writing style so I found it tiresome, but it does mean those who want a very beach-y read that isn't taxing might find this one easy to breeze through.  Stoker doesn't dawdle, either: she opens with an emotional scene and rockets straight into the drama.

I found the characters, sadly, a bit flat, perhaps because there was no chance to know them before we're mired in transformative drama.  Mia, our stunningly gorgeous heroine who garners the highest bride price in the history of ever, abruptly changes her mind about marrying after one (albeit traumatic) incident.  From there, she goes from 0 to sixty in a page.  She's thoughtless and impulsive and, well, kind of stupid, which fits the world Stoker has created -- Mia received virtually no education -- but at the same time, she learns in leaps and bounds once she decides to rebel.

Mia's flash decision to bail on her marriage is helped by the fact that the man who buys her is a sadistic hunter with secret government connections, a kind of mix between Atherton Wing and those blue-gloved men from Firefly. Then there's Andrew, a farmhand for Mia's father and one of the points in a presumable love triangle, beefy and handsome and dedicated to becoming the perfect soldier/man so he can buy himself a perfect wife. (We know he's good because he gets very upset when Mia's husband-to-be is rude to her.)

I found the world-building to be as flimsy as the characters, unfortunately. I didn't read far enough to learn just how long the Registry was in existence, but it was clearly long enough for at least one generation to be raised this way, if not more, and yet there were enough vestiges of 20th century culture remaining that felt arbitrary. The biggest one was the fact that Stoker's US waits for women to turn 18 before selling them. But why? The federal age of majority is 18 but legal consent can vary by state. Many cultures around the world use menstruation as an indication of womanhood while some religious traditions offer an age (which isn't 18). If we're living in a world that sells women for their looks and their sex, then tell me how the world changes in their attitudes about women -- because I guarantee that world doesn't politely wait until women are 18 to start selling them into marriage.

I'm super stunned to see this marketed as an adult novel -- I agreed to review it because I thought it'd be more in a Margaret Atwood vein -- but what I read felt very YA to me. (Is this the much vaunted New Adult genre I've been hearing about?) 

If you're curious, few chapters are available via this sampler.  Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour as well as GoodReads -- there are some bloggers who love this one, and it gets a ringing cover blurb from Jennifer L. Armentrout, so it might just be me!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Winners!

Somehow, I got very behind on announcing giveaway winners (I'm sorry!), so here's a huge glut of them.  Thanks for your patience!



The winner of A Prince to be Feared is ... Angela of Persephone Writes!

The winner of Murder as a Fine Art is ... Shannon D.!

The winner of In the Garden of Stone is ... Ilene!

The winners of Spirit of Lost Angels are ... Terry M., Shannon G., and Lisa G.!

The winner of The Age of Desire is ... Lara N.!

Congrats to the winners! If you didn't win, be sure to check out my open giveaways!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Our Held Animal Breath by Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Title: Our Held Animal Breath: Poems
Author: Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Genre: Poetry (Nature / Ecology / Politics/ Contemporary / Feminism)
Publisher/Publication Date: WordTech Communications (9/4/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did, very quickly.
One-sentence summary: More than forty poems on current events, the devastation of world politics and personal loss, the challenge of living hopefully when the body fails, friends die, and the joy of nature around us.
Reading Challenges: Dive Into Poetry

Do I like the cover?: I do -- the woman's shoe on the fence is both sad and playful and rather captures the feel of the volume and in particular, reminds me of a piece included here, 'Some Rough Justice'.

I'm reminded of...: Diane Ackerman

First line: I'll admit it's rusty with disuse/so when I say it lately in a group,/it comes up like machinery through sludge., from 'On Being Told Not to Use the Word Moral'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I like poetry and usually don't mind politics so much within a poetic framework.

Review: At ninety-five pages, this slim volume holds forty-four poems where politics brush shoulders with the stunning vistas from the Blue Ridge Mountains and other rural locales, and loss and fear are tempered with cautious hope and steely determination.

Extremely readable, Kirkpatrick's pieces share familiar actions -- hiking, gardening, meditating -- with emotions ranging from loss, confusion, and hurt to slow understanding and squared, pragmatic optimism. (The publisher has four poems from this collection posted for preview.)

I raced through this volume in one night, then spent a few days returning to the poems that really sang to me. As a news junkie, Kirkpatrick's anguish about current events resonated deeply, especially as she tried to go about her day doing other things.

Collectively, this volume painted a portrait of women I know -- the women from my work, my mother and her sisters, my neighbors -- and I felt a bit like I was reading their journals, seeing their private pains and personal passions. It felt intimate without being embarrassing.

Some of my favorite poems in the collection include 'Driving Home', which is posted online at Cold Mountain Review, a flash of fright and heartbreak that immediately resonated with me and that I've reread maybe a dozen times now!; 'Stroke', Kirkpatrick's response on hearing the news of her friend's death; 'Canning Globalization', on her attempts at preserving fruits in jars, an experiment that reminds me a bit of my only attempt at it, political commentary and all; and 'Rescuing the Garden', a moment of gardening that is heartbreaking and triumphant in its tiny, specific focus.

It's been rainy all week again, Biblical-like deluges, and this volume captured that mood. Everything is green, but sodden; I'm hopeful and dejected in equal part. Kirkpatrick's poems were good companions to commiserate with and keep me grounded.

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GIVEAWAY!


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Our Held Animal Breath to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian residents only, ends 6/28.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet Marci Jefferson

I'm thrilled to share another interview with a panelist for the Historical Novel Society's upcoming conference. Like me, Marci Jefferson is an Air Force brat.  Her book Girl on the Golden Coin, a Novel of Frances Stuart will be released in 2014. Learn more about her by checking out her speaker bio here.

What got you first interested in historical fiction?


As a nurse focused on a career in administration, I'd neglected my love of reading for a few years. It wasn't until I was on pregnancy leave that I read The Other Boleyn Girl and decided I had to write historical fiction myself.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?

I first learned about the Royal Stuarts years ago during a trip to London. Atop a red double decker bus, someone pointed out the Banqueting House saying, "That's where Charles the First was beheaded." I thought kings did the head-chopping, not the other way around! I proceeded to study everything about the Stuarts they failed to teach me in nursing school.

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?

I absolutely love everything about Restoration Period England. After the Civil Wars and the restrictive Puritan Commonwealth, the Restoration of Monarchy was a time of celebration and hope. King Charles II brought the beauty and culture of Europe back to England. Common people recognized the hand they'd had in events, and began to develop a sense of civil rights. Dramatic events like the Anglo Dutch Wars, the Great Fire, and the Great Plague make for rich reading!

Can you tell us about your latest publication?

My debut novel, based on the life of Frances Stuart, will be released from Thomas Dunne Books of St. Martin's Press early 2014. She rejected three kings and graced England's coins as the model of Britannia. The title is to be announced!

Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?

Because of HNS conferences I've already met many of my favorite authors. But I'd flip my lid for an opportunity to chat with Tracy Chevalier! An important character in my debut novel is a Quaker, similar to the man character in her latest release, The Last Runaway.

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Learn more about Marci Jefferson at her website, and be sure to follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Interview with C.C. Humphreys

Last month I fell madly in love with Jack Absolute -- the book and the man. I'm thrilled to share an interview with C.C. Humphreys, the author, so read on to learn more about him, his writing, and his fabulous novel.  Be sure to enter the giveaway at the end!

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

Very first? Like in childhood? Hmm, ancient history of course. I believe I tried to adapt the Battle of Hastings into a short play for my fellow ten year old’s at my English prep school. I think it was a little … epic for the confined space.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Oh yes, must have some order to the chaos. I let the cat out, eat cereal, make coffee… then walk the twenty paces to my ‘hut’ – a cedar octagon. Give cat his treats, turn on computer… and I’m off! Very important to have boiled sweets at hand. Mint humbugs my favorite.

Was Jack Absolute the original title of your book?

Yes, never thought of any other. I think it’s a great title because it’s exactly what the book is – his story.

As you were writing Jack Absolute, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

John Burgoyne kept surprising me. Playwright, soldier, lover, the best dressed man on two continents… couldn’t believe how much I enjoyed writing him. He just leapt off the page – and made me certain if they ever make the movie, I am reserving him for myself!

In addition to being an author, you're an accomplished actor. What do you do to get into character when you write, and is it anything like what you do when you've got a new role?
C.C. Humphreys as Jack Absolute

They are similar processes. Though as an actor you have to be aware of so many technical things – either the audience in a theater or a camera before you. It’s always a little artificial no matter how much you believe in it. With writing, you can immerse yourself, especially as you have all the time you need to craft the portrait, go back, add more, subtract some. Its probably more akin to painting, in a way. Though being an actor definitely helps with exploring emotional reactions – and dialogue, which I love and love to use to move the action forward.

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

Uh, think about writing? No, I love spending time with my family. We have a nine year old son and he loves games, as do we. Prefer board games to screens. Also I like to keep fit especially swimming. I live on an island in British Columbia and in the Summer I spend a lot of time in its lakes.

Read any good books recently?

I tend to read completely outside my genre, the rare times I get to read other than research. Read Michael Frayn’s ‘Skios’ – actually couldn’t put it down on a Transatlantic flight, read the whole thing. Hilarious!

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My thanks to Mr. Humphreys for his time. You can learn more about him and his work at his website.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Jack Absolute to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 6/14.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon

Title: The Sweet Girl
Author: Annabel Lyon

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 4th Century BCE / Aristotle / Ancient Greece / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Coming-of-Age / Father-Daughter Relationship / Romance / Marriage / PTSD / Greek Mythology / Sex / Women's Spheres)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knopf (6/4/2013)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Looooooooooooooooooooved. (Although my heart was repeatedly broken.)
Did I finish?: In a matter of hours.
One-sentence summary: The coming-of-age of Aristotle's brilliant daughter Phythias, who by Greek custom and her father's beliefs, remains hidden behind her veil until her father's untimely death forces her to find a way to survive.
Reading Challenges: 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do -- very striking -- and captures the feel of the book.

I'm reminded of...: Emma Donoghue, Naguib Mahfouz, Melanie J. McDonald

First line: The first time I ask to carry a knife to the temple, Daddy tells me I'm not allowed to because we're Macedonian.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow, buy, just get it!

Why did I get this book?: Loved the premise and was grateful it wasn't called Aristotle's Daughter or The Philosopher's Daughter, etc etc.

Review: I wish was a) brave enough to do a video review or b) lived near all of you so I could just gush in person about this book, which would be easier than trying to write down with words how reading it made me feel. I loved this book -- it broke my heart about ten times -- and I found Lyon's writing style beautifully sharp, modern, slightly magical, a teeensy bit mysterious, and very, very human.

Set in 4th century BCE, the novel follows Pythias, beloved daughter of Aristotle. Brilliant, but not pretty, Pythias' life is unfair: doted on by her father, educated by him and once praised as having one of the most brilliant minds he's come across, but still a woman, and good only for keeping house. She must remain modest, chaste, veiled, silent. 

When Alexander dies, Athens grows hostile to Macedonians, and Aristotle's family flees to a seaside town, heavily fortified by the army, where he has a family estate. After Aristotle's unexpected death, the impact of his passing is more than just an emotional loss. His mistress, the woman who raised and loved Pythias since she was four, is sent away, neither blood nor family nor a slave bequeathed to Pythias. When the family's stores raided, Pythias finds that the household slaves she loves do not feel the same way. Penniless and adrift, an unwanted woman among her father's acolytes, Pythias first fights to survive and then to find some measure of happiness.

Little is known about Pythias, so Lyon created a life for Pythias that is wild, complicated, incomplete (the story ends around, I think, Pythias' mid-twenties.) The strength of this story comes from Pythias, who is smart and striking, emotive and honest. Lyon's writing style is precise and sharp, yet heavy with inference and intimation. Pythias speaks in polite obfuscation at times -- ever the lady -- until her experiences shift her from someone reserved and polite to someone who owns her agency, decisions, voice. The plot follows this subtle transition; at some point the story drifts into the fantastical, but whether it is really magic or just hysteria (we learn earlier from Pythias' young friend about the wandering uterus), there's a disquieting sense that the concrete reality Pythias grew up with may not be the reality of the world she lives in. 

Technically, this book might be a 'sequel' to Lyon's The Golden Mean, but I haven't read The Golden Mean and I don't think I missed anything. This takes place, I believe, some decades after the events in The Golden Mean and is a vibrant, beautiful novel about growing up in the shadow of someone brilliant, famous, and contradictory; coming-of-age in a brutal way; and the powerful agency claimed by this historically forgotten woman.

Edited to Add: Read this article, 'Who Was Aristotle’s Daughter?: Novelist Annabel Lyon on why she wanted to give voice to a Greek girl whose famous father was a screaming misogynist.' to get a sense of Lyon and how awesome she is.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Historical Novel Society 2013 Conference Panelist: Meet Mary Hart Perry

Just twenty-one days until the Historical Novel Society Conference in St. St. Petersburg! I can't wait!

I'm excited to share another Q&A with one of the presenters at the conference. Mary Hart Perry is the psuedonym for Kathryn Johnson and she's the author of The Wild Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughters and Seducing the Princess. (Both on my TBR!) Please read on to learn about her and her books and her thoughts on writing historical fiction.

Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?

The idea for The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" (written as Kathryn Johnson) came to me while I was honeymooning in Bermuda. My husband and I were married on the cruise ship, in New York harbor, before we sailed for Bermuda. In a romantic mood, as you can imagine, I was thinking about love stories and adventures that might be set on the island. When I learned of the legend that Shakespeare was inspired to write "The Tempest" after reading an account in 1609 of a ship wreck off the coast of Bermuda, I had the beginning germ of a novel.

Can you tell us about your latest publication?

My latest novel, writing as Mary Hart Perry, is Seducing the Princess. It's pure fantasy--a romantic Victorian thriller--but inspired by the life of Princess Beatrice, the youngest daughter of Queen Victoria. This is the second novel in a series that I've been working on for the past three years. The first is The Wild Princess, based on events in the life of Princess Louise, one of the queen's middle children. (She had nine kids!) The third book is a work-in-progress, and each book stands alone so that they can be read in any order.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?

I look to people in history that I find most exciting personally to me. People I would have liked to meet and talk with, if I'd been alive when they were.

Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?

I always research and plot and outline at the beginning of the process. But I force myself to stop the research when I have just enough to start the writing process. Later, I'll go back and do more fact checking and reading, as I need it for the book. But it's too easy to get lost in the research if you wait too long to begin the writing. I could easily spend years buried in facts, if I let myself linger there too long.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?

I'm dead center when it comes to the balance of fact and fiction. I want to include some facts for a realistic base on which to build the story. But it's the fantasy of my imaginary tale that has to come through, because that makes the story unique and surprising for the reader, and for me. I'm not writing a biography of my central character, after all. I leave that to the very talented non-fiction writers we have today.

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?

Currently, I'm all about the Victorian era. And so far, the stories have been centered in England. But I'm always on the verge of breaking out and trying new things. I love the variety of settings--places and times--that fiction allows. Very exciting!

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You can learn more about Mary Hart Perry at her website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter. You can check out her speaker bio here (scroll down).

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Mailbox Monday, June 3

I've had a migraine I can't shake so no beach today. I stayed in bed mostly. I'm completely off schedule once more, so doing my Mailbox Monday post today. (Cool interview tomorrow!) In June, Mailbox Monday is hosted by Bellezza at Dolce Bellezza (a favorite blog of mine!).

For Review





















Won



Won thanks to vvb32reads

Purchased/Swapped/Gifted



For my wife, not me, who says Bartleby's 'catch phrase' any time she's surly. 
 (I also bought her the tote bag and t-shirt.)