Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Books Read in 2014

January

Linda Bamber, Taking What I Like
Colin Falconer, Isabella: Braveheart of France
J. Boyce Gleason, Anvil of God
Elaine Neil Orr, A Different Sun
Nicky Penttila, An Untitled Lady
Sam Thomas, The Midwife's Tale [reread]
Sam Thomas, The Harlot's Tale
Heather Webb, Becoming Josephine

February

Kim Cooper, The Kept Girl
Michelle Diener, Mistress of the Wind
Nancy Horan, Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Marci Jefferson, Girl on the Golden Coin
Nina Siegal, The Anatomy Lesson
Peter Swanson, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart
Michele Zackheim, Last Train to Paris

March

Ruth Hull Chatlien, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte
Laurel Corona, The Mapmaker's Daughter
Nicole Dweck, The Debt of Tamar
Daniel Levine, Hyde
M.J. Neary, Never Be At Peace
Shannon Selin, Napoleon in America
Jan Shapin, A Snug Life Somewhere
Carol Strickland, The Eagle and the Swan

April

D.W. Bradbridge, The Winter Siege
Mario Giordano, 1,000 Feelings For Which There Are No Names
Sandra Gulland, The Shadow Queen
Violet Kupersmith, The Frangipani Hotel
Stephanie Thornton, Daughter of the Gods
Andra Watkins, To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis
Ann Weisgarber, The Promise

May

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World
Sally O'Reilly, Dark Aemilia
Lauren Owen, The Quick
Phyllis T. Smith, I Am Livia

June

Sally Beauman, The Visitors
Lynn Cullen, Mrs. Poe
Laura Purcell, Queen of Bedlam

July

Emma Campion, A Triple Knot
Jaime Lee Moyer, Delia's Shadow
Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation
Jeff VanderMeer, Authority

August

Marie-Helene Bertino, 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas
Megan Chance, Inamorata
Ned Hayes, Sinful Folk

September

Deborah Swift, Shadow on the Highway

October

Kari Edgren, Goddess Born
Lois Leveen, Juliet's Nurse
Deanna Raybourn, Night of a Thousand Stars

November

Mallory Ortberg, Texts from Jane Eyre
Various, A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Ten Reads of 2013

First things first: you're not reading this wrong!  This is indeed my top ten post for 2013 -- not 2014.  Somehow, I never posted this last December or January, and I liked these books too much to let them go without some praise.  My top ten of 2014 will be posted later this week.

Now, my favorite reads from last year (all of which I still passionately recommend and think about!).

It was incredibly challenging assembling my top ten reads for 2013. So many standout, stellar books this year! In the end, my final top ten list is made up of the reads that emotionally rocked me in some shape or way, that I haven't stopped thinking about, that I have purchased or gifted for others.

Seven of the ten were written by women. Eight of the ten are historical fiction. (Pretty on par with other top tens since I've started blogging.) Four are part of a series, but only one is the end of the series; the rest are the start. Two are reads from Literary Wives, and both are books I wouldn't have read otherwise!

Stephanie Dray, Daughters of the Nile

This final volume in Dray's stellar, standout trilogy.  Her three novels about Cleopatra's daughter make my top ten desert island picks for historical fiction. What I said then:
Here's the bottom line: Daughters of the Nile might be one of the best concluding volumes in a series I've ever read, and Dray's Cleopatra Selene trilogy among the best historical fiction trilogies out there.  It has everything for hungry readers of historical fiction: rich and atmospheric details that evoke a foreign time and place, a standout cast of characters that live and breath, resonant themes and deep emotional interactions that are impossible to shake off, and some deliciously disturbing soap opera-y elements in case you were feeling safe. 

Jennifer Cody Epstein, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment

I never anticipated loving this novel the way I did, especially since I have mild World War II fatigue.  But in Epstein's hands, the familiar stories are new, and she reveals aspects of that conflict that were completely new to me.  From my review:
Delightfully and disturbingly, Epstein's characters are human, warm and flawed. ... There wasn't a particular 'villain', per se, as most everyone was articulated in shades of gray. The descriptions of time and place put me immediately into the story, and I couldn't put this book down. The tension comes from needing to know who survives and at what cost; from the meager hope more than one ends up happy.

 Kate Forsyth, Bitter Greens

I love fairy tales re-imagined, and Forsyth's book is standout. It's a massive, thick, rich tome, the kind of book  you want to drown in, and drown I did. I wrote then:
Forsyth's writing is evocative and pretty without feeling heavy or ornate; she conveys a sense of time and place without the dreaded infodump. What I appreciated, as well was that she doesn't mince words about the way women were treated in these eras -- she creates strong heroines who are quite real but don't reek of anachronism.

Robert Goolrick, A Reliable Wife

I never formally reviewed this one, unfortunately, but it was a selection for Literary Wives -- one of two that made my top ten this year, and both books I wouldn't have read otherwise.
It's a kind of noir novel, with no noble hearts here, no heroes, just a twisted love story and flawed desires.  I plan to write a formal review, but in brief: set in Wisconsin in 1907, the novel follows Ralph Truitt, a wealthy, sex-obsessed businessman with a broken heart and sad family story who takes out an ad for a wife.  Catherine Land, a con artist and floozy, accepts, and reinvents herself as a staid missionary's daughter.  Catherine plans to off him, but her husband asks her to find his long-lost 'son' (there's some concern about his parentage) and bring him back.  This errand sets off, unsurprisingly, a series of events blah blah blah doom, heartbreak, conclusion!

Annabel Lyon, The Sweet Girl

I wanted this book upon seeing the cover; after reading an interview with Annabel Lyon, I knew I had to read this book. A marvelously emotional, inventive historical novel that plays with what we don't know about a long forgotten historical figure. From my review:
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.

David Morrell, Murder as a Fine Art

I can't shut up about this book for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the author is the guy who invented Rambo. This smart, intriguing historical mystery hit every note for me, and I'm eagerly anticipating the second book in the series (which comes out spring 2015). From my review: 
I had such a flippin' great time with this book. From the first page, I was sucked in, and the only reason I didn't finish this one in a day is that I made myself slow down and enjoy the journey -- I could have taken another 300 pages and been only slightly satisfied. ... 

Lisa O’Donnell, The Death of Bees

Oh God, this book gutted me. From the opening line, I was hooked. Occasionally gruesome, deeply disturbing, and disturbingly funny at moments, I inhaled this book with a mixture of delight and horror. Unforgettable, and still hard to describe.  I wrote then:
This is me gesticulating wildly as I try to express to you how great this book is. This also means this review is going to be kind of meaningless because I'm still gasping for words.

Phillip Rock, The Passing Bells

A reissue of a 1970s release, this one still reads fresh and compelling.  The first in a trilogy (I know!), it is so good, so atmospheric, so deliciously British, you'll be grateful there's two more books! I wrote:
Given the Downton Abbey craze, I was apprehensive about this trilogy: was it any good or just a marketing ploy to cash in while DA is hot?

Thankfully, happily, awesomely, this book is good. Great. Another meaty hist fic that satisfies. This review, however, is probably going to be a hot mess, because how do I describe what is contained in these 500+ pages without just squeeing stupidly?

Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife

Another read from Literary Wives, this one was tough for me.  I hated it -- loathed it! -- and yet, couldn't shut up about it.  In the end, it had to make my top ten because it was unshakeable for me. A fictional account of Laura Bush, this book rattled me and made me think about love, politics, loyalty, and everything in between.  In my reflection for Literary Wives, this book gave me an ah-ha! about my marriage, too!
While I wanted to loathe Alice for loving a man whose political beliefs are so antithetical to mine I literally get foamy at the mouth thinking about it, she has the same values and desires I do: to have the opportunity to spend her life with someone she loves and admires even she when doesn't agree with them. 
Victoria Wilcox, Inheritance

Another first in a trilogy, this biographical historical novel follows drug addicted gun fighter and cohort of Wyatt Earp, John Henry "Doc" Holliday.  Rich with detail, Wilcox sold me on this Southern anti-hero hero and made me care. I never thought I'd be so gripped! Dying for the second and third books. From my review:
I'll be honest, I never expected to love this book. Like it perhaps, but not love it, and that's because I never anticipated liking John Henry. He's a hard figure to genuinely admire and yet, by the end, I was completely taken with him. (Watch Justified? There's a long-standing 'villain', Boyd Crowder, who is pretty despicable; and yet, my wife and I are completely invested in/kind of rooting for him because he's sort of so damaged and vibrant and real. That's about how I felt toward John Henry.) I wanted to loathe him but Wilcox provides enough psychological and emotional insight so that I can't write him off as horrible. He's real and flawed and aspirational and completely stupid -- and so, so compelling to follow.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekend reads and getting back to reading...

Even though we moved three months ago, we just unpacked Little Reader's bookshelf last weekend. (Just in time for his grandmother's visit this weekend!)  We're mostly just reading Hello, Bugs to Little Reader right now -- but he really does seem to like the images!

Unbelievably, I read a whole book last week! It was fabulous, too -- Megan Mayhew Bergman's short story collection Almost Famous Women.  (Review to come in January when it releases.) But I managed to get reading in while nursing or pumping, and I'm glad to be back in the reading groove.

My read for this weekend (and beyond) is How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis. It's very readable for non-fiction, a mix of memoir and personal essay about some favorite, beloved, and well-known heroines from Western lit. It makes me want to revisit (or read for the first time) every book she mentions! (But that's a wish for later -- I'm not that bold to attempt a major reading project with an infant!)

What are you reading this weekend? And for those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah and/or Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Winners


Life is a blur these days -- Little Reader turned three weeks! -- and it feels like it's been forever that he's been here and that he's still a new arrival.  But every day it gets a little easier to do more and more, and I've got books by me for when he's nursing -- I've got in a page or two now and then!

Here are my giveaway winners!


The winner of The Tiger Queens is ... Alise!

The winner of The Spoils of Avalon is ... Susan T!

Congrats to the winners! I don't have any upcoming giveaways for a few weeks, but I'm going to try to keep reviewing -- although at this point, it may just be breastfeeding books, board books, and other parenting guides. I'll try to keep it interesting!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interview with Mary Burns

I ended up having to pass on a number of delicious tours while on maternity leave, and one I'm particularly heartbroken about is the tour for Mary Burns' historical mystery, The Spoils of Avalon. Set in 1877, the novel follows famed painter John Singer Sargent and his childhood friend Violet Paget, better known as writer Vernon Lee. I love the whole setup of this series, and I'm thrilled I was able to interview Ms. Burns in lieu of a review.  Hope you're as intrigued as I am -- read on to learn more about her book, her writing, and what she does when she's not writing.  And be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy!

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

My very first piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in the eighth grade (WAY back in 1964) about…ta da! The Beatles! I wrote an ‘odyssey’ story about them that actually pre-dated “A Hard Day’s Night”! The four lads had to get in high gear when John Lennon’s (then) wife Cynthia and newborn son Julian were kidnapped and held for ransom. Each Beatle had his own chapter of adventures around the city of London (which of course I’d never been to) and then they end up grabbing the kidnapper and setting Cynthia and Julian free. I even illustrated it with pen and ink drawings, copying photos of them from the teen magazines. Sadly, the manuscript has been lost to time.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to find a piece of instrumental music to play every time I sit down to write, which is often in the late afternoon. For my book on John Singer Sargent, it was a Chopin nocturne (Sargent loved Chopin’s music and played excellently.) For The Spoils of Avalon, I listened to two things: Sandy Bull’s Inventions, and a CD of Gregorian Chant.


Was The Spoils of Avalon the original title of your book?

Yes, it was! I am a huge fan of Henry James, and I had recently read his Spoils of Poynton, and then there was that goofy TV series, The Spoils of Bablyon (with Will Ferrell and Toby McGuire), so I guess ‘spoils’ was on my mind – plus, it fit the plot!

As you were writing The Spoils of Avalon, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

You know, all my characters surprise me when I’m writing. I can literally be typing away, and the characters are saying things, revealing things about their thoughts or even things that happened to them previously, and I’m saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that about you!” With actual personages such as Sargent or Violet Paget, I’ve read so many biographies and so much correspondence, I feel like I know them, but they still come up with stuff that’s unexpected. I especially like my fictional characters, though; for instance, Lord James Parke in The Spoils of Avalon—although there actually was a lord with that name at the time, my character is not based on anything real about him. But he kept revealing little things about himself during the writing that I had to just wonder, where on earth is that coming from?

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

I’m a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, so I read books for them, in addition to all the books I read constantly. I also play the piano and I make stained glass windows. Love to cook and put on elegant dinner parties. Here’s a picture of a recent dinner party appetizer set, and a stained glass window, too.

Read any good books recently?

I just finished The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, it was terrific! She really got into the down-and-dirty details of what it was like for a mid-19th century woman to find herself living in a hut on an island in Fiji—so realistic it made me itch from imaginary mosquito bites! Great story.


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My thanks to Ms. Burns for her time and thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books via her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour to see reviews and more interviews.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Spoils of Avalon (eBook or Print, winner's choice) to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US, Canadian, and Australian readers, ends 11/28.






Sunday, November 23, 2014

Winners!

My apologies for the delay in announcing these winners -- newborns are a bit exhausting!  I'm thrilled to share them now, however.

The winners of Texts from Jane Eyre are ... Tracy B., Shannon D., and Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader!

The winner of A Day of Fire is ... Craig W.!

Congrats to the winners!  There's one more giveaway going on and a few more coming.  Hopefully I'll get back to reading and can share my reviews of the last few books from before I gave birth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview with Stephanie Thornton

I have loved every single one of Stephanie Thornton's historical novels and the only reason I'm not reviewing her newest, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, is because I've got a six-day old baby.  But I'm dying to dig in (thank you, Ms. Thornton, for sending me a copy!) and I'm excited to share my interview with Ms. Thornton about this book and her writing of it. Be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy, too!

Was The Tiger Queens the original title of your book?

Actually, it was! I'm three for three with my titles so far... They've all been my creation, which is pretty rare for authors these days. But The Tiger Queens is just the perfect for all of these women, considering how fierce they had to be to survive not only Mongolia's harsh climate, but also the political tumult of Genghis' conquests.

As you were writing The Tiger Queens, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Fatima, a Persian captive, was actually the character who most surprised me, I think because I got rather attached to her and she ends up making some rather surprising choices throughout the story. She's a snob to her very marrow, (although really, it would have difficult for anyone to avoid looking down their noses at the Mongols for their table manners), but that actually becomes one of her most endearing traits, at least to me.

Your novels span the globe and different historical eras. How do you get into the right mindset for each novel?

Research, research, research! (Did I mention research?) I'm a total history nerd so I absolutely eat up all the weird trivialities of life in the ancient world, like the fact that the Mongols really did tenderize meat under their saddles as they rode and participated in the predecessor to today's Naadam festival, a multi-day sporting event featuring the "three manly arts" of horse racing, archery, and wrestling. (Fun Fact: Genghis Khan supposedly proclaimed that all wrestlers compete wearing open vests because a woman once won the competition. And yes, I managed to work that scene into The Tiger Queens!)

You have three books out now, and you're working on your fourth. Do you have one that you're more sentimental about?

I'm sentimental about all my books, but for different reasons. The Tiger Queens was my problem child simply because the story spans eighty years of history, four cultures, and virtually all of Eurasia. So I suppose I'm sentimental about it because it was the most difficult to write, and several times I threatened to throw the entire thing out the window!

Read any good books recently?

I just had the privilege of reading an early version of Kate Quinn's Lady of the Eternal City, and let me tell you, it is phenomenal! I'm also getting ready to dive into George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons--I can't wait to see what happens to Tyrion and Daenerys! (Although if either of them dies I'm going to throw a monumental temper tantrum.)

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My thanks to Ms. Thornton for her thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to follow the tour and check out reviews on the other blogs.

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Tiger Queens to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US residents only, ends 11/28. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Reader is here!

I apologize for disappearing suddenly, but I went into labor last Monday, and at 1:35am on Wednesday, Little Reader arrived! 

Meet Winslow Alcott.  He's about 21 inches long and today, at five days in, weights about 7 pounds, 12 ounces.  He's such a sweetie, although we're all learning how to live together.  Needless to say, I haven't been reading much but I'm hoping once we figure out our routine together, I can resume reading regularly.

I hope to keep updating here, however -- I have some wonderful author interviews coming up, a few giveaways, too, and I will try to keep in touch with folks -- but apologies if I seem to go MIA for a while.

To close, one more photo of the Little Reader...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Interview with the authors of A Day of Fire, part two

I'm thrilled to share part two of my interview with the authors of A Day of Fire: Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray (here's my review!). They kindly agreed to do a roundtable style conversation about the writing of this book. Be sure to check out part one of the interview to learn how this premise came about and what it was like for these novelists to write together (and there's a chance to win a Kindle copy of this book, too!)

What surprised you most about collaborating with the other authors?

Sophie: The sheer joy of it. This can be a very solitary business and so writers often come together to talk out snags in their work with fellow-writer friends. But this time group brainstorming had an extra layer of “all for one and one for all.” It was the most social writing experience I’ve ever had.

Ben: This part is where I missed out by living on the other side of the Atlantic! I know that four of the others met up a couple of times to bash out ideas, and to improve the storyline etc. I would have loved to have been part of that, as per Sophie’s comment above. I used to be a veterinarian (cue: sociable job) and now I write full time (cue: one of the loneliest jobs there is). I ain’t complaining - my job satisfaction continues to rate over 95%, but the biggest downside of being a writer is the solitude. I am lucky to be part of an historical writers’ association (the HWA), and to socialize with many of its members, but it was still great to collaborate with some new colleagues - now friends.

Kate: The fun part of writing collaboratively is taking advantage of the expertise in the collective pool. For example, Ben telling me that eyeballs don’t collapse when gouged out; they burst. He says he knows this because of the aforementioned veterinary experience. (Sure . . .)

Stephanie: Had we to do it again--and I think there will be an again!--we would Skype Ben and Vicky into our plotting chats because the brilliance of working collaboratively is that we were able to take advantage of everyone’s skill set in a different way. We were able to solve each other’s problems. Six heads are better than one!

Eliza: I agree with Stephanie! “A Day of Fire” was so much fun! Plus, being able to bounce ideas off each other made writing a lot easier--and the way Kate, Stephanie and Vicky teased me about my frustrations with the Roman naming process! I literally said at one point, does everyone have to be named Julius??? lol.

Sophie: Forget skyping Ben in! We need to fly over, put on the garb and do one of his fabulous ancient Roman charity walks with him! How about it Ben? Ladies welcome?

Vicky: An ancient Roman walk across the pond? Oh, I’m so there. And as we march, we could brainstorm. That is the only possible way I can imagine topping this experience!

Kate: I do my best thinking while walking. I’m bringing the gladius hanging over my computer. And can we get Ian McKellan’s voiceover from Ben’s Romani Walk film floating over our heads as we all saunter along? “These six authors are bitching about inaccurate Roman armor in Hollywood movies and planning a new project where no gladiators are wearing medieval bracers . . .”

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My thanks to the authors for their time and thoughtful answers.  You can learn more about the authors and find their websites here. And you can check out part one of the interview to enter to win a Kindle copy of the book!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Cover Reveal: A Study in Death

I had the pleasure of meeting Anna Lee Huber at the Historical Novel Society's conference in St. Petersburg, FL in 2013.  We were both audience members at a panel and she had a fabulously striking manicure. That got us talking, and then I learned about her 19th-century historical mystery series. Her books are on my maternity leave TBR, and I'm delighted to share details about her fourth release, coming out next summer.

A STUDY IN DEATH is the latest installment in the award-winning Lady Darby mystery series by national bestselling author Anna Lee Huber. It will release on July 7th, 2015 from Berkley Publishing, but is available for preorder now.

Scotland, 1831. After a tumultuous courtship complicated by three deadly inquiries, Lady Kiera Darby is thrilled to have found both an investigative partner and a fiancé in Sebastian Gage. But with her well-meaning—and very pregnant—sister planning on making their wedding the event of the season, Kiera could use a respite from the impending madness.

Commissioned to paint the portrait of Lady Drummond, Kiera is saddened when she recognizes the pain in the baroness’s eyes. Lord Drummond is a brute, and his brusque treatment of his wife forces Kiera to think of the torment caused by her own late husband.

Kiera isn’t sure how to help, but when she finds Lady Drummond prostrate on the floor, things take a fatal turn. The physician called to the house and Lord Drummond appear satisfied to rule her death natural, but Kiera is convinced that poison is the real culprit.

Now, armed only with her knowledge of the macabre and her convictions, Kiera intends to discover the truth behind the baroness’s death—no matter what, or who, stands in her way…

GIVEAWAY!

To celebrate the unveiling of the cover of A STUDY IN DEATH, Lady Darby Book 4, Anna Lee Huber is running a giveaway on her Facebook page. Entrants must comment under her post displaying the cover of A STUDY IN DEATH for a chance to win a copy of the audiobooks of Lady Darby Books 1-3 (THE ANATOMIST’S WIFE, MORTAL ARTS, and A GRAVE MATTER). Please see post for Giveaway Terms and Conditions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Interview with the authors of A Day of Fire, part one

Yesterday I reviewed the faaaaaaaaahbulous A Day of Fire, a marvelous historical novel set during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Uniquely, it's penned by six authors -- Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray -- but reads as a single work, devastating and exciting in equal part.

On a whim, I asked if the authors would consider doing a roundtable interview/discussion for my blog and to my delight, the authors agreed! I'm so excited to share this interview -- it confirms what I've suspected: that authors really are among the most fun people out there! I've split the interview into two parts, so here's part one (part two to be live on Friday).

And I loved this book so much I've decided to splurge and offer a giveaway, so be sure to enter!

How did this project come about?

Stephanie Dray: It started when Kate, Sophie, and I were celebrating Kate’s latest book release and began chatting about how, in the romance genre, they write continuities all the time. We thought it would be a coup if we could pull one off in the historical genre.

Kate Quinn: Yep, that’s how it happened. There was champagne, and it certainly helped the ideas start flowing.

Ben Kane: Doesn’t champagne always help ideas flow?!

Kate: Certainly does.

Sophie Perinot: It wasn’t the champagne that made me giddy, it was the idea that we could be a FIRST. None of us could think of any previous continuities in the straight historical fiction realm. The three of us immediately started an idea list--wow, was that a long list. I believe we settled on the right historical event in the end. What could be more exciting than the destruction of Pompeii? And because Vesuvius was an equal-opportunity destroyer, we were able to incorporate characters from every walk of life.

Vicky Alvear Shecter: I had never even HEARD of continuity projects, so when I was approached to participate in “A Day of Fire” I had two responses: 1) YES PLEASE! and 2) Wait, what? How does this work?

Stephanie Dray
Stephanie: Vicky was so down with this project from day one, that we knew we’d asked the right author. And the entire project could never have worked without her brilliant first story.

Eliza Knight: I’m also a fan of champagne, so when I got a call from Stephanie asking if I wanted to rip out the heart of readers, I couldn’t resist and popped the cork! :)

Stephanie: Personally, I’m very fond of writers who like to rip out the hearts of readers.

Ben--when you were first contacted about a project full of Americans what were your thoughts?

Ben Kane
Ben: The first I knew of it was when Kate contacted me. We knew each other a little from various internet fora. I thought the idea was brilliant - who wouldn’t? Rome? Pompeii and THAT day in AD 79? - and said yes on the spot.

Stephanie: I didn’t realize Ben wasn’t American when we pitched the project to him, but I’ve been delighted to see the differences between the two markets, and to learn from his expertise from that side of the pond. Also, he’s very charming.

Groundwork: Was there a single thread decided on for the overall novel-in-six-parts storyline, or did it evolve as folks worked on their individual pieces?

Kate Quinn
Kate: We knew from the beginning that we could NOT all show the eruption, or else we’d have the Groundhog Day effect: If that mountain blew in every story, the reader would have eruption fatigue by Story #3. So our first concern was distributing segments of the timeline.

Sophie: I agree that setting the timeline was a HUGE and very important step. I think we made several wise decisions there--keeping it tight with some, but decreasing overlap; and gathering some of our number together in person to hammer it out once Ben’s story was in hand. (He wrote his first.) I think we benefitted from the fact that people were flexible. I would have loved to write a story with more destruction, but early stories were needed too, and I knew I could create characters--like Sabinus--who people would want to follow to the dramatic end of the book.

Ben: We talked a lot about timeline before we got started, and as others have said, it was important to do so. ‘Eruption fatigue’? I like the sound of that! but it would have switched many readers off. Portraying the whole event, from ‘before’ to ‘after’ was crucial, in order to convey some/all of the horror that must have been that day. It was also necessary for everyone to be flexible - and they were! This has felt from beginning to end like a great team effort.

Vicky Alvear Shecter
Vicky: I think it was both--the single thread had to be set at the beginning but that doesn’t mean things didn’t evolve as the project matured. We each came to the table with the germ of our story ideas and then discussed ways others characters could weave in and out of them. I was a little surprised at how easily that happened. For example, in one early draft, Kate suggested I have my character run into Ben’s gladiator since he was walking by that area anyway. Perfect! It served to introduce a character we will meet later, and also allowed my character to ruminate on the very thing he’s struggling with--what does it take to feel like a man, which is triggered when he a hugely muscled gladiator taunts him. And the more we interwove our individual pieces the stronger the overarching plot became.

Stephanie: For a very brief time, we considered simply making “A Day of Fire” an anthology of separate, unrelated, stories, to make it easier for everyone to write. Once we had Ben’s story in hand, however, we were able to see how to use it as the centerpiece around which the rest of the stories could be built. And I think that was the smartest decision we made. It turned the project from something fun that a bunch of authors worked together on, into a more challenging piece of art. And I’m so proud of what we accomplished!

How much did your original premise change as you worked with the other authors?

Ben: I believe I may be the exception. Because of the way things turned out - we had talked the storyline through, and had an ‘almost’ deal with a traditional publisher on the table, which was then shelved - I decided to write my story a year ago. I had just finished a novel, and had time to spare. If I’d left it until our plan moved forward, I would have been one third, say, or halfway into a new novel. I didn’t want to have to turn around at that stage and write a completely unrelated short story. So I just got on and wrote it, and hoped that the project *would* come to fruition. Lucky for all of us, it did.

Eliza Knight
Eliza: I have a penchant for killing people… so it was pretty much a given that my story would be very dark. Kate and Stephanie have said the motto for my historical fiction should be: Everybody dies… But, before we kiss them goodbye, I like to really drag out the emotion and explore the human condition in whatever situation has been presented. I knew where I wanted my story to flow. So the hardest part for me may have been weaving in the other authors’ characters. That is because my story begins and ends inside. Ultimately, the characters from the other stories made “appearances” in mine through flashbacks. As far as changes in my own story, originally, I wanted to take the perspective of my heroine and her husband, but then I realized that her father had a lot more to lose, so it was important for me to use him as a POV character.

Stephanie: I really deliberately held off in formulating the specifics of my prostitutes with hearts-of-gold-and-mud story until other people nailed theirs down because I was taking the last slot. This gave me more flexibility to accommodate everyone else. But I’m not the only one who had to bend, and I was very grateful to Ben for changing an entire character in his story to help mine work better.

Sophie: Stephanie, I think everyone appreciated your ability to “ride the curve” of the developing plot arc. You had a tough job batting clean up, because you were taxed with providing closure to other people’s characters which meant letting them step back onto the stage. I deeply enjoyed being able to be Sabinus again during your story--I’d missed him.

Did your writing process change in response to the collaboration, or did you write the way you normally do regardless?

Sophie Perinot
Sophie: Writing as a collaborator is different than writing as a solo act. Collaboration means cooperation, and cooperation, in my opinion, has a multiplying effect. It makes things more intense in a good way. Characters come MORE alive by interacting with other writer’s characters. I knew who Aemilia and Sabinus were before I wrote my first word, but I got to know them better when they had to react in real-time to something Stephanie’s Capella or Kate’s Diana said or did.

Vicky: The original premise of my story didn’t change much but it certainly deepened as I read the other stories and went back to my own. The other stories inspired me in ways that I could not have anticipated or expected. It was a wonderful experience!

Stephanie: I definitely wrote differently because I had to manage voices of characters that weren’t mine. Better to let Kate write some of the senator’s dialog, for example, than for me to write it myself. Which meant that I would leave chunks of the story unfinished while I moved on.

Eliza: I have a specific way of writing that doesn’t really change story to story, but one thing that was done differently with this collaboration which I really enjoyed was that we used GoogleDocs to write specific scenes together (that involved mutual characters) at the same time. It was really fun doing that!

Ben: I wrote my story before anyone else’s, as I have already explained. So at first, I didn’t have to think about the collaboration. This changed of course as the others wrote their stories, and they needed to have some of their characters appear in mine. That felt a little strange - I have never collaborated with other authors before - nor had I added in other characters. It’s a mark of the others’ professionalism and ‘coolness’, therefore, that I found the process very easy. It was enjoyable too! I loved reading the others’ stories, and found it very exciting that my characters appeared in their storylines, and it was soon quite clear that to do this would make the characters rounder, and turn the whole dang thing into a damn good story!

Kate: An interesting corollary to this discussion of writing process in collaborative work is the question of writing style. I write funny; Stephanie writes dark; Ben writes bloody, etc. And that’s before we even get into the fact that some of us write in first person and some in third, some in present tense and some in past! After much discussion we decided to give ourselves free rein rather than try to conform to a “house style,” and in the end I was hugely relieved to see that the styles didn’t clash - if anything, they enhanced each other. The book has a real panorama of flavors, and everyone’s strengths played to a different part of the drama, i.e. Ben could use his flair for violence in describing the mountain blowing up, I could use my penchant for humor to give the reader a last chuckle and loosen them up before Eliza ripped their hearts out!

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My thanks to the authors for their time and thoughtful answers.  You can learn more about the authors and find their websites here.  Be sure to check back on Friday for Part Two of the interview!

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a Kindle e-book copy of A Day of Fire to one lucky reader!  To enter, fill out this brief form.  Open to US and international readers, ends 11/14. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Day of Fire by Various

Title: A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient / 1st Century AD / Italy / Natural Disaster / Collaborative Novel / Interconnected Stories)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knight Media, LLC (11/4/2014)
Source: The authors.

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The story of seven citizens of Pompeii on the day of the fateful Mount Vesuvius eruption.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- I'm not wild about it, but it gets across what's important: volcano, and the kickass authors.

First line: I discreetly tightened my loincloth as I approached Pompeii's Sarno Gate.

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

Why did I get this book?: I'm a fan of all the authors in this collection -- I couldn't resist!

Review: I love the idea of collaborative novels but find that unless it's a duo, anything more is usually a bit of a disaster (Naked Came the Manatee or Hotel Angeline). But I wasn't going to pass up this hist fic, which features six standout historical novelists all writing about Pompeii's deadly explosion -- and to my delight and great relief, this was a knockout.

Set on, or a few days before, the day of the destructive Mount Vesuvius eruption -- the novel follows seven interconnected characters. Each author tackles one character and one small portion of the overall story arc, although the same characters are threaded through the entire narrative.  The disaster is pieced out in a series of snapshots but there isn't a disconnected, vignette-y feel.  Instead, the shifting lens provides a extra layer of tension as I raced through the story to see if my favorite characters were going to appear again, and if I would learn more about their fate.

The entire novel reads like one cohesive piece in part because the authors intentionally worked that way, constantly consulting with each other about characters and plot points.  (I learned this and other fun details in my interview with them; it'll be posted tomorrow.)  That extra effort is felt quite clearly in the distinct narrative arc that holds the volume together, and the seemingly disparate threads are tied up as neatly as can be in a disaster.  (And kudos to the authors for resisting wholly pat endings!) We don't learn how everyone ultimately ends up, and it leaves a deliciously bittersweet feeling at the end.

I loved every story in this volume but I'll admit to sobbing like a crazy thing while reading E. Knight's 'The Mother'. Being a pregnant lady six days from her due date is likely why it affected me so greatly, but the stories have a wonderful balance of action, emotion, and at moments, grim humor.  As the book continues, the characters are deeper and deeper in the throes of the eruption, and the stories race even while focusing on some serious emotional development -- plot isn't thrown over for character, nor vice versa.

There's eight pages of Historical Notes to go with this, for the volume and each story, which provides the kind of geeky historical detail and narrative nuts and bolts I love.

Highly recommended for historical fiction fans, especially those who love disaster flicks, ancient settings, and/or armchair escapes that leave you gasping for air.  Those who are fans of the authors in this volume will not be disappointed and those who are new to these authors will be excited to have more of their works to dig into.  A wonderfully creative endeavor.  I'd love to see this group do something like this again!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

Title: Texts from Jane Eyre
Author: Mallory Ortberg

Genre: Fiction (Humor / Inspired By / Classic Literature)
Publisher/Publication Date: Henry Holt and Co. (11/3/2014)
Source: The publisher.

Rating: Loooooooooooooooooooved.
Did I finish?: Yeah, I did.
One-sentence summary: More than sixty poems, novels, and authors of classic and contemporary Western lit recast as a series of hilarious text messages.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- it captures precisely the feel of this.

First line: MEG
MEG
MEG WHAT'S ALL THIS
WHAT'S ALL THIS I'M HEARING ABOUT YOUR GETTING MARRIED
tell me it's a wretched lie
, from Little Women (p120)

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

Why did I get this book?: I have a soft spot for humor books that take on classic lit.

Review: Here's my one sentence review: this book is so hilarious, it's coming with me to the delivery room for when I need a laugh. (My midwife says laughing helps relieve pain and anxiety).

This deliciously irreverent volume re-imagines classic and favorite books, poems, and authors from Western literature and recasts them as a series of text messages. Featuring over sixty pieces, each just a few pages long, characters and story arcs are distilled into snarky, silly, and sublime extremes: Rochester is a passionate suitor who texts in all caps; Ned Nickerson keeps harassing Nancy Drew while she works on her investigations; Byron and Hamlet are laughably pathetic while Circe and Scarlett O'Hara are delusional divas.

Although I'm familiar with many (but not all) of the works featured, I found everything laugh-out-loud funny. My wife and I took turns reading this aloud to each other, but had to quit because we literally couldn't breathe at certain points, and I do truly intend to bring this into the delivery room with me because I can't not read Henry David Thoreau without dissolving into hysterics every time.

Ortberg takes what is absurd about our favorite characters and authors and emphasizes it in ways I think many readers already have. The inspiration for this book came from a piece on The Hairpin, when someone commented that her small town life was like Gone With the Wind but with cell phones. The format works because we all know people (or have read transcripts) of text messages so self-absorbed and so ludicrous, one can't help but laugh.

Fans of humor sites like Damn You Auto Correct! and The Toast will love this, as well as lit fans who don't mind their beloved classics being played with. This is a fun volume to have on hand for dinner parties or on the nightstand -- it's easy to dip into and is delicious, nerdy fun.

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to be able to offer THREE copies of Texts from Jane Eyre to my readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 11/14. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Winner!

We're having a nor'easter here in Boston -- it's cold and rainy and a tiny bit snowy.  Despite myself, I rather like it, although everyone keeps teasing me the worse the weather, the more likely I am to go into labor.  (Eleven days and counting!)

The winner of Goddess Born is ... Holly!

Congrats to the winner!  I'll have a few more giveaways coming up, although things are slowing down while I go on "maternity leave" from the blog.  I don't plan to be wholly absent, but am not participating in tours for a few months, until I know I can go back to reading on a schedule.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Interview with Lois Leveen

Last week I reviewed Lois Leveen's wonderful Juliet's Nurse, a novel of Shakespeare's tragic couple, told from the viewpoint of Juliet's wetnurse. But rather than simply retell the story, Leveen delved into life for a medieval domestic, and made this humorous character warm, earthy, and human. I'm thrilled to share my interview with Leveen, so read on to learn more about her and her writing.

author lois leveen
Author Lois Leveen
What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

It didn't *have* a plot. I wrote poetry and essays and was even editor of the literary magazine in high school, but although I devoured novels, I never tried fiction writing until I was in college. At Harvard, I was taking the required composition class in a special section that allowed you to write short stories along with essays. Well, the teacher (whose name I have happily forgotten) read my stories and told me, "you don't have a plot." I thought, "oh, I don't know how to write fiction." And so I gave up and figured I'd be an English professor and write about other people's stories. Only at this moment, in retrospect as I answer your question, am I wondering why that instructor didn't try to teach me how to develop a plot. Why haven't I ever asked *that* question before?!?! It took a long, long time before I realized how creative I could be.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Yes -- I use a particular laptop computer, not the one I use for email, etc., and I sit in a very comfortable chair, no desk, with at least one and preferably two cats on my lap. The thesaurus is always in reach, a real book thesaurus which is so much better than the computer's version. And I'm surrounded by piles of books and articles so I can research particular points. I write first thing in the morning, 7 days a week, usually for 3-5 hours. The rest of the day, I might be reading for a project, or writing *about* writing, doing an interview like this, etc. Like many writers, I can be crabby when I'm writing, but I'm more crabby if I am not giving myself time to write every day.

Was Juliet's Nurse the original title of your book?

Absolutely -- the title came to me, and it sounded *so* good. That's why I reread Shakespeare's play, to see whether it contained enough for me to build a character and a world and a novel, and boy howdy, did it. Titling a novel can be so difficult, so it really is amazing to start with a novel that tells a potential reader EXACTLY what the book is about. And in this case, it told the author, too. Now I just have to remember to let people know the nurse has a name, Angelica. It's actually in the play, but only once, so no one remembers it.

As you were writing Juliet's Nurse, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Many, many of them! I didn't know Tybalt (Juilet's cousin, who is a bit of a hothead in Shakespeare's play) would be such a heartbreaker. My agent, her assistant, my editor, her assistant, and me: we all had these total Tybalt crushes. I didn't realize how important bees and beekeeping would become when I first introduced them into the book. I needed a job for Angelica's husband, and just chose that rather randomly, but then it shaped so much of the plot and the themes.

Most surprising, though, was something much bigger than a scene or character, because as I was deep in drafting the novel, I kept thinking, "this is a nice idea for a character and a story, but is important?" My first novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, is based on a true story of an African American woman who changed the course of history. So I felt like that book helped readers understand how much women, especially women of color, have done historically that has been forgotten. I thought maybe I was copping out if my second novel didn't do something big like that. When I got to the end of Juliet's Nurse, I realized that this is a book about how to survive immense kinds of suffering, about how to keep hoping even after loss, how in particular to respond to the death of a child, which is one of the most profound and devastating kinds of losses anyone can face. Oh yes, that surprised the heck out of me, that my little ol' novel was doing that kind of work.

Your previous novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, was set during the Civil War. This one is set in 14th century Italy. Was the shift in era and locale challenging?

Incredibly so. First of all, we live in such an immediate gratification moment, in which readers who finish a book they like want to get the next one from the author right away. Juliet's Nurse received a really, really wonderful review from earlyword.com, a site librarians use to pick books, but it begins by saying that fans of The Secrets of Mary Bowser have had a long wait for Lois Leveen's second book. Long wait? 28 months from one pub date to the next, which is amazingly so fast when you consider two factors: 1. the historical research, which as you say takes a huge amount of time, and 2. the fact that these books are "literary," in the sense of the quality of the writing. I spend a lot of time on editing the prose, trying to make every line, every word, right. I want to feel like my novels are a gift I am giving my reader, and that means taking time to do them well. Not that 28 months is a lot of time! (by the way, if you are wanting more from an author, getting antsy waiting for the next novel to be published, try rereading the book you've already read and loved; if it's a good novel, you will find so much more in it the second time through).

In terms of the particular leap from 19th-century United States (about which I knew a fair bit) to 14th-century Italy, your question gets at what was the hardest part for me. For The Secrets of Mary Bowser I used a lot of research by other historians, but I also did some of my own research, finding things in archives, 19th-century newspapers, etc. I even kept at the research after the novel was published, and wrote about what I learned subsequently about the historical Mary Bowser. But with Juliet's Nurse I couldn't do my own research. I can, in a pinch, book a hotel room or order dinner in modern-day Italian, but I can't read Latin, or even the kind of Italian dialects that were used in the 14th century. So I had to rely on what other historians have published. And also, it is embarrassing to admit this, but only when I started working on the novel did I realize that because the printing press hadn't yet been invented, we have far fewer books and other sources from that time period. That was frustrating, but I started looking at art and architecture as part of my research. If you have a painting or statue from Italy in the 14th century of, say, the Virgin Mary, often her clothing and hairstyle look like what Italian women were wearing in the 14th century, rather than what someone leaving in Nazareth would be wearing in 30 BCE. Because those Italian artists were historically inaccurate in their depictions, we have historically accurate depictions of their era. I guess what I'm saying is I learned to look *everywhere* for research, including cookbooks and medical guides (which I used for both novels). I love that stuff!

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

I love to travel, although mostly my travel is doing talks about my book or doing research for another book, but that's taken me everywhere from Paris to London to Verona to Costa Rica in the past few years, plus all through the US. At home, I am a dedicated bike commuter, and my bike is covered in a leopard-print pattern so the whole city can see me coming. I play the accordion, with more enthusiasm than talent, and now I'm singing in a community choir in the same way. I pet my cats and like to do slightly nutty things like go to hipster square dances (I live in Portland, Oregon, after all). Oh, and I am now a volunteer urban beekeeper.

Read any good books recently?

I've been rereading The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald, which is so weird and smart, and whenever I read it I wish I could write like that. Before that it was The Table of Less Valued Knights, by Marie Philips, because we met at a book event in Toronto. Next is a manuscript a friend wrote that is not yet published, one of the perks of being a novelist! The rest of my current reading is research for my next novel, and the topic is still top secret, so you will just have to wait a while to find out … patiently, I hope!

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My thanks to Ms. Leveen for her time and thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Weekend reads and almost ready...

We're finally close to being prepped for Little Reader's arrival (I'm not sure I'll ever be ready!). About two weeks or so to go!

As we had to move into a one bedroom, we're sharing nursery space, so we decided to pick a muted nautical theme (with hints of Moby Dick, my wife's favorite book) for our room.

We got an inexpensive duvet cover from Ikea in a muted cream and slate blue stripe, and using a cheaper Ikea mirror, my wife managed to replicate a pricy Restoration Hardware mirror I had my heart set on.

I found the striking Moby Dick decal on Etsy, and my wife refinished all our bedroom furniture with chalk paint, to give things a distressed look. And since we're swimming in adorable baby clothes, we strung up a clothes line to show of a rotation of our favorites (including ones, no doubt, Little Reader will quickly outgrow).

It's been fun nesting, although we still have one more thing to do: install the car seat!  After that, I think I'll feel prepped for Little Reader to get here.  I've started packing my overnight bag -- my wife keeps teasing me that I'm tossing books in, like I'll read during delivery -- but it makes me feel better to have books on hand!

My weekend reads are sadly the same ones from last week; both The Sharp Hook of Love and Hand of Fire are stellar, but between prep, childbirth classes, and general exhaustion, I've had little energy to read.  I hope to snuggle in this weekend and get some serious reading done!

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Juliet's Nurse by Lois Leveen

Title: Juliet's Nurse
Author: Lois Leveen

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 14th Century / Verona / Italy / Inspired by Shakespeare / Mother/Daughter Relationships / Tragedy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Emily Bestler Books/Atria (9/2014)
Source: Italy Book Tours

Rating: Liked very much.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The story of Shakespeare's famed Juliet and her tragic love are told by her beloved wetnurse.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction, NetGalley & Edelweiss

Do I like the cover?: I do.

I'm reminded of...: Melanie Benjamin, Laurel Corona, Nicole Galland

First line: Two nights before Lammas Eve, I go to bed believing myself fat and happy.

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

Why did I get this book?: I really enjoyed Leveen's previous novel, and I love literary retellings.

Review: I love books that take on familiar stories from unique angles, and those that explore Shakespeare are particular favorites. (If you haven't yet read Nicole Galland's I, Iago, get it now!)

In this, Leveen (author of the fabulous The Secrets of Mary Bowser) takes Shakespeare's familiar Romeo and Juliet, and tells the story from Juliet's devoted wetnurse Angelica. To my surprise, the first half of the novel is devoted to Juliet's infancy (a time not covered in Shakespeare's play) and establishes Angelica's background and her love for Juliet.

The second half of the novel explores the events in Shakespeare's play. I have to admit that of all his works, Romeo and Juliet is among my least favorite: I never really got the passion our teenaged stars had. But in Leveen's hands, the cultural context of life in medieval Verona makes their choices suddenly real for me (this is why I love a good novel! I understand more!).

Rich in detail about life in medieval Italy, this is also the story of love between a parent and child, even if the parent is really a wetnurse.  Leveen articulates the joy and agony of raising a child that isn't one's own, and the impact on life for a woman who is committed to being a wetnurse.  It was eye-opening and fascinating, the mix of being a household domestic and a loving guardian, and being so close to my due date (three weeks today!), the heavy focus on childbirth, mothering, and nursing was particular resonant.

Leveen's narrative style is readable: Angelica is earthy and grounded, plain-spoken, yet Leveen keeps Shakespeare's poetic flare in the dialogue, especially wild, lovable Tybalt and in Angelica's poetic ruminations. The Elizabethan appreciation of the bawdy is seen in Angelica's earthy passion for her husband.

An excerpt is available at the author's website as well as a teacher's guide.

Whether one is familiar with Romeo and Juliet or simply interested in a novel of life in medieval Italy, this is a quick read that focuses both on a domestic relationship and an emotional one, the love between a caregiver and child.

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GIVEAWAY!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Winner!

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words recently.  I'm so grateful for all of you! It was a busy weekend, which is why I'm late with this -- my apologies!

The winner of Night of a Thousand Stars is ... Antonia!

Congrats to the winner!  Be sure to check out my open giveaway -- I have a few more coming! Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Weekend reads and many transitions...

The last few weeks have been busy, emotional, and full of transition.  I celebrated my sixth wedding anniversary last weekend, which also marked four weeks until our Little Reader is due.  As we scramble, badly, to finish our baby prep, I learned my youngest cat, Grace, had kidney failure and would need to be euthanized.

Last night, she passed away on her own, in my arms, comforted by our remaining elderly cat who slept with us until Grace's last moments. It's been very hard this year to have lost two cats, both of whom I've had for more than a decade, ahead of Little Reader's arrival -- to lose loved ones just before a new loved one comes feels, well, cold.

I haven't felt much like reading -- clearly a theme of my pregnancy, shamefully -- but have three current reads that are a welcome distraction from the stress and heartbreak. This weekend, I'm finishing up Sherry Jones' The Sharp Hook of Love, which is a decadent and engrossing novel of Heloise and Abelard. I'm quite smitten. I've just started Judith Starkston's Hand of Fire, a historical novel that features a heroine just given just a few lines in the Iliad. It's fabulous. And finally, I plan to begin Lois Leveen's Juliet's Nurse, a historical novel about the nursemaid to Shakespeare's Juliet.

What are you reading this weekend?