Saturday, September 20, 2014


One lone winner this week (and a late announcement at that, my apologies!)...

The winner of The Tapestry is ... Elisabeth H.!

Congrats to the winner!  A few more giveaways are coming up in the next few weeks so keep an eye out. 

Hope everyone is having a lovely, reading-filled weekend!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend reads and going on a babymoon...

Tonight my wife and I are going on a "babymoon", a little weekend getaway before Little Reader arrives.  It was something we had wanted to do but didn't have strong feelings about what/where we would go ... until I learned that the famed artists residence, Yaddo, was offering a rare day of tours this weekend.

My wife and I first learned about Yaddo in 2008, when we accidentally stumbled across the special exhibit offered by the New York Public Library. Yaddo's artistic legacy is pretty incredible -- among their alum include Hannah Arendt, Newton Arvin, James Baldwin, Leonard Bernstein, Truman Capote, Louise Erdrich, Patricia Highsmith, Langston Hughes, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell, Flannery O'Connor, Sylvia Plath, Katherine Anne Porter, Colm Tóibín, and David Foster Wallace.

Our literary weekend will start with a drive out to the Berkshires, where we hope to tour Herman Melville's Arrowhead and Edith Wharton's The Mount, then we'll power on to Saratoga Springs, New York, for our Yaddo tour.  I'm so excited -- my wife and I love road trips, and we're geeks about bookish tours. 

The unofficial start to my weekend of literary geekiness was last night, when I went to a reading with Sarah Waters.  (I was front row, center, literally, and it was heavenly.  As I squeed on twitter, we were breathing the same air!) Emily M. Danforth, a new-to-me author, did a general Q&A with Waters, which was deliciously fun -- lots of howls and laughter about lesbians and the sex in Waters' novels as well as discussion about her writing process.  Waters was wonderfully warm and generous with her replies, and both she and Danforth were pretty cute in their boots and blazers.

Even more gratifying, Maryanne O'Hara, author of my 2012 fav, Cascade, was there, too; recognized me; and came over to give me a big hug.  It was a lovely start to a wonderful night

This weekend, I'm reading Chrysler Szarlan's The Hawley Book of the Dead, which is deliciously fun. (Here's the opening line: On the day I killed my husband, the scent of lilacs startled me awake. How can you resist that?)  It's mostly set in western Massachusetts, a lovely coincidence given our weekend plans!

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Cover Reveal: A Day of Fire

So, in the countdown to the arrival of my Little Reader (in seven weeks, give or take), I'm really focusing on my TBR as I'm more than a little panicked about all the reading I won't be doing once I have a newborn.

I've been so excited for this book since I heard about it -- a novel about Pompeii, with interconnected stories from six fabulous historical fiction authors.

I'm delighted to share the book's cover with info about how to pre-order -- and a chance to win a copy for yourself!

Title: A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Authors: Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter, with an introduction by Michelle Moran
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: November 4, 2014
Preorder Now: US or UK

A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain's wrath . . . and these are their stories:
A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii's flourishing streets.
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?


STEPHANIE DRAY is a multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her critically acclaimed historical Nile series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Her focus on Ptolemaic Egypt and Augustan Age Rome has given her a unique perspective on the consequences of Egypt's ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion. Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Learn more at:

BEN KANE worked as a veterinarian for sixteen years, but his love of ancient history and historical fiction drew him to write fast-paced novels about Roman soldiers, generals and gladiators. Irish by nationality but UK-based, he is the author of seven books, the last five of which have been Sunday Times top ten bestsellers. Ben’s books have been translated into ten languages. In 2013, Ben walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall with two other authors, for charity; he did so in full Roman military kit, including hobnailed boots. He repeated the madness in 2014, over 130 miles in Italy. Over $50,000 has been raised with these two efforts. Learn more at

E. KNIGHT is an award-winning, indie national best-selling author historical fiction. Under the name, Eliza Knight she writes historical romance and time-travel. Her debut historical fiction novel, MY LADY VIPER, has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the Historical Novel Society 2015 Annual Indie Award. She regularly presents on writing panels and was named Romance Writer’s of America’s 2013 PRO Mentor of the Year. Eliza lives in Maryland atop a small mountain with a knight, three princesses and a very naughty puppy. For more information, visit Eliza at

SOPHIE PERINOT is the author of the acclaimed debut, The Sister Queens, which weaves the story of medieval sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence who became queens of France and England respectively. Perinot has both a BA in History and a law degree. A long-time member of the Historical Novel Society, she has attended all of the group’s North American Conferences, serving as a panelist at the most recent. When she is not visiting corners of the past, Sophie lives in Great Falls, VA. Learn more at:

KATE QUINN is the national bestselling author of the Empress of Rome novels, which have been variously translated into thirteen different languages. She first got hooked on Roman history while watching "I, Claudius" at the age of seven, and wrote her first book during her freshman year in college, retreating from a Boston winter into ancient Rome. She and her husband now live in Maryland with an imperious black dog named Caesar. Learn more at

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the award-winning author of the young adult novel, Cleopatra’s Moon (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 2011), based on the life of Cleopatra's only daughter. She is also the author of two biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. The LA Times called Cleopatra’s Moon--set in Rome and Egypt--"magical" and "impressive." Publisher’s Weekly said it was "fascinating" and "highly memorable." Her young adult novel of Pompeii, Curses and Smoke (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic), released in June 2014. She has two other upcoming books for younger readers, Anubis Speaks! and Hades Speaks! Vicky is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. Learn more at


To win a copy of A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii please complete the Rafflecopter form. There are two copies (Ebook or Paperback) up for grabs. Giveaway is open to US & UK residents only.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on September 26th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter on September 27th and notified via email.
Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bookish baby shower

This past weekend, our dear friends threw us a wonderful baby shower -- unsurprisingly, bookish themed!

My girlfriends used my wife's favorite baby book, All the World, as a guestbook --  and everyone left a note to us and our Little Reader.  It was wonderfully touching.

There weren't many baby games as there was mostly eating, gabbing, eating, present opening, eating, and catching up.

Among the many delicious things we served were:
  • One fish, two fish, red fish, goldfish (crackers)
  • Green eggs and (deviled) ham
  • Bread and jam (and brie) for Frances
  • Cloudy with a chance of (cocktail) meatballs
  • Frecklejuice (punch made w white grape juice, pomegranate juice, and ginger ale)
  • The hungry hungry caterpillar (apples with spiced caramel cream cheese dip)
  • Madeleine's French onion dip
and of course, a wonderful book-shaped cake (made by the same friend who made my wife's 30th birthday shark cake.  Thanks, Natalie!).

We received so many wonderful gifts, including many, many books for our Little Reader -- and of course, a glut of nautical-, whale-, and shark-themed baby clothes.

There's about seven weeks left (give or take) until Little Reader arrives -- and I'm grateful for everyone who has showered us (ha!) with love. I'm so nervous about having a baby, but touched by all who have such confidence we'll be good parents.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Weekend reads and a fab author reading...

Last night I got to see Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, at one of my all-time fav indies, Harvard Bookstore with a friend I hadn't seen since April (hi, Tracy!). 

It was a wonderful reading and I'm even more charmed with Burton and her novel.  An actress, Burton's reading was faaaaaaaaaahbulous; turns out she's the reader for the British audiobook of The Miniaturist, so if you're an audiobook fan, get that edition stat! 

After reading her excerpt, she spoke a bit about how her novel came to be, which I found fascinating and remarkably helpful and inspiring, given that I'm mired in my own attempt at writing a novel.  (But I'm not daydreaming about an 11 publisher bidding war over my manuscript!) (Well, maybe a little.)

Burton shared some wonderful anecdotes, including a story about the piles of edits she received from both her British editor and American editor (400 pages each!).  Daunted by how she was going to reconcile these edits and still have a book that seemed like hers, she admitted to being very worried when, on the first page of her manuscript, her American editor underlined a sentence and said it was what hooked him on the novel -- and it was the same sentence her British editor wanted removed. (!)

Like all the readings at Harvard Bookstore, this one was intimate and warm (Burton didn't need to use a mic, and she instead chatted with us like we were hanging out together; it was so lovely!). I had gone ahead and bought the e-book, so didn't have anything for her to sign, but she kindly agreed to a few pictures (I'm apparently incapable of not looking like a crazywoman when I meet authors and there's a photograph to be had).

Next week I'm seeing Sarah Waters with my friend Tracy -- this time it's a ticketed event at a theater, so I'm unlikely to get a photo with her -- but I'm still very excited.  If you've never been to an author reading/event before, consider doing so -- even if you've not read the book in question, they're such fun.

I'm having to rein in my excitement for The Miniaturist, however, as I've got a few review books in my queue to read first. This weekend, I'm reading Moon Over Tangier by Janice Law, which is the third book in the amazing series about 20th century painter Francis Bacon. (This is also my second #weekendreads post about it, as I ended up pushing back the review when it was clear I was behind.)

So (to the point of this post!), what are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Title: Authority
Author: Jeff VanderMeer

Genre: Fiction (Sci-Fi / Speculative / Contemporary / Scientific Expedition / Survivalism / Conspiracy / Government Coverup / Mutation)
Publisher/Publication Date: FSG Originals (5/6/2014)
Source: My public library

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: The new director of the Southern Reach must untangle the events of the most recent expedition into Area X while also ascertaining what is going wrong with the employees at HQ -- and keeping sane when doing so.

Do I like the cover?: I do -- I love the cover design for the whole trilogy -- benign but creepy, with nods to the story.

First line: In Control's dreams it is early morning, the sky deep blue with just a twinge of light.

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

Why did I get this book?: I had to get it after the first one!

Review: Authority is the second book in Jeff VanderMeer's creepy and delicious speculative sci-fi-ish Southern Reach trilogy. (My review of the first book, Annihilation.)

This is going to be a tricky review for me as there are things from the first book I don't want to inadvertently spoil, and let's be real, detailed recap of a second book from a trilogy one is unfamiliar with makes for boring reading.

John Rodriguez, called "Control", has become the new director of the Southern Reach. His job to dissect what happened with the last expedition, and make sense of what is happening in the area. His co-workers and subordinates are hostile, strange, and jumpy, and his work is a mix of sorting through bureaucratic layers as well as injecting new life into a stagnating agency.

But things aren't straightforward for Control; the strange, alien, hallucinatory world we experienced in Annihilation encroaches on the "ordinary" world Control inhabits, and like Control, we're left wondering what is in his head, and what is far more insidious.

Meatier than the first book (this one runs 341 pages, compared to Annihilation's 195 pages), this one occasionally dragged for me. There's more back story as we learn about Control's family, working history, and complicated relationship with his mother -- which does impact his work at Southern Reach -- but I found it a tiny bit slow at times, especially as I was consumed with wanting to know "the truth" about Area X. Still, the delightful creepiness comes through with this one, including a scene at the end so deliciously frightening, I still get shivery thinking about it. (I understand the trilogy has been optioned for a movie, and this scene will make everyone jump out of their seats!)

There's a smidgen of a cliffhanger at the end of this one, and I am biting my nails impatiently for the final book in the series, Acceptance.

If you're an X-Files or Lost fan, or enjoy Dan Simmons or Jules Verne, consider starting this series -- it's fast, creepy, atmospheric, and wonderfully fun.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Interview with Deborah Swift

Yesterday I reviewed Deborah Swift's Shadow on the Highway, her historical novel about a 17th century highwaywoman and her deaf maid.  I'm thrilled to share my interview with Ms. Swift, so read on to learn more about this book and her research.

Lady Katherine Fanshawe
Was Shadow on the Highway the original title of your book?

When I first began, it was Lady of the Highway. But then I realized there was too much material for one book, especially for younger readers, so I have saved that title for the last book of the series, which is told from Lady Katherine Fanshawe's (Kate's) point of view.

As you were writing Shadow on the Highway, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I was surprised by the character of Abigail. At first I thought she might not be able to hold her own against someone as strong-willed as Lady Katherine, but she developed a stubborn persistence which enabled her to more than match her. Abigail, being the maid, is able to discover secrets that are hidden from her mistress, and as she is deaf, she has developed great powers of observation.

Is this your first foray into writing Young Adult (YA) fiction? Are there any differences for you in writing for a YA or adult audience?

Yes, I have never tried writing for a younger age group before. One of the things that was difficult is that readers vary enormously in their maturity - one fifteen year old can be like an eighteen year old, and another like a twelve year old. So it is a big span of ages I'm dealing with. The main thing was to treat the girls in the novel as girls and not as women, even though often in that era, girls were treated as women from the age of twelve. I thought the idea of a girl becoming a highwaywoman, and taking control, might appeal to teen readers who are branching out into independence, though I hope this does not sound condescending. Though I have to say, mostly it is adult readers so far who have told me they've enjoyed it! In order to make the characters more accessible for today's younger readers I made their reactions more hasty, their dialogue more outspoken and direct. Abigail and Kate have strong opinions and allegiances, and haven't yet fully embraced adult tact!

Deborah Swift
How did you come across Lady Katherine Fanshawe's story?

I was researching something else and came upon her picture on the internet. I could not quite believe she was known as 'The Wicked Lady' - she looked so innocent. Once I'd heard the legend I then looked into the real history, and found quite a few discrepancies. I have stuck to the facts as much as I can, but solved a few problems by inventing a sister for Ralph Chaplin, a farmer's son, who appears in the legend, but cannot be traced in any records. So Abigail Chaplin was born, and this gave Ralph a valid reason for meeting Lady Katherine, a meeting that was to prove fateful for them both.

Were you surprised that there were historical female highwaymen (or at least one?)?

Yes. I think that riding the highway at night must have taken enormous courage. Apart from the romantic notion, highwaymen were thieves and engaged in a life of crime. I researched Dick Turpin and he was a sadistic thug, although Claude duVall was closer to the 'gentleman' we associate with the role. One of the mysteries of the legend is why Lady Katherine took to the road, and it was the fundamental question for me as a novelist, and the one that takes three books to tell! In the film The Wicked Lady, it was suggested that boredom was the reason, but I have supplied a stronger and (I hope) more plausible explanation, based on what I know of her history and the events of The English Civil War.

Read any good books recently?

I am reading The Swan Daughter by Carol McGrath, which I am very much enjoying. I read her first, The Hand-fasted Wife, and wanted more! It is a period of history (The Norman Conquest) very little written about, and pivotal to England's history and language.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Deborah Swift 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.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Shadow on the Highway by Deborah Swift

Title: Shadow on the Highway
Author: Deborah Swift

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th Century / UK / Class Differences / Maid / Disguises / English Civil War / Social Movements)
Publisher/Publication Date: Endeavor Press (7/15/2014)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: A young deaf woman becomes maid to the imperious Lady Katherine Fanshawe, but to her surprise, learns that her mistress has secrets and passions that put them both into danger.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I do, although I don't think it precisely ties into the story.

I'm reminded of...: Michelle Diener

First line: I knew why they had sent me instead of Elizabeth to Markyate Manor, though they thought I hadn't understood.

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

Why did I get this book?: I'm a huge fan of Swift's novels.

Review: This intriguing YA historical novel has Swift's usual deft use of historical background and unusual but strongly defined characters.  (My reviews for Swift's The Gilded Lily and A Divided Inheritance.)  Set in the 17th century in the midst of the English Civil War, the novel is the first in a trilogy, each book following one of the three leads.

Abigail "Abi" Chaplin is a cheap maid after she lost her hearing to childhood illness, and she's sent to Markyate Manor to work as a maid. Shocked to find the grand estate virtually abandoned save for a cranky cook and a vile overseer, she's even more shocked to find her mistress, Lady Katherine Fanshawe, is a girl her same age.

While cold and imperious at first, Abi and Katherine become unlikely allies when Katherine decides to pass herself off as "Kate", another maid. To Abi's horror, her brother Ralph is taken with Kate, and invites them to join in his Digger community -- a commune-like movement of tenants and farmers who organize to live on public land rather than as paid tenants for the local manors.

Against this social drama -- one that was totally new to me, and deeply fascinating! -- is the backdrop of war, and in particular, the way it impacted the local folks as the armies mustered and marched through town. Katherine's fortune and inheritance is stolen from her by her milquetoast husband and her brutal father-in-law, and she has to protect herself as best as she can.

At 200 pages, this is a quick read, but one that is rich with characterization and wonderful historical details. Although I wasn't a fan of Katherine -- I couldn't fathom why Abi liked her or what Ralph found appealing about her other than her beauty -- I appreciated the complicated relationship she and Abi had (and how it changed as time went on), and the rich mix of real life details with fictional ones. I also loved that there was a deaf main character; it's rare to see in fiction, especially historical fiction, and made for an even more interesting story.

As with Swift's other novels, there's a delightfully detailed historical note that more than satisfies. This is the first in a trilogy, but has a solid conclusion that doesn't require one to pick up the other two -- but as the following novels follow Katherine and Ralph from their viewpoints, I can't help but want to get them, despite my exhaustion with trilogies.

Fans of English historical fiction, especially the Civil War era, will like this book.  Although there's some romantic elements, this is really a novel about friendship, class, and identity (as well as forgiveness and patience). 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril IX

The R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril (RIP) reading challenge, set between September 1 and October 31, is a favorite among book bloggers. It's an easy challenge with a fab theme (especially for those of us who get spooky, foggy, or chilly autumns.)

The theme is easy. Any book in these genres:
  • Mystery.
  • Suspense.
  • Thriller.
  • Dark Fantasy.
  • Gothic.
  • Horror.
  • Supernatural.
counts, and there's an opportunity to screen a film for the challenge, too! One can commit to reading one book (or more if one loves this genre).

I'm feeling strangely bold, so I'm going for the first level of the challenge, which is to read four books.

My tentative TBR is:

Two of my TBR reads are mini-challenges within this one, which is nice -- these are shorties I think I'm likely to get in before Little Reader arrives in November!

‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ Read Along

The ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ Read Along starts in October and is hosted by by Ti (Book Chatter) and Sandy (You’ve Gotta Read This!).  I don't think I've read any Bradbury so I'm pretty excited!

RIP IX Readalong: The Haunting of Hill House

Also starting in October is the Estella Society readalong of The Haunting of Hill House. Shirley Jackson is my wife's all-time favorite writer (she researched and plotted a road trip to North Bennington, Vermont, so we could visit the sites that inspired her!), and she'll be thrilled to do this readalong with me.

Do you plan to participate in RIP IX?  If so, what do you hope to read?

Friday, September 5, 2014

Weekend reads and almost unpacked...

I'm not so unpacked I feel like I can share apartment shots yet (at least, not wide views) but I've posted a few heavily filtered closeups on my Instagram.  But once the boxes are out, I plan to share a shot of the bookshelves -- we went from five bookshelves, double stacked, to just two!!  And even then, there are few enough books I can stage stuff all artsy-like, as if from a magazine!

I'm still figuring out my new commute but have happily gotten back into reading (whew!).  (But I still need to catch up on my backlog of reviews!)

This weekend, I'm reading Janice Law's Moon Over Tangier, the third novel featuring 20th century painter Francis Bacon. (I uh-dore these books; see my reviews for Fires of London and The Prisoner of the Riviera.) Of course, I'm facing boxes and the inevitable post-move clean up, but it's worth it: our new place is cute and free of hateful landlords!

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

Title: 2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas
Author: Marie-Helene Bertino

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Philadelphia / Multiple POVs / Jazz Club / Musicians / School Teacher)
Publisher/Publication Date: Crown (8/5/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked very much.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: Over twenty-four hours, a gifted but troubled child, a divorced teacher, and the owner of a failing jazz club find joy, sadness, and triumph
Reading Challenges: E-book, NetGalley & Edelweiss

Do I like the cover?: Oh, I love it -- it's so retro and jazzy.

First line: Snow flurries fall in the city.

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

Why did I get this book?: The title -- it's too intriguing to resist!

Review: I was immediately charmed with this book from the first page: the narrative style is musical and playful, the characters varied and full of personality, and the heart of the story emotional without being cloying.

Set on Christmas Eve Eve in Philadelphia, the novel follows a variety of characters who are interconnected in a variety of ways, all colliding together over the course of twenty-four hours. 

Our stars are many but focus primarily on three: Madeleine Altimari, 9-years-old ingenue-in-training, whose mother, a jazz singer, recently passed away. Virtually abandoned by her bereft father, Madeleine has taken up smoking, practicing her shimmies daily, and gets into constant trouble at school. I was in love with her from the start -- Bertino makes her childish and mature in realistic ways, and she's both darling and maddening.
Madeleine has no friends. Not because she contains a tender grace that fifth graders detect and loathe. Not because she has a natural ability that points her starward, though she does. Madeleine has no friends because she is a jerk. (p24)
The other two primary characters are Sarina Greene, fifth grade teacher to Madeleine and a new divorcee, who ends up in an unexpected reunion with a married high school crush; and Jack Lorca, the owner of The Cat's Pajamas, a formerly famous jazz club, now facing a death sentence from fines and a watchful cop. 

The handful of other tertiary characters are vibrant and distinctive like Lorca's son Alex, gifted and desperate for her father's approval; or Mrs. Santiago, an elderly shop owner who is one of the many locals who cares for Madeleine after her mother's untimely death.  The cast is large, but easy to keep straight, colorful and delightfully chaotic.

The whole novel is written in present tense, which I didn't really notice while reading -- the immediacy of the day ticking by captured me, as well as Bertino's prose.  Like Michael Chabon, her narrative has a musicality to it that emphasizes and enhances the action and events.  There's a bit of a magical realism element to the story, too, which I didn't anticipate -- it surprised me at first -- but fits with the story's fairy tale-like arc -- all Madeleine wants is her Happily Ever After (on stage).

A lovely, zippy read, this was fluffy enough for my pre-move brain but intricate-enough that I was captivated while reading.  A little twee, a little sweet, a little precocious, this is a great contemporary read for fans of slightly improbable (but magical) days, ensemble story lines, and love songs to our wildest dreams.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Cover Reveal: Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry

I've been wild for Nancy Bilyeau's Tudor-era historical thrillers and her delightful heroine, ex-nun Joanna Stafford (my reviews for The Crown and The Chalice).  I've been on pins-and-needles for her third book, and am thrilled to be part of the cover reveal for it.  Even better -- I'm giving away a paperback copy of it before its release!

Title: The Tapestry
Author: Nancy Bilyeau
Publication Date: March 24, 2015
Touchstone Publishing
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Pages: 390

Genre: Historical Mystery
Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Three

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In THE CROWN, Sister Joanna Stafford searched for a Dark Ages relic that could save her priory from Cromwell’s advancing army of destruction. In THE CHALICE, Joanna was drawn into an international conspiracy against Henry VIII himself as she struggled to learn the truth behind a prophecy of his destruction.

Now, in THE TAPESTRY, Joanna Stafford finally chooses her own destiny.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

Pre-Order the Book

Barnes & Noble

About the Author

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay "Zenobia" placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and "Loving Marys" reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information please visit Nancy Bilyeau's website.

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I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of The Tapestry to one lucky reader!  To enter, fill out this brief form.  Open to US and Canadian readers, ends 9/12.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Sinful Folk by Ned Hayes

Title: Sinful Folk
Author: Ned Hayes

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Medieval / 14th Century / UK / Rural Life / Murder Mystery / Pilgrimage / Secret Identities)
Publisher/Publication Date: Campanile Books (1/22/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked very much.
Did I finish?: I did!
One-sentence summary: After five boys are murdered, a band of villagers take their bodies to court to seek out justice, but face violent trials and tribulations along the way.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: I adore it -- love the woodcut style illustration and the feel, which perfectly captures the novel's story.

First line: In the end, I listen to my fear.

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

Why did I get this book?: The setting and melancholy premise fascinated me.

Review: Set in 1377, Sinful Folk follows a band of starving villagers who are pilgrimaging to court to plead for justice following the suspicious deaths of their sons. Five boys burned to death in a house, intentionally locked in by an unusual knot. The village, already facing a hard winter and impending famine, immediately suspects Jews as the culprits. The boys' bereaved fathers gather the bodies of their sons and decide to keep them unburied to let the King witness their cruel deaths.

Each villager, however, carries a dark secret with them, and on the road, beset by bloodthirsty knights and bands of murderous rogues, one twisted truth after another emerges.

The deceptively simple premise belies a more complicated novel that hit every note right for me: wonderful evocation of setting & era, fascinating characters, dramatic plot, and surprising historic details. The grimy, wintry feel of the landscape is a character, too: with just a hint of air conditioning, I was shivering along with our travelers, my skin crawling at the everyday reality of life for a medieval peasant.

The story is carried by Mear, mute parent to a murdered son, who has lived nearly two decades as a man in this small village after fleeing the convent where she thought her lover -- her son's father -- would come for them.  As our narrator, Mear is curious, clever, and observant, her voice inviting us to experience the sadness and horror she does.  (I suspect this would make a smashing audiobook for that reason!)

Despite the dark premise, the novel reads quickly, with many exciting interludes, and I found myself racing through the story. Nikki McClure, the illustrator who did the cover design, provides small illustrated elements that open every few chapters, and they're striking and interesting.

My only complaint is that the historical note was really a brief piece about Edward the Black Prince rather than a larger essay touching on the other events that occurred in the novel.  While the details about Edward were interesting, I am intensely curious to learn if some of the things that befell our travelers were historically true or wholly fictional.

Recommended for fans of medieval fic as well as those who like stories of commoners (seriously, between the cold and the grime, I was esp grateful for my shower!). A great end-of-summer read, or one to save when facing a snowy weekend!