Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Midweek reads and wrapping up...

Dec/Jan TBR
I keep setting myself up for failure.

I want to write my top ten of 2015 blog post, but nearly half of my top ten reads have been unreviewed, so I keep putting that post off in hopes I'll rally and write those reviews. And I've got some thoughts on changes to this blog for 2016 I want to explore, but don't want to dive into that until I wrap up 2015 stuff. And I want to do some of that fun reading challenge geekiness but haven't nailed down my 2016 TBR.

This is what I do to myself all the time, be it blogging or writing or any other endeavor: lots of rules about how/when I do it. If I make one resolution in 2016, it'll be to give myself permission to just do what I want, the moment I want to do it.

Today is the first snow of the season in Boston, and it's deliciously dramatic from my living room window. My wife had to go to work in it, but I'm happily snuggled inside, although despite the wealth of books around me, I'm not entirely interested in reading (sadly). Apparently one doesn't have postpartum past one year, so I can't blame that, and I need to figure out why I'm still feeling so funky and numb and tired all the time. (Been on Paxil since June and it's helped with my crazy anxiety, but still feeling a bit cloudy and muted.)

I actually don't have much to say in this post, but felt like sharing a little -- I think others might feel as I do, and I could use a little blogger-ly "I hear ya"s.

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year's -- if you've gotten anything good for the holidays, share in the comments so I can drool and grow my TBR! (A task that cheers me up no matter what!)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge: Book Riot's Read Harder

I was so intrigued by Book Riot's Read Harder challenge when it came out last year, but was not in the place to participate. But this year, with my goal to do more free-range reading, it seemed more reasonable. What I especially love about reading challenges like this one is that I'm forced to seek out some reads well beyond my regular reading -- and in this day and age when there's so much misunderstanding and lack of empathy toward those who are "other" than one's self, that feels very important.


Read Harder 2016

Read a horror book

Read a nonfiction book about science.

Read a collection of essays.

Read a book out loud to someone else.

Read a middle grade novel.

Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography).

Read a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel.

Read a book originally published in the decade you were born.

Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie Award.

Read a book over 500 pages long.

Read a book under 100 pages.

Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender.

Read a book that is set in the Middle East.

Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia.

Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900.

Read the first book in a series by a person of color.
  • N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years.

Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie.
Debate which is better.

Read a nonfiction book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes.

Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction).

Read a book about politics, in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction).

Read a food memoir.

Read a play.

Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness.



Wednesday, December 23, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks

This is a book challenge designed for me, and I'm so very grateful that Andi at Estella's Revenge made it happen. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks is exactly what it sounds like: a reading challenge that requires us to read our damn books!

I'm going to make my aspirational TBR as I unpack from our move, but I'm hoping to read 10 of my own damn books. And I'm planning to split it between my physical reads and my ebooks, especially as I've gotten spendy when it comes to ebooks. They're piling up on my hardrive while my physical bookshelves remain static, and I want to be sure I'm reading what I'm buying!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2016 Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

I haven't done my roundup of how I did on my 2015 reading challenges, but I'm pretty sure the only one I successfully completed was the Historical Fiction one, and that's okay by me.

So obviously, I'm signing up for this one again!

Hosted by the fabulous Amy at the amazing Passages to the Past, I'm committing to 15 reads for the 2016 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

Books Read

Susan Wittig Albert, Loving Eleanor
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere
Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers
Mary Robinette Kowal, Glamour in Glass
Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey
Mary Robinette Kowal, Without a Summer
Michelle Moran, Mata Hari's Last Dance
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea
Julie K. Rose, Dido's Crown
Mary Sharratt, The Dark Lady's Mask
Various, A Song of War
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

Monday, December 21, 2015

Books Read in 2015

January

Megan Mayhew Bergman, Almost Famous Women
Laura Foley, Joy Street
Mavis Gallant, From the Fifteenth District
Alex Myers, Revolutionary

February

Anna Freeman, The Fair Fight
Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover

March

Seth Greenland, I Regret Everything
Jan Moran, Scent of Triumph [DNF]
David Morrell, Inspector of the Dead

April

C.W. Gortner, Mademoiselle Chanel

May

Elizabeth Berg, The Dream Lover [DNF]
Rashad Harrison, The Abduction of Smith and Smith
Mary Slaight, The Antigone Poems
Donna Thorland, Mistress Firebrand

June

Michelle Diener, Dark Horse
Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl
Paula McLain, Circling the Sun
Kris Waldherr, The Lover’s Path

July

Nalo Hopkinson, Falling in Love with Hominids
Nuala O’Connor, Miss Emily
Chantal Thomas, The Exchange of Princesses [DNF]
P. G. Wodehouse, The Code of Woosters [audiobook]

August

Marci Jefferson, Enchantress of Paris
Naomi J. Williams, Landfalls

September

Karen Abbott, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Jeannine Atkins, Little Woman in Blue
Laura Purcell, Mistress of the Court

October

Kate Beaton, Step Aside, Pops
Andrea Berthot, The Heartless City
Lynn Cullen, Twain's End

November

Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant
Gregory Maguire, After Alice
Various, Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Volume 2)
Various, A Year of Ravens

December

Sophie Perinot, Médicis Daughter
Stephanie Thornton, The Conqueror's Wife

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Book Review: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

Title: The Fair Fight
Author: Anna Freeman

First line: Some folks call the prize-ring a nursery for vice.

Review: I loved this book. I just loved it. The awesome is just one layer upon another: the plot is fascinating, the characters intriguing, the writing spectacular, the author's story amazing.

Shamefully, I didn't pen my thoughts back in February when I finished this, because I was just back to work from maternity leave and feeling even more sleep-lost and fuzzy-minded than I am now. But ten months later, I'm still obsessed with this book, and I hope I can convey enough of what was brilliant to entice some of you to read it.

Set in the late 1700s, the novel is split between three narrators: Ruth, daughter of a prostitute, who gains notoriety and fame as a female boxer; Charlotte, the pox-scarred wife of Ruth's patron, who takes inspiration from Ruth to find her own rough freedom; and George, friend to Charlotte's husband, and complicated third in an unusual love triangle. The voice of each character is distinct and bold, although my love is devoted to Ruth and Charlotte more than George (who is deliciously slimy at times!).

This is a book about boxing, which isn't not my thing, but don't let that scare you from this uh-mah-zing story. While Freeman doesn't soft pedal the violence of boxing, she also doesn't make it overly grotesque or gruesome; I was uncomfortable but not grossed out, and the disquieting savagery was done artfully, grounded in the story and the characters.

And the characters. I was, and am, obsessed with Ruth and Charlotte. The two women couldn't be more unalike (and occasionally, more unlikable!) but they're captivating, and reveal the rough and polished possibilities for 18th century women in London.

Freeman's narrative style is bold and full of personality (read the first chapter here), and it makes this novel so gripping. There's a rough immediacy that holds up to the crazy plot and the intense characters, but it doesn't overwhelm or detract from the story. 
I could not tell anymore how much of the screaming came from my own mouth. I was borne up on the swell of it, I was the sound. We were all howling together, the poor and the quality, the boxing girl and the beast inside my breast. If she was a madwoman, then we were all of us with her, and I had never felt such savage elation, nor known that it existed.
This is a stunning debut novel, the kind of book that makes me so envious my teeth hurt, and it's a top ten read of 2015. (It might be among the ten best reads since I've started blogging, even!)

It comes out in paperback in April 2016, I believe, and you must, must get it. I'll be buying myself a copy!

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / UK / Boxing / Prostitution / Sibling Relationships / Marriage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Riverhead Books (4/14/2015)
Source: Edelweiss
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, NetGalley & Edelweiss

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: The Conqueror's Wife by Stephanie Thornton

Title: The Conqueror's Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great
Author: Stephanie Thornton

First line: Alexander deemed himself a god, the mythic descendant of Achilles and the son of Zeus, and entire nations fell to their knees in ecstatic worship of him.

Review: I loved this book. LOVED. Another top ten read for 2015.

To be fair, I anticipated I'd love it, having adored Thornton's previous novels (Daughter of the Gods and The Secret History). But this one, featuring those closest to Alexander the Great, really blew me away.

Unlike her previous novels about Theodora and Hatshepsut, it is the figures in Alexander's life who tell his story (and despite the title, more than wives, too): Hephaestion, Alexander's best friend and lover; Thessalonike, his adoring younger sister; Drypetis, the fierce daughter of Persia's King Darius; and Roxana, the scrappy Persian who becomes Alexander's first wife. Through these four points-of-view, we see a kind of Alexander as they know him: inspiring and loving, angry and vengeful, passionate and curious.

Each of the four narrators is wildly different in voice and tone (although almost all have a flirty/combative relationship with Hephaestion, interestingly enough!). And each figure has a different kind of relationship with Alexander, which makes for an intriguing and more well-rounded portrait. Thessalonike adores her brother while Drypetis wishes Alexander dead. Roxana is determined to keep Alexander captivated while Hephaestion has a long, deep, and complicated one with this mercurial man. While I never fell in love with Alexander, I was taken with each of these four narrators, mesmerized by their lives and their fierce determination to live.

As with Thornton's other novels, the historical details are wonderfully rendered, rich when needed and otherwise unobtrusive. The meat of this book is the relationships these narrators have with Alexander and each other, but the landscapes around them are neatly evoked and echo, in some ways, the tumultuous emotion racing between our four narrators.

Speaking of emotions, I can't finish this review without remarking on Thornton's handling of Alexander's and Hephaestion's bisexuality.
After a battle, you bed a woman to forget what has happened. You bed a man because he knows exactly what you're trying to forget. (p131)
She does so beautifully; it is normalized and remarked upon in equal part, treated in a manner that feels historically accurate without injuring bi/queer readers. There's nothing explicit, either hetero or homosexual, however, for those who aren't in the mood for a bodice ripper (and in fact, the sex here is a far cry from romance, really; a sobering reminder of how bodies are used and traded).

Thornton became an author I automatically buy after her first book; this one just confirmed her as one of my favorite historical novelists. No matter the era or figure, she manages to pluck figures from past and breath into them personality, life, and emotion. This is escapism at its best: treat yourself, and the other hist fic fans if your life, with this one!

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient / 4th Century / Greece / Middle East / Alexander the Great / Romantic Relationships / Historical Figures Fictionalized / LGBTQ)
Publisher/Publication Date: NAL (12/1/2015)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Conqueror's Wife to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends Jan 1. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.


Monday, December 14, 2015

Interview with Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield

I just loved A Year of Ravens, a fabulous collaborative novel about the story of Boudicca and her rebellion against the Romans. It was gutting and gruesome, and had me in tears often. I've a soft spot for Boudicca as well as the stories of women forgotten by history, and A Year of Ravens handles both beautifully.

I'm so delighted to share my interview with the seven authors of A Year of Ravens -- Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield -- who reveal some fun tidbits about the process of creating this novel, working together, and what surprised them.


Where did the book's title come from? (And who came up with it?)

STEPHANIE: Kate, Eliza and I were at Panera Bread trying to think of a title that would go with our previous release, ‘A Day of Fire’ and I stumbled onto ‘A Year of Ravens.’ I loved it so much that I then wouldn’t let them change it to anything else.

ELIZA: Stephanie’s genius took this one!

KATE: I suck at titles, so I let Stephanie do the heavy lifting there . . .

SIMON: I came to the project with the title already in place. I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s fantastic. Stephanie at her best.

RUSSELL: Like Simon, I came in when it was already titled.

How did each author land on their character/POV? Was it challenging to knit so many different points of view into a single narrative?

RUTH: I knew I was writing the aftermath of the Roman outrage and we’d seen the royal viewpoint in Stephanie’s story, so I chose a slave as a complete contrast. It was great to have her react with characters who were actually created by other people, instead of projections from inside my own head!

STEPHANIE: I was supposed to write from the POV of the Roman procurator’s wife, Valeria. Meanwhile, Vicky Alvear Shecter was supposed to be writing about Cartimandua, but the Queen of the Brigantes was talking to me instead. So we all swapped!

ELIZA: I really really really wanted to tell the story of the daughters, because their history has quite literally never been written other than a few lines here and there which give us virtually nothing about them, other than they were raped. No names. No stories. I wanted to give them a voice, and I really hope I did them justice. I don’t think it was challenging to knit our POVs--it was fun to see my girls come alive in the other stories!

KATE: I picked a warrior so I had eyes in that final shield wall, and gave him the high-born Valeria as a slave so he had someone to argue with - they were Rome vs. Britanniaon a one-on-one level. I loved their arguments.

VICKY: When I realized we didn’t have a Druid in the story, I became obsessed by the idea.

SIMON: I was assigned the point of view of the Iceni in my brief for the story to help balance the various viewpoints. I might have screwed that up a little by giving him a somewhat Roman past, but it all worked out in the end.

RUSSELL: I think they thought “Russ is known for violence and swearing… and so are his books. Let’s give him the Army bit.” No, Agricola’s tale was on the slate when I was invited and I asked if I could do that one.

How was research for this novel handled? Were all participating authors armchair experts in this era?

RUTH: I have a longstanding obsession with Roman Britain - maybe because I went to school in Colchester, the first town Boudica’s army burned down. I just think I’m lucky to have found a job where this is seen as vaguely normal. Or at least, useful.

STEPHANIE: Because of my previous work, I’m particularly versed in Roman client kingship. But the ancient Britons were a total cipher to me so I was so grateful to pull in writers from the UK! We all helped each other, and Ruth was our wonderfully picky fact checker.

ELIZA: I know quite a bit about “Celtic” culture, but I stuck to the others’ expertise as far as Roman. There were several books I used for research: Boudica by Vanessa Collingridge; Boudicca’s Rebellion by Nic Fields and Peter Dennis; The World of the Celts by Simon James.

KATE: I pretty much lived inside my “Daily Life Among the Celts” tomes.

VICKY: I used this opportunity to purchase a number of scholarly books on the Druids because there is so much fantasy around the religion. There are actually only a handful of beliefs that have some kind of ancient mention, so I concentrated on those.

SIMON: I’ve been writing about the Romans and the Celts for the past decade, and my education is in classical history. Though my previous subject is the Republic vs. Gaul, the slip from there to Empire vs. Britons is remarkably easy.

RUSSELL: I just make it all up and blame wikipedia and Ruth Downie when it’s wrong. I didn’t think the time-travelling Ninja attack from the helicopter was a bridge too far, but I was voted down on that one. That and some very handy online resources - I knew a little about the Roman Army to start with, so it was really the events that I had to get right.

Was anyone surprised by something that happened in their own writing -- a scene, a character, or a sentence?

RUTH: I knew that writing from the point of view of a character who’d survived sexual violence was going to be challenging but I hadn’t expected it to have quite the emotional impact it had on me.

STEPHANIE: I was taken by surprise when my Roman procurator, Decianus, turned out to have had a mother who committed suicide for honor. I blame Russ, whose story got me thinking in that direction.

ELIZA: I was surprised at how strong Keena became, because she started out so frail. It was exciting to watch both of my characters grow and reach their ultimate goals.

KATE: I knew I wanted my Celtic warrior and my Roman woman to develop a grudging respect for each other despite culture clash and the slavery issue, but I didn’t know if I could pull it off.

VICKY: I wanted to understand how individuals rationalize terrible violence and I was surprised by the moments of humanity that kept poking through and how each boy shoved it away, calling it a sign of weakness.

SIMON: I was surprised at how my principal character grew far beyond the bounds of my original plan. He was a three dimensional character anyway, but when the other authors added their thoughts and ideas to the mix, he became four dimensional at least. I love the finished Andecarus.

RUSSELL: I don’t know - I was surprised at how real one of the minor characters - Paulinus - became to me. I felt possessed when I was writing him, I could really see it all in my mind’s eye. Even when I sobered up.

*** *** ***

My thanks to the authors for their time and thoughtful answers, and to Amy at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for facilitating!

Check out other reviews and interviews via the blog tour page, which includes purchasing info as well.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Weekend reads and the guilt, oh, the guilt!...

I am so behind on reviews! I have about seven books to review, I think, not including the ones I'm currently reading, and I'm trying to avoid looking and the calendar and panicking. (It's okay for me to review 2015 reads in 2016, right???)

If there's been one theme to my blogging year this year, it's this: feeling behind. My sweet, bookish baby just captivates me, so if I'm not working, I'm with him. But I also think I'm still struggling with some postpartum depression, because I have a hard time sitting down and writing -- be it a blog post, book review, or even work on my novel. (NaNoWriMo was mixed -- I didn't "win" but I did manage nearly 11,000 words and maintained about three weeks of regular writing.)

I've decided to seriously scale back my blog expectations for 2016. So far, I haven't signed up for any book tours and I'm trying to keep from doing so. (I don't think I've posted a book tour review on time once this year.) I'm requesting stuff still from NetGalley and Edelweiss, but I plan to read only if it really catches my interest. I'm hoping to do more "free range" reading and broaden my reading horizons via #WeNeedDiverseBooks and Book Riot's Read Harder challenge.

And since I'm swimming in guilt, my weekend read is Christy English's How to Seduce a Scot, and it is just the fluffy, silly, sexy, and fun read I need. (But when will I review it, eeek?!?!?)

What are you reading this weekend?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Review: Médicis Daughter by Sophie Perinot

Title: Médicis Daughter
Author: Sophie Perinot

First line: In my dreams the birds are always black.

Review: The extent of my knowledge about Marguerite of Valois begins and ends with the sumptuous 1994 film starring Isabelle Adjani, but the drama of her marriage and the days following have stuck in my mind for more than a decade. I've been dying to get my hands on this book since learning of it, as I enjoyed Perinot's debut and was eager for her take on the infamous French royal and her notorious family.

I was rewarded with a stellar read, a top ten for 2015, and I have no doubt I'll be haunted by this one for a long while.

Opening in 1562, a decade before her marriage, the novel is narrated by Marguerite. A smart young woman who craves the love of her mother -- Catherine de Médicis -- Marguerite is powerless against her conniving, mercurial family. Her brothers love her, but their affection comes with an enormous price tag. Marguerite wrestles for what small power she can, among which is a love affair at a time when surrounded by very few who truly loved her for her. But that, like so much else, costs her, too, and the heartache, cruelty, and betrayal Marguerite experiences is presented in plain, unvarnished light.

As with her previous novel, Perinot doesn't smooth over the rougher aspects of life for women in this historical era nor does she tone down the drama of the Valois family: there's enough soap opera-y drama to make this fun, but everything is anchored by Marguerite's voice and character. She's a different woman at the end of the book than at the beginning, and her development felt authentic and real. Surrounded by some over-the-top personalities (like her mother, ohmygod, her mother!), Marguerite manages to hold her own despite her powerlessness and it makes her choices following her marriage even more staggering and stunning.

This novel has one of the most deliciously satisfying closes I've read in very long time. Although I yearned for more of Margot's years, the precise moment Perinot chose to end the book with had me both cackling with triumphant delight and sighing a small, teary sigh.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / France / Royal Intrigue / Valois / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Coming of Age / Mother-Daughter Relationships
Publisher/Publication Date: Thomas Dunne Books (12/2015)
Source: The author
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Monday, November 23, 2015

Book Review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

Title: After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire

First line: Were there a god in charge of story -- I mean one cut to Old Testament specifics, some hybrid of Zeus and Father Christmas -- such a creature, such a deity, might be looking down upon a day opening in Oxford, England, a bit past the half-way mark of the nineteenth century.

Review: I wanted to like this book so much. I've somehow never read Maguire before, despite loving retellings, and given the slavish devotion so many have to Wicked, figured I finally needed to hop on the Maguire bandwagon. This book, however, was a massive fail for me, and I'm not entirely sure I'm going to attempt Maguire again.

This take on Alice in Wonderland follows Ada, an awkward and ungraceful playmate of Alice's, who stumbles into Wonderland, as well as Alice's older sister Lydia, who stays in the equally confusing real world.

Ada's story line -- a long bumble through the Wonderland -- was agonizingly slow for me. Maguire spoofs on Carroll's classic, and after a handful of pages, it triggered in me the same impatience with the nonsensical world that the original does. Worse, it felt as if it were going nowhere -- just cameo after cameo from the classic -- and in the end, I'm still not sure what the purpose of Ada's story was.

Lydia's story line was more intriguing, and I wish she had claim to the entire novel. A 15-year-old girl, now mistress of her home after her mother's death, floats uncertainly in her home. Her father is hosting the famous Darwin and a handsome American man. She imagines a courtship between them, but is treated by her father and the household staff as a child, tasked with keeping an eye on her sister, and the American's ward, a freed slave child named Siam.

In Lydia's story, there's an exploration of Victorian life for women, that challenging place between child and adult, the scars of slavery, and the clash of faith and science. But those exciting themes are only briefly tackled in the last 30ish percent of the novel.

I think I was frustrated with this book because I also found Maguire's style to be clunky to the extreme:
To a deity lolling overhead on bolsters of zephyr, however, the city rises as if out of some underground sea, like Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, that fantasia about the submerged Breton cathedral rising once ever hundred years off the island of Ys. (Yes, Debusys is early twentieth century, but time means nothing to Himself.)

or bits like "sky could aspire to eternal bucholia" or "A vitality in the clouds suggested muscular air". I love me some tangled language but this felt so ornate and unnecessary.

Bottom-line: not a read for me, but maybe for others who love Maguire (and know what his style is like) and those who enjoy novels inspired by classic literature.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Victorian / Inspired By / Alice in Wonderland / Mythical Worlds / Slavery / Children)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow (10/27/15)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Friday, November 20, 2015

Book Review: A Year of Ravens

Title: A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion
Author: Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield

First line: We were both queens.

Review: If you've ever harbored the suspicion or opinion that historical fiction is a genre just of corsets, heaving bodies, and royal bedhopping, this book will change your opinion. If you know how rich, violent, and disturbing historical fiction can be, this book will make you cackle with delight.

Set in 60 AD, this episodic novel follows the rebellion of Boudica and the native peoples of the UK against the Romans. Despite the fact that this book is penned by seven authors -- each chapter follows a different point of view -- this book has a cohesive feel, and the absolutely gutting story of Boudica, her daughters, and the Romans fighting against her are presented in raw, hard, and unapologetic prose.

I loved this book for all the reasons I adore historical fiction: it illuminated a foreign era for me and each author created a vibrant human I couldn't help but relate to (even if I didn't want to!). The arc of the story is chronological, but the story is pushed along by each new character. Previous characters aren't forgotten, but each -- whether Briton or Roman -- are articulated so well, I actually found my loyalties waffling! (And I say this as an unabashed Boudica fangirl!)

The participating authors are fabulous, and the writing here is top notch. There's enormous emotion, cinematic battles, and darkly hilarious moments to punctuate the gut-punching sorrow. The characters are deliciously wide ranging -- from queens to servant girl, Druid priest to lowly Roman soldier -- and I loved that I found myself viewing this conflict from 360 degrees.

The brutality of this campaign is presented unapologetic detail, which meant I was gasping, wincing, and squinting my eyes closed more than once. It very nearly verged on too gruesome for me but I appreciated that -- there's nothing whitewashed about war in this era. As I said, the characters are so fully realized that each time I thought -- oh, I'm for the Britons -- I'd find myself melting in sympathy toward the Romans. (Well, maybe not sympathy, but you know...)

This is a fav read for 2015, and another knockout for the H Team (the loose collection of historical fiction authors who are penning collaborative novels together). I never thought I'd be so devoted to the collaborative novel, but I'm already impatiently awaiting their next endeavor!

Genre: Historical Fiction / Ancient Era / !st Century / UK / Boudica / Historical Figure Fictionalized / War / Royalty / Multi-Author)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knight Media LLC (11/13/15)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review: Castles, Customs, and Kings (Volume 2)

Title: Castles, Customs, and Kings: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors (Volume 2)
Author: Debra Brown and Sue Millard, eds.

First line: Perhaps you know the significance of the year 1066, or the gist of the English Civil War, or that Mary, Queen of Scots, lost her throne.

Review: This beefy volume of articles about British history, ranging from pre-Roman to 20th century, is drawn from the fabulous English Historical Fiction Authors blog.

I love books that come from blogs. At first blush, it seems counter-intuitive, buying a book with content from a free blog, but this volume proves how awesome the idea is.

At close to 600 pages, this book anthologizes a whole year's content from nearly fifty authors, compiling their intriguing blog posts in chronological order. It's a welcoming format: I can dip into and out at my leisure, and a book like this begs that kind of languid reading.

In her introduction, Brown writes this volume is meant to evoke "the soul of the past with personal stories and strange happenings", and it does just that. Each piece has a warm, conversational tone (so those expecting something deeply academic should look elsewhere). What I most enjoyed about these pieces is that they make up a love letter to the genre of historical fiction, as well as a behind-the-curtain expose of hard work and miraculous, plot-affirming surprises that bolster writers.

It is that tone, excited and nerdy, that hooked me and kept me paging through these pieces. Even for eras I'm not typically fascinated by, there were still essays that intrigued me (like Nancy Bilyeau's article on Mary Shipton, Tudor prophetess).

The group of participating authors is impressive; some of the names that I'm familiar with include Sandra Byrd, Anna Belfrage, Nancy Bilyeau, Patricia Bracewell, Stephanie Cowell, Christy English, and Deborah Swift. (You can see a complete list of participating authors at the blog.)

Fans of British historical fiction will want this book; it's a bit like the extras on a DVD, loaded with trivia that helped me have a better sense of life for the characters of many of the books I love to read. Keep bedside or even loaded on your smartphone for when you need a few minutes of reading (and be prepared to look up and see an hour or two has passed!).

Genre: Non-Fiction (History / UK / Medieval / Tudor / Stuart / Georgian / Victorian / 20th Century / Writers on Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Madison Street Publishing (9/30/15)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Little Woman in Blue by Jeannine Atkins

Title: Little Woman in Blue
Author: Jeannine Atkins

First line: May's nightgown brushed her feet as she and her sister climbed the hill behind their house.

Review: We are enormous Louisa May Alcott fans in my house -- so much so, my son's middle name is Alcott!

When I saw mention of this book, a novel about Louisa's sister Abigail May (or Amy in Little Women), I was consumed with need for it. I knew a little of May from our visits to Orchard House, and my wife and I tripped over an exhibit of May's art at the Concord Public Library by accident some years ago. But I never thought more about her; I just assumed the girl portrayed by Louisa was more or less that vain and silly.

Yeah, I'm the silly one.

I inhaled this novel in a matter of days. The May portrayed here is an ambitious young woman who wants more than her family expects; and worse, she's made to feel bad for wanting it all -- a husband, a family, an artistic career, money, a home. Teaching art to young women who do it out of obligation, May yearns to go to Europe to learn from the masters. Conservative New England mores combined with her family's poverty means she struggles for access to materials, classes, and inspiration yet the fierce hunger we see in Louisa's Jo (from Little Women) is just as urgent in May.

Atkins reveals a less appealing side to Louisa May Alcott, but she offers it with such respect for the Alcott family that I appreciated her unvarnished story. In Atkins' hands, Louisa's determination comes off callous and brusque, cruel even, and suddenly the bratty Amy I had written off most of my life seemed less selfish and more sympathetic.

In fact, May's life is rife with tragedy and full of unexpected encounters with the luminaries of her time. She makes it to Europe where, for a while, she has professional praise, income, and even love. For those unfamiliar with how her life proceeds, I'll not say more, but it reads like the best kind of novel, and I heaved a big, teary sigh at the end.

Atkins' writing style is lovely, mixing wonderfully evocative details with brisk dialogue, and I don't think one need be familiar with the Alcotts or the world of mid-19th century Concord to enjoy this story. It's a kind of coming-of-age story, an exploration of the obligations of family and the wishes of personal fulfillment. As a new mother trying to work on my novel, I appreciated the tension the Alcott women faced, from angry Marmee to impatient May, in trying to balance family life with vocation.

Fascinating and delightful, this is a marvelous novel for those who enjoy biographical fiction that focuses on figures less well-known. And of course, any fan of Little Women will want this one -- it'll invite a rereading of that classic with a new eye!

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Massachusetts / Louisa May Alcott / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Sisters / Artists)
Publisher/Publication Date: She Writes Press (9/2015)
Source: Publicist
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Readathon Mini Challenge: Cover Escape!

I'm so thrilled to be hosting a Readathon mini challenge this morning!

Bet it's not 40 degrees here!
It's a brisk 40-something degrees outside, and we're supposed to go camping tonight.

And while I do love some nature and all that, this endeavor is more my wife's speed than mine. I couldn't help but indulge in a little daydreaming as I cast my eye over my books, which gave me the idea for this challenge!

The Challenge

Dig through your shelves and share with us a book cover you'd like to escape into! Doesn't matter if the subject, plot, or genre isn't typically your thing; in this case, we're totally judging the book by its cover!

Leave a link to your Cover Escape (posted to your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram) so we can all oooh-and-aaah over your selection. 

The Prize

I'm thrilled to offer a book of choice from the Book Depository (up to $15) to one lucky participant, chosen randomly. This is open to any readathon-er that Book Depository delivers to and will end at 9am Eastern Sunday.

Share your Cover Escape!



Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekend reads and it's a long one...

I took today off to give myself a decadently long weekend, and to add extra luxury, have indulged in a brownie for breakfast. Feeling pretty great already...!

I'm working on some posts for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which takes place next weekend. I won't be able to participate, but I plan to cheerlead the heck out of folks who are. And of course, am slowly chipping away at the seemingly neverending pile of reviews I need to finish, le sigh. Although, victory, I did finally review Karen Abbott's marvelous Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.

My weekend read is Twain's End, Lynn Cullen's newest, a historical novel about Mark Twain's relationship with his secretary Isabel Lyon. After blessing her marriage to his business partner, he then wrote a 429-page screed accusing them of all kinds of dastardly things, slandering her publicly! Plus, there's some juicy details about an apparent love triangle that Helen Keller was involved in! Could there be a more perfect weekend read?

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Author: Karen Abbott

First line: In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year-old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her.

Review: My one word review: WOW.

This chunky non-fiction book about four women who worked undercover during the American Civil War made numerous top ten lists when it was released last year; it has a ringing endorsement from Erik Larson, among others. It reads like a novel, featuring women doing some jaw-dropping stuff, and renders the Civil War and the world of that era vibrantly.

I don't often read non-fiction -- too dry for me, and it takes me forever to finish -- but in this case, I finished reading this in about a month, and it was anything but dry.

Abbott details the adventures of four women who took a particularly active role in the Civil War: there's Belle Boyd, a teenager who decides to become a spy for the Confederacy and who does so with great panache; Emma Edmonds, a woman who disguises herself as Frank Thompson, and joins the Union army; Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a Confederate widow who ruins her reputation among the upper class in order to help her beloved Confederacy; and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist whose spy network includes her former slave Mary Bowser, a plant in the Jefferson Davis household.

Their stories are told chronologically, which further creates a novelistic feel to this book, and by focusing on women with such different aims and lives, plunges the reader deeply into battle, besieged cities, and jail (among other locales and challenges).

Through the lens of these four women, especially Emma Edmonds, we also learn about how the war was fought, especially by Union General George McClellan. I'm personally not keen on battlefield strategy and all that, but Abbott had me gripped -- helped, no doubt, by the drama of McClellan's choices. The gruesome reality of 19th century combat, too, was unshakably portrayed.

The most vibrant figure is Belle Boyd, the teenaged spy nicknamed the "Secesh Cleopatra"; her giant personality and firm conviction in herself bounces off the pages.

Belle could feel Eliza trembling beside her. The motion set her off and she too began shaking, their bodies meeting in quick and nearly imperceptible collisions. (p202)

If, like me, you thought how could she possibly know that?, the pages and pages of notes and resources cited attest to the wealth of sources Abbott consulted in the building of this book. It's breathtakingly detailed without being ponderous to read, and this book deserves the accolades it's gotten.

Whether you're a fan of the US Civil War or not, pick this up if you enjoy reading about women's lives, especially during conflict and war. The pluck, verve, and commitment shared by these women is inspiring, too, and their commitment toward their values forced me to reconsider my own opinions about the Civil War.

Genre: Non-Fiction (19th Century / US / American Civil War / Espionage / Combat /
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (9/8/15)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mistress of the Court by Laura Purcell

Title: Mistress of the Court
Author: Laura Purcell

First line: Pain cracked across the back of Henrietta's skull, filling her vision with white light.

Review: Purcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiction, and it kindled in me a renewed interest (and sympathy) for royal women.

In this book, Purcell tells the story of Henrietta Howard, courtier in the Hanover court of George II and Caroline. Trapped in a violent marriage, Henrietta moves her abusive, gambling husband to Germany in hopes of bettering their lives. Her obvious plight touches Caroline, and the two develop an intimate friendship of sorts.

So loyal is Henrietta that when asked by Caroline, she becomes the King's mistress. And from there, Henrietta is plunged into even more emotional tumult. What privilege and comfort she got from that romance was countered by the loss of her friendship with Caroline as well as access to her only child.

I was gripped by this novel from the first page. Despite the scandalous plot, it's a deeply melancholy novel -- so much loss, so much sacrifice -- and I loved that Purcell focused on the darkly pragmatic nature of royal mistresses. The point of view switches between Henrietta and Caroline (occasionally in the same paragraph, which was confusing!), allowing the rich, complicated relationship between these two women to come into full view. I liked and felt for both of them, two women battling the unfair power wielded by the men in their lives.

The characters are all vibrant and unforgettable. In some ways, Henrietta could be seen as a passive puppet ("...she had given and given of herself until she was nothing but a limp rag rung through a mangle." p 290) and yet, Purcell articulates such tender affection for her, I felt the same way. George I, Caroline's father-in-law, is a manipulative, villainous man I loathed -- fun, since in her Author's Note, Purcell comments that she wrote him from the view of George II and Caroline and plans to feature him in a future novel -- one I will undoubtedly get because I cannot wait to see how she makes me care for him!

The world of the Hanover court is also portrayed with evocative detail, small dashes of description that linger in my mind -- the mushrooms growing from the walls in the dank rooms of one palace, the glittering splendor of another -- as well as other tidbits about life in this time. (For a behind-the-curtain look at writing historical fiction, I recommend Purcell's blog post about wrestling with the historical stuff that readers think aren't historical!)

Moms will appreciate this endorsement for what it means, but this book was so good, I read it in bed (under my pillow, to keep from waking the baby!).

With this read, Purcell can count me a devoted fangirl. She does historical fiction beautifully, taking people and places foreign and unfamiliar, and rendering them warm, real, and approachable.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Royalty / UK / Mistress / Marriage / Motherhood / Domestic Violence)
Publisher/Publication Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd (8/4/2015)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

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GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of Mistress of the Court to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers; ends 10/9. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Weekend reads and not really reading...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words the last few weeks; I'm behind on responding, but am appreciative of your support and cheerleading (and reassurances I'm still a great blogger despite being behind on reviews!).

Am a bit gloomy on a brilliantly sunny Friday here in Boston --  I've got a vicious migraine (allergies, I suspect) -- but have a weekend alone with the baby as my wife is away taking a class.

Obviously, the best way to comfort myself over my inability/lack of time to read is by piling up my books and crafting an ambitious To Be Read pile.

Although I can't really stand to look at a screen, I'm starting Andrea Berthot's YA debut, The Heartless City, a novel that imagines the world following Dr. Jekyll's transformative discovery. Having read and enjoyed Hyde last year (another review long owed!), I'm eager for this one.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Weekend reads and falling seriously behind...


I'm sorry I've been so absent from this blog; as before, I wish I could claim crazy work success or non-stop reading, but mostly, I'm just tired. (Who isn't?!)

I've got about six reviews I need to write, including a few that are of top ten reads for this year, and I'm not sure why I'm so paralyzed about that. Perhaps because so much time has passed? Do you all have any tips for getting out of the review-writing funk?

I'm ambitiously juggling three current reads at the moment, but all three are so good I can't stop any of them to focus on one.

I'm more than half way through Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, which reads like a novel, it is so good; and about a third of the way through Little Woman in Blue, a novel about May Alcott (Amy from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women). Little Woman in Blue is responsible for a bout of out-loud laughter on my commute this morning. And I've just started Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend because I'm the last person on the planet to do so, and I suspect I'll be a huge fan.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Weekend reads and winding down...

Today is my last day of sabbatical!

I wish I could announce I finished the second draft of my novel, but I didn't; I wish I could brag I read a dozen books, but I think I managed two. Instead, I spent almost all my time with Unabridged Baby, and I'm so grateful for that. I'm going to miss this face when I return to the office on Monday!

I am looking forward to resuming my routines, however. My long commute is great for both reading and knitting, and there's an active craft group at my office -- which means I'll knit over lunch and breaks, too. (This is important as I've got a long queue of things to knit -- holiday presents, more items for the baby before he outgrows them, and a few things for myself!)

I'm still nursing a book hangover from Naomi J. Williams' amazing Landfalls (which I need to review, but for now, just imagine me squee-ing and flailing) but have started Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. I rarely read non-fiction but have had this one on my TBR since its release and I'm very excited to dig in now.

How has your summer gone? What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cover Reveal: America's First Daughter

I'm so excited for this release! Stephanie Dray, one of my favorite authors, has paired up with Laura Kamoie to pen a novel about Thomas Jefferson's daughter Patsy. I'm absolutely on pins-and-needles for this one as I love Colonial/Revolutionary-era historical fiction and I'm so curious to see how Dray and Kamoie deal with Jefferson's complicated legacy. Read on to learn more about the book and the authors, and be sure to enter the giveaway to receive early access to a review copy!

America’s First Daughter
By: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Releasing March 1st, 2016
William Morrow
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
 From her earliest days, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France. And it is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that she learns of her father’s liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age.
Patsy too has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé, William Short, a staunch abolitionist intent on a career in Europe. Heartbroken at having to decide between being William’s wife or a devoted daughter, she returns to Virginia with her father and marries a man of his choosing, raising eleven children of her own. 
Yet as family secrets come to light during her father’s presidency, Patsy must again decide how much she will sacrifice to protect his reputation, in the process defining not just Jefferson’s political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.


Pre-Order Links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo


STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling and award-nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. As STEPHANIE DRAVEN, she is a national bestselling author of paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

LAURA CROGHAN KAMOIE is a historian specializing in colonial and revolutionary America, Virginia history, and the history of slavery. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from The College of William and Mary and has published two historical monographs, including Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and the Virginia Gentry, 1700-1865 (University Press of Virginia, 2007). Laura is an Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy. In her fourteen years of college teaching, she has taught numerous graduate and undergraduate courses on colonial America, revolutionary America, African-American Slavery, as well as seminars on Thomas Jefferson.

As LAURA KAYE, she is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen titles in contemporary and paranormal romance. Her books have won numerous industry awards, including the EPIC eBook Award, the Golden Leaf award, the PRISM award, and the HOLT Medallion Award of Merit. She is a frequent panelist at national writing conferences and a frequent instructor of craft and social media workshops. Laura lives just outside the nation’s capital with her husband and two young daughters.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads



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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Enchantress of Paris by Marci Jefferson

Title: Enchantress of Paris
Author: Marci Jefferson

First line: Footmen threw open the front doors of my casa, my sanctum of peaceful exile in Madrid for nearly a decade, and a whiff of spices and the gleam of moonlight filled my front hall.

Review: I'd been dying to get my hands on this book solely because I adored Jefferson's debut novel, Girl on the Golden Coin. And while I loved that book, I think I might love this one more. It has another charming, convincing heroine whose voice sealed my adoration from the first page, evocative historical details, and a dramatic plot that made me race to the last page.

Set during the reign of the young Louis XIV, the titular enchantress is Marie Mancini, an Italian noblewoman and niece of the powerful Cardinal Mazarin. She and her beautiful sisters are better known as the Mazarinettes for their obedience to their ambitious uncle, who is the close personal adviser to King Louis.

Mazarin has no qualms about throwing his nieces into the king's arms to keep the monarch's attention, and Marie's older sister Olympia is Louis' current mistress. But Marie and Louis have an immediate, intense connection, and Mazarin doesn't hesitate to encourage Marie's relationship with Louis when Olympia becomes pregnant. But Mazarin doesn't count on the true passion between Marie and Louis, nor Marie's intense desire to free the young monarch from her uncle's clutches.

As with Jefferson's debut, it's the heroine that so seduces me, and in this case, Marie -- clever, smitten, and conflicted -- won me immediately. She's from an intensely ambitious family and has no delusions about the expectations of herself and her sisters, yet in Jefferson's hands, Marie manages to hold onto youthful wistfulness, optimism, and naivete.  I was so caught up in Marie's dream that found myself hoping Jefferson managed to change history to give Marie her happy ending.

There's a complicated swirl of plot surrounding Marie and Louis -- war with Spain, the Mancini's family connection to witchcraft and astrology, marriage contracts and other noble concerns -- and Jefferson manages to make these elements effortlessly connect without bogging down the story and narrative flow. And even with the strong romantic thread in the novel, Marie's story is really that of freedom -- from her uncle's tyranny, from imprisonment in a convent or a forced marriage -- and coming-of-age when one's value was assigned, not seen.

This is a Top Ten of 2015 read for me, and cinches my status as a Marci Jefferson fangirl. Francophiles and fans of royal hist fic, get this immediately! For anyone wanting a splashy summer read, enjoy this one on the beach (perhaps with a few macarons!).

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 17th Century / France / Louis XIV / Royalty / Court Intrigue / Romance)
Publisher/Publication Date: Thomas Dunne Books (8/4/2015)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Enchantress of Paris to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 8/14. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Book Release: Enchantress of Paris

My swoony review for this will come tomorrow but ohemgee, I just loved Marci Jefferson's newest historical novel, Enchantress of Paris. A delicious hist fic featuring a charming, captivating heroine -- Marie Mancini, mistress to the Sun King -- and loaded with fab details and dripping with drama, I hung on every word and prayed that somehow, Jefferson would change Marie's fate, I was that caught up in Marie's story. I'm thrilled to share this book release blast -- read on to learn more about this book and be sure to enter the giveaway!

02_Enchantress of ParisEnchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King's Court
by Marci Jefferson

Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press
Hardcover & eBook; 336 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

READ AN EXCERPT.

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Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION | INDIEBOUND | MACMILLAN

ADVANCE PRAISE
“Told with vivid historical detail and packed with court intrigue, this is sure to please fans of royal fiction.” — Library Journal

03_Marci JeffersonABOUT THE AUTHOR
Years after graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University, immersing herself in a Quality Assurance nursing career, and then having children, Marci realized she’d neglected her passion for history and writing. She began traveling, writing along the way, delving into various bits of history that caught her fancy. The plot for GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN evolved slowly after a trip to London, where she first learned about the Stuart royals. Marci is a member of the Historical Novel Society. She resides in the Midwest with her husband, making hair-bows for their daughter, trying not to step on their son’s Legos, and teaching a tiny Pacific Parrotlet to talk.

For more information visit Marci Jefferson’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

BOOK BLAST SCHEDULE

Tuesday, August 4
Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, August 5
Unshelfish
Beth's Book Nook Blog
Curling up by the Fire

Thursday, August 6
Book Lovers Paradise
History From a Woman's Perspective

Friday, August 7
100 Pages a Day
Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Saturday, August 8
Historical Readings & Reviews

Sunday, August 9
Book Nerd

Monday, August 10
Genre Queen

Tuesday, August 11
A Chick Who Reads
To Read, Or Not to Read

Wednesday, August 12
A Literary Vacation
So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, August 13
Broken Teepee
CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, August 14
A Book Geek
The Lit Bitch

Saturday, August 15
The Maiden's Court

Sunday, August 16
Ageless Pages Reviews

Monday, August 17
Luxury Reading
Boom Baby Reviews

Tuesday, August 18
A Bookish Affair

GIVEAWAY

To enter to win a signed copy of Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King's Court, please enter via the GLEAM form below.

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on August 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enchantress of Paris


04_Enchantress of Paris_Book Blast Banner_FINAL

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Winners!

Oops, super late with this -- have had a bonkers weekend with a baby that is just flat out refusing to sleep. It's made my wife and I all kinds of sleepy and slow! Without further ado...

The winner of The Visitors is ... Jane S.!

The winner of The Wild Girl is ... Lindsey S.!

Congrats to the winners! Folks have until the end of day Wednesday to respond to my email; after that, I'll draw new winners. Be sure to check out my open giveaway -- more coming!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Weekend reads and enjoying free time...

Somehow, I'm at the end of my second week of sabbatical, and I don't have much to show for it, writing-wise. However, I've enjoyed spending days with Unabridged Baby, doing the things I can't when I'm working and I'm grateful for this time.

I have gotten in scads of reading, though, which is just lovely. Still behind on reviews, but this, as with so much else, is my new normal.

I'm reading Marci Jefferson's Enchantress of Paris: A Novel of the Sun King’s Court, which is just gripping. French court drama, lesser known historical figures, witchcraft, and a not-typically-gorgeous heroine. I'm super in love.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor

Title: Miss Emily
Author: Nuala O’Connor / Nuala Ní Chonchúir

First line: July and there is crisis.

Review: This lovely, slender novel imagines a friendship between poet Emily Dickinson and their Irish maid Ada Concannon.

I was immediately taken with this book, as both Ada and Emily are charming and captivating. The chapters alternate between their viewpoints, as the story of their friendship and the dramas around them unfold. 

O'Connor's Emily grabbed me immediately, an intellectually curious woman happy to be in her home, moved by the wilds of nature and the passions of the heart. She hovers in the kitchen for sweets and bakes as a way to shower love on those around her; she composes in secret and doles out her poems carefully.

Ada is a willing audience, a teenager fresh from Ireland, bemused by Emily. The Dickinsons are a kind family to work for, and she thrives in their home, yet heartache still hits her. It is Emily who rallies to defend her and who helps her gain some measure of happiness despite tragedy. O'Connor puts away any imaginary idea of Emily Dickinson as a pallid, passive ghost hiding in the rafters; the complicated and curious woman emerges from her pages, immediate and intriguing.

It goes without saying that a novel featuring Emily Dickinson should read poetically; in this case, O'Connor manages lyrical prose that doesn't emulate Dickinson's yet still offers the passion and boldness the poet captured in her spare lines. My copy is heavily dog-eared from the various quotes that caught me up and gave me pause, like
I look at her words, one by one. Love. Thee. Breath. Smiles. Tears. It pleases me that each word is solitary, a loner. Side by side, their staccato nature blends with others, but in the end they stand alone. Each word is a fence post -- upright, demanding, shrill -- but each one holds the fence erect, and as such, is indispensable. (p119)
or
From now on I shall be candle-white. Dove-, bread-, swan-, shroud-, ice-, extraordinary-white. I shall be blanched, bleached and bloodless to look at; my very whiteness will be my mark. But inside, of course, I will roar and soar and flash with color. (p121)

The more I write or talk about this book, the greater my affection for it grows, and it is one of my top ten reads for 2015.

I think this would make a fabulous book club read -- zippy yet bursting with wonderful discussion topics -- as well as those who love historical fiction featuring well-known historical figures. And of course, fans of Irish fiction and Irish authors must get this one!

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Massachusetts / Irish Immigrants / Emily Dickinson / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Women Writers / Friendship)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Books (7/14/15)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Miss Emily to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 7/31. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.