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2017 #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Reading Challenge

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I totally bombed this challenge last year, but I love the idea of it so much, I'm determined to try again this year.

The premise is super simple: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.

While my personal library is no longer as massive as it once was, it's still pretty sizable, and worse, I've kind of become a splurge purchaser of e-books when they're on sale, so that TBR is huuuuuge...

I'm going to set a goal of reading 5 of my own books. Another goal I hope I end up busting!

Books Read

2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is my favorite challenge probably because it's the only one I'm pretty much guaranteed to "beat", although I realize that's a lame reason to be excited for it.

I've decided I'm going to actually challenge myself this year by combining it with a few other challenges -- #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and/or Read Diverse Books -- so I'm going to have to do a little work. Yay?

I'm aiming for Medieval - 15 books as I'm not entirely sure if I've gotten my reading mojo back. Here's hoping I beat it, though!

Books Read

Laurie Lico Albanese, Stolen Beauty
Kristy Cambron, The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Meredith Duran, A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
Heidi Heilig, The Ship Beyond Time
Sarah Gailey, River of Teeth
Crystal King, Feast of Sorrow
Catherine Magia, The Fisherman's Bride
David Morrell, Ruler of the Night
Sarah Perry, The Essex Serpent
Kate Quinn, The Alice Network
Sarah Schmidt, See What I Have Done
Naomi J. W…

Read Diverse 2017

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In 2016, I tried to be more intentional in reading authors of color, and I felt pretty impressed with myself -- but the number is still low compared to my overall reading.

This year, I'd like to do even better, so I'm really excited by the Read Diverse 2017 Reading Challenge.

Eligible books: Books written by people of color or Native/Indigenous Peoples. Books by or about people with disabilities (physical, neurodiversity, etc.)Books with LGBTQIA protagonists or about LGBTQIA issues *#ownvoices books are highly encouraged*

I'm hoping that at least half of my reading in 2017 will be for this challenge -- I'm especially excited about finding historical fiction that works for this!

Books Read
Heidi Heilig, The Ship Beyond Time
Balli Kaur Jaswal, Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows
Zadie Smith, Swing Time

Wordless Wednesday, November 16

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Turning to everything for comfort right now: books (Cherie Priest's Maplecroft at the moment), knitting, tarot, attempts at meditation, sugar, carbs, and caffeine, and even some writing.

(I'm so bad at this wordless thing, aren't I?)

What are you reading right now?

Review: BarbaraGrace Upcycled Journal, Portfolio, and Affirmation Cards

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Earlier this fall I was approached by Barbara Grace, a recycled/upcycled journal and stationary shop, to review some of their offerings.

Being a journal junkie, I couldn't say no, and I'm delighted to introduce folks to this charming company. I was sent their recycled leather folder, a book journal, and the water-themed affirmation cards for review. I loved everything, and I'm excited to squee about them, especially because everything is affordable in addition to being cute!

Book Journal: Barbara Grace takes old books, spiral binds them, then adds blank paper between some of the original pages to create an inventive and unique journal. I'm in love with these journals -- what book geek wouldn't be? -- and I was delighted to receive an old geography guide turned journal. (I majored in geography as an undergrad.)

Each journal is 100 pages, with blank paper rather than lined (my preference). I'm really torn between using this as my next diary or making it my 2017 bull…

Weekend reads and busy times as usual

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I'm sort of all over the place for reads this weekend; have started a couple of novels but nothing is sticking at the moment.

Reads include Kate Howard's The Ornatrix, Marie Benedict's The Other Einstein, and Josi S. Kilpack's The Lady of the Lakes: The True Love Story of Sir Walter Scott. (And of course, as seen from the other photo, another read is more Unabridged Toddler's tastes. I can only blame myself -- I got the book because he's been so delighted by his own toots. Le sigh.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Cover Reveal: Donna Russo Morin's The Competition

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COVER REVEAL! THE COMPETITION: Da Vinci’s Disciples Book Two! Ready (willing and eager) to see the cover of the much-anticipated second book in the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy? Well, we hope so, because here it is (be sure to read to the end of the post for an extra special bonus!).

But before we get to the gorgeous cover, here’s what the author has to say about the next book in this thrilling trilogy and its cover:
“I knew I wanted the second book in this trilogy to be a little more personal, get into the lives of these courageous women, and da Vinci himself, a bit more deeply. Oh, they are still daring to go where women had never gone before in the Renaissance, and they put everything on the line for the love of their art—their marriages, their family relationships, even their lives—to do it, to bring their work out into the open, no matter the consequence. Another form of art is explored through their eyes, through their hands. But in THE COMPETITION, I’ve pulled back more of the…

Teaser Tuesday, November 1

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Late for Halloween, but perfect for All Saints' Day, my teaser for today's Teaser Tuesday comes from Cherie Priest's newest, The Family Plot, a can-they-survive-sleeping-in-a-haunted-house story, and it's wonderfully fun so far.

My teaser is from the first page -- the opening, basically -- and the last line tickled me so much I had to share.
The owner and manager of Music City Salvage was every inch a goddamn professional, but he couldn't prove it by his office -- which was littered with rusting light fixtures, crumbling bricks and broken statuary, old books covered in mildew, stray tools that should've been packed a way, and a thousand assorted items that he was absolutely going to restore to life or toss one of these days when he got the time. His office was the company lint trap, and it was no one's fault but his own. (p11) What are you reading right now? Any good teasers to share? [Note: I can't tell if Teaser Tuesday is a thing anymore -- seems lik…

Winner!

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Belatedly...a giveaway winner announcement!

The winner of Dido's Crown is ... Ulrika F.!

Congrats! There are no more giveaways at the moment, but a few more coming up in the next few weeks!

Weekend reads and recovering slowly

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We have been a plague house for weeks, and I'm finally feeling human again (ish -- I've got a kidney infection so I'm miserable in a different way!). Sadly, Unabridged Toddler has gotten the virus, so I anticipate lots of cuddling and kids books in my future.

I'm working my way through Jessa Crispin's essay-ish memoir-ish book, The Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries. It's a little bit like a blog or diary, with lots of bookish nerdiness and crazy international travel. Lots of vicarious living for me. Stalled out on my fiction reading: my work book club selected a book I've already read, and I'm not just hooked by any of the ARCs floating around me.

What are you reading this weekend?

Interview with the authors of A Song of War

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The historical author collaborative called the H Team released their newest, A Song of War, a fantastically emotional, violent, and human look at the Trojan War. (My review!) I'm delighted to share my interview with authors Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield. (You'll never guess what the working title of this book was!) And be sure to check out some of the other blogs on the tour for a giveaway!

How did you all decide which characters/POVs to write? Did any of you end up swapping or changing?

Simon: That seemed to just kind of fall into place. I think that everyone who joined the project already had either a specific character or event they wanted to cover. I know for me as a mainly Roman writer, Aeneas was an obvious choice.

Christian: I always wanted to write Achilles. I think I begged. I hope I wasn't too effusive. :) But as I looked at the project, and thought about how much and h…

Book Review: A Song of War by Various

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Title:A Song of War
Author: Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Stephanie Thornton, SJA Turney, and Russell Whitfield

First line: Shall I sing to you of Troy?

Review: It is no secret that I'm a huge fan of the writing collective known as the H Team -- a group of authors who have produced three collaborative historical novels, the first being A Day of Fire and the second being A Year of Ravens. This offering is their third, and it's their meatiest, bloodiest, and most emotional yet.

The fall of Troy takes place over a decade, and the authors of this collection manage to cover the scope of the conflict without losing tension and drama. They took a story that I always perceived as being rather male-heavy, combat-heavy, and honor-heavy, and presented it as a deeply emotional, psychological, and human tale, one told through the viewpoints of five men and four women, and I was really moved and surprised as I read.

In their telling, the collective decide…

Author Interview: Julie K. Rose

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Last week I reviewed Julie K. Rose's Dido's Crown, her 1930s historical novel set in Tunisia. It's an action-filled yet emotional story of three friends who find themselves embroiled in a dark, complicated conspiracy that touches on their experiences in World War I and their other relationships. (Check out my review for the international giveaway.)

I'm thrilled to share my interview with Julie about this book!

Was Dido's Crown the original title of your book?

Yes, most definitely — once I decided to finally give it a title. Forever and ever, I just referred to the book as "Mary". But when the concept of Dido's Crown in the book became clear, the title couldn't be anything else.

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

There's a scene toward the end of the book that I didn't know was coming. When I realized what was going to happen, I put off writing it for days. I won't say much…

Book Review: Dido’s Crown by Julie K. Rose

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Title:Dido’s Crown
Author: Julie K. Rose

First line: Everything in the ancient port town in Bizerte dazzled: the white stuccoed buildings, the shimmering golden sand, the bleached sails of the dhows, the shocking turquoise of the Mediterranean.

Review: I read Rose's previous novel, Oleanna, about four years ago, and I still think about it. So it probably goes without saying that I've been on pins and needles for her next release.

This book couldn't be any more different than Oleanna, but it's just as enjoyable.  The elements in Oleanna that I loved are present in Dido's Crown: a strong sense of place, wonderfully deep relationships between the characters, and a heroine who is both classically "strong" and also delightfully human. (She realizes she's drooled in her sleep at one point!)

Set in 1930s Tunisia, the novel follows a handful of British academics who, through their service in World War I, have become embroiled in a complicated espionage case from…

Weekend reads and chilly times...

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It's been a crazy week in a crazy busy month. The flowers pictured were a thank you from my staff group after our retreat this week. It was wonderful to see all my colleagues in person and rejuvenating to my work, and the flowers were just icing on an already delicious cake.

The orange folder you see peeking out from the corner contains notes from my Novel Generator classes. I can't believe it, but I'm one of 14 novelists who are in this program, which is designed to help writers finish a first draft in nine months. I just finished up the second session last week, and I've already learned so much.

I'm returning to my novel idea from my 2013 sabbatical, the historical novel set during the pre-Civil War years known as Bleeding Kansas. It's a novel that daunts me so I'm really hopeful this course will help me learn craft as well as hone in on the kind of research I still need. (The overwhelming research and deep themes are partially why I abandoned my horrid …

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title:The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead

First line: The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Review: This novel, a new Oprah pick, imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal railroad. Our heroine Cora escapes on it with another slave, Caesar, and they travel through the south in hopes on making it up north to freedom.

Though a real railroad, it doesn't offer a direct route to freedom: each passenger must choose a route and hope the station at the end is open. Cora and Caesar find themselves first in "liberal" South Carolina, but paradise is tainted (perhaps my favorite chapter, brilliantly recasting actual history). From there, Cora lands in places worse and less worse as she travels the rail line.

While the majority of the novel is in Cora's point-of-view, about a third of the novel follows Ridgeway, the slave catcher pursuing Cora -- fueled by his lingering fury at not catching Cora's mother decades earlier. Ther…

Teaser Tuesday, September 20

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Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books And A Beat.

I'm currently reading Anne Boileau's historical novel about Martin Luther's wife, Katharina Luther: Nun, Rebel, Wife.

This teaser is from the start of the novel, as a pregnant Katharina, a former nun married to a former monk, faces intense derision from the townsfolk.
I longed to return to the security and anonymity of my life in the convent. Or to my time with the Cranachs, when I was just one of the fugitive nuns, of no great import; I could go about my business without anyone taking any notice. But when I married Martin I became famous, like him; many people respected me because they knew and liked us both; but others were afraid of me, even hostile, and no longer honest. So that Friday morning in April I felt all the doors closing upon me. I felt trapped from without by hostility and malevolence, and from within by the child growing in my belly, a child which some say is an evil thing, the Anti…

Mailbox Monday, Sept 19

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Since I've seriously scaled back on my reviews (and then, frankly, stopped doing pretty much any not associated with a tour, le sigh!), I've not got gotten as many unsolicited copies any more. It bums me out from a blogger perspective, in that it's one big indication that I'm not as active here as I should be, but on the other hand, I'm grateful I don't have to deal with the clutter of books I probably won't read.

I'm still a bit free with my requests for e-book ARCs, however, and I have been chewing through a handful of those this year. Here are some recent arrivals on this Mailbox Monday. What have you gotten? Any of these appeal to you?

Print Copies

Whitney Taylor, Definitions of Indefinable Things Elsa Hart, Jade Dragon Mountain
Ebook Copies



Kate Howard, The Ornatrix Sara Flannery Murphy, The Possessions Laurie Notaro, Crossing the Horizon


Aprilynne Pike, Glitter John Pipkin, The Blind Astronomer's Daughter Jason Porath, Rejected Princesses: Tale…

Giveaway Winner!

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Late...but better late than never, right?

The winner of The Dark Lady's Mask is ... Joel N.!

Congrats! I've got a few more giveaways coming up (including an international one!), so be sure to check my blog this week and next. Hope everyone has been having a lovely weekend!

Book Review: Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Title:Without a Summer
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

First line: Jane, Lady Vincent could never be considered a beauty, but possessed of a loving husband and admirable talent, had lived thirty years in the world with only a few events to cause her any true distress or vexation.

Review: This is the third book in Kowal's Glamourist series, a series of historical fantasies set during the English Regency, following glamourists Jane and her husband Vincent. (Here are my reviews for the first book and the second.)

After their tumultuous run in with Napoleon's forces while in Belgium, Jane and Vincent are back in the UK with Jane's family. Commissioned by an Irish Catholic family to do some glamour, Jane and Vincent find themselves becoming embroiled in a political plot against the coldmongers, who are being blamed for the unseasonably cold weather that summer.

Kowal picks up some of the emotional threads from the previous book, most notably Jane's sister Melody's moodiness…

Bloggiesta To Do; or, getting stuff done

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I was just bemoaning on Twitter that I don't know how to get back into reviewing when someone suggested Bloggiesta, the quarterly marathon housekeeping blogging event to help bloggers do the stuff that keeps a blog spiffy and sharp. I always mean to participate, and never seem to pay attention to the dates, so I'm grateful the universe made me whine online at just the right time!

In looking at the list of books I still need to review, I realized if I actually did them all now, I'd have a review to post every weekday for a month. (!) It's ridiculous -- especially as most of the un-reviewed books are five star squeefests -- they deserve some love!

Anyway, here's hoping doing some blog work with the support/pressure of others doing the same will be motivation. Lots of folks advised me to try doing minireviews, so I'm going to aim for that as well -- better say a little something than a lot of nothing, right??

My to-do for this fall's Bloggiesta, which runs th…

Interview with Mary Sharratt

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I recently read, and luuuuurved, Mary Sharratt's historical The Dark Lady's Mask, a biographical novel about Elizabethan poet Aemlia Lanier. I'm thrilled to share this interview with Ms. Sharratt. She talks about this book as well as her past books, and introduces me to the word "powerfrau" (!). Read on to learn more!

Was The Dark Lady's Mask the original title of your book?

Yes, although in the beginning, I was debating whether to call it THE DARK LADY’S MASK or THE DARK LADY’S MASQUE after the court masques that were the only venues in England at that time in which women could act upon the stage—because they were wearing masks! I opted for THE DARK LADY’S MASK. Concealment and revelation form a major theme in the book.

As you were writing The Dark Lady's Mask, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Aemilia’s husband, Alfonse Lanier, surprised me.

This was not a match made in heaven. When Aemilia discovered herself pregnant with t…

Book Review: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

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Title:The Dark Lady's Mask
Author: Mary Sharratt

First line: The hunger to know her destiny enflamed Aemilia's heart, driving her to Billingsgate on a scorching afternoon.

Review:  Aemilia Lanier is credited as one of the first Englishwomen to publish their poetry with the intention of profit.

The daughter of one of Queen Elizabeth's Italian court musicians, Aemilia received a fabulously deep education at the hands of two noblewomen, becoming well-versed in Greek and Latin, as well as other contemporary languages. Through her wit and beauty, she becomes mistress to Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain before an accidental pregnancy sends her into a miserable arranged marriage.

Happiness, an escape from her life, and a moderate income are found, however, in her collaboration with a poet, William Shakespeare. From friends, to lovers, to seeming enemies, their words bind them together, and both find inspiration in their failed loved affair -- yet Shakespeare, as a man, has far more…

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Title:Ghost Talkers
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal

First line: "The Germans were flanking us at Delville Wood when I died."

Review: This book, as I squeed on Twitter, shattered my expectations -- and my heart.

Set during World War I, the novel follows the British Army's Spirit Corps, a group of mediums who take the reports of soldiers killed on the front. They have an edge, as the campaigns of Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle -- plants for the British government -- have made the world think spiritualism was bunk.

But with the guidance of a West Indian woman, Helen, soldiers are "programmed" to want to report in before they pass on, and the Spirit Corps -- thought to be merely a morale boosting team -- hold continuous, hours-long seances to gather this precious intel from the newly dead.

Our heroine is Ginger Stuyvensant, an American heiress engaged to British officer Ben Harford. She's committed to the Spirit Corps, the other mediums and the ones in their …