Friday, December 30, 2016

2017 #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Reading Challenge

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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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

Kristy Cambron, The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Meredith Duran, A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
Heidi Heilig, The Ship Beyond Time
Crystal King, Feast of Sorrow
David Morrell, Ruler of the Night

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Read Diverse 2017

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:
  1. Books written by people of color or Native/Indigenous Peoples. 
  2. Books by or about people with disabilities (physical, neurodiversity, etc.)
  3. 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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wordless Wednesday, November 16

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?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: BarbaraGrace Upcycled Journal, Portfolio, and Affirmation Cards

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 bullet journal -- just having to resist the urge to horde it!

I'm especially excited about being introduced to Barbara Grace because they repurpose children's books into journals, too, and I'm already daydreaming of the day I get Unabridged Toddler his first diary. (Probably when he's Unabridged Kid, but a girl can dream!)

Leather File Folder: Made of recycled leather, this file folder was the biggest surprise for me as I didn't really think I needed a fancy folder -- but it's become a handy tool for me at work. I'm always shuffling between meetings with a pile of papers, and I love that I've got something chic and unique to keep everything neat. The folders have a smooth inner lining so nothing catches and the simple metal pin closure is smart and effective. The leather is firm but not hard; I suspect it'll soften with use without getting floppy, and the color is wonderfully bold.

Affirmation Cards: These affirmation cards have been an unexpected but welcome gift during the stressful last few weeks, and I've found myself turning to them almost every morning.

Printed on matte stock, the colors and photos are bright and soothing, and it's been lovely to sip my coffee and decide which view I want on my desk. The pack comes with some suggestions for use, too, for those who aren't sure what they'd do with a set. I've either browsed the cards to see what "calls" or have randomly selected, and either way, it's been a lovely little focusing ritual.

If you're looking for unique stationary items, consider BarbaraGrace -- their offerings are one-of-a-kind and very affordable.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Weekend reads and busy times as usual

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?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cover Reveal: Donna Russo Morin's The Competition


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 layers of their lives and the secrets they may hold. Love bursts to fulfillment, desire is ignited, disastrous illnesses change lives, and familial condemnations are shattered. All set amidst the glory that is Florence during the Renaissance.

These women are bold; there can be no doubt. But they are elegant women and this cover, like the first, captures that elegance to perfection. It is the seamless companion to the first, and they look dazzling together.”
Ready to see the cover? Not just yet. Here’s the official description first:

A commission to paint a fresco in the church of Santo Spirito is about to be announced and Florence’s countless artists each seek the fame and glory this lucrative contract will provide. Viviana, a noblewoman freed from a terrible marriage, and now able to pursue her artistic passions, sees a potential life-altering opportunity for herself and her fellow artists. The women first speak to Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, and finally, they submit a bid for the right to paint it. And they win. The very public commission belongs to them.

But with the victory comes a powerful cost. The church will not stand for women painting, especially not in a house of worship. The city is not ready to consider women in positions of power, and in Florence, artists wield tremendous power. Even the women themselves are hesitant; the attention they will bring up) on themselves will disrupt their families, and even put them in physical danger.

All the while, Viviana grows closer to Sansone, her soldier lover, who is bringing to her a joy that she never knew with her deceased husband. And fellow-artist Isabetta has a flame reignited, sparked by Lorenzo himself. 

Power and passion collide in this sumptuous historical novel of shattering limitations, one brushstroke at a time.

THE COMPETITION: Da Vinci’s Disciples Book Two goes on sale April 25, 2017. Pre-order a copy here.

Add it to your Goodreads shelf!

Now, are you ready to see the cover?


Are you sure?

Here it is!


Do you love it?!

Haven’t read the first book yet? Now’s your chance at a special reduced price.

For the next SEVEN days (beginning November 2 until November 9!), the Kindle version of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY IS ONLY $.99…that’s a $7 savings!

Get your copy now!

Read the first critically acclaimed book, fall in love with these daring women, and get ready to fight beside them for the right to be who they truly want to be in THE COMPETITION.

“Russo Morin’s elegant command of language and composition left me breathless, but the story itself, with its flawless depiction of power, corruption, defiance, intrigue, and retribution makes Portrait of a Conspiracy an absolute must read.” Flashlight Commentary

“...a page-turner unlike any historical novel, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition...a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.”

“This riveting book is filled with art, assassinations, retribution, and a sisterhood of fascinating women who inspire as well as entertain.”
—Stephanie Dray, NYT Bestselling author of AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER

“In PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY, Russo Morin's prose is as sharp as a Medici dagger...Thwarting danger, finding love, and creating masterpieces, [these women] remind us just how powerful the bonds of womanhood can be.”
—Marci Jefferson, author of THE ENCHANTRESS OF PARIS

“A 15th-century Florence of exquisite art, sensual passion and sudden, remorseless violence comes vividly to life in Donna Russo Morin's new novel.”
—Nancy Bilyeau, author of THE CROWN

“In PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY, Russo Morin's rich detailing transports the reader to the heart of Renaissance Italy from the first page.”
—Heather Webb, author of BECOMING JOSEPHINE

“Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and a young Leonardo da Vinci all have their part to play in this delicious, heart-pounding tale.”
—Kate Quinn, author of THE EMPRESS OF ROME SAGA

03_donna-russo-morinAbout the Author

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at; friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Teaser Tuesday, November 1

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 like the blog that originally started it isn't doing it any more? Anyone know for sure?]

Saturday, October 29, 2016


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!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Weekend reads and recovering slowly

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?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Interview with the authors of A Song of War

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 how often war is romanticized, I realized I wanted to show war from an outsider's eyes. I think Briseis usually gets short shrift in faction, and I've always loved the legend on the isle of Lesvos that Sappho was descended from Briseis.

Stephanie: I briefly considered writing from the point of view of Polyxena, one of Priam’s youngest children, but then I saw Cassandra’s name on the list. I was a little intimidated because I knew exactly how I wanted to portray the famous seer, but wasn’t sure I was up to the challenge. She’s definitely the most unique narrator I’ve ever written!

Kate: The Iliad’s cast is so huge, there were more than enough characters to pick from. We all beelined for our favorites, and since everyone had different favorites, we never really had to arm-wrestle. I wanted Andromache from the start because she’s always been my favorite survivor of the Trojan War . . . and Hellenus because he could be an Everyman in this cast of mighty heroes.

Vicky: There was a bit of adjustment on my end. I originally wanted to write Patroklus and Achilles but Chris Cameron had a vision for tackling it, so we did a little maneuvering. It was a good thing too, because Chris’s retelling is brilliant in so many ways. Russell wanted Agamemnon and by the time the dust cleared, Odysseus was really the only one left for me. It was a good thing I didn’t stop to think it because I probably would have been too intimidated to volunteer to write him otherwise. But everyone’s fresh and exciting characterizations really helped as.

Did anyone use food, music, scents, or that kind of thing to evoke the mood as they wrote?

Libbie: I always like to use as many sensory experiences as I can in all my writing. I find it’s the best way to draw readers into the scene, the action, and into the POV character himself/herself.

Simon: I always write to music, and have a very eclectic taste. For scenes of epic bloodletting little for me beats crashing Scandinavian metal, while for quiet, thoughtful, introspective moments, Pink Floyd is my go to band. Good job I never added AC/DC’s ‘Big Balls’ to my playlist, or "A Song of War" could have been a very different book.

Christian: I always write to music; in this case, to the soundtrack from 'La Grande Balletza'. And I'm a method writer; I eat the food and try and do some of the things... never driven a chariot, though, but I have driven some carts :)

Stephanie: For a while I was contemplating some hands-on research regarding how to best preserve eyeballs, which really would have been a mood-setter. Fortunately for my husband and daughter, I decided to forego all that in lieu of some online research that’s probably landed me on every government watch list I wasn’t already on.

Kate: I did listen to the “Troy” soundtrack, just for kicks. Skipping the Josh Groban pop song stuck on the end, which I think of as Homer vs. American Idol (Homer lost).

Russ: I have a massive collection of film soundtracks and these are required listening for anything that I write. I’ve actually got a bootleg copy of the rejected “Troy” soundtrack which I think is miles better than the one they used in the end. Aside from that, there’s one I kept listening to for Agamemnon’s melancholic bits; “Host of Seraphim” by “Dead Can Dance” – it’s a really haunting piece of music. I’m not sure that anyone used food for inspiration, but I have it on good authority that everyone ended up drinking vast quantities of wine.

Was anyone surprised by something--a character’s response, a scene, etc.--as they were writing?

Simon: Like the group in general, I wanted to portray what has come down to us as a fantastic, legendary tale in explicable, realistic terms. I expected to struggle a great deal with doing that to Aeneas’ tale, given how often he encounters Gods, magic and ghosts. What really surprised me in my tale was how seamlessly and easily all the weirdness of epic Greece can be otherwise explained if you slip into the mindset of the character. Oh, and Christian Cameron, who is quite the most knowledgeable man I’ve ever met when it comes to Greece, surprised me several times with fascinating and obscure tidbits of history.

Vicky: Researching Odysseus, I was shocked to discover that the ancients were really ambivalent about him! There were many ancient observers who disliked his penchant for trickery and outsmarting the competition rather than outfighting them. Then I discovered that Homer often paired Diomedes and Odysseus together and that Diomedes often got the credit for their joint successes. It helped me understand Odysseus’ frustration at being both relied upon to come up with creative solutions, while also being disparaged for them.

Russ: Chris Cameron threw me a curveball when he did his story from Bresies’s point of view and not Achilles himself. I loved how she saw Achilles and the little character tics he gave this great warrior (the laugh in particular). For my part, I have to say that Agamemnon was really tough at first because he’s portrayed in virtually every telling of the tale as a colossal tool. To be fair, he’s a colossal tool in my story too, but I really wanted to find the thing that made him tic – I mean, no one ever gets up in the morning plotting how evil they can be for the sake of it. For me it was all about how he (as he sees it) was forced to sacrifice the daughter he loved coupled with endless, grinding, grubby siege where all their notions of honour go out the window. Achilles is a pain in his arse – I imagined that this would be kind of like an elite special forces operator trying tell a 5 star general how to run the war. It’s not like Agamemnon can stand up to Achilles in a fight, but he believes Achilles has no grasp of grand strategy. Trouble is… grand strategy is intensely boring to bronze age superheroes who just want to go out, slay and come back with loads of booty in time for wine, singing and bragging about how great they are.

Christian: I was surprised by the intensity of my Briseis's contempt for the war she was watching. I'm a boy's own writer! Is this what I really think about war? I remember a friend's mum when I was kid; an African American lady who had marched with Rev Martin Luther King in Selma. She was watching two southern universities play football on TV. Her daughter asked who was winning. 'I hope they both lose,' she replied. It was the tone of her contempt that stung me, and informed me; that gave me the tone for Briseis, I think... but I was still surprised.

Any hilarious bloopers that can be shared?

Libbie: Before we settled on an official title, we were using the working title “Commando Sex Raid.” We operated under that title for quite some time, so we were shooting serious notes and conversations back and forth to each other, all with “Commando Sex Raid” in the subject lines of our emails. I really hope nobody was out writing in a coffee shop or a similar public place, because the risk of an innocent bystander peeking over your shoulder and seeing you busily typing away in an email chain with THAT in the subject line is too mortifying to contemplate.

Vicky: I don’t know that there were bloopers per se, but I personally enjoyed the detailed conversations about the viscosity issues involved in the difficulties of preserving an eyeball!

Russ: None of us apart from Chris could spell “Phthia.”

Kate: Nope. I was reduced at one point to writing "Phthoweveryouf*ckingspellit."

Christian: I'll just limit myself to the 'Commando Sex Raid' note above. Splorted some coffee in context.

*** *** ***

My thanks to the members of the H Team for their thoughtful answers. Learn more about them:

CHRISTIAN CAMERON was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1962. He grew up in Rockport, Massachusetts, Iowa City, Iowa,Christian Cameron and Rochester, New York, where he attended McQuaid Jesuit High School and later graduated from the University of Rochester with a degree in history. After the longest undergraduate degree on record (1980-87), he joined the United States Navy, where he served as an intelligence officer and as a backseater in S-3 Vikings in the First Gulf War, in Somalia, and elsewhere. After a dozen years of service, he became a full time writer in 2000. He lives in Toronto (that’s Ontario, in Canada) with his wife Sarah and their daughter Beatrice, currently age four. And a half.

LIBBIE HAWKER was born in Rexburg, Idaho and divided her childhood between Eastern Idaho’s rural environs and the greater Seattle area. She presently lives in Seattle, but has also been a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah; Bellingham, Washington; and Tacoma, Washington. She loves to write about character and place, and is inspired by the bleak natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain region and by the fascinating history of the Puget Sound. After three years of trying to break into the publishing industry with her various books under two different pen names, Libbie finally turned her back on the mainstream publishing industry and embraced independent publishing. She now writes her self-published fiction full-time, and enjoys the fact that the writing career she always dreamed of having is fully under her own control.

KATE QUINN is a native of southern California. She attended Boston University, where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance detailing the early years of the infamous Borgia clan. All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate has succumbed to the blogging bug, and keeps a blog filled with trivia, pet peeves, and interesting facts about historical fiction. She and her husband now live in Maryland with two black dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the 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 award-winning biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. She is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta. The LA Times calls Cleopatra’s Moon, “magical” and “impressive.” Publisher’s Weekly said it was “fascinating” and “highly memorable.” The Wall Street Journal called it “absorbing.”

STEPHANIE THORNTON is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel. Her novels, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, and The Conqueror’s Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great, tell the stories of history’s forgotten women.

SJA TURNEY lives with his wife, son and daughter, and two (close approximations of) dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Marius’ Mules was his first full length novel. Being a fan of Roman history, SJA decided to combine his love of writing and love of the classical world. Marius’ Mules was followed two years later by Interregnum – an attempt to create a new fantasy story still with a heavy flavour of Rome.These have been followed by numerous sequels, with three books in the fantasy ‘Tales of the Empire’ series and five in the bestselling ‘Marius’ Mules’ one. 2013 has seen the first book in a 15th century trilogy – ‘The Thief’s Tale’ – and will also witness several side projects seeing the light of day.

RUSSELL WHITFIELD was born in Shepherds Bush in 1971. An only child, he was raised in Hounslow, West London, but has since escaped to Ham in Surrey. Gladiatrix was Russ’s first novel, published in 2008 by Myrmidon Books. The sequel, Roma Victrix, continues the adventures Lysandra, the Spartan gladiatrix, and a third book, Imperatrix, sees Lysandra stepping out of the arena and onto the field of battle.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Book Review: A Song of War by Various

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 decided to forgo the mythic, god-meddling basis for the conflict, and so everything that unfolds is due to human foible and folly: greed, envy, pride, selfishness, a mistaken sense of honor. Helen ends up their villain -- tough, calculating, determined to be free -- and even when she's unrepentant, I couldn't help but like her. (She is one of the many figures who isn't presented with her own POV piece, which I actually enjoyed. We none of us get to find out just what exactly she thinks and feels. Is she a monster? A tragic figure? Both!)

The inimitable Kate Quinn opens the collection beautifully, not only setting the stage for this horrific conflict, but introducing many of the key players through the eyes of her narrators, Trojans Andromache and Hellenus. To my delight, Quinn and co-author Stephanie Thornton, who pens Cassandra's chapter, decided to cast twins Cassandra and Hellenus as biracial, a small tweak I found very meaningful and greatly appreciated.

Cassandra has always been a favorite of mine, and I loved Thornton's take on the frustrated prophetess, a woman driven to madness when everyone ignores her.

Russell Whitfield's offering, from Agamemnon's point of view, lingers with me still as a particularly poignant and imaginative piece. Ostensibly a villain, Whitfield rather successful evoked in me some empathy and pity for the beleaguered king, and offered a humanizing look at why these warriors still pursued this seemingly futile war.

Christian Cameron and Libbie Hawker both presented female warriors in their pieces -- Cameron with Briseis, Achilles' war prize taken by Agamemnon; and Hawker with Penthislea, the Amazon warrior who captures Achilles' heart. I confess I'm one to gloss over fight scenes, but Cameron's chariot scene is so cinematic, it's breathtaking. In both cases, I was grateful to see women as soldiers in ways that felt authentic rather than intrusive or anachronistic.

Hawker also imagines Philoctetes, owner of Hercules' bow and Paris' killer, as a gay man, and in her author's note she writes about how important it was for her to present a gay character as a hero. This small change, like that of Hellenus and Cassandra, hardly alters the original story yet makes the reading of it so much more rich and interesting.

Odysseus -- who I suspect will be a fan favorite -- is charming throughout the entire book, and Vicky Alvear Shecter's chapter from his point of view is bitterly funny and achingly sad, and it sets up the tragic conclusion, written by SJA Turney, beautifully. Turney, and by extension his Aeneas, have the unenviable task of wrapping up all these disparate threads, and noble Aeneas proves perfect for the task.

Another knockout read, one that is more battle-oriented than I am normally drawn to, but stuffed full of delicious emotional drama and angst. I didn't want to linger with the conflict anymore, and yet I still felt intense loss leaving everyone, a credit to the authors for creating such wonderful, evocative figures.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Era / Iliad / Trojan War / Turkey / Greece)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knight Media, LLC (10/18/16)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Monday, October 10, 2016

Author Interview: Julie K. Rose

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 more for fear of spoilers, but I will say I cried my eyes out as I wrote it. That's never happened to me before.

Did you use any music, food, scents, or other inspiration to help you evoke setting as you were writing Dido's Crown?

I primarily used music to get me in the right mindset. I can only write to atmospheric music or soundtracks (I went on and on about it in this video) but I definitely used this soundtrack to get me into the Maghreb in the 1930s.
  • Tunisia Azaan (adhan)
  • "Ya habibi taala" by Asmahan
  • "Vingt Et Vingt" by Mireille
  • "Puisque Vous Partez En Voyage" by Mireille
  • "You're the Top" by Cole Porter (sung by Cole Porter!)
  • "Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind" by Ken "Snakehips" Johnson & His West Indian Dance Band
  • "The Sheik of Araby" by Ken "Snakehips" Johnson & His West Indian Dance Band
  • "Stompin' At the Savoy" by Chick Webb & His Orchestra
  • "Rock It for Me" by Chick Webb & His Orchestra
  • "You Showed Me the Way" by Chick Webb & His Orchestra
  • "Devoting My Time to You" by Chick Webb & His Orchestra
This playlist is available on Spotify

Read any good books recently?

YES. Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. Here's the blurb from Goodreads:
Landmarks is Robert Macfarlane's joyous meditation on words, landscape and the relationship between the two.

Words are grained into our landscapes, and landscapes are grained into our words. Landmarks is about the power of language to shape our sense of place. It is a field guide to the literature of nature, and a glossary containing thousands of remarkable words used in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales to describe land, nature and weather.
I absolutely loved his The Old Ways and this book is, if possible, even more wonderful. His writing is clever and beautiful and fiercely intelligent and startlingly passionate. Chapter Six, "The Tunnel of Swords and Axes", is in my top five chapters in any book of all time. It's an incredibly moving chapter, written with skill and love and precision.

I want to grab everyone I meet and tell them about this book and beg them to read it.

*** *** ***

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

Friday, October 7, 2016

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

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 over a decade ago. Will and Tom are reunited with their mentor's daughter, Mary, who accidentally become involved thanks to her duplicitous husband.

Mary, who has been trying to ignore her disastrous marriage by attending Grand Prix races and partying, is forced to face her own secrets but those of her family, too, all while trying to stay alive and one step ahead of those who want the small package she possesses.
How silly and small her life had been: petty jealousies and fast cars and tutoring scholars who didn't respect her, and lately (and frustratingly) who looked right through her. All the while, the truth of her life hovered beyond her vision, tangled and hidden. (p119)
The story opens rather explosively and moves at a brisk clip; between the locale, the plot's who-has-double-crossed-who? mysteries, and rather fierce women, I was reminded of Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and Raymond Chandler (but with modern sensibilities). Muslim and gay characters are fully realized in a way they weren't in '30s and '40s films and literature, and our femme fatales don't fall apart with one smoldering look from an alpha male.

This novel introduced me to the fascinating and creepy numbers station, AM radio broadcasts used by spies to send each other encrypted messages, and Rose uses their mysterious existence rather cleverly in this story.

There's an extensive glossary and a delightful, 12-page Author's Note with details and trivia about the history featured in this novel.

Armchair escape at its best, Dido's Crown is an exciting adventure story with surprisingly rich and deep emotional threads and glorious descriptions of exotic Tunisia. It's the kind of read that demands a weekend, because you won't want to stop. My only wish was that it was longer; I would have loved more of Mary and her circle, but what time we do have with them is wonderful.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1930s / 1910s / Tunisia / World War I / Espionage)
Publication Date: 9/29/2016
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer one paperback copy of Dido's Crown to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers; ends 10/21. See additional rules on my Giveaway page.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Weekend reads and chilly times...

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 first draft!)

My weekend read is Julie K. Rose's Dido's Crown, a historical novel set in 1930s Tunisia. It's an adventure novel against a war story, with bittersweet threads and a tough heroine who is seriously believable (at one point, she wakes up realizing she's drooled in her sleep. It's fabulous.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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. There are one-off chapters featuring other POVs (her mother's chapter -- ohemgee, that one killed me!) but Cora is so appealing, the chapters without her were the loneliest for me.

An incredibly readable literary novel. Touches of magical realism with flat out realism; imaginative smudging with the historical timeline, too. I was captivated until the last chapter; the end didn't do it for me, however. It felt incomplete. (I haven't read Gulliver's Travels, which I think this is modeled on; perhaps that's how it ends?)

Still, I'm torn about "enjoying" this one; I'm haunted by Kara Brown's Jezebel article "I'm So Damn Tired of Slave Movies":
" I’m tired of watching black people go through some of the worst pain in human history for entertainment, and I’m tired of white audiences falling over themselves to praise a film that has the courage and honesty to tell such a brutal story. When movies about slavery or, more broadly, other types of violence against black people are the only types of films regularly deemed “important” and “good” by white people, you wonder if white audiences are only capable of lauding a story where black people are subservient."
It's different, of course, from a film made by white folks, but I still wonder if I'm feeding that machine. Need to sit with this a little and figure out the thornier parts. But a good novel, an accessible one.

In this year of #blacklivesmatter, Whitehead articulates the various ways America allows black lives to matter -- they don't; or they do if they [spoiler]; or they do if they accept the word of God; or, if, if if...

From a third into the novel: " might think one's misfortunes distinct, but the true horror lay in their universality."

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Mid-19th Century / US South / Slavery / Underground Railroad)
Publisher/Publication Date: Doubleday (8/2/2016)
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Teaser Tuesday, September 20

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 Antichrist as foretold in Revelation. (p4)

What are you reading right now? Any teasers to share?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mailbox Monday, Sept 19

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

Ebook Copies

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

Aprilynne Pike, Glitter
Cherie Priest, The Family Plot

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Giveaway Winner!

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!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Book Review: Without a Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal

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 although the spoiler! from book two is only barely alluded to here, disappointingly.

I've never been so dedicated to a series that has been so uneven for me; in all honesty, I almost DNF'd this one as I stalled out about 3/4ths of the way through before rallying. I was mostly exhausted by the emotional development of the characters. Vince's brooding felt less Darcy-like and more flat out sulky; I noted in my initial thoughts that Jane out-and-out irritated me, although right now I can't recall why.

What was appealing in this story was the pointed inclusion of a person of color in the narrative, a tertiary character, but a notable one nonetheless. As Kowal discusses the importance of diversity in historical fiction, I appreciate her working to incorporate it in her works.

Another review that damns with faint praise, I know, and I don't know why I'm doing this to myself. It's not fair to Kowal, I suppose, since I know what the books are like -- and yet, I want so badly to be immersed in this world that I keep trying. (I will say that I liked the fourth book, Vanity and Valour, very much, so I'm glad I kept trying!)

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Regency / Magic / Marriage / Sisters / Political Intrigue / Class and Society)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (3/18/2014)
Source: My public library
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Monday, September 12, 2016

Bloggiesta To Do; or, getting stuff done

Just a few books needing reviews...
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 this Thursday through Sunday:
  • write three reviews
  • cross-post those reviews on GoodReads and Amazon
  • do one Bloggiesta mini challenge
  • change or fix one thing on your sidebar
  • change one thing on your layout and/or look
  • comment on other Bloggiesta partipants blogs
Any of you participating in Bloggiesta? Have any other tips for getting out of the not-reviewing rut?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Interview with Mary Sharratt

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!

Photo of Mary Sharratt, author
Author Mary Sharratt
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 the Lord Chamberlain’s child, her lover unceremoniously pensioned her off at £40 a year and married her off to Alfonse Lanier, an Anglo French court musician. This young man, some years younger than Aemilia, presumably married her for her money. The historical Aemilia complained bitterly about her husband to Simon Forman, her astrologer. She lamented that he wasted her money and treated her harshly.

In my novel, I struggled to find the right fictional treatment for Alfonse. I wanted to respect the historical record in portraying Aemilia’s despair and anger about her ill-starred marriage and yet reveal Alfonse as human and not a just a horrible husband. Nor did I want to depict Aemilia as an abused wife. So I gave her the upper hand with a “shrew’s” sharp tongue and witty repartee to keep her husband from getting the better of her. And then I found a way into Alfonse’s vulnerability that made him come alive for me.

Despite the unpromising beginning of their marriage, the historical Alfonso Lanier became his wife’s great champion. One of the few surviving copies of her book, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, was her husband’s gift to the Anglican Archbishop of Dublin. So Alfonso was actively publicizing and promoting his wife’s book, as though he took the greatest pride and delight in her literary accomplishment.

Your novels cover so many different eras and locales; what do you do to ground yourself in the setting of whatever your current project is?

With a combination of deep, immersive research and a kind of imaginative time travel. L.P. Hartley said it best: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.”

When writing a historical novel, I do my utmost to truly inhabit that other “country,” to steep myself in its worldview.

When writing ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, I listened over and over again to Hildegard’s music. I also made a special research trip to visit all the sites associated with Hildegard around Bingen on the Rhine.

With DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, it was a bit easier, because the searing story of the Pendle Witches took place almost literally in my backyard. I inhabit the same landscape as these women did. The ancestral memory in the land still whispers back the words of Mother Demdike, the cunning woman and healer accused of being the ringleader of the other so-called witches. I realized I had to write her story first person, in the local Lancashire dialect, something I found quite intimidating as an American expat. But once I surrendered the voice of the story to Mother Demdike, the pages just flowed and flowed. I felt I wasn’t making it up, just listening to her tell me her tale.

With my new novel in progress, ECSTASY: A NOVEL OF ALMA MAHLER, I made several research trips to Vienna, including an unforgettable visit to the Vienna Opera where Gustav Mahler once worked as director and chief conductor. In fact, I just returned yesterday from a tour of Alma and Gustav’s summer homes in Austria and South Tyrol in Northern Italy. Being physically present in their old haunts really helps me to feel their essence.

Research isn’t just about reading books to research the dry facts. It’s about visiting historic locations and soaking up the vibes. I find that if I keep immersing myself in my characters’ day-to-day experience, the voice of their story will rise by itself.

Do you have a favorite heroine from your published works?

That’s a tough one because I lived inside the skin of all my heroine’s, but Hildegard of Bingen was the ultimate powerfrau.

Her parents offered her up to monastic life as a child oblate. She was bricked inside an anchorite’s cell, condemned, as it were, to a life of silence and absolute submission. And yet she triumphed to become a visionary abbess and polymath. She composed an entire corpus of sacred music and wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as theology, cosmology, botany, medicine, linguistics, and human sexuality, a prodigious intellectual outpouring that was unprecedented for a 12th-century woman. She wrote the first known description of the female orgasm. And she extoled the virtues of beer drinking, saying it was most wholesome and pleasing to God. What’s not to love? I can’t imagine a stronger woman. Whenever I find myself in a quandary, I ask myself, “What would Hildegard do?”

Read any good books recently?

Elena Ferrante’s epic novel, The Story of a New Name, completely swept me away. It was so powerful. A truly searing coming of age story set in mid-twentieth century Naples, Italy.

*** *** ***

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

Monday, August 22, 2016

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

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 opportunities to profit from his bitterness, and Aemilia yearns to both set the record straight and earn her own income.

I delighted in this novel from the first page. I confess I had intended to read this book with an eye toward craft, hoping to learn, but instead got lost every single time I opened it up. The word that keeps coming to me is "effortless", from the articulation of setting and era, the small details that make a scene blaze brightly, to the captivating way time passes without being obvious or distracting. And of course, the characters.

Her characters have depth and nuance, and as soon as I decided I could safely hate someone, Sharratt managed to make me feel sympathy and fondness for them. Aemilia anchors the story, a smart and creative woman who wants what so many of us want -- satisfaction in life and vocation -- and she faces the challenges of her life with admirable determination (and not a tiny bit of shocking, but delicious, ambition!). (And speaking of shocking, I looooved Sharratt's articulation of Shakespeare in this book. I'm not a fan of Shakespeare-as-a-love-interest but she sold me on this arc one million percent.) When there are so many "strong" female heroines who are depicted in rather flat ways, I found Sharratt's Aemilia -- and her friends -- to be truly strong and admirable. (And at risk of going on way too long, how much do I love that Sharratt included, and lingered on, Aemilia's wonderful friendships with other women?! I j'adore.)

In addition to the fabulous writing, I was especially delighted by Sharratt's imaginative exploration of what-if: what if some of Shakespeare's most beloved plays were co-written by someone? What if his most scathing, bitter, and unfortunate plot twists, characters, and sonnets were the result of real life insult and injury? What if his constant use of Italian locale in his works wasn't just an attempt at fashion, but the influence of a real life sojourn there? Her answers to these questions feel so real and possible, I'm letting myself imagine a world in which they happened!

I could go on and on, clearly. (And I did: have you seen the chapter dropcaps? So much detail in this book!) Bottom line: this is a marvelous read -- intense and fun in equal part -- and one of my top reads for 2016. So grateful for and appreciative of Sharratt bringing this intriguing figure to life in such a compelling, gripping way.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th Century / 17th Century / Aemilia Lanier / Historical Fiction Fictionalized / Poets / Shakespeare / Love Affair / Patronage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (4/19/2016)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of The Dark Lady's Mask to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only; giveaway closes 9/5. See additional rules on my Giveaway page.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Review: Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

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 circles with the slight "sight". But not everyone is as convinced that they are valuable, and when Ginger and Ben turned up tidbits and evidence of a spy, they face considerable resistance. Still, they fight for their colleagues, and seek out the truth where ever it leads them -- and it leads to much delicious heartbreak.

All the characters are wonderfully fun, even the tertiary ones, and the setting and world are describe in enough detail to be real without overwhelming the narrative. In particular, Kowal evokes all those elements that I appreciate in novels set during wartime conflict -- race and class and gender, bittersweet love and gutting loss -- as well as including original touches that transform this expected narrative into something more ethereal and unbelievably, more poignant.

Kowal is attentive, too, to the other details that matter, like the inclusion of a character of color as one of the main characters -- a touch I appreciate, as she acknowledges that people of color were in Europe, fighting, during World War I.

So obviously, a winning read for me -- definitely a top ten of 2016. I've been trying to pass along my physical ARCs but I think this is one I'll keep -- I see a reread in my future! (Also, this cover. Unfgh. J'adore it and it so captures the novel.)

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Fantasy / World War I / France / Spiritualism / Paranormal / Espionage)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (8/16/2016)
Source: Won from Based on a True Story
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Friday, August 12, 2016

Weekend reads and winding down...

Summer is winding down, which bums me out so very much. Unabridged Toddler is getting so big I can't stand it.

In addition to reading, I've applied to a 9 month writing class to help with the creation -- and completion -- of a novel, and I'm trying hard not to hope too much. Would be lovely to get to focus on my writing with such dedication and support. Cross your crossables for me, would you?

My weekend read is still Mary Sharratt's The Dark Lady's Mask (which, as you might be able to tell from this photo, is lacking a bookmark. Slippery thing escaped from the book when I pulled it out of my bag this morning!! Tres tragique!).

It's a great read, which is wonderful because I just finished listening to Imogen Robertson's fabulously fun The Paris Winter. (Nothing worse than being stuck after a good read with nothing good to follow it with!)

What are you reading this weekend?