Friday, September 19, 2014

TGIBF (Thank Goodness It's Book Friday) #1


(By Gobierno de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires from Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina (Torre de Babel) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons) - and a heads up as well to PicMonkey where even people as tech illiterate as I am can make a spiffy looking button!

I thought nothing could top yesterday, 3 print books coming by different means (pickup at post office, in the regular mail and by UPS.  Then I go out to the mail box just now and I have three packages shoved in there, and one of them looks like it has more than one book (or a really big one)!  Wanna join me as I unpack?

~~~oOo~~~


PACKAGE #1


(all bookcovers link to the GoodReads page)

SYNOPSIS

Baseball may be America's official favorite pastime, but for Martha Rose and her friends, quilting is far more fun. . .and a lot less dangerous.

A diamond brocade pattern is more quilter Martha Rose's style than a baseball diamond--especially when it comes to the new eyesore of a stadium ruining her lovely San Fernando Valley neighborhood. Martha doesn't know a bunt from a bundt cake, but when she stumbles upon the battered body of baseball coach Dax Martin, she doesn't need a scorecard to know it's foul play. LAPD homicide detective Arlo Beavers is convinced one of her neighbors is responsible. But Martha and her fellow quilters Lucy and Birdie soon discover a whole field of suspects who might have wanted to take the coach out of the game permanently. . .

I received a this book via Lori at Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours, and will have a review of this book on the blog on Friday, November 7, 2014.  If you have written a cozy mystery and are looking to get a blog tour, you really need to contact Lori.  Her blog sponsors and paid blog tours that she arranges allows her to tour cozy mysteries for FREE!  Lori also offers wonderful reviews and many, many book giveaways at her blog (also accessible through the link above).

~~~oOo~~~

PACKAGE #2


SYNOPSIS

A teenage drummer finds out what life is really like on tour with a rock band in this funny and bittersweet YA novel. For anyone who loved Almost Famous or This Is Spinal Tap.

After being dropped from one band, sixteen-year-old drummer Zach gets a chance to go on tour with a much better band. It feels like sweet redemption, but this is one rocky road trip—filled with jealousy, rivalries, and on-stage meltdowns.

Mark Parsons has written a fast-paced, feel-good novel about a boy finding his place in the world, in a band, and in the music. Zach is a character teens will stand up and cheer for as he lands the perfect gig, and the perfect girl.

I received this book in a giveaway hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.  Anyone who reviews that many books and loves caffeine as much as I do is on my A-list!  She recently celebrated her 3rd blogaversary!  HUZZAH!  If you don't already subscribe, you really need to go give CBR a look-see.

~~~oOo~~~

PACKAGE #3 - JACKPOT!!!


SYNOPSIS

Regency London knows Constance Tyrone as the conspicuously celibate founder of the St. Catherine Society, dedicated to helping poor women. One wet November evening a carriage mows down Constance outside her office. Curiously, while her corpse's one foot is bare, the other is shod in a clean satin slipper despite the muddy road. Why was a gentlewoman abroad in the night? And if she died under the wheel, whose hands bruised her neck and stole her monogrammed crucifix?

Dismissing the idea of an accident, Bow Street Runner John Chase forms an unlikely alliance with Penelope Wolfe, wife of the chief suspect. A young mother paying the price for an imprudent marriage, Penelope is eager to clear her husband Jeremy, a feckless portrait painter whose salacious drawings of the victim suggest an erotic interest. Chase's first task is to learn the identity of the mysterious benefactor who goes bail for Wolfe while Penelope traces the victim's last movements. Barrister Edward Buckler, intrigued, shakes off his habitual lethargy and joins their investigation.

As horrifying murders on the Ratcliffe Highway claim all London's attention, the trio discovers that it won't be easy to unravel the enigma of Constance Tyrone, a woman who revives the legend of martyred St. Catherine.

~~~oOo~~~


SYNOPSIS

In the spring of 1812, the Luddites are on the march, Lord Byron is taking London drawing rooms by storm, and Penelope Wolfe has become a lady's companion. When one of the footmen turns up dead with a knife to the heart, Penelope and Bow Street Runner John Chase are entangled in a web of family secrets and political conspiracy that stretches far beyond luxurious St. James's Square.

With the help of barrister Edward Buckler, Chase follows the trail of a mysterious mad woman caught peeping in the window at the corpse. Penelope struggles to fit into the fashionable world, encountering people who hide resentment and deceit under smooth smiles.

Set against a backdrop of millennial fervor with thousands awaiting the end of the world, BLOOD FOR BLOOD explores the simple truth that every drop of blood spilled will be avenged.

~~~oOo~~~


SYNOPSIS

Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by a firebrand calling himself Collatinus. 

Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. A mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain, her killer never punished. 

The seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press also seek to avenge N.D. s death and unmask her murderer. What did the journalist know that provoked his death? Her artist husband Jeremy is no reliable ally, so Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her while pursuing various lines of inquiry aimed at N.D. s murderer, a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor's missing wife. 

As they navigate the dark underbelly of Regency London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope s life and the lives of others."

~~~oOo~~~

I received Die I Will Not from the author via the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  If you like history and historical fiction, this is the go-to book tour company.  They have 13 tours running as if this writing, and more than 40 in the works.  And they are very helpful and professional.  If you are an author of a historical fiction, or enjoy reading such books, you really need to go check them out!

I will be posting a review of Die I Will Not on Monday, November 17th, 2014, to be followed on Wednesday, November 19th, 2014 by an interview with author S. K. Rizzolo!

So...FIVE (5) BOOKS in 1 day.  That's a new record for me!  WOOHOO! :O)

And because the organizer and participants ROCK, I'm also sharing this post at:


You probably get the drill by now.  Click on the button for warm, fuzzy, friendly creative GEMS!

BOOK REVIEW: Leaving Liberty by Virginia Carmichael



SYNOPSIS

At eighteen, Daisy McConnell left Liberty, Colorado and never looked back. The only bright spot in a childhood of neglect and loneliness was the town librarian, Marie. Now settled as a teacher in sunny Fresno, Daisy does her best to forget everything about Liberty including her drunk father, her MIA mother, and the town she hated with every beat of her heart.

Lane Bennett’s life as a small town cop is pretty close to perfect. He’s got his dog, a pretty date when he needs one, and plenty of time to fish on the weekends. No other place can compare to his hometown and he’s happy to devote his life to keeping the folks of Liberty safe. When Marie passes away, Lane knows one of the best parts about living in Liberty is gone, along with the old Carnegie library. It needs repairs the city can’t afford and the city managers won’t pay the new flood insurance. It’s too bad, but safety comes first.

When Daisy comes home for Marie’s funeral and hears the only safe place she knew as a child is going to close, she refuses to let it happen. She hatches a plan to save the old library, run the summer reading program, and keep Marie’s legacy alive.

She once vowed never to come home and he’s vowed never to leave. Daisy and Lane discover together that true love happens when you least expect it and you should never say never in Liberty.


~~~oOo~~~

REVIEW

I was born at a wide spot in the road in Pennsylvania (ok - they called it a town).  I spent most of the first ten years of my life in a small town in Maryland.  Then my family moved to Salt Lake City.  I had a child, got married (yes, in that order) and we moved to DFW. Eight years, and two children later, we all moved to rural Kentucky (near my husband's father's family).  This was, for me, the best move of my life.  So, I understand Daisy's desire to leave a small town, even though I'm on the opposite side of that fence.

Maybe it's because I'm older and a parent now, but I LOVE a good, clean romance, and Leaving Liberty provides that wonderfully.  I almost feel like a mother (or older female relative) to Daisy or Lane, delighted at seeing them getting to know each other and wanting to give them an affectionate shove once in a while to get past the awkward moments in a growing relationship.

And the other major story component (keeping the library going) is going to get a hearty thumbs up from me.  People in small towns have the same basic needs as do people in the largest cities.  We just don't have the same tax base, which leads to things like not being able to pay the flood insurance on the library.

I don't know if there are plans for a continuation of Daisy and Lane's story together, but I would love to read one!

~~~oOo~~~

AUTHOR INFORMATION



Virginia was born near the Rocky Mountains and although she has traveled around the world, the wilds of Colorado run in her veins. A big fan of the wide open sky and all four seasons, she believes in embracing the small moments of everyday life. A home schooling mom of six young children who rarely wear shoes, those moments usually involve a lot of noise, a lot of mess, or a whole bunch of warm cookies. Virginia holds degrees in Linguistics and Religious Studies from the University of Oregon. She lives with her habanero-eating husband, Crusberto, who is her polar opposite in all things except faith. They’ve learned to speak in short-hand code and look forward to the day they can actually finish a sentence. In the meantime, Virginia thanks God for the laughter and abundance of hugs that fill her day as she plots her next book.

~~~oOo~~~

(Disclosure:  I received an ecopy of "Leaving Liberty" from the author and publisher via Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

My Most Booknificent Thursday

Booknificent Thursdays

Ok. So I borrowed the link-up title for the title of my post.  You'll see why in a minute.  (And hopefully Tina will forgive me!) :O)  Click on the button right up there to go see more Booknificent Thursdays!

I GOT THREE BOOKS TODAY!

The first one was at the post office for pickup (I guess our mailbox wasn't big enough):
(Click the cover to see the GoodReads page)



Shana has always had a blind spot for boys. Can she trust the one who's right in front of her?


Sixteen-year-old Shana Wilde is officially on a Boy Moratorium. After a devastating breakup, she decides it's time to end the plague of Mr. Wrong, Wrong, and More Wrong.

Enter Quattro, the undeniably cute lacrosse player who slams into Shana one morning in Seattle. Sparks don't just fly; they ignite. And so does Shana's interest. Right as she's about to rethink her ban on boys, she receives crushing news: Her dad is going blind. Quattro is quickly forgotten, and Shana and her parents vow to make the most of the time her father has left to see. So they travel to Machu Picchu, and as they begin their trek, they run into none other than Quattro himself. But even as the trip unites them, Quattro pulls away mysteriously... Love and loss, humor and heartbreak collide in this new novel from acclaimed author Justina Chen.

(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of this book from booksparks Fall Reading Challenge 2014 - FRC2014, in exchange for my unbiased review.)

FYI - I will also review this book here on the blog, but due to a delivery bobble, the date is a little up in the air - probably the next week or so.

~~~oOo~~~
The second one came in the regular mail:


After her husband’s untimely demise, Marietta Gatti is banished from the family’s villa by her spiteful mother-in-law. She returns to her hometown of Venice and her only kin—a father she hasn’t spoken to since her forced marriage. Her hope of making amends is crushed when she learns she is too late, for he recently has died under suspicious circumstances. Grief-stricken, Marietta retraces her father’s last night only to discover someone may have wanted him dead—and she may be next. When the prime suspect turns out to be the father of the man she is falling in love with, Marietta risks her future happiness and her life to avenge the death of a man she once hated.

Elizabeth McKenna’s latest novel takes you back to the days of eighteenth century Carnival, where lovers meet discreetly, and masks make everyone equal.

(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of this book from Italy Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.)

FYI - I will review this title on this blog on Monday, November 3, 2014

~~~oOo~~~

The third book came via UPS:


Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche. Surrounded by pastures and thick forests of oak and pine, the plateau Vivarais lies in one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of Eastern France, cut off for long stretches of the winter by snow.

During the Second World War, the inhabitants of the area saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, freemasons, communists, downed Allied airmen and above all Jews. Many of these were children and babies, whose parents had been deported to the death camps in Poland. After the war, Le Chambon became the only village to be listed in its entirety in Yad Vashem's Dictionary of the Just.

Just why and how Le Chambon and its outlying parishes came to save so many people has never been fully told. Acclaimed biographer and historian Caroline Moorehead brings to life a story of outstanding courage and determination, and of what could be done when even a small group of people came together to oppose German rule. It is an extraordinary tale of silence and complicity. In a country infamous throughout the four years of occupation for the number of denunciations to the Gestapo of Jews, resisters and escaping prisoners of war, not one single inhabitant of Le Chambon ever broke silence. The story of Le Chambon is one of a village, bound together by a code of honour, born of centuries of religious oppression. And, though it took a conspiracy of silence by the entire population, it happened because of a small number of heroic individuals, many of them women, for whom saving those hunted by the Nazis became more important than their own lives.

(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my unbiased review.)

FYI - I will review Village of Secrets on this blog on Friday, October 17th, 2014.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW/INTERVIEW: Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy


SYNOPSIS

On a sultry summer afternoon, Paramedic Zoe Chambers responds to a call and finds a farmer’s body hanging from the rafters of his hay barn. What first appears to be a suicide quickly becomes something sinister when Zoe links the victim to a pair of deaths forty-five years earlier. Her attempts to wheedle information from her mother and stepfather hit a brick wall of deception, one that brings into question everything Zoe knows about her late father, who died in a car crash when she was eight. Or did he? 

Police Chief Pete Adams fears Zoe’s inquiries are setting her up for deeper heartbreak and putting her in danger. As Zoe and Pete inch closer to the truth, they discover that a missing gun links the crimes which span more than four decades. But the killer isn’t done. Two more Vance Township residents fall victim to the same gun, and when tragedy strikes too close to home, Zoe realizes her family is in the crosshairs.


~~~oOo~~~

REVIEW

Lost Legacy starts with Zoe Chambers in her ambulance on the way to a 'farm accident with probable DOA'.  The address bothers her.  Turns out to be a farm that was once in her mother's family.  I felt the anxiety and adrenaline that goes with a job like that.  And, faster that an EMT can strap you to a gurney, you are caught up in the unfolding drama.

Because the barn with the definitely DOA man is the same barn in which two of Zoe's great-uncles died nearly 50 years before.  These two men changed their wills shortly before their deaths to make the 'freshly-dead' (so to speak) man their beneficiary instead of Zoe's maternal grandmother.

Add to this mixture the facts that the drunk driver responsible for Zoe's father's fatal accident is the same one who found the new body; Zoe's mother and step-father have come to visit; and Zoe's will-they-ever-admit-it-to-each-other love interest's (who happens to be the Chief of Police in the township) father with Alzheimer's is staying with him temporarily.

When I read Lost Legacy, I stayed up wa-a-ay to late to finish it.  Stopping for something like sleep would be like being taken to the hospital in an ambulance and jumping out half-way.  There are as many twists, turns and motives as there are curves in a country backroad.  But, thanks to Dashofy's fluid writing, I never lost track.

So strap on your seat belt and put it in to high gear, because this book is a fantastic ride!

~~~oOo~~~

AUTHOR INFORMATION



Annette Dashofy has spent her entire life in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by cattle and horses. When she wasn’t roaming the family’s farm or playing in the barn, she could be found reading or writing. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service, dealing with everything from drunks passed out on the sidewalk to mangled bodies in car accidents. These days, she, her husband, and their two spoiled cats live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy.

Circle of Influence, the first of the Zoe Chambers mystery series, was published in March of this year.

Her short fiction, including a 2007 Derringer nominee, has appeared in Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, and Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology. Her latest short story, “Sweet Deadly Lies” appears in Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales (December 2013).

~~~oOo~~~

INTERVIEW

1.  Pennsylvania, huh?  Ever heard of Monaca? (I was born there.)

I know exactly where Monaca is! Beaver Valley Mall was one of my hangouts when I was a teen. I live right down Route 18 from there!

2.  How did you become an EMT?

I took Emergency Medical Training in West Virginia (just over the state line from where I live) and then had to take Pennsylvania’s test to certify here as well. A better question is WHY. I was an avid fan of the TV show Emergency! and was in love with Johnny Gage!

3.  How has that helped or hindered in your writing?

My time working on the ambulance was vital in creating the character of Zoe Chambers. It’s been a very long time (we won’t discuss HOW long) since I lived that life, so a great deal of the medical stuff has changed. I have to contact my “tech team” all the time to keep details accurate. But the mindset, the off-beat and sometimes off-color sense of humor required to do that work, and the internal reactions to that life remain the same.

4.  "Circle of Influence" was published in March of this year?  And now "Lost Legacy" is coming out 6 months later?  What's your secret?

I have no secret! I had “Circle of Influence” completed and “Lost Legacy” about ¾ of the way done at the time I signed with Henery Press! That’s the only reason we were able to release them bam, bam, bam. The THIRD Zoe Chambers mystery (Bridges Burned, scheduled for release in April 2015) has taken an entire year to complete, so I’m no speed writer by any means.

5.  What are three things on your writing bucket list?

Getting published was one. I’ve checked that one off. A second one was seeing the west. Prior to last year, I hadn’t been farther west than eastern Indiana, but I spent almost two weeks last June driving around Colorado and New Mexico. It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Except now I fully intend to go back! As for #3… I really would like to eventually see all 50 states.

6.  If you could invite any writer from history to your house for supper, whom would you ask and what would you serve?

Hmm. I think the writer “from history” I’d love to sit down and have dinner with—even though he isn’t a fiction author—would be the late Charles Kuralt. I dearly loved him and was devastated when he passed. I think he’s largely responsible for my love of the English language and the poetry of words. As for what I’d serve… That’s a tough one. I’m a vegetarian, but I think he would prefer a meal that reflects the region, so I might take him out to eat in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

7.  What is your dream vacation?

Going back to my bucket list, I’d really like to spend an entire month simply driving around the west, especially Wyoming and Montana. Throw in some horseback riding out there, and I’d be a happy girl.

8.  Have you written outside the mystery genre?

Years ago, I wrote what is now called fan fiction about Star Trek (sci-fi) and Alias Smith and Jones (western), and I have one never-to-be-published manuscript that probably fits into the romantic suspense genre. Otherwise, everything has been some form of mystery.

9.  Do you have a writing 'schedule' (so many hours per day, certain place, etc.)?

Maybe I should put “having a writing schedule” on my bucket list! On a perfect day (which is about 5 days a year, I think) I draft all morning and work on “other stuff” such as promotion, revising, reading in the afternoon. After supper, I’m brain dead. I have an office in my home where I do most of my writing, but my husband and I have a camp near the Youghiogheny River where we spend a lot of weekends. He fishes. I write. I’m more productive there than anywhere else. If I get stuck, I take a walk or a bike ride to clear my head and then jump right back in.

10.  What is your writer's 'raison d'etre'?

The reason I write is because I can’t NOT write. I’ve tried. The voices in my head get too loud if I don’t put the stuff down on paper. Just kidding. Sort of. Seriously, I enjoy entertaining people. If my books can provide a momentary escape to my readers, I’ve done my job.

Monday, September 15, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Stevenson's Treasure by Mark Wiederanders





SYNOPSIS

STEVENSON’S TREASURE is a fictional but carefully researched story about the year Robert Louis Stevenson leaves all that is safe in Scotland and journeys to California on what has to be one of the most romantic, ill-advised but successful quests a literary figure has ever made. Unknown and in shaky health, the 29-year-old writer in the summer of 1879 crosses the Atlantic by steamer and the American continent by rail. His objective is scandalous: to make an American art student he met in France, Fanny Osbourne, his wife despite the facts that she is already married (unhappily), has children and is ten years older than him. 

Showing up on her Monterey doorstep half-dead from several ailments, “Louis” nonetheless proposes marriage. Although her heart longs to say “yes,” she turns him down for a variety of practical reasons. Louis finds cheap lodgings nearby and vows to stay as long as it takes to overcome her objections. In their year-long struggle to somehow have a future together, Louis and Fanny must contend not just with his abysmal health but his inability to sell his writing, her handsome but philandering husband, a contentious teenage daughter and a skeptical ten-year-old son. From this mixture, stirred on a palette of landscapes that include France, Monterey, San Francisco, Calistoga and the Highlands of Scotland comes a more complete triumph than Stevenson had hoped for…


~~~oOo~~~

REVIEW

How often do we want to know more about the authors of our favorite books?  How about ALL THE TIME!  But what if we adore literary classics?  The authors are having their 200-400th birthday and it's rather unlikely that we'll be able to contact them directly.  Mr. Wiederanders has given readers the next best thing:  a carefully and extensively researched history of Robert Louis Stevenson with additional words that make the story leap off the page and involve you as you read.

At one point in the story, Fanny has refused Louis's offer of marriage, and he hikes into the mountains above Monterey, and nearly dies.  Part of me already knew he would eventually survive, as "Treasure Island" had yet to be written.  However, another part of me was practically yelling, "Take your time, don't push yourself so much,"  because I was worried about him!

Some people may have a problem with the fact that Fanny is married when she and "Louis" (as he was called) first meet, and remains so until well after Louis follows her to California.  For myself, I am not a fan of the "erotica" genre.  But the physical intimacy in "Stevenson's Treasure" is handled in a straight-forward and mature way, something which I appreciated immensely.

In my opinion, many of the best books entertain us, educate us, and inspire us to find out more about a subject or person.  "Stevenson's Treasure" is one such book.  If you love to read, it is grand entertainment.  If you fancy yourself a writer, it will provide excellent insight into a writer's life.

~~~oOo~~~

AUTHOR INFORMATION


Mark Wiederanders lives in Northern California and writes about the private lives of famous authors. His screenplay about William Shakespeare’s family, “Taming Judith” was a finalist in the Academy of Motion Pictures’ annual screenwriting competition and was optioned by a film company. The idea for his current novel, STEVENSON’S TREASURE hatched during a visit to Carmel, when Mark learned that Robert Louis Stevenson suffered a near-fatal collapse in 1879 while hiking nearby. What was the young, as-yet unknown Scottish writer doing so far from home?

To write the novel that resulted from this question, Mark studied hundreds of historical letters and visited sites near him in Monterey, San Francisco, and Calistoga. Then he followed Stevenson’s footsteps to Europe, lodging at the Stevenson home in Edinburgh followed by a week in the Highlands cottage where RLS wrote TREASURE ISLAND. Mark is also a research psychologist (Ph.D, University of Colorado) who has studied treatment programs for delinquents and the criminally insane. His interests include acting in community theater (recently a Neil Simon play), downhill skiing, golf, and spending time with his wife and three grown children.

For more information please visit Mark Wiederander’s website and blog. You can also find him on Facebook.

~~~oOo~~~

INTERVIEW

1.  What is the hardest job you've had?

My hardest and scariest job was working as a “red-light man” in a cannery in San Jose, CA.  When a can of peaches or apricots jammed in the machinery that moved the cans through steam-cookers, the machine shut down and a red light flashed.  I had to climb on top of the cooker which was as big as a train car, throw open its top, search through the hissing steam till I found the jam and hack the can out with a pole.  Meanwhile a foreman would pace and yell at me to hurry and fix the thing before hundreds of cans of fruit were overcooked and ruined.  Some of the old-timers bore scars from burns or had fingers missing, but I escaped with scrapes and singes.  I was glad to have this summer job, though – it paid much better than fast-food jobs and helped put me through college.

2.  Are fans of the authors about whom you write hyper-vigilant as to the details of your stories?

So far, the fans of the authors have been complimentary, perhaps because I love researching the details of historical characters to get them right.  To write Stevenson’s Treasure I located collections of the actual letters they wrote, scrapbooks they kept and clothes they wore.  I pored over sketches that Fanny Osbourne had drawn of her children, telegrams she had sent to her husband from France and a letter she had written to a friend about her son’s fatal illness.  Seeing her small, neat handwriting on black-edged stationery moved me deeply, and reminded me that the persons on whom I had based my novel had once lived, breathed and had the same basic hopes, dreams and losses that all of us experience.  I was especially gratified when a descendant of Fanny’s family came to a reading and said he had enjoyed the book.  The story about William Shakespeare I wrote presented a different challenge.  After five hundred years, few objects from his personal life survive, except for one remarkable document, his Last Will.  The changes he made in bequests to his youngest daughter, scrawled in a very weak hand possibly as the poet lay dying, inspired the first fiction that I sold – a screenplay.

3.  Have you ever acted in a play you wrote?  Would you?

I have not acted in a play I wrote.  I would rather trust a role written by a master playwright.  My feeling about this is kind of like Mark Twain, who said he would never belong to the kind of club that would accept him as a member!

4.  I was with you on the subjects of Scotland, writing, skiing and theatre; but I'm not a huge fan of golf.  Maybe you can explain its popularity? :O)

For some people, golf is belonging to a country club where rich guys hang out and cut business deals.  For me, it is an excuse for a long walk along the river at a county park near my house, seeing deer, geese and coyotes while trying to whack a little ball forward.  I used to like archery, too, and come to think of it I’ve always liked the way arrows, baseballs, javelins and golf balls arc through a blue sky toward targets.  You have to concentrate on the ball, but not try too hard.  Very Zen-like.

5.  Can you share with us one of your grandmother's stories?

When I was twelve years old Grandma, who lived to the age of 102, took me to a farmhouse on the Seco River in south-central Texas where she had spent the first six years of her life.  She showed me the small windows through which her mother and aunts had taken turns keeping watch on the surrounding hills and trees, all night long for many months while the men were away, fighting in the Civil War.  With the nearest neighbor four miles away, the house would have been an easy target for the Comanche raiding parties that had attacked other homesteads in the region with tragic results.  By keeping the house dark and propping rifles out of varying windows they pretended that the property was well defended, and thus avoided attack.

6.  Why did you settle on the 'niche' of fictionalizing the lives of famous authors?

When I first tried writing fiction I found that developing plots was easier than creating believable characters.  So I started reading the classics and especially Shakespeare plays to try to learn how the masters wrote memorable characters.  That led to reading authors’ biographies and trying to guess which persons in their lives were used as models for the great characters they created on the page.  It was a fun way of being an armchair-psychologist.  I began writing plotlines that featured these persons in some of the big events involving the authors’ lives.  The idea that Shakespeare’s daughter Judith was the model for the comic role of Kate, in Taming of the Shrew as well as the tragic role of Cordelia, in King Lear, seemed to work well in my story about his private life.  I extended the method to Robert Louis Stevenson, and now am working on a story about another historical author who led a fascinating personal life.

7.  What is the most difficult thing about writing for you?
Rewriting.  It is great fun to sit down with a cup of coffee and knock out the first draft of a scene or chapter.  Writers like this draft stage when they can move fast, be creative, use the right-brain and not worry too much about details.  Usually, though, when others look at these first-inspiration tries they find holes in the plot, unbelievable aspects of the characters and clumsy wording.  I used to resent hearing about these flaws, but now I know to take a deep breath, listen to critiques, and then be ready to revise, revise, revise until it is a thing of art!

8.  Do any of your kids have the writing bug?

My son is a professional musician, one daughter is a social worker and the other daughter works in evaluating healthcare systems.  They all write very well, and from time to time seem like they have caught the bug.  One of my daughters when she was nine co-wrote “The Dinosaur Egg” with me, a children’s story that won first prize in a Friends of the Library contest.  My son wrote and illustrated comic strips for fun, and my other daughter drafted a picture book to educate the children of clients about adoption.  Someday I suspect that at least one of them will write (professionally) again.

9.  If you could live during any period in history, which would it be?

Except for not yet having antibiotics and inoculations to protect against deadly diseases, the 1870s through the First World War must have been a wonderful time to be alive, at least for those with adequate means.  Judging from the research I did on that era while writing Stevenson’s Treasure, I love the way people read lots of books, wrote long letters to each other, conversed, enjoyed live music, and travelled at a leisurely pace to the ends of the earth in grand style by railroad and steamship.  They seemed to savor a connected, civilized kind of life that has mostly vanished today, at least in the urban United States.

10.  Care to share a tip or some writing advice?

If you haven’t been published yet, even if you consider yourself a good writer take some high-quality classes and workshops on the craft of writing fiction.  Apply yourself seriously to doing the assigned exercises.  Join writers’ organizations, make friends with other writers and be open to what they say about your writing.  Give generously to other writers – read their stories, buy their books, offer to review them – and when you need help, they will gladly give it back to you.  Most of the time, writing is a solitary process, but the further you go in it, the more you will need the friendship, advice and support of others.

~~~oOo~~~

(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of this book from the author and publisher via Historical Fictional Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Please click the banner at the top to see the rest of the stops on this tour!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott


SYNOPSIS

Karen Abbott, the New York Times bestselling author of Sin in the Second City and “pioneer of sizzle history” (USA Today), tells the spellbinding true story of four women who risked everything to become spies during the Civil War.

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farmgirl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy contains 39 black & photos and 3 maps.


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REVIEW

If history textbooks read like "Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy", there would be a statistically significant rise in the number of history majors in colleges and universities around the world.  No joke.  Ms. Abbott amassed a huge collection of research.  I thought the book was longer than it was, but of the 544 pages, the last several dozen pages included many citations and the bibliography.

Far be it from me to belittle the contribution made by our male soldiers.  I honor their sacrifice in every degree.  However, it is nice to know that 'his-story' also contains a fair amount of 'her-story', even if you have to go digging a little to find it.

Of the "Liar" (Elizabeth Van Lew), Temptress (Rose O'Neale Greenhow), Soldier (Emma Edmonds) and Spy (Belle Boyd) of Abbott's story, 3 were ladies of 'polite society' - who were not expected to sully their hands with the male business of war.  People underestimated their desire to contribute to the war effort on their respective sides.  But Emma Edmonds took a more direct approach, living as a man so she could become a soldier.

Imagine history as a representation of a family tree.  The facts, figures and dates (etc) are the names of and information about the many generations of a family.  But if that is all that appears on the blank wall, trying to figure out how all these people fit together can be very confusing.  You need the lines connecting the names together in an orderly fashion.  If it's a great history, the lines will connect in a way to show the trunk, the branches of the family and the twigs of the farthest generations.

"Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy" is a prime example of this kind of history.  Ms. Abbott's book should be in every library in the US, and be required reading at the high school and college level.

I can't wait to see what history (or herstory) she explores next!

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AUTHOR INFORMATION




Karen Abbott's forthcoming book, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is a true story of four daring (and not entirely scrupulous) Civil War spies who risked everything for their cause. The new book will be published by Harper Collins on September 2, 2014. Abbott's previous books, Sin in the Second City and American Rose, were both New York Times bestsellers. Abbott is a featured contributor to Smithsonian magazine's history blog, Past Imperfect, and also writes for Disunion, the New York Times series about the Civil War. A native of Philadelphia, where she worked as a journalist, she now lives in New York City with her husband and two African Grey parrots, Poe and Dexter.

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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)



Monday, September 8, 2014

#FRC2014 - Week 1 - Mating for Life by Melissa Stapley



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Course: Guide to Women’s Studies

Required reading: Mating for Life by Marissa Stapley

Department: Women’s Fiction

Course Date: Week of September 8

With honesty and heart-warming humor this course will transport you into four women’s lives. While you watch them navigate their chaotic and unconventional lifestyles, they realize the many modern roles woman play and that some love can really last a lifetime.


SYNOPSIS

This captivating debut explores marriage, motherhood, identity, and what it takes to love someone—family members, friends, or spouses—for life.

Former folk singer Helen Sear was a feminist wild child who proudly disdained monogamy, raising three daughters—each by a different father—largely on her own. Now in her sixties, Helen has fallen in love with a traditional man who desperately wants to marry her. And while she fears losing him, she’s equally afraid of abandoning everything she’s ever stood for if she goes through with it.

Meanwhile, Helen’s youngest daughter, Liane, is in the heady early days of a relationship with her soul mate. But he has an ex-wife and two kids, and her new role as a “step-something” doesn’t come with an instruction manual. Ilsa, an artist, has put her bohemian past behind her and is fervently hoping her second marriage will stick. Yet her world feels like it is slowly shrinking, and her painting is suffering as a result—and she realizes she may need to break free again, even if it means disrupting the lives of her two young children. And then there’s Fiona, the eldest sister, who has worked tirelessly to make her world pristine, yet who still doesn’t feel at peace. When she discovers her husband has been harboring a huge secret, Fiona loses her tenuous grip on happiness and is forced to face some truths about herself that she’d rather keep buried.

Interweaving the alternating perspectives of Helen, her daughters, and the women surrounding them, “each new chapter brings a wise and tender look at single life, dating rituals, and marital unease” (New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Close). In this “absolute feat of storytelling” (bestselling author Grace O'Connell), Marissa Stapley celebrates the many roles modern women play, and shows that even though happy endings aren’t one-size-fits-all, some loves really can last for life.


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MY REVIEW

Do women want/need to be married to a 'good provider' in order to feel happy, fulfilled and secure?  Depends on the woman.  

Helen would say "no" - after all, she had three daughters, raised mostly on her own, with three different men; she's built her life around the philosophy that women don't need men.  But lately she has discovered the downside of eating many meals alone.  Fiona, the oldest girl, is married to said good provider.   Right before her annual 'weekend with the girls' in her family, she finds out her husband had a daughter some 20 years ago and had no part in raising her.  Fiona is not sure she can forgive her husband and asks him to move out.  Ilsa, the middle sister, is also married to a good provider, who happens to be Fiona's husbands best friend, but finds herself bored to tears - apparently she is more used to a snappier social life.  Then there is Liane, the youngest, who is pseudo-engaged at the beginning of the book, finds her soulmate next door from the weekend cottage ... who is there with his wife and two daughters.

Ah..."the course of true love never did run smooth." (A Midsummer Night's Dream Ii, by William Shakespeare.)

A fair amount of the initial chapters follows the inner thoughts of the main female characters.  There's not a lot of 'action', and some readers may have a little trouble if they are used to go, go, go....  But with the types of situations the mother and daughters are experiencing, it lends itself to reflection and introspection.

And let's face it.  Marriage is not a fast-food wrapper.  You can't just ball it up and toss it in the trash when it has lost its usefulness.  And what about children of the union?  Will they be angry?  Will they feel sad or responsible?

When I divorced my first husband, the thought ran through my head, "If they made you jump through half as many hoops to get married in the first place as they do to dissolve your union, the divorce rate would go down!"

If you like books with a lot of internal dialogue, you will like Mating for Life.  If you like family dramas, you will like Mating for Life.  If you like women's fiction, should just open up another tab and head straight to your favorite online bookstore to buy Mating for Life.

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AUTHOR INFORMATION





Marissa Stapley is a National Magazine Award nominated writer and former magazine editor whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, National Post, Elle Canada, and many others. Mating for Life (Atria Books; Simon & Schuster Canada) is her first novel. When Marissa is not writing, she’s reading. (In fact, she never goes anywhere without a book. Except maybe swimming.) Some of her favourite authors are Meg Wolitzer, Julia Glass, Alice Munro, John Irving, Lauren Groff, Margaret Atwood and James Salter. She lives in Toronto with her husband and two children, where she teaches writing, and is working on another novel.

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(Disclosure:  I received a print copy of Mating for Life from the author and publisher via BookSparks in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)