Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review: Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn



 Elegant, secretive Sabina may be Empress of Rome, but she still stands poised on a knife’s edge. She must keep the peace between two deadly enemies: her husband Hadrian, Rome’s brilliant and sinister Emperor; and battered warrior Vix, who is her first love. But Sabina is guardian of a deadly secret: Vix’s beautiful son Antinous has become the Emperor’s latest obsession.

Empress and Emperor, father and son will spin in a deadly dance of passion, betrayal, conspiracy, and war. As tragedy sends Hadrian spiraling into madness, Vix and Sabina form a last desperate pact to save the Empire. But ultimately, the fate of Rome lies with an untried girl, a spirited redhead who may just be the next Lady of the Eternal City…


Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review: I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn


In I Am Abraham, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person, I Am Abraham effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President.

Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln’s life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination, I Am Abraham hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley—the former slave, who became the First Lady’s dressmaker and confidante—and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores.

We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man’s-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln’s own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America’s bloodiest war.

Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review/Giveaway: The Fairytale Keeper by Andrea Cefalo


Adelaide’s mother, Katrina, was the finest storyteller in all of Airsbach, a borough in the great city of Cologne, but she left one story untold, that of her daughter, that of Snow White. Snow White was a pet name Adelaide’s mother had given her. It was a name Adelaide hated, until now. Now, she would give anything to hear her mother say it once more.

A rampant fever claimed Adelaide’s mother just like a thousand others in Cologne where the people die without last rites and the dead are dumped in a vast pit outside the city walls. In an effort to save Katrina’s soul, Adelaide’s father obtains a secret funeral for his wife by bribing the parish priest, Father Soren.

Soren commits an unforgivable atrocity, pushing Adelaide toward vengeance. When Adelaide realizes that the corruption in Cologne reaches far beyond Soren, the cost of settling scores quickly escalates. Avenging the mother she lost may cost Adelaide everything she has left: her father, her friends, her first love, and maybe even her life.

Seamlessly weaving historical events and Grimm’s fairy tales into a tale of corruption and devotion, The Fairytale Keeper, leaves the reader wondering where fact ends and fiction begins. The novel paints Medieval Cologne accurately and vividly. The story develops a set of dynamic characters, casting the famous villains, heroes, and damsels of Grimm’s fairy tales into believable medieval lives. Though historically set, The Fairytale Keeper brims with timeless themes of love, loyalty, and the struggle for justice.

Book Review: Flamenco, Flan and Fatalities by Mary McHugh


Murder is nothing to tap at. . .

The high-kicking Happy Hoofers–Tina, Janice, Pat, Mary Louise, and Gini–have been booked to flaunt their fabulous flamenco footwork on a luxury train ride through northern Spain. But when a blowhard talk show host is found deader than four-day-old flan–with Gini as suspect numero uno–the feisty friends waste no time stepping into their sleuthing shoes to protect one of their own.

The dynamite dancers will have to step up their game before a clever killer brings the curtain down on one of them . . . for good!


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Author Interview: Sam Thomas of The Witch Hunter's Tale

 
 
Check out my review of The Witch Hunter's Tale from yesterday!
 
Today, Sam Thomas visits the Back Porch to discuss his book, "The Witch Hunter's Tale".  Huzzah!
 
~~~oOo~~~
 

1.  Is it easier to write characters that have similar traits (religion, gender, etc.) to you or different from you?

Great question! I don’t think I have much in common with any of my characters, even the men! The world of the seventeenth century was so different from our own time, that while there are some similarities, I would be very nervous if I saw too many.

My characters believe in witches (and that they should be hanged), that the Pope is Anti-Christ, and the Irish are savages. I don’t believe any of these things! My goal as an author is to understand these people and portray them in as realistic way as possible to my readers.
 

2.  What draws you to the time period in which Witch Hunter's Tale is set?

I decided to set the series during the English Civil War for a few reasons. Most obviously, it is a time of high drama. The first book in the series, The Midwife’s Tale, is set during the siege of the city – what more could you want than that?

It is also the time when radical political and religious ideas were everywhere. People argued that people should choose their own religious leaders, and some wanted women have the right to vote! Then you’ve got the trial of King Charles for treason, and the establishment of a (short-lived) republic...it’s a crazy time, to be sure!
 

3.  Can you tell us a little about the first book in the series for readers who are new to your work?

The Midwife’s Tale introduces my narrator Bridget Hodgson. Bridget is a wealthy and powerful midwife, but she has recently been widowed and lost both her children – she is almost entirely alone.

Early in the book a woman named Martha Hawkins appears at Bridget’s door, looking for work. Bridget takes her in, and ultimately the two become involved in a series of murders that may (or may not!) involve one of Bridget’s friends.

As it happens, Bridget is based on a real midwife who practiced in England at this time. I stumbled across her when I was working on my doctoral thesis, and she really stayed with me. Readers can learn more about the “historical” Bridget by going to my website: www.samthomasbooks.com
 

4.  Which writers have influenced your work?
 
Oddly enough, most of them are historians. I loved Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s book, A Midwife’s Tale, and would recommend it to anyone interested in colonial America. I’ve also been reading Cormac McCarthy: his work is incredibly violent, but the language is quite amazing.

Oh, and I’m about to read Anthonly Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See. He graduated from the same high school where I teach!
 

5.  Does your family have any pets?

One cat, named Snickers. Here is a picture of him trying to keep me from doing any work.
 
 
 

6.  Can you tell us something on your bookish bucket list and why it's there?

Reading or writing? For reading, I’d like to find the time to read Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. But at 848 pages, it’s so imposing! Do I want to read that, or 3-4 other books?

As for writing, I’ve got a few projects on my list. I’m working on a stand-alone novel set in colonial New England, and looks at the relationship between wars between colonists and Native Americans, as well as witch-hunting.
 
 
7.  If you could time travel to any place in history, where would you go?

Civil War England, of course! Sure, the roads are mostly mud, but I can put up with that.
 

8.  What are your thoughts on the traditional vs indie publishing routes?

That’s a tough one simply because indie books can be beautifully written and carefully edited, or they can be something that an author threw together over the weekend, and it can be very hard for excellent books to distinguish themselves from ordinary ones.

My lone concern with indie publishing is that excellent authors might stop one draft too soon and publish something that is not quite done. If you believe in your work and want a traditional publisher, be patient. Set the book aside for a month or two and then revise it again. Write a short story, and then come back. And remember: most writers have a book in the drawer that has not yet come together, and that’s okay.
 
 
9.  What kind of advice would you give to young people who like to write?

Read, read, read! Write, write, write! And remember that right off the bat you won’t be very good, and that’s okay. Writing is a skill that takes years of practice to master. (I’d been writing more or less full time for nearly a decade before I started The Midwife’s Tale.)
 
~~~oOo~~~
 
Author Links:
 



http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thewitchhunterstaleblogtour/
 
Click the logo link just above to follow the tour, featuring more reviews and interviews!  (You an also apply to review books of HFVBT while you are there!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Blast: I Am Abraham by Jerome Charyn


Narrated in Lincoln’s own voice, the tragicomic I Am Abraham promises to be the masterwork of Jerome Charyn’s remarkable career.

Since publishing his first novel in 1964, Jerome Charyn has established himself as one of the most inventive and prolific literary chroniclers of the American landscape. Here in I Am Abraham, Charyn returns with an unforgettable portrait of Lincoln and the Civil War. Narrated boldly in the first person, I Am Abraham effortlessly mixes humor with Shakespearean-like tragedy, in the process creating an achingly human portrait of our sixteenth President.

Tracing the historic arc of Lincoln’s life from his picaresque days as a gangly young lawyer in Sangamon County, Illinois, through his improbable marriage to Kentucky belle Mary Todd, to his 1865 visit to war-shattered Richmond only days before his assassination, I Am Abraham hews closely to the familiar Lincoln saga. Charyn seamlessly braids historical figures such as Mrs. Keckley—the former slave, who became the First Lady’s dressmaker and confidante—and the swaggering and almost treasonous General McClellan with a parade of fictional extras: wise-cracking knaves, conniving hangers-on, speculators, scheming Senators, and even patriotic whores.

We encounter the renegade Rebel soldiers who flanked the District in tattered uniforms and cardboard shoes, living in a no-man’s-land between North and South; as well as the Northern deserters, young men all, with sunken, hollowed faces, sitting in the punishing sun, waiting for their rendezvous with the firing squad; and the black recruits, whom Lincoln’s own generals wanted to discard, but who play a pivotal role in winning the Civil War. At the center of this grand pageant is always Lincoln himself, clad in a green shawl, pacing the White House halls in the darkest hours of America’s bloodiest war.

Using biblically cadenced prose, cornpone nineteenth-century humor, and Lincoln’s own letters and speeches, Charyn concocts a profoundly moral but troubled commander in chief, whose relationship with his Ophelia-like wife and sons—Robert, Willie, and Tad—is explored with penetrating psychological insight and the utmost compassion. Seized by melancholy and imbued with an unfaltering sense of human worth, Charyn’s President Lincoln comes to vibrant, three-dimensional life in a haunting portrait we have rarely seen in historical fiction.


Book Review: The Witch Hunter's Tale by Sam Thomas

 
(Be sure to come back tomorrow for my interview with the author, Sam Thomas!)

Sam Thomas takes readers back to Puritan England with midwife Bridget Hodgson, hailed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as “one of the most fascinating detectives in contemporary mystery fiction.”

Winter has come to the city of York, and with it the threat of witchcraft. As women and children sicken and die, midwife Bridget Hodgson is pulled against her will into a full-scale witch-hunt that threatens to devour all in its path, guilty and innocent alike.

Bridget—accompanied once again by her deputy Martha Hawkins and her nephew Will Hodgson—finds herself playing a lethal game of cat and mouse against the most dangerous men in York, as well as her sworn enemy Rebecca Hooke. As the trials begin, and the noose begins to tighten around her neck, Bridget must answer the question: How far will she go to protect the people she loves?