Friday, February 28, 2014

What I'm Reading

Hello folks,

I thought that it would be appropriate to detail what I've been up to and what I'm reading (or in some cases preparing to read). I have a whole host of books that are lined up on Netgalley waiting for me to read.

I'm currently reading "City of Jasmine" by Deanna Raybourn. I'm a huge fan of her Lady Julia Grey mystery series. Her standalone novels are equally good. I really enjoyed her first, "The Dead Travel Fast." I didn't get around to "A Spear of Summer Grass" but I'm familiar enough with the characters to determined that there are some mentions of them in "City of Jasmine." The novel follows Evangeline Starke (don't you just love that name?), a female aviatrix who is doing a press tour of sorts through Europe and the Middle East. A widow for over five years, she is quite distressed to discover that her dead husband is very much alive. I think I've already picked up on the husband has been up to and what he had to disappear but I love Raybourn's knack for sexually charged conversations between the hero and heroine. I really need to finish this one off soon! This book also released this past Tuesday, so fire up your Knidles and pick up a copy.

Next up is "Madam" by Cari Lynn and Kari Martin. This one I am reading and reviewing for the
Historical Novel Society so I won't post the review until May when it appears in the Historical Novel Review. But I will of course be posting here and on Goodreads then. New Orleans is the backdrop for this novel, and who doesn't love a good novel featuring ladies of the night plying their trade in New Orleans? The protagonist Mary Deubler is a back alley whore when the local government decided to create a formal red light district. Mary doesn't think she will belong amongst the high class clientele of "Storyville" but with a bit of grit and determination she eventually rises to become the famous Madam Josie Arlington. I read Lois Battle's "Storyville" a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it so I am looking forward to this novel as well.

I am also very excited about Marci Jefferson's "Girl on the Golden Coin" which released just a couple of weeks ago. I've been intrigued by Frances Stuart ever since I ran across her portrait while studying Peter Lely's Hampton Court beauties series. She's is seemingly the only woman to have resisted the powerful force that was Charles II, eventually eloping with her cousin. Some say that she was the only woman Charles ever truly loved and that he was devastated to learn of her marriage, but she eventually found her way back into his favor. And the golden coin? She was the muse that eventually appeared on English coins as "Britannica". Long time readers will know that I contemplated writing a book on Frances myself but decided against it once I learned that another author had recently released a novel featuring her. I read that one (Maeve Haran's "The Painted Lady") and enjoyed it. I'm very interested to see how Ms. Jefferson spins Frances in her novel as there are many disputed reports of on Frances's character.

Also in the queue to be read:

It's going to be a busy spring!

Happy reading and have a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Upcoming Historical Fiction Releases

Hello dear readers! I hope you all got to peruse my interview with Kayla Posney at the Pittsburgh Historical Fictional Examiner. A big thank you to her for thinking of me and for maintaining such a great site.

I mentioned yesterday that I had a big announcement. Well it was sort of the release of my interview (you can't tell that I'm proud, can you?) but I'm also announcing that I am taking requests for reviews, as well as author interviews. What does this entail? Send me an e-mail, pitch me your book, and if I like the sound of it I will read it and post a review. More information can be found up top on the tab labeled "Need A Review?" If I really like your book, I will most likely feature you in an author interview as well (if you're willing).

So that's all the news that's fit for print.

Oh wait, I have yet more books to add to my upcoming releases to be read list...

The Fortune Hunter - Daisy Goodwin

I have to wait until July or at least until this one pops up on Netgalley. I hope it will as I really, really enjoyed The American Heiress which was based loosely on the marriage of Consuelo Vanderbilt to the Duke of Marlborough in the late 19th century. The Fortune Hunter is set in 1875 and features Si
si, the Empress of Austria. Beautiful, athletic and intelligent, she has everything - except happiness.

Bored with the stultifying etiquette of the Hapsburg Court and her dutiful but unexciting husband, Franz Joseph, Sisi comes to England to hunt. She comes looking for excitement and she finds it in the dashing form of Captain Bay Middleton, the only man in Europe who can outride her. Ten years younger than her and engaged to the rich and devoted Charlotte, Bay has everything to lose by falling for a woman who can never be his. But Bay and the Empress are as reckless as each other, and their mutual attraction is a force that cannot be denied.

A Triple Knot - Emma Campion

Another one that isn't due out until July. I read Campion's The King's Mistress which detailed the story of the much maligned Alice Perrars, mistress to King Edward III. Set in the same time period, this new novel features Joan of Kent, the woman who become the first Princess of Wales. Joan is a renowned beauty and niece of King Edward III, and seems blessed with a life of royal privilege until her father is executed for treason and she becomes a ward of the king, living amongst those who deem her the daughter of a traitor. Joan begins to understand the brutal constraints and dangers inherent in being of royal blood. There is one at court who loves her, but his love proves the greatest threat of all.

As an impetuous teenager, she escapes into a clandestine marriage in a bid for freedom, then must hide it for nearly a decade, as her guardians marry her off to another man. After her first husband's death, Joan—now a mother of four—enters into another scandalous relationship, this time with the heir to the British throne, Prince Edward, hero of Crécy and Poitiers, who has loved her all along. But his devotion comes at a terrible price. Haunted by nightmares of her father's execution and the ruthlessness of her royal kin, Joan must reconcile her passion for the crown prince with the potentially tragic costs of a royal life.

I'm really looking forward to this one. I read Karen Harper's The First Princess of Wales and enjoyed it immensely.

Cavendon Hall - Barbara Taylor Bradford

Jumping forward several centuries, this newest novel by the author of A Woman Substance borrows a page from Downton Abbey by uncovering the goings-on upstairs and belowstairs in a great English manor. I've never read Bradford before so I'm interested to see if I enjoy it.

Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, lives there with his wife Felicity and their six children. Walter Swann, the premier male of the Swann family, is valet to the earl. His wife Alice, a clever seamstress who is in charge of the countess's wardrobe, also makes clothes for the four daughters. For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl’s daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again.

I certainly love a book with a good scandal, so I'm eagerly awaiting the release of this one, which comes in April (just in time for my birthday!)

Happy reading!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My Ever Growing Historical Fiction Wish List

Hello dear and faithful readers!

I am busy working on some new reviews for you all, but I will admit that I have been felled by a recent spat of migraines. I've never had much of an issue with them before so this development is unfortunately requiring some medical intervention. The really sad part is that I am not overly anxious to be straining my eyes with reading. I'm about half way through "City of Jasmine" by Deanna Raybourn and a quarter of the way through "I Always Loved You" by Robin Oliveira, so I hope to finish both in due course. In the meantime I have been whiling the time away by re-watching Season One of "House of Cards" and then moving on to the newest season. I know some reviewers say it's affected with Kevin Spacey's breaking of the fourth wall, but I adore him. He really personifies callousness, unbridled ambition, and a sinister nature. In short--he's brilliant. Robin Wright is equally awesome as his calculated wife, Claire. Anyhoo, if you have haven't watched it, get Netflix and start watching. You won't be disappointed.

Now moving on, I always have a growing wish list of books I want to read, and I've luckily been able to put a dent in said list with the help of Netgalley. But I thought to share a few of my must reads for the coming months.

Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson follows the riches to rags to riches life of impoverished noblewoman Lady Frances Stuart. She grows up in the court of Henrietta Maria, the deposed Queen of England but returns to England after the restoration of Charles II. Naturally she attracts the attention of the amorous king and must learn to survive in a court where power is everything and the king's mistress is truly queen. The novel is out now.

Fallen Beauty by Ericka Robuck follows three women, one of whom is the famous poet and openly bisexual Edna St. Vincent Millay. I adored Robuck's first novel Call Me Zelda so I'm definitely looking forward to reading this one. This novel releases on March 4th.

Inamorata by Megan Chance follows twin siblings Joseph and Sophie as they escape New York for Venice in hopes of finding a wealth patron for Joseph's budding art career. What they find is an infamous courtesan bent on luring Joseph into a tangled web of deceit and danger, and the man who had sworn to stop her. I really enjoyed Chance's An Inconvenient Wife when I read it a couple years ago and Inamorata sounds just as compelling. The novel releases July 8th.

Happy reading folks and stay tuned for an exciting announcement tomorrow!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Review: "The Shadow Queen" by Sandra Gulland

I received an advance copy from NetGalley (in exchange for an honest review, of course!) of Sandra Gulland's latest, The Shadow Queen. I thoroughly enjoyed her novel Mistress of the Sun when it was released a couple of years ago, and this book only enhanced my regard for her work.

The Shadow Queen could be considered a companion (but not a sequel) to Mistress of the Sun as it takes place in France during the reign of Louis XIV. The heroine, Claude des Oeilettes, is plucky and resourceful; despite the fact she continually sacrifices her own wants and desires to ensure the well being of her loved ones, she never becomes overly saintly.

Gulland really excels at painting Athenais de Montespan, the spoiled second mistress of Louis XIV. At times horrible and ruthless, she has a secret streak of sweetness and vulnerability that make her redeemable. Some readers may feel she goes too far in her demands, most notably her insistence that Claude sleep with the King in order to keep him within her realm of influence. But such demands merely place Athenais as a product of the overindulged French aristocracy.

The novel's drawback (a small one) is that the court intrigues are swept under the rug in favor of the battles of Parisian theatre. If equal time had been devoted to both, the novel would have been a five star read. Nonetheless, "The Shadow Queen" is not to be missed and will be enjoyed by those who like French history or royal romances. I certainly hope that Ms. Gulland will write a novel about Louis's next well known mistress (and future wife), Madame Maintenon. I can't recall any historicals featuring her so it would be a welcome addition.

This novel releases on April 8th, and can be reserved at Amazon or your preferred retailer.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Review: Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam

So today's novel is The Secret Daughter of the Tsar by Jennifer Laam. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Laam’s book is a compelling speculative novel revolving around the doomed Romanov family. One of the more popular “wishful thinking” subjects of historical fiction is that one of the Tsar’s children escaped the awful fate encountered in the basement of Ipatiev House in Siberia. But Laam introduces a completely different concept: what if Tsarina Alexandra had a fifth daughter? It seems a rather unlikely concept, but the author uses well-documented facts to make this premise work. The novel is told through the eyes of three different women, living years apart: Lena, a maid turned friend to the empress; Charlotte, a former ballet dancer trying to survive Nazi occupied France with her young son; and Veronica, a down-on-her-luck Russian history professor who stumbles upon the whole shocking truth.

While some authors are unable to carry off three different perspectives, Laam excels at this by differentiating each of the women’s narratives. All the women are quietly fierce and tenacious, but in different ways that lend a special quality to each character. Each of their voices is distinct, which is a hard feat to accomplish. The reader will become enthralled by each story, eagerly turning the page to find out the fate of each woman.

By the last half of the novel, the seeds of the resolution have been sewn, so the rather drawn-out conclusion could have been reached much more quickly. Nonetheless, this novel shines overall and will appeal to everyone from general fiction readers to lovers of Russian history and the Romanov dynasty. This is definitely not one to miss.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: "What She Left Behind" by Ellen Marie Wiseman

When I saw the lists of books available for review from the Historical Novel Society, I immediately spotted What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman. I am completely enthralled by the history of mental institutions in America. Perhaps it was growing up with the specter of the infamous South Carolina Lunatic Asylum located in Columbia, SC (the phrase "You're headed to Bull Street" was a nice or funny way of saying you were going crazy) or maybe it's just my love for old, abandoned buildings, but I'm total sucker for an insane asylum. I'm not one of those "heeby jeeby" folks but if you get within spitting distance of one of these buildings, you can feel the negative energy. And it's for these reasons that this novel is so compelling.

From "Asylum: Inside the Closed Walls of State Mental Hospitals"
One of my favorite architecture books is entitled "Asylum: Inside the Closed Walls of State Mental Hospitals" and one of the most heartbreaking photos in the book is of the left behind effects of the former patients. Many never even made it out of their confinement, and were simply buried on site, behind the walls that held them in. It is these left behind effects that connect the two protagonists in this novel.

What She Left Behind chronicles the lives of two young women living approximately 60 years apart. Izzy Stone has been in and out of foster homes since her mother fatally shot her father and was sent to prison. Convinced that her mother is insane, Izzy is particularly sensitive when her latest set of foster parents ask her to help them catalog the personal effects of the former patients of a shuttered mental institution. She is shocked to discover the contents of the large steamer trunk belonging to Clara Cartwright, an 18-year-old girl committed to the asylum in 1930. Through the reading of Clara’s diary, Izzy embarks on a mission to discover the girl’s fate.
There is certainly a shock factor to What She Left Behind. Clara is committed to Willard Asylum after she defies her father by taking an Italian immigrant as her lover. The harsh conditions and backward treatments of the asylum are painful to read; indeed, they are the stuff of nightmares. The idea that women were committed for disobeying their husbands or fathers, or for engaging in behaviors deemed unsuitable in polite society, is frightening. As Clara wonders throughout her captivity, how many sane women are committed, only to lose their minds after the fact?
Wiseman does an excellent job of conveying the horrifying methods employed to cure the mentally ill. The lack of compassion and sometimes outright brutality of the nurses and doctors are astounding. Though Clara is extremely naïve, and sometimes one- dimensional, her narrative is much more compelling than Izzy’s, whose story reads like a young adult novel at times. Despite this, What She Left Behind is a real page turner and will appeal to all readers of fiction, though the subject matter is not for the faint of heart.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Review: 'Somewhere in France' by Jennifer Robson

Deep apologies for missing last week's "Review Tuesday" feature. As you might have heard, we actually got a bit of winter precipitation here in the south. Fortunately, I was not involved in that mess in Atlanta (I'm about three hours north of there). I managed to finagle some hours off from work due to the icy roads, but no full snow days. A travesty!

In any case, I'm bringing you a bonus review to make up for last week. I reviewed "Somewhere in France" for the Historical Novel Society back in November, however it just now went live on their website. So without further ado...

"Somewhere in France" features a lovely heroine by the name of Lady Elizabeth “Lilly” Neville-Ashford. She is the daughter of the Earl and Countess of Cumberland, and thoroughly stifled by her place in the hierarchy of British society. Her domineering mother wants to see her marry a socially acceptable man and start a family, but with the onset of World War I, Lilly has other ideas that include volunteering for the newly-created Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Sent to France to serve as an ambulance driver, she comes into contact with Robbie Fraser, her oldest brother’s dearest friend. Their love is illicit, and as the war escalates around them, they are forced to confront the eventuality that they may never see each other again.
Somewhere in France is a well-researched and riveting first novel. Robson is the daughter of the celebrated World War I historian, Stuart Robson, and her novel is accurate to its last heartbreaking detail without being bogged down with unnecessary information. Lilly is a woman caught between the shifting sands of the old aristocracy and her desire to be a thoroughly modern 20th-century woman. Robbie, though misguided at times, is all a hero should be: upstanding yet flawed enough to be relatable.
Being that the novel is set during the Edwardian period, it will inevitably call to mind Downton Abbey. Fortunately the characters and plot stand alone without harkening to that much in vogue series. Lovers of the period spanning the “War to End All Wars” will find much to enjoy in this novel, as will romance enthusiasts and general historical fiction readers. Recommended.