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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

GIVEAWAY!! "Jane Austen:Blood Persuasion" by Janet Mullany ~ Loveable and Delectable!

Published by:  William Morrow/HarperCollins
Pages:  286
Genre:  Fiction/Paranormal
Find Janet also on Facebook and Twitter

Ms Mullany's Previous Novel
Prequel to "JA: Blood Persuasion"


Janet Mullany has generously offered to giveaway
 a copy of her book!

Leave your name and email in the comments,
and follow/friend me on the sidebar!


Summary of "Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion"
It is 1810, and the Damned are out of favor—banished from polite society. Jane Austen’s old undead friends have become new neighbors, raising hell in her tranquil village just in time to interrupt Jane’s work on what will be her masterpiece. Suddenly Jane’s niece is flirting dangerously with vampires, and a formerly respectable spinster friend has discovered the forbidden joys of intimate congress with the Damned (and is borrowing Jane’s precious silk stockings for her assignations). Writing is simply impossible now, with murderous creatures prowling the village’s once-peaceful lanes. And with the return of her vampire characteristics, a civil war looming between factions of the Damned, and a former lover who intends to spend eternity blaming her for his broken heart, Jane is facing a very busy year indeed.

Meet the Author:

The author of Jane and the Damned, Janet Mullany was reared in England on a diet of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and now lives near Washington, D.C. She has worked as an archaeologist, waitress, draftsperson, radio announcer, performing arts administrator, proof-reader, and bookseller.

The Dame's Interview with Ms Mullany:
Hi, Janet, I'm so happy you've agreed to an interview!  I loved "Jane Austen: Blood Persuasion" and can't wait to find out more about you. It's always fun to pick an author's brain!  Have some questions for you...

Thanks so much for inviting me! Ask away …

1) First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you "tick." When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
I read. I think it’s the most important thing a writer can do when not writing. I usually have something I’m reading on my kindle on the commute to the day job and something else I’m reading at night before I go to sleep. I also like music, particularly opera and baroque music although I don’t go to nearly as many live performances as I’d like.

2) You chose a specific genre, a place and time to write about, what made you choose it?
Laziness. I thought I knew a lot about the Regency period, which in some respects I do, but for my Austen-vamp books I had to do a lot of research.

3) Please share with your readers where you like to write. Do you have a particular space or desk? What can you see from your desk? Do you have props you use to write from? What about special "charms?
I have an office that faces south west and gets a lot of light. It is also warm in the winter and cool in the summer—in other words, it’s the best room in the house! I share it only with the cat. I can see what’s going on outside in the street and there’s a large oak tree outside. I think the only item that qualifies as a prop or charm, other than the cat who inspires by sleeping, is my kitchen timer, which I use when I really have trouble getting going.
4) In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?  A book you can reread and find something new in every time. Like Austen!

5) Which author(s) most influenced your love of books from childhood? C.S. Lewis—as I grew older I recognized the Christian symbolism but it didn’t bother me particularly (see the next question), Kipling (ditto the jingoism, but he’s such a great wordsmith), Rosemary Sutcliff, Edith Nesbit. They’re all writers I’ve reread as an adult.

6) Read any good books in the past 6 months? "To End All Wars" by Adam Hochschild, which is about the first world war; "The Magician’s Book" by Laura Miller about C.S. Lewis, "The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen" by Lindsay Ashford, and a reread of "Sense & Sensibility."

7) Please share with us the underlying message of your book. What would you like your readers to take away after having read the book?
I’m very uncomfortable about fiction having messages. If a reader learns an important life lesson from my books I don’t even want to know because that would make me feel under some sort of moral obligation for future works. I’m writing mass market fiction and the goal is to entertain. I hope I’ve done that as well as leave readers fainting away from the beauty of my prose and urging their friends and family to buy a copy or two.

8) Were you able to keep your original title? What was it, if not?
My original title was "Charms of Flesh and Bone," a line from a poem Austen wrote, "Mock Panegyric on a Young Friend," addressed to her niece Anna, who is one of the characters in the book: Another world must be unfurled,
Another language known,
Ere tongue or sound can publish round
Her charms of flesh and bone

Oh, that is so absolutely charming, Janet!  It fits so well with your book.  Perfect!

9) Is there a song or music in general that might best represent your book as a theme song?
Not really. I listened to quite a lot of opera and Bach while I was writing it, and I find choral music excellent for love scenes. Not quite sure why.  

I agree with you.  Something about Vampires and their gothic beauty is operatic.  I've often wondered if Bach were a vampire!  ;]
10) If you could write your book again, what would you change?

I would hate to have to write this book again! It was very hard to write. I think what I would do is spend more time in Chawton. There’s a lot of educated guesswork and peering at maps and I did visit Austen’s house and the Great House, but I should have spent a lot more time in the area.

11) What was the worst distraction you had to fight through while writing your book? My natural inclination to laziness and the siren call of the internet.

12) What did you feel or think when you held the first copy of your book in your hands?
I find once I have the book in my hands the emotional connection isn’t really there. It’s become a product. It’s nice to touch the cover and to flip through and recognize what you wrote: at the same time it’s really the point of no return. I do, however, get very excited about seeing my books in libraries.  

That's very interesting, Janet.  No one has said that about seeing their book in a library before!
13) Tell us a secret about your book we wouldn’t otherwise know, please!  I think it’s one of the sexiest books I’ve written. There’s very little explicit material but a lot of yearning and desire.  

I agree!  I didn't really understand that en sanglant when I first read that Jane experienced it in close connection with the "Damned" vampires. But, I soon got the full intention!  It's a very sexy addition to an Austenesque book!  :]
Thank you for bending to these busybody questions, Janet! It’s been a pleasure from my end of things!

Thank you for having me visit

.The Dame's Review:
Exceptionally good reading, this novel of Jane Austen, her sister, Cassandra; her feisty little niece, Anna; her mother and their close friend and housekeeper, Martha, is set in the sleepy little village of Chawton.  What shakes up an otherwise pleasant but routine existence for them is the new neighbors...renting Jane's brother's house.  A family of vampires including Jane's creator, Fitzwilliam/Fitzpatrick, the handsome vampire who became Jane's "maker" when the French and English were battling and the help of the "Damed," those recognized as vampires, was required to win against the forces of Napoleon.  Jane's worried about the safety of her family given the hunger and lack of morality of most of the vampires she knows!  It's the push-pull of these gorgeous creatures, their blood lust ways and their enticings of the innocents vs. Jane's eagerness to protect and not fall back into her own vampiric ways that makes this a wonderful read.  Not to mention Jane's love interests... :]

Janet Mullany's research is impeccable.  But, more than that, she writes with such believability.  Every scene is beautifully rendered; so much so that you can hear the china tea cups clink in Mrs. Austen's drawing room, and the see the crystal chandeliers gleam in the gothic ballroom of Fitzpatrick's house.  I felt like swooning myself as she describes the dazzling vampire men.  Who could resist them?  I have such a weakness for dark and mysterious, dangerous men...especially vampires!  Mullany knows how to create them, and she places them like gems in her Georgian vignettes.  I love Jane Austen, but dress her up with a struggle over three main, gorgeous vampires of the "Damned" and I'm there for the asking every time!

Anything Mullany writes should be a must read for those who love "mash ups" of Miss Austen.  In this case, the book is so entertaining, engrossing from the start, including a beloved cast of characters that all Janeites will be familiar with. It's not possible to be anything other than delighted to be reading "Jane Austen:  Blood Persuasion."    I loved it, and tried to read it in one sitting.  Would have accomplished that, if it hadn't been for a grandson who wanted to go swimming all day!

5 stars for this brilliantly vampirish Jane!

"Pictures of the Past" by Deby Eisenberg ~ Pre-WWII Historical Fiction

Published by:  Studio House Literary
Pages:  364
Genre:  Fiction/Historical
Authors website:  http://www.debyeisenberg.com/

Cover Rating :
Beautiful composition for this cover.  The elegant frames fore-shadow an underlying story of art, the damask background gives a sense of opulence, as does the framed staircase.  The Nazi banner, Eiffel Tower and the couple reminiscent of the 1940's tells the rest of the story.  I love the font used and the entire layout. Sepia tones also date the pictures beautifully. Easily a book I would grab off the shelves to turn over and read more about, this is a title that grabs me.
Rating:  A

Pictures of the Past is a compelling saga sweeping through Chicago, Paris and Berlin, reliving events from pre-World War II Europe, but beginning in contemporary times. An Impressionist painting, hanging for decades in the Art Institute of Chicago and donated by the charismatic philanthropist Taylor Woodmere, is challenged by an elderly woman as a Nazi theft. Taylor’s gripping and passionate story takes us back to 1937. Sent to Paris on family business, he reluctantly leaves his girlfriend Emily, a spoiled debutante from Newport, Rhode Island. But once in Europe, he immediately falls in love – first with an Henri Lebasque painting, and then with the enchanting Sarah Berger of Berlin. After Taylor returns home, the Berger family becomes trapped in the Nazi web, and any attempts for the new lovers to be reunited are thwarted.

Interwoven with this narrative is the story of Rachel Gold, a beautiful and bright Chicago girl caught up in the times of the late 1960’s. Pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend Court Woodmere, Taylor’s son, she moves to New York to live with her aunt, a Holocaust survivor. Years later, as the controversy surrounding the provenance of the painting becomes public, Rachel’s grown son is disturbed by his inexplicable familiarity with the work of art. And it is only Taylor Woodmere who can unravel the complicated puzzle of their lives.
With a heart-grabbing ending, Pictures of the Past is historical fiction at its best, giving a personalized window to the powerful events and intriguing venues of the eras. From a world torn by the horrors of war, a love story emerges that endures through years of separation.

The Dame's Review :
When I first decided I'd like to review "Pictures of the Past" I had some hesitation.  I've read an assortment of books covering the holocaust over the last 40 some years, and felt I may have met my capacity with them.  The stories often left me with a heaviness of heart.  I'd lived most of my growing up years in Germany, even went to college in Munich, Germany, at the University of Maryland's extension campus, so it's a country that's very dear to my heart, and a people I'd come to love, as well.  It has been difficult to separate the Nazi's from the kind people of Germany I'd come to know.  I'm glad I did take a chance on this particular book, however, because it beautifully balances the good and the ugly.  It tells a story that gives the safe and lovely side of a life in Berlin, and then the rising of an extremist group that overtakes the country like locust.  I loved this book.

From the earliest words, Deby Eisenberg captured my heart.  I could hear the inflection of the grandmother's voice.  I could feel her indignation and her ire rising, and I could nearly sense the touches of her grand and great grandchildren as they gathered around to comfort her.  Eisenberg is a masterful writer.  She makes her story not only ring with truth, but resound with the vision of a cast of characters that you can well image actually existed.

The love story interwoven within the historical mysteries of the book are engrossing.  I was so happy to read the details of transatlantic voyages, the beautiful cities both European and American of the pre-WW !! era, and the very interesting comments about Nazi art thefts.  The mystery that's presented of old lovers, the painting's travels, and a family whose lives were changed by the Nazi terror is mesmerizing.

It goes without saying that I highly recommend "Pictures of the Past" to everyone.  It's a great book on this era from several perspectives.  Beautifully written, it's a timeless love story that's anchored by a painting that's etched in the minds of the lovers.

5 stars

About the Author :

As the leader of an established Chicago area Book Club, Deby Eisenberg challenged herself to write a novel that her avid readers could not put down and would love to discuss. With a Masters Degree from the University of Chicago, she is a former English teacher and journalist. Inspired by so many wonderful books and formidable authors, and drawing on her love of literary research, art, architecture, Jewish history, and travel in the United States and Europe, she tried to envision a multi-generational love story that would inform as well as entertain, that would broaden the mind and open the heart. Deby and her husband Michael, an obstetrician-gynecologist, live in Riverwoods, Illinois. They have three grown children and two grandchildren.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Appalachia~"There is No Hope Here" by Richard Biggs ~ Poverty and Hopelessness in the USA

Published by:  Creative Space
Available:  eBook
Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble
Genre:  Fiction/Inspirational

"There Is No Hope Here" is a true story (narrative non-fiction) about Julie Holland, who in 1995 began ministering to the poor in the rugged Appalachian Mountains of eastern Kentucky. The conditions she saw made her determined to help, so after spending a year delivering food and clothing, she decided to seek help with her mission. Soon, others joined and the Mission of Hope was born. There Is No Hope Here is marked by sadness and humor as a glimpse is offered into the eyes and souls of Appalachian poverty. It's the inspirational story of a woman's walk with God as she struggles with a life-threatening illness and tremendous cultural boundaries.

Through it all, she prevailed and today the Mission of Hope is one of most respected Christian charities in the southeast, serving over 17,000 people annually and offering college scholarships, along with mentoring programs. And it all began with one woman's determination.

Meet the Author:

Richard Biggs is 73, father of three and grandfather of 8, and a follower of Christ. He retired as an electrical engineer and has been a freelance writer for over a decade. He spent three years researching this book, his first entrance into narrative non-fiction.

The Dame's Word On It :
Some months back, I came across a note somewhere about Richard Biggs's book having to do with Appalachia and the poverty there.  I have no idea today where or when or how I found it.  I only know that the book so moved me upon an initial introduction that I had to read it in full, and wanted to review it for my readers.  So, I contacted Mr. Biggs and began an email conversation with him about my roots in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and how I was extremely interested in the subject of Appalachian families of the "back-country."  Mr. Biggs was kind enough to send me his book, and I spent several  hours lost in the poetic lilt of his writing, and in the story of a woman who left it all behind to care for those who are lost.

Unless you've seen a bit of poverty alongside the twists and turns of a mountain road in Appalachia, you can't imagine how people could live in some of the conditions they do.  What we've heard of as a "burned out" house, a "broken down" shack, and even "trailer trash," didn't just come from the hateful jaws of an idiot jester, though it's been used in a vicious manner to slam and taint others cruelly.  These things are often the reality of living conditions in Appalachia.  Conditions that literally generations of children grow up in and perpetuate for lack of hope they can break the cycle.

When Julie Holland first visited the back-woods Appalachian people, she wasn't prepared for them and the poverty she encountered.  She wasn't prepared for their pride or their suspiciousness of outsiders.  She wasn't prepared for the fear she felt. And, she wasn't prepared for what she saw:  the trash and filth they lived in, their look of hopelessness, their sense of humor amidst the chaos of their lives, and their faith despite all odds. 

She came to understand that people growing up in poverty have not been taught the very basics of life skills, and often cannot pull themselves out of the oppressions of destitution and hopelessness to function in what we may consider a normal way.  Many have tremendously low self-esteem, live with violence, and incessant hunger. Children raise children. These are some of the off-shoots of poverty and deprivation.  And, these imprints are handed down from generation to generation; difficult to overcome, but not impossible with direction from those who will commit to helping them.  After time, Julie realized she needed help.

Ms Holland's commitment to do something about it was herculean.  When she founded the Mission of Hope, it was like throwing a pebble in an ocean of need.  "There is No Hope Here" is her story as much as it is the Mission's story and the story of those she touched in her journey.

I think if you read this book, it will make such a difference in your life.  I came away in silence, and I came away in tears.  I came away remembering that it's not supposed to be our primary purpose as a Nation to care for the people of other countries.  It's our responsibility and our commitment according to our earliest recorded national documents and creeds to care for those in need in our own country.  And, it's a part of our Christian heritage to "reach out to our neighbors before we extend our boundaries" to other places.  

In light of this new political race, Mr. Biggs shakes his head, as do I, and we wonder if the candidates really know where the poor are and how to lift them out of inhumane conditions IN THIS COUNTRY !  It's at least as big a question we need to face as the national budget!

With that in mind,  please take a minute to view this video made by Mr. Biggs showing the children and people of Appalachia.  It goes hand-in-hand with his book.

Click the link here:                            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YADzPbmfc5k


Monday, February 27, 2012

"Allegiance" by Cayla Kluver~A Legacy Trilogy Book 2 for YA's May Not Add Up

Published by:  Harlequin Teen
The Legacy Trilogy Book 2
Pages:  490
Genre:  YA Fiction/Fantasy
Released:  February 28, 2012

Book Cover Rating  :
First impression: "pretty girl in messy dress."  This is not the typical look of fantasy fiction covers: it has an actual picture on it.  The young man and the horse leave nothing to the fantasy/imagination which may take something away from the YA girl who likes to fantasize. This seems to be a romance novel. To me, the picture is contrived because it's an obvious contemporary picture. Looks more historical romance than fantasy, which the novel purports itself to be. The scroll-work around the picture adds a lot in terms of design, although we nearly lose the name of the book. Don't care for the "weedy" treeline. Really odd: is that a car in the background?   I'm left feeling slightly ill at ease about the whole thing.  Rating:  C-

AuthorCayla Kluver is eighteen years old, and lives with her family and her muse (Nina, her cat) in Wisconsin, where only the hardy survive. Legacy is her first novel.

The first edition of Legacy won first place in the 2008 Reader Views Literary Awards, and a bronze medal in the Moonbeam Children's Book Awards for young adult fiction.

Kirkus Reviews
A teen romance that delivers a softer, more innocent love story than the publisher's well-known adult tomes. The second book in the Legacy Trilogy, this text quickly introduces the forbidden love between Hytanica's newly crowned Queen Alera and Narian of Cokyri, which took root in the previous volume. Two major factors complicate this teenage love affair: Alera is married to King Steldor, and Narian has been forced to serve the Overlord of Cokyri, Hytanica's enemy. This background sets the stage for Alera's struggle with her role as queen and wife, which includes her lack of affection for her appointed husband and distaste for how women are unfairly treated, especially with regard to domestic violence. Alera's attitudes may make sense to the modern reader, but they sharply contrast with the narrative's medieval tone. Readers would benefit from reading series opener  Legacy (2011) to understand the history of these two warring nations, Alera and Narian's relationship and the mystical powers of Cokyri's evil Overlord. Without this, many of the characters and their relationships to Alera blend easily and feel ill-formed. A formulaic, quick (if hefty) romance that creates believable suspense as Alera determines whether her allegiance is to her lover or kingdom. 

The Dame's Review:

I was impressed to find that Ms Kluver's first book "Legacy" won such recognition.  This 2nd book in her series seems to fall short of that sort of award-winning, I think.  Such is often the way of 2nd and 3rd books in a series.  And this is a publishing world in which authors are encouraged to produce a series when one fine book might suffice.

This is a book for older young adults in that it has a more complex storyline about male-female relationships.  While it is about young people in their late teens and early 20's, they actually behave like much older adults, which is disconcerting to the reader who expected less implied sexuality. 

 I felt as if I were reading a sort of historical romance novel couched in a fantasy wrapper or vice versa, as well. Ordinarily I can adjust to his senario.  However, in this case, it was difficult to keep my concentration focused on the "other worldliness,"  though I did like the characters very much.  I simply felt the author was trying too hard to straddle both worlds without being clear which one she was in! I attribute this to her being a young author who doesn't have the experience necessary to focus one way or another.  All in all, it made for a novel that was a bit wonkey. 

The characters are interesting, the premise is good, and YAs will like the beautiful figures described.  That may make you wonder why I would question anything at all...but you'd  have to read the mismatch or believe me to understand what I mean. 

Here's a twist:  What appealed to me, but was actually out of place as well, was the young Alera standing up for herself against all the powerful men of the Kingdom.  A daunting idea in the apparent "age" and time she found herself, and with the particularly violent and explosive temper of a husband who was King.  I liked her spunk, but soon after she'd shown her strength a few times, I got bored with it, and kept wondering when she was going to loosen up a little!  As women, we have to find a happy medium, and balance that with the understanding creatures we are, as well as keeping our individuality.  Anger and violence from either gender is abhorrent, after all.  Why should a woman get away with what a man shouldn't?

Without beating a dead horse, I just need to say that this book is a mixed bag.  There are some good moments if you're interested in a historical romance...but if you want a well-developed fantasy novel, this isn't it.  Since I didn't read the first book in this series, I didn't have all the background on Alera, the young woman Queen, and her sweetheart Narian, a great warrior from an opposing clan.  But, that story is soon picked up in the reading of "Allegiance."  You won't miss much if you don't read the first book.   Alera's "allegiance" to her country is in contrast to her love for Narian...thus, the proverbial battle of love and war.

I cannot recommend this novel without reservation to my readers and friends.  It's a novel with a good premise that wasn't given a clear follow-through, written by a novice writer with promise, I think. I have to say readers beware...at best a light reading distraction that may fail to please..

2 1/2 stars


Sneak Peek! "Grave Mercy" by Robin LaFevers~YA Trilogy Begins!!

Published by:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Genre: YA Fiction/Paranormal
Publication Date:  April 3, 2012

Sneak Preview!!!

Sneaky Summary :
"Grave Mercy" by Robin LaFevers~ 1st book in the "His Fair Assassin Trilogy"
Escaping from the brutality of an arranged marriage, seventeen-year-old Ismae finds sanctuary at the convent of St. Mortain. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts -- and a violent destiny. She will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death -- yet in order to claim her new life, she must be willing to take the lives of others. But how can she deliver Death's vengeance against a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

"With characters that will inspire the imagination, a plot that nods to history while defying accuracy, and a love story that promises more in the second book, this is sure to attract feminist readers and romantics alike."
~Booklist, starred review
"Rich in historical detail, well-realized characters, political machinations, and enticingly prickly scenes between Ismae and Duval, LaFevers's complex tale incorporates magic both sparingly and subtly. This powerful first volume of the His Fair Assassin series should attract many readers."
~Publishers Weekly, starred review

Actually,  please click this link to read the excerpt!!  http://hmhbooks.com/gravemercy

Are you going to be ready for this one???

See more about "Grave Mercy" at the authors site:

*This sneak preview is brought to you by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in association with Netgalley.


"At the Mercy of the Queen" by Anne Clinard Barnhill~Historical Fiction Epitomized!

Published by:  St. Martin's Press
Pages:  432
Also: Reading Group Information~About the Author, Behind the Novel
and Keep On Reading
Review: In cooperation with:  Historical Fiction Virtual
Book Tours

About the Book :
"At the Mercy of the Queen" is a sweeping tale of sexual seduction and intrigue at the court of Henry VIII, a rich and dramatic debut historical about Madge Shelton, cousin and lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn.

At the innocent age of fifteen, Lady Margaret Shelton arrives at the court of Henry VIII and quickly becomes the confidante of her cousin, Queen Anne Boleyn. But she soon finds herself drawn into the perilous web of Anne’s ambition.

Desperate to hold onto the king’s waning affection, Anne schemes to have him take her guileless young cousin as mistress, ensuring her husband’s new paramour will owe her loyalty to the queen. But Margaret has fallen deeply in love with a handsome young courtier. She is faced with a terrible dilemma: give herself to the king and betray the love of her life or refuse to become his mistress and jeopardize the life of the her cousin, Queen Anne.

Meet the Author:
Anne Cli­nard Barn­hill has been writ­ing or dream­ing of writ­ing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has pub­lished arti­cles, book and the­ater reviews, poetry, and short sto­ries. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like grow­ing up with an autis­tic sis­ter. Her work has won var­i­ous awards and grants. Barn­hill holds an M.F.A. in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­sity of North Car­olina at Wilm­ing­ton. Besides writ­ing, Barn­hill also enjoys teach­ing, con­duct­ing writ­ing work­shops, and facil­i­tat­ing sem­i­nars to enhance cre­ativ­ity. She loves spend­ing time with her three grown sons and their fam­i­lies. For fun, she and her hus­band of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

For more information, please visit Anne Clinard Barnhill's website @ http://www.anneclinardbarnhill.comwebsite/W

The Dame's Review:
A sparkling account of the Tudor court, accompanied by the love story between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, as well as her cousin and lady-in-waiting, Margaret Shelton, will give you many hours of enjoyment.  This is a familiar story, but it's couched in the intrigue of Margaret or Madge Shelton's coming to the court and finding her life  compromised in vastly unexpected ways.  Ms Barnhill's research is apparent throughout the novel in details that enhance the reading.  I was surprised by some of the finest details I hadn't known, even after having read many a historical novel about the 1500's and the Tudor era.  This is a novel that held my interest and kept me reading, though it absolutely falls within the historical fiction category and not historical romance.

While we get a passing description of each person involved in the story, I believe they could have been filled out more.  I think this may be due to the focus which seemed more on historical interest.  What happened is that I didn't get strongly attached to any one figure, but rather became more involved in the court intrigue and details of the life there than in the characters themselves.  The romance between Madge Shelton and her sweetheart Arthur Brandon was courtly, but never quite reached a point that convinced me of anything passionate, for instance.  And, I didn't feel the desperation of Anne Boleyn as she struggled to keep her king, her child or her head.  

Though it absolutely held a sense of the language and cadence of the times, I found the dialog rote.  However, strangely enough, that was also one of the things I enjoyed most in the reading.  I cannot emphasize too much the translation of historical detail.  So while this might be annoying in a novel meant to engage one in both history and romance, it just worked to create an atmosphere of the times for me.  I found it easy to overlook a diaglog that was matter of fact or predictable in light of the truth it was telling.

I will say this, in closing, I thoroughly enjoyed "At the Mercy of the Queen" as a glimpse into the Tudor court's outwardly sumptuous, but terrifyingly political ways.  It was a walk I loved taking in the historical fiction genre.  I cannot recommend it as a book with emphasis on the romantic or character driven aspects, as I've said.  Although it does include these elements, the best of the book lies in the author's ability to transport us to another time and the reality of the queen's and a lady-in-waiting's lives.

3 1/2 stars

Deborah/The Bookish Dame

For more information and other reviews of "At the Mercy of the Queen" go to:  http://www.hfvirtualbooktours.blogspot.com/

*A copy of this book was given to me for a review of my honest opinion

Friday, February 24, 2012

"The Rebel Wife" by Taylor M. Polites~Historical Fiction At Its Best!

This Review Brought To You By the Dame's Association with Tribute Book Tours

Published by: Simon & Schuster
Pages:  304
Genre:  Fiction/Historical

"The Rebel Wife" by Taylor M. Polites~
Set in Reconstruction Alabama, Augusta “Gus” Branson's is a young widow whose quest for freedom turns into a race for her life when her husband Eli dies of a swift and horrifying fever and a large package of money – her only inheritance and means of survival – goes missing. Gus begins to wake to the realities that surround her: the social stigma her marriage has stained her with, what her husband did to earn his fortune, the shifting and very dangerous political and social landscape that is being destroyed by violence between the Klan and the Freeman's Bureau, and the deadly fever that is spreading like wildfire. Nothing is as she believed, everyone she trusts is hiding something from her.

Meet the Author:  Taylor M. Polites is a novelist living in Providence, Rhode Island with his small Chihuahua, Clovis. Polites’ first novel, The Rebel Wife, is due out in February 2012 from Simon & Schuster. He graduated in June 2010 with his MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. He has lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, New York City, St. Louis and the Deep South. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a BA in History and French and spent a year studying in Caen, France. He has covered arts and news for a variety of local newspapers and magazines, including the Cape Codder, InNewsWeekly, Bird’s Eye View (the in-flight magazine of CapeAir), artscope Magazine and Provincetown Arts Magazine.

Polites is an extraordinary new talent in Southern fiction, and both the book and author are being embraced by the biggest names in Southern literature. Early readers of The Rebel Wife have been delighted by the echoes of Flannery O'Connor, Tennessee Williams, and Cormac McCarthy in this genre-subverting southern gothic novel with a more contemporary understanding of the stereotypes that were prevalent in Margaret Mitchell’s day. As you read The Rebel Wife, you'll find tattered fragments of Gone with the Wind and meet completely subverted versions of the white Southern Gentleman, the good Mammy, the conniving Scalawag, and the defenseless Southern Belle.

Polites was born in Huntsville, Alabama, the basis for the town of Albion in this book, and has been researching this novel since he was 15 years old, when he volunteered to work at a historic home there. He became obsessed with the Southern experience during the Civil War; read diaries, memoirs, and letters from that time; and ultimately imagined and mapped out the town of Albion, much like William Faulkner created his Yoknapatawpha County. He is deeply knowledgeable about the time and place he writes about and its literature, giving this book impeccable authenticity and authority.

We Must Interview Mr. Polites!!  Or~Other queries from his book tour:

Question from http://themaidenscourt.blogspot.com/  tour interview:
Did you find it difficult to write from a female perspective?  What led to the choice of a central female character rather than a male protagonist?
Yes! I did find it difficult. There were moments where I thought, “What am I doing trying to project myself into the body of a 29 year old woman in 1875? What on earth do I know about this?” But as a writer, too, I like a good challenge. It definitely put my imagination to work. I have always had a fascination with strong women characters from my first acquaintance with Scarlett O’Hara, at least (I was about 13). Women in fiction have always been a big draw for me—and real women from the Civil War period also fascinated me. There is a wealth of voices that remain to us in letters, diaries, memoirs and essays. From Louisa McCord, the firebrand conservative political philosopher of mid-19th century South Carolina, to her peer Mary Chesnut, the smart, ambitious and witty diarist who moved in the highest political circles during the war. There are Huntsville voices, too, that served as muse for me. The passionate and frank letters of Kate Fearn Steele to her husband, Matt, collected along with other family letters in Cease Not to Think of Me. And the vain Virginia Clay Clopton, who is changed by tragedy during the war and becomes the most ardent petitioner to the President during the imprisonment of her husband in Fortress Monroe. Her memoir, A Belle of the Fifties, tells her life story in her own words (more or less, she had a co-writer). Whenever I was going to sit down and write, I would open up Mary Chesnut’s diary or Kate Fearn’s letters and read passages to get a sense of the voice and view of these women.

That he mentioned "Gone With the Wind" and its impact on Southern literature...What was his relationship with the book?
I first read Gone With the Wind in the seventh grade. We had a choice of books, but Gone With the Wind called to me. I played sick for most of that week so I could stay home and read it. I read it all the way through and then started it again, I was so bowled over. I read it again and again as I went through high school, at least fourteen times. It led me to read other books about the period, whether they were John Jakes’ North and South or Lonnie Coleman’s Beulah Land. I turned to original sources, too, like Mary Chesnut’s diary and the memoirs of Fanny Kemble from her stay on her husband’s Georgia Plantation, the memoirs of Susan Dabney Smedes of Mississippi and Sarah Morgan’s Louisiana diary.

In college, I continued reading, but pursued a more academic research into the South. There, I began to understand the disconnect between the “Old South” in many novels and the “Old South” as it really existed. That disconnect was initially difficult for me to reconcile. I didn’t want to know the truth, but it was undeniable. That is the pull of a romance, isn’t it? There is so much beauty to the daydream that you don’t want to let it go. There is something of that in Augusta, too.

Today, I respect Gone With the Wind as a great piece of storytelling and a very influential book, but I regret its representations of African-Americans and the sentimentalist viewpoint Mitchell takes (and can’t help but take). I will always be attached to Gone With the Wind, but I like the idea of having a counterpoint to read with it, like Alice Randall’s wonderful The Wind Done Gone.

The Dame's Interview w/ Mr. Polites :
1) First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you "tick." When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
I love history and I love to read. When I’m not writing, I’m usually reading history books—and all sorts of history. Ancient Rome, Renaissance France, American History, Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. I also read as much fiction as I can.
2) You chose a specific genre, a place and time to write about, what made you choose it?
I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, a place that has a beautiful antebellum historic district. I read Southern books, like Gone With the Wind, and was captivated by the combination of these things, the physical world around me and the imaged one in books. As I grew older, I studied American history and in particular the history of the South. I learned that the stories that often went with the beautiful homes often left out a large part of the story. I wanted to write a book that had the same sense of drama and tension, but told a fuller version of the story, a version that might achieve the same feeling of myth, but with more honesty.
3) Please share with your readers where you like to write. Do you have a particular space or desk? What can you see from your desk? Do you have props you use to write from? What about special "charms?"
All I really need to write is quiet. Sometimes I like very low music. In writing this book, I had Philip Glass’ music from The Hours on over and over again—but it is like quiet, an inobtrusive wallpaper with a very soft heartbeat that went well with the mood of the story. I love libraries. I have spent many hours in different libraries, particularly the public library in Provincetown, Massachusetts, sitting on an upper floor at a table in front of a window that looks out over the harbor. There was something very meditative about looking out at the sky and water and the thin horizon line, something that worked with Glass’ music and the story I was writing.
4) In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?
The most successful books are ones that create a whole world that wraps the reader up. If you find yourself lost in the story, that is the mark of a great book.
5) Which author(s) most influenced your love of books from childhood?
The first book I remember reading where I really felt like I had been struck by lightning was Gone With the Wind. I had read other books kids read at that age and before, Superfudge and Rumblefish and others, but when I was 12 or so and read Gone With the Wind, that was life changing, all absorbing. I read Agatha Christie books obsessively during my eighth grade year, every single one of them. In high school, I moved on to Jane Austen and remember feeling that same sense of electricity when I read Pride and Prejudice, that sense of exquisite beauty in the voice and development of a character.
6) Read any good books in the past 6 months?
I have read a ton of great books in the last six months! Coming Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry, The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe, The Healing by Jonathan Odell, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin, Triple Time by Anne Sanow. All amazing, wonderful books—and that’s just a few!
7) Please share with us the underlying message of your book. What would you like your readers to take away after having read the book?
Every reader’s experience is going to be unique. That is part of what is wonderful about reading books—each person will bring their own perspective and take away different things from a single read. But The Rebel Wife tells the extended story of the Civil War, and if there is one thing I would like a reader to think about, it is that Reconstruction is not a stand-alone period, but fundamentally attached to the experience of the Civil War. Not everyone will agree with the struggle of Reconstruction as I have painted it, but I would hope that it would make people question the myths of this period that are still perpetuated. I would hope that it would make them think about how the aftermath of Reconstruction continued to echo through the twentieth century.
8) Were you able to keep your original title? What was it, if not?
There were a number of titles that we went through before settling on The Rebel Wife. My editor said that the title is often the most difficult part of a book, and I did find it very difficult. Those other titles were discarded for valid reasons. We should let them rest. The Rebel Wife is a title that is truly fitting to the story and contains layers of meaning that represent the book beautifully.
9) Is there a song or music in general that might best represent your book as a theme song?
That is a tough question! I don’t know of a single song that could represent the book, but music is very important to the story. I used many popular and spiritual songs in the book. My favorite is probably Balm in Gilead, which is such a beautiful spiritual. Also, I Can’t Stay Here By Myself, which is so haunting and sad. And the dance tune Sallie Goodin and the waltz Aura Lea, which was the basis for Elvis’ hit Love Me Tender.
10) If you could write your book again, what would you change?
Rather than rewriting this book, I am looking forward to writing the next! I hope I am not a writer who feels the need to rehash and revisit finished work. The manuscript is complete and I feel the story is complete, not requiring any changes. I learned an immense amount about writing, characters, plotting, and story from this experience and I look forward to putting all that I have learned to good use on the next!   I'm holding my breath until your next book comes out, too!!
11) What was the worst distraction you had to fight through while writing your book?
Doubt is always the biggest obstacle. I think this is true for many (if not all) writers, and it is very true for me. Spending so much time in your head when you are working on a book naturally leads to self-questioning: Why am I doing this? Is it any good? Will anyone care? Why should anyone care? But I work hard to manage that voice of doubt using journaling, meditation, exercise and the support of good friends.
12) What did you feel or think when you held the first copy of your book in your hands?
Receiving the box of copies (the galleys) with the cover on them and the text basically complete was a dream come true. This entire experience has been a dream come true. I have had the desire to write books for my entire life. The doubt I mentioned before comes very easily, especially your first time at writing. So to have fought through it and to have written a book that is getting the kind of support and interest that it has received is truly a gift beyond anything I could have realistically expected. I have truly accomplished the one key goal I have had for so many years—and now my goal is book number two!
13) Tell us a secret about your book we wouldn’t otherwise know, please!
When my editor first read the book and we had a conversation about it, she asked if there weren’t whispers of Gone With the Wind in it. I had written many little references of varying subtlety into the text and no one until then had remarked upon it. I thought, well, it will be my secret. It will be something I put into this story for myself. Needless to say, I was very surprised and very thrilled that she connected with those whispers and I hope there are many other readers who enjoy them, too.
Thank you for allowing us to spend time with you, and for bending to my nosy questions!!
Thank you so much for your great questions and your interest in The Rebel Wife!
The Dame's Final Words :
"The Rebel Wife" is an easily entertaining, enjoyable book, and I think many have forgotten that that's important any time we assess the value of literature; it is this singular reason we read at all.  Without this primary component, no one would read.  If a book cannot entertain, cause us to become "lost in it," in its "other world" liness, as Mr. Polites said so well, then it can't be called a "good book."  As reviewers we sometimes forget this important factor, as it pales in comparison to our attempts at flowery and intelligent-groping descriptions... I'm happy to report this is a very good book.

I'm a Southern girl, born and bred, read all the books that Taylor mentions, did similar research, belonged to historical restoration foundations, you name it...  I've had a bone-bred love of all things that made and still make the South what it is.  My family's blood was spilled to build up and tear down and rebuild both the North and the South for many generations. I understand Mr. Polites heart and a bit of his soul in this book, I believe. 

His cadence touches my heart.  I hear it in his writing.  The songs of the South...the speech...  I hear and see the familiar peoples.  My mind can see the church people, the hymns being hummed, the boy in the black suit ringing the bell down the dusty street proclaiming the death of Mr. Eli; it's in my blood.  I can feel the heat of a summer day when the ice melts on your sweet tea before you can taste it.  And I know the condescension of Southern men; particularly toward unprotected and unmarried women.  I recognize the prejudices and the powers of those who seem to be the powerless. It delights my heart to read about strong women who overcome. How beautifully and craftily and quietly Taylor Polites has laid these things bare for us, and for those who can "see" and those who can "hear."  

This book is not a new "Gone With The Wind," so I hope the expectation of that isn't found here.  I love GWTW for what it is and what it represents of the Old South. It's a classic, and nothing will replace that wonderful book in  American literature.  Rather, "A Rebel Wife" is a new interpretation.  It touches upon the subtle ways peace and readjustment came to the South, and continues to be won there.  I love it for what it has to say.   It's a worthy book, and it's a beautiful story.

5 stars                    Deborah/TheBookishDame

*For other reviews of this excellent book, please see "The Rebel Wife" on tour at:  http://www.tribute-books.com/

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Warning! "The Legacy of Eden" by Nelle Davy will be forever scorched in your mind!

Published by:  Mira/Harlequin
Pages:  377 
 Bookgroup Discussion Questions
and Author Interview
Genre:  Fiction

Book Cover Rating:
First impression tells me this is about American farmland.  Dark, foreboding sky warns of a less than blissful "Eden."  Best-selling author's blurb provides a glimpse into the story, as well.   I like this type of novel.
The girl on the cover seems young adult.  Does this mean it's not an adult fiction?  That gives me pause... 

Colors and Layout:  The field is washed out against a too pale girl's skin.  So it's jarring against the darker sky.  Would have been more pleasing if the corn were more "golden."  I like the general lay-out and the type scale.

I've not heard of the author.  She's an unknown I'd have to take a chance on.  But, all in all, I like the cover enough to look inside out of curiosity.      Rating:  C+

For generations, Aurelia was the crowning glory of more than three thousand acres of Iowa farmland and golden cornfields. The estate was a monument to matriarch Lavinia Hathaway's dream to elevate the family name—no matter what relative or stranger she had to destroy in the process. It was a desperation that wrought the downfall of the Hathaways—and the once-prosperous farm.

Now the last inhabitant of the decaying old home has died—alone. None of the surviving members of the Hathaway family want anything to do with the farm, the land or the memories.

Especially Meredith Pincetti. Now living in New York City.  For seventeen years Lavinia's youngest grandchild has tried to forget everything about her family and her past. But with the receipt of a pleading letter, Meredith is again thrust into conflict with the legacy that destroyed her family's once-great name.

Back at Aurelia, Meredith must confront the rise and fall of the Hathaway family…and her own part in their mottled history.

The Dame's Review:  

"The Legacy of Eden" is nothing short of a mesmerizing novel.  Once engaged, I couldn't stop reading it if I wanted to.  Every word must drip from Nelle Davy's illusionary pen like silver.  She is a word spinner--simply captivating and crushing your psyche from one sentence to the next.  Her writing abilities are staggering.  And this grotesque, family dynasty novel is of the best kind, reminiscent of Steinbeck's "East of Eden," and Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres."  I expect great things from Nelle Davy's book and from her in the future.

Primarily this is a novel written from the perspectives of women.  Women are complicated beings to begin with, and Nelle Davy creates her Hathaway characters with such complexity of feeling and depth that you can only believe they lived and breathed and acted just as she writes about them.  For instance, Lavinia Hathaway, the damaged, psychotic and destructive matriarch of the family is so malevolent, she's difficult to comprehend without having inside information into her evil plots and manipulations.  She's a triumph of a character!  And, she is the center from which the story works.  A vicious, devious, controlling woman who was the snake in the garden of Aurelia's eden, she 
orchestrates the demise of her family for several generations.  What a villian.  This is an amazing accomplishment by an author.  I've read so many books, and Lavinia is one of those similar to classical literature characters who you just don't forget.

"Hatred--it always comes down to that, doesn't it?  But I've found that it's always at its most potent when it's laced with love."  Lavinia Hathaway.

Meredith, the narrator and youngest of the three girl grandchildren of Lavinia, tells the story of their home, Aurelia, the farm that nurtured the Hathaway family for several generations.  Like most family homes, it embodied the tragedies and dark sides of the family while it sustained them, and held them together in a dance macabe.  Aurelia was the beautiful and the ugly...the harmful and the heart of their lives.  Memories were made there and those memories for good and for bad are what "The Legacy of Eden" is about.  Meredith also tells the intimate stories of each family member through the life details of her sisters, her grandmother and her aunt.

Nelly Davy takes simple tableaus such as the dinner table and creates powerful family scenes that crackle with the friction and horrors of a powder keg ready to ignite. She can make a subtle flick of a child's tongue over her teeth, and the gentle clatter of a tea spoon on a cup at the perfect moment in her dialog, send shivers through you.  Nelly knows family dysfunction and she can dish it out in perfect cadence with her imaginative writing.  It's just amazing to read.

When asked what inspired her to write her novel, Ms Davy said:  "I was inspired by Robert Graves "I, Claudius," and the Katherine Anne Porter quote: 

        "In the richest houses, in the most comfortable homes, the best people do the worst things to each other." 

This is a story set in a midwestern farm community in the 1930's to '70's. It seems a rather innocuous setting. But, it is an unimaginably envisioned tale of women and men who were acted upon by evil posing as good among them.  It's the story of mothers and daughters and sisters. Of love and loyalty. Of the exiled and the escapees.  It's the story of those who destoryed themselves and others. Of those who chose to forgive and those who chose never to forget.  And, it's ultimately a novel that will leave you examining yourself and your own motives in life...which may be the goal of all great literature.

Don't miss this book.

5+ stars