Friday, December 19, 2014

Weekend reads and getting back to reading...

Even though we moved three months ago, we just unpacked Little Reader's bookshelf last weekend. (Just in time for his grandmother's visit this weekend!)  We're mostly just reading Hello, Bugs to Little Reader right now -- but he really does seem to like the images!

Unbelievably, I read a whole book last week! It was fabulous, too -- Megan Mayhew Bergman's short story collection Almost Famous Women.  (Review to come in January when it releases.) But I managed to get reading in while nursing or pumping, and I'm glad to be back in the reading groove.

My read for this weekend (and beyond) is How To Be A Heroine: Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much by Samantha Ellis. It's very readable for non-fiction, a mix of memoir and personal essay about some favorite, beloved, and well-known heroines from Western lit. It makes me want to revisit (or read for the first time) every book she mentions! (But that's a wish for later -- I'm not that bold to attempt a major reading project with an infant!)

What are you reading this weekend? And for those who celebrate, Happy Hanukkah and/or Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014


Life is a blur these days -- Little Reader turned three weeks! -- and it feels like it's been forever that he's been here and that he's still a new arrival.  But every day it gets a little easier to do more and more, and I've got books by me for when he's nursing -- I've got in a page or two now and then!

Here are my giveaway winners!

The winner of The Tiger Queens is ... Alise!

The winner of The Spoils of Avalon is ... Susan T!

Congrats to the winners! I don't have any upcoming giveaways for a few weeks, but I'm going to try to keep reviewing -- although at this point, it may just be breastfeeding books, board books, and other parenting guides. I'll try to keep it interesting!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interview with Mary Burns

I ended up having to pass on a number of delicious tours while on maternity leave, and one I'm particularly heartbroken about is the tour for Mary Burns' historical mystery, The Spoils of Avalon. Set in 1877, the novel follows famed painter John Singer Sargent and his childhood friend Violet Paget, better known as writer Vernon Lee. I love the whole setup of this series, and I'm thrilled I was able to interview Ms. Burns in lieu of a review.  Hope you're as intrigued as I am -- read on to learn more about her book, her writing, and what she does when she's not writing.  And be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

My very first piece of fiction was a short story I wrote in the eighth grade (WAY back in 1964) about…ta da! The Beatles! I wrote an ‘odyssey’ story about them that actually pre-dated “A Hard Day’s Night”! The four lads had to get in high gear when John Lennon’s (then) wife Cynthia and newborn son Julian were kidnapped and held for ransom. Each Beatle had his own chapter of adventures around the city of London (which of course I’d never been to) and then they end up grabbing the kidnapper and setting Cynthia and Julian free. I even illustrated it with pen and ink drawings, copying photos of them from the teen magazines. Sadly, the manuscript has been lost to time.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I like to find a piece of instrumental music to play every time I sit down to write, which is often in the late afternoon. For my book on John Singer Sargent, it was a Chopin nocturne (Sargent loved Chopin’s music and played excellently.) For The Spoils of Avalon, I listened to two things: Sandy Bull’s Inventions, and a CD of Gregorian Chant.

Was The Spoils of Avalon the original title of your book?

Yes, it was! I am a huge fan of Henry James, and I had recently read his Spoils of Poynton, and then there was that goofy TV series, The Spoils of Bablyon (with Will Ferrell and Toby McGuire), so I guess ‘spoils’ was on my mind – plus, it fit the plot!

As you were writing The Spoils of Avalon, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

You know, all my characters surprise me when I’m writing. I can literally be typing away, and the characters are saying things, revealing things about their thoughts or even things that happened to them previously, and I’m saying, “Wow, I didn’t know that about you!” With actual personages such as Sargent or Violet Paget, I’ve read so many biographies and so much correspondence, I feel like I know them, but they still come up with stuff that’s unexpected. I especially like my fictional characters, though; for instance, Lord James Parke in The Spoils of Avalon—although there actually was a lord with that name at the time, my character is not based on anything real about him. But he kept revealing little things about himself during the writing that I had to just wonder, where on earth is that coming from?

When you’re not writing, what do you like to do?

I’m a book reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, so I read books for them, in addition to all the books I read constantly. I also play the piano and I make stained glass windows. Love to cook and put on elegant dinner parties. Here’s a picture of a recent dinner party appetizer set, and a stained glass window, too.

Read any good books recently?

I just finished The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, it was terrific! She really got into the down-and-dirty details of what it was like for a mid-19th century woman to find herself living in a hut on an island in Fiji—so realistic it made me itch from imaginary mosquito bites! Great story.

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My thanks to Ms. Burns for her time and thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books via her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to check out the other blogs on the tour to see reviews and more interviews.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Spoils of Avalon (eBook or Print, winner's choice) to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US, Canadian, and Australian readers, ends 11/28.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


My apologies for the delay in announcing these winners -- newborns are a bit exhausting!  I'm thrilled to share them now, however.

The winners of Texts from Jane Eyre are ... Tracy B., Shannon D., and Jennifer @ The Relentless Reader!

The winner of A Day of Fire is ... Craig W.!

Congrats to the winners!  There's one more giveaway going on and a few more coming.  Hopefully I'll get back to reading and can share my reviews of the last few books from before I gave birth.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview with Stephanie Thornton

I have loved every single one of Stephanie Thornton's historical novels and the only reason I'm not reviewing her newest, The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan, is because I've got a six-day old baby.  But I'm dying to dig in (thank you, Ms. Thornton, for sending me a copy!) and I'm excited to share my interview with Ms. Thornton about this book and her writing of it. Be sure to enter the giveaway to win a copy, too!

Was The Tiger Queens the original title of your book?

Actually, it was! I'm three for three with my titles so far... They've all been my creation, which is pretty rare for authors these days. But The Tiger Queens is just the perfect for all of these women, considering how fierce they had to be to survive not only Mongolia's harsh climate, but also the political tumult of Genghis' conquests.

As you were writing The Tiger Queens, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Fatima, a Persian captive, was actually the character who most surprised me, I think because I got rather attached to her and she ends up making some rather surprising choices throughout the story. She's a snob to her very marrow, (although really, it would have difficult for anyone to avoid looking down their noses at the Mongols for their table manners), but that actually becomes one of her most endearing traits, at least to me.

Your novels span the globe and different historical eras. How do you get into the right mindset for each novel?

Research, research, research! (Did I mention research?) I'm a total history nerd so I absolutely eat up all the weird trivialities of life in the ancient world, like the fact that the Mongols really did tenderize meat under their saddles as they rode and participated in the predecessor to today's Naadam festival, a multi-day sporting event featuring the "three manly arts" of horse racing, archery, and wrestling. (Fun Fact: Genghis Khan supposedly proclaimed that all wrestlers compete wearing open vests because a woman once won the competition. And yes, I managed to work that scene into The Tiger Queens!)

You have three books out now, and you're working on your fourth. Do you have one that you're more sentimental about?

I'm sentimental about all my books, but for different reasons. The Tiger Queens was my problem child simply because the story spans eighty years of history, four cultures, and virtually all of Eurasia. So I suppose I'm sentimental about it because it was the most difficult to write, and several times I threatened to throw the entire thing out the window!

Read any good books recently?

I just had the privilege of reading an early version of Kate Quinn's Lady of the Eternal City, and let me tell you, it is phenomenal! I'm also getting ready to dive into George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons--I can't wait to see what happens to Tyrion and Daenerys! (Although if either of them dies I'm going to throw a monumental temper tantrum.)

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My thanks to Ms. Thornton for her thoughtful responses.  You can learn more about her and her books at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to follow the tour and check out reviews on the other blogs.


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Tiger Queens to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US residents only, ends 11/28. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Little Reader is here!

I apologize for disappearing suddenly, but I went into labor last Monday, and at 1:35am on Wednesday, Little Reader arrived! 

Meet Winslow Alcott.  He's about 21 inches long and today, at five days in, weights about 7 pounds, 12 ounces.  He's such a sweetie, although we're all learning how to live together.  Needless to say, I haven't been reading much but I'm hoping once we figure out our routine together, I can resume reading regularly.

I hope to keep updating here, however -- I have some wonderful author interviews coming up, a few giveaways, too, and I will try to keep in touch with folks -- but apologies if I seem to go MIA for a while.

To close, one more photo of the Little Reader...

Friday, November 7, 2014

Interview with the authors of A Day of Fire, part two

I'm thrilled to share part two of my interview with the authors of A Day of Fire: Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray (here's my review!). They kindly agreed to do a roundtable style conversation about the writing of this book. Be sure to check out part one of the interview to learn how this premise came about and what it was like for these novelists to write together (and there's a chance to win a Kindle copy of this book, too!)

What surprised you most about collaborating with the other authors?

Sophie: The sheer joy of it. This can be a very solitary business and so writers often come together to talk out snags in their work with fellow-writer friends. But this time group brainstorming had an extra layer of “all for one and one for all.” It was the most social writing experience I’ve ever had.

Ben: This part is where I missed out by living on the other side of the Atlantic! I know that four of the others met up a couple of times to bash out ideas, and to improve the storyline etc. I would have loved to have been part of that, as per Sophie’s comment above. I used to be a veterinarian (cue: sociable job) and now I write full time (cue: one of the loneliest jobs there is). I ain’t complaining - my job satisfaction continues to rate over 95%, but the biggest downside of being a writer is the solitude. I am lucky to be part of an historical writers’ association (the HWA), and to socialize with many of its members, but it was still great to collaborate with some new colleagues - now friends.

Kate: The fun part of writing collaboratively is taking advantage of the expertise in the collective pool. For example, Ben telling me that eyeballs don’t collapse when gouged out; they burst. He says he knows this because of the aforementioned veterinary experience. (Sure . . .)

Stephanie: Had we to do it again--and I think there will be an again!--we would Skype Ben and Vicky into our plotting chats because the brilliance of working collaboratively is that we were able to take advantage of everyone’s skill set in a different way. We were able to solve each other’s problems. Six heads are better than one!

Eliza: I agree with Stephanie! “A Day of Fire” was so much fun! Plus, being able to bounce ideas off each other made writing a lot easier--and the way Kate, Stephanie and Vicky teased me about my frustrations with the Roman naming process! I literally said at one point, does everyone have to be named Julius??? lol.

Sophie: Forget skyping Ben in! We need to fly over, put on the garb and do one of his fabulous ancient Roman charity walks with him! How about it Ben? Ladies welcome?

Vicky: An ancient Roman walk across the pond? Oh, I’m so there. And as we march, we could brainstorm. That is the only possible way I can imagine topping this experience!

Kate: I do my best thinking while walking. I’m bringing the gladius hanging over my computer. And can we get Ian McKellan’s voiceover from Ben’s Romani Walk film floating over our heads as we all saunter along? “These six authors are bitching about inaccurate Roman armor in Hollywood movies and planning a new project where no gladiators are wearing medieval bracers . . .”

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My thanks to the authors for their time and thoughtful answers.  You can learn more about the authors and find their websites here. And you can check out part one of the interview to enter to win a Kindle copy of the book!