Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekend reads and it's a long one...

I took today off to give myself a decadently long weekend, and to add extra luxury, have indulged in a brownie for breakfast. Feeling pretty great already...!

I'm working on some posts for Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon, which takes place next weekend. I won't be able to participate, but I plan to cheerlead the heck out of folks who are. And of course, am slowly chipping away at the seemingly neverending pile of reviews I need to finish, le sigh. Although, victory, I did finally review Karen Abbott's marvelous Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy.

My weekend read is Twain's End, Lynn Cullen's newest, a historical novel about Mark Twain's relationship with his secretary Isabel Lyon. After blessing her marriage to his business partner, he then wrote a 429-page screed accusing them of all kinds of dastardly things, slandering her publicly! Plus, there's some juicy details about an apparent love triangle that Helen Keller was involved in! Could there be a more perfect weekend read?

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by Karen Abbott

Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Author: Karen Abbott

First line: In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year-old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her.

Review: My one word review: WOW.

This chunky non-fiction book about four women who worked undercover during the American Civil War made numerous top ten lists when it was released last year; it has a ringing endorsement from Erik Larson, among others. It reads like a novel, featuring women doing some jaw-dropping stuff, and renders the Civil War and the world of that era vibrantly.

I don't often read non-fiction -- too dry for me, and it takes me forever to finish -- but in this case, I finished reading this in about a month, and it was anything but dry.

Abbott details the adventures of four women who took a particularly active role in the Civil War: there's Belle Boyd, a teenager who decides to become a spy for the Confederacy and who does so with great panache; Emma Edmonds, a woman who disguises herself as Frank Thompson, and joins the Union army; Rose O'Neal Greenhow, a Confederate widow who ruins her reputation among the upper class in order to help her beloved Confederacy; and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond abolitionist whose spy network includes her former slave Mary Bowser, a plant in the Jefferson Davis household.

Their stories are told chronologically, which further creates a novelistic feel to this book, and by focusing on women with such different aims and lives, plunges the reader deeply into battle, besieged cities, and jail (among other locales and challenges).

Through the lens of these four women, especially Emma Edmonds, we also learn about how the war was fought, especially by Union General George McClellan. I'm personally not keen on battlefield strategy and all that, but Abbott had me gripped -- helped, no doubt, by the drama of McClellan's choices. The gruesome reality of 19th century combat, too, was unshakably portrayed.

The most vibrant figure is Belle Boyd, the teenaged spy nicknamed the "Secesh Cleopatra"; her giant personality and firm conviction in herself bounces off the pages.

Belle could feel Eliza trembling beside her. The motion set her off and she too began shaking, their bodies meeting in quick and nearly imperceptible collisions. (p202)

If, like me, you thought how could she possibly know that?, the pages and pages of notes and resources cited attest to the wealth of sources Abbott consulted in the building of this book. It's breathtakingly detailed without being ponderous to read, and this book deserves the accolades it's gotten.

Whether you're a fan of the US Civil War or not, pick this up if you enjoy reading about women's lives, especially during conflict and war. The pluck, verve, and commitment shared by these women is inspiring, too, and their commitment toward their values forced me to reconsider my own opinions about the Civil War.

Genre: Non-Fiction (19th Century / US / American Civil War / Espionage / Combat /
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (9/8/15)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Mistress of the Court by Laura Purcell

Title: Mistress of the Court
Author: Laura Purcell

First line: Pain cracked across the back of Henrietta's skull, filling her vision with white light.

Review: Purcell's previous novel, Queen of Bedlam, made my top ten of 2014; it was a compelling, sympathetic look at a royal family not often featured in fiction, and it kindled in me a renewed interest (and sympathy) for royal women.

In this book, Purcell tells the story of Henrietta Howard, courtier in the Hanover court of George II and Caroline. Trapped in a violent marriage, Henrietta moves her abusive, gambling husband to Germany in hopes of bettering their lives. Her obvious plight touches Caroline, and the two develop an intimate friendship of sorts.

So loyal is Henrietta that when asked by Caroline, she becomes the King's mistress. And from there, Henrietta is plunged into even more emotional tumult. What privilege and comfort she got from that romance was countered by the loss of her friendship with Caroline as well as access to her only child.

I was gripped by this novel from the first page. Despite the scandalous plot, it's a deeply melancholy novel -- so much loss, so much sacrifice -- and I loved that Purcell focused on the darkly pragmatic nature of royal mistresses. The point of view switches between Henrietta and Caroline (occasionally in the same paragraph, which was confusing!), allowing the rich, complicated relationship between these two women to come into full view. I liked and felt for both of them, two women battling the unfair power wielded by the men in their lives.

The characters are all vibrant and unforgettable. In some ways, Henrietta could be seen as a passive puppet ("...she had given and given of herself until she was nothing but a limp rag rung through a mangle." p 290) and yet, Purcell articulates such tender affection for her, I felt the same way. George I, Caroline's father-in-law, is a manipulative, villainous man I loathed -- fun, since in her Author's Note, Purcell comments that she wrote him from the view of George II and Caroline and plans to feature him in a future novel -- one I will undoubtedly get because I cannot wait to see how she makes me care for him!

The world of the Hanover court is also portrayed with evocative detail, small dashes of description that linger in my mind -- the mushrooms growing from the walls in the dank rooms of one palace, the glittering splendor of another -- as well as other tidbits about life in this time. (For a behind-the-curtain look at writing historical fiction, I recommend Purcell's blog post about wrestling with the historical stuff that readers think aren't historical!)

Moms will appreciate this endorsement for what it means, but this book was so good, I read it in bed (under my pillow, to keep from waking the baby!).

With this read, Purcell can count me a devoted fangirl. She does historical fiction beautifully, taking people and places foreign and unfamiliar, and rendering them warm, real, and approachable.

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 18th Century / Royalty / UK / Mistress / Marriage / Motherhood / Domestic Violence)
Publisher/Publication Date: Myrmidon Books Ltd (8/4/2015)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a paperback copy of Mistress of the Court to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US and international readers; ends 10/9. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Weekend reads and not really reading...

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words the last few weeks; I'm behind on responding, but am appreciative of your support and cheerleading (and reassurances I'm still a great blogger despite being behind on reviews!).

Am a bit gloomy on a brilliantly sunny Friday here in Boston --  I've got a vicious migraine (allergies, I suspect) -- but have a weekend alone with the baby as my wife is away taking a class.

Obviously, the best way to comfort myself over my inability/lack of time to read is by piling up my books and crafting an ambitious To Be Read pile.

Although I can't really stand to look at a screen, I'm starting Andrea Berthot's YA debut, The Heartless City, a novel that imagines the world following Dr. Jekyll's transformative discovery. Having read and enjoyed Hyde last year (another review long owed!), I'm eager for this one.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, September 11, 2015

Weekend reads and falling seriously behind...

I'm sorry I've been so absent from this blog; as before, I wish I could claim crazy work success or non-stop reading, but mostly, I'm just tired. (Who isn't?!)

I've got about six reviews I need to write, including a few that are of top ten reads for this year, and I'm not sure why I'm so paralyzed about that. Perhaps because so much time has passed? Do you all have any tips for getting out of the review-writing funk?

I'm ambitiously juggling three current reads at the moment, but all three are so good I can't stop any of them to focus on one.

I'm more than half way through Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, which reads like a novel, it is so good; and about a third of the way through Little Woman in Blue, a novel about May Alcott (Amy from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women). Little Woman in Blue is responsible for a bout of out-loud laughter on my commute this morning. And I've just started Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend because I'm the last person on the planet to do so, and I suspect I'll be a huge fan.

What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, August 28, 2015

Weekend reads and winding down...

Today is my last day of sabbatical!

I wish I could announce I finished the second draft of my novel, but I didn't; I wish I could brag I read a dozen books, but I think I managed two. Instead, I spent almost all my time with Unabridged Baby, and I'm so grateful for that. I'm going to miss this face when I return to the office on Monday!

I am looking forward to resuming my routines, however. My long commute is great for both reading and knitting, and there's an active craft group at my office -- which means I'll knit over lunch and breaks, too. (This is important as I've got a long queue of things to knit -- holiday presents, more items for the baby before he outgrows them, and a few things for myself!)

I'm still nursing a book hangover from Naomi J. Williams' amazing Landfalls (which I need to review, but for now, just imagine me squee-ing and flailing) but have started Karen Abbott's Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War. I rarely read non-fiction but have had this one on my TBR since its release and I'm very excited to dig in now.

How has your summer gone? What are you reading this weekend?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Cover Reveal: America's First Daughter

I'm so excited for this release! Stephanie Dray, one of my favorite authors, has paired up with Laura Kamoie to pen a novel about Thomas Jefferson's daughter Patsy. I'm absolutely on pins-and-needles for this one as I love Colonial/Revolutionary-era historical fiction and I'm so curious to see how Dray and Kamoie deal with Jefferson's complicated legacy. Read on to learn more about the book and the authors, and be sure to enter the giveaway to receive early access to a review copy!

America’s First Daughter
By: Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Releasing March 1st, 2016
William Morrow
In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.
 From her earliest days, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France. And it is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that she learns of her father’s liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age.
Patsy too has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé, William Short, a staunch abolitionist intent on a career in Europe. Heartbroken at having to decide between being William’s wife or a devoted daughter, she returns to Virginia with her father and marries a man of his choosing, raising eleven children of her own. 
Yet as family secrets come to light during her father’s presidency, Patsy must again decide how much she will sacrifice to protect his reputation, in the process defining not just Jefferson’s political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

Pre-Order Links: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo

STEPHANIE DRAY is a bestselling and award-nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into six different languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. As STEPHANIE DRAVEN, she is a national bestselling author of paranormal romance, contemporary romance, and American-set historical women’s fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation’s capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

LAURA CROGHAN KAMOIE is a historian specializing in colonial and revolutionary America, Virginia history, and the history of slavery. She holds a M.A. and Ph.D. in American history from The College of William and Mary and has published two historical monographs, including Irons in the Fire: The Business History of the Tayloe Family and the Virginia Gentry, 1700-1865 (University Press of Virginia, 2007). Laura is an Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy. In her fourteen years of college teaching, she has taught numerous graduate and undergraduate courses on colonial America, revolutionary America, African-American Slavery, as well as seminars on Thomas Jefferson.

As LAURA KAYE, she is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over a dozen titles in contemporary and paranormal romance. Her books have won numerous industry awards, including the EPIC eBook Award, the Golden Leaf award, the PRISM award, and the HOLT Medallion Award of Merit. She is a frequent panelist at national writing conferences and a frequent instructor of craft and social media workshops. Laura lives just outside the nation’s capital with her husband and two young daughters.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

a Rafflecopter giveaway