Thursday, April 28, 2011

Ines of My Soul by Isabel Allende

Title: Inés of My Soul
Author: Isabel Allende

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 16th century / South American)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (7/1/2007)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a great deal.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: The life of a 16th century Spanish girl, who rose from poverty to riches following the conquistadors of Chile.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes but it's not my favorite among the various editions (the 2006 hardcover is stunning).

I'm reminded of...: Laura Esquivel, Sandra Gulland

First line: I am Inés Suárez, a townswoman of the loyal city of Santiago de Nueva Extremadura in the kingdom of Chile, writing in the year of Our Lord 1580.

Did... I feel a bit uncomfortable with the wholly pro-conquistador plot line?: YES, but the perk of these P.S. editions is the extras.  This book includes an NPR interview with Isabel Allende who talks about keeping Inés' voice authentic to the era and having to, essentially 'choose sides'.  It helped me with my discomfort

Did... I find some unexpected parallels with other novels set during wartime?: YES.  Much like Sadie Jones' Small Wars (which I read earlier this year), this historical novel is about relationships and love but also about war, violence, and the impact of torture on those using it.

Is... there a free ebook of it available?: YES.  As of today, my Goodreads page for this edition offers a read it now/download ebook option for it, so I'd recommend logging into Goodreads today and downloading this if you can.  It's so worth it!

Why did I get this book?: Allende is a master of historical fiction and I love books with strong, crazy, interesting, fascinating narrators.

Review: Inés Suárez is a heroine that will stick with me for a long time.  At the book's opening, she estimates she's about seventy years old and is going to soon die.  In the rambling way of someone working through their memories, distracted at times by side stories and the need to unburden her soul, Inés' story unfolds.  

Born to an ordinary Spanish family, she and her childhood lover are caught up in the adventures of the Americas and the untold riches any man can claim.  She goes to join him after he leaves and finds herself a key player in the exploration and conquest of Chile, the last untamed regions of South America.  She finds true love, comfortable love, witnesses the founding of a nation, and makes a ton of empanadas.

I'm incredibly picky about my historical heroines sounding overly modern, especially if they're social rebels who are preternaturally gorgeous.  In Allende's quite competent hands, Inés manages to be both stubborn, pig-headed, willful, pretty, and smart without sounding too perfect or too talented. As a narrator, she has the distance of an old woman looking back on what turned out to be a rather momentous life, and so she qualifies and annotates and even rambles and repeats herself.  She's fascinating and charming, and I was immediately sucked in to her story.

This is an unusual era  and setting for historical novels (if one doesn't read a lot of Allende) and so I recommend it to all historical fiction fans.  If you're new to Allende, this is a fantastic starter novel -- great story, great narrator -- and the extras at the end provide a lovely introduction to Allende and her other works.


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GIVEAWAY!  This blog tour is for the paperback release of Isabel Allende's Island Beneath the Sea and I'm giving away a copy of it to one lucky reader!  Ends 5/20, US/CA readers only.  Just leave your name and email address for a chance to be entered.  For reviews and a description of Island Beneath the Sea, just check out the blog tour webpage.  (It looks good!)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest post from Molly Peacock

I adored The Paper Garden.  For anyone who enjoys history, art, the creative process, and well-crafted biographies, this is a book for you.  I'm thrilled to offer a guest post by the author, Molly Peacock, on her and Mrs. Delaney.  Enjoy!

A Bouquet for Mrs. Delany by Molly Peacock

I first saw Mary Delany’s amazing cut-paper botanical collages seventeen years before I even dreamed of writing about them.  There they were, one hundred of them, carefully transported across the Atlantic Ocean from London to New York City, to hang in an exhibit at the Morgan Library. 

Each spectacular flower is composed of hundreds of dots, squiggles and half-moons of brilliantly colored paper, all assembled on dramatic black backgrounds—and amazingly well-preserved from when she began them in 1772.  Some of these beauties have actual botanical material, leaves and seed casings, pasted onto them, and these leaves have lasted for over two centuries.

Here’s something even more incredible: Mrs. Delany was 72 years old when she invented this new visual art. 

And another astounding fact:  she completed 985 of them in just ten years.

We all need our role models, and Delany became one for me. Here’s her Canada Lily (Lilium canadense), which she completed in 1779.  (If you want to see the other images in the book and watch a brief video, please go to www.peacockpapergarden.com. These images are used by permission of The British Museum.)



How on earth did she do it:  how can someone invent a brand new art form at an advanced age?  What happened in her life earlier?  Gradually, I began to find out.  Here’s a close-up of one of the lilies, just so you can see that it’s not a painted image, but composed of many pieces of paper, all gradually built up in layers.



Speaking of gradual, I seemed to be having one of those lives that start in darkness and get clearer and clearer.  It wasn’t until I was forty-four that I managed to get it right:  I married my high school boyfriend and moved to Canada. We visited England in 2003, seventeen years after I saw my first Delany collages, and I began to learn about her life.

Also at the age of forty-four, she decamped from London and moved to Dublin to marry Patrick Delany, Jonathan Swift’s friend, beginning a marvelously happy second marriage. That parallel in our lives prompted a tendril of a thought in me about writing a book about her.

What if I was able to take a dozen of her images and let each one be a threshold into her life? 

A Damask rose for the period in her life when her evil uncle forced her to marry a man her grandfather’s age when she was only seventeen (and a blushing English rose).  A poppy for her intoxicating adventures as a young widow and friend of Handel, dinner partner of Jonathan Swift, receiver of painting tips from William Hogarth.  A sweet pea for the vine of her relationship with her younger sister.  A huge white Portlandia flower for her relationship with her life-long friend.

Why study someone else’s life? Because the tracing the patterns in another life illuminate your own. But the patterns are as complicated as the whorls in flowers.

Ruth Hayden, Mrs. Delany’s great-great-great-great-great-great niece, fed me tea and cookies and told me more about the life of her ancestor.  Now Ruth’s story came into the book I was writing.  Ruth was about the age my mother would have been, had she still been alive.  So my mother, who died at the very age that Mrs. Delany began her great work, came into the story.  Then bits and pieces of my own life poked through, just like the extra material Mrs. D. used when she created her Flora Delanica, now housed in the British Museum.

At last I realized that I was making a kind of a collage biography. The Paper Garden:  An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 became my bouquet for Mrs. Delany.

*** *** ****

My thanks to Ms. Peacock for her time and this wonderful entry.  Learn more about Molly Peacock at her website, and see the lovely video for her book at www.peacockpapergarden.com.  For more reviews, check out the other blogs on the blog tour.

GIVEAWAY!  Enter to win a copy of this magnificent book by commenting on this guest post.  Don't forget to leave your email address.  Open to US/CA readers, closes 5/13.  You can comment on my review for another entry.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Q&A with Lauren Belfer

Even though I wasn't wild about A Fierce Radiance, I was awed at the amount of research put into the novel and its unique plot.  It's a historical novel, medical mystery, and war thriller in one with a hot romance just to seal the deal!  I'm pleased to share my Q&A with author Lauren Belfer.  See the end for another chance to win a copy of A Fierce Radiance.

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

I decided to become a writer when I was six years old. My first stories were about magical pets going on adventures and about strong princesses leading their nations out of hardships. I don't remember the exact plot lines, but these subject areas kept me busy for quite a few years.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I work best in the morning. I'm lucky enough to work at home, and I try to be at my desk, cup of tea beside me, by 9:30 every morning, including Saturday and Sunday. I never answer the phone when I'm working, except if my son is calling. I always answer for him.

Was A Fierce Radiance the original title of your book?

"A Fierce Radiance" was indeed the original title of my second novel. The phrase came to me one day out of the blue, while I was writing. I assumed that the phrase must be from Shakespeare or Yeats or another poet. I did an extensive Google search, trying to find it, but no references came up. I worried that my editor would feel that the title was too poetic, but I'm glad to say that she immediately loved it as much as I did. To me, the title suits the novel perfectly -- although this may not become clear until you read the final chapter.

As you were writing A Fierce Radiance, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

For me, writing is a process of continual surprise and of continual discovery. I always make a rough outline before I begin a book, but I don't know how the outline will fill itself out until I actually do the writing. To me, every sentence feels like a surprise, and I try always to be open to the details that my subconscious provides.

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

I'm very family oriented, a real homebody. I love to take long walks through my historic and inspiring New York City neighborhood, Greenwich Village. A few years ago, I began taking piano lessons. Playing the piano takes every ounce of concentration I can muster, so trying to play feels to me like entering a state of meditation -- if I break my focus for even a nano-second, I'm totally thrown and have to go back to the beginning.

Read any good books recently?

This past winter, I took an eight-week course on "War and Peace." Over the years, I'd tried several times to read "War and Peace," but I always gave up. The early chapters of the book somehow didn't draw me in. I decided that if I took a course, I wouldn't be able to give up after a hundred pages. I'm glad to report that the course prompted me to push through and finish. What an extraordinary novel! Even though it's well over a thousand pages, by the end I thought the novel was too short. I became completely wrapped up in the characters and wanted to live the rest of their lives with them.

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms Belfer for her time and Trish with TLC Book Tours for facilitating this interview.  To learn more about Lauren Belfer and her books, see her website.  Check out the other blogs on tour for more reviews.

GIVEAWAY! Leave a comment and email address to be entered to win a copy of A Fierce Radiance (comment on my review for another entry).  Open to US/CA readers.  Closes 5/6.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock

Title: The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72
Author: Molly Peacock

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir/Biography)
Publisher/Publication Date: Bloomsbury USA (3/29/11)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Loved -- another that will make my top 10 in 2011!
Did I finish?: Yes -- and I'm ready for a reread already!

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- especially as it features one of Mrs. Delaney's 'mosaiks'. 

First line: Imagine starting your life's work at seventy-two.

Did... I walk into work every morning in raptures over this book?: YES.  My commute definitely wasn't long enough.

Did... I fall in love with Molly Peacock's writing style from the first page?: YES.  It's warm and funny, smart and interesting.  See my teaser for a taste!

Is... this book totally awesome to hold?: YES.  The hand-feel of the book is divine -- it's a compact, little hardcover that's easy to carry and tuck into a bag, with gorgeous smooth pages and divine full-color plates.  It sent me into paroxysms of pleasure when it first arrived.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Buy.  You'll want to own this book, seriously.  I bought it for my mother, an aspiring artisan herself, for Mother's Day, because I thought she might find it as inspiring and moving as I did.

Why did I get this book?: I love a good biography and the setting -- 18th century -- and focus -- Mary Granville Delaney -- interested me.

Review: This marvelous book is a mix of biography and memoir, written in a beautiful, inviting style that feels as if the author is having coffee with you and sharing her latest research.  Molly Peacock is a poet who conveys Mary Granville Delaney's life in lovely, lyrical detail that is educational and enjoyable. 

It helps that Mary Delaney's life is captivating: in addition to being a talented artist, she was great friends with many luminaries of her day, and her eighty-eight years encompassed some incredibly exciting historical events.  There are some nearly Gothic twists that would have seemed unbelievable were this not based on fact and from the first chapter I was enamored of Mary Delaney.

Those who want a 'traditional' style biography (one that doesn't hint at the researcher/writer behind the pages) will probably be shocked by this one: Molly Peacock emerges on the pages to share her own thoughts about her research, about Mrs. Delaney, and snippets of her own life.  I found it delicious and seamless; like Ms Peacock, my reading usually says something about where I am in my own life and the challenges I'm working through, and it was inspiring, refreshing, and moving to read about how her research overlapped, influenced, and affected her life.

This biography was so compelling, and Mrs Delaney felt so real to me, I teared at the end; I, like Mrs. Delaney's friends, wasn't ready for her to pass away.  Finishing was a bittersweet experience!  I already miss Mrs. Delaney and Molly Peacock's beautiful observations on life, love, creative endeavors, hope, and finding one's true self.  

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GIVEAWAY!  I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Paper Garden for giveaway!  Please leave your email address in the comments to win.  Giveaway closes 5/13, US/CA only.  Be sure to return on Wednesday for a guest post from Molly Peacock and another chance to win.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Winners!

Three giveaways just ended and I have four winners!

The winner of Separate Kingdoms is ... Zibilee of Raging Bibliomania

The winner of Where the Dog Star Never Glows is ...BlueMist

The winners of Heart of Deception are ... Nancy and avalonne83

Congrats to all! If you haven't won, don't despair: I've got three giveaways going on now and a few more opening next week!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with Sandra Worth

I had my first Sandra Worth experience with her newest novel, the fabulous Pale Rose of England (my review is quite gushy).  I'm thrilled to offer my interview with Ms. Worth as well as a chance to win a copy of Pale Rose of England (see end of interview for details). 

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

Thank you for having me here on your fabulous site, Audra! This is an interesting question – first time I’ve been asked that. It was a rags to riches saga about a Greek immigrant (never published).

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I need time in the garden, whether it’s early morning or late evening, short or long (but the longer, the better!). It’s not only restful, but natures inspires me. When the scenes pile up, I go inside and write.

Was Pale Rose of England the original title of your book?

It was. Seemed very appropriate because that was what people called Catherine in her day.

As you were writing Pale Rose of England, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

Believe it or not, it was Catherine who surprised me. Before I sat down to write her story, I didn’t know how I would portray her strength through all the challenges she faced. She was indomitable. But somehow she came.

You’ve traveled extensively for research; is there a place or historical artifact that is your favorite?

Several, actually. As far as places are concerned, the island-fortress of St. Michael’s Mount in southern England, Bamborough Castle on the North Sea, and the medieval city of Bruges are places I’ll never forget. But the Peloponnese in Greece is also an area that lingers in my mind in a meaningful way. I’m looking forward to going back to Greece and spending a lot more time there one day.

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

I do a lot of traveling for research and pleasure, and seeing new places and historical sites is always pure joy for me. In the summer months I can’t get enough time in the pool and garden, and in winter, there’s the opera and symphony. But the family is the center of my life year-round, and so is reading. I do keep busy and there never seems enough time.

Read any good books recently?

I read Cecilia Holland’s new novel, The King's Witch, for endorsement and loved it. It’s on the crusades and is due out in June. I also tremendously enjoyed Kostova’s The Historian.

Thank you, Audra, for this great interview! It’s been fun.

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My thanks to Ms Worth for her time and Amy Bruno with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours for facilitating this!  Learn more about Sandra Worth and her books at her website.

GIVEAWAY! Thanks to the publisher, I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Pale Rose of England to one of my readers! Open to US readers (sorry!); closes 5/6.  Just leave a comment and email address to be entered.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, April 19

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
- Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

This week's teaser is from the astoundingly awesome The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock.  It's a biography about Mary Granville Delaney, who, at 72 (in 1772) essentially invented collage.  The author's writing style is very intimate and comfortable; this reads like a coffee date with Ms Peacock as she recounts a fascinating topic she's researching.  I'm in swoons.  The excerpt below is from the beginning of the book and perfectly encapsulates the feel of this wonderful book.  (I'll be giving away a copy next week; I'm telling you, you want to win it!)

Her previous seventy-two years in England and Ireland had already spanned the creation of Kew Gardens, the rise of English paper making, Jacobites thrown into the Tower of London, forced marriages, women's floral-embroidered stomachers, and the use of the flintlock musket -- all of which, except for the musket -- she knew very personally.



Monday, April 18, 2011

A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer

Title: A Fierce Radiance
Author: Lauren Belfer

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Medical / WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper Perennial (4/1/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Okay-ish.
Did I finish?: Sadly, no.
One-sentence summary: The race to make penicillin, through the eyes of a magazine photographer and researcher.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes -- very pretty -- although it's another missed opportunity cover, I think.  The image seems very much like the kind of photograph the heroine would take, but a medically-themed photograph would have been cool.

I'm reminded of...: Tracy Chevalier

First line: Claire Shipley was no doctor, but even she could see that the man on the stretcher was dying.

Why did I get this book?: First, the genre merging of historical novel, medical mystery, war thriller; plus, the setting, WWII New York City; and finally, the sound of the heroine.

Review: This solid historical novel (and I do mean solid, it's a very satisfying brick of a paperback!) has a yank-you-out-of-your-chair awesome first line, a fascinating premise, and enough historical details to educate as well as enthrall.   At times.

Sadly, I didn't love this novel as much as I wanted to.  This story suffers a bit from over research, in that it felt to me like the author tried to stuff in all the interesting details she'd discovered, unable to resist all the tempting tidbits.  As a result, though, every paragraph has the feel of 'name dropping' -- either literally, or metaphorically.  As the novel progresses, and once the back story for Claire and James Stanton, our hero, is dispensed with, it's not as bad, but I found myself describing my reading as 'slogging' as I worked through the first 100, then 200 pages.

I found the heroine, Claire Shipley, to be a little too pretty and a little too feisty to actually be interesting.  Men lusted after her; women instinctively liked her.  She's both a stunning beauty that no one can miss and yet somehow is perfect at melting into the background to become forgotten as she does her staggering photography work. She lives for her work; she lives for her family.  I think the author was trying to conjure up '30s glamor, say Lauren Bacall meets Martha Gellhorn, but rather than charm me or impress me, I found her off-putting.

The story beyond that of Claire and James, however, was fascinating, whether you're interested in medical history or not.  The size of the novel allows for some real exploration of the science, politics, and history of both penicillin development and American pharmaceutical companies, and it offers an angle on WWII that is fascinating and new.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!  The publisher is offering one copy of A Fierce Radiance; just leave a comment and email address to be entered.  US/CA readers only, sorry! Closes May 6th.

Comment on my Q&A with Lauren Belfer for another chance to win!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mailbox Mon, April 17

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in April at the fabulous Passages to the Past) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox (technically Sunday).  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?

For Review



Queen By Right by Anne Easter Smith

Won



Corrag by Susan Fletcher, thanks to Wonders & Marvels

Purchased



D.C. Noir, edited by George P. Pelecanos


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth

Title: Pale Rose of England
Author: Sandra Worth

Genre: Fiction (Historical / late 15th century English)
Publisher/Publication Date: Berkley Publishing Group (2/1/2011)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Rating: Love loved.
Did I finish?: Yes - you couldn't stop me!
One-sentence summary: The loves and losses of 15th century Scottish noblewoman, Catherine Gordon.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: YES!  It's super striking!  It's a coincidence, I presume, but the image is William Frederick Yeames's imagining of Amy (Robsart) Dudley, a woman meaningful to Elizabeth I, the granddaughter of this novel's 'villain', Henry VII.

I'm reminded of...: Susan Holloway Scott, Anya Seton, Sandra Gulland.

First line: Pain washed over Catherine in waves of unrelenting agony.

Did... I wish Worth was less historically accurate at times?: YES. Worth had me invested by the first chapter and I was just willing history to capitulate to Catherine and Richard's happiness.

Did... I develop a crush on Richard Plantagenet/Perkin Warbeck?: YES.  As a rule, royals don't usually do it for me but Worth's Richard was romantically tragic in such a delicious way!

Did... I like Catherine?: YES.  That might seem a weird question, but I often find preternaturally gorgeous heroine a pill, their beauty being their primary reason for anyone liking them, but in this case, Worth made a vibrant heroine out of Catherine Gordon.

Why did I get this book?: Honestly, the cover totally grabbed me, and by the time I finished reading the plot summary, I knew I had to have it!

Review: This is the kind of historical novel that reminds me why I love the genre.  It's meaty, it's exciting, it's engrossing, it's romantic, it's chilling, and it's absolutely un-put-down-able.  This era (reign of Henry VII) is one I'm wholly unfamiliar with but Worth sets up the story and characters so well, I didn't find myself lost or confused or in need of an encyclopedia.

The novel tells the story of Catherine Gordon, a Scottish noblewoman who is married to the man said to be the true King of England, Richard Plantagenet/Perkin Warbeck, even though he is branded an imposter by the reigning monarch, Henry VII.  The plot covered in this novel is exciting enough, but I found Worth's characters to be so interesting and real, I cared about all of them -- even the horrible Henry VII.

The romantic, clearly loving marriage between Catherine and Richard anchored the story for me; in an era when (I imagine) love matches were rare, Worth's depiction of these two made me fall in love with them -- and made me deeply invested in the survival of their marriage and family.  At many times, I wished Worth would just lie and give me a few chapters of their bucolic happiness in a country estate, I liked them so much.  This novel, however, encompasses so much more than just their marriage, and is really about Catherine Gordon -- not the Tudors nor Perkin Warbeck.

Worth's skill as an author really shows in the development of Catherine.  I imagine it must be challenging to imagining a historical figure wholly and envision why they responded or acted the way they did in a way that remains true to history and true to the author's conception of them.  Worth's Catherine is a complicated woman who responds to the circumstances around her and does what she deems most moral and true to herself, and I found I genuinely liked her (even if I didn't agree with her opinions or life choices).

I can't recommend this novel enough -- I just loved it and resented having to work rather than read!  And, happily, Worth has published five other books for me to go back and devour while I wait for her newest! 

**** **** ***


Come back on April 21st for a guest post from the author, Sandra Worth, and a chance to win a copy of Pale Rose of England.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Q and A with India Drummond

Angels and mediums aren't new to many fans of paranormal fiction, but India Drummond's novel Ordinary Angels (which killed me with fun) managed to take both and turn the story into something new and thoroughly entertaining.  Ms. Drummond graciously agreed to do a Q and A with me so read on to learn more about her and her books.  (See the end for a chance to win a copy of Ordinary Angels.)

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

Oh gosh. It was so long ago (I was eight) that I can’t actually remember the plot. It was about twin aliens named Ka and Ba (which I inexplicably pronounced Kay and Bay). I vaguely remember them walking through the forest, but not where they were going or why. I do wish I still had it!

According to your bio, you’re an American living in the Scottish highlands. How did you end up there?

I had the good sense to marry a Scot! We met when he was living and working in the States, but when he proposed, I was on my first trip to Scotland. I never wanted to leave, so it was an easy choice when we were deciding where to settle. I love it here.

Which came first, the angels or the girl who could see the dead?

The angels. I knew I wanted to write about angels, and I started the project by sketching out the ‘angel lore’. But when it came time to pen that first chapter, I knew I needed to tell the story from the perspective of a human. I hadn’t originally planned for her to be a medium! It just sort of happened. Now I can’t imagine her any other way. It’s so deeply a part of who she is.

Was Ordinary Angels the original title of your book?

No. I usually go through at least three or four for every project. My first ‘rough draft’ title was “Angel in Blue Shorts”, because Alexander first appears in the guise of a postman. My plan was for that role to carry on longer than it did, but outlines are meant to be broken, and the story took on its own life. But as I was composing the book, I wrote the line where Alexander says something like, “Oh, no, we ordinary angels don’t do things like that.” And I knew immediately I’d found the RIGHT title.

As you were writing Ordinary Angels, was there a particular scene or character that surprised you?

I’d say Thomas was the biggest surprise. He’s a secondary angel character that I hadn’t originally planned to have as much impact as he did. But he made such an impression on me, that he’s a much more central figure of the sequel, Familiar Demons. I have to admit to having a little crush on him too.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I tend to write a first draft over a period of about six weeks. I set daily word count goals, and every day I get up early and work on that first… before I check my email, blog, get on facebook. I love the social stuff, but it’s so easy to get sucked in to the chatting and fun. I have to be disciplined, or I’d never get that first draft on paper.

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

You mean there are other things? Oh, wait… yes… I remember other things! Probably my favourite thing is travel. And since Familiar Demons is set primarily in Amsterdam, I think that’s the perfect excuse to take another weekend jaunt to help set the scene. There are a few cities I love to visit, and Amsterdam is one of them. I felt the same way about San Francisco, which is why I set Ordinary Angels there. I love a city with energy and personality.

Read any good books recently?

I recently read Ravenmarked, an epic fantasy by Amy Rose Davis. I loved her world and the way she defied stereotypes. I also really enjoyed Passions of the Dead, a crime/thriller novel by L.J. Sellers. I tend to read in a wide variety of genre, which probably shows in my plotlines. Rarely have I written anything that is easily classified! I like crime, adventure, romance, and nothing is as exciting as a good murder. My next release, Blood Faerie, has a serial killing faerie and the Scottish cop who is hunting him. It’s less of a “sexy” book than Ordinary Angels, but does have a sweet budding romance in it. (I’m a sucker for falling in love.)

Thank you so much for having me on your blog today!

*** *** ***

My thanks to Ms. Drummond for her time.  To learn more about India and her books, see her website.

Giveaway!  I had such a hoot with this book I decided to buy a copy to give away to one of my readers!  Ebook, all formats available.  Open to US & international readers, ends April 30th.  To enter, leave a comment here with your email address.  For another entry, be sure to comment on my review of Ordinary Angels.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesday, April 12

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

- Grab your current read
- Open to a random page
- Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
- BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
- Share the title and author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers

This week's teaser is from the deliciously readable and super fabulous Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth.  Even though I know nothing about this era, Worth's writing is so engaging and her characters so human, I'm sucked in.  This week's teaser is from early in the novel, when a sick Catherine is sent to sanctuary for safety.

The prior was a figure of misery as he stood rubbing the edge of his crucifix between his fingers.  He was thinking of the beautiful young woman in the tawny sea gown who had stood before him little more than a week earlier, her babe asleep in his nurse's arms, her handsome husband at her side.  They had come with such high hopes, such noble designs for the kingdom, and now here they were, their doom fast approaching.  Though he was a man of faith who would never question God's plan, sometimes the uncertainty of human destiny and its tragic consequences brought him to the edge of grief.



Monday, April 11, 2011

Ordinary Angels by India Drummond

Title: Ordinary Angels
Author: India Drummond

Genre: Fiction (Supernatural/Paranormal)
Publisher/Publication Date: Lyrical Press, Inc. (4/4/2011)
Source: The author

Rating: Greatly liked
Did I finish?: Yes - delicious escapist fun!
One-sentence summary: Young woman sees the dead but finds seeing angels makes life even trickier!
Reading Challenges: British Books, E-books

Do I like the cover?: Yes --it's very pretty: I need that shirt!

I'm reminded of...: Kelley Armstrong, Cate Tiernan, Kage Baker

First line: All but one of Zoe Pendergraft's friends were dead.

Did... I develop a bit of a crush on (maybe not so) angelic Thomas?: YES.  I'm not an angel girl but there was something super fun/dreamy about this Free Angel lawyer.  (You just have to read it to see what I mean!)

Did... I giggle and snicker a lot on my commute?: YES.  This is another one of those books that just tickles you with great one-liners and wry mental commentary.

Did... I wish I was living out in California?: YES.  It's not a very California-y book but the story is set in and around San Francisco and just the little hints made me want to move!

Why did I get this book?: Tell me that first line wouldn't hook you!

Review: This quick, fun read combines angels and a girl who can see the dead in an inventive and enjoyable supernatural thriller/romance. I was a little hesitant about how both twists would be handled but Drummond manages it beautifully, creating a cute romance and a nice mystery and some fantastic characters.  The lore about angels that I'm familiar with is twisted and turned edgier and a lot more interesting (I don't want to give anything away but I'll admit her version of guardian angels has me a bit shivery!).

I'm super fussy about how my heroines handle drama and romance and tension and too often I find authors turning their strong heroines into passive victims.  Zoe, however, felt very real to me and very authentic; her development through the story showed me someone who felt fear, vulnerability, desire, passion, happiness, and courage in appropriate and expected ways.  She got upset at reasonable moments; she kicked butt at others.  It was easy to relate to her and cheer her on and it was a relief when she stayed consistent and true to the character Drummond had started with.

The romance is straight-forward and very sexy (some fun rated R bits to keep things exciting!), and the plot had enough mystery and danger to keep me interested but not so convoluted as to lose my interest.  Near the end, there's some very world-building that hints Drummond isn't done with her angels; as I found out in my Q and A with her (live on Wednesday), there is in fact a sequel in the works.  I am very excited for it -- it's always fun getting hooked on a new series and I can say India Drummond is an author I'll now be eagerly anticipating!

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Giveaway!  I'm giving away one e-book copy of Ordinary Angels (many formats) to any reader! Just comment on this review with your email. Open to US & international readers. Closes May 1. Comment on my Q and A with the author, India Drummond, for an additional entry!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mailbox Monday, April 10

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in April at the fabulous Passages to the Past) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox (technically Sunday) for the first of April.  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?

For Review!




Inés of My Soul by Isabel Allende
The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock
French Lessons: A Novel by Ellen Sussman


Purchased



The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler
Trouble Is My Business by Raymond Chandler
Moby Dick; or, The Whale by Herman Melville (1981, University of California Press)


Winners - The Beauty of Humanity Movement

The two lucky winners of the amazing The Beauty of Humanity Movement are...

Kathy of BermudaOnion
Leeswammes

Congrats to the winners!  If you didn't win, check out my other giveaways - plus more are to come:
  • Ordinary Angels by India Drummond, opens 4/11
  • A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer, opens 4/18
  • The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 by Molly Peacock, opens 4/25

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Q and A with Tara L. Masih

I was absolutely entranced by Tara L. Masih's short story collection, Where the Dog Star Never Glows and have become a short fiction convert because of it.  Ms. Masih generously agreed to a Q and A with me - read on to learn more about her and her writing.  See the end for another chance to win a copy of her delicious collection!

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

I did a lot of writing and primitive illustrating in my spare time when I was 9 or 10. I know I was fascinated by two things at that age--fairy tales and mice. I can't find the first fairy tale I wrote (something typical about a Cinderella-type and her Prince), but I did find a large piece of paper that was sort of a storyboarded rendition of a mouse tale. There's a cat in the beginning that starts the conflict, and a male mouse that saves a female mouse. (I cringe at these old-fashioned, milky-white themes.) So the female mouse asks the male mouse to stay overnight in her watering can home, and he does, and then he invites her to his house, and she spends the night as well; all very innocent, of course. Then they marry in the last scene.

The drawings are the best part.

All I can say is that my plots are very different now, thankfully. Though relationships in some form or another still fascinate me--all the complicated stuff, the stuff that the picture books didn't prepare us for.

Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

I wish I did. I would have a larger body of work at this age if I had a consistent routine. But it's a result of life's interruptions and my own reluctance to make this a "job." I always want this to be my creative escape. Something fun to retreat to. I don't want to resent picking up the pen because I have to. And yes, I still write my first draft in pen on paper. I suppose that's my one ritual. Then I move to the computer.

Your stories are set in such diverse locations -- which comes first in your story, the premise or the place?

Wow, that's a really good question, one I haven't been asked before. Let me think for a moment ... I think in most cases, place comes first. If a setting, an environment, or geographical history inspire me, I try to find a story to set in the locale. However, in "The Guide, the Tourist, and the Animal Doctor," the first story in the collection, I overheard a conversation about a woman who had her cat operated on in a garden on a Caribbean island. In this case, the premise came first. I loved that detail and wanted to write a story around it, so picked an island I had been to so it would be more authentic.

But place is what inspires me. I soak everything up, and the best part of the creative process is seeing what will evolve later.

How were the stories in this collection selected?

It was very easy, for the most part. I do not have a huge body of work. So I waited until I had enough stories I felt were worthy of being published, and then I left a few out that were a bit weak, or that didn't quite fit in terms of nature and place.

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

Spend time with my family (my son plays tennis so that takes up many weekends), garden, go antiquing, travel. I like being active, because I sit at a desk all day.

Read any good books recently?

Just read a fabulous novel by Peter Rock, based in part on a true story. My Abandonment. Highly recommended. It made me feel like a sophomore writer! And Silk, by Grace Dane Mazur. It's out of print, but well worth hunting down a used copy.

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My thanks to Ms. Masih for her time. You can learn more about her and her books at her website. Where the Dog Star Never Glows is available both as an ebook and paperback.

Giveaway!  Leave a comment with your email for a chance to win an ebook copy of Where the Dog Star Never Glows, thanks to the publisher.  Open to US and international readers!  Ends 4/22.  Comment on my review for another entry!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Heart of Deception: A Novel by M.L. Malcolm

Title: Heart of Deception: A Novel
Author: M.L. Malcolm

Genre: Fiction (Historical / WWII / post-WWII)
Publisher/Publication Date: HarperCollins (4/5/2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Disliked.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: Two unappealing Hoffmans muck up their lives and the lives of the people they know.

Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Yes, but it's one of the sources of my frustration. The cover evokes a very different feel than the actual novel.

First line: If the city of Tangier had been a woman, she would have been a whore, and a wealthy one.

Do... I think this can be read as a stand-alone novel?: YES. All the context and background needed is offered in the first chapter. In fact, having finished the first book just an hour to starting this one, I was rather impatient with the recapping.

Was... I super annoyed that this wasn't really a book about WWII?: YES.  The jacket copy paints a very different novel than the one I read.

Did... this novel feel like The English Patient meets Casino?: YES.  And while both were very lovely, glossy, exciting films, the mix of the two didn't make a very good novel for me.

Why did I get this book?: I'd heard such great things about the first book and wanted to be the first to read the sequel!

Review:  It feels a bit unfair that I'm reviewing this book: were I not on this tour I never would have read it, given my dislike of the first book.  But I was committed to the tour so I tried hard to give this book a fair reading. 

Many of the problems I had with the first novel I had with this one: very thin characterization, an abundance of plot, and not enough pages to thoroughly explore the myriad events the characters experience.  The novel spans 1942 through 1963, mostly through the viewpoint of Maddy Hoffman, the daughter of the previous book's protaganist, Leo Hoffman.

As with Heart of Lies, there was way too much telling (rather than showing), and novel moved along at a rather dizzying clip. Much of the novel felt like an outline -- I kept waiting for Malcolm to flesh out the responses to all the events and ludicrous plot twists.  Surely all the bizarre and over-the-top scenes would lead to some character development and introspection, but Leo and Maddy just plodded along, unchanged, unmoved by their lives.  The secondary characters circled only to be foils and adoring fans.  (And unfortunately, unlike them, I greatly disliked Leo and Maddy.)

One of the unfortunate effects of the brisk pace and superficial narrative was that the portion of the novel set during the Holocaust came off remarkably light, especially since readers were repeatedly reminded of Leo Hoffman's Jewish heritage -- and Malcolm pointedly gave him a stint at a German work camp.  I don't think writers are obligated to make stories about the Holocaust traumatic, but it felt a bit cheap to incorporate that into the story without any introspection, reflection, analysis, critique, or even narrative about the experience.  It was just one of a dozen credulity-straining events that felt thrown in only because the author was reluctant to ignore any historical event in this time range.

Of the two Leo Hoffman novels, however, I marginally prefer this one.  When I was struggling with Heart of Lies, I went back and forth about whether I should finish it or just skip to this one -- and I wish I had done the latter.  The arc of this book doesn't hinge on the first and in some ways, reading this without the first would be like going through life with Maddy, confused and uncertain about her father.

Many other readers loved Malcolm's first novel and will likely love this one; for more reviews, please see the rest of the blogs on this tour.

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Giveaway!  Would you like to read this and see if I'm wrong?  Loved the first one and don't care what I think? ;)   I'm giving away my gently used copy (which is an ARC, so it has a picture of the cover rather than the cover).  Open to US and international readers, this giveaway ends April 22. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Mailbox Monday, April 4

Seen both at The Printed Page (hosted in April at the fabulous Passages to the Past) and The Story Siren, my Mailbox Monday/In My Mailbox for the last half of March.  As you'll see, some real delicious things arrived!  What did you get?  Planning to read any of these?


For Review!




The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen
Northanger Abbey and Angels and Dragons by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian
A Song of Awakening by Roby James
Pale Rose of England by Sandra Worth

Won!



Finding Emilie by Laurel Corona, thanks to GoodReads First Reads
Exit the Actress: A Novel by Priya Parmar, thanks to Bippity Boppity Books
The Raven Queen by Jules Watson, thanks to Let Them Read Books

Purchased!



The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick
This Is My Letter To The World: The Omikuji Project Cycle One by Catherynne M. Valente


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Winners of Angelology Giveaway

The two winners of my Angelology giveway are....

Jessica M and Diana D

Congrats!  For those who didn't win, don't despair: I've got three giveaways going on and many more opening soon.