Friday, February 27, 2015

Book Review - Adele Whitby's Secrets of the Manor: Beth's Story, 1914

Secrets of the Manor: Beth's Story, 1914 by Adele Whitby
Published by: Simon Spotlight
Publication Date: June 24th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 160 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Beth is so excited as her twelfth birthday approaches that nothing can deter her, not even losing her lady's maid hours before her relatives arrive. She just views it as a chance to promote her favorite maid, Shannon, to a higher standing in the house. The French side of the family, the Trufant's, are arriving for a grand family tradition that will happen at Beth's birthday celebration. Since Beth's great-grandmother, Elizabeth, and her twin sister, Katherine, received connected necklaces on their twelfth birthday it has been a tradition on the twelfth birthday of the eldest daughter, and their namesake, to pass the necklace on to the new generation. So the day is fast approaching when Beth will get the Elizabeth necklace! But a theft in the house throws Beth's world upside down. Her maid Shannon is accused of stealing her cousin's, Gabrielle Trufant's, own heirloom necklace! Beth knows Shannon is innocent, but she must prove it while celebrating her birthday yet before Shannon is sent away without a reference.

I am not a reading snob. This means that as long as there's a good story to read I'll read it. Doesn't matter if the book is YA, Middle Grade, Fiction, Nonfiction, if it's worth reading, I'll read it. Sure, this seems like I'm trying to justify my dislike of this book, but what I'm really trying to do is qualify that my issues with Beth's Story aren't based on the books intended audience and being written for young readers, but it the writing itself. When I first saw this book on the shelves I was overjoyed, Downton Abbey for kids; because everyone knows you need to convert them when they're young. But, oh dear, this book just didn't work. I'm glad to say that Whitby didn't fall victim to the most deplorable of writing crimes, talking down to your readers. There is no surer way of alienating your audience then this. She did simplify concepts a little, but again, that wasn't the main flaw. In fact there isn't just one thing I can point to and go there, there is where you went wrong, because in truth, she went wrong in several places. Though there was a tipping point, and it was a tiara.

What I will call the "cheese factor" is where me and this book parted ways. If I didn't know better I would say that these books were written to market a brand of dolls from the late eighties early nineties that had special collectible lockets and keys for you to "find out the secret." Eight year old me would have loved the dolls, the books, like the American Girl books of my youth, would have languished on the shelves untouched as I created my own stories and adventures. Improving literature is the bane of those who love to read. Because there's nothing I hate more then "teaching moments." A good book will teach you things just in the telling of the story, a bad book will teach you things by pointing it out with big arrows going "here's some history you should know" or "here's some life lessons that are to be learned." Spare me now.

The whole "every secret leads to another secrets of the manor" oh, head thunk into keyboard, no. Is this some bad soap opera I have landed in? Like Edwardian Blue's Clues? Because I can't think of any child going, oh wow, time to read all six books and find out the final secret, the ultimate "secret of the manor!" Forth grade me is rolling my eyes. Yes, forth grade me was rather sarcastic. I've always read more mysteries then most, so my deductive skills are right up there. Even if I was still a forth grader the signaling with giant semaphore flags of the "clues" to solve the "mysteries" would have had me writing a rant on the obviousness of what was happening. Oh, and even without reading all six books I can tell you the "big secret," the twins switched places all those years ago doing a Victorian Parent Trap, most likely because of love, aw, gag me now.

Yet there's a chance I could have overlooked this cheese. If I'm honest, I probably couldn't have, but let's pretend there was a chance. If I could have overlooked said cheese, well, the inaccuracies would have driven me round the bend. OK, so I know that an eight year old probably isn't going to know all the proper etiquette for Edwardian society, but that doesn't mean the author gets to be lazy. Whitby doesn't get to pick and choose which societal conventions she will and won't abide by just for the convenience of her story, because then everyone would be wearing tiaras!

Yes, the tiara was the straw that broke the camels back. Sure, I was grinding my teeth when the house party arrived and the servants came in the front door, not, you know, the servant's entrance. When Beth's maid added embellishments to her uniform, I held my tongue. The servants talking out of turn with their employers, OK, deep breath, I can keep going. YOU JUST PUT A TIARA ON A TWELVE YEAR OLD! Tiara's are ONLY for married women. Ask ANYONE who has ever watched a miniseries or read a book, hell, go watch the PBS special about The Manners of Downton Abbey where there is a whole section about no tiaras till marriage! This is unforgivable and made me hate this book.

But, if I'm honest, all this, everything could have been overcome if I liked the characters. So many flaws can be forgiven for the love of a well crafted heroine. Beth is not a well crafted heroine. She's too earnest and too full of spunk and decidedly modern versus British. Her reverence for her great-grandmother is unbelievable. I mean, really, what other twelve year old is mooning over a picture of their ancestor and color coding all their clothes to their dead relatives likes not their own? Once again I was taken in by a beautiful cover. Shouldn't I know by now that a good illustrator doesn't a good book make? OK, time for me to shake it off and move on. Stupid tiara.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Book Review - Lauren Willig's The Ashford Affair

The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Clemmie's life has been turned on its head. Everything she took as a given is slowly being taken away from her. Her Grandmother Addie and her Grandmother's apartment on the Upper East Side have always been a safe haven for Clemmie. Yet Addie hasn't been doing well. Clemmie though has been so busy wrapped up in her own world at her law firm that she doesn't realize time is passing by. Soon it might be too late and there is so much Clemmie hasn't asked or forgot to ask her Grandmother. When the family descend for Addie's birthday party Clemmie's Aunt starts dropping weird hints about a deep dark family secret. A secret that spans Addie's childhood and adolescence in England and then her time in Kenya. Could this secret change Clemmie's entire life?

Booked as Out of Africa meets Downton, I can see the marketing ploy... but The Ashford Affair didn't feel like this to me. For those epics there is a distancing between you and the characters. You feel like an outsider looking in. No matter how much you love and care for Denys Finch Hatton or Lady Mary, you are never part of their story. That's where Lauren shines. She has created characters you connect with in a different way. You become part of their story. Reminiscent of the writing style of Nancy Mitford, as you were sitting in the Hons cupboard listening to Linda recount the love of her life, there you are sitting with Addie as she braves the cold outdoor nightclub as she sees herself losing the love of her life.

While I'm sure there are others out there who would disagree with me, and say the marketing is apt, the thing is I'm an Out of Africa hater, so it's a good thing I didn't see The Ashford Affair as such. Also, as to the Downton angle, yeah, ok, but a lot of people are in "Downton Rage" as I'm calling it because of the Matthew debacle, and Downton doesn't have the constant witty banter and humor that Lauren has brought to The Ashford Affair. Downton is an epic soap opera, even if you are one of those people who didn't realize it as such at first, but how else to categorize a show where the heir goes down in the Titanic in the first episode? I mean, come on people! Downton has a lot going for it, but there's a disconnect between that show and this book. Therefore I am rechristening it Alconleigh to Kenya or possibly, Mitfords meet Clueless... still deciding on that one. Either way, Lauren has created characters who you could see spending time with and having a laugh with (PELT!) and enjoying life, verses the epic heart wrenching day to day life at Downton. Not saying that there aren't times when Lauren is ripping out your heart, she just won't leave you dead in a ditch.

I don't think my "Mitford" interpretation is that far off either. Let's look at the evidence, a Bolter, check, either if based on Idina Sackville, or the fictional Mitford Bolter... which may have been based on Sackville or even on Nancy Mitford's sister Diana, the Bolter is key. The elder sister Dodo, a horse and hounds girl, could that be Debo Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire who likes to write books about her chickens? Then there's Addie... a cousin and an outsider who comes to live in a glorious estate with rather odd relatives while her own parents were in disrepute with the rest of the family, can anyone say Fanny Logan, the narrator of Nancy Mitford's famous trilogy? Lauren herself has said that Nancy's book Wigs on the Green was an inspiration, which was notorious for Nancy's lampooning of her own family and was therefore out of print for many years. Also just the humor fits in more with the Mitfords/Radletts. The scene that brings this out more than any other is when Addie's mouse is set loose by Bea at Dodo's coming out ball. Lauren was able to perfectly recapture a time that, in my mind, was exemplified my Nancy Mitford's writing. Lauren brought that world to life again, and that's a hard feat.

Speaking of time, time is an interesting thing. Though the twenties are a very specific time and place within the last century, it has still developed a timelessness to it. The sepia coloring of passing generations has made it an era we are nostalgic for and romanticize, even though we weren't alive. Maybe that's why we are nostalgic for it, because we didn't live through it. Unlike the late 90s. Having the modern day section set not in the "now" but in the 90s kept drawing me out of the book. Modern references niggled at me and then I was thinking of the weirdest things, like, was their really Lord of the Rings parties in the 90s? I mean, you'd have to be a hard core book nerd to be having the parties, because the first of the movies didn't come out until 2001. In fact, the film had only been filming for two months when the action of this book takes place.

I know this is nit picky, but this is where my mind goes. This is why, while I enjoyed the whole book, the modern sections I was almost skimming. I didn't really care about Clemmie's job travails (another thing, hating the name Clemmie, sounds like the demon Clem from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or phlegm whereas I love the full name Clementine, so just call her by that). Clemmie's job was just a hurtle that kept her from her family, and while it was annoying for her, it was more annoying to me. I know Lauren connects to Clemmie's life of lawyering, I just personally didn't connect. But perhaps I just didn't want to go back to the modern sections of the book because I was reveling in the past. I would have loved it longer and more in depth because I didn't want to leave the past. Not one bit.

One thing can be certain, this book has allayed many worries of mine and I'm sure fears of others. With the inevitable end of Lauren's Pink Carnation series (le sigh) she has proven with The Ashford Affair that she is capable of writing books that I will keep buying. She kept me awake until the wee hours (is that dawn I see?) as I tried to puzzle out the mystery, which I thought I was certain of until, wham. Lauren has definitely got me for the entire span of her literary career, which I wager will be long and fruitful.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale
Published by: Bloomsbury USA Childrens
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"After a year at the king's palace, Miri has learned all about being a proper princess. But the tables turn when the student must become the teacher!

Instead of returning to her beloved Mount Eskel, Miri is ordered to journey to a distant swamp and start a princess academy for three sisters, cousins of the royal family. Unfortunately, Astrid, Felissa, and Sus are more interested in hunting and fishing than becoming princesses.

As Miri spends more time with the sisters, she realizes the king and queen's interest in them hides a long-buried secret. She must rely on her own strength and intelligence to unravel the mystery, protect the girls, complete her assignment, and finally make her way home.

Fans of Shannon Hale won't want to miss this gorgeously woven return to this best-selling, Newbery Honor-winning series."

Not thrilled that the cover art has changed in style AGAIN, but sqwee, new Shannon Hale!!!

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
Published by: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Seventeen-year-old Twylla lives in the castle. But although she's engaged to the prince, Twylla isn't exactly a member of the court.

She's the executioner.

As the Goddess embodied, Twylla instantly kills anyone she touches. Each month, she's taken to the prison and forced to lay her hands on those accused of treason. No one will ever love a girl with murder in her veins. Even the prince, whose royal blood supposedly makes him immune to Twylla's fatal touch, avoids her company.

But then a new guard arrives, a boy whose easy smile belies his deadly swordsmanship. And unlike the others, he's able to look past Twylla's executioner robes and see the girl, not the Goddess. Yet Twylla's been promised to the prince, and knows what happens to people who cross the queen.

However, a treasonous secret is the least of Twylla's problems. The queen has a plan to destroy her enemies, a plan that requires a stomach-churning, unthinkable sacrifice. Will Twylla do what it takes to protect her kingdom? Or will she abandon her duty in favor of a doomed love?"

The concept of Sin Eaters is interesting to me, so this book intrigues me.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 24th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 288 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A whip-smart, impeccably crafted debut mystery that takes readers on a whirlwind tour of London and Paris with an unforgettably original new heroine.

It’s just another day at the office for London book editor Samantha “Sam” Clair. Checking jacket copy for howlers, wondering how to break it to her star novelist that her latest effort is utterly unpublishable, lunch scheduled with gossipy author Kit Lowell, whose new book will dish the juicy dirt on a recent fashion industry scandal. Little does she know the trouble Kit’s book will cause—before it even goes to print. When police Inspector Field turns up at the venerable offices of Timmins & Ross, asking questions about a package addressed to Sam, she knows something is wrong. Now Sam's nine-to-five life is turned upside down as she finds herself propelled into a criminal investigation. Someone doesn't want Kit's manuscript published and unless Sam can put the pieces together in time, they'll do anything to stop it.

With this deliciously funny debut novel, acclaimed author Judith Flanders introduces readers to an enormously enjoyable, too-clever-for-her-own-good new amateur sleuth, as well Sam's Goth assistant, her effortlessly glamorous mother, and the handsome Inspector Field. A tremendously entertaining read, this page-turning novel from a bright new crime fiction talent is impossible to put down."

This just sounds pure fun.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Review - Daisy Goodwin's The Fortune Hunter

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 29th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Charlotte Baird is a bit of an odd duck, even for an heiress. She would rather spend her time taking photographs and manipulating them then hunting for a suitable husband. That all changes when she meets Bay Middleton. This suave horseman sweeps her off her feet and steals her heart. But her brother and prospective sister-in-law are adamant to show her that Bay is an entirely unsuitable match. Charlotte could marry a Duke and to settle for the best seat in the county? It seems such a waste. Though Fred and Augusta's disapproval might not be so altruistic as to save Charlotte from a fortune hunter as it is to keep the wealth at their own disposal. For Bay's part he genuinely loves Charlotte but he is torn. He has been asked to pilot Sisi, the Empress of Austria, for the hunting season, and there's a connection between him and this royal that can not be denied. Yet, in order to win Charlotte, he must indeed deny Sisi.

I was never the girl who wanted a pony. Girls of a certain age split distinctly along the equine obsession line. Me, I wasn't a horse girl. Oh, I had plenty of friends in grade school who were obsessed and spent every day at school talking about the weekend when they'd get to ride their ponies. Not me. I can literally count the number of times I have been on a horse on one hand. One delicate fragile hand that I was convinced a horse would love to bite the fingers off of. See, while I wasn't a horse girl, my grandparents did live in the country so I got to visit their neighbor's horse Dr. Pepper all the time and feed him grass and tremble with fear as his teeth chomped down on the stalks in that death clamp. I know he would never have hurt me, but that experience combined with my inane classmates practically guaranteed that I would never want a pony; a state I'm sure my mom was happy with having grown up in the country with seriously horse obsessed girls.

The reason for me mentioning this predilection of mine is that The Fortune Hunter, while ostensibly about romance and intrigue, comes down to horses in the end. Bay and his horse Tipsy, the Grand National, the hunting, Sisi and her riding ability, all of this adds up to a fair amount of horse for one book. Yet, despite not being a horse person, I did not lose interest. Daisy makes the subject of horses approachable and not alienating. They weren't just there to be another facet of our characters, they were a driving force of these characters.

Unlike my insipid classmates going on about their pretty ponies, Daisy has crafted this story so that when Tipsy is mentioned you don't tune out. She doesn't dwell on irrelevant details and what a pretty mane Tipsy has, instead Tipsy is elevated to a character just as important as Queen Victoria or Charlotte herself. I became invested in the horsier aspects of the story because the horses were integral to the story in a way that made sense. Daisy's writing made you feel that she knows what she's talking about but writes in such a way as to keep you interested, and for a subject I'm not invested in usually, I was drawn into this book.

The reason I liked Daisy's previous book, The American Heiress, is that not everything was wrapped up tidily with a bow in the end. Life isn't simple or easy, but complicated and messy, and sometimes I crave that reality in a book. Sometimes books can be a little too far fetched and focusing on the HEA, but how often does that happen to us? Yet in the case of The Fortune Hunter I found this looser ending not as satisfying. The main reason for this is the timeline brought about by the historical note at the end of the book. In The Fortune Hunter, Bay and Sisi's relationship is shown to flame and burn out over the course of one hunting season.

While I knowing conflating events is common to help the narrative, the fact that their relationship, whatever it actually was in real life, actually lasted for five years makes the season of passion ring false. Yes, Charlotte and Bay didn't marry until he had severed ties from Sisi, but this was a long five years later. I'm sorry, I just can't get beyond this five years. Five years means a lot more then what we saw and changes so much that the interpretation of events that Daisy has written would be drastically altered by the true timeline. While I enjoyed the story I would have liked it to maybe reflect reality a little closer, or at least left me ignorant of the truth unless I had searched it out... which, in fairness to my own predilections, I would have and we'd be having this same discussion. So, I guess we're stuck in a loop.

The photography interest Daisy "gave" to Charlotte is an aspect of the story I greatly enjoyed. Not only was this able to advance the plot and also show Charlotte the "truth" that she was blinding herself from, but it's logical historically, unlike those five years, grumble. During the Victorian era there were so few hobbies that were viewed as permissible to ladies of quality. Photography was one of these, though a little on the outer edges, mainly because of the damage it could do to your skin with the developing of the prints. But what I found most interesting wasn't so much Charlotte's photography, but her manipulation of the images, viewing people as animals.

While to some this might seem macabre, the truth is the most common and acceptable hobby for Victorian women was photocollage. I few years back I went to an exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago called "Playing with Pictures: The Art of Victorian Photocollage." This show was of Victorian women's photo albums wherein they painted ducks and had photographs of their family member's heads on the bodies. Butterflies with cameos on the wings. The weirder the more likely they'd do it. Work that is so reminiscent of what Charlotte did that it struck a cord so true that Charlotte and I understood each other, which is the greatest thing a character in a book can do; connect with you.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Book Review - Colleen McCullough's Bittersweet

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: August 19th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, two sets of twins and all inseparable sisters. While they appear to have a perfect life they are thwarted by conventions and by expectations from their dear mama. Kitty has suffered the worst, being the beauty of the family her outward appearance clashed with her inner retiring nature resulting in several suicide attempts. Edda views it as imperative that they get out from under the thumb of their mother in order that they can have fulfilling lives. Women in Australia can now train to be nurses and the local hospital in Corunda, with the encouragement of the girl's father, is willing to take on the four sisters. It's hard but satisfying work, with all the sisters, save Grace, finding that this could be their true calling. Grace is the first to get married and leave the hospital. It was love at first sight for her and Bear. Soon the girls have to choose between love and a career, or a precarious balance of both. Times are tough and nothing is easy, especially in a world made for men, not women.

I can't remember a time in my life when I didn't know who Colleen McCullough was. Her book The Thorn Birds was not only a phenomenal bestseller, but the miniseries adaptation was one of my late Uncle's favorite shows ever. This is, of course, the man who bragged my entire life that the last movie he paid to see in theaters was The Name of the Rose and decided that nothing could compare after that so he closed his mind. Despite being a fan of The Name of the Rose, his seal of approval actually had me avoiding The Thorn Birds in any form for my entire life. So, despite knowing all about her, Colleen McCullough has been a part of my life without really being a part of it. Until now. I should have left well enough alone.

Don't let the talented graphic designers fool you by their pretty cover, this book is painfully bad. Rage reading bad. Full of bad cliched writing and stereotypes. Repetitive to the point where I wanted to pull out my hair. Did Colleen ever learn that you shouldn't keep repeating the same words in a paragraph? No she didn't. Or maybe she just has a very tiny vocabulary to go with her tiny mindset on the place of women, more on that to come! Oh, and all love is love at first sight? Seriously? Yet the pinnacle of this atrocious writing is that I got to know the sisters moods very intimately by the color of their eyes. Blurg. Every five seconds it's Kitty's eyes are now sparking violet, Edda's eyes are going green. Are their eyes freaking psychedelic rainbows? In fact, in this relatively short book (despite how long it felt, 352 pages is relatively short) eyes are mentioned 236 times! Eyes are mentioned on 67% of the pages! Just no.

Yet what just got under my skin like an immovable tick was that despite starting this book out with four independent women and an apparent feminist bent it very quickly went on to show that women need men and can rarely handle hard thinking and need a husband to complete them. WTF! Why would you destroy such a strong and powerful message by having each character only find happiness once she was married? These women were trailblazers, fighting to have their own lives away from parents, learning skills often reserved only for men, to then give it all up for what? Men who weren't nice and controlled them? Seriously, what's going on here? Why did this book go to cliches and limp-wristed writing? How can anyone justify saying this to an amazing and competent nurse: "Kitty, life never meant you to be a children's nurse. Your life means you to have children of your own!" Gag me now.

But Kitty's domestic fate isn't the worst held in store for the sisters. Oh no, not by a long shot. That fate belongs to Edda. Edda the invincible. Edda who wanted to be a doctor. Edda who wants to travel and be amazing. What becomes of Edda? She becomes a fag hag. Now I don't mean this derogatorily I'm just saying what is true, this is what Colleen McCullough did to her most powerful character, she made her need a man, but because Edda wanted more she needed a man who wouldn't threaten her sexuality or ambitions. Edda was at a point in her nursing career where she was at the top of her field and was scared to take that leap to be a doctor, despite wanting that originally and being thwarted by an evil step-mother. So truthfully, she could have become a doctor on her own impetus. But it takes her finding a gay politician in need of a wife for her to get to medical school. Seriously, WTF. Even worse, at the end she's obviously fallen in love with her husband and is now trapped in a marriage to a man whose nature can never give her what she now wants. Thanks for destroying the independent Edda in the most vicious and heartbreaking way possible Colleen.

From idiot girls to politics, this book doesn't just go downhill fast, it plunges itself off a cliff. I'm not the biggest fan of politics as it is, Australian politics during the depression? There is no way in hell this will ever interest me that I can think of. What is worse though is by aligning the politics with the most hated character in the book even if the politics didn't bore you to tears you'd grow to hate them because of Charles Henry Burdum. Charlie, I'm going to call him Charlie because he hates it, is the most controlling, possessive, jealous dumb ass with a Napoleon complex to ever be written. I am still baffled that Kitty was somehow bamboozled into marriage with him because from his first appearance in this book I wanted to throw him under the train he road in on. He isn't an anti hero, he is a douche. And in true douche manner he came in and took over the book and what little ray of feeble light that was trying to shine through was blocked out by this diminutive dumbass. But in the end, I hated all the characters, I hated the message, and I definitely hated this book, so I think I should just move on. When's the next boat out of Melbourne?

Monday, February 16, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott
Published by: Doubleday
Publication Date: February 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" From the New York Times bestselling author of The Dressmaker comes a blockbuster novel that takes you behind the scenes of the filming of Gone with the Wind, while turning the spotlight on the passionate romance between its dashing leading man, Clark Gable, and the blithe, free-spirited actress Carole Lombard.

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana, for Hollywood, she never imagines she’ll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress fromJulie’s provincial Midwestern hometown. The young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, but the only job Julie’s able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick, who is busy burning through directors, writers, and money as he films Gone with the Wind.

Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world of Gone with the Wind come to life. Julie’s access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable, who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler.

Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio because Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blond employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole’s mouth, and—as their friendship grows—Julie soon finds she doesn’t want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie’s model for breaking free of the past.

In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and offscreen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance her career aspirations and her own budding romance with the outsized personalities and overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight."

Because sometimes you need a little bit of Old Hollywood glamor in your life.

Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Published by: Bantams
Publication Date: February 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Laurie R. King’s New York Times bestselling novels of suspense featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, are critically acclaimed and beloved by readers for the author’s adept interplay of history and adventure. Now the intrepid duo is finally trying to take a little time for themselves—only to be swept up in a baffling case that will lead them from the idyllic panoramas of Japan to the depths of Oxford’s most revered institution.

After a lengthy case that had the couple traipsing all over India, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes are on their way to California to deal with some family business that Russell has been neglecting for far too long. Along the way, they plan to break up the long voyage with a sojourn in southern Japan. The cruising steamer Thomas Carlyle is leaving Bombay, bound for Kobe. Though they’re not the vacationing types, Russell is looking forward to a change of focus—not to mention a chance to travel to a location Holmes has not visited before. The idea of the pair being on equal footing is enticing to a woman who often must race to catch up with her older, highly skilled husband.

Aboard the ship, intrigue stirs almost immediately. Holmes recognizes the famous clubman the Earl of Darley, whom he suspects of being an occasional blackmailer: not an unlikely career choice for a man richer in social connections than in pounds sterling. And then there’s the lithe, surprisingly fluent young Japanese woman who befriends Russell and quotes haiku. She agrees to tutor the couple in Japanese language and customs, but Russell can’t shake the feeling that Haruki Sato is not who she claims to be.

Once in Japan, Russell’s suspicions are confirmed in a most surprising way. From the glorious city of Tokyo to the cavernous library at Oxford, Russell and Holmes race to solve a mystery involving international extortion, espionage, and the shocking secrets that, if revealed, could spark revolution—and topple an empire. "

This series might, just might, figure into a theme month later this year...

Doctor Death by Lene Kaaberbol
Published by: Atria Books
Publication Date: February 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Strong-minded and ambitious, Madeleine Karno is eager to shatter the constraints of her provincial French upbringing. She wants to become a pathologist like her father, whose assistant she is, but this is 1894, and autopsies are considered unseemly and ungodly, even when performed by a man—hence his odious nickname, Doctor Death. That a young woman should wish to spend her time dissecting corpses is too scandalous for words.

Thus, when seventeen-year-old Cecile Montaine is found dead in the snowy streets of Varbourg, her family will not permit a full post-mortem autopsy, and Madeleine and her father are left with a single mysterious clue: in the dead girl’s nostrils they find a type of parasite normally seen only in dogs. Soon after, the priest who held vigil by the dead girl’s corpse is brutally murdered. The thread that connects these two events is a tangled one, and as the death toll mounts, Madeleine must seek knowledge in odd places: behind convent walls, in secret diaries, and in the yellow stare of an aging wolf.

Eloquently written and with powerful insight into human and animal nature, Doctor Death is at once a gripping mystery and a poignant coming-of-age story."

Ye Olde Thyme CSI!

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi
Published by: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: February 17th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 112 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo . . . so many great artists have shared one very special love: the companionship of cats. Gathered here for the first time are behind-thescenes stories of more than 50 famous artists and their feline friends. From Salvador Dali's pet ocelot Babou to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's menagerie of cats, including Salt (who was black) and Pepper (who was white), Artists and Their Cats captures these endearing friendships in charming photographs and engaging text, and reveals what creative souls and the animals best known for their independent spirits have in common. In this clever compilation, art aficionados will discover a softer side of their favorite artists, and cat lovers will enjoy a whole new way to celebrate their favorite furry friends."

Come on, the only fault this book could possibly have is that me and my kitty Spot don't grace the cover... or really, anyone besides Dali. Yes, I have issues with Dali. But this is a MUST BUY book!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review - Barbara Taylor Bradford's Cavendon Hall

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: April 1st, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

The Inghams and the Swanns are inseparable. For hundreds of years the Swanns have served their noble lieges becoming more like family then staff. Their children are brought up together and their bonds are unbreakable. Those bonds will be tested when a horrific attack on the Earl's most precious daughter, Lady Daphne, brings danger to the very heart of Cavendon. The Swanns close ranks to protect Lady Daphne from any further threats, even her own family if necessary. But danger doesn't just circle the family, the world is on the brink of war. Can these two families in crisis come together to help each other through the horrors they have to face and the dangers to come? Or will their bonds start to fray?

Sometimes you need to go to a happy, if unbelievable place, where the moon is always full and servants are like family, just to take you away from your cares. Where everyone loves everyone else, though perhaps a little too much with the incestuous nature between the Inghams and the Swanns. I almost expected them to start quoting that other famous resident of Yorkshire, Emily Brontë, by saying of the Inghams and the Swanns, "whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This isn't high art or great literature like Emily, this is pure fun, like Downton Abbey on crack, without the constant threat of one of the Bateses ending up in the clink. These magical happy pills make even the worst situation not only bearable, but work for everyones benefit and eventual happiness. Though seriously, I would like to know how there's always a full moon.

Cavendon Hall does suffer from an unevenness. Most of this has to do with pacing, but also how it's stylistically written and sometimes falls prey to self aggrandisement. Tackling the later, I really would like other authors opinions on quoting yourself. Each part of the book begins with a series of quotes from Shakespeare to Tennyson to Emma Harte. Emma Harte? As in A Woman of Substance Emma Hart? Yes, Barbara Taylor Bradford just quoted herself. By placing this quote with actual quotable greats I can't tell if she's just using something to hand that she thinks works or is trying to elevate her art to a new level? Either way, it seems a bit shady to quote your own characters in a setting that isn't tongue-in-cheek. Makes me think she's more then a little full of herself... but if any of my author friends would like to weigh in I would love to hear what they have to say.

As for the unevenness, it's not just that she occasionally switches up her writing style to be hyper sexual for a paragraph only to revert to her staid writing style of every other page, but the way time is handled is troublesome. Two years take up the first 279 pages while the final 126 pages is six years. So there's this nice introduction, we get to know everyone and become a part of their daily lives to have it all then whoosh past us at light speed. I'm not sure if it's that Barbara Taylor Bradford just didn't want to handle WWI in detail or what. I would say it almost felt as if she was sick of telling her story, but seeing as this is a series with the next book coming out in March, she couldn't be sick of her characters already if she's writing even more about them? But I think this can be a universal gripe to all authors, don't make us fall in love with your characters and then shift focus and gloss over things. Stay consistent within the narrative. All your books don't have to be the same, just the one you're currently writing should be consistent. And if it ends up a doorstop of a novel, so be it, I'll read it.

What I feel is the driving narrative of the book is also in my mind one of the biggest issues. This is, of course, Lady Daphne's rape at the very beginning of the book. Rape is a hard issue to deal with sensitively and properly. Just look at last season of Downton Abbey where Anna's rape split the audience with those who just didn't want more misery for Anna to those who thought the rape storyline was brave, and finally to those who thought the storyline was just handled insensitively. With such a hot button topic it has become rather inappropriately in my mind a way to add drama and spice to a story. When in doubt have your strong female character attacked and assaulted. To me this just seems like a convenience versus a real desire to tackle the issue.

Even in writing about the events in the book I feel uncertain as to how to describe the event critically. The attack and the cover up that surrounds it to me smacks of not wanting to confront something horrible, but wanting to make it like it never happened. This is where my problem lies. The stigma of speaking out. Yes, this was a different time period and "reputation" was the be all end all, but still... this is a problem that still exists and even "period" literature that holds this opinion of silence being the best solution just adds to the problem.

And while the rape and it's repercussions does drive the story, it's how Barbara Taylor Bradford built off this to create a greater atmosphere of fear that kept me reading. Taking the "pervert in the woods" and expanding his reach, showing the terror and fear his other sightings added to the story, this took the book further. I can't help thinking though that if this fear is removed, how will the next book have any tension or jeopardy to keep the spark of interest going in the reader. I also can't help but think if Lady Daphne had told all after her attack that a lot of other bad situations would have been avoided... perhaps Barbara Taylor Bradford was subtly saying that silence isn't the solution... then again, she could have just wanted to scare us and keep reading her book. Anything for the story right?

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Book Review - Elizabeth Wilhide's Ashenden

Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide
Published by: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: January 8th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 339 Pages
Rating: ★
To Buy

Time and neglect have been brought to bear on Ashenden Park. Occasionally loved and cared for, the great estate has fallen into the hands of two siblings after the death of their aunt. They don't know what they should do with this giant white elephant they have inherited. Going back through time to the houses beginning in 1775, James Woods is finishing the architectural touches for his new masterpiece to be wrought in Bath stone, though little does he know that tragedy will personally strike him and his employers will never finish the house. It's 1844 and a new family cares for and loves Ashenden, it is the home of their dreams and their children love it well, but their grandson is feckless. 1938, the house is once again in disrepair, cut up and sold for whatever money the current owner can get for a ceiling or a mantelpiece. 1946, the war arrives and a man who is a prisoner lives where one day he will return a house to lost glory for the aunt of two siblings. Ever rising and falling in it's luck will Ashenden Park be glorious ever again?

It takes a lot to make a house memorable in literature. I don't think it's something that you can set out to do, it's something that happens over time. Manderley, Number Four Privet Drive, Tara, Pemberley, all these places are held in the hearts of readers. We imagine what it would be like to go there, to walk through the woods, to gaze at the family portraits, to be immersed in the world of our favorite story. To us readers these are tangible places that we can visit, if only in our imaginations or between the covers of our favorite book. To have the conceit of following a house through time is at once intriguing and sheer folly. If Ashenden proves anything it's that the engendering of a house in literature can not be forced on us.

In order to fall for a literary house you have to fall for the story. A house itself isn't a story unless it's peopled. Would Hill House be evil and menacing without inhabitants? No, it couldn't be because there's no one to interact with it's bricks and mortar, there's no Eleanor. The house just sits there waiting for occupants. Why yes, Asheden does become occupied, but by having the narrative spread out decades apart over a hundred plus years with different characters there is no way to become invested in the story. The house is an empty vessel and here are some people who occupy it, but don't bother getting too invested in them, they'll be gone soon enough. If there had only been some overarching plot separate from the house itself, like in Mark Gatiss's Crooked House that weaves together hauntings of Geap Manor over a two hundred year period to a conclusive denouement, well, that might have been something I could have worked with, but sadly there wasn't.

As for these people who flit through Ashenden over time. I couldn't have cared less about them. Rarely were they nice or kind, usually they were self centered jack-offs. The way the book is written it's really just intertwined short stories. I'm not the biggest fan of short stories. I like scope. I like having a beautifully built world that I can immerse myself in, which is why I like television and miniseries more then movies.  Short stories are hard to invest in unless they are perfectly crafted little jewels that can stand on their own. By having the stories linked through Ashenden this is never possible. Each story with a jerk and a bump leads to the next and the next, with ever more unlikable characters that I didn't want to invest my time in.

But the short narratives weren't the most annoying thing. What really got me was this fine breadcrumb trail of characters and even objects that Wilhide wove through the book. So to recap, lots of unlikable characters I don't like and don't care to remember are peppered throughout the history of Ashenden like little Easter Eggs. Somebody hold me back. Sure, it's a cute idea, a way to link past and present, but sometimes cute ideas should not be employed because they annoy the heck out of your readers. It's gimmicky and gets maddening real fast. That stupid brown cow pitcher, and I have to say, I actually liked a pitcher of a brown cow more then anything else in this book. I liked an inanimate object more then the people. Um, that's a problem.

This is Wilhide's first fiction book, having written a plethora of books on design and architecture, and I have to say it shows. She was unable to create an engaging book. If her goal was to show the "living history" of the house, well, I guess she did that. Wilhide was able to show how the house changed and adapted over time from it's construction to it's current state of dilapidation, but it was a depressing show and tell that felt like I was reading about the slow death of the house sinking further into despair. Never did it feel like she was exulting the house, never once giving it the people it deserved. A pop star? Please no. Anyone who was nice to the house was skimmed over. One of those nice persons was name Florence Henderson, and I hope that this was historical, because otherwise, WTF Wildhide! No.

Houses all have stories to tell. But does this mean that the stories should be told? No it doesn't. What got me most was that anytime you almost felt invested the story would shift, much in the way Jeffery Eugenides Middlesex did, and you were back at square one, usually with an even more unsavory cast of characters. If you set out to do something unique and different go all in. Go epic, go centuries of detail and dirt. Don't reign yourself in, and don't under any circumstance ellipses over time with little introductory paragraphs at the start of each chapter that are ethereal and dreamlike but are really the type of amateurish and indulgent writing that should have been cut.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: February 10th, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 384 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"A winning combination of both intricate plotting and nostalgic post-WWI English country setting, Frances Brody's A Woman Unknown will appeal to fans of both classic murder mysteries in the vein of Agatha Christie as well as readers of historical mystery series set in 1920s England, two popular subgenres.

The Woman Unknown: Deirdre Fitzpatrick is married to a man who wants to know where she really goes when supposedly taking care of her sick mother and calls on the expertise of Kate Shackleton, amateur sleuth extraordinaire to investigate.

The Gentleman: Everett Runcie is a banker facing ruin and disgrace. His American heiress wife will no longer pay for his mistakes, or tolerate his infidelity, and is seeking a divorce.

The Murder: When a chambermaid enters Runcie's hotel room, she is shocked to find that he is alone - and dead! Suddenly Kate is thrown into the depths of an altogether more sinister investigation. Can she uncover the truth of her most complex, and personal, case to date?"

Doesn't this sound like a perfect cozy for a cold February day? Now to get me some hot chocolate!

Deadly Spells by Jaye Wells
Published by: Orbit
Publication Date: February 10th, 2015
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:

After the grisly murder of a dirty magic coven leader, Kate Prospero and The Magical Enforcement Agency team up with the local police to find the killer. When a tenacious reporter sticks her nose in both the investigation and Prospero's past in the covens, old ghosts resurface.

As the infighting between covens turns ugly, an all-out war brews in the slums of Babylon..

Deadly Spells is the third novel in the Prospero's War series that started with Dirty Magic and Cursed Moon!"

And if you're feeling you need some magic, here's a book for what ails you!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Book Review - Kate Morton's The Distant Hours

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria
Publication Date: November 9th, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 576 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Edie Burchill has never had much of a connection with her mother, Meredith. They don't have a special bond or share the deepest secrets of their lives, in fact Edie hasn't told her mom yet that she and Jamie have split up months previously. Therefore it shouldn't come as a surprise that her mom has kept secrets from her as well. One of those secrets is that she was evacuated to Milderhurst Castle during WWII. There she was looked after by the Blythe sisters, the twins, Percy and Saffy, and their much younger sister Juniper, who was like a sister to Meredith. A long lost letter brings this one revelation of Meredith's past out into the open and Edie can't help but be fascinated.

After visiting a prospective author for the publishing company she works for, Edie gets lost on her way home and stumbles on Milderhurst Castle. It seems as if fate has brought her to these gates all these years after her mother entered them. She soon learns that all the sisters are still in residence, older, and in Juniper's case, insane. Juniper lost her mind the night her fiance jilted her in 1941. Edie also learns that the sisters are the daughters of Raymond Blythe, the author of The True History of the Mud Man, a classic and Edie's favorite book growing up. Astounded by all these coincidences Edie ventures into Milderhurst, not telling the siblings that she is Meredith's daughter. The secrets of the past start to unravel with Edie's arrival and the time has come for the truth to be told, especially about what really happened that stormy night in 1941.

I have come to the conclusion that Kate Morton is a writer that I love in theory but not in practice. I see these big doorstop novels about secrets and lies, where the truth about the past is teased out and revealed to us in the present and think, yes please, I'd like to read that. But expectation and reality have never met in this case of all of Morton's books save one, I did begrudgingly like The Secret Keeper to an extent. The problem is I keep thinking about what might have been, how things might have twisted and turned to make a tauter story, one that didn't leave me thinking a couple of hundred pages in why exactly was it that I picked up this book in the first place and then heroically pushing on to the finish. A finish that I have long ago seen coming.

My main problem I think is that all Morton's books seem to be slightly different stories told with the same building blocks. Older person who may be dying has secret that will change younger person's outlook on life. Commence the lugubrious ferreting out of the truth that has a fifty fifty chance of being hidden in a children's book and will definitely have a nice house in it, even if at this present time it's gone to rack and ruin. Peeling wallpaper, forgotten childhood memories, love where you least expect it. Sound familiar? It should if you've read any of Morton's books. Yes, the books tap into a common zeitgeist of wanting to look into our past and our ancestry to find answers to our lives, but there's only so many ways to tell this story and unless Morton starts to radically change her tune she will be stuck in this rut forever. I can oddly see her writing a book about her own predicament in fact...

Aside from constantly rewriting the same story in different ways The Distant Hours suffers not from comparison to Morton's other works but by the sheer bleakness of the story. This is not a happy story folks. This story will leave you a sad sack just thinking about wasted opportunities and how potential can just wither and die on the vine. Those poor Blythe sisters! I wonder if Morton set out to see just how Brontësque she could make her book with lost loves and ravaging fires and didn't pull back from the manuscript at any time and think, hey, maybe I should temper this Emily vibe I've got going with a little Charlotte? So while this book is Brontës to the max, it's just too depressing. Therefore, unless you've some masochistic desire to wallow in despair, just let me slap this book out of your hands right now.

Though in fairness, it isn't all unremitting horror and despair. We have Edie to counter that. Edie, the idiot. First I want to do a mini rant on the avatar of the reader in a book, so bare with. As readers, there is usually someone we connect to, someone who is our conduit into the narrative. A hero, heroine, antihero, whomever it is, it's someone to be our guide. Now the guide can be a little guileless, because, like them, we are coming into the story for the first time. We are just as clueless as they are, unless they are messing with us in the "unreliable narrator" trope, but that's a different kettle of fish. You, as the writer, want us, the reader, to be able to connect with your narrator and with your story. One way to guarantee that this will never happen is to have a self amused imbecile as our avatar. Writing her thoughts in a cutesy self referential way all the while showing herself to have a cranium full of nothing.

In fact, Edie's brainpan might be filled with less then nothing. Her head is a vacuum that sucks in information that promptly disappears forever. She is oblivious of the world around her. She has a totally unrealistic and fantastical job that only the true idiot heroine can get because she couldn't survive in the real world. Blindingly obvious deductions come as revelations to her hundreds of pages too late. And of course those hundreds of pages are filled with nothing but deathly boring prologue to the events of the evening of October 29th, 1941.

If it wasn't so obvious that Edie was an idiot I'd put down her lack of deductive reasoning to the plodding pace of the narrative, maybe she just fell asleep? In fact, sleeping might have been a better use of my time. As I finish my rant there's just so much in my brain that I want to scream at Morton, show don't tell, Mud Man, ugh, just no. Too many thoughts verses Edie's too few. But the final nail in the stupidity coffin for me was that somehow Edie got her hands on a first edition of Jane Eyre, retail about $50,000, and what does she do with this sacred book? She takes it on a coffee date!?! Excuse me!?! She did what? There's not hope for her. No more. Begone foul spirit!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Michelle Moran Guest Post 'Janam Kundlis'

The upper class British life that we see on Downton Abbey is very much a product of England's domination of other countries and their Empire where the sun never set. While prior to 1858 the British had a strong presence in India, it wasn't until then that India came under the rule of the British. Queen Lakshmi, Michelle's "Rebel Queen", fought and died for her country during the uprising that resulted in the British Raj, and Queen Victoria eventually being crowned Empress of India, a country she never visited it should be noted. On Downton, Rose's father Shrimpy has a post with the Foreign Office in India that is eventually closed, signalling the beginning of the end of the British Raj, which was officially over in 1947. I thought it would be a nice change of pace to expand the cloistered view of Downton Abbey and hear a little bit about the culture that helped to form Britain. Take it away Michelle!

"With every book I write, I discover something about the culture I’m researching which completely blows me away, often because it’s so unusual and something I’ve never encountered before. In the case of my book, Rebel Queen, set in India during the British invasion, the concept of Janam Kundlis struck a chord with me, particularly since Janam Kundlis very nearly played a role in my own life and my marriage to my husband, who is Indian.

Also known as an astrological chart, a Janam Kundli is made by a priest for each child in India. No one is sure when the concept of a Janam Kundli came to be, but as Vedic astrology is several thousand years old, it’s not surprising that my protagonist’s Janam Kundli would have looked similar to my husband’s, even though they were born more than a hundred years apart. A person’s Janam Kundli includes the details of their birth–time, date, planetary alignments. It also includes other things which aren’t so common in the West, such as that person’s probable future career and who they were in their most recent past life (in my husband’s case, a yogi!)"

"Reading a person’s natal chart is serious business. Once a person’s Janam Kundli is created, they will keep that document with them for life, producing it when it’s time for marriage. Even today, Janam Kundlis are used to make prospective matches between brides and grooms throughout India, where the majority of marriages are arranged. And woe betide anyone whose Janam Kundli declares them to be a manglik, or a bad-luck person. If that’s the case, as it was for the famous Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, one of two options are available. You can either marry another manglik, thus canceling out your bad-luck status, or you can hire a priest to conduct a variety of ceremonies that will make it possible to marry someone who isn’t a manglik like yourself. This last option, however, is only available if the non-manglik person’s family finds the risk acceptable. In Aishwarya Rai’s case, her in-laws obviously felt the “risk” was worth it, and in 2007 she married a tree before she married her husband, thereby canceling out her bad-luck in this way.

Why a tree? Well, this was something I very nearly discovered myself when my own Janam Kundli was made. Apparently, like Aishwarya Rai, I too am probably a manglik, meaning marriage for me would most likely end in the divorce or death of my spouse. I say probably because my Janam Kundli was done online. The effect, however, was very nearly the same. Major discussions took place as to whether I would need to marry a tree before the wedding could proceed, or whether my Janam Kundli should be discounted since I am not, after all, Indian, and my Janam Kundli hadn’t “officially” been made by a priest.

In the end, it was decided that my husband should take the risk and go for it. I never had to marry a tree or even choose among a variety of clay urns for my groom. Either option, apparently, is acceptable, as it’s believed that a person’s manglik dosh can be canceled out if the manglik person’s bad luck is spent on the first marriage. Thus, the bride first marries a clay urn or a tree, then either breaks the clay urn or chops down her tree-husband in order to become a “widow” (in some places, the tree is allowed to survive). After this, the second marriage is ready to proceed without a hitch.

There are varying interpretations of this ceremony, and even though it didn’t end up affecting me, a person’s Janam Kundli can alter their destiny, just as I describe in the beginning of Rebel Queen. It’s cultural gems like these which make researching historical fiction such a pleasure, and it’s these type of details which I try to include in each of my books. As a writer, my hope is that they pique the reader’s interest along the way, and as a reader, they are the sort of facts which help ground me in another place and time."

Now time for a giveaway I think! No marriage to a tree involved. 

The Prize:
A signed copy of Michelle's new book, Rebel Queen, as well as a pair of bangles* which Michelle purchased on her last trip to India.

*Note about the bangles, Michelle brought several hundred back from India and all of them are different, so what's in the picture above may or may not be what they look like (but they will still be from India and still look fabulous!) Also shipping bangles is difficult (because they're so delicate), if they arrive damaged Michelle is more than happy to send another set!

The Rules:
1. Open to EVERYONE (for clarification, this means international too).

2. Please make sure I have a way to contact you if your name is drawn, either your blogger profile or a link to your website/blog or you could even include your email address with your comment(s) or email me.

3. Contest ends Friday, February 13th at 11:59PM CST

4. How to enter: Just comment on this post for a chance to win!

5. And for those addicted to getting extra entries:

  • +1 for answering the question: Would you let the stars be willing to dictate who you marry?
  • +2 for becoming a follower
  • +10 if you are already a follower
  • +10 for each time you advertise this contest - blog post, sidebar, twitter (please @eliza_lefebvre), etc. (but you only get credit for the first post in each platform, so tweet all you like, and I thank you for it, but you'll only get the +10 once from twitter). Also please leave a link! 
Good luck!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Tuesday Tomorrow

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
Published by: Riverhead Hardcover
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the bestselling author of High Fidelity, About a Boy, and A Long Way Down comes a highly anticipated new novel.

Set in 1960's London, Funny Girl is a lively account of the adventures of the intrepid young Sophie Straw as she navigates her transformation from provincial ingénue to television starlet amid a constellation of delightful characters. Insightful and humorous, Nick Hornby's latest does what he does best: endears us to a cast of characters who are funny if flawed, and forces us to examine ourselves in the process."

It's been a long five years since Hornby's last book, too busy with screenplays I guess... but we have a new book. At last!

Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
Published by: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 272 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Sergeant Hamish Macbeth is alarmed to receive a report from a woman in the small village of Cronish in the Scottish Highlands. She has been brutally attacked and the criminal is on the loose. But upon further investigation, Hamish discovers that she was lying about the crime. So when the same woman calls him back about an intruder, he simply marvels at her compulsion to lie. This time, though, she is telling the truth. Her body is found in her home and Hamish must sort through all of her lies to solve the crime."

My mom's favorite author, hands down. And this is her favorite series of the two Beaton writes as well.

The Eterna Files by Leanna Renee Hiber
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 320 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
" London, 1882: Queen Victoria appoints Harold Spire of the Metropolitan Police to Special Branch Division Omega. Omega is to secretly investigate paranormal and supernatural events and persons. Spire, a skeptic driven to protect the helpless and see justice done, is the perfect man to lead the department, which employs scholars and scientists, assassins and con men, and a traveling circus. Spire's chief researcher is Rose Everhart, who believes fervently that there is more to the world than can be seen by mortal eyes.

Their first mission: find the Eterna Compound, which grants immortality. Catastrophe destroyed the hidden laboratory in New York City where Eterna was developed, but the Queen is convinced someone escaped—and has a sample of Eterna.

Also searching for Eterna is an American, Clara Templeton, who helped start the project after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln nearly destroyed her nation. Haunted by the ghost of her beloved, she is determined that the Eterna Compound—and the immortality it will convey—will be controlled by the United States, not Great Britain."

If you seriously can read this description and NOT seeing me buying this book, I think we need to have a talk...

Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman
Published by: William Morrow
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved storytellers of our time comes a major new collection of stories and verse.

"We each have our little triggers . . . things that wait for us in the dark corridors of our lives." So says Neil Gaiman in his introduction to Trigger Warning, a remarkable compendium of twenty-five stories and poems that explore the transformative power of imagination.

In "Adventure Story"—a thematic companion to the #1 New York Times bestselling novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the ways in which people take their stories with them when they die. "A Calendar of Tales" is comprised of short pieces about the months of the year—stories of pirates and March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother's Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale "The Case of Death and Honey." Also included is "Nothing O'Clock," a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the beloved series in 2013, as well as the never-before-published "Black Dog," a haunting new tale that revisits the world of American Gods as Shadow Moon stops in at a village pub on his way back to America.

Gaiman, a sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, entrances with his literary alchemy and transports us deep into an undiscovered country where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday is incandescent. Replete with wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of literary delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul."

OK, I am a little tired of the Doctor Who story being everywhere, seriously, it wasn't that memorable. BUT I am uber excited about the story "The Return of the Thin White Duke!" 

Dragons at Crumbling Castle by Terry Pratchett
Published by: Clarion Books
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"This never-before-published collection of fourteen funny and inventive tales by acclaimed author Sir Terry Pratchett features a memorable cast of inept wizards, sensible heroes, and unusually adventuresome tortoises.

Including more than one hundred black-and-white illustrations, the appealingly designed book celebrates Pratchett’s inimitable wordplay and irreverent approach to the conventions of storytelling.

These accessible and mischievous tales are an ideal introduction for young readers to this beloved author. Established fans of Pratchett’s work will savor the playful presentation of the themes and ideas that inform his best-selling novels."

Anybody else feel they're trying to make Terry Pratchett Roald Dahl?

The Accidental Dragon by Dakota Cassidy
Published by: Berkley Trade
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Firefighter McAllister "Mick" Malone knows he has a protective streak, especially when it comes to his deceased best friend's sister, Tessa. But after twenty-five years of verbal sparring, Mick can't help but notice that their recent arguments have started to feel a lot like foreplay. And while Tessa knows exactly what to say to get him going, Mick is thrown for a loop when he actually starts breathing fire.

Antique-store owner Tessa Preston has loved Mick Malone since she was ten years old—not that she'd ever admit it. Fighting with Mick is the only thing keeping her from an embarrassing romantic confession, but when the sexy firefighter accidentally ingests some ancient dragon scales masquerading as powdered aspirin, Tessa finds herself handling something much hotter than long-simmering sexual tension."

From dragons to dragons... I hope I'm never accused of not having a flow to my posts.

Casually Cursed by Kimberly Frost
Published by: Berkley
Publication Date: February 3rd, 2015
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"From the national bestselling author of Slightly Spellbound comes the latest Southern Witch novel featuring Tammy Jo Trask.

Tammy Jo rarely sets a toe outside Texas, but when she learns her mother is in trouble, Tammy is determined to save her—even if it means going to hell and back…

Fresh off her engagement to wizard Bryn Lyons, Tammy Jo is surprised to make another new family connection when she meets the twin sister she never knew she had. After being spirited away to the fae kingdom of Never as an infant, Kismet has finally escaped, and arrived in Duvall, Texas, with some terrible news: their mother, Marlee, is a prisoner of the Seelie fae.

Crossing the ocean to battle the fae isn’t Tammy Jo’s idea of a romantic getaway, but Bryn refuses to let her go alone—as do her aunt Edie and her ex-husband Zach. Unfortunately, their plot to free Marlee is foiled when they are caught by the fae queen. And the only chance the queen gives them to save Marlee’s life may be an impossible quest…"

Have I mentioned lately how much I love this new look and format?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Downton Denial Deux

You are back here yet again. You might actually have been really bad and bought the DVD last week and glutted yourself on Downton Abbey and now you have no more. Or you are being good and watching each episode as they air, waiting till March 1st when you truly will have no more Downton and are hoping you'll find some way to cauterize the wound. I am here to help. I have been there. I have railed against Jullian Fellowes as he messes with us and poor Anna and Bates once more. I have done dances of joy because Anthony is ending up where I want him, in Mary's rear view mirror. Oh, and the Russians, can't get enough of the surliness and their secrets!

You don't want this roller coaster ride to stop, but it will, and all too soon. And this is where I waltz in, hopefully in a beautiful dress worthy of Lady Mary, but more likely in PJ's covered in cat hair. I am here to help you cope with the bereft feeling that will overtake you in the weeks to come. While Downton Abbey is unique in it's own way, it's not so unique that you can't find books to fill the void. Once again for the month of February I will have a plethora of Downtonesque reading suggestions to help you through the loss to come. It's the least I can do for my fellow sufferers of Downton Denial.

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