Thursday, March 31, 2011

Staying at Daisy’s by Jill Mansell

Staying at Daisy’s is a very enjoyable British “Chick Lit” novel. Jill Mansell has a unique style of writing that I really enjoy. Her novels bring to life small English villages complete with an entire cast of characters that I grow to love through the course of the novel.

Daisy MacLean manages a manor hotel that her eccentric author father bought in a small English village. Daisy has had a tough time since the death of her husband and is trying to learn to love again. When rugby sports hero Dev Tyzack stays at her hotel for a wedding, sparks fly, but is the lady’s magnet a man that Daisy wants to end up with or is her dependable, cuddly, ex-boyfriend Josh the man for her?

Daisy’s friend Tara is a chambermaid at the hotel and is unlucky in love. When she meets up with her ex-boyfriend, he is hours away from being married, but admits he is still attracted to her. Tara’s Aunt Maggie is sleeping with Daisy’s father Hector, and is getting paid to do so! Maggie doesn’t want to be a one-man prostitute and would love to have a real relationship with Hector, but when a famous movie-star stays at the hotel, Maggie has some stiff competition.

These are just some of the loveable and interconnected characters in Staying at Daisy’s. Once I got into the novel, I couldn’t put it down. I really liked each of the story lines, and liked how they were all nicely resolved by the conclusion of the book. I wouldn’t mind reading more about these characters! I also really liked the novels setting in a small English village. It seems that most chick lit novels have a mandatory setting in London or New York City. It’s nice to see that there is life beyond those areas!

Overall, if you are looking for a fun, funny, and romantic novel, I high recommend Staying at Daisy’s.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks – Thanks!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Writing About the Marshals by Elizabeth Chadwick (and GIVEAWAY)

When you first wrote about William Marshall in "The Greatest Knight" did you plan to continue writing about his family or did you find such interesting information that you couldn't stop writing? It's a fascinating picture of history and I'm intrigued by your writing process.

Many thanks for inviting me to talk today on your blog, and for a fascinating question. I came to William Marshal and ‘The Greatest Knight’ in a similar way to Peter Jackson coming to the Lords of the Rings. He often tells the tale of lying awake at night with his wife and talking about how someone should make a film of Tolkien’s epic and finally arriving at the realisation that it might just have to be him.

With William Marshal, I had often come across him in the course of writing other novels set in the Middle Ages. His life was so full and dramatic, that I had often thought to myself, ‘Someone should write a book about him.’ I kept waiting for a proper ‘big name’ author to write his story, but eventually decided that perhaps it might just have to be me and that I should fully embrace the genre of the biographical novel in which I’d already been dipping my toes with Lords of the White Castle and Shadows and Strongholds.

Although I knew that William Marshal had lived an epic life on an epic stage (almost hanged at 5 years old in the reign of King Stephen but surviving to manhood to serve Eleanor of Aquitaine and save her life, then to serve her eldest son until the young man’s death, followed by Henry II, King John and Henry III, eventually dying while regent of England), I still hadn’t grasped the true scope and humanity of the man until I came to research him in detail for The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion. What had set out to be just the next project along the way became a personal journey and a deep and abiding interest – and love - for William Marshal and his family.

I think it does help tremendously that we have the Histoire de Guillaume le Mareschal as a primary source. It’s the story of his life from cradle to grave told as a rhyming poem, 19,212 lines long and written shortly after his death, so containing many instances of eye witness reports. While it tends to big its hero up, because it was intended for his family, it nevertheless gives us intimate glimpses into the life of a 12th and 13th century man, his family and their affinities. It rewards us with such small and telling details as the fact that William was known as ‘Gaste Viande’ in his youth, meaning ‘Greedy guts’, and that he liked his sleep. Having raised two sons myself, I can so identify with the voracious eating habits and slugabed tendencies of young males! We know that one of his first warhorses that he used in the tourney was called Blancart and that although a fine horse, he had a bad mouth and William had to make him a special bridle in order to control him. We know that while on pilgrimage in the Holy Land, he obtained his own burial shrouds, brought them home, put them in a chest and told no one about them until he was on his deathbed 30 years later. We know from incidents in the Histoire that he had a mischievous sense of humour, that he was very fond of singing, and that he loved his children, but had an especial place in his heart for his eldest daughter Mahelt. It’s these fine details over and above the great doings and politics that bring home to me, and I hope my own readers, that these were real people who lived and loved, struggled and strove. While the centuries have created many differences between us, we are still united by so many similarities.

Having written about William Marshal, I started to become very interested in his parents John and Sybilla. I wondered what influence they had brought to bear on their son in terms of genetics and behaviour. John FitzGilbert Marshal gets the fuzzy end of the lolly in the historical record because of his supposed indifference to his son during a hostage situation. He told King Stephen, who was holding William under pain of death against John’s compliant behaviour, to go ahead and do away with the child because he had the anvils and hammers to beget better sons. But again, like William, when I came to research John Marshal’s story in A Place Beyond Courage, I found so much more going on under the surface, and balancing John Marshal’s reputation has become something of a cause celebre for me these days!

Still not done with the Marshal family, I went off at a tangent to explore the story of the Bigod family who married into the Marshal line via William’s eldest daughter Mahelt, and I found myself entering the world of Henry II’s young mistress, Ida de Tosney. This was an eye-opener concerning the power of kings to do what they wanted against innocent young girls, and an exploration of the ties that bind for better or worse. Ida’s second son, Hugh (her first, William Longespée was bastard born to Henry), heir to the earldom of Norfolk, married William Marshal’s eldest beloved daughter Mahelt, thus uniting the two great families.

Mahelt, the female lead in To Defy A King, appears in small but telling sections of her father’s Histoire. She is seen marrying Hugh Bigod at her father’s behest, and is described as having ‘wisdom, generosity, beauty, nobility of heart, graciousness and all the good qualities that a noble lady should possess.’ Of course this is typical speak for a chronicler boosting his subject, but he also says that ‘Her worth father loved her dearly.’ Those words are not said about her four sisters, although their fair attributes are described in detail. William probably did love his other daughters, but that remark sets Mahelt aside as his favorite.

The Marshals and the Bigods were split by the civil war crisis during the reign of King John and I wanted to look at what it might have been like for 14 year old Mahelt to have an arranged marriage and then to have to try and balance herself between her two families and be loyal to both.

Will there be any more Marshal novels in the offing? Who can say down the line, but whether or not I do, they have entered my life, and will remain with me forever!

Giveaway Details Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of To Defy a King, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday April 8th. Good luck!

To Defy a King by Elizabeth Chadwick

Elizabeth Chadwick is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction authors, ranking up there with Diana Gabaldon and Anya Seton. I just discovered her novels last year, but I look forward to reading each of her books and silently curse the books that keep me away from a new Chadwick novel.

Chadwick’s stories come alive with riveting, unique (and historical accurate) characters with compelling stories. Chadwick has a research philosophy for her novels that impresses an engineer like me who enjoys facts and figures. Not only does she use primary and secondary sources, but she also includes reenactments with an early medieval Living History Society. Elizabeth Chadwick’s research pays off as her vivid writing makes you feel like you can not only see the characters, but feel the embroidery, smell the horses, and taste the medieval food. You feel totally immersed in the story and it is a very enjoyable experience.

To Defy a King is the story of Mahelt Marshal, the daughter of William and Isabelle Marshal from The Greatest Knight and The Scarlet Lion (in my top ten reads of 2010). Mahelt is the favorite daughter of William. She is a spirited young girl, and becomes a spirited young bride after the Marshal family is forced to give up her older brother to King John for a hostage. Hugh Bigod is the son of the Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk and his wife Ida, the former mistress of King Henry II. Roger does not like how Mahelt is not a “Bigod wife” who will be content to remain in the background strictly obeying her husband. There are definitely some in-law issues for Mahelt to deal with as she learns to be a young wife and mother, but there are is also a great deal of love and passion between her and Hugh to make up for it.

While I loved Mahelt and Hugh’s story, there were also a lot of great secondary characters in To Defy a King. Roger and Ida’s history and love story intrigued me. I can’t wait to read their story in For the King’s Favor. Ida’s bastard son with King Henry, William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury was a great character. He holds a special place in Ida’s heart, but is always at constant friction with Hugh, Ida’s oldest legitimate son with Roger Bigod. He seems like a bad guy when the story first starts, but is a wonderfully rounded character who is torn by conflicting loyalties to his royal brother and his half-siblings. By the end of the novel, his growth had given me a totally different view of him.

And of course – one of the best characters in the book was the evil King John. Whenever I would think, that cannot possibly be true, it really was and his evil misdeeds just kept growing throughout the book. As my husband Ben likes to quote his world history professor “There was only one King John.” I LOVED how Mahelt dealt with King John.

Overall To Defy a King was a enthralling historical fiction novel with superb characters and a remarkable story. Even if you haven’t read the other books about William Marshal, this book is a great book on its own merits.

To Defy a King is my sixth novel in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.

Drop by tomorrow (or I guess later today) for a guest blog post by Elizabeth Chadwick! I’m running a bit behind at odd hours because of a teething baby and a ton of permitting work.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!!

Winners of Tyler by C.H. Admirand

The two lucky winners of Tyler by C.H. Admirand are rubynreba and Mona. Congrats! I hope they enjoy the book as much as I did! The winners were chosen via and were notified via email. They have until Monday, April 4th, to send me their mailing addresses. Otherwise new winners will be chosen. Thank-you to author C.H. Admirand for your great interview and for stopping by to respond to comments! Thank-you to Danielle from Sourcebooks for providing this giveaway and to everyone who entered and left great comments. If you are sad you didn't win, I still have one giveaway ongoing for Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower on my right sidebar. Also stay tuned as I will have a new giveaway posted later today!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower

Sins of the House of Borgia is exactly as the title sounds – a juicy historical fiction novel that explores the naughty lives of the infamous Borgia family in sixteenth century Italy.

As a young Jewish girl in Spain, Esther is forced to flee the country with her mother after the Jewish people are expelled by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella (I felt like this was part two of the great historical fiction novel about this period of trial in Spain By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan). After her mother dies during the flight, Esther is raised by her father in Italy. Her father decides to use her as a pawn to advance his standing by arranging to have her baptized as a Christian and placed in the household of Lucrezia Borgia.

Lucrezia is the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Pope Alexander VI lived in a decadent Vatican court and had numerous illegitimate children including Lucrezia and her older brother Cesare. While serving as one of Lucrezia’s ladies in waiting, Esther falls in love with Cesare. Cesare is a ruthless man of mystery that women across Italy and Europe are swooning over. After Esther is unable to meet Cesare for a horse race, he renames her “Violante” or breaker of promises.

After Lucrezia’s third marriage to Duke Alfonso, Violante moves with Lucrezia to the Estense Territories and pines for Cesare to visit. Violante finds her fortunes tied to that of the Borgia family and is swept away in the rise and fall of their ever changing fates.

I really enjoyed Sins of the House of Borgia. It was very readable book and was hard for me to put down. Unlike some historical fiction novels where character development suffers after the story gets bogged down in the details, Sins of the House of Borgia had the details included in a great plot and riveting characters. This novel reminded me of the style of a Philippa Gregory historical fiction novel – the kind of novel that gives you the juicy side of history that you weren’t taught at school and that is immensely fun to read.

I really liked that Bower wrote the novel through the eyes of Esther/Violante. Although the sins of the Borgia family were titillating to read about, I really was intrigued with the struggle of being a Jewish convert in the early sixteenth century. Esther was effectively cut off from her family, traditions, and way of life. It was devestating to watch her growth and to see her fully realize what her conversion and connections with the Borgia had done to her birth family and her inability to connect with them as an adult.

Cesare was a great hero. A handsome leader of men, he was alluring and mysterious. I must admit that overall though, I really loved Gideon, the awkward gawky Jewish goldsmith that loves Violante. I can’t really say more though or I’ll ruin the plot!

SPOILER ALERT I just have to say this . . . this book confirms the fears of every adolescent girl after you’ve taken your sex education class when Violante gets the Pox and pregnant after only one intimate encounter with Cesare. It was kind of refreshing after reading so many romances were there are never any consequences of your actions, although I did feel really bad for Violante. SPOILER END

Overall, Sins of the House of Borgia is an enthralling, juicy historical fiction novel with great characters and plot. I look forward to reading more works by Sarah Bower – starting with her other novel, The Needle in the Blood.

Sins of the House of Borgia is my fifth item in the Historical Fiction Challenge 2011.

To see a great guest post from author Sarah Bower and for a chance to win a copy of this novel, please check out this link.

Book Source: Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff (audio)

Cleopatra is a wonderful biography that vividly brings the infamous queen and the land she ruled to life. Cleopatra has had an image problem and many myths about her life have cropped up over the past two thousand years. Stacy Schiff explores these myths and works to bring the true story of Cleopatra to life.

Cleopatra is known for being a seductress that used her feminine wiles to seduce two of the greatest men in history – Julius Cesar and Marc Antony. Schiff sorts through the legends and shows that Cleopatra was much more than a seductress, she was a great ruler. She had fabulous wealth, a wonderful education, and a great wit. She was able to keep Egypt out of the grasp of Rome for many years. She was one of the most influential rulers along the mediterreean, but when she tried to forge a new empire with Marc Antony, it was the end for both – and for Egypt.

Schiff wrote a magnificent book that had wonderful prose. The vivid scenes of Alexandria made me feel as though I was walking along the streets viewing the City. It made me really wish I could be there, but since I couldn’t, it was the next best thing. Schiff made history come alive in Cleopatra, and she also made a non-fiction historical story read like fiction. I found myself caught up in Cleopatra’s life and although I knew how it would end, I was intrigued by the details.

I loved the detailed history in Cleopatra. The book contained not only the history of the woman, but the history of the time including that of Julius Cesar, Marc Antony, and Octavian. Of particular interest to me was the history of King Herod of Israel. King Herod is the king of biblical fame that the Wise Men visit on their way to see Baby Jesus. Yes, the evil king who kills all of the children aged 2 and under in order to rid himself of the threat of Jesus. Herod had many dealings with Cleopatra as laid out in this book. It was intriguing seeing biblical history merge with the history of such a notorious woman. It seems that Herod killing babies to rid himself of a threat was in the mainstream of the ruthlessness that rulers of the day employed to keep their crowns.

I listened to the audiobook version of this book as read by Robin Miles. I thought Miles did a fantastic job reading the book. Her voice was pleasing to listen to and let the story evolve without turning into a monotonous and dry history reading.

Overall, Cleopatra is a book not to be missed, especially for all lovers of history, or anyone who is interested in the real woman behind the legend.

Cleopatra is my second audiobook for The Audiobook Challenge 2011.

Book Source: Review Copy from Hachette Book Group. Thank-you!

Winner of I am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick

There was a lot of interest in I am the Chosen King and really fantastic comments about the book. Unfortunately, there can only be one winner . . . and that winner is Melydia of utter randomonium. Congrats to Melydia!! She was chosen using and was notified via email. She has until next Monday, March 28th to send me her mailing address. Otherwise a new winner will be drawn.

Thank-you to Helen Hollick for a wonderful guest interview and for writing a fantastic and intriguing novel. For those of you interested, I will be reviewing her Sea Witch pirate series throughout the summer so stay tuned. Thank-you to Beth from Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway and for all of those that entered and left great comments.

I still have two giveaways currently going so check out my right sidebar. For those of you looking for a romance, Tyler by C.H. Admirand is the book for you. For those you looking for another great historical fiction novel, Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower is what you are looking for. Check back by next week for another great giveaway. Until then, stop by for a few new reviews I'll be adding throughout this week!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My Formerly Hot Life by Stephanie Dolgoff

My Formerly Hot Life by Stephanie Dolgoff is the March FLICKS Book and Movie Club pick. As author Dolgoff describes, “Formerly” is a term used for a woman “to indicate that you’re formerly what you were, but you may not be quite sure what you are yet.”

My Formerly Hot life is Dolgoff’s memoir on becoming a “formerly.” She is about ten years older than me, but to me I think becoming a formerly is more to do with your stage in life (i.e. getting married and having kids) than your actual age. With chapters such as “Bitch-Slap Birthday” and “Clothing Crisis,” Dolgoff tells a personal story of finding out that you are not what you once were. If you’ve ever found yourself googling the abbreviations that young people use for texting to discover their meaning, realizing that the items in your closet are old and passed their “in style” time about a decade ago, or don’t recognize any of the music on the radio these days – this book is for you.

I am at this stage in life and this book had many scenes I identified with and laughed out loud at. My book club is full of other mothers around my age and we all identified with the book and enjoyed it. Everyone seemed to have marked the book in a different spot for a particular scene that they found hilarious or identified with. I think the part I thought was especially funny was when Stephanie discovered there is an American Doll from the historical era of 1974, when she was a child. She was irked to discover she is historical. I thought it was hilarious. I was born in 1978 so the doll doesn’t affect me as much as if Penelope discovers she wants an American Doll from 1984!

The part of the book I had bookmarked was the very last chapter. Dolgoff talks about the struggle of being a working mother. Eventually she becomes a part-time worker and part-time stay at home mom, just like me! My favorite part was when she and her husband are running off to work and the following occurs:

“The elevator stopped on another floor, which in my crabbiness, made me inordinately annoyed – as if it were my private express elevator – and then made me feel selfish and guilty for feeling that way. A well-meaning, elderly neighbor got on, and smiled, looked at the drippy Sasha and a peanut-butter covered Vivian and evidently saw this as the perfect moment to say, ‘Enjoy every minute with them when they’re young, because they get older so fast!’

I seriously wanted to punch him, although of course it wasn’t his fault.”

I laughed out loud at that passage as that has happened to me and my husband Ben many times. It’s hard when you are dealing with young children to hear older people tell you “this is the best time of your life” and whatnot. In your sleep deprived state, it certainly doesn’t feel that way!

There were parts that I didn’t enjoy as much. Dolgoff obsesses a lot about her changing looks and how she isn’t as “hot” as she was in her 20’s. It was funny at first, but then I just got bored. I think it also might be a geographical difference as well. When she discussed how “everyone” gets plastic surgery, I had to remind myself that she was from New York City, not rural Wisconsin. People do not get plastic surgery in the circles I run in!

Her fashion was also funny too, but once again, the lady with hundreds of pricey shoes is hard to identify with when you are from rural Wisconsin. When I was in college in the U.P.(Upper Peninsula of Michigan)., dressing up to out to the bar consisted of putting on your best jeans, a tight shirt, and appropriate boots to get you there and back through the snow. If you were lucky, you had a designated driver so you could leave your coat in the car and run through the snow into the bar without freezing too much. All of the discussion of fashion was somewhat foreign to me, although I used to get picked on in college by a professor for being somewhat fashionable back in my young days. But fashionable in Houghton, Michigan, is a far cry from fashionable in New York City.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book for ladies at my stage in life, married with children and recognizing that you are moving into another category than young and single.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sarah Bower Guest Blog (and GIVEAWAY), author of Sins of the House of Borgia

I am honored today to have Sarah Bower, author of Sins of the House of Borgia on Laura's Reviews today. My questions to Ms. Bower were as follows:

What first got you interested in the nortorious Borgia family? What do you think is the most interesting fact that you learned about them? Will you be watching "The Borgias" on Showtime?

She wrote a fascinating piece about the Borgia family and I loved her novel (my review will be posted next week). So without further ado, Sarah Bower!

The Borgia Family by Sarah Bower

Thanks very much for inviting me to write a guest piece for your blog, and for your lovely, broad questions, which I shall do my best to answer.

You ask what interested me in the Borgias and I can tell you my fascination with the family goes way back to reading Jean Plaidy’s Madonna of the Seven Hills and Light on Lucrezia under the bedclothes at my boarding school. I had never heard of the Borgias before then, and my subsequent research into them has made me admire Plaidy more and more for her ability to transform their history into romance. I have tried and – I hope – succeeded in doing something similar in my own novel, SINS OF THE HOUSE OF BORGIA.

My gratitude to Plaidy is, however, a little mixed because the effect of reading these two novels was to throw me off reading fiction entirely for a few years, while I began researching the Borgias in earnest. I read everything I could find, from Pastor’s History of the Popes (well, the relevant volumes – I’m not sure, to be honest, how long the book is in total!) to Rafael Sabatini’s somewhat daft hagiography of Cesare Borgia, in which Machiavelli’s scheming prince is transformed into a hero of the Risorgimento not unlike Sabatini’s most famous swashbuckler, Scaramouche. I managed to temper the extremes with the magisterial The Borgias by Michael Mallett and Sarah Bradford’s beautifully balanced and articulate biographies of Cesare and Lucrezia – far and away, in my view, the best factual books written about these two enigmatic and fascinating figures.

Mallett’s book is subtitled The Rise and Fall of a Renaissance Dynasty, and I think one aspect of the Borgias that makes them so attractive is how briefly they held power, yet how absolute that power was while they had it. From the election of the first Borgia Pope, Calixtus III, in 1455, to the death of Alexander VI in 1503 is a period of less than fifty years. The period during which Alexander and Cesare were jointly unassailable as Head of the Church and commander of its armed forces lasted a mere three years, from 1500 to 1503. The dynasty was like a shooting star, glamorous, spectacular and invested with many powers, some real, some imagined and most hedged about with superstition.

Lucrezia, of course, lived on as Duchess of Ferrara until 1519 and helped to perpetuate a distinguished dynasty there. One of her sons was the great Cardinal Ippolito d’Este II, builder of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Her survival, however, depended on her distancing herself from her notorious relatives and forging a new identity for herself a long way from Rome. When I visited Ferrara for my research, I realised how successfully she had done this. There she is remembered, not as a prominent member of the sensational Borgia clan, but as a loyal wife and devoted mother, who presided over a cultivated court, patronising in particular the poets Ariosto and Pietro Bembo. She also proved herself a gallant defender of Ferrara against a Papal force, under the command of Julius II, even pawning her jewellery to buy ammunition for artillery. At her death, in childbirth, aged only 39, it was discovered that she had been wearing a hair shirt beneath her clothes, possibly for many years. Her tomb, in the Convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, is, today, a site of reverence.

Perhaps, then it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me that the Borgia family does, indeed, boast one genuine, bona fide saint. He is San Francisco Borja (the original Catalan spelling of the family name), the grandson of Cesare and Lucrezia’s brother, Juan, who became the third general of the Society of Jesus and was the confessor of Queen Juana ‘La Loca’ of Spain. Cesare’s illegitimate daughter, Camilla, also took to the religious life, becoming Abbess of the Convent of Corpus Domini in Ferrara, where she died in her seventies with a reputation for saintliness and good works, as well as a shrewd administrative capacity more likely to have come from her father.

So, I shall be watching Neil Jordan’s new TV series about the Borgias with, I’m sure, huge enjoyment, but also keeping in mind that the family was more complex than their notoriety leads us to believe. There is no doubt that Cesare and his father got up to all kinds of nefarious tricks to gain and hold on to power. In that they were both typical of their time yet set apart by their brilliance and, I think, the fact that the Borgias had come from Spain and made only limited efforts to fit in. They always spoke Catalan among themselves, which exasperated many visitors to the Vatican who struggled to understand what was being said. There is no doubt that Lucrezia, when young, was a great flirt and had a string of admirers. I think it is safe to say Cesare was jealous of his sister’s ‘gentleman friends’ but, even now, not quite safe to speculate as to why; while socially assured, he was emotionally inept, so let’s leave it at that, shall we?

On the other side of the coin, we have San Fransisco, Camilla and several other respected figures in both religious and secular life. It is also worth remembering that, for all his worldliness, Pope Alexander was a devout man who introduced to the Church both the Index of banned books and the custom of ringing the Angelus in honour of the Virgin to whom, ironically, he was particularly devoted.

For me, one small piece of Vatican art sums up the contradictions. In the Borgia apartments, above the door of the Pope’s bedchamber is a devotional painting of the Virgin by Pinturicchio. It has the face of the love of Alexander’s later years, Giulia Farnese, La Bella Giulia, whose brother, Alessandro, also became Pope. What a great illustration of the spiders’ web of devotion, intrigue, sex, nepotism and sheer brilliance that lies at the heart of the Italian Renaissance!

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of Sins of the House of Borgia by Sarah Bower for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Sins of the House of Borgia, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest blog.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday April 1st. (No Foolin'!)

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Interview (and GIVEAWAY) with C.H. Admirand, author of Tyler (The Secret Life of Cowboys)

Looking for a new good cowboy romance novel? Today I am honored to have author C.H. Admirand on Laura's Reviews to discuss her novel, Tyler. (My review of the book can be found here). Her interview is great - I can imagine myself in her shoes if I suddenly found myself in a "ladies club." LOL! Thank-you to C.H. Admirand for such an intertaining interview and novel!!

LAG: I must admit, once I read the description of this book (a sexy cowboy who gets a job as a stripper at a local ladies’ club to save the family ranch), I was hooked. What was your inspiration for this story?
CA: It all started with a hurricane in a bar in Houston (the yummy kind that I first tasted during RWA down in New Orleans). My good friend and fellow author, Tara Nina suggested that we support her publisher and the Ellora’s Cave models by going to a nearby club. Now being that I don’t get out much, it didn’t even cross my mind that the ladie’s club was a strip club. I now know the difference! Somehow she roped Veronica Towers along to support the EC models, and our posse was ready to ride. I was totally embarrassed and while I was sitting there with my arms crossed in front of me (the smudges on the black lacquered tabletop creeped me out) my creative self started to stretch and flex her fingers—and then a larger-than-life cowboy strutted on the stage, wearing chaps, a black Stetson, boots and yes truly a pair of black spandex briefs that said “Git’r Done” on the backside! And I started wondering what would it be like if it was a real cowboy up on the stage? He’d be so far out of his element…then I wondered what would ever possess him to get up on that stage? And I thought of all of my childhood cowboy heroes and knew…he’d do it to save the Circle G Ranch.

LAG: What research did you have to do to write about a ladies’ club. I was frankly a bit scared of the overly feisty customers!
CA: We attended LeBare in Houston, Texas. It’s actually a chain, and also apparently quite upscale as far as ladies’ clubs go. It had mirrored walls in the entry way, and interestingly enough the bar was the same lacquered black as the round tables set up around the stage. The lighting focused on the stage, so the bar, etc. was like a backdrop for it. Now having been to LeBare and surviving, I honestly have no desire to try another club, so this is only based on my experience at one club. The women waving those dollars (some tens and twenties were being clutched tightly in those frantically waving fists) were hooting and hollering so loudly it was hard to think. I watched in fascination as they waited their turn to stuff their bills wherever they wanted—YIKES—can you say ouch? I did start to wonder if the poor guys up on stage had had their shots recently.

LAG: You live in New Jersey, but Tyler takes place in Texas. Did you make any trips out to Texas before you wrote this novel?
CA: I’ve been to Texas a couple of times. When I was 14 our family drove cross country and made a couple of stops in Texas. My favorite site was the Alamo, but it seemed so odd to see it surrounded by tall buildings and not all alone out on the sagebrush filled plains like in the movies. I’ve been to both RWA and RT Conferences in Dallas and Houston. Someday I’d like to go back just to site see and for pleasure.

LAG: You have written ten novels. Are your novels typically western romance or is it a new area for you?
CA: My first novel, THE MARSHAL’S DESTINY, is a Historical Western…the first in my Irish Western Series. I’ve also written a Medieval Trilogy and the first book in my Regency-era Trilogy. TYLER is my first Contemporary Western Romance. I’ve already turned in DYLAN, who’s waiting for edits, and am working on JESSE’s story. Then I have two other trilogies in the works! (LAG - These all sound like different romance genres that I would like to check out. I need to add them to my TBR list!)

LAG: What are you currently working on?
CA: The youngest brother, Jesse Garahan’s, story. If you’ve read TYLER, the Take Pride in Pleasure Celebration and Rodeo happen in this book…along with the All Male Revue, which will include the handsome Garahan brothers and their Garahan cousins from NYC (all firefighters) and their Justiss cousins from Colorado (all lawmen). I’m also writing spinoffs featuring the New York City Garahans coming out west to start over after an earth-shattering experience on the job; and the Justiss family from Colorado (I love Colorado and set my Irish Western Series there); and another series entitled Cowboys and Angels featuring rodeo cowboys (a whole other breed of cowboy) and the guardian angels who watch over them.

LAG: What books are currently on your bookshelf?
CA: I have every book Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood have written—and have re-read them. They are my top favorites, but I also love Sherrilyn Keynon and have read and re-read her Dark Hunter Series…then there’s Sandra Hill…I loved her Cajun Cowboy series. I’ve had to cull through my collection of romances, my hubby gets a little testy when he starts tripping over the pile that is supposed to fit beneath the edge of our platform bed. He just eyes the bookshelves lining the north wall of our bedroom and sighs. He’s come to understand my addiction. ;) I’m way behind on my TBR and my TBP list because of my hectic virtual tour schedule (it’s my first ever) and judging the RITAs…but here are the ones on my TBR pile: Honky Tonk Christmas by Carolyn Brown, Wild Jinx by Sandra Hill, Yours for the Taking by Robin Kaye, Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn, The Truth About Lord Stoneville by Sabrina Jeffries, Christmas in Cedar Cove by Debbie Macomber, I Dream of Genies by Judi Fennell, Lakeshore Christmas by Susan Wiggs, Murphy’s Law by Lori Foster (a great book to re-read), Must Be Magic by Patricia Rice (another great book to re-read), The Darkly Luminous Fight for Persephone Parker by Leanne Renee Hieber. My TBP list has some new authors for me: The Werewolf Upstairs by Ashlyn Chase, Taste Me by Tamara Hogan, It Happened One Bite by Lydia Dare, and I think Patricia Rice’s second book in her Wicked Wyckerly series is available soon.

Desperate times call for desperate measures…When Tyler Garahan said he’d do anything to save his family’s ranch, he never thought that would include taking a job as a stripper at a local ladies’ club. But the club’s fiery redheaded bookkeeper captures Tyler’s attention, and for her, he’ll swallow his pride…
And one good turn deserves another…Emily Langley feels for the gorgeous cowboy. It’s obvious that he’s the real deal and wouldn’t be caught dead in a ladies’ revue if he wasn’t in big trouble. And when he looks at her like that, she’ll do anything to help…

Working days on the ranch and nights at the ladies’ club, Tyler is plumb exhausted. But could it be that his beautiful boss needs him just as much as he needs her...

C.H. Admirand was born in Aiken, South Carolina. She has published 9 bestselling novels for the library market. Tyler is her tenth book and her first mass market release. She lives with her husband, who is the inspiration for all of her heroes’ very best traits, in northern New Jersey. For more information, please visit

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer two copies of Tyler by C.H. Admirand for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Tyler, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday March 25th.Good luck!

Tyler by C.H. Admirand

Cowboys, men in uniform, Scottish highlanders, etc. are just a few of the types of leading men characters that for some reason really seem to capture the fancy of the ladies, myself included. When I read the description of Tyler and discovered it was about a cowboy, I knew I had to read it.

Tyler Garahan is having a tough time making ends meet at the ranch left to him and his brothers by their grandfather. He looks for a night job and answers an ad for a man wanted with a strong back. He discovers that the job is to work as a stripper at a local ladies’ club in Pleasure, Texas. He reluctantly takes on the job and falls in love with one of the fiery red head owners, Emily Langley. With a conniving ex-girlfriend trying to ruin their new relationship, and a puritan city board trying to shut down the club, will Tyler and Emily be able to find true happiness?

Tyler does follow several clichés as part of the plot line, such as the poor out of luck person trying to make an honest living by taking it all off or “oh no – Emily has run out of her room and only has a sexy negligee on!” I thought it was all in good fun and liked the interesting twist of having it be a man instead of a woman who has to strip for living. I also thought it was interesting how he was treated like a “piece of meat” in the beginning by the ladies. It was really sexist and actually pretty thought provoking on how men and women are treated as objects of lust rather than as real people.

Overall Tyler is everything I look for in a romance novel - great lead characters, a fun plot, and lots of steamy romance scenes. I read romance novels to get away from the stress of life and this was a perfect escapism read.

Do you like to read about cowboys? What type of romantic leading men capture your fancy?

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks

Monday, March 14, 2011

Winner of The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

There were a lot of entries in this giveaway, but unfortunately, there can only be one winner. And that winner of The Girl in the Green Raincoat is . . . . Julie S. of Velvet-Rose. Julie was selected using and has been notified via email. She has until next Monday, March 21st, to respond with her mailing address. If she doesn't respond by then, I will select a new winner. Congrats to Julie!
Thank-you to Harper Collins Publishers for allowing me to host this great giveway, to TLC Book Tours for allowing me to participate and review this fantastic novel, to Laura Lippman for writing a compelling novel, and to all of you who entered this giveaway. Even if you didn't win this book - pick it up and read it! It is a great book!
I still have one great giveaway going on my right sidebar for I am the Chosen King which will end this Friday the 18th. I have two new giveaways that I will be posting this week so stay tuned!!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

I am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick

We’ve all heard of the year 1066 and of William the Conqueror and his glorious takeover of England. But what is the rest of the story? What was the land that William was taking over, why was he taking it over, and who was he taking it over from? I am the Chosen King is the story of Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England and it answers all of these questions.

Like Beethoven’s Symphony Number 7, I am the Chosen King starts out quiet and touching and then slowly, almost without you realizing it, it moves to a stunning and powerful conclusion. For the last two hundred or so pages, I found myself totally obsessed with the book. Knowing that William would ultimately triumph did not lessen the suspense. I wanted to know what exactly happened, and I couldn’t help but wish that Harold would be able to conquer William the Conqueror or at least ride off into the sunset with Edyth.

Harold Godwinesson was the son of Godwine, the powerful Earl of Wessex. An Earl in his own right, Harold falls in love with Edyth, the beautiful daughter of thegn Eadric of Nazeing. As the only child of a thegn, Edyth will inherit land and money, but it is only a modest sum and not enough to tempt an earl. Harold marries Edyth anyway in a “handfast” ceremony with the expectation that at some point he may have to make a church approved political marriage. He spends many happy years with Edyth, but when destiny beckons, he is called to serve England as king and to protect it from foreign invaders.

I loved I am the Chosen King. There was so much to love about it and it was rich with such detail, that I’m having hard time writing about it and breaking it down. So read my review and thoughts knowing that I am only touching the tip of the iceberg of how much was in this novel.

I loved the history involved in this novel. It was a riveting time that I hadn’t really read about before and Helen Hollick brings it wonderfully to life. She captures the complex family relationships, political landscape, and riveting battles in a dramatic and readable way. The Battle of Hastings is the climax of the story and I had a hard time putting it down. I kept thinking about it and the end of the book long after I finished.

Queen Emma, Edward the Confessor’s mother, steals the first part of the novel. She is a powerful female figure and I was intrigued with her story. I want to learn more and I am definitely putting Hollick’s novel about her, The Forever Queen, on my future reading list.
It was also an interesting dynamic to the book that Harold has a long and happy hand-fast marriage to Edyth only to have to marry a sweet young thing Alditha for political reasons when he becomes King. I felt bad for Edyth, Alditha, and Harold for the love triangle they ended up finding themselves in, but I also enjoyed reading about it!

William, the bastard Duke of Normandy also is featured in the novel from his time on the run as a boy, to his ruthless consolidation of power in his teens and twenties, to his conquering of England. While I loved the story of his relationship with his wife Matilda, he seemed like not a very nice man overall. It was a great build-up of his story and interesting contrast between his life and Harold’s.

My favorite quote in the book deals with Harold’s inner turmoil:

“He felt as if he were two separate people. One, a man who had been offered the greatest power, the highest accolade. He could not deny that he wanted it. To be in supreme command, to answer to no man, to have his every aye or nay instantly obeyed . . . but then there was his other self, the man who loved this woman who was so desperately trying to hide her tears. A man who wanted only the laughter of his family, the comfort of his home, the pleasure of being a part of the turn of the seasons on his estate.”

Overall, I am the Chosen King is a supremely powerful historical fiction novel with a riveting ending in the Battle of Hastings. It led me to think about poor Harold far into the night after its conclusion.

I am the Chosen King is my fourth item in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.

If this novel sounds like something you would love to read, please check out my interview with Helen Hollick and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of this novel. The Giveaway ends on Friday March 18th.

Book Source: Advance Review Copy from Sourcebooks. Thank-you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Winners of Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe

The two lucky winners of Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe are Susanna of SusieBookworm and Emilee Hope of Another Binkley Sister Blog. Congrats to both winners! Both winners were chosen using They were notified via email and have until next Tuesday, March 15th, to send me their mailing addresses. If I don't hear from them by that time, I will draw new winners.

Thank-you to Jane Odiwe for writing a great book and for her fantastic guest blog. Also thank-you to Beth from Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway. And thank-you to all who took the time to enter and leave great comments!

I still have two great giveaways that are currently ongoing and are posted on the right sidebar. Stay tuned as next week I will be posting a new fantastic giveaway!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Interview (and GIVEAWAY) with Helen Hollick, author of I am the Chosen King

There is nothing I like better than an intriguing historical fiction novel. One author who is consistantly at the top of my list is Helen Hollick. I am excited to have her on my blog today answering questions about her novel I am the Chosen King, which is newly published by Sourcebooks this month.

I am a bit behind on reviews after a long weekend of out of town family visit for my eldest son's fifth birthday and my youngest daughter Penelope's baptism. I will have my review of I am the Chosen King up either the end of this week or beginning of next! Until then, you can get a feeling for this novel from Helen Hollick's great interview!

LAG: What sparked your interest in writing of the Norman invasion of William the Conqueror in 1066? What made you want to write from the prospective of Harold Godwinesson, the last Saxon King of England?
Harold Godwinesson is a local hero as I live about 5 miles from the town of Waltham Abbey (Harold founded the abbey.) I had always thought him to be an interesting character, but the more I discovered as I started researching, the more I realized how fascinating he was – and how much I loathed his adversary, Duke William of Normandy.

William had no right to the English throne whatsoever, Harold was our legitimate crowned King of England, yet William, a foreigner, invaded, conquered and destroyed most of what was English. He was a greedy tyrant wanting England because it was a wealthy Country. The more I read the more I realized that much of what I had learnt at school about this period - and what is portrayed in the history books – is what was written by the victors, most of which was Norman propaganda

I decided to write a novel based on what might have really happened, from the English point f view.

LAG: The medieval historical detail is riveting in I Am the Chosen King. What is your method for researching your novels? Did you visit any of the settings in I Am the Chosen King during your writing of the novel?
I mostly read works by respected historians: in this case, Frank Barlow, Pauline Stafford, David C. Douglas etc. I visit museums and as many of the actual scenes as I can; Waltham Abbey, as I said, is just up the road from where I live; Battle Abbey in Sussex, the site of where the actual battle took place (William built the abbey as penance for causing the death of so many) York, Chester….

I visit as many places as possible to get the feel of the area. Is it hilly or flat? What sort of trees? How close is the river? Things like that.

LAG: It gets kind of confusing with your novels printed in England and in America with different titles. What are the titles of the novels in the Lost Kingdom series? Are there any other books after this in this series?
I agree with you about the titles, it is as annoying for me as it is for you! The change of title in the US was my US publisher’s decision, not mine. It is very tedious having to type Harold the King (UK title) / I Am The Chosen King (US Title) and A Hollow Crown (UK title) / The Forever Queen (US title)

I also dislike change of title, because unless it is made clear, readers may think it is a new and different book.

The two titles above are the two in The Lost Kingdom Series. There may be a third at some time in the future, but there are so many books I want to write, I haven’t enough time to do them all at once!

LAG: What are you currently working on? Is it a secret or can you give us a hint?
I am working on Ripples In The Sand the fourth in my nautical pirate-based adventures, the Sea Witch Voyages. These are a little lighter than my serious historical fiction; I like to describe the series as “A darn good Sailor’s Yarn” A blend of Indiana Jones, Hornblower and Sharpe – fun to read and write.

I started the series soon after the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was released. I wanted to read fiction that reflected the idea of the movie – the hero, a charmer of a pirate rogue who was always getting into scrapes; romance, action, adventure – and a touch of believable supernatural fantasy. All good yarns have mermaids, sea-sirens, ghosts and such. I wanted a white witch and the sea goddess, Tethys – believable supernatural elements.

I found plenty of plain nautical stories – Patrick O’Brien, C. S. Forrester, James L. Nelson…. The wonderful Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier, but nothing with that extra little bit of “other-worldliness” in it.

So I wrote my own.

LAG: What types of books do you read? What is in your night stand right now?
At the moment I am reading C.W. Gortner’s The Last Queen – thoroughly enjoying it. I have just finished The Girl With A Pearl Earring; one of those books I have been meaning to read for a long time. I saw the painting when I was in Holland – it’s tiny, just a small picture. And very lovely.

Next to read is another Sharpe novel on my Kindle.

Thank-you Helen Hollick for answering my burning questions!

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of I am the Chosen King by Helen Hollick for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of I am the Chosen King, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this interview.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday March 18th.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Giveaway - The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

“The Girl in the Green Raincoat is an excellent novel with witty dialogue, fantastic characters, and a thrilling plot.” – from my original review of the novel. I highly enjoyed this novel and am pleased to offer a new copy to one of my readers, courtesy of Harper Collins Publishers.

Book Description (from Harper Collins Publishers):

New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman—winner of the Edgar® Award and every other major literary prize given for mystery and crime fiction—embroils Baltimore p.i. Tess Monaghan in the strange case of The Girl in the Green Raincoat. Originally serialized in the New York Times, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is now in book form for the very first time—a masterful thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock mode that places a very pregnant, homebound Tess in the center of a murderous puzzle that could cost her her life and the life of her unborn child.

In the third trimester of her pregnancy, Baltimore private investigator Tess Monaghan is under doctor's orders to remain immobile. Bored and restless, reduced to watching the world go by outside her window, she takes small comfort in the mundane events she observes . . . like the young woman in a green raincoat who walks her dog at the same time every day. Then one day the dog is running free and its owner is nowhere to be seen. Certain that something is terribly wrong, and incapable of leaving well enough alone, Tess is determined to get to the bottom of the dog walker's abrupt disappearance, even if she must do so from her own bedroom. But her inquisitiveness is about to fling open a dangerous Pandora's box of past crimes and troubling deaths . . . and she's not only putting her own life in jeopardy but also her unborn child's.

Previously serialized in the New York Times, and now published in book form for the very first time, The Girl in the Green Raincoat is a masterful Hitchcockian thriller from one of the very best in the business: multiple award-winner Laura Lippman.

Giveaway Details

Harper Collins Publishers has been kind enough to offer one copy of The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The Girl in the Green Raincoat, please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel.

As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

For an additional entry, blog about this giveaway or post it on your sidebar. Provide a link to this post in your comment.

I will be using (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

This contest is only open to US and Canadian residents (Sorry!).

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday March 11th.

Good luck!

And the Winner of Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski is . . .

The winner of Darcy and Fitzwilliam by Karen V. Wasylowski is rubynreba. Congrats! Rubynreba was chosen using She has until next monday, March 7th to send me her mailing address or a new winner will be chosen!

Thank-you to Beth from Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this giveaway, to Karen V. Wasylowski for her great post about Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, and to all who left great comments and entered the giveaway.

I still have one current giveaway going for Mr. Darcy's Secret by Jane Odiwe located on the right sidebar. I will have a new giveaway posted shortly . . . I meant to have it up last week but it got to be a very hectic week and weekend!