Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wish You Were Here by Phillipa Ashley

Wish You Were Here is a modern day tale of Persuasion with the thrill of a vacation travel adventure. Eight years ago, Beth Allen met and fell in love with Jack Thornfield while they were both on a vacation trekking through the island of Corsica. After a whirlwind romance and an engagement, Beth never heard from Jack again, breaking her heart. Now all of these years later, Beth discovers that Jack is head of the company where she is desperately trying to get a job. While Beth hates Jack for his abandonment in the past, old attractions start to stir up again when the two meet again.

I really enjoyed Wish You Were Here. I thought it had the perfect blend of romance, exotic vacation travel, and a bit of mystery (why did Jack leave Beth eight years ago?). I sped through the book wanting to know how it ended and it certainly did not disappoint. In fact, it was the perfect book (and quick read) with a great story and great ending. I loved the characters of Jack and Beth, and really felt for the both of them.

Wish You Were Here reminded me of my favorite Jane Austen novel, Persuasion. While neither Jack nor Beth were necessarily persuaded to abandon each other (or were they? You’ll have to read the novel to find out), it was still a story of two young people who impetuously fell in love, only to be separated and reunited eight years later. Although much has happened in the meantime, the two can’t deny that they still have feeling for one other. Will they let their feelings guide them to each other, or to their current boyfriend/girlfriend? You’ll have to read it to find out!

I enjoy that Phillipa Ashley’s novels always have a bit of adventure in them. I liked Dating Mr. December and the rescue squad. I enjoyed that Jack and Beth word for a travel adventure company and like to travel around the world. It gives the novel a unique premise as well as an exotic flair.

Overall, Wish You Were Here is a great fun read whether you are on the beach, backpacking through an exotic land, or sitting at home on your couch.

Phillipa Ashley wrote a fantastic guest post for this blog about her favorite vacation movie. Check it out and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Wish You Were Here.

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

Winner of Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn!

Ex-Girlfriends United was a great book that had me laughing and enjoying reading every word. I hope the lucky winner enjoys the book as much as I did. And this lucky winner is Enamored Soul of The Chronicles of an Enamored Soul. Congrats!!

Enamored Soul has until Tuesday July 5th to send me her mailing address. If I don't receive by then, I will draw a new winner. She was chosen using random.org.

Thank-you to Matt Dunn for the fantastic guest blog (one of the best I've ever read!), and for writing such an enjoyable book. Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to review the book and host this giveaway. And thank-you to all that entered and left great comments.

I still have two giveaways currently going on as seen on my right sidebar!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The King’s Witch by Cecelia Holland

Richard the Lionheart is a legend of the twelfth century. To us in the 21st century, he is an epic warrior king that we probably most often hear of in the Robin Hood legend as the King who is off fighting in the Crusades while his evil brother, Prince John, plots against him. The King’s Witch tells the story of what exactly happened during the crusades while England was left in the clutches of Prince John.

Edythe is a young Jewess that has been rescued by Queen Eleanor and sent to King Richard the Lionheart and his sister Queen Johanna of Sicily while they are off fighting the Crusade. Edythe has a mysterious past and a gift for healing. This gift leads her to be labeled as a witch. At first Edythe is thought to be a spy for Queen Eleanor, but soon her gifts of healing and of being a good listener lead her to become close with both Richard and Johanna. She is also drawn to the mysterious knight, Rouquin. Rouquin is a tall, powerful redheaded knight that is also the right-hand man of Richard. Rouquin and Edythe both find themselves powerfully attracted to one another. They both understand what it is like to be on the outside looking in.

The King’s Witch is an interesting look into the power struggle that was the crusades in the Middle East. It was quite the complex conflict, which leads to the downside of this book, sometimes the details of the various characters and conflicts got to be a little on the dry side. The positive of this novel was the relationship between Edythe and Rouquin. They had great chemistry together, and they both had compelling back stories. I really enjoyed reading about Edythe’s struggle with her identity and her search for her Jewish heritage.

Overall, The King’s Witch is an interesting historical fiction novel about the crusade, King Richard, his sister Queen Johanna, and about living the life of a Jewish woman in a Christian world.

The King’s Witch is my thirteenth item (coincidental number for a book with witch in the title?) for The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Author Cecelia Holland has a great guest blog about Eleanor of Aquitaine located at this link. Leave a comment at that link for a chance to win one of two copies of The King’s Witch.

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

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sense and Sensibility (2008)

I recently re-watched the 2008 Sense and Sensibility for my third item for Austenprose’s Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge. I watched it when it first aired on Masterpiece Theatre in 2008, but I thought watching it again might give me some second insights into the program. And who am I kidding – do I need a reason to watch a Jane Austen mini-series?

Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay for this version, and made an attempt to sexualize the story. I didn’t approve of these attempts. I thought the new Willoughby/Eliza scene of passion at the beginning didn’t really work. It was rather confusing when I first watched it and thought for a bit that I had the wrong channel.

Davies also tried to sex up Edward by having him chop wood. I could have done without this scene - it was not the Mr. Darcy wet shirt moment that Davies hoped it would be. I did like how Colonel Brandon was spiced up with his duel with Willoughby, rescuing Marianne in the rain, taking care of Eliza, and hawking. One could definitely see how Marianne could transfer her affections to Colonel Brandon, something I couldn’t always see when he was played by Alan Rickman in the 1995 version. It didn’t hurt that David Morrissey was cast as Colonel Brandon. He is an excellent actor and very attractive.

I like how the 2008 version fills in the gaps with several scenes not in the book. While I don’t think Austen needs improvement, it did tend to set this version apart and make it different from other versions of the story. In particular, I love a good dual and was pleased to see Colonel Brandon and Willoughby take their animosity to the next level. I also loved the scene with Colonel Brandon and Eliza; it was heartbreaking when she hoped to see Willoughby one last time. It really made me think about how Colonel Brandon must have felt about Willoughby seeing how he hurt two of the most important women in his life. I also enjoyed seeing Mrs. Ferrars disowning Edward and Lucy. I thought it was funny after Marianne’s accident when Colonel Brandon shows up for a visit and Mr. Willoughby is hiding behind Mrs. Dashwood. It was different then described in the novel, but funny and showed that Willoughby might not be all that he seemed.

I thought the cast was good in this mini-series, in particular I liked David Morrissey as Colonel Brandon and Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars. I didn’t really like Dominic Cooper as Willoughby. I don’t quite believe in him with the hiding behind Mrs. Dashwood, smirks, and general ill-humor throughout. I’m not that surprised when he turns out to be deceitful. I think overall he can’t compare to Greg Wise’s superb performance in the 1995 version. I also enjoyed the music in this production.

I thought the last scene was rather strange. Is Edward chasing chickens with Elinor laughing? It was not nearly as romantic as Colonel Brandon carrying Marianne into the house.

Overall, this mini-series tried to spice up the classic Sense and Sensibility, but I don’t think it needed to be spiced up as shown in the excellent 1995 version of the story. It was an interesting version to watch, but definitely not the definitive version.

Have you watched this version? What is your overall impression?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Favorite Holiday Romance Movies by Phillipa Ashley (and GIVEAWAY!)

I love holiday romance movies – or should I call them vacation romance movies?
When Laura asked me if I had any favourites, I did a quick poll of my readers and Facebook friends and got some surprising answers. Some of the most popular were Roman Holiday, The Notebook, The Holiday, Grease, Letters to Juliet and Shirley Valentine. Other candidates were Three Coins in the Fountain, French Kiss, Mamma Mia – not all vacation romance films, strictly speaking and I haven’t seen all of them, but I do now have a new To Be Watched list!

My number one holiday romance movie has to be Dirty Dancing. Yes, it’s a classic dance movie but it’s also about a vacation romance between the innocent, idealistic Baby and worldly wise, experienced Johnny. I love this film and have watched it over and over again. Of course it’s a great fun movie and the music and dance scenes are classics. But I think the deeper themes about growing up and not judging people by first impressions, resonate too. Johnny teaches Baby about the realities of life, but she also teaches him about standing up for what you believe in.

I’ll admit to needing a tissue at several moments; especially when Baby stands up to her father. These days, I always want to cry at the uplifting ending, especially since the late great Patrick Swayze is no longer with us.

I got the idea for my own holiday romance book, Wish You Were Here, from a trip to the stunning French island of Corsica. Before the books starts, the heroine, Beth Allen meets Jack Thornfield on a hiking trip. As leader of her tour, Jack seems strong, tender and capable – and he’s also totally gorgeous! Beth falls madly in love with him and is convinced he feels the same. They part, having vowed to stay together forever but then Beth gets home to England and the harsh reality of life. She never hears from Jack again and although she’s devastated, she has to move on.

Wish You Were Here opens eight years after that trip. Since then, Beth has lost her mother to cancer, her father is recovering from a serious accident and her younger sister needs money to take up a place at college. Beth needs a job fast and is thrilled to land an interview for a dream position at a London travel company.

But she’s in for a shock when she finds out who her new CEO is...

Do you have any favourite holiday romance movies or novels? Or do you have a vacation romance story of your own?

Thank-you Phillipa Ashley for the great guest blog! There is nothing I like better than a good holiday romance movie, unless it is a good holiday romance book like Wish You Were Here! Stay tuned for my review of Wish You Were Here which will appear on my blog next week.

Giveaway Details
Beth from Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of Wish You Were Here by Phillipa Ashley for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Wish You Were Here please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel, guest blog, or answer Phillipa Ashley's question about your favorite holiday romance movie, novels, or story of your own.

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 random.org (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 July 8th.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn

I love when you discover an author that makes you laugh out loud when you are reading one of their works. Life can be very stressful, and to me, there isn’t anything better than a well written comic novel. Matt Dunn is a great author that seamlessly blends elements of humor, romance, and manly friendship together to make the perfect fun novel.

I read and loved Matt Dunn’s novel, The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook last fall. At that time, I expressed a great desire in my review to read more about the main characters Dan and Ed. I was excited to discover that two of my favorite fictional characters were back in Ex-Girlfriends United.

As TV’s Dan Davis (presenter on an antique program called There’s a Will), Dan has had no trouble finding the ladies in Brighton. After a sudden lack of success on the dating front, Dan looks to his best friend Ed for support. Ed and his girlfriend, Sam, discover that Dan has quite the profile on SlateYourDate.com, a site where Dan’s previous girlfriends tell their tales of woe about him. While SlateYourDate.com helps Dan to earn a role as a cad (Wayne Kerr) on a soap opera called Close Encounters, Dan realizes that he will no longer be able to pick up new chicks unless he is able to make amends to the past girlfriends he has slighted. With Ed as his sidekick, Dan tracks down his past girlfriends, but also realizes that all of his relationships fail because they can never measure up to his lost love, Polly. Will Dan be able to get his love life going again? Will he be able to make amends with Polly?

As in The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook, the novel is told through the prospective of Ed. In this book, Ed is happy with Sam, but their happiness is threatened when Ed’s ex-girlfriend Jane arrives back in Brighton. Jane has decided she wants Ed back and strategizes to try to break Ed and Sam up.

I really enjoyed Ex-Girlfriends United. I loved the humor and I love Dan and Ed. Their witty banter is perfect. Although the book is about their dating lives on the surface, it is really about their manly friendship. They help may harass each other a lot, but underneath it all, they would do anything for each other. I read some of the funny conversations and quips from Dan and Ed to my husband and the thought they were hilarious or only too true as well. It’s fun reading a novel about men and what they think about dating, written by a man.

Overall, I loved Ex-Girlfriends United. If you are looking for a fun and funny book to read this summer, I highly recommend this book along with The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook.

For a chance to win a copy of this novel read this great guest blog from Matt Dunn. You really get a sense of his witty writing from this blog post!

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

Winners of The Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle

The two lucky winners of The Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle are Margaret and Brenda of Dance Alert Reads (A Great New Way to Win New Books to Read). Congrats to both winners! The winners were chosen using random.org and have been notified via email. If I don't receive their mailing addresses by June 28th, new winners will be chosen.

Thank-you to the Penguin Group USA for allowing me to host this giveaway, and thank-you to all who entered the giveaway.

I still have two current giveaways going as posted on my right sidebar and will be adding a new great giveaway tomorrow so stay tuned!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Mary Floyd was an ordinary girl living through extraordinary times. Her father was the Sergeant of Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wright. When Charles I fled England after losing the English Civil War and took refuge at Carisbrooke Castle, Mary found herself the assistant laundress to the King.

Sadly Charles’ refuge shortly turned into a prison and Mary decided to help out her King as much as she could. Through the intrigue, Mary tried to spurn the affections of the evil Rolph, and also found her heart swept away by a gallant courtier. Will Mary find true love, and will she stay true to her King?

I really enjoyed Mary of Carisbrooke. Besides being a gripping story that kept me on the edge of my seat, I loved Mary. She was a quiet, honest, and pure girl who only wanted to do what was right. She wasn’t seeking fame and fortune, but tried to help a soul in need in any way that she could.

I love to read books about kings, queens, and other “gentry,” but I found it surprisingly refreshing to read about a regular girl. Mary isn’t the poorest of the poor being the daughter of the sergeant and niece of housekeeper, but she performs in the capacity of an upper servant. Her story shows that you don’t have to be among the elite to do great things.

Overall, if you love historical fiction, you will love this beautifully written novel with a unique heroine.

This is my twelve item for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

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

The Disappearing Spoon and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

I am a nerd and I love science and engineering. The Disappearing Spoon satisfied the nerd within by explaining how the periodic table of elements was created and all of the strange, odd, and fascinating stories behind that creation and the discovery of the elements.

I really loved the stories which included fascinating stories about Louis (yes, the acid/base Lewis), Nobel Prize winners, Silicon Valley, elements during warfare, etc. The stories were unique and intriguing, such as the Colorado mine that was overtaken by Germans during WWI. At other times, sometimes I was bored by too much chemical detail. I think this was due to the fact that I was listening to the book instead of reading it while staring at a periodic table.

I listened to the Tantor Media version of the book narrated by Sean Runnette. He did a good job as a reader, but I will admit to being bored at times, especially during some of the heavy chemical sections. They weren’t that fun to listen to, but the stories more than made up for it. I think if I “read” this book again, I will skip the audiobook and read the physical book.

Overall, The Disappearing Spoon was a unique, intriguing look into the periodic table and the fascinating elements the compromise it. And it definitely has one of the best titles for a book that I have ever seen!

This is my sixth item for the Audiobook Challenge.

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Eleanor of Aquitaine Guest Blog by Cecelia Holland (and GIVEAWAY!)

When I was writing THE KING'S WITCH, a novel about Richard the Lionhearted's Crusade, one of the most riveting features for me was a character who wasn't even there.

Richard's mother Eleanor of Aquitaine (heroine of the first novel in this group, THE SECRET ELEANOR) would have been an extraordinary woman in any age but in the 12th century, when women were suppressed, sequestered, and regarded as property, she was incredible. From the age of 15, when she married the son of the dying King of France, she was determined to wield power; throughout her disastrous marriage with Louis VII she took an active part in his regime, forcing him into adventures he had no gift for, accompanying him on Crusade, where she almost ditched him over matters of strategy.

Her independence and ambition horrified the men around her; Bernard of Clairvaux, for one, practically emitted steam through his ears when he mentioned her. Finessed out of power, she gave up on Louis. As Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, she ruled a territory larger than France, and she chose to marry the one man in Europe who could bring her even more: Henry of Anjou, about to become King of England. Between the two of them they made the greatest realm in Christendom, and the most fascinating family in the Middle Ages, the Plantagenets.

Eleanor fascinates me; it's hard to image how in her day and age she found the strength to be who she was. Standing up to Louis and his crowd was one thing, but Henry II was a formidable adversary and she seems to have ground him into the dirt, with the help of her boys. At the same time, she kept on top of her own fractious and troublesome country. The North did not dare assault the Langue d'Oc until well after she was dead. She was brave and broad-minded, and the men could never again stuff women entirely back into that little box of prayers and babies.

So writing a novel about her son, in which the main character is a woman of her time, I found Eleanor invading at every turn. She never appears in the flesh in the novel but she writes letters, she pops up in memories, she influences events by sheer force of character. A woman for all seasons.

Thank-you for this wonderful guest blog Cecelia Holland! Eleanor of Aquitaine is one of my favorite historical figures to read about and I loved reading your prospective on her. I will have my review of The King's Witch posted next week.

Giveaway Details
Alexandra of Penguin Books has been kind enough to offer two copies of The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The King's Witch please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or about this great 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 random.org (or a monte carlo simulation in excel) to pick the winners from the comments.

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight, Friday July 1st.

Good luck!

Winner of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

"Secret Daughter is a beautifully written novel that explores the relationships between mothers and daughters as well as the importance of women in our society (see my complete review here)." The lucky winner of a copy of Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is Holly of 2 Kids and 2 Tired Books blog. Holly was chosen using random.org. She has been notified via email and has one week to send me her address or a new winner will be chosen. Congrats to Holly! If you haven't, check out her fabulous blog. It is one of my favorite to read.

Thank-you to Megan from HarperCollins Publishers for allowing me to host the giveaway, and thank-you to all who entered and your great comments.

Sad that you didn't win? I have two giveaways currently still going on my right sidebar and will have a new one up shortly.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When We Danced on Water by Evan Fallenberg

Eighty-five year old Teo was once a world class ballet dancer, and even now in his old age, he continues to help instruct dancers on how to perform his ballet “Obsession.” His daily routine is to stop by a coffee shop on his way to the studio. One day Teo discovers a new waitress, Vivi. Teo and Vivi find that they both enjoy each other and their mutual passion for art. Teo challenges Vivi to stop “dabbling” in so many different art forms and instead to develop a passion for one form as he did with ballet. Through the use of art, Vivi and Teo are both able to open up about painful episodes in both of their pasts. Although Teo is at least forty years old than Vivi, they both find a second chance at love and redemption.

First of all, I love the title of this book. When We Danced on Water is a beautiful name for the book and fits with the story so well. I really enjoyed this slim novel. Once I got into the story, I had a hard time putting the book down, particularly through Teo’s tale of his struggle through WWII as a Polish Jew. It is through this struggle that we learn of the true meaning of passion and obsession to Teo. The story was at times disturbing, but it was also a beautiful story of survival and the transformative power of art and dance.

I enjoyed reading about ballet and Teo’s involvement in it as a dancer and then as an instructor. I also really liked the setting of Tel Aviv and also Berlin. It made for a fascinating and unique place to read about.

Overall, When We Danced on Water is a beautifully written novel about second chances, the transformative power of art, horrors of WWII, and so much more. I highly recommend this novel.

I am the last stop for When We Danced on Water for the TLC Book Tours. To read more about this novel, check out the other tour stops at this link.

Book Source: Harper Perennial Advance Review Copy. Thank-you!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

On Writing "Manly" Romance (and Humor) by Matt Dunn (and GIVEAWAY!)

I understand that there's something weird about me. No, not a sixth toe, or a third nipple, but the fact that I write romance novels. And I'm a man.

Not that I've always been aware of this. When my novel, The Ex-Boyfriend's Handbook, was shortlisted for a major romance award in the UK, I had to admit I was surprised. Not only because I'd been shortlisted, but also because it was the first time I'd actually heard my novel described as 'romantic'. I'd just assumed everything I wrote was comedy - romantic comedy, sure, and there was a love interest, but on reflection, I'd perhaps tended to undersell – or even overlook - the 'romance' side of it. Or maybe gloss over it a little - after all, I suppose it's hardly the most macho of professions for a red-blooded male to admit to.

Besides, while my books are undoubtedly romances, they're 'bromances', too, given how the friendship between the two main characters, Ed and Dan, plays out through each story. I've always found the dynamics of friendships interesting – sometimes they go through the same ups and downs that relationships do. And having two characters who are such great friends and yet such opposites allows me to have a lot of fun with them – hopefully, that comes through to the reader, too.

For me, the comedy element is extremely important, and is something I've always been drawn to. I think the old adage 'comedy = tragedy + time' is true – after all, how often do we say 'you'll look back on this and laugh' when something particularly bad has happened? Given that a lot of the situations in my books have happened to me, and I've been able to make something funny out of them, it's certainly a phrase I repeat often. And I'd add something to that too, in that 'comedy also = tragedy that happens to other people'. Want proof? Just look how funny those home video clip shows of people falling over and hurting themselves are.

And that's the fun thing about being a novelist. You can make all sorts of bad things happen to all sorts of people and nobody actually gets hurt. If you can spin it into something funny, then so much the better - which is fundamentally where the humour comes from in Ex-Girlfriends United, I think: nobody would want to be any of the girls that Dan has put through dating hell, and certainly nobody would want to have to perform the kind of karmic reparations they make him do, but because it's someone else it's happening to – i.e. not you or I – it's funny!

It's not that I'm ashamed of what I write – quite the opposite, in fact. The trouble is, tell people you've written six romantic novels, and they'll expect you to be some sort of expert on the subject. Many's the time I've been cornered at a party by someone wanting my advice on a particular aspect of their relationship. What they don't realise is that the only reason I know so much about romance is because I used to be so bad at it myself – to quote Dan, when Ed asks him why he's such an expert on relationships; 'Because I've had so many, obviously!' Though the upside of that, I suppose, is that I've got a lot of material, which can only be a good thing.

I'm proud of what I do, though. And while I'm not quite at the stage where I'm going to be wearing a T-shirt with the words 'I'm a Romantic Novelist' printed on the front, I'm certainly not going to deny it.

Unless I find myself in a biker bar. In which case, if anyone asks, I'm a Navy SEAL.

Thank-you Matt for the great guest blog! It's not secret that I LOVED Matt Dunn's novel, The Ex-Boyfriends Handbook and found it to be highly entertaining and witty. I am very excited about his new book Ex-Girlfriends United. I'll have my review of the book up next week. In the meantime, see below for a chance to win a copy of this new novel.

Giveaway Details
Beth from Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of Ex-Girlfriends United by Matt Dunn for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of Ex-Girlfriends United 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 random.org (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 June 24th.

Good luck!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Interview with Lauren Belfer, author of A Fierce Radiance

I recently read and reviewed a fantastic historical fiction novel, A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer (see my review posted here). In that review I stated "Overall, A Fierce Radiance is a moving, intriguing, and wonderful historical fiction novel. I highly recommend it as well as Lauren Belfer’s first novel, City of Light."

I am more than a little excited to have Lauren Belfer on my blog today to answer a few of my burning questions. Thank-you Lauren for taking time out of your busy schedule!

LAG: How did you come up with the premise of your two very different historical fiction novels, City of Light and A Fierce Radiance?

LB: Although "City of Light" and "A Fierce Radiance" have historical settings, both feel very close to me personally and emotionally. As to "City of Light": I grew up in Buffalo at a time of severe economic depression, and my girlfriends and I spent a lot of time talking about leaving town. When I was young, I knew nothing about Buffalo's glorious past. One day when I was visiting the city to see my parents, years after I'd moved away, I happened to wander into an exhibit at the local historical society. The exhibit was about Buffalo in 1901, and what I discovered astonished me. When I began to write "City of Light," I tried to bring to life my discoveries about my much-maligned hometown. "A Fierce Radiance" also grew out of my own experiences. My dear aunt's brother died from an infection when he was boy, in the era before antibiotics. She never stopped mourning him. When I talked to friends about his death, I learned that almost every family has a story about a loved one who died too young because antibiotics hadn't yet been developed. I wanted to tell the story of how these essential medications transformed our lives.

LAG: I loved that you were able to make something that could have been a very dry read into an intriguing look into a world without antibiotics and what this could mean to society at large. What was your process for taking the dry science of penicillin and making it into a very fascinating story?

LB: I believe that if I can create compelling characters, readers will follow these characters anywhere -- even into the intricacies of penicillin development. From my perspective as a fiction writer, any topic can be made fascinating if it's presented through the eyes of someone who cares about it passionately. In "A Fierce Radiance," I started with my characters, and I tried to show what the coming of antibiotics meant to them, and why.

LAG: One of my favorite scenes was as follows:

“Nurse O’Brien, forced to step around Claire for the third time, confronted her by the window. ‘Doesn’t it bother you, to be taking pictures of them and never helping them? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?’ she asked, the lovely Irish lilt in her voice turned to anger. . .
Claire thought, Was she ashamed of herself? She had to believe that she was helping this people, if only by creating empathy in those who read their stories. Maybe inspiring others to help them. If she didn’t believe this, she couldn’t go on.”

I’ll admit that I’ve often wondered this myself about journalists. What compelled you to write this scene? Have you ever found yourself in such a situation in the past?

LB: I've never found myself in this situation, but I've wondered about it. Journalists do a vital job for our society, and they often risk their lives to report on important stories and issues. I'm filled with admiration for them, and for their courage. The journalists I know are careful never to overstep the boundaries of reporting, but this must be difficult for them situations which deeply touch their hearts.

LAG: Did you find records of people being “almost” cured by penicillin like in the opening chapters of A Fierce Radiance?

LB: When I was learning about the early days of penicillin development, I read many heartbreaking stories about severely ill individuals who were seemingly, and miraculously, brought back to health by penicillin, only to die when the medication ran out. I knew I had to recreate such a story for the opening of "A Fierce Radiance," to show the long, difficult path that led to the mass-production of antibiotics.

LAG: What was the most intriguing item that you learned in your research about penicillin?

LB: I learned so many intriguing items during my research that I've listed some of them in the P.S. section of the paperback of "A Fierce Radiance," recently published. Among the most intriguing was that penicillin was used in folk medicine for generations in Eastern Europe. Farming people would keep a loaf of stale bread in the kitchen, and when anyone in the family had a cut, they'd slice off the most moldy part of the bread and bandage it over the cut. They were harnessing the power of penicillin without even realizing it! But I keep wondering -- who first had the idea to put moldy bread on skin wounds to stop infections?

LAG: What are you currently working on? Any new historical fiction works in the future? I’ve loved both of your novels and can’t wait to read more!

LB: Thank you for your encouragement! Fiction writing is a lonely profession (I'm home alone all day, and I can't permit myself to answer the phone), so I much appreciate hearing that readers are waiting for the next book. I'm deep into my new novel -- but I'm extremely superstitious, so I won't say anything more than that.

LAG: What authors do you enjoy reading?

LB: There are so many authors I adore! But I find that the books I go back to again and again, year after year, are by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Thank-you again to Lauren Belfer for anwering my questions, and for writing such a great novel. For more information about Lauren Belfer and A Fierce Radiance, check out her website at: http://www.laurenbelfer.com/

The Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle Review and GIVEAWAY!

Isolde Brilliant is a New Yorker with a baby, husband, and a successful job as a hedge fund manager. One day she loses her job and soon her grip on sanity as she tries to navigate the difficult world of being a mother and a wife. Isolde finds herself growing enraged at her husband over everything, fantasizing about every man except her husband, and looking forward to time out alone without having to take care of her husband or son.

As Isolde’s recently divorced friend Joy tells her about her husband, “He turned me into something I didn’t want to be. Seven years of having to nag, and scream, and fight, and be a policeman in my own home was enough for me. It’s not that you get a seven year itch. It’s that they turn you into a seven year bitch. After seven years you can’t take it anymore.”

Will Isolde be able to navigate herself back from the world of bitchdom? Or will she be mired in frustration forever? You will have to check out this novel to see!

As a wife and mother, I could definitely relate to the “bitchiness” that creeps into everyday life when you are tired and frustrated. However, I couldn’t relate to the level of animosity Isolde had toward her husband Russell. Russell never got fully developed as a character and I often felt sorry for him and for their son, Duncan. It was also hard to relate to Isolde’s lifestyle. I can’t imagine after getting laid off being able to hire a nanny and not care about money matters. I think the NYC lifestyle of nannies, take-out food, shrinks, and excessive spending is very foreign to a Midwesterner. These elements of the story distracted me at times, especially Isolde’s strange obsession with her nanny’s fertility.

I loved the recurring joke of Isolde’s mother’s shrink solving all of her problems. My favorite part of the novel was actually reading the hilarious essays that Isolde had to review for cash. After she lost her job, Isolde’s mother’s shrink suggested that she take this job. The job actually turned out to be quite lucrative and the essays that Isolde had to read “describe in 100 words or less” topics such as “your best job description for being a mom” or “why you and yours deserve to be daring in diamonds” were very funny.

Overall, The Seven Year Bitch is a look deep into the heart of a marriage after children. It is a bumpy ride to and back again, but ultimately entertaining.

I read The Seven Year Bitch as part of the TLC book tours. For more information about the next stops on the tour, check out this link. For more information about this novel and Jennifer Belle, please check out these links:

The Seven Year Bitch on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Seven-Year-Bitch-Jennifer-Belle/dp/159448516X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

Jennifer's website: www.jenniferbelle.com

Jennifer on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/people/Jennifer-Belle/541738718

Book Source: Penguin Group (USA) / Riverhead Books. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details

Penguin Books has been kind enough to offer two copies of The Seven Year Bitch by Jennifer Belle for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of The Seven Year Bitch 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 random.org (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 June 17th.

Good luck!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Goodnight, Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson

Goodnight, Beautiful is the June selection of my FLICKS Book and Movie Club. Nova and Mal have been best friends their entire lives. When Mal and his wife Stephanie can’t have a child of their own, they ask Nova to be a surrogate mother. Things do not go as planned and Mal and Stephanie cut Nova out of their lives before the baby is born. Nova is left raising baby Leo on her own. After tragedy strikes, she must decide whether to allow Mal back in her and Leo’s lives again.

I had a love/hate relationship with this book, which I think will provide for a good decision during our book club meeting this weekend. I thought Goodnight, Beautiful was a very hard book to get into at first. The narrative switches between Nova and Stephanie and back and forth in time. It was hard to understand who was talking sometimes and when. Once I got into the book however, I enjoyed reading it and wanted to know how it ended. Once I reached the end, I was disappointed in the conclusion, but don’t want to spoil the book for others so I’ll have to leave that discussion for book club. I’ll just say that I didn’t think the essential conflict in the novel was resolved by the ending.

I liked the unique characters is this book. They all had problems to overcome and were fully three dimensional characters that I enjoyed reading about. I also liked the supernatural element – Nova sees ghosts and runs a psychic café. I also liked how Nova didn’t want to necessarily be a mother, but then her son Leo became the real love of her life. Mal was a great character too, but his flaw was being too loving and trusting of his wife to the detriment of his friendship with Nova.

Overall, Goodnight, Beautiful was a so-so chick lit novel. It had great characters with a unique and compelling storyline, but I think it was overall dragged down by a very slow start and a bad ending. Make sure to have your Kleenex ready when you read this book, I had to work hard to not cry during the end while riding in the car with the family.

Book Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott by Kelly O’Connor McNees

Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite authors. As a girl and young adult, I loved reading her novels, and particularly loved Little Women and An Old Fashioned Girl. I also loved to watch all movie versions of Little Women and to read any biography of Louisa May Alcott that I could find. I found her life to be fascinating, particularly with her being a strong independent woman for her time. I also loved how she was the real-life “Jo” and her unconventional upbringing by transcendental thinker Bronson Alcott. Neighbors such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson only enhanced the magic of Louisa May Alcott’s life.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott brings Louisa’s world to life. Having a great transcendental thinker for a father does not make life a bed of roses, but rather a hard scrabble existence in which one has to work hard to find enough food to survive. While Bronson has great ideas, he has not had a regular job in the past sixteen years. His wife and Louisa’s mother, Abigail May (Marmee) works hard with her four daughters to keep the house in shape and to find food and clothing for the family. Marmee’s brother-in-law offers the family the use of a house he owns in Wadpole, New Hampshire.

Louisa finds herself at twenty-two moving from beloved Concord to Wadpole, when she would much rather be moving to Boston to work toward her goal of becoming a writer. The family soon becomes immersed in life in Wadpole and puts on a theatrical production. Louisa also meets Joseph Singer, the son of a local dry goods store owner. Louisa and Joseph spar at first, but find themselves attracted to each other almost against their wills. Will Louisa pursue her dreams or will she follow the path of true love?

While fans of Louisa May Alcott will already know the answer to this question, it doesn’t lessen the enjoyment of the journey in this novel. In The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott, Kelly O’Connor McNees perfectly captures the world of the Alcotts and of the small town of Wadpole. I could vividly imagine myself walking down the street of Wadpole and entering the small stores.

I enjoyed the setting, but my favorite parts of the novel were the hard issues that she was faced with at this point in life. Should she pursue the path that most women her age followed, a path toward marriage, or should she put that and her feelings aside to pursue an unlikely career as a writer? Louisa had an example of marriage in her own home and didn’t like what she saw. While her mother worked herself to the bone, her father spent his time in intellectual pursuits. In order to have a family and keep it going, a woman of that time did not have time to pursue an outside career of her own. My favorite line in this novel is from Marmee, “For a man, love is just a season. For a woman it is the whole of the year – winter, spring, summer, and fall – and yet, sometimes it is not what it could be. What it seems it should be.”

The romance between Louisa May Alcott and Joseph Singer fairly crackles with spark and intensity. Their early interactions remind me of one my favorite literary romantic couples – Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy. I loved the romance and the conflict it caused with Louisa May Alcott and her aspirations.

Overall, The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is a great novel about one summer that could have changed Louisa’s life forever. I enjoyed the historical fiction, the romance, and the personal conflict and growth in Louisa’s character. This is a great book for all lovers of Little Woman, Louisa May Alcott, or just a good read in general.

The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott is my tenth novel for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011. I’m halfway to my goal of twenty historical fiction novels read this year!

Book Source: Penguin Group. Thank-you!