Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

It is no secret that I am obsessed with all things Jane Austen. I remember flipping through a People magazine as a teenager back in 1996. I saw an ad for an intriguing looking mini-series on A&E, Pride and Prejudice. I had heard of the novel by Jane Austen, but hadn’t read it at that time (and strangely it was never taught about it my high school). I didn’t have cable TV at home at the time, so I had my Dad’s girlfriend tape it for me (back in the glory days of VHS tapes). My sister Kristi and I sat down and watched it for a six-hour marathon, and we loved it. My best friends Jenn and Elina also watched it and we could talk of nothing else, but Pride and Prejudice and Mr. Darcy. It was also during this time frame that I saw the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility in the movie theatre with friends for the first time. Soon I was picking up my first copy of the novel Pride and Prejudice while I was visiting my soon to be future college, Michigan Technological University. I read it and admired it even more than the mini-series (although I would be picturing Mr. Darcy as Colin Firth as I read the novel). Soon I was reading all of Jane Austen’s other novels, reading biographies of Ms. Austen, watching any and all adaptations, reading spin-offs, sequels, modern take-offs, etc. Sixteen years later, the obsession hasn’t stopped. I only find as the years go by that my appreciation for Austen and her witty observations on life to have increased with age and experience.

What does this have to do with A Weekend with Mr. Darcy? Well, A Weekend with Mr. Darcy is a book written for a person as obsessed with Jane Austen as I am. I laughed with appreciation throughout reading the references to various Austen productions and spin-off novels. The main characters also have an Austen obsession like me, but unlike me they live in England and are able to attend a weekend Austen conference in Hampshire. They not only visit Austen’s birthplace, but also her beloved cottage in Chawton. I read with delight about the gift shop at Chawton and wished I could purchase some Colin Firth Mr. Darcy paraphernalia for myself. I also loved the call out of other Pride and Prejudice inspired works such as Mr. Darcy’s Diary and the Other Mr. Darcy.

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy focuses on two Austen obsessed ladies that attend the Jane Austen Conference. Katherine Roberts is a respected literature professor at Oxford with her expertise in Jane Austen. What she hides from her colleagues is the depth of her obsession with Austen and her secret passion for racy regency romance novels. She especially loves the regency romance novels by her favorite novelist, the popular, but reclusive Lorna Warwick. After becoming friends with Lorna Warwick through writing letters, she hopes to meet her favorite novelist at the conference. Katherine has been burned by love in the past, but after having a misunderstanding with a handsome stranger at the conference, she soon learns they have more in common then she originally thought.

Robyn Love is obsessed with Austen and is thrilled to be attending the Jane Austen conference. What she is not thrilled about is that her long time boyfriend Jace has decided to drive her to the conference and to hang out in town waiting for her. Jace hates all things Austen, and has not taken Robyn’s hints that she wants to break up with him. After meeting a handsome man on horseback, she learns that this man, Dan, also loves animals and reads Pride and Prejudice after her recommendation. Will Robyn get the courage to finally express her feelings to both men in her life?

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy is a delightful novel, and a fun, romantic read. I related to all of the Austen love in the novel, and I thought it had one of the best twists in a book that I’ve read for quite awhile. I won’t spoil it for you here, but a few chapters in I was like, “WHAT?” You got me! And I like it! The romance in the novel is sweet and I loved the character growth of each of the main characters. The secondary characters were also fun. I read this book quickly and was left wanting more. Luckily it said at the end of the novel that Victoria Connelly is working on a trilogy about Jane Austen addicts so I have two more books to look forward to!

I learned from this novel that if a man is looking for love, if he reads and likes Pride and Prejudice, the odds will be in his favor.

For more about Victoria Connelly, check out this interview.

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

Monday, July 25, 2011

Maybe This Time by Jennifer Crusie (audio)

Maybe This Time is a romantic tale with a supernatural twist. Andie Miller visits her handsome ex-husband, North Archer, to get him to sign their divorce papers. After giving her the papers, North asks one last favor of her. He is the guardian of two children that live in a spooky old mansion in southern Ohio. They can’t seem to keep a nanny and he offers Andie the job as a nanny for a considerable amount of money. Andie agrees to the deal hoping to use the money to start a new life with her fiancé.

Andie soon integrates herself with the two children, Carter and Alice, and gives them the kind of secure upbringing that they have been missing. She does not get along with the creepy housekeeper and has to pretend to still be Mrs. North Archer in order to have an upper hand at the house. She is also disturbed to discover that the house is haunted by more than one ghost, the children’s recently dead Aunt May, and two mysterious and malicious ghosts – Peter and Miss J. Will Andie be able to help the children get rid of the ghost without becoming one herself? Will Andie be able to handle her unresolved feelings for North?

I have read two other Jennifer Crusie novels, Bet Me and The Cinderella Deal. I loved the romance of both and the quirky characters. I was looking for the same great characters and romance in this novel, and thought the supernatural elements would be a fun bonus (I love ghost stories)! Sadly, I think there was too much going on in this novel and the result is a tale that was okay, but not as great as her other novels. I thought that characters were not as well developed, especially North, and I never got fully hooked on the story. In fact the ending dragged on (are the ghosts real or not? Can one get rid of them?) and I got bored.

I listened to the audiobook version as narrated by Angela Dawe. I think she did a good job with a unique and distinctive voice for each of the characters. This audiobook had 30-second chapters, which I like for being able to find your place faster!

This is my seventh item for the Audiobook Challenge.

Audiobook Source: The Kewaunee Public Library

Winner of A Weekend with Darcy by Victoria Connelly

The lucky winner of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly is Donna of My Life. One Story at a Time. Donna was chosen using random.org. She has been notified via email and has one week to send me her mailing address or a new winner will be chosen. Congrats to Donna!

I really enjoyed A Weekend with Mr. Darcy. My review of this fabulous novel will be posted tomorrow so stay tuned. If you missed Victoria Connelly's interview, please check out this link.

Thank-you to Ms. Connelly for answering my questions and for writting such a delightful book. Thank-you to all who commented and entered the giveaway and to Sourcebooks for providing a giveaway copy (and a review copy for me!).

I still have three great giveaways ongoing so please check out my right sidebar!

Friday, July 22, 2011

How I became interested in history, Jane Austen, and reading by Mary Lydon Simonsen (and GIVEAWAY!)

First, Laura, I would like to thank you for inviting me to join you on your blog today. You asked about my interest in European and American history.

It all began because of a poppy. When I was about ten years old, on Armistice Day in the early 1960s, my mother bought a red poppy from a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and I asked her what it meant, and she recited a part of John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.

That question led to a picture of my grandfather sitting on a camp stool, in front of a pup tent, in an open field in Pennsylvania. He had been drafted for service in World War I.* After hearing his story, I was hooked and wanted to learn about my parents’ generation. All of my aunts and uncles and my parents either served in one of the armed services during World War II or worked for government agencies in Washington, D.C. My first book was a young adult version of Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis. One book led to another, and I now have a floor-to-ceiling bookcase containing nothing but books about the two great wars.

Because I was raised Catholic, I was curious about the reasons for the split between the Catholic Church and the Church of England. That led me to Henry VIII and all the Tudors and then the Stuarts and Hanoverians, especially George III, because of my interest in the history of the Revolutionary War. Moving chronologically, I eventually ended up in the Regency Era. I can say without hesitation that I would not have been as interested in Regency/Georgian history if it had not been for Jane Austen.

In Pride and Prejudice, Austen created this beautiful world of handsome ladies and gentlemen, exquisitely attired, attending assemblies and balls and going to London for the season. My interest in this era was piqued when I saw the 1980 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. I loved the clothes, the dancing, the accomplished ladies, and athletic men, and I loved Austen’s venues: great country houses, gardens, Bath, Lyme, Devon, and a carriage-choked London.

You also asked about what 19th Century novels I enjoyed. In the early 1970s, while my husband was overseas, I subscribed to the “100 Greatest Books” (bound in real leather!!! Are you impressed?) Well, some were great and some not so great (Master Skylark??), but it did open my world to great authors. In addition to Jane Austen, I also enjoyed Jane Eyre, Vanity Fair, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, Ivanhoe, Barchester Towers, David Copperfield, and Oliver Twist. (I would give my right arm to be able to write quirky characters like Dickens wrote.)

But the morale of my story is that reading leads to other things. After reading Pride and Prejudice when I was 17 years old, I went on an Austen binge and devoured her five complete novels. Thirty years after first meeting Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, I tried my hand at writing a Pride and Prejudice re-imagining. I would never have become an author without the help of my good friend, Jane Austen.

*I have written a post-World War I novella, Mr. Darcy’s Angel of Mercy.

Thank-you Mary Lydon Simonsen for the great guest post! Mr. Darcy's Angel of Mercy sounds very intrigung to me as well. I will have a review of Ms. Simonsen's new novel, A Wife for Mr. Darcy posted next week so stay tuned!

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks is going to send one lucky winner a copy of A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen.

If you would like to win a copy of A Wife for Mr. Darcy by Mary Lydon Simonsen please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the novel or this guest post.

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 August 12th.

Good luck!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Interview with Karleen Koen, author of Before Versailles

Karleen Koen has been one of my favorite authors for years. Therefore, I was more than a little bit excited to be able to review her new book, Before Versailles, for the TLC Book Tours and to interview her. Being able to email back and forth with one of your favorite authors . . . very cool!

For my review of the wonderful book, Before Versailles, and a chance to win a copy of the novel please check out this link. I'm still thinking about the book and how I loved all of the characters. Also for an additional chance to win, leave a comment (with your email) on this blog post with what interests you most about this interview.

LAG: I have loved all of your previous novels. I noticed this novel follows a different format. What was your inspiration for writing about Louis XIV rather than a fictional character in a historical setting?

KK: To write about Louis XIV has been on my mind since my second book, Now Face to Face. I was trying to write about him when I brought young Alice and Richard in as minor characters, and they marched off with what became Dark Angels. I broke off a piece of my Louis XIV story for Dark Angels. When Dark Angels was finished, I realized I had the key to writing a Louis XIV story. I was trying to write too big an amount. The story could be broken into pieces. Before Versailles is the second piece, or the first piece, if you want linear timing. Dark Angels is the sequel written before the actual story!

It is harder, I think, to write about an actual figure in history, particularly as a main character. You want to be true to historians and yet the story must take wing and fly. I didn't know if I could get this story--Before Versailles--up, but I did, and I am very pleased with it.

LAG: Was it different for you writing from the perspective of a man rather than of a woman?

KK: Yes and no. I didn't know for a long time that Louis was going to be the main character. I thought the main character was going to be either Henriette or Louise. But when I was in Louis's head, I was so intrigued by what he had to face ( a true power struggle and a true falling in love) that I really liked being there. And before I knew it, the book was his. He's at a special time in his life, young, still tender, ardent, gallant, and determined. He seduced me in the best possible way.....

LAG: What role did Louis’s mother play in his life?

KK: She was a huge influence. She taught him wonderful manners and courtesy, a kind of Spanish pride mixed in with French fun. She provided security for him. Once he was born, once his father died, she was a tiger fighting for her son's right to be king. There was an evil uncle who wanted the throne and several civil wars. She and Cardinal Mazarin (a brilliant minister) made Louis the center of their concern. And Mazarin introduced politics to Louis in the best way....not too much, but enough, allowing Louis to find his wings.

LAG: Truth is stranger than fiction . . . Was it a new discovery for you in your research that Louis had an affair with his sister-in-law, Princess Henriette?

KK: No, I knew about their love for a long time. That's why I kept trying to write a Louis XIV novel....because his interactions with women and their relationships to one another were so interesting.

LAG: How did you research this novel? Did you discover any interesting tidbits that were not used in the novel? What was the most surprising discovery that you did use in the novel?

I already knew a lot because I was interested in Louis XIV. As always, I went to original sources when I could and considered all the historians' points of view, making my own decisions when historians' differ....and they often differ. I used every yummy detail I found in the novel. That's fun for me, to eye dropper history into a story in a way that doesn't stop the plot. The most surprising discovery I used in the plot is one historian's premise that Mazarin may have been Louis's actual father.

And it was great fun to play with the man in the iron mask.

LAG: Will you write any more novels with any of the characters from your previous novels?
In my thoughts, about 3 to 4 more novels exist with the dear Tamworths, those characters from my previous books.

LAG: What are you currently working on?

KK: I'm not really working right now, and I feel it. But in August, I'm going to begin a young Alice and Richard story. It will be yet another piece of the big Louis XIV story. I have no idea how large Louis will loom in it. And I think I need to resolve action around the awful Henri Ange from Dark Angels. Everything is very wispy and unformed right now....

LAG: What are your favorite authors/novels?

KK: Too many to list. But for comfort I always turn to the regencies of Georgette Heyer. I love her wit. And I reread two historicals by the great Dapne Du Maurier. And I love the first 5 to 6 books of Winston Graham's Poldark Saga.

Thank-you Karleen Koen for the great interview and for writing another fabulous book! The growth of Louis XIV in the pivotal few months depicted in Before Versailles is amazing. I look forward to your next novel!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Before Versailles by Karleen Koen Review and Giveaway!

Karleen Koen is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her first novel, Through a Glass Darkly is on my list of all-time favorite historical fiction novels, and I also loved the sequel, Now Face to Face, and prequel, Dark Angels. Her writing makes history come alive through descriptions of wonderful characters and settings, and narratives that provide all types of mystery and surprises. I was more than a little excited to be able to be a stop on the TLC book tour for Karleen Koen’s new novel, Before Versailles.

Koen does not disappoint in Before Versailles. Louis XIV is the young king of France in 1661 just coming into his own. He has recently married the Spanish Infanta, Maria Theresa, but finds himself entranced with his sister-in-law Henrietta (sister to England’s King Charles II). Although every woman in the court wants the handsome young King, he wants the one woman most forbidden to him. Their love affair starts a scandal that engulfs the court.

At the same time, Louis XIV is learning to rule without his minister Cardinal Mazarin. Jean-Baptiste Colbert is helping him to learn about the finances of his government. As the King learns more, he learns the deep corruption that is going on in his court with money flowing directly to the minister of finance’s pocket rather than the King’s coffers. Louis XIV is also receiving mysterious threatening letters.

Louise de la Baume le Blanc is an innocent maid of honor to Madam (Henriette) who finds herself caught up in the intrigue. When Louise sees a mysterious boy in an iron mask in the woods on the day of the death of Cardinal Mazarin, she starts a hunt of her own through the woods to discover the whereabouts and secret behind the boy in the iron mask. Her actions find her threatened by a strange musketeer and fearing for her life. When Louise attracts the attentions of her King, her life is about to change forever.

There are many characters in Before Versailles that are intriguing including (but definitely not limited to) Henriette, the Queen Dowager Anne, and Charles d’Artagnan. I was intrigued when I first read of d’Artagnan as being the lieutenant of Louis XIV’s musketeers in this novel and had to look it up on my friend Wikipedia. I thought d’Artagnan was only a fictional character in Dumas Three Musketeers and other novels, but it turns out he was a real historical character. Intriguing! Louis was surrounded by a lot of powerful women in his time including his mother and his sister-in-law. While his wife was shy and retiring, Henriette had a fiery personality and was trend setter in the court. Every man wanted her and every woman wanted to be her. It was only natural that the king would also find himself in love with her. Queen Anne was mourning the loss of the Cardinal, but finds her way back to court after unsavory rumors about Henriette and Louis reach her ears. She tries to use what power she still has to set things to right.

I love Koen’s writing in this novel. Her descriptions of the characters, setting, and time period are unparalled. I felt like I was at Fontainebleau. The romance between different characters is very sensual and sparks definitely fly. Even more than this, I really enjoyed the conspiracy. I wanted to find out who the boy in the iron mask was and who was writing the letters. Throughout it all, it was a great character study of the growth of Louis XIV from a boy king to an all-powerful King ruling on his own terms. I greatly enjoyed the journey.

Overall, Before Versailles is a riveting historical fiction novel full of unforgettable characters, great prose, and intrigue that is not to be missed. I highly recommend it.

I read this book as part of the TLC book tour. To read more about Before Versailles, please check out any of these other stops on the tour (links are provided on the TLC Tour Site).

Tuesday, July 5th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Wednesday, July 6th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, July 7th: The Bookworm
Friday, July 8th: Historical-Fiction.com
Monday, July 11th: In the Hammock
Tuesday, July 12th: Living Outside the Stacks
Wednesday, July 13th: The Maiden’s Court
Thursday, July 14th: Royal Reviews
Monday, July 18th: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, July 19th: Enchanted by Josephine
Wednesday, July 20th: Laura’s Reviews
Thursday, July 21st: Historical Tapestry AND Adventures of an Intrepid Reader
Friday, July 22nd: Books Like Breathing
Monday, July 25th: Stiletto Storytime
Tuesday, July 26th: Hist-Fic Chick
Wednesday, July 27th: Life in Review
Thursday, July 28th: Reading, Reading & Life

Before Versailles is my sixteenth book in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Book Source: Review Copy from Random House. Thank-you!

Giveaway Details
Random House is going to send one lucky winner a copy of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen.

If you would like to win a copy of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen 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.

For another additional entry, leave a comment (along with your email address) on my interview with Karleen Koen at this link.

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 August 5th.

Good luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Breaking Free by Lauraine Snelling

Breaking Free is the July pick of the FLICKS Book and Movie Club, and we sat outside by a fire and discussed the book . . . some of the time. As anyone who has been a part of a book club knows, often the discussion is about life in general rather than the book. We did all agree that we enjoyed this Christian romance. The storyline was unique and it was a powerful story of redemption.

Maggie Roberts has been in prison for seven long years and has gotten by keeping a low profile. Suddenly toward the end of her term, see if noticed by fellow inmate DC and starts to fear for her life. Luckily at that time she gets a chance to work in a retired Thoroughbred racehorse program. Working there pairs her with one special horse, Breaking Free, and gives her a chance to shorten her sentence.

Eddie Winters is a young boy with spina bifida. Although he is confined to a wheelchair, he is a free-spirited boy that loves to ride horses. His wealthy Dad Gil is raising him alone with the help of their housekeeper, Maria, after Eddie’s mother was unable to handle his handi-cap.
The Winters family and Maggie are soon thrown together when Gil purchases a rehabilitated Breaking Free for his son. A newly released Maggie comes along to help finish the horses’ training. The Winters family and Maggie learn the powerful lesson of redemption and about not judging other people.

I liked this book, but didn’t love it. I really liked that it was a unique story to me with the life of a prisoner and all of the horse details. It was a very uplifting story and a great story of redemption. I liked the characters, but I didn’t feel like many of them were fully developed. There were a couple of great characters in the prison (like Kool Kat) who were just left behind when Maggie left the prison and never discussed again. I missed Kool Kat! Also the main romance was not developed enough at all. All of the sudden an engagement happens at the end and I thought, wait a minute; they haven’t even gone on a date! Also, this is a strange complaint, but Gil’s wealth got a bit annoying. Anytime Eddie wanted anything, he had his Dad wrapped around his little finger – be it to buy him a house, a horse, etc. It was almost sickening, and definitely hard to relate too.

My book club enjoyed this novel too, but most seemed to agree there should have been a Breaking Free 2 where the romance was more developed and Kook Kat returned!

Book Source: The Kewaunee Library

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Interview with Helen Hollick, author of the Sea Witch Voyages

I'm a fan of Helen Hollick's historical fiction novels, and I was excited to read her pirate adventure historical fiction novel, Sea Witch. I'm honored to be a part of her blog tour about the Sea Witch Voyages and to be able to interview Helen Hollick."Sea Witch is a ripping good tale starring an irresistible pirate hero, Jesamiah Acorne and his true love, the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh set during the golden age of piracy, 1716." For more of my review and a chance to win a copy of Sea Witch, see my blog post at this link. For an additional chance to win, leave an extra comment/question for Helen on this blog post (along with your email address).

Without further ado . . . Helen Hollick.

LAG: When did you first become interested in pirates? What was your inspiration for your unique hero Jesamiah Acorne?

HH: The first Pirate of the Caribbean movie. My daughter had the DVD (I had ignored it, thinking it was a children’s Disney adventure.) Not feeling well one afternoon, I was looking for something I hadn’t new to watch. I thought I’d try it. Well, Jack Sparrow coming into harbour atop the mast – then the wonderful scenes where he rescues Elizabeth and escapes the clutches of Norrington…. That was it! Hooked! Being interested in history, though, my curiosity was aroused. What were pirates really like? I got myself a couple of non-fiction books, started reading – and ideas for a plot just tumbled into my head.

Jesamiah himself I met on a rainy beach in Dorset, England. We were on vacation and I took the dogs for a walk, intending to plan out the storyline for Sea Witch. I had the plot ideas, the characters – but not my pirate. I sat on a rock thinking, looked up and there he was, a few yards away in full pirate regalia – and a gold acorn charm for an earring. He touched his hat and nodded. “Hello Jesamiah Acorne” I said.

Now whether he was a sort of “ghost” or a mere figment of my imagination I don’t know – all I can say is, that story is perfectly true!

LAG: I have to ask, why does Jesamiah have blue ribbons in his hair? How does he keep them clean and looking attractive?

HH: Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow is known for the trinkets he has twined into his hair – it is a fact that pirated did wear coloured ribbons. I have no idea where the blue came from – Royal Blue (or Jesamiah Blue as I now call it) Maybe I saw them without realising it when I first “met” him?

He has several uses for them – one of the main ones being he gives them to the ladies as a keep-sake after a (ahem) ‘pleasurable night’. They are also useful for lots of other things – how we would use an emergency piece of string nowadays. They also have one other rather sinister use – which I’m afraid I’m not going to tell you about. You’ll have to read the book.
Quite often he doesn’t keep them clean – as you’ll discover as you read on through the series, but ribbons were easily obtainable in the early 18th Century, and he usually has a supply in his pocket or in a drawer in his cabin.

Keep your eyes open for a blue ribbon left by Jesamiah for you – I have several friends who have found one left on a bush in their drive, or on the sidewalk

(LAG - I'll admit I hadn't quite finished when I sent my questions off, then I got to the end and though - THAT is not what I expected the use for the blue ribbons to be. Great build up and follow through on the blue ribbons!)

LAG: What was your motivation for making Tiola a white witch and the supernatural elements of the novel? I thought they were very unique and enjoyable. Tiola was a great strong heroine.

HH: I wrote the book I wanted to read. After watching Pirates of the Caribbean – The Curse of the Black Pearl, I wanted a novel that was a similar sort of story: charmer of a rogue for a hero, romantic element with a pretty young girl – a pirate adventure with a supernatural element. It was the “fantasy” part that made the film different, and I wanted the same for my novel. There are plenty of maritime adventures – Patrick O’Brian, James L. Nelson, C.S. Forrester etc but they are all straightforward nautical tales. Not a hint of “magic” in any of them. So I wrote my own.

Tiola Oldstagh (pronounce it as Teo-la Oldstaff) is an anagram of ‘all that is good’. I wanted her to be older than she looks, a healer, midwife and a “Wise Woman”. A white witch was the obvious choice, but not in the Harry Potter witchcraft way – more like The Force in Star Wars. She can harness the wind, but she can’t cast spells to get Jesamiah out of trouble. She has limitations.

I was also fascinated by the sea itself. Anyone who knows the sea will understand what I mean by saying it often seems “alive”. Tethys is one of the mythical Greek Goddesses of the Sea – an ethereal elemental. ‘What if she wants Jesamiah for herself?’ I thought. One of my earliest images for a scene was when Jesamiah’s ship was sinking – I could “feel” Tethys grasping at the hull, trying to pull her under to get to Jesamiah…. Through the series Tiola must battle against Tethys to keep the man she loves alive. But I’m not saying any more about that here as I don’t want to give away any spoilers!

LAG: Have you ever had a chance to explore an 18th century vessel? Is there a particular ship that is the inspiration for the Sea Witch?

HH: I have never been on a vessel that actually moved (although recently I was aboard a 15th century replica – but that was under motor, not sail.) I have explored as many ships as I can though: here in the UK our two main ones are the Victory and the Cutty Sark (sadly it caught fire a couple of years ago, but is being restored.)

One thing I did discover – it is obvious why women were not welcome aboard. I always wear long skirts (I’ve got scars on my leg for one thing, and I find them comfortable to wear) Believe me, moving around a ship with steep, narrow ladders, all that cordage (ropes) rigging etc is not convenient for a long, full skirt! Several times the hem got tangled up – and I don’t have whale-bone hoops beneath my gowns! It is virtually impossible to remain elegant aboard a sailing ship!

I originally modelled Sea Witch on the Queen Anne’s Revenge and the Whydah (real pirate ships, both of which have been archeologically excavated) But then I came across the Rose – a replica of the 18th century English ship that was indirectly responsible for starting the American War of Independence! She is better known, now, as HMS Surprise from the movie Master & Commander. I fell in love with her.

I also became friendly with a man who had sailed aboard her (author James L. Nelson – he wrote his first novel in her Great Cabin) and the man who actually built her, John F. Millar. Well, that was it, The Rose/Surprise, became Sea Witch. And yes I know, technically the original Rose was built a bit later than my stories are set – but that is another advantage of writing adventure fantasy – you can bend the facts a little!

For those interested: The Rose was a British Frigate sent to the American Colonies to put a stop to the extensive smuggling which was depriving the British Government of revenue. Her crew was so effective almost the entire contraband trade ceased. This led to unrest, which resulted in rebellion and the famous Boston Tea Party.

LAG: If Sea Witch was made into a movie, who would you like to see play Jesamiah Acorne and Tiola?

HH: I’d prefer the books made into a TV drama series than a movie – I think you can get more depth into the characters in a TV drama rather than a one-off movie. (I’m thinking Sharpe here, with Sean Bean.)

Who would play Jesamiah? Being honest – I haven’t a clue! I think it would have to be someone new and unknown, so he could “become” Jesamiah. Dark haired – handsome, a glint in his eye…. The same for Tiola I think. A petite, pretty actress. How about a few suggestions from your blog readers?

LAG: What are your favorite pirate themed books and/or movies? Any favorite pirate songs (my 5-year old has been listening to a pirate CD a lot lately – and I secretly listen to it when he’s not around).

HH: Well of course the first Pirates of the Caribbean Movie, though I confess I was not so keen on the second, and hated the third. I have not seen the fourth one properly yet. We saw it in 3D – my first experience of 3D. I have an eye problem, and I didn’t realise I can’t watch 3D, so I’ve got to get the DVD and see it at home. I think I liked it – the little glimpses I could see!
Master and Commander is by far my most favourite movie – although it isn’t pirates. The whole movie is thrilling from start to finish, and gives a superb idea of what life aboard a ship was really like. Love it!

Books – James L. Nelson, I have mentioned a couple of times (his Brethren of the Coast series is great) and I suppose the best of all is Daphne Du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. I have not found many adult pirate-based novels though.

For young adults, I think I would recommend Pirates by Celia Rees – and my publisher Helen Hart has written a fabulous book for 11 – 13 year olds, called The Black Banner (Amazon.com link) http://www.amazon.com/Black-Banner-Helen-Hart/dp/1906236461/ref=sr_1_15?ie=UTF8&qid=1310825894&sr=8-15

I haven’t really any favourite pirate songs – but towards the end of July (exclusive news here!) my good friend, singer/songwriter Bronwen Harrison will be releasing a CD entitled ‘Songs of a Sea Witch’ which will contain a variety of sea-inspired songs – including the one used as the soundtrack for my Sea Witch You Tube video trailer (Gallows Wake)

Keep watch on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, and my website for the full announcement!
(LAG - I will, I loved the music on the You Tube trailer!)

LAG: What are you currently working on?

HH: I am half way through the Fourth Voyage – Ripples in the Sand. Jesamiah is bringing the Sea Witch to England, his wife (yes by voyage four he has married Tiola) is very ill and he has a legal cargo of tobacco to sell – and an illegal one of brandy and indigo. He also gets mixed up with smugglers, a jail break – and an attempted Jacobite rebellion. Tiola meanwhile, realises it is the influence of Tethys making her so unwell. Why? To solve the riddle, and to discover just why Tethys has such an unbreakable hold on Jesamiah, Tiola must look into the past to see how everything began….

Thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog, Laura!

LAG: Thank-you Helen! I love your answers to my questions. Very interesting!! I can't wait to continue reading the Sea Witch adventures!

To find out more about Helen Hollick, check out her websites:

Main Website: http://www.helenhollick.net

· Muse and Views Blog: http://www.helenhollick.blogspot.com

· Monthly Journal: http://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html

· Blog profile: http://www.acorne.blogspot.com

· Picture Diary Blog: http://helenhollicksdiarydates.blogspot.com

· Guest Page: http://helen-myguests.blogspot.com/

· Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/helen.hollick

· On Twitter: http://twitter.com/HelenHollick

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Sea Witch by Helen Hollick Review and Giveaway

Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum! Sea Witch is a ripping good tale starring an irresistible pirate hero, Jesamiah Acorne and his true love, the white witch, Tiola Oldstagh set during the golden age of piracy, 1716. It is a genre defying novel; part historical fiction, part adventure novel, part romance, and part fantasy for an all together very gripping and enticing read.

Jesamiah Acorne is a very appealing hero, and is going on my list of favorite fictional heroes. He is overall a pirate and does some despicable things, but he is an attractive man full of adventure with a tortured past. After suffering abuse throughout his childhood by his older brother Phillipe, Jesamiah escapes to a life of sea after the death of his parents and particularly trying period of abuse. He excels at sea under the tutelage of Captain Malachias Taylor and soon finds himself the captain of his own vessel.

Tiola Oldstagh is a young fifteen-year old girl when she first sets eyes on Jesamiah. Tiola is on the ship the Christina Giselle, with her guardian Jenna on her way to Cape Town to escape her past, and the brutal execution of her mother for witchcraft. Unbeknownst to all, Tiola also harbors the gift of “the craft” and is an old soul in a young woman’s body. When she first catches a glimpse of the flowing black hair and blue ribbons of Jesamiah on a pirate ship trying to overtake her ship, she is smitten. When they eventually meet in Cape Town, sparks fly.

Unfortunately Jesamiah has enemies that will tear the two lovers apart. His older evil brother Phillipe is not finished with his revenge, and the wealthy Dutch merchant Stefan van Overstraten is determined to make Tiona’s his wife. Will Jesamiah and Tiola find their way back to each other?

I loved Sea Witch. We’ve been a pirate haven here in the Gerold household the past few months. The boys love Jake and the Neverland Pirates on Disney and have been checking out pirate books from the library, listening to pirate music, and sailing on their pirate ship (swing set). It was nice to read an adult pirate novel in keeping with our pirate theme.

I loved that Sea Witch was a blend of genres. The adventure was non-stop and kept me riveted. I enjoyed Jesamiah’s journeys and near escapes. He is an appealing daredevil hero, but his most redeeming quality is his love for Tiola. I loved that Tiola is a strong heroine and a white witch. I’ve always enjoyed books that have a mystical quality to them. The historical fiction of this novel is also fantastic. The descriptions of the hardships of a pirate’s life were very realistic and descriptive. Helen Hollick has a wonderful note at the end of the book in which she describes certain liberties she took with the historical timeline, which only reaffirmed to me the amount of research that went into this novel.

Most of all, I loved this novel as I had a real sense while I was reading it that the author herself loved her characters and enjoyed the novel itself. It was a joy to read.

Overall, if you are looking for a fun, rollicking, love-story, historical fiction adventure, look no further. Sea Witch is a wonderful book. I can’t wait to see what is next for Jesamiah and Tiola in Pirate Code.

Sea Witch is my fifteenth item in the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Check out the excellent book trailer on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2-lvjk_7GU

Book Source: Advance Review Copy

Giveaway Details
I'll admit, I can't make myself give away my advance review copy of Sea Witch as it was such a wonderful book. I want to read it again and also I know my best friend Jenn would love this book so I'm going to pass it on to her to read also. Instead, I'm going to order a new copy of Sea Witch from amazon.com for one lucky winner. **UPDATE** Helen Hollick has graciously offered to send a copy to the winner from Amazon along with a bookplate. Thank-you very much Helen!!!

If you would like to win a copy of Sea Witch by Helen Hollick 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.

For another additional entry, leave a comment (along with your email address) on my interview with author Helen Hollick at this link.

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 29th.

Good luck!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Have you ever read a novel that transformed your life? When I turned eight years old, we went to visit my Great-Grandpa and Grandma Kile in Indiana for my birthday. When I was there, I received a wonderful gift from my Grandparents – a four book set of Little House in the Big Woods, Little House on the Prairie, Farmer Boy, and On the Banks of Plum Creek. I was riveted and sat down and read Little House in the Big Woods that afternoon before I returned home.

These books transformed me into a reader. I became hooked on this series and it led me to explore other books and has kept me reading to this day. For Christmas, Grandpa and Grandma gave me the rest of the series. I would visit them for a week every summer, and I would bring my “Little House” books with me. Grandma Kile liked to read them along with me and we would discuss them. Grandma especially loved Almanzo and Laura’s romance; she was always a lover of a good romance novel. I was obsessed with the “Little House series” and stopped counting on how many times I read it as a youth after eleven times.

My Great-Grandma Kile was a wonderful person that I still miss to this day. She always encouraged me to read and we would go together to the library whenever I came to visit. She liked to share books she had read when she was younger and loved such as books by Louisa May Alcott (Little Women and an Old Fashioned Girl) and Gene Stratton Porter (A Girl of the Limberlost). My one sadness was when her vision became less in her nineties and she had trouble reading like she used too.

My eldest son, Kile, is named after my Great-Grandparents. He was born the last year that Grandma was alive and it was the highlight of that year for her. She was very excited to have a Great-Great Grandson named after both her and Grandpa.

The story has come full circle now that Kile is five years old. I got out Little House in the Big Woods and we have been reading it together every night. He loves it and picks it for one of his two stories every night. My copy is literally falling apart in my hands and still has the loving inscription in the front of the book “To Laura With Love, Happy 8th Birthday (1986) From Great Grandad and Great Grandma Kile.”

It has been awhile since I’ve read Little House in the Big Woods. I still remember many of the stories within it, but I had forgotten what a wonderful book it truly is. It keeps both Kile and I delighted every night. Kile always picks it to read as he says he really wants to know what will happen next. Even my husband Ben has come to admire Pa and his tough ways.

There are many reasons that Little House in the Big Woods is a timeless book. Wilder was able to capture the hardworking life of a pioneer family in a way that is enduring. Laura and Mary Ingalls have experiences that all children can relate too – jealousy, fun, fights, naughtiness etc. The book explains items in a hard working pioneer family life, but also livens things up with tails of bears, panthers, and sleds. There is morality to the tales, but it is never told in a “preachy” way. Through it all, Wilder has an elegant prose, and Garth Williams has wonderful pictures to illustrate the stories.

Kile relates to the stories, especially to the fact that there are three children like his own family and their dog Jack (also the name of our dog). He really likes Pa and his adventures hunting and building items. Reading this book again as an adult, I realize that Pa is a large part of the story, even more so than Laura. He is her hero and a great man. He hunts for food, defends his family, can make anything it seems, and also plays the fiddle and sings his girls to sleep at night. He is a true pioneer man.

My Mom is coming to visit in two weeks and we are taking the kids to Laura Ingalls Wilder Day at Heritage Hill in Green Bay. I can’t wait! I may have to blog about the experience.

Were you a "Little House" fan? What books inspired you to become a reader? Do you have a special person in your life that inspired you to read? Tell your stories in the comments!

This if my fifteenth item for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Queen of the Summer Stars by Persia Woolley

I first read Queen of the Summer Stars as a teenager. Sometimes when you read books again from your youth you puzzle on why you remember it so fondly. Other times you realize what a great book it really was and read it again from a new prospective with added age (and hopefully wisdom). Queen of the Summer Stars is one such book; a book I loved as a teenager, and a book that I have discovered again is as good and even better than I remember it.

Queen of the Summer Stars is the second book in Persia Woolley’s Guinevere series. Guinevere and Arthur are the young recently married High King and Queen of Britain. Arthur has a dream to unite the Kingdom and Guinevere is an efficient Celtic Queen who works hard to keep the dream alive. King Ban’s son, Lancelot, joins the round table. He quickly becomes Arthur’s right hand man, but exhibits coldness towards Guinevere. Slowly, the two become friends, and realize that they have feelings for each other beyond friendship. Will Guinevere risk it all for love as her friends Isolde and Tristan did? Or will she remain a true Celtic Queen and stay with Arthur?

I love, love, love the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot love triangle. I’ve never seen it written more movingly then in Queen of the Summer Stars. Arthur is Lancelot’s best friend, a man he genuinely respects and cares for. Loving Guinevere is heart wrenching for him, but even more so for Guinevere. Guinevere loves and respects Arthur, but has come to realize that he will always care for Britain more than he will for her. They have a good relationship, but are missing the intensity of true love. Guinevere and Lancelot are kindred spirits and love each other, but can’t act on that love for their mutual love of Arthur. It is a gripping read and a truly wonderful love triangle.

I also enjoy that this story is told from Guinevere’s perspective. Guinevere is no silly, fickle queen as portrayed in other versions of the legend. She is a strong queen who is very much a co-ruler with Arthur. She also gets her hands dirty, be it helping out in the kitchen, or getting different castles set up to live in or host visitors.

Persia Woolley writes the Guinevere trilogy in a historical fiction setting. Her novels are very well researched and are set in the period after the Romans have occupied Britain. There is a power void in Britain and Arthur has stepped in to fill that void and bring the various people of Britain together to fight against invaders. Her writing is superb and gives one a real sense of being in Britain during the early middle ages.

I love Arthurian legends by Mary Stewart and Marion Zimmer Bradley, but Persia Woolley’s Guinevere trilogy is my favorite version of the legend. I wish Starz would have made this trilogy into a series rather than their quite terrible Camelot series!

Overall, Queen of the Summer Stars is a wonderful book with a great historical fiction background and a very romantic love triangle. It is quite simply, the best version of the Arthurian legend that I have read.

Queen of the Summer Stars is my fourteenth item for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2011.

For my review of the first book in this series, Child of the Northern Spring, please see this link. Also, check out this link for a great interview with Persia Woolley about Child of the Northern Spring and her Guinevere trilogy.

What books have you've read again as an adult that have been even better than you remember? What are your favorite Arthurian legend books?

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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

An Interview with Victoria Connelly, author of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy (and GIVEAWAY)

As readers of this blog know, I am always excited by great new Pride and Prejudice inspired novels. I am honored today to have Victoria Connelly as a guest on my blog answering some of my pesky questions about her love for Austen. Without further ado . . .

LAG: Are you as obsessed with Austen as the characters in your novel?

VC: I am, indeed, as obsessed with Jane Austen as the characters in A Weekend with Mr Darcy. There are fewer greater pleasure for me than sitting down with a Jane Austen novel or enjoying one of the many beautiful film adaptations of her books. I also had the great pleasure of visiting many Jane Austen locations: her beautiful home at Chawton in Hampshire, the little church at Steventon, Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast and the magnificent Georgian city of Bath. I also have many books about Jane Austen from her novels to collections of her letters and biographies, and some very cute trinkets like my ‘I heart Darcy’ keychain, bookmarks and an ‘I Love Darcy’ T-shirt!

LAG: When did you first discover Austen?

I first became aware of Jane Austen through the 1940 black and white film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson which I watched when I was about 13. I fell in love with it immediately even though the costumes were more Gone with the Wind than Regency England! I didn't read Pride and Prejudice until I was 17 but I was hooked for life, and I went on to study Sense and Sensibility at university and then read the other books too.

LAG: How did you apply what you loved about her novels in your novel?

VC: I hope that some of my enthusiasm for Austen comes through in my Austen addicts trilogy. I think many of the characters in A Weekend with Mr Darcy are very like me. Robyn uses Austen as an escape. Katherine’s love is through her work as an academic, and Warwick has been inspired by Austen to write his own books. I can relate closely to all three of these characters and maybe my readers will recognize something of themselves in them too.

Thank-you Victoria for being a guest on my blog today. Anyone who owns an "I Love Darcy" t-shirt, is definitely an author that I would like to read! Stay tuned for a review of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy on Laura's Reviews.

Giveaway Details
Beth from Sourcebooks has been kind enough to offer one copy of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly for a giveaway.

If you would like to win a copy of A Weekend with Mr. Darcy 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 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 22nd.

Good luck!

Winner of Wish You Were Here by Phillipa Ashley

"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." For more of my review, please check out this link.

The lucky winner of Wish You Were Here by Phillipa Ashley is Carrie of In the Hammock Book Reviews. Carrie was chosen using random.org and has been notified via email. She has until next Friday July 15 to send me her mailing address. If I don't hear from her by that time, a new winner will be chosen. Congrats to Carrie!

Thank-you to Phillipa Ashley for the great guest post about her favorite holiday romance movies. I also enjoyed that she stopped by to answer questions and comment. How nice!

Thank-you to Sourcebooks for allowing me to host this great giveaway and for all of you that left fun comments and entered the contest.

Sad that you didn't win? A new giveaway will be up shortly . . .

Winners of The King's Witch be Cecelia Holland

I'm a bit behind on announcing winners and posting items. My family and I went on a great camping trip to Chain O'Lakes State Park in Illinois over an extended 4th of July weekend. We met with good college friends who have kids the same ages as ours. We also took a couple of days extra off and had a wonderful time. I haven't been having a wonderful time trying to catch up with laundry, unpacking, and work since I've returned home!!

Without further elaboration from me, the two lucky winners of The King's Witch by Cecelia Holland are Cynthia and Maureen. Both winners were chosen using random.org and were notified via email. They have until Friday July 15th to send me their mailing addresses. If I don't hear from them by then, new winners will be chosen.

Thank-you to Cecelia Holland for the great guest blog on Eleanor of Aquitaine, and thank-you to the Penguin Group for allowing me to host this great giveaway. Thank-you also to all of you who entered the giveaway and left great comments.

If you would like to learn more about this novel, check out my review at this link.

Sad that you didn't win? I'll have a new giveaway posted soon . . .

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sense and Sensibility 1995

The 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility is one of my all-time favorite movies. It ranks as my favorite Austen adaptation and as overall one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I’ve watched it numerous times and I love it every single time. I watched it again a couple of weeks ago for my fourth item for the Sense and Sensibility Bicentenary Challenge.

As the movie started, I realized once again that the opening of the movie is so clever. After the death of Mr. Dashwood, I love Fanny and John’s back and forth about giving money to the Dashwood sisters. Fanny’s overbearing strength of character is apparent as she is able to whittle John’s resolve to help his half-sisters down to nothing. The scene is not only funny, but really gives the dynamic of Fanny and John’s marriage and overall characters.

The perfect little moments that appear in the movie that are not in the novel sometimes completely capture the nature of the characters without a word. One of my favorite such moments is after Willoughby leaves the Dashwoods abruptly and Marianne runs up to her room crying. All of the ladies end up in their rooms crying, while Elinor calmly sips Marianne’s tea. It is telling of Elinor’s calm during a crisis and a build-up for what will finally make her break down at the end of the movie.

While the 1995 movie had to cut out some minor characters to preserve time, the minor characters they did keep were written to perfection. Two of my favorite minor characters are Hugh Laurie as Mr. Palmer and Imelda Staunton as Charlotte Palmer. They are hilarious and make me laugh out loud as several scenes.

I think overall there are many things that come together perfectly that make this one of my favorite movies of all time. First of all, the wonderful story by Jane Austen and the perfect screenplay adaptation (that won an Oscar!) by Emma Thompson. Thompsons’ screenplay was able to perfectly keep the key story, wit and themes of Austen’s novel (I’m reading the screenplay and diaries right now and will have a review of that in a couple of weeks). Secondly, the wonderful performances by many actors also make the movie. My three favorite are Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood, Kate Winslet as Marianne Dashwood, and Greg Wise as Willoughby. Greg Wise is the perfect Willoughby, handsome, dashing, and it completely takes you by surprise when you discover what a rake his is. The third element that makes this a perfect movie is actually a compellation of moments – the music, cinematography, and direction make this a beautiful movie.

If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it for all lovers of film. If you have seen the movie, what do you love or dislike about it? I’ll admit that Hugh Grant as Edward always looks a bit funny to me in his period outfit (looks constipated) and that I always am a bit creeped out by Alan Rickman as Colonel Brandon (I always imagine him saying, “ I’m going to carve your heart out with a spoon” from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).

For my previous review of Sense and Sensibility 1995, check out this link.