Monday, September 24, 2012

Fairy Tales in the Modern World by Kristine Grayson (and GIVEAWAY!)

I am excited today to have Kristine Grayson on Laura's Reviews with a guest blog about modern day fairy tales.  I loved her book Utterly Charming and can't wait to read Charming Blue later this week.  I have been a fan of fairy tales my entire life, and Grayson does an excellent job bringing them to the modern world.

Lately I’ve felt like everyone has jumped on my bandwagon. Back when I wrote “The Strangeness of the Day,” under my real name, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, no one wanted modern fairy tales. I wrote the short story for an anthology called Battle Magic, and the editor (who loves my work) said he’d never seen anything so original. That originality got me several awards, but when I decided to expand “Strangeness” into a novel, my agent and half a dozen editors told me that modern fairy tales were so 1980, and I shouldn’t even try.

I don’t listen to people, at least not when they tell me something is impossible. So I write Utterly Charming anyway, and that started my fairy-tale-in-the-modern-world career. The book won RT Book Review’s Reviewers Choice award for best paranormal romance, and launched an entire series.

Fast forward eleven years, and suddenly everyone wants to redo fairy tales. Once Upon A Time has thrown every fairy tale creature possible into its modern mix, and Grimm is taking the Gothic view. Now, my trusty Entertainment Weekly tells me there’s be a new twist on Beauty and the Beast set—you guessed it—in our world.

Hey! Wait a minute! I was here first!

Except that I wasn’t. Fairy tales have always had a modern equivalent. That’s why certain romance movies are called “fairy tales”—not just because of the Happily Ever After ending, but because you can see Cinderella being abused by her stepmother and that guy in the Porsche? He’s the Prince Charming.

We are all raised on fairy tales, and of course, we insert them into our daily lives. If you watched the royal wedding a year or so ago, you know all about fairy tales in the modern world. Heck, Kate Middleton nabbed herself a real (if balding) prince. Dunno if he’s truly charming, but he seems like it. And if that weren’t enough, every single commentator on the wedding mentioned fairy tales. Just in case we didn’t get it.

We get it. Or at least I do. I love fairy tales. I love thinking about fairy tales. I love fracturing fairy tales.

My latest makes Bluebeard a hero. Yep, fractured. And I had fun. I hope you do too.

Book Description (from Goodreads):  Once upon a time...he was the most handsome of princes. But now he's a lonely legend, hobbled by dark history. With too many dead in his wake, Bluebeard escapes through the evil spell of alcohol. But it's a far different kind of spell that's been ruining his life for centuries. Jodi Walters is a fixer, someone who can put magic back in order. But Blue has a problem she's never encountered. And worse, she finds herself perilously attracted to him

Giveaway Details
Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Charming Blue by Kristine Grayson.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book or this guestblog.

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

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

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

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday October 5, 2012.

Please make sure to check the second week of October to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Winner of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen

Thank-you to all who entered the giveaway for Karleen Koen's great new novel, Before Versailles.  The one lucky winner is LunaRaven from the blog Bird Talk.  Congrats!!  I have notified LunaRaven via email and she has one week to respond with her mailing address before I draw a new winner.  LunaRaven was selected using

Thank-you again to Karleen Koen for the great interview and fantastic book.  Check out my right side bar for other giveaways.  One is currently ongoing and I will be posting another one today, and yet another one later this week (the one later this week will be another great historical fiction novel).

Monday, September 17, 2012

Searching for Captain Wentworth Guest Blog by author Jane Odiwe (and GIVEAWAY!)

I am excited to have Jane Odiwe, a fantastic Austen inspired author on my blog today.  Her latest novel involves one of my favorite literary heroes, Captain Wentworth from Austen's wonderful novel, Persuasion.  It's next on my "to-read" pile and I can't wait to get to it!

Thank you very much Laura for inviting me as a guest to your blog today!

My new book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, is inspired by Jane Austen’s Persuasion - my favourite of her novels.

When aspiring writer, Sophie Elliot receives the keys to the family townhouse in Bath, it's an invitation she can't turn down, especially when she learns that she will be living next door to the house where Jane Austen lived. On discovering that an ancient glove belonging to her mysterious neighbour, Josh Strafford, will transport her back in time to Regency Bath, she questions her sanity, but Sophie is soon caught up in two dimensions, each reality as certain as the other. Torn between her life in the modern world and that of her ancestor who befriends Jane Austen and her fascinating brother Charles, Sophie's story travels two hundred years across time and back again, to unite this modern heroine with her own Captain Wentworth. Blending fact and fiction together, the tale of Jane Austen's own quest for happiness weaves alongside, creating a believable world of new possibilities for the inspiration behind the beloved novel, Persuasion.

I’ve loved being able to write about a contemporary love story as well as one in the past and it’s been wonderful to write about all the places I love that Jane wrote about too.

One of these places is the Pump Room in Bath and it’s here that my heroine Sophie first meets my hero Josh who lives in the flat beneath her. He is rather a mysterious figure - Sophie’s never met him face to face - she’s only had a little glimpse of him from the back. And because she’s ‘borrowed’ something, which belongs to him and not yet returned it, she’s taken aback when fate brings them together before she has a chance to explain. Knowing he is completely in the dark about her, she’s not at all sure what to do or say. Here’s an excerpt:

The room was buzzing with chattering people whilst a trio on the stage entertained everyone with music from a piano, viola and violin. Presiding over it all was the statue of Beau Nash who along with the portraits of stern gentlemen looked as if he might climb down from his stony pedestal at any moment to remonstrate with the table underneath him, a noisy family who were gathered to catch up with their gossipy news. At the water fountain in the bow-windowed alcove, a man in fancy livery was dispensing water into glasses. A little queue was forming and there was a lot of laughter and pulling of faces as people decided whether they liked or disliked the taste of Bath’s spa water. I made my way to the counter, pulling off my gloves and hat and leaving them to one side. The steaming water frothed from an urn into the mouths of copper fish, green with verdigris, as the Pumper filled the glasses placing each one before reticent customers. He put one before me with an enquiring look. I couldn’t really come to Bath and not try the waters. After all, I was sure Anne and Captain Wentworth had managed, as had Jane herself, so I handed over my money. I must admit, I wasn’t thrilled by the smell and I did end up holding my breath so that I couldn’t taste the warm, sulphurous liquid. But, I managed to get to the bottom of the glass, which I felt was an achievement, though I wasn’t sure I was going to do it again. I was just about to leave when I was suddenly aware of someone standing too closely behind me, right by my elbow, wedging themselves in between the person next in line and myself. I think I probably looked a bit cross when I turned round, but I was sure that they were rudely barging in.

‘Does this belong to you?’

I started and stared, both at the glove in his hand and the face looking down at me. Although I’d never seen this face before, I immediately recognized the mop of chocolate curls. Registering the lightly tanned skin and deep velvet eyes; brown as the bed of the brook I paddled in as a child, I watched sensuous lips curve into a smile revealing white teeth. I’m sure my mouth fell open in surprise.

‘I’m sorry if I made you jump,’ he said, ‘but I just saw your glove fall to the floor a moment ago and someone tread on it. The next thing it had been kicked to one side, and I thought you might not notice, or find it yourself.’

I managed to say thank you, but I couldn’t utter another word.

‘Are you sure you’re okay? You know, you look really pale. Would you like to sit down?’

I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was Josh whatshisname. Though I hadn’t seen his face before, I knew the rest of him so well. Standing right next to me, he was so close, I could have put a finger up through one of those long, loose curls that tumbled in dark, unruly waves. I could just imagine what Lara would have said about his leather jacket, the silver chain he wore round his neck and his snug fitting jeans. I admit I was slightly over-awed; he had such presence. He was one of those people that command attention, who everyone stares at when they enter a room. His large, expressive eyes were looking at me in concern, but he smiled again, a sort of funny, half smile that just hinted at a sense of humour. I was shocked, utterly dumbfounded. I just kept thinking, he must wonder if I’m totally stupid as I stood with my mouth open doing a very good impression of the copper fish on the water pump behind the counter. It was so unexpected.

‘Have you come for your usual, Mr Strafford?’

‘Yes, line them up, Toby,’ Josh said, thumping the counter, ‘I’m ready and willing!’

Toby, the pumper, poured three glasses of spa water and placed them before Josh. I watched him drink the first, draining the glass without flinching once. I noticed his hands, like artist’s hands, I thought, with long, slender fingers. He looked at me again with those eyes that seemed to acknowledge the effect he was having on me and he winked playfully.

I felt myself blushing but, at last, I found my tongue. ‘You’re not going to drink them all, are you?’ I asked, before I realized that I’d actually spoken my thoughts out loud.

He paused to turn and grin at me. ‘Every morning without fail, I’m here to take the waters. Isn’t that right, Toby?’

‘That’s correct, Mr Strafford,’ replied the pumper, with a tone that suggested a certain pride in what he obviously thought was a very admirable habit in his customer.

‘But, do you actually like it?’ I persisted. Drinking one glass had been quite enough as far as I was concerned.

Josh licked his lips and grinned, his eyes sparkling mischievously. ‘Don’t you?’

I wanted to say yes. I know that sounds ridiculous, but I really wanted to agree with him. I hesitated.

Picking up the next glass, he threw back his head in a theatrical manner and I watched his throat move as the liquid disappeared. ‘One to go,’ he cried, dashing the glass down noisily upon the wooden counter top.

Then he suddenly leaned towards me, which surprised me so much, my immediate reaction was to back off, but there was nowhere to go as I was up against the edge of a tall column. He buried his face in my hair and I remembered thinking how sorry I was that I hadn’t had a bath or shampooed my hair that morning, but hot water was something in short supply and I’d just had a quick wash. Thank goodness, I’d drenched myself in perfume, I thought.

‘The water is disgusting,’ he murmured, ‘but don’t tell Toby, it would break his heart.’

I couldn’t help but laugh. Toby, I noticed, was on the other side dispensing more water to hopeful clientele. Josh now turned away, looking straight ahead as if there had been no communication between us, all innocent and quite like a small boy who has just been very naughty.

‘Can I get you another?’ he asked, with a twinkle in his eye, just as Toby passed by.

‘Oh, no thank you, but it was delicious,’ I said, loud enough for Toby to hear and be rewarded with a smile.

‘I’m Josh,’ he said, putting out his hand very formally, the smile friendly, but less conspiratorial.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excerpt from Searching for Captain Wentworth. Have you ever visited Bath? If you could travel to the UK, would you like to visit Bath and where would you like to go first?

Giveaway Details

Author Jane Odiwe has graciously offered a giveaway of one signed copy of Searching for Captain Wentworth.

If you would like to win a copy of this book please leave a comment about what intrigues you about the this book and/or answer Jane's questions from above about Bath.  I so long to visit Bath myself!!
As part of your comment, you must include an email address. If I can't find a way to contact you I will draw another winner.

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

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

This contest is International!

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday September 28, 2012.

Please make sure to check the first week of October to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.
Good luck!

Victorian Challenge Posts - August, September, & October

As you may have noticed, I have been having a hard time keeping up with the Victorian Challenge since I started my new job in May.  I sincerely apologize.  When I made plans for this challenge, I didn't realize that I would be starting a full time job half way through the year and developing an entire new program.  Things will slow down once all of my classes are developed . . . in 2014!!

August, September, and October are celebrations of some of my favorite Victorian authors: 

August: Anthony Trollope

September: Elizabeth Gaskell
October: Mark Twain

Have you been reading these authors?  What are you favorite works by these authors?  If you have any great guest blogs for these authors, I would be more than happy to post them.

Link to your Victorian Challenge reviews below.  As usual, make sure to include your blog name and your entry in the following format:  Laura's Reviews (North and South).  Post all items from these date forward at this post, but you can also repost items you may have already read by Trollope, Gaskell, or Twain.

Thank-you for your patience and your great reviews!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Interview with Karleen Koen (author of Before Versailles) and Giveaway!

I am honored today to have author Karleen Koen on my blog.  Koen is one of my favorite historical fiction novelists.  She writes with vivid historical detail and accuracy, and wonderful characters that bring history to life.  I have enjoyed all of her novels:  Through a Glass Darkly, Now Face to Face, and Dark Angels.  Her latest novel, Before Versailles, was published last year (my review is located here) and is currently being published in paperback by Sourcebooks with a beautiful new cover.

Without further ado . . . an interview with Karleen Koen.

LAG: I love your wonderful, descriptive historical fiction novels. What first drew you to writing in general and writing historical fiction specifically?

KK: My invalid grandfather was a reader of historical fiction: specifically Frank Yerby, Frank Slaughter, and Zane Gray, and I started reading them when I was a little girl. I never questioned or did any market research when I decided to write. I knew it would be historical fiction. I started writing fiction to see if I could, to fill some time once I'd left a job I had. I have quit fiction before, between the novels Now Face to Face and Dark Angels. The solitude and the living through rough drafts are difficult for me.

LAG:  You write fantastic characters in your novels, is that was first drew you to the story of Louis XIV and his many loves?

KK:  Actually, Louis doesn't have as many lovers as other kings. I particularly contrast him to Charles II, who was his cousin and contemporary. And the intricacy of his lovers, often friends with one another, is interesting to me. Court is like a small town, where everyone knows everyone and is likely distantly related. I didn't know I was going to write a story about him. I thought I was going to write about Princess Henriette or Louise de la Valliere. That's one of the very intriguing things about fiction.....that it has its own destiny, and you, the writer, have to stay open to discover it.

LAG:   Louis and Henrietta . . . what do you think family relations were like after Louis fell for his sister-in-law?

KK:  Well, since he fell for her, but then fell for someone else, not great....right? His brother had to be furious but somehow placated, and so did she. Interestingly enough, Louise and Henriette became dear and deep friends afterwards, which says something interesting about both of them. The one who bore the brunt of ill feeling was Louise. Henriette hated her and plotted against her with Olympe de Soissons for a long time. But, before Henriette died so tragically, she and Louise were friends.
LAG:  Did you visit Fontainebleau while you were researching this novel?

KK: I did. I went with a French translator and had a interview with some of the folks who run the museum. It's a charming and lovely palace about an hour's train ride from Paris.

LAG:  What do you think first drew Louis to Louise?

KK:  What did I use in Before Versailles......her innocence, her lack of ambition, her crush on him, and I'll bet she was very pretty. I think he needed someone he could protect. I think he was very much a fairy tale prince when he was 22.......yummy.

LAG:  Will you ever revisit the characters from the Through the Glass Darkly series?

KK:  I plan to when i finish two more novels involving Alice, the Duchess of Tamworth and Barbara's grandmother.

LAG:  What are you currently writing?

KK: A novel about Alice and Richard and Louis XIV, set in 1673.

Thank-you for the interview Karleen Koen!

More about Before Versailles (from Goodreads): 
Louis XIV is one of the best-known monarchs ever to grace the French throne. But what was he like as a young man—the man before Versailles?

After the death of his prime minister, Cardinal Mazarin, twenty-two-year-old Louis steps into governing France. He’s still a young man, but one who, as king, willfully takes everything he can get—including his brother’s wife. As the love affair between Louis and Princess Henriette burns, it sets the kingdom on the road toward unmistakable scandal and conflict with the Vatican. Every woman wants him. He must face what he is willing to sacrifice for love.

But there are other problems lurking outside the chateau of Fontainebleau: a boy in an iron mask has been seen in the woods, and the king’s finance minister, Nicolas Fouquet, has proven to be more powerful than Louis ever thought—a man who could make a great ally or become a dangerous foe . . .

Meticulously researched and vividly brought to life by the gorgeous prose of Karleen Koen, Before Versailles dares to explore the forces that shaped an iconic king and determined the fate of an empire.

Giveaway Details

Sourcebooks has graciously offered a giveaway of one copy of Before Versailles by Karleen Koen.

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

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

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

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

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

No P.O. Boxes.

The deadline for entry is midnight on Friday September 21, 2012.

Please make sure to check the last week of September to see if you are a winner. I send emails to the winner but lately I have been put in their "junk mail" folder instead of their inbox.

Good luck!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James

I can’t let a widely talked about and read book pass me by without giving it a reading of my own. Half of my book club is obsessed with Fifty Shades of Grey and I wanted to see what the fuss was all about. Billed as a grown up version of Twilight, and being a fan of said Twilight, I was intrigued.

My intrigue didn’t last much beyond the initial pages, but I did actually make it to the end. Anastasia Steele is a silly, very naïve girl, in love with a sadistic stalker, Christian Grey. He wants her to sign a contract allowing him to control her every move down to what she wears and eats, she does not want to sign. He likes to tell her what friends she can hang out with, and likes to show up where she is unexpectedly even if she hasn’t told him where she is. He likes to physically punish her, she does not like it. Romance made in heaven? I think not.

Besides my obviously lack of love for the plot and characters, the writing was terrible. If I had to listen to Anastasia talk about her “inner Goddess” or say the words “Crap” or “shit” one more time, I was going to tear up the book in frustration. Christian also had an obsession with talking about Ana biting her lips and not allowing her to touch him. I wasn’t sure what attracted the much accomplished Christian to Ana as she was never able to carry on a conversation, but he soon told her it was that he thought she would be easily dominated.

What was very sad was that Ana was scared that if she was going to do something wrong, Christian would beat her. Is this really the type of relationship that 21st century women are looking for? I really want to give them a nice Nora Roberts novel to let them know what a good romance novel is all about.

Ana’s “purity” was laughable. I have a hard time believing that a 21/22 year old in today’s age would have no idea what sex entails. I don’t think I was the only teenage girl laughing at lurid sex scenes in romance novels with my friends, or just turning on the TV to see promiscuity abound. I know she only reads classic novels, but has she never read Lady Chatterley’s Lover? Does she not realize the double entendres in many classic novels? Does Ana never pick up a Cosmo to read while she’s in a waiting room? Ana seemed more believable in 1912 than 2012.

Speaking of classic novels, the constant references to the far superior Tess of the d’Urbervilles were vastly misplaced and had nothing to do with the plot of the novel, unless Ana is a poor Tess being taken advantage of by Christian as Alec.

I think Fifty Shades of Grey gave me the wrong types of fantasies. I kept thinking how I would really like one of Ana’s friends to hire some thugs to beat the crap out of Christian while telling him that beating is not how you treat a lady. But Christian probably would have liked it.

I would not have had a problem with the book if Ana was into the S&M lifestyle. She obviously was not, and didn’t like it when Christian hurt her – which makes it very wrong.

Overall, I am not reading any more of this series. I like the end where it stands and I can hope SPOILER ALERT that Ana does actually stay away from Christian and find someone more worthy of her love. SPOILER END.

Book Source: Sadly I purchased it, but will be donating my copy.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim

Alison Arngrim played Nellie Oleson on my favorite show from my youth, Little House on the Prairie. While the world thinks of Arngrim as her character, Nellie Oleson, in reality Arngrim was best friends with Melissa Gilbert (who played Laura Ingalls) and was the poor girl to Melissa’s rich girl. Arngrim had a very tough childhood and was victimized by her older brother. Adult Arngrim has proved she is anything but a victim and has put those sad experiences to work by helping to get victims’ rights for others that were abused by members of their own families. She also has worked to help out AIDs victims after her friend and TV husband, Steve Tracey contracted and died from the disease.

Overall Confessions of a Prairie Bitch was a funny, heartfelt book. Arngrim told the tales of her little house days, but also the story of what went on in her life before and after the show. She is a woman full of courage and heart. I got to meet her for two seconds at Laura Ingalls Wilder day in Green Bay at the end of July after a two hour wait. My book is now officially autographed, but I have a problem with being able to engage in any sort of witty dialogue when I meet an author face to face. As in I become quite tongue tied. She was a gracious author though and took great pictures with people. If only I would have had my camera! After I bought this book and got it autographed, I found I couldn’t put it down and finished it in a couple of days.

Book Source: I purchased this book.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock by Meg Cabot

Heather Wells is a residence Hall Director at New York College, but she was once a teen rock star. Heather thinks she will have a relatively relaxed summer, but it soon becomes the source of major chaos in her life when her dorm is chosen to be the residence for the teen girls competing in the Tania Trace Teen Rock Camp. Tania was the tramp that stole Heather’s old boyfriend, Jordan. Heather is quite happy with her new love, detective Cooper Cartwright, who also happens to be Jordan’s brother, and feels sorry for Tania’s lonely life. Together Heather and Cooper work to solve the case.

Overall, a fun, light summer read. I haven’t read the rest of the Heather Wells series. This book was a fine stand-alone novel, but I want to read the rest of the books as it was such a fun read.

Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow. Thank-you!

White Raven: The Sword of the Northern Ancestors by Irina Lopatina

Sadly, I did not finish White Raven. I read about 100 pages, but couldn’t get into the novel. I didn’t really connect with the characters. It could have been my mood. Sometimes I have not been able to finish a book in the past, and then have picked it up a couple of years later only to wonder why I didn’t appreciate it in the first place.

White Raven is a fantasy novel. Vraigo is a prince that loves to hang out in the forest with the mystical creatures that abound there. Strange beings start to appear in the forest. After his beloved magus, Agar, is killed, Vraigo continues his adventures in the forest and determines that he may be the last hope for the kingdom.
I received this book as part of the TLC Book Tour from the publisher Light Messages. Thank-you and I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to finish the book.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Winner of the Georgette Heyer Giveaway - Redraw!

If you haven't noticed, with school starting (I'm coordinating and teaching the new environmental engineering technology program at NWTC), I have gotten very behind on my blog.  Look this week for some short reviews that I will be writing and posting as I keep attempting to slowly catch myself back up.

The lucky winner of the grab bag of three Georgette Heyer novels from Sourcebooks was Laura Hartness from the lovely blog, The Calico Critic.  Laura was so lucky that she won the prize on another blog first.  Susanna from SusieBookworm was chosen next by and was notified via email. She has one week to send me her mailing address, otherwise a new winner will be chose.

Thank-you to all who entered this wonderful giveaway. Stay tuned as a new giveaway will be up the end of this week . . .