Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II

Book Reviewed by J.C. Danville

I reviewed this book that was not intended for me, well maybe, except the first part of the title: "The Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II".  It happens that I know more than many about WWII but was curious as I find it hard to explain things that should be easy and natural for me and I always try a look at how others do it.

This book will help the innocent and naieve look less so in a discussion around a beer after watching a film about World War II.  This is an American book written for Americans and skimms skims over many British operations.
Some of the chapter's titles will make you smile, tongue in cheek jokes and all, such as "Poles Apart" for the battle of Poland 1939.  It does makes it easier to read.  The whole book is pleasing and well done.  It starts clearly with the causes of World War II which dated back from World War I to it's bunched end to the UN and the beginning of the Cold War, and explains the nazi "doctrine".  It covers a lot of material in clear short bursts of writing with side-bars on people, statistics and some trivia that might even win you a quiz.

It skips over many controversial issues of the war, presenting it all in a very American crusade, black and white, good against evil (That it was!  Except maybe not all the evil was on one side.  Think Staline…). The extensive reading list at the end is possibly one of the great readymade assets of this book for the "idiot" to read.  Some internet links might have been included too, perhaps in the 4th edition?

As a reference book it is well constructed with a "contents at a glance" first followed by detailed content with an alphabetical index at the end.

I regret the absence of footnotes over some of the civilian slaughter and waste of assets from Allied strategic bombings (160000 airmen died from both the US and UK, nearly as many as half the total US casualties!), the delivery to the east block of refugees, and POWs originating from there directly for the goulag or execution squad, the arsenal for the democracies in 39-40? (All was to be paid and delivered by the buyer, the "cash and carry" law which allowed France to pay for but never receive hundreds of planes, the useless destruction of the old Manilla intramuros…)

Of course this was not intended to be something else than what its title said and in that it does the job!

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Fire Lord's Lover by Kathryne Kennedy

Fighting for control of a kingdom that is split into seven domains, Elven warlords use their human slaves to breed soldiers for their armies. Dominic Raikes, the half-blood son of the Fire Lord himself, is one such warrior. Betrothed to Lady Cassandra, he little suspects that she's been raised in outward purity and innocence, she was secretly trained as an assassin to murder his father…and him. But when she gets to court, they both discover that nothing is what it seems, least of all the person they married…

This was a fun, sexy romp in the hay, the garden, the bedroom… oh, just anywhere. If anything, I thought the sex scenes went a little over-the-top in the quantity and language, but that could be because I’m not accustomed to reading romance, let alone erotic romance.

That said, I enjoyed the tension in the love story and adventure aspects of the novel. The fantasy has a few original sparks in that magic has elemental affinities and the elves are angelic psychopaths instead of Tolkien-esque heroes or Shakespearian faeries. There are also nice moments of pathos between Dominic and Cassandra, such as:

‘“Now it’s my turn,” she softly whispered. “Tell me of Mongrel.”

Dominic started. “How do you know of my dog?”

“Cook told me …nay, do not be angry. She sought only to comfort me with a bit of knowledge about the stranger I married.”

He ran a hand over his forehead. Cook had known him since he was a lad, and although they treated each other with indifference, he’d always suspected that the redhead had a softer heart than she revealed. And Mongrel…just the name brought a memory of shared warmth and unquestioning loyalty. Words flowed from his mouth without thought. “The stable master tried to drown the runt, but he had more will to live than anyone credited. I found him on the bank of the Thames, weary and half-dead, and could only admire his spirit. I nursed him back to health and he shadowed me from that day on until he died…”

The vision of fire blackening fur and the sound of Mongrel whining in agony brought Dominic back to himself. But too late. For his wife held his cheek in one soft hand, and the sound of her sigh held too much sympathy. “I’m so sorry. You must have loved him so.”

Dominic jerked away from her touch.”

And the push and pull continues between the two of them, though there’s never any doubt how each feels. The greater question is whether they’ll survive, since Dominic’s father has a habit of burning everything Dominic loves. To find out what happens, you’ll have to read “The Fire Lord’s Lover.”

I look forward to Ms. Kennedy’s next, as this is the first in the Elven Lords Series.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Onaedo: The Blacksmith's Daughter by Ngozi Achebe

Maxine is a modern woman who will soon be reunited with her Nigerian father after a 30 year absence. Coincidentally, through an old friend, she discovers a box of ancient hand-written journals. She becomes intrigued when she discovered they were written over 400 years ago from a young woman in the same tribe as that of her father. As she reads the diaries, she finds herself drawn to the poignant tale that sweeps her into 16th century Africa to the roots of the slave trade.

The journal is that of a 15 year old girl, on the verge of womanhood, named Onaedo. Onaedo leads an idyllic life where she experiences first love, marriage, motherhood, and lives in relative peace with her family and friends. Her father is a talented blacksmith, renowned for his intricate work who wants her to marry an eligible man of equal wealth. Her kind, elder brother, Udemezue, escorts Onaedo and her best friend Adanma to a gathering. There, Onaeda meets her secret love, Dualo, a poor young man considered unsuitable to be her husband. Later, when Onaedo learns that Dualo has suddenly left town without word of his return, she reluctantly marries Amechi, a man who ultimately disappoints her.

But Onadeo makes the most of her unhappy marriage, until one day when Portuguese men pluck her from the land and abduct her.  She is placed on a slave shift and taken to Sao Tome where she is thrust into slavery.  But good fortune smiles upon her and she encounters a kind slave master and works as a servant inside the manor.

The novel is a gentle read, easy to escape into and relish its vibrant descriptions. Because the author, Dr. Ngozi Achebe’s roots are in Nigeria, her passion for the country and its history became evident on every page. As I read, I could not help but become enthralled with Onaedo whose adolescent life mirrors our own, but also differs because of fascinating cultural differences. There are strong, endearing characters, onerous villains, and plenty of ancient superstitions and beliefs that weave through this rich tale. But above all, this is the story of a humble, but wise, young woman who must endure incredible loss, who bravely faces an uncertain future and endures slavery in order to survive. The tale also encompasses the loss of the family and clearly depicts their pain as they search for their stolen loved ones.

I truly enjoyed reading this novel because of its unique setting and because it exposed me to a an old culture I knew little about. And that is the essence of what a good historical novels should do! The story ended soon after Onaeda became a slave, far too soon for me, and it left me longing to read on. However, I suspect that there will be a sequel which will continue Onaeda’s story, and I eagerly anticipate its release. Dr. Acebe has created a memorable, true to life, female heroine who defines innocence and courage and brings to life a colourful, but shameful era of history.  A very well written, endearing story.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

In The Fullness of Time by Vincent Nicolosi

Book Reviewed by L. Gregory Graham

This book is about Warren G. Harding in the same fashion that the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ is about Godot. Our most dubious president of the twentieth century does make a brief appearance early in the book, but then his life is explored through flashback, recollection, hearsay and good old-fashioned gossip among the good people who live in Marion, Ohio. That is the hometown of Warren G. Harding, and of the main character.

Who is the book about then? It is about Tristan Hamilton, a man who decided very early in life that Marion, Ohio was the center of the universe; that all good things come from Marion; and who never changed his mind despite two world wars and a major depression. By turns he is cheerleader, apologist, campaign operative, and acolyte at the altar to Warren G. Harding. The president steals his lover, disappoints him repeatedly with his dalliances and philandering, and eventually leaves him wondering how a man with such a good start could end so badly. When there is nothing else to do, Tristan buries the president, builds his memorial, and becomes keeper of the presidential papers.

In addition to Tristan, there is his mysterious sister Adeline who may or may not have helped the president’s wife kill the president, and Mitzy von Leuckel, a local girl too ambitious and too pretty for her own good. The three of them swarm around Warren G. Harding like so many moths around a porch light.

A single question casts a long shadow across this entire book. Did Flossie, the president’s wife, kill him? The author coyly has Tristan vigorously defending Flossie for the entire book while at every turn repeatedly dipping into the supposed conspiracy from every angle. A secondary question is did Adeline help Flossie kill the president, and then kill a historian snooping around trying to implicate her in the assassination? Both questions remain unanswered leaving the reader swinging like an unlatched gate in an Ohio snowstorm.

Tristan’s recollection begins in November 1963 when the assassination of President Kennedy reminds him of all the controversy that surrounded the death of Harding. He spends much time on the similarities and the differences. He also reminds us again and again that Harding convened the first disarmament conference, initiated the first highway system in the United States, fortified Pearl Harbor, and reformed the Veteran’s Administration.

If this is beginning to sound like a big complex book, it is.

Tristan, the main character, remains a cipher at the end of 500 pages. One gets the impression that he would have fit in well with European nobility with his sense of honor, duty, and noblesse oblige. Why does he back Harding? It is hard to say. It may be because his father did, it may be because Harding is from Marion, and it may be because he likes the man. The reader is never sure. That sense of honor, duty, and perhaps a little blindness extends to the president’s wife, to his sister, and to some decidedly unpleasant facts about Harding’s administration.

This book is like an evening with your great aunt who wants to talk about a very old charm bracelet she is wearing. Every charm has a story surrounding it, and each story interconnects with the others in such a way that in the end it sums up to a telling of the wearer’s life. As such it is not a quick read. The reader will not find a story where the evil are punished and virtuous are rewarded according to some cosmic balance sheet.

Instead, you will find life. Good people make decisions that make sense within the logic of their lives. Opportunities are lost, bad judgments are made, people act heroically for the wrong causes, and still somehow people get on with their lives, and derive meaning from the chaos. It is a messy imperfect process in Marion, Ohio, and I suspect in the rest of the world also.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Contest Winner - The Last Leaf by Stuart Lutz



A message has been sent!

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter our contest and learn more about this incredible book.  

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Interview with Stuart Lutz

Today I'm pleased to have Stuart Lutz, author of The Last Leaf, join us.

Stuart, The Last Leaf was one of the most memorable books I've ever read. What inspired you to write this book?

When I was young, my older relatives would, during family gatherings, tell me the stories of their lives, and this got me interested in oral history. My great-grandparents were married for 77 years, and they related what it was like to live in Russia before 1900, and how they came to America on a passenger boat (what I wouldn't do to hear their stories again!). They also told me about their first brushes with modernity, such as light bulbs, airplanes, and women suffrage. All things that we consider mundane today. Likewise, an older cousin had been in the Flying Tigers during World War II. When his plane was shot down, he parachuted out over China. He was tangled in a tree and remained up there for two weeks, surviving on rain water, until the Chinese underground rescued him. So I had a great history education right in my own boyhood home. It led to an ongoing interest in last survivors. When I was in college and took a Soviet history class, I was amazed to learn that the last Bolshevik died in 1991. He helped create the USSR, was responsible for the famines in the 1930s that killed millions, and watched the country crumbled. I thought that a book about last tales would be an interesting and unique concept.

What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

I get emails and letters from readers (and authors are ALWAYS grateful to hear from people who have chosen to spend their rare free time with my book). One of the most gratifying messages states something like, "I knew about Pearl Harbor and the Hindenberg, but I didn't know there were two Iwo Jima flag raisings and the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I learned a lot of history by reading your book." One of the goals of the book was to write about both the famous people (FDR and Harry Houdini) and important events (the Scopes Monkey Trial and the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake) in American history, but also to recount our forgotten history that was equally important. Such chapters include the Lusitania (the sunken ship that helped us get into World War I), the ENIAC (the first computer, and if you are reading this, you know how important computers are to our lives), and Philo Farnsworth (the inventor of electronic television who should be a household name like the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison). This history is as important and influential as Babe Ruth and Amelia Earhart. I do think there is something for everyone in The Last Leaf. I also hope the book inspires older relatives to tell their younger kin the stories of their lives, much like what happened to me as a boy.

How did you research and find the people you have interviewed?

Finding final survivors was a long and challenging process. My first interview was in 1998 with the last pitcher to surrender a home run to Babe Ruth in Ruth's historic 1927 season, and the book was not released until this year. I have always been an avid newspaper reader, so I read about the final Babe Ruth pitcher in The New York Times; he was being honored at Yankee Stadium on the 50th anniversary of the Bambino's death. So I wrote to Mr. Hopkins and secured an interview. Other methods were more active than just reading the paper. I wanted to know if there were any last soldiers who served in World War I under Captain Harry Truman. I called up the Truman Presidential Library in Missouri and they said there was one last Battery D soldier, and gave me his name and hometown. So I wrote to Mr. Wooden and secured an interview. Google has also been very helpful, so there are times I enter in the name of an historically important event and the word "survivor", and sometimes I find local newspaper articles on a last participant. I then write to that person and secure an interview. Also, historical societies located near where an important event occurred have been terrifically helpful over the years.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in putting this book together?

If I had to pick one stumbling block, it was the sheer challenge of finding the "Last Leaves." The worst thing for me was reading an obituary and seeing that So-and-So was the final survivor of an event, and it would often be an event that I had not thought of. I had to be proactive, and come up with lists of famous people and historic events that *might* have very few survivors left. Then, I had to find them, if there were any people left, and convince them to be interviewed for a book project. I did find that once I tracked down people, they were overwhelmingly willing to be interviewed, with a few exceptions.

What is your current work in progress?

I would love to do The Last Leaf, Volume 2, and I have a list of about a dozen possible people for it, including the last man from the first NBA game and the final participant in the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. I would also like to write a book on the aftermath of the Vietnam War in the United States. It took the country a long time to recover from the actual war and the societal traumas caused by the conflict.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

The book's website is, and there you can read a sample chapter, see book photos, read my blog, and watch a two minute video. My email is I look forward to answering reader email.

Monday, June 21, 2010

We Have a Winner - PeaceWeaver by Judith Arnopp

Soft Fuzzy Sweater, you've won a copy of Peaceweaver by Judith Arnopp! Thanks for leaving a comment on her review. Please contact Lisa with your full name and mailing address, so Ms. Arnopp can send your copy.

Book Review - The Last Leaf by Stuart Lutz

The Last Leaf
(Voices of History's Last-Known Survivors)
by Stuart Lutz

Stuart Lutz’s The Last Leaf is a poignant collection of thirty-nine actual last interviews with survivors of some of the most harrowing, devastating, and shocking occurrences in history. The author scoured the country and travelled extensively to locate and speak directly with these remarkable people. He has captured their words and stories and immortalized them into this amazing book.

We are all familiar with the disasters and adversity described through old news reels and antique textbooks, but we’ve never heard them with such clarity and emotion before. And likely for the last time, because many of the men and women interviewed, have since passed, which makes The Last Leaf an even more important book to treasure.

Beautifully told with photos of the interviewees, both past and present, his interviews include the last survivor of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, a woman who remembers person who remembers the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a survivor who escaped the Nazi death camp Sobibor, the final passenger of the sunken Lusitania, the only remaining surviving ground crew member of the Hindenburg explosion, and many, many more fascinating witnesses to history. The survivor stories are especially poignant. When death was imminent, and the odds against them, somehow, these fascinating men and women managed to survive. The book also includes last interviews with witnesses to technological innovations and sports and entertainment personages, which are no less fascinating.

This is a book to read and re-read and then share with our children and grandchildren. Stories that must never be forgotten. Stories that teach us what it means to survive or to witness history. A book of great worth and immense wisdom to learn from. What a beautiful tribute to these amazing people.

Bravo Stuart Lutz for your passion in putting together such a worthwhile book.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book Giveaway - The Last Leaf by Stuart Lutz

This week, we're proud to feature Stuart Lutz's book, The Last Leaf.

Up for grabs is a copy of this fabulous book that describes some of history's most poignant moments through interviews with the last living survivors and witnesses.

All you have to do to win is leave a comment with your email address telling Stuart why you really want to read his book.  Stuart will chose the most endearing response. 

Thanks again!  This is a book not to be missed and worth keeping on your book shelf for future generation!

We'll announce the winner at the end of the week!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Selene of Alexandria

SELENE OF ALEXANDRIA'Selene of Alexandria' by Faith L. Justice, is a historical novel, a straight one if you are into genres and subgenres, which is set in Alexandria during the fifth century.
Selene is only fourteen, when she makes a serious decision concerning her life. She wishes to defy her class's expectations by becoming a physician. At those times, this is an absolute No-no. She finds support in Hypatia, the famous female mathematician and philosopher. She convinces her father to allow her pursuing her goal in a time, in which the Catholic Church is torn in sects, and Byzantine is all that remained from the Roman Empire. Soon, Selene finds herself amidst the struggle for power.
Embedded in the history of Alexandria, we watch Selene come to age. We experience the violence and fanaticism, tearing through the young church and the few remaining pagans. Selene is the strong and very independent woman type, maybe a tiny bit too modern in her ways; however, Faith manages to let us forget that Selene’s story is her vehicle to introduce us to Hypatia’s life.
The characters are well-drawn, the plot propels us forward, and the writing carries us easily throughout the story. Even the antagonist comes across as a fully fleshed out person. Especially the depiction of all the historical figures we see through Selene’s eyes and the level of authenticity are remarkable. No doubt, Faith has done her homework very well.
Having enjoyed reading it and being left curious about a sequel, I would like to recommend 'Selene of Alexandria' to the lover of straight historical fiction who cherishes authenticity and wants to learn about the dusk of the classical era and the dawn of Christianity.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Peaceweaver by Judith Arnopp

“The old people used to say that three women, known as the Norns, wove human fate. They sat in the roots of a great, spreading tree, spinning the fragile threads of destiny into the complex fabric of life. When they grew peeved they worked misfortune and despair into the pattern. I sighed. My own fate trailed behind me like a worn petticoat, patched and mended with good intentions. What, I wondered, would those three women make of my future.” – Queen Eadgyth, Peaceweaver

History often recalls the hand-fasted wife of Harold Godwinson, last King of the Saxons, but little is known about his queen, Eadgyth, daughter of Earl Aelfgar of Mercia. She was a descendant of the Lady Godiva of Coventry legend, and the child-bride of a Welsh King before becoming Harold’s queen. Author Judith Arnopp has weaved a wonderful tale of Eadgyth’s life, interspersing fact, and fiction. Her meticulous research and unique storytelling made Peaceweaver a delightful read. Judith Arnopp has graciously agreed to give away a copy of the book to one of our blog visitors.

When Eadgyth’s father barters her to the Welsh King, Gruffydd ap Llewellyn, she endures exile in an alien world with only her loyal servant Anwen for comfort. She submits to Gruffydd’s cold and cruel attentions, and bears children for a husband more than twice her age. But sons are not the only joy of Eadgyth’s life, when she finds a forbidden love. As unexpected as it is, another drastic change comes when her husband learns of the affair, just before his downfall.

Swept away to England by the charismatic Harold Godwinson, Eadgyth enters the English court of Edward the Confessor. Harold’s unabashed pursuit of her re-awakens a love she never thought to feel again, but specters of Harold's past always intrude on their happiness. On the eve of Hastings, Eadgyth risks her safety to be by the side of a man she never thought she would love, as he faces the greatest threat his kingdom has ever known.

Author Judith Arnopp

The period before the Norman Conquest of 1066 is a long-time favorite of mine. I found many things remarkable about Peaceweaver, the most important being that Queen Eadgyth was so young during this tumultuous period in England. She must have been a remarkable woman to bear the attentions of her first husband, and survive the difficult reign of her second husband. In the first twenty-one years of her life, she saw dramatic changes and lived through them. I was also surprised at how much this story touched me. In Peaceweaver, the love between the central characters is devout and palpable, and all of the characters, both real and invented, are fully fleshed out. In particular, Ms. Arnopp has made Harold Godwinson come alive on the page, a brave but flawed man. Although I know the story of his death as well as any English school child taught about Hastings, it always makes me very sad to read about it. Reading it from the perspective of his young queen was at times heartbreaking, but always a joy.

Don't forget: Please leave a comment to win a copy of Peaceweaver!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

29: A Novel by Adena Halpern

On the day of her 75th birthday, Ellie Jerome blows out the candles on her cake and wishes to be 29 years old for one day. When she awakes the next morning, her body is firm and youthful, there are no wrinkles on her face, she can see clearly, and her hair has no traces of gray. It takes her a while before she truly comes to believe that her wish came through. Unsettled by what has happened, she soon comes the realization that this is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity and she must seize and make the most of this one special day.

With the help of her granddaughter, Lucy, Ellie is determined to reach out and experience everything she can. First, she gets a new hairstyle and then dons a spectacular new gown.  When she looks in the mirror, she can scarcely believe that she is the youthful beauty reflected therein.

As she maneuvers through her special day, a gift beyond her wildest dreams, she attracts oodles of attention and soon finds herself in the arms of a handsome young man.

While Ellie is enjoying her new freedoms, Ellie’s daughter and her best friend are worried about her and desperate to find her and make sure she's safe.  Meanwhile, Ellie begins to understand the meaning of life and learns powerful lessons about the true value of a husband, family, friendship, and comes to appreciate the wisdom that can only come with age.

At times hilarious, and at other times sad, this chick-lit novel is truly an entertaining read. Duty, family, and tradition conflict with modern social freedoms to make this tale not only hilarious and engaging, but poignant. Adena Halpern does a marvelous job of giving the reader insight into the thoughts and behaviors of three generations of women in the various stages of life. A definite fun summer read for women of all ages.

The Bridge at Valentine by Renee Thompson

The Bridge at Valentine is a poignant tale of love and discord that takes place in the wilderness of Idaho in the 1890's. At the heart of the story are two families who struggle to carve a living off the land: the Caldwells who raise sheep and the Morrows who are heavily involved in cattle ranching.

The Caldwells and Morrows continuously battle over grazing lands for their herds and the feud between them gradually escalates. One day, as July and her brother Richard herd their sheep over the Bridge at Valentine the bridge suddenly breaks and a large metal cable slices through July. Near death, Richard rushes July home and the area's young doctor is summoned to save her life. Despite the seriousness of her injuries, July survives, but her stern father suspects the Morrows of having sabotaged the bridge.

July heals under the watchful care of the handsome doctor and her loving Mormon family. When she is well enough, she attends a social event where she encounters young Rory Morrow. Irresistibly drawn to each other, they struggle to keep their love a secret from both of their feuding families. Their love is doomed and fate is determined to keep them apart when tragedy strikes despite their efforts to be together. July finds herself torn between family loyalties and an ever burgeoning but hopeless love, and she must make her way through life armed with only her courage and determination.

Renee Thompson used Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet as a model for the plot of this story of the American West, but that is where the similarities end. The tale unfolds gradually but with intensity as the plot becomes more complex with each page that is turned. The characters spring to life with credibility and their own individuality because of their human frailties as well as their strengths. It is truly a tale about a woman who must face and overcome adversity in a harsh, unforgiving world where she must make sacrifices in order to survive.

I very much enjoyed the unpredictability of the story, of wanting to know what the characters would do next, of reading through the many poignant scenes, two of which included heart-wrenching tragedies that ultimately forced change upon the lives of the colourful, complex characters in both families. For a first novel, this Western is exceptional and well worth reading.  And with a raving endorsement by author Larry McMurtry, who can argue that Renee Thompson is a newcomer to keep an eye on in the future!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallace

Diamond Ruby Book Trailer

Diamond Ruby by Joseph Wallce is slated to become this summer’s runaway hit!

It is the heart-wrenching tale of a young girl in early 20th century New York who experiences a brief but profound bout of happiness while sitting with her family at a baseball game at Ebbets Field while watching Brooklyn play the Yankees. When Casey Stengel strikes a foul ball, she catches it and her great love of baseball is born.

But the joy and peace she experienced that day was not to last.  Soon, her entire family succumbs to the Spanish Influenza epidemic sweeping the city. A child herself, she is left to raise her two very young nieces. Forced to forage for food to survive, Ruby becomes adept at killing squirrels and pigeons to feed themselves. Living on the streets makes her shrewd, fearless, and audacious. Her long arms give her a strong throw and she soon learns that she can pitch a baseball with accuracy and greater force than most professional pitchers. Not only does her talent attract the attention of an array of friends from Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, it also draws gangsters, rum runners, and discreditable carnival operators who are all set to exploit her talent for their own benefit. What results is a page turning, gripping tale of wit, corruption, and ultimate survival that is unputdownable!

Based on true historical events, Diamond Ruby is an unforgettable character that both men and women will readily identify with. She is a young woman who struggles and overcomes insurmountable adversity. No sooner does she escape one evil wrongdoer, when another one appears or returns to threaten her and her nieces. And this is what keeps the reader enthralled to the very last page.  

Filled with heart-wrenching conflict, Joseph Wallace has penned a fantastic debut novel. An aficionado of baseball history, he has credibly recreated New York’s exciting 1920’s complete with all its famous personages and major news occurrences. The writing is unencumbered and invisible, allowing the reader to immerse themselves fully into the story. It is an endearing tale of an inspiring young woman who battles her way through a man’s world and wins. If there is one book you plan on buying this summer – then this must be it! It is sure to please.

Interview with the Author

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

FREE - A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

A Sicilian Romance is one of our all time favourite classic novels. 

The story is about the the turbulent history of the fallen aristocrats of the house of Mazzini, on the northern shore of Sicily, as related by a tourist who becomes intrigued by the stories of a monk he meets in the ruins of their doomed castle.

The novel explores the "cavernous landscapes and labyrinthine passages of Sicily's castles and convents to reveal the shameful secrets of its all-powerful aristocracy. Download for free: A Sicilian Romance by Ann Radcliffe

Monday, June 7, 2010

Contest Winner - Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran

A big thank you to everyone who stopped by to read and leave their comments last week during our feature of Watermark by Vanitha Sankaran.

We're proud to announce the winner is:

Soft Fuzzy Sweater!

A message has been sent to her so we can get the book sent out.

Again, we appreciate everyone who visited and hope that you'll stop by again to enter more exciting contets. 

Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

Shadow Song by Lorina Stephens

In the early 19th century, young Danielle Fleming is the daughter of a wealthy aristocratic mother and English overlord. Danielle is possessed with the gift of vision to prophesize the future. It is a gift shunned by English society, but one that will be welcomed in the future by a new civilization in a new world.  

In England, Danielle's family is plagued by her uncle who lives in the wilds of Upper Canada and is determined to destroy them. Bit by bit, he plunges Danielle and her parents into extreme poverty. After the death of her parents, young Danielle is placed on a ship bound for Canada to live as a ward of the man who she holds responsible for her parent's death and who has devastated her life. Soon after she arrives, she encounters Shadow Song, a powerful Indian Shaman who takes an interest in her and protects her.

For Danielle, life with her malevolent uncle proves anything but easy. She struggles daily to keep safe from him.  When his depraved morality and crimes are exposed, Danielle is forced to flee. She finds refuge with Shadow Song and his native family. In a clash of cultures, Danielle struggles for acceptance and comes of age in a foreign world.

Shadow Song is a deeply moving, highly descriptive emotive story about a young woman who overcomes adversity and finds true, meaningful love. The story is much more powerful than a standard romance, however. Lorina Stephens captures the essence of the harsh life of settlers in Canada and shows us the beauty of aboriginal life. One of the plotlines to the story is based upon true historical facts about the disappearance of four youths.

Shadow Song was a beautifully written story, one that was well researched as it pertains to the lives of settlers in the wilds of Upper Canada. Lorina Stephens' prose is lyrical and evokes emotion.  The tale was poignant with memorable characters and a story line that immediately drew me into its folds.  A wonderful addition to Canadian literature.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

From Mountains of Ice by Lorina Stephens

From Mountains of Ice by Lorina Stephens

This historical fantasy sweeps the reader into an Italian fantasy world set in the time of the Renaissance. At the center of this tale is the tiny kingdom of Simare. Sylvio di Danuto is a respected nobleman, the much respected family friend and advisor to Simare’s king. Sylvio possesses the ability to commune with the dead whenever he holds a human bone in his hand. Hence he is known as a “bone-speaker”. He makes bows of bone and many who hold the bows believe the spirit of the dead speak to them.  

Through a strange twist, the king is usurped by his son, Prince Carmello. The brash youth strips Sylvio of his ancestral home and lands, banishes Sylvio, and then proceeds to neglect the country and rule with cruelty and greed. After many years, for unknown reasons, the Prince summons him back to Simare.  Cautiously he returns, but soon finds his life is in grave danger.

Lorina Stephens pens a fascinating historical fantasy, but it is much more than a tale of adventure. It is a classic battle against good vs evil and the ability of one man to overcome adversity against an insane, power-driven ruler. The Italian setting gave it a sense of realism, which I very much enjoyed. The author’s writing style is lyrical and emotive, making the story enjoyable and credible with its vibrant descriptions and introspection. In essence, this is a grand story, richly told.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interview with Vanitha Sankaran

Welcome, Vanitha.  I wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading Watermark and how happy I am to be working with you on this blog and your featured author week. 

Can you tell us what your debut novel, WATERMARK, is about?

Certainly. I’d like to thank you for this great opportunity; I’m happy to be here!  Watermark is the story of how Auda, a mute girl kept away from the rest of society finds her voice through writing poetry on her father’s paper. As Auda searches for her place in the world, she meets some powerful, and often dangerous people: the town’s rulers, the Archbishop, a group of heretics, and a mysterious young artist who captures her heart. In looking for a way to express her own voice, Auda must figure out who and what is important to her, and what she is willing to fight for.  However, Watermark is also the story of paper itself and how it found a place in Western society.

What made you decide to write a novel about papermaking?

Paper has always fascinated me, even when I was a child. A blank sheet of paper offers so many possibilities for storytelling. My search for the story behind papermaking focused primarily on its spread during the Middle Ages. Papermaking was introduced to Europe, through Spain, at a time when the Catholic Church had a stranglehold on the masses. They were largely seen to be corrupt, but they controlled the parchment supply, and thus could control the flow of information.

But then here comes paper, which was far more affordable than parchment and offered the general populace a cheap means to pass along their ideas to a larger audience. This scared the church and nobility—the idea of a literate public was a frightening thing. Of course, the inclusion of paper in common culture had a variety of other effects, such as the move from oral to written storytelling, which in turn led to books that were not only didactic but could be written and read for fun!

The title Watermark is very intriguing. Can you tell us why you chose it?

The idea of watermarks plays a central role in the story. Like the colophon of a book, or the brand of a leatherworker, watermarks were used to identify who made a sheet of paper, what studio or mill it came from. It’s been hypothesized that watermarks were used for one papermaker to identify another as like-minded in thought and philosophy. And of course, Auda herself is marked by water—she is named for the river Aude, which had a huge presence in her life.

Other reviewers have commented on the tremendous detail in Watermark. Can you comment on the research that went into writing the book?

For me, the beauty of historical fiction comes from the way you can immerse yourself in a different world, learning new things as you experience them in the story. I have a strong logical side as well as a thriving creative side, so blending both talents made writing this book so much fun. My research took about four years or so and ranged from traditional book study, more adventurous efforts such as making paper on the balcony of my apartment using medieval techniques, to taking a trip to southern France in order to get a detailed sense of the time and place. I am reminded of a question I received early in my writing career: You talk about a vendor selling meat pies—how does he keep them hot? I thought: Well, I don’t know but I’m certainly going to find out!

I do have to say that in order for me to feel immersed in a scene, I have to write tons of description so I can keep setting and blocking straight. Not all of that makes it into the final work, but where possible, I try to paint a vivid picture for the reader.

What makes this a book that people MUST read?

The introduction of paper in Western society was the start of an inquisition by the people: who was telling them how to live, what to believe, how to act, and really, did they deserve that position of power? Society today is experiencing a similar upheaval. Anyone who has access to a computer can now reach out to a worldwide audience. Much like in our medieval past, there is a frenzy of excitement about the leveling of the playing field. And as the reader, we now have a world full of voices clamoring for our attention. As in times past, we now have to look at the criteria we use to judge the worth of a communication, whether we accept it as truth or distrust the message and the messenger.

Of course, I also think the story of Watermark is compelling in its own right, with characters that are multi-faceted and issues that are not easily soluble.

What are you working on now?

My current work-in-progress takes place about a hundred and fifty years after Watermark and is set in the city of Venice. Under the working title, The Golden Book, the story concerns the use of the printing press to promote Humanism, a philosophy that was hotly debated during the Renaissance. While the Church has little influence in the city at this time, Venice’s dreaded Council of Ten keeps an eye on all of its citizens, and takes action where it will.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and how readers can reach you?

You can visit me at my website,, where you’ll find an excerpt from Watermark, links to reviews of the book, and news about upcoming appearances. Readers can contact me via email at and find me on Facebook and Twitter (@Vanitha_S). I am also happy to appear at local book group discussions or to participate virtually via Skype or telephone. Please do contact me—I love to hear from my readers!

Thank you again for hosting me.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Watermark - Book Review

In Narbonne, France, in the year 1320, a midwife and her apprentice aid a woman in the desperate throes of childbirth. The baby lies trapped in her belly and the mother is faced with a terrible decision - cut the baby from her belly or both she and the child will die. But when the child is sprung from the womb, it is evident there is something amiss with the child who is born with unnaturally white skin and odd-coloured eyes. Believing the child is from the devil, the apprentice flees with the newborn to the river where she cuts out the baby's tongue, silencing it from ever speaking the devil's words.
Mute, Auda grows to womanhood in a time fraught with the dangers of the Inquisition. Her father, a scribe, skilled in the new art of papermaking, teaches her to read and write. Writing affords her an escape from the realities of her harsh life, giving voice to the thoughts she cannot speak. She aids him in producing the paper which is more affordable than parchment. Whenever he takes her out into the world, she is careful to cover her albino skin with hood and mantle for fear of catching the attention of the Inquisitors.

When their new art of papermaking comes to the attention of the vicomtesse, she takes Auda into her household as her personal scribe. Auda's newfound independence leads her into trouble, however, when she is accosted by a mob who believe she is a witch. A young artist comes to her rescue and love soon blossoms between them.

As Auda's writing grows bolder, the vicomtesse encourages her, even though her work is considered heretical and in support of the intelligence and power of women. But the arms of the Inquisition are long and Auda and her father find themselves captured, facing a bleak, almost incomprehensible fate at their hands.

Watermark is the poignant, multi-faceted tale of a mute albino woman who must navigate a path in a world fraught with intolerance, suspicion, and fear. Vivid with description and details, from the very first chapter, the reader finds themselves immersed in the story. The art of papermaking has been carefully researched and described, relaying a strong understanding of how paper replaced parchment and ultimately changed writing and reading forever. The terror brought by the Church and the Inquisition, is also a major source of conflict within the novel and is believably represented.

But it is the heart-rending tale of a horribly disadvantaged young woman that is at the true heart of this story. Papermaking and scribing offer consolation to her muteness and state as an albino, which force her to live in seclusion and on the fringes of a society who will never accept her. Through vivid language and in depth descriptions, Vanitha Sankaran nudges the emotion and credibility out of the story, making the reader truly understand the complexities of this turbulent era through the thoughts, dialogues, and actions of her characters.

Watermark is a delightful, engaging tale about determination, perseverance, love, and forgiveness.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

About Watermark - A Novel by Vanitha Sankaran

The daughter of a papermaker in a small French village in the year 1320—mute from birth and forced to shun normal society—young Auda finds solace and escape in the wonder of the written word. Believed to be cursed by those who embrace ignorance and superstition, Auda's very survival is a testament to the strength of her spirit. But this is an age of Inquisition and intolerance, when difference and defiance are punishable "sins" and new ideas are considered damnable heresy. When darkness descends upon her world, Auda—newly grown to womanhood—is forced to flee, setting off on a remarkable quest to discover love and a new sense of self . . . and to reclaim her heritage and the small glory of her father's art.