Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

Trencarrow, the Hart family's country estate near Penzance in Cornwall contains two nemesis for twenty-year-old Isabel Hart. The lake where she nearly drowned four years before, and The Maze in the gardens of the elegant manor house. 

It’s the summer of 1882, and with her forthcoming engagement to her childhood sweetheart imminent, Isabel attempts to put at least one of her fears behind her. However, when she summons the courage to venture inside the maze, she sees something she didn’t anticipate.

As other family secrets are revealed, Isabel is faced with the fact her vibrant, beautiful mother is desperately ill and her cousin, Laura, has developed a clandestine attraction to an enigmatic young man.

Isabel's growing doubts about her fiancé are exacerbated as she finds herself attracted to one of the house guests, Viscount Strachan. Isabel discovers the lives around her are anything but ordinary and that her destiny lies in her own hands. Will she see her way through the maze her life has become, or will she be driven further into her own world?
[Available 10th June 2011 from MuseItUp Publishing]

Anita Davison has written a compelling Victorian Gothic Romance about dark family secrets and the true meaning of love and marriage. Our heroine is Isabel who bravely enters the maze on her family’s summer manor house, where she was once lost as a child, and discovers her father locked in an embrace with her dying mother’s companion. She is caught between two men, one whom she loves and the other whom she is expected to marry. And this sets Isabel off on a voyage of discovery about herself and her family.

Trencarrow Secret is a romantic family saga with complex characters whose motivations are revealed slowly, as are secret liaisons and love ties. What I enjoyed most was Anita Davison’s descriptive prose and charming storytelling style as she slowly reveals long buried secrets, dark ambitions, and the love that exists between family members.

Isabel is a charismatic character with whom readers cannot help but like. She is a woman restricted by the strict Victorian values of the time. It pleased me to see that the author did not make her heroine feisty as is demanded by the romance genre, but rather, she made her authentic to the times, her behaviour keeping with the strict society she was subjected to. And that’s what I look for most in any historical novel is the accuracy and authenticity rather than following the current trends for the publishing industry. I very much commend and respect the author for that.

With rich prose and compelling characters, Anita Davison weaves a magnificent Victorian era love story filled with intrigues. Each chapter is more tempting than the one before it. Fans of eloquent and meaningful romantic historical fiction will want to savour every word. Not only are the historical details well presented, but the love story that unfolds is exhilarating and stunning. A deep, enriching lesson on the nature of life and love.

For those of us who love a touch of mystery, an elegant setting in an old English manor house, and stories with satisfying endings that leave you surprised – this one has all that and more. Be prepared to be completely enthralled with his novel!
Want to learn more about this fascinating heroine?  Here is an interview with Isabel Hart herself! What fun!

Isabel Hart
Trencarrow Secret

This is a beautiful estate, Isabel. How long have your family owned it?

Since my great grandfather’s time, I believe. We live in London, but I love it here and look forward to coming down every summer, even with its bad memories.

What are those?

Well, for one, The Maze at the back of the house is somewhere I avoid. I don’t like it much.

What is it about The Maze that frightens you, Isabel?

It isn't that bad, I don't have nightmares about it or anything. There's only one thing I have bad dreams about, and that's the awful night four years ago when I almost drowned in the lake. [Looks off and bites her lip] Anyway, we were talking about the Maze. My brother David told me there was a fairy house in the middle. So, on my sixth birthday I crept out of the house before everyone got up and went to find it.

What happened?

I got lost, it's as simple as that. The hedges were a lot taller then of course, and I was only small. Then a cloud passed over the sun and what with the darkness and not be able to find my way back. . . [Shrugs] Everyone teases me about it. 'Silly Izzy' they call me, as if I was still six, but I admit I've not been there since - not until the other day when... [Bites her lip again frowning]

The other day when what?

When I saw Papa and Amelia well - you know. . .kissing. [Blushes] I couldn't believe it, but when I told David, he made me feel I was being childish and that I was old enough to know Papa and Mama weren't in love when they married. They married for convenience, he said.

That came as a shock to you?

Well, of course! I always believed we were a perfect family, Mama, Papa, my sister Melody, David and me. It never occurred to me Papa didn't love Mama. They were always, so - considerate, and kind to each other. [Sniffs and fumbles with a handkerchief] And now Mama is desperately ill and brought Amelia into the house because she needs constant nursing and Papa. . .

Has your father fallen in love with her?

Oh, no, I don't think it's a serious as that! [Frowns] Or perhaps it is, and Amelia is trying to tear Papa away from Mama when she is at her weakest. Because if Mama wasn't ill, she would send that trollop packing in a heartbeat and throw her boxes into the street after her. I could imagine her doing that as Mama is so strong and was once the most glamorous hostess in London. If she hadn't fallen so ill, then Amelia wouldn't even be here and Papa. . .

What about Melody and David, are they as upset as you are?

David isn't. [Rolls eyes] As I just said, he laughed and said I was being naive. I haven't told Melody, not yet anyway, and I wonder if I should. She adores Papa and it would upset her dreadfully. She has children to care for too, George is only five and William is still a baby. No, I mustn't spoil her summer. She comes down to Cornwall for a rest.

Rest? Doesn't she have a houseful of servants, a nursery maid and a lady's maid. Why does Melody need a rest?

[Cocks her head] I don't know what you mean. She has fewer servants than we do, so has more to do than Mama ever did. Walter, my brother-in-law is a dear and quite successful in business, but he isn't rich - at least Papa said his people weren't. He's quite a bit older than my sister, [stares off again thoughtfully] I always wondered why Melody married him. She's so beautiful - tiny, dark and dainty, and he's well, older, and clumsier and rather fond of his food - I...

Walter's not a handsome prince then?

[Giggles] No, not at all. I was only thirteen when they married, and Melody was eighteen, so no one was going to discuss such an intimate subject with me. I wouldn't know how to approach it now, so I will probably never really understand. She doesn't seem unhappy though.

You have a cousin you are quite close to I believe?

[Face lights up] Laura, Yes, we were brought up together. She's a year older than I am and lives with her mother, my Aunt Margot, or rather Lady Radley. Laura's father died when she was two, so she's indulged in every way, but I adore her. We tell each other everything. [Fumbles with handkerchief again] At Least, we used to.

What do you mean by 'used to'?

Well, this summer, Laura told me she was in love with someone called Nicholas Tarrant. But it's all very mysterious. Although she insists Lady Radley knows all about him, Laura meets him in secret. She's very vague too about his family and what his prospects are. The strangest thing is, without any warning, this Nicholas turned up at Trencarrow and Laura didn't seem at all surprised to see him. Well, she tried to, throwing her hands in the air and saying, 'Well I never', and all that. But she forgets I know her very well.

So what is wrong with Nicholas Tarrant?

I'm not really sure. [Worries thumbnail with her teeth] And I don't mean to be unkind to Laura, because I love her dearly, but, well she isn't the prettiest of girls and tends to be a little plump with all the chocolates she eats. And Nicholas is extremely handsome and, well flashy and sly at the same time. Why would he be interested in a girl like Laura if she wasn't an heiress?

What about you? Do you have a young man?

[Flushes prettily] Well, I suppose I do really. I've known Jared Winters since we were children and everyone expects us to announce our engagement at my birthday ball. Jared is tall, has dark curly hair and is very handsome. All the girls I know admire him. I'm very lucky really.

Everyone? What about you? Are you happy to go along with your family's plans?

[Blinks] Me? I cannot say I've thought about it too much. Our families have always assumed we would marry one day and, well, I'll be twenty-one soon and that's late enough to be engaged, don't you think?

Tell me about your latest house guest, Viscount Strachan?

Henry? [Flushes deeply] he asked me to call him that. He's very different from Jared, who calls me 'Old girl' all the time and pats me like a dog. Henry, I mean, Lord Strachan, talks to me about art and his two sisters who sound lovely. He understands that I don't like the water and doesn't make fun of me about it at all. He never says I ought to have got over such a silly fear by now either like Jared does.

He sounds more your kind of man than Jared.

Oh, I don't think so. [Twists handkerchief in her fingers] Henry is always squiring Evaline around. She's Jared's sister. She's tall with those pale, delicate looks everyone seems to think means she needs special care, though Evaline's never been ill a day in her life. [Lowers voice] She used to bully me at school, but I never mentioned it as no one would have believed such a thing of the perfect Evaline Winters. [Isabel rises] That's enough about her, shall I show you the gardens now?

Yes, that would be lovely. And thank you for talking to me, Isabel. Enjoy the rest of your summer in this beautiful estate.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

White Savage by Larion Wills

No one knew how long the Indians had the boy; only that it was too long for Jimmy to learn to be white again. The local authorities locked him in their jail, beat him, and fed him garbage leaving him no choice but to run. Had Jimmy returned ten years later for revenge, to rob, murder, and kidnap a woman? Or did they push the man who called himself Clay into proving there’s a savage in all of us, dragging along the woman with him when he escaped again. His captive had to make a decision, keep her secrets hidden or help the White Savage.

Much like today, prejudice and narrow-minded people seriously affect a person's ability to find happiness.  Such is the case with Jimmy, who was taken captive by Indians.  No one knows how long he spent with the Apache, but his treatment among them was no better than what he finds back among the whites. The captive turns his back on the tribe at the cost of being pursued and having his tongue cut out...until a scout for the military, McGee, spies what's happening and shoots the offending Indian. 

Expecting to find the victim an Indian, he's surprised when blue eyes stare helplessly up at him. McGee, determined to help the young man, seeks medical attention for him, then leaves him in the care of his own sister, Amanda. With compassion and caring, Jimmy might stand a chance to thrive. McGee is determined to make amends for the wrong, Jimmy has endured. 

After he’s healed and caught stealing, Jimmy is locked in jail until bail money is raised for the doctor bills incurred when he beat up three men. McGee sees to raising the money, only to return to Amanda's house and find that Jimmy has disappeared.

Ten years later, Jimmy returns as Clay.  His nightmare life resumes when he’s accused of raping a woman. When she doesn’t deny the claim, Clay is beaten severely by the three Hoody brothers and dragged behind their horses toward town.  Struck by sudden vomiting, the brothers let down their guard and Clay escapes.  He returns to woman’s house to get his own horse, and finds she put something in the morning breakfast to make the brothers ill.  She didn’t speak up to clear him of the rape charges, so why is she helping him now? 

Whew, I could go on and on.  Larion Wills has packed so much into this book, you’ll discover why she’s pegged as a favorite author.  The broken English spattered throughout both dialogue and narrative will take you back in time.  This is my first experience with changing the narrative to match the dialogue, but I’ve always enjoyed anything with “savage” in the title, and this story is no exception.  You’ll be touched by the emotions, angered by the injustice, and satisfied with the ending.  Don’t believe me?  I urge you to purchase your own copy and judge for yourself.
White Savage is available through Muse It Up Publishing in several download formats.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When We Were Gods by Colin Falconer

Throughout the centuries, the legend of Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, has fascinated and intrigued. But it has also been clouded by speculation, embellishment, and stormy controversy. Thousands of years after her death, she remains an iconic figure, an enigma; her fascinating life the fodder for numerous novels and movies. Of all the books I’ve read about this notorious heroine, Colin Falconer’s version is perhaps the most plausible and realistic version. He has struck a suitable balance between circumspect and entertainment. 

Cleopatra was born into the Ptolemaic dynasty sometime in late 69 BC – August 12, 30 BC. She was considered the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. She spoke Greek and later Egyptian, flaunting herself to the world as Isis, an Egyptian goddess. After the death of her father, as was tradition for Egyptian royal families of the time, she married her brothers, but after their deaths or murders, she became Egypt’s sole ruler. Her liaisons with Caesar strengthened her power and she bore him a son whom she named Caesarian.


After Caesar’s horrific assassination, Cleopatra united with Marc Antony, handsome, powerful, and natural leader of men who loved the decadent life.

Marc Anthony

Together with Marc Antony they set out to defeat Caesar’s power hungry and ruthless nephew and heir, Octavian.


Cleopatra bore the handsome, charismatic Marc Antony twins, Selene and Alexander.

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

But the fates brought little luck to Marc Antony and he committed suicide after failed battles. Heartbroken, Cleopatra followed him to the grave by allowing the bite of a poisonous asp to kill her.

Cleopatra by Frank Dicksee

The novel opens when Cleopatra is 18 years old at the death of her father, Ptolemy. Intrigue and danger follows as powerful men try to usurp the throne of Egypt from her. My favourite passage in the novel is the very first scene where Marc Antony is introduced. I must have read and re-read that scene no less than ten times just for the pure enjoyment. Nothing short of brilliant and so much fun! The story unfolds chronologically, realistically, and with a wonderful mix of fiction and fact. I cannot state it enough how real the story seemed and how believable the author portrayed Cleopatra to the reading audience. Her cunning and wisdom was more than adequately captured, as was her devotion to her children, her country, and her love for Caesar and Marc Antony.

The author’s writing style is direct and easy, allowing the reader to immerse themselves into the story seamlessly. Cleopatra evolves as a sensual, strong, woman trapped in a world of betrayal and the constant battle for power and supremacy. I liked this author’s prose and the way he tells a story. He worked hard to present the facts, but was able to add enough color and individuality to keep me turning and turning the pages. The level of detail made this novel real as life itself. This is the first novel I’ve read by Colin Falconer, but it won’t be the last. I’ll be collecting all of his books and will avidly follow his career from here on in. Bravo Mr. Falconer! Thank you for the pleasure of reading such a fine book. Now, off to Amazon to acquire The Sultan’s Harem.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Edward by Mike Voyce

Edward is a bombshell; for the nature of Destiny and Fate, and the truth about Tudor history. Here are the Holy Grail, the Sword and Druid Glass; amongst love and death, in the midst of real danger. The author lifts the veil on a history more than five hundred years old, and the emotions he finds within himself. It isn't just what lies under History; the question is, what to do with magic and reincarnation?

I found this book intriguing. It is not a simple read and it will make you ask some questions about what you believe in regards to Tudor history, religious history and thought channelling.

I never believed Richard II killed his nephews and have never had a ‘love’ of the Tudors, so what the author ‘saw’ in his channelling is quiet credible to me, but then I believe in reincarnation, so I might have a bias there, too.
What I don’t believe is the story of the Holy Grail, or for that matter most religious ‘truths’. I’m not religious at all, but that’s not for me to talk about here. I feel the author, as Edward, did see such episodes in regards to The Holy Grail, and that is believable because the people of those times believed deeply in the religious stories. So for Edward to believe he had special stones, a special sword, etc, is highly likely true. But as a modern person I don’t.
The story is in two parts – the author in his modern life, and the (past) when he channels Edward. Both parts of this story are very interesting. The story flows smoothly between the two, and there are only a few small areas where the merge of modern and historical don’t work well for me and I had to double back and see where the change happened. When we’re deep in Edward’s time I was hooked and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Mike Voyce can write a story rather well and his story is well worth the effort it took him to get it written and published. If you enjoy historical fiction, you’ll like this book, and if you are in any way curious about reincarnation and channelling then again, this a book for you.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Elizabeth I by Margaret George

Margaret George has completed a gripping and beautifully written novel about the life of Queen Elizabeth I, the virgin queen of England. This sweeping biographical novel depicts the last thirty years of the queen’s reign.

Elizabeth I was born in 1533 to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn who would later be executed to make way for the king's next wife.

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

In this mesmerising novel, the story of Elizabeth's life is revealed through two first person narratives; that of Elizabeth herself, and Lettice Knollys, her jealous cousin and arch-rival; an ambitious hussy who continually schemes behind her back.

Lettice Knollys

The tale begins in 1588 at the start of the Spanish Armada after Elizabeth’s rejection of a marriage proposal from King Philip II of Spain.

Philip II

Deeply offended, and irritated by English progress in exploring the New World, the Spanish king launched his vast naval fleet to raid England. Known as a woman who ruled with her heart, the book more than accurately displays her compassion and humanity throughout the manoeuvrings of the colourful personalities of her Tudor court, the famine in England, uprisings in Ireland, and continued threats from Spain.

The author skilfully weaves in the subplots of various characters into her story. We learn of Shakespeare’s manoeuvrings through his work.

William Shakespeare

The treachery of her stepson, Robert Devereaux, First Earl of Essex plays a large role in the story. His covetous and deceitful deeds continue to cause havoc in Elizabeth’s life as she continually tries to settle the uproar he causes despite her struggles with insufficient resources to help her famine-stricken people. Unselfishly, she pawns her jewels and washes the feet of her subjects on Maundy Thursday.

Robert Devereaux 1st Earl of Essex

From start to finish, one cannot help but become endeared with Elizabeth’s generosity and tolerance. This biographical novel has everything to keep a reader turning its pages long into the night – intrigue, humour, passion, and innocence vs. illicit love. Beautiful prose lines each page, drawing the reader deep into Elizabeth’s most inner thoughts. Every scene fascinated me because of its rich detail. Although there were numerous characters named, the author knew who to keep in the background and who to bring to the forefront, thereby not creating confusion when trying to keep track of them all. It is evident Margaret George has completed years of research into the Tudors. An incredible novel which will no doubt receive high acclaim! Get it now. You simply must.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark


A sweeping novel that brings to life two love stories, ninety years apart, set against the rich backdrop of war-torn India.

In 1947, American historian and veteran of WWII, Martin Mitchell, wins a Fulbright Fellowship to document the end of British rule in India. His wife, Evie, convinces him to take her and their young son along, hoping a shared adventure will mend their marriage, which has been strained by war.

But other places, other wars. Martin and Evie find themselves stranded in a colonial bungalow in the Himalayas due to violence surrounding the partition of India between Hindus and Muslims. In that house, hidden behind a brick wall, Evie discovers a packet of old letters, which tell a strange and compelling story of love and war involving two young Englishwomen who lived in the same house in 1857.

Drawn to their story, Evie embarks on a mission to piece together her Victorian mystery. Her search leads her through the bazaars and temples of India as well as the dying society of the British Raj. Along the way, Martin’s dark secret is exposed, unleashing a new wedge between Evie and him. As India struggles toward Independence, Evie struggles to save her marriage, pursuing her Victorian ghosts for answers.

Bursting with lavish detail and vivid imagery of Calcutta and beyond, The Sandalwood Tree is a powerful story about betrayal, forgiveness, fate, and love.

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark is the interweaving of two poignant stories set in two of India’s most turbulent periods – the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857 and Partition in 1947.

The novel alternates back and forth between the two stories flawlessly. Using rich, descriptive prose, the author truly recreates the resonances and aromas of daily Indian culture. There is a pervading exoticism throughout that touches the reader’s senses. I especially enjoyed the mystery surrounding the hidden letters and the path of discovery the heroine ventured upon to learn the full story of Adela and Felicity nearly one hundred years prior.

This novel had all the hallmarks of a great story – mystery, conflict, and a fascinating historical period. Add to that some heart-wrenching scenes and a nicely complex plot, and you’ll find yourself reading long into the night with this novel. For an easy to read, enjoyable novel about some basic facts in Indian history, this is definitely one to read!

A Sneak Peak - Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

With rich prose and compelling characters, Anita Davison weaves a magnificent Victorian era love story filled with dark family secrets and intrigues. Each chapter is more tempting than the one before it. Fans of eloquent and meaningful romantic historical fiction will want to savour every word. Not only are the historical details well presented, but the love story that unfolds is exhilarating and stunning. A deep, enriching lesson on the nature of life and love.

Coming Soon

A new release, June 2011, by MuseItUp Publishing.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Alice in Zombieland by Nickolas Cook and Lewis Carroll

Nickolas Cook's novel Alice in Zombieland is a dark, charmingly twisted retelling of Lewis Carroll's original Alice in Wonderland. When Alice takes a stroll through an old graveyard, she encounters the mysterious Black Rat and follows him down an open grave. Hitting her head on the leaning tombstone, she falls and falls, seeing rotting bones and skulls and other frightening symbols of death before she reaches the bottom. That's when the nightmare truly begins.

While playing the well-known game of the "Drink Me" potion versus the "Eat Me" cake, Alice hits her head again, which causes her to bleed profusely and create a pool of blood. Poor Alice is then troubled by curious, terrifying changes in herself. She's cold, her skin is pale blue and rotting, and her teeth and hair are falling out. On top of that, she's desperately craving a taste of the various zombies, monsters, and other characters she meets during her journey through Zombieland.

Many of Carroll's well-known characters make an appearance in Cook's retelling, such as the Undead Cheshire Cat, the Zombie Mad Hatter, and the Dead Hare; but despite these characters' ghoulish charm, it is the Dead Red Queen who is the real terror of the story. Why does she insist on putting jeweled collars on all the zombies? What is the purpose of that strange box? Will Alice be able to keep her head during a game of zombie croquet? But the most troubling question of all is Alice herself. With these horrifying changes to her body and mind, will Alice ever be able to leave Zombieland, or is she its newest permanent resident?

Published by Sourcebooks in March 2011, Alice in Zombieland is filled with intriguing, yet disturbing characters and locations. Cook's Alice is both creepy and sympathetic, and the strange people and creatures she meets will make the reader both laugh and shudder. Zombieland's spine-chilling settings will make the reader feel as if they stumbled into a charming nightmare that they will never want to leave.

Cook is a master of retelling a classic tale with a delightfully dark twist, and he kept me guessing at what would happen next to little Alice and her newfound "friends." I believe this book is destined for great things, and I can't wait to read more of Nickolas Cook's fascinating tales.

Spun Stories Blog

I was delighted today to learn that Cynthia Sally Haggard, historical novelist, gave honorable mention to our blog, The Historical Novel Review. It is always a treat to receive feedback from readers and authors.

To read the full post, visit Spun Stories Blog!

I encourage you to spend a few minutes reading through the blog.  It's filled with tips and tricks for creating a blog / web presence, in addition to shared information on blogs Cynthia has discovered and recommends.  For a good pulse on the world of historical fiction, Spun Stories is a blog to subscribe to.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

A Mountain of Crumbs by Elena Gorokhova

A Mountain of Crumbs is a memoir about a young Soviet girl who comes of age during the 1960’s and 1970’s in St. Petersburg Russia – a country fraught with political struggles and vast limitations.

The story opens after World War II while Russia is well into the throes of communism. Elena’s well-educated mother is a trained physician with high expectations for both her daughters. Told through the author's own eyes, the memoirs provide the reader with a snapshot into everyday Russian life. It starts during Elena's childhood and the tale unfolds with innocence and vivid clarity.

The creative title of the book came from the author’s own grandmother who recalled that when her children complained there was not enough to eat but a crust of bread and a cube of sugar, she would crumble the food and sweet it into a pile and saying, “Look at how much you’ve got. A whole mountain of crumbs.” It was her way of making a little look like a lot.

While Elena’s physician mother, Galina, strives to make her way in a communist world, raising her daughters with strictness and high expectations for education, the author describes her world without bias and in a matter-of-fact style.

A Mountain of Crumbs is a fascinating memoir that reveals to readers a glimpse into the difficulties of growing up in a communist country. From the author’s demanding mother, to an ill father who dies far too early, it is a contrast of joy and sadness, struggles and success.

Although memoirs are seldom page-turners, this was a truly enjoyable book. The writing is beautiful and gives a good first-hand depiction of life in a country where nothing can be taken for granted. I thoroughly enjoyed this very private glimpse into the author’s own life and appreciate the passion with which she wrote every word.

An Interview with Elena Gorokhova

1. Welcome, Elena, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with our readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

It is a story about growing up in Soviet Russia of the 1960s and 1970s. It is also a story about growing up with a mother who was a mirror image of the Motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. Our house was the seat of the Politburo; my mother – its permanent chairman. It is about a mother-daughter relationship – a controlling mother and a willful daughter. It is a story of separation – from a mother as well as from the Motherland.

2. You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

The title comes from a game my grandmother invented in post-revolution times of hunger, around 1920. My mother was already six and knew not to cry when she had nothing to eat, but her younger brother, who was three, would wail from hunger. Food was rationed then, and every family member got a slice of bread and a cube of sugar. My grandmother would crumble the bread with her fingers for the three-year-old and say, “Look how much you’ve got! A whole mountain of crumbs.” But it is also a metaphor for the failed Soviet state. It seemed to be such a mighty, indestructible mountain, and it crumbled so easily in 1991.

3. What makes this book special to you?

What makes this book special to me is the hope of one person that she can find a place where she could think and act as an individual and not as a tiny cog in the faulty engine of the collective.

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

It is the story of a country; it is also the story of a family. It is a mother-daughter story, universal to all of us.

5. What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Truman Capote, I think, said that talent is a gift plus a whip. I can add that so much of what sparks creativity is a whip. You have a vision of your book – and it can come to you in dreams or while walking your dog – but what thrusts it forward is work. You chain yourself to a chair; you put in time in front of your computer. Work is the magic word, and nothing else.

6. What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

My biggest stumbling block is probably not wanting to offend my family by my writing. A memoir is always only one person’s perception of the past. “A memoir is an impression of your life,” said Gore Vidal. You deal with it by closing your eyes and telling the truth – the truth that you remember.

7. Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book.

About a year before publication, I sent the typewritten pages of my memoir to J.M. Coetzee, a Nobel Prize laureate and the finest writer alive today. I went to my local post office, put the pages into a cardboard box, and mailed them all the way to Australia. When I got home it occurred to me that I just mailed him my life. I was stunned by his graciousness - how quickly he responded with some suggestions and a beautiful quote for the book jacket.

8. Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

A memoir is different from a piece of fiction in how you plot the story line. You must be honest in telling the story, or the reader will see through the falseness. There is less invention and more telling the truth.

9. Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

I have a comfortable office with a view of a quite, tree-lined street. I sit at my desk, in front of my old computer, and don’t get up from my chair until something appears on the page. Then I allow myself a cup of tea and go back to stare at the screen, or the view of the street.

10. What is your current work in progress?

My current work is a continuation of A Mountain of Crumbs. It is about my first years in America, the travails of a stranger in a strange land.

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

I have a website, elenagorokhova.com. It has videos, photographs, and the latest happenings. I write a blog, parts of which are stories from my current project. Readers can contact me through the website. I love getting emails, and I read and answer every one of them.

12. What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I would like you to know that my writing comes from the only place that is true to writing – my heart. The problems I struggled with in Russia are the same problems we struggle with in this country – family, love, separation, sadness, longing, hope.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Congratulations to the winners of Claude and Camille!

Hearty congratulations to Allison Harper, Sharon, and True Book Addict for leaving a comment.  You've been selected as the winners for a copy of Claude and Camille. An email has been sent to you! 

Thank you to everyone who left a comment.  

Friday, May 6, 2011

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Back cover blurb:

Sometimes he dreamt he held her; that he would turn in bed and she would be there. But she was gone and he was old. Nearly seventy. Only cool paint met his fingers. “Ma très chère . . .” Darkness started to fall, dimming the paintings. He felt the crumpled letter in his pocket. “I loved you so,” he said. “I never would have had it turn out as it did. You were with all of us when we began, you gave us courage. These gardens at Giverny are for you but I’m old and you’re forever young and will never see them. . . .”

In the mid-nineteenth century, a young man named Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business in a French seaside town. Against his father’s will, and with nothing but a dream and an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, he set off for Paris. But once there he is confronted with obstacles: an art world that refused to validate his style, extreme poverty, and a war that led him away from his home and friends. But there were bright spots as well: his deep, enduring friendships with men named Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet – a group that together would come to be known as the Impressionists, and that supported each other through the difficult years. But even more illuminating was his lifelong love, Camille Doncieux, a beautiful, upper-class Parisian girl who threw away her privileged life to be by the side of the defiant painter and embrace the lively Bohemian life of their time. His muse, his best friend, his passionate lover, and the mother to his two children, Camille stayed with Monet—and believed in his work—even as they lived in wretched rooms, were sometimes kicked out of those, and often suffered the indignities of destitution. She comforted him during his frequent emotional torments, even when he would leave her for long periods to go off on his own to paint in the countryside. But Camille had her own demons – secrets that Monet could never penetrate, including one that when eventually revealed would pain him so deeply that he would never fully recover from its impact. For though Camille never once stopped loving the painter with her entire being, she was not immune to the loneliness that often came with being his partner. A vividly-rendered portrait of both the rise of Impressionism and of the artist at the center of the movement, Claude and Camille is above all a love story of the highest romantic order.

Claude and Camille is a novel about the great love between impressionist painter, Claude Monet, and Camille Doncieux, a young woman from a well-to-do family. Late 19th century Paris is a lure for aspiring artists. Despite his father’s wishes for Claude to take over the family business, Claude travels to Paris to follow his passion for painting. There, he surrounds himself with other aspiring artists like Bazille, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, among others. But the path to success is fraught with struggles. Claude and his friends economize and share living quarters, often going hungry or being evicted when they cannot pay the rent. It is a life of hardship that affects their lives in adverse ways, often bringing the couple closer or sometimes tearing them apart.

 Claude Monet and Camille Doncieux

Their hand to mouth existence, coupled with Claude and Camille's own faults, is what really makes this story come alive with humanity and poignancy.  It is difficult for me to adequately describe the evocative, but simple voice the novel is written in, which permits the story to rise forth with richness from its pages.

To describe art is no easy feat, but author Stephanie Cowell does so with splendour and vividness. I found myself running to the computer in order to look up some of the portraits described in the story. This is not only a love story, but a story of survival. The reader is swept into Paris to experience the hardships some of the world's most famous painters endured in order to achieve their success. Love, frustration, betrayal, and lust all take place between this novel's pages. This is truly a beautiful book and one definitely to add to your reading list this year.

Camille Reading
One of many paintings of Camille by Claude Monet

An Interview with Author Stephanie Cowell

Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?

CLAUDE & CAMILLE is the story of the young Claude Monet and the great love of his life, the beautiful Camille. As he struggles to sell his first paintings, Camille leaves her privileged life to share tenement rooms and poverty with him. He promises her everything with the wild promises of a young man, but before he can begin to obtain a little of the fame that would come to him, she dies young. Years later, now a wealthy painter in his water lily gardens in Giverny, he begins a search to discover all the secret things he never knew about her and the reasons she haunts him still.

You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

My editor and agent and I really struggled to find the right title. At first it was called “Water Lilies” but I wanted to indicate it was a love story. What inspired the book? Oh many things! I come from a family of artists; I grew up with easels and paint brushes and the smell of oil paints. I never thought to write of an artist though until I saw an exhibition of the early works of the Impressionists; I was inspired by their close friendship and how obscure they were back then. But more than that, almost all my close friends have been in one of the arts or another and there is often such difficulty to be recognized and to create that sometimes we have asked ourselves, “Is all we have gone through and put others through worth what we have created?” And Claude Monet in the novel asks himself, “Are my paintings in the end worth all the hardship to Camille? Which perhaps caused her death?” I leave that question to the reader.

What makes this book special to you?

I fell in love with all the characters, especially Claude and Camille. They had such a tremendous passion between them and such impossible circumstances. Young love often decides to ignore all realities of money, family opposition. It’s the most wonderful thing to write about! And I loved creating the Paris Bohemian world of 1865 of Monet, Renoir, Cezanne, etc. before anyone wanted their work. I loved creating the life of the cold high studios up many flights of steep dark stairs where so many brilliant works were created and no one knew about it.

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

Many people tell me how wonderful it was to learn how gifted, insecure, sexy, lonely and very handsome and totally undiscovered Claude Monet was in his early years, how desperately in love he was, so much that it conflicted with his painting. I have so many e-mails from readers who have told me they looked at his paintings in a wholly new way after reading the novel and that just thrills me. I am thrilled when I hear a book club has made a journey to a museum to discuss the book next to his paintings.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

I made up stories as a little girl because I was mostly alone. You know children (especially little children) have this wonderful ability to take a clump of sand and see a castle, or a bunch of pebbles and create family and friends from them and make up stories. Now I hardly dare go into a museum without three new novel ideas coming to me and practically persecuting me to write them. Who sat in that 18th century chair? Who walked up that medieval stairway? Was he sad? Who waited for him at the top?

I think creativity in writing comes from wanting to express what fascinates us, what haunts us, what we need to explain to ourselves in life. Just write and let anything come out; you can fix it later. My work is rough sketches and takes many drafts to grow up to be a novel. Love it and be patient with it. Your early work is a little child; you have to love it and feed it time and slowly it will grow in a combination of what you want and what you are.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

I think the biggest stumbling block is not being patient enough; I have to do things in my own time and in my own way. I discover novels rather than write them. So don’t look at your draft and yell, “Idiot!” at yourself but look for the few parts you love and start to coax rougher parts into a better form. It may take six months or fifteen years. I think jealousy is a problem and can stop us, but we are all unique. No one can write what you can write in your particular way. If you don’t write it, it won’t be there for you and others.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

I looked up school art teachers all over the country and e-mailed a bunch of them! And now in library readings with a power point exhibition of Monet’s paintings, I have promised to sing some French folk songs which Claude likely hummed as he painted. The singing author!

Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

I start with a paragraph or a brief scene; I am generally very taken with a character and a particular place in time…Paris 1865 for instance! I may write many scenes which are not connected at all. As the characters come more to life, I start to see the possibility of a plot and an ending but that may change. The hardest thing for me is pacing and point of view. I generally know a little about the character when I start and a little bit about the place and time. I may change the end and almost always change the beginning.

Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

I try to be up writing by 8:00 or 8:30 and write on average 3-5 hrs. I check a few e-mails first and then after about an hour I make some coffee. I like morning hours because I come from the dream state and the daily needs of my life have not yet become more important than the world of the book. I work on the computer and print out often to read and mark up, especially towards the end of a draft. I try not to go on line too much and see who is doing what on Facebook. I write in my pajamas. Sometimes someone rings the bell (I live in an apartment house in NYC) and it is the house handyman or a delivery and I am sure people wonder why I am in my pajamas with hair all messy at two in the afternoon!

What is your current work in progress?

I am working on a novel about the love story and marriage of the Victorian poets Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. She was nearly 40 and an invalid in her family’s London house when he fell in love with her (he was younger) and eloped with her to Italy. VERY romantic.

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

Yes! My website is http://www.stephaniecowell.com

What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I started writing when I was about seven years and wrote until my early twenties. I had several short stories published and won prizes in a national writing competition. I left writing because it was lonely I think, and it needed more work than I knew how to give it, and became a classical singer for quite a while. I sang a lot of high soprano roles in opera, all of which went into the research for my fourth novel MARRYING MOZART. I left professional music in my early 40s and returned to writing. I wrote four novels before I sold my first one. It’s often not easy to write and it’s not always a dream at all, but then nothing is. Strangers write me about my books and say the most beautiful things and I feel very awed and humbled by their words.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Book Giveaway - Claude and Camille - May 6 to 9

Book Giveaway!
May 6 to 9

I have three copies of Claude and Camille to give away!  Here are the rules and they're easy peasy lemon squeezy!

1.  You must be a follower of this blog.
2.  You must be a resident of the U.S.
3.  Visit sometime between May 6 and May 9 and leave a comment and tell me why you are interested in this book.

That's all!

Good Luck everyone!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Rembrandt Secret by Alex Connor

This story begins in the House of Corrections in Gouda, Holland in 1651, where Rembrandt’s mistress resides at the behest of her lover who has grown irritated by her insistence he keep his promise to marry her.

Geertje Dircx, having failed in her attempt to sue him for breach of promise, decides to exact her revenge by writing down the truth of hers and Rembrandt’s son, who, she claims, painted many of the master’s works and passed them off at his own to satisfy his greed.

In present day London, these letters have found their way into the possession of Owen Zeigler, an art dealer fallen on hard times who has too much integrity to use such damning evidence of Rembrandt’s duplicitous character to ruin his fellow art dealers. A situation which is bound to happen if some of the master’s works are subsequently declared as fakes. Or would he?

Then three people are killed, the first victim forced to swallow stones, the second is Owen Ziegler, who is whipped to death, and a third stabbed in the heart. These deaths are not connected, except by Owen's son Marshall who sees the manner of death resembles Rembrandt's paintings.

Then someone sends Marshall the Rembrandt letters in the post – letters that have been authenticated by the first victim – and through naivete or ignorance, Marshall unwittingly  puts others in danger by telling them about the letters, one of whom is his ex-wife, Georgia: the woman he still loves.

Marshall doesn’t understand the passion of possession his father experienced over these ancient letters written by a shunned woman, but when a fourth victim dies horribly, he decides the killings must stop.  His search for the culprits and the truth, take him from London, to Amsterdam and New York in a blind but frantic search for who is responsible. Then there is the question, what to do with the letters? Reveal them to the world and ruin Rembrandt’s reputation, or keep them hidden so as not to risk the crash of the art world?

Not knowing whom he can trust, but intent on protecting everyone who knows about the letters, Marshall tries to make sense of a world he knows nothing about. An elite, closed world populated with people who think nothing of cheating each other and the public. People like his father?

Although this is not strictly an historical novel, I wanted to include this one in my reviews as I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ms Connor’s research is meticulous and she delves into the artist’s life with fascinating details that make the story even more compelling.

Marshall Ziegler’s fast paced search for the truth, and his need to understand the world his father loved, make this a fascinating story where no one is quite what they seem and no one knows who the villains or the heroes really are.

Geertje Dircx’s personal account includes her love for her son who became ‘Rembrandt’s Monkey’.  Her story is so tragic and moving, and based as it was on real events, I could not help sympathising with her fate and the harsh treatment meted out by her lover. It horrified me how much power men had over women in those times, when speculation, rumour and lies could get a person imprisoned for a minor transgression with no right of appeal.

This book is an excellent read, and I won’t be able to look at a Rembrandt now without a chill running up my spine.