Friday, October 31, 2008

Review: Fiendish Deeds (The Joy of Spooking, Book One) by P.J. Bracegirdle

I received this book for review a while ago and thought it would be perfect in every way for a Halloween post. Happy Halloween everyone!!

Joy Wells lives in the crumbling town of Spooking with her parents and her younger brother, Byron. Spooking lies high on a hill overlooking the city of Darlington. The town has seen better days, most of the homes are uninhabited or need major repair. The shops on Main Street are all closed. The few kids that live in Spooking are bussed down to Darlington to go to school.

Darlington, down the hill from Spooking, is a perfect and unimaginative place. The houses are all alike and the people are all strangely cheerful. At school, the kids from Spooking are picked on and called "Spookys". They, in turn, despise the stuck up Darlington kids and call them "Darlings".

Joy is a smart and imaginative young girl with a pet frog who thinks he's a dog (he barks!). She loves to read the spine-tingling tales of her favorite author, E.A. Peugeot. Peugeot mysteriously disappeared years ago and was never heard from again but there is speculation that his stories might leave clues to what happened to him. In Joy's favorite story, "The Bawl of the Bog Fiend," the hero of the story is attacked by the monster in a bog that sounds very like Spooking's own bog which lies at the bottom of the hill. Joy is convinced the author actually wrote the story about Spooking.

Unfortunately, Darlington has plans for that bog. The greedy Mayor MacBrayne and his right hand man, the evil Mr. Phipps, have decided that the bog is the perfect place to build a water park. Joy is determined to do whatever is necessary to stop the destruction of one of her favorite places. She and her brother have some hair-raising experiences in her quest and a big adventure on Halloween night.

P.J. Bracegirdle (his real name!) has written an imaginative and exciting tale and filled it with characters both endearing and dastardly. It is a perfect story for everyone from eight to eighty and beyond! I'm looking forward to the further adventures of Joy, Byron and the town of Spooking. Book Two will be published in the summer of 2009.

Visit the author's spooky website here. (You can send a free Halloween e-card!)

Fiendish Deeds is published by Margaret K. McElderry Books. ISBN 978-1-4169-3416-5

Order Fiendish Deeds (Joy of Spooking, Book One) from Amazon

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Review: The Heretic's Daughter by Kathleen Kent

" A needle is such a small, brittle thing. It is easily broken. It can hold but one fragile thread. But if the needle is sharp, it can pierce the coarsest cloth. Ply the needle in and out of a canvas and with a great length of thread one can make a sail to move a ship across the ocean. In such a way can a sharp gossipy tongue, with the thinnest thread of rumor, stitch together a story to flap in the breeze. Hoist that story upon the pillar of superstitious belief and a whole town can be pulled along with the wind of fear."

Massachusetts, 1690. In a society of fiercely Puritan people every misfortune is attributed to the will of God. Crops failing, fires, storms, sickness, all portents from God meant to punish. Such an atmosphere made the perfect setting for a group of silly girls to instigate a mass hysteria, claiming to be the victims of spells put upon them by fellow neighbors and residents of surrounding towns.

One of those accused of witchcraft was Martha Carrier. This is her story and that of her family. When the smallpox came to their home town of Billerica, Martha, her husband Thomas and children fled to the home of her Mother in Andover. When people subsequently came down with the smallpox in Andover, suspicion was thrown on the Carrier family. It did not help that Martha was a feisty woman who said what she thought and confronted her neighbors when disputes arose. Women at the time were supposed to be quiet and subservient to men, so she and her family did not make many friends.

The narrative is told through the eyes of Martha's daughter, Sarah, who is nine years old when the book opens. Since Martha does not have an affectionate nature, Sarah doesn't realize, until it is too late, how great her love for her Mother is and that strength of character might be more important than affection. Through one selfless and heroic act Martha sacrifices herself to save her children and in doing so teaches them the importance of faith in oneself and the power of family.

In her debut novel, Kathleen Kent explores one of the darkest periods of American history and takes the reader into the realms of her own family legend. Ms. Kent is a tenth generation descendant of Martha Carrier and grew up hearing the stories of her ancestors. She has presented us with a rich and historically accurate tale that, in my opinion, is one of the best books of the year. She is currently working on a prequel, the story of Thomas Carrier before he came to Massachusetts.

Yesterday I was fortunate to be included in a Blog Talk Radio Interview with Kathleen Kent. It was a fascinating and absorbing half hour. You can listen to the complete interview by clicking the link above or the play button in the post below.

Visit the website here.

The Heretic's Daughter is published by Little Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-02448-8

Order The Heretic's Daughter from Amazon

Kathleen Kent Interview

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Review: Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby (plus GIVEAWAY!)

What could drive a brilliant young man to leave college eight days before graduation, without his degree, and return to his hometown to work in the family Mortuary business?

Being a genius is a difficult thing. For Theodore Mead Fegley, it has brought him nothing but grief. He started high school at the age of twelve, finished in three years, and started college at the age of fifteen. He has always been younger and smaller than everyone else. And, of course, the victim of taunts, ridicule and pranks for his entire school career. He is thrilled to go to college, where he thinks he will be among equals, learned individuals who will value his intellect. Poor kid, how wrong he is.

To facilitate the brand new start Theodore feels he is getting with college, he starts to go by his middle name, Mead. Unfortunately, the very first day he is reminded, yet again, that he is different from everyone else and does not fit in. Girls are too old for him, he is too young for drinking and partying, he has little in common with other young men on campus. His life is lonely and friendless. His only real friend, his cousin Percy, is off pursuing his dream of baseball glory. Percy sends a constant stream of postcards to Mead, letting him know what is going on in his life. But since Mead has no friends he doesn't really know how to BE one, so he never responds to Percy's postcards.

Mead excels at mathematics and spends his college career working on solving the Riemann Hypothesis, a 150 year old mathematical theory. When Herman, a wealthy and attractive fellow math student, befriends Mead it seems a little strange to him that this guy would want to spend time with him. But Herman offers to help Mead on the Riemann Hypothesis so, against his better judgement, Mead allows himself to go along with Herman's schemes. The results will force Mead to change, come to some important realizations about life and to see his parents and family through new eyes.

With Life After Genius, M. Ann Jacoby has written a wonderful story about the process of growing up. It is not enough to be smart, maturity lies in the ability to put aside your selfish concerns and do what is better for others, both people you love and people you may not like very much. She reminds us all about the discomforts of our school days when all we wanted was to be included, be liked, be part of the "in" crowd. You will fall in love with Mead Fegley, a sweet and awkward boy who learns the most important part of being a man.

If you would like to win a copy of Life After Genius, please leave a comment here with a short note about why you would like to read this book. You will receive two additional entries if you blog about this contest and link back here. One winner will be drawn at random. Contest will run through 11:59 pm eastern time on November 8. Winner must have a mailing address in the US or Canada (no PO Boxes). Make sure you leave an email address if you do not have an ID that contains contact information!

Many, many thanks to Miriam Parker at Hachette Book Group for including me in the Early Birds Blog Tour for this book and for providing the copy for the giveaway!!

Visit M. Ann Jacoby's website here.

Order Life After Genius from Amazon

Monday, October 27, 2008

Big Giveaway: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

Being a Greek god is not all it once was. Yes, the twelve gods of Olympus are alive and well in the twenty-first century, but they are crammed together in a London townhouse-and none too happy about it. And they've had to get day jobs: Artemis as a dog-walker, Apollo as a TV psychic, Aphrodite as a phone sex operator, Dionysus as a DJ. Even more disturbingly, their powers are waning, and even turning mortals into trees-a favorite pastime of Apollo's-is sapping their vital reserves of strength.

Soon, what begins as a minor squabble between Aphrodite and Apollo escalates into an epic battle of wills. Two perplexed humans, Alice and Neil, who are caught in the crossfire, must fear not only for their own lives, but for the survival of humankind. Nothing less than a true act of heroism is needed-but can these two decidedly ordinary people replicate the feats of the mythical heroes and save the world?

Thanks once again to Valerie at Hachette Book Group for allowing me to give away five copies of Marie Phillips' fabulous new book, Gods Behaving Badly!!

To enter just leave a comment here. For an additional four entries blog about this contest and link back here. If you don't have a blog, email four friends and cc me on the emails (click on the "contact me" link in the upper left corner).

Contest will run through November 10 at 11:59 pm eastern time and winners will be drawn at random. You must have either a US or Canada mailing address, no P.O. Boxes (they ship UPS). ***A note to "Anonymous" participants. You MUST leave me your email address. If you do not you will not be counted and you will have ZERO chance of winning. If I can't contact you, how can I tell you that you won?***

Good luck everyone!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Salon: A Pair of Moose!

Today was a beautiful sixty degree day. It was probably the last really warm day we will have up here in the North East until spring. So we went out for a walk in the woods. Guess what we saw?

Here they are, a pair of moose! Looked like a male and a female. They were HUGE! They just looked at us for a while, then went on their way. I was glad that I had the camera.

It rained very hard here last night, so the water was really running. Here's a stream we crossed. I love this season, everything outside is just beautiful!

So, I am a bit over halfway done with Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby. My review will be up on Wednesday, October 29 as part of the blog tour for Hachette Book Group (I'm hoping to have a giveaway, too, so be sure to check back on the 29th!).

Also on Wednesday the 29th I will be participating in a interview hosted by Hachette's amazing Miriam Parker. She will be interviewing Kathleen Kent, author of The Heretic's Daughter. The interview will be at 1:00 pm eastern time and you can listen here, live or at your convenience later. I'll be posting the interview here, too.

Hope you all had a wonderful late fall weekend!!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Review: The Victoria Vanishes: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery by Christopher Fowler

Something terrible is happening in the old pubs of London. Women are being gently killed in the middle of crowded and noisy nightspots. The first couple of deaths are not tied together right away. But then the similarities are noticed by Arthur Bryant of the Peculiar Crimes Unit and the hunt for a murderer begins.

Bryant and his partner, John May, are an unusual pair. They are in their eighties and have been solving London's oddest crimes for years. They are an anachronism, solving cases the old fashioned way (with Sherlock Holmes-like detection) rather than with modern technology. The Home Office has been trying to close their unit for years.

While walking home from a gathering, Bryant sees what turns out to be one of the victims leaving a pub, The Victoria Cross. When they later go back to investigate, there is no pub there. The property in question is now a grocery, the Victoria Cross has not existed for eighty years. This does not bode well for Bryant's employment status, the Home Office will definitely use his apparent hallucination as a reason to disband the unit. The case must be solved satisfactorily to preserve the PCU.

The entire team at the PCU is quirky and interesting. They work together well despite their totally divergent personalities. There is a creative mystery that has a satisfying resolution.

Embedded in the narrative is a lovely homage to the classic old London pubs, which are fast disappearing due to high property values and development schemes.

"The pubs of London are taken almost completely for granted by those who drink in them. Every single one has a unique and extraordinary history...these places hold the key to our past, and therefore present. They're and unappreciated indication of who we are, and a sign of all we've lost and remember fondly."

This is the sixth, and I think final, entry into the Bryant & May mystery series. I'll be going back to read the first five, this last one peaked my interest. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the adventures of these unusual detectives.

My thanks to the Library Thing Early Reviewers program for sending me this book!

The Victoria Vanishes is published by Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0-553-80502-4

Order The Victoria Vanishes from Amazon

Friday, October 24, 2008

Winners of Hollywood Crows

Many thanks to all of you for entering my first Hachette Book Group giveaway for five copies of Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh. Here are the winners:

Wendy at Literary Feline

Anita at i loves to read

Wrighty at Wrighty's Reads

Tamara at Books by TJBaff

A Real Librarian at Confessions of a Real Librarian

I emailed all the winners today. Once I receive responses from everyone, I'll send your addresses to Hachette and they will send the book out, probably early next week. If you won and haven't emailed me yet, please do so!

Heaps of thanks to Valerie Russo from Hachette for allowing me to do this giveaway!

Just a note for future giveaways (and I have several coming up, including five copies of Dewey, the Library Cat Who Changed the World starting Nov. 3 for the Book Giveaway Carnival!). If you enter under anonymous, you MUST leave me your email address. I cannot contact you without it and if you don't leave it you have Zero chance of winning! I hate to have to skip people!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Michael Connelly Interview

Little Brown Interview with Author Michael Connelly on BlogTalkRadio

I have had such a fun week! On Wednesday I was able to participate in a live interview with author Michael Connelly, hosted by the fabulous Miriam Parker from Hachette Book Group. My question is about nine minutes in, just click the play button on the above post to listen. It was a very cool experience!

On Monday I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from one of my favorite authors, Helen Hollick. She writes wonderful historical fiction and is the author of The Kingmaking Trilogy, a series about King Arthur, among other novels. I am reviewing a book written by a friend of hers, Rogues & Rebels by Jo Field. When I received Rogues & Rebels I had sent a note to Jo to let her know that it had arrived and then I added that I knew I would like it since one of my favorite authors, Helen Hollick, had written the blurb for Rogues & Rebels! Anyway, my note was forwarded to Helen and she sent me a nice email. It was such a highlight for me, it made my whole week!

Review: The Darker Side by Cody McFadyen

Meet FBI Agent Smoky Barrett:

"The current title for my position is NCAVC coordinator. NCAVC stands for the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime. It's headquartered in DC. Each Bureau office has a person in charge of NCAVC activities for that geographical area. Death's representative, so to speak. In Podunk that might be a single agent who also carries numerous other responsibilities. Here in Los Angeles we rate a full-time coordinator-in-charge -me- and a multi-agent team. I guess serial killers are like the rest of us: they enjoy the sunny California climate."

On a commercial airline flight to Washington, DC a young woman is murdered in her seat and covered with a blanket. She is found at the end of the flight and FBI Agent Smoky Barrett and her talented team are called in and assigned the case. They must be circumspect, the victim has ties to a political powerhouse and presidential candidate. Before long a second body is found in Los Angeles, seemingly unrelated to the first, and they find themselves on the trail of a serial killer.

When video clips of the victims start showing up on the Internet the pressure in on to catch the nutcase committing the murders before a media firestorm erupts. Turns out the killer knows a very deep secret about each victim and feels that he must make them confess their "sin" before he kills them. How does he select his targets? How does he know their most intimate secrets? And how are they going to track him down before he strikes again?

The plot of this thriller is fast paced and smart, the characters are intriguing and likable. Smoky Barrett has been through the ringer on previous cases and her personal losses have been high. Despite all she has been through, she is a survivor and is excellent at her job. She is complex and interesting and I can't wait to read the first two books in this series, Shadow Man and The Face of Death.

The Darker Side is published by Bantam Dell. ISBN 978-0-553-80694-6.

Cody McFadyen was kind enough to stop by my blog on October 1 for a fascinating guest post, go check it out!

Visit Cody McFadyen's website here.

Many thanks to Dorothy Thompson at Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tours for including me in the tour!

Order The Darker Side from Amazon

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Series. Do you collect any series? Do you read series books? Fantasy? Mystery? Science fiction? Religious? Other genre? Do you use the series feature in LT to help you find new books or figure out what you might be missing from a series?

Jeez, there's a series feature? Who knew? But the answer to today's question is ABSOLUTELY! I love a good series. Something about finishing a story that I really enjoyed and knowing that there is another one to come just makes me a happy reader. Some of my favorite historical fiction series are by Sharon Kay Penman, Dorothy Dunnett, Helen Hollick, Sara Donati, Manda Scott, Michelle Moran and Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (she has the mother of all series, The Morland Chronicles, covering hundreds of years and currently at over thirty books!). I also enjoy fantasy (Juliet Marillier, Terry Pratchett) and mystery (Elizabeth George, Elizabeth Peters). I'm not sure where it fits in but Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series is a fantastic, too. There are others, too many to list really. But you get the picture, I'm a serial reader!

Now I'm off to go see if I can find this series feature on Library Thing. Not that I need any more reading material....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review: Dewey, The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter

Winters in Spencer, Iowa are cold. Really cold. And on one January night in 1988 someone stuffed a tiny, orange kitten into the book drop at the Spencer Library. It was something of a miracle that he was alive when he was found in the morning. The drop was full of books and the slot had been stuck open, the frigid air circulating inside the metal box all night.

Vicki Myron, the library director, found him. The instant that she looked into his eyes the connection was made, they were bonded. The kitten was adopted by the library, staff and patrons alike, and named Dewey Readmore Books.

Not everyone was thrilled with having a cat in a public building. But Dewey won most everyone over. He was open and trusting and loved just about everyone. His winning personality made his residence in the library a huge success and soon the story started to spread. Over the next nineteen years people came from far and wide to meet the famous library cat and he got tons of fan mail.

This was a special animal that could sense which people needed his friendship the most on a day to day basis. The author, a single working mom with many health issues, was a frequent recipient of Dewey's empathetic presence, but she was far from the only one. Dewey helped many people, from the special needs child who didn't respond to any other stimulus, to the laid off factory worker combing through the job board, to the homeless man who came only to visit the cat and spoke to no one else.

Dewey did nothing but good in a place and time that sorely needed something to help it get through. The late eighties were hard on the farm industry and the family farms in places like Iowa suffered the most. This book is about far more than a cat. It is about a community hit with hard times who find the determination and cohesiveness to help each other when they need it the most.

This is an inspiring story and I loved every page of it. Be sure to check back on November 3-8, I will be having a contest to give away five copies of Dewey, courtesy of Hachette Book Group, as part of the Book Giveaway Carnival.

Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World is published by Grand Central. ISBN 978-0-446-40741-0

Order Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World from Amazon

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review: The Tenth Case by Joseph Teller

Manhattan lawyer Harrison J. Walker has, for the length of his twenty-plus year career, been known simply as Jaywalker. In court, the judge usually calls him Mr. Jaywalker. He is that rare criminal defense attorney who believes that a defendant deserves at least one person in his corner, even if the defendant is guilty as sin. This belief has helped Jaywalker achieve a high acquittal rate. Extremely high. Exceeding ninety percent, in fact.

In order to achieve this remarkably high acquittal rate, Jaywalker uses unconventional methods. Methods the court sometimes frowns upon, in the form of a disciplinary board who has decided that he must take a three year break. They allow him to finish ten of his current cases before his three year suspension starts. The first nine are relatively easy to wrap up.

The tenth case is Samara Moss. A beautiful young gold digger who is accused of murdering her wealthy older husband. The evidence is overwhelming, it seems to be an open and shut case for the prosecution. Except that she says that she didn't do it. And it is Jaywalker's job to defend her and prove that she has been framed.

The author has done a fantastic job of constructing a gripping courtroom drama. It is obvious that he is an experienced defense attorney himself and he creates an absorbing, interesting story that gives the reader all the flavor of being behind the scenes with the defense in a murder trial. Add to that a locked room mystery, a little romance and an easy to like protagonist. All in all, a very enjoyable novel.

I look forward to reading the second book in the Jaywalker series, Bronx Justice, coming in 2009.

The Tenth Case is published by Mira. ISBN 978-0-7783-2605-2

Order The Tenth Case from Amazon

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday Thingers

Today's question: Early Reviewers- do you participate? How many books (approximately) have you received through the program? Have you liked them generally? What's your favorite ER book? Do you participate in the discussion group on LT?

I do participate in Early Reviewers. Since I joined in April of this year I have requested books from every batch and have been lucky enough to receive three: Woman of A Thousand Secrets by Barbara Wood, The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stuart and The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler.

Out of the first two I would have to say my favorite was Woman of a Thousand Secrets, but I liked both of them. I just received The Victoria Vanishes from this month's batch, so it's too early to say about that one. I try to request books that sound interesting to me and I think the algorithm does it's thing well, too, matching me up with books that fit with my library.

I do participate in the discussion group but not to the extent that I should. I have gotten very busy with other reviews here on my blog and that cuts into my time a little bit. It is a great program and I really enjoy being a part of it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday Salon

It's Fall! My favorite time of year and Columbus Day Weekend is the traditional leaf-peeping weekend here in the northeast. We could not have asked for a nicer day today, in the mid sixties and sunny with clear blue skies. Perfect.

So, while I am smack in the middle of Joseph Teller's courtroom drama, The Tenth Case (which I am liking very much, by the way) we took a two hour walk in the woods to enjoy the beautiful outdoors.

We saw lots of wildlife! A bunch of chickadees and chipmunks, two blue jays, a beaver who slapped his tail at us, a gray squirrel, Canada geese and, best of all, some teensy little frogs who were about the size of my thumb nail. They were tan with mottled brown spots and were almost completely camouflaged by the fallen leaves.

All in all, a fantastic day. I took this picture so you can see the colors. We might go on another walk tomorrow, it is supposed to be another lovely autumn day. Well, since it is dark now, back to reading!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Review: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

In the summer of 1348 The Black Plague came to England. It started in the ports of the south and spread, along with panic and fear, throughout the country. Many towns closed their doors and refused to allow entry to any traveller passing by. Despite their attempts to avert the disease, huge numbers died and the population was reduced to lawlessness, starvation and poverty.

Karen Maitland's new book is set during this turbulent time and brings together nine strangers who band together for safety while fleeing north, trying to stay one step ahead of the spreading pestilence. Camelot, an elderly peddler of holy relics, is the central character and the narrator of the story. The other travellers are Rodrigo, a Master musician, and his pupil Jofre; Zophiel, a magician and sideshow man; Adela, a young pregnant woman, and her husband Osmond; Pleasance, a healer and midwife; Cygnus, a young storyteller with one human arm and one swan's wing. Last, but not least, is Narigorm, a creepy ten year old fortune teller. (It's no accident that the letters of her name, unscrambled, spell the name of an ancient Irish goddess of strife and destruction.)

Each member of the company has a story to tell and each is hiding a deep secret. Their journey will bring trials, despair and tragedy. This is a story filled with twists and turns as the fate of each character plays out. The author has drawn on ancient lore, myths and legends to weave together a haunting and eerie tale of suspense.

While the ending doesn't quite tie up all the loose ends, I never saw the surprise twist coming and I love it when an author can shake up the story just when you think you have it all figured out! This is a really different and interesting take on a historical novel and I really enjoyed it.

Company of Liars is published by Delacorte Press. ISBN 978-0-385-34169-1

Order Company of Liars from Amazon

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My First HACHETTE BOOK GROUP Giveaway: Hollywood Crows by Joseph Wambaugh

Seduction, black-market booze, burglary, and murder-not your ordinary fare for a division of peacekeeping officers, but Hollywood isn't your ordinary town. When a couple of LAPD cops find themselves caught up with a certain femme fatale, they're in for trouble. Meet Margot Aziz, the beautiful, soon-to-be-ex wife of Ali Aziz, proprietor of a Sunset Boulevard strip club. Ali has his diamond-studded fingers in multiple shady business deals-and he wants his lovely wife dead. Enter Hollywood Nate Weiss, a cop hungry for stardom and looking for love. Nate works alongside a squad of L.A.'s finest, including a duo of suntanned surfer cops, two tenacious women officers, and a wily veteran. As they all discover, Hollywood always deceives you, and love always comes packing heat.

Sound good? Hachette Book Group has generously given me up to FIVE copies to give away!!
I'll add another copy for each ten entries, up to five copies in all.
Leave a comment here for one entry. For an additional four entries (total of five) post about this giveaway on your blog and link back here. If you don't have a blog, email four friends and cc me the email (click the "contact me" on the upper left).
US and Canada addresses only (and you must have a street address, no PO Boxes). Winners will be chosen at random. Contest ends October 22nd at 11:59 pm Eastern time. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

Mary, Queen of Scots was in her mid-twenties and had only been on the throne of Scotland for a few years when the rebel lords banded together to force her to their will. She feared a forced marriage, rape or imprisonment and so she fled the country. If she had only gotten on a boat and headed for France, where she had been raised, or Spain, a sympathetic Catholic country, history would have turned out very differently. But she didn't. She fled south, across the border into England. She was under the misguided notion that her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, would take care of her and restore her to the throne of Scotland.

Of course, Queen Elizabeth could never have given true assistance to a rival for her own throne. Plus Mary was a magnet for every Catholic lord who would rather see someone of their own faith in power. The result was a very long sixteen year prison sentence for Mary that ended in her execution.

George Talbot, The Earl of Shrewsbury, and his wife Bess of Hardwick were the unhappy jailers for Queen Mary. They had no choice in the matter and never received any money for her keep. The result was that they spent their entire fortune, over the years, providing the level of luxurious furnishings, food, and lifestyle that a Queen is supposed to have. Only it is supposed to be provided to her by the taxation of a nation of subjects and the burden was too much for George and Bess to bear. Their marriage suffered from the strain. George's infatuation with the Queen didn't help, either.

This novel covers the first three years of Queen Mary's imprisonment in England. Several plots were hatched and one went so far as to raise an army. But they came to nothing thanks to the lukewarm support of Spain and the extensive spy network set up by Elizabeth's chief advisor, William Cecil.

I love Philippa Gregory's novels and always eagerly await a new one. To me, this one was a bit of a disappointment. It has well developed and interesting characters and excellent historical accuracy. I think the problem lies in the chosen subject. There had not been a historical novel written about Mary's imprisonment before, probably because it couldn't have been very exciting. In this story there were several plots hatched, a platonic love affair and some excitement in changing locations. The narrative switches between the points-of-view of Mary, Bess and George and that adds some interest, but the unfortunate fact is that the novel is just a little boring. I found myself really disliking poor Queen Mary, whose constant refrain of "I must be free" made me want to smack her. It is well worth a read for lovers of historical fiction and, of course, a must for Philippa Gregory fans, but it is my least favorite of all of her books.

The Other Queen is published by Touchstone. ISBN 978-1-4165-4912-3

Order The Other Queen from Amazon

Monday, October 6, 2008

Congratulations to the Winner of We Bought A Zoo!

Congratulations....BECCA! You are the winner of We Bought a Zoo by Benjamin Mee. Thanks to everyone who participated!

It's been a crazy week, with a family emergency and last minute trip to Florida! But all is well now and hopefully I will be getting caught up on my reviews. Tomorrow I will have my review up of The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory. Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend. The weather is beautiful here in New England and the leaves are turning. Fall is my favorite time of year!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Guest Post: Cody McFadyen, Author of The Darker Side

I recently started making the rounds of the various conventions and author gatherings that are available for thriller writers. This has included speaking on panels, doing the occasional interview, but most importantly, meeting other authors.

What did I find? That I should have been doing all of this from the start.

Writing is not, by default, a social activity. It’s not a team sport. There are aspects of writing that can’t be done without others, of course. My family puts up with me when I’m writing; they’re patient with my distance, my distraction, and my general inaccessibility. My agent gives me encouragement when I’m drowning in self-doubt about the current project, helps talk me away from the ledge, so to speak. My editors take what I give them and then make me turn it into the best book it can be.

But the day to day act of sitting down and making the words appear? That’s just you and you and no one else. For me, it is a doubt-fueled activity that goes something like this (starting with a Monday): I wake up and I realize that it’s a new week, and that it’s now time to start writing again. I think about this for some time. Maybe an hour. The dread builds. I have a cup of coffee, and I read (but do not answer) my email. I read three or four news sites, to make sure I’m up on world events. I have another cup of coffee. I think, again, about writing. I feel pretty sure that the writing I did last week sucks, bad. I consider going back to fix the writing I did last week, but decide that I’m using that as an excuse to not do new writing. I go and check the Amazon rankings on my previously published books and wonder what I’m going to do to make a living when this job goes belly-up. I finally sit down in my easy-chair with my laptop. I stare at the page for a while, and then I begin to type. The first few sentences are like pulling teeth. I consider that, in this moment, I’d almost rather be set on fire than write. I force myself to continue. Somewhere in there, the ball gets rolling, and for a few hours, there is no effort, everything is easy, and I enjoy myself, doing this, like nothing else there is.

Then, I break for lunch. I relax, watch some TV, get out of the groove. I return to my office no longer in ‘the zone’ and the morning process begins again. And this is pretty much how it goes, day to day, until the current novel is complete. Once the novel is finished, I give myself a day or two to wallow in self-doubt, to contemplate just how bad it’s going to be for my career when it comes out and everyone finally sees what a fraud I am. Then I dive into the rewrites, and that’s usually where I start to entertain the possibility that I don’t completely suck. I might be able to continue fooling everyone on this whole writing thing. I see my own weaknesses during a rewrite, but I also see my own strengths. I fix things, polish things, and get to a point where I feel I’ve written the best book I can. I send it off to my agent, who reassures me that I won’t be a laughing stock when I show it to my editor. I do, finally and with great trepidation, send it to my editor. I sit on pins and needles, waiting to be told that I have, at last, written a real stinker. I wait for that call to come, the one that will be filled with long, uncomfortable pauses, silences where my editor is searching for ways to break it to me gently that the book will have to be re-written from scratch.

Instead, of course, I get a collection of notes (sometimes more, sometimes less) written in a concise, insightful, and helpful manner, that point out to me different ways the book could become better. My relief is palpable. I’m able to start sleeping again. I fix the book, we go back and forth on it, and finally get to the point where everyone agrees it’s ready to be released to the public… and that’s another story entirely. I give myself a few weeks, or a few months, and then it’s time to start the next book.

What is the point of all this, particularly in relation to my opening statement? Writing is a solitary act. For that reason, it’s far, far too easy to become disconnected from the reality of publishing, which is anything but solitary. It can all seem so cerebral, something that happens in an internal universe and no other. That’s why you have to get out there, right from the start. Meet other authors, meet the critics, and most important - meet the readers. They don’t even have to be your readers. That’s not important in the beginning. But get out there and make the connection between your days and nights of madness and that end-point-reality of your book in someone’s hands.

It will open your eyes, I promise you. I made the mistake of being a little too ivory-tower at the beginning of my career. Not from snobbishness, but because I was intimidated. I didn’t really feel that I belonged. I should have gotten over it, and I’m glad, now, that I finally have.

Because I found out one key thing, an encouragement that it all boils down to: everyone is waiting for a next good book to read. People are reading reviews and searching bookstores and coming to these conventions because they love to read and are on the hunt for more. They’re not out there looking for reasons to hate what you write – they’re out there hoping you’re going to give them something good. It’s a subtle difference in emphasis, but it was the world to me.

I’m just wrapping up my fourth book. My third novel, The Darker Side, will be out by the time anyone reads this. I write thrillers that I put a lot of myself into – maybe too much, sometimes. I’m not sure I know any more about writing than I did when I started, but realizing the above, that people are out there hoping for a good book, has helped me immeasurably. It’s encouraged me in some of my basic approaches to writing: do what feels right, leave it all on the table with every book, finish every story you start. For any writers out there reading this who need their own encouragement, think about that. Focus on the truth that more people want you to write a good book than want you to fail.

I’m headed back to the easy chair now; it’s revision time.

Thanks, Cody for a fantastic guest post! You're right, we are so happy with a good book! As soon as we finish one, we need another one. Good thing there are so many great writers out there, we would be lost without you! I'm just grateful that there are people willing to put themselves through the pain of publishing a book so that we can enjoy it.

My review will be up on October 22, my date for review on the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tour.

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.