Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Cover Cliché: Diamonds and Rouge

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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Fraught with conspiracy and passion, the Sun King's opulent court is brought to vivid life in this captivating tale about a woman whose love was more powerful than magic.

The alignment of the stars at Marie Mancini's birth warned that although she would be gifted at divination, she was destined to disgrace her family. Ignoring the dark warnings of his sister and astrologers, Cardinal Mazarin brings his niece to the French court, where the forbidden occult arts thrive in secret. In France, Marie learns her uncle has become the power behind the throne by using her sister Olympia to hold the Sun King, Louis XIV, in thrall.

Desperate to avoid her mother's dying wish that she spend her life in a convent, Marie burns her grimoire, trading Italian superstitions for polite sophistication. But as her star rises, King Louis becomes enchanted by Marie's charm. Sensing a chance to grasp even greater glory, Cardinal Mazarin pits the sisters against each other, showering Marie with diamonds and silks in exchange for bending King Louis to his will.

Disgusted by Mazarin's ruthlessness, Marie rebels. She sacrifices everything, but exposing Mazarin's deepest secret threatens to tear France apart. When even King Louis's love fails to protect Marie, she must summon her forbidden powers of divination to shield her family, protect France, and help the Sun King fulfill his destiny.

British Occupied Manhattan, 1777. American actress Jennifer Leighton has been packing the John Street Theater with her witty comedies, but she longs to escape the provincial circuit for the glamour of the London stage. When the playwright General John Burgoyne visits the city, fresh from a recent success in the capitol, she seizes the opportunity to court his patronage. But her plan is foiled by British intelligence officer Severin Devere.

Severin’s mission is to keep the pleasure-loving general focused on the war effort…and away from pretty young actresses. But the tables are turned when Severin himself can’t resist Jennifer Leighton…

Months later, Jenny has abandoned her dreams of stage glory and begun writing seditious plays for the Rebels under the pen name “Cornelia,” ridiculing “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne and his army—and undermining the crown’s campaign to take Albany. By the time Severin meets up with Jenny once again, she is on a British hanging list, and Severin is ordered to find her—and deliver her to certain death. Soon, the two are launched on a desperate journey through the wilderness, toward a future shaped by the revolution—and their passion for each other…

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Nursing Fox by Jim Ditchfield

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: June 4, 2016

At the outbreak of World War I, Lucy Paignton-Fox enlists in the Australian Army Nursing Service and leaves her family's cattle station in the Northern Territory to join the war effort. During the Gallipoli campaign she serves in hospitals in Egypt, but when the Anzacs are posted to France she moves with them. A talented and spirited nurse, with dreams of one day becoming a doctor, Lucy finds more opportunities than she ever imagined: working alongside doctors and surgeons, sharing the soldiers' dangers, helping them through their pain, and making lifelong friends. But with war comes suffering. Lucy sees it all around: sorrow, disease and death. How long can she stay separated from it all? Adam Hayward joins the British Army after a devastating attack on his family. Accepted into the air force, Adam tests his luck in the cockpit fighting for those he loves. But with aircraft technology booming, can Adam continue to stay ahead of the game? John Mitchell's determination leads him slowly up the ranks. With more responsibility than ever, he becomes disillusioned with the horrors of war, but he can't help admiring the brave nurses who do so much to help the wounded men. Nursing Fox details the experiences of Australian nurses during the Great War. It honours their journeys and shows the impact that the nurses had on the soldiers with whom they crossed paths.

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I enjoyed the time I spent with Jim Ditchfield’s Nursing Fox, but I will not deny that I have mixed feelings about the book. To be perfectly honest, I think the narrative suffers an excess of plot and despite my appreciation for the material, I could help feeling frustrated at being pulled so many directions at once.

Don’t misunderstand, Nursing Fox has a lot going for it and reading the novel affords a great deal of insight to the World World I experiences of Australian forces both on and behind the lines. I was fascinated by the wealth of detail Ditchfield managed to weave into the fabric of the narrative and felt the material was exceedingly well-adapted.

That said, the novel alternates between three distinct points of views and while I found Lucy Paignton-Fox, Adam Hayward and John Mitchell quite interesting, I felt the rotation between them distracting and wished Ditchfield had limited himself to Lucy’s point of view. Lucy’s story arc was the most prominent of the three and I think the novel would have read more cleanly and felt more cohesive if the author had limited himself to a single protagonist.

When all is said and done, I can see recommending Nursing Fox to fellow readers, but I think it could have been stronger narrative if there hadn’t been so much going on.

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Lucy sat on an empty bed, her face buried in her hands as tears of relief streamed down her face. She thought back to the CCS. After all these years, all the bombs and all the shells. The fighting might be finished, but the war would never be over for her. She’d never be able to forget the hundreds of operations and the rows of graves that emphasised the failures.
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Friday, August 19, 2016

Cover Crush: Circle of Shadows by Imogen Robertson

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The blood splatter on the cover of Imogen Robertson's Circle of Shadows is a bit much, but I love the symmetry of this design! The geometric shapes catch my eye every time I see this image and I like how it sucks in my attention by extending past the figure at the center. The arches, pillars, and ceilings provide a nice frame and add distinctive and appealing quality to the jacket. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!


Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Colleen at IndieBrag

Interview with M.K. Tod, author of Time and Regret

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author M.K. Tod to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Time and Regret.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Time and Regret.
Many thanks for having me on your blog, Erin. It’s a pleasure to be here again chatting with you. The tag line for Time and Regret is: A cryptic letter. A family secret. A search for answers. And I’ve been promoting it as mystery + war + romance – hopefully an intriguing premise that will capture readers’ interest. When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battles sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her …

Where did the idea for this story come from? 
I love telling this story. A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip to France. We spent an evening at a café in the small town of Honfleur at the mouth of the Seine river. Shortly after the waiter poured our first glass of red wine, I wrote a few words in a small notebook.
“What are you writing?” Ian said.
“An idea for a story,” I replied.
Refusing to be put off by my cryptic response, Ian persisted. “What’s the idea?”
“Nothing much. Just thought it might make a good story to have a granddaughter follow the path her grandfather took during World War One in order to find out more about him.”
Ian took on a pensive look and no doubt had another sip of wine. “You could include a mystery,” he said.
Now, you should know that mysteries are my husband’s favorite genre. Indeed, I suspect mysteries represent at least eighty percent of his reading. So I played along.
“What kind of mystery?” And that was the beginning of Time and Regret.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Grace Hansen? What kind of woman is she? 
Grace is a recently divorced mother of two in her early forties. She’s had a successful career but has found it easiest to allow her ex-husband to dominate their marriage. Grace was raised by her grandparents – a loving grandfather and a strict grandmother who favored criticism over praise. I picture her as good looking but not glamorous with a slim build and dark brown hair (but readers are free to create their own impression!). Divorce has been difficult. When Grace discovers her grandfather’s diaries and the puzzling note he left for her, she’s captivated by the challenge of solving the puzzle and sees the trip to France as a chance to get away from all the stress. I think of her as stronger than she’s given herself credit for, someone who is awakening to new possibilities, a woman who is willing to fight for her family and ultimately to stand up for herself.

Grace shares a special bond with her grandfather. What can you tell us about Martin? 
We first meet Martin as a young soldier heading off to war in 1915. He’s tall and angular and has readily acquired the skills required to lead men into battle. With him as he heads overseas are three close friends: Bill, Pete and Michel. Initially optimistic and ‘gung ho’, the horrible conditions of war and the casualties involved gradually bring on profound anger and despair. We also meet Martin through the eyes of his granddaughter Grace and see an understanding, caring man who has successfully built an art gallery in New York. And through the eyes of his wife, Cynthia, we appreciate Martin’s loyalty and love.

Cynthia was a difficult character for me to appreciate, but she grew on me and ended up being one of my favorite members of the cast. What inspired her and her arc?
Cynthia is totally fabricated, not based on anyone I know although I might have been subliminally affected by Maggie Smith’s character on Downton Abbey! Cynthia is British born, raised in a family that always struggled to make ends meet despite the fact that her mother had been born into a wealthy family. Childhood poverty has left Cynthia striving for riches; family tragedies have caused her to be caustic and difficult. I think I will leave her character arc for readers to discover.

As a novelist, what drew you to this particular period?
I’ve been obsessed with World War I since researching my own grandfather’s participation in that dreadful conflict. I found it very difficult to imagine the man I knew as being capable of killing people and of enduring what soldiers had to endure. This is my third novel that concerns WWI – I like to think of them as my tribute to the sacrifices made by men and women of those times.

What sort of research went into Time and Regret? What sources did find most valuable? 
I could go on and on about sources! Writing Time and Regret was in some ways easier because I had already written two other novels set during this period. Nonetheless, I had to create believable scenes in the trenches and on the battlefield for Martin and for this I found the Canadian battalion diaries for WWI all carefully preserved on a government website. I read every entry for the 19th battalion of the 4th brigade, 2nd division of the Canadian army and knew exactly where Martin would be at any point in time.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
Looking back, I think the scenes I really enjoyed writing are those involving Grace and her grandmother. Those episodes allow both characters to be difficult, cantankerous, argumentative and so on. Rather fun to imagine and then create.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it? 
You’re asking such great questions, Erin! It’s a truism that opening scenes are always difficult – I probably wrote five or six different ones for Time and Regret. However, the scenes where the mystery culminates were the most difficult for me. I wanted the tension to build and build but also wanted to avoid going ‘over the top’ or being too clichéd in those final scenes. The ending was also a challenge!

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
I would have enjoyed fleshing out Pierre’s character more. He’s not a simple man and deserves more attention – perhaps a future novel! Also I had originally written more of Cynthia’s story as a young woman but had to edit those bits out.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Time and Regret and if so, what did you alter? 
I don’t think I altered anything to do with Martin’s battalion except the name of the ship he travelled on to France and the fact that in reality the 19th battalion spent several months doing further training in between arriving in England and embarking for France.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why? 
I’d love to have dinner in a cozy French bistro with Grace and Pierre. Not only would the food and wine be excellent, I have a feeling the conversation would be very interesting.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Time and Regret, who would you hire? 
Judi Dench for Cynthia, the grandmother.  Ryan Gosling for the young Martin Devlin. Hugh Jackman for Pierre (as long as he can do a reasonable French accent). Anne Hathaway would be a wonderful Grace.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Thank you for asking, Erin. And yes, I do have a new project in the works – based on two women who are nothing alike but develop a strong, enduring friendship. It’s set in 1870s Paris, a time of conflict and great turmoil for France and the two women are Mariele and Camille from Lies Told in Silence. In that novel which is set during WWI, Camille has already died and Mariele is a grandmother. My new novel – as yet untitled – has them as young women on the verge of marriage and, of course, many twists and turns will unfold.

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"As I settled down to read this captivating novel, strains of “As Time Goes By” filled my mind. Throughout this sensitively written and heartrending book about love, loss and redemption, the author takes us on a journey between 1990’s New York and the French battle fields of the Great War. Traveling smoothly between time and place, the writing is evocative and compelling, and with two points of view between recently divorced Grace Hansen and her grandfather, who fought in the war, we are quickly enfolded in a tale of family intrigue and mystery." - Elizabeth St.John, Goodreads Review

"I loved the unraveling of the mystery in this book. It really kept me engaged and I loved seeing the trip that the author took us on. While I enjoyed the mystery, I enjoyed reading Martin's journal entries even more. The author packs a ton of historical detail in so you can feel all of the things that Martin is experiencing throughout the book. I love reading about WWI and you definitely get a good sense of just how much soldiers were expected to deal with during that time period." - Meg, A Bookish Review

"M. K. Tods Time and Regret captivated me right from the beginning. The twin viewpoints the story is told from moves the reader from what Grace reads in her Grandfathers journals, and experiences as she retraces his journey through World War I France; and tells the story as Martin, her Grandfather, experienced it. The writing was superb, flowing easily, keeping the plot interesting and intriguing, while building the ever changing French country side in a way that made it easy to imagine being there." - John, Goodreads Review

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Hi - I'm M.K. Tod, Mary actually, the author of TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED. I have enjoyed a passion for historical novels that began in my early teenage years immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy and Georgette Heyer. After a 20+ year career in business, in 2004, I moved to Hong Kong with my husband and no job. To keep busy I decided to research my grandfather’s part in the Great War. What began as an effort to understand my grandparents’ lives blossomed into a fulltime occupation as a writer. I live in Toronto and I’m happily married with two adult children.

Website ❧  Goodreads ❧  Facebook ❧  Blog ❧  Twitter

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Good Time Coming: A Sweeping Saga Set During the American Civil War by C.S. Harris

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 19, 2016

I killed a man the summer I turned thirteen... Thus begins C. S. Harris’s haunting, lyrically beautiful tale of coming of age in Civil War-torn Louisiana. Eleven-year-old Amrie St. Pierre is catching tadpoles with her friend Finn O’Reilly when the Federal fleet first steams up the Mississippi River in the spring of 1862. With the surrender of New Orleans, Amrie’s sleepy little village of St. Francisville – strategically located between the last river outposts of Vicksburg and Port Hudson – is now frighteningly vulnerable. As the roar of canons inches ever closer and food, shoes, and life-giving medicines become increasingly scarce, Amrie is forced to grow up fast. But it is her own fateful encounter with a tall, golden-haired Union captain named Gabriel that threatens to destroy everything and everyone she holds most dear. Told with rare compassion and insight, this is a gripping, heart-wrenching story of loss and survival; of the bonds that form amongst women and children left alone to face the hardships,depravations, and dangers of war; and of one unforgettable girl’s slow and painful recognition of the good and evil that exists within us all.

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Civil War era tintype of a mother and daughter.
C.S. Harris’ Good Time Coming is an unapologetically graphic novel. It is an intense story that touches a number of controversial and deeply disturbing subjects. It incorporates moments that stopped me dead in my tracks and scenes that made me distinctly uncomfortable. It is also the most intricate, gutsy, and perceptive Civil War narrative I’ve had fortune come across.

Harris isn’t telling the story of the North or the South in these pages and she’s not preaching the evils of American slavery though all are shown to shape twelve-year-old Amrie’s understanding of the world. Harris’ thesis is much more personal and I feel her effort to explore the ways in which the women of the patriarchal South coped when ‘virtually every able-bodied male in their community marched off to war’ both poignant and profound.

Those who believe war crimes of the day were limited to the deprivation at Andersonville are in for an education with this piece. Harris’ work chronicles the realities of life for civilians caught in the crossfire of the war, the horrors they suffered, the questions they struggled to answer, and the skills they acquired to survive their circumstances. Harris’ research delves deeply into rape and sexual violence, but her investigation was obviously comprehensive and the book even includes casual references to incidents that unfolded outside St. Francisville, Louisiana such as Camp Douglas and the sacking of Columbia.

The women depicted in the novel are a diverse collection of individuals. They range in age and social status. Some are mothers, some are alone, some are widows, some are wives, some are white, some are black, some are both, some own slaves, and some do not. They have different interests and different views, but they are bound together by the brutality, chaos, and uncertainty they face. These characters are fictional, but the resolve and fortitude they exhibit is a testament to their real life counterparts and steel those women forged in the blood-soaked years of the war between the states.

I could go on about the admiration I feel for Harris’ characterizations of Amrie, Katherine, and Castile. I could write about how much I enjoyed the context and contrast afforded by characters like Horst, Mahalia, Fiona, Priebus, Leo, Bo. and Adelaide. I could write pages on my appreciation for the political dialogue, but I feel it best to allow the book to speak for itself on those points. Good Time Coming is the first Harris novel I picked up, but it certainly wont be the last and I can confidently say I’ll recommending this title several times over.

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We lived in a vortex of mounting terror, of atrocity followed by atrocity, until a kind of numbness set in. I suppose the only way to cope with a world gone mad is to pretend that madness is normal. The problem is, when that happens, your world tilts, distorts. And I’m not sure you can ever make it right again.
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Thursday, August 18, 2016

Time and Regret by M.K. Tod

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: July 8, 2016

When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her... Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

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Time and Regret is M.K. Tod’s third novel. I’ve both of her earlier releases and was eyeing her latest long before it was made available for review. WWII is my usual stomping ground, but I find myself increasingly fascinated with the Great War and, as such, couldn’t help bumping Time and Regret to the top of my TBR when Lake Union Publishing granted my request for an ARC.

The book impressed me on a number of levels, but I was floored by Tod’s illustration of a woman trying to move forward after an unexpected divorce. By coincidence, I intimately understood a lot of Grace’s insecurities and I was both impressed and appreciative of the authenticity Tod managed to convey in her make-up. Trends favor young, confident women, but Tod chose to feature a woman with relatable life experience and I think her novel stronger for it.

Secrets buried in letters and diaries are war lit clichés, but I really liked how Tod used Martin’s service memoir in Time and Regret. The volume contains many surprising revelations about Martin’s experiences at the Front, but I felt the way he repurposed it to convey his final wishes to Grace gave interesting insight into both his character and the relationship he shared with his granddaughter. I am used to relatives discovering the letters and diaries after the fact, but I found Martin’s active role as ‘game master’ refreshingly engaging.

Cynthia was a difficult character for me, but I grew to appreciate her very deeply in the end. I’m not used to seeing grandmothers portrayed as difficult, but here again I found myself applauding Tod’s unconventional approach. She threw stereotypes out the window and created a very unique personality in Cynthia and I like how the revelations into her character led me to believe different things about her character at different points in the narrative.

The climax of the novel was entertaining in its way, but I felt the intensity and emotion faded in the final chapters. I don’t mean to sound critical, but I appreciated those elements more than the mystery surrounding the paintings and while I liked how the story ended, I would have favored a more emotive conclusion. That said I greatly enjoyed the time I spent with this piece and would definitely recommend it to my fellow readers.

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If the newspapers reported the truth, if they wrote about the mud and filth and the body parts littering the ground and how young men look old before their time, would we still be here?
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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cover Cliché: Cerulean Masquerade

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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Laura Joh Rowland's samurai detective novels have enthralled tens of thousands of readers. Now the author turns her gifts for historical fiction to Victorian England and the famous and fascinating Bront? family with this critically acclaimed new thriller.

Upon learning that she has been falsely accused of plagiarism, the normally mild-mannered Charlotte Bront? sets off for London to clear her name. But when she unintentionally witnesses a murder, Charlotte finds herself embroiled in a dangerous chain of events that forces her to confront demons from her past. With the clandestine aid of the other Bront? sisters, Emily and Anne, and of the suspiciously well-informed but irresistibly attractive brother of the victim, Charlotte works to unravel a deadly web of intrigue that threatens not only her own safety but the very fabric of the British Empire. Will Charlotte be able to stop a devious, invisible villain whose schemes threaten her life, her family, and her country?

English Title: The Secret Adventures of Charlotte Bronte

Ella Cynders is a hired companion with a romantic bent. So when she switches places with her charge--who is determined to find true love and elope--it is Ella who falls head over heals in love with the very eligible Viscount Ashe. In one masked night, the viscount and Ella find passion and romance, and then tragically are whisked apart before the midnight unmasking. Now five years later, Ella has once again found a way to steal inside the coveted ball, but can she rekindle the magic they found together before her deception is unmasked?

This story charts the tragic romance between the dashing but doomed James Scott, Duke of Monmouth and the virtuous Lady Henrietta Wentworth. Monmouth, eldest illegitimate son of King Charles II, is already married and infamous for his womanising ways. Henrietta is engaged to another. Despite the dangers, Henrietta finds she cannot resist him. When his father dies, the malleable Monmouth falls prey to schemes, plots and rebellion that will surely lead to the Tower.

His Last Mistress is a passionate, sometimes explicit, carefully researched and ultimately moving story of love and loss, set against a backdrop of dangerous political unrest, brutal religious tensions, and the looming question of who will be the next King.

- one graduate student who wants to change history;
- one dead -- and now forgotten -- playwright who did change history;
- the colorful and turbulent times of the English Restoration;
- one magic mirror.

Mix thoroughly, and you have a Chameleon in a Mirror.

Billie Armstrong has long wanted to give Aphra Behn, the first professional woman writer in English, the prominence she deserves. But when Billie accidentally activates the magical properties of a baroque mirror, propelling herself into the seventeenth century, she gets more than she bargained for. What develops is an unwilling masquerade, a tale of license, love and literature, as Billie does her best to survive in a strange era and ensure Aphra’s literary survival in the future.

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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 

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