Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Spotlight: Blood Divide by John Sadler

Flashlight Commentary and Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours are pleased to celebrate Blood Divide by John Sadler!

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Gripping, visceral, and accessible historical fiction. The Battle of Flodden in September 1513 was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, in which James IV, King of Scots, and virtually the whole of his nobility and gentry were annihilated in an afternoon along with 15,000 soldiers. Five centuries later, the slaughter still occupies a core position in the Scottish nationalist debate and in the pantheon of heroic failures. This novel puts you in the heart of the action; you’ll feel the sweat and the fear, the curtain of red mist. The narrative covers April through September 1513, focusing around a handful of key characters: John Heron, Bastard of Ford, swaggering, violent, and disreputable, the black sheep of a good English family; Sir Thomas Howard, leader of the English forces and skilled strategist; Alexander, 3rd Lord Hume, leader of the Scots, bold but impetuous; Isabella Hoppringle, Abbess of Coldstream, hub of a web of influential women throughout the Scottish borders, a woman of significant influence and charisma. Laced with dark humor and fascinating period detail, Blood Divide reminder readers that political intrigue and human folly are timeless.

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The reader’s breathe will be stolen by the sheer amount of historical detail included with this novel and the grand scale of the struggle and story. - Sarah, Goodreads Review of Blood Divide

Really insightful for anyone wishing to understand the Glencoe Massacre, either to gain more knowledge or for historical research. - Miriam, Goodreads Review of Glencoe

A well-written detailed account of the battle. - Anton Tomsinov, Goodreads Review of The Battle of Flodden

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John Sadler is an experienced military historian, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and the author of more than two dozen books. He is also a much traveled battlefield tour guide covering most major conflicts in the UK, Europe, and North Africa.

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Check Out All the Stops on John Sadler's Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 26
Spotlight at Ageless Pages Reviews
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, January 27
Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, January 28
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection
Friday, January 30
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Sunday, February 1
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Monday, February 2
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Tuesday, February 3
Spotlight & Giveaway at Words and Peace
Thursday, February 5
Interview and Review at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus
Saturday, February 6
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, February 9
Review at Just One More Chapter
Tuesday, February 10
Review at Broken Teepee
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession
Wednesday, February 11
Review at Forever Ashley
Review at The Mad Reviewer
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, February 12
Interview at Books and Benches
Friday, February 13
Spotlight at Caroline Wilson Writes

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Touch of Stardust by Kate Alcott

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 14, 2015

When Julie Crawford leaves Fort Wayne, Indiana for Hollywood, she never imagines she'll cross paths with Carole Lombard, the dazzling actress from Julie's provincial Midwestern hometown. Although the young woman has dreams of becoming a screenwriter, the only job Julie's able to find is one in the studio publicity office of the notoriously demanding producer David O. Selznick—who is busy burning through directors, writers and money as he begins filming Gone with the Wind. Although tensions run high on the set, Julie finds she can step onto the back lot, take in the smell of smoky gunpowder and the soft rustle of hoop skirts, and feel the magical world ofGone with the Wind come to life. Julie's access to real-life magic comes when Carole Lombard hires her as an assistant and invites her into the glamorous world Carole shares with Clark Gable—who is about to move into movie history as the dashing Rhett Butler. Carole Lombard, happily profane and uninhibited, makes no secret of her relationship with Gable, which poses something of a problem for the studio as Gable is technically still married—and the last thing the film needs is more negative publicity. Julie is there to fend off the overly curious reporters, hoping to prevent details about the affair from slipping out. But she can barely keep up with her blonde employer, let alone control what comes out of Carole's mouth, and--as their friendship grows - soon finds she doesn't want to. Carole, both wise and funny, becomes Julie's model for breaking free of the past. In the ever-widening scope of this story, Julie is given a front-row seat to not one but two of the greatest love affairs of all time: the undeniable on-screen chemistry between Scarlett and Rhett, and off screen, the deepening love between Carole and Clark. Yet beneath the shiny façade, things in Hollywood are never quite what they seem, and Julie must learn to balance career aspirations and her own budding romance with outsized personalities and the overheated drama on set. Vivid, romantic, and filled with Old Hollywood details, A Touch of Stardust will entrance, surprise, and delight.

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I've such mixed feelings about Kate Alcott's A Touch of Stardust that I hardly know where to begin. There are things I loved about it, but there are things I disliked in equal measure.

I suppose I should make it clear that I think Alcott had a good idea here, several of them in fact. Problem is they don't make a remotely cohesive story when packed like sardines in a single narrative. I'm sorry, but someone needed to take a pair of scissors to this piece and break it down into two or three separate novels. Fleshed out and streamlined, I'd have easily given every one of Alcott's ideas four stars if not more and I'm one of the stingiest reviewers I know. 

I'm not exaggerating when I say Gone With the Wind is one of my favorite movies, so it should come as no surprise that I think Alcott was onto something in fictionalizing the details of its filming. I enjoyed the scenes Alcott created, but I couldn't help wondering why Julie spent so much time on set. Julie doesn't work for Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, Olivia de Havilland, Hattie McDaniel or Butterfly McQueen. I hate to point out the obvious, but Julie spends the bulk of the novel attached to Carole Lombard so her almost constant presence makes little sense in the grand scheme of things, especially as her employer is so often elsewhere. 

Speaking of Lombard, I felt the actress a vivid and colorful addition to Julie's world. That said, however, I didn't find her role in the story even slightly convincing. Carole has the glamour and personality, but her friendship with Julie lacked validity and her position as mentor seemed preposterous when Alcott's starry-eyed would-be writer has access to Academy Award winner Frances Marion. I understand the author's fascination with Lombard, but if she wanted to write about Mrs. Gable she should have let the actress take center stage. Marion plucking Ms. Crawford from an obscure secretarial existence would have been a better angle, believable and within the realm of Julie's ambition.

How Andy's story line failed to make the jacket description is beyond my comprehension. His personal ties to the conflict in Europe, the anti-Semitism he faces in Hollywood and his frustration with an industry that refuses to acknowledge the Nazi threat was solid gold. Alcott could have played that for days. Julie and Andy working on a script with the support of Lombard and Howard, battling to have their voices heard... I get excited just thinking about such a setup, but as it stands Alcott doesn't use the material to its best advantage and sadly regulates it to minor plot points that ultimately lack purpose or resolution. 

This review is turning into a novel in and of itself, but if you're still with me, please understand my concerns aren't limited to the story's construction. Alcott's narrative depends on an overwhelming amount of implausible coincidence and that bothered me to no end. Julie's first job in Hollywood just happens to be with David O. Selznick the day he begins filming Gone With the Wind? She gets fired hardly three pages in and just happens to bump into Carole Lombard who is so smitten with Julie's gumption that she immediately shelters the floundering Mary Sue under her protective wing? Excuse my impertinence, but gag me. The situation is impossibly far-fetched and even if it weren't, it bears far too much similarity to Tess Collins landing a position with Lucile Duff Gordon the very day Titanic sets sail in the opening scenes of Alcott's The Dressmaker. It's the same scenario in different trimmings and I was no more impressed this go round than I was the last.

I've other quibbles, but I think I've made my point well enough. As a novel, A Touch of Stardust has much to recommend it, but I can't ignore the poor structure of the story or its overabundance of plot. I don't mean to be harsh, but I think this one could have been much more effective if it had been executed with a tad more care and discretion. 

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“I love my work—I feel excited when it all comes together, when something special comes out of the whole messy process. But what good is it? We pump out movies on anything and everything. Here we are, doing a romance set in the Civil War, but we aren’t doing anything about Hitler.”
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

This Time Tomorrow: A World War One Novel by Rupert Colley

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: January 12, 2015

Two brothers. One woman. A nation at war. A compelling story of war, brotherly love, romance and betrayal during World War One. Vast in scope and intimate in the portrayal of three lives swept along by circumstances, 'This Time Tomorrow' moves from the drawing rooms of Edwardian London to the trenches of the Western Front and to the uncertainty of post-war Britain. When Guy Searight volunteers to fight with the British army in the early days of World War One, he leaves behind his girlfriend, Mary. While away fighting, Guy’s younger brother, Jack, seizes an opportunity to woo Mary for himself. Forthright and self assured, Guy has always looked out for his confident but frail brother and blithely promises his fretting mother that he’ll look out for him when Jack’s turn comes to join up. But embittered by Jack’s betrayal, Guy vows that when Jack has to face the horrors of war for himself, he won’t be there to look after him. When the brothers are reunited in the trenches of the Western Front, their thoughts are both with Mary. As Jack buckles under the strain of war, can Guy sustain his anger and allow his brother to suffer alone? A shocking event, catastrophic in its intensity and barbaric in its conclusion, forces Guy to re-evaluate his relationship with his brother, with Mary and ultimately himself. This Time Tomorrow: a World War One novel is a tale of love, loss and longing. 

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Rupert Colley's This Time Tomorrow was in impulse buy. I love war era fiction and despite its similarity to Private Peaceful, I thought the romantic story line had potential. The novel had a number of good reviews and I was genuinely optimistic going in which is probably why I fell so hard when the execution proved impossibly disappointing. 

Several reviews cited intense emotional drama and well-rounded characters, but I recognized neither between these pages. Take for example, Mary and Guy's relationship. The novel hinges on this affair, but the two are together only a few short paragraphs before Searight leaves for the trenches. Colley denies readers the opportunity to embrace this connection so there is no reason to get worked up when Mary is snogging Jack a few pages on. This happens over and over throughout the novel. The audience is told what the characters are feeling, but never experiences the development of those emotions. The end result lacks depth and appeared exceedingly superficial.

Colley's style was also difficult for me to get into. The narrative is very linear with little atmospheric detail or embellishment. The bones of the story are here, but it needed to be fleshed out. The narrative is also heavy with dialogue which would be fine if the conversations weren't wooden and stale. Nothing sounded genuine or authentic to my ears, a fact which greatly contributed to my lack of enthusiasm for the Searight brothers both on and off the front line. 

When all is said and done, This Time Tomorrow was a bust. Not unreadable, but not for me and not something I see myself recommending down the line. 

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For this, all of this, they had endured the hardships and depravity of war; had lived daily with indiscriminate death, pain, boredom and fear. For this, they had sacrificed so much – their youth and the illusions that come with innocence.
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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2015

The World’s Fair is nearing its end, but the danger in Chicago lingers. It's mid-September of 1893 and Eloisa Carstairs is the reigning beauty of Gilded Age Chicago society. To outsiders she appears to have it all. But Eloisa is living with a dark secret. Several months ago, she endured a horrible assault at the hands of Douglass Sloane, heir to one of Chicago's wealthiest families. Fearing the loss of her reputation, Eloisa confided in only one friend. That is, until she meets Detective Sean Ryan at a high-society ball. Sean is on the outskirts of the wealthy Chicago lifestyle. Born into a poor Irish family, becoming a policeman was his best opportunity to ensure his future security. Despite society's restrictions, he is enamored with Eloisa Carstairs. Sean seethes inside at what he knows happened to her, and he will do anything to keep her safe-even if he can never earn her affections.

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My experience with Shelley Gray's Deception on Sable Hill can be summed up in the single word: snoozefest. I know that is blunt and I'm dreadfully sorry, but I'm not known for beating round the bush and I don't intend to start now. I call it like I see it and the second installment of the Chicago World's Fair Mystery series had me sawing logs.

First things first, if you haven't read book one, stop reading this instant and direct your attention to Secrets of Sloane House. I haven't read it, but having jumped into the series at book two I can honestly say that a) I was well aware I'd missed something and b) I was disappointed with how many details of that something were spelled out in the early chapters of the follow-up. If you take nothing else from my comments, please do yourself a favor and tackle these novels as written.

Now I know you're getting a little red in the face thinking I'm unreasonable for giving a two star rating over such a minor frustration and I don't blame you. I'd be thinking the same thing if I were in your shoes, but let me quash your argument here and now because I'm just getting started. My next point of note, Gray's pacing. Deception on Sable Hill is slow. Glacially so. The tension depends on class conflict over societal rules and expectations which might have been nice if I hadn't seen it in a million other novels. This is trite, clichéd, and prosaic situational drama. 

Hold on minute, what about the star-crossed romance between Sean Ryan and Eloisa Carstairs? Forget it, instalove from the beginning. The Society Slasher? Largely absent, and when all is revealed, highly predictable both in motive and identity. The World's Fair? Historically Gray incorporates some interesting details into Deception on Sable Hill, but the setting isn't a central part of the telling. I felt characters flat and marked a distinct lack of cohesion between the various elements of the story. Nothing clashed, but the various story lines didn't complement each other as much as I'd hoped. 

At the end of the day Deception on Sable Hill wasn't my cup of tea. I anticipated most of the plot twists and didn't care for the cast. Stylistically, the novel was too light for my particular tastes and I was overwhelmingly dissatisfied with the lack of creativity I noted in the underlying themes of Sean and Eloisa's story.

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“I know many a hardened man at the precinct who would’ve flinched at the sight of a lovely young lady bleeding on the ground. Violence has a way of preying on a person’s soul, I fear.” He grimaced. “All I can say is that I haven’t become so jaded by my job that I have forgotten about the sanctity of a life.”
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Monday, January 12, 2015

Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman: A Mystery by Tessa Arlen

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: January 8, 2015

Lady Montfort has been planning her annual summer costume ball for months, and with scrupulous care. Pulling together the food, flowers and a thousand other details for one of the most significant social occasions of the year is her happily accepted responsibility. But when her husband’s degenerate nephew is found murdered, it’s more than the ball that is ruined. In fact, Lady Montfort fears that the official police enquiry, driven by petty snobbery and class prejudice, is pointing towards her son as a potential suspect. Taking matters into her own hands, the rather over-imaginative countess enlists the help of her pragmatic housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, to investigate the case, track down the women that vanished the night of the murder, and clear her son’s name. As the two women search for a runaway housemaid and a headstrong young woman, they unearth the hidden lives of Lady Montfort’s close friends, servants and family and discover the identity of a murderer hiding in plain sight. In this enchanting debut sure to appeal to fans of Downton Abbey, Tessa Arlen draws readers into a world exclusively enjoyed by the rich, privileged classes and suffered by the men and women who serve them. Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman is an elegant mystery filled with intriguing characters and fascinating descriptions of Edwardian life—a superb treat for those who love British novels.

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They say first impressions are the most important, but I have to admit Tessa Arlen's Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman didn't make the most of the moment. I started the book on three separate occasions, each time setting it aside for something else. I don't mean to be harsh, Arlen's tone just didn't draw me in and had I not promised a review, I'm not sure I'd have stuck this one out. Thankfully, I'm a stubborn mule and I hate missing deadlines, so I dug in my heels the fourth go round determined to come out on top. 

I'm not sure when exactly, there was no definitive moment, but somewhere along the line I got into this piece. Stylistically, the novel never truly worked itself into my good graces, but I ended up liking the characters and story a lot more than I'd expected. Arlen's dry humor added to the feel of the novel and despite my initial disregard, I ultimately grew to appreciate where Arlen took this particular story. 

The highlight of the novel was undoubtedly the research Arlen put into it. Politics, contemporary culture, it's all there. Folded into the cracks and crevices of the story, the details she thought to include created a genuine ambiance that I'd never anticipated from a debut author. 

There is a certain refinement in Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman, a form of storytelling that is far from common. I personally found it somewhat intimidating, but I urge readers to give it a chance, for it proved worthwhile in almost every respect. 

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“I can’t be the woman who is used as an example of indiscretion to future generations of silly girls.”
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Check Out All the Stops on Tessa Arlen's Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 5
Review at Reading the Past
Review & Giveaway at Mina’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, January 6
Review & Giveaway at Unshelfish
Spotlight & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Wednesday, January 7
Review & Giveaway at To Read, Or Not to Read
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Friday, January 9
Review at Mel’s Shelves
Guest Post on The Writing Desk
Saturday, January 10
Sunday, January 11
Review at Buried Under Books
Monday, January 12
Tuesday, January 13
Interview at Back Porchervations
Spotlight & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, January 14
Review & Giveaway at The Book Binder’s Daughter
Thursday, January 15
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Friday, January 16
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter
Monday, January 19
Review at Beth’s Book Book
Tuesday, January 20
Review at The Lit Bitch
Spotlight & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, January 21
Spotlight & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Thursday, January 22
Monday, January 26
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Tuesday, January 27
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, January 28
Review at A Book Geek
Thursday, January 29
Friday, January 30
Saturday, January 31
Review & Giveaway at The Calico Critic
Monday, February 2
Review at Book Nerd
Tuesday, February 3
Spotlight at I Heart Reading
Thursday, February 5
Review at Layered Pages
Friday, February 6
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

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