Monday, October 27, 2014

Interview with Deanna Raybourn, author of Night of a Thousand Stars

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Deanna Raybourn to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her latest release, Night of a Thousand Stars. 

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Deanna. Great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Night of a Thousand Stars. 
Thanks for having me! NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS is a1920s adventure story featuring a runaway bride in search of the man who helped her escape her society wedding—a man who might have put his life in peril by trying to help her.

What inspired you to write this story? Where did it start? 
It had its roots in my previous book, CITY OF JASMINE. The lead male character in that novel, Gabriel Starke, even has a cameo in NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS. I realised when I wrote JASMINE that there was so much more to explore in that part of the world, and I had set up a long story arc I wanted to pick up again. STARS gave me a chance to push that further and also tie in some characters from my Victorian Lady Julia Grey series which was tremendous fun.

What was your favorite aspect of writing a story set in the Jazz Age? 
The Jazz Age offers an embarrassment of riches. It was a time of incalculable social change—there were the aftereffects of the Great War, socially,  politically, historically. There were new developments in technology and travel, and the role of women was changing on an almost daily basis. Manners and opportunities were evolving—even the clothes were glorious!

What theme do you hope resonates with readers of Night of a Thousand Stars? 
Poppy’s story is very much about bucking expectations to be your own person—wherever that leads. Whatever happens, Poppy is true to herself, and I think that’s essential to happiness.

Many readers have praised your heroine. What kind of woman is Poppy Hammond and why do you think she holds so much appeal? 
Poppy is a very modern girl. She is right on the cusp of adulthood, and she chooses this particular moment in her life to make that leap out of the expected and into something completely new. She is intrepid and brave and fiercely loyal, and I think that’s why readers like her so much. I also think they respond to the fact that she has no plan; she is clearly making it all up as she goes along.

Without giving too much away, what can you tell us about Sebastian Cantrip? 
That his name isn’t Sebastian Cantrip! It’s apparent early on that this is a pseudonym and that what you see with Sebastian is definitely not all you get…he has many hidden talents, and he is definitely not  your usual English clergyman.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
The opening passage where Sebastian helps Poppy run away from her wedding was especially fun. Their conversation is so outrageously in appropriate—entirely Poppy’s fault!—that I was cracking up the entire time I wrote it. There’s a discussion of “sex-tides” that I found enormously enjoyable. 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
Oddly enough, the opening scene—the one I enjoyed so much! I had originally written that as the opening to CITY OF JASMINE, and for six weeks, I wrote and rewrote it and still wasn’t happy. So I scrapped it and wrote an entirely new opening to JASMINE, but I kept the idea of the runaway bride. It turns out that the scene that was thoroughly wrong for JASMINE was just perfect for NIGHT OF A THOUSAND STARS. It was a case of trying to make a heroine do something out of character just to fit the plot, and it kept biting me until I realised that and cut it. It kept reading ‘sad’ at the beginning of JASMINE, which is not at ALL what I wanted. When I used the scene in STARS instead, it immediately became comic because Poppy has an outrageous sense of humour. And then it worked precisely the way I wanted it to. I don’t usually advocated rewriting, but I’ve found if I can get my opening, the rest falls into place. Writing that same scene for six weeks gave me a chance to figure out exactly who the heroine of JASMINE was—and that she would never run away from a wedding!

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 with or expanded on?
Aunt Dove from CITY OF JASMINE. I absolutely adore her, and she had to be offstage for a good part of the action. I was able to give her a brief scene in the prequel novella, WHISPER OF JASMINE, but she really needed a project of her own. She ended up being the inspiration for my new lead series character, an adventuresome lepidopterist with Aunt Dove’s broadminded view of the world!

Historical novelists frequently have to adjustment facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Night of a Thousand Stars and if so, what did you alter and why? 
I never change history. I will alter my plot if necessary, but not the facts. It’s very much a personal call for an author how much they will change, and I enjoy the challenge of making my timeline work WITH history instead of the other way around. And sometimes it leads to very interesting developments that are entirely serendipitous. In my current manuscript, I have the heroine away from England during a crucial point in her sidekick’s life; I just realised that during that period of time, there was a cataclysmic event in the part of the world where I wanted to put her. That gives me a chance to push her character in a direction I wouldn’t have thought to do without history giving that nudge. I can explore how she reacts to this event, how it shapes her going forward, and how she uses it to push herself to live in the moment. 

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? 
Portia, Lady Bettiscombe. She’s ended up being a major foil to Lady Julia Grey but without revealing everything about her character. She still has loads of secrets, and I would love to spend time figuring out all about her. There are many questions I haven’t asked myself about why she is the way she is—and those would be interesting to finally answer.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast of actors to play the primary roles in a screen adaptation of your work, who would you hire? 
Tom Hiddleston and whoever he cares to bring. He has the most adorable joie de vivre!

Okay, we've talked a lot about your book. Let's switch gears and talk a little bit about you. How would describe your writing process? 
I’m an organised pantser. I have a general outline and several main points when I begin. As I work my way through, I flesh it out, figuring how to link the points as I go. Once the first draft is done, I prefer to let it sit a few weeks and then redraft, adding flesh to the bones. It isn’t always possible to have that resting time—I write very close to my deadlines. I write fast, but I don’t like to start early. Instead I read and plot and make notes and think. Then I panic and write. I am better under pressure because then I don’t overthink.

Who are your favorite authors? 
My short list would have to include Elizabeth Peters, Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Jane Austen, Stella Gibbons, E. M. Delafield, Sarah Caudwell. 

What are you currently reading? 
I just finished MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL by Ashley Weaver. Highly recommended—it was charming!

What do you like to do when you're not writing? Any hobbies? 
No. I’m astonishingly lazy. I prefer to putter—I’ll play with knitting or art but I don’t actually aspire to produce anything. I love to travel and manage a fair bit of that. Otherwise it’s reading, vintage movies, and spending time with people I adore.

Where do you stand on the coffee or tea debate? 
Tea! The only time I’ve ever drunk coffee was on a fishing boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico when I was seven. I generally stick to Earl Grey or Lapsang souchong. 

And finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
I am just finishing up the first novel in my new Victorian mystery series for NAL/Penguin! My sleuthing heroine is a globe-trotting butterfly hunter with a penchant for handsome men and unsolved mysteries…The first book is tentatively scheduled for release in autumn 2015. 

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A sixth-generation native Texan, Deanna Raybourn grew up in San Antonio, where she met her college sweetheart. She married him on her graduation day and went on to teach high school English and history. During summer vacation at the age of twenty-three, she wrote her first novel. After three years as a teacher, Deanna left education to have a baby and pursue writing full-time.

Deanna Raybourn is the author of the bestselling and award-winning Lady Julia series, as well as, The Dead Travel Fast, A Spear of Summer Grass, and City of Jasmine.

Website ❧   Blog ❧   Facebook ❧   Twitter ❧   Goodreads

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"Night of A Thousand Stars brims over with romance, adventure, suspense and humour. I wish someone would make it into a movie!" - Kate Forsyth, bestselling author of BITTER GREENS

"Raybourn's first-class storytelling is evident....Readers will quickly find themselves embarking on an unforgettable journey that fans both old and new are sure to savor." - Library Journal on City of Jasmine

"Raybourn skillfully balances humor and earnest, deadly drama, creating well-drawn characters and a rich setting." - Publishers Weekly on Dark Road to Darjeeling

"From sweetly touching moments requiring tissues to hot-blooded hunts for prey of both two- and four-legged varieties, this book elicits the widest range of emotions, and does it with style." - Library Journal on A Spear of Summer Grass

"With a strong and unique voice, Deanna Raybourn creates unforgettable characters in a richly detailed world. This is storytelling at its most compelling." - Nora Roberts, #1 New York Times bestselling author

"[A] perfectly executed debut... Deft historical detailing [and] sparkling first-person narration." - Publishers Weekly on Silent in the Grave, starred review

"A sassy heroine and a masterful, secretive hero. Fans of romantic mystery could ask no more-except the promised sequel." - Kirkus Reviews on Silent in the Grave

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Format: Print &eBook
Publication Date: September 30, 2014
Released by: Harlequin MIRA
ISBN-13: 978-0778317753
Length: 368 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

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Check Out All the Stops on Deanna Raybourn's Night of a Thousand Stars Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 29
Review & Giveaway at Bookish
Tuesday, September 30
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, October 1
Spotlight at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Thursday, October 2
Review at Ramblings From This Chick
Friday, October 3
Review at Book Babe
Monday, October 6
Review at Unabridged Chick
Spotlight & Giveaway at Reading Lark
Tuesday, October 7
Review at Candace’s Book Blog
Wednesday, October 8
Review at Good Books and Good Wine
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, October 9
Excerpt at A Book Geek
Guest Post & Giveaway at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, October 13
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, October 14
Review at Reading the Past
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Wednesday, October 15
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at WTF Are You Reading?
Thursday, October 16
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Friday, October 17
Interview & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Monday, October 20
Review at The Life & Times of a Book Addict
Excerpt at Historical Fiction Connection
Tuesday, October 21
Review & Giveaway at Bookshelf Fantasies
Spotlight & Giveaway at Susan Heim on Writing
Wednesday, October 22
Review, Excerpt & Giveaway at Just One More Chapter
Thursday, October 23
Review at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Friday, October 24
Review at Curling Up By the Fire
Monday, October 27
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, October 28
Review at To Read or Not to Read
Wednesday, October 29
Review & Giveaway at Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, October 30
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jazz Baby by Téa Cooper

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 14, 2014

In the gritty underbelly of 1920s Sydney, a fresh-faced country girl is about to arrive in the big, dark city – and risk everything in the pursuit of her dreams. Sydney is no place for the fainthearted – five shillings for a twist of snow, a woman for not much more, and a bullet if you look sideways at the wrong person. Dolly Bowman is ready and willing to take on all the brash, bustling city has to offer. After all it is the 1920s, a time for a girl to become a woman and fulfil her dreams. Turning her back on her childhood, she takes up a position working as a housemaid while she searches for her future. World War I flying ace Jack Dalton knows he’s luckier than most. He’s survived the war with barely a scratch, a couple of astute business decisions have paid off, and he’s set for the high life. But a glimpse of a girl that he had forgotten, from a place he’s tried to escape suddenly sets all his plans awry. Try as he might he can’t shake the past, and money isn’t enough to pay the debts he’s incurred.

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I'm not much of a romance reader, but I rolled the dice on Téa Cooper's Jazz Baby. The WWI reference caught my attention and I was more than a little intrigued by the setting. Unfortunately, the novel didn't work for me and I admit, I'd be hard pressed to recommend it.

For one, I felt the jacket description incredibly misleading. The blurb paints Dolly Bowman as an adventurous and determined young woman, but her character is neither. Exceedingly naive and prone to making brash assumptions, Dolly is much more of a Dumb Dora. Her romantic interest, Jack Dalton, had potential, but he's far too pure of heart for a Lounge Lizard. 

I was similarly turned off by Cooper's highly coincidental plot twists. I wont ruin the story for anyone, but
 Jack and Number Fifty-Four, the man he meets at Susie's, Cynthia's sudden change of heart, all of it left me rolling my eyes. There is no tension here and very little mystery, just a drawn out chain of events leading to one inevitable conclusion and forgive me, but that's not the kind of literature that appeals to me.

It was a crap shoot going in and this time fortune failed me. I wanted something historically authentic, characters who radiated the attitudes and conscience of the jazz age, but I afraid Jazz Baby missed the mark and left me wanting. 

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He cast his eye up and down her trim figure. She'd undone the dreadful brown worsted coat and the sight of the heart-shaped neckline on her plain cotton dress made a man wonder what lay beneath. Jack quelled the desire to laugh at his reaction, sitting here watching his erstwhile sister, thinking thoughts he didn't even dare admit. 
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Rosings by Karen Aminadra

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: May 11, 2013

Trapped and cloistered in her own home. Anne de Bourgh, wealthy heiress daughter of the inimitable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, yearns to be set free from her luxurious prison, Rosings Park. Her life stretches out before her, ordered and planned, but it is a life she does not want. She wants more. She wants to be free. She wants to do everything that has been forbidden her, and she wants more than anything to fall in love with whom she chooses. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has other plans for Anne. Will Lady Catherine have her own way as always? Will Anne succeed? Can she break through the barriers of wealth, rank and duty?

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I think most book junkies can understand the impulse that led me to Karen Aminadra's Rosings. I finished book one, looked the author up, realized she'd written a sequel and quickly succumbed to the enthusiasm that lingers after completing a title you've enjoyed. That's right folks, I am an addict. I'm not at all interested in rehabilitation so don't ask, but I'm always accepting recommendations if you have something you think I should consider.  

For the record, I liked this piece. Anne is practically a footnote in Pride and Prejudice and I really enjoyed seeing her step into the spotlight. As with Charlotte, I think the premise set forth in the jacket description compliments Austen's classic and I appreciate how Aminadra sought to build on details established in the original text. I'll grant she takes liberties with the material, but all things considered I have only one complaint: Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

Anne's mother terrorizes Lizzie for flashing her 'fine eyes' in Darcy's direction and she isn't any kinder to the residents of Hunsford in Charlotte, so why Aminadra attempted an about-face in Rosings is beyond my comprehension. I adore the layers Aminadra gifted Miss de Bourgh, but the effort she put toward reforming her ladyship seemed entirely unnatural considering the earlier incarnations of the character. 

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Anne realised , with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, that if she did not assert herself now and on this particular issue, she would quite possibly never be happy again.
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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Charlotte by Karen Aminadra

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: May 10, 2013

When Charlotte Lucas married Mr Collins, she did not love him but had at least secured her future. However, what price must she pay for that future? She once said she was not romantic, but how true is that now after almost one year of marriage? Mr Collins is submissive in the extreme to his patroness, and his constant simpering, fawning and deference to the overbearing and manipulative Lady Catherine de Bourgh is sure to try the patience of a saint, or at least of Charlotte. As Charlotte becomes part of Hunsford society, she discovers she is not the only one who has been forced to submit to the controlling and often hurtful hand of Lady Catherine. She feels trapped and realises her need for love and affection. She is not as content as she once thought she would be. The easiest thing to do would be to maintain the peace and do as she is told. But as Charlotte witnesses the misery around her due to her inimitable neighbour, she must decide to remain as she is or to begin a chain of events that will change not only her life but also the lives of those around her in the village of Hunsford forever. But...after all, doesn't every girl deserve a happy ending?

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In the world of Austen based lit, Karen Aminadra's Charlotte was a pleasant surprise. I'd picked it up as a freebie and didn't expect much from the piece, but ultimately enjoyed the author's refreshingly original take on Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Building on Austen's beloved classic, Aminadra chronicles the early days of William and Charlotte's marriage, offering readers the opportunity to indulge their love of Pride and Prejudice while affording two of its minor characters a rare chance at redemption. 

What I liked most about the piece is how natural it feel alongside the original. As with all spin-offs, I feel it important for writers to acknowledge the spirit of the piece on which their story is based. As such, I truly appreciated that Aminadra allowed the character attributes Austen established in the original to factor in her continuation. The said, the depth Aminadra brings to William and Charlotte is certainly worth acknowledging. The Collinses are fairly one dimensional beings in Pride and Prejudice and  I was drawn to the idea that time, perspective and circumstance might allow them to grow beyond those 'first impressions' and into a mutually compassionate and loving couple. 

Aminadra isn't as charitable in her treatment of Lady Catherine de Burgh, but every good story needs an antagonist. The indomitable mistress of Rosings caused her share of trouble in Pride and Prejudice, but her campaign against Lizzie has nothing on her treatment of Hunsford and its residents. While not exactly endearing, the character proves an excellent foil for the Collinses and brings an exceptional sense of melodrama to the novel. I have similar feelings regarding Colonel Fitzwilliam, but again, the story needed someone to push Charlotte and really liked how his role furthered the narrative.

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Charlotte paused with her cup halfway to her mouth at his invitation to meet her again there in the clearing. She did not know how to react. Her mind screamed that she was a married woman and that her husband was a clergyman but her body and heart had other ideas.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: April 10, 2013

Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers can get a taste of the real world. But the real world comes to her in this dystopian tale with a philosophical bent. Rumors of massive unrest on the “Outside” abound. Something murderous is out there. Amish elders make a rule: No one goes outside, and no outsiders come in. But when Katie finds a gravely injured young man, she can’t leave him to die. She smuggles him into her family’s barn—at what cost to her community? The suspense of this vividly told, truly horrific thriller will keep the pages turning.

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On paper, nothing about Laura Bickle's The Hallowed Ones sounds like it will work. A post-apocalyptic, paranormal fantasy with an Amish twist, I thought the title a joke when I first stumbled across it. Had a friend's daughter not begged me to buddy read it with her I doubt I'd have ever picked it up, but the narrative proved me wrong almost from the start. 

In a market saturated with melancholy and conscience-stricken bloodsuckers, I was pleased to see Bickle's more traditional interpretations. Her vampires are downright creepy and pose a legitimate threat to Katie and her neighbors. Could they give you nightmares? This Walking Dead fan wasn't fazed, but I'd hazard caution if you're the squeamish type. Personally, I was just impressed that a contemporary young adult author would hold classic horror in such high regard. 

I'd snickered over the setting of this piece, but looking back I think it a truly inspired choice. The Amish community is isolated from mainstream society so assuming you can wrap your head around the premise, a lot of the situational drama actually makes sense. If that weren't enough, Bickle embraces the lifestyle and culture of the Amish people and manages to explore their faith without standing atop a soapbox which is actually pretty impressive when you stop and think about it. 

There is a light romantic element to the story, but unlike many of her peers, Bickle doesn't mire her narrative in an overabundance of sexual tension and teenage hormones. In point of fact, Bickle's heroine is both practical and level-headed, an individual who can actually be admired that's not something easily found in this particular genre. 

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"Plain folk are taught that evil is spiritual. The absence of God."
Mrs. Parsall bit back a sob. "Well it seems as if God's left the building, and we're left to our own devices."
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