Friday, February 17, 2017

Two Cent Musings: Male Protagonists

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I’ve made a stink on social media about the lack of male protagonists in historic fiction and it’s fair to say that my comments ruffled a few feathers. A number of authors jumped to defend themselves and while I feel a little sorry for issuing an unintended insult, I have to admit the rebuttals I’ve heard do not come close to emulating the kind of fiction I want to see in the mainstream market.

  • Not to put too fine a point on it, I want Ernest Hemingway staring down the barrel of a shotgun, weighing his options and considering his legacy.

  • I want Winston Churchill in ankle deep mud, seeking atonement for his involvement in the planning and devastation of Gallipoli.

  • I want Michael Collins serving as aide in the Easter Rising, hearing his mentors have fallen, and committing himself to continuing the war they started. 

  • I want Gad Beck, marching into a deportation camp for his lover knowing that if he were caught, he’d be incarcerated for both his faith and sexual orientation. 

  • I want Henry Flipper facing down intolerance as he fought to graduate from United States Military Academy at West Point.

  • I want Clark Gable working his way through a string of lovers only to be blindsided by woman he never expected.

We’ve enough militaristic alpha males and aloof bachelors of good fortune to last a lifetime folks. I want men with depth and complexity, men who struggle, men who are the solo stars of their own stories, men with personality, men with purpose, and men who are in some way, shape, or form emotionally vulnerable.

So what are you waiting for?

Get writing.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cover Cliché: Parallel Ribbons

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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1915. Two brothers. One woman. A nation at war.

A compelling story of war, brotherly love, passion and betrayal.

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 the Great War, 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 is a tale of love, loss and longing.




Sir George, Baronet of Bancroft Hall, has run his family and their fortunes into the ground. All seems hopeless, until they are visited by their cousin, Gregory Rogers. He promises to return the family to their former glory, but is he all he seems?

Driven by jealousy, greed and desire, nothing will stop Gregory Rogers from taking that which he believes is his. He'll do anything to gain money, Bancroft Hall and the power that comes with the title of Baronet.

Even murder.

Until his eyes fall upon the beautiful Jane. Clever, intelligent, and beautiful, she finds herself the unknowing victim of a vicious plan to dispose of her parents and brothers. With no one standing in the way of Gregory’s plans, can she rescue him from himself?

Will she be the one thing that he cannot ruin, in order to have?




Anything but a typical aristocrat, young Baroness Marie-Louise is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work, especially when it comes to saving her ancestral estate. Determined to shake loose the shackles of propriety and gain the warm family life her upbringing denied her, she has vowed to marry a man of lower rank. Blue-bloods need not apply.

But when she is forced to turn to a childhood friend for assistance, the handsome, debonair count may prove a temptation impossible to resist. Marie-Louise soon finds herself caught between the comfort of a middle-class doctor and the passion of a nobleman, with the future of her childhood home at stake.


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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. 


Friday, January 27, 2017

News From Berlin by Otto de Kat

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 4, 2017

In War time Europe Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur has been posted to neutral Switzerland. His family is spread across Europe. His wife Kate works as a nurse in London and their daughter Emma is living in Berlin with her husband Carl, a "good" German who works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Briefly reunited with her father in a restaurant in Geneva, Emma drops a bombshell. A date and a codename, and the fate of nations is placed in Verschuur's hands: June 22, Barbarossa.What should he do? Warn the world, or put his daughter's safety first? The Gestapo are watching them both. And with Stalin lulled by his alliance with Hitler, will anyone even listen? Otto de Kat is fast gaining a reputation as one of Europe's sharpest and most lucid writers. News from Berlin, a book for all readers, a true page-turner driven by the pulse of a ticking clock, confirms him as a storyteller of subtly extravagant gifts. In War time Europe Dutch diplomat Oscar Verschuur has been posted to neutral Switzerland. His family is spread across Europe. His wife Kate works as a nurse in London and their daughter Emma is living in Berlin with her husband Carl, a "good" German who works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Briefly reunited with her father in a restaurant in Geneva, Emma drops a bombshell. A date and a codename, and the fate of nations is placed in Verschuur's hands: June 22, Barbarossa. What should he do? Warn the world, or put his daughter's safety first? The Gestapo are watching them both. And with Stalin lulled by his alliance with Hitler, will anyone even listen?

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German troops crossing the Soviet border
during Operation Barbarossa.
I’ve multiple confessions to make and I hope you don’t mind, but I want to start by getting them off my chest. First off, I’ve had an ARC of Otto de Kat’s News From Berlin on my kindle since July 2015. I’d been intrigued by the premise, but wasn’t actually inspired to pick it up until I found myself looking to rebound from a disappointing run-in with Kelly Durham’s Berlin Calling last December. I also imagine the title as spoken by Jim Carrey impersonating Walter Cronkite in Bruce Almighty every time I see it, but that last admission seems far less damning than the other two. I wish I could say this is the first time I’d sat an ARC so long, but it’d be a blatant lie and as to rebounding, well, let’s just be happy we’re talking books rather than relationships.

I think it safe to assume that if you’re still with me at this point you want to know how I actually felt about the book. I wont assume you’ve forgiven my transgressions, but when push comes to shove it’s not how you came to a novel that matters, it’s how it made feel about the content and in that regard I think News From Berlin has a lot in common with The Wherewithal. There is a loose parallel in terms of time periods, but the similarities I refer to have more to do with the open-ended thoughts the narratives leave in their respective wakes. The conclusions feel right, but both books inspire lingering questions about the ideas and themes expressed between their pages.

A working knowledge of Operation Barbarossa is not required to follow the historic events of the narrative, but a basic familiarity with the invasion affords greater insight to the significance of the information that falls into Verschuur’s possession. I didn’t feel the cast of particular note, but it should be mentioned that News From Berlin wasn’t written as and doesn’t pretend to be character driven fiction. The author is deeply invested in the political and emotional themes of the story and that is where his work truly shines.

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Operation Barbarossa, a code name for murder, obviously, even as it was a childish appeal to old myths and legendary heroes. Super-kitsch, if it weren’t for the deadly intent. Emma had been incapable of keeping the news to herself. She had blurted it out to her father, who she was sure would know what to do. The fear in her tone had been unmistakable, as well as the urgent, unvoiced appeal for action.
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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cover Crush: Mr. Emerson's Wife by Amy Belding Brown

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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Despite the fact that the unfortunate model has lost half her head, I have to admit that I am quite enamored with the jacket design for Amy Belding Brown's Mr. Emerson's Wife. There is a lot going on either the embellishments and layered imagery, but the richness of it all taunts my imagination.

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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!

INTERESTED IN SEEING MORE?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Holly at 2 Kids are Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Colleen at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Hidden Thread by Liz Trenow

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 22, 2017

The Hidden Thread is a breathtaking novel about the intricate craft of silk and the heartbreak of forbidden love. When Anna Butterfield's mother dies, she's sent to live with her uncle, a silk merchant in London, to make a good match and provide for her father and sister. There, she meets Henri, a French immigrant and apprentice hoping to become a master weaver. But Henri, born into a lower class, becomes embroiled in the silk riots that break out as weavers protest for a fair wage. New York Times bestselling author Liz Trenow weaves a luminous tale of class struggle and star-crossed love.

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Industry and Idleness, Plate 1; The Fellow 'Prentices at their Looms
by William Hogarth.
Excuse my candor, but I’d love to know what the designer was thinking when they created the jacket for Liz Trenow’s The Hidden Thread. Were they not informed that novel takes place in the 1760s or does Sourcebooks Landmark honestly think American readers are too dense to notice the anachronistic imagery? My money is on the latter as twentieth century literature is trending in the American market, but either way I am intensely disappointed with the misrepresentation of content seen on this cover which is why I think it appropriate to begin my review by setting the record straight.

For those who decided to skip the blurb, The Hidden Thread takes place in the 18th century. If you require a historical a point of reference, George III is on the throne and America is about fifteen years away Lexington and Concord. Stiff-bodied gowns are all the rage as are frock coats and knee length breeches. The story, despite its fictional protagonist, is inspired by the life of Anna Maria Garthwaite who was an English textile designer renowned for the intricate floral designs she created from hand-woven silk fabrics. Her caricature's connection to artist William Hogarth is also fictional though it should be noted that the nature of Hogarth’s association with the weavers of Spitalfields is rooted in speculation of historic fact.

I’ve been a Trenow fan since her debut release and couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Hidden Thread, but the reality of the novel caught me off-guard. I liked the characters and their individual arcs, but the historic context didn’t engage my imagination the way The Forgotten Seamstress, The Last Telegram, or The Poppy Factory had. I’ve nothing against authors venturing into new territory and knew from the description that the novel represented a new direction for Trenow, but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel The Hidden Thread as authentically atmospheric as its predecessors.

That said, I was fascinated by the degree of relevancy incorporated into this lesser known chapter of English history. Tensions between English weavers and their immigrant counterparts ran so high in the 1760s that they actually erupted into a series of disturbances known as the Spitalfield riots. Class inequality, fair wages, and fair trade policies all played a role in the conflicts, but the prejudice Henri suffers as a French immigrant had a familiar ring to it. I can’t speak for the author or other readers, but I personally couldn’t help appreciating the pertinence of the ideas his storyline inspired and the parallels it drew to the referendum known as Brexit.

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If I ever get out of here, I will do everything to regain her friendship, he promised himself. But this flicker of hope was followed by an even deeper despair when an official arrived to tell him that his trial had been set for the following week. The prospect of release seemed more distant than ever, and he had almost lost hope of ever getting out of prison alive, save for the journey to the gibbet.
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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cover Cliché: Emerald Evening Wear

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see jacket art that gives me a disconcerting sense of deja vu. I know I've not read the book, but I am equally certain I've seen its image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Image recycling is fairly common as cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. The details vary cover to cover, but each boasts a certain similarity and I find comparing the finished designs quite interesting. 

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Picking up after the shattering end of Gustave Flaubert’s classic, Madame Bovary, this beguiling novel imagines an answer to the question Whatever happened to Emma Bovary’s orphaned daughter?

One year after her mother’s suicide and just one day after her father’s brokenhearted demise, twelve-year-old Berthe Bovary is sent to live on her grandmother’s impoverished farm. Amid the beauty of the French countryside, Berthe models for the painter Jean-François Millet, but fate has more in store for her than a quiet life of simple pleasures. Berthe’s determination to rise above her mother’s scandalous past will take her from the dangerous cotton mills of Lille to a convent in Rouen to the wealth and glamour of nineteenth-century Paris. There, as an apprentice to famed fashion designer Charles Frederick Worth, Berthe is ushered into the high society of which she once only dreamed. But even as the praise for her couture gowns steadily rises, she still yearns for the one thing her mother never had: the love of someone she loves in return.

Brilliantly integrating one of classic literature’s fictional creations with real historical figures, Madame Bovary’s Daughter is an uncommon coming-of-age tale, a splendid excursion through the rags and the riches of French fashion, and a sweeping novel of poverty and wealth, passion and revenge.





Read happily ever after with this magical repackage that includes three enchanting, retold fairy tales.

In this value-priced bind-up of three beloved retellings, readers will journey to faraway fairy tale lands. Before Midnight revisits Cinderella's story in France, Golden puts a new spin on Rapunzel's romance, and Wild Orchid reimagines the Chinese tale of Mulan. With so much real-life drama in today's busy world, Once allows readers to escape into whimsical realms where every story has a happily ever after.



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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, January 23, 2017

The Trap by Dan Billany

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 6, 2017

Lieutenant Michael Carr’s peaceful life in a Cornish village is shattered with the outbreak of the Second World War. German planes are heard droning across darkening skies. Towns are set ablaze by incendiary bombs. And Cornwall, though seemingly safe and secluded, is not exempt from the devastation. While Michael trains for the army in the Cornish countryside, he dreams of a future with this sweetheart, Elizabeth Pascoe. But they are trapped by the war, which rages on, consuming and destroying ordinary life. And it is not long before Michael is summoned far from England to the deserts around Tobruk. Under an unrelenting sun, harried by German tanks, Michael’s life with Elizabeth, suddenly seems unbearably out of reach... Can Michael survive the war and make it home to Elizabeth? And even if he does, will things ever be the same again?

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Men of the Leicestershire Regiment man a Bren gun near Tobruk, 1941.
The premise of Dan Billany’s The Trap was too intriguing to ignore. The phrase “unsurpassed realism” jumped out at me, but I was also fascinated by the jacket description. Stories set in North Africa during the war aren’t as common as those set in continental Europe and I was curious to how the material would be treat by someone who’d actually experienced it. I didn’t register the bits about 1930s Britain, probably because the subject matter didn’t interest me all that much, but there is the rub as the chapters dedicated to the protagonist’s quiet life in Cornwall proved overwhelmingly dull and all but killed my interest in the novel.

The first half of the book is dedicated in large part to chronicling the life of Michael’s wife, Elizabeth. The prose is that of a more mature and expressive age, but the content is dry beyond measure. I simply didn’t care about Michael’s better half and more than once caught myself neglecting the details of the plot. I flirted with the idea of abandoning the novel several times, but ultimately opted to skim through much of the first half of the narrative. Michael’s training proved more interesting, but I’d already begun to lose interest by the time he was sent to North Africa and struggled to get into the story despite the authenticity of Billany’s descriptions.

When push comes to shove, I appreciate The Trap for the insights it affords, but I’d have difficulty recommending to as entertaining fiction. There is an abundance of scholarly merit in this piece, but I don’t think well-suited for casual readers.

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We lay quiet, listening to the distant roar and clank and clatter of the approaching tanks. The two boys were watching my face. Their fixed eyes were drilling down under my expression, searching for some confident certainty in my heart. They had no straw of their own to cling to, but if I had any real certainty of salvation, they would cling to that. In my heart I had nothing to offer them. I was not much afraid, but I was absolutely ignorant of what was likely to happen, and I was not now (in one sense) interested. Too much of me had detached itself and become a spectator.
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