Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mrs. Lincoln's Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: October 26, 2013

Kate Chase Sprague was born in 1840 in Cincinnati, Ohio, the second daughter to the second wife of a devout but ambitious lawyer. Her father, Salmon P. Chase, rose to prominence in the antebellum years and was appointed secretary of the treasury in Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, while aspiring to even greater heights. Beautiful, intelligent, regal, and entrancing, young Kate Chase stepped into the role of establishing her thrice-widowed father in Washington society and as a future presidential candidate. Her efforts were successful enough that The Washington Star declared her the most brilliant woman of her day. None outshone her.” None, that is, but Mary Todd Lincoln. Though Mrs. Lincoln and her young rival held much in common—political acumen, love of country, and a resolute determination to help the men they loved achieve greatness—they could never be friends, for the success of one could come only at the expense of the other. When Kate Chase married William Sprague, the wealthy young governor of Rhode Island, it was widely regarded as the pinnacle of Washington society weddings. President Lincoln was in attendance. The First Lady was not. Jennifer Chiaverini excels at chronicling the lives of extraordinary yet little known women through historical fiction. What she did for Elizabeth Keckley in Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker and for Elizabeth Van Lew in The Spymistress she does for Kate Chase Sprague in Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival.

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Kate Chase Sprague
I've come to the conclusion that I must approach Jennifer Chiaverini's work with certain degree of caution. She isn't a bad writer, she actually has a great command of language and prose, but I find her brand of storytelling less than satisfying. 

My biggest concern is her tenancy to substitute fact based exposition in place of original content. This reliance makes her narratives interesting, but relatively dry and noteworthy for their lack of depth and momentum. To put it simply, one might as well read a nonfictional biography. To my mind, historical fiction is about combining fact with imagination and I don't think Chiaverini excels in creating an appropriate balance between the two. 

To make matters worse, I don't feel Mrs. Lincoln's Rival has a realistic central theme. Kate and Mary spend very little time in one another's company and short of a few jealous and belittling thoughts and remarks from Kate, the tension seems largely one-sided and grossly exaggerated. 

The blurb itself actually offers a great example of this sensationalism as it draws attention to Mrs. Lincoln's absence from Sprague wedding on November 12, 1863. Billed as the social event of the season, one might easily think this a deliberate slight, but the incident strikes a much more somber tone when one examines why the socially awkward first lady might have shunned an unnecessary public celebration. 

Mary Todd Lincoln
Following the tragic passing of her eleven year old son William on February 20, 1862, Mary Todd Lincoln entered a state of mourning. Victorian etiquette regarding death is far too complicated to explain here, but it dictated everything from the clothing one might wear to the functions they might attend. Duration was dependent on one's relationship to the deceased, but according to The Lincoln Institute, Mary Todd continued to exhibit her grief long after the customary period of observance and did not shed her mourning attire until early 1865. 

I understand the appeal of a social rivalry, purported cat fights have been selling magazines and newspapers for generations, but the idea isn't quite as provocative when one of the so called-combatants is a grieving mother. Call me crazy, but perspective actually makes the idea shallow, disgraceful and I'll say it, rather ridiculous.

I think I've made it pretty clear that I struggled with both the style and content of this book and while I've granted it three stars, know my rating is a generous one, based on the historic scope of the novel rather than genuine appreciation for the narrative. 

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Those who had overheard the exchange might conclude that Kate had innocently misspoken, that because of her youth and inexperience she was unaware of the custom that decreed that the First Lady did not call on others. Mrs. Lincoln was first in Washington society by virtue of her husband’s exalted position, and so, as an inviolable rule, others came to her. But it had been no girlish mistake. Kate understood precedent perfectly well, and she knew that by assuming that Mrs. Lincoln would call upon her like any other lady of Washington society might, she was claiming a higher rank than the First Lady. Kate knew it, and Mrs. Lincoln knew it too.
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Girl on the Golden Coin: A Novel of Frances Stuart by Marci Jefferson

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 27, 2013

Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war. Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war. On the eve of England’s Glorious Revolution, James II forces Frances to decide whether to remain loyal to her Stuart heritage or, like England, make her stand for Liberty. Her portrait as Britannia is minted on every copper coin. There she remains for generations, an enduring symbol of Britain’s independent spirit and her own struggle for freedom.

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I was very nervous about picking up Marci Jefferson's Girl on the Golden Coin, not because it is a debut, but because the book has been hyped to such an extent that I feared an experience similar to the one I had with Kate Alcott's The Dressmaker. My worry was so real that I actually considered holding off a while when I received an ARC edition of the book for review.

Doing my best to ignore my apprehension, I ultimately decided waiting would only delay the inevitable and so I dove in, hoping my concern would dissipate in short order. It was a hope that was quickly fulfilled and I soon found myself enamored with the story of Frances' life in the glittering opulence of both the French and English courts.

Girl on the Golden Coin has much to commend it, but my favorite aspect of this piece was how Jefferson approached the women in Charles' life. Frances Stuart, Lady Castlemaine and Catherine of Braganza are individually distinct personalities which made it relatively easy to understand why Charles might have been drawn to each, but it was the complex intricacies of the relationships they shared with one another that captured my imagination. Their rivalries were expected, but the idea that the intensity of their competition waxed and waned on the unpredictable tides of political intrigue added an interesting and unexpected dimension to Jefferson's narrative.

On that note, I really liked how Jefferson painted Charles II. His penchant for beautiful woman and flagrant displays of infidelity would have made it easy to vilify him, but Jefferson opted to for a more dynamic interpretation, presenting him as a competent man, but wayward and rather self-indulgent. It is representation that echoes the conviction of John Evelyn who wrote his monarch was "a prince of many virtues and many great imperfections, debonair, easy of access, not bloody or cruel." 

If Girl on the Golden Coin has a weakness, it is the lack of exposition offered the reader in regards to the political stage on which Frances' story unfolds. I can't speak for anyone else, but my formal education didn't cover the English Restoration. Independent study of the period has granted me a superficial understanding of events, but I am far from well-versed the era and that made Jefferson's work something of a challenge as she doesn't create a completely comprehensive portrait of England's political landscape under Charles II. The Stuarts are by no means unknown, but nor are they the Tudors. This being the case, I feel this piece would have benefited from additional bureaucratic commentary.

Decadent and sensuous, Girl on the Golden Coin is a delightfully vibrant story of devotion, honor, duty and fidelity. An impressive and enjoyable debut of an oft overlooked affair between an English king and the woman who so famously rejected him. 

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“I have something for you.” He turned me toward the looking glass and lowered a strand of diamonds. I watched our reflection as he fastened it behind my neck, allowing his fingers to graze my shoulders. He put his face beside mine, whispering, “And my love for all eternity.”
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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Interview with D.J. Niko, author of The Tenth Saint

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author D.J. Niko to our little corner of the net to discuss The Tenth Saint.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Tenth Saint and the Sarah Weston Chronicles. 
Thank you for having me! The Tenth Saint is my debut novel—it was released last year—and the book that started the series. It is an adventure, with an archaeological-intrigue plot, starring my British heroine Sarah Weston, set in Ethiopia and a parallel subplot set in the Syro-Arabian Desert circa 4th century CE. The two plots do converge about 2/3 of the way through the book, and the modern-day plot is illuminated by these glimpses into the past.

Briefly, Sarah and her American partner, anthropologist Daniel Madigan, dig up a cave tomb in the Ethiopian highlands and find a set of inscriptions on the cave wall. Since the writing is in an obscure Semitic language, they set about translating it and find themselves in a heap of trouble, as someone wants the message hidden. By working with a band of monks, Sarah discovers that the message is a warning from a prophet referred to as Ethiopia’s “tenth saint” about the destruction of the planet. Following a trail of bread crumbs from the past, she learns, to her horror, that the events detailed in the prophecy are unfolding in the present day. And she tries to stop them before the prophecy of the tenth saint comes true.

What inspired you to write these books? 
I’m an ancient-world junkie. I think the characters and events of antiquity have much to teach us, though in our modern, complex societies we tend to marginalize the importance of what the ancients contributed. I wanted to bring some of the stories from the ancient world to light by casting them into a high-action context that modern readers could relate to. They appreciate the page turner, but they also learn something in the process.

I am also inspired by world religions—all of them, regardless of my own personal beliefs. Religion is at the heart of human motivation, and I find that fascinating. I wanted to explore all its aspects, from fanaticism to quiet spirituality.

What research went into The Tenth Saint and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating background material for you book?
First of all, this book required years of research, because a) it’s an obscure subject, and b) I wanted to get it right. I personally spent time in Ethiopia, absorbing the place and the culture. I went into tombs in Aksum, walked the canyons of the Simien Mountains, spent time with the priests in Lalibela, and explored Addis Ababa, the capital. I also have spent time among Bedouins and other desert people, which informed my desert scenes in the subplot. Readers often say, “Wow, she really brought these places to life for me,” and I believe that’s a result of personal experience and observation.

Of course, I also researched Ethiopia’s past, reading just about everything on the subject, including the Kebra Nagast. So a lot of the historical references—the battles of King Ezana, for example, or the descriptions of the Aksumite Empire—are accurate. 

I get asked a lot about the part of the plot dealing with the earth’s destruction, as outlined in the prophecy of the tenth saint. The culprit in that destruction is algae, used to capture carbon dioxide and convert it into pure oxygen, thereby cleaning up greenhouse gases. Readers sometimes assume this is “science fiction.” It’s not. This technology exists and, though it’s nascent, will be a lot more mainstream in years to come. If you are skeptical, check out what Ohio University, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, and University of Kentucky (among others) are doing. You might be surprised.

You probably have many, but is there one scene that you particularly enjoyed writing?
I most enjoyed writing the scenes of the historical subplot. I love when Gabriel converses with Hairan, the shaykh of the tribe, pitting his Western notions of control and man-imposed order against the Bedouin’s notion of living with the earth’s rhythms and never taking more than you need. That sense of turmoil and dissonance Gabriel feels at that moment becomes a central theme in the book.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
Toward the end, Sarah jumps out of the hold of Hughes’ private jet while it is taxiing down the runway. I had to consult people in private aviation for that one. It was fun to watch the reaction of aviation officials when I said, “I want to know how someone could jump out of one of these.” Once they realized I wasn’t certifiable, they gave me all these drawings showing how that could be possible. It got a little technical, especially since I’m not very mechanically inclined. 

Religion plays an interesting role in The Tenth Saint. Did you find it intimidating or difficult working with this material?  
I prefer to say spirituality, rather than religion, plays a role in my stories. I simply find the notion of devotion very interesting. But it need not be devotion to a religion or to a certain brand of spirituality. It can be devotion to an ideal, such as in the case of Sandor Hughes, the villain. He is absolutely passionate about saving the earth with his technological advances, just as the monk Apostolos is devoted to protecting the message of the tenth saint because he feels the world is not ready for it. Sarah is passionate about finding truth among the ruins—so much so that she risks her life in the name of that pursuit. And so on. 

If you notice, some of my characters, including Sarah and Daniel, are scientists who subscribe to a factual approach—they believe what they can see, touch, hear. The idea behind introducing the spirituality element is to ponder the possibility that nothing is so black and white. When we tend toward the absolute, on one side or the other, we throw off the balance. Of course, it’s that lopsidedness that makes for fun reading.

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?
Originally, I had really developed the story of Calcedony in fourteenth century France, during the time of the Black Death. In the end, I decided to delete those scenes for the sake of tightening the book. But it was an interesting story.

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?
Without a question, Gabriel (the tenth saint). I’d love to talk to him after his encounter with the Bedouins and before his going to battle with King Ezana. That’s the point when he really grew as a character. When we first meet him, he is troubled and confused by this tremendous burden: his knowledge about the earth’s final hours. He is a Western man who has come to live among Bedouins, and he can’t come to grips with that. He fights it. But when he lets go, he begins to understand how powerless he is in the face of nature and divine order. So this man, this hard-core scientist, has this philosophical shift and uses his last breath to warn mankind about its impudence. It would be fun to talk to him about all that. Plus, he seems like he really could use a drink.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope they feel breathless from the adventure, of course, but I also hope some of the philosophical motifs make them think. And I hope they learn something about Ethiopia of the present and past, about the life of desert-dwelling people like the Bedouins, about Coptic Christianity, and—in a more modern context—the technological advances of algae research and how it could impact the planet. 

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
I am currently working on the historical complement to The Riddle of Solomon (the follow-up to The Tenth Saint). It is set in the tenth century BCE, in Israel and Egypt. It explores the collapse of Israel’s united monarchy and the moral and spiritual decline of King Solomon. Some of the mysteries in The Riddle are actually elucidated in this book, which releases in 2015 as an interactive TREEBook.

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About the Author: D.J. Niko is the nom de plume of Daphne Nikolopoulos, an award-winning author and journalist. Her first novel, titled The Tenth Saint, was released in March 2012 to rave reviews by both readers and the trade. In March 2013, it was awarded the Gold Medal for popular fiction in the prestigious, juried Florida Book Awards. An archaeological thriller embroidered with historical motifs, The Tenth Saint takes readers on an adventure across the globe: Ethiopia, the Syro-Arabian Desert and Abyssinian Empire circa fourth century, London, Paris, Brussels, and Texas. The Tenth Saint is the first book in The Sarah Weston Chronicles series. The second, titled The Riddle of Solomon, releases July 1, 2013. Daphne is now at work on a historical novel set in tenth century B.C.E. Israel. The epic story details the collapse of the United Monarchy and the glory and fall of the empire built by King Solomon. It will be released in early 2015. As a former travel journalist, Daphne has traveled across the globe on assignment, or for personal discovery. She has been to some places most of us don’t realize are on the map, and she has brought them to life through her writing for various magazines, newspapers and websites on an international scale. Her travel background and rich experiences now bring authentic detail, color, and realism to her fiction. She also is the editor in chief of Palm Beach Illustrated magazine, a 62-year-old luxury-lifestyle glossy. She also is the editorial director of Palm Beach Media Group, and in that capacity oversees 11 magazines and 3 websites. She is the mother of twin toddlers and, in her spare time, volunteers for causes she believes in—literacy, education, child advocacy, and the advancement of traditional and tribal arts from around the world. Born in Athens, Greece, she now lives with her family in West Palm Beach, Florida. For more information, please visit D.J. Niko’s website. You can also follow on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

About the Book: Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksum: a sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Seeking to ascertain the translation and the identity of the entombed man, she and her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, stumble upon a lethal conflict. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of Lalibela, Sarah and Daniel uncover a codex in a subterranean library revealing a set of prophecies about Earth’s final hours written by a man hailed by Coptic mystics as Ethiopia’s tenth saint. Violently opposed by the corrupt director of antiquities at the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they’re left for dead in the heart of the Simien Mountains. Surviving to journey to Paris, Sarah is given another piece of the ancient puzzle: a fourteenth-century letter describing catastrophic events leading to the planet’s demise. Connecting the two discoveries, Sarah faces a deadly intercontinental conspiracy to keep the secret of the tenth saint buried. Risking her reputation and her life, Sarah embarks on a quest to stall the technological advances that will surely destroy the world.

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Check out all the stops on D.J. Niko's The Tenth Saint VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR


Wednesday, November 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, November 21
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, November 22
Guest Post at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, November 25
Review at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, November 27
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Thursday, November 28
Guest Post at A Book Geek
Monday, December 2
Review at Library of Alexandra
Tuesday, December 3
Review at For Winter Nights
Wednesday, December 4
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, December 5
Interview at For Winter Nights
Friday, December 6
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, December 10
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Tenth Saint by D.J. Niko

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: November 15, 2013

Cambridge archaeologist Sarah Weston makes an unusual discovery in the ancient Ethiopian mountain kingdom of Aksum: a sealed tomb with inscriptions in an obscure dialect. Seeking to ascertain the translation and the identity of the entombed man, she and her colleague, American anthropologist Daniel Madigan, stumble upon a lethal conflict. Tracking down clues in Addis Ababa and the monasteries of Lalibela, Sarah and Daniel uncover a codex in a subterranean library revealing a set of prophecies about Earth’s final hours written by a man hailed by Coptic mystics as Ethiopia’s tenth saint. Violently opposed by the corrupt director of antiquities at the Ethiopian Ministry of Culture and Tourism, they’re left for dead in the heart of the Simien Mountains. Surviving to journey to Paris, Sarah is given another piece of the ancient puzzle: a fourteenth-century letter describing catastrophic events leading to the planet’s demise. Connecting the two discoveries, Sarah faces a deadly intercontinental conspiracy to keep the secret of the tenth saint buried. Risking her reputation and her life, Sarah embarks on a quest to stall the technological advances that will surely destroy the world.

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Contemporary mysteries and thrillers aren't my usual stomping ground, but I've been know to sample the genre when an author builds their story on a foundation of historic fact which is what led me to D.J. Niko's The Tenth Saint. 

Despite being one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East, I knew next to nothing about Coptic Christianity when I began reading this book and though religion is not the primary theme of Niko's work, I really appreciated how she crafted the framework of The Tenth Saint from the principles of the religion as well as the cultural values of the region in which her story is set.  

Unlike most, this genre is defined by both content and pacing. I'm no expert, but many of the authors I've sampled have trouble not only building momentum, but maintaining. Niko suffers neither handicap. The Tenth Saint hits the ground running, but is compromised of so many unforeseen plot twists that it is difficult for the reader to anticipate exactly how events will unfold. 

Though I really liked the historical aspects of the book and how those details played into the secrets Niko buried deep in the Ethiopian desert, I would have liked to see her put more into the characterization of her leads. Set against such a rich backdrop, I couldn't help feeling let down by the relative transparency I recognized in both Sarah and Daniel and while this was by no means a deal breaker, I definitely felt it the weak point in an otherwise well-developed fiction.

Not flawless, but an altogether fascinating story steeped in both intrigue and suspense. 

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The way of the nomad is to accept everything as it comes: there is no anticipation of better days, no longing for the unrequited, no despair for loss.
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Check out all the stops on D.J. Niko's The Tenth Saint VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR


Wednesday, November 20
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, November 21
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, November 22
Guest Post at A Bookish Libraria
Monday, November 25
Review at Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, November 27
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Thursday, November 28
Guest Post at A Book Geek
Monday, December 2
Review at Library of Alexandra
Tuesday, December 3
Review at For Winter Nights
Wednesday, December 4
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, December 5
Interview at For Winter Nights
Friday, December 6
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Monday, December 10
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading

Saturday, November 16, 2013

On Distant Shores by Sarah Sundin

Rating: NA
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: November 13, 2013

Lt. Georgiana Taylor has everything she could want. A comfortable boyfriend back home, a loving family, and a challenging job as a flight nurse. But in July 1943, Georgie’s cozy life gets decidedly more complicated when she meets pharmacist Sgt. John Hutchinson. Hutch resents the lack of respect he gets as a noncommissioned serviceman and hates how the war keeps him from his fiancée. While Georgie and Hutch share a love of the starry night skies over Sicily, their lives back home are falling apart. Can they weather the hurt and betrayal? Or will the pressures of war destroy the fragile connection they’ve made?

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Ever hear the phrase once in a blue moon? If you haven't, please, take a moment and look it up, for tonight the moon is most certainly blue, as I am voluntarily putting aside Sarah Sundin's On Distant Shores.

Let there be no misunderstanding, this is not a surrender wherein I set down my sword and run-up the flag because this book is too taxing or tedious. This is a staunch refusal to do battle… a withdrawal based on intense feelings of both disinterest and disgust.

For the record, I recognized my lack of enthusiasm for Sundin's work early on. Despite taking place during my favorite era, I was not drawn into the story and I found the characters altogether tiresome. There were a few interesting fact-based details, but overall, this piece wasn't piquing my imagination or speaking to my soul. Still, in an effort to seek her message and potentially appreciate her ministry, I was determined to patiently await whatever revelations may be part of her master plan… until I came to the end of chapter seven. 

In this scene, Georgie Taylor confronts Vera Viviani and Alice Olson over a trick they played on Mellie Blank. She strikes up a conversation with her fellow nurses, deliberately offering false flattery in language that drips with innuendo in her effort to make them uncomfortable. When it becomes clear she has achieved this goal, Georgie is nothing short of self-righteous. 

Color rose in Alice’s cheeks, and Vera stared at the tarmac. After the dirty trick they’d played on Mellie, they deserved to be uncomfortable.

Her mission, however, is far from complete. Mellie has convinced her commanding officer that though Vera and Alice were wrong, they deserve a second chance and that she herself should be sent home. Georgie recognizes Mellie's sacrifice as one of insecurity and is determined that her friend see she is both needed and appreciated by the squadron. To do this, she created a petition which at this point, has been signed by every member of their unit with exception of Vera and Alice, who have purposely been approached last. 
“As you can see, you two are the only ones in the entire squadron who haven’t signed it yet. I wanted your signatures to be last, big and bold like John Hancock himself. Only fitting after all Mellie’s done for you.” She tipped her head to the side and raised her sweetest smile.

Playing her role to the fullest, Georgie continues the attack, reveling in triumph as Vera and Alice become increasingly embarrassed. A veritable freight train Georgie shows no sign of slowing, even as both women turn their gazes toward their shoes.

She waited a moment to let the guilt sink in, then tapped the petition in Vera’s hand. “See? I left a big space at the bottom for you. Feel free to add a personal note. Most everyone did.” Was it wrong to enjoy this so much?

Wishing to be rid of her, Vera and Alice quickly add their names to the bottom of the page, but Georgie, still basking in her own glory, can't resist launching one last assault on their pride.   


Georgie tucked it in her pocket. “Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me, and how much this will mean to Mellie. She deserves to know she’s loved.” A bit much, but it was fun to watch Vera and Alice writhe.  

Not to be impertinent, but what happened to: Love your enemies; Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you; As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them; Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned? If Sundin really expected me to rejoice in this petty act of retribution and bullying, she will be sadly disappointed for I feel naught but mislead. 

I find Sundin’s interest in crafting her heroine to enjoy demoralizing, degrading and openly shaming her peers, morally repugnant. This passage left me so disheartened that ceasing to read the book became my only viable option. I had hope when I started this piece, and I envisioned it capable of coaxing my spirit to celebrate the values and ideologies with which I was raised. Instead, finding her interests unrighteous, I lost faith in this author, felt deceived and while I will forgive her transgressions, I will not again be tempted to read her work in the future.

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He dropped to his backside along the port side of the boat and closed his eyes. To ease suffering, to heal, to prevent death — that’s why he took this position in the first place.
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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giveaway: Julie Rowe's Aiding the Enemy and $10 Giftcard

Flashlight Commentary is pleased to offer readers the chance to win a copy of Julie Rowe's Aiding the Enemy. Winner will also receive a $10 giftcard to an eretailer of their choice.

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German-occupied Brussels, Belgium. December 1915. Rose Culver is in grave danger. For months the Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into neutral Netherlands. It's only a matter of time until she's caught. Which makes it the wrong time to fall in love with a handsome German military doctor as devoted to the sanctity of human life as she is. The Great War has caused Dr. Herman Geoff to question everything he once believed. He knows Rose has been hiding British soldiers in her hospital—he's even treated some of them, refusing to go against his own Hippocratic oath. As a doctor, he admires Rose's skill and conviction. As a man, he can no longer deny his attraction to her. But when Rose is arrested for treason, Herman must choose between love for her and duty to his country…


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Giveaway is open internationally.


Interview with Julie Rowe, author of Aiding the Enemy

Today, Flashlight Commentary is pleased to welcome author Julie Rowe to our little corner of the net to discuss Aiding the Enemy and the rest of the War Girls series.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Julie. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Aiding the Enemy and the War Girls series.
Thanks for having me! Aiding the Enemy is the third book in my War Girls series. All three books feature nurse heroines and are set during the First World War in German occupied Belgium.

What inspired you to write these books?
The First World War spawned many changes in the roles of women in Western society. None more so than in the field of medicine and nursing. Prior to the war, female nurses performed their work at hospitals some distance away from the fighting. By the end of the war they were working at casualty clearing stations located sometimes only steps away from the trenches. The work and sacrifice of many of these women isn’t well known and I wanted to remind people that not all the heroes during the war were men.

Aiding the Enemy is the third in the series. How does it differ from the two previous installments?
The heroine of Aiding the Enemy is Rose Culver, a Red Cross nurse from England who runs a hospital in Brussels, Belgium. Rose’s character was inspired by real-life Red Cross nurse Edith Cavell. Edith sheltered 200 to 1000 allied soldiers (depending on which account of her life you read) in her hospital, provided them with civilian clothing, money, fake identification and either maps or a guide to reach safety. She was arrested by the German political police, tried for treason and executed by firing squad. I decided it was time to give Edith her happily-ever-after.

What research went into Aiding the Enemy and did you discover anything particularly surprising while investigating background material for you book? 
I’ve accumulated a large library of WW1 books. These include war histories, soldier, stretcher-bearer and nurse diaries, and of course, WW1 nurse biographies. One interesting thing I discovered during my research was the existence of an electric fence erected by the Germans to stop the flow of refugees from escaping Belgium and entering the neutral Netherlands. The fence carried a charge of 2000 to 3000 volts and killed approximately 3000 people, most of them civilians. When the war was over and the power to the fence removed, the local farmers didn’t throw it away, they reused it. Some of the fence poles are still in use today.

Did your experience as a medical lab technologist help you write this series and if so, how?  
Having a medical background has been very useful. For example, I used to work in microbiology, a field where disease causing bacteria is detected and grown for identification and treatment. Antibiotics weren’t in use until after the First World War, but doctors noticed that the wounds of soldiers infested with maggots didn’t go bad (become infected). Maggot debridement therapy, as the practice is known as today, is still in use to treat wounds in patients with decreased blood flow to the extremities (diabetics for example).

All three books take place in Belgium against the backdrop of WWI. Why did you find this time and place so appealing? 
If you ask a person about WW1 they usually think of the trenches, but the civilian casualties were quite high as well. The Belgian people were treated poorly by the German military by taking whatever they wanted from the Belgians (food, clothing, horses, housing, etc…). Nearer to the end of the war, the German military even took their last major form of transportation, their bicycles, to melt down the metal for ammunition. This was the last straw, the final insult as far as the Belgian people were concerned. To this day, if you ask someone from Belgium what they’d want from Germany, they’ll probably answer: a bicycle.

You probably have many, but is there a scene in any of the books that you particularly enjoyed writing?
It might sound odd, but the scenes where there’s a bit of humor are my favorite. Humor is a coping skill people often employ when they’re under stress. This is something I witnessed many times when I worked in hospital ERs. In Enticing the Spymaster, there’s a scene where hero Captain Michael Lawrence is trying to find out why the heroine, Judith, has never married. She replies that she discovered some very deplorable habits in all her suitors and rejected them. Michael eventually figures out that to find this information out, she talked to their mistresses. He is, of course, properly horrified by the notion.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author?
The scene in Aiding the Enemy where Herman makes the decision to amputate his brother’s hand against his brother’s wishes. I cried writing that scene. There’s nothing worse than hearing a loved one tell you they want to die.

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?
If I could sit down with any of them, it would be Rose. I’d like to ask her where she got her courage and determination from. I’d like to ask if I could borrow just a little of her courage and determination once in a while.

Do you see yourself in Maria, Judith or Rose and is there one of them you wish you were more like?
I see myself as Maria more than the other two characters. She’s been through some awful stuff to get where she is, but she’s determined not to let it hold her back from happiness either.

If you had to choose between Lieutenant John Bennet, British Expeditionary Force Captain Michael Lawrence or Dr. Herman Geoff, who would you pick and why? 
I can only choose one? That’s a tough question because I love all three for different reasons. But, I suppose if I have to choose one over the others it would be John Bennet. He’s very much like my husband in many ways.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading your work?
I hope readers come away with a new appreciation for the war and the women who fought to save lives during it in some pretty horrible conditions.

Finally, what is next for you? Any new projects waiting in the wings?
I have a story just released this week in a five author anthology called Timeless Keepsakes – A Collection of Christmas Stories. In my story, Secret Santa, A nurse grieving the death of her twin brother receives an unusual gift at the staff secret Santa party: the bullet that killed him along with a message of hope and love.
I also have two books coming out in early 2014 with Entangled Publishing. One is a romantic suspense called, Molly Gets Her Man, and the other is a medical romance that’s part of a medical continuity series with Entangled called Skin Deep.

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About the Author: Julie Rowe’s first career as a medical lab technologist in Canada took her to the North West Territories and northern Alberta, where she still resides. She loves to include medical details Julie Rowein her romance novels, but admits she’ll never be able to write about all her medical experiences because, “No one would believe them!”. In addition to writing contemporary and historical medical romance, and fun romantic suspense for Entangled Publishing and Carina Press, Julie has a short story in the Mammoth Book of ER Romance (releasing Sept 15, 2013). Her book SAVING THE RIFLEMAN (book #1 WAR GIRLS) won the novella category of the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Her writing has also appeared in several magazines such as Romantic Times Magazine, Today’s Parent, and Romantic Times Magazine. For more information, please visit Julie Rowe’s website.  You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.


About the Book ~ Saving the Rifleman: German-occupied Brussels, Belgium. Great War, 1914. British Red Cross nurse Maria Hunt lives in daily fear that the Germans will uncover her secret: she helps wounded British soldiers escape. Lieutenant John Bennet is wounded and running out of options. Trapped behind enemy lines while collecting intelligence, he needs to get out of Belgium if he's going to escape with the information and his life. Maria is devoted to her patients and her cause, but something else compels her to risk her life for this soldier. While a man of Lieutenant Bennet's station would barely speak to her in other circumstances, something in his kind eyes inspires a passion deep within her. As his injuries worsen, can Maria find the courage to guide him through the war-torn countryside? And should they make it back to England, will their burgeoning desire survive the ravages of war?

About the Book ~ Enticing the Spymaster: German-occupied Brussels, Belgium. April 1915. Judith Goddard is hiding in plain sight. A dual citizen with family ties to Belgian royalty and the British military, she works as a Red Cross nurse in a German hospital, learning what she can, ever fearful her true allegiance will be discovered. British Expeditionary Force Captain Michael Lawrence is on a mission to rescue the daughter of his mentor. He doesn't expect to find a strong beautiful woman in place of the naïve girl whose love he rejected years earlier. Jude is shocked when Michael turns up in her hospital, wounded and in German uniform. Though he broke her heart, she agrees to flee Belgium with him—she has information about an imminent attack that she must deliver to the British War Office, before it's too late. Posing as a married couple, Jude and Michael journey to the border, in constant danger of discovery—and of giving in to their mutual passion…

About the Book ~ Aiding the Enemy: German-occupied Brussels, Belgium. December 1915. Rose Culver is in grave danger. For months the Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into neutral Netherlands. It's only a matter of time until she's caught. Which makes it the wrong time to fall in love with a handsome German military doctor as devoted to the sanctity of human life as she is. The Great War has caused Dr. Herman Geoff to question everything he once believed. He knows Rose has been hiding British soldiers in her hospital—he's even treated some of them, refusing to go against his own Hippocratic oath. As a doctor, he admires Rose's skill and conviction. As a man, he can no longer deny his attraction to her. But when Rose is arrested for treason, Herman must choose between love for her and duty to his country…

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Check out all the stops on Julie Rowe's Aiding the enemy VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR


Monday, November 11
Review, Guest Post & Giveaway at Romantic Historical Reviews
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, November 12
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview & Giveaway at Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, November 13
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, November 14
Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, November 15
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at History Undressed


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Giveaway: M.K. Tod's Unravelled

Flashlight Commentary is pleased to offer readers the chance to win an ecopy of M.K. Tod's Unravelled!

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In October 1935, Edward Jamieson's memories of war and a passionate love affair resurface when an invitation to a WWI memorial ceremony arrives. Though reluctant to visit the scenes of horror he has spent years trying to forget, Edward succumbs to the unlikely possibility of discovering what happened to Helene Noisette, the woman he once pledged to marry. Travelling through the French countryside with his wife Ann, Edward sees nothing but reminders of war. After a chance encounter with Helene at the dedication ceremony, Edward's past puts his present life in jeopardy. When WWII erupts a few years later, Edward is quickly caught up in the world of training espionage agents, while Ann counsels grieving women and copes with the daily threats facing those she loves. And once again, secrets and war threaten the bonds of marriage. With events unfolding in Canada, France and England, UNRAVELLED is a compelling novel of love, duty and sacrifice set amongst the turmoil of two world wars.

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Giveaway is open internationally. 


Aiding the Enemy by Julie Rowe

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: October 23, 2013

German-occupied Brussels, Belgium. December 1915. Rose Culver is in grave danger. For months the Red Cross head nurse has been aiding Allied soldiers caught behind enemy lines, helping them flee into neutral Netherlands. It's only a matter of time until she's caught. Which makes it the wrong time to fall in love with a handsome German military doctor as devoted to the sanctity of human life as she is. The Great War has caused Dr. Herman Geoff to question everything he once believed. He knows Rose has been hiding British soldiers in her hospital—he's even treated some of them, refusing to go against his own Hippocratic oath. As a doctor, he admires Rose's skill and conviction. As a man, he can no longer deny his attraction to her. But when Rose is arrested for treason, Herman must choose between love for her and duty to his country…

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Dedication at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Passendale
Though I reviewed them in chronological order I actually read Julie Rowe's War Girls series in reverse which means I started with book three, Aiding the Enemy. Now I'm not going to say you can't follow my example, that doesn't seem exactly fair, but I think there are pros and cons regardless of where you choose to begin. 

Nurse Rose Culver pushed Maria out the door in Saving the Rifleman and supported Judith in Enticing the Spymaster. Aiding the Enemy is her story. Hers and Dr.  Herman Geoff's, but if you read the blurb you already knew that. My point is reading these book as written gives you a better appreciation for how long Rose endured and stood firm against the insurmountable and the underlying correspondence between each of the stories adds a nice touch to the series as a whole.  

So what's the downside? Initially I liked the way events played out in this piece, but I've got to admit, I was less impressed with it after reading Rowe's earlier books. Like its predecessors, Aiding the Enemy centers on a couple forced to flee occupied Belgium with the German military on their heels. The couple uses a similar cover story, loose themselves to their desires and have a remarkably familiar misunderstanding before all is said and done. There are enough details to differentiate each book, but there are also enough similarities to give a reader pause. 

Weighing these aspects against each other, well it's a hard one to call. Kind of a six of one, half a dozen of the other type deal. Neither is enough to make the book, but neither is enough to break it. Truth be told, if it weren't for the maggots, I might still be sitting on the fence about this one. 

You read that correctly. My opinion of Aiding the Enemy was ultimately determined by a handful of juvenile blowflies. Well, some kind of fly at any rate. Rose doesn't encounter an entomologist in the book so the details are really anyone's guess, but that's beside the point. What I'm getting at here is my appreciation for how Rowe approached her material. We got a sense of how to treat the wounded and conduct surgical procedures in the earlier books, but that is the kind of thing I expect in war lit that features the Red Cross. What I liked about Aiding the Enemy was how it illustrated medicine as an evolving science and offered readers a certain understanding of how far we've come over the course of the last century. 

Ultimately, I liked Aiding the Enemy and think it a worthy conclusion to the three part set. Though somewhat repetitive, I can't deny the book is an enjoyable and entertaining romance with enough factual information and sentimentality to make it both historically unique and emotionally satisfying.  

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“I took a vow to prolong life, to do no harm, as you did. How can I be prosecuted for it?”
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Check out all the stops on Julie Rowe's Aiding the enemy VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR


Monday, November 11
Review, Guest Post & Giveaway at Romantic Historical Reviews
Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, November 12
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview & Giveaway at Book-alicious Mama
Wednesday, November 13
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, November 14
Interview & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, November 15
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Guest Post & Giveaway at History Undressed


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