Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Interview with Linda Bennett Pennell, author of Confederado do Norte

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Linda Bennett Pennell to Flashlight Commentary to discuss Confederado do Norte.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Linda. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Confederado do Norte. 
Thank you so much for having me and for asking about Confederado do Norte! Here is a brief overview of the story.

Set during the aftermath of the American Civil War, Confederado do Norte tells the story of Mary Catherine MacDonald Dias Oliveira Atwell, a child torn from her war devastated home in Georgia and thrust into the primitive Brazilian interior where the young woman she becomes must learn to recreate herself in order to survive.   

October, 1866.
Mary Catherine is devastated when her family emigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the mountain wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men. Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but this new crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she possesses simply to survive.    

Where did this story begin? What prompted you to write it? 
My undergraduate major was U.S. and English history, so I had always known that a few southerners immigrated after the Civil War, but that was about it. After reading an article about the present day descendants of the original Confederados, I decided their ancestors’ story would make a great novel. I had been looking for a vehicle in which to explore the themes of defining family beyond the ties of blood and what comprises citizenship. Mary Catherine’s story became that vehicle.   

How would you describe Mary Catherine? What kind of person is she? 
Mary Catherine began life as the rather cossetted, maybe even a little bit spoiled, only child of a moderately well off planter. During the war, she had to grow up fast and became more self-reliant. By the time she and her emotionally damaged family reached Brazil, she learned very quickly that she had no one upon whom she could depend but herself. She grew into a young woman who was determined to survive despite betrayals by family and in-laws. Emotions ran deeply with her. She loved and hated with equal fervor. Toward the end of her life, she could no longer bury the past, and so, she decided to examine it and by doing so, hoped to achieve peace, forgiveness, and understanding.

Brazil isn’t a local I’m used to seeing in historic lit. What about the setting appealed to you as an author?  
I chose Brazil because it was different from what one normally expects in historical fiction. It was also the locale of the greatest number of Confederate immigrants; therefore, it has the greatest amount of primary source material available. If one travels to Americana, Brazil on a festival day, one can see Confederado descendants dressed in antebellum ball gowns and Confederate gray uniforms dancing on a dance floor painted with a huge Stars and Bars flag. While I do not agree with their ancestors’ choices before or after the war, I find their story fascinating.

I was greatly impressed with the themes you explored in Confederado do Norte. Which is your favorite?
The theme of how one defines family was and is dear to my heart. I have no siblings, so I have had to “create” my own through friendships and extended family relationships. In this way, I believe we can create ties that are just as tight as those created by blood. 

There are also two things in the story that are based on personal family stories. Uncle Nathan’s being shamed into taking care of Mary Catherine after her parents died and his being neglectful is loosely based on my maternal grandmother’s young years. She was in a similar situation with her uncle and his family. Fortunately, they weren’t as bad as Nathan, but the experience left her feeling somewhat bitter towards them for many years.  In addition, Mary Catherine’s Bess is based on a woman in my maternal grandfather’s family. The real Bess helped raise my grandfather and his siblings and they loved her like they did their own mother. She lived in the house with a member of the family and was cared for by them until she died of old age. In a time when the KKK was running rampant in the state of Georgia, this was considered unusual, but Bess was considered family despite her being black. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
Wow, this is a hard one. I enjoyed writing about Mary Catherine’s relationship with Henry, her uncle’s slave, because it gave me a chance to explore how tight bonds are forged through mutual hardship. I really liked Henry. He had survived terrible hardship, but had managed to maintain a kind and loving heart. Henry was a really good guy.

I also enjoyed the courtship between Mary Catherine and Robert Atwell. I had tortured her so much by then that writing some happiness into her life felt really good! 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
I always struggle with sex scenes. I finally decided to close the door on Mary Catherine and Gus’s sex scenes because I didn’t like anything that came out of writing them with the door open, as we say. I guess I’m old school in that I find it much more alluring to have to use my imagination when reading about this part of romance.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
Not really. Mary Catherine always was to be the focus of the story. If I were to write another book with these characters, it would probably be a prequel showing the family’s life before the war.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Confederado do Norte and if so, what did you alter? 
The biggest challenge in this area was writing about a country that I have not personally visited nor had I studied in detail. Thanks to books, primary sources written by the original Confederados, Google, Google Maps, and Google Earth, I was able to peace together what the terrain must have looked like. I did take some liberties with Mary Catherine’s runaway trip up the river for the sake of story. The rivers were not as wild as I have described them.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I think it would have to be Mary Catherine! It’s her story, after all. I would like to ask her if she found the peace she sought. I like to think that she did. 

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Confederado do Norte, who would you hire? 
If we could get Keira Knightly or Rachel Weisz to die their hair auburn, either would be able to carry off Mary Catherine. As to Gustavo, I had the young Antonio Banderas and Nacho Figueras, the real polo player who models for Ralph Lauren, in mind the whole time I was writing him. Those are two beautiful men!!

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
Thank you so much for asking! I am thrilled to share that my 2015 release is in second round edits and should come out later this year from The Wild Rose Press. It is a World War II historical suspense with romantic elements set in the weeks leading up to the first Allied conference in 1943 in Casablanca. It is entitled Casablanca: Appointment at Dawn and features spies, double agents, an OSS officer, and a US Army nurse. 

My current work-in-progress, tentatively entitled Miami Days, Havana Nights, will feature a history professor whose specialty is American crime. She will be delving into the world of how the Mafia came to power in Miami and Havana. It, too, is historical suspense with romantic elements. Writing keeps me busy and out of trouble!

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PRAISE FOR CONFEDERADO DO NORTE

"Poignant, bold and ambitious, Confederado do Norte is a must for fans of post-Civil War lit and historic sagas alike. A memorable and thought-provoking piece that is sure to satisfy." - Flashlight Commentary

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I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic,03_Linda Bennett Pennell_Author recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother’s porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the American South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to her or himself, “Let’s pretend.”

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband and one adorable German Shorthaired Pointer who is quite certain she’s a little girl.

Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: “History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up.” Voltaire

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter


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Format: eBook
Publication Date: July 7, 2014
Released by: Soul Mate Publishing
ASIN: B00LMN5OMI
Length: 310 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Check Out All the Stops on Linda Bennett Pennall's Confederado Do Norte Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, February 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, February 24
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, February 25
Review at Book Babe
Interview & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Thursday, February 26
Review & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, February 27
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Monday, March 2
Character Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, March 3
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, March 4
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field by John Sadler

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: February 11, 2015

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

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I knew I'd be reading John Sadler's Blood Divide the moment I stumbled over it. Being a sucker for Scottish history, I'd love to say I was captivated by the premise, but I am honest enough to admit I'm shallow and my initial interest was in fact sparked be the cover art. I know it doesn't really matter, but somewhere there's a jacket designer who is happy their work is being appreciated so let's not debate my offering recognition as part of my review.

In terms of content, I loved how comprehensive Blood Divide felt. Sadler has an amazing understanding of the Battle of Flodden and tackles it from a variety of angles which is something I found particularly interesting. More often than not, readers enjoy a single perspective of any given event and I was pleasantly surprised to see an author tackle both sides of conflict from multiple points of view. 

That said, I couldn't help wanting more from John, Thomas, Alexander and Isabella. I don't mean to split hairs because a lot of the material is really well-done, but I felt character development took a backseat to the politics and grim realities of war. I know I'm nitpicking and I don't mean to overly critical, but there it is. 

All told, Blood Divide is an impeccably researched piece that proved well-worth my time. Rough edges aside, it is a title I'd easily recommend alongside Anvil of God or Sebastian's Way.

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Dead kings on the battlefield look pretty much like everyone else- stripped naked and flung aside in the mass anonymity of violent death.
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Confederado do Norte by Linda Bennett Pennell

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Read: February 19, 2015

October, 1866. Mary Catherine is devastated when her family emigrates from Georgia to Brazil because her father and maternal uncle refuse to accept the terms of Reconstruction following the Confederacy’s defeat. Shortly after arrival in their new country, she is orphaned, leaving her in Uncle Nathan’s care. He hates Mary Catherine, blaming her for his sister’s death. She despises him because she believes Nathan murdered her father. When Mary Catherine discovers Nathan’s plan to be rid of her as well, she flees into the mountain wilderness filled with jaguars and equally dangerous men. Finding refuge among kind peasants, she grows into a beauty, ultimately marrying the scion of a wealthy Portuguese family. Happiness and security seem assured until civil unrest brings armed marauders who have an inexplicable connection to Mary Catherine. Recreating herself has protected Mary Catherine in the past, but this new crisis will demand all of the courage, intelligence, and creativity she possesses simply to survive.

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Every once in a while I stumble over something different, something with a premise unlike anything I've ever seen, something like Linda Bennett Pennell's Confederado do Norte. I was familiar enough with the time period, but the setting and subject matter were fresh, original, exotic, and intriguing. I was hooked in a heartbeat and eager to see where the story might go. 

I've not dedicated much study to the Reconstruction, but what little I know centers on Northern carpetbaggers and southern resentment, so I was fascinated to learn that several thousand Americans favored emigration to Brazil over life under Yankee rule. I thought Pennell's use of the Confederate legacy in South America inspired and was impressed with the cross cultural perspective her fiction afforded.

That said, the heart of Mary Catherine's story is not its framework, but its themes. Her emotional journey is long and arduous, but I liked how Pennell utilized it as a platform to explore concepts such as survival, struggle, family, loyalty and identity. This is a story designed to make its audience think, it is the kind of book that challenges its readers and that really appealed to me. 

Pennell's writing wasn't easy for me to get into and I was frustrated with the extended time line of the narrative, but I find my difficulties of little consequence when weighed against the novel's strengths. Poignant, bold and ambitious, Confederado do Norte is a must for fans of post-Civil War lit and historic sagas alike. A memorable and thought-provoking piece that is sure to satisfy.

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I told him everything. As unjust as it might seem, it was a sort of test for both of us. I needed to see his reaction to my past. I needed to know if he believed me guilty of killing the people whom I had loved and the one I had hated. The adult part of myself knew that a young child shouldn’t be blamed for making an infantile mistake. The grown woman wouldn’t have blamed another little girl for wanting to hold a beautiful doll, but the child that I had been couldn’t forgive herself for her tragic error. I attached even greater culpability to the adolescent girl who had ignored the needs and desires of her husband and family, who had lied and deceived, all in the cause of wanting to feel important and to lessen her boredom.
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Check Out All the Stops on Linda Bennett Pennall's Confederado Do Norte Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, February 23
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, February 24
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, February 25
Review at Book Babe
Interview & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Thursday, February 26
Review & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Friday, February 27
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Monday, March 2
Character Interview & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, March 3
Review at Book Nerd
Wednesday, March 4
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Interview with Charlotte Brentwood, author of The Vagabond Vicar

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Charlotte Brentwood to Flashlight Commentary to discuss The Vagabond Vicar.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Charlotte. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Vagabond Vicar. 
Thanks for hosting me Erin. The Vagabond Vicar is a traditional regency romance. If you love Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, can't get enough of Downton Abbey or Cranford, or just prefer old-fashioned boy-meets-girl stories, this story should appeal to you.

Here’s the blurb:
William Brook is an idealistic young cleric, desperate to escape dreary England for a mission adventure in exotic lands. It's his worst nightmare come true when he is posted to a parish in a small backwater village, populated with small-minded people and husband-hunting mamas. He’s determined not to form any ties and to escape the country as an independent single man. 

A free spirit, Cecilia Grant is perfectly content to remain in her family home in Amberley village - when she's not wandering the countryside at all hours painting. Marriage options are few, but that won't stop her mother from engineering a match with one of the ruling family's sons. Cecilia attempts to win the man, but what is it about the new vicar and his brooding ways that is so appealing? Could he be the only one who has ever really understood her, and can she discover what he is running away from? 

As William struggles not to fall in love with the lady's intoxicating beauty and mysterious eccentricity, he finds himself drawn into the lives of the villagers, despite their best efforts to alienate the newcomer. When he makes it clear he's not sticking around, Cecilia strives to restrain her blossoming feelings for him. Just when it seems love may triumph, dark secrets are revealed in Amberley and a scandal from William’s past may see the end of not only his career, but his chance at finding an everlasting love. 

Where did this story begin? Where did the idea come from?
I created a vicar character for another book, but he wasn’t very interesting and I soon gave up on that book. While writing something else, the character of William began forming in my mind. He kept telling me tales of his mercy missions in the seedy parts of London. He told me about how he was given a living in a small village, but that he would much rather be sailing the seas to adventures in exotic lands. I was moved by his compassion, his earnestness, and his heart. I knew I had to give him his own story.

William Brook longs to travel. Where does he want to go and where did this desire come from? 
He wants to get as far away from England as possible, preferably in a country peopled with dangerous heathens! He thinks his motivation for going is to spread the gospel as well as having an adventure, but throughout the course of the novel the deeper reasons why he longs to escape England become clear.

What sets Cecilia Grant apart from her peers in William’s eyes?
At first William is dismissive of Cecilia as just another husband-hunter in Amberley village (although he does acknowledge she is pretty). As he hears more strange things about her and nearly meets her on several occasions, his curiously is increasingly piqued. Then each time they interact, she impresses him with her perception and compassion. She seems to understand him instantly, and she doesn’t attempt to flirt with him or hide behind a polite façade. William begins to trust her and to let her into his world, almost against his will.

Of all the professions you might have chosen, why write about a vicar?
Vicars are often much-maligned in historical literature - either snivelling, pompous, hypocritical, or just plain boring. I set out to create a vicar who was not only true to his convictions and compassionate, but also heroic, bold and downright swoon-worthy. I think this quote from a reader sums it up nicely: “I’ve never been one to “fall” for a religious man, but William Brook is likely to get fans fluttering and cheeks flushing. Dare I say he’s a strong contender against the famous (and my literary love) Mr. Rochester?”

Despite William’s occupation, I tried to keep the novel away from being “inspirational” or preachy. The story is primarily about a man and his ambitions, and the great love which consumes him.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
You’re right, there are too many to choose from! But I would probably pick out the scene which I wrote first, which the whole book became anchored around. It’s the scene where William is working in his garden, and Cecilia happens upon him. Seeing him as a man for the first time (rather than just the vicar), she has her first rush of attraction. When he becomes aware of her presence, a delightfully awkward scene transpires. 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
Near the climax of the book, William is put on a trial of sorts where his fate will be decided. This scene took a long time as I had to pull many pieces together and make the outcome convincing. I kept returning to the scene until I was confident I had it right.

Sometimes fiction takes on a life of its own and forces the author to make sacrifices for the sake of the story. Is there a character or concept you wish you could have spent more time on?
As this is an indie-published work, I had the luxury of spending all the time I needed to make sure I was happy with everything. So I would like to think I haven’t sacrificed anything.

However, during the course of writing the novel it became obvious that Amy Miller and John Barrington needed their own stories, so they will get them!

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Vagabond Vicar and if so, what did you alter? 
I haven’t changed any major historical facts (as far as I know!) but I did invent the setting of Amberley and all of the surrounding area, based on other villages in that corner of Shropshire.

If you could sit down and talk with one of your characters, maybe meet and discuss things over drinks, who would you choose and why?
I might choose the formidable Mrs Fortescue, who seems to have many skeletons in her closet behind that prickly exterior. Who knows what she might reveal after a few drinks!

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Vagabond Vicar, who would you hire? 
I would love to find some relatively unknown young British actors to bring a freshness to the love story. But if I had to name names, for William I’d choose someone like Matthew Goode, Ben Barnes, Jamie Bamber, Matthew Rhys, Aaron Johnson or a younger Henry Cavill. 

For Cecilia, it would be someone like Jemima West, Romola Garai, Rebecca Hall or Kaya Scodelario.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works?
Next are the two sequels, which I’m planning to write mostly in tandem as they are related (though will stand alone). I already have the character arcs planned and many scenes (or bits of scenes) written and I’m excited to see where these characters take me!

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PRAISE FOR THE VAGABOND VICAR

I enjoyed The Vagabond Vicar’s unique plot and characters, beautiful cover, and lovely romance. The suspense, action, and development of characters rose as the novel neared its close, bringing the ending to a touching conclusion. This is a Regency novel worth adding to your to-read list. - Katie Patchell, Austenprose (4/5 stars)

Discovering new authors is always so rewarding. I am incredibly swayed by a beautiful cover, and The Vagabond Vicar just makes my heart sing. I look forward to what she comes up with next. Check out The Vagabond Vicar. You won’t be disappointed. - Laurel Ann, Austenprose

Want a “Mom’safe” romance to share that is warm, has tension, is driven by characters that are so very likeable? Here it is, The Vagabond Vicar, a gem of a find, pure entertainment, and a trip back to a time when social proprieties could make or break a young woman. - Diane, Tome Tender (5/5 stars)

Great story with interesting characters. I look forward to the two follow-up novels that are planned! Can’t wait to read them! - Midnight Attic Reader

Charlotte Brentwood has provided a unique vision into small village life when the nobility ruled everything. - The Long and the Short Of It Reviews

The Vagabond Vicar is a very charming and sweet read that I would highly recommend! I look forward to reading more from Ms. Brentwood! - Candy, So Little Time

I absolutely adored this novel. It’s a beautiful, historical version of boy-meets-girl that manages to never fall into the dreaded classification of “cliché and predictable.” The narrative is wonderfully written, with exquisite attention to detail. - Alexia Bullard, eBook Review Gal 

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Charlotte developed serious crushes on a series of men from age fifteen: Darcy, Knightley, Wentworth and Brandon. A bookworm and scribbler for as long as she can remember, Charlotte always dreamed of sharing her stories with the world. The Vagabond Vicar is her debut novel.

She lives in beautiful Auckland, New Zealand. When she's not toiling at her day job, writing or procrastinating on the Internet, Charlotte can be found snuggling with her cat Sophie, warbling at the piano, sipping a hot chocolate or enjoying the great outdoors.


Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Pinterest ❧  Goodreads


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Format: eBook
PB Publication Date: October 14, 2014
Released by: Charlotte Brentwood
ASIN: B00OIJNP8S
Length: 279 pages
Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)
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Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Splendid Gift by Alyson Richman

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: February 18, 2015

March, 1942: Declared medically unfit to fly while France is beseiged by war, Saint-Exupéry languishes in homesick frustration, unable to aid his country—and unable to write. While his publisher tries in vain to ease the author’s mind, Saint-Exupéry meets the enchanting Silvia Hamilton at a cocktail party. Though they do not share a language, they are nonetheless drawn to each other, and where words fail them they find other forms of communication. In the proceeding months, Silvia’s warmth and grace give Saint-Exupéry the peace of mind he so desperately needs. And as their love affair flourishes, he finds himself inspired to tell a tale of such simplicity and beauty that a person of any age could find joy and comfort in it. With Silvia as his muse, he works furiously to compose his petite prince.

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I often question writing reviews for novellas. They are so short that I wonder if commentary has any value, but review is what I do and page count in not indicative of one's ability to write so exercising prejudice seems an unreasonable alternative. Take Alyson Richmond's A Splendid Gift. The piece is only fifty-four pages long and half of it is dedicated to an excerpt from The Garden of Letters, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable.

A biographic fiction, the short centers on the affair between Silvia Hamilton and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, author of The Little Prince. It's a touching piece and illuminating in its way, but my favorite aspect of the story is how it showcases Richman's talent as a storyteller.  

Like The Lost Wife, A Splendid Gift isn't about the destination, but the journey that led there. Richman emphasizes emotional experience and I appreciate how deftly she was able to capture hope, loneliness, and love in simple, but poignant prose. Her characters are distinctive and relatable, but flawed and while I'd have welcomed more time with both Sylvia and Antoine, I greatly enjoyed the insight Richmond's brief tale afforded their romance and the influence it had on his work. 

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His sorcery was instead funneled into his work, polishing every sentence until it gleamed like a wet stone. He was determined that the message of his story be universal , regardless of the reader’s age.
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Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 17, 2015

From the bestselling author of It Happened at the Fair and Fair Play comes a compelling historical novel about a progressive “New Woman”—the girl behind Tiffany’s chapel—and the love that threatens it all. As preparations for the 1893 World’s Fair set Chicago and the nation on fire, Louis Tiffany—heir to the exclusive Fifth Avenue jewelry empire—seizes the opportunity to unveil his state-of-the-art, stained glass, mosaic chapel, the likes of which the world has never seen. But when Louis’s dream is threatened by a glassworkers’ strike months before the Fair opens, he turns to an unforeseen source for help: the female students at the New York Art Institute. Eager for adventure, the young women pick up their skirts, move to boarding houses, take up steel cutters, and assume new identities as the “Tiffany Girls.” Tiffany Girls is the heartwarming story of the impetuous Flossie Jayne, a beautiful, budding artist who is handpicked by Louis to help complete the Tiffany chapel. Though excited to live in a boarding house when most women stayed home, she quickly finds the world is less welcoming than anticipated. From a Casanova male, to an unconventional married couple, and a condescending singing master, she takes on a colorful cast of characters to transform the boarding house into a home while racing to complete the Tiffany chapel and make a name for herself in the art world. As challenges mount, her ambitions become threatened from an unexpected quarter: her own heart. Who will claim victory? Her dreams or the captivating boarder next door?

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

Tiffany stained glass windows, St. Paul's Episcopal Church,
Selma, Alabama. Designed by Clara Weaver Parrish.
I often refer to myself as a cover slut so what I'm about to admit may come as something of a shock, but I hate the artwork on Deeanne Gist's Tiffany Girl. The dress is entirely unsuitable for the Flossie's occupation, she works on windows not lamps, and the model's pose is laughable to say the least. The Gibson Girl bouffant isn't bad, but nothing about this jacket draws me in or excites my imagination, a trait it shares with the content it cocoons.

I liked a lot of the material, but I can't help feeling Gist lost control of the story. Flossie's employment at Tiffany's should have been more than enough, but her passion for painting invalidated the value of her professional position and while her coworkers had potential, they paled next to the residents at Klausmeyer’s boardinghouse. The World's Fair scene is well-done, but it is of minimal importance to the story and Flossie's effort to reinvent herself as a "New Woman" doesn't hold a candle to Reeve's story line. The end result isn't bad, but it is disjointed and rather incohesive. 

Since I'm on a bit of a roll I might as well admit that I found Gist's heroine insufferably irritating and shallow. I mean no offense, but Flossie rubbed me the wrong way from the start. Her mother had some very interesting qualities and I found Mrs. Dinwiddie delightfully endearing, but Flossie herself missed the mark. Reeve was a challenge, but his personality comes to light much slower than those of his peers and while I never fully warmed to him, I think the metamorphosis of his character the most intriguing element of the narrative.

A handful of readers have expressed distaste for Gist's illustration of physical love and while I don't agree with their analysis, I will say I was caught off-guard by the following.

Great Caesar’s ghost, but her lips were soft. She flung her arms around his neck and pressed herself against him. He tried to deepen the kiss, but she didn’t understand. He pulled his mouth away and began to taste and nibble and kiss every inch of skin he had access to. Her neck, her jaw, her cheeks, her nose, her eyes, her forehead, her ears, her hair. Die and be snagged, but he wanted to run his hands through it.

I did a double-take. Were they actually making out? 

Instead, he found her mouth again and wrapped his arms clear around her. “Open your mouth, magpie.”
“What?”
He kissed her, really kissed her.
She made mewling sounds. She raked her fingers through his hair. She twisted against him.

Mewling sounds? Like a cat? Who knew Reeve Wilder could pull a Harry Burns. 

He knew his bed was mere steps away. The temptation was huge. Enormous. He had to get her out of here. “We have to stop.”
But she didn’t let him go. Finally, he could take it no more.
He broke their kiss and held her at arms’ length. “You better get out of here. Now.”
Her lips were full, her cheeks red where his whiskers had scratched her, her hair mussed. She pressed her hands against her stomach. “Reeve, I . . . I feel so—”
“Out,” he barked, then spun her toward the door.

Okay, it's not exactly Fifty Shades of Grey, but electricity, temptation and carnal attraction are not subjects usually found in nonsecular lit. 

This, however, isn't the scene everyone is talking about. No, it's the wedding night that is making waves, but personally, I can't say the moment lived up to the rumors it's spawned. The scene is dominated by dialogue that brings closure to the characters' emotional journeys. There are a few lines of banter about becoming a woman and a flirtatious debate over the best part of a wedding, but that's as far as Gist goes. The groom does take off his bride's dress and she is described as standing before him in her chemise, bloomers, corset, and stockings. They kiss and the scene ends with hardly a fraction of the desire witnessed above. 

A combination of chemise, stockings, corset and 
bloomers by  Asasomnadodesign. Image ©  Åsa 
Petersson. Used with permission.
Was I offended by this intimacy? No, but that's just me. I understand why some are uncomfortable, but I personally thought the scene intensely creative. Yes, they've shed their wedding attire, but Victorians dressed in modest layers so their undergarments aren't quite as revealing or provocative as contemporary lingerie and call me crazy, but I liked that Gist used that fact to her advantage. Since page one, both of these characters have sought acceptance and here they stand, entirely vulnerable, but recognized and appreciated for who and what they are. I might be alone in this, but I feel the scene a commendable metaphor for the themes expressed over the course of the story.

Bottom line, Tiffany Girl had its moments, but I personally felt them too few and far between. I like the imagery set forth in the premise, but I don't feel Tiffany glass or the World's Fair played enough of a role in Flossie Jayne's story. I liked the emotional drama she and Reeve experience, but feel it overshadowed by an overabundance of plot. I appreciated the light humor and essential themes of Tiffany Girl, but I was disappointed with Gist's execution. I'd recommend it as a beach read, but would have difficulty endorsing it alongside One Thousand Porches or Maids of Misfortune.

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Of late, he found he didn’t really think of Miss Jayne as a New Woman. Even though she called herself one, she didn’t entirely fit the mold, at least not the mold presented on the lecture platforms and in print. She didn’t have a chip on her shoulder. She didn’t malign men or call them tyrants. She didn’t argue that his gender’s only desire was to make women cower, cringe, and be helplessly dependent, always ministering to man’s wants, whims, and fancies. Not once had he heard her even hint that men were selfish, violent brutes greedy for power, or that they wished only to have the companionship of an inferior rather than one who was his equal. No, she wasn’t a New Woman, she was simply a naive girl trying to make her way in a man’s world.
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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Witch Hunter's Tale by Sam Thomas

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: February 3, 2015

Sam Thomas takes readers back to Puritan England with midwife Bridget Hodgson, hailed by the Cleveland Plain Dealer as "one of the most fascinating detectives in contemporary mystery fiction." Winter has come to the city of York, and with it the threat of witchcraft. As women and children sicken and die, midwife Bridget Hodgson is pulled against her will into a full-scale witch-hunt that threatens to devour all in its path, guilty and innocent alike. Bridget—accompanied once again by her deputy Martha Hawkins and her nephew Will Hodgson—finds herself playing a lethal game of cat and mouse against the most dangerous men in York, as well as her sworn enemy Rebecca Hooke. As the trials begin, and the noose begins to tighten around her neck, Bridget must answer the question: How far will she go to protect the people she loves?

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Sam Thomas taunted me. Not intentionally, I don't really know him and I don't think he has particular issue with me, but he mentioned The Witch Hunter's Tale in a January 2014 interview, more than a year before the novel's release, and I about lost my mind waiting for it to become available. Week after interminable week, there I was cooling my heels and twiddling my thumbs, but relief finally came and I'm glad to say I wasn't disappointed.

Thomas has a remarkable understanding of seventeenth century life. He fills his stories with a wealth of social and historic detail, but I'm always amazed by his chosen point of view as each of his novels is written from the perspective of a midwife. I don't mean to split hairs or get into some sexist debate, I'm simply awed and amused that I owe such excellent exposition to someone who wouldn't have been welcome in the birthing room. 

Bridget Hodgson is a wonderful character, but I think this my favorite of her stories. She grows in unexpected ways as she wrestles with the idea of justice and man's manipulation of the law. She is forced to make sacrifices, change her view of the world and even act in ways she wouldn't normally consider appropriate. She becomes a more dynamic and complex individual in this installment of the Midwife Mysteries and that transformation really appealed to me. 

My favorite element of the story, however, was Bridget's nemesis, Rebecca Hooke. There is a cold brilliance to the woman, a deviousness I absolutely adore. If you haven't done so, I highly recommend reading The Maidservant and the Murderer as the novella offers wonderful insight to her personality. Bridget is fun, Martha is clever and Helen is wickedly alluring, but Rebecca is shrewd, conniving, and duplicitous. She is the perfect foil, an adversary who is as fascinating as she is egoistic.

I don't mean downplay the earlier novels, but I think The Witch Hunter's Tale the best of the series thus far. Thomas has a way of keeping his readers on their toes, of holding a twist until the last possible moment and catching his audience off-guard with a curve ball they never saw coming, but the themes he explored here and the depth he illustrated in his players were beyond anything I expected and came together in a memorable and thoroughly entertaining fiction. 

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“The first case we will hear is that of Mother Lee,” the clerk announced. “The charge is the most damnable sin and crime of witchcraft.” A door behind the bench opened, and two bailiffs led Mother Lee, shackled hand and foot, into the courtroom to begin what would be her last day on earth.
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Check Out All the Stops on Sam Thomas' The Witch Hunter’s Tale Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, February 9
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book
Spotlight at What Is that Book About
Tuesday, February 10
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch
Wednesday, February 11
Spotlight at Susan Heim on Writing
Friday, February 13
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Monday, February 16
Review at Book Babe
Spotlight at Let Them Read Books
Tuesday, February 17
Review at The Emerald City Book Review
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Wednesday, February 18
Review at Back Porchervations
Thursday, February 19
Interview at Back Porchervations
Friday, February 20
Review at Build a Bookshelf
Spotlight at Passages to the Past
Monday, February 23
Interview at Mina’s Bookshelf
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Obsession
Tuesday, February 24
Review at A Book Geek
Wednesday, February 25
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, February 26
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog
Spotlight at Brooke Blogs
Friday, February 27
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes


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