Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cover Crush: Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The jacket of Connilyn Cossette's Counted With the Stars is  deceptively simple. The contrasting colors and subtle embellishments create a sort of elegance and I like how the overall image gives the reader opportunity to imagine what kind of story it conceals. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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

Magdalena at It's a Mad Mad World
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Stephanie at Layered Pages
Heather at The Maiden's Court


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Cover Clichés: Mourning Lace

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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Artist Alison Schuyler spends her time working in her family’s renowned art gallery, determined to avoid the curse that has followed the Schuyler clan from the Netherlands to America and back again. She’s certain that true love will only lead to tragedy—that is, until a chance meeting at Waterloo station brings Ian Devlin into her life. Drawn to the bold and compassionate British Army captain, Alison begins to question her fear of love as World War II breaks out, separating the two and drawing each into their own battles. While Ian fights for freedom on the battlefield, Alison works with the Dutch Underground to find a safe haven for Jewish children and priceless pieces of art alike. But safety is a luxury war does not allow. As time, war, and human will struggle to keep them apart, will Alison and Ian have the faith to fight for their love, or is it their fate to be separated forever?




Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel.

When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story.

But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves.

The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.




Four years on from discovering their true heritage, Sally and Luke have overcome their animosity to forge a trusting brother- sister relationship. So when Luke returns home from his post as a detective in the Hong Kong police force, he asks Sally for help to prove the innocence of his friend Irish, locked up in prison for the murder of his wife. Luke believes Irish was set up and wants Sally's help to prove it. But Sally already has her hands full. As well as tending her flourishing business empire, she must also pick up the pieces when her family - from her feckless sister Josie to her self-centred daughter Margo - runs into trouble. Moreover, she must put her own dreams on hold because the man she loves is not free to be with her. Facing betrayal and humiliation at the hands of her so-called loved ones, can Sally bring herself to forgive those who have wronged her? How can she help Luke? And what can she do when sorry is not enough?


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Friday, June 17, 2016

Bookish Banter: The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff

I hate book clubs. I've tried quite a few, but I've yet to find one I really fit into and I find that incredibly frustrating as someone who loves talking about books. It's not something I generally think about, but after stumbling over another list of pre-written discussion questions, I found myself wondering why I shouldn't work through them on my own. I'm a book blogger aren't I?Putting my ideas out there is what I do!

For the record, Bookish Banter is not a regular post here at Flashlight Commentary. Not every book has questions and I don't have the time to sort titles that do to the top of my TBR, but as a semi-regular event I thought it'd be fun to post my two cents when the opportunity presents itself. 

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  Try to conceal your shock, but this post contains SPOILERS. Proceed at your own risk.

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The sense of place plays a very important role in The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. Which setting did you find the most evocative?
This sounds horrible, but the setting didn’t make an impression on me while reading The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach. I was keenly aware of Addie’s longing to find a place to belong emotionally, but her environment didn’t stand out in my mind while reading this narrative. 

Siblings often fall into distinct roles within a family. Did the relationships between the Connolly brothers remind you of your own siblings, or families you’ve known?
I wasn’t raised with siblings, but I did recognize the roles each boy played in the Connolly household and I definitely appreciated the authenticity in the Jenoff’s illustration. Having watched larger families, I felt the concept both familiar and relevant.

Addie’s choices altered her life very drastically. Have you ever lamented a path that you might have taken but didn’t?
I think regret is a common sentiment among adults and while I can certainly empathize, I have to admit that my choices, good and bad, have led to things I couldn’t have been more blessed to have in my life so while I sometimes ask myself ‘what if’ I rarely dwell on the idea or let it overwhelm my emotions in any way.

It seems at some points in the book that Charlie and Addie are fated to be together, but at others they seem star-crossed. Do you believe in destiny and meant-to-be, or is love a matter of free will?
I’m definitely in the free will category. People grow and change and circumstances often dictate our decisions. I think some people are better suited to one another, but I don’t believe there is one perfect mate for any one individual. 

Addie was rather an independent woman without many close female friendships. Why do you think that is? What was it that drew her and Claire Churchill together?
Independent? I hate to be contrary, but I didn’t get an independent vibe from Addie. In my mind Addie was frightened and hurt. She seemed the kind of woman that was always running from situations when life got complicated. Claire is the exact opposite and I think there is truth in the idea that opposites attract. 

Did any details in the story differ from your perception of life on the home front during the Second World War? What surprised you?
Nothing really surprised me, but that’s not unusual considering WWII is my favorite historic era. That said, I really liked how Jenoff captured America’s view of Europe’s conflict prior to the country’s official entry into WWII. 

What do you think it was that Addie really wanted out of life, and did she succeed in getting it? What did she have to sacrifice or compromise?
I think Addie wanted to belong and yes, I think she found a place in the end. I don’t think it brought the satisfaction she imagined, but I think she felt secure in her decision despite compromising the fantasies she’d created in her mind’s eye. 

Which of the men in the book would you have chosen for Addie (or none of them)? What is it about Addie’s upbringing and circumstances that influenced her romantic decisions?
None of them. I think each represented something different for Addie, but I don’t think any one of them made a great partner. In the end I felt she settled for someone who could understand the pain of her personal history, but I’m not convinced the relationship she chose would be particularly satisfying.

How do you feel about who Addie ends up with at the end of the book? How do you think Addie and Liam fare after the end of the book?
I think I answered this a bit in the last question. I am kind of sad that Addie didn’t go for someone who challenged her more. Liam felt like the safest option and while I feel they’d have gotten on, I feel their life together would always be shadowed by their past experiences, Charlie’s affection, and their individual insecurities.  

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Have you read this book? Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cover Crush: The Salt Road by Jane Johnson

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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I think the cover of Jane Johnson's The Salt Road incredibly striking. Contrasting colors always catch my eye, but I find the pairing of orange and blue especially effective in this design. I appreciate how the artistic distortion of both the model and the camels below her bring depth and texture to the jacket and I like how the corner embellishments subtly frame the two as a single image.  

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Colleen at IndieBRAG

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cover Clichés: Tudor Roses

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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‘Better than Philippa Gregory’ - The Bookseller

‘Anne O’Brien has joined the exclusive club of excellent historical novelists.’ - Sunday Express

Forbidden to marry the man of her choice, Lady Beatrice Somerton was forcibly wed to another. Now her husband has met his death on the field of battle—perhaps by the hand of her first and only love. Should she still want such a man?





From the author of The Queen's Mistake comes the untold story of King Henry VIII's first well-known mistress.

As the beautiful daughter of courtiers, Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount is overjoyed when she secures a position as maid of honor to Katherine of Aragon. But when she captures the attention of the king himself, there are whispers that the queen ought to be worried for her throne.

When Bess gives birth to a healthy son the whispers become a roar. But soon the infamous Boleyn girls come to court and Henry's love for her begins to fade. Now, Bess must turn to her trusted friend, the illegitimate son of Cardinal Wolsey, to help her move beyond life as the queen's rival...




"I am Catalina, Princess of Spain, daughter of the two greatest monarchs the world has ever known...and I will be Queen of England." 

Thus, bestselling author Philippa Gregory introduces one of her most unforgettable heroines: Katherine of Aragon. Daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Katherine has been fated her whole life to marry Prince Arthur of England. When they meet and are married, the match becomes as passionate as it is politically expedient. The young lovers revel in each other's company and plan the England they will make together. But tragically, aged only fifteen, Arthur falls ill and extracts from his sixteen-year-old bride a deathbed promise to marry his brother, Henry; become Queen; and fulfill their dreams and her destiny. 

"They tell me nothing but lies here and they think they can break my spirit. I believe what I choose and say nothing. I am not as simple as I seem." 

Widowed and alone in the avaricious world of the Tudor court, Katherine has to sidestep her father-in-law's desire for her and convince him, and an incredulous Europe, that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, that there is no obstacle to marriage with Henry. For seven years, she endures the treachery of spies, the humiliation of poverty, and intense loneliness and despair while she waits for the inevitable moment when she will step into the role she has prepared for all her life. Then, like her warrior mother, Katherine must take to the battlefield and save England when its old enemies the Scots come over the border and there is no one to stand against them but the new Queen. 

"It was my dying husband's hope, my mother's wish, and God's will that I should be Queen of England; and for them and for the country, I will be Queen of England until I die." 

Raised on the battlefield and in the most beautiful Moorish palace in the world, sent to England alone at the age of sixteen to take her place in a court where she couldn't speak the language, and abandoned and forced to endure poverty after the death of her husband, Katherine remained a woman of indomitable spirit, unwavering faith, and extraordinary strength. Philippa Gregory brings to life one of history's most inspiring women and creates one of the most compelling characters in historical fiction. 

English Title: The Constant Princess


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Friday, June 10, 2016

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 26, 2016

No one knows the name of 'the painter' who comes to the asylum in St Remy in the south of France, but they see his wild, red hair and news of his savaged ear soon circulates in the village and comes to the notice of the wife of the asylum's doctor. She feels herself drawn to him and learns that his presence is disturbing - and not just to her either. But back she goes - again and again. Until she is banned, but still she makes her way over the wall, through the garden to talk to this apparently mad and passionate man. And the consequences of her indiscretion, of what van Gogh comes to mean to her, of what it will do to her marriage, her life once she has touched danger and passion will have far reaching effects - both surprisingly catastrophic and tender.

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As I write this commentary, only fourteen readers have rated Susan Fletcher’s Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew on Goodreads. Seven have issued the book a flawless five stars, while another six have issued appreciative fours. Only one reader has gone lower and in all honesty, I’m quite comfortable being a lone dissenter. What works for one reader doesn’t always work for another and there’s nothing wrong with that so long as we can respect the subjective nature of reviews and the diverse opinions they represent.

Getting back to the story at hand, I found Fletcher’s prose beautiful and thought her descriptions of the asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole in Provence strikingly original. I was familiar with Van Gogh before reading this piece, but this is the first time I’ve seen any part of his life fictionalized and I found a lot of merit in Fletcher’s characterization of the famed artist. That said, I struggled with the author’s tone and found it incredibly difficult to get lost in her narrative. 

Fletcher’s work is intensely introspective. The approach holds a lot of appeal for some readers, but my tastes are a little different. I liked Jeanne well-enough, but her marital problems and personal trials didn’t interest me. I found the development and pacing ponderous and often caught my mind wandering to more immersive fiction. There’s something to be said Fletcher’s themes, the oppressive loneliness of an empty marriage and the fragility of broken souls, but I favor more energetic fiction with overt movement and dramatic intrigue. 

In sum, Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew was not my kind of book. I liked the story, but wasn’t inspired by it. The characters didn’t take up residence in my mind’s eye or capture my imagination. I appreciate the piece for its historic scope, but don’t think I’ll be recommending it to other readers very often. 

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"More than yellow. Cadmium yellow. It’s in grass and dry earth, in mornings. I did sunflowers in Arles. This colour –" he speaks more softly now, as if confiding – "this is the colour of life to me. This, and the blue; I favour them together because there are some colours that bring out the brightness in another."
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cover Crush: Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey has stopped me in my tracks on more than one occasion. The heat in the color scheme and the manipulation of light immediately catches my eye, but I love how the notes interact with the model. The book is a hybrid that blends elements of historic fiction and fantasy and I think this image capitalizes on both in the best possible way. 

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Heather at The Maiden's Court
Colleen at IndieBRAG

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 24, 2016

From Graham Moore, the Academy Award–winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and New York Times bestselling author of The Sherlockian comes a riveting historical thriller about the “War of the Currents,” the famous race for glory and riches between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. Featuring a cast of characters ranging from Nikola Tesla to Alexander Graham Bell to Stanford White, this is a wonder-filled work of historical fiction that is both legal caper and fact-based account of one of the most transformative moments in American history.

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Westinghouse, Tesla, and Edison
My interest in Graham Moore’s The Last Days of Night began with its cover. The image is striking to say the least and I love how the artist manipulated light in the composition. Something about that just feels right on a novel set against the introduction of competing electric power transmission systems in the late nineteenth century.

I wasn’t familiar with Paul Cravath prior to picking up the novel, but I applaud Moore’s decision to use the twenty-six-year-old attorney as the story’s narrator. His youth and inexperience make him an ideal protagonist as he often requires others to bring him up to speed in both the law and electric science. This fact allowed Moore to insert an extensive amount of factual exposition in a very natural way. There were moments when I felt the amount of information proved detrimental to the novel’s pacing, but as a reader I never felt overwhelmed by the content and was always confident in my understanding of the concept material.

I was also struck by Moore’s characterizations of Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla. I think it would have been very easy to lose sight of their individual personas during the writing process, but Moore invested a lot of time and energy in capturing the disposition and temperament of each in his fiction. Edison’s pride is matched by Westinghouse’s competitive spirit and Tesla’s eccentricities. Moore’s treatment of each made it easy for me to keep each straight over the course of the narrative and I think the effort went a long way in developing their professional rivalry.

The legal struggle between Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla fascinated me to no end and I loved how Paul’s position placed him right in the thick of it. This was a momentous moment in scientific history and everyone wanted to claim the innovation as their own. The tension is palpable and I was transfixed by the lengths each individual was willing to go in the effort to satisfy their ambition and greed. Moore layered their antagonism with so much detail that it was hard to pull myself away from the narrative and that in and of itself is the mark of great storytelling.

My only real complaint was the inclusion of Agnes Huntington. I liked her well enough, but I often felt her role was that that of token female lead. There was nothing inherently wrong with her character and I didn’t hate her by any means, but I did feel that she was tagged onto the story in hope that her presence might make the story more palatable to female readers. I understand her relationship with Paul and appreciated how her presence balanced and rounded his character, but I honestly didn’t feel her necessary to the larger themes and ideas of Moore’s narrative.

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"Blessed with my brightness, men’s working days are no longer so easily bound by the setting sun. Factories double their production. Midnight and noon are no longer distinct. The nighttime of our ancestors is ending. Electric light is our future. The man who controls it will not simply make an unimaginable fortune. He will not simply dictate politics. He will not merely control Wall Street, or Washington, or the newspapers, or the telegraph companies, or the million household electrical devices we can’t even dream of just yet. No, no, no. The man who controls electricity will control the very sun in the sky.”
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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Cover Clichés: A Farewell to Arms

Sometimes, while browsing the virtual shelves on Amazon and Goodreads, I see an image that gives me an oddly disconcerting sense of deja vu. I could swear I've never read the book, but I know I've seen the jacket image somewhere before.

This phenomenon is what inspired Cover Clichés. Images are often recycled because cover artists are often forced to work from a limited pool of stock images and copyright free material. That said, I find comparing their finished designs quite interesting.  

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1940, Guernsey.

Vivienne de la Mare waits nervously for the bombs to drop. Instead comes quiet surrender and insidious occupation. Nothing is safe anymore.

Her husband is fighting on the frontline and the façade of being the perfect wife is cracking. Her new life is one where the enemy lives next door. Small acts of kindness from one Nazi soldier feels like a betrayal. But how can you hate your enemy when you know his name, when he makes you feel alive when everything else is dying around you?

Vivienne is fighting her own private war. On one side, the safe, secret, loving world she could build with her captain; on the other, loneliness and danger. It’s time for Vivienne to choose -- collaboration or resistance...




With World War II finally ending, Jake Geismar, former Berlin correspondent for CBS, has wangled one of the coveted press slots for the Potsdam Conference. His assignment: a series of articles on the Allied occupation. His personal agenda: to find Lena, the German mistress he left behind at the outbreak of the war.
When Jake stumbles on a murder -- an American soldier washes up on the conference grounds -- he thinks he has found the key that will unlock his Berlin story. What Jake finds instead is a larger story of corruption and intrigue reaching deep into the heart of the occupation. Berlin in July 1945 is like nowhere else -- a tragedy, and a feverish party after the end of the world.

As Jake searches the ruins for Lena, he discovers that years of war have led to unimaginable displacement and degradation. As he hunts for the soldier's killer, he learns that Berlin has become a city of secrets, a lunar landscape that seethes with social and political tension. When the two searches become entangled, Jake comes to understand that the American Military Government is already fighting a new enemy in the east, busily identifying the "good Germans" who can help win the next war. And hanging over everything is the larger crime, a crime so huge that it seems -- the worst irony -- beyond punishment.

At once a murder mystery, a moving love story, and a riveting portrait of a unique time and place, The Good German is a historical thriller of the first rank.




A war bride awaits the arrival of her GI husband at the platform…

A Holocaust survivor works at the Oyster Bar, where a customer reminds him of his late mother…

A Hollywood hopeful anticipates her first screen test and a chance at stardom in the Kissing Room…

On any particular day, thousands upon thousands of people pass through New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, through the whispering gallery, beneath the ceiling of stars, and past the information booth and its beckoning four-faced clock, to whatever destination is calling them. It is a place where people come to say hello and good-bye. And each person has a story to tell.

Now, ten bestselling authors inspired by this iconic landmark have created their own stories, set just after the end of World War II, in a time of hope, uncertainty, change, and renewal….


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Which cover strikes your fancy and why? What colors draw your eye? Do you think the image appropriate next to the jacket description? Leave your comments below!

Have you seen this image elsewhere? Shoot me an email or leave a comment and let me know. 


Monday, June 6, 2016

Interview with Donna Russo Morin, author of Portrait of a Conspiracy

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Donna Russo Morin to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her novel, Portrait of a Conspiracy.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Donna. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Portrait of a Conspiracy.
Thanks so very much for having me; it’s a pleasure to be here.

In Portrait of a Conspiracy, the first book in the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy, a group of women artists who long to be a part of the astounding evolution taking place in the Renaissance, hone their skills together in a secret art society. When Florence erupts with violence—an assassination, an attempted assassination, and the retribution for both—the women are caught up in the deadly aftermath, hoping to save one of their own as the very challenge of it forces them to become better artists. 

Where did this idea come from? 
I always try to do something different with each book I write, to push myself and challenge myself. I had always wanted to do a trilogy, but, as always, my books are deeply rooted in historical fact. After finishing my previous book, The King’s Agent, I knew I wanted to write more about artists and their lives. There is no better place and time to do that than in Florence during the Renaissance. 

Add to that the Pazzi conspiracy—the assassination/attempt, which is all fact—I found my trilogy’s beginning.

What elements of the story are purely fictitious? 
To the best of my knowledge, there were no secret female art societies (though that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist, merely that history didn’t record them). Therefore, the women’s involvement in the very true acts that took place are fictitious. And while many readers may think the facets of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s retribution are so egregious they must be fictitious, they are not. He didn’t simply just execute near to one hundred men, he did so in the most gruesome of ways.   

There’s a section in the back of the book which delineates this very question in greater detail.

Which of your characters do you feel you have the most in common with? 
All the women in the book are loosely based on women in my life, including myself. I am Viviana. Much of it was difficult to put down on paper. Nor did I shine some golden light on her/me; all my warts are there, saying what I should only think, rushing into things when I should think more first. But it’s was a challenge to keep the character real while creating a heroine, or one of many.

The novel has a lot of interesting thematic ideas. Which is your favorite? Which do you hope resonates with your readers? 
Most of all I wanted to pay homage to the power that is women united. I had been going through a very traumatic personal time, and if not for the real women, the women in my story are loosely based on, I’m not sure if I would have had the strength.

Women have a different bond than men; we are much more personal and intimate with each other. We can also be a bit catty to each other. Yet, when I think of the world we inhabit, I long for woman to band together to affect real change. Together we have that power.    

As a novelist, what drew you to this particular period?
There really have been two crucial pivot points in artistic evolution; one is the Renaissance. There’s no doubt in my mind that women were striving to be a part of it. The first truly recognized female artist came on the scene (and will be seen in the very last sentences of the trilogy) right at the end of the Renaissance. The ambition of these women, then, is set at the moment of its greatest challenge. With the political upheaval coinciding, it was just too rich a moment in history not to have set in this period.

What sort of research went into Portrait of a Conspiracy? What sources did find most valuable? 
I typically do at least six to nine months of academic research before beginning any book. And most times, only a quarter or so of what I uncover makes it into my book. But I like to immerse myself in the period…from what they ate, what they wore, to how they waged war. I do include an extensive bibliography in the back of the book; however, the two books I found most helpful are April Blood by Lauro Martines and The Montefeltro Conspiracy by Marcello Simonetta.

And, as with every book, I try to do some hands on research. I’ve learned to fence, to blow glass, archery (which I loved so much I know own my own bow), and dagger fighting. For Portrait of a Conspiracy, I took some painting lessons (I won’t disparage the art by stating that I ‘learned’ how to paint.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
You’re so right; there were many scenes I adored writing: when one of the women first encounters Leonardo, some of the scenes with Viviana and her sons. One that really stands out is when the women needed to paint a certain interesting part of a man’s anatomy; I had some fun there.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
This one is difficult to talk about without giving away some spoilers. Let’s just say it involves a particularly gruesome (though factual) torture and execution. But I’ve rendered it in the book in a very personal way. It makes the brutality taking place very personal, which, for me, was the only way to write it.

It was troublesome (and some readers have baulked at it a bit) because it was, in essence, a need for justice finding its way on my page where it didn’t in life. 

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?
Absolutely. This book was cut by over one hundred pages from the first incarnation. I really wanted to portray more of the historical and political events unfolding behind the women’s story. But it is their story, and doing so would have detracted from it. 

I do plan on posting some of my favorite deleted scenes on my blog.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Portrait of a Conspiracy and if so, what did you alter? 
I actually think this is the first book that I haven’t had to make literary adjustments (though I will just a bit in the trilogy). Typically, I have only ‘played with time’ a smidge in my other books; bringing closer momentous events. These particular months, for that is all that the book spans, were indeed swollen with drama; I had no need to alter anything. I simple had my fictitious characters have relationships with factual characters. 

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 know these women; the real one’s the fictional ones are based on. And oh yes, there have been drinks involved. In that case, it would absolutely have to be Leonardo da Vinci. I became fascinated with these years of his life, those before he completed the works that made him a legend. I would love to share a glass of Prosecco with that Leonardo.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Portrait of a Conspiracy, who would you hire? 
Since I’ve said that all these women are based on real women, I think it would be imprudent of me to pick an actor for each one. I will say that I would love to see Monica Bellucci (the ‘older’ actor from the latest Bond film, Spectre) in it. She was wonderful; so emotive. But I won’t say which woman she would play. 

Aidan Turner (from The Hobbit and The Tudors) would make an incredible (if better looking) Lorenzo de’ Medici. And, as a bit of an unknown, I’d love to see Colin Morgan (from Merlin and Doctor Who) play Leonardo da Vinci. He would have to change his hair color, but he has that wonderful ability to play a serious yet whimsical character who could hide the inner depths that belonged to da Vinci.

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
I’m finishing up the trilogy, of course, (just finished the edits with my publisher on the second in the trilogy while I’m writing the third). I do have another work at crucial point in a book’s genesis that is completely different from anything I’ve done before. And I have yet another that I’m just aching to write. I hope I can always answer yes to this question. 

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PRAISE FOR PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” - C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

“With her beautiful writing, detailed descriptions, and fascinating characters, Russo Morin has definitely made a name for herself in the world of historical fiction.” ― Pittsburgh Examiner

When a ruthless assassination rocks Renaissance Florence to its core, a secret sisterhood of women artists band together to save one of their own from the bloody reprisals. Illicit plots, mysterious paintings, and a young Leonardo da Vinci all have their part to play in this delicious, heart-pounding tale. This one had me yearning for the Renaissance all over again! - Kate Quinn, author of The Serpent and the Pearl

With elegant and atmospheric prose, Russo Morin paints a vivid portrait of beautiful but dangerous Renaissance Italy. This riveting book is filled with art, assassinations, retribution, and a sisterhood of fascinating women who inspire as well as entertain. - Stephanie Dray, author of America's First Daughter 

A 15th century Florence of exquisite art, sensual passion and sudden, remorseless violence comes vividly to life in Donna Russo Morin's new novel. Famous people from history such as Leonardo da Vinci are made dimensional and human in this suspenseful story, but the characters who are the most unforgettable are a group of women artists, driven by their own longings, who find courage they never knew they had as they struggle to survive one of the city's most harrowing periods. - Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown

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Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Website ❧  Twitter ❧  Facebook ❧  Goodreads





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Friday, June 3, 2016

The Lost Soldier by Diney Costeloe

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 25, 2016

In 1921, eight ash trees were planted in the dorset village of Charlton Ambrose as a timeless memorial to the men killed in World War One. Overnight a ninth appeared, marked only as for 'the unknown soldier'. But now the village's ashgrove is under threat from developers. Rachel Elliot, a local reporter, sets out to save the memorial and solve the mystery of the ninth tree. In so doing, she uncovers the story of Tom Carter and Molly Day: two young people thrown together by the war, their love for each other, their fears for the present and their hopes for the future. Embroiled in events beyond their control, Tom and Molly have to face up to the harsh realities of the continuing war, the injustices it allows and the sacrifices it demands.

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Originally published as The Ashgrove, Diney Costeloe’s The Lost Soldier begins in 2001, during a public meeting over a housing development in a village called Charlton Ambrose. Rachel Elliot, a local reporter for the Belcaster Chronicle, is captivated when one of the local residents objects the construction plans as they’d necessitate the destruction of a memorial grove planted to honor the village residents who died during the Great War. Rachel takes it upon herself to learn more about the trees and uncovers a long buried secret of honor, sacrifice, tragedy, and enduring faithfulness.

Looking back on the narrative, I freely admit that elements of the modern story felt unnecessary. Rachel’s romantic interest in Nick Potter seemed entirely superfluous in my eyes and the familial connection she unearths struck me as contrived, but Molly Day’s history was so poignantly portrayed that I couldn’t bring myself to rate the novel any lower than five stars. Her story surprised me on a number of levels and I loved how relevant her experiences become to those trying to understand her trials through modern eyes decades after they occurred.

Henry Smalley is a minor character, but one I grew very fond of over the course of the narrative. His journey is not chronicled in detail, but he is the kind of individual who exudes genuine compassion in an era when law and order did not bend to accommodate such sensitivities. Molly’s life is irreparably altered by the conflict, but Henry finds new purpose in the carnage of the Somme and takes it upon himself to look after those left scarred in its aftermath.

There is something very human in this story and I appreciated how Costeloe’s themes drew her audience into the narrative. The action depicted during the first day of the Somme Offensive is brutal, but I was intensely appreciative of the authenticity such detail lent the text. Beginning to end, the novel capitalized on the human elements of the war and I felt Costeloe’s manipulation of the material bridged the gap between a century old conflict and contemporary readers.

I didn’t have any expectations when I picked up The Lost Solider. Not one of the reviewers I follow had read the book and while I was intrigued by the subject matter, I wasn’t entirely convinced it’d be the kind of war story that would hold my interest. That said, the novel surprised me and I feel it one I will recommending many times over in the years to come. 

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“Who do you belong to, I wonder?” she asked aloud. There was nothing to indicate whom each tree commemorated… or that the place was a memorial at all. She moved from tree to tree until she had rested her hand on each trunk, and thought of all the young, fresh-faced men who had gone so jauntily to war, never to return to their homes here in Charlton Ambrose. Such high hopes they must have had. The adventure of fighting in a war, seeing a bit of the world, before settling down to their humdrum lives here in the country.
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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cover Crush: A Separate Country by Robert Hicks

We all know we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in today's increasingly competitive market, a memorable jacket can make or break sales.

I am not a professional, but I am a consumer and much as I loath admitting it, jacket design is one of the first things I notice when browsing the shelves at Goodreads and Amazon. My love of cover art is what inspired Cover Crush, a weekly post dedicated to those prints that have captured my attention and/or piqued my interest. Enjoy!

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The artist behind Robert Hicks' A Separate Country is a creative genius. Everything about this cover, from the the text fonts and muted tones to the layering of the design elements and subtle edge embellishments speak to the era in which the story takes place. Without reading the description, I've a good idea of where and when this story is set and am immediately intrigued by the image and the material it might conceal.

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Did this week's cover catch your eye? Do you have an opinion you'd like to share? Please leave a comment below. I'd love to hear from you!

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

Holly at 2 Kids and Tired
Heather at The Maiden's Court

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Valley by Helen Bryan

Rating: NA
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: May 27, 2016

Left suddenly penniless, the Honorable Sophia Grafton, a viscount’s orphaned daughter, sails to the New World to claim the only property left to her name: a tobacco plantation in the remote wilds of colonial Virginia. Enlisting the reluctant assistance of a handsome young French spy—at gunpoint— she gathers an unlikely group of escaped slaves and indentured servants, each seeking their own safe haven in the untamed New World. What follows will test her courage and that of her companions as they struggle to survive a journey deep into a hostile wilderness and eventually forge a community of homesteads and deep bonds that will unite them for generations. The first installment in an epic historical trilogy by Helen Bryan, the bestselling author of War Brides and The Sisterhood, The Valley is a sweeping, unforgettable tale of hardship, tenacity, love, and heartache.

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Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to emphasize that I did not finish this book and will not be offering a rating of any kind. I managed the first hundred pages, but was so disenchanted with the story that I saw no reason to continue to push on the remaining five hundred. That said, I feel I read enough of the book to offer commentary on the portion I did complete and am posting my thoughts in way of explanation for having abandoned the piece outright. 

The Valley marks my second experience with author Helen Bryan and while I did not enjoy War Brides, I tried my best to see The Valley with unbiased eyes. I was glad to note that Bryan's new release did not suffer the same trifecta of editing errors that plagued her earlier work, but new issues made it impossible for me to get into and appreciate Sophia Grafton's story and I ultimately decided the novel unreadable. 

It is my understanding that The Valley is based on the lives of Bryan's ancestors, but I feel the author's personal interest in the material made it impossible for her cut superfluous detail. To be perfectly blunt. the jacket description has more action in its synopsis than the first hundred pages of Bryan's work and I'm not inclined to pretend I appreciate glacially paced lit that is overburdened with redundant and unnecessary minutia.

I found Bryan's development of Sophia thin and stereotypic, but her presentation left me so bored and disinterested that I found no reason to continue. 

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The promise of a dress allowance was sweet, but above all she wanted her father to love her again. And it seemed that the only way that would happen was if she became more like her mother. How was she to resemble a dead saint?
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