Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Into the Storm by Lisa Bingham

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: March 31, 2015

RueAnn Boggs meets Charles Tolliver, a handsome Brit with a secret job, and in the course of twenty-four hours, RueAnn is swept off her feet—seduced, wed, and then left by dashing Charlie, who hastily departs for an assignment in England. When weeks go by and she hears nothing from her new husband, RueAnn becomes determined to find out if she’s a wife in name only, and she travels to London for answers. But what she finds there is not at all what she expects... Susan Blunt has spent her life staying put, retreating into her books while her vivacious twin sister, Sara, lives life to the fullest. The start of the war hasn’t stopped vibrant Sara from collecting a throng of beaus in uniform, including Paul Overdone, an RAF pilot heading for the front. When Sara pressures Susan into switching places and going to a dance with Paul, Susan reluctantly agrees. Little does Susan know that a single night is more than enough time to fall deeply in love with Paul—who returns her ardor, even though he thinks she is someone else... When the Blitz begins and bombs start raining down on London, both RueAnn and Susan must find the strength and courage they never knew they had in order to survive. They form a friendship out of the city’s ashes, one that helps them weather the storm as they wait for news from the front—from the men they love, have lost, and hope desperately to find once more. Set against the backdrop of a remarkable era, Into the Storm brilliantly explores relationships in wartime, when the passion shared in just one day could sustain love for a lifetime and the love borne of one night’s deception could become the truth that saves a life.

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If I were more discerning, I'd put Lisa Bingham's Into the Storm somewhere between a three and a four, but I don't give partial ratings and ultimately decided I'd too many concerns to round up. Don't misunderstand, I liked a lot about this book, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that many elements of the piece left me wanting.  

Fair warning folks, Into the Storm is a character heavy narrative. Bingham sets a brilliant pace from the start, but she doesn't spent much time introducing her audience to each of the players so it should come as no surprise that I spent many of the early chapters flipping back and forth to ensure my understanding of both people and events.  

Later, I noted a distinct imbalance between RueAnn and Susan's storylines. RueAnn's backstory is more interesting than her war time experience, but Susan can't catch a break during the blitz and as much of the novel takes place during the war, I often felt Susan received the lion’s share of the novel’s intrigue and drama. I don't mean to be harsh, but with the exception of a few shared scenes, Susan and RueAnn could have easily headlined their own narratives and excuse me for saying so, but I feel it might have been better if they had. 

To add insult to injury, the romantic elements of their stories felt forced and unbelievable. Like the characters involved, these relationships are grossly underdeveloped, something that is especially evident in comparison to Charlie's non-romance with Elizabeth. If you’re wondering who Elizabeth is, I’m sorry, I'm not in habit of incorporating spoilers in my reviews so read the book and find out. Suffice it to say, the relationship she shares with Charlie is the only one that develops naturally and proved more authentic than his passion for RueAnn or the love triangle involving Paul, Susan and Sara.

At this point you might be questioning what I liked about the piece and I don't blame you. I haven't said much to the positive, but I hope you don't think the book without merit. I really enjoyed Bingham's illustration of life in the shadow of the Luftwaffe and fell in love with many of the supporting characters. The author obviously put a lot of thought into those elements of the story and I have great appreciation for that sort of care and attention to detail.

Would I recommend Into the Storm? Yes and no. It's certainly better than War Brides and Tuscan Rose, but it doesn't really compare to Battle Hymns, Night in Shanghai, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment, or A Life Apart. Not exactly what I'd expected, but a pleasant diversion if you like WWII fiction. 

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Who would have thought that such proper, mild-mannered English gentlewomen could have formed so quickly into a bloodthirsty mob? But then, as she was resolutely pushed forward into the shop, RueAnn thought: Who could blame them? It was a wonder that the women of London didn’t stream into the streets each night to overpower the gun operators in an attempt to shoot down the bombers themselves.
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Friday, March 27, 2015

In the Shadow of Winter by Lorna Gray

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 20, 2015

The Cotswolds. The relentless winter of 1947 holds post-war Britain in its deadly grip, and Eleanor Phillips rides out from her beleaguered Cotswold farm to rescue a stranger lost in the storm. But the near-dead man is no stranger and when she recognises Matthew Croft, the old ties of a failed romance tug deeply. Her sweetheart has returned from the war... Suspicion, the police and the panicked flight of a desperate man beat a path to her door. And with a wanted man hidden in her home and stealing back into her heart, Eleanor must be on her guard—for the net is closing in on them both and enemies are all around... 

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My head hit my desk fifty pages into Lorna Gray's In the Shadow of Winter. I don't mean to be dramatic, but it's true. I honestly looked at the page count and groaned. I was bored with the novel's sluggish pace and generic romantic premise. I was visibly frustrated and things didn't get much better moving forward. 

I suppose my major complaint is the lack of tension. I know HarperImpulse means to take women's fiction in new directions, but I can't say I fancied this particular excursion. This kind of story require tangible suspense and nothing about this piece played on my emotions. In point of fact, I found the narrative exceedingly predictable. Gray attempts a couple of curve balls, but I saw them coming and called each resolution long before it was actually revealed. 

The book is also very light on detail. I understand it's a romance, but I think Gray could have done a lot more in terms of developing the atmosphere and backdrop on which her story unfolds. Gray's is a superficial approach and that's fine, but the fact is, I can't see myself recommending this piece on its historic merit.

I'd high hopes going in, but the reality fell flat in my eyes. It's a nice beach read, but when push comes to shove, In the Shadow of Winter didn't deliver the sort of drama I both expect and crave. 

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He gave a laugh then, and leaned back in his chair. “You really are quite something these days, aren’t you? The girl I used to know would have been frightened, upset, confused, but no, not you – you’re livid.”
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Thursday, March 26, 2015

GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett & Nuala Calvi

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Library
Read: January 2, 2015

For readers enchanted by the bestsellers The Astronaut Wives Club, The Girls of Atomic City, and Summer at Tiffany’s, an absorbing tale of romance and resilience—the true story of four British women who crossed the Atlantic for love, coming to America at the end of World War II to make a new life with the American servicemen they married. The “friendly invasion” of Britain by over a million American G.I.s bewitched a generation of young women deprived of male company during the Second World War. With their exotic accents, smart uniforms, and aura of Hollywood glamour, the G.I.s easily conquered their hearts, leaving British boys fighting abroad green with envy. But for girls like Sylvia, Margaret, Gwendolyn, and even the skeptical Rae, American soldiers offered something even more tantalizing than chocolate, chewing gum, and nylon stockings: an escape route from Blitz-ravaged Britain, an opportunity for a new life in affluent, modern America. Through the stories of these four women, G.I. Brides illuminates the experiences of war brides who found themselves in a foreign culture thousands of miles away from family and friends, with men they hardly knew. Some struggled with the isolation of life in rural America, or found their soldier less than heroic in civilian life. But most persevered, determined to turn their wartime romance into a lifelong love affair, and prove to those back home that a Hollywood ending of their own was possible.

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A newly-engaged couple examine an engagement ring in a jeweller's shop
in London. War Bride- Everyday Life in Wartime London, March 1943
My interest in GI Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi was inspired by my paternal grandmother. She passed away while I was very young and while I've no memory her, I've often pondered her situation and the strength it must have taken to come to the United States with a child in one hand and a marriage certificate in the other. Her personal story is lost to me, but I'd hoped Barrett and Calvi's work might offer a degree of insight to her experience and I'm happy to say I wasn't disappointed.

Individually, I found Sylvia, Rae, Margaret and Lynn incredibly interesting and I feel these women very brave to have shared their stories. Their relationships were challenging in many ways and I love that the authors took pains to illustrate both the highs and lows of their marriages. More than seventy thousand woman followed GIs home after WWII and it would be a crime to assume that journey was easy, that distance meant little, that life in a foreign country came naturally or that a wedding band meant lasting happiness.

I wasn't particularly fond of the writing itself, but the scope of subject matter that appears between these pages is nothing short of extraordinary. It is a snapshot of living memory, four firsthand accounts of a time and circumstance that are still romanticized today. Hval chronicled dozens of couples in War Bonds, but of the two I think GI Brides more informative, authentic and engaging.

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Her time in America hadn't been easy, but with her husband at her side she felt truly happy.
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Sleep in Peace Tonight by James MacManus

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: January 22, 2015

It’s January 1941, and the Blitz is devastating England. Food supplies are low, Tube stations in London have become bomb shelters, and U-boats have hampered any hope of easy victory. Though the United States maintains its isolationist position, Churchill knows that England is finished without the aid of its powerful ally. Harry Hopkins, President Roosevelt’s most trusted adviser, is sent to London as his emissary, and there he falls under the spell of Churchill’s commanding rhetoric---and legendary drinking habits. As he experiences life in a country under attack, Hopkins questions the United States’ silence in the war. But back home FDR is paranoid about the isolationist lobby, and even Hopkins is having trouble convincing him to support the war. As Hopkins grapples with his mission and personal loyalties, he also revels in secret clubs with newsman Edward R. Murrow and has an affair with his younger driver. Except Hopkins doesn’t know that his driver is a British intelligence agent. She craves wartime action and will go to any lengths to prove she should be on the front line. This is London under fire, and it’s only when the night descends and the bombs fall that people’s inner darkness comes to light. In Sleep in Peace Tonight, a tale of courage, loyalty, and love, and the sacrifices one will make in the name of each, James MacManus brings to life not only Blitz-era London and the tortuous politics of the White House but also the poignant characters and personalities that shaped the course of world history.

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News photo of Hopkins departing
for Britain, January 1941
I was genuinely excited about reviewing James MacManus' Sleep in Peace Tonight. A self-described WWII junkie, I couldn't help getting worked up over the title. Unfortunately the book didn't quite match my expectations and while I enjoyed many aspects of the piece, I admit I wasn't as enthralled by the story as I'd initially hoped.

I think the idea here fabulous and looked forward to watching MacManus' characterization of Harry Hopkins fall for Churchill's commanding rhetoric, but looking back I don't think the author played the angle to its best advantage. Churchill is legendary, but I often felt MacManus relied on the Prime Minister's persona to carry the story. His interpretation of the famous Brit never jumped from the page which I found incredibly disappointing as so much of the plot relies on the character's influence and charisma. 

I'd offer comment on Harry, but if I'm honest, MacManus' portrayal of Roosevelt's adviser wasn't particularly memorable either. I liked how his position allowed the author to explore foreign affairs, American neutrality, and British politics, but the character himself didn't make much of an impression on this particular reader. 

Leonora Finch on the other hand, proved fascinating beginning to end and I'm not saying that because she's a woman. Unlike her counterparts, Leonora stepped straight from the author's imagination and I think the freedom that allowed played to MacManus' strengths as a storteller. There is emotion in her role, intrigue, desperation and passion. The ending, with its detour to Ravensbrück, was a bit slapdash for my tastes, but I greatly appreciated what MacManus did with her arc and storyline. 

Would I recommend the book? If it was a slow day. That said the novel was easily overshadowed by two follow reads, Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and Richard J. Evans' The Third Reich in History and Memory.

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"It wasn’t love, of course; it was just frightened people clinging to each other in blacked-out hotel rooms, on creaking beds, while the shrapnel rattled on the roof and the windows blew in. They called it love because it sounded better, because love somehow justified their betrayal, and they were both traitors, weren’t they? Perhaps a few lonely, frightened souls had truly fallen for each other in those long nights. But not him; he was no different from the rest. All he had wanted was the pleasure of a warm, womanly body after the sirens had sounded and the whisky glow had begun to fade into fear."
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The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: March 18, 2015

The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era. After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever - collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church - Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention. Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall. Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim. Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

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Henry VIII seated beneath a tapestry cloth of state
circa 1545.  Artist unknown.
I've a confession folks, one I'm almost afraid to admit. I love historic fiction and there isn't a lot that doesn't interest me, but the truth is I'm all but burnt out on Henry VIII. I wish it were otherwise, but I've grown reluctant to pick up pieces involving the mercurial monarch and his scandal ridden court. With so many titles on the market it's difficult to imagine a writer bringing anything new to the table and I know sex sells, but I'm frankly bored with the salacious twists writers of this particular period have come to favor.

Having said that, one might wonder why I'd tackle Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry. I myself questioned my sanity on accepting the title for review, but something in the back of my mind prompted me to put my doubts aside. Make no mistake, I waited till the last possible moment to crack the book open, but when I finally did, I conceded my skepticism had been misplaced. 

The market may be overrun, but Bilyeau's work has a feel and flavor few can rival. Her attention to detail is practically flawless and I love the balance she strikes between personal and political drama. Joanna Stafford is not the typical Tudor heroine and Bilyeau never loses site of that. The character's background and convictions dictate her actions and I like that her principles often find her at odds with the royal family. Bilyeau's characterizations of historic figures like Henry VIII, Catherine Howard, Jane Boleyn and Thomas Culpeper defy the stereotypes and bring a refreshing degree of originality to well-known events while her illustration of textiles and the art of tapestry add an unexpected glimpse at a fascinating cultural element of sixteenth century life. 

At the end of the day, I'm glad I took exception for the third installment of Bilyeau's Joanna Stafford series. Like its predecessors, the book proved both original and entertaining and while there were a few slow moments, I can't say the time I spent with this piece left me disappointed. 

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As much as it was possible to plan in a time of chaos, I planned to lead a quiet life: weave tapestries, honor friends, submit to God’s will. It would be an honorable existence; after all, I was the daughter of Sir Richard Stafford and Isabella Montagna. Living without honor was unthinkable. But there would be no more dangerous quests or conspiracies. My fervent hope was never again to hear the word prophecy, nor to find myself among spies, seers, and necromancers. That was the world of fear, of darkness. I wanted only light.
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Check Out All the Stops on Nancy Bilyeau's The Tapestry Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, March 16
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Review & Interview at Words and Peace
Tuesday, March 17
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at The Eclectic Reader
Review at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, March 18
Review at Writing the Renaissance
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, March 19
Review at A Book Geek
Review & Interview at Tea at Trianon
Interview at Writing the Renaissance
Friday, March 20
Review at Impressions in Ink
Monday, March 23
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, March 24
Review at The Lit Bitch
Review at Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 25
Review at Luxury Reading
Guest Post at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, March 26
Review at She Reads Novels
Monday, March 30
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, March 31
Review at The True Book Addict
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, April 1
Review at Library of Clean Reads
Interview at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Thursday, April 2
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Friday, April 3
Review at Layered Pages
Review & Guest Post at Always With a Book

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interview with Susanna Calkins, author of The Masque of a Murderer

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Susanna Calkins to Flashlight Commentary to discuss The Masque of a Murderer.

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Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Susanna. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about The Masque of a Murderer. 
Thanks for having me! THE MASQUE OF A MURDERER is the third in my series set in 17th century London, which feature Lucy Campion, a former chambermaid who has become a printer’s apprentice. In this story, Lucy is called to the home of a dying Quaker to record his last words. At this time, it was common for religious sects like the Quakers to record the last dying testimony of their more pious brethren. The intention was to print and sell these testimonies as cheap paper tracts to inspire others to live godly lives. In this case, the suffering man was dying of injuries suffered from having been trampled by a cart and horse the day before.  Before he draws his last breath, he tells Lucy that his death was no accident and that he feared his murderer was someone in his close acquaintance, perhaps even a fellow Quaker.  

The The Masque of a Murderer is the third novel to center on Lucy Campion. What kind of woman is Lucy and how has she evolved over the course of the story? 
At age 16, Lucy became a chambermaid in the household of Master Hargrave, a local magistrate.  She used to spend time secretly listening to the tutors who instructed Master Hargrave’s daughter, and learned to read and write for herself.  In fact, she became so intrigued by the bookseller’s trade that when her circumstances changed and she no longer was needed to serve the magistrate, that she finagled an apprenticeship of sorts with a master printer when she was about 20. From setting type to singing ballads on the streets, Lucy has started to carve out a new place in her world. 

Lucy finds herself torn between two men. How do Duncan and Adam differ and what does each represent to Lucy?  
Great question! Both men possess a keen sense of justice that appeal to Lucy, although the nature of their work and circumstances are considerably different. Adam Hargrave, the son of the local magistrate, is well-educated, courteous and never abusive towards the servants. As a lawyer, he seeks justice through law and order. Naturally, he’s quite handsome and Lucy was already a little in love with him from afar. Over time, he began to recognize—and admire—some surprising traits in Lucy as well (her inquisitive nature, compassion and bright mind), and fell in love with her. So he represents to Lucy the possibility of romantic love realized, as well as social change. Jeb Duncan, on the other hand, represents a different type of justice and order. As a former soldier and as a constable, he has lived a harder life. Though he doesn’t talk about himself much, they recognize in each other a kinship of sorts. He understands, perhaps more fully than Adam, Lucy’s dream to be a bookseller and supports this wish. So he represents the idea that marriage and love are a partnership, which was very common to the “middling sort” and laboring classes in 17th c England.

The Quakers play an interesting role in The Masque of the Murderer. Why did this religious sect appealed to you as an author?  
Well, when I was working on my PhD in British history, I became fascinated by the political activities of this group, as well as how they expressed themselves religiously.  Likening themselves to Old Testament prophets, they would wear sackcloth and ashes, “Quake in the presence of the Lord,” and even run naked as a sign.  In addition, Quakers produced more published tracts than any other group in the 17th century, with a great many women numbered among their writers.  Besides that, they were actually so different from what people today popularly think about Quakers, so I simply had to write them into my story. 

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing? 
This is a tough one, but I’ll say the last scene, which of course I can’t describe. There’s a satisfaction in achieving the last moments of the story. 

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?   
I struggled a little bit with all the scenes that brought out romantic feelings for Lucy.  She has strong feelings for both Adam and Duncan and is having a hard time dealing with them. Mostly I got through these scenes by having Lucy decide that she needed to focus on the criminal activities around her. So if she didn’t want to think about it, than I didn’t want to think about it either! 

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?
Such interesting questions you’ve raised! I probably would have like to have delved into Jacob Whitby’s character a bit more. He dies so early in the story—and before that he was suffering from having been run over by a cart and horse—so I wasn’t able to bring his character to life except through the remembrances of other characters. 

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing The Masque of a Murderer and if so, what did you alter? 
Well, generally speaking I’ve had to adapt the language considerably. No one would understand a single word of dialogue if I tried to replicate how they spoke back then. I’ve also given Duncan a bit broader scope as a constable than he might have had. There was no established police force yet in England, so it made sense that he might be able to investigate more. I also collapsed a few of the bookmaking trades—there was probably more specialization than what I described. So you might be a typesetter, but you probably were not selling the books yourself (let alone writing 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?  
Well, while I’d like to meet Lucy of course, I really wish to meet Adam and Duncan. Separately. Over a good beer.  Not sure I want to say why. 

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of The Masque of a Murderer, who would you hire? 
Ah, so fun.  I won’t say who I’d hire for Lucy, Adam and Duncan, but I will tell you who I envisioned for two of the main Quakers in the story. Esther Whitby with her violet eyes would be played by Elizabeth Taylor. And Sam Leighton would be played by Richard Bull (Mr. Olsen on Little House on the Prairie!)

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
Yes, I am working on A Death Along the River Fleet, the fourth book in the series.  It will come out April 2016. Thank you for having me!

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PRAISE FOR THE LUCY CAMPION MYSTERY SERIES

“…the high-quality writing augurs well for future outings.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Calkins makes Lucy’s efforts to find the real killer entirely plausible, leading to a nail-biter climax with London in flames. This history-mystery delivers a strong heroine making her way through the social labyrinth of Restoration London.” -Booklist

“Calkins’ debut mystery places her unusual detective in a world rich in carefully researched historical detail.” -Kirkus

“A historical mystery with originality and great attention to detail. Readers are transported to 17th century England, a time when social classes were just beginning to change. The characters are multi-dimensional–including the smart, adventurous Lucy Campion–and the mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and they’ll eagerly await the next book in the series.” RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)

“…an intricate tale of fraud and blackmail, leavened by a touch of romance. Calkins, who holds a doctorate in British history, puts her knowledge to sparkling use in this intriguing mystery, which combines a gripping plot with rich historical detail and one of the most admirable protagonists in the genre.” -The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Calkins is able to seamlessly weave this romance into the story without making it the main plot line, and keeping the mystery the main focus of the story….The puzzles, anagrams, and many secrets combine to make intertwining plot twists that keep the pages turning. FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS is an exciting, secret filled, historical mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” –Fresh Fiction (Reviewer’s Pick)

“A good yarn and a fascinating look at life in England in a time when things began to change…social classes, positions, servants’ rights…all because of plague and fire.” -Book Babe Blog

“For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.” -Book of Secrets

“A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ absorbing debut novel. Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.” -1776 Books: A Philadelphian’s Literary Journey

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Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University. With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity). The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.


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Format: Print & eBook
Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Released by: Minotaur Books/St. Martins Press
ISBN-13: 978-1250057365
Length: 323 pages
Series: Book Three, Lucy Campion Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery

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Check Out All the Stops on Susanna Calkins' The Masque of a Murderer Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, March 16
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, March 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, March 18
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, March 20
Spotlight at Historical Readings & Reviews
Monday, March 23
Review & Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, March 25
Review & Interview at The Emerald City Book Review
Tuesday, March 31
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, April 1
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Thursday, April 2
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, April 6
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, April 7
Spotlight at The Genre Queen
Thursday, April 9
Review at The Lit Bitch
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation
Friday, April 10
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, April 13
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Tuesday, April 14
Review at Book Babe
Thursday, April 16
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, April 17
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sudetenland by George T. Chronis

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: March 17, 2015

Sudetenland is the premiere novel by author George T. Chronis. The book delivers suspenseful and sweeping historical fiction set against Central European intrigue during the late 1930s leading up to 1938’s Munich Conference. Having swallowed up Austria, Adolph Hitler now covets Czechoslovakian territory. Only France has the power to stand beside the government in Prague against Germany… but will she? The characters are the smart and sometimes wise-cracking men and women of this era – the foreign correspondents, intelligence officers, diplomats and career military – who are on the front lines of that decade’s most dangerous political crisis. If Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš ignores the advice of French premier Édouard Daladier and refuses to give up Bohemian territory willingly, then Hitler orders that it be taken by force. The novel takes readers behind the scenes into the deliberations and high drama taking place within major European capitals such as Prague, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and London as the continent hurtles toward the crucible of a shooting war.

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In the realm of World War II fiction, George T. Chronis' Sudetenland is a little different as it digs into a lot of very interesting, underrated and largely overlooked aspects of the conflict. It plays on what ifs, but is extensively researched and chock-full of delightful historic detail.

Sudetenland is not a light piece. There is a lot of very heavy political exposition in the book and I often had to break to let the material settle in before moving forward. Don't misunderstand, I greatly appreciated Chronis' approach, but there is a considerable amount of information between these pages and readers shouldn't expect to fly through it as they would most narratives.

Chronis' writing is dialogue heavy and I'd have liked more atmospheric detail overall, but can't deny the book boasts great tension and wonderful movement. The characters struck me as slightly stereotypic, but as a thriller, I enjoyed the twists and turns Chronis built into the story. 

Sudetenland is a challenging read in terms of content and size, but it is a thought-provoking and engaging piece just the same. It is a solid narrative that will appeal to fans of both military and historic fiction. 

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"Our allies and out enemies are mentally preparing for war. They may not profess as much openly, but those are the facts. Everything I have witnessed inclines me to believe that a grave crisis in Europe is unavoidable."
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Check Out All the Stops on George T. Chronis' Sudetenland Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, March 16
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, March 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, March 24
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews
Thursday, March 26
Review at A Virtual Hobby Store and Coffee Haus
Friday, March 27
Review at Genre Queen

The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley/Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours
Read: March 10, 2015

It’s 1666 and the Great Fire has just decimated an already plague-ridden London. Lady’s maid Lucy Campion, along with pretty much everyone else left standing, is doing her part to help the city clean up and recover. But their efforts come to a standstill when a couple of local boys stumble across a dead body that should have been burned up in the fire but miraculously remained intact—the body of a man who died not from the plague or the fire, but from the knife plunged into his chest. Searching for a purpose now that there’s no lady in the magistrate’s household for her to wait on, Lucy has apprenticed herself to a printmaker. But she can't help but use her free time to help the local constable, and she quickly finds herself embroiled in the murder investigation. It will take all of her wits and charm, not to mention a strong stomach and a will of steel, if Lucy hopes to make it through alive herself.

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I find it amusing that I'm reviewing Susanna Calkins' The Masque and the Murderer on the tails of Mist of Midnight as I think the two make very good companion pieces. There are a lot of similarities between the books and I thought that brought a fun dynamic to my experience of both, but compare contrast is a topic for another day. 

Calkins' uses the diversity of seventeenth century social stratification to her advantage which is something I found very appealing. From the stigma attached to those who'd escaped service, to the subjection of women, Calkins paints an illuminating picture of the London and her inhabitants over the course of her narrative. I was equally impressed with her treatment of the Quakers and how she wove the religious sect and their customs into the fabric of a murder investigation.

I ultimately liked how the story played out, but admit the pacing was a little slow for my tastes. Calkins also spends a significant amount of time on Lucy's personal life and while I enjoyed the perspective that brought her character, I often felt the effort diverted attention from the mystery at the heart of the story.

The Masque and the Murderer was not my first Lucy Campion mystery, I read A Murder at Rosamund's Gate in Jan 2013, but I was very aware I'd skipped From the Charred Remains. These books are not written as standalones, but that said, they are intricate and puzzling whodunits that have proved quite enjoyable to this particular reader. 

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“So the truth finally comes forth,” the searcher said, a deep chill to her voice. She seemed unmoved by the circumstances that brought about her son’s murder. “I always knew you had killed my dear Edgar."
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Check Out All the Stops on Susanna Calkins' The Masque of a Murderer Blog Tour Schedule


Monday, March 16
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Tuesday, March 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Guest Post at Bibliophilia, Please
Wednesday, March 18
Interview at Flashlight Commentary
Friday, March 20
Spotlight at Historical Readings & Reviews
Monday, March 23
Review & Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, March 25
Review & Interview at The Emerald City Book Review
Tuesday, March 31
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Wednesday, April 1
Character Interview at Boom Baby Reviews
Thursday, April 2
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, April 6
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, April 7
Spotlight at The Genre Queen
Thursday, April 9
Review at The Lit Bitch
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation
Friday, April 10
Review at Book Nerd
Monday, April 13
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Tuesday, April 14
Review at Book Babe
Thursday, April 16
Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Spotlight at Layered Pages
Friday, April 17
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past