Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cover Clichés: Pastoral Promenade

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.  

 ═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

The Civil War has ended, and Madge, Sadie, and Hemp have each come to Chicago in search of a new life.

Born with magical hands, Madge has the power to discern others’ suffering, but she cannot heal her own damaged heart. To mend herself and help those in need, she must return to Tennessee to face the women healers who rejected her as a child.

Sadie can commune with the dead, but until she makes peace with her father, she, too, cannot fully engage her gift.

Searching for his missing family, Hemp arrives in this northern city that shimmers with possibility. But redemption cannot be possible until he is reunited with those taken from him.

In the bitter aftermath of a terrible, bloody war, as a divided nation tries to come together once again, Madge, Sadie, and Hemp will be caught up in a desperate, unexpected battle for survival in a community desperate to lay the pain of the past to rest.

Beautiful in its historical atmosphere and emotional depth, Balm is a stirring novel of love, loss, hope, and reconciliation set during one of the most critical periods in American history.

When a young English widow takes off on the grand tour and along the way marries a penniless Italian, her in-laws are not amused. That the marriage should fail and poor Lilia die tragically are only to be expected. But that Lilia should have had a baby -- and that the baby should be raised as an Italian! -- are matters requiring immediate correction by Philip Herriton, his dour sister Harriet, and their well-meaning friend Miss Abbott.

English Title: Where Angels Fear to Tread

Marianne Daventry will do anything to escape the boredom of Bath and the amorous attentions of an unwanted suitor. So when an invitation arrives from her twin sister, Cecily, to join her at a sprawling country estate, she jumps at the chance. Thinking she'll be able to relax and enjoy her beloved English countryside while her sister snags the handsome heir of Edenbrooke, Marianne finds that even the best laid plans can go awry. From a terrifying run-in with a highwayman to a seemingly harmless flirtation, Marianne finds herself embroiled in an unexpected adventure filled with enough romance and intrigue to keep her mind racing. Will Marianne be able to rein in her traitorous heart, or will a mysterious stranger sweep her off her feet? Fate had something other than a relaxing summer in mind when it sent Marianne to Edenbrooke.

A richly imagined, remarkably written story of the woman who created Little Women- and how love changed her in ways she never expected.

Deftly mixing fact and fiction, Kelly O'Connor McNees returns to the summer of 1855, when vivacious Louisa May Alcott is twenty-two and bursting to free herself from family and societal constraints and do what she loves most. Stuck in small-town New Hampshire, she meets Joseph Singer, and as she opens her heart, Louisa finds herself torn between a love that takes her by surprise and her dream of independence as a writer in Boston. The choice she must make comes with a steep price that she will pay for the rest of her life.

Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan.

But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation with the goal of discovering a strange hidden world, a place he calls the Empyrean.

A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

Behind a high stone wall on the outskirts of London lies Lake House, a private asylum for women. Tricked by her husband, Anna Palmer becomes its newest patient just weeks into her marriage.

Ravaged by the cruel treatments of the time, Anna struggles to prove her sanity, despite some surprising allies: Talitha Batt, a longtime inhabitant who seems to be as sane as she is; Lucas St Clair, a visiting physician who believes that photography may reveal the state of a patient's mind; and Catherine Abse, the proprietor's highly-strung daughter. Yet the longer Anna remains at Lake House, the more she realises that no one and nothing is quite as it appears. Not her fellow patients, her husband, her family -- not even herself.

Will Anna discover the freedom she seeks, or plunge so far into the recesses of the mind that she might never escape?

Raised in the same small community, Clement and Angel, fraternal twins separated at birth, grow up in different worlds. He lives among orphans, nuns, Native Americans, prostitutes. She lives in the town mansion, dressed in taffeta skirts and dodging her mother’s manic attention. Bound by a mystical connection, the twins rarely meet, but Clement knows if he is truly in need, Angel will come.

Near the Mississippi River and Canada, Stillwater becomes an important stop on the Underground Railroad. As the nation pushes boundaries, geographic and moral, and marches into civil war, the territory is at a crossroads. Clement and Angel have both learned to survive at the edge of things, but what will this new world hold for them? Will it set them free?

Stillwater is a lyrical, vibrant, often hilarious, and always unforgettable journey into our past, ourselves, and the impulses that drive us to create and explore.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

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, May 30, 2016

Character Conversations: Elisabeth Beaumont, from Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

I looked down at my phone to double check the address Aimie forwarded when she'd arranged my interview with Elisabeth. It wasn't much of an address really. Just a street name in Quebec's historic district with a noted instruction to follow my nose. 

I turned the last corner and looked up the street. The buildings had a charming old world feel to them, but I didn't see anything that looked like a colonial era bakery. Panic fluttered in my stomach, but just as I thought to text Aimie for help, I caught the scent of fresh baked bread. 

I spun round and just two doors down, perfectly conspicuous and yet inexplicably imperceptible to the passing pedestrians was the Beaumont's bakery. I grinned thinking the effect was similar to Rowling's descriptions of 12 Grimmauld Place, shoved my phone into my pack, and hurried inside.

It was warm and a variety of mouth-watering aromas hung heavy in the air. I looked over the displays and was making a mental note to buy something for the trip back to my hotel when a tall woman with blonde hair entered the room. If she was surprised by my clothes and appearance, she didn't let on. She simply smiled, introduced herself, and invited me to a table where she'd prepared coffee for our Q&A.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Please forgive me if this is an impertinent question, but what possessed you to leave the safety and security of France for the wilds of Quebec? 
An arranged marriage to the most shiftless man in Paris, not to put too fine a point on it. My mother had grand ideas for my match, but I had other plans that had little to do with titles and prestige. I always dreamed of running a bakery as my father did, and his father before him. My mother meant well, or at least I hope she did in her heart, but I am Pierre Martin’s daughter through-and-through. I don’t think mother ever fully approved of either of us.

What was the crossing like? 
Dreadful. Three months on a rickety ship being tossed about like mice in the clutches of a sadistic cat. We had to bring on our own water or risk dying of thirst days or weeks away from the coast. Food could grow scarce. Disease could ravage the ship. We came closer to that than we cared to think about. Once I stepped foot on New France, I knew I never wanted to see the old one again. It wasn’t worth the return voyage.

Were you nervous about what’d be waiting for you when you arrived? 
We all were, though some worse than others. Nicole had quite a few worries as we arrived, but it shows how well loved she was at home. She was lucky in that regard. It was easier for those of us who didn’t leave behind much family. The future was ours to carve out of the ice, and I was more excited than nervous—most of the time.

What were your first impressions New France? 
It was as cold as they claimed, even in September when we first arrived. In Paris, the weather would have begun to turn for the worse, to be sure, but we didn’t have blankets of snow until December most years. All but the coldest days here are still better than the biting cold on the deck of the ship. That’s a cold that settles in your bones and refuses to leave. The people seemed friendly and very happy to see us when we first arrived, and for the most part, they stayed that way. In a small settlement like ours, it’s more useful to have friends than foes.

Did the ratio of men to women intimidate you at all? 
It made choosing a husband more of a chore in many ways, but it was wonderful to have a choice. Most of us would have been married off by fathers, brothers, or uncles to the man that best suited their needs, not ours. Here, we were only offered advice by the Ursuline Sisters, and then left to make the decision on our own. That aspect was intimidating, make no mistake. If we chose poorly, we had no one else to blame for it.

How did you feel being ‘put on display’ as a potential bride? 
It was a necessary evil. We needed to meet the gentlemen of the colony in one way or another, so the reception seemed the least degrading method of introduction. Some of the girls had heard that these meetings were more in line with cattle auction than a proper debut into New French society, but it was nothing so crass. I simply pretended to be charming customers at my father’s bakery, and the evening was as pleasant as one could hope for. 

There were obviously more men than women in the colonies. Did you feel pressured to choose a partner quickly? 
We knew we had a duty—to marry and bring forth children for the colony, and the whole of the settlement wanted to see us paired off. At the same time, the Sisters urged caution when choosing our husbands to ensure we wouldn’t select a man who was less than worthy or ill-prepared to take a wife. The wrong choice would be a mistake we’d have to live with for a lifetime. No one blamed us for taking a few months to know our minds.

What factors did you consider when evaluating your suitors? 
It came down to two suitors in the end. I asked myself which man my father would have chosen. Then my mother. I went with the man whom I thought would make me happy and whom I could best serve as a helpmeet. It wasn’t a hard decision once I thought of it like that. 

Did you find what you were looking for in New France? Is your life what you hoped it would be? 
It hasn’t been an easy path, my dear girl. I’ve the purest happiness of my life and the bitterest sorrow since I came here. But I have to say, I’ve done all I can do to honor my country, my king, and my husband. I live a life of value and purpose. No woman can ask for more. 

Do you think many ‘King’s Daughters” found happiness in Quebec? 
I don’t think any of us can ‘find’ happiness like one might stumble across a perfect meadow of wildflowers. You have to work for it, mold it, and craft your own. We’re the resourceful and resilient sort though, so I think most of us made our measure of happiness. I truly hope so.

Do you miss anything about France? Do you long for any conveniences that simply aren’t available on the edge of civilization? 
Chocolate. It was a delicacy in Paris that we could only get in fits and starts in the bakery, but it had a flavor like nothing I’ve ever tasted. My millefeuilles aren’t the same without it. And coffee. Oh how I miss the decadent brews my mother and I would share. Those were some of the few happy memories I have of her. 

I’ve got to get going or I’ll miss my bus, but I’m curious, if you had the chance, would you have done anything differently? 
What’s this ‘bus’ you speak of? A new-fangled carriage or wagon? Don’t tarry too long or your horses won’t be able to traverse the snow. 

I like to think I would have asked the friends who imparted the news of my departure to my mother to let her know I loved her and hope that we could make peace one day. She was neither loving nor kind, but she gave me life and deserved better from me. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Date of Birth: April 27, 1641

Physical Appearance: Tall, statuesque woman with long wheat-blonde hair and blue eyes. Not particularly feminine, but charming and sweet tempered.

Education and Job Skills: Cannot read or write before arriving in the colony at her mother’s insistence. Strong mind for figures. She is a skilled baker, particularly fond of crafting pastries. 

Favorite Food: Apple pastry with thick cream and a cup of coffee

Favorite Recipe: Millefeuilles. The dozens of layers and perfectly blended English cream always require perfect attention. One can’t be complacent with pastry, even after decades of experience.

Hobbies: Sewing, though never fancywork. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, she’s not interested. She also like cards, but Gilbert has little patience for games.

Most Cherished Possession: Her father’s rolling pin.

Immediate Family: Her husband, Gilbert, and two wards, Pascal and Gabrielle Giroux. 

Strengths: Loyalty, intelligence, and stamina.

Weaknesses: Temper, with an unfortunate inability to censor her tongue when provoked. 

Appearances: Chapter 2 of PROMISED TO THE CROWN and nearly every one after.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Aimie K. Runyan, member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Women's Fiction Writers Association, has been an avid student of French and Francophone Studies for more than fifteen years. While working on her Master's thesis on the brave women who helped found French Canada, she was fortunate enough to win a generous grant from the Quebec government to study onsite for three months which enabled the detailed research necessary for her work. Aimie lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Pinterest ❧  Blog

 ═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Friday, May 27, 2016

Character Conversations: Polypoetes, from By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella

I arrived at the Victoria & Albert Museum a good fifteen minutes early. Amalia had arranged for Polypoetes to meet me near Antonio Canova's Helen for our interview, but I wanted to get a look at the statue before our Q&A. 

The figure was artistically beautifully, but it was the subject matter that captivated my imagination. Who was this woman? What part did she play in her legends? What sort of spirit lay hidden beneath her celebrated beauty? I didn't know if Polypoetes could answer my questions, but I was eager to find out. 

I looked around and wondered if I'd be able to pick him out of the crowd. I sent up a silent prayer I wouldn't have to hover in the doorway like some sort of stalker, but there was no mistaking him when he arrived. 

Polypoetes proved an easy interviewee. The fact that he was easy on the eyes didn't hurt, but our discussion proved most enlightening. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

You’d know better than I, does the statue do her justice?
Not in the slightest – nothing so simple as stone, no matter how cleverly carved, could ever capture the brilliance of her beauty. Helen was everything you never knew you desired, and not only in form, but in substance as well. At least to me.

What was Helen like as person?
She was devoted. Compassionate. Loyal and kind. She was in everything a servant to her people, a fine princess and a true queen, though those who did not know her might say otherwise. And she was stubborn as well, determined upon the course she had chosen. But only because she believed it was what she must do to protect Sparta, to protect us all. What she endured for our sakes – in truth, she had the courage and strength of a hero, though she never wielded a sword or fought in a war. Her battles were of a different sort.

What was the nature of your relationship with her?
At first, she was a debt to be repaid. My father’s foolishness had wronged her, betrayed her to her enemies, and while she was the wife of Theseus and rightful queen of Athens, how could I not offer her my aid and protection? When Theseus fought beside my father and mother? When he had always been our friend and ally?

But after I met her – once I knew her for herself... Had she granted me the smallest encouragement, I would have loved her until death. I would have walked happily into madness to have her as my wife. To have her as my queen.

As Prince of the Lapiths you had every right to approach her, but I’m curious, were you nervous?
I did not intend, at first, to present myself as her suitor, only as her friend and ally. But all the same, I was... uncertain, I suppose. Of how she would receive me. She had little reason to love my father, all things considered, and she did not know me. Why should she trust me at all? Why should she not blame me, as my father’s son, for the loss of Theseus, her husband? For the destruction of the peace they had fought so hard to build together?

What did you think of the suitors that flocked to her side? Did anyone stand out for any reason?
I would have liked to kill Menestheus where he stood from the moment I glimpsed him wearing Theseus’s crown. And Agamemnon, of course. There was not a man at that Assembly who would not have been pleased to see Mycenae’s king dead. But sacred law bound my hands, and I would not bring a curse down upon Helen or her people by murdering a man while I was her guest.

Helen’s legend isn’t exactly happy. Why do you think it endures?
Fame and Glory, our lives made immortal by the telling of our stories – these are the greatest gifts the gods can give us, but for true immortality upon Olympus as gods in our own right. That Helen’s story endures is the proof of Zeus’s love for his daughter. Perhaps you think it is a poor repayment for what he asked of her in life, for the use he made of her and the suffering she endured, but I am glad to know we did not fight so desperately only to be forgotten.

Do you think it’s possible to defy the God’s and forge your own destiny as Helen wished?

I believe we must live our lives as if they are ours to do with as we please. The gods will take what they are owed, there is no question, but they will take it whether we pursue our own desires or lock ourselves away. Why should we not fight for what we love? Live as we see fit? To do less seems a greater sin. A betrayal of what we have been given.

Your father also faced challenges as the son of deity. How did Pirithous rectify that reality?
My father – My father learned early that he had no wish to be caught up in the affairs of the Olympians. He was grateful for the gifts Zeus had given him, for his strength and his power, for the ichor that ran like lightning through his veins, but the gods are fickle and cruel, most of all to those they love, to the heroes they raise up. Ixion’s madness was proof enough of what could become of a man who forgot his place, who believed for a moment he was deserving of any favor he was granted, and my mother’s death, after that – my father lived so hard, raided so fiercely, traveled so often and celebrated so much, because if he slowed, if he stopped, if he settled, all the grief and pain, all his suffering would catch up.

Speaking of your father, what do you believe his fate to have been?
Dead or Alive, my father belongs to Hades, now. I do not believe he will find his way back from the Underworld. Not while I live. But perhaps I will find him in Elysium, one day.

Is there anything you wished you’d told Helen when you last saw her?
Helen knew she had my love. Leaving her that day was the greatest proof of it I could offer. There was nothing more to be said between us, not then. I think – I think it was in that moment that I understood her, truly. For Helen, there would only ever be Theseus.

What did you do after you parted ways?
I did as she asked of me. I kept her brothers safe, in Thessaly, until she had quieted Menelaus’s fury. It chafed, leaving her. Letting her sacrifice herself to that cur for our sakes, for our safety, but what else could we do? We were bound by Odysseus’s thrice-cursed oath. We could not strike at Menelaus. And Helen had made up her mind. She would not risk more harm to those she loved, to her people, and how could we deny her the right to make such a choice? The right to face her fate on her own terms?

So we left. You asked if there was something I wished I’d told her, and my answer was honest, for there were no more words to be shared, but in truth – in truth I wish I had stolen her, oath or no oath. I wish I had dragged her with us from that hall and let the gods curse us all. Let Ares send war marching north upon our heels. Theseus might have come North to us as well, and perhaps then he might have lived. So many of us might have lived, if we had fought only that small war instead of spending those long years beneath the walls of Troy.

Troy has been heavily romanticized over the centuries. What was it really like? Were the heroes as we know them today?
War is blood and death and disease. It is festered wounds and seeping puss. It is horror and terror and nightmare. What was Troy really like? It was weeping children and screaming women. It was sorrow and choking smoke. No amount of gold, no prize was enough. And that woman that Menelaus found inside Troy’s walls – she stared at me as if I were a stranger. As if we had not struck our own bargain beneath the moon. As if she had not trusted me with her brothers’ lives – brothers she loved more than anything else in this world, save Theseus, perhaps. He did not notice. Perhaps he did not want to see. Perhaps he wanted to believe, because when she looked upon him, there was warmth and love and desire in her eyes, the likes of which I am certain he had never seen...

We were not heroes, Lady. We were, none of us, heroes. We were only fools. Fools made eager for a woman who did not want to be won. From the very beginning, she had not wanted any of us. But the gods – the gods always take what they are owed, one way or another. Only Helen understood, truly, the cost. We did not listen, and we have only ourselves to blame for that.

Our time is almost up and I don’t want to keep you, but I’ve one more question. In looking back, do you think she was worth it?
I do not think your people will ever truly understand – you think we fought this war for Helen. You think we died for her, and her alone. You think to place this burden upon her shoulders, to pin her beneath it as Heracles shouldered the weight of the world. But you are wrong. We fought because the gods would have it no other way, because they demanded a sacrifice greater than any that had come before. We fought for Zeus and Poseidon, for Hera and Athena, Artemis and Aphrodite. We fought for Apollo and Ares, even for Dionysus. Helen was only the lure. The means by which we might be trapped in cages of honor and ill-considered vows.

But if what you truly wish to know is whether I would act again as I did, then. If knowing the outcome, I would still travel to Sparta and join the assembly of her suitors in the hopes of winning her hand – Lady, I knew then what I risked, as well. And I would go to her again, now.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Date of Birth: Late 13th Century BC

Physical Appearance: Dark-haired and brown-skinned, like his mother, with his father’s blue-gray eyes and well-formed physique.

Education and Job Skills: As prince of the Lapiths and the only acknowledged son and heir of Pirithous, Polypoetes was given extensive training in palace and tribal administration, as well as horsemanship, horse-breeding, and horse-taming. He’s an exceptional hunter and warrior, trained by his father in sword, spear, bow, knife, hand to hand combat, wrestling, and boxing. Polypoetes is not the raider his father was, but you wouldn’t want to find yourself on the wrong end of his sword.

Allies: King Theseus of Athens, as well as his sons, Demophon and Acamas. Aethra, mother of Theseus. Leonteus of Thessaly. The Lapiths people.

Enemies: The Myrmidons of Phthia under King Peleus, the Centaurs of Mt. Pelion

Hobbies: Hunting, Horsemanship and horse-breeding

Most Cherished Possession: His horses

Family: Pirithous, son of Zeus (father), Hippodamia (mother), any number of unacknowledged half-brothers and –sisters scattered across Achaea.

Strengths: Healthy respect for the gods, Natural ability for horsemanship

Weaknesses: Loyal to a fault, liable to be trapped by honor, Helen of Sparta

Appearances: BY HELEN’S HAND, cameo appearance in TAMER OF HORSES (forthcoming)

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Amalia Carosella graduated from the University of North Dakota with a bachelors degree in Classical Studies and English. An avid reader and former bookseller, she writes about old heroes and older gods. She lives with her husband in upstate New York and dreams of the day she will own goats (and maybe even a horse, too). For more information, visit her blog at www.amaliacarosella.com.

She also writes myth-steeped fantasy and paranormal romance under the name Amalia Dillin. Learn more about her other works at www.amaliadillin.com.

Website ❧  Facebook ❧  Twitter ❧  Goodreads

 ═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cover Clichés: Cloche Contemplation

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.  

 ═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

One night. One dance. One love to last a lifetime.

1916. Leaving war-ravaged London, Jenny Doyle sets sail for New York where she is to work for the de Saulles family. Their home, Gatsby-like in elegance, is rife with intrigue and madness. Only Jenny’s friendship with dancer Rodolfo offers escape… until, one tragic day, the household is changed forever. 1926. America booms, prohibition rules and Rodolfo has taken his place on the silver screen as Rudolph Valentino. Will the world’s most desired film star and his lost love have their Hollywood happy ending, or will the tragic echoes from their time with the de Saulles thwart them one last time

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.

Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.

But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist's spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls' friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose's fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.

But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out?

An unforgettable Australian saga of sisterhood, family, love and betrayal.

This is the story of two sets of twins, Edda and Grace, Tufts and Kitty, who struggle against all the restraints, prohibitions, laws and prejudices of 1920s Australia. Only the submissive yet steely Grace burns for marriage; the sleekly sophisticated Edda burns to be a doctor, the down-to-earth but courageous Tufts burns never to marry, and the too-beautiful, internally scarred Kitty burns for a love free from male ownership.

Turbulent times, terrible torments, but the four magnificent Latimer sisters, each so different, love as women do: with tenderness as well as passion, and with hearts roomy enough to hold their men, their children, their careers and their sisters.

Dark Echo is an unlucky boat. Despite this knowledge, Martin Stannard falls under her spell and prepares to sail her across the Atlantic with his wealthy father. But his lover Suzanne begins exploring the yacht's past. What she finds is terrifying.

Because this boat isn't just unlucky, it's evil. It was built for Henry Spalding, a soldier and sorcerer who committed suicide yet still casts his malevolent spell nearly a century after his death. Suzanne must uncover his last, terrible secret before Dark Echo destroys the man she loves. 

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

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, May 23, 2016

Jack Lark: Recruit by Paul Fraser Collard

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Personal Kindle Library
Read: May 14, 2016

Forced to leave London, young recruit Jack Lark is determined to make his way as a Redcoat. Despite the daily tirades of Sergeant Slater, a sadistic monster of a man who sees his new trainees as the scum of the earth, Jack holds on to his belief that the Army will give him a better life. His comrades are a rough and ready bunch, and Jack falls in with Charlie Evans, a cheerful young clerk who quickly comes to regret joining up. But once you've taken the Queen's Shilling, there is no way out: deserters always pay the highest price. As Charlie schemes to escape, Jack, always a loyal friend, is forced into an impossible situation where the wrong move could leave him taking the long walk to the gallows...

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Jack Lark: Recruit is the second of the three novellas that preface Paul Fraser Collard's Jack Lark series. I don't think it necessary to read the books in order as the stories don't build on one another, but chronologically speaking, the events of the narrative take place between Rogue and Redcoat.

Recruit picks up during Jack’s enlistment and while I thoroughly enjoyed being reunited with Collard’s tenacious protagonist, I was struck by the historic details the author worked into this chapter of Jack's life. Our hero has lofty ambitions, but the reality of achieving those goals isn’t as straightforward as he imagined and I liked watching Jack process and adapt to his new position and circumstances.

Charlie Evans shares the spotlight throughout much of the narrative and in many ways his journey parallels Jack’s, but his experience ultimately follows a very different trajectory. In looking back on the story, I can’t say I liked what happened, but I genuinely appreciate Collard for utilizing Charlie to illustrate some of the bleaker truths of soldering for Queen Victoria.

Thematically, I think it safe to say Recruit is darker than Rogue, but I greatly enjoyed the contrast in the material and admire the range Collard exhibited approaching this piece as he did. I’m not sure what to expect from Redcoat at this point, but I can’t wait to see what will happen to Jack in the next installment.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
"It is up to you to live up to the standards set by your forebears, the men who won the victories of which we are all so rightly proud. Men like you may come and go, but the regiment lives on. You must play your part in our history, for the regiment shall endure when you are so much dust."
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Friday, May 20, 2016

Borrowing Death by Cathy Pegau

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: April 17, 2016

Suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody is bracing herself for her first winter in the frontier town of Cordova in the Alaska Territory. But the chilling murder of a local store owner is what really makes her blood run cold... After three months in Cordova, Charlotte is getting accustomed to frontier life. She is filing articles for the local paper--including a provocative editorial against Prohibition--and enjoying a reunion with her brother Michael, the town doctor and coroner. Michael's services are soon called upon when a fire claims the life of hardware store owner Lyle Fiske. A frontier firebug is suspected of arson, but when Michael determines Fiske was stabbed before his store was set ablaze, the town of Cordova has another murder to solve. Her journalist's curiosity whetted, Charlotte begins to sort through the smoldering ruins of Lyle Fiske's life, only to discover any number of people who might have wanted him dead. As the days grow shorter, Charlotte's investigation turns increasingly complex. She may be distant from the trappings of civilization, but untangling the motives for murder will require plumbing the very depths of Charlotte's investigative acumen...

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Cathy Pegau’s Murder on the Last Frontier blew me away when I read it last year. The author’s tone and the scope of her story left a lasting impression on my imagination so it should come as no surprise that I jumped a mile high with glee when I received a copy of book two of the Charlotte Brody Mystery series. I shamelessly bumped it to the top of my TBR and jumped in with all the enthusiasm of kid let loose in candy store. 

The first few chapters took me right back to Pegau’s earlier work which was perfect as the sequel picked up where its predecessor left off. Cordova hasn’t changed much and Charlotte’s progressive ideals are still ruffling the feathers of the frontier town’s most esteemed conservatives. I reveled in the delightful atmosphere Pegau creates on the very edge of civilization, but that’s as far as my appreciation went. 

I find a lot of merit in Charlotte’s character, but something I liked about book one is how she happened to find herself in the midst of a murder investigation despite her personal desire to disappear and blend in. This go round she’s actively pursuing the perpetrator in blatant defiance of Deputy Marshal James Eddington and the shift didn’t sit well with me and I found myself frequently annoyed that she seemed to believe her ‘almost’ relationship with the deputy entitles her to special treatment and insider information about his work. 

Speaking of Mr. Eddington, I’m not ashamed to say that I lost all respect for the man. Ignoring the fact that Cordova’s primary law enforcer seem to spend most of his time letting Charlotte do his job, I flat out refuse to condone his pursuing a woman under false presence. His reasoning is absolutely shameful, but the fact that Charlotte spends the novel making excuses for her ‘honest’ and ‘forthright’ suitor sent her tumbling from a paradigm of feminine strength to an emotionally weak and intensely insecure mess.

The fact that Charlotte’s personal life eclipsed the mystery didn’t help matters. I was intensely appreciative of the hesitancy and restraint exhibited in book one of the series, but the emphasis placed on their growing affection in Borrowing Death annoyed me. I liked the mystery and the layers Pegau built into it, but I couldn’t help feeling it played second fiddle to Charlotte’s love life. 

I enjoyed many members of the supporting cast and found a lot of merit in Henry, Adam, Bridget, Caroline, and Rebecca. Camille’s storyline seemed awkward to me, I’m still not sure why Pegau included it as it didn’t seem necessary and served only to reiterate experiences established in Murder on the Last Frontier, but what do I know right? 

Borrowing Death has its moments, but I can’t say it lived up to my expectations and I’m not sure if I’ll be continuing the series when Murder on Location is released next year.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════
Every time they chatted, there was another exciting lecture Kit had attended, or some rally or march. It sent a pang of homesickness through Charlotte, but at the same time she was happy to have the opportunity to get her life together in the quiet remoteness of Alaska. Well, relatively quiet, if you didn’t count the dead bodies.
═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: May 15, 2016

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici's Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

I’ve eyed Donna Russo Morin’s work for a long time, but Portrait of a Conspiracy is the first of her books that I’ve had opportunity to actually pick up. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of style and tone, but my track record with Medici fiction is fairly positive so I was relatively optimistic when I sat down and began chapter one. Ten pages later, I was hooked.

The intensity and chaos surrounding the assassination of Giuliano de' Medici had me biting my lip, but Morin’s introduction of Viviana and Fiammetta in the opening scenes was nothing short of stunning. Most authors of my experience take chapters to do what Morin accomplished in just a few pages and I couldn’t stifle my delight over the depth and complexity I recognized in Morin’s leads. My admiration grew as I got to know more of the cast and while I didn’t always appreciate the actions and sentiments of certain individuals, I was utterly admiring of the inherent authenticity of Morin’s characterizations.

I hardly know where to begin in looking at the historic elements of the novel. I admired that Morin didn’t shy from depicting the brutal realities of Florence’s streets, but I was equally entranced by the detail she offered in regard to the artistic techniques of the day. It’s obvious the author put a lot of time into researching the material, but I was particularly impressed with how comprehensive and dynamic Florence felt beneath her pen.

I found Morin’s themes equally captivating and while I loved the idea of woman defying convention to pursue their passions, I found myself absorbed in the more universal concept of ambition, its innate risks, and potential consequences. There is something extraordinarily human in the central motifs of the narrative and I liked how those ideas manifested themselves over the course of the story.

Morin’s elegant command of language and composition left me breathless, but the story itself, with its flawless depiction of power, corruption, defiance, intrigue and retribution makes Portrait of a Conspiracy an absolute must read.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Interview with Vanda, author of Juliana

Author interviews are one of my favorite things to post which is why I am super excited to welcome author Vanda to Flashlight Commentary to discuss her novel, Juliana.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Welcome to Flashlight Commentary Vanda. It’s great to have you with us. To start things off, please tell us a bit about Juliana.
Juliana is the first book in what will be a series of books about gay and lesbian history in NYC.  The book that is out now, Volume 1, begins in 1941.  Alice “Al” Huffman comes from the potato fields of Long Island with her beau, her best girlfriend and her girlfriend’s beau to make it on the Broadway stage only to find she has no talent. On the kids’ first day in New York City, they meet Maxwell P. Harlington III, a failed nightclub owner and Broadway producer, who, according to Al, looks a little like Clark Gable. He invites them to a nightclub where Al hears Juliana, the glamorous, perpetually-on-the-brink-of stardom nightclub singer, sing for the first time. Al is instantly drawn to her and seeks her out. Juliana, a sexual risk-taker, easily reels in the mesmerized Al. 
Al is increasingly pulled into a secret gay underworld of men who wear dresses and women who smoke cigars, while her childhood friends continue in their “normal” lives.  Al glides easily between the two worlds until these worlds begin to collide.  

What theme do you hope readers take from your story?
I’m always amazed at what people get from my work; things I never thought of.  I like that.  I like that my work can be approached from many different angles. I really don’t want to tell people what they “should” get from a story of mine.  

However, with JULIANA, there was a specific motivator that got me writing.  One day during a class discussion it became clear that my students did not know anything about gay history or the treacherous journey many gays have had to travel to get where we are today.  For instance, my students did not know a person could be arrested just for going into a gay bar or that wearing clothes deemed appropriate to the opposite gender in public could also lead to arrest. A need to preserve this history and to teach it to others began to grow in me and in time this need became a book.  I had to let my students and others know that gays have a culture and a history that is just as valid as any of the other minority groups’ cultures and historie.  We have had our heroes like other minority groups; our heroes have sacrificed themselves like other minority groups so that our culture could survive. True, there are a great many LGBT writers who have published marvelous nonfiction books, but the average person isn’t going to read a history book.  Many of my students have read my book without it ever being assigned. That is because my book is accessible, while at the same time being historically accurate. My students would be unlikely to pick up a LGBT history text unless I was going to grade them for doing so.  The characters make the experience personal; the reading becomes emotional not just intellectual. So, I suppose, if there is anything I would want my readers to take from the story is that LGBTQ history and culture is fascinating, and that my book is not only for gay people.

As a novelist, what drew you to this particular period?
I think in writing unconscious forces are for more important than any conscious thought the writer might have.  I was drawn to this time period by some unconscious force that really isn’t terribly clear to me; however, I get asked this question all the time and I’ve tried to answer it for myself. The more comprehensive version of my answer is in the Introduction to Juliana, but let me give you the shorter version. I was raised by people who were raised in the 1940s.  I needed to know why these people hated us—me-- so much. Researching the 1940s help me to come up with an kind of answer to that.

What sort of research went into Juliana? What sources did you find most valuable? 
I used every type of resource you could possibly imagine.  I, of course, read the history books written by LGBT authors.  Lillian Faderman’s work is always helpful. I also used internet sources. However, the answers to the type of questions I was asking often couldn’t be found in traditional sources.  I needed to get a feel for NYC in the 1940’s so I read novels and magazine articles written at that time. That’s how I discovered that you only needed one ration stamp to buy two boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.  I found that specific detail in a 1943 Lady’s Home Journal. You can’t get that sort of information by only going to the usual research sources.  I found menus from the time period on Ebay, which let me know what people were eating and how much it cost. I watched films from the time period to hear the language and get a sense of 1940s values. For describing Juliana’s clothes I went to 1940s Vogue Magazine.  For Al’s (Alice) clothes I looked in 1940s Sears & Roebuck Catalogues.

You probably have many, but is there a scene you particularly enjoyed writing?
I think that would have to be the scene in which Al has sex with Juliana for the first time.  This is also the first time Al has ever had sex and she experiences an orgasm for the first time. One reason I like this scene is  that Al is so innocent she doesn’t really know what is happening to her. She only feels. That scene also gave me the opportunity to show in what way sex between women is different, beyond the obvious.  There’s a generosity and tenderness to the scene that I like, plus it’s a little funny.

What scene posed the greatest challenge for you as an author? Why was it troublesome and how did you work through it?  
This was a rare book in that it mostly wrote itself.  Once my characters got started I only had to follow their lead and stay out of the way. Not everything I write comes like this, but I don’t recall any chapter or scene in JULIANA that was especially difficult because my characters were in charge. My answer wouldn’t be the same if you asked me about another work, like my finally finished (I think) but as yet unpublished novel, The Violence of Gentle People.

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?
I wish I had done more with the character of Danny, Al’s first boyfriend.  I would’ve liked to have included more of his backstory.

Historical novelists frequently have to adjust facts to make their stories work. Did you have to invent or change anything while writing Juliana and if so, what did you alter? 
I try to stick very close to historical details and watch my characters struggle within that context just as they would in real life. Also not messing with facts builds trust with readers.  This philosophy worked very well for Volume 1, but I’m having some trouble applying it completely to Volume 2.  For instance, I have a hospital that is very important to the story in the latter part of Volume 2.  I am trying to show the kind of “cures” some gays went through in the 1950s .  The problem I’m having is I have not been able to verify that this “cure” was use in a New York City hospital. I have verification for California, Washington DC and other places in the US.  Showing this so-called cure is vital to the story and important to gay history so I may have to do some bending of the facts.

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? 
That would be my main character Alice (Al). I think she’s a decent sort of person, who’s struggling to honestly figure out who she is. Often conflicting needs get in her way.  I’m learning more about that now in Volume 2 .  Juliana I would like to date, maybe.  I think she would intimidate me.  Although Al is a little intimidated by her in the beginning she learns to manage her, which I admire a great deal. That’s another reason I’d want to sit down and have a drink with Al.  I’d want her to tell me how she finally got a hold on Juliana.  I think she’d say she didn’t have hold on her, that no one had that.

I thought this question was very interesting so I asked the director of the show we do based on JULIANA. Ray, the director, chose Shirl as the character he would most like to have a drink with.  He said he would like to sit down and have a drink with Shirl because she isn’t ashamed of who she is.  She wears a suit and tie and smokes a cigar and doesn’t care what the consequences might be.  He also would want to have a drink with her because she has so many good stories and knows what is happening with everyone in the community.

Just because I’m curious, if you could pick a fantasy cast to play the leads in a screen adaptation of Juliana, who would you hire? 
Actually, like I said before we already do a show based on JULIANA. Every second Tuesday of the month at 7 pm actors have been performing the novel at the Duplex Nightclub to an enthusiastic repeat audience who come to see what going to happen next. We first started doing this back in in December 2014.  We recently were extended to December 2016. We’ll complete Volume 1 on June 9. All of your readers are welcome (No cover/2 drink minimum).  Then, in July we will begin Volume 2(1945-1955).  

I have a wonderful cast playing the parts and I can’t imagine any other actors doing their roles. 

Finally, what's next for you? Do you have a new project in the works? 
As I said previously, JULIANA is a series of novels. Right now I’m working on Juliana (Volume 2:1945-1955).  I’ve also completed another book called, The Violence of Gentle People that I am looking to publish.  This novel takes place in the 1967 and ‘68 in West Virginia and New York City.

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════


"...captures the fear, excitement, and eroticism of a young lesbian's awakening in the 1940s."
- Kirkus Reviews

""Juliana is the opening act in a series of stories that will cover, discover and recover LGBT history..." - Alison Fradkin, Curve Magazine

"From the first page I felt I was walking on the streets of 1940s New York. At times funny, enlightening, sensual, Juliana tells a story that is rarely told." Donna Spector, The Candle of God, The Woman Who Married Herself.

"Spell-binding, entrancing.  A gay underworld with the sights and sounds of a lost New York." -Lisa E. Davis, author of Under the Mink

"Juliana is a love story that will appeal to history buffs and romantics of any persuasion." - G.F. Boyer, fiction editor and founder/editor of Clementine Poetry Journal

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════

Vanda's novel, Juliana (Vol. 1, 1941-1944) to be released in February by Booktrope Editions is about LGBT life in 1940s New York City. This novel is the first of a series of novels about the same characters living through successive decades of LGBT history.

As a playwright Vanda has received numerous honors, among them an Edward Albee Fellowship. Her play, Vile Affections, published by Original Works was a finalist for a National Lambda Award. Her play, Patient HM, which later became The Forgetting Curve, won the Pride Stage and Screen's Women's Playwriting Award and another play, Why'd Ya Make Me Wear This, Joe, won Celebration Theater's (where Naked Boys Singing originated) Best New LGBT Play. Vile Affections played at the New York International Fringe Festival to sell-out audiences and was published by Original Works in 2008. The Forgetting Curve was produced in Boston in September 2014 and the producer has plans to bring it to New York.

Vanda's non-fiction story, "Jack," was published in Prairie Schooner in Summer 2011 and another non-fiction piece, "Roger: Lost Between Philosophies," which appears Pentimento was selected by New Millennium Writings for Honorable Mention from a submission pool of 1,300. Other short prose pieces have been or will be published in Sinister Wisdom, The Outrider Review and The Grub Street On-Line Journal.

Website ❧  Blog ❧  Twitter ❧  Facebook ❧  Pinterest ❧  LinkedIn ❧  Goodreads

═══════════════════════════ ❧  ═══════════════════════════