Sunday, August 31, 2014

Freedom is Never Out of Style in Coco Chanel

"Women have to dress for themselves, not for the pleasure of their men."

I admire who this was, her agenda: to fashion clothes that allowed women to work, to breathe, to move as freely as men, to live.

I've always found some of her fashions a bit drab and shapeless, but there was a war on for a while there, you know.

This is the second movie I've watched about Coco. The first was Coco Before Chanel. I didn't care for it. It was about her being a mistress to a wealthy aristocrat and being snubbed by society and then it just kinda ended. While this one has her life as a mistress, it also gets a lot more into detail about the start-up of her business, the crescendo of her success. She goes from the orphanage, to a seamstress's shop, to being a man's mistress, to hatmaker, to....Coco, suffering broken hearts and abandonment the entire way.

From what I can find though, a lot of things were left out. Not a single movie has touched on her being accused of being a Nazi spy/informer during WWII. That's interesting and something I want to hear more about. The focus always seems to be her romance with Etienne and in this case, Boy.

The actress Coco
The movie goes back and forth between old Coco, Shirley MacLaine in the late fifties(?) or early sixties, and to young Coco, played by a woman (Brigitte Boucher) who looks very much like a young Sally Field. Most of it was the young Coco, so I'm not sure why the star is considered Shirley. I think they should have made the young girl the star, as I almost didn't watch this movie in the first place. A near-death's-door Coco didn't interest me.

What did interest me was how Coco revolutionized women's fashion during WWI. There's one scene in particular in which this stuck-up designer for the elite complains that her clothes are basically for the working woman. And Coco heartily agrees. Her clothes are for ALL women, working, upper class, etc. As during this time, women's servants were quitting/leaving and women had to dress themselves. And the poor were hard at work and needed to move. It was also just really neat to watch the fashions change as this movie played on.

Did you know she started as a hatmaker in a third-floor apartment in Paris that apparently felt like the North Pole?

The real Coco
I really enjoyed her romance with Boy too. I probably wouldn't have liked him in real life, mind you, but the this actor and this script...well, until he goes to England, I was rather in love with him myself. *sigh* And that's a compliment from me as I'm not that gaga about romance.

This having been made for TV (Lifetime), the sex scenes are tasteful and contain no blatant nudity. This version of Coco is also a lot more likable than the one in Coco Before Chanel.

Long review short, this two-hour and ten-minute movie is def worth watching. It nicely sums up the beginning of Coco's success. Could it have had more? Yes, I'd have liked to have gone into WWII. But I enjoyed this very much. Perhaps C.W. Gortner's upcoming 2015 release Mademoiselle Chanel will get into more detail outside of the romance.

I rented this on Prime.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Nell Donnelly Reed: More Than Just a Fashion-Starter

I learned about this woman on Mysteries at the Museum too. She invented the housedress, survived an abduction, started a very successful dress-making business, provided her employees with benefits (not common during her time), and had a long-standing love affair with a powerful senator. Why there isn't a movie about her or a historical novel *hint, hint, darling authors* is beyond me.

She married at 17, yet that didn't stop her from going to college and then selling her dress designs at a local store. What started as two women sewing 216 dresses in Nell's attic in 1916 became the Donnelly Garment Company, which by 1953 "was the largest manufacturer of women's clothing worldwide."

Her workers actually resisted becoming unionized, and that's rare. She had a scholarship fund for her workers, financially supported their evening classes, provided insurance and medical financial aid, pensions, and even an on-site cafeteria and recreation center. And being a size 16 herself, Nell was adamant that her dresses look good on bigger women as well as small.

The abduction (at gunpoint) of her and her chauffeur was all about ransom. It was her secret (hm. Perhaps not so secret, considering she'd had a baby with him and her husband at the time knowingly adopted the child...) lover, former mayor and senator James A. Reed, who came to her aid by involving the local Kansas City mafia. The big man, a John Lazia tracked her down, but at that point, the perps had gotten wind that Lazia was after them and except for two lone waters, they'd hightailed it from the scene of the crime.

A mere two years later, she divorced her first husband and married Reed, recently widowed. After her retirement in 1956, the company she had worked so hard to build could not survive without her savvy designs and went bankrupt in 1978.

Nell lived to be 102. What a fascinating woman! Way ahead of her time. A designer, a survivor, a lover, a kind-hearted employer, and a successful woman who did what she wanted. Someone, write a novel based on her!

References: *Picture can be found on their site*

Friday, August 29, 2014

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Hazel Woods (HFVBT)

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Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote THIS IS HOW I’D LOVE YOU, a historical novel set during the Great War. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Hazel: Does it make me sound really nerdy if I say that this novel was inspired by a chess game? Well, there it is. I am a nerd, but not such a great chess player. My great-grandfather, on the other hand, was apparently quite a masterful player. And several years ago my mother mentioned that he had played chess via the post. He lived in a small town in southern New Mexico, but whenever my mother would visit, she remembers a separate chess board always mid-game, keeping track of the game he was playing with his current, long-distance opponent. This idea—that people could actually play a game over long periods of space and time—captured my imagination. Maybe because I have two children who have really come of age during this time of immediate gratification, I feel very nostalgic for a time when people had to be patient--a kind of patience that I’m not sure we can even fathom. In those gaps between letters, life continues and that creates a kind of obvious tension, which is such a gift for a writer.

Also, that same great-grandfather happened to be quite a romantic. He wrote the sweetest letters to my great-grandmother while the were courting and thankfully I come from a long line of pack-rats. I actually didn’t read too many of their letters until I’d finished writing the novel, but there are some real gems.

Tara: I think that's the BEST, most interesting answer I've ever received to that question. I LOVE when a family member in the past inspires a story today and the letters....*sighs dreamily*

We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroine strong.

Hazel: Hensley reminds me of a lot of women who don’t know their own strength until it’s tested. She trusts the men in her life—her father, her brother, even her suitor—to make her decisions for her. But when she must confront the realities of her own life on her own, she begins to make choices for her self, sometimes directly opposed to their wishes for her. This fact alone, in 1917, shows tremendous strength. And, coming from someone who’s afraid of heights, what she does with that strong man in the circus is evidence of major girl-power.

Tara: Now I'm intrigued. Strong man in the circus?

Do you see any of yourself in her?

Hazel: I love that Hensley is not a victim. I try very hard to always be aware of my own ability to affect change, whether in a personal relationship or in a broader context. We both love to sew, though I’m afraid I’m not nearly as talented a seamstress as she is. 

Tara: Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

Hazel: The scenes with Lowell and Hensley in the theater were difficult. I wanted it to be clear that Lowell took advantage of Hensley, but I also wanted her budding sexuality to play a part in that. It was rough to balance the two.

Tara: What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search?

Hazel: I tried to read a lot of first-hand accounts of soldiers. Even though I’d always heard about the brutality of the conflict, I was honestly shocked at the gruesome details of their lives and their injuries and deaths. It was utter chaos. Over nine million soldiers were killed and over six million civilians. Nobody was prepared for the kind of destruction and suffering that would occur.

Tara: And we must never forget that, and those men. *nods head*

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

Hazel: I really want readers to be transported. The great joy of reading is the ability to escape our own reality and enter another.

Tara: Your book takes place in Hillsboro, New Mexico. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this town/country?

Hazel: Gosh, if anyone travels to Hillsboro, New Mexico, give me a call and I’ll meet you for tea. It’s a little speck of a town now, home mostly to artists and retirees, all fifteen of them. But you can still see my great-grandparents’ house—one like I imagine Hensley and her father lived. It’s a lovely old adobe home, shaded by graceful cottonwood trees, surrounded by a rock wall.

Tara: Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolute any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

Hazel: Honestly, I would love to live in the 1920s. I think there was just enough technology like indoor plumbing, refrigeration and train travel to make life comfortable. I think it would be so gratifying to have been a suffragist and see that work pay off with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Tara: Oooh. My thoughts exactly!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?
Hazel: Oh, geez. I can barely create and implement a successful grocery list. That’s a big, terrifying question. I love the quote that says, “The idea is to die young as late as possible.” I think that’s a good goal.

Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

Hazel: I’m so glad you asked! Right now we have one rescue dog, Max. We adopted him last summer after we lost our beloved Border Terrier. Max is some kind of Lab, Pit Bull, Pointer mix, we think. He is a super dog with tricks like pulling tissues from the tissue boxone after another, catching flies mid-air, and leaning against the humans’ legs whenever we hug each other.

Tara: Hazel, it's been a true pleasure having you here today. I wish you the very best with your writing career and whatever other endeavors you pursue.


02_This Is How I'd Love YouAs the Great War rages, an independent young woman struggles to sustain love—and life—through the power of words. It’s 1917 and America is on the brink of World War I. After Hensley Dench’s father is forced to resign from the New York Times for his anti-war writings, she finds herself expelled from the life she loves and the future she thought she would have. Instead, Hensley is transplanted to New Mexico, where her father has taken a job overseeing a gold mine. Driven by loneliness, Hensley hijacks her father’s correspondence with Charles Reid, a young American medic with whom her father plays chess via post. Hensley secretly begins her own exchange with Charles, but looming tragedy threatens them both, and—when everything turns against them—will their words be enough to beat the odds?

Praise for This Is How I'd Love You

“In This is How I’d Love You, Hazel Woods explores the enduring nature of an improbable love born of words, washed in tragedy, and sustained despite impossible circumstances. With prose as immediate and evocative as a painting, Woods accomplishes the magic of rendering sorrow into hope and fear into courage. It is as idealistic a tale as it is clear-sighted, a brilliant alchemy few novels achieve. Readers, prepare to melt” — Robin Oliveria, author of My Name is Mary Sutter

Publication Date: August 26, 2014
Plume Books
Formats: eBook, Paperback, MP3 CD
Pages: 320
Genre: Historical Fiction

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03_Hazel WoodsAbout the Author

Hazel Woods lives in New Mexico with her husband and two children. For more information please visit You can also find her on Twitter.

This Is How I'd Love You Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, August 25
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, August 27
Interview at Dab of Darkness
Friday, August 29
Interview at Book Babe
Monday, September 1
Review & Interview at Closed the Cover
Tuesday, September 2
Review & Interview at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, September 3
Review at The Bookworm
Thursday, September 4
Review at Booktalk & More
Friday, September 5
Spotlight & Giveaway at So Many Precious Books, So Little Time
Monday, September 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Tuesday, September 9
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, September 10
Interview at Caroline Wilson Writes
Friday, September 12
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Spotlight at CelticLady's Reviews
Monday, September 15
Review & Guest Post at Bookish
Tuesday, September 16
Review at Book of Secrets
Wednesday, September 17
Review at Book Nerd

Thursday, August 28, 2014

From Battered Bride to Courageous Circus Teacher...The Language of Silence by Peggy Webb

The Language of SilenceThis is an inspiring tale, a story so engrossing that I if I hadn't had to work, if everyday life would have just let me be, I'd have read this book in a day. I didn't want to put it down.

There are two wonderful heroines in this. I absolutely LOVED Ruth. She's a spunkier-than-all-get-out old lady whose home is in the Ozarks. She has visions and tries to interpret them and wants nothing more than to save her battered niece and find out what happened to her own sister Lola years ago.

"You ain't gonna find nothin' here but a skinny old woman with a tough hide. Now, git."

Ruth had never seen anything, man nor beast that she couldn't outsmart, outlast, and outfight if she tried.

"Give me enough skeins of yarn, and I can knit a slipcover for the Empire State Building."

And the niece, Ellen. She's beaten black and blue by her husband and her own mother doesn't even believe her, and when she attempts to go to a shelter, she finds herself back in his un-loving arms. What can she do? She has so much courage in what she does. As the story unfolds, we watch her, with Ruth's help, grow a backbone of steel, stand up for herself, and follow her dreams. I loved her in the end, absolutely loved her. I recommend all women read this book.

She would not be her mother, she would not be June Cleaver, and she'd be damned if she'd let a backwoods woman from Tremont, Mississippi, be her hero, no matter how many hit records Wynette had. 

But this is not just a battered-woman story, or even the story of a woman escaping. It's also about the circus family. It's about a special-ed teacher. It's about a woman in the past who worked with tigers. However, I wish there had been more of that stuff--a lot more. I feel Lola's story was not strong enough, nor was there enough of it, to really have any relevance to the modern story. And the circus family's acceptance of Ellen and Ruth--it was so sudden. I imagine some time went by, but how much? There's so little interaction with the people before suddenly she's one of the family. And as for her being a special-ed teacher, what and when does she actually teach? There's all of three scenes with her school kids and except for one reading session, they just seem to play and all of a sudden, a boy who couldn't speak is speaking.

I actually wish this book was longer so it could have expanded more on all those bits.

But I still really enjoyed this novel and its theme. Battered women need to have hope and this book delivers that.

I received this via Netgalley.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#Giveaway & Review: Plantation Nation by Mercedes King

Sixteen year old Emma Cartwright runs away from her family’s South Carolina rice plantation after a slave is beaten to death. Determined to join the fight against slavery, Emma enlists in the Union Army disguised as a young man. Nothing could prepare her for the sacrifices needed—and for falling in love for the first time.


***My Review***
I had a bit of a struggle reading this book at first, not because it isn't good or well written, but because I very recently read a similar story in P.G. Nagle's A Call to Arms. It's obvious to me the books are based on the same real-life woman, Sarah Emma Edmonds. In both books, the heroine joins the Union army during the Civil War, avoids battle by doing hospital work, becomes a spy briefly by coloring herself with silver nitrate, and has a romance with a superior: James. So I felt like I was reading nearly the same thing again, in a different style and words.

There are some differences. In this one, Emma begins as a Southern belle while in the previous mentioned book, the heroine was a bible sales"man" from Canada. The romance is also different. In this book it's cleaner. In the previous one I mentioned, it was rather crude and out of place--vulgar even. While this version of their romance could have used a bit more build up and passion--I really didn't feel it at all--and still have been clean, I'd say this "version" of Emma's romance is preferable.

What I like about this tellin of Emma's tale is how the book shows us the turmoil a Southern daughter must have felt. Example: Emma wants to end slavery, but at the same time, she worries how the rice will get harvested and how her sisters will survive if it doesn't get done. She can't have it both ways and even as she realizes this, she's torn. Yet she continues on her path with hopes of everyone having freedom.

And her worries about killing:
New doubts crept into her head. Could she really kill someone? Indeed, Emma wanted slavery put to death, but did she have the gall, the anger, the fortitude to kill someone over a misinterpretation of right wrong?

There were some things, however, that didn't make sense to me--all regarding her family. Her father "thought it was important to understand other peoples, especially when they weren't like us..." and this man, this same man who helped Cherokee Indians, was a slave owner? And her grandfather, what kind of wonderful g-pa walks in on his grand-daughter being harassed by his overseer and does nothing? And to let the man whip her???? Seriously?

Actually many of the characterizations in this book didn't seem consistent. Another example is James constantly trying to keep Emma out of harm's way or protesting her exploits, yet he gets upset when she suddenly wants to become a woman again and leave before an important battle. Um....huh?

Yet a thumbs up to Ms. King for creating a different ending to Emma's military career. Once we got past the silver nitrate episode, the book became more unique and Ms. King began veering from the predictable. I especially enjoyed when Emma and James infiltrate the Confederate camp. It also has an ending that I didn't see coming--none of that "woman soldier gets pregnant and sneaks away from the army" crap that seems to be done over and over. I love a surprise ending.


Mercedes King is an Ohio native and founding member of Sisters in Crime Columbus, Ohio (affectionately dubbed SiCCO). With a degree in Criminology from Capital University and a passion for writing, she crafted O! Jackie, a novel focusing on the private life of Jackie Kennedy. She has also written The Kennedy Chronicles, a series of short stories featuring JFK and Jackie before they were married and before 'Camelot'. Mercedes writes in a variety of genres, including historical and mystery / suspense. In fact, she's working on creating a new genre, 'modern historical'.

Her newest release, Plantation Nation, follows the journey of Emma Cartwright, a 16 year old Southern girl who disguises herself as a young man and joins the Union Army.

Visit her sites, or . Contact her at Mercedes 'at' ojackiebook 'dot' com. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.



Twitter: @Mercedes_King_


Instagram: mercedes_king_author

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Summer Queen: Eleanor Grows Into Her Power

My main motivation for wanting to read The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick was my interest in reading about Eleanor of Aquitaine on crusade in fiction.  There is a story that is apparently legend, rather than fact, that this queen led a troop of female knights on crusade to the Holy Land.  One article about Eleanor that contains this story is Female Hero: Eleanor of Aquitaine.    I was looking for a more realistic fictional version of this period in Eleanor’s life.  One reason why I gave a pass to Christy English’s novel about the early life of Eleanor of Aquitaine, To Be Queen, is that I read a review on Goodreads which stated that English’s novel glossed over the crusade. I am glad I chose Chadwick instead.  I downloaded The Summer Queen from Net Galley, and this is my review.


I hadn’t read any of Elizabeth Chadwick’s work since Daughters of the Grail, a novel dealing with the Cathars utilizing some   sources that Dan Brown later made famous in The Da Vinci Code. (For a scholarly approach to the Cathars see The Cathar Mary Magdalene and the Sacred Feminine) Yet I’ve received good reports of Chadwick’s scholarship since then. 

 The first thing I noticed when I began to read The Summer Queen demonstrated her interest in accuracy.  Chadwick used the medieval spelling of her central character’s name, Alienor. I hope readers will forgive me if I continue to use the familiar modern spelling in this review.  Another nice touch that showed Chadwick’s research was that when Eleanor sought an annulment of her first marriage, she prayed to St. Radegund, who established a monastery in Poitou and was buried there.   Eleanor was the Countess of Poitou in addition to being Duchess of Aquitaine.  It seems to me that Eleanor would have preferred a saint that was associated with the lands that belonged to her.

By the time I finished The Summer Queen I realized that character development in this book had been well-handled .  Eleanor’s first husband, Louis of France, could easily have been portrayed as a stereotype of medieval piety.  Chadwick gives him more depth by showing us the incidents that motivated him.  Louis is by no means admirable, but his attitudes are understandable given his history.  I hadn’t expected to like the young Henry of Anjou who would later become Henry II King of England, because I knew that he would later mistreat Eleanor.  Despite this foreknowledge, he managed to charm me as a reader while he was doing his best to captivate Eleanor.  He was such a contrast to Louis that it’s no wonder that Eleanor initially felt liberated by her second marriage.  This couldn’t last because Eleanor and Henry were strong personalities accustomed to wielding power.  It was inevitable that they would clash.  In the novel, Eleanor’s new mother in law, the Empress Mathilde, warns Eleanor of the fact that the men of her husband’s line are unwilling to share power.  Eleanor would end up finding this out the hard way.

The next two volumes of Chadwick’s trilogy deal with territory that is more familiar to me, but I confess to wanting to experience Eleanor’s novelistic perspective on Becket’s murder in the cathedral. So perhaps I will be visiting with Chadwick’s version of Eleanor in the future.


Monday, August 25, 2014

Wife Number Seven by Melissa Brown

I absolutely enjoyed this story. I've been on the hunt for a different read lately. I enjoy the typical romance, but I needed something different. This was it.

I enjoy the show Sisterwives and it intrigues me the way these women live. I want to say, this book is nothing like the show Sisterwives. The wives are not good friends like you see in the show. They don't get to live normal lives. A prophet tells them how to live each day. They wear no make-up, never cut their hair, must wear dresses that cover everything, and live on a compound. They are expected to have child after child until they can't have children anymore.

Brinely, however, likes to visit the outside world, and one day comes upon an exiled man from her community. One touch from him and she discovered what she's been missing. One touch from him, and something new is born. But she can't just leave her home and compound. All she's ever known is the life she lives and as far as she knows, if she leaves that compound, she'd going to hell. But she realizes she is sinning from her thoughts, and she had to decide to redeem herself or not.

This is a very heart felt story. I was engrossed from the time I started it. I really enjoyed it and will be reading this author again.

Lipstick. Bright, red lipstick. Nothing but lipstick. 

Even though it’s against our faith to wear a color that screams of sexual promiscuity and deviant behavior, I’m not allowed to protest. 
But, I want to. 
So badly. 

You see, there’s more to me than the braid that spills down my back. 

More to me than the layers of heavy fabric that maintain my modesty. 
And so much more than the oppressive wedding band that adorns my finger--the same band that each of my sister wives wear. 
So much more. 
To protest would be sinful. 
I must keep sweet, that is my duty. 

So I’ll wear the lipstick. I’ll do as I’m told. 

And I’ll do my best to silence the resistance within me, to push him from my mind. 
If only my heart would do the same.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How To Marry a Millionaire: Craptastic Storyline, But Fabulous Fashions

Yes, yes, I actually watched this. *hangs head in shame* And yes, it's a story about three women who are fashion models and want nothing more in life than to find rich men to marry. That's it. They model clothes, sell furniture that isn't theirs to their rent, and try to find men, 'cause they are incapable of caring for themselves. A feminist's nightmare.

(In my defense, it was free on Prime and it has William Powell in it, and I have this huge crush on that debonair, sexy actor.)

But OMG, the clothes! The clothes stole the showmovie, in my opinion. And today I'm just doing this absolutely horribly girly thing and just going ahead and nattering about it.

Because I'm a vintage fashion fanatic. I don't get into that much here on Book Babe, but what the heck, it's actually a cute movie with some good points: 1. It's okay to be a girl and wear glasses! Quit worrying about how "unattractive" it makes you and find a man who appreciates you for you, glasses, weight gain, gnarly hair, pimples, whatever. 2. Money is nice, but love is better!

But back to the clothes. What I wouldn't give for some of these dresses, especially the ones Betty Grable wore. I guarantee they look way better when you actually watch the movie, and in color.

And I am not a fan of Marilyn Monroe..okay? Well, let me take that back. I don't care for the roles she played, but that's not saying she wasn't a decent actress. And I don't care for how she is portrayed as a two-bit whore. Maybe she wasn't one. Regardless, I think she did a good job in this. She plays this young woman who does dumb things because she can't see without her glasses and she's so afraid she won't attract a man, she doesn't wear them. And while I rolled my eyes at this at first, I actually appreciated this tiny storyline. I was once a girl who was embarrassed to show my hearing aid, who tried to hide it under my hair all the time, so I get it.

Anyway, she actually plays the most amusing character, even though the star is Lauren Bacall.

And she absolutely stuns in this purple dress. (I have no copyright to these images. They are merely posted everywhere online.)

I'm not a fan of Lauren either. (May she rest in peace. I actually feel bad now in light of her passing last month). Her husky, man-like voices gets on my nerves for some reason. (I played the sound straight from the Kindle into my hearing aid, for those who raised their eyebrows at that.) And her character in this movie stinks, but I tell ya if I ever marry again for whatever reason, I'm getting this wedding dress remade.

You know what? Long review short, sometimes we have to just set aside feminism and enjoy a good "chick flick" and I'd call this a classic chick flick. It's def one I see having girlfriends over (assuming I actually had any in person), popping the cork off a bottle of pink wine, and sitting down and watching.

I found this to be a fun film. It wasn't as funny as I expected, but I did laugh a few times, and as I said above, after having watched it, I appreciated the morals, however small they were in the big scheme of things. And hey, we need to bring back the fishtail!

So, what are some movies you are almost ashamed to have enjoyed for whatever reason?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Reading Radar 8/23/2014

What hit the radar and wishlist this week? Let's see....Spotted on GR giveaways, When the Dawn Breaks by Emma Fraser came to my attention.

When the Dawn BreaksTwo women. One secret. A heart-breaking choice. Skye, 1903. Jessie, the young daughter of a local midwife, is determined to become a nurse one day, but family loss and heartache jeopardise her dreams. Isabel, the doctor's daughter, is planning to follow in her father's footsteps - even though medicine is not considered a fitting career for a woman. And then there's Archie, Jessie's older brother, who Isabel just can't stay away from. Following an unsettling encounter in the woods, Archie disappears, and all their lives are irrevocably changed ...Years later, Isabel is a qualified doctor and Jessie is a nurse and when their paths cross again, neither is certain what the other woman knows about that fateful day. But when war breaks out and they find themselves working shoulder to shoulder, they have no option but to confront all they have kept hidden. Taking in Skye and Edinburgh, France and Serbia, When the Dawn Breaks is a sweeping wartime story of two determined women and the dark secret that will bind them forever ...


Spotted on Reading the Past, I also wish to read The Vintner's Daughter by Kristen Harnisch.

The Vintner's DaughterA captivating historical-fiction debut: ambition, betrayal and love take a spirited young woman from the verdant Loire Valley to turn-of-the-century Manhattan to the wide open spaces of California wine country

Loire Valley, 1895. When seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault's father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their vineyard to a rival family, whose eldest son marries Sara's sister, Lydia. But a violent tragedy compels Sara and her sister to flee to New York, forcing Sara to put aside her dream to follow in her father's footsteps as a master winemaker.

Meanwhile, Philippe Lemieux has arrived in California with the ambition of owning the largest vineyard in Napa by 1900. When he receives word of his brother's death in France, he resolves to bring the killer to justice. Sara has travelled to California in hopes of making her own way in the winemaking world. When she encounters Philippe in a Napa vineyard, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Sara knows he is the one man who could return her family's vineyard to her, or send her straight to the guillotine.

A riveting, romantic tale of betrayal, retribution, love and redemption, Kristen Harnisch's debut novel immerses readers in the rich vineyard culture of both the Old and New Worlds, the burgeoning cities of turn-of-the-century America and a spirited heroine's fight to determine her destiny.


Bianca's VineyardAnother vineyard tale, Bianca's Vineyard by Teresa Neumann is on the wishlist.

Bianca Corrotti's vineyard is more than a piece of mouth-watering real estate in Tuscany. It's an inheritance; a storehouse harboring the secrets of her Uncle Egisto, a world-class sculptor, and his troubled wife -- a woman whose destiny converges with Mussolini's when WWII overtakes them all. Based on a true story, Bianca's Vineyard follows a devoted family of strong-willed men and lion-hearted women waging an epic battle against a gathering storm intent on destroying their lives.

Friday, August 22, 2014

What Inspired the Deaf Maidservant in Shadow on the Highway? Q&A with Deborah Swift #FREEBIE

Deborah SwiftWhen I heard about Ms. Swift's new book, the story of a highwaywoman with a deaf maidservant who grows suspicious, I immediately wanted to read it and I also had a few questions for her. Until I can through my review pile and reach Shadow on the Highway, here is a Q&A to whet your appetites.

Tara: Did the real Katherine have a deaf maidservant?

Deborah: No, I’m afraid not. She is purely fictional – but real to me! The idea of using a deaf girl as my main character for this book came when I came across a fascinating article about a boy called Alexander Popham, a 17th century deaf child who had been taught to speak. I was trawling the internet for some information on the Royal Society, and the article just caught my eye. This was apparently one of the first attempts to educate deaf children in any systematic way, and the notebook detailing this method still exists. What a wonderful discovery! So the idea of using a deaf protagonist for Shadow on the Highway gradually took root, initially from my interest in Alexander Popham, especially when I realised that it would make for a lot of tension if my character Abigail, Lady Katherine Fanshawe’s maid, was deaf.
As the book is about a highwaywoman, and would probably involve a lot of night-time action, I imagined that this would be even more challenging for someone who relied on their vision to communicate. Although Abigail is deaf, I did not want this to be her only defining characteristic, or for the book to be only about her deafness – though perhaps her deafness makes her notice more than her peers, and I needed this observant quality. I wanted the deaf character to be integrated so that the book was more about Abigail as a person; her journey as a character. I looked around for historical fiction books featuring deaf characters and found there were hardly any, so it spurred me on to create Abigail, who is a purely fictional character. I imagined her as a sister to Ralph Chaplin, who is mentioned in the legend as Lady Katherine’s lover.

Tara: I presume you are a hearing person? If so, was it intimidating, writing a deaf POV?

Deborah:I am a hearing person, but this did not deter me from creating a deaf protagonist. After all, I often have men in my books but I’m not a man. A writer must be able to imagine themselves into someone else’s shoes. For me this is one of the joys of researching, and the privilege of being a writer – it gives you a window into a wider, richer, more interesting world. The challenge was to make Abigail believable to deaf readers who might be looking for her to reflect their experience in some way, and this made me nervous, that I might not be able to fulfil those expectations!

I looked to memoirs and biographies for my inspiration first, and then to websites and associations, and finally to talking to deaf people about their teenage years when I felt I had enough knowledge not to appear completely stupid! I have a few friends too, who are deaf or HoH, so I collared them for interviews!
It soon became clear that every person uses their own unique strategies depending on their personality, their degree of deafness, and on whether they are born deaf or became deaf later in life. In the 17th century there was no formalised schooling or assistance for deaf or hard of hearing children, so people had to rely on their own resources to make themselves part of the community. In my novel, Abi used to be a hearing child, but caught the measles (called ‘messels’ in the 17th century) and the fever made her deaf. She is still coming to terms with her deafness, but I did not want this to be a ‘sob story’. Abi has a very practical character. For her, I thought that lip-reading would be the first choice, as she had already some facility with spoken words, and came from an educated family where she had seen them written down. Her mother teaches her to read so she can communicate by writing, and her brother Ralph also helps her out in conversation with simple home-invented signs. The potential of signing as a proper system was only just beginning to be recognised.
I needed to know how much a deaf person could learn to read lips, and how feasible it would be for Abi to understand complex conversations. My research into this revealed that (as probably most hearing people do) I had actually underestimated her capabilities. The memoir ‘What’s that Pig Outdoors’ by Henry Kisor showed me that for someone like Abi, her lip-reading was likely to be extremely sophisticated – given a clear speaker, (who is not shouting or mouthing at her) a known context, and not too many unfamiliar terms of reference. Of course for today’s deaf teenagers, who are usually signers too, and have been given the benefits of better education and the chance to build communities through signing, this degree of facility might seem unlikely, and indeed most want to preserve their signing as their first language. But this option was not open to Abi, and as Henry Kisor shows, with determination and with little other choice, lip-reading combined with perceptiveness could lead to a high degree of understanding from watching lips and expressions alone. After all, people are often amazed by magicians on TV such as Derren Brown, who can read subtle signs in our faces and body language after intensive training.

But – how to make it believable in a novel? I put the references to how Abi reads lips early on in the story, and then by the end when the plot is heating up, I assumed that people would have understood how she ‘hears’ and regard her ability to lip-read as normal. What was interesting as a novelist was to become aware of Abigail’s visual clues – obvious things such as the fact she sees movement in the trees as riders approach, rather than hearing hoof beats. She feels vibrations through her feet as people come upstairs; she is very aware of shifts in light and shadow. These skills have become so automatic she hardly thinks of them, but what I definitely did not want to do was give her superhuman senses to ‘compensate’ for her missing hearing, but to keep it within the bounds of reality. Did it work? Well, like all novels it will probably work for some and not for others, depending on their own life-history and imagination.

But for me, I gained huge insights by talking to deaf people about their challenges. One or two things stuck – such as, one girl told me that as a deaf person, you do not know exactly how much noise you make, or how loud your voice is. This is a source of worry to Abi, who is trying to attract a particular boy, and would rather whisper and mumble than risk being too loud. These are the small insights that I tried to include, without them being too obtrusive. I am well aware that Abi’s experience will not be that of most deaf 
teenagers – yet neither will 17th century life in England!  The way Abi reacts is tempered by the attitudes of the day to religion and disability. Some people would no doubt like my novel to focus on her disability more, but the plot is about Abi’s growth in confidence, her courage, her persistence through her insecurities, and her coming to terms with herself as an adult, rather than about her deafness. Her character and her story are what make her special, not her deafness, so I hope it will entertain deaf and hearing readers alike.
Here are just a few resources that I found incredibly useful; These are all designed for hearing people who might be reading this, rather than deaf or HoH people, who will probably roll their eyes at how basic they are!

Tara: Oh, I can totally relate!!!!! I cannot count the number of times someone told me to stop yelling at them...and I was so embarrassed! I can't wait to read your book, Ms. Swift. Thanks so much for sharing this with us!

Books: Memoirs
What's That Pig Outdoors? A Memoir of Deafness – Henry Kisor
Books: Novels
Invisible - Cecily Anne Paterson
The Raging Quiet – Sheryl Jordan
Read My Lips – TJ Brown
Lots of YouTube videos  - try these
And of course helpful organisations such as

Shadow on the Highway (The Highway Trilogy, #1)
Abigail Chaplin has always been unable to find a position as a maidservant like other girls, because she is deaf. So why do the rich Fanshawes of Markyate Manor seem so anxious to employ her? And where exactly does her mistress, Lady Katherine, ride out to at night?

SHADOW ON THE HIGHWAY is based on the life and legend of Lady Katherine Fanshawe, the highwaywoman, sometimes known as The Wicked Lady. A tale of adventure and budding romance set in the turbulent English Civil War, this is a novel to delight teens and adults alike.

Shadow on the Highway is FREE on Amazon for a few days!