Monday, December 14, 2015

Daughter of Sand and Stone by Libbie Hawker: Blog Tour and Review

 Welcome to this stop on the TLC Book Tour for:

Publication Date December 1, 2015.

Description from

When Zenobia takes control of her own fate, will the gods punish her audacity?
Zenobia, the proud daughter of a Syrian sheikh, refuses to marry against her will. She won’t submit to a lifetime of subservience. When her father dies, she sets out on her own, pursuing the power she believes to be her birthright, dreaming of the Roman Empire’s downfall and her ascendance to the throne.
Defying her family, Zenobia arranges her own marriage to the most influential man in the city of Palmyra. But their union is anything but peaceful—his other wife begrudges the marriage and the birth of Zenobia’s son, and Zenobia finds herself ever more drawn to her guardsman, Zabdas. As war breaks out, she’s faced with terrible choices.
From the decadent halls of Rome to the golden sands of Egypt, Zenobia fights for power, for love, and for her son. But will her hubris draw the wrath of the gods? Will she learn a “woman’s place,” or can she finally stake her claim as Empress of the East?


I've been looking forward to this book ever since I read that Libbie Hawker was writing it.  This year I reviewed her Pocahontas novel on Book Babe here.  I found it interesting and absorbing.   Daughter of  Sand and Stone is a book dealing with Queen Zenobia of Palmyra.   She was a warrior queen and a rebel against the Romans like  another favorite of mine, Queen Boudica of the Iceni.  I lick my chops and salivate when I learn about historical fiction dealing with Zenobia.  I received a copy from the publisher via Net Galley in return for this honest review.

The first time I read a Zenobia novel I was disappointed.  It was The Rise of Zenobia by J. D. Smith.  I reviewed Smith's version on Book Babe here.  My biggest problem with it was that Zenobia wasn't the protagonist.  It was her general, Zabdas.   I felt distanced from Zenobia.  In Daughter of Sand and Stone, Zabdas plays an important role, but the main perspective is very definitely Zenobia's.

I feel that it's also important to mention the recent destruction of Palmyra by ISIS in the context of any current review of a book about Zenobia. Here is an article about it from the U.K. Guardian.  Zenobia loved her city and it means a great deal to modern day Syrians who are opposed to ISIS. Ancient Palmyra and Zenobia are essential parts of  our world heritage, but they particularly belong to the history of Syria.  It seems to me that anyone who participates in preserving the memory of ancient Palmyra and Zenobia is engaging in an act of defiance against those who seek to destroy them.  That's what Daughter of Sand and Stone means to me.  It's an act of defiance.

Like Libbie Hawker's Pocahontas, her Zenobia is ambitious.   In the case of Pocahontas, it's definitely a flaw due to lack of maturity.  She simply craves attention and her ambitions are comparatively small scale.  On the other hand, Hawker's Zenobia wants an empire and to reign as Queen in Egypt like her maternal ancestor, Cleopatra.  She is continually told  by members of her family and later by a Roman Emperor that she is  going beyond the bounds of women's sphere.  I think this is a strength.   We need women like Zenobia.  She had courage, vision and intelligence.  She deserved to succeed.

Hawker extrapolates from Roman primary sources for the ending of her novel. In Hawker's very detailed Author's Note she says that a number of writers on Zenobia don't believe the official Roman version and I confess that I don't either.  Within the context of the book, it was anti-climactic.  So in addition to my feelings that it was out of character and not a fit ending for Zenobia, it wasn't a good ending from a dramatic perspective.

Yet up until that ending, I was cheering on Zenobia and feeling so delighted that we got a modern novel about the Warrior Queen of Palmyra in which she lives and breathes.  It may not be the ideal Zenobia novel, but it perpetuates her legacy at a time when I think it's particularly important to do so.

Links for more information about Daughter of Sand and Stone

Author's website:



Libbie Hawker’s TLC Book Tours TOUR 


Monday, November 30th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, December 1st: Bibliotica
Tuesday, December 1st: Life is Story
Wednesday, December 2nd: Reading Reality
Thursday, December 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, December 4th: Thoughts from an Evil Overlord
Monday, December 7th: Luxury Reading
Tuesday, December 8th: Spiced Latte Reads
Wednesday, December 9th: Book Dilettante
Thursday, December 10th: Mom’s Small Victories
Friday, December 11th: Book Nerd
Monday, December 14th: Book Babe
Tuesday, December 15th: A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, December 16th: The Reader’s Hollow
Thursday, December 17th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Monday, December 21st: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, December 22nd: The Lit Bitch
Friday, December 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, December 29th: I’m Shelfish
Tuesday, December 29th: Time 2 Read
Wednesday, December 30th: Broken Teepee

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Playing With Fire by Tess Gerritsen

December has been busy, and I haven't been reading fiction with strong female protagonists lately.   I debated with myself over whether a review of Playing With Fire, Tess Gerritsen's recent standalone thriller, belongs on this blog.   This is a dual time period book, and it was the historical female protagonist that caused me to decide in favor of posting about this book on Book Babe.


Violinist Julia Ansdell, the contemporary central character,  tried to be strong but she was more often a victim who needed to be rescued.  Her life was beyond her control, and her judgment was very badly compromised for reasons that became clear by the end of the book.   Because she didn't understand what was going on, she didn't know who to trust and fought the wrong battles.  I was glad when Julia's situation was finally resolved, but she wasn't our Book Babe heroine.

I found her in the historical narrative which took place in Venice, Italy during the 1930's and 1940's.   Julia had found the manuscript of a mysterious unpublished piece of music called Incendio by L. Tedesco.  He is violinist/composer Lorenzo Tedesco, the viewpoint character of this story line.  The Tedescos were a Jewish family and this was Fascist Italy which became occupied by their ally, Nazi Germany. Lorenzo might have been forgotten despite his brilliance if it were not for a brave young cellist named Laura Balbini.   Laura had been seriously burned in an accident, but it didn't damage her confidence even though it marred her beauty.   When she wanted to enter a musical contest, she dared to rehearse a duet with Lorenzo even though Jews were viewed with extreme prejudice.  She also had the courage to care about him and I believe it was she who motivated her father to try to help the Tedescos.   I know that she persuaded her father to shelter Jews who were strangers under conditions of tremendous danger.   She said to her father, "What if it was Lorenzo?"   At the end of her historical notes, Gerritsen tells us "In the darkest of times, there will always be a Laura to light the way."  Laura's story is linked more directly to Julia's because she also played an important role in the composition of Incendio.

Laura and Lorenzo are fictional characters, but  they had real life parallels.  There were many real Italians who saved Jews at the risk of their lives.  There were also real Jewish musicians like Lorenzo during this period.

Some of you may remember another novel that took place in Fascist Italy dealing with another courageous woman cellist who worked for the Italian Resistance, and utilized a very unusual means of passing on secret messages.  It was The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman which I reviewed on Book Babe here.  This shows that woman heroes may be uncommon, but not unique.

 2015 was the year that I uncovered the role of Italian woman musicians in opposing the Nazis in novels by Alyson Richman and Tess Gerritsen.  In 2016 I anticipate discovering other great woman heroes in historical fiction, and I will be sure to share these discoveries with you on Book Babe.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Point of Honour--A Swordswoman Solves A Mystery in an Alternate Regency Novel

I'd been meaning to read the Sarah Tolerance mysteries written by Madeleine E. Robins for some time.  It was a Goodreads recommendation that caused me to finally start Point of Honour, the first in the Sarah Tolerance mysteries.  It was an obvious choice for me since it was about a woman who knew how to use a sword.  I can't resist books about swordswomen.   I began reading it on Thanksgiving as a holiday treat that I knew I would enjoy.


Sarah loved swordplay as much as I do.  She was a daughter of English nobility and wasn't supposed to learn how to use a sword, but  she fell in love with her brother's fencing instructor and ran away with him.   They lived together for many years in exile from England, and he taught her everything he knew.  All of this happened before the book started, so these aren't spoilers.   This is Sarah's background.    Her family had disowned her.  This meant that when she returned to England after the death of her lover, she had to figure out how to make her own way in life.

In the context of Regency England, she was a "fallen woman" and would have been expected to join what is often called "the world's oldest profession".   So she created her own alternative, and Madeleine Robins created an alternate continuity  in which a woman like Sarah Tolerance could exist.

A GR friend that I respect very much complained about the way Regency England had been altered in her review of this novel.  I found that I disagreed with her.   I think that if an author is ignorant about the historical period in which the novel takes place and makes errors due to lack of research, that's inexcusable.  Yet when an author deliberately creates a different continuity and discusses it in an Author's Note, that's alternate history which is a sub-genre that I enjoy.

The main difference between this Regency England and the one we know is that the Regent is the Queen, the wife of the mad King George III.   There are other small changes that make the social landscape a bit more friendly to an independent woman.   One example is that she can join a gentleman's club that accepts women so long as they can afford to pay the membership fee.   This doesn't mean that Sarah doesn't encounter prejudice.   She is insulted and disrespected nearly every day, but she manages to maintain her self-respect.

Sarah invented a profession that didn't exist in 1810 when the events of Point of Honour take place. She called herself an investigative agent.  In our contemporary world we call them private investigators or detectives.  In our world, Eugène-François Vidocq became the first private detective in 1833.  For more information about Vidocq see the Wikipedia article about him.

The case that Sarah is hired to investigate in this first novel doesn't sound very interesting.  She is expected to find a fancy jeweled fan that an Earl had in the past given to his mistress. The case turns out to be far more complicated and dangerous than Sarah had ever imagined.  There are a number of swordfighting scenes for readers who are swordplay fans.   

Sarah Tolerance is a wonderful character.  Her skills, her loyalties and her principles are all tested in this book, but she is spirited, resilient and always a woman of integrity in a world where a woman who has lost her virginity is believed to have no honour.

Even though there are only two more books to read in the Sarah Tolerance series,  I think that this protagonist is going to be a new favorite of mine.   Perhaps in the later installments, she will become more respected and recognized.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Paris Protection: A Thriller About A Female U.S. President Under Threat in Paris

This is a time when a thriller about very well organized terrorists trying to assassinate the President of the United States in Paris is particularly chilling because it seems all too real.   In addition, this threatened President is a woman at a time when the leading Democratic candidate in the Presidential race is also a woman.  Given the current circumstances, some readers may find this hard to take. 


The Paris Protection is filled with nearly non-stop suspense.   The survival of the U.S. President remains in doubt until very close to the end of the novel.   There’s a great deal of violence with a high body count. In the book, much was made of the fact that the struggle between assassins and the Secret Service is usually brief.  At one point it occurred to me that if a different decision had been made at the beginning of the crisis, it could have been terminated quickly with less loss of life.  It did seem to me that the plot was more than a bit contrived.  Devore manipulated it to prolong the President’s danger for the length of an entire novel.  Yet it was compelling.   Most thriller fans will probably consider The Paris Protection a gripping narrative. 

I very much liked some of the characters. The author focuses on a few Secret Service agents who were courageous, determined and resourceful.  Rebecca Reid is the most central character in these events.   I appreciate the fact that Devore portrayed a female Secret Service agent as being so good at coming up with fast solutions at the moments when they were most needed.

I was also pleased that brave Parisians also had their moment in the storyline.  I’d like to believe with author Devore that the spirit of Paris remains strong in the face of terrorism.   This is an inspiring element in The Paris Protection.  The sequence that takes place on the street in Paris is a powerful one.

On the other hand, I find the motives of the chief villain rather byzantine.   Why does he hate his own country as much as he does? It didn’t seem to me that his experiences explained his feelings.   If anything, I would have thought that he’d be very guilt ridden.   I realize that some sociopaths are incapable of guilt, but there has to be a missing flashback locked inside his labyrinthine mind that would have made this terrorist leader more understandable to me. 

So this book has pros and cons.  Good copy editing was one of the positive points.  This is one of the few books I’ve read lately with no typographical errors.    On the whole, I thought that the positive outweighed the negative.  The Paris Protection is a novel that’s worth reading. 


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wolf By Wolf--Can Our Heroine Kill Hitler?

If this blog is about anything it's about female protagonists like Yael in Wolf By Wolf  by Ryan Graudin.  Yael is a teen who is a concentration camp survivor in an alternate world where Hitler won World War II. She escaped the camp using a paranormal power that allows her to assume new identities easily, but she still has concentration camp numbers on her arm that can't be removed.  She elected to cover them with wolf tattoos.  So she is in the process of concealing her past and her former identity wolf by wolf.


Needless to say, Yael's gift is very useful to the resistance movement against Hitler.   They developed a scheme that involves Yael becoming Adele Wolfe, a female motorcycle racing champion, and winning the Third Reich's biggest race in order to be able to get close enough to Hitler to take him out.  It's a complex and risky plan.   It requires courage, persistence and constant vigilance.  In this world spanning race from Berlin to Tokyo, Yael can't relax for an instant or ever fully trust any of her competitors.

The novel includes flashbacks to Yael's past.  We learn how she acquired her paranormal power and the emotional impact of her terrible experiences.  At one point, Yael realized that she hadn't been herself in so long that she'd forgotten what she looked like.   She tries to hang on to her sense of herself by using the very thing that is concealing who she used to be.  For Yael, each wolf tattoo represents someone who had been important to her.  I empathized with Yael's desperate inner struggle to preserve her identity while she is pretending to be someone else.

The ending of Wolf by Wolf is unexpected.   Although this alternate world's situation isn't fully resolved, there is hope for the future.   Having hope in such grim circumstances is enough for me.  I am willing to wait for the 2016 sequel to discover the fate of Yael and her universe.  I want to believe that she will be as inspiring in the second book as she was in the first.



Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot

This the second book that I've read from the publisher Curiosity Quills.  The first one, Alice Takes Back Wonderland by David D. Hammons, was such a delight that I had high expectations for The Heartless City by Andrea Berthot.  I reviewed Alice Takes Back Wonderland on Book Babe here.  More recently, I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.

Like the first Curiosity Quills book that I tried, The Heartless City is also derived from a classic novel. It's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, a precursor of every modern horror novel in which a man turns into a monster.   The Heartless City isn't a retelling of Stevenson's work, but an imaginative extension of his concept.  I would categorize it as YA dystopian alternate history.  It takes place in a terrifying Victorian/Edwardian London that never was.


Why am I reviewing this dystopian novel based on a famous horror story when I've often stated quite emphatically that I don't read horror and that I'm not fond of dystopias?   I just had a feeling when I read the description that this wouldn't be the sort of book I mean when I say that I detest those genres.

The next question is why I would review this book for Book Babe. There is a male protagonist, but he encounters a dance hall waitress by the name of Iris Faye, who is a great deal more than she appears to be.   The plot actually revolves around Iris, and she is a very strong female protagonist.

So what happened to London in this alternate timeline?  After the death of Dr. Jekyll, a drug that turned men into Hydes became widely distributed. Many Londoners of all classes were becoming monstrous Hydes.  Queen Victoria and Parliament fled the city.  London was quarantined.  A quarantine is normally established to contain an epidemic of a contagious disease.   The Hyde phenomenon was neither.  The Hyde drug needed to be deliberately injected in order for someone to become a Hyde. In Berthot's version, the Hydes lack compassion and therefore consume human hearts.  This makes them monsters who are somewhat akin to those trendy zombies. Zombies can't think for themselves and therefore consume human brains.   No one can tell these lumbering creatures that eating hearts or brains won't help them.

Enter our heroine Iris Faye, the only girl who dares to walk alone through the streets of this London after dark.    How does Iris survive?  Who is she really? The answers to these questions would be spoilers.  It takes the entire book to answer them fully.

As in many YA novels, there is a romance element.  It is the expected romance between the two teen protagonists. Romance fans will be happy to know that despite all obstacles, there is a HEA ending for them. Male protagonist Elliot Morissey is the son of the Lord Mayor's personal physician.  He is grief-stricken by the death of his mother at the hands of a Hyde.  A girl who doesn't fear the Hydes is a revelation to him.  He is fascinated by Iris, and she helps him find the courage that he never knew he had.

 I have to admit that I was also fascinated by her.   Once I had the explanation for the mystery that was Iris, I had to work it out in my mind.  Was the resolution scientifically feasible?  I'm still not sure. I have arguments for and against it written in my book journal.   Since there is a possibility that it might be plausible, I'm willing to consider this novel science fiction rather than fantasy.  Other readers may think otherwise.  YMMV, folks.

Iris is the name of the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology.  The rainbow is a sign of hope.  I found this to be a hopeful book and it was largely because of Iris.





Saturday, November 7, 2015

Suffragette: Review of a New Movie

I subscribe to an e-mail list for the Landmark movie theater chain.  Suffragette was mentioned as an upcoming movie in October. I got excited. Then the theater near  where I work put it on the marquee as coming soon.  I saw that announcement on the marquee every time I passed that theater after work. I love books and movies about suffragettes, so I've been very impatient.  It opened at that theater yesterday and I went to the first showing.


Suffragette is a British film about the late 19th and early 20th century women's suffrage movement.  It's the first movie which contains scenes that were actually filmed in the Houses of Parliament according to the article about the movie on Wikipedia.

The central character is laundress Maud Watts played by Carey Mulligan.  Another important  character is Edith Ellyn played by Helena Bonham Carter.  There is also an appearance that amounts to only a bit more than a cameo by Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst.

As a movie I thought it was very good.  There was nice cinematography plus accurate period sets and costumes.  I thought that the performances were effective.   Americans will probably be seeing this movie on PBS eventually.  If my tone sounds less than enthusiastic, it's because I was disappointed.  I imagine that most members of the audience for this film probably wouldn't feel that way.

From a historical point of view,  I felt that Suffragette was both simplified and distorted.  It chose to focus on Emmeline Pankhurst's wing of the British suffrage movement, but the movie was supposed to be telling the story of working women involved in that movement.  Emmeline Pankhurst's daughter Sylvia was the one who actually spoke to working women.  Yet she only received a brief mention in this movie.  As a socialist and labor activist, Sylvia thought it was important to help these women and deal with their issues.  So she was more than an advocate for women's suffrage.  She cared about working women, and wanted to improve their lives.  She was also a pacifist who was opposed to Emmeline Pankhurst's violent tactics.  There's a brief biography of her on a Sylvia Pankhurst Website

 I first learned about  the role that Sylvia Pankhurst played in the suffrage movement when I read Suffragette Autumn, Women's Spring which I joint reviewed with Tara on Book Babe here. This novel by Ian Porter focused on a working class perspective of the Titanic disaster and the British women's suffrage movement.  I absolutely loved it and wholeheartedly recommend it.  Porter portrayed Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Christabel as rather prejudiced against people of working class backgrounds.   So from the perspective of someone who read Porter's book, I thought it was extremely ironic that a movie that wanted to focus on these women would show us Emmeline Pankhurst as their leader, and virtually ignore Sylvia Pankhurst.

I was further disenchanted by Suffragette when I read the background on the real woman who supposedly inspired Helena Bonham Carter's character. Edith Ellyn, the fictional character who appeared in the movie, was apparently a doctor who worked in a dispensary in a working class neighborhood.  She was supposed to have been inspired by Edith Garrud who was one of the first women to teach martial arts. She ran two jujitsu dojos with her husband, and she taught jujitsu to a women's corps of body guards who fought hecklers at women's suffrage rallies.  There was a very short scene of Edith Ellyn teaching martial arts in the movie, but there was no emphasis on martial arts in the film.  Edith Ellyn was a likable character, but not especially interesting.  Edith Garrud was absolutely awesome! I would have loved to have seen her in Suffragette.

 Martial artist Tony Wolf wrote a trilogy of graphic novels about Edith Garrud and the women she trained to protect suffragettes.  The series is called Suffrajitsu. There was a recent article on in which Tony Wolf discusses Edith Garrud at Suffragette Bodyguards which shows photos of her training of suffragettes.  He also informs readers about Suffrajitsu.

Here is the cover of the first Suffrajitsu graphic novel.


I really want to read this, but unfortunately my Kindle doesn't display color graphics.  So I'll have to wait until I have enough spare cash for the print version.

I'm not sorry that I saw Suffragette, but I probably wouldn't have rushed to the theater to see the very first showing if I had known that it wouldn't meet my expectations.  Perhaps one day there will be a movie about Edith Garrud.  I will be the first on line to see it. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Brief History of Elizabeth Stuart: A Guest Post from Nicola Cornick

History is selective. It remembers some characters whilst others become lost over the years. Elizabeth, Queen of Bohemia was hugely powerful in her own time and she deserves her rightful place in history. Instead she has almost been forgotten.

Elizabeth Stuart was born in 1596, the daughter of King James VI of Scotland and I of England. At the age of 16 she made a political marriage to Frederick the Elector Palatine, a German Prince, a match designed to strengthen the Protestant cause in Europe. Elizabeth, beautiful, charming and sweet natured, was known as the “Queen of Hearts”. She went to live in Heidelberg and when her husband was offered the throne of Bohemia in 1619 she encouraged him to accept it. A year later he had been defeated in battle and the family were forced to flee into exile.

The "Snow King and the Winter Queen" - so called because their reign had lasted a single winter - sought refuge in the Netherlands, in The Hague. Frederick died in 1632, leaving Elizabeth a widow with thirteen children and an uncertain future. She became one of the foremost powerbrokers in Europe, taking her family’s affairs into her own hands and continuing to lay claim to the disputed territory that was her eldest son’s inheritance.

During this phase of her life Elizabeth worked ceaselessly to gain financial, military and moral support for her cause, enlisting the reluctant support of her brother Charles I and gaining the respect of politicians and diplomats across Europe. Her surviving letters show her to be a woman of strength and determination, as well as a key cultural, political and religious leader. She was successful in having her elder son reinstated in his principality in 1648 and her grandson George became the first Hanoverian King of England.

It was rumoured that after Frederick’s death, Elizabeth secretly married William, Lord Craven, who had been one of her most constant military and financial supporters through the years of her exile. It is this story that is at the centre of my new book, House of Shadows. Certainly William was utterly devoted to Elizabeth and when they returned to England in 1661 he provided a house for her to live in and started to build Ashdown House for her. The mirror that features in House of Shadows is my invention but there was a cursed pearl which features in a painting of Elizabeth that hangs in Ashdown House to this day and was part of the inspiration for the book.

House of Shadows by Nicola Cornick is out 5th November (Mira, original paperback £7.99)


House of ShadowsLondon, 1662:
There was something the Winter Queen needed to tell him. She fought for the strength to speak.
‘The crystal mirror is a danger. It must be destroyed – ‘
He replied instantly. ‘It will’.

Ashdown, Oxfordshire, present day: Ben Ansell is researching his family tree when he disappears. As his sister Holly begins a desperate search, she finds herself inexplicably drawn to an ornate antique mirror and to the diary of Lavinia, a 19th century courtesan who was living at Ashdown House when it burned to the ground over 200 years ago.

Intrigued, and determined to find out more about the tragedy at Ashdown, Holly’s only hope is that uncovering the truth about the past will lead her to Ben.

For fans of Barbara Erskine and Kate Morton comes an unforgettable novel about three women and the power one lie can have over history!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Almost Invincible: Mary Shelley's Ambivalent Rebellion

As we celebrate Halloween, readers might want to recall an iconic gathering at Villa Diodati in Switzerland for the purpose of reading spooky stories.  Two literary luminaries, Lord Byron and Mary's future husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, were participants.  Another contributor to the evening's entertainment who is not so well known was Byron's physician, John Polidori.  That night isn't remembered for what Byron and Shelley wrote for that occasion.  Nor is it remembered for what Polidori  wrote, though perhaps it should be. His novel The Vampyre that emerged from that dusk assemblage is a landmark work for those who are interested in the history of vampire fiction.  Yet that confluence of creativity draws people's interest because Mary Shelley first imagined the book that became Frankenstein.   Suzanne Burdon opens her Mary Shelley novel, Almost Invincible, with a re-creation of that remarkable evening. 

 A while back I  reviewed The Lady and Her Monsters on my old blog.  It was a non-fictional history of the literary and scientific background behind Frankenstein.  So Almost Invincible is not the first book dealing with Mary Shelley that I've blogged.  It's a biographical novel that focuses on her marriage, but I thought it was appropriate to begin this Halloween review with a mention of Mary Shelley's best known work.


 After reading Almost Invincible,  I've come to the conclusion that Mary Shelley was truly caught betwixt and between her heritage as the daughter of the radical and unconventional Mary Wollstonecraft and her upbringing in the Godwin household run by the second Mrs. Godwin, Mary Jane Clairmont, who was obsessed with respectability.   Mary ran off with Shelley, who was then a married man, but she worried about the scandal that ensued.  At one point, she complained to Shelley that his metaphorical umbrella that protected him from malicious talk didn't  shield her. It seems to me that if Mary wanted to share his metaphorical umbrella, she needed to shelter under it.    Shelley's protection was a mindset that the opinions of conventional people didn't matter to him. Stepping under his umbrella would mean that Mary would have to adopt that mindset, and she seemed incapable of doing so.   The only explanation is that Mrs. Clairmont-Godwin had influenced Mary far more than she had managed to influence her own daughter, Claire.   Mary recognized that her father,  philosopher William Godwin, had become a hypocrite who no longer supported the social radicalism that he advocated when he and Mary Wollstonecraft were a couple.  Yet she didn't perceive that she was equally inconsistent.

The title of the novel is taken from Godwin's evaluation of his daughter, but Mary was by no means invincible.  She was hurt by Claire who she viewed as a rival for Shelley's affection, and she was very wounded by the deaths of all her children except for Percy.   In fact, I thought that Claire was far more resilient because she lacked Mary's emotional sensitivity. Claire was unsympathetic, but I thought she was stronger than Mary.  Claire's response to loss was anger.  She refused to  completely surrender herself to grief, and was able to move on with her life.

What I liked most about this book were the references to what was happening during the period. For example,  in Villa Diodati Byron and Shelley discussed the increasing unrest due to serious climate change.   It was known as "The Year Without a Summer" which was caused by a volcano eruption in Indonesia in 1815.  There is an excellent article about it here by Gillen D'Arcy-Wood.  It includes descriptions of the uncanny weather that Mary wrote in correspondence with her half-sister Fanny Imlay.  These reports of  extreme climate in 1816 eventually found their way into Frankenstein.  

Another compelling example of historical context in this novel occurred when Mary, Shelley and Claire traveled through France in 1814. Burdon describes the devastation and misery of the Russian invasion and occupation that had taken place at that time. For more information, see an article about it on the Napoleon Society website here.

So although the main focus of Almost Invincible was on Mary's relationship with Shelley, Burdon did provide a frame of reference which shows us the truth of their times.



Thursday, October 29, 2015

Isolation by Mary Anna Evans

I've been a fan of the Faye Longchamp mysteries by Mary Anna Evans for some time, but I've never blogged about any of them. This is the ninth book in the series.  So it's about time that I did. These are contemporary mysteries that often have a strong historical element. 

I think that Book Babe readers who haven't encountered Faye Longchamp should know about her.   Faye is an African American archaeologist who first practiced archaeology by excavating Joyeuse, the island off the coast of Florida where she lived.  By excavating on Joyeuse, she was uncovering her own family's heritage.  Her family had lived on Joyeuse for generations.  Isolation deals very directly with one of Faye's ancestors.


It starts out as a contemporary case.  A woman who owns a bar has been murdered.  At the same time, a man that is looking for the truth about a Civil War ancestor of his who disappeared, starts asking questions about a woman who was Faye's ancestor.   This particular ancestor is significant to Faye.  So that's when this mystery starts getting very personal.   Faye discovers that everything she loves may be in jeopardy.  She will end up having to fight for her family, and for her life on Joyeuse.   Books don't get more dramatically intense than this.  Mary Anna Evans pulled out all the stops in Isolation.

The strength Faye exhibits is more astonishing because the novel opens with Faye having been depressed for some time over a miscarriage.   She isolates herself while she grieves over the loss of her baby.   The level of threat that she experiences over the course of the narrative, snaps her out of it.   She becomes herself again.  A woman who is weak would have no resources to call upon, but Faye is a hero.

One of male heroes in this novel who fights alongside Faye is her husband, Joe Mantooth.  Joe is a Native American flintnapper.  Flintnapping is a stone age skill.   Very few people in the current day practice flintnapping.  He is also an expert consultant on flintnapped artifacts for archaeologists.  I think this makes him a pretty amazing man.  Flintnapping doesn't play a role in Isolation, but I wanted to introduce readers of this review to Joe.  He's central to both this book and to Faye's life.  I always imagine that Joe looks like the actor Joe Lando as he appeared on the TV show, Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman where he played the role of Sully.   I imagine that Faye looks like the actress  Halle Berry.   Faye and Joe make an extraordinary couple.

It would be possible to read Isolation without reading the rest of the Faye Longchamp series, but you would probably be better off getting all the background by starting off with the first book, Artifacts.  Live through Faye's adventures as Mary Anna Evans wrote them.



Monday, October 26, 2015

Spotlight & #Giveaway: Clutch

Clutch: A NovelClutch: A Novel is the laugh-out-loud, chick lit romance chronicling the dating misadventures of Caroline Johnson, a single purse designer who compares her unsuccessful romantic relationships to styles of handbags – the “Hobo” starving artist, the “Diaper Bag” single dad, the “Briefcase” intense businessman, etc. With her best friend, bar owner Mike by her side, the overly-accommodating Caroline drinks a lot of Chardonnay, puts her heart on the line, endures her share of unworthy suitors and finds the courage to discover the “Clutch” or someone she wants to hold onto.


Mimi Johnson was casually dressed in a brightly-colored blouse with enormous turquoise jewelry and equally-oversized glasses.  Despite that largesse, the only thing truly bigger than her personality (and her bosom) was her handbag.  It was always perfectly matched to her clothing, shoes, and jewelry.  She was like a walking Chico’s advertisement, if you added forty years, forty pounds, and a Virginia Slims cigarette.  From her Mary Poppins-like bag, she pulled out a box, impeccably-wrapped in glossy pink paper with a white grosgrain ribbon bow.  A cigarette teetered between her two fingers while she produced a lung-hacking cough.
“Open it… …sweetie.  Open it,” she said to her seven-year-old great niece, Caroline, a beautiful and vibrant girl with long blonde hair and oversized blue eyes.
Alive with anticipation, sweet young Caroline eagerly took the box and smiled up at Mimi.  She gingerly removed the ribbon, planning to save it for later.  The glossy paper was less of interest and she ripped through it quickly.  She opened the box and gently lifted out a hot pink purse, adorned with pale pink flowers and rhinestones.  An enormous smile overcame her.  Caroline nearly set her own hair on fire from Mimi’s cigarette as she bounded into her aunt’s arms.
“Oh, thank you, Aunt Mimi.  It’s lovely.”
And that was when Caroline’s love of handbags began.  From big and loud ones that would make Mimi proud to unimposing wristlets, from bowler bags to satchels; it didn’t matter if they were made of canvas or calf-skin leather, were distressed or embellished with metal studs.  Hell, she didn’t care if you called them pocketbooks or purses.   She just loved them all – almost as much as she loved Mimi.
By the time she was a junior in high school and well on her way to being class valedictorian, it was the hundreds of bags Caroline owned that helped her conceptualize her ticket out of her suffocating small Georgian town. She would design handbags.  And it was Mimi who was her steadfast cheerleader.
“Caroline, sweetie… …you find something you love and you just hold onto it.”  It had never mattered if Caroline was asking Mimi’s advice about a friend, lover, or career.  The advice was always the same: “Find something you love and hold onto it.”
Mimi’s words ever-present in her mind, Caroline headed to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and spent four years in Los Angeles learning everything there was to know to pursue her passion. Then, right out of college, she spent three years working in the design and marketing departments of two of the world’s leading high-end handbag designers.
She was schooled in beauty and how to accessorize the perfectly-coiffed women on the way to their Botox appointments. But Caroline was pulled by the nagging feeling that the very person who had inspired her career, Mimi, could never afford the bags she designed, even if Caroline used her generous employee discount on Mimi’s behalf.  And God forbid Mimi would ever accept one as a gift, always preferring to give rather than receive.   But Caroline believed there was no reason for anyone to be denied the ultimate in accessories. She saw an untapped market of designing beautiful and affordable bags, but she just wasn’t sure she was start-up potential. Again, it was Mimi who nudged her to learn the business side of things and apply to MBA programs. When Caroline was accepted to Harvard Business School, Mimi of course encouraged her.
“You’ve got this, sweetie. ,” she said.  “It’s in the bag.”

Caroline was sitting in Financial Reporting and Control on her first day of Harvard classes (and yes, the class turned out to be as boring as it sounded).  That’s when she first eyed Mike, who was wearing a faded pair of Levi jeans, a washed-out vintage Rolling Stones T-shirt, and Converse sneakers.  He oozed charisma.  Turning her head away from him and back toward the front of the lecture hall, Caroline thought that if he were a handbag, he would be a grey leather tote – confident and dependable, but not trying too hard.
Mike surveyed the large lecture hall as he walked in, a Starbucks coffee cup in each hand.  After descending the steps slowly, he took a seat next to Caroline and planted one of the white and green cups on her desk.
Flashing a wide, dimpled smile, which she mused he reserved for getting girls to drop their panties, he said, “Here.  You look like you’re going to need this.”
“Thanks,” she replied in a suspicious tone, turning her head sideways to look at him and raising an eyebrow.
“I’m Mike,” he said, again flashing a smile and reaching out for a handshake.
“I’m Caroline.  Thanks for the…”
“Latte,” she confirmed.  “Thanks.  But just so you know, I’m not gonna sleep with you,” she said in an apparent attempt to establish up front she wasn’t taken in by his obvious charm.
“I know,” he replied matter-of-factly.
Before she could respond, Professor Beauregard, a stout man with excessive eyebrows, spoke up.
“Please take note of where you are seated.  I will send around a seating chart for you to mark your spot.  This will be your seat for the remainder of the semester.”
“Looks like we’ll be seatmates,” Mike said, grinning at her.
“Looks like it,” she replied.

About three months into the first semester, Caroline learned that her fun-loving, easy-going new best buddy Mike wasn’t exactly who he appeared to be.
A blanket of white snow dusted the Harvard grounds and it was a particularly slow day in another mutual class, LEAD – Leadership and Organizational Behavior.  Professor Moss, a frail man who weighed less than his years, was droning on and on about establishing productive relationships with subordinates or something to that effect.  He initiated a discussion about what works better – the carrot or stick approach.
“Mr. Barnsworth,” he called, referring to his seating chart and scanning the room until he found Mike in the fifth row.  “What are your thoughts?”
“Well, it seems to me that good management is all about empathy and being able to enthuse and inspire your staff.  You know, appreciating them and respecting them.  Showing you care,” he said, placing his hand over his heart in a gesture of true compassion and concern.  “And if they can’t get that through their thick skulls, you fire ‘em,” he continued, drawing his finger across his throat.
Several students sitting around them started to chuckle while Caroline stifled a laugh.  Mike looked around the room and nodded his head, soaking in the appreciation of his sense of humor.
“Mr. Barnsworth,” said Professor Moss in a menacing tone, “I would have expected a better answer from you, considering your family history.”
Confused by the conversation unfolding before her, Caroline leaned over and whispered to Mike, “What is he talkin’ about?”   Mike put up a hand to quiet her.
“Later,” he hissed.
Twenty minutes later, the two shared a bench outside Baker Library, the chill of winter causing Caroline to pull her scarf closer around her neck.
“What was that all about?” she asked, scrunching up her nose in confusion.

Reluctantly, Mike began to speak.  “My full name is Michael Frederick Barnsworth the Third.  

Lisa Becker
About Lisa Becker

In addition to her new book, clutch: a novel, Lisa Becker is the author of the Click Trilogy, a contemporary romance series comprised of Click: An Online Love Story, Double Click and Right Click. She’s written bylined articles about dating and relationships for “Cupid’s Pulse,” “The Perfect Soulmate,” “GalTime,” “Single Edition,” “Healthy B Daily” and “Chick Lit Central” among others. She lives in Manhattan Beach, California with her husband and two daughters. To learn more, visit

Books: Click: An Online Love Story, Double Click, Right Click and clutch: a novel

Find Lisa: Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Web | YouTube


One commenter of this post will win an ebook copy of Clutch. Giveaway lasts for two weeks. Please be sure to leave your email address in the comment so you can be contacted. And DO answer this question: what was your funniest date ever?