Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Reading Radar 1/31/2015

The Witch of StalingradBoth Shomeret and I have our eyes on this one due to our interest in the Night Witches, The Witch of Stalingrad by Justine Saracen.

As the German Blitzkrieg brings the Soviet Union to its knees in 1942, a regiment of women aviators flies out at night in flimsy aircraft without parachutes or radios to harass the Wehrmacht troops. The Germans call them “Night Witches” and the best of them is Lilya Drachenko. From the other end of the world, photojournalist Alex Preston arrives to “get the story” for the American press and witnesses sacrifice, hardship, and desperate courage among the Soviet women that is foreign to her. So also are their politics. While the conservative journalist and the communist Lilya clash politically, Stalingrad, the most savage battle of the 20th century, brings them together, until enemy capture and the lethal Russian winter tears them apart again.


I spotted this on Edelweiss: Madame President by Nicolle Wallace, and of course the title nabbed my attention. It is however, the third in a series so I've immediately acquired book one.

Madam President: A NovelWith Madam President, current cohost of The View and former White House Communications Director Nicolle Wallace returns with an electrifying portrait of three powerful women on a day that will change the country forever.

Charlotte Kramer, the forty-fifth President of the United States, has done the unprecedented in allowing a network news team to document a day in her life—and that of her most senior staff. But while twenty news cameras are embedded with the president, the unthinkable happens: five major attacks are leveled on US soil. Her secretary of defense, Melanie, and her press secretary, Dale, must instantly jump to action in supporting the president and reassuring the country that the safety they treasure is in capable hands.

But secrets have always thrived in President Kramer’s White House. With all eyes on them and America’s stability on the line, all three women are hiding personal and professional secrets that could rock the West Wing to its very foundations…and change the lives of the people they love most.

With an insider’s sharp eye and her trademark winning prose, Nicolle Wallace delivers a timely novel of domestic and political intrigue that is impossible to put down.


Eighteen AcresAnd as I said, having only learned of the series when I saw book three listed, I immediately ordered book one, Eighteen Acres.

From the former Communications Director for the White House and current political media strategist comes a suspenseful and smart commercial novel about the first female president and all dramas and deceptions she faces both in politics and in love.

Eighteen Acres, a description used by political insiders when referring to the White House complex, follows the first female President of the United States, Charlotte Kramer, and her staff as they take on dangerous threats from abroad and within her very own cabinet.

Charlotte Kramer, the 45th US President, Melanie Kingston, the White House chief of staff, and Dale Smith, a White House correspondent for one of the networks are all working tirelessly on Charlotte’s campaign for re-election. At the very moment when they should have been securing success, though, Kramer’s White House implodes under rumors of her husband’s infidelity and grave errors of judgment on the part of her closest national security advisor. In an upheaval that threatens not only the presidency, but the safety of the American people, Charlotte must fight to regain her footing and protect the the country she has given her life to serving.

Eighteen Acres combines political and family drama into one un-put-downable novel. It is a smart, juicy and fast-paced read that we’re sure fans of commercial women’s fiction will fall in total love with.


Secrets of the Tower by Debbie Rix sounds awesome. Saw it on Netgalley.

Secrets of the TowerTwo women, centuries apart, bound together by the secrets of one of the most iconic buildings ever created.

Pisa, 1999
Sam Campbell sits by her husband’s hospital bed. Far from home and her children, she must care for Michael who is recovering from a stroke. A man she loves deeply. A man who has been unfaithful to her.

Alone and in need of distraction, Sam decides to pick up Michael’s research into the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Immersing herself in the ancient city, she begins to piece together the mystery behind the creation of the tower, and discovers the woman who history forgot…

Pisa, 1171
Berta di Bernardo, the wife of a rich merchant, sits in her chamber, dressing for a dinner party. A gathering that will change the course of her life and a young master mason, Gerardo, forever.

A strong, intelligent woman, Berta’s passion for architecture also draws her closer to Gerardo. As she embarks on a love affair, her maid Aurelia also becomes spellbound by the same man. Yet for Berta, her heart’s desire is to see the Tower built, and her determination knows no bounds…


Five Brides by Eva Marie Everson is on my wishlist after spotting it on Edelweiss because I love me a good fifties' tale and vintage dresses...oh yea.

Five BridesOne dress, five women, a lifetime of memories.
Five single, fiercely independent women live together in a Chicago apartment in the early 1950s but rarely see one another. One Saturday afternoon, as they are serendipitously together downtown, they spy a wedding dress in a storefront window at the famous Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. After trying it on—much to the dismay of the salesclerk and without a single boyfriend or date between the five of them—they decide to pool their money to purchase it. Can one dress forever connect five women who live together only a short time before taking their own journeys to love and whatever comes happily ever after?


The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton hit the list. It was spotted on Edelweiss. Check out this smashing cover.

The Race for ParisThe New York Times bestselling author of The Wednesday Sisters returns with a moving and powerfully dynamic World War II novel about two American journalists and an Englishman, who together race the Allies to Occupied Paris for the scoop of their lives.

Normandy, 1944. To cover the fighting in France, Jane, a reporter for the Nashville Banner, and Liv, an Associated Press photographer, have already had to endure enormous danger and frustrating obstacles—including strict military regulations limiting what women correspondents can. Even so, Liv wants more.

Encouraged by her husband, the editor of a New York newspaper, she’s determined to be the first photographer to reach Paris with the Allies, and capture its freedom from the Nazis.

However, her Commanding Officer has other ideas about the role of women in the press corps. To fulfill her ambitions, Liv must go AWOL. She persuades Jane to join her, and the two women find a guardian angel in Fletcher, a British military photographer who reluctantly agrees to escort them. As they race for Paris across the perilous French countryside, Liv, Jane, and Fletcher forge an indelible emotional bond that will transform them and reverberate long after the war is over.

Based on daring, real-life female reporters on the front lines of history like Margaret Bourke-White, Lee Miller, and Martha Gellhorn—and with cameos by other famous faces of the time—The Race for Paris is an absorbing, atmospheric saga full of drama, adventure, and passion. Combining riveting storytelling with expert literary craftsmanship and thorough research, Meg Waite Clayton crafts a compelling, resonant read.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Tyrant's Daughter by J.C. Carleson

The Tyrant's DaughterI'm so far beyond yoga, or scented candles, or whatever feel-good methods people use to calm their suburban anxieties. What tidy little pill could remove the fear of my entire family being killed? What amount of medication could erase the memory of being hunted, a screaming mob outside the gates? How many long bubble baths would I have to take to forget the image of my mother staggering out of my father's study, covered in his blood?

I thought this was a very engrossing read. I was absolutely hooked from page one. The heroine, though young (this is aimed at young adults), is a strong one. She has been through so much and continues to go through much as the book continues.

Many a young lady would have caved or given up, but this one tries to not only be strong but do the right thing.

Her father, a dictator in an unnamed Arab country, has been killed. Her uncle has taken over. Her mother has taken her and her brother to refuge in America...but in exchange she must work with a possibly shady CIA agent. While her country is torn apart and her home life not much better, Laila also must deal with a new country, new rules, new school, new friends. As we follow Laila, we see American high school in a new light. People making light of bomb threats. People blissfully ignorant of war across the world, of real bombs, of loss.

And then she gets drawn into drama involving her country that she doesn't want to be involved in...just as she gets to enjoying the freedoms American life provides a young woman...sorta. See, she's always torn, and we witness this many times through how she feel at a dance, for example. She discovers the power her body can have, yet at the same time she feels self conscious showing a bit of leg.

Laila must do what she feels is right, even if it means hurting her family or walking away from friends and though in the end I hated her decision, I admired that she had the guts to do it. She made up her mind and followed through, stuck to it.

The author notes are very enlightening. If you didn't know much about Arab Spring before, you'll understand much better after reading this novel. Something else I liked was how this book showed us that...even the most unlikable of people, such as dictators, are capable of loving their children and being loved in return. And yes, we can still love our parents and yet hate who they are to others.

I highly recommend this. I am merely unsatisfied with the ending though. It was too unconcluded for me and the conclusion I felt I was possibly reading didn't seem right.

I received this via Netgalley.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rodin's Lover by Heather Webb

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Please join Heather Webb as she tours the blogosphere with HF Virtual Book Tours for Rodin's Lover, from January 19-February 13.

Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 320

Genre: Historical Fiction

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02_Rodin's LoverA mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France.

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.


I had heard the name Camille Claudel before reading Rodin’s Lover, but knew nothing about her.  Women artists interest me, but I had never previously read anything about a sculptor.   This means that I was completely uneducated about the methods and traditions of sculpture.  So I learned a great deal from this book about Camille Claudel, Auguste Rodin and sculpture in general.   Yet I felt that the Wikipedia article on Camille Claudel caused me to understand the general outline of her life better than Heather Webb’s novel, much of which is written from Claudel’s own perspective.

To say that Claudel was an unreliable narrator is to put it rather mildly.  She was diagnosed with schizophrenia.  Schizophrenia covers a great many types of mental disease.  I consider it a vague catch-all diagnosis.  Camille Claudel had bouts of severe paranoia.  I noticed in the novel that she became much worse later in her life, and that hormones appeared to have an influence.  I know that hormone fluctuation is an important factor in the lives of bipolar women.  It seems likely, for example, that hormonal changes in the aftermath of pregnancy were probably the primary cause of the suicide of Chinese American writer Iris Chang. I wondered if women’s hormones had a similar effect on schizophrenia.  So I ran a search on schizophrenia and estrogen, and found the Wikipedia article that I’ve linked here.  The article does confirm the idea that lower levels of estrogen aggravate the condition.  

Yet Claudel was a brilliant sculptor.  There is a sample of Camille Claudel’s work and work by Rodin that the author of the article linked thought was influenced by Claudel at The Art of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.  You can click on the images to get a larger version.  I really liked The Waltz which was considered indecent in Webb’s novel, so she created a clothed version which is the one that survives. 

I appreciated Camille Claudel’s conflict between love and independence from a feminist perspective.  It was not paranoid to want to have her own identity as an artist and not be considered an imitator of Rodin.    This is a problem that many people in the arts have had.  Literary critic Harold Bloom called it “the anxiety of influence”.    I felt that Heather Webb was portraying it as part of her pathology because she wavered so much between being primarily focused on art and being primarily focused on her relationship with Rodin.  She was continually breaking up with him, but I didn’t think it was always due to mental instability.    There were some legitimate reasons why being with Rodin wasn’t the best thing for her.  He helped her to get commissions and exhibit space, but Webb also shows him as having engaged in some stalker type behavior which was the real basis for her later paranoia about Rodin spying on her.   The lines between Claudel’s feminism and Claudel’s insanity seemed blurred in Rodin’s Lover, and it made reading this emotionally intense book an uncomfortable experience for me.

 I found Rodin's Lover to be highly reminiscent of I Always Loved You by Robin Oliveira  about the ambivalent relationship between artists Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas. I reviewed it on Book Babe here.  I wish that Camille Claudel and Mary Cassatt could have met.  I think they would have understood and supported each other as woman artists.

I received this book from the publisher via both First to Read and Net Galley in return for this honest review.

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About the Author

Heather WebbHeather Webb grew up a military brat and naturally became obsessed with travel, culture, and languages. She put her degrees to good use teaching high school French for nearly a decade before turning to full time novel writing and freelance editing. Her debut, BECOMING JOSEPHINE, released January 2014 from Plume/Penguin. Her forthcoming novel, RODIN'S LOVER, will release in winter of 2015.

When not writing, Heather flexes her foodie skills or looks for excuses to head to the other side of the world.

For more information, please visit Heather's website. She loves to chitchat on Twitter with new reader friends or writers (@msheatherwebb), on Facebook, or via her blog. Stop on by!

Rodin's Lover Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, January 19
Review & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books
Review & Interview at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Tuesday, January 20
Review at Broken Teepee
Spotlight at Boom Baby Reviews

Wednesday, January 21

Thursday, January 22

Friday, January 23

Monday, January 26
Review at Poof Books

Tuesday, January 27
Review at Library Educated
Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Wednesday, January 28
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages

Thursday, January 29
Review at Book Babe

Friday, January 30
Review at Book Drunkard

Monday, February 2
Review at Unabridged Chick

Tuesday, February 3
Interview at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, February 4
Review at Brooke Blogs

Thursday, February 5
Review at A Book Geek

Friday, February 6

Monday, February 9

Tuesday, February 10

Wednesday, February 11

Thursday, February 12

Friday, February 13

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Charitable Hatred: Puritan Preaching Leads To Murder in The Harlot's Tale

The Harlot’s Tale is the second book in a historical mystery series that takes place in 17th century England whose protagonist is the midwife Bridget Hodgson.  She is a widow from a noble family who is accustomed to wielding authority, but she is also highly principled.  When I started reading the first book in this series, The Midwife’s Tale, I thought she was arrogant, self-righteous and intolerant.   I almost gave up on the book because I found her too unsympathetic.   

Fortunately, I became interested in Martha Hawkins, her new maid.  The very fact that Bridget gave Martha a chance despite her background showed that Bridget had more compassion than I had imagined.  I continued reading because of Martha.  She is clever, courageous and resourceful. She also has some very interesting skills that make her useful for crime investigation in both books.


In this second book, I think that Martha has influenced Bridget for the better.  She seems more open to new ideas and approaches.  She has become more supportive toward women in unfortunate circumstances which also puts her on the wrong side of the law. As a midwife, Bridget is supposed to report all women giving birth to children out of wedlock so that they can be publicly whipped.  In Puritan dominated York, the city where this series takes place, Bridget’s newfound sympathy can be dangerous to her.

The case in The Harlot’s Tale involves a series of murders of prostitutes.  The killer leaves Biblical verses in the hands of the victims.  This leads Bridget to suspect that some fanatical Puritan is the perpetrator, but this gives her a great many suspects.  The religious zeitgeist had become increasingly fanatical.  There is a popular Puritan preacher in York who calls for “charitable hatred” toward individuals that Puritans consider immoral.  This phrase is never explained.  How can hatred ever be charitable?  It sounds like war for peace or freedom within slavery.   When I analyze it from a Puritan perspective, I imagine that a Puritan might consider it merciful to kill someone who is sinful so that they will sin no more, and won’t enrage God any further.  From a modern secular viewpoint that kind of thinking seems bizarre.  

 This is the sort of environment that leads to witchcraft hysterias.  So it’s fairly predictable that this is the subject of the third book, The Witch Hunter’s Tale in which I imagine that Bridget is in some serious jeopardy.  Midwives have often been suspected of witchcraft during witchcraft hysterias.   I will be reviewing The Witch Hunter’s Tale for a blog tour in February.

Although the situation in The Harlot's Tale is scarcely unexpected during this period of England’s history, there are some plot twists that made for a good mystery.  The plot complications and character growth caused me to consider this novel an enjoyable read.