Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Shepherdess of Siena by Linda Lafferty

The Shepherdess of SienaIt took me a bit to make the connection, but I've read about the crazy Medicis before, in Elizabeth Loupas's The Red Lily Crown. Once I realized who I was reading about and began "recognizing" events, such as the murdering of wives and the alchemy, I could not help but compare the two novels.

Both novels educated us about the Medicis through the eyes of strong women of the times: Loupas gave us a female chemist; Lafferty gives us a lady jockey. Both were considered shocking and unusual during this time period.

As far as heroines go, I prefer this feisty girl jockey. She's a shepherdess who loves horses, has a unity with them, is determined to be the first girl to run the Palio--a race. And this isn't just running in a circle, but through town full of obstacles, sharp turns, people with whips and very little rules.

This young girl who has never rode before suddenly declares she's going to not only race in, but win, the Palio and her determination very nearly gets her there. It's never too late to chase a dream. I also took away from this a moral: it's not really about winning. You don't have to make first place to "win". It's about determination and passion for what you are doing.

So she becomes the heroine of Siena...meanwhile, the Medicis are poisoning each other. First it's the sisters, then it's the granduca himself...and there's magical paint. And then it seems like Virginia Tacci, heroine of Siena, is fated to a life in "prison". Will anyone be able to release her? And once released, will she want to be free?

I said above, I preferred this heroine, but as far as writing goes and the Medici plotline, I prefer Loupas's writing and interpretation. I didn't find myself as engrossed with the Medicis' lives and scandal and disputes in this one as I did with Loupas's novel, probably because Virginia herself never really deals with them. So the two stories are not as entwined and it was jarring at times to go from one setting to another. Without the likable heroine connecting it all, I began to lose interest.

When it was Virginia talking--first person, her POV--I was happy. When it went to the Medicis or the painters or any other character, I was not as engrossed. I confess to moments of boredom. The Medici story simply did not appeal to me as much as Virginia's story.

But what a courageous heroine--her determination, her passion only for horses, her riding astride and refusal to dress as a boy because she is proud to be a girl. Her insistence on a feminine version of the word jockey. She's terrific and an inspiration. Had the story just been about her, I'd have been happier. Though I did take away some new knowledge from this, such as the siege/starvation of Siena. I did not know about that.

I received this via Netgalley.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Q & A with Hannah Fielding, Author of Indiscretion

Today we have Hannah Fielding, author of a new historical romance called Indiscretion. After reading the following blurb, I not only wanted to read it, but had some questions for her too.

IndiscretionA young woman's journey of discovery takes her to a world of forbidden passion, savage beauty, and revenge.

Spring, 1950. Alexandra de Falla, a half-English, half-Spanish young writer abandons her privileged but suffocating life in London and travels to Spain to be reunited with her long-estranged family.

Instead of providing the sense of belonging she yearns for, the de Fallas are driven by seething emotions, and in the grip of the wild customs and traditions of Andalucia, all of which are alien to Alexandra.

Among the strange characters and sultry heat of this country, she meets the man who awakens emotions she hardly knew existed. But their path is strewn with obstacles: dangerous rivals, unpredictable events, and inevitable indiscretions. What does Alexandra's destiny hold for her in this flamboyant land of drama and all-consuming passions, where blood is ritually poured on to the sands of sun-drenched bullfighting arenas, mysterious gypsies are embroiled in magic and revenge, and beautiful dark-eyed dancers hide their secrets behind elegant lacy fans?

"Indiscretion"is a story of love and identity, and the clash of idealsin the pursuit of happiness. But can love survive in a world where scandal and danger are never far away?

 First of all, why Spain? And why this time period? What drew you there?

My romance with Spain began when I was in my early teens after I saw a film called Pleasure Seekers. The wonderful setting and atmospheric music made me dream and triggered my imagination. Then once I had visited that beautiful sun-drenched country and met with their hospitable, fun-loving, flamboyant people, I was charmed and the seeds for Indiscretion were sown.

I decided to set Indiscretion in the fifties for three reasons:
    1) Because it is a period I know well
2) Because that era fifty or so years ago saw major changes in society and therefore there is much to explore in terms of romance in that era
    3) Because I was so taken by Spain that I knew that my inspiration would not stop
         at one book and I was giving myself the chance of writing a sequel or even a

What drew me and captured my heart in Spain was its rich culture and its ancient varied history. Spain is a land of drama. The people are intense, their culture, their music, their traditions personify passion and fire. They are never in a hurry. If you don’t make it today, there is always mañana, tomorrow… life is lived to the full. The Spanish seem to be totally in tune with James Dean’s immortal words, ‘Live as if you’ll die today.’

Did you travel to Spain to visit places you mention in the novel?

Yes of course. ‘Write about what you know’ is a common piece of advice given to writers, and I agree with it. The more experience you bring to bear in your fiction, the more genuine and realistic the story is. So when I write, I like to get a feel of the place where my romance novel is set. I need to experience its weather, view its countryside, mingle with its people and try its exclusive cuisine. Every facet of a country helps me to form the setting of a film in my mind where I can place my characters, knowing that their experience will be genuine and that my story will come from the heart.

From the blurb, I understand there’s some Flamenco and some bullfighting in the story. What kind of research did you do for both? Did you take dance lessons? Go see a fight? Or was it all book research?

I love dance. I love ballet and flamenco and folk dancing. From the age of five to the age of sixteen, I took ballet lessons in which we were taught not only classic dancing, but also folk dancing from various countries, namely Russia, Hungary, Egypt and of course Spain; and so naturally Flamenco was part of the programme. As a young girl I dreamed of being a ballerina; now I am content to watch and be swept away by the beauty of a dance.
As for bullfighting, of course I went to a bullfight. You don’t go to Spain and not attend one of Spain’s most important rituals – it is actually their national sport. Bullfighting pre-historically was steeped in the culture of Mediterranean countries. In Ancient Greece for example, the legend of the killing of the minotaur was symbolic of a bullfight.

My experience, of course, was enhanced with additional book research, to make sure that my facts were absolutely right.

Speaking of research, did you by any chance come across some interesting fact or story that caught your attention but simply didn’t fit in the book? Something shocking? Funny?

Yes, I did come across a gypsy ritual that might be considered ‘shocking’. It was about thirty five years ago, in a pueblo, a village of Andalusia. Knowing about my fascination with gypsies a Spanish friend took me to a gypsy wedding. It was set in a sort of a big warehouse with crowds of people clothed in a dazzling array of bright colours and bold accessories. Suddenly, while the singing, dancing and merriment were going on, the young bride was taken into another room by three older women under the enthusiastic cheers of the guests. My friend explained that gypsy tradition stipulates that the bride must be a virgin and therefore before the wedding is consummated she must be subjected to the gypsy custom of prueba del pañuelo, a public ritual to certify her virginity, carried out with a white handkerchief. Once the test shows a positive result, known as the ‘three roses’,  the women come out of the room and sing ‘El Yeli’ to the couple as they shower the bride with sugar-coated almonds and the ceremony can go on. If the result is negative, the wedding will be cancelled.

What’s your next project?

There is a sequel to Indiscretion, Masquerade, which will take my readers to the next generation of the Rueda and de Falla families. More fiery emotions, more colourful traditions, more outlandish rituals, and a passionate love story to which you can look forward.

Thank you so much for joining us! I can't wait to read your novel! Good luck.

Hannah Fielding is an award winning contemporary romance fiction writer. She was born and raised in Egypt and is well known for her passion for travel. Her novels are all set in exotic locations and feature wonderfully vivid imagery and descriptions. Her first novel, 'Burning Embers' was published in 2012. 'The Echoes of Love' was published in 2014 to critical acclaim. It was awarded the IPPY Gold Award for Romance and was described by The Sun newspaper as, 'An epic love story that is beautifully told...'. Indiscretion is due to be released on April 9th, 2015.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Just a Little Something I Bought...

I didn't intend it, but Sundays on the blog have become Whatever Day, when I share random things I think you all may like, may find interesting, or may want to try/buy yourself.

For me, Etsy is the new Ebay. I had a bad experience on Ebay with one of those sellers in China and ended up with a product not as described and out of my dough. Since then, I've completely shut down my Ebay and turned to Etsy, where I've had no trouble and I'm supporting small businesses. We all win...except Ebay. LOL

Last week I acquired and shared with you a girl-power tee shirt. This week, I nabbed myself a deaf-power tee shirt from a shop that makes custom tee shirts at a very reasonable price--the most reasonable I could find. (Once again, no, I'm not being paid for this and no, I did not receive a discount. I'm just sharing this because I can.)

And I had this made:

I was able to choose the shirt color and the font.

If you've been following this blog a while or have read my memoir, you'll understand why I chose those words. Though it took me a long time to realize it, it seems other people have a problem with my disability more than I do. I've been denied jobs and all kinds of things, just because I'm deaf.

I've learned to work around it. Why can't others?

That being said, I will confess to wishing I could just go to the movies like other people (the theater near me stopped with open captioning altogether) and I've finally been convinced to check into a cochlear implant in my left year--which doesn't work at all, and when I was talking to my audiologist about the 50, 70k bill that would be involved in the process, I confessed I thought I should get funding from those who disqualified me from my occupation years ago. I said, "They're the ones who have a problem with my hearing loss, who say I can't do my job because of it. They should pay to fix it."

And that was part of the inspiration behind this shirt.

Is there something you'd like to say on a shirt?

The shop I ordered this from is No Sleeves, No Problems and the link to their shop and also to the listing for the custom tee shirt are all above.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Reading Radar 3/28/2015

Thanks to Amy Johnson of Reading the Past, who left a comment on last week's Radar, I learned of this upcoming novel: The Flying Circus by Susan Crandall.

The Flying CircusFrom the bestselling and award-winning author of Whistling Past the Graveyard comes an adventure tale about two daredevils and a farm boy who embark on the journey of a lifetime across America’s heartland in the Roaring Twenties.

Set in the rapidly changing world of 1920s America, this is a story of three people from very different backgrounds: Henry “Schuler” Jefferson, son of German immigrants from Midwestern farm country; Cora Rose Haviland, a young woman of privilege whose family has lost their fortune; and Charles “Gil” Gilchrist, an emotionally damaged WWI veteran pilot. Set adrift by life-altering circumstances, they find themselves bound together by need and torn apart by blind obsessions and conflicting goals. Each one holds a secret that, if exposed, would destroy their friendship. But their journey of adventure and self-discovery has a price—and one of them won’t be able to survive it.

As they crisscross the heartland, exploring the rapidly expanding role of aviation from barnstorming to bootlegging, from a flying circus to the dangerous sport of air racing, the three companions form a makeshift family. It’s a one-of-a-kind family, with members as adventurous as they are vulnerable, and as fascinating as they are flawed. But whatever adventure—worldly or private—they find themselves on, they’re guaranteed to be a family you won’t forget.


Waiting for the ViolinsAnd because I loved her The Witch of Stalingrad so very much, Justine Saracen's Waiting for the Violins is on my wishlist.

Antonia Forrester, an English nurse, is nearly killed while trying to save soldiers fleeing at Dunkirk. Embittered, she returns to occupied Brussels as a British spy to foment resistance to the Nazis. She works with urban partisans who sabotage deportation efforts and execute collaborators, before résistante leader Sandrine Toussaint accepts her into the Comet Line, an operation to rescue downed Allied pilots.

After capture and then escape from a deportation train headed for Auschwitz, the women join the Maquis fighting in the Ardenne Forests. Passion is the glowing ember that warms them amidst the winter carnage until London radio transmits the news they’ve waited for. Huddled in the darkness, they hear the coded message, the "long sobs of the violins,” signaling that the Allied Invasion is about to begin.


And there's no cover yet, but Shomeret got wind of an illustrated book releasing in 2016 about "Rejected Princesses". The site will tell you more than I can, but you can also follow the blog and read about different strong women in history.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Spotlight on A Decent Woman: Puerto Rican History by a Puerto Rican Woman

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Join author Eleanor Parker Sapia as her historical novel, A Decent Woman, is featured around the blogosphere from March 16-April 6, and enter the giveaway! Up for grabs is an Autographed copy of A Decent Woman, two eBooks of A Decent Woman, and a $25 Amazon Gift Card!
Publication Date: February 20, 2015 
Formats: eBook, Paperback
270 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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01_A Decent Woman_CoverPonce, Puerto Rico, at the turn of the century: Ana Belén Opaku, an Afro-Cuban born into slavery, is a proud midwife with a tempestuous past. After testifying at an infanticide trial, Ana is forced to reveal a dark secret from her past, but continues to hide an even more sinister one. Pitted against the parish priest, Padre Vicénte, and young Doctór Héctor Rivera, Ana must battle to preserve her twenty-five year career as the only midwife in La Playa.

Serafina is a respectable young widow with two small children, who marries an older, wealthy merchant from a distinguished family. A crime against Serafina during her last pregnancy forever bonds her to Ana in an ill-conceived plan to avoid a scandal and preserve Serafina’s honor.

Set against the combustive backdrop of a chauvinistic society, where women are treated as possessions, A Decent Woman is the provocative story of these two women as they battle for their dignity and for love against the pain of betrayal and social change.
Advanced Praise for A Decent Woman

“A Decent Woman brings vividly to life the world of early twentieth-century Puerto Rico through the struggles of Ana Belén, an Afro-Cuban midwife, as she attempts to live a meaningful life. Spanning almost thirty years, the story encompasses Ana’s unusual friendship with Serafina, a white woman of humble origins who marries into a wealthy, upper class family. Race, class, the lingering legacy of slavery, and a woman’s role in this neo colonial society are all effectively illustrated through the intimate depiction of these two intersecting lives.

Author Eleanor Parker Sapia lovingly evokes old Puerto Rico: the graceful colonial city of Ponce, the mixture of African and Catholic traditions, the tropical lushness of the land, and the devastating force of a Caribbean hurricane.

Overall, A Decent Woman is a powerful and moving tale; well worth reading.”

-Alina García-Lapuerta, biographer and author of La Belle Creole: The Cuban Countess Who Captivated Havana, Madrid, and Paris

“A Decent Woman opens with a birth and a hurricane and doesn't let up. Deep with delicious detail, scrumptious characters, and full of folklore, this is a unique debut novel from Eleanor Parker Sapia, one that will win her readers over. Written in a clean style that lets the historical ambience seep through into our consciousness, this book is a tale of wonder, of life and death, of love and life and not a few twists and turns. Ana and Serafina are, indeed, decent women living in a hard time. Buy it, read it, love it.”

-Jack Remick, short story writer, poet, and author of award-winning, Gabriela and the Widow

“A Decent Woman takes the reader on a journey into the heat and steam of Puerto Rico in the early 1900s. The writing is so visceral and evocative that you almost feel the rain on your face, the pain of childbirth, fear, betrayal and redemption along with the women in this story of midwives and mothers.”

-Claudia H Long, author of The Duel for Consuelo and Josefina's Sin

“A Decent Woman takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of friendship between two strong women set against the backdrop of colonial Puerto Rico of the early 1900s. When former Cuban slave and midwife Ana Belén delivers Serafina Martínez' first child, an unbreakable bond is formed despite the hurricanes nature and politics thrown in their paths. A striking first novel from Eleanor Parker Sapia.”
-Arleen Williams, writer and author of The Alki Trilogy

“It's not only that I enjoyed A Decent Woman as much as Alice Walker's work, there is a quality to her prose. I went back and read an excerpt of The Color Purple to really identify the similarity. The only way I can describe it is that I wanted to read it in gulps. Like when you're really thirsty. I found myself sucked into the world in three or four lines, and galloping through the prose, because reading more made me want to read more.

A Decent Woman embodies the genre of women’s fiction in the most complete sense of the word exploring the lives of women - young and old, dark- and light-skinned, poor and rich. This is an outstanding read and an important book about a little known corner of women’s history.”

-Yma Johnson, short story writer and journalist

“Eleanor Parker Sapia's historical fiction novel, A Decent Woman, steeped in friendship, romance, politics, and mysticism, is the captivating story of Ana Belén's struggle and perseverance to become a Certified Midwife in turn of the century Puerto Rico. Ana’s passions, joys, and plight are shared by midwives everywhere and throughout herstory.

Reading this book was inspiring. I'm sure readers will enjoy A Decent Woman as much as I did.”

-Sarahn Henderson, Midwife and Educator at Birth in the Tradition

"I really enjoyed this novel and particularly enjoyed the characters who I could visualize clearly as I moved along with the story. Eleanor's descriptions really created such a vivid image in my mind, bringing them to life as I read. I was moved by the various events and was even brought to tears at times. I suspect it will be a huge success and certainly one that I will recommend to my circle of family and friends."
-Gina Tsiapalis, Registered Midwife

Official Book Trailer

Eleanor Parker Sapia's Podcast with Upgrade Your Story on BlogTalkRadio

Buy A Decent Woman

About the Author

02_Eleanor Parker Sapia
Puerto Rican-born novelist and painter, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Her passion for travel and adventure combined with her compassion for those in need have led to her careers as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, and a Spanish language social worker and refugee case worker. These life experiences inspire her writing. She facilitates The Artist’s Way creativity groups, and teaches creative writing to children and adults. Eleanor shares her passion for telling stories on her blog, The Writing Life. A Decent Woman is her debut novel. Eleanor has two adventurous and loving grown children, and currently lives in wild and wonderful West Virginia.

For more information please visit Eleanor Parker Sapia's website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Sign up for Eleanor Parker Sapia's Newsletter for news and updates.

To enter to win one of the following four prizes, please complete the giveaway form below.

* Autographed Copy of A Decent Woman

* A Decent Woman eBooks (2)

* $25 Amazon Gift Card


Giveaway starts on March 16th at 12:01am EST and ends at 11:59pm EST on April 6th. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Winners will be chosen via GLEAM on April 7th and notified via email.

Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Please email Amy @ hfvirtualbooktours@gmail.com with any questions.

A Decent Woman Book Blast

Letters to Kezia

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Publication Date: January 14, 2015
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 208
Series: Book Two, The Puritan Chronicles
Genre: Historical Fiction

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9781491755365_COVER.inddIt is 1693 in Hereford, Connecticut, when Mary Case, the spinster daughter of a Puritan minister, finds herself hopelessly smitten by the roguish thief, Daniel Eames. Betrothed to a man she does not like or love, she is soon compelled to help Daniel escape from jail. Suddenly, she finds herself on the run, not only accused of being Daniel's accomplice, but also of murder.

The fugitive pair soon finds solace-and a mutual attraction-among the escapee's Algonquin friends until two men from Daniel's dark past hunt them down. After Mary is captured and returned home to await trial, a tragedy takes the life of her younger sister, revealing a dark secret Mary's father has kept for months. But just as Mary learns she is pregnant, she makes a horrifying discovery about Daniel that changes everything and prompts her to develop an unlikely bond with his mother, Rebecca, who soon saves Mary from a shocking fate. It is not until years later that her daughter, Kezia, finally learns the truth about her biological father and family.

Letters to Kezia shares a courageous woman's journey through a Puritan life and beyond as she struggles with adversity and betrayal, and discovers that loyalty can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.


The strength of this book is in its characters and the relationships between them.  I did not read the first book, but I was very moved by historical personage Rebecca Eames when she eventually appeared in this novel.  She was portrayed as an admirable woman.  I also really liked the protagonist, Mary Case, who was very genuine in her struggle to survive while still trying to be a decent human being. 

Letters to Kezia was a compelling page turner that caused me to stay up well past my bedtime.   I was glad that readers only see brief excerpts from the letters because epistolary novels tend to lack immediacy.  The novel is mostly told as a long flashback.  It's very understandable that Mary was unable to speak about her past.  That's what makes the letters narrative framework necessary.  She couldn't just tell her daughter, Kezia, the story.  It would have been too upsetting emotionally for Mary, and it would also have been harder for Kezia to deal with.  So the narrative format did work for me.

Readers who love dogs may find a couple of scenes in this novel too troubling to read.  There was one scene in particular that I found very cruel from an emotional standpoint to male protagonist Daniel Eakins' loyal dog.  So consider yourselves warned.

I also have to admit that I found all the major plot developments predictable.  There were no surprises for me.   As a reader, it's not always necessary for me to be surprised.  I was invested in the characters, and that carried me through the book.  For the most part, I enjoyed reading Letters to Kezia very much.

I would like to thank Peni Jo Renner for the free copy of this book which I received through this blog tour.


Buy the Book

About the Author
03_Author Peni Jo RennerPENI JO RENNER is the author of the IPPY award-winning novel, Puritan Witch: the Redemption of Rebecca Eames. Originally from North Dakota, Peni now lives with her husband in Maryland where she is currently researching for the third book in the Puritan Chronicles series.

For more information please visit the Puritan Witch Website and Facebook Page. You can also follow Peni Jo Renner on Twitter.

Letters to Kezia Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 9

Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, March 10

Wednesday, March 11

Thursday, March 12

Guest Post at Mythical Books

Friday, March 13

Monday, March 16

Interview at Becky on Books

Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, March 17

Wednesday, March 18

Thursday, March 19

Review at Book Nerd

Interview at Dianne Ascroft Blog

Friday, March 20

Review at 100 Pages a Day

Review & Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Monday, March 23

Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Friday, March 27

Review at Book Babe

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Freaks-- A Steampunk Adventure Written For Children With Unusual Protagonists

There came a point in my life when I stopped worrying about the age of the intended audience for a book.  After all, when it comes to books written for adults my biggest concern is the content.  So if a book contains content that interests me there could be a strong possibility that I would like it even though it was written for young adults or children.   It turned out that I was correct.  Some of my favorite books in previous years were YA novels.  I hadn't found any children's novels that I considered potential favorites until this year.

I am a fan of circus fiction. I recently read and loved Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones, a children's novel about a Victorian circus freak with amazing deductive abilities that allow him to solve mysteries with the help of a girl who is a tightrope walker.   Goodreads told me that people who were interested in Wild Boy also had viewed the page for this  novel,  Freaks by Kieran Larwood, a children's Victorian steampunk science fantasy with a girl protagonist.


The main viewpoint character of this novel is Sheba, the Wolf Girl.  She was sold to a succession of freak shows because she's very hairy, but she also has an unusually keen sense of smell that makes her a superb tracker. As Freaks opens, Sheba doesn't remember a life before freak shows.   She is terribly lonely, and is delighted to join a larger freak show where she has friends her own age.  These are Sister Moon and Monkey Boy.  Sister Moon is Japanese, dresses like a boy and has ninja skills.  My feeling is that the narrow prejudices of Victorian England would have consigned Sister Moon to the fate of a freak to be put on display simply because she's Asian, but her departures from conventional sex roles would have sealed the deal.  Monkey Boy has a tail and is an excellent climber. 

It may occur to readers of this review that these three unusual children would make an impressive team.   Those who are fans of comic books will be delighted to learn that they do. When children from London's poor begin disappearing,  the police aren't interested.  The general public scoffs at the talk of monsters emerging from the muck, and seizing the unwary.  So the members of this freak show become vigilantes whose goals are to discover what happened to the lost children and to rescue them. The group includes adults and animals who make significant contributions.  I particularly liked Mama Rat with her troupe of smart performing rodents.

Anyone who was ever called a "freak" in school is aware of the negative and hurtful connotation of this word.  Some choose to reclaim the word and give it a positive connotation.  Kieran Larwood's decision, despite the title, is to refer to the protagonists as "peculiars".  This seems consistent with the Victorian milieu, and with the English propensity for understatement.  I am comfortable with this choice, though I would also be happy with the main characters discovering that they are proud to identify as "freaks".  I believe that people should be able to call themselves whatever empowers them.

Some of my reviews deal with discussion of genre.  This book definitely belongs to the steampunk sub-genre.  Steampunk fiction takes place in an alternate universe dominated by steam technology.  They usually contain inventions that run on steam and often take place during the Victorian period.  For the overwhelming majority of this book I was convinced that this book was also science fiction, but toward the end of the novel an event occurs that can't be explained by science.  It changed my categorization of Freaks to science fantasy.  This fantasy element also altered my view of Sheba, the protagonist.

I ended up liking the author's set of character drawings with entertaining captions that appears after the text of the novel. I'd imagine that Freaks could be very successful as a graphic novel.

I appreciated the Author's Note dealing with the historical aspect of this book which was illustrated with photographs. The author makes certain that his readers know that a device which was important to the plot of Freaks was entirely fictional even though Larwood credited it to the historical scientist, Michael Faraday within his novel.  As a circus fan, I was particularly interested in the poster of  the "Chinese Goliath", a man who was nearly eight feet tall exhibited by P. T. Barnum.  I wanted to know something about this tall man's life, and found an article from 1893 called The Gentle Giant .
I had to overcome my prejudice against silly names in children's literature in order to enjoy this novel.  Readers will probably infer that I am not a fan of Harry Potter, and you would be quite right in that assumption.  I normally shudder when I encounter characters with names such as Grunchgirdle  and Plumpscuttle, close the book and never read another word between those two covers.   Yet I had become invested enough in Sheba that I needed to know what happened to her.  So I continued reading, and my persistence was rewarded with an engaging and original tale.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus

 The following is a shorter version of my complete review of this book which appeared on Shomeret: Masked Reviewer.  See my complete review here.

When I reviewed Seasons of the Fool by Lynne Cantwell on Amazon and Goodreads, she asked me if I wanted an autographed print copy.  Since my space for print format books is extremely limited, I declined.  Instead I accepted a free digital copy of The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus for review.  After finishing it, I realized that I had some observations to make about the books in this series that were worth a blog entry. 

The central character of this series is lawyer Naomi Witherspoon whose practice focuses on mediation.  Naomi is a very likeable lawyer.  She loves to help people and wants all parties in a case to benefit.  Mediation is more compatible with Naomi's ethos than litigation where there are always winners and losers.

 As the series opens with Seized, Naomi is a mediator for a corporate law firm in Denver.  Her life changes drastically after she attends a sweat lodge run by Ute medicine man Looks Far Guzman.  Looks Far is a remarkably eccentric character who I found delightful, and he has an enduring connection with Naomi.

Unfortunately, there was an element in the sweat lodge ceremony  which was portrayed inaccurately.  I did suspect that Cantwell might have thought that her readers would be uncomfortable with a more authentic description.  Yet later in Annealed Book #5, she didn't flinch from portraying a traditional Lakota Sun Dance which would probably make New Age readers uneasy.  So I'm not  entirely certain why she sanitized a practice of the Native American Church in Seized.

My favorite book in this series was Gravid which is Book #4.  Cantwell is at her best when she is dealing with family, friendships and the spiritual commitments of mortals.  I also liked the way Cantwell deals with both inner conflicts and interpersonal conflicts.  She understands human beings far better than Gods.   The character dynamics in Gravid were wonderful.    I loved the introduction of the journalist, Antonia, who is associated with the Greco-Roman pantheon.  Antonia is a strong woman who knows what she wants and how to get it.  This is also the only book in this series where I thought that all the spiritual/mythical content was well-handled.

After the text of all the novels in The Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus concludes, Cantwell reveals that there will be a new trilogy that is a continuation of this one called Land,Sea,Sky and provides an excerpt of the first one. It is my hope that she will continue to deal with the problems of  complex human characters, their relationships, their spirituality and their paranormal gifts.  If she does bring the Gods and mythology into her work, I hope that she consults multiple sources about them.  Having a more complete picture will improve her portrayals of divine beings and mythological figures.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Witch of Stalingrad by Justine Saracen

The Witch of StalingradI chose this novel to read because of the Night Witches. People who follow this blog will already know who they were--Russian women pilots during WWII who flew at night, relying solely on distance, flight time, and compasses to drop bombs on the invading Germans. They were some of the most remarkable women in aviation history. This novel, however, not only shows us their bravery and determination, but also that of other women. This book is full of amazing, admirable women and I was pleased with each one, from the war correspondent who must fly a plane in battle--something she doesn't expect, to the medics who carry the wounded under fire, to the POWS in camp who huddle around their tied-up comrade to prevent her from freezing to death, this story honors them all.

And while I've read many Russian-themed WWII novels, I still walked away from this book having picked up a few new tidbits about life during the war there, like the fact they painted the Kremlin to look like a row of houses and Lenin's tomb looked like a village cottage.

Honored also in this tale and whom I was pleased to learn about is Marina Raskova, famous navigator who founded the three female air regiments we meet in this book: the Night Witches, the fighters, the dive bombers.

The story is told following two women: an American war correspondent/photographer with a Russian family history and a Night Witch who is actually so much more: a fighter pilot, a POW, a soldier. There is a wonderful romance between them, a very sweet, tasteful romance, none of that insta-love. Their love seems to grow from mutual respect and admiration, as well as physical attraction, and they make the most of the time they have together.

Strange, too, the power of an embrace, when they had only that. In the frigid air and confines of the plane, with gloved hands and heavily padded bodies, no other touch was possible. But for a few moments, the kiss was a pledge, a surrender, the center of the world, the star around which both their lives orbited.

There's food for thought, about politics, love, how we think and how our thoughts change due to the things we experience.

If I have a single complaint, it's that the physical relationship between the women seemed a bit "off". I couldn't help but notice that Alex was always the giver of pleasure and Lilya the receiver and I pondered if this was because of age or something else. But then some people receive pleasure by giving it. Something else the story made me think about.

I give this book five bikes for many reasons. It's informative, thought-evoking, well told and written, entertaining, and honors the bravery of many women. I loved it. And the ending--not ridiculous or far-fetched as some romances tend to be. It was just right.

I received this via Netgalley.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Margo Gorman

Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote Bone and Blood, your novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Readers, here's a blurb:
Bone and Blood: A Berlin NovelBone and Blood opens in Berlin August 2005 as the death of Brigitte's daughter, Katharina brings back memories of her conception in 1945 when Brigitte was imprisoned in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Brigitte has never told her story of the war years but is challenged by Aisling, her great-niece and a student from Dublin, who arrives for the funeral. Aisling takes possession of a collection of unposted letters, written by Brigitte during war, and commandeers a laptop she finds in Katharina's room. She gradually becomes hooked on images conjured up by the letters. They forge a relationship bonded by Brigitte's memories and Aisling's future, and Aisling learns as much about herself as about the past. Bone and Blood is the compelling story of two strong women, their difficult memories and the bonds of love and fear.

Margo: The main character, Brigitte, who arrived in Berlin in 1933 as a young nanny from rural Ireland, started to take shape on a visit to Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women near Berlin. I wanted to write a story that made connections between the many nationalities of women imprisoned there including some Irish women. Bone and Blood centers on the death of Brigitte’s daughter. The story links her experience in the Second World War in Germany and Aisling’s experience of modern Ireland.

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

Margo: With or without a sword, we all have the potential to be heroines of our own story but sometimes we need external impetus from something or someone. When the novel opens, we meet Brigitte as a stubborn old woman. As her story unfolds we realize she has been made strong by her life experience during the Second World War and by the experience of being a single parent in post-war Berlin. Aisling, the young woman who arrives from Dublin for the funeral of Brigitte’s daughter is not at first interested in finding out about Brigitte but she gradually gets hooked on Brigitte’s story and wants to find out more. In the unusual friendship that develops between the two women, Aisling learns as much about herself as she does about Brigitte. The solidarity between them gives Aisling the strength to make radical changes in her life choices.

Tara: Do you see any of yourself in her?

Margo: I see something of myself in both Brigitte and Aisling – an older version of me and a contemporary younger version of me but both of them also developed independently of me. I find that one of the strangest experiences of writing fiction. It starts out as the characters feel like your puppets but, as the story takes over, they become rounded characters with a whole life, they started to pull my strings and teach me more about myself.

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

Margo: I found the experience of Aisling’s life in Dublin the most difficult to write. In Berlin social life, there is more of a mix of ages than there is in Dublin in my experience. So I could observe young people at the live Patrice concerts I went to and could identify with them. Writing about night life for young people in Dublin demanded more imagination. Aisling’s rather sordid affair with an older man was also tricky. There’s a lot of mixed opinion about whether the explicit version of that or the final version which is more implicit is the best representation.

Tara: What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search? (Perhaps something you had no need to put in the book but stayed in your mind nevertheless?)

Margo: When I was researching Ravensbrueck, I visited the camp but I also listened to tapes and read accounts of the direct experience of survivors. One story made a very deep impression. A Polish survivor described how a Gypsy woman tried to escape, and the other women in her block were deprived of food and sleep for days until she was caught. The guards handed her over to the angry women who torn her to pieces. We hear so much of the atrocities committed by the Nazis but we are all capable of atrocity.

Tara: 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?

Margo: Some readers have found it difficult to begin to read Bone and Blood because they are worried the subject matter will upset them but the closer you get to authentic experience of concentration camps, the more you realize how mixed the experience could be at certain times. Readers of Bone and Blood are surprised that there is even humor in such a harsh story.  One of the reassuring and comforting things I learnt was the importance of sharing and solidarity in the moment, supported by past memory are key to survival. These become a weapon against degradation and dehumanisation. Even when the women were really hungry and physically worn out; they shared stories, laughed, drew pictures and swapped recipes. Some readers have said they appreciated the insight into life in Ravensbrueck and in pre and post-war Berlin and like the core message, which is - we are all capable of the worst but when we face reality honestly, we are better equipped to find hope for the future.

Tara: Your book takes place in Berlin. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this city? 

Margo: I have used some of my own favorite places in Berlin in the novel to help ground me in Aisling’s experience. My partner has lived in Berlin for over 30 years so I have exploited his knowledge of the city and he has even compiled a guide for any tourists who want to visit the Berlin in Bone and Blood. Coffee and cake are an important part of the story so I suggest a traditional, German coffee and cake place, Café Buchwald at Moabit Bruecke. You can reach it by walking along the river Spree and it is very close to the President’s palace. Brigitte used to go there with her daughter Katharina. Contact me if you want the full guide!

Tara: Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolutely 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?

Margo: I would go to Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in Lewes in August 1922 and I would sit in their garden with them taking afternoon tea. I am drawn there because Virginia has just finished her third novel, the first really experimental novel, Jacob’s Room. We talk about her ‘finding her voice’ as a writer in this novel. This is also the year James Joyce published Ulysses so a turning point in the history of the novel. We would talk about what makes Jacob’s Room an anti-war novel and about the problems of writing suggestively. We would complain about how misunderstood Jacob’s Room was and is.

Tara: What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Margo: To use my voice and writing to connect to people.

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.

Margo: I’m more of an auntie than a mother. I move around too much to have a pet but my two sisters both have dogs and I relate to them as part of the family. I love the way dogs communicate. I’ve got something about dog’s capacity for communication in the novel I am editing at the moment.

Tara: Thanks for joining us and good luck with your novel!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Unusual Historicals: Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elinor Florence ...

Bird's Eye ViewA title I reviewed previously and loved (see the Q&A we did here, as well as my review) is up for giveaway on Unusual Historicals, one of my favorite blogs. So, you got a chance to win it again! Head on over there and tell them all HOLA!

Unusual Historicals: Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Elinor Florence ...: This week, we're welcoming author Elinor Florence  whose latest title  is  BIRD'S EYE VIEW .  One lucky visitor will get a free copy...

I'm Not Saying I'm Wonder Woman...

I'm just saying saying nobody has ever seen me and Wonder Woman in a room together.

Yea. Seriously.

I found this shirt on Etsy and when it turned out the creator lives here in Utah, I struck up a conversation with her, and of course, I had to buy this shirt. I'm always seeking girl power tee shirts to wear to work. Gotta show those men, you know?

I did a special-order-type thing and got the WW logo on the back. It costs a wee extra but is so worth it.

And no, I'm not being paid for this post, the seller didn't ask me to spread the word, and I didn't get a discount. I'm sharing this because it's cool. What better way to express your inner superheroine?

She's got Super Girl too, if that's more your thing. Check out her shop sometime. She's promised to have some more girl-power stuff in the future, when she has more time. It's a shop to keep an eye on, I think. Her items are thought-evoking (check out the below tote bag), funny, or girl powery.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Reading Radar 3/21/2015

Last week, one of my favorite blogs shared a post of upcoming historical novels featuring strong women... I am excited about some of the titles I found there and encourage you to look at her post for yourself and see the rest.

The Gilded HourThe Gilded Hour by Sara Donati. The international bestselling author of Into the Wildernessmakes her highly anticipated return with a magnificent epic about the transcendent power of courage in 19th-century New York…

The year is 1883, and although young surgeon Anna Savard and her cousin, Sophie, have become successful physicians, they never recovered from the losses they suffered as children. So when Anna encounters a child who’s lost nearly everything, she must decide whether she’s willing to let go of the past and let love into her life. Meanwhile, Sophie’s memories of being left alone in the world propel the young obstetrician to help a desperate mother—and catapult her into the orbit of a very dangerous man.

Vividly drawing on historical events, Sara Donati has written a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves she is an author at the height of her powers.


The Tide Watchers by Lisa Chaplin.

The Tide WatchersIn the tradition of Jennifer Robson, comes this compelling debut that weaves the fascinating story of a young woman who must risk her life as a spy to help stop Napoleon's invasion of Great Britain in the winter of 1803.

Though the daughter of an English baronet, Lisbeth has defied convention by eloping to France with her new husband. But when he breaks her heart by abandoning her, she has nowhere to turn and must work in a local tavern. Her only hope for the future is to be reunited with her young son who is being raised by her mother-in law.

A seasoned spy known by his operatives as Tidewatcher, Duncan apprenticed under Lisbeth's father and pledged to watch over his mentor's only daughter while he searches the Channel region for evidence that Bonaparte has built a fleet to invade Britain. But unpredictable Lisbeth challenges his lifelong habit of distance.

Eccentric, brilliant American inventor Robert Fulton is working on David Bushnell's "turtle"--the first fully submersible ship--when he creates brand-new torpedo technology, which he plans to sell to the French Navy. But when his relationship with Bonaparte sours, he accepts Tidewatcher's help to relocate to the French side of the Channel, but he refuses to share his invention. With an entire army encamped in the region, blocking off all access, Tidewatcher must get that submersible, along with someone who knows how to use it, to uncover Bonaparte's great secret.

When Lisbeth is asked to pose as a housekeeper and charm Fulton so she can learn to use the submersible before the invasion fleet sails, she will be forced to sacrifice herself for her country--but is she willing to sacrifice her heart when she's already lost it to another...?


Spotted on a new-for-me blog called The History Girls that I found from a twitter recommendation. This is releasing this year and is on my wishlist. The Curious Tale of the Lady Caraboo by Catherine Johnson.

The Curious Tale of the Lady CarabooSet in the early nineteenth century, this is incredible story of the ultimate historical hustle, based on the true story of Mary Willcox. After a harrowing street attack, Mary makes a life-changing decision: to become Princess Caraboo. Speaking a language of her own devising, she manages to convince the respected Worrall family that she is just what she claims to be. Language professors, journalists and artists are captivated by Caraboo's beauty and the story that surrounds her. But as her lies get bigger, so too does the risk involved in her deception, and when she begins to fall in love with seventeen-year-old Fred Worrall, Mary realizes that she can't keep up her con forever, and that some stories can be very dangerous indeed...


And this one, spotted on the same blog, caught my eye: Buffalo Soldier by Tanya Landman.
Buffalo Soldier
What kind of a girl steals the clothes from a dead man's back and runs off to join the army?

A desperate one, that's who.

World been turned on its head by that big old war, and the army seemed like the safest place to be, until we was sent off to fight them Indians. And then? Heck! When Death's so close you can smell his breath, ain't nothing makes you feel more alive.


From the same blog a few days later--check out this aviation post!--I discovered what may be a new author for me and Variable Stars by Christina Koning hit the wishlist.
Variable Stars
This is a story of love and astronomy; music and silence; secrets and truth-telling; of world-changing discoveries, and unrequited desire. Moving from York in the 1780s to Regency Bath, and then to Hanover in the 1840s, it concerns the lives of three people-all astronomers. There is Caroline, torn between her passion for music and her passion for the stars; John, deaf from childhood, whose extraordinary mathematical gifts afford him perspectives not available to others; and Edward, friend and mentor to Caroline and to John, who must conceal his innermost feelings from them both. All three find fulfilment in the heavens for the set- backs and disappointments they encounter on earth. All three, in time, come to know the truth about variable stars.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Could A Woman Have Designed the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

Secrets of the TowerHeck yea, she could have, and I love that author Debbie Rix explores and hints at such in her novel, Secrets of the Tower.

I had no idea until I picked this book up that there was so much mystery around just who really designed the tower. I walk away from this story with so much more knowledge about Pisa, Italy, its history and architecture, than I had before.

But despite that awesome premise, I must confess I only made it to 65% before I had to just quit. Truth is, I wasn't enjoying the story. For me to enjoy a story I have to like and relate to its characters and while I could relate to the modern heroine, a wife and mother who has just discovered her husband has been straying yet can't leave him because he's in the hospital recovering from a stroke, I really hated the historical characters. Normally, it's the opposite for me.

While the story was dragging for me already--too much telling, not enough showing--I was actually interested in the modern heroine's research and the fact she was going back to journalism in a way and finding herself all over again, living for herself. But then it got into this historical love triangle between all the people I couldn't stand. Berta is a spoiled and self centered and mean. I can't stand the way she treats people. (The maid and the dress...geez.) I didn't think she deserved any happiness. Her maid Aurelia pines ridiculously for a jerk. And the jerk is the love interest of both of them, wooing, lying, deceiving, cheating.

And I hated them all, so the more the story got into this love triangle, the even more disinterested I became, until I finally no longer cared enough to even find out what became of the modern heroine. It simply wasn't worth it to me, trudging through that nonsense to get to what might be the good stuff.

There's also way too many coincidences. The handsome man just happens to have a father who just happens to have the original documents she needs and she just happens to run into...oh, you get the picture.

I feel the attention to detail was amazing though--about the tower, the houses, the period itself.

This just wasn't for me.

I received this via Netgalley.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Silence: Girl with Dreams of Broadway Loses Hearing & Finds Love

Stella has big dreams, Broadway dreams, and she's been blessed with a great voice. But just when things start to look like they're really happening for her, she goes to party (I don't consider this a spoiler as I KNEW it was going to be a party) and gets hurt. She gets hurt in a manner that takes away her hearing. And while our (deaf people) voices vibrate and we can control our volume for the most part, deafness usually results in tone deafness--I know this. So naturally, Stella fears her dreams have gone down the toilet, and quickly.

And she doesn't know how to do, how to be, anyone besides who she was before.

I appreciated that story line and I could relate, even though my hearing loss was gradual, even though I was able to properly prepare myself, as much as one can for such a circumstance, I got it. The day is happening around me. Not to me.

Stella is only 15, so it's a shock to her. She wallows in self pity for much of the story. I confess this irritated me after a while. I understood it, mind you, but it still irritated me, partly because I couldn't help but see all the advantages she instantly had that certainly weren't available in my day. She instantly has captioning (I didn't get that until my teens. Don't even get me started on how difficult it was to understand the tv until then), a cell phone with text messaging (I was in my twenties), and cochlear implant(s).

And yet, she being 15, she doesn't realize all the things she's lucky to have. This made sense, but doesn't mean I didn't find her attitude a little frustrating.

I must say I appreciate the research the author did into all this. I think teenagers will learn a lot from this book and perhaps see the everyday things they take for granted.

And then a boy vows to show Stella in 17 days how she can live with her new disability, that she can still be happy and do things. And with this comes new insight and growth. I thought I knew who I was. But I was limiting myself to being one thing. Defining myself by my talent. There's more to me than that. More I can give. More I can share.

The author tackled a lot of things in this story: abuse, trauma, hearing loss, anxiety, divorce, stuttering. And her writing is beautiful. It's really too beautiful though, nearly poetic. And while this prose would be fabulous in literary fiction or poetry, it seemed out of place in a young adult book.

The tightness in my chest begins to loosen like a rosebud beginning to bloom in the sun. Petals slowly open.

I don't know many people--adults or teenagers--who sit there and think in metaphors like that. And it got to be a lot, so much that I began to skim at points.

I love that this heroine isn't just cured. Too often when deaf heroines are tackled, it seems they can't have happy endings without suddenly being cured, like you can't be deaf/HoH and have a happy ending-an insult, really. I love the cochlear implant story line but at the same time I feel a great educational opportunity was squandered, as not much time was spent on them. What does she notice after they're implanted? What's it feel like? What's in there exactly? And I'm confused as to the one bandage when she was deaf on both sides. They only go in one side? More details would have been appreciated.

The romance was a over dramatic, their feelings for each other a bit over the top, but they are fifteen and at that age, everything is over dramatic. At times, however, they said things way advanced for their ages. And to be perfectly honest, it's easier to read lips when people speak normally. I can't say I really bought the "I only understand him because he stutters" thing, because as a lipreader, I can say that would make it harder.

But all in all, it's worth the read. It should be on every teenager's to read list this year.

I received a digital ARC of this via Netgalley.