Friday, April 29, 2016

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Dark Lady's Mask by Mary Sharratt

Please join me in welcoming Mary Sharratt to Let Them Read Books! Mary is touring the blogosphere with her new novel, The Dark Lady's Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare's Muse, and she's here today with an awesome guest post about America's love for Renaissance fairs and our quest to recreate Merry England. Read on and enter to win a copy of The Dark Lady's Mask!

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

American Renaissance Festivals and the Yearning for Merry England
by Mary Sharratt

When I was a student in the 1980s, I spent my late summer weekends in another realm. Donning a green gown I had sewn myself, I became a Renaissance woman, or a low-budget facsimile thereof, my cheap, silver-plated goblet hanging from my belt to save me from the indignity of drinking from a paper cup.

For three summers from 1983 to 1985, I was a performer at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, in those days a much more low-key and grassroots affair than it is today. My character was a historically inaccurate hybrid between a village minstrel and a faery queen out of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  (I was trying very hard to channel Stevie Nicks.) I even spoke in a fake British accent, largely informed by Monty Python.

For the most part, I was unpaid, although I did earn minimum wage the summer I worked in the information booth. This involved giving directions and handing out site maps. The most exciting part was when some unsuspecting person asked the way to the restroom.

Leaping out from behind the counter, I’d grab my victim’s arm and race off, hell for leather, with them in tow. “Make way!” I’d yell, compelling the crowd to part for us. “Privy run!”

After depositing the blushing and winded individual in front of the plastic Portalet, I’d dash back to the information booth. As minimum-wage jobs went, it was far more amusing than fast food.
When I wasn’t working at the information booth, I played Elizabethan music on my violin, but this proved far less interesting for the paying crowd. The most enthusiasm I could drum up was some drunk guy asking me to play Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”

I soon learned to leave the violin at home and focus on street theatre, which is what most people seemed to be coming for. Having my picture taken with festival goers’ children who thought my dress was pretty. Joining my fellow peasants under an oak tree in the late afternoon. Sitting in the grass with floral garlands in our hair, we would sing ballads of such yearning that they would transport us to another time and place. This transpired late afternoon when everything seemed suffused in golden light. Such pastoral bliss! As a Reagan-era teenager, this was the closest I ever got to the Woodstock experience.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Review: Secrets of a Soprano by Miranda Neville

From the Back Cover:

Teresa Foscari, Europe’s most famous opera singer, comes to London to make a fresh start and find her long lost English family. Her peerless voice thrills everyone—except Maximilian Hawthorne, Viscount Allerton, the wealthy owner of a rival opera house. Notorious Teresa Foscari is none other than Tessa, the innocent girl who broke his youthful heart. Yet Max still wants her, like no other woman.

Amidst backstage intrigue and the sumptuous soirées of fashionable London, the couple’s rivalry explodes in bitter accusations and smashed china. Tessa must fight for her career—and resist her attraction to Max, the man she once loved and who now holds the power to destroy her.

My Thoughts:

I'd long been wanting to read a Miranda Neville novel, and when I saw the description of Secrets of a Soprano, I knew it was the one to start with. I like reading about the Regency period, but after a while Regency romances tend to start getting repetitive, so I'm always looking for something different. A romance featuring an opera singer and a theater owner? Yes, please!

When opera aficionado Max Hawthorne finally gets to see famed soprano La Divina sing, he knows instantly that she is none other than the woman who broke his heart ten years earlier. But how can he reconcile this worldly, widowed diva, rumored to have been mistress to a Russian tsar and Napoleon, with the innocent young singer he fell in love with on his grand tour? Regardless, he simply must find a way to lure her away from his competition and sign her to his new theater. After an unpleasant reunion, he uses the power of rumor to achieve his goal, but it quickly takes on a life of its own and does far more harm than he anticipated. Putting aside old hurts and still-burning passion proves hard to do when he realizes "La Divina" is a carefully cultivated facade, and she is still the girl he loved and lost, but has his betrayal cost him his only chance at real happiness?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

From the Back Cover:

Bound for a new continent, and a new beginning.

In her illuminating debut novel, Aimie K. Runyan masterfully blends fact and fiction to explore the founding of New France through the experiences of three young women who, in 1667, answer Louis XIV’s call and journey to the Canadian colony.

They are known as the filles du roi, or “King’s Daughters”—young women who leave prosperous France for an uncertain future across the Atlantic. Their duty is to marry and bring forth a new generation of loyal citizens. Each prospective bride has her reason for leaving—poverty, family rejection, a broken engagement. Despite their different backgrounds, Rose, Nicole, and Elisabeth all believe that marriage to a stranger is their best, perhaps only, chance of happiness.

Once in Quebec, Elisabeth quickly accepts baker Gilbert Beaumont, who wants a business partner as well as a wife. Nicole, a farmer’s daughter from Rouen, marries a charming officer who promises comfort and security. Scarred by her traumatic past, Rose decides to take holy vows rather than marry. Yet no matter how carefully she chooses, each will be tested by hardship and heartbreaking loss—and sustained by the strength found in their uncommon friendship, and the precarious freedom offered by their new home.

My Thoughts:

I've read a few novels set in French Canada, or New France, as it was known back then, and it's a setting that really appeals to me, so I was looking forward to Promised to the Crown, especially since the focus is on the little-known story of the courageous women who ventured into the unknown to settle the colony for their king.

The story follows Rose as she decides to leave behind a life of service in a charity hospital in Paris for the chance of a brighter future, and Elisabeth and Nicole, two women she meets on the ocean crossing. All three settle in Quebec City and have each other to rely on as they establish their new lives. They and their fellow brides have no shortage of suitors to choose from, and Elisabeth and Nicole are soon paired off with young men who appeal to their hearts as well as their practical needs. But Rose is not as fortunate, realizing that she doesn't really want to be a wife and mother, and she contemplates a life devoted to God. Over the course of the next seven years, Rose, Elisabeth, and Nicole forge new paths for themselves. Far from their families, they form new ones, both with their husbands and with each other. Though they will face adversity, tragedy, and disaster, the strength of their friendship remains a constant in a shifting new world.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway with Ashley Hay, Author of The Railwayman's Wife

Please join me in welcoming Ashley Hay to Let Them Read Books! Ashley is touring the blogosphere with her new novel, The Railwayman's Wife, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about writing this award-winning novel of love and loss in post-war Australia. Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of The Railwayman's Wife!

Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel.

When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story.

But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves.

The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.

Hi Ashley! Welcome to Let Them Read Books! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today.

Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration for The Railwayman's Wife? How did the seeds of the story first take root?

I grew up on that piece of Australian coast, on the southern coast of New South Wales, near Thirroul–in the next town up, Austinmer – and had always wanted to set a story in its landscape; it's a pretty stunning combination of ocean and escarpment.

The story of the railwayman dying in an accident at work, and his wife being given the job of the railway institute librarian, was inspired by that of my grandparents; my father's father was killed in an shunting accident back in the 1950s. I'd also always been interested in trying to imagine a new version of that set of events, and when I sat down to begin, I found that the story belonged naturally in the place where it had happened, which was in and around Thirroul.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spotlight + Giveaway: Death Sits Down to Dinner by Tessa Arlen

Death Sits Down to Dinner
(Lady Montfort Mystery #2)
by Tessa Arlen

Publication Date: March 29, 2016
Minotaur Books
Hardcover & Ebook; 320 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery

Filled with deceptions both real and imagined, Death Sits Down to Dinner is a delightful Edwardian mystery set in London.

Lady Montfort is thrilled to receive an invitation to a dinner party hosted by her close friend Hermione Kingsley, the patroness of England’s largest charity. Hermione has pulled together a select gathering to celebrate Winston Churchill’s 39th birthday. Some of the oldest families in the country have gathered to toast the dangerously ambitious and utterly charming First Lord of the Admiralty. But when the dinner ends, one of the gentlemen remains seated at the table, head down among the walnut shells littering the cloth and a knife between his ribs.

Summoned from Iyntwood, Mrs. Jackson helps her mistress trace the steps of suspects both upstairs and downstairs as Hermione’s household prepares to host a highly anticipated charity event. Determined to get to the bottom of things, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson unravel the web of secrecy surrounding the bright whirlwind of London society, investigating the rich, well-connected and seeming do-gooders in a race against time to stop the murderer from striking again.

Advance Praise:

“Despite Clementine’s luxurious lifestyle, she’s got a head on her shoulders . . .and is as cagey as she is charming. A neatly crafted whodunit dripping with diamonds, titles and scandal . . .” -Kirkus Reviews

“The close, mutually respectful partnership between Clementine and Edith will remind Dorothy Sayers’s fans of the relationship between Lord Peter Wimsey and Bunter, his manservant. Arlen does a good job of depicting a period when class distinctions have become blurred by new money and more-relaxed manners. The plot, which includes a slew of red herrings, builds to a startling denouement.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“VERDICT Real-life Edwardian personalities abound in this period historical, and the upstairs/downstairs focus delivers a clash of temperaments. This title is bound to appeal to fans of historicals set in this period and of such authors as Rhys Bowen and Ashley Weaver.” -Library Journal


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Spotlight + Giveaway: Midnight in Berlin by James MacManus

Midnight in Berlin
by James MacManus

On Sale April 19, 2016
Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover, eBook; 414 pages

In 1939, British Colonel Noel Macrae, stationed in Berlin and witness to the rise of the Reich, decides that he might be the only Englishman with the opportunity to avert war. As he attempts to convince the British government of his mission, the colonel becomes torn between his government's orders and his own personal beliefs, especially as he falls in love with a German-Jewish woman. Blackmailed by the Nazis, the woman and her family have faced unspeakable horrors, and the colonel must do whatever it takes to help her escape.

But the colonel doesn't know that the Gestapo have formed a plan of their own. Aware of the colonel's intense hatred of the Nazi regime, the Gestapo work to draw him into a fabricated plot against Hitler. As the colonel finds himself caught up in a tangled web of shifting loyalties, corruption, and shocking indifference, he soon realizes he must find a way to hold on to his sense of humanity to save not only the woman he loves but also himself.

Inspired by true events and characters, James MacManus's Midnight in Berlin is a love story set against a world on the brink of war that will leave you in awe of the human capacity for self-sacrifice and resilience.

Praise for Midnight in Berlin:

“As pacey as any modern thriller but with a touch of the Edwardian adventure yarn. … Midnight in Berlin is a vivid portrait of an entire city in turmoil, seething with intrigue and danger.”―The Times

“A fascinating novel. … An intriguing and highly recommended book.” ―Country Life

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Review: At the Edge of Summer by Jessica Brockmole

From the Back Cover:

The acclaimed author of Letters from Skye returns with an extraordinary story of a friendship born of proximity but boundless in the face of separation and war.

Luc Crépet is accustomed to his mother’s bringing wounded creatures to their idyllic château in the French countryside, where healing comes naturally amid the lush wildflowers and crumbling stone walls. Yet his maman’s newest project is the most surprising: a fifteen-year-old Scottish girl grieving over her parents’ fate. A curious child with an artistic soul, Clare Ross finds solace in her connection to Luc, and she in turn inspires him in ways he never thought possible. Then, just as suddenly as Clare arrives, she is gone, whisked away by her grandfather to the farthest reaches of the globe. Devastated by her departure, Luc begins to write letters to Clare—and, even as she moves from Portugal to Africa and beyond, the memory of the summer they shared keeps her grounded.

Years later, in the wake of World War I, Clare, now an artist, returns to France to help create facial prostheses for wounded soldiers. One of the wary veterans who comes to the studio seems familiar, and as his mask takes shape beneath her fingers, she recognizes Luc. But is this soldier, made bitter by battle and betrayal, the same boy who once wrote her wistful letters from Paris? After war and so many years apart, can Clare and Luc recapture how they felt at the edge of that long-ago summer?

Bringing to life two unforgettable characters and the rich historical period they inhabit, Jessica Brockmole shows how love and forgiveness can redeem us.

My Thoughts:

I read Jessica Brockmole's contribution to the anthology Fall of Poppies earlier this year, and her story, "Something Worth Landing For," was one of my favorites. Another story in the collection introduced me to Anna Coleman Ladd and her Paris studio for disfigured soldiers, so when I saw Jessica's new book featured the studio, I wanted to read it even more.

The story begins in 1911 when fifteen-year-old Clare Ross is whisked away to a crumbling French chateau after the death of her father. The Crepets and the Rosses are longtime friends, though as Clare will learn, that relationship has not been without its troubles, and most of them are due to her mother, who abandoned Clare and her father years earlier. Feeling lost and unloved, and assaulted by the colors and lifestyle so different than Scotland, she wonders if she'll ever find a place where she belongs. But things start looking up when the Crepets' son, Luc, comes home from school. The two form a fast friendship and spend a summer exploring the countryside around them, exploring their artistic abilities--since both come from a family of artists, this comes naturally--and exploring the uncharted waters of first love. But their idyllic summer cannot last as outside influences encroach, and eventually Clare's globe-trotting grandfather arrives to take charge of his ward, and she leaves France, and Luc, behind.