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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spotlight: "From Unseen Fire" by Cass Morris

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic. 

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people -- if only she can find the courage to try.

Her siblings--a widow who conceals a canny political mind in the guise of a frivolous socialite, a young prophetess learning to navigate a treacherous world, and a military tribune leading a dangerous expedition in the province of Iberia--will be her allies as she builds a place for herself in this new world, against the objections of their father, her husband, and the strictures of Aventan society.
Latona's path intersects with that of Sempronius Tarren, an ambitious senator harboring a dangerous secret. Sacred law dictates that no mage may hold high office, but Sempronius, a Shadow mage who has kept his abilities a life-long secret, intends to do just that. As rebellion brews in the provinces, Sempronius must outwit the ruthless leader of the opposing Senate faction to claim the political and military power he needs to secure a glorious future for Aven and his own place in history.

As politics draw them together and romance blossoms between them, Latona and Sempronius will use wit, charm, and magic to shape Aven's fate. But when their foes resort to brutal violence and foul sorcery, will their efforts be enough to save the Republic they love? 

About Cass Morris
Cass Morris lives and works in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with the companionship of two royal felines, Princess and Ptolemy. She completed her Master of Letters at Mary Baldwin University in 2010, and she earned her undergraduate degree, a BA in English with a minor in history, from the College of William and Mary in 2007. She reads voraciously, wears corsets voluntarily, and will beat you at MarioKart. Find out more about Cass Morris online at

1 How did you go about researching the setting for FROM UNSEEN FIRE? Did you travel?
I looked at so. many. maps. Which was great! I love cartography. It’s shockingly difficult to find maps of Rome from the Republic era, though; almost everything is Imperial, because so much of the Forum was destroyed and rebuilt over time, so archaeology has a much easier time figuring out what it looked like in, say, 300 CE than 30 BCE. I also scoured the internet for every picture of reconstructions I could find -- the Getty Villa has some gorgeous images of a reconstructed Roman country house, interior and exterior, and there are a surprising number of Roman legion re-enactment groups. And yes, I did travel. I’d been to Rome once before, as a teenager, and in 2016 I was lucky enough to be able to go back. There’s nothing quite like walking the very hills and streets your characters would have!

2.What was the value of firsthand site research?
One of the things I most wanted to bring across in From Unseen Fire was the sense of an active, bustling, diverse city, and taking a research trip to Rome really helped me envision the ancient city as it would have been. So much is still the same, from the pathways of major roads to the open-air markets that flourish in every piazza. My favorite part was walking home from Trastevere (which the Romans/Aventans would know as Transtiberium or the Janiculan Hill, on the far side of the river from the main city) after dinner one night and discovering a night market happening on the banks of the Tiber. Bright lights, colorful tents and stalls, wine sellers plying their wares, musicians playing festive tunes -- It was not hard at all to feel like I was having a very similar experience to one I could’ve had two thousand years ago.

3.Did you find inspiration in crafting the politics of FROM UNSEEN FIRE from the current political climate? If so, how?
I sort of feel like no one’s going to believe me when I say that no character in the Aven Cycle was meant to be an analog for anyone involved with the 2016 presidential election or its fallout, but it’s true! This was all written long before that, and I was thinking of Tiberius Gracchus and Julius Caesar and Cato while I was writing, not any modern political figures. If anything, I was probably more directly inspired by the economic tensions that underpinned the 2012 campaign cycle, since that’s when I was doing most of my drafting. There are a lot of echoes, though, because the socio-political issues of today are nothing new. The Roman Senate had some of the very same arguments that the US Senate does. Nothing in From Unseen Fire is meant to be an allegory, but I do hope that the political discussions the characters have some resonance and perhaps get readers thinking about how civilizations throughout time, including our own, wrestle with these problems.

4.When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I’ve been a natural storyteller and a lover of books for as long as I’ve known what words were, but I can remember, clearly, the first moment I knew that creating worlds was what I wanted to do with my life. It was January, 1997. I was eleven years old, sitting in a movie theatre with a sticky floor, having just seen Star Wars for the first time. I was in utter awe. And I thought, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I don’t know that I even knew what I meant by that at the time, whether writing books or working on movies or some other way of building worlds. That moment, though, was absolutely when I realized that I wanted to spend my life shaping universes that other people could both lose and find themselves in. I’ve been working towards that ever since.

5. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I spend a lot of time reading, cuddling my cats, and playing MarioKart. I love to travel, though I don’t get as much chance for it as I’d like, so I make up for that with day trips whenever I can. Virginia’s vineyards and cideries are excellent for that -- always in beautiful locations, perfect for a relaxing day off. I also love attending conventions and conferences, and I’ve worked to staff a couple. My other major creative outlets are tabletop gaming and embroidery.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

Title: The Italian Party
Author: Christina Lynch
Format: ARC
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publish Date: March 20, 2018 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany's famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie's Italian teacher--a teenager with secrets of his own--disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael's dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth."

My Two Cents:

"The Italian Party" is a multi-faceted story about Michael and Scottie, a young American couple who plan to honeymoon in Italy, which is still getting over World War II at the time. After a honeymoon, they will settle in Italy while Michael sets up a store to sell tractors to the Italian farmers. On the surface, it seems idyllic but Michael and Scottie are both hiding a multitude of things that threaten to upend their marriage. 

This book had so much going for it! Our main characters, Michael and Scottie, are great. Both of them are trying to come to terms with who they are. To some degree, Michael is hiding much more. He's hiding his employment. He's hiding what brought them to Italy. He's trying to hide his lifestyle. It was fascinating to see how both of the characters deal with these things in very different ways.

Another thing the book had going for it I don't think I could ever tire of reading about Italy. I especially loved reading about Italy in the 1950s as I don't think that I have read much about the rebuilding of the country after World War II. The historical detail that the author weaves in is really good and really helped make it easy to picture Michael and Scottie's new world. I don't want to give anything away but the parts about how Michael's personal life affected his public life was especially gripping and disheartening!

And I have to mention the food. Oh, the food! The food is so not supposed to be the focus of this book and the story line can definitely hold it's own against the food but I have to mention it. The descriptions of the lunches and dinners in this book are just want you want descriptions of really delicious food to be!

Overall, this was a great story!

Monday, March 19, 2018

Review: Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh

Title: Let Me Lie
Author: Clare Mackintosh
Format: ARC
Publisher: Berkley,
Publish Date: March 13, 2018
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "Two years ago, Tom and Caroline Johnson committed suicide, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their adult daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents’ deaths, unable to comprehend why they chose to end their lives. Now with a young baby herself, she feels her mother’s presence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as Anna digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her. She soon learns that nothing is as it seemed."

My Two Cents:

In "Let Me Lie," Anna believes that she lost both of her parents to suicide with a few months between them. When mysterious things start happening, Anna believes that perhaps it wasn't suicide that took her parents but something completely different. This book is a thriller but has a very slow burn. It took me awhile to get into this one but if you hang in there, you'll be rewarded with an exciting second half of the book that keeps you on your toes.

I have enjoyed Mackintosh's other two books so I wanted to see what this one was like. It started much slower than the other two books and was dragging for me. It very slowly started to pick up and then was off like a flash once you figure out what happened to Anna's mother. I was so glad I hung in there. Once I hit that point, I couldn't stop reading. It was wonderful! 

Part of the problem that I had is that our main character, Anna, mostly seems to only be the vessel for the story. I wanted to know more about her and what kind of person she was. You don't really get that throughout the book as the book is more focused on the mystery. I wanted to know a little more about her and how she grew up in light of what we find out about her parents.

Overall, this was a good story; it just took a little while to heat up!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review: Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World by Mackenzi Lee (Goodreads Author), Petra Eriksson (Illustrations)

Title: Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World
Authors: Mackenzi Lee (Goodreads Author), Petra Eriksson (Illustrations) 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Abrams Books
Publish Date: February 27, 2018
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Based on Mackenzi Lee’s popular weekly Twitter series of the same name, Bygone Badass Broads features 52 remarkable and forgotten trailblazing women from all over the world. With tales of heroism and cunning, in-depth bios and witty storytelling, Bygone Badass Broads gives new life to these historic female pioneers. Starting in the fifth century BC and continuing to the present, the book takes a closer look at bold and inspiring women who dared to step outside the traditional gender roles of their time. Coupled with riveting illustrations and Lee’s humorous and conversational storytelling style, this book is an outright celebration of the badass women who paved the way for the rest of us."

My Two Cents:

Here's another great pick for Women's History Month: "Bygone Badass Broads." Not only does this book have a fabulous title but it has a great premise. Author Mackenzi Lee started a feature on Twitter to talk about all of these fantastic women from history that many don't know much (or anything!!!) about. History unfortunately has focused on white men. Lee is trying to get the stories of the amazing women that came before us out into the world and this book helps her do that!

I love history but am always very frustrated how one-sided it is. There are so many people out there that did wonderful things but because of what they were or who they were, we know very little about them and you won't find them in a standard history class. It's sad but luckily there are books like this one that want to change that. This book covers the gamut of politicians, inventors, rabble rousers, and many more who contributed something awesome to this world we live in.

Lee doesn't give us a boring account of facts and figures. No, she gives readers thoroughly entertaining and memorable stories. I found myself wondering over and over again about why the women in this book weren't more well known. I also found myself appreciating that there are people out there who want to spread the word about them!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Giveaway Winners!

I have two giveaway winners to announce today! 

Pitch Perfect 3:

The Child:

Congratulations again!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Title: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.
Authors: Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland 
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: June 13, 2017
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "When Melisande Stokes, an expert in linguistics and languages, accidently meets military intelligence operator Tristan Lyons in a hallway at Harvard University, it is the beginning of a chain of events that will alter their lives and human history itself. The young man from a shadowy government entity approaches Mel, a low-level faculty member, with an incredible offer. The only condition: she must sign a nondisclosure agreement in return for the rather large sum of money.

Tristan needs Mel to translate some very old documents, which, if authentic, are earth-shattering. They prove that magic actually existed and was practiced for centuries. But the arrival of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment weakened its power and endangered its practitioners. Magic stopped working altogether in 1851, at the time of the Great Exhibition at London’s Crystal Palace—the world’s fair celebrating the rise of industrial technology and commerce. Something about the modern world "jams" the "frequencies" used by magic, and it’s up to Tristan to find out why.

And so the Department of Diachronic Operations—D.O.D.O. —gets cracking on its real mission: to develop a device that can bring magic back, and send Diachronic Operatives back in time to keep it alive . . . and meddle with a little history at the same time. But while Tristan and his expanding operation master the science and build the technology, they overlook the mercurial—and treacherous—nature of the human heart."

My Two Cents:

So if you have been following my blog, some of you may know about one of my 2018 challenges, which was to read the favorite books of some of my friends. I am so happy that I am doing this challenge for books like this one. This book was suggested by my friend and a good author, Tinney Heath. I might have never come across it otherwise!

Imagine that instead of magic not being real, that it used to be real but now it has gone extinct. Imagine the U.S. government had a whole agency devoted to time traveling in order to figure out what happened to the magic and how to bring it back in the world. That is what this book is about. It's a perfect blend of sci-fi with some great historical fiction detail that pulls together so many of my interests in one hefty novel that I still didn't want to end even after over 750 pages.

In this book, we meet a ancient language linguist, Melisandre, and a military intel ops guy, Tristan, are thrown together by this super secretive agency. Melisandre doesn't get the full picture at first but she very quickly sees how her linguistic skills will be used by this agency. Tristan is excited about his new ventures. The main characters are great but there is a whole cast of secondary characters (witches from history and lots of stodgy military guys who are the complete opposite of the freewheeling witches).

Not only is the story good but it's dramatic and funny and kept me reading. Particularly some of the sections about the bureaucratic nonsense that rules the day at this agency for a seemingly silly bit of work. There were a couple parts about the bureaucrazy (ahem, cracy) that had me laughing out loud. I also liked how the authors explained how things worked when the past changes. This was a very original story line and I really enjoyed this read!


Monday, March 12, 2018

Review: Babylon Berlin by Volker Kutscher

Title: Babylon Berlin
Author: Volker Kutscher
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Picador USA
Publish Date: 2007 (originally published)

Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "It’s the year 1929 and Berlin is the vibrating metropolis of post-war Germany – full of bars and brothels and dissatisfied workers at the point of revolt. The strangest things happen here and the vice squad has its hands full. Gereon Rath is new in town and new to the department. Back in Cologne he was with the homicide department before he had to leave the city after firing a fatal shot.

When a dead man without an identity, bearing traces of atrocious torture, is discovered, Rath sees a chance to find his way back into the homicide division. He discovers a connection with a circle of oppositional exiled Russians who try to purchase arms with smuggled gold in order to prepare a coup d’état. But there are other people trying to get hold of the gold and the guns, too. Raths finds himself up against paramilitaries and organized criminals. He falls in love with Charlotte, a typist in the homicide squad, and misuses her insider’s knowledge for his personal investigations. He gets entangled in the case more and more, dirtying his hands and eventually ending up as a suspect himself.

Volker Kutscher tells the story of a lonely and fiercely determined inspector in a city which, in all its restlessness and hedonism, appears to be astonishingly modern – and whose fate is already traced out."

My Two Cents:

"Babylon Berlin" is the first book in a series about Gereon Rath, a man who finds himself in the big city of Berlin after coming from a smaller city where he had to leave the police department in disgrace. He's looking to turn around his life in a new place: Berlin. There is so much going on in Berlin at this time (late 1920s). It's the time of the Weimar Republic and the crimes that take place there threaten to wrap up even those fighting for justice like Gereon. Will Gereon end up disgraced again?

I have been thoroughly enjoying watching "Babylon Berlin" on Netflix. It's an exciting show with a lot of gorgeous detail that transports you to Berlin. I was excited to see how the book stacked up with the miniseries. While there are some differences, the feeling between the miniseries and the book are the same. The miniseries is a little more glitzy, while still capturing the grittiness that weaves its way throughout the book. There are other differences in the story lines but I don't want to give anything away!

Gereon Rath is a great character. He is the kind of fallen hero that we all like to root for but he also has a lot of demons. He is flawed but you still want things to turn out okay for him. He goes through so much throughout the book and really grows and changes. It will be interesting to see where the future books take him.

I loved the setting! I don't know very much about the Weimar Republic years as they seem to largely set up for some of the later chaos wrought on Germany by the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. I thought that the author did a great job of capturing everything that was going on.

The writing was good. It did get bogged down in a few places and I can't tell if it was the story or the way things were translated. The plot moves fairly well for the most part though. Overall, this was a pretty good story!

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