Friday, May 31, 2013

Armchair BEA: Ethics and Non-Fiction In All Its Forms


I think one of the biggest duties that a book blogger has to their audience is to be honest in all aspects. Ethics come into play here.

There are a couple things I do to keep myself on the straight and narrow:
  •  I will tell you if I bought it, borrowed it from the library, or received it from someone. 
  • When I accept books for review, I make sure that I tell whoever is giving me the book that my review will be honest and that may mean that I say that I didn't like the book.
  • I will not review a book if I have not finished it because that is not fair to my readers.
  • I never accept reviews for payment as it could create a bias.
These are fairly simple things to do but they are so important in the long run!


Today we are talking about our love for non-fiction books! I love non-fiction books. One of the big reasons that I read is to learn something. I love non-fiction in so many different subjects but some of my favorites are in history, politics, memoirs, and biographies.

One non-fiction book that I am especially looking forward to reading is (and I just picked it up from the library):

Here's a couple of good non-fiction books that I've read lately:

Do you read non-fiction? What are your favorite kinds of non-fiction?

Review: Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith

Title: Royal Mistress
Author: Anne Easter Smith
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Touchstone
Publish Date: May 7, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From "Jane Lambert, the quick-witted and alluring daughter of a silk merchant, is twenty-two and still unmarried. When Jane’s father finally finds her a match, she’s married off to the dull, older silk merchant William Shore—but her heart belongs to another. Marriage doesn’t stop Jane Shore from flirtation, however, and when the king’s chamberlain and friend, Will Hastings, comes to her husband’s shop, Will knows his King will find her irresistible.

Edward IV has everything: power, majestic bearing, superior military leadership, a sensual nature, and charisma. And with Jane as his mistress, he also finds true happiness. But when his hedonistic tendencies get in the way of being the strong leader England needs, his life, as well as that of Jane Shore and Will Hastings, hang in the balance.

This dramatic tale has been an inspiration to poets and playwrights for 500 years, and told through the unique perspective of a woman plucked from obscurity and thrust into a life of notoriety, Royal Mistress is sure to enthrall today’s historical fiction lovers as well."

My Two Cents:

"Royal Mistress" is the story of Jane Lambert (aka Jane Shore) who becomes Edward IV's mistress. Sometimes I get complacent with reading about palace intrigue and royal courts but it's books like this that remind me how much I really enjoy this kind of historical fiction. I found the love affair between Jane and Edward to be really fascinating. Edward IV by himself is very interesting to me and I loved being able to see his reign through this book. The affair with Jane only adds another layer of very interest and intrigue.

I really liked Jane's character and she made this book especially interesting. She goes after what she wants. She doesn't seem to think about consequences but I still enjoyed reading about her. I thought she was a really well written character.

This is the second book that I have read by Smith (the first was Queen By Right) and in that book as well as "Royal Mistress," I really enjoyed how much research and care she put into the book. The interactions between all of the characters are very realistic. I think that this really, really helps to pull the reader into the book.

This book will definitely appeal to historical fiction lovers who are looking for a book that is packed full of details and story lines with a side of salacious drama. 


Thursday, May 30, 2013

ArmchairBEA: Literary Fiction

Literary fiction: what a loaded term! Oh, boy! What does that even mean? Literary fiction seems to be one of those bookish terms that is quite nebulous.

It's kind of like this.
In looking up the definition on handy, dandy Wikipedia, it states that literary fiction must be "serious" and have critical acclaim. Oh, genre fiction is not supposed to count.

Who gets to decide what's serious? Critical acclaim is at least a little more tangible but what critical acclaim counts. Do you have to win an award? Do certain critics have to love the book and appreciate its amazingness? But genre fiction doesn't count? What??? So yesterday, I was talking about my favorite genre, historical fiction. Now some of the books are pretty serious and I see them as fitting into the literary fiction realm but according to definition, they don't get to count.

It's just kind of crazy to me that you would leave books out because of their genre. Certainly there are some genres that are not prone to serious-ness or critical claim but there are genre books out there that are fantastically literary. What about them?

Anyhow, can you all tell that I have an issue with this book designation?

What say you?

Review and Guest Post: Jack Absolute by C.C. Humphreys

Title: Jack Absolute
Author: C.C. Humphreys
Format: ARC
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: May 7, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like adventure.
What's the Story?:

From "In 1777 Jack Absolute, the charming lover in Sheridan's comedy The Rivals, is famous throughout London. However, this notoriety comes as something of a shock to the real Jack Absolute when he arrives in England after four months at sea. But there's barely time for outrage before he finds himself dueling for his life. Even worse, as soon as he's won the duel he's forced to flee London by the quickest means possible, becoming a spy in America's war of Independence.
Thus we meet Jack Absolute - rogue, duellist, charmer and Captain in the Light Dragoons. From the field of honor in London through the pivotal battle of Saratoga to a hunt for a double agent in wintry Philadelphia, this novel marks the impressive debut of this new series."

My Two Cents:

"Jack Absolute" is the story of the title character who is thought to be dead by his playwriter buddy who, of course, writes a play with him as a title character. Much to Jack's surprise, he comes back to London to find that his name is intrisically linked with this play. This is the first book in a series that is being re-released by Sourcebooks.

As an aside, the play, "Jack Absolute," is still put on today. In fact, the author, C.C. Humphreys actually played Jack Absolute in the play back in the 1980s so the character is very near and dear to his heart. This was very cool to me. What better way to get to know your character than to actually play him in a play??? I think this fact really helped Humphreys breathe a ton of life, vim, and vigor into the character of Mr. Absolute.

The historical detail in the book was really great. This book takes you from London to the new world. As Humphreys himself puts it, Absolute is the 007 of the 1700s. This book is perfect for when you want your historical fiction action packed. I really enjoyed the book once it moved to the new world where Absolute begins to work his spying magic; that part definitely made me keep reading!

Guest Post:

In several ways, of course, my research for this novel began long before I became a novelist. I was simply an actor then (though perhaps always with dreams of more!) and was cast to play the role of Jack Absolute in Sheridan’s 18 Rivals’.

I loved the part – I mean, give me thigh boots and a sword and I’m your man! Beyond the period, the style, the humour, though – I so enjoy playing comedy! – I truly felt I got into the author’s intentions for Jack. Played him as a rogue with a heart, a bon viveur, a man who enjoyed a joke – and didn’t get too upset when it was on him.

I toured the play for six months all over the UK and was so sad when it was over –I felt I’d lost touch with a good friend! So when, fifteen years later, I was asked what I was going to write for my next novel (having written two so far) I saw a way to reconnect with my old pal. But I knew Jack couldn’t simply be the dashing cad of yore in what I hoped would become a series of books. He had to do something. That’s when I came up with the phrase that has haunted me ever since: ‘He’s the 007 of the 1770’s’.

So I felt I’d researched the character quite a lot before I began. More conventional research followed – I am a book man and dived into the British Library in London where I lived at the time, to pull out texts old and new. I read, read, read – of war, spies, the secret society of the Illuminati, the Iroquois – all because I knew that I wanted Jack to do his spying – and his wooing and fighting – in that fascinating place, the Colonies (or America as it is now known!) and at one of its most interesting times: the Revolutionary Wars. Narrowing down, I knew I would also like to write about another intriguing – and real – man: General John Burgoyne. Also wanted to explore my fascination for native Americans – hence Jack’s history with the Mohawk, and his blood brother, Ate. So it all came down to the Saratoga campaign.

And there I truly struck research gold. Because there was a huge re-enactment of the battle happening very close to the original site which I was able to attend and pump those brilliant historians, the re-enactors, for information. As well as get to wander the real battlefield, a beautifully preserved National Monument, for a couple of days, in all lights. Such ‘research on the feet’ truly made the book.

Lastly, there was the subject I didn’t need to research too much – what happens in a theatre, both in front of, and behind, the curtain. And actresses. Those I think I had a good – eh hem - grasp of!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Armchair BEA: Being a Better Blogger and Genre Fiction!

Pathways to Better Blogging:

Today, we're talking about how to be a better blogger. I don't know if I know the ultimate answers to that but I'll tell you what I know. I know that you have to be yourself and you have to do what you love.

If you aren't loving what you're doing, why do it in the first place. Book blogging is supposed to be fun. Once it stops being fun, you know that you either need a break or you need to figure out a new game plan for making it fun again.

Book blogging should make you feel like this, you guys!
If you aren't having fun, your audience isn't going to be having any fun, which is just not any... well... fun.

Genre Fiction:

If you hang around here for any length of time, you may figure out rather quickly that I love historical fiction. It is by far my favorite kind of genre fiction! I'm a history buff and I love reading fictionalized tales of historical people and events. Even though its fiction, a lot of times, it is a great introduction to a new person, place, or time. All of these people and places are so exciting for me!

I joined my local chapter of the Historical Novel Society (Chesapeake Bay chapter), which has been a great way for me to socialize with other people who share an affinity for historical fiction. I am also attending the Historical Novel Society Conference in St. Petersburg, FL in June for the first time. I cannot wait!

I bet Marie Antoinette is getting ready to settle down with a good historical fiction book.
What's your favorite kind of genre fiction?

Review: The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Title: The World's Strongest Librarian
Author: Josh Hanagarne
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Gotham
Publish Date: May 2, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You like memoirs.
What's the Story?:

From "Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living."

My Two Cents:

In "The World's Strongest Librarian," Josh Hanagarne writes his life story with great candor. Before reading this book, I didn't really know a whole lot about Tourette's Syndrome, which can be very difficult to control and very noticeable to those around you. But this book isn't only about Josh's syndrome and his struggle to live with it. Josh is a pretty cool guy; he's also a librarian and a weight lifter. He defines resilience!

I really love memoirs that are a little bit off the beaten path, which this one definitely is. Josh has a really interesting story and recounts it in such a way that you feel like you are having a chat with an old friend. He is a really great storyteller and his "voice" in the book definitely kept me reading. I think that the personal style really made me feel like I got to know Josh well through this book.

I especially liked the parts that talked about the author's love of books and his job as a librarian. These parts of the book are the ones that any book lover will enjoy. Josh knows the magic of a good book. The book also discusses some about his Mormon faith. Often I find things having to do with religion to be a little bit too preachy for my liking but in this case, the author is basically just telling you where he is coming from.

Bottom line: This is such a great story!


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Armchair BEA: Introductions and Classics!

I am very excited to be participating in Armchair BEA again this year. For those of you not in the know, Armchair BEA is for everyone that isn't able to make it up to BEA this year! It's a great way to get to know some of your fellow book bloggers.

Today, we're answering some questions so we can get to know each other a little better.

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I'm Meg. I've been book blogging for the past two years although I blogged off and on before that, just not about books. I got into book blogging because I absolutely love everything about books. I love reading them and talking about them with anyone that happens to be around at the moment!

2. Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

I am blogging from just outside of Washington, D.C. It is one of the coolest cities in the world. I love living here. I'm a political junkie so living here is really, really cool for me! I grew up in the area and am almost a native (I've lived here since I was 4 years old)!

I do a lot of my reading on the Metro!

 3. Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.

I am living in a house that was built in 1892 and spend a lot of my free time fixing up the house with my husband. My green thumb has been getting a lot of exercise recently!

This is my house all dressed up for Memorial Day!

 4. If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

I would love to have dinner with Augusten Burroughs and David Sedaris at the same time! Dinner would be absolutely hilarious!

5. What literary location would you most like to visit? Why?

On Fridays, I run a meme called "Literary Locale" and I love spending time armchair traveling through books. One place that I have been thinking about a lot lately is London. I've been there once but I am dying to go again. That city has so much literary history and I would love to just take a trip to focus on seeing everything literary there!


Today, we are also talking about the Classics! I try really hard to get more classic books in my reading diet. While I realize the importance of reading classics, they are often not my first thought when I want to pick up a new book. I really like participating in read-alongs for that reason. Depending on the book, I find some classics to be a little difficult to get through and it's really nice to be able to discuss more difficult books with a group of people to keep you going and to ensure that you get a lot out of the book.

Some of my favorite classics that I have read fairly recently are Daphne Du Marier's Rebecca and Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Both are really wonderful books!

What are your thoughts on Classic books? Have you ever done a read-along?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Memorial Day and Announcements!

First things first, today is Memorial Day. Yeah, it's nice that many of us have off but try not to lose sight of the reason we have this day. I am happy to know a lot of people who have served (and are still serving) in the military and they are absolutely amazing to me. I love that we have this day to celebrate them and to remember those that gave so much for this country that I love.


I wanted to mention that Shelf Pleasure is doing a summer  book club this summer for Year of the Gadfly, a book that I have been very excited to read! They are going to have some online chats with the author, Jennifer Miller,  so it should be pretty cool!

There are still several giveaways going on here at A Bookish Affair:
Win a copy of Murder as a Fine Art!
Win an ebook copy of A Prince to be Feared!
Win a copy of Spartacus: Rebellion!
Win a copy of What My Mother Gave Me!

With regard to the What My Mother Gave Me giveaway, the editor, Elizabeth Benedict, found my review and has offered to give the winners of the giveaway a signed book plate! How cool is that?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Giveaway Winners!

I have some giveaway winners to announce today!

Roses Have Thorns:
Angela (she already won this giveaway from another tour stop)

The Mackenzie Legacy:

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena:


Friday, May 24, 2013

Literary Locale!

Although it has been storming in D.C. lately, I have the outdoors and the beach on the brain. I'm a week closer to going to the Historical Novel Society conference in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is right on the coast.

In the meantime, I'm craving some more summery reading. Yes, I have different kinds of books that I like to read. Winter calls for cozy and more serious books. Summer calls for a little bit lighter reading and I love when it involves armchair traveling (although armchair traveling is for every season). Fall and Spring are somewhere in between.

While armchair traveling is for any time, I usually like to read about places that I would like to go on vacation to visit. Not all of them are necessarily summery places but I love reading about them when I'm a little more relaxed and usually daydreaming about my own vacations.

My top picks of these places are (in no particular order):

1. London
2. Paris
3. Any beach
4. In the mountains
5. The Italian Countryside

Does anyone else out there have different reading tastes for different times of the year? Where are your favorite places to read about during the summer?

Review: The Promise of Stardust by Priscille Sibley

Title: The Promise of Stardust
Author: Priscille Sibley
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: February 5, 2013
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like stories about ethics.
  • You want a page turner.
 What's the Story?:

From "Matt Beaulieu was two years old the first time he held Elle McClure in his arms, seventeen when he first kissed her under a sky filled with shooting stars, and thirty-three when he convinced her to marry him. Now in their late 30s, the deeply devoted couple has everything-except the baby they've always wanted.
When an accident leaves Elle brain dead, Matt is devastated. Though he cannot bear the thought of life without her, he knows Elle was afraid of only one thing-a slow death. And so, Matt resolves to take her off life support.

But Matt changes his mind when they discover Elle's pregnant. While there are no certainties, the baby might survive if Elle remains on life support. Matt's mother, Linney, disagrees with his decision. She loves Elle, too, and insists that Elle would never want to be kept alive on machines. Linney is prepared to fight her son in court-armed with Elle's living will.

Divided by the love they share, Matt and Linney will be pitted against each other, fighting for what they believe is right, and what they think Elle would have wanted resulting in a controversial legal battle that will ultimately go beyond one family . . . and one single life."

My Two Cents: 

I finished this book on a Friday and by Saturday, I had already told four people that they absolutely needed to read this book. That is definitely the mark of a really good book. Oh man, this book tore at my emotions so much. I was actually very glad that I finished this book at home because I was bawling by the end of the book and crying on the Metro sort of scares people, guys.

Anyhow, this is the kind of book that you both want to get through quickly so you can find out what happens but you want to savor at the same time because it's tearing you up so bad. At certain points, this book was a little hard for me to get through emotionally because of the moral/ethical topics within the book but I think some of the author's point was to make the reader think a little bit about what they would do if they found themselves in Matt's situation where their significant other is dying but you could make a decision that has a small chance at bringing new life into the world at the risk of further degradation of your significant other. It's not an easy choice. I think I know what I would want my husband to do if I found myself in Elle's situation but I'm still not 100% sure and that's sort of the beauty of this book is that even after you're done reading it, it sticks with you and continues to make you think.

I really like that this book was told from Matt's perspective as it really helped pull me into the book. You get to see where he's coming from and why he makes the decisions that he makes. You get to see what his and Elle's relationship was like before she passed away and how what she did in her life is affecting her so close to the end. I love that we get to see the whole love story between Elle and Matt and their childhoods together. You are pulling so hard for these characters because you really begin to feel like you know them.

This book is perfect for those readers that like family stories, love stories, twists, drama, thinking long and hard about situations in books, medical dramas, etc. This book most definitely has a wide appeal. In a way, this book sort of reminds me of some of Jodi Picoult's books like "My Sister's Keeper" with the moral/ ethical issues. I am certain that this is going to be one of my favorite books of the year!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

TLC Book Tours: All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue

Title: All the Summer Girls
Author: Meg Donohue
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: May 21, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a fiction fan.
  • You like stories about friendships.
  • You're looking for a light read.
What's the Story?:

From "In Philadelphia, good girl Kate is dumped by her fiance the day she learns she is pregnant with his child. In New York City, beautiful stay-at-home mom Vanessa is obsessively searching the Internet for news of an old flame. And in San Francisco, Dani, the aspiring writer who can't seem to put down a book--or a cocktail--long enough to open her laptop, has just been fired...again.

In an effort to regroup, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani retreat to the New Jersey beach town where they once spent their summers. Emboldened by the seductive cadences of the shore, the women being to realize how much their lives, and friendships, have been shaped by the choices they made one fateful night on the beach eight years earlier--and the secrets that only now threaten to surface."

My Two Cents:

"All the Summer Girls" tells the story of lifelong friends, Kate, Vanessa, and Dani who spent summers together at the Jersey Shore. When the adult lives that they have built for themselves come crashing down (Kate) or on the verge of potential change (Vanessa), or need a change (Dani), they come together again. All of them are hiding their own secrets from each other but they learn that honesty is the only way that you can get what you need.

This book is billed as a beach book and it definitely fits into my definition of a good pick for the beach. When I go to the beach, I want something that keeps me turning the pages but that I don't have to think about too hard. Although some of the topics that the book deals with are on the tough side, you still don't have to think about it too hard.

I really enjoyed this book. I really enjoy stories about friendship. Friendship is such a universal thing. We all need to have those sorts of relationships where we know that we have someone to lean on when things get really hard. Although there is some discontent between Dani and Vanessa in the beginning of the book, you still get to see why this group was so connected to each other. I loved seeing their relationship.

The ending of the book fell a little flat for me. I really wanted to see a little more closure. It almost felt like the book stopped prematurely and it would have been nice to see more where things ended up for the women.

Overall, this book is definitely enjoyable and I would recommend it to someone looking for a book on the lighter side that will still keep you turning the pages.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, May 21st: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, May 22nd: Mom in Love With Fiction
Thursday, May 23rd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, May 27th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, May 28th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Thursday, May 30th: I Read a Book Once
Monday, June 3rd: A Musing Reviews
Tuesday, June 4th: Giraffe Days
Wednesday, June 5th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Monday, June 10th: Literally Jen
Tuesday, June 11th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, June 12th: Write Meg
Date TBD: Sweet Southern Home


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review and Giveaway: What My Mother Gave Me by Elizabeth Benedict

Title: What My Mother Gave Me: Thirty-one Women on the Gifts That Mattered Most
Author: Elizabeth Benedict
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Algonquin
Publish Date: April 2, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You love reading about mother - daughter relationships.
What's the Story?:

From "Women look at the relationships between mothers and daughters through a new lens: a daughter s story of a gift from her mother that has touched her to the bone and served as a model, a metaphor, or a touchstone in her own life. The contributors of these thirty-one original pieces all written specifically for this book include Pulitzer Prize winners, perennial bestselling novelists, and well-known NPR commentators.Joyce Carol Oates writes about quilts her mother sewed that were a comfort when her husband died; Rita Dove remembers a box of nail polish that taught her to paint her nails in stripes and polka dots; Lisa See, daughter of writer Carolyn See, writes about the gift of writing; Cecilia Munoz remembers the wok her mother gave her and a lifetime of home-cooked family meals; Judith Hillman Paterson revisits the year of sobriety her mother bequeathed to her when Judith was nine years old, the year before her mother died of alcoholism.Collectively, the pieces have a force that feels as elemental as the tides: outpourings of lightness and darkness; simple joy and devastating grief; mother love and daughter love; mother love and daughter rage. In these stirring words we find that every gift, no matter how modest, tells the story of a powerful bond."

My Two Cents:

I read this book just in time for Mother's Day and I actually passed on my copy of "What My Mother Gave Me" to my mom. This book is a collection of stories of what each author's mother gave her. Some gifts are tangible. Some are not. They vary from author to author. Some of the stories are happy and some of them are sad but I think that's sort of a normal reflection of the relationships that women have with their mothers. Whether happy or sad, the gifts that you get from your mother are incredibly important. They truly are things that you carry with you for your entire life, which is exactly the point that the book makes.

I really, really enjoyed this book. This is a book that you will want to share with the women in your life. It would make a great gift book for just about any occasion (but do you really need an occasion to share a book??? No way; books are for anytime!!!) So many of the stories really tugged on my heart. A couple of them made me smile. A couple of them made me tear up.

I suggest reading this book story by story. It's hard to stop in the middle of each story as I think you kind of lose momentum that way so make sure that you have time to sit down and read the whole story all the way through. I could see this being a great book to read one story at night or something like that. I feel that some of the stories in this book are definitely meant to be savored a little bit.

Overall, this is a great book!


Thanks to the publisher, I have two copies of this book to give away! (US only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Review: Black Venus by James MacManus

Title: Black Venus
Author: James MacManus
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: May 7, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the PR; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
What's the Story?:

From "A vivid novel of Charles Baudelaire and his lover Jeanne Duval, the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems, set in nineteenth-century Paris.

For readers who have been drawn to The Paris Wife, Black Venus captures the artistic scene in the great French city decades earlier, when the likes of Dumas and Balzac argued literature in the cafes of the Left Bank. Among the bohemians, the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems that he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork, Les Fleurs du Mal, and a scandalous public trial for obscenity. "

My Two Cents:

"Black Venus" is a historical fiction novel focused on the relationship between infamous French poet, Baudelaire, and his Haitian mistress, Jeanne Duval. Duval became the inspiration for some of the poet's raciest and most shocking poems. I didn't know much about either of these people before this book but the book gives good insight into what their very stormy relationship was like.

Overall, the story is very interesting. I love historical fiction that takes on real-life characters, especially ones that I'm not so familiar with. I also really enjoyed that the book was set in Paris, which is definitely one of my favorite stories to read about. You get a good sense of what the city was like during Baudelaire's time.

You can tell that the author spent a lot of time doing research on the poet and his times. Sometimes the narrative felt more non-fiction than fiction and veered into simply reporting on Baudelaire and Duval rather than bringing the reader into the story.

It was also very difficult to tell how much time passed between various events as there really was not any marking of time. I think marking the passing of time could have added a little bit more context to the story, especially for those who are not very familiar with Baudelaire like myself.

Overall, this was a good foray into Baudelaire's love life!

Monday, May 20, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours Review and Giveaway: Spartacus: Rebellion by Ben Kane

Title: Spartacus: Rebellion
Author: Ben Kane
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Preface Publishing
Publish Date: August 16, 2012
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like action.
  • You don't mind violence.
What's the Story?:

From "The mighty slave army, led by Spartacus, has carried all before it, scattering the legions of Rome. Three praetors, two consuls and one proconsul have been defeated. Spartacus seems invincible as he marches towards the Alps and freedom.

But storm clouds are massing on the horizon. Crixus the Gaul defects, taking all his men with him. Crassus, the richest man in Rome, begins to raise a formidable army, tasked specifically with the defeat of Spartacus. And within the slave army itself, there are murmurings of dissent and rebellion.

Spartacus, on the brink of glory, must make a crucial decision - to go forward over the Alps to freedom, or back to face the might of Rome and try to break its stranglehold on power forever."

My Two Cents:

"Spartacus: Rebellion" is the second book in Ben Kane's epic two part series about the infamous Spartacus. This book begins right when the first book, "Spartacus: The Gladiator" ends. Spartacus is now leading his slave army in an uprising against the Romans. Now if you are a history buff, you probably know how Spartacus's story ends but this does not make this book any less exciting to read. Kane weaves a great story that kept me turning the pages.

Although you will be fine reading this book without reading the first book, you really should go back and read the first book. It gives the reader a lot of good background on where Spartacus is coming from and how he go to where he is in this book. You will also get a better understanding as to why things are happening in this book.

I enjoyed this book and found it to be a lot more character driven than the first book, which was very much event driven. I felt that you got a much better understanding of Spartacus and some of the other characters such as his wife, Ariadne, in this book. Even though this book is more character driven, this book is very much action filled still. You get to see the inner workings (and inner divisions) of Spartacus' army.

Be warned: some parts of this book are pretty rough. There isn't a happy ending here (but you already probably figured that out). I thought that there were some scenes that could have been scaled back as this book is quite long (404 pages) but overall, Kane tells a good story about this infamous hero.


Today I am excited to be able to giveaway one hardcover copy of Spartacus: Rebellion AND one paperback of Spartacus the Gladiator to one lucky winner.  Open to US and Canada ONLY.  

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Friday, May 17, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours Guest Post and Giveaway: A Prince to be Feared by Mary Lancaster

Today, I am very glad to welcome Mary Lancaster here to A Bookish Affair for a guest post and a giveaway of her latest, A Prince to be Feared.

The Impaler’s Wife By Mary Lancaster

What would it have been like to marry Vlad Dracula?

Having reached my own ideas of Vlad’s character (which isn’t at all the generally accepted one!), in order to write the story I wanted to, I needed to create the right wife for him. This was difficult. To begin with, history is unsure about who she was, or even if he actually had a wife. There is a legend about a wife – or perhaps a mistress – throwing herself off the castle of Poenari onto the rocks below during the Turkish invasion that deposed him. And there is mention of negotiations for an alliance with the King of Hungary that included marriage with the king’s sister. Or perhaps his cousin!

So, basically, I had a blank canvas. Historians seem to believe the likeliest candidate is the king’s cousin Ilona Szilagyi. I was happy to go with that. The daughter of a great soldier and niece of Christian Europe’s hero of the time, John Hunyadi, she must have lived among the great decision-makers whose actions affected Vlad. She probably knew him before any marriage negotiations were mentioned. I began to imagine the kind of girl she might have been to attract the attention of the ambitious, obsessive and probably frightening young soldier Vlad Dracula. I imagined her to be bright, perceptive and unafraid, someone perhaps even her important elders listened to occasionally; someone used to living on the edge of warfare and under the threat of invasion; someone who understood what drove the young Vlad.

I liked this Ilona. The only trouble was, I also had a conflicting vision of a slightly older woman, grey, faded, almost wraith-like, so vague that she verged on madness. And this was the woman who had to be forced into marriage with the older, imprisoned Vlad to secure his loyalty to the Hungarian crown, should he be allowed to reclaim his principality. Considering his reputation by then was monstrous, it would have been a cruel duty to impose.

So which tale should I tell? My head said the tale of the bright young Ilona – the book could then cover the main adventures of Vlad’s life, be exciting and romantic at once. But my heart kept coming back to the faded Ilona, pushed into a marriage with “the monster of Wallachia”. I started one version and then the other – and finally realized I had to make them both Ilona. And show Vlad’s unchanging humanity through his efforts to win her, and then win her back.

And that’s the story I eventually wrote. I tried to stick to what’s known of Vlad’s life, but at least half the fun of writing a novel like this is in letting my imagination fill up the gaps. I made an educated guess at his true character, and imagined, in those days of female duty and blinkered family ambition, the kind of love he might have inspired and returned. The result is A Prince to be Feared, which I hope you enjoy!


One lucky winner will win an ebook copy of this great book (open internationally)!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Literary Locale!

I'm about a month and a half away from traveling to St. Petersburg, FL for the 2013 Historical Novel Society  conference and I have had travel on the brain. I absolutely love traveling once I get to my destination but planning for a trip kind of stresses me out. I'm always looking for ways to make traveling less stressful so I was very excited to try out some travel products from David's Been Here.

I was sent the products for free but this didn't affect my review!
Passport Wallet:

I have a small case that I usually carry my passport in usually. This case is substantially bigger. I could see using the case while you are on the plane or the train but it is a little too big to take around in a purse or a small bag but it would be good to organize  travel papers while transiting to wherever you are going. I would also like something a little bit sturdier for organizing papers.

Sleep Eye Mask with Ear Plugs:

I always carry a sleep mask with me when I travel by airplane. The sleep mask in this kit isn't anything special. It's pretty standard. It didn't keep all of the light out of my eyes but it kept enough out that it would work for me (if I'm tired, I can sleep just about anywhere). Some people may like that the product comes with ear plugs but seeing as how I sleep really deeply, I probably will not use the ear plugs. The ear plugs are just the standard squishy kind.

Portable Travel Digital Luggage Scale:

I loved this product. This has happened several times to me on various trips: picture this, I'm in the airport check-in line, they weigh my luggage, and I'm X-number of pounds over. I'm already frantic because I'm already stressed by just getting to the airplane. I'm frantically unpacking my bag and shoving stuff into my carry-on. This would, of course, happen when I am coming home from a fabulous foreign country somewhere, because that makes it extra fun. This scale could be the end of that rigamarole and for that, I am thankful. 

 I also reviewed one of the David's Been Here travel guides. There are not many of these guides yet but they are pretty good. Because they only cover one day in a particular city, they are really short. They cover just the highlights for the particular location. This guide definitely made me want to visit Barcelona (now, who wants to come with me???). The information is pretty good but sparse. This book is the highlights and not a lot of detail.

One thing to know about these guides is that for right now, they are just digital, something that didn't really work for me. When I travel, I like to be able to refer back to a guide, which would be really difficult with a digital version on my Kindle.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tours: A Prince to be Feared by Mary Lancaster

Title: A Prince to be Feared
Author: Mary Lancaster
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Self-published
Publish Date: April 2013
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like love stories.
What's the Story?:

From "Europe’s most fearsome prisoner, Vlad Dracula, gifted military commander and one time Prince of Wallachia, the notorious Lord Impaler himself, is about to be released after twelve long years, in order to hold back the tide of Ottoman aggression. The price of his new alliance with his Hungarian captors is the king’s cousin Ilona.

Ilona does not wish to be married. In particular, she doesn’t wish to marry Vlad. Gentle, faded and impossibly vague, Ilona is hardly fit for court life, let alone for dealing with so difficult a husband.

But Ilona’s wishes have nothing to do with Vlad’s reputation and everything to do with a lifelong love affair that finally broke her. Ilona’s family blame Vlad; Vlad vows to discover the truth and sets out by unconventional means to bring back the woman who once enchanted him. Among court intrigues, international manoeuvrings and political deceptions, Vlad reveals himself more victim than villain. But he’s still more than capable of reclaiming his lost rights to both Wallachia and Ilona; and Ilona, when it counts, has enough strength for them both."

My Two Cents:

"A Prince to be Feared" is the story of the infamous Vlad Dracula after he is captured by the Hungarian rulers. Vlad Dracula is a really fascinating figure to me. I have never read anything about his life as a prisoner so it was very interesting to read this book. As with so many ruling families during this time, Vlad's captors were seeking to strengthen their power. They want to marry Ilona, their cousin, to Vlad even though they have imprisoned him and even though his reputation is anything but glowing.

I enjoyed this story. The bones of the story were very good. I always enjoy getting to see famous historical figures in a different light, which you definitely get to see here. The core story in this book is the love story between Vlad and Ilona. I really enjoyed seeing how the characters fell for each other and learning the secrets behind Vlad and Ilona's intricate relationship.

The writing was pretty good. Lancaster is definitely promising as a storyteller. There were a couple sections in the book that could have used some editing. Also, there were several sections in the book where the dialogue felt a little too present day rather than something that would have been said during the time of Vlad Dracula. This kind of took me out of the story a little bit but overall, the story was engaging and interesting. It definitely kept me reading!

Overall, this story shows Vlad Dracula in a new light and will appeal to those who like a little romance along with their historical fiction. 

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, May 13
Review & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Tuesday, May 14
Review at The Musings of a Book Junkie
Review & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, May 15
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Thursday, May 16
Review at A Bookish Affair
Guest Post & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book!
Friday, May 17
Feature & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Guest Post & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Movie Review: Shakespeare - The King's Man

When I think of Shakespeare, he is inextricably linked to the great ruler, Queen Elizabeth I. Most of Shakespeare's plays that I am familiar with were written during the time of Queen Elizabeth. But what happened to Shakespeare after the Queen died? This movie tells all about Shakespeare after Queen Elizabeth's death when he now found himself a subject of the King (King James of bible fame, in fact). It is fascinating to see how things changed for Shakespeare. This documentary goes into much detail about this and I found all of it very intriguing.

The plays that Shakespeare wrote during King James' rule were in a lot of ways very different. They were darker. Shakespeare also continued to use his plays to comment on the politics and current events of King James' time. It was absolutely fascinating to see how he used old stories in order to bring his comments before his audiences.

This documentary is very well done. It is narrated by James Shapiro, a noted scholar who is very much familiar with Shakespeare and his life and his work. Using clips from productions of Shakespeare's play, Shapiro brings Shakespeare under King James to life!

This dvd also includes a BBC production of Macbeth, which is very good!

Overall, I really enjoyed this documentary. History lovers and Shakespeare lovers will both really enjoy this one!

***All of the above opinions are my own. I received this video in exchange for an honest review***

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

HF Virtual Book Tour Review and Giveaway: Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell

Title: Murder as a Fine Art
Author: David Morrell
Format: ARC
Publisher: Mulholland Books
Publish Date: May 7, 2013
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You like a good mystery.
  • You don't mind grit.
  • You don't mind violence.
  • You're looking for a page turner!
What's the Story?:


Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey’s essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten."

My Two Cents:

"Murder as a Fine Art" is a historical mystery/ thriller that takes us into the underbelly of 1850s London. Morrell spins a story around author, Thomas de Quincey, author of "Confessions of an English Opium Eater." He is suspected of a string of murders that seem to be based off of another one of his writings: "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." This book is thoroughly creepy (in a really good way) and I really enjoyed reading this one!

Historical thrillers are not typically my reading fare but it's books like "Murder as a Fine Art" that suggest to me that I really should read more historical thrillers. Every once in awhile, it is a little fun to be scared!

The setting is really stand out in the book. Morrell does a really good job of setting the scene of what it would be like to live and work in 1850s London. You see the fog. You feel the darkness. I really think that the setting descriptions helped me to enjoy this book even more. The setting alone is very dark and creepy; perfect for this book.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this book that I didn't see coming (I love a good surprise). I really enjoyed seeing how Morrell was able to make all of the murder mystery details come together. All of those details kept me turning the pages quickly.

Now, I will warn you that there are some scenes of the book that are not for the faint of heart. All of the violence has a specific purpose and there isn't anything needless about it with regard to the telling of the story.

The writing in this book is pretty good. Like I mentioned, there are plenty of good details to intrigue. Morrell knows how to keep a reader engaged. There were a couple sections at the beginning of a few chapters that were sort of jarring and didn't seem to necessarily fit with the rest of the narrative of the book. These sections had detail on things outside of the story line. They took me out of the story a little bit.

I really liked that Morrell was able to take real events and real people and weave them into a story like this. I had never heard of De Quincey before but now, I'm very interested in reading his memoirs. Overall, I think this book would be a good pick for the historical fiction lover who loves a good setting and loves to be surprised!


I'm excited to be able to give away a copy of this great book (this would make for good summer reading, you guys)! (US only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, May 6
Review at Sir Read-a-Lot
Review & Giveaway at Luxury Reading
Tuesday, May 7
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Thursday, May 9
Review & Giveaway at Book Addict Katie
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch
Friday, May 10
Review at The Lit Bitch
Monday, May 13
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, May 14
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Wednesday, May 15
Review at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, May 16
Review at Impressions in Ink
Guest Post at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Friday, May 17
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, May 20
Review at Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, May 21
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, May 22
Review at Peeking Between the Pages
Interview at A Bookish Libraria
Thursday, May 23
Review at Bibliophilic Book Blog
Friday, May 24
Review at JulzReads
Monday, May 27
Review at From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, May 28
Review at My Reader’s Block
Review & Giveaway at My Reading Room
Wednesday, May 29
Review & Interview at Layered Pages
Thursday, May 30
Review at Girl Lost in a Book
Review at The Little Reader Library
Friday, May 31
Review & Giveaway at Psychotic State Book Reviews
Monday, June 3
Review at As I Turn the Pages
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Tuesday, June 4
Review at Kinx’s Book Nook
Review at The True Book Addict
Wednesday, June 5
Review at Peppermint, Ph.D.
Interview & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Thursday, June 6
Review at The Bookworm
Friday, June 7
Review at Raging Bibliomania
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Monday, May 13, 2013

TLC Book Tours: Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder

Title:  Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953
Author: Elizabeth Winder
Format: ARC
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: April 16, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a non-fiction fan.
  • You're interested in Sylvia Plath.
What's the Story?:

From "On May 31, 1953, twenty-year-old Sylvia Plath arrived in New York City for a one-month stint at "the intellectual fashion magazine" Mademoiselle to be a guest editor for its prestigious annual college issue. Over the next twenty-six days, the bright, blond New England collegian lived at the Barbizon Hotel, attended Balanchine ballets, watched a game at Yankee Stadium, and danced at the West Side Tennis Club. She typed rejection letters to writers from The New Yorker and ate an entire bowl of caviar at an advertising luncheon. She stalked Dylan Thomas and fought off an aggressive diamond-wielding delegate from the United Nations. She took hot baths, had her hair done, and discovered her signature drink (vodka, no ice). Young, beautiful, and on the cusp of an advantageous career, she was supposed to be having the time of her life.

Drawing on in-depth interviews with fellow guest editors whose memories infuse these pages, Elizabeth Winder reveals how these twenty-six days indelibly altered how Plath saw herself, her mother, her friendships, and her romantic relationships, and how this period shaped her emerging identity as a woman and as a writer. Pain, Parties, Work--the three words Plath used to describe that time--shows how Manhattan's alien atmosphere unleashed an anxiety that would stay with her for the rest of her all-too-short life.

Thoughtful and illuminating, this captivating portrait invites us to see Sylvia Plath before The Bell Jar, before she became an icon--a young woman with everything to live for."

My Two Cents:

Sylvia Plath is absolutely fascinating to me. Here is a woman that was smart and wrote so many really prolific things yet her legacy is overshadowed by her untimely end at her own hand. How did she get there? How does someone with so much talent have such a tragic ending? It's really hard to reconcile.

In "Pain, Parties, and Work", the author, Elizabeth Winder, seeks to show how Plath's month in New York City as a guest editor for Mademoiselle magazine set Plath's tragedy in motion. This month in NYC happened approximately a decade prior to Plath's suicide. Plath attempts suicide for the first time soon after being in New York City.

I think it is a very interesting supposition to think that this one event changed the course of Plath's life. You can see that the author definitely did a lot of research on Plath's life but a lot of it is second hand information. Plath was a fastidious journal writer but only writes one entry while in New York so much of the first hand information comes from Plath's writing before and after the month in NYC, which I think is really interesting as I am not sure how you can make a firm leap that this month changed things so much. However, that being said, I think that this book is extremely fascinating.

This was a picture of Plath that I had not seen before. I really would like to read some of her letters and personal writings now as aside from this book, my reading on Plath has been really limited to her fiction and poetry.

Overall, this book would definitely interest those that want to learn more about Plath and her life before her tragedy.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, April 16th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, April 17th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, April 18th: Veronica M.D
Wednesday, April 24th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 24th: The Road to Here
Monday, April 29th: nomadreader
Tuesday, April 30th: Man of La Book
Thursday, May 2nd: The Blog of Lit Wits
Thursday, May 2nd: Necromancy Never Pays
Friday, May 3rd: Luxury Reading
Monday, May 6th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, May 7th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, May 8th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, May 13th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 14th: missris
Wednesday, May 15th: guiltless reading
Thursday, May 16th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, May 20th: Peppermint PhD
TBD: Oh! Paper Pages
TBD: Speaking of Books
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