Friday, February 28, 2014

Review and Giveaway: Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin

Title: Tyringham Park
Author: Rosemary McLoughlin
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Atria
Publish Date: February 25, 2014
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 don't mind tough subjects.
  • You like armchair traveling.
What's the Story?:

From "Tyringham Park is the Blackshaws' magnificent country house in the south of Ireland. It is a haven of wealth and privilege until its peace is shattered by a devastating event which reveals the chaos of jealousy and deceit beneath its surface.

Charlotte Blackshaw is only eight years old when her little sister Victoria goes missing from the estate. Charlotte is left to struggle with her loss without any support from her hostile mother and menacing nanny. It is obvious to Charlotte that both of them wish she had been the one to go missing rather than pretty little Victoria.

Charlotte finds comfort in the kindness of servants. With their help she seeks an escape from the burden of being the unattractive one left behind.

Despite her mother's opposition, she later reaches out for happiness and believes the past can no longer hurt her.

But the mystery of Victoria's disappearance continues to cast a long shadow over Tyringham Park – a mystery that may still have the power to destroy its world and the world of all those connected to it."

My Two Cents:

"Tyringham Park" is the story of a rich family who is deeply affected when when of their daughters disappears. Charlotte, the daughter who is left behind, is constantly reminded of what happened to her young sister, Victoria. She feels guilty because she is still there when her sister is gone but there may be more than meets the eye there.

It took me a bit to get into this book. This book has been compared to Downton Abbey but it is quite different. Yes, there is a little bit of the tension between the upstairs and downstairs like Downton but it really just focuses on Charlotte's story whereas Downton focuses on everyone in the household. Charlotte's family owns a huge estate but while Downton almost feels like a character in Downton Abbey but Charlotte's family's houses Charlotte does have an interesting story that unfolded slowly but ends with a surprise!

The synopsis really does not begin to tell the whole story. Victoria's disappearance is the very beginning of this story. I really felt bad for Charlotte. She takes on so much as a child from the adults that are supposed to care for her. Her mother and her nanny are pretty abusive, which was quite uncomfortable to read. I wish that the story had focused a little more on her young life. I also wish that we got to understand why she did what she did (I don't want to give anything away about the mystery at the center of this book). The storytelling in the book was ok. I felt that there were some places that could be slimmed down a little bit.

I did like the setting of the book. The book takes place both in Ireland and Australia, two places that I love reading about. I really enjoyed the armchair traveling that you get in this book!


You can win a copy of Tyringham Park (U.S. and CAN only)! Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

TLC Book Tours Review and Giveaway: Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan

Title: Under the Wide and Starry Sky
Author: Nancy Horan
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Ballantine
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You liked books like "Loving Frank."
What's the Story?:

From "At the age of thirty-five, Fanny van de Grift Osbourne leaves her philandering husband in San Francisco and sets sail for Belgium to study art, with her three children and a nanny in tow. Not long after her arrival, however, tragedy strikes, and Fanny and her brood repair to a quiet artists' colony in France where she can recuperate. There she meets Robert Louis Stevenson, ten years her junior, who is instantly smitten with the earthy, independent and opinionated belle Americaine.

A woman ahead of her time, Fanny does not immediately take to the young lawyer who longs to devote his life to literature, and who would eventually write such classics as Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. In time, though, she succumbs to Stevenson's charms. The two begin a fierce love affair, marked by intense joy and harrowing darkness, which spans decades as they travel the world for the sake of his health. Eventually they settled in Samoa, where Robert Louis Stevenson is buried underneath the epitaph:

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

(Requiem, Robert Louis Stevenson)"

My Two Cents:

"Under the Wide and Starry Sky" is the story of the famous writer, Robert Louis Stevenson, and his great love, Fanny. I did not know much about Stevenson's life although I've really enjoyed some of his books. Also, I really, really liked Horan's previous release, "Loving Frank," so I was very, very excited to get my hands on this book. I was most definitely not disappointed in this book.

I'm always interested about the stories of the people behind really famous people. It's interesting to me to see how these really amazing people were affected by the people they were surrounded by. Fanny is running away from a horrible marriage in America. She goes to Belgium where she hopes that she and her children will be able to start a new life. Tragedy strikes and the family is starting over again when Fanny first meets RLS. I loved reading about their rather quick courtship.

This book has a lot of adventure to it. RLS was definitely a wandering soul and the book follows the characters all over the place. If you like armchair traveling like I like armchair traveling, you are in for a real treat with this book!


One lucky winner will win a copy of this book (U.S. only). Just fill out the Rafflecopter form below!

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Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Monday, February 3rd:  Books Without Any Pictures
Tuesday, February 4th:  Book Drunkard
Wednesday, February 5th:  Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Friday, February 7th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, February 10th:  Luxury Reading
Monday, February 10th:  Julz Reads
Tuesday, February 11th:  Knowing the Difference
Wednesday, February 12th:  Let Them Read Books
Thursday, February 13th:  River City Reading
Friday, February 14th:  Literally Jen
Monday, February 17th:  Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, February 17th:  Man of La Book
Tuesday, February 18th:  Lavish Bookshelf
Wednesday, February 19th:  Read. Write. Repeat.
Wednesday, February 19th:  A Novel Review
Thursday, February 20th:  BookNAround
Friday, February 21st:  Read Lately
Friday, February 21st:  Unabridged Chick
Monday, February 24th:  Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, February 25th:  Lit and Life
Wednesday, February 26th:  Books and Movies
Thursday, February 27th:  A Bookish Affair
Friday, February 28th:  Ageless Pages Reviews
TBD:  Col Reads

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Review: A Kiss by Design by Christy Hayes

Title: A Kiss by Design
Author: Christy Hayes
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Cah LLC
Publish Date: November 27, 2013
Source: I received a copy from the author; however, this did not affect my review.

Why You're Reading This Book:

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

From "What's a girl to do when her best friend is making a mistake? Stop him, of course. College sophomore Emily Dilbert has been best friends with Dylan Chamberlain since they were kids. All she wants is for him to be happy and she knows him better than anyone. That's why when she finds an engagement ring in his backpack she has to stop him from marrying the wrong girl. Dylan Chamberlain has been in love with his brother's girlfriend, Emily, since the second grade. When his brother asks for help planning a surprise proposal, Dylan knows it's time to bury his feelings and finally let Emily go. Too bad his heart refuses to cooperate. All of Emily's attempts to lure Dylan away from his girlfriend fail, forcing her to turn up the heat on their friendship. Will Dylan reveal his long-buried secret and tell Emily how he feels? Or will Emily be forced to use any means necessary to show him the error of his ways?"

My Two Cents:

"A Kiss by Design" is a new adult story about Dylan, a sort of dorky college guy, who is in love with the beautiful Emily. There's just one problem though! Emily happens to be dating Zach and Zach is Dylan's much cooler brother. When Zach gives the engagement ring that he hopes to give to Emily to Dylan to hold on for safe-keeping, Dylan knows that he really should come clean.

I've read a couple books by Christy Hayes before and she writes some pretty good romances. It took me a little while to get into this story but hang in there because you do get another sweet romance in this book. It's a sweet story and I liked that we got to see where each of the characters were coming from. Some of the book focuses on the crazy scheme that Emily and some of her girlfriends cook up to figure out what was happening with Dylan. I didn't really like that part as it didn't seem to ring true for me.

I loved the relationship between Dylan and Emily, especially when you compare it to the relationship between Emily and Zach. Zach is sort of horrible to Emily. His head is huge and he is so tied up in being the star football player for his college. He just expects Emily to wait on him and to do everything for him. Dylan and Emily seem to have a much better relationship as they have a lot of mutual respect for each other.


Tuesday, February 25, 2014

HF Tours Review and Giveaway: The Boleyn Bride by Brandy Purdy

Title: The Boleyn Bride
Author: Brandy Purdy
Format: ARC
Publisher: Kensington
Publish Date: February 25, 2014
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:
  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You love the Tudors!
 What's the Story?:

From "From carefree young woman to disillusioned bride, the dazzling lady who would become mother and grandmother to two of history's most infamous queens, has a fascinating story all her own. . .

At sixteen, Elizabeth Howard envisions a glorious life for herself as lady-in-waiting to the future queen, Catherine of Aragon. But when she is forced to marry Thomas Boleyn, a wealthy commoner, Elizabeth is left to stagnate in the countryside while her detested husband pursues his ambitions. There, she raises golden girl Mary, moody George, and ugly duckling Anne—while staving off boredom with a string of admirers. Until Henry VIII takes the throne. . .

When Thomas finally brings his highborn wife to London, Elizabeth indulges in lavish diversions and dalliances—and catches the lusty king's eye. But those who enjoy Henry's fickle favor must also guard against his wrath. For while her husband's machinations bring Elizabeth and her children to the pinnacle of power, the distance to the scaffold is but a short one—and the Boleyn family's fortune may be turning."

My Two Cents:

"The Boleyn Bride" is the story of the infamous Anne Boleyn's mother, Elizabeth Howard, a member of the famous Howard family. This book goes into her back story and her marriage to the super ambitious, Thomas Boleyn. Elizabeth has a healthy dose of ambition herself. We also get to see the story of Anne Boleyn through her mother's eyes in this book. It's a different look at a story that is very familiar to fans of reading the Tudor tales.

I've read a couple other things by Brandy Purdy, who writes a lot in the Tudor era. I continued to like a lot of the same things about her writing style that I liked in her previous book. Although the subject matter was not brand new to me, I appreciated that Purdy was able to make Elizabeth seem like a really fresh character. She felt really real to me and I found it interesting to be able to get inside her head, especially considering how much she went through with her children.

That being said, I did wish that the book focused more on Elizabeth when she was telling the story of what happened with her daughter, Anne, and Henry VIII. If you read in the Tudor era (and this book is going to appeal mostly to those that enjoy reading about the Tudors), you know the story. I wanted to know more about what Elizabeth thought or did during this time. Was she really just watching and letting Anne go the way that she did? I didn't get a good sense.

Overall, I did enjoy this book. Those who love the Tudors will enjoy this one!


One lucky winner will win a copy of The Boleyn Bride (U.S. only!). Just fill out the Rafflecopter below.

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Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Friday, February 14
Feature & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Monday, February 17
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Review & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Tuesday, February 18
Review at A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, February 19
Spotlight & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Thursday, February 20
Review & Giveaway at Always with a Book
Spotlight & Giveaway at Reviews by Molly
Friday, February 21
Review & Giveaway at WTF Are You Reading?
Monday, February 24
Review & Giveaway at The Most Happy Reader
Tuesday, February 25
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, February 26
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time
Review & Giveaway at Found Between the Covers
Thursday, February 27
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee
Friday, February 28
Review at Book-alicious Mama
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Monday, March 3
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Tuesday, March 4
Review & Giveaway at Oh, for the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, March 5
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, March 6
Review & Giveaway at Griperang’s Bookmarks
Friday, March 7
Review at The Musings of ALMYBNENR
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Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

Title: A Week in Winter
Author: Maeve Binchy
Format: Audiobook
Publisher: Orion
Publish Date: October 11, 2012
Source: Library

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're looking for a cozy read.
  • You're looking for memorable characters.
What's the Story?:

From "Stoneybridge is a small town on the west coast of Ireland where all the families know one another. When Chicky Starr decides to take an old, decaying mansion set high on the cliffs overlooking the windswept Atlantic Ocean and turn it into a restful place for a holiday by the sea, everyone thinks she is crazy. Helped by Rigger (a bad boy turned good who is handy around the house) and Orla, her niece (a whiz at business), Chicky is finally ready to welcome the first guests to Stone House’s big warm kitchen, log fires, and understated elegant bedrooms. John, the American movie star, thinks he has arrived incognito; Winnie and Lillian are forced into taking a holiday together; Nicola and Henry, husband and wife, have been shaken by seeing too much death practicing medicine; Anders hates his father’s business, but has a real talent for music; Miss Nell Howe, a retired schoolteacher, criticizes everything and leaves a day early, much to everyone’s relief; the Walls are disappointed to have won this second-prize holiday in a contest where first prize was Paris; and Freda, the librarian, is afraid of her own psychic visions."

My Two Cents:

Maeve Binchy has always been one of my go-to authors when I need a good comfort read. Her books are always filled with memorable characters, good story lines, and sheer coziness. Ms. Binchy unfortunately passed away last year so "A Week in Winter" is the very last one of her books that will ever be released and thus it was with a heavy heart that I listened to the audiobook version of this book as I knew there would be no more new books in the future! This book was definitely a good swan song for Ms. Binchy!

As with so many of Binchy's books, this book focused on several different characters that were all tied together. In this story, they were tied together by a remote house on the harsh coast of a remote part of Ireland, which I am ready to move to in a heartbeat. Guys, this setting is wonderful. Even though the environment seems like it would be pretty harsh in the winter, it seems like it would be an amazing place to just stay and contemplate life for awhile. The descriptions of the setting are amazing. There are cliffs and crashing waves and peace, glorious peace.

The characters in the book are definitely memorable. One thing that has been consistent for me in all of Binchy's books that I've read (there's very few that I have not read) is that the characters feel like people that you could actually meet. They feel real. Usually books with big casts don't work for me because I feel like I get really confused about who's who. The reason that her big casts work with me is that she weaves in all sorts of detail so you really feel like you get to know who each character is as well as what their motivations are.

Fans of Binchy's previous works will enjoy this book!


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Giveaway Winners!

I have a couple giveaway winners to announce today!

Becoming Josephine:
Cyn (Cyn already won a copy elsewhere)
Terry  (Terry already won a copy elsewhere)

Romeo and Juliet:


Review: The Forbidden Queen by Anne O'Brien

Title: The Forbidden Queen
Author: Anne O'Brien
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Mira Books
Publish Date: March 1, 2013
Source: Netgalley

What's the Story?:

From "An innocent pawn

A kingdom without a king

A new dynasty will reign…

1415. The jewel in the French crown, Katherine de Valois, is waiting under lock and key for King Henry V. While he's been slaughtering her kinsmen in Agincourt, Katherine has been praying for marriage to save her from her misery. But the brutal king wants her crown, not her innocent love.

For Katherine, England is a lion's den of greed, avarice and mistrust. And when she is widowed at twenty-one, she becomes a prize ripe for the taking—her young son the future monarch, her hand in marriage worth a kingdom.

This is a deadly political game, one the dowager queen must learn fast. The players—the Duke of Gloucester, Edmund Beaufort and Owen Tudor—are circling. Who will have her? Who will ruin her? This is the story of Katherine de Valois."

My Two Cents:

"The Forbidden Queen" is the story of Katherine de Valois, a French princess who becomes King Henry V of England's queen. I didn't really know much about Katherine before reading this book. She was absolutely fascinating and I really enjoyed reading about her in this book.

I really liked that the book was told from Katherine's point of view. I often find that I like reading books where the major player in the book gets to tell their own story. You really do get a front row view of the action. You get a level of honesty and full disclosure that you don't always get from other forms of points of view.

The book follows Katherine from her cloistered life in France to when she becomes the Queen of England and beyond. As a young girl, she has to deal with her selfish and overbearing mother, Isabeau, who seems to be way more interested in herself and doesn't really seem to be able to give Katherine the love and support she craves. I found this relationship to be really fascinating to read about. Katherine is really used as a pawn to create stronger ties between France and England. Katherine realizes this and it was really interesting to see how she deals with the idea of us. I can't really imagine being in her shoes.

The writing in the book was really good and really brought Katherine to life for me. I definitely want to read more about Katherine!


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: Paris Letters by Janice Macleod

Title: Paris Letters
Author: Janice Macleod
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: February 4, 2014
Source: Netgalley

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a memoir fan
  • You like armchair traveling.
What's the Story?:

From "Unfulfilled at her job and unsuccessful in the dating department, Janice MacLeod doodled this question at her desk. Then she decided to make it a challenge.

Over the next few months, with a little math and a lot of determination, she saved up enough to buy two years of freedom in Europe.

But she had only been in Paris for a few days when she met a handsome butcher (with a striking resemblance to Daniel Craig)—and never went home again.

A love story in the vein of Almost French and Lunch in Paris, Paris Letters (February 4) is a joyful romp through the City of Light, and an inspiring look at what can happen when we dare to create the life we want.

Realizing that her Parisian love affair would be forever, MacLeod began her own business on Etsy, creating beautifully-illustrated letters from Paris inspired by artists like Percy Kelly and Beatrix Potter. She now paints and writes full-time, bringing beautiful things to subscribers around the world and reviving the lost art of letter-writing."

My Two Cents:

"Paris Letters" is the memoir of Janice, a woman who decides that she needs a change in her life. She hates her job and her love life leaves something to being desired. So Janice saves up her money and is able to leave for Europe where she lives a much freer life. This memoir has a heavy focus on some wonderful traveling and I ate it up.

I think we've all wanted to run away at some point or another. I know that I dream of running away to some place where life is a little bit quieter and perhaps even a little bit slower where I had days where I didn't have to do anything but relax and read a whole bunch of books (oh, if money grew on trees!). It was really cool to read about someone who was actually able to do it (at least for a little bit). The book starts from the point in time where Janice is beginning to save money. She figures that she needs to save just $100 before she can go to Europe.

I enjoyed the travel aspect of the book but I wish a little bit more focus on some of the aspects of her life. While overseas, she faces a language barrier even with the guy that she falls hard for. I would have also loved to know more about other difficulties that Janice faced. Those items are sort of glossed over in this story. This book would be really good for armchair travelers but maybe not for those that were looking for a more serious and detailed memoir. This was a fun romp!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: The Queen's Dwarf by Ella March Chase

Title: The Queen's Dwarf
Author: Ella March Chase
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
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 "It's 1629, and King Charles I and his French queen Henrietta-Maria have reigned in England for less than three years. Young dwarf Jeffrey Hudson is swept away from a village shambles and plunged into the Stuart court when his father sells him to the most hated man in England--the Duke of Buckingham.

Buckingham trains Jeffrey to be his spy in the household of Charles' seventeen-year-old bride, hoping to gain intelligence that will help him undermine the vivacious queen's influence with the king. Desperately homesick in a country that hates her for her nationality and Catholic faith, Henrietta-Maria surrounds herself with her "Royal Menagerie of Freaks and Curiosities of Nature"--a "collection" consisting of a giant, two other dwarves, a rope dancer, an acrobat/animal trainer and now Jeffrey, who is dubbed "Lord Minimus."

Dropped into this family of misfits, Jeffrey must negotiate a labyrinth of court intrigue and his own increasingly divided loyalties. For not even the plotting of the Duke nor the dangers of a tumultuous kingdom can order the heart of a man. Though he is only eighteen inches tall, Jeffrey Hudson's love will reach far beyond his grasp--to the queen he has been sent to destroy."

My Two Cents:

"The Queen's Dwarf" is the story of Jeffrey Hudson, a dwarf, who becomes a part of Queen Henrietta Marie's (consort of King Charles I) menagerie. Yes, he becomes more of a pet than a part of the court. It was sort of sad to me how he was treated but such was life for so many that didn't fit the definition of "normal" in 1629. Jeffrey becomes a spy in the court for the Duke of Buckingham, a guy that leaves something to be desired in the way of congeniality. I enjoyed following Jeffrey's story in this book!

This story was a really different take on the typical court story. I liked that it followed a very different character in Jeffrey. He is not the typical character and it made for a much more interesting storyline to me! This book has a lot of intrigue in it with Jeffrey's spying, which I really enjoyed reading about. It took me awhile to get into the story and while the story was interesting, I thought some parts could have been slimmed down a bit but overall, my fellow historical fiction lovers are probably going to find a lot to like about this story.

I really found it interesting that Jeffrey's character was based on a real person. The author really did a good job of bringing Jeffrey and the rest of the people in the book to life. There is a lot of good detail about what it might be like to be on the sort of periphery of the court and not really being allowed to fully participate. I really liked reading about Jeffrey and some of the other people in Queen Henrietta Marie's menagerie. It had to be so strange to be treated more like a pet than a person. I really felt for those people.

Overall, I really enjoyed this off-the-beaten-path tale!


Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review and Guest Post: Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen

Title: Under the Jeweled Sky
Author: Alison McQueen
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publish Date: January 21, 2014
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're a romantic.
  • You love armchair traveling.
What's the Story?:

From "London 1957. In a bid to erase her past and build the family she yearns for, Sophie Schofield accepts a wedding proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien Grainger. When he is posted to New Delhi, into the glittering circle of ex-pat high society, old wounds begin to break open as she is confronted with the memory of her first, forbidden love and its devastating consequences.

The suffocating conformity of diplomatic life soon closes in on her. This is not the India she fell in love with ten years before when her father was a maharaja’s physician, the India of tigers and scorpions and palaces afloat on shimmering lakes; the India that ripped out her heart as Partition tore the country in two, separating her from her one true love. The past haunts her still, the guilt of her actions, the destruction it wreaked upon her fragile parents, and the boy with the tourmaline eyes.

Sophie had never meant to come back, yet the moment she stepped onto India’s burning soil as a newlywed wife, she realised her return was inevitable. And so begins the unravelling of an ill-fated marriage, setting in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring her face to face with a past she tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for.

A story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid."

My Two Cents:

"Under the Jewelled Sky" is the story of Sophie, an English diplomat's wife, who returns to India, a place that holds a special place in her heart. She has so many memories of India, both good and bad, and she is not sure whether she ever wanted to come back to India in the first place. This story has star-crossed lovers and a fantastic setting to boot set against a fascinating historical background.

I really enjoyed this story. It started out a little bit slowly for me but ended up being really good. I loved the story and loved how it unfolded. Because the book takes place in different times, the transitions did get a little confusing for me and I had to keep going back to figure out what happened when. Definitely stick with it though and you get a really lovely story.

The love story was one of the very best parts of this book. Sophie is a headstrong English girl who falls hard for Jag, an Indian boy. Their worlds are too different and they know that their families would not accept their love. Their love ends up ending but there is a piece that will go on and will prevent closure.

The setting of this book was awesome! I love reading about India. It seems like such an amazing place. This book takes place during a very changing time in India. I loved all of the history that was tied into this book. We get to see India's independence and the split between India and Pakistan. It definitely whetted my appetite to read more about India's history.

Overall, this is a great story that will be a treat for historical fiction fans that want a little romance with their reading!

Guest Post:

I am very excited to welcome Alison McQueen here to A Bookish Affair today.

Thank you for having me on A Bookish Affair today to talk about researching the historical novel. Right now I am half way down the rabbit hole once more, researching the novel I am working on. During this process, one thing invariably leads to another and before I know it I have lost track of what it was I was looking for in the first place.

My writing room is currently awash with papers, some of which I have pointlessly organized into files, as though that will give me a sense of achievement. There are piles of articles, documents and handwritten scraps on every available surface, many of which will make no sense at all when they eventually surface.

The research for Under The Jewelled Sky took months. At the British National Archives, I unearthed declassified documents from the 1957 Macmillan government, rubber-stamped Top Secret, which would have caused a great deal of diplomatic embarrassment should they have been leaked at the time.
The story was inspired by memories of my mother’s friends; the women I would eavesdrop on, the hushed voices and grave expressions passed over teacups. Many of them had grown up in India in the days before such things were openly spoken of, but it was all there: domestic violence, unwanted pregnancies, addiction, ruin, and occasional salvation.

Bad marriages were commonplace, but divorce was unthinkable, and the brittle veneers of fake harmony were part of the everyday landscape. Morals and ethics were knotted up with religious doctrine and stiff upper lip. Respectable people did not wash their laundry in public, nor did they question what went on behind the closed doors of their neighbours’ houses.

Part of the novel is set in a maharaja’s palace. Although the fictional palace and its location are anonymous, I did have an inside track into life inside an Indian palace. In her twenties, my mother (born in 1928), was hired as the private nurse to the Maharaja of Indore’s mother-in-law. She arrived there from Bombay and was shown to her quarters, an enormous suite in a grand building set across the grounds from the main palace.
A car was sent for her every morning, but she said that she preferred to walk. So off she would go, strolling through the grounds while the car followed along a few yards behind, driving at snail’s pace in case she should change her mind. Her breakfast would be served to her on a solid silver service, with a footman standing by should she want for anything.
From what she has told me, I am not sure that she handled it particularly well. She said that she didn’t want any fuss, which was quite the wrong way to go about things in a palace. There was also an incident when she was caught preparing her own boiled egg, which didn’t go down at all well. The cook was quite overcome with grief, and my mother never ventured to lift a finger again.

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

HFVBT Book Blast: The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

The Chalice UKThe Chalice
by Nancy Bilyeau

Paperback Publication Date: February 13, 2014
Orion Publishing
Paperback; 432p
ISBN-13: 978-1409135807

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Two
Genre: Historical Mystery

A curse to kill a king, a fight to save a nation. Follow young Joanna Stafford right into the dark heart of King Henry VIII's court in this stunning Tudor thriller.

England, 1538. The nation is reeling after the ruthless dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

Cast out of Dartford Priory, Joanna Stafford - feisty, courageous, but scarred by her recent encounter with rebellion at court - is trying to live a quiet life with her five-year-old charge, Arthur. But family connections draw her dangerously close to a treasonous plot and, repelled by violence and the whispered conspiracies around her, Joanna seeks a life with a man who loves her. But, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot escape the spreading darkness of her destiny. She must make a choice between those she cares for most, and taking her part in a mysterious prophecy foretold by three compelling seers.

Joanna embarks upon a testing journey, and, as she deciphers the meaning at the core of the prophecy, she learns that the fate of a king and the freedom of a nation rest in her hands.

Praise for The Chalice

"Expect treason, treachery, martyrs and more."  Choice magazine

"A time in which no one at all can be trusted and everyday life is laced with horror. Bilyeau paints this picture very, very well."  Reviewing the Evidence

"Bilyeau creates the atmosphere of 1530s London superbly."  Catholic Herald

"Bilyeau continues from her first novel the subtle, complex development of Joanna Stafford's character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader's interest on every page.  Historical Novel Society

"Joanna Stafford is a young novice caught up in power struggles familiar to readers of Hilary Mantel and C.J. Sansom, but with elements of magic that echo the historical thrillers of Kate Mosse."  S.J. PARRIS, author of HERESY, PROPHECY, AND SACRILEGE

"Second in this compelling and highly readable Tudor thriller series following the 16th century adventures of (now cast out) nun Joanna Stafford. Treason, conspiracies and a dangerous prophecy draw Joanna back from the quiet life she had made for herself after being cast out of Dartford Priory - but she isn't prepared for the gravity of the situation she finds herself in or the responsibility she now holds. Nancy Bilyeau has followed up her impressive debut with an accomplished historical thriller perfect for fans of C. J. Sansom, Philippa Gregory and S. J. Parris."  Lovereading UK

"Sharply observed, cleverly paced and sympathetically written, this book more than fulfils the promise of THE CROWN, itself named as last year's most impressive debut novel by the CWA Ellis Peters judges. If Joanna Stafford is to return to see out the final years of Henry's tempestuous reign and the accession of his Catholic daughter Mary, I am sure I will not be alone in waiting eagerly for her."

"A stunning debut. One of the best historical novels I have ever read " ALISON WEIR

THE CHALICE offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England's most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don't let you go even after the last exciting page " KAREN HARPER, bestselling author of MISTRESS OF MOURNING

"Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII's reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed." C.W. GORTNER, author of THE QUEEN'S VOW

"Bilyeau paints a moving portrait of Catholicism during the Reformation and of reclusive, spiritual people adjusting to the world outside the cloister. This intriguing and suspenseful historical novel pairs well with C. J. Sansom's Dissolution (2003) and has the insightful feminine perspective of Brenda Rickman Vantrease's The Heretic's Wife (2010)." BOOKLIST

"As in The Crown, Bilyeau's writing style means that the story reads almost flawlessly. The narrative really makes the reader throw themselves into the story, and makes it so the book is really difficult to put down. I was really very impressed with Bilyeau's writing (As I was in The Crown), and honestly can't recommend this book highly enough." LOYALTY BINDS ME

"THE CHALICE is a compelling and pacey time machine to the 16th Century. And when you're returned to the present, you'll have enjoyed an adventure and gained a new perspective on a past you'd wrongly thought to be a done deal." Andrew Pyper, author of THE DEMONOLOGIST

"The Chalice is a gripping, tightly-plotted mystery, with a beguiling heroine at its heart, that vividly conjures up the complex dangers of Reformation England. Bilyeau's deftness of touch and complete control over her complex material make for a truly exciting and compelling read." ELIZABETH FREMANTLE author of QUEEN'S GAMBIT

"THE CHALICE is brimming with sinister portents, twisted allegiances, religious superstition and political intrigue. It's a darkly fascinating Tudor brew that leaves you thirsting for more." PATRICIA BRACEWELL, author of SHADOW ON THE CROWN

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Buy the Book

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Book Depository
Orion Publishing

About the Author

Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay "Zenobia" placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and "Loving Marys" reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013.

Some earlier milestones: In 1661, Nancy's ancestor, Pierre Billiou, emigrated from France to what was then New Amsterdam when he and his family sailed on the St. Jean de Baptiste to escape persecution for their Protestant beliefs. Pierre built the first stone house on Staten Island and is considered the borough's founder. His little white house is on the national register of historic homes and is still standing to this day.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Author Links

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Nancy Bilyeau Gives an Inside Peek Behind THE CHALICE

Book Blast Schedule

Monday, February 17
Mari Reads
Book Drunkard
Closed the Cover
Historical Tapestry
Royalty Free Fiction
Passages to the Past
Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, February 18
Princess of Eboli
Words and Peace
Big Book, Little Book
Curling Up By the Fire
Peeking Between the Pages
Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Historical Fiction Obsession

Wednesday, February 19
Broken Teepee
Kincavel Korner
A Bookish Affair
CelticLady's Reviews
The True Book Addict
Teresa's Reading Corner

Thursday, February 20
Drey's Library
Booktalk & More
Must Read Faster
Reading the Ages
The Maiden's Court
Historical Fiction Connection
Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews

Friday, February 21
HF Book Muse-News
On the Tudor Trail
Flashlight Commentary
Ageless Pages Reviews
Muse in the Fog Book Reviews
Confessions of an Avid Reader

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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

TLC Book Tours: The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

Title: The Perfume Collector
Author: Kathleen Tessaro
Format: Hardcover
Publisher: Harper
Publish Date: May 14, 2013
Source: TLC Book Tours

Why You're Reading This Book:

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

From "An inheritance from a mysterious stranger . . .
An abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank of Paris . . .
And three exquisite perfumes that hold a memory . . . and a secret

London, 1955: Grace Monroe is a fortunate young woman. Despite her sheltered upbringing in Oxford, her recent marriage has thrust her into the heart of London's most refined and ambitious social circles. However, playing the role of the sophisticated socialite her husband would like her to be doesn't come easily to her—and perhaps never will.

Then one evening a letter arrives from France that will change everything. Grace has received an inheritance. There's only one problem: she has never heard of her benefactor, the mysterious Eva d'Orsey.

So begins a journey that takes Grace to Paris in search of Eva. There, in a long-abandoned perfume shop on the Left Bank, she discovers the seductive world of perfumers and their muses, and a surprising, complex love story. Told by invoking the three distinctive perfumes she inspired, Eva d'Orsey's story weaves through the decades, from 1920s New York to Monte Carlo, Paris, and London.

But these three perfumes hold secrets. And as Eva's past and Grace's future intersect, Grace realizes she must choose between the life she thinks she should live and the person she is truly meant to be.

Illuminating the lives and challenging times of two fascinating women, The Perfume Collector weaves a haunting, imaginative, and beautifully written tale filled with passion and possibility, heartbreak and hope."

My Two Cents:

This book focuses on two very different women in two different time periods. There is Eva, who leaves her inheritance under mysterious circumstances to Grace, a young woman who is completely adrift when her relationship breaks down. When Grace receives the inheritance, she is sent on a journey to figure why she received the inheritance and learns quite a bit about the woman who left it to her in the process.

It took me awhile to get into the story as the book unfolded rather slowly for me. Eventually the book started speeding up as we got further into the story as the mystery of Eva started to be unraveled. Some of the book felt a little stiff but overall I really enjoyed the story.

Eva and Grace were both interesting characters to me. I really liked reading about both of them but I think I favored reading about Eva a little bit more. She had a really fascinating life and I really liked reading how she was able to cut out a good life for herself in grand Paris. I really like stories about people who are able to turn their humble beginnings into something really great. Eva goes from a maid to one of the most admired women in Paris society. She is truly a fascinating character to read about! Grace was interesting to read about. I loved reading about her adventures in Paris as she begins to unravel the mystery of who Eva was.

I really liked the settings in the book. Grace lives in London when the book opens. She travels to Paris where Eva's story takes place. I would absolutely love to go to Paris someday but in the meantime I shall have to settle for reading about it. I really liked the author's description of the city and of Parisian society. The descriptions were so real to me. This book is definitely a good choice for when you're looking for some armchair traveling.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Tuesday, February 11th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Wednesday, February 12th: The Blog of Lit Wits
Thursday, February 13th: Read. Write. Repeat
Monday, February 17th: Col Reads
Tuesday, February 18th: A Bookish Affair
Thursday, February 20th: Sidewalk Shoes
Sunday, February 23rd: Peppermint PhD
Monday, February 24th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Tuesday, February 25th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, February 26th: Walking With Nora
Thursday, February 27th: Kritters Ramblings


Monday, February 17, 2014

Blog Tour Review and Interview: Girl on the Golden Coin by Marci Jefferson

Title: Girl on the Golden Coin
Author: Marci Jefferson
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Thomas Dunne
Publish Date: February 11, 2014
Source: I received a copy from the publisher; however, this did not affect my review.

What's the Story?:

From "Impoverished and exiled to the French countryside after the overthrow of the English Crown, Frances Stuart survives merely by her blood-relation to the Stuart Royals. But in 1660, the Restoration of Stuart Monarchy in England returns her family to favor. Frances discards threadbare gowns and springs to gilded Fontainebleau Palace, where she soon catches King Louis XIV’s eye. But Frances is no ordinary court beauty, she has Stuart secrets to keep and people to protect. The king turns vengeful when she rejects his offer to become his Official Mistress. He banishes her to England with orders to seduce King Charles II and stop a war.

Armed in pearls and silk, Frances maneuvers through the political turbulence of Whitehall Palace, but still can’t afford to stir a scandal. Her tactic to inspire King Charles to greatness captivates him. He believes her love can make him an honest man and even chooses Frances to pose as Britannia for England’s coins. Frances survives the Great Fire, the Great Plague, and the debauchery of the Restoration Court, yet loses her heart to the very king she must control. Until she is forced to choose between love or war.

On the eve of England’s Glorious Revolution, James II forces Frances to decide whether to remain loyal to her Stuart heritage or, like England, make her stand for Liberty. Her portrait as Britannia is minted on every copper coin. There she remains for generations, an enduring symbol of Britain’s independent spirit and her own struggle for freedom."

My Two Cents:

Before reading this book, I only vaguely knew who Frances Stuart was and really I knew more about her family that her herself. Frances' family is exiled to France where they play various roles in the court of the Sun King. The book really starts rolling when Frances returns to England and becomes mistress to the King. This book has so much going for it: a fantastic main character and a story filled with intriguing historical detail and a really great story.

Frances Stuart was known as a great beauty. The title of the book actually comes from the fact that she really was the face on England's coin. The portrait of Britannia was based on her, so you know she had to be absolutely gorgeous. I really liked Frances Stuart and I really like that the book was told from her perspective, which really drew me into the story. Frances is fiercely independent and when she sees something she wants, she goes after it. She realizes that she is in a potentially precarious position as the mistress to Charles II, especially since he has other mistresses. Also, it was never her choice to be Charles' mistress; she was supposed to keep Louis XIV in Charles' good graces. She realizes that she must perform this duty to the best of her ability. It was so interesting how she was able to position herself in Charles' court.

I loved the historical detail in this book! England was going through so many changes at the time and we get to see all of those changes through France's eyes. This book is definitely one that historical fiction fans are going to love!

I would be remiss to not tell you how much I adore this title. Know that this cover had no bearing on my thoughts on the book but I had to mention it! I want that dress. I'm not sure where I would wear it but I want that dress!


I am very excited to welcome Marci Jefferson here to A Bookish Affair today!

Meg, I’m delighted to be your guest on A Bookish Affair today! Thank you for having me, and for helping me get the word out there about my debut novel.

1. What inspired you to write about Frances Stuart?

I first learned about the Royal Stuarts during a stay in London. Someone happened to point out the Banqueting House where Charles I was beheaded. I was stunned – I thought kings always ordered the beheadings! I felt compelled to study everything about the Royal Stuarts that my professors neglected to teach me in Nursing School. Frances Stuart initially stood out as a woman who embraced her personal liberty in defiance of kings.

A few years later I read THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and became obsessed with the desire to do for the Stuarts what Philippa Gregory had done for the Tudors. I picked up my independent studies again and soon realized Frances Stuart’s independent streak matched the collective spirit of the Restoration age. Since she also happened to be the model for Britannia, I knew there was no better subject for a novel of Restoration England.

2. What was your research process like for the book? Did you find out any strange or interesting facts while you were doing your research?

I research way too much – before plotting, after plotting, before each scene, and for each detail. Each character has their own file, each location has its own diagram. It is the most exciting process for me, but sometimes becomes a means of procrastination.

A friend of mine once found a mysterious entry on Wikipedia referencing a Dutch television show about celebrity genealogy. It claimed one of their celebrities was related to Charles II through an illegitimate daughter he’d fathered by Frances Stuart. As you know, I research things to death. I was entirely certain Frances Stuart did not have a living daughter by Charles II, but this show made me doubt my entire body of work. I freaked out and proceeded to spend a LOT of time discovering the truth.

I had a letter translated into Dutch for the producers of the show in which I politely refuted their claim and asked for their sources or a thorough explanation. They responded saying that they no longer had a copy of the episode and therefore could not explain the genealogical connection. Nor did they offer the name of the genealogical expert they used. Therefore, since they were not able to support it, at this time I do not believe their mysterious claim.

That Wikipedia entry remained for about a year before someone (not me) removed it. But not before a major ancestry database website and a few blogs had copied the information for use on their own sites! This is a perfect example of how the facts are not always available, and why you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. It is why I do as much research as possible. 

3. What was the hardest part about writing this book? What about the easiest?

All of the love scenes were difficult to write! But because there are differing opinions among historians about whether Frances really did-or-did-not sleep with the king, the physical progression of their relationship actually became important to my plot and her life as I imagined it.

The easiest part about writing this book…was moment I was finally able to announce to my supportive family and friends that a publisher had purchased it to make it available to the world!

4. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

The best advice is the simplest stuff from Writing 101 that tends to go in one ear and out the other - read the type of books you want to write, write every day, cut the parts readers skip, show don’t tell, have faith, and if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

5. If you could bring 3 historical figures or fictional characters with you to a deserted island, who would you bring and why?

The three best choices come straight from the pages of GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN. Frances Stuart would do absolutely whatever it takes to get us off the island, Charles II had the largest fleet of Royal Navy ships, and the Duke of Richmond was rather skilled as an undercover pirate... just the kind of folks who could get us rescued in a hurry!

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

1/29 – giveaway, Devourer of Books:
1/31 – interview/giveaway, Literary, etc:
2/1 – review, A Bookish Libraria:
2/3 – review, The Bookish Owl:
2/4 – review/giveaway, Writing the Renaissance:
2/5 – interview, Writing the Renaissance:
2/6 – interview, Between the Sheets/Heather Webb:
2/7 – interview, Spann of Time:
2/8 – review/giveaway, Passages to the Past:
2/9 – review, Royal Reviews:
2/10 – Picture This, SheReads:
2/10 – review/giveaway, The Lit Bitch:
2/11 – review, Reading the Past:
2/11 – interview/on-sale announcement, Enchanted by Josephine:
2/11 – Three Favorite Things, USA TODAY’S Happy Ever After:
2/12 – review/giveaway, Enchanted by Josephine:
2/12 – review, Muse/Erika Robuck:
2/13 – review, Unabridged Chick:
2/13 – interview/giveaway/excerpt, Harlequin Junkie:
2/14 – interview, Unabridged Chick:
2/15 – review, Historical Fiction Obsession:
2/16 – review, Lesa’s Book Critiques:
2/17 – review/interview, A Bookish Affair:
2/18 – review, Let Them Read Books:
2/19 – interview, Let Them Read Books:
2/20 – review/giveaway, The Maiden’s Court:
2/21 – review/giveaway, No More Grumpy Bookseller:

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