Friday, April 4, 2014

January & February Books I Loved

BELLMAN AND BLACK/Diane Setterfield
The follow-up novel to her stunning debut (THE THIRTEENTH TALE), Setterfield's hero, William Bellman, encounters a rook as a boy and is haunted all his life by what happened that day. It's very much a storytelling kind of novel, written as though someone were relating the Victorian tale to you around a fire. William loses his mother, falls in love, has a family, succeeds in business, and then makes a dark bargain as he teeters on the edge of destruction. Though it didn't quite measure up to my adoration of THE THIRTEENTH TALE, it is a wonderfully atmospheric story.

From her wildly popular website of the same name, Allie Brosh has put together a series of her posts with their accompanying cartoons in a book. There is the wonderfully descriptive essays on depression, but also memories of her childhood (CAKE!), being lost in the woods with her mother, and a continuing reference to the not-so-bright dogs that have come into her life. If you are a little bit twisted (or love someone who is), this will make you laugh, cry, and be glad that you're not the only oddball in the world.

The latest in the Flavia de Luce mystery series is full of many things I can't talk about for fear of spoiling what has come before. Take my advice, and pick up the first (THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE) and get to know 11-year-old Flavia, who loves chemistry and poisons, and her family living in a falling-down aristocratic estate in 1950's Britain. Flavia solves crimes, but she's also trying to figure out who she is and where she fits and she is the most cold-blooded genius who is still a little girl that you will ever find.

THE STRANGER/Camilla Lackberg
From the Swedish mystery series, in this book Lackberg examines the pressures of a reality-show exploiting its members and ties it in with the mysterious car-crash death of a local woman. Patrik Hedstrom is convinced the woman was murdered and slowly finds other victims in similar circumstances across the years. With flashback sections that slowly bring comprehension to the present case, this series is my favorite of the current Scandinavian crop.

HOTHOUSE/Boris Kachka
An intriguing account of the rise of literary publisher Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux. The publishing home of twenty-five Nobel prize winners, the company was a collection of brilliant businessmen, talented editors, sexual shenanigans, and literary superstars like Tom Wolfe and Jonathan Franzen. If I weren't a writer with a New York publishers, I probably would have found this less enthralling, but it is a peek behind the ivory tower image some readers have of literary publishers.

An account of the current state of foster care in the U.S. is necessarily often depressing, but I found hope in the individual stories. Beam goes in-depth with families who range from trying to adopt their first child out of foster care to a teenagers who are aging out of the system and are woefully unprepared. It gives me faith in the future to know there are those who are willing to love the most difficult children and hang in there even when all evidence points to no good outcome.

The third in the House of Niccolo series finds newly-widowed Nicolas and his private army forcibly headed to Cyprus and the vicious war between James and his half-sister Carlotta for the throne. Nicolas, naturally, is always a step ahead of those who would use him (and sometimes two steps ahead of the reader) but the clever conspiracies are only half the fun. The other half is the characters and the emotional depth Dunnett can express in the most restrained manner.

A "finally-got-around-to" book for me, Eugenides' debut novel (published by the aforementioned Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux) is about the five daughters of the Lisbon family and their slow descent into epic tragedy begun when the first sister throws herself out a window. The narrator is the collective voice of the neighborhood boys who are fascinated by the girls. Not an easy book, and no happy endings, but I am glad I finally read it.

Maggie Hope is finally in Germany, parachuted in for a short and specific undercover mission during WWII. But her spymasters have a particular reason for sending her on this mission, and when Maggie finds a way into Berlin society, she seizes the opportunity to gather information for bother her country and her own peace of mind.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


So many happy things lately!

1. Lovely email exchanges this week about the audio versions of my books being produced by Narrator being chosen now. Boleyn King and Boleyn Deceit should be available in June, with Boleyn Reckoning available as it is published in July.

2. My ever-patient agent, Tamar Rydzinski, read the first 100 pages of the new book and said she was hooked. (She also said that I can't just write things like "there were lots of colors" and pretend that I've actually described anything. Descriptions/scenery/fabrics=my weakest writing skill. Also, it's apparently an issue when I say that a character is staying in Paris but in the next scene she's at a dinner table a full day's ride away from Paris. Who knew continuity mattered?!) Still, any email about something I've written that doesn't begin with: "I hate it, change everything" is a good email.

3. I'm going to the Romantic Times Convention in New Orleans in May! My husband is even going to come down and spend the weekend. I've never been to New Orleans and I'm so excited :)

4. Jake has so far been accepted to five colleges. I knew that kid was smart :) He's 99% certain he's made his choice, but I will refrain from specifics until we've heard from the remaining schools.

5. And best of all (because it's happening next week), I'll be at Left Coast Crime in Monterey from the 20-23, and even going to be on my first panel (Murder Across the Pond. Yes, I know my books aren't technically mysteries. Shhh, don't tell. (Actually, I did tell, but they still seem okay letting me in.)) Flying in a few days early to see San Francisco, another city I've never been to. AND IT'S IN THE 60'S THERE! Considering the 8-foot snow drifts in my yard, it doesn't get better than that.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Look Back at 2013 Books . . . and a Reckoning Teaser :)

To celebrate Valentine's Day, what better to talk about than books I loved last year?

(And if you make it to the end, there's a spoiler treat for you from Boleyn Reckoning.)

First, numbers. Because it's Valentine's Day and my husband likes numbers. Happy Valentine's Day, Chris!

Reading stats for 2013

Total Books Read: 144

Non-fiction: 21

Historical fiction: 26

Young Adult: 25

Speculative: 38

Mystery: 48

No surprises in genre--mystery is always and forever my highest read and the deepest dream of my heart to be able to write well :)

But numbers alone can't express the hundreds of hours of joy and sorrow, wonder and curiosity that those 144 books gave me last year. I don't read for statistics--I read to live. To live the many lives outside of the single one my physical body is allowed.

You may have noticed in 2013 that my monthly (more or less) roundup of books changed slightly. I used to list and grade every book I'd read in that month. Shortly after my own first book was released, I changed it to Books I Loved in that particular month. Once my own work--and heart--were out there for judgment, I could no longer bring myself to write anything but good.

(Note--I am not claiming that negative reviews have no value. I am simply claiming that I am not, have never been, a reviewer in any but the most personal sense. And personally, I honor all writers who endure to the point of publication and cannot bring myself on a public stage to criticize those efforts.)

Besides, I am remarkably easy to please. I open every book expecting to enjoy myself, so there aren't all that many books I'm leaving off my monthly lists :)

To return to 2013, I starred twenty-eight books as my absolute favorites. To narrow it down further, here are my Top Ten:

QUIET/Susan Cain/Non-fiction--the subtitle says it all (The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking)

FANGIRL/Rainbow Rowell/Young Adult--a fanfiction-writing college freshman copes with a bi-polar father, an absent mother, and a twin sister who's drinking her way through their first semester. Also, there's a boy.

DEAD SCARED/S.J. Bolton/Mystery--the second Lacey Flint novel follows the DC as she goes undercover at Cambridge after a rash of student suicides.

HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN/Louise Penny/Mystery--Quebec detective Armand Gamache risks life and honor to ensure corruption and evil is not allowed to flourish.

TEAM OF RIVALS/Doris Kearns Goodwin/Non-fiction--the award-winning account of Lincoln's presidency and how he welded former opponents into staunch allies.

REPUBLIC OF THIEVES/Scott Lynch/Speculative--long-awaited third novel in which Locke Lamora is hired to disrupt an election and (finally!!!) meets up with his love, Sabetha.

JUST ONE EVIL ACT/Elizabeth George/Mystery--Barbara Havers is in over her head when her neighbor's daughter is kidnapped; how far will she bend the law to help?

NICCOLO RISING/Dorothy Dunnett/Historical fiction--first in a series, 15th-century Flemish apprentice Claes becomes merchant and soldier Niccolo and uses his brains and charm to put himself in the center of trade and politics.

STILL WRITING/Dani Shapiro/Non-fiction--a mix of memoir and writing advice, I underlined multiple passages.

KING HEREAFTER/Dorothy Dunnett/Historical fiction--my absolute favorite of 2013, this stand-alone novel about an Orkney Islands earl who becomes the first leader of a combined Scotland in the 11th-century is a brilliant look at the man sometimes known as Macbeth.

And because it's my blog and I can do what I want, three new-to-me authors in 2013 who each had multiple starred books in my notes:

ELEANOR AND PARK and ATTACHMENTS/Rainbow Rowell/Young adult and Adult--just slightly behind my favorite (FANGIRL) were Rowell's other novels. Check her out!

GRAVE MERCY and DARK TRIUMPH/Robin LaFevers/Young adult--a historical fantasy series following female assassins trained in convents dedicated to the God of Death, LaFevers writes engaging, complex heroines and grounds her world and politics firmly in historical detail.

UNSPOKEN and UNTOLD/Sarah Rees Brennan/Young adult--the first two in a contemporary gothic paranormal series, these novels have a wonderful heroine, Kami Glass, who's determined to save her town, figure out why the boy who talks to her in her head can no longer stand her, and also be an award-winning high school journalist. Suspense, romance, and laugh-out-loud funny to boot.

And if you've endured with me this far--thank you! And as a reward, below is my favorite romantic scene from the upcoming THE BOLEYN RECKONING. (Warning, spoiler for those who have not read THE BOLEYN DECEIT.)

     After several dances, William said abruptly, “Do you not care to dance, Lord Exeter?” Dominic could hear the leashed anger and knew that the king had been more troubled by Margaret Boleyn’s nastiness than he’d let on.
     Dominic was not in the mood to settle his temper. “It needs the right music and the right partner, Your Majesty.”
     William spread his hands wide. “Command the musicians as you will.”
     All eyes were on Dominic as he straightened away from the wall. He kept his eyes on the king, knowing that William expected him to either apologize or back down. Instead, Dominic commanded the silent musicians, “Play a volta.”
     William gave a short laugh of surprise and perhaps even approval. “And the right partner?” the king asked with elaborate courtesy.
     “Surely you can spare Mistress Wyatt for one dance.”
     What could William say? It was you taught me that trick, Dominic thought as William passed Minuette over to him. Ask in public so that one cannot refuse without appearing childish.
     His heart misgave him when he realized that William meant only to watch them, which meant that no one else would dance, either. It was reckless to the point of insanity, but as the violin played the opening strains of a volta, Dominic forgot to care. All he knew was that he was going to dance with his wife.
     He had never danced a volta with Minuette. It had been years since he’d performed the rather risqué dance at all, but his lack of practice did not show. More than any dance, the volta depended on the connection between partners and that was so strong that he thought the most attentive might actually see the sparks between them.
     This girl’s been in someone’s bed. But not recently enough. The two years he’d waited for Minuette before their marriage was as nothing to the frustrations of the last five months. After those blissful weeks at Wynfield Mote following their wedding, enforced celibacy had weighed on him more than he would have thought possible. All he could think of was the velvet of Minuette’s skin, his fingers tangled in her hair, the length of her body beneath him, her breathless laughter giving way to little gasps of pleasure. It was distracting and infuriating and, when he lifted her every few steps of the volta, his hands curved to her waist and hip, Dominic thought that he would damn them both thoroughly by pushing her against a wall and kissing her. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I have a new post up at Cabinet of Curiosities.

Coming soon, my reading review of 2013 with my favorite books of last year.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

December Books I Loved

As an enormous fan of Dunnett's six-volume Lymond chronicles, I hesitated to begin this series because how could it possibly live up to Francis Crawford of Lymond? True, young Claes, the Flemish apprentice who becomes Nicolas by the end of the first book, is no Francis Crawford. But he is engaging in his own way, as well as brilliant in exactly the way needed in the late 15th century. Nicolas rises from apprentice to merchant adventurer, making both enemies and friends along the way. This series is more concerned with the rising merchant classes rather than the aristocracy, but politics are never far beneath the surface. The best part is there are five more books in the series!

The second in May's trilogy about the remote Scots island of Lewis opens with the discovery of a corpse in a peat bog. A tattoo dates the corpse to the 1950s and DNA matches the boy to a local man. Unfortunately, the man in question is suffering from Alzheimer's. Fin MacLeod, whose past was painfully exposed in the first book in the trilogy, has returned to Lewis and is asked by the family to uncover the truth. Moving back and forth in time, it's a story to match the bleak but beautiful landscape of the remote island.

ATTACHMENTS/Rainbow Rowell
Lincoln can't believe it's his job to read internal email at a local newspaper. Set in 1999, with Y2K looming, Lincoln in his late twenties hasn't quite moved on from several advanced college degrees. He lives with his mother, and works through the night to ensure proper computer use. Real trouble begins when he begins reading flagged emails between two writers: Beth and Jennifer. The friends reveal their lives and personalities and Lincoln is head over heels for Beth before he knows it. "Hi, I'm the guy who reads your email, and also, I love you . . ." Written before her two YA hits of 2013, Rowell's trademark wit and generosity of spirit is well in evidence in this lovely little novel.

Subtitled An Atlas of Depression, Solomon's book is an exploration of the disease in personal, cultural, and scientific terms. Himself a sufferer, Solomon writes most movingly out of his own experience with the worst that depression inflicts. He spoke with many others, and touches upon topics ranging from alternate treatments to suicide. One of the best books I've read on the subject.

Years ago, Judith disappeared from her colonial-era village. Then she returned, without her tongue and after the death of another girl in the village. Unable to speak easily--and with no one willing to hear--Judith is viewed uneasily even by her own family. The book is written in second-person, as though Judith is pouring out all her thoughts and memories to Lucas, the young man she has loved since she was a child. When their village is threatened, Judith has to make a choice and in that choice begins to take back the reins of her own life. An unusual and powerful YA novel.

In the last days before the fall of China to the Japanese, a young Englishwoman was brutally murdered in old Peking. When Pamela Werner's mutilated body was found at the base of a supposedly spirit-haunted tower, an English detective is brought in to work with the local officers to solve the case. The investigation was hampered by the imminent Japanese occupation and the deep cultural differences running through the city. With the eruption of WWII, the murder of one girl is forgotten. Writer Paul French discovered a wealth of primary documents in the case several years ago and, in this book, delivers at last an answer to Pamela's violent end.

A sequel to MR. CHURCHILL'S SECRETARY, in this novel American-raised Maggie Hope has left Churchill's direct employ to train with MI6. Despite her wish to work behind enemy lines, Maggie is instead sent undercover to Windsor Castle to investigate a possible threat to Princess Elizabeth. A lady in waiting is murdered, secret documents from Bletchley Park are missing, and the Germans will stop at nothing to gain leverage over the British government. A wonderful follow-up, with an ending that sends you racing immediately to the next book in the series.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

October & November Books I Loved

I'm a huge fan of Carol Goodman (Juliet Dark is a pen name) and her gothic stand alone novels. As Dark, she leaps into a paranormal world, with Callie McFay discovering that the remote college she's been hired at is peopled by witches and fairies and other mythical creatures. Not to mention the incubus who is inhabiting Callie's dreams. The first book has a fairly high sensual element, but there's a good story in this trilogy that I enjoyed.

Every now and then I discover an old Bill Bryson book and give thanks. In this one, Bryson talks language--specifically, the development of the English language with its shameless borrowing and manipulation of other languages. Bryson always tells good stories, and this book is no exception.

A follow-up to King's 1920's novel TOUCHSTONE, this one also featuring former FBI agent Harris Stuyvesant. It is autumn 1929 and Harris has been hired to track down a missing American girl in Paris. The book is dripping with the atmosphere and details of Paris, and Harris finds himself immersed in the world of clubs, painters, writers, and the disturbingly visceral Grand-Guignol theatre. Although I will always claim Mary Russell as my first love among King's characters, I find the world of Harris Stuyvesant a rich one in which to escape.

FANGIRL/Rainbow Rowell
OH MY GOSH!!! Clearly Rainbow Rowell is my Favorite Author I Discovered This Year! I loved ELEANOR AND PARK, but I think I love FANGIRL a tiny bit more. Cather Avery and her twin sister are beginning their freshman year of college. Cath is on her own thanks to Wren's desire for autonomy, leaving the girl who loves writing fan fiction with an older roommate, two boys who may or may not be interested in more than her writing, not to mention worry about their bi-polar father living alone. Brilliant and beautiful and evocative of how it feels to be out in the world for the first time.

ISLAND OF BONES/Imogen Robertson
The third in the Gabriel Crowther/Harriet Westerman mysteries takes place in 1783 when the reclusive anatomist Crowther is summoned to his ancestral home when an extra body is found in an ancient tomb. Harriet is dealing with the recent death of her husband and Crowther is not happy about being forced back into old family wounds. I like the use of multiple POVs in this novel, including young Stephen Westerman who plays a fairly crucial role in events, and I am quite fond of the gentle but emotionally powerful feel of these books.

TEAM OF RIVALS/Doris Kearns Goodwin
The biography of Abraham Lincoln and the men--his political opponents--whom he welded into a powerful cabinet. Goodwin focuses on Lincoln's genius for understanding others, especially their motivations, and using that understanding to turn rivals into some of his finest allies. Highly recommended look at the humanity behind Lincoln's political gifts.

I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BOOK!!!! The third in the Gentleman Bastards series finally introduces Sabetha, Locke Lamora's lost love. The novel opens with Locke pulled from the brink of death in exchange for running a political campaign. Unfortunately, the offer comes from the Bondsmagi, enemies with nearly unlimited power and no reason to love Locke. But Sabetha is running the opposition campaign and Locke can't resist seeing her again. As with the earlier books, the story weaves a significant past story into the present and by the end the world has exploded with new questions and doubts about Locke's origins. Fair warning for those who care: you need a high tolerance for cursing.

A small jewel of a book about friendship across borders. Alvarez and her husband own a coffee farm in the Dominican Republic and often hire Haitian workers who cross the border. One of their young workers, Piti, particularly captures their hearts and a promise made half in jest--to attend his wedding someday--becomes an odyssey of travel and hope and the power of witnessing. Having lived in Haiti for a year, this book was like a window into all my memories and love for the place and people.

JUST ONE EVIL ACT/Elizabeth George
In George's latest Inspector Lynley novel, Barbara Havers is in torment when her friend Azhar's daughter is missing. Haddiyah has been snatched away by her mother, and Azhar begs Barbara's help in tracking her down. They work with a private investigator, but the trail goes nowhere for months. Until Haddiyah's mother shows up in London screaming that Haddiyah has been taken from her in Italy and now no one knows where she is. A twisty, convoluted, heartbreaking novel in which I wanted multiple times to shake Barbara and alternately wanted to cheer on Lynley in his tentative pursuit of a new woman after his wife's death. Terrible and beautiful in equal measure.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Release Day

Better known as: Holy Hannah, how did I get to be so lucky with the people in my life? 

This has been a crazy six months. I've hardly had time to assimilate the thought of having a book published, and here comes the second one. How did this happen? 

The answer, as with every good thing in my life, is in people. I waffle over naming names because I'm certain to leave someone off, but I will risk it with your generosity in understanding my lapses. So thank you to: 

Tamar Rydzinski: Agent Extraordinaire, who in September 2010 sent me an email upon reading my original one-book version of The Boleyn King that said: "LOVE LOVE LOVE this. I am super excited for it." And then went on to give me the perfect revision advice (including the trilogy idea) that set my books on the path to publication. 

Caitlin Alexander: my acquiring editor at Ballantine, whose enthusiasm for this trilogy made all the difference in my books finding their home. 

Kate Miciak: who writes me the best editorial notes ever. Seriously. Who else would write me notes like: "All the more reason to have desperate sex on page 216." Or draw me hearts in the margins? Her notes make everything better. 

Readers and Bloggers: who have gone out of their way to not only read a debut author, but to let me know about it. Every single person who has taken the trouble to message me on Facebook or mention me on Twitter has made these six months a bounty of blessings. 

When I began writing about my altered Boleyn royals and their friends, I told myself that I didn't care if I got rich or famous (which is good planning if you want to write); I just wanted to be successful enough that I could continue to write for a wide audience. 

Thank you--every single one of you--for making this dream possible. I wrote you the best book I knew how . . . and I did it with love.