Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Blog Tour Holiday Blitz Q&A + Review: With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins

From the Back Cover:

A wallflower determined to fulfill a dying promise, the rogue she jilted years ago, and an orphaned baby are all brought together amidst the magic of Christmas in this new novella from Manda Collins. 

Miss Merry Parks makes a deathbed promise to a schoolfriend that her infant daughter will be taken to her absent father. There’s only one problem—to find the baby’s father, she’ll have to consult his cousin, Viscount Wrotham, the man she jilted five years ago. The man she couldn’t forget. 

Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, is stunned to find Merry Parks—looking more lovely than ever--on his doorstep with an infant in her arms. His shock soon turns to dismay when he learns his own cousin William is the man who abandoned his wife and child. As head of the family he’s duty bound to see right is done. But he can't let this opportunity pass. He’ll take Merry and the baby to his cousin, but he’ll woo her back in the process.

Merry agrees to travel with Alex and the baby to Wrotham Castle, where the entire Ponsonby family has gathered for Christmas, but her plans to see the baby settled then leave are ruined by a snowstorm. After five years apart, Alex and Merry will spend the week getting reacquainted. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the holiday, or the magic of the season, but there could be something else in the air this Yuletide…A Christmas Reunion.

Christmas Q&A with Manda Collins!

When do the holidays officially start for you?

The first frosty morning when there's a nip in the air and I can feel that winter is on the way. I love that feeling!

What's your favorite thing about the holidays?

Getting together with family and friends is the best. We don't necessarily see one another all that much during the year, but we all make time during the holidays.

Are there any holiday traditions you do every year without fail?

I listen to carols sung by the King's College Choir every year and spend at least one day boiling cloves and spices on the stove to get the house smelling like Christmas.

What's your favorite holiday movie?

The Thin Man starring Myrna Loy and William Powell as Nick and Nora Charles. (Of course MY favorite holiday movie has witty repartee and murder in it!)

Do you have a favorite holiday book?

That would be Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley. It's one of her early Company of Rogues books and I love the way Lucien and Beth and her children become a family over the course of the story.

What's your all-time favorite holiday song?

The Holly and the Ivy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Guest Post: Travel in the Early Nineteenth Century by Catherine Kullmann, Author of Perception & Illusion

Please join me in welcoming Catherine Kullmann to Let Them Read Books! I'm happy to have Catherine here today with a guest post about traveling in the nineteenth century and the sources she used when writing her latest release, Perception & Illusion. Read on and grab a Kindle copy for just $3.99!

Cast out by her father for refusing the suitor of his choice, Lallie Grey accepts Hugo Tamrisk’s proposal, confident that he loves her as she loves him. But Hugo’s past throws long shadows as does his recent liaison with Sabina Albright. All too soon, Lallie must question Hugo’s reasons for marriage and wonder what he really wants of his bride.

Perception & Illusion charts Lallie’s and Hugo’s voyage through a sea of confusion and misunderstanding. Can they successfully negotiate the Rocks of Jealousy and the Shoals of Perplexity to arrive at the Bay of Delight or will they drift inexorably towards Cat & Dog Harbour or the Dead Lake of Indifference?

Catherine Kullmann skillful evocation of the Regency period rings true, as do her protagonists’ predicaments. It is a joy to step into this other world with her.

Travel in the Early Nineteenth Century
by Catherine Kullman

One horse-power, two horse-power, a dashing curricle, a private travelling chariot and four, a hired post-chaise or a seat in a mail or stage coach or even in a cumbrous, plodding stage-wagon drawn by up to ten horses? Or must I ride or walk?

There were four tiers of travellers in early nineteenth-century Britain. At the top were the wealthy few who owned their carriage and horses. They must decide whether they should use their own horses exclusively, allowing ample rest periods and, on longer journeys, incurring additional overnight and other expenses or hire fresh post-horses at regular intervals (‘stages’) and easily halve the duration of the journey.

Next came those able to hire a private post-chaise, changing both horses and carriages along the way. At the beginning of the century, this cost one shilling a mile plus tolls and the obligatory tips to postilions and ostlers.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Spotlight + Giveaway: Blood of the Stone Prince by M.J. Neary

Blood of the Stone Prince
By M.J. Neary

Crossroad Press
September 23, 2017
Historical Fiction
ebook; 325 pages

From the alchemy labs of fifteenth-century France comes a tale of one beauty and three beasts on a macabre journey through the Parisian underworld. After sixteen years of priesthood, Monseigneur Desmoulins secretly wishes for excommunication. Fed up with sacristy intrigues and tedious inquisition proceedings, he keeps himself amused by dissecting rats, playing with explosives and stalking foreign women. Some of his dirty work he delegates to his nineteen-year-old protégé Daniel Dufort nicknamed Stone Prince, who plays the organ at the cathedral. The gaunt, copper-haired youth may look like an angel, but his music is believed to be demonic, pushing the faithful towards crime and suicide.

To keep themselves safe amidst urban violence, the master and his ward take fencing lessons from Lucius Castelmaure, an alcoholic officer facing a court martial. Their alliance is tested when a Wallachian traveler implores them to entertain his terminally-ill daughter Agniese, whose dying whim to is be buried inside the Montfaucon cellar alongside felons and traitors. The three men jump at the chance to indulge the eccentric virgin in the final months of her life.

Raised in the spirit of polyamory, Agniese has no qualms about taking all three men as lovers. In a city of where street festivals turn into massacres, it's only a matter of time before the romantic quadrangle tumbles into a pit of hellfire. Filled with witch-hanging, bone-cracking, gargoyle-hugging humor, Blood of the Stone Prince is a blasphemous thriller for the heretic in each one of us.

Praise for Blood of the Stone Prince:

"Infinitely inventive and full of masterly detail, this is historical fiction of the scholarly kind. But it is not without humour. Some elaborations accompany the confronting antics of the many fully sketched-out characters, who have much more than adventure on their minds, with fiendish cleverness that is quite droll. One believes the history, which seems to have taken place specifically for this intricate fiction to be built around it. The research is superb. One believes the locations, and one especially believes the escapades which are variously mystifying, entertaining, frightening and bold." --Rosanne Dingli, author of The Frozen Sea

"If there was a tradition for this unique story, it would include Anais Nin and the Marquis de Sade, but I think Marina Neary may be a tradition all her own. Doomed characters and dead-end journeys are one of her specialties, and you can see why. A disillusioned priest, a youth with a self-destructive talent, and a dying virgin enlivened by the realization that “you can’t take it with you” make a delicious tangle. Broadly ranged historical settings are another trademark of this talented author. Love the sense of humor that underlies Neary’s treatment of serious issues." --Thomas Sullivan, Pulitzer Prize nominee

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Q&A with Sara Sheridan, Author of On Starlit Seas

Please join me in welcoming Sara Sheridan to Let Them Read Books! Sara is celebrating the release of her newest historical fiction novel, On Starlit Seas, and I recently had the chance to ask Sara a few questions about her heroine, real-life historical figure Maria Graham, her inspiration for the story, and how chocolate came to take center stage. Read on and grab your own copy of On Starlit Seas!

A breathless tale of adventure, love, and chocolate set at the height of the British Empire

Chocolate. Smuggling. Secrets and Lies. Brazil and London, 1824: charged with a mission by the Empress of Brazil, celebrated writer and the toast of Georgian London Maria Graham sets off for England with the Brazilian civil war at its height. Newly widowed and a woman traveling alone, the stakes are high and when she accepts roguish smuggler Captain James Henderson's offer of passage on his ship, she gets more than she bargains for . . .

Henderson is on a journey of his own, back to his childhood home in Covent Garden. Onboard Maria discovers both a dangerous secret concealed in a chocolate bar and an irresistible attraction to the mysterious captain. But falling in love with a smuggler is almost unthinkable for a woman of Maria's social standing. Though Henderson tries his utmost to abandon his life of crime and forge a new identity as a London gentleman, he is caught in a dangerous tangle with a deadly aristocratic smuggling ring. The only chance he has to save himself and prove worthy of Maria is to unmask the gang and break free from their clutches, but will it be enough?

Hi Sara! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

I had never heard of Maria Graham until I saw your book. What a fascinating life she lived! How did you first discover her, and what inspired you to write a novel about her?

I’m a nerd! In Edinburgh where I live, the National Library has an archive of papers from the John Murray publishing house. The Murrays published Maria (along with most notable Georgians and early Victorians from Jane Austen to Lord Byron) and they hoarded notes, papers, letters, journals—everything that came through their hands. I was in the library one day when the archivist showed me Maria’s journal (or one of them). I was hooked. A lot of archive material is dull content, but Maria’s tone was immediately engaging—I loved her straight off!

Is Captain Henderson based on a real historical figure?

No. Not AT ALL. I made him up. Dishy, isn’t he?

What kind of research did you do for this story? Did you get to do any traveling? Did you learn anything that surprised you?

Most of the material was in the John Murray Archive and the rest was in the library. Maria wrote detailed descriptions of everywhere she went and also made sketches—she was a lifelong traveller—and those places aren’t as she described them any more so there was no point in visiting. I love this period—I’ve written two other books set at the same time, so I already had a working knowledge of what London was like in the early 19th century but Brazil was new to me. I love the research stage—it feels like a luxury.

How did chocolate come to play such an important role in the story? (It certainly plays an important role in my life!)

ME TOO. Well, Captain Henderson had to have an expertise and Brazil grows lots of chocolate so it was either chocolate or coffee, and I picked chocolate. Obviously I had to research the subject thoroughly! Interestingly chocolate was a drink in the period, and didn’t come in edible bars. It was also very strong compared to our chocolate now. I’m addicted to 80% dark chocolate cocoa as a result of writing this book. I have a local chocolatier, just down the road from where I live. She helped me a lot.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Q&A with J.A. McLachlan, Author of The Sorrow Stone

Please join me in welcoming J.A. McLachlan to Let Them Read Books! J.A. is celebrating the release of her new historical fiction novel, The Sorrow Stone, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about the fascinating inspiration behind the story and the work that went into writing it. Read on and grab your ebook copy of The Sorrow Stone for just 99-cents for a limited time!

During the middle ages, a peasant's superstition held that a mother mourning the death of her child could "sell her sorrow" by selling a nail from her child's coffin to a peddler. 

Would you pay someone to bear your sorrow? 

Lady Celeste is overwhelmed with grief when her infant son dies. Desperate to find relief, she begs a passing peddler to buy her sorrow. Jean, the cynical peddler she meets, is nobody’s fool; he does not believe in superstitions and insists Celeste include the valuable ruby ring on her finger along with the nail in return for his coin. 

Jean and Celeste both find themselves changed by their transaction in ways neither of them anticipated. Jean finds that bearing another’s sorrow opens him to strange fits of compassion, a trait he can ill afford. Meanwhile Celeste learns that without her wedding ring her husband may set her aside, leaving her ruined. She determines to retrieve it before he finds out—without reclaiming her sorrow. But how will she find the peddler and convince him to give up the precious ruby ring?

If you like realistic medieval fiction with evocative prose, compelling characters and a unique story, you’ll love this incredible, introspective journey into the south of France in the 12th Century, based on an actual medieval belief. 

Winner of the Royal Palm Literary Award for Historical Fiction.

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

Glad to be here, thank you for interviewing me.

I had never heard of the concept of "selling one's sorrow" before. How did you first learn about it, and what inspired you to make it the basis for a novel?

Many years ago I first heard the medieval folklore that it's based on at a talk by a midwife. She had researched historical birth practices and came across this belief: a woman grieving the death of her infant could relieve her sorrow by selling a nail from the child's coffin to a traveling peddler. This bit of folklore fascinated me. I wondered, what would happen if it worked? Even if the effect was purely psychological, because they believed it, how would it change a person to do such a thing? What effect would bearing a double load of sorrow have on the peddler? How would it change a woman to no longer be able to feel any sorrow? I really wanted to explore this in a story. But first I had to do research. Years of it.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Last Christmas in Paris by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor

From the Back Cover:

New York Times bestselling author Hazel Gaynor has joined with Heather Webb to create this unforgettably romantic novel of the Great War.

August 1914. England is at war. As Evie Elliott watches her brother, Will, and his best friend, Thomas Harding, depart for the front, she believes—as everyone does—that it will be over by Christmas, when the trio plan to celebrate the holiday among the romantic cafes of Paris.

But as history tells us, it all happened so differently…

Evie and Thomas experience a very different war. Frustrated by life as a privileged young lady, Evie longs to play a greater part in the conflict—but how?—and as Thomas struggles with the unimaginable realities of war he also faces personal battles back home where War Office regulations on press reporting cause trouble at his father’s newspaper business. Through their letters, Evie and Thomas share their greatest hopes and fears—and grow ever fonder from afar. Can love flourish amid the horror of the First World War, or will fate intervene?

Christmas 1968. With failing health, Thomas returns to Paris—a cherished packet of letters in hand—determined to lay to rest the ghosts of his past. But one final letter is waiting for him…

My Thoughts:

As soon as I saw this book, I knew I was going to read it. Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor are both terrific writers, and the timing was perfect as I've been on a World War I kick lately. However, it somehow escaped my notice that this is a book composed almost entirely of correspondence. I tend to stay away from epistolary novels, but I knew if any two writers could change my mind, it would be these two. (Check out my reviews of Becoming Josephine, Fall of Poppies, and The Cottingley Secret.)

I won't go much into plot because the blurb already does a good job of letting you know what the story is about, and I want to avoid spoilers. At its heart, it is a love story between two childhood friends who discover via their years of wartime correspondence that they have a deeper connection, but is it true love or a product of their circumstances?

I find myself wondering if real, honest love can flourish in times of war, or if we are all just grasping desperately to the slightest suggestion of it, like drowning men clinging to life.

This is not only a story about love, but a story of women emerging from pampered, sheltered lives to take positions that make a difference. Both Evie and her friend Alice, frustrated and feeling helpless as they learn of the ongoing devastation of war from afar, step out of their comfort zones and into roles traditionally held by men, opening their eyes to the realities of war and discovering their own inner strength in the process.