02 August 2015

Ross Poldark/Demelza by Winston Graham (The Poldark Saga #1 and #2) - Blog Tour and Giveaway

If Jane Austen met Charlotte Bronte and they drank too much port, the Poldark Saga would be their literary love child.” — Poldarkian.com  

Captain Ross Poldark rides again in the new Sourcebooks Landmark tie-in editions of Ross Poldark and Demelza, the first two novels in the acclaimed Poldark Saga by Winston Graham, adapted into the inaugural season of the new Masterpiece Classic PBS’s series Poldark, airing June 21 – August 2 on PBS.

In celebration, July 6th through August 3rd, The Ross Poldark Blog Tour will visit thirty popular book blogs specializing in historical, romance and Austenesque fiction. Featuring spotlights, previews, excerpts and book reviews of these two acclaimed historical fiction novels, the tour will also offer readers a chance at a fabulous giveaway contest including copies of the books and a stunning Anglophile-themed prize package (details below).

In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew.

Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.

In the enchanting second novel in Winston Graham’s beloved Poldark series, Demelza Carne, an impoverished miner’s daughter Ross Poldark rescued from a fairground brawl, now happily finds herself his wife. But the events of these turbulent years test their marriage and their love. As Ross launches into a bitter struggle for the right of the mining communities, Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry (and her husband) place her in increasingly odd and embarrassing situations. When tragedy strikes and sows the seeds of an enduring rivalry between Ross and the powerful George Warleggan, will Demelza manage to bridge their differences before they destroy her and her husband’s chance at happiness? 

Against the stunning backdrop of eighteenth century Cornwall, Demelza sweeps readers into one of the greatest love stories of all time.

Have you read all your Jane Austen novels, including the juvenilia, several times?  Read all your Brontes?  Are you running out of Georgette Heyer novels?  Specifically, did you like the historical sweep of An Infamous Army?  Hankering for a bit of Dickensian social justice?  But are you a bit hesitant to jump into a long, more military historical series like Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin series or CS Forrester's Horatio Hornblower?

Winston Graham's Poldark Saga is a happy medium, then.  The vivid, snapping characterizations and dialogue of an Austen, the emotional reach of a Bronte, the historical accuracy of a Heyer, the crusading reform of a Dickens, and the long-ranging sweep of time like O'Brian and Forrester.  Graham Winston brings late-Georgian Cornwall to life with the tale of Ross Poldark's homecoming, his disappointment, and his struggle to remain on the land that is his birthright and do right by his family, tenants, and laborers in the first book of the saga, Ross Poldark.  It is a novel of class differences, family loyalty, and betrayal.  It is a novel of a changing England as it moves into the Industrial age.  In this way, the Poldark novels, much as they are set in an England that had just lost it's American colonies, reflect both our society as it was in post-World War II Britain and look forward to our own time.  Our changing economies, the struggles of the lower social class against an upper class who look down and blame the poor, the struggle for a woman to have her own life and autonomy, and the struggle for appropriate justice.

Set against this backdrop is a romance for the ages and it is delicious.  Ross is appropriately broody and conflicted, Elizabeth is appropriately spoiled and needy, Francis is appropriately bratty, and Demelza is appropriately sassy and courageous.  Demelza picks up where Ross Poldark ends and so on through twelve novels ending in post-Napoleonic War England and France - we can only hope that Sourcebooks Landmark will keep putting out gorgeous new paperbacks that long.

The BBC has adapted the first two Poldark novels into a new miniseries.  As usual for any historical production with the BBC (though the original production company was purchased by ITV, so we'll see for Series 2), the production values are stellar and the cast is excellent.  First and foremost, the countryside of Cornwall is breathtaking with sweeping shots of the cliffs and sea.  Aiden Turner (the dwarf half of the shoehorned-in dwarf-elf romance in the Hobbit movies) is wonderful as the driven, conflicted, rash - and occasionally delightfully shirtless - Ross.  Ruby Bentall, whom I loved as Mary Bennet in Lost in Austen, plays Verity to the hilt and I like her almost better here than in the book.  Kyle Soller, as the gutless wonder Francis, looks exactly right in a frock coat and breeches losing his family inheritance.  Old BBC regulars like Phil Davis and Richard Harrington (Bleak House) appear.  The only casting choice I thought questionable was Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza.  In the books, Demelza is a scrawny fourteen and introduced while dressed as a boy.  For the adaptation, Demelza's age has been bumped up to fit a more compressed timeline, so it does line more with Tomlinson's real age, but she doesn't quite find her way into Demelza's awkward, all-elbows roughness (having last seen her as a luminous Georgiana Darcy in Death Comes to Pemberley the role is a bit of a stretch, gorgeous red hair dye aside).  She gets it right about episode three but I think they should have double cast the role with a young teen actress for the first few scenes.

The two-hour season finale airs tonight, August 2, on your local PBS station - check your local schedule.


Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Three Fabulous Prizes

In celebration of the re-release of Ross Poldark and Demelza, Sourcebooks Landmark is offering three chances to win copies of the books or a grand prize, an Anglophile-themed gift package.

Two lucky winners will each receive one trade paperback copy of Ross Poldark and Demelza, and one grand prize winner will receive a prize package containing the following items:

(2 ) Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Mugs by Johnson Brothers
(1) Twelve-inch Old Britain Castles Pink Pottery Plate by Johnson Brothers
(1) London Telephone Box Tin of Ahmad English Breakfast Tea
(1) Jar of Mrs. Bridges Marmalade
(1) Package of Duchy Originals Organic Oaten Biscuits
(2) Packets of Blue Boy Cornflower Seeds by Renee's Garden Heirloom 
(1) Trade Paperback Copy of Ross Poldark & Demelza, by Winston Graham

(That picture makes me wish I hadn't agreed to do the blog tour so I could enter the giveaway.)

To enter the giveaway contest simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on the Ross Poldark Blog Tour starting July 06, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, August 10, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the entrants and announced on the Buzz at Sourcebooks blog on August 13, 2015. Winners have until August 20, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to US residents and the prizes will be shipped to US addresses. Good luck to all!


July 06 My Jane Austen Book Club (Preview)
July 07 Booktalk & More (Excerpt)
July 09 vvb32 Reads (Preview)
July 10 The Paige Turner (Review)
July 10 My Kids Led Me Back To P & P (Excerpt)
July 11 Austenprose (Review)
July 12 Laura's Reviews (Preview)
July 13 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
July 13 Reflections of a Book Addict (Preview)
July 14 Living Read Girl (Review)
July 16 vvb32 Reads (Review)
July 17 Paige Turner (Review)
July 18 Truth, Beauty, Freedom & Books (Preview)
July 20 Laura's Reviews (Review)
July 20 The Calico Critic (Review)
July 21 Poof Books (Excerpt)
July 22 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
July 23 Austenprose (Review)
July 24 Peeking Between the Pages (Review)
July 25 My Love for Jane Austen (Excerpt)
July 25 Living Read Girl (Review)
July 26 Delighted Reader (Review)
July 27 My Jane Austen Book Club (Review)
July 27 Austenesque Reviews (Review)
July 27 Laura's Reviews (Review)
July 28 She Is Too Fond Of Books (Review)
July 30 vvb32 Reads (Review)
July 30 Babblings of a Bookworm (Review)
July 31 CozyNookBks (Excerpt)
Aug 01 The Calico Critic (Review)
Aug 01 More Agreeably Engaged (Review)

28 July 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

Summary from Goodreads:
Kitchens of the Great Midwest, about a young woman with a once-in-a-generation palate who becomes the iconic chef behind the country’s most coveted dinner reservation, is the summer’s most hotly-anticipated debut.

When Lars Thorvald’s wife, Cynthia, falls in love with wine—and a dashing sommelier—he’s left to raise their baby, Eva, on his own. He’s determined to pass on his love of food to his daughter—starting with puréed pork shoulder. As Eva grows, she finds her solace and salvation in the flavors of her native Minnesota. From Scandinavian lutefisk to hydroponic chocolate habaneros, each ingredient represents one part of Eva’s journey as she becomes the star chef behind a legendary and secretive pop-up supper club, culminating in an opulent and emotional feast that’s a testament to her spirit and resilience.

Each chapter in J. Ryan Stradal’s startlingly original debut tells the story of a single dish and character, at once capturing the zeitgeist of the Midwest, the rise of foodie culture, and delving into the ways food creates community and a sense of identity. By turns quirky, hilarious, and vividly sensory, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is an unexpected mother-daughter story about the bittersweet nature of life—its missed opportunities and its joyful surprises. It marks the entry of a brilliant new talent.

Might it be possible for a parent to groom an infant's gourmet palate by feeding her things like braised pork shoulder? Puréed, of course, since she hasn't any teeth, but chef Lars Thorvald wants his baby daughter Eva to share in his passion for good food.  (Ok, parents before you come after me or the author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest with your pitchforks, this is a novel; feeding an infant puréed pork shoulder would probably land you in colicky baby hell.)  Unfortunately for baby Eva, shortly after her sommelier mother asks for a divorce via letter her father suffers a heart attack and dies; she is subsequently adopted by her father's brother and his fiancée.  Thus begins Eva's peripatetic journey around the Midwest from Minnesota to Iowa to Chicago back to Minnesota.

As Eva grows up and develops her unique palate, her story is told by a collection of narrators sometimes only tangentially related to Eva: Eva's father, her cousin, a first boyfriend, a jealous rival (rival? spoiled attention seeker? crazy person?), a good friend's feckless brother, a Lutheran Minnesota housewife entering her bars in a state fair baking contest (I dare you not to read that chapter with Marge Gunderson's voice in your head, I dare you), and, finally, Eva's mother.  Only one chapter is told by Eva herself, at the age of eleven, when she is cultivating habaneros (using her cousin Randy's marijuana growing operation after he goes to rehab) and being abused by other kids on the bus (that chapter takes place in Des Moines, IA, and it's pretty cringe-worthy; the kids got off lightly, in my opinion).  Eva's talent at building unforgettable flavor combinations and meals are a combination of her father's passion for food and her mother's passion for wine.  On a first date with her high school boyfriend, she makes the acquaintance of the restaurant's chef when she suggests the dish has too much rosemary - the chef asks her to identify all the ingredients and Eva does, in the way an experienced oenophile can tell what type of wood was used in the wine cask just by taste.  Kitchens of the Great Midwest is filled with a love of food, and taste, and texture, and family, and kitchens, a room where famililes are meant to come together.

Only one thing is missing from Kitchens of the Great Midwest and that, in my opinion, is Eva herself.  Eva is the wunderkind of foodie culture, a self-taught chef and restauranteur with an innate talent for creating unforgettable meals.  She is considerate, humble, driven, eager to learn, and unhampered by ego.  She is the manic-pixie-dreamgirl of this novel and I wanted to hear more of Eva's voice from Eva herself.  She becomes so insubstantial at times - the narrators all have such amazing voices and stories that they begin to overpower her.  Where is the eleven-year-old who could eat peppers so hot that others needed to go to the hospital?  One could argue that the final menu in the book is what author Stradal was building toward throughout the narrative but I wanted so, so badly to hear Eva's voice again.  What did she really think of Cynthia (the crazy one)?  Why Pat Prager?  What did Eva really think about her parents?  The MPDG does not grow or change or have flaws but causes others to change simply by existing.  Eva Thorvald deserves more.

This minor issue aside, Kitchens of the Great Midwest is a great summer read.  The voices are good, the idea of the structure for the novel is great.  The settings - suburbs and crummy apartments in the Twin Cities, lower-income Des Moines, rural Minnesota - are spot on.  There's a scene skewering hipster, neo-yuppies (no idea what the offical label for those people are, that's just how they struck me).  There are recipes - I suggest the bars (there's also a preparation for lutefisk, I ate a bite of that once on a dare - do not recommend as an edible).  Also, the cover art for the US edition is excellent.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest is out today, July 28, 2015, in the US wherever books are sold!

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance copy of this book via the First to Read program from Penguin.

27 July 2015

The Highlander Takes a Bride by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #3/An English Bride in Scotland #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
A bold, seductive laird meets his passionate match in a scintillating Highland romance from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands...

Sword fighting, swearing, and riding astride come naturally to Saidh Buchanan. Simpering and holding her tongue—definitely not. Raised alongside seven boisterous brothers, Saidh has little interest in saddling herself with a husband... until she glimpses the new Laird MacDonnell bathing naked in the loch. Though she's far from a proper lady, the brawny Highlander makes Saidh feel every inch a woman.

She has an angel's looks, a warrior's temper, and seeks out his kisses with wanton eagerness. Little wonder that Greer is intrigued by his comely guest. When reckless desire overtakes them, he's more than willing to make an honest woman of her. But Saidh is the target of a hidden enemy, and Greer faces the battle of his life to safeguard the woman he wants above all others.

In To Marry a Scottish Laird, Lady Saidh Buchanan is one of the young ladies gathered in the Sinclair castle to tempt the hero laird into marriage - which is unnecessary because he arrives home married to the heroine, Joan.  At the opening of The Highlander Takes a Bride Saidh has become friends with Joan and has kept her company during the birth of Joan's first child.  It's a nice break from Saidh's seven brothers.  However, Saidh learns that her cousin Fenella's fourth husband, Laird MacDonnell, has died.  Four husbands in four years....Saidh sets out for MacDonnell, determined to find out what is wrong.

Greer, as the new laird, has a pretty good life, deceased cousin, deceased cousin's weepy wife, and too many visitors aside.  However, the arrival of blunt-tongued, sword-wielding, braies-wearing Siadh is a welcome addition to MacDonnell.  It's turns out he thinks she's pretty perfect - so he invites Saidh's seven brothers to MacDonnell....so he can marry Saidh.  He doesn't exactly tell her this.

This is where it really turns into a typical Sands novel.  It's one thing that always annoys me - that the heroines don't always get much say in whether they get married and when.  Granted, all the heroes and heroines are usually panting for each other by that time but the marriages are often hasty and sometimes executed in the wake of "ruination".  Now, Sands does try to make a point here by having Saidh ask each of her brothers of they are "ruined" by having sex without marriage - clearly, being males as opposed to females, they are not - but the sequence feels clunky and rushed, particularly after the brothers try to beat the crap out of Greer on sight.  I enjoyed having Saidh's brothers in the novel. They brought a lot of humor to the book and the 7-brothers-and-1-sister banter was very sweet.

I am going to caution Sands, though.  She's starting to skate dangerously close to Stephanie Laurens territory by recycling so may of her murderous plot elements.  This wasn't quite as bad as the first book in the series, An English Bride in Scotland, but the methodology - and some modern-sounding deductive reasoning - has been seen before in several of her other books.  I'd like to see her work through a novel without a complicated, recycled murder plot.

The Highlander Takes a Bride is available July 28, 2015.

Dear FTC: I received a digital advance copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

26 July 2015

All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue by Sophie Jordan (The Debutante Files #2)

Summary from Goodreads:
There was once a lady who loathed a lord...

Lady Aurelia hasn't always hated Max, Viscount Camden, her brother's best friend. In fact, as a besotted girl, she thrived under his kind attention – sure that he was the most noble and handsome man in the land. Until her young heart discovered what manner of rogue he really was. Now, though she enjoys nothing more than getting on his last nerve, she can’t deny Max drives her to distraction—even if she tries to pretend otherwise.

...and a lord who was confounded by a lady.

Max cannot recall a time when Aurelia did not vex him. If she was not his friend’s sister, he would stay far away from the infuriating vixen. Unfortunately, they are always thrown together. At parties and family gatherings…she is always there. Infuriating him, tossing punch in his face, driving him mad...until one night, she goes too far and he retaliates in the only way he can: with a kiss that changes everything.

In A Good Debutante's Guide to Ruin, Aurelia is the best friend who helps sneak the heroine out of the house for an adventure at an early Victorian den of sin.  Max is the hero's dissolute and dangerous best friend and also the best friend of Aurelia's brother.  It's a good set up for the next book in the series.

Now, having encountered Aurelia and Max before, I knew I was in for a certain amount of tension in the development of their love story in All the Ways to Ruin a Rogue.  What I was not prepared for was the level of animosity between them. As a besotted teen Aurelia spotted Max tupping a maid in the garden and it broke her heart; the subsequent public discovery of Aurelia's unflattering caricature of him caused no amount of embarrassment and earned an unwelcome nickname. During her night out at Sodom (yes, you read that right) with Rosalie in the previous book, she played a game of cards in a deliberate attempt to get Max back seven years later. He let on that he recognized her despite her mask, giving him a trump card to use against her.

Their sniping goes beyond mere bickering. Aurelia deliberately makes snide comments about how he uses women (she's not far off, Max is more "womanizer" than "rogue"). Max derides her appearance, her unmarried state, her temper. Case in point: at a scene in the park, when Aurelia encounters Max with an awful, spiteful woman who cruelly insults her, Max heaps another insult about Aurelia's mental state right on top of it rather than defend her. I know the scene is probably meant to play as comedy (and Max realizes he was an ass after the fact but he does so only after noticing the other woman bores him) but I didn't find it funny. Each of them lacks dimension.  Aurelia draws spot-on caricatures but we are never told why she becomes so upset at the loss of a drawing.  Max is cold, distant, and purposely avoids having children, though the reader can infer the reason in the last chapter (though I was glad to see that the "withdrawal method" fails as it does in real life).  Their problems could have been solved with a good, honest, non-snippy conversation.

There's also the issue of anger and attraction between Aurelia and Max. Almost every scene that progressed to some sort of sexual activity, be it heavy petting or the whole enchilada, began with a vicious argument. One scene progressed as Aurelia kept saying "Stop", with little hint that she really wanted him to continue - she was fighting him - and Max just said she wanted it and kept on kissing and fondling her. It was uncomfortable to read not to mention cruel.  There are few scenes of kindness or tenderness between our hero and heroine.  It makes me question whether their Happily Ever After could actually work.  I should be able to see it, not just hear about it or guess at it. Needless to say, my hope that this second book in The Debutante Files series was a good addition to the series did not pay out.

Dear FTC: I received an advance digital copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.