30 September 2015

Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh (The Wicked Quills of London #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh's irresistible new series introduces the Wicked Quills of London: a group of bold, brilliant female writers whose spirited allure is beyond seductive...

Eleanor Hawke loves a good scandal. And readers of her successful gossip rag live for the exploits of her favorite subject: Daniel Balfour, the notorious Earl of Ashford. So when the earl himself marches into her office and invites her to experience his illicit pursuits firsthand, Eleanor is stunned. Gambling hells, phaeton races, masquerades . . . What more could a scandal writer want than a secret look into the life of this devilishly handsome rake?

Daniel has secrets, and if The Hawk's Eye gets wind of them, a man's life could be at stake. And what better way to distract a gossip than by feeding her the scandal she desperately craves? But Daniel never expected the sharp mind and biting wit of the beautiful writer, and their desire for each other threatens even his best-laid plans.

But when Eleanor learns the truth of his deception, Daniel will do anything to prove a romance between a commoner and an earl could really last forever.

Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford, intends to tempt one Mr. E. Hawke, proprietor of the scandal rag The Hawk's Eye, with an exclusive: a first-hand look at the scandalous activities the rag so gleefully reports second-hand.  He intends to start with an evening at an exclusive gambling hell in Mayfair...except there is no "Mister" Hawke.  "Miss" Hawke, Eleanor, is the proprietor.  Miss Hawke, as a self-made woman in her early thirties, is no milk-and-water simpering ton maiden.  She agrees to Ashford's plan - with a little help from her friends in the theatre Eleanor captures her story and Daniel's attention.  Eleanor is the type of woman Daniel didn't realise he wanted - sharp, quick-thinking, enterprising, takes no crap, and calls him on his BS - but turns out to be exactly the woman he needs.  For his part, Daniel demonstrates to Eleanor that not all noblemen are useless, morally-dubious toffs.  Even if they drive the best phaeton in town.

I really, really enjoyed Forever Your Earl, the first book in The Wicked Quills of London series by Eva Leigh. Now, I've been having a bit of trouble with new series lately, particularly from authors that are new-to-me.  The "hooks" are a problem, or the premises are overly-contrived, or the writing falls flat.  However, Eva Leigh - who is a new-to-me author - has put together a cross-class romance series (we're given a look at Heroine and Hero #2 at the end of Forever Your Earl, so I'm assuming that Heroine #3 will also be a writer - possibly of a document we are tangentially introduced to in this book - and that Hero #3 will also be a dissolute nobleman of some variety, possibly someone we are also introduced to in this book) that manages to stay true to the Regency period yet feels fresh and delivers on the writing.  Given that our heroine Eleanor is a writer, I had expected good quality writing.  This book delivered with a bonus-order of snappy dialogue the way I enjoy it from Tessa Dare (though no dirty math jokes, sigh) and Sarah MacLean.  Eva Leigh is in good company among the stellar line-up of Avon authors.  The theatre back-stage scenes are appropriately chaotic and funny, the scene at the gambling hell is approrpriately sumptuous, the phaeton race is thrilling, and the B-plot is so, so good.  Oh, and there's a romance, too.  It's sweet and so appropriate and no one was a complete tool about saying those three little words when it was necessary to say those three little words.

There's only one thing that I didn't like about this book and that I felt very bashed-over-the-head by discussions of gender roles and class roles and how men act versus how women act.  It felt too modern for my taste in Regencies and I think I felt this way because it seemed to occur during one single arc very early in the book when Eleanor dresses in drag to go to the gambling hell.  We lost the majority of the gender tension - even though some of the scene was very funny - and I think maybe the discussions could have spread out through the book.  Just to be a bit more subtle.  But that's a minor thing in a really fun book.

Forever Your Earl is available now, wherever books are sold, AND for those of you who really like it, the next book in the series, Scandal Takes the Stage, will be available at the end of October!

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

22 September 2015

Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (The Gold Seer Trilogy #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
The first book in a new trilogy from acclaimed New York Times-bestselling author Rae Carson. A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush–era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her. Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?

Rae Carson, author of the acclaimed Girl of Fire and Thorns series, dazzles with the first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy, introducing a strong heroine, a perilous road, a fantastical twist, and a slow-burning romance, as only she can.

YA series are the worst series to start when only partially finished.  The best ones leave you salivating for more and the first book in Rae Carson's new trilogy, The Gold Seer, is no exception.

So...hands up, who played Oregon Trail on a PC in the 1990s, 8-bit graphics and all?  And died, a lot?  Seriously, I never ONCE made it to Oregon. I always caught cholera or got bit by a rattlesnake or the oxen died or I ran out of water....clearly, I would never survive in IRL wilderness let alone a 19th century wagon train.

The heroine of Walk on Earth a Stranger, Leah, must disguise herself as Lee-the-boy to escape her nefarious uncle (not a spoiler) and join a wagon train headed to Gold Rush-era California.  With her best friend, Jefferson McCauley, of course.  Leah must also protect her gold-sensing ability - she's like a dowser but instead of divining water, she can divine specks of gold dust.  The route from her small town in Georgia to the gold fields of California is hard and dangerous.  There are thieves (maybe one of them was sent to find her), disease, starvation, bad water, racist jerks, and a Micawber of-sorts but far less good-hearted than the real Micawber (those of you who've read Dickens's David Copperfield, I'll let you work that one out).  But Lee grows from a fifteen-year-old girl running for her life into a competent, strong woman through her journey.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is a change from Carson's previous trilogy, Girl of Fire and Thorns.  Those books were straight-up fantasy based around the premise of god-chosen individuals in a medieval Spanish-like setting who are expected to perform miracles; the heroine, Elisa, must save her adopted country from usurping dictators and balance the flow of magic and religion between two races and religions.  Walk on Earth a Stranger could remain a solid historical fiction series with the exception of Lee's gold-divining ability.  The historical research is A-plus without bashing the reader over the head with obvious details.  The secondary characters are memorable and diverse.  Carson allows real events like menstruation and childbirth to happen in real time as perfectly normal things (this is important - real girls get periods and real women worried about dying in childbirth so the fact that these are presented as issues one might run into while disguised as a boy or travelling as a woman in a wagon train to California is a way to firmly root characters in reality.  Side note: Lee isn't the pregnant one, before y'all start freaking out).

I loved the heck out of this book.  Walk on Earth a Stranger is well-plotted, perfectly paced to keep you reading, and formed around a kick-ass young woman who learns to be an adult in one of the harshest environments imaginable.  This first book in the Gold Seer Trilogy wraps up nicely, but I really hope we don't have long to wait for the second and then the third.

Walk on Earth a Stranger is available today, September 22, 2015, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

15 September 2015

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Summary from Goodreads:

HA! I'm not posting one (reasons).

So, back when I was moderating Barnes and Noble book discussions online, I was given an opportunity to read an advance copy of a debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, and participate in a discussion with the author, Lauren Groff.

Of course, I said yes.

Unfortunately, I wound up bailing on the book after about 20 pages.  I didn't like the main character, didn't have any patience for her supposed "problem" (I have a rule about sleeping with bosses, mentors, advisees, etc. for good reasons, many of them), and the monster of the title had yet to make an appearance.  When Arcadia appeared a few years ago, I read the blurb and didn't feel inspired to try it out.

Hence, we come to Fates and Furies.  Everyone whose reading tastes I respect read the advances and gushed.  Gushed so much.  And yet no one was really giving reviews or talking about the plot.  Just that the rest of us should read Fates and Furies as soon as possible.

So I took that very good advice, surfed on over to Edelweiss, skipped reading the cover copy, downloaded the DRC, and read the heck out of Fates and Furies while on a plane ride last week.

This is a good book, a minutely observed portrait of a marriage between Lotto and Mathilde and all the ways in which good marriages work and how good marriages can mess up and how spouses can not know or not know each other.  And that is literally all I have to say about the plot, because I think the blurb/summary might give away too much.

What I really loved about this book is the structure.  How and when Groff chooses to allow the narrator to comment on the characters.  What parts are structured as a script.  Where the timelines shift back and forth.  And where Groff drops a gear and changes the entire key of the novel.  That is what I really, really liked about this book.

So go out and acquire Fates and Furies from your local bookstore, your ebook retailer, or beat feet to your library before everyone else does.  Put it in your head.  As for me, I'm willing to try Arcadia now or give Monsters of Templeton another shot.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

08 September 2015

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

Summary from Goodreads:
In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, where beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

Confession: I have only ever read Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (sorry, Midnight's Children, I'll get to you someday...I hope).  So I came to Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights without a lot of expectations aside from expecting some weird, given the blurb.

There's a lot of weird.  Two Years is a weird, crazy ride of a novel.  Apocalyptic, ur-fairy tale combined with political and cultural commentary.  And humor, humor of the absurd that makes you double-take because it's wrapped up in the fantastical events of the end of the world, known as the War of the Worlds (Rushdie peppered the book with literary references, Candide by Voltaire being a very obvious one).  There's a baby that causes corrupt people to visibly rot if they touch her.  There's a woman who takes revenge on a lover by hitting him with lightning bolts.  There's a gardener who wakes up one morning to find that he is gradually rising into the air.  And the world starts going crazy with super-weather events and political meltdown.

What ties all this together are the jinni and jinnia - the "genies" of legend, both male and female, good and evil, who go to war over the future of humanity and the philosophy of religion and reason - and the descendants of a union between a powerful jinn princess and a human man.  Rushdie uses the idea of Shahrazad and the tales of 1,001 nights as a way into his fantastical timeline with some beautiful interpolations of fairy tales from different cultures.

Two Years is an interesting novel but it's almost too over-stuffed, filled with what seems to be a cast of thousands.  There are so many moving parts that I started to lose track of them all.  There are the four Great Ifrits, two dead philosophers, the jinnia Dunia, Dunia's descendants, random family members/acquaintances/who knows what hangers-on of the descendants, and members of the populace at large and each of these has vivid description and narrative timelines criss-crossing one another.  If it weren't for the fact that Rushdie has a way of writing sentences that slip into the brain like "buddah" Two Years would be a hard novel to read.  I liked it but I didn't want to marinate in the sentences in the same way I did when reading The Satanic Verses.

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is available today, September 8, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

04 September 2015

Mãn by Kim Thúy

Summary from Goodreads:
A triumph of poetic beauty and a moving meditation on how love and food are inextricably entwined, Mãn is a seductive and luminous work of literature from Kim Thúy, whose first book, Ru, was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, received a Governor General's Literary Award and won the nationwide book competition Canada Reads.

Mãn has three mothers: the one who gives birth to her in wartime, the nun who plucks her from a vegetable garden, and her beloved Maman, who becomes a spy to survive. Seeking security for her grown daughter, Maman finds Mãn a husband--a lonely Vietnamese restaurateur who lives in Montreal. Thrown into a new world, Mãn discovers her natural talent as a chef. Gracefully she practices her art, with food as her medium. She creates dishes that are much more than sustenance for the body: they evoke memory and emotion, time and place, and even bring her customers to tears. Mãn is a mystery--her name means "perfect fulfillment," yet she and her husband seem to drift along, respectfully and dutifully. But when she encounters a married chef in Paris, everything changes in the instant of a fleeting touch, and Mãn discovers the all-encompassing obsession and ever-present dangers of a love affair. Full of indelible images of beauty, delicacy and quiet power, Mãn is a novel that begs to be savoured for its language, its sensuousness and its love of life.

Mãn is a book that I might probably have picked up and read all on my own.  It was slated for feature in the Discover Bay at the store (I walk past the display multiple times during a shift) and I like to pick books out of that list.  However...some smart person at Kim Thúy's publisher decided to purchase sponsorships for Book Riot podcasts so for a week-and-then-some this book was in my ears.

Of course I had to have it.

Mãn is one of the best, best books I read or will read this year.  It is a beautiful, slim, delicately wrought novel comprised of tiny flash-style chapters and a word for each chapter translated into Vietnamese in the margin.  (Aside: the physical design of Mãn is soul-destroyingly beautiful.)  It is a the story of a woman trying to find where she belongs in the world.  It is the story of a culture that has held onto so many of its traditions even as its people are forced to disperse around the globe.  It is the story of ordinary people who make sacrifices.  It is a story of how food can convey emotion and memory.  All of this is packed into 140 spare, quiet pages.

A perfect novel for a rainy, quiet evening.  I'll definitely have my eye out for Ru in the future.

24 August 2015

When a Scot Ties the Knot by Tessa Dare (Castles Ever After #3)

On the cusp of her first London season, Miss Madeline Gracechurch was shy, pretty and talented with a drawing pencil, but hopelessly awkward with gentlemen. She was certain to be a dismal failure on the London marriage mart. So Maddie did what generations of shy, awkward young ladies have done: she invented a sweetheart.

A Scottish sweetheart. One who was handsome and honorable and devoted to her, but conveniently never around. Maddie poured her heart into writing the imaginary Captain MacKenzie letter after letter … and by pretending to be devastated when he was (not really) killed in battle, she managed to avoid the pressures of London society entirely.

Until years later, when this kilted Highland lover of her imaginings shows up in the flesh. The real Captain Logan MacKenzie arrives on her doorstep—handsome as anything, but not entirely honorable. He’s wounded, jaded, in possession of her letters… and ready to make good on every promise Maddie never expected to keep.

Thus far, in the Castles Ever After series we have had a heroine inherit a castle that came complete with surly, blind duke (Romancing the Duke, review) and a heroine inherit a castle complete with the perfect opportunity to break her engagement (which the absentee-fiancee's brother is determined to prevent - Say Yes to the Marquess, review).  Now, in When a Scot Ties the Knot, our heroine has inherited a castle...and uses it to mourn an imaginary fiancee.

And then that fiancee becomes inconveniently real.  Captain Logan MacKenzie has returned from the dead - and from the "dead letter office" where Maddie had imagined her letters went forever.  Logan, far from the gallant Maddie imagined him to be though he is big, handsome, and kilted, is determined to marry Maddie and turn her castle into a home for the handful of loyal Scots soldiers who have no home to return to after the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars.  The Clearances are in full swing in Scotland.  Some of the men have no home, some no family, and Logan is determined to give his brave soldiers both of those things.

Maddie may be pretty, quiet, shy (read: social anxiety), and English but she is no pushover.  Though she agrees to the ceremony of hand-fasting she manages to put Logan off performing the one act that would make their marriage permanent: consummation.  If she can just persuade him to some other course then she can go back to her quiet, unassuming life of drawing, fending off her great-aunt's possets, and waiting for lobsters to molt and mate (you read that right).

When a Scot Ties the Knot is a much different romance novel than its two series predecessors.  There are no fairy tales, no fancy wedding dresses and cake to tempt a reluctant bride.  Maddie, for all her wonderful talent and work as an artist, is not properly credited because she is a woman and is expected to give up her profession once married.  The Scots are being robbed of their homes and land by greedy English aristocrats eager to impress London Society.  One of the soldiers, Grant, has severe anterograde amnesia from a head injury and can't remember from one day to the next that the war is over (although he quickly becomes Maddie's favorite person by always telling Logan he's a lucky man to have her each time he's re-introduced).  Logan has a secret so buried in his subconscious he can't even admit it to himself.

Amid this small group of wounded, wary characters is a funny, sweet Tessa Dare novel.  It's not quite as laugh-out-loud funny as A Week to be Wicked (no dirty math jokes) or as Romantic as Romancing the Duke (no Regency cosplayers) or as sumptuous as Say Yes to the Marquess (none of these characters are rolling in dough or aristocratic titles) but the characters are palpably real.  The between-character dialogue might not be authentic to period, but when Maddie calls Logan "Captain MacSleepyhead" you smile in delight.  The soldiers could be any of our neighbors returning from the current conflict to find that homes or families have vanished in the economic downturn.  And everyone, including Great Aunt Thea, has their own ideas for how Logan can best seduce Maddie.

When a Scot Ties the Knot is a lovely, sweet novel to wind up summer reading.  It goes on sale tomorrow, August 25, wherever books are sold (see below for buy links).  Related: Congratulations, Tessa, on winning a RITA for Romancing the Duke!

Now, if you're still not convinced that you should read When a Scot Ties the Knot, I have an excerpt of the Prologue, thanks to the magic of a blog tour from Avon Books (thanks, Jessie! And thanks also for the DRC).  Also, visit The Lusty Literate blog for another review and a giveaway today!  Happy reading.


September 21, 1808
Dear Captain Logan MacKenzie,
    There is but one consolation in writing this absurd letter. And that is that you, my dear delusion, do not exist to read it.
    But I run ahead of myself. Introductions first.
    I am Madeline Eloise Gracechurch. The greatest ninny to ever draw breath in England. This will come as a shock, I fear, but you fell deeply in love with me when we did not cross paths in Brighton. And now we are engaged. 
Maddie could not remember the first time she’d held a drawing pencil. She only knew she could not recall a time she’d been without one. 
In fact, she usually carried two or three. She kept them tucked in her apron pockets and speared in her upswept dark hair, and sometimes—when she needed all her limbs for climbing a tree or vaulting a fence rail—clenched in her teeth. 
And she wore them down to nubs. She sketched songbirds when she was supposed to be minding her lessons, and she sketched church mice when she was meant to be at prayer. When she had time to ramble out of doors, anything in Nature was fair game—from the shoots of clover between her toes to any cloud that meandered overhead. 
She loved to draw anything. Well, almost anything. 
She hated drawing attention to herself. 
And thus, at sixteen years old, she found herself staring down her first London season with approximately as much joy as one might anticipate a dose of purgative. 
After many years as a widower, Papa had taken a new wife. One a mere eight years older than Maddie herself. Anne was cheerful, elegant, lively. Everything her new stepdaughter was not. 
Oh, to be Cinderella in all her soot-smeared, rag-clad misery. Maddie would have been thrilled to have a wicked stepmother lock her in the tower while everyone else went to the ball. Instead, she was stuck with a very different sort of stepmother— one eager to dress her in silks, send her to dances, and thrust her into the arms of an unsuspecting prince. 
Figuratively, of course. 
At best, Maddie was expected to fetch a third son with aspirations to the Church, or perhaps an insolvent baronet. 
At worst . . . 
Maddie didn’t do well in crowds. More to the point, she didn’t do anything in crowds. In any large gathering—be it a market, a theater, a ballroom— she had a tendency to freeze, almost literally. An arctic sense of terror took hold of her, and the crush of bodies rendered her solid and stupid as a block of ice. 
The mere thought of a London season made her shudder. 
And yet, she had no choice. 
While Papa and Anne (she could not bring herself to address a twenty-four-year-old as Mama) enjoyed their honeymoon, Maddie was sent to a ladies’ rooming house in Brighton. The sea air and society were meant to coax her out of her shell before her season commenced. 
It didn’t quite work that way. 
Instead, Maddie spent most of those weeks with shells. Collecting them on the beach, sketching them in her notebook, and trying not to think about parties or balls or gentlemen. 
On the morning she returned, Anne greeted her with a pointed question. “There now. Are you all ready to meet your special someone?”
That was when Maddie panicked. And lied. On the spur of the moment, she concocted an outrageous falsehood that would, for better and worse, determine the rest of her life.
“I’ve met him already.” 
The look of astonishment on her stepmother’s face was immensely satisfying. But within seconds, Maddie realized how stupid she’d been. She ought to have known that her little statement wouldn’t put paid to the matter. Of course it only launched a hundred other questions. 
When is he coming here?
Oh, er . . . He can’t. He wanted to, but he had to leave the country at once.
Whatever for?
Because he’s in the army. An officer.
What of his family? We at least should meet them.
But you can’t. He’s from too far away. All the way in Scotland. And also, they’re dead.
At least tell us his name.
MacKenzie. His name is Logan MacKenzie. 
Logan MacKenzie. Suddenly her not-real suitor had a name. By the end of the afternoon, he had hair (brown), eyes (blue), a voice (deep, with a Highland burr), a rank (captain), and a personality (firm, but intelligent and kind). 
And that evening, at her family’s urging, Maddie sat down to write him a letter. 
. . . Right this moment, they think I am writing a letter to my secret kilted betrothed, and I am filling a page with nonsense instead, just praying no one looks over my shoulder. Worst of all, I shall have no choice but to post the thing when I’m done. It will end up in some military dead letter office. I hope. Or it will be read and passed around whole regiments for ridicule, which I would richly deserve.
    Stupid, stupid, stupid. Now the clock is ticking, and when it strikes doom I will have to confess. I will firstly be compelled to explain that I lied about attracting a handsome Scottish officer while staying in Brighton. Then, when I do, I shall have no further excuse to avoid the actual rejection of countless English gentlemen come spring.
    My dear imaginary Captain MacKenzie, you are not real and never will be. I, however, am a true and eternal fool.
    Here, have a drawing of a snail.

October 5, 1808
Dear not-really-a-Captain MacKenzie,
    On second thought, perhaps I won’t have to explain it this year. I might be able to stretch this for a whole season. I must admit, it’s rather convenient. And my family looks at me in a whole new light. I am now a woman who inspired at least one headlong tumble into everlasting love, and really—isn’t one enough?
    Because, you see, you are mad for me. Utterly consumed with passion after just a few chance meetings and walks along the shore. You made me a great many promises. I was reluctant to accept them, knowing how our nascent love would be tested by distance and war. But you assured me that your heart is true, and I . . .
    And I have read too many novels, I think.

November 10, 1808
Dear Captain MacWhimsy,
    Is there anything more mortifying than bearing witness to one’s own father’s love affair? Ugh. We all knew he needed to remarry and produce an heir. To take a young, fertile wife made the most sense. I just didn’t expect him to enjoy it so much, or with so few nods to dignity. Curse this endless war and its effect of hampering proper months-long honeymoons. They disappear together every afternoon, and then I and the servants must all pretend to not know what they are doing. I shudder.
    I know I should be happy to see them both happy, and I am. Rather. But until this heir-making project takes root, I think I shall be writing you fewer letters and taking a great many walks.

December 18, 1808
Dear Captain MacFantasy,
    I have a new accomplice. My aunt Thea has come to stay. In her youth she was a scandalous demimondaine, ruined at court in France by a wicked comte, but she’s frail and harmless now.
    Aunt Thea adores the idea that I’m suffering with love and anxiety for my endangered Scottish officer. I scarcely have to lie at all. “Of course Madeline doesn’t wish to attend parties and balls in London! Can’t you see, the poor dear is eaten with worry for her Captain MacKenzie.”
    Truly, it’s a bit frightening how much she cherishes my misery. She has even convinced my father that I should be served breakfasts in my room now, like a married lady or an invalid. I am excused from anything resembling public merriment, I am per- mitted to spend as much time as I please sketching in peace. Chocolate and toast are delivered to my bedside every morning, and I read the newspaper even before Papa has his turn.
    I am starting to believe you were a stroke of brilliance.

June 26, 1809
Dear Captain Imaginary MacFigment,
    O happy day! Ring the bells, sound the trumpets. Swab the floors with lemon oil. My father’s bride is vomiting profusely every morning, and most every afternoon, as well. The signs are plain. A noisy, smelly, writhing thing will push its way into the world in some six or seven months’ time. Their joy is complete, and I am pushed further and further to the margins of it.
    No matter. We have the rest of the world, you and I. Aunt Thea helps me chart the routes of your campaign. She tells me stories about the French countryside so that I might imagine the sights that will greet you as you drive Napoleon to the other side of the Pyrenees. When you smell lavender, she says, victory is near.
    I must remind myself to appear sad from time to time, as though I’m worried for you. Sometimes, oddly enough, it’s quite an easy thing to pretend.
    Stay well and whole, my captain.

December 9, 1809
Oh, my dear captain,
    You will be put out with me. I know I swore my heart to be true, but I must confess. I have fallen in love. Lost my heart to another, irrevocably. His name is Henry Edward Gracechurch. He weighs just a half stone, he’s pink and wrinkled all over . . . and he is perfect. I don’t know how I ever called him a thing. A more beautiful, charming angel never existed.
    Now that Papa has an heir, our estate shall never pass to The Dreaded American, and I will never be thrown into genteel poverty. This means I do not have to marry, and I no longer need a fictional Scottish suitor to explain it.
    I could claim that we’ve grown apart, put an end to all these silly letters and lies. But Aunt Thea is ever so fond of you by now, and I am ever so fond of her. Besides, I would miss writing.
    It’s the oddest thing. I do not understand myself. But sometimes I fancy that you do.

November 9, 1810
Dear Logan,
    (Surely we can claim a Christian-name familiarity by now.)
    What follows is an exercise in pure mortification. I can’t even believe I’m going to write it down, but perhaps putting it on paper and sending it away will help rid me of the stupid habit. You see, I have a pillow. It’s a fine pillow, all stuffed with goose down. Quite firm and big. Almost a bolster, really. At night I put it on one side of the bed and place a hot brick beneath it to warm it all up. Then I nestle up alongside it, and if I close my eyes and fall into that half-sleep place . . . I can almost believe it’s you. Beside me. Keeping me warm and safe. But it’s not you, because it is a pillow and you are not even a real person. And I am a bug. But now I’ve grown so accustomed to the thing, I can’t sleep without it. The nights simply stretch too long and lonely.
    Wherever you are, I hope you are sleeping well. Sweet dreams, Captain MacPillow. 
July 17, 1811
My dear Highland laird and captain,
    You have pulled off quite a trick for a man who is no more than a pillow stuffed with lies and embroidered with a hint of personality. You are going to be a landowner. Aunt Thea has convinced my godfather, the Earl of Lynforth, to leave me a little something in his will. That “little something” being a castle in the Scottish Highlands. Lannair Castle, it’s called. It is meant to be our home when you return from war. That is the perfect ending to this masterpiece of absurdity, isn’t it?
    Dear Lord. A castle.

March 16, 1813
Dear captain of my heart’s true folly,
    Little Master Henry and Miss Emma are growing like reeds. I’ve enclosed a sketch. Thanks to their doting mama, they have learnt to say their nightly prayers. And every night—my heart twists to write it—they pray for you. “God bless and keep our brave Captain MacKenzie.” Well, the way Emma says it, it sounds more like “Cap’n Macaroni.” And each time they pray for you, I feel my own soul sliding ever closer to brimstone. This has all gone too far, and yet—if I were to reveal my lie, they would despise me. And mourn you. After all, it’s been almost five years since we did not meet in Brighton.
    You are part of our family now.

June 20, 1813
My dear, silent friend,
    It breaks my heart, but I have to do it. I must. I can’t bear the guilt any longer. There’s only one way to end this now.
    You have to die.
    I’m so sorry. You can’t know how sorry. I prom- ise, I’ll make it a valiant death. You’ll save four—no, six—other men in a feat of courage and noble sacrifice. As for me, I’m devastated. These are genuine tears dotting this parchment. The mourning I shall wear for you will be real, as well. It’s as though I’m killing off part of myself—the part that had all those romantic, if foolish, hopes. I will settle into life as a spinster now, just as I always knew I would. I will never be married. Or held, or loved. Maybe if I write those things out, I’ll get used to the truth of them. It’s time to stop lying and put aside dreaming.
    My darling, departed Captain MacKenzie . . . Adieu.

Tessa Dare is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of more than a dozen historical romances. A librarian by training and a book-lover at heart, Tessa lives in Southern California with her husband, their two children, and a big brown dog.

“Dare’s marvelous third Castles Ever After Regency romance (after Say Yes to the Marquess) builds a gradual, intense romance between two people who are determined to avoid love and commitment….Dare’s swiftly moving plot is enhanced by the seamlessly developed romance, and the sensuality is heightened by the slow awakening of the pair’s mutual attraction.”—Publishers Weekly, **STARRED**

“With sharp, clever banter, breathtaking sensuality, colorful descriptions, and solid cultural detail, this compelling, often hilarious escapade puts a refreshing spin on the [‘imaginary lover’ theme and adds another winner to Dare’s riveting ‘Castles’ series.” —Library Journal, **STARRED**

“Dare’s latest begins with a fairy-tale twist of fate, then leads readers on a mesmerizing and intense emotional journey that explores love in many forms and the powerful pull of dreams.” —Kirkus, **STARRED**

“Dare delights with another marvelously romantic story that delivers a deep sigh, a tear and a smile. With her painfully shy heroine and vulnerable hero, readers are immediately captivated and will savor the joy of this imaginary-sweetheart plotline. You’ll stay up all night to reach the unforgettable ending.” —RT Book Reviews, **4.5 Stars, Top Pick!**

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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)