Friday, April 21, 2017

Lilli de Jong Book Blast

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Publication Date: May 16, 2017 Nan A. Talese Hardcover & eBook; 352 Pages Genre: Fiction/Historical/Literary



 A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli canít accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family's home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. "So little is permissible for a woman," writes Lilli, ìyet on her back every human climbs to adulthood."

Available for Pre-Order at

  Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | iTunes | IndieBound | Kobo | Powell's

Praise for Lilli de Jong

"Lilli de Jong, discharged from her teaching job and banished from Quaker meetings because of her father's selfish choice, finds comfort in the affections of her father's apprentice, Johan. The night before he leaves to embark on a new life, she succumbs to his embrace with his promise that he will send for her. Soon thereafter, a pregnant Lilli finds herself shunned and alone, her only option a Philadelphia charity for wronged women. Knowing that she must relinquish her newborn, she is unprepared for the love that she feels for her daughter. Lilli quickly decides to fight to keep her, but in 1883 that means a life of hardship and deprivation. Telling Lilli's story in diary form, debut author Benton has written a captivating, page-turning, and well-researched novel about the power of a mother's love and the stark reality of the choices she must make. VERDICT A great choice for book clubs and readers of Geraldine Brooks." - Library Journal, Starred Review

"A powerful, authentic voice for a generation of women whose struggles were erased from history - a heart-smashing debut that completely satisfies." - Jamie Ford, New York Times bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

"Beautifully written, emotionally resonant, and psychologically astute, Lilli de Jong is the story of an unwed mother in late 19th-century Philadelphia who, facing peril at every turn, will do almost anything to keep her daughter alive. Benton turns a laser eye to her subject, exposing the sanctimony, hypocrisies, and pervasive sexism that kept women confined and unequal in the Victorian era - and that still bedevil many women today. A gripping read." - Christina Baker Kline, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train and A Piece of the World

"A stunning ode to motherhood. Lilli de Jong reminds us that there is no formula to being a good mother. Love is the essential ingredient, and only it gives everlasting life to our legacies. A debut of robust heart that will stay with me for a very long time."  - Sarah McCoy, author of The Mapmaker's Children

"Janet Bentonís remarkable novel Lilli de Jong is historical fiction that transcends the genre and recalls a past world so thoroughly that it breathes upon the page. From the first sentence, Lilli's sensitive, observant, determined voice casts an irresistible spell. Benton combines rich, carefully researched detail with an imaginative boldness that is a joy to behold - though reader, be warned: Lilli's story may break your heart."  - Valerie Martin, author of The Ghost of the Mary Celeste

"[A] gorgeously written debut . . . Lilli's fight to craft her own life and nurture her bond with her baby is both devastatingly relevant and achingly beautiful. A stunning read about the fierceness of love triumphing over a rigid society." - Caroline Leavitt, author of Is This Tomorrow

"The trials Lilli undertakes to keep her baby are heart-rending, and it's a testament to Benton's skill as a writer that the reader cannot help but bear witness. In a style reminiscent of Geraldine Brooks, she seamlessly weaves accurate historical detail as well as disturbing societal norms into the protagonist's struggles . . . An absorbing debut from a writer to watch." - Kirkus Reviews

"A heartrending debut . . . Bentonís exacting research fuels Lilliís passionate, authentic voice that is 'as strong as a hand on a drum . . . that pounds its urgent messages across a distance' . . . Lilli's inspiring power and touching determination are timeless." - Publishers Weekly

"A harrowing look at the strictures of nineteenth-century American society. . . . [Lilli] is a full-fledged heroine, persevering despite seemingly insurmountable odds. . . her voice is distinctive, her fierceness driven by a motherís love." - Booklist

 "I loved this novel. Lilli de Jong is deeply moving and richly imagined, both tragic and joyous. Janet Benton has an exceptional ability to bring history to life . . . It's not only a compelling, beautifully crafted historical novel, however: it's also important . . . Lilli's life-and-death struggle is shockingly common to women even today." - Sandra Gulland, author of the internationally bestselling Josephine B. Trilogy

"Writing with a historical eye akin to Geraldine Brooks and incisive prose matching that of Anthony Doerr, debut novelist Janet Benton magically weaves a gripping narrative of hardship, redemption, and hope while illuminating a portrait of little-known history. The result is an unforgettable and important reflection on the maternal and, ultimately, the human bond. Stunning!" - Pam Jenoff, author of The Kommandantís Girl

"A confident debut . . . Sentence by carefully-crafted sentence, Benton ensnares the reader." - The Millions

About the Author

Janet Bentonís work has appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Glimmer Train, and many other publications. She has co-written and edited historical documentaries for television. She holds a B.A. in religious studies from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and for decades she has taught writing and helped individuals and organizations craft their stories. She lives in Philadelphia with her husband and daughter. Lilli de Jong is her first novel.

Visit Janet Benton's website for more information and updates. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

Book Blast Schedule

Monday, April 17

Tuesday, April 18
So Many Books, So Little Time

Wednesday, April 19
Luxury Reading

Thursday, April 20
100 Pages a Day
The Never-Ending Book

Friday, April 21
A Book Geek
Caryn, The Book Whisperer

Saturday, April 22
History From a Woman's Perspective

Monday, April 24
Creating Herstory

Tuesday, April 25
The Book Junkie Reads

Wednesday, April 26
SJ2B House of Books

Thursday, April 27
A Fold in the Spine
One Book Shy of a Full Shelf

Friday, April 28
Just One More Chapter

Monday, May 1
Back Porchervations

Tuesday, May 2
Books & Benches
Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Wednesday, May 3
The Lit Bitch
Unabridged Chick

Thursday, May 4
Beth's Book Nook Blog

Friday, May 5
Brooke Blogs
Trisha Jenn Reads

Sunday, May 7
A Dream within a Dream

Monday, May 8
Book Nerd

Tuesday, May 9
Broken Teepee
The True Book Addict

Wednesday, May 10
What Is That Book About

Thursday, May 11
CelticLady's Reviews

Friday, May 12
A Literary Vacation

Monday, May 15
Passages to the Past

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Varangian Blog Tour and Review

The Varangian by Bruce MacBain

Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Blank Slate Press
eBook & Print; 341 Pages
Series: Odd Tangle-Hair Saga, Book Three
Genre: Historical Fiction

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The third volume of Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga finds our hero in Golden Miklagard (Constantinople), posing as an ambassador from the Grand Prince of Rus. But his real mission is to assassinate his former master, Harald the Ruthless, who has now risen high in the Emperor’s Varangian Guard. Odd is dazzled by the brilliance of the Byzantine capital and its beating heart--the Great Palace, with the astonishing Throne of Solomon that levitates above the heads of kneeling courtiers.

Here, Odd will meet Constantine Psellus, an ambitious young bureaucrat who mentors him in the ways of the court. He will be drawn into an intrigue that involves the Empress Zoe, who spends her days brewing vats of perfume, and John the Guardian of Orphans, the powerful and sinister eunuch who schemes to advance his family. And Odd will fall in love with Selene, an alchemist’s daughter, who supports herself by gambling in the waterfront taverns.

Finally, after a hard-fought campaign against the Saracens in Sicily and the overthrow of an Emperor, Odd reaches the pinnacle of power and believes he has vanquished his enemy Harald once and for all. Then disaster overwhelms him.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

My Take:

It is with a bit of sadness that I begin this review of the third - and I believe the final - installment of Odd Tangle-Hair's epic tale. First of all, I have to point out just how much I love the covers of these books. After looking back over my previous reviews I was again struck with the beauty of the book covers. 

Odd finally makes it to Constantinople in the guise of an ambassador of Rus and is introduced to a whole new set of royal intrigues. Of course he makes some new friends, some new enemies, and encounters some old friends and enemies as well. Constantine Psellus becomes a mentor for Odd - and it is a good thing for Odd, since this new royal court is on a whole new level of strange and complicated. There are some really interesting and dangerous characters that Odd must maneuver around - including his old master, Harald the Ruthless. He is still ruthless and generally not to be trusted. Harald has aligned himself with John the Guardian of Orphans, who wields an unusual amount of power at court and displays frightening and disturbing personality traits.  

For once, Odd will find love with the adventurous and rebellious Selene, the daughter of an alchemist. As usual, things don't go as planned and Odd is sent off to fight in yet another war with Harald and pretty much anything that can go wrong does go wrong.

Odd's travels throughout the three novels have taken him all over the world. The reader gets to follow his misadventures with the added bonus of  learning a great deal about historical events and people and cultures. I think this third book in the series does a great job of wrapping up Odd's story --- although I admit that I would love to read more about his life. Odd is an engaging and fun character who is smart, curious and likable. His life is often hard and tragic, but never, ever boring.

I really enjoyed The Varangian, but it can be hard to read about all the hardship one of your favorite character must endure.  I really love the attention to historical detail and the seemingly effortless manner in which MacBain explains actual history within Odd's story. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Odd discovers Homer and compares his epic tales with the familiar tales of Odin and the other Norse Gods - and the fact that Odd is now traveling through some of the same places that Homer writes about. The various epics being discussed within the telling of Odd's epic tale is just so much fun.

Odd's story is thoroughly appealing and would be a wonderful introduction to readers hesitant to read Norse or Greek mythology -- I mean who could resist reading more after encountering them within Odd's epic tale?

I wholeheartedly and without hesitation recommend all three of the novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair saga. 

Praise for The Varangian

"Thoroughly effective at explaining the intriguing and highly complex circumstances of the time period, Macbain’s (The Ice Queen, 2015, etc.) book shines in a way that only historical fiction can. Who needs King Jon Snow in Game of Thrones when one can get a glimpse of the historically real and undeniably sinister John the Guardian of Orphans? Even the most terrifying dragon pales in comparison to the sheer horror of a society so comfortable with castration. As the story ventures outside of Constantinople, the reader is treated to a plot that can only be described as epic … a highly entertaining Viking adventure." - Kirkus Reviews

"This is the third and final of Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair novels. All three have been spellbinding in their storytelling, though this one may be the best. Odd’s journey takes us around the Mediterranean and eastern European world, and all the way north back to Iceland. The characters are wonderful, the story intriguing, the combat real but never superfluous, and Odd makes for the perfect protagonist. Highly recommended." - Historical Novel Society

"Written by a historian with deep understanding of the cultures, peoples, and languages of this world, The Varangian speaks with an authoritative and compelling voice that can equally present naval battles decided by Greek Fire and court intrigue culminating in advancement to lucrative rank or in mutilation and blinding. This is a masterfully written and suspenseful tale that weaves fictional characters into the dramatic story of eleventh-century Byzantium and ambitious women and men, some home grown and some drawn from afar, who aimed to profit from an empire of legendary wealth and splendor." - Emily Albu, Professor of Medieval and Byzantine Studies, UC, Davis

"The Varangian is the third and final volume of Bruce Macbain’s Odd Tangle-Hair’s Saga, and like the first two entries, it is as compelling and wild a ride as historical fiction offers. Macbain brilliantly weaves in his vast knowledge of 11th century Viking and Byzantine life with a great storyteller’s ability to drive the plot forward, a plot filled with intrigue, violence, betrayal, and lust." - Barton Kunstler, author of The Hothouse Effect

“Detailed and vivid writing.” -Albert Noyer, author of the Getorius and Arcadia Mysteries

About the Author

03_Bruce MacBainBruce Macbain holds degrees in Classics and Ancient History and was formerly an Assistant Professor of Classics at Boston University. He decided to stop writing scholarly articles (which almost no one read) and turn his expertise to fiction—a much more congenial medium. His previous novels include two mysteries set in ancient Rome (Roman Games, The Bull Slayer) and the first two novels in the Odd Tangle-Hair series (Odin’s Child, The Ice Queen).

 For more information, please visit Bruce MacBain's website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, March 20
Kick Off at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, March 21
Review at Rainy Day Reviews
Friday, March 24
Interview at Dianne Ascroft's Blog
Sunday, March 26
Excerpt at T's Stuff
Wednesday, March 29
Guest Post at The Writing Desk
Friday, March 31
Excerpt at What Is That Book About
Tuesday, April 4
Review at Book Nerd
Friday, April 7
Review at Svetlana's Reads and Views
Tuesday, April 11
Review at A Book Geek
Thursday, April 13
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!
Tuesday, April 18
Excerpt at Books, Dreams, Life
Wednesday, April 19
Guest Post at Myths, Legends, Books and Coffee Pots
Thursday, April 27
Review at Broken Teepee


To win a copy of The Varangian by Bruce Macbain, please enter via the Gleam form below. Three copies are up for grabs!

 – Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 27th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
 – Giveaway is open to residents in the US & Canada only.
 – Only one entry per household.
 – All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
 – Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. The Varangian

Friday, April 7, 2017

Alan 2 Blog Tour Spotlight


We invite you to Bruce Forciea's ALAN 2 Blog Tour! Please leave a comment to let Bruce know you stopped by!

Title: ALAN 2
Author: Bruce Forciea
Publisher: Open Books
Pages: 278
Genre: Cyber-Thriller

A brilliant artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Dr. Alan Boyd, develops a new program that integrates part of his brain with a computer’s operating system. The program, Alan 2, can anticipate a user’s needs and automatically perform many tasks. A large software company, International Microsystems (IM) desperately wants the program and tempts Dr. Boyd with huge sums of money, but when Dr. Boyd refuses their offer, IM sabotages his job, leaving him in a difficult financial situation.

Dr. Boyd turns to Alan 2 for an answer to his financial problems, and Alan 2 develops plan Alpha, which is a cyber robin hood scheme to rob from rich corporations via a credit card scam.

Alan and his girlfriend Kaitlin travel to Mexico where they live the good life funded by plan Alpha, but the FBI cybercrime division has discovered part of Alan 2’s cyber escapades, and two agents, Rachel and Stu, trace the crime through the TOR network and Bitcoin.

Alan 2 discovers the FBI is on to them and advises Alan and Kaitlin to change locations. A dramatic chase ensues taking them to St. Thomas, a cruise ship bound for Spain, and finally to Morocco. 

Will they escape detection? They will if Alan 2's Plan Beta can be implemented in time. Or is 'Plan B' something altogether different than it appears to be, something wholly sinister that will affect the entire population of the world?
Watch the trailer at YouTube!

Purchase Information:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Publisher


Bang! Bang! Bang! The flimsy apartment door rattled on its frame with every blow.
“Kaitlin, don’t even think of answering that!” Alan growled through his teeth.
Kaitlin shrugged her shoulders and moved away from the door toward the living room where Alan sat at a table full of electronics gear.
“Dr. Boyd, are you home?” shouted the voice on the other side of the door in an Indian accent. “I want to talk to you. I have a very good offer. Please, Dr. Boyd, it will only take a minute, and I think you will be quite pleased with what we have for you.”
“Go away; leave us alone,” Alan shouted. “I don’t want your offer.”
“But Dr. Boyd, we do pay very well. We are great admirers of your work.”
“I don’t care and I don’t want your money,” said Alan. “Now go away before I call the police.”
“Think about it, Dr. Boyd; I will be in touch.”
“Incessant bastards,” said Alan as his attention turned back to his work. “I’ll cherish the day they leave us alone. Kaitlin, come over here and help me with this injection.”
Alan rolled up the sleeve of his t-shirt while Kaitlin picked up the syringe containing the gadolinium contrast. She pinched an ample section of skin and plunged the syringe into his arm. The needle stung like an angry wasp, causing Alan to grimace.
“Can’t you be gentle? You’ve done enough of these by now to get the hang of it. You shouldn’t jam it in like that!”
Kaitlin rolled her eyes and shook her head. “I think I do pretty well considering I don’t have any medical training,” she said while jerking the syringe out of his arm.
“Okay, okay. Just take your position at the console.”
She sighed, plopped onto a small task chair and rolled over to a makeshift wooden table holding a desktop PC and a large high-definition monitor. She had been through this process countless times before.
Alan entered a large metallic structure in the center of the living room. The box-like structure, made of aluminum, dominated the rectangular room which was devoid of furniture. Its dull silver hue contrasted the blank walls. He closed the door and climbed into a chair that looked like it came from an early Gemini spacecraft. The stiff plastic chair, sandwiched between two large metal discs, afforded a good deal of postural support but little comfort. He sat down and slowly slid his head between the thick metal and plastic arms of a large U-shaped device. There was just enough clearance as he wriggled his head to achieve the perfect position. He pulled down on a large metallic tube suspended above him so that it surrounded his entire head. He positioned the tube so that the rectangular slit lined up with his visual axis, allowing for a line of sight to the monitor located outside of the tube. The small fMRI scanner had taken a good deal of time and money to cobble together, but it was the only way to capture the needed information from his brain.
Alan viewed Kaitlin through a small round Plexiglas window in the door and signaled with a thumbs-up to begin the scan. She waved and entered the start sequence into the keyboard, sat back, slid an unlit cigarette between her lips and picked up a copy of People Magazine. He pushed his head back against the headrest and adjusted the monitor suspended on a boom so he could see the screen. The machine first hummed as it powered up and then made periodic knocking sounds.
Alan focused his attention on the monitor while the scanner began its first sequence. The monitor displayed a series of images designed to evoke emotions. Each image popped onto the screen and persisted for ten seconds before another replaced it. There was a small child holding hands with his father, a mother holding a baby, a couple admiring their child in a crib, and many more. All the images had been chosen to trigger emotional responses, causing changes in blood flow to certain areas of Alan’s brain. An image would appear for a few seconds and then the machine would complete a scan.  The process repeated until all one hundred twenty-seven images had been displayed. The entire cycle then repeated two more times with random sequences of the same set of images.
This would be the final scan involving diffusion tensor imaging of Alan’s frontal lobes. Previous scans had involved the study of responses to a variety of topics. In addition to emotions such as sadness, joy, anxiety, and fear, there were cognitive studies that examined Alan’s problem solving techniques as well as his reaction to global events. In all, there were over one hundred fifty scans taken over the past two years. 

About the Author

Bruce Forciea is known for taking complex scientific concepts and making them easy to understand through engaging stories and simple explanations. He is an Amazon Best Selling Author and author of several books on healing and biology, along with science fiction thriller novels. His fiction writing draws on a diverse and eclectic background that includes touring and performing with a professional show, designing digital circuits, treating thousands of patients, and teaching. His stories include complex plots with unexpected twists and turns, quirky characters, and a reality very similar to our own. Dr. Forciea lives in Wisconsin and loves writing during the solitude of the long Northern winters. 

Website & Social Links:


Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Blinds

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
Publication date: August 1, 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins
Hardcover; 400 pages
Genre: Fiction/Thriller/Suspense
Source: Publisher for an honest review

A blistering thriller from the Edgar-nominated author of Shovel Ready—a speculative modern Western with elements of Cormac McCarthy, Jim Thompson, and the Coen brothers that is wickedly funny, razor-sharp, and totally engrossing

Imagine a place populated by criminals-people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance. Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime, or just witnessed one. What’s clear to them is that if they leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace—but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt. Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her—and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down. The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway. It’s simmering with violence and deception, aching heartbreak and dark betrayals.

My Take:

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Blinds - except that is sounded quirky and fun and different from so many other books I have been reading lately. Fortunately for me, The Blinds grabbed by interest from the first page -- the first paragraph - if truth be told. I couldn't put the book down and read it in a day.

So, there is this place, this isolated, tiny town where criminals as well as people who are "innocents" agree to go to live out their lives. No leaving, no outside contact. No memories of before. All are there voluntarily, so how bad were their options to choose this? The set up is great - and then things get weird. 

I've thought and considered how to review The Blinds and it is a difficult task. I don't want to give anything away -- and there are some pretty interesting and important things that could easily be given away. 

So many things about The Blinds still intrigue me: the way no one in the town knows who they were before they came to the town - or what they did. What kind of stories do they tell themselves about their past? How do they decide to go on and remake their lives and personalities? What kind of person came up with the concept and would actually implement it? 

Oh! Something to keep in mind: nothing and no one is quite what they seem and the truth is a slippery thing.

I highly recommend The Blinds as a fast-paced, quirky, dark, disturbing and oh-so-fun read! 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Beethoven in Love - Spotlight

We're happy to host Howard J. Smith's BEETHOVEN IN LOVE: OPUS 139 Virtual Book Tour today! Please leave a comment to let him know you stopped by!

Author: Howard Jay Smith
Publisher: SYQ
Pages: 385
Genre: Literary Fiction/Biographical Fiction

At the moment of his death, Ludwig van Beethoven pleads with Providence to grant him a final wish—one day, just a single day of pure joy. But first he must confront the many failings in his life, so the great composer and exceedingly complex man begins an odyssey into the netherworld of his past life led by a spirit guide who certainly seems to be Napoleon, who died six years before. This ghost of the former emperor, whom the historical Beethoven both revered and despised, struggles to compel the composer to confront the ugliness as well as the beauty and accomplishments of his past. 
As Beethoven ultimately faces the realities of his just-ended life, we encounter the women who loved and inspired him. In their own voices, we discover their Beethoven—a lover with whom they savor the profound beauty and passion of his creations. And it’s in the arms of his beloveds that he comes to terms with the meaning of his life and experiences the moment of true joy he has always sought.

Purchase Information:


Book Excerpt:
The Death of Beethoven
Vienna, 5:00 pm, March 26, 1827  
Outside Beethoven’s rooms at the Schwarzspanierhaus, a fresh measure of snow from a late season thunderstorm muffles the chimes of St. Stephens Cathedral as they ring out the hours for the old city.
    Ein, Zwei, Drei, Vier… Funf  Uhr.  Five O’clock.
    Beethoven, three months past his fifty-sixth birthday, lies in a coma, as he has now for two nights, his body bound by the betrayal of an illness whose only virtue was that it proved incurable and would, thankfully, be his last. Though his chest muscles and his lungs wrestle like giants against the approaching blackness, his breathing is so labored that the death rattle can be heard over the grumblings of the heavens throughout his apartment. 
     Muss es sein? Must it be? Ja, es muss sein. Beethoven is dying. From on high, the Gods vent their grief at his imminent passing and hurl a spear of lightening at Vienna.
     Their jagged bolt of electricity explodes outside the frost covered windows of the Schwarzspanierhaus with a clap of thunder so violent it startles the composer to consciousness. 
     Beethoven’s eyes open, glassy, unfocused. He looks upward – only the Gods know what he sees, if anything. He raises his right hand, a hand that has graced a thousand sonatas, and clenches his fist for perhaps the last time. His arm trembles as if railing against the heavens. Tears flood his eyes.
     His arm falls back to the bed… His eyelids close… And then he is gone ...

About the Author

Howard Jay Smith is an award-winning writer from Santa Barbara, California. BEETHOVEN IN LOVE; OPUS 139 is his third book. A former Washington, D.C. Commission for the Arts Fellow, & Bread Loaf Writers Conference Scholar, he taught for many years in the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has lectured nationally. His short stories, articles and photographs have appeared in the Washington Post, Horizon Magazine, the Journal of the Writers Guild of America, the Ojai Quarterly, and numerous literary and trade publications. While an executive at ABC Television, Embassy TV, and Academy Home Entertainment, he worked on numerous film, television, radio, and commercial projects. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara Symphony - "The Best Small City Symphony in America" -  and is a member of the American Beethoven Society.




Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Death by Any Other Name Blog Tour and Review

A Death by Any Other Name by Tessa Arlen
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication date: March 14, 2017
Genre: Historical Mystery
Source: Publisher for an honest review

Building on the success of her last two mysteries in the same series, Tessa Arlen returns us to the same universe full of secrets, intrigue, and, this time, roses in 'A Death By Any Other Name'. 

The elegant Lady Montfort and her redoubtable housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, investigate a murder among a group of amateur rose-breeders while the idyllic English summer days count down to the start of the First World War.

When Mrs. Jackson receives a visit from a cook who believes she was an indirect witness to murder from a poisoned dish of breakfast kedgeree Lady Montfort promises to do what she can to clear the cook’s name, and contrives an invitation to Hyde Castle, the home of a self-made millionaire, to investigate a murder of concealed passions and secret desires. 

With the help of the invaluable Jackson Lady Montfort sets about solving the puzzle surrounding the death of the rose society’s most popular member and discovers a villain of audacious cunning among a group of mild-mannered, amateur rose-breeders. 

While they investigate, the headlines bring news of the growing crisis in the Balkans following the assassination of.the heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire. As each day brings more threatening news and the very real fear that Britain will be drawn into war, Lady Montfort and Mrs. Jackson must race against the clock to solve the mystery before Britain declares on Germany.

Brimming with intrigue, Tessa Arlen's latest does not disappoint.

My Take:

As with each of the other Tessa Arlen novels, I thoroughly enjoyed A Death by Any Other Name. The Lady Montfort mysteries have become my favorite escape reads. In the third novel, Mrs. Jackson hears about a suspicious death which was blamed on food poisoning and a woman loses her job with no prospects for future employment. Mrs. Jackson is sympathetic towards the woman and knows that her employer, Lady Montfort, would love to investigate the incident. Despite her reservations, Mrs. Jackson does bring the matter to Lady Montfort and they are soon contriving to obtain invitations to the home and embark on a new investigation and adventure.

This mystery was quite fun to read -- there are some great supporting characters, some with lots of quirks and great potential murderers. The backdrop to the novel is a meeting of amateur rose breeders who are very devoted to their pastime - for some, maybe too devoted. Despite the beautiful summer days, there is also much political turmoil as the country gets closer to war. The tension from both the rivalry among friends and the idea of war on the horizon help lend to the sense of urgency for solving the mysterious death for the women.

A Death by Any Other Name is a lovely, cozy mystery that is fast paced without being frenzied or too stressful -- sometimes I really enjoy this beautiful type of mystery -- the scenery is lovely, the people are polite and refined and yet the mystery is engaging and the resolutions is satisfactory. At the end of each of the novels, I am happy and yet a little anxious to see what the next mystery will be. I don't think a mystery reader could ask for much more than that. The Lady Montfort Mysteries have become my favorite suggestion to friends and family and A Death by Any Other Name is a great addition to the series.

About the Author

TESSA ARLEN is the author of Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman. She is the daughter of a British diplomat, and had lived in or visited her parents in Singapore, Berlin, the Persian Gulf, Beijing, Delhi and Warsaw by the time she was sixteen. She came to the U.S. in 1980 and worked as an H.R. recruiter for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Olympic Games, where she interviewed her future husband for a job. She lives in Bainbridge Island, Washington

Monday, December 12, 2016

Purged by Fire Blog Tour and Review

Diane Bonavist

on Tour December 1-14 with  

Purged by Fire: Heresy of the Cathars

(historical fiction) 
 Release date: July 29, 2016 at Bagwyn Books 
ISBN: 978-0-86698-810-0 
274 pages


In the thirteenth-century, a unique civilization flourished in the region that is now Southwestern France. The tolerant rulers of this realm embraced the Cathar faith which kept the simple teachings of the early followers of Christ, and rejected the venality of the Catholic Church.

To destroy the heretical faith, the pope declared a holy war. With the infamous words “Kill them all, God will recognize his own,” the crusade against Christendom began. For two decades, these wars decimated the old regions of the Languedoc and the troubadour culture. But when they still failed to destroy the heretical faith, the papacy gave special powers of inquisition to Dominican monks. Their mission was to root out heretics, compel confessions, and burn the unrepentant at the stake.

Purged by Fire tells the intertwining stories of three people enmeshed in the treachery of the Inquisition. Isarn Benet believes he has survived the wars by accepting the pope’s will and the French rule, until Marsal, the child he once rescued, arrives on his doorstep, forcing him to question every conciliation he has ever made. Marsal has lost everything to the Inquisition. Raised to always turn the other cheek, now she wants back what the Catholic Church has stolen, and she will aid anyone who helps her do so, even outlaws and rebels. Isarn’s son Chrétien can barely remember his life as a soldier and troubadour, the time before he knew and loved Marsal. Condemned and hunted by the Catholic Church, the two escape to the mountain fortress of Montségur.

Here, as the forces of the Inquisition lay siege to their place of refuge, they must make one final choice—between life and love or death and faith!

My Take:

I think that given that the book is about the inquisition, and in particular, how the Church went after the Cathars, one can easily conclude that the novel will be a sad and dark tale. Purged by Fire tells the story of three main characters, Marsal, Chetien, and Isarn. Their stories are intertwined -- more than some of them even know. So much of the story depends on the reader not knowing certain information too soon, so I want to avoid giving away anything of importance.

I was especially intrigued by the detail given to day to day life of the people - Marsal and her grnadmother, Tibors, in particular. The happy life they led was not to last - tragedy hits, but then cruelty is added on top of that. The cruelty and greed that played into loss of property and life is detailed and explained as well. The whole historical period and the episodes described in the novel are quite upsetting.  I found the descriptions of the day to day religious life of the Cathars to be just as interesting as the historical period.

I felt that the author did a nice job of exploring the various players in the events and helped to bring this sad period to life through her characters. Purged by Fire isn't a light historical novel by any means. It deals with a dark period in history and terrible things occurred. But for those who enjoy learning about history through fiction, I feel it is a good book for learning about the crusade against the Cathars.


purged-by-fire-diane-bonavist Diane Bonavist’s fiction has appeared in Tiferet Journal, The Milo Review, Fable Online, and The RavensPerch. She is a former Editor in chief of Tiferet Journal. Her other novels are Daughters of Nyx, a mystery of ancient Greece and Waters and the Wild, a multi-generational story set in the Hudson River Valley, both to be published in 2017. Visit her website.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Who is to Blame? Blog Tour and Review

Who Is to Blame? by Jane Marlow
Publication Date: October 18, 2016
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
eBook & Paperback; 300 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Author/Publisher for an honest review

Jane Marlow’s debut novel is a beautifully written historical saga of two families—one born of noble heritage and the other bound as serfs to the noble’s household. Set during the mid-1800s in the vast grainfields of Russia, Who Is to Blame? follows the lives of two star-crossed serfs, Elizaveta and Feodor, torn apart by their own families and the Church while simultaneously trapped in the inhumane life of poverty to which they were born.

At the other end of the spectrum, Count Maximov and his family struggle to maintain harmony amidst a tapestry of deception and debauchery woven by the Count’s son. The plot twists further when the Tsar emancipates twenty million serfs from bondage as the rural gentry’s life of privilege and carelessness has taken its final bow, while much of Russia’s nobility faces possible financial ruin.

Aficionados of historical fiction will be captivated by the lyrical flow of Marlow’s intertwining stories of love, loss, courage, and pain against her backdrop of social upheaval. The novel’s riddles flow subtly throughout, spurring readers to ponder where the blame actually lies. In the end, we must tap into our own hearts to navigate the depths and quandaries of the author’s perplexing question.

When you try to describe Russia you can use well-known historical events. If you want to know about the lives of the Russian people, it becomes a little murkier until now. Jane Marlow has done a marvelous job in giving the reader a deep and beautiful insight into the day to day life of the Russian people from nobles to the peasants in the 19th century. As you immerse yourself in the book you can feel their struggles and experiences as though you were walking in their shoes. Brilliant!” -Mark Schauss, host of the Russian Rulers History Podcast

My Take:

Who is to Blame? by Jane Marlow is definitely a worthwhile read, but it isn't a light or easy one. I found the novel to be so very realistic in its depiction of the brutal and often hopeless lives of the serfs tied to Count Maximov's land.

Often in novels, the main character -for instance, the outspoken, idealistic young girl who has dreams of spending the rest of her life with the love of her life -- actually gets their happy ending. This is not the case in Who is to Blame? This novel is stark and almost too realistic in the depiction of the lives of the serfs. But it does a great job of presenting realism instead of a fantasy version of a historical period.

Even the lives of the privileged aristocrats such as the Maximov family have their own problems -- mostly due to arrogance and expecting that everything should go their way, but still there are legitimate problems. The family stresses are the main issues for Maximov - his wife never really recovers from the loss of one of her children and they grow distant; one of his sons lives a life of debauchery and deception and Count Maximov struggles to make his land profitable. The problems of a wealthy class stand in stark contrast to the day to day struggle for survival and simple human dignity of the serfs, which the Maximovs consider to be nothing more than property.

I was drawn into the story and was really interested in how things would play out, but I quickly realized that this was going to be a thought-provoking book - not just entertainment. Working out who is to blame and how to fix the problems are  much harder tasks than we are often led to believe. I really appreciated that Marlow didn't try to sugar-coat things. Sometimes we readers need to tackle difficult topics and ideas. Anyone interested in realistic historical fiction - especially dealing with Russian history - and isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects, will enjoy reading and pondering Who is to Blame?

About the Author

Thanks to my mom and my hometown’s bookmobile, I learned as a youngster to appreciate the written word. Since then, I’ve devoted many years to trying to use it properly. Like many aspiring writers, I wrote weekends, before work, on vacation. I hoped to turn my hobby into a 2nd career, which eventually happened (but first, I had to work at it for eighteen year, plus I had to reach retirement age!).

My commitment to my readers: Every bit of me will work to provide a reading experience that is engrossing, emotive, thought-provoking, & historically driven— a tale that offers meaningful insights for today’s world.

For more information please visit Jane Marlow’s website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Infinity of You & Me Blog Tour and Review

The Infinity of You & Me by J.Q. Coyle
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: November 8, 2016
Source: Publisher for an honest review


Almost fifteen, Alicia is smart and funny with a deep connection to the poet Sylvia Plath, but she’s ultimately failing at life. With a laundry list of diagnoses, she hallucinates different worlds—strange, decaying, otherworldly yet undeniably real worlds that are completely unlike her own with her single mom and one true friend. In one particularly vivid hallucination, Alicia is drawn to a boy her own age named Jax who’s trapped in a dying universe. Days later, her long-lost father shows up at her birthday party, telling her that the hallucinations aren’t hallucinations, but real worlds; she and Jax are bound by a strange past and intertwining present. This leads her on a journey to find out who she is, while trying to save the people and worlds she loves.

This novel explores the ideas of choice and destiny. Baggott says, “We created a concept that explains that feeling of being haunted by the path you didn’t take, a concept that explores some natural human emotions like regret, nostalgia, a grief for the life unlived.” This concept influences the world-building within the novel, making it complex yet thoughtful.

The dynamic duo behind J.Q. Coyle make THE INFINITY OF YOU & ME a wild ride through unruly hearts and vivid worlds guaranteed to captivate. Smart and magical, this novel will catch hold of any reader, young or old.

My Take:

Alicia has some issues -- she has lots of diagnoses, but that doesn't seem to help her much. Fortunately, she has one loyal friend, Hafeez, and he stands by her no matter what. Alicia is the brunt of much abuse by some of her other classmates and it seems odd why - until much later in the book. There are so many things that have been hidden from Alicia, but her fifteenth birthday is coming up and things will change quickly and drastically for her - and so many things will be revealed and then things get even more complicated for her.

 I found Alicia and the story to be engaging and once the reason for all of Alicia's supposed issues is explained, the story really takes off. I found the descriptions of the multiverse and how Alicia eventually learns to travel between the different versions of the world to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the novel. 

The different versions of people that Alicia knows and is related to are quite interesting as well. Actually I found the whole novel to be quite fun and intriguing. I expect that the relationship between Alicia and Jax will be quite important to the YA reading audience, but for me it was just part of the plot. Maybe I'm too old and too much of a nerd, but the travel between multiverses and the way the knowledge and abilities are used and exploited were just the most fascinating parts for me.

There is a lot to think about in the novel in regards to how our experiences shape the person we become and taking responsibility for our choices and actions.

I look forward to reading more about Alicia's adventures -- I can't believe that this one book is it for this writing duo and the worlds they have created. My daughter was practically bouncing off the walls waiting for me to finish reading the book so she could have her chance. I expect The Infinity of You & Me to be a big success.

About the Author

J.Q. COYLE is the joint pen name of Julianna Baggott and Quinn Dalton. Quinn is an acclaimed writer who has published two short story collections and two novels. Julianna is the author of over twenty novels, including Pure, a New York Times Notable (2012).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Moon Chosen Blog Tour and Review

Moon Chosen by P.C. Cast
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Publication date: October 18, 2016
Source: Publisher for an honest review


 Chosen to embrace her true identity. Chosen to follow her destiny. Chosen to change her world.

Mari is an Earth Walker, heir to the unique healing powers of her Clan, but she has been forced to turn from her duties, until she is chosen by a special animal ally, altering her destiny forever. When a deadly attack tears her world apart, Mari reveals the strength of her powers and the forbidden secret of her dual nature as she embarks on a mission to save herself and her people. It is not until Nik, the son of the leader from a rival, dominating Tribe, strays across her path that Mari experiences something she has never felt before…

Now evil is coming, and with it, a force more terrible and destructive than the world has ever seen, leaving Mari to cast the shadows from the earth. By breaking Clan Law and forming an alliance with Nik, she must make herself ready. Ready to save her people. Ready to save herself and Nik. Ready to embrace her true destiny…and battle the forces that threaten to destroy them all.

My Take:

The world of Moon Chosen is new and very different. At first, it was a bit confusing, but I think that had more to do with the formatting of the digital galley. However, it didn't take long for the characters and the world to catch my imagination and pull me into the story.

Mari and her mother, Leda, are unique and important women. Leda is the Moon Woman of her clan - she is a healer with a special relationship with the moon. Her daughter is unique because she is part Earth Walker, like her mother, and part Tribe - a different people who live in the trees and have special companions - canines who bond for life. She is unaware of just how special she is and what her uniqueness will mean.

There are so many aspects to the novel that intrigue me -- the way groups of people gravitated to different ways of living, their bonds with animals, and maybe most of all --- curiosity about what happened to make the people flee the city and take to the wilderness in the first place. 

Of course, there are still people living in the city - but they are failing as a group, filled with a deep anger and have a terrible illness that causes them to steal the skin of others. It is very disturbing and this group suddenly starts growing in power and initiative due to the recent upheaval in their power structure. This bodes ill for the other people within the vicinity of the city.

The story line is compelling and interesting -- and the relationships between the characters is humorous, sad, and very fun to read about as they grow to understand themselves and each other. I am sure that this will be a very popular new series by P.C. Cast. I look forward to reading more about this very unique and compelling world. I am also very interested in Mari, Nik, and Sora's futures. Moon Chosen is definitely a book that I would recommend to young adult readers and anyone who enjoys fast-paced fantasy with great world-building.


P.C. CAST is the #1 New York Times and USA Today Best-Selling author of the House of Night Series and a member of the Oklahoma Writers Hall of Fame.  With more than 20 million copies in print in over 40 countries, her novels have been awarded the prestigious: Oklahoma Book Award, YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers, Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award, the Prism, Holt Medallion, Daphne du Maurier, Booksellers’ Best, and the Laurel Wreath. 

Ms. Cast was born in the Midwest, and grew up being shuttled back-and-forth between Illinois and Oklahoma, which is where she fell in love with Quarter Horses and mythology.  After high school she joined the United States Air Force and began public speaking and writing. After her tour in the USAF, she taught high school for 15 years before retiring to write full time.  Ms. Cast lives in Oregon surrounded by beloved cats, dogs, horses, and family.