Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: Breathless by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan

From the Back Cover:

She was "the Swan." London's premiere courtesan. Men want to be with her. Women loathe her success and yet admire her beauty, her riches, her independence. But when the jealous wife of her lover moves to have the Swan banished from her home on the high seas, she winds up crashed against Spain's rocky coast with no shoes, no clothesand no name. Taken in by a tortured, sensuous man known as The Artist, the Swan comes to know the woman she wants to be—her artist's siren.

When Art Professor Brenna Anderson is in danger of losing her post at Harvard, the rule-following, prim professor is at a loss of how to salvage the shreds of her life. But when a new painting in the mysterious Siren collection is discovered in a dusty old house in France, Brenna does the unthinkable—hops on a plane to uncover the identity of the beautiful, enigmatic woman who is the subject of the paintings.

There's just one hitch—the frustrating, irritating, bold and beautiful art hunter, Fitch Wilder, is also looking for the Siren. He's been a thorn in Brenna's professional side for years, but when their individual quests lead them to team up despite being enemies, a whole new sumptuous world of art and culture opens up for the two of them. And with it, they enter a realm of passion and love…

My Thoughts:

I signed up to review Breathless on impulse and then chastised myself because I needed another review commitment like I need a hole in my head, but I'm so glad I did! This will end up being one of my favorite books of the year. I'm not going to delve much into plot because the blurb does a good job of teasing you and I want everybody to be able to discover the story for themselves and savor every minute of it, like I did.

I was instantly drawn into the story with the discovery of a painting in an old Paris apartment by a handsome hunk of a cowboy who has a passion for art. Fitch's sense of amazement and excitement at finding an unknown painting in the famous Siren series was palpable, and I loved how the story of the Swan (aka the Siren) and her lover, the Artist, was teased out as Brenna and Fitch hunted down clues to her identity in the hopes of finding more paintings. And I loved watching enemies turn to lovers as these two became so wrapped up in the mystery, in the adventure, and in each other.

It's rare that I end up liking both the past and present storylines equally in a book with dual timelines. Usually the balance tips in favor of the past, but in this case I really enjoyed reading both. In both storylines the heroine is forced to reinvent herself, and I thought the Swan's rediscovery of herself particularly poignant. In order to find herself again, she had to lose everything, including her memories.

One of the best aspects of this book is the setting. Barcelona and the Catalonia coast are so atmospheric and so central to the story that the setting becomes a character itself. The lush descriptions of architecture, scenery, the simple yet delicious food, the infectious joie de vivre of the locals, the music, the dancing . . . well let's just say I HAVE to visit that region now!

There are a few little things I could quibble about in regards to the story, but I so thoroughly enjoyed it, was so swept away by the ambiance and the mystery, and was so battered by the emotional wringer (seriously, I sobbed buckets; no spoilers, but be prepared for the absolute unfairness of fate before the happily ever after) that those quibbles aren't worth detailing.

I could not put this book down, wanting desperately to see how it would all play out yet not wanting it to end. I savored the mystery and the love stories and completely lost myself in Catalonia. Breathless is a fabulous reading experience for fans of romance, art, history, and the heady magic of the Mediterranean.

My Rating:  5 Stars out of 5


GIVEAWAY!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Guest Post: The Gilded Shroud by Elizabeth Bailey

Please join me in welcoming Elizabeth Bailey to Let Them Read Books! Elizabeth's historical mystery The Gilded Shroud is being republished by Sapere Books, and she's here today with a guest post about the noble intentions behind societal restrictions on Regency women and how she circumvented them in her books.

1789, London

When Emily Fanshawe, Marchioness of Polbrook, is found strangled in her bedchamber, suspicion immediately falls on those residing in the grand house in Hanover Square.

Emily’s husband - Randal Fanshawe, Lord Polbrook - fled in the night and is chief suspect – much to the dismay of his family.

Ottilia Draycott is brought in as the new lady’s companion to Sybilla, Dowager Marchioness and soon finds herself assisting younger son, Lord Francis Fanshawe in his investigations.

Can Ottilia help clear the family name? Does the killer still reside in the house?

Or could there be more to the mystery than meets the eye…?

The Gilded Shroud is the first book in the Lady Fan Mystery series: historical romance murder mysteries set in eighteenth-century London.


You can’t go there or do that if you’re a lady
by Elizabeth Bailey

Contrary to our ideas of what is acceptable, restrictions on Regency ladies were, on the whole, for their protection. We consider crowds safer these days, but at that time a country walk in a peaceful village environment held far fewer terrors than the capital. London was a dangerous place.

Pickpockets abounded, but they were small fry compared to the plethora of thieves, beggars and vagabonds as well as tradesmen going about their legitimate business. A woman alone, especially if young and pretty, was a target for any marauding male, of whatever class. Alone, she was vulnerable to unwanted gallantries and suggestive talk.

Even in the more genteel parts of town, like Mayfair and its environs, a lady would not walk out without her maid in tow, or preferably a footman. Even two or three ladies walking together in Hyde Park would have a footman following at a respectful distance. This, along with the quality of her dress, demonstrated her class and that she was protected. Better still, a male relative or known family friend would accompany her.

To be seen out without adequate protection therefore put a lady at risk of her reputation. She was expected to adhere to the rules. She flouted them at her peril. The prohibitions extended beyond walking out alone, however.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Blog Tour Excerpt + Giveaway: Chasing the Wind by C.C. Humphreys

CHASING THE WIND BY C.C. HUMPHREYS

Publication Date: June 5, 2018
Paperback & eBook; 320 Pages
Genre: Historical/Women’s Fiction/Mystery


Smuggler. Smoker. Aviatrix. Thief. The dynamic Roxy Loewen is all these things and more, in this riveting and gorgeous historical fiction novel for readers of Paula McLain, Roberta Rich, Kate Morton and Jacqueline Winspear.

You should never fall in love with a flyer. You should only fall in love with flight.

That’s what Roxy Loewen always thought, until she falls for fellow pilot Jocco Zomack as they run guns into Ethiopia. Jocco may be a godless commie, but his father is a leading art dealer and he’s found the original of Bruegel’s famous painting, the Fall of Icarus. The trouble is, it’s in Spain, a country slipping fast into civil war. The money’s better than good–if Roxy can just get the painting to Berlin and back out again before Reichsmarshall Hermann Göring and his Nazi pals get their hands on it . . .

But this is 1936, and Hitler’s Olympics are in full swing. Not only that, but Göring has teamed up with Roxy’s greatest enemy: Sydney Munroe, an American billionaire responsible for the death of her beloved dad seven years before. When the Nazis steal the painting, Roxy and Jocco decide that they are just going to have to steal it back.

What happens when Icarus flies too close to the sun? Roxy is going to find out. From African skies to a cellar in Madrid, from the shadow cast by the swastika to the world above the clouds on the Hindenburg’s last voyage, in the end Roxy will have just two choices left–but only one bullet.

Excerpt:

There’s nothing like dying to make a girl appreciate living.

As she stared down into the pitiless black of the night, seeking, forever seeking, the one pinpoint of light that might yet save her— but it had better hurry up—Roxy Loewen thought about what was waiting for her.

A straw-roofed hut with a tin bath filled with tepid water on its third use that would feel like a clawfoot tub at the Plaza. Rum so raw it hurt your eyes but when mixed with tamarind juice would taste like a Negroni at the Ritz. Steak from a camel or an ass surpassing the finest filet mignon that Rex’s 110th Street chop house could serve.

And at the end of all those, a German. Jochen Zomack—Jocco— with his big hands and his big laugh and the hank of brown hair that, when he let it fall over his face just so and in the right light, made him look like Cary Grant. Jocco, down there somewhere, scanning the black skies as she scanned the black ground, ready with his light.

If her message had gotten through. Communications had been sketchy since the Italians had begun what many were saying would be their final offensive. The gallant, heavily outgunned Ethiopians— guns, hell, a lot of them still fought with spears—would make their last stand against the invader near their capital, Addis Ababa.

The rumours had decided her. To fly her cargo of rifles west into that war zone was suicide. If the Italians didn’t shoot her out of the sky, there probably wouldn’t be an airfield left to land on. The one where she waited at Malco Dube would also be bombed again. Even if her Lockheed 227—Asteria 6, Roxy called her—wasn’t hit on the ground, there wouldn’t be enough time to fill in the craters on the runway that was already more gopher burrow than the racetrack it once had been. But if she could get her cargo to Jocco, he’d know what to do with it. He’d know where some of his comrades might still be fighting. He had run guns all over this continent. All over the world, truly. Hell, he might even get her paid. Though it wasn’t so much the money she’d been thinking of as she’d taken off from the foothills of the mountains and headed toward a moon just peeking in the east. It was him. Lying with him. There was a time she might have blushed at that thought. But she didn’t blush so much anymore.
Night fell fast this close to the equator, but the moon was a day off full and that had given her hope. Three hours’ flight and a landing by moonlight? She’d done that before, half a dozen times.

What she hadn’t reckoned on were the thick cumulus clouds rolling in from the Indian Ocean. She was under them now, halfway between the ceiling and the floor about two hundred feet below her. Flying star quadrants, covering ground above what she hoped was still the airfield at Dubaro. There were no lights. Italian pilots were so bored they would drop a bomb on a fella lighting a cheroot in his cupped hand. The terrain was featureless enough in daylight—arid, scrubby hills or thick jungle, especially this close to the coast. At night there was . . . nothing.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick

Please join me in welcoming Catherine Meyrick to Let Them Read Books! Catherine is touring the blogopshere with her debut historical novel, Forsaking All Other, and I recently had the chance to ask Catherine some questions about the joys and challenges of writing fictional characters in Elizabethan England. I also had the pleasure of designing the book's cover! Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of Forsaking All Other!

Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.

England 1585.

Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year’s grace to find a husband more to her liking.

Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.

Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes. Until now.

With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.

AMAZON (KINDLE) | KINDLE (PAPERBACK) | BARNES AND NOBLE | KOBO


Hi Catherine! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

What drew you to this time in England's history, and what makes it such a good backdrop for fiction?

While I have always read historical fiction and history, it was not until I started university and took a first-year subject in Early Modern British history (almost as an afterthought) that I discovered a love of the Elizabethan period. Lectures were an absolute joy and beyond the scholarship, the political machinations, the dates and the great men and women, I developed an intense sense that the people of the past were very much men and women just like us with similar hopes and dreams.

There is so much in the Elizabethan period that a storyteller can draw on – a period of exploration; great art, music and literature; the growth of the middling sort and a period of upheaval, both exciting and terrifying. Although there were no foreign invasions, the Elizabethans’ fears were very real, with multiple plots against Queen Elizabeth by her own subjects, as well as the close call that was the Spanish Armada. When Pope Pius V excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570 and absolved her Catholic subjects of their allegiance to her, many Catholics went from being able to quietly practise their faith, albeit by paying recusancy fines, to being seen as potential traitors with family relationships and friendships strained or even shattered. Life could be dangerous even for those who did not go seeking adventure. We know a great deal about this period but still there are gaps that permit the novelist’s imagination to take flight.

Were your characters inspired by real people of the time?

No, all the major characters are entirely fictional, though I have drawn on incidents in the lives of a number of roughly contemporary women as inspiration for Bess’s situation. Following the death of her first husband, Elizabeth ‘Bess’ Hardwick was denied her dower rights and therefore had no income to live on. It took several years of litigation for her to receive what was rightfully hers. Unlike Bess, she had the support of family and influential friends in this. Parents sometimes chose spouses for their children with scant regard for their children’s wishes. Although drawn from a slightly earlier period, Elizabeth Paston’s experience is an example of this. In 1449 she refused to marry the man chosen for her by her mother and so was kept under lock and key, unable to see anyone outside the household and forbidden even to speak with the servants. She was beaten once or twice a week. Elizabeth held her ground and the marriage plans eventually fell through. The story of Elizabeth Paston convinced me that although this was a time when duty and obligation were valued far more highly than personal wishes, people still wanted some say in their lives, some with more success than others.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Review: Side by Side by Jenni L. Walsh

From the Back Cover:

Texas: 1931. It’s the height of the Great Depression, and Bonnie is miles from Clyde. He’s locked up, and she’s left waiting, their dreams of a life together dwindling every day.

When Clyde returns from prison damaged and distant, unable to keep a job, and dogged by the cops, Bonnie knows the law will soon come for him. But there’s only one road forward for her.

If the world won't give them their American Dream, they'll just have to take it.

My Thoughts:

I was late to the Becoming Bonnie party, but after receiving a review copy of Side by Side, I knew I had to read Bonnie's story first, and I'm so glad I did. That book brought me out of a month-long reading slump. Bonnie is a character I really wanted to root for, and it was hard to watch her make decisions that I knew would lead to heartache—and worse. In that book, Bonnie and Clyde didn't get together till near the end, and the anticipation of them finally getting together had me burning through the pages.

In Side by Side, there's anticipation of a different sort 'cause everyone knows what happened to Bonnie and Clyde. Even if you know nothing else about their story, you know how it ends.

I have such conflicting feelings about Bonnie and Clyde. Walsh does an admirable job of portraying them as two people who got caught up in a life of crime. In her hands, they are both easy to like.

"I do know a little something 'bout having dreams. I also know something 'bout them crumbling 'round me, clunking me on the head and leaving me with a black eye." ~Bonnie Parker

They justify their actions by their life experiences. Bonnie lost her savings when the banks crashed in '29. Clyde was brutalized by the police in prison and hounded by them whenever he was out, so banks and cops feel like justifiable targets. Throughout their years on the run, living out of one stolen car after another, living off whatever they can steal, sometimes hooking up with others and sometimes on their own—and always trying to stay a step ahead of the law—they never let go of their dream, to live an honest life on a little farm. The problem is that in order to get that honest life, they have to do a whole lot of bad things. Bonnie's in denial, her heart so attached to the dream of a farm, a dream she thinks still has a shot at coming true, right up to the very end, that my heart broke for her.

But on the other hand, they're criminals. In a time when people have so little, they steal people's hard-earned money, not just from banks but from mom-and-pop stores and gas stations, they steal family cars, and they kill people, men who had families depending on them. I think it's also a bit of a cautionary tale. This is what happens when someone wants so badly to be loved, as Bonnie does, wants so desperately to have a partner, places such blind faith in that person, that they are able to rationalize what that person does. In Walsh's novelization, there's no doubt that Clyde loves Bonnie. But not enough to leave his life of crime behind, though the promise of doing so is always dangling just beyond their reach.

And yet I still cried at the end.

You definitely have to read Becoming Bonnie before you dive into Side by Side to get the full experience and understand how Bonnie and Clyde came to be. And if you're a fan of atmospheric historical fiction with a whole lot of action and a little bit of romance, you'll be burning through the pages just like I was.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5