Monday, July 25, 2016

Spotlight: The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose

The Secret Language of Stones by M.J. Rose

Publication Date: July 19, 2016
Atria Books
Hardcover & eBook; 320 Pages

Series: The Daughters of La Lune, Book Two
Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

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As World War I rages and the Romanov dynasty reaches its sudden, brutal end, a young jewelry maker discovers love, passion, and her own healing powers in this rich and romantic ghost story, the perfect follow-up to M.J. Rose’s “brilliantly crafted” (Providence Journal) novel The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.

So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.

But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.

So begins a dangerous journey that will take Opaline into the darkest corners of wartime Paris and across the English Channel, where the exiled Romanov dowager empress is waiting to discover the fate of her family. Full of romance, seduction, and a love so powerful it reaches beyond the grave, The Secret Language of Stones is yet another “spellbindingly haunting” (Suspense magazine), “entrancing read that will long be savored” (Library Journal, starred review).

A spellbinding ghost story that communicates the power of love and redemption through Rose's extraordinary, magical lens.” (Alyson Richman, internationally bestselling author of The Lost Wife)

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About the Author

03_M.J. Rose Author

M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed.

She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers and the founder of the first marketing company for authors: AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Visit her online at MJRose.com.

Connect with M.J. Rose on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Review: And I Darken by Kiersten White

From the Back Cover:

NO ONE EXPECTS A PRINCESS TO BE BRUTAL. 

And Lada Dragwlya likes it that way. Ever since she and her gentle younger brother, Radu, were wrenched from their homeland of Wallachia and abandoned by their father to be raised in the Ottoman courts, Lada has known that being ruthless is the key to survival. She and Radu are doomed to act as pawns in a vicious game, an unseen sword hovering over their every move. For the lineage that makes them special also makes them targets.

Lada despises the Ottomans and bides her time, planning her vengeance for the day when she can return to Wallachia and claim her birthright. Radu longs only for a place where he feels safe. And when they meet Mehmed, the defiant and lonely son of the sultan, who’s expected to rule a nation, Radu feels that he’s made a true friend—and Lada wonders if she’s finally found someone worthy of her passion.

But Mehmed is heir to the very empire that Lada has sworn to fight against—and that Radu now considers home. Together, Lada, Radu, and Mehmed form a toxic triangle that strains the bonds of love and loyalty to the breaking point.

From New York Times bestselling author Kiersten White comes the first book in a dark, sweeping new series in which heads will roll, bodies will be impaled . . . and hearts will be broken.

My Thoughts:

As soon as I saw the description of this book, I had to have it. It turned out to be nothing like I was expecting. And boy, was I impressed. Written like it flowed from the pen of one of my favorite historical fiction novelists, this is the tale of a young Vlad the Impaler, but with one major twist: Vlad's a girl. The back cover blurb actually does a really good job of summing up the plot, so I will skip the detailed recap and tell you what I loved about it.

This is the story of Lada, a girl in a man's world, a brutal world of conquerors and the conquered, a world where women are little more than heir-producing ornaments. But emboldened by her father's admiration for her fierceness, she dares to envision a different future for herself, one where she rules her beloved Wallachia. But it's also the story of her little brother, Radu. The son of a warrior who would rather be a scholar. A dreamer. A boy overshadowed by his savage sister. Theirs is a complicated relationship. But when their father sends them to the Ottoman Empire court as hostages to ensure his good behavior and then defaults on his promises, their relationship becomes one of ensuring mutual survival. Enter the sultan's son, Mehmed, and the ties that bind become both lifelines and cages. Thrust into the center of power, intrigue, and war, all three come of age knowing what is expected of them but daring to hope for something different. When opportunities arise and are seized, betrayal, heartbreak, and bittersweet triumph result.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Q&A with Roland Colton, Author of Forever Gentleman

Please join me in welcoming Roland Colton to Let Them Read Books! Roland's debut historical romance, Forever Gentleman, has just been published, and he's here today answering questions about his characters and inspiration. Read on, and grab the Kindle version of Forever Gentleman for just $2.99!

Nathan Sinclair, a struggling young architect and gifted pianist, lives in the two vastly different worlds, mingling in high society while dwelling in suffocating debt and poverty. While performing at a gathering of London's elite, Nathan meets Jocelyn Charlesworth, a breathtakingly beautiful but temperamental celebrity heiress. He is smitten, though she publicly humiliates him; their paths intersect again later, and they form a tentative friendship centered on their mutual love of music. Meanwhile, Nathan makes the acquaintance of Regina Lancaster, a woman of remarkable inner beauty, despite her pedestrian appearance. He must decide whether to follow his heart and pursue Regina, or flee England altogether to avoid imprisonment from a miserly creditor. 

In his darkest hour, Nathan is offered a tantalizing proposition that might change everything, but that comes at considerable risk. Nathan must play his role perfectly, or he may lose his reputation, livelihood, and very life to the powerful echelons of Victorian society. Full of unexpected twists and turns, Forever Gentleman races towards a thrilling climax that will determine Nathan's ultimate destiny.

Hi Roland! Welcome to Let Them Read Books!

At the beginning of Forever Gentleman, struggling architect and pianist, Nathan Sinclair, encounters the glamourous and beautiful heiress, Jocelyn Charlesworth. What draws Nathan to Jocelyn, and how does she respond to him when they first meet?

Although he has no expectation of an introduction, Nathan is intrigued enough to see if Ms. Charlesworth’s beauty is as extraordinary as the Sunday Times portrays it. Despite his protestations, the mistress of the estate insists on introducing Nathan to Jocelyn.  Once he observes her beauty firsthand, an intoxication of senses sweeps over him—never before has he seen a woman of such unimaginable beauty. Jocelyn’s reaction to Nathan is one of boredom, having endured countless stares from past star-struck suitors. She toys with him, looking for any opportunity to end the interview. Once she believes him to be a common servant, she rebukes him publicly, appalled that a servant would have the audacity to seek her acquaintance.

Nathan also meets the simple and plain social worker, Regina Lancaster. What’s special about Regina, and why does Nathan feel such a deep connection to her? 

Though her outward appearance is ordinary, Nathan initially feels a strong attraction to Regina’s eyes and senses a kindred spirit.  Her dark brown eyes convey a journey through unspeakable tragedy, resulting in a deep appreciation for life and depth of character. Nathan is also attracted to Regina’s modesty, simplicity and inner beauty, qualities he admired in his mother. Once he learns of Regina’s selfless service to London orphans, he wonders if any man could possibly be worthy of her.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Quick Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

From the Back Cover:

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. 

Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.

But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.

As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city--and the one she loves?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces Henrietta Howel, a powerful, unforgettable heroine, and an entertaining world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem. 

My Thoughts:

I'm all about this trend of YA historical fantasies, but I've yet to find one that truly lives up to my expectations. I had such high hopes for this book based on the description--A lone sorceress in Victorian London? Yes, please!--and glowing early reviews, and while I liked the book enough to finish it, it just didn't blow me away. It's well written, but it moves slowly, and I had a hard time getting into it. Henrietta is a compelling character, but she was slow to catch on to things the reader picked up on, and there were a couple of times when she suddenly started acting out of character for no particular reason. Grasping one of the main aspects of this story world, the schism between sorcerers and magicians and why it's okay for sorcerers to use magic, but not magicians, and why one is superior to the other was also a bit hard for me. The monsters themselves were a little too fantastical for me to take seriously, but their minions were seriously creepy. And I suppose in a world where Henrietta is the first female sorcerer in a hundred years, it's natural that all the boys would be drawn to her, and I love a good romance, but with everything else going on in the story, I found myself wishing we didn't have a love quadrangle. Especially since I really didn't form an attachment to any of the boys, or any of the secondary characters, for that matter. There's really nothing wrong with this book, but for me, there was nothing to really get excited about either.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance copy received from the publisher through the Amazon Vine program. These are my honest and unbiased opinions, and I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels

From the Back Cover:

London's Little Season has never been so scandalous 

It's the kind of vow often made on the battlefield. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, never imagines he'll have to honor it. Yet here she is on his doorstep—his late comrade's young daughter, and Darby's new ward. Worse, she comes with the most overprotective, mistrustful, bothersome chaperone—the child's aunt, Sadie Grace Boxer. Darby is quite sure that behind her lovely facade, the woman is guarding a secret. 

Sadie Grace faced many trials working in her brother's surgery, but none prepared her for the world she's thrust into with his passing. Navigating the ton, with its endless ball gowns and parade of parties, is difficult enough, but hiding the truth about her niece while the sophisticated viscount watches her every move proves nearly impossible—particularly when his searing gaze tempts her to bare all. But when her family's past catches up with her, she'll have to trust in Darby…no matter the cost to her heart.

My Thoughts:

Darby Travers rounds out the quartet of soldiers at the center of this series, and now a promise made to the surgeon who saved his life on the eve of a prisoner of war camp escape is coming back to bite him. The surgeon's death leaves his seven-year-old daughter, Marley, orphaned, and now she is Darby's ward. Darby is already apprehensive about the changes a child will bring to his carefree bachelor lifestyle, but he is fully unprepared for the very grown, very forceful, and very beautiful woman who accompanies her to her new home. Though he only has one good eye remaining, he can see that Marley's Aunt Sadie is keeping secrets, and ferreting them out of the intriguing beauty has just become his new favorite pastime.

Sadie Hamilton Boxer's life has been one of order and duty, with precious little time to indulge in her own hopes and dreams. Taking care of her brother's practice while he was at war gave her a sense of purpose, but now that he's gone and Marley has a new home, she's not quite sure what to do with herself. But she knows one thing for sure: she's going to keep Marley safe, even if that means having to live with her handsome and infuriating new guardian. But as the lies she's constructed to protect Marley start to unravel, she'll have to place her trust in the least likely candidate, the seemingly carefree and frivolous Darby. And as she spends more time with the maddening viscount, her traitorous heart just might discover that he is everything she never knew she wanted.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Spotlight: Girl in the Afternoon by Serena Burdick

Girl in the Afternoon
by Serena Burdick

St. Martin's Press
Hardcover, eBook; 288 pages
Historical Fiction

Born into a wealthy Parisian family at the center of Belle Epoque society, 18-year-old Aimée Savaray dreams of becoming a respected painter in the male-dominated art world; and secretly, she also dreams of being loved by Henri, the boy her parents took in as a child and raised alongside her. 

But when Henri inexplicably disappears, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, the Savarays’ privileged lives begin to unravel. Heartbroken, Aimée tries to find him, but Henri doesn’t want to be found—and only one member of the family knows why.

As Aimée seeks refuge in the art world, mentored by the Impressionist Édouard Manet, she unwittingly finds her way back to Henri. With so many years gone by and secrets buried, their eventual reunion unmasks the lies that once held the family together, but now threaten to tear them apart.

A rich and opulent saga, Girl in the Afternoon brings the Impressionists to life in this portrait of scandal, fortune, and unrequited love.

Praise:

“A young woman's quest for independence and recognition in a world dominated by men is at the heart of a tale brimming over with secrets, betrayals and redemption. Burdick keeps readers riveted, trying to unravel the maze of secrets that tear the characters' world apart. This is a melancholy, bittersweet novel that touches readers seeking emotional depth. Not for those who adore an HEA.” —RT Book Reviews (4 Stars HOT)

“Heart-rending, passionate, and riddled with secrets, Girl in the Afternoon explores a society's changing attitudes toward art, womanhood and  freedom, as observed by a bourgeois family trying to protect their own. A compelling, melancholy tale.” —Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet

“In Girl in the Afternoon, Serena Burdick weaves together Paris, La Belle Epoque, art and abundant doses of family drama in a tightly-written story that pulls the reader in and keeps the twists and turns coming until almost the last page” —Sally Christie, author of The Sisters of Versailles

“Intriguing!...In GIRL IN THE AFTERNOON, young artist Aimée Savaray sets out on a quest to uncover the truth behind lost love, and to find her place in the male-dominated art world of Belle Époque Paris. With a dream-like quality, Ms. Burdick weaves a provocative tale of family secrets, betrayal, and the renewal of self-discovery.” —Heather Webb, author of Rodin's Lover

“This fabulous book is an embroidery of love stitched in the romantic painterly style of Realism. But, when you turn the embroidery over, you see the tangled chaos of betrayal in the style of the Impressionistic painters. Serena Burdick bridges the two artistic styles with the skill of a real artist.”
—Michele Zackheim, author of Last Train to Paris

“Out of the Gilded Age comes this glittering canvas of a novel, full of light and life, shadow and darkness, stillness and movement. A rich portrait of a world and one unconventional family’s place in it, Girl in the Afternoon is a love story, a mystery, a tragedy, and a moving study of the human capacity to contain  both reckless error and surprising redemption.” —Carrie Brown, author of The Stargazer's Sister

Friday, July 8, 2016

Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

From the Back Cover:

The comical, fantastical, romantical, (not) entirely true story of Lady Jane Grey. In My Lady Jane, coauthors Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows have created a one-of-a-kind fantasy in the tradition of The Princess Bride, featuring a reluctant king, an even more reluctant queen, a noble steed, and only a passing resemblance to actual history—because sometimes history needs a little help.

At sixteen, Lady Jane Grey is about to be married off to a stranger and caught up in a conspiracy to rob her cousin, King Edward, of his throne. But those trifling problems aren’t for Jane to worry about. Jane gets to be Queen of England.

Like that could go wrong.

My Thoughts:

I've often thought Lady Jane Grey to be one of the more tragic figures in history, so I jumped at the chance to read this alternate version of how it should have happened by three young adult authors I admire. And I knew from the dedication page, when I read, "For everyone who knows there was enough room for Leonardo DiCaprio on that door," that this book and I were going to get along very well.

Sixteen-year-old King Edward VI is dying, and his biggest regret is that he's going to die a virgin. He hasn't even kissed a girl. His favorite girl is his cousin Jane, but he's just been convinced to sign off on her marriage to another boy. One from a family of unfortunate noses, but since Jane's nose is always in a book, perhaps she won't mind. Still, it sure would be nice if Edward could take a break from his nurses and councilors and just be a regular teenage boy for what little time he has left.

By the age of sixteen, Lady Jane Grey has been betrothed four times. None of them worked out. Now her dear cousin has gone and promised her to yet another boy of noble lineage, but she's pretty sure this one won't work out either. At least she hopes so since the as-yet-unseen groom's father and brother have the largest noses in the kingdom, and her betrothed is rumored to be quite the ladies' man. And he probably doesn't even like books. But alas, it figures this is the wedding that will actually take place, and wonder of wonders, her new husband turns out to be quite the handsome stud! Literally.

Gifford Dudley--call him G--is cursed. Every morning as the sun rises, he turns into a horse. Every evening as the sun sets, he turns back into a boy. Thus his conspicuous absence from court, even though his father is Lord Protector of the realm. He spends his days frolicking through the countryside and his nights dallying with every tavern wench and village maid he can get his hands on. If you believe the stories, that is. The truth is that while G is supposed to be making his father proud by "dalliancing," he's really off attending . . . poetry readings?! This whole getting married thing is really going to put a damper on his lifestyle.

I'm going to avoid any further description of what happens when these three get together since most of you already know what happened to Edward VI, Jane Grey, and Guildford Dudley, and I don't want to spoil any surprises as these writers turn history on its ear and give them the story they should have had. This book is just such a delight to read. And it throws all the rules of writing historical fiction out the window. For example, modern expressions and behavior in historical fiction have long been no-nos. But here, the authors never let the reader forget that they are writing in the 21st century, and it works. Oh, how it works! It works because it's hilarious. The authors occasionally insert their own opinions on anachronisms and some of the more outlandish historical details, modern expressions are sprinkled throughout with a Tudor twist, and if you're paying close attention, you'll find references to The Princess Bride and Game of Thrones too.