Friday, March 16, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: Lady Helena Investigates by Jane Steen

Please join me in welcoming Jane Steen to Let Them Read Books! Jane is touring the blogosphere with her new release, Lady Helena Investigates, the first in a brand new series featuring an aristocratic widow turned sleuth in Victorian England. I was honored to offer Jane some editorial assistance, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about starting a new series and the challenges in keeping a series fresh and engaging. Read on and enter to win an ecopy of Lady Helena Investigates!

A reluctant lady sleuth finds she’s investigating her own family.

Step into Lady Helena Whitcombe’s world with the first novel in a series that will blend family saga and mystery-driven action with a slow-burn romance in seven unputdownable investigations.

1881, Sussex. Lady Helena Scott-De Quincy’s marriage to Sir Justin Whitcombe, three years before, gave new purpose to a life almost destroyed by the death of Lady Helena’s first love. After all, shouldn’t the preoccupations of a wife and hostess be sufficient to fulfill any aristocratic female’s dreams? Such a shame their union wasn’t blessed by children . . . but Lady Helena is content with her quiet country life until Sir Justin is found dead in the river overlooked by their grand baroque mansion.

The intrusion of attractive, mysterious French physician Armand Fortier, with his meddling theory of murder, into Lady Helena’s first weeks of mourning is bad enough. But with her initial ineffective efforts at investigation and her attempts to revive her long-abandoned interest in herbalism comes the realization that she may have been mistaken about her own family’s past. Every family has its secrets—but as this absorbing series will reveal, the Scott-De Quincy family has more than most.

Can Lady Helena survive bereavement the second time around? Can she stand up to her six siblings’ assumption of the right to control her new life as a widow? And what role will Fortier—who, as a physician, is a most unsuitable companion for an earl’s daughter—play in her investigations?


Hi Jane! Thank you so much for stopping by today!

I’m very happy to be here :D

Lady Helena Investigates marks the beginning of a new series for you. Can you tell us who or what inspired the character of Lady Helena?

Lady Helena grew out of my enjoyment of lady sleuth stories and several weeks watching the whole of Downton Abbey with my husband. I realized that to cross-fertilize the lady sleuth mystery sub-genre with a saga about an aristocratic family would be tremendous fun, and was further inspired by the area I live in to imagine her living in a grand house high on a hill with a view of the sea, overlooking two small towns  that had fallen away from their former glory. I was excited about tackling a story with a large cast, and when I realized that Helena would end up investigating her own family, I just had to write that series.

Can you talk about some of the challenges and rewards of writing a series?

I think that to be a happy series writer, you need to be a series reader. I’ve always loved story arcs that span several books, especially the romantic elements—why hurry the romance? And a series gives you a chance to really grow the characters over time, confronting them with multiple shocks and conflicts that would seem ridiculous if you tried to squeeze them into one book. One of the hardest challenges is not becoming impatient—you have to reveal the story slowly, even if some of your readers get frustrated with your characters at first. If you make the characters too perfect to begin with, you’ve got nowhere to go with them; I’ve seen this happen in quite a few series where the main character ends up practically superhuman by the last book because the writer had to keep upping the ante. Setting the scene for future books is one of the more enjoyable aspects of writing the first book in the series; I plant little clues and signposts that readers might not consciously pick up on, but that make future developments more plausible and natural. And you need to be aware that your readers don’t know where the series is going at first, so every series needs time to grow its audience and that doesn’t happen fast.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

Please join me in welcoming Aimie K. Runyan to Let Them Read Books! Aimie is touring the blogosphere with her new release, Daughters of the Night Sky, and I'm pleased to have her here today with a guest post about how she discovered the "Night Witches," the inspiration behind the novel.

A novel—inspired by the most celebrated regiment in the Red Army—about a woman’s sacrifice, courage, and love in a time of war.

Russia, 1941. Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she’s dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband—a sensitive artist who fears for her safety—can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia.

After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—one of the only Soviet air units comprised entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call “Night Witches.” But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same—and one of Russia’s most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.

Finding Inspiration
by Aimie K. Runyan

The origin story of Daughters of the Night Sky wasn’t the romantic tale you hear about from other writers. It didn’t come to me in a dream or a vision. It wasn’t that thunderclap “aha!” moment that sent me scribbling in a mad dash. My first two books took place in 17th century Canada, which is not a time and place that many readers deliberately seek out (though they have enjoyed it when they happen upon them). I knew that if I wanted to boost my career, I needed to pick a story that compelled me that was from an era that would attract a larger readership. In an ideal world, I’d be able to write about 15th century court politics and become a mega-bestseller doing so, but the reality was that I need to create a readership before I could broach topics that were less familiar to the public. Right now, the early 20th century, especially the world wars, are a subset of Historical Fiction that is doing well, and I decided that would be the smartest place to hunt for inspiration. Thankfully, there is no shortage of great material to be mined from, and I could find something that really moved me as an artist.

So, as I was pondering what world war-era topics I could transform into a novel that fit those criteria, the last of the famed Night Witches, the Soviet female fighter pilots, passed away. She was a hot topic in the news cycles for a day or so, and I had several friends forward articles about her to me with subtle missives like “this could be the idea you’ve been looking for” or “WRITE THIS BOOK NOW.” Let it never be said I can’t take a hint. I shot off that idea, along with half a dozen others, to my amazing agent. She homed in on the concept right away and encouraged me to tackle the book. I began delving into research, and it wasn’t long before my main character emerged and weaseled herself into my affections. It isn’t until I have a main character in mind that I can really take ownership of a book, and she was a vibrant one who came to me very early in the process. I was able to find a publishing home for Katya even before the manuscript was finished, and it has been a thrill to see her story out in the world!

Daughters of the Night Sky is on a blog tour!

About the Author:

Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown, and hard at work on novel #4. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blog Tour Excerpt + Giveaway: 1886 Ties That Bind by A.E. Wasserman

1886 Ties That Bind
by A.E. Wasserman

Publication Date: November 8, 2016
Archway Publishing
Hardcover, Paperback & eBook; 370 Pages
Series: Langford Series, Book #2
Genre: Fiction/Historical

It is 1886 as Englishman Lord Langsford travels by train to San Francisco. Newly widowed, Langsford is desperate to escape his grief, demons, and life in England. As Langsford completes the last leg of his transcontinental journey, his life unexpectedly changes once again when he crosses paths with Miss Sally Baxter, a beautiful rancher who packs a pistol in her purse.

Sally has made it her mission to find the men who robbed a train and killed her brother. Unfortunately, no one—not even the owners of the Southern Pacific Railroad—seem to care. Unable to resist her pleas, Langsford offers to help Sally and soon becomes entangled in a web of politics, corruption, and greed. As murder, threats, and attacks ensue that endanger both Sally and Langsford, influential men in both California and Washington, D.C. jockey for positions of power. Langsford, who finds himself oddly attracted to Sally, now must sort through criminals and politicians alike to discover the truth behind her brother’s death and prevent his own murder.

“Not only is this a fast-paced historical mystery, 1886 Ties That Bind offers commentary on the political and social issues that are still relevant today.” – Helga Schier, PhD, author and founder of With Pen and Paper

“Wasserman’s writing is atmospherically rich. Very strongly recommended.” – Historical Novel Society, London, critical review of 1884 No Boundaries


The Central Valley, California, United States
August 1886

The passengers waited on the Delano Station platform for its arrival; some relaxed on crude wooden benches, while others stood in anticipation, ready to pick up their suitcases to board as soon as they could. The hot California sun danced on the metal rails while the motionless air under the depot’s overhang hung heavy with heat.

They saw it first, a dark dot where the rails converged. Those sitting stood in anticipation, gripping their bags with tight fists. Everyone as a unit slowly moved toward the edge of the worn wooden planks, leaving the stale shade of the overhang so they might encroach upon the edge above the gap, where shiny rails on dark ties lay embedded in gravel deep below. Not too close, for that felt dangerous, but close enough to peer up the track as the dark dot rapidly enlarged into the locomotive they expected.

The black steel mass burst forth into the station, as promised, but failed to fulfill its duty to stop. Indeed, failed to even slow. It monstered through, roaring indignation. The would-be passengers instinctively took a step back under the protection of the short roofed area and away from the now-filled gulf as the wheels spun on hidden rails. The whizzing blur of noise and black roared, followed by a dark-gray car flashing square windows as it clacked past, rapid rhythm, the wind-wake whipping onto the depot platform. Everyone stood frozen with the force of the noise and braced against the hot gust that slammed their bonnets, hats, skirts.

Then it was gone. Silence. A void—above the rails and within their senses. Quiet.

Stunned by the sudden unexpected, they all gasped in unison; a communal breath. Wide-eyed, they tried to speak as they slowly began to recognize what they had just seen fly past.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review: Red Adam's Lady by Grace Ingram

From the Back Cover:

The fair Lady Julitta has a problem. She is not wealthy. She prizes her virginity. And her liege, whom she despises, is intent on rape. Red Adam is the lord of Brentborough castle—young, impetuous, scandalous, a twelfth-century hell raiser. On one of his nights of drunken revelry he abducts Julitta. Though she fends him off, keeping her virginity, he has sullied her honor. Then, to the astonishment of all, he marries her.

Red Adam’s Lady is a boisterous, bawdy tale of wild adventure, set against the constant dangers of medieval England. It is a story of civil war and border raids, scheming aristorcrats and brawling villagers, daring escapes across the moors and thundering descents down steep cliffs to the ocean. Its vivid details give the reader a fascinating and realistic view of life in a medieval castle and village. And the love story in it is an unusual one, since Julitta won’t let Adam get closer than the length of her stiletto. Long out of print though highly acclaimed, Red Adam’s Lady is a true classic of historical fiction along the lines of Anya Seton’s Katherine and Sharon Kay Penman’s Here Be Dragons.

My Thoughts:

I had not heard of this book before receiving an email asking if I'd be interested in reviewing the reissued edition, but when I saw that Elizabeth Chadwick had written the foreword and that it was being compared to SKP and Anya Seton, I had to give it a shot.

While waiting out a storm in a village tavern, Lady Julitta is mistaken for a strumpet by the new young lord of the manor, Red Adam, whose reputation for drinking and whoring is legendary. I think the book blurb does him a disservice by claiming he's intent on rape, though he does think she's a whore and can't understand why she doesn't want to have a little fun with him. Julitta knocks him out cold and ties him to the bedpost, and when Adam awakes in the morning, it's love at first sight for him. Ashamed of his behavior, and seeing Julitta subjected to her uncle's wrath, Adam vows to make it right by marrying her. Prideful Julitta refuses to see a man shackled to her as punishment, but she soon realizes marriage to Adam is the only real option she has. But she determines this will be a marriage in name only, no matter how sweet her handsome new husband is.

Jealous of their new mistress and not happy at having to work again after years of neglecting their duties, most of the servants in the household conspire against her, making her uphill battle to transform the dilapidated keep into a nobleman's home even steeper. Add to her problems the discovery that someone in the household has been stealing from Adam, the mystery of what happened to the old lord's pregnant wife resurfaces, rumors of another heir seeking to oust Red Adam abound, and there's a rebellion going on in the kingdom, of which Adam is smack in the middle. Taking place during the time when Henry II's heir, Young King Henry, rises up against him and nobles in England have to decide with which king their loyalty lies, Adam holds for Henry II, but his neighbors support the young king and consider Adam a traitor. And then the Scots invade...

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Cold Light of Dawn by Anna Belfrage

Please join me in welcoming Anna Belfrage back to Let Them Read Books! Anna is touring the blogosphere with her newest novel, The Cold Light of Dawn, fourth book in the King's Greatest Enemy series. I had the pleasure of offering Anna some editorial assistance on this emotional tale of a man torn between his lord and his king during the final days of Roger Mortimer and Queen Isabella's rebellion. I'm thrilled to have Anna here today with a guest post about medieval homage and the tangled web it was during the early reign of Edward III. Read on and enter to win the entire King's Greatest Enemy series or a paperback copy of The Cold Light of Dawn!

After Henry of Lancaster’s rebellion has been crushed early in 1329, a restless peace settles over England. However, the young Edward III is no longer content with being his regents’ puppet, no matter that neither Queen Isabella nor Roger Mortimer show any inclination to give up their power. Caught in between is Adam de Guirande, torn between his loyalty to the young king and that to his former lord, Roger Mortimer.

Edward III is growing up fast. No longer a boy to be manipulated, he resents the power of his mother, Queen Isabella, and Mortimer. His regents show little inclination of handing over their power to him, the rightful king, and Edward suspects they never will unless he forces their hand.

Adam de Guirande is first and foremost Edward’s man, and he too is of the opinion that the young king is capable of ruling on his own. But for Adam siding with his king causes heartache, as he still loves Roger Mortimer, the man who shaped him into who he is.

Inevitably, Edward and his regents march towards a final confrontation. And there is nothing Adam can do but pray and hope that somehow things will work out. Unfortunately, prayers don’t always help.

The Cold Light of Dawn is the fourth in Anna Belfrage’s series, The King’s Greatest Enemy, the story of a man torn apart by his loyalties to his lord and his king.

I pledge myself to thee—of medieval homage 
by Anna Belfrage

When William the Conqueror invaded England, he brought a major legal novelty with him: feudalism. Feudalism essentially means that everyone owes fealty to someone else, a neatly constructed hierarchy which ends with the king, who officially owns all land in the kingdom, albeit he would become VERY unpopular if he didn’t respect the laws of inheritance.

A man who entered into his inheritance had to pledge his fealty to his overlord. If he didn’t, his lands could be seized. In general, this was a solemn but relatively straightforward affair: the overlord promised to protect his vassal, the vassal promised to serve his lord in war if so required. Problems could arise when a man held lands in two kingdoms. Or, to really complicate things, if one king held lands from another king.

In 1329, the English king, Edward III, held lands in France. Edward’s mother, Isabella, was the daughter of Philippe IV of France, so Edward could claim kinship with the French kings. In fact, Edward could do more than that: he could claim the French throne through his mother (which he went on to do at a later date). Unsurprisingly, the French were not overly enthused at the idea of an English king and anyway, the French crown was already firmly placed on the head of Philippe Valois, a nephew of Philippe IV.

Philippe was well aware of Edward’s Capet blood and had reason to fear the young impetuous English king would some day challenge him over France. (Have I mentioned he did? Yes, I have, haven’t I. In 1337, Edward proclaimed himself rightful king of France, thereby starting the Hundred Years’ War.) So, being a capable and rather savvy king, Philippe devised a little strategy to firmly remind young Ned who was top dog: he demanded that Edward do homage for Gascony.

Was Edward delighted at the thought of popping over to France to kneel at Philippe’s feet? No. Did he have a choice? No—not unless he wanted Philippe to deprive him of his Gascon lands, the last remnant of the Angevin empire once created by Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Thing was, a man who pledged fealty was generally considered foresworn if he took up arms against his overlord and as Edward had every intention of claiming the French crown at some point, this required a very careful wording of his oath.

With the help of the bishop of Lincoln and probably a lot of input from Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer, Edward presented himself before Philippe, knelt at his feet and did homage. Rather neatly, his wording included nothing about serving Philippe in a military capacity. This caused a number of raised brows, but because Edward was a king, Philippe did not insist on military service. More fool him, as it would turn out…

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: By Love Divided by Elizabeth St. John

Please join me in welcoming my dear friend Elizabeth St. John to Let Them Read Books! Liz is touring the blogosphere with her second historical novel, By Love Divided, sequel to her critically acclaimed debut, The Lady of the Tower. I had the privilege of offering Liz some editorial assistance on both books, and I designed the covers. I recently had a chance to ask Liz some questions about the ancestors that inspired this series and the joys and challenges of writing historical fiction. Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of By Love Divided!

Royalist Sir Allen Apsley thinks his choice is clear, but when his mother embraces the Puritan cause, and his beloved sister Luce falls in love with John Hutchinson, a Roundhead soldier, his loyalties are tested. Is it family first? Is it country first? As England falls into bloody civil war, Allen must fight for king and country, while Luce embraces Parliament’s radical views and confronts the very core of the family’s beliefs. And when their influential Villiers cousins raise the stakes, Allen and Luce face a devastating challenge. Will war unite or divide them? In the dawn of rebellion, love is the final battleground.

Based on surviving memoirs, court papers and letters of Elizabeth St.John’s family, By Love Divided continues the story of Lucy St.John, The Lady of the Tower. This powerfully emotional novel tells of England’s great divide, and the heart-wrenching choices one family faces.

Hi Elizabeth! Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today!

The Lydiard Chronicles are based on the true stories of your ancestors, the St. Johns. How did you discover these fascinating people in your ancestry, and what inspired you to write about them?

Hi Jenny! Thanks so much and it’s a pleasure to be here. My writing is inspired by own family stories, and I am very fortunate that we have a rich, well-documented history. Growing up in England, where the weather promotes reading and the countryside is full of castles and ancient churches, I spent much of my childhood buried in books, family papers and walking around ruins. My parents loved history and passed that gene on to me. Our favorite days were spent “St.John-hunting” where we would follow some thread in a family tree and end up in a forgotten churchyard or country house, face-to-face with an ancestor. As I started to think about turning the stories into a novel, it was a natural that I would name the books after Lydiard House, our ancestral home and my “magic place.”

What kind of research did you do to bring this time period to life? Did you discover anything in your research that surprised you?

Once on the serious research trail, I started delving into the existing documents and diaries to draw on for my novels. When I came to write The Lady of the Tower, I felt I knew the characters intimately because of my deep acquaintance with them, and that so many of their portraits are preserved at their country home of Lydiard House. I was also granted unique access to the Tower of London, and was able to spend time in my heroine Lucy St.John’s home. That was an extraordinary experience. And, of course, there are so many records now available online from the National Archives, county offices and foundations. Digging through warrants, contracts, deeds and wills can turn up some exciting finds. So although pretty much all my records are accessible to the general public, it can take a lot of detective work to find them.

I think the joy of research is in the surprises, and there were many occasions where I would be left breathless or jumping for joy when a particular trail yielded results. So often, it’s the connections that delight – as an author, you spend time “linking the probable” – who was in a certain place, or who knew who. Those interactions and coincidences are often what drive plot. When I was writing The Lady of the Tower, I had to fictionalize a strategic relationship based on coincidence and a “writer’s hunch” that they interacted. When I was about three quarters through the writing, I discovered evidence that proved that not only did the characters know each other, they had a deep relationship. Needless to say, that was one of those leap up from the desk and run around the room moments!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Blog Tour Review: The Phantom's Apprentice by Heather Webb

From the Back Cover:

In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…

Christine Daaé sings with her violinist Papa in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory.

Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Nouvel Opéra—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music.

But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?

As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist.

To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.

My Thoughts:

In my younger years, I was such a fan of The Phantom of the Opera musical. I still remember seeing it on Broadway all those years ago, sitting up in the nosebleeds and being thoroughly entranced. My mom bought me the soundtrack on the way out, and I soon knew it by heart. I was surprised at how many of those lyrics came back to me as I was reading The Phantom's Apprentice. It's been a very long time since I saw the musical, and I've never read the book on which it's based, so I went into this without a solid attachment to the particulars of the story, my mind open to see how Ms. Webb would make this story her own.

While the bones of the story are pretty much the same--Christine Daae, a beautiful young woman with a beautiful voice, auditions for a role in the chorus of a Paris opera house. The opera house is haunted, and Christine catches the attention of the "phantom," who decides to help her hone her skills, coming to her in the guise of the "angel of music," and sets some dastardly events in motion in order to have Christine become the star of the show. But his plans to keep Christine to himself are spoiled by the reappearance of her childhood love, Raoul, who determines not to let her go again now that he's found her, and though Christine knows it angers the phantom, having fallen in love with Raoul all over again, she can't stay away from him. And so the stage is set for a showdown between the murderous phantom and the young lovers.

What sets this story apart from the version I knew is the addition of illusions and magic. In this story, singing is Christine's second love, coming behind her love for the art of illusions, a love fostered by her mother before her untimely death. Christine figures out early on that the phantom is nothing more than a master illusionist, and while she continues to go along with his ploy in order to further her career, secretly she is bent on discovering the science behind his "haunting." This leads her into all sorts of danger as she explores the shadowy labyrinth beneath the opera house. She also has a very real benefactor in the form of Monsieur Delacroix, a man determined to unmask the phantom and make a name for himself in the scientific community. But as the phantom spirals out of control, Monsieur Delacroix's motives become more and more suspect, and eventually Christine is unsure who she can trust. Even Raoul seems to have secrets.