Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Guest Post + Giveaway: A Front Page Affair by Radha Vatsal

Please join me in welcoming Radha Vatsal to Let Them Read Books! Radha is busy promoting her debut historical mystery, A Front Page Affair, first in a series starring intrepid journalist Kitty Weeks. This book has been on my radar for a while now, and it is getting rave reviews. I am thrilled to have Radha here today with a guest post about her inspiration for Kitty. Read on and enter to win a copy of A Front Page Affair!

New York City, 1915

The Lusitania has just been sunk, and headlines about a shooting at J.P. Morgan's mansion and the Great War are splashed across the front page of every newspaper. Capability "Kitty" Weeks would love nothing more than to report on the news of the day, but she's stuck writing about fashion and society gossip over on the Ladies' Page―until a man is murdered at a high society picnic on her beat.

Determined to prove her worth as a journalist, Kitty finds herself plunged into the midst of a wartime conspiracy that threatens to derail the United States' attempt to remain neutral―and to disrupt the privileged life she has always known.

Radha Vatsal's A Front Page Affair is the first book in highly anticipated series featuring rising journalism star Kitty Weeks.

How Early Hollywood Heroines Inspired Kitty Weeks
by Radha Vatsal

Capability “Kitty” Weeks, the protagonist of A Front Page Affair, was inspired by the action-film heroines of the 1910s.  During the 1910s, actresses like Pearl White, Helen Holmes, Kathlyn Williams, and many others acted in thrilling serial films with titles like The Perils of Pauline, The Exploits of Elaine, The Hazards of Helen, Lightning Raider, The Perils of Our Girl Reporters.  The characters they played in these films were athletic, brave, and resourceful.  They brandished guns, chased villains, and fought “bad guys” on top of moving trains.  And this was all before women had the vote—when women wore their long hair in buns and ankle-length skirts!

The 1910s were an incredible decade for women—professionally, culturally, and politically—they won the right to vote in 1920.  In the mid-20s and after, the number of women in professional fields actually declined and didn’t go back up again until the 1970s.

I wanted to write a story set in this amazing era, with a young woman protagonist at its center, solving mysteries and taking action ala Pearl White and her comrades.  Journalism seemed like an ideal profession for her because it would allow her to go out and about in the world and ask questions—a rarity for women in those days.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: By Helen's Hand by Amalia Carosella

From the Back Cover:

With divine beauty comes dangerous power.

Helen believed she could escape her destiny and save her people from utter destruction. After defying her family and betraying her intended husband, she found peace with her beloved Theseus, the king of Athens and son of Poseidon.

But peace did not last long. Cruelly separated from Theseus by the gods, and uncertain whether he will live or die, Helen is forced to return to Sparta. In order to avoid marriage to Menelaus, a powerful prince unhinged by desire, Helen assembles an array of suitors to compete for her hand. As the men circle like vultures, Helen dreams again of war—and of a strange prince, meant to steal her away. Every step she takes to protect herself and her people seems to bring destruction nearer. Without Theseus’s strength to support her, can Helen thwart the gods and stop her nightmare from coming to pass?

My Thoughts:

"Only fools bargain with the gods; only fools trust in their promises, their gifts. Fools and children and lovers."

Ever since reading Helen of Sparta, I have been anxiously awaiting its sequel. I loved getting to know Helen and what happened to her before she became known as Helen of Troy, and boy did I love Theseus! But after attempting to thwart the gods and their plans for war by running away with and marrying Theseus, Helen was cruelly separated from him by those gods and delivered back to Sparta and the fate she had so desperately been trying to avoid. And that's where By Helen's Hand begins.

It's hard to review this book without revealing plot points, but I'm going to try and hope that I still make sense while being vague enough to avoid spoilers. I have very mixed feelings about By Helen's Hand, and it pains me to say it. Amalia Carosella writes beautifully, but I found the first half of this book to be rather slow and repetitive as Helen mopes around missing Theseus, fearing Menelaus, and bemoaning her cursed beauty, and I questioned the necessity for the points of view of several of her suitors. The story really kicks into gear once the games for Helen's hand have been concluded and her fate as Menelaus's wife is decided. Plotting, deception, and intrigue abound as Helen tries everything she can think of to save her people from war and herself from Menelaus's jealous anger.

What I love about this story is that, rather than portray Helen's beauty as the sole cause of the Trojan War, Carosella paints a picture of a woman cursed by the gods with a beauty that drives men crazy, "a woman cursed to bring ruin upon men for the glory of her father." Men can't help but be bewitched by her. Combine that with many city-states just looking for an excuse to go to war and we have a much more complex picture of Helen and what actually caused the Trojan War. (Short answer: the gods!) I also love that we get to know Paris. We met him briefly in the first book, and we all know what happens when Paris sees Helen in Sparta, but I love that this story leads us up to that moment from his point of view as well. I really enjoyed getting to know who Paris was before Troy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book Blast + Giveaway: Naapiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

Náápiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

Publication Date: May 9, 2016
Publisher: C.A. Williams
eBook and Paperback; 295 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

At the turn of a new century, changes unimagined are about to unfold.

THE WOMAN: Kidnapped by the Apaches, a Mexican woman learns the healing arts. Stolen by the Utes, she is sold and traded until she ends up with the Piikáni. All she has left are her skills—and her honor. What price will she pay to ensure a lasting place among the People?

THE MAN: Raised in a London charitable school, a young man at the end of the third of a seven year term of indenture to the Hudson’s Bay Company is sent to the Rocky Mountains to live among the Piikáni for the winter to learn their language and to foster trade. He dreams of his advancement in the company, but he doesn’t reckon the price for becoming entangled in the passions of the Piikáni.

THE LAND: After centuries of conflict, Náápiikoan traders approach the Piikáni, powerful members of the Blackfoot Confederation. The Piikáni already have horses and weapons, but they are promised they will become rich if they agree to trap beaver for Náápiikoan. Will the People trade their beliefs for the White Man’s bargains? Partially based on the works of Canadian trader, explorer, and mapmaker David Thompson, Náápiikoan Winter spans a continent, examining the cultures in flux at the passing of an era and the painful birth of another.

"When we read NAAPIIKOAN WINTER our hearts were swept back in time. Alethea Williams writes with the same authority and beauty that A. B Guthrie, Bernard de Voto, Wallace Stegner, and Conrad Richter imparted to the page. We marveled at the quality of her research, and the precision with which Williams recreated the world of the Blackfeet at the time of white contact. Find the first page, dear reader, and you'll fall effortlessly into a long-gone world filled with both the noblest of humans, and the dross that always follows. This is no Western romance, but the nitty-gritty reality of the Northern Plains. We call NAAPIIKOAN WINTER masterful!" -W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear, authors of PEOPLE OF THE MORNING STAR

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Review: How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

From the Back Cover:

Salem, Massachusetts is the site of the infamous witch trials and the new home of Samantha Mather. Recently transplanted from New York City, Sam and her stepmother are not exactly welcomed with open arms. Sam is the descendant of Cotton Mather, one of the men responsible for those trials and immediately, she becomes the enemy of a group of girls who call themselves The Descendants. And guess who their ancestors were?

If dealing with that weren't enough, Sam also comes face to face with a real live (well technically dead) ghost. A handsome, angry ghost who wants Sam to stop touching his stuff. But soon Sam discovers she is at the center of a centuries old curse affecting anyone with ties to the trials.

Sam must come to terms with the ghost and find a way to work with the Descendants to stop a deadly cycle that has been going on since the first accused witch was hanged. If any town should have learned its lesson, it's Salem. But history is about to repeat itself.

My Thoughts:

I was instantly intrigued by the description of How to Hang a Witch, tying the past to the present through the Salem Witch Trials, and when I realized the author is a descendant of Cotton Mather, I had to read it.

Samantha Mather is newly arrived in Salem after her stepmother was forced to sell their NYC apartment to pay her father's extensive medical bills. He has been in a coma for months, and Sam and Vivian have moved into his childhood home, a huge old house with secret rooms, now vacant after the death of a grandmother Sam never had the chance to meet. It's a big change for Sam, and things quickly go from bad to worse when she starts school and discovers that her last name makes her a pariah. Cotton Mather played an integral role in fanning the hysteria that gripped the Puritan community in the 1690s, and no one in Salem has forgotten it.

The Descendants, an elite group of kids descended from the townspeople executed during the witch trials, rule the school, and Cotton Mather's newly arrived descendant is now public enemy number one. The one bright spot is the cute boy next door, Jaxon, whose mother was best friends with Sam's dad in childhood. Jaxon tries to smooth things over for her at school, but the Descendants are determined to pin the strange things that have started happening in Salem since Sam's arrival on Sam. And when people start dying, Sam starts having visions, and the Descendants seem to know things about Sam they couldn't possibly know, she begins to wonder whether Jaxon really is on her side, or if he's part of history repeating itself.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: Bela's Letters by Jeff Ingber

Please join me in welcoming author Jeff Ingber to Let Them Read Books! Jeff is touring the blogosphere with his  historical fiction novel, Bela's Letters, based on the life of his father. Jeff is here today with a guest post about his inspiration for the book and the discoveries he made while writing it. Read on and enter to win a copy of Bela's Letters!

Béla’s Letters is a historical fiction novel spanning eight decades. It revolves around the remarkable life story of Béla Ingber, who was born before the onset of WWI in Munkács, a small city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. The book tells of the struggles of Béla and his extended family to comprehend and prepare for the Holocaust, the implausible circumstances that the survivors endure before reuniting in the New World, and the crushing impact on them of their wartime experiences together with the feelings of guilt, hatred, fear, and abandonment that haunt them. At the core of the novel are the poignant letters and postcards that family members wrote to Béla, undeterred by the feasibility of delivery, which were his lifeline, even decades after the war ended.

Writing Bela's Letters
by Jeff Ingber

In February 2016, after five years of research and writing, I self-published Béla’s Letters. A historical fiction novel spanning eight decades, it revolves around the life of my father, who was born before the onset of WWI in Munkács, a small city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. (Although Dad technically was born in Hungary, he proudly considered himself a Czech. In 1919, when he was six years old, following World War I and the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the region surrounding Munkács was encased within the newly established Republic of Czechoslovakia.) The book tells of the struggles of my dad and his extended family, as well as my mom (who was born and raised in Budapest), to comprehend and prepare for the Holocaust, the implausible circumstances that those who survived endured before reuniting in the New World, and the crushing impact on them of their wartime experiences.

Holding the book in my hand now, it seems inevitable that I would write it. I am a writer by nature and had already written and published a book along with over a dozen professional articles and a screenplay. I have always been fascinated by my parents’ survival stories. My dad told me innumerable tales of his youth and of the war, and I had the foresight to have interviewed him in depth before he died in 2003. Also, I am a lifelong WWII buff and have read hundreds of books on the subject.

But it was not until early 2004, months after my father’s death, when I was approaching my 50th birthday, that I finally decided to write the book. The tipping point was my discovery of dozens of poignant letters and postcards written to my father by family members, many sent before the war began. Those documents, evidence of a resilient family dynamic that the Holocaust could not fracture, remained of such sustenance to my father that he preserved many and carried them to the New World. Upon discovering this treasure, I felt compelled to uncover these buried voices.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Q&A with Marina J. Neary, Author of The Gate of Dawn

Please join me in welcoming Marina J. Neary back to Let Them Read Books! Marina has a brand new novel out, The Gate of Dawn, a novel of Czarist Lithuania, and she's here today with answers to some common questions she receives from readers interested in learning more about this time in history in the region that would become Lithuania. Read on, and feel free to leave your own questions or comments for Marina!

Welcome to 1880s Vilnius, a volatile Northeastern metropolis where Balts, Germans, Poles, Russians, and Jews compete for a place in the sun. After sustaining fatal burns in a fire instigated by his rivals, textile magnate Hermann Lichtner spends his final days in a shabby infirmary. In a hasty and bizarre deathbed transaction he gives his fifteen-year-old daughter Renate in marriage to Thaddeus, a widowed Polish farmer who rejects social hierarchy and toils side by side with his peasants. 

Renate’s arrival quickly disrupts the bucolic flow of life and antagonizes every member of the household. During an excursion to the city, Renate rekindles an affair with a young Jewish painter who sells his watercolors outside the Gate of Dawn chapel. While her despairing husband might look the other way, his servants will not stand by and watch while their adored master is humiliated. 

Taking us from the cobblestone streets of old Vilnius, swarming with imperial gendarmes, to the misty bogs of rural Lithuania where pagan deities still rule, The Gate of Dawn is a folkloric tale of rivalry, conspiracy, and revenge.


Jenny, thank you for hosting me on your blog and giving me an opportunity to talk about my latest novel The Gate of Dawn, set in 19th-century Lithuania, the land of my paternal ancestors. At that time in history, Lithuania did not exist as a country. Most of it belonged to Czarist Russia, and a small portion in the West was under Prussian rule. Despite the compulsory Russification, targeted at destroying the indigenous Baltic culture, old customs were still very much in effect in the rural areas. I will continue using the term Lithuania.

In modern American culture, young people are taught that picking on your peers, using unflattering terms, and making sexual comments is a big no-no. There are massive anti-bullying campaigns. And yet, peer aggression finds new forms to manifest itself. How was this issue handled in 19th-century Lithuania? Young people were given specific time slots, usually tied to seasonal holidays, during which they could practice immature, lewd, and cruel behavior. Those antics often had a theatrical quality and were accompanied by thematic songs and costume pieces. Outside those allotted time slots, discourteous behavior was not tolerated. Maybe there is some wisdom to that? Because 19th-century Lithuania is such an unusual setting for a historical novel, my readers have asked me some questions about it. I am happy to give you some insight into the culture and value structure of that particular society.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Gilded Cage by Judy Alter

Please join me in welcoming author Judy Alter to Let Them Read Books! Judy is touring the blogosphere with her newest historical fiction novel, The Gilded Cage, and she's here today with a guest post about finding the right voice for her novel of Gilded Age Chicago. Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of The Gilded Cage!

Born to a society and a life of privilege, Bertha Honoré married Potter Palmer, a wealthy entrepreneur who called her Cissy. Neither dreamed the direction the other’s life would take. He built the Palmer House Hotel, still famed today, and become one of the major robber barons of the city, giving generously to causes of which he approved. She put philanthropy into deeds, going into shanty neighborhoods, inviting factory girls to her home, working at Jane Addams’ settlement Hull House, supporting women’s causes.

It was a time of tremendous change and conflict in Chicago as the city struggled to put its swamp-water beginnings behind it and become a leading urban center. A time of the Great Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Riots, and the triumph of the Columbian Exposition. Potter and Cissy handled these events in diverse ways. Fascinating characters people these pages along with Potter and Cissy—Carter Harrison, frequent mayor of the city; Harry Collins, determined to be a loser; Henry Honoré, torn between loyalties to the South and North; Daniel Burnham, architect of the new Chicago—and many others.

The Gilded Cage is a fictional exploration of the lives of these people and of the Gilded Age in Chicago history.

Getting the Voice Right
by Judy Alter

It took me over twelve years to write The Gilded Cage, the story of Potter Palmer (founder of the famed Palmer House Hotel in Chicago) and his socialite/philanthropist wife, Bertha Honoré (Cissy) Palmer, in Chicago’s Gilded Age. The first files I find on my computer date to 2002, but I suspect there are earlier files somewhere, on disks that my equipment no longer reads.

I was fascinated with Cissy Palmer because she was one of the first women to insist that great wealth carried an obligation of philanthropy and to put that belief into action, not just donating money but actively working in the community, inviting factory girls into her home and talking about their lives, volunteering at Jane Addams’ legendary Hull House settlement house, putting philanthropy into compassionate action.