Thursday, June 28, 2018

Let Them Read Books is on Summer Hiatus!

Hope everyone is having a super-fun summer! 
July is a busy month for me with an eleven-day road-trip and a bachelorette party trip, so though I hope to squeeze in as many books as possible, I will not be blogging. But I'll be back in August with a line-up of some of fall's hottest new releases in historical fiction! See you then!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Jenny Q's Best Books of 2017

Happy New Year, my reading friends! Err, wait...

Happy the Year is Half Over and I'm Just Now Posting My Best of 2017 List!

Better late than never, right?

2017 was one of my worst reading years, not only because I had far less time to read (only finishing 68 books out of my goal of 100, which was even less than 2016), but also in terms of the lack of books that blew me away. My average rating was 3.6. Only five books scored 4.5 or 5 stars. And I DNFed thirteen books, which I did not rate, nor did I count toward my reading goal.

Though this list is not as full as previous years, I did manage to find favorites in each category, and here they are with honorable mentions, in no particular order: (Click the pics for my reviews.)

Historical Fiction:


Honorable Mention: 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Review: Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge by Lisa Jensen

From the Back Cover:

Filled with magic and fierce emotion, Lisa Jensen's multilayered novel will make you question all you think you know about beauty, beastliness, and happily ever after.

They say Château Beaumont is cursed. But servant-girl Lucie can’t believe such foolishness about handsome Jean-Loup Christian Henri LeNoir, Chevalier de Beaumont, master of the estate. But when the chevalier's cruelty is revealed, Lucie vows to see him suffer. A wisewoman grants her wish, with a spell that transforms Jean-Loup into monstrous-looking Beast, reflecting the monster he is inside. But Beast is nothing like the chevalier. Jean-Loup would never patiently tend his roses; Jean-Loup would never attempt poetry; Jean-Loup would never express remorse for the wrong done to Lucie. Gradually, Lucie realizes that Beast is an entirely different creature from the handsome chevalier, with a heart more human than Jean-Loup’s ever was. Lucie dares to hope that noble Beast has permanently replaced the cruel Jean-Loup — until an innocent beauty arrives at Beast’s château with the power to break the spell. 

My Thoughts:

I think I've read at least half a dozen Beauty and the Beast-inspired books in the past year in historical romance, contemporary romance, and young adult. It's one of my favorite types of stories. This one is unique in that it takes place during the original time period in France and features some wonderful twists that turn the story on its head. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The first difference you'll notice is that this story is narrated by Lucie, a young woman in desperate need of a serving position. Despite the frightening rumors about Chateau Beaumont and its handsome young master, Lucie inquires about work and is grateful to receive a position as a maid. All is well until the master, Jean-Loup, returns to the chateau. At first Lucie can't understand why he has such a reputation. He's breathtakingly handsome, and she finds herself irresistibly drawn to him. But Jean-Loup soon shows his true colors and commits a horrible crime against Lucie, one that leaves her heart hardened, her hopes shattered, and revenge her sole reason for living.

Enter an enchantress who also believes a reckoning is due for Jean-Loup, and you know the rest . . . or do you?

In her author's note, Lisa Jensen says she's always loved Beast more than the prince, and so she set out to give him the happily ever after he deserves. In Jensen's tale, nothing is quite what it seems. Even Beauty--or Rose, as she's called in this tale--has ulterior motives. And Lucie, who could never have imagined what her fervent desire for revenge would set into motion, is consigned to watch it all unfold, shocked to discover her heart is not dead after all, and helpless to prevent Rose from bringing Jean-Loup back.

I was so smitten with Jensen's creative spin on the story that I could not put it down, and I could not wait to see what would happen and who would get their happily ever after. I've seen more than a few readers say they could not get past Jean-Loup's behavior in the beginning to read the rest of the story, but if they had kept reading, they would have seen an entirely different story than the one they imagined. This is a brilliantly creative retelling of the classic tale that held me spellbound from beginning to end.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

Monday, June 25, 2018

Guest Post: The Genesis of Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse by Arthur Hittner

Please join me in welcoming Arthur Hittner to Let Them Read Books! Arthur is promoting his novel, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse, and I'm happy to have him here today with a guest post about the inspiration behind his novel.

Freshly graduated from Yale, Henry J. Kapler parlays his talent, determination, and creative energy into a burgeoning art career under the wing of painters such as Edward Hopper and Reginald Marsh. The young artist first gains notoriety when his painting of a symbolic handshake between a young, African-American baseball player and his Southern white rival is attacked by a knife-wielding assailant while on display at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington. Yet even as his art star rises, Henry’s personal life turns precarious—and perilous—when his love for Fiona, a young WPA muralist, collides with his growing attraction to the exquisitely beautiful Alice, an ex-chorus girl who becomes his model and muse.  Alice is the girlfriend of Fiona’s cousin, Jake Powell, the hotheaded, hard-drinking outfielder for the New York Yankees whose jealousy explodes into abuse and rage, endangering the lives of all three.  While Henry wrestles with his hopelessly complicated love life, he also struggles mightily to reconcile his pacifism with the rabid patriotism of his Jewish-Russian émigré father.  As war draws near, Henry faces two difficult choices, one of which could cost him his life.

by Arthur Hittner

A large wooden crate arrived on my doorstep on a winter morning in early 2006.  Inside was the painting Eventide, a 1936 work by the artist Harold J. Rabinovitz (1915-44), a poignant depiction of a crouching young mother in a rose-colored dress clutching her naked infant, the child looking out the open doorway at the approaching figure of his father, a lunch pail in his hand, an expression of exhaustion on his face.  As a collector of American paintings executed during the Great Depression, this 1936 work was irresistible, though I’d never before heard of the artist.  That so talented a painter could have gone unnoticed for much of the seven decades since Eventide’s creation mystified me—and motivated me.

Years later, I self-published a brief biography and catalogue raisonne, At the Threshold of Brilliance: The Brief But Splendid Career of Harold J. Rabinovitz (The Rabinovitz Project, 2014; rev. ed., 2017).  I’d traced the living descendants of the artist, determining that the bulk of his output resided in the attics and basements of his nephews and nieces, and in the vaults of an art museum in Springfield, Massachusetts.   I viewed and photographed the collections of the descendants and the paintings in the museum.  Many were brilliant works, very much the product of the times in which he painted: a blind beggar in a subway car, his hand turned upward in supplication; a jobless man on a curb, his face etched with dejection and hopelessness; an old woman, clad in rags, selling pretzels outside a subway station.  Along with the paintings, I’d gained access to an old scrapbook that had been lovingly maintained by the artist’s parents.  Inside were yellowed newspaper clippings from the Thirties and early Forties, chronicling the young artist’s triumphs and sorrows.

Not surprisingly, no market exists for a biography of a long-forgotten artist, however talented.  Except for the Frick Art Reference Library and the Yale University Library (where Rabinovitz obtained his degree), I could count the proud possessors of the fruits of my labor on two hands.
But no matter.  I wrote that book out of a compulsion to discover the story behind my painting.  Yet I learned much more: I’d become immersed in another time and place—the New York City art world of the late Thirties, a metropolis teeming with struggling artists, many surviving on meager paychecks from government-sponsored artist support programs.   At some point I had an epiphany.  I realized that I could share this world with a wider swath of readers by turning to historical fiction.
Inspired by the life I’d just documented, I created my own young artist, Henry J. Kapler, placing him in the heart of the world I’d uncovered in my research.  Buoyed by further research and honed by an endless succession of drafts, Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse (Apple Ridge Fine Arts Press, December, 2017) was ready for publication.

Henry J. Kapler is not Harold Rabinovitz, although their lives share a number of salient facts, a common timeline, and even some of the same artworks.  Henry is a figment of my imagination, as are his thoughts, desires, motivations, quirks, and foibles.  Beyond this, I sought to portray the world in which Henry resides, the New York art world of the late Depression, including the artists, athletes, politicians, events, and institutions that contributed to the rich history of the period, with as much historical accuracy as possible. 

In tackling historical fiction, one often uncovers little known characters and facts that prove the adage of Mark Twain that truth is stranger than fiction.  In seeking a villain, an author could have done no better than New York Yankee outfielder Jake Powell, whose on-field belligerence was the perfect resume for his violent encounters with Alice and Fiona, the two women in Henry’s life, and whose ill-fated radio interview in 1939 and the events that followed are little-known footnotes in the shameful history of segregation in professional sport.   Similarly, the saga of “Bunny” Taliaferro, the gifted African-American athlete from Henry’s hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts and target of a 1934 racial incident in Gastonia, North Carolina, seemed a natural inspiration for Henry’s imaginary masterpiece, Gastonia Renaissance.

Scores of artworks make at least a cameo appearance in Artist, Soldier, Lover, Muse.  Paintings by artists other than Henry Kapler are works that might have been seen by a young artist in New York City at the time.  Some are monumental murals that still adorn important buildings in New York.  The paintings attributed to Henry are about evenly divided between purely fictional creations and works painted by Harold Rabinovitz, although the inspiration behind all of Henry’s paintings, as well as the details of their creation, derive solely from my own imagination.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Spotlight: Trouble the Water by Jacqueline Friedland

Trouble the Water
by Jacqueline Friedland

Publication date: May 8, 2018
Trade paperback ISBN 978-1-94300-654-0
338 pages
E-book ISBN: 978-1-943006-55-7

In TROUBLE THE WATER, Jacqueline Friedland’s gripping debut novel, seventeen-year-old Abigail Milton arrives in Charleston, South Carolina from England with only one small bag, but a lot to carry. Her family has fallen destitute and sent her away to ease their burden, and she carries this loss—and a dark secret—across the ocean with her. But Abby—fiery, strong-minded, and haunted—is determined to carve a humble life from her new opportunity in America.

Douglas Elling takes Abby in as a favor to her father, a dear family friend. Douglas has almost completely withdrawn from society, due to the untimely loss of his wife and only child two years earlier. Before the tragedy, whispers arose about him being an Abolitionist. He sought to fit in, if only to protect his underground activism. Now he remains a source of suspicion and an outsider by choice. Slowly—pulled from his isolation by the need to be polite to his charge, if nothing else—Douglas’s attempts to guide Abby rekindle his deeply buried hopes of improving people’s lives—and something in him awakens.

Set twenty years before the Civil War and filled with authentic detail about The Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist movement, TROUBLE THE WATER is a memorable and moving debut novel about painful histories, new hopes, social change, and second chances. 

Praise for Trouble the Water:

Best Regional Fiction – South

“… will seize readers from the first page and not let go.”—KIRKUS REVIEWS

“Fans of Paulette Jiles and Julia Quinn will adore this triumphant novel of intrigue, secrecy, and redemption.”—BOOKLIST

“With compelling characters, a charming peek into Charleston society, a heart-racing romance, rich historical detail, and an epilogue that will have you holding your breath, Friedland has written a well-crafted novel that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.”—Susie Orman Schnall, award-winning author of The Subway Girls, The Balance Project, and On Grace

“The complicated history of the antebellum South comes alive in Friedland's debut novel and offers readers an exciting and fast-paced literary journey that explores complicated relationships, the importance of friendship, and the necessary power of love.”—Kris Radish, best-selling author of A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere

“Friedland is a modern Bronte sister remixed with Kathleen Grissom or Leila Meacham. Trouble the Water is the riveting story of Abby, who travels across the sea, fleeing Liverpool, poverty, and an unsavory uncle, for Charleston, where a wealthy friend of her father, Douglas, lives. Douglas has pledged himself to the fight to end slavery, and for that, he has made the ultimate sacrifice. Abby fights inner demons and tries to find her place in Charleston high society while her brooding guardian reconciles the past and returns to his beloved cause. Lovers of Civil War-era historical fiction will rejoice at Friedland’s triumphant novel of love, friendship, and the most important issues of the day.”—Bethany Ball, author of What to do About the Solomons

“With a plucky heroine, a dashing hero, and the backdrop of the clandestine abolition movement in the antebellum South, Jacqueline Friedland masterfully weaves a tale full of passion and honor, duty and survival, evil and the beauty of basic human decency. Trouble the Water will make your heart pound and swell, and keep you reading well into the night. Highly recommended!”—Loretta Nyhan, author of I'll Be Seeing You, All the Good Parts, and Digging In

“In a narrative tapestry woven of brilliant threads of history and Drama, Jacqueline Friedland introduces her readers to seventeen-year-old British born Abigail Milton, her generous but reluctant benefactor, Douglas Elling and the complex world of antebellum Charleston. The evil of slavery, the nascent abolitionist movement, the courage of an operative of the underground railroad are explored against the background of the vanished world of debutante cotillions, social intrigue and the slow maturity and melding of skillfully drawn protagonists. Friedland’s research is impeccable, her writing fluid. Trouble the Water is that rare pedagogic novel that engages as it teaches.”—Gloria Goldreich, author of The Bridal Chair