Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A with Mary Sharratt, Author of Ecstasy

Please join me in welcoming Mary Sharratt to Let Them Read Books! Mary is touring the blogosphere with her brand new historical novel about Alma Schindler, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few questions about her leading lady! Read on to learn more about this fascinating woman!

In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.

Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.

Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?

Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.





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

How were you first introduced to Alma Schindler, and what inspired you to write about her?

I am a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan and Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with.

Did you learn anything in your research about Alma that surprised you?

Once I sat down and did the research on Alma, an entirely new picture of her emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

What was your biggest challenge in bringing Alma to life in your story?

Trying to capture Alma’s essence in one novel proved to be an extraordinary challenge. Originally, I wanted the novel to tell the story of her entire life, but it took me 400 pages just to try to do justice to her young adulthood and first marriage. Narrating the full sweep of Alma’s long and turbulent life would require a trilogy, at the very least. Who knows—maybe if Ecstasy is super-successful, my publisher might ask me to write a sequel or two!

What do you think it is about Alma that appeals to modern women?

Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to stop composing as a condition of their marriage. Deeply in love and in awe of his genius, she reluctantly agreed, even though this broke her heart. In this regard, her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of love? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of motherhood and domesticity?

What Alma’s story reveals is how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers. Why are female composers so sorely underrepresented, even in the twenty-first century? I am a classical music fan and attend concerts every chance I get. I’ve never seen a female composer on the repertoire of any major orchestra or venue I have visited. Nor have I ever seen a female conductor.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Blog Tour Q&A: How Did I Get Here? by Jane Marlow

Please join me in welcoming Jane Marlow to Let Them Read Books! Jane is touring the blogosphere with her new novel, How Did I Get Here?, and she's here today discussing her inspiration and research into the Crimean War.

In the 1800s, two events altered the course of Russia’s future—the emancipation of the serfs and the Crimean War. Author Jane Marlow takes readers back to this significant time in Russian history, journeying 800 miles south of Moscow to the frontlines of the Crimean War, in her second novel, How Did I Get Here?

Andrey Rozhdestvensky enters his final year of medical studies in 1854 with an empty belly, empty pockets, and secondhand clothes held together by wishful thinking. When Russia blunders into the misbegotten Crimean War, Tsar Nicholas recruits medical students to the front. Andrey grabs at what he believes to be free passage out of his vapid life—a portal to a new identity.

Volunteering as a surgeon for the Russian army, Andrey travels to the frontlines in Sevastopol and Simferopol on Russia’s Crimean Peninsula, where he discovers the atrocities of war, and fights to keep death and disease—scurvy, typhoid, typhus, cholera, gangrene and frostbite—from decimating the troops. As the war progresses, Andrey fears his mind is becoming unhinged as he witnesses the most senseless disregard for human life imaginable.

But even after the ink dries on the peace treaty, the madness of the war doesn’t end for Andrey. He scours city and countryside in search of a place where his soul can heal. Emotionally hamstrung, can he learn to trust the woman who longs to walk beside him on his journey?

A war story told in intimate human terms, How Did I Get Here? is the result of Jane Marlow’s lifelong interest in 1800s Russia and extensive research into the Crimean War. The second book in the Petrovo series, this novel follows Who Is To Blame? A Russian Riddle, reacquainting readers with several of their favorite characters.

In How Did I Get Here?, readers witness the war’s frontlines from a Russian surgeon’s perspective (as compared to the well-known accounts of British nurse Florence Nightingale of the enemy’s forces). The book also examines unrecognized and untreatable Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder a century before it was given a name, and explores the precariousness of war—why one man lives, the one beside him dies, and another is impaired for life.

A timeless story of human self-discovery and connection, How Did I Get Here? is hard-hitting historical fiction for serious readers.

What inspired you to write How Did I Get Here?

While I was conducting research for the first novel in the Petrovo series, Who Is to Blame?, I kept bumping into this thing called the Crimean War. Eventually, I realized it simply had to be the backdrop of my next novel for two reasons. First, the Crimean War was the guinea pig for a myriad of innovations that forever changed the face of warfare. The second factor that grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go was the War’s magnitude as a gruesomely ugly historical reality.  Not only was the carnage on the battlefield hideous, but an even greater number of fatalities were attributable to disease, malnutrition, winter exposure, and lack of competent leadership. Not until World War I would more people die as victims of war. 

What led to your fascination with Russia in the 1800s?

I trace my interest back to 6th grade when mother dragged me kicking and screaming to a professional stage performance of Fiddler on the Roof. But as my feet began tapping with the music, I experienced the proverbial smack-to-the-forehead. I was just at the right age to gain an inkling of understanding about prejudice, suppression, rural culture, and the deep-seated role of religion.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review: The Duke Who Ravished Me by Diana Quincy

From the Back Cover:

An impulsive kiss between a libertine duke and a mysterious governess sparks a blaze of desire—and intrigue—in this breathtaking Regency romance from the award-winning author of Spy Fall.

Adam Fairfax, the Duke of Sunderford, happily enjoys a different woman (or two) every night—or he did, until his wards landed on his doorstep. Ever since Sunny took in the seven-year-old twin girls and their prim and proper governess, Isabel Finch, his love life has been a shambles. But, as time goes by, Sunny catches himself getting lost in Isabel’s haughty blue eyes, or following the curves beneath her unbecoming dress. An unexpected kiss ignites a passion that shocks him into realizing how thin the line between love and hate can be.

If Isabel’s hidden past were revealed, she could lose everything. Oddly enough, only when “Sinful Sunny” is near does she feel safe—or safe enough to speak up in defense of the girls. The duke’s decadent lifestyle is a disgrace, and clearly he considers Isabel a nuisance. Still, she can’t help admiring his sculpted cheekbones, strong-cut jaw, and tousled chestnut hair. When their lips meet, it’s almost as if he could kiss the secrets right out of her. Worse, she’s tempted to let him . . . 

My Thoughts:

If you've read the previous books in this series, you're familiar with Adam Fairfax, Duke of Sunderford, or Sinful Sunny, as he is known in the society columns. An unapologetic libertine who revels in hosting orgies in his palatial town house, he can't understand what's come over the friends who used to join him in his unbridled, indulgent lifestyle. It's bad enough they had to go and get married, but the shocker is that they are actually faithful to their wives! Adam doesn't realize it, but his sinful style is about to come crashing to a halt as well.

His buzzkill arrives in the form of adorable seven-year-old twin girls. Children of a deceased cousin, they were staying with Adam's uncle until his uncle's deteriorating health forced him to name Adam their new guardian. And as if they didn't cramp his style enough, they come complete with a prim and proper nanny determined to keep his lifestyle from their impressionable eyes and ears. Easier said than done at first.

The girls are Isabel Finch's sole purpose in life. A widowed orphan, she has no other family, and scoring the post as the girls' governess has been a godsend for her. Even at an isolated country estate, Sinful Sunny's reputation preceded him. Appalled at his behavior and disappointed in his desire to find a new guardian for the girls, she is also extremely dismayed to find herself attracted to the rake. But the more she comes to learn of his loveless upbringing and the walls he has encased around his heart, the more she understands what drives his choices. And the more the girls worm their way into his affections, and Adam curtails his nighttime romps, the more she finds herself wishing they were a real family.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: Ain't Misbehavin' by Jennifer Lamont Leo

Please join me in welcoming Jennifer Lamont Leo to Let Them Read Books! Jennifer is touring the blogosphere with Ain't Misbehavin', the second book in her Roaring Twenties series! I'm happy to have her here today with a guest post about the wealth of information available on the Roaring Twenties and the very real possibility of becoming addicted to research! Read on and enter to win a copy of Ain't Misbehavin'!

In Jazz Age Chicago, Dot Rodgers sells hats at Marshall Field while struggling to get her singing career off the ground. Independent and feisty, she’s the life of the party. But underneath the glitter, she doesn’t believe she’s worth the love of a good man. Why would a strong, upstanding man want to build a future with a shallow, good-time girl like her?

Small-town businessman Charlie Corrigan carries scars from the Great War. After all he’s been through, he wants nothing more than to marry and start a family. But the woman he loves is a flamboyant flapper with no intention of settling down. She’s used to a more glamorous life than he can offer. As his fortunes climb with the stock market, it seems he’s finally going to win her love. But what happens when it all comes crashing down?

On Research and Rabbit Trails
by Jennifer Lamont Leo

I, like many historical fiction authors, love the research process. I love it so much, in fact, that it can threaten to derail me from the task at hand—more on that in a moment. But it’s a fact that our thirst for the stories of yesteryear is what drew many of us to write historical fiction in the first place.

When it comes to source materials, we authors who set our stories after, say, 1910 have an advantage over those writing about earlier eras, in that we have so many different types of media available to us. We can access not only books and newspapers, but also radio, movies (both silent and “talkies”), and voice and music recordings. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can listen to the songs, learn the dance steps, and study the lingo and voice inflections. Scattering these details throughout our stories helps paint a richer picture of the time period.

The early twentieth century also saw an explosion of advertising in popular magazines like Woman’s Home Companion and Ladies’ Home Journal. Consumer ads tell us a surprising amount of information about people’s everyday lives and concerns (“What will the neighbors think?” was—and continues to be—a big one) as well as a wealth of detail about clothing, hairstyles, color schemes, prices, home décor, automobiles, and recipes.

The downside to this cascade of information is that those of us addicted to research risk following every fascinating breadcrumb and rabbit trail, losing hours and even whole days in pursuit of some arcane fact. At some point we need to stop the research and start writing the darn story!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Death of a Falcon by Susan McDuffie

Please join me in welcoming Susan McDuffie to Let Them Read Books! Susan is touring the blogosphere in celebration of her newest Muirteach MacPhee mystery, The Death of a Falcon! I had the pleasure of helping Susan design the covers for this series, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post most authors can relate to (and which readers find fascinating), disappearing down the research rabbit-hole! Read on and enter to win a copy of The Death of a Falcon!

Scotland, 1375: Muirteach MacPhee and his wife Mariota visit Edinburgh Castle, assisting the Lord of the Isles in his negotiations with King Robert II. A trading vessel arrives at the nearby port of Leith from the far away Norse settlement in Greenland. The ship brings unexpected diversion and carries coveted wares: gyrfalcons, unicorn’s horns, and fine furs. Both King Robert and the Lord of the Isles desire the rare birds, easily worth a king’s ransom.

Muirteach and Mariota, unaccustomed to the sophistication of castle life, initially find pleasure in the heady and flirtatious glamor of the royal court. Then sudden and unexpected cruelty, followed by the senseless death of a beautiful young girl, plunge the couple into a murky sea of alliances and intrigue that stretches from Scotland across the icy western ocean to the far northern lands of the Norse, leaving trails of treachery and murder in its wake.

Susan in Hvritamannaland, or Down the Research Rabbit-hole
by Susan McDuffie

Research Rapture: A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact. ~Sean Pidgeon

When I first read this quote, from Sean Pidgeon’s essay in the New York Times (January 5, 2013) I felt I had found a name for the condition that has afflicted my writing life. I love research, and unfortunately find it a wonderful way to procrastinate. This might stem from my dad, Bruce McDuffie, an analytical chemist with a studious bent, or from his uncle, Allen McDuffie, who was the original Scottish nerd in my family and started the Clan MacDuffie/MacFie Society in the US sometime in the 1960s. I still have a few of Uncle Allen’s research books—SCOTS HERALDRY, THE CELTIC CHURCHES, and others-- with his handwritten notes, his handwriting so similar to my dad’s, in the margins. The stories I heard from the two of them about the MacDuffie clan’s role as Keeper of the Records for the Lords of the Isles were my original inspiration for the Muirteach MacPhee mysteries, the first of which was A MASS FOR THE DEAD.

Still, for each book I write I find I have to have some extra little nugget of history, or sometimes what I like to call ”faux-history” (you can include alien abduction and the Oak Island Mystery in this category), that sparks each book. For THE FAERIE HILLS, the second in this series, it was fairy changeling lore, along with the Bridget Cleary murder in late 19th century Ireland. If women were being murdered because they were suspected of being “taken” by the fairies in 1895, then what had been the mindset five hundred years before that, in 1373, when belief in the “good people” was presumably even stronger? THE WATERGATE of course references legends of the kelpies, while my interest in the Voynich manuscript inspired THE STUDY OF MURDER. (All these awesome covers designed by our own Jenny Q!)

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Quick Review: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

From the Back Cover:


Raised to be a warrior, seventeen-year-old Eelyn fights alongside her Aska clansmen in an ancient rivalry against the Riki clan. Her life is brutal but simple: fight and survive. Until the day she sees the impossible on the battlefield—her brother, fighting with the enemy—the brother she watched die five years ago.

Faced with her brother's betrayal, she must survive the winter in the mountains with the Riki, in a village where every neighbor is an enemy, every battle scar possibly one she delivered. But when the Riki village is raided by a ruthless clan thought to be a legend, Eelyn is even more desperate to get back to her beloved family.

She is given no choice but to trust Fiske, her brother’s friend, who sees her as a threat. They must do the impossible: unite the clans to fight together, or risk being slaughtered one by one. Driven by a love for her clan and her growing love for Fiske, Eelyn must confront her own definition of loyalty and family while daring to put her faith in the people she’s spent her life hating.

My Thoughts:

Sky in the Deep was one of my most anticipated books of the year, and it did not disappoint! From the first chapter, in which Eelyn fights as viciously as any man against her clan's enemies and is shocked to see her long-dead brother on the battlefield, I could not put it down.

I am foregoing a plot recap since the book description sums it up perfectly, but I will tell you that this book is not for the faint of heart. (We are talking about Vikings, after all.) Eelyn's world is vicious and brutal--I mean, the girl pull's a dude's eye out--but it's also beautiful and full of wonder and awe-inspiring sites. From Eleyn's beloved village on the fjord to the mountain forest home of the Riki, it's a treat for the senses for anyone who appreciates the raw, and sometimes dangerous, beauty of nature. And the scene in which we realize the meaning of the title is gorgeous.

It's also an examination of human nature and our indomitable willingness to do whatever it takes to survive, even when that means coming to terms with the fact that our enemies are not so very different from ourselves. The story sports a well-rounded cast of supporting characters from both clans, and ah, Fiske, Eelyn's enemy turned lover, the strong and silent type I adore so.

I can't quite put my finger on why this ended up not being a five-star read for me. I think perhaps the momentum fizzled a bit toward the end, and after so much adversity and trauma, things seemed to fall into place a tad too easily. But I enjoyed every minute of it.

In the tradition of Ivory and Bone and And I Darken (two books that both made my "best of" lists in the years they were published), Sky in the Deep is another fabulous entry into gritty, immersive, action-packed YA historical fiction.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, my review is voluntary and these are my honest and unbiased thoughts. I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.