Happy Release day, Tracy Grant!

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Today is release day for the e-novella “The Paris Plot” by historical mystery author Tracy (aka Teresa) Grant.  Tracy has written 3 novels about Suzanne and Malcom Rannoch, a husband and wife spy team working in Europe during the rise and fall of Napoleon.  This story picks up where her most recent novel, The Paris Affair, left off.  The Paris Affair was one of my favorite books from 2013, and Tracy’s description of Waterloo was fantastic.  I’ve really enjoyed watching her develop her characters throughout this series – not just Malcolm and Suzanne, but a handful of regulars who pop in and out of her other books, too.

Here is what Kensington Books has to say about “The Paris Plot”:

In the fallout of one of history’s bloodiest battles, a personal war is waged…

Paris in 1816 is reeling from the Battle of Waterloo, and relations between the British and French are uneasy at best. So it’s hardly a surprise to British attaché and Intelligence Agent Malcolm Rannoch when he and his wife Suzanne, soon to give birth to their second child, become the target of violent threats. Malcolm is certain that the secrets of his past have caught up with him—but he’s unaware that Suzanne has more than a few secrets of her own…

The Rannochs both served as spies throughout the Napoleonic Wars, Malcolm for the British and Suzanne for the Bonapartist French—and both could have left any number of enemies in their wake. But even for two seasoned agents, finding a would-be killer in a country where allegiances are tested and no one can be trusted may prove as impossible as escaping their history…

“The Paris Plot” is for sale today for less than $3 on Nook or Kindle.  Tracy’s next full-length novel about Malcolm and Suzanne, The Berkely Square Affair, will be out on March 25th.

Lost Lake Book Tour

ImageLast night, I drove out to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh to see Sarah Addison Allen on the first stop of her book tour for Lost Lake.  I never know what to expect when I see an author in person, and I can get weirdly anxious waiting for the event to start.  What if I can’t reconcile the person standing in front of me with the book they have written that I love?  I had no cause for alarm with Sarah.   The minute she walked into the room, she radiated happiness.  She was visibly excited that it was time to share Lost Lake with her readers.

Sarah started out by explaining that this book tour is special to her because she didn’t have a chance to tour for her last book, The Peach Keeper.  A few weeks before The Peach Keeper’s release, Sarah was diagnosed with cancer.  In just a few weeks, Sarah learned that the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, that the doctors had found nodules in her lungs, and that she would have to undergo treatment for stage four cancer – surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.  She compared this series of revelations to the feeling of being lost in the woods, in the dark, in the snow, and being chased.  But within a year, understandably the most frightening and dark year of her life, Sarah had her first set of clean scans.  She has been in remission for two years now, and in that time, she has gone through several drafts of Lost Lake.

Sarah said that she spent all of her treatment trying to get back to “life before cancer,” because that was a good and safe place for her.  But when her treatment was over, she realized that her life after cancer is actually better because she has made some changes that she would not have considered before.  Then she offered up some thoughts that seem to play a big role in Lost Lake“What would I say to that old Sarah – the Sarah before cancer?  What I would say to her, and what I would say to you is “What are you waiting for?  Life is too short.  Stop making excuses, because you KNOW what it takes to be happy…  Let go of those things you can’t control.  Tell the people you love that you love them.  Let go of the people who don’t love you – it’s okay.  Have more fun.  Ask for help when you need it.  Stop being afraid.  What are you waiting for?  Start now.’”

Sarah said that most people who learned she was writing a book after her treatment all wanted to know the same thing.  “Are you going to write about cancer?”  She considered it, but she found that she couldn’t.  “Cancer is too real and too awful, and I can’t make it good, and I can’t make it magical.  But after I finished writing Lost Lake, I sat back and I pondered, and I realized that, while I didn’t write about cancer, what I did write about was grief.  I wrote about characters who have gone through the worst thing they think they can possibly go through.  And they end up on the other side of it in an unfamiliar place, in an unfamiliar life, and yet it’s LIFE.  It’s life waiting for them to live it.” 

At this point, Sarah read aloud to us the prologue of Lost Lake.  I sat back, closed my eyes and listened, and I was captivated completely.  I’m in the middle of another book right now, but Sarah’s reading made me want to chuck that book out the window and start Lost Lake immediately.  We’ll see how much self-control I can scrape together.

After the reading, there was a quick Q&A, and then Sarah signed books.  I’d say around forty people stayed to have their books autographed, and Sarah took her time with each person.  My friend Beth and I were two of the last people in line, and when our turn came, I was struck by how gracious and modest Sarah was.  She seemed genuinely surprised (and a bit overwhelmed) that anyone would wait an hour and a half just to speak to her.  She had a packet of beautiful postcards for each person in the line, and she took the time to personalize her notes in our books and even draw little pictures.  It was a great experience, and I feel like I need to say a huge THANK YOU to Sarah and to the great staff at Quail Ridge Books.  Sarah is currently working on a sequel to her first novel, Garden Spells, hopefully to be published in 2015.  If it works out that way, I hope her book tour will bring her to QRB again!

Happy Release Day, Sarah Addison Allen!

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Today is release day for Sarah Addison Allen’s fifth novel Lost Lake.  If you’ve never read anything of Sarah’s before, I can’t recommend her highly enough.  She writes this really beautiful mix of magical realism and southern fiction.  Her third book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, is one of my absolute favorites.

Here is what St. Martin’s Press says about Lost Lake:

From the author of New York Times bestseller Garden Spells comes a beautiful, haunting story of old loves and new, and the power of the connections that bind us forever…

The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby’s past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that’s left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It’s a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing  Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she’s all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer… and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren’t sure they needed in the first place:  love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended.  Can they find what they need before it’s too late?

 At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.

If you’re undecided about trying Lost Lake, you can read the free short story she wrote as a prequel.  It’s called Waking Kate, and it’s available on Nook, Kindle, and other e-book formats.

If you live in North Carolina, Sarah is doing a book tour for the next few weeks, and you should try to see her!  I’ll be heading to Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh tomorrow night to hear her speak, and the list of her other tour dates is up on her website.

Blackberry Pie Murder

I’m honestly surprised I’ve gotten any reading done at all this past week, seeing as how Brad and I have just discovered the BBC Sherlock series (three years late, I know – mea culpa).  When I did get reading, I decided I should pick something from my NetGalley queue.  I requested Blackberry Pie Murder a few weeks back because I’ve seen these books, with their yummy-looking baked good covers, in stores for years.

ImageThis is the seventeenth (!) book in Joanne Fluke’s mystery series about Hannah Swenson, owner of Lake Eden Minnesota’s coffee shop and bakery called The Cookie Jar. Hannah, along with her mother and sisters, has developed a reputation for uncovering dead bodies. It’s been several months since the Swenson girls solved a mystery, and Hannah is looking forward to focusing on her bakery and planning her mother’s wedding. But Hannah’s peace of mind is short-lived, and in the midst of a terrible thunderstorm, she accidentally hits and kills a stranger with her Cookie Jar delivery car. As she awaits the date of her trial for vehicular homicide, Hannah searches for the truth about the man she hit – what was he doing in Lake Eden, and why was he waiting by the side of the road in the storm?

I really enjoy mysteries, and I liked the idea of a bakery owner who solves crimes in her free time. While the mystery plot was fine, and I enjoyed the recipes that Fluke scatters throughout for the cookies she mentions in her chapters, this book left me cold. Maybe it’s my own fault – maybe it was arrogant to think I could slide into a series with book seventeen and pick right up where all Fluke’s regular readers left off. But something about Fluke’s style of writing rubbed me wrong.

First, Fluke has a habit of creating a metaphor for a situation and torturing it out over multiple pages. At one point, she compares Hannah’s emotions to the feeling of riding a roller-coaster. Fluke treats the reader to five pages of “Hannah’s emotional roller coaster car climbed toward the top of the slope… Hannah pictured the roller coaster car as it teetered on the very apex of the downslope… Hannah’s roller coaster car was on its way up the track again… the car on her emotional roller coaster was starting down the slope again…” She does the same thing about a hundred pages later, comparing her questioning of a suspect to a pitcher trying to strike out a batter. I appreciate the use of the metaphors in the story, but once the comparison has been made, trust your readers to understand and go with it – no need to reiterate it so much.

Second, Fluke seems fond of the technique of “telling” rather than “showing” in her writing. She tends to be repetitive. We are told time and time again that Hannah’s mother, Delores, loves chocolate. Every time Hannah bakes something chocolate for Delores, readers are reminded that Delores is a chocoholic, or that Delores thinks chocolate makes everything better. Also, there are several places where the sentences themselves seem repetitive – for example: “It seemed the ongoing feud was still going on.” Yikes.

I did think the actual mystery element was interesting. Fluke did a good job of tying together some plot lines that I didn’t realize were connected. She does create the atmosphere of the cozy small town where, when accidents happen, a community comes together to make things right. Also, I plan to try the recipes for some of the desserts that Fluke includes, like Fresh Blackberry Cookies and Yummy Yam Cookies. These look great, at Fluke added “notes” from the characters with baking tips and tricks.

If you’ve read the other Hannah Swenson mysteries, you’ll probably like this one. I read reviews for some of the earlier novels, and they are pretty positive overall. Again, maybe my issues with this book come from unfamiliarity with a set of well-established characters. If I’m in the market for this kind of mystery novel again any time soon, I’ll probably stick with Donna Andrews.

Happy Release Day, Susanna Kearsley!

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I love Tuesdays in book world – there is always something to look forward to.  Today is release day for Susanna Kearsley’s novel The Splendour Falls.  This isn’t a new release in the traditional sense.  The Splendour Falls was actually published in 1995 by Corgi, a Random House imprint.  I think it was only available for purchase in the UK and Canada.  But since Susanna was picked up by Sourcebooks Landmark in the US, her new books are available in the US and her older books are getting a cover makeover and re-release.

Here’s what Landmark says about The Splendour Falls:

1205 – the town of Chinon is beseiged by enemies of King John, and his young Queen calls upon a trusted servant to conceal her treasured jewels.

Emily Braden is intrigued by the medieval story of Queen Isabelle, and cannot resist when her cousin Harry, a historian, suggests a trip to the white-walled town of Chinon, nestling in France’s Loire Valley. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she stumbles across another intriguing mystery — a second Isabelle, a chambermaid during the Second World War, who had her own tragedy, and her own treasure to hide.

As Emily explores the ancient town of labyrinthine tunnels, old enmities, and new loves, she finds herself drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets.

Sounds excellent to me!  Because Susanna is such a lovely person, when I emailed her to ask her a question last week and mentioned I was looking forward to The Splendour Falls, she responded to me almost immediately and also shared some thoughts about today’s release.  Here is what she had to say about The Splendour Falls:

“It’s an older book, so a little different than my newer ones, and the characters probably smoke more than they ought to (and don’t carry cellphones) (and listen to cassette tapes) but it’s set in what’s probably my favourite place on earth, so for that reason alone will always be special to me.”

If you’re interested, lots of other information is available on Susanna’s website.  You can see her photos of Chinon from when she traveled there herself and even read the first chapter of the book for free.

I’ll be getting my hands on a copy today.  Happy Tuesday to you, wherever you are.

Best of 2013

Looking back at everything I read in 2013, it’s hard to pick favorites.  There are obvious trends in my reading that I never noticed until I started shelving books on GoodReads.  I knew I liked historical fiction, but I had no idea how many historical mysteries I read until I saw the numbers.  Evidently I really gravitate towards those!  Also, I’ve discovered that the half-modern, half-historical mystery/adventure hybrid books that I could never find a name for do, in fact, have a genre.  They are evidently called timeslip novels.  So it seems to me that the easiest way to narrow down my best books of 2013 is to pick my favorite book from each of those 3 categories.

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Historical Fiction: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

From the publisher’s description, I was expecting a book about a spoiled little rich girl who is exiled to Kenya for bad behavior, and falls in love with a man who is different enough to make her settle down. I probably would have enjoyed that book. But what I actually got was SO much more, and so much better. Yes, Delilah starts off the spoiled little rich girl, but she is infinitely more complex than that. Every time I thought I had Delilah all figured out, I learned something that forced me to think again. Delilah is a walking contradiction, and it’s impossible to put any sort of label on her. This isn’t a trite story about a bad girl with a heart of gold. Delilah is damaged and difficult, and I hated her and loved her in turns.  I really enjoy a heroine who keeps me on my toes, and Delilah certainly delivered.

Deanna does a great job with her description of 1920s Kenya. She dips into a little of everything – politics, culture, the white “club” society, the tribal dynamics, and life on safari.  Loved it, cover to cover.

Historical Mystery: The Paris Affair by Teresa Grant

Picking up almost immediately where Grant’s previous book, Imperial Scandal left off, The Paris Affair drops Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch in the midst of post-Waterloo Paris, where political intrigue and danger abound. Grant doesn’t waste any time setting up her story. Before the end of the first chapter, Malcolm and Suzanne have blackmail, a hidden child, a foiled assassination plot, and a corpse on their hands.

One of Grant’s biggest assets as a writer is her ability to place you seamlessly into her setting.  She also has a gift for making her readers feel like they are participants in the story, working right alongside Suzanne and Malcolm. And on a more trivial note, good GRIEF do her dress descriptions make me wish I lived in the early 1800s.  Some of my favorite characters in the first and second books were back again, and I enjoyed watching Grant expand on their backgrounds, their relationships, and their hopes for the future.  My personal favorite, the incomparable Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan, is back in all her glory.  You don’t have to read the first two books in the series to enjoy this one, but I would recommend them simply because they’re great stories!

Timeslip: The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

There are two stories at the heart of The Firebird. In the modern-day story, Nicola Marter is a woman who has the gift of psychometry. She can touch objects and see glimpses of people who owned them in the past. When Nicola touches the wooden figurine of the firebird, the tug of its past is so strong that she has an inadvertent vision of its history. This vision sets her off on a journey to discovery the truth about the firebird’s origins. Nicola also reaches out to Rob, a former flame whose power of psychometry is more practiced than her own, for help with her journey.

The historical story involves Anna, a child whose family is so entangled in Jacobite politics that, for her own safety, she is sent from home to an adopted family, to a convent in Ypres, to France, and eventually to Russia. As a child, Anna learns some hard lessons about who she can trust, and she grows into a young lady who is well-adjusted and well-mannered but guards her heart ferociously. When Anna meets Edmund O’Connor, she begins to wonder if she’s truly the good judge of people and their motives that she considers herself.

Kearsley is a fabulously talented writer.  I’m very particular (and sometimes unfairly judgmental) about books that have supernatural elements, but I enjoyed reading about psychometry. I found the concept interesting, and Kearsley’s way of moving between time periods felt fluid to me.  When I finished this book, I had the feeling that I can only describe as “book catharsis.”

Several of the other books I read in 2013 are worthy of an Honorable Mention (doesn’t THAT sound official?), but more on those later.  I’ll share two final things before I close for the day.  First, Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel Someone Else’s Love Story is on sale for $1.99 today on both Kindle and Nook.  Let me tell you, that is a bargain.  As someone who already owns the hardcover, I might just buy the e-book too!  And lastly, I saw a good Buzzfeed book list today that got me excited about a few books that are coming to the big screen in 2014.  Gillian Flynn is on here TWICE.  I may have to read Gone Girl.

New Year, New Project

I’ve decided that 2014 will be the year I stop thinking and talking about writing a book blog and start actually writing it.

I love books.  I’ve done the math, and I will never live long enough to read all the books I want to read.  But I’m going to try anyway.  Thanks to GoodReads and their awesome yearly challenges, I read 100 books in 2012, and 100 again in 2013.  This year, I’m scaling back a bit to accommodate a new job and this new blogging thing.  So, in 2014, I’m set to read 85 books.  I love GoodReads challenges like this, because they appeal to my inner compulsive list-maker.  They also motivate me to put down the TV remote and pick up a book when I’m wondering if it’s a terrible decision to watch a fifth episode of Big Bang Theory.

What I’d like to do on this blog is talk about what I’m reading, author/book events I go to, books I’m excited about, and other reading-related topics as they come to me.  So tomorrow, my first “real” blog post (since I don’t know if you can count “Hey, I thought I’d write a blog!” as an informative post) will be about the best books I read in 2013.  As Flavia de Luce would say, “Yaroo!”  Let’s do this.