As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

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Oh, scissors – Flavia is back! Thanks to NetGalley and Bantam Dell, I had a chance to read an advance copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, the seventh novel in Alan Bradley’s fantastic Flavia de Luce series.

In this novel, we pick up with Flavia on a boat crossing the Atlantic as she departs England and her beloved home at Buckshaw to attend Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Flavia understands this school will train her to follow in the mysterious and patriotic footsteps of her mother and her eccentric Aunt Felicity, but she knows nothing about what to expect or what this training will entail. Most twelve year old girls would probably faint if their first night at boarding school involved a charred corpse tumbling out of their chimney, but Flavia – chemistry enthusiast, lover of poisons, and avid student of biological decomposition – is not your average twelve year old. Thanks to her habit of pocketing important bits of evidence and her ability to startle people into answering her unexpected questions, Flavia discovers that something is amiss at Miss Bodycote’s. Three girls have disappeared, and Flavia makes it her business to determine what has become of them, and whether one of them might be the unfortunate body from her chimney.

I absolutely loved exploring Miss Bodycote’s with Flavia. It reminded me of reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time and watching Harry learn his way around Hogwarts. At Miss Bodycote’s, there are day-pupils and boarders, chemistry labs with the very latest technology and equipment, teachers with a wide variety of backgrounds (among them an acquitted murderess), and a headmistress who seems uncannily omnipresent. The wings of the school are named after goddesses, the girls’ rooms after heroines, the houses after female saints, and the bathrooms after defunct royalty. There is a hierarchy among the students, both official and unofficial, that Flavia must learn to navigate, and she hasn’t been at the school for more than a week before she’s had several late-night visitors and an impromptu field trip into the Canadian woods to hone her survival skills.

Watching Flavia try to integrate herself into new surroundings was every bit as wonderful as I hoped it would be. When she tries to mimic the other students’ slang and says to a classmate, “Spill it,” she is overjoyed to see that she’s used the phrase correctly. Flavia decides that “[a]ll those afternoons with Daffy and Feely at the cinema in Hinley had not been wasted after all, as Father had claimed. I had learned my first foreign language and learned it well.” She calls upon all her skills to learn her new environment – her ability to adopt the body language of “little girl lost,” squeeze herself into tight spaces, and (oddly) to vomit on command all come in handy in this story.

If you’re a regular reader of the series, you probably will miss Colonel de Luce, Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, Flavia’s sisters, and the other Bishop’s Lacey locals we’ve come to know and love. But Bradley introduces a whole cast of characters to take the sting out of their absence, and I found that this change in setting is breathing new life into the series. If you haven’t experienced Flavia yet, definitely grab a copy of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and get started. If you’re already a fan, you won’t want to miss the latest of Flavia’s exploits.

Pink IV: Ask the Author

Crimson Rose British cover

It’s that time again!

Since we’re wrapping up our month of The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, Lauren has agreed to return for another round of Ask the Author.  She’ll be popping by throughout the day to answer whatever questions you have about Mary, Vaughn, or anything else Pink IV.  Lauren, as always, thank you so much for visiting with us.

We’ll pick up with our rereading on January 1 with The Mischief of the Mistletoe.  If you’re confused about the reading order, take a look at this previous post to find out what’s up.

Pink IV Week 4 in Review

Good morning!  To all of you who celebrate Christmas, I hope you had a wonderful holiday yesterday.  I’d like to begin by announcing the winner of the library sale books: it’s Thea!  Thea, if you will email me at ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com with your address, I will get your prize in the mail.  Merry Christmas to you from the Bubble Bath Reader!

And now, I will hand this post over to Sarah, who I believe deserves a big round of applause and huge Holiday Huzzahs for doing such a wonderful job of leading us through Pink IV.  Thank you so much, Sarah!  Take it away 🙂

Whew, here we are at the end of Crimson Rose . . . I can’t believe we are here already.  Alright, the ‘wrap up’ where everything falls into place and much that was once mystery has come to light.

Mary:  Brave and resilient.  She manages to save Vaughn, unmasks the Black Tulip and is instrumental in his defeat; mostly while in various states of ‘undress’.  She is not above using her feminine wiles if she needs to.  My favourite from her during these last chapters is during her confrontation with the Tulip “Mary swallowed hard and straightened her spine, dropping her coquetry like an outgrown mask.  The battle would have to be won on other grounds.”  She is the best type of heroine, in my opinion, no flustering, no panicking, no waiting for someone to ‘rescue’ her (although his appearance later is welcome) just pragmatism and logic; much like Jane and Henrietta.  A great wish of mine is that, should I find myself in such a situation, I would behave in a like fashion.  The ‘cherry on top’ is she gets her man in the end and without either of them having to resort to anything, ummmmmm, untoward (yep, let’s go with that).

Lord Vaughn:  Has recovered from his wound rather admirably and is determined to see himself free of his resurrected wife so he can marry Mary (marry Mary, that’s a fun phrase … sorry, it’s Christmastime, too much Elf).  He has a meeting with Anne, where he discovers that the Tulip is the next Jacobite ‘pretender’ (ooooh, I have highland Scots heritage and struggle with this a bit … however, I’m also a good Canadian and love Queen Elizabeth … ack!) and that he needs to save Mary.  I love his ‘uneasy’ partnership with Geoff in this portion, “he hadn’t intended either Pinchingdale or the tree.”  Then his gallant duel with the Tulip, where he rips his gunshot wound open, and then he guiltily turns back when he realizes that Anne didn’t get out.  Oh, Vaughn.  However, he winds up with his Mary and he’s glad of that, although it also means his children will be Geoff and Letty’s relations.

Anne:  My other ‘difficult heroine’ that I made a vague allusion to a week or so ago.  Her story would probably be a fascinating one as she is quite the complicated woman.  She managed to get herself under the dubious ‘protection’ of the Black Tulip and finally realized that Vaughn wasn’t such a bad option after all.  The amazing part is she is willing to risk her life to see that he is safe.  Is it just more self-interest on her part?  We’ll never know, but she made a very brave move to defy the Tulip the way she did, and she paid the ultimate price for it.

The Black Tulip/St. George:  Well, this was a beautiful move on Lauren’s part, I must admit.  While I feel like I maybe should have seen it coming, based on character moves in ‘Emerald Ring’, I really didn’t.  And to make the spin even better it has nothing to do with the French cause and Bonaparte!  It’s all about Louis and his supposed betrayal of Jamie’s father Bonnie Prince Charlie, absolutely brilliant.  While the Tulip manages to be totally menacing to Mary, and later seems to be beating Vaughn in their duel, it does appear that he died in the fire that brought down Lady Euphemia’s theatre.  Destroyed by his own ‘infernal machine’ and cruelty, poetic justice at its finest.

Colin & Eloise:  Had a lovely date, which included a nice interlude in her very blue hallway, and they seem to be on their way to an actual relationship.  Eloise set Dempster down rather nicely on her last visit to the Vaughn collection and Colin invited her to spend the week with him at Selwick Hall.  After all, there are multitudes of papers left to be combed through, and who better then Eloise?

That pretty much encapsulates the end of Crimson Rose.  Let me know if I missed anything in my summation that you think should have been included.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this journey and I really look forward to rereading the next books with you all!

Pink IV Dream Casting

Today’s post was written by Miss Eliza of Strange and Random Happenstance.
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Book series are fickle beasts. You can be reading them, and quite enjoying them, but sometimes you aren’t fully committed… yet. Of the entire Pink Carnation series, I view the previous two volumes as the weakest. Please don’t pelt me with scary balls of pudding tied up in pilfered ribbons! It’s just my personal opinion, and I actually am a little behind in the re-read (ok, you can throw evil darting glances at me here) so this is my opinion from when I re-read them a few years back so I might change my mind (though I doubt it). But here’s the point I’m trying to make… The Seduction of the Crimson Rose was when everything fell into place for me. This was the book that made me realize this was an author whose work I would read whatever they wrote. If an author can take previously aloof and unpalatable characters and make them stars, well, that’s an author I want to read. Go Lauren! It also made me hope that the series would continue, thankfully for us for a further eight volumes! Now to our cast…

Rose2

I say things like, oh, I always cast the female first, and then of course comes two books back to back where I cast the male lead first. Make a rule for myself and then break it is apparently how I roll. But the truth is, how could I NOT cast Lord Vaughn first I ask you? He’s already been around for a few books, hijacking the plot and stealing our hearts with his snarky ways. There has always been one man in my heart that makes looking bad so damn appealing. That man is James Purefoy. He is able to be menacing yet bring some levity with perfectly timed jokes. The line about the lions in Rome, highlight of season two, easily (mauling lions do so ruin a good procession). Also he looks smashing in Regency clothing. I mean, seriously, look at those cravats in Beau Brummell: This Charming Man! But it’s his roles in shows like Injustice and The Following that bridge the attractive and the menacing snark that makes him my number one choice for Lord Vaughn!

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As for Mary Alsworthy, I wanted someone who had the raven haired beauty that the role demands, as well as the ability to look down on those below her and sneer. Also, because I’m OCD like this, I wanted someone whom I thought could believably (age and look wise) be Letty’s sister, forever Bryce Dallas Howard to me. I think that Natalie Dormer is perfect in this regard! Despite actually not truly having the raven locks (she sure fooled us in The Tudors) she looks fabulous with them and is only one year younger then Bryce! Plus, I mean, not to gloat, but seriously, everyone wants her in their projects now since Game of Thrones, and I had her pegged as Mary over five years ago… suck it, Hunger Games! Therefore I submit Natalie and James for your delectation and would love to hear your suggestions. Can I put money on someone suggesting Hugh Laurie?

You can see posts with additional pictures at these links:

Mary Alsworthy played by Natalie Dormer
Lord Sebastian Vaughn played by James Purefoy

Vanessa and Her Sister

vanessa

Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books, I had a chance to read an advance copy of Vanessa and Her Sister by Priya Parmar.

In 1905, the Stephens siblings have moved out of their childhood home on the “right” side of town and into the avant-garde neighborhood of Bloomsbury. They shock their more conservative relatives by hosting mixed evenings at home and gathering around them an eccentric circle of artists that includes Lytton Strachey and E. M. Forster. The biggest commonality the group members have is their time at university with Thoby Stephen, but it quickly becomes clear that Vanessa and Virginia are the main attraction: Vanessa, the unflappable hostess and the group’s center of gravity, and Virginia, the mercurial writer whose moods can turn an evening on a dime. Their circle is enjoying being young, thinking big, and pushing boundaries, but a sudden death brings changes they could not have anticipated. Vanessa, the mother hen of the group, finds herself suddenly captivated by the idea of being cared for rather than being the caregiver, and her brother’s friend Clive is determined to marry her. This shifting dynamic sets the already volatile Virginia on a destructive course that will lead to a betrayal Vanessa could never have expected and is not sure she can endure.

The central conflict in the novel is Vanessa’s relationship with Virginia. Vanessa assumes responsibility for Virginia because she is older and because she has a nurturing temperament, but she forgets that she is not Virginia’s mother. I felt like all the characters made excuses for Virginia’s horrible behavior constantly. At one point, Vanessa says that “[b]eautiful Virginia is full of malice, but she is not malicious. It is just how she is built. She is governed by different forces than we… I do not think, in this case, Virginia meant actual harm; she just could not bear to be irrelevant.” Even when she is thinking critically about Virginia, Vanessa is not really seeing her clearly. The Virginia that Parmar shows readers is a monster, completely self-centered and bent on causing as much pain and devastation as she can. Parmar does a great job of making readers feel invested in the conflict – you’re pulling for Vanessa the whole time.

There were a few things about this book I found confusing. First, all the Stephen siblings and their close circle of friends have multiple nicknames for each other. These are used throughout the book with no explanation of who is who – there is only a list of characters (including nicknames) before the first chapter begins. It was nice to have the chart, but it takes you out of the moment when you have to stop reading constantly in the first few chapters to flip back to the chart and figure out who the heck Parmar is talking about.

The second thing I found distracting was the novel’s composition. It’s written as though it is Vanessa’s diary, but there are letters and telegrams scattered throughout as well. I usually like novels that include letters – evidently Parmar’s first book about Nell Gwyn, Exit the Actress, was written in this style too. Some of the letters are written by Virginia or Vanessa, and those were easy enough to understand, but there is lots of correspondence between Lytton and Leonard Woolf. I knew Leonard Woolf eventually married Virginia, but he’s hardly mentioned at all in Vanessa’s diary entries, so these letters just feel random. About halfway through the book, suddenly we start to see letters from someone named Roger Fry to his mother. Who is Roger Fry? He never mentions knowing the Stephens in his letters, he’s never brought up in Vanessa’s journal, so what does he have to do with anything? We discover later, of course, but I thought that was a really weird way to introduce a character.

Despite these issues, I did enjoy the read. Parmar shows on several occasions that she really does have a beautiful way with words. She gives Vanessa some excellent, introspective lines about herself and the people around her. I’ll give you a few examples:

About Virginia: “Writing is Virginia’s engine. She thrums with purpose when she writes. Her scattershot joy and frantic distraction refocus, and she funnels into her purest form. Her centre holds until the piece is over, and she comes apart again.”

About the Bloomsbury group: “For all our confidence, only Morgan has done anything of note in the outside world. The rest of us are still living on the borrowed fuel of potential so far and have not left deep footprints.”

About herself and her painting: “We do not understand the boundaries and dimensions of what we have created until it is consumed by another.”

I’ll be interested to see what Parmar picks as the subject of her next book, and I will be willing to give it a try. If you enjoy books like The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, you’d probably enjoy Vanessa and Her Sister.

Library Sale Giveaway

Last weekend, Brad and I went to the Wake County library book sale. Have you ever been to a library book sale? I’ve been to a few, but the Wake County sale is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It’s so enormous, it has to be held at the NC state fair grounds. It is all in one building, but that building is slammed. So. Many. Books.

For a person like me who loves to read, you would think this would be heaven. But I felt so overwhelmed by the number of books around me, the number of people, and the lack of any organization beyond “general fiction on the right, mystery and romance to the left,” that I wound up feeling like Rachel in that episode of Friends where they try to find Monica a wedding dress. I just wanted to curl up under a table with my hands over my head and blow my safety whistle.

I digress. I think it’s really interesting to see what’s on offer at the book sale, because the books you see the most copies of tell you something about what books were trending in the past year or so. At last year’s book sale, I must have seen at least fifty copies of The Help. Strangely, this year I saw tons of copies of The Lovely Bones – I wouldn’t have predicted that one. I also find it interesting that I hardly ever run across a copy of a Harry Potter book at these sales, but there were entire boxes full of Twilight books. I’m not trying to hate on Twilight. I read and own all four of the books. But I think it’s interesting.

Brad found some biographies and histories, and I found a few hardback copies of Mary Stewart novels that I’m really excited about. Here’s the thing, though. Brad and I already have a LOT of books. We have stacks of them, actually. People say, “Oh, do you need bookshelves?” No. We have seven. They are full, thus the stacks on the floor. Brad and I walked away from the library book sale with 25 books.

winter seaforgotten garden

Since it’s nearly Christmas, and I love to share things with you, I am going to give away two books that I bought at the library sale. I have a paperback copy of Susanna Kearsley’s The Winter Sea and Kate Morton’s The Forgotten Garden to put up for grabs. They are both previously owned, obviously, but they are in very good condition. Both books are excellent – The Winter Sea is actually one of my all-time favorites. I’m giving both books to one lucky commenter on today’s post. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.  Good luck!

Pink IV Week 3 in Review

Will someone please explain to me how it is already the third week of December? I feel like this can’t be possible, and yet here we are. Before I pass you all into Sarah’s capable hands for our Pink IV recap, let me announce the winner of the signed copy of The Firebird: it’s Kathleen Parker! Kathleen, if you will email your address to ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com, we will get your prize in the mail to you.

Thank you all so much for entering and sharing the giveaway, and huge thanks to Susanna for the interview and prize! If you didn’t win, make sure you check back next Monday… there may or may not be another of Susanna’s books up for grabs.

And now, over to Sarah!

CR postcard

Hello all and happy Friday!  By this point in our read we should have finished through Chapter 23, so I’m going to do a recap of what’s happening. Or maybe I should recap what isn’t happening – it would be a much shorter post.  If this book were published in parts and this set of chapters were one part I think it would be called “Revelations and Complications.”

Mary:  Our heroine goes through quite a lot in this portion of the book.  First we have the tediousness of practicing for Lady Euphemia’s play while Vaughn has done a disappearing act; Lauren’s heroes do like to do that don’t they?  Miles did that, too, as did Geoffrey… sorry, rabbit trail.  Any way Mary goes from pining for Vaughn’s company, although she claims to “despise, loath, and revile him,” to angrily confronting him on his disappearance, wherein her deeply hidden hopes of an eventual marriage proposal are smashed to pieces, to fighting the Black Tulip for a pistol in an attempt to save Vaughn’s life.   Then to top it all off, in typical resilient Mary fashion, she manages to bully everyone around her so she can get him home and looked after.  If only she could have fallen in love with someone who is far less trouble, like Mr. St. George.  He seems like such a nice man, and he clearly admires Mary.

Lord Vaughn:  Okay, I’m going to say it. Poor Sebastian.  I think this section of the book, and specifically the scene with Anne at the musicale, is what really endeared him to me.  As become evident at Hyde Park he’s finally found a woman he truly loves and respects, only to have his dead wife suddenly back from the grave, and turning up at the most inappropriate times.  I remember listening to the audio version and this passage stood out so vibrantly: “He knew that expression.  Next would come an innocent flutter of the lashes, followed by a charmingly perturbed expression, as though she were searching for the right words.  And, finally, the long, drawn-out, wheedling rendition of his name.  Sebastian…”  We also get more of an in-depth look at his emotions; he feels deeply, more than he’ll ever admit, for Mary, for Teresa, for everything that happened during the Terror, and much more.  To make matters worse, he’s been mistakenly labeled as the Pink Carnation and shot, so it’s been a rough couple of days for Vaughn.

The Black Tulip:  He’s made his second appearance, if he’s a “he” at all.  I’m still not entirely convinced the spy wasn’t the woman swigging gin and wearing a towering ruin of a bonnet, either a man disguised as a woman or actually a woman; see, complicated.  So the Tulip has reached out, as hoped, to Mary in Hyde Park.  Here’s where things get really interesting, Mary’s test of loyalty is to kill Vaughn since the Tulip is convinced he’s the Pink Carnation.  What really caught my attention here was the fact that Teresa was killed in Ireland for refusing to kill Vaughn!

Jane:  Not one to sit still, the actual Pink Carnation has been doing what she does so well, behind-the-scenes investigating.  She’s checked out Rathbone and, in the process, absolutely ruined one of his experiments.  Unintentional or not it was quite rude of her, really.  This section is also where we learn that the source of Jane and Vaughn’s alliance is none other than Anne, herself.  Vaughn couldn’t stay in France to investigate Anne’s “resurrection,” and the letters being used to blackmail him, so Jane does it for him.  Which brings us to…

Anne:  The return of the prodigal Lady Vaughn. Did anyone see that coming?  After faking her own death while running off with her music master she’s tired of trying to make it on her own and wants to return to her life and her husband.  He, of course, doesn’t want her back but that doesn’t matter to her. She wants to come back as Countess and that’s that in her mind.

We’ve also had St. George continuing to pop up here and there, I love that he tries to “out-Alpha” Vaughn at the musicale; that did not turn out as he expected.   I’m delighted that we’ve seen a little more of some characters from other books, both minor and major.  Mme. Fiorila makes a brief reappearance, much to Vaughn’s relief.  Richard and Miles seem to be heading towards reconciliation and the Dowager Duchess of Dovedale is wreaking havoc as always.  Nothing else from Colin and Eloise, they’re still ensconced in their cozy booth at the Greek restaurant with a carafe of red wine, life is good!

Question to ponder:  Anyone else have a complication or revelation that I neglected to mention in these chapters?  Be wary of spoilers from further ahead; only things that have happened in the book up to chapter 23, please!

 

Pink IV Covers

For the previous books in the Pink series, I’ve been posting the covers of various foreign editions. There were nine covers for Pink I and II and three for Pink III. Once we get to Pink IV, I can only find covers for the American and British editions:

crimson rose    Crimson Rose British cover

The original British cover for Pink IV was very similar to the one that Allison & Busby ultimately used – it just experienced a slight change in the color scheme.  Here is the original cover:

Crimson Rose British cover 1

I like the finalized version with the red accents much better.

I was poking around a library book sale (more on that later) this weekend, and I bought myself a copy of James Conroyd Martin’s Push Not the River. Check out Martin’s cover girl:

push not the river

She looks familiar, doesn’t she? Something about seeing her face repeated on another cover made me curious about her.

Lauren has an interesting post on her site about the original paintings used for all her “fine art” covers. For Pink IV, the painting used in the cover is “Emma, Lady Hamilton as Circe” by George Romney. This painting belongs to the Tate – it was given to the museum in 1945 by Lady Wharton. It’s currently on display. I think I’d rather like to see it. Evidently, Emma sat for a number of paintings for Romney over a period of about nine years, and this particular painting was one of the first. You can see a selection of the paintings on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.

emma hart

Emma sounds like quite an interesting woman. Her name at birth was Amy Lyon, and her first job was working as a maid in a brothel. She moved on to be a dancer, actress and model before catching the eye of a wealthy older man who kept her for a few years as a mistress. She evidently had a string of lovers early on which led to the birth of a baby girl in 1782. Rather than marrying her, Emma’s lover at the time passed her off to his much older uncle, Sir William Hamilton. And when I say “passed her off,” she literally had no idea what was happening. She left on a trip to Naples with her lover’s uncle, thinking her lover would join her later for a wedding and European honeymoon. It took her months to realize she had been set up. Emma must have decided marrying a man twice her age might be worth it if she could become “Lady Hamilton” in the bargain. While married to Hamilton, Emma had a prolonged affair with Admiral Nelson, and the two had a baby girl (Horatia – what a name!) in 1801.

It sounds like Emma ran the gauntlet between high living and barely scraping by –the same woman who could claim a close friendship with Queen Maria Carolina of Naples and Sicily and threw parties attended by a thousand guests started out as a maid and spent one of the last years of her life in a debtor’s prison. As a teenager, she worked as a maid to actresses in Drury Lane, but later in her life, she was offered a position as a company star by the Royal Opera in Madrid. She reminds me a bit of Amber from Forever Amber, who Sarah referenced in her post last week about The Difficult Heroine.

Anyway, maybe this is only interesting to me, but I think Mary would be pleased to have a survivor like Emma on the cover of her book.

An Interview and a Giveaway with Susanna Kearsley

I am so excited about today’s guest that I hardly know how to act.  Be cool, y’all, and cover for me.  Susanna Kearsley has agreed to be our December guest for an interview and giveaway!

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I first found Susanna’s books through Lauren Willig’s “If You Like” posts.  I kept seeing repeated recommendations for Marianna, which I believe Lauren says is her favorite.  I started with The Rose Garden and I absolutely fell in love.  Since then, I’ve read nearly everything she’s published, including her novel Every Secret Thing that is published under the name Emma Cole (quite possibly my favorite, actually!) and a few of her books that are trickier to find in the States, like Named of the Dragon.  Why have I done this?  Because her stories are absolutely phenomenal.  I have never read an author that could match Susanna for writing a story that I feel completely, totally immersed in.  From her sense of place in her novels to her pacing and her wonderful, lovely characters, her books are an absolute joy from start to finish.  I did mention I was excited that she’s here, right?  Before I am run away with my feelings, let’s give Susanna a chance to tell us a bit about herself and her writing.

Susanna, when you walk into a book store, where do you go first?

I don’t have a set pattern. I’m very easily drawn by pretty covers, but the section I wander to first will usually depend on what book I’m working on at the time, because that will dictate what I’m currently fascinated by. When I was writing A Desperate Fortune, for example, I always went first to the travel section, looking for books that might contain or reference old travel narratives from the 18th century Grand Tour days. When I was writing Mariana, back in the early 1990s, I started every bookstore visit in the New Age and Spirituality section, looking for firsthand accounts of reincarnation and past lives. So it changes. But in both new and used bookstores—especially used ones—I always end up in the history shelves, browsing not only for books on the subject I’m writing about, but on curious incidents I’ve never heard about—that’s where the next story frequently starts.

If I took a sneak peek into your writing space, what would I find?

An absolute disaster area! I’m not the greatest housekeeper at the best of times, but when I’m working on a novel I don’t notice clutter, and things tend to pile up. There are always, always documents of every age and type—from old maps to photocopied letters from assorted archives. Stacks and stacks of these (though I do try to tame the piles by sorting things into archival storage boxes, when I have the time). There are books, of course. My writing room has 14 feet of wall space on each side and I use most of it for bookcases that go up to the ceiling and are stacked at least two layers deep. Some of the books are for reference and some are for pleasure, and some are for rainy-day reads in the future. There are things I’ve brought back from my research trips: gravel from the rose garden of the English manor house I used in Mariana; a limpet shell from the rock beach below St. Govan’s Chapel in Wales; pressed flowers from Greece; an oyster shell from the Long Island location I’m using for my next book—I like to have these small things round me when I am writing. And you’ll usually find coffee cups—some empty, some forgotten, and at least one still half-filled with coffee that’s gone cold because I got distracted by my work.

If you were having a dinner party, and you could invite 6 characters (other than yours) to attend, who would you pick?

Only 6? Hmm. It’s not easy to choose—I love so many characters, it’s hard to narrow down the list. I’ll keep it to people from books written by authors who are no longer living:

Marian Halcombe, from Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, because she was such a resourceful and wonderful character and I always thought Walter was an idiot for preferring the beautiful but vacuous Laura to Marian.

Keith Stewart, the titular character of Nevil Shute’s book Trustee from the Toolroom, is one of those seemingly ordinary people who isn’t ordinary at all once you get to know him, and I’d love to hear him go on about his miniature mechanical creations.

Rilla Blythe (daughter of Anne of Green Gables and Gilbert Blythe) from L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside, has a tendency to speak before she thinks, which makes her fun and unpredictable and perfect for a dinner party.

Josh Canfield, the hero of Catherine Gaskin’s The File on Devlin, is both dashing and understated—a rare and attractive combination in my book—AND he’s both thoughtful and well-read, so he would definitely rate an invitation.

Elspeth Lamond, from Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas, has the proven ability to hold her own in any gathering, and possesses both a lively curiosity and an original mind.

And I’d round out the guest list with the charming Sir Julian Gale, father of the hero Max from Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, who could regale us with endless witty tales of his life on the London stage.

What are you reading now?

Rosamunde Pilcher’s Winter Solstice, a gift from my mother who re-reads it annually, a Christmas ritual I now follow, too.

When you finished The Winter Sea, were you already considering a sequel?  How did your idea for The Firebird take shape?

To be honest, I didn’t think the story of The Winter Sea was going to continue. I “see” the novels playing like a movie in my mind while I am writing them, and when I’ve got the ending of a book right the character stop “talking” in my mind, and at the end of The Winter Sea the characters all seemed content and happy with the way things had worked out. But then I started “seeing” Colonel Patrick Graeme, from the past part of the novel, standing framed within the doorway of a cottage on the northeast coast of Scotland. And I knew he’d come for Anna. So I knew I wasn’t finished with her story.

At the start I tried to think of some new problem I could give the modern characters to take them through a second book, but they were just so happy where they were I didn’t want to give them problems. Then a reader, quite by chance, asked if young Robbie from my book The Shadowy Horses was ever going to get his own novel, and that kind of stuck in my mind and I started to see how Rob’s psychic gifts could make an interesting bridge to the past—and The Firebird was born.

Your books frequently include a paranormal element like ancestral memory, psychometry, or time travel.  What inspires you to write about these topics?

For one thing, it’s a useful way of linking both the stories in the present and the past to one another. I don’t always use the paranormal to do this—in Every Secret Thing my modern day heroine is a journalist interviewing people, and whenever they start telling her about the past I use their narratives to just slide backwards. And in the new book coming out this spring, A Desperate Fortune, I use an old journal as the mechanism to connect the two strands of the storyline. But sometimes the paranormal connection just seems to work the best, and it adds another layer to the books that I find interesting. Reading the data from some of the university research studies into things like ancestral memory and psychometry is absolutely fascinating to me, and while I’m fairly convinced that many of the things we now consider “paranormal” will come to be seen as “normal” in the coming decades, I have to admit I kind of like the fact that we can’t yet explain, through science, everything that happens in the world.

What is an interesting fact or subject you’ve come across in your research that you haven’t yet included in your books?

Beginning with my research for The Winter Sea, and carrying on through my research for The Firebird, and now A Desperate Fortune, I’ve become quite well-acquainted with the Keith brothers: William, who became the 10th Earl Marischal, and his younger brother James, who became a general in first the Russian and then the Prussian army. Both men are strongly connected to the historical hero of A Desperate Fortune—although only the Earl Marischal makes an actual appearance in that book—and both were friends of a number of the other characters I write about, from General Pierce Lacy to Admiral Thomas Gordon. In 1737, when James Keith was taking part in the Russian siege of Ochakiv, on the Black Sea, he rescued a small Turkish girl named Emet-Ulla, whom he then delivered for safekeeping to his brother, the Earl. The Earl Marischal adopted Emet-Ulla as his daughter, and instead of trying to convert her to Christianity had her raised in her own Muslim faith (though she converted of her own accord in 1763, before marrying a man whom she afterwards quickly divorced). The Earl Marischal clearly loved her, and her own correspondence, coupled with that of those who knew her (including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the biographer Boswell) left behind the record of an intelligent and interesting woman, and—to judge by the portrait painted of her in her lifetime—a beautiful one. Women are so often left out of the historical record, and Emet-Ulla’s history intrigues me so much that I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see her turn up in a future book of mine.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just started work on a new novel, Bellewether, set on Long Island, New York. It’s a book that grew out of an incident drawn from my own family history, with a twin-stranded storyline interweaving the lives of the people restoring a modern-day museum house that may or may not harbor a determined ghost, and the intrigue and adventures of a politically-divided family living in that house in 1757, at the height of the French and Indian War.

I’m happy to say both my American and Canadian publishers have already bought Bellewether, which I’m planning to deliver to them in the spring of 2016, so it should be in bookstores a year after that.

If readers would like to learn more about you and your work, how would they do that?

I’m all over the place!

My website, which I update a couple of times a year, is at www.susannakearsley.com

You can find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorSusannaKearsley

Or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SusannaKearsley

I also play on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/susannakearsley/

And blog (although sporadically) both on my own: http://www.womaninjeopardy.blogspot.ca/

And as a member of The Heroine Addicts: http://theheroineaddicts.blogspot.ca/

 Thank you so much for having me here. One more wonderful debt that I now owe to Lauren Willig!

Susanna, you are welcome, and we appreciate your willingness to share your time with us today.  Since she is a generous soul, Susanna has offered to give away an autographed copy of The Firebird to a commenter on today’s post.  You have until midnight EST on December 18 to enter. I will announce the winner on Friday.

Want to earn extra entries for this giveaway? You can enter up to three times. Here’s how:

  1. Leave a comment below.
  2. Follow the blog! If you are already a follower, just mention that in your comment. There are links in the top right corner of this page to become a follower.
  3. Post a link to this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter. Again, you can just let me know in your comment that you’ve done this. I trust you.

On Friday, I will use the Random Number Generator to pick a winner. Good luck! And thanks again to Susanna, for many things, but most of all for your wonderful stories.

Pink IV Week 2 in Review

recap rose

Happy Friday, everyone!

First item of business: Erin L, you are the Pink IV Giveaway Winner! If you will email your address to ashley.pinkforallseasons@gmail.com, I will get your prize in the mail to you as soon as possible.

How is the Pink IV re-read treating you all? This is actually my first re-reading of this particular book, and I’m pleased to report that I’m enjoying it much more this time around.

Can I just say, I am a little embarrassed that (having read this book and ALL the others, most of them several times), I did not immediately remember that Miss Fustian and Mrs. Fustian are Jane and Miss Gwen. When Lauren brought them on board for the trip to Vauxhall, I thought, “Who are these people?” It took me until the moment where the group is discussing the late Mr. Fustian to realize what was happening.

How about Mary and Vaughn in the Chinese chamber? I love the exchange of Much Ado about Nothing quotes and watching Mary try to process how to handle this extremely different side of Lord Vaughn.

Also, Mary has her first encounter with the Black Tulip at Vauxhall. Since her only experience with spies up to this point is her observations of Richard and Miles, it’s no surprise that this meetings leaves her feeling shaken. There’s no telling what she may have expected, but Mary’s strongest impression of the Black Tulip is that he’s probably not in his right mind. For a girl like Mary who is always thinking about how to hold herself and how she appears to others, she is seriously thrown when the Black Tulip sits just out of her line of vision and holds her so roughly. Since she was still entertaining the possibility that Vaughn might be the Black Tulip, the total contrast between Vaughn’s way of treating her and the Black Tulip’s handling is a shock. It actually reminds me a bit of Amy in her assignation with Georges Marston, expecting her romantic Purple Gentian and getting a drunk who attacks her instead. Mary does a pretty respectable job of keeping her cool, I thought.

And in the modern world, Eloise and Colin are finally, FINALLY going on a date. I think it’s very endearing that Colin is so protective of his sister, but I do think he’s taking it a bit far to jump to the conclusion that Eloise and Nigel Dempster were in cahoots.

What stood out to you in your reading this week?