Fall into a Good Book!

A friend of a friend is a friend.
A friend of a friend who likes books is a good friend.
A friend of a friend who shares books is a great friend.
And a friend of a friend who is also a regency writer, is a friend-in-waiting!?
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Recently, I discovered a new award winning author Jess Russell – and I am delighted to comment on her debut Regency romance novel The Dressmaker’s Duke. Jess Russell has created a fascinating historical romance novel full of London high society, fashion, courtesans, village life, with complex characters. There are also interesting embedded stories which provide depth that include passion for painting, fashion and dressmaking (the author is also an accomplished seamstress!), the use of all our senses so accurately described which contribute to the story. This is not your standard debut novel. It is a well written and crafted combination of historical detail and rollicking romance. It showcases everyday life, primarily of the English aristocracy but has also some steamy intimate details characteristic of the new regency historical novel (now I understand there are even more regency categories: traditional, regency historical, sensual, paranormal (including Victorian steam punk) and Christian regency romance). This is well researched; you will find many familiar people and locations (Jackson’s, Mr Crup’s, Mrs Radcliffe’s novels, Mrs Siddons).

Characters

Mr Rhys Alistair James Merrick, 6th Duke of Royden aka The Monk

Mrs Olivia Weston (née Olivia Jayne Ballard, father Earl of Stokesly, Mr Angus Allen Hartner)

Her companion Egg (Mrs Eglantine Wiggens who has a flirtation with Merrick’s Uncle Betram)

Daria Battersby, courtesan

Lord Oscar Biden, scoundrel

Plot

The story takes place over the year of 1810. It is rather intricate, somewhat convoluted, with the usual melodrama and secrets. They each have past traumas that are slowly revealed, adding both dimension and substance to their relationship, while preventing straightforward courtship. I haven’t recovered fully from the visual of the main character being described as an onion with many layers. But perhaps that was also due to all of the senses so well described in this novel: the gutter smells and intoxicating fragrances, stunning scenery, gorgeous dresses and feel of the materials, champagne bubbles and sensual trysts, with incessant rain, cobblestone street traffic and droning matron voices. The mistress was slightly caricatured. Imagine being a hag at 35? There are no spoilers here, remember this IS a regency romance, with which I automatically have predictable expectations. But it has fun dialogue, interesting back stories, familiar territory with accurate descriptions, and a most satisfactory ending.

It is a pleasant distraction for an autumn afternoon. I have no recollection of the flight from Florida to Vermont as I was engrossed in this tale, marking hysterical comments and notes to share. 4 stars – open the champagne and celebrate this new author.

Received as an e- ARC from the author.

Publisher Wild Rose Press Author Jess Russell lives in New York (and not only loves power tools, but knows how to use them. I have found a kindred spirit who appreciated the gift of a chainsaw!). Her passions include dressmaking and batik.

The Dressmaker’s Duke came in first in the Fool for Love contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity contest, and finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City opener, and Lone Star contests.

Read on: If you like Mary Jo Putney, Mary Balogh, Jo Beverly, Marion Chesney, Georgette Heyer, Lisa Kleypas, Stephanie Laurens, Julia Quinn, Amanda Quick, Christina Dodd or Madeline Hunter.

Favourite Quotes:

“This particular shop was not for the faint of heart. Mr Crup specialised in the macabre.”

“Rhys raised an eyebrow, one of his surest weapons, and gave the man his most ducal look.”

“But the four full suits of armor, Sir Mutton, Sir Haggis, Sir Dunce-a-lot and last but not least, Sir Portly- she had named them all in the last hour- gave up no secrets.”

“Rhys waited and then raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. Wilcove (his secretary) used to reading volumes in the mere quiver of Rhys’s nostril, rushed on.”

“Please don’t resurrect that atrocity (a costume dress). Good lord, we need a patron not an arrest.”

“The ton had called her ruined. Ruined. What an odd word to associate with a human being, as if she were broken and no longer useful, something to be thrown away.”

Author interview!

The Dressmaker’s Duke, by Jess Russell, was recently published! It has received many accolades and came in first in the Fool for Love contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity contest, and finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City opener, and Lone Star contests. Jess was kind enough to answer a few questions and provide a few of her favourite authors too.
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Author Questions

Do you remember the last time you said to someone: you really must read this book now?” and the book was? Gone Girl.

Are you part of a book club? I belong to a very small book club at our mountain house community. (if so how do you pick your books?) One member works at Random House and she often suggests books. Also we have read several books on the history of our particular little town and the Catskills in general.

What is your favorite line from a book? “Words are the source of all misunderstanding.” (The Little Prince)

A favorite first line or quote? “The mantua-maker’s (dressmaker’s) customers are not easily pleased; they frequently expect more from their dress than it is capable of giving. The mantua-maker must be an expert anatomist; and must, if judiciously chosen, have a name of French termination.”–The Book of English Trades.

A recent Book you bought just for the cover? A Reliable Wife. I liked the title too.

Have you heard any good books lately? All the Light We Do Not See.

Will there be an audio version of your book? I have been listening to Roy Dotrice read, Game of Thrones. I am a visual person, so it is hard for me to process just by listening. I prefer to read. However, an audible book sure makes a drive go faster and saves your eyes. :o) I HOPE there will be an audio version of my book. I would love to do the reading myself. I am an actress as well as a writer, so it would be very cool to do my own book. I must say, I have stopped “reading” an audio book because I couldn’t stand the reader.

Do you have a genre to beach read? ROMANCE! Especially Historical romances. I tell myself I’m “doing research”. Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Of course! Andrew Davies Pride and Prejudice with Collin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. What book is on your nightstand? The Fault in our Stars. Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? Paper. But I use my e-reader generally. As far as notes, sometimes a passage will prompt an idea for one of my own WIP’s and I will riff on that.

Do you read plays or poetry for pleasure? Not generally. I act in plays and love to perform Shakespeare. I recently did David Ives, School for Lies, which is entirely written in rhyming couplets. Fun! H

ave you memorized any poems? Lots of Shakespeare and a few poems. I recently came across, The Highwayman, which I hadn’t read in years and I memorized the first few stanzas. Very sexy, that highwayman.

What were your most cherished books as a child? James and the Giant Peach. A. A. Milne’s, When We Were Six. Nancy Drew. Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books? I loved the ladybug from James and the Giant Peach. She was so motherly to poor, terrified James. I remember being alternately scared and drawn in by those fantastical insects.

Is there one book you wish all children would read? The Little Prince.

Is there one book you would like adults to read? The Little Prince.

If you could meet any writer dead or alive, who would it be? what would you want to know? Well, my answer is not very original, I would imagine, but I would like to have met the man who wrote “Shakespeare’s” plays.

Is there one book you wish some one else would write? A uber-easy picture book on how to navigate social media and technology in general. The Dummy books are too involved for me. Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away? All of the above.

Do you have a favorite question that you are often asked about your writing? a favorite question that was only asked once? My niece said, “Aunt So So, (they call me So So b/c I said I didn’t want to be a Grand Aunt. My sister said, so you just want to be a “so so” Aunt?) Anyway, my niece said, “are you writing one of those toe-wiggler books?”

Any guilty reading pleasures? Every month or so I will dip into my trove of “Favorites” and re-read the dog-eared delicious bits.

Which romance authors would you recommend? Some Mary Balogh-Slightly Dangerous, is an all-time favorite. As is Loretta Chase’s, Lord of Scoundrels. Laura Kinsale’s, Prince of Midnight, Shadow and the Star, Flowers from the Storm. Julia Quinn, When He was Wicked. Judith Ivory, Beast. Jo Beverly, Devilish. Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series. Her Rogue Spy is coming out soon. Can’t wait!

Book Review: What I Remember Most

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What I Remember Most
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

There is nothing I love more than the anticipation of reading a new book by a favorite author. I mark my calendar far in advance and begin counting down the days about two weeks before launch date. The only thing that comes close to equaling that excitement is when I’m surprised with the the opportunity to review a copy in advance in the form of an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the author or publisher. Recently, I had the opportunity to get my hands on an ARC of Cathy Lamb’s newest novel, What I Remember Most.

As an avid reader and fan of Lamb’s work, I walked into this book expecting a good read. I’ve read everything she’s released, and so there’s a reason why I always anxiously await her next book. With that said, though, I had no idea the huge treat that was in store for me. Simply stated, this book was absolutely beautiful and probably the best book Lamb has released yet. It was without any doubts one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

As with many of Lamb’s books, What I Remember Most is filled with a strong female leading character surrounded by a close-knit group of quirky friends. But what sets this book apart and above all others is the grit and determination of the main character, Grenadine Scotch Wild. She’s a young woman who has been knocked down by life and by the system her entire life, and yet she refuses to give up. She refuses to be beaten and she refuses to accept defeat. She keeps her chin up and her head high as she plows forward through life in search of the peace and fairness she deserves. She’s tender-hearted, yet tough as nails and unafraid to stand her ground against those who would take advantage of her. And through all of this, she’s intensely likable and the kind of person we all wish was among our inner circle of friends. She’s the kind of character that a reader falls in love with, and the one who lingers in your memory long after the last pages have been turned.

When an author starts with a character as appealing as Grenadine, she has a responsibility to that character not to drop the ball on the storyline. Luckily Cathy Lamb was up to the task and brings the reader an unforgettable story of a young orphan as she navigates through the foster care system and then, later, the real world. It’s a story of love, loss, survival, determination, perseverance, friendship and new starts.

This is a book that I will be recommending to every one of my friends, and one that you won’t want to wait any longer than necessary to read.  This book is not yet available at Rochester Public Library, but a request has been sent to purchase it for their shelves.

NPR comes through again

A Field Guide to Little Known and Seldom Seen Birds of North America. Ben and Cathryn Sill (a parody)

NPR comes through again.
This was recommended to me awhile ago, and I snapped it up on a NetGalley, now learning there is volume two (Another Field…..) which you won’t want to miss either. This is actually the 25th anniversary edition of an earlier publication but still perfect. It is a charming little book, that is presented in guide format any birder would be familiar with. It looks just like the real thing with superb illustrations. The species however are another story! I am sure birders have been searching for these birds all their lives!!
It is silly, witty, clever, light hearted and vastly entertaining. I love the calls (semi-adled chaff chaff), advice (if you live within this tern’s range, it is advised to purchase reinforced feeders) and nonsense (the seed eating tern is the only tern that has been able to qualify for “authentic vegan” certificate).
I would be hard pressed to say which bird I liked best! (Middle and least yellowlegs?! Long range target duck?!) As a student I provided driving skills while the avid birders concentrated on their life list, and discovered then their amazing senses of humor. I need to buy dozens of copies of this book. Christmas is coming and this is a perfect, delightful gift.
If you have a sense of humor, if you need a gift for a birder or naturalist in your life, if you need a hostess gift or stocking stuffer, buy multiple copies of this book. If you like puns, buy this book. Send book editions to friends who need a little uplift now and then.

Quotes
We are not too proud to admit that mistakes made in the first edition were the editor’s fault.
Let it be known that we have been hard at work to stay ahead of the birding frontier.
…when their data did not agree with our opinions we deleted them.

4.5 stars
ARC from NetGalley

Summer Reads

Review by Helen McIver
This is a fun reading season known for books that are impossible to put down. Not necessarily literary masterpieces, but often more than pulp fiction. But really it is whatever suits your mood, day, location. A book for the beach is different from the book for the hammock; the book for the rainy day doesn’t always fit the summer afternoon. What’s in the NYTimes best seller list isn’t what calls you from the library shelves. And sometimes only a classic will do. And heaven knows what you will find at the library book sales or the yard sales at this time of year!
After a few crazy, gripping, exhausting, compelling books, I was delighted to have a gentle paced, absorbing read by Canadian author Susanna Kearsley, Season of Storms. This would have been perfect for a Sunday afternoon in a hammock, if I’d had one. I love this author, and applauded her recent awards for The Firebird. I am hard pressed to chose a favourite, and recommend all: perhaps it is best to read them in order if you can find them! Mariana (1994), Spendour Falls (1995), Shadowy Horses (1997), Named of the Dragon (1998), Season of storms (2001), Winter Sea (2008), Rose Garden (2011), Firebird (2013). (A Desperate Fortune is expected 2015). I truly enjoy her Scottish characters in her most recent books, and her well researched historical details. Her historical novels often have paranormal elements, with a gentle love story. She has also written classic style thrillers as Emma Cole (Every Secret Thing, 2006). Season of Storms is soon to be (re?) released August /September 2014. This book, Season of Storms, takes place primarily in the villa Il Piacere, near Lake Garda, Italy, and is modeled after the grand home Il Vittoriale of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. I loved the brief but historical details of London and Venice which set the stage for the drama that was to unfold. I enjoyed the foray into the theatre world, for the accurate portrayal of stars, old and new, the staging descriptions, the hard work involved in finding the character and the intriguing personalities, politics, and egos of the cast. There is a nice balance of family, again old and new, each contributing clues to the slowly revealing story (the mystery is always backseat in this plot). In addition, the historical elements of the mystery surrounding the first play 70 years prior add to the overall story.
This is not a fast paced mystery / thriller.
This is not necessarily a page turner, thrilling read.
This is not similar to her most recent paranormal historical books.
But it is a lovely, well written, atmospheric novel that will provide you with a strong sense of place, both of romantic Italy and the theatre world. This novel reminded me of Mary Stewart, My Brother Michael and Madam will you Talk. This is a wonderful thing as I sincerely miss her writing (and if it’s any indication by the number of individuals and book clubs to which I have recommended Kearsley, many people miss Stewart and have leapt at a new author!). If you like this gothic suspense style, read on! I hope the popularity of this author makes people more aware of other, earlier novelists: Anya Seton, Daphine du Maurier, Barbara Erskine, Barbara Michaels, Rosemary Sutcliffe and Elizabeth Harris.
It’s a new book if you haven’t read it!
NetGalley ARC 4 stars (five because it perfectly suited my mood/day)

Summer Fantasy!

Robin Hobb Fool’s Asassin
Review by Helen McIver
How did I never read Robin Hobb? Recently I fell down the Farseer rabbit hole and disappeared for several days, because once I understood this was a continuation, I had to read ALL of those books. GRR Martin recommended, and I agree.

I was thumbing through the NetGalley ARCs and was drawn to this cover. Knowing none of the prehistory I was immediately cast into this well written, thought provoking story. I often wondered what a rich and varied past led this intricate man to this point in his life. To discover there was a trilogy was like discovering Terry Pratchett for the first time. I am not sorry I started at the end, with Fitz a grown man as the early tales have a lot of teen angst and messy life choices (sometimes I think girls are just smarter!). I can’t wait to read the next two installments because yes, there are cliff hangers. She clearly loves these characters.

Robin Hobb is the second pen name for Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden (also Megan Lindholm). (If you’re in London in August she will be sharing a stage, in conversation with GRR Martin!) She has been writing tremendous, imaginative, award winning science fiction and fantasy for over twenty years. In addition to the Farseer trilogy, there are the Liveship Traders trilogy and the Rain Wilds chronicles. She has a wonderful imagination and clear, detailed writing which captures your attention. There is action, drama, torment, love, family, dragons, magic, and new worlds to explore. I have warned you that you will lose a few days reading!

Fitz (FitzChivalry) is a royal bastard, former King’s assassin now living a quieter life as Tom Badgerlock, with the love of his life Molly. But Tom/Fitz has the Wit, the dangerous ability to touch minds. His previous world collides with his new life and the adventure begins anew. I was delighted with the addition of his new daughter, watching her character develop and slowly reveal secrets. She is definitely her father’s daughter. There is a rich cast with diverse characters, more so with the history of the earlier trilogy. Concepts of loyalty and honour, steadfast love and friendship bonds, good and evil provide counterpoint. Not every battle is won, but they are bravely fought (or not with wisdom). And you discover what matters in life. The story is well paced, richly detailed, multi-layered and full of developing characters. This promises to be a satisfying and unforgettable serious fantasy series.

If you like Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, Kristin Cashore, GRR Martin, Terry Goodkind: You will love this series. Her early work is especially suitable for teenagers (YA). There’s still a lot of summer reading left!

Received as a NetGalley ARC

4.5 stars

Not a full fifth star because I like stories in series that are complete in themselves. People often read slower as they get to the end of a book because they don’t want the fantastic story to end. I felt it couldn’t end. And no doubt I have to wait until the end of the trilogy. I had not read Hobb before but she is now on my favourite list.

The TBR Pile

Review by Helen McIver
And then I was asked what was on my To Be Read pile.
Fiction
Susanna Calkins From the Charred Remains
Anthony Doerr All the Light We Cannot See
Martha Grimes Vertigo 42
Susan Elia Macneal Prime Minister’s Secret Agent
Carol McCleary No Job for a Lady
Lauren Owen The Quick
Jill Paton Walsh The Late Scholar
Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter The Long Mars
Non fiction
Tim McGrath Give Me A Fast Ship

I dropped everything as soon as Deborah Harkness’ The Book of Life was in my hands. I finished it in the middle of the night, was bereft that the story had ended (especially as I want to know more about several characters: Gallowglass where are you!?), then went back and reread it savoring every word. That helped me let the story go and have it become a book again, instead of what I was living through. I also bought the hardcover book to read again after a friend finishes it and we discuss it. And yes, I will probably read the entire series.
And then, Harkness mentions another mystery series, by the author Deborah Crombie, which I am now going to start (16th Scotland Yard police procedural to be published in September!)
Book Quote:
“It is the despair of book-lovers that they cannot read all the good books and it is their delight constantly to discover new ones. ” Burton Rascoe