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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Book to Movie: Big Little Lies

Sometimes turning a book into a movie doesn't work well and sometimes it works really well. "Big Little Lies" is a thriller by Liane Moriarty that I really enjoyed and I was interested to see how it would translate to the screen in the recent HBO miniseries.

The miniseries has a lot of big name stars like Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon, and Laura Dern to just name a few. It has a truly star-studded cast. The miniseries is seven jam packed episodes with a lot of twists and turns. Although the book had many layers, it didn't feel quite as twisty as the miniseries did. I loved the book but the miniseries really packed a punch.

There were a lot of differences between the book and the movie. Some of these differences included:

  • The setting being moved from Australia to the California coast.
  • Madeline having a whole sub-plot regarding bringing Avenue Q to their town.
  • Madeline having an affair the way she did.
  • Jane's relationship in the end.
  • The ending was different.
Like the book, the story in the miniseries is told by going back and forth between the past and present. This helped keep me on my toes throughout the whole series. Even though I knew how the book ended and therefore thought I could guess how the miniseries would end, the way that the story was told made me think that there could possibly be another outcome, which I loved!

The miniseries is great! The music is good (I neeeeed to buy the soundtrack)! The cinematography is gorgeous and captures the sort of noir-like feel of the story. The acting is great. I love Nicole Kidman but she played Celeste amazingly. Celeste is soooo complicated like she is in the book. Out of all of the main characters, it is Celeste that looks like she has the most picture perfect life and it is also Celeste that probably has the worst stuff going on in the background. Kidman played all of this so well!

If you haven't read the book or seen the series, read the book first (always, always, always) and then watch the miniseries!

Thanks to HBO and ThinkJam for a copy of the book and the miniseries! What a treat!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Title: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Avon Books
Publish Date: 1972
Source: Library

What's the Story?:

From "Set in England's Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society."

My Two Cents:

"Watership Down" is a classic book that I had been wanting to read for a while. Luckily, I had a 2017 reading challenge that fit the book perfectly. This book is about rabbits who try to find a better life for themselves. Along the way, they come across hostile rabbits, dogs, and cats who threaten their lives. This book feels very much like a military novel.

I wasn't expecting for the book to have such a strong religious undertone. Throughout the book the rabbits speak about another rabbit whose story has become so legendary that this particular rabbit almost becomes a spiritual protector for all other rabbits. I was especially interested in the legend of this rabbit as it gives you a lot of insight into the sort of traits that the rabbits care about and look for in others.

In general, I am also very interested in how authors come up with the stories that they come up with. The particular edition of this book that I read includes an author's note that talks about how he came up with this idea for essentially telling a conquest story through the eyes of rabbits. I also thought that it was really interesting that he wanted to make sure that aside from having intelligent thoughts and conversations, the author really wanted to make sure that his rabbits actually acted like rabbits and so he goes into a little bit of the research that he did in order to do so.

Overall, this is an incredibly inventive story and it's easy to see how books like this one have stood the test of time!


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Review: How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Title: How to Find Love in a Bookshop
Author: Veronica Henry 
Format: Ebook
Publisher: Orion
Publish Date: August 15, 2017
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers--a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father's death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia's loyal customers have become like family, and she can't imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There's Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there's a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage--she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future--and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish."

My Two Cents:

"How to Find Love in a Bookshop" is a multi-layered story that centers on a bookstore in a small English town. First we have the story of Julian and Rebecca and it is a whirlwind romance that took my breath away. Then there is the story of Julian's daughter, Emilia, who inherits the bookstore when her beloved father passes away and she isn't sure that she will be able to do everything that she needs to do in order to keep the bookstore afloat. This book is the perfect book for when your heart needs a little squeeze.

I love the characters in this book! The romance between Julian and Rebecca is so amazing and so passionate! I loved seeing how Emilia deals with trying to make a new life for herself when so much of who she is and what she does seems to have been tied up with her father who did everything he could for her. Then you have all of the secondary characters like Sarah, who is trying to put things together for herself after a lot of friction.

There is something magical about books set in and around bookstores. Sure, being a reader, I love a good bookstore and Nightingale Books seems just like the kind of place that I would like to while away communing among the books. While much of the action is driven by the characters, the bookstore and the descriptions of what it's like factor heavily into this book. The bookstore almost felt like another character in the book. This book is definitely geared for those that believe in the magic of bookstores!


Monday, August 14, 2017

Review: The Crowns of Croswald by D.E. Night

Title: The Crowns of Croswald
Author: D.E. Night
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Stories Untold Press
Publish Date: July 21, 2017
Source: PR

What's the Story?:

From "In Croswald, the only thing more powerful than dark magic is one secret…

For sixteen years Ivy Lovely has been hidden behind an enchanted boundary that separates the mundane from the magical. When Ivy crosses the border, her powers awaken. Curiosity leads her crashing through a series of adventures at the Halls of Ivy, a school where students learn to master their magical blood and the power of Croswald’s mysterious gems. When Ivy’s magic––and her life––is threatened by the Dark Queen, she scrambles to unearth her history and save Croswald before the truth is swept away forever."

My Two Cents:

"The Crowns of Croswald" is the story of Ivy, a girl who is adrift until she gets the chance to go to a school where she will learn to use the magic that has been there all along. Geared for middle grade readers, this book has a lot of fantasy and magic to excite younger readers.

This book was a slow start for me. We first meet Ivy before she has gone to school when she dreams big dreams. It's not until about halfway through the book that the action really begins to pick up and Ivy begins to interact more with the others at school and begins to uncover the secrets of what her life will eventually be like.

There is some good world building in this book, which I liked and believe will appeal to middle grade readers. From the magic to the names of some of the characters in this book, this book has a very Harry Potter feel to it.

The writing of the book was a little stiff in some places but this was uneven. There would be some passages that had a lot of flow to them and others where every thought and action was told rather than showed.

Overall, I think the fantasy was good but could have flowed more. I am interested to see where Ivy's story goes!


Thursday, August 10, 2017

2017 Reading Challenges - July Check In

Here's where I am with my reading challenges! 
Here is the original post about all of the reading challenges I'm taking on. The date listed after each book is the date I completed the book. 

PopSugar Monthly Challenge

  • January (A book with one of the four seasons in the title ): Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell (1/25)
  • February (A book by a person of color): Dragon Springs Road by Janie Chang (2/15) 
  • March: A book about an interesting woman: Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick (3/25) 
  • April (A book with an unreliable narrator): We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (4/6)
  • May (A novel set during wartime ): The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan (5/6)
  • June (A book involving travel): News of the World by Paulette Jiles (6/18)
  • July: A book set in two different time periods : The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor (7/27) 

 PopSugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Basic

  •  A book recommended by a librarian: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (1/19)
  • A book you loved as a child: Matilda by Roald Dahl (1/12)
  • A book with a subtitle: Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge  by Helen Rappaport (2/3)
  • A book that's published in 2017: The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak (2/5)
  • A book with a red spine: Stalin's Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan (2/8)
  • A book of letters: 100 Love Notes by Hyong Yi (2/13) 
  • A book about food: A Square Meal by Jane Ziegelman, Andrew Coe (2/27)
  • A book written by someone you admire: The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher (3/1) 
  • A book by an author from a country you've never visited: Havana Real by Yoani Sanchez (3/5)
  • A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina (3/5) 
  • A novel set during wartime:The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff (3/10) 
  • A book set in two different time periods: A Bridge Across the Ocean bySusan Meissner (3/12)
  • A book with a cat on the cover: A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy (3/14)
  • A book by or about a person who has a disability: The Secret Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach (3/14)
  • A book about an interesting woman: Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton (3/22)
  • A book with pictures: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (3/28)
  • A book by a person of color: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (3/31)
  • A book with a title that's a character's name: The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith (4/1)
  • A book from a nonhuman perspective: Watership Down by Richard Adams (4/13)
  • A book involving travel: The Gods of Tango by Carolina de Robertis (4/19)
  • A book set in the wilderness: The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

Pop Sugar Ultimate Reading Challenge Advanced 

  • A book about an immigrant or refugee: The Radius of Us by Marie Marquadt (1/23)
  • A book about a difficult topic: Windy City Blues by Renee Rosen (3/2) 
  • A book with an eccentric character: Eggshells by Catriona Lally (3/14)  
  • An audiobook: Identical by Ellen Hopkins (5/1)
  • A book recommended by an author you love: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (6/28) 
  • A book from a genre/subgenre you've never heard of: Perilous Undertaking by Leanna Renee Hieber (7/12) 

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge

  • Read a debut novel: The Thousandth Floor by Katharine McGee (1/6)
  • Read an all ages comic: Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine (1/14)
  • Read a book you've read before: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (1/19)
  • Read a book about war: Stolen Beauty by Laurie Lico Albanese (1/29)
  • Read a fantasy novel.: Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (1/31)
  • Read a book that is set within 100 miles of your location.: The Wicked City by Beatriz Williams 2/9)
  • Read a book that is set more than 5000 miles from your location: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (3/11)
  • Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+.: Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley (3/23) 
  • Read a book about books: A World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan (3/26) 
  • Read a book published by a micropress: Concepcion and the Baby Brokers by Deborah Clearman (4/6)
  • Read a travel memoir: Schadenfreude by Rebecca Schuman (4/18)
  • Read a book published between 1900 and 1950: I Change Worlds by Anna Louise Strong
  • Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
  • Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color.: China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (5/5)
  •  Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love.: Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda (5/12) 
  • Read a book about sports: Moneyball by Michael Lewis (6/6)

Curious Iguana's Read Broader
  • Peek into the Past: Putin Country by Anne Garrels (1/7)
  • Justice for All: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (2/1)
  • Justice for All: Excellent Daughters by Katherine Zoepf (2/6)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Chosen Maiden (3/5) 
  • LGBTQ+ Perspectives: Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Global Voices): The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George (3/20)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): One Child by Mei Fong
  • Choose Your Own Category (Justice for All): Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Armchair Adventures: Kindred by Octavia Butler (5/7)
  • Global Voices: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (6/1) 
  • Small Press Works in Translation: Before the Feast by Sara Stanisic (6/5)
  • Choose Your Own Category (Peek Into the Past): Bears in the Streets by Lisa Dickey (6/15) 
  • Armchair Adventures: Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (7/1) 
  • Collections Near and Far: Whatever happened to interracial love? By Kathleen Collins (7/22)
  • Peek into the Past: The Black Calhouns by Gail Lumet Buckley (7/23)
  • Global Voices: The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (7/24)
  • LGBTQ+ Perspectives: The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North (7/25)
  • Collections Near and Far: Sidewalks by Valeria Luiselli (7/26) 

Challenge Totals:
  • January: 10 books
  • February: 9 books
  • March: 19 books 
  • April: 11 books
  • May: 5 books
  • June: 6 books 
  • July: 8 books 
How did it go this month?

I had a little bit of an uptick this month. I'm hoping to finish at least a challenge or two this month!

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

My Dear Hamilton Cover Reveal and Giveaway!!!


From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

We’re celebrating Eliza Schuyler Hamilton’s Birthday today and you get the gift! Don’t miss the beautiful cover below and a special giveaway, and don’t forget to pre-order your copy today!


About My Dear Hamilton: A Novel of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton (Coming 4.3.2018):

Wife, Widow, and Warrior in Alexander Hamilton’s Quest to Form a More Perfect Union

From the New York Times bestselling authors of America’s First Daughter comes the epic story of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton—a revolutionary woman who, like her new nation, struggled to define herself in the wake of war, betrayal, and tragedy. Haunting, moving, and beautifully written, Dray and Kamoie used thousands of letters and original sources to tell Eliza’s story as it’s never been told before—not just as the wronged wife at the center of a political sex scandal—but also as a founding mother who shaped an American legacy in her own right.

A general’s daughter…

Coming of age on the perilous frontier of revolutionary New York, Elizabeth Schuyler champions the fight for independence. And when she meets Alexander Hamilton, Washington’s penniless but passionate aide-de-camp, she’s captivated by the young officer’s charisma and brilliance. They fall in love, despite Hamilton’s bastard birth and the uncertainties of war.

A founding father’s wife...

But the union they create—in their marriage and the new nation—is far from perfect. From glittering inaugural balls to bloody street riots, the Hamiltons are at the center of it all—including the political treachery of America’s first sex scandal, which forces Eliza to struggle through heartbreak and betrayal to find forgiveness.

The last surviving light of the Revolution…

When a duel destroys Eliza’s hard-won peace, the grieving widow fights her husband’s enemies to preserve Alexander’s legacy. But long-buried secrets threaten everything Eliza believes about her marriage and her own legacy. Questioning her tireless devotion to the man and country that have broken her heart, she’s left with one last battle—to understand the flawed man she married and imperfect union he could never have created without her…


Pre-Order on Amazon | Barnes & Noble | GooglePlay | iBooks | Kobo


To celebrate Eliza Schuyler Hamilton’s Birthday today, we have a surprise for you! Share the cover of MY DEAR HAMILTON and fill out the Rafflecopter below to receive an Exclusive Excerpt!

    New York Times bestselling author, Stephanie Dray is an award-winning, bestselling and two-time RITA award nominated author of historical women’s fiction. Her critically acclaimed series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into eight different languages and won NJRW's Golden Leaf. As Stephanie Draven, she is a national bestselling author of genre fiction and American-set historical women's fiction. She is a frequent panelist and presenter at national writing conventions and lives near the nation's capital. Before she became a novelist, she was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the stories of women in history to inspire the young women of today.      

Stephanie’s Website | Facebook | Twitter | Newsletter

  New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction as the New York Times bestselling author, Laura Kaye. Her New York Times bestselling debut historical novel, America's First Daughter, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowed her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters.    

Laura’s Website | Facebook | Twitter | Newsletter Sign-Up


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review: The Sworn Virgin by Kristopher Dukes

Title: The Sworn Virgin
Author: Kristopher Dukes
Format: ARC
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 8, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When 18-year-old Diana’s father is mysteriously shot dead in the cobblestone streets of 1910s Albania, Diana must abandon her dream of studying art in Italy as she struggles to survive in a remote mountain village with her stepmother Mirlinda.

Nearing starvation, Mirlinda secretly sells Diana into marriage with Edi, the cruel heir of a powerful clan. Rather than lose her freedom, Diana swears to remain a virgin for the rest of her life, a tradition that gives her the right to live as a man: she is now head of her household, can work for a living and carry a gun. She may participate in the vengeful blood feuds that consume the mountain tribes, but she may not be killed—unless she forsakes her vow.

When an ill stranger stumbles into her life, she nurses him back to health, saving his life but risking her own when she falls in love with him. . ."

My Two Cents:

"The Sworn Virgin" is the story of Eleanora, a woman who chooses to live as a "sworn virgin," a tradition that will allow her to basically be the master of her own destiny and be in control of her own life as long as she keeps to her promise. But promises are hard to keep and love may find her whether she wants it to or not.

I was very interested in the custom of "sworn virgins" in Albania. It is a concept that I had never heard of before. It's so interesting to me to learn about new customs like this through books. "Sworn Virgins" could carry guns (something that gets our heroine into a lot of trouble in the book). They could wear men's clothing and could work the way that men are allowed to. I really liked all of the detail that the author packed into this book about the custom.

While the story and historical context was interesting, the writing felt a little stiff in some places. There would be passages that would flow very nicely and then others that seemed to get mired into telling rather than showing. Eleanora is a strong character and I liked that but a lot of her strength is explained rather than shown, which did take me out of the book a little.

Overall, this was a fascinating subject that I would love to read more about!


Monday, August 7, 2017

HF Book Tours: Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Title: Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale
Author:  Ruth Hull Chatlien
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Amika Press
Publish Date: June 14, 2017
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Southern Minnesota, August 1862. Smoke fills the horizon and blood soaks the prairie as the Sioux fight to drive white settlers from their ancestral homeland. Sarah Wakefield and her young son and baby daughter are fleeing for their lives when two warriors capture them. One is Hapa, who intends to murder them. The other is Chaska, an old acquaintance who promises to protect the family. Chaska shelters them in his mother’s tepee, but with emotions running so high among both Indians and whites, the danger only intensifies. As she struggles to protect herself and those she loves, Sarah is forced to choose between doing what others expect of her and following her own deep beliefs."

My Two Cents:

 "Blood Moon" is the story of Sarah, a woman who had a very tough early life and was thrown out of the house for not sins of her own but the sins of her stepfather. When she marries a doctor after being abandoned by her family, she finally thinks that the rough part of her life is over. On the frontier of Minnesota, there is still danger all around as Sarah and her children are taken by warring Native American tribes. Sarah will once again have to use her mental toughness to survive and to help her children survive.

The characters in this book are all well drawn and fascinating. Our main character, Sarah is especially interesting. While other white captives seem to fight the Native Americans every step of the way, Sarah strongly believes that showing kindness and respect to her captors is the way to ensure her life and the lives of her children are not taken. This will not make her many friends among the other white captives who begin to see Sarah as a traitor who actually cares for the Sioux that have taken them. I found the juxtaposition between how Sarah treats her captors (and how they treat her back) and how the other captives act (and how the Sioux treat them) absolutely fascinating. Yes, this book is about the Sioux wars of the mid-1800s but it also has a more universal message, which I really enjoyed.

I will admit that I didn't know much about this time period and the events in the book. I really liked how much historical detail the author packed into the book. I loved reading about the home life of the settlers as well as the Native Americans. The author does a great job of bringing both the characters that fill this book as well as the vast settings to life. This is a good book that brought me to a new time and place!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review and Guest Post: The Woman in the Shadows by Carol McGrath

Title: The Woman in the Shadows
Author:  Carol McGrath 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Accent Press
Publish Date: August 4, 2017 (Today!)
Source: Publisher

What's the Story?:

From "When beautiful cloth merchant’s daughter Elizabeth Williams is widowed at the age of twenty-two, she is determined to make herself a success in the business she has learned from her father. But there are those who oppose a woman making her own way in the world, and soon Elizabeth realises she may have some powerful enemies – enemies who also know the truth about her late husband… 

Security – and happiness – comes when Elizabeth is introduced to kindly, ambitious merchant turned lawyer, Thomas Cromwell. Their marriage is one based on mutual love and respect…but it isn’t always easy being the wife of an influential, headstrong man in Henry VIII’s London. The city is filled with ruthless people and strange delights – and Elizabeth realises she must adjust to the life she has chosen…or risk losing everything."

My Two Cents:

"The Woman in the Shadows" is the story of Elizabeth, the wealthy daughter of a cloth merchant who is determined to be the master of her own success in a time where it was unseemly to do so. Married and widowed at a young age, Elizabeth is actually hopeful that her widowhood will give her more flexibility to pursue her own passions. And then she meets Thomas Cromwell (yes, that one) and her life will change as her life suddenly revolves around what is going on at court.

I know that I've said this but I'll say it again: I love how history books and historical fiction (perhaps more so historical fiction) gives us the ability to see historical figures in a different way. Our history books are mostly limited to a few facets of a single person. Thomas Cromwell is definitely one of those people where there seems to be the same focus on him in many different places so it was interesting to see him as a spouse to Elizabeth and a parent to children, facets not often focused on since Cromwell and what he did in his life seems so tied to Henry VIII.

And Elizabeth herself is such a fascinating character. We get to know her well before she meets Cromwell. Her first marriage is one of convenience. Her husband is kind to her but is using her to protect himself from the scrutiny of having a male lover. They respect each other but it is by no means a love match. Even after her husband's death, Elizabeth cannot fully escape his shadow, a thread that plays over and over again in surprising ways throughout the book.

I loved seeing a different point of view of Cromwell and this book shows that there still may be stories yet to uncover about the Tudors. It exemplifies why the Tudors and those on the periphery of their court continue to inspire curiosity about uncovering more about them!

Author Guest Post:

The Inspiration for ‘The Woman in the Shadows’.
My new novel The Woman in the Shadows is released on August 4th. It is about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife to Henry VIII’s infamous statesman, Thomas. Why on earth would I write a novel about this unknown Tudor woman? I must admit I hesitated. Anything written about Thomas Cromwell in the realms of Historical Fiction could risk a serious danger, that of living in the shadows of Hilary Mantel’s eloquent prize winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies. Yet when I thought about it, I saw an opportunity to take a glance at Thomas Cromwell’s early career and domestic life through the eyes of his wife. I had written in detail about realism and romanticism in Wolf Hall in a Creative Writing MPhil thesis and therefore knew Mantel’s territory well. I also read History at University. The narrative thrust of Mantel’s book concerns Cromwell’s involvement with the King’s Great Matter. I was more curious about how he arrived at this point and what Elizabeth thought about her ambitious husband. What was marriage like to such a man? Who might Elizabeth have been? What was it like to live in early Tudor London? What might Elizabeth have thought about Catherine of Aragon? I wanted to give Elizabeth a plausible life and so, since her father was a cloth merchant, I suspected that her first husband’s family might have had this involvement too. After all, Tudor marriages, especially a first marriage, was a marriage between families.
Elizabeth was a shadowy character to research. Only her birth, death and marriages are recorded history and the fact that her previous husband was a Yeoman in the King’s Guard. She was apparently a comfortably off young widow. Thomas Cromwell worked as a merchant and was a self-taught lawyer. He was involved in legal transactions for The Merchant Adventurers. Both families came from Putney, and both had some involvement in cloth. His father was not just a Blacksmith: he was a brewer, owned land, grazed sheep, had been a JP and he owned a fulling mill where cloth was cleaned before the dyeing process. Elizabeth had no children by her first marriage, so I speculate about her first marriage. I am, after all, writing Historical Fiction.
By 1520 she had three children with Thomas Cromwell.
I was curious about their domestic life. I invent Elizabeth’s early widow-hood, her desire to have her independence through running her own cloth business, her father’s determination to see her remarried and her meeting with Thomas. I believe most of what I have written to be plausible but do not claim it as ‘the’ truth. It is a ‘truth’.  Widows could run their own businesses and have apprentices. I suggest that her second marriage is one of mutual respect and possibly a romantic match. There is evidence that charming, sociable Thomas Cromwell was no more ruthless any other upwardly mobile Tudor in this early period of his career. Connections mattered especially for a young man with intelligence, ambition and personality. Thomas Cromwell owned all of these qualities. It was through his own family connections that he came to work as steward of York Place circa 1516, one of Cardinal Wolsey’s residences. It was not through any ruthless move. Thomas Cromwell owned a phenomenal memory, was a man of new learning, humanism, and spoke Italian and French fluently. He was curious early on about Church Reform. He, like, Wolsey came from a modest background.
I was also interested in investigating the world of the early Tudor merchant class, women in trade, and domestic life.
At this time, England was competing with Flanders for trade in fabrics. Elizabeth, as I write her story, wanted to sell cloth abroad. She was purchasing and selling new fabric mixes with exotic names such as bombazine, as it was one way she could stand out as a female trader. Other aspects of the fabrics trade that interested me were The Sumptuary Laws of the period and how these could be circumnavigated. The merchant class liked to ape the nobility and the nobility wanted to keep them in their place. Laws about what people could wear were reinvented throughout the Tudor period to discern between the classes! I use this within the story line. Even so, Thomas dressed modestly throughout his life. Yet, the inventory of Austin Friars indicates they both loved jewels, beautiful fabrics and tapestries and, interestingly, clothing so maybe he wore other than sombre colours and rich fabrics privately. We know not!
I enjoyed imagining the Cromwells’ domestic life as they moved from her modest Wood Street house after they were married to Fenchurch Street, and finally to Austin Friars a lovely Tudor home beside the ‘good’ address of Austen Friary. It was an upper middle class neighbourhood. There, they lived beside wealthy Italian merchants, minor nobility and later, Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador. I was fascinated by the everyday detail of early sixteenth century home life, especially child-rearing, girls’ education, servants, cooking, furniture and clothing. I loved how the year was marked by the ritual of festivals and saints’ days, that London was smelly, dangerous and thrilling full of cut-throats and ambition and thrilling and colourful. I incorporated all of this into the fabric of the novel to recreate the Cromwells’ world.
Austin Friars features at strategic points throughout the novel as Elizabeth’s story is revealed. On a Midsummer’s Day in 1526, Elizabeth moves from room to room and from these points of reference the readers are transported back into Elizabeth’s life, her life with her first husband, her life with Thomas, her mistakes and her high points, her hopes and sorrows, always with political events shading the background. I chose this particular date because I wanted to end the book on a high note before her death and before Thomas gets swept into Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from power and into Thomas Cromwell’s life at court. He is just on the cusp of entry into the King’s service.
Finally, where I found facts I kept to these and hopefully have been successful in doing what novelists do best- put the flesh on the bones of history, because the historical novelist is in the position of balancing an aesthetically distant past and an engagement with the present. Fiction is a way of knowing about the past, a meditation on history rather than an entirely accurate retelling of historical truth. I hope that if you read The Woman in the Shadows you enjoy it and feel that you have had a glimpse into Elizabeth’s world.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

HF Book Tours Review: The General's Women by Susan Wittig Albert

Title: The General's Women
Author: Susan Wittig Albert 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: Persevero Press
Publish Date: March 7, 2017
Source: HF Virtual Book Tours

What's the Story?:

From "Set during the chaotic years of World War II, The General's Women tells the story of the conflicted relationship between General Dwight Eisenhower and Kay Summersby, his Irish driver/aide, and the impact of that relationship on Mamie Eisenhower and her life in Washington during the war. Told from three alternating points of view (Kay's, Ike's, and Mamie's), the novel charts the deepening of the relationship as Ike and Kay move from England (1942) to North Africa (1942-43) to England, France, and Germany before and after the Normandy landing (1944-45). At the end of the war, Ike is faced with the heart-wrenching choice between marrying Kay and a political future.

The story continues into the post-war years, as Ike (returning to Mamie) becomes Army Chief of Staff, president of Columbia University, Supreme Commander of NATO, and president of the United States. Kay, meanwhile, struggles to create a life and work of her own, writing two memoirs: the first (Eisenhower Was My Boss, 1948) about her war work with Ike; the second (Past Forgetting, 1976) about their love affair. An author's note deals with the complicated question of the truth of Kay's story, as it finally appears in the posthumously-published Past Forgetting."

My Two Cents:

"The General's Women" is the story of Dwight D. Eisenhower, world class general (and later President of the United States) and his relationship and subsequent affair with his driver at the height of World War II, Kay Summersby. This is a fascinating story that I don't think that I have ever heard before. I feel like most of what I know about Eisenhower is very much limited to his military career and his career as President, as well as his life in Gettysburg after retirement (I grew up about 30 minutes south of Gettysburg). I love historical fiction that can inform, enlighten, and entertain. This book does all three quite well!

I don't know about you but I think of Eisenhower as being a pretty serious guy, especially during World War II where the movement and success of American troops lay heavily on his shoulders. As this book shows, he had a deeply personal side and a bit of a passionate side as well. I love when history is turned on it's head and really appreciated how the author was able to show this side of Eisenhower. I feel like he became more real to me, flaws and all, after reading this book.

Eisenhower loved his wife, Mamie, and appreciated the role that she played as a partner, mother of his children, and military wife but he often got frustrated with her (understandable; Mamie does seem a bit high maintenance to me to say the least). I loved that the author included Mamie's POV in this book. We see the struggles that she and Ike had in their marriages and how they pushed an pulled with regard to power in many ways. Kay is the opposite of Mamie in many ways. She is down to earth. She is committed to her job. She seems calmer and more steady even with all of the chaos that is going on around her.

I found the Author's Note in the book fascinating too. Even though Kay seemed content in quietly carrying on her relationship with Ike, she does eventually write a memoir. The motivation for why she does this is fascinating to me! I'd love to find a copy of her memoirs. Overall, this is a fascinating portrait of the more personal side of one of our great military men.

Follow the Rest of the Tour:

Thursday, August 3
Review at A Bookish Affair
Review at Creating Herstory
Friday, August 4
Review at A Holland Reads
Saturday, August 5
Feature at Passages to the Past
Sunday, August 6
Feature at Buried Under Books
Interview at Unusual Historicals
Monday, August 7
Review at Pursuing Stacie
Tuesday, August 8
Review at Hopewell’s Public Library of Life
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective
Wednesday, August 9
Review at Impressions in Ink
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair
Guest Post at Must Read Faster
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

TLC Book Tours: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

Title: The Cottingley Secret
Author: Hazel Gaynor 
Format: Paperback
Publisher: William Morrow
Publish Date: August 1, 2017
Source: TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins

What's the Story?:

From "1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?"

My Two Cents:

"The Cottingley Secret" is a story told in two times. The past involves a set of young cousins that fool everyone around them, including famous Arthur Conan Doyle, that they have seen fairies and have photographic evidence.  In the present day, Olivia inherits some papers of her grandfather's that refer to fairies. Olivia is struggling with her personal life so she throws herself headfirst into trying to figure out the secrets that the past is hiding.

This is very much a character driven novel. I really liked Olivia! She is going through a lot and has so much to work through. I loved seeing how she gets caught up in the mystery of her grandfather's past (who could help themselves really though).  Also, she inherits a bookstore (this is a bit of a side story in the book but one that I loved. who doesn't want to own a book store?).

I also really liked Frances, one of the two cousins in the past part of the book. Frances really wants to believe but she has questions about what is real and unreal. She struggles between telling the truth and letting everyone believe a fantasy, a very beautiful fantasy. It was interesting to see how she struggles with this. It felt like a very real struggle - of course, we want to be truthful (most of us anyway) but there is temptation in embellishing and adding sparkle to where there is none. Frances is just learning how to navigate that choice. 

I really enjoyed this tale! You all already know that I love historical fiction and I definitely enjoy a bit of the unreal in my reading. I really liked how the author takes us through the back-and-forth thought processes of both Frances and Olivia. Both characters are concerned about majorly different things but both of their concerns really come down to each of them following their heart.

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