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The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love & Giveaway

tlc tour hostSource: LibraryThing Early Reviews and TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 336 pgs.
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The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love begins before the British become embroiled in war again, at a time when a dancing, music, and art are in full swing.  Hitler is making his moves, and as many foreigners have moved to Britain, they fear becoming targets because of the Fascist’s moves.  In particular, an Italian community, which applauds Mussolini’s focus on making the fatherland great again, has growing concerns that they too will be swept up in the persecutions/internments of foreigners.

“Antonio stood at the bedroom window.  The June morning was mild, almost milky.  It seemed to him that if he stayed perfectly silent, perfectly still, they would pass the house and leave him be.  And yet he knew that they would not.  At any moment — they would knock on the door.  The knock would be loud and hollow: a drumbeat, a summons.  There would be no anger in it, no private hatred.  The men were just doing their job, that’s all.” (pg. 3 ARC)

Antonio and Olivia meet under less-than-ideal circumstances at the Paradise Ballroom, and despite the instant disgust, something simmers beneath he surface for both of them.  In chapters that alternate between their stories from 1937 to 1947, Love weaves a tale of forbidden love, clashing cultures, and the pressures of war.  Antonio is pressured by his brother, Valentino, to join the Fascists, but he does not believe in their cause, and even though he has an arranged marriage, he wants to provide for his wife on his own through his talents.  Olivia is making her way in the world with the talents she has, dancing the tango, but even as she makes some ill-advised choices, she continues onward through the loneliness and pain.

When war is clearly coming, Olivia marries a bohemian Englishman, Bernard, who soon becomes Antonio’s patron, helping him find a musical tutor and gigs in London.  Bernard continues to be consumed with his work with refugees from the countries conquered by Hitler, and his wife is left to fend for herself much of the time.  Her passionate nature cannot be denied for long, and the outbreak of war is the only thing that can suppress it.  Love has created two characters driven by their passion for artistry, but each is confined by different circumstances — a strict moral culture and a fear of loss.

The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom by Alison Love is more than a love story between two or even four characters, it is a look at how fear can cause even the most rational of us to employ terrible tactics to make ourselves feel safe.  Despite a slow build, Love has created a memorable family in the Trombettas, and their struggles become emotional for the reader. 

RATING: Quatrain

GIVEAWAY: To Enter leave a comment with email address about why you want to read this book.  Open to U.S./Canada readers ages 18+

Deadline is May 11, 2016.

About the Author:

Alison Love is a novelist and short story writer. Her debut novel, Mallingford, published in the UK and Germany, was described in The Times as ‘the kind of book that reminds one why people still like reading novels’, while her second, Serafina, is set amidst the political intrigues of 13th century Amalfi. Her latest novel, The Girl from the Paradise Ballroom, has been published in the UK, the USA and Germany (as Das Lied, das uns trägt). Alison’s short stories have appeared in several magazines and anthologies, and her story Sophie stops the clock was shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2013.

 

 

Spotlight & Giveaway: The Sound of Belief by Ebony Archer

As we continue to celebrate National Poetry Month, I hope to highlight some new poets for you, as well as bring you reviews, interviews, and activities. Today’s book spotlight is for a collection of inspirational poetry written by Ebony Archer. Her poem, “Gotta Believe in Me”, was also transformed into song, which has a pop beat and could be the next big hit.

Take a listen:

As you can hear, she’s got a great voice and some spunk. Click for her current list of tour dates.

The Sound of BeliefThe Sound of Belief is an inspirational poetry book written by Ebony Archer in order to empower the reader to activate their belief.

Buy the book: Amazon Barnes & Noble

Put it on your shelf at GoodReads.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Poet:Ebony Archer

Since the early age of four, she started singing in her church where her gift was discovered. In 2000, Ebony joined Walt Whitman and the Soul Children of Chicago at the age of eight. With this group, Ebony has sung in front of audiences of ranging numbers and has shared the stage with many famous names in the industry such as Yolanda Adams, R. Kelly, Celine Dion, Nick Carter, and the list continues.

In 2001, Ebony Archer was featured in R. Kelly’s video, The World’s Greatest. In 2012, Ebony was the runner up in the national anthem competition for Black Girls Run with over 40,000 votes. Through the musical experiences, vocal training, and learning how to have great stage presence; it has molded Ebony into a gifted singer and because of her inspiring voice, she is now known as the Inspirer”.

Connect with the author:   Website   Twitter   Facebook   Instagram   Soundcloud

Giveaway: Win 1 ebook copy of the Sound of Belief (open internationally)

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Bleedovers by William Todd Rose

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Source: TLC Book Tours
ebook, 176 pgs.
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Bleedovers by William Todd Rose is the second dystopian novella starring Chuck Grainger — you’ll want to read Crossfades first — a man who works for a secret organization that helps lost souls cross The Divide. Grainger has become “famous” within the agency, although his fame is not something he’s comfortable with, especially when his supervisor reminds him of all the protocol he broke during the last Crossfade mission. Beyond his noteriety, he has experienced many sleepless nights related the ordeal, which he thought ended on the battlefield on the Crossfades. Evidence begins to pile up that the battle may not have been won.

Rose has created a world in which even readers who shy away from science fiction and more fantasy-related fiction can get swept up in by providing just enough technical detail to keep the story grounded and believable. Grainger has been a man on a mission and content in his work as a Whisk, but his nightmares have given him pause. He’s unsure if he wants to continue, but he finds that he has little choice when Bleedovers become more common than before. Marilee Williams enters our story, bringing with her special gifts that The Institute has enhanced to help with Non-Corporeal Manifestations (NCMs). Grainger, who acts like a lone cowboy in his work, is suddenly forced to work more closely with his partner, Control, and Marilee. The dynamics between Control and Grainger have evolved since the previous novella, and while Control could usually sense when he went off script, in this novella she is less like the voice of reason and more like a partner.

“The energy comes from Crossfades. As they jump from Crossfade to Crossfade, NCMs collect tiny bits of residual energy. They store it up, like a battery bein’ charged.”

Bleedovers by William Todd Rose is a strong second novella in a series, and readers will want more of this strange world. There is so much more to be explored. Is the last battle the end, or are there more to come? Will Grainger be able to fully free himself from the past and his notoriety? Rose has a gift for creating believable science fiction worlds that are wrought with real, and even imagined, dangers around every corner.

About the Author:

William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, and the novella Apocalyptic Organ Grinder. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.

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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff & Giveaway

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Source: Pam Jenoff
Paperback, 384 pgs
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The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff is a sweeping tale set during World War II, as a sixteen year old Adelia Monteforte comes to America to live with her aunt and uncle in Philadelphia without her Jewish parents, who stayed behind in Trieste, Italy.  She feels like an outsider with the relatives she’s never met before, and she realizes that her limited English and mostly secular upbringing is not what they expected.  While she speaks English, she still feels as though she’s an outsider, until she becomes like a sister to the Connally brothers.  Despite their perceived differences in religion and upbringing, Adelia becomes Addie, molding herself in the cracks of the local family she meets at Chelsea Beach.

“Robbie turned to his mother.  ‘Can we keep her?’
‘Robbie, she isn’t a puppy. But I do hope you’ll join us often,’ she added.
‘Because we really need more kids, ‘ Liam said wryly.” (pg. 38)

Jenoff’s World War II novels are always captivating, full of missed chances and second chances, moments of horror and tragedy, but also moments of hope and happiness. These snippets of time are those that her characters treasure, and they provide that kernel of hope that readers hold onto until they reach the end. Addie is a young displaced woman looking for a home, and she thinks that she’s found it with the Connallys until tragedy strikes close to home and she’s left in the breeze. She has to decide what to do for herself for the first time since coming to America, and while she chooses to go to Washington, D.C., with a half buried hope of finding her childhood crush, she also wants to do something more.

The Last Summer at Chelsea Beach by Pam Jenoff is an addicting read with its twists and turns and the realities of rationing and the closeness of war.  Jenoff is a master at characterization and romance in a way that is both fanciful, but realistic.  Her characters often have to struggle with more than the things that keep them apart, and for that, readers will be grateful.  Her books are not to be missed, and this summer read should be at the top of your lists.

About the Author:

Pam Jenoff is the Quill-nominated internationally bestselling author of The Kommadant’s Girl. She holds a bachelor’s degree in international affairs from George Washington University and a master’s degree in history from Cambridge, and she received her Juris Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania. Jenoff’s novels are based on her experiences working at the Pentagon and also as a diplomat for the State Department handling Holocaust issues in Poland. She lives with her husband and three children near Philadelphia where, in addition to writing, she teaches law school.

U.S. residents, leave a comment below about your favorite beach activity by Aug. 26, 2015, at 11:59 PM EST.  Win a bag and book!

ChelseaBeach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Only Giveaway: Summer Secrets by Jane Green

About the book from GoodReads:

June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.

Doesn’t this sound intriguing? 

If it does, and you are 18 or older living in the United States with a valid address, please leave a comment below about your summer plans.

Deadline to enter to win 1 copy is June 24, 2015, at 11 p.m. EST.

Crossfades by William Todd Rose & Giveaway

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Source: Hydra and TLC Book Tours
ebook, 129 pgs
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Crossfades by William Todd Rose is a novel that hovers on the borders of science fiction and horror, as Chuck Grainger navigates the Crossfades to usher souls out of a purgatory to where they should be.  This limbo is the moment when one’s life is ending and a fantasy reality take over before the soul moves on, but in some cases, souls can be tricked into believing the fantasy is reality.  Chuck is a Whisk who must guide these trapped souls through a maze of changing landscapes without becoming detached from reality himself.  Through the help of Sleepers, those who are in a coma, Chuck can remain tethered to reality as long as his emotions remain in check.

“Drawing a deep breath through his nostrils was like snorting a line of decayed flesh.  The stench watered his eyes and infected his sinuses, seeping into his saliva and immersing his mouth in the rancid tang of decomposition.  His diaphragm hitched in protest, expelling tainted oxygen through retches that left his throat lining feeling as though he’d belched fire.”  (From the eARC)

Chuck is a lonely man, and this loneliness is something that threatens to pull him over into the abyss even as he knows the Crossfades around him are not real.  Whether trying to convince a little girl that her reality is long gone and that she must move on or finding an emotional connection with a frightened young woman, Chuck is tested.  Rose clearly defines this ephemeral world and makes it real and mutable at the same time, and his characters are seeping with powerful emotion.  Some readers, however, may find that this format — the novella — is too short to really connect with Chuck and his plight.  In many respects, readers are kept at a distance because he does have to remain detached, at least until the last chapters.

Crossfades by William Todd Rose explores the notion of purgatory and limbo really well, and examines what it would be liked to be trapped by one’s own fantasies — good or bad.  Rose has created a world that can be manipulated by the individual soul and by a mastermind who seeks to take over the alternate world.

About the Author:

William Todd Rose writes dark, speculative fiction from his home in West Virginia. His short stories have been featured in numerous anthologies and magazines, and his work includes the novels Cry Havoc, The Dead & Dying, and The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People, and the novella Apocalyptic Organ Grinder. For more information on the author, including links to bonus content, please visit him online.

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Review and Giveaway: Beach Town by Mary Kay Andrews

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synopsis from GoodReads:

Greer Hennessy is a struggling movie location scout. Her last location shoot ended in disaster when a film crew destroyed property on an avocado grove. And Greer ended up with the blame.

Now Greer has been given one more chance—a shot at finding the perfect undiscovered beach town for a big budget movie. She zeroes in on a sleepy Florida panhandle town. There’s one motel, a marina, a long stretch of pristine beach and an old fishing pier with a community casino—which will be perfect for the film’s climax—when the bad guys blow it up in an all-out assault on the townspeople.

Greer slips into town and is ecstatic to find the last unspoilt patch of the Florida gulf coast. She takes a room at the only motel in town, and starts working her charm. However, she finds a formidable obstacle in the town mayor, Eben Thinadeaux. Eben is a born-again environmentalist who’s seen huge damage done to the town by a huge paper company. The bay has only recently been re-born, a fishing industry has sprung up, and Eben has no intention of letting anybody screw with his town again. The only problem is that he finds Greer way too attractive for his own good, and knows that her motivation is in direct conflict with his.

Will true love find a foothold in this small beach town before it’s too late and disaster strikes?

Review from my mom:

Plot: The plot was exciting, though about halfway through it started to be predictable.  However, that did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel. Some mystery, but mostly fast moving because of the movies that were being made on location.

Characters:  Greer Hennessy was ambitious when she set her mind to accomplishing tasks. Eben Thinadeaux, the mayor of the town who also owned a store, was a busy busy man, which makes romance a challenge.

Setting: The Florida setting was well illustrated with Andrews’ prose. 

Recommended: Definitely recommended for is fast-moving plot; very quick read.

To enter the U.S. only giveaway, you must be a resident with a valid mailing address and over age 18.

Leave a comment below to be entered by May 20, 2015, 11:59 PM EST.

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy

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Source:  TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is a dual narrative in which Eden and Sarah both deal with a personal dilemma.  Sarah lives during a time of turmoil for the United States, when the Underground Railroad has flourished and ensured the escape of slaves to the North and civil unrest has taken something most dear to her.  Eden lives in the modern day and she and her husband have moved into New Charlestown to start a family and slow life down a bit.  Unfortunately, their plans are sidetracked and disappointment and self-loathing are Eden’s dominant emotions, until one day she finds the head of a porcelain doll in her root cellar.

“The Old House on Apple Hill Lane shuddered against the weighty snow that burdened its pitch.  The ancient beams moaned their secret pains to the wintering doves in the attic.  The nesting duo pushed feathered bosoms together, blinked, and nodded quickly, as if to say, Yes-yes, we hear, yes-yes, we know, while down deep in the cellar, the metal within the doll’s porcelain skull grew crystals along its ridges.  Sharp as a knife.  The skull did all it could to hold steady against the shattering temperature for just one more minute of one more hour.” (pg. 1)

McCoy is a gifted story-teller who immediately captures the attention of her readers with detail and mood.  Her books always transport readers to another time and/or place, and her characters are strong and flawed, like most of us.  Readers can connect with their struggles because they too have struggled similarly or know someone who has.  Eden’s modern problem and Sarah’s are the same, but how they deal with it is very different.  Eden shuts down and tries to cocoon herself against the pain and the disappointment, while Sarah takes her time and accepts it, giving up the one she loves in the process for a greater cause. Eden looks within herself for far too long and has alienated her life, but Sarah seeks an outward cause to turn her energy toward.  And the mystery that ties these women together is well woven and readers will enjoy unraveling it with Eden.

The Mapmaker’s Children by Sarah McCoy is wonderful, and beautifully written.  It had me reading into the late hours until I finished!  McCoy’s book is brilliantly told and chock full of research about the Underground Railroad.  But at its heart it’s about learning what family is and how much that one word can include, particularly outside of one’s immediate relations.

***Another contender for the Best of 2015 list!***

***If you are in Gaithersburg, Md., you’ll be able to catch Sarah McCoy live at the local book festival on May 16, 2015.

 

 

 

 

Giveaway:

To win a copy, please leave a comment below by April 30, 2015, at 11:59 p.m. EST.  U.S. and Canadian residents only.

About the Author:

SARAH McCOY is the  New York TimesUSA Today, and international bestselling author of The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; The Time It Snowed in Puerto Ricoand The Mapmaker’s Children (Crown, May 5, 2015).

Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an Army physician, and their dog, Gilly, in El Paso, Texas. Sarah enjoys connecting with her readers on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose

Source: France Book Tours
Hardcover, 384 pgs
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Sandrine Salome finds her world upended by her husband, Benjamin, and even as she flees to Paris from New York, she is haunted by her own ancestry in The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose.  Paris is the city of light and painting and art, and Sandrine has always loved art.  But her love of art is just one passion that drives her deeper and deeper into the mystical past of her courtesan ancestors, especially La Lune.  Arriving on her grandmother’s doorstep unexpectedly, we learn that she and her grandmother only met occasionally throughout the years after she left Paris with her parents at age 15.  Despite the distance, she is drawn to Paris as her home, and it is her sense of longing and desire for a new life that drives her closer to the edge of an abyss.

“I did not cause the madness, the deaths, or the rest of the tragedies any more than I painted the paintings.  I had help, her help.  Or perhaps I should say she forced her help on me.  And so this story — which began with me fleeing my home in order to escape my husband and might very well end tomorrow, in a duel, in the Bois de Boulogne at dawn — is as much hers as mine.  Or in fact more hers than mine.”  (page 1)

Her secretive grandmother may have unwittingly provided Sandrine and her father with the tools they needed to become blind to the magic around them and to willfully turn a blind eye to the dangers that stalk them.  But her warnings are stark and should not be ignored.  Rose is a gifted story-teller who infuses her historical fiction with ancient mystery, passion, and wonder.  Her characters love strongly and are often guided by things beyond their rational control, but at their hearts they believe they are doing right.  Sandrine is no different.  She has longed for a life free of constraint and to be immersed in art, and what she finds in Paris is more than she bargained for, but in many ways she’s afraid to give it up and to return to a lackluster life.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose is a story of love, passion, and ambition, but at its heart, it is about the quest for immortality — even if it is just being remembered as a great architect or artist.  Skeptics will enter this world and try to interject rationality, much like Julien does, but they will soon find themselves swept up in a story like no other and forced to re-examine their own conceptions of the spirit world.  Is art a divine gift or is it a talent that can be nurtured and shaped into legend?  Rose delves into these questions and more in her deeply layered world of artistry and passion.

About the Author:

New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose grew up in New York City mostly in the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum, the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park and reading her mother’s favorite books before she was allowed. She believes mystery and magic are all around us but we are too often too busy to notice … books that exaggerate mystery and magic draw attention to it and remind us to look for it and revel in it. Please visit her website, her blog: Museum of Mysteries; Subscribe to her mailing list; and Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Here is the Giveaway Entry-Form

There will be 5 winners; Open internationally; $20 gift card

Please check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour:

Joy Street by Laura Foley

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Source: TLC Book Tours
Paperback, 46 pgs
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Joy Street by Laura Foley is a slim collection of poems that sometimes use a blunt edge to carve out the truth, while others use needle-like precision to get at the harsh realities of life.  However, despite these sometimes sad topics, there is a light, a sense of hope in many of them that things can be better.  In “Near Miss,” she evokes the stabbing pain of heartache that accompanies the loss of family or a spouse in a way that equates it to death even as it passes her by.  There is a sense that the narrator would rather she be the one to die than her loved one, but at the same time is relieved that she is not dying.

Drift (pg. 26)

I eye-roll Aunt Lizzie, who can’t see me over the phone, tell her I’m
dating a woman now, but at ninety she’s adrift in uncharted seas, till I
say we may marry—and she crests the wave, her kind old voice
soothing: Oh, but Laura, you’re still attractive to men, grasping the rudder
with practices hands.

In “Hindsight,” she looks at the photo of her emaciated father after his internment by the Japanese as a POW after WWII and identifies how different he looked, but her partner is quick to point to their similarities — the eyes of a survivor.  The narrator’s relationship with her father is clearly not as close as she would prefer, but there are ways to connect with a distant father and seek out the things that connect them.

Many of these poems are about making connections, either to family or lovers and potential lovers.  “Voyeur” is a testament to desire and the human need for connection with those we love, even from a distance.  But beyond these intimate connections, there is a connection that we feel with the earth and growth.  In addition to these connections, we all want to be remembered, like in “On Sense.”

Joy Street by Laura Foley is about the joy we can find in interaction and by living. Despite the challenges we face — a relative who doesn’t understand our lifestyles and choices — we can find enjoyment and amusement in these interactions and rise above the darkness of hatred and oppression.  We need to search for the light in any darkness, because that is what makes living worth it in the end.

***Enter to win a copy of Laura Foley’s collection by leaving a comment by Jan. 14, 2015, at 11:59 PM EST. Must be U.S./Canadian resident***

About the Poet:

Laura Foley is the author of four poetry collections. The Glass Tree won the Foreword Book of the Year Award, Silver, and was a Finalist for the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, Outstanding Book of Poetry. Her poems have appeared in journals and magazines including Valparaiso Poetry Review, Inquiring Mind, Pulse Magazine, Poetry Nook, Lavender Review, and in the anthology, In the Arms of Words: Poems for Disaster Relief. She won Harpur Palate’s Milton Kessler Memorial Poetry Award and the Grand Prize for theAtlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest. She lives on a woody hill in South Pomfret, Vermont with her partner Clara Gimenez and their three dogs. Please visit her website for book information or more poems.

 

 

 

 

 

Interview with Syrie James, Author of Jane Austen’s First Love

Syrie James is a quintessential Austenite and her Jane Austen-related fiction is never a disappointment.  Her latest release, Jane Austen’s First Love, is a contender for the Savvy Verse & Wit Best of 2014 list.

Here’s a snippet from my review:

“James cannot be praised enough for her ingenuity and dedication to the spirit of Austen and her novels.  She pays tribute to a young Jane in the best way possible.  Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James is the author’s best novel yet, and a must read for anyone who loves historical fiction, Jane Austen, or coming of age stories.”

Other James’ books you should consider reading include:

 

Today, I have a special treat … an interview with Syrie James! Please give her a warm welcome.

As a writer of Austenesque fiction, you must have a favorite Jane Austen book and character, or at least a few.  What and who are they and why?

Like many readers, my favorite Austen novel is Pride and Prejudice. It’s brilliantly constructed, beautifully written, and the characters are unique, fun, and recognizable. Best of all, Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s character arcs as they go from intense dislike to admiration to love are so wonderfully drawn and so satisfying that the story has been endlessly imitated. Pride and Prejudice, unlike Austen’s other novels, also begins with a lively conversation that grabs your attention right off the bat. I am a huge fan of Persuasion as well, with its theme about second chances. It was written later in Jane Austen’s life, and her maturity as writer really shines through.

As for favorite characters, I have so many! I adore Elizabeth Bennet, with her bright eyes and feisty nature, and Anne Elliot, who is goodness personified. I think I fell in love with Mr. Darcy (along with the rest of the female world) when Colin Firth turned him into an icon. I am also mad about Captain Wentworth and Mr. Knightley, truly divine Austen heroes who feel very real to me on the page! And this may be heresy—but my two other favorite characters are Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who I love to hate, and the foolish Mr. Collins, who, with every re-reading and in every film version, always makes me laugh.

Syrie James headshot 2012 x 250Did you always love Jane Austen’s books and when did you first fall in love with them (how did you find out about them)?

I was first introduced to Jane Austen in a British literature course in college, when we read Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I don’t remember my first reaction to the books, and Jane Austen didn’t resurface on my radar again until the mid 1990s, when four Jane Austen films came out that quickly became my favorites: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle), PERSUASION (Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds), and EMMA (Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam.) Yes, it’s true—I fell in love with Austen because of the movies!

I immediately read or re-read all her novels, then devoured the juvenilia, biographies, and her preserved correspondence. I was desperate to learn more about the woman who wove such incredible stories and showed such a deep understanding of human nature—and the obsession has never stopped. Because there were no Austen memoirs to discover, I wrote one myself: The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. Because there were no more new Austen novels to read, I decided to write one: The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen. And because I was intensely curious to read about Jane as a teenager while experiencing her first romance, I researched and wrote Jane Austen’s First Love.

As a fan of Austen, you must have visited the various sites in which she lived and visited. Which of these places is your favorite, where is it located, and why? What advice would you give someone interested in touring Austen’s places?

I’ve taken two Jane Austen tours of England—one of them self-guided, the other as part of a formal tour group—and I’ve had the opportunity to visit nearly all the famous Austen sites, some of them twice. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I guess it’d have to be Chawton Cottage, now known as Jane Austen’s House Museum. It was like a pilgrimage to walk through the rooms and gardens of the house where Jane lived during the nine year period when she wrote or rewrote all her masterpieces. And to see the little table where she sat by the window and wrote, was too thrilling for words!

The Austen tour that I took with my husband was absolutely wonderful, but took many months to research and plan. To see all the iconic Austen sites I’d recommend a guided bus tour, where you will enjoy the company of like-minded people, as well as guest speakers and other Austen-related events that you won’t get on your own. JASNA has such a tour every year; they’re run by Pathfinders, the same tour company I traveled with, and they’re fabulous.

For Jane Austen’s First Love, you did quite a bit of research into her mentions of Edward Taylor, who was the heir to a home in Kent. When did you know that you should stop researching and start writing? What part of the research did not make it into the book that you wish had made it in?

I continued researching the entire time I was writing the novel! Re-reading books by Jane Austen and biographies about Jane Austen while I was writing gave me an infusion of details to use here and there, and helped me to keep her voice in my head. Continuous research proved to be even more important where Edward Taylor was concerned. When I first began the novel, I hadn’t found much information about him, and had created an imaginary back story for him—but it never felt right. So I kept looking. And looking.

By a stroke of luck, I came upon Edward Taylor’s brother’s memoirs, which filled in so many details about the Taylor family and the unusual way in which all eight children were raised abroad. What I learned was far much more fascinating and remarkable than anything I could have made up! I put all that was pertinent into my novel. There were a few great scenes however that didn’t make the final cut. I had to delete one scene, for example, where Edward is telling Jane about a family excursion off the southern coast of Italy that ended in disaster. It was a great tale, but unfortunately it didn’t move forward the action of my novel, so it had to go.

A much bigger disappointment was when I felt obliged to delete a scene from Chapter One, in which Jane inscribes her name and the names of three imaginary suitors in the register at her father’s church at Steventon. I loved the scene I’d written, but once again, it didn’t move the plot forward, and the first chapter was too long. (The deleted scene may have a new life, however, as a short story.)

As the market becomes even more saturated with works about Jane Austen and her books, do you think readers will ever tire of these spinoffs, retellings, and fictionalized accounts of her life and work?

I hope not!

What keeps you returning to Jane Austen and her world?

I love Austen for so many reasons. I love immersing myself in the way the gentry class lived and loved during the Regency era, where we rarely see anyone working (other than the servants.) Austen’s characters lived in grand manor homes, were waited on hand and foot, drove around in elegant carriages, hunted on horseback, played cards and music, sang and read, sewed and drew, took walks on impeccable grounds, and danced at balls. What’s not to like? Not to mention the way they dressed! Tight breeches, tailcoats, and cravats! Gossamer, empire-waisted gowns! Hair pinned up like the ancient Greeks! It’s like something out of a fairy tale.

What I love most about Austen, though, is not the fairy tale setting—but the brilliant way her stories are plotted and the familiarity of her characters. We all know an overbearing woman like Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who believes she knows best and must be catered to. We’ve all met a sweet, kindly blabbermouth like Miss Bates. And while we laugh at Austen’s fools and love to hate the villains, we can’t help but fall in love with her heroes and heroines, who are all flawed—just as we are—and who must earn their happy endings by recognizing their missteps and working to correct them. That’s the real reason I keep returning to Jane and her world—because her tales of courtship and romance are perfectly structured morality tales, and the lessons resonate today.

Finally, do you read poetry, why or why not? And if you do, what are some of your favorite poems and who are some of your favorite poets? Also do you read contemporary poets or classic poets, why or why not?

I’ve been so busy reading novels over the last twenty years that I haven’t read much poetry—which I truly regret (I enjoy poetry.) While researching my three Austen novels and The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë, however, I read all the poetry written by Austen and the Brontës. Jane and Charlotte wrote rather good poetry, but Charlotte’s sisters Emily and Anne outshone them. I’ve posted a selection of the Brontës’ poetry on my website, which were published together in one volume in 1846. Emily’s work is as darkly compelling as her novel Wuthering Heights. One of my favorites of this collection was written by Anne Brontë (under the pseudonym Acton Bell), when she was miserable and homesick while working as a governess for a wealthy family:

Home
by Acton Bell

How brightly glistening in the sun,
The woodland ivy plays!
While yonder beeches from their barks
Reflect his silver rays.
That sun surveys a lovely scene
From softly smiling skies;
And wildly through unnumbered trees
The wind of winter sighs. . .

But give me back my barren hills
Where colder breezes rise;
Where scarce the scattered, stunted trees
Can yield an answering swell,
But where a wilderness of heath
Returns the sound as well. . .

Restore me to that little spot,
With gray walls compassed round,
Where knotted grass neglected lies,
And weeds usurp the ground.

Though all around this mansion high
Invites the foot to roam,
And though its halls are fair within-
Oh, give me back my HOME!

Many thanks for having me here, Serena, at Savvy Verse and Wit. I’m happy to answer any other questions you or your visitors might have, so feel free to leave a comment and ask away!

JAFL Banner v6Please check out the other stops on the tour.

 

 

 

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014.

Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!

JAFL Grand Prize x 420

Click the image for more details

Giveaway: Audio of Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter

audio book coverEarlier this year, I raved about Kristen Harnisch’s The Vintner’s Daughter.

Loire Valley, 1895. When seventeen-year-old Sara Thibault’s father is killed in a mudslide, her mother sells their vineyard to a rival family, whose eldest son marries Sara’s sister, Lydia. But a violent tragedy compels Sara and her sister to flee to New York, forcing Sara to put aside her dream to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker.

Meanwhile, Philippe Lemieux has arrived in California with the ambition of owning the largest vineyard in Napa by 1900. When he receives word of his brother’s death in France, he resolves to bring the killer to justice.

I said in my review, “Harnisch has crafted a emotional journey of a young woman coming into her own in the modern world and learning to forgive and be forgiven.  Stunning debut.”

I am excited to share with you that there will be a sequel to the book and to celebrate, I’ve got one audio download from Blackstone Audio to give away to one winner.

Please enter by Nov. 14, 2015 at 11:59 PM EST.