New Additions to the TBR!

Monday, October 29, 2012
I went on a spree again this week. Hey, it's almost my [redacted]th birthday - so I refuse to feel bad about buying more books when I have hundreds bought that I have yet to read. They were on sale - so it makes sense, right? RIGHT? Ahem.


Tor Teen was kind enough to send me a physical ARC of Renegade (The Elysium Chronicles #1) by J.A. Souders

Since the age of three, sixteen-year-old Evelyn Winters has been trained to be Daughter of the People in the underwater utopia known as Elysium. Selected from hundreds of children for her ideal genes, all her life she’s thought that everything was perfect; her world. Her people. The Law.

But when Gavin Hunter, a Surface Dweller, accidentally stumbles into their secluded little world, she’s forced to come to a startling realization: everything she knows is a lie. Her memories have been altered. Her mind and body aren’t under her own control. And the person she knows as Mother is a monster.

Together with Gavin she plans her escape, only to learn that her own mind is a ticking time bomb... and Mother has one last secret that will destroy them all.

I bought Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio - I got the Nookbook because it was the Daily Find for $2.99

Seattle, 1933. Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, goodnight and reluctantly leaves for work. She hates the night-shift, but it’s the only way she can earn enough to keep destitution at bay. In the morning—even though it’s the second of May—a heavy snow is falling. Vera rushes to wake Daniel, but his bed is empty. His teddy bear lies outside in the snow.

Seattle, present day. On the second of May, Seattle Times reporter, Claire Aldridge, awakens to another late-season snowstorm. Assigned to cover this “blackberry winter” and its predecessor decades earlier, Claire learns of Daniel’s unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth—only to discover that she and Vera are linked in unexpected ways.

and Better World Books was having a 50% off if you buy five sale.... so, naturally, I bought 8 books.


Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

Welcome to 66 Star Street . . . In the top-floor flat lives music exec Katie. She spends her days fighting off has-been rock stars and wondering how much cheesecake you'd need to eat yourself to death. Below her, a pair of muscular Poles share with a streetwise cabbie named Lydia, who has a sharp tongue, an even sharper brain but some unexpected soft spots. On the first floor is Fionn - a gardener who prefers the company of parsnips to people. But he looks like a fairy-tale prince and when he's offered his own television show, he's suddenly thrust into the limelight. And at the bottom of the house live Matt and Maeve, who are Very Much In Love and who stave off despair by doing random acts of kindness. But a mysterious visitor has just landed at 66 Star Street, bringing love, friendship and heartbreak, and a new-found optimism. Old secrets are working their way to the surface and all their lives are about to change in the most unexpected of ways . . .

High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Taking readers on a vivid journey through the loss of innocence into adulthood and beyond, New York Times bestselling author John Connolly tells a dark and compelling tale that reminds us of the enduring power of stories in our lives.

At his coming-of-age party, Matteo Alacrán asks El Patrón's bodyguard, "How old am I? ... I know I don't have a birthday like humans, but I was born."

"You were harvested," Tam Lin reminds him. "You were grown in that poor cow for nine months and then you were cut out of her."

To most people around him, Matt is not a boy, but a beast. But for El Patrón, lord of a country called Opium--a strip of poppy field lying between the U.S. and what was once called Mexico--Matt is a guarantee of eternal life. El Patrón loves Matt as he loves himself, for Matt is himself. They share identical DNA.

As Matt struggles to understand his existence, he is threatened by a sinister, grasping cast of characters, including El Patrón's power-hungry family. He is surrounded by a dangerous army of bodyguards and by the mindless slaves of Opium, brain-deadened 'eejits' who toil in the poppy fields.

Escape from the Alacrán Estate is no guarantee of freedom because Matt is marked by his difference in ways he doesn't even suspect. Around every turn in this vivid, futuristic adventure is a new, heart-stopping surprise.

A College of Magics (A College of Magics #1) by Caroline Stevermere

Teenager Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the small northern dukedom of Galazon. Too young still to claim her title, her despotic Uncle Brinker has ruled in her place. Now he demands she be sent to Greenlaw College. For her benefit he insists. To keep me out of the way, more like it!

But Greenlaw is not just any school-as Faris and her new best friend Jane discover. At Greenlaw students major in . . . magic.

But it's not all fun and games. When Faris makes an enemy of classmate Menary of Aravill, life could get downright . . . deadly.

 Daughter of the Empire (The Empire Trilogy #1) by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

Magic and murder engulf the realm of Kelewan. Fierce warlords ignite a bitter blood feud to enslave the empire of Tsuranuanni. While in the opulent Imperial courts, assassins and spymasters plot cunning and devious intrigues against the rightful heir.

Now Mara, a young, untested Ruling Lady, is called upon to lead her people in a heroic struggle for survival. But first she must rally an army of rebel warriors, form a pact with the alien cho-ja, and marry the son of a hated enemy. Only then can Mara face her most dangerous foe of all -- in his own impregnable stronghold.

Curse of the Mistwraith (Wars of Light and Shadow #1) by Janny Wurts

The world of Athera lives in eternal fog, its skies obscured by the malevolent Mistwraith. Only the combined powers of two half-brothers can challenge the Mistwraith's stranglehold: Arithon, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer, Lord of Light. Arithon and Lysaer soon find that they are inescapably bound to a series of events dictated by their own deepest convictions. 

Yet as the sorcerers of the Fellowship of Seven know well, there is more at stake than one battle with the Mistwraith: between them the half-brothers hold the balance of the world—its harmony and its future—in their hands.

The Ships of Merior (The Wars of Light and Shadow #2) by Janny Wurts

Janny Wurts’s epic tale of two half-brothers cursed to life-long enmity continues in this spectacular second volume, now re-released with a striking new cover. The half-brothers Arithon, Master of Shadow, and Lysaer, Lord of Light, have defeated the Mistwraith and dispersed the fogs that smothered Athera’s skies. 

But their victory comes at a high price: the Mistwraith has set them at odds under a powerful curse of vengeance. The two princes are locked in deadly enmity, with the fates of nations and the balance of the world’s mystical powers entangled in their feud. Arithon, forced out of hiding, finds himself hounded by Lysaer and his mighty army. He must take to his natural element – the seas – in order to evade pursuit and steal the initiative. However, his efforts are impeded by outside magical factions, not to mention a drunken prophet sent to safeguard his life, but who seems determined to wreck his cause by misadventure.

Did you buy any new books this week? I seem to be in a fantasy kind of mood, so a lot of my buys were in that genre. It's been a while since I've dived head first into my favorite genre, so I am looking forward to my reads!

Review: India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K. Carr

Saturday, October 27, 2012
Title: India Black and the Widow of Windsor
Author: Carol K. Carr
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: Madam of Espionage #2
Pages: 309 (paperback edition)
Published: October 2011
Source: sent from author for review
Rating: 4.25/5

Black is back! Her Majesty's favorite spy is off to Scotland in this new adventure to ensure the Queen doesn't end up getting killed.

When Queen Victoria attends a séance, the spirit of her departed husband, Prince Albert, insists she spend Christmas at their Scottish home in Balmoral. Prime Minister Disraeli suspects the Scottish nationalists plan to assassinate the Queen-and sends the ever resourceful India and the handsome British spy, French, to the Scottish highlands.

French will take the high road, looking for a traitor among the guests-and India will take the low road, disguised as a servant in case an assassin is hiding among the household staff. India is certain that someone at Balmoral is determined to make this Her Majesty's last Christmas...

India Black returns for a second outing - true to form, and full of the same humor and wit that made her so memorable and damned fun in the first novel. While I found this second in the series to be just slightly below the level of the first, India Black and the Widow of Windsor is still a highly entertaining, genuinely fun, and interesting new historical mystery.  Here in round number two as a madam of espionage, India must once again go under covers (but not under the covers!damn and blast) with the charming but mysterious French as her ally in a fight to save the English Queen from angry, violent Scottish nationals. Full of the same voice, tone, and adventure as the first book in the seriers, fans from the original novel will find more of the same to love in this romp from talented author Carol K. Carr.

A strong followup to a wonderful first escapade, India Black and the Widow of Windsor is more focused on the mystery aspect of the plot, rather than the sheer adventure that took over the latter part of the first novel. While not a detriment to the novel as a whole, as the mystery is strongly constructed, hard to suss out, and full of red herrings to keep readers guessing, I missed the sheer audacity of the turns of events from the first novel. India lost none of her charm in the journey from book one to two, and her attempts to ferret out a spy within the castle of Balmoral are just as fun and witty as I had come to expect from the madam of many talents. My friend Audra compares her to a Victorian Bond Girl, and that is so appropriate it's ridiculous. Just as suave, if not as subtle, India is a joy to read during her travails to save Queen, Country, but herself above all. The plot may edge on the goofy side of things occasionally, but India herself is again the star of the show and with help from her alluring foil French, keeps India Black and the Widow of Windsor from falling victim to uneven sequel syndrome. 

New, laugh-out-loud characters, old familiar faces, new villains and motives help to round out the 300+ novel with ease. I obviously could always do with more French on the page, but the new additions melded well with the frame and plot created for this. Like the first, though this is obviously India's vehicle, the secondary and tertiary characters are more than able to hold their own. I found the antagonists harder to suss out than in the first; I loved the interactions between India and the Marchioness; I loved the mentions of Disreali, the Queen, John Brown, etc. Weaving factual figures with such vivacity is one of Carr's many adept turns as the author of this inimitable series. The characters were and continue to be one of the many standouts of these books, and I love that each new novel has revealed more (if not much!) about the principal players.

India Black and the Widow of Windsor is a fine follow-up to its predecessor, if not quiiiite as much of an off-the-walls madcap adventure. Like before, the characters, the mystery, the adventures are top notch and finely tuned making for a fast, breezy read full of wit and humor. The wait for the e-short and the third book will surely kill me. India Black is not a heroine to forget and her most recent adventure with companions French and Vincent left often much about each character, all the while teasing with ever more hints about the pasts/presents? of the two very compatible adults. Not one to dole out immediate answers, Carol K. Carr sure knows how to dangle a hook and catch readers in her vivid imaginations and nuanced characters. I for one can't wait to see what else we learn about this daring duo in the forthcoming India Black and the Shadows of Anarchy. I can only hope it's as excellent as the first two so wonderfully crafted by this lawyer-turned-author.

Review: India Black by Carol K. Carr

Friday, October 26, 2012
Title: India Black
Author: Carol K. Carr
Genre: historical fiction, mystery
Series: A Madam of Espionage #1
Pages: 296 (paperback edition)
Published: Nov 2010

Source: sent from author for review
Rating: 5/5

In the winter of 1876, the beautiful young madam India Black is occupied with her usual tasks - keeping her tarts in line, avoiding the police, and tolerating the clergyman bent on converting her girls. But when Sir Archibald Latham of the War Office dies from a heart attack while visiting her brothel, India is unexpectedly thrust into a deadly game between Russian and British agents who are seeking the military secrets Latham carried.

French, the handsome British spy, discovers India disposing of Latham's body, and blackmails her into recovering the missing documents. Their quest takes them from the Russian embassy to Claridge's Hotel, from London to the English coast, all the while chasing the Russian agents who are intent on spiriting the stolen documents out of England.

But it is their own tempestuous relationship they will have to weather as India and French attempt to resist the mutual attraction between them - an attraction that can prove as deadly as the conspiracy entangling them...

Excuse me if I am extremely a little fangirly right now. I just finished this whirlwind novel of adventure, humor and mystery just minutes ago, and friends, I am impressed. And in dire need of a reread, just for fun. And, now, I am a stalwart fan of both India Black and the author behind this highly creative and immensely fun novel, Carol K. Carr. Reading this was easy, entertaining, and so very fun; this is one of those novels that grabs you from the very first page and never really lets go. Another of my done-in-one-sitting reads, India Black has set a high standard for the rest of the novels that will follow in this promising series from a talented author. I admit that I am not one for historical mysteries all that often - I usually stay more on the straight historical fiction side of the genre - but I will willingly make exceptions for any and all further India Black novels to come.

In such a fast-paced novel, with adventures and turnabouts and surprise revelations and secret pasts every other chapter, it is main character India that really makes the novel something really quite special. I truly enjoyed the fleshed-out secondary characters (French and Vincent are both, quite disparately charming fellows) and antagonists, but India is what makes this one of my best-of-2012 novels easily.  India is a madam, among many, many other attributes (and vices). Skilled in multiple fields (I do enjoy a girl who can shoot a gun/defend herself/use her wits) and India does each and every one of those multiple times. She is the equal of her unofficial government counterpart, and her charm and humor had me laughing out loud on multiple occasions. Smart, cunning and opportunistic, India is a fully-formed, distinct character, and one I related to quite easily - despite our very different backgrounds and attitudes. She bursts forth from the page with her witty comebacks and her handy way around a weapon. She is resourceful and wonderfully three-dimensional with her frank honesty, forthright attitudes - a heroine to remember in a sea of forgettable leads.

India is nicely complemented by her comrades-in-arms, the mysterious and charming French and the street urchin of questionable but useful talents, Vincent. The verbal and occasional real sparring between India and French is another highlight to this well-rounded novel. So often during my experience, I was tempted to update my status on GoodReads with a bon mot or a choice comment from either droll character. Their chemistry is palpable, their interactions full of authenticity, and though this is far from a romance novel, the attraction between the opposites works really well to add an extra layer of tension to a novel already brimming with it. French is a charismatic character, and one that kept me intrigued and very attentive through this all-too-short read of just under 300 pages. Not as open as India about his life, or even his name! - which is to be expected as she narrates the novel, often breaking the fourth wall to address her readers - but is still  one that manages to hold his own against the formidable and crafty madam. Vincent adds a certain charm, if his role as a street smart urchin in a Victorian novel is somewhat formulaic, he does add to the novel another easily likeable and distinct character.

This is a mystery, but midway through the novel, that premise is readily concluded and then it's a madcap race of adventure through England and various hostage situations in a race against the agents of the tsar of Russia. India Black is by turns amusing, exciting, hilarious, and always full of constant surprises and upheavals. It's light and fun read and I can't stress enough how good of a time I had with this novel, from start to end. India Black is well worth a try if a feisty protagonist with a brain is high and a unique way around a retort are on your list of favorites. All the rest is an added bonus to a convoluted plot, populated with such vibrant characters.

Review: The Italian Woman by Jean Plaidy

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Title: The Italian Woman
Author: Jean Plaidy
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Catherine de' Medici #2
Pages: 402 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: first 1952, re-issued January 2013
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 3/5

The second book in the classic Catherine de’ Medici trilogy from Jean Plaidy, the grande dame of historical fiction When Catherine de’ Medici was forced to marry Henry, Duke of Orleans, her heart was not the only one that was broken. Jeanne of Navarre once dreamed of marrying this same prince, but, like Catherine, she must comply with France’s political needs. And so both Catherine’s and Jeanne’s lives are set on unwanted paths, destined to cross in affairs of state, love, and faith, driving them to become deadly political rivals.

Years later Jeanne is happily married to the dashing but politically inept Antoine de Bourbon. But the widowed Catherine is now the ambitious mother of princes, and she will do anything to see her beloved second son, Henry, rule France. As civil war ravages the country and Jeanne fights for the Huguenot cause, Catherine advances along her unholy road, making enemies at every turn.

Jean Plaidy is certainly a prolific historical fiction author, but more and more I find that her work is hit or miss with me. I seem to fare better with her Tudor-centric novels than I did with this novel set during Catherine's life as regent of France for her sons. I read the first novel in the series, Madame Serpent, and was unimpressed if still engaged enough in the storyline being recreated to continue reading this second novel about one of France's most infamous Queens.  While this is not the author's best novel, The Italian Woman does still manage to capture the time period shown and  the essence of the unscrupulous woman at its heart. Coldly pragmatic and personally avaricious, Catherine was no saint but she was and remains an intriguing player in a game of court intrigue and power. 

I would've enjoyed this more if it had felt less disjointed, especially as it starts. For one, The Italian Woman begins in the middle of Madame Serpent's chronology - Francis the First of France is still alive, Henry is still devout to this mistress Diane de Poiters - and, for another, the first ~80 pages are devoted to a character previously unknown on the scene -- the Catholic-turned-Huguenot Queen Jeanne of Navarre. An important player in the end of the Valois line and the beginning of the royal Bourbon line, her story is directly tied to that of Catherine and her sons, but I felt the way it was introduced slowed up the pacing and the storyline set up in the first novel. Jeanne is drawn into Catherine's web of manipulation and machinations, and provides a nice foil for the amoral Queen with her fortitude and certainty - but the first few chapters of this novel are stiff, and hard to engage the reader. 

I could've done with more 'showing' than 'telling.' As a writer, Plaidy often veers more to the wrong side of storytelling, and it is very present as a problem here. Readers are told who/what/why about characters and events, instead of subtly crafting characters and situations that reveal themselves naturally. It's a bummer, because the cast of varied and often infamous characters (like.. Charles, or Henry, Duke of Guise) should be able to speak for themselves, yet Plaidy hardly ever allows them to. Instead of showing Margot to be passionate and headstrong, it is stated. Explicitly. Repeatedly. The Italian Woman is still very readable, but the characters are remote and more outlines than fleshed out interpretations of real people who lived, breathed, manipulated, vied for power, and usually if in so doing crossed Catherine's desires, died.

A fascinating woman in a turbulent time of civil wars and religious upheaval deserves more than the often lackluster version offered here in the second of Plaidy's trilogy about the "daughter of merchants" raised high - through luck, ill-fortune, or poisoning - whichever version of her ascension you choose to believe. Not the best offering of Jean Plaidy, but I will probably seek out the final leg of the series, Queen Jezebel, sometime in the future. The Italian Woman is a decent look at the issues surrounding the Valois court in the time of the "Reformed Faith", if one that stumbles occasionally. I think fans of Plaidy will enjoy, but those who are new to her brand of historical fiction may want to start elsewhere and work there way to The Italian Woman.

Review: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Friday, October 19, 2012
Title: Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Authors: Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 260 (hardcover version)
Published: October 2012
Source: bought
Rating:  3.5/5

“I’ve left some clues for you.
If you want them, turn the page.
If you don’t, put the book back on the shelf, please.”

So begins the latest whirlwind romance from the bestselling authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Lily has left a red notebook full of challenges on a favorite bookstore shelf, waiting for just the right guy to come along and accept its dares. But is Dash that right guy? Or are Dash and Lily only destined to trade dares, dreams, and desires in the notebook they pass back and forth at locations across New York? Could their in-person selves possibly connect as well as their notebook versions? Or will they be a comic mismatch of disastrous proportions?

Rachel Cohn and David Levithan have written a love story that will have readers perusing bookstore shelves, looking and longing for a love (and a red notebook) of their own.

Reviewed by Danielle.

If Cohn and Levithan’s first collaboration, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, was a fantasy of teenagers in love, Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares is a full on fairytale, complete with Cinderella’s lost shoe. Whether or not you’ll appreciate this book depends on a number of factors. I’ve provided a small graphic to help you decide: 

As a former high school nerd with a superiority complex, (it’s not that I lacked social skills necessary to make friends, I was just smarter than all of them!) I still have a soft spot for the kinds of books I would have lost my shit for a decade ago. Awkward, emotional Lily with her weird fashion and love of books could have been my queen, and I still found her chapters to resonate. Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single person who would like or relate to Dash’s chapters. The character is like nails on a blackboard for the first ¾ of the story. He talks in a way no human has ever spoken, wishes people a merry wrong holiday to see their reactions, and is described by every character as “snarly”. No one wishes for their own “Snarly”. Except Lily.

Dash is home alone for Christmas. Working his parents’ bitter divorce to his advantage, he’s told both of them he’s with the other. As all 16-year old boys who find themselves alone, he revels in the solitude and goes book shopping. The horror. While at the hipster-than-yours bookshop, he comes across a red notebook next to his favorite author. It’s full of clues that lead him on a merry little chase around the store, until it’s revealed that the book was left by Lily and he should leave his contact info with her cousin at the front desk. Not willing to do anything the easy way, disenfranchised Dash leaves more clues and we’re off.

Lily is an upbeat, quirky nerd who wears her uniform shirt, even on break, under Christmas sweaters with her great-aunt’s majorette boots. Her parents have absconded to Fiji for the season, leaving her supervised only by her older brother and his boyfriend. And her fifty thousand relatives who seem to occupy every square inch of NYC, if only when convenient. Cousin Mark warns that the boy who found the red notebook is a snarly hipster, which frightens Lily, but she decides to break out of her comfort zone and play the game.

From there were employ alternating points of view to visit pizza shops, Macy’s, Madame Tussaud's, FAO Schwarz, and underground Hanukkah raves, trading the notebook and very different points of view on Christmas and humanity. At some point, Lily’s naivete and sweetness catch up to her new free-spirit attitude and she flees without leaving the notebook, but instead losing her shoe.

Eventually the relationship moves into real life. Dash is a prick. Lily is too naive. They don’t have a lot in common. Someone gets arrested. Weirdly implausible plotting, even for a fantasy. Inevitable happy end.

The good: for the most part Dash & Lily is a sweet book with a good heart. Both characters undergo growth that feels natural and genuine. Side characters are flat but diverse. The settings are easily visualized and NYC becomes a third main character. The bad: unrealistic plot lines, unnatural dialog, convenient running into characters, “Shrily” and “Snarly”.

If you’re a teenage girl, or ever were one, who doesn't feel like they fit it. If you dream of an academic guy, even if he may be a little pretentious and condescending, and a modern Cinderella story, go ahead and read Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares. Just keep a dictionary handy.

Interview and GIVEAWAY for Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow

Wednesday, October 17, 2012
 Today I am very pleased to announce that the author of my favorite French historical fiction series has dropped by for an interview for her latest novel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow. In addition, I am happy to announce that I have a GIVEAWAY for one copy of this richly detailed novel!

How do you decide where to begin and end each volume of the series?

Before I start—thank you so much for hosting me! I’m delighted to be here today.

The structure of my Marie Antoinette trilogy came to me fully formed, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus, because there were six pivotal moments in Marie Antoinette’s life that seemed to be perfect places to begin and end each of the novels in the trilogy. The first, Becoming Marie Antoinette, a coming of age story, opens with the day she learns she is to become the bride of the dauphin of France, and ends with the day she becomes queen, eight years later. It seemed natural with the middle novel, Days Of Splendor, Days Of
Sorrow, to begin where the first one left off, with the very early days of Marie Antoinette’s reign, and to end it with a bang—when her world is upended by the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 and the seminal events that immediately followed it. For the final book, originally titled The Last October Sky (evidently, this is going to change; stay tuned for a new title!) the narrative begins and ends during a pivotal event in the month of October. The third novel opens with the October 6, 1789 Parisian fishwives’ march on Versailles to demand bread. And it shouldn’t be much of a spoiler to my readers that it will end on the tragic date of Marie Antoinette’s death, October 16, 1793.

What initially drew you to recreate the story of Marie Antoinette in a trilogy?

There is so much material there! For one thing, I firmly believe that she is the most maligned figure in history and it takes a lot of unraveling of the historical yarns that have been spun about her over the past 257 years to separate the truth from the propaganda and the fact from the fiction. And yes, even though I am writing historical fiction, I have tried to adhere to the historical record whenever possible (and have written Author’s Notes at the back of each book to explain my interpretations and to delineate where I have taken the novelist’s prerogative and let my imagination do the walking. One aspect of her life that is less well known is Marie Antoinette’s childhood in Austria and how she literally “became” Marie Antoinette from archduchess Maria Antonia, the 15th of Empress Maria Theresa’s 16 children. How she was literally given a makeover, both physically and academically in order to make her worthy in the eyes of the Bourbons to marry their heir. Many history books have reduced Marie Antoinette to a caricature, usually a tone-deaf, bubbleheaded spendthrift; and unfortunately, that is still how she is often perceived. She’s more popular than ever this year, but for all the wrong reasons. If I had a nickel for every politician who points a finger at his opponent and calls him (or his spouse) Marie Antoinette, or a journalist (who should be educated enough to know better) who does the same, I could afford a charming pied à terre in the Places des Vosges.

The notorious Affair of the Diamond Necklace, which takes place in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, has so many twists and turns and players that it could easily have taken up a book of its own. And the final novel in the trilogy depicts some of the Revolutionary events that Marie Antoinette would not have witnessed, as well as some that she was compelled to attend, or forced to be a party to. The scope of the events of her life, which ended barely three weeks before her 38th birthday, is immense. The world as she knew it changed immeasurably during her lifetime, fairly brief as it was, and to have illustrated everything she endured before she came to France, her life as dauphine, and to chart the journey that brought her to the scaffold as well as to exonerate her by illuminating the mitigating circumstances that really were the causes of the French Revolution, needs time and space. If I had crammed everything into a single novel, I would have had to sacrifice or gloss over significant events or character growth in order to satisfy the realities of a page count. I would have had to give readers Marie Antoinette’s tumultuous story in broad strokes. Writing a trilogy gave me the freedom to use a wider canvas and to depict it in oils.
The Queen in her chemise a la reine

What do you think was the most significant event in the span of years covered in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow that helped to turn the tide against Marie Antoinette/royal family? The American Revolution? The Necklace Affair? Or something else?

The average Frenchman and woman were not conversant with international politics. It angered them that their tax dollars were spent fighting foreign wars, but the American Revolution was hardly the first foreign war France had fought. Before Marie Antoinette even came to France, her future husband’s predecessor, his grandfather Louis XV had emptied the treasury fighting the Seven Years’ War, and long before that, the Sun King Louis XIV had spent the better part of his 77-year reign at war.

Marie Antoinette’s downfall occurred incrementally. Although there had been people at court who were against her marriage, and the case can be made that her downfall began as soon as she crossed the border into France in May of 1770, it really began in earnest when she started alienating the aristocratic courtiers by mocking them and their sainted etiquette and then ostracizing them (for example, by making le Petit Trianon an exclusive haven for herself and an intimate circle of trusted friends) when they derided her. However, they got their revenge by destroying her reputation. They spread rumors of her debauchery and adulterous liaisons, and when she finally bore children after more than seven years of a celibate marriage, they hinted that her brother-in-law the rakish comte d’Artois was the father. No matter how she dressed—whether it was opulently, as befitting the queen of the most sophisticated court in Europe, or modestly, embracing a rustic simplicity, she was condemned for bankrupting not only the country with her extravagant purchases, but the morals of the nation, because women were “compelled” to take lovers in order to be able to afford to follow her fashions.

Yet it was the Necklace Affair that was the culmination of years of gossip, propaganda, and scurrilous pamphlets known as libelles proclaiming Marie Antoinette’s licentiousness, lesbianism, and rampant greed (none of which were true) that I believe was the beginning of the end, sounding her death knell. Although she had never desired this nearly two-million-livre diamond necklace and had never asked her distant cousin the Cardinal de Rohan (whom she’d always detested) to purchase it for her on the sly, the people didn’t believe her. In hindsight, she never should have insisted on a public trial before the Parlement of Paris, the city’s judicial body; but she wanted to clear her name. She couldn’t believe she had been dragged into the whole sordid mess and wished to be exonerated publicly. Ironically, it was the worst thing that she could have done, because ultimately it was her reputation that ended up being on trial.

The comtesse de Lamotte-Valois, the con artist who had dreamed up the necklace scam,was severely punished (although someone eventually helped her break out of prison), but the Cardinal was given the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, because the judges (comprised of noblemen and clergy) who sat on the Parlement not only couldn’t believe that such a man of the Church (hah!) was really involved but they wanted to find a way to punish—in their view—the frivolous queen who cared only for her own vanity. From that point on, the public were willing to believe the worst about Marie Antoinette. They utterly demonized her. The diamond necklace verdict was proof that the people had triumphed over the monarchy and their days were clearly numbered by then.
a reproduction of the necklace that caused so much turmoil

What part of writing historical fiction appeals to you the most as a writer? Re-imagining/ humanizing famous characters? Recreating famous events with your own interpretation?

I love getting inside my characters’ heads and souls. Walking in their shoes. I’m also an actress and it’s part of my job to plumb the depths of my characters in search of their motivations. It’s one reason I was so keen to tell Marie Antoinette’s story through the medium of historical fiction. The motives ascribed to her (and to Louis as well), by more than two centuries of propaganda and what I call “bad history” that has come down to us through generations of schoolbooks and even in some biographies, just doesn’t fit the character of the people I have studied intensely for the past four years. So yes, I love humanizing historical figures within the context of the facts of their lives. And I do also love to interpret the events as well, but I won’t change the facts, unless it’s a minor tweak here or there that will not affect the story. As Pat Moynihan, the late great senator from New York State used to say, “You’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” Even though I’m writing fiction, I try very hard to adhere to the historical record. My Marie Antoinette novels even have a bibliography at the back and an Author’s Note where I discuss my interpretation of certain events and any instances where I have deviated from the facts.
Marie in her opulent regalia

Were there any surprises about this Queen that you learned while researching the novel?

Marie Antoinette was a lot smarter and more astute than people gave her credit for. She was quite a complex woman. I also discovered along the way that her relationship with her husband was multidimensional and matured and changed over time as well. Many scholars tend to view her relationship with Louis in one of two ways: either she was perpetually exasperated by him, or else she was a saint when it came to being his wife. I don’t believe either tells the full story, although there certainly were times when she was frustrated by the fact that they had little in common, were temperamental opposites, and, most importantly, that he delayed consummating their marriage for so many years. It was during all those years of delay that the rumors of her infidelity began to spread because the French failed to believe that she could be celibate all that time.

But like many marriages that endure for more than 20 years, especially during times of great turmoil, theirs was often extremely challenging, and yet there was never a thought of giving up on each other, despite everything that happened. Marie Antoinette grows tremendously as a person during the course of the trilogy. I had a vision in my head of how I wanted her to develop as a character and was delighted that my research enabled me to support it so well.
Louis XVI as a young man about the time he ascended the throne

For people who need more Marie Antoinette before The Last October Sky comes out, what other non fiction and/or historical fiction novels about her would you recommend?

Pulling from my bibliography at the back of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow: To feed your nonfiction Marie Antoinette fix, I’d recommend starting with either Antonia Fraser’s or Evelyne Lever’s biographies of Marie Antoinette; Stanley Loomis’s fascinating account of the relationship between the Queen and Count Axel von Fersen, titled The Fatal Friendship; and, for a bit of atmosphere, A Scented Palace by Elisabeth de Feydeau, which is a biography of Marie Antoinette’s perfumer Jean-Louis Fargeon. There are a couple of good “coffee table” books on Versailles, too, with scrumptious photographs that transport you there. Daub some cologne on your pulse points, swoon over the photos, and become an armchair tourist. Frances Mossiker’s The Queen’s Necklace: Marie Antoinette and the Scandal That Shocked and Mystified France provides a detailed account of this con of the 18th century, including actual trial testimony and depositions. And for fashionistas, there’s Caroline Weber’s What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.

I try not to read other historical fiction set during the same period in which I am writing, but I will recommend two standouts on how the other 99% were living at the time: Michelle Moran’s Madame Tussaud and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety. And you can never go wrong with the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities.

Any plans for another series centered on the French Monarchy in another time or Revolution from another point of view?

I have a file bursting with “story ideas.” What you mentioned is in there. So . . . we shall see!

I'm grateful for Juliet taking the time to stop by - with such detailed, complete answers, as well for the tidbits she shares (A new title for the last in the trilogy? A possible future project that I already want?!) and I highly recommend checking out her Marie Antoinette series.

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Book Tour Review: Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow by Juliet Grey

Monday, October 15, 2012
Title: Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow
Author: Juliet Grey
Genre: historical fiction
Series: Marie Antoinette #2
Pages: 426 (paperback edition)
Published: May 2012
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for a review
Rating: 4/5

A captivating novel of rich spectacle and royal scandal, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow spans fifteen years in the fateful reign of Marie Antoinette, France’s most legendary and notorious queen.

Paris, 1774. At the tender age of eighteen, Marie Antoinette ascends to the French throne alongside her husband, Louis XVI. But behind the extravagance of the young queen’s elaborate silk gowns and dizzyingly high coiffures, she harbors deeper fears for her future and that of the Bourbon dynasty.

From the early growing pains of marriage to the joy of conceiving a child, from her passion for Swedish military attaché Axel von Fersen to the devastating Affair of the Diamond Necklace, Marie Antoinette tries to rise above the gossip and rivalries that encircle her. But as revolution blossoms in America, a much larger threat looms beyond the gilded gates of Versailles—one that could sweep away the French monarchy forever.

Another solidly impressive journey into the life of Marie Antoinette, Grey again proves, with her second novel in a planned trilogy, that she is a skilled writer, able to evoke time, place, and characters with equal vivacity.  Beginning two weeks after the first novel, Becoming Marie Antoinette, ended, Grey immediately relaunches herself and the reader into an opulent, turbulent world with her title character more prominent than ever in French society. In this detailed, rich novel, full of eye-popping descriptions of everything from le Petite Trianon to the poufs that adorn Marie's head, both the narrative and the letters from the Queen to her family at home in Austria all serve to form a comprehensive picture of life in Louis XIV's France. Formerly the Dauphine, transitioning now into the role of the Queen of France, Marie finds herself with prestige, but little actual power. Iconic, but politically impotent, bereft of the love and attention she desperately craves, Grey provides ample reasons (that actually work!) for the reasons behind the monarch's spendthrift ways. Much like the evolution she underwent in the first book, this well-rendered version of Marie Antoinette is far from stagnant, but makes choices, for good or ill, that will drastically affect the people and country she governs. 

The Marie so carefully cultivated by the author is much more than the villianess that most of history remembers her as. Spoiled, yes. A glutton for fine things? Yes. But evil, intent on harming the common folk and abusing them? No. The vivid woman shown here in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow is a more mature, more intelligent version of the girl she used to be and Grey takes care to paint her protagonist as realistically as possible. For all that Queen Marie is remembered and vilified as a one-sided caricature of vice, selfishness, and greed, Grey shows a multitude of other facets of her personality. Kind, lonely, funny, maternal, the author is deft in her portrayal in all the facets of this fascinating woman from the good to the bad. Her Marie Antoinette is always not wholly sympathetic ("For what is money, with happiness at stake?"), but she is often understandable in her opinions and attitudes. With her well-meaning but often oblivious husband Louis balancing an already-taxed treasury with the wants, demands, and rights of the people he rules by divine right, Marie and her coterie of noble ladies find themselves skewered by cartoonists, and resented for the life of grand palaces and sumptuous gowns they use once and discard, despite the Queen's good intentions.

Louis plays a larger role in the second novel than he did in the first; the King is much more directly involved with the plotline of this novel than the previous. More peripheral in the introduction of the series, here in part two, now, married and reigning as King, this Louis indulges his wife's flights of fancy, and spending as a concession to make up for the lack of intimacy and input he offers her in their private life. With the Queens of France traditionally have prestige but no real governing power, Louis is very Gallic and rigid in his role, a devoted adherent to the traditions his wife so dislikes. Louis is a good foil for his spendthrift femme; often shown trying to reign in the out-of-control treasury, his royal brother's profligate attitudes about women and coin, to little or no avail. He is not developed as Marie, but he is shown in realistic views - and Grey even tries to rectify his reasons for a lack of a royal heir (for seven years after marriage!) with a possible, plausible medical condition. His (unknown?) rival for Marie's affections in the Swedish Count of Axel von Fersen adds even more intensity and tension to a novel thick with conflict.  Though there is a love-triangle of sorts in Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, Juliet Grey is able to pull it off with aplomb, without making it halt the plot's momentum or the characters involved tiresome. Each man appeals to a different side of the complicated Queen, and though she may be more her father's daughter than she thought to be, Marie's attractions to both came off as authentic - as did her actions.

For the most part, I thought that first-person POV was an excellent choice to showcase the plot and varied characters of this story. It allows for a closer view of Marie and how she works internally, and reading Marie's well-intentioned inner monologue helps to firmly create the three-dimensional version of the character. It is easy for feel for the entitled Queen, even as she haplessly carries herself and her friends toward a grisly end. With factions all around her vying for favor (Polignac vs. Lamballe, etc) even among her dearest friends, Marie Antoinette is a commodity, a property, to be used and controlled for position, power, and money. Her narration helps humanize her and separate this version from the historical, as even her own family-in-law undermines her with the people. The only places the narrative stumbled for me were the thankfully rare occasions that abruptly jumped to third-person narration - like Emperor Joseph's meeting with du Barry, or Jeanne de Lamotte's cunning deception of the Grand Almoner, Rohan. A nice flow, and even pacing across long periods of time, coincide with the well-chosen point-of-view, and all add up to a thoroughly enjoyable, eminently readable historical fiction novel.

Juliet Grey ably paints a vivid, frenzied look at Marie's troubled, occasionally vapid existence of self-interest and whim. Between the constraint of etiquette steeped in outlandish traditions and little privacy that she found so oppressive, and Marie's subsequent alienation of certain powerful nobles, and with the French-monarchy-supported American Revolution giving the French people new ideas, wants and seeding deep doubts about the right of divine rule, the foreshadowing is subtly woven into the novel and reminds readers of the royal family's ultimate fate while still leaving them wanting more. A fully realized scenario of the French country and economy as it stood in Louis XIV's reign, the atmosphere of Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow grows ever bleaker and more ominous with her chapter. It's a hard to put down book, but one that is easy to involve yourself with the goings-on even as that fateful day in October looms ever closer.

Juliet Grey delivers a solid, engrossing, completely entertaining sequel. One that is filled with fleshed-out versions of the historical personages known so well, even into the modern age. Not mere stereotypes or villains, but real, plausible renderings of people who have left a mark on history. What Becoming Marie Antoinette started, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow ably continues - a tradition of well-written, thoroughly detailed,  engrossing historical fiction novels centered on one of the most interesting times and people in history. I personally cannot wait to see how this talented author will chose to recreate the last years of Marie Antoinette's life, and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty to the French Revolution with the trilogy's conclusion, The Last October Sky.

More Cheap eBooks under $3!

Saturday, October 13, 2012
I again apologize for my lack of presence over the last week. A friend and coworker suddenly died on Friday of last week, and I have not really felt like being online since. I promise to try to be around more, with reviews!, but for now, here are are cheap ebooks I've found.

Around the world, black hand prints are appearing on doorways, scorched there by winged strangers who have crept through a slit in the sky.

In a dark and dusty shop, a devil's supply of human teeth grows dangerously low.

And in the tangled lanes of Prague, a young art student is about to be caught up in a brutal otherwordly war.

Meet Karou. She fills her sketchbooks with monsters that may or may not be real; she's prone to disappearing on mysterious "errands"; she speaks many languages—not all of them human; and her bright blue hair actually grows out of her head that color. Who is she? That is the question that haunts her, and she's about to find out.

When one of the strangers—beautiful, haunted Akiva—fixes his fire-colored eyes on her in an alley in Marrakesh, the result is blood and starlight, secrets unveiled, and a star-crossed love whose roots drink deep of a violent past. But will Karou live to regret learning the truth about herself?

THE BLACK PRISM begins a brand new action-packed tale of magic and adventure ...

Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. Yet Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live.

When Guile discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he's willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart.

Soulless by Gail Carriger - (The Parasol Protectorate #1) - $1.99 on B&N Nook; $1.99 on Amazon Kindle

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations. First, she has no soul. Second, she's a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire—and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London's high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

SOULLESS is a comedy of manners set in Victorian London: full of werewolves, vampires, dirigibles, and tea-drinking.

Gwyneth Shepherd's sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon--the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.


Feed by Mira Grant - (Newsflesh Trilogu #1) - $1.99 on B&N  Nook; $1.99 on Amazon Kindle

In 2014, two experimental viruses—a genetically engineered flu strain designed by Dr. Alexander Kellis, intended to act as a cure for the common cold, and a cancer-killing strain of Marburg, known as "Marburg Amberlee"—escaped the lab and combined to form a single airborne pathogen that swept around the world in a matter of days. It cured cancer. It stopped a thousand cold and flu viruses in their tracks.

It raised the dead.

Millions died in the chaos that followed. The summer of 2014 was dubbed "The Rising," and only the lessons learned from a thousand zombie movies allowed mankind to survive. Even then, the world was changed forever. The mainstream media fell, Internet news acquired an undeniable new legitimacy, and the CDC rose to a new level of power.

Set twenty years after the Rising, the Newsflesh trilogy follows a team of bloggers, led by Georgia and Shaun Mason, as they search for the brutal truths behind the infection. Danger, deceit, and betrayal lurk around every corner, as does the hardest question of them all:

When will you rise?

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin -  (Dreamblood #1) - $1.99 for B&N Nook; $1.99 on Amazon Kindle


The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh's great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city's Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess' name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh's alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill - or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

Abigail Irene Garrett drinks too much. She makes scandalous liaisons with inappropriate men, and if in her youth she was a famous beauty, now she is both formidable and notorious! She is a forensic sorceress, and a dedicated officer of a Crown that does not deserve her loyalty.

 Sebastien de Ulloa is the oldest creature she has ever known. He has forgotten his birth-name, his birth-place, and even the year in which he was born, if he ever knew it. But he still remembers the woman who made him immortal. 

In a world where the sun never sets on the British Empire, where Holland finally ceded New Amsterdam to the English only during the Napoleonic wars, and where the expansion of the American colonies was halted by the war magic of the Iroquois, they are exiles in the new world - and its only hope for justice!

One night Kylie Galen finds herself at the wrong party, with the wrong people, and it changes her life forever. Her mother ships her off to Shadow Falls—a camp for troubled teens, and within hours of arriving, it becomes painfully clear that her fellow campers aren’t just “troubled.” Here at Shadow Falls, vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, witches and fairies train side by side—learning to harness their powers, control their magic and live in the normal world.

Kylie’s never felt normal, but surely she doesn’t belong here with a bunch of paranormal freaks either. Or does she? They insist Kylie is one of them, and that she was brought here for a reason. As if life wasn’t complicated enough, enter Derek and Lucas. Derek’s a half-fae who’s determined to be her boyfriend, and Lucas is a smokin’ hot werewolf with whom Kylie shares a secret past. Both Derek and Lucas couldn’t be more different, but they both have a powerful hold on her heart.

Even though Kylie feels deeply uncertain about everything, one thing is becoming painfully clear—Shadow Falls is exactly where she belongs…

 Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population, and those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club--in the depths of her own despair--Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club, and Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for--no matter what it costs her.

A tale of twelve princesses doomed to dance until dawn…

Galen is a young soldier returning from war; Rose is one of twelve princesses condemned to dance each night for the King Under Stone. Together Galen and Rose will search for a way to break the curse that forces the princesses to dance at the midnight balls. All they need is one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all—true love—to conquer their foes in the dark halls below. But malevolent forces are working against them above ground as well, and as cruel as the King Under Stone has seemed, his wrath is mere irritation compared to the evil that awaits Galen and Rose in the brighter world above.

Captivating from start to finish, Jessica Day George’s take on the Grimms’ tale The Twelve Dancing Princesses demonstrates yet again her mastery at spinning something entirely fresh out of a story you thought you knew.

The engrossing companion novel to Princess of the Midnight Ball, with a wicked twist on Cinderella.

Hoping to escape the troubles in her kingdom, Princess Poppy reluctantly agrees to take part in a royal exchange program, whereby young princes and princesses travel to each other’s countries in the name of better political alliances—and potential marriages. It’s got the makings of a fairy tale—until a hapless servant named Eleanor is tricked by a vengeful fairy godmother into competing with Poppy for the eligible prince. Ballgowns, cinders, and enchanted glass slippers fly in this romantic and action-packed happily-ever-after quest from an author with a flair for embroidering tales in her own delightful way.

Of these, I bought a lot! I added The Black Prism, Ruby Red, Feed, The Killing Moon, The Masque of the Red Death, Princess of the Midnight Ball, Princess of Glass, and New Amsterdam. Did you grab any?
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