Thursday, June 16, 2016

Cat Thursday - Vacation!


Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and sometime hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite LOL cat pic you may have come across, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It's all for the love of cats! (share your post in the Mr. Linky below)

I leave for vacation today! Nine days of no working and relaxing. I SO need this. I haven't been on vacation for several years. I'm going to Michigan, my hometown of Midland. My best friend since 6th grade is getting married on Saturday. Plus, my sister still lives up there, along with her family, and I still stay in touch with a lot of old friends so will be getting some family time in along with the relaxation. The hotel we're staying at has a pool so looking forward to swimming with my boys (even though I abhor getting into a swimsuit lol). My dad will be coming by to check on Alice and Arya. I will miss them so much and will be worried about them too, but I'm sure they'll be okay with each other as companions and visits from my dad. I hope so.

I thought about still trying to post next week, but I think I'm going to take a one week hiatus since I probably won't have time to visit posts. Hope you guys don't mind. I'll see you back here on the 30th!


Actually, I'm a bit more excited than Grumpy. lol

I work from home so technically won't be "leaving" work, 
but this will definitely be my mom's stance. (She's going too!)

I'm worried this will be the girls when I get back. :-(

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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Guest Post by the author of The Gilded Cage, #JudyAlter


The Many Faces of Chicago
The Chicago I grew up in was a big sprawling metropolitan complex. I was always proud to live in the second largest city in the country. You could still have dinner at the Stock Yards, where they’d brand your steak, and we teenagers could still wander out to the Point at 55th Street to sunbathe on a pleasant weekend. The Prudential Tower, with its escalator at the top and cocktail lounge, was the talk of the town. But I lived in a relatively small area—Hyde Park and Kenwood—and it was like living in a small town. Gracious old homes, often side by side with apartment buildings. We had our favorite spots from Cunag’s ice cream to Thomas’ drugstore, a local theatre that showed art films, and a small restaurant whose name I can’t remember. We rarely ventured out of our neighborhood. We didn’t have to—life was complete. I did take the Illinois Central downtown sometimes when I grew older—even for Sunday night hymn sings.

The Chicago that greeted Potter Palmer when he stepped off the train from the East in the 1840s was very different—a muddy, barren flat area with a few ramshackle building. It smelled bad, partly from the wild onion that grew everywhere and gave the city its Indian name and partly from the livestock in the streets. Palmer was not discouraged though he might well have been when a passing horseman splashed mud all over his suit. He continued on the rickety, uneven walk of boards until he reached the Tremont House, where he found luxury that suited him. Within years he would make that luxury much more widespread in Chicago.

Over the next years, the physical appearance of Chicago didn’t change much. A large area of shacks and shanties ringed the downtown. Workers and their families lived in primitive conditions, often without a stove or refrigeration and hauling their own water. Meanwhile, the other part of Chicago’s population—the “swells,” if you will—built luxurious homes on what was then the far south side—26th Avenue and thereabouts.

The Great Fire of 1871 brought great changes to Chicago, changes which might never have occurred so rapidly without the fire. Devastated, with countless major buildings gone, the city rebuilt a mores solid infrastructure—using brick in place of the dried-out wood of the past. The shacks and shanties, however, were replaced with similar buildings.

Potter Palmer opened a dry goods store on his arrival and, after the Civil War, built the Palmer House, an extravagant hotel for the wealthy. He and his wife, Cissy, lived on the top floor of the hotel and raised two young sons there. To Cissy, the greatest part about the hotel was the view of Lake Michigan, and, indeed, Lake Michigan has been a constant in the lives of many Chicagoans.

Cissy Palmer, as the wife of one of her city’s most prominent businessmen, devoted her life to her family—and philanthropic causes. She worked with Jane Addams at Hull House, invited factory girls into her home, joined various progressive women’s groups and presented papers on the feminist program—without calling it that to her husband. She assured him she would never bob her hair.

The two faced together and disagreed over social issues—the treatment of southern prisoners during the Civil War, the labor struggles of the late 1880s, including the infamous Haymarket Riot. Cissy was always the humanitarian; Carter the businessman, clutching a Horatio-Alger standard of America that perhaps no longer applied and lacking sympathy for those less fortunate than he.

Potter Palmer and Chicago grew together from frontier village to sophisticated modern city. When he decided to build a home for his family, Palmer chose Chicago’s North Shore and thereby signaled a massive move on the part of Chicagoans from south side to the North Shore. Some wealthy Chicagoans already had moved north of the river, but they did not live on the lake shore. Palmer chose the shore which was then a sandy, barren wasteland. He had sand dredged out of the lake to provide a foundation for his home—an architectural surprise that many in Chicago called Palmer’s Castle in asides. Even Cissy was unsure about the design of the structure. But Palmer began selling lots adjacent to his property, and soon Chicago’s North Side was the fashionable place to live.

The Columbian Exposition, for all its overwhelming architectural accomplishments, proved to be a temporary draw to the South Side. A year after the exposition closed, the buildings were falling apart, helped by vandals and the homeless who built fires in them. The exposition added greenbelts and one permanent building—the Museum of Science and Industry. Cissy Palmer served as president of the Board of Lady Managers at the exposition, a position that was the culmination of her life of public service. Potter Palmer served in various official capacities.

Today, Chicago, the city of broad shoulders, is one of the most sophisticated in the country, with museums, dining, theater, shopping on the Magnificent Mile, funky places and sophisticated to explore on the near North Side. Perhaps it still has the community-close neighborhoods. And always, the lake. Potter and Cissy Palmer would be proud of the city they helped to build.

But at the same time, the city has a reputation for violence and gun deaths. I’m not sure I would wander out to the Point these days or ride the IC downtown alone at night. Sad to think about. Chicago is a mixed bag of good and bad—but I guess, with the labor struggles of its history, it always was.

About the book

The Gilded Cage: A Novel of Chicago by Judy Alter

Publication Date: April 18, 2016
Alter Ego Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 318 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction



Born to a society and a life of privilege, Bertha Honoré married Potter Palmer, a wealthy entrepreneur who called her Cissy. Neither dreamed the direction the other’s life would take. He built the Palmer House Hotel, still famed today, and become one of the major robber barons of the city, giving generously to causes of which he approved. She put philanthropy into deeds, going into shanty neighborhoods, inviting factory girls to her home, working at Jane Addams’ settlement Hull House, supporting women’s causes.

It was a time of tremendous change and conflict in Chicago as the city struggled to put its swamp-water beginnings behind it and become a leading urban center. A time of the Great Fire of 1871, the Haymarket Riots, and the triumph of the Columbian Exposition. Potter and Cissy handled these events in diverse ways. Fascinating characters people these pages along with Potter and Cissy—Carter Harrison, frequent mayor of the city; Harry Collins, determined to be a loser; Henry Honoré, torn between loyalties to the South and North; Daniel Burnham, architect of the new Chicago—and many others.

The Gilded Cage is a fictional exploration of the lives of these people and of the Gilded Age in Chicago history.

“The Gilded Cage is a wonderful recreation of early Chicago and the people who made it what it is. Central character Cissy Palmer is a three-dimensional, real, vibrant person. The Gilded Cage is fiction, but firmly based on fact—the Chicago Fire, the prisoners from the War Between the States interred in Chicago, the newcomer Potter Palmer, the explosive growth of wealth in a prairie town, deep poverty adjacent to great riches—the American experience laid bare. You don’t have to be a Chicagoan to love this book.” -Barbara D’Amato, author of Other Eyes



About the Author
Judy Alter is the award winning author of fiction for adults and young adults. Other historical fiction includes Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer; Jessie, the story of Jessie Benton Frémont and her explorer / miner / entrepreneur / soldier / politician husband; Cherokee Rose, a novel loosely based on the life of the first cowgirl roper to ride in Wild West shows; and Sundance, Butch and Me, the adventures of Etta Place and the Hole in the Wall Gang.

For more information visit Judy Alter’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest andGoodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule
Monday, May 23
Excerpt & Giveaway A Holland Reads

Tuesday, May 24
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Friday, May 27
Review at In a Minute

Monday, May 30
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, May 31
Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews

Wednesday, June 1
Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Thursday, June 2
Interview at Author Dianne Ascroft’s Blog
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Monday, June 6
Review at Eclectic Ramblings of Author Heather Osborne

Wednesday, June 8
Spotlight & Giveaway at It’s a Mad Mad World

Thursday, June 9
Review, Excerpt, & Giveaway at The Book Junkie Reads

Monday, June 13
Review at Reading Is My SuperPower
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, June 14
Guest Post at True Book Addict

Wednesday, June 15
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story

Thursday, June 16
Review at The Lit Bitch

Friday, June 17
Review at New Horizon Reviews
Review at Jorie Loves a Story



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A Reading Life (44)


It's looking like I'm now only doing these posts monthly. I always plan to do them weekly, but then I get too lazy. I'll keep trying though. 


So, back in April, I reviewed a lovely poetry book by Rita Maria Martinez, The Jane and Bertha in Me. The author recently shared with me a reading she did at a bookstore in Florida. The Livestream is still available. Those who love the Brontes may want to tune in, as well as those who suffer from an invisible illness (caretakers may also want to tune in). You can watch HERE (Rita is introduced around marker 41:45).


What I'm reading this week...I'm participating in Tif's School's Out Read-a-Thon through Thursday.

  • Trying to finish Contact, Carl Sagan
  • Reading section of Wilde Lake for TuesBookTalk
  • Worlds Elsewhere, Andrew Dickson
I leave for vacation on Thursday! My best friend is getting married this Saturday in my hometown, and my sister and her family still live up there so we'll be visiting for the rest of the time. I haven't been on vacation in AGES! I need this!

Upcoming Events


High Summer Read-a-Thon, July 18 - 24. Sign up here.


Sit Down and Write 8 - July 2016. Sign up here.

I'm also hosting Christmas in July at Christmas Spirit. Details coming soon. You might notice a bit of a revamp on the site if you stop by. 

Recent book acquisitions...

A win from Stacy at Stacy's Books
Thank you!

The Judgment, D.J, Niko (for review)
The Fox Was Ever The Hunter, Herta Muller (for review)
Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good Very Bad Cat,
Amy Newmark (won from Create with Joy. Thank you!)
The Couple Who Fell to Earth, Michelle Bitting (poetry for review)
Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman (TuesBookTalk June read/for review)

Purchased from Goodwill:
The Wife's Tale, Lori Lansens
Blue Labyrinth, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

Historical Hauntings, edited by Jean Rabe
Carry The One, Carol Anshaw
Ragnarok: The End of the Gods, A.S. Byatt
A Passion for Books, Harold Rabinowitz
The Fire Gospel, Michel Faber
The White Devil, Justin Evans
Between Man and Beast, Monte Reel
The Burning Air, Erin Kelly
The Big Book of Teen Reading Lists, Nancy J. Keane 
(for Gabe and Reece)

What's going on in your Reading Life?


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Saturday, June 11, 2016

My #SchoolsOutRAT plans!


Tif @ Tif Talks Books is hosting this lovely little, no pressure read-a-thon...The School's Out Read-a-Thon! I'm hoping to get some reading in, but I'm also leaving for vacation in the evening on the 16th so lots of packing and preparations going on as well. We shall see how it goes.

Here's what I'll be reading. I only need to read a portion of Wilde Lake for TuesBookTalk. I'm hoping to finish Contact and get a good portion of Worlds Elsewhere read.

A big thanks to Tif for hosting!


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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cat Thursday - Authors and Cats (54)


Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and sometime hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite LOL cat pic you may have come across, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It's all for the love of cats! (share your post in the Mr. Linky below)

The second Cat Thursday of each month is Authors and Cats Thursday. Each time I will feature an author with their cat(s), or pictured with a cat(s).

Happy Birthday to Joyce Carol Oates on June 16th! I have featured Ms. Oates several times because she is one of the authors most prolifically photographed with cats. She really must be a cat lover (of course she is. Why would she not? *wink*).

Photo: The New York Times

Joyce Carol Oates (June 16, 1938) is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly. (Goodreads)


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Saturday, June 4, 2016

#Roots - The Read-Along: Final thoughts on the book and the television miniseries


Wow! What a profound book. I got a bit (or a lot) behind and this read along went a bit off track, but I finally finished the book, in the midst of watching the four part miniseries, and it was quite a literary experience.

I'm still shocked and saddened by how we treated the slaves in our history. It is hard to imagine that I could possibly be descended from slave owners (knowing I have southern ancestry). However, not knowing for sure if my ancestors were slave owners, even the possibility that they might have been is disheartening. Then there was the documentary on History Channel after the airing of the miniseries in which at one point they stated that around 30 percent of Americans today are descended from slaves. Not at all surprising considering all the masters who took their liberties with female slaves. Even Kunta Kinte's own daughter had it happen to her so Alex Haley's ancestry is both black and white. Returning to the treatment of the slaves, and the attitudes that whites were better and slaves were merely property, no better than livestock, upon Kunta's observation of the parties and his eventual realization of the wealth of whites, this quote conveys it all perfectly:

"He couldn't believe that such incredible wealth actually existed, that people really lived that way. It took him a long time, and a great many more parties, to realize that they DIDN'T live that way, that it was all strangely unreal, a kind of beautiful dream the white folks were having, a lie they were telling themselves: that goodness can come from badness, that it's possible to be civilized with one another without treating as human beings those whose blood, sweat, and mother's milk made possible the life of privilege they led."

What really struck me at the end of the book was how very important a person's ancestry really is. I found it exciting how Alex Haley extensively researched and tracked down sources, and even traveled to Juffure and listened to the stories of the griot there...the stories of his ancestors. The vocal narrative that Kunta passed on to his family was more precious than gold. In the book, someone states that "we who live in the Western culture are so conditioned to the 'crutch of print' that few among us comprehend what a trained memory is capable of." Isn't that the truth? If only my ancestors had passed on a narrative of our history as Haley's ancestors did. That history gave him the seeds to discover his heritage. As I said, profound. 

Regarding the miniseries...I was a bit disappointed. I watched the original miniseries from 1977 when I was about 9 (only seeing parts of it again in later years) so I can't truly say I remember it very clearly. However, as I was reading the book, I was reminded a lot of that original miniseries. The remake was too much unlike the book, in my opinion. I did not like how they had Kunta fighting in the Revolutionary war. Not in the book. Combining the Wallers into one household. Not in the book. Adding a son to the Murray family, and a right asshole son at that. Not in the book. And then adding a fiancee, who turns out to be a spy for the North (with her "slave" as a cohort) and what the Murray son does to them. Not in the book. Shocking, yes, and titillating perhaps for viewers, but again, not in the book. And would he have gotten away with what he did to a white woman. I don't think so, but who knows. What else? Well, I could go on and on. I just think it could have been more close to the book. That being said, I still enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as the original, but again, I was 9, and my innocent mind was just learning of slavery and it was a shocking and life changing event for me back then. What I liked best about the remake was the end. The scenes with Laurence Fishburne as Alex Haley, when he is taken by George and Tom to meet up with his ancestors down the line. I sobbed, and then I cried again when I was telling my mom about it (she didn't finish watching. She liked the 1977 version better). We've decided we're going to watch that version again soon.

So, did you finish the book? What did you think? What about the miniseries? Did you watch? Thoughts?

I hope you enjoyed reading along and I hope you will join me when I decide on my next read-along. In the meantime, you can join us at my TuesBookTalk Read-Alongs group, where we read a different genre each month, and non-fiction in the months of January, May and September. Click here to check it out.

Thanks for reading along!

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Friday, June 3, 2016

Spotlight on Béla’s Letters by Jeff Ingber {Giveaway}


Béla’s Letters by Jeff Ingber
Publication Date: February 18, 2016
Paperback; 596 Pages
ISBN: 978-0985410025
Genre: Historical Fiction



“Béla’s Letters” is a historical fiction novel spanning eight decades. It revolves around the remarkable life story of Béla Ingber, who was born before the onset of WWI in Munkács, a small city nestled in the Carpathian Mountains. The book tells of the struggles of Béla and his extended family to comprehend and prepare for the Holocaust, the implausible circumstances that the survivors endure before reuniting in the New World, and the crushing impact on them of their wartime experiences together with the feelings of guilt, hatred, fear, and abandonment that haunt them. At the core of the novel are the poignant letters and postcards that family members wrote to Béla, undeterred by the feasibility of delivery, which were his lifeline, even decades after the war ended.


About the Author
Jeff is a financial industry consultant, who previously held senior positions at Citibank, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation. His latest book is “Bela’s Letters,” a family memoir based on his parents, who were survivors of the Hungarian Holocaust. Jeff also has written a screenplay entitled “The Bank Examiners.” He lives with his wife in Jersey City, NJ.

For more information visit Jeff Ingber’s website. You can also connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


Blog Tour Schedule

Wednesday, May 25
Excerpt at What Is That Book About

Friday, May 27
Spotlight at The Writing Desk
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Saturday, May 28
Spotlight at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, May 30
Excerpt at Diana’s Book Reviews

Friday, June 3
Spotlight at The Never-Ending Book
Spotlight at The True Book Addict

Monday, June 6
Review at Book Nerd

Tuesday, June 7
Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, June 8
Spotlight at A Literary Vacation
Interview at New Horizon Reviews

Thursday, June 9
Guest Post at New Horizon Reviews

Friday, June 10
Review at New Horizon Reviews

Monday, June 13
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews
Spotlight at It’s a Mad Mad World

Tuesday, June 14
Spotlight at The Mad Reviewer

Thursday, June 16
Review at Nerd in New York

Friday, June 17
Spotlight at So Many Books, So Little Time

Tuesday, June 21
Excerpt & Giveaway at Queen of All She Reads

Wednesday, June 22
Review at Bookish

Thursday, June 23
Spotlight at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Friday, July 1
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Monday, July 4
Blog Tour Wrap Up at Passages to the Past

Giveaway
To win a copy of Béla’s Letters please enter using the GLEAM form below.

Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on July 4th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Béla's Letters


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Thursday, June 2, 2016

Cat Thursday - Even Cats recognize that Science and Space are Amazing


Welcome to the weekly meme that celebrates the wonders and sometime hilarity of cats! Join us by posting a favorite LOL cat pic you may have come across, famous cat art or even share with us pics of your own beloved cat(s). It's all for the love of cats! (share your post in the Mr. Linky below)

First off, thanks for all the well wishes last week. I'm feeling better. Still behind on visiting blogs, but I'll get there. 


http://seasonsreading.blogspot.com/2016/06/sci-fi-summer-read-thon-starting-post.html

In honor of my Sci-Fi Summer Read-a-Thon going on through next Tuesday, I thought I would share some Sci-Fi kitties...





Even cats recognize that Space is AMAZING!


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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Step Back in Time: An interview with authors Elisabeth Storrs and GS Johnston {Giveaway}



Step Back in Time: An interview with Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Tales of Ancient Rome Saga and GS Johnston, author of The Cast of a Hand

GJ: Thoughts of ancient Rome have always entertained me. When I was very young I was obsessed with the idea of Roman amphitheatres, that their open-air design could somehow help carry the human voice. At school, I remember reading Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and then Antony and Cleopatra and then wandering the teenage streets of Hobart thinking how different they must be to ancient Rome. But years later when I wandered the streets of the ancient Roman Forum, I realised how similar they were. The basic layout of buildings along a street is much the same and Hobart is full of Victorian architecture with all its overtures to Roman; the columns, the dance of curved and triangular window awnings.

In many ways, Elisabeth Storrs writing of the Etruscans takes us back another step, to a time when Rome itself was forming, at the one time defending and expanding itself.

So with the release of the third part of this triptych, let’s step back in time...

GJ: Has writing always been part of your life?

ES: I always wanted to be a writer from a very early age and wrote short stories and poetry that was published in journals in my twenties but then ‘life got in the way.’ It wasn’t until I had my children that I realised I would never finish a novel unless I set aside time in my diary. And so I wrote for a couple of hours each week by hiring a school kid to babysit my boys. And from little things, big things grow. It’s amazing what you can achieve by slowly chipping away. It took years but I finally completed my first manuscript (which is now in a bottom drawer.) Eventually my writing time increased as my family grew older. Now I’ve been given the opportunity to write everyday – I love it. So much better than being a lawyer!

GJ: What was the first inkling you had of your early Roman series, especially Call to Juno? And how did it proceed from there.

ES: I’ve always loved myths and legends and studied history and ‘dead’ languages at school and university. As a result, I read history books when I had the chance. Over fifteen years ago, I discovered a photo of a 6th century sarcophagus with a life size couple depicted lying together on their bed. The casket was unusual for that period because women were not usually commemorated in funerary art. Discovering the society that portrayed such tender affection led me to Etruria and the little known story of the siege between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. From there the tale was born of a young Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, who is married against her will to an enemy nobleman, Vel Mastarna, to seal a truce. The world of the Etruscans has absorbed me ever since. It took ten years to write The Wedding Shroud (after three rewrites), 18 months to write The Golden Dice, and 12 months to finish Call to Juno (practice does help you write faster!)

GJ: That’s a sustained effort. When I first went to Europe in in the 80s, I remember seeing the Etruscan wall and gate in Perugia and being surprised beyond belief at the size and strength of it. They were a major civilisation. With your first idea for the series, how much planning had you done for the second and third instalments when you were writing the first part? And how much did the second and third parts evolve as you wrote them?

ES: I originally wrote the entire plotline of Caecilia and Mastarna’s love story in one book but it was far too long so my agent suggested I split The Wedding Shroud in half. When I came to write the second book, The Golden Dice, I realised I needed to include a Roman viewpoint so I introduced Pinna, the tomb whore, who connives her way to become an army wife and meets and falls in love with Camillus, Rome’s greatest general. Creating the Etruscan unwed mother, Semni, allowed me to present the life of a commoner in those times. She becomes integral in ensuring the survival of the young heirs of the House of Mastarna. In Call to Juno, I wrote through the eyes of the repressed gay Roman soldier, Marcus, to enable readers to enter battles and political inner circles as it would have been unrealistic to have my female characters witness such scenes.

GJ: So it sounds like you write with a combination of fine planning and evolution. What are the main themes you wished to explore in this novel? And why?

ES: Throughout the Tales of Ancient Rome saga, I explore the theme of tolerance vs prejudice through Caecilia’s struggle to deal with conflicting moralities between Roman and Etruscan societies. The fact bisexuality was the norm also intrigued me so I delved into that as well. The role of religion and superstition interested me given belief in divine power permeated all decisions in those ancient times. Fate vs free will is also a strong thread in the story arc as the idea of trying to control destiny is something I grapple with myself. Most important was my desire to explore the resilience and courage of women in surviving in a violent, masculine world.

GJ: At what point of the writing do you start to think of the structure, detail and character?

ES: I am a plotter not a ‘pantser’. I structure a novel by using a colour coded card system to ensure there is a balance between the protagonists’ viewpoints, and to ensure I move the story effectively forward through them. I also develop the personalities of each character and write their back stories first but I often find they grow of their own accord. Giving them decision making abilities when placed in particular situations often results in additional layers of complexity for both the characters and the plotline. I like to begin a chapter with a visual detail often inspired by Etruscan art. After that I write a rough draft and then weave research through it.

GJ:Describe the environment(s) you write in? What do you need to evoke the Blarney?

ES: I work in my family room at the kitchen table which is cluttered with papers even though I’m extremely organised in my mind. The house is quiet during the day but by the afternoon and evening I have to concentrate through the noise of family life. My husband often complains that I don’t return to the ‘present’ once I have escaped into my imagination. And he’s right!

GJ: You sound like Jane Austen, beavering away in the corner of the drawing room. What is your least favourite part of the writing process? And your favourite?

ES: I find facing the blank page the most difficult. I struggle with my first drafts. After that I love the process of ‘embroidering’, refining and editing.

GJ: What major insight did you have into the writing process during this novel’s evolution?

ES: You can start with a plan but you need to be flexible. As I said, characters make you diverge from the path. I also find research can result in the need to alter the content. More and more is being learned about the Etruscans which can conflict with my past conclusions and requires me to change details. In fact, I now recognise that historical novelists and historians both hypothesize although historians do this in a much more analytical way. I loved it when one archaeologist told me that she also had to use her imagination when piecing together pottery or statues with missing fragments.

GJ: What’s next on the horizon?

ES: I’m writing a novel set in World War II Berlin and Moscow about the lost Trojan Treasure of Priam that was coveted by both Hitler and Stalin. It’s a big leap from classical times but I’m also going to include the story of the discovery of Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, a pioneering archaeologist and gold seeker.

GJ: When I first went to Pompeii, I remember walking down the street to the bar and the brothel and the theatre and the sports arena and thinking, life hasn’t really changed. Are we that different to the characters of your time?

ES: Customs, laws and clothes might change but the stuff of life remains universal. Emotions, motivations and loyalties transcend eras. I write about experiences which I believe ancient people encountered in the same way as do modern ones– love with all its facets, duty in all its complexity; greed, envy, pride and betrayal; hatred, fear, courage and ambition. And the Etruscans were extremely liberal and pleasure seeking. I’m sure they would love today’s hedonistic culture.


Call to Juno
"An elegant, impeccably researched exploration of early Rome and their lesser known enemies, the Etruscans. The torments of war, love, family, and faith are explored by narrators on both sides of the conflict as their cities rush toward a shattering, heart-wrenching show-down. Elisabeth Storrs weaves a wonderful tale!" --Kate Quinn, author of The Empress of Rome Saga

Four unforgettable characters are tested during a war between Rome and Etruscan Veii.

Caecilia has long been torn between her birthplace of Rome and her adopted city of Veii. Yet faced with mounting danger to her husband, children, and Etruscan freedoms, will her call to destroy Rome succeed?

Pinna has clawed her way from prostitute to the concubine of the Roman general Camillus. Deeply in love, can she exert her own power to survive the threat of exposure by those who know her sordid past?

Semni, a servant, seeks forgiveness for a past betrayal. Will she redeem herself so she can marry the man she loves?

Marcus, a Roman tribune, is tormented by unrequited love for another soldier. Can he find strength to choose between his cousin Caecilia and his fidelity to Rome?

Who will overcome the treachery of mortals and gods?


About Elisabeth Storrs
Elisabeth Storrs has long had a passion for the history, myths and legends of the ancient world. She graduated from University of Sydney in Arts Law, having studied Classics. Elisabeth lives with her husband and two sons in Sydney, Australia, and over the years has worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and corporate governance consultant. She is one of the founders of the Historical Novel Society Australasia www.hnsa.org.au , and a director of the NSW Writers' Centre. Feel free to connect with her through her website: www.elisabethstorrs.com or Triclinium blog: www.elisabethstorrs.com/blog. You can find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/elisabeth.storrs/ Twitter: @elisabethstorrs https://twitter.com/elisabethstorrs Bookbub https://www.bookbub.com/authors/elisabeth-storrs and Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/elisabethstorrs/

Buy links for Call to Juno
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The Cast of a Hand: Based on a True Story of Love and Murder in Second Empire France
At dawn on the outskirts of Paris in 1869, Hortense Kinck lies buried alive and surrounded by five of her children. Violently attacked, tormented and trapped, she sifts through the truths and deceits of her marriage to self-made industrialist, Jean Kinck. Why had he lied? 

France, snug in the prosperity of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, is shocked by the vicious destruction of the bourgeois Kinck family. Under pressure from his superiors, the Chief of Police, Monsieur Claude, must unravel the baffling connections between the family and a mysterious young man, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, a cold case, a famous palmist and France’s rising tide of dissatisfaction with the Emperor Napoleon III. 

The Cast of a Hand is an unforgettable love story and a murder mystery based on one of the most shocking crimes of 19th century Paris. GS Johnston’s razor sharp prose interweaves and cross-pollinates the two narratives, both desperately trying to arrive at the truth.


About G.S. Johnston
G.S. Johnston is the author of three historical novels, The Cast of a Hand (2015), The Skin of Water(2012) and Consumption(2011), noted for their complex characters and well-researched settings. In one form or another, Johnston has always written, at first composing music and lyrics. After completing a degree in pharmacy, a year in Italy re-ignited his passion for writing and he completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. Feeling the need for a broader canvas, he started writing short stories and novels. Originally from Hobart, Tasmania, Johnston currently lives in Sydney, Australia.

Website and Blog: www.gsjohnston.com

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Giveaway 
The authors are generously offering digital copies of Call to Juno and The Cast of a Hand to one lucky winner. Leave a comment telling me your favorite ancient culture. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact the winner. Open internationally. Giveaway ends June 15 June 27 at 11:59pm CDT.

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Friday, May 27, 2016

Review - Portrait of Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One by #DonnaRussoMorin {Giveaway}


My thoughts
Donna Russo Morin's The King's Agent remains one of my favorite historical novels so I was pretty excited when I heard about Portrait of a Conspiracy. Morin has a real knack for telling a great story with a good dose of adventure thrown in.

It's sometimes astonishing to realize that at one time women were forbidden to be publicly known as artists. And so, in the book we have a group of women who gather in secret to ply their craft. Little do they know that soon their secret society will be far more than just that. As Florence is thrown into chaos by the murder of Giuliano de Medici, the subsequent vengeance enacted by his brother, Lorenzo, and the untimely disappearance of their dear friend and member of their group, the women realize that they have the only means to discover the truth behind the fate of their friend. Aided by none other than Leonardo Da Vinci, they are soon mastering their art while also penetrating the secrets that abound in Florence. Exciting, to say the least.

Told from several points of view, I enjoyed the care with which each character was written. Each one has their cross to bear and I found myself easily identifying with them. Of course, my favorite was Leonardo. I have a fondness for this historical personage so his appearance in the book was a real treat.

Portrait of a Conspiracy is the first novel in the new Da Vinci's Disciples series, and I can't wait for book two. I highly recommend Morin's historical fiction. If you have not read her books, this would be a good one to start with.

About the book
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Diversion Books
eBook & Paperback; 290 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery



One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess



About the Author
Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @DonnaRussoMorin.

Blog Tour Schedule
Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Giveaway
To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!

Rules
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on June 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Portrait of a Conspiracy



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