Friday, January 31, 2014

Interview with Author Marci Jefferson

Marci Jefferson's debut novel Girl on the Golden Coin, a fascinating look at the life of Frances Stuart and the court of English king Charless II hits the shelves on February 11th and will delight all lovers of historical fiction. I was excited to be able to read an early copy of the novel and have a chance to interview the talented Marci Jefferson.

Thank you for your willingness to be interviewed today. I'm excited to celebrate the release of Girl on the Golden Coin a novel about Frances Stuart with you.

Thanks so much for having me and for helping to get the word out there about GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN!

What was it that you learned about the Stuarts that first inspired you to write Girl on the Golden Coin?

I first learned about the Royal Stuarts during a stay in London. Someone happened to point out the Banqueting House where Charles I was beheaded. I was stunned – I thought kings always ordered the beheadings! I felt compelled to study everything about the Royal Stuarts that my professors neglected to teach me in Nursing School. Frances Stuart initially stood out as a woman who embraced her personal liberty in defiance of kings.

A few years later I read THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL and became obsessed with the desire to do for the Stuarts what Philippa Gregory had done for the Tudors. I picked up my independent studies again and soon realized Frances Stuart’s independent streak matched the collective spirit of the Restoration age. Since she also happened to be the model for Britannia, I knew there was no better subject for a novel of Restoration England.

I read in your bio that you developed a love for history while you lived in Yorktown, VA. One of my favorite vacations with my husband in the early years of our marriage was to Colonial Williamsburg. I'd love to take my children. In your opinion, what is the one place in the area that a tourist must not miss?

I adore Colonial Williamsburg. I used to go there all the time since it was so close to Yorktown. They have
interactive programs to get kids excited about history, so it is fun for the whole family. Just don’t take your 
kids straight there from Disney World (trust me – I made this mistake). My favorite spot in Williamsburg is the Governor’s Palace. Designed in the early 1700’s, this site exhibits perfect examples of furniture and art that characters in my novel would recognize.

Are you currently working on another project and can you divulge the subject?

Of course! Right now I’m writing a novel about Marie Mancini who, based on the alignment of the stars at her birth, was destined to disgrace her family an a most spectacular fashion, but ended up shaping the world’s most powerful monarch – Louis XIV.

Were there any other historical figures that you came across in your research that might inspire a future novel? 

Marie Mancini was one of them, and I come across someone new to research all the time! 

5. As a busy mother with small children when do you find time to write? Do you have a special writing place? How long did it take to write Girl on the Golden Coin?

In the beginning, the novel was strictly a nap-time endeavor. But now my kids are in school, and I only work as a nurse part-time. I’d like to say my days-off provide enough time to get it all done, but somehow I’m always up writing late into the night! I worked through the different aspects (historical research, learning how to write, editing, getting an agent, submitting to publishers) of completing GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN over about six years.

6. What was the topic of the first story that you ever wrote?

My first piece of fiction was a short story involving archaeologists hunting and falling in love with vampires amid the ruins of ancient Egypt. I wrote it when I was in eighth grade. It was terrible, which may be why I ripped it into tiny shreds and never told anyone about it until recently.

7. Do you also find time to read? If so, do you read mostly in the historical fiction genre or a variety? Also, what are some of your favorite books?

Much of my reading time is taken up by the non-fiction required by my work. So I have to carve out time to read historical fiction. I believe an author must continue to read the type of books she wants to write. 

8. Do you have a favorite treat that you just cannot live without or a favorite way to relax?

White tea and 70% dark chocolate. 

9. Is there anything else that you want readers to know or take away from their reading of Girl on a Golden Coin?

I hope they find much to love about Stuart England, that they will recognize its important contribution to modern democracy, and that they remember Frances Stuart as the embodiment of her age.

Marci Jefferson
February 2014 from Thomas Dunne Books / St. Martin's Press

Monday, January 27, 2014

This Dark Road to Mercy - Book Review

You probably already know how I feel about Wiley Cash and his first novel A Land More Kind Than Home. I raved about it to so many. I even forced a few to read it. If by some miracle  you haven't heard my feelings about this brilliant work, you can read my review *here*. I was anxious to get my hands on a copy of Wiley Cash's newest novel This Dark Road to Mercy, which is published by William Morrow and releases on January 28, 2014.

Twelve year old Easter hasn't seen her father for years--not since he signed the paper relinquishing his parental rights. Now, her mother is dead and she and her sister Ruby are in a home for orphaned children. Even though it's been so many years, Ruby immediately recognizes the man watching her play kick ball after school. Easter overhears her returned father's plea to the woman who runs the home and her response regarding the near impossibilities of regaining custody of his daughters. When he shows up at her bedroom window one night, Easter and her sister go with him willingly. Unfortunately, Easter's father Wade has gotten involved in more than kidnapping and there are people after him that would do him or anyone who got in the way harm.

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash is a gripping, poignant novel told from the perspectives of Easter, her guardian at litem who is determined to bring her home safely and the criminal who is dangerously desperate to find Wade first. Cash expertly pulls off the various voices--amazing me with his ability to speak as a young girl and in the the next chapter open up the deranged mind of a violent and vengeful criminal.

Every single word in Cash's novel is full of meaning and purpose. There is nothing wordy or verbose. Though the climax scene felt a little rushed, Cash keeps the novel moving at a steady and thrilling pace yet never sacrificing characterization or feeling.

Set in a Gastonia, North Carolina during the 1998 home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire, This Dark Road to Mercy has a different flavor from Cash's debut novel. While I didn't love it as much as A Land More Kind Than Home, the newest work is still universally appealing and emotional. With his second novel Wiley Cash establishes himself as a gifted and true story teller.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Secret of Magic - Book Review

World War II has just ended and decorated war hero Joe Howard Wilson, who fought in Italy with his all-black regiment, is returning home to his father in Revere, Mississippi. But Joe will never make it home and a few weeks after he was supposed to arrive on the bus, Joe's beaten body is discovered in the river not far from home.

Regina Robichard is a young, black lawyer working in the Fund's New York office with Thurgood Marshall. When the envelope comes in the mail, she is immediately taken with the picture of the young and handsome Joe Howard. Included with the picture are newspaper clippings of his death. Regina begs Marshall for a chance to go to Mississippi to seek justice for Joe Howard.

Mississippi is a new world for Regina--a world of magical magnolia forests, old plantations and mystical deer. But it's also a land where the blacks and whites mix daily yet are kept separate by Jim Crow laws and the "way it's always been". Regina will stir up the town while she tries to discover Joe Howard's killer.

The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson instantly grabs the reader's attention with the horrific story of race violence and the irony of the time--that a soldier could serve his country, survive the war and be killed by those very people he had fought for when he returned home. It stirs up anger and frustration and a myriad of other emotions as it takes the reader back to 1945 and a time where there was little if any justice for such actions.

At the same time, Revere, Mississippi is described as a magical, beautiful place with Johnson's gifted and lovely words. She creates conflicted characters that live and breathe as real human beings within her stories. They are neither all good nor all bad. They are people living in a conflicted time working and hunting together. Loving and hating. Jealousies and insecurities. Overshadowed constantly by a feeling of entitlement and superiority and a love of all for home.

While the novel's pace slowed significantly for me in the middle, the final 100 pages are filled with overwhelming tensions and the violence and emotions kept politely beneath the surface finally explodes in a dramatic conclusion.

The Secret of Magic by the talented story-teller Deborah Johnson is worth reading and remembering and talking about. The story is not likely to leave you alone even after you turn the final pages. It will leave you thinking and wanting to share it with everyone.

The Secret of Magic is published by Amy Einhorn Books and is available on January 21, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Secret of Magic in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Kept - Book Review

Elspeth returns to her secluded farm, after months away working as a midwife, to find that her husband and children had been slaughtered. There had been no warning. No time to react. Her husband still lay in his bed. Hidden in the barn, her twelve-year-old son was the only one left alive but he caught a glimpse of the killers and the red scarves they wore.

With nothing left to keep them at their farm in upstate New York, Elspeth and Caleb set out to seek the killers and avenge the deaths of their family members. Elspeth will have to face her own demons and sins and Caleb will come to understand just who he really is.

Full of dark and unsavory characters, The Kept by James Scott is a thrilling and haunting story of revenge and redemption. Scott has a way of writing that lessens the initial shock of a murder at a seedy brothel or a horrific accident at the ice company yet draws the reader deep into the story until the she feels what the characters feel and sees what the characters see. Then the story becomes lovely in spite of its violence.

Each character is full of surprises that keep them fully human and keep the reader intrigued and unbalanced throughout the novel. The Kept is a marvelous journey worth taking.

The Kept by James Scott is published by Harper and released on January 7, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Kept in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Visionist - Book Review

Fearing for her life from her abusive father, 15 year old Polly Kimball sets fire to her house and helps her mother and younger brother escape. Her mother leads her to the community of Shakers to find refuge. With the Shakers, Polly will come to know their unique ways while being honored as a visionist. While Polly attempts to cover her secrets, there are those who suspect Polly is more than what she claims.

Meanwhile, the fire inspector has been sent out to Polly's farm to discover the cause of the fire that destroyed the house and greedy men and women seek to claim the valuable land as their own.

The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart had a lot of potential. The situation and characters were unique and it was interesting learning more about the Shakers. When we lived in New Hampshire, we drove often through the Shaker's community nearby and loved their beautiful, simple homes and lovely farms. Even so, I knew very little about their beliefs or customs, beyond the fact that they followed the guidelines set by their prophetess Ann Lee and that they lived a celibate life.

I was immediately enthralled by Polly's story. She sought peace and safety from the world and The Shakers, who had forsaken the world, offered just what she needed. However, there was danger from within.  Polly no longer was allowed to be with her younger brother Ben and she held her own secrets that would turn the other Shakers against her.

The beginning of the book starts with plenty of action and excitement. The middle starts to lag and I almost abandoned the novel around 100 pages. Polly's friend Charity seems to say the same thing over and over. I persevered and thankfully, the novel has a dramatic and satisfying conclusion.

The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart is published by Little, Brown and Company and will be available on January 14, 2014.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Visionist in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.**

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Whole Golden World - Book Review

Honor student Morgan Monetti is looking forward to graduation and the day she can head off to college. Morgan is tired of watching her best friend's new romance with Morgan's ex-boyfriend and she's embarrassed by her attempts at love with her crush. Mr. Hill, her calculus teacher, is the only person who seems to understand her frustrations. Handsome and funny, Mr. Hill is the only person she can really talk to. Surely, this is love.

Morgan's mother Dinah and Mr. Hill's wife Rain are both devastated when the relationship between Morgan and TJ Hill is discovered. Now facing a trial for exploiting a student, TJ tries to clear his name and Morgan shocks her parents by standing by the man she loves.

Readable and skillfully developed, The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle tells the story that we hear in the news all too often--that of a sexual relationship between a teacher and a student. Accurately portraying the fallout and consequences, Riggle is honest about the havoc and ruin left by these inappropriate relationships. The characters in this novel are flawed but very real in their desires and hopes.

A thoughtful discussion of responsibility and childhood, Riggle also tells a well-plotted story in her novel The Whole Golden World. After reading a few books that had inappropriate relationships between adults and children this last year, I really appreciated the way it was handled in Riggle's novel.

The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle was published by William Morrow in November 2013.

**I received a complimentary copy of The Whole Golden World by Kristina Riggle in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was received.**

Monday, January 6, 2014

Holiday Reading - Three Book Reviews

The kids have gone back to school and my house and I can take a little breath. Finally, it's quiet enough that I can sit down to write some reviews.

I mostly read books that are sent to me to read and review and I love it. But as a serious book-lover, I continue to buy or am gifted copies of other books that I want to read and my shelves are getting so full! And with all the great deals on e-books lately, my Kindle is getting full too. It's awesome, really. During the Christmas holiday, I was caught up on reviews and decided that I would read several books from my shelves.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

On a cold and stormy February night in 1911, a baby is born dead. The cord is around her neck and the doctor was caught in the snow.

Ursula Todd was born on a cold February night in 1911. Though the cord was around her neck, the able doctor, who had thankfully been able to make it to make it through the storm, was able to cut the cord and the baby lived.

Over and over Ursula will be born and live and die.

Marvelously written and told, Ursula's many lives open up the possibilities of saving the world from the devastating effects of World War II. Details of life in England and Berlin during the terrible bombing raids of the war and a deep desire to prevent the war from ever happening, bring to mind the thoughts of "what if" and "if only". With such a clever and unusual theme, I so enjoyed this novel. Utah Dad and Neal and my dad and anyone else who would listen got to hear me go on and on about it.

Inventive, philosophical and entertaining, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson is brilliant!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

I bought the kindle version of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell while it was on sale and because I had heard so much buzz about the fun Young Adult novel.

Cath is nervous and anxious about her first year of college. She's worried about leaving her unstable father at home by himself, and her twin sister Wren is insisting on living in a different dorm. Cath, who is obsessed with Simon Snow the hero of a very popular series of fantasy books (think Harry Potter), writes fan fiction about Simon and his roommate Baz that has earned its own fan base.

Prickly and distant, Cath has no intentions of making new friends at college. But even she can't resist the attempts at friendship from her outspoken and edgy roommate Reagan and Reagan's boyfriend Levi.

The sweet romance and the college atmosphere in Fangirl took me right back to my own college creative writing course where I fell in love with the geeky-cute boy who could write funny. Man, he really was funny. Rowell has a gift for creating quirky, fun characters and ahhh-worthy romances. I pretty much adored Cath and Levi.

However, I didn't really care about the fan fiction part. Obviously, it was a central part of a book called "Fangirl" but I found some of the fiction about Simon and Baz distracting from Cath's own love story and ended up skipping much of the longer parts toward the end.

Also, just so you know, there is excessive and casual swearing.

Overall, Fangirl is a delightful, readable novel with likable characters and a sweet romance.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

Everyone I knew who had read Me Before You, loved it. Raved about it. So, obviously I wanted to read it too. One of my online book friends (check out her great book blog *here*) sent me a copy this Christmas. I was so excited! I took it with me on our trip to visit my parents over the New Year holiday so I had to read it in moments when I could slip away from the crowd.

Louisa Clark loses her job as a waitress for the cafe near the castle. With the money she brought in at her job, she helped support the household that includes her parents, her sister, nephew and her disabled grandfather. Right in the middle of the recession, her paycheck was an important part of the household income and she is desperate to find a new job.

Avoiding a job at the local chicken factory, Louisa is hired to assist Will Traynor, once a highly-successful business man who loved extreme sports, now a quadriplegic following a tragic accident. Will is depressed and no longer wants to live. Louisa takes on the charge to make his life brighter and help him see that even in a wheelchair life is worth living.

Written so well, that the story and characters come alive and the words on the page simply disappear, Me Before You was nearly a perfect novel. With a developing and tragic love story, Moyes shows that not only the physically injured are crippled. Louisa, as much as Will, learn to love and to live. While I am still conflicted about the profound and thoughtful ending, I thoroughly enjoyed Me Before You.