I just had to share this review of Mistress of Legend from Reader’s Favorite. This reader gets it! I’m not even sure which part to pull out for an endorsement. (What a problem to have!)
Mistress of Legend is the third book in the Guinevere’s Tale series, an interesting recreation of the legendary world of Camelot with its feisty characters and intriguing relationships. Nicole Evelina reinvents the character of Guinevere and starts readers on an adventure with her as she returns to Camelot, a world splintered by political factions. Having escaped death at the stake, her options are limited, and while she wants nothing more than to be with Lancelot, she is embroiled in the turmoil in Camelot where Mordred is thirsty for power and the people are longing for her leadership as the former queen. Follow her on an odyssey that brings her back to Lancelot and how her people rely on her to save them from the warring Votadini. But does she still have the fight in her, the wisdom of the queen she once was?
For fans of the legendary tales of King Arthur, Mistress of Legend comes along as a sumptuous, delectable treat, a tale written in gorgeous prose and featuring characters that are richly developed, with multiple levels of conflict and an enticing romance. Nicole Evelina’s writing is daring, a work of great imagination, and I was enticed by the world she recreates in this story. The absorbing first person voice catches the attention of the reader as the protagonist opens the tale with Arthur’s men finding her and Lancelot in the woods and bringing them to Camelot. But this strength in the voice doesn’t ebb as the narrative progresses; on the contrary, it deepens, unveiling layers of emotions and the intensity of the conflict, keeping readers focused and interested. This is a book that fans of legendary tales will be delighted to read, an enchanting world to navigate.
Contests are interesting beasts. Like reviews, how well you do (or don’t) depends on the fit of your book with the judges. I’ve entered all of my fiction to-date in the BookLife Prize (which is sponsored by Publisher’s Weekly, but separate from its reviews.) Until now, Been Searching for You is the only one they liked and even it failed to move on beyond the first round – just barely. They took the top 10 books and it was 11.
I received the critic’s report today for Mistress of Legend. The overall score likely won’t be high enough to advance it to the next round, but I’m really proud of what the critic had to say about it. I think it’s interesting that he/she calls it a mystery and psychological thriller and compares Guinevere to Beowulf – totally not what I intended, but it if works for the reader, that’s all I care about. I’m proud to be in that company!
Plot: This book offers a cleverly crafted, suspenseful tale spun from Celtic mythology. Though many plotlines are drawn together in this Arthurian mystery, Evelina interweaves each line neatly, careful to not leave any strand loose.
Prose: With its eloquent style and lush imagery, the work retains the rich, earthy tones of an Old English epic. Evelina’s work boasts a careful interplay between riveting legends and modern sensibilities and will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Originality: Though inspired by ancient storytellers, Evelina transforms a murky, two-dimensional tale of kingdoms and conquest into a three-dimensional, psychological thriller with a pertinent feminist sentiment.
Character Development: The ferocity of female strength and skill present within Evelina’s work allows passage for protagonist Guinevere to be seen as a female Beowulf-archetype. However, like Beowulf, Guinevere’s strength is so palpable that she sometimes borders on two-dimensionality.
I noticed that you can re-enter any book from previous years as long as it doesn’t make it to the semi-final round. I may try that in the future, but maybe not.
Those of you who follow me on social media, specifically Facebook, may be aware that the Historical Writer’s of America Conference that I was due to attend and teach at was canceled less than a week before the event. This made me every unhappy.
Putting everything else aside, it meant that I was not able to conduct my research for the Rose Ferron biography. However, I have not given up. I have flight credits that will pay for me to visit Rhode Island another time. The foundation is working on opening a “domestic chapel” and display of Rose’s possessions, so I hope to be able to attend the opening and blessing of that, which is estimated for late this year or early next.
BUT, I also have two more pieces of good news:
The Once and Future Queen received a 4.5-star Crowned-Heart review in the June issue of InD’Tale magazine! They called it “a powerful analysis of Guinevere…[that] does not read like a regular history book.” This honor also means it is automatically nominated for the RONE Awards next year.
Mistress of Legend is done! It still needs to be edited, proofread and laid out in book format, but it is finished at 97,000 words. (That is significantly shorter than Camelot’s Queen, but slightly longer than Daughter of Destiny.) There is nothing sweeter to a writer (other than perhaps holding a finished copy of a book in your hands for the first time) than typing those two precious little words: THE END. I was really surprised and pleased by some of the twists and turns it took, and I think you will be too. September 15 can’t get here soon enough!
I’m so excited to be part of my friend Mary Sharratt’s blog tour for her book Ecstasy, which has one of the best covers I’ve ever seen. Mary and I met through the Historical Novel Society when we were on a panel together on women in history at the 2017 conference.
Ecstasy tells the story the relatively unknown Alma Mahler, a composer who would become the wife of famed composer Gustav Mahler. Alma was a woman ahead of her time (1879-1964), one who insisted on educating herself and working as a composer, even as all the women around her, including her sister, were doing the societally-acceptable thing and getting married. But through them, Alma witnessed that she would be forced to give up her dreams and so resolved to devote herself to music. Unfortunately, as any reader of women’s history or female historical fiction can tell you, such independent thinking – especially prior to the last few decades – rarely resulted in happiness for the woman.
If there is one idea to sum up Alma’s life and Sharratt’s book, it is that if Alma didn’t have bad luck with men, she wouldn’t have any at all. Before Alma even marries, one can see that she is desperate to find love and so has a tendency to adore the men who catch her fancy, an all-encompassing adulation that can only lead to ruin. As a result, her story – through no fault of Sharratt’s – often feels like watching a moth flit from one candle flame to the next, if only to find out how badly it will get burned this time.
As I reader, I wanted to shake Alma. Even I could see that she would have been better off with impoverished Alexander von Zemlinsky, than the rake Gustav Klimt (her first kiss) or any of her husbands, especially Gustav Mahler, on whom the balance of the book focuses. Alexander was the only one who truly respected Alma’s talent and would have allowed her to continue composing. While their relationship had its share of troubles – not the least of which was her family’s opposition to him being poor and Jewish – it was Alma being dazzled by Mahler, an older, womanizing star composer that killed her chance at happiness. (How many of us have been there? Those bad boys might be pretty, but they are also trouble.) She didn’t like his music, wasn’t inspired by him and knew he was controlling, yet she married him anyway, like so many other women in times when marriage was a requirement. The irony is that he was also Jewish and was known to be in debt. But yet, her parents allowed the relationship, albeit reluctantly.
Sharratt does an excellent job of portraying the misogyny of the period, especially as shown through Mahler. The only historical fiction portrayal that irritated me more was Marie Benedict’s Albert Einstein in The Other Einstein. I consider any strong feelings that I experience – especially loathing a character – a compliment to the author and a sign of his/her talent. Sharrat does not pull her punches. Mahler has the audacity to lay out to Alma exactly what he expects of her as a wife, demanding that she give up her own composing and “regard my music as your music (127)” and saying she “must become the person I need if we are to be happy together. My wife and not my colleague” (127).
The very traits which Sharratt uses to make Alma a historically accurate character make her also maddening for a modern reader. In her relationship with Mahler, she vacillates between being adoringly googly-eyed at her husband and feeling unworthy of his greatness (she almost acts like a victim of emotional abuse) and railing at him quite rightly for the injustices of the way he mistreats her. I think this is not only a personality trait, but a reflection of the times in which Alma lived. It seems like every time she is nearly brave enough to act as an independent woman, she recoils into the shell of the obedient housefrau that society expects. For all of her modern thinking, Alma has very little self-esteem, which is reinforced by Mahler, her parents and society at every turn. At one point she thinks to herself, “My only hope of distinguishing myself, of doing something truly remarkable, is by marrying a great man and sharing in his destiny” (131) and at another, Sharrat’s narration tells us, “Since she couldn’t find her way back to her old self, she would allow Gustav to shape her into a better self” – both thoughts inconceivable to my modern, feminist mind.
As a tale of what one woman endured and was willing to sacrifice for love, this book is a great read. It will be of particular enjoyment to fans of opera and classical music of the period, especially that produced in Vienna. Not knowing much about either, many of the references went over my head and I wonder how much richness I missed by not having the proper education to fully appreciate the book.
Ecstasy tells only a portion of Alma’s life, but her luck didn’t seem to improve any after Mahler’s death. In her Author’s Note, Sharratt writes that at after Mahler, Alma “made good on her aspiration for an independent life,” but not necessarily a happy one. She married two more times, but had affairs during each marriage, which says to me her bad luck with men and her desperate search for love continued throughout her life. I have to wonder how different Alma’s life would have been had she lived now, in a society that allowed and encouraged her to make her own choices, to be exactly what she wanted, with or without a man.
Join me here tomorrow for an interview with Mary Sharratt. Don’t forget to scroll down to the end of the post for a chance to win a paperback copy of the book.
In the glittering hotbed of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna, one woman’s life would define and defy an era.
Gustav Klimt gave Alma her first kiss. Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight and proposed only a few weeks later. Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius abandoned all reason to pursue her. Poet and novelist Franz Werfel described her as “one of the very few magical women that exist.” But who was this woman who brought these most eminent of men to their knees? In Ecstasy, Mary Sharratt finally gives one of the most controversial and complex women of her time center stage.
Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?
Part cautionary tale, part triumph of the feminist spirit, Ecstasy reveals the true Alma Mahler: composer, daughter, sister, mother, wife, lover, and muse.
“In ECSTASY, Mary Sharratt plunges the reader into the tumultuous and glamorous fin de siècle era, bringing to life its brilliant and beguiling leading lady. Finally, Alma Mahler takes center stage, surging to life as so much more than simply the female companion to the brilliant and famous men who loved her. Sharratt’s portrait is poignant and nuanced, her novel brimming with rich historic detail and lush, evocative language.” – Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental Empress
“A tender, intimate exploration of a complicated woman, Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY renders in exquisitely researched detail and fiercely imagined scenes the life of Alma Mahler — daughter, wife, mother, lover, and composer — and the early 20th Century Vienna and New York in which she came of age. I loved this inspiring story of an early feminist standing up for her art.” – Meg Waite Clayton, New York Times bestselling author of The Race for Paris
“Evocative and passionate, ECSTASY illuminates through its tempestuous and talented heroine a conundrum that resonates across the centuries: how a woman can fulfill her destiny by being both a lover and an artist.” – Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers
“Mary Sharratt makes a triumphant return to the page with this masterful portrait of Alma Mahler, the wife of the famous composer Gustav Mahler. Set in a time and place when a woman could only hope to be the power behind the throne, Sharratt brings a meticulously researched and richly illuminated account of a young woman who was a brilliant composer in her own right. Alma may have had to suppress her own talents to support Mahler; however, ECSTASY reveals that she was a woman who “contained multitudes.” ECSTASY is an important work of historical fiction, as well as a timely and topical addition to the canon of knowledge that needs to better represent important women and their contributions.” – Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books
“Alma Mahler’s unexpected, often heartbreaking journey from muse to independence comes to vivid, dramatic life in Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY. Sharratt skillfully evokes turn-of-the-century Vienna and the musical genius of the era, returning Alma to her rightful place in history as both the inspiration to the men in her life and a gifted artist in her own right.” – C.W. Gortner, bestselling author of Mademoiselle Chanel
“Mary Sharratt has more than done justice to one of the most interesting, shocking, and passionate women of the 20th century. Overflowing with life and lust, ECSTASY explores this flawed but fascinating woman who was not only muse but a genius in her own right.” – New York Times Bestseller, M.J. Rose
“A deeply affecting portrait of the woman rumored to be the most notorious femme fatale of turn-of-the-century Vienna. Mary Sharratt’s ECSTASY is as heartbreaking and seductive as Alma Mahler herself.” —Kris Waldherr, author of Doomed Queens and Bad Princess
About the Author
MARY SHARRATT is an American writer who has lived in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, for the past seven years. The author of the critically acclaimed novels Summit Avenue, The Real Minerva, and The Vanishing Point, Sharratt is also the co-editor of the subversive fiction anthology Bitch Lit, a celebration of female antiheroes, strong women who break all the rules.
Her novels include Summit Avenue, The Real Minera, The Vanishing Point, The Daughters of Witching Hill, Illuminations, and The Dark Lady’s Mask.
During the Blog Tour we will be giving away a paperback copy of Ecstasy! To enter, please enter via the Gleam form below.
– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 18th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US residents only.
– 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.
The Once and Future Queen has been shortlisted in its first contest: The Chanticleer Reviews 2017 Instruction and Insight Non-Fiction Book Awards. We’ll find out if it takes home the Grand Prize in its category on April 21, or maybe even Book of the Year! (Hey, it can’t hurt to hope!)
I’ve also had some really fun things happen lately and if you don’t follow me on social media, you might have missed them:
A blogger told me that she’ll be using The Once and Future Queen as part of her sources for presentation she’s giving at her local library and that she has asked them to purchase my books for the library. This is proof that targeted blog tours can result in sales!
My audio book narrator for Been Searching for You, Ashley Clements gave the book a shout out on Instagram Live.
I came upon Love, Second Time Around completely by chance. I was on Twitter and I saw an author assistant I follow ask if anyone likes sweet romance. I said I do. She then told me she had one that needs a review and sent me a copy.
Before I get to my review, here’s a quick synopsis from the back of the book:
Maggie Stewart is a retired lawyer, working to preserve the heritage of her little English cottage in Summerfield village. Her children have grown and she’s content to ride horses in the countryside and enjoy her retirement.
Except she needs money for her renovations … and she’s lonely.
When she joins her old environmental team to go up against an oil company, Maggie finds herself working in opposition to a man she once loved from afar, many years ago.
Idaho ranch owner Greg Warren is rich and entitled, with a dark past that he hides behind a professional smile. But inside, he struggles with loneliness after the loss of his wife, and the rage of a wild daughter who won’t let him move on.
Love blooms as Maggie and Greg take a chance on a new start, but can they find a balance between their two worlds?
In this sweet romance, set between the English countryside and the mountains and farmland of Idaho, can Maggie and Greg find love second time around?
I have to admit that if I’d come across the book on the shelf, I would have passed it by because the couple on the front is older. Shame on me! That actually turned out to be one of the things I liked about the book. It was refreshing to see two people who are mature in their dealings on love, as opposed to the selfish 20- and 30-somethings that normally populate romance novels. The characters felt real and I could truly believe the heroine, Maggie, and the hero, Greg, have been meant for each other all along. I do have to admit that Greg’s sometimes misogynistic attitude that comes out toward the end turned me off of him a bit, but that is in keeping with the generation he belongs to, so I can give the author that. It is nice to see a flawed hero whose wound is something realistic, unlike a lot of the brooding heroes out there. Same goes for Maggie. I felt really bad for her once I learned her back story. And oh, could I relate to her financial woes!
Two actors immediately popped into my head for the main characters, that’s how well they were drawn. Richard Gere for Greg and Rosemary Dunsmore for Maggie.
By far my favorite part of the book was the settings, especially Maggie’s Square House cottage in England. I didn’t want to leave those parts because the writing was so vivid that I felt like I was living in rural England. (We all know that is a weakness of mine!) Even Greg’s Idaho ranch came to life for me, despite me not generally liking anything to do with the American West. This book is a great example of how setting can teach you something about the character, as their different home lives really serve to show just how far apart they are in what they are comfortable with. Understanding that really made me want to know if they could work past those differences to make their love happen.
I have to admit being a little in love with silver fox Greg. He’s my kind of man: rich and fond of the grand gestures. Yes, this book definitely fulfilled a fantasy for me. But beyond that, he’s kind and truly loving to his family – perhaps too indulgent with his bitchy daughter – and that’s the kind of man I want to end up with. I’ve always liked older men, and now that I’m staring down 40, perhaps this is the kind of man I’ll look for in the future.
This book is short – I read it in a matter of hours – but it has surprising depth for it’s length. It’s sweet, but in a romantic way, not in a religious or sickeningly trite way. It’s a beautiful, old-fashioned romance that will sweep you up and then gently put you down when it’s over. We need more books like that. This would be perfect for a Hallmark Channel movie adaptation. I will definitely be reading the other books in this series, and anything else Penny Appleton (the pen name of a mother-daughter duo) writes.
PS – This book is written in first person from Maggie’s POV, just like Been Searching for You is from Annabeth’s! Yay to more authors breaking the romance “rule” that the book has to be written in third person and be from both the hero and heroine’s POVs.
I am so thrilled to be part of Aimee’s blog tour for her debut novel, Little Gray Dress! Full disclosure: I used Amy’s company Hello Chick Lit for the blog tour of Been Searching for You, but that in no way influenced my review.
Little Gray Dress is a very cute romantic comedy/chick lit story about Emi Harrison, a 30 something Portland resident who is about to face her worst nightmare, seeing her ex-fiance, Jack Cabot, again after a disastrous breakup two years prior. Little does she know that this is just the beginning of her troubles, which will range from a little too much alcohol at an inopportune time to a run-in with her worst enemy that changes everything. Add into the mix the hot new bar owner she may or may not be falling for, one outrageously ugly bridesmaid dress, and the tension that goes along with being sister of the bride when you have to be escorted down the aisle by your ex, and you’ve got a recipe for…well, let’s hope not disaster!
Told in two timelines – the present and flashbacks that go in reverse order from when Jack and Aimee broke up to the day they met – this book is unique in structure. I mean, a lot of books employ flashbacks, but I’ve never seen an author do it backwards, or do it so well. The flashbacks are key to getting to know this couple, what made them tick, and what was the moment that finally stopped the clock for them. Aimee does a masterful job at making sure each flashback fits in its place and helps you learn something about both the past and the present, so that at first you don’t even notice her technique, and by the time you do, she’s proven it to be so helpful, you’re grateful for it.
The thing that draws me into any book are its characters, and this was no exception. I loved that Emi is a real woman, one with weight issues, lack of coordination and a tendency to say the wrong thing or curse. I could actually relate to her, unlike the skinny, cardboard idiots that populate a good portion of chick lit. Jack is definitely my type of hero: well-educated, good at his job, rich and with a penchant for grand romantic gestures. (Yes, he reminds me a little of my character, Alex. We need more men like this in romance!) Hell, I even loved to hate Greta, the conniving villain of the story who for some reason I pictured as Kristin Chenoweth. The secondary characters blurred together a little for me, but I really liked Liam. Poor Liam. I was torn about where I wanted his character/storyline to go. (Maybe he can star in the next book. Hint for Aimee.)
Overall, the plot was strong and well-paced. This being a chick lit/rom-com, not everything is believable or realistic, but I have to admit that when I get to those parts in these kinds of books I just grimace a little and then move on. They kind of get a pass from me as to be expected as part of the genre. There is one little twist toward the end that felt really over the top to me, but it also saved the story from being like 80 million other similar ones, so I’m on the fence. But if you expect moments like that here and there (and there really aren’t many), this is a very cute beach read (I read it in four days) that you won’t want to miss! And the ending will warm your heart – though I doubt you will see the details coming.
I do still want to know why the dress is gray instead of black!
5 stars. Aimee is now one of my auto-buy authors. I will be reading everything she publishes in the future! Be sure to stop by tomorrow when I have an interview with Aimee!
“Evelina’s intriguing account of Victoria Woodhull—spiritualist, suffragette, stockbroker, and politician—deftly extols the many “firsts” of this 19th-century feminist trailblazer…Evelina moves assuredly through the many layers of Victoria’s colorful life; such potent issues as family torment, marital abuse, and female subjugation all are linked in this dramatic story of struggle.”
This is a HUGE deal for an indie author like me because it’s very hard for us to get the major publishing publications – of which Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus are the most widely respected – to review indie books. I’m proud to say this review was not paid for in any way.