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.
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.
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– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.
“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.
Full disclosure: I met the author at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference last year and we’ve become online friends. That doesn’t influence my review, however. This is my honest opinion.
Our modern world makes complexity out to be the be-all-and-end-all, and as a result life seems to get more and more complex by the day. Because of this, sometimes simplicity is refreshing, and that is one of many reasons why I truly cherished my time reading Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper by Sara Dahmen.
I mean no insult by calling the book simple. Rather, that is a compliment of highest regard. It’s easy to write flowery prose; spare language in which every word pulls its weight is much harder. More difficult still is using such prose to paint a picture of rough-and-tumble frontier life while avoiding cliché and giving the reader a viable sense of a bygone era in which life was slower-paced and values meant something. Ms. Dahmen does all this in spades and it’s easy to see why this book won the Grand Prize in the Laramie Awards for Western Fiction (sponsored by Chanticleer Reviews).
Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper is the story of Jane, a widowed, childless woman seeking a life away from her home and family after her husband’s death. In answering an ad for a housekeeper in the Dakota Territories, she sets her life on an unexpected course in which she encounters love, friendship, grief, prejudice and joy in the company of wonderfully drawn characters that range from a dusty cowboy to a wise Sioux widow. The plot is quietly powerful, as are the characters, all of whom evoke a strong sense of personhood and strength, remaining with you long after you’ve read the closing words of the book.
This is one of those sleeper books that has much more to it than one might think at first glance. More than just another work of historical fiction, more than a love story, more than a western – though it is all of these things – Doctor Kinney’s Housekeeper is a story of patience and triumph over adversity through faith and steely determination, of allowing our lives to change and mould us into better human beings through trials and sorrow, and of treasuring the simple joys in life. This is a book not to be missed, one that will haunt you for weeks to come as you ponder the curious depth of plot and the bravery of its characters.
Sara Dahmen is a writer of true talent and rare gifts. I look forward to reading more from her.
I was lucky to review this book for the Historical Novel Society a few months ago and I LOVED it. Then I recently unwittingly entered a contest to win a copy (which I already have because I reviewed the book), so I decided to give away my extra copy to one of you. If you want to enter for a chance to win, please let me know in the comments below. I will choose a winner at random on July 15.
Here is my review of the book.
This dual time period story parallels the modern-day life of Lia, a historian writing her dissertation on the beliefs of the early 13th-century Cathars, and a conspiracy-style tale behind the 1208 historical murder of papal legate Pierre de Castlenau, an act of violence which sparked the religious crusade against the Cathars. Having moved to France to grieve the untimely death of her husband, Lia quickly learns that past and present aren’t as far removed as they may seem, and not all souls rest peacefully after death. The deeper she gets involved, the more Lia realizes history may not tell the truth of what happened to Castlenau and the Cathars; the real story may be far more dangerous, with the possibility of changing not only her own life, but also the history of the Church.
In Another Life grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go. The prose is rich and evocative, transporting the reader to rural France with an ease unusual for a debut author. The story is intriguing, weaving past and present in an ever-tightening braid that eventually dissolves the separation altogether, adeptly illustrating how the Cathars’ belief in reincarnation might play out in the real world. Lia is especially well-portrayed as the unwitting catalyst uniting two deaths, three men, and 800 years of history, while the male characters are slowly revealed as we learn their unlikely pasts and how they affect the present. Very highly recommended.
It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about books here that weren’t my own, so today I thought I’d share my thoughts on two wonderful, very different books that I’ve just finished over the weekend.
In the Shadow of the Storm by Anna Belfrage – ****
If the author’s name sounds familiar, it may be because she kindly read my first two Guinevere novels and gave a blurb for each. Or maybe because she was the winner of the 2015 Historical Novel Society Indie Award. Either way, she’s a fabulous writer.
In the Shadow of the Storm is set in 13th century England, a time of great political unrest, due in part to a weak king who is enthralled by one of this favorites, Hugh Despenser, an evil man bent on violence and revenge, who exacts a strong toll on the hero and heroine of this book, making it one part dark history. The other part is a solid love story. The main protagonists, Kit and Adam, are forced together into a marriage based on deception, one he soon learns of, but they both keep it up to save their lives and their marriage. When Adam’s lord rises against the king, Adam has no choice but to follow, even though the act is treason. His unwavering loyalty leads to many trials for the newlyweds, and for me, this was when the book became a page-tuner, racing toward an end that was satisfying in many respects but left the path wide open for the rest of this new series.
This is very much a character-driven book, as a lot of it sets up the rest of the series, so the plot is really showing the reader the relationships between the characters and the political realities of the time. I have to admit to being captivated by the love story in this book. Kit and Adam were worthy protagonists, believable in their actions and reactions as they grew to get to know and love one another. We all know I love strong female characters, and Kit delivers in spades, so much so that a few points, I wanted the male characters to grow a pair and stand up to her! Hugh Despenser is the the most scum-sucking low-life villain since…well, Father Marius in my own books. I think that’s why I hated him, but also secretly couldn’t wait to see what depravity he would stoop to next.
Anna has a talent for really taking you back in time, evoking sights, sounds and sometimes unpleasant scents you may not otherwise have associated with the period. As a reader, I felt like I was there amid the dirt and grime, the stinking river water and unwashed bodies. That’s one of the marks of great historical fiction for me. All in all, I highly enjoyed this book and am interested to see where this series goes, especially since I’m not familiar with the history of the time period.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand – *****
If you’re looking for a fun beach read that will transport you to the shores of Nantucket where the filthy rich live lives you can’t even begin to imagine, The Rumor is the right indulgence for you.
Told from multiple viewpoints, The Rumor does exactly what the title promises by showing how a few innocent situations can get misconstrued and exaggerated to the point where they begin to wreak havoc on lives…but even they can’t compare with the dark reality hiding behind the truth. Not all is as shiny and perfect as it seems on this idyllic island, as it’s residents deal with money problems, marital issues, teenage rebellion and career-ending betrayal. But for all that, this isn’t a dark book. In fact, it’s as sunny as the beach or Grace’s garden.
Hilderbrand is a master of voice in this light women’s fiction, seamlessly switching from a teenage girl’s POV to a failing middle-aged male real estate broker and a frustrated author with writer’s block who may just stab her equally (sexually) frustrated best friend in the back with the plot for her next novel. And that’s only the beginning. The characters are well drawn for all of the seeming cliché of their situations, and Hilderbrand manages to have you both rooting for and despising each character, depending on who is doing the narrating at the time.
This book is a fun diversion from daily life and I’m glad I discovered this author. I have two more of her books on my phone (I listened to The Rumor in audio format) and I look forward to seeing if her other books live up to this one.
Have you read either of these books? If so, what did you think? Are you interested in either of them?
Why wasn’t this book on the top of the New York Times YA bestseller list? And how quickly can I start the second one? That’s what I wanted to scream when finished the first book in Carol Goodman’s Blythewood Tales trilogy, in a mere three days.
First, a quick recap:
Seventeen-year-old Avaline (Ava) Hall is a regular factory girl in 1911 New York until the day of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which claims the lives of 145 workers. But Ava survives, thanks to the help of a mysterious winged boy who begins to visit her in her dreams after the fire. After months in an insane asylum, thanks to someone who wasn’t happy she survived, Ava begins a new life as a student of Blythewood, which is anything but the all-girls finishing school the normal world sees. The initiated know it for what it is: the training ground in a centuries-old fight against evil – a world of strange creatures who eat mortal souls, creatures not unlike her winged savior. As Ava begins to uncover the mysteries of Blythewood, she also reveals mysteries about herself and her family – conspiracies of wild magic, charmed bells, mysterious smoke and cursed bloodlines that affect not only her world, but the events that shape modern history.
Think Harry Potter in an all-girls boarding school in the Hudson Valley, with echoes of Robin Lefevers’ His Fair Assassin series. But yet, this book is anything but a rip-off. Goodman’s intricate mythology is the number one reason to read Blythewood. While her school is much like any other single-sex institution, the ancient bent of its traditions and study give it a fresh purpose. Run of the mill courses like Latin, history and literature take on deeper meaning when they are used for magic. Archery isn’t just another form of physical education; it’s a matter of life and death. You see, in this world, what we perceive with our human eyes is only part of the story. The creatures from our children’s books and our worst nightmares live right under our noses, some fighting to protect us, others plotting our demise. Part fairy tale, part female hero’s journey, Blythewood is unlike anything else you’ve ever read.
I am a huge fan of Goodman’s adult work, particularly Arcadia Falls and The Sonnet Lover, but even after having read several of her books, she continues to impress me with her skill at creating atmosphere and painting a world which you never want to leave. I was thinking about it at work. I wore my class ring because I went to an all-girls high school (but not a boarding school) and that gave me a small connection to Blythewood. I found myself wondering what my special powers would be, if I had any, and which of the main characters/roles at the school I would be. I even debated which side of the love triangle I’m on (don’t groan; it’s an interesting one that I don’t think will resolve as simply as many other YAs have).
The only thing that itched at me the whole time I was reading was the fact that the book takes place in the early 20th century instead of the modern era, which I kept forgetting. Then I read the last 20 or so pages. Without giving anything away, I will say that Goodman connected her story to a major event in history in a way I never would have suspected. I was so excited actually cheered when I read it.
This is a book you don’t want to miss. Trust me. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to reading the next book, which I can’t devour fast enough.
PS – If you like this one and want something similar in the adult realm, check out The Demon Lover, also written by Goodman, under the pen name of Juliet Dark.
Have you read Blythewood or any of Carol Goodman/Juliet Dark’s books? If so, what did you think? If not, what interests you about this book?