BLOG TOUR: Madame Picasso by Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)


9780778316350.inddTitle: Madame Picasso
Author: Anne Girard (aka Diane Haegar)
ISBN: 978-0778316350
Publisher: Mira Books
First Published: 26th August 2014 (paperback / audio) / 1st September 2014 (Kindle)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):

The mesmerizing and untold story of Eva Gouel, the unforgettable woman who stole the heart of the greatest artist of our time.

When Eva Gouel moves to Paris from the countryside, she is full of ambition and dreams of stardom. Though young and inexperienced, she manages to find work as a costumer at the famous Moulin Rouge, and it is here that she first catches the attention of Pablo Picasso, a rising star in the art world. A brilliant but eccentric artist, Picasso sets his sights on Eva, and Eva can’t help but be drawn into his web. But what starts as a torrid affair soon evolves into what will become the first great love of Picasso’s life.

With sparkling insight and passion, Madame Picasso introduces us to a dazzling heroine, taking us from the salon of Gertrude Stein to the glamorous Moulin Rouge and inside the studio and heart of one of the most enigmatic and iconic artists of the 20th century.

Review:
Girard paints her canvas as bright as any Picasso work of art, infusing the story of Eva Gouel with the sights, sounds and smells of Paris and the scandalous folk involved in the cubist art movement in the early 20th century. It’s a fascinating and touching glimpse of the life of a muse that directly affected one of the greatest and most famous artists of his age; one whose legacy will live on forever, remembered as one of the forefathers of cubism.

Eva’s story is a poignant one which is, ultimately, tinged with sadness, but she lived her life to the full, and inspired many of Picasso’s artworks, and Girard presents her as a very real and very credible source of inspiration; a complicated woman from a traditional background who broke tradition at every turn with her unconventional (for the times) relationship with a man who was a known womaniser. Yet it seems Picasso really did adore her, and it is easy to see why.

Through Girard’s masterful strokes emerges a life less ordinary; the life of the extraordinary; a woman who deserves to be remembered and celebrated every bit as much as her larger-than-life artist lover. Read it, and find yourself plunged headfirst into a swirling palette of vibrant, colourful characters, and passions that burn so bright they cannot possibly last.

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BLOG TOUR: Revenge and Retribution by Anna Belfrage – Review


02_Revenge-RetributionTitle: Revenge and Retribution (Graham Saga #6)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321751
Publisher: Silverwood Books
First Published: 29th June 2014 (Kindle) / 1st Jul 2014 (paperback)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Revenge & Retribution’ is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them. On a sunny May afternoon, Philip finally achieves his aim and over the course of the coming days Alex sees her whole life unravelling, leaving her family permanently maimed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Review:
Just when you think Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga can’t get any better, she releases a sixth title in the series and knocks your socks off all over again!

I came to the series at the fourth book, and was instantly hooked. Ever since then, I’ve been champing at the bit to get at the next book, and the next book, and the next book. This sixth installment definitely satisfied my seemingly insatiable appetite for continuance of this family’s story. The characters we already know and love, as well as those we love to hate, are all here, but as ever, nobody is safe – as with any good author, we live in constant dread of losing one of our favourites, so that my fingernails were continually bitten down to the quick as I turned the pages.

There’s always the risk, with an ongoing series, that things will go a little stale, that readers will become bored with the constant drama thrown at the characters, but that is not the case here – I honestly feel that Belfrage is incapable of disappointing with this series as it just seems to keep on giving in terms of plot, character and writing. The witchcraft accusation, coming at a time when to be found guilty of being a witch was to be put to death, is a natural progression and adds some incredibly tense moments, which, when coupled with everything else that is going on at Graham’s Garden, make for a life that is still fraught with danger from all angles, even in a land of opportunity.

This is an unmissable chapter in the saga which will please the fans no end. It’s rare that I give top marks to a book, but in this case, I couldn’t give it anything less.

BLOG TOUR: Queen of Bedlam by Laura Purcell


QUEEN-OF-BEDLAM-copyTitle: Queen of Bedlam
Author: Laura Purcell
ISBN: 978-1444720808
Publisher: Myrmidon Books Ltd
First Published: 10 June 2014 (paperback) / 23 June 2014 (Kindle)
No .of pages: 432

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
London 1788. The calm order of Queen Charlotte’s court is shattered by screams. The King of England is going mad. Left alone with thirteen children and with the country at war, Charlotte has to fight to hold her husband’s throne. It is a time of unrest and revolutions but most of all Charlotte fears the King himself, someone she can no longer love or trust. She has lost her marriage to madness and there is nothing she can do except continue to do her royal duty. Her six daughters are desperate to escape their palace asylum. Their only chance lies in a good marriage, but no prince wants the daughter of a madman. They are forced to take love wherever they can find it, with devastating consequences. The moving true story of George III’s madness and the women whose lives it destroyed.

Review:
I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, but usually, my tastes run to Tudor or Roman escapades. Queen of Bedlam, however, has made the Regency period a whole lot more attractive to me!

I knew a little about the period and the situation of George III and the Prince Regent before coming to the novel, largely due to films such as The Madness of King George and television shows like Blackadder III, so although I wasn’t coming to the book blind, I knew there was a lot I didn’t know. I was pleased to find the novel was engaging and informative, without ever being condescending or presumptive. It is equal parts historical fact and musings as to the inner thoughts and motivations of the royal family during what must have been an incredibly trying time for them all.

The glimpse into the workings of the royal family as the ruling monarch descends into madness, leaving the country effectively bereft of leadership while at war, is fascinating, and the strength of the women, in particular Queen Charlotte and her eldest daughter, Princess Royal (also named Charlotte), must have been immense to keep things together until the Regency was established, putting the Prince of Wales (also named George, after his father), at the reigns.

The writing flows beautifully, making for a very pleasurable reading experience that leaves one with a far better knowledge of Regency Royalty and how they must have felt dealing with life, love, loss, and a father (and ruler!) whose mood changed like the British weather, and whose very sanity was constantly in question.

See Laura Purcell’s author guest post HERE.

BLOG TOUR: The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J Rose – Review


The Collector of Dying Breaths by M J RoseTitle: The Collector of Dying Breaths
Author: M J Rose
ISBN: 978-1455869503
Publisher: Atria Books
First Published: 8th April 2014 (hardback/audio)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Fantastic Fiction):
Florence, Italy – 1533: An orphan named René le Florentin is plucked from poverty to become Catherine de Medici’s perfumer. Traveling with the young duchessina from Italy to France, René brings with him a cache of secret documents from the monastery where he was trained: recipes for exotic fra­grances and potent medicines – and a formula for an alchemic process said to have the poten­tial to reanimate the dead.

In France, René becomes not only the greatest perfumer in the country, but also the most dangerous, creating deadly poisons for his Queen to use against her rivals. But while mixing herbs and essences under the light of flickering candles, René doesn’t begin to imag­ine the tragic and personal consequences for which his lethal potions will be responsible.

Paris, France – The Present: A renowned mythologist, Jac L’Etoile – trying to recover from personal heartache by throw­ing herself into her work – learns of the sixteenth-century perfumer who may have been working on an elixir that would unlock the secret to immortality. She becomes obsessed with René le Florentin’s work – particularly when she discovers the dying breaths he had collected during his lifetime.

Jac’s efforts put her in the path of her estranged lover, Griffin North, a linguist who has already begun translating René le Flo­rentin’s mysterious formula. Together they confront an eccentric heiress in possession of a world-class art collection, a woman who has her own dark purpose for the elixir . . . for which she believes the ends will justify her deadly means.

Review:
When writing across two very different time periods, there is always a risk of confusing the plots and, consequently, the reader, and if takes the deft skills of a practiced writer to get it just right. Such is the case with The Collector of Dying Breaths – M J Rose manages to blend the two seamlessly to superb effect.

Both time periods are written in such a way that all the senses are excited in a visceral manner, and the characters, both the actual historical figures and the fictional ones, seem to leap off the page to lead lives of their own outside of the words written there. One can imagine Melinoe wandering round the halls of her luxurious home, caressing her collections of art, while René, in another time, is concocting his perfumes for Catherine de Medici, and at the same time, Jac and Griffin are wandering the back streets of Paris to find a small, romantic cafe.

Although this is the sixth book in the series, it is the first one I have read. However, it is so well written that it works just as well as a stand alone novel (at present, I do not know exactly how it ties in with the rest of the series, but it will be fun finding out when I go back to read the rest of them!).

Rose has a way with words that grips the reader and won’t let go till exhaustion forces one to lay down the book or risk dropping it – it’s one of those books that one simply cannot put down unless absolutely forced, bu one is so caught up in the mystery that it simply does not matter. Indeed, nothing matters but finishing the next chapter. And the next. And the next, until the exciting conclusion is reached at last.

A word to the wise – don’t read this one in bed unless you can afford to be up all night and cancel your morning meetings!

BLOG TOUR: An interview with Jeannie Ruesch


cloaked in danger by Jeannie RueschAs part of the blog tour for Cloaked In Danger (see my review HERE), I asked the author, Jeannie Ruesch, a few questions which she was kind enough to take time out of her very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Ms Ruesch!

Cloaked in Danger is filled with intrigue, but also the opulence of Regency London society. What is it about that time and place, and the Ton, of course, that attracted you?
Thanks so much for having me today! There are so many eras of history that I have hopes of setting stories in, but the Regency era worked so well for these books. It was a natural fit to set this family into an era where the rules were incredibly restrictive—knowing my characters would have a difficult time living in between those lines. I enjoy flipping their world upside down and finding out how they’ll respond, how they’ll push the boundaries even when they’re trying to abide within them. It’s a golden path for conflict.

Aria Whitney is an unconventional character living in a society where flying in the face of convention could, and would, completely ruin a young woman’s chances in life. What made you write such a modern character and set her in such a restrictive situation?
In every era, there’s been a “modern” version of women, those who weren’t afraid to be themselves, even if they didn’t fit the mold. Aria was born out of believing that no matter the era, no matter the restrictions, there have always been –and will always be—women who look at life differently. I thought how incredible would it be for a young woman who had lived a very free existence to suddenly be forced into London society? How would she react? How would she find her way in this world that she wanted nothing to do with? How would she feel about falling in love with someone in this world?

Aria was raised in a very unconventional way, traveling the world with her father, living in encampments, seeing every aspect of different cultures around the world. Her priorities were completely different and for her, finding her father was far more important than what society thought of her. But it also made her path to success that much more difficult.

What inspired you to historical fiction? And why do you think this genre appeals to so many readers? Are there any other genres you plan on trying?
I have been a long-time reader of historical fiction and historical romance. I imagine for many, it’s the peek back into our history, learning about how life was different and the escape historical fiction brings from today’s technology-filled world. (And I say that even though I read books on my Kindle…) I love the books that I learn tidbits of history from, and I love reading a book and then researching the facts to know what the author has taught me or what they’ve created. So being on the flipside of that is incredibly fulfilling.

My other favorite love is suspense, and Cloaked in Danger is a historical romantic suspense – a smushing together all the things I love about historical romance and romantic suspense. There have been murders, serial killers and all levels of the crime that are more typical in contemporary romantic suspense books since the dawn of time. I find it fascinating to blend the opulent with the darker sides of history, especially without today’s modern abilities to solve things. Beyond this series of books, I have plans for other eras from Victorian to World War II, but always in the wonderful blended historical suspense genre. Great stories ahead, I hope!

How long does it take you to research an historical novel, and do you enjoy that aspect of writing?
I love research. Love, love, love it. I am continually fascinated by history, and I pile up the nonfiction books as much as the fiction. One of these days, I will find the right story to honor the Elizabethan time period. It just hasn’t come to me yet.

I don’t know that I could say how long it takes to research but I love to immerse myself in the times. Learning the secrets of a past time is incredible. Reading the stories of everyday life, the journal entries and letters of ordinary people and extraordinary ones. Pouring over maps.

Digging for the secrets, skeletons and the shocking crimes that existed. One of the books I got for Christmas was a Definitive History of the Phenomenon of Serial Murder, and it includes the history of a sadistic Countess from the 16th century. This stuff fascinates me.

Can you tell us a little about any other forthcoming novels on which you are working?
The novel I’m currently finishing involves another of Adam’s sisters, Lily and her path to happiness and love. I can’t give away too much about the story without telling secrets about Cloaked in Danger, so mums the word until that book is out. But I can say that Lily’s story picks up about three years after Cloaked in Danger and her life has taken a turn she never expected…

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m very excited to hear about that forthcoming novel!

My thanks, again, to Ms Ruesch and her PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

BLOG TOUR: Another interview with Christopher Gortner


The Tudor ConspiracyAs part of the blog tour for The Tudor Conspiracy (see my review HERE), I asked the author, Christopher Gortner, a few questions which he was kind enough to take time out of his very busy schedule to answer. Thank you, Mr Gortner!

(You can see my previous interview with C W Gortner HERE, along with my review for The Queen’s Vow HERE.)

The Spymaster Chronicles are set during the Tudor period, focusing on the legitimate children of Henry VIII. What drew you to that particular period, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I find that while the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I are, to a certain extent, well covered in fiction, the so-called forgotten Tudors, Edward and Mary, are far less so. I have always loved the Tudor era, ever since I was a child growing up in southern Spain. I read voraciously about the Tudors and found the tumult, the drama, and far-reaching consequences of this relatively short-lived dynasty fascinating. I decided to set the first two books of the Spymaster Chronicles in Edward VI’s and Mary I’s reigns because the realm underwent significant upheaval in a short span of time. Issues of faith, economic, social and political uncertainty were all at play, and Elizabeth herself – a major figure in these novels— found herself in some of the most perilous situations of her life, without recourse to her power yet as a queen. This time-period offers a wealth of situations for a novelist with a fictional spy to engage with; it just seemed the perfect milieu for Brendan and his friends.

The court intrigue and political upheaval of the Tudor period always make for an exciting setting. How long did it take you to do all the research on the real historical figures in the book, and how many liberties (if any) did you take with factual evidence?
Research for every book I write can take years. I’m fortunate in that I’ve been studying and exploring this era for most of my life, so some of the heavy research work has already been done. Elizabeth is such a charismatic yet enigmatic subject; as much as has been written about her, we still don’t know many telling answers, such as, in The Tudor Conspiracy, how involved was she in the plot to depose her sister? It makes for amazing conjecture. With the Spymaster books, while I ground the events in actual historical incidents, I do take liberties with the time-line and circumstances surrounding them, mostly to facilitate the ease of the reader, as things can get very confusing. These books are spy thrillers and my lead character Brendan must uncover secrets that are not recorded for posterity. However, that said, I strive to remain true to my actual historical characters and what is known about them, while fitting them into the plot. In particular, I do my best to show them in their complexity, as fallible flesh-and-blood people with weaknesses and vulnerabilities, as well as strengths. I also want to show the brutality lurking under the glamour of the era. The Tudor era was not an easy time to be alive and the court was often a snake pit of rivalries and machinations, where power was the only coin. Everyone had an agenda and you had to tread very carefully in order to survive. Brendan learns this the hard way.

Brendan Prescott is a very likeable and “normal” kind of guy whose sensibilities often seem very forward by the standards of the time (possibly very contemporary to our own modern day sensibilities). Is he based on anyone you know? Or is he a composite of real historical figures? How did you go about blending such a modern personality with an historical setting?
He is purely imaginary, though I suppose he does share some of my personality traits. For example, he likes animals and is loyal, often to a fault; he doubts his own abilities and wonders if he’s doing the right thing. He’s a stranger in his own land with a deadly secret, a permanent outsider who has to cultivate a keen eye and ear. I wanted him to be a 16th century man with a modern-like sensibility because he offers a fascinating juxtaposition to those around him. I do think there were some men like him in the Tudor era, albeit rare ones; and he is the exception to the rule, which is the principal reason he gains Elizabeth’s trust. She sees in him someone she can depend upon, who is not like anyone else she knows.

Do you enjoy the promotional side of things, such as public readings and signings? If so, which has been your most enjoyable experience?
I do enjoy promotion. It can get tiring, particularly as you’re often writing the next book at the same time as you’re doing events, but meeting readers is always a joy and an honor. I feel very privileged to be able to write for a living; it’s never a guarantee that every writer will make an impact, much as we wish otherwise. One of my most enjoyable experiences was the Historical Novel Society’s conference in the UK in 2012. I had not been to a UK-based conference before and had the honor to speak there. I also met many UK historical writers I admire, and I always love visiting London.

What inspired you to historical fiction? And why do you think this genre appeals to so many readers? Are there any other genres you plan on trying?
Growing up in southern Spain, there was history all around me. I lived near a ruined castle that had belonged to Isabella of Castile and visited many historical sites in Europe as a child. I read voraciously, as well, in particular historical fiction, so when the time came to try my hand at a novel, historical fiction seemed the natural choice. I think the genre appeals to so many readers for the same reasons it appeals to me: historical fiction clothes the skeletons of the past with emotion, dramatizes the bare bones of fact and allows us to experience the past in a visceral way. We find that these people who are either just names in books or legendary figures veiled by myth are, in fact, human beings like us, who suffer and aspire and yearn for many of the same things we do.

As for other genres, I do hope one day to write a supernatural thriller, as well as a family saga. I already have some preliminary plot ideas, so let’s see how they develop.

Thank you for hosting me during my virtual tour. I hope your readers will enjoy THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY. To find out more about my work, please visit me at:  www.cwgortner.com

My thanks, again, to Mr FGortner and his PR team for inviting me to be part of this blog tour.

BLOG TOUR: The Tudor Conspiracy by Christopher Gortner


The Tudor ConspiracyTitle: The Tudor Conspiracy (Spymaster Chronicles #2)
Author: Christopher Gortner
ISBN: 978-1444720877
Publisher: Hodder
First Published: 16 July 2013 (Audio) / 18 July 2013 (Hardback/Kindle) / 16 January 2014 (Paperback)
No .of pages: 352

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
1553: Harsh winter falls across the realm. Mary Tudor has become queen and her enemies are imprisoned in the Tower, but rumours of a plot to depose her swirl around the one person many consider to be England’s heir and only hope – her half-sister, Princess Elizabeth.

Brendan Prescott’s foe and mentor, the spymaster Cecil, brings news that sends Brendan back to London on a dangerous mission. Intent upon trying to save Elizabeth, he soon finds himself working as a double-agent for Mary herself.

Plunged into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with a shadowy opponent who hides a terrifying secret, Brendan races against time to retrieve a cache of the princess’s private letters, even as he begins to realize that in this dark world of betrayal and deceit – where power is supreme and sister can turn against sister – nobody can be trusted.

Review:
Although this is the second novel in The Spymaster Chronicles, it can very easily be read as a stand-alone book with no detriment to one’s enjoyment. Past events are alluded to and are handled deftly so that the transition is seamless and the plot unfolds naturally without stalling whenever something from the previous installment is mentioned.

Gortner’s love for the Tudor period and the political machinations of those in the Tudor court is bountifully evident in the lush recreation of the sights, sounds and smells of Mary Tudor’s Catholic court, and all the danger and intrigue of a spy and double agent, however unwilling, is incredibly exciting.

Prescott is a wonderfully flawed and natural character and his role in the unfolding events, and his reaction to them, is realistic and sympathetic. We hurt when he hurts, fear for him in danger, and rejoice at his successes right alongside him – he’s an everyman hero and one genuinely wants him to get through every pitfall unscathed.

It’s an intricate plot, with myriad twists and turns, that hurtles along at a hectic pace, leaving you breathless at the conclusion. If you try The Spymaster Chronicles, you will not be disappointed – Gortner is proving himself a force to be reckoned with in the world of historical fiction! With love, loss, action and adventure in spades, The Tudor Conspiracy has more than enough to keep any reader engrossed from start to finish.

See my exclusive interview with Christopher Gortner HERE.