Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: The Butterfly Palace by Colleen Coble

Publisher: HarperCollins Christian Publishing
Pub. Date: January 28th, 2014
Pages/Length: 332 pages / 9 hours, 26 minutes


Elegance and wealth. Privilege and politics. The extravagance of the Butterfly Palace
overwhelmed Lily’s senses and nearly smothered her painful memories. She pushed
away her misgivings . . . She was perfectly safe in this huge house.

Austin, Texas—1904: Abandoned by the love of her life and still mourning the loss of her mother, Lily Donaldson has turned her back on the pain and come to Austin for a fresh start, working for the Marshall family as a kitchen maid in their luxurious mansion, the Butterfly Palace. The tasks before her are legion, and her mistress less than pleasant, but at least Lily’s new life will be, if nothing else, distracting.

But one night, while serving at a dinner party, Lily recognizes the man who abandoned her, Andy, her liaison from the livery stable, the blacksmith’s son . . .sitting among the distinguished guests. Though he recognizes her, Andy does not acknowledge her aloud, and Lily is left reeling, flabbergasted, and irate.

But before she can get an explanation, the path of the Servant Girl Killer swerves very close to the Butterfly Palace, sowing terror among the maids. Having come to Austin to start anew, Lily suddenly feels trapped in a spider web. How can she know who to trust in a house where lies come dressed in fine suits and deceit in silk gowns the colors of butterfly wings?

What Did I Think About the Story?

What initially drew me to The Butterfly Palace was this gorgeous cover and the fact that it's historical fiction that takes place in a time and place I haven't read about before. I bought the audiobook and thought it sounded like the perfect thing to listen to on my commute since the various mysteries surrounding Lily and her new life in Austin should keep me interested and engaged in the story. While this is somewhat true, I can't say that my time with The Butterfly Palace was completely entertaining.

I will say that I loved Lily's character. She goes through so much during this story but somehow keeps her wits about her and never loses sight of  who she really is or what she believes to be the right thing to do. She's a bright and positive character surrounded by a lot of negative and unlikable characters and I kept hoping she would end up safe and happy, whatever that would mean to her.

The descriptions of the Butterfly Palace were beautiful as well and I enjoyed any portions of the story that took place within its walls (both figuratively and literally!). The author did a wonderful job of bringing the settings to life - both the palace and surrounding Austin - and the narrator did much to bring this world alive as well. She had a very soothing voice and was wonderful to listen to as she described all the beautiful things surrounding Lily in her new home. She kept the pace interesting, however it was her voice that also did much to bring down my enjoyment of the story.

The narrator seemed to have the worst time modulating her voice between characters and situations....it was very one note! All the characters sounded pretty much the same and the narrator didn't do anything to change her voice to build up the tension when it was needed. She might state that one of the characters was shouting or angry but would then not shout or act angry herself.  This ended up pulling me out of the story somewhat as I kept noticing the difference between what she was reading and how she was reading it.

I also think there was just too much trying to be tackled here. We have the mystery of what really happened to Lily's father, the mystery of why her beau left her without warning and why he is acting so strange when she seeing him again in Austin, her difficulty trying to navigate her new life with the horrid owners of the Butterfly Palace, the serial killer going around killing servant woman and her attempts to figure out who it is and not get killed herself, the mystery surrounding who steals something from the Butterfly Palace and who might be trying to kill the man who owns the house, something that is tied into the politics occurring in Austin...it's just too much! I would have much preferred the author picking one or two mysteries to be solved or Lily's story mixed in with maybe one outside mystery. To top it off  most of the characters weren't that likeable so I didn't really care what happened to them anyways.

At the end of the day I can't say that I didn't enjoy the overall story. There were enough elements that kept me listening and going until the end and I was surprised by some of the resolutions of the many mysteries going on, which is always a plus. I would probably recommend that anyone interested in the story read it instead of listening to it, however, since much of my issue with the story stems from its narrator. Either way I would say that it was good enough that I would consider reading more from the author.

What Did I Think About the Cover?      

I absolutely love it! While the house isn't exactly what I would have envisioned after listening to the description within the story, it is as grand and opulent as described and would definitely want to make me read more about what hidden secrets are within its walls. The muted coloring also makes it feel older, which fits the time period given.

My Rating: 3.0/5.0 

I bought a copy of The Butterfly Palace for my own collection. To read  more reviews and find links to where can purchase a copy go to Goodreads HERE.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Tip of My Wish List - Women Who Ruled

To change things up this year, I've decided to do a monthly post on 5 books from my insane wish list that I am most excited about getting to. Some might be new, some old and some out of print...my wish list has it all! I'll pick a theme each month and share my wish list post on the last Friday of the month. I know a number of excellent reviewers who will be doing similar posts and I'll be sure to link to their posts as well so you can see all the goodies we're excited about and, hopefully, add a few new book to your own wish list. 

For May I've decided to highlight books about bad ass women from history. These are women warriors and rulers during times that did not typically see women in those roles.  I'll link the titles to Goodreads where you can read reviews and find the various ways to purchase a copy if it sounds like your style. I really hope you enjoy and let me know if you've read any of these or have others you would add to the list.


WARRIOR WOMEN weaves science, mythology and mystical cultures into a bold new historical tapestry of female warriors, heroines and leaders who have been left out of the history books...until now. From China to Celtic lands, warriors, priestesses and matriarchs come to life in this accessible and dramatic account of one archaeologist's search for the truth. Jeannine Davis-Kimball, a real-life Indiana Jones, recounts her exciting and dangerous career uncovering the real story behind Amazons, banshees and mummies. Within all these groups, Davis-Kimball has uncovered an entire ancient class of courageous women who played vital and respected roles. WARRIOR WOMEN is the first mainstream book to explore the lost world of women warriors that stretches from Europe to Asia. What emerges is not only a thrilling and exotic ride, but a provocative re-examination of gender roles for the 21st century.

In this panoramic work of history, Lady Antonia Fraser looks at women who led armies and empires: Cleopatra, Isabella of Spain, Jinga Mbandi, Margaret Thatcher, Zenobia, and Indira Gandhi, among others.

An engrossing biography of the longest-reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt and the story of her audacious rise to power in a man’s world.

Hatshepsut, the daughter of a general who took Egypt's throne without status as a king’s son and a mother with ties to the previous dynasty, was born into a privileged position of the royal household. Married to her brother, she was expected to bear the sons who would legitimize the reign of her father’s family. Her failure to produce a male heir was ultimately the twist of fate that paved the way for her inconceivable rule as a cross-dressing king. At just twenty, Hatshepsut ascended to the rank of king in an elaborate coronation ceremony that set the tone for her spectacular twenty-two year reign as co-regent with Thutmose III, the infant king whose mother Hatshepsut out-maneuvered for a seat on the throne. Hatshepsut was a master strategist, cloaking her political power plays with the veil of piety and sexual expression. Just as women today face obstacles from a society that equates authority with masculinity, Hatshepsut had to shrewdly operate the levers of a patriarchal system to emerge as Egypt's second female pharaoh.

Hatshepsut had successfully negotiated a path from the royal nursery to the very pinnacle of authority, and her reign saw one of Ancient Egypt’s most prolific building periods. Scholars have long speculated as to why her images were destroyed within a few decades of her death, all but erasing evidence of her rule. Constructing a rich narrative history using the artifacts that remain, noted Egyptologist Kara Cooney offers a remarkable interpretation of how Hatshepsut rapidly but methodically consolidated power—and why she fell from public favor just as quickly. The Woman Who Would Be King traces the unconventional life of an almost-forgotten pharaoh and explores our complicated reactions to women in power.

This is the first major study of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes, whose story is one of rebellion, intrigue, betrayal, and scandal. A contemporary of the much more famous Boudica, Cartimandua chose to support Roman rule rather than to rebel—indeed she betrayed the rebel Caractacus to the Romans. As a result she was awarded great wealth and held her position as queen until AD 69 when the husband she had divorced forced her into exile on his second attempt to take back control of the tribe. This is a unique look at a fascinating yet often overlooked historical figure, the world in which she lived, and the influences that shaped the turbulent events in her life.

The history of one woman's battle against an empire, and the story of how Boudica became one of the most legendary figures in history

It is Britain, AD 60. Three Roman towns are in ashes and thousands lie dead. With her new allies, the Trinovantes and the Catuvellauni, Boudica and the Iceni march defiantly towards their enemy seeking one last pivotal victory to drive the Romans from their land forever. Not far away the Roman governor, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, awaits them with his ground chosen, his strategy decided, and his small force ready to face the great native army. If his strategy is sound they will prevail, if not they will be massacred, losing the province forever. Is it really revenge Boudica wants for the vile humiliations the Romans heaped on her, or is she playing for much higher stakes? Can Paulinus defeat the odds to win the day? To answer these questions, this book reexamines events from a fresh, tactical perspective and produce a clearer picture of a revolt crushed on a newly suggested battle site, offering a new interpretation of a battle that decided 2,000 years of Britain's cultural heritage.   


Check out these lovely blogs for more books to add to your wish list:

Heather at The Maiden's Court shares five WWII novels on her wish list HERE.

Erin at Flashlight Commentary shares her top alternative history novels HERE.

Stephanie at Layered Pages gives us five Christian Fiction titles she's looking forward to reading HERE.

Magdalena from A Bookaholic Swede shares five novels with love stories set during WW2 HERE.
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired Books tells us five of the banned books she'd like to read HERE.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Spotlight on Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert + Tour-Wide Giveaway!!

Publication Date: February 1, 2016
Persevero Press; Thorndike (Large Print)
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Large Print

Genre: Historical Fiction/Biographical Fiction

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the wife of the 1932 Democratic presidential candidate, the two women become deeply, intimately involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship that ends only with both women’s deaths in the 1960s—all of it documented by 3300 letters exchanged over thirty years.

Now, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert recreates the fascinating story of Hick and Eleanor, set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War. Loving Eleanor is Hick’s personal story, revealing Eleanor as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation’s First Lady, as well as by a compelling need to care and be cared for. For her part, Hick is revealed as an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life.

Drawing on extensive research in the letters that were sealed for a decade following Hick’s death, Albert creates a compelling narrative: a dramatic love story, vividly portraying two strikingly unconventional women, neither of whom is satisfied to live according to the script society has written for her. Loving Eleanor is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see and celebrates the depth and durability of women’s love.

Praise for Loving Eleanor

“Albert captures Hick’s spirit with energetic prose, painting a colorful picture of her fascinating life together with and apart from Eleanor. Although this memoir is fictional, the author draws upon thousands of personal letters, first-person accounts by others, and further research to present a compelling possible narrative of the relationship between Eleanor and Hick. Albert’s illuminating afterword adds important context to her narrative choices, and a comprehensive bibliography will encourage additional research. This warm, extensively researched novel will entrance readers and inspire them to look further into the lives of two extraordinary women.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Albert captures the turbulent thirties and forties with affecting detail, writing a novel notable not only for its emotional authenticity, but for its careful historicity. The nuances of Eleanor and Hick’s relationship are both moving and involving. Loving Eleanor is an intelligent love story with huge historical appeal.” —Foreword Reviews

“Susan Albert has done it again with another engaging, rich portrait, this time of women in love. Drawn from history, the love story of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok is full of excitement, drama and pathos. Both women of great intelligence and deep feelings, Eleanor and Lorena move from lovers to lifelong friends in the context of the most turbulent times of the 20th Century. As same-sex relationships finally move toward full acceptance in our culture, Albert’s book reminds us that love has always been love, no matter the partners.” —Robin Gerber, author of Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way

“Loving Eleanor, Susan Wittig Albert’s novelized memoir of Lorena Hickok’s intimate relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, is both richly nuanced and impressively detailed. Drawn from the thirty years of correspondence Hickok donated to the FDR Library toward the end of her life, “Hick’s” voice felt utterly authentic to me, always real, raw and compelling. Hick is a dichotomy—a tough, streetwise Associated Press reporter, and a tender, devoted friend and lover. This is not only an important book, but a great read. Loving Eleanor deserves to be at the top of your reading list!” —Ellen Hart, author of The Grave Soul, a Jane Lawless Mystery

“Susan Albert has, with imagination and deep knowledge of the historical record, supplied the missing pieces of the love story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. Here is everything we wish we knew. I couldn’t put it down.” —Leila Rupp, Professor of Feminist Studies, UC Santa Barbara

“This birds-eye view of the FDR years is engaging from the first sentence. With Eleanor Roosevelt’s long-time lover as its narrator it navigates the catastrophes of the era and the heartbreak of women loving women in an unwelcoming time.” —Rebecca Coffey, author of Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story

Buy the Book


About the Author

Susan Wittig Albert is the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of the forthcoming historical novel Loving Eleanor (2016), about the intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok; and A Wilder Rose (2014), about Rose Wilder Lane and the writing of the Little House books.

Her award-winning fiction also includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Darling Dahlias, Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.

Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); Writing from Life: Telling the Soul’s Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman’s Guide to Success Off the Career Track.

She is founder and current president (2015-2017) of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

For more information please visit www.susanalbert.com and www.LovingEleanor.com, or read her blog. You can also find Susan on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Like the Loving Eleanor page on Facebook.

Giveaway Time!!

Three copies of Loving Eleanor by Sisan Wittig Albert are up for grabs in this tour-wide giveaway! To enter, please use the GLEAM form HERE.
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on May 31st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Giveaway is open to US & Canada 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.
Good Luck!!

Loving Eleanor Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, April 26

Review at Bibliotica

Wednesday, April 27

Review at Broken Teepee

Thursday, April 28

Spotlight at The Lit Bitch

Friday, April 29

Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Monday, May 2

Review at A Chick Who Reads

Tuesday, May 3

Spotlight at I Heart Reading

Wednesday, May 4

Review at A Holland Reads

Thursday, May 5

Interview at A Holland Reads

Friday, May 6

Review at The Book Binder’s Daughter
Spotlight at To Read, or Not to Read

Monday, May 9

Review at The Book Junkie Reads

Tuesday, May 10

Review at Back Porchervations

Thursday, May 12

Interview at Back Porchervations

Monday, May 16

Guest Post at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, May 17

Spotlight at The True Book Addict

Wednesday, May 18

Review at Book Nerd

Friday, May 20

Guest Post at Creating Herstory

Monday, May 23

Review at Unabridged Chick
Interview at Layered Pages

Tuesday, May 24

Interview at Unabridged Chick

Wednesday, May 25

Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Thursday, May 26

Spotlight at A Literary Vacation

Monday, May 30

Review at Jorie Loves a Story
Review at Just One More Chapter

Tuesday, May 31

Review at Luxury Reading
Review at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More
Interview at Jorie Loves a Story


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

TLC Book Tours: Review of June by Miranda Beverly-Whitemore + Giveaway!!

Publisher: Crown
Pub. Date: May 31st, 2016
Pages: 400


From the New York Times bestselling author of Bittersweet comes a novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake made sixty years ago that threatens to change a modern family forever. 

Twenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

What Did I Think About the Story?

This book absolutely surprised me, all in wonderful ways! I was prepared, from the synopsis, for a story about denied love that travels through two storylines and a mystery at the center for the reader to uncover. While these things are a part of  this story, there is so much more: an amalgamation of nearly every type of love and the myriad of emotions those loves can elicit, the redefining of the word "family" and how that means so much more than simply shared blood, a cast of characters so well drawn that I could perfectly imagine them as they flitted or stomped through the story...and even some ghosts! There were so many remarkable things about this story that I'm sure I won't do it justice in this review. But I'll try!

First off, the structure of the story is perfect for it. It goes back and forth between June of 1955 when a movie called Erie Canal was filmed in the small town of St. Jude, Ohio and June (and, later, the autumn) of 2015 when Cassie Danvers has returned to her family home in St. Jude, Ohio, to mourn her grandmother's death but ends up on a mission with the daughters of the star of Erie Canal, Jack Montgomery, to piece together what really happened that summer of 1955 and the consequences and repercussions those actions would continue to have through to the present time. From the beginning the reader gets a taste of all the beauty and  horror that has occurred in St. Jude but the specifics are slowly unfolded throughout both storylines. This way of pacing the story is delicious, dropping just enough information before switching the timelines so you can't help but keep turning pages to see what was going to happen. I've read books that employ this structure before and usually do enjoy it, but I seem to have just loved it even more with this story.

Something else I simply adored about this story is the family house - Two Oaks - itself. The house (which is really more of a mansion, dilapidated in 2015 but still grand and proud) is it's own character, with desires and emotions and expectations, and actually works to transfer all it has seen into Cassie's dreams as well as, at times, her waking hours. The spirits that have not only inhabited its walls but those that admired it from afar swirl all around it, giving it it's own heartbeat of sorts. I've never quite seen anything like Two Oaks but I definitely wish I could...it's simply enchanting.

I don't want to be remiss in mentioning the other fascinating characters, the flesh and blood people that populated Two Oaks and St. Jude throughout the story. My favorites by far were Lindie (June's younger best friend) and Cassie. Both have quite a lot in common - stubbornness, pride, and a certain naivete (which they both learn from as they advance through the story) about how their actions, which they believe at the time to be right, can come to have lasting effects on those around them. Lindie was especially wonderful, feeling to me like a slightly older Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird and one that had more heart, emotional clarity, and bravery than one might expect from someone of her age. On the flip side, both Tate Montgomery and her mother, Diane DeSoto (especially Diane DeSoto) are selfish, manipulative people who I enjoyed disliking as much as I enjoyed loving Cassie and Lindie. Regardless of my personal feelings for the characters, all of them are wonderfully written and sure to evoke emotions in any reader.

The mysteries at the heart of the story - why did Jack Montgomery leave Cassie all his money? What really happened that summer of 1955? What secrets was Cassie's grandmother hiding from her? - are all answered by the balm-like ending and everything comes wonderfully full circle. The fact that the story encompasses so many love stories - those shared and those hidden, those reciprocated and those that are not, those that heal and those that hurt - as well as every type of emotion I can think of still fascinates me. I have a feeling I'll be thinking about this one for a long time and recommending it to just about everyone I can.    


What Did I Think About the Cover?

When I first saw it I thought it was nice. Who doesn't love a sweeping staircase? Now, however, having read the story, I think it could have included so much more to really represent the story. I have quite a few ideas of what it could look like, but I think a party swirling around the room, with either two people together in the middle or looking at each other across the floor, would  have been perfect. It's still a pretty cover, I just think it's a little simplistic for the complicated story within.

My Rating: 5.0/5.0

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a free copy of June in exchange for an honest review! Be sure to continue below for information on the author, the book, and the blog tour, and how you can win a copy for yourself!



Buy the Book


About the Author 


MIRANDA BEVERLY-WHITTEMORE is the author of three other novels: New York Times bestseller Bittersweet; Set Me Free, which won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize, given annually for the best book of fiction by an American woman; and The Effects of Light. A recipient of the Crazyhorse Prize in Fiction, she lives and writes in Brooklyn.
Find out more about Miranda on her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Giveaway Time!!

Thanks to TLC Book Tours I have one copy of June to offer up for giveaway, open to US only! All you have to do is enter your name and email address on the giveaway form HERE. Please be sure to leave both your name and your email on the form so I can contact you if you are my winner (no email address, no entry!). For extra entries you can follow the blog in various ways (all links are on the right hand sidebar) and leave the name/email you follow with on the form. That's it! Please make sure you actually follow me the way you state for the extra entries as I check and those that are incorrect will be removed.

I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on June 1st, 2016 and will announce the winner here as well as email the winner for their mailing address. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email before I have to pick another winner. If you have already won this giveaway on another site please let me know so I can pick a new winner and give someone else a chance to win a copy of this great book.
Good Luck!!

June Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 23rd: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Tuesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, May 25th: A Literary Vacation
Thursday, May 26th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, May 27th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, May 30th: Buried Under Books
Tuesday, May 31st: FictionZeal
Tuesday, May 31st: Books a la Mode  – author guest post
Wednesday, June 1st: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Thursday, June 2nd: Luxury Reading
Friday, June 3rd: You Can Read Me Anything
Monday, June 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, June 6th: Must Read Faster
Tuesday, June 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, June 8th: Fictionophile
Thursday, June 9th: Just Commonly
Friday, June 10th: A Bookaholic Swede
Monday, June 13th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, June 14th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, June 15th: Kritter’s Ramblings
Thursday, June 16th: Write Read Life
Friday, June 17th: Bibliotica

Monday, May 23, 2016

Spotlight on Eliza Waite by Ashley Sweeney + Giveaway!!

Publication date: May 16, 2016
Publisher: She Writes Press

Pages: 317
Paperback: ISBN (13) 978-1-63152-058-7

Genre: Fiction/First Novel

After the tragic death of her husband and son on a remote island in Washington’s San Juan Islands, Eliza Waite joins the throng of miners, fortune hunters, business owners, con men, and prostitutes traveling north to the Klondike in the spring of 1898. When Eliza arrives in Skagway, Alaska, she has less than fifty dollars to her name and not a friend in the world—but with some savvy, and with the help of some unsavory characters, Eliza opens a successful bakery on Skagway’s main street and befriends a madam at a neighboring bordello. Occupying this space—a place somewhere between traditional and nontraditional feminine roles—Eliza awakens emotionally and sexually. But when an unprincipled man from her past turns up in Skagway, Eliza is fearful that she will be unable to conceal her identity and move forward with her new life.

Part diary, part recipe file, and part Gold Rush history, ELIZA WAITE transports readers to the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of a raucous and fleeting era of American history.

Praise for Eliza Waite

"Sweeney’s debut novel is a beautifully written work of historical fiction tracing one woman’s life in the wilds of nineteenth-century America. Readers will be immersed in Eliza’s world, which Sweeney has so authentically and skillfully rendered."—Booklist 

“Meticulously researched, ELIZA WAITE transports us to the Klondike Gold Rush, where a resourceful young widow searches a more elusive prize: happiness in a re-forged life."—Pamela Schoenewaldt, USA Today Bestselling author of When We Were Strangers.

“Eliza Waite is a lively and compelling narrative of one woman’s quest to navigate the social turmoil of the late 19th century Pacific Northwest. Traversing the San Juan Islands, Seattle, and the Klondike, Ashley Sweeney offers an insightful look into the challenges and opportunities of the Gold Rush for charting a new course in life.”—Polly Myers, University of Washington History Department

“This book hooked me from the first page. Just beautiful.”—For the Love of Books

“Cast off by her family and living in the shadow of unthinkable tragedy, Eliza Waite finds the courage to leave her remote island home to join the sea of miners, fortune hunters, con men and prostitutes in the Klondike during the spring of 1898. Ashley Sweeney’s exquisite descriptions, electrifying plot twists, and hardy yet vulnerable characters will captivate historical fiction fans and leave them yearning for more. Eliza Waite is a stunning debut!”—Kristen Harnisch, award-winning author of The Vintner’s Daughter and The California Wife

“This is a fascinating story of a young woman who survives tragedy and reinvents herself at the turn of the 20th century.”—A Chick Who Reads

“I can confidently say that Eliza Waite will easily be in my top 10 books of the year for 2016. The writing is so stark and beautiful, the story so compelling. I couldn’t put this book down, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it when I finished reading.”—A Southern Girl Reads

Buy the Book


About the Author

Karen Mullen Photography

A native New Yorker, Ashley E. Sweeney lives and writes in La Conner, Washington. She is a ELIZA WAITE is her first novel.
graduate of Wheaton College in Norton, MA and is an award-winning journalist in Washington State.
Find out more about  Ashley on her website and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Giveaway Time!!

Thanks to Caitlin at Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, LLC I have one copy of Eliza Waite to give away (open to US and Canada only)!   All you have to do is enter your name and email address on the giveaway form HERE. Please be sure to leave both your name and your email on the form so I can contact you if you are my winner (no email address, no entry!). For extra entries you can follow the blog in various ways (all links are on the right hand sidebar) and leave the name/email you follow with on the form. That's it!

I'll use a random number generator to pick a winner on May 31st, 2016 and will announce the winner here as well as email the winner for their mailing address. The winner will have 48 hours to respond to my email before I have to pick another winner. If you have already won this book on another site please let me know so I can pick a new winner and give someone else a chance to win a copy.

Good Luck!!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Interview with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Helen Hollick

Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Helen Hollick to A Literary Vacation today! Helen lives with her family in North Devon, England, in an eighteenth century farmhouse, surrounded by thirteen acres of fields and woodland. A variety of pets include horses, two Exmoor ponies, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, and geese.

A passionate supporter of indie, Helen is Managing Editor for the Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews, and with her editor, Jo Field, Helen co-wrote Discovering the Diamond, a short advice guide for new and novice writers who are interested in self-publishing.

Her main passion is her pirate character, Captain Jesamiah Acorne of The Sea Witch Voyages which carry the quality endorsement of Indie B.R.A.G. medallions. Helen is also published traditionally in the US, and became a USA Today Bestseller with The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) – the story of Saxon Queen, Emma of Normandy. Her novel Harold the King (titled I Am The Chosen King in the US) is an acclaimed re-telling of events that led to the 1066 Battle of Hastings.

Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, set in the fifth century, is widely acclaimed as a different telling of the Arthurian Myth.

Helen is published in various languages including Turkish, Italian and German.


Hello, Helen, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about the books in your Sea Witch Voyages series?

The Voyages, as the series is called, are set in the early eighteenth century – the Golden Age of Piracy. We first meet my pirate, Jesamiah Acorne, in the first book, Sea Witch. Attacking an East Indiaman merchant ship off the coast of Africa he notices a young girl on the deck – their paths are to cross several times, but he is completely unaware that she - Tiola Oldstagh – is no ordinary girl. Only when she saves his life does he discover two things: that he is deeply in love with her, and that she is also a White Witch.

 Written for adults (the books have some adult content) each Voyage is a stand-alone story, but there is also a continuous thread of finding out about Jesamiah and Tiola’s background running through the entire series – their characters developing as we voyage with them. In Pirate Code, Voyage Two, Jesamiah has given up piracy, but is tricked into finding some missing cargo. He then gets embroiled in a rebellion on the island of Hispaniola – while trying to avoid an unpleasant death from the less than friendly Spanish Governor, and resisting temptation from a beautiful widow.

Voyage three, Bring It Close, sees him going against that famous pirate, Blackbeard and dealing with the ghost of his father. In Voyage Four, Ripples In The Sand, he sails to England, where yet again he finds himself in unexpected trouble.

There is an element of supernatural in each book – the ghost of his father, Tiola’s ‘Craft’, and the spirit of the sea, Tethys, who wants Jesamiah for herself.

Before I get any further, I just have to say that I am thoroughly impressed that each book in this series has been awarded a B.R.A. G. Medallion! This speaks to your incredible capabilities as a storyteller. Can you tell us a little bit about how you’ve honed your skills as a writer?


I’ve been a published author for over twenty years, initially published by William Heinemann of Random House, UK, so I guess practice has played a large part! I also highly value my editors’ input to my books. They are the professionals and their advice is always worth taking on board.

I am not an academic, I left school at sixteen with only a few low-grade certificates to my name, but I have always loved reading and writing. As a teenager I desperately wanted a pony, but we could not afford to keep one, so I made one up. I wrote dozens of stories about our adventures together – many of them, I must confess, during the more boring lessons at school. I even wrote one story during an important exam! Well, I’d finished the questions and had time to spare, so I started a story. I filled up both sides of an A4 sheet of paper, and asked for more paper. Filled that up. Asked for more. It was a good story (well, I thought so at the time, it probably wasn’t though.) What I didn’t realise, all the other girls in the examination room thought I was still answering the questions and were worried that they had only one sheet of paper to hand in, while I had a whole pile. When they discovered the truth I wasn’t very popular for a while!

My first real foray into writing came from my English teacher. I’d written an essay and it came back with those dreaded words: “See me after class”. What had I done wrong?

“Now then Helen!” she said, “This is good, but it could be a lot better.” She then spent about an hour (it was the last lesson of the day) showing me how I could improve my writing by not repeating words and not using so many adjectives. Show not tell; build the story up; have a clear start, middle and end. I’ve never forgotten her encouragement. It’s a shame she isn’t still alive to see my achievement, but this was almost forty-five years ago and she was nearing retirement even then.

I wonder what she would have made of my pirate?

I love that your series seems a wonderful mix of history and fantasy. Which aspect do you enjoy writing more? Did you do any research before writing the books? If you did conduct research, did you find out anything during the process that surprised you?

It can be a challenge to get the blend just right. Although Tiola is a White Witch she has her limitations – I didn’t want her able to click her fingers and ‘hey-presto’ get Jesamiah out of trouble. She doesn’t do ‘magic’ so I think of her Craft as more like the Force in Star Wars, not the spells of Harry Potter.

I do a lot of research for the ‘everyday’ things of the period, clothing, food, transport etc. I have been to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, three times now as I have several scenes set there in Bring It Close (and possibly the sixth Voyage, Gallows Wake – I’m not sure yet though, as the book is not written!) I also meticulously research my nautical detail: get those facts right then the made-up bits seem plausible. The trick is to blend the fact, the fiction, and the fantasy seamlessly together so the reader is not certain which is which!

One thing really surprised me and came so unexpected that I felt the hairs on the nape of my neck rise up, one of those ‘oo-er’ moments! While preparing to write the fourth Voyage, Ripples In the Sand, I had decided to bring Jesamiah and his ship, Sea Witch, to Devon, England, to make a change of scenery for me and my readers. I lived on the outskirts of London at the time and chose Devon because that was where my Editor used to live. I used to visit her quite often, but only when researching did I discover that Bideford on the North Coast of Devon, the town I was to bring Jesamiah to, had in the 16-1700s been one of the main English ports used for the tobacco trade. I’d chosen it at random – you could have knocked me down with a feather.

And another unexpected surprise – completely out of the blue, in 2013 my family had the chance to move away from London. We moved to Devon, about eighteen miles from where Ripples is set!

I’m sure it’s impossible to say, but do you have a favorite book from this series? How about a favorite character?

Sea Witch itself, of course, because it was the first, but possible my favourite is Bring It Close. I loved being able to trundle history around and fit my pirate into the known facts about Blackbeard! My favourite character has to be Jesamiah himself. I adore him.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Do you have a favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?

I have a few periods I don’t enjoy: I can’t stand the Tudors, and I have very little interest in the 1400s or the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Otherwise, anything goes as long as it is well written and exciting.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I’d like to say I’m organized, but I’m not! I answer my emails and deal with social media stuff of a morning, then write in the afternoons. The trouble is, I now live on a thirteen-acre farm and there’s always something that needs doing outside: we have horses, dogs, chickens, geese, ducks…. The fields to harrow and roll, horses to ride, eggs to collect… So I tend to get more writing done when its raining or at night!

What drew you to independently publish The Voyages series as opposed to seeking traditional publishing?

As I said above, I used to be published by Random House UK, but unfortunately my ex-agent let me down badly and I was dropped about ten years ago. I had written Sea Witch with such enthusiasm (it took me just three months to write) and I was devastated when ex-agent said she hated it. (It transpired that she also disliked the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie.) She wanted me to write the story for teenage boys – but I had deliberately set out to write Sea Witch for adults. You see I loved The Curse of the Black Pearl with Johnny Depp’s wonderful portrayal of Jack Sparrow. The plot was daft, I know, but it was fun! Nautical adventure about pirates with an addition of romance and fantasy; pure escapism.

I searched for adult novels of the same sort of thing, found plenty of children’s books (a bit lacking in adult matters) and plenty of good nautical fiction (C.S.Forrester and Patrick O’Brian for instance) but they were all straight fiction, no fantasy. In the end, I gave up looking and wrote the book I wanted to read.

Sadly ex-agent did not share my enthusiasm, but I stuck to my guns and we parted company. I did offer Sea Witch to a few publishers, but they all came back with the same response: ”Love it, but no one is interested in pirates.” (I seem to recall them saying the same about wizards …)

I had faith in Jesamiah and Sea Witch, so decided to go Indie.

Best thing I ever did.

 How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have your books awarded the BRAG Medallion

IndieBRAG discovered me, well CEO Geri Clouston did! I think we ‘met’ because of her husband’s excellent books (read them, they’re very good.) and Geri floated the idea of what did I think about her forming a good review-type platform for Indie books. I told her it was a good idea – but I honestly didn’t think she was serious! So many review sites start up then fall by the wayside. I soon came to realise that Geri was perfectly serious, and I am delighted that IndieBRAG is becoming the huge success that it is.

What I want to see now, is IndieBRAG getting the recognition it deserves here in the UK as well as in the US. It is much needed over here …. Come on Geri, your next goal!

Thank you, Helen, for taking the time to answer my questions!
You can learn more about Helen and her books on her website, blog, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her and find updated news on her online newsletter. You can find all links to purchase the books in her Voyages series HERE.
A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Helen Hollick, who is the author of The Voyages series, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Past Encounters merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review: Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/ Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Pub. Date: 10/6/2015
Pages/Length: 302 pages/7 hours, 44 minutes

Genre: Biography/Historical Nonfiction/American History

They were the most prominent American family of the twentieth century. The daughter they secreted away made all the difference.

Joe and Rose Kennedy’s strikingly beautiful daughter Rosemary attended exclusive schools, was presented as a debutante to the Queen of England, and traveled the world with her high-spirited sisters. And yet, Rosemary was intellectually disabled — a secret fiercely guarded by her powerful and glamorous family.
Major new sources — Rose Kennedy’s diaries and correspondence, school and doctors' letters, and exclusive family interviews — bring Rosemary alive as a girl adored but left far behind by her competitive siblings. Kate Larson reveals both the sensitive care Rose and Joe gave to Rosemary and then — as the family’s standing reached an apex — the often desperate and duplicitous arrangements the Kennedys made to keep her away from home as she became increasingly intractable in her early twenties. Finally, Larson illuminates Joe’s decision to have Rosemary lobotomized at age twenty-three, and the family's complicity in keeping the secret. 
Rosemary delivers a profoundly moving coda: JFK visited Rosemary for the first time while campaigning in the Midwest; she had been living isolated in a Wisconsin institution for nearly twenty years. Only then did the siblings understand what had happened to Rosemary and bring her home for loving family visits. It was a reckoning that inspired them to direct attention to the plight of the disabled, transforming the lives of millions.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I've always found the Kennedys to be a fascinating family, especially JFK and his wife, Jackie. I've seen a few movies about them, know the basics about Joe and Rose Kennedy and their famous political sons, but I had never heard of Rosemary Kennedy before (or, at least, I don't remember ever hearing of her). When I saw Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter come up for sale as a Kindle/Audible audiobook combo I knew I wanted to learn more. I'm so glad I purchased it because this story completely expanded my view of the Kennedys as a whole (not always in a good way) and introduced me to this remarkable member, one that's life was infinitely tragic.

This really is more than just the story of Rosemary. While she stays center to the story the author does a really good job of giving a solid background on her parents - Joe and Rose Kennedy - as well as each sibling. If for no other reason I think including this information was an excellent choice as detailing the various Kennedys' ambitions, skills, competitiveness, and drives went a huge way towards highlighting Rosemary's limits and the frustrations and disappointments she would have naturally felt growing up under the Kennedy regime. While I know this was a different time and place, it was upsetting to hear how Rosemary was pushed to achieve more than she was mentally capable of and how she was shuttled around and kept hidden often when she didn't live up to her parents' expectations. As a mother I cannot imagine sending my child off over and over again to let other people take care of her while I go on a myriad of vacations and concentrate on my more capable children. It's just appalling to me!

I honestly had to stop listening for a while when I got to the part about the lobotomy. I could  not believe that her father agreed to such a drastic, invasive measure to "fix" his (in his eyes) imperfect daughter instead of just accepting her with her limitations and letting her know that she was just fine the way she was (which, in my opinion, might have helped with the increased tantrums she had as she tried to keep up with the demands of her family). Top that off with the fact that she was then placed in an institution far from her family for decades so that no one knew how catastrophic a mistake they had made is just unimaginable to me. This biography left me with a bitter dislike for Joe and Rose Kennedy and for the lengths they went to for their own ambitions for their family.

What I enjoyed most about this book is the detail given to discussing how mental deficiencies and delays were viewed and dealt with in general during the early to mid 1900s and how those views shifted and changed with further study, exposure, and treatment, much of which was advanced by the Kennedy's philanthropic foundations and Eunice Kennedy's work and efforts in particular. So, in the end, whether from love, guilt, or whatever other motives might have fueled them, their experiences with Rosemary and her many trials ended up doing so much for other people like her. I also became a huge fan of Eunice Kennedy (someone else I wasn't overly familiar with) due to the fact that she was really the only one who took the time to spend quality time with Rosemary and wasn't as afraid as the others to speak about her disabled sister.

Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy is a wonderful look into the Kennedy family as a whole and this intriguing and tragic member in particular.  I'm not sure if what is discussed within its pages are already well known facts to those that have studied the Kennedys but I learned quite a bit and now want to read even further about the family. I can't help thinking  how much happier Rosemary's life might have been if she was born into a less ambitious family or a different time. The author (and narrator!) did an excellent job of making me feel for Rosemary and, for me, that is the mark of a great nonfiction book.

What Did I Think About the Cover?   

I think it's perfect for a biography. It has a nice, large picture of Rosemary, looking quite pretty, confident, and happy, highlighting the main focus of the story.

My Rating: 4.0/5.0

I purchased the Kindle and Audible audiobook versions of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter for my own library. To read more reviews and find links to purchase your own copy, visit Goodreads HERE.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Review: The World Beneath by Rebecca Cantrell

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services LLC
Pub. Date: January 10th, 2014
Pages/Length: 315 pages / 7 hours, 12 minutes


In this USA Today bestselling book, award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell drops you into a vast, dark world: 100 miles of living, breathing, tunnels that is the New York City underground. This subterranean labyrinth inhales three million bustling commuters every day. And every day, it breathes them all out again... except for one.

Software millionaire Joe Tesla is set to ring the bell on Wall Street the morning his company goes public. On what should be the brightest day in his life, he is instead struck with severe agoraphobia. The sudden dread of the outside is so debilitating, he can't leave his hotel at Grand Central Terminal, except to go underground. Bad luck for Joe, because in the tunnels lurk corpses and murderers, an underground Victorian mansion and a mysterious bricked-up 1940s presidential train car. Joe and his service dog, Edison, find themselves pursued by villains and police alike, their only salvation now is to unearth the mystery that started it all, a deadly, contagious madness on the brink of escaping The World Beneath.

What Did I Think About the Story?

I have really been having a love/hate relationship with audiobooks lately. I find the Kindle copy/Audiobook copy combo on a great sale, pick it up, and throw caution to the wind regarding whether I'm going to find it completely captivating or have it fall flat for me. I like to listen to these books on my long commute to and from work each day so I'm always on the lookout for something to really grab me and keep me occupied. Unfortunately, The World Beneath ended up just being okay.

My first complaint with the story was the fact that, from the beginning, I felt like it was picking up in the middle of another story. From the description I thought this would be Joe's story of how he ended up living underground and the trials he faced in this somewhat self-made prison caused by his agoraphobia. Instead, we start with Joe already underground for six months, with established relationships that he is trying to hold on to while he can't leave the tunnels and a somewhat settled existence with his dog, Edison. I kept going back to the book information to make sure I was in fact reading the first in a series. The focus doesn't seem to be on Joe's reasons for being underground and how he might get out at all, but more on an infected monkey, trained soldiers, hired assassins, and the like. If this had been the second book in a series and I  had already read the first, in which Joe's life and relationships were firmly established, I might have enjoyed this shift in focus. As it stands I felt somewhat cheated out of getting to know Joe better.

Secondly, while the narrator did a great job with the male voices and distinguishing each one, the women's voices (what few there were) were just bad. While this doesn't have anything to do with the actual story, since I was listening to this one it did affect my enjoyment. The story is also very heavy in description and internal dialogue and much lighter in actual dialogue and character interaction, which isn't necessarily a bad thing but did make the interactions between the characters seem somewhat superficial. Add on to this the fact that, during the many internal ruminations of Joe, we have every single number he says replaced with a color - in the middle of the sentences! - I found myself just wanting to get out of his head and  move on to something else.

Now, I don't want it to sound like I didn't enjoy the story at all because that wouldn't be true. The relationship between Joe and his dog was really great and the author did an exceptional job of building that relationship and making it feel real, relatable, and so touching. Their interactions were by far my favorite parts. The author also did a wonderful job of building the world of the underground tunnels and describing it so well that you felt like you could feel, smell, touch it all. I was fascinated by the descriptions of the underground Victorian mansion that Joe was living in as well. The contrast between its opulence and the dark dankness of the tunnels was really quite breathtaking.

All in all I enjoyed aspects of this story while finding others somewhat irritating. I seem to be in the minority as others have given it great reviews and the book was the winner of  the International Thriller Writers's Best Ebook Original Novel award. I will say that if the author decides to write a story that develops Joe's backstory I would definitely be interested in reading it. I think there is quite a lot of potential here, the way this story was presented just didn't work overly well for me.

What Did I Think About the Cover? 

To be honest it doesn't really do anything for me. It does show the tunnels that play such a big part in the story, but I can't say it is a cover that would pull  me in and make me want me to read more about it.

My Rating: 2.5/5.0

I bought this book for my own collection. To read more reviews and find links to where you can purchase a copy go to Goodreads HERE.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Interview with Donna Russo Morin, Author of Portrait of Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One + Tour-Wide Giveaway!!

Thank you so much, Donna, for taking the time to stop by A Literary Vacation! One of my favorite aspects of interacting with authors is finding out what inspires them to write the novels that they do. Every author seems to have their own unique approach to their craft and learning that process really helps me, as a reader, get a better appreciation for the end result. So I can’t wait to learn more about your process!

Thank you so much for having me. I thoroughly enjoy speaking with bloggers and readers and giving them a peek behind the curtain!


Reading over the synopsis of your newest novel, Portrait of Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One, it sounds like a delicious combination of political intrigue and murder, mystery, art, history, and conspiracy. What drew you to incorporate all these various themes into the novel?

That’s a question that truly hits the mark. I was finishing up my work on my previous book, The King’s Agent, which features a real life 15th century Indiana Jones (Battista della Paglia) who was a dear friend of Michelangelo’s, so the Renaissance period and art were very imbedded in my thoughts. At the same time, I was going through a divorce that could have come straight out of a Stephen King novel. I wouldn’t have survived without a core of women who kept me sane (or a little tipsy, depending on the day). I really wanted to continue the art and Renaissance theme, but I also wanted to pay homage to these women, to the power of women when they unite. As I delved further into the period, I found the Pazzi conspiracy, when that family tried to destroy the Medici, who then ruled Florence, in one of the most audacious assassinations ever attempted. Add to that my propensity to try to give women of the past empowerment, even when it wasn’t allowed. I know women found ways of overcoming their limitations, though it no doubt started in secret. So take all those components, put them in a bag, shake it up, and out came Portrait of a Conspiracy.

I can’t imagine the organization and research that must go into writing a book series with so many threads to keep track of. How do you tackle not only the research but keeping all the threads of the stories in line?

I am a prodigious plotter. Some may even call me a bit fanatical. I outline the entire book before I begin writing, not by chapter, but by scene. With this outline, I review all of my research and find what to use and the best place to use it. I typically end up with anywhere from an 80-100 page document. And then (okay, this may be where the fanatical comes from), I make an index of each scene in that outline. That index allows me to know, at a glance, who is doing what and when. On top of that, each one of the main characters in this secret society of women artists has her own document with all her personal history, physical and personality traits, as well as what happens to her. It may all sound like a great deal of overkill, but it allows me—when it comes down to the actual writing—to typical produce 2000-3000 words in a day.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. Your novels have tackled quite a few fascinating people throughout history and from a variety of countries. Do you have a favorite time period or location to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?

The Renaissance has always been a favorite of mine. I am a second-generation, full Italian American and I can trace my roots to 9th century Florence. So of course that’s going to hold a special place in my heart. But in truth, its more people and events that tend to pique my writer’s interest. That’s why I’ve gone from 17th century France (the Musketeers) to 15th century Venice (Galileo and the glassmakers of Murano) to 15th century France (Francois I) to 16th century Italy (Battista della Paglia and Michelangelo) and now to 15th century Florence (the Medicis and da Vinci).
What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I have to admit, that now that both my sons have finished their education (my eldest has his master’s in vocal performance opera and my youngest holds two degrees in the culinary arts; they graduated a week apart last May), things have gotten much simpler. It was much, much harder when there was soccer and music lessons and boy scouts and cooking and cleaning after two growing boys. I still have an aging, though still vibrant mother that I happily give some time to. And I’m very happy to say that I have at last found love—real love for obviously I didn’t know what it was until now—and he and I are ‘domestic partners’ (what a clinical expression for something so lovely). So there are still external demands on my time. But not nearly what they used to be. 

 As for a ‘typical’ day…I am a terrible morning person, so I start my days with emails and social media work, trying to get my brain sparking with that. I usually start the real work of writing around noon, break for dinner, then put in another hour or two. I am most definitely at my best later in the day. 

A lot of authors have become huge on social media, not only promoting their work but interacting with their readers and offering up giveaways, book recommendations, etc. Are you a big proponent of using social media in this way? How do you prefer to interact with your fans?

I don’t know if anyone has ever been honest about this new component in writing, but publishers expect writers to have as large a social footprint as they possibly can. We have to do it whether we like it or not. Luckily, I do like it. Sometimes I do resent the time it eats up, but having that interaction with readers is rather a gift, at least to me. Being a writer is such a solitary existence; it’s really rather lovely to receive and converse with people who have taken the time and money to purchase and read my work. When you work in an office you have co-workers and bosses to discuss the work, give you a ‘that a girl’ when you need one. Social media has opened that up for authors and I am grateful for it. I encourage all readers of my work to get in touch if they have questions or comments.

I’ve noticed that a lot of authors are also big readers. When you have time for leisure reading what sorts of books do you gravitate towards? Have you read anything good lately?

I honestly don’t believe you can be a good writer unless you are a big reader. You have to immerse yourself in the written word if you hope to produce well written words. I do tend to read a great deal of historical fiction. My last few reads were C. W. Gortner’s The Vatican Princess, Lynn Cullen’s Twain’s End, and Priya Parmar’s Vanessa and Her Sister. I do like a bit of fantasy (George Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien), a bit of horror (King Stephen King) as well as legal thrillers (John Grisham). I always say the written word is my passion as well as my profession.

Can you tell us anything about the book(s) you’re working on now?

I can tell you that I’m working on the last book in the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It ends not with a whimper but with a bang, a fiery bang. And I will just hint that there is something in the works, something hundreds of years away from anything I’ve done in the past, that I am incredibly excited for. Stay tuned!

Thank you so much, Donna, for stopping by and answering my questions!! I am so excited to hear more about the rest of your Da Vinci's Disciples series and your secret project!

Everyone, be sure to continue below for more information about Portrait of Conspiracy, the blog tour, and how you can enter the tour-wide giveaway to win one of FIVE eBook copies!
Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Diversion Books
eBook & Paperback; 290 Pages
Genre: Historical Mystery
One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

Praise for Portrait of Conspiracy

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

Buy the Book


About the Author

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

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

Giveaway Time!!

To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form HERE. FIVE copies are up for grabs!
Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on June 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
Only one entry per household.
All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Portrait of Conspiracy Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10

Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11

Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12

Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13

Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16

Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17

Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18

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

Thursday, May 19

Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20

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

Monday, May 23

Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24

Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25

Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26

Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27

Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30

Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31

Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1

Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2

Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3

Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog