Josephine Bonaparte springs so vividly to live in these pages she practically walks right off them. Webb paints a full and charming portrait of the Cr...moreJosephine Bonaparte springs so vividly to live in these pages she practically walks right off them. Webb paints a full and charming portrait of the Creole beauty born and christened Rose Tascher, not side-stepping her faults but instead making them lovable. Whether she is running up dress bills by the mountain, scolding her children, or bed-hopping blithely between lovers in Paris, you want to shake your head indulgently and say "Rose, you scamp!" It's easy to see how Napoleon fell victim to her charm, why he showered her with more jewels than any queen ever owned, why he raged and lost his temper and then always came crawling back for more: Josephine's wayward lovability was perhaps the only thing ever to conquer the conqueror. Her tempestuous early marriage, her knife-edge survival during the Reign of Terror, and her years as Empress of France pass in a blur of love affairs, parties, politics, and occasionally bloodshed. If the novel has a fault, it's perhaps too short - with a life so colorful, I'd love to see what Webb could have done with another two hundred pages to stretch her narrative. But this is a strong debut for an author I was lucky enough to meet and congratulate in person at the last Historical Novel Society Conference, and I look forward to her next book on Rodin. (less)
I've rarely been so happy to offer a cover quote for a novel. Elizabeth Loupas hit it out of the park with "The Second Duchess," and "The Flower Reade...moreI've rarely been so happy to offer a cover quote for a novel. Elizabeth Loupas hit it out of the park with "The Second Duchess," and "The Flower Reader" proved she was no one-hit wonder. With "The Red Lily Crown" she establishes herself as a major talent in the world of historical fiction. Heroine Chiara is a scrappy tough-as-nails street urchin who would be happy to sell her body to a ruthless Medici Duke if it would support her family, but since the Duke is mad for alchemy and already has a far more beautiful mistress, Chiara sells him her father's alchemical equipment instead. Chiara ends up with a job as the Duke's virgin acolyte assistant, as well as a front-row seat to the world of Medici madness, murder, and blood-lust. The Duke is a first-rate creep who needs to die, his mistress is one of the nastiest villainnesses I've ever read (and I've created a few nasty ones, myself), and a mysterious maze steals the show in a way I never thought a series of fictional hedges could. A subplot of poison and addiction gives everything the sheen of a dark fairy tale, the kind where the fair maiden might just get eaten instead of rescued. You'll cheer for Chiara to come out of everything as safely as her dogs do - Elizabeth Loupas never kills the dogs in her books, and thank goodness. This book comes out early April - pre-order it now. You won't be sorry. (less)
If "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" took time to set the stage, "Hollow City" practically burns down the theatre. Picking up right where...moreIf "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" took time to set the stage, "Hollow City" practically burns down the theatre. Picking up right where we left off, Jacob and his band of peculiar friends embark on a headlong run through war-torn London, dodging all kinds of sinister enemies as they try to save their redoubtable headmistress. But what if the real danger is right there among them? There are even more of the compelling and sinister real-life photographs, sprinkling the pages and the plot with equal dash. An even stronger follow-up than the original, ending on a dark cliffhanger that will really have you howling. (less)
I somehow missed meeting Nancy Bilyeau at the last Historical Novel Society Conference, which is a pity because I'd have liked to congratulate her on...moreI somehow missed meeting Nancy Bilyeau at the last Historical Novel Society Conference, which is a pity because I'd have liked to congratulate her on just what she pulled off with "The Crown" - a serious investigation of the personal ramifications of the Dissolution, paired with the headlong chase of an Indiana Jones magic-relic hunt. The plot is simple: Sister Joanna has entered the Dominican order as a nun at a time when nunneries are on the brink of going extinct in England under Henry VIII. Joanna is blackmailed by the sinister Bishop of Winchester to find the mysterious Athelstan Crown, a relic whose power might be useful in stopping the dissolution of the monasteries . . . oh, and there's a killer on the loose, too. The murder mystery and the McGuffin of the crown are great fun, but I found Joanna and her theological dilemma the most fascinating. She's a woman of faith but not fanaticism, and the dilemma of how she will live her life if she cannot be a nun is movingly handled. Most Tudor-centric fiction takes a positive spin on the dissolution of the monasteries: Catholicism = bad, and without Henry VIII's split from the church, we would have no Elizabeth I. But "The Crown" shows us the plight of those like Joanna who were horrified to find their way of life - a good, moral, and gentle way of life - torn away from them. I will be eagerly moving on to Bilyeau's sequel "The Chalice" to see how Joanna adjusts to her new world. (less)
Eva Ibbotson's books are always delightful, and her children's books are in particular a grand escape for an adult who feels a bit battered by the rea...moreEva Ibbotson's books are always delightful, and her children's books are in particular a grand escape for an adult who feels a bit battered by the real world. Here we have a lonely little rich boy whose parents can't see why he's upset when the dog they've rented for one weekend just to give him "the dog experience" has to be returned. Hal refuses to accept this and takes off with the dog, along with a variety of other dogs from the shelter who are also yearning for homes. Adventures ensue, and Ibbotson's trademark humor lifts her prose a cut above, such as when a fiery little Pekinese reflects, "There is absolutely nothing wrong with old ladies, but when your ancestors have been bred to ride on the saddle of the Emperor when he gallops off to war, you do not feel like being told you are an itsy-bitsy little doggie, aren't you." This is comfort food for the soul: if you are feeling wrung-out and teary after reading "The Invisible Bridge" and watching your favorite characters get loaded into cattle cars, or if "Gone Girl" has left you feeling there is no goodness or trust left in the human psyche, then this is the book for you. (less)
I got an early peek at this book because the author is a friend and I begged shamelessly for one of her early-author copies. Her alter-ego novels abou...moreI got an early peek at this book because the author is a friend and I begged shamelessly for one of her early-author copies. Her alter-ego novels about Cleopatra's daughter Selene are great faves of mine, but I didn't know what to expect here because this was my first real dip into reading erotica. And with "It Stings So Sweet" I got the point of the genre: it's not just cover-to-cover bonking (or it shouldn't be). Yes, there is plenty of sex (and the sex here is both explicit and daring, so be warned) - but the sex is a vehicle to explore character growth and change. We are presented here with three interlocked couples, all with problems that extend far beyond the bedroom, and by the end they have all grown and changed in subtle, subtle ways.
We have society girl Nora and her working-class hubby; their marriage is on the rocks and divorce seems inevitable. Talking things out hasn't helped, and nor has being polite, so Nora and her guy decide to just let the anger out and see where it leads. It leads to cruel words and slaps and some rough sex, but the punishment here isn't used to degrade, but to forgive. For our next couple we have film-star Clara (a tip of the feathered hat to Clara Bow) and her adrenaline-junkie daredevil-pilot suitor Leo; this is my favorite couple, and their raunchy good fun is undercut tenderly by the wounds that this flashy self-confident pair carry on the inside. Finally we have suffragette Sophie attempting to carry her liberated ideals into the bedroom in an affair with the millionaire boss who stands for everything she hates - and he might be the teacher between the sheets, but she's got something to teach him when it comes to the bright new world of the 20s.
And it's the 20's setting that really makes these stories sing. This is "Chicago" on steroids: the beaded gowns, the smoky jazz, the bathtub gin, the pearls rolling around in the backseats of all those vintage coups - it's all real enough to taste. And you might come away with far more information than you think about this most decadent of decades: not just the jazz and the gin, but the silent movie industry and the burgeoning suffragette movement and the deep silent hangover from WWI. If you want to dip your toe into erotica, then put your feet up, get a long jade holder, mix a gin martini, and try this one out.(less)