Monday, February 19, 2018

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway: The Phantom's Apprentice by Heather Webb

From the Back Cover:

In this re-imagining of Phantom of the Opera, meet a Christine Daaé you’ve never seen before…

Christine Daaé sings with her violinist Papa in salons all over Paris, but she longs to practice her favorite pastime—illusions. When her beloved Papa dies during a conjurer’s show, she abandons her magic and surrenders to grief and guilt. Life as a female illusionist seems too dangerous, and she must honor her father’s memory.

Concerned for her welfare, family friend Professor Delacroix secures an audition for her at the Nouvel Opéra—the most illustrious stage in Europe. Yet Christine soon discovers the darker side of Paris opera. Rumors of murder float through the halls, and she is quickly trapped between a scheming diva and a mysterious phantom. The Angel of Music.

But is the Angel truly a spirit, or a man obsessed, stalking Christine for mysterious reasons tangled in her past?

As Christine’s fears mount, she returns to her magical arts with the encouragement of her childhood friend, Raoul. Newfound hope and romance abounds…until one fateful night at the masquerade ball. Those she cares for—Delacroix, the Angel, and even Raoul—aren’t as they seem. Now she must decide whom she trusts and which is her rightful path: singer or illusionist.

To succeed, she will risk her life in the grandest illusion of all.

My Thoughts:

In my younger years, I was such a fan of The Phantom of the Opera musical. I still remember seeing it on Broadway all those years ago, sitting up in the nosebleeds and being thoroughly entranced. My mom bought me the soundtrack on the way out, and I soon knew it by heart. I was surprised at how many of those lyrics came back to me as I was reading The Phantom's Apprentice. It's been a very long time since I saw the musical, and I've never read the book on which it's based, so I went into this without a solid attachment to the particulars of the story, my mind open to see how Ms. Webb would make this story her own.

While the bones of the story are pretty much the same--Christine Daae, a beautiful young woman with a beautiful voice, auditions for a role in the chorus of a Paris opera house. The opera house is haunted, and Christine catches the attention of the "phantom," who decides to help her hone her skills, coming to her in the guise of the "angel of music," and sets some dastardly events in motion in order to have Christine become the star of the show. But his plans to keep Christine to himself are spoiled by the reappearance of her childhood love, Raoul, who determines not to let her go again now that he's found her, and though Christine knows it angers the phantom, having fallen in love with Raoul all over again, she can't stay away from him. And so the stage is set for a showdown between the murderous phantom and the young lovers.

What sets this story apart from the version I knew is the addition of illusions and magic. In this story, singing is Christine's second love, coming behind her love for the art of illusions, a love fostered by her mother before her untimely death. Christine figures out early on that the phantom is nothing more than a master illusionist, and while she continues to go along with his ploy in order to further her career, secretly she is bent on discovering the science behind his "haunting." This leads her into all sorts of danger as she explores the shadowy labyrinth beneath the opera house. She also has a very real benefactor in the form of Monsieur Delacroix, a man determined to unmask the phantom and make a name for himself in the scientific community. But as the phantom spirals out of control, Monsieur Delacroix's motives become more and more suspect, and eventually Christine is unsure who she can trust. Even Raoul seems to have secrets.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Guest Post + Giveaway: Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

Please join me in welcoming Laura Madeleine to Let Them Read Books! I'm thrilled to have Laura here today celebrating the hardcover release of Where the Wild Cherries Grow with a guest post about her inspiration for this novel of war, romance, and good food! Read on and enter to win a copy!

"I closed my eyes as I tried to pick apart every flavour, because nothing had ever tasted so good before. It was like tasting for the first time. Like discovering colour . . ."

In 1919, the cold sweep of the Norfolk fens only holds for Emeline Vane memories of her family, all killed in the war. Whispers in the village say she’s lost her mind as well as her family - and in a moment's madness she boards a train to France and runs from it all.

She keeps running until she reaches a tiny fishing village so far from home it might as well be the end of the world. Transfixed by the endless Mediterranean, Emeline is taken in by Maman and her nineteen-year-old son, and there she is offered a glimpse of a life so different to the one she used to know: golden-green olive oil drizzled over roasted tomatoes, mouth-wateringly smoky red spices, and hot, caramel sweetness.

But it's not just the intense, rich flavours that draw her to the village, and soon a forbidden love affair begins. One that is threatened by the whispers from home that blow in on the winds from the mountains . . .

How I Began to Write Where the Wild Cherries Grow
by Laura Madeleine

The decision to set Where the Wild Cherries Grow in French Catalonia came one day when I was idly looking over a map of France. After scanning the entire French-Italian region, I looked down towards the Pyrénées-Orientales and the French-Spanish border; an area I knew next to nothing about. There, I saw a tiny town. Cerbère.

The name immediately caught my attention, conjuring images of Cerberus, the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld in Greek mythology. As it turns out, the two names aren’t really related, but I loved the idea of a place that was also a concept, a physical destination and a gateway to another life.

The more I researched Cerbère, the more fascinated I became, and I knew I had to visit. But it was winter – the middle of January – and so I took off to a cottage in the wilds of Pembrokeshire, where I went for long, freezing walks over the moors and tried to imagine Emeline’s life in February 1919, on the wide, desolate marshes of East Anglia.

The fact that 2014 had marked the centenary of the start of World War 1 brought that period of history into sharper relief for me. Not the stiff-upper-lip, Rule Britannia of it all, or even necessarily the horror of the trenches. Rather, it made me think about the battles fought emotionally and internally by the people left behind, in parlours, kitchens and bedrooms all across Europe.

The character of Bill was a different story. From the moment I put pen to paper to write the first 1969 chapter, he burst into being and legged it off into the book. The fact he arrived so fully formed is because – essentially – he is my father. My dad was also a working class lad who struggled to find his place, before eventually setting off on his own, big adventure…

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Review: The Wardrobe Mistress by Meghan Masterson

From the Back Cover:

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

My Thoughts:

The French Revolution is one of my favorite time periods to read about, not because I admire the way it went down--quite the opposite--but because it lends itself perfectly to historical fiction and trying to understand what it must have been like to live through such terror and uncertainty. I was drawn to The Wardrobe Mistress particularly for the perspective of a woman in charge of dressing Marie Antoinette.

From a comfortably upper middle-class family, Giselle is thrilled to earn a position in the queen's household. An aspiring dressmaker, she hopes to further her craft and establish the connections that could allow her to open her own business in the future. Though the queen is glamorous and pampered, Giselle sees firsthand the work it takes to make the queen formidable in the face of her enemies, and she witnesses the queen's sorrow as civil unrest grows and the king's enemies blame her for their problems. Giselle comes to admire and pity the queen, but when she falls in love with Leon, a young revolutionary, she is caught between her respect and admiration for the royals and the growing animosity from the lower classes, to whom she also feels some loyalty. Tasked by her uncle Beaumarchais to supply him with any information that might be pertinent to national security and challenged by Leon's increasing revolutionary fervor, Giselle must tread a careful path to avoid falling victim to political persecution. And when the mob becomes murderous, storming the palace and eventually capturing the king and queen, Giselle must find a way to avoid being taken down with them.

I don't know that there's anything new or revelatory here, but the graphic depictions of mob violence and the honest portrayal of the dangers of a civilized society becoming too polarized and politicized are frightening. And I appreciated the viewpoint of someone privy to the more intimate circumstances behind Louis XVI's and Marie Antoinette's actions. I'm a fan of romance, but I found the love story here to be too sweet, almost saccharine, and a little too much the focal point at times. There were a couple of twists toward the end that made for a more nuanced and poignant conclusion, though I did think the ending too abrupt. It needed one more chapter to give the reader--and the story--closure. But the story does a good job of capturing the paranoid, frenetic culture of the revolution and how an innocent young woman could unwittingly find herself on the wrong side of it. At times gay and glamorous, at others gritty and gruesome, The Wardrobe Mistress is a thought-provoking and entertaining read.

My Rating:  3.5 Stars out of 5

*Please Note: This review references an advance digital copy received from the publisher via NetGalley, and therefore the final published copy may differ. Though I received this book from the publisher, my review is voluntary and these are my honest and unbiased thoughts. I was not compensated in any other way for reviewing this book.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Soldier's Return by Laura Libricz

Please join me in welcoming Laura Libricz to Let Them Read Books! Laura is touring the blogosphere with her new release, The Soldier's Return, book two in the Heaven's Pond trilogy. I'm pleased to have her here today with a guest post about the inspiration behind the story. Read on and enter to win the first two books in the trilogy!

The year is 1626. A senseless war rips through parts of Germany. Ongoing animosity between the Catholics and the Protestants has turned into an excuse to destroy much of the landscape situated between France, Italy and Denmark. But religion only plays a minor role in this lucrative business of war.

The young dutchman, Pieter van Diemen, returns to Amsterdam in chains after a period of imprisonment in the Spice Islands. He manages to escape but must leave Amsterdam in a hurry. Soldiers are in demand in Germany and he decides to travel with a regiment until he can desert. His hope of survival is to reach Sichardtshof, the farm in Franconia, Germany; the farm he left ten years ago. His desire to seek refuge with them lies in his fond memories of the maid Katarina and her master, the humanist patrician Herr Tucher. But ten years is a long time and the farm has changed. Franconia is not only torn by war but falling victim to a church-driven witch hunt. The Jesuit priest, Ralf, has his sights set on Sichardtshof as well. Ralf believes that ridding the area of evil will be his saving grace. Can Pieter, Katarina and Herr Tucher unite to fight against a senseless war out of control?

The Soldier’s Return is the second book in the Heaven’s Pond Trilogy.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Inspiration behind the Heaven’s Pond trilogy
by Laura Libricz

On May 23, 1618, Protestant noblemen threw four Catholic lords out of a Prague Castle office window. The Catholic lords survived, supposedly having fallen into a dung heap. This year, four hundred years later, historians are celebrating the anniversary of that incident called the Defenestration of Prague, considered to be the beginning of the Thirty Years War. Deemed a war between the Catholics and the Protestants, all of those involved suffered torment and agony. One third of the German population succumbed during the war. They died either on the battle field, were murdered as innocents or perished from resulting diseases and hunger. 

For centuries, reformers had been known to protest the excesses of the Roman Catholic Church, their worldly rule and abuse of power and money. In the early 1400’s, the preacher Jan Hus from Prague spoke out openly against the church and its decadence. Bohemian aristocracy supported Hus, even after he was excommunicated. Although he had their support, he was executed in 1415, burned at the stake by the German king Sigismund. 

One hundred years later, Martin Luther set out to reform the Catholic Church as well. He was not intending to create a new one. The famed story reads that he nailed a document called the 95 Theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg in 1517. The main points of the Theses disputed and condemned the practice of the church selling indulgences to people in order to insure their souls’ entrance to heaven. This famous incident is credited to be the birth of Protestantism. Last year, 2017 marked the 500-year anniversary of that famous incident.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Blog Tour Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

From the Back Cover:

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth. 

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Thoughts:

This was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018, and it did not disappoint. I savored this novel of family secrets, star-crossed lovers, and self-discovery amidst the chaotic, paranoid culture of revolution. The Cuba portrayed here is an island of contradictions. Beautiful, evocative descriptions of an island paradise and its proud inhabitants interspersed with moments of horror and acts of war. Decadent wealth and privilege coexisting alongside destitute poverty. A generation of genteel young scholars who become radicalized, whose ideals and hopes for the future manifest in acts of terror and guerilla warfare. Families torn apart by conflict and new relationships born in uncertainty. But above all, this is the story of two women who discover in very different ways what it means to be Cuban.

Elisa Perez, a sheltered, naive society girl living under the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, longing for something more out of life, falls in love with a revolutionary fighting against everything Elisa's family represents: "the haves" who prosper under a corrupt government while the "have nots" live in poverty, the wealthy who benefit from Batista's patronage, though for many his favor was a double-edged sword. Faced with the truth of this dichotomy in Cuba, and her family's role in it, and the ideals her beloved is fighting for, Elisa is compelled to question her life as she knows it and how she fits into this new idea of Cuba that is coming closer to fruition one bloody battle at a time.

Decades later, her granddaughter Marisol Ferrara, visiting a land still under the Castro dictatorship, comes to realize that Cuba is a contrast of the very best of her grandmother's cherished memories and an ugly and dangerous environment where one wrong word can still land a person in jail...or worse. Where beautiful beach resorts and historic homes recall a bygone time when food wasn't scarce and people were free to follow their dreams. The more she sees of the island and her people, the more she is captivated. And yet the more she wishes she belonged there, the more she realizes she never will. And just when she finds a true romance of her own, a connection that fills her with hope for the future, she is harshly reminded that she is not in America, that the freedom to live one's life as one chooses is rarely granted in Cuba.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blog Tour Guest Post: The Secret Life of Mrs. London by Rebecca Rosenberg

Please join me in welcoming Rebecca Rosenberg to Let Them Read Books! Rebecca is touring the blogosphere with her debut historical fiction novel, The Secret Life of Mrs. London, and I'm thrilled to have her here today with a little teaser about the real-life love triangle you never knew about! Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of The Secret Life of Mrs. London!

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behavior threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear.

“Charming Houdini, I shall never forget him…” Charmian London’s diary, 1916.

How do two of the most iconic men in America in the early 1900s, Houdini and Jack London, fall in love with the same woman, Charmian Kittredge London?

Harry Houdini and Jack London
The Great Harry Houdini had transformed himself from a poor magician in Coney Island to a world-renowned escape artist who challenged police chiefs and prison wardens around the world to lock him in their strongest jails, safes, handcuffs, and locks—Houdini would always escape their strongest shackles.

And Jack London was the most popular, well-paid author in America, writing fifty books in twenty years. Adventure novels such as Call of the Wild and White Fang, to scathing political novels such as People of the Abyss and Iron Heel, to socialist statement novels The Valley of the Moon and Martin Eden.

Jack and Charmian working together
Yet Charmian London captured both men’s passion. Charmian was a modern, adventurous woman.
She was college educated and worked as a writer, editor, and typist when she met budding novelist Jack London. She read and reviewed his first novel, and their partnership was born. Jack would tell his stories, and Charmian would type them up at 100 words per minute, later editing for him. Their equal working relationship was extraordinarily productive, producing 1000 words a day. Their marriage was a modern model of equality, so much so, they called each other “Mate” instead of darling or sweetheart.