Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Guest Post: Injecting Humor into the Wild West by Bryan Ney, Author of Calamity Jane: How the West Began

Please join me in welcoming author Bryan Ney to Let Them Read Books! I'm thrilled to have Bryan here today with a guest post about his debut young adult historical novel, Calamity Jane: How the West Began. Read on, and grab a copy of the ebook edition for $1.99!

A teenaged girl arrives in the goldfields of 1860s Montana, impoverished and despised for her parents' behavior. Through her exploits, she soon makes a name for herself as Calamity Jane, wins friends, and becomes the toast of the town. But murder and robbery stalk all who travel the surrounding trails, and Jane thinks she knows who is responsible. Can she and her new friends rally forces to clean the place up? 

“A light, fun, and atavistic Western novel!” ~Kirkus Reviews

Injecting Humor into the Wild West
by Bryan Ney

“Teen-aged Calamity Jane has to convince her frontier town that a respected citizen among them leads the outlaws, or Jane's friend won't be the last to die.”

The Western genre is populated with violent stories filled with stern, self-reliant characters, seemingly bereft of humor. A lone hero has to overcome obstacles on his (usually his) own. My debut historical novel, Calamity Jane: How the West Began, is a stern tale as well, as in the log line above.  In contrast to the classic Western, however, (High Noon comes to mind) mine is a coming-of-age tale where Calamity is more a catalyst than a hero. She brings together the diverse elements of the town at a critical moment. And she has a sense of humor. Here is an excerpt from early in the story as an example. Rough-and-tumble Jane is making her acquaintance with Andrew, a boy from a prominent family. (Incidentally, this little exchange is the favorite of Andrew's real-life granddaughter, but that is whole other story.)

There was an awkward pause. “You catch it when you got home?” Andrew asked.

“Catch what?” Jane said. Andrew seemed nice enough. Not really her sort, though: he seemed a bit timid.

“You know. Catch…heck.”

“Heck? You mean catch hell? ” Jane asked. “Are you a Mormon or something, ain’t supposed to swear?”

“No, we’re agnostic.”

“Agnostic. Never heard of that one.” Jane prided herself on being as clever as anyone else she met, but her schooling had been sparse. “Agnostics don’t swear?”

“Not as much as whatever you are.”

“Never mind what I am,” said Jane. “Queer mix of folk hereabouts. Are agnostic sermons really boring?”

“Ain’t no agnostic church. It’s a philosophy.”

“So where do agnostics go on Sunday?”

“It’s not like that. Agnostic just means you figure that you don’t know if there is a God or not,” Andrew said.

“I thought that was what an atheist was.”

“Nope. An atheist is sure there is no God.”

“Oh,” she said. “No matter. “I ain’t much of one for church anyhow.”

The reason I inject humor as often as I can is two-fold. One is just a matter of style. Good writing (I am told) is an ebb and flow of tension building and tension relief. When I can use humor for that tension relief, I do. The above excerpt follows an episode (firmly historically based) where Jane goes begging, ill-clad, cold, and hungry, little sister in tow. Some sort of tension relief is needed after that.

The other reason I use humor is to be true to the primary historical sources, particularly Langford's Vigilante Days and Ways. I came to this history biased by austere TV Westerns I had seen as a child and  was surprised to find so much humor woven into Langford's story. As that author tells us explicitly, in the darkest hour of this frontier town, humor was a daily undercurrent. In order to be true to history, I had to inject humor as well.

Calamity Jane:How the West Began is on sale!
Grab the ebook for $1.99 on Amazon. Ends September 1st.

About the Author:

Bryan Ney is a medical doctor in Los Angeles. In the 1990s he stumbled upon the history of how the outlaws held sway in 1860s Montana, and was fascinated by the dynamics of how the good guys finally united and overcame them. This book, a finalist in four contests in the months after publication, is the fruit of that fascination. Dr Ney now dreams of a second career, bringing the Old West to life in a new way for devoted fans. www.bryanney.com

Friday, August 18, 2017

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: Traitor's Knot by Cryssa Bazos

Please join me in welcoming Cryssa Bazos to Let Them Read Books! Cryssa is touring the blogosphere with her debut novel, Traitor's Knot. I had the privilege of offering Cryssa some editorial assistance before the novel was picked up by Endeavour Press, and I could not be happier to see the wonderful reception it's receiving. I recently had the chance to ask Cryssa some questions about her story and her characters. Read on and enter to win a signed paperback copy of Traitor's Knot!

England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.

Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Traitor’s Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

Can you tell us what first drew you to the English Civil War period?

I have always felt a strong connection to the 17th century and have gravitated to books set during this time period. The era was a time characterized by exploding literacy, scientific discovery and exploration. The war accelerated this social and political change. People started to question their loyalties, place in society and relationship to God. This was an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary change. Historically, times of great destruction, like world wars, result in the greatest leaps for mankind, and the English Civil War marked the dawn of the modern period.

The war had a devastating effect on England, Scotland and Ireland. About a quarter of a million people died, either directly or indirectly. You think about homes being destroyed and civilians becoming collateral damage, but the more insidious enemy was starvation. Thousands of troops required free quarter and ate up most of the winter stores. It must have been an impossible situation for the women and children that were left behind facing starvation. What made it even worse was that it struck so close to home—the enemy wasn’t a foreign power coming to invade and thereby rallying the people to defend the country. Instead, the war divided families and communities, the very connections that are ingrained into us from birth. England had had civil wars before: the Anarchy and the War of the Roses to name a couple, but those conflicts were nobles fighting against nobles to found a new dynasty. The English Civil War was the first time when commoners and noblemen jointly rose up against the monarchy.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guest Post: Feuding with Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson, Author of The Wardrobe Mistress

Please join me in welcoming author Meghan Masterson to Let Them Read Books! I had the pleasure of meeting Meghan at the Historical Novel Society conference in Oregon in June, and her debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, was high on my new-release radar. I'm thrilled to have her here today with a guest post about two of Marie Antoinette's famous feuds! Read on, and check back next week for my review of The Wardrobe Mistress!

Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | BAM | Macmillan

THE WARDROBE MISTRESS is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, an inside look at Marie Antoinette's luxurious life in Versailles remarkably juxtaposed against life in third estate as the French Revolution gains strength. A propulsive exploration of love, loyalty, danger, and intrigue...not to be missed.

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest under-tirewomen, 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 Paris, 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 Léon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the uprising 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.

Feuding with Marie Antoinette
by Meghan Masterson

Upon her marriage to the future Louis XVI in 1770, Marie Antoinette came to Versailles at the tender age of fifteen. In spite of her youth, she was determined to fulfill her rank as dauphine and future queen. Unfortunately, in one case, this meant starting a feud. She had a couple of feuds through her lifetime, being stubborn enough to stand by her principles and sensitive enough to hold a grudge. Let’s examine two of them and determine if they were justified or not.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Blog Tour Review: The Cottingley Secret by Hazel Gaynor

From the Back Cover:

The New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?

My Thoughts:

I had never heard of the Cottingley Fairies before I saw the description of this book, and after being blown away by Hazel Gaynor's short story "Hush" in one of my top reads of 2016, Fall of Poppies, I knew I wanted to read this book. Based on the true story of cousins Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, and further infused with authenticity by the author's time spent with Frances's daughter, The Cottingley Secret is a hauntingly beautiful tale of childhood, friendship, magic, and finding the courage to start one's life over.

Dual timelines have become a favorite storytelling structure for me. I love how they connect events of the past to the present and show us how history still echoes through time, whether on a smaller scale for an individual or a family or on the broader scale of humanity as a whole. The Cottingley Secret moves back and forth between World War I and the years that followed and the present day, illuminating how two girls, with their claims of seeing fairies in England, gave hope to a country reeling from the horrors of war and the deaths of so many men, and whose story inspires Olivia Kavanagh, a woman in the 21st century, to rediscover who she is and seize the reins of her life's journey, in the process uncovering her own connection to the Cottingley Fairies.

Hazel Gaynor is receiving many accolades for her writing, and I can see why. Her prose is just gorgeous. Her descriptions lush and pensive and transporting. Her portrayal of human nature emotional and sympathetic. I was in tears throughout the final chapter. There were a few sections of the story that dragged a bit for me, and I would have liked a firmer resolution to Olivia's romantic subplot, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The quieter pacing and character-driven plot may not appeal to all readers, but for those who appreciate a beautifully written story that highlights a lesser-known chapter in history while providing an in-depth study of the human experience, The Cottingley Secret is a must-read.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars out of 5

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Cottingley Secret is on a blog tour!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Blog Tour Excerpt + Giveaway: Blood Moon: A Captive's Tale by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Blood Moon: A Captive’s Tale
by Ruth Hull Chatlien

Publication Date: June 14, 2017
Amika Press
Paperback & eBook; 424 Pages
Genre: Historical Fiction

Southern Minnesota, August 1862. Smoke fills the horizon and blood soaks the prairie as the Sioux fight to drive white settlers from their ancestral homeland. Sarah Wakefield and her young son and baby daughter are fleeing for their lives when two warriors capture them. One is Hapa, who intends to murder them. The other is Chaska, an old acquaintance who promises to protect the family. Chaska shelters them in his mother’s tepee, but with emotions running so high among both Indians and whites, the danger only intensifies. As she struggles to protect herself and those she loves, Sarah is forced to choose between doing what others expect of her and following her own deep beliefs.

“Chatlien’s mastery of the historical period—especially the life and culture of the Sioux—is notable and creates a fictional atmosphere of authenticity. A subtle dramatization of the conflict between white settlers and Native Americans in the 19th century.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Richly detailed, Blood Moon is an intrepid tale of bravery and adventure in America’s western frontiers. Perfect for fans of immersive historical fiction.” – Stephanie Thornton, author of The Tiger Queens and The Conqueror’s Wife

“An engrossing tale of struggle and justice-of friendship, mercy, and a rare, moving love. Ruth Hull Chatlien writes with great sensitivity and vivid yet subtle prose. Blood Moon is a must-read for fans of western novels, as well as women’s historical fiction.” – Libbie Hawker, author of Tidewater


I walk to the eastern window, hoping for fresh air and a glimpse of sky. When I went out to the privy before retiring, the moon was rising above the treetops—large and full, a glowing ivory orb that resembled a lustrous pearl nestled in black velvet. Its beauty made me glad to be living out here on the Minnesota prairie where we have such a fine view of the heavens.

Now, however, when I glance outside, only a thin crescent moon rides in the sky. My chest squeezes with dismay. How is this possible? Leaning out the open window, I notice that the interior curve of the crescent is blurry. Then I see the faint circular outline of a shadowy full moon against the black sky.

An eclipse.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: Casanova's Secret Wife by Barbara Lynn-Davis

Please join me in welcoming Barbara Lynn-Davis to Let Them Read Books! Barbara is touring the blogosphere with her debut historical novel, Casanova's Secret Wife, and I recently had the chance to ask her a few burning questions about her famous subject and his not-so-famous wife. Read on and enter to win a paperback copy of Casanova's Secret Wife!

Set in eighteenth-century Venice and based on an actual account by Giacomo Casanova—here is a lush tale of desire and risk.

Caterina Capreta was an innocent girl of fourteen when she caught the attention of the world’s most infamous chronicler of seduction: Giacomo Casanova. Intoxicated by a fierce love, she wed Casanova in secret. But his shocking betrayal inspired her to commit an act that would mark her forever …

Now twenty years later on the island of Murano, the woman in possession of Caterina’s most devastating secret has appeared with a request she cannot refuse: to take in a noble-born girl whose scandalous love affair resembles her own. But the girl’s presence stirs up unwelcome memories of Caterina’s turbulent past. Tested like never before, she reveals the story of the man she will never forget.

Bringing to life a fascinating chapter in the history of Venice, Casanova’s Secret Wife is a tour de force that charts one woman’s journey through love and loss to redemption.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Indiebound | Target | iBooks | Google Play | Kobo

Hi Barbara! Welcome to Let Them Read Books! Thanks so much for taking the time to join us today.

Can you tell us what inspired you to write a story about Casanova from the point of view of one of his conquests? Was Caterina a real historical figure?

Caterina Capreta was a real person in Venice, only fourteen years old when she met Giacomo Casanova. But he was not notorious or even well-known at the time my story takes place. I challenge my readers to think apart from Casanova-as-myth and she as just another “conquest.” Theirs is a story of passion, hope, desperation, loss, and enduring love. These are the reasons I wrote the book: to share their haunting love story.

What kind of research did you do to prepare for this story? Did you come across anything that surprised you?

Readers often remark on the setting: the inimitable city of Venice. I first became enchanted with Venice while working at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in the neighborhood of Dorsoduro. Later, as a graduate student, I returned to live in Venice and got to know the city inside and out. I can walk the streets, dart in and out of churches to find hidden altarpieces, smell the night jasmine creeping out of garden gates, and hear the lapping water in my mind. I did do “book” research for the story, like about midwife practice, horse care, and the Jewish ghetto. But mostly, the story is an unpouring of images and memories I carry inside of me.