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Historical Fiction
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end.
Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance's most notorious family, three outsiders must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power.
The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web.
The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect.
The Year of Four Emperors - and four very different women struggling to survive
A brilliant and paranoid Emperor, a wary and passionate slave girl – who will survive?

Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents

Top Reads for 2012

December 21, 2012

Tags: top ten list

Two things hold true at the end of each year: all book bloggers must, by federal mandate, post a “Top Ten Books of the Year!” list on their blogs, and all of us whether book bloggers or not still have holiday shopping to do. So why not combine the two? Here are the top eleven books I read this year (why eleven? I'm bored with ten), and the Christmas stockings you should consider filling with these titles!


1. “Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,” by Ransom Riggs. One of those rare smartly-written kid books so creative and quirky that adults die for it too. Eerie real-life photographs weave seamlessly into this story of a boy who discovers a mysterious time-loop full of children with astonishing powers – not to mention the creatures who hunt them. Buy for: that whip-smart kid in your life, be it the young son with his nose in the book or the little girl with the quirky imagination you used to baby-sit for. The one you someday suspect might develop the ability to read minds or walk through walls.

2. “The Edwardians,” by Vita Sackville-West. A delicious high-tea-and-big-hats read about a handsome young Duke and his bohemian sister as they struggle to find love and happiness in pre-WWI England. Buy for: your madly Anglophile mum. This should see her through till Season 3 of Downton Abbey begins.

3. “The Sister Queens,” by Sophie Perinot. A warm and perceptive study of two beautiful heiresses who respectively marry the Kings of France and England – think a high-Medieval version of the Middleton sisters. If you like your historical sister drama real and not reduced to the hissing-spitting-catfighting variety of “The Other Boleyn Girl,” then this book is for you. Buy for: your sister, duh. Book a long lunch afterward for the inevitable argument, “So, you're totally Queen Marguerite, and I'm Queen Eleanor.” “No way, I'm the younger sister so I'm Eleanor . . .” Bonus: if you have more than one sister, stuff their stockings with Sherry Jones's "Four Sisters, All Queens," which tackles the younger pair of sisters in the family too.

4. “Code Name Verity,” by Elizabeth Wein. A riveting edge-of-your-seat World War II thriller about a young female spy weaving a tapestry of lies when she is caught by the Gestapo, and the courageous little pilot who must finish her friend's mission on her own. This is true girl-power; a tale of female friendship and female courage that will knock your socks off. Buy for: that teenage niece you're desperately trying to wean off “Twilight.” Expect her next text to read “OMG, I would SO TOTALLY join the French Resistance!!!” rather than “Team Jacob 4-Ever!!!”

5. “Gone Girl,” by Gillian Flynn. A seemingly perfect marriage reveals itself as a nest of horrors when a beautiful wife goes missing on her anniversary. Twists, turns, and riveting characters galore. Buy for: your uncle who just divorced that psycho ex-wife. He'll be cheered by the thought that no wife is as psycho as the one in this book.

6. “The Queen's Vow,” by C.W. Gortner. Isabella of Castile is commonly vilified as fanatic and bigot: Her Catholic Majesty who expelled the Jews from Spain and unleashed the Inquisition on her people. But Gortner gently humanizes this daunting figure as the beleagured princess grimly clinging to her faith and her future in a world that wants to kill her. Buy for: your historical fiction-addict BFF who complains there's nothing in the genre anymore but Tudor stuff. The setting here is Renaissance Spain in all its bloody, complex glory.

7. “The Invisible Bridge,” by Julie Orringer. The gorgeous saga of a Hungarian Jewish family on the brink of WWII. Not just another harrowing Holocaust tale; this fabulous read is a paean to life, love, family, humor, tragedy, and everything in between. Buy for: your grandma recovering from her knee surgery. She may comment, as my grandma did, “It sure puts things into perspective. My knee may hurt like hell, but at least I'm not being loaded into a cattle car.”

8. “The Flower Reader,” by Elizabeth Loupas. Mercurial queens, secret societies of assassins, a heroine who can read the future in flowers, and a hero with eyeliner – not many authors could assemble a story so fun, so poignant, and so satisfying out of such disparate elements, but Elizabeth Loupas sure can. This is her second novel, proving she has dodged the sophomore slump and is on the historical fiction scene to stay, and as a major talent. Buy for: your aunt who just got back from that walking tour of Scotland. She'll swoon for the heroine's castle by the sea, let alone her hero in his plaids.

9. “Captain Vorpatril's Alliance,” by Lois McMaster Bujold. The latest space-opera romp in Bujold's breezy, humorous, and sometimes harrowing Vorkosigan Saga. This one focuses on the hero's charming playboy cousin Ivan, who surrenders his bachelor status to help a damsel in distress – kind of like a Regency Romance but with bounty hunters and space-ships thrown in with the crusty dowagers and arranged marriages. Pure fun, like all Bujold's books, setting her a cut above in what can be a deadly-serious genre. Buy for: the office nerd you drew for Secret Santa. This'll hook him on the Vorkosigan series, and you'll never have to hear another word about Star Trek.

10. “11/22/63,” by Stephen King. A doorstopper of a book that narrows a tense and terrifying lens on the immortal question “Who killed Kennedy?” A 21st century schoolteacher finds a mysterious portal back in time, and decides to stop the Kennedy assassination . . . but what if he succeeds? Buy for: your dad, who not only remembers the Kennedy assassination, but has his own set of conspiracy theories about whodunit.

11. "The Art of Fielding," by Chad Harbach. A quirky and beautiful tale of small-town college life, focusing around a baseball team gunning for a championship, a star shortstop with a crisis of confidence, a college president blindsided by an unexpected romance, and his daughter trying to re-align her life after a disastrous marriage. Buy for: your sports-addicted husband who claims he doesn't like to read. He'll eat up the baseball in this book before he realizes he's also getting a coming of age story, a poignant romance, and a gorgeous drama.

Happy Holidays!


I Hated Your Book!

December 2, 2012

Tags: i hated your book

The season of love and goodwill approaches, which makes it an excellent time to go through some hate mail. Yes, dear readers, it's time for my now-yearly tradition: the “I Hated Your Book” blog post.

Negative reviews for books: it's a touchier subject than ever these days. Writers can be a sensitive breed, and our books are our babies. Like any proud parent, we want to lash out at those who say our baby is ugly – but bad reviews are part of this business. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, after all, and no book is going to please 100% of its readers.

My first book Mistress of Rome got panned a few times, and my second book Daughters of Rome did too. Ditto for my latest book, Empress of the Seven Hills - and that's ok. I have learned valuable things from negative reviews or emails – a sharp-eyed reader, for example, who was nice enough to contact me with the tactful observation that my Jewish characters should be speaking Aramaic and not Hebrew. Believe me, that detail will be carefully corrected in the next book. And as for those less-constructive (ok, downright nasty) one-star reviews that make me see red, well, I may call up my girlfriends and do some ranting about said reviewer's lack of insight, literary discernment, personal hygiene, and use of the subjunctive – but I will always keep such rants off the web. Such online spats are unprofessional, and they can get ugly in a hurry – see the brouhaha when bestselling author Emily Giffin commented on Facebook about a bad review, and the poor book blogger who panned her ended up receiving violent phone threats.

Perhaps we authors and fans alike need just a bit more humor in looking at the situation. I've gotten some reviews and emails that are so bizarre or flat-out insane that all I can do is laugh. Here are a few memorable gems from this year's readers who have contacted me with negative feedback. I have rephrased them for anonymity but all are true in essence:


1.“Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.”
What I'm cringing at is your inability to hyphenate.

2.“I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray's “Song of the Nile.” Hers is slightly less boring than yours.”
I resent that. Stephanie Dray is a friend of mine, and I'll have you know that she is MUCH less boring than I am.

3.“I hated the way all the women in this book were accused of being sluts whenever they stepped outside the rules. I mean, I guess it was historically accurate, but it bothered me way too much to finish the book.”
If you are that shocked by the notion that women of the past lived under an unfair double-standard, then historical fiction is not for you.

4.“I heart the hero Vix! He's just so badass the way he stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. I didn't like the heroine at all, though; she was so self-centered the way she plowed through life just trying to get her own way.”
Ah, I see. Reader #3 was disturbed by double-standards for men and women. You just HAVE double-standards for men and women.

5.“There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn't stand it.”
This reader has a point. Because the hero of this book is a soldier – and as we all know, real military men never cuss. In any era.

6.“Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!”
They said the same thing about Dickens. He survived; so will I. Actually, I've never really cared for Dickens. Maybe I need to keep this review in mind for the next book.

7.“This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!”
Thank you for your feedback. I would pass your concerns on to my editor, but she's sitting shiva this week.

8.“Wasn't interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!”
So you probably think I'm crazy to be irritated by a 4-star review, but . . . huh?

9.I didn't like this book as much as “Empress of the Daughter's Mistress.”
Masterful. Not only can I not tell which book of mine you just read, I can't tell what other book of mine you're comparing it to. Considering that I've only written three books, that's quite an achievement.

10.“This trash is an insult to intellectuals everywhere. I'm trying to decide whether to toss this book in the library's 2 cent bin, or burn it.”
I think you'll find that the real insult to intellectuals everywhere is book-burning.

And for the bonus crazy email of 2012 . . .

11.“I saw your picture on the book jacket, and I like girls like you! You know, pretty, blond, puffy cheeks, loves history. We should talk!”
Wow. Um. Just – wow. Did you read the bio under my picture, where it mentions that I'm married? Happily? To a very muscular Navy sailor/amateur boxer? I suggest Match.com if you wish to find unmarried history-loving blondes. And here's a tip: don't use the word “puffy” in your ad.