February 28, 2013
It's still February, if only just, so here you go: the other half of that mandated pair of yearly blog posts for all book bloggers. First comes “The 10 Best Books I Read Last Year,” and then comes “10 Hotly Anticipated Reads of This Year.” I can already tell it's going to be a good year for reading. Here, in no particular order, are the ten books that top my list for 2012, some of which have been around for a long time, others of which will be released at some point over the next ten months . . .
1. "The Passage," by Justin Cronin
Since it's already late February, I've already read the first book on this year's to-read list. And what a stunner! Think Stephen King's “The Stand” crossed with the “Walking Dead” – a terrifying dystopian vision of the future when infected humans become bat-like “virals,” and humanity is reduced to a fading minority. The key to the dilemma seems to be Amy, a teenage girl who is somehow a century old, and who can somehow control the virals. But what exactly is the ageless and mysterious Amy? Expect this doorstopper of a book, and its equally brick-like sequel “The Twelve,” to devour a good month of your life, minimum.
2. "Light," by Michael Grant
Speaking of dystopian fantasies, I can't wait for the final installment of the “Gone” series. This isn't quite the end of the world, like “The Passage,” but possibly it's the end of the mysterious dome which isolated a group of teenagers from the rest of the adult population five books ago. This is YA, but it's not “Twilight” or even “The Hunger Games” – it's more like “Lord of the Flies,” and these kids are far too busy surviving to care about love triangles. I'm crossing my fingers that Grant will finish this hair-raising saga with his signature style – swaggering heroes you love and slimy villains you love to hate, all wrapped in a ball of non-stop action.
3. “War and Peace,” by Leo Tolstoy
I've read and adored Anna Karenina, but somehow never got around to Tolstoy's companion classic. Time to find out if the story of Natasha, Prince Andrei, et al fascinates me as it has so many others across the centuries.
4. “The Painted Girls,” by Cathy Marie Buchanon
I love ballet, I love French Impressionist art, and I love books about painters (“Girl With A Pearl Earring!” “The Swan Thieves!”) and dancers (“Russian Winter!” “A Company of Swans!”) So what could be more promising than this just-released tale of two sisters, one a former dancer entering the Parisian demi-monde, and the other Degas's inspiration for his famous “Little Dancer” sculpture? Highly anticipated.
5. "The Bronze Horseman," by Paullina Simons
One of those books with a large, persistent, and vocal group of fans. Over and over I've heard readers swoon about the star-crossed lovers! The pulse-pounding war drama! The Russian setting! Time to see what all the fuss is about. War-torn Russia is a fascinating setting in and of itself, so I'm anticipating good things from this one.
6. "The Fiery Heart," by Richelle Mead
First the Vampire Academy series, and now the Bloodlines series – Mead's fast and funny YA vampire books are my delicious guilty pleasure. These are written for teenage girls in the best sense of the word, because Mead's heroines are never palely loitering Mary Sues with not a thought in their pretty little heads outside their love lives. Her VA heroine was an ass-kicker in the Buffy style; the gal who stars in the Bloodlines series is more brains than brawn, but just as resourceful in a crisis. “The Fiery Heart” is fourth in the series, and November can't come soon enough.
7. "Daughters of the Nile," by Stephanie Dray
Talk about girl power – Cleopatra's daughter Selene has it in spades. This is the third and final installment in Dray's delicious romp through ancient Roman politics and Isis magic. I had the privilege of a sneak peek at the book's early draft (privileges of being friends with the author) and I know how much tweaking and polishing has been done since then, so I can't wait to read the final product. This I predict without Isis's help: Selene will be queenly and occasionally terrifying in her goal to rule her kingdom and found a dynasty; her husband Juba will be appealing and occasionally maddening in his efforts to win his queen's love; and Emperor Augustus will continue to raise the hairs on my neck every time he walks (slides, slithers) onto the page.
8. "The Tudor Conspiracy," by C.W. Gortner
Gortner takes a refreshing spin on oft-tread ground with his Tudor Spymaster series, sending his fictional hero Brendan on an exhilarating scramble through political snakepits rife with real historical figures like the young Princess Elizabeth. This second installment in the series has Brendon scheming to save Elizabeth from her vengeful sister Queen Mary. God knows how he'll do it, but I can't wait to find out.
9. "The Forsyte Saga," by John Galsworthy
Big multi-generational family epics, plus that same lush period of English history that spawned all my favorite Edith Wharton novels. Let the family drama, the big hats, the high teas, the looming social change, and the seething dialogue begin!
10. "Of Human Bondage," by Somerste Maugham
Yet another of the big classics I haven't gotten around to yet, though I adore Somerset Maugham and have read most of his other work. Plus, this is my mother's favorite book of all time. 'Nuff said; it's going on the list.
And on that note, happy reading!
February 13, 2013
What have you got planned for Valentine's Day tomorrow? Maybe a steak dinner and champagne with your spouse or significant other – or maybe a cozy evening in with your favorite swoony fictional hero and a bag of mini-Reeses. If you're a historical fiction buff, chances are you've dreamed of a Valentine's Day date not with anybody from the 21st century, but with a knight in shining armor, a Highlander in a kilt, a gladiator in spiked leather greaves. (Anya Seton's John of Gaunt and I enjoyed many a Valentine's Day dates in my teenage years.) So let's indulge: a few Valentine's Day dates with five of history's most dashing historical tropes . . .
Your Date: Man of Rome (Stephanie Dray's Juba, Robert Harris's Cicero, Margaret George's Caesar)
If your man of Rome is along the senatorial lines, your V-Day activities will involve a stroll through Mars Field (sedate pace; those togas are binding) and afterward an intimate little meal for two featuring sea urchins in almond milk, stuffed sow's udders, and jellied roses in pastry; air conditioning provided by silent slave girls waving fans. Your post-dinner present? A really fabulous necklace of silver and pearls from Britannia, much more affordable than those “Kiss Begins With Kay” diamond studs because Britannia's been recently stomped into submission, and all that slave labor in the silver mines means that fabulous silver jewelry comes cheap. If your man of Rome is more in the gladiatorial line, expect a more rough and tumble date: sour posca
and the equivalent of a ball-park hot dog as the two of you hit the Circus Maximus and cheer his favorite team. Your gladiator may be on the track for a short life, so don't get mad if he doesn't call for another date – just enjoy those abs while you can.
Your Date: Knight In Shining Armor (Anya Seton's John of Gaunt, Sophie Perinot's Jean de Joinville)
Your knight in shining armor may sweep you off to a castle in France for a passionate idyll, as John of Gaunt did for his Katherine Swynford: private troubadours, a roaring fire, a four-poster bed, banks of jasmine, a pleasure garden with a sweeping view of the Pyrenees, and a cup of wine for two to share. Medieval men tend to be a little rough-spun in their ideas of fine cuisine, however, so don't be surprised if your knight's idea of a romantic dinner is to go hunting and then proudly present you with a dead boar. Boar-on-a-spit takes forever to cook, so get your knight out of that tabard and prepare to wile away at least eight hours until dinner's ready.
Those romantic Victorian artists who painted medieval fantasies like this tend to leave out the dead boar part.
Your Date: Scottish highlander (Jamie Fraser from “Outlander,” any hero from Eliza Knight's "Stolen Bride" series)
Och, the romance of a man in a kilt! There will be heather on this date, and there will be a picnic lunch overlooking some mist-shrouded loch. There will be the moment when your Highlander looks tenderly into your eyes as he slowly, sensuously, slices open the turgid stomach sac to release the steaming mass of haggis onto your plate. And knowing the weather patterns of the Scottish highlands, there will probably be rain. But he's got that plaid for a reason, so wrap yourself up in it and get cozy. And hope this date doesn't end all Braveheart with somebody getting hanged, drawn, and quartered.
On the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond. Or anywhere else, with a Scots Highlander, or for that matter, Liam Neeson.
Renaissance Man (Elizabeth Loupas's Duke of Ferrara, Sara Poole's Cesare Borgia)
Glory be, a man whose dream date is an art gallery! Your Renaissance man truly is a man for all seasons – he'll take you to see those new Pinturicchio frescoes and talk knowledgeably about poetry, science, sculpture, warfare, and politics – and he'll do it in a variety of languages, too. Post-gallery, expect a summer cena
under the arched loggias: grilled sea bass in a truffles-and-caviar sauce, a strawberry and elderflower crostata, and wine chilled in snow. You'll be serenaded by a choir of six sweet-voiced children who turn out (surprise!) to be your date's various illegitimate offspring. Just in case a marriage proposal follows dinner, you should know that Renaissance men (at least in Italy) will expect you to raise the mistress's kids as well as your own.
Cesare Borgia from the Showtime series . . . he can be my Valentine's Day date any day.
Your Date: Regency Man (Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy, Captain Wentworth, Mr. Knightly, Colonel Brandon . . .)
One thing you may be certain of: Regency Man will not present you with a dead boar on your date. No, your afternoon will involve a drive in his new barouche-landau
so that the ton
may admire your new spencer and his new cravat, followed by cards at Almack's (if he is racy) and then a ball (brush up on your minuet figures, as the waltz is still considered shocking). Regency Man may polish his boots with champagne like Beau Brummell, but don't be fooled by fancy dress – inquire closely as to his prospects. If he is a single gentleman in possession of a good fortune, not to mention a large estate in Darbyshire, then by all means, latch on. Or at least tip him in a lake so you can watch him wade out in his wet shirt.
And on that note, Happy Valentine's Day!
February 6, 2013
Friends and family will often get more worked up over a bad review than an author will. My husband is STILL fuming about my first one-star Amazon review, and it was more than three years ago. He knows better than to start flame wars on the internet defending the honor of my books, but it can be tough sometimes for a writer spouse to take the high road.
A while back, I posted my annual "I Hated Your Book" blog post
- my top-ten list of the bad, the ugly, and the just plain weird reviews I received in 2012. I rephrase everything for anonymity, and I have fun posting the replies I wish I could shoot back in person. And today, since it's all in anonymous fun anyway, I've given my husband permission to make his own responses. Just this once . . .
1.“Cringeworthy bodiceripping lovestory.”
Please locate said bodices for me. As Kate's husband and critique partner, I have seen every iteration of these books from their raw ideas to their finished forms, and I simply cannot live with myself if I, as the first and initial editor, missed a SINGLE BODICE. Help me, O Un-hyphenated Reader....you're my only hope.
2.“I bought your book at the same time as Stephanie Dray's “Song of the Nile.” Hers is slightly less boring than yours.”
Yeah, so Stephanie's a good friend to my wife and me, and normally I'd back her up to the hilt. But when it comes to my wife being compared to other women, Kate is always the most talented, most beautiful, classiest, *every awesome thing ever*. Sorry to ditch you on this one, Stephanie.
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.”
So let me get this straight........you're irritated by historical accuracy in a historical novel that you very probably located in the "Historical Fiction" section of your bookstore or library? Hold on, I think I can help..........one sec........looking around...........OK! Here we go! THIS
should be more your speed for right now.
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.”
Um.....thanks? Kate based the hero on me, so I guess you tangentially complimented me there. On the other hand, your comment just convinced me that you're schizophrenic, so I'm not really sure how to take it. *slowly puts hands in the air and backs away very carefully*
5. “There was such foul language in this book, I just couldn't stand it.”
Yeah, because the hero of this book is a soldier – and as a military man myself, let me ______ reassure you that ________ military men do NOT _______ swear. Not in ____ ancient Rome, not ____ now, not in any ____ era. We ________ speak __________ forcefully and loudly, _____ yeah, but we do NOT use _______ language. Never ____ ever.
6.“Your Rome is like three blocks wide from the way all the central characters keep bumping into each other!”
Huh. Actually, that's pretty legit.
7. “This book is an insult to my Jewish heritage. So anti-Semitic; any Jew would be offended!”
What book did you read? My wife's works and “Mein Kampf” look NOTHING alike.
8.“Wasn't interested enough to finish the book. Four stars out of five!”
I just saw the opening credits for “The Hobbit!” Wonderful movie!
9. I didn't like this book as much as her other book “Empress of the Daughter's Mistress.”
Personally, my favorite part of the book was when Vix, Hermione, and The Doctor went back in time to reboot the universe, but King Arthur was confused by all the new people, so he called up George III on his communicator, who sent Aragon to take on The Borg with his lightsaber.
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.”
Ok, funny hat off here..... I was preparing a scathing response about the idea of an intellectual wanting to burn books, complete with a staggering comparison to Nazi Germany. But then it occurred to me.......
You're an idiot, and here's why:
a) Kate's books aren't intellectual works. Granted, they're very well done, but they aren't designed to promote a philosophy or explain post-modern surrealism, or anything of the sort. They're great stories that are expertly told, not intellectual treatises. What you're doing is looking at a very fast car that's a lot of fun to drive, and bitching that it's not a nuclear submarine.
b) By definition, anyone who would consider burning a book is not an intellectual. Intellectuals recognize the value and worth in every work, regardless of personal taste, even if the only lesson learned is what not to do. The fact that you would even consider burning something out of spite, and try to remove that knowledge and information from the world, tells me that you're nothing but a small and petty mind.
And for the bonus crazy email my wife received in 2012 . . .
11.“Hi Kate, 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!”
I have a broadsword.