Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Babe Ruth Deception by David O. Stewart

Please join me in welcoming David O. Stewart to Let Them Read Books! David is touring the blogosphere with his latest historical mystery, The Babe Ruth Deception, and he's here today with a guest post about the tools he uses when writing a historical novel. Read on and enter to win a copy of The Babe Ruth Deception!

As the Roaring Twenties get under way, corruption seems everywhere–from the bootleggers flouting Prohibition to the cherished heroes of the American Pastime now tarnished by scandal. Swept up in the maelstrom are Dr. Jamie Fraser and Speed Cook…

Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, is having a record-breaking season in his first year as a New York Yankee. In 1920, he will hit more home runs than any other team in the American League. Larger than life on the ball field and off, Ruth is about to discover what the Chicago White Sox players accused of throwing the 1919 World Series are learning–baseball heroes are not invulnerable to scandal. With suspicion in the air, Ruth’s 1918 World Series win for the Boston Red Sox is now being questioned. Under scrutiny by the new baseball commissioner and enmeshed with gambling kingpin Arnold Rothstein, Ruth turns for help to Speed Cook–a former professional ballplayer himself before the game was segregated and now a promoter of Negro baseball–who’s familiar with the dirty underside of the sport.

Cook in turn enlists the help of Dr. Jamie Fraser, whose wife Eliza is coproducing a silent film starring the Yankee outfielder. Restraint does not come easily to the reckless Ruth, but the Frasers try to keep him in line while Cook digs around.

As all this plays out, Cook’s son Joshua and Fraser’s daughter Violet are brought together by a shocking tragedy. But an interracial relationship in 1920 feels as dangerous as a public scandal–even more so because Joshua is heavily involved in bootlegging. Trying to protect Ruth and their own children, Fraser and Cook find themselves playing a dangerous game.

Once again masterfully blending fact and fiction, David O. Stewart delivers a nail-biting historical mystery that captures an era unlike any America has seen before or since in all its moral complexity and dizzying excitement.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Tools of Historical Fiction
By David O. Stewart

Through the three historical mysteries in my “Deception” series – # 3, The Babe Ruth Deception emerged in paperback last month – I’ve turned to some unexpected tools for grounding each story in the proper time-and-place.  

Because the books range from 1900 (The Lincoln Deception) to 1921 (Babe Ruth), and take place variously in small-town Ohio, Washington, Paris, and New York, each one has involved different challenges.  If readers don’t believe the book’s version of the era and the location, the story doesn’t have a chance.  Happily, some tools work in any situation.


These are invaluable guides to personal clothing (how uncomfortable were they?), hair styles, and deportment (how formal did people wish to appear?).  Photos of cities reveal how they looked a century ago:  the traffic, the buildings, the commercial offerings.  Photos of Manhattan streetscapes in the early 1900s showed a surprising (to me) lack of women who were out and about.  All were escorted by men.  

When it comes to landscapes and vistas, even current photos may be helpful.

Finally, photographs are essential for any real historical figures who appear in the story (say, Babe Ruth or President Woodrow Wilson in The Wilson Deception).  The Babe’s disarming grin, Wilson’s triumphantly erect posture – these come through powerfully in photos.  The story has to portray historical figures as they were, and as they’re known.  I have distilled this inarguable point: you can make up a lot, but Abe Lincoln HAS to be tall.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Spotlight: The Competition by Donna Russo Morin

The Competition by Donna Russo Morin

Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Diversion Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 268 Pages
Series: Da Vinci's Disciples, Book Two
Genre: Historical/Mystery

Donna Russo Morin returns with a follow-up to Portrait of a Conspiracy, called “a page-turner unlike any historical novel, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition,” by C.W. Gortner.

 In a studiolo behind a church, six women gather to perform an act that is, at once, restorative, powerful, and illegal. They paint. Under the tutelage of Leonardo da Vinci, these six show talent and drive equal to that of any man, but in Renaissance Florence they must hide their skills, or risk the scorn of the city.

A commission to paint a fresco in Santo Spirito is announced and Florence’s countless artists each seek the fame and glory this lucrative job will provide. Viviana, a noblewoman freed from a terrible marriage and now free to pursue her artistic passions in secret, sees a potential life-altering opportunity for herself and her fellow female artists. The women first speak to Lorenzo de’ Medici himself, and finally, they submit a bid for the right to paint it. And they win.

But the church will not stand for women painting, especially not in a house of worship. The city is not ready to consider women in positions of power, and in Florence, artists wield tremendous power. Even the women themselves are hesitant; the attention they will bring upon themselves will disrupt their families, and could put them in physical danger.

All the while, Viviana grows closer to Sansone, her soldier lover, who is bringing her joy that she never knew with her deceased husband. And fellow-artist Isabetta has her own romantic life to distract her, sparked by Lorenzo himself. Power and passion collide in this sumptuous historical novel of shattering limitations, one brushstroke at a time.

 Buy on Amazon

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Blog Tour Guest Post + Giveaway: The Kate Clifford Mystery Series by Candace Robb

Please join me in welcoming Candace Robb back to Let Them Read Books! Candace is touring the blogosphere with her Kate Clifford historical mystery series, and she's here today with a guest post about switching gears from her popular Owen Archer series (check out her 2015 guest post) to write about a female lead. Read on and enter to win the first two books in the series, The Service for the Dead and A Twisted Vengeance!

Expertly recreating the social and political upheavals of late medieval Europe, Candace Robb introduces a new series starring Kate Clifford, a woman forged on the warring northern marches of fourteenth century England.

Political unrest permeates York at the cusp of the fifteenth century, as warring factions take sides on who should be the rightful king–Richard II or his estranged, powerful cousin in exile, Henry Bolingbroke. Independent minded twenty-year-old Kate Clifford is struggling to dig out from beneath the debt left by her late husband. Determined to find a way to be secure in her own wealth and establish her independence in a male dominated society, Kate turns one of her properties near the minster into a guest house and sets up a business. In a dance of power, she also quietly rents the discreet bedchambers to the wealthy, powerful merchants of York for nights with their mistresses.

But the brutal murder of a mysterious guest and the disappearance of his companion for the evening threatens all that Kate has built. Before others in town hear word of a looming scandal, she must call upon all of her hard-won survival skills to save herself from ruin.

As the fourteenth century comes to a close, York seethes on the brink of civil war―and young widow Kate Clifford, struggling to keep her businesses afloat, realizes that her mother is harboring a dangerous secret…

1399. York is preparing for civil war, teeming with knights and their armed retainers summoned for the city’s defense. Henry of Lancaster is rumored to have landed on the northeast coast of England, not so far from York, intent on reclaiming his inheritance―an inheritance which his cousin, King Richard, has declared forfeit.

With the city unsettled and rife with rumors, Eleanor Clifford’s abrupt return to York upon the mysterious death of her husband in Strasbourg is met with suspicion in the city. Her daughter Kate is determined to keep her distance, but it will not be easy―Eleanor has settled next door with the intention of establishing a house of beguines, or poor sisters. When one of the beguines is set upon in the night by an intruder, Kate knows that for the sake of her own reputation and the safety of her young wards she must investigate.

From the first, Eleanor is clearly frightened yet maintains a stubborn silence. The brutal murder of one of Eleanor’s servants leads Kate to suspect that her mother’s troubles have followed her from Strasbourg. Is she secretly involved in the political upheaval? When one of her wards is frightened by a too-curious stranger, Kate is desperate to draw her mother out of her silence before tragedy strikes her own household.

Casting a Female Sleuth in a Historical Crime Series
by Candace Robb

I remember the day my new sleuth, Kate Clifford, auditioned for the role. I’d stepped away from the crime genre to write two novels about women in the court of King Edward III, Alice Perrers and Joan of Kent. They’d first appeared as secondary characters in my crime novels, and I’d been so taken by them that I wanted to get to know them better. My research for their books took me down paths I had not yet explored, and I came away with a deep admiration for both women. But great frustration as well. I’d grown accustomed to writing about the women who surround and support Owen Archer, the sleuth in my original crime series. They were women of the merchant class—tradeswomen, innkeepers, apothecaries, and midwives, independent, pragmatic, wise. The women of the court did not lack wisdom or strength of character, but they were anything but independent—such is the nature of life in a royal court. I found myself wanting to shake them and point to the door—especially Alice, who had been brought up in the merchant community. Go back! Step out of the shackles! But I was not writing that sort of book—I was filling in the blanks in their biographies, not revising history.

For my next project, I wanted to return to fictional characters whose circumstances might be derived from the archives, but whose stories, whose fates were in my hands. Kate Clifford answered the casting call. She came striding down Stonegate in York, flanked by Irish wolfhounds, her step bold, her gown craftily hiding the small battle axe she wore for protection. She rounded the corner into High Petergate and entered a well-appointed house, received by an elderly couple with the respect due an employer. Curious, I invited her to stay awhile, tell me her story. Once I knew more about her, I couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. Kate was my new sleuth.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Blog Tour Q&A + Giveaway: Whirligig by Richard Buxton

Please join me in welcoming Richard Buxton to Let Them Read Books! Richard is touring the blogosphere with his debut historical novel, Whirligig: Keeping the Promise, and I recently had the chance to ask him a few questions about his interest in the American Civil War and the inspiration for his protagonist. Read on and enter to win a copy of Whirligig!

The first novel from multi-award winning short-story writer Richard Buxton, Whirligig is at once an outsider’s odyssey through the battle for Tennessee, a touching story of impossible love, and a portrait of America at war with itself. Self-interest and conflict, betrayal and passion, all fuse into a fateful climax.

Shire leaves his home and his life in Victorian England for the sake of a childhood promise, a promise that will pull him into the bleeding heart of the American Civil War and through the bloody battlefields of the West, where he will discover a second home for his loyalty.

Clara believes she has escaped from a predictable future of obligation and privilege, but her new life in the Appalachian Hills of Tennessee is decaying around her. In the mansion of Comrie, long hidden secrets are being slowly exhumed by a war that comes ever closer.

Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | Barnes & Noble

Hi Richard! Thanks so much for stopping by today!

What sparked your interest in the American Civil War?

I came at it a little sideways. In my twenties I read Dee Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee, one of the saddest history books you could ever read about the Indian Wars. It’s mainly set in the decade or so after the Civil War.  I spoke about it to my father-in-law, who then gave me Shelby Foote’s classic historical trilogy The Civil War – A Narrative.  I was swept away by the scale of a conflict I knew so little about and by the incredible personalities involved. As an Englishman who had been to University in America, I was already fascinated by most things American, so primed to want to understand its history and how the Civil War related to modern day America. When I turned to writing a little later in life, setting my stories in that period was a natural fit.

Your main character is an Englishman who becomes involved in the War Between the States. What motivates him to join the fight? Did you have any real-life inspiration for him?

I’ll flip the order on those questions, if you don’t mind. My father worked on the Duke of Bedford’s Estate as a boy, before and during the Second World War. Even as late as that, the farms weren’t fully mechanized and my father worked with the great Shire horses, feeding them and getting them into harness. He wrote his recollections in his later years. I wanted an Englishman for the novel. This was a perfect starting point and I had my father’s detailed notes to boot. I had my character, Shire, work with the horses just as my father had. The names of the horses in the book are even the ones my father worked with. Other than that, there is very little of my father in Shire’s character. I wanted Shire to be a bit useless when he first becomes a soldier; a little wide eyed and naive. My father was far more competent and worldly-wise, although of course I didn’t know him in his youth.

Shire doesn’t join the army out of a wish to join the fight. To him it’s a means to an end. He is penniless and needs to go south, so he’s rather cornered into signing up by circumstance. As his story goes on, he builds strong friendships in his regiment and comes to see it as the only home he has left. He starts to understand the deeper meaning of the war, to believe it’s a cause worth fighting for, though he never loses sight of the fact that, war aside, he has a promise to keep.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Book Reviewers Tell All!

I had the pleasure of speaking on the Book Reviewers Tell All panel at the Historical Novel Society conference last month with Sarah Johnson from Reading the Past and Meg Wessell from A Bookish Affair, where we each presented on different aspects of book reviewing. In case you missed it, or if you attended and would like to have a copy of your own, here is my portion of the presentation!

Book reviews are crucial to an author’s success. A quantity of great reviews can lead to more sales and ensure that your next book is published. The popularity of online review sites and book blogging means an author has more opportunities for exposure than ever before. But who are these reviewers? How do you find them, and how do you convince them to review your book? Longtime historical fiction reviewers will discuss what makes a good book review, how to find the right reviewers for your book, interacting with bloggers and review organizations, and handling negative reviews.

L to R: Sarah Johnson, Meg Wessell, and myself

Click here to read Meg's portion of the presentation on book blogging and tips for working with book bloggers!

Reviewer Jenny Q of Let Them Read Books will discuss the elements of a good review, the ethics of reviewing and soliciting reviews both as a reader and an author, how to approach negative reviews, and how to evaluate reputable review sites and reviewing-related services.

Do you have to have a blog to be a reviewer?

No! You don’t have to have your own website. But you do have to publish reviews somewhere to be considered a reviewer. Even if you only ever post them to Goodreads or Amazon, or you write them for your local paper, if you’re publishing reviews, you can call yourself a reviewer.

Ethics of reviewing:

·         Never ask for compensation.
·         Never share an author’s personal information.
·         Don’t share unprotected ebooks you received for a review.
·         Don’t sell printed books you received for review.
·         Limit your review to your honest opinion of the book. Don’t make personal attacks on the author or other readers.

Ethics of soliciting reviews:

·         Do your homework. Identify the readers your book is likely to appeal to.
·         Look for those readers’ review policies and abide by them.
·         Don’t harass a reviewer. If they decline, move on to the next. If they agree, try to agree upon a date for the review to be posted by. If that date comes and goes with no review, it’s fine to follow up with them, but remember that they are not obligated to review the book, even if they accepted a review copy. If that happens, it’s best to just write that blogger off and move on to the next. However, if you take the time to cultivate relationships with the bloggers you approach, you reduce the odds of this happening.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Walking in London in Search of Emilia Bassano Lanyer: Guest Post by Charlene Ball, Author of Dark Lady

Please join me in welcoming Charlene Ball to Let Them Read Books! I'm thrilled to have Charlene here today talking about her new book, Dark Lady: A Novel of Emilia Bassano Lanyer. Charlene embarked upon a walking tour to follow in her heroine's footsteps, and she's detailed some of the places she's visited below. Read on, and be sure to add Dark Lady to your shelves on Goodreads!

Emilia Bassano has four strikes against her: she is poor, beautiful, female, and intelligent in Elizabethan England. To make matters worse, she comes from a family of secret Jews. When she is raped as a teenager, she knows she probably will not be able to make a good marriage, so she becomes the mistress of a much older nobleman. During this time she falls in love with poet/player William Shakespeare, and they have a brief, passionate relationship--but when the plague comes to England, the nobleman abandons her, leaving her pregnant and without financial security. 

In the years that follow, Emilia is forced to make a number of difficult decisions in her efforts to survive, and not all of them turn out well for her. But ultimately, despite the disadvantaged position she was born to, she succeeds in pursuing her dreams of becoming a writer--and even publishes a book of poetry in 1611 that makes a surprisingly modern argument for women's equality. 

Walking in London in Search of Emilia Bassano Lanyer
By Charlene Ball

“It’s not much farther,” I call back to Libby, who gamely follows me as I trudge under the massive structure known as the Barbican. We are following the London wall towards Aldersgate Street, where we will turn north towards the Charterhouse.

The beginning of my walking search for Emilia Bassano Lanyer, the main character of my novel DARK LADY: A NOVEL OF EMILIA BASSANO LANYER, begins back at Bishopsgate, one of the gates in the old Roman London Wall. Emilia was christened in St. Botolph’s Without Bishopsgate, a church just outside the wall. Here also, her father and her infant daughter Odillya were buried. This was the church that Baptista Bassano and Margaret Johnson, Emilia’s parents, attended. As a converso, or a secret Jew, Baptista would have outwardly conformed to the English Church.

The church has been redone over the years, so its interior walls are not those Emilia would have seen. Dark and shadowy, it looks more like a late 19th or 20th century church than a Tudor-era structure.

From St. Botolph’s, we follow the Roman-built London Wall toward Aldersgate Street. In the late afternoon, clouds have massed overhead, and rain is beginning to fall. I stride along confidently, my only guide being the map in my head based on the A TO Z MAP OF ELIZABETHAN LONDON. This fascinating book, compiled from several Tudor-era maps, chiefly the Agas Map, was my reliable source for locations of streets, roads, and buildings while I wrote DARK LADY.

I have a great affection for the Agas Map, with its drawings of cows and sheep grazing, dogs and people walking along the roads outside the city (obviously not drawn to scale), archers shooting at targets, men fighting with staffs, and laundry drying on the ground, and in the City, tiny streets and drawings of box-like houses with pointed roofs. But the remembered Agas Map might not be the best guide for our trek through modern London.