Book Review: THE PARIS WINTER

November 18, 2014 at 7:17 am (Historical Fiction, Suspense)

“They established themselves on the floor of Sylvie’s room, Maud pinning her oil sketching paper to a deal board to support it then choosing her tints, squeezing each onto the palette in abstemious amounts, attaching the little tin cup with its reservoir of linseed oil to its edge, setting out her hog-hair and sable brushes. As she did so, Sylvie prepared her [opium] tray with a similar satisfaction, and Maud was aware that the ritual was important to them both. Then each settled to their addiction.” Imogen Robertson, THE PARIS WINTER

Publisher Description:

A deep, dark and opulent tale of Belle Epoque Paris, and the secrets and dangers hidden beneath its luxurious facade.

Maud Heighton came to Lafond’s famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris eats money. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling joys of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty.

Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, Maud takes a job as companion to young, beautiful Sylvie Morel. But Sylvie has a secret: an addiction to opium. As Maud is drawn into the Morels’ world of elegant luxury, their secrets become hers. Before the New Year arrives, a greater deception will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light.

My Recommendation

This is a breathtaking novel, or rather, breath stealing.

From the quiet dignity of the art school, to the hazy chambers of the rich and careless in 1909 Paris, Robertson draws the reader in with her Poe-like tale. Shocking and dark, meticulously crafted, and complex, THE PARIS WINTER, succeeds in creating a world of layered characters in a sensuous and often dangerous dance with one another, that pushes its cast to the brink of madness and back.

Interspersed throughout the text are descriptions of art from a contemporary catalogue, foreshadowing the central moments of each section with brilliant precision, and slowly instructing the reader how to view each scene as if taking in a painting, making careful use of lighting, placement, and focus.

If you enjoy chilling tales of mystery and revenge in fascinating historical settings, you will love THE PARIS WINTER. Though it is surely not for the faint of heart, I give this book my highest recommendation.

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The House of Hawthorne, Goodreads Giveaway

November 12, 2014 at 7:00 am (Uncategorized)

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Some Words on the Hawthornes…

When Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne bewitched me through their etchings on the window glass of their first residence together, the Old Manse, in Concord, Massachusetts, I became obsessed with those passionate artists, and what they both gained and lost to lead lives of domesticity.

While reading her Cuba journal, I felt Sophia Peabody assert herself as my narrator: the keeper of the Hawthorne story. As is often the case, history recognizes the one who had the most fame, who is traditionally the man. Like other stories of artists and their spouses, the one without the attention is often a large and dynamic influence on the work of the one who is well known.

With each novel, I seek to challenge myself in a new way. In THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE I have attempted to take on the voice of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne to tell the story of what creatives give up for love, and how some artists are never at home on the earth. I do hope I did Sophia and her dear family justice.

Giveaway!!

My publisher is giving away 100 copies of THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE. (We are still waiting on final cover approval, so it is not shown, but we should be able to list the cover by Thanksgiving.) If you are interested in reading this novel, kindly add it to your Goodreads’ shelves, enter the drawing, and share it if you are so inclined.

THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE is also available for pre-order from the following sites:

Powell’s

iBookstore

Barnes & Noble

Books-a-Million

Google Play

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

Amazon

Happy Reading!

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GRAND CENTRAL News, Audio Release, and a Giveaway

September 15, 2014 at 8:58 am (Giveaways, Historical Fiction, Short Stories)

 

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“Emotionally moving, evocative in their descriptions, each piece sticks with the reader, giving a pulse on the postwar world.” —*Starred Review, Library Journal

One of my favorite projects of the last year has been collaborating with nine other bestselling and award-winning historical fiction authors on a short story anthology, GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION. Our tales of love and heartbreak take place one month after World War II ends at New York City’s iconic Grand Central Terminal, and the release of the book brought us together at the site for a snazzy launch party in period costume.


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These stories are ideal for those who love historical fiction and who have busy lives, and will also give you a taste of the work of authors you might not have read. Book clubs will have much to discuss on the many difficult topics addressed in the stories (from domestic violence, to post-traumatic stress, etc.), and will enjoy finding the connecting threads between the characters.

Audiobook listeners will be delighted to hear that GRAND CENTRAL has just been released in the format. Here is the gorgeous cover for audio:

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I am giving away three paperback copies of GRAND CENTRAL to those who leave comments below and share the post on social media by 9 PM ET on Thursday, September 18th. (US only, please.) Tell me if you are excited to read any of these fabulous authors, or what you love about Grand Central Terminal to win.

Good Luck!

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Celebs Read Mean Tweets (or Authors Write Mean Reviews)

September 12, 2014 at 8:24 am (Book Reviews, Business of Writing)

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“Robuck has all the syntax of a three-legged cow.” ~Snarky Reader, Online Review Site

Every so often, I pour myself a glass of wine and enact the virtual self-cutting that is reading online reviews of my work. When I self-published my first book in 2009, the negative reader reviews used to wound me. They hurt my feelings. I obsessed over them. Five years later, I am a bit more hardened, but I have to be in a certain light and ironic frame of mind to read them. If I am gloomy, it is not a good idea to patrol the one and two-star reviews.

Last week, however, the above line from a one-star review made me laugh out loud. It was a good and memorable insult. While I do not agree with it, I appreciate the humor and general savagery because I have to confess something: I would rather a nasty one-star review with zingers like this to a recent three-star review that said, “Meh.”

“Meh.”

Years of research, travel, lost sleep, agonizing, imaging, theorizing, writing, rewriting, and rewriting earned me a “meh.”

Please, readers, if the book does not move you to a positive or negative passion of some kind, do not review it.

But back to my snarky friend, I have seen some authors recently reading mean reviews in the style of Jimmy Kimmel’s popular “Celebs Read Mean Tweets” feature, and thought it would be fun to have a laugh over some particularly bad review stories.

So writers, if you are feeling up to it (play “The Eye of the Tiger” if you need to get pumped), please tell me your funny one-star reviews. Even if these criticisms make us giggle, they burrow somewhere in the brain stem to torture us when we sit down to write. Perhaps if we put them on paper, we can release them from our consciousness and have a laugh together.

Cheers!

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Cover Reveal: THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE, and a Giveaway!

September 5, 2014 at 8:45 am (Giveaways, Historical Fiction, The House of Hawthorne)

I have removed the “Gone Fishing” sign from the blog window, and I’m back with many exciting giveaways, book reviews, musings on process, and other writerly posts.

To kick off my return from summer vacation, I am going to reveal the cover of my forthcoming novel THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE, due out May 2015 (NAL/Penguin Random House.) I am especially excited about this book for a variety of reasons:

1) THE HOUSE OF HAWTHORNE will be my first hardcover release. Though such things are always subject to change, I am optimistic, and looking forward to this new format.

2) Unlike HEMINGWAY’S GIRL, CALL ME ZELDA, and FALLEN BEAUTY, this novel marks my first about a writer from the past NOT told from the point of view of a fictional protagonist. While I was doing research, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne made it clear that she would like to tell the story of her creative and romantic life before, during, and after her marriage to Nathaniel Hawthorne. She is my narrator.

3) I love this new time period. My previous novels have been set between the world wars, but this takes place nearly a century earlier. I am fascinated by the simplicity of life at that time, the lack of conveniences, the prevalence of death, and the relationship of my subjects to the natural and spiritual world.

4) No cover reveal would be complete without a giveaway of an Advance Reader Copy (ARC) of the book. Though I do not have any in my possession at this time, my editor says copies will be hot off the presses any moment now, so I will have the book sent to the winner the moment it is available. (US and Canada residents only, please.)

To win, comment below by Thursday, Sept. 11th, 9 PM ET, on what you think about this cover, which is very different from my previous covers. Also, please share this post on social media, and be sure to “like” and follow my Author Page on Facebook to stay abreast of book related news, new historical fiction releases, giveaways, and appearances.

Without further ado…

Read the rest of this entry »

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Book Review: ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

July 21, 2014 at 2:12 pm (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“The girl climbs into the swing and pendulums back and forth, pumping her legs, and watching her opens some valve in Werner’s soul. This is life, he thinks, this is why we live, to play like this on a day when winter is finally releasing its grip.” Anthony Doerr, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Publisher Synopsis:

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

My Recommendation:

It is a special thing when a book is so beautifully written and so intensely captivating that I cannot underline phrases and dog-ear pages as quickly as I read. This is the case with ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE.

When I read the synopsis of the book I thought, How can another WWII book (I have read at least 100) captivate me? The answer is simply this: There is no other story like it.

There are no other stories of ambivalent German boy genius’ and blind girls set in Saint-Molo. There are no other novels I have read in recent memory who have so imaginatively cast a story from within and without–from an omniscient narrator with a God’s eye view, to a limited narrator who walks in the shadows of his characters. The point of view choice, the relationships of the characters, and the human trials elevate ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE with a timelessness and a wisdom that speak to the truths of the soul. The novel apparently took ten years to craft, and Doerr’s brilliance shines forth on every page. This is a book I will place on a shelf near my desk so I may reference and reread it often.

If you read only one book this summer, let it be this one. I give ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE my highest recommendation.

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Book Review: THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

July 12, 2014 at 8:51 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“I nearly missed that card from the post office, stuck up as it was against the side of the mail slot. Just imagine. Of such little accidents is history made.” Beatriz Williams, THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT

Publisher Synopsis:

Manhattan, 1964. Vivian Schuyler, newly graduated from Bryn Mawr College, has recently defied the privilege of her storied old Fifth Avenue family to do the unthinkable for a budding Kennedy-era socialite: break into the Mad Men world of razor-stylish Metropolitan magazine. But when she receives a bulky overseas parcel in the mail, the unexpected contents draw her inexorably back into her family’s past, and the hushed-over crime passionnel of an aunt she never knew, whose existence has been wiped from the record of history.

Berlin, 1914. Violet Schuyler Grant endures her marriage to the philandering and decades-older scientist Dr. Walter Grant for one reason: for all his faults, he provides the necessary support to her liminal position as a young American female physicist in prewar Germany. The arrival of Dr. Grant’s magnetic former student at the beginning of Europe’s fateful summer interrupts this delicate détente. Lionel Richardson, a captain in the British Army, challenges Violet to escape her husband’s perverse hold, and as the world edges into war and Lionel’s shocking true motives become evident, Violet is tempted to take the ultimate step to set herself free and seek a life of her own conviction with a man whose cause is as audacious as her own.

As the iridescent and fractured Vivian digs deeper into her aunt’s past and the mystery of her ultimate fate, Violet’s story of determination and desire unfolds, shedding light on the darkness of her years abroad . . . and teaching Vivian to reach forward with grace for the ambitious future––and the love––she wants most.

My Recommendation:

One hears so much about “voice” in fiction, and rarely is the power of voice more clear as it is in the work of Beatriz Williams. Yes, the plot is engrossing, the story fascinating, and the setting luminous, but the real draw of Williams’ novel is that feisty, zingy, pop-an-olive-into-your-mouth-from-your-martini-while-giving-the-gossip voice of the narrator, Vivian Schuyler. The reader will know after approximately 1.6 pages with Vivian that they will devour the next 400+ pages just to lean a little closer and hear Vivian deliver this tale.

THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT begins in Manhattan, but takes the reader on a journey across the world, when Vivian seeks to find out what happened to her aunt Violet, who disappeared with her lover after her husband was murdered. In Williams’ capable hands, even basement laboratories and physics become sexy, and as the novel progresses it develops into quite a nail-biting thriller. The story lines in 1964 and in 1914 are every bit as engrossing as the other, and the suspense in both love and war make the book un-put-downable.

Readers of Williams’ fabulous A HUNDRED SUMMERS will get a thrill, as family stories intersect here, and will be just as pleased with the finish of this book as they were with the last. Go and purchase a copy of THE SECRET LIFE OF VIOLET GRANT immediately, and place it on the top of your beach bag pile. You will not be sorry.

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Book Review: WAKE

June 18, 2014 at 7:00 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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I am becoming pagan, Fraser wrote, that first winter. Here, in this muddy brown monotony, where blood’s the only colored thing. There is no God here, only the moon and the sky. 

And so I have made a pact with the moon. On clear nights she will bring me to you.” Anna Hope, WAKE

Publisher Synopsis:

Anna Hope’s brilliant debut unfolds over the course of five days, as three women must deal with the aftershocks of World War I and its impact on the men in their lives.

Wake: 1) Emerge or cause to emerge from sleep. 2) Ritual for the dead. 3) Consequence or aftermath.

London, 1920. The city prepares to observe the two-year anniversary of Armistice Day with the burial of the unknown soldier. Many are still haunted by the war: Hettie, a dance instructress, lives at home with her mother and her brother, who is mute after his return from combat. One night Hettie meets a wealthy, educated man and finds herself smitten with him. But there is something distracted about him, something she cannot reach. . . . Evelyn works at the Pensions Exchange, through which thousands of men have claimed benefits from wounds or debilitating distress. Embittered by her own loss, she looks for solace in her adored brother, who has not been the same since he returned from the front. . . . Ada is beset by visions of her son on every street, convinced he is still alive. Helpless, her loving husband has withdrawn from her. Then one day a young man appears at her door, seemingly with notions to peddle, like hundreds of out-of-work veterans. But when he utters the name of her son, Ada is jolted to the core.

The lives of these three women are braided together, their stories gathering tremendous power as the ties that bind them become clear, and the body of the unknown soldier moves closer and closer to its final resting place.

My Recommendation:

It is a rare thing when I read a three hundred page novel in two sittings, but I did so for WAKE.

The story is a bit difficult to grasp at first; it introduces three women who are strangers, each living in the wake of WWI, bearing their losses, their shell shock, their injuries to body and soul as the thousands of others in London do. But as the novel progresses, the circles of the women begin to overlap and to intersect in startling ways, drawing ever closer to a dramatic and perfect conclusion.

WAKE is rendered on a faraway, dream-like setting at times, and so specific at others, it almost makes one want to hold the book away, and then bring it back in close, like the dance in which its characters move. It is a novel that makes the reader laugh and cry, sentences apart, and inspires those moments where one must look up to process the truths contained in its pages.

WAKE is a novel that begs to be discussed, and I wish I could form a little book club with Janet Somerville, the writer who gave this book to me as a gift, and the author, Anna Hope, who possesses a wisdom beyond her years. At the very least, I will recommend it to all of the book clubs I visit.

Fans of ATONEMENT by Ian McEwan and Kate Atkinson’s LIFE AFTER LIFE will love WAKE, perhaps even more than those two books because of the superb, utterly perfect ending that leaves the reader in that strange in-between place of complete satisfaction and yearning for more. WAKE is one of the finest books I’ve read in 2014, and I give it my highest recommendation.

 

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Book Review: THE PINK SUIT

June 17, 2014 at 6:29 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)

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“When it was all over, in the underground parking garage of the hospital, Lady Bird would glance over her shoulder for one last look at the President. His limo was sideways, as if abandoned. The doors were flung open. The agents were desperate to get him inside: some hovered over the dark-blue Lincoln, pleading with the Wife, who lay across her husband’s body, refusing to move. Some stood with their backs to it all, their guns drawn…In the midst of it all, Lady Bird remembered seeing ‘a bundle of pink, just like a drift of blossoms, lying across the backseat.’ It was that immaculate woman, in that beautiful suit, covering her husband’s body.” Nicole Mary Kelby, THE PINK SUIT

Publisher Synopsis:

A novel based on the true story behind Jacqueline Kennedy’s iconic pink suit. 

On November 22, 1963, the First Lady accompanied her husband to Dallas, Texas dressed in a pink Chanel-style suit that was his favorite. Much of her wardrobe, including the pink suit, came from the New York boutique Chez Ninon where a young seamstress, an Irish immigrant named Kate, worked behind the scenes to meticulously craft the memorable outfits.

While the two never met, Kate knew every tuck and pleat needed to create the illusion of the First Lady’s perfection. And when the pink suit becomes infamous, Kate’s already fragile world–divided between the excess and artistry of Chez Ninon and the traditional values of her insular neighborhood–threatens to rip apart.

The Pink Suit is a fascinating look at politics, fashion, and some of the most glamorous women in history, seen through the eyes of a young woman caught in the midst of an American breed of upstairs/downstairs class drama.

My Recommendation:

My Irish Catholic family has long been fascinated by the Kennedys, and I grew up hearing stories of the love, the lore, and the tragedy of America’s most fascinating first family. (My grandmother was in ecstasy when she heard I babysat for one of RFK’s granddaughters.) Anything involving the Kennedys has my attention, particularly historical fiction.

Kelby’s novel THE PINK SUIT is crafted with the precision of the finest daywear. Built layer upon layer, with intense attention to detail, and skillfully delivered to entrance the reader, THE PINK SUIT, demonstrates how the making of a wardrobe nearly unravels the worker who crafts it.

While the first family is never named, the whispers of the Wife and Maison Blanche draw the reader into the back rooms with those who sewed some of the most photographed and iconic fashion of the sixties. And while the wardrobe of the First Lady is a fascination in itself, it is the delicate undoing of all her seamstress clings to out of fear and comfort that most captivates.

In sensuous prose, Kelby weaves a story behind a story, that will never go out of fashion. Lovers of period novels, famous figures, and those who exist in the wings will devour THE PINK SUIT.

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Book Review: The Bookman’s Tale and a Giveaway!

May 29, 2014 at 6:28 am (Book Reviews, Giveaways, Historical Fiction)

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“He closed his eyes for a moment, imagining the cocoon of books shielding him from all danger, inhaling deeply that familiar scent of cloth and leather and dust and words. His rushing pulse began to slow, and when he opened his eyes he scanned the shelves for something familiar–a title, an author, a well-remembered dust jacket design–anything that might ground him in the world of the known.” Charlie Lovett, THE BOOKMAN’S TALE

THE BOOKMAN’S TALE: A NOVEL OF OBSESSION by Charlie Lovett released in paperback on Tuesday. In a multi-period novel from Shakespeare’s time, to the Victorian era, to the late twentieth century, THE BOOKMAN’S TALE is the story of antiquarian bookseller, Peter Byerly, whose quest to find the artist of a watercolor that bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife, becomes a struggle for life and death on both the physical and emotional level. Embedded in the mystery of the portrait Byerly finds in an old book is the exploration of the famed debate over the true author of Shakespeare’s work.

While the plot of the THE BOOKMAN’S TALE is intricately woven, the story is highly readable and compelling. There is a natural suspense generated from books set in many eras, and the added layer of intrigue in this novel surrounding Shakespeare’s writings makes it impossible to put down. Bibliophiles will delight in Byerly’s search through famed Shakespeare forgeries and references, but it is the extreme reverence for the written word and the binding of it that makes THE BOOKMAN’S TALE a love letter to reading and writing.

Fans of Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN and works of literary suspense will devour THE BOOKMAN’S TALE. Penguin USA has been kind enough to offer one copy for a giveaway. For a chance to win, (US residents only) leave a comment below about your favorite multiperiod novel, or your favorite work by Shakespeare, by Friday, May 30th at 9 PM ET. Good luck!

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