Book Recommendation: THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO

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Publisher Synopsis:

The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.

As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

My Recommendation:

Contemporary politics looks like child’s play compared to that of Ancient Rome.

The Confessions of Young Nero, by Margaret George, is a 506-page epic novel, and likely the first in a series. In truth, I couldn’t imagine enjoying a novel about a man like Nero. Saints Peter and Paul were executed under his rule, and the myths and rumors of Nero’s scandalous lifestyle hardly make him a sympathetic figure. Imagine my surprise when I not only could not put the book down, but was even able to comprehend how a childhood rife with assassination attempts, poisoning of loved ones, and a mother who preyed upon and used her son for political ascendancy could have produced such a man.

One of my college history professors once told her class that she could never understand why anyone thought history was boring; it was all sex and violence. Margaret George reinforces that fact in The Confessions of Young Nero. Ancient Rome, its provinces, and its people are vividly rendered in all their glory, and the plotting, scheming, successes and failures of the imperial dynasty are clear and readable. It is a true testament to George’s writing that the reader will find herself not only rooting for unsavory outcomes to benefit young Nero, but will also be moved by his challenges and triumphs.

Fans of Philippa Gregory and Diana Gabaldon will love The Confessions of Young Nero. While the reader may or may not like Nero, his intelligence, creativity, and drive cannot be denied.

Book Recommendation: IF I COULD TELL YOU

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“Later, when Julia lay sleepless in the tiny back bedroom where Mattie had put her up, she understood for the first time that she had tried to pay for happiness with other people’s misery. This was how the gods punished you, she finally realized. They made you live with what you had done.” Elizabeth Wilhide, IF I COULD TELL YOU

Publisher Synopsis:

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale meets Anna Karenina, a vivid and captivating novel of love, war, and the resilience of one woman’s spirit. 

England, 1939: Julia Compton has a beautifully well-ordered life. Once a promising pianist, she now has a handsome husband, a young son she adores, and a housekeeper who takes care of her comfortable home. Then, on the eve of war, a film crew arrives in her coastal town. She falls in love.

The consequences are devastating. Penniless, denied access to her son, and completely unequipped to fend for herself, she finds herself adrift in wartime London with her lover, documentary filmmaker Dougie Birdsall. While Dougie seeks truth wherever he can find it, Julia finds herself lost. As the German invasion looms and bombs rain down on the city, she faces a choice—succumb to her fate, or fight to forge a new identity in the heat of war.

My Recommendation:

The prose in this slender novel of infatuation and war is taut, riveting, and deliberate, even bordering the poetic. It is the beauty of the language that leads the reader forward as she so desperately wishes to hold back the characters. Like a horror novel, the reader can see the devastation spooling before the characters as they make one bad decision after another, but it is the brilliance with which Wilhide portrays global catastrophe in time with personal catastrophe that makes a true symphony of the work.

“Debussy was deceptive. The refusal of the harmonies to resolve, the blurred, sonorous bass notes, the layers of voices, masked precision, each sound occupying its own rightful place.” 

Julia is a pianist, and it is often at her keyboard (or steeped in craving in the absence of it) that she realizes existential truths. But her redemption is hard fought, and it takes losing everything–being forged in the very furnace of war–to gain back a morsel of it.

These are devastatingly real men and women making bad decisions, while somehow holding our sympathy or, at least, our attention. The writing, character development, themes and subjects are reminiscent of Hemingway. I give IF I COULD TELL YOU my highest recommendation.

Binge-worthy: Z: THE BEGINNING OF EVERYTHING

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“Nothing could have survived our life.” ~Zelda Fitzgerald, in a letter to Scott

Amazon Studios has released a new series based on Therese Fowler’s bestselling novel, Z, called Z: The Beginning of Everything.  When I watched the pilot early last year, I couldn’t quite reconcile the casting with the two luminous persons who had so long lived in my imagination. Within two episodes, however, Christina Ricci (Zelda) and David Hoflin (Scott) grew into their characters with such force, power, and unflinching honesty they beguiled me, and would no doubt impress and unnerve those whom they portray.

Z: The Beginning of Everything, created by Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin, is a first-class production. Even in the scenes in which Zelda is not featured, she is the anchor, the true north; one judges every moment on how Zelda will react to and change as a result of what happens. Her clothing alone is striking enough to make her stand out, but it is the full, tragic understanding of how life broke Zelda that gives extra weight to Ricci’s performance.

Every character has a well-developed arc and clearly supports the themes explored in the lives of the Fitzgeralds. The series manages to weave in Zelda and Scott’s fascinating circle of peers–including scene-stealer Tallulah Bankhead, played by (Christina Lind)–while never losing sight of or distracting from the true heart of the work, Zelda Fitzgerald.

I often had to pause the film to take in the visually stunning and artistic scene renderings. With just thirty minutes an episode, not a moment of dialogue, music, transition, wardrobe, or lighting is wasted. It is a testament to the production quality that even moments of lighthearted joy are shadowed with the foreknowledge of the ways Scott and Zelda will fall. It is especially moving when the young Fitzgeralds run to the ocean, hand-in-hand–their laughter trailing–not knowing how mercilessly the sun will scorch the Icarus-like, waxen wings of their youthful arrogance.

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If you want a period piece you in which you may get lost, I cannot recommend Z: The Beginning of Everything enough. I hope the series is renewed; I can never get enough Zelda. If you’ve seen it, I would love to hear what you think.

My Favorite Historical Fiction of 2016!

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Here is my (much agonized over) list of the best historical novels of 2016. Some of the books were not published in 2016, but that is when I read them. My criteria for making the list:

*I read it obsessively.

*I can’t stop thinking about it.

*I can’t stop recommending it.

As always, whittling my choices down to ten was incredibly difficult. The only thing that helped was the enormous volume of research materials I read this year cut into my novel reading enough to narrow the pool. For my full reviews and endorsements, click on each book title.

Disclaimer: I did include one contemporary novel (THE MADWOMAN UPSTAIRS) because it was based on JANE EYRE, and it was fresh and entertaining; I hope you’ll forgive me.

Without further ado, and in no particular order:

  1. Fates and Traitors, by Jennifer Chiaverini

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  2. Lilac Girls, by Martha Hall Kelly

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  3. Euphoria, by Lily King

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4. Ecliptic, by Benjamin Wood

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5. Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye

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6. The Madwoman Upstairs, by Catherine Lowell

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7. Sisi: Empress on Her Own, by Allison Pataki

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8. Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase

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9. America’s First Daughter, by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

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10. Georgia, by Dawn Tripp

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What were your favorites of 2016? What are your favorites from my list? Happy Reading, and Happy New Year! 

Holiday Signings and News

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Seasons Greetings!

It’s hard to believe the holidays are nearly upon us. I have news, updates, and upcoming signing information to share. I hope to see you in the coming weeks, and wish all of you a healthy, peaceful holiday season.

  • If you need a hostess and/or holiday gift, I’ll be signing books at the following events:
    • Thursday, November 17th, 6-9 PM, Girls’ Night Out. Turn the Page Bookstore (Nora Roberts’ Shop), Boonsboro, MD. Free champagne. Do you need any other reason to attend?
    • Saturday, November 26th, 11 AM-1 PM, Small Business Saturday. Annapolis Bookstore, 53 Maryland Avenue, Annapolis, MD. (*New store location.*)
  • If you are not local to Maryland, I’m happy to send signed bookplates. Email me at info [at] erikarobuck [dot] com with your mailing address and what you’d like inscribed. (US & Canada only, please.)
  • On November 1st, AUTHOR IN PROGRESS—an essay collection for writers to which I contributed—was published by Writer’s Digest Books. It debuted as a #1 new release in Fiction Writing Reference on Amazon! If you have a writer in your life who needs empowerment, encouragement, and practical advice, I highly recommend it.
  • Book Clubs: My kids’ busy schedules make participation in person difficult these days, but it’s always worth a try. At the very least, I might be able to FaceTime your book club. Email me at info [at] erikarobuck [dot] com if you’d like to schedule an in-person or virtual visit with your book club.
  • Finally, if you are so inclined, please consider leaving an online review of one or more of my books. And please feel free to share this post with the book lovers in your life.

Happy Holidays!

Erika

New Release for Writers: AUTHOR IN PROGRESS

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“Nourishment for the writer’s soul and motivation for the writer’s heart.” –James Scott Bell, best-selling author and writing instructor on AUTHOR IN PROGRESS

From the team at Writers Digest:

“AUTHOR IN PROGRESS, a book for novelists in progress at every level, releases today! Published by Writer’s Digest and written by the group at WRITER UNBOXED, it features brilliant, new essays on how not only to push through your current challenges but to thrive throughout the process of writing a book. Are you just starting your novel, struggling with how to begin or what to focus on? Are you struggling with how to finish your first book, or even your third? AUTHOR IN PROGRESS features essays at every level of story creation, and is broken into 7 sections to help you to:

1. PREPARE
2. WRITE
3. INVITE (critique)
4. IMPROVE
5. REWRITE
6. PERSEVERE
7. RELEASE

Over 50 writers contributed to AUTHOR IN PROGRESS, including bestselling authors and industry professionals:

Porter Anderson
Julianna Baggott
Brunonia Barry
James Scott Bell
Tom Bentley
Sharon Bially
Dan Blank
Anne Greenwood Brown
Kim Bullock
Sarah Callender
David Corbett
Kathryn Craft
Lisa Cron
Keith Cronin
Margaret Dilloway
Jo Eberhardt
Anna Elliott
Bill Ferris
Jane Friedman
Tracy Hahn-Burkett
Gwen Hernandez
Kristan Hoffman
Steven James
Dave King
Jeanne Kisacky
Robin LaFevers
Allie Larkin
Erika Liodice
Donald Maass
Sophie Masson
Greer Macallister
Juliet Marillier
Julia Munroe Martin
Sarah McCoy
Kathleen McCleary
Jael McHenry
Catherine McKenzie
Liz Michalski
Annie Neugebauer
Jan O’Hara
Barbara O’Neal
Ray Rhamey
Erika Robuck
M.J. Rose
Vaughn Roycroft
Lancelot Schaubert
Susan Spann
Victoria Strauss
John Vorhaus
Therese Walsh
Heather Webb
Cathy Yardley

“AUTHOR IN PROGRESS is going on my keeper shelf. Because no matter what question I’m struggling with today, I know I will find the answer in its pages.” – Alex Kourvo

“There are tons of awesome writing books out there about everything from creating suspenseful plots to using humor, but few of them cover every single part of your writing journey. And none of them do it quite like AUTHOR IN PROGRESS…Less than $20, unlimited answers.” – Emily Nielson”

Learn more about AUTHOR IN PROGRESS on Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Author-Progress-No…/…/ref=writunbo-20