Book Recommendation: Circling the Sun

July 28, 2015 at 7:00 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)


“…[W]e sat that way for hours. Long enough for me to feel my own density settle more and more completely into the chalky dust. Aeons had made it, out of dissolving mountains, out of endlessly rocking metamorphosis. The things of the world knew so much more than we did and lived them more truly. The thorn trees had no grief or fear. The constellations didn’t fight or hold themselves back, nor did the translucent hook of the moon. Everything was momentary and endless. This time…would fade, and it would last forever.” Paula McLain, Circling the Sun

From the Publisher

Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

My Recommendation

If I hadn’t loved McLain’s THE PARIS WIFE, I still would have picked up CIRCLING THE SUN based on the cover alone: so warm it glows with the heat of the African sun, moody with the distant silhouette of the acacia tree, and the brooding woman with bobbed hair wearing slacks and riding boots when women didn’t typically wear slacks. The cover could enfold a Hemingway story–something Kilamanjaro-esque–and my high expectations were met in every way.

Set in Kenya in the 1920s, CIRCLING THE SUN represents the best in historical fiction. It tells the tale of a little known corner of history in beautiful, vivid prose that not only enlivens the period, but will send the reader searching for more information on the people and places depicted in its pages.

Like Hadley Hemingway in THE PARIS WIFE, the protagonist of CIRCLING THE SUN, Beryl Markham, is a complicated woman. Unlike Hadley, however, Beryl takes bold charge of her own destiny. Her decisions are sometimes selfish, often honorable, and occasionally deplorable, but Beryl’s strength of spirit, honesty, and courage redeem her.

Fans of period fiction, family drama, and tragic love stories will be mesmerized by CIRCLING THE SUN. I give it my highest recommendation.

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Grand Central Birthday and Giveaway!

June 29, 2015 at 9:19 pm (Giveaways, Historical Fiction, Short Stories)


It’s hard to believe a year has passed since GRAND CENTRAL: ORIGINAL STORIES OF POSTWAR LOVE AND REUNION was published. It seems like just a few weeks ago that my fellow anthology authors and I were donning our 40s attire, getting Victory Curls, and standing under the constellations at Grand Central Terminal. Working on that project was both personally and professionally rewarding, and we all continue to keep in touch.


To celebrate our anthology turning one, I am giving away a copy of GRAND CENTRAL. To enter, please leave a comment below by Friday, July 3rd at 9 PM ET with your favorite novel by one of the contributing authors, or your favorite WWII novel. Please share on social media (US only), and good luck!


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Mother’s Day Giveaway, and News!

April 22, 2015 at 8:02 am (Giveaways, Historical Fiction, The House of Hawthorne) (, , , , )

House of Hawthorne cover Final

My novel, The House of Hawthorne, releases in less than two weeks, and I am eager to share the enchanting world of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne with readers. For the first time I do not use a fictional narrator to tell the story, but only the “true characters” from history. From Emerson, to Thoreau, to Franklin Pierce, to Elizabeth Browning, the well-known cast and luscious settings contribute to the rich canvas of the Hawthornes’ lives.

Christina Baker Kline, #1 NY Times Bestselling author of Orphan Train, says this aboutThe House of Hawthorne: The timeless questions of identity and creative self-expression facing women today are explored in this richly imagined novel about the marriage of Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne. Insightful and transportive.”

Some News:

  • Vanity Fair has selectedThe House of Hawthorne for its “Hot Type” feature in June, and DuJour Magazine is featuring the novel in its recommendations for Mother’s Day Gifts.
  • I would love to see you (and your book club, if you are in one) at my launch party on Friday, May 8th, 7 PM, at Barnes and Noble in Annapolis, MD. There will be goodies and a giveaway. If you are not able to make the launch or do not live locally, a list of my events may be found here.
  • If you use an ereader or would prefer to pre-order a copy of the book, a list of links may be found here.
  • I’m delighted to report that audio rights forThe House of Hawthorne have been sold, and the audiobook will be released on May 5th.
  • If you are on Goodreads or any online book sites, I would greatly appreciate if you add the book to your “To Read” lists and consider reviewing it once you finish reading.
  • If your book club would like to schedule a visit with me (in person or on Skype) please contact me here.
  • Finally, for news and oodles of historical fiction giveaways, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, or Pinterest.

The House of Hawthorne is especially close to my heart, and will be my first hardcover release. It fills me with joy and gratitude to think of the progress from selling that first box of self-published books out of my car at a wine festival to now. Your support and encouragement have made this possible, and I am so thankful.

In honor of Sophia Peabody Hawthorne’s love of beauty, art, nature, and family, I am hosting a Mother’s Day giveaway of 2 signed copies of The House of Hawthorne. Mother’s Day is Sunday, May 10th, so I will run the giveaway for one week to allow ample time to mail the books in time for the holiday, if you choose to use it as a gift. US residents have until 9 PM ET on Wednesday, April 29th to enter. Comment below about your favorite Hawthorne story, or a reflection on motherhood and family, and please share the post on social media. Good luck!

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Historical Fiction Giveaway

April 16, 2015 at 11:19 am (Giveaways, Historical Fiction)


Jackman writes well, with great atmosphere…The hard realism and violence, combined with the evocative prose, will intrigue readers of Cormac McCarthy and James Lee Burke.”

Publisher Synopsis

Tracing a group of ruthless outlaws from its genesis during the American Civil War all the way to a final bloody stand in the Oklahoma territories, The Winter Family is a hyperkinetic Western noir that reads like a full-on assault to the senses.

Spanning the better part of three decades, The Winter Family traverses America’s harsh, untamed terrain, both serving and opposing the fierce advance of civilization. Among its twisted specimens, the Winter Family includes the psychopathic killer Quentin Ross, the mean and moronic Empire brothers, the impassive ex-slave Fred Johnson, and the dangerous child prodigy Lukas Shakespeare But at the malevolent center of this ultraviolent storm is their cold, hardened leader, Augustus Winter—a man with an almost pathological resistance to the rules of society and a preternatural gift for butchery.

From their service as political thugs in a brutal Chicago election to their work as bounty hunters in the deserts of Arizona, there’s a hypnotic logic to Winter’s grim borderland morality that plays out, time and again, in ruthless carnage.

With its haunting, hard-edged style, The Winter Family is a feverishly paced meditation on human nature and the dark contradictions of progress.


“[A] blood-soaked historical western covering over three decades of mayhem, from the Civil War to 1900 Los Angeles. There are no good guys here…The strength of the story is Jackman’s vivid portrayal of men who choose violence and lawlessness as their way of life, and the justifications they create to rationalize their immoral behavior. This is a chilling tale. “
— Publisher’s Weekly

If these reviews get you excited, I might have a copy of THE WINTER FAMILY for you. I have a hard time with books of extreme violence, so I chose not to read it, but I can tell you, if Chapter One is a reflection of the larger style, THE WINTER FAMILY is gripping and well written.

The publisher of sent me a hardcover. If you’d like to win it, please comment below about your favorite novels that tackle tough subjects, and share the giveaway on social media. US residents have until Tuesday, April 21st at 9 PM ET to win. Good luck!

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Photo Journal Review and Giveaway: HEMINGWAY’S PARIS

April 15, 2015 at 7:03 am (Giveaways, Hemingway)


“Hemingway learned to believe that stories only become whole when the writer’s words…are allowed to collide with the reader’s own experiences and interpretation.” Robert Wheeler, HEMINGWAY’S PARIS

Publisher Synopsis:

Walk through the Streets of Paris with Ernest Hemingway.

In gorgeous black and white images, Hemingway’s Paris depicts a story of remarkable passion—for a city, a woman, and a time. No other city in any of his travels was as significant, professionally or emotionally, as was Paris. And it remains there, all of the complexity, beauty, and intrigue that Hemingway described in the pages of so much of his work.

It is all still there for the reader and traveler to experience—the history, the streets, and the city. Restaurants, hotels, homes, sites and favorite bars are all detailed here. The ninety-five black and white photographs in Hemingway’s Paris are of the highest caliber. The accompanying text reveals Wheeler’s deep understanding of the man; his torment, talent, obstacles and the places of refuge needed to nurture one of the preeminent writers of the twentieth century.

Moved by the humanistic writing of the man—a writer capable of transcending his readers to foreign settings and into the hearts and minds of his protagonists—Wheeler was inspired to travel throughout France, Italy, Spain, Africa, and Cuba, where he has sought to gain insight into the motivation behind Hemingway’s books and short stories. As a teacher, lecturer, and photojournalist, he set out to capture and interpret the Paris that Ernest Hemingway experienced in the first part of the century. Through his journal and photographs, Wheeler portrays the intimate connection Hemingway had with the woman he never stopped loving, Hadley, and with the city he loved most, Paris.

My Recommendation:

I met Robert Wheeler at New Hampshire’s River Run Bookstore where he attended a book talk for my novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. He and his wife, Katherine, warmly welcomed me to the city, and we spent the evening discussing our mutual appreciation for the work of Ernest Hemingway. It was during dinner that Robert revealed a series of stunning black and white photographs he had taken in Paris from “Hemingway’s perspective.” As he passed the pictures to me and described–with great passion and exuberance–the meaning of the photos and their connections to Hemingway’s work, I was overcome by his unique exploration in understanding Hemingway.

It gives me tremendous joy these years later to hold HEMINGWAY’S PARIS, a photo journal of Wheeler’s images and reflections on the famous writer and his beloved city. As clean as the prose of Hemingway himself, the nearly one hundred photographs progress like the sketches of Hemingway’s A MOVEABLE FEAST. HEMINGWAY’S PARIS has inspired me to reread the classic, and has deepened my desire to visit Paris.

Whether you are a lover of Hemingway, Paris, photography, or art, you will find great inspiration on the pages of HEMINGWAY’S PARIS. It would make an excellent gift, display book, or artistic companion, and I will be sure to pack it on my first trip to Paris so I might walk the routes of Ernest Hemingway.

The publisher will provide one copy of HEMINGWAY’S PARIS for a giveaway. Please comment below with your favorite Hemingway story or Paris memory, and share on social media. US residents have until Monday, April 20th at 9 PM ET to win. Bonne chance!

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April 8, 2015 at 6:05 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)


“[S]he is a cautious creature. Given to bone-shattering honesty. Believe all her words…she does nothing by accident. Nor is she careless, like her sister. Virginia would set the house on fire just to watch everyone come running out in pyjamas.” Priya Parmar, Vanessa and Her Sister

Publisher Synopsis:

What if Virginia Woolf’s sister had kept a diary? For fans of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank comes a spellbinding new story of the inseparable bond between Virginia and her sister, the gifted painter Vanessa Bell, and the real-life betrayal that threatened to destroy their family. Hailed by The New York Times Book Review as “an uncanny success” and based on meticulous research, this stunning novel illuminates a little-known episode in the celebrated sisters’ glittering bohemian youth among the legendary Bloomsbury Group.

My Recommendation:

Full disclosure: I first bought VANESSA AND HER SISTER for my ereader, but after forty pages, I was confused by the characters and their nicknames, and could not sink into the very specific rhythm of the story that I sensed was there. Books have a funny way of whispering in my ear, however, so after a few weeks, I purchased the hardcover. Within ten pages I was spellbound by the gorgeous prose, the unique structure, and the very real women and men peopling the story.

Assembled as a series of letters, diary entries, and telegrams, Parmar’s writing is literary, witty, visceral, and captivating. I struggled to find just the right quote to include in this post because I underlined, starred, and dogeared at least a third of the book. (Another plug for paper: one cannot vandalize an ebook in such a satisfying way!) Whether one pauses in a sitting to savor the language, or grows full from devouring large portions of text, either case will leave the reader satisfied and eager for more.

If you do not know anything about Virginia Woolf’s family (as I did not), do not seek out information. Allow this book to begin your education on the fascinating Stephens siblings; allow it to surprise, thrill, anger, and move you as the novel unfolds. If you do have knowledge of the family and the artists of the Bloomsbury Group, enter their space as you never have before to gain new understanding of their movement.

At one point in VANESSA AND HER SISTER, a character says this about art:

“Yes, the public are disconcerted, but that is how art must happen. It cannot be a comfortable, smooth transition from one aesthetic to another. It must bump and jostle and disrupt and shake the ground until the ground gives way…The old does not politely move over to make way for the new; it must be roughly shouldered aside.”

Priya Parmar does just this through her experimental style. She disrupts the common form of the novel and presents us with a telling of such intimacy and immediacy, it is as if the characters are whispering in our ears, conspiring with us. I did not want this book to end, and when it did, I went back to the beginning and started re-reading it. I will keep VANESSA AND HER SISTER close at hand, revisiting the story often for enjoyment and for craft study.

I shudder to think that format almost kept me from enjoying one of my new, all-time favorite novels. If you are a fan of historical fiction, of literary fiction, or of being moved by spectacular writing, I highly recommend VANESSA AND HER SISTER.

**(I do love my ereader; don’t see this as an indictment of the format. It is just that some books are meant to be read on paper, and this is one of them.)**

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New Historical Fiction: The Jazz Palace

April 7, 2015 at 7:09 am (Book Reviews, Giveaways, Historical Fiction)


Part of being a book blogger is receiving more novels than you could ever read, especially when you’re on deadline. (Ahem.) One that intrigues me, that I plan to pick up in the future, is a new period piece called THE JAZZ PALACE by Mary Morris, which releases today. It looks like it would appeal to those who enjoyed THE GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George, or either of Renee Rosen’s historical Chicago-set novels.

Publisher Synopsis:

Acclaimed author Mary Morris returns to her Chicago roots in this sweeping novel that brilliantly captures the dynamic atmosphere and the dazzling music of the Jazz Age.

In the midst of boomtown Chicago, two Jewish families have suffered terrible blows. The Lehrmans, who run a small hat factory, lost their beloved son Harold in a blizzard. The Chimbrovas, who run a saloon, lost three of their boys on the SS Eastland when it sank in 1915. Each family holds out hope that one of their remaining children will rise to carry on the family business. But Benny Lehrman has no interest in making hats. His true passion is piano—especially jazz.

At night he sneaks down to the South Side, slipping into predominantly black clubs to hear jazz groups play. One night he is called out and asked to “sit in” on a group. His playing is first-rate, and the other musicians are impressed. One of them, the trumpeter, a black man named Napoleon, becomes Benny’s close friend and musical collaborator, and their adventures together take Benny far from the life he knew as a delivery boy. Pearl Chimbrova recognizes their talent and invites them to start playing at her family’s saloon, which Napoleon dubs “The Jazz Palace.”

But Napoleon’s main gig is at a mob establishment, which doesn’t take too kindly to freelancing. And as the ’20s come to a close and the bubble of prosperity collapses, Benny, Napoleon, and Pearl must all make hard choices between financial survival and the music they love.


The publisher sent me one hardcover copy I’ll provide for a giveaway. To be entered in the drawing, simply comment below with your favorite novel set in the early twentieth century, and share on social media. You have until Friday, April 10th at 9 PM ET. US residents only, please. Good luck!

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Les Miserables Giveaway

March 3, 2015 at 7:54 am (Book Reviews, Giveaways, Historical Fiction)



In the first Penguin Classics translation in 40 years, Victor Hugo’s powerful novel of the June Rebellion of 1832 receives a compelling new treatment from Christine Donougher, winner of the Scott Moncrieff Translation Prize.

The Times Literary Supplement praises the book as “a magnificent achievement. It reads easily, sometimes racily, and Hugo’s narrative power is never let down…[an] almost flawless translation, which brings the full flavour of one of the greatest novels of the nineteenth century to new readers in the twenty-first.”

The Herald Scotland says, “Christine Donougher’s seamless and very modern translation of Les Misérables has an astonishing effect in that it reminds readers that Hugo was going further than any Dickensian lament about social conditions … [Les Mis] touches the soul.”

The cover of this Penguin Classics Graphic Deluxe Edition is a marvel in itself. It is illustrated by celebrated artist Jillian Tamaki, a Caldecott Award winner and contributor to the New York Times Book Review.

I have one copy of Les Misérables to give away. Simply comment below on whether you have read or seen Les Misérables, and share on social media by Thursday, March 5th at 9 PM ET. (US residents only, please.) Bonne chance!

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Girl on the Golden Coin Giveaway!

February 24, 2015 at 9:10 am (Giveaways, Historical Fiction)



Today marks the paperback release of Marci Jefferson’s fabulous novel, GIRL ON THE GOLDEN COIN. In it, Royalist exile Frances Stuart must walk a fine line between pleasing kings and protecting her family’s secret. Jefferson has received heaps of praise (including my own) for this passionate, historically rich novel, including:

“This small leap from the Tudors is a must-read for Alison Weir-Philippa Gregory fans.” – Booklist

“Jefferson’s intoxicating first novel superbly draws readers into the mischief and maneuverings, loyalties and treacheries, and lust and hostility of powerful 17th century kings and scheming court sycophants.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

“Written with spirit and insight, the novel reveals both the glamour and the dirt of court life while peering into the soul of a woman who is one of the unsung heroines of English history.” – Historical Novels Review

I have one copy to give away. If you would like to win, please comment below on your favorite historical fiction author or time period by 9 PM ET on Thursday, February 26th, and share on social media. (US residents only, please.) Good luck!


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Book Review: RODIN’S LOVER

February 18, 2015 at 7:46 am (Book Reviews, Historical Fiction)



“A wave arced over the slate waters and broke the stone at the edge of the property. One violent tempest and the cottage floor would be engulfed. She relished the wild beauty of the sea, the push and pull of currents, and the whirling eddies of cold water…She lowered herself to the short drop-off to the sea, removed her boots, and dangled her legs over the surf. Auguste was an unavoidable force. Warring against her emotions grew tedious and tiring…Dieu, she missed him.” Heather Webb, RODIN’S LOVER


A mesmerizing tale of art and passion in Belle Époque France

As a woman, aspiring sculptor Camille Claudel has plenty of critics, especially her ultra-traditional mother. But when Auguste Rodin makes Camille his apprentice—and his muse—their passion inspires groundbreaking works. Yet, Camille’s success is overshadowed by her lover’s rising star, and her obsessions cross the line into madness.

Rodin’s Lover brings to life the volatile love affair between one of the era’s greatest artists and a woman entwined in a tragic dilemma she cannot escape.


Consumed. This novel consumed me.

Webb’s powerful writing matches her passionate and tragic heroine, sculptor Camille Claudel. The conflicts and frustrations of a female artist at a time of rampant discrimination bring the pages to life, and the beautiful writing and narrative momentum make the book impossible to put down.

The cast of artists, writers, and notable historical figures will send one in search of photographs and images for hours, and Claudel will forever haunt the reader. Webb’s depiction of Claudel’s love affair with Auguste Rodin is cautionary, sympathetic, and wholly absorbing.

Look into Camille’s eyes on the cover, and see if you can resist her intense and untamed world…

Highly recommended.


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