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.

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! 

Book Recommendation: THE ECLIPTIC

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If you construct a room in paint, you haunt it. Your life rests in every stroke. So paint only the rooms that you can bear to occupy forever. Or paint the stars instead.” Benjamin Wood, THE ECLIPTIC

Publisher Synopsis:

On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents.

Elspeth ‘Knell’ Conroy is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece.

But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is ‘The Ecliptic’, and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?

My Recommendation: 

When a star dies it swells to a shimmering mass, collapses in on itself, and eventually bursts outward. That is an apt metaphor for my brain while reading THE ECLIPTIC.

Mind. Blown.

I hate to build up a book so much, but I must make an exception for this novel.

The characters: highly sympathetic and unique. You will want to spend time with them, will want to learn about their pasts, and will wish them well in their futures. If you are a creative person of any sort, read with a highlighter; you will find yourself nodding your head along with the descriptions of the processes, the cycles, the cost of the vocation. If you are not creative, you will be eager to unravel the psychology of what brought the artists to Portmantle, and how their lives are connected.

THE ECLIPTIC is a novel for book clubs. It requires thought and begs to be discussed. I suspect many will want to reread it once it’s finished, myself included. Full of insights, at times frightening, and artfully rendered, Wood has written a modern masterpiece destined to become a classic.

I should note that I was in a five-book reading slump before beginning THE ECLIPTIC, and I now have such a serious book hangover, I might need to take a break before I start anything new.

Here is a link to the book trailer. Are you intrigued? The novel releases on May 3rd.

Giveaway: AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER

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Publisher Synopsis:

In a compelling, richly researched novel that draws from thousands of letters and original sources, bestselling authors Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie tell the fascinating, untold story of Thomas Jefferson’s eldest daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph—a woman who kept the secrets of our most enigmatic founding father and shaped an American legacy.

From her earliest days, Patsy Jefferson knows that though her father loves his family dearly, his devotion to his country runs deeper still. As Thomas Jefferson’s oldest daughter, she becomes his helpmate, protector, and constant companion in the wake of her mother’s death, traveling with him when he becomes American minister to France.

It is in Paris, at the glittering court and among the first tumultuous days of revolution, that fifteen-year-old Patsy learns about her father’s troubling liaison with Sally Hemings, a slave girl her own age. Meanwhile, Patsy has fallen in love—with her father’s protégé William Short, a staunch abolitionist and ambitious diplomat. Torn between love, principles, and the bonds of family, Patsy questions whether she can choose a life as William’s wife and still be a devoted daughter.

Her choice will follow her in the years to come, to Virginia farmland, Monticello, and even the White House. And as scandal, tragedy, and poverty threaten her family, Patsy must decide how much she will sacrifice to protect her father’s reputation, in the process defining not just his political legacy, but that of the nation he founded.

My Recommendation:

I loved AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER so much, I provided this blurb:

“AMERICA’S FIRST DAUGHTER is the story of a generation caught between the past and the future of a nation, and illuminates how the actions of one woman managed to sustain a family in spite of the consequences of both privilege and poverty. Not since GONE WITH THE WIND has a single volume family saga so brilliantly portrayed the triumphs, trials, and sins of a family in the American South.”

This is one of the finest historical novels I have ever read, and I have a copy to give away to one lucky reader. Please comment below by Wednesday, March 9th at 9 PM ET about your favorite epic historical drama, or why you are interested in this period in American history to win, and please share on social media. (US only, please.) Good luck!

Book Recommendation: GEORGIA

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“A life is built of lies and magic, illusions bedded down with dreams. And in the end what haunts us most is the recollection of what we failed to see.” Dawn Tripp, GEORGIA

Publisher Synopsis:

Georgia O’Keeffe, her love affair with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her quest to become an independent artist come vividly to life in this sensual and exquisitely written novel, a dazzling departure into historical fiction by the acclaimed novelist Dawn Tripp.

This is not a love story. If it were, we would have the same story. But he has his, and I have mine.
 
In 1916, Georgia O’Keeffe is a young, unknown art teacher when she travels to New York to meet Stieglitz, the famed photographer and art dealer, who has discovered O’Keeffe’s work and exhibits it in his gallery. Their connection is instantaneous. O’Keeffe is quickly drawn into Stieglitz’s sophisticated world, becoming his mistress, protégé, and muse, as their attraction deepens into an intense and tempestuous relationship and his photographs of her, both clothed and nude, create a sensation.

Yet as her own creative force develops, Georgia begins to push back against what critics and others are saying about her and her art. And soon she must make difficult choices to live a life she believes in.

A breathtaking work of the imagination, Georgia is the story of a passionate young woman, her search for love and artistic freedom, the sacrifices she will face, and the bold vision that will make her a legend.

My Recommendation:

Tripp has long been a favorite literary writer of mine, and O’Keeffe is a favorite artist; naturally I was eager to read GEORGIA. I expected the prose to be beautiful and the story to be interesting, but it far surpassed even my highest expectations.

I did not know GEORGIA would be written in the first person–from the point of view of the artist, herself–and if I had, I might have cringed. How to harness that voice? That person! Tripp has done it. O’Keeffe is so electric, so alive on these pages, the power and passion are almost too much. It must have taken great courage to take on O’Keeffe’s voice, but Tripp has accomplished a true channeling and faithfulness in this portrayal.

I also did not know the epic scope of the novel, and it pleased me to discover it. It’s incredibly difficult to write a life story that is not a biography, but Tripp has executed the writing to perfection, keeping every scene sharply focused on O’Keeffe’s development as an artist, while continually exploring what it means to be a woman.

Sensual, savage, revelatory, and heartbreaking, GEORGIA is a must read for fans of James Salter or Priya Parmar. This is one of the finest pieces of biographical historical fiction I have ever read–if not the best. I will forever be an evangelist for GEORGIA.

I have one copy of GEORGIA to give away to anyone (in the US) who comments on and shares this post by Thursday, February 11th at 4 PM ET. Tell me your favorite work of biographical fiction or your favorite O’Keeffe painting. Good luck! 

Book Recommendation: WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES

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“A memoirist’s brain acts out the coal-to-diamond process. A story puts pressure on the brain; the book is what comes out.” @Darinstrauss 

Publisher Synopsis:

All the secrets a reader or writer of memoirs needs to know—and all the secrets an aspiring writer or lover of literature wants to know—in one readable volume, a follow-up to the acclaimed writers’ handbook Why We Write.

For the many amateurs and professionals who write about themselves—bloggers, journal-keepers, aspiring essayists, and memoirists—this book offers inspiration, encouragement, and pithy, practical advice. Twenty of America’s bestselling memoirists share their innermost thoughts and hard-earned tips with veteran author Meredith Maran, revealing what drives them to tell their personal stories, and the nuts and bolts of how they do it. Speaking frankly about issues ranging from turning oneself into an authentic, compelling character to exposing hard truths, these successful authors disclose what keeps them going, what gets in their way, and what they love most—and least—about writing about themselves.

My Recommendation:

Writers: WHY WE WRITE ABOUT OURSELVES is a must-read.

I underlined so much of this book, I excerpted the most poignant quotes on Twitter to showcase the buffet of rich, satisfying words provided in its pages. It fills the well.

Whether or not you write memoir, it is undeniable that our *selves* are embedded in anything we write. This book will give you the inspiration, hope, caution, urging, and permission you need to put yourself on the page.

The work is important; do it.