Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 128 - 13 Reasons to Read Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

The year is barrelling along and I've only got three months to complete my Dewey Book Challenge. Considering it's October and I'm finishing the third of six books, you can see my concern.

However, I shall persevere.

All of you avid readers out there who gobble up books like cups of coffee must wonder what it's like to find six books in one year a challenge. Well, I bump whatever I'm reading for myself when a new release comes out that I want to review. Those ones I get to in a hurry.

Also, there's the whole reading-on-the-bus thing. That's pretty much the only time I read. But reading almost always gets bumped for sleep. And during the work week, I average four hours of sleep a night, because I'm a night owl and I'm buzzing with creative energy all the way to midnight. Then I have to wind down and get ready for sleep. 2:00 am comes along and my head hits the pillow. 6:00 am comes and the alarm goes off. The only way I catch the 7:00 bus is by promising myself I can go back to sleep once I get on the bus.

I snooze for an hour with my book unopened in my purse. I blog on my break and during my lunch hour. I read while I wait for the bus on the way home. I even begin the trip reading. But my eyes quickly get heavy, the book goes back in my purse and I manufacture more ZZZs, as a character from today's book would say.

1 - Everything is Illuminated is the third book I'm reviewing for the Dewey Book Challenge.

For those who are new to this challenge, it came about as a way to honor the memory of a book blogger who passed away last December. The challenge asked readers to choose six books from her six-year archive of book reviews. I decided to pick one book from each of the six years she blogged and reviewed, from 2003 to 2008. But I didn't let the year of release decide my reading schedule for me. I began with the book I was most burning to read, which was March by Geraldine Brooks.

Next I simply had to read the other Geraldine Brooks novel I'd chosen - Year of Wonders.

2 - The yellow cover pictured above is the edition I own. It's an Olive Edition, an imprint of HarperCollins.

The original HarperCollins release cover is pictured at left. Both versions were there at the book store. I was just drawn to the smaller, thicker Olive Edition. I liked the sparse cover art.

Once I was into the story, I realized the blue and yellow text cover of the regular version echoes the colors of the Ukrainian flag. The Ukraine provides most of the setting for the book.

3 - As many of you know, I'm a certified Russophile (one who loves Russia and Russians.) That was the main draw for choosing this novel for the challenge.

So why wasn't it the first one that I read? Well, history trumps contemporary for me, so Geraldine Brooks' two historical novels had to come first. But the Ukraine-set story was hot on the heels of the first two.

4 - We meet Alex, the main first-person narrator of the book. He's in his early twenties and living at home with his parents, his grandfather and his younger brother Igor. Alex has crystal-clear plans for his future. He's saving currency in order to move himself and Little Igor to America, where he will become a first-rate accountant and buy an impressive car.

5 - Before this can materialize, however - and Alex has already stashed away a sizable amount in a cookie jar - Alex must act as the translator for Jonathan Safran Foer, a young New York Jew touring the Ukraine in order to track down the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. This fictional character carries the identical name of the book's author, but is portrayed at arms' length, either through Alex's POV, or through the account he writes of his Ukrainian-Jewish ancestors.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. It begins with Alex in present-day Odessa, but alternates between the fictional Jonathan's story of his great-great-great-great-great-grandmother and the early life of the town he's come to Ukraine to find: Trachimbrod. It also leaps into the more recent past to cover Jonathan's immigrant grandfather's story before he arrived in America.

The form of the novel also alternates between Alex's direct address of the reader; his letters written to Jonathan from the not-too-distant future once Jonathan has returned to New York; examples of documentation from Trachimbrod's past such as poems, plays and journals; the normal format of a novel; a stylistic alteration of that form to include huge sections without breaks for new paragraphs; empty space on the page; and numerous self-reflexive devices which treat the characters in the story as the fictional beings they are.

7 - The journey to find Trachimbrod also belongs to Grandfather, sent by Alex's father to be the driver for Odessa Heritage Tours. Since the death of his wife, Grandfather insists he's blind, although he's not. The fourth member of the road trip crew is Sammy Davis, Junior Junior, Grandfather's seeing-eye bitch and named for his favorite Negro.

8 - An unending source of delight and many, many laughs is Alex's spastic grasp of English. Check out this conversation between Alex and Jonathan in the kooky little Russian car:

" 'Are there Negro accountants?' 'There are African-American accountants. You don't want to use that word, though, Alex.' 'And homosexual accountants?' 'There are homosexual everythings. There are homosexual garbage men.' 'How much currency would a Negro homosexual accountant receive?' 'You shouldn't use that word.' 'Which word?' 'The one before homosexual.' 'What?' 'The n-word. Well, it's not the n-word, but-' 'Negro?' 'Shh.' 'I dig Negroes.' 'You really shouldn't say that.' 'But I dig them all the way. They are premium people.' "

9 - The language in this book is all over the place, from Alex's hilarious word choices to Safran Foer's poetic gems sprinkled throughout the many narratives. Here are a few gems:

"4:513-The dream of angels dreaming of men. It was during an afternoon nap that I dreamt of a ladder. Angels were sleepwalking up and down the rungs, their eyes closed, their breath heavy and dull, their wings hanging limp at the sides. I bumped into an old angel as I passed him, waking and startling him. He looked like my grandfather did before he passed away last year, when he would pray each night to die in his sleep. Oh, the angel said to me, I was just dreaming of you."

"If we are to be such nomads with the truth, why do we not make the story more premium than life? It seems to me that we are making the story even inferior. We often make ourselves appear as though we are foolish people, and we make our voyage, which was an ennobled voyage, appear very normal and second rate. We could give your grandfather two arms, and could make him high-fidelity. We could give Brod what she deserves instead of what she gets. Grandfather and I could embrace, and it could be perfect and beautiful, and funny, and usefully sad, as you say."

10 - Mr. Safran Foer really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Grandfather and I viewed television for several hours after Father reposed. We are both people who remain conscious very tardy. We viewed an American television program that had the words in Russian at the bottom of the screen. It was about a Chinaman who was resourceful with a bazooka. We also viewed the weather report. The weatherman said that the weather would be very abnormal the next day, but that the next day after that would be normal. Amid Grandfather and I was a silence you could cut with a scimitar. The only time that either of us spoke was when he rotated to me during an advertisement for McDonald's McPorkburgers and said, 'I do not want to drive ten hours to an ugly city to attend to a very spoiled Jew.' "

11 - The tone of the book changes on a dime between laugh-out-loud funny and catch-in-your-throat poignant. There are affectionate portrayals of 18th-century shtetl life and blistering scenes lifting the lid on hushed-up wartime decimations of whole histories. Of course, my favorite sections revolved around Alex and his enthusiastic use of words like premium, the hero (referring to Jonathan,) 'I exhibited Little Igor a smutty magazine three days yore', and 'I do not have any additional luminous remarks, because I must possess more of the novel in order to lumin.'

12 - As most of you know by now, I always prefer the film version of any story. It's the film school grad in me. I asked my husband to bring the DVD home even before I'd finished the book, because I simply had to hear Alex's voice. The actor who played him said everything exactly the way I heard it in my head.

This beautifully-done indie film, directed by actor Liev Schreiber, has now instantaneously become one of my all-time favorite films.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Keep in mind the author plays around with form and structure. The text appears here just as it does in the novel. Enjoy!

"We became very busy talking. When I rotated back to Grandfather, I saw that he was examining Augustine again. There was a sadness amid him and the photograph, and nothing in the world frightened me more. 'We will eat,' I told him. 'Good,' he said, holding the photograph very near to his face. Sammy Davis, Junior Junior was persisting to cry. 'One thing, though,' the hero said. 'What?' 'You should know...' 'Yes?' 'I am to say this...' 'What?' 'I'm a...' 'You are very hungry, yes?' 'I'm a vegetarian.' 'I do not understand.' 'I don't eat meat.' 'Why not?' 'I just don't.' 'He does not eat meat,' I told Grandfather. 'Yes he does,' he informed me. 'Yes you do,' I likewise informed the hero. 'No. I don't.' 'Why not?' I inquired him again. 'I just don't. No meat.' 'Pork?' 'No.' 'Meat?' 'No meat.' 'Steak?' 'Nope.' 'Chickens?' 'No.' 'Do you eat veal?' 'Oh, God. Absolutely no veal.' 'What about sausage?' 'No sausage either.' I told Grandfather this, and he presented me a very bothered look. 'What is wrong with him?' he asked. 'What is wrong with you?' I asked him. 'It's just the way I am.' 'Hamburger?' 'No.' 'What did he say is wrong with him?' Grandfather asked. 'It is just the way he is.' 'Does he eat sausage?' 'No.' 'No sausage!' 'No. He says he does not eat sausage.' 'In truth?' 'That is what he says.' 'But sausage...' 'I know.' 'In truth you do not eat sausage?' 'No sausage.' 'No sausage,' I told Grandfather. He closed his eyes and tried to put his arms around his stomach, but there was not room because of the wheel. It appeared like he was becoming sick because the hero would not eat sausage. 'Well, let him deduce what he is going to eat. We will go to the most proximal restaurant.'

'What do you mean he does not eat meat?' the waitress asked, and Grandfather put his head in his hands. 'What is wrong with him?' she asked. 'It is only the way that he is.' The hero asked what we were talking about. 'They do not have anything without meat,' I informed him. 'He does not eat any meat at all?' she inquired me again. 'It is merely the way he is,' I told her. 'Sausage?' 'No sausage,' Grandfather answered to the waitress, rotating his head from here to there. 'Maybe you could eat some meat,' I suggested to the hero, 'because they do not have anything that is not meat.' 'Don't they have potatoes or something?' he asked. 'Do you have potatoes?' I asked the waitress. 'You only receive a potato with the meat,' she said. I told the hero. 'Couldn't I just get a plate of potatoes?' I asked the waitress, and she said she would go to the chef and inquire him. 'Ask him if he eats liver,' Grandfather said."

- Jonathan Safran Foer, 2002

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 125 - 13 Reasons to Read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Deeply-missed book blogger Dewey passed away 10 months ago. For awhile, her blog remained for us to click onto and once again read her insightful reviews of fabulous books.

Recently I've discovered that the link to her blog no longer connects. I guess it's time to let go of some things.

I'm a third of the way through my reading challenge based on books that Dewey reviewed. I recently found a review of another of 'Dewey's books' over at You Can Never Have Too Many Books, along with this wonderful sentiment from Susan:

"That last quote also reminded me of Dewey. It's been almost a year now since she passed away. I'm glad this was a book she loved and recommended. To you, Dewey."

1 - Year of Wonders is the second book I've read for the year-long Dewey Reading Challenge. Good thing for me that there are only six books on this challenge. I noticed that most of the avid readers who signed up for this had read their allotment by March.

The books I read for myself have a habit of getting bumped regularly by new releases which my incredibly-talented friends have written - books I like to review as close to their release date as possible, so I can spread the word. I finished reading Year of Wonders a few weeks ago, but I had three books to review that were hot off the presses first.

2 - Year of Wonders is a Penguin Books release. This debut novel for journalist Brooks became an international bestseller. Not a bad way to switch careers...

3 - The full title is actually Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Call me crazy, but that's the thing that grabbed me and made me special order it at the smaller bookstore near my office. I've been able to buy three of the six challenge books off the shelf at the large Chapters, but both of the Geraldine Brooks were special orders because I couldn't wait until I might be able to get to Chapters. I started my challenge with Brooks' March - you can read my review HERE - and I immediately plunged into Year of Wonders.

4 - We meet Anna Frith of Derbyshire, England, daughter of a brutish laborer, young widow of a miner and mother to two young sons. She works as a part-time servant at the manor house and takes in a boarder at her cottage to make ends meet.

5 - Michael Mompellion is the married rector of Anna's village. Young and charismatic, he sweeps his congregation up with the intensity of his gaze and seduces them with the magic of his voice. He rides his powerful stallion Anteros and ministers to his flock with large hands more like a working man's than a cleric's.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. We meet Anna as she keeps house for Mr. Mompellion, in the desperate hush following their year of beating back the plague. Then it flashbacks to the time just preceding the arrival of the decimating disease. Eventually we catch up to the moment of the novel's beginning, where we then move beyond to the conclusion. It's an intriguing way to present the novel, as we assume that how we find the characters at the beginning is the way the novel will end.

But there is more.

7 - Sexual tension flares between Anna and the rector. Although he is passionately married to Elinor Mompellion, the attraction between him and Anna runs throughout all the horror of the plague year. Anna, Elinor and Michael create a love triangle of the most original kind. Anna idolizes Elinor, who teaches her to read and how to use plants to heal. But Anna doesn't realize until much later that part of her kinship with Elinor is her unconscious desire to be Elinor - because Elinor is Michael's wife.

8 - The story is told entirely through Anna's first-person voice. But this is not merely her story. A Novel of the Plague is a perfect indicator of the scope of this tale. We get to know an entire village and suffer along with each individual as the impossible decision is made. By shutting themselves off from the world, they heroically attempt to contain the plague.

9 - Geraldine Brooks' training as a journalist serves the villagers well. Multiple viewpoints and varied reactions to the collective decision are presented through Anna's eyes. Though we know Anna and her stalwart character, we still get vivid depictions of other people who aren't so brave, aren't so sure, who react to the horror in monstrous ways.

There are lots of gruesome images in this book - fair warning to the squeamish. But I found every part of it fascinating, compelling and so very heartrending. There were many times that I had started to read it on the bus, but had to tuck it back into my purse or else sit there crying.

10 - Ms. Brooks really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"When the Mompellions came to where I stood, Elinor Mompellion held out both her hands and took mine tenderly as the rector spoke to me. 'And you, Anna?' he said. The intensity of his gaze was such that I had to look away from him. 'Tell us you will stay with us, for without you, Mrs. Mompellion and I would be ill set. Indeed, I do not know what we would do without you.' There was no turmoil within me, for I had made my decision. Still, I could not command my voice to give him a reply. When I nodded, Elinor Mompellion embraced me and held me to her for a long moment. The rector moved on, whispering quietly to Mary Hadfield, who was weeping and wringing her hands most piteously. By the time he mounted the steps again and faced us, he and Mr. Stanley between them had shored up every doubter. All of us in the church that day gave their oath to God that we would stay, and not flee, whatever might befall us.

All of us, that is, except the Bradfords. They had slipped out of the church unnoticed and were already at the Hall, packing for their flight to Oxford."

11 - The woman's face on the cover of the book couldn't be more perfect. Taken from a painting by Frederic Leighton - Amarilla - this depiction of Anna's endurance through all her suffering is exquisitely perfect.

12 - There are so many vivid images and scenes from this book that will always stay with me. First published eight years ago, I couldn't imagine why it hadn't been optioned to be filmed. Actually, to do it justice, it would have to be a miniseries - hopefully on HBO so the grisly aspects wouldn't be lost.

Now with the H1N1 virus making the rounds, wouldn't this be a perfect production for our times?

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Mr. Mompellion laid his large hand tenderly upon Jakob Merrill's face. 'Hush now.' His voice was low and even. 'Do not dwell any more on things in the past that you cannot change. When God took your wife to Him, He crowned Maude Merrill with a crown of righteousness. He freed her from all toil and tiredness. God has already made provision for your children. Did he not send young Brand to you, and did you not take him in to your home in his need? Do you not see God's hand at work there?'

Jakob Merrill's hand tightened on the rector's, and his brow unknotted. He asked the rector then to help him make a last will to bind such an arrangement.

It was not for me to be reading Jakob Merrill's private will, and I doubt that Mr. Mompellion would have given it to me if he had known that I could read at all. Indeed, I did not propose to read the words; it was only that my eyes could not prevent me as I blotted the document and set it in the tin box that Merrill had pointed to. I warmed the child some caudle, instructed her how to complete the stew I had begun, and set out with the rector.

Elinor met us, her face creased with concern. Two more bodies awaited their graves. Mr. Mompellion sighed and shrugged off his coat. He did not wait even for some nourishment but went straight to the churchyard.

I let go my pride then, and took my courage into my hands instead. Without telling Elinor what I proposed, I trudged out to my father's croft, hoping that the day was young enough to find him sober still.

I noticed that Steven, their eldest boy, had an angry welt across his cheek, and I did not need to ask how it had come there. I carried some of the herbs we had been preparing and showed Aphra how to make them up into the tonic that Elinor and I had devised.

Speaking with a respectful deference that I did not feel, I explained the plight at the rectory, and, flattering my father about his great strength and fortitude, beseeched his help. As I had expected, he cursed and said he had more than enough work to lay his hand to, and that it would do my 'prating priest' a power of good to get his white hands dirty. So I offered him his choice of my lambs for that Sunday's dinner and another at the new moon. These were generous terms, and though my father cursed and haggled and thumped the table till the platters rattled, he and I eventually came to an agreement. And so I bought Mr. Mompellion a respite from the graveyard. At least, I told myself, my father's clemmed children might get a portion of the meat."

- Geraldine Brooks, 2001

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 124 - 13 Reasons to Read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is a fellow blogger over at Popculturedivas. As she got set for that magical Release Day for her debut novel, I confess I was looking forward to it nearly as impatiently.

Alright, perhaps not quite as much as Leanna must have been.

But I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. And as it turned out, Leanna embarked upon a mammoth promotional blog tour called the Haunted London Blog Tour, with loads of opportunity to win a copy of her book.

You guessed it - I received my autographed copy in the mail along with a cool little button that says Strangely Beautiful. Yay me!

1 - Treat yourself to this lovely book trailer -

2 - Now, about that Haunted London Blog Tour. With 14 stops, Leanna linked her tour with posts about real London haunted spaces. Included are the totally freaky Black Dog of the infamous Newgate Prison; Jack the Ripper victim Annie Chapman's haunting of a brewery boardroom which now stands on the site of her murder; and playwright Oliver Goldsmith's pesky disembodied head hauntings.

I was completely impressed with Leanna's blog tour. Carrying the theme along from blog to blog kept me coming back for more.

3 - Leanna is a co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon, "Manhattan’s first reading series devoted to romance fiction. Join them on the first Monday of every month at Madame X in Manhattan to hear your favorite authors read from their latest works."

4 - Before publishing her first novel, Leanna wrote one-act plays and a fantasy novella, Dark Nest. She's also a stage and television actress.

5 - The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a Leisure Historical Fantasy, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing's Romance category.

I've also seen it described as a Gothic Victorian paranormal, and a YA novel. All of the above categories would fit this unique story.

6 - We meet albino-pale Percy Parker as she enters the Athens Academy at the advanced age of eighteen. A convent-educated orphan, Percy is especially sensitive to the stares of others when they encounter her. She has the looks of a ghost made flesh, with an ability to see and hear the actual ghosts that stream to and fro unnoticed by most other Londoners.

7 - Professor Alexi Rychman is a dark, melancholic leader of a group of gifted men and women known as The Guard. They stand between the living and the dead, ensuring Darkness doesn't engulf the world. It's Alexi's longing-filled lot in life to await a lover fated to be the woman foretold by a vision, when The Guard were first assembled as children. Not only must he be absolutely certain she's the one - if The Guard guesses wrong, the universe as they know it will be forever breached by Darkness.

8 - Although marketed as a Leisure Romance, the love story goes at its own pace and remains highly Victorian in tone. The romance plays out on an almost purely emotional level. Definitely suited to a YA reader.

9 - Besides the developing relationship between the professor and Percy, the other five who make up The Guard are featured prominently, as well as various ghostly characters and otherwordly beings. This is a world well-populated and teeming with Gothic atmosphere.

10 - Leanna really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Alexi, exhausted, took one final moment to contemplate an alternate history where he might have become a renowned scientist instead of an academic who chased ghosts. But The Grand Work had its own agenda, and his mortal desires were in no way considered. Prophecy suggested, of course, that someday his empty heart would be warmed and refreshed, but until he could be sure, until she came forward and his divine goddess could again speak to him, everything, including Alexi, was holding its breath - and choking on it. A little girl on Fleet Street might be safe for the moment, but the rest of London was not.

Still...she was coming, wasn't she? She'd best show herself before the last of his hope died and he didn't recognize her at all."

11 - There are many instances of visions and dreams in this story. Leanna has a gift for turning these moments into cinematic flashes that are just as haunting for the reader as for Percy. Here's a taste:

"A wind swept the room, scattering papers and whipping his black hair across his forehead. Halos of fire surrounded Alexi's outstretched hands, crackling to be released.

The abomination leaned back on pulsing haunches and tilted a vague head, knowing that it had been commanded. Fire burst from Alexi's fingertips, and it yelped and retreated. Then, in a burst of frantic barking, the form shifted into a hundred doglike forms that disappeared like roaches from light, snorting as they vanished through the walls. Only barking lingered in the air."

12 - As an actress and playwright, Leanna truly has an ear for wonderful dialogue. The mannered banter of her Victorian setting is ever so exquisite, and most certainly is never modernized with out-of-place turns of phrase. Standing ovation from me, Leanna!

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Miss Parker's elegant dress and elaborate coif were stunning. Her fine features had been painted with the softest rose blush, and her pale eyes flashed like diamonds. She was by far the most captivating thing ever seen at this silly event. He noted her talking to various young ladies who drifted past, strained into saying something polite. She was gracious and returned their trivial, polite conversation, but when she occasionally glanced away, he read her struggle and isolation. She alone, he was sure, understood why he dreaded this event every year. Such recognition was profound.

An enraptured young couple twirled past. As they did, they waved. Percy returned the gesture happily, then watched them twirl away, her warm smile fading. Something seized up deep inside Alexi. Perhaps she felt the weight of his stare, for she looked up. Eyes like snowcaps finally met his, and the rest of the world was muted.

'There you are - my favorite gargoyle!' came a taunting voice.

Alexi turned and saw Elijah Withersby leading a woman through one of the arched entrances and into the ballroom. Miss Linden. Having only seen her briefly, in the moonlight, Alexi was unprepared for what a well-lit room would do for her beauty. It was unparalleled.

'Here's the man of the hour at last.' Elijah removed the woman's hand from his arm and offered it to Alexi. 'Professor Rychman, here again is our dear Miss Lucille Linden.'

Alexi kissed the woman's gloved hand with solemn courtesy. 'A pleasure to see you, Miss Linden. I am sorry it has taken so long for our paths to again cross.'

'The pleasure is entirely mine, Professor Rychman. Lord Withersby has been kind, as has Miss Belledoux. I am forever in your debt. It is difficult to be a stranger in such a large place, and to feel safe when the world is coming apart at the seams...'

She possessed a magnetic intensity Alexi had never encountered. But then, just over the woman's perfect, bare shoulder, Alexi regarded the opal eyes of Miss Parker looking on in stricken sorrow. Her pale, heather-framed face quickly rallied into a hollow smile, and she tried to pretend she hadn't been staring. But eyes like hers could truly hide nothing; and when the music slowed, the couples parted and still no one came to speak with her, Percy rose from her chair and fled the room.

'Professor Rychman?' called a musical voice, jarring him from his reverie. 'Are you all right?'

Alexi faced Miss Linden. 'My apologies. Something caught my eye.'

'Ah, we interrupt his chaperoning, Miss Linden,' Elijah taunted.

Alexi looked sharply at his friend, but Miss Linden smiled and he felt her smooth gloved hand graze his. 'I admire gravity in a man.'

'If you wouldn't mind, Miss Linden...I am terribly sorry. It was a true pleasure to see you, but I must beg your leave. I believe someone requires my assistance. A student,' he added, staring at Withersby."

- Leanna Renee Hieber, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 123 - 13 Reasons to Read the In David's House Collection by Jennifer Leeland

Recently in the RWR, or Romance Writers Report - a romance industry journal available to members of Romance Writers of America - an article by Courtney Milan cautioned bloggers to think twice when holding contests on their blogs. Something to do with legal woes, I believe. She did point out that when the prize's value is under $10.00, there's not such an urgency to investigate. And since most of the contests I've come across are for copies of the author's latest release, that pretty much covers the blog contests in which I've taken part.

And since today's e-book collection came to me through a contest, I just want to thank Jennifer Leeland for holding it and to all the authors whose books I've been so lucky to read after winning them. Please, writers - keep holding your contests! Heck, I've had two contests myself on behalf of my cousin. They're so much fun! I'm glad they can still be classified as promotional expense and most bloggers will never have to worry about the legalities of giving away prizes like a plasma TV.

1 - In David's House is a three-novella erotica collection from Wilder Rose Press. At this point the three stories must be purchased separately, but I won them as a collection, and read them as one connected story. The connecting thread is BDSM dom David, whose handpicked guests arrive to sort out their sexual and romantic lives within the safety of his home.

I would love to see this collection packaged as one volume.

2 - Part of Wild Rose Press's Scarlet Rose erotica imprint, Jennifer's story is contemporary adult erotica using frank language and BDSM situations.

3 - The first story is The Mask She Wears. We meet Catherine, a court reporter who meets a too-dreamy-for-her lawyer at a cafe she frequents. Too bad she needs a bondage mask in order to reach sexual release. The charming lawyer is exactly the kind of guy with whom she'd never share that side of her.

Justin could swear he recognizes Catherine from somewhere - and definitely not the court room. Could this shy, reserved woman have been at one of David's parties? He can't wait until the next one, to see if his instincts about her are correct.

4 - The second story is The Secret She Keeps. We meet Tessa, already involved with Zac and happy with nearly everything about him. If only he would be a little rougher when they had sex. She's never been at ease with her own longings, to which she self-refers as deviant. All of her former relationships had been doomed to failure when her boyfriends realized they could never bring her to orgasm. But she'd never been able to speak aloud the dark fantasies which gave her true release.

Zac breaks things off with Tessa when it's clear their sex life sucks. He'd tried hard to embrace a vanilla life for her, but he needs to dominate and she wasn't the sort at all to submit to that sort of sexual expression. She wore a Wonder Woman costume to a party, for heaven's sake. But a heart-to-heart with David convinces him that it's worth a second chance to see if this woman can take the real him.

5 - The third story is The Trust She Yields. We meet Lee, a medical secretary at a fast-paced office. But no matter how quickly the workday flies by, no matter that she moved to another state, the memories of her previous relationship haunt every moment of her day. She was once the submissive to a well-respected dom, but what no one knew was how the man who imposed rules for others in their lifestyle refused to abide by them in his own relationship with Lee.

David has helped countless others to realize their own sexual beings. As a dom who opens his home to others who need a safe haven, David's generosity and wisdom is legendary. The only thing missing in all of this - for all the couples he has helped to find one another, there's been no one for David himself. Until he spies Lee in a vanilla-world bar and they recognize that thing about each other.

6 - The recurring theme in this collection is learning to accept oneself. Fighting against or denying their sexual natures has led to disaster for everyone involved. Jennifer brings out the dark moment/inner confrontation within each character with great depth, considering she's writing in a short novella format.

7 - I really, really love the power plays between the characters in all three stories. All romantic partnerships have a power play to them. BDSM couples are more up-front with this aspect. The danger with erotica is setting the true allure of power aside with the freedom to write sex scenes with truly frank language. Jennifer keeps the power dynamic front and center at all times.

8 - The rise of erotica as a major player in romantic fiction is something I'm ecstatic to see. When you consider that only three generations ago, women could not present themselves as sexual beings unless they wanted to be labelled tramps and whores, the current erotica industry is nothing short of miraculous.

The subsequent splitting of erotica into subgenres such as BDSM and menage a trois corresponds with some of the most common female fantasies compiled by researcher Nancy Friday in her studies of female sexuality.

In today's world, it's not really PC to be female and admit a desire to be dominated. For women who have it all and do it all, sometimes the greatest relief is to lay down that control to a lover. Ironically, this same desire was traditionally the preserve of high-profile men such as political figures, professionals and CEO's.

Jennifer tackles these issues in this collection. For the men as well, especially Zac from The Secret She Keeps, the desire to be a sensitive and caring partner is at war with these character's inner drive to dominate. Through BDSM, they can have both.

9 - The movement within the stories towards David's own struggle in The Trust She Yields reminded me of one of my truly favorite historical romance series by Jo Beverley - the Malloren series. The eldest brother/patriarch of that noble family makes his delicious presence known in four books before he took center stage in his own. That's one of my favorite books - Devilish. It always makes its way onto my list of favorites, and The Trust She Yields had the same build-up/pay-off for me.

10 - Jennifer really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example, from The Mask She Wears:

"She wanted him to possess her. This lover was connecting with her through the mask, the restraints, through her self-imposed limits. He was shattering her barriers.

Instead of completing the act and ending the encounter, he slowed the pace again. His touch softened. The heat from his skin burned her nerve endings as she teetered on the edge of another orgasm. She arched, and the restraints bit into her wrists and ankles.

For the first time, she wanted the mask off. She wanted to know this man, connect with him.

Never before, in the few anonymous encounters she had allowed herself, had she felt this intense need to strip away the tools that protected her from emotional risk.

Then he eased away, and his warmth, his touch was gone, and a silent scream echoed in the dark corners of her mind."

11 - I'm keeping the truly sizzling aspects out of the excerpts here, but believe me - the exquisite hotness made my knees weak.

12 - Jennifer has all three couples return in The Trust She Yields, which is a very nice full-circle for the collection. The last novella is longer and has room for a few scenes where Catherine & Justin and Tessa & Zac come to bat for Lee & David.

David is a smoldering presence in all of their stories. Their esteem for him is touching when the man who has helped all of them with their sexual healing can use a friend.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt, from The Trust She Yields. Enjoy!

"A month ago he’d been here, just like tonight, alone and relaxed. She’d glanced his way several times and noted the way he stared at her, his expression hungry. She’d ignored him, put distance between them, but he only gave her a knowing smile. They never spoke, yet, they had communicated a wealth of information.

Every Friday night she berated herself for coming back to BC’s, the downtown bar where the clientele was a little older without being snooty. However, here she sat, drinking Crown Royal and Coke in small amounts as she enjoyed the music.

Lee caught her reflection in the bar mirror. Dark, curly black hair tumbled over her shoulders in an unruly mess. Her makeup was understated, almost boring, but it brought out the gold in her hazel eyes. Tonight she wore a burgundy blouse and a black mini skirt with her thigh-high leather boots. The boots added about three inches to her solid five-six frame, and she liked the appearance of control they gave her.

It was all a lie.

Deep down, Lee wanted to lose control, hand it over, be completely controlled by another. If only she could stamp out the need to submit to another person in the bedroom, her life would be simpler. Tears pricked her eyes. She couldn’t let them fall. Her makeup would run.

'May I buy you another drink?' Her gaze jerked to the man standing next to her. It was
him. Stumbling off the bar stool, she backed away. 'I—no. Please, I—'

Fear closed Lee’s throat as she whirled toward the door. The room suffocated her. She had to get out. Had to get away. She burst through the door and sprinted for her car.

She couldn’t do it again. She couldn’t allow another dominant to control her. All that was over.


David Peters frowned as the woman careened out the door. Obviously, she was frightened. Not of men, but of him in particular. As a man who was known for his charm, David wasn’t used to terrifying women. Well, not unless they needed it.

The bartender picked up her glass. 'She wasn’t interested, huh?'

'It was much more than that,' David said, more to himself than the man behind the bar. 'She knew exactly what I was, and it scared her.'

'She’s new in town. From Las Vegas, so I understand.' Jack wiped the counter and smirked. 'It’s nice to see one who doesn’t fall in line for you.'

David glared at the bartender. 'So glad I could entertain you.'

'It’s not often I get to see you strike out, Peters. Let me enjoy it.'

'It’s not often I run into fear like that.' He threw some money on the bar. 'I’ll see her again. You’ll see. She needs me.'

The bartender shook his head. 'You’ve got the biggest ego I’ve ever seen.'

David snorted. 'I doubt that.' He sighed as he always did when trying to explain things to vanilla people. 'It’s not ego. She does need me or someone like me.' He stared at the door as if willing her to come back through it. He’d have to wait a whole week to see her again. That bothered him. Annoyed him.

Worried him.

He shoved the thought away. Of course, he wasn’t worried about a woman he didn’t even know. How could he be? She was just another soul who needed the one thing he offered. Sanctuary.

'Well, good luck.' The bartender’s smile grew faint. 'That lady has baggage.'

'Don’t we all,' David said softly. 'Don’t we all.' "

- Jennifer Leeland, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 122 - 13 Reasons to Read Wicked Little Game by Christine Wells

I met Christine Wells when I became a contributor to a group blog called missmakeamovie. Our blog was relaunched as Popculturedivas, and I've struck up a friendship with Christine as she keeps writing about things we share:

Glomming Richard Armitage - it's research!
Hugh Jackman - it's research!
The Anti-Hero
'Don't mention the war'
Her music playlist when she writes - from her very popular group blog, Romance Bandits
A love of book series and film series

1 - Christine's latest release is Wicked Little Game.

It's a Berkley Sensation imprint from Penguin's Berkley Jove romance division, which focuses on mass-market paperbacks.

2 - Christine continues her professional association with cover artist Jim Griffin. I think his work is just delicious.

3 - Wicked Little Game takes us to the high-stakes world of Regency London. What lurks behind the reputations of those in the ton? How far will the elite go to preserve those reputations - deserved or not? When governments can fall if a scandal's bad enough, those in the game can move the play to lethal levels.

4 - Christine has done something in her last two books that conventional wisdom says is a no-no for romance.

You can see the immediate draw for me there.

The heroine of The Dangerous Duke is a widow (heaven's no - readers don't want a story about a widow.) The heroine of Wicked Little Game isn't even a widow - she's currently married to a man who is not the hero of the book (the horror!)

High-intensity stress levels for the characters and a halt-everything-else-except-reading hook for the reader - what's not to love?

5 - Lady Sarah Cole married young to a man whom she was certain she loved deeply, and who appeared to adore her in return. Ten years later, she makes perfumes which she secretly sells to an apothecary to make ends meet. Her husband has become a wastrel, living beyond his means while Sarah keeps their household in barely-respectable rooms let from a landlady with whom her husband flirts to postpone rent payment.

6 - The Marquis of Vane has held a torch for the enigmatic Lady Sarah for years. Rebuffed when he once made an offer for an extra-marital arrangement between them, Vane intercedes despite his anticipated frosty reception - when her scoundrel of a husband sets a price on one night with his wife. For ten thousand pounds.

7 - The sexual tension coils through every scene. Lady Sarah herself has been attracted to Vane for some time when the story begins. In their rarified world, they were bound to encounter one another. Their history holds a sword over their every meeting. But Lady Sarah battles against her husband's bold infidelities by refusing to join in that sordid game. She's too proud to admit to anyone that her youthful decision to marry Brinsley Cole was a life-altering mistake. And she proudly refuses to engage in retaliatory affairs.

8 - I have a great affection for Lady Sarah. Her overriding character flaw - Pride with a capital 'P' - is a flaw with which I closely indentify. Oh, so closely. Her valiant attempts to hold onto her shredded self-respect are heartbreaking. I related to her like I haven't related to any other fictional female character so far.

If I say that the final scene in Turandot, a Puccini opera, where the unwinnable princess discovers that the hero has finally touched her armoured heart, leaves me in tears of recognition and reminds me of Lady Sarah, perhaps you'll understand my affection.

And if I say that the final pas de deux from John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew ballet leaves me in the same state, then you'll definitely understand my affection. The ballet's heroine reminds me of Lady Sarah as she stops fighting the man who loves her and surrenders to her true feelings. It's filled with intricate trust moves and lifts that allow her to soar (and extremely difficult for the male dancer!)

9 - Now - let's get to Vane.

He's an historical romance hero as he was meant to be experienced.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what a few Amazon readers had to say about him:

"Vane - loved him!!! So, so, so sexy. He was the epitome of a hero! Very in control of his emotions - except when it comes to the heroine. With her, he falls to pieces. I LOVE it when the heroine holds the ability to bring such a powerful man to his knees." - Barbara, New York, USA

" He is an amazing hero. A lesser man than Vane would have given up on Sarah. She was so hard, so callous and so adept at keeping her icy cold mask in place. But Vane understood her core. He knew what she was protecting and he was determined to break through all her walls." - VampFanGirl, San Diego, CA

10 - Christine really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"He couldn't save her from Brinsley's loathsome schemes. He'd tried. She'd spurned him with her cold, cruel smile. But what if the villain took this offer to another man with fewer scruples than Vane? What then?

'I ought to kill you, Cole.' Vane kept his voice low, aware that a party of men had left Crockford's and headed their way. 'Exterminate you like the vermin you are.'

Brinsley didn't even blink. 'Ah, but I'm well acquainted with your sort, my lord. I know you will not kill a man without a fair fight.' He fingered his bruised throat, then shrugged. 'Call me out if you wish to see Sarah's name dragged through the mud. I won't meet you.'

His expression darkened. 'I married that little bitch, my lord marquis. Short of bloody murder, I can treat her however I damned well pleased. So think well before you threaten me, sir, or your sweet Lady Sarah might suffer the consequences.'

Blind rage, all the more dangerous for its impotence, threatened to overwhelm every principal Vane held dear. He faced Brinsley in the darkness, panting with the effort of keeping his hands by his sides instead of wrapping them around the bastard's throat. This time, he wouldn't have the strength to let go.

He'd never killed a man before...

Their misted breath clashed and roiled upward. The moonlight glinted off wet cobbles, threw Brinsley's profile into high relief. The thoughtful poet's brow that hid a conniving, low mind, the noble nose that sniffed out weakness and despair, the sculpted lips that now curled in a self-satisfied sneer.

Damn him to hell. Brinsley knew he had won."

11 - There is so much going on in Wicked Little Game that it was a bit of a challenge to find excerpts that wouldn't contain spoilers. Be assured that Christine's previous inclination to include spies, political intrigue, suspense and a healthy dose of edge-of-your-seat action is in full array here.

12 - I reviewed Christine's previous book, The Dangerous Duke last December. Check out my review HERE.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"A large hand gripped her elbow, stopping her. She gasped and swung around, to see the hackney driver's reddening face.

She swallowed hard. 'Let go of me. I told you, I'll only be a minute.'

'Where've I 'eard that before?' scoffed the driver. His hold tightened. 'I'll 'ave my money first, ma'am,
if you please.'

Before Sarah could answer, there was a blur of movement and a dull crack. The driver dropped Sarah's elbow with a grunt of pain, cradling his wrist. Sarah's gaze snapped upward. Standing between them, looking down at her with those deep, dark eyes was the Marquis of Vane.

'Did he hurt you?' He made as if to take her arm to inspect the damage for himself, but she stepped back, evading his frowning scrutiny.

She shook her head, insides clenching, heart knocking against her ribs. There didn't seem enough air in the world to breathe. 'A - a misunderstanding, merely. You are very good, but please don't - '

Vane lowered the cane he'd used to break the man's hold and switched his glare to the driver. 'If you don't wish to feel this stick across your back, make yourself scarce.'

The jarvey was a thickset man, but Vane towered over him, all broad chest and big shoulders and pure, masculine power. The driver blenched a little, but he retained enough spirit to mount a case in his defense.

Vane didn't appear to listen, but nor did he stem the flow. Of all the men in the world who might have come upon her in this predicament, why did it have to be Vane?

His swift glance held a gleam of curiosity. She lifted her chin with proud distain. The marquis gave no sign he believed the driver's story, but when Sarah said nothing to contradict it, he flicked a coin to the jarvey and dismissed him with a nod.

Vane turned to her. 'Come, I'll escort you home.'

His low, resonant tone stroked down her spine in a warm, velvet caress. A shocking wave of heat rolled through her body, left her trembling from head to toe. 'That won't be necessary, thank you,' she managed. 'It is but a step.' She gripped her hands together. 'I haven't the funds with me, I'm afraid, but my husband will reimburse you. If you'd be so good as to find him...'

Vane followed her gaze to the coffeehouse and his jaw tightened. 'I don't want repayment,' he said harshly.

There was only one thing he'd ever wanted from her. He still wanted it. She knew by the suppressed violence in him, the tension that held his large frame utterly still.

She was in no better state. Her senses feasted on him. He carried himself like a Roman general, with the grace of an athlete and a habit of command.

Even in the open, bustling street Sarah felt crowded, oppressed, overwhelmed by him. Her pride refused to let her take a backward step. But oh, she wanted to. She wanted to run.

All she could do was conceal her fear beneath that familiar mask of ice. 'Thank you. I'm obliged to you,' she said in a colorless tone.

He continued to stand there, waiting, as if he expected something from her. She wasn't sure what it was, but she knew it was more than she could possibly give. She glanced at the coffeehouse. She needed to get away.

'So cold,' breathed Vane. 'You are...quite the most unfeeling woman I've ever met.'

Sarah forced her lips into a thin, cynical smile. How little he knew her. The danger had always been that she felt far, far too much. An excess of sensibility had led to the great downfall of her existence. She'd paid for her impulsive choice every day for the past ten years.

The suffering had increased a hundredfold since she'd met Vane.

They stared at one another without speaking. The everyday world rushed past in a muted blur, as if she and Vane were surrounded by smoked glass. Those compelling dark eyes bore into hers, determined to read her secret yearning, searching for a response.

Her heart gave a mighty surge, as if it would leap from her chest into his. But she'd built a stronghold around her heart from the flotsam of wrecked dreams.

Someone jostled her as they hurried past. The strange bubble of suspended time burst and the world flooded back, swirling around them. Sarah turned away.

And there, in the bow window of Brown's Coffeehouse, stood Brinsley, her husband.


- Christine Wells, 2009

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 114 - 13 Reasons to Read Mirror Blue by Thomma Lyn Grindstaff

I met Thomma Lyn Grindstaff in the comments section of fellow writing-life bloggers, and eventually found myself addicted to her posts about her daily hikes up her East Tennessee mountain, complete with you-are-there photos.

It's easy to rejoice with her when she encounters tadpoles evolving in a mountain stream, when she discovers rare ghost flowers deep in the forest and to be patient if she doesn't blog for a few days. I know that means she's working on her next story, so it's all good.

1 - Mirror Blue is a Literary Love Story imprint from Black Lyon Publishing, released in May 2009. It is available in both Ebook PDF format or as a paperback.

2 - Mirror Blue is Thomma Lyn's official debut novel.

Her unofficial debut was actually a story called Thy Eternal Summer. She sold it to an e-publisher that folded not long afterwards. Did Thomma Lyn let that get to her?


3 - Being published was just a matter of time for Thomma Lyn. "I recall when I was eleven years old," she writes, "and a teacher asked my class to write an essay about what we hoped we'd be doing as adults. I wrote that I wanted to be a novelist. Writing has always gone hand in hand with reading, and I can't remember a time when I wasn't in love with words."

4 - Her readers get to bask in her lifelong passion for words. Mirror Blue is pearled with poetic gems like "Her crush on Isaac had turned into a sword, and she'd cut her hands fondling the blade."

By the way, all I had to do to find that line was to open the book. It was right there on the first random page that opened up. Page 40, if you must know.

5 - We meet Aphra Porter, child of hippy philosopher parents, a southern woman who designs web sites and has had a crush on writer Isaac Lightfoot since her teens. She can't believe she's in a fan girl line-up at one of his book signings. She can't believe how she feels when he looks her straight in the eye and talks to her long enough to make the line-up behind her get fidgety.

6 - Isaac Lightfoot, decorated Vietnam vet with his Silver Star and more than one Purple Heart tucked away in a shoebox, can't believe his luck. Not only does the enchanting woman whose fan letter he remembered after all these years show up at his book signing, but she mentions that she's a web designer. His current author site sucks. It certainly isn't hard to find her on the web - how many people are named after a goddess?

7 - I really, really love the heartbreaky tone to this love story. I know, I know - quelle surprise.

Once these two Harley Davidson riders take their first ride on the open road together, their romance begins. But there is a 20-year age gap between them, not to mention Isaac's 30-year relationship with his former wife and the ghosts of combat past that rear up in the night. Aphra struggles to convince herself that she's not in over her head, and Isaac fights to make his spoken words as compelling as his written ones when Aphra keeps retreating from the onslaught of Isaac's complicated baggage.

8 - As a Literary Love Story, the sexual dynamics are frank yet lyrical. Thomma Lyn's big strength is focusing on the intricate emotional landscape within every erotic encounter. Here's a taste:

"They were, each of them, famished for the other. This, Aphra realized, was what was missing from her lackluster, poor liaisons: this need, licking along the surfaces of her bones like thick liquid being heated."

9 - She intertwines a subplot concerning Isaac's grown son, Aphra's sister and the impending bundles of joy coming to each of them. With Isaac past child rearing and Aphra insisting she was never interested in the first place, all the exposure to families starting up makes these lovers question the impact a childless life would have on the other.

10 - Thomma Lyn really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'What about Cheryl, his wife? How does she fit in?' said Aphra.

'She's like Norma.'

'But she seems so quiet and mousy.'

'She is quiet and mousy, and yeah, Norma's got a mouth on her like a siren. But they're the same type of woman under the surface: cold, manipulative and self-centered. They thrive on attention. Same song, different dance. I hate it for Sam. I really do. But it's what he's used to in women, it's what he grew up with.'

'Be up front with me, Isaac. Are you sure spending time with me won't bring too much stress upon your head? You'll be dealing with aggravation all around: from Norma, from your mother, and from Sam. Do you really need that, at this point in your life?'

'What I need is you. And as for stress, that's a laugh. You're forgetting who you're talking to. Norma's shenanigans are nothing compared to a nest of NVA snipers. Remember that.'

Aphra hoped he was right. Alas, doubt's gloomy specter kept tap-tapping on her mind's window."

11 - At just under 200 pages, Mirror Blue looks like it would be a quick read. But Thomma Lyn's language is so rich, her novel must be savoured like a dark chocolate dessert. Pull up a chair, stir your coffee or tea and sit a spell. This is a character-driven novel with its own pace.

12 - Check out my my interview with Thomma Lyn which appeared here at A Piece of My Mind just before her May 1st release date.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"One shadow separated itself from the rest of them and crabbed across the doorway of her bedroom. It was too big to be one of the cats. But if it was Isaac, he didn't make a sound.

Aphra reached for the lamp on her nightstand and flipped it on. Maybe no one was breaking in and Isaac wasn't pining for his ex. Maybe he was in the kitchen making a sandwich.

She didn't have to go far to find Isaac. Six feet from her bedroom doorway he appeared, looming over her. She didn't hear him coming, nor did she see him, until he was there. She had a quick glimpse of his face in the light that spilled over from her bedroom - stony eyes, an unrelenting jaw - before he had her in a headlock; her back was to him, and she didn't remember him turning her around. He was fast, big and strong. And he could break her neck like a twig.

She let out a squeak; it was all she could manage. He abruptly spun her back around and pressed her up against him. 'My God, it's you. You startled me. Oh, please forgive me. What a sorry-assed son of a bitch I am!'

Aphra was shaking.

He held her tighter. 'Look at you, I've scared you half to death. Did I hurt you, honey? God almighty, I'm sorry. I woke up crazy-headed, plumb off my rocker.'

She hugged him back and nuzzled his chest. 'Do you mean you had a nightmare?'

'Not a nightmare, at least not one I remember. All I know is I woke up in a cold sweat. I felt like something awful was going to happen. So there I was, looking for potential ambush sites and figuring out the best defensive positions against them. I don't know what got into me, but I know it hasn't gotten into me for a long time.'

'Are you saying you do this often? Wake up and go into battle mode?'

'It used to happen pretty regularly. Not any more. Mostly when it happens these days, it's triggered by stress.'

'I'm stressing you out?' "

- Thomma Lyn Grindstaff, 2009

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 113 - 13 Reasons to Read Baby in Her Arms by Stella MacLean

For some reason, there's nothing quite like the feeling of popping into the grocery store to grab something, and out of the corner of my eye the book rack flagged me down - and there, with all the other books, was the latest release from one of my writers' group members.

What a mega-thrill! Maybe it's because I went into the store for something food-related and I wasn't thinking about books. It took me by surprise, even though I knew it was coming out. So I just brought it up to the cashier like I was a normal person buying normal things. I watched her ring it through with such a feeling of secret excitement.

And then I got home, turned the first few pages - I laughed. I cried.

No wonder Shirley Hailstock, past president of Romance Writers of America, gave this review on Amazon:

"I hope Harlequin knows what a treasure they have in Stella MacLean. Her second SuperRomance, Baby in Her Arms, is the lifetime story of the love between deceased husband Andrew and his wife Emily. At the same time, it's the parallel love story of a second chance at happiness. MacLean weaves the two elements seamlessly together, making us love both the sensitive man that was her husband and the caring neighbor who harbors a quiet and sincere longing for the lonely woman next door."

1 - Baby in Her Arms is a Bundles of Joy imprint from Harlequin SuperRomance, released in March 2009. As a category romance, it has a limited shelf life in brick-and-mortar stores - and is likely already sold out - but is available for order online at Amazon.

2 - Stella MacLean's debut novel was Heart of My Heart, which followed the contemporary story of James and Olivia, while flashbacking to their initial romance and all the hills and valleys it survived. I really enjoyed the breadth of the story and the contrast between the young lovers and the mature characters they'd evolved into. Love is so much deeper when it is hard-won.

You can read my review here.

3 - The reason that Baby in Her Arms had me in tears so quickly stems from my own loss of my dad and my father-in-law in the past two years. Staying in the hospital rooms with my step mom and my mother-in-law as they said goodbye to their loves was very intimate and special, and it made the heartache of main character Emily very immediate for me.

4 - We meet Emily Martin, rushing to the hospital for the birth of her daughter's first child. The joy of this moment is painful for what it exposes in Emily's heart. Her late husband's presence is everywhere for her - by his absence.

5 - Andrew Martin was a trial lawyer whose family growing up were not the best at sharing emotions. Andrew subsequently falls into patterns he'd sworn never to share with his parents: work first, family when he could squeeze them in. When he developed cancer in later years, his inability to share his fear and grief with his wife drove him to write a series of letters which he addressed to his love - but never told her about. He told his best friend, however - neighbor Sam Bannister, a man whom Andrew knows carries a flame for Emily.

6 - Sam is a retired classics professor with "a penchant for reading Shakespeare out loud in his back garden during the summer." A widower himself for some years, he maintained a close friendship with Andrew, who had little time for non-work-related relationships as he tried to be the dad he'd never had himself, and the husband his wife deserved but didn't see near enough. A passionate gardener, Sam started to mow Emily's lawn when Andrew's illness became too much for that sort of thing.

7 - I really, really love the flashback aspects of this story. Straight contemporary romances aren't really my thing. There generally has to be something paranormal or highly original or quirky to get me interested in following a couple, such as getting to skip back and forth through time through Andrew's letters to Emily, and continuous flashbacks through different times in their marriage. Emily finds his letters when she decides to enter her late husband's home office and finally clear it out to use as a playroom for her grandchildren. Having the flashbacks come to the reader through both Emily's and Andrew's POV's is really effective. We get a he-said-she-said version of major events, which throws a revealing light on both of them.

8 - As a Harlequin SuperRomance, the sexual dynamics remain in the sweet category. But Stella MacLean's big strength is wringing the reader's heart with emotional punches, and you know I love stories that do that. Erotic escapades are referred to but not dwelled upon. She brings us quickly into complicated emotional territory instead.

9 - She intertwines subplots concerning two of Emily's grown children into the mix of Emily's recent farewell to her husband, the close-to-the-surface memories of their life together, and her emerging relationship with neighbor Sam. All in 239 pages. She excells at storytelling that gets right to the heart of things without sacrificing style, her wry voice or solid characterization.

10 - MacLean really knows how to end each chapter with an emotional hook. Like this, for example:

"I waited to hear more, but he said nothing, which told me there was something seriously wrong in his life. I wanted to jump in with a dozen nosy questions. 'I'll dust off my roaster and cook a chicken. To go with the chocolate cake.'

'You do that. See you Friday. Love you, Mom.'

How I wish Andrew was here. He'd be so happy to find out Jonathan was coming for a visit. Andrew loved to have the children home on the weekends, or anytime for that matter.

He and Jonathan enjoyed going fishing together. I can still see the two of them unloading the old Jeep we had years ago, their sunburned faces wreathed in smiles as they dragged their gear out of the back.

Thinking of Andrew made me wonder how he'd react to my tea date with Sam. And the fence. I could almost hear Andrew's throaty chuckle when I explained how determined Sam was to install one.

Would this desire to talk to Andrew, to tell him how I feel, what was going on in my life, eventually ease? Would I ever be spared the urge to compare my past with the reality of my present?"

11 - Stella MacLean had a long route to publication, which just goes to show all the yet-to-be-published writers out there: it's all worth it, in the end. Just read what one reader had to say when she wanted to read MacLean's backlist.

"I could have misplaced my mind LOL but I was sure that you have written more than two books. Am I right or have I really lost my marbles?? If you have written more will you please sent me the titles of them. I am currently writing a list of all the books I want or need to complete my collection." - Ashley Saunders

She has indeed written more than two books - but so far only two are in print. Not for long!

12 - MacLean has this to say about the writing process:

"Creativity is about adapting the reality of everyday living to the 'what if' of imagination. Creativity is not a one shot deal. It is nurtured by every event in life, whether large or small."

She takes the same approach with Baby in Her Arms. For Emily, love is not a one shot deal. Her marriage with Andrew took nurturing through every event in their lives, large and small. Now with Andrew gone, her neighbor Sam awakens feelings that don't belong to her past with Andrew. They whisper of a future - with Sam.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Dearest Emily,

I was on my way downstairs when I felt the need to go into the room we'd done up years ago for the twins.

The room's changed a number of times over the years, yet as I glance around I remember the yellow paint you and I put on the walls, and the Dr. Seuss characters we pasted above the wainscoting.

I'll never forget the look on your face when Dr. Reeves said he could hear two heartbeats. The drive home from the appointment that day was a once-in-a-lifetime ride. We were both in shock. How would we cope with
two babies? Where would we get the money to buy all the baby things we needed - two of everything?

In the backseat, Jonathan talked about babies and how he didn't want too many of them. He had a friend in school with twin brothers, and that wasn't a good plan, in Jonathan's opinion.

Didn't we laugh as we listened to him.

How could I forget the Saturday morning you hurried into the bedroom and told me to get out of bed and come see what the twins were doing.

Somehow, they'd managed to pull their cribs close together and they were throwing stuffed animals back and forth.

Somewhere during those years after the twins were born, our nightly chats dwindled. I'd get home later, usually after the children were in bed, exhausted after a busy day. I'd be so tired I'd go to bed and sleep straight through the night, waking the next morning and heading back to the office for another long day.

As I write these words, I can hear you outside my office door. You're anxious to know if I'm okay, if I've had anything to eat this morning and if I'm ready to go to the Oncology Clinic. You'll scold a little about how I shouldn't have gotten up alone.

I'll stop writing for now. Maybe we'll have lunch out, or go to the bookstore, all the simple pleasures that keep me connected to the real world. Our world.

Love always,


- Stella MacLean, 2009

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 108 - 13 Reasons to Read To Rescue a Rogue by Jo Beverley

Once upon a time I didn't read romance novels.

My sister and cousin enjoyed them. My cousin had even started to write them. Now, of course, she's waiting for a release date for her 14th novel.

When she lived in Ottawa for a few years, and I lived in Toronto, I hopped on a train and visited her and her husband for the weekend. She had just finished reading an historical romance that she was certain I would love. So she loaned it to me, and I started it on the train on the way home.

My cousin knows my tastes well. She was right. I fell for that book and haven't looked back since. It was Dark Champion by Jo Beverley.

1 - To Rescue a Rogue is a 2006 Signet release, an imprint of New American Library, which is a division of Penguin Group. It is part of Ms. Beverley's Company of Rogues series, set in the Regency period.

2 - The Company of Rogues "came about when original Rogue Nicholas and the rest turned up at Harrow School. Schools in those days were almost anarchical places. Nicholas took one look at things and decided to create a small area of civilization. He gathered twelve new boys according to his own gifted whim, and formed a brotherhood of protection. They were not to bully others, or avoid proper duties or deserved punishment, but they would oppose oppression from all quarters. Most bullies and tyrants soon learned to leave them alone." - Jo Beverley, The Company of Rogues

Many of the Rogues joined the army or went to sea during the war against Napoleon.

3 - We meet the heroine just after she's fled the unwelcome attentions of a military hero and acquaintance of her brother. The main male character is an old school chum of the same brother, a family friend and someone with whom she feels very much at ease.

4 - Lady Mara St. Bride sports the devil-hair of her family's heritage. "It predicted a taste for adventure at best, disaster at worst." Though rare, both she and her brother Simon were born with it. Her latest ill-thought-out adventure opens the book, as we meet her wrapped in a scratchy blanket over a shift, making her shoeless way through the unsavoury midnight streets of London.

5 - Lord Darius Debenham returns from an evening on the town to see a sorry wretch huddled on his family's London town house front steps. Only the unfortunate girl is not a nameless London waif, but his friend Simon's sister. Knowing the society scandal that would result if anyone should see her in this state, he scoops her up and away from prying eyes into the safety of Yeovil House.

6 - One of my favorite things about Jo Beverley's writing is her complete disregard for the conventions of the historical romance. If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that the Sesame Street song One of These Things is Not Like The Others is my theme song.

A heroine whose youth makes her more prone to too-stupid-to-live decisions? Historically accurate age range for her, though not popular with today's readers, who prefer main female characters in their 20's even though that is completely wrong for most historical time periods? Bring her on.

A hero addicted to opium? A hero whose physical and mental distress is perhaps not Alpha enough for the average reader? Give me some of that.

Ms. Beverley has six Rita Awards for excellence in romance fiction. Bucking convention works for her, and for me - her grateful and loyal reader.

7 - Another thing Ms. Beverley does that irritates some but is a draw for me is her extensive use of dialogue. Many of her scenes read like pages of a script, and as you can imagine, I gobble that up. Her dialogue is extremely natural, which includes some repetition and inclusion of throw-away lines. She always manages to further character development or plot through her dialogue - without any obvious pointers to important-info-here.

Here's a sample:

" 'Take off the remains of your stockings and we'll clean you up.' He went to the washstand.

She sighed and carefully rolled down her silk stockings, but they no longer warranted care. They were embroidered with flowers and had cost a shameful amount, but now they were ruined. As she had almost been.

'They're off,' she said, pulling the blanket back around herself. 'But I have to get home, Dare. Now. Can you -'

'Not before I've checked your feet.' He sat by them and raised each to study it. 'No blood, I don't think.' He looked up, blue eyes steady. 'All right. What happened, Imp?'

She focused and realized what the dark concern in his eyes meant. 'Oh! Nothing like
that, Dare. I ran away.'

'So where did you have to run away from? And,' he added, looking down to dab at the sole of her foot with a soapy cloth, 'why were you there in the first place?'

It stung and she squirmed. 'You don't need to do that.'

'Stop trying to avoid the confession. What bull did you wave a red cloth at this time?'

'It wasn't my fault,' she protested, but then grimaced. 'I suppose it was. I sneaked out of Ella's to go with Major Berkstead to a gaming hell.'

He paused to stare. 'In God's name, why?'

She looked down and saw how grubby her hands were. Not a lady's hands at all. 'I've been asking myself that. I suppose I was bored.'

Surprisingly, he laughed. 'Your family should know better than to let a devil-hair have time on her hands.' "

8 - The sexual attraction between Mara and Dare travels a winding path. Their brother/sister ease with each other at the beginning provides the initial roadblock. But her youth, his addiction and his determination to kick the habit provide the heart of the tension between them.

9 - Being intimately acquainted with chronic pain and with a dependence on painkillers to get through my life, I found the scenes of Darius's journey to break free from the clutches of opium really hit the right chord. Completely fascinating and haunting.

10 - Ms. Beverley really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Berkstead stopped and a sneering smile curled his lip. 'Debenham. I know all about you.'

It stung, but Dare hid it. 'I doubt it, but if you don't fear me, fear her brother.'

'A St. Bride of Bridewell?' Berkstead stopped trying to rise but looked more comfortable by the moment. 'A bunch of country mice. Not one of them a soldier.'

'There are St. Bride's and St. Bride's. Simon St. Bride will kill you by inches, but the list lining up behind him will include some of the most powerful men in England, none of them squeamish about crushing lice. I could start with the Duke of St. Raven and the Marquess of Arden.'

The sneer died. 'I want to marry her!' Berkstead protested. 'She's afraid of her family. They won't let her marry out of Lincolnshire.'

'If Mara St. Bride wanted to marry a Hottentot, she would probably do so.'

'I'll buy a house in Lincolnshire.'

Mara was right. The man didn't listen. A table still held scattered cards, two glasses and an empty decanter. On a chair he saw white gloves, a pretty pink dress and a light pelerine of pale cloth. He picked them up, and the slippers from the floor.

Dare headed for the one other door that must lead to the stairs. Hand on handle, he looked back at the crumpled man. 'Remember. None of this happened. That, sir, is your only hope of salvation.' "

11 - Because this is a bit of a wrap-up for the Rogues, there is a reunion of the characters from Ms. Beverley's previous dozen Rogues books. Some readers may find all the names and references dizzying, but for fans of her series, the reunion is a dream come true. The relationships between these men have real history, and you can feel it in their scenes together.

12 - Jo Beverley has published:

4 Medievals
9 Georgians (with a new one due in 2010)
8 traditional Regencies
14 Company of Rogues Regencies, featuring former soldiers returning to Society
11 novellas
3 science fiction/fantasy stories

Click for a list of Jo Beverley's works.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

" 'Some young men burn to take risks,' Dare said.

'Like you?' said Mara.

'Not really. I met some officers who only seemed to come alive when in battle. Lacking that, they tended to stupefy themselves with drink, or seek danger in high-stakes gaming.'

They were nearing the inn, and Mara had to ask, 'How will you manage the night here?'

'I'll take an extra dose.'

She turned to him, knowing what that meant. 'Oh, Dare.'

He smiled wryly. 'Apparently it's my next lesson. I have proved I can stand like a wall, Ruyuan says, and must now prove that I can bend like the willow. Or something like that. He becomes metaphorical.'

He took out a finger-sized vial of deep blue glass with gold Chinese lettering. 'I am even in charge of my destiny.' His voice had taken on a bitter edge.

'May I see?'

He passed her the bottle and she saw that on the top of the cap was an etching of an Oriental warrior wielding a sword. 'Laudanum?' she asked, trying to keep her tone mundane.

'Of a sort. Strong and without sugar. I prefer it bitter. I would prefer it to be in an ugly container, but there is some other lesson in that, I gather.'

Mara touched the picture of the warrior. 'Do you still have my favor?'

'Always.' He took back the vial and put it away, then took her hand to lead her down a lane between a house and a cobbler's shop.

There he drew her into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. She sensed he meant the kiss to be brief and decorous but tender need swept through them. She cradled his face and parted her lips to join with him in the only way allowed.

Rough wall pressed at her back, and Dare's strong body enfolded her. Mara lost all sense of reality other than him, and pleasure, and a building desire that could drive her mad.

They pulled apart, staring into each other's eyes, only to press together again, this time bodily, with Mara's head on his chest, within which his heart pounded frantically just like hers.

'Oh, but I want you so much, Dare. I want to be yours completely. I wish it were now.'

'My adored, beloved Mara,' he whispered into her hair. 'Thank God for control, or I'd take you here against the wall.' "

- Jo Beverley, 2006

Join me next week when I review Baby in Her Arms by Stella MacLean.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 107 - 13 Reasons to Read March by Geraldine Brooks

You may have noticed the badge I have in my sidebar.

And that I've joined a reading challenge held in her honor. Dewey was a book blogger who posted indepth reviews of wonderful books. She also acted as the hub of many blog communities, such as Weekly Geeks, 24-Hour Readathon and Bookworms Carnival.

I'm only a fringe book-blogger, more of a writing-life blogger. I knew of these blog communities and I was a regular visitor at Dewey's blog, The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I left comments for her, and she left comments for me.

Like this one:

"It's nice to read about a family with so many generations still so close!" - Dewey, Aug. 5th, 2007

Here's a wee conversation we had over in her comments section, after her review of Neil Gaiman's Stardust:

Me - "As a film sort of person, I have naturally seen ‘Stardust’ but haven’t read the book. I really enjoyed it, as I did the British TV miniseries ‘Neverwhere’, which is one of my favorite miniseries ever. Of course, didn’t read the book!

Book lovers are often highly displeased with film versions of their favorites. Something is always left out that the reader enjoyed so much. Personally, I always find it fascinating to see different adaptations of stories. One story can be a poem, novel, film, opera or ballet. Each version has to morph into something completely new."

Dewey - "My husband is ESPECIALLY prone to hating any movie made out of anything he’s read. I can sometimes manage to take them as two separate things and enjoy them for what they each are, but other times, like with Shakespeare/Danes/DiCaprio fiasco, not." - (LOL!) Nov. 9th, 2007

Imagine my shock when I clicked over to her blog last Dec. 1st to read these words:

"I’ve got a piece of sad news to deliver. Dewey passed away on Tuesday evening. My wife was unwell and in a lot of pain; I don’t believe she ever discussed that side of her life here, and I’ve no desire to go against her boundaries, just know she was in a lot of pain. I am sad that my wife is no longer here, but she’s not in pain any more."

I read this at work. Luckily, no one saw the tears running down my face.

Dewey's blog friends quickly set up several reading challenges in her honor. Participants are asked to choose 6 books from her 2003-2008 book review archives. This is my first review from the Dewey Reading Challenge.

1 - First of all, as with Kailana's Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge - the first one I ever joined - I've been led towards a fantastic book I never would have been able to read if I had not crowbarred the time into my schedule.

2 - March is the second book of fiction for Geraldine Brooks, a former journalist. Far from a sophomore jinx, this second offering won Ms. Brooks the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

3 - Ms. Brooks is also the author of Year of Wonders and People of the Book.

I'm currently reading Year of Wonders as the second book for the Dewey Reading Challenge.

Ms. Brooks has also written two non-fiction books:

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over

4 - March takes us to familiar territory and then spins our expectations in wild directions. Brooks bases her characters on those of Louisa May Alcott's from her novel Little Women. It is fiction that sees a contemporary author visiting the work of a well-known classic and expanding on the world created by the original author. The whole sub-genre of the parallel novel intrigues me, and the following books are on my wish list:

H. - The Story of Heathcliff's Journey Back to Wuthering Heights

Wide Sargasso Sea - saw the film. Loved it.

Rhett Butler's People

5 - The story is told through two first-person accounts: Mr. March's POV - he's an army chaplain for the Union side during the American Civil War, and Marmee March's POV - she's his wife and the mother of four older girls known to us as the Little Women of Alcott's book.

The changing POV's are handled beautifully. In Little Women, the absent father is at war when the family receives word that he is gravely ill, and Marmee must go to him. March begins in Mr. March's POV, where we remain until the illness sets in. At that point, the POV changes to Marmee's until he is somewhat recovered. Then we end the book once again in Mr. March's POV.

6 - In an inspired choice, Brooks gives us a Marmee very unlike the one we get to know in Little Women. That Marmee is kind and good, self-restrained and the epitome of the loving Woman. Of course, she's also a single mother in practice while her husband is away, and never shows she is unequal to the task of providing a secure home for her daughters. Marmee is an early version of today's Super Mom.

Daughter Jo is hot-headed, dramatic, tomboyish and intellectual. Her sister Beth is often trying to gentle Jo's behaviour.

In a wonderful role swap, we meet a Marmee who is the genesis of her future daughter Jo. Marmee exhibits all the characteristics we know so well as Jo's domain. And in a touching echo of Jo's and Beth's relationship, Mr. March spends quite a few scenes attempting to diffuse his wife's powder-keg temper.

7 - Rather than Jo's vibrant inner world of fictional stories and dramatic plays, Marmee is a passionate abolitionist. Ms. Brooks writes several real life figures of the time into the book: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson - the inspiration for Ms. Brooks' character of Mr. March - was a contemporary of all three and was influential upon those great thinkers and rebels.

When he meets Marmee, who already runs a station for the Underground Railroad, he cannot help but join his flame of idealism to hers.

8 - The only cause of the war that means anything to March is the one to free the slaves. His early experiences on a plantation, which begin the novel, and his relationships with slaves bring us deep into the heart of the novel. What truly drives a man like March to temporarily leave his family for an ideal? Ms. Brooks introduces us to numerous characters who are flesh and blood incarnations of the ideals March cherishes. Later in the novel, in Marmee's POV, we discover what living for one's ideals can take from a man - and from a woman.

9 - The relationship between March and Marmee is very he said/she said. Several identical scenes are told from his POV and then later from hers. Being on the receiving end of a Marmee outburst with March, and later discovering how it hurts Marmee when her husband negates her feelings gives a poignant, complex look into a very intense marriage.

10 - Ms. Brooks really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"I didn't know what I'd be able to do, but this time I had to do something. I moved forward, parting the corn with my arm. A blow to the back of my knees caused me to crumple. 'Stay put, marse,' hissed Jesse, behind me. 'Now ain't no time to make a move.'

'Gentlemen, move out!' the major called. 'We have an appointment to keep.' He lifted a battered
chapeau de bras and swept it across his body in a mockery of a bow, and turned his horse for the woods. I saw that Zannah was running after the party, the need to be with her son more powerful than her fear of reenslavement. One of the irregulars also saw her, and turned to alert the major. The major shrugged, and so the guerilla pushed Zannah forward into line with the tied slaves and roped by the neck.

When they had disappeared into the ragged scallop of cypress woods, Jesse grabbed my hand and started after them, keeping to the corn rows. He had a trash-cutter's knife slung across his back. 'If we can just keep sight of them till nightfall,' he said as we advanced at a brisk jog, 'then maybe when they's sleeping we just might git a chance to cut loose some of them.' It was a better plan than any I had, and so we followed them into the trees."

11 - There are many, many scenes that stay with me. Geraldine Brooks' background in journalism helped her develop a punchy style that paints image-rich scenes with a beautiful economy of words. Her story is often heartbreaking, but that's a place I long to go with open arms. March really took me there.

12 - What did Dewey have to say about March? Click HERE to find out.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"When we were admitted the colonel was still pouring over engineer's drawings and seemed to listen to my complaint with only half an ear.

'Very well,' he said when I had concluded. He turned to the offending soldiers. 'The chaplain is quite right. I won't have civilian women molested, even if they are the wives and spawn of rebels. I understand why you felt driven to do it, but don't be doing it again. Dismissed.'

The soldiers left, their relief propelling them swiftly from the room. Only the corporal paused, to give me a swift grin of contempt. The colonel had taken up a compass and commenced measuring distances on the engineer's drawings.

'Sir-' I began, but he cut me off.

'March, I think you should reconsider your place with this regiment.'


'You can't seem to get on with anyone. You've irritated the other officers...Even Tyndale can't abide you - and he's as much of an abolitionist as you are. I've got Surgeon McKillop in one ear complaining that you don't preach against sin, and yet here you are sowing discord in the ranks by seeing a great sin in harmless soldierly pranks...'

'Sir, such wanton destruction is hardly -'

'Keep your peace, would you, March for once in your life?' He jabbed the compass so hard that it passed right through the chart and lodged in the fine mahogany of the desk beneath. He came around the desk then and laid a hand on my arm. 'I like you alright; I know you mean well, but the thing of it is, you're too radical for these mill-town lads. Most of these boys aren't down here fighting for the nig - for the slaves. You
must see it, man.'

He shot me a hard look. I held my tongue, with the greatest difficulty. He went on, as if speaking to himself. 'Why do we have chaplains? The book of army regulations has little to say on the matter. Odd, isn't it? Well, in my view your duty is to bring the men comfort.' Then he glared at me and raised his voice. 'That's your role, March, damn it. And yet all you seem to do is make people
uncomfortable.' He plucked the compass out of the desk and rapped it impatiently against the chair back. When he resumed speaking, it was in a more civil tone. 'Don't you think you'd do better with the big thinkers in the Harvard unit?'

'Sir, the Harvard unit has famous ministers even in its rank and file - men from its own divinity school. They hardly need...'

He raised his big meaty hand, as if conceding my point. 'Well, then, since you like the Negroes so very much, have you thought about assisting the army with the problem of the contraband? The need is plain. Ever since Butler opened the gates at Fortress Monroe to these people, we've had hundreds streaming into our lines. They are upon our hands by the fortunes of war, and yet, with war to wage, officers can't be playing wet nurse. If something is not done, why, the army will be drowned in a black tide...'

'But, Colonel,' I interrupted, taking a pace forward and putting myself back in his line of sight. 'I know the men in this regiment. I was with them at the camp of instruction; we drilled together. I prayed with them when we got the news of the defeat at Bull Run...'

'Good God, man, I don't need to hear a recitation of your entire service...'

I kept talking, right over the top of him. 'I've been through defeat with these men, I've been covered in their blood. No other chaplain -'

'Silence!' he shouted. He walked over to the window, which opened onto a remarkable prospect of faceted cliffs falling sharply to the crotch of merging rivers. The light was falling and a red glow burnished the surface of the water. He spoke with his face turned toward the view so that he wouldn't have to look at me.

'March, I tried to put this kindly, but if you insist on the blunt truth, then you shall have it. I have to tell you that McKillop is lodging a complaint against you, and some of what he plans to put in it is rather...indelicate. I'm not about to pry into your personal affairs. You may be a chaplain, but you're a soldier at war, and a man, and these things happen...'

'Colonel, if Captain McKillop has implied...'

'March, let me do you a kindness. Do yourself one. Request reassignment to the superintendent of contraband. Who knows? You may be able to do a deal of good there.' "

- Geraldine Brooks, 2005