Reviews for 2014

Pretty soon I will be working on the list of books I will be reviewing for 2014. If you’re interested in me reviewing your lovely novel, give me a shout out! Remember, I favor Historical Fiction (no erotica, witchcraft or paranormal) and I will only be accepting 12 books for review! Oh, and one more thing….I’m adding Christian Fiction to the list! Thanks!

 

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Stephanie

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Review: Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell

Interred with their bones

What do you say when an author combines Shakespeare with a mystery that traverses two different lifetimes? And it’s the author’s first work of fiction, no less? Amazing. Could it have been better? Of course. There’s not many works that cannot stand to be improved.

For lovers of Shakespeare, as I am, Interred is a delight, as Carrell includes copious amount of detail about the writer, his life and works, the on-going debate as to his identity, and the search for works that could be attributed to him. Athenaide’s “Hamletonian” estate, including the trick of hidden passageways that lay behind fireplaces, was a nice bonus.

The mystery part seemed almost to be a part of the back story, Shakespeare the motivating force of the book. Hints of this were found in the sudden appearance of a British detective inspector (in American terms – a plain clothes police detective) in the States and the way Athenaide’s housekeeper ended up collapsing in the driveway. A little warning or foundation for these, and others like them, would have helped smooth over the rough edges. My other main concern was the pile up bodies and Kate’s somewhat lack of concern of whom might be doing it – a continuing naiveté that should have been dispelled after the second body?

That being said, I loved Kate in that she made me want to go out and conduct research and read some Shakespeare. The ending was better than most mysteries, which seem to end with all the threads tied, all the issues resolved. It was also a surprise, which seemed to pull the mystery out of the back story and merge it with the Shakespearean elements.

Overall, I would give it 3.5 stars, if Goodreads accepted half stars.

Reviewed by Susan Berry

Layered Pages Review Team Member

Review: Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara

cascade

Love, loss and conflicting loyalties and promises- this story sweeps you into the 1930’s, a town in Cascade, Massachusetts. Who is fighting for their very own survival of a flood that is to create a reservoir for Boston. A women-Desdemona, who has made promises to her dying father and bound to the man she married. Yet she yearns to for a life of an artist and falls for a young Jewish man. Author Maryanne O’Hara brings you raw emotions in her characters, their lives and gives you a sense of timeless love and beauty. I have to admit when I opened the first page and started reading, I had a hard time getting into it. So I stepped away for a few days and went back to it. Because I literally had just finished a book that was set in the 19 Century and I picked this one up immediately afterwards.  Not the best idea in the world….once I picked it up again, the story drawled me in and I was memorized. I truly admire the authors writing style and her way with characterization. The story all around is just beautiful-like I mentioned above and I highly recommend this novel.

Stephanie

About the Author

Maryanne O'Hara

Maryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.

http://www.maryanneohara.com/

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Review: Betrayed Countess by Diane Scott Lewis

Betrayed Countess

Set in England at the time of the French Revolution, a misplaced countess Bettina is struggling to fit in and make a life for herself while also hiding from those who would like to see her lose her head in France.  The plot of this book, noble woman betrayed and stranded with nothing but the clothes on her back, has admittedly been done before.  What makes this version interesting and fresh are the colorful descriptions and characters.  Bettina’s struggles to fit in among the lower classes and earn a living are at times both funny and pitiful.  Her friends in Cornwall are endearing and cheeky making them immensely likeable.  Ms. Lewis has managed to fill this volume to bursting with mystery, danger, and love; a true historical romance.  The ending could stand alone, but has left me interested to read more and hopeful for a sequel.

The story flows well with few unnecessary tangents and/or side stories.  The writing and editing are both good, without notable grammatical problems or lapses in tense.  The dialogue between characters flows smoothly and comfortably, helping to put the reader into the story.  Not being a historian, I cannot speak to the actual truth to time and place.  However, on the whole the story felt true to place and time, with perhaps a few artistic licenses taken in the development of Bettina’s romance.  The cover design is lovely and helps establish some visual imagery for the story setting.

Reviewed by Brandy Strake

Layered Pages Review Team Co-Leader

Interview with Author Evan Ostryznuik

Stephanie: Hello Evan, thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me about your book, “Of Fathers and Sons.”

Evan: A pleasure to be here. Well, the novel takes place in 1395 in northern Italy, where tensions among the great regional powers were running high – the schism in the Catholic Church had not yet closed; Florence and Milan were gearing up for another war; Venice was starting to show interest in the mainland; in other words, there was a fine balance of power in the region and just about any conflict could ignite a war that would engulf the whole peninsula. The ruler of the strategically located Marquisate of Ferrara had just died and left a minor in his place. This uncertainty was enough to attract the attention of the great powers, and each of them knew that the territory’s occupation by one or another power would tip that fragile balance. Also, the Este family was popular as wise rulers and excellent soldiers, and so keeping them as an ally was good policy. This is the broad picture. Specifically, the story is about how that minor, the twelve-year-old Niccolo d’Este, fought his uncle and tried to overcome his own insecurities and challenges. And the English Free Company arrives to help.

evans book

Stephanie: Sounds really fascinating and I enjoy reading novels that take place during that time period in history. What was your inspiration for this story?

 

Evan: The inspiration for this story came from the Este Inheritance itself, which included not just land and lakes, but also a legacy of strong and wise rule. The boy had a lot to live up to. Until this time, the city of Ferrara and its surrounding area comprised more or less a backwater in Italian politics, but the Este family was able transform this marginal territory into one of the great Renaissance centers, politically, socially and culturally. They introduced a number of administrative innovations that secure their, fostered economic progress, and patronized progressive thinkers. The events of 1395, specifically the civil war between the two main branches of the Este family, were pivotal in this regard. Not just the fate of the city was involved, but also the legacy of the Este family, since had things turned out differently, Ferrara would have likely taken another direction or been absorbed by one of the neighboring powers. There was a lot riding on this war.

Also, the fact that a child on the cusp of adolescence was at the heart of intrigue gave me a change to pursue writing about the High Middle Ages from a different angle. Character interactions have to be plotted with especial care to make them convincing, juvenile understanding and expectations had to be considered and integrated into the plot, and even parents must be found a role. In some ways, Geoffrey Hotspur is just a boy himself.

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write this novel?

Evan: Since Of Fathers and Sons is a part of a series, I could say that they novel can be traced back to the literary birth of Geoffrey Hotspur 3-4 years ago. It grew out of the great mass of research I did on the 14th-15th centuries. The actual setting of this story down on paper took about a year, after several fits and starts. While I have the story lodged in my head, finding the right voice required several shots at the target.

Stephanie: What was some of the research involved?

Evan: I was fortunate to get my hands on a few key texts that really helped bring to life the Este clan and the Marquisate of Ferrara, which meant that I had few gaps to fill with what I like to call ‘oblique research’. By this I mean reading up on related period settings, families, events, and the like and making educated assumptions about how my story might have looked like. All genuine historians do this, since the historical record is never close to being complete or satisfying. I always find the researching for a novel a lot of fun, whether access is easy or difficult. I not only learn so much about the people and the period, but so many ideas for the novel manifest themselves from the research – details, information, relationships, and even dialog just pour themselves into the gaps of the story’s structure. I think, like most writers, I could spin the story out indefinitely and it would be no less engrossing.

Stephanie: What are some of the fictional aspects?

Evan: The two leaders of the English Free Company are fictional, or rather they are composites of a number of historical personages. To some degree, they are archetypes. Just read Chaucer! As a result, their journey is necessarily fictional, although the setting and the major events of their adventure are well grounded in historical reality. The point is to reflect the zeitgeist as closely as possible through an independent literary agent. No historical figure was ever able to visit all the great moments of their time! Geoffrey Hotspur and his companion can do that and bring both the events and those who truly made them to vibrant light.

Stephanie: What intrigues you the most about Geoffrey Hotspur and John of Gaunt?

Evan: What most intrigues me about these men is their relationship to fatherhood and patriarchy. Hotspur is an orphan of unknown provenance and a ward of Gaunt, while the great duke had a troubled relationship with his own son, the eventual King Henry IV and was poor father figure to the last Plantagenet king, his nephew Richard II. The tensions inherent in patriarchal relationships, particularly in the Middle Ages, are some of the main themes of the English Free Company series. Geoffrey in particular is troubled by it, for reasons of fear and insecurity, and as a result many of his decisions and views are strongly colored by this question. Both men had strong determined characters, yet long-term success always seemed to elude them. Family was crucial, but difficult. The role of the father was particularly important at this time and crucial in the lives of his sons. A poor or unsuccessful father could have dire consequences for the entire family and its descendants.

Stephanie: Will there be a third book in this series?

There will be a third, fourth and fifth book of the series! The next adventure of Geoffrey Hotspur follows hard on the heels of this one, but takes place in exotic locales in the Outremer, or the Levant. 1396 was the year of the very last European Crusade in the Holy Land, and there is no way Geoffrey is going to miss it! Hospitaller knights, Hungarian lords, Grand Constables of France, and poor squires with gather to drive the Ottoman Turks out of Christendom.

Stephanie: How exciting! What is the most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction?

Evan: The most challenging aspect of writing Historical Fiction is filling in the blank spots. Finding the stories is easy. The historical record is by nature fragmentary, especially for the Middle Ages, and so I must make convincing, educated assumptions about so many things. Some are inferred, such as personal motivations, based on the historical consequences. For example, battlefield tactics, which are crucial to my novels, have been recorded, but the application of these tactics by this or another company sometimes require backward projection based on the result of the battle or the observations of contemporary chroniclers. On more than one occasion I have had to delete large chunks of text because what I wrote either could not fit in with what History had to say or was contradicted by a newly discovered piece of research.

Stephanie: When did you first begin to write and knew you wanted to be an author?  

Evan: Funny enough, in elementary school I began creating stories through pictures with no words attached. I would take a sheet of 8.5X11 and draw a scene of…whatever. Then I would take more paper and draw the same collection of figures and setting in another way, and again, until I had a sort of film that I would tape together to produce a single visual narrative. This was fun until the teacher said enough was enough and I had to get back to work. Proper writing I did not start until college, when I would write short stories and vignettes from my life, mainly for myself, but also for others to be amused. I continued writing these vignettes until after I completed my doctorate at Cambridge, when I gave myself that challenge of writing a novel based on my interests in history. I did, and no one wanted to publish it. However, the very process of writing generated many other ideas for different novels and stories, which I found very gratifying. Now, the ideas are running out of control!

Stephanie: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to write in this genre?

Evan: Getting the facts straight is the most obvious suggestion, but if I hard to offer a single piece of key advice regarding historical fiction, I would have to say that the writer had better make sure that his or her story cannot take place at any other era. Otherwise, it loses its purpose. What I mean by that is that character, setting, motivations, mentality, even speech needs to be grounded in the historical period. Always fear anachronisms. If the work is sloppy or unconvincing, the author will swiftly lose credibility. This threat is particularly great for historical fiction because nothing can be taken for granted. The reader wants to believe he or she is proverbially going back in time. Other genres have their own challenges, but they are less dependent on good, hard technical research. Fantasy and science fiction can have whatever set of internally logical rules they want; contemporary fiction is easy to portray by virtue of direct experience; detective novels have well established structures. For historical fiction, you are only as good as your research and your ability to transfer it convincingly to the blank page.

Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?

Evan: This is a tough question because I live in fear of unconscious plagiarism. But one that has stuck with me for its humor and hard truth is a few words attributed to Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Stephanie: Evan, it was an honor to chat with you! Thanks!

evanEvan Ostryzniuk was born and raised on the prairies of western Canada. After graduating   from the University of Saskatchewan with a B.A. in History and Modern Languages and an M.A. in Modern History, Evan crossed the ocean to do post-graduate work at the University of Cambridge, concluding four years of research with a doctoral thesis on the Russian Revolution. He then found his way to Eastern Europe, where he took up positions as a magazine editor, university lecturer and analyst in the financial services sector before rising in the ranks of the local publishing industry to become Editor-in-Chief of a popular weekly.

Evan Ostryzniuk currently resides in Kyiv, Ukraine near a very large candy factory. He has travelled extensively, including the locations of his novels. Of Fathers and Sons: Geoffrey Hotspur and the Este Inheritance is his second novel.

http://www.evanostryzniuk.com/[SH1]

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/offathersandsonsvirtualtour/
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