Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: A Breast Cancer Alphabet by Madhulika Sikka


From NPR News executive editor comes an indispensable and approachable guide to life during, and after, breast cancer.

The biggest risk factor for breast cancer is simply being a woman.  Madhulika Sikka’s A Breast Cancer Alphabet offers a new way to live with and plan past the hardest diagnosis that most women will ever receive: a personal, practical, and deeply informative look at the road from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

What Madhulika Sikka didn’t foresee when initially diagnosed, and what this book brings to life so vividly, are the unexpected and minute challenges that make navigating the world of breast cancer all the trickier.  A Breast Cancer Alphabet is an inspired reaction to what started as a personal predicament.

This A-Z guide to living with breast cancer goes where so many fear to tread: sex (S is for Sex – really?), sentimentality (J is for Journey – it’s a cliché we need to dispense with), hair (H is for Hair – yes, you can make a federal case of it) and work (Q is for Quitting – there’ll be days when you feel like it).  She draws an easy-to-follow, and quite memorable, map of her travels from breast cancer neophyte to seasoned veteran.

As a prominent news executive, Madhulika had access to the most cutting edge data on the disease’s reach and impact.  At the same time, she craved the community of frank talk and personal insight that we rely on in life’s toughest moments.  This wonderfully inventive book navigates the world of science and story, bringing readers into Madhulika’s mind and experience in a way that demystifies breast cancer and offers new hope for those living with it.




To my knowledge, cancer has not been a factor in my family history.  But if it ever turns up, I'm going to be glad I have this book on my shelf!  This is not to say that we have not had our medical issues.  Rare is the family who has not been touched by tragedy in one form or another.

Being rich (or poor) does not give you immunity.  Being from the right or wrong side of the tracks does not protect you.  Having an advanced education, or a lack thereof, will not guarantee your safety or that of the ones you love.

A Breast Cancer Alphabet is a different way at organizing the process someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer may go through.  Ms. Sikka acknowledges these 26 items came about as part of her own particular process.  Others may share them, and others' processes may look entirely different.  It is another set of eyes, a second opinion, if you will.

After having participated in two "Blogging from A to Z April Challenges", enumerating a list from A to Z about a single subject (such as Ms. Sikka's book does) will provide you with information you did not have before.  And knowledge is power.

Aside from the solid, important information provided in A Breast Cancer Alphabet, Ms. Sikka provides the information in an engaging way.  There is little or no way to present information about this serious diseause in a light-hearted way.  There is no magic pill.  But the author's way of presenting her information keeps open the door to hope, and that is maybe the best medicine of all.

After all, it's October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Check out or buy the book.  And don't forget to check your girls.



MADHULIKA SIKKA is a veteran broadcast journalist with decades of experience. Among other media outlets, she has worked at NPR News and ABC News.

Visit Madhulika’s website for more information.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review: Murder in Real Time by Julie Anne Lindsey


Book three of The Patience Price Mysteries

With the chaos of summer tourists and fall birders out of town, counselor Patience Price is looking forward to the quiet life she remembers. She longs for some peace. And an apple fritter. But the calm is cut short when a reality show sets up camp to film a special about ghosts on her little island. Now fans, reporters and crew have flocked to sleepy Chincoteague. Who knew ghost hunters had an entourage?

When two cast members are killed in a room at the local B&B—a room usually occupied by Patience’s FBI agent boyfriend, Sebastian—she finds herself on the case. Sebastian doesn’t want Patience ruffling any feathers but, as always, she can’t help herself.

Patience promises to let Sebastian handle the investigation—he is FBI, after all—but after a drive-by shooting, her wicked curiosity gets the best of her. And with the TV show forging ahead with filming, the list of suspects (and the line of food trucks) only grows. But has the shooter already flown the coop? And how do you find a killer when you don’t know who the target is?



When I was in junior high school, I came across a book called "Misty of Chincoteague" and l.o.v.e.d. it.  I also read "Stormy, Misty's Foal".  So coming across "Murder in Real Time", also set on Chincoteague Island, was like revisiting a cherished vacation spot.

Granted, there wasn't a lot of murder or mayhem in "Misty", but then, it wasn't a mystery-thriller, and I don't think Patience was there and in counselor mode yet. ;)

Ms. Lindsey has a good hand with descriptive language and dialogue.  The romance felt real, not melodramatic or sappy, as they can sometimes get.  I felt like these were people that could be found in my life, or with whom I could associate.  (Like Patience, I am not the most patient person, and even less so as I get older.)

OK.  I did get a chuckle out of the 'reality tv' crew.  (Reality tv is a late entrant in my own personal list of 'four-letter words of all lengths'.  I'm not a big fan of that brand of entertainment.)  Most of it seems to be more structured than real life could ever hope to be.  But I digress.

I was hooked on the story from the moment Sebastian (Patience's boyfriend) came to her apartment after a rough day at work (FBI), agrees to let her ex (Adrian) stay at his place, and then receives a call saying that two dead bodies have been found in his (Sebastian's) bed!  (And I thought I'd had bad days! Sebastian's day was definitely worse ... but of course, the two dead folks had the worst of it.)

Now, I would be of the opinion that Ms. Lindsey looks too 'wholesome' to have written about such a grizzly occurrence, but I'm trying not to judge books by their covers (after being caught out twice in the last two weeks).  How I wish I had read books 1 and 2 prior to this, but that error will shortly be rectified.

This is a great read for anyone who would like to 'get away from it all', and discovers that to be impossible.  I can't wait to read my next Patience Price Mystery!



Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. She’s a self-proclaimed nerd with a penchant for words and proclivity for fun. Julie lives in rural Ohio with her husband and three small children. Today, she hopes to make someone smile. One day she plans to change the world.


Normally, I link the logo to the tour of the book featured on the post, but as this is the last day, I've linked it to the page at Escape With Dollycas that features all the books currently on tour.  Go visit and find some superb reads!

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours (Escape With Dollycas) in exchange for my unbiased review.)

Book Review/Giveaway: Handcuffs and High Heels by J.M. Edwards


Meet Ruby Wisdom. Smart and sensible. Humorous and heroic. Tough and tender. As the only private investigator in tiny Wormwood, New York, Ruby handles a wide range of cases—everything from jewel heists and cheating husbands to stolen wedding gowns, kidnapped artwork and fraudulent heirs.

In HANDCUFFS & HIGH HEELS, Ruby is hired by the wife of a millionaire when the woman suspects her husband is having an affair. And he is—several of them. But when Ruby begins connecting the duplicitous dots, the deceitful spouse ends up in a much more difficult dilemma than being caught with his hands in Cookie’s jar. And that’s when the real investigation begins.

HANDCUFFS & HIGH HEELS is a cozy mystery loaded with humor, romance, memorable characters and a sleuth who knows her way around baked goods and sweet treats as well as crime scenes and tricky investigations.



What can I say ... RUBY ROCKS!  She's not the youngest or the most fit female PI in town, but she solves any case thrown at her.  And anyone who can do all that and be all that and still loves her Little Debbies is ok by me.  Ruby is my model of a female PI, except for one thing.  Part of my fee would always include 'Cosmic Brownies' instead of 'Swiss Rolls'.

I suppose a few people would expect that Ruby be something of a lonely spinster type, due to the fact that she is both 'not thin' and unmarried.  Thank goodness, J.M. had the foresight to show us all, through a most entertaining story, that we don't lose our talents or our dreams or our usefulness once our 25th birthday rolls around.

I LOVED the twist surrounding the titular handcuffs and high heels, not to mention the blue wig.  Too many memorable moments really to list in one blog post.  But I can't help but let you in on a couple of the memorable characters:

1)  the car dealer who ruts without finesse for anything wearing a skirt,

2)  the man with the shady past who wears VapoRub as cologne because it reminds him of his childhood,

3)  the UPS guy with the smarts to fall for Ruby and help her out in many (and I mean m.a.n.y.) ways.

So lock me up, and throw away the key.  I am a fan of Ruby Wisdom, and hope to read more about her in the future.



J.M. Edwards loves crime. But only when it’s fictional. A lifelong fan of mystery novels, police procedurals and thrillers, J.M. has worked as a copywriter, bartender, dog walker and newspaper reporter. When it comes to reading, she has a few favorites (Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Dashiell Hammett, Robert B. Parker, Lee Child), but always enjoys learning about new authors to add to the TBR pile. In addition to writing the new Ruby Wisdom cozy mystery series, J.M. spends time gardening, traveling, spoiling a small herd of cats and dogs, doing volunteer work and taking the occasional nap.


Click the link above to visit more stops on the tour and get in on the reviews, interviews, guest posts !

GIVEAWAY!  -  Leave a comment for a chance to win an e-copy of Handcuffs and High Heels, to be drawn on Monday, November 3!

(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of this book from the author and publisher, via Great Escapes Virtual Blog Tours.)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Interview/Giveaway: C.W. Gortner of The Spymaster Chronicles

Review of The Tudor Vendetta posted on this blog on October 22, 2014.

C. W. Gortner


1.  What draws you to this period of history?

I’ve always been drawn to the 16th century and the Renaissance; it’s a time of great upheaval and astonishing accomplishment, when we began to question the rigid dictates of the medieval era and expand artistic boundaries. Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Holbein – and so many others – can only be products of the Renaissance. That said, it’s also an era of unparalleled corruption, drama, intrigue, and astounding royal personalities. The Tudors’ relatively brief reign seethes with all these qualities; it’s not surprising that hundreds of years later, they continue to fascinate us. But they’ve also been quite well covered in fiction, so for the Spymaster Trilogy, I wanted to explore crevices in Tudor history, building my stories around isolated events that had significant impact on those who lived them. For The Tudor Vendetta, I depict the first troublesome and dangerous weeks of Elizabeth I’s reign, when she came to the throne to claim a realm plagued by religious and social discord, penurious and uncertain as to how she could hold onto the crown she’d fought so hard to achieve. A secret returns to haunt her, and her intimate spy, Brendan Prescott, must contend not only with the young queen’s betrayal, but also his own.

2.  How did you become involved with animal advocacy?

I’ve loved animals since I was a child growing up in southern Spain. At the time, Spain was still under Franco’s dictatorship, and many people were not kind to dogs and cats, as well as other animals. I began rescuing dogs that were abused and neglected; at one point, I had ten dogs living with us and ran around with a pack at my heels. There was no Advantage or other flea and tick preventives; I hand-groomed my dogs and bathed them. Many were in terrible shape; riddled with ticks, malnourished and anemic from flea infestations, but they responded to love; they were so eager to be cared for, to forgive – but they never forgot the injuries inflicted on them. It’s been a lifelong passion of mine to fight for animal rights because we share this planet with millions of species who have as much right as we do to exist, to have safe territories and not be subjected to our destruction. What we do to our fellow creatures appalls me. No animal demonstrates the callous savagery of man; we’re also at a crossroads in history. Either we change the way we live or we will destroy the only home we have. Recognizing that animals are sensitive, emotional beings is key to repairing the immense damage we’ve wrought upon our Mother Earth.

3.  Where have you visited to which you would most like to return?

I’d like to return to Poland. I was there on tour recently for The Queen’s Vow and I found the country incredibly beautiful, with a warm and generous people. I didn’t get the chance to see as much as I would have liked. Also, I always love visiting Rome. Something about the city entrances me; it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I could easily live there (I think .
4.  Which Renaissance Faires have you attended?

The Northern California Renaissance Faire when it was held at Blackpoint Forest was one of my favorites; I went every year as a teenager, dressed in appropriate garb, of course. I’ve also attended the South Lake Tahoe Faire on occasion, and it’s a lot of fun.

5.  If you lived in the time of the Tudors, what would you be doing?

Probably writing! But I’ve never wanted to live in the past except when I write about it. I enjoy visiting it, but I find it a very frightening and bewildering place. No washing machines or antibiotics, no civil rights: it’s not at all what we envision when we see movies and television depictions. The Tudor world was quite brutal; even the affluent suffered from common ailments, like gout, lice, and rancid food—things we rarely consider whenever we imagine it.

6.  If you get nervous speaking in public, how do you deal with that?

I pretend I’m speaking to close friends. I used to get very nervous during public engagements, but after six novels and countless appearances, I’m more comfortable. In Poland, I did several interviews and bookstore events with a translator; that was challenging, because I tend to be an impromptu speaker, and had to remember to talk slow, as he was translating everything I said.

7.  Describe your favorite meal.

Whole-wheat pasta with sautéed spinach and asparagus, and lots of sourdough bread. When I’m in the throes of writing a book, it’s my staple dinner. I live on it.

8.  What's next for you (as an author)?

My next novel is Mademoiselle Chanel, about the dramatic, intimate life of the iconic designer Coco Chanel; it will be released on March 17, 2015. It’s a dream come true for me; I began my professional career in fashion publicity and my thesis project while at college involved reinterpreting her designs, putting my spin on how I would market her in the current industry. She changed not only the way women dressed but also how they saw themselves; she influenced the world around her, one of the first entrepreneurial women to create a global empire that endures to this day. Her personal life was also quite tumultuous and controversial; she was complex, engaging, and demanding as a subject—and I reveled in her story. Also, it was refreshing to write a character who could actually call her friends on the telephone!

9.  What advice would you give young (school-age) writers?

Write what you love. We’re often told to write what we know, but when I first started, I knew very little; I research to acquire knowledge, but I always write about subjects I feel passionate about. Writing is how we interpret the world and answer the questions we all carry inside. To write well, we must be utterly committed to it—and to be committed, we must write about those things that we cannot forget, things that obsess us.

10.  Do you speak any of the 20 other languages in which your books are printed?  If so which?  If not, which would you most like to learn?

I’m fluent in Spanish and can defend myself somewhat in Italian and French. I’d like to learn more Italian; I always say, Spanish is the language of passion; French is the language to seduce; but Italian is the language of love. Everything sounds warmer in Italian.

Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope your readers enjoy The Tudor Vendetta. To learn more about me and my work, please visit me at



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Friday 56:

"The Friday 56" is a link-up hosted at Freda's Voice.

*Grab a book, any book.
 *Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader (If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grab you. 
*Post it. 
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It's that simple.


She huffed and waved her hands in the air.  "That's not what I signed up for, Ruby, I did not become Mrs. Tripp Wolcott Sullivan to be thrown out like hog slop and left on the side of the road."


So what do you think?  Did you like it?  Would you want to read the book?  Come back on Monday for my full review!

Also sharing with:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Guest Post: Eliza Knight of Highland Hunger


I am thrilled to have Eliza Knight on the Back Porch today as part of the blog tour for her new book Highland Hunger.


The Draw of a Scottish Historical
By Eliza Knight

I read my very first Scottish romance as a teenager—and fell in love with not only the fabulously delicious, brogue-talking alpha hero in a kilt (or plaid), but also with the landscape, the conflict of the realm, the castles, horses, clothing, weapons, food. I think it’s safe to say, I fell in love with medieval Scotland right along with the hero. I wanted to be the fiery, independent, fierce heroines I was reading about. I wanted to wield a sword, fire off an arrow. I wanted to create these stories. I would write my own short Scottish romances and exchange with a friend, until years later, I finally decided to sit down and start writing in earnest.

I’ve posed the question of what draws readers of Scottish romances to the books and I get almost exactly the same answer I gave above. The kilts, the brogue, the sense of honor, the brazenness of their valor.

I’m lucky that I’ve been to Scotland a couple of times now—just got back last week. You feel the draw the moment you step off the plane. The richness of the history, the beauty of the land (your life flashing before your eyes as you acclimate to driving on the right-hand side of the car on the left side of the road…). There is something in the air. It’s fresher, crisper. I want to lie down on the ground and never get up. I love to explore the land and castles. To imagine myself in time long since passed.
There is something magical about Scotland, and I think that movies and television have really helped to draw readers into the genre. They fall in love with the stories/characters on screen and want it to continue—what better way than with a book?

Most recently, the television mini-series release of Diana Gabaldon’s book Outlander on Starz, has sucked more fans into the magical realm of historic Scotland. But even before the release of this awesome show (yes, I LOVE it!!) people were drawn to Scotland and its history from movies like Rob Roy and Braveheart. We were falling in love with Scottish actors like Sean Connory, Gerard Butler and now Sam Heughan. 

Scotland’s history is rich with drama, strife, treachery, romance, brutality, fights for freedom, honor. The majority of Scottish romances that I’ve read incorporate the history into them. And I do that with my own books. I use battles, historical figures, and places within Scotland to base my setting. Sometimes, I’ll base a setting on a real place, but because of the story, I need to fictionalize it. I’ve heard from a lot of my readers that they really love being immersed into the time frame. They love the escape I provide, the adventures and escapades, the love and passion.

In my latest novel, HIGHLAND HUNGER, I took an ancient story of King Olaf the Black and gave it a little twist. Highlanders used games a lot to prove strength. They were constantly at war for land, castles, power—not just with England, but within their own country as well. Taking the idea of King Olaf the Black’s history, the war games, Scottish culture and the setting, I decided to write a dark romance in which the hero and heroine have to literally fight to the death in order to win their crown. Each of them comes to the games with their own set of inner demons. Tortured souls, they are meant for each other. Find strength in each other. Use that strength, their love and desire to be together to win the games. The second book in the series is about their reign and struggle to keep it, and the third book sees them vanquishing the royal council and its hold over the realm and games.

Here’s the blurb for Highland Hunger:

An unclaimed land in the Scottish isles is ruled by the male and female victors in a series of war games every five years. Named Chief and Lady of the land, they rule the vast holding, and protect the people by divine right, until the next game begins.

After her brother’s death Ceana is named laird. The only way for her clan to survive the ravages of the Highlands is to join in the war games. Bastard son of a powerful earl, Macrath is placed in the games by his vengeful stepmother. He must survive for the ultimate retribution.

Ceana can’t stand the arrogant Highlander who seems to be following her, and yet she can’t seem to walk away. Macrath wants nothing more than to be rid of the troublesome need to protect the warrior lass. What starts out as a race to survive turns into passion to endure together.

Here’s a short excerpt of the first meeting between my hero and heroine…

Several wooden and steel barrels lined the front of one tent and most were occupied by men slurping from ladles. Ceana sucked in a breath, steeling her resolve. She was likely to run into more vulgarity, but thirst won out over her nerves.

Stepping up to a barrel, she grabbed up a ladle that was hooked over the side. She dipped it into the water, sipping with vigor before dipping in again and then pouring it over her head. The strands of hair that had already come free from her plait followed the path of the water and plastered to her forehead and cheeks. The chill air blew lightly against her wetted hair and skin making her shiver and raising gooseflesh along her skin.

“’Tis a good look for you.”

Ceana swiped the water off her face with her hands, smoothed her hair back into place and turned deliberately toward the man who’d spoken to her. She rubbed her free hand on her other arm, trying to soothe her chill. Expecting to see another grotesque brute wishing to invite her into his bed, she was surprised to see a rather handsome warrior. He had eyes such a dark blue, they could almost be onyx, unruly black hair framed his face, and though he didn’t have a beard, his shadowed jaw lent to the idea that he’d not shaven in days. Beneath the shadows were sculpted cheeks and a strong square jaw. A scar curved over the length of one of his eyebrows and another stroked along his jaw. His linen white shirt was untied at the top, falling open to reveal part of his tanned chest. Overtop his shirt, a plaid of blue, white and green, and much nicer than her own, was tossed over his shoulder. He looked, and smelled, cleaner than anyone else she’d run into.

“I didn’t mean to offend you,” he said. And then he smiled, showing mostly even white teeth, and a mouth that made her think of kissing.

Thoughts she’d not dwelled on in the past. A little shiver took her, and she realized that the warrior had spoken twice now without her responding. And she was still staring at his mouth. Ceana glanced away, her face heating with embarrassment.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“You do not need to apologize, lass. We’re all new here. Well, most of us.” He smiled again, and this time Ceana made certain not to fall into his darkened eyes.


“Aye. I’ve met a past Chief already. He sat on the Morrison seat ten years ago.”

“And he wants to sit there again?” Ceana asked.

The man nodded. “’Twould seem so, but I didn’t ask him why. Suppose I should have.”
“I’m Ceana.” She chose not to mention her title.

“Macrath.” He held out his arm, also curiously refraining from naming his clan. Leather bracers covered his forearms over his linen shirt. His hand was big, and welcoming.

Ceana stuck out her own arm and gripped his bracer. Macrath’s fingers wrapped around her flesh, absorbing her into his palm, making her feel small and delicate. She suppressed another shiver, but couldn’t help staring at his mouth again. If she were to die tomorrow, she would have liked to have a kiss from this man.

“What brings you to Sìtheil Castle?” Macrath asked.

“I heard they had a good cook,” Ceana said, surprised at her own response.

Macrath laughed. “And I heard they had a secret storeroom filled with chests of gold and jewels.”
Now it was Ceana’s turn to laugh. “Are we both to be disappointed then?”

“Nay, lass, we’ll both rejoice with sweetmeat pies in one hand and fat rubies in the other.”

“If only.” The thought made her suddenly sad. Macrath was the first person she’d seen and met at this place who made her feel safe—and she thought she could enjoy spending time with him. Wanted to spend more time with him, in fact.

I'm pleased to be part of this tour, brought together by Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours.  Please click the link above to visit the rest of the tour, featuring spotlights, reviews, giveaways, guest posts and interviews!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Book Review/Giveaway: The Tudor Vendetta by C.W. Gortner


Winter, 1558: Elizabeth I has ascended the throne but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the kingdom weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain.

Summoned from exile abroad at the new queen’s behest, Brendan Prescott arrives in London to face his shattered past. He soon finds himself pitted in deadly rivalry with his life-long foe, Robert Dudley, but when a poison attempt overshadows the queen’s coronation, Elizabeth privately dispatches Brendan on a far more dangerous assignation: to find her favored lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, who has vanished in Yorkshire.

Upon his arrival at the crumbling sea-side manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry’s disappearance, he encounters a strange, impoverished family beset by grief, as well as mounting evidence that they hide a secret from him. The mystery surrounding Lady Parry deepens as Brendan begins to realize there is far more going on at the manor than meets the eye, but the closer he gets to the heart of the mystery, the more he becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta— one that could expose both his own buried identity and a long-hidden revelation that will bring about Elizabeth’s doom.

From the intrigue-laden passages of Whitehall to a foreboding Catholic manor and the prisons of the Tower, Brendan must risk everything to unravel a vendetta that strikes at the very core of his world, including his loyalty to his queen.

The Tudor Vendetta is the third book in Gortner’s Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy.



The Tudor period in England is one of my favorites in history.  So when I saw this book up for review, my heart said, "I.  MUST. READ."  And having done so, my heart is saying, "I. LOVED. IT!"

Elizabeth I was one of three legitimate children of Henry VIII, all three of whom had a turn at being a monarch after their father's passing.  First was Edward, son of Henry and his third wife, Jane Seymour.  He got to go first.  But he died after a few years, still being rather young.  Then Lady Jane Grey, whom Protestant Edward nominated as successor to keep his Catholic Sister Mary (daughter of Henry and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon) off the throne.  That worked for 9 days, before Mary's army overcame Jane's and had her sent to the Tower and later beheaded.  Mary made life very difficult for Protestants during her reign, which earned her the nickname "Bloody Mary".

But she eventually died too, and the throne went to her sister, Elizabeth (daughter of Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn).  Some say she was as ruthless, or more so, to the Catholics as her sister Mary had been to the Protestants.

I feel Mr. Gortner has captured the period well - the intrigue, the rivalries, the shifting loyalties and the differences between the experiences of the upper and lower classes.  Even people you considered your friends could turn on you if defending you meant a lessening of their station.  If I had lived at the court of the time, I'd either have played the game with the best of them, or shortly after arrival, start haunting the Tower.

At the start of The Tudor Vendetta, the MC Brendan is in Basel, Switzerland, in exile.  He is learning to be an 'intelligencer' in the service of the then-Princess Elizabeth.  When she becomes Queen, he and his mentor are recalled to court at Whitehall.  Much talk is dedicated to getting The Virgin Queen married and to produce an heir.  Mary, Queen of Scots would be next in line for the throne of England if Elizabeth failed to produce an heir, and Mary was Catholic.

I enjoyed the flow of the story and the language used - in my words, formal yet very readable.  (OK.  There were a couple of words starting with 'c', used to describe women, that I didn't care for, and that might offend some people.) Some people shy away from Shakespeare's plays because of the language and expressions.  The Tudor Vendetta could make the late Medieval and Renaissance years available to a wider audience and that is wonderful!

Even all those 'alphabet agencies' dealing with our national security with computers, satellites and other types of electronic surveillance would have trouble keeping up with the intrigue at and around a Tudor court.  Mr. Gortner has made it understandable and exciting for us in the comfort of our favorite reading environments.  Well done!



C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California, as well as an AA from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in San Francisco.

After an eleven year-long career in fashion, during which he worked as a vintage retail buyer, freelance publicist, and fashion show coordinator, C.W. devoted the next twelve years to the public health sector. In 2012, he became a full-time writer following the international success of his novels.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard at Hampton Court, learned about organic gardening at Chenoceaux, and spent a chilly night in a ruined Spanish castle. His books have garnered widespread acclaim and been translated into twenty-one languages to date, with over 400,000 copies sold. A sought-after public speaker. C.W. has given keynote addresses at writer conferences in the US and abroad. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights, in particular companion animal rescue to reduce shelter overcrowding.

C.W. recently completed his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about Lucrezia Borgia; the third novel in his Tudor Spymaster series for St Martin’s Press; and a new novel about the dramatic, glamorous life of Coco Chanel, scheduled for lead title publication by William Morrow, Harper Collins, in the spring of 2015.

Half-Spanish by birth and raised in southern Spain, C.W. now lives in Northern California with his partner and two very spoiled rescue cats.


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(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "The Tudor Vendetta" from the author and publisher via Historial Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Friday, October 17, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Village of Secrets by Caroline Moorehead


From the author of the runaway bestseller A Train in Wintercomes the extraordinary story of a French village that helped save thousands, including many Jewish children, who were pursued by the Gestapo during World War II.

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon is a small village of scattered houses high in the mountains of the Ardèche. Surrounded by pastures and thick forests of oak and pine, the plateau Vivarais lies in one of the most remote and inaccessible parts of Eastern France, cut off for long stretches of the winter by snow.

During the Second World War, the inhabitants of the area saved thousands wanted by the Gestapo: resisters, freemasons, communists, downed Allied airmen and above all Jews. Many of these were children and babies, whose parents had been deported to the death camps in Poland. After the war, Le Chambon became the only village to be listed in its entirety in Yad Vashem's Dictionary of the Just

Just why and how Le Chambon and its outlying parishes came to save so many people has never been fully told. Acclaimed biographer and historian Caroline Moorehead brings to life a story of outstanding courage and determination, and of what could be done when even a small group of people came together to oppose German rule. It is an extraordinary tale of silence and complicity. In a country infamous throughout the four years of occupation for the number of denunciations to the Gestapo of Jews, resisters and escaping prisoners of war, not one single inhabitant of Le Chambon ever broke silence. The story of Le Chambon is one of a village, bound together by a code of honour, born of centuries of religious oppression. And, though it took a conspiracy of silence by the entire population, it happened because of a small number of heroic individuals, many of them women, for whom saving those hunted by the Nazis became more important than their own lives.



The Village of Secrets is not a book that you can sit down and read in an afternoon.  It is a recounting of courage and hope in the face of danger and evil in one of the darkest periods of history

I am amazed at the amount of research that Ms. Moorehead had to do for this book.  Of course, the underlying story is interesting, but when it first breaks into widespread attention, fond memories have a tendency to color the truthfulness of reports.  I appreciate that Ms. Moorehead acknowledges this fact, and seeks to give us a fuller picture.

Certainly, an amazing enterprise was undertaken in Le Chambon during the years in question.  And I would not discount the individuals', or the village's contributions towards saving people fleeing Nazi terror.  But there were other villages in the area doing the same things, and Ms. Moorehead gives them props for their contributions to the resistance.

Anyone interested in this era in general, and in the persecution of the Jews in particular, needs (!) to read The Village of Secrets.  Ms. Moorehead's book would do quite well as assigned reading in college courses in history.

As a mother and a human being, the scenes depicting families torn apart, literally and figuratively, the descriptions of emaciated detainees, and children arriving at the plateau with barely the clothes on their backs were heart-rending.  My children have gotten many extra hugs while I was reading this book.

The Village of Secrets is at once a recounting of history and a call to action.  Get it.  Read it.  Do it.



From Wikipedia:

Caroline Moorehead, OBE (born 28 October 1944) is a human rights journalist and biographer.

Born in London, England, Moorehead received a BA from the University of London in 1965.

Moorehead has written six biographies, of Bertrand Russell, Heinrich Schliemann, Freya Stark, Iris Origo, Martha Gellhorn, and most recently, the life of Lucie de la Tour du Pin (the daughter in law of Jean-Frédéric de la Tour du Pin), who experienced the French Revolution and left a rich collection of letters as well as a memoir that cover the decades from the fall of the Ancien Regime up to the rise of Napoleon III.

Moorehead has also written a number of non-fiction pieces centered on human rights including a history of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Dunant's Dream, based on previously unseen archives in Geneva, Troublesome People, a book on pacifists, and a work on terrorism, Hostages to Fortune. Her most recent work in this category is on refugees in the modern world named Human Cargo, published in 2004. Moorehead has also published A Train in Winter, a book which focuses on 230 French women of the Resistance who were sent to Auschwitz, and of whom only forty-nine survived.

She has written many book reviews for assorted papers and reviews, including the TLS, Literary Review, Telegraph, Independent, Spectator, and New York Review of Books. She specialized in human rights as a journalist, contributing a column first to the Times and then the Independent, and co-producing and writing a series of programs on human rights for BBC television.

She is a trustee and director of Index on Censorship and a governor of the British Institute of Human Rights. She has served on the committees of the Royal Society of Literature, of which she is a Fellow; the Society of Authors; English PEN; and the London Library. She also helped start a legal advice centre for asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa in Cairo, where she helps run a number of educational projects.

She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1993. She was awarded an OBE in 2005 for services to literature.

(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "The Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Piers Alexander of The Bitter Trade

I am honored to have Piers Alexander, author of The Bitter Trade (reviewed on Monday) on the Back Porch today for a little Q & A!

From GoodReads:

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Cal’s desperation leads him to become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life - but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself.  Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.


About the Author

Piers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


The Interview

1.  How did you get the story idea for The Bitter Trade?

My wife had come up with an idea for a futuristic conspiracy involving coffee, which had been swirling round my mind before it reappeared when I was writing my diary one day. I found I was describing a rebellious redheaded character called Calumny Spinks, who was watching the hustle and bustle of Restoration London from a rooftop when he fell through the tiles and into a stash of contraband spices...

I didn't have an exact year to set it in until I happened to take a break outside the wonderful London Library. There's a statue of William of Orange in St James's Square: I saw it and took out my smartphone, and realised that the Glorious Revolution made the perfect backdrop for a tale of conspiracy, racketeering and lusty adventures!

2.  Having lived in more than one country, how many languages do you speak?

English, bullishly
French, fluently
German, stumbling
Italian, delightfully (grammar and vocabulary limited; hand gestures perfect)

3.  What draws you to the book's time period?

The exuberant, breathtaking pace of social, scientific, philosophical and political change. 1688 was the start of the Long Eighteenth Century in England, and to me it's when our modern way of thinking and living emerged, so it's fascinating to me. Most importantly, I think it would have been an amazing time to live: you could walk into a coffeehouse and match wits with great minds; and an ambitious person could make something of themselves, crossing social boundaries. Plus there were pirates.

4.  What are your views on the institutionalized religious intolerance of the time?

The same as my views of today's religious intolerance! I think there have always been people who want to make others belong to their organisations and power structures, and there have always been free thinkers - who are generally persecuted and killed even more than followers of rival religions. In The Bitter Trade, I make it pretty clear that I am with the free thinkers.

One thing that's fascinating about the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution is that acts of toleration (including James II's Declaration of Indulgence) were enacted in order to shore up support on one side or another: political instability had the effect of decreasing religious intolerance and putting toleration on a legal basis. That's something that is fundamental to English civil society, and I hope it never goes away.

5.  If you could be friends with one of your characters, whom would you choose and why?

The leprous coffee-woman, Mistress John Hollow. She's strong and wise, but unafraid to insult and challenge, and would make great company on a cold and muggy London evening.

6.  Do you drink coffee?  If so, how do you take it?

Oh yes. I take too much of it, usually in the form of a flat white, which is an Australian/NZ innovation that has taken London by storm. Bitter as experience, milky as innocence,  with rich chocolatey depths!

7.  What is a 'hunt saboteur mature student'?

He was a fellow student with sincere left-wing views who used to go out into Yorkshire of a weekend and disrupt people's fox-hunting. Quite a dangerous occupation, and he was arrested more than once for it.

8.  Is Lulu your only pet?

She is. I do tend to monopolise other people's animals though...

9.  What do you hope readers take away from The Bitter Trade?

I love it when readers say they lost themselves in seventeenth century London. To me that's the best thing about writing and reading historical fiction: you get into a time machine and lose yourself in history.

I do also have some quite fierce things to say about women and outsiders and how our habit of medicating ourselves (legally or not) tends to leave a destructive wake. So perhaps a little of that might linger in a reader's mind.

Most of all, I hope they enjoy the adventure, and Calumny's sheer cheekiness.

10.  Which writer from history (including the present) would you most like to meet?

From history: The emperor Marcus Aurelius. To be the most powerful man in the world, and take the time to muse on life, death and the temporariness of experience: I'd buy him a flat white for sure.

From the present: I'm lucky enough to have married my favourite contemporary author!


Thank you for visiting today, Piers, and for your time in answering the questions.  Best of success with this tour and I'm looking forward to "Scatterwood"!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW/EXCERPT - Crazy is Normal by Lloyd Lofthouse


Multi award winning author, Lloyd Lofthouse kept a daily journal for one-full school year and that journal became the primary source of this teacher’s memoir.

“Readers who envision eager students lapping up learning led by a Tiger Teacher will be disappointed. Lofthouse presents us with grungy classrooms, kids who don’t want to be in school, and the consequences of growing up in a hardscrabble world. While some parents support his efforts, many sabotage them—and isolated administrators make the work of Lofthouse and his peers even more difficult.

Throughout this memoir, though, Lofthouse seems able to keep the hope alive that there’s a future for each student that doesn’t include jail—thanks in large part to his sixth period journalism class and its incredible editor, Amanda.” – Bruce Reeves



Lloyd Lofthouse has hit upon the perfect training program for public teachers in the US today - active duty deployment as a US Marine.

Crazy is Normal is a journal kept by the author covering one school year, showing the good, the bad and the ugly about being a public school teacher in the US.  The good includes the occasional student who is actually eager to learn.  The bad includes parents calling the teacher to find out why their baby is failing.  (Maybe it has to do with not turning in ANY assignments?)  The ugly includes the lack of support from some administrations (at the school or *ahem* with the federal government).  Each student is different; attempting to cram them into a Common Core cookie cutter will just give them suspicious-looking indentation marks all over their bodies.

Lofthouse's book shows how bat-cookie cray-cray has become the norm in public schools today.  I almost feel physical pain when I think about it for too long.  I don't know how or why teachers do what they do for as long as they do it.  There are two choices.  They are either crazy - but that's normal today.  (In our house, we take pride in our crazy.)  Or they have a 'calling'.

If you expect little from people or a lot, they will usually live up to your expectations.  Teachers have a LOT of pressure on them.  Considering they are preparing our children and other young people to take over our world someday, they are not paid nearly enough.

Crazy is an amazing look into the year of one teacher's life.  Now, I'm sure there are as many different experiences as there are teachers.  This is not propaganda put out by the Department of Education.  Lofthouse gives us his journal from the front lines of the battle on the school front.

After you read Crazy is Normal, DO something!  Volunteer at your child's school, or with an adult literacy program.  The possibilities are endless.  Give of yourself.  Get involved.  Change the future.



Little did Lloyd Lofthouse know in 1999, when he married Anchee Min, that he was beginning a journey of discovery. His first trip to The Middle Kingdom was on the honeymoon with his bride, who introduced him to China and Robert Hart (1835-1911), the main characters in Lloyd’s first two novels,My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart. The next decade was a journey of discovery. Lloyd now lives near San Francisco with his wife–with a second home in Shanghai, China.

Lloyd earned a BA in journalism in 1973 after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. While working days as an English teacher, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub. His short story, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was named as a finalist for the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards.

Lloyd has won 15 awards for My Splendid Concubine and 5 awards for Running With the Enemy.




Thursday was parent conference day for the first semester, and we were on a shortened schedule. I hated short days. There was no lunch break; the classes weren’t long enough to accomplish much of anything—twenty-eight minutes instead of fifty-nine—and the school day ended at 11:40. I also had duty that afternoon at a game. It was going to be another thirteen-hour day before I drove home.

Passing through the office on the way to my classroom, I heard that four hundred fifty students had stayed home and called in sick Wednesday as an alternative way to protest Proposition 187.

Scroll never ran a story about it, and I never asked the editors why. The paper was theirs.

Before my first class, I sat down with a calculator to figure out how much the protest cost the school. After taking roll in each class, I said, “Some of you were absent yesterday to protest Proposition 187. I want you to know that the schools are paid only when you’re in school, and that the high school probably lost eleven thousand dollars yesterday. It doesn’t seem smart to hurt the very school you say you want to stay in.

“If you’re really interested in protesting 187, you should join an organized, peaceful demonstration over the weekend. Walking out of school or staying home doesn’t help.”

Mildred stayed after 11:40, calling possible advertisers for the school paper. She also wrote two follow-up letters she planned to mail to businesses interested in buying ads.

I corrected papers until I left for water polo game duty. By then, Mildred was gone. I reached the pool only to discover that the other school had forfeited the game. Even with the cold weather, the Nogales team decided to get in the water and play against each other. I stayed and watched while correcting papers.

That evening, parent conferences took place in the gym. Tables were set up in rows, and, when parents entered the gym, they were given a map that helped them find their child’s teachers. I talked to about thirty parents that night, and most of them only wanted to know what they could do to help their sons or daughters earn a better grade. Most of their children were already passing. Few parents came for the failing students.

But Alexis’s dad was different. “Alexis says she did all the work, and it was at home in her folder because you didn’t tell her when it was due,” he said. “And when she explained, you refused to let her turn that work in late. I don’t like your rigid, unyielding policy of not accepting late work.”
Alexis was lying, but that wasn’t new—too many students lied to gullible parents. She had come with her dad, and I turned to her. “Why is it that so many of the other students know when assignments are due?” I asked.

“That’s not true,” she replied. “Everyone is confused, and almost everyone is failing because you’re so hard.”

“How can they be confused when the due dates are written on the board for every assignment a week or more before an assignment is due, and I read that information to each class every day, right after I take roll?”

“I don’t remember anything being written on the board,” she said.

I studied her dad and could see that he believed every word his daughter was saying. My grade book said Alexis had an eighteen percent average.

“I understand that a lot of your students are failing,” he said. “That doesn’t say much for you as a teacher. I’ve heard some of your students say you’re boring.”

Now I was angry and leaned across the table. “I’m sure there are times when all classes are boring—but in your line of work, do you ever let boredom stop you from getting the work done? I do my job, which I can’t say about a lot of the students in my classes. If you have a complaint, you can take it to the principal or one of the vice principals.” I pointed at one of the VPs, who was talking to another parent on the other side of the gym. “That blond lady over there is one of the vice principals. I want you to know that I work hard to do the best job I can, but that can never make up for students who don’t cooperate or work.”

“Why are you being so hard and demanding when all of her teachers since kindergarten have been easy?” he asked. “It isn’t fair, that after all of these years, she has to get a teacher like you.”
I didn’t believe all of her teachers had been easy, but they may have been pressured by their principals to lower the failure rate. “In three and a half years,” I said, “Alexis is going to leave high school and enter a society that won’t accept the kind of excuses she’s using. And I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do the best I could to prepare every student who passes through my classroom for that outside world.”

“Then I want to know why you haven’t called me about Alexis not turning in her work!” He demanded.

“I’ve tried, but either no one answers at home or at work, or the line is busy. I can prove that I’ve already made more than a hundred phone calls to other parents.”

“I want to see that proof!” He snapped.

“I log everything, but that documentation is in my classroom. You can also see copies of my phone calls through the ninth-grade counselor. She gets a copy of each one.”

This was such waste of time, and I wanted him to leave. Other parents stood in line behind him, waiting to see me. I hoped he’d demand that Alexis be transferred to another teacher, who’d give her a passing grade for not working. With a father like him, she deserved to leave high school uneducated.

Every morning on the drive to work, I reminded myself there were good kids in every class who cooperated, worked, and learned. They were the reason I stayed in teaching. I couldn’t blame teachers who were burned out and had lost their edge in the classroom. I understood why.

It was almost 10:00 when I got home.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.)

Click the above logo link to see the rest of the tour