Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Guest Post - Alyssa Polombo + a Giveaway

Happy Book Birthday to Alyssa Polombo! Her latest, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence: A Story of Botticelli officially hits shelves today and I am pleased as punch to be able to welcome her to the blog today!

I am giving away a copy of The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence as well, so be sure to read through to the end to enter to win.

Before I hand things over to Alyssa, though, here's a bit about the book to whet your appetite:

A girl as beautiful as Simonetta Cattaneo never wants for marriage proposals in 15th Century Italy, but she jumps at the chance to marry Marco Vespucci. Marco is young, handsome and well-educated. Not to mention he is one of the powerful Medici family’s favored circle.

Even before her marriage with Marco is set, Simonetta is swept up into Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici’s glittering circle of politicians, poets, artists, and philosophers. The men of Florence—most notably the rakish Giuliano de’ Medici—become enthralled with her beauty. That she is educated and an ardent reader of poetry makes her more desirable and fashionable still. But it is her acquaintance with a young painter, Sandro Botticelli, which strikes her heart most. Botticelli immediately invites Simonetta, newly proclaimed the most beautiful woman in Florence, to pose for him. As Simonetta learns to navigate her marriage, her place in Florentine society, and the politics of beauty and desire, she and Botticelli develop a passionate intimacy, one that leads to her immortalization in his masterpiece, The Birth of Venus.

Alyssa Palombo’s The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence vividly captures the dangerous allure of the artist and muse bond with candor and unforgettable passion.

Historical fiction fans, this should definitely be your next read!

And now over to Alyssa!

As you can probably tell, based on the settings of my first two novels, I really love Italy. This love, for me, comes from a few different places, because truthfully I loved Italy way before I ever went there.

Based on my last name, I’m sure it’s no surprise that I am of Italian descent myself. I don’t know too much about the Italian side of my family – they didn’t talk much about their roots – but I know we are from northern Italy somewhere and that my great-grandparents came to the US through Ellis Island before WWII. So certainly a part of my interest in Italy comes in part from the fact that I have roots there, and that its history is my heritage. I keep meaning to start a genealogy project of some kind to learn more about my Italian ancestry – someday soon I will make the time!

Obviously, I’ve always had an interest in history, and my interest in Italian history specifically came about in my later teens. I had read all about the Tudors by then – so much that I started to get kind of sick of them – and so began reading a lot of historical fiction set in other eras. A few books set in Italy during different periods really sealed the deal for me, and from there I sought out nonfiction about different periods and historical figures in Italian history. What I found is that Italian history – especially of the Renaissance period – is absolutely fascinating. It’s peopled with ruthless politicians like Lorenzo de’ Medici, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Rodrigo and Cesare Borgia; the great artistic masters like da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Raphael; and exceptional and powerful women like Caterina Sforza and Isabella d’Este. There’s more sex and scandal and violence to be found than in Game of Thrones. I was completely engrossed in the history I was reading, and found it to be both informative and entertaining.

In addition, as a musician – I did a music minor in college and focused on classical voice – many of my favorite composers are Italian, and indeed opera was created by the Italians. This gave me another avenue through which to explore Italy’s history and legacy.

Then, of course, I started writing The Violinist of Venice and did a lot of research into 18th century Venice and composer Antonio Vivaldi, and Italian Baroque music more broadly. This is a period of history I didn’t know too much about prior to doing research for the novel, and I found Venice to be a place that completely captured my imagination.

It wasn’t until I was between the second and third drafts of The Violinist of Venice that I finally went to Italy, the country I’d been dreaming about for years by that time. I went to Venice, of course, to gather information for the novel, but on that same trip I also went to Florence and Rome as well. I’ve been back to both Venice and Florence since – the former simply because it is my absolute favorite place in the world, and the latter to do research for The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence – and I am still completely enamored of Italy. I love the language – I know enough to make my way around, order food, and also to have a very operatic and dramatic lovers’ quarrel if need be – I love the people, I love the landscape and the way each city and region is so individual and unique, I love the architecture, and of course I love the food and wine. But I also really love that Italy is a country with such a deep appreciation for its history, and for its exceptional artistic legacy.

Modern-day Italy is certainly a country with many problems, as in truth is any nation. Yet it is very much a place that inspires me and that I feel a deep connection to, and I am proud to be Italian myself. 

About the author: ALYSSA PALOMBO is also the author of The Violinist of Venice. She has published short fiction pieces in Black Lantern Magazine and The Great Lakes Review. She is a recent graduate of Canisius College with degrees in English and creative writing, respectively. A passionate music lover, she is a classically trained musician as well as a big fan of heavy metal. The Violinist of Venice is her first novel. She lives in Buffalo, New York.

For more on Alyssa Polombo and her work you can visit her website here. You can also follow her on Twitter.

Huge thanks to Alyssa for being here today and to the publicist for setting up this guest post!

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is out on shelves now.

And now for the giveaway: to enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter before Monday, May 8. Open US only.

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Lori Rader-Day's latest, The Day I Died.

When a young child and his mother go missing, the police ask for Anna Winger's help in analyzing the note left behind. A handwriting specialist, Anna often helps with human relations and what she calls her lonelyhearts - those asking for Anna's opinion on a loved one's handwriting. It happens less often, but it's not rare for Anna to consult on a criminal investigation. 

What is rare is for Anna to get wrapped up in said investigation. But something about this one nags at her - the missing mother, the most obvious suspect in what the police are calling a kidnapping, is a woman who reminds Anna of herself. A woman Anna hopes got away from whatever her handwriting indicated she was frightened of. What Anna isn't so sure of is whether the mom took the toddler with her. And when the toddler's babysitter turns up murdered, she suspects the worst. 

Anna is an interesting character. She's jumpy and easily shaken, moving her little family of two around at the earliest sign of discovery. Discovery of her true identity, that is. See Anna is running from something herself. Something that forces her to pick up and relocate frequently.

But while Anna is mostly happy in her life, her thirteen-year-old son is not.

So Anna has complications in her personal life already when she's asked to consult on this case. And again, she makes great effort not only to not get involved, but to not get attached. She has no real friends and nothing ever tying her to any one place.

As the story unfolds, we learn more about Anna (Leeanna) her reason for constantly moving starts to become more clear, as does her increasing certainty that the mother in the missing child case isn't the culprit. But as the case progresses, her son Joshua begins acting out more and more and Anna's concentration is wavering. She thinks it's time to move again, she's sure her secrets have been found out, and it begins affecting her ability to do her job.

Of course the case becomes more complicated (see dead babysitter) and then the local sheriff begins asking for more and more of Anna's time.

Handwriting analysis is something I've come across only a few times so far. It's a fascinating science, one that adds to Anna's fearfulness - imagine if you could see anger and frustration otherwise hiding in those around you? Anna even takes pains not to look at her own son's handwriting. And to be fair, he takes pains not to let her see it - as do others - out of obvious fear of what Anna might glean.

I quite enjoyed this latest (my first) from Rader-Day. The pacing was great, a bit more of a slow burn than I'd expected but it worked perfectly for the story. There were, I felt, a few hiccups in the plot. Places where various threads came together a bit too fast and without being fully developed, but not to the point that it affected my overall enjoyment of the read.

All in all, The Day I Died is a solid thriller with a great heroine and Lori Rader-Day is definitely someone I'll be reading more of!

And now for the giveaway: to enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, May 8. Open US only. Easy peasy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Lori Rader-Day and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, April 23, 2017

New Releases 4/25/17

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

I Found You by Lisa Jewell

Burntown by Jennifer McMahon

Beartown bt Fredrik Backman

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry

The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

The Whole Thing Together by Ann Brashares

North of Happy by Adi Alsaid

New on DVD:
The Girl With All the Gifts
Underworld: Blood Wars
La La Land

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

Man, Harper Voyager is just killing it lately with the must reads! Today's title is a bit of a change for the author. You may know Ausma Zehanat Khan for her Rachel Getty/Esa Khattak series, and so it may surprise you to find out that her next release isn't in fact book four of that series, but the beginning of a completely new fantasy series.

Here's a bit about Bloodprint, book one in the Khorasan Archives series, from Goodreads:

A dark power called the Talisman has risen in the land, born of ignorance and persecution. Led by a man known only known as the One-eyed Preacher, it is a cruel and terrifying movement bent on world domination—a superstitious patriarchy that suppresses knowledge and subjugates women. And it is growing.

But there are those who fight the Talisman's spread, including the Companions of Hira, a diverse group of influential women whose power derives from the Claim—the magic inherent in the words of a sacred scripture. Foremost among them is Arian and her apprentice, Sinnia, skilled warriors who are knowledgeable in the Claim. This daring pair have long stalked Talisman slave-chains, searching for clues and weapons to help them battle their enemy’s oppressive ways. Now, they may have discovered a miraculous symbol of hope that can destroy the One-eyed Preacher and his fervid followers: The Bloodprint, a dangerous text the Talisman has tried to erase from the world.

Finding a copy of The Bloodprint promises to be their most dangerous undertaking yet, an arduous journey that will lead them deep into Talisman territory. Though they will be helped by allies—a loyal ex-slave and Arian’s former confidante and sword master—both Arian and Sinnia know that this mission may well be their last.

This sounds beyond amazing! 

Bloodprint is due out in October from Harper Voyager, but it is available for preorder online now!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole

William "Wolf" Fawkes is notorious for taking down the bad guys. And not in a good way. After a suspect Fawkes was convinced was a serial killer was handed a verdict that would allow him to walk, Fawkes attacked the man. It would have meant the end of his career had the man not been caught shortly after the assault standing over another victim. 

Fawkes's vindication was bittersweet considering it meant the loss of a child. And though that vindication meant some leniency for the officer, Fawkes's actions couldn't go unpunished. 

Now, back on the job and under a very watchful eye, Fawkes is called to a bizarre and twisted scene: a body, posed in a building overlooking Fawkes's own apartment, stitched together from pieces of six different victims. In the hours after the discovery, Fawkes's own ex wife, a well known reporter, is handed a list of targets the killer will go after next. With the clock ticking, Fawkes and the rest of the London Met team will have to piece together the clues to identify the initial six victims in hopes of finding something that will lead them to the killer - all the while trying to keep more targets safe under lock and key. 

I wanted to love Daniel Cole's debut. It's dark and gritty and features a number of flawed characters, not the least of which is Fawkes himself.

Unfortunately, the characters, with the exception of one, felt thin at best. And each time I thought we'd get deeper into their individual stories and motivations, Cole pulled back. For me, it seemed too much of the focus was on shocking the reader with the next twist and the next bloody bit of evidence, rather than building a cast of characters interesting enough to carry a series.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do love dark twists, and Ragdoll has them in spades. From the discovery of the first crime scene all the way to the very end, Cole does a great job with all that darkness. But the true shocks sadly fall flat because I couldn't rally behind the characters. I needed that extra piece - that depth - to truly invest myself in the book. And the twist, while I thought it was a great one, came too late to be all that believable or effective for me.

Ragdoll had a lot of promise and it is the first in a series. I liked it well enough to read more, but I do hope the next book will pack more of an emotional punch.

Rating: 2.5/5

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Ararat by Christopher Golden

When an earthquake reveals a hidden cave high on the side of Turkey's Mount Ararat, historians and explorers are certain it could finally mean the discovery of the Ark of legend. Meryam and Adam are willing to put off planning their upcoming wedding to be the first to the cave, securing the discovery and its documentation as their own.

But the adventure and find of a lifetime take an odd turn when the crew uncovers remains that defy all explanation. Specialists, including Ben Walker - a member of the National Science Foundation (a front for his real position at DARPA) -, are flown in to help just before a looming storm is set to hit. With everything Walker has seen and experienced, he considers himself a pro at handling strange. But Ararat is unlike anything he's ever experienced.

As the weather descends, the crew begins to turn on one another. Is it the madness and obsession that comes with such a massive discovery? Or something else?

I was dying to get my hands on a copy of Christopher Golden's latest. Pitched as the perfect read for fans of Dan Simmons's The Terror, it certainly seemed right up my alley.

And it was, to an extent.

The mountain setting, the pending storm, the avalanche that sets everything up, not to mention obvious tension between the Turkish guides and Meryam and Adam. Oh, and tension between Meryam and Adam themselves... It was a perfect set up for a chilling and tension filled tale.

And that's all before our super secret DARPA spy arrives.

Ararat was guaranteed to be fun and it definitely delivered in that regard. But, I wanted so much more! I wanted more depth and more detail. I wanted more atmosphere. I even wanted more horrific happenings!

While I enjoyed Ararat, I didn't love it. It felt like a story that had been stripped down the bare bones, blockbuster style (you know, like a 120 minute film cut down to 90 to suit a short attention span). I wanted to meat and the fat, all the details that would have fleshed out the characters, the setting, and the evil hiding inside Ararat.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Forbidden Garden by Ellen Herrick + a Giveaway

Good morning, everyone! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Ellen Herrick's latest, The Forbidden Garden. I'm also giving away a copy of the book today, so be sure to read through to the Rafflecopter to enter.

No on can deny that Sorrel Sparrow has something of a magic tough when it comes to plants and gardens. It's evident at the nursery she and her sisters share. It's evident at their home garden as well. And it's even more evident in the demand for her handiwork throughout their small New England village. It's this notoriety that catches the attention of Sir Graham Kirkwood. Kirkwood doesn't live in Granite Point, or even in the US, but his sister does, and it's she who sends word about Sorrel as Graham searches for someone to help with his estate's famed Shakespeare Garden. 

But what Graham doesn't tell Sorrel when seeking out her help is that the garden has long been rumored to be cursed. In fact, Graham has sought out Sorrel specifically so that he can keep his wife, who grew mysteriously ill after taking on the garden's revitalization project, out of the garden's snare. 

But even as Sorrel faces her first big trip away from her sisters and her home, she is drawn to the mysterious walled garden. She's also increasingly drawn to Graham's surly brother in law. Will her talents be enough to overcome both the plagued garden and the equally emotionally plagued Andrew? 

It's been over a year since Herrick's debut introduced readers to the Sparrow sisters: Sorrel, Nettie, and Patience. Together, they run a nursery known throughout the area surrounding Granite Point for its gorgeous blooms that last well beyond the season. But in The Sparrow Sisters, tragedy strikes their small town and suspicious eyes turn on the sisters, Patience in particular.

Though the town has healed and has turned out to support the sisters once again, when The Forbidden Garden begins, the sisters are still reeling from the fallout. And so, though Sorrel has never traveled overseas or spent any significant time away from her home or her younger sisters, she finds herself somewhat in need of a change of scenery.

And the idea of the Shakespeare Garden is too intriguing to resist, in spite of her apprehension about being away from home and the nursery for so long. I can empathize, the garden and it's secrets was too much to resist for me as a reader too! Throughout the narrative, there are allusions to a great Kirkwood secret that has plagued the family for generations. And it's directly tied to the garden, as Graham Kirkwood himself admits that the bare patch has been a dark spot on the estate that many have tried, and failed, to conquer.

I was glad to see Sorrel get her own story. Of the three sisters, I felt she was the one who remained the most closed off to readers in Herrick's debut. Her story was as much of a draw for me as the mysterious garden. She's taken out of her comfort zone and thrown in with a family she barely knows (because there is that Granite Point connection with Fiona, Graham's sister). But she acclimates easily to her new setting, set on bringing life to the ancient garden.

As with The Sparrow Sisters, The Forbidden Garden features fabulous imagery and detail. The hints of magical realism throughout (maybe more than hints, but by no means overwhelming) make it even more of a (sorry for the pun) enchanting read.

You do not have to have read The Sparrow Sisters in order to enjoy Sorrel's story. That said, you are missing out on quite a bit of character development and scene setting for where she is when The Forbidden Garden begins. And of course I quite enjoyed that first outing with the sisters, so I do recommend it!

And now for the giveaway! To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter before Monday, May 1. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more on Ellen Herrick and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble