Archive for December, 2011

Best Of….

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

That title is a little misleading. As we hover on the edge of 2012, the books I’m thinking of are those that made the deepest impression on me in the old year, that impacted or changed me in some way.

— Frances Osborne’s The Bolter, which set me off on my Kenya project.

— Kate Morton’s The House at Riverton, which introduced me to a whole new historical/modern hybrid.

— Beatriz Williams’ Overseas, which reminded me how compelling a well-written love story can be.

— Robert Graves’ Good-Bye to All That. I’m always thought of Graves as the I, Claudius guy, but his memoir of his time in World War I opened my eyes to the realities of that war as no history book had.

— Elspeth Huxley’s The Flame Trees of Thika, a fictionalized memoir of her childhood in Kenya. I’d seen the mini-series with Hayley Mills back in the day, but what really caught me about the book was the writing style, with its keen but kindly sense of humor. Her voice reminded me a great deal of L.M. Montgomery– and there really just isn’t enough of that out there.

I realize, looking over these, that they’re all attached, in one way or another, to my current writing project (aka “the Kenya book”).

There were plenty of other books that I savored just for fun: Eloisa James’ When Beauty Tamed the Beast, Rosemary Clement-Moore’s The Splendor Falls, Susanna Kearsley’s The Rose Garden, Tracy Grant’s Vienna Waltz.

Which were the books that meant the most to you in 2011?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Welcome to the last reading round-up of the old year! Next time we convene our virtual salon, it will be 2012. Bizarre, no?

As the old year barreled to a close, this is what I was reading:

— Eve Stachniak, The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great.

Catherine’s ascension seen through the eyes of a bookbinder’s daughter who becomes a court ward– a less glamorous position than it sounds. I enjoyed this book greatly. It reminded me a bit of Anne-Marie Selinko’s Désirée, history seen from the sidelines.

— Rosemary Baird, Mistress of the House: Great Ladies and Grand Houses.

A non-fiction tour through the domestic arrangements of the grande dames of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, exploring the role of women in creating the great houses we associate with the eighteenth century.

— Eloisa James, A Kiss at Midnight.

I so enjoyed When Beauty Tamed the Beast that it seemed past time to go back and try the first of James’ fairy tale books.

— Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise.

Lord Peter Wimsey. Need I say more? I tend to reread the ones that include Harriet Vane a fair amount (especially Gaudy Night), but the purely Lord Peter books get neglected.

Is it just me, or do you bet that if Dorothy Sayers were writing now, someone would write the Harriet Vane books, a la Castle?

— Josephine Tey, A Shilling for Candles.

I was thrilled to discover that Josephine Tey had written more than The Daughter of Time. I discovered Man in the Queue in a mystery bookshop in Hay on Wye this summer and gleefully pounced on A Shilling for Candles, The Franchise Affair and Miss Pym Disposes in my favorite used bookshop (in Putnam County, just outside Cold Spring) the day before Christmas.

The used bookstore also had a lovely hardcover of Pink I! I didn’t buy that, but I did sign it for them. So if anyone is looking for one….

What have you been reading?

Speaking of ORCHID….

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The Orchid Affair twines very closely to some actual historical events and figures. Here are some musings on Orchid Affair and the intersection of fiction and history that I scribbled for The Muse in the Fog.

Only five more days until The Orchid Affair comes out in paperback!


Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

The Orchid Affair comes out in paperback one week from today!

In honor of Orchid‘s upcoming paperback publication, here are some Fun Facts about The Orchid Affair.

The Orchid Affair was inspired by a Susan Isaacs novel called Shining Through. Okay, if I’m being honest, it was inspired by the moviebased on the novel (oh, the shame!). I’d just finished writing The Temptation of the Night Jasmine and was vegging and channel-flipping when I stumbled upon Melanie Griffith undercover in the household of Nazi bigwig Liam Neeson. It seemed like a horrible waste of a Liam Neeson. What if he weren’t a Nazi? What if he were in Napoleonic France? What if…. You get the idea.

— Speaking of inspiration…. The Orchid Affair also owes a great deal to Raphael Sabatini’s Scaramouche(trust me, go with the book, not the movie!). Like my Andre Jaouen, the hero of Sabatini’s novel is a young lawyer with a sympathy for the principles of the Revolution. It was also from Sabatini that I stole– I mean, borrowed– the idea of using a traveling commedia dell’arte troupe as cover for a quick getaway.

— I began writing The Orchid Affair before The Mischief of the Mistletoe. I was a hundred pages into Orchid when I realized– in the middle of giving a talk about writing a series!– that I was writing the wrong book, not that it was wrong in the abstract (at least, I hope you don’t think it is), but that it was the wrong book for that point in the series. Penelope’s book, The Betrayal of the Blood Lily, had been heavy and dark and Orchid also tended towards the darker. I needed something light, to go in the middle. Something that tasted like Turnip. I went home, stopped off for a grande mocha frappuccino (it was the first warm day of May) and began work on Mistletoe, putting Orchid on hold for about six months.

On the plus side, that six month hiatus also gave me time to take a much needed research trip to Paris, where I changed a number of locations and plot points.

— In the final stretch of writing The Orchid Affair, in the spring of 2010, I listened over and over and over again to Abbie Barrett’s album, Dying Day. It was what got me through the last ten chapters. That, and lots of coffee. And brie and crackers. And the occasional gin and tonic.

— The writing of Orchid Affair also happened to coincide, almost exactly, with the class I taught at Yale (along with fellow Yalie Cara Elliott) on the origin and development of the Regency romance novel. I would hold office hours and teach on Mondays and then scurry back home to write for the rest of the week.

— My favorite description of Orchid Affair was “Jane Eyre meets James Bond”. This one is definitely more Jane Eyre than Jane Austen.

For more Fun Facts about Orchid, check out the Readers’ Guide at the back of the book. (For those who have the hardcover, I’ll post the Readers’ Guide Q&A here on Orchid Paperback Publication Day, so you don’t miss out!)

Holiday Contest!

Monday, December 26th, 2011

The holiday contest is still up and running! If you haven’t already placed your vote for the character you would most like to see in a bonus chapter, pop on by.

The polls close on December 31. I’ll be announcing the winner on January 2nd (or 3rd, depending on how much totting up I have to do).

If You Like….

Monday, December 26th, 2011

I tend to associate the day after Christmas with biographies (for some reason, those show up a lot in my stocking) and slightly squished chocolate.

You’re on your own with the chocolate, but if you like biographies, you’ll probably enjoy:

— Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots. (This book is the direct cause of my writing my senior thesis on Marie de Guise and the Scottish Reformation– and a really fun summer in Edinburgh.)

— Flora Fraser’s Pauline Bonaparte: Venus of Empire, an account of the life of Bonaparte’s unruly sister.

— Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life, which does an amazing job brushing away layers of myth and legend to reconstruct the woman and her world.

— As some of you know, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Kenya recently. There are two biographies that really stood out: Sara Wheeler’s lyrical biography of Denys Finch-Hatton, Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton, and Frances Osborne’s The Bolter.

— While I’m in the 1920’s and 30’s, it’s hard to ignore the Mitford sisters. The year I was living in England, I stumbled on Mary Lovell’s The Sisters: The Saga of the Mitford Family (although my edition had a slightly different title). It makes for fascinating reading, as does Ann de Courcy’s The Viceroy’s Daughters: The Lives of the Curzon Sisters, whose lives are intertwined with those of the Mitfords.

— For a compare and contrast, there’s Stephen Zweig’s Marie Antoinette (the classic biography) and Antonia Fraser’s Marie Antoinette: The Journey (a more recent take on the same subject).

— I’m a big fan of Garrett Mattingly’s Catherine of Aragon. I’d read a phone book if Garrett Mattingly wrote it. My favorite, although it doesn’t fall under the biography category, is his The Armada, an incredibly lively account of the defeat of the Spanish at the hands of Sir Francis Drake and Co. in 1588.

Which biographies have you enjoyed?

Reading Round-Up

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

This is something of a reading round-up in reverse. Instead of the books I’ve already read this week, these are the books I have stashed away to read over the holiday:

— Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours I’ve been saving this one as a bribe for finishing the 1920s book. It isn’t quite done, but….

— Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great. This was sent to me as an ARC a while ago, but wound up buried under a pile of research books. Ooops.

— Juliana Grey’s A Lady Never Lies. This is the first in a new, Edwardian-set historical romance series coming out next year– all based on Shakespeare plots! I’m very excited to read it.

— Norman Davies’ Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations. This is the first of the holiday history book haul, all about the kingdoms that rose and disappeared, like Burgundia. Don’t you love the sound of that?

What are you planning to read over the holidays?

More Turnip Love

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

The Mischief of the Mistletoe is a Night Owl Reviews Top Pick!

Night Owl Reviews calls Mistletoe “fun and fabulous”, concluding that all “of these books are sweet, funny and full of intrigue. With the appearance of Jane Austen, I think this was one of my favorites.”

Thanks, Danya!

Twelve Days of Amusement

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

For those of you who aren’t on Facebook, here are my two favorite renditions of The Twelve Days of Christmas.

First, the inimitable Scottish Sock Puppets:

Next up (thanks, Hilly!), Straight No Chaser:


Ivy & Intrigue Winner!

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

You all are wonderful. Reading your reactions to the Ivy & Intrigue outtakes made my day.

I wish I could give a copy of Ivy & Intrigue to everyone, but since I can’t, the novella goes to…

… Kiley! (of Comment #15)

Congrats, Kiley! Just email me with your snail mail and I’ll pop the novella in the mail to you.

In the meantime, the holiday contest to pick the next Pink bonus chapter is still up and running, so if you haven’t voted yet, stop on by and weigh in!