Archive for January, 2014

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, January 31st, 2014

It’s been a rather eclectic reading run for me! The highlight was Kate Forsyth’s seventeenth-century set retelling of Rapunzel, Bitter Greens. There was also Nancy Mitford’s wonderful spoof of Anglo-French relations, The Blessing, Waugh’s send-up of the bright young things, Vile Bodies, and a Texas-set romantic suspense novel about IRS investigators, Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria.

What have you been reading this week?

If You Like….

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Since we missed our regularly scheduled If You Like this morning, here’s a make-up If You Like, inspired by Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens.

If you like books based on fairy tales, you’ll probably like….

— Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens, a tale set in 17th century France and 16th century Italy, woven around the story of Rapunzel. I am currently very much in love with this book, which brings both those eras to life beautifully. (I’ve also heard wonderful things about her The Wild Girl, but haven’t read it yet.)

— Robin McKinley’s Beauty, a re-telling of Beauty and the Beast (I could practically recite the first chapter of this book word for word in Middle School). She took a second stab at Beauty and the Beast with her book Rose Daughter. (She also took on Sleeping Beauty with Spindle’s End, Donkeyskin with Deerskin, and the Twelve Dancing Princesses in The Door in the Hedge).

— Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin, another of my all time favorite books, which transports the story of Tam Lin to a college campus (a thinly veiled version of Carleton) in the 1960s. It’s one of those books that makes you remember the joy of learning, and those wonderful college days where everything is woven through with Shakespeare and Milton and whatever else you’ve been studying. With, of course, a touch of faerie.

— Patricia C. Wrede’s Snow White and Rose Red, an Elizabethan version of Snow White and Rose Red.

— Eloisa James’s fairy tale romances: When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Beauty and the Beast), A Kiss at Midnight (Cinderella), The Ugly Duchess (the Ugly Duckling), The Duke Is Mine (the Princess and the Pea), and Once Upon a Tower (Rapunzel).

— Kate Holmes’s The Wild Swans. I read this one a while ago, but I remember a) being impressed that she managed to pull off a romance where the heroine isn’t allowed to speak for most of the book, and b) thinking that the hero was particularly Miles-esque.

What are your favorite novels based on fairy tales?

Teaser Tuesday: Parsnip

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

manzanillaSince I turned in the edits for The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla yesterday, now seemed a good time to share one of my favorite bits: Turnip, the Next Generation.

Or, rather, our introduction to his daughter, Jane, more commonly know as… Parsnip.

Once a Fitzhugh, always a Fitzhugh?

From The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla….

A ululating cry filled the hall, followed by the sound of pounding feet. The door banged against the wall. Lucien whirled, looking for danger.

Instead, he saw a very chubby infant moving at an alarming speed on short and unsteady legs, its face and hands smeared with a viscous red substance.

The child was rapidly followed by a nursemaid, her cap askew, her white apron streaked with gore. The nursemaid came to a stop, breathless, resting her hands against her knees as she panted, “Mistress! Mistress, I tried to stop her, but—”

“I know.” Mrs. Fitzhugh swept the gory infant into her arms, transferring a great deal of the red and sticky substance to the front of her dress.

Miss Fitzhugh prudently moved her muslin skirts out of the way.

It looked like the slaughter of the innocents, but for the fact that the innocent was awake, and clapping her chubby hands with every appearance of delight.

In which case, that probably wasn’t blood. Lucien slowly felt his breathing return to normal.

Holding the infant out at arm’s length, Mrs. Fitzhugh surveyed the carnage with an experienced eye. “Has Parsnip got into the jam tarts again?”

Lucien inferred from the context that Parsnip was not, in fact, a root-vegetable, but the angelic looking infant chuckling and clucking in her mother’s arms .

“It was the raspberry,” said the nursemaid, in tones of doom.

“I don’t know how she does it,” murmured Mrs. Fitzhugh. She looked down at the baby, who appeared to have rubbed jam into her own ears, her hair, and, now, all along the front of her mother’s dress .

The child bared her tiny teeth in a delighted grin. There were raspberry seeds stuck between the two front teeth.

Lucien detected a distinct resemblance to Miss Sally Fitzhugh. Particularly about the eyes, which were dancing with mischief.

A chip off the old family block!

We have a cover!

Friday, January 24th, 2014

The next stand alone novel, That Summer, has a cover!

That Summer (3)

For some reason, my books never feel quite real to me until I have that cover image.

I’m particularly thrilled about this one since this was a very hard book to cover. The action goes back and forth between 2009 and 1849, between present day and Preraphaelites. How to convey both? It’s hard to find a cover that nods at both the historical and the modern.

In this case, the one constant between the two stories is the house on Herne Hill where all the action takes place. So when the St. Martin’s folks sent me this cover, I was delighted.

That Summer hits the shelves on June 3, 2014.

You can read more about the book here. Excerpt coming soon!

From the Mixed-Up Files

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Just around this time three years ago, I was between books. I started toying with a few different projects. One was a sweeping epic about two cousins, beginning around the turn of the century, and moving up through the 1920s. (You may recognize that one as The Ashford Affair.) The other was a novel about Ned Tholmondelay.

You may remember the Tholmondelay brothers (pronounced “Frumley”). They’re the bumbling twins at the Selwick Spy School in The Masque of the Black Tulip. They’re rather on the silly side, and, at the time, I felt in need of some undiluted nonsense.

In the end, I wound up being swept away by that 1920s epic and the Tholmondelay brothers were filed away along with all my other unfinished bits and pieces.

Here, to warm up a cold winter day, is the first page of the unfinished Tholmondelay novel. Enjoy!

Among the Tholmondelay family, it was universally acknowledged that of the twins, Fred was the one with the whatchamacallit in the brain box.

And then there was Ned.

As far as the aunts were concerned, the fact that he had got lost on the way to being born was testament enough. Fred had made his appearance, stalwart and squalling, at half-past seven on a Monday morning. Ned had wandered out eight hours later, apparently having forgotten that he had an appointment. His mother, foolishly fond, liked to say that Ned merely did things in his own time. But, then, Lady Tholmondelay had been a little, well, you know, herself. She read poetry. And if that didn’t say it all, the aunts didn’t know what did.

They said this frequently.

They also said it loudly, although it was matter of some dispute whether the volume was meant to add emphasis or merely an unintended byproduct of Aunt Agatha’s refusing to acquire an ear trumpet.

“What’s to be done with Ned?” was a common refrain among the aunts, as they gathered for a bit of tea and bloodletting.

Fred, they had no doubt, in the fullness of time, would land an heiress. Fred was the elder, after all, by those crucial eight hours, and would someday be Baron Tholmondelay, with a nice little place in Wiltshire. It might not be Chatsworth, but, then, what was? It had fireplaces by Adams and paintings from Italy and a family ghost who only appeared on a ten year schedule, which everyone agreed was awfully considerate of it, clanking chains tending to be a bit annoying on a regular basis.

Besides, Fred kept himself, as far as the aunts could tell, bang up to the mark (this said with a little titter at their daring at reproducing such slang). He wore his collars high and his shirt points higher and jangled with no fewer than three cameo watch fobs. Fred might not have quite made the esteemed heights of the Four Horse Club, but he had been accepted to their lesser cousin, the Three-in-Hand, with their unmistakable waistcoats of purple and yellow stripes. He boxed with Jackson and culped wafers at Manton’s and lost just what it was—the aunts agreed—acceptable for a gentleman to lose at the tables at Watiers.

“Debutante fodder,” croaked Aunt Agatha, and all the other aunts solemnly agreed. There would be no trouble at all in settling Fred.

But what was to be done with Ned?

On the face of it, the twins were utterly indistinguishable. They had the same mop of red hair, the same rangy frames (and if Fred’s was getting a bit wider about the middle from all those lobster patties at Carlton House, only his tailor knew for sure), the same bright blue eyes and sun-browned faces. But where Fred put himself out in society, Ned was happiest in the stable—dressed like a common groom!—poulticing a pony’s knees or opining on a mare’s chances of maternity. Yes, yes, the aunts agreed, it was all very well for a gentleman to know his horseflesh, but that was for the hour between five and six, when the fashionable paraded in Hyde Park.

And then there were the clothes! Ned’s preferred costume was a loose shirt and elderly breeches of the just-about-to-spring-a-hole in the knee variety. His valet could scarcely hold up his head in the servant’s hall.

“I’m comfortable that way,” he liked to say, as though, agreed the aunts, comfort had anything to do with fashion.

“Haven’t been comfortable since 1763!” barked Aunt Agatha. “And look what it’s done for me!”

True, she might have a permanent dent in her left side from an unfortunate experiment in extreme corsetry, but she had bagged a viscount in her day… and an earl… and a baronet. Her husbands had a regrettable tendency to expire on her, but fortunately (as she liked to remind her sisters) there were always more peers in the sea.

Event Tonight Canceled

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Only a blizzard could keep me, Susanna Kearsley and Beatriz Williams from our event tonight! Unfortunately, it IS a blizzard. And, sadly, that means the panel won’t go on.

There is, however, no cloud (or, in this case, snowstorm) without a silver lining. Susanna and Beatriz made it out to WORD earlier today to sign books, and I’ll be heading over there next week. So if you’d like a signed copy of any of our books, just give the folks at WORD a call!

Since I’m not heading out there to sign until next week, if you’d like a book personalized to you (or a friend), just let the folks at WORD know and they’ll pass on the message to me when I drop in to sign the books.

If You Like….

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Since I did 1920s set costume dramas last week, it seemed like a natural (if somewhat chronologically backwards) progression to look at Regency costume dramas this week.

So, if you like Regency-set costume dramas, you’ll probably like….

— the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice. Let’s not beat around the bush with any of those other adaptations; this one does a gorgeous job of bringing Lizzy and Darcy to life (and, occasionally, dunking him in the lake);

— the Ciaran Hinds/Amanda Root Persuasion, one of the most romantic movies I’ve ever seen (and a constant re-watch during the early days of writing the Pink books);

— the relatively recent Masterpiece Theatre Northanger Abbey, which finally, finally gave us a good adaptation of one of my favorite Austen novels (as opposed to the rather lugubrious adaptation I remember from my youth);

— the Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet Sense And Sensibility— or perhaps I should just call it the Alan Rickman Sense & Sensibility?

— the Sharpe series, particularly Sharpe’s Rifles, which show a very different Regency from the Austenian drawing room as we delve into the nitty gritty of the Peninsular War (also, two words: SEAN BEAN);

— and, for the naval side of things, the Ioan Gruffud Horatio Hornblower (this, like the Pink books, is actually pre-Regency, but when it comes to costume drama joy, what’s a decade here or there?);

— and, finally, for sheer fun, Barbara Cartland’s A Hazard of Hearts, with Helena Bonham-Carter as Miss Serena Staverly, Christopher Plummer as the father who gambles her away in a game of cards, and– so much joy– Diana Rigg as the hero’s villainous mother. And, yes, there is actually a villain who utters the phrase: “She will be mine. Oh, yes, she will be mine.” (In tones of intense boredom, which makes it even better.) My little sister and I can recite much of this film by heart.

What are your favorite Regency-set costume dramas?

See you on Tuesday in Brooklyn!

Friday, January 17th, 2014

This coming Tuesday, I have the great pleasure of being on a panel with three of my favorite people: Susanna Kearsley, Beatriz Williams, and Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches Trashy Books.

When: Tuesday, January 21, 7:00

Where: Word Bookstore, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn NY

Hope you can join us!

Ashford Paperback Hundred Summers The Splendour Falls

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, January 17th, 2014

My reading this week is cloaked in a veil of mystery. Nope, nothing quite that exciting. I’m judging a contest and, for obvious reasons, have to keep mum about which books I’ve reviewed.

In the meantime, though, I’m dying to know what you’ve been reading! What have you been reading this week?

If You Like….

Monday, January 13th, 2014

It’s Downton Abbey season again! So I’m straying temporarily from books to another favorite topic: BBC costume dramas. Specifically, BBC costume dramas set in the 1920s and 1930s.

If you like 1920s and 30s set BBC costume dramas, you’ll probably like…

The House of Eliott, one of my all time favorite mini-series, in which two sisters slough off their Edwardian upbringing and found a fashion dynasty in the midst of the roaring Twenties;

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons’s hysterically funny novel, translated to screen with Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, and others;

Love in a Cold Climate, which combines two of my favorite books, Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, into one (and very deftly, too);

Bright Young Things, a not entirely successful adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s 1920s satire, Vile Bodies;

— and Brideshead Revisited, an entirely successful adaptation of Waugh’s classic novel (how can you go wrong with Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews?);

Upstairs Downstairs, the new series, set in the 1930s, which isn’t quite up to its Edwardian predecessor, but makes for fun watching all the same;

— and, of course, a host of mystery series, including the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, Campion, the Mrs. Bradley mysteries, and Tommy & Tuppence.

What are your favorite 1920s and 30s set costume dramas?