Monday, June 30th, 2014
Look what popped up in my mailbox last week? The Ashford Affair en Francais!
Snazzy cover, no?
In September, once The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is safely out in the world, I’ll do an Ashford around the world give away, with copies in German, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, French and Polish up for grabs. But I couldn’t resist spreading the francophone joy right away.
Here’s the official blurb:
Juriste dans une grande entreprise new-yorkaise, Clementine a tout sacrifié à sa carrière. A trente-quatre ans, c’est seule qu’elle se rend à la fête d’anniversaire organisée pour les quatre-vingt-dix-neuf ans de sa grand-mère, Addie. Pendant les festivités, Clementine découvre un secret de famille enfoui depuis des années. Lorsqu’elle arrive à Ashford Park, en 1905, Addie a à peine cinq ans et est orpheline. Bien que son oncle et sa tante lui fassent comprendre qu’elle n’a été recueillie que par charité, elle passe une enfance et une adolescence heureuses auprès de sa cousine, la belle et audacieuse Bea. Quand la guerre éclate, leurs chemins se séparent. Addie s’engage comme infirmière tandis que Bea fait un mariage de convenance. Après un scandaleux divorce, cette dernière quitte Londres pour épouser le petit ami d’Addie, et s’enfuir avec lui au Kenya. Les deux cousines ne se parleront plus pendant quelques années jusqu’au jour où Bea supplie Addie de venir lui rendre visite en Afrique. Leurs retrouvailles sont de courte durée : Bea disparaît tragiquement lors d’un safari, ne laissant derrière elle qu’une écharpe ensanglantée. Que lui est-il arrivé? A-t-elle été assassinée, attaquée par des fauves? S’est-elle enfuie? Si les retrouvailles avec sa cousine ne furent pas celles qu’Addie espérait, elles lui laissent entrevoir un tout autre avenir.
For a copy of The Ashford Affair, aka Ashford Park, in French, here’s your question:
— What’s your favorite French novel?
(I might have to go with Dumas’s Three Musketeers.)
Spread the word to your French speaking friends! This contest is open internationally (as are all contests on this site, always). The winner will be announced on Wednesday.
Ashford Park came out in France on May 14. You can also find it in Canada.
Thursday, June 26th, 2014
Here’s a little secret for you: the modern hero of That Summer, Nicholas Dorrington, enjoys ginger biscuits just as much as his Regency predecessor, Miles.
In honor of Dorringtons past and present, the amazing Christine has presented us with a recipe for… ginger biscuits. Let the Dorrington munching begin!
And now over to Christine….
In June, we welcome That Summer into the publishing world, and the return of the Dorringtons. What would be better than a recipe for ginger biscuits? I wanted to make this as authentic as possible (sorry, Food Network) so I looked for recipes on British sites or British blogs.
I ran into a problem, aside from having to convert all the measurements and trying to decipher oven settings I had never heard of, some of the recipes called for ingredients I wasn’t particularly familiar with. Many of them used self-rising flour, which I’ve never used. Most websites said this is just regular flour with baking powder, and that you should never, ever add another leavening agent to the mix. Some recipes called for both self-rising flour and baking powder or baking soda. Many, but not all, recipes also called for golden syrup. My Internet research revealed that this is an ingredient common in the UK, but not so common in the US, particularly if you don’t live in a big city. I’ve found that many times, in baking and cooking, I need to find several recipes for a dish then play around with them to find what works best for me, so that’s what I did here. The basic proportions for flour, butter, sugar and egg were consistent, so I just went with it. I suspect many of you won’t be able to find golden syrup so I did without, but if you do, I’d love to know how it turns out! (6-8 tablespoons is what a lot of the recipes called for)
The recipe below is a combination of those found on BBC Good Food, Larder Love, and Busy Butterfingers.
1. 4 tablespoons of butter
2. 1 egg
3. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4. 1 cup sugar
5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
6. 1 teaspoon ground ginger
7. Optional for topping: 3/4 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Melt the butter.
3. Add in the 1 cup of sugar then allow the mixture to cool.
4. Mix together the flour, baking powder and ground ginger.
5. Add in the butter/sugar mixture.
6. Add the egg.
7. Form into balls and line on baking tray.
8. Optional topping: mix 3/4 tsp sugar and 1/4 tsp ground ginger and sprinkle on top.
9. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.
I really wanted to top the cookies with some candied ginger, but I couldn’t find a container that was smaller than what I would call ginormous, so I went with the sugar/ginger mixture instead.
The cookies turned out pale, as I suspected they would without the golden syrup. They didn’t have that delightful brown color you would expect. Some websites claim there is no true substitute for golden syrup, while others offer “make your own” recipes. It’s a pure cane syrup that’s supposed to add a buttery flavor. I think the syrup definitely would have boosted the flavor, but the cookies still had a great ginger flavor, especially with the kick of sugar and ginger on top. If I’m ever in the UK, I will have to bring home a bottle of golden syrup and give this another shot.
What do you think? Have you cooked with golden syrup before? And what’s your favorite ginger cookie recipe?
I’ll post my favorite (American) ones here next week– for Eloise to cook for Colin, of course.
Wednesday, June 25th, 2014
Thank you so much for sharing your most memorable Halloween costumes! Sally is taking notes.
(Turnip would be taking notes, but we know what he always dresses up as for costume parties: a giant pink carnation. It’s just his thing.)
The winner of the advance copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is…
JoAnn! (Of Comment #45.)
Congrats, JoAnn! If you contact me with your info, I’ll pop your book in the mail to you.
I still have two more ARCs of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, so I’ll have to think of some clever way to give them away….
Tuesday, June 24th, 2014
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla comes out in just six weeks!
To pass the time until then, here is one of my very favorite bits from The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla… in which Miss Gwen, once again, thinks this book is about her. And Sally, like another famous personage, is Not Amused.
Points to anyone who spots the classic children’s book reference!
I will confess, I may have been just a little slaphappy when I wrote this section….
And now, without further ado, a little bit of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla:
It took her several false starts, one wrong turn down a service stair, and the help of a friendly under-housemaid (who, it turned out, also had an excellent recipe for freckle cream), but Sally eventually found her way to Miss Gwen’s room, only an hour after she had left her own.
Really, guests should be given maps, she thought grumpily. She added that to her list of grievances as she knocked peremptorily at the door of Miss Gwen’s room.
Miss Gwen’s familiar dulcet tones issued forth from behind the closed door. “Go away.”
Sally went in anyway.
The door to the dressing room clicked shut as Miss Gwen’s maid whisked out of the way, carrying a pile of garments over one arm, her cap pulled down low over her brow.
“Did you know that [plot point I can’t share with you yet]?” Sally said without preamble.
“Now I do.” Miss Gwen’s room, unlike Sally’s, was in the new wing. Instead of dark paneling, everything was light and airy, from the white woodwork to the cheerful birds and flowers embroidered on the counterpane. Miss Gwen was comfortably ensconced in a bed that looked as though it had been purchased within the past century, propped against a number of pillows, a tray on her lap. Her pince-nez were perched upon her nose and there was a pile of papers on the bed beside her.
Sally felt a surge of relief. Miss Gwen was on the case. They would find the real murderer, clear Lucien’s name, improve the castle kitchens, and then retire to London in a blaze of glory.
Then everything could go back just the way it was.
Somehow, that wasn’t quite as satisfying a prospect as it ought to have been.
“What did you find? Correspondence? A journal?” Sally plunked herself down on the bed, making the chocolate cup rock on its saucer. She snatched eagerly at the nearest page. “Sir Magnifico bent his knee. ‘It would be selfish in me to keep you by my side when such evil stalks the land.’ With one noble tear—you’re working on your book?”
Miss Gwen snatched the page away. “Manuscripts don’t just write themselves.”
Sally wiggled off the bed, waving her arms for emphasis. “Yes, and murders don’t just solve themselves either! There are lives at stake.”
Not to mention her pride, which was currently sporting a duke-shaped dent.
“You have lives to save; I have a deadline.” Miss Gwen permitted herself a small smirk. “Many people are waiting for the sequel to The Convent of Orsino.”
Sally’s nails dug into her palms. “Is this the sequel in which a duke is unfairly charged with murder because someone spread ridiculous rumors about vampires?”
“Who would want to read that?” Miss Gwen regarded her manuscript pages fondly. “Plumeria must leave her child with Sir Magnifico and go to battle the dread Goblin King, who has risen from the dead to menace the kingdom.”
This was beginning to sound far less fictional. Miss Gwen had left her own infant daughter, Plumeria, at home with her husband, Colonel Reid. Colonel Reid, who had five previous offspring from various relationships, was something of an expert when it came to infant wrangling.
Sally didn’t bother to keep the edge out of her voice. “Is there also an old castle in the countryside all covered in vines?”
“Guarded by ten fearsome ghouls in two straight lines.” Assuming a soulful expression, Miss Gwen intoned, “In two straight lines they shook their spears, bared their teeth and pulled their ears.”
They didn’t sound particularly fearsome to Sally. “Is there also an intrepid golden-haired heroine?”
Miss Gwen looked at Sally over her spectacles. “No,” she said succinctly.
More Manzanilla coming your way soon! (Complete with intrepid golden-haired heroine. Ghouls with spears sold separately.)
Monday, June 23rd, 2014
There are just over six weeks left until the eleventh Pink Carnation novel, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, hits the shelves– and I have two ARCs left.
Let the give aways begin!
Here’s the official blurb:
In the latest Pink Carnation novel from national bestselling author Lauren Willig, rumors spreading among the ton turn deadly as a young couple unites to solve a mystery….
In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.
Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.
Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla comes out in August, but, really, it’s my Halloween book. It’s my ode to October, to orange leaves and plastic pumpkins and, of course, vampire fiction. There wasn’t Halloween per se in Regency England, but it’s Halloween in Cambridge (the American one), where Colin is visiting Eloise for a long weekend.
So, although it does seem a little odd to be thinking of Halloween in June, here’s your question:
What was your best– or worst– Halloween costume?
One person will be randomly chosen to receive a copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. The winner will be announced on Wednesday.
The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla appears on shelves on August 5th. To learn more or read an excerpt, just click here.
Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
At an event this past fall, I was asked whether my books had ever been reviewed in the New York Times Review of Books.
“No, and they’re never likely to be,” I said.
This, after all, was right on the heels of various dust-ups regarding the Times’s coverage of women writers in general and women’s fiction in particular. The odds of my being reviewed by The Times seemed about as likely as taking a brief jaunt to Mars.
Get those bikinis ready for that Mars landing! That Summer is featured in today’s New York Times Book Review.
Comparing That Summer to A.S. Byatt’s Possession (“with art”), the reviewer hails That Summer as “an involving mystery whose art world implications imbue the romantic indulgences with an intellectual glow”.
Being included in the NYT Sunday Book Review was amazing enough. But a comparison to A.S. Byatt’s Possession? Priceless.
You can find the review of That Summer in the “Short List” section in your Sunday Times Book Review!
Friday, June 20th, 2014
I know I read something earlier this week. But I can’t for the life of me remember what it was. I know there was some Georgette Heyer in there, specifically The Convenient Marriage, one of my favorite Heyers, and one I haven’t revisited for a while. This one is 18th century, rather than Regency set, and Heyer captures the tone perfectly.
Right now, I’m reading book two of Eileen Dreyer’s Drake’s Rakes series, Never a Gentleman, and wondering (a) why it took me so long to read her, and (b) why I didn’t start with book one, Barely a Lady.
What have you been reading this week?
Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
The winner of the signed copy of Shona Patel’s Teatime for the Firefly is…
Jeffrey! (Of Comment #3.)
Congrats, Jeffrey! If you email me with your info, I’ll pop the book in the mail to you.
Up next Monday? An advance copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla!
Tuesday, June 17th, 2014
There’s a painting that lies at the heart of That Summer, a painting hidden behind the false back of an old wardrobe in a house in the suburbs of London.
(And, just because life does imitate art sometimes, a month or so after I handed in the final version of this book, an article appeared in The Guardian— about a lost Pre-Raphaelite painting found hidden behind an old wardrobe in a house in the suburbs of London.)
The painting in That Summer is a rendition of the Tristan and Iseult story, one of the many Arthurian legends painted by the Preraphaelites.
To show you just a few, here’s Waterhouse:
And Blair Leighton:
The painting my heroine finds borrows from these, but it’s rather different. Here’s what Julia, my modern heroine, sees when she discovers the painting:
It wasn’t a portrait, or a landscape, or someone’s beloved pug dogs. It was a story scene, knights and maidens and feasting. At the center, the king dined at the high table. Julia cleverly deduced his position both from his seat at the center of the table and the rather conspicuous circlet on his brow. He was surrounded by fawning courtiers, all leaning towards him.
In the foreground, however, a man and a woman stood in a window embrasure, the only ones not paying attention to their monarch. Their focus was fixed on each other, their eyes yearning, while their hands were locked around a golden goblet they held between them. Although they were off to the side and the king’s trestle table in the center, the artist had worked it cleverly so that the attention was immediately drawn to the clandestine couple—including the King’s. His goblet was raised in a toast but his eyes had slid sideways. He was watching the man and woman and he didn’t like what he saw.
It was all pure Preraphaelite, the stained glass windows, the pennants flaring from the beams, the colorful doublets of the courtiers. The lady wore a long gown with a dropped waist in a rich, sapphire blue. Her hair wasn’t the usual Preraphaelite red, but a dark, dark brown, nearly black. It fell unbound to her waist, held only by the golden circlet at her brow.
Why this particular composition? Why had it been hidden away like that? And– even more intriguing for Julia– why did the Iseult in the painting bear such a striking resemblance to the portrait of the prim Victorian lady in the drawing room?
To learn more, you’ll just have to read the book!
Which is your favorite of these Tristan and Iseult paintings?
Monday, June 16th, 2014
When I discover a good book, I like nothing better than to hand it on. Although in this case, it’s disingenuous to say I discovered it, when, in fact, it was handed to me. So consider it a reading chain. The book in question? Shona Patel’s Teatime for the Firefly.
Here’s the official blurb:
Layla Roy has defied the fates.
Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independent by her eccentric grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb—a man betrothed to another. All were minor miracles in India that spring of 1943, when young women’s lives were predetermined—if not by the stars, then by centuries of family tradition and social order.
Layla’s life as a newly married woman takes her away from home and into the jungles of Assam, where the world’s finest tea thrives on plantations run by native labor and British efficiency. Fascinated by this culture of whiskey-soaked expats who seem fazed by neither earthquakes nor man-eating leopards, she struggles to find her place among the prickly English wives with whom she is expected to socialize, and the peculiar servants she now finds under her charge.
But navigating the tea-garden set will hardly be her biggest challenge. Layla’s remote home is not safe from the powerful changes sweeping India on the heels of the Second World War. Their colonial society is at a tipping point, and Layla and Manik find themselves caught in a perilous racial divide that threatens their very lives.
Little known fact: the book after The Ashford Affair was originally going to be set in 1940s India (that’s what it still says in my contract for that book!)– but then I had an idea about a Victorian matron, a Preraphaelite artist, and a lost painting, and That Summer was born.
Reading Teatime for the Firefly makes me rather glad I held off on the 1940s India book since the wealth of detail, the vivid construction of place, make clear to me just how much I have to learn.
So, for a signed copy of Teatime for the Firefly, here’s your question:
— What’s your favorite India-set novel?
Winner to be announced on Wednesday!