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Author Spotlight Books

Spotlight: Blind Tribute by Mari Anne Christie

Cover of Blind Tribute by Mari Anne ChristieIt’s a pleasure to welcome Mari Christie to the website today. Blind Tribute, her Civil War novel about a journalist of extraordinary principle, is due out July 28. The timing is impeccable, as today’s journalists face nearly as many death threats as her protagonist, and over some of the same festering issues. Below you’ll find an intriguing bit that had to be left out of the novel, a blurb, and an excerpt from the novel itself. Read to the end for a chance to win an ebook edition and some neat swag, including a quill pen and powdered ink.


One of Harry Wentworth’s most admirable, and infuriating, traits is his desire to be thorough in his examination of every issue. This serves his reporting well, but not his safety, and occasionally makes him appear slow to action, even as decisiveness is also an innate behavior. This habit of exhaustive contemplation is exemplified in many ways throughout the book, but in the case of his family and friends, perhaps most visible in a brief mention early in the narrative:

Once he had taken care of posterity, assisting his likely future biographers by categorizing his musings, he turned to his last order of business for the day: updating his will, also a lifetime habit, which he had accomplished, without fail, before the onset of each new war. This time, little would change. He would leave all sitting members of The Standard Editorial Board fifty thousand dollars each, his financial interest in the paper allotted equally among them, with the admonition to reinvest in the newspaper. Two hundred fifty thousand would be bequeathed to his sister, along with most of the Wentworth family heirlooms he owned. Half the remaining estate—estimated at three-and-a-half million—was earmarked for his wife; the other half would be divided equally between his three children.

As with any work of fiction, many pieces were cut before the final version was published. In this case, I offer up the Last Will and Testament Harry writes nearer the end of the war, which introduces the many characters who become important to him during the course of the book, and demonstrates, in some wise, the changes he makes in his priorities.

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Author Spotlight Books The Highwayman

Daring and Decorum Blog Tour

Daring and Decorum book coverDaring and Decorum will be featured on several blogs and websites over the coming weeks, ramping up to its release on August 1. Mostly this is bonus material, like letters characters never sent, character interviews, and more. This is my first blog tour, so I’m just dipping my toe in the water — some writers do ten or more guest spots for a single release.

The tour starts tomorrow. The schedule is below, but first, thanks to the wonderful women of the Final Draft Tavern, the Speakeasy Scribes and the Bluestocking Belles for hosting me on their various sites.

  • Monday, July 17: Elizabeth will visit with the Duchess of Haverford on Jude Knight’s website. Look for Lizzie to try to sell some watercolors, while Her Grace gleans whatever information she can about her visitor’s relationship with a certain highwayman, for obscure purposes.
  • Wednesday, July 19: Mari Christie’s website will feature an extra that doesn’t appear in the novel, a letter from Anthony, Lord Burnside, to Elizabeth. The missive is quite improper, being a private communication in which Anthony makes some very indiscreet disclosures, which explains why Anthony never put it in the mail. (Also on Wednesday, Mari will be here with a spotlight on her new Civil War novel, Blind Tribute.)
  • Sunday, July 23: I’ll have an article on Jessica Cale’s Dirty, Sexy History focusing on an eighteenth-century Scottish sex club devoted to the “convivial celebration of the phallus.” The Prince of Wales was its most prominent, not to say its largest, member.
  • Wednesday, July 26: The Bluestocking Belles’ Teatime Tattler will feature some intriguing news about the sudden departure from London of the highwayman (known in that town as the Burgundy Highwayman), and a bit of gossip about the rogue’s actions in Devonshire.
  •  Sunday, July 30: Jude Knight will have a Spotlight feature on Daring and Decorum, including an excerpt in which Rebecca and Elizabeth are accosted by a drunken Anthony and two of his wastrel friends.

And a final tidbit: you’ll find an excerpt from a new story, told from Robin’s perspective, over on The Final Draft Tavern Facebook page. The story will appear in a holiday box set, due out this fall. The stories by seven different authors are set in different periods, from the 17th century through modern-day and onwards into an apocalyptic future. All feature the tavern as it evolved through time (sometimes appearing as a coffeehouse, as in my 18th-century story), and also the radicals and reformers who frequent it as they struggle against whatever repressive regime was in power. The holiday theme makes its appearance in various ways, sometimes sardonic, as you’ll see in this excerpt. Hope you’ll check it out!

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Books Reviews

Book Review: Artemis

Cover of Artemis by Jessica CaleI got to know Jessica Cale after reading her wonderful highwayman novel, Tyburn, set in 17th-century London. She’s moved into the Regency era with Artemis, a novella that was previously part of the Holly and Hopeful Hearts box set from the Bluestocking Belles. This one doesn’t deal with highwaymen, but it does feature a few interests we have in common. Here’s the review I posted over on Goodreads:

I loved Jessica Cale’s Tyburn, and this novella was a great read, too — perfect for a rainy vacation day. It’s great to see Ms. Cale moving into the Regency, and also giving us LGBT characters. It’s important to imagine the lives of people who loved differently in the past, given where we are today in the back-and-forth struggle for LGBT rights.

The story revolves around Apollo Rothschild, the reclusive Earl of Somerton, and Charlotte Halfpenny, a disgraced actress. Apollo has loved Charlotte from afar since he first saw her on stage; Charlotte needs a protector for herself and her baby on the way. What could get in their way? First, Charlotte distrusts the intentions of a nobleman she’s never met. Second, and most important, Apollo has a secret. Something to do with a mysterious inability to sire children, which is his justification for offering marriage to a pregnant, disgraced actress — like all noblemen, he needs an heir.

The story is propelled by the unraveling mystery of Apollo’s secret. Given that this is an LGBT story, the truth behind the mystery shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, but the details of it are intricate and fascinating. For readers who do twig Apollo’s identity right away, the pleasure comes from the dramatic irony of watching Charlotte try to unravel the secret the reader already knows. By the end, we’re convinced that these two characters are incredibly fortunate to have found each other.

Along the way, Ms. Cale’s vivid depictions of life in London in the early 19th century, with just the right amount of historical detail, make the novella a pleasure to read. Highly recommended.

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Books Feminism Reviews

Jane Austen, the Secret Radical

Cover of Jane Austen, the Secret RadicalI have one friend who will never read Jane Austen because he thinks they’re “just” romances, and he doesn’t like romance. I have another acquaintance who believes Jane wrote anti-romances. I think they’re both right (although that first friend isn’t right to deride romance out of hand.)

The thing I love about Jane Austen’s novels is that they’re not just one thing; just about any interpretation can’t encompass them, but has to leave something out. I’ll go out on a limb and say this attribute — complexity, if you will — is the main thing that propels a book from being merely good into greatness. Emma, for instance, is both a mystery and an ironic comedy, depending on the sharpness of the reader and whether it’s a first or second reading. And it’s about much more than whom Emma decides to marry in the end.

Of course, all of Jane’s novels are romances in the structural sense, because they all feature couples achieving an apparent happy ending by getting married. But did Jane’s central interest lie in getting the couples to that point, or did she perhaps use the structure of the romance as a convenient (and sales-worthy) framework on which to hang the real business of her novels — social satire, moral lessons, skillful delineations of character, or the many other things you can say her novels are about?

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Books Reviews

Tremontaine at the Midpoint

(Spoiler warning: The following review gives away a couple of events in the first quarter of the series in order to establish character conflicts. Beyond that, you won’t find any big plot revelations.) 

Tremontaine cover by Kathleen Jennings
Tremontaine cover by Kathleen Jennings

Tremontaine, Serial Box Publishing’s prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series of novels, will certainly feel familiar to Kushner fans, yet it also serves as a playful introduction for readers new to this world. Appearing in weekly installments, it features the gleefully varied sexualities and gender expressions of Kushner’s universe, along with its cross-dressing swordswomen, its arrogant scholars, its political intrigue, and its focus on manners, where much more is going on beneath the surface than the reader first expects.

The world of Riverside exists in an alternate Europe, sometime between the Renaissance and early modern periods, with a bit of 1980s New York thrown in. Firearms have yet to be invented, so conflicts are settled at the point of a sword, usually wielded by a hired duelist. Though the genre is fantasy, there are no wizards and no magic, because these have long since been purged from society, along with the corrupt kings. The city and the country go unnamed, leaving us with neighborhoods: the lumpenproletarian Riverside and the aristocratic Hill, with the University existing in a social space somewhere between the two.

And so the novels featured characters from a variety of social classes, creating a rich bed of conflict and social disdain. They also brought a welcome diversity of sexualities and gender to fantasy (beginning with Swordspoint, way back in 1987). Now Tremontaine adds racial diversity to that mix in the form of traders from far-off Kinwiinik, who supply the aristocrats on the Hill with that all-important commodity, chocolate.

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Reviews

Tremontaine: Go Read It

Tremontaine Arrivals CoverWhat the title says!

If you saw my preview of Tremontaine, you know how much I love Ellen Kushner’s Riverside universe. Nearly halfway through, this prequel series is everything I wanted it to be. You can sample the first episode or subscribe to the whole thing here.

(Or you can listen to it with the wonderfully performed audio versions, which are included with the text versions.)

Insightful, charming, spoilery, episode-by-episode reviews over on OvertheEffingRainbow.

Mid-point review of the series here at the end of the week.

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Reviews

It’s Queer Romance Month!

It’s October 30Subgenre-badge-2015th, and I just found out October is Queer Romance Month.

Why queer romance, you ask? For one thing, maybe if novels like this had existed when I was a kid, my own struggles with sexuality and gender expression might have been a little less tortured. (I read all of the Tarzan series as a teenager; imagine if somewhere along the way the Ape Man had taken a male lover. Huh, attraction to both men and women can be a thing.)

Also, it turns out I have something of an allergy to the traditional, hetero romance genre. Something about those alpha males with their washboard abs and their masterful ways that I just can’t relate to (that previous mention of Tarzan aside). It seems I can only tolerate Cecilia Grant, with her male characters who are as conflicted as I am, especially in A Gentleman Undone. Or Jane Austen, whose male characters seem mostly afterthoughts to her novels’ main concerns, Darcy and his non-canonical swimming scene notwithstanding. But whether it’s two men or two women getting together, in queer romance those concerns fall by the wayside.

So, without further ado, some of my favorite queer romances, only one strictly in the romance genre, and the others ecstatically straddling genre boundaries.

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Books

The Tremontaine Saga Goes Back in Time

Cover of Tremontaine
Cover of Tremontaine from its reveal on Tor.com

I’m excited for the release of Tremontaine, a serialized, 13-part prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside novels. Judging by an excerpt released Monday on RT Book Reviews, it should be every bit as excellent as Swordspoint, Privilege of the Sword, and Fall of the Kings (the latter co-authored with Kushner’s partner in writing and in life, Delia Sherman). The art looks gorgeous, too. According to the cover reveal on Tor.com, there will be a different cover for each episode, so the awesomeness just increased by a factor of thirteen.

This excerpt focuses on Diane, Duchess Tremontaine,  a seemingly secondary but ultimately important character from Swordspoint. Here, she deals with imminent financial ruin and a wayward daughter who has just given birth to a son. There’s no doubt she’ll employ all the intelligence and political skill we saw in that earlier novel in order to avoid financial ruin, but if events in Swordspoint are any guide, then the situation with her daughter will prove much more intractable. [Update: Ms. Kushner pointed out that the first version of this paragraph could have been a spoiler for those who haven’t read her earlier work. I’d forgotten such readers exist, but if you’re among them, you still have time to rectify the oversight before Tremontaine comes out. Let’s just say that fans of that earlier work may find in this tale a bit of an origin story, or at least background, for one of their favorite characters.]

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Reviews

Review & Interview – Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman

RuinFalls.WebRuin Falls
by Jenny Milchman
Ballantine Books, 2014
352 pp; $26.00

 

In her first novel, Cover of Snow, Jenny Milchman set out to discover what happens when a husband does the worst thing possible to his wife. In Ruin Falls, set in the same upstate New York town, she turns to the worst thing that can befall a mother. Milchman excels at depicting a completely normal milieu, then showing the cracks and dysfunctions in that normalcy.

Ruin Falls opens with that most classic American activity, the family vacation. But something isn’t quite right here. An act of road rage by another driver pushes Liz, the mom, nearly into a panic, while Paul, her husband, maintains a too-icy calm. At a Starbucks stop, we learn that their eight-year-old son, Reid, likes to lift people’s wallets just for fun. And at the hotel, Liz’s paranoia returns, directed at the bell-hop. Yet the next morning, it turns out that her paranoia is well founded: Reid and his sister, six-year-old Ally,  are missing from their suite of rooms. Panic and bedlam ensue.

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Reviews

Book Review – Hild: A Novel

Hild coverHild: A Novel
Nicola Griffith
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013
560 pp; $27.00
 

I haven’t read much historical fiction, but I imagine writers in this genre might get so focused on making the past real that they forget to make it strange, to make it art. Nicola Griffith’s Hild: A Novel avoids that trap, making seventh-century England simultaneously so vivid and so dreamlike that I didn’t want to leave it, even after 500-plus pages. Even now, having finished it a second time (and wow, double post-novel depression!), I find it difficult to express my admiration for this book. Perhaps I should just quote Emily L. Hauser (@emilylhauser on Twitter) and be done: “Good lord, that was a book. A gobsmacking, wonderful book.”

Count me among the gobsmacked, and Neal Stephenson, too, who said that Hild feels like the classic on which Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, The Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones are based. That and the other glowing blurbs on the book’s back cover are closer to the truth than some of the other reserved-but-appreciative reviews the book received in print periodicals.