Historical Fiction Book Giveaway

My debut novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, has been out in the world for over a month now, and to celebrate I’ve got a fabulous book giveaway! Three winners will get a historical fiction prize pack with six books!

NEXT YEAR IN HAVANA by Chanel Cleeton (February 6th 2018) – In 1958, the daughter of a Cuban sugar baron embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary. In the present, her granddaughter returns to Cuba and discovers the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her navigate her own romance, and find the true meaning of courage.

THE ORPHAN OF FLORENCE by Jeanne Kalogridis (October 3rd 2017) – A young woman rises from pickpocket to the assistant of “the Magician of Florence” and becomes tangled in a web espionage and murder

LAST CHRISTMAS IN PARIS by Heather Webb and Hazel Gaynor (October 3rd 2017) – Told through a series of heartfelt letters, a privileged young lady and a soldier share their experiences of the First World War, and maybe even find love amid its horrors.

THE LOST SEASON OF LOVE AND SNOW by Jennifer Laam (January 2nd 2018) – A beautiful and intellectual young woman attracts the attention of Russia’s most lauded poet and embarks upon a passionate and tempestuous relationship that leads to a tragic duel.

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN FLORENCE by Alyssa Palombo (May 1st 2017) – Set in 15th Century Italy, a beautiful woman navigates complex relationships in Florentine society – and develops a passionate intimacy with Sandro Botticelli, leading to her immortalization in his masterpiece painting, The Birth of Venus.

THE WARDROBE MISTRESS by Meghan Masterson (Aug 15th 2017) – One of Marie Antoinette’s wardrobe women is torn between her loyalty to the queen and her love for an idealistic revolutionary as the danger of the French revolution escalates.

This could be you!

So how do you win? There are three ways to enter:

Facebook – Like and comment on the contest post. Extra entry if readers post a photo of one of the books with the hashtag #HistFicContest

Twittertweet using the hashtag #HistFicContest

Instagram – Tag a friend in the contest post, as well as using the hashtag #HistFicContest. Or, post a photo of any of the books in the prize pack, along with the hashtag #HistFicContest.

The winners will be announced on September 28th. Good luck!

 

Holiday Reading List, with Festive Pairings

This morning when I woke up, the cold weather and combined wind-chill meant it was -26 degrees Celsius outside (about -15 Fahrenheit). I wanted nothing more than to snuggle back into the blankets, maybe with a cup of coffee and a good book. Unfortunately I couldn’t, because it’s Monday and that means back to the ol’ day job. However, there is one good thing about the cold days and dark evenings this time of year has to offer – perfect atmosphere for reading. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of holiday-friendly books and accompanying snacks.


A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

One line summary: Avaricious and just plain ornery Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits and forced to confront key moments of his life, leading to an epiphany.

Sure, it’s probably the most obvious title to add to this list, but I feel compelled to because I must confess I haven’t read it yet. I have only watched various film interpretations. My favourite is the one with Alastair Sim from 1951 because of the hilarious way he leaps around with joy at the end. (While I’m making confessions I might as well admit that I’m not actually a big fan of Dickens…please don’t throw things at me).

Pair with: Mrs. Cratchit apparently makes a phenomenal plum pudding – bonus points if you are reading the Christmas feast scene of the book while eating it. (Alternate could be roast goose). If you’re more inclined to drink, why not try Bob Cratchit’s “hot stuff from the jug”? Research tells me this is hot gin with lemons, but I think that sounds terrible, so let’s latch onto the key element of this drink, which is clearly the jug. Put whatever you want into a jug. If you’re being civilized, pour out into cups for your friends or family, and then read A Christmas Carol  aloud to them. (Helps if they are willing audience members). Otherwise, lean back in a rocking chair and keep the jug all to yourself.

jk

Drinking from glasses which have presumably been filled from the jug. 

The Polar Express  – Christopher Allsburg

One line summary: a young boy takes a magical train to the North Pole where Santa will offer the first gift of Christmas.

This children’s book really captures the feeling of anticipation and joy of Christmas, as well as the magic of a childhood imagination, and is an uplifting read even if you’re an adult or don’t personally celebrate Christmas. It’s also ideal if you are short on time, and the beautiful illustrations will be soothing after a long day.

Pair with: Hot chocolate, ideally as decadent as possible. Use a powdered mix if you must, but my festive hot chocolate indulgent goes as follows: per person, 1 cup milk, about 1-2 tbsp chocolate chips, 1 tsp sugar, cinnamon stick. Assemble ingredients into a pot and gently heat until chocolate is melted. Fish out the cinnamon stick (this is the only ingredient you won’t need to double if making for more than one serving) and pour into fancy cups. (Hm, I think I channeled Nigella Lawson in this recipe description).

polar-express

 Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

One line summary: the story of four sisters growing up during the American Civil war.

While not strictly a holiday book, it’s heartwarming enough to cheer up the coldest winter night. First published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, it’s a family-friendly story (depicting values such as generosity, kindness of spirit etc), possibly a little dated now, but that’s part of its quaint charm. I first read it when I was about ten, which I think is a pretty common age for discovering this book.

Pair with: Tea. I cannot recommend anything stronger, because it would conflict with the wholesomeness of this story. Brew up a pot of black tea with a little sugar and milk, or peppermint and honey if you prefer something more herbal. I think the added dose of sweetness is a necessity for either option with this pair.

You know what? Have a similar piece of cake too.

You know what? Have a similar piece of cake too.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas – Agatha Christie

One line summary: a Christmas reunion turns ugly after a bloody murder occurs in a locked room, and diamonds are stolen. It’s a case for Hercule Poirot!

If you’d rather have something a little more gritty for your holiday reading, this still fits the bill because it takes place at Christmas. This book isn’t overly long either, and thus ideal for catching up on your reading between holiday obligations of visiting people you hardly see the rest of the year, or decorating, baking etc.

Pair with: Crème de cassis. You have to, it’s Hercule Poirot’s favourite drink, and he is most particular. It’s a sweet liqueur made from blackcurrants, and since it’s not extremely popular,  selecting it as a drink option will give you an air of mystery. If you can’t bring yourself to try it (or procure a small sample) try black coffee instead. But for God’s sake, make sure it is not served out of a gaudy cup. Poirot can’t stand things without clean and geometric aesthetic appeal.

poirot

Christmas in Paris – Anita Hughes

One line summary: a woman who recently called off her wedding spends Christmas in Paris, and the combined magic of the city and the season sends her on a journey of self-discovery.

This book will whisk you away to all the glamour and romance and delicious food of Paris. It’s the perfect antidote to a case of the winter blahs. Pick it up after you’ve just shoveled your sidewalk or scraped your car windshield for the fourth time in one day, and first make yourself a little nest with pillows and blankets to read in. This is also a good choice if all your friends have just completed an annual watch of Love Actually, and you experience a yearning for a heartwarming, cosmopolitan, grown-up kind of Christmas story, but you find all the characters in that movie to be insufferable (not that this is biographical or anything…). Christmas in Paris is far, far more pleasant.

Pair with: Champagne. Wear something comfortable and glamorous, like silk pajamas or a fluffy robe and let the champagne bubbles fizz you into an airy feeling of confidence. If you prefer something non-alcoholic, try espresso and a little plate of dainty macarons.

christmas-in-paris-by-anita-hughes

The Mitten – Jan Brett

One line summary: A young boy drops his mitten in the snow, and animals ranging in size from a mouse to a brown bear try to crawl inside for warmth. (It sounds weird in a one line summary, but it’s good, I promise!)

A retelling of a Ukrainian folktale, The Mitten will make you smile with its funny ending and the beautiful drawings. It’s a children’s story, but I think adults will enjoy reading it to the little ones as well, and shows the value of sharing, as well as a lesson in cause and effect.

Pair with: Well, it depends. Are you reading along with kids? Honestly vodka is a match for this, but a more restrained option might be kvass, a non-alcoholic fermented beverage that can be flavoured with anything from strawberries to mint. There are plenty of recipes online, too – turn this into a lesson on sharing and kvass brewing!

the-mitten

The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart

One line summary: Merlin comes to terms with his power of the Sight and prepares for the coming of King Arthur. (It’s a trilogy, this is the first).

This is my personal Christmas re-read. I think everyone has one, whether it’s Harry Potter (all of them are good for the holidays, I think Christmas happens in every one and it’s always quite festive) or Lord of the Rings (not Christmas, exactly, but the epic quest and division of good vs evil feels fitting for the holidays). Arthur is born right around Christmas, but that’s really the only thing to link this book to that time of year.

Pair with: Red wine. People are always drinking wine in this book, and there’s a part where Merlin has been on the road for a long time, and when he finally gets to meet with Uther his ‘throat contracts longingly’ at the sight of mulled wine. I always remember that when I really feel like I could go for a glass of wine. Your alternate option is well water, but make sure you sprinkle a few drops for Myrddin before swigging it down, or else Merlin would heartily disapprove of you.

Bonus festivity if you drink it out of a similar goblet

Additional festivity may be achieved if you consume either beverage out of a similar goblet

All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot

One line summary: The adventures of a Yorkshire country veterinary before and after WWII.

I listed the first one here, but there are several James Herriot books and they are all equally delightful. Heartwarming and witty, it’s really easy to pick up one of his books and jump in anywhere. Most stories are anecdotal, which means you can read one while waiting for cookies to come out of the oven or the tea to steep.

Pair with: Whiskey, neat, and cheese, preferably something sharp. You’ll be surprised at the way the whiskey will draw out a creamy sweetness in the cheese. I can’t remember exactly which James Herriot book it happens in, but I’m fairly certain he has this exact snack with an old farmer after a grueling day of saving animals’ lives. Fruitcake will also be a nice addition, and of course, tea can always be substituted. Make sure it’s strong and splashed with fresh milk. This pairing is even better if you have a dog lying near your feet while reading/snacking.
whiskyandcheesepairing_feature

 

Have a festive reading suggestion of your own? Please share it in the comments!

 

 

Questionnaire of Reading Tastes

One of the blogs I follow recently posted a list of 55 questions about reading habits. While initially daunted by the sheer number of questions, I decided to give it a try.

 

  1. Favorite childhood book?
    I think I should clarify right from the start that I am terrible at ranking things into favourites. It’s just not the way my mind works, I guess, so I always have more than one favourite. Also I am Canadian so I spell it ‘favourite’.
    My much-loved childhood books were Timothy the Tiger and The Widow’s Broom. Once I got into early teen-ish years, I became fairly obsessed with Tamora Pierce’s Protector of the Small and Immortals series. I also loved Archie comics.
The widow's broom is pretty much the most useful broom in the world.

The widow’s broom is pretty much the most useful broom in the world.

  1. What are you reading right now?
    Enemy of God by Bernard Cornwell, The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane, Fashion in the French Revolution by Aileen Ribeiro, A History of Roman Britain by Peter Salway. I always read several books at once so I can switch between them depending on my mood. As an added bonus, no matter where I leave a book, one of them always seems to be at hand, which can be handy if the cat is sleeping on my lap and I feel too kind to move her.

  2. What books do you have on request at the library?
    The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

  3. Bad book habit?
    Eating while reading. I don’t do this when other people are around – I’m not a complete savage (literary savage??) – but I am usually the first one up at my house and breakfast is prime reading time. I have to admit though, I don’t really consider this a bad habit. Once, when I was reading an Archie comic, one of the characters had some kind of advice column and once it was about not reading at the table. I was vaguely offended. Oh comics.

  4. What do you currently have checked out at the library?
    A History of Roman Britain by Peter Salway
    Fashion in the French Revolution by Aileen Ribeiro
    The Forgotten Legion by Ben Kane
    The Ancient Celts by Barry Cunliffe
    Paris: The Secret History by Andrew Hussey
    Venus in Copper by Lindsey Davis
    The Shadow Queen by Sandra Gulland

I seem to be in a Roman phase right now.
6. Do you have an e-reader?
No, but I sometimes read stuff on my smart phone. Also I just changed bank accounts and apparently now I’m getting a free iPad mini. This is so exciting! Whose life is this?!?

the glamorous life

  1. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
    Several at once –  this has been established.

  2. Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog?
    No. Is this a thing that happens to people?

confused eagle

  1. Least favourite book you read this year (so far)?
    I don’t have one. I don’t finish a book if I am not enjoying it. There are a lot of books in the world and only a limited amount of free time to read them!

  2. Favorite book you’ve read this year?
    Skin Game by Jim Butcher, The Lion and the Rose by Kate Quinn, The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell, The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

skin game

  1. What is your reading comfort zone?
    Historical fiction. Although I take issue with this question a little, because I think ‘comfort zone’ implies that one is afraid to go beyond that level, and I just enjoy historical fiction most of all. Maybe I am overanalyzing this.

  2. Can you read in the car?
    Ugh, even the thought is making me feel queasy. I wish I could read in the car.

  3. Favorite place to read?
    In bed, or in the comfy Ikea chair in my office. I also like to lie on the couch in the living room and read when the sun is coming in through the window.

  4. What is your policy on book lending?
    Flexible, it depends on the person and the book. I have a couple of cheap mass market paperbacks that I have replaced because I lent them out and never got them back, but I’m okay with it. I do have some older books I would be pretty hesitant to lend out.

  5. Do you ever dog-ear books?
    No. I use random scraps of paper as bookmarks instead. I lose most of my actual bookmarks.

  6. Do you ever write in the margins of your books?
    No.

  7. Not even with text books?
    Still no…Is this weird, and I don’t know it? There isn’t much space in the margins anyway.

  8. What is your favorite language to read in?
    I’m only fluent in English, but I would love to be able to read in French. I can sort of muddle through children’s books, but my understanding isn’t strong enough to grasp nuances of the language.

  9. What makes you love a book?
    Gripping, true characterization and clean, vivid writing.

  10. What will inspire you to recommend a book?
    I rarely recommend books, unless the book is in a similar vein to one that I know the person likes already. I think reading is very subjective and people like a lot of different things. It doesn’t bother me if someone doesn’t like a book I recommend, especially as I don’t finish books I am not enjoying, but some people force themselves to read to the end or may not want to admit if they weren’t pulled in by the recommended story.

  11. Favorite genre?
    First: historical fiction, second: romantic suspense (a la Mary Stewart), third: fast-paced urban fantasy.

Wait, did I just categorize favourites? What is this questionnaire doing to me?!?

I tried to find a more exciting 'what is happening to me' photo, but most of the results were either about puberty or zombies. I guess I should have seen that coming.

I tried to find a more exciting ‘what is happening to me’ photo, but most of the results were either about puberty or zombies. I guess I should have seen that coming.

 

  1. Genre you rarely read (but wish you did)?
    I don’t understand this question. If I want to read a genre, I do. The library has pretty much everything, and the internet has the rest.

  2. Have you ever read a self-help book?
    No.

  3. Favourite cookbook?
    Nigellissima by Nigella Lawson, as well as most of her books. I like them for her decadent writing as much as the luscious recipes. I also like Lidia Bastianich’s recipes, but I prefer watching her show to reading the books.

  4. Most inspirational book you’ve read this year (fiction or non-fiction)?
    I don’t know. This is a tough question. I guess it would be The Hundred Years War, Volume III by Jonathan Sumption, because it gave me lots of ideas for writing another historical fiction novel.

  5. Favorite reading snack?
    Coffee and a bagel in the morning, wine and a piece of dark chocolate at night.

  6. Name a case in which hype ruined your reading experience.
    I can’t believe I’m going to admit this, but Twilight. I read it along with my sister and a mutual friend when it first came out, and somehow I didn’t realize it was a popularly controversial book. (What happy, innocent days those were…) I found it light and fairly entertaining reading, especially since we chatted about it in the group, but after I made the discovery that the series could inspire white-hot rage in both lovers and haters of the series, I avoided talking about it ever again. Until now. This questionnaire is a lot trickier than I expected! Am I going to discover something deep about myself before the end?

  7. How often do you agree with critics about a book?
    I don’t read a lot of book reviews, so I can’t say. I wouldn’t take it as gospel though, since reading is subjective.

  8. How do you feel about giving bad/negative reviews?
    I think that the book reviewer has to be honest when writing the review. I used to write book reviews for an online magazine, and I didn’t always give them good reviews. (Fun fact: I gave what later turned out to be a prize-winning novel a bad review, and it was the only time that a reader messaged me to comment on my review. Luckily they found it amusing, and were not offended by my critiques. In spite of the prize being awarded later, I stand by my review. See – reading is subjective!)

the more you know

  1. If you could read in a foreign language, which language would you chose?
    French, Spanish, Gaelic, Latin, Italian. The Bernard Cornwell Arthurian series I’m reading (The Winter King, Enemy of God, Excalibur), has a lot of old Celtic names in it and I enjoy trying to pronounce them so much that my husband finally asked why I was muttering as I read.

  2. Most intimidating book you’ve ever read
    Ever? Tough question…Probably The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio. The book itself is not too difficult to read, at least in the translation I had, but it was the subject of my undergrad honours thesis so I read it about three times (it’s long) and I analyzed it over and over again. (Fun Fact #2 – I googled myself once and my thesis came up! Maybe one day I will do a blog post about the wonders and horrors of Googling oneself).

the decameron

  1. Most intimidating book you’re too nervous to begin
    Doctor Sleep by Stephen King. I’m worried it will be scary! The Shining is the only book of King’s that I have read so far, but my husband and my best friend have read a whole bunch of them so I feel like I need to read another.

  2. Favorite Poet?
    Hm. I don’t read a lot of poetry, but I do like Rilke and Tennyson.

  3. How many books do you usually have checked out of the library at any given time?
    I dunno, 2 to 15 or so. It varies. I am terrible at remembering to return them on time so I try not to have too many out at once.

  4. How often have you returned books to the library unread?
    All the time. I return about half of them unread (or at least un-completed).

  5. Favorite fictional character?
    Harry Dresden, Claire Fraser, Hercule Poirot, Albus Dumbledore, Vibia Sabina, Merlin in Mary Stewart’s Crystal Cave trilogy.

  6. Favourite fictional villain?
    Nicodemus (from the Dresden Files), Dolores Umbridge, Lancelot (in Bernard Cornwell’s Arthurian series), Mrs. Danvers, Cesare Borgia (I know he is a real figure, but he’s also a pretty convincing villain in almost all Borgia-related historical fiction).

  7. Books you’re most likely to bring on holiday
    Light, fast-paced stories. Anything by Jeaniene Frost, Agatha Christie, and Mary Stewart. I would probably bring something by all three so I can switch books based on my mood. Sadly, I don’t go on vacations much. Yet.

  8. The longest I’ve gone without reading.
    I don’t understand the question.

What is happening?! I hope that dog is sneezing at the hilariously timed moment of photography.

What is happening?! Is that dog is sneezing at the hilariously timed moment of photography?

  1. Name a book that you could/would not finish.
    This happens to me very frequently, so I can’t pick one. I don’t really want to name one anyway, because I think that would imply that it was bad, when really it might have just not been to my taste at the time.

  2. What distracts you easily when you’re reading?
    I wish this wasn’t true, but my iPhone. Diamond Mine calls to me!

  3. Favorite film adaptation of a novel?
    Pride & Prejudice with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle. My mom and I watch it together every year.

  4. Most disappointing film adaptation?
    Ooh, The Dresden Files! I know it’s a TV show and not a movie, but it’s terribly disappointing in its variance from the books. We made a drinking game out of it.

  5. The most money I’ve ever spent in the bookstore at one time?
    Sigh…like $90. I had just received my first paycheque from a new job so I went to the bookstore to celebrate. I remember staggering up to the till with a huge armload of books and the casher asked me if I had found everything I was looking for. I wish I could say I didn’t glare at him before remembering he probably had to ask that and reminding myself to give a civil response.

  6. How often do you skim a book before reading it?
    If it’s a random library book I picked up off the shelf without knowing anything about the author or series, I will flip through to see if it seems like it will grab me.

  7. What would cause you to stop reading a book half-way through?
    If I don’t feel any connection to the characters, can’t remember who is who (a sign of not being drawn in by the characters), or if the writing is stilted, especially in dialogue. I also find it frustrating when characterization is flexible to the plot.

  8. Do you like to keep your books organized?
    Sort of. The way they are organized makes sense to me, at least. Some of the time it’s based on the size of books and where they will fit on the shelf, but they are also grouped by theme and author.

  9. Do you prefer to keep books or give them away once you’ve read them?
    If I know I’m not going to re-read it, I’ll give it away. Sometimes I go to a great used book store by my parent’s house, and there is a book box not too far from my house that some wonderful person put up in their yard. I put books in there pretty frequently.

  10. Are there any books you’ve been avoiding?
    Fifty Shades of Grey. (Although I recommend the well-crafted recaps by Jenny Trout and Snark Squad)

  11. Name a book that made you angry.
    Every Harry Potter book that had Umbridge in it. I still love the books, but she is the worst.

umbridge

  1. A book you didn’t expect to like but did?
    I can’t think of any books that I didn’t expect to like and completed reading.

  2. A book that you expected to like but didn’t?
    About one third of the books I get out of the library fall into this category, but I wouldn’t say that I had high expectations of adoring them. I just picked them up from the library, I hadn’t been building up hype for them in my mind.

  3. Favorite guilt-free, pleasure reading?
    Anything by Lesley Pearse. I felt a little guilty about the last one I read though, when I tried to imagine explaining the plot to someone. It was a bit soap opera-y, which is probably why it was strictly mindless pleasure reading. But it had a happy ending! (Except for the character who got murdered).

 

 

 

Well, 55 questions later and anyone who actually read them all must know more about my reading habits than they ever dreamed possible! Did I discover previously unknown truths about myself? Not really, although this list did get me to write about Twilight, and also manipulated me into choosing proper favourites, so I feel like I am somehow forever changed.

keep-calm-things-will-never-be-the-same-again