Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Month of Halloween

Starting October 1st I will be featuring a month of Halloween themed book reviews. I have been fascinated by ghost stories, both alledgedly real and fictional, and enjoyed horror films, and all sorts of unsolved mysteries ever since I was a little girl. My late mother loved horror movies before she became ill and lost interest in everything, so I grew up on them, some of the earliest movies I remember seeing were Stephen King's Carrie (my mother's favorite book), Jaws (possibly one of the reasons I love to watch sharks to this day; going in the water isn't a problem for me since I can't swim), and Picnic of Hanging Rock (possibly the start of my fascination with mysterious disappearances). And now my furbaby Tabby enjoys them too. Every time we watch Creature From The Black Lagoon or any of the old Universal Mummy movies she growls whenever the monster comes on screen. And we always read ghost stories together when it thunders. Tabby is terrified of thunder, so she curls up on or next to me and I read to her. So I hope you will enjoy our selection of Halloween treats all this month.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tabby's Tail

The tail went up just as the camera went off.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay

When randy teenager Derek Cutter concocts what he thinks is a brilliant scheme to hide out in his best friend's house while the family is away for a week-long vacation so he and his girlfriend Penny can be alone, his plans go tragically wrong when the family returns unexpectedly. Derek hides in the basement, planning to sneak out when they are settled into bed for the night, but before he can make his escape an intruder arrives and viciously guns down the entire Langley family.

Derek soon finds himself in jail as the prime suspect. As his father, Jim Cutter, delves into the mystery, determined to prove his son's innocence, an old computer with a manuscript stored on it that later became a bestseller, written by the president of he local college muddies the waters. The disturbing possibility also arises that the Langleys were murdered by mistake, that the killer went to the wrong house, and the Cutter family were the intended victims.

This is yet another gripping thriller from the pen of Linwood Barclay, a great book to stay up all night with if you can't sleep or keep you awake even if you can.

Mr. Shivers by Robert Jackson Bennett

In the lean, hungry, desperate days of the Great Depression, Marcus Connelly takes to the road and rails on a cross-country quest, to avenge the murder of his little girl. His quarry is a mysterious, scar-faced man known as Mr. Shivers who strikes fear into the hearts of the hobos and inhabitants of the shanty towns and camps for migrant workers, and gives birth to numerous legends and superstitions about him that are whispered in awe and fear around the campfires.

Connelly soon meets up with a ragtag band of drifters who are also on the trail of Mr. Shivers. He has taken the life of someone each one of them loved or cared deeply about and they all want revenge. But as the hunt progresses, Connelly begins to wonder if Mr. Shivers is something more than a man after all. Perhaps there is some truth in all those stories whispered around the campfires after all?

While this is a thought-provoking and atmospheric tale, those looking for thrill-a-minute horror with lots of action and gore might want to pass this one by, as the story unfolds at a very leisurely pace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Girl In Translation by Jean Kwok

This novel chronicles the journey of eleven-year-old Kimberly Chang and her mother as they immigrate from Hong Kong to America. They take work in a sweatshop run by relatives, who only pretend to be kind and generous, and struggle to make ends meet and a better life for themselves.

Kim has always been a brilliant student, excelling in math and science, but in America the language barrier and cultural confusion prove daunting barriers. But Kim prevails and even wins a full scholarship to a prestigious school, and later to Yale. Even then there are difficulties as first love with an unambitious boy content so stay in the garment district of Chinatown and a broken condom threaten to derail her future.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I was on Kim's side from page one, both the novel and its heroine are a real success story.

Never Look Away by Linwood Barclay

David Harwood's life becomes a nightmare the day he and his wife Jan take their four-year-old son Ethan to a local amusement park. Ethan's stroller vanishes when Jan looks away for just a moment to get a stone out of her shoe and David goes to get an ice cream cone. The frantic parents split up to search for their missing child. David breathes a deep sign of relief when he finds Ethan safe and sound in his stroller as a bearded man flees the scene, but when he tries to alert Jan he discovers that his wife has vanished.

Jan has been down lately, chafing at her humdrum existence, a life spent making sandwiches, working, and picking her son up from his grandparents house after work, she has been having suicidal thoughts and has even said that her husband and child would be better off without her, so when she vanishes David fears the worse. But fear turns to outright horror when investigation reveals that David is the only witness to this depressive behavior and all too soon he finds himself the prime suspect in his wife's disappearance and possible murder.

As a reporter employed by the struggling local paper which has gone way downhill and become a joke due to outsourcing to India to save money, David wonders if his coverage of the controversial plan to open a privately run prison in area is related to wife's disappearance. He also delves into the mysteries of her past, and contacts his wife's estranged parents only to discover that his wife is not who she claimed to be. So who is Jan really, where is she, and why has she disappeared? David races to find out before he can be arrested for a murder he didn't commit.

This is another up-all-night mystery/thriller from Linwood Barclay and it doesn't disappoint.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Happy Birthday Tabby!

Tabby will be three years old on Friday September 17th, but I got the cake a little early and she couldn't wait.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass

This fact-based historical novel tells the story of the country music singing sensations The Browns, who rocketed to fame, but not fortune, in the 1950s. The act consisted of two sisters and one brother, Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed, a trio of siblings who grew up dirt poor in Arkansas during the Great Depression and were blessed with perfect pitch, which they honed on their father's backwoods sawmill, always identifying the exact moment when the saw was perfectly sharpened by the sound it made.

They were friends with the likes of Jim Reeves and Elvis, who courted the younger sister Bonnie. At the start of their career, they were taken advantage of by an unscrupulous agent, so they never received their fair share of the money their records and appearances earned.

After a few years of number one hits, their fame faded away, and the siblings went their separate ways and drifted into oblivion. Though Bonnie found happiness as the wife of a country doctor, and Jim Ed did well enough on his own and also found contentment in his personal life, the eldest sister Maxine grew old and frail always yearning for another chance at fame. Dreaming of a movie about herself and her famous siblings, she even goes without air conditioning for a month to pay for an advertisement hoping to interest a filmmaker in the project, but instead has to make do with a precocious young boy and his video camera instead of a big budget Hollywood biopic.

This was an interesting novel to read, and I thank the publisher for sending me an Advance Readers' Copy, as it was a story I was unfamiliar with and might otherwise never have read as I am not a country music fan. I would recommend it to anyone interested in rags to riches stories about the fleeting nature of fame.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Mary and Elizabeth Rivals For The Tudor Throne Now Available For Pre-Order

Amazon just started taking pre-orders for my next novel, Rivals For The Tudor Throne by Brandy Purdy, it will be available on June 28, 2011 in the USA.

It will be published in the UK as Elizabeth and Mary by Emily Purdy and will be released on June 16, 2011, and is available for pre-order from Amazon's UK website.

I will post cover art and more details for both editions as soon as I have it.

New Interview for On The Tudor Trail

I recently did an interview with Natalie who has an interesting new website called Anyone interested in Anne Boleyn and the Tudors should take a look, there are some interesting posts on her blog at and I am sure there is more to come.

Here is my interview:

Q & A with Brandy Purdy

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Brandy Purdy, author of The Boleyn Wife. She very kindly agreed to answer some questions exclusively for our On the Tudor Trail readers! I thank Brandy for sharing her thoughts and opinions with us in such a sincere manner.

The Tudors have inspired countless novels, biographies, films, plays and documentaries. Why do you think readers and audiences are insatiable when it comes to this period in history?

I think it’s the characters, the fascinating blend of personalities, the royal trappings, the whole saga of Henry VIII and his six wives is like a grand soap opera, brimming with romance, sex, danger, and intrigue, it’s one of those stories that has captured the public imagination since these events happened centuries ago and we’ve never let go. Everyday I think someone discovers it for the first time and gets caught up in it and wants to know more. And there is so much authors can do with it, so many twists and turns and different viewpoints from the strictly the facts approach to the more romantic or fanciful, there is something for everyone on the fiction shelves, and the non-fiction/biographical shelves are loaded too.

Who is your favourite of Henry VIII’s queens and why?

Anne Boleyn, because she broke the mold, there was no one else like her. She was so brave and daring, she gambled on herself when no one else would, when everyone thought she was bound to lose. When the world is full of women willing to flop on their backs to be the mistress of the king, it takes courage to say “no” when even your own family pressures you to give in. Sometimes people who have read The Boleyn Wife come away with the impression that I do not like the Boleyns, I’m always sorry when that happens, because in fact Anne Boleyn and her daughter Elizabeth I are the two historical women I admire most, but I like a challenge when I write, I don’t want to tell the same story the way everyone else has done, and The Boleyn Wife was written from the viewpoint of an unstable and vindictive woman who detested Anne Boleyn, though in my opinion at times a grudging admiration still shows through.

Why did you choose to write The Boleyn Wife in the first person?

From the time I first read about her, I was always curious about Lady Rochford, so little was known her about, I always wanted to know more, I wanted to know why she made the accusations against Anne and George, what her relationships with them were actually like, and what it was like for her afterwards, how it affected her. You don’t falsely accuse someone of a horrible crime and help send them to their death and that’s it, it’s over, you never think about it again. It has to stay with you in some form or fashion, even if you push it to the back of your mind it has to bubble up to the surface again from time to time. And I wanted to explore that. I always had the impression from what I read that Lady Rochford was a rather unlikeable woman, and I wanted to create a…well, heroine seems the wrong word for Lady Rochford, but I wanted to create a character who readers would be able to watch emotionally disintegrate as the story progressed, eaten up by her own jealousy and hate, and decide for themselves whether to pity, despise, or sympathize with her and whether to believe what she says or dismiss it, in whole or in part, as the ravings and fantasies of an unstable mind or someone twisting the facts to garner sympathy. It is not supposed to be a straightforward, factual historical novel, like the works of Jean Plaidy, I wanted to do something different that readers could maybe have a little fun with.

Do you believe that Jane Rochford volunteered the damning evidence against Queen Anne Boleyn and George Boleyn because of her jealousy of their supportive relationship? Or do you believe that Cromwell initiated ‘discussions’ with Jane and that she simply succumbed to the immense pressure of his relentless questioning?

I personally think the seed of bitterness and jealousy was already planted, but Cromwell came along and watered it. Perhaps he waited and caught Jane at the right or a weak moment? I do not think if it had been a good marriage, a loving marriage, where both parties were happy in it, that Jane would have gone along with any scheme concocted by Cromwell, even if she hated Anne body and soul, if she loved her husband she would never have risked his destruction alongside his sister. She was either, in my opinion, acting out of vengeance, or with a mind clouded by some strong emotion, whether it was fear, anger, or jealousy or all three I don’t know, and no one else does either, that is what makes her part of the story so intriguing. If Jane had written a diary and we knew exactly why she did it the mystery would be solved and we would have missed the chance to wonder and speculate about her motives for all these many years. What if she had written something that basically said: I married him because my father told me to, we never clicked, we just didn’t care for each other, and I never liked Anne either, and I wanted to keep in good at court, I liked being a lady-in-waiting and in the thick of things, so when Cromwell asked me to help out I was glad to oblige; Anne was going to fall anyway so why should I go down with her? In my opinion, that’s just not as interesting as hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and a descent into madness. I guess I prefer strong emotions to self-interest and bland indifference.

Did you portray Anne Boleyn with a sixth finger because you believe it to be true or is there another reason?

I am well aware that there has been considerable debate about whether Anne actually possessed any disfigurements or deformities. I personally don’t have an opinion one way or the other; a disease, disability, or disfigurement does not define who a person is. I chose to include it as yet one more way in which the odds seemed stacked against Anne. When I first describe her appearance in my novel, I mention that her parents despaired of her ever attracting suitors and marrying because she was not the typical Tudor beauty like her sister Mary and even considered sending Anne to a convent, because she was intelligent and clever this might have allowed her to rise to a prominent position in spite of her appearance. I think it is sad but true that people have always been judged by their looks, sometimes we utterly dismiss or just don’t notice someone who is truly special because of the outer package; I like it when someone triumphs over that, as Anne did, she beat out all the blonde beauties vying for the King’s attention and is still remembered today when most of them have been forgotten.

There has been quite a bit of controversy surrounding your inclusion of an affair between Catherine Howard and Anne of Cleves in The Boleyn Wife. Could you tell us a little bit about how this idea came about and why you included it?

It was actually intended as a joke that very few people seem to have gotten. Anne of Cleves was very badly treated by the King and his court, in my opinion, she was mocked and made fun of, yet, despite all this, she came out a winner, she won her freedom and became a wealthy woman of independent means, and that I think is an underrated success story. In my novel, I didn’t want her to be a hapless victim, The Flanders Mare blundering her way through the Tudor court, clueless and smiling, I wanted to give her control, to play and eventually win a game no one even realized she was playing. The scene in question was also intended as yet another example of how emotionally damaged Katherine Howard was, I think her rather negligent upbringing, which today would be considered child abuse, caused her to never learn to differentiate between sex and love, and to let her impulses rule her and lead her into dangerous and rash decisions and to be taken advantage of by others; in my novel she is a promiscuous teenager too emotionally immature and damaged to understand or be having sex who pays the ultimate price for it. It was a scene to show what I consider the tragic folly of one young woman and the wisdom and triumph of another. At the end of the scene they discuss their change in circumstances and both of them see that the one who in the eyes of the world appears the loser is actually the winner and vice-versa.

In The Boleyn Wife, Lady Rochford sees the ghosts of Anne and George Boleyn in the Tower. Do you believe in the paranormal?

I have always been fascinated by the paranormal and all kinds of unsolved mysteries, I love to read ghost stories both fictional and supposedly factual ones. I included the ghost scenes in my novel because I first discovered the story of Anne Boleyn in a book of ghost stories I read when I was nine or ten years old, it had a chapter about a sentry in the Tower of London who was almost court-martialed over a supposed confrontation with Anne Boleyn’s ghost. After reading that chapter I wanted to know more about Anne, and that really began my enduring interest in both history and historical fiction.

I believe that you are currently working on Mary and Elizabeth: Rivals for the Tudor Throne. Why did you decide to write this book?

Actually I didn’t, it was my publisher’s idea, but I decided to go with it because I had been interested in their lives since I first learned about them, and I wanted to tell the story of their love-hate relationship and the various twists and turns of their lives in alternating voices, with a more personal and emotional focus rather than a political one. The book is written in first person, Mary and Elizabeth each take turns telling their story. The book is finished and is scheduled for publication in America in July 2011 and, unless dates change, a month earlier in England as Elizabeth and Mary under my British pen name Emily Purdy.

I know that some authors only write at certain times of the day, some in their pyjamas, others arrange their desks in a certain way. Do you have any rituals that you follow when writing?

To be honest, I am often disappointed with myself because I am such an unproductive writer. I am sole caregiver for a very difficult elderly father, and because of his behavior and personality, I am usually unable to write during the day, so I have to write at night, which, I probably would prefer anyway, as it is quieter and there are fewer distractions, but there are nights when I am just so worn or stressed out that I just crash and don’t get even a word written or any research done, and I hate it when I am like that, when the desire is there but not the energy. It’s frustrating, there are so many books I want to write, so many ideas in my head that I want to get down on paper, but sometimes I am just too tired, but when I can force myself to turn the computer on, sit down at the keyboard, and just do it, it usually goes well. I do have a rule though, I do not let myself just sit and stare at the screen. If I run into a tangle or am not sure where the story goes next I get up, walk around a bit, do something like listen to a song or two, watch a spot of TV, have a cup of hot chocolate, read a magazine article or short story–not a book though lest I get caught up in the plot and characters’ lives and neglect my own for wanting to know how it all works out–and then I go back to it and I’m usually fine. On rare occasions, I find I need to sleep on it, though usually after I have turned the computer off and laid down and turned off the lights and gotten drowsy then the solution comes to me and I either have to make myself get back up or just write it down in a notebook I always keep by my bed.

If you could ask any historical personality a question, what would it be and whom would you ask?

I would ask Jack the Ripper who he was and why he did it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Gilded Girls Women Entertainers of the Old West by JoAnn Chartier and Chris Enss

This book makes me think of the song "Life Upon The Wicked Stage Ain't Ever What a Girl Supposes;" from the musical "Show Boat." In it's pages we are introduced to fourteen actresses, some still well known today others remembered primarily by historians, but all of whom brought a taste of glamor and dramatic flair to the dusty and rugged Old West. They braved the primitive conditions and privations to tour the Gold Rush boomtowns, mining camps, and burgeoning new cities and were rewarded by grateful miners, starved for entertainment and female beauty and charm, and were showered in gold and admiration.

We meet Maude Adams, who began her career before she was even one year old and died at the ripe old age of 81, wealthy and esteemed as one of the best actresses in America. Maude was a level-headed woman who kept her feet on the ground and her head out of the clouds, and believed in keeping her private life private, and thus avoided many of the pitfalls of celebrity that, then as now, provide fodder for the gossip magazines.

And on the other side of the coin is Mrs. Leslie Carter whose very name aired her dirty laundry in public. After a bitter and scandalous divorce involving adultery, this vengeful red-headed woman decided to take the only thing her husband left her with and drag it through the mud--his name. In this era when the word "actress" was still often regarded as being synonymous with "whore" this was indeed a slap in the face to the industrialist millionaire who had to see his name emblazoned on theatres and playbills for many years to come.

We also meet "The Naked Lady" Adah Isaacs Menken, the mixed race beauty who soared to fame because of her daring "nude" (actually a flesh-tone body stocking) horseback riding scene in the play "Mazeppa." But while fame blessed her, personal bliss eluded her, the men in her life always wanted Adah to give up her career and settle down and serve them as a dutiful wife and homemaker. She died tragically at the age of 33 after a stage-related injury.

Lillian Russell, the buxom blonde with the "roses and cream" complexion, the fashion icon of the 1890s with her plumed picture hats and rigorously corseted curvaceous hourglass figure, also makes an appearance in these pages. She was another star who, while she shone brightly on the public stage, lived a private life shadowed by tragedy, including the death of her baby boy when his stomach was pierced by a pin by his nanny while changing his diaper.

There is also the vivacious violet-eyed, red-haired "Flame of the Yukon" Kate Rockwell whose notorious "Flame Dance" with yards of red chiffon drapes attached to a stick for her to twirl, wrap herself, and whirl in, made her an overnight sensation.

The eccentric Sarah Bernhardt is also accorded a chapter. Her madcap manic-depressive life made headlines wherever she went. She slept in a coffin as a dress rehearsal for her final role--death--and was best known for her portrayal of the doomed consumptive courtesan "Camille." An avid public eagerly lapped up her flamboyant lifestyle, her lovers, jewels, menagerie of exotic pets, and wild adventures. She didn't even let the amputation of a leg slow her down and went on to entertain the troops in World War I, and even portrayed Queen Elizabeth I in a silent film in the infant days of Hollywood before her death in 1923.

"The Jersey Lilly" Lillie Langtry also gets a chapter. Lilly was a professional beauty and belle of British society who became the darling of artists and photographers before she parlayed her beauty into a stage career on the advice of her friend Oscar Wilde. Though it was her liaison with the Prince of Wales that ensured her lasting fame.

And those who have read Susan Sontag's historical novel "In America" will instantly recognize Polish diva Helena Modjeska, the famous tragedienne who shot to stardom in such roles as "Camille" and "Adrienne Lecouvieur." She and her husband and a select group of companions left Poland in pursuit of the American Dream, hoping to found a Utopian commune under the blue skies and golden sun of California, but when proved to be a colossal flop, Helena hastily learned English and set out for San Francisco to become a star all over again in a country where no one had ever heard of her. And succeed she did, in whatever language Helena was born to be a star. She would later go on to portray the Shakespearean heroines with Edwin Booth (brother of the notorious John Wilkes Booth who assassinated President Lincoln) as her leading man.

Anyone interested in theatrical history or the lives of interesting women, I think, will enjoy this book. It is, like the other works of Ms. Chartier and Ms. Enss short in pages it introduces the reader to some fascinating figures. I admit, when I first got the book I was a little disappointed that there were no chapters on Lola Montez and Lotta Crabtree, however, I soon learned that the author chose not to include them as they were prominently featured in another book, With Great Hope, about women of the Gold Rush, which you can also find reviewed on this blog.