Thursday, June 16, 2011

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

The American Heiress: A Novel
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Daisy Goodwin on writing The American Heiress:
I started working on the novel a few years ago at the height of the economic boom (remember the boom?) when the newspapers and magazines were full of billionaires having fabulous parties on their diamond-encrused yachts.  But even the excesses of Trump or Abramovich pale in comparison with the consumption of America's Gilded Age, when diners at one Newport mansion were invited to prospect with tiny silver shovels for real gems in a miniature river that ran down the center of the dining table.  While certain details in The American Heiress might seem hard to believe-like the corset of solid gold trimmed with diamonds that Cora Cash wears on her wedding day- her trousseau is a replica of the one worn by dollar princess Consuelo Vanderbilt when she married the 9th Duke of Marlborough.  Just as contemporary starlets are written about in the media today, every details of Consuelo's wedding in 1895 was chronicled in Vogue.

Cora Cash and her journey through British high society are closely modeled on the forays in search of a title that so many rich American girls made at the end of the 19th century.  These heiresses subscribed to a periodical called The Titled American--a pre-digital version of listed all the titled bachelors still on the market.  The trade-off between money and titles was so successful that about a quarter of the members of the House of Lords in 1910 had American wives.  American money probably kept the stately homes of England going for another generation.

For many of these American brides, however, a title really didn't make up for the horrors of English country life.  They may have been living in an exclusive Tudor mansion, but it would be freezing cold with no hot water and only the most rudimentary sanitation and electricity.  One heiress, Lady Camoys, wrote home to her mother that she hadn't taken her furs off all winter even when she went to bed.  And English society was not exactly welcoming to these rich newcomers: Imagine Kim Kardashian marrying Prince Harry today and you get the general idea of the suspicion and disdain that these women encountered. 

The American Heiress has all the elements of a fascinating read. There's beautiful, headstrong, and young Cora Cash - the sole heiress of the Golder Miller fortune. She's been described as the richest woman in the world and it's said that every slice of bread in America is made from flour that her father's company has processed. While Cora's daily life is dominated by her socially ambitious mother. she has enough spirit and beauty to dream of marrying for love.

Her first choice is a young Knickerbocker whose family looks down on her new wealth. After a glittering coming out in New York, Cora's mother hires Mrs. Wyndham to arrange Cora's trip to London. As she mingles with London society, Cora has a chance encounter with a Duke. Romance, a wedding, and a whole new life open up for Cora. But there is much hidden below the surface and while Cora works at becoming a success, she discovers that her husband has dark secrets of his own.

I had very high hopes for The American Heiress and found the beginning portion rather disappointing. While Daisy Goodwin paints a clear picture of life in New York during the Gilded Age - and the extravagant details are based on some of the lavish lifestyles of that period - the characters didn't really grab me at the start. But the book picks up considerably when Cora arrives in England. She becomes a much more interesting and sympathetic character as she faces snobbery and expectations of London's the complex social hierarchy. By the time that Cora's fallen in love with her Duke, I was thoroughly engrossed in The American Heiress.

If you enjoy novels about the Gilded Age and Regency England, I recommend this fun, period romance.

ISBN-10: 0312658656 - Hardcover $25.99
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (June 21, 2011), 480 pages.
Review copy provided through Amazon Vine and by the publisher.

About the Author:
Daisy Goodwin is a leading television producer in the U.K. She has published several poetry anthologies, and was chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction.  She and her husband, an ABC TV executive, have two daughters and live in London.  The American Heiress: A Novel is her first novel.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Never Knowing
Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens

Chevy Stevens' second novel, Never Knowing, begins with Sarah Gallagher's search for her birth mother.  While Sarah had grown up with two younger sisters, her adoptive father had always made her feel unwelcome.   While she'd tried to ignore the hostility, coldness, and emotional distance, now that Sarah was starting her marriage and a family, she hoped that finding her birth mother would bring an added presence into their lives.

Sarah and her private detective track down her biological mother Julia Laroche, but her mother's hostility shocks her.   Sarah discovers the painful circumstances of her birth - and that her father is a notorious serial killer that has never been captured.

The press somehow learns about Sarah Gallagher's parentage and leaks the news.  As Sarah's mother loses her privacy and Sarah's world explodes,  she catches the attention of the father she'd never known.  

As Sarah's father reaches out to her - she must find a way to protect herself and her family.

Never Knowing is the sort of psychological thriller that will keep you up at night.  It's fast-paced action and psychological drama grabbed me from the start.  But the family intrigue that Sarah Gallagher faces makes the book stand out.  Chevy Stevens captures so well the rivalry and bitterness of the three sisters, the meanness and the hurt that characterizes Sarah's unequal relationship with her adoptive father, and the loneliness and uncertainty of her birth father.

ISBN-10: 0312595689 - Hardcover $24.99
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 5, 2011), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island her home.  For much of her adult life, she's worked in sales,  first as a rep for a home goods company and then as a realtor.  At open houses, while waiting for potential buyers she'd spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her.  Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for Still Missing. After 6 months, Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish writing the book. 

When she's not working on her next book, she's hiking with her husband and dog in the local mountains.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton by Richard Horan

Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton (P.S.)
Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton  by Richard Horan

The blurb:
Richard Horan's quest to gather seeds from trees at the homes of essential American authors is a heartfelt paean to literature - and a wise, funny, and enthralling account of one man's reconnection with nature.  From the golden hemlock road in front of L. Frank Baum's childhood home to the lonely stump of Scout's tree in Harper Lee's Alabama suburb, Horan's journey to connect writers to trees is a fascinating adventure.

 Seeds is a lifelong reader's tribute to American authors.  For Horan, visiting the author's homes and the places that may have inspired them is a pilgrimage. His account of the trees and landscape that he finds is a special sort of literary travelogue.  In many ways, Seeds seems like a book perfect for the author who describes himself as "a transient most of my life, I have a knack for bonding with any given locale.  I need only wander around a place for a little while  to feel a keen sense of belonging.  As a teacher, I've learned that someone's environment has as much to tell us about that person as does his or her friends and family." Sure enough, Horan takes us to some unexpected places.

I particularly enjoyed the account of his visit to L. Frank Baum's childhood home in Northern Syracuse, New York.   There is a Wizard of Oz Memorial Oak Grove in North Syracuse where L. Frank Baum had played as a child and was an inspiration for his enchanted forest.   A weak and sickly child, Frank spent much of his childhood on his own.  At twelve, his family moved to Roselawn Estate in Mattydale, New York. Roselawn was located near the first plank road ever built - a street made entirely of wood,  Plank Road was made of hemlock and had an unusual golden color.  It was used to transport salt from the nearby lake to southern parts of New York state. 

Horan describes the thick woods 2 miles away from the Roselawn Estate which had been owned by friends of the Baum family and is now the Wizard of Oz Memorial Oak Grove.  Seven acres in size, it is the most historic old grove in the eastern U.S.  Horan comes across a 150 year old giant red oak that is over 100 feet tall and three times the size of a mature oak.   Horan describes the plaques on several of the ancient oaks and maples, each with dedications to artists, writers, and people that have changed the world:  Walt Disney,  Anne Frank, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, William Shakespeare, Martin Luther King,John Lennon, John Muir, Edgar Alan Poe, and L. Frank Baum.

When Horan visits Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald's beautiful old home - which has been transformed into a museum and rental apartments -he writes about the gigantic and majestic pecan tree nearly 100 feet tall and what it must have been like for Fitzgerald working and taking a break by the tree.  When he visits to Montgomery, Alabama and the street where Truman Capote and Harper Lee lived, he tells us about the oak that that inspired Boo Radley's tree where he left gifts for Atticus Finch's kids. 

When Horan visited Pearl S. Buck's estate, he collected seeds from bamboo and silver maple.  He explored the estate, including her grave site.   In the description of her home and museum and of the spot in Danby, Vermont,  Horan conveys much of Pearl S. Buck and the time in which she lived and wrote.  It's difficult to cover Buck's unusual life, particularly through through her possessions and her land.  Her books and her life have left a longstanding impact on the world - she lived and described a critical point in China's history.  Her books are the best way to know Pearl S. Buck, but hopefully, Horan's visit to her home encourages young people to want to discover her stories.

I found Seeds an unusual and fascinating read. 

ISBN-10: 0061861685 - Paperback $14.00
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 19, 2011), 384 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Richard Horan is a novelist, an ESL teacher, and a nonfiction book reviewer for the San Fransisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and other publications.  His novel Goose Music was a finalist for the Great Lakes Fiction Award and won the ForeWord Reviews Bronze Medal for Book of the Year in Fiction.  He lives in Oswego, New York.

Thrillers in celebration of ThrillerFest - Thrillers!

As ThrillerFest is just 4 weeks away,  I plan to celebrate by reviewing and recommending 2 thrillers a week until ThrillerFest begins.  In case you can make it to NYC from July 6 to 9 to join us for ThrillerFest, you can sign up here.

Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel
Trader of Secrets: A Paul Madriani Novel by Steve Martini

The blurb:
Defense attorney Paul Madriani is embroiled in a case as perilous as any he has ever faced: one that involves an angry killer who will stop at one that involves an angry killer who will stop at nothing short of vengeance, and two missing NASA scientists who are holding secrets that a hostile government desperately wants to purchase - in blood if they must.

Madriani's daughter, Sarah, has evaded the man known as Liquida, who has stalked her all the way across the country.  For her own safety, she is being kept under armed guard on a farm in Ohio.

But one morning, itching for a predawn run to shake off the tension that has grown in the hours she's spent waiting for word from her father, Sarah slips from her ring of protection.  What she doesn't know is that at the same moment her assailant is outside, waiting patiently in the dark.

Meanwhile in California, two men in a parked car argued over millions in cash that could be slipping through their fingers and a scheme involving government technology for sale that could rock the world.

Paul Madriani, his companion Joselyn Cole, and his longtime law partner, Henry Hinds, track Liquida, not knowing that their quest will carry them deep into the vortex of international terror.  It is a journey that will lead them toward a bizarre and cruel twist of nature -- and the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.

I hadn't read any of Steve Martini's earlier novels, but it wasn't necessary to be familiar with his lead characters or to their previous escapades to fully immerse myself in his latest work, Trader of Secrets.

 Trader of Secrets opens deep into the action.  Madriani's private investigator and "muscle" has been attacked and is in critical care. His daughter is in hiding on a doberman training farm and Hinds is assigned to watch over her for her protection.  When Sarah is attacked, the lawyers become even more invested in finding the deadly killer Liquida.   Though amateurs - Madriani, Jocelyn Cole, and Henry Hinds - through skill, perseverance, and luck followed the notorious killer Liquida.   Madriani dive into dangerous situations knowing that they lose whether they chase after Liquida or not.  Their law practice has stopped and their clients are likely to report them for having abandoned their cases.  Madriani and his partners are waiting for Liquida to be captured or to find them, and each day causes further damage to their old lives, their professional lives.

Deeply motivated and unusually skilled - Madriani and his friends take on one of the most dangerous and skilled killers.  If you are partial to the old fashioned spy novels with trade craft, you're likely to particularly enjoy Trader of Secrets.

ISBN-10: 0061930237 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: William Morrow (May 31, 2011), 400 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Steve Martini is the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers, including The Rule of Nine, Guardian of Lies, Shadow of Power, and others featuring defense attorney Paul Madriani.  Martini has practiced law in California in both state and federal courts, and has served as an administrative law judge and supervising hearing officer. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.  Learn more at

ThrillerFest is approaching! Come to NYC this July 6-9

ThrillerFest is fast approaching! The annual meeting of writers, publishers, and fans will take place this July 6-9 at the Hyatt in New York City. 

While BEA is a wonderful feast of new books and authors, ThrillerFest is a smaller gathering and affords participants an amazing opportunity to interact with their favorite writers, to take classes to hone their writing skills through CraftFest, and to "speed date" and meet agents during the popular AgentFest. 

The big names in the genre attend, give talks, and mingle.    For lovers of thrillers and aspiring writers, ThrillerFest is one of the most satisfying and worthwhile experiences out there.

Interested?  Learn more and sign up  The Thrillerwriters website.