Friday, February 10, 2012

Blog Tour of Jennifer Haymore's Secrets of an Accidental Duchess

Welcome to the blog tour of Jennifer Haymore's Secrets of an Accidental Duchess!  

The blurb:
With her pale hair and slim figure, Olivia Donovan looks as fragile as fine china. and has been treated as such by her sisters ever since a childhood bout with malaria.  But beneath her delicate facade, Olivia guards a bold, independent spirit and the kind of passionate desires proper young ladies must never confess.

It was a reckless wager, and one Max couldn't resist:  Seduce the alluring Olivia or forfeit part of his fortune.  Yet the wild, soon-to-be Duke never imagined that he'd fall in love with the innocent beauty.  Nor could he have guessed that a dangerously unpredictable rival would set out to destroy them both.  Now, Max must beat a madman at his own twisted game -- or forever lose the only woman to have ever won his heart.

Jennifer Haymore has a talent for weaving comedy into her historical romances.  In Secrets of an Accidental Duchess, we have the beautiful, protected and slightly naive Olivia Donovan. Olivia spent much of her life in a small island in the West Indies and hasn't learned all the nuances of London society.  For instance, it takes her a while to realize that the good looking Mr. Buchanan (a.k.a. Max a.k.a. Lord Hasley) is heir to a dukedom - and to call him by the right title.  But all of this fits her personality. She's not bowled over by titles, power or money as she expects never to marry and to end her life as the "spinster aunt".    When tempted by Max, she points out that she doesn't intend to be the "disgraced spinster aunt".

Secrets of an Accidental Duchess is full of these fun quips and well set up disasters of sorts.  Both romantic leads are extremely likable.  The villain of the piece is a little overdone -- he is a cad in every possible way.  But as Jennifer Haymore's books are meant to be a fun escape, Secrets of an Accidental Duchess is exactly that - an engrossing romance with danger, comedy, and a satisfying ending. 

ISBN-10: 0446573159 - Mass Market Paperback $7.99
Publisher: Forever (February 1, 2012), 432 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
As a child, Jennifer Haymore traveled the South Pacific with her family on their homebuilt sailboat. The months spent on the sometimes quiet, sometimes raging seas sparked her love of adventure and grand romance. Since then, she's earned degrees in computer science and education and held various jobs ranging from bookselling to teaching inner-city children to acting, but she's never stopped writing.

You can find Jennifer in Southern California trying to talk her husband into yet another trip to England, helping her three children with homework while brainstorming a new five-minute dinner menu, or crouched in a corner of the local bookstore writing her next novel.   You can learn more at:  or on Twitter @jenniferhaymore  or on

Forever Romance and the Hatchette Book Group are sponsoring this giveaway of 3 copies of Secrets of an Accidental Duchess.  Do help me with my project - imagine that you were thinking of renting a 1 BR 1 bath apartment, would you decide not to rent the apartment if it had a shower and no tub?  Do you prefer a tub over a shower?  Thanks!

1. Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. No email address, no entry.
2. You must be a follower to join the contest.
3.  One winner per household.

The contest is limited to US only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on Feb. 28, 2012. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The blurb:
At only ten years of age, Patroclus, a small, awkward prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia, to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.  The "best of all Greeks" -- strong and beautiful, the child of a goddess -- Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not.  Despite their differences and the fury of Achilles' mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals, the boys become steadfast companions, their bond deepening as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay seige to Troy in her name.  Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause.  Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles, little knowing that the cruel Fates will test them as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

I'll try to do justice to The Song of Achilles.  I loved the Iliad when I read it in college.  Though I'd reread it every so often, it's been a while.  Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles was a wonderful way to revisit the story. 

The Song of Achilles is told from the point of view of Patroclus, the son of a king who has disappointed his father and is exiled to Phthia.  Patroclus is one of many boys fostered with King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.  Achilles is everything that Patroclus is not - physically gifted, beautiful, charismatic, the center of his world.  Achilles is just what Patroclus imagines a prince should be.   Somehow, the two boys become bosom companions.  And in the years of their shared education, experiences, and adventures, Achilles and Patroclus bond together. They become each others closest friend, companion, and love.  It should be noted that Madeline Miller portrays their love with considerable sensitivity and taste.

Achilles' mother is the sea goddess Thetis, and it does not suit her hopes and ambitions for Achilles to have him tied to a clumsy mortal such as Patroclus.  Throughout the story, Thetis is disdainful of Patroclus and she tries to separate them.  The interaction between Patroclus and Thetis is a fascinating and well developed part of The Song of Achilles.

But what I loved about The Song of Achilles is how Madeline Miller gave us a fuller picture of the hero, Aristos Achaion, the Best of the Greeks.  He is not a vain, petulant, young demi-god who is unmoved by the deaths and despair of his fellow warriors.  Miller shows us that he is a young man, raised with a deep understanding of his place in the world and the prophecy of his greatness.  This   Achilles is not driven by ambition as much that he is aware of the dangers of Agamemnon's grasping vanity. Achilles acts to counter Agamemnon's behavior, his greed and destructiveness.  Achilles' is able to win over his fellow warriors to his point of view, the hero is outmaneuvered by the gods and those more politic around him.

Such that the quarrel with Agamemnon over the slave Briseis is more a fight for Achilles' standing in the Greek camp and of the independence of the kings and nobles that have joined to aid Agamemnon's fight.  But with the continued deaths of Greek troops, his fellow warriors grow bitter about Achilles' refusal to fight.  The gods have their revenge and the tragedy unfolds. 

Madeline Miller's retelling is masterfully done.  Carefully crafted and deeply engrossing, The Song of Achilles is a book not to be missed.  It's one of the best books I've read and I know I'll be recommending it for years to come.

ISBN-10: 0062060619- Hardcover $25.99
Publisher: Ecco (March 6, 2012), 384 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
Madeline Miller grew up in Philadelphia, has bachelor's and master's degrees in Latin and Ancient Greek from Brown University, and has been teaching both languages for nine years.  She has also studied at the Yale School of Drama, specializing in adapting classical tales for a modern audience.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Song of Achilles is her first novel.  Learn more about Madeline Miller  at or follower her on twitter @millermadeline

Top Books I'd Hand to Someone Who Doesn't Like to Read

The Broke and Bookish came up with this Top Ten Tuesday meme.  Each week they come up with a different list and this week's list is The Top Ten Books I'd Hand to Someone Who Doesn't Like to Read.

I know that we're supposed to pick 10 books, but I'm having the hardest time cutting my list. So, I've got a baker's dozen of books to recommend. Here's my list of the Top Books I'd Hand to Someone Who Doesn't Like to Read:

  1. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  2. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  3. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller - I started out marking my favorite passages and soon had much of the book marked up. : )
  4. Slaughter House V  by Kurt Vonnegut
  5. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  6. Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (or anything else by Dickens)
  7. Dune by Frank Herbert
  8. The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde - a play that I can read aloud in one sitting
  9. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini -  a book that I'd discovered through my grandfather
  10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  11. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  12. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
  13. Al Capone Shines My Shoes & Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Colchenko
Which books would you share?  

Monday, February 6, 2012

Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York by Richard Zacks

The blurb:
When young Theodore Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City, he had the astounding gall to try to shut down the brothels, gambling joints, and after-hours saloons. This is the story of how TR took on Manhattan vice . . . and vice won. 

In the 1890s, New York City was America’s financial, manufacturing, and entertainment capital, and also its preferred destination for sin, teeming with forty thousand prostitutes, glittery casinos, and all-night dives. Police cap­tains took hefty bribes to see nothing while reformers writhed in frustration. 

In Island of Vice, Richard Zacks paints a vivid portrait of the lewd underbelly of 1890s New York, and of Theodore Roosevelt, the puritanical, cocksure police commissioner resolved to clean it up. Writing with great wit and zest, Zacks explores how young Roosevelt goes head to head with Tammany Hall, takes midnight rambles with muckraker Jacob Riis, and tries to convince two million New Yorkers to enjoy wholesome family fun. When Roosevelt’s crackdown succeeds too well, even his supporters turn on him, and TR discovers that New York loves its sin more than its salvation. 

With cameos by Stephen Crane, Mark Twain, and a horde of very angry cops, Island of Vice is an unforgettable snap­shot of turn-of-the-century New York in all its seedy glory and a brilliant miniature of one of America’s most colorful presidents.

To be honest, I didn't really know that much about Teddy Roosevelt beyond the book The War Lovers by Evan Thomas, his general reputation of being a Rough Rider, an adventurer, a Harvard man, one of the forces behind the Museum of Natural History in New York City.   I wanted to read Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York and had expected to like him very much.  

Richard Zacks' account of Teddy Roosevelt's term as a police commissioner is meticulously researched, detailed, and an interesting read.  However, it doesn't paint Roosevelt in a flattering light at all.  Through the correspondence between him and Cabot Lodge, his letters to his sister, and through various newspaper accounts, we get a sense of Teddy Roosevelt's grandstanding, his rigid and sometimes unreasonable behavior, and the depth of his ambition.  Zacks spares little and we join TR and his companions as they perform their sting operations - outing the madams and their brothels, the barkeepers and the underground saloons, the police that are willing to look the other way.  The book gives us a fascinating account of an unusual time in New York City's political and cultural history.

ISBN-10: 0385519729- Hardcover $27.95
Publisher: Doubleday (March 13, 2012), 448 pages. 
Review copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Program and the publisher.

About the Author:
RICHARD ZACKS is the author of several nonfiction books, including The Pirate HunterAn Underground Education, and History Laid Bare. His writing has appeared in the New York TimesAtlantic MonthlyTimeHarper’s and Sports Illustrated, among many other publications. He writes in an office in New York City overlooking Union Square.