Monday, November 28, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

In this riveting sequel to the national bestseller The Queen of the Tearling, the evil kingdom of Mortmesne invades the Tearling, with dire consequences for Kelsea and her realm.

With each passing day, Kelsea Glynn is growing into her new responsibilities as Queen of the Tearling. By stopping the shipments of slaves to the neighboring kingdom of Mortmesne, she crossed the Red Queen, a brutal ruler whose power derives from dark magic, who is sending her fearsome army into the Tearling to take what is hers. And nothing can stop the invasion.

But as the Mort army draws ever closer, Kelsea develops a mysterious connection to a time before the Crossing, and she finds herself relying on a strange and possibly dangerous ally: a woman named Lily, fighting for her life in a world where being female can feel like a crime. The fate of the Tearling —and that of Kelsea’s own soul—may rest with Lily and her story, but Kelsea may not have enough time to find out.

In this dazzling sequel, Erika Johansen brings back favorite characters, including the Mace and the Red Queen, and introduces unforgettable new players, adding exciting layers to her multidimensional tale of magic, mystery, and a fierce young heroine.

Because I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling so thoroughly, I felt that author Erika Johansen had quite a task in front of her in the follow-up to her exciting first novel in this series. When dealing with sequels, it’s often the case that a second act tends to pale in comparison to the first.  Not so with The Invasion of the Tearling.  It picks up not long after the conclusion of the first tale, as Queen Kelsea is dealing with the repercussions of her actions in the days surrounding her crowning. She faces the prospect of the massive Mort army descending upon her modest kingdom.  If history is any indication, she is in for massive slaughter on an epic scale.  How is she to thwart such a formidable enemy?

While The Invasion of the Tearling does deal with the political ramifications of these events, there is so much more going on.  Magic weaves in and out of the story, changing Kelsea physically and bringing her even more confidence as a leader. She continues to grow in strength, all the while trying to understand the forces that are working in her and through her.  A most notable event in her life is the introduction of a new character, Lily.

When Lily first came on the scene, I temporarily thought I’d been transported into another novel.  She was residing in a not-so-distant-future America, dealing with very non-magical, domestic issues.  Her story is at times gut-wrenching, and not for the faint of heart. She endures graphic spousal abuse, so I once again note to my conservative readers that while an enjoyable series, this one is not for children.  Should it be put on film, The Invasion of the Tearling could easily garner an “R” rating.

This is not to discourage my adult audience, however.  If you can look past some measure of violence and blue language, there is a riveting story here.  Lily’s connection to Kelsea is remarkable, and I highly enjoyed the alternating moments between their two worlds. They both are dealing with seemingly insurmountable odds, and the courage they exhibit is extraordinary. That comes with a price, however, and sometimes it’s brutal.

Author Erika Johansen once again had quite a few thoughts in regard to social issues—women’s rights, privacy laws, the nature of technology and other topics.  The Church still plays a vital role in the tale, and I wish that Kelsea’s society had a better model for what it means to be the Body of Christ.  However, there is a character who seems to defy much of that church’s hypocrisy and shows the love of Christ to others. I enjoyed him very much.

The Invasion of the Tearling comes to an end at a logical stopping point, but it’s clearly not the true conclusion of the story. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger as to the fate of Queen Kelsea and her kingdom, and I am eager to get on to the next entry in this series, The Fate of the Tearling.  If it’s anything like its predecessors, I should be in for a great ride!

Giveaway:  The Invasion of the Tearling

(US Entrants Only)
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Learn more about The Invasion of the Tearling HERE

About Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing.

Follow the Tearling series on Facebook and Tumblr.

Paperback $1.99 Kindle Book 2 Book 3

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein's enormous shadow. This is the story of Einstein's wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.

Mitza Maric has always been a little different from other girls. Most twenty-year-olds are wives by now, not studying physics at an elite Zurich university with only male students trying to outdo her clever calculations. But Mitza is smart enough to know that, for her, math is an easier path than marriage. And then fellow student Albert Einstein takes an interest in her, and the world turns sideways. Theirs becomes a partnership of the mind and of the heart, but there might not be room for more than one genius in a marriage.

Albert Einstein
Like many in our society, when I hear the name "Einstein", my thoughts immediately go to the Nobel prize-winning intellectual with wiry hair and revolutionary theories of how our universe is held together. Through Albert Einstein's studies, the understanding of time itself has been altered irrevocably. In Marie Benedict's novel The Other Einstein, we are given a peek into the personal life of such a revered figure, and come to see him for the human he truly was. Not only that, Benedict gives voice to that of Albert's first wife, Mitza Maric, an accomplished student of physics in her own right, whose perspective has largely been unrevealed, until now.  Through thorough research and a bit of artistic license, Marie Benedict crafts a sweeping tale of a remarkable woman who traverses the difficult waters of academia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mitza Maric was not a typical woman of her era.  Beset with a limp as well as a keen intellect, it was assumed by her father that she would go on to never marry, yet also achieve things most women would not.  Given an excellent education, she eventually finds herself in class with none other than Albert Einstein, who at the time was just another physics student like herself. Charming and keenly smart, they become friends and later, lab partners.

Mitza Maric Einstein
At this point in the story, I expected a typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-regains-girl type of narrative, albeit infused with occasional mentions of physics, mathematics, and even a bit of philosophy.  Fortunately, I was ignorant of Mitza's biography, so I was taken by surprise at the course her life took.  I won't reveal the extent of her journey and transformations, but suffice it to say, they were remarkable.  Marie Benedict's writing was effortless and had me quickly upending pages to determine where Mrs. Einstein's life would end up next. As a Christian I appreciated Mitza's interest in finding God's hand within mathematics and physics.  As a wife and mother I was heartbroken over so many of the trials she had to face.  Mrs. Einstein was a truly unique character, yet she had many aspects of her personality that I found imminently relatable.

The Other Einstein was a compelling and thought-provoking novel, one that I read in just a few sittings. The chapters flew by quickly, and I was almost sad to see them end.  I wish that there had been a bit more about Mitza's life in her latter days, but I understand that Benedict was doing her best to stay true to history, and I assume there isn't much material related to those later years.  I also enjoyed the romantic early days of the Einsteins', and appreciated the fact that intimate details were kept to a minimum.  A steamy love scene or two could have easily been inserted into the plot, but Marie's writing is strong enough that such material wasn't needed. Although there are adult situations in her story (and one mere curse word that I can recall), The Other Einstein would make an excellent read for my conservative readers, as well as those with even a mild interest in science or mathematics.

A few years ago I read another book of Marie Benedict's, Brigid of Kildare, written under the name Heather Terrell.  While I enjoyed that novel, I think I relished The Other Einstein even more.  I applaud Marie in her continuing work, and give her latest novel an enthusiastic recommendation.


Sourcebooks has generously offered a giveaway of three copies of The Other Einstein! Utilize the Rafflecopter widget below and enter to win.  Good luck!  Also take note of the Kindle sale that's going on this week (see graphic below).  If you prefer the ebook edition, now's a great time to grab a copy!

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About the Author

MARIE BENEDICT is a lawyer with more than ten years’ experience as a litigator at two of the country’s premier law firms and for Fortune 500 companies. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Boston College with a focus in history and art history and a cum laude graduate of the Boston University School of Law. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Review and Giveaway: The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

A #1 Indie Next Pick and LibraryReads Selection

Magic, adventure, mystery, and romance combine in this epic debut in which a young princess must reclaim her dead mother’s throne, learn to be a ruler—and defeat the Red Queen, a powerful and malevolent sorceress determined to destroy her.

On her nineteenth birthday, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, raised in exile, sets out on a perilous journey back to the castle of her birth to ascend her rightful throne. Plain and serious, a girl who loves books and learning, Kelsea bears little resemblance to her mother, the vain and frivolous Queen Elyssa. But though she may be inexperienced and sheltered, Kelsea is not defenseless: Around her neck hangs the Tearling sapphire, a jewel of immense magical power; and accompanying her is the Queen’s Guard, a cadre of brave knights led by the enigmatic and dedicated Lazarus. Kelsea will need them all to survive a cabal of enemies who will use every weapon—from crimson-caped assassins to the darkest blood magic—to prevent her from wearing the crown.

Despite her royal blood, Kelsea feels like nothing so much as an insecure girl, a child called upon to lead a people and a kingdom about which she knows almost nothing. But what she discovers in the capital will change everything, confronting her with horrors she never imagined. An act of singular daring will throw Kelsea’s kingdom into tumult, unleashing the vengeance of the tyrannical ruler of neighboring Mortmesne: the Red Queen, a sorceress possessed of the darkest magic. Now Kelsea will begin to discover whom among the servants, aristocracy, and her own guard she can trust.

But the quest to save her kingdom and meet her destiny has only just begun—a wondrous journey of self-discovery and a trial by fire that will make her a legend . . . if she can survive.

The Queen of the Tearling is the first volume in an epic fantasy series by Erika Johansen. It follows the life of Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, born a royal in the kingdom of Tear but ferreted away for most of the first nineteen years of her life for safety, not unlike the legendary "Sleeping Beauty", who was raised in secret for sixteen years. As she grows, there are forces out to obliterate her, most notably her uncle Thomas, the Raleigh Regent who wants to retain his power on her throne, previously occupied by her deceased mother Elyssa. Kelsea manages to survive until her coming of age at nineteen, raised in seclusion by the caring Barty and Carlin Glynn, who gave her an academic education as well as one of survival. Since an infant she has worn a magical pendant, a blue sapphire with otherworldly properties. When the Queen's Guard comes to fetch her, she takes the throne, but not without struggle. She grows from a naive girl in the woods to a powerful royal not seen in decades, facing down an even greater threat in the Red Queen, who has oppressed the Tearling from her position in Mortmesne for many years.

The Queen of the Tearling is a captivating novel, filled with adventure, magic, and enduring social issues. Religion and politics are infused throughout, set in a future world beyond the one we know now. I found it interesting that this story was not set in a completely fantastical realm, but on our Earth, just set far in the future. Few modern conveniences have survived the historic “Crossing", from generations before in their time. Books are a rarity, there are no electronics, and medical knowledge has receded into a pre-modern state. Christianity still has a presence, and this provides an interesting perspective, although sometimes a troubling one.  We see a pseudo-Christian church represented, warped by greed, power and corruption. It is a shadow of the Body that Christ intends, with its toleration of human trafficking and an almost theocratic influence on government. This provides interesting conflict within the narrative, but I was disappointed to see the Church once more portrayed in a negative light within literature.

That being said, Johansen’s writing is captivating, and it is no surprise to know that the novel garnered so much pre-publication buzz that the story has already been optioned for the screen. Although others have been considered for the role, I could see Hailee Steinfeld as the lead, with Gerard Butler as the strong and powerful Lazarus. Carlin could be played by Helen Mirren, with Wallace Shawn as Barty.

Along with thematic elements as seen in fairy tales like the ones by the Brothers Grimm, I also noticed hints of King Arthur, Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games. This is not to say that it's a derivative tale; it simply feels like a classic narrative that has been crafted in a similar fashion to these epic stories. The human drama, magic and cast of characters kept me enthralled through every chapter.  Erika Johansen has begun quite the series, and I look forward to the upcoming titles.

Notes to conservative readers and/or parents: The content in this novel is not for small children. While not overwhelmingly prevalent, there is enough adult material to earn a soft R rating. I'm sure the content will be toned down in order to achieve a PG-13 rating when it comes to theaters, but this book is not as tame as the fantastical likes of Harry Potter or the Brothers Grimm, which in their own right do indeed have interesting content. And as mentioned, the views of the Christian church are not exactly stellar. Despite those caveats, I enjoyed The Queen of the Tearling very much and eagerly anticipate to the cinematic version and the sequels, The Invasion of the Tearling and The Fate of the Tearling.

Giveaway: The Queen of the Tearling

(US Entrants Only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway
Learn more about The Queen of the Tearling HERE

About Erika Johansen

Erika Johansen grew up and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She went to Swarthmore College, earned an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and eventually became an attorney, but she never stopped writing.

Follow the Tearling series on Facebook and Tumblr.

Paperback $1.99 Kindle Book 2 Book 3

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Austenesque Spotlight and Giveaway: Darcy's Hope by Ginger Monette

Today The Calico Critic welcomes Ginger Monette and her latest work, Darcy's Hope: Beauty from Ashes.  We'll be featuring lots of great material today, from spotlight information, to an interview, a giveaway, and more!  Thanks for stopping by, and I hope you enjoy this little foray into the World War I era with some of our favorite Austenesque characters!

*          *          *

Escape to the era of Downton Abbey and experience all the drama of World War I alongside literature’s iconic Elizabeth Bennet & Fitzwilliam Darcy. You'll watch their tender love unfold as they learn to work together and reconcile their differences amidst the carnage of war.

1916. World War I has turned French chateaux into bloody field hospitals, British gentlemen into lice-infested soldiers, and left Elizabeth Bennet's life in tatters.

Her father is dead and her home destroyed. Never again will Elizabeth depend on a man to secure her future!

But when an opportunity arises to advance her dreams of becoming a doctor, she is elated—until he arrives....

Heartbroken. Devastated. Captain Fitzwilliam Darcy is left rejected by the woman he loved and reeling from the slaughter of his men on the battlefield. “Enough!” Darcy vows. “No more sentimental attachments!”

But arriving at a field hospital to pursue a covert investigation, Darcy discovers his beloved Elizabeth training with a dashing American doctor and embroiled in an espionage conspiracy.

With only a few months to expose the plot, Darcy is forced to grapple with his feelings for Elizabeth while uncovering the truth. Is she indeed innocent? Darcy can only hope….
  • Cameo appearance by John Thornton (of Gaskill’s North & South).
  • Rated PG. Clean romance, mild language, some war scenes.
  • Darcy's Hope has a happy ending but will continue in Darcy's Hope at Donwell Abbey, coming in February 2017. In the sequel, readers will experience the full resolution of the mystery, and our beloved couple's love will face a new, tragic test.

Interview with Ginger Monette

Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes, a Great War Romance

Q: What inspired you to catapult Darcy and Lizzy’s story from the early 1800’s to the early 1900’s?

A: Downton Abbey! Julian Fellowes’ creations have numerous similarities with Jane Austen’s characters: a house full of girls with no heir, an entailed estate, a landowner living in a grand house, a crotchety female matriarch, and high society characters falling in love with, well, those not so high society. It was remarkable to me how little British culture had changed in 100 years. I could see Darcy dining with Lord Grantham with little change in decorum. Besides, the turbulence of the Western Front seemed a fitting and colorful setting for a romance between two characters known for clashing. And so a plot was born.

Q: Most Americans know nothing more about World War I than trench warfare and trench foot. How did you research such a broad topic?

A: With the only sources I could trust as historically accurate—diaries. What made research difficult was that diaries aren’t written to instruct a future audience (complete with topic headings and index). Consequently, their vantage point assumes an acquaintance with their present culture—social mores, current news, general ways of doing things, gender roles, etc. Since I am not from that era, all those little details had to be gleaned from hints here and there—and that required hours and hours of reading. I read six hours a day for nine months and compiled over 200 pages of typed notes.

Q: That’s a lot of reading! Didn’t you tire of such tedious research?

A: No. Actually I became obsessed. Those folks back then were a lot smarter than I’d given them credit for. In addition, I found the history fascinating and the people inspiring!

Q: How were they inspiring?

A: Machine guns, poison gas, airplanes, and tanks made their debut in WWI inflicting destruction and horrific wounds on an unprecedented scale. Men lived in squalid trenches and saw their comrades dismembered and slaughtered on a daily basis, yet they remained cheerful and self-sacrificing.

And everyone did something to aid in the war effort. Hundreds of women volunteered as nurse’s aides, others wrote letters, sent care packages, and knitted socks. Men too old to serve as soldiers became stretcher-bearers and ambulance drivers. They fashioned splints from scrap metal, turned church halls into hospitals, and emptied bedpans. These small acts of kindness repeated over and over made an enormous difference. As a result, I am challenged to be cheerful amidst trying circumstances and to offer my own small acts of kindness even when they seem insignificant.

Q: Did you face any particular challenges in writing Darcy’s Hope?

A: Yes! Weaving a romance into a complex setting unfamiliar to most readers, with both the hero and heroine experiencing significant character evolution, all in the context of a mystery was a HUGE challenge. I’ll never try to combine that many elements again.

Q: I hear you've put together a special photo album to accompany Darcy's Hope. Can you tell us about it and why you compiled it?

A: Most Americans know almost nothing about WW1. I was no exception. But after researching, it dawned on me that my own understanding of the Great War had been greatly enhanced by photographs. What if I shared some photos with my readers?

After combing through a thousand or more WW1 photos, I selected nearly a hundred that not only represented the culture and technologies of the war and era, but also of the people and places depicted in the story. I dressed them up like an old fashioned album, and I’m really pleased with how Lizzy's Scrapbook turned out.

I'm offering free access to Lizzy's Scrapbook as a special blog tour bonus to anyone who orders the book during the tour, Nov. 1-22. All they have to do is purchase Darcy's Hope, then visit my website ( and follow the prompts for Lizzy's Scrapbook.

Q: Your last book, Tree of Life, Charlotte and the Colonel, had a Christian theme. Can we expect that again?

A: Not this time. But the story does have themes. The primary theme is deception—people, circumstances, and situations are not always what they initially appear to be. Even the subtitle, Beauty from Ashes is a paradox, a form of deception. Another theme, the barriers one erects to protect him or herself from pain, are also a kind of deception. They end up delivering more pain than protection.

Q: Now that you’ve done so much research on World War I, can we expect more novels set in this era?

A: Yes. Darcy’s Hope ~ Beauty from Ashes has a happy ending but will continue in Darcy’s Hope at Donwell Abbey (yes, that’s the home of George and Emma Knightley’s descendants), now available for pre-order. In the sequel, readers will experience the full resolution of the mystery, and our beloved couple’s love will face a tragic test.

In addition, I’m planning a Great War Romance series. Several of the characters that readers encounter in Darcy’s Hope will have stories all their own including Colonel Fitzwilliam, John Thornton (yes, John Thornton from North & South), Robert Knightley and a few more. Stay tuned!

Q: Is there a way readers can get updates on future releases?

A: Yes. They can sign up at my website to receive email updates and “like” my Facebook page, Ginger Monette Author.

Q: Anything else you would like readers to know about Darcy’s Hope?

A: As you can guess, historical accuracy was important to me. And although I tried to keep the romance between Darcy and Lizzy the story’s primary focus, I hope readers will finish Darcy’s Hope with a taste of what it would have been like at a field hospital near the Front.

Readers may also be interested to know that the chateau-turned-field-hospital in my story is based on one that actually existed, even down to the swans in the water feature! The Messines Ridge blast and Darcy’s “going over the top” at the Battle of the Somme were actual events. Also, chaplains really did occasionally assist in the operating room, and the two outlandish stories told by the colorful Scotsman are true as well.

But most of all I hope readers will love the story!

Thanks so much for hosting me on your blog : )

Giveaway - Perfect for Downton Abbey Fans!

The ornament giveaway is open to US residents in the continental US.
The prize for residents of the continental UK is a Downton Abbey mug.

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About the Author

The teacher always learns the most. And in homeschooling her children, Ginger Monette learned all the history she missed in school. Now she's hooked—on writing and World War I.

When not writing, Ginger enjoys dancing on the treadmill, watching period dramas, public speaking, and reading—a full-length novel every Sunday afternoon.

Her WW1 flash fiction piece, Flanders Field of Grey, won Charlotte Mecklenburg Library's 2015 Picture This grand prize.

Ginger lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she happily resides with her husband, three teenagers, and two loyal dogs.

Connect with Ginger

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