Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Blog Tour: Color Song A Daring Tale of Intrigue and Artistic Passion in Glorious 15th Century Italy: A Book Review

02_Color Song 
Publication Date: September 16, 2014 | Skyscape (Amazon Children’s Publishing) | Formats: eBook, Paperback, Hardcover
Genre: YA Historical
Source: This book was given to me from Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
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Synopsis: By the author of the acclaimed Passion Blue, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2012 and “a rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion,” comes a fascinating companion novel. Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed – or cursed – with a spirit’s gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors she creates in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilità. It’s here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness, and rekindled her passion to become a painter – an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy. But when a dying Humilità bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession – the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue – Giulia realizes she’s in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color for themselves. Faced with the prospect of lifelong imprisonment in the convent, forever barred from painting as a punishment for keeping Humilita’s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist’s apprentice? Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilità’s precious blue. And Venice, with its graceful gondolas and twisting canals, its gilded palazzi and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way? This compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to follow your true passion?

My Review: Color Song is a companion novel to Passion Blue. Inside the convent of Santa Marta, Maestra Humilita is the creator of Passion blue, a beautiful paint color that has been the convent’s greatest accomplishment. Because everyone, including Humilita’s father, is so desperate to get their hands on this formula, Humilita has given her secret to make Passion blue to the only one she can trust, Giulia. After the death of Humilita, Giulia finds that she must make a choice: either reveal the secret, become a nun, and give up her passion for painting or to leave the convent and disguise herself as a boy and go to Venice and become an apprentice to Ferraldi, a painter and Maestra Humilita’s friend.

     The author has created a gorgeous scenery. I like how she portrays Santa Marta’s convent as as a prison, where she is forced to give up what she loves most. I also love her journey to Venice, where she disguises herself as a boy. It is not an easy journey. I like how she describes Renaissance Venice. For behind the beautiful facade, danger lurks everywhere. In the whole novel, danger stalks Giulia. She is not safe anywhere she goes.

     Giulia is an average teenager. She wants to find acceptance. She wants to find a place to be happy and to do what she loves. She is faced with tough situations, and ponders what is the best choice for her. Giulia is a brave, strong, and smart girl, who is willing to do the unthinkable in society to get what she wants. Along the way, she makes friendships and finds love.

     Overall, this book is about love, friendship, hope, and acceptance. It is about finding one’s identity in a cruel world. The story shows how hard it is for a woman to be a painter in the Renaissance. The plot is fast-paced, and the setting and characters are well-developed. There is a touch of paranormal, for Giulia can hear the voices of paint colors. I have to advise you to read Passion Blue before you read Color Song. For even though this book is a stand-alone and gives you enough back story, reading Passion Blue will give you a full picture and you will appreciate Color Song more. For I haven’t read Passion Blue, and a lot of times I was lost and had to read the back story a few times more to get a deeper understanding of Giulia’s character. I recommend this book to anyone interested in art, Italy, and the Renaissance. This book is a great tribute to the female painters of the Renaissance.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Praise for the Novels of Victoria Strauss

"Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices. A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion." - Kirkus Reviews on PASSION BLUE (Starred Review, a Best Teen Book of 2012) "Compelling…absorbing…An intriguing historical novel inspired by accounts of women artists in the Italian Renaissance." - Booklist on PASSION BLUE "Mysterious dreams, suspense-filled legends, the terror that unfolds as the dig ensues, and the fine characterizations weave together beautifully to make this adventure fantasy a winner." - Booklist on GUARDIAN OF THE HILLS (Starred Review)

 "A rich story about human nature, this fantasy is a thought-provoking page-turner. The characters are deeply etched, and the plot turns are credible yet arresting…A thoroughly enjoyable read." - Kliatt on THE ARM OF THE STONE 

 "The plot is complex yet convincing, and the abundant, well-chosen details of the settings–as well as the carefully developed characters–make this high fantasy a superior and original novel." - Publishers Weekly on THE GARDEN OF THE STONE (Starred Review)

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03_Victoria Strauss

About the Author

Victoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the STONE duology (THE ARM OF THE STONE and THE GARDEN OF THE STONE), and a historical novel for teens, PASSION BLUE. She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer's Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards. An active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), she's co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that tracks and warns about literary fraud. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website, Facebook page, and blog, for which she was a 2012 winner of an Independent Book Blogger Award. She was honored with the SFWA Service Award in 2009. She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. For more information please visit Victoria's Strauss's website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

Color Song Blog Tour & Book Blast Schedule

Monday, September 16 Book Blast at Passages to the Past Book Blast at The True Book Addict Tuesday, September 17 Review at Oh the Books Book Blast at The Maiden's Court Wednesday, September 18 Review at Casual Readers Review at (Passion Blue) Thursday, September 19 Review at Monday, September 22 Review at Ageless Pages Reviews Feature at Oh the Books Tuesday, September 23 Book Blast at Flashlight Commentary Wednesday, September 24 Review at History from a Woman's Perspective Interview at Bibliophilia, Please Book Blast at Reading Lark Thursday, September 25 Book Blast at A Book Geek Friday, September 26 Review at Reading Room Book Reviews Book Blast at Just One More Chapter Monday, September 29 Review at Tribute Books Mama Interview at Math, Science & Social Studies...Oh My! Tuesday, September 30 Review at Book Babe Book Blast at Historical Fiction Connection Wednesday, October 1 Review & Interview at Bookish Book Blast at Historical Tapestry Thursday, October 2 Review at Brooke Blogs Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book Friday, October 3 Review at A Bibliotaph's Reviews Book Blast at The Lit Bitch Saturday, October 4 Book Blast at Susan Heim on Writing Monday, October 6 Review at WTF Are You Reading? Book Blast at Let Them Read Books Tuesday, October 7 Review at A Leisure Moment Wednesday, October 8 Review at Peeking Between the Pages Friday, October 10 Review at A Bookish Affair


To enter to win any of the following prizes please complete the form below:
2 Grand Prizes Winners: One Kindle Paperwhite with custom Color Song cover with Color Song and Passion Blue ebooks pre-loaded, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks), and signed paperback editions of Strauss's Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) (US only) 

2 winners: Signed hardcovers of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada) 5 winners: Signed paperbacks of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada)

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on October 10th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on October 11th and notified via email. Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. 

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Blog Tour: I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe: A Book Review

I Shall Be Near To You: A Novel
Author: Erin Lindsay McCabe
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Crown Publishers
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 320
Source: This book was given to me as part of the TLC Book Tour in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: An extraordinary novel about a strong-willed woman who disguises herself as a man in order to fight beside her husband in the Union Army, inspired by the letters of a remarkable female soldier who fought in the Civil War.

     Rosetta doesn't want her new husband, Jeremiah to enlist, but he joins up, hoping to make enough money that they'll be able to afford their own farm someday. Though she's always worked by her father’s side as the son he never had, now that Rosetta is a wife she's told her place is inside with the other women. But Rosetta decides her true place is with Jeremiah, no matter what that means, and to be with him she cuts off her hair, hems an old pair of his pants, and signs up as a Union soldier.

      With the army desperate for recruits, Rosetta has no trouble volunteering, although she faces an incredulous husband. She drills with the men, proves she can be as good a soldier as anyone, and deals with the tension as her husband comes to grips with having a fighting wife. Rosetta’s strong will clashes with Jeremiah’s while their marriage is tested by broken conventions, constant danger, and war, and she fears discovery of her secret even as they fight for their future and for their lives. Inspired by more than 250 documented accounts of the women who fought in the Civil War while disguised as men, I Shall Be Near To You is the intimate story, in Rosetta’s powerful and gorgeous voice, of the drama of marriage, one woman’s amazing exploits, and the tender love story that can unfold when two partners face life’s challenges side by side.

   My Review: I Shall Be Near to You is a book that is written by a professor that taught at my college so I am excited to do this review! She wrote this book because she was inspired by the little known fact that women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War. I decided to read it because it reminded me of Mulan. The story is a fictional account based on the life of Sarah Rosetta Wakefield, who fought in the Civil War to be near her husband.

     The story starts where Rosetta persuades Jeremiah to marry him before he enlists. They marry and a few weeks later, he joins the army without saying good-bye to her. To be honest, I had an issue with him leaving her without the good-bye. I felt that it was a cowardly thing for him to do. Jeremiah owed every bit to give his wife a tearful parting. They may not see each other again, and Jeremiah should have made their last moments together knowing that it will be their final moment before he goes to fight in the Civil War. Rosetta had the right to be mad at him when she found out that he just up and left. She then follows him by cutting off her hair, wears men’s clothing, and has to act like a man to enlist in the war.

     At first, I found Rosetta to be childish, immature, and emotional. She pushed Jeremiah to marry her before he joined the Civil War, so she wouldn’t be a spinster. In reality, Jeremiah could barely support himself, so he could hardly support a family. When they married, they lived on Jeremiah’s parents property. The reason why he joined the Civil War was so he could have enough money to support a family. But Rosetta did not want to understand Jeremiah’s situation. She thought only about her own. In that way, Rosetta was selfish. She thought about her dreams, wishes, and plans and not about what Jeremiah thought and wanted for her. Therefore, I first thought that her love with Jeremiah was based on infatuation and not real love. However, Rosetta grew to be a strong heroine. When Rosetta disguises herself as a man, it is no surprise. She was always described as being manly for she helps her father out with the farm. Also, her mother-in-law criticizes her because she did men’s duties and not women’s household duties. When she does enlist, she’s tough and is able to keep up with the men. She does show that she really loves her husband, even though when they are in the army together, it is painful for him that she is here and not at home.

     Overall, this book is about family, friendship, love, war, and hope. The message of the book is to be yourself. This book is really action-packed. The book is hard to put down when Rosetta enlists. I love the scenes between Jeremiah and Rosetta during the war for that is when their marriage is tested and there is tension between them. There is a lot of profanity in this book that is not for the faint of heart. I recommend this to anyone who is interested in the Civil War and strong heroines. I Shall Be Near To You would be great for marriages because it is about overcoming the challenges to make their marriage stronger. This book is a great tribute to all the women who fought in the Civil War.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blog Tour: Under The Almond Trees by Linda Ulleseit: A Book Review

Author: Linda Ulleseit
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 426
Source: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Under the Almond Trees is the story of my family – three ordinary women in California who lived extraordinary lives. It started with a falling tree branch that killed Ellen VanValkenburgh’s husband in 1862, forcing her to assume leadership of his paper mill, something women weren’t allowed to do. Women weren’t allowed to vote yet, either. Ellen decided that had to change, and became a suffragette. In 1901, Emily Williams , Ellen’s daughter-in-law, became an architect – very much against her family’s wishes. No one would hire a woman, but Emily would not be deterred. She and her life partner Lillian set out to build homes themselves. By the 1930’s women enjoyed more freedom, including the vote. Even so, Ellen’s granddaughter Eva VanValkenburgh chose a traditional life of marriage and children, even closing her photography business at her husband’s insistence. When he later refused to pay for their daughter’s college education, Eva followed the example of her Aunt Emily and reopened her photography business. I am proud to call these women family and honored to share their story.

      My Review: Under the Almond Trees tells the story of three California women who were for women’s rights. Each of these women, a suffragist, an architect, and a woman who opens up her own business, struggled to give women the same opportunities as a man. They believed that women should be allowed to choose their path of happiness despite the pressure of their society. This novel shows us their trials and triumphs as well as their accomplishments to women’s rights in California.

      The novel is told in first person, and the first person to be introduced is Ellen Van Valkenburg. She is a suffragist, who wants women to be allowed to vote. The second person is Emily Williams, who decided to follow a man’s career as an architect. What is interesting about Emily is that she wasn’t fighting for women’s rights until later on. She just wanted to pursue her dreams. The third person is Ellen Van Valkenburg's granddaughter, Eva, who wants to open up a photography business. Each of these women are strong. They tend to make the best out of their situations. They were often faced with setbacks and criticisms. Yet, they never give up, and they find ways to be successful. 

     I found that this novel gave an interesting history of women’s suffrage. In this novel, we get to meet Susan B. Anthony, and it also mentions Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the famous architect, Julia Morgan. I didn’t know that California was one of the six states that allowed women to vote before the 19th amendment. I also didn’t know that Ellen Van Valkenburg, Emily Williams, and Eva Van Valkenburgh had contributed a lot to women’s rights. It is because of them and to other women suffragists that have helped give women many opportunities in the U.S. that had been closed in their era. They did this so that women could be free to follow their dreams.

      Overall, this book is about family, love, courage, perseverance, and the ability to make choices. The message of the book is that people should be allowed to follow their heart and to pursue their dreams. It also means that parents and family should be strong role models and to help them keep their dreams alive. The novel is very well-written. It can be slow at times. However I admire these women and their determination not to give up even when they are met with obstacles. We readers will rejoice in their triumphs and empathize with their pain. I recommend this to anyone interested in women’s suffrage and strong positive role models.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

About the Author: 

     Linda Ulleseit was born and raised in Saratoga, California, and has taught elementary school in San Jose since 1996. She enjoys cooking, cross-stitching, reading, and spending time with her family. Her favorite subject is writing, and her students get a lot of practice scribbling stories and essays. Someday Linda hopes to see books written by former students alongside hers in bookstores.
Her first novel, ON A WING AND A DARE, was published in 2012. It is a Young Adult fantasy set in medieval Wales, complete with flying horses, a love triangle, and treachery. It’s sequel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER, was released March, 2013. The focus of that book is the misty past of a groom and the murky future of a rider. The last book in the trilogy is UNDER A WILD AND DARKENING SKY, May 2014. It follows a brother and sister, new to High Meadow, who become involved in a plot to steal flying horses.

     As a child, Linda always loved to write. She took her first creative writing course in seventh grade, accumulating a closet full of stories that she never showed anyone until 2007. At that time, she gave the first draft of a flying horse book to a teacher colleague to read. ON A WING AND A DARE began as a NaNoWriMo novel in 2009. It was revised with the help of reviewers on over the next two years. For NaNo 2011, Linda drafted the sequel, IN THE WINDS OF DANGER. NaNoWriMo 2012 brought the first draft of UNDER A WILD AND DARKENING SKY, and NaNoWriMo 2013 saw the completion of UNDER THE ALMOND TREES. This last is a historical fiction that follows three women who struggle for women’s rights in early California.

     Linda has also written a novella titled WINGS OVER TREMEIRCHSON, released as an ebook in Fall 2013. It follows the story of Hoel and Neste, parents of a main character in ON A WING AND A DARE

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Post by Elisa DeCarlo: From Corsets to Chemises: Fashion as Liberation

  Today's guest writer is Elisa DeCarlo. Elisa DeCarlo has published two novels, Strong Spirits and The Devil You Say as well as The Abortionist's Daughter. Her work is also in a number of anthologies. Elisa has also written and performed a number of solo shows across the country. In 2013, the Exit Press will publish an anthology of her stage work. Elisa was born in Westchester, NY, and grew up there and in New York City. As an actress, she has performed in television, radio and film. In her guest post, Elisa DeCarlo talks women's fashion in the 1910s. Be sure to check out my review of The Abortionist's Daughter soon. Thank you, Mrs. DeCarlo.

From Corsets to Chemises: Fashion As Liberation

In The Abortionist’s Daughter, which is set in 1916, the evolution of the main character, Melanie Daniels, is not only shown by her thoughts actions, but also her clothes.  Since I am an obsessed fashion buff, I had to write about the clothes!
Queen Victoria ruled Great Britain, from 1837 to 1901.  The ideal woman of 1900 had an exaggerated hourglass figure, created by tight lace-up corsets made of thick canvas with whalebone or steel stays.  Females were “the weaker sex”.  The corset was deemed morally and medically necessary.  Because breathing was difficult and the many layers of clothing impossibly heavy, women often fainted.  This marked them as “delicate”.

The period between 1910 - 1920 was a time of great change for women.  Women campaigned for equal rights under the law. They fought hard to win the vote, which they did in 1920.  These activists were called “unwomanly,” “unnatural,” the more so because some even tried to find birth control!  Birth control was not a right women must have. Annette Kellerman, a champion Olympic swimmer, scandalized America when she introduced the one-piece bathing suit.  It was intended to replace the heavy wool dresses women wore, even when swimming!
Reflecting the changes in women, their clothing  became less restrictive.  Hemlines first rose to the ankle, and then eight inches off the floor.  The stiff artificial look of the corset gave way to softer, more easy-fitting lingerie.  There were still more layers than most of us can imagine today, but far less than in earlier times.  There was also a wider range of style, from man-tailored suits to fluffy lacy dresses.

When first we meet Melanie in 1916, she wears an old-fashioned Victorian corset and worn-out clothes. Melanie makes do with hand-me-downs from her older sister, and a blue dancing dress she has to “do over” (change the trim, neckline, sleeves) because it is the closest thing she has to something nice.  Her father, the town doctor, was sent to prison for performing an illegal abortion that went horribly wrong.  Now that he is back, the Daniels family is barely scraping by.  They are outcasts in the village in the Adirondack Mountains.
When Melanie escapes her tiny village for New York City, her lover,  James, takes her to a large department store for clothes shopping.
“I declare I haven’t ever seen anything that antique on a woman your age,” the saleslady said.
Melanie looked down at her old white sixhook corset.  “It’s only nine years old,” she mumbled.
“Madame, those whalebone corsets can do untold damage to your internal organs, if you don’t mind my speaking frankly.  Now, what you need is one of our boneless corsets, made of elastic, and one or two of our new bust bodices, styled after the Parisian models.  They give a far freer, more natural silhouette.  Believe me, you’ll appreciate it the next time you eat dinner.”  
The new undergarments were lovely, but Melanie couldn’t help thinking that an unrestricted midsection was a bit wicked.

She sees a different woman in the mirror, more confident and prettier.  Later, James deserts her and she is sent home. Melanie decides to become an actress.  She gets the money to return to New York by selling her clothes to the village dressmaker.  The one piece she cannot sell, a gray silk crepe evening gown, is pivotal to the plot.
She returns to New York wearing a dress made by her mother. Owing to her tight budget, the dress is all she has to wear to auditions, so she must write to her mother to make her clothes. She trims her one hat with violets, ribbons, and feathers to make it look different.
But then, the evening gown helps her land a job as a “dress extra”, a stage extra who supplies her own clothes.  She meets another newly hired actress, Mercedes La Fay.
“What are you going to wear?” asked Mercedes.  “I’ve got the most beautiful white dress, with a silver girdle, with cloth of silver slippers and maybe I’ll do my hair the same as yours, so we look more like sisters, what do you think?  It’s a wonderful dress.  My friend Marian Templeton wore it in ‘Clarence’, and except for a makeup stain that I have to cover with a brooch, you’d never know it was used.  Amazing considering it’s white, isn’t it?”
“Uh, yes,” said Melanie when she realized Mercedes had finished speaking.  Mercedes asked a lot of questions, but didn’t stop for the answers.  “I’m wearing gray crepe, with an overlay of rose lace.  It’s Grecian style.  And silver slippers.”

With the money Melanie earns from her new job, she is able to buy a new wardrobe.  Not of truly fine clothes, but good everyday pieces.

The clothes of the other characters are equally meticulously drawn, indicating class, wealth, mental illness and a host of other characteristics.  It was tremendous fun researching the wardrobes for The Abortionist’s Daughter.  It taught me so much, not only about clothes, but about women’s history, too.

Check out my review of Elisa DeCarlo's novel:
The Abortionist's Daughter

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Facebook Launch Party for Linda Covella's Yakimali's Gift!

Facebook Launch Party for Linda Covella's Yakimali's Gift!

     If you have never been to a Facebook launch party then you are really missing out! I have participated in a few and I always have the best time interacting with best-selling authors and other bookworms as well as getting the chance to win some fabulous prizes (I won Claude and Camille by Stphanie Cowell). Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours will be hosting a Facebook launch party for Linda Covella's Yakimali's Gift on September 16th so read below for all the information you need. I hope you will come!

Publication Date: July 29, 2014
Astraea Press
eBook; 206p
Genre: YA Historical Fiction

HF Virtual Book Tours proudly presents Linda Covella’s Yakimali’s Gift Launch Party on September 16th, from 7-9pm EST! There will be fabulous giveaways and prizes, guest authors, Q&A, trivia, & more! We hope you’ll join us & your fellow HistFic fans for some bookish fun!

Where: Facebook Event (click to RSVP)
When: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 – 7:00-9:00pm EST

About The Book


It’s 1775 in Mexico, New Spain, and 15-year-old Fernanda Marquina, half Pima Indian and half Spanish, can’t seem to live up to her mother’s expectations or fit into the limited female roles of her culture. While she tends her garden, matches wits with buyers and sellers at the weekly market, and avoids Mama’s lectures and the demands of Nicolas, the handsome soldier pursuing her, Fernanda grabs any opportunity to ride the horses she loves, racing across the desert, dreaming of adventure in faraway lands.

But when a tragic accident presents her with the adventure she longed for, it’s at a greater cost than she could have ever imagined. With her family, Fernanda joins Juan Bautista de Anza’s historic colonization expedition to California.

On the arduous four-month journey, Fernanda makes friends with Feliciana, the young widow Fernanda can entrust with her deepest thoughts; Gloria, who becomes the sister Fernanda always wished for; and Gloria’s handsome brother Miguel, gentle one moment, angry the next and, like Fernanda, a mestizo–half Indian and half Spanish. As Fernanda penetrates Miguel’s layers of hidden feelings, she’s torn between him and Nicolas, who has joined the journey in the ranks of Anza’s soldiers and whose plans include marrying Fernanda when they reach California.

But propelling Fernanda along the journey is her search for Mama’s Pima Indian past, a past Mama refused to talk about, a past with secrets that Fernanda is determined to learn. The truths she discovers will change the way she sees her ancestry, her family, and herself.

Watch The Book Trailer HERE

Praise For Yakimali's Gift

“Linda Covella brings the early settlement of California to life in this tale of adventure, drama, romance, and mystery…The novel is full of imagination and wisdom and speaks to the universal need of young people to rebel and to find the courage to invent their own lives.” – Dr. Virginia M. Bouvier, author of Women and the Conquest of California

Yakimali’s Gift is written for the young, the old, and everyone in between. It’s about a young girl named Fernanda, and her adventure in 1775, when King Carlos III of Spain ordered Juan Bautista de Anza to lead an expedition of settlers from Mexico to California. This book is written with such detail I felt like I could reach out and touch the desert sand, or pet the beautiful horses:) The other characters in this book are just as wonderful as Fernanda. You can’t help but feel their pain or smile when there happy. Linda is an excellent writer, she grabs you from the beginning and takes you on an exciting adventure. This is a story you can read and then pass along to your daughter, that means a lot to me as my thirteen year-old usually can’t read the books I’m asked to review. I recommend this book to everyone!” ~Tanya Watt, reviewer/designer

Quarter-finalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

“The dialogue, character development, and historical details all serve the story and come together seamlessly…Although tagged as Young Adult…would also appeal to adult readers.”
~Amazon ABNA Judge

“Clear and imaginative writing…Excellent eye for descriptive detail. I am feeling a very strong sense of place as you describe the scenes…”
~Amazon ABNA Judge

Buy The Book

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About The Author

Linda Covella’s varied job experience and education (associate degrees in art, business and mechanical drafting & design, a BS degree in Manufacturing Management) have led her down many paths and enriched her life experiences. But one thing she never strayed from is her love of writing.

A writer for over 30 years, her first official publication was a restaurant review column in a local newspaper, and as a freelance writer, she continued to publish numerous articles in a variety of publications. But when she published articles for children’s magazines (“Games and Toys in Ancient Rome” and “Traveling the Tokaido in 17th Century Japan,” in Learning Through History magazine, and “Barry’s Very Grown Up Day” in Zootles magazine), she realized she’d found her niche: writing for children. She wants to share with kids and teens her love of books: the worlds they open, the things they teach, the feelings they express.

Yakimali’s Gift, a historical novel for young adults published by Astraea Press, and middle grade paranormal The Castle Blues Quake published by Beau Coup Publishing are her first novels.

No matter what new paths she may travel down, she sees her writing as a lifelong joy and commitment.

She’s a member of Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). She blogs about writing on her website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Winner of Beggars and Angels Giveaway!

The winner of Beggars and Angels Giveaway is Anne! Congratulations, Anne! Thanks to all who entered in the giveaway and to all those who are interested in Rosemary Tran Lauer and Scott Beller, along with their novel, and the charity organization, Devotion to Children.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

La Belle Creole: The Cuban Countess who Captivated Havana, Madrid and Paris by Alina Garcia-Lapuerta: A Book Review

La Belle Creole: The Cuban Countess who Captivated Havana, Madrid and Paris
Author: Alina Garcia-Lapuerta
Genre: Nonfiction, Biography, History
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Release Date: September 1, 2014
Pages: 320
Source:  Netgalley/publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: The adventurous woman nicknamed La Belle Creole is brought to life in this book through the full use of her memoirs, contemporary accounts, and her intimate letters. The fascinating Maria de las Mercedes Santa Cruz y Montalvo, also known as Mercedes, and later the Comtesse Merlin, was a Cuban-born aristocrat who was years ahead of her time as a writer, a socialite, a salon host, and a participant in the Cuban slavery debate. Raised in Cuba and shipped off to live with her socialite mother in Spain at the age of 13, Mercedes triumphed over the political chaos that blanketed Europe in the Napoleonic days, by charming aristocrats from all sides with her exotic beauty and singing voice. She married General Merlin in Napoleon’s army and discussed painting with Francisco de Goya. In Paris she hosted the city’s premier musical salon where Liszt, Rossini, and great divas of the day performed for Rothschilds, Balzac, and royalty. Celebrated as one of the greatest amateur sopranos of her day, Mercedes also achieved fame as a writer. Her memoirs and travel writings introduced European audiences to 19th-century Cuban society and contributed to the debate over slavery. Mercedes has recently been rediscovered as Cuba’s earliest female author and one who deserves a place in the canon of Latin American literature.

    My Review: Before La Belle Creole, I had never heard of Mercedes, the Countess of Merlin. However, I can see why because La Belle Creole is the first biography of Mercedes to be in English. After reading this novel, I was surprised why she hadn’t been a popular subject to English and American historians. Mercedes is a fascinating character. She was the daughter of a Cuban elite, and became a fashionable hostess of salons in Paris, entertaining celebrities such as Balzac, Rossini, and royalty in her day. She also became a successful writer, the most famous being her memoirs about Cuba. Mercedes was an influential woman who helped romanticize  the vision of Cuba.

    Mercedes was born in Cuba. She had a spirited childhood. It is because, when she was born her parents placed her in the care of her mother’s relative so they could go to Europe. What I found interesting about this was that she doesn’t see her father until she is eight years old, and her mother until she goes to Spain. One funny story was that when her father placed her in a convent to be educated, and maybe be a nun, is that later on, she managed to escape and go back home to her beloved relative. Eventually, she goes to Spain and later on marries a French military officer in Napoleon’s army.

    The book is broken into three parts, Cuba, Spain, and France. Each of these countries is where Mercedes lived, but what she considers her true home is Cuba. Cuba is where her heart lies. It is because of her memories of Cuba that enables her to become a successful author. The author of La Belle Creole paints a gorgeous portrait of Cuba, Spain, and France in the 19th century. The reader feels like they are walking alongside Mercedes’s journey as she grows from a spirited, somewhat disobedient child to a successful woman who is prone to emotions. I also found Mercedes’s and her husband’s connections to the Bonapartes’ interesting, and it is because of them that she is forced to go to France.

     Overall, Garcia-Lapuerta’s biography shows a woman who makes the best out of her situations. She is portrayed as a warm-hearted and generous woman. This biography proves that Mercedes is an intriguing Cuban historical figure. I recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in the Napoleonic Wars, Cuban history, travel, and anyone interested in the arts in the Romanticized period. This novel is a great introduction to Mercedes, the Countess of Merlin, and her era.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is the author's official book trailer of her novel La Belle Creole:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Interview with Rosemary Tran Lauer & Scott Beller

     Today, I had the privilege to interview Rosemary Tran Lauer and Scott Beller. They are the Coauthors of Beggars and Angels. Beggars and Angels tells Rosemary’s rags to riches as she embarks on her journey as a single mother Vietnam war refugee and immigrates to the U.S. She struggles with poverty and later on cancer, but eventually becomes a successful philanthropist through her foundation, Devotion to Children. I found Beggars and Angels to be an inspiring memoir that has a powerful message of hope. I am very honored that Mrs. Lauer and Mr. Bellar has taken the time to grant me an interview. This interview is to give us an insight not only into their novel, but also about their charity organization Devotion to Children. Thank you, Mrs. Lauer and Mr. Beller.

1.  Why did Rosemary decide to tell her story to the world?

     Back in her salon-industry days, Rosemary had customers sitting with her as a captive audience for an hour or more at a time, which gave them plenty of opportunities to get to know one another. Her clients often asked about her background and how she came to the U.S, so she got a lot of practice telling her story. Finally a good friend told her she should write a book. Rosemary never gave it serious thought until after she founded her nonprofit Devotion to Children (DTC) in 1994. Until then, she wasn’t sure many people (beyond friends and clients) would be interested in her life or what she had to say. Her work with DTC changed the way she looked at things.

     Rosemary felt that writing Beggars or Angels would be a good way to not only tell her story, but also the story of Devotion and to show why it’s mission matters so much, particularly with so much turmoil and families being uprooted around the world today. Along with DTC, Rosemary feels like Beggars or Angels is her legacy – and her way of saying “thank you” to all the amazing people who helped her along the way.

     Finally, Rosemary wanted the book to be an expression of her deep passion and caring for her kids and all the other children who are struggling, through no fault of their own, to escape a cycle of poverty. She wanted her book to show how one person can make a difference – even someone like her: a refugee, single mom, welfare recipient, small-business owner, cancer survivor. In doing so, she hopes to inspire other people who may be going through similar tough times now and wanting to just give up. Because she sacrificed and overcame those things to give her kids a better life, she wanted to let other parents know that they could too.

2. Could you tell us a bit about the nonprofit organization Devotion to Children?

     Rosemary founded Devotion to Children in 1994 as a way to help Washington, D.C.-area working families with children age 6 and under find affordable, quality child care so that the parents could work outside the home and have a better chance of breaking the cycle of poverty. DTC is dedicated to fulfilling the needs of children so that they may become mentally, physically and emotionally healthy members of society. DTC collaborates with many like-minded organizations in the provisions of childcare, health and educational services for needy families and their children.

     Last year Devotion helped more the 400 families with young children in the DC-metropolitan area. It awarded 18 preschool scholarships, provided grants to five childcare centers, and created a new preschool computer lab.

3. What are some ways a person could help be involved with Devotion to Children?

     Because DTC is an organization that is managed and supported 100 percent by volunteers, it is always looking for help in fundraising, raising awareness, on-site event support, as well as newsletter and Website development. If people would like to find out more about Devotion, make a donation or contribute to the organization in some other meaningful way(e.g., volunteering or donating other services/resources), they can visit Any donation amount is worthwhile and will have a positive impact on the lives and futures of deserving children and their working parents.

4. How has Beggars or Angels contributed to the organization?

     Beggars or Angels, essentially, tells the evolutionary story of Devotion to Children. The desperate need for affordable, quality child care to help break the cycle of poverty isn’t just DTC’s cause, it’s also Rosemary’s life’s journey. The book, almost like her calling card, has made that important message more tangible and provides Rosemary with another way to introduce DTC to an even broader audience – far beyond the boundaries of the Washington, D.C. area. More directly, most proceeds from sales of Beggars or Angels support DTC.

5. What is one of the most surprising things you found in writing this book?

     I met Rosemary not long after my first daughter was born. And I began researching and writing the book just before my second little girl arrived in late-August 2009. So, what I found most surprising about Rosemary’s story is just how much she was able to accomplish as a single parent given her circumstances. As an example, I often had difficulty getting work done working from my home office while also taking care of my two children, both under age 3. Rosemary, on the other hand, managed somehow to take care of two children roughly the same ages as mine while fleeing the war in Vietnam and establishing a home for them in a foreign country. When she told me she only had one cloth diaper with her on board the cargo ship that delivered her and her kids to a refugee camp in Guam, I had to laugh. Because diaper changings for my kids frequently would require the use of two or more diapers and half a package of wet wipes. This is just one of the stories that provided me with a great appreciation for Rosemary’s strength and resourcefulness.

6. What do you hope readers can learn from Beggars or Angels?

     First and foremost, we hope readers better understand the challenges single parents of all backgrounds face in raising their children, and just how vital it is to have access to quality, affordable child care. We also hope some will read Beggars or Angels and know that they are not alone, that they are not powerless in dealing with whatever hardship they are facing. Because we know that many people – thousands and thousands of families – still are looking for ways to make ends meet in our country and around the world.

     We hope Rosemary’s story can help buoy the spirits and ease the paths of other women, other single parents, other immigrants, other small business owners and cancer patients. Rosemary wants them all to know that they need to hang in there – to believe, like she did, that there is always hope. There is always help, always compassion, even from people from whom you’d least expect to find it. So just be open and alert to it.

7. For those who are still fighting cancer, what message would you like to give them?


     A cancer diagnosis is very scary. But try not to be afraid. Live – and I mean really live – each day and appreciate each moment. It will be better for you and happier too. Fear only makes us weaker. Love life and live it as best you can. It’s what I’ve told myself every day since my own cancer surgeries. My ongoing health issues have been a vivid and regular reminder that I have to do the most with whatever time I have left. None of us knows when it’s “our time,” anyway. Most of all, we must learn to love ourselves and forgive others – they may not know that by hurting us they hurt themselves too.

8. Has writing Rosemary's story changed you personally?

     As Rosemary would say, “everything happens for a reason.” With me being a new parent when she and I met, starting this particular book project couldn’t have happened at a more perfect time. My parenting experiences informed my writing and her experiences informed my parenting in some ways. Working with Rosemary the past few years has helped broaden my perspective on what it means to be a parent who makes hard choices and sacrifices for their children. Once you’ve heard about Rosemary’s journey, what she endured, and how she’s now helping families that face the same challenges she did, you can’t help but look at your own life and stop taking certain things for granted – like the luxury of working from home and spending time with your kids throughout the day, watching them grow up, and, hopefully, having a positive influence on them along the way.

     Rosemary Tran Lauer came to the U.S. in 1975 from Vietnam as a single mother with two children, aged six months and three years. With no formal college education and speaking little English, Rosemary worked several jobs, relying on welfare and friends to help care for her children while she worked tirelessly to become financially independent. After earning a degree in cosmetology, she went on to spend over twenty years in the beauty industry where she owned and operated three beauty salons, and was inducted in Marquis' Who's Who in America in 1999. After being treated for breast cancer in 2001, Rosemary made a career change and entered the real estate industry where she is now a commercial realtor with Long and Foster. In her 29 years in America , Rosemary has experienced first hand the challenges and struggles of a single mother attempting to provide a brighter future for her children. Happily married and now a mother of five, Rosemary is working diligently to give back to the same community that made her current success possible. Besides her work with Devotion, Rosemary also serves on the Board of Advisors for Virginia Commerce Bank.

      Scott Beller is a 20-year public relations-industry veteran, writer, independent consultant, and work-at-home dad.

      During his PR career, Scott has held leadership positions with some of the world’s top agencies-including- Fleishman-Hillard, The Weber Group, and Weber Shandwick Worldwide, where he honed his writing skills and developed a number of public-information campaigns supporting and the improved health, nutrition and quality of life for children and families. His talents have been frequently called upon by some of the most recognized brands-- including Nike, SBC Communications Inc. XM Satellite Radio, Dell, Anheuser Busch, Exxon, the American Public University System, and NASDAQ.

     As a consultant, Scott helped launch DADs Unlimited and REEL FATHERS ( and is part of the Devotion to Children’s Advisory Board. He was named for 2003 Volunteer of the Year as a youth mentor for New Hope Housing, Northern Virginia's largest provider of shelter, transitional and permanent housing to homeless families. He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his patient wife, Elisabeth and two brilliant, kind, adorable, and exhausting daughters.

Also, check out my review of Rosemary Tran Lauer's and Scott Beller's novel:

Beggars and Angels: How a Single Mother Triumphed Over War, Welfare, and Cancer to Become a Successful Philanthropist