Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie: A Book Review

Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings
Author: Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
Genre:  Nonfiction, History, Biography
Publisher: Quirk Books
Release Date: 2013
Pages: 303
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: You think you know her story. You’ve read the Brothers Grimm, you’ve watched the Disney cartoons, you cheered as these virtuous women lived happily ever after. But the lives of real princesses couldn’t be more different. Sure, many were graceful and benevolent leaders—but just as many were ruthless in their quest for power, and all of them had skeletons rattling in their royal closets. Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe was a Nazi spy. Empress Elizabeth of the Austro-Hungarian empire slept wearing a mask of raw veal. Princess Olga of Kiev murdered thousands of men, and Princess Rani Lakshmibai waged war on the battlefield, charging into combat with her toddler son strapped to her back. Princesses Behaving Badly offers minibiographies of all these princesses and dozens more. It’s a fascinating read for history buffs, feminists, and anyone seeking a different kind of bedtime story.

     My Review: Princesses Behaving Badly is a compilations of biographies of real-life princesses. Linda McRobbie uses these biographies to criticize the Disney and fairy tale myth that all princess live happily ever after (though if you’ve read the actual Brothers Grimm fairy tales, a lot of them are dark and gruesome-far from the happily ever after). She also argues that Kate Middleton is not a very lucky woman when she married Prince William as the public easily assumed and believed. These selected princesses that McRobbie uses are not the conventional, dutiful, and by the book good princesses but rather princesses that have stepped out of their conventions and rules of society and caused a great scandal to the shock of the people of their time. Because of this, they made choices that prevented them having a happy life, and some even to be ridiculed among their peers.

     McRobbie groups these princesses into seven categories: warriors, usurpers, schemers, survivors, partiers, floozies, and madwomen. Some of them were strong. Some of them are mythical. Some were imposters, and others were comical. Some of the ones that I liked were Pinyang, the Tang princess who led an army, Hatshepsut, and Khutulun, the Mongol Princess who were very good at wrestling. I also thought a few other princesses stories were very interesting like Wu Zetian, the only Female Emperor of China, Queen Isabella of England, known as the She-Wolf of England, and Malinche, the Aztec who betrayed her own people to Hernan Cortez. I also thought that she undermined great women like Njinga of Ndongo, the king who helped her people. There were other princesses like Clara Ward, Sophia Dorothea, and Sofka Dolgorouky that I really did not care at all about and were very bored of their stories.

     Overall, these princesses were very human. Most made bad choices that they would regret for their lives and had many flaws. This is not a scholarly book. McRobbie uses basic sources, mostly newspaper articles from gossip magazines, internet articles, and a biography or two. Yet the book is very witty and engaging, and it is a great introduction into the princesses’ lives. I recommend this for anyone who loves to read about royalty or for anyone who is looking to read a good juicy, gossipy, tale looking to satisfy their guilty pleasure.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Monday, July 28, 2014

Interview with Paula Margulies

     Today, I have the opportunity to interview Paula Margulies. She has recently wrote a novel about Pocahontas called Favorite Daughter, Part One, which won an Editor’s Choice Award at the 24th Annual San Diego State University Writer’s Conference. The story creates a different perspective to the American heroine. It is told in first person narrative, and it is how Pocahontas at a young age embarks through the many changes of her life. By doing so she transforms into a strong, courageous, wise woman. I am very pleased that she took the time to grant me this interview and to generously donate a copy of her novel to the giveaway. I look forward to reading her books in the future, and check back for my review of Favorite Daughter’s Part One soon. This interview is to give readers insight about her and her novel. Thank you, Mrs. Margulies.




1. Where and when do you write?

 In my home office mostly, although I try to sneak away to artist residencies whenever my teaching and client work schedule will allow. I usually write on Sundays, but that all depends on how much life intrudes (and it does that often, believe me!).

2. Why did you write your book? 

 I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Pocahontas, and since so much of her history has been told to us by English explorers like John Smith, I decided that retelling her story, from her perspective, might make for an interesting read. 

3. There have been many books written about Pocahontas. How is this book different? 

There are a number of differing versions of the history of that time, and much of what we know about Pocahontas comes from the writing of John Smith and the other colonists, who reported on what they found in the new land when they returned to England. Favorite Daughter, Part One is based on my research on works about her by Native Americans, many of whom tell a darker tale than the English history. Also, there aren’t many fictional works about that time from a Native American perspective, and the majority of those that do exist are written for young adults. Favorite Daughter, Part One is written for adults and focuses on Pocahontas’s coming of age into womanhood and becoming a wife and mother, in addition to her work as a representative of her tribe and, eventually, as a celebrity in England (that part of her story will be covered in Part Two). 

4. Are you of Native American heritage? 

No, both of my parents are of Italian descent. But my father, Douglas Roccaforte, loved Native American history and was a collector of American Indian artifacts, so I grew up with a deep appreciation of Native American culture and history. 

5. Whose work inspires you? 

So many authors inspire me that it’s hard to choose! I’ve always been a huge fan of the Southern gothic – William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor are my all-time favorite writers. As a graduate student in English Literature, I studied Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bellow, Doctorow, Didion, Heller, and Pynchon. Recent authors whose stories have haunted me, stunned me, or made me weep: Sherman Alexie, Ha Jin, Vikram Seth, David Mitchell, Barbara Kingsolver, Louise Erdrich, Jane Smiley, Jane Hamilton, Sena Jeter Naslund, Anna Quindlen, and Elizabeth Berg.

6. What do you like to do in your spare time? 

When I’m not working on my publicity business or teaching classes, I enjoy yoga, meditation, reading, and writing. In the summer, I try to go to as many local Native American pow wows as I can (there are quite a few here in the San Diego area), and I’ve been known to enjoy an Indian taco (or two) on occasion. 

7. What are the words you live by?

Less is more (except when we’re talking about Indian tacos). ☺





     Paula Margulies is the owner of Paula Margulies Communications, a public relations firm for authors and artists. She has received numerous awards for her essays and works of fiction, including her historical novel, Favorite Daughter, Part One, her first novel, Coyote Heart, and her short story collection, Face Value: Collected Stories. She has been awarded artist residencies at Caldera, Red Cinder Artist Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and Centrum. Margulies resides in San Diego, California. For more information, please visit www.paulamargulies.com.


Check out my review of Paula Marguiles's novel:

Favorite's Daughter, Part One

Friday, July 25, 2014

Virtual Book Tour: Go Away Home by Carol Bodensteiner: A Book Review

Please join Carol Bodensteiner as she tours virtually for Go Away Home from July 8-25.

Go Away Home
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Rising Sun Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: This book was given to me as part of the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour in exchange for an honest review.

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Liddie Treadway grew up on a family farm where options for her future were marriage or teaching. Encouraged by suffragette rhetoric and her maiden aunt, Liddie is determined to avoid both and pursue a career. Her goal is within her grasp when her older sister’s abrupt departure threatens to keep her on the farm forever.

Once she is able to experience the world she’s dreamed of, Liddie is enthralled with her independence, a new-found passion for photography, and the man who teaches her. Yet, the family, friends, and life of her youth tug at her heart, and she must face the reality that life is not as simple, or the choices as clear-cut, as she once imagined.

GO AWAY HOME is a coming-of-age novel that explores the enduring themes of family, friendship, and love, as well as death and grief. This novel will resonate with anyone who’s confronted the conflict between dreams and reality and come to recognize that getting what you want can be a two-edged sword.

My Review: Go Away Home is a coming of age novel set in Iowa before World War I. It tells the story of a young farm girl, Liddie, who dreams of leaving her farm in pursuit of grander dreams. However, when her sister is involved in a scandal that forces her to run away and with the death of her father, it leaves Liddie with an opportunity to pursue her dream to become a seamstress by apprenticing for a well-respected dressmaker. She meets a photographer and discovers an interest in photography. Liddie must choose what choices she should make regarding her future.

The backdrop of the novel mostly takes place on her country farm. Life on the farm is shown as idyllic and that Liddie is surrounded by her family’s love. With the death of her father, it shows that while there is hardships, her family still works together to help make the farm successful. When she goes to town to be an apprentice, she has to work alone to be successful. She has to make right decisions on her own.

Liddie is an idealistic girl, who dreams of adventures and ambition. She dreams of leaving home and becoming successful. She is a faithful friend and comforts them when they are in need. She is a hard worker. She is also bold, outspoken, and stubborn. She is also curious, and asks many questions about topics she’s interested in. However, deep down Liddie is very confused and uncertain. She doesn’t know what choices she should take or what she should do. She asks others - her friends, her boss, and her family about what would be the right choice for her. She constantly questions herself if the choice she makes is a good one. Liddie searches throughout the novel to find what she wants and what her path will take.

Overall, the book is about family, friendship, love, loss, sacrifice, choices, and hope. It is also about a person’s quest for home. The message of the book is that if you have a dream find a way to make it happen. Another message of the book is that doing nothing will get you nowhere. If you want to accomplish your dream, you have to take positive action. The pace of the novel is easygoing, reminiscent of a leisurely Sunday morning. However, it is pleasing and you care what happens to Liddie. I recommend this book to anyone interested in early 20th century America, life in the rural Midwest, and those who face tough choices in their own lives.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Praise for Go Away Home

Go Away Home is … a tale of choices, dreams realized and rejected, and how values evolve … gently compelling and highly believable.” – D. Donovan, eBook Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

“Excellent characters and an extremely realistic plot … Go Away Home is the perfect story of coming home.” – Samantha Rivera, Readers’ Favorite reviewer

“… a heart-warming and heart-wrenching tale … a story that promises to fulfill what it is to be alive when one chooses the life one wants to live, despite the consequences” – Paulette Mahurin, author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap

Go Away Home is a coming of age novel that is well-written, compelling, and endearing … a strong sense of place, excellent character development, and an engaging plot line.” – Kara Logsden, Iowa City Public Library

“Every life is a story, no matter how mundane it may appear on the surface, but it takes a writer like Carol Bodensteiner to draw a reader in and keep them turning the pages. Bodensteiner … writes characters with depth … she’s captured the era … with meticulous historical detail.“ – J. P. Lane, author of The Tangled Web

About the Author





Carol Bodensteiner grew up in the heartland of the United States, and she continues to draw writing inspiration from the people, places, culture, and history of the area. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society. She is the author of Growing Up Country: Memories of an Iowa Farm Girl, a memoir. Her essays have been published in several anthologies. Go Away Home is her first novel.

For more information please visit Carol Bodensteiner’s Website/Blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. Sign up for Carol’s Newsletter.




Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter: A BookReview

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter
Genre:  YA, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 336
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

     My Review: I have always been fascinated by the tragedy of Pompeii. I’ve watched countless documentaries and read nonfiction books on the subject. When I found out that Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of one of my favorite books, Cleopatra’s Moon, decided to set her novel during Pompeii’s last few weeks, I couldn’t resist reading it. The story is focused on a forbidden romance between Lucia, a daughter of a wealthy Roman, and her slave, Tages, who often goes by his nickname Tag. When they realize that their lives are determined by Lucia’s father and not of their own choosing, they embark on a course for their own freedom, all amidst a curse that may befall their beloved city.

     The author paints a vivid portrait of the daily life in Pompeii. She tells us of the class distinctions between a slave and his master, and how a slave can obtain his freedom. She also gives us a description about the gladiators. There are some controversial themes in this novel that the reader needs to be aware of like infanticide, suicide, and the Roman’s beliefs of slavery. However, these themes portray the customs and beliefs that the Romans had during that time.

     The characters are very dynamic. At first, I didn’t like Lucia. She seemed to be an insipid character. She was selfish, whiny, and didn’t care about Tag or his family. She would always ask him what he thought about her and her feelings. She did not think or ask about him at all, unless it affected her. Some of the things she said were appalling.  For example, she believed that Tag should like being a slave because he is clothed, gets food, and has a roof over his head. This comment made me really angry. She treats Tag as a dog than as a human being. Yet, later, when Mt. Vesuvius erupts does she show a more compassionate and selfless side. She is willing to risk her life to save Tag.

     Tag also goes through changes. He is compassionate and selfless. He is willing to break a few rules in order to be with Lucia. Over the course of the novel, he realizes that he must choose family and honor over his love for Lucia. He knows that he has a responsibility to save those his family and friends, even though he knows he will lose the love of his life forever.

     Overall, the novel is about love, friendship, loss, sacrifice, and survival. The themes of this novel is about the nature of freedom. Freedom is the ultimate challenge and goal of this novel. The story is slow-paced and the plot is very predictable. There are no twists and turns in this book for it is mainly focused on their romance. Until then, the author goes on pace reminiscent as if it is waiting for the characters inevitable doom. The tone of the book is tragic, yet the ending is beautiful. While it is not as good as Cleopatra’s Moon, this book is still a worthy read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Pompeii, forbidden love, and the quest for survival and freedom.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars