Saturday, December 21, 2013

Plans for 2014 - New Directions

I've been thinking.......I've been planning......I've been changing.

I'm wondering if my book blog has run its course....

I've actually read many similar thoughts from bloggers I have followed for a long time.

 When I first began blogging (strictly as an experiment just to see how a blog really worked), an amazing thing happened. I was having fun. I was meeting like-minded readers and creating a pile of wonderful new-to-me books to read. I expanded my horizons beyond the Outlander series (which was pretty much my staple when I had time to read) and discovered historical mysteries, fabulous historical fiction, and Regency and Highland romances. I have so many books on my shelf that I only hope to live long enough to put a dent in them! But the truth of the matter is that lately life has been pretty busy and blogging takes time -- I still love to read and browse through other bloggers' sites, but I'm not inspired at all to post my thoughts on the books I read.

Goodreads has been a good place for me lately. It's quick, it's easy, and if I don't want to say anything about a book, I can still rate it and shelve it. Done. Many bloggers are also on these sites, so I still feel like I'm in touch with blogging friends.

So......this is a long way of saying that in 2014, this blog will be quiet. I'm keeping it as a reference for all my reviews, but anyone who would like to still follow and discuss books can find me at Goodreads.

What are your thoughts? Do you have any plans for blogging/not blogging in 2014? I'd love to hear your plans because I really DO care about staying in touch with the people who have made having this blog so worthwhile.

In the meantime, I wish you all peace and joy!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Return to Tradd Street by Karen White

About the Book:

Facing her future as a single mother, psychic Realtor Melanie Middleton is determined to be strong and leave her past with writer Jack Trenholm behind her. But history has a tendency of catching up with Melanie, whether she likes it or not.…

Melanie is only going through the motions of living since refusing Jack’s marriage proposal. She misses him desperately, but her broken heart is the least of her problems. Despite an insistence that she can raise their child alone, Melanie is completely unprepared for motherhood, and she struggles to complete renovations on her house on Tradd Street before the baby arrives.

When Melanie is roused one night by the sound of a ghostly infant crying, she chooses to ignore it. She simply does not have the energy to deal with one more crisis. That is, until the remains of a newborn buried in an old christening gown are found hidden in the foundation of her house.

As the hauntings on Tradd Street slowly become more violent, Melanie decides to find out what caused the baby’s untimely death, uncovering the love, loss, and betrayal that color the house’s history—and threaten her claim of ownership. But can she seek Jack’s help without risking her heart? For in revealing the secrets of the past, Melanie also awakens the malevolent presence that has tried to keep the truth hidden for decades.…


I was very excited to receive a package a few days ago from  Karen White! (She's the author I recently met at a dinner when she was here in New Orleans.) It was an ARC of Return to Tradd Street, the fourth installment of the Tradd Street mystery series which will be available in January 2014. If you enjoy a mix of mystery, ghostly pasts, and a spunky heroine, you'll love Karen White's books set in the gorgeous, sultry Charleston. Her writing is very charming and witty and lyrical --- perfect for a quiet autumn evening. 

The House on Tradd Street
The Girl on Legare Street
The Strangers on Montagu Street
Retun to Tradd Street

Friday, November 1, 2013

Release day for Deanna Raybourn!

About the Novella:

Readers everywhere have fallen for New York Times bestselling author Deanna Raybourn's intrepid amateur sleuth and socialite, Lady Julia Grey. Not to mention her devastatingly handsome partner in crime, Nicholas Brisbane. Midsummer Night is the long awaited novella of their wedding, a dashing—and potentially deadly—affair not to be missed…

Midsummer in Victorian England—an auspicious time for a wedding. Brisbane has taken charge of the music. Julia has, perhaps mistakenly, allowed her sisters to choose the dress. And Belmont Abbey is overflowing with guests awaiting the blessed day. What could go wrong?

Combine the close-knit chaos of village life, pagan traditions bursting through staid Victorian conventions, and the congenial madness that tends to swirl around Lady Julia's family and you get an unforgettable wedding. But add in a dangerous past nemesis who has come to wish them not-so-well, and their day to remember just might take a fatal turn...(from Goodreads)


I'm very much looking forward to this latest installment of Lady Julia Grey's story!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Post by Mary Sharratt: Reconciling Faith and Science

Today, I am pleased to welcome Mary Sharratt to Books, Belles, and Beaux. She is currently touring with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours with her wonderful novel, Illuminations: A novel of Hildegard Von Bingen. 


Hildegard von Bingen: Reconciling Faith and Science by Mary Sharratt

The Western world’s first known description of the female orgasm was written by the 12th century abbess and Doctor of the Church, Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179):

When a woman is making love with a man, a sense of heat in her brain, which brings forth with it sensual delight, communicates the taste of that delight during the act and summons forth the emission of the man’s seed. And when the seed has fallen into its place, that vehement heat descending from her brain draws the seed to itself and holds it, and soon the woman’s sexual organs contract and all parts that are ready to open up during the time of menstruation now close, in the same way as a strong man can hold something enclosed in his fist.
Hildegard von Bingen, Causae et Curae

How could a celibate Benedictine nun write such a convincing description of the female sexual experience? Unlike some people in our own age, Hildegard saw no contradiction between science and religion, between being a religious woman and addressing every aspect of human experience, including sexuality.

Born in the lush green Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard was a true polymath, a Renaissance woman long before the Renaissance. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and composed an entire corpus of sacred music. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine. She was indeed a visionary in every sense of the word.

Hildegard wrote nine books on subjects as diverse as cosmology, botany, linguistics, and medical science, as well as theology. Even though she believed consecrated celibacy to be the highest calling, her medical text, Causae et Curae, discusses female (and male) sexuality frankly and without moral judgment. There is not a trace of prudishness or anti-intellectualism in her work.

In general, medieval thinkers, including monastics, were far more plain-spoken in addressing sexual matters than many of us might expect. But Hildegard’s writing on sexuality was unique in its inclusion of female experience, unlike that of her male confreres, such as Constantine the African, the 11th century monk whose book De Coitu manages to discuss every conceivable carnal pleasure without once mentioning women.

As the woman who coined the word Viriditas, or “sacred greening power and vitality,” Hildegard felt a profound connection to the natural world, which she regarded as the visible face of the invisible Creator who permeates every living thing. Her book Physica was devoted to natural science and is an encyclopedic study of plants, trees, mammals, reptiles, birds, marine life, stones, metals, and elements, describing their physical and medicinal properties. She lists in extraordinary detail the 37 varieties of fish to be found in the Nahe, Glan, and Rhine Rivers.

Her vision of the cosmos changed to reflect the science of her age. In Scivias, her first work of visionary theology, the universe appeared as a mandorla—shaped like an egg or almond. But by the time she wrote De Operationae Dei, the third and final book in her visionary trilogy, her visions reflected the cosmos as a sphere.

Over eight centuries after her death, Hildegard was finally canonized in May, 2012. On October 7, 2012, she was elevated to Doctor of the Church, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact. Presently there are only thirty-four Doctors of the Church, and only three besides Hildegard are women (Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux).

 About the Author

The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year. 

For more information please visit Mary's website and blog.  You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

About the Book:

Skillfully weaving historical fact with psychological insight and vivid imagination, Illuminations brings to life one of the most extraordinary women of the Middle Ages: Hildegard von Bingen, Benedictine abbess, visionary, and polymath.

Offered to the Church at the age of eight, Hildegard was expected to live in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned, disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. But Hildegard rejected Jutta's masochistic piety, rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died, Hildegard broke out of her prison, answering the heavenly call to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her  sisters. Riveting and utterly unforgettable, Illuminations is a deeply moving portrayal of a woman willing to risk everything for what she believed.

My thoughts:

I thought Mary Sharratt's Illuminations was a beautiful and imaginative account of 12th century abbess, Hildegard von Bingen. 

Given to the church as a "tithe" at the age of eight, the young Hildegard was forced to live in an anchorage of a monastery -- literally walled in as if living in a tomb -- to spend her days in self-sacrifice and prayer. Her only companion was the wealthy and beautiful Jutta von Sponheim who harbored deep secrets and embraced a life of self-torture and constant prayer as a form of holiness. Incredibly, despite this "living death," Hildegard possessed a deep and powerful spiritual core which helped her to rise above her horrific conditions. Forced into silence and obedience for most of her life, it is truly a testament of her courage and faith that she was able to emerge from the depths of deprivation and obedience to become a powerful spiritual force in her world.

 Hildegard's life and accomplishments are fascinating, and I recommend this deeply moving tale to anyone who enjoys medieval historical figures and empowered women.

About the Author

The author of four critically acclaimed historical novels, Mary Sharratt is an American who lives in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed Daughters of the Witching Hill, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers. She also lived for twelve years in Germany, which, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Illuminations won the Nautilus Gold Award for Better Books for a Better World and was selected as a Kirkus Book of the Year. 

For more information please visit Mary's website and blog

Publication Date: October 15, 2013
Mariner Books
Paperback; 288p
ISBN-10: 0544106539

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the novel, Illuminations, from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Author Dinner in New Orleans

This weekend I had the pleasure of going to dinner in the French Quarter with some friends and two fabulous authors, Karen White and Susan Crandall.

Welllll, truth be told, I crashed the party.

Let me explain.

 A dear friend of mine belongs to a book club that was formed yeeeaaarrs ago, and she's mentioned it on occasion. (I'm still waiting for an invitation into this club, but that hasn't happened!) Anyway, about a year ago, Tish happened to mention to me that one of her book club members was a long time friend of author Karen White; in fact, they were college roommates. When the club chose to read a Karen White novel, they arranged for the author to come to Tish's house for a book club get-together. Now, my dear friend knows I will go all over the country to meet my favorite authors (I've been to Phoenix, AZ and NYC to meet Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Willig, Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourn, etc...) and I was floored that she had Karen White at her house. At her house!!! And I am finding out about this after the fact!

So, I told my dear friend that if they EVER had another get together with an author that I admire, could I pretty please tag along? Duly chastised, she agreed to let me know. Fast forward to now, the club chose The Time Between and arranged another get together with Karen while she was in New Orleans attending a book convention. And this time, I  coerced -- I  mean, I was invited! So thank you to the club for letting me join in the fun!

The dinner was actually a two-for-one club meeting. Besides the beautiful Karen White, we were treated to the company of Susan Crandall, author of the acclaimed novel Whistling Past the Graveyard.
The Time Between and Whistling Past the Graveyard go well together; they are both charming and poignant novels with rich southern settings and stories that will tug at your heartstrings. Highly recommended!

Here's a bit about each book:

From an award-winning author comes a wise and tender coming-of-age story about a nine-year-old girl who runs away from her Mississippi home in 1963, befriends a lonely woman suffering loss and abuse, and embarks on a life-changing roadtrip. (from Goodreads)

A stunning new novel of betrayal and forgiveness from the New York Times bestselling author.

Thirty-four-year-old Eleanor Murray is consumed with guilt for causing the accident that paralyzed her sister—and for falling in love with her sister’s husband. But when her boss offers her a part-time job caring for his elderly aunt, Helena, Eleanor accepts, hoping this good deed will help atone for her mistakes.

On the barrier island of Edisto, Eleanor bonds with Helena over their mutual love of music. Drawing the older woman out of her depression, Eleanor learns of her life in Hungary, with her sister, before and during World War II. She hears tales of passion and heartache, defiance and dangerous deception. And when the truth of Helena and her sister’s actions comes to light, Eleanor may finally allow herself to move past guilt and to embrace the song that lies deep in her heart… (from Goodreads)

                                 The lovely and funny Karen White opening a gift bag of goodies.

                                                     And passing around books and inscribing them.

  Lovely and gracious Susan Crandall signing her books (as the waiters in the background were bringing in platters loaded with delicious southern cuisine).

                                                                        With Karen White........

                                                                           and Susan Crandall

I'd like to mention that if you are a fan of Karen White, she said she has several books coming out in 2014 and that some of her long out-of-print first novels are getting an update and a fresh new look! Many good things to come from Karen, including a new Tradd Street mystery!

P.S. If you are ever in New Orleans, stop by the La Petit Theatre in the French Quarter and have dinner and cocktails at The Tableau....the peach margarita with mint was to die for!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Guest Post - Jennie Fields, Author of The Age of Desire

Today, I am very pleased to welcome Jennie Fields to my book blog, the author of The Age of Desire. In this fascinating guest post, she reveals how an incredible discovery during the writing of her book about the great author, Edith Wharton, impacted the depth of her book. Enjoy!

By: Jennie Fields

Writing a biographical novel is not just about telling a life story, but about creating a world around the main character.  In the case of Edith Wharton, whose mid-life love affair with a younger man was the basis for my novel “The Age of Desire,” it was soon apparent to me that I needed to tell this tale not just through Edith’s eyes but also through a character who could view her from the outside.  I discovered there was a woman who was with Edith for more than thirty years, first as her childhood governess, then as her literary secretary and first reader.  Her name was Anna Bahlmann and Edith Wharton’s biographers all but ignored her. 

But because they were together so long, I thought Edith and Anna must have been close.  With some research, I discovered Anna was rather remarkable: orphaned at the age of two, she nevertheless became a cultured, educated and self-supporting woman in an era where there were few options for what was considered the weaker sex.  After discovering all I could about her, I began to write. 

Then about two months in, a miracle occurred. One night, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and typed Anna Bahlmann’s name into a search engine as I had a thousand times before.  But that night, a new listing appeared.  Christies, that very week, was auctioning off 135 letters from Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann that had been stashed away for over a hundred years! 

I called Christies as soon as they opened the next day and asked if they’d allow me to view the letters, as I was in the middle of writing a novel about these two women.  Much to my surprise, they said, “Of course.  Come in.  We’ll set you up at a table.”  For two days, I poured these wonderful letters, hands shaking.  This pile of sweet missives revealed an almost mother/daughter relationship.  Starting when Edith was a bright eyed, unbelievably articulate child, writing to governess Anna about books and writing and ideas, missing her when she went off to teach other children, begging her to visit them at their country house, to later letters when Edith counted on Anna to help run her affairs, admonished her for worrying too much over her, and laughed with her about things only they could share; their friendship was warm, touching and intimate.

In the end, “The Age of Desire” is not just about a mid-life love affair, but about an abiding friendship between two remarkable women.  And to my mind, that makes it a richer, more universal book.  How lucky I was that Anna Bahlmann came into Edith Wharton’s life, and into mine.



Born in the heart of the heart of the country – Chicago — Jennie Fields decided to become a writer at the age of six and produced her first (365 page!) novel when she was eleven. She received her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop and published her first short stories while spending a postgraduate year at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. But needing to feed her family in the era just post-Mad Men, she became an early female copywriter at an advertising agency, soon rising to creative director and moving to New York. In her 32-year advertising career, she wrote and produced many well-known and award-winning commercials. People even now can embarrass her by telling her they grew up dancing to one of her McDonalds’ jingles.
Still, fiction was her great love. Writing during her lunch hour and after her daughter’s bedtime she penned her first novel, Lily Beach, which was published by Atheneum in 1993 to much acclaim. Since then, she’s written three more novels including Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. Her latest, The Age of Desire, is a biographical novel based on the life of the author dearest to her heart, Edith Wharton. An Editor’s Choice of the New York Times Book Review, it describes Wharton’s mid-life love affair with a younger, manipulative man. Why the affinity to Wharton? Because she wrote about people attempting to break society’s expectations for them – which is something Fields has been yearning to do all her life.
For more information, please visit Jennie’s website

Favorite Period Dramas

Mount TBR

Joanne's to-read book montage

On a Highland Shore
A Light on the Veranda
The Queen's Vow: A Novel Of Isabella Of Castile
The Edwardians
Maisie Dobbs
Howards End
Lady's Maid
Instruments Of Darkness
When Maidens Mourn
Where Shadows Dance
What Remains of Heaven
Where Serpents Sleep
Why Mermaids Sing
When Gods Die
Before Ever After
The Sugar Queen
Garden Spells
After the Night

Joanne's favorite books »