Above painting: Louis Jean Francois - Mars and Venus an Allegory of Peace


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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin -- Interview, Giveaway and Review

The Beautiful American by Jeanne Mackin

Publication Date: June 3, 2014
NAL/Penguin Group
Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio
352 Pages
 Genre: Historical Fiction

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As recovery from World War II begins, expat American Nora Tours travels from her home in southern France to London in search of her missing sixteen-year-old daughter. There, she unexpectedly meets up with an old acquaintance, famous model-turned-photographer Lee Miller. Neither has emerged from the war unscathed. Nora is racked with the fear that her efforts to survive under the Vichy regime may have cost her daughter's life. Lee suffers from what she witnessed as a war correspondent photographing the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.

Nora and Lee knew each other in the heady days of late 1920's Paris, when Nora was giddy with love for her childhood sweetheart, Lee became the celebrated mistress of the artist Man Ray, and Lee's magnetic beauty drew them all into the glamorous lives of famous artists and their wealthy patrons. But Lee fails to realize that her friendship with Nora is even older, that it goes back to their days as children in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a devastating trauma marked Lee forever. Will Nora's reunion with Lee give them a chance to forgive past betrayals, and break years of silence?

A novel of freedom and frailty, desire and daring, The Beautiful American portrays the extraordinary relationship between two passionate, unconventional woman.



"Will transport you to expat Paris." - Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist

"A brilliant, beautifully written literary masterpiece" - Sandra Dallas, author of Fallen Women

"Leaves its essence of love, loss, regret and hope long after the novel concludes." - Erika Robuck, author of Fallen Beauty

"Achingly beautiful and utterly mesmerizing...her vividly drawn characters...come heartbreakingly alive in their obsessions, tragedies and triumphs" - Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere in France 

"From Poughkeepsie to Paris, from the razzmatazz of the twenties to the turmoil of World War Two and the perfume factories of Grasse, Mackin draws you into the world of expatriate artists and photographers and tells a story of love, betrayal, survival and friendship...an engaging and unforgettable novel" - Renee Rosen, author Doll Face


The Beautiful American is quite simply, beautifully written. It is an eye-opening book not only into the elegant, mysterious and wild life of famous model, actress, photographer and war correspondent, Lee Miller, but also the lives of Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and many other famous friends Miller kept. She expertly painted with words the visuals of their work--and I looked because I had to see them for myself!

We see Lee through the eyes of Nora Tours, starting from childhood until the time of Lee's death. I enjoyed Mackin's cleverness in creating a character that paralleled Lee's life. Nora and Lee are almost opposites. Lee is outspoken, adventurous, a risk-taker. Nora is more subdued, often sticks to the sidelines and holds back. But we do see her step out of her shell from time to time. She is a vibrant, loving and deep character. Even when Nora should hate Lee, she can't. There is too much that ties them together. Forgiveness is a major theme in this novel. Forgiveness of parents, self, strangers, friends, lovers.

The novel is stunning look into the lives of Americans and Europeans before the war, during and in the wake of disaster. The suffering, the heartache, the joy. All of it. Mackin has brought to life an extensive time period in sweeping artistic strokes. She brings to light the very real and difficult topic of rape. How women's bodies were used as commodities, and that even children were not safe from predators, before, during and after the war.

Have you ever seen a picture of a delicious meal, and you can almost taste it? Mackin does the same with scent. Be prepared for your olfactory sense to be stimulated. My nose is still tingling. I don't think I will view scents the same way again. I think I may, in fact, have taken scents for granted. I remember with each of my children, when they were born, the scent of their hair, their skin and that I could breathe it in for hours. The same ways, I love the scent of puppy breath, freshly baked bread, my sheets, my house, outside when it rains. When I think of scents, there are some that take me back. Good places, bad, happy, sad. I really enjoyed that Nora thought in scent. Every emotion, every place, every event, it all had a scent.

I fell in love with the characters, hugged Nora and Dahlia to my hearts like they were my own. I suffered and endured right along with them. The good friends and loves she had and lost. The personal victories. I hoped, I dreamed, I cried, I smiled, I railed, I triumphed. Mackin has penned such a beautiful tale that will remain with me for a long time, and I will be eagerly searching out her other books.


I was thrilled to have a chance to read The Beautiful American and to ask the author a few questions regarding her novel! Enjoy!

Tell us how you came up with the idea for your novel? I've seen a lot of WWII era novels, but this is very unique in the heroine searching for her missing daughter.

Ever since I began writing fiction, many years ago, in the back of the mind was a plan to some day write a novel about World War II.  My father fought in that war, and I know it changed him, and it changed how he felt about his family, how he felt about the world. His war experiences became  a large part of our family dynamic.  So I knew that when I wrote my novel about the war, it wouldn’t be about battles, but about what happens to the women and children who live through the war and suffer it in their own unique ways. So many families were torn apart; so many children went missing.   That became part of Nora’s story

I love that you have such strong and independent women in your book.  Who/what inspired you to write Nora's character?

I have a strong preference for strong women, women who refuse to be passive or victimized or secondary.  Nora loses the father who loves her,  spends years alone with a mother who is too self-absorbed to really love anyone else, and then the boy who is the love of her life turns out to be..Well, I won’t say, and give too much away. But at each turn, at each challenge, Nora gets her emotional footing back, goes on and refuses to surrender.   A friend said once that my novels are so “Damn life affirming!”  and they are; they are meant to be. What’s the point of giving  up? It certainly doesn’t make a good story.  When we give up, we stop learning, we stop experiencing life fully, and those two things are the only reasons to be alive.

Have you lived overseas? Just curious, since your heroines Nora and Lee, both Americans, end up living in Europe.

I’ve traveled quite a bit and visited Paris many times.  I lived in Rome once for half a year.  There’s a large part of me that is most at home in an ancient city, with cobbled streets, medieval churches,  old buildings.  Here in the states I live in the country, surrounded by green hills and, in winter, beautiful landscapes of snow, and that pleases me, too, but every once in a while I just need to walk on very old streets and let myself by surrounded by history.

What sort of research went into writing this novel? What did you do to get into Lee's mind? Did you visit any of her exhibitions?

My fictional version of the very real Lee Miller began in my imagination many years ago, when my best friend was a photographer.  I’m not a very visual person, and it was completely enlightening to me, to see how differently visual people exist in the world, always seeing it in terms of shots and frames, color, shadow, tones, lines.  What my friend taught me about photography turned up in Lee’s imagination and in what she says.  There are also several good biographies of Lee that include many of her photographs – photographs of her as a model,  as well as the  photographs she took when she became a photojournalist and artist.  I studied the photos, tried to imagine her state of mind when she took them. She could very playful and made lots of visual puns. She could also be completely fearless and require people looking at the photographs to be fearless.

 Most authors find they connect very emotionally with their characters. Because of the research subject matter, did you have to take breaks from the book?

I wanted to, but I wouldn’t let myself.  When I write a novel, I am living it in my head as I go along, and to take a break means to let myself  have relief from whatever my characters are experiencing..  And that, I think, would make it less authentic. So, yes, sometimes I cry a little when I write.  Sometimes I get a little depressed or hopeless over the state of the world and the things that happen in it. But sometimes I laugh, too.  It was difficult to read and think about the rape of Lee when she was such a tiny little girl,  that was perhaps the hardest part of the story for me, but I had to be able to be there with her, to experience it in my imagination, so that her character would evolve from that event.  I found myself disassociating, which I think Lee must have done as well.  I had to figure out how to move on from that, as she did. 

What is next for you?

I just published a new novel A Lady of Good Family, about a Gilded Age woman who decides to become a professional landscape designer…the first in this country.  Beatrix Farrand was a real woman (as was Lee – I like to start with true history) who refused to be conventional yet somehow managed to remain well thought of by her peers. Better than well thought of!  Now, I’m working on a novel set again in Paris before World War II, about a very intense rivalry between two fashion designers.

Thanks for letting me visit with you!  Happy reading!

03_Jeanne MackinABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeanne Mackinís novel, The Beautiful American (New American Library), based on the life of photographer and war correspondent Lee Miller, received the 2014 CNY award for fiction. Her other novels include A Lady of Good Family, about gilded age personality Beatrix Farrand, The Sweet By and By, about nineteenth century spiritualist Maggie Fox, Dreams of Empire set in Napoleonic Egypt, The Queenís War, about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and The Frenchwoman, set in revolutionary France and the Pennsylvania wilderness.

Jeanne Mackin is also the author of the Cornell Book of Herbs and Edible Flowers (Cornell University publications) and co-editor of The Book of Love (W.W. Norton.) She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and a keynote speaker for The Dickens Fellowship. Her work in journalism won awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, in Washington, D.C. She has taught or conducted workshops in Pennsylvania, Hawaii and at Goddard College in Vermont.



To enter to win a paperback copy of The Beautiful American, please enter via the GLEAM form below. Rules: Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on October 2nd. You must be 18 or older to enter. Giveaway is open to US residents only. Only one entry per household. All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion ñ Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen. The Beautiful American

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

SPOTLIGHT! Josette by Kathleen Bittner Roth

I'm so pleased to present my good friend, and History Undressed's regular 1st Tuesday blogger, Kathleen Bittner Roth's new release! Josette is out now!


When Hearts Dare
Book Three

Across the oceans, between worlds old and new—two lost souls find themselves at a crossroads. 
Josette LeBlanc left behind her poverty-stricken life in a Louisiana bayou after marrying the wealthiest man in New Orleans. Now a widow living in luxury, Josette should have it all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Polite society's scorn has forced her into a lonely existence. When a wayward niece overwhelms Josette, she grudgingly turns to someone she once adored—the man she believes to be the girl's father.
Wealthy shipping magnate Cameron Andrews possesses everything a man could want, but tragedy shrouded his heart in darkness. He has every intention of escaping a life more suffocating than the sultry heat of the French Quarter. Fate, however, has something else in mind when a precocious young girl storms into his life claiming to be his daughter. Not only is the girl a Cajun raised in the bayou backwaters, she is also the granddaughter of a wicked voodoo priestess.
Like a rose bush filled with prickly thorns, an unwanted attraction blossoms between Josette and Cameron. While denying the passion that sparks between them, their verbal sparring heats their blood as nothing ever has, but treacherous forces are at work. Soon, Josette and Cameron are caught in a tangled web of passion and betrayal that could cost Cameron his life.

Author: Kathleen Bittner Roth
Release date: September 29, 2015
Publisher: Kensington Publishing ™


“Monsieur Andrews, welcome to my home.”
At the smoky, velvet sound, Cameron swung around. Every function in his body—heart, breath, blood—ceased to function.
She was lovely. 
More than lovely.
Tendrils of raven hair framed a face so exquisite, it disarmed him. Her mouth, a soft, dewy pink, as though she’d pressed rose petals to her lips, parted. And those eyes, as dark as Creole coffee, intelligent and assessing, roamed over him and then back to take hold of his. But it was her complexion, as flawless as a newborn’s, and with a soft glow to it that mesmerized him, that made him want to step closer and stroke her skin.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Video of the Week: Women's Makeup Throughout History

Thanks again to another amazing Buzzfeed video!!! This week's fun clip, Women's Makeup Throughout History! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This Week in History 9/21 - 9/27

Time for your weekly history lesson!
What happened this week in Tudor history?

September 21, 1561: Lady Katherine Grey gives birth to her son Edward Seymour while imprisoned in the Tower of London. (And if you want to read more about that, check out my novel, Prisoner of the Queen!)

September 22, 1515: Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII's 4th wife, is born. Dubbed the "Flanders Mare" at Henry's court (by Henry himself), he divorced her very shortly after they were married. They remained friends the rest of his life, and he set her up with a house and a comfortable settlement.

September 23, 1513: Tournai fell to Henry VIII during is campaign in France. (Battle of Spurs)

September 24, 1486: Arthur, Princes of Wales, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, is christened.

September 25, 1586: Mary Stuart, aka Mary Queen of Scots, is brought to Fotheringhay Castle, after being arrested the previous month by her cousin Elizabeth I for plotting her assassination.

September 26, 1580: Frances Drake, under orders from Elizabeth I, completes his circumnavigation of the world, sailing aboard his ship the Golden Hind. He returns to England, landing in Plymouth, in triumph.

September 27, 1501: Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife, who he set aside in order to marry Anne Boleyn, arrived in England to marry her first husband--Henry's older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Historical Fiction Review & Giveaway: The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

01_The Sisters of Versailles
The Sisters of Versailles (Mistresses of Versailles, Book One) by Sally Christie

Publication Date: September 1, 2015 Publisher: Atria Books/Simon & Schuster Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Pages: 432 ISBN-10: 1501102966
Genre: Historical Fiction


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 A sumptuous and sensual tale of power, romance, family, and betrayal centered around four sisters and one King. Carefully researched and ornately detailed, The Sisters of Versailles is the first book in an exciting new historical fiction trilogy about King Louis XV, France's most "well-beloved" monarch, and the women who shared his heart and his bed.

Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot - and women - forward. The King's scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie's stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood; of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.


"A stunning breadth of period detail, offered in a fresh, contemporary voice."  ~ Juliet Grey, author of the acclaimed Marie Antoinette trilogy

"Sally Christie's The Sisters of Versailles is an intriguing romp through Louis XV's France. Filled with lush backdrops, rich detail, and colorful characters, fans of historical fiction will enjoy this glimpse into the lost golden era of the French monarchy."~ Allison Pataki, author of The Accidental Empress



Okay, first off, I just have to say, "Oh my God, this book!"

When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in Paris, France. My first time visiting Versailles, I was nine years old, and it was that moment, standing in the grand courtyard and looking at the opulence of the grand palace, gold and flowers and carvings and statues everywhere, that I fell in love with history. I'd already been in love with royalty and castles as an avid fairy tale lover.

Every year that I went back, I visited Versailles, I ran through the marbled halls, twirled through the mirrored hall, smelled the flowers in the vast gardens, ran my fingers through the fountains, and I dreamed. Dreamed of what it was like to live there. Its been about a dozen years since my last trip, and I miss it terribly.

So... back to The Sisters of Versailles... This book allowed me to relive the castle. Full of scandal, intrigue, love--sororal love, treachery, sibling rivalry, I was completely riveted. Ms. Christie is not only a master story-teller, but she is a master at creating characters and staying true to them. Louise, Pauline, Marie-Anne, Diane, Hortense, they were ALL strongly alive in the novel. When I say "strongly alive", I mean that they literally popped off the page and played out before me in my living room. Each one of them was so different, and so fascinating, I was completely addicted.

I have two sisters, and I have three daughters, and one thing I've always remarked on is how so many different personalities can come from the same parentage. Well done, Ms. Christie!

But beyond all this, the actual telling of these five sisters is intriguing and fascinating in itself, especially because they were once real-life people. I know for a fact that the Mailly-Nesle will stay in my mind for a long time, and the next time I'm at Versailles, I will see their little smiles, and curtsies and their laughter and tears, their fears and excitement, dancing around me like ghosts of the past.

The author has a list of her research and resources on her website, which includes memoirs, and because I'm such a fan of reading historical non-fiction, I can't wait to dig into those, too!

Can't wait for more of Ms. Christie's work! Well done! Highly recommend!!!


Leave a comment for your chance to win a paperback copy of this book from the publisher! (Sorry, open to U.S. only). But because, I loved this book so much, I'm going to give away an ebook copy to TWO readers, open internationally.


04_Sally Christie_AuthorI'm a life-long history buff - and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser's masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I'd been writing ("writing") ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you'd told my 12-year old self that I'd not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I've finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

 I currently live in Toronto and when I'm not writing, I'm playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie's website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.


Monday, September 14
Review at Reading the Past

Tuesday, September 15
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview & Giveaway at Mina's Bookshelf

Wednesday, September 16
Review at Bookish

Thursday, September 17
Review at The Book Binder's Daughter

Friday, September 18
Review & Giveaway at The True Book Addict
Review at History From a Woman's Perspective

Saturday, September 19
Spotlight at Romantic Historical Reviews

Monday, September 21
Review at Leeanna.me

Tuesday, September 22
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection

Wednesday, September 23
Review & Giveaway at History Undressed

Thursday, September 24
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Friday, September 25
Spotlight at Historical Readings & Views

Monday, September 28
Review & Giveaway at View From the Birdhouse

Tuesday, September 29
Review at So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday, October 1
Review at Genre Queen
Review at book ramblings

Friday, October 2
Review at Curling Up By the Fire

Monday, October 5
Review at Ageless Pages Reviews

Tuesday, October 6
Review at Just One More Chapter

Wednesday, October 7
Review at The Lit Bitch

Thursday, October 8
Interview & Giveaway at Reading Lark

Friday, October 9
Review & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession

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