Book Review ~ Those Who Saved Us by Jenna Blum

We choose to read books for many reasons.  Sometimes the cover art speaks to us from the shelves of a local library or book store and we feel the need to take that book home.  We may chose our books based on reviews  read in Bookmarks Magazine, the book review section of the local newspaper or even because we read a fabulous review here on Planet Books.  LOL!  Well I chose to read Jenna Blum’s haunting novel, Those Who Saved Us, for a fairly unique reason.  The main character has the same last name as I had till I got married in 2004. 

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Those Who Saved Us is a story about a woman named Anna who finds the Nazis invading all aspects of her hometown of Weimar, Germany and putting it on the map due to its geographical relation to Buchenwald concentration camp.  Anna’s father is a terrible parental figure, making Anna’s life miserable and difficult as her sole purpose becomes the huge job of handling every need of his and their home.  She finds relief in the friendship with “The Good Doktor”, Max Stern, and eventually the forbidden love that grows out of their chess games and conversations.  Max is a Jew and the risk of even talking with him is deadly.  Eventually, fear for Max’s life due to his association with The Resistance pushes Anna into action and she hides him in the walls of his father’s house.  Of course, as happened all over Europe in the late 30’s and early 40’s, Max is discovered by Anna’s father and shipped off to the Gestapo.  This is the catalyst for Anna and she quickly leaves her childhood home and becomes apprentice to a local baker and spy for The Resistance. 

Well folks, that is just the beginning of this enrapturing and memorable book.  The book jumps from WWII Germany to mid’90’s Minnesota and back again.  In Minnesota, Anna is an elderly, secret filled woman who has just lost her husband and has a stressed relationship with her middle-aged daughter Trudy.  Trudy is a professor of German history at a university in Minneapolis.  She joins a fellow professor on a project that finds her locating Germans in the area who survived WWII in Germany by any means possible and recording their stories.  Little does she know what one of her interviews will disclose about her own mysterious path and the ways her mother made it possible for the two of them to survive during one of this planets most hellish periods.

The drama and stories that emerge from Those Who Saved Us will stay with me forever.  I have said before that I think it is very important for these historical fiction novels to find a voice.  They may be fiction but they are based on fact and in the case of Those Who Saved Us, Jenna Blum completed a great amount of research thanks to Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation. 

Those Who Saved Us reads like a drama and horror story at times but provides a lesson in history and how you can never truly escape your past.  I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the historical fiction genre but warn you that there are some stories within that will cause your jaw to drop and your stomach to turn. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

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Book Review & Q&A with Cathy Marie Buchanan, Author of The Day THE FALLS Stood Still

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What a fresh and interesting title to add to the many historical fiction books out there.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still is a must read for those looking to dive into a new book this fall.  Author Cathy Marie Buchanan has created a cast of characters led by Bess and Tom.  Bess is a wonderful heroine whose desires, dreams and fears helped to keep me enthralled as I read.  After reading a few books set during WWII this year, it was interesting reading this book which is set during WWI.  The mood was much different but still set a stress in the story and for its character.  Set between 1915 and 1923 in Niagara Falls, Canada, Ms. Buchanan also presents focuses on a new way of getting energy to the masses is making its way into everyday life.  It’s called hydroelectric power and it will change the way lives are lived and will change the lives of residents in Niagara Falls forever.  Bess is also on the cusp of womanhood and finding love and will never be the same again.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still will keep you enraptured from beginning to end. 

I’m not the only reader singing Ms. Buchanan’s praises these days.  The Day THE FALLS Stood Still debut on the New York Times bestseller list at #31 two weeks ago and Barnes & Noble selected the book as a “Recommended Pick.” 

Ms. Buchanan started touring for her debut book last week but has taken a moment to answer a few questions for us here at Planet Books.  I would love to welcome The Day The Falls Stood Still author Cathy Marie Buchanan to Planet Books. 

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PB Having written a book that I consider historical fiction, what other era in history is your favorite?  What is your favorite historical fiction title?

CMB ~ My formal education in history ended in grade nine, and so I hardly feel qualified to have a favourite era.  That said, I did fall in love with the WWI period as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  The way communities pulled together, the way everyone was doing their bit really struck me.  People gave up driving and meat and started war gardens and, if they had a free moment, rolled bandages and wrote letters to buoy the spirits of soldiers they’d never met.  It seemed the crisis brought out the best in people, that sacrifice was widespread.  It made me feel hopeful that at some point, hopefully not too far off, all of mankind will take up the fight against our own looming crisis–climate change.

PB ~  What has been your favorite part of the process you went through to get to this finished product?  The research?  The writing?  The press junket?

CMB ~ I was fascinated on a daily basis as I researched The Day the Falls Stood Still.  Born and bred in Niagara Falls, the lore I’d grown up came to life as I read old newspaper accounts of the stunts and rescues on the river or as I came upon gorgeous old photographs of the river before the massive diversion of water away from the falls for the production of hydroelectricity or as I gazed out over the Niagara River from Loretto Academy, the boarding school the book’s protagonist attends.  A now I have the great pleasure of meeting readers online and in the flesh, and I love being told their stories of Niagara Falls or hearing how The Day the Falls Stood Still has touched them in some way.  Still, I am a writer at heart, and it’s what I love most.  I write everyday, sitting down at the computer as soon as my boys leave the house for school.  The objective is always the same, to lose myself in the words I am setting on the page.  And I have had moments when I look up from the computer, dazed.  It takes a second to grasp that I am sitting at my desk, a further second to decide:  Is it morning or afternoon?  Have I had lunch?  Have I forgotten to pick up my boys from school?  My head was a hundred years away in Niagara Falls.  It’s when the best writing has come, and I overflow with happiness.

PB ~  Being an author, do you feel that book blogs are a great way to get the word out?  Have you enjoyed your blog tour?  Do you find it an effective way of communicating with readers?

CMB~ I was a marketer (among other things) before I was a writer.  In marketing lingo, the groups of consumers who seek out new product information and then go about spreading the word are called chat leaders.  These chat leaders are respected authorities in their areas of expertise, and companies jump through hoops to get newly launched products into their hands.  For a new line of lipstick, the chat leaders might include the beauty editors at magazines, the cosmeticians in stores, that neighbour you’d know to turn to for a recommendation for a lipstick that stays on for more than five minutes.  Book bloggers and their followers fit the bill when it comes to books.  You are the chat leaders–the people who know books, who talk about books, who can’t wait to find that next great read, the people whose opinions on what to read next are regularly sought.  So, yes, absolutely, book bloggers are a great way to get the word out.  And the book blogs do provide a wonderful platform for giving readers further insight into a book.  Through reviews and guest posts and Q&As, the bloggers enrich the experience of reading a particular book for their followers.  I have loved my tour, not only because the chat leaders are chatting but also because having someone thoughtfully consider the work that I’ve poured my heart into for the last umpteen years has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Thank you, bloggers and followers, for that. 

For more information about Cathy Marie Buchanan and THE DAY THE FALLS STOOD STILL, be sure to check out her website HERE.

Book Review ~ The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

the-school-of-essential-ingredientsSummary ~ The School of Essential Ingredientsby Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients follows the lives of eight students who gather in Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night for cooking class. It soon becomes clear, however, that each one seeks a recipe for something beyond the kitchen. Students include Claire, a young mother struggling with the demands of her family; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer learning to adapt to life in America; and Tom, a widower mourning the loss of his wife to breast cancer. Chef Lillian, a woman whose connection with food is both soulful and exacting, helps them to create dishes whose flavor and techniques expand beyond the restaurant and into the secret corners of her students’ lives. One by one the students are transformed by the aromas, flavors, and textures of Lillian’s food, including a white-on-white cake that prompts wistful reflections on the sweet fragility of love and a peppery heirloom tomato sauce that seems to spark one romance but end another. Brought together by the power of food and companionship, the lives of the characters mingle and intertwine, united by the revealing nature of what can be created in the kitchen.

Having recently re-located back to the DC area and wanting to create a book club with my friends, I thought that The School of Essential Ingredients would be the perfect first selection.  I think I hit the nail on the head folks!  Lit & The City ladies, what say you?  What a wonderful, fun, interesting, educational and cozy book author Erica Bauermeister has gifted the reading and cooking community with. 

The core of the story is about eight people coming together to take a cooking class at a local restaurant in (I think Seattle) the Pacific Northwest under the instruction of the restaurant owner and head chef, Lillian.  What we get when these people come together from all different backgrounds for one common goal, to cook, is nothing short of a wonderful, memorable and inspirational book.  There’s Helen and Carl, a married couple in their sixties or so, who though they have faced crisis in their marriage are stronger for it and have rekindled their romance.  The observations they make to each other about their fellow classmates are made from experience.  There’s Chloe, who at first is a lost soul looking for romance and a home in the wrong places but then finds love and family where she least expects it.  Claire, a young mother who is loosing herself in her daily life, has the shortest back story of them all but may have gotten the most out of the actual process of cooking.  Antonia is a woman who has left a life of peace, familiarity and family for a new adventure on a new continent but finds herself grounded by her past.  Then there is Ian.  A great character in and out of the kitchen and who finds himself in search of the next culinary challenge to take on. 

Of course I had some favorite characters because of their back stories.  My absolute favorite character was Isabelle and the metamorphosis that took place within her after the exit of her husband and she found herself.  Though now she suffers from memory loss and mix-matched memories, her life was rich with relationships, children and then the adventures she made for herself. 

Tom was my second favorite character because of the depths of his love for a woman and the sorrow that replaced that love.  Food played a huge roll in his relationship with the love of his life and attending the cooking class is equal parts difficult and therapeutic for him.  The curiosity and dread of finding out the details of Tom’s back story made his part of the book extremely effective for me. 

I must emphasize that there may be eight students and a teacher that make up this wonderful book but they are all held together by the tenth, and at times, most important character of all.  The food!  Erica Bauermeister had me salivating and my stomach growling throughout her intimate and divine descriptions of the class dishes and other recipes being prepared here and there.  It really was cruel and unusual punishment for me since our house with our new gourmet kitchen won’t be ready for another two weeks and then we still have to wait for our household goods shipment to arrive and be unpacked.  Erica’s talent for food writing is spectacular and at times I could smell the ingredients and the dishes as the characters prepared them in class and at home waft off the page and up to my nose! 

I look forward to discussing The School of Essential Ingredients with my book club, Lit & The City, but I also hope if you have read Erica Bauermeister’s masterpiece that you will share with us here at Planet Books your thoughts on it.  Erica Bauermeister’s website can be found HERE.

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Book Review/Giveaway ~ The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

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Summary ~ The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

Brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize, the throne of England, in this dazzling account of the wars of the Plantagenets. They are the claimants and kings who ruled England before the Tudors, and now Philippa Gregory brings them to life through the dramatic and intimate stories of the secret players: the indomitable women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, the White Queen.

The White Queen tells the story of a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition who, catching the eye of the newly crowned boy king, marries him in secret and ascends to royalty. While Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for the success of her family, her two sons become central figures in a mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the missing princes in the Tower of London whose fate is still unknown. From her uniquely qualified perspective, Philippa Gregory explores this most famous unsolved mystery of English history, informed by impeccable research and framed by her inimitable storytelling skills. – This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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The White Queen by Philippa Gregory kicks off a new series by the best selling and beloved author.  This time the focus is on the famed “War of the Roses” or “The Cousins’ War.”  The Houses of York and Lancastor battled for the throne of England between 1455 and 1487.  At the time “The White Queen” takes place, King Edward IV of York’s reign.  He privately married our heroine, Elizabeth Woodville, after a short courtship. 

The historical fiction that Gregory produces is wonderful.  It’s rich with storytelling and fact that has been blended perfectly together.  I have never read any of Gregory’s novels before but I can say that she has struck a positive chord with this new book as she introduces her readers to a new reign in England’s history.

From the beginning, I thoroughly enjoyed Elizabeth.  Her thoughts are strong and well written and her adventures from widow and mother to Queen of England and beyond held my attention.  Kind Edward was five years Elizabeth’s junior and because he married for love (or lust, because Elizabeth wouldn’t go to bed with him until he married her) and not for an alliance between countries, this caused weakness in his personal and professional relationships that make for good drama.  Of course there is heartbreak, romance and all the great aspects that are expected in a Philippa Gregory novel (I’ve read the reviews and seen the film adaptation of “The Other Boleyn Girl”).  However, I did feel that the flow felt a bit like a non-fiction work at times but for the most part The White Queen was a good read.

Thank you so much to Philippa Gregory’s publicist Kelly at Touchstone-Fireside Books for inviting me to read and review The White Queen and for sending me my beautiful copy of the book.  The cover art is exquisite!  Kelly has also offered to giveaway two copies of The White Queen to two lucky winners/readers here at Planet Books.  Please leave your name, e-mail address and the name of your favorite Philippa Gregory book so far for a chance to win.  This contest will conclude on Friday, August 21st at Midnight, EST.  Good luck!!  You can check out Philippa Gregory’s website HERE.

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}

TLC Book Tour Review ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

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Summary ~ Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

In San Diego County, it hasn’t rained in 580 days. But for weatherman Andy Dunne, everything else is changing fast…Only a few weeks ago, he was a newly divorced, slightly overweight meteorologist for an obscure satellite radio station, hiding his secret love for a colleague, the beautiful—and very much married—Hillary Hsing. But nearly overnight, Andy has landed a new gig, flying a magic carpet in a bizarre live-action children’s TV show. So what is affable, basically decent Andy Dunne going to do now that he can do practically anything he wants? With a parade of hot moms begging for his autograph and a family that needs his help more than ever, Andy has a lot of choices. First, though, there’s this thing with Hillary, their heated text messages, a long-awaited forecast for rain – and a few other surprises he never saw coming…

I really looked forward to reading Two Years, No Rain when Lisa at TLC Book Tours invited me to read/review it.  I loved the idea of a story written by a man about a man with real issues that if it were written by a woman about a woman would be considered chick lit.  I was not disappointed at all with Shawn Klomparens novel.  His protagonist is Andy Dunne and we meet him when he is newly divorced and working as a forecaster for a satellite radio station.  He likes his job fine but finds his love life is what keeps him up at night.  Actually it’s a secret, fantasy ridden love life with a pretty and witty Chinese-American woman named Hillary Hsingwho works for another company on the property.  She is in a suffering and failing marriage and, in my opinion, really teases the hell out of dear Andy.  Grrrrr. 

After fullfilling Hillary’s request/suggestion to audition for a childrens T.V. show and actually getting the job and much much more, things start to really take off for Andy and his story.  Things with Hillary get a bit heated and more public and we learn more about Andy and his family.  He really is a lovely, charming and likable character and one of my favorite’s in a long time.  I didn’t care for Hillary and her yo-yo actions towards Andy but things did get interesting from the reader’s point of view for them. 

The last part of the book was cool to read because Andy and Hillary go to Hong Kong on a business trip for Andy’s show and with two company paid plane tickets, really how could they not go together.  Having visited Hong Kong twice now and experiencing category 3 and 5 typhoons while living in Okinawa, I thought the descriptions of both the storm and Hong Kong and it’s surrounding territories was great.  I’m curious if the author, Shawn Klomparens, has ever been to Hong Kong himself.  I could easily envision the landscape and buildings in my minds eye while reading about Andy and Hillary’s crazy trip.

All in all, I enjoyed Two Years, No Rain and highly recommend putting it at the top of your TBR (to be read) stack.  You can check out Shawn Klomparens’ web site and learn more about him and Two Years, No Rain HERE.  You can also check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour for Two Years, No Rain HERE and see what they have lined up for the rest of this month. 


 

Book Review ~ Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos

Summary ~ Belong to Meby Marisa de los Santos ~ Cornelia Brown surprised herself when she was gripped by the sudden, inescapable desire to move to the suburbs with her husband. Her mettle is quickly tested by her impeccably dressed, overly judgmental neighbor Piper Truitt—the embodiment of everything Cornelia feared she’d find in suburbia. With Lake, another recent arrival, Cornelia shares a love of literature and old movies—as she forms an instant bond with this warm yet elusive woman and her perceptive, brilliant young son Dev.
Acclaimed bestselling author Marisa de los Santos’s literary talents shine in the complex interactions she creates between three unforgettable women, deftly entangling her characters in a web of trust, betrayal, love, and loss that challenges them in ways they never imagined.

belong-to-me-large2I LOVED THIS BOOK!  I knew by the time I was half way through it that it was going to get a 5 out of 5 rating and that feeling continued on till the end.  If you were a fan of Desperate Housewives before it went over the edge into absolute absurdity, than Belong to Me will quench your bibliophile thirst perfectly.  Like when I read Elizabeth Noble’s The Reading Groupand Jennifer Weiner’s Little Earthquakes, I loved going “in for a visit” with the characters of Belong to Me and now that the last page has been read I miss them already. 

Now I haven’t read the prequel to this book, Love Walked In, but I didn’t feel that I was missing anything because of that.  Belong to Meis told from the point of view of three characters.  Cornelia, along with her husband Teo, is the newest member in a neighborhood just outside of Philadelphia.  Cornelia finds out that when you are the new kid on the block, it might be difficult to find your niche and fit in.  That is proved true by another neighbor and fellow narrator, Piper (nick named Viper by another character).  Piper is in total control of her life and surroundings, or so she thinks.  She discovers that her husband isn’t happy and spends a good portion of the book caring for her best friend, Elizabeth, who is dying from cancer.  The third narrator is Dev.  A fourteen year old boy who’s mother moved them across the country to this new area where they meet Cornelia, Teo and their pseudo-daughter, Clare.  Dev was a very interesting character with his scientific and poetry loving mind.  His story line is full of anxiety, mystery and discovery. 

I can’t even start to tell you my favorite parts of this book because the whole thing was so great.  If you want a juicy, drama filled, funny and fantastically written book to read, than I must recommend Belong to Me!

{Rating: 5 out of 5}

Book Review, Author Q&A and Book Giveaway ~ Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland

Summary : Mistress of the Sun by Sandra Gulland ~ In spirit, there was nothing diminutive about Louise de la Valliere, known to her family as “Petite.” A rambunctious girl who could tame the wildest stallion, the impoverished and unmarriageable Petite was also able to tame the heart of the legendary Sun King, Louis XIV. Once she had captured his eye, Petite was quickly ensconced in his court, where, as his mistress, she was elevated to a titled position. Such a meteoric rise was bound to attract attention of the wrong sort, and Petite’s life was filled with the terrors and tragedies that accompany all internecine tales of palace intrigue. Amid rumors of black magic and sorcery, loved ones would die, and Petite herself would ultimately arrive at a crossroads where she would be forced to choose between her loyalty to the king and her own personal salvation. Teeming with the rich period details that make historical fiction so rewarding, Gulland’s dynamic and nuanced portrait of Louis’ notorious reign thrums with page-turning expediency and deliciously seductive machinations. –Carol Haggas  

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Mistress of the Sun is a lush, engulfing and entirely entertaining example of historical fiction in it’s finest form.  From the very first page I was drawn in and have enjoyed my visits (reading time) to seventeenth century France.  Sandra Gulland has done it again.   Having read her Josephine Bonaparte series years ago, I was extremely excited to receive a review request form Gulland’s “virtual assistant” for her newest novel, Mistress of the Sun.  I was not disappointed in the least. 

Gulland introduces us to “Mademoiselle Louise-Francoise La Baume Le Blanc de la Valliere” but known as Petite for short.  She is the daughter of a nurturing, book loving father and a realistic mother who worries about the future and looks down upon dreaming and stories.  When Petite is a young girl, she goes with her father on an errand trip when she stumbles across the a beautiful but wild and dangerous white stallion named “Diablo.”  When Petite’s father brings this horse home for the family, and especially Petite, life is never the same again.  After a few years of not speaking and studying at a convent, Petite recovers from her silence and is soon thrust into the world of the French royal family and discovers a love greater than any she has ever had and ever will as the mistress to King Louis XIV, the Sun King.  Petite’s friendships and experiences at Court ensure great reading.

I really enjoyed this book.  There is plenty of drama, character detail and wonderful descriptions in Mistress of the Sun.  Reading three pages felt like I had read twenty because there is just so much detail and story in every line.  If you are looking for a book to take you away this summer, Mistress of the Sun is the perfect book. 

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5 stars}

gulland021Q&A with Sandra Gulland

PB Being familiar with your Josephine Bonaparte series and now Mistress of the Sun, I am curious about what draws you to these historical French figures?

Sandra – I was drawn to Josephine because her extraordinary life had been foretold. This still astonishes me. As for Louise, of Mistress of the Sun, I was intrigued by her extraordinary horsemanship. She was described as timid, a wall-flower, and yet she became a devil on horseback. This fascinated me.

PB – When researching for your books do you start with a plot idea?

Sandra – I begin with an interest in the character, and then, in closely examining the facts of that person’s life, I begin to get an idea of a plot.

PB – Have you ever come across something you didn’t know about that caused your story to change completely?

Sandra – With every research trip I make, I have to revise completely!

When I started the Josephine B. Trilogy, I assumed that everything I read about her was true. (Novice that I was about historical research.) I struggled writing the second book (Tales of Passion, Tales of Woe). How could a good mother, a good person, do the things historians claimed? (And how, as a novelist, was I going to get the readers to believe it? A novel, unlike life, has to be credible.) Consulting with the French experts at Malmaison, I learned that “the facts” were incorrect. This caused me to change my story, but it also made the story begin to make more sense.

The most pleasant surprises are ones that make a story better. (Warning: spoiler!) Well into writing Mistress of the Sun, I read in a footnote in the Bastille Archives that Louise’s good friend Nicole ended up at the same convent as Louise. 

I’m now working on a detailed scene-by-scene plot (a blueprint, I like to think of it) of my next novel. It’s forcing me to do deep research at the start and I’ve already run into a number of surprises! Fortunately, a “blueprint” is easier to revise than a full draft.

gulland091PB–  In the beginning of Mistress of the Sun, Louise comes upon a dangerous and stunningly great horse named “Diablo.”  The relationship between girl and horse has a mystical sense about it.  Do you believe in magic and miracles yourself?

Sandra – I don’t, as a rule (but I don’t count them out, either). Louise would have believed in them, however.

PB–  Besides Louise de la Vallière, which character in Mistress of the Sun was the most fun and exciting to write?  What kind of connections do you feel when writing life into your characters?

Sandra– I really love Clorine, Louise’s maid. (Whose name, in real life, really was Clorine.) I love that she’s so tough, and no-nonsense, and yet often fainting.

PB – With The Tudors mini-series, and historical fiction genre films like The Duchess, Marie Antoinette and numerous others, do you wish to see either the Mistress of the Sun or the Bonaparte series go the same route?

Sandra– Yes! The Josephine B. Trilogy is now under option; the producers are looking into developing a mini-series like The Tudors. As for Mistress of the Sun, a producer is looking into making it into a movie. I’d love to see these come about. I think the Trilogy would make a wonderful mini-series, and Mistress a fantastic movie. I just hope it comes about in my lifetime. Movie-making is extremely complex: I think it’s a miracle (note: miracle) that any are ever made.

PB –  So far have you enjoyed your book blog tour for Mistress of the Sun?  Do you think that this way of reaching readers is beneficial for you as an author and for the publishing industry?

Sandra– A Blog Tour is excellent, given how difficult travel has become. I’ve been enjoying it. The response has been overwhelming. Thank you for having me on Planet Books!

To learn more about Sandra Gulland and her novels, be sure to check out her website HERE.  Sandra is in the middle of her blog tour for Mistress of the Sun.  To find out where she has been and will be in coming weeks and months, check out her schedule HERE.  Sandra and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, are generously providing a copy of Mistress of the Sun, which was recently released in paperback.  To enter to win Mistress of the Sun leave a comment including the title of your favorite historical novel on this post by Wednesday, May 6th at Midnight EST.  Good Luck!