Author Suzanne Lilly’s blog

Suzanne Lilly2013_THThanks for stopping by my blog, Suzanne Lilly blogging as the TeacherWriter.  I’m a teacher, an author, and an avid reader. I mostly blog about books I’ve read or teaching and writing, but occasionally something else sneaks onto the screen.

On social media, you’ll find me as Suzanne Lilly. So if you’re looking for the TeacherWriter, on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, here are the places I spend the most time:

Oh, and the person blogging as Suzanne Lilly on a blogspot? Yeah, that’s not me. I’m just letting you know.

Sign up for my occasional newsletter to win prizes and find out about my new releases before anyone else. One subscriber is chosen to win a $25 gift card each time the newsletter comes out.

You can also drop me a line through my contact page. I’d love to hear from you!

 

The Alchemist’s Daughter Release Day Book Review

The Alchemists Daughter cover

In The Alchemist’s Daughter, Mary Lawrence brings the world of London 1543 to dark life. It begins with the rats. Rats may have been more numerous than people in that era. As the story opens, someone is collecting the vermin for an unseemly purpose.

I chose to read this novel because the main character is similar in personality to Lucinda Martin York, the main character of my books Gold Rush Girl and Gold Rush Deluge. She’s an herbalist, she’s motherless, and she’s a strong female protagonist.

Bianca Goddard, the main character, lives a precarious existence, a 16th century equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. She creates potions and salves to cure her customers of what ails them. One of her biggest customers runs a house of ill repute where Bianca’s best friend Jolyn was employed. Jolyn is engaged in a relationship with a well-to-do gentleman and is about to embark on a fairy tale life. The fairy tale is cut short when she dies suddenly in Bianca’s apartment. Due to the circumstances surrounding her death, Bianca becomes the prime suspect, and must solve the mystery of her friend’s death or face the gallows herself.

As the story unfolds, Bianca goes deeper into London’s underworld and discovers the secret of the rat collector. She’s accused of witchcraft, and ends up in a place no one would ever want to go. Once she escapes, she has to go back to that place again to prove her innocence and to prove what dark events are happening in the London shipyards.

This is a well-done mystery, with plenty of twists and turns. The language, customs, and events are all authentic to the time, proving the author did her research. Bianca Goddard stands out as a woman ahead of her era, pursuing herbal studies and a career, preferring to support herself rather than marry young. This novel is a perfect choice for readers who enjoy Tudor history and mysteries with a strong female protagonist.

Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Follow this link to read more about The Alchemist’s Daughter on Goodreads.

 

Snowbound by Richard S. Wheeler

Snowbound cover

Not many people know about the disastrous 1848-1849 winter trek of John C. Frémont and his men. Thirty-three men with one hundred thirty mules and plenty of supplies set out for California along the 38th parallel. Frémont brought along an expert topographer, a doctor, an artist, and many loyal men from his previous California campaigns. John C. Frémont was one of the premiere trailblazers of his time, yet through arrogance or poor judgement, or a little of both, he incurred devastating losses in this fateful journey.

The author develops the story through multiple viewpoints; that of John C. Frémont, Dr. Andrew Cathcart, Edward Kern, Bill Williams, and others. I especially enjoyed the chapters in the doctor’s point of view. All of these men lent a different slant to the story, but throughout it all, the reader is led to believe that Frémont had an oversized ego and a distance from human emotion and connection. Yet, he still managed to make him appear to care about his men and their condition.

The story begins with the team heading westward across the mountains in good cheer and good health. Bill Williams, the guide, tells Frémont the route along the 38th parallel is too dangerous, but Frémont doesn’t listen and instead pushes forward. Later, as the mental acuity of the guide begins to wane, they find themselves boxed into an impassable area buried deep under snow in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, fighting to keep themselves alive. By the time Frémont understands that Bill Williams is lost, he has one option. He leaves most of his men behind in small camps and goes to New Mexico for relief. The story of the relief efforts is heartrending.

This biographical novel is engaging and thoroughly researched. Snowbound was my introduction to the author Richard S. Wheeler, and I’m quite happy to have discovered his book. I’ll be looking for more books by this author.

Laura Morelli’s Authentic Arts Series: Florence

Dear Reader,

Laura Morelli has two new books out today in her Authentic Arts series. The reasons I love these books are many fold:

  • She excels at sharing with her readers the beauty of Italy.
  • She knows how to share the history of the region in an engaging manner.
  • Her books’ photos of the topics are stunning.
  • She knows how to bring Italy to life, both past and present.

Morelli-Florence-AAThe two new books out today are Florence: A Travel Guide to Fabric, Frames, Jewelry, Leather Goods, Maiolica, Paper, Silk, Fabrics, Woodcrafts, and More and the accompanying shopper’s guide, Artisans of Florence.

In the first book, the reader learns about the living traditions of the artisans. Some work out of their shops where they sell their crafts, and you can watch them work as you peruse their wares. Others work in a private shop and sell their wares at traditional and yearly festivals. Reading about the artisans gives you a glimpse into the history and process of their work, and a new respect for the high quality craftsmanship.

This book is all about learning how to find authentic souvenirs to bring or ship home. “Authentic doesn’t have to be expensive, but it will be the most valuable souvenir of your trip,” says the author.

Of course, if you’re going to visit and shop in Florence, you need to know how to get around town. Ms. Morelli explains that the neighborhoods are identified by the main church anchoring it. For example, Duomo and San Lorenzo are named for the churches in those neighborhoods. Also, if you’re looking for a house number, you’ll get lost immediately unless you know the secret of the door colors. Red, or rosso, after the street number tells you the place is a business. Black, or nero, after the street number tells you it’s a residence.

Morelli-FlorenceNow that you know those two important things, you’re ready for the shopper’s companion, Artisans of FlorenceIn it, the author lists artisans and museums by neighborhood. She also listed the artisans and museums by their traditional arts. You’ll find the contact information and addresses for each one.

Shoppers will be happy to learn how to tell if something is authentic, made in the traditional way. Also, determining price can be a confusing matter, but not once you’ve read Ms. Morelli’s book. Before you begin your shopping adventures, she suggests you visit several museums to help train your eye in the traditional arts of the area and see for yourself what is truly authentic.

I’ve reviewed two other books by Laura Morelli, Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More and her novel, The Gondola MakerIf you love history, travel, and shopping, I highly recommend the Authentic Arts series. You can click on the covers below to read my reviews.

Morelli-Venice-cover     The Gondola Maker

About Laura Morelli

Laura Morelli, author photoLaura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

Disclaimer: I received e-ARCs of the two books reviewed today from the author in exchange for an honest review.

You can see more of Laura Morelli’s books on her author page at Amazon.

You might also like to read my review of Laura Morelli’s Venice and her novel, The Gondola Maker.

Do the KIND Thing by Daniel Lubetzky

Kind cover

As an author, does your brand shout out who you are and what you stand for? If not, this book may help you to clarify your brand.

I presumed this was a self-improvement book from its title, Do the KIND Thing, Think Boundlessly, Work Purposefully, Live Passionately. However, it’s actually about the KIND corporation’s history and mission. The author takes a straightforward approach to living a rewarding life and learning how to run a rewarding business you can be passionate about. It has a clear and timely message for everyone.

As an author, my biggest takeaway was Chapter 4, “Truth and Discipline: Staying True to the Brand and to Yourself.” Daniel Lubetzky and his team took such a serious yet practical approach to their branding, and spent many days and nights discussing what message they wanted the company brand to convey to the public.

As authors, we can ask ourselves, what is the message we want readers to know about us? The KIND company has a laser-like focus on the brand, and no product is passed on to the public unless it strongly supports that brand.  The author tells some humorous stories of mistakes made and how they recovered. He tells the reader that a consumer product should never disappoint.

Never disappoint the customer.

Authors know that. Surely, we pore over our words, make our writing perfect, send it out to beta readers and editors, all in the effort to make our books worthy of the money and time our readers will spend to enjoy them. This is all of utmost importance.

Do you have a strong brand? A focused brand? A brand so clear, so definitive, that anyone picking up your books knows exactly what to expect? This is one of the valuable business lessons in this book, whether you’re an entrepreneur or authorpreneur.

The passion Daniel Lubetzky has for his product and for his mission in life is his driving force. The message in this book is to be kind to yourself, kind to others, and to stay focused on your passion. Do the KIND Thing can help guide you to sharing your passion with the world.

Disclaimer: This review is based on the ARC I received from the publisher through NetGalley.

 

The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett

Voyage of the Narwhal cover

Just one look at the cover of this book will give you an idea of the complexity and complications faced by the 19th century Arctic explorers. In this engrossing tale of the search for Franklin and his lost expedition, Andrea Barrett brings to the page the hidden motivations and desires that accompanied these men on their ships.

On the other hand, we get to know the women standing watch patiently at home waiting for the explorers to return safely. Andrea Barrett breathes life into these characters through her literary prose and her incredible knowledge of the era.

Erasmus Welles sets off in early summer on board the Narwhal with Ezekiel Vorhees, his friend and soon to be brother-in-law. When Ezekiel begins making unconscionable demands of the officers and crew, and goes deeper into his own personal quest, Erasmus is torn between his instinct for survival and the consequences of that survival.

The power of the ice, and the unrelenting landscape and seascape join forces to test the men beyond human limits. The Esquimaux come to their aid, but consider the explorers inferior and helpless. What Ezekiel brings back from his journeys is as cruel and shocking as can be imagined.

This book is a satisfying mix of historical fact, character development, and human psychology. The author leaves many questions unanswered, open to the interpretation of the reader. This is a serious work of fiction, a fulfilling tale of adventure and acrimony.

The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout

I love being in a book club at the local library. We read books together that I might never hear about or discover without them. The February 2015 selection was The Homesman by Glendon Swarthout.

The writing is as sparse and cold as the Nebraska countryside in which the story takes place. This served to make the story even more real to me, as I read of personal tragedy and personal triumph. Swarthout’s writing style is reminiscent of Hemingway, whom the author reportedly admired.

From the very first chapter, surprises happen. I’m always in awe of the strength and stamina of our pioneer forefathers, one reason I like to write about the 1800s. Yet we seldom hear about the people who didn’t have the psychological strength to survive those harsh conditions. This story tells the tale of women who lost their mental grounding and needed to be escorted back east to their relatives or to a sanitarium.

The main character, Mary Bee Cuddy, volunteers to take the women home across the plains in the dead of winter. A degenerate criminal named Briggs joins her, not because he wants to, but because she saves him from a bizarre sort of hanging. Plus, she offers him $300 to be paid upon the safe delivery of the women. Mary leaves her homestead in the care of a neighbor, a risky gamble at best. With every move they make along the journey back home, the plot twists in unexpected ways. At one point, I was so shocked by a character’s actions that I wanted to give up the book. However, I read on to the end, and was delighted with the denouement.

After reading the book, I watched the movie. Tommy Lee Jones is the perfectly cast in his role as Briggs, as is Hilary Swank as Mary Bee. They truly bring the story to life. Here’s a trailer of the movie.

https://youtu.be/u6uQkoXKGxM

Glendon Swarthout was a prolific writer in several genres. The historical accuracy and plain good writing make this book one to add to the shelf of anyone who loves Western American Historical Fiction.

Laura Morelli, Art Historian, on Venice

I had the recent pleasure of reading and reviewing The Gondola Maker, by Laura Morelli. Her book is an enjoyable way to immerse yourself in the past culture of Venice and Italian arts. In addition to writing this historical fiction novel, Ms. Morelli has a series of travel books about Italy. They’re full of interesting facts, insider tidbits, and fabulous photography.

Morelli-Venice-cover

Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, & More is a handy guide to everything a shopper and traveler needs to know while visiting this city on the water.

It’s divided into sections by topic, and begins with a chapter teaching the reader how to shop in Venice. How does one know if a piece of art is authentic, and what is a fair price for various items? What questions should one ask an artisan before purchasing their wares, and what is the best way to send the new treasures home?

In addition to answering these typical questions that might arise during a Venetian shopping trip, the author gives a short art history lesson about each of the topics. For example, in the chapter on Murano lace, there is information about sixteenth century lace pattern books, and historical designs. She even goes as far as describing how the lace is made.

I found the chapter on masks fascinating, especially the section on a particular style worn by the Plague Doctor, or medico della peste. My favorite chapter is the one on paper and bookmaking, in which the author writes about the techniques used to produce marbelized paper and customized bindings. She even suggests taking a small class with an artisanal bookmaker if you wish to delve deeper into this topic. I think that’s something I’ll have to add to my bucket list.

In addition to her marvelous books, Laura Morelli has an art history blog that I highly recommend. Her articles are short and interesting anecdotes covering all sorts of things you may or may not find in her books. Reading her books and following her blog will make you feel like an expert in Italian arts.

About Laura Morelli

Laura Morelli, author photoLaura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, andMade in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy my review of another Authentic Arts book by Laura Morelli.

Florence: A Travel Guide to Fabric, Frames, Jewelry, Leather Goods, Maiolica, Paper, Silk, Fabrics, Woodcrafts, and More