Friday Fill-Ins

1. Birthdays are when I hope to get new books, but so rarely do.
2. Fall is my favorite season because it means the summer’s heat and humidity finally go away, football starts, and the trees turn to lovely reds, oranges, and yellows.
3. I feel my best when it’s Saturday and I don’t have to go to work!
4. Rice is my favorite food!
5. First impressions are often unfair and incorrect.
6. The best piece of advice I ever received was keep your mouth shut!  I have a tendency to speak before I think.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to reading, tomorrow my plans include going to the Farmer’s Market and taking Ellie to see Wall*E and Sunday, I want to read, read, read!

In other news, I finally finished one of my long term reads; Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second in her Outlander series.  Wow, I feel like I just finished a huge book marathon.  And of course, I promply jumped into number 3; Voyager.  There is just something about these books…and they are great read in little spells over a long period of time.  At least they are for me.  I’m hoping to make it all the way through the series this year.  Of course, it took me the last 6 months to read the first 2!

Sovay by Celia Rees

Book Description

It’s England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay isn’t sitting for portraits, she’s donning a man’s cloak and robbing travelers—in broad daylight. But in a time when political allegiances between France and England are strained, a rogue bandit is not the only thing travelers fear. Spies abound, and rumors of sedition can quickly lead to disappearances. So when Sovay lifts the wallet of one of England’s most powerful and dangerous men, it’s not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father. A dazzling historical saga in which the roles of thieves and gentry, good and bad, and men and women are interchanged to riveting effect.

I’m sure it’s pretty well known around here how much I enjoy Young Adult fiction.  It isn’t SO TERRIBLY long ago that I was a young adult myself.  (I would hope that technically I am young!)  And, even though it hasn’t been that long (really, it hasn’t! I swear!) I can see a some big changes in the genre.  One of the most noticeable to me, is the evolution of strong, independent, intelligent female characters.  Of course, I may have been reading the wrong books, but anyway.  Sovay is no exception.

Sovay is based on an old folksong of the same name:

Sovay, Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man’s array
With a sword and a pistol all by her side
To meet her true love to meet her true love away did ride.

And as she was a-riding over the plain
She met her true love and bid him stand
Your gold and silver kind sir she said
Or else this moment or else this moment your life I’ll have.

And when she’d robbed him of his store
She says kind sir there is one thing more
A golden ring which I know you have
Deliver it deliver it your sweet life to save.

Oh that golden ring a token is
My life I’ll lose the ring I’ll save.
Being tender-hearted just like a dove
She rode away she rode away from her true love.

Oh next morning in the garden green
Just like true lovers they were seen
Oh he spied his watch hanging by her clothes
And it made him blush made him blush like any rose.

Oh what makes you blush at so silly a thing
I thought to have had your golden ring
It was I that robbed you all on the plain
So here’s your watch here’s your watch and your gold again.

I did intend and it was to know
If that you were me true love or no
For if you’d have give me that ring she said
I’d have pulled the trigger I’d have pulled the trigger and shot you dead.

As you can imagine from that colorful song, that the book would be just as colorful. And, for the most part, it is.  I greatly enjoyed this romp through 1794 England and France.  Rees takes the reader skillfully through the height of the French Revolution and brings new clarity, for me anyway, about just how terrifying those days were for the guilty as well as the innocent.  The threat of prison, the horror of prison, the eventual trip to the guillotine was all made more real to me than I can remember before.  There is lots of adventure, a little romance, and the love of family and country.  The ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me; there were a few loose strings, but I’ll forgive Rees that.  This was a highly enjoyable character and read.  If you have read Rees before (I’ve read Witch Child and enjoyed it as well) you will enjoy this one as well.  Definitely recommend.

*EDIT* One thing I forgot to mention.  This book is marketed for 12-years-old and up.   I’m not exactly sure I agree with that.  There are prostitutes, but more specifically, there are young BOY prostitutes.  There is no explicit sex scenes or anything, but it is made clear that they are boys and that they are there for men.  I know I wouldn’t know how to begin explaining that to my daughter, nor do I think I would want to at so young an age.  I would think it would be better for a child of at least 14.  But that’s just me.

Sovay has already been released in the UK, but will not be released to the US until August 19.   You can read more about Sovay and Celia Rees at her website.

If you have reviewed this book let me know in the comments and I will link to you.

Other Reviews:

Kiss the Book | Bookwitch | Freya Sykes |

Let's Pause…

So, I decided Sunday that I needed a little change of pace.   I went through several books, reading only the first few pages, but nothing was grabbing me.  I was beginning to fear that my Book ADD was going to kick in when I picked up Emma by Jane Austen.  I have tried several times to read various other Austen books.   I don’t know if a) the timing was off or 2) I was afraid they would all pale in comparsion to Pride and Prejudice, but P&P remains the only Austen I have ever made it all the way through.  I have often thought I would enjoy Emma because 1) I LOVED the movie Clueless, which is loosely based on Emma and b) it just sounds good.  And luckily, so far it’s sticking.

There is one thing however I’ve noticed about Ms. Austen’s work.  She seems overly fond of the dramatic pause.  Commas, semicolons, hyphens…they all run rampant through this book.  For example:

The event had every promise of happiness for her friend. Mr. Weston was a man of unexceptionable character, easy fortune, suitable age and pleasant manners; and there was some satisfaction in considering with what self-denying, generous friendship she had always wished and promoted the match; but it was a black morning’s work for her. The want of Miss Taylor would be felt every hour of every day. She recalled her past kindness — the kindness, the affection of sixteen years — how she had taught and how she had played with her from five years old — how she had devoted all her powers to attach and amuse her in health — and how nursed her through the various illnesses of childhood. A large debt of gratitude was owing here; but the intercourse of the last seven years, the equal footing and perfect unreserve which had soon followed Isabella’s marriage on their being left to each other, was yet a dearer, tenderer recollection. It had been a friend and companion such as few possessed, intelligent, well-informed, useful, gentle, knowing all the ways of the family, interested in all its concerns, and peculiarly interested in herself, in every pleasure, every scheme of her’s; — one to whom she could speak every thought as it arose, and who had such an affection for her as could never find fault.

I think under normal circumstances such writing would bother me.  It’s Jane though!  Hopefully I can stomach it. I mean, whatever*, right.  As if,* I could write half so well.

* Get it?

And the winner is…

Number 12!  Danielle!

Congratulations Danielle!  I’ll be in touch!!

In other news, I read like a madwoman yesterday and finished The Host.  Oh.  My.  Heavens.  What a wild ride THAT was.  Meyer is definitely a master at keeping me on the edge of my seat, right up to the last work.  I feel like I’ve been running a marathon.  Lack of sleep is probably amplifying that effect, I’m sure, but I just had to KNOW what was going to happen.  If I have time (I’ve got a full plate this weekend!) I’ll review it further, but suffice to say, I highly recommend. 

If you were like me, holding off because you thought the Twilight series was a fluke, or that The Host wouldn’t live up…believe me.  It does.

And don’t forget, you can still win a copy of Sin in the Second City over at Estella’s Revenge!


Gosh dang you Stephenie Meyer.  Gosh dang you!  I do not want to stop reading The Host, not even to eat, sleep or go to work and make gas money! 

Goodness gracious but this is a page turner.  I admit, I stupidly had my doubts.  I guess I thought Twilight was a fluke, a lucky shot.  The Host, however, may actually take Twilight’s place as my favorite Meyer. 

Oh, if only I could go home, curl up on the couch and read!  It’s the perfect day for it.  The 98 degree heat has given way to cooler temperatures.  The sun has relinquished it’s hold on the sky for the clouds and my kids are with their Nana.  I could so finish the last 200 pages in a few hours!  Curses!

Has anyone else read it?  Was it as hard to put down for you as me?  And what do you think of the story?  Oh, wait, don’t tell me about the story until I’m finished!   Ahh!

And don’t forget, this is the last day you can enter my giveaway for a signed, hardback edition of Sin in the Second City by Karen Abbott!

Sin in the Second City Review

In honor of my giveaway, I’m also rerunning my review of Sin in the Second City.  My interview with author Karen Abbott is in the next post.  Don’t forget to enter and mention my giveaway on your blog!

I discovered a love of history later in my life. In high school, history was a dry, itchy, tedious waste of time that bored me to tears. An uninspired teacher, a mediocre textbook, and the cute guy who sat in front of me conspired to see me fail World History. I was more interested in the latest thriller from Christopher Pike and those hallowed halls of Sweet Valley High to see the merits of historical fiction, so history was a dead subject for me.

Then I went to college.

There I fell in love with this beautiful subject with all its passionate love stories, bloody wars, vicious scandals that would put some of today’s stories to shame, and the serene peace that happens to rarely in the world’s history. I even made it my minor. Now I was more interested in Antonia Fraser histories of famous monarchs, Margaret George’s novelizations of Henry VIII and Cleopatra, and even Diana Gabaldon’s wild romps through Jacobean Scottish moors. And in the 7 years that have passed since I graduated this love of history has only grown.

So, when I saw a mention of Karen Abbott’s Sin in the Second City in a blog post I knew I had to get my hands on it. Along the way I interviewed the author and came away with a great appreciation of just what goes into such a well-researched and studious work as this.

Sin in the Second City is the story of the “Everleigh” sisters, Ada and Minna, who came to own the most scandalous brothel in early 1900s Chicago. They were business savvy ladies, taking the $35,000 they entered Chicago with and turned it into an empire. Their business model was simple; supply the elite of the world with exactly what they wanted. They provided string orchestras. Fine dining. Exotic and lavish décor. Their girls, or butterflies as they called them, were they best the city had to offer and were well provided for; gourmet meals, weekly check-ups with a real doctor, the finest clothes and even education. They were free to come and go as they pleased, which, in this time and especially place came to be very important. And they drew in some of the best; John Barrymore, Theodore Dreiser and even a Prussian prince were among visitors. No other madam in the district could claim such success. And it would eventually lead to their downfall.

For religious leaders the world over descended on Chicago, determined to clean out all the whores, gamblers, mobsters and sinners they could find. Using the voice of America to push them on, they headed to the streets to preach on the sin and cry out for the poor “white slaves” who were forced to work the streets.

In my opinion some of the best nonfiction books are the ones written about the people you never hear about in history class. Those long forgotten heroes, rapscallions, rogues, and pioneers whose stories are fascinating and exciting. Karen Abbott has taken the story of the Everleigh sisters and delivered the goods – here is a tale of sex, lies, murder, religion, politics, and more all wrapped up in a beautiful wrapper that just begs to be read.

You can visit Karen Abbott’s website here.

And you can enter to win a signed, hardback edition here and here.  

More on Sin in the Second City

In honor of my giveaway, I’m going to rereun the interview I did with Ms. Abbott back for the July 2007 issue of Estella’s Revenge.

A chance mention of her friend Karen Abbott on Joshilyn Jackson’s blog led me to seek her, and her new book, out. Much to my delight, she readily agreed to be interviewed! She is just as fascinating as her book.  She is the delightful author of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul, due out July 10th. I’ll let her tell you all about it.

HF: Please tell us a little bit about what your book, Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul, is about?

KA: Sin in the Second City is about two cunning sisters, Minna and Ada Everleigh, who ran the world’s most famous brothel at the turn of the last century. The Everleighs were ingenious businesswomen and fantastic liars, which of course aren’t mutually exclusive, and attracted the elites of the world to their opulent double mansion in Chicago’s Near South Side. Everleigh “butterflies” named Brick Top, Doll, and Suzy Poon Tang devoured raw meat to the delight of Prince Henry of Prussia and recited poetry for Theodore Dreiser. While lesser madams pocketed most of a harlot’s earnings and kept a “whipper” on staff to mete out discipline, the Everleighs made sure their girls dined on gourmet food, were examined by an honest physician, and even tutored in the literature of Balzac. But the sisters’ success also brought them considerable trouble. Rival madams hatched numerous schemes to ruin the sisters-including attempts to frame them for murder-and reformers used the Everleigh Club to launch a national culture war. Ministers and politicians whipped the entire country into a frenzy with lurid tales of “white slavery”-the allegedly rampant practice of kidnapping young girls and forcing them into brothels. It was a furor that shaped America’s sexual culture and had repercussions all the way to the White House, even leading to the formation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The battle against the Everleighs wasn’t only about sex, but also about urbanization, immigration, religious fundamentalism, and the changing roles of women. Before my editor came up with Sin in the Second City, I was calling the book “Whores at War,” which is actually pretty fitting.

HF: Some of the most fascinating nonfiction reads, in my opinion, are about the people you never learn about in regular history books. How did you find out about the Everleigh sisters and their story and what led you to want to research and write about it?

KA: It’s actually a very personal story. My great-grandmother and her sister immigrated to the United States from Slovenia in 1905. One weekend, the sister took a trip to Chicago and was never heard from again. I was always intrigued and haunted by this bit of family lore, and when I began researching Chicago, and learned all about the “disappearing girls” around the turn of the century, those tales really captured my imagination. Chicago was a fascinating city at the time but also very dangerous. There were entire guidebooks that warned visitors about which streets and establishments to avoid. They had these vivid, melodramatic titles: “Chicago and Its Cesspools of Infamy,” “The White Slave Hell: With Christ at Midnight in the Slums of Chicago,” etc. It was easy, especially during my research trips to the city, to imagine my relative falling victim to some nefarious force. Of course I also imagine that she might have become a “sporting girl,” so to speak. And I would hope that she was Everleigh Club material!

HF: How long did it take you to research your book? Where did you have to go and who did you talk to? I imagine the Everleigh sister’s many name changes and the fact that they moved around a lot made it hard to track them. Did you hit any roadblocks and if so, how did you get around them?

KA: I worked on Sin for three years, writing and researching included. My background is in journalism so I’m used to talking to live people, listening to them, figuring out what they’re saying in their silences. This was an entirely different kind of research to me; it was like learning a foreign language. But I really loved digging through the musty old archives in Chicago’s libraries. Dead people don’t always say what you want them to, but if you learn how to read what’s there-and read into what’s not-you can really bring them back to life, or at least try to. It’s part of what I love about nonfiction, about piecing together a million little facts to create a larger truth, and hopefully an entertaining story. If I had written a novel and included a character like Vic Shaw, my editor would have rightfully told me to tone her down or cut some of her antics. I mean, I could not have made her up. Same thing with Everleigh Club clients like the Gold Coin Kid-who knew people were so kinky back then?

I did get to talk to a few people who had a direct connection to the sisters, including their great niece. It took months and months of sending out letters to addresses and having many of them returned. But finally, her son called me, and said a relative had forwarded my letter. The Everleighs’ great niece was 80 years old when I spoke with her, and still feisty. It was 10 in the morning, and she was eating caviar-she made a point of mentioning that to me, which I thought was very Everleigh-like. She also was very adamant about calling the sisters “ladies”-she was proud of them, and proud to be related to them.

HF: Many would feel that the fact that they ran a brothel to be immoral and sordid in the extreme, but they took such good care of their girls; feeding them gourmet food, dressing them in couture gowns, providing them with the best medical care, to name a few of the things they did for their girls. How did you come to feel about the Everleighs? Did you find your feelings got in the way of the story? Was it hard to balance that out?

KA: In a way, theirs is a classic story of the American dream. They had a very difficult past but were determined to be successful, and they were incredibly inventive in their approach. They rewrote their own histories and presented themselves as these two aristocratic debutantes, women of social standing and grace. These personas were just as vital to their business as their décor and the beauty of their girls. And their unique bond was one of my favorite things about the sisters. I don’t think they could have become who they became if it weren’t for each other. These are two women who never lived apart from each other, who watched several family members die, who vowed to die for each other. They shared both their painful truths and their pretty lies. And I think it was their pasts that made them so protective of their girls, which I really admired. They helped these girls when everyone else was merely paying lip service to the idea. So I came to not only admire the sisters, but to love them. I’m not a very sentimental person-I don’t really cry at movies or books or at Major Life Events-but when I typed the last sentence of my book I bawled like a baby. I felt like I was living with the sisters every day for a very long time, learning everything about them there is to know, and now I miss them horribly. I hope that my affection for them is apparent in the story-I want the reader to love them as much as I do. That said, I didn’t want to dismiss the reformers; I wanted to present their ideas and actions in a way that shows just how threatening they were to the sisters’ livelihood. I wanted that tension and conflict to be evident throughout.

HF: What writers have influenced your work the most? What is it about those particular writers that you admire?

KA: I think Pete Dexter is one of the most brilliant writers alive today. I am such a rabid Dexter fan I named one of my parrots after him, sad to say… His sentences are so powerful without being gratuitously show-offy. His dialogue and sense of place are flawless: who else could get South Georgia and South Philly equally right? He’s dark and violent but also very funny (often in the very same sentence). He understands that humor is a natural byproduct of human conflict. Paris Trout is one of my favorite books, though I have to say I like his journalism more than his novels. He wrote a piece about LeeRoy Yarbrough, a famous but troubled 1960s NASCAR driver, that haunted me for weeks. I also love Gary Smith, Susan Orlean, Erik Larson, Tad Friend. They’re superb journalists but also really talented stylists.

HF: Do you read a lot? Do you read most contemporary books, classics, or a mix?

KA: I read for pleasure as often as I can. When I’m researching, I have to focus on books germane to my subject matter. For Sin in the Second City, I read dozens of books about the Progressive Era and Chicago and the “moral panic” over white slavery, some of them fairly dry and academic. But if my eyes glazed over I could also reach for Upstairs at the Everleigh Club and learn some more about Suzy Poon Tang. Never a dull moment with Suzy Poon Tang!

HF: Do you ever re-read your favorite books? If so, which have you re-read most often? Why does that work appeal to you so much?

KA: I do re-read. In high school the emphasis seemed to be on memorizing and regurgitating facts rather than critical reading and thinking, so lately I’ve been on a classics kick, re-reading all the books that got short shrift back then. As for more recent books, one of my favorites to re-read is Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy. It’s stunning on so many levels, and even surpasses the movie, which I thought was stellar. Also Don DeLillo’s Libra, James Dickey’s Deliverance, Patricia Highsmith’s This Sweet Sickness, Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God. I think it’s his best-definitely better than The Road.

HF: Which writers writing today do you think will endure?

KA: Tom Wolfe, John McPhee, Russell Shorto, George Saunders. I think Alice McDermott’s prose is relentlessly gorgeous. I know nothing about writing short stories but I love Matthew Klam’s work. And Sara Gruen and Joshilyn Jackson are favorites, and not just because they’re friends. Both of them are very smart storytellers-there are layers and nuances woven throughout fast-paced plots. It’s not an easy thing to pull off, and they both do it consistently and very well. I’m lucky to have them as readers. They told me when I was committing “information dumps” while drafting Sin, and I went back and interspersed what I needed to say in a way that didn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. Every narrative nonfiction writer can learn from novelists.

HF: Do you have a favorite place to write? Do you have any writing rituals?

KA: My townhouse is pretty tiny-I don’t have an office so much as an alcove adjacent to my bedroom. It’s about the size of a decent walk-in closet. I have at least a half-dozen file boxes piled around me, holding all of my research, organized as best as a scattered right-brainer can manage. I am an incurable slob, so I really have to stay on top of that. When I was working on Sin, I listened to ragtime every morning just to get me in the mood, but when I actually sit down to try to fill the screen, I need perfect quiet. I live in the city, so it can get loud, and then I stuff in the earplugs. I also have to unplug my Internet connection or I’ll procrastinate and surf The Superficial. My parrots have these spiral perches that suspend from the ceiling, so they’re usually with me. Once in a while, when I’m leaning over to read something, Dexter will stretch down and peck my head just so I remember he’s there. They’re pretty smart; they know they go back in their cages if they don’t stay quiet while I’m drafting.

HF: Aside from writing, what are your favorite pastimes?

KA: I love antique furniture. There’s a place up the street from me called Paris on Ponce, and they have fabulous, gaudy, outrageous stuff. It’s like strolling through the Folies Bergére. I can’t afford most of it, but it’s fun to look. I’m also a complete jock. If I hadn’t busted up my knee years go I’m sure I’d be playing in some neighborhood softball league. My husband appreciates the fact that I watch football on Sundays in the fall (go Eagles!) I can still rollerblade about 50 miles a week-something about it helps me think through problems in my work, frees my mind to consider different approaches. And I’m lucky I don’t live up the street from a casino. My husband and I have developed a tag-team strategy for blackjack; we just got back from New Orleans and did pretty well. I think it’s in my blood-my parents and my 88-year-old grandmother hit Atlantic City at least twice a month. Plus the people watching is sublime. Where else can you see an octogenarian in a wheelchair, dragging his oxygen tank behind him, while chain-smoking menthols?

HF: What can we expect to see next from you? Are there any new books in the pipeline?

KA: I recently signed on to do a second book for Random House, which I’m just thrilled about. It’s about Gypsy Rose Lee and the Depression-era New York that made her a legend, with a cast of characters that includes H.L. Mencken, Condé Nast, Lucky Luciano, Abbott and Costello, Fanny Brice, and Fiorello La Guardia. It was a really dynamic time in New York’s history. Tammany Hall was about to fall, F.D.R. was jockeying to run for president, prohibition was in full-force, the literary scene was flourishing. I’m really fascinated by how cities are shaped, and I hope I can make New York as much a character in this book as Chicago is in Sin. I’m also drawn to women who make their own lives, who aren’t privileged enough to have their lives handed to them. In that respect, Gypsy Rose Lee is very much like the Everleigh sisters. I can’t wait to get to know her.

Many, many thanks to Karen Abbott for taking the time to answer my questions so throughly. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. And don’t forgot to go snap up a copy of Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys and the Battle for America’s Soul, a fascinating, engaging read in the style of Erik Larson. You can visit her website here.

And don’t forget, you can enter to win a autographed, hardback copy of this book here.

Book Giveaway

Last year, I have the pleasure of doing an interview with Karen Abbott, author of Sin in the Second City, for Estella’s Revenge.   I also reviewed the book for said publiciation.  Not only was the book fascinating, Karen was amazing and we still keep in touch.  Sin in the Second City comes out in paperback next week and in honor of that, I will be giving away a hardback, autographed edition here. 

Just leave me a comment and let me know you want it.  There is no restriction on location either; my overseas readers are welcome to enter.  Also, if you post about my giveaway on your own blog, and let me know that you did it here, I’ll enter you a second time.   I’ll draw a name (or do that random generator thingy) next Friday, the 13th.