Wrapped in the Stars, Elena Mikalsen

Wrapped in the StarsWrapped in the Stars by Elena Mikalsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book–LOVED it!

I began this story thinking it was a conventional time travel story. Boy was I in for a surprise. Wrapped in the Stars is so much more than a time travel novel it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll begin with the characters themselves.

Honestly, it’s like the author was channeling the two women in this book. The story is told in alternating times–Maya’s (present) and Rebecca’s (early 1900s).

Right from the first chapter I was hooked. I would get so wrapped up in the story I was reading (either Maya’s or Rebecca’s) that I absolutely hated it when a chapter ended. But by the time I’d read a paragraph into the next chapter, I’d be hooked all over again. . . . And then pissed when THAT chapter ended. This book grabbed me over and over again.

Mikalsen masterfully weaves together at least a half-dozen threads to create a rich, living tapestry: a glimpse into the history of women in medicine, a look at the grassroots organization of the Russian Revolution, early Twentieth Century European social history, parallel love stories, and a FASCINATING mystery/adventure in dual times.

I have this amazingly clear picture of Bern in the early 20th century stuck inside my head! The excitement of the time: a revolution brewing, a war coming, advances in medicine, technology, and revolutionary shifts in gender roles/relations. But even with such a vibrant backdrop, the characters still stand out and do not become lost.

It would be hard for me to say who is the heroine in this story–Maya or Rebecca. So I’m going to say they both are. They are two distinct characters and there is no mistaking their voices. Mikalsen does an excellent job of respecting history and depicts a character–Rebecca– who is a product of her time even as she rebels against it. Which means she actually ends up sounding and behaving like a woman from 1914, rather than a woman from 2018 dressed in clothing from the period.

And Maya? Well, she is a woman who alternately appears to be coming apart at the seams but also strong, driven, curious, and vulnerable. In other words, she is REAL.

And then there are the secondary characters, like Sarah, who Mikalsen makes you care for with only a few subtle, but powerful, snippets of her life.

Clearly I was floored by this book. Awesome debut and I hope for more.

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Sugar MoneySugar Money by Jane Harris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I won’t lie–this was a very hard book to read. Lucien, the narrator, is a slave in Grenada in the 1760s. As if life weren’t hard enough, the island is also going through political and social upheaval as the French and British jockey for control.

Harris is an AMAZING author when it comes to evoking a feeling of brooding, incipient terror. Lucien is a fascinating narrator and you feel a crushing empathy for him as he goes about his life, which just spirals from harsh to bad and worse.

Lots of patois make the reading come to life and Harris’s descriptions paint a picture of an island that is no tropical paradise, at least not for the people who are forced to work it.

A great, if tear-jerking, book.

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A Book Birthday for Debut Author Clarissa Harwood’s Historical Fiction Novel, Impossible Saints!

Today’s interview is with author Clarissa Harwood, whose book, Impossible Saints, debuts TODAY, January 2, 2018!! 

Impossible Saints is historical fiction and published by Pegasus Books and you can grab a copy NOW from the following book vendors:

Amazon

Barns & Noble

Chapters Indigo

The book is set in 1907 England. Lilia Brooke, an agnostic militant suffragette, believes marriage to a clergyman is a fate worse than death. Paul Harris, a quiet, intellectual Anglican priest, is well aware that falling in love with Lilia is incompatible with his ambition to become the next cathedral dean. Lilia and Paul must decide which compromises they’re willing to make and whether their love is worth fighting for.

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A teaser from Impossible Saints:

“How well do you know Whitechapel?” she asked.

He hesitated.

“Have you ever been there?”

“No,” he admitted, “but I don’t need to go to Hell to know I don’t want to spend time there.”

She laughed. “That’s a terrible analogy.”

“Don’t you think you could better achieve your ends by adding a little prudence to your fearlessness?”

“You sound like my mother.” She tapped her foot impatiently. “Why is it that men’s courage is called bravery but women’s courage is called recklessness—or, even worse, foolishness? If I were a man, would you urge me to be prudent?”

“I certainly would,” he said firmly. “Not everything is a question of sex.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Everything is a question of sex, but because you’re a man, you don’t see it.”

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Minerva Spencer: How long did you take to write this book? 

Clarissa Harwood: The novel took about twenty years from conception to publication. The first draft took me a little over a year, but I’ve written so many drafts since then that I’ve lost count. I gave up on it several times and wrote other books, but I kept coming back to it. You can read more about the timeline, including signing with my agent and getting the book deal in this blog post.

 

MS:  What kind of research did you do for this book?

CH:  As a doctoral student and later an English professor, I specialized in nineteenth-century British literature, so the poetry and fiction of that era always sparks my research and leads me to primary sources. An early influence on Paul’s development as an Anglican priest was Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers, with its delightful melodrama surrounding the lives and loves of cathedral clergy. Poets associated with Anglo-Catholicism inspired Paul’s story too, such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and Christina Rossetti. First-person accounts of the suffragettes’ destruction of property, hunger strikes in prison, and the brutal force-feeding they endured, especially Emmeline Pankhurst’s My Own Story and Constance Lytton’s Prison and Prisoners, were especially influential in shaping Lilia’s experiences.

MS:  What did you remove from this book during the editing process?

CH:  Deciding what to include and what to exclude is always difficult, but I’m fortunate to have people with great editorial eyes looking at my work—critique partners, beta readers, my agent, and my editor at Pegasus.  I’ll admit I was dismayed when Laura, my agent, first suggested killing off a fairly major character in Impossible Saints, but Laura has an uncanny ability to detect which elements of a story should be left in and which should be left out, so I knew I could trust her judgment. I was also disappointed when I realized on my own that I had to kill off my only Canadian character and put a New Zealander in his place! It’s obvious to me now that both “murders” improved the novel.

MS: Are you a plotter or a pantser?

CH:  My natural tendency is to be a plotter, but I’m trying to let my inner pantser come out more often! I never plot a novel in great detail, though. Before I start writing a novel, I usually write a brief synopsis. Writing a synopsis for a finished novel is painful, but writing one early in the process is a helpful exercise to work out what the important turning points and key scenes will be. Of course, the synopsis I write at the beginning bears little relation to the one I write at the end, but that’s as it should be!


MS:  What is your favorite part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  I love revisions, whether I’m doing them on my own after having written several drafts, or whether I’m doing them based on my agent’s or editor’s feedback. There is no “terror of the blank page,” so I don’t experience writer’s block when I’m doing revisions. I already know the story and the characters, so I don’t have to create anything from scratch. Instead, I’m adding layers and depth, polishing something that is already a solid story.

 

MS:  What is the most challenging part of your writing process, and why?

CH:  The first draft! How I hate the first draft! I hate not knowing my characters. They aren’t my friends yet, and I miss my old friends from the previous novel. The characters in a first draft are people who’ve dropped out of the sky and are ordering me to tell a story I don’t know.


MS:  Can you share your writing routine? 

CH:  I’m very fortunate to have flexible hours in my day job (I teach online courses at my local university), so I can work at home most days and organize my time the way I want to. Mornings are my sacred writing time: I try to write for at least an hour or two every morning. But my writing routine is quite different depending on whether I’m writing an early draft or a later one. I give myself a minimum time period when I’m working on a first draft (only ten minutes if I’m really struggling). When I’m working on a later draft or revisions, I give myself a maximum time period: otherwise I miss appointments, meals, and sleep because all I want to do is write!


MS:  Have you ever gotten writer’s block? If yes, how do you overcome it?

CH:  Yes, usually when I’m working on a first draft or if I’ve been away from the manuscript too long. I’m a recovering perfectionist, so my first step is usually just reminding myself that it’s ok to “write crap.” In fact, this is how I wrote my entire dissertation! When my writer’s block is really severe, I use the ten-minute minimum time period I mentioned before and let myself make point-form notes if I can’t form complete sentences. Another trick I use for severe writer’s block is stolen from the movie The King’s Speech: to work on the king’s stutter, his speech therapist had him shout out swear words to loosen him up. I do this with writing if I’m really stuck: I just write long lists of swear words!

 

MS:  How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

CH:  I wrote two novels as a teenager that were awful. I rewrote one of them in my twenties, but it was still pretty awful. I’ll call those my three practice novels. Then I signed with my agent based on a finished novel that didn’t sell, and I recently finished a sort of sequel to Impossible Saints. That’s two finished unpublished novels. I also have two unfinished first drafts of new novels.

Thanks so much for sharing your process with my readers and good luck with your publishing journey!

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If you’d like to contact Clarissa or have questions for her you can find her at one of the following places:

Website: www.clarissaharwood.com
Facebook: @ClarissaHarwoodAuthor

Twitter: @clarissaharwood

Goodreads: Clarissa Harwood