Special Guest Post!! The Forgotten Seamstress Blog Tour

In honor of the American publication of The Forgotten Seamstress today, the novel’s author, Liz Trenow, has joined us to write a guest post! This is the first-ever guest post for Read-at-Home Mama, and I’m honored and overwhelmed that an author of a book that I truly love has been gracious enough to answer my questions about the novel! Read on to find out what she had to say!

Q1: We often hear the phrase, “Write what you know.” How did you develop the plot for The Forgotten Seamstress?
Like so many debut authors, I raided my own background for my first novel. My family have been silk weavers for 300 years and are still weaving in Sudbury, and this long heritage made for rich pickings.

​So when it came to the second novel, The Forgotten Seamstress, I panicked, slightly. I knew that silk would feature somewhere – it is ‘in my blood’ – but what did I have left to write about? The dilemma was solved when I went to the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree, UK. There, I chanced upon a case of the ‘May Silks’: beautiful damasks and brocades, some with interwoven gold and silver threads, hand woven by Warner and Sons for the trousseau of Princess May for her wedding to the heir to the British throne in 1893. The silks themselves were entrancing but it was the story behind them which most intrigued me.

When her fiancé the Duke of Clarence died just six weeks before the wedding it was decided, with typical royal pragmatism, that the princess should instead marry his younger brother George, who later became King George V. Rather than waste the May Silks, they would use them for this occasion instead.

Q2:Why did you choose to tell this story?
I have always been captivated by the way that quilters manage to juxtapose and manipulate fabrics into such extraordinary and unexpected effects.

A few years ago I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Quilt Show, in London, featuring quilts dating from 1700 to the present day, and this fascination was revived. Most of all, I wasreminded of the many different ways in which quilts tell stories, and decided that I would one day write a novel in which a quilt would become a ‘main character’.

To ensure that the quilting details were right, I needed an expert, and was fortunate enough to be introduced to the internationally-acknowledged Suffolk quilter, teacher and author: Lynne Edwards, MBE. Lynne has also written guidelines for anyone wishing to make ‘Maria’s quilt’, which are available for free on my website.

Q3: Why these characters?
That is always such a difficult question to answer. I love books that juxtapose characters in different eras because I strongly believe that the events that shapes the lives of our ancestors, grandparents and parents resonate through the generations into our own lives. I am also fascinated by the effect and impact of memory, remembered lives and family legends.

So, it started with Maria in the early part of the 20th century and I can honestly say I do not know where her character came from – she just happened, and grew in strength as I wrote. The other main character, Caroline, is very much a 30-something metropolitan girl, not unlike my own two lovely daughters!

Q4: Did you write from personal experience, or were you inspired by something you read?
Of course every writer is inspired by other authors. I can’t say that The Forgotten Seamstress was directly inspired by any other novel, but there is always plenty of an author’s ‘personal experience’ in every novel. The most obvious example, in this one, is my experience of the setting. A large part of the The Forgotten Seamstress is set in Helena Hall, based closely on Severalls Hospital, a Victorian former mental asylum on the outskirts of my home town in Colchester, Essex.

As a teenager, I was an inpatient in a ward at the hospital which had been set aside for minor clinical operations, and the sights and sounds of the place left a deep impression on me. It was like a country mansion set in its own grounds but with bars at the windows and surrounded by high fences – outwardly grand and yet with such an oppressive and ominous atmosphere. Even now that the place has been abandoned and will shortly be developed into housing, it has a powerful presence that I hope comes through in my writing.

And there you have it! I would like to take a quick moment to thank Liz Trenow not only for guest-blogging, but also for writing such a wonderful novel. The desire to look back at one’s past and to learn more about one’s family history is so widespread and deep-seated, and this novel will definitely spur on some readers to look into an account with a site like Ancestry.com. I hope you, my dear reader, are among those people; you never know, you might discover a completely unexpected connection such as the one between Caroline and Maria! Happy hunting!

Click below to purchase your own copy of The Forgotten Seamstress, and click here to read my review!

52 in 52: The Forgotten Seamstress, by Liz Trenow

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by Sourcebooks in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Two stories, happening several decades apart, are told simultaneously in The Forgotten Seamstress. Maria Romano, locked up in a mental hospital from an early age, has been telling the same story for years, but everyone who hears it assumes that the story is simply the wild imaginings of a madwoman. Maria claims to have been a royal seamstress who, after carrying, delivering, and losing the illegitimate child of a prince, has been kept hidden away so as not to destroy the royal family. Meanwhile, Caroline Meadows has been dealing with the breakup of her long-term relationship, the end of an unfulfilling but somewhat lucrative career, and the slow deterioration of her mother’s health. After her mother suffers an episode and nearly burns down her house, Caroline is cleaning and sorting through old junk when she comes across a case containing an old quilt. The discovery leads Caroline on a quest to figure out the meanings sewn into the quilt and how it came into her hands. As you’ll learn, the history behind the quilt ties the women together in several surprising ways!

My thoughts:
I wrote an email to Liz Trenow’s publicist after finishing The forgotten Seamstress, and I think I can sum up my thoughts about the story fairly nicely and cleanly by quoting that email:

“I carried my NOOK, with The Forgotten Seamstress loaded on it, on vacation with me (yay for long car rides!). I had a bit of trouble focusing on my trip because I couldn’t stop reading! Liz Trenow’s storytelling is impeccable and the story itself was both heartbreaking and wholly fulfilling. It was truly inspirational, and I can’t wait to share my review with my readers.”

I think that adequately describes my feelings about the book, but part of my job is to give you a bit more detail, isn’t it?

I fell in love with Maria, the titular character, the moment I met her, knowing from page one that there was no way her story was completely imagined, as the hospital staff believed it to be (and also knowing that I’d be really angry if I was proven wrong and the whole tale was a lie). The brief-yet-everlasting story (read the book and you’ll see what I mean) between Maria and Nurse Margaret was heartbreaking and, upon revealing a very important secret later on, shocking. Caroline, Maria’s present-day counterpoint, reminded me of a good friend of mine, and I found myself wanting to hug her and tell her that everything would be all right in the end. After reading just a few chapters, I realized why I was enjoying this book so much; it reminded me of a TV show I’d been really interested in a while back, called Who Do You Think You Are? The show used to air on NBC, and I watched it religiously — genealogy, celebrity or otherwise, has always been a fascinating topic for me, and The Forgotten Seamstress falls into the same vein as the show (which, by the way, moved to TLC but may no longer be airing). Caroline’s quilt turns out to be as interesting a character as Caroline and Maria themselves, and Liz Trenow makes it very easy to imagine what the quilt may have actually looked like. Her use of description is perfect there, as it is in many other aspects of the story. The quilt itself, though, is really what ties the entire story together; Caroline may never have been able to figure out the connection between Maria and herself if not for the quilt. I found myself wishing I had one like it (or even just having the ability to sew, which could prove troublesome as my already rough-and-tumble toddler continues to age and grow crazier).

So would I recommend this book?
YES. All capitals — the fact that caps look “shouty” drives home the point. This book is worth your time, I promise!! Especially if you’re interested in genealogy (Ancestry.com, anyone??), sewing, historical fiction, or plain-old masterful storytelling, you HAVE. TO. READ. THIS. BOOK!!

Follow Liz Trenow on Twitter here.
Visit Liz Trenow’s website here.
Find the template to make Maria’s quilt here.

52 in 52: The Boleyn Reckoning, by Laura Andersen

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by Ballantine Books in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Before you read this review, you should check out my thoughts on both The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit!

Here’s the deal:
The Boleyn Reckoning picks up with the trial and conviction of the Duke of Northumberland, Robert Dudley’s father, for crimes he committed in The Boleyn Deceit (one of which he was not actually directly responsible for). King William is still recovering from his near-deadly bout with smallpox, and slowly he begins to behave as selfishly and irresponsibly as his father had before him (even more so in real life than in the novels). Dominic and Minuette have a new secret to keep and, upon being discovered, both are locked up in the Tower, tried for their crime against the King, and sentenced to death. Mary finally makes a play for the throne, and Elizabeth serves as everyone’s voice of reason throughout. Lots of secrets are revealed and treachery abounds — how high will the bodies pile up by the story’s end?

My thoughts:
First of all, the cover art: Blue is my favorite color, so I was naturally drawn to this gorgeous cover! Secondly, the writing and attention to detail: spot on, as they were with the first and second books. I found myself wishing I had the ability to write like Ms. Andersen. Her use of descriptive language paints such beautiful pictures, and I felt as though I were actually at court and on the battlefield with the characters. That’s how good books should make you feel, no?

There is so much happening in this final installment of the Boleyn trilogy that it’s very simple to maintain interest. Between the changes in William’s temperament, the love story still burning bright between Dominic and Minuette, Elizabeth’s slow and steady rise toward succession, and all the drama — oh, the drama! — to be devoured, there’s plenty to keep a reader busy. At the same time, it’s easy to keep up with and not feel a sense of confusion about all the confrontations, which anyone could appreciate! I really love that Laura Andersen jumps back and forth between characters, so that each of the “Holy Quartet” (though not so much holy or a quartet anymore), as our four main characters are called, has an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Even more so, I love that the story is all tied together with Minuette’s diary entries and letters written between characters — it’s a neat way to share exposition without becoming overbearing. The only piece of exposition I wish there were more detail surrounding was the death of a major character, who shall not be named. (No spoilers here!)

Full disclosure, I hated William in this installment…but I’m sure that Ms. Andersen meant for readers to develop strong feelings about him during the course of the book. While I hated the changes in his behavior and the way he began treating his friends, council members, and subjects, I also felt immensely sorry for him. Minuette and Dominic should have come clean with him much earlier than they finally did, and they should have spoken with him personally, either before or after William’s illness. The circumstances under which he discovered the truth were seriously harsh and unfair for all parties involved, and despite his terrible behavior I still wanted to hug William. After he released his wrath upon both Minuette and Dominic, however, my pity was gone and the anger had returned. Ultimately, all I wanted for the Quartet was a happy ending. This being the Tudor dynasty, fictional though it may be, I knew that someone’s ending would not be so pleasant, though I was surprised by whose it was.

So would I recommend this book?
Definitely!!! As someone who loved the previous novels in this trilogy, I wasn’t the least bit surprised by how much I enjoyed The Boleyn Reckoning as well! I do hope you’ll give it a read, but please make sure to read The Boleyn King and The Boleyn Deceit first — I promise, you will be completely lost if you attempt to read these out of order!

The Boleyn Reckoning will be available for purchase on July 15, 2014.

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52 in 52: The Undiscovered Goddess, by Michelle Colston

[This review is based on the digital edition published by Michelle Colston in 2012, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Stay-at-home mom Holly decides to take a Cosmo quiz and is disturbed by her “Stylish but Shallow” result; it leads to some self-reflection and to Holly purchasing a workbook entitled Discover Your Inner Goddess. She embarks on a yearlong journey of self-discovery, journaling from start to finish, as she works through her fears and finds her very own inner goddess.

My thoughts:
The Undiscovered Goddess is basically an epistolary novel, in that it’s written mostly in the form of journal entries. Holly treats her journal like a friend, writing as though they’re having a conversation about Holly’s life and experiences, challenges and growth. I enjoy this writing style because it’s the one I try to use when I blog; it’s the easiest and most comfortable voice to read. That being said, I spent a long time reading this — we’re talking on and off for about a week or so. But why, when book reviews are essentially my bread and butter, would I linger for so long on this one book?

Because honestly, I didn’t like Holly at the start of the story. She was selfish and bitchy, unrelatable (for me personally, as someone who doesn’t obsess over Cosmo quiz results), and kind of difficult to like. As I read on, however, I came to the uncomfortable realization that the reason for my initial dislike was because she reminded me a bit of myself (minus the love of expensive shoes and the desire to learn to play guitar). Fortunately, Holly began to change as she continued through the workbook; not only did I find myself starting to like her, but I also wanted to try using the workbook in my own life. Though the novel is a work of fiction, each workbook lesson is based in reality and can certainly be utilized by real people — and that’s what I hope to do. Whether I’ll share my journey publicly remains to be seen, but I’ll tell you this much: if you decide to give The Undiscovered Goddess a read and you’re also looking to make some changes or enhancements to your life, you may find yourself using the workbook lessons, too!

So would I recommend this book?
Definitely. You may feel uncomfortable at the beginning as I did, but over time you will begin to see The Undiscovered Goddess for what it truly is: an encouraging reminder that every woman is worth her salt. Every woman is as good as, or better than, she thinks she is. Every woman is a goddess.

Visit Michelle Colston’s website here.
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Follow Michelle Colston on Twitter here.

52 in 52: The Here and Now, by Ann Brashares

[This review is based on an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) digital edition published by the Delacourt Press imprint of Random House Children’s Books in 2014, and provided by NetGalley.]

Here’s the deal:
Ethan Jarves is out fishing when Prenna James seemingly materializes from nowhere, with a series of numbers written on her arm. What he hasn’t figured out yet is that Prenna is a time traveler; she comes from the 2080s, where blood plagues run rampant and kill scores of people. She and her community are traveling back to 2014 to figure out the root cause of the plagues and put a stop to them so the mass devastation will not happen. As Ethan and Prenna get to know each other — which the community leaders have expressly forbidden her to do — they begin to fall in love with each other, and then they discover that the number sequence she arrived with represents a date. Ethan and Prenna must work together to figure out how to prevent a future-altering event from occurring before it’s too late. Will they be able to change the future…and to stay together?

My thoughts:
The Here and Now, for me, was a very fast read — I read it cover to cover in a matter of hours. I can’t really say that I loved it, though, unfortunately. I had some trouble understanding the overall premise of the book (that members of the community were expected to assimilate into normal society, to school for example, but were forbidden to tell people anything about themselves or let anyone get to know them). How could you possibly pretend to be part of a society while being entirely walled off from other people, especially at school? The way to make friends is to get to know people, and to allow them to get to know you; if you can’t do that, why bother trying to make friends? Why wouldn’t the community just start a school of their own and keep themselves isolated like they seem to want to do?

This leads to another problem, about forbidding members to fall in love and/or be intimate with “time natives” (the people who are supposed to be living in a particular time period). If the community members were kept away from time natives and lived in their own little bubble — which, let’s face it, is what this community is actually trying to do; they’re hiding from the blood plagues, not actually trying to fix anything — no one would have an opportunity to fall in love with a native. If this were the case, Prenna and Ethan probably never would have had contact with each other after their first meeting and, therefore, would never have fallen in love. That being said, the plot plays out as it does and the two do in fact develop feelings for each other. They kiss several times and Ethan never experiences any plague symptoms that Prenna may or may not be carrying from the future; they’re not mingling their blood and condoms exist to prevent contact with other fluids, so why exactly can’t they be intimate with each other? This seems like a completely made-up rule on the part of the leaders to scare the community members into submission, and it unfortunately seems to be working with Prenna. She loves Ethan so much that she doesn’t want to put his life at risk by going to bed with him, even though he eventually figures everything out and still insists that he’d be okay with dying if he got to sleep with her (a line, by the way, that is in my opinion simultaneously sweet and creepy).

As for the main plot, surrounding the decoding of the numbers on Prenna’s arm and the events that lead up to and happen on that date, that was the most interesting part of the story! Prenna and Ethan encounter an old man who turns out to have a surprising connection to the future. The man sends them to a storage locker where they uncover a great deal of information about the future — for example, digitized memory banks called iMemory and issues of the New York Times dated 2021 — and set about changing the course of history. A dangerous encounter toward the end of the book brings a startling revelation about the First Traveler, and by extension some shocking news about the community. This was the most interesting part of the book! The community leaders require their members to wear glasses that are secretly used to record every word and movement of each member, and they must also take “vitamins” that are supposed to help build their immune systems in this new time period but actually build nothing but blindness in the members…which leads them to needing the glasses to improve their vision. And the vicious cycle of deceit continues! This, of course, speaks to the government controlling its people for better or worse, and each reader will do what they will with that aspect of the story.

So would I recommend this book?
I had issues, as I discussed above, with certain parts of The Here and Now. The biggest part of the plot, however, was fascinating! I hope you’ll give it a look on a free afternoon and let me know what you think in the comments!

Visit Ann Brashares’s website here.
Visit Ann Brashares’s blog here.
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