March 31, 2012

Forever Amber Week Two Discussion Read A Long

Welcome to the Discussion Post for HF-Connection's first Read-A-Long! If you didn't officially sign up for the read-a-long, you are still welcome to chime in with your thoughts. The original post with the schedule can be found here.**


Marie's thoughts:
This week, we were to read through Part 5... But I misread it and thought we were only to read up to Part 5.. so I only finished Part 4. Ooops... not doing so hot over here..
I can say that I did get to a point where I was ready to quit altogether, simply for the fact that Amber is so unlikable and without morals. I had to focus on the actual historic plot to get myself back into the groove of enjoying it. Amber finds herself a respectable gentleman.. and I could not BELIEVE what happened to that respectable gentleman.. (Well, he wasn't totally gentle)..
The story line is sometimes so far-fetched, and unrealistic.. but it is still good reading in a sensational kind of way.
What do you think?

Michelle's thoughts:
Not any thoughts as of today since I'm dreadfully behind.  I will get caught up and comment later in the week.

Hope everyone is enjoying the book!

Reminder:  I had to change the schedule (only slightly) so if you haven't already, please visit the link Marie posted above to check it out.  Thanks!

March 24, 2012

Week One: Forever Amber Read-A-Long

Welcome to the Discussion Post for HF-Connection's first Read-A-Long! If you didn't officially sign up for the read-a-long, you are still welcome to chime in with your thoughts. The original post with the schedule can be found here.**

**There has been a slight change in the reading schedule.  Please refer to the original post (link above) to view the change.  It was a necessary change due to the structure of the book.  I do apologize for any inconvenience.

This week, we were to read through Chapter 23 in whatever edition you are reading. What edition are you reading?

Please know that this post is for discussing whatever you like regarding the first twenty-three chapters. If you have not read that far.. don't read this post any further! Hopefully this chunky novel is delightfully sinful enough so that you can manage the tight reading schedule.


Marie's thoughts:
Oh Amber!! and oh.. why did it take me so long to read this?? I am in love with the setting, with the drama of Amber and her silly, naive decisions... even though she acts like such a horribly spoilt little girl, I can't help but root for her. And even though I kept having the recurring thought, 'Bruce Carlton, how could you?', I knew that Amber was warned. Yep. She dove in head first and we knew what was coming, didn't we? (Just like her mama Judith.. impetuous disastrous actions on both their parts!) And the earrings she treasured.. of course they were fake! Silly little chit.

Luke Channrell the Scoundrel! What a snake! What an abyss Amber found herself in when she met Sally Goodman the Swindler. Poor Amber. I would've loved to see Amber go back home to Sarah, how bad could it have been? She just would've proved everyone right and she could've found herself a farm to live on once Matthew had her married off. Why couldn't she just see the light?

Black Jack seemed like an answer to a prayer, and again Amber saw him only as a means to an end. What end, though? What did she actually hope for? Because then came along Captain Morgan.. and what a waste. I know understand why some say I hate Bruce Carlton!

As far as the story goes, I have not felt so in tune to a storyline like this in a while.. I love epic/saga material and this is perfect for that. Sometimes we shy away from chunksters because our brain balks at the sheer size of it. But look at how awesome this story is.. and how you cannot wait to get back to reading.. and how I am going to be sad when it actually is over.
I am enjoying the point of view where it's not only all about Amber, but the views from Charles as well which breaks it up a bit.

Michelle's thoughts:
I'm just coming off an all night reading session.  Yes, I'm crazy that way.  So my thoughts this week are going to be somewhat brief.  Most likely I will expand on them whilst responding in the comments to other readers' thoughts.

The first thing I noticed about the book is how it immediately drew me in from the first page.  I could immediately tell that this is a book that I will long to return to and, as Marie said, I will be sad when it comes to an end.

Dare I make the comparison between Amber and Scarlett O'Hara?  As I was reading, I couldn't help but make the connection.  Maybe it's because I've been reading Gone with the Wind, but Amber has some of that very same impetuous nature that Scarlett possesses.  Of course, I do not feel that Scarlett is anywhere near as naive as Amber, but I do notice some similarities.  I did find myself wondering if Scarlett would have allowed herself to get into the situations Amber does.  Did Scarlett avoid the predicaments because she was too smart to compromise herself?  Or was it that the men in her story were too chivalrous to take advantage of her impetuous nature?  I am thinking that it is more the former of the two.  In Amber's case, she is so naive, and coupled with her tendency toward impetuous behavior, it's a dangerous combination.

The parallels between Amber and her mother are also striking.  Being a child who never knew her mother, it's amazing how similar the mindset is.  Judith 'loved' John from a very early age, but I feel that it was more of a crush.  Then, when she is told she can't marry him, it's like forbidden fruit for her and then they make love during that brief visit, she is willing to risk everything to be with him.  I'm of the opinion that when two people engage in intimate relations, there is such a connection between them that makes them feel they are in love.  However, I'm of the mindset that love is the lasting bond between two people.  Once the flame of passion dies down, there is still the bond of love underneath.  In Judith and Amber's case, they associate passion with love and Amber continues to make disastrous mistakes because of it.  And it's how she justifies her behavior.

I can see why this book was considered so scandalous in the 1940s.  If you put yourself in the mindset of the 40s, the provocative nature of this book would have been shocking.   

I'm reading the 1944 cloth bound edition.  The print is tiny and is printed on the pages in two columns, much like a newspaper article.  Ah, but I love old books!

Now it's your turn to share....

See you here next Saturday for Week Two (March 25 - 31)--Chapter 24 through Chapter 47  {Revised: Part III through Part V, which starts at Ch. 46 (stop reading at end of Ch. 45)}

March 20, 2012

(Giveaways!) 1923: A Memoir by Harry Leslie Smith

Harry Leslie Smith has been there, done that. At almost age 90, one wonders about all the things he's seen. He "marvels" at his advanced age.. but the best thing is that he shares some of his fabulous stories with the world. He is offering a lucky follower of HF-Connection e-book copies of all of his books, which are featured below:

Published November 2010

1923: A Memoir
To say that Harry Smith was born under an unlucky star would be an understatement. Born in England in 1923, Smith chronicles the tragic story of his early life in this first volume of his memoirs. He presents his family 's early history their misfortunes and their experiences of enduring betrayal, inhumane poverty, infidelity, and abandonment.

"1923: A Memoir" presents the story of a life lyrically described, capturing a time both before and during World War II when personal survival was dependent upon luck and guile. During this time, failure insured either a trip to the workhouse or burial in a common grave. Brutally honest, Smith 's story plummets to the depths of tragedy and flies up to the summit of mirth and wonder, portraying real people in an uncompromising, unflinching voice.

"1923: A Memoir" tells of a time and place when life, full of raw emotion, was never so real.

Published November 2011
Twenty-two years old and ready for peace, Harry Leslie Smith has survived the Great Depression and endured the Second World War. Now, in 1945 in Hamburg, Germany, he must come to terms with a nation physically and emotionally devastated. In this memoir, he narrates a story of people searching to belong and survive in a world that was almost destroyed.

"Hamburg 1947" recounts Smith's youthful RAF days as part of the occupational forces in post-war Germany. A wireless operator during the war, he doesn't want to return to Britain and join a queue of unemployed former servicemen; he reenlists for long term duty in occupied Germany. From his billet in Hamburg, a city razed to the ground by remorseless aerial bombardment, he witnesses a people and era on the brink of annihilation. This narrative presents a street-level view of a city reduced to rubble populated with refugees, black marketers, and cynical soldiers.

At times grim and other times amusing, Smith writes a memoir relaying the social history about this time and place, providing a unique look at post-WWII Germany. "Hamburg 1947" is both a love story for a city and a passionate retailing of a love affair with a young German woman.

Published November 2011
The Barley Hole Chronicles

These Chronicles document one Yorkshire family's descent into the wilderness of poverty and hunger. It is a personal record of one young man's struggle to survive the Great Depression, the Second World War and the hazards and wonders of life in postwar Germany.

Follow Harry on Twitter
Visit Harry's site, or his page on Facebook

To all those folks with E-readers, this is triple giveaway for you! If you would like to enter for this ebook giveaway, please comment on this post and say hello to Harry! Leave me your email address so I can coordinate your prize.
If you don't win, fire up that Kindle and get this bargain while it's hot: 99 cents for 1923: A Memoir! His other works in ebook format are pretty easy on the wallet also, and I have a feeling these will be great stories for those interested in the era(s!) that Harry has seen, as reviewers have already noted. They are also available in paperback format for us old fashioned folk.
Giveaway ends March 26, 2012. Good Luck!

March 18, 2012

Forever Amber Read-a-Long...starts today!

Don't forget to start reading today for the Forever Amber Read-a-Long.  Our first discussion will be posted here on the blog next Saturday, March 24.  Your first time hearing of this?  Check out all the details and the reading schedule by clicking the image above or HERE.

Looking forward to reading along with you!

Michelle and Marie

March 10, 2012


Please welcome to HF-Connection author Donna Russo Morin, as she celebrates her newest release, The King's Agent.


Battista della Palla, the lead character in The King’s Agent, was a real man, born in Florence in 1489. During his full and prodigious life, he spent many years at the French court, forming an unbreakable bond with King Francois I and his sister Marguerite, one predicated, in part, on their mutual love of art. What became of that friendship is a role Battista would accept as his own for the rest of his life, that of Francois’ art agent, instructed to procure work by the Italian masters that Francois craved at any cost. In exchange, Francois promised Battista his sword—his military might—should Battista’s homeland of Florence ever require it. Battista fulfilled Francois’ requests, most every one of them, most often by nimble pilfering when legal acquisition failed him. In consequence, Francois I and his art agent Battista della Palla could easily be touted as the men directly responsible for what we now call one of the greatest museums in the world, the Louvre. Therefore, with a valid logical syllogism, it can be said that this astounding collection, visited by hundreds of thousands of people every year, began with stolen art.

All of the above is true, but it is not the greatest controversy proposed in The King’s Agent. Not by a long shot.

In The King’s Agent, Battista is commissioned with yet another acquisition by the King of France, but this one is like no other. Even the directive itself—the message of instruction—is couched in vague language and dictates that Battista find him an ancient relic, one crafted in the age of the Greek gods, before the time of Jesus, a relic which, “is said to possess the power I need to reign victorious.” This is but the beginning of the most bizarre quest Battista and his banda (band of men) have ever endured.

The trouble begins with the path to the relic, one whose stepping stones are laid with clues in the great art of the age. The quest itself is many layered, one painting must be found, which will lead to a triptych—a grouping of three paintings that create a single image—that will then lead to the relic. The discussion and search for these paintings, leads the art connoisseurs (for thieves they may be, but art experts they were first) to an exposure of paintings unlike any others they have seen; paintings which include symbolism of unearthly life. As outlandish as the notion may seem, it is not one of my imagination’s device, but one revealed to me during my research.

For the information in the remainder of this blog, I ask not belief, only the belief in possibility. I will not make a thesis on the support of ancient astronauts, but have chosen merely to accentuate works that may be used in evidence of such.

In an effort to stray from any spoilers, I will discuss the paintings highlighted in The King’s Agent out of context. To see how they affect the story, will take a reading of the work itself.

The painting that has, more than any other, sparked discussion among ufologists—and one of the first to make an appearance in The King’s Agent is Madonna col Bambino e San Giovannino (The Madonna with Child and Saint John). The painting hangs in the government palace in Florence—the Palazzo Vecchio—and is most often attributed to Sebastiano Mainardi. It is the image in the top left corner that is the most intriguing…the hardest to explain, an image that one might call an ‘air ship’.

Impressions to note when studying this painting include the man and the dog on the far hill, both with eyes attentively pointed upward toward the apparition. In an article written in 1996 by Daniele Bedini (an expert in Design Space and Space Technology, an instructor at The Royal College of Art (London), ISU (Strasbourg), and the IED (Istituto Europeo di Design in Rome) and published in Notiziario UFO, Bedini wrote, “we clearly see the presence of an airborne object leaden in color and inclined to port, sporting a "dome" or "turret", apparently identifiable as an oval-shaped moving flying device.”

In other journals, it is also theorized that the placement of Mary in relation to the two babies and the unidentifiable object is as a protector, to keep each from seeing and the other.
Carlo Crivelli; Annunciation

The next work is my personal favorite, not for its connection to the subject matter but for its composition and color. The Annunciation was painted by Carlo Crivelli in 1486. Unlike the hundreds, actually thousands, of other paintings dealing with the same theme, one of the most popular in all of religious art, Crivelli’s annunciation—by definition, the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary of her conception of Christ—is committed not by an angel, but by a disc shaped object in the sky casting a beam of light down upon Mary on Earth. There is a great deal more activity taking place in this painting, people pointing at the main activity, and more cryptic symbolism whose meaning seems to have been lost. Crivelli’s Annunciation hangs in the National Gallery in London.

In The Bible and Flying Saucers (Avon Books, 1978) author Barry H. Downing wrote, “Where did this UFO come from, according to the Biblical account? The heavens were ‘opened' and the Spirit seems to have descended from this 'opening.' This idea of an 'opening' represents an example of the 'mythological' expression...The 'opening' represents an example of the Bible cosmology...The 'opening' suggests that in our 'three-decker universe' a 'door' leads from our world below to the world above where the angels live in heaven.”
Miracle of the Snow

Rows of round, hovering objects fill the sky in The Miracle of the Snow: Foundation of Santa Maria Maggiore by Masolino da Panicale, which hangs in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. The work was originally part of the altar painting for the Church of Saint Mary in Rome. It reminds me of nothing so much as an early Renaissance rendition of Orwell’s War of the Worlds. The painting depicts Jesus and Mary hovering above the Earth on a very solid type of cloud, lenticular clouds in fact, those that are flat and circular, and accompanied by an armada of the same type of saucer-like objects stretching back beyond the horizon.

The original legend of this painting reads that in Rome sometime in the 4th century, during the reign of Pope Liberius (352-366), both the Pope and the Patrician Giovanni Patrizio were visited by an apparition of the Virgin Mary during which she entreated them to build a church in her honor and that they would know the location of where the church should be when they awoke the next morning.

The next morning—a hot summer morning—on Esquino Hill, the outline of the church lay on the ground in snow. Despite the heat, the snow lines remained until the church was staked, when it quickly melted.

To reiterate, I did not want to reveal what part these very real works of art play in The King’s Agent in order to maintain the integrity of the unique story.

The amount of information on extraterrestrials, more prodigiously known as ancient astronauts, is overwhelming (and not just from those society might label as ‘quacks’, but from some of the greatest, most educated, intelligent, and reputed minds of our time). And though it plays a minor part of a complex story, the particular notion that evidence of alien existence can be found in profusion throughout the art of man throughout time, is but one of the inspirations in my writing of The King’s Agent, but without question, the most controversial of them all.

THE KING'S AGENT Available March 2012

Kensington Books

 Also by Donna Russo Morin (visit her Amazon page):

March 08, 2012

The Lieutenant's Whistle: Guest Post & Book Giveaway from Fred Stemme

Please welcome Fred Stemme, author of a new novel just released on February 12, 2012: The Lieutenant's Whistle in which he writes of "duty, romance, bravery, tragedy and fate all intermingling in the hell of war."

Fred is working on a trilogy that began with Beguiling Dreams, and is eager to share with readers his second installment, The Lieutenant's Whistle. You can read Chapter one of Beguiling Dreams on his site.

Today he has the following to share with you, to whet your own whistle!

In September of 1915, young Hank Braddock laid on his bed in Calvin, Indiana reading an article in The Outlook. Hank read the descriptions written by an American volunteer ambulance driver with rapt attention. It was as if he himself was behind the wheel and could even hear the ping of artillery shrapnel ding his Model T’s hood and chassis while driving to the hospital with a load of wounded soldiers. An introduction written by Teddy Roosevelt prefaced the article, giving it credence.

He gazed across the room at his small bookshelf. King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable stared back at him. That’s what the article reminded him of, knights, this time driving ambulances, in pursuit of service to the realm. And would that include fair damsels in the form of nurses?

A few months later Hank stood in the town’s newspaper office, where he worked as a reporter. Suddenly the ticker tape machine began to spit out a long paper thread. Hank routinely picked up the thread. His nonchalance quickly changed. The American Field Service was looking for volunteers to drive ambulances. His gut tightened, remembering the article he had read and knew that this bell rang for him. He had to go.

In February of 1916, Hank rode in a rocking railroad car as cigarette smoke and bits of conversation, some in English, some in French, drifted back to him. He turned and gazed out the window and saw that the morning mist had cleared a bit, revealing a snow covered, rolling terrain that reminded him of Indiana. Yet the steep roofs, beige-and buff-colored stucco houses, as well as the Fiats at the crossroads, told him he was in a foreign land.

A hint of homesickness tugged at him as the train passed a company of French soldiers dressed in their horizon blue greatcoats. The soldiers were gathered around a field kitchen, tin plates in hand. Their foggy breath joined the steam rising from the stoves before the mixture dissipated into the cold air. Most of the men were unshaven or had some form of facial hair. That trait had earned them the nickname poilu, meaning “hairy one.”

Hank retrieved a copy of The London Times, already folded to an article about the Great War. The article included a picture that showed a poised lieutenant holding a whistle in one hand and a stopwatch in the other. Two enlisted men, with their helmets on, stood on either side of the lieutenant. The camera caught one man kissing a picture, perhaps his sweetheart or his mother, and the other one seemed to be finishing a prayer. In the background, a ladder leaned against the parapet. At zero hour, when the whistles sounded up and down the line, each man would dutifully climb the ladder in his sector.

At the top, upon entering No Man’s Land, the men would be met with a hail of bullets – delivering each man into the hands of fate. The dead, as much as possible, would be brought back at night. The wounded, too, would be carried back, if they had not been able to crawl back to the trench on their own. From the first-aid stations, to the clearing stations, to the hospitals, a procession of wounded would flow to the rear involving medics, doctors, nurses, orderlies and ambulance drivers, some of whom, like Hank, were volunteer Americans. So, in a sense, the lieutenant’s whistle blew for all of them.

The adventure had begun.

Synopsis of The Lieutenant's Whistle:
The sequel to Beguiling Dreams......Before America's entry into World War I, The American Field Service organized to help bleeding France. In thankfulness for France's aid during the Revolutionary War, young American males volunteered as ambulance drivers to repay their country's debt. Henry 'Hoop' Braddock is one such man. He and the boys of Section Two drive Model T ambulances, and are 'En Repos,' a unit awaiting assignment. One day, in a crowded, smoke-filled canteen in Bar-le-Duc, Hoop meets Kyla Laurens, a Scottish nurse. Her violet-colored eyes burn into his heart, branding him. As fate would have it, Hoop and Kyla end up serving at the same chateau-turned-hospital while the bloody battle to save Verdun ensues. At first, Hoop has precious little time to spend with Kyla due to the German attack. Instead, his time is spent driving his ambulance, all the while hearing the gruesome and touching detailed accounts of the fighting from injured soldiers riding in his cab. But later, once the pressure is off, a romance between Hoop and Kyla begins to flourish. Yet will experiences from Kyla's past prove fatal to their relationship?

The author has generously offered followers of a chance to win a copy of his new book!
If you would like to enter to win The Lieutenant's Whistle, please comment here with your email address. You may also enter by commenting on the post on our Facebook page.
Extra entries go out to those who share on their own Facebook pages, twitter, or google plus share.

Offer open in the USA and ends March 17th!