Month: February 2020

Christie’s Auction House, Art, & A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden | Author Guest Post (+Giveaway)

Posted February 20, 2020 by Jana in Giveaway, Guest Post / 1 Comment

I’m pleased to welcome to Karen Odden, author of A Dangerous Duet, to the blog today to talk about the next book in her Victorian Mystery series, A Trace of Deceit! I love art (I minored in art history during undergrad), so this entire post is just fascinating to me. Read more about Karen and A Trace of Deceit below, and enter to win a copy of your own!


Christie’s Auction House, Art, & A Trace of Deceit
by Karen Odden

On my 29th birthday, November 11, 1994, I was standing in the main sales room at Christie’s auction house in New York City. The elegant room was crowded for the rare book auction scheduled to begin at 10 o’clock. On an elevated stage at the front stood Stephen Massey, the head of the Rare Books department, behind a podium. I stood along one wall surveying the rows of chairs, filled with potential buyers and some gawkers. On the opposite wall was a bank of tables draped with black fabric, with phones for other Christie’s employees who’d be taking the bids of people calling in. The star of the auction that day was Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Hammer, one of his notebooks, 32 pages, written right to left, in his mirror handwriting, and featuring the famous image of the Vitruvian Man, among others.

A page from the Codex Leicester (a.k.a. Codex Hammer) by da Vinci, 1510

People who attend Christie’s auctions are generally well behaved. They speak in soft tones, if they speak at all. No one shouts out or flaps their paddle around. But that day people could not stop murmuring. Rare manuscripts, signed copies and first editions sold as expected. But everyone was waiting for the Da Vinci notebook.

As usual the auctioneer started the bidding below the presale estimate. Between buyers in the room and on the phones, the bid began to climb: 6 million, 6.5, 7, 7.5 8, 9, 10, 12, 14, 16, 20. Soon it became a duel between two bidders, one in the room and one on the phone, and the employee at the phone bank just kept raising her hand. Eventually the hammer came down at 28 million dollars to a phone bidder whose identity was kept confidential. Later, I heard one of the Christie’s employees say, “It went to someone named Cates.” His friend replied, “Not Cates, Gates. I think he does something with computers.” Back in 1994, Windows 95 was still months away, and Bill Gates wasn’t a household name yet.

That morning was the first time I felt down to my bones the way suspense and story could swirl around art.

I wasn’t at Christie’s because of my art expertise. I was a media buyer, purchasing print ad space to support sales of everything from paintings and photographs to silver, coins and Faberge eggs, Chinese and Latin American art, and antique furniture. I placed ads in publications such as the New York Times, New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Art and Auction, and ArtNews. Because I was buying ad space, I had to read these publications in order to know what art to advertise where, and for the first few weeks of my job, I sat in my cubicle and read magazines. It was fun. (My dad always said, you’re never going to find a job that pays you to read! Ha!)

So like many things in my life I came to art through reading. And while I enjoy art, it’s the stories around art that captivate me. The precious manuscripts smuggled out of Wartime Germany by an American soldier, only to be found by his grandchildren forty years later, after his death. The art heists and dramatic thefts out of museums. The Renaissance painting by Cimabue that a 90-year-old Frenchwoman had hung over her kitchen stove for years because she thought it was a knock off. The painter who fell in love with his subject and then couldn’t bring himself to sell the painting to her husband. So when it came time to write my third book, I had a whole backlog of interest in stories about art.

Kate Greenaway, “Diamonds and Toads,” 1871

I write mysteries set in Victorian England, specifically the 1870s, largely because I wrote my dissertation at NYU on British literature from 1850-1890. It’s my happy time and place. (My son, who is called upon to help me with my iPhone teases me that I belong there.) But if I wanted to write another novel about a young woman in 1870s London, I needed to find a place for her to study. Fortunately, the Slade School, now world-renowned and part of the University College London, was opened in 1871, after a bequest by a very forward-thinking gentleman named Felix Slade, who wanted a school where men and women could study art together. This was met with resistance from the men. Still, women entered with the first class, and early students included Kate Greenaway who became famous for her exquisite illustrations for children’s books.

At the time I began to write, I was thinking a lot about memory—how memory isn’t static, like a painting. You can’t come back to it and see the exact same image. Memory changes with time; and sometimes we unconsciously suppress memories or alter them, depending on the kinds of stories we want to tell about ourselves or people we love or our lives. I also wanted to write about how talent or genius can sometimes be a burden, or even something that is put to use by parents of the gifted child.

With this, Annabel’s story started taking shape. She has an older brother named Edwin, an outrageously talented painter, and his father started to push him, hard, when Edwin was seven. As a result Edwin became a troublemaker and rebellious. He went to school at age 12, and when he returned he had deeply changed. Troubled and angry, he visited opium dens down by the Thames, forging paintings to support himself. He stumbled home more times than Annabel can remember, swearing he was going to do better. This cycle of what we would now call addiction and relapse recurred again and again, until he was arrested for forging and thrown in prison for a year.

As the book begins, Edwin has been out of prison for four months. He has sworn to Annabel that he is going to stay away from opium and to live within the law. When Annabel and Edwin meet, he appears on time; he’s clear eyed; he talks responsibly about his paintings and his work. Slowly Annabel begins to trust him. Besides, he is her only family, and she wants desperately to believe in him.

In the first chapter, Annabel is at her easel at the Slade. Her work finished for the day, she retrieves her umbrella from the stand and ventures out in the rain. At the terraced house where Edwin rented rooms, she climbs the stairs to the top floor, and sees the door open. That’s odd, she thinks. Odder still is the sight of two strange men riffling through Edwin’s paintings and papers. She bursts out, “What are you doing? Where’s Edwin?” They turn, and she sees the truncheon that one of them carries. She realizes they’re plainclothes detectives, and Annabel feels her heart sink, for she assumes that Edwin has fallen back into his old patterns. Unhappily, she sighs and asks, “What has Edwin done now?”

But in fact, Edwin has been murdered.

Christie’s Auction Rooms, engraving from ‘The Microcosm of London’ published by Rudolph Ackermann, 1808

Within hours, Annabel discovers that a priceless painting of Madame de Pompadour, by the French master Francois Boucher, has gone missing from her brother’s studio. Edwin was cleaning it in preparation for an auction to take place in two weeks, at Bettridge’s, an up-and-coming house trying to compete with Christie’s and Sotheby’s, both of which were established in London in the eighteenth century. The painting I’ve described is fictional—but Boucher painted nearly a dozen of Madame de Pompadour, who was King Louis XV’s mistress from 1745-1751. In my novel, this Boucher painting is the star of the auction—like Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex—but then its true owner appears, claiming the original was destroyed a fire in 1874.

François Boucher, “Madame de Pompadour”, 1756

So the questions begin. Was the painting that Edwin was cleaning a forgery? Had Edwin made the forgery? Was he murdered because his past had caught up to him? But even more important than learning why Edwin was murdered, Annabel longs to discover the truth about who her brother was before he died. Was he lying to her about reforming, or sincere? She wants to fix his character in her mind, render it as something stable, the way she paints her portraits and small scenes, so she can find some closure and peace. But what complicates Annabel’s inquiry is that in the process of investigating Edwin’s past, she comes to recognize a general truth: that there is a trace of deceit in many of our memories, both our happiest ones and our most painful; and that memories are not like paintings. They shift and sideslip, depending on the stories we want to tell ourselves—and the ones we want to conceal. Annabel learns that her memories both enable and limit what she can know about Edwin. Indeed, the closure and peace she seeks won’t come through fixing her brother’s character as in a portrait, but in weaving together her brother’s story and her own, and accepting—and grieving—that there are pieces missing. But that perhaps a sincere effort to understand, founded in love, is enough.

 


About Karen Odden

After writing her PhD dissertation on Victorian railway disasters, Karen became trapped in the era. (Her teenage son, who helps her with tech, teases that she belongs there.) Before turning to fiction, Karen taught at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and her essays on literature have appeared in numerous academic journals and books. Her three novels, set in 1870s London, feature young women who solve mysteries with personal stakes. Her first, A Lady in the Smoke, was a USA Today bestseller; A Dangerous Duet won best Historical Fiction at the New Mexico/Arizona book awards; and A Trace of Deceit (Harper Collins) was published in December. She lives in Arizona with her family and beagle-muse Rosy. Visit www.karenodden.com, or find her on twitter: @karen_odden and instagram: @karen_m_odden.


A Trace of Deceit by Karen Odden
Series: Victorian Mystery #2
Other books in the series: A Dangerous Duet (#1)
Publisher: William Morrow
Genres: Adult Fiction — Historical, Mystery
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Buy on Amazon

A young painter digs beneath the veneer of Victorian London’s art world to learn the truth behind her brother’s murder…

Edwin is dead. That’s what Inspector Matthew Hallam of Scotland Yard tells Annabel Rowe when she discovers him searching her brother’s flat for clues. While the news is shocking, Annabel can’t say it’s wholly unexpected, given Edwin’s past as a dissolute risk-taker and art forger, although he swore he’d reformed. After years spent blaming his reckless behavior for their parents’ deaths, Annabel is now faced with the question of who murdered him—because Edwin’s death was both violent and deliberate. A valuable French painting he’d been restoring for an auction house is missing from his studio: find the painting, find the murderer. But the owner of the artwork claims it was destroyed in a warehouse fire years ago.

As a painter at the prestigious Slade School of Art and as Edwin’s closest relative, Annabel makes the case that she is crucial to Matthew’s investigation. But in their search for the painting, Matthew and Annabel trace a path of deceit and viciousness that reaches far beyond the elegant rooms of the auction house, into an underworld of politics, corruption, and secrets someone will kill to keep.


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The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover

Posted February 17, 2020 by Jana in Top Ten Tuesday / 17 Comments

Welcome to another TTT! What’s a book hangover, you ask? Well. Urban Dictionary provides us with two definitions that I think fit perfectly.

1. The inability to start a new book because you are still living in the old book’s world
2. The inability to function at work/school because you were up all night binge-reading

So… today’s topic is to share the last ten books you’ve read that have done either of these two things to you! Should be fairly easy, right? I’ve had a few book hangovers over the last year as I figure out the kinds of books I love to read, but before that they were few and far between. Some of these books on my list today were read years ago because I’ve struggled to love books for a while. I actually got to the point where I thought I’d fallen out of love with reading, which killed me! I’ve talked about my falling out with YA a lot lately and how confused it made me, but I think I’m finally figuring things out again! So yay! Bring on all the book hangovers!

1. The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler
Romantic contemporary comedy set in Moose Spring, AK starring a silly Zoey and a swoony, sarcastic Graham. There’s narwhals, beautiful scenery, a close call with a whale, a rinky dink diner, and a moose that likes to lick windows.

2. Christmas at Frozen Falls by Kiley Dunbar
A beautiful, festive contemporary romance set in Lapland. You’ve got Sylvie who is supposed to be on her honeymoon, Nari the best friend and travel blogger, Stellan the sexy Finnish ex that owns reindeer and husky puppies, and Niilo the unique guy with a strong connection with his ancestry and the land he calls home. You’ve got an isolated, cozy cabin setting, Northern Lights, so much snow, sled dog rides, and so many swoons!

3. You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
This one. You guys. It’s SOOOOO wonderful. Naomi and Nicholas are engaged, but they hate each other. HATE. But neither one of them wants to end the engagement because then they’ll be stuck with the bill. So they make each other’s lives a living Hell to try and get the other one to end things. I don’t want to give anything away because it’s so special, but feelings. So many feelings.

4. Dating by the Book by Mary Ann Marlowe
Bookish characters! Maddie is an author and gets a bad review on her book. One drunken night, she contacts this reviewer to give them a piece of her mind. They become friends! And then there’s other things. Read this!

5. Lock Every Door by Riley Sager
This was so creepy and wonderful and amazing. Jules takes the job of living in a very fancy, exclusive apartment building. But something sinister is afoot and the apartment sitters keep dying! Ahhhh!

6. The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
The best man and maid of honor are the only two members of the wedding party who don’t get food poisoning, so they decide to go on the bride and groom’s honeymoon and pose as the newlywed couple. Shenanigans and feelings happen.

7. The Gem Thief by Sian Ann Bessey
This is an amazing trip. Mystery, romance, intrigue, travel… jewelry theft. It’s awesome. So much of it takes place on a luxury cruise ship, jumping from destinations that include Venice and Greece.

8. I Temporarily Do by Ellie Cahill
Another fake romance (I love these)! Emmy and Beckett both go through a series of unfortunate events that leave them homeless and at college. So why not get married so they can share an apartment in married student housing? I loved watching them “fake” this relationship and catch some feelings for each other.

9. Till Death by Jennifer L. Armentrout
My favorite romantic suspense ever. It’s just. So. Good!

10. Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco
Dracula has always been a very intriguing story for me, and I loved Kerri’s take on this mystery. I loved the setting and the characters. I loooooove Thomas. It’s such a twisty story! I have a hard time speaking in complete sentences about this book. lol.


Ten Books On My TBR With the Word “Love” In the Title

Posted February 10, 2020 by Jana in Top Ten Tuesday / 27 Comments

Happy love week at Top Ten Tuesday! Valentine’s Day is Friday, so I thought it would be fun to focus on love this week. I decided to share ten books from my TBR that have the word “love” in the title. There’s 260 books listed on my goodreads shelves that have “love” in the title, so I had a lot to choose from!

1. The Love Academy by Belinda Jones
2. Love Overdue by Pamela Morsi
3. Love Beyond Time by Bethany Claire
4. From Scotland With Love by Katie Fforde
5. Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch
6. Love at the Italian Lake by Darcie Boleyn
7. Love and Other Words by Christina Lauren
8. Love at the Northern Lights by Darcie Boleyn
9. On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci
10. Love Like Water by D.E. Malone

What topic did you pick for TTT this week?
What lovey dovey books do you love? I need recommendations!


Top Ten Books I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads for Me

Posted February 3, 2020 by Jana in Top Ten Tuesday / 31 Comments

Welcome to another TTT! The Book Dutchesses came up with this topic one week when they didn’t like the prompt I provided, and I thought it sounded like so much fun that I stole it! There’s so many books I’m excited to read, but then there’s the ones I’m REALLY EXCITED TO READ!!! These books are the ones I’m expecting will be 5-star reads for me, and I’ll be sharing those titles with you today!

Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
This book has popped up in many of my TTTs over the last few months because I’m SO excited to read Riley’s next book! I loved Lock Every Door so so much, and this one takes place in a creepy building just like that one did!

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh
Bookish heroine, a nerdy scientist who gets a makeover to be suave, and a fake romance. This has the makings for perfection!

Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Christina Lauren blurbed this and said it was their new favorite feel-good novel, and that on its own would be all I needed to know. BUT it also sounds adorable and unique. Romance and a Renaissance Faire!

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell
Ok, here’s another thriller set in a creepy building! I’ve never read a book by Lisa Jewell before, but if this one goes well I’m excited at the prospect of finding a new author to love!

True Gold by Michelle Pace
I love romantic suspense, and this one takes place in Alaska! Also… I’m kind of a sucked for a book with the Northern Lights on the cover.

A Dangerous Duet by Karen Odden
This is a historical mystery involving a determined pianist who wants to study at the Royal Academy, but can’t afford tuition. In an effort to save money, she starts disguising herself as a man and sneaks out at night to play at a music hall and stumbles across a deadly crime ring.

One Summer’s Night by Kiley Dunbar
Kiley wrote my most recent favorite book, Christmas At Frozen Falls. I’m so excited to read this summery romance of hers, about a woman whose in a rut and decides to get out of it by becoming a tour guide Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The Northern Lights Lodge by Julie Caplin
Remember what I said about the Northern Lights? I also love books set in wintry locations and this lodge is in Iceland, surrounded by hot springs and glaciers and all the snow!

Ten Things My Cat Hates About You by Lottie Lucas
Cat. I don’t even know what this book is about. lol. Just kidding. It’s a rom-com about a cat who somehow makes meet-cutes happen. This will pretty much either be a 5-star read or a 1-star read.

Save the Date by Carrie Aarons
A best friends marriage pact! I love this, and hope I love the book!

What books do you think will be 5-star reads for you?