Tag Archives: best books for 2012

Sophie Perinot’s The Sister Queens Debuts to Acclaim of Historic Proportions

Do you love historical fiction like I do? Then Sophie Perinot’s debut novel, The Sister Queens, is a novel you won’t want to miss out on! It’s fantastic! This delicate, yet strong prose is a work full of detailed imagery so intense that you’ll feel vividly as if you are actually one of the two sisters~Marguerite and Eleanor~who were raised at court and bred to take substantial places in politics and history. I honestly couldn’t put the book down, and when I had to, I found myself counting the time until I could pick it up again. I loved the moving picture I was experiencing in my head so much that I gorged myself on it, reading way more than I should have in an insane amount of time, and still was famished to learn far more about the life of these sisters.

In The Sister Queens, the sister’s father, Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, positioned all his daughters to deserve nothing less than royalty.  Their beauty, wit, demeanor, and piety are above reproach and their social standing high as the daughter of a mother from Savoy. 

Marguerite becomes a young Queen of France upon marrying Louis IX at age 13, while simultaneously Eleanor, age 12, becomes Queen of England upon her marriage to Henry III.  The novel is a story which is loosely based on the letters they penned to one another during that time (note: the author made up letters they might have written, though they did indeed write to each other) and the book alternated chapters between the present voices of Marguerite and Eleanor, each starting with a letter to the other.

The writing of Sophie Perinot, so intricately researched and brought to life on each page, is a must read for everyone, especially for those enjoying historical drama. How was this story not told before? I’m certainly glad that Perinot uncovered them and gave us their story.  It’s an amazing tale of  two sisters who loved each other so much, yet also had differing personalities and competed with one another, supported one another, and challenged one another. It’s one to mark down for the greatest of novels list and reads visually as a theatrical movie. And Perinot delivers this kind of hype on each page even more than we could begin to imagine.

Marguerite is the perfect one, who tends to conform to the need of others out of necessity and extreme patience. She endearing. She tries very hard to be the wife that Louis IX, a monarch considered to be one of the best of his era, wants her to be. But she hides in the shadows of his extremely toxic mother, Blanche.  None of Marguerite’s family or waiting staff are allowed at court and she is all alone, being very careful who she can trust.  As Louis becomes increasingly withdrawn to matters of state, and with his own pious intent turning increasingly to religious zealotry, Marguerite struggles as a woman alone in a country who does not love her as she deserves to be loved.  This includes her husband who turns her love away in order, as he sees it,  to please God.  It’s this desire for love that sends her down a path of forbidden love.

Eleanor, in contrast, is stubborn, passionate and very strong, and has a marriage where her family is allowed at court, is engaged in the politics of England, and in which her husband is so dutiful to her he makes it very clear at every opportunity how much he loves her and respects her opinion.  He isn’t the greatest of monarchs, but he is a good person.  England suffers for his rule and his failures, but England also gains from her inherent political sense and resolve.

Eleanor competes with Marguerite on a political level, as country is pitted against country, and as Eleanor sees it, sister against sister. But all Marguerite competes with Eleanor in is in being loved. Marguerite encourages her husband in his pursuits only in hopes of increasing his love quotient for her, but Eleanor competes with Marguerite in wanting England to be a strong political power as much as France.  Due to the nature of writing letters and not wanting them to fall into the wrong hands, Eleanor never gets to read her sister’s true angst with Louis IX or his increasingly brutal piety.

Both sisters seem to take on the traits of the other throughout the book as their life unfolds. Eleanor becomes more patient and Marguerite becomes more bold. It was so inspiring to me to see these sisters go through their life trials. I think it’s amazing how various life events can completely compel us to take on different attributes in order to survive them. I enjoyed seeing how they evolved.

I found myself pulling for Marguerite throughout the book. I could relate to her husband’s moods and increasing OCD personality based on some experiences of my own. I wanted her to be able to be free with her forbidden love. I didn’t understand Eleanor not understanding it, but I remembered that Eleanor didn’t get to see what we as readers saw from Marguerite. I wish she had, she might have understood the change in her sister in a more patient manner. Or maybe not, given the time period. But I found myself wanting to explain “why” to Eleanor. To Eleanor, Marguerite was perfect and anything less was shocking, but all Marguerite wanted was to be happy.

The novel gives a resounding rendition of Louis IX’s strides and failures of going on Crusade. It gives an alarming picture of what the Crusades were actually like, from the French perspective. It also gave me a thought about how medieval Europe came to begin to punish so harshly for crimes on the crux of religion.

I loved The Sister Queens for so many reasons. It ends with the sisters in their 30s being reunited and starting a new phase of life.  The result of this time in history is also the Treaty of Paris 1259, as through these sisters, England and France vowed to be peaceful.  It was a wonderful ending to this book and shows how a sister’s love can transcend miles and years apart. Both lived into their 70s, which was practically unheard of back then. I would have liked to continue reading about them. At 500 pages, I felt I still could have read more. It wasn’t enough! I didn’t want to stop reading, which I guess is what makes it a really good book.  I wanted to keep reading about the rest of their lives. I vote for Perinot to do a SEQUEL!!! Please, Sophie!!

I recommend this book to any lover of historical fiction, romance, politics and really anyone who just wants to try  a new book. I can’t wait to read more novels in the future from Sophie Perinot.

Interview with Sophie Perinot, author of The Sister Queens

I also had the pleasure of interviewing Sophie Perinot about her writing, her book, and her life as an author!! Much to my pleasant surprise, I found out that we grew up in the same area. Though she lives in a big city now, I still felt inspired by the fact that she came from the same rural area as I. If she can do it, I can do it is the kind of mantra this knowledge inspired in me! I am so happy for Sophie and wish her great success in the future.

Here is our interview….

Hi, Sophie! Welcome to my blog and thank you for doing an interview with me! I loved your debut novel and hope this is the start of many more for you.

Q1:  Your debut novel, The Sister Queens, is so vivid and detailed. What gave you the idea to write this book? Why does it differ from other historical fiction novels?

A1:  I was probably destined to write about Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence.  I’ve always been a sucker for stories about sisters, right back to the March sisters in Little Women.  I suspect that’s because I am half of a pair of incredibly close sisters.  My first childhood memory is of my sister coming home from the hospital and we have been best friends ever since.  We were even college roommates.  I know with certainty that my relationship with my sister has been formative in my life.  If she had never existed, I would not be the same person I am today.  These types of very primary relationships interest me and I am attracted to characters and situations that allow me to explore them.

It was in that frame-of-mind that I stumbled upon the amazing daughters of Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence.  I was researching a 16th century project and there they were in a book on the history of Notre Dame de Paris (Marguerite’s image is carved over the church’s Portal Rouge).  According to a footnote, all four sisters made politically significant marriages with Marguerite and Eleanor becoming the queens of France and England respectively.  I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of them.  I began to research the women further and it quickly became clear there was a sister-story to be told.  That got me REALLY excited and resulted in The Sister Queens which is, after all, a sister story first and foremost.  Yes, it is set in the 13th century and the atmosphere, politics and history are richly detailed and appropriate to that time period, but the true focus of my novel is on that which is timeless—the way our sisters shape us whether by challenging us or by supporting us.

The second part of your question intrigues me.  Does my novel differ from other historical novels?  I have to say I’ve never thought about that.  When I write I write in a vacuum (no reading while I am writing).  When I read I read widely and enjoy a huge variety of authors and styles without comparing them to each other or to my own work.  It certainly is important to me as a reader that a story is vivid and that it sucks me fully into the world of the novel.  So I am very glad that my novel came to life for you :)

(Erin comments: It really did come to life for me and it intrigued me. Growing up an only child, I enjoyed examining their relationship. I can imagine it must be amazing to feel, with a sister as you have, to know you always have someone there for you.

Second part: I suppose where I was going with that question was how you go between each sister’s story chapter by chapter. I haven’t seen that very much in other novels. I like how you presented both of their stories so we got to know each one, yet we could also see how they fit together as well. I liked how it was a double story rolled into one.)

Q2:  How does it feel to be a published author? What are some of the best moments you’ve had from the experience?

A2: It feels fantastic.  Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional wallop of seeing The Sister Queens on the “new releases” table at Barnes & Noble on my launch day.  Pure bliss.  I will never forget my launch day lunch with amazing fellow authors Kate Quinn and Stephanie Dray either.

In addition to the satisfaction of achieving a major personal goal, the process of writing and launching The Sister Queens brought me into contact with so many wonderful and supportive people.  Some of the best moments of my writer’s journey include: interacting with fellow writers through the on-line community of AgentQuery.com and social media; connecting via Facebook and Twitter with fellow writers and early fans (folks who were enthusiastic about the book even before it ever hit shelves); hanging out with fellow historical writers at HNS 2011 (North American Historical Novel Society Conference); and, of course, talking (and lunching) with my wonderful agent and editor.

Q3:  What were some of the challenges you had when writing The Sister Queens?

A3:  The biggest challenge was time.  See the next question and answer.

Q4:  What is it like for you to be a mom, as well as an author? How do you find the balance?

A4:  “School is my friend.”  I bet every parent out there who works at home can identify with that, lol.  When I have a deadline, the hours between dropping off and picking up my children are devoted 100% to writing.  This can have some unfortunate side effects—usually in the form of dinners cobbled together from a dwindling pantry or the plaintive cries of family members claiming they are wearing their last pair of clean underwear.  When I am not facing a looming deadline, my rating as a wife and mother goes way up.  I have to admit though that I ALWAYS give myself permission to surrender completely to special family moments (as opposed to laundry which is not special).  My oldest went away to college last year and in her sudden absence I realized that my memories of times I’d dropped what I was doing to run the school Halloween party, or hear about her day were golden.  So when I am doing a science fair project with my little guy, or hanging with my high-schooler, I try to be fully present and in that moment.  I try not to think, “Oh my God, you should be writing.”

(Erin comments: It is all about the balance. I agree. I am always telling myself, “they are only this age once, I’ll never get it back” and though I don’t want to put off everything in life, I also know that before I know it I’ll have time when they are pursuing their interests. I still have one at home, but she’s going to school soon so I hope to have more writing time. I just hope that time doesn’t slip away from me, but when you are entering another century in history, sometimes you just get lost!)

Q5:  How did you “sell” your book to get it published? What is your advice for other aspiring authors?

A5:  I am old-school.  I knew I wanted a traditional publisher and that meant finding a literary agent.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  It involves “querying” agents with a one-page letter that captures the essence of your book.  After that if they are interested they will ask to see part or all of your manuscript.  I was amazingly fortunate to attract the attention of and receive an offer of representation from my agent—a long-time industry veteran with a “career-building” philosophy.  It was his job to pitch the book to editors.

My advice for aspiring authors is write, write, write.  But remember it’s not enough to hone your craft you have to learn the business (unless you are just writing for your own satisfaction).  While you are polishing your manuscript, take some time to learn about publishing.  That way when the happy day arrives and you have an agent and a book contract, the facts of life (e.g. authors need to be involved in marketing and promotion) or simple definitions (do you know what it means to “earn out”) won’t stop you in your tracks.  If you haven’t taken the time to learn about the business then you shouldn’t be looking for an agent or a publishing deal no matter how ready your manuscript is.

 Q6:  Which sister did you identify with the most? Why?

A6:  Oh, you’ve touched upon a bit of a family controversy here.  When I wrote The Sister Queens I really grew close to Marguerite.  I started to identify with her and started to “own” her voice.  Then my sister read the manuscript for the first time and said, “Oh my gosh, you are SO Eleanor.”  I am SURE she is right but still, just once I’d like to get away with thinking of myself as the patient, forbearing type without getting called on it.

In all seriousness, I think I was moved by Marguerite’s story—her struggle to find love with her husband, her struggle to be recognized as a person of strength and political intelligence—but my own marriage (like my outspoken personality) is much closer to Eleanor’s.  I am not saying my husband is professionally inept (do you hear that, dear?) as Henry III clearly was, but he is a man who, like Henry, cares deeply for his wife and children and delights in their happiness.  I also have always felt like an equal partner in my marriage and I think Eleanor, like her mother Beatrice of Savoy before her, was valued as a political player by her husband.

Q7:  I know you did a lot of historical research for this novel. What was this process like? The highs and lows? The hours involved?

A7:  You are correct; I did a substantial amount of both primary and secondary source research for the book.  But that’s not as onerous as it would have been even five years ago.  One of the great things about life in the Internet age is improved access to information right from your desk—everything from the contents of scholarly journals to digital copies of manuscripts.  Being able to search WorldCat from home rather than going to a reference librarian. . .who doesn’t love that?!  Of course I have stacks of old-fashioned books as well which I am constantly tripping over.

Q8:  After the research, how did you formulate the development of the characters?

A8:  My approach is to digest and digest material until my brain is swimming in it.  At some point—and the timing varies depending on the project—I get a flash of insight into a particular character and what I think makes her/him tick.  After that I keep an eye open for further facts and events that support that theory.  The characters don’t come fully alive, no matter how well researched they are, until I start writing.  There is a moment almost, like the part in an old Frankenstein movie, when the characters come to life (“It’s alive, It’s alive”).  That is a spectacular moment and that’s when I am certain there really is a book inside the mounds of research I’ve done and all the timelines and plotlines I’ve made.  The funny thing is once characters get minds of their own they often take the story off in new and interesting directions, saying and doing things I didn’t plan on.  I think that’s okay (it’s better than okay) as long as I am confident their actions/thoughts are consistent with their historical actions.

Q9:  I felt somewhat of a Christian undertone to the novel (besides the steamy parts!). Did this undertone just come out within the plot or did you want your readers to think on the indiscretions?

A9:  When I slip into the skins of my characters I try very hard to make certain that they remain true to their time periods and to their personal histories.  Marguerite and Eleanor were raised in the church (13th century so remember there was only one).  Their father was known for his piety, and at any given time one or more of their Savoyard uncles were likely to be in holy orders (true the Savoyards–and many other noble families of the time–considered the church hierarchy as a promising career path, but that doesn’t mean they were not genuinely pious).  Thus both girls would have been imbued with the moral and spiritual views of the Church of Rome by the time they left their Provencal home.  And, because both married devout men (Louis being arguably too devout), there would have been little reason for them to question their religious convictions after marriage.

Just as we do today, my sisters viewed the world through the filter of their personal moral convictions—convictions that were shaped by medieval church doctrine and practices.  They relied on their faith as a touchstone in coping with adversity and making decisions.  Since the book is written in the first person, readers witness the sisters contemplating and applying their religious principles.

Q10:  You say you have three grand passions:  writing, family and history. Tell us a little about why you are so passionate about these topics (well, family we can guess, but please feel free to expound on all and everything).

A10:  Family.  You know the line from The Godfather, “never take sides against the family?”  Well that could have been written for me.  I was raised to place family and duty to family before all.  So was my husband.  I view my family as the touchstone and central support system of my life–a place of love (sometimes tough love), advice, and acceptance.  Whether it takes the form of my dad turning up and staying six months to help me renovate my house when I bought it, or my husband flying overseas on a moment’s notice when a sibling was ill, I know that the family safety net is always in place.  And I make sure to tell my children everyday “I love you JUST THE WAY YOU ARE.”  Friends come and go, jobs come and go, money comes and goes, health comes and goes.  Only family is forever.

History.  I am a history geek from a family of history geeks.  My undergraduate degree is in history; so is my husband’s.  My sister has her doctorate in history and is a college professor.  My childhood was filled with visits to historical places here in the U.S. and as I got older I had the opportunity to visit many historical sites throughout Europe (first while studying abroad and later through leisure travel).  History has always been my thing.

Writing.  Writing lets me share my love of history with readers.  Since The Sister Queens came out more than one person has said to me, “I only started your book because I know you.  I don’t usually read historical fiction and I expected it to be dry, but it wasn’t.  I loved it.”  This always surprises me because history is real people, facing real challenges (many of which are still relevant today) and navigating real relationships (the same types of relationships we treasure and struggle with in the modern world).  How could that ever be dry or boring?  Books offer us so many things—escapism when we need it, reassurance, excitement, the ability to travel to times and places not our own, and even a background for tackling issues in our own lives with the benefit of a little distance.  It’s a dream come true to be part of that; to write something that moves me and find that it moves other people as well.

Q11:  It sounds like you left the field of law to pursue your passions. How did this evolve for you? Can you talk about your experience leaving your career to pursue a new one?

A11:  I did leave the law.  Being a lawyer for a number of years taught me something important – being good at something is not the same as enjoying it.  So I decided to take a leap of faith, to trust that I could find something to do with myself that would also make me happy.  Writing became part of my reinvention because of my sister.  I was on the phone angsting about what I was going to do next and she said, “I know you are making up a story right now in your head, pick up your dictaphone and start saying it out loud.”  My sister knew I was a storyteller because I’d spent most of our childhood entertaining her with “continuing sagas” on our way to and from school.  So rather than “get a life” my sister basically advised me to “write a book.”  The book that resulted snagged my agent.  My agent found me my audience.

I’ve blogged about this transformative sister-push if anyone is interested in reading more.  [http://www.sophieperinot.com/blog/2012/02/02/gifts-my-sister-gave-me-%e2%80%93-part-i ]

(Erin comments: I think it was you that once said (if I am correct) that lawyers do a great amount of writing themselves. I’ve met several writers as of late that stopped their demanding law careers and wrote fiction novels. I think women attorneys, maybe men, too, but it seems less likely somehow, are so full of passion and that is why they go into law and they can use that passion to spur creative thought and write also.)

Q12:  What are your favorite historical time periods and places?

A12:  I am a nut for the 16th century, particularly Valois, France.  But I am a “character-driven” writer rather than being driven by a particular setting or time period.  I would be delighted to revisit the 13th century, and a certain 17th century Cardinal (a nephew of the Pope) and musician are calling me to Rome.  Have laptop, will time-travel—that’s me.

Q13:  What is next for you? Any plans for another novel?

A13:  Oh I am working on another book right now—and probably not as quickly as my ever-patient agent would like.  This one is driven by the mother-daughter relationship.  It is set in the 16th century and my main character is Marguerite de Valois, sister to three kings of France (Francis II, Charles IX, Henri III) and wife of a fourth (Henri IV).  Here is the tagline I am using to drive my writing:  “The mother-daughter relationship is fraught with peril—particularly when your mother is Catherine de Médicis.”

Seriously, I plan to do this until someone tells me I have to stop :)

(Erin comments: Sounds good to me! I actually read a little on her as of late, I’ll be waiting to read your interpretation.)

Q14:  Where can readers connect with you?

A14:  I am everywhere (very social).  At my website www.sophieperinot.com, there is a lot of additional information about my work as well as a contact form that allows people to write substantial messages to me.  I am also on twitter (as @Lit_gal) and I have an author Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/sophie.perinot.author ) and a Facebook page specifically for The Sister Queens (https://www.facebook.com/thesisterqueens).  I am generally pretty good about responding to comments and questions.

Q15:  The Sister Queens is available at what locations?

A15:  The novel is available on-line through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indie Bound and The Book Depository (probably more places too but those are the ones that come to mind).  It is also available in stores.  At Barnes & Noble in particular it is currently on the “new releases” table.  So if readers are looking for The Sister Queens they can’t miss it—I sure hope they are looking for it!

Thank you, Sophie, for an amazing interview.  I wish you much success with The Sister Queens and your future endeavors!

The Sister Queens, book jacket~

Like most sisters, Marguerite and Eleanor were rivals.  They were also queens.

 Raised together at the 13th Century court of their father, Raymond Berenger, Count of Provence, Marguerite and Eleanor are separated by royal marriages—but never truly parted.

Patient, perfect, reticent, and used to being first, Marguerite becomes Queen of France. Her husband, Louis IX, is considered the greatest monarch of his age. But he is also a religious zealot who denies himself all pleasure—including the love and companionship his wife so desperately craves. Can Marguerite find enough of her sister’s boldness to grasp her chance for happiness in the guise of forbidden love?

Passionate, strong-willed, and stubborn, Eleanor becomes Queen of England. Her husband, Henry III, is neither as young nor as dashing as Marguerite’s. But she quickly discovers he is a very good man…and a very bad king. His failures are bitter disappointments for Eleanor, who has worked to best her elder sister since childhood. Can Eleanor stop competing with her sister and value what she has, or will she let it slip away?

Bio: Sophie Perinot, author of The Sister Queens~

I’ve always been passionate about history. I was the first member of my college graduating class at The College of Wooster to declare a history major (first quarter of freshman year – not that I was over-eager or anything). I next attended Northwestern University School of Law, where I served on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Law and Criminology. Whatever else can be said about lawyers (and please, spare me the bad jokes), we get a lot of practice writing. It’s a much larger part of the job than most people realize. After practicing law in Washington DC, I left the legal side of things to my husband (aka my law-school-sweetheart) and retired to the happier job of raising my children and pursuing artistic interests, including writing.

It’s often said writers are readers first. I am no exception. I have always been an avid reader, especially of the classics. Deciding what to write was easy. As a life-long student of history, from a family of history-nerds, historical fiction was destined to be my niche. My attraction to French history was equally natural — I studied French abroad, and I am a hopeless devotee of one of the grandfathers of the genre, Alexandre Dumas, père.

I live in Great Falls, Virginia surrounded by trees and books. My books are time machines. Currently I travel daily to my own little corner of the 16th century were I am delving into the challenges and rewards of the mother-daughter relationship – a subject as timeless as the sister-to-sister rapport explored in my debut novel.

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