Portrait of a Conspiracy by Donna Russo Morin Leads Us to Intrigue and Art of 15th Century Florence

Portrait of a Conspiracy, Review

02_The Portrait of Conspiracy

I was very excited for this new novel, Portrait of a Conspiracy, the start to a new series called Da Vinci’s Disciples, from Donna Russo Morin. She writes with such an elegant hand and entertains with marvelous stories.

Portrait of a Conspiracy is a bit different in overall to her other works in French or Italian courts, but she is no newbie to intrigue, spies, art or all of that sort of suspense and culture that makes me want to read books.

In this book, Donna begins it in brutal form with a murder and chaos in the streets of 15th Century Florence involving the legendary Medici family. I feel she’s pushed herself fairly farther with this book than in her others, allowing the part of her muse who enjoys horror, and causing some blood to fly, to push up onto the page. It makes for a good opening start that draws you into the story and the mystery and keeps you captivated.

Amid this turmoil, five women painters, led by the amazing Leonardo Da Vinci, are honing their art in secret as this is a time when women in the arts was not allowed or at the least ever appreciated. These female characters are the focus of the novel, with Da Vinci playing a supporting role. We learn about their painting, with overall Morin providing much descriptive detail of the time period too, and about their lives and interpersonal relations with each other. All of them are quite dimensional and built to full complex character.

Morin gives art history lovers, and art in general, wonderful details to be obsessed with as well as creates for us a perfect atmosphere of Florence and the area as the girls become amateur sleuths as well.

The suspense and conspiracy plot of the novel was also superb and it was entertaining in all its layers and sub-stories. This is the work of a seasoned novelist to provide such substance and action.

Obviously if you are historical buff or readers, you’ll also find that she has heavily researched not only the art and the times, but everything of historical record and given us accurate and logical reasoning so that we can fully immerse in the past.

I highly recommend this new more visceral and authentic method of writing by Morin, which she easily juxtaposes with her graceful phrasing and details. Well-written and dramatic! I look forward to the rest of her Da Vinci Disciples books!

02_The Portrait of ConspiracyPortrait of a Conspiracy: Da Vinci’s Disciples – Book One

by Donna Russo Morin

Publication Date: May 10, 2016
Diversion Books
eBook & Paperback; 290 Pages

Genre: Historical Mystery

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe.

Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci.

It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

03_Donna Russo MorinDonna Russo Morin, Biography

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter@DonnaRussoMorin.

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Interview over Brioche with Sally Christie, Author of Versailles Historical Fiction

Yesterday I reviewed, The Rivals of Versailles, the second book in Sally Christie’s series, and today I have an exclusive interview with Sally. We had a lot of fun drinking hot chocolate and eating pastries while talking about her books. You can find the interview directly under the cover and the review by clicking on it.

Enjoy!

02_The Rivals of Versaille

Hi Sally, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a pleasure to have you here to talk about your Versailles series, namely the book I’ve just reviewed, The Rivals of Versailles, which is the second book. Come and sit down with me in my library, I thought we’d have a tasty French pastry, of course, you’ll know better what type to serve? Let me know and my little elves will whip it up in the kitchen. I’ve already prepared some hot chocolate for our drink, which as you know, was first introduced at Versailles. How does that sound?

Sally: Hi Erin, thanks so much for having me over!  Let’s have a brioche— I’m working on my third book and Madame Adelaide, Louis XV’s daughter, has just been declaring to the newly arrived Marie Antoinette that French brioches are the best brioches in the world (better than, say, Austrian brioches!)And hot chocolate sounds wonderful – yes, Versailles was always very keen on chocolate, and no king more so than Louis XV.

Erin: That sounds lovely. I’ll pour the chocolate and take the brioche out of the oven in just a little bit. Let’s begin with some questions about your book. I just love French history! What interested you about it in order to inspire you novels?

Sally: I came to France and to the 18th century because of the story of the Nesle sisters from The Sisters of Versailles; before that I knew quite a bit about French history, but it wasn’t a particular passion of mine.

From The Sisters of Versailles a trilogy centered around Louis XV’s mistresses made sense, so I took a deep dive into France in the 18th century and haven’t looked back: I think it is one of the most fascinating time/place combinations I’ve ever come across.

I love that the research and writing for the trilogy spans almost the entire century (first book starts in 1729; third one finishes in 1800) soI was able to see all the changes and all the strands that would eventually come together for the Revolution in 1789. It was such a period of transition – new Enlightenment ideals meeting the extremely autocratic (even for its time) French monarchy, and the way fashions and lifestyles also adapted to the new ideas that were percolating.

Erin: Your first book closes at the end of 1744 when Louis XV was just a young man. Rivals of Versaillespicks up with him and his love, Marquise de Pompadour and her rivals. Who were these rivals and why are they important to her story?

Sally: Louis XV was never very big on faithfulness J and even though I believe he was for a time madly in love with Pompadour, eventually the love cooled and they stopped having a physical relationship and he moved on to other women with her still at his side.  Rosalie, Morphise and Marie Anne, the three rivals that are highlighted and get their own chapters in The Rivals of Versailles, serve to show the danger that Pompadour was constantly under, and how she (sometimes creatively, but always shrewdly) managed to triumphover them.

I could have highlighted other rivals (on my website there is an insane list of 52 known or suspected women that had “liaisons” with Louis XV) and could have gone on and on, but at a certain point – enough!

Erin: As a reader you can tell you did an amazing amount of research which you intricately peppered though out your book and in the creation of your characters (or in bringing historical people to life on the page). How did you do all your research? What was a success and a challenge you had/encountered?

Sally:Thanks (a big thanks!) to Google Books, all the original 18th century memoires and biographies that I needed are available freely on line. What a boon for researchers!

One success I have had with both books is the assumption, that I’ve heard from many readers, that the letters are real and based on actual surviving letters. They are not, but I read so many contemporary letters during the research process that I think I was able to get the tone right – cozy, gossipy, overly floral when formality was required, etc.

For me the biggest challenge is finding a way to work in all the juicy facts and fun anecdotes that abound at 18th century Versailles.  Everything has to be inserted in a natural way, into a conversation or scene, and I can literally stew for hours trying to work an anecdote in, and sometimes I just can’t get it! Unfortunately, if there isn’t a nice, natural place for it to fit in the story, it doesn’t get included. Luckily, letters – of which there are many in both Sisters and Rivals – are excellent places to pepper in little facts.

Erin: What is one of the most memorable things about Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, or Madame Pompadour? What makes her stand out to you from the others at French court?

Sally: Jeanne really was the perfect storm of intelligence, beauty and grace/elegance. I think one of the most intriguing aspects of her personality was that she was genuinely a kind person. She had been adored and cossetted her whole life prior to Versailles, and really did think that if she was nice and kind, other people would be nice and kind back. At Versailles it didn’t work like that, and she had to change, which I believe went against her natural inclination. Nonetheless, she was also successful as a more ruthless person – she was good at everything!

Erin: I’ve read that Madame Pompadour was pretty perfect in every way in demeanor as well as looks and mind, plus stayed by Louis XV side, so why did he keep mistresses? What kinds of trouble did this cause?

Sally: Ah, men… what’s the greatest aphrodisiac? Change! And while Jeanne was perfect in so many ways, she was self-admittedly rather cold in bed, and Louis had a prodigious appetite, and her health eventually became too delicate to satisfy his sexual desires. By that time she had made herself so indispensable to Louis that she managed to survive the transition from lover to “friend”. A remarkable feat – has it ever been replicated in the world of royal mistresses? I think her story and her strategy isunique in the annals of “mistress history”, and points to what an amazing and exceptional woman she was.

Erin: Oh, let’s take the pastry from the oven! I’ll serve them up. More chocolate too?

We often say that Versailles and its story are often better than any drama Hollywood could come up with. What makes the French court so intriguing to people, in your opinion?

Sally: Mmmm, these brioches are delicious – and most certainly French! I think the sheer ridiculousness of Versailles is part of its attraction. You have this incredibly stratified, harsh society governed by the alien concepts of etiquette, laid over a very hedonistic, sexual and pleasure seeking lifestyle. And the overall elegance of it all – one French aristocrat who survived the Revolution said that someone who was not there could never imagine the sweetness of life before (for the top 1% of course!).

Erin: Do you think there is a market not only for more historical books about the courts of other countries from the 17th and 18th centuries, but also television?

Sally: I think so – it seems to be a definite trend that other European courts are getting their day in the sun, so to speak, within the historical fiction category. There are interesting stories everywhere, and it’s great that English language historical fiction is now leaning over to Russian, Spanish, or German tales of royalty.

Erin: How much influence did the women of the French court have and on who and why?

Sally: Only a couple of women had any real influence – the mistress, and perhaps her supporters. The Official Favorite was in many ways a real title, as well as an acknowledgement of her position and power. She was expected to be one of the main conduits for influence with the king, and was expected to participate in charity and patronage and trend setting, etc.

Apart from the mistress, many of the powerful men were also ruled by their mistresses, and to a lesser extent (much lesser!) by their wives. So the road to influence and power for women was there, but it was definitely via the back staircase.

The Queen was a non-entity, or at least traditionally was until Louis XV’s grandson, married to Marie Antoinette, came to the throne. For the first time in a long time (or perhaps forever?) the King did not have a mistress who reigned as first lady of the court; instead the actual Queen was the epicenter of social life. This was perhaps unfortunate as the mistress was often targeted as a figurehead for all the problems in the country, and she could be trashed and bashed with some impunity, but when the Queen was in the position… well, that was more difficult.

Erin: If you could be any woman of the French court for a day, who would you be and why?

Sally: Oof! Hard to choose one. I think I would go with Diane de Mailly Nesle, one of the sisters from The Sisters of Versailles. She was at court for a long time, for most of Louis XV’s reign, and a lady to various dauphines, so she had a central view of everything that was going on. Plus I think I would get along with her!

Erin: What is your writing process or life like? I read that you came back to writing after loving it in your childhood, how did you decide to write fiction?

Sally: I’ve always been a writer, but only as a hobby. After a change in circumstances a few years back, I decided to take a year off to FINALLY finish one of the many books/ideas/projects I had swimming around in my head. I need a lot of space, both mental and physical, to write, and unfortunately can’t do it part time or while I am focused on something else.

I initially started The Sisters of Versailles as non-fiction, because that is my favorite genre (is there anything better than excellent non-fiction that reads and grips you like a novel?!?) but the story was so ridiculous and crazy that I was forced to take the fiction route, which in the end was very appropriate for the book – non-fiction would have been waaaayyyy to dry for that story. I love the possibilities and flexibility of fiction: the creation of scenes with minute details and little backstories, built around actual known events.

Erin: For readers like me who like books on the French court, what are some ideas for further reading? What have you enjoyed?

Sally: Since starting to write I deliberately stayed away from other fiction set in my time period, unfortunately. Nancy Mitford’s biography of Pompadour is an excellent read, and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety is a novel I really enjoyed that I read prior to starting my research process. Duncan Sprott’s My Lady of the Potatoes is another take on Louise O’Murphy, one of the highlighted “rivals” in The Rivals of Versailles – I only peeked at the first few pages but I could tell it was going to be a good read.

Erin: Have you been to France to do research or just for travel? If so, what were some of the things you enjoyed the most? If not, what are you looking forward to see?

Sally: Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time in Paris and elsewhere in France (including of course Versailles), and also made dedicated research trips there during the writing of my novels. I love Paris! I think what I enjoy most is just soaking up the atmosphere and being surrounded by history – growing up in North AmericaI miss that sense of place and peace that comes with being surrounded by history.

Erin: What are your favorite late night or early morning writing/editing snacks?

Sally: Haha, luckily when I am writing I can’t eat because I’m using both hands! But when I’m lying on the couch and reading research books… peanuts!

Erin: I spent A LOT of time writing and editing myself so I say I live by snacks…I’ve mastered using one hand to type at times. J  If you didn’t write about women in France, who would be a woman you’d love to tell a story about and why?

Sally: Honestly I’m not sure – the story of the Mailly Nesle sisters grabbed me and I instantly saw the possibilities, and I was then very pleasantly surprised to find out that neither Madame de Pompadour nor the Comtesse du Barry (subject of the third book in the trilogy) had had any English-language fiction written about them.  There was a definite opportunity there, and I was glad to take it – I think I’m waiting for a similar story / opportunity to strike me.

Erin: Are you working on the third book now? What other projects do you have planned for the future?

Sally: The third book – The Enemies of Versailles – is currently undergoing edits and is getting ready to enter the production process. It’s coming out in March 2017 and I really enjoyed writing it – I had a lot of fun with Madame Adelaide (Louis XV’s daughter) and her point of view, contrasted with that of the lovely Comtesse du Barry. I especially liked writing the book from du Barry’s perspective, and getting her take on that frightful Austrian girl coming to marry the future Louis XVI – usually we get Marie Antoinette’s view on du Barry and not vice versa!

Regarding other projects, I’m not sure. It’s been an intensive (and incredibly interesting) three years since Louis XV and his priapic adventures took over my life, and I think I need a break!

Erin: Thanks for stopping by, Sally! I hope you’ll return, it was a great time talking to you. I wish you all the best and look forward to more books from you.

Sally: Bye Erin, thanks for having me. I enjoyed our chat and the brioches were FABULOUS!

02_The Rivals of VersailleThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2)
by Sally Christie

Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Atria Books
eBook & Paperback; 448 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear! In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

The year is 1745 and Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had mapped out Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeoise interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious 14-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe: history books say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria, she is considered one of the three most powerful women of the 18th century, and one of the most influential royal mistresses of all time.

In The Rivals of Versailles, Christie gets to the heart of Pompadour’s legendary relationship with Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” king. Pompadour was not only his mistress, but his confidante and influential political adviser for close to twenty years. Full of historical insight, decadence, wit and scandal, The Rivals of Versailles is about one woman’s trials and triumphs, her love for a king, and her role in shaping a nation.

Author Sally Christie

03_Sally Christie_AuthorI’m a life-long history buff – and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I’d been writing (“writing”) ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you’d told my 12-year old self that I’d not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I’ve finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

I currently live in Toronto and when I’m not writing, I’m playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.

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Read the The Rival of Versailles by Sally Christie: Excellent!

02_The Rivals of Versaille

Review

If you want a glorious novel to read in which you’ll be swept away to the 18th century for the weekend, then Sally Christie’s The Rivals of Versailles is perfect to quench your desire for a french delicacy in the form of words on paper.

This is the second book in her The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy, but you don’t have to have read the first book if you’d like to pick up this one. I’d bet you’ll want to go back and read it though, and then the third book next year, because you’ll love her writing. She’s that good.

Christie’s writes as is for the stage, which is really what life was like in the French courts I suppose. It’s an experience, her descriptions, her formation of sentences, the letters she intersperses at ends of chapters, and the way she sections the book into acts and employs the voices of the other characters in a seamless fashion.

Like a perfectly fitted dress, Christie writes as if the book is only for each of us (I’m selfish!) and forms around us as if we are given a peek from behind the curtain. Being captivated from the first page, her flowing prose pulled me chapter to chapter, her details dripping, her dialogue exquisite, and her character developmental multi-dimensional.

As a mistress position with Louis XVI is open at court, in sweeps Jeanne Antoinette Poisson. Louis has many mistresses and many women vying for his attention, which he doesn’t mind as he loves beauty and pleasure, but soon she is easy to love for him, as well as being highly intelligent. She learns quickly as well how to make him happy by giving him his desires while fighting off her rival mistresses. Christie makes this situation all the more real by giving them first person point of view voices. This might be unheard of and very difficult for most authors to pull off without feeling contrived, but Christie is such a gifted writer that she makes it not only plausible but deliciously authentic.

As Jeanne become more revered by Louis, and bestowed as Madame Pompadour, she gains more influence with him and accomplishes being able to reign as a queen and is admired by many. She had relationships with many well-known people in the arts and advocated for them. She will be remembered in history for her many accomplishments as a woman and Christie has outlined them for us marvelously, but in addition, has given us a glimpse of the true woman who maneuvered with precision the intrigue and dynamics at court and of the affections of Louis while still making an impact on society.

The novel is so intricately detailed and woven in a dynamic way that will demand a reader’s attention, I know it did mine. I highly recommend this novel (and series) for any historical fiction or french-anything lover, that’s a given, but I truly think a novel this well-written would be enjoyed by anyone looking for a step back in time, an absorbing read, or for it’s value of showcasing yet another strong woman in history.

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Sally Christie!

02_The Rivals of VersailleThe Rivals of Versailles (The Mistresses of Versailles Trilogy #2)
by Sally Christie

Publication Date: April 5, 2016
Atria Books
eBook & Paperback; 448 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

And you thought sisters were a thing to fear! In this compelling follow-up to Sally Christie’s clever and absorbing debut, we meet none other than the Marquise de Pompadour, one of the greatest beauties of her generation and the first bourgeois mistress ever to grace the hallowed halls of Versailles.

The year is 1745 and Louis XV’s bed is once again empty. Enter Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, a beautiful girl from the middle classes. As a child, a fortune teller had mapped out Jeanne’s destiny: she would become the lover of a king and the most powerful woman in the land. Eventually connections, luck, and a little scheming pave her way to Versailles and into the King’s arms.

All too soon, conniving politicians and hopeful beauties seek to replace the bourgeoise interloper with a more suitable mistress. As Jeanne, now the Marquise de Pompadour, takes on her many rivals—including a lustful lady-in-waiting, a precocious 14-year-old prostitute, and even a cousin of the notorious Nesle sisters—she helps the king give himself over to a life of luxury and depravity. Around them, war rages, discontent grows, and France inches ever closer to the Revolution.

Enigmatic beauty, social climber, actress, trendsetter, patron of the arts, spendthrift, whoremonger, friend, lover, foe: history books say many things about the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Alongside Catherine the Great of Russia and Maria Theresa of Austria, she is considered one of the three most powerful women of the 18th century, and one of the most influential royal mistresses of all time.

In The Rivals of Versailles, Christie gets to the heart of Pompadour’s legendary relationship with Louis XV, France’s most “well-beloved” king. Pompadour was not only his mistress, but his confidante and influential political adviser for close to twenty years. Full of historical insight, decadence, wit and scandal, The Rivals of Versailles is about one woman’s trials and triumphs, her love for a king, and her role in shaping a nation.

Author Sally Christie

03_Sally Christie_AuthorI’m a life-long history buff – and I mean life-long. One of the first adult books I read was Antonia Fraser’s masterful Mary, Queen of Scots. Wow! That book just blew my little ten year old mind: something about the way it brought the past right back to life, made it live again on the page. I date my obsession with history to that time, but I’d been writing (“writing”) ever since I was able to hold a pencil.

If you’d told my 12-year old self that I’d not be a writer when I grew up, I would have laughed you out of the tree house. With a few detours along the way, to work overseas in consulting and development, as well as to go to business school, I’ve finally come full circle to where I think I should be.

I currently live in Toronto and when I’m not writing, I’m playing lots of tennis; doing random historical research (old census records are my favorite); playing Scrabble, and squirrel-watching (the room where I write has French doors leading out to a deck; I avidly follow, and feed, a scruffy gang).

For more information please visit Sally Christie’s website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Pinterest.

See all the tour stops:

Tour Schedule

Hashtags: #TheRivalsofVersaillesBlogTour #HistoricalFiction #SallyChristie #HistFic #France #Versailles #HFVBTBlogTour #BlogTour #18thC

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News: The House of Baric Part One and Two Available from New Historical Author

02A_Shield's Down

The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down

Publication Date: December 5, 2015
Hillwalker Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 440 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction\Romance

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READ AN EXCERPT.

Marriage matches for the Venetian nobility were not preordained by God in heaven. They were skillfully negotiated by fathers looking to enhance their own prestige and wealth. A young lady could overlook petty shortcomings in her future husband, if he were rich, held a title, and was easy on the eyes. The young Baron Mauro Baric was such desirable yet flawed match.

Mauro was the last of the House of Baric, and he required a wife to provide him with sons. Resi Kokkinos was not interested in marrying an aristocrat any more than Mauro wanted a common, Ottoman Greek girl as his bride. Betrothed as children to repay Resi’s father’s debt to the Barics, they had no choice in their paired future.

Resi made the best of her sequestered adolescence in Thessaloniki while she waited to be summoned to the Venetian colony of Croatia to marry. Since her fate had already been decided, Resi’s mother allowed her to be tutored with her brothers. She did not need to learn the skills her friends focused on to entice a desirable husband, so she used her freedom to read every book she could find.

Mauro’s bachelor years of soldiering gave way to burdensome responsibilities as a baron and a new husband. Personal and political conflicts added more challenges to the couple’s awkward first year of marriage. Dear friends and unexpected visitors would bring their own troubles to the House of Baric. Through it all, Mauro could no longer deny that his complicated and unpredictable wife might be his perfect match after all.

Set in the summer of 1649, you are a fly-on-the-wall into their intriguing and adventurous world. Love, war, hating, and mating were perhaps not so different back in the seventeenth century. These memorable characters only wanted to steer their own destinies in search of happiness, and you will find yourself rooting for them to succeed in their quest.

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02B_A Brother's Defense

The House of Baric Part Two: A Brother’s Defense

Publication Date: March 16, 2016
Hillwalker Publishing
eBook & Paperback; 526 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction\Romance

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Book two of this fast-paced tale of aristocratic life in the 17th century Venetian Empire begins where book one left off: the mercenaries arrive to visit Resi and her new husband, Baron Mauro Baric.

Part One: Shields Down introduced you to the colorful characters of the House of Baric, their loyal bonds of friendship, willing romances, arranged marriages, political conflicts, and suspicious deaths. Mauro’s family secrets and buried pain can no longer be ignored. In Part Two: A Brother’s Defense, he must face his demons. But first, his new brother-in-law stirs up trouble, while the elegant Venetian guests fill their idle time at the Baric castle with new romantic pursuits.

Set in the summer of 1649, this gripping rendition of the saga of love, revenge, and redemption do not disappoint. Questions will be answered, and more will come to light, as this engaging trilogy speeds along. Swords will be drawn. The House of Baric must be protected. But from whom?

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About Jillian Bald03_Jillian Bald

Most of the novels in Jillian Bald’s library take place in the far past or the far future, so it came naturally for Jillian to set her first novel in the year 1649. She has always enjoyed discovering new things, and historical fiction is an entertaining path to learning.

After working in business management and living in France and Germany for several years, Jillian moved with her husband across the country while taking time off to raise her boys. Writing is a new occupation to Jillian, but she has always had a story churning in her imagination. “The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down” is Jillian Bald’s first published work.

Connect with author Jillian Bald on Facebook and Goodreads.

Giveaway

To enter to win a signed copy of The House of Baric Part One: Shields Down please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below:

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/h4n3F/the-house-of-baric-book-blast

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on May 11th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to residents in the US, UK, Canada and Australia.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Talking about Wine and Writing with Jan Moran

Earlier in the week I reviewed Jan Moran’s The Winemakers and loved it! Now, Jan stopped by to visit with me over wine about her new book and all her research. Join us!

02_The-Winemakers

Hi, Jan! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I really enjoyed your book last year, Scent of Triumph, and am now enjoying your new April 5 release, The Winemakers. Two beautiful books, with beautiful covers, in two years from St. Martin’s Press. How has the launch of The Winemakers gone for you?

Jan: It’s going very well, thanks. Readers are really enjoying this story of a family of vintners in Napa and Tuscany, and the mystery of the family’s long-buried secrets. I’m delighted that you asked me to stop by today.

Erin: Come in and sit here at my table near the window, where if you look out there might be snow or sun on any given day this time of year, but behind you is a library full of books. I’d be happy to uncork the wine, but you have to let me know the vintage as I’m a wine newbie. Choose something that fits your book theme, while I serve up the cheesecake.

Jan: Thank you, Erin, what a lovely setting to talk about books. As for wine, my personal choices to go with The Winemakers would be a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, an Italian Brunello di Montalcino, or a Tuscan Sangiovese. Hmm, how about this Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon? I met Mike (Miljenko) Grgich in Napa while I was doing research and celebrated his 90th birthday at a beautiful vintner’s dinner in a wine cave. He’s a highly talented winemaker; in fact, his 1974 Chardonnay for Chateau Montelena took the top award in the Paris Tasting in 1976 – quite a coup!

Mike-Grgich-and-Jan-Moran-in-Napa-Valley

Caption: Author Jan Moran with Mike (Miljenko) Grgich. Photo provided by author.

Erin: That sounds lovely, I’ll pour. And how fabulous to meet him. 

Jan: Thank you, Erin, cheers.Your antique wine glasses also go very well with The Winemakers, since it takes place in the 1950s and the 1920s.

Erin: Ah, a breathtaking moment, like a step back in time. Let’s get to talking about your book! First of all, as I mentioned, your covers are gorgeous. One of the best things to sell a book this day is for them to be eye-candy and well-done. Did you have input on your covers?

Jan: When I first met my publisher I mentioned that I love vibrant colors and gorgeous images. Beyond that, not much input was needed because St. Martin’s created lovely covers.

Erin: Your last book and many of your other works have to do with scents and perfume and beauty. The Winemakers seems to be more about wine, romance, and mystery. Or is there an element of scent? What made you decide to change up your themes?

Jan: Wine and perfume are actually quite closely related. Both are luxury artisan creations derived from agricultural crops. When tasting a wine, aficionados look for a “good nose,” or bouquet. The scent of wine is quite important to the overall experience. In addition, Mother Nature can be vexing one year, or cause for celebration the next. I enjoy writing about creative, artistic pursuits, so wine making was a natural choice.

Erin: I love that this one has more secrets and mystery than the others, as I love a good mystery. Was it different in your writing of this to put in the mystery elements to create suspense? How did you achieve it?

Jan: The Winemakers evolved from situations I’ve witnessed where parents kept secrets from younger generations. When people moved from one country to another they could reinvent themselves and their family history. I found this fascinating, and have been amazed at the tales families have spun in order to preserve the reputation of the family. While society is generally more accepting of missteps today, this was not always the case. Constructing the story was much like researching genealogy in that I was peeling back a layer of knowledge at a time, and this added to the suspense.

Erin: Was there inspiration for the time, place, or characters that began your idea for this book?

Jan: When I visited Napa Valley, I learned that there had been exclusive premium winemakers before the 1960s, many of whom were immigrants and had brought wine making methods from Europe. For example, did you know that Inglenook used to produce fine wines before the winery was sold and new owners entered the lower-priced mass wine market? And, after visiting and falling in love with Tuscany, I wanted to set a story there as well.

Erin:  You live in California, which of course is a beautiful place for wine growing. I’ve read many books using the wine theme set in California in historical time periods, and it always seems like somewhere I’d love to tour. What’s it like from a resident’s eyes when you view the rolling hills and vineyards?

Jan: The beauty of the land never ceases to amaze me. Some vineyards blanket the valley, while others line the mountaintops. The view at harvest time in late summer and early fall is stunning – row upon row of well-tended grapevines are laden with the bounty of ripe, sun-warmed fruit. Spring is a season of fresh buds and new hope for a fine crop. In winter, the vineyards are dormant and snow covers those in the upper elevations. Each season has its own distinct beauty.

Erin:  Do you have first-hand knowledge of wine making or a wine making family, or were you able to create this all from research? Your details are vivid. How did you do your research for your locations?

Jan: I went to school with a friend who lives in Napa Valley, MaryAnn Tsai. She served as president of Beringer and Luna, and now she’s a partner in Moone-Tsai Wines, which is an amazing collection of small batch wines favored by serious collectors. She and her husband Larry took me through their wine cave, explaining the process of converting grapes to wine in great detail. From there, I visited the Hess Collection, Grgich Hills, Chimney Rock, and several other wineries. Each visit was a thorough, behind-the-scenes study, and people were incredibly helpful and happy to share their passion for wine making.

MaryAnn Tsai on left and Jan Moran on right

Caption: MaryAnn Tsai, left, and Author Jan Moran, right. Photo provided by author.

Erin: I really like how you write strong women as your protagonists. You’ve done it again in The Winemakers and Caterina. What types of traits did you want to give Caterina when you wrote it and do you feel you accomplished it? Also, what can women readers learn from your female characters?

Jan: Thank you, Erin, I love to write about strong women—and those who discover their strength. In this saga, Caterina reaches deep inside to find her strength, first for her child’s sake and then for her own. Although she has made mistakes (aren’t we all a little flawed?), she becomes confident in her decisions and transforms her life. I believe we all have this ability.

Erin: And now for the romance! I don’t generally read a lot of romance, but I love a good one that has intelligent women or a good mystery and setting. Yours absorb me. How do you feel your romances differ from other mainstream fare?

Jan: In my stories, smart women drive the action as well as the romance. There is usually a seemingly insurmountable issue at stake: the potential loss of family, dreams, love, or livelihoods. In addition, my work often features hardworking, multigenerational families, so both younger and older women might have romantic relationships. I love beautiful settings and I love to travel, so readers will discover plenty of interesting locations, too. I also do a lot of research into whatever business my characters are in, because I like to pass along interesting knowledge of different industries. I love to learn something new when I read, as well as when I write.

Erin: You are also a beauty expert and successful business woman. I highly admire you. Tell me about your work, your passion, and some things you do that you feel help make you so successful in the business world?

Jan: I’m always looking for a project or story that ignites my interest, because when passion fuels your work it ceases to be work—it becomes a mission. That said, I write to entertain, but I want to tell stories that immerse the reader in a different world.

As to success, I think vision, creativity, and perseverance can help us imagine our future and achieve our dreams. And always keep an eye on the financials.

Erin: Tell us about some of your other books you’ve written if you’d like and who are the best readers for those and why?

Jan: My 20th century historical novels, The Winemakers and Scent of Triumph, are dramatic sagas for people who’ve enjoyed books such as The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, or those by Barbara Taylor Bradford. On the other hand, my contemporary Love, California series is stylish, fun, and aspirational. This west coast, Sex and the City-styled series is about four best friends who pursue creative businesses and find love along the way. Whether historical or contemporary, readers will travel to various international locations – Paris, London, Tuscany, Spain, Ireland – and overcome great challenges. I believe in emotionally satisfying endings, though the stories often end with a little twist.

Erin: What’s in store for you for the future in business as well as in upcoming books? I hope you have more books in the works!

Jan: I sure do. I’m working on my next historical novel, as well as another book in the Love, California series.

Erin: I can’t have you leave my home until you tell me some top beauty products or tips I must use today. My biggest issue is always wanting to look put together but having a busy job I work from home and three busy kids, I’m afraid it’s hard to always be as on style as I’d like.

Jan: I understand, Erin. Many of my days are spent in yoga pants in front of a computer, but I do have a few tips I learned from traveling in Europe – especially in France, where women seem effortlessly stylish. First, good, regular skin care is important, and needn’t be expensive. Next, a quick application of lipstick and perfume, along with sunglasses and a scarf, creates instant style. Channel your inner Audrey Hepburn for this easy look! And to reduce puffy eyes due to air flight or 2:00 am feedings, place a cold washcloth or cold tea bags on closed eyes for a couple of minutes.

Erin: Thank you so much for stopping by my site today! It was such a pleasure to have you here and please stay in touch. You’re a marvelous writer, so I’ll be looking for another book!

Jan: Thank you, Erin. It’s always so nice to stop by and chat with you and your readers. Cheers!

02_The-WinemakersThe Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran

Publication Date: April 5, 2016
St. Martin’s Griffin
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook; 368 Pages
ISBN: 9781250091185

Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

1956: When Caterina Rosetta inherits a cottage in the countryside of Italy from a grandmother she’s never known, she discovers a long-buried family secret — a secret so devastating, it threatens the future of everything her mother has worked for. Many years before, her mother’s hard-won dreams of staking her family’s claim in the vineyards of California came to fruition; but as an old murder comes to light, and Caterina uncovers a tragic secret that may destroy the man she loves, she realizes her happiness will depend on revealing the truth of her mother’s buried past.

From author Jan Moran comes The Winemakers, a sweeping, romantic novel that will hold you in its grasp until the last delicious sip.

Absolutely adored THE WINEMAKERS. Beautifully layered and utterly compelling. Intriguing from start to finish. A story not to be missed.” –Jane Porter, USA Today and NYT Bestselling author of It’s You and The Good Woman

Wildly romantic and utterly compelling, THE WINEMAKERS is full of family secrets and gorgeous descriptions of the Italian countryside and the vineyards of the Napa Valley. I was completely swept away!”  – Anita Hughes, author of Rome In Love

Told with exquisite elegance and style, THE WINEMAKERS is a dazzling tale rich with family secrets, fine wine, and romance that will leave you breathless.”  – Juliette Sobanet, author of Sleeping with Paris

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound | Kobo

Jan Moran, Biography

03_Jan-Moran-188x300JAN MORAN is the author of the novel Scent of Triumph, and Fabulous Fragrances I and II, which earned spots on the Rizzoli Bookstore bestseller list.

A fragrance and beauty expert, she has been featured in numerous publications and on television and radio, including CNN, Instyle, and O Magazine, and has spoken before prestigious organizations, including The American Society of Perfumers.

She earned her MBA from Harvard Business school and attended the University of California at Los Angeles Extension Writers’ Program.

For more information visit Jan’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest and Goodreads.

Giveaway

Direct Link: https://gleam.io/gxXJ7/the-winemakers

To win a $25 Gift Card to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iTunes, please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below.

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 25th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open internationally.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Follow the Tour: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thewinemakersblogtour/

Hasht ags: #TheWinemakersBlogTour #HistoricalFiction

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @JanMoran @StMartinsPress

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