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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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

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– 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!

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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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Evangeline: Guest Article by Catherine Cavendish – Did You Have an Invisible Friend? Spooky!

This evening I have a spooky guest article from one of my favorite gothic, scary writers who has also become a good friend, Cat Cavendish. She writes some of the favorite articles I feature here on this site. I always appreciate her dropping by. Yesterday was the release of her latest work, The Devil’s Serenade. Stay around after the post and spend a few bucks to enjoy the book yourself. You won’t be sorry!

Evangeline

by Catherine Cavendish, Author of The Devil’s Serenade

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When you were growing up, did you have an imaginary friend? Did they seem real to you? Maybe sort-of-real. You could talk to them, imagine their responses, play with them but you probably kept the ‘relationship’ within certain boundaries – however young you were. In my case, I invented an entire family of siblings – three sisters (two older, one a few years younger) and an older brother who looked out for us girls. Being an only child, I found them comforting, and fun, but I never imagined them to be real. They, in turn, kept themselves firmly lodged in my own mind and never attempted to cross any boundary into the real world.

In my new novel, The Devil’s Serenade, my central character also had an imaginary family when she was a child. Scarily for her, they now start to appear in her real adult world.

Of course, my story is fiction, but there have been a number of accounts of small children making ‘friends’ with most unsuitable imaginary friends – who then cross the line. They can do this, of course, because they are not really imaginary at all – just invisible, at least to all except the child itself.

Take the case of a couple called Mark and Sarah. They had a young pre-school age daughter – Sophia – and, in order to give her a better life, moved from London to a sizeable country house dating back a couple of hundred years. At first, they were delighted with their new home and the peace and tranquility of an English village really appealed to them. But that was before things started to go badly wrong.

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It all started one day in summer when Sophia went missing. She had been playing in her room but, when her mother went up to check on her, she wasn’t there. Mark had gone out, taking the family dog – Daisy –  for a walk. Suddenly there was a mighty crash from the floor above and Sarah raced up the stairs. She threw open the door of a room that had formerly been a nursery and still contained Victorian and Edwardian children’s toys. There was no sign either of the cause of the crash or of Sophia and, puzzled, Sarah turned to leave the room. She jumped when she saw Sophia in the doorway.

The two went downstairs to the kitchen and Sarah poured her daughter a glass of milk. Sophia looked thoughtful for a few moments and then spoke. “Mummy, I want to play with the dolls’ house upstairs but Evangeline told me it was her sister’s and I can’t.”

“Who’s Evangeline?” her mother asked.

“My new friend.”

Sarah remembered that she too had had an imaginary friend when she was around Sophia’s age and thought no more of it. Then Mark returned with Daisy. Sophia had gone back to her room to play with her new ‘friend’. As soon as Mark opened the front door, Daisy bounded up the stairs, barking her head off. She raced into Sophia’s room and the little girl screamed.

“Evangeline’s scared of dogs! Get Daisy away!”

The little girl’s eyes were wide, her face blanched. Sarah felt a chill of fear race through her body. Something wasn’t right. This imaginary friend seemed far more real to her than her own had been. Mark pulled Daisy out of the room and Sarah comforted her sobbing child.

“I’m sorry, Mummy, but dogs really scare Evangeline.”

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The next few days were fairly uneventful. Sophia constantly chattered about her new friend. “Evangeline let me play with the dolls’ house. She’s very nice.”

“Good,” her mother replied, going along with what she believed to be her child’s fantasy, but still unable to reconcile the trepidation she felt.

Then, over the next few days, Evangeline seemed to misbehave. Sophia complained that she wouldn’t share her toys anymore.

One evening, when Mark was away on business, Sarah’s fears became a terrifying encounter.

Sophia had fallen asleep on the sofa in the living room and her mother hadn’t the heart to wake her. The grandfather clock began to chime midnight when the lights flickered and then went out. Sarah stumbled out of the kitchen with a flashlight in her hand and opened the living room door. A scream caught in her throat at the sight that greeted her in the beam from her torch.

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 A young girl, no more than thirteen or fourteen, wearing a long, frilly white dress in late Victorian style, was kneeling on the floor next to Sophia, stroking the child’s hair and softly singing a lullaby. Evangeline. It had to be. But why was she here?

“Get away from her!” Sarah yelled. Suddenly Daisy bounded past her and started barking. Clearly the dog was seeing what she was. Sophia woke and burst into tears.

The apparition was on her feet and backing away from Daisy, a look of frozen terror on her face.

“Who are you? What do you want from my daughter?” Sarah cried.

But Evangeline ignored her. It seemed her only concern was to get away from the dog. She dashed across the room, turned, screamed and disappeared. The lights instantly came back on.

Sarah called Mark who came home straightaway. The couple called in the local priest, who knew something of the history of the house. He listened to their story, his expression increasingly amazed at what they told him. It transpired that a family with a young daughter had lived in the house a hundred or more years earlier and there had been a terrible tragedy. The family dog, normally placid and good with children, inexplicably turned on the girl and savaged her. She died from her injuries.

The girl’s name was Evangeline.

The priest blessed the house and the family never saw or heard the ghost girl again. They have never been able to find a rational explanation for their experience and it seems Sophia has forgotten she ever had a friend who couldn’t be there.

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Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:

Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…

“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.

She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.

As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.

Here’s an extract:

A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.

The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.

I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.

I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.

I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.

You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:

 Samhain Publishing

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Kobo

And other online retailers

About the author:

Catherine Cavendish

Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories.

She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows.

Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.

You can connect with Cat here:

Catherine Cavendish

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Talking with Mary Sharratt: How Aemilia Lanier Influenced Writing and Shakespeare

Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Mary Sharratt, author of The Dark Lady’s Mask, a novel which I reviewed yesterday with high marks. This is an in-depth interview packed full of answers you will want to know. I hope you’ll join us by reading. And now, without further ado….

02_The Dark Lady%27s Mask

Hi, Mary! I’m so happy to have you back here on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’ve enjoyed enormously having you on previously to speak of strong women like Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th Century Abbess, and featuring your book about her called Illuminations. The book that got away from me that I haven’t had the pleasure of reading yet is Daughters of the Witching Hill, which is about the 1612 Pendle witches. I’ve got my eye on that one. However, what you are releasing this year, and why we are here, is to talk about The Dark Lady’s Mask (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016), which is based on the life of the first female professional poet of the Renaissance, Aemilia Bassano Lanier. It seems she also had an affair with the beloved William Shakespeare, inspiring his work featuring the Dark Lady.

Welcome, how exciting is it to yet again publish a novel after all the hard work that goes into it?

Mary: I’m very excited about The Dark Lady’s Mask. I think it must be my most ambitious novel yet. I worked very hard on the research, but I had a lot of fun with it, as well. It’s full of comedy, tragedy, passion, magic, and romance. And, of course, at its center is a very strong woman who triumphs to find her own voice as a poet.

Erin: Won’t you come in and have a seat in my library. It’s still chilly here in my part of the States, but sunny, and the light will stream through the window, which means it’s still the right temperature for us to enjoy our English Tea. Which do you prefer? Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea perhaps? And how do you take it?

Mary: Ooh, I adore Earl Grey tea!

Erin: Wonderful! I’ve pulled blueberry scones from the oven and brought them in and poured us a spot of tea. Please feel free to let me know when you need a little more and let’s begin! I have The Dark Lady’s Mask here on the end table of my comfy chair, and it has such a lovely cover!

Mary: Mmmm, scones. I’m so happy you love the cover as much as I do. Martha Kennedy at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt did such a beautiful job designing it for me. I love the aura of mystery it evokes.

Erin: I’ve been very excited to read it and speak to you. I read that your publisher has released it in conjunction with the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare death. I also know April is National Poetry Month, one of my favorite modes of writing to read and also to write. That you’ve written about Aemilia is quite enthralling to me. I’ve come across a little about her, but I bet some people aren’t aware of her. Would you mind talking about who she is and how you came across her to tell her story?

Mary: I came across Aemilia Bassano Lanier (also spelled Lanyer) when researching the lives of Renaissance women. Born in 1569, Aemilia Bassano was the daughter of an Italian court musician—a man thought to have been a Marrano, a secret Jew living under the guise of a Christian convert.

After her father’s death, young Aemilia was fostered by Susan Bertie, the Dowager Countess of Kent, who gave her the kind of humanist education generally reserved for boys in that era. Aemilia learned Latin and Greek, rhetoric and philosophy. Some years after her school days ended, Aemilia became the mistress of Henry Carey, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth. She was probably a teenager at the beginning of their affair and Carey was in his sixties. You might be thinking, “Gross!”, but Carey was the Queen’s cousin and one of the most powerful men in England. As Carey’s paramour, Aemilia enjoyed a few years of glory in the royal court—an idyll which came to an abrupt and inglorious end when she found herself pregnant with Carey’s child. She was then shunted off into an unhappy arranged marriage with Alfonso Lanier, a court musician and scheming adventurer who wasted her money. So began her long decline into obscurity and genteel poverty, yet she triumphed to become a ground-breaking woman of letters. 

All that I’ve discussed up until now are the documented facts about Aemilia’s life. The theory that she may also have been the mysterious, musical Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets only adds to her mystique. As a novelist I couldn’t resist exploring the notion that she was Shakespeare’s lover as well as his literary peer.

My intention was to write a novel that married the playful comedy of Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s Shakespeare in Love to the unflinching feminism of Virginia Woolf’s meditations on Shakespeare’s sister in A Room of One’s Own. How many more obstacles would an educated and gifted Renaissance woman poet face compared with her ambitious male counterpart? 

Erin: I’ve read several versions of how they possibly met, one being of course that they both ran in the circles of Elizabeth I. I know also that information on Shakespeare is oft times hard to find or pinpoint. How much research did you need to do, how did you do it, and how much of your story comes from theories based on fact as opposed to being a story for entertainment value? Also, if you traveled for research, tell us about that as well please.

Mary: I researched this book extensively and that included traveling to Bassano del Grappa, the birthplace of Aemilia’s father; Venice; the New Globe Theatre in London; and, of course, Stratford upon Avon.

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Caption: Wiki photo / Piazza Liberta in Bassano Del Grappa

Having said that, there’s no way of actually proving that Aemilia was Shakespeare’s Dark Lady or even that there was a Dark Lady. We can’t prove that his sonnets were autobiographical. But if they were autobiographical, of course we want to find out who this mystery woman was!

Shakespeare’s Dark Lady Sonnet Sequence (sonnets 127-152) describes a woman with an “exotic” dark beauty that sets her apart from the pale English roses. Musically gifted, she plays the virginals like a virtuosa, winning the poet’s heart. She is also of tarnished reputation—a woman of bastard birth and a married woman who lures the likewise married Shakespeare into a shameful, doubly-adulterous affair.

Aemilia seems to fit the bill. A woman of Italian-Jewish heritage, it’s plausible that she had raven-black hair and an olive complexion. Her parents’ common-law marriage meant that she was officially classed as a bastard. The illegitimate son she had with the Lord Chamberlain did nothing to shore up her reputation. As a court musician’s daughter and later another court musician’s unwilling wife, it’s likely that she was musically accomplished and a deft hand at the virginals. After being jilted by the Lord Chamberlain and shunted off into a forced marriage with a man she detested, she may well have been tempted to look for love elsewhere. The Lord Chamberlain, interestingly enough, was also Shakespeare’s patron, the money behind his theatre company, Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

Erin: How did they collaborate together and on what did they collaborate? Do you feel Shakespeare was an advocate for working and creating with women, or was he just smitten by her talent? I’ve even heard claims she ghost wrote some of his plays (or she wrote the plays but as a woman at the time could do nothing with them)? What are the latest theories and discussions on their relationship?

Mary: I can’t prove that Aemilia was Shakespeare’s lover or his collaborator. But in my fiction, I play with these possibilities.

If Aemilia and Shakespeare were, in fact, lovers, would this explain how Shakespeare made the leap from his history plays to his Italian comedies and romances—the turning point of his career? Aemilia, after all, was an Anglo-Italian trapped in a miserable arranged marriage. The names Aemilia, Emilia, Emelia, and Bassanio all appear in Shakespeare’s plays. His Italian comedies are set in Veneto, Aemilia’s ancestral homeland. What if Shakespeare’s early comedies were the fruit of an active collaboration between him and Aemilia? Mainstream Stratfordian scholars do acknowledge that Shakespeare sometimes worked with collaborators on his plays, so maybe my fictional explorations aren’t that far-fetched.

John Hudson, author of Shakespeare’s Dark Lady, goes so far to state that Aemilia Bassano Lanier ghostwrote all of Shakespeare’s plays and that Shakespeare served only as her mask and her play broker, as she would not have been allowed to write for the stage under her own name. I don’t share Mr. Hudson’s viewpoint, but I admire him for working so hard to bring Lanier out of obscurity.

Erin: Possibly, they had a falling out and as Shakespeare does, he likes to point fun with his writing, mocking her. Your synopsis states she was the brunt of his joke which incited her to pick up the pen and compose poems in defense of women. Can you explain this a little more and explain her work as a poet to us?

Mary: I find it fascinating how the strong, outspoken women of Shakespeare’s early Italian comedies, such as the crossdressing Rosalind in As You Like It and the spirited Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, gave way to much weaker heroines and misogynistic portraits of women in Shakespeare’s great tragedies, such as frail, mad Ophelia in Hamlet. This change in tack leads me to wonder if the historical Shakespeare actually did have a bittersweet affair with a mysterious, unknown woman that cast a shadow over his later life and work.

Shakespeare’s sonnets were published without his permission in 1609 and the Dark Lady sequence just oozes with disgust for a capricious, faithless mistress. The bitter end of their affair leaves her poet-lover roiling with contempt. Shakespeare describes her as “a woman colored ill,” and “as black as hell, as dark as night.”

Intriguingly, Aemilia’s own proto-feminist Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in the wake of Shakespeare’s sonnets. If she and Shakespeare were estranged lovers, was this her spirited riposte to his defamation of her character? Did the woman Shakespeare maligned as his “female evil,” pick up her quill in her own defense and in defense of all women? 

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Caption: Wiki/ Title page of Aemilia’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum

Erin: She’s noted as being the first woman to publish an original book of poetry. Is her poetry still available today? What drive did she have in her to strive to be so successful with her talents? As a woman during that time period, how was she able to accomplish?

Mary:Her poetry is available in print and online. I am very fond of Susanne Woods’s edition of The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer: Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, published by Oxford Press. Dr. Woods has also written the best academic biography of our poet, Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet. I highly recommend these two books to anyone who wants to research Aemilia’s life and work.

Aemilia is so significant because she was the first English woman to aspire to a career as a professional poet by actively seeking a circle of eminent female patrons to support her. She praises these women in the dedicatory verses to her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Her elegiac poem “The Description of Cookham” might be the first country house poem in the English language. Committed to women’s advancement and education, she served as tutor to the young Lady Anne Clifford, and she went on to found her own school for girls in 1617, a very progressive innovation in an era when girls were barred from most formal education. Her greatest patron and friend was Lady Anne’ mother, Margaret Clifford, and Aemilia’s love and gratitude to Margaret shines in her every line of poetry.

She desperately needed patronage and to succeed commercially as a professional writer because her husband saddled her with over five thousand pounds of debt, a fortune at that time.

Aemilia succeeded in being able to publish her poetry and establish a literary reputation. She gained a glittering circle of female patrons. However her audience of literate women who could afford to buy books was small and she could never get the same kind of mass audiences Shakespeare did for his plays which could be enjoyed even by the illiterate. Within her own lifetime, it seemed Aemilia fell into obscurity.

Erin: You may have touched on this, but as Aemilia was Jewish, born to an Italian Jew, how did religion impact her and/or her writing since she was living and writing among Protestants in England? Why did she write her poetic book featuring Jesus Christ (the passion of Christ from a female perspective) when she was Jewish?

Mary: As a woman writer, Aemilia faced a very major roadblock. In countries like Italy women wrote freely in all different genres—there were professional women playwrights and lyric poets. However in England at that time, the only genre considered acceptable for women was Protestant religious verse. Aemilia’s female literary predecessors like Mary Sidney wrote poetic meditations on the Psalms.

But Aemilia turned the tradition of women’s devotional writing on its head. Her epic poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail God, King of the Jews), published in 1611, is nothing less than a vindication of the rights of women couched in religious verse. Dedicated and addressed exclusively to women, Salve Deus lays claim to women’s God-given call to rise up against male arrogance, just as the strong women in the Old Testament rose up against their oppressors.

But why did she write about Christ when she could have kept her focus on the Old Testament? She was doing something very radical here, deliberately compared the suffering and injustice faced by women in male-dominated culture to the sufferings of Christ. Then she goes on to portray virtuous women as Christ’s true imitators. Historically, the roots of anti-Semitism are based on the Christian presumption that Jews killed Christ. Aemilia turns this on its head, as well, arguing that men killed Christ and that this was far worse a sin than the sin of Eve. Therefore men have no divine justification to claim superiority over women. These are the lines in Salve Deus,when Pontius Pilate’s wife delivers her feminist tirade against her husband:

Let us have our Liberty again,

And challenge to yourselves no Sovereignty,

You came not into the world without our pain,

Make that a bar against your cruelty;

Your fault being greater, why should you disdain

Our being your equals, free from tyranny?

Aemilia’s interpretation of the Gospel of Matthew is 17th century liberation theology. 

Erin:  Obviously, The Merchant of Venice had some Jewish stereotypes, do you think their relationship had an influence on this or was it just a faction of the time period?

Mary: When The Merchant of Venice was first registered for publication, it was described as “a book of the Merchant of Venice or otherwise called The Jew of Venice.” It was and is a deeply anti-Semitic piece of work. Shylock, the Jewish usurer, is the most pivotal character—a cold and pitiless caricature of a Jew, created in an era when no Jews were legally allowed to live in England. Sympathetic interpretations of Shylock’s character did not appear on stage until the 18th century. The anti-Semitism of this play, which remains enshrined in the theatre canon, sits uncomfortably with the very real rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom and across Europe. Can you believe that activists once tried to physically prevent me from entering Marks & Spencer, a Jewish-owned department store, in Manchester city center? This is happening in 21st century Britain!

In my novel, I portray The Merchant of Venice as one of Shakespeare’s revenge plays aimed at Aemilia after the bitter end of their affair. It’s interesting that one of the Christian characters that’s so horrible to Shylock is named Bassanio.

Erin: Were there other women writer contemporaries of hers then or shortly after? Who were they, what did they write, and how did they succeed at it?

Mary: Mary Sidney, the Countess of Pembroke, was the most famous poet of Aemilia’s era, but being aristocratic, she didn’t publish her work for fear of the “stigma of print.” Her 1592 closet drama Antonius, a translation from the French of Robert Garnier’s play Marc Antoine, was a major influence on Shakespeare’s play Antony and Cleopatra. Sidney was one of Aemilia Bassano Lanier’s aristocratic patrons. Aemilia praised Mary Sidney in her poetry as an enthroned goddess attended by the Muses.

An Italian contemporary of Aemilia’s is the playwright, Isabella Andreini, whose pastoral comedy, La Mirtilla, can be read alongside Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, it’s that funny and good.

Erin: Your book takes on the romance and the compelling story of Aemilia being Shakespeare muse, as the Dark Lady in his sonnets. Possibly some might not know that her Jewish family, the Bassanos, were of Moroccan descent, and therefore, darker skinned with dark hair. Removing the Jewish designation how was the reception to this in Elizabethan England? I’m assuming this is where the “dark” lady designation comes into play?

Mary: Aemilia’sJewish father and his brothers couldn’t live openly as Jews. Elizabethan England was effectively a Protestant police state. Aemilia, regardless of whatever private beliefs she held, would have been obliged to live under this mask. We don’t actually know what she looked like. The one portrait we have that might be of her hasn’t been verified. But it’s highly probable that she possessed the kind of dark Mediterranean beauty that would have made her stand out. If she was the Dark Lady of the sonnets, it’s interesting to note that when the sonnets turn bitter, they mock and deride the lady’s dark hair and complexion as ugly and hideous: “her breasts are dun” and “black wires grow on her head.”

Erin: Why do you feel she is a woman worth bring to light so that future generations don’t forget her?

Mary: She was a true literary pioneer who succeeded in becoming a groundbreaking poet against incredible odds. Her poetry is startlingly original and deserves a much bigger audience. Bottom line: whether or not Aemilia Bassano Lanier was Shakespeare’s lover or collaborator, she was certainly his literary peer.

Erin: You often write of women of strength. In fact, the top of your website has the phrase “Writing Women Back Into History!” Of course I’m with you on this, but can you explain your thoughts further?

Mary: To a large extent women have been written out of history. Even though strong, intelligent, courageous, and accomplished women have existed in every era, their lives and legacies are too easily erased. Aemilia Bassano Lanier’s life and work were lost in obscurity and only rediscovered in the late 20th century. Even someone like Hildegard of Bingen isn’t safe. For centuries scholars were claiming the work attributed to her was written by a man, an anonymous monk! It took the painstaking scholarship of the Benedictine sisters at Saint Hildegard’s Abbey in Eibingen to prove she wrote the work attributed to her. It’s my chosen vocation as a novelist to keep the memory of these women alive and show modern readers how relevant they are for us today.

Erin: Overall, how do you choose the women you do? For instance, do you happen upon them or do they call to you?

Mary: They call to me. I look for a historical woman whose life reveals a great plot arc, but also enough gaps of mystery to fire my imagination.

Erin: I know that you used to live in the United States, but you’ve also lived in Germany and now England. Do you move to research your books or do your books come after you’ve moved? How do you like England? I was born in Suffolk area, though have been in the States since I was young. What is one thing you’ve fallen in love with there?

Mary: I ended up in Northern England more or less by accident when my husband got transferred to Manchester for his job in 2002. We ended up living out in the country because we both found Manchester to be a bit too intensely urban for us. We bought a house that looks out on Pendle Hill, famous for its legends of the Pendle Witches and also the place where George Fox received his vision that moved him to found the Quaker religious movement. I fell in love with the place at once. My 2010 novel, Daughters of the Witching Hill arose directly out of my love and connection to this region. I love the sense of lingering ancestral memory embedded in the landscape that keeps the ancient stories alive. The remnants of the old Roman Road cut directly across my horse’s pasture and I have to cross it each day when I go to catch her.

1440px-Pendle_Hill_panorama_(nagualdesign).jpg

Caption: Wiki / A panoramic of Pendle Hill in 2012 showing the northeast slopes

Erin: I know you love your horses very much and they wonderful animals to soothe stress and for therapy. How are your horses? Do they help you to focus on your writing?

Mary: My Welsh mare, Boushka, is doing very well indeed, enjoying the spring grass and flirting with her gentlemen friends over the wall in the next field. She appears in all her glory as Aemilia’s horse Bathsheba in The Dark Lady’s Mask!Boushka never fails to calm me down after a stressful day. She helps me stay mindful and rooted in the present moment. She is a very loving and spirited horse and there’s never a dull moment with her. All royalties from my books shall go toward keeping Boushka in the style to which she has become accustomed!

Erin: What book are you working on now? Tell us about what’s next for you.

Mary: My new work-in-progress, Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler, is about another accomplished, creative woman who was overshadowed by the men in her life. Once an aspiring young composer, Alma Schindler was celebrated as the most beautiful girl in Vienna. The great Gustav Mahler fell in love with her at first sight, but it was Mahler’s demand that Alma give up composing as a condition of their marriage that gave rise to her shocking and radical transformation. From the ashes of her own self-abnegation arose a woman who refused to choose between freedom and love, and who insisted on living life on her own terms. Fueled by her ecstatic, hypnotic power, she brought the most eminent men of an era to their knees—the goddess they yearned for but could never ultimately possess. This is probably the sexiest novel I’ve ever written!

Erin: Thank you SO much for coming by and for putting up with my barrage of questions! I wish you all the luck with this book and everything in your life. It’s a always a pleasure to speak to you. Let me bag up some scones for your flight home after we enjoy another cup of tea.

Mary: Thank you, Erin! It’s such a joy to chat with a wonderful Book Goddess like you! And you scones are divine!

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The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse
by Mary Sharratt

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

READ AN EXCERPT.

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Indiebound | Powell’s

Advanced Praise

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”
— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

“Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady’s Mask is a gem not to be missed.”
— LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

“Mary Sharratt’s enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare’s Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling ‘what if ’ scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England’s greatest poet and playwright.”
— KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter

“Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!”
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows

“I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady.’ There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays.”
—KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles

“Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady’s Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman’s precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving.”
—MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water

“In The Dark Lady’s Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario —that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare’s mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist.”
—KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo’s Swans and Dracula in Love

“Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power.”
— STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

“Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt’s latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, THE DARK LADY’S MASK explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let’s her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse.”
— PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books

Mary Sharratt, Biography

03_Mary SharrattMary Sharratt’s explorations into the hidden histories of Renaissance women compelled her to write her most recent work, THE DARK LADY’S MASK (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016), based on the dramatic life of the ground-breaking poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanier.

Born in Minnesota, Mary now lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.

Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write her award-winning ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, which explores the dramatic life of the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau.

Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Gold Award, the 2005 WILLA Literary Award, and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the novels SUMMIT AVENUETHE REAL MINERVATHE VANISHING POINT, and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology BITCH LIT, which celebrates female anti-heroes–strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in Twin Cities Noir and elsewhere.

She is currently at work on ECSTASY: A NOVEL OF ALMA MAHLER, exploring the life of one of the most intriguing women of turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Mary’s articles and essays have appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe Huffington PostPublisher’s WeeklyMinnesota Magazine, andHistorical Novels Review. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thedarkladysmaskblogtour/

Hashtags: #TheDarkLadysMaskBlogTour #Shakespeare #England #HistoricalFicion #HistFic

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @HMHCo @MarySharratt

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The Dark Lady’s Mask by Mary Sharratt an Intelligent Look at an Accomplished Woman and Shakespeare’s Muse

Today, I have a review of Mary Sharratt’s The Dark Lady’s Mask for her release day (April 19, 2016)! See what I thought and stay tuned tomorrow for an exclusive interview with Mary which will delve more into the story and the life of her protagonist, Aemilia.

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Review~

The Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse, by Mary Sharratt, is historical fiction which explores the influence and relationship of Aemilia Bassano Lanier, a woman who would become the first female to publish a book of poetry. Sharratt takes one of the proposed theories which states that Aemilia had a love affair with Shakespeare, helped write/or wrote his plays, and is the inspiration for his dark lady sonnets. Though not much is known on this proposal, and many ward off the theory, Sharratt embraces the possibility and writes a story as only she can hypothesize, while also illuminating Aemilia and her contributions to society.

Mary Sharratt is the type of author that writes with a gift. Her descriptions paint a scene and her characters are deeply dimensional, layered, and authentic. Once you start reading The Dark Lady’s Mask, the cultivated and elegant prose ebbs you smoothly along and absorbs you into the novel.

This is no romp romance novel. This is a highly intelligent look at the life of Aemilia from her childhood to womanhood, with all she had to overcome, with a part of that possibly being a relationship to Shakespeare. However, Sharratt doesn’t present it as a tryst for the sake of creating romance or drama. That would have done an injustice to Aemilia and I am pleased she didn’t take that route, but instead, focused more on their collaboration and their deep emotions for each other. Sharratt presents Aemilia as more his equal, his inspiration, and as the highly educated and strong woman that she seemed. Sharratt truly has accomplished writing Aemilia back into history in a most fervent manner, showcasing the efforts of women from a time when women still weren’t appreciated for their brains or artistic talents (even though Elizabeth I herself wrote poetry).

We see through Sharratt how the relationship with Aemilia and Shakespeare might have worked. Perhaps, with minds equally matched, they wrote them together, or she wrote them and used him as a mask (since women could not sell plays at the time), or he wrote some of them interspersing her into them as various characters. All of them seem plausible scenarios, but even though there isn’t proof to point at,  I adhere to there being some truth buried with his writings of their relationship. It just seems to make sense. I love the thought process that Sharratt has placed into the novel, weaving their tale and giving Aemilia a voice.

Our  main focus within this book is Aemilia, with a supporting role by Shakespeare and a few others. As a reader, I was perfectly content to have Aemilia take center stage. I enjoyed being able to tune into her and not be distracted by too many side stories or characters. From allowing us to view Aemilia’s beautiful mind and creative spirit to giving us a glimpse into her hardships, her emotions, her grief, and her strength, Sharratt does Aemilia’s memory service. I wholly enjoyed immersing myself into this novel, letting it percolate, and taking thoughtful pauses to ponder of Aemilia, her writing, and her relationship with Shakespeare, as well as to herself.

Sharratt has given us a lovely, refined, astute novel that is well-researched and yet seeped in emotion and lively in dialogue. Her writing grace is hard to match as she writes beautifully and with purpose. The Dark Lady’s Mask is a keepsake for my shelf of books of amazing women in history by amazing historical writers. Highly recommended for the book collector.

02_The Dark Lady%27s MaskThe Dark Lady’s Mask: A Novel of Shakespeare’s Muse

by Mary Sharratt

Publication Date: April 19, 2016
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Hardcover, eBook, Audio Book; 416 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

READ AN EXCERPT.

Shakespeare in Love meets Shakespeare’s Sister in this novel of England’s first professional woman poet and her collaboration and love affair with William Shakespeare.

London, 1593. Aemilia Bassano Lanier is beautiful and accomplished, but her societal conformity ends there. She frequently cross-dresses to escape her loveless marriage and to gain freedoms only men enjoy, but a chance encounter with a ragged, little-known poet named Shakespeare changes everything.

Aemilia grabs at the chance to pursue her long-held dream of writing and the two outsiders strike up a literary bargain. They leave plague-ridden London for Italy, where they begin secretly writing comedies together and where Will falls in love with the beautiful country — and with Aemilia, his Dark Lady. Their Italian idyll, though, cannot last and their collaborative affair comes to a devastating end. Will gains fame and fortune for their plays back in London and years later publishes the sonnets mocking his former muse. Not one to stand by in humiliation, Aemilia takes up her own pen in her defense and in defense of all women.

The Dark Lady’s Mask gives voice to a real Renaissance woman in every sense of the word.

Amazon (Kindle) | Amazon (Hardcover) | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Indiebound | Powell’s

Advanced Praise

“An exquisite portrait of a Renaissance woman pursuing her artistic destiny in England and Italy, who may — or may not — be Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.”
— MARGARET GEORGE, internationally bestselling author of Elizabeth I

“Perfectly chosen details and masterful characterization bring to life this swiftly moving, elegant story. As atmospheric and compelling as it is wise, The Dark Lady’s Mask is a gem not to be missed.”
— LYNN CULLEN, bestselling author of Mrs. Poe and Twain’s End

“Mary Sharratt’s enchanting new novel, The Dark Lady’s Mask, is a richly imagined, intensely romantic and meticulously researched homage to lauded poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanyer, an accomplished woman of letters who many believe to be Shakespeare’s Eternal Muse. Sharratt unfolds a captivating tale, a compelling ‘what if ’ scenario, of a secret union that fed the creative fires of England’s greatest poet and playwright.”
— KATHLEEN KENT, bestselling author of The Heretic’s Daughter

“Mary Sharratt is a magician. This novel transports the reader to Elizabethan England with a tale of the bard and his love that is nothing short of amazing. Absorbing, emotional, historically fascinating. A work of marvelous ingenuity!”
— M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of The Witch of Painted Sorrows

“I enjoyed this exciting fantasy of Shakespeare’s ‘dark lady.’ There was adventure, betrayal, resilience, and above all, the fun notion that Shakespeare might have had far more than a muse to help him create his wonderful plays.”
—KARLEEN KOEN, bestselling author of Dark Angels and Before Versailles

“Through the story of Aemilia Bassano, a talented musician and poet, Mary Sharratt deftly tackles issues of religious and gender inequality in a time of brutal conformity. The Dark Lady’s Mask beautifully depicts the exhilaration and pitfalls of subterfuge, a gifted woman’s precarious reliance on the desires of powerful men, and the toll paid by unrecognized artistic collaborators. Resonant and moving.”
—MITCHELL JAMES KAPLAN, author of By Fire, By Water

“In The Dark Lady’s Mask, Mary Sharratt seduces us with a most tantalizing scenario —that the bold, cross-dressing poet and feminist writer Aemilia Bassano is Shakespeare’s mysterious muse, the Dark Lady. Romantic, heart-breaking, and rich in vivid historical detail and teeming Elizabethan life, the novel forms an elegant tapestry of the complexities, joys, and sorrows of being both a female and an artist.”
—KAREN ESSEX, author of Leonardo’s Swans and Dracula in Love

“Mary Sharratt has created an enchanting Elizabethan heroine, a musician, the orphaned daughter of a Jewish Italian refugee who must hide her heritage for her safety. Taken up by powerful men for her beauty, Amelia has wit and daring and poetry inside her that will make her a match for young Will Shakespeare himself and yet she must hide behind many masks to survive in a world where women have as much talent as men but little power.”
— STEPHANIE COWELL, author of Claude & Camille: A Novel of Monet

“Prepare to be swept away by Mary Sharratt’s latest foray into historical fiction. Inspired by the true story of poet, Aemilia Bassano, THE DARK LADY’S MASK explores her relationship with William Shakespeare. Richly detailed and well researched, this lush tale brings Aemilia out of the shadows of history and let’s her emerge as one of the founding mothers of literature. Drama, intrigue, and romance will have readers racing through this brilliant celebration of the muse.”
— PAMELA KLINGER-HORN, Sales & Outreach Coordinator, Excelsior Bay Books

Mary Sharratt, Biography

03_Mary SharrattMary Sharratt’s explorations into the hidden histories of Renaissance women compelled her to write her most recent work, THE DARK LADY’S MASK (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2016), based on the dramatic life of the ground-breaking poet, Aemilia Bassano Lanier.

Born in Minnesota, Mary now lives with her Belgian husband in the Pendle region of Lancashire, England, the setting for her acclaimed novel, DAUGHTERS OF THE WITCHING HILL, which recasts the Pendle Witches of 1612 in their historical context as cunning folk and healers.

Previously she lived for twelve years in Germany. This, along with her interest in sacred music and herbal medicine, inspired her to write her award-winning ILLUMINATIONS: A NOVEL OF HILDEGARD VON BINGEN, which explores the dramatic life of the 12th century Benedictine abbess, composer, polymath, and powerfrau.

Winner of the 2013 Nautilus Gold Award, the 2005 WILLA Literary Award, and a Minnesota Book Award Finalist, Mary has also written the novels SUMMIT AVENUETHE REAL MINERVATHE VANISHING POINT, and co-edited the subversive fiction anthology BITCH LIT, which celebrates female anti-heroes–strong women who break all the rules. Her short fiction has been published in Twin Cities Noir and elsewhere.

She is currently at work on ECSTASY: A NOVEL OF ALMA MAHLER, exploring the life of one of the most intriguing women of turn-of-the-century Vienna.

Mary’s articles and essays have appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe Huffington PostPublisher’s WeeklyMinnesota Magazine, andHistorical Novels Review. When she isn’t writing, she’s usually riding her spirited Welsh mare through the Lancashire countryside.

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