Tag Archives: historical fiction good reads

Intrigue and Humor of a Fool in Medieval Florence: A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath

I was so pleased to read Tinney Sue Heath’s medieval tale, A Thing Done! From the start I was enthusiastic about her 13th century story told by a jester’s point of view (a ‘fool’ as he was referred). Always the entertaining part of most shows and stories, these actors actually garner little actual “showtime,” so I was delighted to read her original story (based on historical families) that weaved her protagonist, a fool named Corrado, into the social class and family intrigue and power struggle that ruled the streets of 1216 Florence.

9781611792454-AThingDone-lrg200x300I wondered before reading A Thing Done what type of historical reader might enjoy this tale.  I realized quickly that it would be the true lovers of historical detail and realistic old-world machinations.  While spinning her unique tale, Tinney also focused on the social structure of medieval Florence and made the reader very aware of class distinctions and family influences. This book is not for those swept away by the gowns and gold of court and noble families, but those who saw their corrupt and misuse of each other, their feuding and scheming ways, and their extravagant lifestyles and desire for power.

From the start, while performing at a feast of families,  Corrado (“fool”) is ordered to pull a prank. This prank starts a snowballing avalanche that Corrado wonders if he will ever be able to get out alive from, as he is used and ordered around by several noble families who are vying for position in this pre-Medici Florence (of course for coins, but still, he feels as a lowly entertainer he can’t say no-and then eventually because one side might tell the other about him). Her use of the fool lets us into his world, the world of peasants and commoners, as well as the homes, dinner parties, and secret kitchen talks of the men, and scheming women, on higher social ground who seem repeatedly out for blood from each other.  We see the simple living conditions and meals of the poor as well as the wasteful feasts and endeavors of high society.

Corrado quite humorously keeps being that person who is accidentally in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he is ultimately embroiled further and his stress level becomes higher. Already not a person who wants to interact with nobility, he struggles with these missions. He doesn’t like to be in anyone else’s business, even the business of his friends or his troop. He wants to keep to himself.  He is happy just to perform.  Ah, if he didn’t need the coins and then if he wasn’t so afraid of losing his life…..but eventually even these nobles might need to be stood up to and readers will enjoy Corrado’s emotional journey to this discovery as he often times brings humor to the page. I loved his sarcasm and enjoyed his observations which surrounded Tinney’s accurate historical detail.

I’ve always adored learning about the common people’s homes, meals, and artistic and entertaining pursuits. Medieval faires are fun as they encompass that in our modern world and Tinney’s book gave me some of that flair as we are entrenched in a performer’s lifestyle.

Tinney’s cast of characters, protagonist Corrado, his friend Neri, and Neri’s girlfriend Ghisola were vibrant, whole, and completely well-developed in a way in which I felt I’d come to know them and didn’t want to leave them or see them go. Once you get past the first chapter of this novel, you’ll be invested and not want to put it down. Corrado keeps you turning pages heading into his next endeavor all the while holding your breath that he’ll accomplish what he needs to do and make the decisions he feels are best.

Overall, Tinney’s A Thing Done is so well-detailed without being overly so, historically accurate and yet imaginatively inventive, socially thought-provoking, thrilling, and humorous! It’s a well-done novel that deserves accolades as well as readers who will appreciate its delightfully fun adventure and endearing characters.  Corrado may play a “fool,” but he shows he truly is no fool himself about the true meaning of life. The end of the novel was very touching.

A Thing Done, Synopsis~

9781611792454-AThingDone-lrg200x300Florence, 1216: The noble families of Florence hold great power, but they do not share it easily. Tensions simmer just below the surface. When Corrado the Jester’s prank-for-hire goes wrong, a brawl erupts between two rival factions. Florence reels on the brink of civil war. One side makes the traditional offer of a marriage to restore peace, but that fragile peace crumbles under the pressure of a woman’s interference, an unforgivable insult, and an outraged cry for revenge.

Corrado is pressed into unwilling service as messenger by both sides. Sworn to secrecy, he watches in horror as the headstrong knight Buondelmonte violates every code of honor to possess the woman he wants, while another woman, rejected and enraged, schemes to destroy him.

Corrado already knows too much for his own safety. Will Buondelmonte’s reckless act set off a full-scale vendetta? And if it does, will even the Jester’s famous wit and ingenuity be enough to keep himself alive and protect those dear to him?

This is Corrado’s story, but it is also the story of three fiercely determined women in a society that allows them little initiative: Selvaggia, the spurned bride; Gualdrada, the noblewoman who both tempts Buondelmonte and goads him; and Ghisola, Corrado’s great-hearted friend. From behind the scenes they will do what they must to achieve their goals—to avenge, to prevail, to survive.

Published by Fireship Press. Available in e-book or paperback format from Amazon, USA, Amazon, UK, or Barnes and Noble. Also available in paperback from WHSmith, UK, or may be ordered through local bookstores. Coming soon from other vendors.

If you would like to know more, here are some excerpts. Excerpt 1. Excerpt 2. Excerpt 3. Excerpt 4. Also, take a look at the first three chapters on Amazon USA.

Author Tinney Sue Heath, Biography (in her words)~

authorpicHeath-198x300I’ve loved music and history all of my life. I began studying the flute at age nine, and started college at the New England Conservatory in Boston with the intention of becoming a professional flutist. However, after a sudden lurch in a different direction, I somehow ended up with a journalism degree from Antioch College. I’ve worked as a staff reporter for The Chronicle of Higher Education and provided editorial assistance for two University of Wisconsin-based editors of professional journals.

I never really outgrew a childhood tendency to inhabit stories. I spent a decade deeply involved in medieval reenactment with the Society for Creative Anachronism. During that time I discovered the pleasures of playing late medieval and early Renaissance music on a variety of early wind instruments: recorders, crumhorns, and shawms.

I’ve published some short fiction through Callihoo Publishing and in Fickle Muses, and now my first novel, A Thing Done, from Fireship Press. I’m a member of the Historical Novel Society. I blog on topics related to historical fiction, and especially on the research that supports it, at http://historicalfictionresearch.blogspot.com, where you will find much detail on different aspects of life in medieval Florence, ranging from music to politics (as well as a certain amount of whimsy).

My husband and I love to travel to Italy. My historical interests currently center on Dante’s Florence, so we can often be found in Florence or elsewhere in Tuscany, absorbing all the history we can find (which, believe me, is a lot). We live in Madison, Wisconsin, as does my son, an artist and glassblower. We enjoy playing music and surrounding ourselves with native wild plants.

Join Tinney at  www.tinneyheath.com for more history, writing, and additional reading.

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The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau is a Top-Notch Thriller of Page Turning Suspense

Are you drawn to historical novels surrounding the steamy and intrigue-laden court of Henry VIII? You’re not alone. Many readers delight in books from this time period where drama unfolds at every dark corner and crevice!

The ChaliceSo how does an author make a book stand out from a sea of Tudor-mania? I’m sure this was a challenge for Tudor-era fanatic and author Nancy Bilyeau in endeavoring to write her novels.  In The Chalice (a known sequel to her popular The Crown, but really stands-alone quite well), she writes of the same era in history, but from the perspective of Joanna Stafford, a woman of noble birth and connections who was also pious and dedicated to the Catholic church being a former nun (novice). In her writing, Bilyeau delves into how the transition from England being ruled from Catholic perspective to Protestant, and the bloody fighting and paranoia it caused, confused the entire country, especially the nobles who were strong in faith but also wanted to regard their King (he was divine after all and God-ordained) without falter or question. How did the outskirts, beyond the castle walls, really handle the transformation? How did those of faith deal with priories and convents being dissolved?

Don’t let Joanna being a pious individual dissuade you from thinking this book is lacking pulse-pounding drama because it most certainly is full of hold-your-breath moments!  It was never a dull moment and I disliked when I needed to put it down due to other life demands! I couldn’t wait to pick it up again, just in time to reveal another plot twist or another piece to unraveling the riddle.  (review continued after synopsis)

Here’s the synopsis for The Chalice~

In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era.

In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.

Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…

(review continued)

Sounds full of intrigue and page turning drama, right??

Though the novel didn’t take place at court, it showcased how court drama and governance carries around the countryside as families jockey for favor or position and conspire at a moment’s notice to fight for their lives. Anyone that knows of Henry Tudor (Henry the VIII) knows that he was impulsive and could make rash and unjustified decisions out of his own fears.  He would judge entire families on an extended family member’s wrong-doing and, as his father before him, tended to kill off entire family branches to fortify his own royal legacy.

Even though Joanna and her extended family were in constant fear for their lives, she had a bond with Mary Tudor that would help to serve her through some sticky situations. But with that bond, as well as her own to the Catholic church, she is most easily aghast over Henry VIII’s desecration and desire to wipe out all monasteries, sacred relics, and bones of Saints.  Then, when a prophecy is foretold that involves her, she struggles to rebel against it.  Being a good Catholic, she strongly believes that prophecy and seers are wrong in the eyes of God.  She does not want to believe that she could be a part of such dealings, but struggles to know if the greater good outweighs the risk.

I loved the book’s emotional tender moments when Joanna was overcome with human emotions for others in the book, for instance, when she mulled over her feelings for various male characters, all whom in some regard seemed to be smitten by her and feel a need to protect her. Yet there were boundaries to all relationships in regards to love and Bilyeau walked a fine line of pulling the reader into the moment of impulsive exploratory action and then whisking them away from it, just enough for us to feel the character’s internal anguish. In all, she teaches us her characters fortitude and strength (and self-control), most often through protagonist Joanna. She’s an amazingly strong woman who was too modest to see her own attributes.

My favorite supporting character in the book was Henry Courtenay, Marchess of Exeter, who had less “print time” than most, but I loved his demeanor. There were times in the book I felt on pins and needles, times I was holding my breath and then exhaling in relief, and other times (especially a particular time) that I cried for the horror.

I love the prophetic mystery within the novel and the clues filled with symbolism that heightened as I turned each chapter. The novel was most certainly full of intrigue, but quite in a different format than what I’ve read from most other Tudor-era writers. It’s drama-filled, but stemming from a protagonist so laden with religious adherence that the drama seems almost stumbled upon because she wants so badly to not be a part of the drama. But her heart tells her different and she finds her destiny.  It read like a Dan Brown novel with a strong female lead and who doesn’t love a nun on a mission? Any reader will want to take on the prophecy of Joanna, whether to see if it’s a true outcome or to prove it wrong. Bilyeau always leaves that question  up to the reader, as Joanna struggles with that same dilemma herself.

Being a journalist and editor, Bilyeau’s writing style is succinct and not heavily flowered with extra, unwarranted details. Her research skills and plot points are highly polished and shine through in this work making it a thriller for any must-read list.

I highly recommend Nancy Bilyeau’s The Chalice (and her former The Crown) for its unique presentation of a widely written about Tudor time period, her strong and memorable Joanna and well-developed supporting cast, her suspenseful riddles and exciting prophetic plot, and most of all, her page-turning literary skills.

Please stop back tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the fantastic author Nancy Bilyeau!

The ChaliceThe Chalice Information~

Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Touchstone Publishing/A Divison of Simon and Schuster
Hardcover; 512p
ISBN-10: 1476708657

GIVEAWAY!!!!~GIVEAWAY!!!!~GIVEAWAY!!!~

We have one (1) print copy of the The Chalice to give to a lucky reader this week! Please leave a comment, with email (for notification purposes ONLY) , here or on my Facebook post, to enter! You may also email me to hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Please enter by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 26, 2013.  Open to the United States only and no P.O. boxes.

For an extra entry, please follow my blog and let me know!

Praise for The Chalice

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Tudor Secret

“The Chalice offers a fresh, dynamic look into Tudor England’s most powerful, volatile personalities: Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Bloody Mary Tudor. Heroine and former nun Joanna Stafford is beautiful, bold and in lethal danger. Bilyeau writes compellingly of people and places that demand your attention and don’t let you go even after the last exciting page.” – Karen Harper, author of Mistress of Mourning

“An exciting and satisfying novel of historical suspense that cements Nancy Bilyeau as one of the genre’s rising stars. The indominable Joanna Stafford is back with a cast of powerful and fascinating characters and a memorable story that is gripping while you are reading and haunting after you are done. Bravo! The Chalice is a fabulous read.” – M.J. Rose, author of The Reincarnationist

Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau, author of critically acclaimed The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children. For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s webiste at www.nancybilyeau.com

 

 
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