Tag Archives: historical fiction novels

Laura Joh Rowland Publishes Her 18th and Final Historical Mystery of Feudal Japan: Highly Recommended

02_The Iris Fan CoverReview~

Laura Joh Rowland has brought us exciting mysteries from feudal Japan for something like 20 years! That seems unheard of in today’s publishing market, but alas, as The Iris Fan is the Sano Ichiro #18, it looks like this will be the last of the series. I don’t blame Laura for wanting to concentrate on writing new things, but with such longevity, Sano certainly now seems like a household name we can call on in time of need (even if we have to call by opening our time travel doors back to the 17th century).

Of course, we can expect nothing less than Laura putting Sano in all sorts of predicaments, and as he works his way through his ordeals, but soon returns to the limelight to solve an intriguing mystery. I mean, Laura had me at “the shogun is stabbed by a fan made of painted silk….”….ooooo….how could that not suck me right in. I needed to see if Sano could find a solution to the crime so he didn’t incur the wrath of the shogun or his heir.

Her character of Sano is again on point and well-polished. We know him so well already. Her supporting and surrounding cast of characters are always used to full effect. I think Laura likes to catch her readers off guard with her character’s personalities, creating twists, turns, and an element of surprise that keep the pages turning. I like that Reiko is such a force as a character in the book as well, sometimes solving pieces of the mystery herself. Her dimensional character brings real emotion to the novel (and her other novels) as Laura incorporates the life of Reiko and Sano into the mystery. Reiko stands by her man, but she is not always pleased with his choices.Yes, they are always more strong together, even if they don’t realize it, and in this novel, they come back to being even stronger than ever. I was so happy to see that.

The back storyline of Taeko and Masahiro in the novel, which wrapped into completing the villain’s story. It was a love story, with some emotional and drastic times, and helped the ending of the novel come at me full-force with amazing action. I was shocked by the crescendo of the plot! However, following she tied it all up leaving me a happy reader and comforted by where the characters all were at the moment their time in the limelight had ended. It just left me ready for the pursuits of the next generation, so I can’t imagine never being able to revisit this family again….

I love the feelings that Laura creates in me as a reader when I read her book, as her descriptions allow me to be present in their world. I love the type of mystery that uses old school detective work and ancient instincts to solve crime rather than rely on modern day technology. She uses the time and place very well to create interesting concepts and intrigue. Her writing creates atmosphere and suspense, which ultimately, makes her a superb mystery writer.

She does her finest in The Iris Fan, giving us a historical mystery to devour, but then I read too quickly and was sad at the end, especially since we must say goodbye to Sano and his family. I highly recommend The Iris Fan, since it’s one of the few historical mysteries of feudal Japan written with such skill, but if you want to read it, I encourage you to read at least several prior to this one too. I imagine you’ll want to read the whole series! Thanks, Laura, for sharing your mysteries with us, they’ve been great friends!

02_The Iris Fan CoverThe Iris Fan, Synopsis~

Publication Date: December 9, 2014
Minotaur Books
Formats: eBook, Hardcover

Series: Sano Ichiro Mystery Series (Book 18)
Genre: Historical Mystery

Japan, 1709. The shogun is old and ailing. Amid the ever-treacherous intrigue in the court, Sano Ichirō has been demoted from chamberlain to a lowly patrol guard. His relationship with his wife Reiko is in tatters, and a bizarre new alliance between his two enemies Yanagisawa and Lord Ienobu has left him puzzled and wary. Sano’s onetime friend Hirata is a reluctant conspirator in a plot against the ruling regime. Yet, Sano’s dedication to the Way of the Warrior—the samurai code of honor—is undiminished.

Then a harrowing, almost inconceivable crime takes place. In his own palace, the shogun is stabbed with a fan made of painted silk with sharp-pointed iron ribs. Sano is restored to the rank of chief investigator to find the culprit. This is the most significant, and most dangerous, investigation of his career. If the shogun’s heir is displeased, he will have Sano and his family put to death without waiting for the shogun’s permission, then worry about the consequences later. And Sano has enemies of his own, as well as unexpected allies. As the previously unimaginable death of the shogun seems ever more possible, Sano finds himself at the center of warring forces that threaten not only his own family but Japan itself.

Riveting and richly imagined, with a magnificent sense of time and place, The Iris Fan is the triumphant conclusion to Laura Joh Rowland’s brilliant series of thrillers set in feudal Japan.

The Sano Ichiro Mystery Series Titles

Shinjū
Bundori
The Way of the Traitor
The Concubine’s Tattoo
The Samurai’s Wife
Black Lotus
The Pillow Book of Lady Wisteria
The Dragon King’s Palace
The Perfumed Sleeve
The Assassin’s Touch
The Red Chrysanthemum
The Snow Empress
The Fire Kimono
The Cloud Pavilion
The Ronin’s Mistress
The Incense Game
The Shogun’s Daughter
The Iris Fan

Buy the Book~

Amazon US
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
IndieBound

Author Laura Joh Rowland, Biography~

03_Laura Joh RowlandGranddaughter of Chinese and Korean immigrants, Laura Joh Rowland grew up in Michigan and where she graduated with a B.S. in microbiology and a Master of Public Health at the University of Michigan.

She is the author of seventeen previous Sano Ichiro thrillers set in feudal Japan. The Fire Kimono was named one of the Wall Street Journal’s “Five Best Historical Mystery Novels”; and The Snow Empress and The Cloud Pavilion were among Publishers Weekly’s Best Mysteries of the Year.

She currently lives in New Orleans with her husband. She has worked as a chemist, microbiologist, sanitary inspector, and quality engineer.

For more information please visit Laura’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook.

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

Hashtags: #TheIrisFanBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #SanIchiroMysterySeries

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @MinotaurBooks

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A White Room, debut historical novel by Stephanie Carroll, Takes on Secrets, Madness, Gender, and Human Rights in 1900s America

Oh, for the Hook of a Book! is pleased to review A White Room by Stephanie Carroll today as the launching point on the start of her summer virtual tour!  After the review and details, please take part in a chance to win her debut novel as well as check out all the other tour dates in which she’ll be interviewed and also have some interesting guest articles. And if you’d comment at the end of the post by clicking “comment” by the bottom footer, Stephanie will be availabe to answer any questions or comments you have! Enjoy!

A White Room 350x525Emma is terrified of her house. It moves, creaks, and seems alive. Is the terror truly there or is it in her own head? Is her isolation driving her mad or is her madness making her isolated?

A White Room by Stephanie Carroll is a historical novel showcasing the plight of women in the early 20th Century, where desperation for women with dreams and desires outside of working in the home could blur the lines between sanity and insanity.  Where men ruled the towns, the families, and the plight of every woman. Where high society women betrayed, humiliated, and bullied other women for wanting more than to launder, cook, and clean.

Emeline (Emma) Evans’ beloved father, who encouraged her dreams of helping people through nursing and had the funds to send her for an education, dies leaving her mother, her siblings, and her in sudden poverty.  Not knowing how else to help her family, she pleads to a family once helped by her father to let her marry their son. Once they agree, she is thrown into an undesirable situation by the new husband, John Dorr, who moves her far away from any family to start a new isolated life in a gothic home that reeks of sorrow and desires unmet.

Coupled with the fact that the only human contact, besides their a few-days-a-week maid who helped her with the incessant chores, were the high society women in the church who ran committees for profit or invited her low rung young husband lawyer to dine at their homes where she inevitably made mistakes.

Society in the early 1900s didn’t approve of women working outside of the home…their duty was to lug and hand wash dishes, launder clothing by hand, starch, iron, cook, scrub floors on hands and knees, be a dutiful wife and have sons…even if they had an education.  Emma knows some of these chores are important for daily life, but yet it seems she cleans for them to be dirty again, cooks what is consumed, and none feel meaningful and have a lasting effect on change or the world or community. She wants to do something important.

And here is where her dedication to herself, her desire to assist those in need, her intelligence and independence, almost drive her mad. Her intimidating eerie home starts messing with her mind. The furniture moves, reflections are odd, yellow eyes glow from the bushes. All this leads to her getting a straight ticket to a diagnosis of hysteria, which means she is confined even further to a bedroom with stark white walls in contrast to the dreary decor of the rest of the house. As the terrors of the home and her thoughts bring her to more paranoia, she flees the home and begins to defy her plight. She starts practicing her nursing, unlicensed and in secret, even as her husband’s law firm boss is hunting down these types of medical practitioners.

Will Emma’s rebellion cause her more pain and confine her further or redeem her from her life of madness and isolation? I highly recommend you read this book to find out. It’s an amazing story of a woman’s determination to use her intelligence and heart to help others, even at cost or danger to herself.

Carroll does a superb job of pulling the reader in from the start. We feel as if we are Emma, her thoughts and actions and worries so pervasive to our own minds.  Just as the house seeps in to our bones and we feel it closing around us as Emma does, as we feel the creepiness making the hair on our arms raise, just as we ourselves might go mad out of anger for Emma’s life, a redeeming break happens. The light enters in and Emma shines.

I totally loved this book. It’s been described as being similar to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (where a woman becomes obsessed with the wallpaper bedroom), Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Though I concur that all that is true, I go further by being reminded of why the gothic writing work and home remind me of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of the Seven Gables (he and I are descended from the same family tree and his work is a favorite of mine) and some of the works of V.C. Andrews, such as Flowers in the Attic. She gives us a gothic feel reminiscent of Daphne de Maurier’s works.

If you have an open mind, or want your eyes to be opened, especially in terms of women’s servitude of the mind that has been happening for ages, this book is a must read. Women’s rights activists like me will highly covet this book as it brings about the secrets of the Gilded Age and also shows how it still transcends into society today.

The content and intricacies of this book are excellent.  I can’t give this book enough great accolades, so don’t hesitate, just read it! If you’re a fan of 20th Century culture, women’s issues, or eerie, haunting work, add this one to your list. Carroll is definitely an author not to be missed and I look forward to more permeating work from her in the future.

A White Room, Synopsis~

A White Room 350x525At the close of the Victorian Era, society still expected middle-class women to be “the angels of the house,” even as a select few strived to become something more. In this time of change, Emeline Evans dreamed of becoming a nurse. But when her father dies unexpectedly, Emeline sacrifices her ambitions and rescues her family from destitution by marrying John Dorr, a reserved lawyer who can provide for her family.

John moves Emeline to the remote Missouri town of Labellum and into an unusual house where her sorrow and uneasiness edge toward madness. Furniture twists and turns before her eyes, people stare out at her from empty rooms, and the house itself conspires against her. The doctor diagnoses hysteria, but the treatment merely reinforces the house’s grip on her mind.

Emeline only finds solace after pursuing an opportunity to serve the poor as an unlicensed nurse. Yet in order to bring comfort to the needy she must secretly defy her husband, whose employer viciously hunts down and prosecutes unlicensed practitioners. Although women are no longer burned at the stake in 1900, disobedience is a symptom of psychological defect, and hysterical women must be controlled.

A novel of madness and secrets, A White Room presents a fantastical glimpse into the forgotten cult of domesticity, where one’s own home could become a prison and a woman has to be willing to risk everything to be free.

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Giveaway~

Want a chance to WIN a copy of Stephanie Carroll’s A White Room? Sign-up for her Rafflecopter giveaway for an e-book version of this exceptional book! Good luck!

Win a copy of A White Room! Click Link Below~

A Rafflecopter giveaway

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Stephanie Carroll, Biography~

Author Photo at Irwin Street Inn - CopyAs a reporter and community editor, Stephanie Carroll earned first place awards from the National Newspaper Association and from the Nevada Press Association. Stephanie holds degrees in history and social science. She graduated summa cum laude from California State University, Fresno.

Her dark and magical writing is inspired by the classic authors Charlotte Perkins Gilman (The Yellow Wallpaper), Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden), and Emily Bronte (Wuthering Heights). A White Room is her debut novel.

Stephanie blogs and writes fiction in California, where her husband is stationed with the U.S. Navy. Her website is www.stephaniecarroll.net.

Connect with Stephanie Carroll~

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Endorsements~

“A novel of grit, independence, and determination … An intelligent story, well told.”

—Renée Thompson, author of The Plume Hunter and The Bridge at Valentine

“The best historical fiction makes you forget it’s fiction and forget it’s historical. Reminiscent of The Yellow Wallpaper … the thoughtful, intricate story Carroll relates is absolutely mesmerizing.”

—Eileen Walsh, Ph.D. U.S. Women’s History, University of San Diego

A White Room, Details~

A White Room 350x525

by Stephanie Carroll

June 2013

408 Pages

Soft Cover: $14.99

eBook: $3.99

Publisher: Unhinged Books

ISBN: 978-0-9888674-0-6

eBook ISBN:

978-0-9888674-1-3

LCCN: 2013930913

The author photo was taken by Corey Ralston Photography and the cover was designed by Jenny Q of Historical Editorial and the original painting is Lady Astor by John Singer Sargent, 1909.

Available in Print and eBook

AmazonBarnes & NobleSonyKoboInkteraSmashwords

Soon to be available on Apple’s iBooks and Baker & Taylor’s Blio

A White Room Blog Tour Dates

A White Room 350x525Weds, June 19 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book:  Tour Kick-off!!  Book Review and Giveaway

Thurs, June 20 – Hazel the Witch:  Interview

Sat, June 22 – Reading in Ecuador:  

Guest Post: How to Write Characters You Hate and Characters You Love to Hate

Mon, June 24 – The Bookish Dame:  Interview

Thurs, June 27 – Momma Bears Book Blog:  

Guest Post: The Story Behind Emeline’s Mental Distress

Tues, July 2 – I am Indeed:  Guest Post: Historical Accuracy in Historical Fiction

Mon, July 8 – Bookfari:  Interview and Giveaway

Tues, July 9 – Hazel the Witch

Guest Post – How to Write the Inner Thoughts of a Crazy Person – Finding Meaning in Insanity?

Weds, July 10 – Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers: Review 

Fri, July 12 – Lost to Books:  Guest Post TBA and Giveaway

Mon, July 15 – A Writer of History:  Guest Post: Writing an Era – Where to Begin?

Weds, July 17 – Michelle’s Romantic Tangle:  Interview

Thurs, July 18 – Oh, For the Hook of a Book:  Interview

Tues, July 23 – Unabridged Chick:  Review and Giveaway

Thurs July 25 – Ravings and Ramblings:  Review and Interview

Tues July 30 – Reading the Past:  Giveaway and Guest Post:

Writing and Historical Thought – They Didn’t Think Like We Did 100 Years Ago

 Sat, Aug. 3 – History and Women:  Guest Post: Victorian Women and the Mystery of Sex 

Be sure to check out all her interviews and guest articles throughout the summer. And stop back by Oh, for the Hook of a Book! for our interview with Stephanie!

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Guest Post by M.J. Rose featuring Art of Victor Hugo: Info on New Suspense Seduction

Today, I have the second in a series of guest posts by author M.J. Rose, in conjunction with her novel Seduction, coming in May.  I’ll also have an interview with her on April 22 and a review of the book on May 9, so be sure to follow along on this marvelous historical tour featuring literary classics, paranormal happenings, and interesting art.
 
First of all, I’ll give you Seduction‘s synopsis so you can get an idea where the guest post, based on Victor Hugo, is coming from. After viewing the guest post be sure to click the link for the rest of the Historical Fiction Book Tour schedule.  That will allow you to piece together the guest posts, each featuring a quote from Hugo’s work and a work of art, with a chapter included below it.
 
Seduction

Seduction Synopsis~

From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.

Publication Date: May 7, 2013
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621507

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New Picture

“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
Victor Hugo, Les Misérables 

 From Chapter 32:

            Even at my worst, after Didine had been taken from us, I did not ever seriously contemplate taking my own life. Nothing is as valuable to me as an individual’s right to freedom. Death was not a possible solution for my grief. But from the moment I tied myself to the mast and set to helping Rose bring the boat to port, the sea called out to me with the insistence of a lover. Whispering soft entreaties, she beckoned me to let go, to give up on my struggles, to liberate myself from the sadness.

http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/seductionvirtualtour/

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Author M.J. Rose, Biography~

M.J. RoseM.J. Rose is the international best-selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors – Authorbuzz.com. The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype. She is also the co-founder of Peroozal.com and BookTrib.com.

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Seduction Tour Banner FINAL

Link to Tour Scheadule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/seductionvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SeductionVirtualTour

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Cynthia Haggard’s Thwarted Queen: Four Part Series of Cecylee Neville and Richard of York

Thwarted Queen coverThwarted Queen, by Cynthia Haggard, is the story of Cecily (Cecylee) Neville, the wife and mother of husband (Richard, Duke of York) and sons were instrumental in the beginning of the War of the Roses.  This novel seemed like a large undertaking with its voluminous size, but I flew through this book in no time! I was totally moved along by the story, as well as the drama, that I didn’t even have time to really dissect it.  To me, the sign of a decent book is that I am caught up in it and want to complete it (at the demise of  doing anything else) as quickly as I can. And I most certainly was swept away by the Thwarted Queen collection.

Haggard doesn’t make any boasts that her history is completely accurate or unfaltering. She makes it very clear with superb accompanying extras and final analysis of her story, and the time period, which historians she mirrored, what books and research she consulted, and how she came to her own conclusions based on her research. And truly, it’s not a non-fiction course book is it? It’s glorious historical fiction and that means that authors of the sort may “fill in the blanks,” creatively pursue new fictitious characters and story lines, and write with their heart.

I feel before I continue with the review I must post from Haggard’s own author’s note that explains the book structure: 

Thwarted Queen naturally divides into four books.  Book One: The Bride Price is about Cecylee’s girlhood.  Book Two:  One Seed Sown is about her love-affair with  Blaybourne. Book Three: The Gilded Cage is about Richard of York’s political career from 1445 to his death in 1460, and covers the opening of the Wars of the Roses.  Book Four:  Two Murders Reaped is about Cecylee’s actions in her old age, and how she may have had a hand in the murder of the two little princes in the Tower.  I used different points of view to convey mood and setting.  The Bride Price is written in first-person present to capture the freshness of a young girl’s voice.  One Seed Sown is written in first-person past to make Cecylee seem older and more mature.  The Gilded Cage had to be written in third-person to capture all of the different voices and the complexity of Richard’s political life. Two Murders Reaped is written in first person past, to capture the voice of the old woman that Cecylee became.

-End note-

Although usually this sort of explanation is put as an author’s note following the book, possibly Haggard should have put this revelation at the beginning so that readers didn’t get too confused and fault her for her tense changes.  I think that her beginning story captured Cecylee quite well as a young girl full of independence and fears of her future, namely men. I loved how she portrayed her so strong in her convictions and wishes from a young age and throughout the novel. I was happy that she portrayed her a woman who fought so hard for her children and for women to be treated fairly and justly by men.  She didn’t put up with abuse when so  many others would have turned the other cheek, especially in these early centuries. Maybe called “Proud Cis” because of it, I don’t mind a female protagonist like Cecylee who is head-strong in wishing women were able to make their own decisions. Of course in 15th century, most women and female children of nobles were pawns and there was the common double standards of sexual virtue.

Another author I have always loved reading is Philippa Gregory. Though written more formally with a hint of non-fiction undertones due to her historian roots, her novels compel me in a way not easily explainable. She lets me in to the feelings of her historical figures so that I barely know is happening. I feel for them; I pull for them.  When reading Haggard’s Thwarted Queen, I felt I was reading a similar type of novel as Gregory writes. Loaded with historical detail, she also doesn’t overburden the reader with it and I could clearly connect to Cecylee’s feelings and desires.  I know that Haggard relied on some of Alison Weir’s novels to mold her historical path in the book and this lends credibility to her writing with me.

I quite enjoyed her nestling of real document excerpts, quotes, and writings. I liked, once again, seeing a writer showcase a possible love affair by a noble with a commoner, who many times are often those traveling creative types that offer allure for women that were probably bored to death with their lifestyle, with their husbands being away for political escapades or battle, and get caught up in being romanced by literature, poetry, or song.  Haggard completely takes on the issue of nobility vs. commoner, especially with English people beginning to rise against the Monarchy, Lords, and other nobility controlling their lives at their personal whims.

One of my favorite sections was on page 187 when Richard, Duke of York, asks Parliament to pass the Act of Resumption which ultimately would ask the nobility to give up funds and lands for the good of the entire country! Sound similar to anything happening today? History has a way of repeating itself. I was in total agreement with Richard’s assessment brought forth by Haggard.

Haggard does introduce many characters in this book, but it seems to me that there are always so many people in these types of historical fiction novels due to the era it’s focused on.  I think there was so much drama and so many people surrounding each other, playing off each other, and manipulating each other that writers need to talk about them all. It doesn’t help they all have the same names and quite often in all historical fiction books the historical persona is named with their titles repeatedly. That’s so we can keep them straight!  I felt that Haggard did a nice job of telling us a story (without bogging us down) in a way that allowed us just enough detail to glimpse Cecylee’s life, Richard of York’s life, their children, and how it all played out around them.  I didn’t need more development of the characters surrounding Cecylee and Richard because I was so focused on them, which ultimately, I should have been.

I have never read yet a historical fiction that was from the view of Richard II, Cecylee, or Richard III (their son) that presented their side of the story with such endearment. I did enjoy reading Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers (part of her The Cousin’s Wars series), which showcased Edward IV and his wife, that also showed Richard III in a much different light (and an alternate ending to the princes in the Tower) as do other writings as Shakespeare’s Richard III.  After reading Richard Duke of York’s account of his struggles to claim the throne through Haggard, I have a new compassion for him.  Though I previously wasn’t sure how I felt about Cecily Neville, I now can possibly understand her supposed personality and actions.

I thought Haggard did a superb job of research, writing, and creating her books that together make Thwarted Queen.  I would certainly recommend this book for anyone liking to read War of the Roses historical fiction and is ready for a different perspective or a fresh narrator.  I look forward to Haggard’s continued enthusiasm for history, which shines through her writing, and would be thrilled to read more by her in the future.

Thwarted Queen Synopsis~

Thwarted Queen coverPublication Date: October 29, 2012 | CreateSpace | 498P

THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.

Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.

The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.

But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War – during which England loses all of her possessions in France – and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.

This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.

Giveaway~

We have one (1) print copy to give away to a U.S. resident only.  Please comment below, on MY (Erin Al-Mehairi) Facebook link, or email me to hookofabook(at)hotmail.com with your email contact info by 11:59 p.m. EST on March 4, 2013.

Extra entry (1) will be given if you follow my blog!  Please also tell me you did so for the extra entry.

Praise for Thwarted Queen~

“Thwarted Queen is extremely interesting and cleverly written-I was completely enthralled!” Lucy Bertoldi, Historical Novel Society.

“Gripping, well-researched historical novel, revealing a violent age. Cecylee and the other characters are well-drawn, with great subtlety and depth.” Lindsay Townsend, author of TO TOUCH THE KNIGHT.

“The author immerses the reader in a complex and vivid world that is depicted with persuasive confidence.” Curtis Sittenfeld, author of AMERICAN WIFE.

“A wonderful novel to introduce Cecily Neville and historical biographical fiction to young female readers.” Mirella Patzer, author of THE PENDANT.

Cynthia Sally Haggard, Biography~

CynthiaSallyHaggardBorn and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Why does she write historical novels? Because she has been reading them with great enjoyment since she was a child. Because she has a great imagination and a love of history that won’t go away. And because she has an annoying tendency to remember trivial details of the past and to treat long-dead people as if they were more real than those around her.

Cynthia’s biggest influence was her grandmother, Stephanie Treffry, who had a natural story-telling ability. As a widow in 1970s Britain, Grandma Stephanie didn’t drive a car, so would spend time waiting for buses. Her stories were about various encounters she had at those bus-stops. Nothing extraordinary, except that she made them so funny, everyone was in fits of laughter. A born entertainer, Cynthia tries to emulate her when she writes her novels.

In case you were wondering, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of her great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

You can visit her website at www.spunstories.com.

WATCH TOMORROW FOR MY EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA HAGGARD!!

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thwartedqueenvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #ThwartedQueenVirtualTour

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Join in My Discussion with Kim Rendfeld, Author of Middle Ages Fiction The Cross and the Dragon

Today I have an interview with historical novelist Kim Rendfeld.  She’s published The Cross and the Dragon with Fireship Press, which is a novel of the Middle Ages (during the early years of Charlemagne) with a extremely courageous and endearing protagonist. I’ll be posting the review tomorrow. Until then, hope you have some time to read the discussion Kim and I had about writing, the Middle Ages, research, and getting published.

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Erin:  Hi, Kim! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are happy you’ve stopped by today to share your love of historical fiction and all things about being a writer. How are you enjoying this wintery weather?

Kim Rendfeld:  Thanks for having me, Erin.  This winter seems to be overcompensating for the extremely mild one we had last year. Fortunately, my houseplants are blooming or sending up buds to remind me winter won’t last forever.

Well, the groundhog says Spring will be right around the corner, so let’s hope!  Let’s sit back, enjoy some tea (since we’re both in colder states!!) and get to know one another.

Q:  Your novel, The Cross and the Dragon, takes on historical legend during the Middle Ages.  Having a second degree in History myself, I’ve taken courses on the Middle Ages.  Seemingly a time of legend and romantic endeavors that are quite entertaining to read and watch, I know from my studies that it was also a time of horrid living conditions and multiple wars. Do you think this is why legends and stories came about?

A: Regardless of the age we live in, we want to escape our reality from time to time, and storytelling around the fire is the oldest form of entertainment. In stories, we can make the world as it should be. Heroes surmount their challenges. Villains get their just deserts. It’s a universal wish.

Throughout history, stories were also used as propaganda, and the Middle Ages is no exception. To illustrate my point, I’m going to use a spoiler, so readers who would like to avoid it should skip ahead. The 778 ambush at the Pass of Roncevaux by Christian Basques was such a disaster for the Franks that it was not written about while King Charles (Charlemagne) was alive. Fast forward a few centuries to the time of the Crusades, and an anonymous poet transforms the event into a heroic stand against overwhelming odds in the form of a Muslim army.

Q:  Where did you come across the legend you base your novel around? Can you explain to us the legend and how it inspired your book?

A: There are a few spoilers in this answer, too. I encountered the legend behind Rolandsbogen in a guide book during a family vacation in Germany. Rolandsbogen is an ivy covered arch on a high hill overlooking the Rhine. The legend is that Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) built the castle for his bride and went off to war in Spain. The bride heard false news that her beloved had been killed at the Pass of Roncevaux. She took a vow chastity and joined the convent on nearby Nonnenwerth Island. Roland returned too late. Heartbroken, he spent the rest of his days at his window in Rolandsbogen, trying to get a glimpse of her as she went to and from prayers.

This story would not leave me alone until I sat at my chair and started writing, even though I knew little of the real Middle Ages.

Q:  What do you think really defined love during the Medieval times? How has romance changed today?

A: In an age of arranged marriages to build wealth or alliances, medieval folk might have been happy if the husband didn’t beat the living daylights out the wife and the wife was faithful to the husband. Still, primary sources that focus on politics and battles reveal hints of affection in a married couple.

A pair of rare sentences in the Royal Frankish Annals describe Charlemagne’s return to Francia after months in Italy: “The same most gracious king reached his wife, the Lady Fastrada, in the city of Worms. There they rejoiced over each other and were happy together and praised God’s mercy.”

A few years later, Charles sent a letter to Fastrada before a war with the Avars. Among other things, he refers to her having an infirmity and asks her to write to him more often and tell him about her health. It gives meaning to his greeting her as his “beloved and most loving wife.”

Even though Charles and Fastrada lived 1,200 years ago, their sentiments–joy when reunited, worry about your spouse’s health–are remarkably similar to modern times.

Q:  What do you feel is the main message within The Cross and the Dragon?  If not a message, what do you hope the reader leaves with when they complete your novel?

A: I hope readers will understand not only how much times have changed, but how much human nature remains the same. Although their world view and expectations of marriage differed from ours, medieval folk felt the same emotions we do. They grieved, they loved, they felt joy and anger.

Q:  Who was your favorite character to write about and why?

A: For this book, it’s Alda. There is so much to like about her. She’s intelligent, compassionate, and fiercely loyal. But I what I most admire about her is her courage.

Q:  How did you research your novel? What avenues did you take, how were discoveries made, and how much time was involved?

A: In an age when few people could read and even fewer could write, this era lends itself to a dearth of information, but fortunately some people did write a few things down for us. Even though the authors are biased and don’t always let the facts get in the way of their stories, I love primary sources, and I owe a great deal to scholars who’ve translated and interpreted them.

It’s hard for me to say how much time was involved. I spent a few months reading, but as I started writing, I would constantly find that I needed to look something up. Even as I neared the end of my revisions, questions would pop up such as whether bishops at the time wore miters (they didn’t).

Q:  What is your writing process like? Do you form an outline or write at will? Do you set writing goals?

A: When it comes to fiction, I plunge right on in. I’d get stuck on an outline if I started with it. I wrote an outline partially through the process, only to throw two-thirds of it away. My writing goal is to spend at least an hour a day working on the story. If I set a word goal, I’d get so flustered on not making my numbers, I’d choke.

Q:  How long did it take you to complete your novel?

A: Like the question about research, this is not an easy one to quantify. I spent a year or two with the earliest draft of the manuscript and thought it was done. After year or so of unsuccessful queries, I joined a critique group who kindly told me otherwise. Two more years of revisions, and again I thought it was done and tried to interest an agent or editor. For several years, I would revise the manuscript whenever I got a useful rejection.  If I had to total up the time, I would estimate five years or so. However, I also had a full-time job.

Q:  You have a day job and a family. How did you make the time for such as accomplishment as writing a novel?

A: My stepdaughter is grown and has children of her own, so my husband and I don’t have small children to look after or teenagers to chauffer. Still, finding time to write is my biggest challenge.

I am blessed to have not only a very supportive husband, but one who cooks. I often squeeze in time to write in the evenings after I’ve fed the cats and on weekends. Part of my time to write comes at the expense of housekeeping and some sleep. I don’t watch a lot of TV and have a few yet-to-be-watched episodes of Downton Abbey on my DVR, and I’ve had to refrain from getting into lively but time-consuming discussions on Facebook.

Q:  What did you learn about yourself through the writing process and with the completion of the book?

A: Despite the problems our society faces these days, I truly am grateful for what we have today. I like our instant communication, women’s rights, mostly scientific medical care, and my morning coffee.

In finishing the book, I proved to myself that I could create something that required that kind of discipline and commitment.

Q:  How did you begin the process of publication?

A: If you can’t stand rejection, don’t try to get published. I am not kidding when I say I have enough rejection letters to paper a good-sized walk-in closet.

After I had finished revisions based on feedback from my critique group, I queried agents and a few editors. An editor I met at a Historical Novel Society conference wrote a useful rejection letter, which led to more revisions, and more queries. I finally found an agent in the fall of 2007, and the manuscript was revised again. Still, she was not able to sell it, and the relationship ended.

You know that definition of insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results? In 2011, I knew I needed to do something different. That something was then entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, where I finished as a quarterfinalist.  My consolation prize was a favorable review of the unedited manuscript from Publishers Weekly. The endorsement itself was wonderful, but it gave me a boost in self-confidence when I really needed it.

I queried a few more agents and Fireship Press, an independent publisher I had read about on another author’s blog.  Fireship liked the manuscript, and I could not be happier with the way the book turned out.

 

Le 25 décembre de l’an 800, à Saint-Pierre de Rome, Charlemagne est couronné empereur par le pape Léon III. Sacre de Charlemagne

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Q:  How do you feel about the book publishing industry in today’s society? How does it help and/or hinder the historical fiction genre?

A: I am concerned with large-scale publishing being concentrated in fewer hands. It is not good for society for only a few corporations to control anything, whether that’s airline travel or information. The Big 5 (or whatever the correct number is these days) is less and less willing to take a chance on a new voice, a new story, or a new setting, historical fiction included.

Too many authors see their choice as either the Big 5 or self-publishing. There is a third alternative, the small press, the choice I made. I am grateful that my independent publisher, Fireship Press, was willing to take a chance on a story set in an uncommon era and uncommon place.

In my own experience with the small press, I had much more control than I expected over the process. The title is mine. I was able to have readers weigh in on the image that graces the cover—and they have great taste.

Q:  You and your husband have also worked in the journalism field.  What do you feel makes Journalists successful when they cross over into fiction work?

A: The time and space constraints of journalism taught me to get to the point. Maturing in the field taught me to be more concerned that my readers understood what I was saying rather than be impressed with my cleverness.

I also learned to question my sources and so-called conventional wisdom. Where is this information coming from? When was this written? What is the writer’s motivation? This mindset is especially useful in historical research, where the primary sources are fresh and colorful but not always accurate.

Q:  Do you have plans for a sequel and/or separate novels? If so, please share with us.

A: I am polishing a companion novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, set in the same time period. Here is my latest version of the blurb:

Can a mother’s love triumph over war?

Charlemagne’s 772 battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her husband died in combat. Her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. And the relatives obligated to defend her and her family sold them into slavery, stealing their farm.

Taken in Francia, Leova will stop at nothing to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor and her safety. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family.

Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon Christian and is Sunwynn’s champion—and he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

Q:  Who inspires you as a writer? What are some of your favorite books, movies, or the like?

A: As a teenager, my favorite fiction was the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I admire how he can make an imaginary world seem real. As an adult, I owe a lot to my critique partners in the Lafayette Novel Group, one of whom was Roberta Gellis, who has written mysteries and romances set in the Middle Ages. Roberta helped me transform my characters from people in period clothing to true medieval folk.

Q:  Favorite food your husband fed you to keep you eating during your writing process?

A: I was so obsessed with getting finished I can’t remember what my husband cooked for me, except for linguine with a meat and tomato sauce. Most of the fare was typical of what we normally eat.

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: Readers can connect with me on my website (www.kimrendfeld.com), my blog www.kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, Facebook (www.facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld), Twitter (www.twitter.com/kimrendfeld) or Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/Kim_Rendfeld).

Q:  Please let us know where your books are available for purchase?

A: The Cross and the Dragon is available in print and e-book at Amazon U.S., U.K., and Canada as well as Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Kobo, Indigo, and other outlets.

Erin:  Thank you so very much for joining us and sharing on our site today. We hope you will stop by again and wish you the best of luck!

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The Cross and the Dragon Synopsis~

9781611792270-CrossandDragon-small2A tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

 Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Inspired by legend and painstakingly researched, The Cross and the Dragon is a story of tenderness, sacrifice, lies, and revenge in the early years of Charlemagne’s reign, told by a fresh, new voice in historical fiction.

Kim Rendfeld, Biography~

KimBookPhotoSmallerKim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.

She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren’t for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.

 Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats.  They have a daughter and two granddaughters, with a third due in May 2013.

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Interview with Author Alana White: Her Life, the Italian Renaissance, and Writing

Yesterday, we presented information and a review of Alana White’s historical fiction novel The Sign of the Weeping Virgin.  If you missed it, you can see it by clicking HERE.

Today, we have an amazing interview with White where we talk about the Pope’s recent resignation, why it’s important to make time for yourself to write, and if times have changed much in regards intrigue and family drama. You’ll also read what scenes were cut out of her newest book and why. I think you’ll enjoy it!

And remember at the end to check out the information on the GIVEAWAY!!

Hi Alana, it’s so nice to spend some time with you doing an interview here on Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

Hi, Erin, Thank you so much for having me.  It’s a privilege, and I appreciate it.

Let’s dive in…

Q:  Is The Sign of the Weeping Virgin your first novel?

A:  No.  My first novel, Come Next Spring, is a coming-of-age story set in the Smoky Mountains in 1949.  In it, my protagonist, who is very romantic-minded, writes a letter to Margaret Mitchell wanting assurance that Rhett Butler eventually returned to Scarlett O’Hara after Gone With the Wind ends.  And so, till the end of the story, along with the main character, we readers wait for Margaret Mitchell’s reply.  Set in Tennessee, Come Next Spring received good reviews, and it is available online.

Q: When did you first discover your love of words? Is then when you started to write, why or if not, when?

A:  I have always been a reader—one of those kids whose parents say, “Why don’t you go outside and play for a while?”  I think I was just born this way.  I started trying to write a novel when I was twelve.  As you might expect, I didn’t get very far.  I discovered it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  It still isn’t.

Erin Comments:  Me too. And though I’ve been writing ever since, I haven’t got as far as completing that novel yet. Though life gets in the way, I suppose there is something to the time being right also.

Q:  What is your writing process like?

A:  If I don’t begin writing in the morning, it doesn’t get done.  Too many distractions, too many ways to put writing last.  Because it is hard, for me, at least.  As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m a perfectionist.  So, mornings are when I go over pages from the previous day, tweaking, and asking more questions, looking over my notes to see what happens next.  Also, to refresh my memory of where I am in the story, and what my characters were doing and thinking the previous day.

Erin Comments: Distractions are always a problem, especially for me too. I’m also a perfectionist so it takes me much longer to get something exactly right. J

Q:  What has been the worst thing you’ve had to overcome on your writing journey?

A:  Finding the courage and the means to protect time for myself.  We are all pulled in so many different, important directions, right?  In the opening pages of Weeping Virgin, I thank my husband for giving me “the gift of time.”  And I mean that sincerely.

Erin Comments: I love what you said: “to protect time for myself.” So true.

Q:  What other novels have you written or are writing?

A:  I’ve completed a YA novel with a teen boy as the protagonist.  I need to introduce him to the world.  Time issues, again.  This week, I began the next book in the Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery series.  So, it’s back to him and Florence (in my mind and heart, anyway), and that makes me happy, indeed.

Q:  What is it that draws you to the City of Flowers (in other words, Florence)?

A:  I truly don’t know why Florence has tapped into my heart.  Of course, the Italian renaissance intrigues me, as it has done so many people.  The richness, the intrigue, and the personal stories.  Today, when you go there, you walk through the same byways and past the same huge stone palaces that were there in the days of the Medicis and the Vespuccis.  In some ways, very little has changed.  Today, rather than Lorenzo de’ Medici striding around the walled city, Florentines have a charming, thirty-something mayor who rides the streets on his bicycle.

Q:  What do you think of the present Pope’s resignation? Do you feel this will make someone a novel years from now?

A:  I think it took courage and cooperation for him to resign his place.  When I say cooperation, I mean there may have been people who would have preferred him to remain Pope, no matter the conditions.  And, yes!  The first thing that occurred to me when I heard the news was along the lines of people jockeying for position, what lengths will they go to, etc.  No doubt Daniel Silva, whose terrific fictional Gabriel Allon character is a “friend” of the Pope in Silva’s novels, is already sharpening his pencils.  I hope so.

Q: How do you feel that historical intrigue and family drama has changed over time and why?

A:  You know, I don’t believe it has so much.  We have different trappings, but I think in the end our hearts beat for the same things: our children, their future, who is at the forefront in government (not only ours), wars, love and betrayal in all its shapes and forms.

Erin Comments: I totally agree, we just don’t always see it as clearly.

Q:  What are your other historical interests?

A:  That’s a terrific question.  If I had all the time (there is that word, again) in the world, I would write about small town southern life in the 1930s and 40s.  Probably this is because I come from a childhood background of sitting on the front porch listening to my mother and grandmother’s stories.  (Or juicy gossip, if you will.)

Q:  What authors have, or do, inspire you? What books do you like?

A:  I mentioned Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; I like it and probably was drawn to it in the first place because the fictional Gabriel is the world’s greatest art restorer.  So, there is the link to art, and that attracts me.  These books aren’t historicals, but they read like it.  I loved Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany.  I like books that open a new world to me.  Clara certainly did that—women designed much of Tiffany’s line, but weren’t given credit for it till just recently.  And—I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series!

Erin Comments:  You must love art history as much as I do.  I have to tell you that one of my top 10 books of all time is Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Vreeland. I even reviewed it on this site and included photos of Tiffany’s glass work that I took at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Also, I am a crusader for women’s issues, as well as liking New York history circa late 1800s to the 1920s, so I was REALLY impressed by this book.

Q:  What is your best -loved hobby outside of writing and reading?

A:  Genealogy.  I spent a long time tracing my family’s roots and enjoyed it tremendously.  But as those of you know who have entered that zone, it’s like eating chocolate chip cookies.  It’s almost impossible to stop.  Also, I like estate sales.  Interesting: both activities deal with the past.

Erin Comments:  I have done Genealogy since I was in high school and though time has got in the way of intense research since I’ve had children, I still like the feeling I get when I open up another “door.”  Sounds like you enjoy anything historical or vintage like me.

Q:  What feelings or message do you hope that readers take away from The Sign of the Weeping Virgin?

A:  That people are all connected in some deep place and way.  We have the same feelings and basic emotions, we weep and work for the same things.  We’re equal in myriad ways, whether then or now, wherever we may be.

Q:  Is there more to the story than what you were able to fit into the novel?

A:  I love this question!  Yes!  I had two rousing scenes with the antagonist who actually did plot the conspiracy to rid the world of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, the two young unofficial leaders of the Florentine Republic at the time of Weeping Virgin.  The villain’s name is Girolamo Riario, and he was married to Caterina Sforza, by the way.  I hated cutting Caterina’s scenes, but it was all just going on too long.  Anyway—Caterina threatened to steal the story!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I would love that.  I’m on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/authoralanawhite?ref=hl

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/AlanaWhiteautho

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/338557.Alana_J_White

And at: www.alanawhite.com

I appreciate you participating in this exclusive interview as you shared your world with us!  I just love how writing brings history alive. Best of luck to you and your work!

This has been fun, Erin.  Thanks again for having me.

GIVEAWAY~

A lucky reader can win ONE (1) tangible copy of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin for their library. It’s open INTERNATIONALLY!!  Please leave a comment here, the previous review post, or on my Facebook post, including your email so I can notify you (OR email me at hookofabook(at)hotmail.com)!

You can enter until 11:59 p.m. EST on February 26, 2013.

One (1) extra entry for following this blog! Please let me know you did so.

Alana White, Biography~

Alana WhiteAlana White’s fascination with the Italian Renaissance led to her first short historical mystery fiction, then to a full-length novel, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, forthcoming from Five Star Mysteries in December 2012. Set in Renaissance Florence, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin features lawyer Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his adventurous young nephew, Amerigo Vespucci, as they investigate crime in Renaissance Florence. Alana’s articles and book reviews appear regularly in Renaissance Magazine and the Historical Novels Review. In young adult+ books, she is the author of Come Next Spring, a novel set in 1940s Appalachia, and a biography, Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark. She is currently working on her second Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery.

See more on Alana White and her work at:  www.alanawhite.com

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin Synopsis~

TSOTWVPublication Date: January 9, 2013 | Five Star Publishing | 384p

Romance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid Antonio Vespucci and his nephew Amerigo are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid Antonio s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God s displeasure with Guid Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere Guid Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting s mystifying and miraculous? tears all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons.

See more reviews, interviews, and guest appearances during White’s virtual blog tour by clicking on button below:

TSOTWV Tour Banner FINAL

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Captain Blackwell’s Prize by V. E. Ulett Sets Sail to Romance on the High Seas

perf6.000x9.000.inddI recently read Captain Blackwell’s Prize by V. E. Ulett for her book tour as she sails the Internet to let historical fiction readers in on some romance of the high seas. I had never read much in the way of naval or sea romance, but I have watched the films Master and Commander and all Pirates of the Caribbean, liking both types of ship Captains.  I also  love the ocean and history set in the time period where massive ships with tall, high-flying sails littered the shores, so therefore I took a gamble I might like a tale written in this theme. By the way, love the book cover!

Ulett states that Captain Blackwell’s Prize was inspired by eighteenth and nineteenth century journals and letters.  Though also written with great naval battle knowledge, research, and detail, the motivation she used of written word passed down from that century is truly what lends to understanding the life of seamen, families, and romance between men  and women that the book illustrates. 

Her publisher’s website, Fireship Press (focusing on nautical fiction and non-fiction) even imparts to us from the perspective she wrote her novel:  “A keen interest in the Royal Navy of Nelson’s day and the Europe of Napoleon’s time led Ulett to research primary source materials, where she found a wealth of eighteenth and nineteenth century journals, travel accounts, and letters. This, combined with a passion for books and the agreeable sensation of falling into the past, inspired Ulett to write Captain Blackwell’s Prize.”

(Review continued after synopsis)

Book Synopsis~

A romantic adventure from the days of wooden ships and iron men, Captain Blackwell’s Prize is a story of honor, duty, social class and the bond of sensual love.

A small, audacious British frigate does battle against a large but ungainly Spanish ship. British Captain James Blackwell intercepts the Spanish La Trinidad, outmaneuvers and outguns the treasure ship and boards her. Fighting alongside the Spanish captain, sword in hand, is a beautiful woman. The battle is quickly over. The Spanish captain is killed in the fray and his ship damaged beyond repair. Its survivors and treasure are taken aboard the British ship, Inconstant.

Captain Blackwell’s Prize features sword fights and sea battles alongside the manners, ideas, and prejudices of men and women from the time of Nelson and Napoleon.

Publication Date: June 20, 2012 | Fireship Press | 274p

Review Continued~

It’s clear Ulett has grown to understand the life of a man of Naval rank at sea during an era of sea battles, but also how love can blossom in all unlikely places. It might not be the bed of roses kind of romance, as the life at sea was very harsh. In addition to that, being a woman of any rank during that time period was most difficult as men at sea for such lengths could be brutal and rough (and downright foul!).  Manners, anyone?

Ulett did a great job of smoothing out Captain Blackwell’s hardened demeanor to show his growing endearment to Mercedes and her wonder and unconditional love of him. She wrote Mercedes as a character with spunk, a desire to be of service, and with great strength.  Her character was engaging and steadfast.  She broke down cultural barriers.

I don’t completely enjoy a man as bold as Captain Blackwell for myself, but I enjoyed reading of their budding romance turned lasting love affair.  Of course, a happy ending is always a plus when reading a book and this one didn’t falter. Though they’ve been through trials and tribulations aplenty, their adventures are just beginning.

The style of writing lent it to seem like the reader was actually perusing an old journal, yet its third person novel stance also gave us details of battle, lifestyle, and relationships much as a historical non-fiction book might teach us. The educated and professional style of writing was not contemporary or modern, yet it was rich in giving the reader a zoomed-in focus on the relationship between two people, both from separate sides of the battle and those entangled in their lives. 

If you are a true lover of naval or nautical fiction mixed with romance, this book would be good for you as it really focuses on the relationships of various cultures living, fighting, judging, and loving on the high seas, as well as giving us a glimpse into the lifestyles of women at sea.

Other Praise for Captain Blackwell’s Prize~

“… a satisfying page-turner. Ulett’s characters are as convincing as her naval action is credible.” – Julian Mackrell, Historic Naval Fiction

“a fine story … Highly recommended for those who enjoy a romantic tale with a little action included as well.” – Jeff Westerhoff, Historical Novels Review

V.E. Ulett, Biography~

VE Ulett photoA long time resident of California, V.E. Ulett is an avid reader as well as writer of historical fiction. V.E. is a member of the National Books Critics Circle and an active member and reviewer for the Historical Novel Society. Eighteenth and nineteenth century journals and letters inspired the writing of CAPTAIN BLACKWELL’S PRIZE. The sequel takes Captain Blackwell and Mercedes to the far side of the world, on a new personal, and cultural adventure.

You can find more information about V. E. Ulett at:

www.veulett.com

Link to Tour Schedule:
http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/v-e-ulett-on-tour-for-captain-blackwells-prize-january-21-february-1/

Twitter Hashtag: #CaptainBlackwellsPrizeVirtualTour

Captain Blackwell's Prize Tour Banner FINAL

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Four Sisters, All Queens, Historical Novel by Sherry Jones, Shines to Make it a 5 Star Family Affair!

If you love historical fiction as much as I do, more than likely it’s because it takes you away to a new place, a new world, and a new time. The BEST historical fiction novels are so phenomenally written with intricate details, robust characters, lush scenery, and have a way of really making you feel the passion behind the novel. Four Sisters, All Queens, a novel by Sherry Jones about four thirteenth-century sisters who all become Queens, gave me all that and more!! I highly recommend this book to all women, history lovers, or really ANYONE looking for a fresh, original, and memorable read.

While reading Four Sisters, All Queens, I was whisked away to a medieval feast of words, so stirring and richly decorated, with a pace that made me not want to put the book down. Even though a more lengthy book, as most historical fiction novels tend to be of course, I had no trouble reading through it as quick as my schedule would allow. When I did finish, I was left feeling empowered and fulfilled at the end. It fueled my passion for the power of women by showcasing me the strength of regal women of history, giving me inspiration, and it ignited my passion for the medieval time period even further and left me wanting to learn more.

I found Sherry Jones’ style of writing refreshing and I connected to it so intrinsically due to her use of third person in the present tense, as compared to most novels using the first or third person in past tense. Hearing not only what the characters say, but also what they think at each pass in the story as if we all were presently living it, truly helped to propel me into the new time and place that I so desired.  The use of the present tense really formulated this novel into more of a set of stories that intertwined, told about each of the four main characters–sisters of Provence Marguerite, Eleonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice. It was storytelling as its FINEST, almost at a musical pace, and way beyond just good fiction writing. It was as if each character was narrating their story in a way that we could visualize vibrantly. We can easily become the character’s best friends, understanding their innermost secrets, thoughts, desires, and fears.

With so much history to delve into from the lush and barely tapped historical time period, Jones focused on her character’s feelings surrounding their dilemmas and the revolving theme of family and how they all interconnected. Each sister, faced with varying and differing problems of each of their countries, regions, and political entanglements throughout the book, all kept a common thread of “family first” even if sometimes they didn’t realize it in each other’s actions.  Though we learned quite a bit of history, we more importantly grasped how these women of history learned to deal with issues common during medieval England, such as illness, death, piety, and the stringent laws not favoring the poor or women. We read what the characters were thinking, feeling, and how their response framed not only their lives, but the lives of each other as well as even our own lives today as women. Their amazing strength, intellect, and love of family and children shone through in each sentence.

Reading several other books lately pertaining to one or more of these famous sisters of Savoy, in which Marguerite seems to be overwhelmingly the sister who dominates in prose, I feel compelled to learn more about each one–Marguerite’s story because her passion interests me and remind me of me, Eleonore because of her strength, and the others, simply, because more should be written about them.  Maybe more isn’t known, but that is what fiction is for I guess!  Beatrice, though disliked by her sisters it seems in Jones’ book, showed true political prowess and fortitude. 

As I said, I especially like Marguerite’s story. I have enjoyed reading different perspectives of various authors of her struggles living as the Queen of France to overly pious and extreme flogger Louis IX, as well as daughter-in-law to the infamously controlling Blanche of Castile.  I found Marguerite’s thoughts of how confining the Church was to life and women at that time very much how I might have thought if I had been her. Her disuse and annoyance for Louis IX to be so pious as to not care for his wife, his strange infatuation with his mother and his blind mania for the Crusades mirrored most of my own thoughts. I felt in Jones’ book she really captured the personality of how a strong and intelligent woman might react mentally to the extremely trying life Marguerite had to deal with and showed, tapping into several documented instances, how she overcame the mental stress and stood strong for her King and France, even while birthing babies at the same time.

Overall, what a great monumental historical fiction masterpiece from Sherry Jones. A must read for any female who admires the amazing stories of all the strong women of the past, for any woman who needs some inspiration to remember how strong she really can be, for any history lover, for any man who doesn’t believe women can do great things, and finally, for anyone who wants a really great book that they’ll read, remember, and want to keep on their bookshelf. 

“Women have only the power that men allow them, said Beatrice.” How happy I am that the world has evolved enough that women have more of a voice to not have to continue to believe that true.

Synopsis for Four Sisters, All Queens~

Rich in intrigue and scheming, love and lust, Sherry Jones’s vibrant historical novel follows four women destined to sway the fate of nations and the hearts of kings. . . .

Amid the lush valleys and fragrant wildflowers of Provence, Marguerite, Eléonore, Sanchia, and Beatrice have learned to charm, hunt, dance, and debate under the careful tutelage of their ambitious mother—and to abide by the countess’s motto: “Family comes first.”

With Provence under constant attack, their legacy and safety depend upon powerful alliances. Marguerite’s illustrious match with the young King Louis IX makes her Queen of France. Soon Eléonore—independent and daring—is betrothed to Henry III of England. In turn, shy, devout Sanchia and tempestuous Beatrice wed noblemen who will also make them queens.

Yet a crown is no guarantee of protection. Enemies are everywhere, from Marguerite’s duplicitous mother-in-law to vengeful lovers and land-hungry barons. Then there are the dangers that come from within, as loyalty succumbs to bitter sibling rivalry, and sister is pitted against sister for the prize each believes is rightfully hers—Provence itself.

From the treacherous courts of France and England, to the bloody tumult of the Crusades, Sherry Jones traces the extraordinary true story of four fascinating sisters whose passions, conquests, and progeny shaped the course of history.

White Heart, prequel~Review

White Heart, prequel to Four Sisters, All Queens, is Jones’ novella about Blanche of Castile, the notorious B*itch of a mother of Louis IX, who ran France after the death of her husband and put her son on the throne, while managing to wield her political power and strong-arm every man in France. Her history is so infamous that everyone sees her as evil, but Jones’ book really shed a new light on Blanche’s personality for me, which never occurred to me could have been caused by her absolute need to protect herself and her family in the brutal world being run by men. As women are always scrutinized for indiscretions, which was especially true in the 1200s, she had to have pristine piety. Of course her white heart would win her and her son favor. It wasn’t just about favor with God, but about favor with France. She had to stand up to every man vying for what she had. I loved the novella because I liked hearing the viewpoint from Blanche, to hear her innermost thoughts and concerns. I think differently of her now I suppose, in a way. In contemporary times her quest to remain in control and in charge of France, and her son, at all costs would be too ambitious; however, if the alternative is a life in the nunnery because men feel you can do nothing else, how could you not fight for your ultimate freedom even if it is self-serving? It’s only my opinion, but of course everyone has reasons for how they act and with Jones’ book we get an in-depth look at the emotions behind Blanche. I recommend everyone read White Heart if they are reading Four Sisters, All Queens.  It only takes an hour or two to read.

Synopsis for White Heart~

Cold. Hard. Calculating. Blanche de Castille was the quintessential evil mother-in-law. In Four Sisters, All Queens, she’s the nemesis of the sweet-tempered and intelligent Marguerite and a mother creepily devoted to her eldest son. And yet … like most of us, Blanche wasn’t all bad. She was noted for her charity — even criticized for giving too much to the poor. She loved her husband, the King of France, and fainted when she learned he’d died. And she was the strongest and most powerful queen France ever had.

But for a woman to rule is unprecedented — and she is instantly challenged by the French barons, who would take the throne for themselves. Like Queen Elizabeth after her, Blanche becomes embroiled in sexual scandal from moment she takes the crown. And, like that famous English queen, Blanche comes to realize what she must do to hold it. But is the price too high?

White Heart, the shocking prequel to Four Sisters, All Queens, explores the psychology of woman’s power in a man’s world and asks: What wouldn’t YOU do to be Queen?

Bio, Author Sherry Jones:
 
Sherry Jones is an internationally best-selling author whose books have been translated into 20 languages. In addition to Four Sisters, All Queens, she has also published an e-novella prequel to that book, White Heart, as well as the controversial novels The Jewel of Medina and The Sword of Medina, about the life of A’isha, the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s youngest and most beloved wife. She lives in Spokane, WA, with her daughter, Mariah, and her life partner, the award-winning composer and conductor Robert Spittal. Learn more about her and her books at www.authorsherryjones.com.
 
Artist’s Statement, Author Sherry Jones:
 
“I strive for beautifully written page-turners that explore relationships and power, especially women’s power. My novels portray women in history who have achieved power, over others as well as — especially — over their own lives, in spite of patriarchal limits. My protagonists — real women from history — have given me courage, strength, and belief in my own abilities. I hope that, in telling their stories, I can inspire others to dream big, to aim high, to dare to make a difference no matter how impossible doing so might seem.”
 
NOTE: Stay tuned to my blog, and like it if you haven’t, because I’ll be having a great interview with Sherry Jones coming up soon. She’s an amazing woman, journalist, author, humanitarian and you’ll not want to miss my chat with her. This woman inspires me, and I hope she’ll inspire you too.
 
*I gave these books 5 stars on GoodReads and Amazon. Consider following Sherry Jones and myself on GoodReads! I received a copy of the book from publisher Simon & Schuster in return for an honest review of my own opinion.
 

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