Tag Archives: historical novels

Bastille Day Cover Reveal: NYT Best-Selling Author Stephanie Dray’s The Women of Chateau Lafayette #coverreveal #histfic @stephaniehdray

Today, July 14, marks Bastille Day, commemorating the major event that ushered in the French Revolution. It’s celebrated by the French as Fete nationale or the national day of France in which they celebrate their unity and peace. I read that this year, President Macron has also decided to celebrate all their frontline and essential workers during this Covid crisis, which is fantastic.

In celebration of Bastille day, I’m showcasing the cover reveal for New York Times best-selling author Stephanie Dray for her next book (coming in March 2021) called THE WOMEN OF CHATEAU LAFAYETTE. I’m very fond of Stephanie as a person and as an author so I’m pleased to do so, and as well, I’m very excited for this book! Isn’t the cover gorgeous? I love it. Check it out and read about the book below. I know if you’re not already excited, you will be now as well! Let us know what you think in the comments.

WomenofChateauLafayette_final cover

I’ve always loved reading about Marquis de Lafayette and we’d not quite be America without him! If by chance you don’t know of him, he fought with the American colonists against the British in the American Revolution. More than that, he was a mastermind and one of George Washington’s closest friends (Lafayette was very young when he came over to fight during the American Revolution, and an orphan, and so it was more like a father/son relationship). His idealism helped spark France into the French Revolution after he returned. There is a reason so many places in America are named after Lafayette, because he was a hero. In Lafayette Square, which is the beautiful park located in Washington D.C. at the White House, is a cool statue honoring his legacy here. My son, who goes to school at George Washington University nearby and studies American Revolution and Colonial History, often studied and ate lunch near it before Covid sent him home to us for safety. He is also a huge Lafayette fan, and truthfully, made me open my eyes to learn more about him myself. I loved hearing and seeing photos as he took in all around him, including all the inspired French architecture!

Now, with Stephanie’s book, I’m looking forward to reading and learning about the woman in Lafayette’s life, their time in France during the revolution, and the intertwining of generations of women experiencing wartime scenarios and the decisions they had to make as well. I will never tire of reading these women’s stories because to me, they are truly heroes as well.


About the book – 

An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy in three of humanity’s darkest hours.

 Most castles are protected by powerful men. This one by women…

A founding mother…

1774. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband’s political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must choose to renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come.

A daring visionary…

1914. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Astor Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing – not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France and delivering war-relief over dangerous seas, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what’s right.

A reluctant resistor…

1940. French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan’s self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.

Intricately woven and beautifully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we find from standing together in honor of those who came before us.

THE WOMEN OF CHATEAU LAFAYETTE by New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray (Berkley hardcover; on-sale March 30, 2021).

Pre-Order Link


Q & A with Stephanie Dray –

This of course is not one of my original interviews but upon reading it from the Berkley publicist, I decided I must include it for my readers as Stephanie’s answers give you such a good point of view of where the book is coming from. Hopefully, I’ll have a lengthier interview with her next year!

What made you fall in love with Adrienne Lafayette and why do you think readers will fall for her as you did?

Thanks to a popular musical, the Marquis de Lafayette is known to a new generation as “America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman”- and there’s good reason for that. He’s easily the most lovable of our Founding Fathers, and his wife, whom he called his dear heart, is just as lovable if not more so. Adrienne was our French Founding Mother, so right up my alley as a heroine, but at first I worried she was too sweet, devoted, and forgiving. In short, too gentle for a novel. Little did I realize that more than any other historical heroine I’ve ever written, Adrienne fought and sacrificed for her principles, courageously threw herself into danger, confronted tyrants, and endured trials that would have broken lesser mortals. She truly humbles me, and when I talk about the Lafayette legacy, I think of it as every bit as much hers as it is his.

 How long did it take you to write this book? Did the story evolve as you researched, or did you always know you wanted to take on the lives of these particular women?

I was always interested in Lafayette – an interest that grew as Laura Kamoie and I co-authored America’s First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton. I think I had the germ of the idea for a Lafayette novel at least seven years ago, but I had other projects in the way. And I was always in search of an angle that would be fresh and unique. That came to me when I discovered that Lafayette’s castle in Auvergne, which had been purchased and renovated by Americans, served to shelter Jewish children from the Nazis. Knowing how deeply the Lafayettes both felt about religious freedom, I knew this would have pleased them, and it touched me. I was then determined to know which Americans had purchased the chateau, and when I found out, yet another glorious chapter in the Lafayette legacy was born. That’s when the story took shape for me about one special place on this earth where, generation after generation, faith has been kept with principles of liberty and humanity. I find that very inspirational, now more than ever.

 The book is centered around Lafayette’s castle, the Château de Chavaniac, and the pivotal role it played during three of history’s darkest hours—the French Revolution and both World Wars. If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive) at Chavaniac, who would you choose and why?

Believe it or not, this is actually a difficult choice because so many incredible men and women passed through those doors. I’d have to start with the Lafayettes–though I hope they would not serve me pigeons, which were a favorite at their wedding banquet. To join us for dinner, I’d choose the colorful stage-star of the Belle Epoque, Beatrice Chanler, because she was a force of nature without whom Chavaniac might not still be standing. Actress, artist, philanthropist, decorated war-relief worker and so-called Queen of the Social Register, she was as mysterious as she was wonderful, and even after all the startling discoveries I made researching her larger-than-life existence, I have a million questions about the early life she tried so hard to hide. I can’t wait for readers to meet her!

Keep in touch –

I highly recommend signing up for her newsletter below. It’s full of historical info, book news from her and other authors she highlights, giveaways, book club news, and more!

Sign up for Stephanie’s newsletter

Enter to win –

You may enter to win an advance reading copy of this book using this sweepstakes link at https://bit.ly/SDCoverSweeps!

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. US Residents, 18+. Ends 7/19. See official rules at official website.

Stephanie Dray, Biography –

Author pic- Stephanie DraySTEPHANIE DRAY is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women’s fiction.

Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year.

Now she lives near the nation’s capital with her husband, cats, and history books.

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Filed under Cover Reveals, women in history

Bestselling French Novel, The Rocheforts by Christian Laborie, Translated to English: Sweeping Family Saga of Industrialist in Early 1900s


The Rocheforts, Information~

by Christian Laborie

(fiction / saga)

Release date: May 5, 2015

from Open Road Integrated Media

484 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4804-6120-8



Two very different families are bonded by scandal in this sweeping story of love, greed, and betrayal.

Anselme Rochefort has built an empire manufacturing serge de Nîmes, or denim. His biggest client? Levi Strauss. As the craze for blue jeans begins to sweep the globe, Rochefort Industries seems poised for untold success. But Anselme can be as cruel and ruthless with his family as he is in business.

The Rocheforts’ neighbor Donatien Rouvière has one of the region’s most prosperous farms and is desperate for a son to carry on his legacy. After the births of three daughters, the Rouvières adopt an orphan from the Sisters of Charity convent and raise him as their own.

When Anselme suggests uniting the two families by arranging for their children to marry, it seems like the perfect match. But as the lives of the two clans grow increasingly intertwined, dark secrets come to light, including the mysterious circumstances of the death of Anselme’s eldest daughter.

With The Rocheforts, Christian Laborie weaves a captivating tale of deceit, intrigue, and the dynamic tension between industrialization and a way of life rooted in the land.


I really love a good family saga, or this case, an epic saga at almost 500 pages. Don’t let the length deter you though, as you might not even feel like it’s such a length once you start flipping the screen pages. It’s a translated novel, from French to English, and the author’s first English novel. But he’s an author of many other novels in France. Possibly with a writing-style much like most foreign authors, in which they tend to tell their story and be less visual, or maybe due to it being translated, it could be a bit more stiff rather than showy; however, I feel that it still is very readable as the character drama propels the reader.

I used to love to watch the old family style sweeping historical mini-series showings on Masterpiece Theater, or other like channels, when I was a child. I still love them. But I do like books even better. Something about them really captivates me, as I enjoy reading of these rich and prosperous or such families in history. When I read the synopsis for this one, in which the family of Rocheforts, who live in de Nimes (and make denim, isn’t that cool where the word comes from?), and of the Rouvière,who are their farming neighbors, I was entranced already. I continued to be delighted upon reading. The novel takes us from 1898 and 30 years past, into the effects of World War I and the financial crash. We see the marriage of children in the family, adoptions, deaths, and the many facets of the political and social upheavals this time period brings.

It also has some suspense at the beginning, which created a few mysteries, but one that wasn’t too difficult to figure out or was the main basis of the book. It was character and drama driven with good research into the history of the time period. It told of romance, economic class struggles, family issues, murder and mystery, politics, and industry. I thought it was interesting how all five Rochefort children had such different personalities and were all well-developed–some liked, some not. The character of the Rochefort patriarch was strong, as he was owner of the legacy and fortune (passed to him from his father), and also with one of his sons to whom he passed down his cold demeanor, and we see his terrible personality unfold as he strives to put back together a family fortune and reputation he’s all but lost.

I did especially enjoy the sections on the textiles and denim, though, which was their business. The juxtaposition of the Rochefort’s industrial life was contrasted well against the life of the other family, who made their money off the land. We could easily see how personalities are made or changed with wealth sometimes and we see how intertwining such families really could cause future issues. Yet, we also see shining light of how it could work as well.

There truly was so much happening in this novel, with twists and turns in regard to family and life struggles, so that the book was easy to remain attached to and that helped propel me through the novel. I love reading family histories, especially during this time period of major industrial and financial change.

I’m not sure when this was originally published, but it reads like those wonderful family sagas from decades ago. I miss those, with the writing today that is so action focused. There is something to be said about this type of book. It had a vintage historical feel that I really liked and I enjoyed being able to slow down and read this book over time, without losing any momentum on it.

I would highly recommend this book if you like dramatic familial novels, showing decades of ancestors with all their secrets, lies, and anguish. Personally, I love books about turn-of-the-century industrialists and how they lived, so I really liked this one. I can fully see why this novel was a best-seller when it first published in France.

Author Christian Laborie, Biography~

Rocheforts - Laborie

Christian Laborie was born in the North of France, but has lived in the southern region of Cévennes for more than twenty years. The Rocheforts is his first novel to be published in English.

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Buy the book: Amazon


You can enter the global giveaway at the Entry-Form link below or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below.


Visit each blogger on the tour:
tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the tour will give you 5 extra entries each time! [just follow the directions on the entry-form]

Global giveaway open internationally:
5 winners will receive 1 digital copy of The Rocheforts

Click on the banner to see more reviews, excerpts, and giveaway options!

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Filed under Book Reviews

Book News: Inscription by H.H. Miller + Giveaway Option

Today, enjoy some information on a new book called Inscription, by H.H. Miller. I’ll have a review later on about this book for you, but check it out now and then enter the Rafflecopter to win by scrolling down below.

Inscription, Cover, Synopsis, and Read an Excerpt~

Inscription_CoverPublication: January 9, 2014
H.H Miller
Paperback; 278p
ISBN-10: 0615944418

eBook; 700kb

The year is 1851 and the Grand Guard is ravaging Mainland. Arrests. Floggings. Swift executions. Twenty-year-old Caris McKay, the beautiful heiress of Oakside Manor, is sent to live with distant relations until the danger has passed. It’s no refuge, however, as Lady Granville and her scheming son plot to get their hands on Caris’s inheritance with treachery and deceit.

Soon, alarming news arrives that the ruthless Captain James Maldoro has seized Oakside and imprisoned Caris’s beloved uncle. And now he’s after her.

Caris escapes with the help of Tom Granville, the enigmatic silver-eyed heir of Thornbridge. But when a cryptic note about a hidden fortune launches them on a perilous journey across Mainland, Caris and Tom must rely on wits, courage, and their growing love for each other if they hope to survive.

Filled with adventure, intrigue, and romance, Inscription will transport you to a historically fictional world you’ll never want to leave.


Buy the Book

Amazon (eBook)
Amazon (Paperback)
Barnes & Noble

Author H.H. Miller, Biography~

H.H.-Miller-Author-150x150H. H. Miller is the author of the novel Inscription, a historically fictional romantic adventure. In real life, she’s content director at Stoke Strategy, a brand strategy firm in Seattle, Washington, where she specializes in transforming what some might call “boring” technology jargon into compelling, readable, memorable stories.

Her favorite escape is Manzanita, Oregon – a place of beautiful beaches, wild storms, chilly nights around the bonfire (even in July), and time to enjoy life with her husband and three children.

For more information please visit H.H. Miller’s Facebook Page.


To enter to win one of 2 copies of Inscription please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian residents only.

ENTER HERE ————————-> a Rafflecopter giveaway

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on April 13th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winners will be chosen via Rafflecopter on April 14th and notified via email. Winners have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

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Filed under Book Announcements

Historical Author R.W. Peake Discusses Pros and Cons of Publishing as an Indie Author

Today, I offer up a guest article by historical author R.W. Peake. I just reviewed the fourth book in his series Marching with Caesar, which is called Antony and Cleopatra Part II and you can read my thoughts by clicking HERE if you missed it. Check out the cool cover of book four and then continue on to read the informative article about self-publishing!!!!

Marching with Caesar_Antony and Cleopatra II

His guest article today is about his journey as an indie author and he discusses its ups and downs. He talks about what he found to be successful in his process and what he feels is most irritating (Amazon and author drama for one). I think for anyone self-publishing, or thinking of self-publishing, this post will give you some good thoughts to ponder…..thanks for reading!


There is a Dark Side but I Have a Flashlight
by R.W. Peake, historical author of the Marching with Caesar series

This last eighteen months, starting when I decided to self-publish the first book of this series, Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, has been one of the most interesting and rewarding periods of my life. Outside the birth of my daughter, and my graduation as a Marine, having people not only read but enjoy the story I am telling of a simple soldier ranks as my biggest accomplishment, even bigger than the success I experienced as a bicycle racer, which has been another passion of mine.

But, along with all the good, there has been a healthy dose of not-so-great, and I’ve decided that at some point in the future I’m going to write about some of the things that have happened to me as a self-published author. For example, to some people I’m violating a rule by referring to myself as self-published; the PC term for us is “indie,” as in independent. Personally, I don’t mind what people call me; it doesn’t change the number of books I sell either way, but I also recognize that my indifference might be influenced by the fact that I am selling books. And as I’ve learned over the last year and a half, I am extremely lucky that my books managed to get noticed, and that I’ve built up a healthy following in what is a short period of time.

Admittedly, I helped myself along by a decision I made back in 2009-ish, when I had reached a point where I had enough of Titus’ story written that I could have published what is now the first book. But for reasons I can neither articulate nor explain, I decided that I would wait until I had his entire story written, before I published the first book. What this allowed me to do was to control the release schedule of the series, and of all the factors in the success of the MWC series, this has been one of the most critical. And it was little more than a gut feeling, a happy accident that has turned out for the good.

MWC Gaul cover

Cover of the first book in the Marching with Caesar series

I read somewhere that Amazon is currently releasing 80,000 new titles…a MONTH. And out of those 80,000, more than 78,000 of them are self-published, or indie titles. Just on the law of averages, that makes it extremely unlikely that any of us are going to be able to distinguish ourselves out of the herd that comes thundering at you readers on a daily basis, and that’s without considering any other factors. However, one thing I’ve learned firsthand is that there is still, I don’t want to call it a bias, but a healthy skepticism about the quality of the work that is being churned out by so many people, on such a massive scale. And being brutally frank, it’s a skepticism that is well-deserved, and I’m saying that as one of the members of that herd.

I am reminded of an old cartoon character, Pogo, who once opined, “We have met the enemy, and they are us.” That is certainly the case with the majority of indie offerings, but my observation isn’t formed solely by the most obvious deterrent, the quality of the work itself. Don’t mistake me; the vast majority of what I’ve seen in indie publishing isn’t ready for public consumption, and it’s prompted me to give a series of talks to aspiring writers about what I have observed to be the most common mistakes indie writers make, and more importantly, how to correct them. Perhaps it’s pretentious of me, but I have come out of nowhere to stake a place in an admittedly small but very devoted niche of the book world, without any preliminary work with building an audience through a blog, or books in another genre where I attracted readers and fans.

So I do feel somewhat qualified to talk about what I see are the mistakes, and while one is a no-brainer, and that is the need to spend the money to hire a professional editor, there are other factors that may surprise some people. And in the spirit of full disclosure, and to add fuel to the fire that I know what I’m talking about, I violated that rule with my first book. Now, it has 173 reviews on Amazon, almost 150 of them 4 or 5 star, but I will admit that, when I go back and re-read it, I cringe! And on my list of “To-Do’s,” now that I can afford it, is to go back and have my editor fix the many things that are wrong with it.

Marching with Caesar Civil War

Second book in the Marching with Caesar series

Besides the need for someone other than your mom, best friend, or the guy you know who was an English major before deciding to switch to Business as the person most qualified to edit your manuscript, the other big reason for failure that I’ve observed in other indies is in either their inability or their refusal to look at this as a business. Far too many authors have fallen into the trap of thinking of themselves as artists, not businesspeople, and at the end of the day, that’s one reason why they’re indies, because a publishing firm looked at them as a business opportunity, and decided to pass.

There is no shame in this; if the indie movement has proven anything, it’s that the traditional publishers get it wrong nearly as often as they get it right. From the outset, with my decision to ignore the obvious signals I was sent by agents and publishers that my work wasn’t good enough to see the light of day; at least, that’s how I took the 22 rejections that I got, I approached being an indie author as I would a business, albeit one where in effect I am the brand. I invest in my business; this online book tour, and this guest post is an example of the things I do to spread the word about my story. Yet, from what I’ve seen, a large proportion of my fellow indies seem to approach matters from the mindset that they’re bestowing a gift unto the world, a gift that needs nothing as unseemly and sordid as promotion and hawking, like one would the amazing Vegamatic that not only dices and slices, but will make mounds and mounds of cole slaw.

MWC Antony Cleo

Third cover

 However, the inability of other indies to effectively market their work is just one facet of the challenges that face all of us who eschew the traditional route, whether by choice or circumstance. Another interesting characteristic of some indies, and one that I’ve had unfortunate firsthand experience combatting, is their view of the marketplace in terms of a zero-sum game. Their logic, as far as I can determine, goes something like this:

If a reader is faced with making a choice of reading a book by Author A or Author B, and chooses Author A, that means that Author B loses a sale, thereby literally taking food out of that author’s mouth.

In a superficial way, this makes sense, to a point. But before I was an author, I was, and I still am, an avid reader, and I can never remember a time when two books intrigued me where, if I was forced to choose between one or the other at that moment for economic reasons, that meant that the second book was dead to me for the rest of time. In almost every case that I can remember making a choice, I always came back to purchase the runner-up. But from what I’ve been able to determine, there is a segment of our little community who don’t see things that way. Fortunately, the vast majority of those who feel this way are content to just complain about the unfairness of it.

MWC rise

Fifth cover

Unfortunately, however, there is a thankfully small number of these “zero-summers” who do more than complain; they take a more proactive approach and try to even the odds a bit. That has engendered a whole sub-culture of authors who exchange information on various tactics to take those competitors down a notch who they deem to be guilty of taking from their rice bowl. And while this might strain the credulity, I would just point to the scandal that occurred in the U.K. last November, when the #1 author in the Mystery genre on Amazon U.K. was outed for not only writing his own great reviews, but using a variety of aliases to write reviews trashing his competitors. And what I’ve learned in the last 18 months is; that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are message boards where authors exchange information on how to “game” the Amazon review system, telling of ways to create a prized “Real Name”, “Verified Purchase” review that gets past the Amazon bots. I know this because I have been subjected to this kind of treatment, and I also have been accused of perpetrating it myself. As one of my attackers said, “Not even Jesus Christ would get that many good reviews”. Fortunately, that’s proven to be untrue, at least where I’m concerned; I’ve been investigated by Amazon twice after being accused of fabricating reviews, and out of the more than 500 reviews, I’ve lost a total of…zero. I can’t speak for Jesus, but I suspect that he would probably kick my ass in the review department and elsewhere.

 But please don’t take this as a “woe is me” post, because there is ultimately good news, and that’s probably the most important lesson I’ve learned, which is ultimately it doesn’t matter. Readers are intelligent enough to discern a “torpedo review”, and frankly, they don’t care about authors nearly to the degree that some of us believe. One of the more interesting theories I’ve heard espoused by, again, a very tiny but vocal group of authors is in their assertion that the average reader, when they are introduced to a new author, will actually go Googling said author before they make a purchase, just to determine whether or not this person is worthy of being read. Apparently, they believe very strongly that whether or not an author likes puppies and rainbows is a crucial point in their decision-making process, before they spend their hard-earned four dollars on an e-book. The fact that I chose to openly disagree with this sentiment has, in fact, landed me on the “dreaded” Badly Behaving Authors list on Goodreads. And yet, readers still seem to enjoy my books, and are still asking for more. I can’t help wondering if those authors who devote so much time and effort trying to bring others down chose instead to focus on their own work, if there wouldn’t be less of a bias against all of us indie authors.

MWC Triumphant

Sixth cover

 Whether they choose to or not ultimately doesn’t matter, to me or to readers. And I am very thankful for that. Also, looking at it from a glass half-full perspective, at least their antics have given me fodder for another book!


Link to Tour Schedule: hfvirtualbooktours.com/marchingwithcaesarantonyandcleopatratour
Twitter Hashtag: #MarchingWithCaesarTour


Marching with Caesar_Antony and Cleopatra IIPublication Date: April 1, 2013
Paperback; 598p
ISBN-10: 0985703083

In the fourth book of the critically acclaimed Marching With Caesar series, Titus Pullus and his 10th Legion are still in the thick of the maelstrom that follows after the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar. With the disastrous campaign in Parthia behind them, Mark Antony continues his struggle with Octavian, both men vying for ultimate control of Rome. Enter Cleopatra VII, the Pharaoh of Egypt and mother of Julius Caesar’s son, who harbors ambitions and dreams of her own. Through her son Caesarion, Cleopatra is a powerful player in her own right in the continuing drama being played out for control of the most powerful society on Earth. With Cleopatra combining forces with Mark Antony, Octavian, the legitimate heir to Caesar’s fortune is facing the most formidable barrier to his ascendancy yet. Through it all, Titus Pullus and his men must tread a very careful path as the two forces head for an inevitable showdown at a place called Actium.

Author R.W. Peake, Autobiography~

PeakeI am a retired Marine, with a primary MOS of 0311, although over the years I picked up a few other designators, but I guess I will always think of myself as a grunt. I was born and raised in Houston, and have only recently relocated to the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. After my medical retirement from the Marines and realizing that my experience at locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver was not exactly going to have employers knocking down my door, I decided to earn a Bachelor’s degree, majoring in History, with a goal of teaching. Then my daughter came to live with me full-time, and while thrilled, I learned very quickly that a teacher’s salary would not support her in the style in which she was accustomed.

So I went into the software business, starting at a small startup that I stayed at for 10 years, clawing my way to middle management, to echo a commercial of that era. My company went public, and I had these things called stock options, so for a brief period of time I was one of those tech paper millionaires. Then the great NASDAQ crash of 2000 happened, and I was a working stiff again. When my company got bought in 2006 by one of the largest software companies in the world, I very quickly learned that working for a big company was not for me, so I took the lure of the (relatively) big bucks as a VP of a much smaller company. It was the worst professional mistake of my life, but the one good thing that did come out of it is that my dissatisfaction drove me to consider taking a risk on something that those who know me had pushed me to do as long as I can remember, and that was to write.

I must admit that I have always enjoyed writing; in fact; I wrote my first novel at 10ish, featuring myself and all of my friends from the street where I lived who almost singlehandedly fought off a Soviet invasion. I was heavily influenced by WWII history at that time, it being my second historical passion after the Civil War, so our stockpile of weapons consisted almost exclusively of Tommy guns, M1’s, etc. Why the Russians chose my particular street to focus their invasion I didn’t really go into, but after a series of savage, bloody battles, my friends and I were forced to make a strategic withdrawal to the only other part of the world I was familiar with at that time, the Silverton area of Colorado. I recently re-read this magnus opus, and it is interesting to track the course of my friendships with the core group that were the main characters of my novel. Some sort of argument or disagreement would result in the inevitable serious wounding of the friend with whom I quarreled, and depending on how serious it was, they might linger for days, clinging to life before they recovered, but not after suffering excruciating pain.

From that beginning, through my adult life, I was always told that I showed talent as a writer, but it wasn’t until I hit the age of 50 that I decided it was time to find out if that were true. And the result is Marching With Caesar-Conquest of Gaul, the first in a completed trilogy that is the story of one of the lucky few men who managed to survive and retire, after rising through the ranks of the 10th Legion. I hope that you enjoy following Titus Pullus’ exploits as much as I enjoyed bringing him to life.

For more information, please visit R.W. Peake’s website.

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Filed under Guest Posts

Delightful Interview with E.M. Powell, Author of Medieval Novel The Fifth Knight

Yesterday, I reviewed The Fifth Knight by E.M. Powell, which is a medieval mystery, thriller, and romance all wrapped in one! You can see that review by clicking on the HERE. Today, I have a fabulous interview with the author herself and I think it’s a great read if you’re interested in things medieval, a writer’s life, about Powell’s Irish heritage, and what’s in store for her next……

Read on, and don’t forget to enter into the giveaway at the end!

Hi, E.M.! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are happy you’ve stopped by today to share your love of historical and medieval fiction. How are things?

Hi Erin! I’m so pleased to be here too. And things are great- they’re extra great because I’ve read your amazing review of The Fifth Knight. So I’m guessing I’m going to be among friends here!

Absolutely! Let’s take a minute to get settled in and we’ll begin to learn about you. Here we go….

Q:  Your novel, The Fifth Knight, is a thriller featuring Sir Benedict Palmer during the time of King Henry II, in England. Where did you come up with this historical crime drama idea?

A: I’ve always loved medieval history. It’s so neglected in fiction compared to, say, the Tudors. But there are so many intriguing people and events from that time. The murder of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his own cathedral in 1170 is one of the most infamous. History records four knights committed the murder. I added my fictional fifth, Sir Benedict Palmer and asked ‘What if…’

Erin Comments: I like many various types of historical literature, but current medieval (you know what I mean) seems to be what I’d love to read more of too. I’ve always loved that time period (on paper, wouldn’t want to live it) and really love King Arthur tales. There is quite a bit of lore that would make people some great novels. Glad you took on the murder of Becket….

Q: How do you explain the element of romance within your book?

A: It’s quite a strong one. Benedict’s relationship with Sister Theodosia Bertrand, the young nun who’s hidden in the walls of Canterbury Cathedral, who is abducted by the knights- it goes through quite a few challenges! Prior to publication, The Fifth Knight was a multi-contest winner and finalist in Romance Writers of America chapter contests. My proudest achievement was winning the Kiss Of Death Chapter ‘Daphne’ Contest in the Mainstream Category in 2011. Kiss of Death is the chapter that specializes in Mystery & Suspense and the Daphne is a hugely respected contest.

Q:  What kind of research, and how much research, did you need to do before or during your writing of this novel?

A: I studied Anglo Saxon and Middle English at University so I got to read fascinating tales in the original language. Anglo Saxon is very far removed from what we speak today but I loved Middle English. To me, it sounds like someone is speaking English but in the next room where you can’t quite catch what they are saying! Like this line from the epic poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The poet describes Sir Gawain: ‘His surkot semed hym wel that soft was forred.’ It looks a bit ‘Eh?’ when you see it written down. But try reading it aloud and you’ll see what I mean. In case anyone is left wondering, the translation is ‘His softly furred surcoat suited him well.’

Erin Comments: Amazing, dialect is so intriguing!

I also read widely from many excellent historical reference books such as Henrietta Leyser’s Medieval Women. Living in the UK is an advantage too. My poor family has been dragged round more medieval castles and museums than they probably would like. Ditto with historical re-enactments. But walk into one of those and you get all the sounds and smells as well as the sights. They’re amazing.

Erin Comments: If I lived where you live, I’d say my family would be drug around too! I always thought I’d come back one day to England and be married in a fabulous castle…..every girl’s dream I guess. Nothing compares to that kind of history here in the U.S.

Q:  What was the most intriguing thing you came across when doing your research?

A: Probably the lifestyle of an anchoress when researching for my heroine, Sister Theodosia Bertrand. An anchoress was a cloistered nun and Theodosia is preparing to take her final vows.

When I first came across the concept, I was intrigued.  I visited a remote church in Lancashire, where I was shown an anchoress’s cell that had survived for hundreds of years. Hearing that a woman had voluntarily been locked in that tiny stone room, and all for the purposes of glorifying God and saving the souls of others, had my interest caught.

As I researched the role of an anchoress more, it became even more fascinating. The religious ceremony that took place when an anchoress took her final vows included singing of Psalms from the Office of the Dead. She was sprinkled with dust before entering her cell and the door was closed after her. Some cells were as little as eight feet square. With others, even the door was bricked up. There was a tiny window left through which the anchoress would hear the prayers of others. But she always had to be screened from view, as to be seen was considered a sin.

An anchoress could be enclosed for twenty years and there are records of fifty years of enclosure. A guide for anchoresses written at the turn of the twelfth century, the Ancrene Riwle, advises them to daily scrape up the earth from the floor of their cells, as a reminder that the earth will form their graves ‘in which they will rot.’ Eve, the sister of Aelred, twelfth century abbot of the abbey of Rievaulx, was brought up from the age of seven at the convent of Wilton before becoming an anchoress. And every day, these girls and woman spent hours in prayer, devotion and physical deprivation for the sake of the souls of others.

Erin Comments: This really renders me speechless…this life of an anchoress. I wasn’t even aware of them, or had forgotten, until I read your book. The thought of even surviving that way without going mad….strong women.

Q:  Who was your favorite character to write about in The Fifth Knight and why?

A: It would have to be my hero, Sir Benedict Palmer. In earlier drafts, he was already an established knight and rescued Theodosia because he was a noble, committed knight. That was too dull. By making him a knight-for-hire, with flawed motives, he became much more interesting. He’s a far rougher diamond than when he started off, but that’s what readers seem to really like.

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

A: Outline every time. My first novel was a write-at-will and it shows. It’s not structured enough and- Oh, goodness, I’m not going to try and dress it up. It’s 150,000 words of formless drivel. It will never see the light of day but I learned a lot about plotting because of it.

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

A: Two years. But that included a 30,000 word re-write (out of 100,000 words) when I realized Benedict’s character was wrong.

Q:  You have a day job and a family. How did you make the time for such as accomplishment as writing a novel? What tips do you have for other authors who need motivation?

A: I gave up sleep in 2002. Kidding! I love to write so I try and make time where I can. Having good critique partners can be a huge help. Every writer has days when they look at the screen and think: ‘Aaargh! I just can’t do this.’ But try. Lay down one word after another. The first couple of paragraphs will be dross, then you’ll be back in the flow, that marvelous flow where the story that’s in your head is coming to life before your very eyes.

Erin Comments: Yes, sleep is fleeting sometimes! I think we should add 8 hours to each day…that might work, right? GREAT ADVICE, I like what you say about just starting in and eventually it will flow.

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

A: That I really, really don’t take ‘No’ for an answer. I will keep going until I get a ‘Yes.’ And for any writer who wants to achieve publication through a traditional route, that is what has to happen.

Q:  How did you begin the process of publication?

A: I wouldn’t have got there without first getting my agent. And I have the nifty Query Tracker website for that. It’s ace.

Q:  What are your thoughts on self-publishing versus traditional? How does either help and/or hinder the historical fiction genre?

A: Self-publishing is a revolution that is still happening. No-one has the benefit of hindsight to say how it will all pan out. It’s like any huge change: it’s working brilliantly for some people, others not at all. For me the most important thing is this: writers must make sure their work is the best it can be before taking it to any market. Readers deserve that because we ask them for their time and money.

Erin Comments: I agree. I sometimes wonder if some writers even edit their work. But that does a disservice not only to the reader, but to themselves, and their story,  as well.

Q:  What authors have inspired you? What are some of your favorite books, movies, or the like?

A: I love Robert Harris. For anyone who has not read his novel of 79 AD and the eruption at Pompeii, give yourself a huge treat. I love C.J. Sansom’s Shardlake series set in Tudor England. And I love thrillers (surprise, surprise!). Tess Gerritsen is my all-time favourite. I love Michael Connelly too.


For movies, it has to be Raiders of the Lost Ark (historical thriller based on ‘What if? Hmm..) Spielberg is just the master of stories that grab you and won’t let go. Speaking of which, I ought to sue him for seeing Jaws when I was ten. I only ever go into the ocean now if I think someone more edible-looking than me is already splashing around.

Erin Comments: Love it!!

Q:  Who are your favorite women in history? Who would you want to write about in the future?

A: Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Suffragette movement. She led a tough, tough fight on the road to equality for women and didn’t give up until she won. And Rosa Parks, a middle-aged, ordinary woman who was brave enough to say ‘Enough’ to the unacceptable.

Erin Comments: I am total agreement with you pursuing that book(s).  Emmeline to British women is like Susan B. Anthony in America. I have long been interested in the history of all these women across the globe that fought for our women’s rights. I am hoping more authors take on writing about them. They were amazing trailblazers. And Rosa, yes….quite an inspiration. As we still fight the fight against racism today, she is always an example to look toward, remember that many small acts can combine into one large moment of change.

Q:  I read you are from Ireland, I think….or Irish descent. Have you thought of writing anything from your ancestor’s history? Why or why not?

A: Yes, I’m Irish and proud to be. I get described as British, which gets a particular set of hackles rising!  My grandfather’s uncle was Michael Collins, who was one of the key figures in fighting for independence from the British and who lost his life in the process. When I did my launch for The Fifth Knight, I was presented with a very unexpected and moving link to my past. You can read about it here. http://empowell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/these-irish-eyes-are-smiling.html

Michael Collins

Pictured: Michael Collins-I see the resemblance!

As regards writing about Collins’ history, I don’t think I’d ever take that on as it’s all a bit close to home. I’m primarily interested in medieval history. But I would never say never to any good idea for a novel, so maybe I need to leave this one as an open ‘Maybe.’

Erin Comments: Very interesting! Another example of someone standing up for what they believe in. Definitely always good to keep the notion of possibility open…

Q:  I also see that you like the medieval time period. What do you like best about it and are there plans to pen a novel with that theme? There seems to be few books but lots of interested readers.

A: I love the art, the distinctive colours of illuminated manuscripts. The architecture is wonderful- stone castles of that era are just amazing.

There’s also something that really resonates about a society where religion is woven into every aspect of daily life, where peoples’ lives are ruled by it. I grew up in Ireland when the control and influence of the Catholic church was still incredibly powerful. I was born in a hospital run by nuns, I was educated in a convent school. We went to Mass every week and every holy day. We learned how to baptize a baby in an emergency to save it going to Limbo. Contraception was against the law because the Church forbade it. The Constitution had been co-written by the Archbishop of Dublin in 1937. I could go on. And in so many ways, that is what the medievals experienced, except even more so. So the concept of a life ruled and dominated by religion feels very familiar.

And of course, with the medieval period, there’s chain mail. Everybody likes chain mail. Especially me.

Erin Comments: At our Cleveland Museum of Art here in Ohio, in the U.S., they have a fabulous medieval collection of chain mail, armor, helmets, swords, tapestries….that an opulent family had collected, then donated. There is a very large horse (not real of course) that is decked out in armor and a helmet. It’s my 5 year old daughter’s favorite part of the museum!

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

A: I’m working on the sequel, which is called The Blood of The Fifth Knight. King Henry has to call on Sir Benedict Palmer once again.

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

Website: www.empowell.com/

Blog: www.empowell.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/empowellauthor


Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6583496.E_M_Powell

E-mail: elaine@empowell.com

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

A: It’s out worldwide on all Amazon sites-

To purchase the book via Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/The-Fifth-Knight-ebook/dp/B00A017O0I/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1352134191&sr=1-1#

Or on Amazon.co.uk http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Fifth-Knight-ebook/dp/B00A017O0I/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1366708643&sr=1-1&keywords=the+fifth+knight

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

E.M.:  And many thanks to you as well, Erin. It’s been a real pleasure!


Enter to win one (1) paperback copy of The Fifth Knight by commenting below or emailing me at hookofabook@hotmail.com by 11:59 p.m. EST two weeks from the date of this post. Open internationally.

Get 1 extra entry for following this blog and two extra entries for liking my new Hook of a Book Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.


Publication Date: January 22, 2013
Thomas & Mercer Publishing
Paperback; 390p
ISBN-10: 1611099331

To escape a lifetime of poverty, mercenary Sir Benedict Palmer agrees to one final, lucrative job: help King Henry II’s knights seize the traitor Archbishop Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. But what begins as a clandestine arrest ends in cold-blooded murder. And when Fitzurse, the knights’ ringleader, kidnaps Theodosia, a beautiful young nun who witnessed the crime, Palmer can sit silently by no longer. For not only is Theodosia’s virtue at stake, so too is the secret she unknowingly carries—a secret he knows Fitzurse will torture out of her. Now Palmer and Theodosia are on the run, strangers from different worlds forced to rely only on each other as they race to uncover the hidden motive behind Becket’s grisly murder—and the shocking truth that could destroy a kingdom.

Author E.M. Powell, Biography~

E. M. Powell was born and raised in Ireland, a descendant of Irish revolutionary Michael Collins. At University College, Cork, she discovered a love of Anglo-Saxon and medieval English during her study of literature and geography. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Manchester Irish Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and International Thriller Writers. A reviewer for the Historical Novel Society, she lives today in Manchester, England, with her husband and daughter.

For more information, please visit E.M. Powell’s website and blog. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thefifthknightvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #FifthKnightVirtualTour

The Fifth Knight Tour Banner FINAL


Filed under Q and A with Authors

Detective Novel Unravels Mystery Behind Lincoln’s Assassination in Grand Fashion

Reading The Lincoln Conspiracy by Timothy L. O’Brien was a mysterious thrill ride through history to a time shortly after President Lincoln’s assassination.  Presidential history has always intrigued historians, but has become a mainstream topic currently with politics, conspiracy theories, and intrigue heating up the entertainment industry. Books and movies about Abraham Lincoln, or the surrounding era and issues, seem to be at the forefront of material.  O’Brien’s new book fits right in as a must-read for your Holiday vacation or as a gift for someone you know who loves historical mysteries!!

Read on to find out more about the book, my thoughts, and ENTER TO WIN your very own copy or to give as a gift!

About the Book: The Lincoln Conspiracy

Publication Date: September 18, 2012 | Ballantine Books | 368p

DESCRIPTION: A nation shattered by its president’s murder. Two diaries that reveal the true scope of an American conspiracy. A detective determined to bring the truth to light, no matter what it costs him

From award-winning journalist Timothy L. O’Brien comes a gripping historical thriller that poses a provocative question: What if the plot to assassinate President Lincoln was wider and more sinister than we ever imagined?

In late spring of 1865, as America mourns the death of its leader, Washington, D.C., police detective Temple McFadden makes a startling discovery. Strapped to the body of a dead man at the B&O Railroad station are two diaries, two documents that together reveal the true depth of the Lincoln conspiracy. Securing the diaries will put Temple’s life in jeopardy—and will endanger the fragile peace of a nation still torn by war.

Temple’s quest to bring the conspirators to justice takes him on a perilous journey through the gaslit streets of the Civil War–era capital, into bawdy houses and back alleys where ruthless enemies await him in every shadowed corner. Aided by an underground network of friends—and by his wife, Fiona, a nurse who possesses a formidable arsenal of medicinal potions—Temple must stay one step ahead of Lafayette Baker, head of the Union Army’s spy service. Along the way, he’ll run from or rely on Edwin Stanton, Lincoln’s fearsome secretary of war; the legendary Scottish spymaster Allan Pinkerton; abolitionist Sojourner Truth; the photographer Alexander Gardner; and many others.

Bristling with twists and building to a climax that will leave readers gasping, The Lincoln Conspiracy offers a riveting new account of what truly motivated the assassination of one of America’s most beloved presidents—and who participated in the plot to derail the train of liberty that Lincoln set in motion.

So what are my thought after reading?

I was set to get into a good historical mystery in a world of men, but was pleasantly surprised at meeting such a strong woman, Fiona, within the first few chapters. I always love feisty women, but especially from an era such as the latter part of the 1800s when women were considered second-class citizens. I am always encouraged by the women who break those limits and boundries.  Yes, how dare she wear pants! Yes, how dare she be intelligent! Yes, that is sarcasm.  I loved her determination. Showcasing her was a great way for O’Brien to set us up into meeting our Washington D.C. Irish-American detective Temple McFadden (her husband)!

Detective McFadden certainly finds himself caught up in a myriad of historical machinations.  O’Brien does a superb job of mixing historical possibilities in a time period he researched and chronicled extremely well. There were many characters to sort out, but that was reminiscent to me of the time period when it always seemed so many hands stirred the pot. I didn’t think they were hard to keep track of if you really stayed focused on the book, which wasn’t hard since the mystery kept me turning the pages.  O’Brien pens fluidly and Journalistic short sentence structure served him well in this book.  I felt many of the characters, especially McFadden and Fiona, truly came to life off the page and became acquaintances in my own life. I can’t wait to continue on being engaged in more mystery with such a unique couple.

If you like historical detectives like Sherlock Holmes, you’re sure to love this book. It will make a great series in that regard. I know I am a huge fan of international detective novels, but having a duo in such a volatile time period of American history is really compelling as well. A fan of history, I think I rather liked this book more as a mystery thriller. I enjoy secret diaries and papers and de-coding, so this book also fit well into that category for me. I loved how he set-up the plot with these diaries.

It was not surprising to me that he chose the route of detective mystery in creating this book, as Journalism (which is O’Brien’s profession as well as mine) is so closely related to gumshoe research sometimes! I am sure he researched this time period as well as his fictional “case” much like he would a Pulitzer prize-winning article. Uncovering the truth is something both Journalists and criminal investigators have in common. I think O’Brien did an excellent job creating and solving this mystery based on vintage thoughts surrounding the truths of Lincoln’s murder.  America’s obsession with dead Presidents and their conspiracies now has another fantastical resolution to ponder!

I can’t wait to see what else Temple and Fiona take on in the next book. For now, don’t miss the opportunity to get your hands on The Lincoln Conspiracy!  Come back to my blog tomorrow (11/27/12) for an exclusive interview with the author Timothy O’Brien as he discusses his book and writing with me.

I was given this book as part of The Lincoln Conspiracy blog tour; however, all opinions expressed are my own.  To check out more tour dates, interviews, guest posts, giveaways, and more, click on the tour button below.


One (1) copy of Timothy L. O’Brien’s The Lincoln Conspiracy! To enter to win, please leave a comment below on my blog including e-mail to get in touch if you win, a note on Twitter to @ErinAlMehairi, or e-mail me to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com.  Only those who leave e-mail for notification will be considered. Enter no later than 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1, 2012.  Winner will be randomly chosen on Dec. 2 and notified. This giveaway is for US only.

Gain one extra entry for each extra thing you do:  Like my blog, Follow me on Twitter, or Follow me on GoodReads.

Author Bio~Timothy L. O’Brien

Timothy L. O’Brien is the Executive Editor of The Huffington Post, where he edited the 2012 Pulitzer Prize–winning series about wounded war veterans, “Beyond the Battlefield.” Previously, he was an editor and reporter at The New York Times. There, he helped to lead a team of Times reporters that was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in Public Service in 2009 for coverage of the financial crisis. O’Brien, a graduate of Georgetown University, holds three master’s degrees — in US History,Business and Journalism — all from Columbia University. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife and two children.

Learn more about or contact Timothy L. O’Brien at: www.timothylobrien.com

Follow the book tour on Twitter at #LincolnConspiracyTour!


Filed under Book Reviews

Love and Drama with Isabella and Fernando: The Queen’s Vow by C.W. Gortner

Review of The Queen’s Vow, C.W Gortner
Ballantine Books/Random House Publishing

Note:  Keep reading for an original interview with C.W. Gortner!

The Queen’s Vow, by C.W. Gortner, was so eloquently written with a passion and fervor reminiscent of the time it’s set in~the rise of Queen Isabella and King Fernando of Spain in the mid 1400s~that it propelled me to continue reading it without ceasing and made me cry for more of the story even as I read the last paragraph.

Gortner hit the high mark with me on The Queen’s Vow; I didn’t want to have to use my bookmark. His writing is engaging, smooth, emotional, detailed and intense. I was compelled by the story telling he wound around his research into one of the most exciting periods of history.

Though many assumed that Isabella would never be Queen, she thrusted through the rules of the day that men set in place for women, as well as forging past intrigue and conniving paperwork clauses, religious notions and advisors, and her own guilty conscience and merciful heart, to leave a legacy almost unrivaled.

Always believing that female heirs were as entitled as male heirs, she held fast in her belief that she was true heir to her half-brother King Enrique’s reign in Castile (through their same father) and not his illegitimate daughter, Joanna.  King Enrique was known for overindulging in his many luxuries, as well as running Castile into the ground financially (and with no upkeep of holdings, literally) and making it vulnerable to attacks from many sides.  This was especially disheartening because during this time Spain was fractured into several countries and not all under one rule. 

One such area besides Castile (which was the largest) was Aragon. This is from where Princess Isabella meets her true love, Prince Fernando, whom she saw only once when she was first brought to Castile as a young teenager. However, anyone from Aragon at that time was deemed not worthy to marry any royalty from Castile and they forbid her union. Building their love from afar, Princess Isabella vows to marry Fernando.  Secretly, they do so to the horror of many around them.  Together they work to fight off those who attack Castile and their territories, while they also work on making heirs to their own throne (which will unite Castile and Aragon into one country) that they ascertain once King Enrique dies a painful death. 

The way the book read I felt this amazing woman never rested for a minute. I was more and more proud to be a woman with each chapter. Reading about her strong presence in politics was astounding as I could imagine her signing a declaration one minute and bending over in labor the next.  She rode to the battlefield while with child, organized warfare, cuddled with her children, and cared for her subjects. She assisted in raising her children more lovingly than most monarchs in history and she left a legacy of peace for Spain, brought the first printing press to her country and was the first queen in Europe to mandate that women could earn degrees. Not only that, but she was a visionary, supporting and urging Christopher Columbus in his endeavors to find new lands, though she did also eventually oppose slavery of the First Peoples.

Gortner did a phenomenal job depicting Queen Isabella’s heart and how she must have truly been, taking into account her caring and merciful soul. I could ultimately feel her strength and passion leaping from the page and swoon at her love for her Fernando.

Being a lover of English, French and Russian history, I’ve never truly read a story featuring Spainish monarchs. I’ve only read of Columbus and the various Spanish explorers. With this book now read, I have to truly say that I am now seeking more on the subject and I’m going to start with Gortner’s The Last Queen, which is the story of Isabella’s daughter, Juana.

Synopsis of The Queen’s Vow

No one believed I was destined for greatness.

So begins Isabella’s story, in this evocative, vividly imagined novel about one of history’s most famous and controversial queens—the warrior who united a fractured country, the champion of the faith whose reign gave rise to the Inquisition, and the visionary who sent Columbus to discover a New World. Acclaimed author C. W. Gortner envisages the turbulent early years of a woman whose mythic rise to power would go on to transform a monarchy, a nation, and the world.

Young Isabella is barely a teenager when she and her brother are taken from their mother’s home to live under the watchful eye of their half-brother, King Enrique, and his sultry, conniving queen. There, Isabella is thrust into danger when she becomes an unwitting pawn in a plot to dethrone Enrique. Suspected of treason and held captive, she treads a perilous path, torn between loyalties, until at age seventeen she suddenly finds herself heiress of Castile, the largest kingdom in Spain. Plunged into a deadly conflict to secure her crown, she is determined to wed the one man she loves yet who is forbidden to her—Fernando, prince of Aragon.

As they unite their two realms under “one crown, one country, one faith,” Isabella and Fernando face an impoverished Spain beset by enemies. With the future of her throne at stake, Isabella resists the zealous demands of the inquisitor Torquemada even as she is seduced by the dreams of an enigmatic navigator named Columbus. But when the Moors of the southern domain of Granada declare war, a violent, treacherous battle against an ancient adversary erupts, one that will test all of Isabella’s resolve, her courage, and her tenacious belief in her destiny.

From the glorious palaces of Segovia to the battlefields of Granada and the intrigue-laden gardens of Seville, The Queen’s Vow sweeps us into the tumultuous forging of a nation and the complex, fascinating heart of the woman who overcame all odds to become Isabella of Castile.

Interview with C.W. Gortner, Author

Christopher, THANK YOU so much for joining me on my blog, Oh for the Hook of a Book! Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres to read and I absolutely love your writing. I am so excited to virtually chat with you about your life as an author, your writing, and your books.

Hi Erin, it’s lovely to be here. Thank you so much for inviting me and for your kind words. I’m honored. 🙂

Let’s get started with the interview now, and as always, I allow people to ask questions in the comments section! That is, unless I ask everything first. Ha!

Q: You’re a historical fiction author, so you must love history. I’ve always loved history myself and really delved into foreign history in college, ultimately majoring in it out of pure love!  That’s my story, but when did you first become fascinated with it and how have you fueled that passion over the years?

A: I’m half-Spanish by birth and was raised near the city of Malaga, which is the site of one of Isabella’s more terrifying experiences in The Queen’s VowThere was also a ruined castle (now fully restored) close to where I lived, so I basically grew up with history all around me. It wasn’t just in school and in books; I could see its palpable remnants. I was always intrigued by the personalities, too, especially the fascinating women with such controversial reputations. My fascination never abated; throughout my formative years, I read everything I could and became interested in what lies underneath the veneer of what we call ‘fact’; the stories hidden within stories, so to speak. That fueled my desire to both uncover and write these secret stories.

Q:  You often write about fabulously strong women from the past such as Catherine de Medici and Juana of Castile. What spurs this interest? What inspires you?

A: I have found that historical women, in particular those I’m attracted to as a novelist, have not had much of a say in how their history was depicted. As I studied history, I began to see a repetitive pattern  of stereotyping: Elizabeth I is the virgin; Catherine de Medici  the crone; Isabella of Castile the fanatic; and Juana, her daughter, subject of my first novel, the victim; and so on. It was easier— certainly, simpler— to relegate these complex women to clichés. However, the truth is much more interesting. All of these women were fallible, extraordinary, flesh-and-blood human beings. Their motivations aren’t so simply defined; the challenge for me, the inspiration that spurs my writing, is the desire to get underneath their skins and try to discover the actual person they may have been.

Q:  How do you decide which women move you enough to write about? How do you begin your research for your books?

A: She must have a controversial element in her life that captures my attention. I’m not really that interested in straightforward characters: I’m attracted to complexity, contradictions. Inevitably, these women’s lives aren’t easy, in some instances, but they do defy the norm. Research can begin years before, often in preparation for another book. For example, it was while writing The Last Queen, my first novel, about Juana of Castile, that I became engrossed in her mother, Isabella. I portray Isabella’s last twelve years in that novel, so I focused my research on that particular portion of her life; however, I also researched her earlier years, to get a better sense of who she had been and how she developed as a woman and queen. For me, research is ongoing; I gather bits and pieces, tucking away what I don’t need at that moment for possible future use.

Q: Do you have to travel frequently to do your research? If so, what is the best experience you’ve had?

A: Yes, I always travel to the countries and extant places where my characters lived; it’s important to me to get a feel for the landscape and experience it, even if a lot has changed. There really is no substitute for “being there.” One of the best experiences I had was dancing a galliard in the great hall at Hampton Court; I was touring the palace, and was unexpectedly invited to dance with a group who was re-enacting Tudor dances. I took a quick 5-minute lesson and was then led into the dance by a lovely lady with long dark hair, clad in a dark green dress. I have to say, it was amazing to realize I was dancing in the very place where Anne Boleyn must have danced with Henry VIII!

Q:  Where would you like to go that you haven’t been to yet? Where do you want to go back to?

A: I’d love to visit Russia. I have a fascination with Russian history. And I’m always happy to return to Rome; it’s one of my favorite cities in the world.

Q:  What intrigued you the most about Isabella of Castile? In your research to pen your novel, did anything stand out and surprise you?

A: I was intrigued by her duality. She had this incredible commitment to the good of her country and her people, and yet she sanctioned something as monstrous as the Inquisition. She defies easy explanation. I was very surprised to discover how forward-thinking she was in terms of women’s education. She herself had rudimentary schooling, while she regretted; she even set herself to learning Latin when she was queen and had each of her daughters educated in the new style. Isabella’s daughters were regarded as the best-educated princesses in Europe. Isabella also set forth the first decree allowing women to not only gain degrees in Spanish universities but also to teach there, thus opening the doors to higher learning for women who’d previously been denied access. Isabella also championed literacy and imported the first printing presses to Spain, thus seeding the golden era of literature of the 17th century.

Q:  How do you hope readers will feel about Isabella of Castile? How did you feel when you completed your novel?

A: I hope readers will come away with an understanding of the complex challenges she faced and of her strength, as well as her fallibility. In the end, she was human, like us. She made horrible mistakes and she accomplished extraordinary feats. Isabella was an exceptional woman, and also very much a product of her time. I personally felt a sense of having come full circle in regards to Isabella; having depicted her as the older queen in my first novel, it was rewarding, and challenging, to return to her life. I’ve always wanted to write about her. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity.

Q: What types of traits do you feel that women from the Renaissance period had that allowed them to overcome the issues of the day? Do women today have the same strengths? Why or why not?

A:  I think that all of us, men and women, have the same inner strengths that our antecedents had, only those of us who have the luxury of living in developed countries and cities tend to get indolent; we forget just how fortunate we are in terms of our access to medicine, domestic comforts, food, etc.  Women of the Renaissance faced death every day on a very real level:  there were no antibiotics and a crude understanding of how disease afflicted the human body:  infections, viruses, even childbirth could kill. Women had to be strong and vital to overcome the obstacles of daily life; it was a question of survival, even if you lived in a palace. The wealthiest were as vulnerable as anyone else to catastrophe. It’s the same today, to a certain extent: all it takes is one natural disaster for us to realize just how vulnerable we are. The main difference is, people of the Renaissance knew it all the time. They incorporated mortality into the fabric of their existence, whereas we, as a whole, tend to avoid it.

Q:  The first book I ever read by you was The Tudor Secret and I loved it. Taking place in the time right prior to Queen Elizabeth I’s rise to the throne, it was the tale of a male servant’s role as a spy at court. What made you decide to write a mystery/suspense historical novel and what are the future plans for this series?

A: I decided to write The Tudor Secret, really, because no one wanted my stand-alone historical novels! It was written years ago, after both The Last Queen and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici had been rejected by more than 20 publishers. My agent at the time suggested I might have better luck breaking into the market if I wrote a mystery. Of course, I decided instead to do a thriller /adventure about a Tudor spy with a secret of his own, and it didn’t sell, either. So, I self-published it under its original title, “The Secret Lion” and it eventually attracted the attention of my current agent. After she sold my first two books to Random House, an editor at St Martin’s Press, who’d loved my work for years but been unable to acquire it, bought the spy thriller and re-titled it The Tudor Secret. He also wanted two more in the series, which we called the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles. So, it goes to show, you never know when that door will open. I love writing the Spymaster books because I get the chance to play with fictional characters, interacting with historical ones. I also like that my lead character, Brendan, is a man of shadows, caught between two opposing world. I hope the series continues to grow and find its readers. For the moment, I have finished the second in the series and it’ll be published in 2013. Titled THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, it takes place a few months after the events in The Tudor Secret. During the harsh winter of 1554, Brendan returns to court, where Mary Tudor is now queen, and goes undercover to help save Elizabeth from a treasonous plot in which the princess may be a willing participant. It’s a darker novel than the first one; Brendan matures and realizes the true dangers of his life as a spy.

Q:  What other historical time periods or people intrigue you?

A: I’ve mentioned Russia. I’m also intrigued by ancient Egypt, and the early medieval era in Europe. I like Edwardian and Victorian England, too.

Q: How do you keep your writing voice flowing so well? You seem to write non-stop and are very successful at turning out books each year. What is your secret?

A: I’m disciplined, even when I’m not inspired. Writing is my job. I write for pleasure too, naturally, but not every day is a party at the keyboard. Like everyone else, there are days when I’d rather go shopping. But I write 5 days a week, regardless. I’m under contract; I’ve been given a portion of an advance and I have a daily word-count to meet. And I’ve learned that even if what I write is awful at first –and it often is – it can always be improved during revision. The tough part is just getting that first draft out. Everything can be fixed, except a blank page.

Q:  Do you have any advice for other aspiring authors about how to manage time and balance life with writing and research?

A: Persevere. Publishing is a tough business and is in transition; though there are more options than ever before, with each option comes the responsibility of being true to your vision for your work. No one can say which way is best: you have to decide that for yourself. Whatever you do, give it your all and write the very best book you can. Write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph; stay in touch with the nuts-and-bolts of the craft itself. Have a life, as well: know when to stop and let things steep. Writing benefits from time away to gain perspective, especially when the going gets rough. With research, remember it is a master seducer. We can research for years, without ever actually writing a word of the book. Learn only what you need to know to get writing and pick up the rest as you go.

Q:  I thoroughly enjoyed working on a writing project for charity with you this year. I know that charity work with animals is near and dear to your heart (a compassionate heart by the way). What types of animal protection issues do you feel are important currently? How do you feel people can assist more in environmental and animal security?

A: We all need to be more conscious of how we, as a species, impact life on this fragile planet. We share our mother earth with beautiful, irreplaceable animals that cannot defend themselves against our relentless encroachment and consumption of resources. A little change can go a long way: don’t buy or wear any type of fur. Know where your food comes from, to the best of your ability. Get involved in local charities and protect wildlife in your area. Likewise, please adopt all pets, and of course, make sure they are spayed or neutered. Thousands of dogs and cats are euthanized every single day because of overpopulation and irresponsible breeding. An animal has the same noble heart, whether purebred or mixed. My corgi is a rescue; if every one of us adopted a rescue animal, shelters wouldn’t be as overcrowded or desperate for funds. And if you can’t adopt, foster, volunteer time, donate money and supplies. Get involved.

Q:  What other books are you working on currently? What is the idea behind them and what made you choose the topic?

A: I’m writing my fourth historical novel for Random House, this time about Lucrezia Borgia. Thrust into notoriety as the pope’s daughter, Lucrezia embarks on a savage struggle to escape the web of her family’s ambitions. Once again, I’ve found myself drawn to a woman who’s been vilified by history; I’m completely enthralled by Lucrezia and her world, as I hope readers will be.

Q:  Do you have any future historical figures in mind to make come alive on the page for your readers?

A: I do, but it’s a secret 🙂

Q: Where can readers find your books?

A: Of course, in most physical bookstores. If they don’t have the book in stock, they can always order it. Please buy via independent stores online here: http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780345523969

Or via the usual online suspects:

Amazon: http://bitsy.me/76i

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-queens-vow-c-w-gortner/1110779310?ean=9780345523969

Q:  What is the best way for readers to connect to you?

A: Via my website here: http://www.cwgortner.com/contact.html

I have enjoyed getting to know you author mind better, Christopher, and I love your work. Thanks for stopping by my blog! Best wishes on the success of The Queen’s Vow.

Thank you, Erin, for having me. It’s always a delight to visit with bloggers and I sincerely hope your readers enjoy our Q&A and THE QUEEN’S VOW.


C.W. Gortner, Author Bio

C.W. GORTNER holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis in Renaissance Studies from the New College of California.

In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. His novels have garnered international praise and been translated into thirteen languages to date. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues.

He’s currently at work on his fourth novel for Ballantine Books, about the early years of Lucrezia Borgia, as well as the third novel in his Tudor series,The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles (US) or Elizabeth’s Spymaster (UK).

Half-Spanish by birth, C.W. lives in Northern California.


Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors