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The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton: Historical Novel of Empress Theodora Delivers My Emotions to Me on a Platter!

The Secret HistoryLush historical novels that blend great story telling imagination and superb characterization, while also being based on factual discoveries, are complete gems to my library. Stephanie Thornton’s The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora is not only one to house on your personal shelves permanently, but one read that will have you remembering the characters forever.

This novel, based firmly on historical research about an almost forgotten woman of strength and power, Theodora of sixth-century Constantinople, is rich in details with words that fill all the senses and prose that slides smoothly along as hour upon hour tick by. I refused to put down the book for several long bouts. I was completely immersed in the book as if I were actually Theodora herself. Thornton’s well-developed characters were all engaging and endearing, and some loathed, but all superbly structured.

A woman of low-birth who had to act upon the stage in order to be paid for tricks, Theodora was well-read and intelligent (and could even write) unlike most other women at that time who could not afford private tutors. The laws were not easy for those who had no money so that advancement was unlikely and for women without a husband life was extremely hard. The only way to make money was to sell your body. Theodora must do this to survive, but after spending time in a church, she was able to become clean and rise the ranks through her cunning ability to forward-think, problem solve, and give an honest opinion even if it ended up being sometimes humorous. With her wit, she catches the eye and eternal love of Justinian, the nephew of the Emporer. Eventually, Justinian and Theodora are crowned together as Augusti and rule as Emporer and Empress for many years.

This novel is the story of Theodora’s very humble and scary beginnings, her rise to power, and her love story with Justinian. Theodora’s trials are many but her endurance strong. This novel evoked so many emotions in me as I read along the journey. I was horrified, saddened, and overcome with a desire to fix the eternal class struggle, as well as men’s views on women. I cheered, plotted, and felt happy. I was nervous, scared and many times I cried, but especially at the end. The ending of this book racked me with sobs.

I am in love with this book and with Theodora. Reminiscent of great writers like Tracey Higley (from the historical and writing style perspective only – The Secret History had mild sex and violence), Michelle Moran, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, and Sophie Perinot, Thornton is bound to please with this well-executed tale that contains it all: drama, intrigue, love, loss, power, betrayal, miracles, and overcoming odds. Thornton gives us an exceptional glimpse into Theodora, a story that for some time had been hidden in the history books. Another strong and defining woman will not be forgotten in this amazing fictional biography. I won’t soon forget any of the characters in her novel, as I felt so connected. I was terribly sad to have this story end. I had also fallen in love with the amazing spirit of Theodora.

Thornton did a tremendous job showcasing Theodora as a woman as powerful as someone like Cleopatra, and that she should be added to the list of major women influencers in history.  She also did a superb job with the history of the Byzantine Empire, giving us a peek into how it was set to flourish had it not been for the Bubonic Plague almost eradicating the area.

This book is a MUST READ for lovers of historical fiction who like to read about various women in history who wielded great power. Once you get the novel, you won’t be able to put it down as it will usher you into another era and hold you captive in Theodora’s aura.

This one is definitely going on my Top Five historical books list for 2013! Grab this great summer release!

Come back on July 12 for an interview and giveaway with Stephanie Thornton!

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, Synopsis~

The Secret HistoryPublication Date: July 2, 2013

NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778XWhere Theodora went, trouble followed…In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

Praise for The Secret History

“Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”—Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

“Loss, ambition and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little known woman to full, vibrant life…A sprawling and irresistible story.”—Jeane Westin, author of The Spymaster’s Daughter

“A fascinating and vivid account; in The Secret History, the life of Empress Theodora leaps from the page, as colorful and complex as the woman herself.”—Michelle Diener, author of The Emperor’s Conspiracy

Stephanie ThorntonAuthor Stephanie Thornton, Biography~

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

For more information, please visit Stephanie Thornton’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thesecrethistoryvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SecretHistoryTour

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Ben Kane Pens Military Historical Fiction of Roman Slave Rebellion in His Book Spartacus: Rebellion

Spartacus RebellionSpartacus: Rebellion is the second book in a two-part series by bestselling author Ben Kane.  The Spartacus series started with Spartacus: Gladiator, in which we learned Spartacus’ tale of being trained as the lowest of the low of society–a Gladiator–in first century BC.

The second book picks up right in the midst of battle as the slave army has been taking on Roman legions. Spartacus becomes enraged when Crixus, a Gaul that leaves with his portion of the slave army to fight the Romans, is returned by only his head in a bag. Though Crixus was his biggest rival as a leader to the army (there are several leaders of the slave army during this uprising), Spartacus still vows vengenance for his commrade. Coupled with the fact that his own army had just done so well in their battle, Spartacus name is being shouted in honor by all soldiers and they look to him as leader.

Spartacus, a person who we might have felt sympathy for previously due to his plight, is now brutal and cold. Now he’s a trained killer on the battlefield, even if he isn’t in the ring.  Kane’s character development of Spartacus, and his thoughts in his writing as to what he might be like given that there isn’t a lot of historical detail to go on, was superb.  The development of the supporting characters such as Ariadne, Spartacus’ wife; Carbo, his staunchest supporter and follower even if he was of higher culture and family; and even those on the villainous side, like Crassus, the one Senator who feels he can defeat Spartacus, were all wonderful and fulfilling in this dark tale of hatred, revenge, betrayal, and power.

Kane’s descriptions were so pungent, so vibrant and so realistic. I am not a huge fan of military novels, but due to my love of Roman history, and tales of legends, I had wanted to read this book. I was pulled in, even through the bloodshed and the brutality, as I enjoyed taking a look at their strategy. This book truly showed that Spartacus was more than a slave, but a great tactical thinker. I also love a good story of a people who rebel against corrupt governmental authority. The Romans were so horrific in their treatment of others and Kane showed this well. I felt that though Spartacus was brutal himself, he was a hero to society. By the end, I cried for a hero to have an ending as Spartacus does, even though some history dictates that his body was never found.

Kane is not only a great writer, with prose that keeps you engaged and emotionally tied, but he’s also a wonderful historian. I know he likes Roman history, but I like how he takes other military persons in history, like Spartacus in this series and Hannibal in another, and show their side of going up against the power of the Romans. He tells us their tale while at the same time recording a version of history and filling in the pieces, answering many lost questions with theories and variables.

There is blood and gore and death. Some women might like this book if they enjoy ancient history and can get around the horrors. But I know men that love military history, strong male characters, and war novels will love this book. The Spartacus series would make a great Father’s day gift.  I feel like Spartacus: Rebellion can be read stand alone, but if you read Spartacus: Gladiator first, you’ll have more of a well-rounded background of the character Spartacus.

For a passionate novel about an amazing legend who takes on one of the most powerful armies to ever have roamed the Earth, I highly recommend Spartacus: Rebellion.  Kane’s pungent details, lavish descriptions, bloody military strategy, sociology lessons, and emotional narrative tell a story that will stay with the reader. This series is one to own for any historical fiction fan who has a love of ancient Roman culture.

Stop back by on May 30 for an exclusive interview between Ben Kane and I, plus a giveaway of a hardcover of Spartacus: Rebellion and a paperback of Spartacus: Gladiator!

Spartacus: Rebellion, Synopsis~

Spartacus RebellionPublication Date: May 14, 2013
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover; 464p
ISBN-10: 1250012775

Spartacus has already done the impossible—not only has he escaped from slavery, he and his seconds have created a mighty slave army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. On the plain of the River Po, in modern Northern Italy, Spartacus has defeated Gaius Cassius Longinus, proconsul and general of an army of two legions. Now the road home lies before them—to Thrace for Spartacus, and to Gaul for his seconds-in-command, Castus and Gannicus.

But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. One of Spartacus’s most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him. Back in Rome, the immensely rich Marcus Licinius Crassus is gathering an unheard-of Army. The Senate has given Crassus an army made up of ten legions and the authority to do whatever it takes to end the slave rebellion once and for all.

Meanwhile, Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps and home, but his two seconds have a different plan. They want to march on Rome itself and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become war. War to the death.

Praise for Spartacus: Rebellion

“The author comes into his own during the numerous battle scenes when his burly prose highlights the pain, brutality and chaos of ancient combat. Kane’s Spartacus is brave, vain, ruthless and sexy, a Superman for more savage times. The author is genuinely deserving of praise for taking on this mighty subject matter in such a bold and regularly entertaining fashion. Admirers of Kane’s work to date will not be disappointed and there’s every chance this latest instalment will attract plenty more.” (Daily Express )

“Kane succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of how it might have been, which is what a good historical novel should do.” (Historical Novel Society )

Praise for Spartacus: The Gladiator (Book 1)

Gritty, passionate and violent, this thrilling book is a real page-turner and a damn good read. It brings Spartacus – and ancient Rome – to vivid, colourful life (Steven Pressfield, bestselling author of Gates of Fire )

Ben Kane manages to bring a freshness to the saga … Told with Kane’s usual panache and historical knowledge, this book is highly recommended (Kathy Stevenson, Daily Mail )

Author Ben Kane, Biography~

Ben KaneBen Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.

While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full-time at two jobs – being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full-time.

To find out more about Ben and his books visit www.benkane.net.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/spartacusrebellionvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SpartacusRebellionTour

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