Interview with Author Trini Amador



Hello, Trini. I am currently reading, Gracianna and it is a beautiful story. Please tell your audience a little about it and what inspired you to write it.

Hi Stephanie and thanks so much for inviting me to Layered Pages. I really appreciate your work.  I was inspired to write Gracianna because my great-grandmother, Gracianna, used to say to be “thankful” when I was little. At four-years old how can a little boy understand that concept? But over the years I wondered about its meaning. As I say, to many folks, one may not be able to fully understand what “gratitude” really means until we are in our 40’s or 50’s or even older.  

What are some of the true aspects in your book?

The story is bookended… the very open of the story and the very end are factual. And interspersed throughout the book are many, many factual elements.  When I was a very young boy I was found walking around my grandmother’s living room with a loaded German Luger in my hand.  While doing research for the book I learned that my aunt met her grandmother Gracianna’s sister, who I had not heard of and remembers seeing the “mark,” the “tattoo” under her forearm.  She remembers the whispers and that it was not polite to point it out.  My grandfather was a shepherd when he came to the US with his wife. The story of the coin (as an IOU) in the book is all true.

Was there research involved?

Yes, there was tons and tons research! Everything from learning the myth of the Pyrenees Mountains to learning details of World War II, the French Resistance and Auschwitz. I traveled to the Basque Country – my great-grandmothers homeland to get the feel of the topography, (steep) culture (hard work, food and wine) and feeling (a contradiction of the old and the new). That took me to Paris. I learned about the occupation and the attitude of the Parisians and France as a whole. It was depressing.   I sat in the middle of the city taking it all in and then imagined the panzers and half-tracks rolling down the streets. I studied the Le Meurice Hotel, a grand dame hotel whose history is undeniable. I wanted to ensure readers considered what it must have been like for frolicking glitterati of Paris to have been there one day and the entire European Nazi Command rattling through its halls the next.

Then there was Auschwitz. My research took me to Warsaw and Krakow. It was bitter cold. The day I arrived at the concentration camp it was sunny but still bitterly cold. Everyone I came in contact with had a red nose and cheeks. One’s breath fell from the weight of its moisture. The area was devoid of emotion. It was sullen, silent and sunny…but frozen. I could not imagine the desperation. But I tried to convey the feeling I had that day.

What is the most challenging thing about writing stories that take place in the past?

For me writing about to day or the past is the same. Am I able to convey the emotion appropriately? Can my reader appreciate what the character is feeling?  Am I appropriately delivering an evocative scenario? Is it real? Is it relevant? Believable? Does it move the story forward? Is it compelling? Is it interesting?

What was the most challenging scene you wrote and why?

Wow, there were several but one that comes to mind, without spoiling the story line was the very traumatic experience that Gracianna experienced when she was eight years old. Born, “Father Unknown,” Gracianna’s mother was her only link to the future. But when her mother had complications in childbirth everything changed. I dug deep to find an experience that I could relate to in my own life that helped me to express the depth of fear, anger and hurt that she may have experienced.

 Is there a character in your story you relate to the most as far as personality?

It’s funny. Readers that know me have recently told me that they see me in Gracianna. I did not write the story from that perspective. In reality I think I am reflected in parts of each character.

What is your next book project?

Why Stephanie… you are incorrigible. My publisher and others are encouraging me to write the sequel to the Gracianna story. But I have already written an outline for a book that depicts an experience that I had when I was in the music business in Hollywood in the early 90’s. My editor, Hillel Black, who has edited 20 New York Times best sellers has also expressed his interest in working with me again as well. What a joy! I may have to write another book just to have the chance to collaborate with Hillel again.

What genre do you like most?

I enjoy reading short stories. I enjoy to feeling a story develop quickly and get to the point. The opposite of what I just wrote. I knew the story I was telling but I purposefully tried not to get there too fast. This piece need a long introduction to clearly understand the characters and their motivation. I wanted the reader to fully appreciate why they would act the way they would in the future.

What is the truly last great book you have read and that inspired you?

I am inspired by anything that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. I love the pacing and the clarity and the delivery. There are some linkages between Gatsby and my story. Constance, Gracianna’s sister had many of the characteristics of Daisy Buchanan. She was an attractive and bubbly, shallow and selfish unaware how her actions could affect anyone. Both became acutely aware of their actions along the way.

What is your favorite quote?

…from Chilkoot Charlie’s in Anchorage, Alaska, “Where we cheat the other guys and pass the savings on to you.” 🙂

Thanks for inviting me, Stephanie!

Thank you, Trini!




Trini Amador  vividly remembers the day he found a loaded German Luger tucked away in a nightstand while wandering through his great-grandmother’s home in  Southern California. He was only four years old at the time, but the  memory remained and he knew he had to explore the story behind the gun.  This experience sparked a journey towards Gracianna, Amador’s debut  novel, inspired by true events and weaving reality with imagination.  It’s a tale drawing from real-life family experiences.

Mr. Amador is a traveled global marketing “insighter.” He is a  sought-after guru teaching multinational brand marketers to understand  how customer and consumer segments behave based on their needs, values,  motivations, feeling and values. He has trained over five thousand brand marketers on how to grow brands in over 20 countries in the last 15  years. His counseling has been valued at global brands including General Electric, Microsoft, AT&T, Yahoo!, Sun Microsystems, Google, Jack  Daniel’s, The J.M. Smucker Co., DuPont, Mattel, and Rodale, Inc..

Amador is also a founding partner with his wife and children of  Gracianna Winery, an award-winning winery located in Healdsburg,  California. The winery also pays tribute to the Amador Family’s maternal grandmother, Gracianna Lasaga. Her message of being thankful lives on  through them. The Gracianna winery strives to keep Gracianna’s gratitude alive through their wine. Learn more at:, like Gracianna Winery on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @GraciannaWinery.

Amador resides in Sonoma County with his family.


Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #GraciannaTour


Gracianna banner


Interview with Author Jennifer Adkins

S: I would like to introduce Jennifer Adkins to my blog today. Hello Jennifer! Thank you for chatting with me today and congratulations on the BRAG Medallion! First I would like for you to tell me what has inspired you to write?  

J: I was first inspired to begin writing when I was in third grade. I was fortunate during those formative years in my life to have been blessed with an amazing teacher who helped develop and mold me into the writer and teacher that I am today. I remember being obsessed with the creative writing prompt box in her classroom. This obsession soon transcended the classroom and became something that I did for fun at home and even with my friends.


S: Please tell me about your book, “Mom, Am I Different.”


J: “Mom, Am I Different” is the story of a young girl’s journey of self-discovery. Inherently introspective and curious, she is struggling to reconcile the fact that her thoughts and interests do not align with other children her age. With loving guidance from her mother, she begins to look at the world through a different lens, giving her the confidence to embrace her differences and be herself in all circumstances.

Mom and I different


S: Is this story based on any of your own life experiences?


J: As a mother and educator of young children, I undoubtedly relate to the characters in this book on a personal level. It is very difficult for children of any age to embrace their differences with so much pressure from society to fit in. As parents and/or mentors, it is important that we create a vehicle for children to channel those differences and turn them into something positive. There are pieces of my daughters scattered throughout the entire book. I felt that if I were given one chance to leave them with a message to live by it would be to embrace their differences and use them to leave their mark on the world.


S: How long did it take you to write your story?


J: I actually came up with the idea for this story while I was cleaning the shower. The first line in the book kept playing over and over again in my head. It was almost as if a voice was whispering to me, so I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and jotted it down. Throughout the day, the rest of the story continued to unfold and by day’s end I had a very rough draft of what you see now. Thanks to the encouragement of my husband, I began the search for an illustrator who could bring my story to life. I knew that the right person would need a shared vision for my project in addition to possessing commercial appeal. I received around 150 bids for the job from around the world and ended up selecting Georgia Stylou from Greece. Honestly, I cannot imagine having tackled this endeavor without her.  Every piece that she completed for me surpassed my expectations and brought the story to life in a whole new way. It took us about 4 months to complete all of the illustrations and another two months to get the book to print.


S: Is this your first published work?


J: Yes, this is my first published work.


S: What is your next book project?


J: Hmm…That’s the million dollar question! I certainly would love to have the opportunity to work on another book at some point in time. I just loved the entire creative process! I have a few ideas tucked away in the back of my head, but I think I am waiting for inspiration to strike again. What I love most about this piece is that it is heartfelt and genuine in nature. I am afraid that if I sat down and forced that process, it may not be as authentic. Maybe I will try cleaning my shower again!


S: Where do you see the self-publishing industry in five to ten years?


J: I envision a great deal of growth in the self-publishing industry over the next decade. There are a lot of individuals with stories to tell who, like me, want to maintain creative control over their projects. I believe that the biggest advantage to self-publishing is that you are in the driver’s seat and can have a direct hand in creating a vision for your story not just through words, but through pictures as well.



S: How did you discover indieBRAG?


J: As luck would have it, the author of, “The Pajama Elves” contacted me shortly after the book became available online.  She had just moved to the Palm Beach area, so we ended up meeting for coffee and hit it off right away. It was her belief in my story that resulted in a nomination and ultimately, and a BRAG award.

Jennifer Adkins


Jennifer Adkins began her career in social work after graduating from Alma College in Michigan.  After giving birth to her daughters, however, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher.  Currently, she is a second grade teacher in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Her inspiration for this children’s book resulted from personal experiences as both a mother and educator of young children. The writer lives with her husband Kevin, their daughters Maya and Julia, and Summer, their family dog. In her free time she enjoys running and traveling.


A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jennifer, who is the author of, Mom, Am I Different, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Mom, Am I diferrent merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Review: The White Princess by Philippa Gregory

the white princess


The White Princess opens as the news of the battle of Bosworth is brought to Princess Elizabeth of York, who will learn not only which rival royal house has triumphed, Tudor or York, but also which suitor she must marry: Richard III her lover, or Henry Tudor her enemy.

A princess from birth, Elizabeth fell in love with Richard III, though her mother made an arranged betrothal for her with the pretender to the throne: Henry Tudor. When Henry defeats Richard against all odds, Elizabeth has to marry the man who murdered her lover in battle, and create a new royal family with him and his ambitious mother: Margaret Beaufort, The Red Queen. But, while the new monarchy can win, it cannot, it seems, hold power in an England which remembers the House of York with love.

The new king’s greatest fear is that somewhere, outside England, a prince from the House of York is waiting to invade and re-claim the throne for the house of York. Fearing that none of his new allies can be trusted, Henry turns to his wife to advise him, all the time knowing that her loyalties must be divided. When the young man who would be king finally leads his army and invades England, it is for Elizabeth to decide whether she recognizes him as her brother and a claimant to the throne, or denies him in favor of the husband she is coming to love.

Description from Goodreads.


Expected publication: July 23rd 2013 by Touchstone


My review:

There were a few things in this story that stood out and I found interesting considering some of the history facts or speculations- if you will- that I know. In Gregory’s story Elizabeth of York and Richard lll were lovers. I don’t know a whole lot of details during this period but from what I heard there is evidence that Richard was extremely fond of Elizabeth, but not to the extent of being lovers.

Henry and his mother (Margaret Beaufort) were often times harsh, belittling, and unfeeling towards Elizabeth. That did not sit well with me at all. I felt that if Elizabeth would only wise up to the fact that she indeed had power, and if she would only discover it... (Did she discover that you ask? That is something you will have to find out.) I came to the conclusion early on in the story that maybe one of the reasons why she was treated as she was by her husband and mother-in-law…. was because they knew what power she could possibly wield and kept her down because of it. That is one way to look at it.

Gregory gives an interesting perspective of Henry’s character and it was a real issue for me. He became agitated, fearful and obsessed with being de throne. His behavior reminded me of someone on the edge of losing it completely. As I continued reading on I kept on thinking, “If Henry’s name or his obsession and fear of a pretender who could possibly over throw him was mentioned one more time I was wanting to jump right in the book and give him a good shake and a what for!

The overall dynamics of Henry, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth’s relationship is bold and complicated- in this story- to say the least. I did rather liked how Elizabeth’s character developed towards the end and the outcome of that. Elizabeth’s thoughts and feelings toward her husband and mother-in-law is certainly a complex one and she is someone I think we could all learn a thing or two from. Although it is in the present tense, it was interesting to read this story in her point of view. I felt it could have been presented to the reader a bit stronger than written.

History in my view tends to be subjective. Whether how an historian or an historical fiction writer is interpreting the past, the key is to make it believable. In historical fiction- readers asked themselves, “Could this have possibly have happen this way and does it blend well with the fictional aspects of the story?” “Or is it historically accurate?” As an avid reader of history and historical fiction-this story I did not always get that feeling, if you will. Although, in the author’s notes, Gregory says, “This book is written on a number of levels. It is a fiction about a mystery-so two steps from any historically recorded facts; but at the heart of it are some historical facts that you can rely on, or study for yourself.” So I will leave it up to you-the reader-to form your own opinions.

How this story was written and the characterization certainly has given me food for thought and I look forward to doing further research to draw my own conclusions. I recommend this novel to people who enjoy lite Historical Fiction.



Interview with BRAG Medallion Winner, Author Gina LoBiondo

Stephanie: Hi, Gina! Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your book, “Pegasus — A Dragon’s Tale”.  Please tell me about your story.

Gina: Thank you so much, Stephanie, it was a real honour!  Pegasus – A Dragon’s Tale is the heartwarming story of two young bear cubs that come across an unusual egg while out playing one day.  They decide to take it home and it soon hatches into a baby dragon.  All too soon, however, Pegasus has outgrown the cubs and their father, the King, makes a heartbreaking decision.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens.

I wrote it originally as a short story with two human Princesses but when my god-son got married and became an instant father, I rewrote it using my new niece and nephew as the main characters.  I had also gotten Kameela, who was 8 at the time, a Build-A-Bear and decided to turn the brother and sister characters into bears.  That’s basically how the whole thing came about.

Gina book cover

Stephanie:  Is this your first children’s book or are there others?

Gina: This is actually my first published book.  I’ve been writing since I was 13 (nearly 40 years) so I’ve written in a lot of different genres.  I tried for years to get published traditionally but had no luck until I decided to self-publish.  I now have two more children’s books in the works along with a Young-Adult novel which will be my own retelling of the Cinderella faerie tale.  I’m just waiting on Stephanie Zuppo to put it all together and finish the illustrations.  It will hopefully be out soon.

Stephanie: What is the appropriate age group for your story?

Gina: It’s a bit hard to decide, but I’d say ages 3 and up.  Parents can begin reading it to the kids at that age and they begin to understand and at least enjoy the illustrations.  On my eBay ad, I say from 3-103 because the oldest person to read this book was 103 and she couldn’t stop raving about it!  She was a dear lady who lived in the same assisted living facility as my aunt and she became a great friend.  Her name was Fanny.

Stephanie: Is there a message you want your readers to grasp?

Gina: The main theme or message of Pegasus I suppose would be the deep friendship of the three main characters.  It’s a friendship that outlasts time, distance and species.

Stephanie: Your book cover is cute. Who designed it?

Thank you!  My illustrator, Stephanie Zuppo, did all the artwork.  The original version of Pegasus had the dragon and the bears on the front cover playing ball.  Stephanie took that idea and redid it.  She placed the prince bear half on the front and half on the back, the idea being that readers will have to turn the book over to see the rest of him and thereby lead them to the back cover with the book description.  I think it’s a pretty ingenious idea.

Jennifer and Gina

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write Pegasus?


Gina: I wrote it so long ago, that to be honest, I don’t really remember!  More than likely it was a couple of months as that’s about my average writing time.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Gina: Pegasus is available on the following sites – ( Item # 120395492294 )

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Gina: I actually learned of them through one of my friends on Facebook who, I believe, won a B.R.A.G. Medallion as well.

Stephanie: What are the hardest things about writing?

Gina: For me, the hardest thing is having a quiet place to work.  I normally do my typing at the kitchen table so there are always all sorts of interruptions i.e. the phone ringing, doing laundry, etc.  Sometimes I wish I could have a soundproof booth!

Stephanie:  What advice would you give to an aspiring author?


Gina: The first thing is to start with a good story idea and a strong desire to put it on paper.  No matter what, don’t give up.  I’m talking about the dreaded writer’s block, which I’ve just recently experienced.  I got through it, though, and my book is back on track.

Gina LoBionda

Born in 1960, author Gina LoBiondo grew up loving faerie tales.  She began writing stories of her own when she was 13 and continues to do so today.  After 16 years of trying unsuccessfully to break into the “traditional” publishing industry, the opportunity arose for her to self-publish; she began Nephthys Publications in November, 2008, as a way of doing just that.  Her first foray into this exciting business is Pegasus — A Dragon’s Tale, winner of 7 prestigious awards, with her next book — her own retelling of the Cinderella story — expected sometime in 2013.  She is also planning a sequel to Pegasus for 2013 and another children’s book called Button Nose the Sad Little Bear. Check out her personal website at as well as the illustrator’s site at

Check out the book trailer at —

Thank you, Gina!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gina LoBiondo, who is the author of, Pegasus-A Dragon’s Tale, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Pegasus-A Dragon’s Tale merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Interview with Award Winning Author Derek Birks

Stephanie: I would like to welcome Author Derek Birks to my blog today! So delighted he has taken the time to chat with me today.

Derek, congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your novel, “Feud.” Historical Fiction is my all time favourite genre and I’m happy to say I have your book on my kindle waiting for me to read! I can’t wait! Please tell me about your story?

Derek: Feud is basically a story about a family, the Elders, who are caught up in a feud over land with their neighbours, the ambitious Radcliffes. Because it takes place during the Wars of the Roses, they are also embroiled in a war.

The Elder family comprises: Ned, a young swordsman; Emma, his serious, but conventional sister who has run the household since her mother’s early death and her sister Eleanor, a beautiful redhead who knows few social boundaries and is more than a match for most men.

At the start of the book each of the three is thrown into a frightening and unfamiliar situation. The book traces their separate paths towards a resolution of the feud as the war itself reaches a point of climax on the battlefield of Towton in 1461.


feud book cover


Stephanie: You write about one of my favourite periods in history. How long did it take you to write your story and what was some of the research involved?

Derek: Feud has been a long time in the making, partly because when I started to write it I was still in full time work as a teacher.  Once I started to concentrate on writing, I finished the book in 2 years. In that time I wasn’t just writing one book, I was also developing the characters and storylines for a whole series of books.

I did a lot of research during that time as well as site visits of castles, battlefields and towns. So it was slow going, absorbing all the detail, but a fascinating experience.

Stephanie: What do you personally think of, Wars of the Roses and that period of time? Say it didn’t happen. How do you think things would be different for England today?

Derek: Well it’s a period that has always interested me but it was also a period of time that had a great impact on English history. It was an unstable time with the throne changing hands several times and only by accident did it end up with the Tudors.

So there’s no doubt that the Wars of the Roses changed the course of English history. If the succession had followed its natural course there would have been no Henry VIII or Elizabeth I! Would the Reformation have occurred in England? Or a Civil War in the seventeenth century?  Who knows?

Stephanie: I completely agree with you. Is Ned Elder a fictional character or was he a real person?

Derek: Ned Elder and the rest of his family are wholly fictional but the situation in which they find themselves would have been familiar to landed families of the period. Land meant power in the fifteenth century and unscrupulous families would use every means in their power to acquire more land. Local disputes and feuds were common but mostly the law held them in check. The lawlessness of the Wars of the Roses allowed some families to pursue their ambitions by violent means. Ned’s enemies, the Radcliffes, are one such family.

Stephanie: This might sound a bit redundant considering your answer above but what are some of fictional aspects to your story? 

Derek: The fiction is centred around the two families: the Elders & the Radcliffes but the situations in which they take part, for example the battles, are real. They also interact with actual people such as Edward IV, the Earl of Warwick and Queen Margaret of Anjou. Where that

happens the events I have described in Feud are as historically accurate as I could make them.

I have not deliberately twisted events to suit the narrative.

The fiction comes from the characters and I’ve had great fun creating the three Elder siblings and their adversaries. Having created the characters they tend to have a life of their own!

Stephanie: What is the most single thing about writing Historical Fiction and what advice would you give about writing in this genre?

 Derek: When I first thought about writing I considered the maxim: ‘write about what you know.’ Having taught History for many years I thought it might be an area I would have a few clues about. Also, much of my own reading has been historical fiction.

I love the history but if you are writing fiction of any genre the most important elements are the story and the characters that deliver it. You cannot allow your interest in the history to overwhelm the story. Equally, your story needs to give an impression of the period in a way that is accessible to the modern reader.

The bottom line is: there’s no point in being historically precise if your story does not capture the imagination of the reader.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Derek: Feud is available as both a paperback and an ebook on Amazon:

Amazon US

Amazon UK

It is also available elsewhere as an ebook on: WH Smith/Kobo; Barnes & Noble; Sony Reader Store; Smashwords and the Apple Store.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Derek: I was looking online for sites interested in self-published writing and stumbled across it! A lucky break for me!

Stephanie: When do your best ideas for stories come to you?

Derek: I find ideas come most easily when I am walking or swimming which I do fairly frequently. I suppose at those times my mind is free from other clutter. I work out scenes and story development in my head and then later I start to write wearing music headphones which cut out distractions and help my concentration.

Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?

Derek: It’s a great time for me as I’ve almost finished the sequel to Feud: A Traitor’s Fate. This is due out in September and it moves the story on 3 years to 1464 when the new King Edward IV is trying to stamp out the last few Lancastrian rebels. Against this backcloth, the Elders find themselves at odds with one of the King’s leading nobles and of course that can only lead to trouble…

Useful links:

My website 

Twitter account: @Feud_writer


Stephanie: Thank you, Derek!


derek birks

About Derek:

Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand where he still has strong family ties.

For many years he taught history in a secondary school in Berkshire but took early retirement several years ago to concentrate on his writing.
Apart from writing, he spends his time gardening, travelling, walking and taking part in archaeological digs at a Roman villa.

Derek is interested in a wide range of historical themes but his particular favourite is the later Medieval period. His debut historical novel, Feud, is set in the period of the Wars of the Roses and is the first of a series of stories following the fortunes of the fictional Elder family. He aims to write action packed fiction which is rooted in accurate history.

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Derek Birks, who is the author of, Feud, one of our medallion honorees at . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Feud merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.



Interview with Author Anna Belfrage

S: I would like to introduce Anna Belfrage to my site today. Hey Anna, thank you for this interview. I recently read The Prodigal Son and enjoyed it very much. You touched upon some subjects that I am interested in, such as how interrogations with suspects were conducted and how people during that time were treated because of their faith. But first of all please tell the audience a little about your story.

Anna: Hi Stephanie! Before we immerse ourselves in your questions, let me say thank you for hosting me today. And I was glad to hear you enjoyed The Prodigal Son as this is a book that for a number of reasons lies very close to my heart.

The Prodigal Son is very much about faith – and love. Matthew Graham is a devout member of the Scottish Kirk, and when his beliefs, his ministers, are threatened he must of course ride to the rescue – despite risking his life. Alex Graham, Matthew’s wife, is not as enthused. Not only does she find it difficult to comprehend or sympathize with certain aspects of Matthew’s faith (predestination is a major bone of contention), she is also very upset by the fact that he repeatedly places himself – and thereby by extension his family – in grave danger. If she’d loved him less she might have left him, but seeing as living without him is the equivalent of living with a heart ripped into shreds that is never an option. (Phew; she had me a bit worried there, let me tell you!)

The Prodigal Son

S: I can see why she had you worried there…Oh, and may I add your title to your story is fitting.

I really like how you have developed Matthew’s and Alex’ relationship.  Is there anything challenging in writing about them, considering Alex is from the future? She seems to adapt pretty well to the time period and I really do admire her spunk!

Anna: So do I! Alex tends to rise to a challenge rather than deflate like a pricked balloon. As to the adapting, I think most human beings are good at surviving in a new environment, it is one of the reasons we’re relatively successful as a species (if success is to be calculated based on the sheer amount of individuals, that is). Alex is a modern woman who has been raised to believe in herself and handle her own problems – excellent qualities in a time traveler, I think! As to the challenges, Alex is very headstrong, so now and then she sets off in the total opposite direction than I intended, but usually to good effect. The fact that she is born in 1976 is not particularly difficult for me to handle; her values lie close to my own on most matters, her reasoning is often very modern and therefore quite familiar. The challenge lies in having her subtly change, because as the years pass she will be influenced by how the people around her live, talk and act. Matthew sees the changes in her much more than she herself does, but seeing as he is generally quite pleased by the fact that she becomes somewhat less opinionated, somewhat less independent, he isn’t about to tell her. Having said that, Matthew loves his wife for being all those things she is, including stubborn and wilful, capable of expressing her own opinion, and fiercely protective of him and her family.

S: What was some of the research involved for the religious aspects to your story and what are your opinions of Charles ll and the Church of England of that time?

Anna: It helps to have read the Bible, I think. I have also read a lot about the Scottish Kirk and the Scottish Reformation. And if you’re going to read about the Reformation, you inevitably end up reading about Calvin and Huss and Martin Luther. Of the three, I prefer Martin who seems to have had a penchant for enjoying life. Calvin I’m not so sure – and he is the stronger influence on the Scottish Reformers. But even Calvin, who does come across as a rather dour and serious man, did now and then make the point that God expected us to revel in his creation, enjoying everything from the bright green of a summer lawn to the wet nose of a dog.

Otherwise, religion and politics go very much hand in hand during the 17th century – well, they seem to have done that throughout the ages. The religious persecution suffered by the Covenanters in Lowland Scotland as depicted in my novel was no about faith; it was about power. Religion in general makes an excellent pretext, because it’s difficult to fault someone for fighting for their faith, isn’t it? But when Gustavus Adolphus, the Swedish warrior king that led the Protestant forces in the Thirty Years’ War, pillaged and sacked Prague, I don’t think he was muttering the Lord’s Prayer, no, he was counting silver and gold, drunk on the euphoria of being the winner.

As to Charles II, I believe he learnt the hard way that religion was quite the incendiary stuff. Once he was restored, I think he was far more interested in keeping his throne – and his head – than in making any sort of religious statement. I also believe he was a man who considered matters of faith to be private, something between the person in question and God – a bit like Elizabeth I, who was also reluctant to meddle in what she considered very private issues.

I rather like Charles II. He seems to have been brave and upright, cautious and diplomatic. Yes, he had an eye for the ladies, but he also seems to genuinely have liked women and enjoyed spending time with them, even out of bed. I like how he treated his wife, despite her being barren, I like how he took care of his bastards and their mothers. I do think he should have intervened in the persecution of the Covenanters, but he had other pressing issues to sort, first and foremost his rather bad finances. Some people argue that Charles II was a closet Catholic. I find this plausible as his mother was a devout Catholic, his brother converted and his wife was Catholic. Ultimately, I think Charles II was intelligent enough to realize the differences between the various Christian factions were rather insignificant.

I’m not sure I have an opinion about the Church of England back then. With the restoration came a lot of returning churchmen, and being human I guess they could, at times, be quite vindictive. I’m not sure that should be allowed to reflect on the Church of England as a whole and the religious conflicts between the Anglican Church and the Scottish Kirk was yet again about power, not faith. The Scottish Kirk was ruled by an independent body of men (the General Assembly) while the Church of England was under the control of His Majesty the king.

S: I do not know a whole lot of Charles ll and from just reading your book, I would like to know more. Yes, I did learn about him in school, but that wasn’t enough.

I admire Alex’s acceptance of Matthew’s son, Ian and that has taken sometime….which is understandable because of the situation. How do you think things would have gone if she wasn’t so forthcoming? 

Anna: That was never an issue. Alex has had a soft spot for Ian since she first met him as a laughing four-year-old. While there are moments when she succumbs to bouts of jealousy on behalf of her children, she is also sorry for Ian, who is a confused and conflicted child due to his uncertain parentage. Alex’ major issue with Ian is his mother, Margaret. She isn’t too happy to have this constant reminder of Matthew’s ex-wife in her home.

S: Well, I applaud Alex. And I so understand her issues with Margaret. That woman even rubs me the wrong way. Was the way people were treated during interrogations the norm of that time and when did that all change?

Anna: Using force to extract a confession was very common during interrogations – well into our own times. If we’re going to be precise, force is still used during interrogations, especially when there is suspicion of rebellious activity. Things began to change late in the 17th century, what with The Bill of Rights introduced in 1689. There was a heightened perception of the individual that would continue to grow throughout the coming century, culminating in the American and French Revolution, both of which inspired new declarations of human rights.

S: I agree… Who is your favorite character in your stories?

Anna: Alex is very close to me, but I have to say Matthew .First of all, I imagine him as being very pleasing to the eye, but there is so much more to this man. I like his understated humor, his steadfastness, his convictions, and the stubborn streak in him that Alex finds enervating. I also like that he allows himself to be vulnerable, that he admits to being frightened, that he recognizes how dependent he is on his Alex.

I also have quite the soft spot for Magnus, Alex’ father – and for Mrs. Parson. Both will reappear in the future books.

S. I need to read your earlier books in this series. I would like to know more about Magnus. He has intrigues me so far of what I have read of him. I am partial to Alex. She is a wonderful character and so complex. What is your next book project and how far will you take this series? 

Anna: I have a good friend who once told me there are three things one should do in life: one should plant a tree, have children and write at least one book. Well, I’ve done the tree, the kids and now I’ve done the books, but I can’t quite seem to stop!  The Graham Saga consists of eight books – so maybe you can imagine just how many more adventures I have lined up for Alex and Matthew. The books are all finished – well, finished in the sense that the story is there, but there’s plenty of editing left to do.

S: Your friend gave you good advice! I love your series and really can’t wait to read all of your novels. So far I’ve read two. Will Alex be pulled back into the future eventually? 

Anna: Really, Stephanie! I cannot answer that question, I think 😉

S: I figured you wouldn’t but I had to ask anyways! Lol. How long did it take to write The Prodigal Son? 

Anna: About four months – mostly at night. But that was draft one, and prior to publishing we were at draft twelve or so.

S: Four months isn’t bad at all. Who designed your book cover? 

Anna: It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All the covers for The Graham Saga have been designed by Oliver Bennett who works at GB Print in the UK. I’m very lucky to have found him and his charming colleague, Barry.

S: It sure is! Oliver did a fabulous job! Thank you, Anna for this wonderful and insightful interview!


About the Author

anna belfrage

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favorite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s WEBSITE.

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Review: The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

the secret history book cover

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X

Where 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.

Where to begin in this review was the question when I first begun to write this. There are so many highlights to this story and what can be discussed on different viewpoints. Here is only a glimpse of my thoughts and feelings. Theodora is my new favorite heroine who will capture your attention from the beginning and leave you with wanting the story of her life to continue. She is an incredible and courageous women who inspired one not to give up on what life might throw at you and she is the model of a strong, vibrant woman. I’m looking forward to more of Thornton’s stories to come. I hope you enjoy my review below and I’m sure this story will give you newfound appreciation for the wonderful stories writers bring to their readers.

My review:

Historical Fiction is the echo of the past. Where the writer draws you in its fold and as you explore the timeless treasures it has to offer, you want to hold on tight to the- what if’s and the voices that resound through the pages. Thornton gives you that and much more…Every word, every emotion and thought awakens new senses and transcends you back to sixth-century Constaninpole.

She writes a wonderful backdrop of how the city must have looked and the daily life of its people. You can imagine how the different scents of spices must have smelled like at the markets, hear the street merchants as they sell their wares, the cries of babies wanting to feed and the beggar’s unrelenting voices as they beg for food and coin. Not only that- her story is rich with wonderful historical detail and beautiful characters. The love of Theodora and Justinian is one I will never forget. They are forever in my heart.

From what I gather -this is Thornton’s first published novel. She is a history teacher who has been drawn-to put it lightly- with infamous women from ancient history since she was a young girl. It definitely shows throughout this novel! An exceptional story that has left me with what can only be describe as adoration and inspired anew.


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Review: Call Me Zelda by Erika Robuck

call me zelda

Committed to a Baltimore psychiatric hospital in 1932, Zelda vacillates between lucidity and madness as she fights to forge an identity independent of her famous husband. She discovers a sympathetic ear in her nurse Anna Howard, who finds herself drawn into the Fitzgerald’s tumultuous lives and wonders which of them is the true genius. But in taking greater emotional risks to save Zelda, Anna may end up paying a far higher price than she ever intended.

In this thoroughly researched, deeply moving novel, Erika Robuck explores the boundaries of female friendship, the complexity of marital devotion, and the sources of both art and madness.




Confession: I’ve never read a Fitzgerald novel – not even The Great Gatsby. I had no idea that Zelda Fitzgerald was a talent in her own right, let alone that she had published a novel of her own. Their early years were so glamourized, and I had happily settled down for a recounting of their early, glamorous years full of maddening creativity and parties. But then – then, I heard a broken Mrs. Fitzgerald say “call me Zelda,” and with one look from her piercing eyes I was drawn quietly into Anna’s story of being nurse and friend to the famous writer’s wife.


I say Anna’s story because it is her story. This is not a book portraying an in-depth look at Zelda’s life. It’s about what comes after the party, the glamour, the ravages of broken bodies and minds, the horrors of world war and the suppression of creativity. Anna is a paradox of a character: she is strong yet susceptible – not in a cutesy heroine way – but in a true way. She has lost her husband and child, yet finds fulfillment and meaning in her work. Her work with Zelda consumes her, at first because she yearns for escape, then because she comes to love Zelda as a dear friend. Anna’s friendship becomes a necessary balm to Zelda’s soul. As Zelda retreats deeper into the dark places of her mind and away from Anna, the big question is, will Anna choose to not merely exist, but live?


Call Me Zelda touches on many themes, but Robuck makes them flow together seamlessly – or rather flow in the often jarring and crazy timing in which life produces them. The characters and setting descriptions are true to the period. Despite the numerous obstacles the characters face, I came away believing that there is beauty found in life’s mangled messes and hope for redemption in the brokenness.


Reviewed by Beth Bulow

Layered Pages Review Team Member


Review: Fargoer by Petteri Hannila


Said to draw heavily from native mythology, Fargoer is a work of fiction unlike most I’ve read. Set during a time when Vikings seizure was a harsh reality, this story follows Vierra (a Kainu tribe member) as she comes of age under the shadow of disappointing destiny. This future, prophesized during the womanhood ceremony she shares with her cousin, sets the stage for us to experience with Vierra many hardships and trials. However, many stories have these elements, and coming of age stories are not new. Several points differentiate this from the others. Fist, the weavings of fantasy and magic throughout the tale give Fargoer a more colorful backdrop. Also, the beautiful descriptions of native untouched Finland and the ways of life for these people bring the reader a deeper understanding of the Kainu people. Finally, the poetry and song utilized throughout the tale lend the storytelling a more authentic feel. As the story develops we are reminded of the destiny for told and subtly led to question if destiny controls us or is created by us.

The writing is well done, with very few and minimal textual errors. The ones that are present are not glaring and may well be a result of translation. The characters have depth and the style and presentation of the story are engaging. One thing I was left wanting was a better visual of Vierra. The book describes her well, but an artistic rendering on the cover would be a welcome addition. By the end of the story Vierra had worked her way into my consciousness and I look forward to seeing what the rest of her story will bring. I would recommend this to those interested in Viking folklore, matriarchal societies, and those who enjoy stories of personal growth/transformation. Full disclosure: I have been provided a copy of the book for the purpose of providing a review; however the opinions presented are my own and not influenced or dictated by publisher or author. Also note, I have not researched the native traditions and myths referenced in this book and do not speak to either their validity or how closely the story may or may not follow suit.


Reviewed by: Brandy Strake

Layered Pages Review Team Leader

Review: The Chosen Shell by Katherine Sartori

The Chosen Shell


After the onslaught from a vocal and sometimes impertinent media about the troubled state of the Vatican and Catholicism, Katherine Sartori’s The Chosen Shell is a nice surprise. It is not as in-your-face flashy as some books and television series like the Borgia’s are, though that is not to say that there are not a few gritty scenes. The sincerity and genuineness of Satori’s voice comes through the narrative in a way that does not cover up what so many non-believers (and some believers) find hypocritical in the church’s teachings versus its practices and attitudes expressed in the daily life’s of its followers, nuns and leaders.

The Chosen Shell is fiction and memoir combined. Because of this and the subject matter, the life of an introverted troubled teenager who on the cusp of a turning into an adult decides to become a nun, the flow of the novel was at times a bit slow. There were times I wanted the story to move along. The Chosen Shell is not a literary novel, but it could have been, and could be, if Sartori expanded on the other characters and allowed them to bring out more of the main character, Celie, through action or dialogue.

I absolutely love Satori’s description of San Francisco and Muir Woods having visited both places a number of times. I felt at home, like I was part of the action. I also liked Sartori’s description of the convent and other places Celie and other nuns gathered. It is a world that I wanted to learn about; Sartori is a diligent charismatic guide.

I loved about the novel was the way Sartori incorporates the writing life into the narrative, from the time she was a school girl in school through to the end. Celie feels and acts like a writer in the novel. I empathized with her struggle to maintain her voice even as her identity as an author is threatened by her vocation.

The Chosen Shell is a gem, one that I would highly recommend. I would give it on Goodreads 4-4.5 stars.


Reviewed by Susan Berry

Layered Pages Review Team Member