Book Blast & Giveaway-The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau

02_The Tapestry

The Tapestry (Joanna Stafford #3) by Nancy Bilyeau

Paperback Publication Date: March 22, 2016
Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Paperback; 416 Pages

Series: Joanna Stafford
Genre: Historical Mystery

Fans of the Tudor era, you’re in for a treat” –InStyle magazine

Henry VIII’s Palace of Whitehall is the last place on earth Joanna Stafford wants to be. But a summons from the king cannot be refused.

After her priory was destroyed, Joanna, a young Dominican novice, vowed to live a quiet life, weaving tapestries and shunning dangerous conspiracies. That all changes when the king takes an interest in her tapestry talent.

With a ruthless monarch tiring of his fourth wife and amoral noblemen driven by hidden agendas, Joanna becomes entangled in court politics. Her close friend, Catherine Howard, is rumored to be the king’s mistress, and Joanna is determined to protect her from becoming the king’s next wife–and victim. All the while, Joanna tries to understand her feelings for the two men in her life: the constable who tried to save her and the friar she can’t forget.

Ina world of royal banquets, jousts, sea voyages and Tower Hill executions, Joanna must finally choose her future: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier.

The Tapestry is the final book in a trilogy that began in 2012 with The Crown, an Oprah magazine pick. Don’t miss the adventures of one of the most unforgettable heroines in historical fiction.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Praise

“In Joanna Stafford, Bilyeau has given us a memorable character who is prepared to risk her life to save what she most values.” (Deborah Harkness)

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy, and this third book will not fail to thrill readers. Warmly recommended!” (Alison Weir, author of The Marriage Game: A Novel of Queen Elizabeth I)

“A rip-roaring Tudor adventure from Nancy Bilyeau! Novice nun turned tapestry weaver Joanna Stafford returns to the court of Henry VIII. She’s that great rarity of historical fiction: a fiercely independent woman who is still firmly of her time. A mystery as richly woven as any of Joanna’s tapestries.” (Kate Quinn, author of Lady of the Eternal City)

The Tapestry takes its history seriously, but that doesn’t stop it from being a supremely deft, clever and pacy entertainment. This is Nancy Bilyeau’s most thrilling – and enlightening – novel in the Joanna Stafford series yet.”(Andrew Pyper, International Thriller Writers Award winner of The Demonologist and The Damned)

“A master of atmosphere, Nancy Bilyeau imbues her novel with the sense of dread and oppression lurking behind the royal glamour; in her descriptions and characterizations . . . Bilyeau breathes life into history.” (Laura Andersen, author of The Boleyn King)

“In The Tapestry, Nancy Bilyeau brilliantly captures both the white-hot religious passions and the brutal politics of Tudor England. It is a rare book that does both so well.” (Sam Thomas, author of The Midwife’s Tale)

“In spite of murderous plots, volatile kings, and a divided heart, Joanna Stafford manages to stay true to her noble character. Fans of Ken Follett will devour Nancy Bilyeau’s novel of political treachery and courageous love, set amid the endlessly fascinating Tudor landscape.” (Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl)

“These aren’t your mother’s nuns! Nancy Bilyeau has done it again, giving us a compelling and wonderfully realized portrait of Tudor life in all its complexity and wonder. A nun, a tapestry, a page-turning tale of suspense: this is historical mystery at its finest.” (Bruce Holsinger, author of A Burnable Book and The Invention of Fire)

About the Author

02_Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine. Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza. A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013, and THE TAPESTRY in 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.

Book Blast Schedule

Tuesday, March 22
Just One More Chapter
Historical Fiction Addicts
Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, March 23
Passages to the Past
With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Thursday, March 24
Impressions In Ink
The Life & Times of a Book Addict

Friday, March 25
The Reading Queen
Queen of All She Reads

Saturday, March 26
A Holland Reads

Sunday, March 27
Layered Pages

Monday, March 28
A Book Drunkard
Historical Readings & Reviews

Tuesday, March 29
Book Nerd
Carpe Librum

Wednesday, March 30
The Lit Bitch
Eclectic Ramblings of Author Heather Osborne

Thursday, March 31
A Book Geek
What Is That Book About

Friday, April 1
CelticLady’s Reviews
A Dream within a Dream

Saturday, April 2
So Many Books, So Little Time

Sunday, April 3
Susan Heim on Writing

Monday, April 4
100 Pages a Day
A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, April 5
The Tudor Enthusiast
Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

Giveaway

Two paperbacks of The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau are up for grabs! To enter, please use the GLEAM form below.

Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59pm EST on April 6th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Giveaway is open to US addresses only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion
– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Direct Link: GLEAM

03_The Tapestry_Book Blast Banner_FINAL

Review-Time of Fog and Fire by Rhys Bowen

Time of fog and fire I

Molly Murphy Sullivan’s husband Daniel, a police captain in turn-of-the-century New York City, is in a precarious position. The new police commissioner wants him off the force altogether. So Daniel accepts an assignment from John Wilkie, head of the secret service. Molly believes her husband is in Washington, working for the president, until she spots him in San Francisco during a movie news segment. Then she receives a strange letter from him, leading her to conclude that he wants her to join him in San Francisco.

She takes her young son Liam on the cross-country train trip, but when they arrive in San Francisco, Molly is told that she’s too late, her husband’s funeral was yesterday. She’s devastated, even more so when she receives a cryptic note saying Daniel’s death was not an accident. In her grief she stays on to investigate, until she meets a strange man at a party, whom she soon starts to suspect may not be quite who he appears. Then Molly finds another body in the basement, but before she can report it, the Great Earthquake strikes San Francisco, and the servant runs off in a panic with Molly’s son. Suddenly Molly has no idea where to turn or whom to trust, and she knows there are many lives on the line, including her own.

My thoughts:

This is the first book I have read by Rhys Bowen and I have to say I am not in the least disappointed with this story. I picked this up from the sixteenth in the series and while there were some holes for me about the character’s lives and what-not, this still made a great stand alone. I do love a good mystery and adventure. I got both in this story and more.

I will begin with the atmosphere and period of the story. I loved it. I felt I was taken back to the 1900’s and the author gives a truly wonderful sense of time and place. And the historical aspects of the story were marvelously written. Just the right touch and not over-whelming.

The plot was suspenseful and really had me biting my nails at times! Can you imagine believing someone you love is in a certain location and then you come to find out they are somewhere else and their life may be in danger? Then you receive a cryptic letter from them. How cool is that?! Makes for a great premise.

Enjoyable characters, splendid backdrop of the earthquake in San Francisco, adventure, suspense in all the right places, intrigue, and entertaining dialogue! I can’t wait to read what happens next!

I am now a fan of Molly Murphy and will be picking up this series from the beginning!

I received a copy through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Characters in Motion with Lindsay Downs

On Writing Antagonists by Lindsay Downs

I’m sure we all love writing that dashingly handsome hero and the beauty who wins his heart. I know I do. But, where would they be, much less meet and fall in love, without an antagonist…

They can be tall, short, fat, or thin. Even have fetid breath and poor hygiene. The antagonist, villain, bad guy (whatever you want to call them) doesn’t have to be male. Women make great ones as well.

The antagonist can be a peer, such as an earl and countess along with their son, Smedley as in Married by Christmas (TouchPoint Romance). They were so cruel they abandoned the second son, Justin who was raised by a duke and duchess. Justin later inherits the earldom after his parents and brother dance the hangman’s gig.

Another example of a father being the antagonist is in La Contessa and The Marquis (TouchPoint Romance). In this, the first in the Rogues and Rakehells Mystery series, the Barone Givonni Nardo had run short of funds and arranged for the murder of La Contessa de Massa’s husband. As she inherited not only money but lands the barone had tried to force her into a marriage then have her committed with the barone controlling the funds.

Without a doubt my most favorite antagonist to write is Lord Ethan Rosewood. He’s the older brother to Lady Kristina Markson who believes it’s his duty to oversee her, even after she marries Lord Robert. Now, don’t get me wrong he’s not a villain in the true sense of the word but works for the Crown and only at the end of The Guilty Countess does he make this known to Robert and Kristina. What makes Ethan so much fun to write, he has facts available thusly proving the countess innocent of the crime she’s accused of. To this end he’s banned, by his married sister, from ever darkening the doorway of the Markson townhouse and estate.

He makes his next appearance in Highland Gold. Again with valuable information which he refuses to share.

SPOILER ALERT

“That’s because I instructed them not to say a thing but let you find out the problems on your own,” Lord Ethan Rosewood announced.

Kristina watched as he stepped into the room.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded.

She could feel her face heat from anger at her older brother for interjecting himself where not wanted. She knew, without looking down, her hands had fisted and she started to stand but a gentle touch halted her. Turning to Robert, she saw the same emotion in his eyes that she was feeling. Her only question, should it be dealt with man to man or should she say something. As silence continued, she knew it was she who had to deal with Ethan.

“Hamish, I am your Mistress. You are to get footmen and bring them here then remove this thing from our sight. I don’t care if he’s locked away in the deepest, darkest, dampest cell or where. All I and Lord Markson desire is he to be gone from our presence post haste,” she ordered.

“You can’t do that as I’m here on orders from the Crown,” Ethan answered back.

“I don’t care under whose authority you are operating you’ve no right to give instructions to my staff. Do I make myself clear?” she screamed at Ethan.

“My power exceeds your wants and desires, dear sister,” he replied back.

Angered not only at his words but the cocky way he was grinning at her, Kristina bolted up and started to charge on him when a hand gripped her firmly around the waist.

“Let me deal with him then you can have what’s left for I completely agree with you,” Robert whispered in her ear before releasing her.

“No, he’s my brother and I’m tired of him meddling in things which aren’t his concern,” she answered back in the same low tone.

“As you wish, my dear, for I shan’t deny you the pleasure.”

Ethan, much to her annoyance, was still standing with a smug expression on his face and arms folded across his chest. Kristina looked up to her husband and nodded. Bearing down on Ethan, she glared up at him then with her open hand slapped him across the face, sending him staggering backward a few steps.

END SPOILER ALERT

As you can see there is very little love between sister and brother.

In this book and The Guilty Countess my self-publish editor wanted me to write more of Ethan into the books. When I explained my reasons for having him presented as I did, she understood.

However, in Book 4, Brotherly Love! Ethan turns to Robert and Kristina to prove his innocence in murdering the son of a very powerful duke.

In The Duke’s Bride (TouchPoint Romance) releasing in April finding who the antagonist is proves difficult. To find this person or persons Simon, The Duke of Kettering, along with Lady Emma, the heroine, and the duchess must search through endless correspondences in the hope of finding the late duke’s murderer. It’s not until Emma’s mother arrives for a visit do they learn not only the names but the how and why these people wanted the late duke and Simon dead.

As you can see writing antagonists are fun for me to pen. Sometime when writing the book I have no idea who they will be until it’s time for the reveal. Other times I know who is the villain from the very beginning and so does the reader. Then, I have to decide how much information to pass along and when. On more than one occasion I’ve had readers come right and tell me they jumped to the end of the book to find out who the killer was. When I hear that I know I’m doing my job of keeping you on the edge of your seat.

About me-

Lindsay Downs Head Shot_M9A0698-resized smaller

I’ve been an avid reader ever since I was old enough to hold a red leather bound first edition copy of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake in my lap.

So it only seemed natural at some point in my life I take up pen and paper to start writing. Over time my skills slightly improved which I attribute to my English teachers.

My breakthrough came about in the mid 1970’s when I read a historical romance written by Sergeanne Golon, Angelique. This French husband and wife team opened my eyes to the real world of fiction. Stories about romance, beautiful damsels, handsome heroes and plots which kept me hooked. Of course, being a man, I had to keep my reading hidden from others as that wasn’t appropriate reading for men.

With this new found appreciation of the written word I took up other books and devoured them as a starving person would a plate of food. I them attempted to write again. I still wasn’t satisfied so I put it aside for years as other events entered my life.

Finally, in the early years of the new millennium I tried again to write and once again met with limited success. At least now I was able to get past the first page or two. Then, in 2006 a life changing event brought me back to my love, I took a job as a security officer. This allowed me plenty of time to read different genres.

My favourite was regency. As I poured through everyone I could get my hands on I knew this could be something I wanted to attempt.

Since 2012 when my debut regency romantic suspense released I was hooked and have, except for a few contemporaries, focused on this genre.

Since 2012 I’ve lived in central Texas. I’m also a member of Romance Writers of America and their local chapter.

Where you can find me-

Facebook

Facebook Pages

Twitter- @ldowns2966

LinkedIn

Goodreads

Lindsay Downs-Romance Author

Amazon

 

Wish-List Five: Mysteries & Thrillers

This month for the five books I’ve chosen on my wish list are mystery and thrillers-again. Yes, I have been on a serious kick lately of these two genres-or the mix of the two one might say. These stories you will see below will hopefully captivate you, have you biting your nails and provoke your thoughts you never could imagined. Well, at least for me I hope they do. I LOVE a good THRILL! Let’s get started, shall we?

The Crooked House

The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

Published in the United Kingdom in early 2015, Christobel Kent’sThe Crooked House has already drawn comparisons to works by the pantheon of British female literary suspense writers–Daphne du Maurier, Agatha Christie, P. D. James, and Kate Atkinson. In this darkly atmospheric psychological thriller, she accomplishes what those celebrated writers do best: she creates an insular world (a single house, a small town) where something sinister has occurred, and subtly inflects each page with the toxic residue of violence.

Much like the unnamed narrator of Rebecca, Alison lives her life under the radar. She has no ties, no home, and she spends her days at a backroom publishing job. Which is how she wants it. Because Alison used to be a teenager named Esme, who lived in a dilapidated house by a bleak estuary with her parents and three siblings. One night, something unspeakable happened in the house, and Alison emerged the only survivor. In order to escape from the horror she witnessed, she moved away from her village, changed her name, and cut herself off from her past.

Only now her boyfriend invites her to a wedding in her old hometown, and she decides that if she’s going to have any chance of overcoming the trauma of what happened, she’ll have to confront it. But soon Alison realizes that that night’s events have left a terrible mark on everyone in the village, and she begins to suspect that they are all somehow implicated in her family’s murder.

The Forgetting time

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

Noah wants to go home. A seemingly easy request from most four year olds. But as Noah’s single-mother, Janie, knows, nothing with Noah is ever easy. One day the pre-school office calls and says Janie needs to come in to talk about Noah, and no, not later, now – and life as she knows it stops.

For Jerome Anderson, life as he knows it has stopped. A deadly diagnosis has made him realize he is approaching the end of his life. His first thought – I’m not finished yet. Once a shining young star in academia, a graduate of Yale and Harvard, a professor of psychology, he threw it all away because of an obsession. Anderson became the laughing stock of his peers, but he didn’t care – something had to be going on beyond what anyone could see or comprehend. He spent his life searching for thatsomething else. And with Noah, he thinks he’s found it.

Soon Noah, Janie and Anderson will find themselves knocking on the door of a mother whose son has been missing for seven years – and when that door opens, all of their questions will be answered.

Sharon Guskin has written a captivating, thought-provoking novel that explores what we regret in the end of our lives and hope for in the beginning, and everything in between. In equal parts a mystery and a testament to the profound connection between a child and parent, The Forgetting Time marks the debut of a major new talent.

The Life we bury

The Life We Bury Allen Eskens

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe’s life is ever the same.

Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran–and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl’s life, especially Carl’s valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl’s conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

The Hanged Man

The Hanged Man by Gary Inbinder

Like many fin de siecle Parisians, Inspector Achille Lefebvre is looking forward to a pleasant summer holiday at a seaside resort with his wife, Adele—but a body found hanging from a bridge in a public park interferes with the inspector’s plans.

Paris: July, 1890. Inspector Achille Lefebvre and his wife Adele are enjoying their stay at a seaside resort—until a body found hanging from a bridge in a public park demands the Inspector’s attention. Is it suicide or murder? A twisted trail of evidence draws Inspector Lefebvre into a shadowy underworld of international intrigue, espionage, and terrorism. Time is of the essence; pressure mounts on the Sureté to get results. Achille’s chief orders him to work with his former partner, Inspector Rousseau, now in charge of a special unit in the newly formed political brigade. But can Achille trust the detective who let him down in another case?
Inspector Lefebvre uses innovative forensics and a network of police spies to uncover a secret alliance, a scheme involving the sale of a cutting-edge high explosive, and an assassination plot that threatens to ignite a world war.

Two Evils

Two Evils by Mark Shennen

DI Charlotte Savage has been warned to lay low. After a string of high profile cases, her infamous reputation precedes her.

But when a vulnerable child goes missing, for Savage, it’s too close to home. She’s not the kind of detective who can sit back and watch events unfold.

Then a second child is snatched – echoing a terrifying incident that happened over two decades before. It soon becomes apparent that there is a more chilling motive behind the disappearances.

History looks set to repeat itself. It’s down to Savage to seek out the cold blooded killer. Before it’s third time unlucky. Before it’s too late . . .

Book Descriptions from Goodreads.

Other Blogger’s Wishlist 5: The Maiden’s Court ,  A Bookaholic Swede , A Literary Vacation , 2 Kids and Tired Books

Confessions of a Book Blogger: What I Expect

Sawbones

A writer breathes life into characters with words and their book is their canvas. A writer’s art is to gather elements of life and situations and weave them into stories. To design a story that draws a reader in and leaves an impression that has the reader emotionally invested.

A book blogger’s blog is their canvas to express the feelings that they come away with in those stories. We want to be impressed with the narrative’s story-telling, themes and all other elements of the story. I want a writer to ignite my imagination. I want the characters to haunt me. Humans are multi-dimensional. I want that shown in stories. I want happy, raw, sorrowful, honest and REAL emotions.

Does SAWBONES do this for me? Find out when I post my review in April!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Review: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

The madwoman upstairs

In Catherine Lowell’s smart and original debut novel, the only remaining descendant of the Brontë family embarks on a modern-day literary scavenger hunt to find the family’s long-rumored secret estate, using only the clues her eccentric father left behind, and the Brontës’ own novels.

Samantha Whipple is used to stirring up speculation wherever she goes. Since her father’s untimely death, she is the presumed heir to a long-rumored trove of diaries, paintings, letters, and early novel drafts passed down from the Brontë family—a hidden fortune never revealed to anyone outside of the family, but endlessly speculated about by Brontë scholars and fanatics. Samantha, however, has never seen this alleged estate and for all she knows, it’s just as fictional as Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.

Yet everything changes when Samantha enrolls at Oxford University and long lost objects from the past begin rematerializing in her life. Her father’s distinctive copy of Jane Eyre, which should have perished in the fire that claimed his life, mysteriously appears on Samantha’s bed. Annotated in her father’s handwriting, the book is the first of many clues in an elaborate scavenger hunt derived from the world’s greatest literature. With the help of a handsome but inscrutable professor, Samantha must plunge into a vast literary mystery and an untold family legacy, one that can only be solved by decoding the clues hidden within the Brontës’ own writing.

For readers who devoured The Weird Sisters and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, The Madwoman Upstairs is a suspenseful, exhilarating debut by an exciting new talent who offers a moving exploration of what it means when the greatest truth is, in fact, fiction.

My thoughts:

When I was a teenager, I absorbed the stories written by the Brontës’. I would re-read them many times and would day dream about the characters and their plight. The prose and the character’s actions stayed with me for a long time. These stories to me were so atmospheric and wrought with overemotional heartache. I loved it!  Another aspect of the stories that fascinated me were the social norms of the period portrayed in the story. As a young person living in modern times I found that to be extraordinary and the injustice of it all would provoke so many feelings in me about it. I believe the story of Jane was the most meaningful for me. Her misfortunes and journey was powerful and I was moved by the narrator’s voice.

As I got older, I put these books aside. I think it’s because of my own situations in life hindered me from wanting to revisit them. I’ve really never explored my reasons why. Maybe I will one day. Anyhow, currently I have been rediscovering the sister’s stories again and now in a broader approach one might say.

The Madwoman Upstairs has stirred up so many of my old emotions about the Brontës’ and new emotions as well. Samantha Whipple became my new favorite heroine. Her qualities appealed to me and her search in finding the answers to her Father’s clues to the untold family legacy had me hanging on to every word she uttered. Her strange childhood with her Father has me even more intrigued.  The dynamics of the relationship building between Samantha and Orville are spellbinding to say the least. I think I feel a little in love with Orville. I found is him to be very Brontë-ish, if you know what I mean.

All the elements of the Brontës’ in the story was superbly written and alluring. We see many things come to light about the Brontës’ one might not have thought of. There is lots of enthralling material and insight to mull over. I will have to say that I was a little surprised and-maybe- disappointed in the way the story ended. I have two minds about how it could have ended but I will say that just gives me more to ponder on so I don’t mind at all!

I really cannot say enough about The Madwoman Upstairs. My review seriously cannot do this book justice. I highly recommend this story.

I obtained a copy of this book through NetGalley and the publishers for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Confessions of a Book Blogger with Heather Campbell

Stay calm and support book bloggers

I’d like to welcome, Heather Campbell today to take part in, Confessions of a Book Blogger.

What is your blog’s name and address?

The Maiden’s Court

When did you start a book blog and why?

 My first post was May 6th 2009 – so I have a 7-year anniversary coming up here shortly!  I was a part of a few different author message boards back then and followed 2 or 3 book blogs.  I was in my final semester of my senior year at college and had a little time on my hands. I always was a reader and quite honestly my boyfriend (now husband) was getting tired of listening to me talk about the Tudors all the time, so I thought a blog would be a fun way to chat with other book nerds about the things I was reading anyway.

What are the kind of posts do you feature?

The bulk of my posts are reviews of historical fiction and biographical non-fiction.  I feature author interviews and guest posts, typically when participating in blog tours or as part of the indieBRAG interview team. Additionally, I love exploring history, cooking, and old movies which I have managed to integrate in my blog as well. I have 4 signature series that I regularly feature:

  • Caught on Tape – which features one historical character and typically 5 or so films that they appear in.  Sometimes these films subsequently see a review on my site.
  • Two Sides to Every Story – which is a combination series of my own posts and author guest posts that look at two different sides of a controversial subject or character.
  • Weekend Cooking – this is a series that is hosted by Beth Fish Reads.  I have turned it into a historical cooking theme and will feature historical recipes or cookbooks that I have tried out.
  • Historical Virtual Tours – this is a series that features virtual tours of historic sites – some that I have visited complete with my own photos and commentary, and other times places I wish to visit with input from friends or the sites website, etc.

How often do you blog?

Typically, I aim for at least 3 posts a week. I was on a little bit of a consistency struggle in the latter half of 2015, so I’m working on getting back on track. Some weeks there can be more, but I shoot for 3.

What are some of the positive feedback you have received? 

That’s a difficult question to quantify. I had many readers that have stuck with me through the years and frequently comment or engage in other forms of social media – and to me that is one of the best types of positive feedback; they wouldn’t stick around if they didn’t like it!  I have also received kind words and thanks from authors that I have featured over the years – even a Christmas card or two. Oh and one fun experience thanks to a virtual tour I did for a historical site – they reached out to me and said if we came back they would give us some behind the scenes tour stuff that not everyone sees.

On average, how many books do you review a year? 

I typically review around 40 books a year.  I read anywhere between 50 and 70 a year, so that is a significant portion. Those that don’t get reviewed on the site are typically those I have read that are outside my blog genre specifications.

What is your favorite genre?

Historical fiction hands down – specifically straight historical fiction and historical romance.

What is your less favorite? 

Within the historical fiction genre, I’m not a big fan of historical mysteries. I love regular mysteries, but I frequently have found them lacking in HF. Otherwise, I don’t *get* literary fiction and am not a huge fan of the Classics or books written prior to 1900 – it’s a style thing.

How do you feel about negative reviews? 

I think negative reviews are valuable to the reader and the writer.  I have no problem writing a negative review if it is warranted. I write reviews on my blog for my readers.  When I started the blog it was because I wanted to be able to discuss what I read with other readers, and that is still how I operate today. I have certain bloggers who I have grown to trust their feedback and reviews as they haven’t steered me wrong. I wouldn’t want my readers to question my credibility if I only posted books that I found awesome or gave a skewed review of. But I think negative reviews can often be balanced by positive elements. I always link to other reviews by bloggers in my review and often look for a different opinion from mine in order to give people other sources of reviews that might be different from my perspective. I don’t think a review should ever criticize the author, someone worked hard for that book and it is their baby, but honest feedback is valuable and I’m very upfront about that.

When considering a book to review what do you look for?

I almost always review anything I have read in the historical fiction or non-fiction/biography genre – whether I signed up to review the book or picked it up off my personal TBR.  Like many, I have a core set of authors whose works I have loved that I would immediately sign up for any tour/review opportunity.  For books/authors I am not familiar with, I look for a blurb that sounds exciting or with interesting characters. I love books set in more unique settings or with lesser known historical figures.

List three book covers you love.

Somerset by Leila Meacham

 

The Island of Doves by Kelly O’Connor McNees

The Turncoat by Donna Thorland

How do you feel about authors using social media to speak out badly of reviewers who did not give the author’s book a glowing review? 

I think with social media – regardless of the topic – people are going to speak their minds.  And I am sure that it can be frustrating to see the product of so many hours and so much passion being bashed by someone online. Honestly, the best thing to do is ignore it.  Or if you need to vent about it, vent offline with a family member or friend.  Don’t put it online – someone will see it and share it. I have seen authors who have spoken badly about bloggers show up on blogger lists of “Authors Behaving Badly” and I know there are people who I won’t buy because of their behavior. Basically, you are your product and in this digital age, your product will be judged based on interaction with you.  Put your best face forward and if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Have you had any negative experience with blogging? 

Nothing that I can really call to mind. Sometimes certain authors or publishers can be a little pushy, but nothing more than that.

Do you read more than one book at a time? 

I typically like to be reading no more than 1 physical book/e-book and 1 audio book at the same time. This is because it is easier to keep the books separate in my mind and often the audio book is non-fiction while the physical book will be fiction.  However, there are certainly times that isn’t feasible…like right now, I am in the middle of 8!!!  A result of certain review dates coming up and delays in copies arriving, being sick, and stuff for school coming up.

Do you read self-published books? If so which ones have you read this year so far? 

 I do read self-published books, but I am typically a little more selective and do more research before picking it up. I will frequently read excerpts/samples of self-pub, whereas I don’t do that with traditional publishing. I’m looking for it to be formatted well and edited before I commit to reading it.

I don’t think I have read any so far this year. I have read a few that are from small/niche publishers, such as An Angel Called Gallagher by M.K. McClintock (this is the 4th book in her series and I think her early books *might* have been self-pub) and The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a blog?

I think people hesitate starting a blog because they don’t think they will be good at it and they worry about getting followers. My advice is don’t worry about anyone else, blog for you. You should always write something you would want to read and be genuine. Followers will come, probably slowly, but it will happen.  You have to come off as being you, people can tell when it is being forced. This will keep down the stress of being something you are not and reduce the potential for burnout. If you are stressing about blogging, you are doing it wrong!  Any time I find myself feeling pressured or out of sorts, I go back to the original concept behind my blog.  I remember that I started my blog for myself and never expected it to have a huge following or that I could receive books for free or engage with authors. I did it because I loved books and just wanted to talk with others like me.

Thank you, Heather!

Review: Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert

Loving Eleanor-larger pic

When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Eleanor Roosevelt in the 1932 presidential campaign, the two women become deeply involved. Their relationship begins with mutual romantic passion, matures through stormy periods of enforced separation and competing interests, and warms into an enduring, encompassing friendship documented by 3300 letters.

Set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War, Loving Eleanor reveals Eleanor Roosevelt as a complex, contradictory, and entirely human woman who is pulled in many directions by her obligations to her husband and family and her role as the nation’s First Lady. Hick is an accomplished journalist, who, at the pinnacle of her career, gives it all up for the woman she loves. Then, as Eleanor is transformed into Eleanor Everywhere, First Lady of the World, Hick must create her own independent, productive life.

My thoughts:

I have to say I am selective in what I read about political figures or their families. Often times I find them to be completely one-sided or bias. When I came across this story, I became intrigued with the premise and not having read historical fiction before on Eleanor Roosevelt, I decided to take the chance.

This story grabbed me from the beginning and I was taken quite surprised by many aspects of the story told. The portrayal of Eleanor and her relationship with Lorena Hickok was the most surprising. Though I won’t talk much about their relationship in this review, I will say Lorena-Hick-seemed to be almost obsessed with Eleanor at times and I questioned her opinions towards Franklin Roosevelt. To say further would give spoilers.

Eleanor took me by surprised a bit in this story. In the beginning and half way through the story she seemed nothing like what I have read about her in the past. Though yes, she had an unhappy childhood, she was plain looking and she was deeply influenced by feminism of her time and I do know she disagreed with her husband’s politics at times, however I was surprised at how Hick interprets Franklin’s and his family’s treatment towards Eleanor. I guess I have a lot more research to do on this subject.

I do admire Hicks ambition in journalism and her ability to stand tall in what was a man world at the time. I won’t deny her relationship with Eleanor was complex and provokes more thought into their relationship. The fact that it’s been documented that they have written thousands of letters to each other is really extraordinary and I really enjoyed reading about that greatly.

This story is a great piece of the era, women taking a stronger stand in the world, the struggles and heart ache of personal and public life of public figures, the profound sacrifices they make and the people who they love.

I obtained a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Cover Crush: SAWBONES by Melissa Lenhardt

As many of you know, I judge a book by its cover. And as I said on my last cover crush post, Overall presentation is important to pull a reader in. When I read a story I want to be completely immersed. A grand cover helps that along. Imagery and all-if you will. Check out this book description below and then be sure to read what I have to say about the cover and the premise!

Sawbones

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine’s false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.

My thoughts:

SAWBONES grabbed my attention immediately! I believe I stared at it for a few minutes taking it all in. Look as how she is clutching the doctor bag. You know right away she is about to flee. The tone of colors really sets the mood for the story. At least I hope it does. I have not read the book yet. If you look closely the background is a map. How cool is that?!

In the book description Catherine is a doctor and is accused of murder, I find the title (Sawbones) really interesting! Do you think morbid? Hmm…I will see when I read the story.

Everything about the cover, title and the book description draws a reader in.

This looks to be a gripping read!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Check out more Cover Crush posts from these two great bloggers!

A Bookaholic Swede

2 Kids and Tired Books

 

 

Characters in Motion with Martha Kennedy

Isolation and “Courage” in Martin of Gfenn

by Martha Kennedy

 “I realized then. Compassion requires the highest order of courage, not battle, not childbirth, not facing death. Those are easy. God designed us for them. Compassion, Martin. I never again suffered the darkness in my soul I had known all my life.”

 In medieval times physical courage was a big deal, the virtue of warriors, an attribute of crusading knights, romantic heroes such as the Knights of the Round Table, and real live men such as Richard the Lionhearted. This heroism was linked (as it is today) with the willingness to risk one’s life for something vague and worthy such as the True Cross (or Democracy). There were other kinds of courageous heroes, too, those whose heroism was manifest in their charity, for example Saint Francis and Saint Martin of Tours who, in imitation of Christ, gave their possessions to the poor and even (gasp!) kissed lepers. These examples of courage are public and dramatic, the stuff of legend and song.

As a writer, I’m not much interested in this dramatic kind of courage. I’m interested in the courage we all need to fully live the life that has been given to us. I am continually awed by the heroism of those who face a personal challenge in which they lose all they hold dear and yet emerge from the dark pit transcendent, confronting their lives, their futures, the world with compassion rather than bitterness. I am surrounded by these people every day, ordinary people with extraordinary courage. This is a major theme in Martin of Gfenn. Martin, the protagonist, is challenged to find the courage to live life as it has been given to him.

 Martin of Gfenn is set in mid-thirteenth century Switzerland. Martin is a young artist with tremendous talent and drive — and leprosy, a disease that disfigures, weakens and ultimately kills a person. In the middle ages, leprosy also had complex spiritual ramifications.

When his leprosy is discovered, Martin is only around nineteen years old, his life as a painter in front of him. He’s sent away from the Augustine Cloister. where he grew up and had begun his career, and he’s sent to the community of the community of the Knights of St. Lazarus — the Leper Knights — in the village of Gfenn two days walk away.

Christ being whipped_Lazarite church of Gfenn resized I

Naturally Martin is angry and sad, but he is also terrified that his leprosy will prevent him from painting — cripple his hands, blind him, eject him from society. He knows it will ultimately kill him, but it isn’t death that frightens him. He resists going to the leper community, fearing that if he surrenders to the reality of his affliction he can no longer paint. Determined to hide his illness, Martin becomes a successful mural painter in Zürich. His disease goes into remission, and he hopes against hope that the diagnosis was wrong. He experiences professional success and forms friendships, he is always profoundly alone, trapped in the fear that his illness, which goes into remission, will come back. He’s always afraid that he will be discovered and sent away or that he will no longer be physically able to paint. The combination of secrecy and fear leaves Martin psychically isolated, in terror of his future. Martin’s isolation ends only when he surrenders to his illness and joins other lepers at the leper hospital in the village of Gfenn.

He arrives at the community in the gray dismal days of November having been injured by hunters’ dogs who found him in the forest. At first, Martin is numb, defeated, seeing nothing around him but men waiting for death, living a cloistered life in which — Martin first believes — they are imprisoned. He sees his own future as an involuntary monk waiting to die.

St. Matthew and Angel_Ceiling_Lazarite Church at Gfenn resized I

The cloister is dismal and cold. The un-plastered, unfinished, unpainted walls of gray stone echo Martin’s misery, used as he is, as all would have been, to the brightly colored interior and exterior walls of medieval European cities. Learning that the buildings are new, the rough walls waiting for the right season to be plastered and finished, Martin founders in a sorrowful abyss of hopelessness. What might have been a project for Martin the Artist is nothing for Martin the Leper.

Martin reaches a psychological and physical crisis, collapsing on the floor of the unpainted chapel during the sanctification ceremony. He is delirious and fever-ridden for several weeks. During this time, everyone around him takes their turn caring for him. When he regains himself, he finds himself outside on a beautiful spring day. The first thing he sees are apple blossoms, beauty. Brother Heinrich is beside him on a bench beside the south wall of the chapel.

“I would…” Martin’s sentence broke off. “Could you get me something? I would like a piece of charcoal, a small one, some parchment? And a board? I would draw this scene, if I can.”

Brother Heinrich returned with all that Martin had asked for and found him sleeping. “It is best,” he said. He placed the board where Martin would see it, and placed the piece of charcoal in his hand.

Apostle John_ceiling_Lazarite Church at Gfenn resized II

When Martin woke, the sun was still high and the day still warm. Finding what Brother Heinrich had left, he sat up, and setting the board at an angle on his knee, held it with his left hand. He drew the branches in first blossom just as it was above him. Drawing filled his mind until there was no other world.

Martin slowly becomes part of the community at Gfenn, learning that “…where all are lepers none are lepers.” He makes friends with Brothers Hugo, Lothar and Heinrich and develops a complex and mutually rewarding bond with the Commander of the order. In the passing of time he is inspired to paint the chapel. In his box of tools, which he had named “La Mia Vita,” “My Life,”, he has some pigments left over from his painting days in Zürich and he finds more during his walks in the fens around the cloister. He begins a campaign to persuade the Commander to let him paint the walls of the now-plastered chapel, but he faces a challenge. The Commander is not sure WHY Martin is so determined to paint — is it for the glory of God or for the glory of Martin?

Christ in the center resized I

In afternoons spent reading to the Commander — who has all but lost his eyesight — Martin makes his pitch as well as he can. His main argument is that the people living at Gfenn should have the same beautiful images around them during worship that they had when they were living outside, that if any people in the world needed Christ’s message of hope, it is a community of lepers. Martin admits there is a personal component; he wants to paint while he is still able:

“For all your kindness, you have not heard me,” said Martin, softly. “Everything in my life, everything… I have read and interpreted and understood God’s word through these.” Martin held out his hands to the Commander, one hand robust, articulate and strong, the other rapidly losing its usefulness. “And through these I have worked to interpret it for others. I am terrified I will lose what little remains to me.”

But, persuasive as his argument is, it doesn’t work. Finally, in December, a year after his crisis, Martin summons the courage to draw, in chalk, the images he would paint. He chooses the east window of the chapel, a window that represents the Light of the World, the body of Christ. His determination is inspired by the misery of those around him, his sudden awareness that in his paintings might bring hope to others.

He looked through the arched opening to the refectory where the others sat at the long table knitting scarves and bandages, mending felt slippers and cassocks. They worked awkwardly, struggling with twisted hands, crumpled fingers, half-blind eyes. Each action, each stitch, reminded them of what they could no longer do. Martin’s heart filled… “This is no good,” he thought. “We go now from one dark, sad room to another.” He clenched his fist in frustration and decided to wait no longer.

He chose the darkest day, the shortest of the year. After breakfast he went directly to the chapel, his pouch filled with the good black charcoal he had made and what remained of brightly colored pastels he had made in Zürich. Above the small arched window, he drew the head of Christ, the window forming the body of the Lord. To the left of Jesus, Martin drew John the Baptist; to Christ’s right, St. Lazarus the Leper leaning heavily on his crutch, shaded from the heat by an apple tree. Each movement of Martin’s hand took his thoughts to this wall and restored his life. If the Commander didn’t like it, Martin had only to wash it away.

Martin grinned without flinching when the numbness of his face reminded him he could only half smile. God existed outside of time, as St. Augustine had proven, but Martin did not have the illusion of forever with which healthy people live. He had almost lost one hand to this disease. He decided then that if the Commander allowed him to paint, he would work directly on the walls. He would not paint for the future, but for the moment.

When the residents go to the chapel for mass, some of them see the drawings around the window. They are stunned, thrilled, by what they regard as a miracle.

(Martin) heard someone gasp, “Commander, look!” But the Commander’s weak eyes could not make out the shapes around the window.

“What are you talking about? What is it?”

“The Lord, Commander!” Hans Ruedi pointed at the window, but even the faint light coming through the Body of Christ was too much for the Commander’s eyes and blinded him to the shapes, lines and colors around it.

“Just tell me, my son, what is it you see?”

Others came to the front of the church to see what Hans Ruedi had seen.

“It is a marvel,” a hoarse voice spoke in wonder. Martin’s argument was made.

Martin wrests from the Commander permission to paint the chapel and he is given a helper, a healthy boy, Hans Ruedi who becomes almost a son to Martin. The familiar images of the church gradually appear on the walls, first in the chancel and then all around the sanctuary. At the same time, little-by-little, Martin loses his physical abilities.

In due time, the Commander dies. Though the Lazarite Order mandates that Commanders must be lepers, the population of lepers in Europe has declined, and there is no one to take the Commander’s place. He is replaced by a man who has no sympathy for the leper residents. Prior Werner, fears, detests and avoids them, does not give mass to them, does not take their confession. They are isolated within their own community which is now being shared with the healthy poor. The Commander had once said to Martin, “…compassion requires the highest order of courage…” In the cowardice of Prior Werner, Martin finally understands why this is so.

In the darkest time, Martin’s paintings — and Martin painting — take the place of religious services for the few remaining leper residents who come daily to the chapel to watch him paint. In Martin’s perseverance, and the emerging images of a beloved story, they find hope. And Martin no longer fears the moment that he will no longer be able to paint. He fears that he will finish the walls.

He awoke shaking. He washed as well as he could, and went to the chapel to await the day. He hoped it would be fine and that the body of Christ would be lit by the sun. He stood beneath his paintings, remembering all he had dreamed and fought for just to paint them. Where was that man? He seemed so far away. On his walls, Christ was dying. At each step, he died a little more. He had no faith. He did not know what would happen to him; God’s son, and yet? “The human Lord is the only Lord who could love us,” thought Martin. “Only a God of flesh could feel what it means to be human, to carry death with you always, to be frightened, hopeless and resigned.”

Light took the horizon bringing a clear day. Turning his back to the window, Martin walked into the nave to begin work. He was halfway through the scene of Christ being lowered from the Cross. Christ’s eyes were black slits, his mouth a slash across his lower face. Martin stared, remembering different work, fluid lines, the elegant expression of a dragon at St. George’s feet, the soft blue eyes of a girl soon to be a bride. Martin awkwardly dipped his brush into the red earth that would cover the green under painting of the faces on the wall, but as he lifted it, the brush fell and splattered red paint everywhere. Martin tried picking it up, but his arm could not respond to his will.

He stepped down … and tried to gather his tools into the box, but that, too, was more than he could do and so, leaving everything behind, he walked outside into a world that had become suddenly spring.

Certain that he cannot continue, Martin “…went to Prior Werner’s latticed window and said, “Father, I can no longer paint. In any case, I could not have placed that poor man into the cold ground.” Martin takes his leave of the Prior and goes for a walk along the fens. His fear that he could no longer paint has long vanished, replaced by compassion for what he is painting and those for whom he paints.

***

The Lazarite Church in the Swiss village of Gfenn is a real place and the paintings described in my novel — some of them — are really there. No one knows who painted them. I tried to depict them in the story as I saw them on the walls and ceilings of the church. I imagined the painter having been a leper, a resident of the community. Such a thing is not impossible, still Martin and all the others are fictional characters. Where I found historical facts, I used them as the scaffolding on which I’ve hung my story.

Martha Kennedy II

Martha Kennedy was born in Denver, Colorado. She attended Colorado Women’s College and the University of Colorado, Boulder where she earned a BA in English. She then went on to earn a master’s degree from the University of Denver, also in English. At the time, her main focus of interest was Godey’s Lady’s Book and her thesis looks at the first few years of the editorship of Sarah Josepha Hale and the role of the magazine in promoting work by American writers. For thirty years, Kennedy lived in the San Diego area and taught writing at the university and community college level. She has recently returned to Colorado and now lives in Monte Vista, a small town in the beautiful San Luis Valley.

In 1997, Kennedy made her second trip to Switzerland. She’d become intrigued by medieval history after reading two books — How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill (she bought the book thinking it was a joke) and A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman. Having learned of the evangelical journey of the Irish monk, St. Columbanus with his colleague, St. Gall (who remained in what is now Switzerland and is Switzerland’s patron saint), Kennedy wanted very much to see the places in real life. That journey led her to the Lazariterkirche im Gfenn (the Church of the Knights of St. Lazarus in Gfenn). Though the church has nothing whatever to do with St. Gall, the history of the church inspired Kennedy to learn more about the Knights of St. Lazarus and to write the novel Martin of Gfenn. In the process, she became a Swiss medievalist historian.

Martin of Gfenn was named an Editor’s Choice book in the Indie Novel category by the Historical Novel Society in 2015 and long-listed for the Indie Award. It is also an B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree.

Kennedy has published a second novel, Savior, which tells the story of a young man who goes on Crusade to save his soul which he believes is in the grip of Satan. Kennedy has also written a third novel, The Brothers’ Path, which looks at the effect of the Reformation on a family of brother living in the Canton of Zürich in the early 15th century during the ascendancy of Huldrych Zwingli. 

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