Book Review:June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

JumeTwenty-five-year-old Cassie Danvers is holed up in her family’s crumbling mansion in rural St. Jude, Ohio, mourning the loss of the woman who raised her—her grandmother, June. But a knock on the door forces her out of isolation. Cassie has been named the sole heir to legendary matinee idol Jack Montgomery’s vast fortune. How did Jack Montgomery know her name? Could he have crossed paths with her grandmother all those years ago? What other shocking secrets could June’s once-stately mansion hold?

Soon Jack’s famous daughters come knocking, determined to wrestle Cassie away from the inheritance they feel is their due. Together, they all come to discover the true reasons for June’s silence about that long-ago summer, when Hollywood came to town, and June and Jack’s lives were forever altered by murder, blackmail, and betrayal. As this page-turner shifts deftly between the past and present, Cassie and her guests will be forced to reexamine their legacies, their definition of family, and what it truly means to love someone, steadfastly, across the ages.

My thoughts:

I love stories where there is a dual timeline of events past and present. I found this story to be genuinely absorbing. Though I have to say in the beginning Cassie’s story intrigued me more than her grandmothers story, June. There are so many wonderful characters and characters you will want to throttle in this story and the glam of Hollywood stars, a rambling old home-Two Oaks that was spectacular in its heyday. Voices of the past haunting Cassie as she is faced with discovering her family’s legacy.

There is some twist to the plot and I have to say, I guessed what was going to happen but not in every detail of the plot. There were some surprises for me.

I found this story to be thoroughly enjoyable and atmospheric. I also enjoyed the authors details to Two Oaks and the roots planted there by not only the people that lived in the house but by the people in the town that affected their lives. I wouldn’t mind revisiting this story again one day.

I rated this book four stars!

Cover Crush: Time and Regret by M.K. Tod

Cover Crush banner

I admit, I judge a book by its cover. 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!

Time and regret

About the book:

Time and Regret: When Grace Hansen finds a box belonging to her beloved grandfather, she has no idea it holds the key to his past—and to long-buried family secrets. In the box are his World War I diaries and a cryptic note addressed to her. Determined to solve her grandfather’s puzzle, Grace follows his diary entries across towns and battle sites in northern France, where she becomes increasingly drawn to a charming French man—and suddenly aware that someone is following her…

Through her grandfather’s vivid writing and Grace’s own travels, a picture emerges of a man very unlike the one who raised her: one who watched countless friends and loved ones die horrifically in battle; one who lived a life of regret. But her grandfather wasn’t the only one harboring secrets, and the more Grace learns about her family, the less she thinks she can trust them.

My thoughts:

I have to confess something. Yesterday when I first saw this book cover on Facebook, I was sipping a cup of hot tea and almost spilled it all over me. I kid you not. Such a dramatic and artful cover that has been beautifully crafted. The cover gives you a real sense of time and place of the era its written in. I was totally cover crushing over this yesterday and still am. My deepest respect to the designers.

When I read the book blurb I became more intrigued. I love reading stories that hold long buried secrets, the bond of family and in the mist of troubled times. This story has all the elements of a good read and I am REALLY looking forward to reading it.

Check out these other great cover crushes at my fellow book bloggers sites!

A Bookaholic Swede

Flashlight Commentary

2 Kids and Tired Books

 

 

Characters in Motion: Self-Image by M.J. Logue

Mel LogueI’d like to welcome M.J. Logue to Layered Pages to talk about self-image of her main character in The Serpent’s Root.  M.J., writer, mad cake lady, re-enactor, historian has been slightly potty about the clankier side of Ironside for around 20 years, and lists amongst her heroes in this unworthy world Sir Thomas Fairfax, Elizabeth Cromwell and John Webster (for his sense of humour.)

When not purveying historically-accurate cake to various re-enactment groups across the country, M.J. Logue can usually be discovered practising in her garden with a cavalry backsword.

M.J., how is self-image important to your characters?

I’d like to introduce you to my marred, mad Puritan lieutenant, Thankful Russell.

He’s not my main protagonist – well, no one’s going to describe Hollie Babbitt as a hero, apart from possibly his wife, and she’s biased – and he was really never meant to be in the books at all…a minor character, the walk-on secretary to the Earl of Essex in the second book, and that was all. Until someone asked me if Essex’s marred secretary was the same badly-hurt casualty of Edgehill that sets Luce Pettitt (who’s the closest I have got to a hero) on the path to his eventual post-war medical career.

He wasn’t, of course, but it set me to thinking.

One of my favourite characters, actually, and possibly the least likeable on the surface: Russell (not unreasonably, he hates his ostentatiously godly given name – and Thankful is only the half of it!) starts off in the novella “A Cloak of Zeal” as a young man living a double life: devout and respectable by day, roistering by night. He’s a stunningly beautiful young man: tall and slight and fair, with a lot of thick barley-blonde hair and dark, slaty-grey eyes, perfect cheekbones, a slightly sulky pout…. right up until the butt-end of a shattered pike ruins his beauty forever at the battle of Edgehill in 1642, in the first full-length book of the Uncivil Wars series, “Red Horse”.

And in one sense, that’s the making of Russell, because it destroys the boy he was, utterly. Not only good-looking but utterly arrogant, utterly devoid of sympathy, wholly assured of his place in God’s grace – and then all of a sudden he’s not only physically disfigured, but invalided out of his position in the Army, abandoned to the kindness of strangers, bereft of both his hope and his future. An object of pity and horror, and the worst of it is that he knows it, and he’s terrified.

What’s fascinating to me about writing Russell is that he has two self-images: he is, very much, bipolar, in the modern sense. One is the judgmental, arrogant Puritan; prim and self-righteous and very, very unforgiving. He’s been brought up – cruelly and loveless, but how can he know that? – to believe that he’s one of the Lord’s Elect and everyone else is a miserable backslider, and so he’s conditioned to seeing himself as set apart, as better. (Which also makes him a phenomenally efficient officer – he can’t be bought or bribed, and he knows exactly what his duty is and he will hold to it no matter what – but that’s sort of by the by.) But then he has this permanent internal dialogue: if God loves me so much, why did He mean me to be so horribly scarred? And because it’s Russell’s nature to question, to want to know, he doesn’t always like the sort of answers that he gets. That maybe there isn’t a purpose, maybe the world is random. Maybe he isn’t meant as some kind of latter-day martyr. Maybe there isn’t a God – or if there is, that maybe Russell deserved to be disfigured, because he isn’t one of the Elect after all. And so the other self-image he has, on his dark days, is that he really is a horrible, bad person, who’s being punished for his arrogance and vanity by this scarring that means that his outward seeming is as unlovable as his soul must be.

The irony is, of course, that when he joins the Army of Parliament before Edgehill Thankful Russell is not quite eighteen, and as full of unrealistic ideals as a hedgehog is of fleas. And like most teenagers he wants to change the world, he believes most passionately in fairness and equality and he has a ludicrously inflated sense of his own self-importance. But, then again, he doesn’t know that he’s like every other young man ever, because he’s never been allowed to mix with the sort of rowdy young gentlemen who might have knocked some sense into him. (Not until – well, about book three, when he comes up against someone who has a similar upbringing and no patience with overwrought teenagers – to wit, Colonel Hollie Babbitt.) And even when he does know it – when he’s forced to look in a mirror, literally and figuratively, and acknowledge that he’s no different from any other man, neither better nor worse – he’s not reassured by that knowledge, good Lord, no. He’s outraged.

The more I write Russell, the more I love him. He’s horribly mixed up – damaged, self-destructive, ferociously intense – and yet at the same time he’s very simple. He wants to be loved, and he’s convinced he doesn’t deserve to be. Most of the time he’s hurt, frightened, and very lonely – and determined that the world shouldn’t know it. We do – the reader sees him close to breaking many times, as he starts to outgrow the rigid shell of the identity his upbringing has imposed on him – but oh, he must be hard work to live with!

Writing the way, he changes and grows over the Uncivil Wars series, from the judgmental neurotic of “The Smoke Of Her Burning” to a relatively unremarkable, if slightly shy in company, husband and father by the time his own series is set twenty years later, I’m struck by how easy it would be to have made him a fixer-upper – waiting for the woman with the magic wand to heal his poor yearning heart.

As it is, he’s going to spend the rest of the series learning to fix himself.

And then?

Well, and then he gets a series of his own. But that’s twenty years in the future, and there’s a King to execute and another king to restore to the throne before Thankful Russell gets his happy-ever-after.

The Serpent's FootBack blurb for The Serpent’s Root:

 After Marston Moor. After Naseby. War returns to the West Country.

 Book 5 in the bestselling Uncivil Wars series, featuring the adventures of Hollie Babbitt and his rebel rabble of Parliamentarian cavalry.

 Cornwall, 1646.

 Thomas Fairfax and the Army of Parliament are on the verge of victory, bringing the King’s Army to bay in Cornwall.

But Hollie, far from his wife and the future he’s fought so hard to build, is bound by honour to stay with his company in the West Country, though it may cost him everything he holds dear at home in Essex.

 And a bitter choice lies before the Cornish captain Kenelm Toogood – freedom of his conscience, or freedom for his homeland?

 “…. reminiscent of Cornwell’s Richard Sharpe.” Historical Novel Society review of Red Horse

Website

Blog

Uncivil Wars Blog

Twitter:           @hollie_babbitt

Facebook

Amazon links: Author.to/MJLogue

 

 

Wish-List 5: Christian Fiction

I am a Christian but generally do not read Christian Fiction. There are very few authors who write in this genre well, in my opinion. Often I find these stories to be too preachy or unrealistic. Or the characters seem artificial to me. I want real life, raw, vivid situations, real human struggles, real emotions and happiness-yes-but believable. I don’t like sugar coated stories. I want to see characters overcome hardships in the face of evil. I want truth. I want to be inspired. 

I came across this titles on gooderads and I really like what I saw. Now I am really looking forward to reading these in the near future!

Kiss of NightCenturies ago, Raphael was a blasphemous knight who fought in the Crusades purely for his own mercenary benefit, and to satisfy his taste for killing. Now, condemned for his evil passions and hypocrisy, he wanders the earth a vampire, cursed with first-hand knowledge of the supernatural world he once denied existed. The powerful relic he still possesses from his days as a Crusader has been stolen by a rival vampire who has recruited an army of soulless underlings to aid him in spreading evil. At the time he learns this, Raphael has been hunting this vampire for nearly a century, and it seems the final battle is destined to take place in Prague.br For help in this quest, Raphael must enlist the aid of two humans, David and Susan, who suddenly find themselves immersed in a world they never imagined, entangled with supernatural forces they can’t control. Susan, in particular, finds herself conflicted as she struggles with her inexplicable attraction to Raphael. In the end, both Susan and Raphael will be called upon to exercise courage and faith, and in the process, the question, “What would happen if a vampire truly accepted God?” is answered.

 

The Mermaid in the BasementA wealthy widow of a nobleman, daughter of a famous scientist, and skeptic who only trusts what can be proven.

Meet Serafina Trent. A woman about to take 19th Century London by storm.

It’s London, 1857, and everything is at stake for Serafina Trent. A woman of means . . . but not the typical Victorian lady who feels her place is to be seen and not heard. When her brother’s most recent female dalliance, a beautiful actress, is found murdered, all evidence points to him. Especially since the actress had just rejected him in a most public manner. Now everyone believes Clive is headed for the gallows. Everyone, that is, but Serafina.

Determined to prove her brother’s innocence, Serafina finds herself working with unlikely allies–including Dylan Tremayne, a passionate storyteller and actor with a criminal past. This novel will hold fans of mystery and history spellbound until the very last page.

Victorian England comes alive in this intriguing new series from one of Christian fiction’s favorite authors.

 

Whisper A Scream Noche Files II know evil exists, I met it face to face Solomon Noche is a therapist in the seemingly normal small town of Retselville, Kentucky dealing with displaced anger toward God after his family dies tragically. Nightmares encapsulate him where an ancient demonic cult sacrifices children in Retselville. Despite Sol’s protest, God chooses him to stop them. This discovery thrusts him into a journey where reality and psychosis blur as a nightmarish figure torments him with riddles and time-traveling horrors. The first riddle leads Sol to unearth a preacher’s journal from the 1800’s in a secret cellar in his yard. It details Elijah Darius’ mission to stop the cult and his eyewitness account of a demon named Miyah and its demand of child sacrifices to the ancient god Dagon. The journal intertwines with Sol’s life, and guides him to expose more secrets about Retselville, and the evil hidden history of the grounds where he works. As each riddle is solved, more horrors are uncovered including finding a sacrificial altar, a ritual dagger, and a well of children’s skulls. The closer he gets to the truth, the more sinister the secrets become as he believes all of Retselville may be part of the cult and their centuries’ old secrets. More than Sol’s life hangs in the balance, as Miyah tempts him with unfathomable choices. But resolves his only hope is in repentance as only God can save him and defeat this demon and its’ followers. Sol confronts Miyah in its appalling, fallen form a final time, in a battle beyond Retselville and Solomon Noche, but innumerable souls. Whisper A Scream is a supernatural thriller with demons, cults, and time-traveling nightmares. It becomes an intense thrill-ride of suspense, seizing you until the last page, with an addictive story that falls off the edge of horror. Dread seeps into your soul as you awaken to find yourself walking down the mysterious path with Sol and cower at the sights and sounds encountered. Pray your voice is heard as you WHISPER A SCREAM!

 

Yesterday's TomorrowVietnam, 1967.

Independent, career-driven journalist Kristin Taylor wants two things: to honor her father’s memory by becoming an award-winning overseas correspondent and to keep tabs on her only brother, Teddy, who signed up for the war against their mother’s wishes. Brilliant photographer Luke Maddox, silent and brooding, exudes mystery. Kristin is convinced he’s hiding something.

Willing to risk it all for what they believe in, Kristin and Luke engage in their own tumultuous battle until, in an unexpected twist, they’re forced to work together. Ambushed by love, they must decide whether or not to set aside their own private agendas for the hope of tomorrow that has captured their hearts.

A poignant love story set amidst the tumultuous Vietnam War.

 

A Voice in the WindThe first book in the bestselling Mark of the Lion series, A Voice in the Wind brings readers back to the first century and introduces them to a character they will never forget—Hadassah. Torn by her love for a handsome aristocrat, this young slave girl clings to her faith in the living God for deliverance from the forces of decadent Rome.

 

 

 

 

INTERESTED IN MORE WISHLISTS?
CHECK OUT WHAT MY FRIENDS HAVE BOOKMARKED:

Erin at Flashlight Commentary
Magdalena at It’s a Mad Mad World
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Colleen at A Literary Vacation 
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Interview with Author Laura Powell

Laura PowellI have the great pleasure of welcoming Laura Powell to Layered Pages today. Laura is a Features Commissioning Editor at the Daily Telegraph. She has written for The Guardian, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and various magazines. She was awarded a New Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales and was named as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars. She grew up in South Wales and now lives in London. The Unforgotten is her first novel.

Laura, thank you so much for talking with me today about your book, The Unforgotten. What a stunning debut! I enjoyed your story and I love the complexities of your characters. Tell me how you came to write this story?

Thanks so much – it still feels funny to hear that other people have read about the world that lived in my head only for so long. I started writing it one Sunday afternoon when my then-boyfriend was in football practice. I’d been on Facebook and had seen an old face that brought back so many memories. Out of the blue I started writing a dark, sort-of love story about someone who was in a relationship but was never sure whether her feelings were returned or not. By the end of the day I’d written two chapters. I’ve since weaved in lots of other elements – murder, mental illness, moral dilemmas. But that bittersweet love story remains the core for me.

What is the premise of your story?

It’s a forbidden love story between a 15-year-old girl Betty and a 30-year-old journalist Gallagher set in 1950s Cornwall. They’re from different classes, different worlds – but their relationship becomes very deep, very fast. They meet when Gallagher arrives in the fishing village where Betty lives to report on a series of murders – but they soon make a discovery related to the murders. And they are each faced with a huge dilemma that tests their feelings for the other and questions their morality. The devastating consequences of that decision unravels over the next 50 years.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

It is very dark, bleak but there is also a hopefulness and a lightness to it, which I hope shines through. Though ultimately I’m a sucker for a weepy book or film so…

How is your character(s) influenced be their setting?

The main character, Betty, is 15 and has hardly ever left her hometown of St Steele – a fictional Cornish fishing village – aside from going to the occasional dance in the neighbouring town. She travels outside that area for the first time in her life in the book – first to St Ives, a real Cornish town. And later, to London. Taking her away from that setting makes her even more vulnerable than she always has been, but also really tests her, as she has been so insulated (geographically speaking) all her life.

The Unforgotten

How did you choose a Cornish fishing village of St Steele as the setting of your story? Is it a real place? And why did you choose the 1950’s as the period for your story?

I chose to write about Cornwall because it’s my favourite part of the country. I’m Welsh. I now live in London. And I studied in the West Midlands (Warwick). Yet I’ve been to Cornwall – usually St Ives – every year since I was born, sometimes twice or three times. I love the town, it is full of happy memories with friends and family, so it was wonderful to ‘live’ there in my head for so long when writing. Yet I didn’t want to be tied to a real place so I invented St Steele. It’s loosely based on a teeny cove called Porthgwidden in St Ives that is just gorgeous. Making it a fictional place gives you a lot more freedom to move around, and to pick up a building or a street and drop it elsewhere if that benefits the plot, rather than being tied down to the truths of history.

Please tell your audience a little about Dolores Broadbent.

Dolores is the third main character. She is the mother of Betty, the main character. And she runs the guest house in St Steele. She was by far the easiest character to write and I had such a clear vision of her – a little like Julianne Moore’s character in A Single Man (the beautiful Tom Ford-directed film with Colin Firth.) She is beautiful and glamorous and whimsical but damaged and broken. She once had any man she wanted, she wafted about and was carefree. But now she is older, widowed, with little money, failing looks and a daughter of 15 who is not at all as she was, she is finding it hard to come to terms with her lot and as a result, can be quite violent and brutal. I loved her complexity. I hope people have the same sympathy for her that I do.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

I’ve probably gone through every feeling on the spectrum. But if I’m honest, the one thing I always feel is disappointed. I wonder why I wrote that terrible line, why this or that isn’t working as well as I’d like it to, I’m constantly critiquing my writing and pulling it apart. I’m a bit of a malcontent. But I’m teaching myself not to be. Slowly.

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

To inhabit the world as clearly and fully as I inhabit the ‘real’ world.

What are you working on next?

Another book. I don’t want to say too much in case I jinx it but it’s dark and historical and layered with mystery that unravels over the years, based on a catastrophic fictional event in our pasts. The idea has been bubbling in my head for years and I’m really enjoying delving in!

What is your writing process?

I’m afraid it’s an approach I can’t recommend for others but it works for me – ‘feast and famine’ is probably the best description. I spend weeks obsessed with writing the book; I think about it, write every spare second I have, late into the night and early into the morning, I write bits on the Notes of my phone, on my laptop when I’m on buses and trains, on scrawled napkins in cafes, then back to my laptop that night. Even when I’m with friends I’m thinking about the book… Then I crash. And spend a few weeks sleeping, reading, working, living etc – before I begin writing again. This is just for the first and second drafts I should add – I’d go mad if I was like that permanently. The later editing processes are much more methodical and orderly and calming. But that early writing stage is all a bit, well, obsessive!

Where can readers buy our book?

Amazon, Waterstones or Freight Books. Here are the links! If you read it, I’d love to know what you think – I’m on Twitter @laurapow1

Sites:

Waterstones-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

Amazon UK

Freight Books-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

 

Book Spotlight: Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert

02_Loving EleanorLoving Eleanor
By Susan Wittig Albert

Publication Date: February 1, 2016
Persevero Press; Thorndike (Large Print)
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Large Print

Genre: Historical Fiction/Biographical Fiction

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When AP political reporter Lorena Hickok—Hick—is assigned to cover Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the wife of the 1932 Democratic presidential candidate, the two women become deeply, intimately 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 that ends only with both women’s deaths in the 1960s—all of it documented by 3300 letters exchanged over thirty years.

Now, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wittig Albert recreates the fascinating story of Hick and Eleanor, set during the chaotic years of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the Second World War. Loving Eleanor is Hick’s personal story, revealing Eleanor 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, as well as by a compelling need to care and be cared for. For her part, Hick is revealed as 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.

Drawing on extensive research in the letters that were sealed for a decade following Hick’s death, Albert creates a compelling narrative: a dramatic love story, vividly portraying two strikingly unconventional women, neither of whom is satisfied to live according to the script society has written for her. Loving Eleanor is a profoundly moving novel that illuminates a relationship we are seldom privileged to see and celebrates the depth and durability of women’s love.

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Praise

“Albert captures Hick’s spirit with energetic prose, painting a colorful picture of her fascinating life together with and apart from Eleanor. Although this memoir is fictional, the author draws upon thousands of personal letters, first-person accounts by others, and further research to present a compelling possible narrative of the relationship between Eleanor and Hick. Albert’s illuminating afterword adds important context to her narrative choices, and a comprehensive bibliography will encourage additional research. This warm, extensively researched novel will entrance readers and inspire them to look further into the lives of two extraordinary women.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Albert captures the turbulent thirties and forties with affecting detail, writing a novel notable not only for its emotional authenticity, but for its careful historicity. The nuances of Eleanor and Hick’s relationship are both moving and involving. Loving Eleanor is an intelligent love story with huge historical appeal.” —Foreword Reviews

“Susan Albert has done it again with another engaging, rich portrait, this time of women in love. Drawn from history, the love story of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and journalist Lorena Hickok is full of excitement, drama and pathos. Both women of great intelligence and deep feelings, Eleanor and Lorena move from lovers to lifelong friends in the context of the most turbulent times of the 20th Century. As same-sex relationships finally move toward full acceptance in our culture, Albert’s book reminds us that love has always been love, no matter the partners.” —Robin Gerber, author of Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way

“Loving Eleanor, Susan Wittig Albert’s novelized memoir of Lorena Hickok’s intimate relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt, is both richly nuanced and impressively detailed. Drawn from the thirty years of correspondence Hickok donated to the FDR Library toward the end of her life, “Hick’s” voice felt utterly authentic to me, always real, raw and compelling. Hick is a dichotomy—a tough, streetwise Associated Press reporter, and a tender, devoted friend and lover. This is not only an important book, but a great read. Loving Eleanor deserves to be at the top of your reading list!” —Ellen Hart, author of The Grave Soul, a Jane Lawless Mystery

“Susan Albert has, with imagination and deep knowledge of the historical record, supplied the missing pieces of the love story of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok. Here is everything we wish we knew. I couldn’t put it down.” —Leila Rupp, Professor of Feminist Studies, UC Santa Barbara,

“This birds-eye view of the FDR years is engaging from the first sentence. With Eleanor Roosevelt’s long-time lover as its narrator it navigates the catastrophes of the era and the heartbreak of women loving women in an unwelcoming time.” —Rebecca Coffey, author of Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story

About the Author03_Susan Wittig Albert

Susan Wittig Albert is the award-winning, NYT bestselling author of the forthcoming historical novel Loving Eleanor (2016), about the intimate friendship of Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok; and A Wilder Rose (2014), about Rose Wilder Lane and the writing of the Little House books.

Her award-winning fiction also includes mysteries in the China Bayles series, the Darling Dahlias, the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and a series of Victorian-Edwardian mysteries she has written with her husband, Bill Albert, under the pseudonym of Robin Paige.

She has written two memoirs: An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days and Together, Alone: A Memoir of Marriage and Place, published by the University of Texas Press.

Her nonfiction titles include What Wildness is This: Women Write About the Southwest (winner of the 2009 Willa Award for Creative Nonfiction); Writing from Life: Telling the Soul’s Story; and Work of Her Own: A Woman’s Guide to Success Off the Career Track.

She is founder and current president (2015-2017) of the Story Circle Network and a member of the Texas Institute of Letters.

For more information please visit www.susanalbert.com and www.LovingEleanor.com, or read her blog. You can also find Susan on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Goodreads, and Pinterest. Like the Loving Eleanor page on Facebook.

Review: A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4) by Susanna Calkins

A Death Along the River FleetLucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the vilest portion of the River Fleet one morning when she encounters a distraught young woman, barely able to speak and clad only in a blood-spattered nightdress. The woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her, and the townspeople believe she’s posessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care. As the woman slowly recovers, she begins-with Lucy’s help-to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.

My thoughts:

A Death Along the River Fleet is the first book I have read by Susanna Calkins and probably the first historical fiction book I have read that takes place soon after the great London fire. The title of the book, the cover and the premise really drew me in. I was completely absorbed in the story from the very beginning.

I’d have to say that Lucy Campion is now one of my favorite female heroines. She is strong, intelligent, wise even. I love her process of thought and her desire to help people. The fact that she works as a printer’s apprentice helps a great deal too! Also, how the people around her respond to her is fascinating. Really strong character development here.

There are solid historical aspects to this story and I was thrilled with the intrigue! How the story unfolded and how the clues were stacking up was brilliant! This is about the best mystery story I have read in a long time. I really can’t say enough great things about this book. I highly recommend it. Now I will be sure to go back and read the other three books that came before this one!

Rated: Five Stars!

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

Stephanie M. Hopkins

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY IS AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY, BUT IT’S ALSO A TOUR OF FLORENCE

Welcome Donna Russo Morin to Layered Pages! 

Thank you so very much for hosting me today. It’s always a pleasure to have a chance to chat with bloggers and their readers.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples has its historical basis rooted firmly in truth…one of the greatest conspiracies of the 15th century, a conspiracy that reached all the way to the Vatican. An assassination plot history now calls the Pazzi Conspiracy. With such a firm historical foundation, it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the city of Florence, as it was in 1478. And thanks to the many resources, both paper and virtual, the details of the setting found their way onto my page. It even allowed me to create a map, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Renaissance Florence map

Today, I’d like to share some of those remarkable architectural delights with you.

We must start where the story starts, where the assassination takes place: in Brunelleschi’s Duomo. In truth the Gothic style basilica, part of the complex of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral), was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Built on the ruins of the 7th century Santa Raparata Church, construction on the new structure began in 1296; it wasn’t complete, as it stands today—as it was in 1478—until 1436.

 

Duomo collage

The exterior façade is a checkerboard of marble using three different colors and strains of the opulent stone. Only in comparison, can the inside be called rather plain. By far one of its most enchanting features is the mosaic pavements that cover the floor.

But it is the dome itself that has always made the Duomo not only one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, but one of its most innovative. Using buttresses was forbidden in Florence, for it was a favored technique of their enemies to the north. Creating an unsupported dome had never been done before. Only a Renaissance genius such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) would dare attempt it. For decades, Florentines feared it would fall upon their heads, especially during times of unrest, when they believed the wrath of God would strike the dome, burying any beneath in a fatal rubble. Today, the golden-bricked dome is one of Florence’s most recognized monuments and dominates the skyline.
Palazzo della Signoria collage

Giuliano de’ Medici is murdered. His brother, the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici survives. But he would never be the same again. He sets out on a rampage of vengeance that would eventually find close to one hundred executed. Lorenzo’s preferred method of eliminating his enemies…throwing them out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria (now known as the Palazzo Vecchio), a rope wrapped around their throats.

The government palace is made of solid rusticated stonework and is enhanced with two rows of Gothic windows. It is from these windows that the Otto, the eight that ruled the police forces of Florence, flung the Medici enemies.

Built in 1299 by the citizens of the original Florence commune, it has been enlarged and enriched by decorative details in the many years since. It is at one of the main entrances to the palace that Michelangelo’s David originally stood. This most famous sculpture has since been replaced with a copy when the original was damaged in one of Florence’s many military challenges.
Santo Spirito collage

The secret society of women artists that inhabit Portrait of a Conspiracy are a product of my imagination only. Santo Spirito, the church in whose sacristy the woman have their ‘secret studio’ is very real.

The Basilica of the Holy Spirit (simply known as Santo Spirito) is located in the Oltrarno quarter of the city, in 15th century Florence, one of the wealthiest sections of the city.  The original structure was also built in the 13th century. The existing structure was also designed by Brunelleschi after it suffered both physical and spiritual ruin during a period of the city’s civil unrest. The first cornerstones of the building, the pillars, were delivered ten days before Brunelleschi’s death. His followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea completed the work begun by the master.

Santo Spirito will play a major role in all volumes of the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It is not only the home of this secret art society, it is the location of some of their most decisive challenges.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Florence. You’ll find more, including the actual names of the streets as they existed in the 15th century, within the pages of my books.

Book Blurb:

02_The-Portrait-of-Conspiracy

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

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

 About the Author

03_Donna Russo Morin (2)

Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on

Twitter@DonnaRussoMorin.

 Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Giveaway

To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!

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Direct Link to enter giveaway click here

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Characters in Motion with Hunter S. Jones

Deb Hunter

PHOENIX RISING by HUNTER S. JONES

What are the common movements your characters make?

For PHOENIX RISING, I wanted to write a something different about the Anne Boleyn story. As an American, I knew there was no way I could compete with UK historians or fiction authors, so I looked for a way to take a very English story and giving it an American slant.

PHOENIX RISING is the story of the last hour of Anne Boleyn’s life, as told by an astrology chart. The chart is explained by the contemporary American descendant of King Henry VIII’s physician, Lady Bliant, who drew the chart for the king in order to calculate the best time for the queen’s demise. The chart is broken down into the movement of various characters at court, based on the interpretation of the chart and the planetary aspects at that moment in time, 19 May 1536.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

Queen Anne Boleyn is going through various stages of shock, disbelief and hope. As we can all understand, looking back from this point in time. Unfortunately, little remains of her last weeks because Henry VIII had almost every vestige of her existence removed. I had to go on what was reported by Kingston from the Tower of London, and what was written by Chapyus to the Spanish King. I did find a few obscure folkloric references which stated that if someone could get an herb concoction placed in the wine of those awaiting beheading, it would act as a tranquilizer, and calm the victim. To me, that explained Queen Anne’s behavior in the Tower. History reports she would go from being completely manic, as we call it now, to surprisingly calm and even accepting of her fate.

It doesn’t seem to far fetched really. Everyone knows that if someone could place gunpowder into a pocket of a burning victim, it would kill them before they were actually burned at the stake. Those were harsh, brutal times.

Anyway, I digress. Anne went from being queen to being a prisoner in the Tower of London in a matter of hours. Within weeks she was tried and executed. Reports state that until the end of her life she comported herself as bravely as possible. She chose her clothes with precise and immaculate detail, as she always had. She meets death very much a Queen of England.

Who are your five top antagonist? Talk about each one and what motivates them.

PHOENIX RISING

PHOENIX RISING has the following antagonists. All are historical, although I have used a great deal of creative license in the story simply because we just don’t know, do we?

King Henry VIII, is shown in a surprisingly different manner than the usual mode.

Sir Francis Bryan is presented as wanting Queen Anne removed because he believes she has risen above her ranking, no longer serves the King’s wishes, but serves her own selfish needs and that Jane Seymour will give the king the male heir the king desires. I have him as Jane’s godfather in PHOENIX RISING, and feel this is true, based on the fact that she referred to him as her uncle. This remains a term of endearment in some English/British households for one’s godparent.

Lady Jane Seymour is portrayed as ambitious and jealous of Queen Anne Boleyn. She feels she is the only person in England worthy to be Henry’s queen and give him a male heir. She was being fitted for her wedding dress at the time of Anne’s execution. This is historically accurate and I just don’t believe it reflects as a ‘nice’ person, now or five hundred years ago, do you?

Chapuys is portrayed as a gossip more than a royal ambassador.

The Court in general is an antagonist. We have to remember, they had no television or mode of entertainment therefore life was their spectacle. Generally, Anne was disliked–a great deal of the court favored the Princess Mary, and the court really didn’t know what to think about the king’s infatuation with Jane Seymour. I wanted the uncertainty, the unease of the court to be captured.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

Each character is captured in the last hour of Queen Anne Boleyn’s life. Some are happy, others aren’t.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

At this moment in history, there was so much weighing in the balance, wasn’t there? A Queen of England had never been executed. It gave me an ideal setting for an ensemble cast in a fictional story.

Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?

There is so much we don’t know about that last hour. That is why I found it to be an ideal spot for fiction. I could allow my imagination to play with the characters and the setting.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

We can only imagine what happened in that last hour of Anne Boleyn’s life. There were plots, intrigues and conspiracies underway that played themselves out in that hour, week, month and even years later. Her execution left an impact on the English monarchy. I wanted to place the reader where a few of the key players, and a few fictional characters, might have been.

Self-image is important in your characters, how is this important to your characters?

It isn’t a stretch to say that Tudor England is a gold mine when it comes to grandiose individuals. Theatrics played a major part in the reign of the Tudors, and the members of the court. How they were seen and the legacy they left to the world may be a major reason why they remain so fascinating to us today.

How do you/Or talk about how you flesh out the moment of greatest sorrow in your characters?

PHOENIX RISING involves the readers; they get a glimpse into each character’s thoughts and motives. It’s based on a form of storytelling which makes the ‘audience’ part of the story and shows how everyone plays a part during their lifetime. From there, the narrator allows each character to give their story from their POV.

A few characters are ready for the end of Queen Anne Boleyn, but I attempted to look into the emotional motives of all concerned.

Talk about the courage and strength of your character. -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes.

Phoenix Rising is brief. Think about an hour when your life changed and how quickly the time passed. I had to capture that in each individual. Each one had their own agenda at that moment which changed the course of England, and history, forever.

There are as many answers to this question as there are characters in the story. In other words, this is a fantastic question.  Thank you for featuring me on your blog today. As always, you are an absolute delight to work with.

About Author:

Deb Hunter writes fiction as Hunter S. Jones, publishing as an indie author, as well as through MadeGlobal Publishing. She is a member of the prestigious Society of Authors founded by Lord Tennyson, Historical Writers’ Association, Historical Novel Society, English Historical Fiction Authors, Atlanta Writers Club, Atlanta Writers Conference, Romance Writers of America (PAN member), and Rivendell Writers Colony which is associated with The University of the South. Originally from a Chattanooga, Tennessee, she graduated from a private university in Nashville and now lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her Scottish born husband.

Follow her on social media at these sites:

Website

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carol Edgerly

Carol Edgerly BRAGI’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Carol Edgerly today to talk with me about her book, Claire. Carol Born in Calcutta, she spent most of her early childhood in France and then Jersey in the Channel Islands.  Educated first at a French Convent, she attended Jersey College for Girls and later went to Heathfield, a girls’ boarding school in Ascot.

Throughout her life (and three marriages) Carol has travelled extensively, visiting the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, living several years in France, India and HongKong.

A qualified teacher, she ran a successful Tutorial in Hongkong for many years, teaching children French and English towards eventual O-Level examinations. She is delighted to still keep in touch with a number of ex-pupils.

Upon retirement to France, Carol was able to carry out a burning desire to write the story of her French great-grandmother’s astonishing life, told to her by a great-aunt when she was twelve years of age. In the delightful surroundings of her home in the Dordogne at that time, she wrote the story of MARGUERITE in long hand, initially for the benefit of her three children.

Years went by, and sweating blood and tears Carol battled the mysteries of a computer, MacWord and email…finally Facebook and Twitter. Encouraged by friends and her three children, she re-invented herself as a writer and typed out the manuscript of MARGUERITE on her new Mac computer, editing furiously as she went. The exercise, however, took decidedly longer than she had imagined!

Unwilling to pursue a (generally) disappointing path to literary agents and publishers, being dismally aware her work might end up unread, and thrown on a “slush pile” Carol ventured into the world of independent-publishing. It was one of her life’s greatest emotional moments to hold a print copy of MARGUERITE in her hands for the first time!

Delighted by readers’ response to the book, Carol went on to write CLAIRE, the story of Marguerite’s wilful elder daughter, who led an amazing if somewhat tragic life. Now there is “SUSANNA…the Early Years” Volume 1, soon to be on Amazon, this being the story of one of Claire’s granddaughters. This particular book shines a light on bullying in its worst form, an unpleasantness that unfortunately persists to this day.

“SUSANNA…a Tale of Passion and Betrayal” Volume 2, will follow in due course.

Carol still lives in France, now in a comfortable old farmhouse set in the centre of its own twenty-eight acres of pastureland in the Vendée. Sitting at her desk in the veranda, she is invariably surrounded by six much-loved adopted dogs of all shapes and sizes.

Her two well-travelled horses now gone to heaven, she keeps five gorgeous, Baudet de Poitou donkeys. Adding to the animal family, there are two small bunnies living in their “château” and very large cage, a sweet barn cat, and an elderly cockatiel that swears colourfully when in the mood!  

During summer months, Carol receives visitors at her B&B, helping to finance her large animal family and maintain her home.   

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I noticed an indieBRAG book award on Facebook and wondered if MARGUERITE, my first book, might be eligible?  It was!  Thrilled to have MARGUERITE awarded a Medallion, I submitted CLAIRE, a second book in the saga that was also fortunate enough to win a Medallion.

Claire image two BRAG

Tell me about your book, Claire

Claire was the eldest daughter of Marguerite de Merencourt and her husband Patrick, a surgeon in the Indian Cavalry based at Lucknow in northern India.  Subsequent to her husband’s brutal assassination, Marguerite left her five children with nuns in Simla and undertook a full nurse’s training in Scotland, specialising in midwifery.  Upon her return, she retrieved her children and moved to Calcutta where she set up her own nursing home for expectant mothers.

Discovering her mother’s French aristocratic family, Claire bitterly resented her mother’s occupation as midwife, acutely aware that society in Calcutta would classify it as “trade” and members of her family were therefore unacceptable. Unable to come to terms with that, in addition to a bitter resentment of her mother’s preferential treatment of a younger sibling, Claire agreed to Marguerite’s proposal that she marry Jack MacLeod, a well-to-do businessman in Calcutta. It was not a love match: Jack required a competent wife to complement his burgeoning career, and Claire saw it as an escape from her mother’s suffocating domination.

On her wedding night, seventeen-year-old Claire made the traumatic discovery that her new husband happened to be in love with another man’s wife.  In an attempt to overcome her shock and make the best of her situation, she determined to impress her husband by an undoubted efficiency in organizing the entertainment of visiting politicians and business acquaintances. It did not take long for the young woman to become a much-sought after hostess in Calcutta’s society. Although pleased by his wife’s success, Jack remained impervious to Claire’s considerable charm.  Deeply unhappy, she sought advice from various quarters, even to having a baby to please her husband.

The book continues to follow Claire’s journey through life – her joys, sorrows, disappointments and successes. In her desperation to be loved for herself, she would make life-changing mistakes.  Claire thought to have finally found happiness with a young bohemian artist she met whilst on holiday in the south of France…

Please tell me a little about the historical aspects to your story.

The story takes place during the British Raj in India, post the uprising of Indian sepoy troops that resulted in a massacre of many British families. During that period, etiquette was all-important in society, hence the relegation of Claire’s family to its very fringes. Those fortunate enough to be “accepted” lived a luxurious and exciting existence.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

 From the time she was a young girl, Claire always had an eye for the latest fashion. Whilst still at her family home, she would secretly “adjust” what she considered to be the overly demure neckline of her dresses, frequently causing outrage to her mother.  As time went by, Claire showed herself to possess immaculate taste in clothes and furnishing, an enjoyment of lavish entertaining, her vivacity attractive to businessmen, diplomats and Indian princes alike.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

Throughout her life, Claire was desperate to lose what she perceived as the “stain” of her mother’s occupation, viewing it as unnecessary and undignified in light of Marguerite’s aristocratic background.

 What is one of the life-changing mistakes Claire makes?

 Driven into a corner at an overemotional point in her life, by her husband’s refusal to educate the little boy she had adopted a few years earlier, Claire impulsively returned the child to the orphanage.  Brutally abandoned by the woman he had come to regard as his mother, the little boy’s anguished screams would haunt Claire for the remainder of her life.

She never forgave herself.

What was the inspiration for your story?

Initially I was inspired to write the amazing story of my great-grandmother, Marguerite, for my three children as a sort of family “testimonial.” In turn, they encouraged me to write for a wider readership, certain others would find her story as riveting as I had myself.  Delighted over how well the book was received, I went on to write about her rebellious eldest daughter, Claire.  The life of Susanna, one of Claire’s granddaughters follows on…

Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

 Being extremely fond of Claire myself, it was far from easy to write about her “warts and all.” Tempting through it was to draw a rosy-hued veil over Claire most glaring mistakes, I managed to resist and tell her story as it was.

Where can readers buy your book?

Both the printed version and e-book for MARGUERITE and CLAIRE can be obtained on Amazon sites.

Author Website

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Carol Edgerley who is the author of, Claire, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, 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, Claire, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money

Stephanie M. Hopkins -indieBRAG Interview Team Leader 

indiebrag team member