Cover Crush: Echoes of the Runes: A sweeping, epic tale of forbidden love by Christina Courtenay

I don’t read romance stories often but this one looks fantastic and I adore the cover! The title and premise isn’t too shabby either. I find the color blue popping up everywhere and the cast of hues are terrific!

Reading the description, one can tell it is much more than a romance and it looks to be full of adventure and all sorts of imagery. Adding this book to my 2020 to-read wish-list!

Echoes of the Runes A sweeping, epic tale of forbidden loveExpected publication: March 5th 2020

Their love was forbidden. But echoed in eternity.

When Mia inherits her beloved grandmother’s summer cottage, Birch Thorpe, in Sweden, she faces a dilemma. Her fiance Charles urges her to sell and buy a swanky London home, but Mia cannot let it go easily. The request to carry out an archaeological dig for more Viking artifacts like the gold ring Mia’s grandmother also left her, offers her a reprieve from a decision – and from Charles.

Whilst Mia becomes absorbed in the dig’s discoveries, she finds herself drawn to archaeologist Haakon Berger. Like her, he can sense the past inhabitants whose lives are becoming more vivid every day. Trying to resist the growing attraction between them, Mia and Haakon begin to piece together the story of a Welsh noblewoman, Ceri, and the mysterious Viking, known as the ‘White Hawk’, who stole her away from her people in 869 AD.

As the present begins to echo the past, and enemies threaten Birch Thorpe’s inhabitants, they will all have to fight to protect what has become most precious to each of them…


Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated by Erin at Historical Fiction Reader 

Other book bloggers who participated in the great cover crushes series. 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

(All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie.)

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Cover Crush: Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition by Buddy Levy

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Not only am I interested in this story but the cover is fantastic and gives you the perfect imagery for the story. Adding this book to my reading pile for 2020! By the way…follow St. martin’s Press on Facebook. They have a brilliant vidio/promo on the book.

LABYRINTH OF ICE by Buddy LevyBased on the author’s exhaustive research, the incredible true story of the Greely Expedition, one of the most harrowing adventures in the annals of polar exploration.

In July 1881, Lt. A.W. Greely and his crew of 24 scientists and explorers were bound for the last region unmarked on global maps. Their goal: Farthest North. What would follow was one of the most extraordinary and terrible voyages ever made.

Greely and his men confronted every possible challenge—vicious wolves, sub-zero temperatures, and months of total darkness—as they set about exploring one of the most remote, unrelenting environments on the planet. In May 1882, they broke the 300-year-old record, and returned to camp to eagerly await the resupply ship scheduled to return at the end of the year. Only nothing came.

250 miles south, a wall of ice prevented any rescue from reaching them. Provisions thinned and a second winter descended. Back home, Greely’s wife worked tirelessly against government resistance to rally a rescue mission.

Months passed, and Greely made a drastic choice: he and his men loaded the remaining provisions and tools onto their five small boats, and pushed off into the treacherous waters. After just two weeks, dangerous floes surrounded them. Now new dangers awaited: insanity, threats of mutiny, and cannibalism. As food dwindled and the men weakened, Greely’s expedition clung desperately to life.

Labyrinth of Ice tells the true story of the heroic lives and deaths of these voyagers hell-bent on fame and fortune—at any cost—and how their journey changed the world.

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated by Erin at Historical Fiction Reader 

Other book bloggers who participated in the great cover crushes series. 

Magdalena at A Bookaholic Swede
Colleen at A Literary Vacation
Heather at The Maiden’s Court
Holly at 2 Kids and Tired

Saturday Sunday: Book Collage & Lost Love

Book Art Nancys book

Author Nancy Bilyeau sent me a galley copy of her novella, The Ghost of Madison Avenue and the cover inspired me to create a mix media digital collage for the cover. I started reading the story Thursday night and I was so engrossed in the story, I read late into the night. What a perfect time to read this hauntingly good story.

My background choice for the collage comes from my own picture of a denim rag rug I sewed this week. The textures are digital stars and I felt they added a mysterious feel to the cover. Be sure to get your copy of this fabulous story on Amazon! My review coming soon! -Stephanie Hopkins

A Christmas Novella in Old New York

In this compelling and poignant story, bestselling author Nancy Bilyeau takes readers to New York City’s Morgan Library in December 1912, when two very different people haunted by lost love come together in an unexpected way.

Helen O’Neill, part of a tight-knit Irish-American family in the Bronx, is only too happy to report to work at the spectacular private library built on Madison Avenue by millionaire financier J. P. Morgan. The head librarian, the brilliant and beautiful Belle da Costa Greene, had hired Helen away from the Metropolitan Museum of Art after she witnessed Helen’s unusual talent with handling artifacts.

About Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau is the author of the historical thrillers “The Blue” and “Dreamland” and the Tudor mystery series “The Crown,” “The Chalice,” and “The Tapestry.” She is a magazine editor who has lived in the United States and Canada.

In “The Blue,” Nancy drew on her own heritage as a Huguenot. She is a direct descendant of Pierre Billiou, a French Huguenot who immigrated to what was then New Amsterdam (later New York City) in 1661. Nancy’s ancestor, Isaac, was born on the boat crossing the Atlantic, the St. Jean de Baptiste. Pierre’s stone house still stands and is the third oldest house in New York State.

Nancy, who studied History at the University of Michigan, has worked on the staffs of “InStyle,” “Good Housekeeping,” and “Rolling Stone.” She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at the Research Foundation of CUNY and a regular contributor to “Town & Country” and “Mystery Scene Magazine.”

Nancy’s mind is always in past centuries but she currently lives with her husband and two children in New York City.

A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1) by Charles Fergus


A Stranger Here Below (Gideon Stoltz #1)

by Charles Fergus

Hardcover, 304 pages

Expected publication: March 19th 2019

I just added this to my wish-list. I love the simplicity of the book cover and yet at the same time there is so much more to image. The scenery in the image draws me in…  It gives you an atmospheric feel of a mysterious primitive time in the past. I hope this story delivers because it sounds utterly fantastic and it take place in one of my all-time favorite periods. -Stephanie M Hopkins

About the book:


For fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett series, a fabulous historical mystery series set in early America. 

Set in 1835 in the Pennsylvania town of Adamant, Fergus’s first novel in a new mystery series introduces Sheriff Gideon Stoltz, who, as a young deputy, is thrust into his position by the death of the previous sheriff. Gideon faces his first real challenge as death rocks the small town again when the respected judge Hiram Biddle commits suicide. No one is more distraught than Gideon, whom the old judge had befriended as a mentor and hunting partner. Gideon is regarded with suspicion as an outsider: he’s new to town, and Pennsylvania Dutch in the back-country Scotch-Irish settlement. And he found the judge’s body.

Making things even tougher is the way the judge’s death stirs up vivid memories of Gideon’s mother’s murder, the trauma that drove him west from his home in the settled Dutch country of eastern Pennsylvania. He had also discovered her body.

At first Gideon simply wants to learn why Judge Biddle killed himself. But as he finds out more about the judge’s past, he realizes that his friend’s suicide was spurred by much more than the man’s despair. Gideon’s quest soon becomes more complex as it takes him down a dangerous path into the past.

Interview with Stephen E. Yoch

Stpehen Yoch

I’d like to welcome, Stephen E. Yoch to Layered Pages today to talk with me about his book, Becoming George Washington. Stephen. to start, thank you for chatting with me today about your book, Becoming George Washington and how delighted I am that you have chosen to write about his younger years. I adore America History.

Thank you.

Please tell me why you chose George Washington as your subject to write about?

I’ve always been fascinated by Washington. His ability to repeatedly give up power makes him truly unique. December 23, 1783 should be celebrated as much as July 4, 1776.  It was the day that Washington returned his commission to Congress at the end of the Revolution.  His willingness to give up power in 1783, and, at the end of his second term as President, makes him one of the most important leaders in world history.

To understand Washington’s unprecedented actions, my research drove me into his youth where I found a story that few people know and that compelled me to pick up my pen and share it.

For those who don’t know, who is Sally Fairfax?

Sally Fairfax was the wife of George William Fairfax. The Fairfax family was connected to the Washington family through George’s older half-brother Lawrence Washington.  George first met Sally as she joined the Fairfax family.  Virtually all historians agree that George fell in love with Sally and most agree that she loved him.  The question which no historian can really answer, is whether their affair was ever consummated.  Certainly neither Sally nor George ever admitted to anything in their lifetimes.  My book presents one possible story, but the Extended Author’s Notes in the back of my book discuss the views of the leading non-fiction historians on this controversial topic.

Is there a defining moment in Washington’s life that has left an impression on you?

As discussed above, his return of his commission to Congress was perhaps the greatest act of his life, and one of the turning points in American history. However, in his young life, which I cover in my book, it is the Battle of the Monongahela.  That event transformed Washington into a national figure and hero, cemented his leadership position in Virginia, and positioned him to lead the Revolutionary Army twenty years later.

Could you please share an excerpt?

See “The Battle” Excerpted below.

In your research did you discover anything about him that-maybe-most people do not know? If, so can you please share?

Washington’s young life was incredibly hard. We have this misperception caused by the invented “chopping down the cherry tree” story, which created the impression of a loving father and an idyllic childhood.  In fact, Washington’s father was largely absent and he died when George was only 11.  George’s mother was a very difficult person and they had an extremely strained relationship their entire lives.  With his father’s passing, George lost any ability to obtain a classical education in England and his financial resources were limited.  Far from an “ideal” childhood he had to overcome great challenges to become the George Washington that led the Revolution.

Stephen Yoch photo

What is your overall feeling about the American Revolution?

It is a watershed moment in world history. Because of Washington, and our other Founding Fathers, we avoided the typical pattern of revolution which includes violence followed by an anti-democratic counter revolution.  Washington, arguably more than anyone, helped establish the most enduring and robust democracy in history.

 Will you continue to write stories that take place in this era?

Absolutely! I am writing a series of books that deal with the American Revolution.  Upcoming books are (in order of publication):

Becoming Benedict Arnold

Becoming Alexander Hamilton

Becoming Benjamin Franklin

Where in your home do you like to write and how often do you write?

Whenever possible, I like to sit outside and read and write in the woods surrounding my home. One of my “disadvantages” has also given me great flexibility in how I write.  When I was 27, I had a cascading thoracic compression in my neck which caused me to largely lose the use of my arms for a year.  Since then, I’ve experienced significant weakness in my arms which prevents me from typing more than a few sentences at a time.  With the support of my wonderful partner and assistant, Deborah Murphy, all my books, articles, and other correspondence have been dictated.  Thus, I do not need a good writing surface or a power source to write.  All I require is a chair, my dictaphone, and an opportunity to think and write.

When I am actively writing, I follow no set pattern. That is, I do a great deal of research, and when I feel that I have reached a critical mass of understanding of facts of a particular scene, the story and narrative usually come to me in bursts.  I then feel compelled to get it all written down as soon as possible.  This can involve writing (dictating) very early in the morning, late at night, or whenever time permits.  When I reach a lull, I revert back to intensifying my research on certain scenes or areas until the words return.  It is the constant tradeoff between research, writing, and editing that I find so enjoyable.

Tea or coffee by your side when writing?

Tea. I’ll drink coffee when I grow up.

Stephens book

 Excerpt: The Battle

At about 2:30 p.m., George, still at Braddock’s side, was surprised to hear the unmistakable pops of muskets, followed a couple minutes later by the crash of mass directed fire. The column shuddered to a halt, and Braddock immediately ordered messengers ahead to determine what was happening. Within a couple of minutes, he received confused reports from young officers indicating that the vanguard had run into French and Indian troops, with volleys erupting directly in front of Gage’s men and resulting in an indeterminate number of casualties.

As updates continued to stream in, Braddock remained composed and, apparently completely at ease on his horse, made no effort to move forward. George pulled his mount next to the general and volunteered, “Sir, if you would like, I would be pleased to go to Colonel Gage and the van and provide you with a more complete report of conditions.”

Confidently surveying the troops, Braddock spoke without looking at George. “As you were, Colonel. I am receiving regular reports. Our calmness inspires the men. I can’t have you gallivanting off in a huff. My aides-de-camp must be at my side if the battle becomes hot. I am confident this is an exploratory force of French and Indians charged with preventing us from simply walking up and taking the fort without a shot.”

“Yes, sir.”

As he said it, George’s temper flared: It is more than that! And we are sitting in the middle of the road like pigs awaiting slaughter. George added, with more urgency than he intended, “Our preliminary reports say in excess of three hundred French and Indians, General.”

“Never believe the initial reports, Colonel; they are almost always wrong.” Then, Braddock muttered to himself, “Where are the goddamned cannons? Gage, what the hell are you waiting for?”

George liked Thomas Gage and desperately wanted to find out what was going on and, if possible, join the fight. Then, in apparent response to the general’s whispered plea, came the twin boom of Gage’s six-pounder cannon. A cheer went up from the British lines.

Slapping the top of his leg with obvious pleasure, the general exclaimed, “There you go, Colonel; that will put the fear of God into the savages!” Turning to Orme, Braddock ordered with calm military precision, “Please instruct Lieutenant Colonel Burton forward to reinforce the vanguard.”

Word came that Gage’s troops had executed classic formations: kneeling, firing, reloading, and firing in ranks in turn. This mass firing, along with the use of the cannons, was apparently met with some initial success. However, there were also indications that Indians were moving down either side of the column and enveloping the British’s unprotected flanks, limiting the British’s ability to bring their superior firepower to bear.

The war whoops and battle screams of the Indians began in the surrounding woods, terrifying the British soldiers. The instant the fighting began, the unarmed road builders under St. Clair began moving to the rear. When the Indians increased their battle yells, a controlled retreat by the unarmed men turned into a full sprint, unnerving the regular soldiers who remained as road builders ran past them to the rear.

George was next to Braddock when a disturbing report arrived that Gage had apparently ordered his grenadiers to fix their bayonets and form a line of battle to rush the hill on the British right flank. The grenadiers followed the first order but then, in terror and confusion, refused to move forward as the Indians appeared to materialize from all sides.

Within fifteen minutes of the first shots, the French and Indians had moved along both sides of the British line and had taken control of the hill on the British right that Gage had neglected to secure. The concentrated British formations were ideal targets for French and Indian snipers shooting from cover. Now directed fire began to rain in from all sides, especially from the hill overlooking the right side of the British line.

Around him, George could see the main body of soldiers were nervous and fidgeting. Glimpses of running Indians could be seen in the woods. It was increasingly apparent that the French and Indians were using the trees and terrain as cover to fire on the British. Periodically a French rifle would ring out, a nearby British soldier would scream, and a volley of British guns would blindly return fire at the hidden source of the shot.

A wounded St. Clair, shot in the shoulder and chest, was pulled on a gurney before Braddock. Delirious, St. Clair bizarrely shouted at Braddock in Italian. Braddock, without breaking stride, responded in the same language.

Amazed, George turned to Orme, who explained, “St. Clair laments that we are all going to die and should retreat. The general told him—rather directly—to shut his mouth.”

George then heard St. Clair switch to English and gasp, “For God’s sake, the rising on our right.” Then he collapsed onto his gurney, unconscious.

George noticed for the first time what St. Clair was talking about. “He raises a good point, Robert!” George shouted above the battle’s din. He pointed to the hill. “I believe the general should move our men there.”

A frustrated Orme replied, “The general believes in firepower, not maneuver.”

As if responding to Orme’s comment, nearby artillery began to fire, but the gunners failed to find any target and mainly contributed smoke and noise to the confusion with no adverse effect on the enemy.

Meanwhile, Gage’s vanguard retreated as its ranks were decimated by enemy fire. Gage’s men, along with St. Clair’s already fleeing road builders, smashed like waves into the main body of soldiers that, under Lieutenant Colonel Burton, were moving forward. The soldiers met each other at the base of the hill now held by the French and Indians, just as St. Clair had feared. The telescoping line was now a morass of men moving forward and backward, with units mixed in terrified confusion. Almost the entirety of Braddock’s whole army was now squeezed into an area less than 250 yards in length and about a hundred feet wide, while the rear guard was still about a half mile behind. French and Indians fired volleys of arrows and ball with virtually no chance of missing. Not only did the Indians have the advantage of cover, but they also shot with rifles that had greater range and accuracy than the British smooth-bore Brown Bess muskets.

Braddock became incensed at the disorder. He slapped men with the side of his sword, bellowing, “Get back to your standards, men! There is no retreat here. Move to your officers and return fire!”

George recognized the need to move men into the woods and engage the enemy while also presenting a less inviting target. Turning to the general, George yelled, “General, we must not crowd the men! Please, General! Let me lead some men out into the bush!”

A blazing Braddock spat back, “As you were, Colonel! We need to organize our men to attack and mass fire against these heathen bastards.” George acknowledged the order and turned back to the men to hide his disgust.

About forty-five minutes into the battle, George began to see the noose tighten as the French and Indian movement along either side of the British line had created an elongated half moon of French and Indians surrounding Braddock’s troops. The hair-raising shouts of the Indians, coupled with steadily increasing fire, left the British feeling trapped and defenseless.

As George approached Orme, a bullet grazed George’s side and hit Orme squarely in the thigh, staggering his horse. Amazingly, Orme stayed in the saddle, and, without missing a beat, he reached into his bag and pulled out a sash, tightly winding it around his injury.

“Robert, you are wounded!” George pleaded. “You should move to the rear.”

“There is no rear, my friend, and I can’t leave you and the general. It appears the bullet went straight through. Unfortunately it also seems to have wounded my horse. I’ll stay with him as long as I can.”

With George, Morris, and the wounded Orme at his side, Braddock was moving up the line toward the front of the column. They continued perhaps another twenty yards when suddenly Braddock’s horse collapsed from a shot to the head. Braddock deftly jumped from the saddle, and without any apparent concern for his own safety, he turned to Orme and said, “Down you go, sir. You are wounded, and I need your horse.”

“My horse has been injured, General, but he still seems to ride well,” said Orme as he hopped down and helped the general mount.

“It’s just a nick below the saddle,” Braddock said. “Your leg and the saddle were kind enough to absorb most of the energy, Captain. You will remain here with these troops and provide direction.”

George dismounted and helped Orme to a nearby tree. “Do make an effort to stay out of trouble, Robert,” George said with forced levity.

Grinning despite the pain, Orme retorted, “Don’t worry about me, you blasted fool. You are the largest target out here. I’d say keep your head down, but there is nowhere to hide that enormous body.”

The men’s conversation was suddenly cut short by the bark of General Braddock, “Goddamn it, Washington! You are with me, sir!”

George and Braddock trotted along the line. Periodically George would see flicks of Braddock’s uniform spray in the air as French and Indian soldiers directed overwhelming fire on the high-sitting general.

After almost an hour of battle, men all along the line continued to drop from sniping fire and Indian arrows. Nevertheless the British remained tightly packed, falling back on training that was designed to provide mass fire in the open fields of lowland Europe.

What had started as a crystal-clear day now appeared like a foggy morning, with white powder smoke from cannon, musket, and rifle obscuring targets. Shots of canister, essentially giant shotguns, were being directed into any identified concentrations of French and Indians with minimal effect, hitting more trees and leaves than enemies. A dry dust filled the air, mixing with insects and heat to create the perfect cocktail of misery for all as canteens ran dry.

George knew the men were petrified at the prospect of being captured. They had all seen the Indians’ handiwork on the mutilated bodies of unlucky British soldiers separated from the column. It was this fear, more than anything else, that kept them together.

Everything about this engagement—the sights, sounds, and smell—was different for George. When his men had endured the onslaught at Fort Necessity, the incessant rain and stifling humidity had deadened the sounds and smells of battle. In contrast, today the dust-filled air carried sound with horrifying clarity. The acrid smell of gunpowder stung everyone’s eyes, and the men’s faces were covered in powder from biting cartridges to refill and fire their muskets. At Fort Necessity, the Indians’ arrows were both silent and largely inaccurate. Here, George would periodically hear the twang of a bow, closely followed by the scream of the arrow hitting home. Even the perspective was different. He sat high on a horse here, whereas at Necessity, he slogged in the mud. Finally, most importantly, George did not face the burden of ultimate command in this battle. He relayed orders and observed the mêlée, but he was not the man fundamentally responsible. This detachment gave him the perspective he recognized he was missing at Fort Necessity.

While the British soldiers were a crowded, paralyzed mass of mindless confusion, the Virginians instinctively took charge and began moving out into the trees and fighting “bush style,” effectively pushing back the French and Indians. Moving in small groups, the men used the undergrowth, trees, and rocks for cover as they deftly approached the French and Indian position.

One group of 170 Virginians attempted to deploy into the woods. However, British officers mistook the blue-clad Virginians for French Canadians and directed mass fire, wiping out the officers and all but five of the Virginia soldiers, despite their screams that “We are English!”

Any soldiers taking the initiative and moving forward to engage were also almost immediately cut down by friendly fire. While clouds of smoke obscured vision, the misdirected fire was caused more by raw terror and a lack of leadership. George saw a Virginia soldier aggressively move forward to engage the enemy. Suddenly, the man’s skull exploded like a melon hit with a hammer. George knew it was equally likely the bullet came from a friend as from a foe.

The narrow road and fire coming from all directions made traditional maneuvering virtually impossible. Still, Braddock, with George at his side, rode up and down the lines, haranguing his men to form platoons. But Braddock was unable to organize movement into any particular direction. Meanwhile, men had to avoid being run over by periodic riderless horses racing to the rear—another reminder of the dwindling number of officers.

The battle raged into its second horrendous hour, and the British line continued to absorb appalling losses. Faced with an untenable situation, the English took cold comfort in the rote actions of practiced drill: biting a powder cartridge, ignoring the foul taste of the saltpeter, priming the pan, pouring the balance down the barrel, ramming the ball and wad down the barrel, and firing. Even the sting to the face of powder igniting in the pan and the slam of the butt into a soldier’s shoulder provided an illusion that “something” was being done. These soldiers could maintain this rate of fire at three to five times per minute, faster than any trained army in the world. The practiced actions had always meant victory. Reassuring as it might be, the rote motions had little effect on a hidden and protected enemy that mercilessly fired from cover on the huddled British.

The sound of passing bullet and ball became so omnipresent that George began to almost forget the air was filled with death. He was reminded of his true situation when, as the general paused to berate soldiers, Washington and Braddock were both simultaneously thrown from their horses. George, whose horse died instantly, was aware enough to jump off his saddle so as not to be pinned, but he hit the ground hard. The general’s horse whinnied and buckled, yet Braddock was able to dismount as the animal began to collapse. Again without missing a beat, the general pulled his pistol and shot the horse in the head, immediately calling for a new animal to be brought up. George’s horse was likewise replaced.   . . . .

About the Author

Steve doesn’t golf or fish and is a below average hunter, but his love of history and writing compelled him to pick up his pen and tell the little-known stories behind the men that made American history. After years of extensive research, Steve wrote his first book on young George Washington.

Steve lives in a suburb north of St. Paul, Minnesota with his supportive wife and two fantastic teenage sons. He graduated with honors from Boston College and the University of Minnesota Law School. He has enjoyed over two decades of practicing law in the Twin Cities, helping individuals and businesses solve complex problems.


Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, December 07 Guest Post & Giveaway at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, December 9 Review at Library Educated

Friday, December 11 Spotlight at The Writing Desk

Monday, December 14 Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Tuesday, December 15 Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, December 16 Interview at Layered Pages Spotlight at Historical Readings and Reviews

Thursday, December 17 Guest Post & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Friday, December 18 Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Monday, December 21 Review at Bookish

Tuesday, December 22 Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book

Wednesday, December 23 Spotlight at CelticLady’s Reviews Guest Post & Giveaway at A Literary Vacation

Thursday, December 24 Review at Book Nerd

Monday, December 28 Review at Just One More Chapter Spotlight at Puddletown Reviews

Tuesday, December 29 Review at The Absurd Book Nerd Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, December 30 Review at Luxury Reading Guest Post at The Absurd Book Nerd

Thursday, December 31 Review at Jorie Loves a Story Guest Post at Let Them Read Books


Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Dr. Helena P. Schrader

Dr. Helena P. Schrader

Dr. Helena P. Schrader

Award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader has a PhD in History from the University of Hamburg. She has published numerous works of historical fiction and non-fiction. Visit her website  for a complete description and reviews of her publications, or follow her blog for updates on current works in progress, recent reviews and excerpts. For more on the crusader kingdoms and Balian d’Ibelin visit: Defender of Jerusalem or follow her blog on the Crusader Kingdoms at: Defending Crusader Kingdoms     

Helena is a U.S. diplomat currently serving in Africa.

Hello, Dr. Schrader. Thank you for talking with me today about your book, Knight of Jerusalem. Please give me a brief description of your book.

“Knight of Jerusalem” is the first book in a three part biographical novel about Balian d’Ibelin, who defended Jerusalem against Saracen in 1187. Many readers may remember the Ridley Scott film “The Kingdom of Heaven” that featured Balian as the protagonist played by Orlando Bloom.

What was your motivation to write this biography?

Well, I have to admit it was that Hollywood film because when I went to the history books to find out just how much of it was true, I discovered that the known facts about the historical Balian d’Ibelin were (in my opinion) much, much more interesting that the Hollywood character and plot. So I got fired up to tell his true story, and the more research I did the more fascinated I became with both this exceptional man, his society and, indeed, many of his contemporaries as well — such fascinating historical characters as the “Leper King” Baldwin IV of Jerusalem, the “rogue baron” Reynald de Châtillon, and all the characters the film skipped over like Balian’s real wife, a Byzantine princess, or his elder brother, who gave up his barony rather than serve Guy de Lusignan and Guy’s far more competent elder brother, who would one day be King of both Cyprus and Jerusalem.

Knight of Jerusalem BRAG

Your story is set in the last three decades of the 12 century (1171-1199), what was some of the research involved and how much time did you spend on this?

That’s a difficult question to answer because I first visited Cyprus roughly 20 years ago and that trip sparked an interest in the crusader kingdoms and crusader culture that has stayed with me ever since. As a result of that trip, I wrote a trilogy set in the Kingdom of Cyprus in the early 13th century (unpublished) and a novella set during the 7th Crusade (i.e. mid-13th Century), St. Louis’ Knight. The research I did for those earlier works was very helpful and left me with a solid foundation of basic understanding for the crusader kingdoms, 13th century warfare, social structures etc. that I could build upon. The differences between late 12th and early 13th century aren’t that great and it’s easier to learn by noting differences to a familiar baseline than to start completely from scratch.

Next you have to understand I have PhD in History, and while such PhDs aren’t terribly useful in the job-market, they do teach you how to do focused research, how to sort good sources from bad, how to watch for bias or inconsistencies in source material, and all sorts of other tricks that make it possible to conduct research more efficiently and effectively. I rapidly identified key primary and secondary sources, acquired and read them. I then mined their bibliographies for more sources etc. and within 6 months I had a strong grasp of the key issues, personalities, and controversies. But that would have been utterly impossible without the knowledge I already had, the castles, museums and churches I’d visited, the books I already owned and could rapidly refer to, and the discipline I’d learned in earning a PhD with a biography.

What is an example of Balian playing an important role in the crusades?

Without doubt his most important historical role was in saving the lives/freedom of an estimated 50,000 Christians by negotiating with Saladin at a time when the Sultan’s forces had already brought down a large segment of the walls of Jerusalem. At the time, Balian had already withstood 7 days of almost continuous assault by Saladin’s large and victorious army with no professional soldiers among the defenders in the city except himself. Nor should we forget that Saladin had vowed to slaughter all the Christian inhabitants. Yet Balian talked Saladin into sparing the lives of those he’d vowed to slaughter and enslave at a moment when the city was no longer defensible. That’s quite a piece of diplomacy!

However, technically, this wasn’t during a crusade. It was the destruction of a Christian army under King Guy and the subsequent fall of Jerusalem that prompted the West to launch a new crusade, the Third, led by Richard the Lionheart among others. Balian’s most important role in a crusade proper was serving as Richard the Lionheart’s chief negotiator with Saladin, when Richard realized he could not capture Jerusalem and had to return to his hereditary territories in England and France.

What is Balian’s religious beliefs?

Balian was a very devout Catholic.

Please tell me a little about Amalric I rule in Jerusalem?

Amalric was an energetic and effective king who defended the Kingdom of Jerusalem by trying to break the Islamic encirclement of the kingdom by conquering Egypt. Furthermore, recognizing the advantages of strong allies, he continued the pro-Byzantine policy pursued by his predecessor and elder brother Baldwin III. This included not only marrying a Byzantine princess, but conducting joint military campaigns with the Byzantine Emperor against Egypt.

I do not know much about Maria Comnena but she is someone I would like to learn more about. Could you tell me a little about her?

Gladly! Maria Comnena belonged to the Imperial royal family in Constantinople and as such she would have been very highly educated and well-read in classical as well as contemporary literature and theology. At the age of about 13, she was selected as the diplomatic tool for cementing an alliance between Constantinople and Jerusalem by becoming the bride of the King of Jerusalem. Amalric I was at the time of their marriage a divorced man with two children by his previous marriage. He was also more than twice Maria’s age and already very fat. Maria appears to have played an active role as a patroness of the arts, fostering a Byzantine influence that is particularly evident in the sculpture and architecture of the period. She may also have encouraged her husband to go to Constantinople and effectively vow allegiance to the Byzantine Emperor. However, she gave King Amalric only one child, a daughter, Isabella.

She was roughly 21 years old when Amalric died. Her dower portion was the very rich barony of Nablus, and so she became a very wealthy widow at a young age. The laws of the Kingdom of Jerusalem did not allow for adult widows (those older than 15) to be forced into remarriage, so the fact that Maria chose a landless younger son, Balian d’Ibelin, as her second husband means that she did indeed choose him. I.e. it was a love match — at least on her part.

With Balian she had four children, and she lived to see her eldest daughter Queen of Jerusalem, and sons by Balian Constable of Jerusalem and Regent Cyprus respectively.

What is one of the historical facts of the period starting with Baldwin IV’s leprosy? And what sort of man was he? How did he treat his subjects?

Baldwin IV was diagnosed with leprosy at a very early age, but it initially manifested itself merely as a lack of feeling in his lower right arm. At the time of his father’s death, Baldwin IV was only 13 and probably looked completely normal. At 15 he was deemed mature and at 16 he led a dramatic, lightning campaign against an invading Saracen army led by Saladin that resulted in a dramatic Christian victory. Unfortunately, this campaign, which inevitably entailed sleeping in the open and not tending to minor cuts properly, probably induced the deterioration in his initially turbuculoid leprosy to lepromatous leprosy. Two years later, he was twice unhorsed in combat and thereafter led his armies from a litter. He died just before turning 24.

Throughout Baldwin’s reign, Saladin was increasing his power by defeating one after another of his Muslim rivals until he controlled a vast empire from Syria to Egypt. Baldwin, despite his leprosy, retained the loyalty of his vassals and under his leadership they repeatedly defeated invading forces led by Saladin. Twice Saladin retreated before Baldwin IV at the head of his feudal army without even risking battle. However, Baldwin’s domestic policies were far less effective. Early in his reign he came under the influence of his unscrupulous and grasping maternal relatives, his mother Agnes de Courtenay and his uncle the Count of Edessa. Under their bad influence he was persuaded to allow his eldest sister and heir to a Western adventurer, Guy de Lusignan. Although he later realized his mistake and tried to have the marriage annulled, it was too late. His domestic legacy was bitter internal divisions and an incompetent successor, who would lose the entire kingdom within less than a year of coming to the throne.

Nevertheless, I like to think of Baldwin IV as an immensely courageous young man, who must have had intangible charisma to retain the respect and loyalty of his barons and subjects despite his debilitating and increasingly disfiguring disease.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

Through fellow indieBRAG honoree Charlene Newcombe, author of “Men of the Cross.”

Where in your home do you like to write and what is your process?

My study — which, in every house I move into, has to be made operational rapidly! (As a diplomat I move every 2 to 3 years usually into housing I have never seen and was assigned to by the Embassy Housing Committee.) My study consists of a desk with very good, natural lighting and floor to ceiling book-cases for my reference books — and internet connection, of course. My retirement home on a Greek island was built to ensure my study on the second floor had views both to the next (Byzantine) village, and across the Straits of Maleas to the snow-capped mountains of Taygetos behind (and so vital to) Sparta.

Who designed your book cover?

A wonderful artist I discovered on elance, Mikhail Greuli.

What are you working on next?

As I said earlier, this is just the first book in a three-part biography. I have completed the second book in the series, “Defender of Jerusalem,” that covers the dramatic ten years prior to the crushing defeat of the Christian army at the Battle of Hattin on July 4, 1187. The book ends with the subsequent desperate defense of Jerusalem against Saladin’s victorious army in September/October of the same year. “Defender of Jerusalem” has been to beta readers, revised as a result of their in-put, and gone to the editor for a second time. It is still on track for release in September this year. So, as the process of revising Book II winds down, I am preparing to work on Book III, the final book in the biography, which will be titled “Envoy of Jerusalem.” This book will cover the Third Crusade and the founding of the Kingdom of Cyprus, during the period 1187 – 1199.

Do you stick with just genre?

My first publications were non-fiction books on women pilots in WWII, the Berlin Airlift and the German Resistance to Hitler — and, of course, writing diplomatic dispatches is the bread-and-butter of my “day job.” In terms of fiction, I’m very much a historian and so historical fiction is my genre; I have no patience for time-slip or mystery, much less romance or fantasy.

I’ve written several novels set in WWII, and in Ancient Sparta. However, whereas my earlier fiction works had fictional heroes, who interacted with historical figures, I’m increasingly drawn to serious historical biography.

Historical biography is considerably more rigorous than general historical fiction as you must remain true to the historical record from start to finish — not just at the intersection with historical personages and events. Essentially, the historical record is the skeleton of your work, and while the flesh and blood — the emotions, dreams, and fears — are extrapolated from the known facts, it’s not acceptable to add extra fingers or toes, or remove limbs or organs altogether. Historical biography is not just about entertainment; historical biography is a medium that can turn a name in the history books into a person so vivid, complex, and yet comprehensible that history itself becomes more understandable.

Thank you, Dr. Schrader! It was a pleasure talking with you. Please visit with me again.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Dr. Helena Schrader who is the author of, Knight of Jerusalem, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, Knight of Jerusalem, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.




Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Gwen Dandridge

The Stone Lions

Stephanie: Hey, Gwen! Congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion! That is wonderful and what high praise indeed for your story. How did you discover indieBRAG?

Please tell your audience about your book?

Gwen: The Stone Lions is a multi-cultural fantasy that takes place in the late 1300s in Islamic Spain. As a minor note, it also teaches band symmetry so it is idea for the common core curriculum. It can be read as a pure fantasy or used to understand historic Islamic culture or teach symmetry. There are levels upon levels that it touches. Here’s the basic story:

In the last throes of the 14th century, Islamic Spain is under pressure from Castile and Aragon. Ara, the twelve-year old daughter to the Sultan, finds herself in the center of a political intrigue when her eunuch tutor is magically transformed by the evil Wazir.

Can a little girl save her friend and tutor with the help of a Sufi mathemagician? Intertwined in a mystery of math, art and magic, Ara races to find the seven broken symmetries before time runs out.

Stephanie: What genre would you say this falls under and why did you chose the middle age group to write the story for?

Gwen: The genre is fantasy.

I was asked to write a book for younger readers by a Dartmouth math professor that would teach band symmetry. As someone who is wary of any math, I wanted to make the math part so organic to the story that it didn’t feel like a lesson, but more of a mystery or a puzzle.

Stephanie: Are there any messages in your book you would like your readers to grasp?

Gwen: Perhaps two messages. One, that people throughout time and cultures have the same basic desires and hopes. And, two, that math is something other than numbers. Arithmetic is numbers, math is not necessarily so constrained.

Stephanie: Why did you chose Alhambra in the late 14h century for your period and setting for the story?

Gwen: I was visiting the Alhambra with friends when I started the story. I fell so in love with the place and the design work that it tumbled out from there. The patterning on the wall and floors and ceiling were inescapable and awesome. I chose the 14th century because it was a time of flowering for the Islam. They were ahead of their time then, women could inherit (which they couldn’t in Europe), they allowed other religions to exist (as long as they paid a tax), they bathed (European weren’t quite so clean). Interestingly some women in other area of Europe also were veiled during that time.

Stephanie: Tell me about the little Islamic girl named Ara, who is the Sultan’s daughter? What are her strengths and weaknesses and what is an example of her life in the palace?

Gwen: Ara is curious and a little impulsive. She’s a risk taker. She’s someone who has lived a life of privilege within the confines of her time and culture. And she wishes for more: more freedom, more learning and more knowledge. I picked her age as young enough to have some freedom within her world. She not reached the age when she is cloistered with the harem or required to wear a hijab.

Stephanie: How does art/math play a role in your story?

Gwen: The math is the heart of the story. The symmetries within the Alhambra are being broken and Ara must repair them or the Alhambra will fall.

Stephanie: What are the historical significances in your story?

Gwen: Gosh, so much. I tried to be true to the time and culture. Grenada was under pressure from all sides at that time. But it was a time of great beauty.

So many, many of the details that you see in there are lifted from information that I learned during this process.

Stephanie: How did you research the Islamic life in the period this story is written in? And what fascinates you about the culture?

Gwen: I read over thirty books on Islamic culture and history.

I went to museums here in California, in NY, in Spain, in France and England. There I was able to see what kind of art existed during that time period. I took an art history class on Islamic art.

I spoke to a Sufi and she read an early version of The Stone Lions for me. I joined the Medievalist History listserv and looked over their shoulders.

I communicated with an expert of the Alhambra who is a professor in Spain. He helped me with details of what the Alhambra looked like during that time.

During my travels I’ve discovered hidden gems of stories that we aren’t exposed to here in the states. Everywhere you go, whether it’s a small town in Mississippi or deep in the Scottish highlands there are stories waiting to be gleaned. Everyone has a story.

Stephanie: Tell me about the photo shoot of all the images in the original Owen Jones book on the Alhambra you did and how does this relate to your story?

Gwen: When I wrote the book, I realized I would need lots of images for the symmetries. I wanted them to have a connection to the Alhambra. Not all are, but my daughter and her husband helped me photograph each page of the Owen Jones book. Santa Barbara City College did an interlibrary loan for me so that I could have access to that book. I couldn’t remove it from the library but we could carefully turn each page of this delicate and huge book while one of us stood on a chair and photographed page by page.

Stephanie: When you spent two weeks in Spain, what are some of the sites you visited and what was your impressions of them. And did this help you with your story?

One of the cool things we did in Spain was live in a cave, the Sacramento Caves. You can rent them and they have bedrooms and a bath. It is very dark when the light are off.

We also travel to Cordoba and went to the Great Mosque there.

Stephanie: What was your writing process for this story and how long did you take to write it?

Gwen: At that time I worked as a systems’ analyst so I had limited time to write. I made sure to sit down three times a day for twenty minutes each to write. Sometimes I wrote on my lunch break. It took me about nine months to get a strong draft with all the images done. I was pushing a deadline as it was going to be used in a patterning class at Dartmouth.

Stephanie: Who are your influences? What are you currently reading?

Gwen: I read a lot of fantasy.

Stephanie: How much time weekly do you spend on writing and how much time do you spend on research?

Gwen: It depends on the book. The Stone Lions was the most intensive for research. I had to learn symmetry and Islamic history and culture. It took a huge amount of time. Fortunately, a number of my friends are professors of chemistry and math and they spend oodles of time teaching me symmetry so that I could, in turn, explain it to middle grade readers.

Normally I try to write every day, but I also do art, so many things via for time. When I am focused on a book, I do write every day. I drag my manuscript around with me wherever I go.

Stephanie: Have you ever come across anything unexpected or something that caught you off guard in your research?

Gwen: Many, many times. I hadn’t known the Lions’ fountain that is currently in the Court of the Lions was not the original one. It was stolen centuries ago.

Stephanie: How do you organize your research?

Gwen: When I research, I keep notes of anything that I find interesting. I’m not very organized. I do own a lot of books, so I can always return to them when I need a particular piece on information.

Stephanie: What is up next for you?

Gwen: The second book of The Stone Lions (The Jinn’s Jest) is almost ready to fly. I also have a book that is ready, The Dragons’ Chosen. I’m hoping this will be out soon.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Amazon or B&N or most of the online dealers have it available.

Stephanie: Thank you, Gwen!

About Author:

Gwen Dadridge-BRAG

My romance with fantasy was started when at age eight I discovered libraries, in libraries were fairy tale books. After that, I always expected to find a fairy beneath each flower, each rustle of leaves.

From there I went on to Walter Farley’s Stallion books. But my love went into a full blown affair at an Outward bound trip when half-way down the Colorado River one of the men talked about reading the Hobbit. I’ve been hooked on fantasy ever since.

I’ve been the SCBWI co-coordinator for Santa Barbara County and still function as the listserve administrator for the tri-county region.

My degree in psychology has only been used to understand dragons.

I worked as a system’s analyst (Oracle databases) at Santa Barbara Community College but much of my outside work time is spent doing art of various sorts: stained glass, pottery, basketry, large boulder mosaics, silk wall hangings, etc. I have a B.A. in Psychology, a two year certificate in Computer Information Systems and many classes in Writing, Art and Art History. I bake regularly and garden seriously (I have over 40 different fruit trees on the property).

Reading is my passion as is notable by the walls of books in my house.

My golden retriever and my husband keep me active hiking and roaming the Santa Barbara hills. 

Author Links:



Author Website

Author website II

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gwen Dandridge, who is the author of, The Stone Lions, our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, The Stone Lions, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.