#CoverCrush The Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

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I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Thousand Lights HotelThe Thousand Lights Hotel by Emylia Hall

Pub Date 13 Jul 2017

THE THOUSAND LIGHTS HOTEL is the gorgeous new novel from Emylia Hall, author of Richard & Judy Summer Pick THE BOOK OF SUMMERS. Set in idyllic Italy, it’s the perfect holiday read, for fans of Louise Douglas and Hannah Richell.

When Kit loses her mother in tragic circumstances, she feels drawn to finally connect with the father she has never met. That search brings her to the Thousand Lights Hotel, the perfect holiday escape perched upon a cliff on the island of Elba. Within this idyllic setting a devastating truth is brought to light: shaking the foundations upon which the hotel is built, and shattering the lives of the people within it.

A heartbreaking story of loss, betrayal, and redemption, told with all the warmth and beauty of an Italian summer.


As I’ve said before,  I am drawn by the ocean and stories that take place near them. I am a Florida native by birth and grew up near beaches and went often. Still do when I get the chance. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life.  The smell of the salty air, the warmth of the sun, the ocean breeze, the sounds of the seagulls and the waves as they break at the shore line. Just to relax in the sun and stare out at the ocean while your mind is reflective. The ocean gives one such a calming effect. When there is not a storm of course! There is a saying for people like me, “I have sand between my toes.” Anyhow, I am getting way off topic here.

As you can tell, I really like this cover and its scenic view. The title is appealing as well. As you have read in the book description, there are sad moments and hopefully happy ones. Will this book make for a good summer read? Well, that is something you will have to find out entirely on your own but who knows, I might pick it up.


Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

More cover crushes over at indieBRAG!


Interview with Author Pauline Montagna


Pauline Montagna was born into an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. After obtaining a BA in French, Italian and History, she indulged her artistic interests through amateur theatre, while developing her accounting skills through a wide variety of workplaces culminating in the Australian film industry. In her mid-thirties, Pauline returned to university and qualified as a teacher of English as Second Language, a profession she pursued while completing a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. She has now retired from teaching to concentrate on her writing. As well as The Slave, she has published a short story collection, Suburban Terrors.

Her website

Stephanie: Hello Pauline! Welcome to Layered Pages and thank you for chatting with me today. Please tell me a little about your book, ‘The Slave’?

Pauline: ‘The Slave’ is an historical romance set in fourteenth century Italy, the story of Aurelia, the sheltered daughter of Francesco Rubbini, a rising merchant with political ambitions. One day he returns from a buying trip to Venice with Batu, an Asian slave boy to whom Aurelia is inexorably drawn. In a bid to win a seat on the city council, Rubbini gains the patronage of the aristocratic de Graziano family by negotiating a lucrative marriage between Aurelia and their eldest son, Lorenzo, a man with a dangerous reputation. Batu insists on joining Aurelia in her new home for her protection, but his presence rouses violent passions in Lorenzo that Aurelia cannot understand, and which bind the three of them in an inescapable triangle of love and hate.

Stephanie: What made you choose fourteenth century Italy as your time period and place?

Pauline: If you had all the time in the world, think of all the stops you would love to make as you travel from Florence to Venice – Siena, Milan, Mantua, Bergamo, Verona, Padua, and so many more. These were once independent, democratic, mercantile city states which flourished from as early as the eleventh century. Unlike the political and economic basket case that Italy is today, back then it led the world and laid the foundations for the flowering of the Renaissance. I studied this period in university and it made me proud to be Italian.

However, this dynamism came at a price. Throughout this period, the city states themselves were volatile places. The towers of San Gimignano weren’t built for aesthetic reasons, but as defences against enemy families. Families fought against families, cities against cities. However, with their limited populations, the city states didn’t have the resources to support full-time armies so they hired mercenary armies. Before too long the mercenary leaders were fighting on their own account. By the fifteenth century, most of the city states had been taken over by one petty tyrant or another, but it was these petty tyrants who became the patrons of the Renaissance.

I chose to set my story in the fourteenth century in particular as it was a time of political and economic upheaval that saw the country ravaged by financial collapse, mercenary armies and the Black Death – all elements I needed to tell my story.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?

Pauline: I studied the Medieval Italian City States in my second year at university. However, I was actually majoring in French, and in our second year we attended lectures on French literature in French. The lectures were also being attended by a handsome Asian boy. Not actually enrolled in the subject, he sat at the back of the auditorium in regal isolation. I imagined he was an aristocratic refugee, forced out of Laos by the Communists, attending our lectures just to hear a familiar language. Though I certainly fancied him, I was much too shy to approach him, so instead he became fuel for my romantic fantasies where an Asian boy found himself a slave in Medieval Italy and in love with a nice Italian girl like me.

The story remained a fantasy to be revisited now and again over the years, but I couldn’t take it seriously as the basis of a novel until I discovered from a passing mention in Neal Ascherson’s book, ‘Black Sea’, that, in fact, though not as prevalent as it had been in Roman times, a slave trade still existed in this period under the auspices of the Venetian empire. Suddenly it had become plausible that an Asian boy could find himself a slave in Medieval Italy, and my adolescent fantasy could become a credible historical novel.

Stephanie: What are Aurelia strengths and weaknesses?

Pauline: With her sheltered upbringing in which she has been trained to be nothing more than a dutiful wife, Aurelia starts out as a naïve and timid girl. She feels intimidated by her ambitious father and neglected by her distant mother. Her only support is her nurse, Rosetta, who loves her as much as any mother could, but has no say in her fate. However, although she acquiesces to her father’s plans for her, even at an early age, Aurelia displays compassion and a quiet strength and courage. It is this strength and courage which maintains her when she is faced with situations that are frightening and incomprehensible to her in her innocence.

Stephanie: What are some of Aurelia father’s political ambitions?

Pauline: As a self-made man from the peasant classes, Rubbini’s only pathway to prestige and power is by rising up through the ranks of the government of his small city state. However, despite their exclusion from office, the old aristocracy still has the power of influence and patronage, and it is this patronage that Rubbini needs if he is to succeed. Succeed he does, but he finds his duties almost too onerous to bear when the Black Death strikes and his colleagues are loath to do anything about it that might interfere with trade. (Doesn’t that scenario sound familiar?)

Stephanie: What was some of the research involved for your story?

Pauline: As I already had a good grasp of the period from my university studies, most of the research I had to undertake was for specific information as the need arose – such as the Black Death and the events surrounding it, marriage practices, dance, dress, food, hunting, sword fighting, and, of course, Mongolian warriors.

However, it was this research that forced me to kill one of my favourite babies. For some reason, I had named my Asian boy Fet and, of course, over the years I had become attached to the name. However, as I read up about Mongolia I slowly came to the realisation that there was no ‘f’ in their language. In the end, not only did I have to change his name, but while I was at it I decided to change the names of almost all the characters. It called for a very careful and meticulous use of ‘Find and Replace.’

Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you found a challenge to write?

Pauline: The sword fighting scene was quite challenging as I’m not an aficionado of ‘derring-do.’ I not only had to learn the basic principles of fighting with the broad sword, but also try to work out the moves in the fight and then how to describe them in a comprehensible way.

However, by far the hardest scene for me to write was the first sex scene. In my first draft I skirted around the details, but my workshop group wouldn’t let me get away with that. They had waited until Chapter 42 for some action and they wanted more, thank you very much. So they sent me home to do it all again. I remember prowling about the house all afternoon trying to get into the right frame of mind.

Stephanie: What inspires you to write historical fiction?

Pauline: I write historical fiction because I’m inspired by history. I always have been and I can’t really explain why. I could take a punt and say that it’s because I was born in Australia, which has very little history, but my cultural roots are in Italy, which has, perhaps, too much history. I love doing historical research. I love spending time in libraries and reading old books, the older the better. I get exciting by finding odd titbits that I’ve never come across before, or making connections no one else has ever made. And I guess I love it because history is about people, and people are endlessly fascinating.

Stephanie: What advice would you give to someone who wants to write in this genre?

Pauline: When it comes to historical fiction, I’m a stickler for accuracy and authenticity. There are enough gaps in the records on which we can exercise our imaginations without warping the known facts. But accuracy is more than getting the date of a battle correct or the name of a piece of clothing. It’s also about how people thought and behaved.

We cannot impose on the people of the past our own sexual mores because we think restraint is boring, just as we can’t impose our modern attitudes to gender roles because we don’t like the way women were treated back then. If that’s how you feel, stick to writing contemporary romance, or if you must clothe your sexually promiscuous and feisty women in long skirts, be honest and call it Fantasy.

So I would advise someone who wants to write historical fiction to do their research. Go back to the original sources, go to a library and read books. Don’t rely on the internet, and other historical fiction for your information. If you must read fiction, read what was written at the time to get a sense of what your characters actually valued and thought, and not what you wish they did.

Stephanie: Who are your influences?

Pauline: I would say my biggest influence is the historical fiction of Mary Renault. Not only is her writing beautiful in itself, but she enters so thoroughly into the mindsets of her characters that a world completely different to our own seems perfectly natural. I have long nurtured an ambition to write about the Etruscans as well as she writes about the Ancient Greeks. I also love Ursula Le Guin, again for the beauty of her writing and her ability to create in her fantasy and science fiction profoundly real people in a real world. If I could write as well as these two I would die happy.

Stephanie: What book project are you currently working on?

Pauline: At the moment I’m focussing on self-promotion so I haven’t been writing for a while. However, as soon as ‘The Slave’ is properly launched, I hope to get back my writing.

Stephanie: Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?

Pauline: Well, as you did ask, I do have a special offer out now. Join my mailing list by May 31 and get your own free complimentary ebook copy of ‘The Slave.’



Review: Forty Years In A Day by Mona Rodriquez and Dianne Vigorito

Forty years in a day book cover

A woman name Victoria who lives in Italy with her children and alcoholic husband decides one day to escape her marriage after years of abuse by him and immigrate to Hell’s Kitchen, New York. She didn’t know until years later that her husband had died on the day she and her children left.  After finding out he was gone, she finally could move on with her life. This story captures their lives and takes you through the hardships they face.

It is not often I read books where the story takes place in the early 20th century and I was truly captivated by the character’s lives.  The scenes in this story explore family bond, loss, poverty, abuse, survival and new beginnings. You will be drawn to the character’s inner strengths within themselves and to their dealings with family and life situations.

The central character Victoria is a brilliant example of how woman of her time fought for survival and how she gave everything she worked and struggled for to her family. The authors, Mona and Dianne- give a realistic picture and wonderful insight into how Hell’s Kitchen was during this period.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Author Mona Rodriquez for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour back in 2013 and I was kindly given a copy of the book. Before reading this story, I was not familiar with Hell’s Kitchen, New York City or have I ever visited the city before last year. Back in November 2013, I went to New York for the Self-Publishing Expo to represent indieBRAG. My sister who has worked in the city, knows her way around and came along with me. Our last day there we were sitting in a restaurant down the street on the corner where our hotel was, to my surprise and amazement she told me that this area we were in is known as, Hell’s Kitchen.  So I began to tell her a little about Forty Years in a Day and how much the story impacted me.

You can learn more about this book by read my interview with Mona here

Interview with Author Mona Rodriguez

Forty years in a day book cover

Hello Mona! I read Forty Years In A Day and was absolutely intrigued with your story. Could you please tell your audience about your book?

Mona: Thank you, Stephanie, for hosting us today. It’s a pleasure. Our story begins in Italy, 1900. After years of torment and neglect, Victoria and her four small children immigrate to Hell’s Kitchen, New York, to escape her alcoholic, abusive husband. On the day they leave, he tragically dies, but she does not learn of his death for several years—a secret that puts many lives on hold.

Quickly, they realize America’s streets are not paved with gold, and the limits of human faith and stamina are tested time and time again. Poverty, illness, death, kidnapping, and the reign of organized crime are just some of the crosses they bear.

Victoria’s eldest son, Vincenzo, is the sole surviving member of the family and shares a gut-wrenching account of their lives with his daughter during a visit to Ellis Island on his ninetieth birthday. He explains how the lives of he and his siblings have been secretly intertwined with an infamous Irish mob boss and ends his unsettling disclosure with a monumental request that leaves Clare speechless.

The story takes the Montanaro family through several decades, providing the reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in search of their hopes and dreams. It is layered with the struggles and successes of each family member, illuminating the fact that human emotions have been the same throughout generations; the difference is how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Stephanie: Is this story based on anyone you know or who you have come across?

Mona: The characters are based on family members, both deceased and living. I’ve had this particular story churning in my head for many years, sparked by the stories of my family’s past. Forty Years In A Day begins in 1900 and follows the incredible journey of a young mother and her four children as they escape from Italy into the streets of Hell’s Kitchen, New York. That woman was my grandmother. The story ends with a woman who knows the father of her children is living a double life with another, but she loves him so much that she overlooks the arrangement rather than forfeit the man. Those were my parents. In between are the stories that I had heard from family members, intertwined with a twist of fiction and sensationalism to have some fun.


Stephanie:  Were there any challenges you faced while writing this story?

Mona: There were many challenges that I had faced undertaking this project. First and foremost, I had the idea of the story in my head before I had the skills to share it. I’m a mathematician and an environmentalist so this challenged the other side of my brain. While writing is something I always admired, to me, the passion was in the story and the writing was the vessel to get it told.

Second, people ask me how much of our book is realistic; especially family members who want to know if this is the actual story of what had happened. They try to draw a parallel between family members’ personalities and our characters’ personalities. The truth is that no one can totally piece together that puzzle of tales; there are parts to every family’s story that were pushed under the rug for fear it would tarnish the family’s reputation. The elders think they are doing their family justice by taking some of the more scandalous stories with them to the grave. When, as a writer, you realize all this, you are forced to conjure your own conclusions from the pieces of stories that you gather.

Third, I coauthored the book with my cousin Dianne Vigorito. She gave me the support and validation I needed to pursue this project. I was lucky to find a family member to work with, and she had an immediate interest in the idea. She grew up hearing the same crazy stories, some of which were almost unbelievable, that were told by our ancestors.  Working with another has taught me the power of more than one and the art of compromise.

Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you felt difficult to write?

Mona: The story of Vinny and Ava represents my parent’s story and the story that resonates closest to my heart. When they were alive, I had discovered secrets about their past that they didn’t want my siblings and me to know. When they died, I felt more compelled to delve into their past, but no one could (or would) tell me the whole story. I realized that I should have asked more questions when they were alive, been more adamant to learn the truth. I questioned aunts and uncles, but I sensed there were bits of their lives, and everyone’s in our story, that would never be unearthed. The story of Vinny and Ava is conjured from the pieces of stories I had put together, and my interpretation, especially emotionally, of what had happened between my parents.

Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story?

Mona: We don’t realize what our ancestors went through to make life better for themselves and for us. What they faced was incredible—the living conditions, poverty, disease—and their work ethic was admirable. Although I had started with the intention of writing a story about my father’s family, it turned into a novel. There was so much more I wanted people to know about this fascinating era.


Stephanie How long did it take to write, Forty Years In A Day?

Mona: I started by writing down the stories I had heard and interviewing the elders that were still alive. It took seven years—researching, attending seminars, workshops, conferences, and reading everything from books on how to write dialogue to reading mainstream fiction and rereading classics. I also studied the history and lifestyles of the era.  Dianne and I worked on our own, and we also worked together several days a week, collaborating, rewriting, and editing. I had a story to tell and I knew it had to be told.


Stephanie: You did a fantastic job with your research. It’s truly a beautiful and thought provoking story. And I believe it’s written in such a way that the story transcends you into that period and gives you a wonderful picture of the human conditions.  


Is there a sentiment you hope readers come away with after reading your story?

Mona: Forty Years In A Day is more than an immigration story about an Italian family; it epitomizes the immigration experience and coming to America in the early 1900s. It reignites curiosity and admiration for what our ancestors had endured and accomplished to make our lives better. There are many themes that run throughout the story—the loss and rebound of hope, honesty, perseverance, forgiveness, survival, the list goes on—but I think the main theme is the importance of family. Forty Years In A Day also reminds us that every family has hidden secrets and that the choices one person makes echoes through generations.

Stephanie: The different themes in your story was well written and I felt that some of them hit home with me. Your story has given me a lot to think about. Especially about family and relationships.


Is there a character that you feel connected to in any way?

Mona: I have a connection to all the characters, but the one I admire the most is Victoria. She was an amazing woman who wanted to do the right thing for her children. Without giving away the story, I often wonder how she summoned the strength to do what she did, and if I would have been so courageous. She did it not so much for herself, but for her children. She was the ultimate mother.

Stephanie: I admired Victoria as well. She certainly pulled at my heart strings. What book project is up next for both?

Mona: There are six cousins at the end of our story. The idea is to take that next generation into the next era.

Stephanie: Ooo…I’m really looking forward to reading your next book! What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Mona: Read the works of authors you enjoy and respect, study and practice the craft, and try to develop a personal style and formula for success.  When reading a diverse collection of books, you take away, along with the story, a little of each author’s craft.

Thank you, Mona!

About the Authors

Mona & Dianne


Mona Rodriguez coauthored Forty Years in a Day with her cousin Dianne Vigorito.
Throughout their lives, they had heard many stories from family members that
were fascinating, sometimes even unbelievable, and decided to piece together
the puzzle of tales. Through research and interviews, their goal was to create
a fictional story that follows a family through several decades, providing the
reader an opportunity to stand in the shoes of a past generation and walk in
search of their hopes and dreams. What they realize in the process is that
human emotions have been the same throughout generations – the difference is
how people are molded and maneuvered by the times and their situations.

Mona Rodriguez has her MS in environmental Management from Montclair State
University. She is presently a trustee on the board of directors of a nonprofit
foundation created to benefit a local public library and community. She lives
with their husband in New Jersey, and they have two grown sons.

For more information, please visit the official website.


BOOK TRAILER:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AfJ5p4qCzmM&feature=youtu.be

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