An Oldie but Goodie

As a book reviewer, I always enjoy going back and checking out older reviews I have written. It’s funny because sometimes I think, “What in the world was I thinking when I wrote that?!” Not that I have a different mind about the story but the words I wrote to describe my feelings about the book or I had wish I had been further in-depth. It must be the mood I am at the moment, if I’m tired or whatever. This past weekend I was in the mood to look back at my review of The Sister Queens I wrote in 2013 and it’s not half bad. Check it out. – It’s an oldie but goodie. 

Book Review: The Sister Queens by Sophie Perinot

the-sister-queensThe Sister Queens is the second novel I have read about Marguerite and Eleanor, who both became Queens. The two sisters grew up together at their father’s-Count Raymond of Provence-court. They are separated at an early age to marry, they find their life as they know it completely changed and become two extraordinary women who face many challenges.

Marguerite married King Louis of France and is often neglected by him. She struggles to fulfill her role as Queen by his side. The reason for her struggles is due to her domineering and often time’s cruel mother-in-law, Blanche of Castile. Blanche’s influence over her son is strong as is her involvement in the governance of France.

Eleanor, whose husband is King Henry III of England, is not considered a strong leader to his kingdom but is a good husband and adores her. But as the years go by their marriage becomes strained and Eleanor struggles to bring back that spark in their relationship.

Although this story centers on Marguerite and Eleanor, they have two other sisters- Beatrice and Sanchia- who married the brothers of King Henry and King Louis. Their marriages help bond the relationship between the two countries. The marriages of all the sisters were obviously for political advantage and more power. Which is intriguing to read about and I find that I admire their courage, strength and their amazing resilience to adapt to any situation they encounter.

At the beginning of each chapter you read a letter from Marguerite to Eleanor and vice versa- as they corresponded through the years. As I read their letters, I found myself enthralled with their devotion to each other. For me, the letters were the highlight of the story told.

The alternating point of views told by the two sisters was well developed and easy to follow along. One can tell Perinot takes pride in her work and it shows through the pages and the character’s voices as their lives unfold. The compelling interpretation of Marguerite and Eleanor is believable and admirable. Stories such as this are timeless and Perinot brings the 13th century back to life through this captivating novel. That is one of the reasons why I’m so drawn to historical fiction. I hold this story in high affection and it is certainly praiseworthy!

I rated this story four and a half stars.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gill-Marie Stewart

MUSIC-AND-LIES cover BRAG

I’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Gill-Marie Stewart to talk with me today and her book, Music and Lies. Gill-Marie was born in Lancashire and lived in Yorkshire and Cheshire until the age of 15, when her family moved to South Africa.  At 21 she moved to France, and then tried Zimbabwe before finding the perfect country: Scotland.  She has had many jobs including au pair, cleaner, teacher and accountant, but her first love has always been writing. She has had four romantic novellas published under the pen-name Gillian Villiers and two contemporary women’s fiction novels (Sunshine Through The Rain and The Lost Woman) published by Accent Press under the pen-name Gilly Stewart. Gill-Marie lives in a beautiful village in the Scottish Highlands with four dogs, three cats, a husband and many, many books. Her two student sons deign to visit occasionally.

Music and Lies is her first novel for young adults and begins a trilogy of books about George and Finn. The second book, Bright Lights and Lies, is now available.

How did you discover indieBRAG?

I am a member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association and had heard of B.R.A.G. from other members. I was encouraged to apply for the medallion by my friend Katy Haye who like me is a member of the Paisley Piranhas YA group  and became an Honoree herself earlier this year.

Please tell me about your story, Music and Lies.

Music and Lies is the story of George (Georgina) who at nearly 16 has had enough of family holidays and wants to spend some time on her own. To do this she has to tell a few little lies. Then, by chance she ends up accompanying her step-sister to an off-beat music festival. She knows neither of her parents would approve, so the lies continue …

The second strand is the story of Finn, who is all too familiar with music festivals as his mother died at one just like this a little over a year ago. To Finn the wild behavior and the drugs are something to be avoided, but he gradually gets more and more involved as he tries to help naïve, attractive George and her fragile step-sister Becky.

I enjoy reading both romances and mysteries, and Music and Lies involves both these aspects. There is a developing romance between George and Finn, and dual mysteries of the drug dealers and a hidden Picasso painting. George wants to solve the mysteries, and when Finn finds he can’t stop her, he helps too.

Tell me about why you chose rural southern Scotland as the setting for your story.

The idea for Music and Lies came to me when I was attending a music festival near Dumfries in South West Scotland close to where I lived at the time. It was a small, indie festival set in the depths of a forest. As I wandered around I wondered what it would be like to attend as a teenager unsupervised by adults … and the story was born.

Is the Forest Music Festival fictional or a real event?

The Forest Music Festival is loosely based on a real festival (see above) but I have changed it significantly to fit with my story. As far as I know, there is no festival that is set in a different forest each year, and (hopefully) none where there is quite so much nefarious activity.

Please tell me a little about George and Finn’s relationship.

George is pretty much you average teenage girl who would like to have a boyfriend, although it has to be someone she really likes. Initially she thinks there isn’t much about Finn, but as she gets to know him better she is more and more intrigued. Finn, on the other hand, has been wounded by his past and is reluctant to get involved with anybody. More than once he tries to keep his distance from George, but finds himself unable to do so. He can’t stop himself trying to keep her out of trouble. And the more time they spend together, the more he realizes he is attracted to her.

Which character in your story are you most fond of? And why.

It has to be Finn. I have a soft spot for George, but Finn fascinates me as he is both drawn to help other people, and yet tries to keep himself apart from them. His difficult childhood has given him challenges that he has to face in this book and again in the two further books in the trilogy.

Who designed your book cover?

Berni Stevens – a joy to work with as she is so thoroughly lovely, plus designs the best covers. http://www.BerniStevensdesign.com

How did you come up with the title for your book?

This was a struggle! I find that titles either come straight away, or only after a lot of puzzling. My original title was Festival Time, but no one else seemed to like that. It was Pia Fenton, another member of the Paisley Piranha group and my beta reader, who finally came up with this title. As soon as she suggested it, I realized it was perfect.

What are you working on next?

I alternate between writing women’s contemporary fiction books as Gilly Stewart and YA as Gill-Marie Stewart. I have just finished the first draft of a Gilly Stewart book (called tentatively ‘A Life In Film’) and am about to start on the 3rd in the George and Finn trilogy. The 2nd in the trilogy, ‘Bright Lights and Lies’, came out in the summer of 2015. In the 3rd book, ‘No More Lies’, many of the issues facing Finn and his complicated family are resolved. George and Finn also need to work out whether theirs is a romance with a future, or not.

Do you stick with just genre?

I always write romance, that’s just the way my writing works! But I write both women’s fiction and YA romance.

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

I’m lucky enough to have my own study to write in, but as this also serves as a spare bedroom-cum-storage room it isn’t as ideal as it sounds. I do my best writing first thing in the morning, immediately after breakfast and hopefully before I get distracted by social networking. My books come to me initially as ideas of people and places, not as plot. As I get to know the people and their relationships better, the plot begins to unfold.

Is there a favorite food or drink you like to enjoy while writing?

First thing in the morning it has to be tea! Then mid-morning I treat myself to my one coffee of the day.

Is there a particular hobby you enjoy when you’re not writing?

Apart from reading, my particular love is walking. We have 4 dogs so they take a lot of walking, and the area where we live (Scottish Highlands) has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. In winter, when the weather is not so good and the days are shorter, I enjoy knitting, tapestry and cooking.

Links:

Website

Facebook

Amazon US

Amazon UK

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Gill Stewart who is the author of, Music and Lies, 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, Music and Lies, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

 

Interview with Author Jennifer Blake

Jennifer Blake

J.A. Blake (Jennifer) has been working in school public relations and marketing for more than 15 years. Her areas of strength are in feature and press release writing, publication design, speech writing and presentation, special event planning, and meeting facilitation. She has won numerous commendations from professional organizations, including awards from the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals. In addition to her work with schools, Jennifer is the owner of Blake Communications, a small company specializing in writing, design, and editing services.

Jennifer received a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Neumann University and a Master of Science in Management from Rosemont College. She is a member of several professional organizations, including the Public Relations Society of America. She is a lifelong writer and reader who, in her spare time, enjoys traveling with her husband, Kai, and playing with their dogs – two pugs named Calvin and Lucy.

Stephanie: Jennifer, congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion! I absolutely love the title of your book, “They All Fall Down.” Please tell me a little about your story.

 They All Fall Down Book Cover

Jennifer: They All Fall Down is about London Drake, an aspiring musician with a haunting past. When he was 11 years old, London came home from school to find the murder/suicide of his grandparents. As an adult, he is diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and has difficulty coping with his past and the memories around his family. He is unable to form lasting romantic relationships and tends to use people, particularly women. As he becomes more and more successful as a musician, he becomes less and less able to cope, almost caving under the pressure. But London is a complicated character. He is very aware of his shortcomings – to the point that he’s in therapy for them. He longs to be a stronger, kinder person, but seems unable to make any significant change and often falls back into his familiar habits. He struggles with the love he feels for his family and the anger that his family’s past causes him. He must reconcile those feelings to find the happiness for which he longs.

The title, They All Fall Down, is actually a play on words for some of the themes in the novel:

First, we see in the novel that even the perceived strongest things are fallible. There’s a scene in the novel that references September 11 and the fall of the twin towers. London’s father, looking out the window of a hospital, points at the skyline where the towers once stood and says, “As big as they are, as tough as we build them, as strong as the walls are…they all fall down.” This line was written to give the reader pause … to consider whether London’s father is talking about the towers, or his own failing health. He could also be referencing the death of his own father, which is a main theme of the book.

Secondly, the idea of letting things fall away is the predominant theme for the book. For London, he needs to let the anger he feels for his family fall away. It consumes him and controls him. In addition, he has to let down his guard and trust in the goodness of other people. For any of us to connect with each other, we need to let our emotional walls fall down.

Stephanie: I can tell your story is heartfelt. What was your inspiration for writing it?

Jennifer: I co-wrote this novel with Nick Moccia, a friend and musician who I’ve known for almost 15 years. Many of the events in They All Fall Down actually happened in his life and his story is what inspired me to want to write the novel. While the book is a work of fiction, many of the scenes and characters are inspired by real people and events.  

In addition, They All Fall Down includes an original music soundtrack, written and performed by Nick Moccia. Many of the songs on the soundtrack are reference in the novel. So as one reads about the music, he/she can also listen to it and experience the character’s voice and emotion. I found this connection to music very inspiring.

Stephanie: Was there any research involved?

Jennifer: Yes! This book took three years to write! Because the book is based on real life events, Nick and I spent a significant amount of time talking about the events that happened in his life. I learned about his family and his upbringing, and I visited many of the places referenced in the novel. In addition, Nick took a recorder to his actual therapy sessions where many of the themes in the novel were discussed. He recorded these sessions (with permission from his therapist) and we listened to them together. Then we wrote. In total, there were about 30 therapy sessions which represent almost 30 hours of conversation.

In addition to the therapy sessions with Nick, we also researched places in New York where some of the scenes are set and we looked into police records from events referenced in the novel.

Stephanie: Sounds like your research was really in-depth and rewarding. As a writer, what are some of the challenges you face and what are the awarding moments of writing for you?

Jennifer: As a writer, my biggest challenge is actually finding time to write, as writing is not my full-time “day” job. It is important for me to keep my relationship with characters going and to make the story move forward. I am also not a linear writer (I don’t write chapter one, then chapter two, etc.). I write as ideas and inspiration come to me and then I have to piece those paragraphs together. When I’m engaged in writing a novel or story, the characters I am developing live with me. I consider them in every situation I’m in … trying to determine how they might react.

The biggest reward for me is when readers respond favorably to my work. More importantly, when they tell me that they’ve been able to connect with my story or with one of the characters, I am just thrilled. My goal in writing is always to connect with other people … to shed light on some shared human condition and to encourage readers to think about how they might react. When a reader says that the saw themselves or those they love in one of my characters, it makes all the hard work worth it!

Stephanie: I can so relate to finding the time to write and you have a clear picture of what it is like for the writer. To connect with other people and to encourage the reader to think about how they might react. When a writer can do that….the writer has written a good story. Have you written other stories?

Jennifer: I have been a writer since I was a child. I wrote mostly poetry as a child and young adult and I have written some short stories. They All Fall Down is my first novel.

Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?

Jennifer: I designed the book cover. I also have a background in graphic and publication design. The images on the cover represent elements in the book.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Jennifer: After we published They All Fall Down, I was doing some research on the internet about ways to promote/market the book. I came across the web site for indieBRAG and was immediately drawn to its mission of promoting self- published authors.

Stephanie: Please tell me what your writing schedule for the week is like?

Jennifer: I write something every day, even if it is just in my journal. I just started my second book and try to spend at least a few hours on that every week. But I also started blogging recently (www.jablakewrites.wordpress.com) and am really enjoying that. I also am trying to spend more time every week reading. I believe that strong and frequent readers make strong writers.

Stephanie: Is there something you like to say to your readers?

Jennifer: I guess I would say thank you to those who’ve already read the book and have shared their feedback. I appreciate the interest readers have taken in London and his friends. I also appreciate constructive criticism. I believe it makes me better. Readers can follow me on Facebook (TheyAllFallDown2012) and on Twitter at prjenntacular or theyallfallbook. I’d encourage them to connect with me and share their thoughts about They All Fall Down or any of my writing.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Jennifer: They All Fall Down is currently available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and a number of independent web sites. It is available for Kindle and Nook as well. Direct links can be found on our web site at www.theyallfalldown.net

LINKS:

www.theyallfalldown.net

www.facebook.com/TheyAllFallDown2012

Twitter @theyallfallbook or @prjenntacular

www.jablakewrites.wordpress.com

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jennifer Blake, who is the author of, They All Fall Down, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . 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, They All Fall Down, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.