Tuesday, August 31, 2010

If You Live In a Small House by Sandra Park

This story takes place on the island of Oahu in the early 1950’s before Hawaiian statehood. The heart of the story lies with a large, multigenerational Korean-American family living under one roof – immigrant grandmother and grandfather, mother, father, children, Auntie and Uncles. The story bears the traces of war fatigue from post World War II and the Korean War and deals with what those conflicts did to a population fighting an enemy that looked like them in different uniforms.

The book is not so much a self-contained novella as a series of vignettes and scenes, each written in beautiful language. The final scene is a powerful re-telling of the Hawaiin Tsunami and it certainly derives some of its power because of the reader’s new-found knowledge of Tsunami.

The author starts the Tsunami sequence by describing the picnic or party feel the Tsunami warning gave. Oahu’s inhabitants travel into the hills and enjoy the hospitality of their neighbors, like Mr. Casella, who serves his spicy chili and Mrs. Casella who makes sweet chili for those who prefer it. The warning continues for two days and many no longer take it seriously. Then, in her typically languid language, the author paints the following scene where the reader can only read in horror, knowing what will happen:

A clear mile of the bay’s floor was exposed; it was a strange sight that no one could compare to anything in memory.

On the wet stretch of sand, fishers were flopping everywhere. Ruts and ledges of sand, colorful rubber slippers here and there, seaweed clumped like gelatinous trees or light green and matted like air, piles of pocked gray-white rocks, smooth green glass, shells that looked like ordinary gravel, and bits of trash that looked like precious jewels. Word spread and a few people ventured out to see for themselves. There were many who were tired of waiting. Earlier feelings of dread were overrun by boredom. Among the restless, there was no expectation that waiting any longer would make a difference. Every passing hour added credence to their suspicion that endless waiting was for fools. The sky was clear blue. Bird were silent, out of sight.

By noon, it looked like the day before, people everywhere. A wave of people rushed from the highest hill to the bottom of the sea. Adults behaved like children, pointing and laughing.

Everyone wanted to start a collection. The bay turned into a concourse of opportunity, crawling with treasure hunters. There were more fish and ono seaweed than anybody could possibly gather. Buckets and wheelbarrows were not big enough to hold the harvest. Separating collectibles from garbage was exhausting guesswork, an impossible predicament of what to keep, what to throw away. People were picking through the littered expanse, relentless in their efforts, driven by the unforeseen opportunity. A bow-legged woman said that someone found a wedding ring with a diamond as big as a tooth. Radio broadcasts continued to issue warnings.

On a hill overlooking the bay, Mr. and Mrs. Casella were sitting in their kitchen, listening to the radio. Fly me to the moon and let me play among the stars. Mrs. Casella was secretly in love with Ol’ Blue Eyes. She poured a cup of coffee for her husband. She made more coffee for the people still camped on their lawn.

When the wave train came, it rolled forward at over two hundred miles per hour.”

This scene was by far the most powerful in the book and it’s probably the largest and most complete of the vignettes. Since the story doesn’t have a primary point of view character and is written almost as narrative nonfiction, plot is not the novella’s strongest point. However, if you’re interested in Hawaii or the 1950s, or if you're interested in detailing this time period to a classroom, this book's detailed, vivid portrayal of everyday life in Oahu is worth your time.

The Bells by Richard Harvell

This is a mesmerizing debut novel about a young boy named Moses. The waif is born to a deaf mute woman and they live in utter poverty, completely dependent upon scraps to survive. His mother’s only role in life is to toll the massive church bells in the church tower that provides them with a place to live.

From his earliest memories, Moses is attuned to the sound, able to discern even the minutest of changes or nuances, and he is entranced by the melodius sounds. Everyone believes he is like his mother, deaf and mute. But when his true father, the priest of that church accidentally discovers Moses can hear and talk, his father attempts to deafen him out of fear the secret of his paternity will be discovered. When that failed, he threw Moses into the raging river. Moses is rescued by two wandering monks and ultimately is brought to a monastery to live. There, he encounters Ulrich who attempts to preserve Moses’ beautiful voice by castrating him.

As a castrato, Moses encounters adversity wherever he goes – from the taunting of boys in the monastery, to the ballrooms of Vienna. When Moses falls in love with the beautiful Amalia, and she with him, their lives are embroiled in turmoil as others seek to tear them apart.

The Bells is a beautiful, tragic love story. The prose is redolent with music, as if the prose creates sounds and tones for the ear. Each page seems to evoke emotion as Moses faces one adversity after another, making the book literally unputdownable. I cannot say enough about the wonders and beauty of this novel and the emotions that grab you with every word. With all sincerity, this is one book you must read, not only for its uniqueness, but because it’s so very, very good!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wounded Spirits by April Gardner

Amid the ruggedness of frontier America, Adela McGirth and her family struggle to carve a new life for themselves. When a handsome young military officer declares his love for her and intention to marry her, Adela hesitates. She is unsure whether she loves him enough to marry him.

Life on the American frontier is fraught with discord. Soon, a dispute between the natives and the settlers surfaces and explodes into a raid on the fort where Adela and her family have sought safety. The slaughter results in the deaths of hundreds. Away at the time, Zachariah McGirth, Adela’s father is unaware of fate that befalls his family. His wife, Adela and one sister survive and are taken as captives, while Elizabeth is slaughtered. Zachariah vows to revenge their deaths.  Adela soon learns what is important in life. 

Totka is a peaceful Creek warrior caught between his friendship with the Whites and the hate of the Red Stick for the white man. He finds himself reluctantly in charge of the McGirths.

Wounded Spirits is a Christian novel of early America. It starts slowly, but the plot becomes riveting during the raid, which was brilliantly written and described. It is an enjoyable read that explores the faith of one family to endure despite the impossible hardships they find themselves embroiled in.

Crestmont by Holly Weiss

Crestmont is novel about a young woman named Graicie in 1920’s Pennsylvania who has fallen for her sister’s husband. To prevent things from escalating, she leaves her home and family to pursue a career as an opera singer. She finds work as part of the cleaning staff at an enchanting lakeside inn named Crestmont.

The inexperienced Gracie soon finds herself amongst patrons and a colorful cast of fellow employees, including Bessie who proves to be a most difficult colleague. She is befriended by the inn’s owners and their two daughters. Gracie is dependable and a hard worker, and soon she is given better tasks, one of which is to care for an older woman named Mis Cunningham one day a week, which brings down a realm of new problems for Gracie.

Crestmont is very much a character driven novel about how a group of people, thrown together in the confines of a mountain resort, learn to live and interact with each other, each growing and developing along the way.

Author Holly Weiss developed the novel after she visited the hotel. From there, after a bit of research, she developed the characters and story incorporating the inn’s history, architecture and furnishings, and its beautiful surroundings.

Although the heroine tends to be a little weak and the plot is more gentle and flowing than riveting, what I enjoyed most about this novel was being swept away, as if I were on vacation, to the quaint inn. The author did a great job of describing historical details. The prose was pleasant and flowing and allowed one to fall into the story easily. All in all, a delightful, tender summer read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Marcus of Umbria by Justine Van der Leun

Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Woman about Love is a memoir recounting of the author’s own experience. Told in first person narrative in novel style, it is the story of a young woman from New York who visits Italy on vacation and falls in love with a handsome Italian gardener named Emanuele. Although she returns home after her vacation, the draw to Italy disturbs her peace. Within a few weeks, she abandons her job and life in New York and returns to Italy to move in her new Italian boyfriend and live with him and his family in Collelungo an Umbrian town of 200 people.

However, building a relationship between two people of vastly different cultures is challenging to say the least. As the author immerses herself into a new Italian life, she faces numerous challenges, makes a realm of good friendships, and ultimately finds an unusual, but true love of the heart.

Being first generation Italian Canadian and having travelled to Italy on numerous occasions, what I enjoyed most was that the novel gave a very clear and accurate picture about rural Italian life. The author captured the essence of the culture, the traditional roles of men and women within a family and the bonds that bind them together. She went into wonderful detail about the food, a simpler lifestyle, and the generosity of the Italian villagers. The relationship between rural Italians and their pets was also accurately portrayed in that animals often serve a utilitarian purpose rather than kept as pets.

The author has a nice easy writing style, peppering her prose with poignancy and humour. For the animal lovers or anyone who loves Italy and it’s rich culture, this is a wonderful, satisfying story. Because the story arose from the author’s direct experiences, the novel was rich and vivid and a true pleasure to read.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Giveaway: Excerpt From On Falcon's Wings

Avicia stumbled into the courtyard and headed for a dense copse of thick leaves. Her eyes watered with every step. She wiped the tears aside as soon as they fell, intent on the solitude the thicket offered.

“Avicia?” In her path sat the source of her embarrassment.

When Edric rose, she stepped back. He advanced and she put her palms up, warding him off. His fingers closed on her wrists.

“Get away from me! By your own recent observation, I am a lowly retainer, worth no one’s notice.”

“Stop this. I did not mean to hurt you.”

She wriggled from his grasp, desperate for an escape. “Let me go, or I shall scream.”

“You behavior draws unnecessary attention. The King’s guards look at us.”

Two huscarls, who warmed themselves by a fire, nudged each other with shrewd leers. One winked at her and gave a raspy chuckle before he whispered to his companion, who also laughed.

“Come with me,” Edric urged.

She bridled. “Leave me be! How dare you?”

His hand clamped on her wrist. He dragged her toward a timber structure. Behind them, the sounds of laughter echoed.

He pried open the door and pushed her inside. Birds squawked in loud protest at the intrusion. They stood in the King’s mews.

“I am the wife of a knight, not some peasant you can abuse. Let me out, my lord, or I shall scream this place down!”

He barred the door and stepped closer.

Her stomach fluttered and she licked her dry lips.

She wiped her clammy hands in her skirts before she balled them into fists. Her senses grew attuned to the sound of his even breath, the smell of horses and grass that lingered on him. Masculine power emanated in his square shoulders and powerful legs.

“I acted without foresight. I regret my earlier behavior, my lady.”

“You regret it? You regret it! You embarrassed me before my friend, my husband, and a woman whom I despise. Yet you can counter my feelings with simple regret.”

“Shall I fall on my knees and beg forgiveness? I shall if you want!”

As if giving proof of his words, he did so. His body hit the earthen floor with a heavy thud. She held his rapt gaze in silence. The King’s birds quieted.

“Why did you do it?” Her eyes watered again.

“It was unforgivable. I was angry. I did not expect that you might marry, might love another.”

“Should I have brooded forever in your absence?”

He smiled but it seemed insincere, forced. “Was it too much to hope?”

She turned her back on him. “You are an English lord’s son. I lived by the whim of my uncle. Your status and mine dictated our fates.”

“My father is dead. I am the lord of his lands now. Your fate changed for the better, too. You left Lille and your cruel uncle behind.”

“Philippe rescued me.”

Stillness descended in the room again. Stifling warmth grew and swelled in the enclosure. Edric’s boots scraped the earth behind her. She whirled and faced him. He stood with arms rigid.

Perspiration glided down her back underneath her garments. She backed off, but he reached for her and held her firm.

“Do you love the Frenchman?”

“I married him.”

He jerked her toward him. “That is no answer. Do you love him?”

His breath warmed her cheeks. His mouth drew her gaze for a moment before her eyes flitted back to his. “I love him! I carry his child. Did you believe I would never find love again, content with shallow memories of you? There is a great divide, which separates us forever. Hope forsook me when you told me you belonged to another. Philippe found me. He desired and loved me. I chose to love him, too.”

Edric released her so fast, she stumbled a moment. He turned from her, his shoulders hunched. Waves of misery cloaked him. Her heart wrung with pity at the sight.

“Cynwise is no true wife,” he muttered. “She does not love me. I married her because Godwin wished it. She tolerates me at best.”

Avicia blinked back tears. His voice seemed so wooden, remote. With trepidation, she put a hand on his shoulder. Muscles bunched beneath her touch.

“I am sorry for you, my lord.”

He spun around, his face a dark mask. “Do you think I want your compassion? Am I some object of your pity, scorned and ridiculed for my loveless marriage? Do you congratulate yourself for the happiness of your union with the Frenchman?”

“Please, I meant no such thing! I would never pity you, or think myself above you. You have confused me and made me say things I do not mean.”

Edric captured her face in his hands, forced her gaze upward.

Her eyes traced the contours of his mouth. She remembered the pleasure of his lips on hers. Her heart fluttered in tiny ripples.

He loomed closer. “Did you forget me, Avicia?”

She tugged at her lips with her teeth. He inhaled sharply, desire warming his gaze.

“Please release me. I am a married woman, my lord.”

“What did you feel when you first saw me? Why did you stare openly? Did you remember our days together? Have you missed me as much as I have missed you?”

“I love my husband. Edric, do not do this….”

His lips hovered dangerously close to hers. “You forgot to say ‘please’.”

She drew breath in one space. In the next, the feathery light touch of his kiss trailed across her mouth. So softly, her mind scarcely acknowledged it. She leaned toward him, seeking proof of the phantom caress. With a low, urgent chuckle, his mouth pressed against hers in full. She responded with keen insistence. Their lips and breath melded together. Her hands swept up his arms to his face. She held it firm between her fingers.

The distance and time between them faded. His kiss outmatched the hesitant, exploratory embrace of their past. He grew bold and brutal, possessive. She moaned when his hands slid down her waist, cupped her buttocks beneath the coarse wool and lifted her against him. He hardened beneath the layers of cloth, and pressed against her firm, rounded belly where the child grew inside her. Philippe’s child.

Don't forget to leave your comment to win a copy of On Falcon's Wings. Open to Canadian and US residents only.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: On Falcon's Wings by Lisa Yarde

The story opens in Lille in 11th Century Flanders, with an emotive scene of a public whipping meted out to Avicia, a Normal noblewoman as punishment for the killing of a pet merlin belonging to her mistress. Edric of Newington, a Saxon warrior and the man she loves, witnesses the punishment but is powerless to prevent it.

Orphaned young, Avicia was raised by her uncle, Count Roland and his wife, Countess Gisele, securing a position for her as Lady Matilda’s attendant. Fearing she may never see Edric again, who is on his way back to England, Avicia seeks solace among the falcons she loves.

Edric’s parents, Lord Tunwulf and the Lady Emmeline, arrange his marriage to Cynwise, the former lover of Earl Sweyne, Earl Harold Godwinson’s brother. Resentful, but obedient, Edric embarks on a loveless marriage, made no better when he learns Sweyne was his wife’s attacker, not her lover.

In Flanders, Avicia is rescued from a skittish horse by two brothers in Duke William’s entourage, Hugh of Montford sur Risle and his brother, Phillipe. She treats them both with disdain, but Phillipe comes to her rescue again when, after interrupting a liaison between a woman and her Uncle Rudolf in the mews, he attacks her. Philippe asks for her hand and although Avicia welcomes the opportunity to escape Lille, she is apprehensive of the dark stranger.

Philippe convinces her they belong together and Avicia relents. Alice de Beaufort becomes her close friend in Rouen and they are married at St Ouen church in Normandy.

In Kent, Edric celebrates the birth of a son, and Tunwulf leaves for Sandwich with Earl Godwin. Edric says goodbye to his father, only for him to be lost at sea.

Avicia discovers she is pregnant and persuades Philippe to let her accompany him to England with Duke William. Edric and Cynwise are also bound for London, where Cynwise is asked to care for the two small boys – Wulfnoth, Earl Harold’s son and Haakon, his brother Sewyn’s bastard. Avicia faints when she sets eyes on Edric and informed of her pregnancy Philippe demonstrates his anger at her for keeping it a secret.

Edric and Avicia are thrown together when the English Court moves to Gloucester. Resentful of her happy marriage, Edric insults her previous station in life. Avicia is hurt, but begins to see imperfections in her own husband. She provokes a fight and runs out, straight into Edric. He apologises, but although Avicia acknowledges her feelings for him, she is a married woman and knows they have no future.

Time passes and William, Duke of Normandy casts covetous eyes on the English throne. It is not the first time Edric and Avicia are thrown together, but their repressed mutual passion cannot be disregarded and they embark on a dangerous affair.

Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Duke Harold’s half brother, accuses Avicia of adultery. Reviled by her husband and friends, she is imprisoned, awaiting trial. Edric refuses to abandon Avicia, but his king commands him, saying he can do nothing other than watch her suffer if he stays.

Pregnant, Avicia is sent to the convent of Montivilliers, where the daughter she recognises as being Philippes is born. She travels to Rouen to face her accusers, but before she leaves, she tells Alice she will pledge baby Cecelia to the convent. Alice is confused but Avicia has her reasons.

In Rouen, Avicia will not confess to adultery and is subjected to the ordeal of iron; carrying a hot iron three paces to the cathedral door. Her hand is bandaged and sealed with wax for three days, but if it shows no signs of healing, Avicia will be found guilty. Despite Bishop Odo’s protests, Avicia’s hand begins to heal and she is allowed to leave.

1066 dawns: King Edward dies and Harold becomes king. Edric is now a grandfather and his home is happy, but he is tormented by thoughts of his abandonment of Avicia, who remains at the convent with her daughter. However, she too is haunted by the past and at Alice’s behest, she sets off for England and Saltwood Castle.

Edric joins King Harold in Hastings to repel Duke William of Normandy who has arrived to destroy the Saxon kingdom. The battle is a victory for the Normans, but at a heavy cost to both countries, to Avicia and Edric, as well as the English royals. Will Edric and Avicia find each other again, and will the fates be kind and allow them happiness? Or will they be apart forever?

This Medieval Romance is a story of two lovers separated by fate, wars, loyalties and responsibilities. The inappropriateness of their reunions conspires to separate them even further, though both know there is nothing they want more than to be together. Duty, rage, betrayal and abandonment work against them through their lives, until the final defeat of one king over another offers them a chance.

Ms Yarde has excelled in her debut novel, On Falcon’s Wings by offering a colourful portrayal of Medieval France and England at a time where events change the country forever. Her detailed account of the different factions and the ambitions that resulted in the Norman Conquest is fascinating as well as informative. This book is a must-read for all those who love authentic middle age settings with two star-crossed lovers at its core.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Interview with Christopher Gortner

A very warm welcome to Christopher Gortner. I'm thrilled to have you visit us at History and Women.  Can you tell us what inspired you to write a novel about Catherine de Medici?

Thank you for inviting me. Anyone with an interest in famous women of history will have heard of Catherine de Medici: she’s that evil queen who allegedly poisoned her enemies and orchestrated a massacre. Or, so the legend says. Initially, I was attracted to her precisely because of her legend. I figured, when someone has such a bad reputation there has to be more to her story. I wanted to know who Catherine de Medici truly was, to search beyond the lurid accusations and hyperbole for the person she may have been. Of Italian birth, Catherine was the last scion of her legitimate Medici blood; she dominated France in the latter half of the 16th century, a contemporary of Elizabeth I and mother-in-law to Mary, Queen of Scots. Left a widow with small children and confronted by one of the most savage conflicts of the time, she fought to save France and her bloodline from destruction. As I researched her, I realized that, like with most dark legends, especially those pertaining to women, there was far more to Catherine than popular history tells us. I thought how interesting it would be if Catherine herself could tell us her side of the story. If she had the chance to explain herself, what would she say?

What hardships did women face in this particular century and what lessons can today's woman learn from it?

Women, particularly noble and royal women, often had no say in who they married. Marriages were by and large political alliances, organized by their family to further standing at court, strengthen international ties and increase power. Princesses like Catherine— I consider an Italian princess, daughter of the Medici, one of Italy’s most influential dynasties— were wed to strangers, men they’d never met and usually had never seen, except perhaps in portraits. The success of the marriage likewise fell upon the woman; because the union was most often a strictly dynastic one, love was not a factor, and the birth of children, particularly sons, was of utmost importance. Everything depended on it—for the woman. A wife who failed to give her husband a healthy heir could be cast aside by annulment and end up in a convent. We see Catherine struggling over these very issues in the first years of her married life. While in Western culture, these are fortunately no longer survival matters for women, we need only look to other cultures in the world to find women who are powerless against their fate; every day, marriages are arranged and women are forced into them. They lose all rights to decide their lives and can be physically and emotionally abused, even imprisoned or killed, by their spouses and the male-dominated society they live in. I think today’s women and men must continue to fight for gender equality everywhere; the injustices that women of the 16th century faced are not relics of the past but rather still very much a part of some women’s lives today, in our 21st century.

Where do you get your inspirations for a novel?

I find inspiration in legend. Many of the characters I’m attracted to have some type of myth surrounding them, usually a controversial one. Juana of Castile was accused of being mad; Catherine de Medici of being evil; and so on. These legends are the result of centuries of male-centered history, where women are pigeonholed into easy clichés. This approach to history has cast a decidedly misogynistic taint on famous people and events of the past, especially on those women who do not easily fit the criteria. Even Elizabeth I has suffered from this; while she’s more acclaimed than many famous women, she’s also known as the Virgin— sexless and therefore unsullied, a woman who rules, and often acts, like a man. Of course, Elizabeth had her sexuality, as do all human beings, and her decision to live as she did cost her emotional and physical fulfilment. On the other hand of the spectrum, Cleopatra is the Siren, a temptress who ends up dead for her ambitions and unbridled passion. While we’re now in the midst of re-writing such women back into their real places, as complex, vibrant, and powerful figures in their own right, their legends are what inspire me—by questioning what the legend tells us, I begin to uncover the untold story underneath it.

Can you describe a typical writing day?

I don’t really have one. Because I still hold a 32-hour a week job, I write in bursts, at odd hours. I do try to write 2 pages every day; I find this approach less daunting and it helps me stay focused on the story without losing my rhythm. Two pages a day add up over time; within 9 months or so, I have the draft of a novel. I don’t work on Fridays so on those days I usually get up early, walk my dog, then sit down and work for several hours, often reviewing and revising what I have written. I eat lunch, nap, walk my dog again, and in the evening I work for several more hours, usually writing new pages. I can make a lot of headway on Fridays, if I stay focused. My theory when it comes to writing is that 10% is inspiration and 90% is just doing it. I can’t afford to wait for the muse; I have deadlines, instead. I prefer it this way: the muse is fickle and can just as easily grace me with ideas as leave me high and dry. The act of getting those 2 pages out, regardless of how inspired or uninspired I feel, gives me the discipline to master my craft.

Biographical historical novels are very difficult to write. Can you tell me how you create the plot?

I use history as a skeletal framework for my books; I usually create a year-by-year timeline of all the historical events I want to cover in the novel to guide my story decisions. Not everything will make it into the final published version and some events I decided at first not to cover may appear much later during revisions but in general the timeline helps me envision the arc of the plot. I also create character sketches for each major character that include a physical description and psychological and emotional details that I found during my research that define the character as an individual. What is more elusive and must develop during the writing itself are the details and scenes that breathe life into characters and the era. I don’t like to pre-plan too much of my actual story. I prefer to let my characters grow and show me the way; if this doesn’t happen, if I get stuck, then it usually means I have not done enough groundwork beforehand and so I go back and revisit my timeline and my character sketches, and do more research.

I have collected all your books and am already looking forward to the next one. Can you give us a sneak preview? Who is it about and where are you in the writing/publishing process?

I am currently working on Princess Isabella, a historical novel about Isabella of Castile, tracing her life from her dramatic youth to her accession as queen of Castile and the first twelve years of her exciting, controversial reign. I covered the latter years of Isabella’s life in my previous novel The Last Queen; while researching that book, I was captivated by Isabella as a character. She’s been lauded as a saint by some and a fanatic by others; she set in motion the terrors of the Inquisition yet she also financed Columbus and united Spain after centuries of internal strife. Isabella is the first queen of the Renaissance; yet few people know the incredible story of her tumultuous rise to the throne, her love affair with her husband, or of the events that led to the most climatic of years: 1492. I hope to bring to life her incredible vision and strength, as well as illuminate her intentions. Princess Isabella will be published in 2012 by Ballantine Books.

I’ve also recently finished a thorough editorial revision of my first novel, The Tudor Secret, a suspense tale told by a spy for Elizabeth Tudor, which takes place in the final days of Edward VI’s reign. The Tudor Secret is the first in a series of novels that will trace this spy’s rise to power as Elizabeth’s intimate and his own breathtaking struggle to survive those seeking to destroy him, amongst whom is a very dangerous Robert Dudley. Fans of my work will recognize The Tudor Secret as a re-issue of my self-published novel ‘The Secret Lion’; I was very fortunate last year to sell three books in this series to St Martin’s Press and to now be working with a talented editor who’s helping me revitalize the story. As soon as I finish writing Princess Isabella, I’ll begin writing the second book in my Tudor series, which is untitled as yet.

The Tudor Secret will be published in early 2011 in trade paperback by St Martin’s Press.

Thank you so much for inviting me, Mirella. I appreciate your generosity and support and hope your readers will enjoy The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. To find out more about me and my work, please visit my website at: http://www.cwgortner.com/

Christoher, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to visit.  It was a pleasure learning more about you and your work.  Now hurry and write, I'm anxiously awaiting the next one!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Win a Pendant of Catherine de Medici

It's Catherine de Medici week! I'm excited to announce that we'll be giving away a beautiful pendant of Catherine de Medici.

All you have to do to win is:

1. You must be a Canadian or U.S. resident.

2. You must be a follower of this blog.

3. Visit Christopher Gortner's blog Historical Boys and tell us the name of his constant companion.

4. Leave a comment with your email address and tell us what it is that you find most fascinating about Catherine de Medici.

Winner will be announced in August!

Good luck to all! This is one week not to miss!

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by Christopher Gortner - Book Revie

A most maligned and misunderstood queen, Catherine de Medici has captured the fascination of countless of generations of men and women over numerous centuries. Rumours of her manipulations, which may have involved murder, sorcery, and poisonings circulate about her to this day. But who was Catherine de Medici and what is her true story? In a novel that spans her entire life, from 1519 to 1589, historical fiction author, Christopher Gortner unravels some of the mystery surrounding fascinating, incredible woman of history.

Catherine de Medici

Catherine de Medicia was born in Florence Italy in the year 1519; the daughter of Madeleine de la Tour d'Auvergne and Lorenzo de Medici II, the Duke of Urbino.

Madeline and Lorenzo  

Catherine had a very troubled, difficult childhood. At the age of one, both of her parents died suddenly from a disease.  After Florence rebelled against the Medici family, she was placed in a convent to be raised and educated by the nuns. At the age of thirteen, her uncle, Pope Clement VII, began to seek a husband for her.

Pope Clement VII

He settled on Henry II, the second son of Francis I, King of France. Ever dutiful, Catherine accepted her fate and travelled to France to begin her new life. She could not realize how difficult life would be for her there. From the moment she arrived, those in the French court held her Italian background against her and she never truly gained acceptance.

Henry II

When her uncle the pope died, any political influence she may have brought to the French Court also perished with him. Because he sent her to her marriage with a poor dowry of 100,000 écus, she was relegated to the background of the French court, where she remained even when her husband's elder brother died and she attained the dignity of Dauphiness.

Due to her failure to conceive an heir, she was obliged to continue in her distant obscurity. She faced numerous challenges and confrontations by her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and the King's mistress, Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, the Duchesse d'Etampes. Of the two, Diane, a beauty of middle age and far older than either Catherine or her husband, was Catherine's greatest nemesis.

After eleven years of marriage, Catherine conceived the first of ten children. Upon the death of her husband, her son became king, and Catherine found herself suddenly thrust onto the political arena as his regent. The novel encompasses her life through several wars, religious battles, political intrigues, and the death of several of her children.

Catherine could prohesize the future through her dreams and she employed Nostradamus to aid her in predicting what was to come. Christopher Gortner depicted these scenes with care and credibility and without sensationalism.

Biographical historical novels are one of the most challengng genres to produce. It requires years of research and a deep understanding of the political and environmental climate of the era. Christopher Gortner has pieced together Catherine de Medici's entire life, and he did so in a clear, unbiased, and neutral manner. His thorough and skilful writing accurately portrayed the times, which makes his depiction of Catherine de Medici believable and enduring.

From start to finish, with its beautiful prose and brilliant historical detail, this novel satisfied in every manner. In biographical historical novels, it is a fine line that divides fiction and fact, and authors strive for accuracy. Christopher Gortner excelled at this. He seamlessly weaved centuries of historical occurrences into a smooth, easy to read novel. Catherine's life filled with intrigue and suspense, love and loyalty, wars and betrayal literally exploded on every page. A complex story indeed, one that Christopher wrote with great heart and zealous panache.

I can't speak enough good words about this novel. It was a truly enjoyable story, well told, and carefully crafted. As an avid reader and collector of Italian biographical fiction, this novel was one that I anxiously awaited. And because I've read all of the author's previous books, I knew it would make a terrific summer novel. Coming fast on the heels of his previous successful novel, The Last Queen, I eagerly await his next work.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

About The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C.W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
Christopher Gortner

The ambitious, gripping tale of one of history’s most powerful and misunderstood women . . .

At the age of fourteen, Catherine de Medici, last legitimate descendant of the Medici blood, finds herself betrothed to the King Francois I’s son, Henri. Sent from her native Florence to France, humiliated and overshadowed by her husband’s life-long devotion to his mistress, when tragedy strikes her family Catherine rises from obscurity to become one of 16th century Europe’s most powerful women.

Patroness of Nostradamus and a seer in her own right, accused of witchcraft and murder by her foes, Catherine fights to save France and her children from savage religious conflict, unaware that her own fate looms before her—a fate that will demand the sacrifice of her ideals, reputation, and the passion of her own embattled heart. . .

From the splendors of the Loire palaces to the blood-soaked battles of the Wars of Religion and haunted halls of the Louvre, this is the story of Catherine’s dramatic life, told by the queen herself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giveaway - Win a Pendant of Catherine de Medici

It's Catherine de Medici week at History and Women! I'm excited to announce that we'll be giving away a beautiful pendant of Catherine de Medici.

All you have to do to win is:

1. You must be a Canadian or U.S. resident.
2. You must be a follower of this blog.
3. Visit Christopher Gortner's blog Historical Boys and tell us the name of his constant companion.
4. Leave a comment with your email address and tell us what it is that you find most fascinating about Catherine de Medici.

Winners will be announced the second week of August!

Good luck to all! This is one week not to miss!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

And the winners are . . .

Drumroll, please. We have two lucky winners for this week's book giveaways:

The winner of a copy of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is . . .


The winner of a copy of The Crown in the Heather is . . .


The winners have been notified by e-mail. Thanks to all those who entered and please come back and try again. Next week's giveaway is a pendant of Catherine de Medici. Details to follow soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

"The Golden Mean" by Annabel Lyon

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon takes us to Greece where we meet Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, King Philip of Macedon, and his son, the future Alexander the Great.
King Philip of Macedon invites his friend Aristotle to tutor his two adolescent sons. Aristotle arrives only reluctantly in the Macedonian capital for he wanted to become the leader of the Academy in Athens instead. One of Philip’s sons, Arrhidaeus is mentally disabled while Alexander is a keen and kindred spirit, raised to be a warrior and king.
To his surprise, Aristotle enjoys the challenge of teaching the two boys. He works to improve Arrhidaeus life, but his main goal is to teach Alexander about balancing the power of muscle and the power of mind. Alexander should learn to use the golden mean, the balance between the extremes. However, not everybody agrees to Aristotle’s ideas of how a king should rule his country. The king is at war, and his son, the heir apparent, must prove himself worthy on the battle field. Meanwhile Aristotle fights his own war – the battle for Alexander’s mind and for his own career, because he has not forgotten his desire to become one of the greatest philosophers of all time.

“The Golden Mean” boldly explores the relationship and influence of Aristotle, a philosopher, on Alexander, a warring king. Annabel Lyons chooses first person and present tense for her prose, which may not be every reader's choice. She uses an earthy, modern voice, and she does not shy away from profanity and sensuality. The Greeks were known not only for their accomplishments in philosophy and maths but also for their down-to-earth approach on human life. The question remains how close Annabel Lyon can get into Aristotle’s mind; however, this question set aside, “The Golden Mean” provides an unique glimpse into a time in which great gods were fallible, great minds invented democracy, and great kings stretched their realm to the unknown and beyond.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Interview with Ann Weisgarber, Author of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

How did you become interested in writing about African American ranchers in South Dakota?

I’ve always loved the West and admire the determined spirit of the people who call it home. I knew there were African-American cowboys, and I had visited a few historical forts where black troops had been posted during the late 1800’s. I didn’t know anything about African-American settlers, though, until I happened to see a photograph of a woman sitting in front of a sod dugout. The photo wasn’t labeled, but from the background the location could have been Nebraska or one of the Dakotas. I was intrigued for several reasons. This unnamed woman was alone, and she was an African-American. I did a little digging and found John Ravage’s Black Pioneers. His non-fiction book was filled with accounts of black settlers in the West.

This was new history for me, and that was exciting. But it was more than that. I couldn’t stop thinking about the woman in the photograph. She was alone in the middle of a wide open stretch of land. I didn’t know her name, and I didn’t know where she lived, but I knew this: she had a story that needed telling. I decided to do that for her.

How did you research this novel? Did you spend time in the locations you wrote about?

I did the research in bits and pieces. I’d write a scene and realize that I didn’t know anything about the details. For instance, Isaac was posted at Ft. Robinson, Nebraska. This meant I had to research the fort and the cavalry units. When I discovered that the Ninth Cavalry served as reinforcements at Wounded Knee Creek, I then had to research the massacre. From there, I researched the relationship between Buffalo Soldiers and Indians. After that, I read about Pine Ridge Reservation. One piece of information often led to a new idea. Many times the research shaped the book.

I did have a four-week writing residency at Badlands National Park, but I did very little writing while I was there. Instead, I talked to people who lived in the area, I visited Ft. Robinson, and I went to Lead to see the gold mine. I was in the Badlands during a three-day windstorm with gusts so strong that it was impossible to walk upright. There was an electrical storm where the night sky turned white and stayed white for seconds at a time. Best of all, the residency was an opportunity to experience the quiet beauty of the Badlands.

I returned to the Badlands one other time, but that was only for a few days. That was long enough to renew my commitment to finish the manuscript.

Rachel’s voice is so strong and clear in this story. Did you find it challenging to take on the voice of an African American woman from the early 20th century?

Thank you. It was a challenge and that was one reason why it took so long to write the book. I had to step back in time and imagine a point of view very different from my own. Reading about historical figures such as Ida B. Wells Barnett and Booker T. Washington helped. But it seems to me that assuming a different voice is nothing new for people who write historical fiction. Many writers put aside the “Can I?” and “Should I?” questions. It’s a matter of connecting with the characters on an emotional level. In my case, I was determined to give the unnamed woman in the photograph a story. I wanted to do the best I could. That was my focus.

Every author has a unique path to publication. Can you tell us a little about yours?

The book -- an American story -- was first published in the UK and then in France. Prior to any of that, I had an agent who did her best to find a U.S. publisher. No one was interested. Several editors said the story was too quiet, and I took that to mean the novel wasn’t ready. My agent lost interest, but we parted on good terms. I went back to page one and started another round of revisions.

Meanwhile, I read about Macmillan New Writing in Poets & Writers. The imprint, a division of Pan Macmillan in the UK, was willing to publish new writers who did not have agents. I sent the manuscript to MNW. It was a long shot. The imprint received thousands of manuscripts and printed twelve novels a year. Eleven weeks later, Will Atkins, the editor, sent an e-mail. He liked the novel.

Eight months after it was published in the UK, it was nominated for the Orange Prize, a literary prize for women writers. A month later, it was nominated for the Orange Award, a prize for new writers. In the States, the Texas Institute of Letters awarded it the Best Work of First Fiction prize.

The nominations in the UK and the prize in Texas opened the door for Rachel DuPree. Pan Macmillan sold the U.S. rights to Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group. It’s a great match for me. My editor, John Siciliano, and the team believe in the book.

The book came to the U.S. through the back door, but I wouldn’t change a thing about my process. This was how it was meant to be.

What’s next for you?

I'm currently working on a novel that takes place in 1900 in Galveston, Texas. The plot revolves around a college–educated woman who marries a dairy farmer. The story begins a month before the 1900 Storm, the historical hurricane that killed more than six thousand people.

Where can readers find out more about you and your book?

My website is www.annweisgarber.com. There, readers will find my e-mail address and they are welcome to write me. They’ll also find the first few pages of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree as well as a few articles about the historical facts behind the book. Under Book Clubs, readers can find questions for book discussion groups.

Excerpt - The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

South Dakota. The land of opportunity. But that was before the drought, that was before me and Isaac put a child in the well. That was before we did it the second time. The second time, Liz screamed when Isaac told her he needed her. She screamed until I put my hand over her mouth and held her lips together. It was wrong what we were doing to her, but Isaac was right about the horses and Jerseybell. They had to be watered.

Like before, I latched Alise and Emma in their room. I went with the others to the well, none of us saying anything as we walked against the wind. Isaac carried Liz who cried into his shoulder, her arms around his neck. At the well we knew what to do, we knew what to expect, and that made it all the worse. We were getting used to doing this thing. We were giving in to it.

Afterward, Isaac watered our four horses and then hitched two of them, Bucky and Beaut, to the wagon. He was holding true to his promise to get supplies, and John was going with him.

Me and the girls – I had to make Liz – went down the rise to the barn to see them off. John waited on the buckboard, all grins. It had been a good while since he’d been to Scenic; it had been Mary’s turn the last time. I gave Isaac a small cloth bag. “Soda biscuits and a can of pears,” I said. “It’s all I’ve got.”

“It’s enough.” He quickly touched my arm and then he hoisted himself to the top of the wheel. The wagon rocking some, Isaac settled on the buckboard, finding the worn spots where he always sat. He took the reins from John and giddyupped the horses. Creaking, the wagon lurched, and they pulled away, Rounder lagging behind them likely as hot, thirsty and hungry as any of us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Review of the Personal History of Rachel Dupree

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is a story best experienced firsthand with fingers pressed to the pages and an uninterrupted stretch of time. I found myself unwittingly drawn in by narrative that’s so direct and familiar in tone, it’s as if Rachel herself were speaking to me. Even the most subtle passages are deeply moving and the clarity of the simplest details brings Rachel’s world fully to life. But there’s far more to this book than time and setting. This is as much a story of race and the ambition to better one’s self, as it is about courage in the face of adversity.

Twenty-five year-old Rachel, a kitchen maid in a Chicago boarding house, agrees to marry Isaac DuPree, the son of a doctor’s widow. Although she barely knows Isaac, Rachel admires his ambition and believes that together they can build a better life. Newly wed, they leave to hew out a living on a ranch in the dusty wilderness that is the South Dakota Badlands. Negroes in the West are rare and Isaac is determined to build his wealth in land and earn the respect of others. Despite the toll inflicted on them by their harsh environment, Rachel bears a quiet fortitude as she tries to live up to Isaac’s expectations. But sometimes with sacrifice comes suffering and Rachel and her family are no exception. Hunger and thirst are all too familiar and death an often unwelcome guest. As their neighbors abandon their lands, Isaac clings ever more fiercely to his dream. Meanwhile, Rachel struggles to ensure her family’s survival, while alternately longing for the comforts of her old Chicago home. Without a doubt, Rachel DuPree will take her place among America’s literary heroines.

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree enlightens us to the tenacity of the pioneer spirit, the stark realities of life in an unforgiving land and the sometimes cruel truth about how the West was really won. Ann Weisgarber captures the otherworldly landscape and harsh climate expertly – so much so that you can feel the grit under your fingernails and the dryness in your mouth long after you close the book. This is a poignant tale that will move you in unexpected ways, as it pits hope and pride against reality and resourcefulness.

Not only did this shoot to the top of my list of all-time favorites in historical fiction, but it easily takes a spot among my favorites of any genre. If I’m asked to recommend one must-read book for the year, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is definitely it.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Giveaway - The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

Ann Weisgarber's debut novel, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, was named Best Work of Fiction by the Texas Institute of Letters, longlisted for the Orange Prize and shortlisted for The Orange Prize for New Writers. Set in the early 20th century Badlands of South Dakota, it is a story of one woman's struggle to defeat adversity and give her children a better life.

To win a copy of The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, please leave a comment and contact information on any of the blog posts about this book between Aug. 11th and 14th, 2010, stating why you would like to read this book. The winner will be announced on August 15th.

Visit Ann's website.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Purples by W. K. Berger

Reviewed by: L. Gregory Graham

I love this book because it is not history. The Purple Gang in Detroit in the 1920’s was a rough crowd in a bare-knuckle city. They specialized in killing anyone trying to muscle in on their rum running empire. Hardly fertile ground for a novel about people coping as best they can in a hostile world. The gang made millions running booze across the Detroit River from Canada during Prohibition. What this book is instead is a fictionalized remembrance by Joe Bernstein, the head of the Purple Gang. He tells his side of the story glossing over the nasty stuff and making his climb to the top of the Detroit underworld seem logical. In many ways, he casts it more as a career move than anything else.

How did it all start? Supposedly Henry Ford’s Jew hating minions had his girlfriend arrested and committed to an insane asylum. Her crime? Passing out union material at a Ford plant. When Joe leans on the local prosecutor to free her, he finds himself cut up, and thrown into the Detroit River by gangsters who owe the prosecutor a favor. He survives, but barely. Then the killings begin.

Joe surrounds himself with a motley crew of castoffs and social misfits whose talents include intimidation and murder. I swear I went to high school with some of these characters. Joes casts them more as problem solvers than as amoral murders. With his leadership, his brother’s brains, and an inner circle of talented hit men, Joe should be happy ruling his lucrative empire. Alas, he isn’t. His girlfriend comes out of the insane asylum truly crazy, his brother and his chief hit man hate each other, and Joe can’t seem to keep his men from making unsanctioned hits.

Joe manages to keep it all together until a one legged war hero/prosecutor comes to town. Using honesty, compassion, and psychology, tools Joe has no defense against, the prosecutor pits the gang members against each other and gets the convictions he needs.

There are no villains in this remarkable book. Joe is likeable because in many ways he is an American rags-to-riches story. His thugs are scary, but likable because the reader understands them and tolerates them in the same way that you tolerate your weird uncle at Thanksgiving as long as he doesn’t get too strange. Even the war hero/ prosecutor who could have come across with all the wit and charm of an obsessed comic book crime fighter had the insight to marry a warm, charming wife who spends most of the book softening the edges of his flinty character.

Joe is an imperfect narrator at best. He has a genius for manipulating people, but at the same time he is blind to the emotional damage he is wreaking on himself and those around him. His girlfriend dies by her own hand, and he orders the execution of his two best friends leaving him more isolated at the end of the book than he ever was at the beginning. Throughout the story, Joe maintains himself as a hard man living a hard life while subconsciously he seeks the love and approval of others. In fact, the book becomes his justification for his life.

At the end of the book, an Italian gangster supplies the only introspection Joe manages to take to heart. The mobster gives him the reason why the Italian mob survived when the Purple Gang did not. Your people were ashamed of you, he tells Joe, while the mob is looked upon as a career choice among Italians. Shame scatters the Purple Gang once Joe goes to prison. The Detroit Jewish community will not take them in.

Read this book because it is fun. W. K. Berger does a wonderful job of capturing the wide-open feel of the roaring twenties when money is as plentiful as the speakeasies, when radio announcers become the first media stars, and when Henry Ford runs Detroit as surely as any mobster does. Burger captures the spirit of the city when it is small enough to walk around and when the whole city administration can easily fit into a gangster’s hip pocket. Read it because the author does the impossible. He creates a gang novel devoid of stereotypes. The gangsters aren’t slang talking, out-of-control thugs in pinstripe suits. Their girlfriends aren’t simpering flappers. The police aren’t stupid, and the prosecutor isn’t a political hack interested in running for mayor.

Just don’t read this book as history.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Book Giveaway: The Crown in the Heather by N. Gemini Sasson

Thanks for joining us. Gemi has graciously agreed to give away a copy of her wonderful book, The Crown in the Heather. Leave a comment and tell Gemi what you find most fascinating about her main character, Robert the Bruce. She will pick the lucky winner and send you an autographed copy of the book. In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt of The Crown in the Heather.

An ebbing tide pulsed against the shoreline of Rothesay’s broad-mouthed bay. Elizabeth and I walked side by side, my fingers brushing her forearm, pebbles crunching beneath our feet. A pair of tracks stretched in an erratic trail before us: one set the loping paw prints of a young, long-legged dog in full stride and the other Marjorie’s small, closely spaced footprints where she scampered after him. Seagulls, picking over spilled catch, exploded in a cloud of fulmination, then dove menacingly at the exuberant hound pup. Marjorie covered her head with her arms and let out a screech of terror. At once, Coll bounded in her direction and leapt into the air, his teeth gnashing at the clap of beating wings. Rolling in laughter, Marjorie sought out another petulant flock and repeated the game.

In the distance, fishing boats cluttered the sloping shore. There, fishermen were busily unloading the workday’s yield before darkness descended over the island. The day, although sharply cold, had been unusually calm and sunny for January. Above the silver-black waters of the bay, the peaked rooflines of Rothesay crowded against a deepening blue sky. Inland, snow-topped domes contrasted with the vermilion hues of a sinking sun.

Elizabeth stumbled and I grabbed her by the arm to steady her.

“Careful of your step, Lady Elizabeth.” I tucked her hand within the fold of my left elbow, the fingers of my other hand gently clasping hers. “Perhaps you would prefer to walk on my right, away from the water . . . before you fall in?”

She raised her oval chin, her lips pursed tight as if feigning indignity, and drew her shoulders back. “You presume I’m clumsy, my lord.”

“No, I—”

“Well, I’m not, I assure you. I was merely watching Marjorie and her dog playing. Otherwise, I’m quite surefooted.” She winked at me. “As nimble as a cat.”

I fought a grin. “And when you tumbled to the floor last night during the dance?”

She slapped the back of my hand playfully. “Are you mocking me, Lord Robert? Perhaps I should stay closer to you, like this,”—she swung herself around to stand before me—“so you may catch me in your arms next time? Would you?”

For a moment, I forgot myself. Forgot it was past supper and we were overdue at table. Our absence would raise brows. I hardly cared. It was rare we were ever together like this without a crowd of onlookers ogling our every gesture and eavesdropping on every innocent word.

Her fingers wandered up my arms teasingly. “Would you?”

“Would I what?”

“Catch me . . . if I fell?”

A movement distracted me and I glanced up to see Oonagh hobbling toward Marjorie, who stood near the boats waving her arms at the seagulls. In all likelihood, Oonagh had been sent to beckon us back to the castle for the evening meal. In time. I was neither hungry yet nor willing to join the crowd in the hall. I gazed down at Elizabeth, fascinated by the way one of her rounded brows was set higher than the other and the spattering of freckles across her slender nose. I hungry yet nor willing to join the crowd in the hall. I gazed down at Elizabeth, fascinated by the way one of her rounded brows was set higher than the other and the spattering of freckles across her slender nose. I slid my hands around her waist and drew her to me until I felt the slight pressure of her hips against my thighs.

“Like this?” With a sudden heave, I swept her off the ground, one arm snug around her back and the other cradling her legs.

I expected a shriek of protest and an upbraiding; instead, she tossed her head back, laughter bubbling from her throat, and kicked her feet in the air. She reached an arm around my neck and I swung her in a circle: sky and sea and mountains blurring into a streak of shadowy blue and steel gray around us. Not until the ground pitched beneath me did I stop. My knees wobbling, I planted my feet wide and clutched Elizabeth closer to my chest to keep from dropping her.

“Shall I put you down now?” I asked.

Thank you, Gemi. Don't forget to leave your comment to win a copy of the book.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Review: The Crown in The Heather by N. Gemini Sasson

The Crown in the Heather – The Bruce Trilogy: Book I by N. Gemini Sasson

“Whenever we want something, we must weigh the cost of getting it. A farthing is a fair price for a loaf of bread. Two shillings for a yard of wool. But what price will a man pay to be his own master?”

This question is at the heart of N. Gemini Sasson’s debut, The Crown in the Heather – The Bruce Trilogy: Book I, and it is the primary concern driving the central character of Robert the Bruce. Heir to the earldom of Carrick, Robert grows up headstrong and impulsive. Under the tutelage of his grandfather and father, he learns to negotiate the politics of thirteenth-century Scotland. Yet he yearns to be more than one among many Scots held in the sway of the English King. Robert wants to be the ruler of a county free from the severity and abuses of its nominal leaders. His ambition is a direct threat to England and several of the Scottish nobles, who refuse to rally around his claim.

As Gemi says in her Author’s Note, folklore sometimes defines the truth of what we know about a character. Robert the Bruce has taken on an almost mythical status over the centuries, like that of King Arthur. I enjoyed so much of Gemi’s portrayal, but foremost is that her Robert is a devoted son and brother, a loving husband and father. He is also a king passionately dedicated to the preservation of his people and their country. Where he wavers in his devotion, is when his own ambitions endanger the lives of those whom he loves most, particularly his wife Elizabeth and daughter Marjorie. I could feel the struggle inside of him, thanks to Gemi’s skill. He became so real to me, conflicted by his desires, wanting the stewardship of his nation despite an easy temptation to capitulate and surrender the burden. His quest for the crown of Scotland almost guarantees that he will never have the comforts of home. Moments of joy with his wife and daughter are fleeting, snatched in brief interludes before threats arise. Robert’s passion for Elizabeth, like everything else about him, is larger than life. Varied historical figures complete the cast of the Crown in the Heather, most notably William Wallace of Braveheart fame; the nemesis of the Scots, King Edward I of England and his beleaguered heir, Edward of Caernarvon; John the Red Comyn, a one-time Guardian of Scotland like Wallace, and a host of other characters.

One among them truly stands out: James Douglas, whose story parallels Robert’s own. He is in danger of eclipsing Robert as the hero of this story. James suffers losses early on, followed by a cruel exile in Paris. His experiences toughen him, but his innate goodness defies his otherwise wily behavior and a tendency to rush to confront his enemies. If I can liken the Bruce to King Arthur, then James Douglas is his Lancelot. It is only in the latter half of the book that James becomes one of the more trusted members of Robert’s retinue, but he easily proves himself a capable fighter and constant companion. His portrayal left me so captivated that I promised Gemi I would just wait for Book II, rather than rushing off to learn more about him and his ultimate fate.

I have had the pleasure of working with Gemi for a few years through critique groups, and from the start, she amazed me with her natural ability to convey human emotions, as deftly as a professional artist sketches landscapes. Her characters are vibrant and resonate beyond the pages of the book. Gemi has earned my respect and admiration for her enthusiasm and dedication to perfecting her work. It was a tremendous honor and pleasure to read the final version of The Crown in the Heather. I eagerly look forward to more on Robert the Bruce and his faithful cohort, James Douglas, in Book II.

Tomorrow, win a free autographed copy of this book. Visit us again at Historical Novel Review.

Book: Kindle:

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory is the second book in the Cousins of the Cousins War series.  It is the tale of Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor who was later crowned King Henry VII and who began the long line of Tudor kings. She is also known as grandmother to the infamous Henry VIII.

The story opens with Margaret’s childhood. She is a pious child, deeply intrigued by Joan of Arc with the abounding desire to enter a monastery and rule as abbess. Typically, children of the nobility were slated for political alliances and Margaret was no exception. As the cousin of King Henry VI, she was wed to his half-brother, Edmund Tudor, with the expectation of creating an heir to the thrown for the House of Lancaster. A son is soon born to them and he is named Henry. Margaret experiences a prophetic dream which tells her that he will be King and this unleashes a powerful sense of protection and ambition within her.

With her son still an infancy, tragedy strikes and Margaret finds herself suddenly widowed. Almost immediately, she is married off to Henry Stafford, son of the 1st Duke of Buckingham. She is torn away from her son who is left in the guardianship of Jasper, her deceased husband’s brother to whom she bears a great affection. Although their marriage was harmonious, the couple remained childless and she soon found herself widowed once more. This time, the now wealthy widow takes matters into her own hands and approaches Thomas Stanley, Lord High Constable, for a marriage alliance. The calculating, conniving lord readily accepts and they enter into a loveless marriage of convenience.

At the forefront of the story is the War of the Roses, the infamous battle between the Yorks and Lancasters. To preserve her son’s claim to the thrown, Margaret must circumnavigate treacherous political alliances, murder plots, and rival queens. Throughout, Margaret is portrayed as manipulative, shrewd, ambitious, and even callous. And although readers may not like her, she was very much a woman of her times, forced to survive in an ever-shifting world fraught by wars and death.

In The Red Queen, popular British author, Philippa Gregory, pays homage to a lesser known, unpopular woman of English history. Gregory’s portrayal of this villainess was compelling and credible, a challenge when the main character is more of an antagonist than a protagonist. The first person narrative added powerful insight into Margaret Beaufort’s actions and motivations. Although I have yet to read The White Queen about Elizabeth Woodville, her rival in the War of the Roses, I recommend reading both books to get a feel for the opposing viewpoints of these two rival women. This novel is a refreshing change from the over abundance of Tudor novels on bookshelves. Its brilliance lies in the easy style of writing Gregory employs to tell a complex political tale of fiction filled with numerous characters, well-researched, believable, and larger than life.

As a long-time Philippa Gregory fan, I was eager to read this newest novel scheduled for release this month, August 2010. I very much enjoyed reading this novel and look forward to reading The White Queen. Doing so will provide insight into both points of view in the infamous War of the Roses.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Price of Glory by Seth Hunter

I am delighted to introduce you to The Price of Glory by Seth Hunter. It is the third and last book of the series, which features Nathan Peake, the young English Captain with American roots. The previous titles were The Time of Terror and The Tide of War.

Captain Nathan Peake commands the Unicorn, a frigate of the Royal Navy. He is sent to intervene in France’s revolutionary war by his Navy command. England's engagement is based on loyalty to the French king; however, Nathan will find out that the struggle for the leadership in France is in truth one about power and money.

Besides all duty, Nathan secretly looks for his love Sara who was swept away by the surge of the revolution. England's plan to support the French royalists comes handy for the young, determined Captain. Sadly, his first assignment fails, and he must fear consequences. Instead, he is sent on a secret mission to Paris, right into the heart of the revolution. Soon, he is entangled in the web of foul intrigues, brute forces, and licentious indulgence. Unintentionally, he sets Napoleon Bonaparte on his way. Having redeemed himself in London, he is allowed to return to the command of the Unicorn. He joins Captain Nelson's fleet which rushes to thwart Napoleon's plans to invade Genoa. Only now, Nathan finds an opportunity to slip away to visit a secret meeting place to see whether Sara is still alive. At the end of his quest, he'll find help from an unlikely place.

Author Seth Hunter
Once again, Seth Hunter manages to weave an action filled tale into the fabric of historical events of revolutionary France. The inclined reader is introduced to celebrities of English and French history alike. As the tension rises, there is a touch of humor, a certain laissez-faire in the tale that provides relief. Captain Nathan is a likable man, who does not always succeed. Not Mr Perfect at all and maybe that makes him so real. The language is easy to read but not simple, naval idioms are cut to an easy-to- understand level, and the frequent change of scenery provides enough opportunity to add atmosphere.

The series will appeal to adventure loving readers, but will disappoint the romance lover. If you enjoy adventures written from a male perspective, and maybe are interested in that time frame (1795) then you will find The Price of Glory to be a very enjoyable read.