Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Maid by Kimberly Cutter

Back Cover Blurb:

It is the early part of the fifteenth century and the tumultuous Hundred Years War rages on. The French city of Orleans is under siege, English soldiers tear through the countryside wreaking destruction on all who cross their path, and Charles VII, the uncrowned king, has neither the strength nor the will to rally his army. And in the quiet of her parents’ garden in Domremy, a twelve-year-old peasant girl, Jehanne, hears a voice that will change her life – and the course of European history.

The tale of Jehanne d’Arc, the saint and warrior who believed she had been chosen by God to save France, and who led an army of 10,000 soldiers against the English, has captivated our imagination for centuries. But the story of Jehanne – the girl – whose sister was murdered by the English, who sought an escape from her violent father and a forced marriage, who taught herself to ride, and fight, and lead, and who somehow found the courage and tenacity to convince first one, then two, then tens, then thousands to follow her, is at once thrilling, unexpected and heart-breaking. Sweeping, gripping and rich with intrigue, betrayal, love and valour. The Maid is an unforgettable novel about the power and burden of faith, and the exhilarating and devastating consequences of fame.

Joan of Arc

From Bloomsbury Publishing comes an exceptional novel about the life of Joan of Arc. 

Of all the stories I've read and all the movies I've watched about the life of Joan of Arc, this novel is a most superb rendition of her life. The author's strong third person narrative filled with vivid details and emotions, truly gave me an insight into this heroic woman's very soul. Realistic and heart-wrenching, I could not help but savour every page of this fabulously, well-written novel. Although the story is about a Saint who receives messages and hears voices sent from God, the religious/Christian feel was subtle and did not overpower the story.   

The personal willpower and strength of the heroine truly impresses. The author did an exceptional job at depicting Jehanne's convictions despite the prejudices against women during this era. For a young peasant girl to gather an army of military warriors and gain the attention of the king, makes for a poignant story that not only makes the reader rejoice, but grieve at the injustice suffered. 

This book has it all - a beautifully written glorious tale of a courageous young woman facing insurmountable odds and her success with tragic results. A must read! 

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Parting

The Parting: A Story of West Point on the Eve of the Civil War
Richard Barlow Adams' new book, The Parting: A Story of West Point on the Eve of the Civil War, is a tale of friends, classmates and colleagues being ripped apart by a great divide—the Civil War. As these young men prepare to lay down their lives for their country, camaraderie and romance still find a way into their not yet battle-hardened hearts. The Parting is a story of love and war, tragedy and triumph.

Mr. Adams brings to life the lives and studies of West Point students during this turbulent period. This book will be of value and interest to anyone researching West Point or the time period before the Civil War.  The war itself enters into the story only as a few chapters scattered throughout the book and the events are not always in chronological order.
If you’re interested in seamless immersion into the hearts and minds of men as they fought, this may not be the book you’re looking for. However, the time spent among the young cadets as they reach adulthood and define who and what they’ll fight for is diverting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Interview with Pat Lowery Collins by Victoria Dixon

Many thanks to Pat Lowery Collins for answering my questions concerning her two most recent books, Hidden Voices and Daughter of Winter.

VLD: Writers tend to have themes they revisit and you do a great job in both of these books delving into questions that occur to orphaned children, so I’m wondering if you intend to write more on that topic.

PLC: One reviewer offered the opinion that all my novels have protagonists who are out of sync with their own society. I hadn’t realized that this was a recurrent theme of mine, but it obviously is. I tell my students not to be too concerned with theme, because it will reveal itself as you go, or even, as in my case, at a time long after you have written the book or books. No, I don’t plan on writing any more books about orphaned children, but I’m already working on one with another heroine who is very different from her peers.

VLD: You have a talent for submerging the reader in place and time – especially so considering what disparate settings you used in these books. How do you do your research?

PLC: For Hidden Voices I spent some time in Venice learning as much as I could about the 18th century in that particular city and about its social service system under the doge. I walked the same path that Vivaldi would have taken to work at the Ospedali della Pietá, saw the site of the original orphanage and the location of the foundling wheel, and even the view that the girls would have seen from their window on the Riva. I also traveled in the surrounding countryside to get a feeling of what Luisa and Catina would have encountered when they were sent away to get well. And I did considerable research on the music of the time, particularly the work that Vivaldi composed during the years that I cover in the book. For this endeavor, I kept a card file with sections on just about everything – clothing of the period, occupations for women, musical compositions and theory, other artists of the day, the social service system under the republic of Venice, etc. etc. I bought a number of helpful books in Italy, did some research on line, and attended performances of Vivaldi’s work and a wonderful exhibition in Florence of musical instruments of the period.

I didn’t have to go far to do the research for Daughter of Winter, set in 1849. The shipbuilding activity I mention in the book was in the town of Essex, which is next to my town of Gloucester, MA. I had already done a great deal of research on the building of a schooner for my picture book, Schooner. At the time I was working on that, I became intrigued by the Shipbuilding Museum in Essex that had once been a school in the middle of a graveyard. Much of my actual research was also done online and included what information I could find on such things as the slang of the time, the conditions on the schooners traveling to the goldfields, the topography of the Essex River and islands, the Agawam and Wampanoag Indians, the school curriculum, the clothing, etc. etc. For this book, since most of what I learned could be printed out, I kept a large notebook with specific sections for each category. Because I live nearby, I was already very familiar with the tides, the topography, and the flora and fauna.

VLD: What aspects of these stories did you find most enjoyable to write?

PLC: I particularly like developing the characters and establishing their voices. I also enjoy writing dialogue and describing the various settings in detail. I read everything aloud as I go, because the sound and rhythm of the words is very important to me, as is the art of crafting a beautiful sentence.

VLD: What other books out readers should know about?

PLC: My next book will be a picture book with Candlewick Press called The Deer Watch. It is being illustrated by David Slonim. I’m presently working on another young adult novel. This time it’s a ghost story.

A few of my other books that your readers might want to know about are Just Imagine, set in the Great Depression, and The Fattening Hut. Just Imagine was my first historical novel and didn’t require much research because I remembered many aspects of the time period. I also checked with older family members for some details. The Fattening Hut is a novel in verse set on a mythical island but addressing a real world problem. To create a believable and colorful background for that book, I went to the island of Anguilla where I learned of its industry, history, topography, birds and trees etc. That book won the 2004 Julia Ward Howe Award from the Boston Author’s Club, was an Indie pick and an ALA Amelia Bloomer choice. My very first YA was Signs and Wonders.

Pat Collins' website is at

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Freedom's Sword by J.R. Tomlin

Before William Wallace... before Robert the Bruce... there was another Scottish hero...

In 1296, newly knighted by the King of the Scots, Andrew de Moray fights to defend his country against the forces of the ruthless invader, King Edward Longshanks of England. After a bloody defeat in battle, he is dragged in chains to an English dungeon. Soon the young knight escapes. He returns to find Scotland under the heel of a conqueror and his betrothed sheltering in the hills of the Black Isle. Seizing his own castle, he raises the banner of Scottish freedom. Now he must lead the north of Scotland to rebellion in hope of defeating the English army sent to crush them.

Andrew de Moray is a man trapped between battles between Scotland and England. Captured by the English, he is held prisoner, but manages to escape. Free at last, he pledges his fealty to Scotland’s King John, and sets out to rid Scotland of the English. He teams up with William Wallace, and together amass an army succeed in winning some major battles.

The novel focuses heavily on the military and political aspects of this period and dwells only lightly on his personal life. The story also includes a subplot about Caitrina, the youngest daughter of a lord, who was being pushed to become a nun against her wishes, which I found quite appealing. Freedom’s Sword is a great introductory novel into Scotland’s early and turbulent history.

And the Winner Is ...

Daughter of WinterThanks so much to the blog's followers. I'm happy to say Gwendolyn won a free copy of Daughter of Winter. Gwendolyn, I will contact you privately to get your address.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Daughter of Winter by Pat Lowery Collins

Daughter of WinterIt’s 1849, and twelve-year-old Addie lives in the shipbuilding town of Essex, Massachusetts. Her father has left the family to seek gold on the West Coast, and tragically the flux has ended the lives of her mother and baby brother, leaving Addie all alone. Fearful of being taken in as a servant, Addie flees from her house into the snowy woods, where she endures hunger and bitter cold until Nokummus, an elderly Wampanoag woman, coaxes Addie to her dwelling.
Now living under the care of the mercurial old woman, Addie slowly recognizes the truth of her past. Through an intense ancient ceremony and by force of her own wits and will, Addie must come to grips with the facts of her newfound identity – and find the courage to build a future unlike any she could ever have imagined.

Daughter of Winter was a heart rending read at times. The book begins:

Yesterday I washed their bodies
as I’ve seen the women do
dressed them in their best,
and laid them in a crypt of snow…
If that doesn’t catch your attention, for better or worse, you must be the one in the crypt. I was riveted after those first four lines, but I have to admit, Daughter of Winter was a hard read for me because of Addie’s agonizing search for her own identity and “real” mother.

You see, I’m an adoptive mother. My daughter is from China and though she’s still a little young for these questions, she will someday have them. Just like Addie, my child will want to know who her “real” mother is and I will have to contain my tears at the question. Tears for her loss; tears that she has to ask such a terrible thing because I am her real mother. I am just not the person who gave her life. This book managed to touch me in a deeply personal place, for which I’m grateful. I hope it will help me to be a better mother when these questions arise.
The novel’s conclusion is moving and fulfilling, but I hate spoilers and refuse to give away anything else. What I will do is whole heartedly recommend this novel to the general populace, but most especially to those people touched by adoption or foster situations.

If you're interested in a copy of Daughter of Winter, please leave a comment. The winner will be drawn June 23th.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Flowers of Evil by Simon Acland

“Why are the disciples always more fanatical than those that they follow? Why does their belief have to be more certain than their teachers? Why do they not understand that what is right for one may not be right for another? Why should one man’s right be another’s wrong?” –The Flowers of Evil
As promised by the ending of his prequel, Simon Acland returns his readers to the Crusader period and the adventures of his hero, Hugh de Verdon in The Flowers of Evil, available later this summer. When the reader last saw Hugh in The Waste Land, captivity in the stronghold of by Hasan-i-Sabah, the mysterious Old Man of the Mountains had broken him. Hugh also learned that the woman he loved was not his ideal. Hugh’s story unravels through the lens of history, where the old Master of a bankrupt college, collaborating with several of his counterparts in administration and a former student, a Best-Selling Author, attempt to piece together Hugh's later years. As in the prequel, there are other forces at work intent on keeping the work a secret. One by one, the college’s administrators suffer mysterious deaths and mishaps, as the Best-Selling Author starts to wonder whether he isn’t putting his own life at risk in the endeavor.

The Flowers of Evil parallels the misadventures at the college with the hero’s life. Hugh moves as easily between the Christian and Muslim worlds, as The Flowers of Evil dovetails his life and the events befalling the administrators. Initiated into the Hasan-i-Sabah’s rites, Hugh embarks on a quest for vengeance that claims the life of a beloved fried. As before, he questions his faith and finds similarities in religions that claim to be disparate from each other. He meets several strangers, each of whom will have everlasting effects on his life and events of the Crusades. The story explores the convoluted period, including the origin of the Templars and some of the myths surrounding them. When Hugh returns to his birth country of France, a chance encounter with a little boy named Chretien ensures his name in history.    
Author Simon Acland
Reading The Flowers of Evil was like visiting an old friend. Most of the characters I enjoyed in The Waste Land returned, though those who had met a terrible, if justified end in the first book gave rise to newer, more malevolent characters in this one. The only figure that completely puzzled me was the old hermit in the desert; I’m off to ask Mr. Acland for a little insider knowledge on the ideas behind the character, so I hope he’ll indulge me. Most of all, I anticipate there will be more to follow on Hugh’s life. If not, there should be. Mr. Acland still writes with confidence and skill about the period. Anyone with an interest in the period will enjoy this novel. 

I don’t recommend reading this latest book before exploring some of the mysteries of the prequel. If a reader does not know of some of the adventures Hugh has in The Waste Land, it might be difficult to comprehend the heart-breaking circumstance he finds himself in at the beginning of The Flowers of Evil.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Taker by Alma Katsu


On the midnight shift at a hospital in rural Maine, Dr. Luke Findley is expecting another quiet evening of frostbite and the occasional domestic dispute. But the minute Lanore McIlvrae—Lanny—walks into his ER, she changes his life forever. A mysterious woman with a past and plenty of dark secrets, Lanny is unlike anyone Luke has ever met. He is inexplicably drawn to her . . . despite the fact that she is a murder suspect with a police escort. And as she begins to tell her story, a story of enduring love and consummate betrayal that transcends time and mortality, Luke finds himself utterly captivated.

Her impassioned account begins at the turn of the nineteenth century in the same small town of St. Andrew, Maine, back when it was a Puritan settlement. Consumed as a child by her love for the son of the town’s founder, Lanny will do anything to be with him forever. But the price she pays is steep—an immortal bond that chains her to a terrible fate for all eternity. And now, two centuries later, the key to her healing and her salvation lies with Dr. Luke Findley.

Part historical novel, part supernatural page-turner, The Taker is an unforgettable tale about the power of unrequited love not only to elevate and sustain, but also to blind and ultimately destroy, and how each of us is responsible for finding our own path to redemption.


In Alma Katsu’s debut novel, The Taker, readers will enjoy a tale of passionate love that delves into the possibilities of immortality. There are three narratives that run through several centuries from earlier centuries to present day.

The story is revealed at a slow, but steady pace that grasps the readers interest and attention with every page read. It begins in a modern day hospital with a doctor treating a young woman suspected of murder and then goes into the past as she reveals her history and immortality to him. Lanny’s passionate and abiding love for Jonathan is beautifully portrayed – the author capturing its profound depth and impact. Even the villain, Adair, captured my attention, sometimes likeable and sometimes not. A truly three dimensional character.

For readers disenchanted with the trend for paranormal and vampire stories, this is a perfect alternative. The underlying theme of immortality is believable and real, portrayed through normal humans instead of unreal/strange beings.

I thoroughly enjoyed the historical parts of the story the most. The author did an excellent job with historical details and social norms of the time. There were plenty of plot twists to keep me engaged to the very end. This story within a story can be equally enjoyed by men as well as women and is sure to be a bestseller.

Hidden Voices by Pat Lowery Collins

Hidden Voices: The Orphan Musicians of Venice

Hidden Voices is the tale of Anetta, Luisa and Rosalba, three orphaned girls; their desires, their failures and successes give life anew to Venice and the music of Antonio Vivaldi.

This book is filled with the power of young love, passion and music. Because of Mrs. Collins’ deft characterization skill, as well as my own musical background, I had a hard time putting it down.

The three girls, Anetta, Luisa, Rosalba and several of the lesser characters are written with such telling, pointed dialogue and actions that there was no one in this book who didn’t “pop” into real life. Just as important, Baroque Venice also comes alive. See the Punchinello plays, Carnival, the Commedia dell’Arte, consume fritelle and Italy with these girls.  Viva Italia.

Was the book perfect? Perhaps not if one prefers a straight forward, genre-esque plot. There’s no need to save the world or even Venice in “Hidden Voices.”  I do not want to give any spoilers, so I will simply say that the hope of requited love is stretched throughout the book for all three characters, though happy ever after is never the point.

Read Hidden Voices and witness a vibrant culture that’s not normally the focus of historical novels. You won’t be sorry, and when you leave this book behind, you’ll say, as I did, “Brava, Maestra. Brava.”

To win a copy of Hidden Voices, please leave a comment. The winner will be chosen June 15th.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The House of Women by Anne Whitfield

The House of Women is a poignant portrayal of Victorian life as it was for women in 1870 Leeds, England. Trapped by the social restrictions and norms of the time, Grace Woodruff is forced to assume responsibility for her five sisters and a vast estate because of the failings of both her parents. With a harsh, tyrannical father who is on the verge of impoverishment because of risky investments, and a mother who is depressed by her husband’s infidelities and coldness, Grace must assume duties far beyond what is expected of most women in the Victorian era.

The story enthralls the reader from its inception, keeping the pages turning as one seemingly insurmountable problem after another is forced upon Grace to resolve - each dilemma worse than the one previous. The members of Grace’s family are colourfully depicted with both credible faults and good qualities. Their various troubles force Grace into taking actions that are not only morally upright, but that are difficult and challenge societal expectations of the time.

Beautifully written, the prose is fluid and invisible, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story’s beauty. I rejoiced and sorrowed at the never-ending troubles plaguing the Woodruff’s. More importantly, however, is the underlying theme that runs throughout the tale – to stand firm in the face of adversity and to conduct oneself with honour and integrity at all times. It is an accurate depiction of women’s plights in an era not so long ago.

This family saga is a superb tale of an intensely strong heroine who stops at nothing to resolve issues that threaten the livelihood of her family within England’s stringent class system. This is women’s fiction at its most finest and a must read!

An interview with historical fiction author, Anne Whitfield

Anne Whitfield

1. Welcome Anne.  I'm so thrilled to have you visit us today.  I'm very excited about your newest book. Can you tell us a little about your novel?

I loved the idea of a large family all pulling different ways. With a selfish mother, a tyrannical father and seven daughters, the family was complex, but add to that a lost love, a heroic butler and a handsome stranger, well, the real fun began then! The House of Women was a great book to write.

2. What inspired you to write a novel about a woman in this period of history?

I love the Victorian era. It was a time for immense change. Populations were growing rapidly and people were no longer content to stay in their own village. Of course, there were circumstances which forced many people to leave their homes and search for new lives, and this only highlights the way people adapted to new changes. The Victoria era gave women freedom to travel and explore and in many ways educated them beyond their role as mere mothers and wives. A fascinating time.

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

Well, the poor women were faced with many hardships from keeping their babies alive and healthy, while living in the slums of over-crowded cities. Struggling to keep a roof over their heads on low wages, etc. The wealthy women had it easier, of course, but they still faced the social boundaries of their class and sex. A lot married for the sake of family and wealth, and not for love.

I think modern women can be very grateful for the Victorian and Edwardian women who started calling for Women’s Rights, which eventually gave us the freedom we have today. There was that, and then also the world wars, which again showed that women were capable of doing any job the men did.

4. What inspired you about your heroine? Why did you choose her?

She chose me really, like all my heroines do. I found Grace to such a complex person. She lives this half-existence, looking after her sisters and the family home, all jobs her mother and father should be doing and they don’t. So she doesn’t do much to make herself happy. Thenn suddenly her whole world is turned upside down and she struggles to make sense of it. She gets a little lost along the way, but such is her strength and courage that she soon see what she needs to be happy and fulfilled.

5. Can you describe a typical writing day?

I try to write between 9am and 3pm. After that it’s dinner and family time. I work weekends, which leaves me free to write during the week. I prefer writing in the morning, and can count on one hand how many times I’ve written at night. But I do need coffee to keep me going and if possible chocolate!

6. Can you tell us briefly about your other novels and any new novels in the works?

Yes, I’ve just started writing my next historical. As yet it doesn’t have a title, but the main characters, Charlotte and Harry, are there, demanding to be heard. It’s set in Yorkshire England again, about 1874.

Aside from June release of The House of Women, I have an Australian historical, A Noble Place, being re-released next year. I also have plenty of finished books waiting to be published. Stay tuned!

For information about my published novels, readers can visit my website

Thank you.