Saturday, July 5, 2014

The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick has been officially released. Take a peek at the trailer and enter for a chance to win!

The Summer Queen 

Elizabeth Chadwick

About the Book

Young Eleanor has a bright future as the heiress to wealthy Aquitaine. But when her beloved father dies, childhood is suddenly over. Forced to marry Prince Louis of France, she barely adjusts before another death catapults them to King and Queen. Leaving everything behind, young Eleanor must face the complex and vivacious French court – and all of its scandals.

About the Author

Elizabeth Chadwick (UK) is the author of 20 historical novels, including The Greatest Knight, The Scarlet Lion, A Place Beyond Courage, The Outlaw Knight, Shadows and Strongholds, The Winter Mantle, and The Falcons of Montabard, four of which have been shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Awards.

Buy Links

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spotlight: The Slave by Pauline Montagna

The Slave

Pauline Montagna

About the novel

Aurelia Rubbini, the only child of a rich merchant in fourteenth century Italy, has been raised to be a dutiful daughter, wife and mother, but she longs for something more than the restricted life intended for her. Then one day, her father brings home from a buying trip an Asian slave boy, Batu, who will reshape Aurelia’s destiny.

Aurelia and Batu are inexorably drawn to each other, but their relationship is forbidden as Aurelia is destined for an arranged marriage to further her father’s political ambitions. When Aurelia marries Lorenzo de Graziano, a nobleman with a dangerous reputation, Batu insists on going with her for her protection. But Batu’s presence arouses violent passions that Aurelia, in her innocence, can never understand.

The Back Story

The Slave began in 2002 as an assignment for the Professional, Writing and Editing course (PWE) I was undertaking, but the idea was born way back in my days at La Trobe University in the 1970s. In my second year I was attending lectures on French literature which were also being attended by a rather handsome Asian boy. Not actually enrolled in the course, he sat in regal isolation at the back of the lecture theatre. Although I was too shy to approach the lad, he played on my girlish, and necessarily romantic, imagination. I saw him as a Laotian prince, driven out of his country by the communists, attending French lectures just to be able to listen to a familiar language. At the same time my History subject was Medieval and Renaissance Italy. And somehow, as I indulged my fantasies, the Asian boy found himself stranded in Medieval Italy.

As I was writing The Slave, I kept telling myself the novel was just a learning experience, that I should never expect to get it published, that all writers had at least one unpublished manuscript in their bottom drawer. But once the book was finished I knew it was good enough to be published and so decided to give it a shot. However, I soon discovered that, just as we’d been told in PWE, getting published in Australia was virtually impossible.

Well, that wasn’t the only thing I’d learnt in PWE. I had also learnt how to self-publish, and so self-publish I did. I undertook the editing, typesetting and cover design and got it printed with the best in digital technology. I was once told by a professional publisher it was the best looking self-published book he’d ever seen. His wife who was also a published writer said she couldn’t put it down.

However, all the online marketing opportunities we have now barely existed all the way back in 2005, so I’ve decided to give this book another go in anticipation of my new book. The Slave is now an ebook, as well as being available as a POD from Lulu.

Chapter Excerpt 

Ouch! Rosetta, must you be so rough?’ Aurelia chaffed as Rosetta tugged at a knot with an ivory comb.

‘If you stopped wriggling around so, it would not hurt as much,’ Rosetta replied, giving Aurelia a playful poke that made her squirm and yelp. ‘Sit still and let me finish. You are a young lady now so start acting like one.’

‘A young lady is never allowed any amusement,’ Aurelia sighed, closing her eyes and holding her face up to the sun.

Aurelia was sitting in the pleasant warmth of a late autumn afternoon, letting the sun dry her fine, tawny hair while her nurse tried to bring some order into her waist-length veil. At long last, she felt Rosetta drawing the comb smoothly through her hair.

‘Figlia mia,’ Rosetta crooned, ‘if only you could see how beautiful you look with your hair shining in the sun.’

Aurelia looked up into her nurse’s loving, round face, framed in its white linen wimple. ‘Cara Rosetta, you know I shall never be beautiful…except to you.’

Rosetta took Aurelia’s face between her hands. ‘Now, child, none of this talk. The man that marries you will be getting such a treasure. It seems only yesterday that I held you to my breast, and now look at you – a fine young woman who may be married soon with babes of her own.’

Aurelia felt herself blush and pulled away from her nurse’s hands. ‘Please, Rosetta, must we talk of such things again?’

Rosetta replied with her familiar knowing smile.

While Rosetta cleared up around her, Aurelia leant on the wooden railing of the gallery where they were sitting, staring out at the wall that enclosed the courtyard below and shut them off from the vibrant city outside. She could see nothing of the narrow streets over the high wall, but she could hear the talk and laughter of passersby, the shouts of the street traders selling apples and oranges, flowers and coloured ribbons, the clip clop of horses’ hooves on the cobbles, the creak of wooden cart wheels and the cries of the carters to make way. Inside the wall, a few servants moved desultorily about the courtyard, or sat, pretending to mend a rake or straw broom as they chatted idly. All the while their eyes strayed to the postern gate set into the wide, heavy wooden gate in the portal arch.

‘Rosetta, when will Papa arrive?’

Rosetta came to stand beside her. ‘Today or tomorrow, the messenger said. Perhaps he will bring you gifts. Something for your trousseau, silks from the east, maybe.’

‘Something from far, far away…would it not be wonderful to be able to travel far away to foreign lands like Papa?’ She sighed glumly. ‘Or even just beyond these walls.’

‘Now, now, child. We go out on Sundays and holy days…’

‘…to the parish church three streets away. We do not even go to the duomo above twice a year. And you will not take me to the market with you anymore.’

‘Aurelia, you know better than that,’ Rosetta chided her gently. ‘What would people think, seeing you out and about in the town?’

‘But I never go anywhere.’

‘Why, only last month we went to the village for the harvest festival…’

‘…where you and Mama kept me by your side all day. I was not even allowed to talk to my old friends.’

‘Those peasant girls are not suitable companions for a young lady in your position, you know that.’

Aurelia fell silent again, having no reply to Rosetta’s oft repeated arguments.

Rosetta sat down beside her. ‘You are restless, cara mia. I can understand that, but you will have a household of your own and plenty to occupy you soon enough.’

‘Another house with walls around it. Another husband who is never at home.’

‘It need not be that way.’

‘No, I could become a nun instead. At least I would have other women I could talk to.’

‘Is your old Rosetta no longer enough for you?’

‘Oh, Rosetta, I am sorry. You are my dearest friend…’ Aurelia cried, putting her arms around her nurse’s generous waist.

Rosetta held her to her ample bosom. ‘I understand, child, all too well…’

Suddenly, below them, the postern gate was slammed open and a servant ran into the courtyard shouting, ‘Open the gate! The master is here.’ With the help of the others, he unbarred the gate to the street and opened it to Francesco Rubbini and his party of dusty and exhausted men and horses.

Aurelia leant over the railings, straining to see through the portal arch. ‘Rosetta, it is Papa. Papa has returned,’ she cried, running around the gallery to a point above where her father was dismounting stiffly from his horse. ‘Papa, Papa! Benvenuto!’ Aurelia called down to him.

Her father looked up at her wearily, his broad, intelligent face pale and dusty. ‘Really, Aurelia. Must you appear such a harridan? Look at you.’

Aurelia felt Rosetta’s arm come around her shoulders, but she shook her off lest the tears blurring her eyes should burst forth.

Across the courtyard, Aurelia’s mother spoke up for her. ‘There is no need to be so harsh. She is just glad to see you home after so long a journey.’

Messer Rubbini looked from one to the other then turned away with a shrug to direct the unloading of the pack animals.

Costanza Rubbini approached her daughter and placed a cool, thin hand on her arm. ‘Your father is tired, Aurelia. We shall hear all his news later.’

Having handed his reins to a groom and given orders to Carlo the steward, Messer Rubbini went up to his rooms followed soon after by his wife. Unable to help with the complicated operations below, but reluctant to leave, Aurelia and Rosetta stayed and watched as one by one the horses were unburdened and their loads carried into the storerooms underneath the house.

As the tangle of horses and men was unravelled, Aurelia noticed one lonely, dirty, tousled figure squatting still amongst all the movement. As one of the men pushed past him he almost toppled over and Aurelia saw that the hands he stretched out to steady himself were tied together.

Aurelia pointed him out to her nurse. ‘Look, Rosetta. Who is that poor man? Why is he tied up like that?’

‘Perhaps he has done something that deserves punishment. Your father often complains that he cannot rely on his men on these long trips.’

‘But I do not recognise him. He has never travelled with Papa before.’

As they watched, another of the men pulled the stranger roughly to his feet. The stranger knocked the other man’s arm away with his tied wrists. The man pushed him hard in the chest against another two men who, laughing, took the stranger by the arms and pushed him back at his assailant. As the two men glared at each other, Aurelia could hear a murmur of excitement ripple through the party as they moved closer to watch the sport.

Suddenly the steward’s deep voice cut through the tension. ‘Basta! There’s work to be done.’ The group dispersed leaving the two protagonists with the steward. Carlo spoke to the assailant who left with obvious reluctance, then directed the newcomer to a bench by the wall, where he settled down, drawing his legs up close to him and watching the others warily.

Aurelia turned to Rosetta. ‘Who is he? Why do they treat him so? Please, could you ask Carlo?’

Rosetta sighed but agreed to go and talk to her husband.

The stranger sat on his bench in a patch of the waning sunlight. He leant his head back against the wall behind him, eyes closed, drinking in the sun’s failing warmth, yet his back was straight and his every muscle seemed tensed. Then his narrow, black eyes opened and measured the walls that surrounded him.

As the stranger’s eyes swept around the courtyard they came to rest on Aurelia, studying him from above. He looked at her steadily, his expression grave, unreadable. Aurelia was conscious of the contrast between them – her newly washed hair and her lush, woollen gown; his black hair, matted and dirty, and his clothes, barely more than rags – yet he was not humbled.

Rosetta’s voiced roused her. ‘Carlo says the master picked him up at auction in Venice. He is a galley slave from the east somewhere.’

Aurelia was quiet at dinner that evening. Her father was regaling them with a description of his journey, what he had seen on the way and how successful it had been. They were a poor audience, she and her mother, for her father’s adventures and his business coups, but these evenings, when he returned tired and triumphant, were the few occasions when he spoke to them at any length. He would tell them of his adventures in foreign parts, of his business acumen, of his wisdom and knowledge of the world. Aurelia would always listen, wide eyed with wonder and delight to hear such tales of the outside world, but that evening there was something hollow in her father’s vaunting.

He had come to his business dealings in Venice. A Turkish merchant ship had been captured and its cargo and contents were being auctioned. He was listing the bargains he had acquired, among them the slave. Aurelia found herself speaking up almost despite herself.

‘Is it not a sin to keep slaves, Papa?’

Her mother looked at her, askance.

Aurelia caught her breath, appalled at her own boldness.

Her father did not even turn to face her. ‘I did that boy a service. If  I had not taken him he would have been sent back to the galleys.’ She could hear the anger held back by his terse lips.

Aurelia felt her voice tremble but she persisted. ‘W-why did you not set him free then, if you wished to do him a charity?’

‘Aurelia,’ her mother warned, ‘do not question your father.’

Messer Rubbini turned now to look at her. ‘Where would he go? I doubt he even knows the way back to his homeland.’

‘So why do you need to tie him up?’

Her father’s fist hit the table and Aurelia jumped. ‘I do not have to justify myself to you, young lady.’

‘Apologise to your father, child,’ her mother pleaded.

Her father glared at her, his fists still on the table.

Aurelia pushed her chair back and stood up. ‘I think I shall go to bed.’ Her voice strained with the effort to keep it steady. She saw her mother put a restraining hand on her father’s arm as she turned to go.

Aurelia’s room was still dark when Rosetta came to her. She lit the candles from the one she carried and closed the shutter against the moonlight. Aurelia was crouching on the bed, arms around her knees, her face streaky with tears.

Rosetta sat beside her and put an arm around her. ‘There, now, child. In the morning you will apologise to your father and all will be well again.’

Aurelia rested her head on Rosetta’s shoulder. ‘I think not, Rosetta. But then it has not been well, has it? Between my father and me. Not for a long time and perhaps never again’

Rosetta held her close. ‘Amore mia, your father loves you. You know that.’

Aurelia drew away. ‘Do I? Things have never been the same since my brother died. I know Paolo was the centre of his world, and he had little enough time for me. But at least, when he did see me, I was his beautiful little girl. Now I am just a useless daughter.’
‘How can you say such a thing…?’

‘What use is an only daughter to him? I cannot carry on his business or his name.’

Rosetta took both Aurelia’s hands in hers. ‘You can marry well into a good family. Be an excellent wife. Give him many fine grandsons.’

‘And if I cannot? What if I am like Mama and all my sons die as babes? What if I am barren…’

‘…like me,’ Rosetta added sadly.

Aurelia blushed. ‘I am sorry, Rosetta. I did not think.’

‘It is best not to worry about these things, figlia mia. It is all in the hands of God. All we can do is pray for His blessings…Now, let me help you undress…’

~~Join Pauline's email list to receive a free copy of the novel in its entirety~~
~~  Simply visit her website for further details ~~

Other readers thoughts…

"This historical novel first brought me gently to fourteenth century Italy; then drew me in; then kept me there. It is a good read and Aurelia stayed with me long afterwards."  Linda Clark

"Pauline Montagna’s narrative artfully takes us back to fourteenth century Italy and provides us with a gripping period romance with a twist. A thoroughly credible and enjoyable read." Cathy Baillie

"Both my husband and I read your book during our recent trip. We both really enjoyed it…I found it hard to put down once the plot was developed. Good Work." Roe Neville

"We are often told of the parlous state of Romance as a genre in Australian fiction. This genre, maligned here, is lauded and celebrated elsewhere. And on reading Pauline Montagna’s historical romance, The Slave, one has to ask why.

Aimed fairly and squarely at a female readership, The Slave tells the story of Aurelia Rubbini, only child of a wealthy fourteenth century Italian family, who has lead a sheltered life being prepared for marriage. Batu, a slave her father brings back from the East on a trading journey, catches her eye, and the pair are drawn together. Their feelings for one another don’t abate even when Aurelia is married off as a ploy by her father to land a place on the council – a situation with catastrophic results, some expected, and some a complete surprise.

Having read the cover notes on this book, I thought the title was an obvious one, but just one chapter in, I realised that in fact Batu wasn’t the only slave in this novel. Montagna paints a vivid picture of a heavily patriarchal Italy in which women are sequestered within family homes, have no freedom, and spend their days doing needlework or being dressed by servants. Aurelia is forbidden everything that she desires; her life is not her own.

The Slave is an extremely well-put-together novel that’s both entertaining and colourful. The storyline rolls along easily, pulling readers with it, and between the action and romance scenes, depiction of daily life, rich characterisations, and clear descriptions, the book is difficult to put down. It’s certainly not a hard read, but at the same time, it draws readers in – we quickly find ourselves empathising with Aurelia as her situation moves from bad to worse.

I must admit that this was the first romance novel I’d read, and I was surprised by how compelling and involving it was, and by how much I enjoyed it. Montagna is an independent author who’s published the book herself, but the quality of this publication easily rivals those of professional publishers."  Georgina Laidlaw, Australian Reader

Connect with the Author

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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Review: Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales by A.C. Birdsong

Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales

A.C. Birdsong

About The Book

On a small farm just outside of a tiny town lives Jacob, the last in a long line of Caretakers of Magic. His mission in life as the world’s only magician (in fact the only person who knows magic is possible) is to preserve magical skill in preparation for the day when magic is needed in the world. Other than what is required to train an apprentice, Caretakers aren’t to be practitioners, a tenet Jacob adheres to religiously.

Jacob has been teaching an apprentice, Palmer, for eight years. As a student, Palmer is a dismal failure, but this does not stop him from experimenting. Feeling that the pace of his instruction is unnecessarily slow, Palmer takes the little magic he knows, twists it, and uses it to trap Jacob and a young neighbor Lucy inside an old book of fairy tales (The Tall, Thick Book of Tales). Palmer refuses to release them unless Jacob imparts all magical knowledge to him in an instantaneous way.

From the moment of Jacob’s entrapment, Birdsong creates three interwoven storylines: Palmer’s dealings with the townspeople, who are searching for Lucy and quickly suspect Palmer for her disappearance; Jacob’s journey to escape, which takes him through scenes written into the book by Palmer, designed to harass Jacob and to speed his compliance along; and Lucy’s interaction with the book’s original characters, all magical themselves, trapped within the margins by Palmer’s spell, and are united in their desire to expel the intruders. Added to this mix are an enchanted bookworm and the fairy tales’ narrator, who have objectives of their own.

Readers will enjoy Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales. Birdsong skillfully mixes the real and the imaginary worlds with a lean and fast-paced style. A well crafted and fun novel with colorful characters and great dialogue written for any fan of adult fiction, and suitable for young adults and older adolescents as well.

My thoughts

First let me say that AC Birdsong’s Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales is completely and utterly out of my usual genre.  However, I have fond memories of reading or being read Grimm’s Fables as a little girl and so this Book of Tales seemed in that vein, so I took the plunge.  Overall, I thought it was an enjoyable read, especially something that “tweens” would take to.  While the novel started slow, I seem to remember that Grimm did as well; it builds the anticipation, excitement and a bit of anxiety about what might happen next. 

Jacob is a caretaker of magic, keeping it safe until it is needed in the world.  He has an overeager apprentice, don’t they all, but Palmer has a darker side.  Even though he is but an apprentice he thinks Jacob isn’t teaching him fast enough so he decides to trap Jacob as well as Lucy, the neighbor who was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, in a book of fairytales until Jacob teaches him all he knows; and I’m sure quickly at that. 

In the book of fairytales the reader meets many strange, magical and intriguing characters, each with their own reason for being there.  I was reminded of all the strange things Alice came across in Wonderland.  Of course, while trapped in with the fairytales Jacob is magically transformed into a young man.  While at first, I was disappointed, I wanted him to stay the teacher and mentor, the all knowing, but then thought perhaps he needed youth to save them both.  That is what is wonderful about fables and fairytales is that you are never quite sure why characters are the way they are or why things happen the way they do, but they make you think and that is the magic of the genre.

It is now that the journey begins as Jacob and Lucy to escape the book of fairytales and return to the “real” world and to do so without allowing Palmer to gain any of the knowledge he seeks.  To me this was the moral of the book, Palmer was flawed because he sought knowledge for personal gain; he lacked the character to ever follow Jacob as a caretaker of magic and that is an important lesson for a middle school reader and a great reminder for adults.

In the end, I truly enjoyed Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales and would certainly recommend it to kids, perhaps age 12 and up, depending on the individual child’s readiness for such a fantasy/fable-oriented book.  It is an uniquely delightful read, at times funny and at other times one encounters an unexpected surprising twist.  In the spirit of so many fantasy fables it ultimately evokes a lesson for the reader reminding them about the bond of friendship, the strength of courage, the destructiveness of selfishness and the responsibility each of us has for the consequences of our actions. 

Meet the Author 
A.C. Birdsong wrote the first draft of Inside the Tall, Thick Book of Tales during an unseasonably cold winter in Athens, Greece. “I spent all my time either writing the story or searching for a reasonably warm and cheap place to write it. Often this left me huddled near tepid steam heaters in dingy hotel rooms, and drinking endless cups of weak Nes to fight the cold. Eventually the weather turned, which was not only fortunate for me, but for Jacob and Palmer as well, because they probably would still be fighting it out inside that book otherwise.”

A.C. lives in Seattle, where people voluntarily allow themselves to be trapped in books on a regular basis. This is his first novel.

Connect with A.C. Birdsong

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Review: The Vision of the Blind King by Ako Eyong

The Vision of the Blind King

Ako Eyong

Publisher: Ako Eyong (March, 2013)
Genres: Historical Thriller, Time Travel, Supernatural Elements
Tour Dates: January, 2013
Available in: Print & ebook ,353 pages, with illustrations

About the novel

This is the story of Melenoc, a very power hungry man with a particularly uncommon fear of death; a toxic combination of emotions that ultimately drive him into an unending quest for immortality. As he digs deeper it becomes obvious that he will stop at nothing to achieve this goal, even to the point of crossing lines that may compromise the security and well being of a whole kingdom.

It is a tale that pits good against evil, taking us deep into an ancient African society where the survival of the same kingdom will come to rest on the shoulders of another individual; a General who must rise above personal trauma and self doubts, and find a way to pull a nation away from the edge.

As powerful forces collide and the struggle intensifies, unexpected turns and twists will catapult the plot into a four thousand year journey that spills over into the contemporary age; from the rugged camp of a bitter African rebel leader to the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, spawning characters who have no idea that their lives are being affected by a four thousand year old quest.

Purchase Links

Praise for The Vision of the Blind King

"If historical fiction (or any kind of adventure story) is your thing then you are going to love this book. TVOTBK takes you on a journey back into ancient times where an assortment of luring characters and captivating events are thrust together seamlessly while leaving you in the dark just enough so that it's impossible to put down. It becomes even more intriguing when you realize that a much larger game is at hand and that everything is just a piece being put into position on a giant chessboard stretching over counties and centuries. As intricately clever as it is enjoyable. "-Kevin, Amazon Reviewer
"THE VISION OF THE BLIND KING intertwines seemingly unrelated tales, spanning continents and millennia, into an engaging story of political and spiritual intrigue. Believable characters and well written dialogue capture the imagination and carry the reader on a suspenseful journey through the ages, tracing the path of an amulet that is endued with a mysterious and supernatural power.
On the journey, the reader encounters many characters - from royalty to rogues of forgotten ancient cities; politicos and journalists in the former French colony of Cameroon; rebels and their captives in the jungles of Africa; and, assassins and pawns in the modern day streets of Los Angeles. Through, protagonists and antagonists alike, the author deftly examines universal aspects of human nature, from compassion and acceptance to greed and prejudice. My only disappointment came when I realized I had reached the last page. In short, J.R.R.Tolkien has his "Ring" - Ako Eyong has his "Amulet".  I hope you enjoy the read as much as I did!"-Donald Pitts, Amazon Reviewer
"Right off the bat, incredible drama with careful plot enigma. Main character in ultimate morally and physically challenging terrain engaging me to want to know more before I even know what's going on. And these are real issues that pertain to all of us. The backdrop is very interesting, and this book within first 30 pages definitely got me thinking = classic Hollywood feature film story. All the right elements = both historical and current today but causing wonder, passion, desire to know the outcome. I give this author an A+ in creative relevant drama.  Perfect story for a feature film!"-Cary O'Neal, Amazon Reviewer

My thoughts

Author Ako Eyong’, a political refugee from Cameroon, gives us a true historical fiction novel firmly written against an actual historical backdrop.  That is the Hykso invasion of North Africa in 1720 BC. This event provides Eyong with the setting for his novel that deals with the themes of corruption, fate, war racism, and religion. 

The Vision of the Blind King begins in modern-day Cameroon, travels back to the Kingdom of Kesmet and brilliantly as he imparts the tale of one man, a king, whose intense fear of death and who is intoxicated by power.  This should sound familiar, Hitler or Bonaparte, perhaps even Alexander the Great, are good examples of this volatile personality combination.

As this king’s fear of death increases begins a quest to obtain an ancient relic, a piece of jewelry, and the possession of this object will grant him what he wants most: immortality.  The almost uncontrollable desire for the jewelry and its powers causes the king to ignore As powerful forces collide and the struggle intensifies, unexpected turns and twists will catapult the plot into a four thousand year journey that spills over into the contemporary age; from the rugged camp of a bitter African rebel leader to the concrete jungles of Los Angeles, spawning characters who have no idea that their lives are being affected by a four thousand year old quest.

The story was gripping with history weaved with action and adventure and the supernatural quest for immortality create a rocket of a read with an underlying reminder that history impacts us unknowingly throughout time through to the present day.  Only by studying the past can we change the future as through that knowledge comes power.   

The Vision of the Blind King is not only excellent historical fiction it is embedded with truths about humanity that most of us turn a blind eye on.  I especially enjoyed Eyong’s connection of the effects of the history of the Continent of Africa; here specifically Cameroon, with the modern problems Africans and the world face today.  There is a tremendous lesson within the pages of the novel for understanding the continent itself.
About the author
Ako Eyong is a Cameroonian national, whose critique of government policy (as a journalist) has led to an existence in America as a political exile. Presently, while working on the sequel to The vision of the blind king, he is taking the first steps into the world of public speaking. He has spoken at several locations in the country, including Oxnard College in California, Coconino community college in Arizona, Ventura college, Ventura Chapter of Amnesty international, Rotary club of Malibu at Pepperdine university, just to name a few. He holds a bachelor's degree in history and a diploma in political science.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Review: Becalmed by Normandie Fischer


Normandie Fischer

Paperback: 385 pages
Publisher: Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas 
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1938499611
ISBN-13: 978-1938499616

About the novel

When a Southern woman with a broken heart finds herself falling for a widower with a broken boat, it's anything but smooth sailing.

Tadie Longworth doesn't spend much time worrying that she’s turning into one of Beaufort, North Carolina’s, spinsters. She has a gift shop full of her own jewelry designs and a sweet little sailboat to take her mind off the guy who got away. But now he’s back—with the fashion-plate wife he picked instead of Tadie—and he’s hitting on her again.

When widower Will Merritt limps into town with a broken sailboat and a perky seven-year-old daughter, he provides the perfect distraction—until that distraction turns into fascination when Tadie offers shelter during a hurricane. Over candlelit games of SlapJack and Monopoly, Jilly becomes the daughter she could have had and Will the man she always wanted. Only, he’s sworn never to let another woman in his life. Any day now, he’s going to finish those repairs, and that ship's going to sail—straight out of Tadie’s life.

To purchase

My thoughts

Sarah Longworth, better known as Tadie, has grown up in a privileged family along the beautiful coast of North Carolina.  Unconventionally, she is a sailor, who loves her business and seems to never work a day.   She has a beautiful home she inherited from her parents and good friends.  But Tadie is approaching middle age and has not loved or been loved in return; she has missed becoming a mother and forming a family of her own.  To my mind, this must be a tremendous nagging ache on her soul; no matter how she fills her life to distract it.   And then love, as it has a way of doing, appears out of nowhere when she meets Will and his daughter Jilly.

Normally, I don’t read typical “romance” novels as I am one of those who has had and lost my great love and now must find comfort in being alone.   However, it was the title that grabbed me, Becalmed… what a wonderful word and a wonderful way to describe a graceful state of existing.  In fact, I wouldn’t necessarily categorize Becalmed as a typical romance novel, at least the ones my Grandmother devoured.  Rather it a story about the emotion of loving and the feeling of being loved.   In fact, Becalmed, offered us love in its many forms: familial, friendship, parental and of course the most personal; mutual erotic attraction combined with the purest admiration for another – almost a combination of all the types of love combined in one powerful mix, but certainly a love that puts the lover in a state of bliss – they are becalmed, complete. 

In this way, from memories rather than from hope, I enjoyed Becalmed and found it restored, just a bit mind you, the notion that there could be another that would rival the first love in my life and that Normandie Fischer is no small task!  Thank you for giving your reader a story of the beauty of a romantic, physical relationship and the completeness it brings to life.  It was encouraging and inspirational and a true pleasure to spend time with.  I recommend Becalmed without reservation.

About the Author
I write from on board our sailboat or from on shore in coastal NC — stories of women and families and the things that get to them.

Connect with Normandie Fischer

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Monday, March 31, 2014

What to look for in Historical Fiction in 2014 by Nancy Bilyeau with Bonus Chat with Bruce Holsinger from The Daily Beast

What to look for in Historical Fiction in 2014?

as appeared in 
DuJour by Nancy Bilyeau

It’s been a brutal winter. What better way to fire up your senses than to plunge into a rousing historical tale? These brand-new books, ranging in period from the 12th century to the 20th, come from top talents in historical fiction. Whether it’s a mystery solved on the gritty streets of medieval London, an intrigue seething in czarist Russia palaces, a small American town rocked by a Bohemian poet or a deadly mission in a Languedoc gripped by the French Resistance, full immersion is guaranteed. When you next look up, spring should finally be in full bloom.

A King’s Ransom, by Sharon Kay Penman ~ What happened to England’s legendary Richard the Lionheart after the Crusades? Bestselling author Sharon Kay Penman tells the story of the king’s harrowing capture and imprisonment—and the price he paid—both in fortune and in love. (A Marian Wood Book/Putnam)

A Burnable Book, by Bruce Holsinger ~ Prophecy, murder, political betrayal and a desperate search for the book with the answers make for a potent mix in this debut novel, which captures life in medieval London in rich detail. (William Morrow)

Bonus:  Nancy's and Bruce's chat about historical fiction... as appeared in The Daily Beast

Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter, by Anne Clinard Barnhill ~ A touching and suspenseful romance that follows the plight of a young ward of Elizabeth I who is in love—but not with the man the queen commands her to marry—and must decide which fate to choose. (St. Martin’s Griffin)

The Queen’s Man, by Rory Clements ~ The latest in the popular John Shakespeare mystery series, The Queen’s Man sends the “intelligencer” on a mission to uncover the plot revolving around Mary Queen of Scots that threatens the life of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. (HarperCollins)

Empress of the Night, by Eva Stachniak ~ Following up on the enchanting literary tale The Winter Palace, Stachniak brings to life one of the most fascinating—and controversial—female rulers of all time: Russia’s Catherine the Great. (Bantam, out March 25)

Fallen Beauty, by Erika Robuck ~ The author of Hemingway’s Girl and Call Me Zelda triumphs with this enthralling Jazz Age story of what happens when a small-town seamstress struggling for independence takes a job with the uninhibited Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. (NAL Trade)

City of Jasmine, by Deanna Raybourn ~ Romantic, witty and mysterious, this novel follows an aviatrix who receives a mysterious photo of the husband she thought dead—and learns that the answers lie in the ancient city of Jasmine, Damascus. (Harlequin MIRA)

Citadel, by Kate Mosse ~ With her talent for atmosphere and suspense, the author of the hugely popular Labyrinth and Sepulchre produces a heady page-turner that intercuts the life-and-death struggle of French Resistance fighters with the mystical secrets of 700 years ago. (HarperCollins)

Historical Fiction: A Conversation Between Bruce Holsinger and Nancy Bilyeau

Novelists Bruce Holsinger and Nancy Bilyeau discuss the joys and pitfalls of scrupulously researching the past and then turning it into fiction.

Who writes historical thrillers, those thick suspense stories filled with atmosphere and detail? The answer is, people like Bruce Holsinger and Nancy Bilyeau, who each have novels out now. Holsinger, a medievalist who teaches in the Department of English at the University of Virginia, wrote A Burnable Book, a thriller set in 1385 London. Nancy Bilyeau, a journalist and the executive editor of DuJour magazine, is writing a series of mysteries whose main character is a Dominican novice in the reign of Henry VIII. The second book, The Chalice, recently came out in paperback. Holsinger and Bilyeau met on the writer’s conference circuit and discovered they were kindred spirits. While Holsinger was on tour for A Burnable Book, he stopped in New York City, where the two of them met to talk about all things medieval—and how thick a skin you need to be published today.

Nancy Bilyeau: I learned about your book at Thrillerfest last year in New York. That’s my favorite writer’s conference. I was in the audience for one of the panels, and the other four authors talked about their protagonists: cop, forensic pathologist, ex-CIA, whatever. And when it was your turn, you said, “The main character in my book is John Gower, a medieval poet who was a close friend of Geoffrey Chaucer’s.” Then you read a poem of Gower’s and it was utter bleakness. I was so excited! What drew you to John Gower as someone who could be the main character of a novel?

Bruce Holsinger: It came from my teaching of medieval literature. I’ve read all of Gower—he wrote in Latin, French, and English. He’s always been an interesting figure to me: contradictory, preachy but with strains of nihilism. Chaucer refers to him any number of times in his work, and at the end ofTroilus and Criseyde, he basically dedicates the book to him: “Oh, moral Gower, this book I direct to thee.” He’s always had this reputation as a very moral poet, this kind of schlubby, moralistic contemporary of Chaucer’s, and in Shakespeare’s Pericles, Gower is the voice of the chorus. But I’ve always felt that what Chaucer said about him at the end of Troilus was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I wanted to imagine a somewhat darker Gower.

NB: I’d like to switch to the prostitutes. In A Burnable Book, you do an amazing job of depicting the lives of London prostitutes in 1385. It felt so real, it was as if I were working the streets, too. How did you find all of the details?

BH: I began with secondary scholarship. I read a wonderful history of medieval English prostitution, and then I drew on some of the documents the author looked at. The most provocative one is an interrogation of a male transvestite prostitute from the London Guildhall in the 1390s. It’s an actual document from one of the record offices. It describes his life as a prostitute, the streets he was on, his clientele—which included priests, friars, businessmen, and women.

NB: So one of the prostitutes in A Burnable Book is based on an actual medieval transvestite?

BH: Yes, and one of the things I did craft-wise was, when Edgar is dressed as a man, I refer to the character as a “he.” When dressed as a woman, Eleanor is a “she.” Once or twice, that changes within the course of a single chapter.

NB: What a fun character to write. I’m jealous.

BH: Now tell me about the community of women you wrote and imagined in The Chalice—a priory of Dominican nuns.

NB: I didn’t have Guildhall interrogation documents, unfortunately. But I worked on my first novel for five years, researching the lives of nuns in England in the early 16th century, reading all the books I could and digging up letters and wills. Once I found out what a nun from that period would have to do—their routines revolved around set times of prayer—I could build my characters’ daily lives. It’s the little things, though, that you need to build a scene with convincing detail. What was the material of the novice habit, what kind of incense did they inhale, what was on the plate at dinner.

BH: And you flesh out those aspects of daily life with remarkable skill, without a lot of hand waving or showing off of historical details. I actually struggled a bit with this at first. I knew the medieval period in terms of its literary history, but in terms of the details of everyday life, that was a brand new learning experience. I had to go back and relearn a lot of what I thought I knew. There are so many passages in the literature that will tell you about, say, the food at a feast, but I never really paid attention to those until I had to figure out what people ate in a scene I was writing.

NB: Exactly! I was never happier than when a curator at the Tower of London scanned in a diet sheet of an aristocratic prisoner in the 1540s and sent me a PDF. I had every detail down to how many pigeons eaten a week. It occurs to me we are both writing about societies in fear of their kings.

BH: Yes. Medieval London gives us a particularly rich site in which to explore those kinds of issues, particularly as they pertain to issues of authority, jurisdiction, tyranny and so on. In 1385, England is just about to enter a period that some historians have characterized as the “tyranny of Richard II”—he’s coming into his majority, and he’s just starting to get a bit capricious and arbitrary when it comes to the exercise of his power.

NB: Prophecy is the key source of mystery and danger in our books. I made mine up, although I based it on a real prophecy that was current at the time: “When the cow doth ride the bull, then priest, beware thy skull.” That was interpreted at the time as meaning that Anne Boleyn’s dominating King Henry VIII—convincing him to divorce his royal Spanish wife and marry her—that would lead to the overthrow of the Catholic religion.

BH: I also wrote the prophecies in A Burnable Book. In fact, I wrote them in Middle English, and then I modernized the spelling and grammar to make them more compatible with contemporary sensibilities. I modeled them on the poetry of William Langland and the Gawain poet: lots of alliteration, four-stress lines rather than the five-stress lines we find in Chaucer’s early version of iambic pentameter.

The prophetic language and the cryptic riddling are modeled directly on medieval prophecies of the sort written by Dante and others. If prophecy didn’t have the power to bring down kings, it certainly had the power to make them and their inner circle paranoid, and that’s part of the atmosphere I’m trying to explore.

NB: I’ve read that there’s often a surge of interest in prophecies when any society is under extreme strain. That’s what I try to capture in my second book. The nuns and monks and friars have been thrown out on the streets, the monasteries demolished or given to the king’s cronies. It’s a frightening and confusing time. People grab hold of prophecies and are more susceptible to plots and conspiracies. Yet that is when Henry VIII cracks down on dissent even more savagely. It’s a cycle.

BH: And this happens on the more local level as well. The city of London, with its corrupt and often thuggish mayors, also dealt quite severely with criminals, curfew violations and so on. The butchers, who play a key role in A Burnable Book, are a great case in point. They’re heavily regulated by the city but they also constantly violate regulations and in the records they’re found tossing filth in the river and along the streets.

NB: The details of what really happened are always so intriguing. And I think the poetry and fiction of the medieval period is more emotionally engaging than what some people might think. Did you find many “thriller” type stories in your research?

BH: A great question. There’s lots of hard-hitting crime fiction in the medieval period, and I’m very influenced by the language of accusation and punishment we find in works like the Canterbury Tales. Of all the thrilling and suspenseful moments in literature, probably my favorite is this incredible scene in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in the late 14th century. We’re near the end of the romance, and Gawain is riding along to meet his fate at the hands of the Green Knight, who has vowed to chop his head off. As Gawain rides along the bank of a creek, he hears this sickening sound ringing from above. And he soon realizes it’s sound of an axe being sharpened, the very axe that he believes will soon behead him.

NB: That is chilling. I love it. You’re familiar with so many fantastic stories. I think academics are awarded instant respect by the book-buying public but genre writers … not so much. How has it been for you, to plunge into the fray of writing thrillers?

BH: I’ve always been an avid reader of thrillers, and my first “drawer novel” was a contemporary thriller about terrorism, though with a medieval background. A Burnable Book is something of a hybrid: It’s bibliofiction—that is, it’s a book about books—and has a somewhat literary bent given the story about Chaucer and Gower. But at heart it’s a thriller pure and simple, and I’m quite unapologetic about that. Some of the best fiction writing right now is genre writing!

NB: Oh, I agree with you. But not everyone has gotten the memo. Genre snootiness comes from unexpected places. I remember with my first novel, The Crown, the editor in chief of a certain women’s magazine didn’t want to cover it because she preferred “more sophisticated fiction.” Meanwhile, the magazine itself ran stories on how to remove stains from clothing and lose five pounds fast. I just didn’t know what to make of that. OK, to the point of your novel’s description, I see that A Burnable Book is often called a “literary thriller.” Is that because of the literary attention to character and theme? How does that … happen?

BH:  No, I think it refers to the novel being self-conscious about the bookishness of itself and its subject. In this case a literary thriller is a book about a book.

NB: Like A.S. Byatt’s Possession?

BH: Exactly.

NB: Except that I’ve seen The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco called a literary thriller and that is a straight-up murder mystery set in a 14th century Italian monastery.

BH: In many ways The Name of the Rose fits the category, too: lots of references to book culture, medieval philosophy, and so on.

NB: Hmm, maybe you’re right. A lot of nasty things happen in the Benedictines’ scriptorium.

BH: Yes.

NB: I have to say, you seem much calmer than many other authors with a debut novel out. Is that because you’ve published nonfiction books and a lot of journal articles and papers? The academic world does have the reputation for sharp elbows.

BH: Academic criticism, and I’ve written a lot of it and taken a lot of it, is a whole different level of severity. It could be because of that being my profession, I have a pretty thick skin. The life of a novel, just like the life of an academic book, is much longer than the first few weeks or months of publication, and even as A Burnable Book is debuting this month I’m thinking about what I want to be writing five years from now. At the moment I’m working on the sequel, set the next year and beginning with a mass murder and a pile of bodies in the London privy channels. What’s next for you?

NB: I’m finishing the third book in the series: The Covenant. It is set in 1540 and some of the action takes place in Whitehall Palace, the one that burned to the ground in 1698. Which means, of course, I can’t look at it. I found an in-depth book on its construction, and then, after reading a lot of letters from the time and studying John Stow as never before, I was able to re-create it all on my kitchen table: the palace buildings, the gardens, the tiltyard, the gatehouse, the river stairs. The kids had to eat to the side for a while.

from The Daily Beast
BOOKS  03.30.14

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