Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review: The Tapestry

Nancy Bilyeau
The Tapestry
By Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone Books, March 2015

About the Book

The next page-turner in the award-winning Joanna Stafford series takes place in the heart of the Tudor court, as the gutsy former novice risks everything to defy the most powerful men of her era.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the king’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the king and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after she arrives at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the king’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the king’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

My Review

This ended up being as fantastic and compulsively readable as the prior book in the series, The Chalice. If I had more spare time I probably would have read it straight through. Now I have to go back and read the first book. I enjoy reading this author as much as I enjoy reading Elizabeth Chadwick and Philippa Gregory. Historical fiction is my favorite genre, and this era tops the list of my preferred century. Nancy Bilyeau has given me my fix, and I want more.

The interesting thing about this author is her ability to make me care about the welfare of the characters. Even though there is less romance in this book than I typically find in historical fiction, I couldn’t stop reading it. Joanna Stafford is a complex, likeable character. You understand her fear, her dilemmas, and her difficult choices. There are enough bad guys in this book to make you want to nibble on your nails as you read.

Her description of King Henry VIII during his latter years was well done. I could picture him in my mind as an overweight, indulgent, and diabetic man living in an age where there was no treatment. So his mood swings made total sense. No one could predict what he would do next. They just hoped he targeted someone else. I could smell the rotting flesh on his leg—not that it was pleasant, but it was realistic. It made me truly feel for Catherine Howard’s plight. There were enough interesting characters in this book to make it compelling, but not overwhelming.

I don’t want to give away any plot points, but I can tell you that it read like a mystery but with a little suspense tossed in. The executions were descriptive and a bit gross, but the author did not make them disgusting. There were a number of very tense moments that had me on the edge. The ending left room for another book in the series, but at the same time the author wrapped things up nicely.

So if you enjoy well-researched novels and want an insider’s look at Joanna Stafford’s somewhat fictionalized life, you’ll enjoy this one. No one related to King Henry VIII was secure or safe. The tables could turn at any moment. That’s all I’m saying.

Michelle Szymanoski
Michelle Sutton author—Healing Hearts

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why Deanna Klingel Writes About the Civil War

Welcome back for our second day with middle grade and YA author Deanna Klingel! If you’d like to learn more about Deanna and her books, you can find her in lots of places online:

What draws you to writing about the Civil War, and specifically about young people during that time?  
I’m not sure, really. I love the era, in spite of the horrific circumstances. But I’m a real mush for heroism, and I’m very hopeful and optimistic in my own life. I don’t just write about the Civil War, but all my books are about heroes in everyday living, and hope abides in the young, I think.

Every author is expected to handle a lot of her own marketing in today’s publishing world. You’ve gone out of your way to spread the word about your books during recent years. Tell our readers what keeps you so busy and why you decided to try that channel.  
Oh boy, do I stay busy! But I love what I do. I go to a lot of Civil War reenactments and talk to a lot of kids. Actually, I talk to a lot of adults, too. I give presentations in museums and schools, and peddle my literature. I’ve gotten to see a lot of interesting things, I’ve learned a lot and met fascinating people who do amazing things. I write about them in my miniblog on Mondays and Thursdays. Kind of a quick travelogue called Selling Books. It includes things I learn about selling books as well. Why I decided to try that channel? Probably because I do enjoy driving, seeing things, and I don’t enjoy twittering and posting and sitting in front of the computer. My books are all available on Kindle but I don’t read Kindle. I’m a bookstore junkie. This is another excuse to find bookstores.

Historical fiction requires a lot of research – which you’re certainly no stranger to. What are a couple of interesting (or unusual, or funny) things you’ve done in the name of research for a book?
Practically everything I do turns into research. I read all the brown highways signs for museums and historical sites. Then I Google them and see what they have, or what it’s about. I discover all kinds of things that I just have to know about. I study it and if it’s interesting it’ll show up in a story sometime. My dog groomer is a triathloner. I asked her so many questions she loaned me some books and showed me her training charts; I visited her bike shop and talked to the bikers, and got so involved that the character in my YA novel in progress was suddenly training for triathlon, something I’d never known anything about before.

Can you share a favorite story or two of fans that you’ve met?
Oh, I’ve met the salt of the earth in these small towns I’ve visited, and met some wonderful humble folk. I’ve written some of their stories in my blog. I especially like the bucket truck man who told me about their family’s work ethic. And I still have a yellow flower on my desk shelf that was given to me by an old veteran who lives in the Veterans Home on the Hill in Barboursville, WV. He makes them. He had a bunch of them stuck in the lining of his coat. He gave it to me. Then there was the little red-haired girl who was so excited jumping up and down telling me she would wear her mom’s nursing cap for Halloween and be Claire, the heroine in my Avery and Gunner series.

What do you hope readers will gain from reading your books?
What I hope will happen when young readers read my books is they will enjoy it so much they will want to read more books. That has happened a few times with “reluctant readers,” boys, who read Avery and Gunner and wanted to read more books. That’s when I do the little fist pump, “Yes!” I hope the historical fiction books will make history interesting and fun for them and they’ll decide they like history.

And, for those would-be authors who are reading, what’s your top advice for someone hoping to become published?  
Write. You can’t be published until you write something. Then read good literature. Read. Read. Read. Write, write and rewrite. Writing is a skill. The only way to develop is skill is to practice.

Thanks again to Deanna for spending time with us this week! And, visitors, be sure to enter our drawing to win your own copy of The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber!

You have two ways to enter – here in our blog comments section or through Rafflecopter. Leave your answer to this question from Deanna in the comments:

Do you think historical fiction has relevance for history lovers? Why or why not?

Or, click here to enter with Rafflecopter: 
a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be announced on Friday. Thanks for visiting us!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Author Spotlight on Middle Grade Author Deanna Klingel

Deanna Klingel lives in the mountains of western North Carolina with her husband and golden retriever. Their seven adult children and their families are scattered around the southeast. Deanna travels with her books and tries to visit family on her trips.

Deanna is currently celebrating the release of her latest middle grades novel, The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber. Welcome, Deanna!

There’s a story behind every book, but the one behind Jim Limber is especially interesting. Please start us off by telling us a bit about where the book originated.  
I was attending a Civil War reenactment with my Avery & Gunner series and met a woman who was enacting Varina Davis. She told me about Jim Limber. It was such a startling story, and one I’d never heard. I couldn’t wait to start Googling. And when I discovered he was a real boy and the story was true, I just had to know the whole story.

And as history lovers, we understand that! You traveled to the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond for some firsthand research before writing Jim Limber. What were some of the most interesting things you learned there?
I learned Varina Davis was a wonderful writer. In her later life as an older widow she supported herself in New York writing for magazines. But at the time of Jim Limber and her children she wrote diaries, journals, letters to her family and friends in the north, and she wrote every day to her husband. These weren’t the letters of a spy, as many southerners believed, these were intimate family letters telling what the children said, did, ate, how they played. And they all still exist in the Museum in Richmond. It was an in-depth look at the Davis family and how they survived those last fourteen months as the Confederacy began to unravel. It isn’t a part of Jefferson Davis that’s in the history books.

That’s fascinating! Every historical writer weaves fiction and nonfiction together in her stories. But a specific part of Jim Limber is nonfiction storytelling based around documents you studied, and another part is fictionalized. How did it feel as a writer to distinctly cross from nonfiction information to fiction?  
In this case, it was the natural progression. No one knows what became of Jim Limber after he was separated from the Davis’s at Port Royal. So the first third of my book is actually biographical, it’s fourteen months in the life of this child who lived in the Davis household. The middle third is historical fiction. It’s what this author thinks might have happened through his adolescence. The final third is complete fiction, it’s a “choose your own ending.”

Why you chose to write the end of the book that way?
I’ve written three endings to choose from, but suggest readers write their own ending based on what they now know about Jim Limber. It’s a way to get my young readers thinking, and interacting with the boy on the page in such a way that he becomes real to them. Writers always feel that way about their characters, don’t they? If they send me their ending I will post it on my website for them so they will be published authors. Just because it’s fun.

You’ve written other middle grade/YA books focusing on a young man during the Civil War. Tell our readers a little about those, in case they aren’t familiar with them.
Avery’s Battlefield covers 1861-62, Avery’s Crossroad is 1863-65. These are historical fiction. It’s the story of Avery Junior Bennett and his hound dog Gunner. They left home in 1861 when Avery was 14 years old. He didn’t leave to join the war, he left on a family errand. But the war caught up to Avery. For the next five years he and his dog worked as doctors in the field hospitals of Richmond and Alexandria. Under the yellow hospital flag he served men on both sides of the war.

What draws you to writing about the Civil War, and specifically about young people during that time?  
Visitors, come back tomorrow to learn Deanna’s answer to this and other questions. In the meantime, be sure to enter our drawing to win your own copy of The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber!

You have two ways to enter – here in our blog comments section or through Rafflecopter. Leave your answer to this question from Deanna in the comments:

Do you think historical fiction has relevance for history lovers? Why or why not?

Or, click here to enter with Rafflecopter:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The winner will be announced on Friday. See you tomorrow!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Review: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy

By Karen Abbott
Harper, September 2014

About the Book

Karen Abbott illuminates one of the most fascinating yet little known aspects of the Civil War: the stories of four courageous women—a socialite, a farm girl, an abolitionist, and a widow—who were spies.

After shooting a Union soldier in her front hall with a pocket pistol, Belle Boyd became a courier and spy for the Confederate Army, using her charms to seduce men on both sides. Emma Edmonds cut off her hair and assumed the identity of a man to enlist as a Union private, witnessing the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. The beautiful widow, Rose O’Neale Greenhow, engaged in affairs with powerful Northern politicians to gather intelligence for the Confederacy, and used her young daughter to send information to Southern generals. Elizabeth Van Lew, a wealthy Richmond abolitionist, hid behind her proper Southern manners as she orchestrated a far-reaching espionage ring, right under the noses of suspicious rebel detectives.

Using a wealth of primary source material and interviews with the spies’ descendants, Abbott seamlessly weaves the adventures of these four heroines throughout the tumultuous years of the war. With a cast of real-life characters including Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, General Stonewall Jackson, detective Allan Pinkerton, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln, and Emperor Napoleon III, Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy draws you into the war as these daring women lived it.

My Review

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy tells the incredible stories of four women, two Confederates and two Union supporters, who risked their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to conduct espionage during the Civil War. Each woman took on many or all of the labels included in the title at one point or another during the brutal conflict.

Rose Greenhow, based in D.C., seduced Northern politicians to unearth secrets that she sent directly to Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Rose also traveled to Europe in the hopes of garnering support there for the Confederate cause.

Belle Boyd was born near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. She was quite the Southern jezebel, entrapping men on both sides. Both Rose and Belle were imprisoned by the Union at various times for their actions.

Emma Edmonds, from Canada, cut her hair, lowered her voice, and assumed the persona of Frank Thompson, a Union soldier. Emma was sent across enemy lines many times and suffered debilitating injuries and serious illness during her time with the soldiers, but she remained a staunch supporter of the Union cause, donating all the proceeds of her memoirs to wounded Union soldiers.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a wealthy single woman with strong abolitionist views living in Richmond, Virginia, the Confederate capital. Elizabeth ran the Richmond underground, a vast network of spies that fed information back to Union generals.

I found these stories absolutely riveting. Of all, I think Elizabeth was my favorite. Elizabeth had everything to lose as a single female in hostile territory, and she was hated by her neighbors as well as by her estranged sister-in-law, all of whom tried, in vain, to get her arrested on numerous occasions. Her brother John was forced into the rebel army despite Elizabeth’s pleas. She carried out her espionage largely at her own expense and was never fully compensated for her activities by the government, even after the war. She had a keen instinct and was fully aware of the dangers she faced as her underground network grew, exposing her to many strangers which only increased her chances of discovery. Not even when the rebels tried to burn down her house around her ears did she back down. She was rewarded, for a time, for her services by a grateful president, Ulysses S. Grant, but the hatred and animosity of her neighbors after the war made the end of her life a sad one. Unlike Rose, Belle, and Emma, Elizabeth never cashed in by selling her memoirs.

These stories of courage, intelligence, and instinct highlight some true female heroes. I will say though that I don’t recommend “reading” this an audio book, as I did. There are far too many names and because the author skips between the four women, it can be difficult to keep all the characters straight. I highly recommend this book, but I believe the print version is the better way to go.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why Patrick Craig writes Amish Novels: Part 2

Today I'm delighted to welcome Patrick Craig back to Novel PASTimes. He is a lifelong writer and musician who left a successful songwriting and performance career in the music industry to follow Christ in 1984. He spent the next 26 years as a worship leader, seminar speaker, and pastor in churches, and at retreats, seminars and conferences all across the western United States. He now concentrates on writing and publishing fiction and non-fiction books. Patrick and his wife Judy make their home in rural Idaho and are the parents of two adult children and have five grandchildren.

Today Patrick is back to about his novels. He has a new one coming out in June and so we wanted to catch up with him and learn more about what he's doing. 

Welcome back to Novel PASTimes, Patrick! Thanks for joining us and sharing a bit about your writing world. 

What surprised you most as you wrote your books?  

The most surprising thing for me was the fact that my characters seemed to spring fully formed out of my imagination—It seemed that I had always known them and that I was simply telling their stories from my memories of their lives. 

You’ve talked about your series of Amish fiction. What drew you to write those stories?  

I never knew that Amish fiction was the largest selling Christian genre until I started writing it.  I wondered for a long time what drew people to the Amish way of life.  I came to the conclusion that most people love the Amish stories because in them they find release from the frantic pace of our modern world.  The simple agrarian lifestyle strikes a resonant chord in most reader’s hearts.

What is your favorite historical time period to write about? Why?  

I would like to write more historical fiction and in fact, the next two books in The Paradise Chronicles series are The Amish Princess set in 1770 and The Mennonite Queen set in 1535.  I also have a story, Love Keep Me, set during the War of The Roses in the 1400s in England.  I was always a history buff and love doing the research for Historical Romance.

What’s next for you? 

The next book in The Paradise Chronicles series is The Amish Princess.  Here’s a short blurb: Opahtuhwe, White Deer, is the beautiful daughter of the most powerful Chief of the Delaware tribe, a true Indian Princess.  Her life changes when the murderous renegade Ehèntawisèk brings Jonathan and Joshua Hershberger, Amish twin brothers, to the Delaware village White Deer is drawn to Jonathan but his hatred of the Indians causes him to push her away.  Joshua's gentle heart and steadfast refusal to abandon his Amish faith lead White Deer to a life-changing decision.  In the end, White Deer must choose between the ways of her people and her new-found faith.  And complicating it all is her undying love for the man who can only hate her.

Do you participate in author book signings or events? Where can readers find you?  

I will be doing some book signings for The Amish Heiress, mostly in Idaho and Oregon. That information will be on my Facebook page, so please invite your readers to find me and “Friend” me.  You can always find my books on Amazon. 

I am also on Facebook and have a website.

What are you currently reading?  

I’m currently reading Knights of the Range by Zane Grey.

Which of your books would you love to see turned into a movie?

I think A Quilt For Jenna or The Amish Heiress would make terrific movies.

Thanks for joining us, Patrick. He's giving away a copy of Jenny’s Choice or the Amish Heiress (which releases June 15).  All you need to do is leave a comment and enter that in the rafflecopter below. Thanks!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Why Patrick Craig writes Amish Novels: Part 1

Today I'm delighted to introduce y'all to Patrick CraigHe is a lifelong writer and musician who left a successful songwriting and performance career in the music industry to follow Christ in 1984. He spent the next 26 years as a worship leader, seminar speaker, and pastor in churches, and at retreats, seminars and conferences all across the western United States. After ministering for a number of years in music and worship to a circuit of small churches, he now concentrates on writing and publishing fiction and non-fiction books. Patrick and his wife Judy make their home in rural Idaho and are the parents of two adult children and have five grandchildren.

I'm so intrigued by his songwriting and performance career! Today, though, we are focusing on his writing. He is one of a handful of men who write Amish fiction. He has a new one coming out in June and so we wanted to catch up with him and learn more about what he's doing. 

Welcome to PASTimes, Patrick! Thanks for joining us and sharing a bit about your writing world. 

What drew you to write this book?  

The Amish Heiress was supposed to be the third book in my Apple Creek Dreams series for Harvest House.  The first book, A Quilt For Jenna, was about Jerusha Springer, the second book, The Road Home, was about her daughter, Jenny Springer, and the third, The Amish Heiress, was slated to be about Rachel Hershberger, Jenny Springer Hershberger’s daughter. But when I finished book number two, I had fallen in love with the character of Jenny Springer Hershberger and asked my publisher if I could write another book about Jenny. They graciously allowed me to and so Jenny’s Choice was born.  But I always intended to tell Rachel’s story and so The Amish heiress is about Rachel Hershberger.
How did you get the idea for this novel?  

The first series was born out of a challenge from Nick Harrison, Senior Editor at Harvest House.  He asked for a one sheet for some story ideas and mentioned that he liked Amish stories and quilting stories.  I sent him an idea for an Amish quilting story, even though at that time I knew nothing about the Amish or quilting.  He liked the story idea and asked for some sample chapters thinking it was going to be a short story.  In the meantime I sent the chapters to Steve Laube, who is now my agent, and he encouraged me to make the idea into a novel and present ideas for two more novels with it. So I wrote A Quilt For Jenna and sent it to Harvest House along with the ideas for The Road Home and The Amish Heiress.  They liked the whole series and gave me a contract.  The Amish Heiress was born out of the whole Apple Creek Dreams series and is the first book in my new series, The Paradise Chronicles.

What was the greatest challenge in writing this book?  

I’m probably one of about five men who writes Amish fiction.  I read a lot of Zane Grey and other adventure authors when I was young and have always wanted to write adventure stories.  Amish fiction is generally light-hearted romance dressed up in Amish clothing.  My stories are not that at all—they are about desperate people in desperate situations that only the Lord can solve.  This book has a lot more adventure that the first three so my challenge was to not write myself out of the genre.

What do you hope readers remember after your stories ends?  

The Amish have a set of rules called the Ordnung that they live by.  The Ordnung are oral tradition passed down through the years that are man’s interpretation of what the Word of God says. Many Amish believe that if they follow the Ordnung they will achieve right-standing with God. The danger in that of course is forgetting that only Jesus can save us. So I hope my readers remember two things­—you are not saved by the law, and Jesus alone is the author and finisher of our faith.

Fascinating. I love hearing your heart as you write these books. 

Be sure to come back tomorrow when Patrick will be sharing more about his writing. He's also giving away a copy of Jenny’s Choice or the Amish Heiress (which releases June 15).  All you need to do is leave a comment and enter that in the rafflecopter below. Thanks!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Review: Rebel Queen

Michelle Moran

Rebel Queen

By Michelle Moran
Touchstone, March 2015

About the Book

From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male-dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.

My Review

Rebel Queen is a fascinating and gripping tale about a different culture and a time in history that—like many Americans—I know little about. I haven’t read many stories that included Queen Victoria, so that interested me. I have read a few books regarding the East Indian culture and their relationship with England during the early 1900s, all told from the Indian perspective. The contrast between the British culture and Indian culture during that time period is fascinating. I loved how the Indian men were appalled by the exposure of women’s breasts, shoulders and necks in English fashion, and the English couldn’t understand the exposure of the waistline that was part of Indian fashion. Then again, you can’t very easily wear a corset with a bare waistline. How fortunate for the women of India.

The British Empire’s insatiable thirst for more land showed in the narrative, but was skillfully woven and subtle in the approach. The point of view was flawless. All Sita knew about England came from reading English novels and authors like Shakespeare. The author was fair with the details and showed the horrors of what both people groups did to each other. The Indian rebels caused a lot of problems for the kingdom because of their aggression, but they were simply trying to oust the imperialistic people who decided India should be theirs, much like the Native Americans tried to defend their land using similar horrific means. Annexing another country to their empire often required nothing more than their presence. Intimidation by their occupancy and weaponry was effective indeed. I felt kind of bad for the people who didn’t want to be there but were forced to occupy the land because they had enlisted and it was their assignment.

I found it sad how the Rani (Queen) and Sita both trusted England to respond positively to their appeal hoping that because they were women and also had a female regent, it would matter. They didn’t fully understand the limitations caused by Parliament and the empire’s greed. The treachery within the ranks of the Durgavasi was appalling as well. But you have to read the story to figure out what I mean by that. Anyway, I read this book fairly fast considering I don’t have much reading time these days. The story was filled with culture and history and the author swept me out of this present day and into the past through her use of scenery, foods, clothing and decor. I love it when I can go to another place in my mind and feel grounded in that fantasy world. This isn’t always the case with fiction, so the author did an exceptional job there.

I loved how the author told the story from Sita’s perspective. That made the novel even more powerful because you got to see the Hindu influence as well as the Muslim influence in the culture during that time period. Women were not valued and were seen as a liability due to the enormous dowry that was required for a marriage. The fact that young ladies were married off around ten was pretty disturbing too. At least the husbands traditionally waited for the young girl to turn into a young woman before consummating the marriage. Anyway, I found this book to be compelling and well told. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that effectively takes you to another time and place in your mind.

Michelle Sutton
Healing Hearts—fiction making an impact on real lives