Friday, April 18, 2014

This Week's Winner

Hi, everyone! Sorry to be a bit later than usual announcing the winner of Whisper Goodbye, but the PTO meeting at my daughter's school went later than usual. Such is life. :-)

We appreciate you stopping by and enjoying the time with Myra Johnson this week. It was fun to hear where your favorite vacation spots are.

At any rate, this week's winner is ... Danie Walther! Danie, check your email for info on connecting with Myra for your book.

Will you be curling up with a good story this weekend? If so, which one? I'm choosing between The Captive Maiden by Melanie Dickerson and The Noticer by Andy Andrews. So many wonderful stories ...

See you next week,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: The Crown

The Crown
By Nancy Bilyeau
Touchstone, September 2012

About the Book

Joanna Stafford, a Dominican nun, learns that her favorite cousin has been condemned by Henry VIII to be burned at the stake. Defying the rule of enclosure, Joanna leaves the priory to stand at her cousin’s side. Arrested for interfering with the king’s justice, Joanna, along with her father, is sent to the Tower of London.

While Joanna is in the Tower, the ruthless Bishop of Winchester forces her to spy for him. To save her father’s life she must find an ancient relic—a crown so powerful, it may possess the ability to end the Reformation.

With Cromwell’s troops threatening to shutter her priory, bright and bold Joanna must decide whom she can trust so that she may save herself, her family, and her sacred way of life. This provocative story melds heart-stopping suspense with historical detail and brings to life the poignant dramas of women and men at a fascinating and critical moment in England’s past.

My Review

During Joanna’s frantic search for the crown, Cromwell’s men push ahead, closing down abbeys across the country. She encounters a number of others during her journey, none of whom she can entirely trust: Norfolk, her ruthless cousin-in-law; rigid Prioress Joan, who has suspicious ties to Cromwell; Brother Edmund, a friar with healing talents who has a shameful secret of his own; Geoffrey Scoville, constable of Rochester who often comes to Joanna’s rescue and harbors a romantic interest in her; Lord Chester, a lecherous noble who threatens to reveal Dartford’s “secrets”; Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s oldest daughter and one of Cromwell’s biggest enemies; and Sister Helen, a mute nun with an urgent secret to share; among many others. An elaborate chess game ensues, with each party racing for the crown for their own reasons.

Concerned that a book with a nun for a heroine will be too bland? This historical thriller will prove you wrong! Bilyeau’s debut novel has Joanna Stafford (a fictional character, niece of the executed third Duke of Buckingham and related, by marriage, to the Duke of Norfolk) as the lead investigator in a tale that effortlessly combines the story of England’s Reformation with medieval legend, political greed, spirituality, loyalty, and bravery.

Joanna’s backstory, as the daughter of one of Katherine of Aragon’s Spanish ladies, adds as much to the story as the legend of Athelstan’s crown. Joanna fights for her father, for her faith, and for herself—the final scene where she declares that she is “no one’s creature” is triumphant and moving. I see many reviewers complained about the frequent flashbacks, which do slow things down a bit at the beginning, but are necessary for the full story to unfold.

This book is beautifully written, meticulously researched, and vividly drawn—a true nail biter—and a story so intricately woven that it’s a real joy to read. I will be continuing Sister Joanna’s story in Bilyeau’s follow-up, The Chalice, and I highly suggest you do the same!

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

An interview with Myra Johnson (day 2)

Welcome back for our second day with award-winning author Myra Johnson! You can connect with Myra and learn more about her books in several ways:

Twitter: @MyraJohnson and @TheGrammarQueen

Myra, you tell on your website about how the dream to be a writer persisted for many years before you started acting on it. Will you share that with our visitors?

I’ve loved making up stories since early childhood, and for many years I kept notebooks of my stories and poems that I would share with my best friends. Later, as a young wife and mother, I didn’t have much time for writing, not to mention I had no idea what it took to write professionally.

It was in the early 1980s when I came across an ad for the Institute of Children’s Literature and decided to give it a try. I sold two short stories before completing the course, and eventually ICL hired me to teach their magazine writing course, which I did for nine years while continue to write for children’s publications and also complete several novel manuscripts. The book rejections kept piling up, but I was encouraged by several “positive” rejections. Eventually I shifted from children’s stories to romance and women’s fiction, but my first book contract didn’t come through until 2008, 25 years after I first seriously began writing for publication.

What a great story to encourage others who keep working toward their dream! Writing can be a lonely adventure, but one way you’ve stayed connected with other writers and with readers is through blogging with The Seekers. How do you think that has affected your writing?

The Seekers are absolutely the best! We have stuck together through all the ups and downs of the publishing experience, praying, encouraging, and generally keeping each other accountable. No one understands the writing journey like another writer.

In addition, we serve as each other’s cheerleading section. The blog has given us a shared platform that is now widely known in the industry and twice has been recognized in the Writer’s Digest list of the top 100 websites for writers.

If you could be any character from another historical novel, who would it be and why?

Wow, tough question! I’m not much for roughing it without modern conveniences, and most of the heroines in the historical novels I’ve read dealt with some extremely unpleasant difficulties. Now, if we could skip right to the happy ending, I might choose Lilly Westbrook, the heroine of my friend Cara Lynn James’s novel Love on a Dime.  Lily is also a novelist, and she gets to live in a lovely summer cottage on the beach in Newport, Rhode Island.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your books?

I hope they will be both inspired and entertained. I write about imperfect characters with real problems and how they learn to seek and accept forgiveness and grow into the people God created them to be. Yes, the stories are fiction, but Jesus told parables to make his points, so obviously story is an effective teaching tool, and I hope I’m using it to God’s glory.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Take time to learn the basics. Take a class if you can, or study craft books such as Dwight Swain’s Techniques of the Selling Writer. Read the best of currently published fiction in your chosen genre. Join a critique group, and practice, practice, practice.

Any final words?

I’m so grateful to spend time with you today and to talk about the writing life. It certainly has been a roller coaster, but it’s a ride I wouldn’t have missed for anything!

Thanks so much for joining us at Novel PASTimes! It’s been fun to learn about your books and the work that goes into them.

Visitors, don’t forget to answer Myra’s question for your chance to win a copy of Whisper Goodbye. Leave a comment with your name and email (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to help cut down on spam). A winner will be drawn Friday morning. A U.S. winner will have the choice of a hard copy or e-book; if the winner lives outside the U.S., you’ll receive the e-book version.

Here’s the question again:

What’s your favorite vacation spot and why?

Thanks for stopping by! 
~ Leigh

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An interview with historical author Myra Johnson

Award-winning author Myra Johnson writes emotionally gripping stories about love, life, and faith. She is a two-time finalist for the ACFW Carol Award and winner of the 2005 RWA Golden Heart. Married since 1972, Myra and her husband have two beautiful daughters and seven grandchildren ranging in age from 19 down to 1 month. Although Myra is a native Texan, she and her husband now reside in North Carolina, sharing their home with two spoiled lapdogs.

Myra will be giving away one copy of her latest book, Whisper Goodbye, to one of our visitors this week. Just leave a comment with your answer to this question from her:

What’s your favorite vacation spot and why?

Hello, Myra, and thanks for joining us at Novel PASTimes! We’re glad to have this chance to learn more about you and your books, especially your brand-new release, Whisper Goodbye! Tell us a little bit about the storyline.

Crippled both physically and emotionally by his war injuries, First Lt. Gilbert Ballard struggles to find himself again in civilian life. After breaking his engagement to Annemarie Kendall, he has found solace in the arms of Mary McClarney, a spunky Irish immigrant nurse he met at the Army and Navy Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Yet Mary’s love for Gilbert goes unreturned. As she longs for the day when Gilbert will finally let go of the past and learn to love her as she loves him, she realizes that the only way to open Gilbert’s heart is to whisper her goodbyes . . . and pray God will bring them back together.

Introduce us briefly to the main characters in Whisper Goodbye.

Mary and Gilbert first met in When the Clouds Roll By, book 1 in the series, but their relationship suffered when Gilbert allowed jealousy over Annemarie’s new love drive him to a desperate act of betrayal. In Whisper Goodbye, he is working hard to make amends, turn his life around, and become worthy of Mary’s love. A working-class girl, Mary struggles to be accepted by Gilbert’s mother, a wealthy society matron. Additionally, Mary must confront painful memories from her own past before she can fully trust Gilbert with her heart.

You also have a brand-new release on Kindle – Pearl of Great Price. Tell us about that one, too, please.

Raised by her grandfather after her mother died, flea market manager Julie Pearl Stiles promised herself she’d postpone the search for her absentee father until the truth could no longer hurt Grandpa. Then one crazy June day ushers in a series of discoveries that threaten to turn Julie’s peaceful, small-town life upside down. Her encounter with Little Rock socialite Renata Channing seems more than coincidental, but equally disconcerting is her grandfather’s immediate dislike for real estate entrepreneur Micah Hobart, the man Julie is falling for. As Julie is drawn deeper into the tragic past Micah and Renata share, she finds herself questioning everything she’s ever believed about herself, her family, and her future.

Both those stories sound wonderful! Your books include both historical and more contemporary romances. Do you have a preference for one over the other? What kinds of challenges are there with writing both?

I started out writing contemporary romances and had little confidence in my ability to write successfully in the historical genre. It was only when the idea for When the Clouds Roll By took hold that I was compelled to see where it went. I found myself fascinated by the research, and soon the idea developed into a three-book series.

Another historical idea has been germinating, but it’s on the back burner for now as I work on a new contemporary series that was recently contracted for Heartsong Presents. Each genre has its own challenges. For a historical, it’s making sure the language is true to the era, setting details are correct, and real events are portrayed accurately. But even for writing contemporary novels, a certain amount of research is always necessary. If you get it wrong, some astute reader will notice!

Historical fiction requires a lot of research. What’s the most interesting (or unusual, or funny) thing you’ve done in the name of research for a book?

It’s definitely interesting and fun to write about a setting where my husband and I have vacationed nearly every year since the 1980s. Hot Springs, Arkansas, is the setting for my Till We Meet Again series, so the past few years we’ve spent our Hot Springs week gathering even more information as we walked around historic downtown, snapped photos of old buildings, toured the local museums, and browsed through the collections at the Garland County Historical Society.

You tell on your website about how the dream to be a writer persisted for many years before you started acting on it. Will you share that with our visitors?

Sorry, visitors, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear Myra’s answer to this one. And you won’t want to miss it!

In the meantime, don’t forget to answer Myra’s question for your chance to win a copy of Whisper Goodbye. Leave a comment with your name and email (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to help cut down on spam). A winner will be drawn Friday morning. A U.S. winner will have the choice of a hard copy or e-book; if the winner lives outside the U.S., you’ll receive the e-book version.

Here’s the question again:

What’s your favorite vacation spot and why?

Thanks for stopping by! We’ll see you again tomorrow for more with Myra Johnson. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

This Week's Winner...

...of Alison Morton's Perfiditas is Kathy! Congratulations!

Alison's question this week was a good one. Care to answer it still? What would you like to have happened differently in history?

Have a good weekend!

Cindy Thomson
Grace's Pictures, Tyndale House Publishers, 2013
Annie's Stories, Tyndale House Publishers, 2014

Twitter: @cindyswriting

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Review: A Murder at Rosamund's Gate

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
By Susanna Calkins
St. Martin’s Press, March 2014

About the Book

In Susanna Calkins’s atmospheric debut novel, a chambermaid must uncover a murderer in seventeenth-century plague-ridden London

For Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate, life is an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores until a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime. In a time where the accused are presumed guilty until proven innocent, lawyers aren’t permitted to defend their clients, and—if the plague doesn’t kill them first—public executions draw a large crowd of spectators, Lucy knows she may never see this person alive again. Unless, that is, she can identify the true murderer.

Determined to do just that, Lucy finds herself venturing out of her expected station and into raucous printers’ shops, secretive gypsy camps, the foul streets of London, and even the bowels of Newgate prison on a trail that might lead her straight into the arms of the killer.

My Review

Calkins’ debut novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, introduces Lucy Campion, serving girl to a London magistrate in 1665. Intellectually curious, trustworthy, and well educated for her position, Lucy happily serves her master who takes an interest in her keen mind and opinions. The household is an unusually pleasant place for both the servants and those they serve (think Downtown Abbey). It includes the magistrate and his wife, their son Adam, their ward Lucas, who is destined for a career in the church, and a close knit group of servants.

One morning, the household is awakened by a constable at the magistrate’s door who comes to inform him of two murders, both young ladies lured to lonely areas and brutally stabbed. It isn’t long before Bessie, the ladies’ maid of the household, also disappears, this time with all her clothes and the master’s silver in tow.

Lucy is devastated by the loss of her close friend and becomes even more distraught when Lucy’s brother Will, Bessie’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, is charged with the murder. Lucy vows to do all she can to find Bessie’s killer and prove her brother’s innocence, and she gains the help of an unlikely ally along the way, Adam. Adam is a barrister in training and someone who has taken an interest in Lucy’s sharp mind and pretty face. Uneasy about the mutual attraction between them, but finding few other allies, Adam and Lucy work together to exonerate her brother and uncover the killer as both the plague and The Great Fire of London threaten their progress.

The details woven into the tale by Calkins give her readers a rich portrait of life in seventeenth-century London. The Great Fire of London, the plague, and a comprehensive look into the legal system of the time all work together to put the story on solid ground. It is easy to identify with Lucy’s dilemma as one who is smart and ambitious but is nonetheless trapped by her station within society.

I was rather disappointed when the killer was ultimately unmasked. Without providing a spoiler, this type of person is quite often assigned the role of murderer in mysteries, so it wasn’t hard to pinpoint the killer beforehand. I would have liked to see a more unlikely person be identified as the culprit. But Lucy is a plucky, entertaining character, and since the sequel to this book, From the Charred Remains, is being published April 22nd I look forward to reading what adventures Lucy will be up to next.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Novelist Alison Morton Chats About Alternative History and Her New Novel

We're back with Part Two of the interview with novelist Alison Morton. Her bio follows the interview.

For our readers who are writers, what advice do you have? Anything you wish you’d known when you first started in the business?

I wish I’d realised how bad my first draft was! But at least I had a complete novel, something I could work on and improve. That’s the crucial point – finish the novel.

The next important thing is to work on it and seek advice. No first draft is good and bestselling authors confirm this. Buy recommended books, such as Stephen King’s On Writing, join a writing group, save your pennies and go on writing courses (after researching them, of course!) and go to writers’ conferences.

And the third thing, especially for historical fiction writers, is not to become so enthralled by research that you don’t get the writing done. I was looking something up about food and found a whole section on Roman herbs. Two months later, I had made a Roman herb garden in the back yard but only half the progress on writing the novel…

For our readers who are readers only, how did the germ of the idea for your latest book develop?

I developed my heroine in the first book, INCEPTIO, from a 25-year-old girl anybody might know to a resilient, tough and determined woman who had coped with change to a different culture, a complex lover and an enforcer trying to kill her. In PERFIDITAS, which means betrayal, she’s established in her new military career, but it’s all about to fall apart.

Apart from the historical and feminist themes running through PERFIDITAS, there is a strong streak of betrayal on personal, professional and national levels. But who is betraying whom and what ideals are coming under strain? Exploring motivation, flaws and conflict are very much in the front of my creative mind.

What is your favorite way to research a novel?

Luckily, I have a general grounding in Roman history from reading classical texts, such as Pliny, Suetonius, Caesar’s Gallic Wars and modern history texts, plus my years of visiting Roman sites and museums throughout Europe. My father had introduced me to history and especially to the Roman world. So much so, that it seemed perfectly normal to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, follow the German limes, pretend I was a Roman playactor in classic theatres all over Europe from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii. So I have a ‘feel’ for the Roman world. But I keep reading as there are new discoveries and new research appearing all the time.

I spent six years in the reserve forces, which gave me experience of military life first hand and enabled me to write the military scenes in PERFIDITAS.

The thing that really keeps me digging is the determination not to give up. My characters catch bad guys in the 21st century, but I wanted to find out if there were special forces and spies during the ancient Roman period so I could bring in anything with a Roman flavour. I searched for sources and came across Exploratio by Austin and Rankin about military and political intelligence in the Roman world. Perfect!

It turns out that there was no centralized intelligence organization and it was all chaotically arranged on a regional basis with a lot of infighting in Rome itself until near the later Roman period. Good to know…

How do you make sure you portray historical characters, whether real or fictional, accurately for the time they lived in while still captivating modern readers?

Ha! That’s the crucial question. For me there are twin elements: the first is our old friend research. Knowing about food, costume and work, but also attitudes to crime, life, death, servants, masters, marriage, trade, property will give a writer a firm knowledge base against which to work.

The second element is plausibility. The writer has to maintain the reader’s trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the plot and narrative. Even though my book is set in the 21st century, the Roman characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not shoes) when he finds out.’

Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys. Of course, they’re expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But a romantic relationship, whether as painful as in The Remains of the Day or as instant as Colonel Brandon when he sees Marianne in Sense and Sensibility or careful but intense relationship of Eve Dallas and Roarke in the Death series binds us into their stories.

The hardest element is the conflict between projecting 21st century sensitivities and viewpoints on to people living in a completely different set of circumstances. And it’s not always people today being more open and enlightened than those in the past. Romans were very open about sexual matters as they regarded sex as allied to fertility and survival rather than embarrassment and guilt. And they would have given you a puzzled look if you’d suggested love was they main reason for marriage.

Are your books available as ebooks? How do you personally feel about ebooks?

My books are available as ebooks in a selection of formats - Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBook - and at a wide range of retailers. Ebooks are here to stay and ever more people are reading on the move using smart phones and tablets.

I’m an early adopter - I have a Kindle Keyboard 3G - and find it especially brilliant when travelling. But… I do love physical books – the feel of a cover, the smell, the physicality of turning a page to see what happens. I’m always delighted to hand one of my books to a reader as they are objects of beauty as well as a good read.

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

I live in France, but travel back to the UK a lot to give talks, take part in conferences, book fairs and events. I have a launch party in the UK for each book, plus a local one here in France, but most of my presence is online on my blog, on Facebook and of course Twitter!

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just finished Ursula Le Guin’s Lavinia, a combination of history and mythology about Greek hero Aeneas’ third wife who becomes the ancestress of Rome. Beautiful writing!

What can we expect from you next?

The third book in the Roma Nova series, SUCCESSIO, will be out in June and readers may be in for a few surprises! Each book in the series brings out more of the Roman theme and flavour, but our heroine and her hero are threatened by a nemesis so cunning and persistent they may not be able to defeat it…

Thanks again for joining us!

I’ve loved being here. If readers would like to keep in touch, I have a monthly email newsletter that I send out with news, pictures, quirky pieces of information and updates about my books. Here’s where to subscribe:

To be entered into a drawing to win a copy of Perfiditas answer Alison's question in the comments along with your email by this Friday, 8am EDT.
Question: What would you like to have happened differently in history?

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.

 A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

 INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award and awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion® in September 2013. The next in series, PERFIDITAS, published October 2013, has also just been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion®.  Alison is working on the third book SUCCESSIO which will be out in June 2014.

  Connect with Alison on her blog Facebook author page Facebook page Facebook page Twitter Goodreads UK author page: US author page:  Buying links (multiple retailers):