Thursday, May 21, 2015

Review: To Win Her Favor


Tamera Alexander
To Win Her Favor
By Tamera Alexander
Zondervan, May 2015

About the Book

A gifted rider in a world where ladies never race, Maggie Linden is determined that her horse will become a champion. But the one man who could help her has vowed to stay away from thoroughbred racing forever.

An Irishman far from home, Cullen McGrath left a once prosperous life in England because of a horse racing scandal that nearly ruined him. He’s come to Nashville for a fresh start, hoping to buy land and begin farming, all while determined to stay as far away from thoroughbred racing as possible. But starting over proves harder than he’d wagered, especially when Maggie Linden's father makes him an offer he shouldn’t accept yet cannot possibly refuse.

Maggie is certain that her mare, Bourbon Belle, can take the top purse in the inaugural Peyton Stakes, the richest race ever run in America. Maggie only needs the chance to prove it. To give her that chance—and to save Linden Downs from being sold to the highest bidder—Maggie’s father, aging, yet wily as ever, makes a barter. His agreement includes one tiny, troublesome detail—Maggie must marry a man she’s never met. A man she never would have chosen for herself.

My Review

Tamera Alexander is one of my favorite historical authors. Her novels set in Reconstruction Nashville are sweeping and consuming. To Win Her Favor, her latest novel, is a perfect addition.

Maggie Linden finds herself married to Cullen McGrath as the only way to save her family’s storied farm and keep her amazing thoroughbred. Cullen has left Ireland and England behind, only to be confronted with intense prejudice in genteel post Civil War Nashville. The two have to choose whether they can make their marriage more than a business arrangement.

The thread of prejudice and running from the past while someone else wants to embrace a different past brings a poignant tone to the book. There’s also something so compelling about two characters who have to choose whether to love.

The book is also filled with action, twists, turns, and enough mystery and hard choice to make it an absolutely compelling read. This is a book I will read again.

All in all, this book is perfect for those who love a rich, sweeping historical with equal parts history and romance.

Cara Putman

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Day 2 with spotlight author Pamela Schoenewaldt




Welcome back for our second day with author Pamela Schoenewaldt!

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?
As a historical novelist, I’ve gathered information on wildly diverse topics: 19th Century dowries of Italian shepherd girls; layout of immigrant ships; invention of Jell-o; types of embroidery stitches; Prussian food; average longevity of British pilots in the early years of World War I (four days); the creation of German Shepherds; shifts in bustle styles; appendectomies in the 1880 (not advised); how French vineyard diseases in the 1840’s changed Greek immigration patterns; and how small communities dealt with the 1919 Influenza Pandemic. 

Whenever possible, I interview experts. People are astonishingly generous. In one instance, I had a young boy character I’d grown attached to. Yet I had to—well—kill him off. I had in mind a way this could happen, but wasn’t sure this incident would suffice. By chance our family doctor was at a party and I put the question to him. Let me add that he is an excellent doctor. Dr. X and I discussed options over Chardonnay. “Yes,” he concluded happily, “what you describe will kill him, and the great thing is: he can die in ten minutes or in forty minutes, whatever you like!” Unfortunately, in the heat of the moment, his voice rose over a lull in the conversation and there were a dozen people staring at us. “It’s not a real child,” I hastened to say. “It’s for my book.” Hum, yeah, right, sure. We were pretty much left alone for the rest of the party.


I think that’s one of the best research stories I’ve heard yet! Can you share a favorite story or two of fans that you’ve met?
So many people have written to me of how their grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ journeys shared some aspects of my characters’ journeys. Of course it’s gratifying to feel that you “got it right.” But what was also touching was the number of readers whose relatives didn’t tell stories. Many immigrants left difficult situations, personal, religious, or economic oppression they didn’t care to revisit. Not everybody is a born story-teller. So a fictional character can be for some readers a window into a family history that would otherwise be closed to them. “Look at these circles under my eye!” a young woman demanded at a workshop. “You did this! I had to finish your book last night! It reminded me so much of my grandmother’s story and how she must have felt.” Then you remember all the nights you stayed up to write and you think, yes, it was worth it.


Wow, what a great reminder of how your books can touch people in so many ways. What led you to begin writing? What keeps you writing novels today?
In seventh grade, my adored English teacher, Mrs. Young, assigned “an essay on an important event in your life.” I anxiously reviewed my uneventful childhood. What could possibly impress Mrs. Young? My reserved, stately grandfather had died. I brightened at this. But (darn) I was only three, he’d been sick for a long time, and I hardly remembered him. In desperation, I invented a relationship, warm and intense. Only I knew his secret, tender side. I made myself six when he died and set the scene: we are alone in the hospital at night, moonlight on the sheets, he’s telling me about Life. He wanted only me beside him. In the morning we are found together, hand in hand. He has passed. I think I actually cried at the death of this imagined grandfather. Unfortunately, so did Mrs. Young. (She was from the Ukraine and didn’t realize that in America, small children aren’t generally left alone at hospital deathbeds, with or without moonlight). She wanted to share the touching story with my parents. Of course I had to convince her not to: my parents would not have been charmed. But I still remember the chill down my spine when I finished the moonlight scene, and the intensity of tenderness, warmth, and loss I felt for the fictional grandfather, and the gift of his presence that I never, actually, knew.

That magic of fiction endures for me. Lives can be imagined, worlds populated. I love the writing process itself. It calls on so many “muscles” of your mind to weave together, character, tone, diction, dialogue, plot and pacing, dramatic development, the sound of the words, the shades of their meaning, the way scenes materialize from their first gossamer shadows to a vivid reality. I love the ache and joy you can feel for characters you have created and who robe themselves in their own reality: like a child and her grandfather in the moonlight.


Can you give us a sneak peek at whatever you’re working on now?
I hope to branch out from immigration tales. My current project, now under consideration, is set in a fictional version of Knoxville, TN, during what was known as the Red Summer of 1919, in which 84 African-Americans were lynched.


Sounds powerful. And, for those would-be authors who are reading, what’s your top advice for someone hoping to become published?
I think that my path of writing and then publishing short stories before attempting a novel was useful. Short stories must quickly create character, setting, and drama to catch an editor’s eye. And you must present very “clean” copy, without errors or pings. That’s all useful in crafting those critical first 10-15 pages that an agent wants to see. And having some publishing credits behind you is all to the good. I’d definitely join a reading group and listen intently to what sympathetic readers have to say. They probably won’t give you a “fix” but they’ll point out a problem, and often your effort (struggle) to respond will lead you to deeper levels and more elegant solutions. Write about what matters to you, and make every sentence the best you can. The rest will take care of itself.


Thanks again to Pamela for joining us this week. If you’d like to learn more about her or her books, you can connect online:

Website:  PamelaSchoenewaldt.com
Facebook page: Pamela Schoenewaldt author
Twitter handle: Pamela Schoenewaldt
Goodreads page: Pamela Schoenewaldt

And, visitors, don’t forget to enter our drawing to win a copy of Under the Same Blue Sky! Either click the button below to enter through Rafflecopter, or answer this question in the comments:

Which caused more fatalities to Americans: World War I or the 1919 Influenza Epidemic?

If you answer the question, be sure to include your name and email address (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to cut down on spam). Thanks for stopping by!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

~ Leigh

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Spotlight on author Pamela Schoenewaldt




We’re happy to have Pamela Schoenewaldt as our spotlight author this week. Pamela is a USAToday Bestselling historical novelist drawing on her experience of living for10 years in Italy to write of the American immigrant experience. Her previous books, When We Were Strangers (2011) and Swimming in the Moon (2013), have been translated into German, Dutch, Polish, and Russian and short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction. She lives in Knoxville, TN. She’s currently celebrating the release of her latest novel, Under the Same Blue Sky.


Welcome, Pamela! Where was the idea for Under the Same Blue Sky born?
My first two books, When We Were Strangers and Swimming in the Moon were born of the Italian-American immigration experience. I lived in Italy for a decade (see below on that), my husband is Italian, and I have dual citizenship through him. For Under the Same Blue Sky, I wanted to look at the German-American experience which is my family’s heritage. In particular, what was it like during World War I to feel oneself fully American and yet almost overnight be branded as the enemy, the Hun? I also wanted to incorporate themes of magic realism. For years, I’ve by haunted by the memory of a brooding castle incongruously set in the small bedroom community of Watchung, NJ, where I went to high school. I’d wanted to weave that castle into a narrative and finally found a way in Under the Same Blue Sky.


All three of your historical novels focus on women with immigrant ties between Europe and America. What draws you to writing their stories, and what do you admire most about them? 
Between 1990 and 2000, I lived in a small town outside Naples, Italy. While I learned Italian, and had a rich and full social and cultural life, I was always “L’Americana,” the outsider. I imagined other outsiders, women who by choice or necessity came to the United States, sometimes alone, often without my option of going home if things didn’t work out. For them, there was no going back, and often scant welcome in their new country. They persevered. They created new communities and found joy. They developed remarkable skills and fought for justice. Some, like Hazel in Under the Same Blue Sky, endured the terrible wrenching when the home country and the adopted country were at war. I admire these women and find their journeys endlessly intriguing. I have hoped to capture some of these qualities in my work.


Your novels have fabulous titles! When We Were Strangers, Swimming in the Moon, Under the Same Blue Sky. Can you share with us how those titles were created and if there are special stories behind them?
My contract with the publisher (HarperCollins) gives me the right to be “meaningfully included in the conversation about titles and covers.” I think that’s pretty standard: titles and covers are major marketing tools. So the “conversation” was lots of emails, lots of lists. When We Were Strangers was on one of my long lists. The editor loved it and it clicked for all of us. The next two were truly collaborative, with pieces and ideas coming from several people’s ideas. The fact is, after the intensely private work of writing, it was refreshing to be on a team for the titles and the cover.


What do you like most about writing historical fiction? And are there certain themes that you find repeating themselves in your novels?
I fell into this genre. I’d looked at the short stories I’d published which seemed to hold promise for a novel. The one I picked was historical, and it became the first chapter of my first novel. When We Were Strangers did well and the editor wanted another historical. By then, my narrative ideas were running to historical themes and here I am, having finished my third. I’m interested in immigration, in social justice, in women’s journeys, in American-ness, and for my novel in progress, in racial identity. Also food. I love the challenge of historical novel, and the tension between the specific (the historical moment) and the deep universality (the human stories). I enjoy the research, the discoveries and the creative process of weaving the two. So, after the chance falling into the genre, I’m hooked.


Along those same lines, what challenges do you see in writing historical novels?
Oh, there are many. The most obvious challenge is the research, including the opportunity to interview people in many fields. Then there’s the challenge of deciding what of what you know is necessary for the reader, what can be implied, and how to weave it into the texture of your character’s journey—which is what really counts. History is your frame, and inside it is your story. Your call is to use that frame, much as a poet might use the 14-line sonnet structure, not as a limitation, but as a crucible for creation, for an engrossing presentation of a character’s world and world view, choices, challenges, and outcomes in a particular moment in history.



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?
Visitors, come back tomorrow for Pamela’s great answer to this and other questions – including the touching story of how she first became interested in writing. You won’t want to miss it!

In the meantime, you can enter our drawing to win a copy of Under the Same Blue Sky! Either click the button below to enter through Rafflecopter, or answer this question in the comments:

Which caused more fatalities to Americans: World War I or the 1919 Influenza Epidemic?

If you answer the question, be sure to include your name and email address (spelling out ‘at’ and ‘dot’ to cut down on spam). Thanks for stopping by! 
a Rafflecopter giveaway



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Explore Nashville Reconstruction: An interview with Tamera Alexander Part 2

Today I'm delighted to welcome back my friend Tamera Alexander and her wonderful novel To Win Her Favor. Tamera is a USA Today bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, the RITA Award, the Carol Award, and Library Journal's top distinction among others. After seventeen years in Colorado, Tamera and her husband have returned to their native South and live in Nashville, where they enjoy spending time with their two grown children, and a twelve pound Silky Terrier named Jack.

Read to the end to enter the giveaway. But first here's the second part of the interview with Tamera.

What was the greatest challenge in writing ToWin Her Favor?

Reaching the right balance of realism in reference to the true history of the American South and in regard to showing the authentic and passionate side of a marriage of convenience. It was a fine line on both, but with much writing and rewriting—and with the always candid perspective of my writing team—I believe we reached that balance.

What did you learn as you wrote To Win Her Favor

That our capacity to hurt one another, to inflict cruelty and to hate, is trumped only by our capacity to love. But the latter comes only through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

What do you hope readers remember after your stories end? 

More than anything—after being swept away to another time and place, after hopefully falling in love with the characters like I have, and indulging in the fictive dream—when that final page is turned, I hope readers will have taken a step closer to Christ in some way. That’s my ultimate hope for my writing—to bring others closer to Christ.

What surprises you most as you write your books? 

What’s often surprising is “the lives of their own” these characters develop. I know I’m the author and that I’m supposedly “in charge.” But there are times when a character simply will not do what I’d planned for her/him to do. More times than not, it’s because their character arc has grown and they’ve changed. It’s my job to stay true to their motivations, to who they’re becoming. So when this happens, I stop and listen to them. To the story overall. Then adjust and keep moving forward.

What piece of advice do you have for readers who want to write? If you could teach them something what would it be? 

Never give up. Keep writing. Keep honing your skills as a writer. And pray about your writing, give your aspirations to the Lord. Also, look for a writing critique partner, someone who can sharpen you and, in turn, someone you can help sharpen. Deborah Raney and I have been writing critique partners for over twelve years now, and it’s made all the difference in my writing. And in my writing journey!

What's next for you? 

I’m currently finishing the third (and last) book in the Belmont Mansion series. Check out the Belmont Mansion page on my website for sneak peeks into this next novel and to see the Belmont Mansion up close and personal. I love writing these Southern Mansion novels. Coming in July is a Belle Meade Plantation novella—To Mend a Dream. To Mend a Dream continues the story of a secondary character we meet in To Win Her Favor, Savannah Darby. Savannah is Maggie’s closest friend and while we learn about Savannah’s struggles in To Win Her Favor, the culmination of her story is told in To Mend a Dream, a novella in a Southern novella collection entitled, Among the Fair Magnolias (written with authors Shelley Shepard Gray, Dorothy Love, and Elizabeth Musser).
I’m currently finishing the third (and last) book in the Belmont Mansion series. Check out the

I am so glad you are writing Savannah's story! I so want to know that hers ends well! What are you currently reading?

The Girlfrom the Train by Irma Joubert (releases September 2015). In a word? Fabulous!

Oh! Adding that to my TBR list. Which of your books would you love to see turned into a movie?

Both Rekindled and From a Distance have been reviewed by producers for possible movies, which is fun to think about. But no solid plans yet. Maybe someday!

That is so exciting! Do you participate in author book signings or events? Where can readers find you?

Oh yes, especially when a new book releases. Check out my News page on my website to see if I’m coming to your neck of the woods. If so, I’d sure love to see you! I’m also on Facebook almost every day and would love to connect with you there!

Folks, To Win Her Favor is a wonderful book. Tamera has volunteered to giveaway a copy of this book to one of our readers. Just enter the giveaway below. And be sure to return tomorrow for the rest of the interview!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Explore Nashville Reconstruction: An interview with Tamera Alexander

Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to my friend Tamera Alexander and her wonderful novel To Win Her Favor. Tamera is a USA Today bestselling novelist whose works have been awarded and nominated for numerous industry-leading honors, including the Christy Award, the RITA Award, the Carol Award, and Library Journal's top distinction among others. After seventeen years in Colorado, Tamera and her husband have returned to their native South and live in Nashville, where they enjoy spending time with their two grown children, and a twelve pound Silky Terrier named Jack.

I just finished this book (that releases today!) and it is wonderful. Read to the end for my review and to enter the giveaway. But first here's the first part of the interview with Tamera.

Welcome to PASTimes! Thanks for joining us and sharing a bit about your writing world. Congratulations on the release of your new book To Win Her Favor. Tell us a bit about it. 

Thanks for the invitation to be here. To Win Her Favor is a marriage of convenience story set at the lovely historic Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee. The backdrop of the novel—Nashville’s history, the Belle Meade mansion, outbuildings of the estate, the family members, and most of the servants at Belle Meade—is taken directly from history. The basis for Cullen McGrath’s character is founded in the history of Irishmen who came to Nashville in the 1850-70s, and who faced very real prejudice from Nashville residents. Likewise, Maggie Linden’s character was inspired by accounts of women who were formerly landed gentry (from wealthy families who were major land owners) but who lost everything following the war and the changes that conflict brought. The rest of the details are filled in by asking myself the question writers constantly ask themselves, “What if…” 

How did you get the idea for To Win Her Favor and your Belle Meade novels? 

I knew the first time I stepped foot onto Belle Meade Plantation in 2007 that I wanted to write stories about the people who lived and died at this historic estate. The thoroughbred history drew me in big time, too. Ever heard of Secretariat? Or Enquirer? So many Kentucky Derby winners trace their lineage to thoroughbred champions that stood stud at Belle Meade in the 19th century. Grab a glass of sweet iced tea and join me on my Belle Meade Plantation novels page where I’ll take you on a tour of some of my favorite spots at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, Tennessee.

What drew you to write To Win Her Favor

As I read and researched for To Win Her Favor, I often found my own emotions stirred by real events that occurred in Nashville during Reconstruction. At times, the accounts were repugnant and heartbreaking. Yet at others, they were remarkably soul stirring with whispers of fresh hope. To Win Her Favor is definitely one of the more passionate stories I’ve written, and I don’t mean that solely in a romantic sense. From the start, this story was simply more evocative because it delves into the intimacies of a marriage of convenience, and also explores prejudice within a marriage—in addition to examining the prejudices between former slave owners and former slaves. Everyone was learning how to be with each other in that time period, learning where the new boundaries were, where everyone fit.

Folks, To Win Her Favor is a wonderful book. Tamera has volunteered to giveaway a copy of this book to one of our readers. Just enter the giveaway below. And be sure to return tomorrow for the rest of the interview!  a Rafflecopter giveaway