Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: When Christ and His Saints Slept


When Christ and His Saints Slept
By Sharon Kay Penman
Random House, 1996

About the Book

A.D. 1135. As church bells tolled for the death of England’s King Henry I, his barons faced the unwelcome prospect of being ruled by a woman: Henry’s beautiful daughter Maude, Countess of Anjou. But before Maude could claim her throne, her cousin Stephen seized it. In their long and bitter struggle, all of England bled and burned.

Sharon Kay Penman’s magnificent fifth novel summons to life a spectacular medieval tragedy whose unfolding breaks the heart even as it prepares the way for splendors to come—the glorious age of Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Plantagenets that would soon illumine the world.

My Review

When Christ and His Saints Slept is set in the twelfth century. It begins with the tragic sailing of The White Ship and ends with Henry II ready to be crowned king of England. For readers who like numbers, that would be 1120–1154. This covers the later part of Henry I’s reign: his grief and desperation over the loss of his son and heir, his wanting his daughter, Maude, to be his successor; it covers the war—which lasted over ten years—between Stephen and Maude for the crown of England. Readers also get a chance to see Maude’s son, Henry, grow up to become Henry II.

This is a novel with many strengths. One of its greatest, perhaps, is in the wide range of characters or narrators. Stephen and Matilda, on one side, Maude and Geoffrey, on the other. Readers meet the men and women who supported Maude, including many of Henry I’s illegitimate sons. Readers meet the men and women who supported Stephen’s claim to the throne. If there is a point to When Christ and His Saints Slept, it is this: War is ugly and cruel and pointless. Readers see Stephen and his supporters—his army—do horribly cruel things in the name of war. Readers see Maude’s army do some equally horrid things. One side is not holier than the other. While neither army was as cruel as they possibly could be all the time, without ceasing, year after year, the truth was that England suffered greatly during this tug of war. The truth was very few cared who ruled England, so long as England was ruled peaceably and practically. The burning, the stealing and looting, the raping and killing, the holding of hostages—England was in a big, big mess if this was the best either side could manage.

If the novel has one hero, one main character, it would be Ranulf, a fictional illegitimate son of Henry I. It is not a stretch to fit him in historically since Henry I recognized over twenty such sons! Ranulf along with Robert and Gilbert and Miles and Brien, and countless others supported Maude and her claim to the throne. Although the novel does focus on the battles, the war, the political mess, it also gives a personal side to the time period. Readers see Ranulf grow up a bit, fall in love, make mistakes, find true love, and settle down to marry and raise his own family.

If the novel is allowed to have more than one hero, well, an obvious choice to me is Henry II. The book covers his teenage years, 14 to 19. The last third of the novel truly focuses on Henry, on his relationship with his parents, his relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine. Those last few chapters are far from clean.

I loved how many characters we get to meet and know. I loved that we get to know men and women from the time period, most of them historical figures, though not all. I loved that readers get introduced to real history. Penman’s pacing was wonderful, I felt!

For readers who enjoy history, When Christ and His Saints Slept is easy to recommend. Penman gives you enough context so that you’re not lost—or at least not past all hope! But it never weighed the text down in my opinion. I admit that being lost in a history book is all a subjective matter based on what one does or doesn’t know heading into a book, but I thought she did a good balancing job.

Becky Laney

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Where Does Author Mary Ellis Do Her Best Work?


Welcome back! Today we have the second part of our interview with author Mary Ellis.



Mary Ellis has written twelve bestselling novels set in the Amish community. Before "retiring" to write full-time, Mary taught middle school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. She has enjoyed a lifelong passion for American history and is an active member of the local historical society. She is currently working on several romances set during the Civil War. The Lady and the Officer is her current release.


Describe your workspace for us.

I work outdoors in my screened gazebo in good weather and in my office in bad weather.

Mary Ellis's home office

Mary Ellis's writing porch.
So inviting, Mary! All you need is a cuppa!

If you could be a character from your favorite historical novel, who would you be?

It would be Jo March from Little Women. She was so kind and courageous, besides being a devout Christian.

What is the biggest misconception the general public has about authors?

That we all make the same advances as Karen Kingsbury or J. K. Rowling. Money isn’t everything.

What is the biggest misconception beginning writers have about being published? 

That once your first book is published, life gets easier. Writing is hard work, just like any other job. I put in long hours, but there is nothing else I would rather do.

What would you like readers to gain from reading your book(s)?

I would like them to gain an understanding that there are no easy answers to life’s problems, not now and not for those who lived in bygone eras.


Thanks for joining us here on Favorite PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers?
Please look for me at:

http://www.maryellis.net//
http://www.maryeellis.wordpress.com/
http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Mary-Ellis/126995058236


To be entered into the drawing to win a copy of The Lady and the Officer, leave your answer to the following question along with your email (name at domain name dot com) by this Friday at 8:30AM EDT.

Question: 
Have you ever had to make a choice between family loyalty and political convictions?


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Welcome to our Interview with Novelist Mary Ellis!





Mary Ellis has written twelve bestselling novels set in the Amish community. Before "retiring" to write full-time, Mary taught middle school and worked as a sales rep for Hershey Chocolate. She has enjoyed a lifelong passion for American history and is an active member of the local historical society. She is currently working on several romances set during the Civil War. The Lady and the Officer is her current release.

Welcome to PASTimes, Mary. Tell us a little about what you write.

I recently changed genres to my first passion, historical romance. I’ve been a history buff since high school, so now I can finally put my trips to battlefields, museums, and restored villages to good use.

Is it hard to become an historical writer after writing Amish for so long?

Not at all, it would have been hard not to change. As much as I love the Amish culture and respect their commitment to faith and community, their Plain lives do not allow for an unlimited number of plot twists.

Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?

I am now a full time writer, but I wrote for around 10 years before quitting my “day job.” I still have trouble protecting my writing time. No matter how good our intentions, friends, family and real life intrude on a regular basis.

What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?

I have been fascinated with the Civil War for at least 20 years. Therefore I’ve been reading biographies and non-fictional accounts long before I decided to set a romance during this turbulent time period.

Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book.



My heroine’s life is destroyed when the war arrives on her doorstep in Cashtown, PA. With little choice Madeline moves to her aunt’s home in the South. When military intelligence practically falls into her lap, how can she not spy to help the man she loves, a general in the Union army?

What are you working on now? 

I am putting the finishing touches on The Last Heiress. My heroine travels to Wilmington, NC, on behalf of her father’s textile business in England. Since the blockade of ports curtails the cotton supply, Amanda must restore trade with the South to keep the mills open. Of course, she falls in love while she’s here…..


A reader once asked me this question, and I thought it was a good one. Is there ever a time when you feel like your work is truly finished and complete?

No, but I usually close my laptop and shut down social media by 6:00 pm. Tomorrow is another day as Scarlett O’Hara used to say.

Describe your workspace and include a photo.

Come back tomorrow to see Mary's workspace and to read the rest of the interview. To be entered into the drawing to win a copy of The Lady and the Officer, leave your answer to the following question along with your email (name at domain name dot com) by this Friday at 8:30AM EDT.

Question: 
Have you ever had to make a choice between family loyalty and political convictions?

Monday, July 21, 2014

5 Do's/5 Don'ts When Writing Reviews of Historical Fiction



If you've logged on to Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, or other sites that review books, you might be there for the sole purpose of telling the world about the novel you've just read. Chances are you want to be helpful to other readers. Here are some tips for doing it right, illustrated with some actual review statements about my books. (Reviewers will remain anonymous, and I do respect their right to their opinions. They are only used here for illustrative purposes and it is not my intent to argue about ANY of these reviews.)

5 Things to Do:


1. Give a short summary, but be brief. The reader can look up the blurb. Just hit the highlights giving genre, theme, something about the main characters.

Annie Gallagher has a problem with trust, but after her father's death her trust in others severely damaged at the hands of those she should have been able to put it in. Fortunately she was rescued from the situation in which she found herself, and Ireland is far away from New York. But home is also far away, but not just because of distance. Can Annie ever find "home" ever again? After all family means home and Annie's parents are gone.

2. Give your overall impression. You either liked it or didn't, and the star rating is not enough because  it's so subjective. Three stars might mean not so good to some readers and good just not excellent to others. And do let readers know what you didn't care for if you think it might be helpful.

I loved reading all the history, especially the inclusion of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. It makes me want to pick that book up and read it since I only ever saw the movie version.

This was a pretty decent book. It wasn't the most amazing book I ever read, but it was a pretty good storyline.


3. Would you recommend this book, and if so to what kind of reader? Those who like suspense? Those who are looking for a quick read? Those who want to immerse themselves in the time period? Readers find this kind of advice very helpful.

If you are a lover of books, history, genealogy and good historical fiction then I believe you will love this book.

If you enjoy historical fiction and Christian fiction, Annie's Stories is a must-read for you. 

4. What made you decide to read this book? Was it the time period? The cover? The fact that you wanted to learn more about a topic the book explored? Did a friend recommend it?

A friend recommended this book to me. After visiting Ireland last year I was eager to read anything that took place in that beautiful part of the world.

Seriously -- you say Irish and story in one sentence and I swoon so it was a shoe-in that I'd want to read this book. 

When I first saw the cover of this book, for whatever reason, Anne of Green Gables came to mind. Then I looked closer and noticed that the girl on the cover is reading The Wizard of Oz. While I’ve never read the book, I’ve been enchanted with the movie. These two things together made me pick up the book.

5. Where did you get the book? Today's FTC guidelines insist that you reveal if you received the book for free in exchange for a review, but beyond that if you purchased it, received it as a gift, bought it because you are a fan of something the book explores please say so.

My thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

I love history so when I saw this book featured a heroine from Ireland, my favorite country to read about outside of the U.S., I jumped at the chance to review it.

5 Things Not to Do:


1. Do NOT give away the book's ending. For most people that goes without saying, but apparently some could use a reminder.

(No example here because...I don't want to give away the ending! But it has happened to me.)

2. Do not attempt to judge the writer's motivations. You cannot presume to know why he/she wrote the book or why he/she made certain decisions such as how the book would end, which characters the writer identified most with, if the writer was pushed to finish a book on deadline...those things are not helpful so skip them.

It seemed like the author was needing to finish the story to meet a deadline or something, so it all came together rather quickly.

3. If you are a writer too, resist the urge to judge the book based on the last writing workshop you attended. Let the book stand on its own merits, not what you were told should not be done if you read a book in which that writer has broken that "rule." Go back to asking yourself if you enjoyed the book or not. Don't over analyze.

I did like the parts where the Brownie camera came into play, however I felt it wasn't used to the full potential. The gangster matter also wasn't as predominant as I thought it could be. Ultimately, I feel the story would be stronger if it were trimmed and tightened up.


There are places where Thomson chooses to tell rather than show what readers need to know or see, and in other places, the descriptions of Irish life are a bit too sparse for those who are unfamiliar with the time period within which they exist.


4. Don't be too brief.

5. Resist the urge to be overly critical as well as overly flattering. Remember that above all you want to help guide your fellow readers to the books they will love.

*We all get these kinds of reviews, and I don't take them personally. Just pointing out how it's not helpful.

This book was not entertaining, boring. I would not waste my money on it. Not worth downloading for free, just a waste of valuable kindle space that could hold a good book.

*But likewise too much praise, while nice, doesn't contribute much either.

I absolutely LOVED this book! 

**A note to authors. If you get down reading your reviews, focus on the contrasts, such as the last example I gave here. Some readers get your work and others don't. That is the plain truth!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review: Blood Between Queens




Blood Between Queens
By Barbara Kyle
Kensington House, April 2013

About the Book

Following her perilous fall from a throne she’d scarcely owned to begin with, Mary, Queen of Scots, has fled to England, hoping her cousin, Queen Elizabeth, will grant her asylum. But now Mary has her sights on the English crown, and Elizabeth enlists her most trusted subjects to protect it.

Justine Thornleigh is delighting in the thrill of Queen Elizabeth’s visit to her family’s estate when the festivities are cut short by Mary’s arrival. To Justine’s surprise, the Thornleighs appoint her to serve as a spy in Mary’s court. But bearing the guise of a lady-in-waiting is not Justine’s only secret. The weight of her task is doubled by fears of revealing to her fiancĂ© that she is in truth the daughter of his family’s greatest rival. Duty-bound, Justine must sacrifice love as she navigates a deadly labyrinth of betrayal that could lead to the end of Elizabeth’s fledgling reign.

My Review

Kyle’s fictional families, the Grenvilles and the Thornleighs, fit effortlessly into the Elizabethan court. This is the fifth book in the Thornleigh series, which details the families’ lives from the time of Mary I forward. Kyle gives her characters parts in historic events, allowing them first row seats in the action and painting a fuller picture of the era. The result is an engaging story of shifting loyalties, intrigue, and non-stop action. Justine is caught in a dilemma—should she be true to her biological father and her family’s faith? Or should she honor those who have raised her and shown her true kindness despite her bloodline?

Justine is an engaging character, brave and smart. As the book progresses, however, she is easily manipulated and rather naive, thinking that she alone can win over two battling queens to reach a peaceful agreement. Justine deceives those she cares for most in order to obtain her goal, which felt slightly out of character, I thought. I found the struggle between Sir Adam, Sir Richard’s son, and his wife Frances to be the most interesting in the book, as Frances (born a Grenville) tries to win over her husband, who is more interested in pleasing his queen than paying any attention to his loveless marriage.

A great book for all those Tudor history buffs out there. The ending of this one makes it clear that future action will center upon Sir Adam, so I’ll be interested to see where Kyle takes the story next.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Jannine Gallant - Inspiration and Writing Goals

Write about what you know. Jannine Gallant has taken this advice to heart, creating characters from small towns and plots that unfold in the great outdoors. Jannine lives in beautiful Lake Tahoe with her husband and two daughters. When she isn’t busy writing or being a full time mom, Jannine hikes or snowshoes in the woods around her home. Whether she’s writing historical, contemporary, or romantic suspense, Jannine brings the beauty of nature to her stories.


What do you consider the best resources for historical research?

I remember foraging through stacks in libraries to find reference materials. What a pain! I love hunting through the internet for information. So much less time consuming—and not as dusty. Of course nothing beats seeing the place you’re writing about in person. Maybe we can’t go back to the past, but we can absorb the atmosphere, just the same. I spent some time in Salem and loved it!

What or who inspired you to write fiction? How does that keep you plodding ahead with your writing each day?

I’d have to say I’ve been inspired mainly by my imagination. I’ll read about a place or an event, and ideas for a story pop into my head. Once when my dog pulled an odd shaped branch out from under a downed tree, I imagined it was a human bone—and the scene became the basis for a story. I love the process of creating those stories too much to ever stop.

What helps you maintain productivity as a writer? And what do you find most challenging about the business of being an author?

I try to set weekly writing goals—about 5,000 words. Sometime I exceed my goal, which thrills me, but I always try my best to hold to the pace. During busy periods when life gets in the way of writing, I’ll choose a more realistic number. It really helps to have a manageable target to reach. One of my biggest challenges is promotion. I’d love to simply write, but I soon realized no one would ever discover my books that way. The time and energy involved in promo is something I have to really work to produce.

Do you feel you are more of a character driven or plot driven writer? How do you think it comes across in your writing?

This is interesting because I’m a little of each. For full-length novels, I’m more plot driven. Plots in longer works tend to be more complicated, and I have to plan them out ahead of time so as not to trip myself up on details. My characters generally evolve to suit the circumstances. For my shorter novellas, I frequently come up with a character in a specific situation, often the opening scene. From there I let the plot unfold, guided by the quirks of my hero and heroine.

Would you like to share about what you are working on now? 


Currently I’m in edits for book one of a three book romantic suspense series contracted with Kensington due to release early in 2015. The series is called Who’s Watching Now, and my poor heroines are each the victim of a stalker connected to their pasts. I’m also in the early stages of writing the first book in a planned four book suspense series titled Born To Be Wilde, staring four danger-loving siblings in the Wilde family. Last but not least, I have a historical set during the Revolutionary War, written years ago, on the back burner. I would love to put that baby through a massive rewrite and set it on the road to publication. Too many projects. Not enough time!

Do you have any last words of wisdom to share with aspiring authors?

Write. Butt in chair. Fingers on keyboard. Let those ideas flow. Even if you think your words sound like crap, keep writing. That’s what edits are for. Typing The End is a thrilling feeling you don’t want to miss!

Thank you, Jannine, for joining us at Novel PASTimes. It has been a privilege to interview you.

Thanks you so much for having me and letting me share a little about my writing journey. It’s been a pleasure!

Please leave a comment by answering the question Jannine is asking below for a chance to win an ebook copy of her novel, An Uncertain Destiny. Don't forget to include your email address in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com before 8:30 a.m. ET this Friday morning to qualify for the drawing.

WE NEED TEN READER COMMENTS TO HAVE A DRAWING THIS WEEK. THANK YOU, READERS!

Jannine's question for you:
What is your favorite era in American history to read about?

Want to know more about Jannine's writing? You can find more about it at:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JannineGallant.Author




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Jannine Gallant - Bringing History and the Beauty of Nature Together


Write about what you know. Jannine Gallant has taken this advice to heart, creating characters from small towns and plots that unfold in the great outdoors. Jannine lives in beautiful Lake Tahoe with her husband and two daughters. When she isn’t busy writing or being a full time mom, Jannine hikes or snowshoes in the woods around her home. Whether she’s writing historical, contemporary, or romantic suspense, Jannine brings the beauty of nature to her stories.

Jannine, it’s great to have you at Novel PASTimes today. Could you share with us some of the surprises you’ve encountered along the road to publishing?

   
I’d have to say the biggest surprise is the number of really close, supportive friends I’ve made among fellow authors. Writing is lonely work, and this is one benefit I never anticipated when I began my journey. Sometimes only other authors can really appreciate the trials and triumphs we experience.



Please tell us something about your historical novel, An Uncertain Destiny.

Haunting visions have plagued Megan Pendrake for years, a dire promise of a turbulent future. When Megan and her brother are forced to flee England aboard a ship bound for the colonies, trouble looms. In 1692, Salem, Massachusetts is a hotbed of suspicion and persecution where the mere hint of witchcraft is a death sentence. Remaining in Salem is courting disaster, but Megan’s heart won't allow her to leave the man she has grown to love.

Nicholas Thayer is mesmerized by the beautiful, unconventional young woman who boards his ship posing as a cabin boy. But his future is predetermined, including a fiancĂ©e waiting for him at home. When Megan faces inconceivable peril, Nicholas must make the ultimate choice between family and faith or a love he can’t deny. But will he be able to save them both from An Uncertain Destiny?

An Uncertain Destiny is set in 1692, in Salem, Massachusetts. What drew you to write about this time period and the location of your story?

I’ve always been fascinated by early American history, and this particular time period is filled with the unique and horrifying drama of the witchcraft trials. I majored in history in college and took an in-depth course on Puritanism. I always knew I wanted to set a story during this time so filled with possibilities for conflict. It just took me twenty plus years to get it published! 

Have you found you include similar themes throughout your writing? Why? Or why not?

The major theme in this book is the clash between loyalty to family and faith vs. a love that rocks the foundations of my hero’s world. Nicholas must choose between everything he’s ever believed in and the woman he loves. I’ve never explored this theme, mainly because most of my other books are contemporary. This type of conflict seems more fitting for a bygone era. The tension invoked really plays on the emotions of all the main characters in the story.

What drew you to writing historical novels?

As I mentioned, I majored in history. I love learning about the past and analyzing the differences and commonalities I see through the centuries. Sharing another world, hopefully giving readers some insight into a long ago time, is a rewarding experience.


If you’re anything like I am, one favorite book is hard to pick! Do you have two or three top picks among the historical genre that you would care to recommend?



I’d have to say my favorite historical author of all time is LaVyrle Spencer. It broke my heart when she retired from writing. I’ve read all her books, and the historicals perfectly capture the emotions of a time and place. I’d recommend any of them.

What do you consider the best resources for historical research? 


More tomorrow from author, Jannine Gallant. Please leave a comment by answering the question Jannine is asking below for a chance to win an ebook copy of her novel, An Uncertain Destiny. Don't forget to include your email address in the form of name[at]domain[dot]com before 8:30 a.m. ET this Friday morning to qualify for the drawing.

WE NEED TEN READER COMMENTS TO HAVE A DRAWING THIS WEEK. THANK YOU, READERS!



Jannine's question for you:
What is your favorite era in American history to read about?