Thursday, January 22, 2015

Review: Isabella, The Warrior Queen

Kirstin Downey

Isabella: The Warrior Queen

By Kirstin Downey
Nan A. Talese, October 2014

About the Book

Born at a time when Christianity was dying out and the Ottoman Empire was aggressively expanding, Isabella was inspired in her youth by tales of Joan of Arc, a devout young woman who unified her people and led them to victory against foreign invaders. In 1474, when most women were almost powerless, twenty-three-year-old Isabella defied a hostile brother and a mercurial husband to seize control of Castile and León. Her subsequent feats were legendary.

She ended a twenty-four-generation struggle between Muslims and Christians, forcing North African invaders back over the Mediterranean Sea. She laid the foundation for a unified Spain. She sponsored Columbus’s trip to the Indies and negotiated Spanish control over much of the New World with the help of Rodrigo Borgia, the infamous Pope Alexander VI. She also annihilated all who stood against her by establishing a bloody religious Inquisition that would darken Spain’s reputation for centuries.

Whether saintly or satanic, no female leader has done more to shape our modern world, in which millions of people in two hemispheres speak Spanish and practice Catholicism. Yet history has all but forgotten Isabella’s influence, due to hundreds of years of misreporting that often attributed her accomplishments to Ferdinand, the bold and philandering husband she adored. Using new scholarship, Downey’s luminous biography tells the story of this brilliant, fervent, forgotten woman, the faith that propelled her through life, and the land of ancient conflicts and intrigue she brought under her command.

My Review

Kirstin Downey’s biography illuminates this fascinating queen who is known through her various connections to other notable figures, but who rarely receives the spotlight herself. Champion of Granada, defender of the Catholic faith, patron of Christopher Columbus, mother of Catherine (first wife of Henry VIII), instigator of the Spanish Inquisition, Spanish queen, and a devoted wife and mother, Isabella the woman emerges from these pages.

Her childhood as a member of the second family of Juan, King of Castile, was difficult after her father died. Her half-brother Enrique took the throne, and Isabella, her mother, and her brother Alfonso were virtually exiled to Segovia, their inheritance cut off by the new king. When Alfonso rebelled against King Enrique but died of the plague before he was successful, Isabella, a skilled diplomat and tactician, was able to propose herself as Enrique’s successor. Once considered a bride for Edward IV of England or his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester, Isabella instead secretly married Ferdinand of Aragon against her half-brother’s wishes.

Now co-rulers of Castile and Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella successfully fought the Portuguese and the Muslims to regain Spanish territory. Her lifelong crusade against the Ottoman Turks and their quest for European domination is compelling and eye opening. Their five children (1 son and 4 daughters) had an itinerant childhood, growing up in military camps and gaining a front-row look at their parents’ military exploits. Isabella’s deep faith as well as her devotion to education and the arts were passed on to each of her children, all of whom married into the royal houses of Europe.

More adventurous, determined, and forward-thinking than her husband, Isabella saw the value in the voyages of Christopher Columbus when Ferdinand did not. She placed her trust in him until he repeatedly ignored her orders and proved his lack of administrative skills. Isabella was also the key negotiator over a period of 20 years that eventually found her daughter Catherine united in marriage with Arthur, the Prince of Wales, eventually becoming Queen of England.

Reading this biography is like a puzzle piece that snaps into place. Isabella herself may be vague in the minds of many, not much more than a name linked to the achievements of others, but her legacy casts a long shadow that encompasses most of Europe during that time. Many may question her legacy, particularly Columbus’s treatment of the native populations and those mistreated by the Spanish Inquisition, but without her, world history simply would not have been the same and Christian Europe may have disappeared entirely.

Ms. Downey shies away from no “uncomfortable” subjects (the origins of syphilis, cannibalism, the enslaving of Christians by the Turks, the mistreatment of the natives by the Europeans), and her journalistic integrity provides a picture that feels thorough, balanced, and authentic. Simply amazing in its scope and insight, this peek into Isabella’s world is a must-read for any history buff.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Step back to Historic England: Interview with Michelle Griep Part 2

Today I'm delighted to have Michelle Griep back. Michelle has been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She seeks to glorify God in all that she writes—except for that graffiti phase she went through as a teenager.

She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. An Anglophile at heart, she runs away to England every chance she gets, under the guise of research. Really, though, she’s eating excessive amounts of scones.

Follow her adventures at:
Website: Michelle Griep
And all the other usual haunts: FacebookTwitterLinkedInPinterestGoodreads, and Instagram.

Welcome back, Michelle!

What do you hope readers remember after your stories ends?

I weave in a Biblical truth in each story. Whether or not a reader remembers who the characters were or what they did, my aim is that they’ll remember the underlying truth and be encouraged by it.

What surprised you most as you wrote your books?

How long it takes to write a novel. Wrestling the movie in my head onto paper sometimes causes bruises.

What’s next for you?

I’m not done with these hunky Bow Street Runners from Brentwood's Ward. While it’s not necessarily a sequel, my next story is about another officer who goes on an undercover assignment. Here’s a blurb:

Officer Alexander Moore goes undercover as a rogue gambler to expose a traitorous plot against the king—and a master he is with his disguise, for Johanna Langley believes him to be quite the cad. But when Johanna is swept up in the intrigue, Alex must choose between his mission and reputation as a crack Bow Street Runner or the woman he’s come to love.

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

You bet. Locally (Minneapolis/St. Paul area) I’ll be doing some LifeWay Bookstores in January and in March I’ll be speaking at a writer’s guild. I’m also doing a blog tour all of January and part of February. I’ll keep a daily update on where I’m at on my blog: Writer Off the Leash

What are you currently reading?

I’ve always got my nose stuck in several books at once: Ladyof Willowgrove Hall by Sarah Ladd, Price of Privilege by Jessica Dotta, and am just finishing up Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Which of your books would you love to see turned into a movie?
Gah! How to choose? Of all my stories, I think my Viking historical, Undercurrent, would be the best on the big screen. Plenty of action scenes for the guys and romantic parts for the gals.

Be sure to enter the giveaway below!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Step back to Historic England: Interview with Michelle Griep

Today I'm delighted to introduce you to Michelle GriepMichelle has been writing since she first discovered blank wall space and Crayolas. She seeks to glorify God in all that she writes—except for that graffiti phase she went through as a teenager.

She resides in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, where she teaches history and writing classes for a local high school co-op. An Anglophile at heart, she runs away to England every chance she gets, under the guise of research. Really, though, she’s eating excessive amounts of scones.

Follow her adventures at:
Website: Michelle Griep
And all the other usual haunts: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Welcome to PASTimes! Thanks for joining us and sharing a bit about your writing world. Congratulations on the release of your new book Brentwood’s Ward. Tell us a bit about it.

Think Dickens meets Sherlock Holmes and you’ll have a good feel for the book. Here’s a blurb:
There’s none better than Nicholas Brentwood at catching the felons who ravage London’s streets, and there’s nothing he loves more than seeing justice carried out—but this time he’s met his match. Beautiful and beguiling Emily Payne is more treacherous than a city full of miscreants and thugs, for she’s a thief of the highest order . . . she’s stolen his heart.

That sounds so fun. What drew you to write this book?

I’ve never written about a lawman before, and as rebellious as I can be, authority figures intrigue me. Most heroes are too good to be true. I like to dress mine in unpredictability. Someone who’s not necessarily safe to be around but always has his loved one’s best interests at heart and will put his head on the chopping block to save them if need be. That’s the kind of character I wanted to create—and did in Nicholas Brentwood. What attracted my interest as an author was an old newspaper advertisement put out by Henry Fielding, the founder of the Bow Street Runners. It encouraged the public to send a note to Bow Street as soon as any serious crime occurred so that “a set of brave fellows could immediately be dispatched in pursuit of the villains.” I wondered about those “brave fellows” and what kind of villains they might come up against, and thus was born Nicholas Brentwood. Research. Not that it wasn’t fun, mind you, it’s just that when you write a Regency, an author needs to make sure even the smallest details are historically accurate. Readers of this genre are incredibly educated about the period and will let an author know when a gaffe has been made.

Be sure to come back tomorrow when we'll finish this interview. And be sure to enter the giveaway below!

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Where Does A Historical Novelist Get Her Ideas?

Today we welcome novelist Deanna K. Klingel.

Deanna K. Klingel lives in the mountains of NC with her husband and golden retriever. Their seven married children and eleven grandchildren are around the southeast. Deanna travels with her books and writes a blog about her travels.

Sometimes being on the road selling books is actually the source of writing books. It might be a character sketch, a setting, a new or interesting place. Sometimes it’s the story itself. I have two books coming out that were such gifts, simply handed to me while I was selling books.

The first is the story of Jim Limber. I was at a Civil War reenactment with my books a few years ago and visited with the reenactor who portrays Varina Davis, wife of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis. In keeping with her character she complained to me how unfair people are in their judgment of her. Southerners don’t trust her since she’s from the North. She writes letters to her northern family daily and it’s rumored she’s a Union spy dressed in petticoats. She suddenly turned to me and asked, “What do you say about Jim Limber?” I’d never heard of him and had no answer. “Well, let me tell you the truth about that right now,” she said.

I listened to her story, too fascinated to comment. I had to wonder how much of it was propaganda, or fiction. I couldn’t wait to get home to research Jim Limber. What I found intrigued me even more. I visited the Confederate Museum in Richmond, which was formerly The White House of the Confederacy where Varina Davis lived. They were very helpful and pulled research for me, happy someone was interested. She was a prolific writer, writing to her family, keeping diaries and journals and writing daily to her husband about personal family matters. I’m not going to tell you about Jim, not a spoiler, but be watching for The Mysterious Life of Jim Limber.

Jim Limber

The second was the story of The Blue-Eyed Doll. It went to contract in 2013 and will be out 2016. Under a reenactor’s shelter in Buchanan, VA, on a cold rainy day, a Japanese Haiku professor from Roanoke College told me about the Friendship Doll Exchange in 1929. I’ve no idea how that topic came up. Monday morning I began the research and discovered a professor at Wesleyan University has an extensive website about the dolls. He sent me two books, one I needed to return and one I could keep, and he read my second draft. Before long I was in Roanoke visiting Kinuko, my new friend, looking at dolls at Roanoke College and on to the Science and Natural History Museum in Raleigh to see one of the Japanese Ambassador Dolls. Though the book isn’t released until 2016, I have four engagements already at the Cincinnati Museum of Art, The Toy and Miniature Museum in Kansas City, MO, the Springfield Museums in Springfield, MA, and the Museum of Cultural Arts in SD, all homes to the dolls.

I’m so grateful to have learned these two stories. It’s a fun way to learn history, and for that reason I’m committed to writing good historical fiction for young readers.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Review: A Day of Fire

Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, et al

A Day of Fire

By Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Sophie Perinot, et al.
Knight Media, October 2014

About the Book

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories.

A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets. An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire. An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished. A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue. A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls. A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross one another’s path during Pompeii’s fiery end. Who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

My Review

A senator with a death wish, a reluctant bride, an indebted former soldier, a social outcast with an obsession for horses, a young man stung by unrequited love, a young woman in labor at the worst of times, a whore with the curse of foresight and her scrappy older sisters who fight for survival—what do they all have in common? They are characters in Pompeii on that fateful fall day, and all are caught in the snare of Vesuvius when it erupts. All are trapped in a terror they cannot understand. Some flee and beat the volcano’s long reach. Others flee but are not so lucky, while still others accept their fate at home, watching and waiting as death comes for them.

All the stories in this book are effortlessly woven together by six different authors, which makes this book extraordinary. Most characters appear in each story, their tales overlapping and continuing from changing perspectives. Yet the characters remain true despite the various authors. Many of the people, names, and locations are authentic, and the stories combine to provide an insider’s look into that terrifying day. A chance to see these characters through changing viewpoints keeps readers engaged as each person has their own demons to face when the sky suddenly erupts. Their lives, which were so very different from one another before, now coalesce as they battle to survive.

Diana of the Cornelii was probably my favorite. Her caustic wit, independent spirit, and fearless perseverance made her trip over the rubble and through the ash captivating, and her verbal sparing with the senator added a degree of levity to an otherwise harrowing tale.

If you’re looking for a book that will keep you on your toes, be sure to check this one out.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Welcome Author Darlene Franklin!

Welcome author Darlene Franklin!

Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family, and continues her interests in playing the piano and singing, books, good fellowship, and reality TV in addition to writing. She has written over thirty books and has written more than 250 devotionals. Her historical fiction ranges from the Revolutionary War to World War II, from Texas to Vermont. Visit Darlene on Facebook.
Welcome to PASTimes. Tell us a little about what you write.

I write mostly historical Christian romance, as well as some contemporary, both full-length and novellas. I also write a lot of devotionals, and look forward to publishing my first book, A Reader’s Journey Through Matthew, in February.

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 a full-time writer, in that I don’t have a day job, and I spend the majority of my days, from 10-7, writing. I live in a nursing home and have health issues that may interfere. But my biggest challenge, aside from the occasional bouts of ill health, is myself! I am often tempted to postpone work or get sidetracked on writing-related but not productive activities.

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

I have written about a variety of historical time periods, perhaps the most in the 1890s. Modern Oklahoma history began with the 1889 land run, and the 1890s were a period of technological advancement and hope. How do I immerse in that time period? I don’t know that I do. I use the internet to check out fashions, inventions, products, popular songs and books, historical tidbits, as well as slang, and weave those into my stories.

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

In Priceless Pearl, my novella in Homestead Brides, I named my hero and heroine after two of my ancestors: Rick Eady and America Barton. Rick grew up poor but knows everything about farming to make a success of the Oklahoma land run. America’s family lost everything in the 1893 financial crisis and Oklahoma represents a new start. (Oklahoma had a total of five land runs.) Rick barters practical help with America’s schooling when they meet.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my Valentine’s story, My Candy Valentine, and the devotional book I mentioned above. They both should be published in February.

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?

Probably not. I had a friend who said a book is only finished when your editor takes it out of your hands. However, I have learned to trust the process. I write a first draft, edit it once in depth, a second time for mistakes and smooth writing, and a final time after I receive it back from the editor.

Describe your workspace. 

My laptop sits on top of a roll around table in my room, and either my TV or my roommate’s is on (sometimes both). A small space, but it works.

Describe your dream workspace.

I’d love to have room for a bookcase and the writing resource books I used to own. And I’d like more privacy from time to time.

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

How about Elisa Lindheim, an ongoing character in the Thoenes’ Zion Covenant books?

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

That we’re rich and famous.

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

Their rush to publish—self-publishing is increasingly popular (hey, I’m doing it!), but my heart breaks when someone who hasn’t mastered the craft publishes a story.

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

I hope they enjoy the story! Beyond that, I hope they learn more of faith in God’s enduring love, regardless of the circumstances.

Thanks for joining us here on Favorite PASTimes. Any final words for readers or writers?

Keep reading and writing! Take the time to enjoy it.

For the chance to win a copy of Darlene's book Homestead Brides, please enter via the Rafflecopter drawing below. Also, for a chance to win one of these Christmas ebooks, see the following Rafflecopter entry.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Review: Behind the Shattered Glass

Tasha Alexander

Behind the Shattered Glass

By Tasha Alexander
Minotaur Books, July 2014

About the Book

Anglemore Park is the ancestral home of Lady Emily Hargreave’s husband Colin. But the stately calm of country life is destroyed when their neighbor, the Marquess of Montagu, bursts through the French doors from the garden and falls down dead in front of the shocked gathering.

But who has a motive for murdering the young aristocrat? The lovely cousin who was threatened by his engagement, the Oxford friend he falsely accused of cheating, the scheming vicar’s daughter he shamelessly seduced or the relative no one knew existed who appears to claim the Montagu title? Who is the mysterious woman seen walking with him moments before he was brutally attacked?

The trail takes readers into the gilded world of a British manor house and below stairs to the servants who know all the secrets. One family’s hidden past and a forbidden passion are the clues to a puzzle only Lady Emily can solve.

My Review

I have a confession to make. I’ve side stepped Ms. Alexander’s books up until now. Many friends have recommended them, and I’ve always passed. As someone who prefers fast-paced thrillers, I presumed the Lady Emily mysteries were on the tame side for me. Until I picked up the audio version of this one . . . and was completely hooked!

Now I will say that my initial impressions weren’t wrong. This is much more Agatha Christie than James Patterson, much more cozy and charming than riveting. Nail-biting suspense, this is not. When authors spend several lines describing a room or a gown (unless it’s the great Jane Austen), my mind usually wanders. But I admit that Ms. Alexander has converted me. I have a new guilty pleasure.

In this edition of the series, Lady Emily and her husband Colin are charged with tracking down the murderer of their neighbor Archibald Scofield, Lord Montagu. It appears Lord Montagu was something of a rogue as his grandfather left most of his estate to a granddaughter rather than the heir, and many young ladies have scandalous tales to tell involving the deceased. Despite the ever-growing list of suspects, Lady Emily persists to track down the true killer in a story that is reminiscent of Downton Abbey with its scandalous tales of the nobility and the ensuing fallout that impacts those below stairs as well.

The usual cast of suspects in a cozy British mystery are here (the vile, long-lost, and inconvenient cousin; the wronged vicar’s daughter; the run away girl; the maligned school chum), sprinkled in between Lady Emily’s sparkling wit, candid opinions, and piercing questioning. The crimes themselves aren’t earth shattering. What is spectacular is how Ms. Alexander fully immerses us in this colorful Victorian world. The characters are so richly drawn and the surroundings so vivid, you feel like a fly on the wall of Anglemore Park. Rarely have I felt more present, as if I were another character in the novel. No matter how inconsequential the troubles of the nobility may seem, the characters seem so lifelike that they keep you glued to the pages. Prim and proper with a good dose of understated humor, Lady Emily proves irresistible as the story gathers steam.

This is Book 8 in the series, with Book 9 (The Counterfeit Heiress) just released this past October. But at no time do you feel out of the loop when you jump into the middle of the series. Just enough background is revealed throughout to keep the reader involved regardless of when you joined the tale.

Lesson learned. Sometimes you feel like a harrowing thriller and sometimes you don’t. When you are in the holiday spirit, looking for that roaring fire and cup of tea, grab one of the Lady Emily mysteries to strike the right mood. Jump back into a different world, escape, and indulge. This is the best kind of cozy British mystery, the guilty pleasure you won’t be ashamed to acknowledge.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,