December 05, 2012

International Giveaway!! Agents of Reason by John Issitt

In July 1789 the working class Jeremiah was training to be a dissenting minister. He was a political radical who thought the French Revolution would spread and introduce a fairer society.  His highly respectable tutors wanted reform but were unwilling to put themselves in danger. They recruited him to promote their interests and arranged his employment with the Aristocrat Charles Earl of Stanhope ostensibly as tutor to his children but in reality to coordinate the actions of reformers. He organized radical groups, helped print Tom Paine’s Rights of Man and attempted to expose the injustices of William Pitt’s aristocratic government. In his lifetime he was a dangerous man to know. Association with him could result in charges of sedition or treason and a trip to Botany Bay. Little was therefore written down and if it was, quickly destroyed.  Furthermore, Jeremiah was used when it suited his upper class associates and ignored when he became an embarrassment. Records of his doings are therefore very few – a silence which motivates the writing of this novel.

Agents of Reason emerges from 20 years of research, a doctorate and 4 summers snatching every possible second to write. Built from real events and real characters it opens with news of the Fall of the Bastille and closes with the Treason trials of 1794.

Jeremiah and his associates don’t figure very highly in the standard histories.  Their lives and contribution have been subject to an historical eraser through the combination of minimal archival record, later embarrassments about former enthusiasms and a historical focus on the more profile historical actors Jeremiah worked quietly behind the scenes – he never took centre stage.

Agents of Reason was written in the interests of recovering a man whose actions have been critical in securing the freedoms we enjoy today.

John Issitt works part time for the Department of Education, is Provost of Langwith College and a National Teaching Fellow; visit the author's site at and look for his book on Amazon Marketplace and in eBook format.

GIVEAWAY of An AUTOGRAPHED Paperback, open to all Historical Fiction Connection followers!!
Please enter by leaving a comment for the author, and leave me your email address so that I may contact the winner!
+1 entry for each facebook share, twitter share and blog post linking to this post. Must leave me the link to your share.
Good luck!

Giveaway ends December 14, 2012
Winner has 24 hours to respond with their mailing address.

November 14, 2012

Giveaway: The Raven's Seal by Andrei Baltakmens

We welcome Andrei Baltakmens to HF-Connection during his book tour of The Raven's Seal!

"The author's exquisite prose rushes along full of surprises, shadows, betrayal, and squalid situations where the high-born and criminals intermix. A superb mystery with vibrant characters." —Historical Novels Review
The Raven’s Seal: Nov. 1, $14.00 paperback, Top Five Books

A Murder. A Fall from Grace.
A Mysterious Symbol That Could Be the Key to His Salvation.

When the body of Thaddeus Grainger's rival turns up stabbed to death in an alley just hours after their inconclusive duel, only one suspect comes to mind. Charged with murder, Grainger's fate is sealed before his trial even begins. A young gentleman of means but of meaningless pursuits, Grainger is cast into the notorious Bellstrom Gaol, where he must quickly learn to survive in the filthy, ramshackle prison. The "Bells"—where debtors, gaolers, whores, thieves, and murderers all mix freely and where every privilege comes at a price—will be the young man's home for the rest of his life unless he can prove his innocence. But his friends, the journalist William Quillby and Cassie Redruth, the poor young girl who owes Grainger a debt of gratitude, refuse to abandon him. Before they can win his freedom, however, they must decode the meaning behind the crude wax seal that inspires terror in those who know its portent and contend with forces both inside and outside the prison determined to keep Grainger behind bars. Set against the urban backdrop of late 18th-century England, The Raven's Seal unravels a tale of corruption, betrayal, murder, and—ultimately—redemption and love.

Post by Andrei Baltakmens, author of  The Raven's Seal

Books take many strange paths to realization. The visual inspiration for my new novel, The Raven’s Seal, a historical mystery set in eighteenth-century England about a gentleman wrongly convicted of murder, was Piranesi’s extraordinary series of etchings, Carceri d'Invenzione (Prisons of the Imagination), but the idea of a nobleman unjustly imprisoned and forced to make his own escape was seeded by a reference I stumbled on to Casanova’s imprisonment in and escape from “The Leads,” the cells of the Doge’s palace. Later, I was intrigued by how Dickens encapsulated society in the Marshalsea, the debtors’ prison that dominates Little Dorrit.

I was drawn to attempt a Victorian mystery, but I had to understand my setting first. The prisons of the mid-Victorian period, I found, were places of regimentation and labor: bleak, cold, and miserably dull. The earlier eighteenth-century prisons were quite different. Modern readers might expect that prison would follow naturally from a guilty judgment, but the pre-modern prison was not a place of punishment but the place where most felons waited for punishment, be that whipping, branding, hanging, or transportation. These prisons were run for the profit of the gaol-keeper. Prisoners came and went quickly, as did visitors and gawkers. The prisons were disordered and dangerous, with their own contained society and economies, leaving plenty of scope for atmospheric encounters and intrigue. The eighteenth-century prison was ideal for the sort of many-threaded, entertaining mystery I wanted to explore.

Many of the more striking and unexpected details of the Bellstrom Gaol (my invented prison) came straight from my reading. For example, the prisoner held over because he could not pay his fees, or garnish, to the gaoler; the sale of alcohol in the yard as income for the prison-keeper; the practice of paying when the irons went on—and when they went off; the free mixing of felons, debtors, and even families; and the prisoners given leave to beg on the streets by day, all came from the sources.

These period details let readers step out of our world into another. But one of the pleasures of historical fiction is that this can also let us look back with a clearer eye. By the end of The Raven’s Seal, the chaos of the eighteenth-century prison begins to give way, in the 1780s, to the reforms that ultimately gave us the orderly prisons (constructed on Victorian models) we know today. The expansion of prisons and crime in the eighteenth century was fueled by the infamous Black Act, which greatly extended the scope of capital crimes and sent many to the gallows for slight offenses against property. Today, the U.S.A. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, driven by the untenable “War on Drugs” and punitive “three-strikes” laws. There are now private prisons in the U.S. where prisoners work for the profit of multinational corporations. The history of prisons and the injustices that shaped them may give us pause to reconsider the prisons of today.

Read the first chapter of The Raven's Seal on the publisher's website here.

One paperback of The Raven's Seal to one lucky reader in the USA!
Please leave a comment on this post with your email address, be a follower of HF-Connection. Good luck!

October 29, 2012

The Wannabe Usurper | FEUD by Derek Birks

Feud is a tale of a bitter struggle against the odds, but it is also a love story.

Feud tells the story of a family caught up in the chaos of the Wars of the Roses. One sunny morning Ned Elder, a Yorkshire knight, finds his father has been executed, his brother killed, sisters abducted and his estates plundered by the neighbouring Radcliffe family. He flees with a few ill-assorted companions, but he resolves to regain what has been lost. To do so he seeks powerful help and to get it he must show his exceptional ability with a sword.

Meanwhile Ned’s sisters, the serious and conventional Emma and the tigerish, independent Eleanor, are fighting their own personal battles to free themselves from the Radcliffes.

The story – and the feud - reaches its climax in the aftermath of the bloody battle of Towton in 1461. Ned, his sisters, his companions in arms and the girl he loves find themselves fighting for their lives and right up to the last moment the outcome remains in doubt.


The Wannabe Usurper, a guest post by author Derek Birks:

I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Richard – you know, the infamous Yorkist usurper, the one who caused the deaths of thousands by his ruthless ambition and folly. No, not the one allegedly dug up in Leicester, Richard III, the other Yorkist called Richard - the Duke of York, not the Duke of Gloucester, that was his son. It was Richard, Duke of York who started all the carnage.

Richard, Duke of York has been consigned to history as a nearly man and there is some truth in that but it seems to me that Richard was a man who had destiny thrust upon him and then whipped away at the last moment. He stepped forward in response to the question: “Henry’s a real duffer, who wants to be king?” But then it was a case of: “Where do you think you’re going Richard?” He was given a taste of royal power and then it was snatched away. It would be a hard pill for anyone to swallow.

There he was, the leading nobleman in the land with a strong claim to the throne and he was saddled with a King, Henry VI, barely worthy of the title. He must have been mightily frustrated because as a man who was at least quite capable of organisation, administration and leadership, he must have resented the King who possessed no such capabilities.

Richard had also accumulated large debts fighting on Henry’s behalf during the French wars and what did he have to show for it? Alright, he had large landholdings and a family of dynastic proportions, but did he have the ear of the king? No. Was he a valued and trusted councillor? No, he wasn’t.

When Henry, the always impressive Queen Margaret, and their trusted adviser, Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset sat down in the early 1450s for a cosy chat in the royal chamber, the Duke of York would have been a very large elephant in a very small room. Why? Because he was the heir presumptive and because the royal couple were still childless.

What must have been painfully obvious to York, as it was to Somerset, was that Henry was incapable of ruling without one of his noble councillors holding his hand. Would Richard have been content with such a position alone? I think his actions demonstrate that he probably would if the prospect had remained of receiving the crown at some point in the future, but the birth of an heir to Margaret rather stymied that possibility. Was that when Richard first considered seizing the throne? What I love about the Wars of the Roses is the endless uncertainties and this is a belter: at what point did York seriously contemplate taking the throne?

We don’t actually know and there are so many possibilities, not least when he was Protector on two occasions or when he removed his potential rival, Edmund Beaufort, at the first Battle of St Albans. Or when he was forced to abandon his army and family at Ludlow in 1459? Or after the Parliament of the Devils in November 1459 when he and the Nevilles were attainted? We’re not even really sure whether he planned to usurp the throne when he landed from Ireland in September 1460, but there seems little doubt that by his entry to London and the manner of it - sword carried before him, Duchess Cecily by his side and a large number of retainers behind him – the die was well and truly cast. And then…

And then – well, it’s an “oh, bugger!” moment because, when he lays his hand upon the throne and waits for the acclamation of the Parliamentary peers, the reaction is not so much ecstatic enthusiasm as embarrassed disbelief. Even his great ally, the irritating Richard, Neville, Earl of Warwick realises that there is little support for York.[Sorry about the word irritating but I’m afraid I really find Warwick a far less sympathetic character than York – but more of that another time.

I’m with York on this one: it surprises me too that the nobility were prepared to remain loyal to a King who had shown so little ability as a ruler – but they obviously were. Warwick understood this, but York was reluctant to accept it and who can blame him given the rollercoaster he had been on since 1450. It would not have been the first time English nobles had acquiesced in a realpolitik solution, so why did they not acclaim York?

As always they needed a powerful reason to overturn the status quo, however unsatisfactory it was – York did not give them such a reason. They acknowledged he had a strong claim but the throne had been settled upon the House of Lancaster for two generations and Henry now had a male heir, Prince Edward. Nor were the lords under pressure from below for though Richard had coveted popular support, it had never really materialised.

There is a great contrast here with his own son, Edward, Earl of March, a year or so later. Edward had the same claim as his father but he was also young and charismatic, he was a very effective battle commander and an inspirational warrior. Richard was none of these things and the Act of Accord in October 1460, whilst a political success, must have been a crushing personal defeat to him. His ultimate military failure at Wakefield at the end of 1460 brought his abortive royal campaign to an abrupt end.

Thus, though history regards his eldest son, Edward with some fondness: “bit of a lad, good company, shame about the wife” and his youngest son, Richard, as fertile ground for a raging controversy, the tendency with Richard of York is to treat him with mild disapproval, either because he sought the throne and destabilised the state in doing so or simply because he failed to get the throne.

To use once more an already well overused classic, he was “damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.”

The book FEUD is available on Kindle at
Derek’s website is
Derek is on twitter at

October 26, 2012

Here Be Dragons | Discussion Post 2 | to Chapter 38

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING. 
  We discussed Chapter 1 through Chapter 16 here last week .. next week we will have our final discussion post where you can link your reviews, but now we are discussing anything including chapter 37.

Feel free to answer any and all discussion points below.. as well as asking your own questions in the comments, and anyone can jump in at any time.

Joanna matures and the marriage to Llewellyn becomes fruitful. What are your feelings of Llewelyn's eldest son, Gruffydd?

Joanna's brother Richard is a supporter of both Joanna and King John. Did you sense a divide inevitably occurring, and how did you judge Joanna's reaction?

The mystery of Arthur comes to a tense point with the de Braose family! What do you think of the actions of
King John against the family?

At the end of Chapter 25, King John states that the marriage he arranged for his daughter Joanna with Llewellyn was "a great mistake." What do you think he was fearing? Was he fearing for Joanna's well-being, or fearing a fight against her husband?

Davydd and Gruffydd's relationship has been strained from the start. Do you feel any empathy towards Gruffydd and his jealousy of his younger brother? Do you feel Joanna should have spoken with Llewellyn regarding Gruffydd's attitude towards the Norman English?

October 19, 2012

Here Be Dragons | Discussion 1 | Chapter 1-16

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.  

Discuss Chapter 1 through Chapter 16 here.. next discussion will be available on October 26, which will discuss through Chapter 37.

Feel free to answer any and all discussion points below.. as well as asking your own questions in the comments, and since some of us are not such fast readers... jump in when you get caught up!!

How did you feel when you saw how Richard the Lionheart was spoken of as homosexual? Could you imagine this portrayal occurring in writings created in 2012?

What are your first impressions of Llewellyn, and did they change by the time you reached the end of Chapter 16?

Do you enjoy the romance of Llewellyn and Joanna, or do you think there was too much focus on it and would prefer more of a telling of the battles and the details of the factions?

King John is so easily detestable in other reads, how did you like this portrayal of him as a father and a provider?

What do you think of the fate of Arthur, Duke of Brittany? Do you think Joanna is naive in her outlook?

Do you have a favorite character picked yet? Is there a character that you would rather see more or less of? Character you wouldn't mind seeing locked in a dungeon (Maude!)?

Could you sense a hero emerging, and who would that be?

Have you read similar era novels that you would recommend as companion reading? Elizabeth Chadwick's William Marshal novels are ones I would suggest for a greater grasp on some of the many characters in Here Be Dragons. Have you read any Welsh-based novels that you could recommend?

October 13, 2012

Here Be Dragons Kick Off!

Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman is the focus for our read along!

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.  

Start your engines!! We will have our first discussion post available on Friday, October 19!!

We will discuss everything that falls between chapter one and chapter 16.

You might want to make small notes as you read so you can add them to the comments during the discussion!
See you next week!

October 09, 2012

{Book Tour} Guest Post from author, Juliet Grey


I recently chimed in on one of the history threads on Facebook that asked who was the most maligned historical figure.  There were a lot of votes for Richard III; and perhaps the recent discovery of the bones beneath a British car park will reveal (if they indeed belong to Richard), that he was never hunchbacked or had a withered arm. And we do know that Shakespeare, a Tudor-era scribe, derived the, well, bare bones, of his character from other men on the Tudor payroll who never knew Richard; those like Holinshed and Thomas More.

But Richard brought his destiny upon himself. He DID usurp the throne and he did murder any adults he believed were standing in his way, even if you set aside the possibility that he had something to do with the death of his nephews.

I made the case for Marie Antoinette as history’s most maligned personage. From the moment she crossed the imaginary threshold between Austria and France on the Ile des Epis, she was considered by those in her adopted country as an outsider: the other. In fact, some members of the French royal family, as well as many courtiers who would soon be assigned to serve her, were against her marriage from the start. Austria had been France’s enemy for 950 years or so before the treaty that cemented their alliance. Ancient grudges were not so easily patched up by a union between a pair of teenagers.

Marie Antoinette had been urged by her mother, the formidable empress of Austria Maria Theresa, to use (in the empress’s view) her only asset—charm—to win over her future subjects. But not everyone was delighted by the young girl’s winsomeness, especially when Marie Antoinette chafed at the rigid court etiquette of the Bourbons or when she alienated the king’s mistress, the luscious Madame du Barry, because she was raised to detest such immorality. Poor Marie Antoinette was far too young, having come to France at the age of 14 (I tried to imagine my niece at that age being ready to rule a kingdom in a few years’ time!) too naïve, and too politically inept to see the larger picture. In the case of the comtesse du Barry, she got caught up in seeing the individual trees and missed the forest. Months passed while she refused to countenance the royal favorite on moral grounds, angering the king, while her mother desperately needed her to obtain his acquiescence for a much larger political gain: the partition of Poland. In the grand scheme of things, this was far more significant than an adulterous affair, but Marie Antoinette had been raised properly and couldn’t understand why her mother suddenly expected her to accept this liaison when she had always schooled her to despise adulterers.

Marie Antoinette was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t in other areas as well. During the 1770s when she dressed opulently, as befitting a queen, with the wildly fashionably coiffures known as “poufs,” she was condemned for her extravagance.  Yet in the early 1780s when she began to wear the understated white muslin gowns with pastel-hued sashes known as gaulles or chemises à la reine, accessorized with simple straw hats, she was derided for looking like she was only wearing her undergarments and dressing like a peasant. In both instances, she was accused of bankrupting the country, by instigating the women of France to follow her expensive fashion trends.

Of course, Marie Antoinette’s passion for fashion did not bankrupt the country. France was in dire economic straits long before her husband acceded to the throne. His predecessor, his grandfather Louis XV, plunged France into the red fighting the Seven Years War when Marie Antoinette was still a child in Austria. And during the reign of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, they pledged a tremendous amount of money to help the American colonists fight their own revolution against the English crown. Although it seemed against their own interests to bring down a monarchy, the aim was to weaken Britain, France’s greatest enemy. Add to that a series of bad harvests and terrible winters that led to rampant starvation.  Never mind acts of Nature: the people blamed Marie Antoinette for all their ills, thanks to the demagoguery of men like the king’s own cousin, the deep pocketed, and ambitious, duc d’Orleans. The duc fancied himself a progressive, and would eventually vote to execute Louis XVI, yet he would ultimately be sent to the guillotine himself. 

Marie Antoinette and Louis didn’t consummate their marriage for several years, for a number of reasons that scholars and historians have debated for centuries. Based on the historical record, I have my own theories, which I dramatize in DAYS OF SPLENDOR, DAYS OF SORROW, as well as in the first novel in the trilogy, BECOMING MARIE ANTOINETTE. But Marie Antoinette had come to France to bear an heir to the Bourbon throne, and without a son, she was useless to the French, rapidly becoming a waste of time and space. As the years flew by without the desired heir, rumors flew as well—that she was indulging in extramarital affairs with lovers of both sexes (the French couldn’t conceive of the possibility that she was unhappily celibate all that time). But the truth is that Marie Antoinette adored children and couldn’t wait to become a mother! Denied this for so long, with nowhere else to focus as she had no political clout, she poured her energy elsewhere: into the pursuit of pleasure—high stakes gambling, late night dances and masquerades, and a mania for fashion, interior design, and the outré three-foot-high hairstyles.  So she was blamed for not conceiving an heir, as though it was her “fault,” and becoming a queen of pleasure instead, as though she preferred these pursuits (and/or the extramarital lovers she never had at the time) to the joys of childbearing.

And when she sought refuge from her “toxic” detractors at le Petit Trianon, she was accused by the very same people of turning her rural idyll into an exclusive haven of rampant debauchery.

I wrote my Marie Antoinette trilogy to give her a voice, and to set the historical record straight, separating the truth from the centuries of  propaganda that have cast her as a tone-deaf, empty-headed spendthrift. While the books are historical fiction, they are heavily based on fact (there’s a bibliography at the back of each novel, in addition to an Author’s Note that explains where any liberties were taken with the historical record).

It’s high time that Marie Antoinette, miscast for more than two centuries as a villainess, steps into the sunlight as a heroine.

Juliet Grey is the author of Becoming Marie Antoinette. She has extensively researched European royalty and is a particular devotee of Marie Antoinette, as well as a classically trained professional actress with numerous portrayals of virgins, vixens, and villainesses to her credit. She and her husband divide their time between New York City and southern Vermont.  

Her new novel, Days of Splendor, Days of Sorrow, was released in May 2012 from Ballantine Books.

Juliet is currently on tour with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  Visit Michelle's stop at The True Book Addict on November 1 for a review and giveaway.

Announcing the winner..

The Winner of the Illuminations book giveaway is.................

The last commenter,


If you did not win, you can go buy the book today, it is finally being released today! Thanks to everyone who entered!

Stop by Burton Book Review tomorrow to catch my review of Illuminations!

October 08, 2012

Fall Read Along Reminder

The Fall Read Along featuring Sharon Kay Penman's Here Be Dragons is about to start! Dust off that copy that has been sitting on your shelves or go find one at your fave bookstore or library, because now is as good a time as any! I've had my copy for close to four years, and it's way past time to dig into Penman's Welsh trilogy.

The book is roughly 700 pages, so we have the schedule as follows:

Start reading Saturday October 13, 2012.

The Weekly Discussion posts are scheduled for these Fridays:

October 19: Complete Chapter 16

October 26: Complete Chapter 37

November 2: Final Discussion

We tried to stretch out the reading for those who don't get to read everyday, but if you still fall behind the reading schedule please feel free to come back to visit the discussions at any time that is convenient to you. No pressure! There are no clear divisions in the text as far as part one or part two, so each week will average about 230 pages.
Who is going to be reading along with us? Feel free to comment with the link to your personal homepage so we can get to know our fellow read along participants!

October 03, 2012

Giveaway! Illuminations by Mary Sharratt

October 9th 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Please welcome author Mary Sharratt during her blog tour for her October 2012 release of Illuminations, and see the bottom of the post for a book giveaway of Illuminations!

The Soul is Symphonic: The Music of Hildegard von Bingen

Born in the Rhineland in present day Germany, Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179) was a visionary nun and polymath. She founded two monasteries, went on four preaching tours, and wrote nine books addressing both scientific and religious subjects, an unprecedented accomplishment for a 12th-century woman. Her prophecies earned her the title Sybil of the Rhine.

873 years after her death, Hildegard was canonized in May 2012 and will be elevated to Doctor of the Church in October, a rare and solemn title reserved for theologians who have made a significant impact.

But to most people today, Hildegard is known best for her soaring ethereal music.

The first composer for whom we have a biography, she composed seventy-seven sacred songs, as well as Ordo Virtutum, a liturgical drama set to music.

Her melodies are completely unlike the plainchant of her era—or anything that has come before or since. Likewise her lyrics are highly original and feel fresh to us even today. She was the only 12th century writer to compose in free verse.

A Benedictine superior, Hildegard and her nuns sang the Divine Office eight times a day. She believed that song was the highest form of prayer—the mystical power of music reunited humankind to the ecstasy and beauty of paradise before the fall, connecting the singer directly with the divine, and joining heaven and earth in a great celestial harmony.

Singing the divine praises was absolutely central to Hildegard’s identity as a nun. But late in her life, the great composer and polymath was silenced.

Hildegard and her nuns were subject to an interdict, or collective excommunication, when they refused to disinter a supposed apostate buried in their churchyard. As punishment for their disobedience, they were forbidden the sacraments, the mass, even forbidden to sing the Divine Office.

It was the prohibition against singing that hit Hildegard the hardest. She wrote a passionate letter to her archbishop in protest. “The soul is symphonic,” she told him. She also warned him that by forbidding her and her daughters from singing God’s praise, the archbishop himself risked going to an afterlife destination where there was no music, ie hell.

Hildegard’s words seemed to give the man pause for thought. He lifted the interdict just a few months before her death in 1179.

“There is the music of heaven in all things,” Hildegard wrote. “But we have forgotten to hear it until we sing.”

I find her song Caritas Abundant in Omnia (Divine Love Abounds in All Things) to be particularly stirring. Hildegard conceived of Caritas, or Divine Love, as a feminine figure, an aspect of the Feminine Divine:
 Caritas habundat in omnia

Divine love abounds in all things.
She is greatly exalted from the depths to the heights,
Above the highest stars,
And most loving towards all things,
For she gave the highest King the kiss of peace.

Mary Sharratt’s Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen is published in October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and is a Book of the Month and One Spirit Book Club pick. Visit Mary’s website: 

Synopsis of Illuminations: Illuminations chronicles the life of Hildegard von Bingen (1098–1179), who was tithed to the church at the age of eight and expected to live out her days in silent submission as the handmaiden of a renowned but disturbed young nun, Jutta von Sponheim. Instead, Hildegard rejected Jutta’s masochistic piety and found comfort and grace in studying books, growing herbs, and rejoicing in her own secret visions of the divine. When Jutta died some three decades later, Hildegard broke out of her prison with the heavenly calling to speak and write about her visions and to liberate her sisters and herself from the soul-destroying anchorage.

Like Anita Diamant’s portrayal of Dinah in The Red Tent, Mary Sharratt interweaves historical research with psychological insight and vivid imagination to write an engaging and triumphant portrait of a courageous and remarkably resilient woman and the life she might have lived. Deeply affecting, Illuminations is a testament to the power of faith, love, and self-creation.

  To enter the giveaway for your own copy of Illuminations, please comment here with your email address. What intrigues you about Illuminations? Open to USA and Canada followers of HF-Connection, contest ends on 10/8/2012 and will be announced 10/9/2012 on the release day of Illuminations!

September 25, 2012

San Miguel by TC Boyle

San Miguel

San Miguel by TC Boyle
Viking Adult / Penguin September 18, 2012
Hardcover, 384 pages
1880s and 1930s, San Miguel (Southern California)
Reviewed by Genevieve Graham; 4 stars

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island.

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.

Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health. Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her. Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy. As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?

Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers.

San Miguel, a windswept, miserable, lonely island in the middle of nowhere, shapes the lives of three very different women in this beautiful example of Historical Literary fiction. This is not a romance and not a particularly plot-driven story, and while some traditional fiction readers may find this more of a meandering read, the bleak canvas of San Miguel is painted with a vivid depth of colour.

We know from the first chapter that our first storyteller, Marantha, isn’t going to make it. She is dying of consumption, living a painful, guilt-ridden existence which her husband believes will be improved by moving their family to the fresh air of San Miguel. She’s become a bitter, pinched creature, but TC Boyle dives into her twisted heart and finds the yearning she tries so hard to kill.

On the island, Marantha’s life worsens tenfold, and yet she finds in herself a resolve she’s never known before. Her daughter, Edith, will do anything to escape San Miguel. She watches her mother die, watches their lives fall apart, and refuses to allow her life to be squeezed into the same constraints. Her romantic ature takes her into the arms of an awkward boy who will never know more than San Miguel’s harsh shore, and her impulsive nature leaves him behind to dream about her.

Fifty years later, Elise (unrelated to the other two women) moves to San Miguel with her husband, Lester, who loses his mind during their time spent on the island. She does all she can to maintain a normal, roductive life, even bringing their family somewhat of a celebrity status when she shares their unconventional education of the couple’s two daughters. Lester’s insanity is fed by a burning need to feel useful, which he is not. When WWII approaches, his desperation drives him to a terrible end.

TC Boyle’s prose is simply beautiful. His characters are powerfully honest and the settings are drawn with such impeccable detail it is impossible not to get sucked into all three stories. The reader is placed, whether they want it or not, on the lonely island of San Miguel. I, for one, both loved and hated the island, both pitied and raged at the characters. Boyle’s gift is reaching so deep into the reader’s mind and heart that it’s impossible not to be affected.

Reviewer Genevieve Graham started writing when she was in her forties, inspired by the work of the legendary Diana Gabaldon. Her first two novels, “Under the Same Sky” and  “Sound of the Heart” were published by Berkley Sensation/Penguin US in 2012 and have met with enthusiastic reviews. The third in the series, “Out of the Shadows” will be released Aug/Sept 2013. Genevieve writes what she calls “Historical Fiction” rather than “Historical Romance,” meaning she concentrates on the stories and adventures, and she doesn’t turn away from the ugly truths of the times. Romance binds her stories together, but it is not the primary focus. Genevieve also runs her own Editing business and has helped dozens of authors with their novels.

September 20, 2012


Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman is the winner of our poll for the next read along!

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.  
Visit Sharon Kay Penman's site for a more detailed description here.

Based on the all the fabulous reviews on Goodreads, this is going to be an exciting historical read, and I hope you will join us! First published in 1985, some of you may have read it, and we still welcome you during our discussion posts here at HF-Connection later in October, and maybe even you'll be eager for a re-read?   This is a chunky book at around 700 pages, so it will take a little longer for some of us, but I was hoping for around two weeks, which is an average of 50 pages every day. But a fellow read along participant suggested stretching it to three weeks in case things come up for some of us.

There are no clear divisions in the text such as 'Parts' so I am just going by Chapter count.

The tentative schedule:
10/13/2012 START YOUR ENGINES!! Be sure to have your copy by this date, so you can start reading.
10/19/2012 Friday: First Discussion post goes up. Try to read up to around Chapter 17, which is page 212 in my edition (shown above).
10/26/2012 Friday: Second Discussion post goes up. Try to read up to around Chapter 37, which is page 453 in my edition.
11/2/2012 Friday: Final Discussion post goes up. This last third of the book will have a few more pages, but perhaps we'll all be racing to the finish and be able to finish about the same time here.

The posts will go up as scheduled, and if you have to catch up and come back later to the post to comment that is fine. There are no rules, but of course we would like to maintain a conversation online about the chapters we hopefully all have just read! And those who have read the book can read again, or comment along, just taking care to not spoil the parts we have not gotten to. Spoilers for what we are scheduled to have read are allowed of course.

I will make another post closer to the Read Along, just to double check who will be reading along and as a reminder to everyone. At this point, you should order your copy of Here Be Dragons so you can participate! Who's on board?

September 10, 2012

POLL: Read Along Choices

We are ready to get a schedule set for our Fall Read Along at HF- Connection! We had recently thrown out some ideas... and so here we are with the official poll for those who really think they would like to participate! Here are the choices that we have come up with  (Click titles to go to their Amazon site):

Katherine by Anya Seton
This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales---and Llewelyn---Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.
The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.

The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy
In 1470, a reluctant Lady Anne Neville is betrothed by her father, the politically ambitious Earl of Warwick, to Edward, Prince of Wales. A gentle yet fiercely intelligent woman, Anne has already given her heart to the prince’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Unable to oppose her father’s will, she finds herself in line for the throne of England—an obligation that she does not want. Yet fate intervenes when Edward is killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Anne suddenly finds herself free to marry the man she loves—and who loves her in return. The ceremony is held at Westminster Abbey, and the duke and duchess make a happy home at
Middleham Castle, where both spent much of their childhood. Their life is idyllic, until the reigning king dies and a whirlwind of dynastic maneuvering leads to his children being declared illegitimate. Richard inherits the throne as King Richard III, and Anne is crowned queen consort, a destiny she thought she had successfully avoided. Her husband’s reign lasts two years, two months, and two days—and in that short time Anne witnesses the true toll that wearing the crown takes on Richard, the last king from the House of York.

Rose Without A Thorn by Jean Plaidy

From the pen of legendary historical novelist Jean Plaidy comes an unforgettable true story of
royalty, passion, and innocence lost.

Born into an impoverished branch of the noble Howard family, young Katherine is plucked from her home to live with her grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The innocent girl quickly learns that her grandmother’s puritanism is not shared by Katherine’s free-spirited cousins, with whom she lives. Beautiful and impressionable, Katherine becomes involved in two ill-fated love affairs before her sixteenth birthday. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she leaves her grandmother’s home to become a lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII. The royal palaces are exciting to a young girl from the country, and Katherine ?nds that her duties there allow her to be near her handsome cousin, Thomas Culpepper, whom she has loved since childhood.

But when Katherine catches the eye of the aging and unhappily married king, she is forced to abandon her plans for a life with Thomas and marry King Henry. Overwhelmed by the change in her fortunes, bewildered and flattered by the adoration of her husband, Katherine is dazzled by the royal life. But her bliss is short-lived as rumors of her wayward past come back to haunt her, and Katherine’s destiny takes another, deadly, turn.

Please vote in the poll in the right sidebar to cast your choice!!

If you are on a mobile device and cannot vote, please comment and we will count your vote as long as you tell us you are unable to see the poll in the sidebar.

We will probably start reading October 13 and then host some discussion posts along the way after that for a few weeks. Hope you want to join us!

August 30, 2012

UPDATES and Giveaways!

Hello fellow book lovers! I just wanted to step in and say we are indeed still here.. but obviously neglected the HF-Connection this month in favor of real life and our own personal blogs! Summer is coming to an end, and fall is around the corner already!! I hope everyone has had a safe and happy summer.

Just to update you where we have been, Michelle is co-hosting the Wolf Hall Read Along, feel free to jump in during the conversation posts at any time, even if you've read it a few years ago!

Find more information on Michelle's blog, The True Book Addict and at her co-host Kai's blog at Fiction State of Mind.  The read-a-long will run from August 4 - September 15.  You can find out all the details by visiting the Schedule post HERE.  I hope you will join in!

There are also two very fun giveaways going on at Burton Book Review.. one is a Ten book giveaway of some fabulous Historical Fiction titles! You have to hurry though, because it ends later today on 8/30/2012.

And to celebrate the US release of Elizabeth Chadwick's A Place Beyond Courage, there is a book giveaway for both A Place Beyond Courage AND The Greatest Knight... enter at the book review link here. That one ends 9/3/2012.

Any ideas for a future read along? Some that have been swirling in my head are Katherine by Anya Seton, Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman, and The Crown by Nancy Bilyeau. And always in the back of my mind are titles by Jean Plaidy aka Victoria Holt aka Phillipa Carr... what are you guys in the mood for? I am thinking this would be sometime around October depending on your input! See you in the blogosphere!

July 31, 2012

After the Fog by Kathleen Shoop

Please welcome to HF-Connection author of After The Fog, Kathleen Shoop
After the Fog (April 12, 2012)

For every woman who thinks she left her past behind...

It's 1948 in the steel town of Donora, Pennsylvania, site of the infamous “killing smog.” Public health nurse, Rose Pavlesic, has risen above her orphaned upbringing and created a life that reflects everything she missed as a child. She’s even managed to keep her painful secrets hidden from her doting husband, loving children, and large extended family.

When a stagnant weather pattern traps poisonous mill gasses in the valley, neighbors grow sicker and Rose’s nursing obligations thrust her into conflict she never could have fathomed. Consequences from her past collide with her present life, making her once clear decisions as gray as the suffocating smog. As pressure mounts, Rose finds she’s not the only one harboring lies. When the deadly fog finally clears, the loss of trust and faith leaves the Pavlesic family—and the whole town—splintered and shocked. With her new perspective, can Rose finally forgive herself and let her family’s healing begin?

Love in the Time of Dirt and Grime by Kathleen Shoop

My latest novel, After the Fog, is historical fiction. It bursts with historical details that illustrate what the citizens of Donora, Pennsylvania experienced during the historic 1948 killing smog. Of course, being fiction—the storyline and the characters that bring the historic facts to life are creations of my imagination. After the Fog is a gritty tale as any story set in a vintage mill town must be. The dirt, toxins, and soot coming from the steel mills and from one’s own furnace dirtied even the most conscientious housewife’s home, clothing, furniture, and skin.

For the men, the work of the day was bone-crushing hard and scorching hot. Though the mill-work might have appeared to outsiders to be mindless, most of the jobs demanded intricate skill and complete focus in order to keep from losing a finger, a leg, a life.

Things may have been simpler in 1948, but they were also physically demanding. Depending on economic status and geographical location people may not have embodied the sanitized, sitcom-style language and manners that we have come to associate with that “innocent” post-war era. One article that appeared in The New Yorker (The Fog, Berton Roueche’, 1950) quoted a Donora doctor saying, “My God it [smoke] just lay there! I thought, well, God damn…” The coarse, public language of a physician (and others) was not uncommon in steel towns all over western Pennsylvania.
Even though my characters were crafted to reflect the harsh place and time, they needed to be humanized. I needed something in the book to offset the grittiness and so I gave Rose and Henry a loving though imperfect relationship. Henry is a steel-worker who loves poetry. He tries to work out his worries about the world through his own writing and by reading WH Auden. His wife, Rose, has more trouble accessing and expressing her feelings than Henry. She is a practical, straightforward community nurse—in some ways machine-like. For her, moving ahead means not looking back as her early, orphaned life left her emotional wounds scarred over.

To further humanize Rose and Henry I gave them a sex life. I thought it fit in that the couple found communicating through affection more profitable than by connecting through endless discussion. Henry passes Rose in the kitchen, and pulls her into a quick hug. She gently tends to his slag injury even while scolding him. They are rarely in the same room where one doesn’t touch the other in some way before the scene ends—meanwhile both are keeping secrets.

The touching, the unspoken tenderness affords Henry and Rose the opportunity to hope they are insuring their marital bond is strong, even when their lies distance them. Their intimate moments could hardly be characterized as tantalizing, but instead are utilitarian—a tool for human connection when all else fails. So no, After the Fog is not a romance by genre, but I think it is, indeed, a love story.

After the Fog is the second historical fiction novel by bestselling Kindle author Kathleen Shoop. It has garnered awards including Winner, Literary Fiction, from the National Indie Excellence Book Awards. Her debut novel, The Last Letter, sold more than 50,000 copies and garnered multiple awards in 2011, including the Independent Publisher Awards Gold Medal. A Language Arts Coach with a Ph.D. in Reading Education, Kathleen lives in Oakmont, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children.

Kathleen Shoop
You can download After the Fog on Amazon for $2.99

July 25, 2012

Join Us for a Wolf Hall Read-a-Long

I am hosting a Wolf Hall Read-a-Long at my main book blog, The True Book Addict.  My co-host is Kai at Fiction State of Mind.  The read-a-long will run from August 4 - September 15.  You can find out all the details by visiting the sign-up post HERE.  I hope you will join us!

July 21, 2012

Part 4: The Queen's Vow FINAL Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)
Part I's Discussion Post
Part II's Discussion Post
Part III's Discussion Post

Part IV: The Fallen Kingdom 1481-1492

Final Thoughts:

As I write 1492 as the end of Part IV.. is that where it ends? 1492? It is a year that is entrenched in our heads as the year of Cristobal Colon sailed the ocean blue.. and here we are finally at the conclusion of The Queen's Vow.

We do meet Cristobal Colon aka Columbus, and all his saucy ways as he introduces himself to Isabella. Isabella is portrayed as being very interested in exploring the world unknown. Does Isabella see World Domination in her future as she gazes at Colon?

Also in this part, Isabella is a target of assassination. One wonders what would have become of the Inquisition if the attempt succeeded? Would Fernando have taken up the banner and continued his fight against the Moors and Jewish?

Did you feel that the decision to conquer the Moors was a good one, considering the financial state of both Castile and Aragon, and the Cortes' reluctance to borrow heavily from the Jewish citizens?

Isabella is willing to send prisoners to slavery, only to be ransomed for money to be released. Yet another sad state of the times connected to Isabella is the slavery issue. I can appreciate how Gortner is adding these small details so that we can discern for ourselves the character of Isabella, especially when he is making sure he doesn't paint her in an all too positive light.

One can't help but wonder how Isabella would feel knowing that her daughter Catherine was divorced by Henry VIII but that her grand-daughter Mary had the same zealous religious intolerance as Isabella.

If you've read The Last Queen, do you have any thoughts on the scene between Juana and her grandmother? Juana, in general, is given a lively, stubborn personality in this book and a loving relationship with her father; do you feel it plays up well to the author's novel on her life?

From previous comments during this read-along, it is apparent that we all have different perspectives and reading tastes. Did you find the political maneuverings, the religious strife or Isabella's personal life the most pleasing to read?

Throughout the story, which characters have been your favorites?

How do you interpret the title, The Queen's Vow? What was Isabella's vow, and did she carry it out to your expectations?

What are your final thoughts? Please feel free to post your review links if you are a blogger as well as continue our discussion on Part 4 and on the novel as a whole.

You can read Michelle's review here.
You can read Marie's review here.
You can read Arleigh's review Monday. ;)

AND...Drum roll, please!

Arleigh offered a special giveaway, and it's time to announce our winner:


Please put your email address in the comments so we can discuss shipment!

Thank you so much for participating, this was a lot of fun!

If you are itching for another read along Michelle is co-hosting a read along of Wolf Hall, posts will be held at other blogs.. see the details here.

Till next time...

July 17, 2012

Part 3: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Part III: The Double-edged Sword 1474-1480 (pages 219-299)

This section opens up with Isabella finally obtaining the crown of Castile. Her husband is away, and Isabella goes through the motions of becoming Queen without Fernando at her side. This does not bode well when he returns from Aragon, as we see Fernando green with envy, or angry at her advisers, or upset that Isabella is not a whimpering female willing to wait for Fernando's approval.

As we turn the pages, we see Isabella grow confident and struggle less with major decisions, and although she adores Fernando, she also adores Castile. If she had to choose, who will she choose? The same could be said for Fernando: if he had to choose Aragon over Isabella, what would his choice be?

The apparition-like figure in white makes an appearance when Isabella is she hallucinating? Is she touched by God? It can only be a sign of things to come. And we learn Fernando is not faithful to Isabella, how has this changed your view of him? Several of our readers here had expressed a liking for him, is that still the case?

After reading the Tudor novels featuring Catherine of Aragon, Isabella's daughter, we have had visions of Isabella in our heads of the fearless warrior of Isabella fighting the moors and birthing her many babies. Part III does indeed have Isabella running off into the middle of conflict. Does this telling change your previous views of Isabella, and of her marriage?

What if the first person narrative was taken away and Gortner used a third person perspective? Do you think there would be more depth to the story if Gortner had that ability?

"Would I never be satisfied by the efforts of anyone, most of all my own self?"

In her own words, Isabella laments over her self expectations and those she sometimes irrationally sets to others. Do you feel this is a failure of hers, or does it make her a stronger monarch?

Isabella felt a shift in her marriage after the stand-still with Portugal. Do you feel her relationship with Fernado changed after this event?

What is your opinion of Carrillo? Were you disappointed with him, or did you see his perfidy coming?

As the story shifted from gaining the throne and subduing the nobles to church reform, were you surprised to find Isabella so lax toward the Jewish community and loath to bring upheaval to her newly won subjects?

Heirs, printing presses and eclipses...what was your favorite surprise from this part of the story?

For those who have read The Last Queen, what did you think of the (prophetic?) birth of Juana? (my favorite scene).

The section ends with the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition. Were you surprised at Isabella's reluctance (as I was), and Fernando's support of the religious purging?

Now that we've read three parts of Gortner's novel, we need to begin to gather our final thoughts for the discussion post this Saturday. We have all been applauding Gortner's writing, the story, our awe for the characters. Let's get deeper, and see if we can find something that irked us. Was there anything in the story that bothered you? Was there anything missing? Is there something you would have preferred to be explored deeper? Which 'Part' was your favorite? Save those final thoughts for Saturday! And get your reviews ready, you can post your review links on the final discussion post as well.

July 14, 2012

Part 2: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Part Two covers "An Unforbidden Union", years 1468-1474 and from pages 129 through 215.

It is indeed a new chapter for Isabella. Being initially third in line to the throne of Castile, and then set aside for her half-brother's heirs, Isabella had no real reason to believe she would ever have to rule over Castile. As we conclude Part 1, Isabella laments that "Castile had lost its hope."

Our discussion of Part 1 contemplates the legitimacy of Enrique's daughter, Enrique's kingship, and the fate of Alfonso.

Continuing the reading with Part 2, Isabella reflects, and realizes her duty to Castile, which conflicts with her brother's Enrique's wishes. The political upheaval is rampant, as sides are forced to be taken. And this is when Isabella's story really begins to shape and take hold of the reader.

How has your opinion of Isabella evolved during the novel thus far? As Isabella slowly realizes that her destiny is to unite Castile and Aragon, has this depiction of Isabella created more of a likable character for you? It certainly has for me.

At the end of Part 2 we have Torquemada guiding Isabella and I get the distinct feeling that things are going to be changing....

What are the parts of Part 2 that you enjoyed the most? Are you having difficulty slowing the pace to match the read along? I specifically stopped reading the book a few days earlier so that I could stay with the read along schedule. I am looking forward to picking it back up so I can see what Part 3 has in store for us!

July 10, 2012

Part 1: The Queen's Vow Discussion Post

(Click for Read Along Schedule)

Have you read Part 1 of The Queen's Vow? If so... what are your thoughts? If you have not completed Part 1, you can still participate today by sharing your initial impressions (and expectations) of both Isabella and the book itself.

And for comparison, have you read other works featuring Isabella?
What were your impressions of Isabella before you began reading the book? Do you think your opinion of her may change?

What of the relationships of the family of Isabella? Between Alfonso and Isabella, between Enrique and Isabella?

What about Enrique and Juana of Portugal, and their daughter? Do you question the legitimacy?

Did you find anything lacking in the storytelling of Part 1? Something you wanted to read a little more about? I remember reading of Isabella's mother (and her mental stability); and also a previous read showed Isabella as feeling destined to marry Ferdinand from an early age so this telling was a little different.

Marie's thoughts:
For the most part, I have viewed Isabella as an over-zealous religious fanatic because of the persecution she perpetrated. There was no tolerance on her part, but the times were so different during her reign. The level of piety was directly related to how she lived (and salvation at death), so a certain amount of understanding of many factors needs to be developed before laying judgement on Isabella.

I had previously read Castile for Isabella by Jean Plaidy, and By Fire, By Water by Mitchell James Kaplan. These novels have helped shape my opinion of Isabella, but now Gortner's will help to humanize her a bit more as it gives me some understanding behind Isabella's nature.

Michelle's thoughts:
I too read By Fire, By Water and that book portrayed Isabella in a very bad light, which was to be expected based on the point of view it was told from...the very people Isabella persecutes with her expulsion of the Jews.

I have read the entire book already because I was on a book tour for it, but I will stick to the first section to go along with the read-along.  I found it fascinating that it seems all (or most) of the great queens seem to find their way to the throne having gone through great peril.  Isabella lived a very precarious period under her half brother, Enrique, while her brother was forming a rebellion.  In the book, her loyal companion likens it to divine providence that things continue to go in Isabella's favor.  Perhaps it's true.  What Gortner does so well is bringing across the human side of these great women.  One can't help but feel a connection with Isabella.

What I found ironic was the fact that Isabella and Fernando end up naming one of their daughters, Juana.  I realize that Fernando's mother's name was also Juana, but to use the name of her stepmother, Enrique's dreadful queen, seemed odd.  And yes, I do question the legitimacy of Juana and Enrique's daughter, although I have not read very much in regards to the history of this subject.

I do hope that you're enjoying this wonderful book!


The next discussion post: July 14, Saturday.
Scheduled to Read to page 215 (end of part II)

Gortner's writing style always makes me breeze through his works, so don't feel guilty if you read ahead (like me!). Just jot down some notes so you'll have them ready for the scheduled discussion posts.

Don't forget, the author C.W. Gortner will be visiting the discussion posts at his leisure, so feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments. There will also be a small giveaway at the end of the read along for the most active participant.