May 30, 2012

The Master of Verona by David Blixt

A few words from the author, David Blixt:

This was not the novel I set out to write. I had a small novel in mind – short, bittersweet. Two friends fall out over a girl. Happens all the time.

Except these friends were named Capulet and Montague.

Y’see, the cause of the feud in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is never explained. Nor does it have to be. But after doing the play for the umpteenth time, I’ve noticed a few odd quirks that point towards a rift based on Lady Montague. I’ve explored that elsewhere, so I won’t belabor it. Suffice to say, I had two friends, I had the girl, and I had a rough idea of the timeframe. Simple.

Only that wasn’t the story the characters wanted me to write. Sure, it’s in there. But it’s only a fraction, a sliver of the whole.

It started because I didn’t want to take sides. I wanted to write about these two friends and the woman they love from a neutral party. Because I didn’t want to put the audience on the side of either Capulet or Montague. So I started researching the period. Dante was in Verona. Along with his son, Pietro. Hmm.

So I chose Dante’s son as my window into the story. And then Dante, his son, and his patron took over my story. The little love triangle took the backseat to a much grander epic, inspired in equal parts by history and Shakespeare. The result was not at all what I had in mind. The ending surprised even me. And I’m dying to know what happens next…

The Master of Verona
The Master of Verona
David Blixt bursts onto the historical fiction scene with this masterful tale of adventure, love, and intrigue. This is high adventure at its best, an epic novel filled with the breathtaking feats and evanescent beauty of the early Renaissance. -- C.W. Gortner, THE LAST QUEEN and THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI

Romeo & Juliet is the greatest love story ever told.

Every story has a beginning.

A sweeping novel of Renaissance Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA follows Pietro Alaghieri, eldest son of the poet Dante, as he’s caught up by the charisma and genius of Verona’s ruler, Cangrande della Scala. Pietro risks battles, duels, and murder to impress his new lord. At the heart of the story is an infernal plot against Cangrande’s bastard heir, and the rivalry of two friends over the affections of a girl. That rivalry will sever a friendship, divide a city, and initiate a feud that will someday produce the star-cross’d lovers.

Based on the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Dante, and the history of Italy, THE MASTER OF VERONA is a novel of brutal warfare, lost friendship, and dire conspiracy, combining to create an epic journey into the birth of the Renaissance that recalls the best of Bernard Cornwell and Dorothy Dunnett.

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May 18, 2012

In The Shadow of War by Lee Ann Sontheimer-Murphy

Introducing a new World War II historical romance:
In The Shadow of War, available May 17, 2012
by Lee Ann Sontheimer-Murphy
from Rebel Ink Press

Small town school teacher Bette Sullivan's life is interrupted when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941 but her world changes forever when she meets Private Benny Levy, a soldier from Brooklyn stationed at the local Army base. Their attraction is immediate and mutual but as their relationship grows, their love and lives are shadowed by World War II. As the future looms uncertain, the couple comes together with almost desperate need and a powerful love they hope can weather anything, including the war.
Ebook is now available, $5.99
Available on Nook
Available at Amazon

His straight dark hair covered more of his head than most so he wasn't a brand new recruit. She could spot those by their near bald scalps.

This soldier sported a neat snub nose and a strong chin. When he turned as if he sensed her gaze, Bette noted his slender gold-rimmed eyeglasses. Behind the specs, his beautiful grey eyes were framed with black lashes. His slender lips curved in a half-smile and a blush heated her cheeks as she glanced away. If she read his expression right, he liked her admiration. When she fumbled the next response, Aunt Virgie glared at her so she tried to pay more attention, but after Mass she tried to get outside to see if the soldier lingered. She saw him as soon as they exited the church, but he stood in the center of a group of other Army men, smoking.

Bette watched him while her aunt chattered. The more she saw, the more she liked. He stood with a Lucky clinging to his lip, his stance more cocky than military. He laughed at something one of the other soldiers said and started to move away from the group headed in her general direction. Bette took two steps forward, jerked one of the dime store hoop earrings from her ear, and dropped it.

"Whoops," she said, raising her voice as she touched her fingers to her ear lobe. "I just lost an earring."

The earbob dropped into a thick clump of clover but before she could attempt to retrieve it, a shadow fell across the green patch and the soldier she'd admired scooped up the earring with one hand. He stretched out his hand, his square fingers wrapped around the little gold hoop.

"Is this yours?" he asked, his voice coming out with an accent she'd never heard outside the pictures. To Bette's ears, it sounded like he'd said. Is dis yers?, with the last word stretched out into multiple syllables.

"It is, thanks," she said and held out her hand. He dropped the hoop into her palm as his fingers tickled over her skin. The slight touch made her shiver. "I guess you're stationed at Camp Crowder?"

"Yeah," he said in a voice similar to Jimmy Cagney's. "I've been here a coupla weeks now. It's a long way from home."

"Where are you from?" she asked, unable to stop staring at his gorgeous eyes.

"Brooklyn," he said without hesitation. "Flatbush, Brooklyn. I'm Private Levy, Benjamin Levy although my ma calls me Benny."

Bette couldn't stop smiling at him. "Well, Benny Levy, I'm Bette Sullivan and I'm a farm girl from just outside Neosho."

"I'm pleased to meet you," Ben Levy said. "Hey you wanta go have coffee with me downtown or something? I'll buy you breakfast if you like. I'm starving."

She admired his dark looks, enhanced by the starched summer khakis he wore and nodded. "I'd love to. Let me go tell my aunt so she won't expect me home."

Bette turned around to find Aunt Virgie watching, mouth drooped open and eyes broad with surprise. Her cadre of lady friends wore the same stunned expression.

"Aunt Virgie," Bette said, in her best polite tone. "I'm going downtown with Private Levy, but I'll be home for dinner, okay?"

"Child, you don't even know him!" Her aunt's shocked outrage wasn't faked. "You weren't raised like this."

"We're at war," Bette replied, voice mild. "I'm going to breakfast, not a bar room."

"Good morning, ladies," Ben Levy said, appearing at Bette's side. "I'm Private Benjamin Levy from Brooklyn, New York. My home parish is Our Lady of Refuge. I've been an altar boy and until I joined the Army, I worked as an auto mechanic. If you need a reference, Father Connolly can give you one if you write him a letter or you can call my ma. We ain't got a phone but the neighbor downstairs will fetch her if you want the number."

Although his voice remained even and polite, nice as anyone at any social gathering, his cheek amused Bette. With just a few words, he charmed and disarmed her aunt.

"Well, I don't think I need to," Aunt Virgie said with a sigh. "Honey, go ahead and have breakfast. Private Levy, would you like to join us for Sunday dinner?"

He grinned wide and Bette's heart heated up a few more degrees. Lord but his good looks and sweet words warmed her.

"I'd like to, thanks."

Ben Levy crooked his arm and Bette took it, savoring the feel of his crisp shirt against her bare skin. In tandem, they walked away from the church and although she knew tongues wagged behind them, she didn't care.

"So how do we get downtown?" he asked. "Or is there even one in a town this size?"

Laughter bubbled up from her throat. He put her in a better mood than she'd known in weeks. "It may not be much by Brooklyn standards, but we've got a town square. It's downhill and the easier way isn't straight down Wood Street, but over a block. C'mon and I'll show you."

Excerpt reprinted with permission of the author. Visit her site at

May 05, 2012

REIGN OF MADNESS Lynn Cullen Guest Post & Giveaway

Burton Book Review posted the review of Lynn Cullen's novel last year, and now it is time to celebrate the paperback release! (Review)

Please welcome Lynn Cullen, as she answers few key questions we asked after reading the novel:

Thank you for inviting me to write a guest post for your blog. I’m thrilled to celebrate the paperback publication of REIGN OF MADNESS with you! I loved your questions, so I will just answer them directly.

What are the challenges of writing about a time period in which you has never lived?

In truth, I am so geared toward weaving my fiction around history that I would find it a challenge to write a novel set in contemporary times. To me, it’s a fantastically fun game to dive into the past to examine the life and world of a famous person maligned by history, like Juana the Mad in REIGN OF MADNESS. My sport is to tease out from legend what is truth and what is “bunk,” to use my dad’s term. (A nod here to my father, who took his seven children on a historical tour of the United States every summer while I was growing up, cultivating my taste for history from a very young age.) In the course of writing two novels and now working on the third, I have been amazed by how far our perceptions of famous people can stray from the truth.

My challenge, then, is to build a case for how I think the famous people in my books should be perceived. To that end, I have to know all I possibly can, not only about my characters, but about their culture and customs as well. For a history nut, this part of writing is pure joy. I love to travel to the places where my books are set. In the case of Reign of Madness, I’ve been to every scene in the book.

Juana—and I—have walked the ramparts of the Castillo de la Mota in Medina del Campo, Spain

What did you discover regarding the legend of Juana's Madness and how it may have evolved over the centuries?

The legend of Juana the Mad in a nutshell, as it’s told in Spain now: The Spanish queen Juana, daughter of Isabella and Fernando, the monarchs who sent Columbus on his voyages of discovery, fell so in love with her husband that she went mad. Her husband, a man so beautiful that he was called Philip the Handsome, had proved to be unfaithful, driving Juana insane with jealousy. She could only posses him in death, when she traveled the countryside at night, opening this coffin to make sure that he was still hers. She was finally captured and locked in a palace for 46 years, and her father and then her son, ruled in her place.

Juana—the Mad?

I’m in the camp of historian Bethany Aram, whose biography of Juana, JUANA THE MAD, suggests that this legend was actually begun by Philip himself. For the first few years of his marriage to Juana—before she had children—all was mostly well. He found her so attractive that he insisted on marrying her the moment he saw her so he could take her to bed! But once she made the “mistake” of bearing a daughter instead of a son, his eye strayed, never to completely return.

When, by a fluke of history, Juana stood a chance of inheriting the Spanish crowns, and Philip wasn’t eligible to rule as king unless Juana was proven incapable of ruling, his wheels started turning. How could he prove that she was unable to rule? He remembered how she objected to his philandering—bingo! He started to portray her as going raving mad out of jealousy.

It was her word against his word, and he had the advantage. Juana was living in his country, the Habsburg Netherlands, modern-day Belgium. He had removed all her Spanish supporters from court—not a hard task since most of them had fled in the first years there, appalled by his court’s hedonistic ways. All he had to do was circulate stories that made her look unstable, and his sympathizers, who stood to gain if he ruled, backed him up.

His machinations worked. But he hardly got to enjoy the fruits of his diabolical labor. Legend has it that he was poisoned. I incorporated that particular bit of lore into my book. I found no proof that he wasn’t poisoned, so bring on the tainted cup!
Philip—too handsome for his own good

Has Juana always been vilified in her home country or does she have still have supporters who do not believe she was ever mad?

For centuries, the story stood that Juana was mad. While the descendents who stole her crowns were ruling, it was critical that the story should stick. It became an accepted part of history in most parts of Spain.

But Juana has always had supporters. A group of them from the Segovia area tried to free her from the palace in which she was imprisoned. Her son Charles rounded them up and had them hung as a warning as to what would befall those who didn’t support the legend of Juana la Loca.

Today, in a busy plaza in Segovia, stands a statue dedicated to the men who tried to free their rightful queen. You will find her supporters there still.

She is beloved and respected, as well, in the town in which she was imprisoned, Tordesillas. Three years ago I attended an exhibition there celebrating her life. It was well understood at the exhibit that Juana was maligned so that her husband, then father, then son, could rule in her stead.
Tordesillas, Spain—The white building is what remains of the palace complex in which Juana was locked for 46 years.

But the best way of summing up the love the people of Tordesillas have for Juana was by Carlos Adeva, an artist whose work centers around the 16th century queen. As I visited with him in his shop on the plaza mayor, I asked him how he would describe her. He grinned then cocked his arm to show his muscles. Fuerte, he said. Strong.

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